Part 2 out of 7
not succeed in reaching its destination (a result absolutely
impossible), it must inevitably fall back upon the earth, and
that the shock of such a mass, multiplied by the square of its
velocity, would seriously endanger every point of the globe.
Under the circumstances, therefore, and without interfering with
the rights of free citizens, it was a case for the intervention
of Government, which ought not to endanger the safety of all for
the pleasure of one individual.
In spite of all his arguments, however, Captain Nicholl
remained alone in his opinion. Nobody listened to him, and he
did not succeed in alienating a single admirer from the
president of the Gun Club. The latter did not even take the
pains to refute the arguments of his rival.
Nicholl, driven into his last entrenchments, and not able to
fight personally in the cause, resolved to fight with money.
He published, therefore, in the Richmond Inquirer a series of
wagers, conceived in these terms, and on an increasing scale:
No. 1 ($1,000).-- That the necessary funds for the experiment
of the Gun Club will not be forthcoming.
No. 2 ($2,000).-- That the operation of casting a cannon of 900
feet is impracticable, and cannot possibly succeed.
No. 3 ($3,000).-- That is it impossible to load the Columbiad,
and that the pyroxyle will take fire spontaneously under the
pressure of the projectile.
No. 4 ($4,000).-- That the Columbiad will burst at the first fire.
No. 5 ($5,000).-- That the shot will not travel farther than six miles,
and that it will fall back again a few seconds after its discharge.
It was an important sum, therefore, which the captain risked in
his invincible obstinacy. He had no less than $15,000 at stake.
Notwithstanding the importance of the challenge, on the 19th of
May he received a sealed packet containing the following
superbly laconic reply:
"BALTIMORE, October 19.
FLORIDA AND TEXAS
One question remained yet to be decided; it was necessary to
choose a favorable spot for the experiment. According to the
advice of the Observatory of Cambridge, the gun must be fired
perpendicularly to the plane of the horizon, that is to say,
toward the zenith. Now the moon does not traverse the zenith,
except in places situated between 0@ and 28@ of latitude. It
became, then, necessary to determine exactly that spot on the
globe where the immense Columbiad should be cast.
On the 20th of October, at a general meeting of the Gun Club,
Barbicane produced a magnificent map of the United States.
"Gentlemen," said he, in opening the discussion, "I presume that
we are all agreed that this experiment cannot and ought not to
be tried anywhere but within the limits of the soil of the Union.
Now, by good fortune, certain frontiers of the United States
extend downward as far as the 28th parallel of the north latitude.
If you will cast your eye over this map, you will see that we have at
our disposal the whole of the southern portion of Texas and Florida."
It was finally agreed, then, that the Columbiad must be cast on
the soil of either Texas or Florida. The result, however, of
this decision was to create a rivalry entirely without precedent
between the different towns of these two States.
The 28th parallel, on reaching the American coast, traverses the
peninsula of Florida, dividing it into two nearly equal portions.
Then, plunging into the Gulf of Mexico, it subtends the arc
formed by the coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana;
then skirting Texas, off which it cuts an angle, it continues
its course over Mexico, crosses the Sonora, Old California,
and loses itself in the Pacific Ocean. It was, therefore,
only those portions of Texas and Florida which were situated
below this parallel which came within the prescribed conditions
Florida, in its southern part, reckons no cities of importance;
it is simply studded with forts raised against the roving Indians.
One solitary town, Tampa Town, was able to put in a claim in favor
of its situation.
In Texas, on the contrary, the towns are much more numerous
and important. Corpus Christi, in the county of Nueces, and all
the cities situated on the Rio Bravo, Laredo, Comalites, San
Ignacio on the Web, Rio Grande City on the Starr, Edinburgh in
the Hidalgo, Santa Rita, Elpanda, Brownsville in the Cameron,
formed an imposing league against the pretensions of Florida.
So, scarcely was the decision known, when the Texan and Floridan
deputies arrived at Baltimore in an incredibly short space of time.
From that very moment President Barbicane and the influential
members of the Gun Club were besieged day and night by
formidable claims. If seven cities of Greece contended for
the honor of having given birth to a Homer, here were two entire
States threatening to come to blows about the question of a cannon.
The rival parties promenaded the streets with arms in their hands;
and at every occasion of their meeting a collision was to be
apprehended which might have been attended with disastrous results.
Happily the prudence and address of President Barbicane averted
the danger. These personal demonstrations found a division in
the newspapers of the different States. The New York Herald and
the Tribune supported Texas, while the Times and the American
Review espoused the cause of the Floridan deputies. The members
of the Gun Club could not decide to which to give the preference.
Texas produced its array of twenty-six counties; Florida replied
that twelve counties were better than twenty-six in a country
only one-sixth part of the size.
Texas plumed itself upon its 330,000 natives; Florida, with a
far smaller territory, boasted of being much more densely
populated with 56,000.
The Texans, through the columns of the Herald claimed that
some regard should be had to a State which grew the best cotton
in all America, produced the best green oak for the service of
the navy, and contained the finest oil, besides iron mines, in
which the yield was fifty per cent. of pure metal.
To this the American Review replied that the soil of Florida,
although not equally rich, afforded the best conditions for the
moulding and casting of the Columbiad, consisting as it did of
sand and argillaceous earth.
"That may be all very well," replied the Texans; "but you must
first get to this country. Now the communications with Florida
are difficult, while the coast of Texas offers the bay of
Galveston, which possesses a circumference of fourteen leagues,
and is capable of containing the navies of the entire world!"
"A pretty notion truly," replied the papers in the interest of
Florida, "that of Galveston bay below the 29th parallel!
Have we not got the bay of Espiritu Santo, opening precisely upon
the 28th degree, and by which ships can reach Tampa Town by
"A fine bay; half choked with sand!"
"Choked yourselves!" returned the others.
Thus the war went on for several days, when Florida endeavored
to draw her adversary away on to fresh ground; and one morning
the Times hinted that, the enterprise being essentially
American, it ought not to be attempted upon other than purely
To these words Texas retorted, "American! are we not as much so
as you? Were not Texas and Florida both incorporated into the
Union in 1845?"
"Undoubtedly," replied the Times; "but we have belonged to the
Americans ever since 1820."
"Yes!" returned the Tribune; "after having been Spaniards or
English for two hundred years, you were sold to the United
States for five million dollars!"
"Well! and why need we blush for that? Was not Louisiana bought
from Napoleon in 1803 at the price of sixteen million dollars?"
"Scandalous!" roared the Texas deputies. "A wretched little
strip of country like Florida to dare to compare itself to
Texas, who, in place of selling herself, asserted her own
independence, drove out the Mexicans in March 2, 1846, and
declared herself a federal republic after the victory gained by
Samuel Houston, on the banks of the San Jacinto, over the troops
of Santa Anna!-- a country, in fine, which voluntarily annexed
itself to the United States of America!"
"Yes; because it was afraid of the Mexicans!" replied Florida.
"Afraid!" From this moment the state of things became intolerable.
A sanguinary encounter seemed daily imminent between the two
parties in the streets of Baltimore. It became necessary to keep
an eye upon the deputies.
President Barbicane knew not which way to look. Notes, documents,
letters full of menaces showered down upon his house. Which side
ought he to take? As regarded the appropriation of the soil, the
facility of communication, the rapidity of transport, the claims
of both States were evenly balanced. As for political prepossessions,
they had nothing to do with the question.
This dead block had existed for some little time, when Barbicane
resolved to get rid of it all at once. He called a meeting of
his colleagues, and laid before them a proposition which, it will
be seen, was profoundly sagacious.
"On carefully considering," he said, "what is going on now
between Florida and Texas, it is clear that the same
difficulties will recur with all the towns of the favored State.
The rivalry will descend from State to city, and so on downward.
Now Texas possesses eleven towns within the prescribed
conditions, which will further dispute the honor and create us
new enemies, while Florida has only one. I go in, therefore,
for Florida and Tampa Town."
This decision, on being made known, utterly crushed the
Texan deputies. Seized with an indescribable fury, they
addressed threatening letters to the different members of the
Gun Club by name. The magistrates had but one course to take,
and they took it. They chartered a special train, forced the
Texans into it whether they would or no; and they quitted the
city with a speed of thirty miles an hour.
Quickly, however, as they were despatched, they found time to
hurl one last and bitter sarcasm at their adversaries.
Alluding to the extent of Florida, a mere peninsula confined
between two seas, they pretended that it could never sustain
the shock of the discharge, and that it would "bust up" at the
very first shot.
"Very well, let it bust up!" replied the Floridans, with a
brevity of the days of ancient Sparta.
URBI ET ORBI
The astronomical, mechanical, and topographical difficulties
resolved, finally came the question of finance. The sum
required was far too great for any individual, or even any
single State, to provide the requisite millions.
President Barbicane undertook, despite of the matter being a
purely American affair, to render it one of universal interest,
and to request the financial co-operation of all peoples.
It was, he maintained, the right and duty of the whole earth
to interfere in the affairs of its satellite. The subscription
opened at Baltimore extended properly to the whole world-- Urbi
This subscription was successful beyond all expectation;
notwithstanding that it was a question not of lending but of
giving the money. It was a purely disinterested operation in
the strictest sense of the term, and offered not the slightest
chance of profit.
The effect, however, of Barbicane's communication was not
confined to the frontiers of the United States; it crossed
the Atlantic and Pacific, invading simultaneously Asia and
Europe, Africa and Oceanica. The observatories of the Union
placed themselves in immediate communication with those of
foreign countries. Some, such as those of Paris, Petersburg,
Berlin, Stockholm, Hamburg, Malta, Lisbon, Benares, Madras,
and others, transmitted their good wishes; the rest maintained
a prudent silence, quietly awaiting the result. As for the
observatory at Greenwich, seconded as it was by the twenty-
two astronomical establishments of Great Britain, it spoke
plainly enough. It boldly denied the possibility of success,
and pronounced in favor of the theories of Captain Nicholl.
But this was nothing more than mere English jealousy.
On the 8th of October President Barbicane published a manifesto
full of enthusiasm, in which he made an appeal to "all persons
of good will upon the face of the earth." This document,
translated into all languages, met with immense success.
Subscription lists were opened in all the principal cities of
the Union, with a central office at the Baltimore Bank, 9
In addition, subscriptions were received at the following banks
in the different states of the two continents:
At Vienna, with S. M. de Rothschild.
At Petersburg, Stieglitz and Co.
At Paris, The Credit Mobilier.
At Stockholm, Tottie and Arfuredson.
At London, N. M. Rothschild and Son.
At Turin, Ardouin and Co.
At Berlin, Mendelssohn.
At Geneva, Lombard, Odier and Co.
At Constantinople, The Ottoman Bank.
At Brussels, J. Lambert.
At Madrid, Daniel Weisweller.
At Amsterdam, Netherlands Credit Co.
At Rome, Torlonia and Co.
At Lisbon, Lecesne.
At Copenhagen, Private Bank.
At Rio de Janeiro, Private Bank.
At Montevideo, Private Bank.
At Valparaiso and Lima, Thomas la Chambre and Co.
At Mexico, Martin Daran and Co.
Three days after the manifesto of President Barbicane $4,000,000
were paid into the different towns of the Union. With such a
balance the Gun Club might begin operations at once. But some
days later advices were received to the effect that foreign
subscriptions were being eagerly taken up. Certain countries
distinguished themselves by their liberality; others untied
their purse-strings with less facility--a matter of temperament.
Figures are, however, more eloquent than words, and here is the
official statement of the sums which were paid in to the credit
of the Gun Club at the close of the subscription.
Russia paid in as her contingent the enormous sum of 368,733 roubles.
No one need be surprised at this, who bears in mind the scientific
taste of the Russians, and the impetus which they have given to
astronomical studies--thanks to their numerous observatories.
France began by deriding the pretensions of the Americans.
The moon served as a pretext for a thousand stale puns and
a score of ballads, in which bad taste contested the palm
with ignorance. But as formerly the French paid before singing,
so now they paid after having had their laugh, and they subscribed
for a sum of 1,253,930 francs. At that price they had a right
to enjoy themselves a little.
Austria showed herself generous in the midst of her financial crisis.
Her public contributions amounted to the sum of 216,000 florins--
a perfect godsend.
Fifty-two thousand rix-dollars were the remittance of Sweden
and Norway; the amount is large for the country, but it would
undoubtedly have been considerably increased had the
subscription been opened in Christiana simultaneously with that
at Stockholm. For some reason or other the Norwegians do not
like to send their money to Sweden.
Prussia, by a remittance of 250,000 thalers, testified her high
approval of the enterprise.
Turkey behaved generously; but she had a personal interest in
the matter. The moon, in fact, regulates the cycle of her years
and her fast of Ramadan. She could not do less than give
1,372,640 piastres; and she gave them with an eagerness which
denoted, however, some pressure on the part of the government.
Belgium distinguished herself among the second-rate states by
a grant of 513,000 francs-- about two centimes per head of
Holland and her colonies interested themselves to the extent of
110,000 florins, only demanding an allowance of five per cent.
discount for paying ready money.
Denmark, a little contracted in territory, gave nevertheless
9,000 ducats, proving her love for scientific experiments.
The Germanic Confederation pledged itself to 34,285 florins.
It was impossible to ask for more; besides, they would not have
Though very much crippled, Italy found 200,000 lire in the
pockets of her people. If she had had Venetia she would have
done better; but she had not.
The States of the Church thought that they could not send less
than 7,040 Roman crowns; and Portugal carried her devotion to
science as far as 30,000 cruzados. It was the widow's mite--
eighty-six piastres; but self-constituted empires are always
rather short of money.
Two hundred and fifty-seven francs, this was the modest
contribution of Switzerland to the American work. One must
freely admit that she did not see the practical side of
the matter. It did not seem to her that the mere despatch of
a shot to the moon could possibly establish any relation of
affairs with her; and it did not seem prudent to her to embark
her capital in so hazardous an enterprise. After all, perhaps
she was right.
As to Spain, she could not scrape together more than 110 reals.
She gave as an excuse that she had her railways to finish.
The truth is, that science is not favorably regarded in that
country, it is still in a backward state; and moreover, certain
Spaniards, not by any means the least educated, did not form a
correct estimate of the bulk of the projectile compared with
that of the moon. They feared that it would disturb the
established order of things. In that case it were better to
keep aloof; which they did to the tune of some reals.
There remained but England; and we know the contemptuous
antipathy with which she received Barbicane's proposition.
The English have but one soul for the whole twenty-six millions
of inhabitants which Great Britain contains. They hinted that
the enterprise of the Gun Club was contrary to the "principle of
non-intervention." And they did not subscribe a single farthing.
At this intimation the Gun Club merely shrugged its shoulders
and returned to its great work. When South America, that is to
say, Peru, Chili, Brazil, the provinces of La Plata and Columbia,
had poured forth their quota into their hands, the sum of $300,000,
it found itself in possession of a considerable capital, of which
the following is a statement:
United States subscriptions, . . $4,000,000
Foreign subscriptions . . . $1,446,675
Total, . . . . $5,446,675
Such was the sum which the public poured into the treasury of
the Gun Club.
Let no one be surprised at the vastness of the amount. The work
of casting, boring, masonry, the transport of workmen, their
establishment in an almost uninhabited country, the construction
of furnaces and workshops, the plant, the powder, the projectile,
and incipient expenses, would, according to the estimates, absorb
nearly the whole. Certain cannon-shots in the Federal war cost
one thousand dollars apiece. This one of President Barbicane,
unique in the annals of gunnery, might well cost five thousand
On the 20th of October a contract was entered into with the
manufactory at Coldspring, near New York, which during the war
had furnished the largest Parrott, cast-iron guns. It was
stipulated between the contracting parties that the manufactory
of Coldspring should engage to transport to Tampa Town,
in southern Florida, the necessary materials for casting
the Columbiad. The work was bound to be completed at latest
by the 15th of October following, and the cannon delivered
in good condition under penalty of a forfeit of one hundred
dollars a day to the moment when the moon should again present
herself under the same conditions-- that is to say, in eighteen
years and eleven days.
The engagement of the workmen, their pay, and all the necessary
details of the work, devolved upon the Coldspring Company.
This contract, executed in duplicate, was signed by Barbicane,
president of the Gun Club, of the one part, and T. Murchison
director of the Coldspring manufactory, of the other, who thus
executed the deed on behalf of their respective principals.
When the decision was arrived at by the Gun Club, to the
disparagement of Texas, every one in America, where reading is
a universal acquirement, set to work to study the geography
of Florida. Never before had there been such a sale for works
like "Bertram's Travels in Florida," "Roman's Natural History of
East and West Florida," "William's Territory of Florida," and
"Cleland on the Cultivation of the Sugar-Cane in Florida."
It became necessary to issue fresh editions of these works.
Barbicane had something better to do than to read. He desired
to see things with his own eyes, and to mark the exact position
of the proposed gun. So, without a moment's loss of time, he
placed at the disposal of the Cambridge Observatory the funds
necessary for the construction of a telescope, and entered into
negotiations with the house of Breadwill and Co., of Albany, for
the construction of an aluminum projectile of the required size.
He then quitted Baltimore, accompanied by J. T. Maston, Major
Elphinstone, and the manager of the Coldspring factory.
On the following day, the four fellow-travelers arrived at
New Orleans. There they immediately embarked on board the
Tampico, a despatch-boat belonging to the Federal navy, which
the government had placed at their disposal; and, getting up
steam, the banks of Louisiana speedily disappeared from sight.
The passage was not long. Two days after starting, the Tampico,
having made four hundred and eighty miles, came in sight of the
coast of Florida. On a nearer approach Barbicane found himself
in view of a low, flat country of somewhat barren aspect.
After coasting along a series of creeks abounding in lobsters
and oysters, the Tampico entered the bay of Espiritu Santo,
where she finally anchored in a small natural harbor, formed by
the embouchure of the River Hillisborough, at seven P.M., on
the 22d of October.
Our four passengers disembarked at once. "Gentlemen," said
Barbicane, "we have no time to lose; tomorrow we must obtain
horses, and proceed to reconnoiter the country."
Barbicane had scarcely set his foot on shore when three thousand
of the inhabitants of Tampa Town came forth to meet him, an
honor due to the president who had signalized their country by
Declining, however, every kind of ovation, Barbicane ensconced
himself in a room of the Franklin Hotel.
On the morrow some of the small horses of the Spanish breed,
full of vigor and of fire, stood snorting under his windows;
but instead of four steeds, here were fifty, together with
their riders. Barbicane descended with his three fellow-
travelers; and much astonished were they all to find themselves
in the midst of such a cavalcade. He remarked that every
horseman carried a carbine slung across his shoulders and
pistols in his holsters.
On expressing his surprise at these preparations, he was
speedily enlightened by a young Floridan, who quietly said:
"Sir, there are Seminoles there."
"What do you mean by Seminoles?"
"Savages who scour the prairies. We thought it best, therefore,
to escort you on your road."
"Pooh!" cried J. T. Maston, mounting his steed.
"All right," said the Floridan; "but it is true enough, nevertheless."
"Gentlemen," answered Barbicane, "I thank you for your kind
attention; but it is time to be off."
It was five A.M. when Barbicane and his party, quitting Tampa Town,
made their way along the coast in the direction of Alifia Creek.
This little river falls into Hillisborough Bay twelve miles above
Tampa Town. Barbicane and his escort coasted along its right bank
to the eastward. Soon the waves of the bay disappeared behind a
bend of rising ground, and the Floridan "champagne" alone offered
itself to view.
Florida, discovered on Palm Sunday, in 1512, by Juan Ponce de
Leon, was originally named Pascha Florida. It little deserved
that designation, with its dry and parched coasts. But after
some few miles of tract the nature of the soil gradually changes
and the country shows itself worthy of the name. Cultivated plains
soon appear, where are united all the productions of the northern
and tropical floras, terminating in prairies abounding with
pineapples and yams, tobacco, rice, cotton-plants, and sugar-canes,
which extend beyond reach of sight, flinging their riches broadcast
with careless prodigality.
Barbicane appeared highly pleased on observing the progressive
elevation of the land; and in answer to a question of J. T.
"My worthy friend, we cannot do better than sink our Columbiad
in these high grounds."
"To get nearer the moon, perhaps?" said the secretary of the Gun Club.
"Not exactly," replied Barbicane, smiling; "do you not see that
among these elevated plateaus we shall have a much easier work
of it? No struggles with the water-springs, which will save us
long expensive tubings; and we shall be working in daylight
instead of down a deep and narrow well. Our business, then, is
to open our trenches upon ground some hundreds of yards above
the level of the sea."
"You are right, sir," struck in Murchison, the engineer; "and, if I
mistake not, we shall ere long find a suitable spot for our purpose."
"I wish we were at the first stroke of the pickaxe," said the president.
"And I wish we were at the last," cried J. T. Maston.
About ten A.M. the little band had crossed a dozen miles.
To fertile plains succeeded a region of forests. There perfumes
of the most varied kinds mingled together in tropical profusion.
These almost impenetrable forests were composed of pomegranates,
orange-trees, citrons, figs, olives, apricots, bananas, huge vines,
whose blossoms and fruits rivaled each other in color and perfume.
Beneath the odorous shade of these magnificent trees fluttered and
warbled a little world of brilliantly plumaged birds.
J. T. Maston and the major could not repress their admiration on
finding themselves in the presence of the glorious beauties of
this wealth of nature. President Barbicane, however, less
sensitive to these wonders, was in haste to press forward;
the very luxuriance of the country was displeasing to him.
They hastened onward, therefore, and were compelled to ford
several rivers, not without danger, for they were infested
with huge alligators from fifteen to eighteen feet long.
Maston courageously menaced them with his steel hook, but he
only succeeded in frightening some pelicans and teal, while
tall flamingos stared stupidly at the party.
At length these denizens of the swamps disappeared in their
turn; smaller trees became thinly scattered among less dense
thickets-- a few isolated groups detached in the midst of
endless plains over which ranged herds of startled deer.
"At last," cried Barbicane, rising in his stirrups, "here we are
at the region of pines!"
"Yes! and of savages too," replied the major.
In fact, some Seminoles had just came in sight upon the horizon;
they rode violently backward and forward on their fleet horses,
brandishing their spears or discharging their guns with a dull report.
These hostile demonstrations, however, had no effect upon Barbicane
and his companions.
They were then occupying the center of a rocky plain, which the
sun scorched with its parching rays. This was formed by a
considerable elevation of the soil, which seemed to offer to the
members of the Gun Club all the conditions requisite for the
construction of their Columbiad.
"Halt!" said Barbicane, reining up. "Has this place any
"It is called Stones Hill," replied one of the Floridans.
Barbicane, without saying a word, dismounted, seized his instruments,
and began to note his position with extreme exactness. The little
band, drawn up in the rear, watched his proceedings in profound silence.
At this moment the sun passed the meridian. Barbicane, after a
few moments, rapidly wrote down the result of his observations,
"This spot is situated eighteen hundred feet above the level of
the sea, in 27@ 7' N. lat. and 5@ 7' W. long. of the meridian
of Washington. It appears to me by its rocky and barren character
to offer all the conditions requisite for our experiment. On that
plain will be raised our magazines, workshops, furnaces, and
workmen's huts; and here, from this very spot," said he, stamping
his foot on the summit of Stones Hill, "hence shall our projectile
take its flight into the regions of the Solar World."
PICKAXE AND TROWEL
The same evening Barbicane and his companions returned to Tampa
Town; and Murchison, the engineer, re-embarked on board the
Tampico for New Orleans. His object was to enlist an army of
workmen, and to collect together the greater part of the materials.
The members of the Gun Club remained at Tampa Town, for the
purpose of setting on foot the preliminary works by the aid of
the people of the country.
Eight days after its departure, the Tampico returned into the
bay of Espiritu Santo, with a whole flotilla of steamboats.
Murchison had succeeded in assembling together fifteen
hundred artisans. Attracted by the high pay and considerable
bounties offered by the Gun Club, he had enlisted a choice
legion of stokers, iron-founders, lime-burners, miners,
brickmakers, and artisans of every trade, without distinction
of color. As many of these people brought their families with
them, their departure resembled a perfect emigration.
On the 31st of October, at ten o'clock in the morning, the troop
disembarked on the quays of Tampa Town; and one may imagine the
activity which pervaded that little town, whose population was
thus doubled in a single day.
During the first few days they were busy discharging the cargo
brought by the flotilla, the machines, and the rations, as well
as a large number of huts constructed of iron plates, separately
pieced and numbered. At the same period Barbicane laid the
first sleepers of a railway fifteen miles in length, intended to
unite Stones Hill with Tampa Town. On the first of November
Barbicane quitted Tampa Town with a detachment of workmen; and
on the following day the whole town of huts was erected round
Stones Hill. This they enclosed with palisades; and in respect
of energy and activity, it might have been mistaken for one of
the great cities of the Union. Everything was placed under a
complete system of discipline, and the works were commenced in
most perfect order.
The nature of the soil having been carefully examined, by means
of repeated borings, the work of excavation was fixed for the
4th of November.
On that day Barbicane called together his foremen and addressed
them as follows: "You are well aware, my friends, of the
object with which I have assembled you together in this wild
part of Florida. Our business is to construct a cannon measuring
nine feet in its interior diameter, six feet thick, and with a
stone revetment of nineteen and a half feet in thickness. We have,
therefore, a well of sixty feet in diameter to dig down to a
depth of nine hundred feet. This great work must be completed
within eight months, so that you have 2,543,400 cubic feet of
earth to excavate in 255 days; that is to say, in round numbers,
2,000 cubic feet per day. That which would present no difficulty
to a thousand navvies working in open country will be of course
more troublesome in a comparatively confined space. However, the
thing must be done, and I reckon for its accomplishment upon your
courage as much as upon your skill."
At eight o'clock the next morning the first stroke of the
pickaxe was struck upon the soil of Florida; and from that
moment that prince of tools was never inactive for one moment
in the hands of the excavators. The gangs relieved each other
every three hours.
On the 4th of November fifty workmen commenced digging, in the
very center of the enclosed space on the summit of Stones Hill,
a circular hole sixty feet in diameter. The pickaxe first
struck upon a kind of black earth, six inches in thickness,
which was speedily disposed of. To this earth succeeded two
feet of fine sand, which was carefully laid aside as being
valuable for serving the casting of the inner mould. After the
sand appeared some compact white clay, resembling the chalk of
Great Britain, which extended down to a depth of four feet.
Then the iron of the picks struck upon the hard bed of the soil;
a kind of rock formed of petrified shells, very dry, very solid,
and which the picks could with difficulty penetrate. At this
point the excavation exhibited a depth of six and a half feet
and the work of the masonry was begun.
At the bottom of the excavation they constructed a wheel of oak,
a kind of circle strongly bolted together, and of immense strength.
The center of this wooden disc was hollowed out to a diameter
equal to the exterior diameter of the Columbiad. Upon this wheel
rested the first layers of the masonry, the stones of which were
bound together by hydraulic cement, with irresistible tenacity.
The workmen, after laying the stones from the circumference to
the center, were thus enclosed within a kind of well twenty-one
feet in diameter. When this work was accomplished, the miners
resumed their picks and cut away the rock from underneath the wheel
itself, taking care to support it as they advanced upon blocks of
great thickness. At every two feet which the hole gained in depth
they successively withdrew the blocks. The wheel then sank little
by little, and with it the massive ring of masonry, on the upper
bed of which the masons labored incessantly, always reserving some
vent holes to permit the escape of gas during the operation of
This kind of work required on the part of the workmen extreme
nicety and minute attention. More than one, in digging
underneath the wheel, was dangerously injured by the splinters
of stone. But their ardor never relaxed, night or day. By day
they worked under the rays of the scorching sun; by night, under
the gleam of the electric light. The sounds of the picks against
the rock, the bursting of mines, the grinding of the machines,
the wreaths of smoke scattered through the air, traced around
Stones Hill a circle of terror which the herds of buffaloes and
the war parties of the Seminoles never ventured to pass.
Nevertheless, the works advanced regularly, as the steam-cranes
actively removed the rubbish. Of unexpected obstacles there was
little account; and with regard to foreseen difficulties, they
were speedily disposed of.
At the expiration of the first month the well had attained the
depth assigned for that lapse of time, namely, 112 feet. This depth
was doubled in December, and trebled in January.
During the month of February the workmen had to contend with a
sheet of water which made its way right across the outer soil.
It became necessary to employ very powerful pumps and
compressed-air engines to drain it off, so as to close up the
orifice from whence it issued; just as one stops a leak on
board ship. They at last succeeded in getting the upper hand of
these untoward streams; only, in consequence of the loosening of
the soil, the wheel partly gave way, and a slight partial
settlement ensued. This accident cost the life of several workmen.
No fresh occurrence thenceforward arrested the progress of the
operation; and on the tenth of June, twenty days before the
expiration of the period fixed by Barbicane, the well, lined
throughout with its facing of stone, had attained the depth of
900 feet. At the bottom the masonry rested upon a massive block
measuring thirty feet in thickness, while on the upper portion
it was level with the surrounding soil.
President Barbicane and the members of the Gun Club warmly
congratulated their engineer Murchison; the cyclopean work had
been accomplished with extraordinary rapidity.
During these eight months Barbicane never quitted Stones Hill
for a single instant. Keeping ever close by the work of
excavation, he busied himself incessantly with the welfare
and health of his workpeople, and was singularly fortunate
in warding off the epidemics common to large communities of
men, and so disastrous in those regions of the globe which
are exposed to the influences of tropical climates.
Many workmen, it is true, paid with their lives for the rashness
inherent in these dangerous labors; but these mishaps are impossible
to be avoided, and they are classed among the details with which
the Americans trouble themselves but little. They have in fact
more regard for human nature in general than for the individual
Nevertheless, Barbicane professed opposite principles to these,
and put them in force at every opportunity. So, thanks to his
care, his intelligence, his useful intervention in all
difficulties, his prodigious and humane sagacity, the average of
accidents did not exceed that of transatlantic countries, noted
for their excessive precautions-- France, for instance, among
others, where they reckon about one accident for every two
hundred thousand francs of work.
THE FETE OF THE CASTING
During the eight months which were employed in the work of
excavation the preparatory works of the casting had been carried
on simultaneously with extreme rapidity. A stranger arriving at
Stones Hill would have been surprised at the spectacle offered
to his view.
At 600 yards from the well, and circularly arranged around it as
a central point, rose 1,200 reverberating ovens, each six feet
in diameter, and separated from each other by an interval of
three feet. The circumference occupied by these 1,200 ovens
presented a length of two miles. Being all constructed on the
same plan, each with its high quadrangular chimney, they
produced a most singular effect.
It will be remembered that on their third meeting the committee
had decided to use cast iron for the Columbiad, and in particular
the white description. This metal, in fact, is the most
tenacious, the most ductile, and the most malleable, and
consequently suitable for all moulding operations; and when
smelted with pit coal, is of superior quality for all
engineering works requiring great resisting power, such as
cannon, steam boilers, hydraulic presses, and the like.
Cast iron, however, if subjected to only one single fusion,
is rarely sufficiently homogeneous; and it requires a second
fusion completely to refine it by dispossessing it of its last
earthly deposits. So long before being forwarded to Tampa Town,
the iron ore, molten in the great furnaces of Coldspring, and
brought into contact with coal and silicium heated to a high
temperature, was carburized and transformed into cast iron.
After this first operation, the metal was sent on to Stones Hill.
They had, however, to deal with 136,000,000 pounds of iron, a
quantity far too costly to send by railway. The cost of
transport would have been double that of material. It appeared
preferable to freight vessels at New York, and to load them with
the iron in bars. This, however, required not less than sixty-
eight vessels of 1,000 tons, a veritable fleet, which, quitting
New York on the 3rd of May, on the 10th of the same month ascended
the Bay of Espiritu Santo, and discharged their cargoes, without
dues, in the port at Tampa Town. Thence the iron was transported
by rail to Stones Hill, and about the middle of January this
enormous mass of metal was delivered at its destination.
It will easily be understood that 1,200 furnaces were not too
many to melt simultaneously these 60,000 tons of iron. Each of
these furnaces contained nearly 140,000 pounds weight of metal.
They were all built after the model of those which served for
the casting of the Rodman gun; they were trapezoidal in shape,
with a high elliptical arch. These furnaces, constructed of
fireproof brick, were especially adapted for burning pit coal,
with a flat bottom upon which the iron bars were laid. This bottom,
inclined at an angle of 25 degrees, allowed the metal to flow into
the receiving troughs; and the 1,200 converging trenches carried
the molten metal down to the central well.
The day following that on which the works of the masonry and
boring had been completed, Barbicane set to work upon the
central mould. His object now was to raise within the center of
the well, and with a coincident axis, a cylinder 900 feet high,
and nine feet in diameter, which should exactly fill up the
space reserved for the bore of the Columbiad. This cylinder was
composed of a mixture of clay and sand, with the addition of a
little hay and straw. The space left between the mould and the
masonry was intended to be filled up by the molten metal, which
would thus form the walls six feet in thickness. This cylinder,
in order to maintain its equilibrium, had to be bound by iron
bands, and firmly fixed at certain intervals by cross-clamps
fastened into the stone lining; after the castings these would
be buried in the block of metal, leaving no external projection.
This operation was completed on the 8th of July, and the run of
the metal was fixed for the following day.
"This fete of the casting will be a grand ceremony," said J.
T. Maston to his friend Barbicane.
"Undoubtedly," said Barbicane; "but it will not be a public fete"
"What! will you not open the gates of the enclosure to all comers?"
"I must be very careful, Maston. The casting of the Columbiad
is an extremely delicate, not to say a dangerous operation, and
I should prefer its being done privately. At the discharge of
the projectile, a fete if you like-- till then, no!"
The president was right. The operation involved unforeseen
dangers, which a great influx of spectators would have hindered
him from averting. It was necessary to preserve complete
freedom of movement. No one was admitted within the enclosure
except a delegation of members of the Gun Club, who had made the
voyage to Tampa Town. Among these was the brisk Bilsby, Tom
Hunter, Colonel Blomsberry, Major Elphinstone, General Morgan,
and the rest of the lot to whom the casting of the Columbiad was
a matter of personal interest. J. T. Maston became their cicerone.
He omitted no point of detail; he conducted them throughout the
magazines, workshops, through the midst of the engines, and
compelled them to visit the whole 1,200 furnaces one after
the other. At the end of the twelve-hundredth visit they were
pretty well knocked up.
The casting was to take place at twelve o'clock precisely.
The previous evening each furnace had been charged with 114,000
pounds weight of metal in bars disposed cross-ways to each other,
so as to allow the hot air to circulate freely between them.
At daybreak the 1,200 chimneys vomited their torrents of flame
into the air, and the ground was agitated with dull tremblings.
As many pounds of metal as there were to cast, so many pounds of
coal were there to burn. Thus there were 68,000 tons of coal
which projected in the face of the sun a thick curtain of smoke.
The heat soon became insupportable within the circle of furnaces,
the rumbling of which resembled the rolling of thunder. The powerful
ventilators added their continuous blasts and saturated with
oxygen the glowing plates. The operation, to be successful,
required to be conducted with great rapidity. On a signal given
by a cannon-shot each furnace was to give vent to the molten
iron and completely to empty itself. These arrangements made,
foremen and workmen waited the preconcerted moment with an
impatience mingled with a certain amount of emotion. Not a soul
remained within the enclosure. Each superintendent took his
post by the aperture of the run.
Barbicane and his colleagues, perched on a neighboring eminence,
assisted at the operation. In front of them was a piece of
artillery ready to give fire on the signal from the engineer.
Some minutes before midday the first driblets of metal began to
flow; the reservoirs filled little by little; and, by the time
that the whole melting was completely accomplished, it was kept
in abeyance for a few minutes in order to facilitate the
separation of foreign substances.
Twelve o'clock struck! A gunshot suddenly pealed forth and shot
its flame into the air. Twelve hundred melting-troughs were
simultaneously opened and twelve hundred fiery serpents crept
toward the central well, unrolling their incandescent curves.
There, down they plunged with a terrific noise into a depth of
900 feet. It was an exciting and a magnificent spectacle.
The ground trembled, while these molten waves, launching into the
sky their wreaths of smoke, evaporated the moisture of the mould
and hurled it upward through the vent-holes of the stone lining
in the form of dense vapor-clouds. These artificial clouds
unrolled their thick spirals to a height of 1,000 yards into
the air. A savage, wandering somewhere beyond the limits of the
horizon, might have believed that some new crater was forming in
the bosom of Florida, although there was neither any eruption,
nor typhoon, nor storm, nor struggle of the elements, nor any of
those terrible phenomena which nature is capable of producing.
No, it was man alone who had produced these reddish vapors,
these gigantic flames worthy of a volcano itself, these
tremendous vibrations resembling the shock of an earthquake,
these reverberations rivaling those of hurricanes and storms;
and it was his hand which precipitated into an abyss, dug by
himself, a whole Niagara of molten metal!
Had the casting succeeded? They were reduced to mere conjecture.
There was indeed every reason to expect success, since the mould
has absorbed the entire mass of the molten metal; still some
considerable time must elapse before they could arrive at any
certainty upon the matter.
The patience of the members of the Gun Club was sorely tried during
this period of time. But they could do nothing. J. T. Maston
escaped roasting by a miracle. Fifteen days after the casting
an immense column of smoke was still rising in the open sky and
the ground burned the soles of the feet within a radius of two
hundred feet round the summit of Stones Hill. It was impossible
to approach nearer. All they could do was to wait with what
patience they might.
"Here we are at the 10th of August," exclaimed J. T. Maston one
morning, "only four months to the 1st of December! We shall
never be ready in time!" Barbicane said nothing, but his
silence covered serious irritation.
However, daily observations revealed a certain change going on
in the state of the ground. About the 15th of August the vapors
ejected had sensibly diminished in intensity and thickness.
Some days afterward the earth exhaled only a slight puff of
smoke, the last breath of the monster enclosed within its circle
of stone. Little by little the belt of heat contracted, until
on the 22nd of August, Barbicane, his colleagues, and the
engineer were enabled to set foot on the iron sheet which lay
level upon the summit of Stones Hill.
"At last!" exclaimed the president of the Gun Club, with an
immense sigh of relief.
The work was resumed the same day. They proceeded at once to
extract the interior mould, for the purpose of clearing out the
boring of the piece. Pickaxes and boring irons were set to work
without intermission. The clayey and sandy soils had acquired
extreme hardness under the action of the heat; but, by the aid
of the machines, the rubbish on being dug out was rapidly carted
away on railway wagons; and such was the ardor of the work, so
persuasive the arguments of Barbicane's dollars, that by the 3rd
of September all traces of the mould had entirely disappeared.
Immediately the operation of boring was commenced; and by the
aid of powerful machines, a few weeks later, the inner surface
of the immense tube had been rendered perfectly cylindrical, and
the bore of the piece had acquired a thorough polish.
At length, on the 22d of September, less than a twelvemonth
after Barbicane's original proposition, the enormous weapon,
accurately bored, and exactly vertically pointed, was ready
for work. There was only the moon now to wait for; and they
were pretty sure that she would not fail in the rendezvous.
The ecstasy of J. T. Maston knew no bounds, and he narrowly
escaped a frightful fall while staring down the tube. But for
the strong hand of Colonel Blomsberry, the worthy secretary,
like a modern Erostratus, would have found his death in the
depths of the Columbiad.
The cannon was then finished; there was no possible doubt as to
its perfect completion. So, on the 6th of October, Captain
Nicholl opened an account between himself and President Barbicane,
in which he debited himself to the latter in the sum of two
thousand dollars. One may believe that the captain's wrath was
increased to its highest point, and must have made him seriously ill.
However, he had still three bets of three, four, and five
thousand dollars, respectively; and if he gained two out of these,
his position would not be very bad. But the money question did
not enter into his calculations; it was the success of his rival
in casting a cannon against which iron plates sixty feet thick
would have been ineffectual, that dealt him a terrible blow.
After the 23rd of September the enclosure of Stones hill was
thrown open to the public; and it will be easily imagined what
was the concourse of visitors to this spot! There was an
incessant flow of people to and from Tampa Town and the place,
which resembled a procession, or rather, in fact, a pilgrimage.
It was already clear to be seen that, on the day of the
experiment itself, the aggregate of spectators would be counted
by millions; for they were already arriving from all parts of
the earth upon this narrow strip of promontory. Europe was
emigrating to America.
Up to that time, however, it must be confessed, the curiosity
of the numerous comers was but scantily gratified. Most had
counted upon witnessing the spectacle of the casting, and they
were treated to nothing but smoke. This was sorry food for
hungry eyes; but Barbicane would admit no one to that operation.
Then ensued grumbling, discontent, murmurs; they blamed the
president, taxed him with dictatorial conduct. His proceedings
were declared "un-American." There was very nearly a riot round
Stones Hill; but Barbicane remained inflexible. When, however,
the Columbiad was entirely finished, this state of closed doors
could no longer be maintained; besides it would have been bad
taste, and even imprudence, to affront the public feeling.
Barbicane, therefore, opened the enclosure to all comers; but,
true to his practical disposition, he determined to coin money
out of the public curiosity.
It was something, indeed, to be enabled to contemplate this
immense Columbiad; but to descend into its depths, this seemed
to the Americans the ne plus ultra of earthly felicity.
Consequently, there was not one curious spectator who was not
willing to give himself the treat of visiting the interior of
this great metallic abyss. Baskets suspended from steam-cranes
permitted them to satisfy their curiosity. There was a
perfect mania. Women, children, old men, all made it a point
of duty to penetrate the mysteries of the colossal gun.
The fare for the descent was fixed at five dollars per head;
and despite this high charge, during the two months which
preceded the experiment, the influx of visitors enabled the
Gun Club to pocket nearly five hundred thousand dollars!
It is needless to say that the first visitors of the Columbiad
were the members of the Gun Club. This privilege was justly
reserved for that illustrious body. The ceremony took place on
the 25th of September. A basket of honor took down the
president, J. T. Maston, Major Elphinstone, General Morgan,
Colonel Blomsberry, and other members of the club, to the number
of ten in all. How hot it was at the bottom of that long tube
of metal! They were half suffocated. But what delight!
What ecstasy! A table had been laid with six covers on the
massive stone which formed the bottom of the Columbiad, and
lighted by a jet of electric light resembling that of day itself.
Numerous exquisite dishes, which seemed to descend from heaven,
were placed successively before the guests, and the richest wines
of France flowed in profusion during this splendid repast, served
nine hundred feet beneath the surface of the earth!
The festival was animated, not to say somewhat noisy. Toasts flew
backward and forward. They drank to the earth and to her satellite,
to the Gun Club, the Union, the Moon, Diana, Phoebe, Selene, the
"peaceful courier of the night!" All the hurrahs, carried upward
upon the sonorous waves of the immense acoustic tube, arrived with
the sound of thunder at its mouth; and the multitude ranged round
Stones Hill heartily united their shouts with those of the ten
revelers hidden from view at the bottom of the gigantic Columbiad.
J. T. Maston was no longer master of himself. Whether he
shouted or gesticulated, ate or drank most, would be a difficult
matter to determine. At all events, he would not have given his
place up for an empire, "not even if the cannon-- loaded,
primed, and fired at that very moment--were to blow him in
pieces into the planetary world."
A TELEGRAPHIC DISPATCH
The great works undertaken by the Gun Club had now virtually
come to an end; and two months still remained before the day for
the discharge of the shot to the moon. To the general impatience
these two months appeared as long as years! Hitherto the smallest
details of the operation had been daily chronicled by the journals,
which the public devoured with eager eyes.
Just at this moment a circumstance, the most unexpected, the
most extraordinary and incredible, occurred to rouse afresh
their panting spirits, and to throw every mind into a state of
the most violent excitement.
One day, the 30th of September, at 3:47 P.M., a telegram,
transmitted by cable from Valentia (Ireland) to Newfoundland and
the American Mainland, arrived at the address of President Barbicane.
The president tore open the envelope, read the dispatch, and,
despite his remarkable powers of self-control, his lips turned
pale and his eyes grew dim, on reading the twenty words of
Here is the text of the dispatch, which figures now in the
archives of the Gun Club:
30 September, 4 A.M.
Barbicane, Tampa Town, Florida, United States.
Substitute for your spherical shell a cylindro-conical projectile.
I shall go inside. Shall arrive by steamer Atlanta.
THE PASSENGER OF THE ATLANTA
If this astounding news, instead of flying through the electric
wires, had simply arrived by post in the ordinary sealed envelope,
Barbicane would not have hesitated a moment. He would have held
his tongue about it, both as a measure of prudence, and in order
not to have to reconsider his plans. This telegram might be a
cover for some jest, especially as it came from a Frenchman.
What human being would ever have conceived the idea of such
a journey? and, if such a person really existed, he must be an
idiot, whom one would shut up in a lunatic ward, rather than
within the walls of the projectile.
The contents of the dispatch, however, speedily became known;
for the telegraphic officials possessed but little discretion,
and Michel Ardan's proposition ran at once throughout the
several States of the Union. Barbicane, had, therefore, no
further motives for keeping silence. Consequently, he called
together such of his colleagues as were at the moment in Tampa
Town, and without any expression of his own opinions simply read
to them the laconic text itself. It was received with every
possible variety of expressions of doubt, incredulity, and
derision from every one, with the exception of J. T. Maston, who
exclaimed, "It is a grand idea, however!"
When Barbicane originally proposed to send a shot to the moon
every one looked upon the enterprise as simple and practicable
enough-- a mere question of gunnery; but when a person,
professing to be a reasonable being, offered to take passage
within the projectile, the whole thing became a farce, or, in
plainer language a humbug.
One question, however, remained. Did such a being exist?
This telegram flashed across the depths of the Atlantic, the
designation of the vessel on board which he was to take his
passage, the date assigned for his speedy arrival, all combined
to impart a certain character of reality to the proposal.
They must get some clearer notion of the matter. Scattered groups
of inquirers at length condensed themselves into a compact crowd,
which made straight for the residence of President Barbicane.
That worthy individual was keeping quiet with the intention of
watching events as they arose. But he had forgotten to take
into account the public impatience; and it was with no pleasant
countenance that he watched the population of Tampa Town
gathering under his windows. The murmurs and vociferations
below presently obliged him to appear. He came forward,
therefore, and on silence being procured, a citizen put
point-blank to him the following question: "Is the person
mentioned in the telegram, under the name of Michel Ardan, on
his way here? Yes or no."
"Gentlemen," replied Barbicane, "I know no more than you do."
"We must know," roared the impatient voices.
"Time will show," calmly replied the president.
"Time has no business to keep a whole country in suspense,"
replied the orator. "Have you altered the plans of the
projectile according to the request of the telegram?"
"Not yet, gentlemen; but you are right! we must have better
information to go by. The telegraph must complete its information."
"To the telegraph!" roared the crowd.
Barbicane descended; and heading the immense assemblage, led the
way to the telegraph office. A few minutes later a telegram was
dispatched to the secretary of the underwriters at Liverpool,
requesting answers to the following queries:
"About the ship Atlanta-- when did she leave Europe? Had she on
board a Frenchman named Michel Ardan?"
Two hours afterward Barbicane received information too exact to
leave room for the smallest remaining doubt.
"The steamer Atlanta from Liverpool put to sea on the 2nd of
October, bound for Tampa Town, having on board a Frenchman borne
on the list of passengers by the name of Michel Ardan."
That very evening he wrote to the house of Breadwill and Co.,
requesting them to suspend the casting of the projectile until
the receipt of further orders. On the 10th of October, at nine
A.M., the semaphores of the Bahama Canal signaled a thick smoke
on the horizon. Two hours later a large steamer exchanged
signals with them. the name of the Atlanta flew at once over
Tampa Town. At four o'clock the English vessel entered the Bay
of Espiritu Santo. At five it crossed the passage of
Hillisborough Bay at full steam. At six she cast anchor at
Port Tampa. The anchor had scarcely caught the sandy bottom when
five hundred boats surrounded the Atlanta, and the steamer was
taken by assault. Barbicane was the first to set foot on deck,
and in a voice of which he vainly tried to conceal the emotion,
called "Michel Ardan."
"Here!" replied an individual perched on the poop.
Barbicane, with arms crossed, looked fixedly at the passenger of
He was a man of about forty-two years of age, of large build,
but slightly round-shouldered. His massive head momentarily
shook a shock of reddish hair, which resembled a lion's mane.
His face was short with a broad forehead, and furnished with a
moustache as bristly as a cat's, and little patches of yellowish
whiskers upon full cheeks. Round, wildish eyes, slightly
near-sighted, completed a physiognomy essentially feline.
His nose was firmly shaped, his mouth particularly sweet in
expression, high forehead, intelligent and furrowed with
wrinkles like a newly-plowed field. The body was powerfully
developed and firmly fixed upon long legs. Muscular arms,
and a general air of decision gave him the appearance of a hardy,
jolly, companion. He was dressed in a suit of ample dimensions,
loose neckerchief, open shirtcollar, disclosing a robust neck;
his cuffs were invariably unbuttoned, through which appeared
a pair of red hands.
On the bridge of the steamer, in the midst of the crowd, he
bustled to and fro, never still for a moment, "dragging his
anchors," as the sailors say, gesticulating, making free with
everybody, biting his nails with nervous avidity. He was one of
those originals which nature sometimes invents in the freak of
a moment, and of which she then breaks the mould.
Among other peculiarities, this curiosity gave himself out for
a sublime ignoramus, "like Shakespeare," and professed supreme
contempt for all scientific men. Those "fellows," as he called
them, "are only fit to mark the points, while we play the game."
He was, in fact, a thorough Bohemian, adventurous, but not an
adventurer; a hare-brained fellow, a kind of Icarus, only
possessing relays of wings. For the rest, he was ever in
scrapes, ending invariably by falling on his feet, like those
little figures which they sell for children's toys. In a few
words, his motto was "I have my opinions," and the love of the
impossible constituted his ruling passion.
Such was the passenger of the Atlanta, always excitable, as if
boiling under the action of some internal fire by the character
of his physical organization. If ever two individuals offered
a striking contrast to each other, these were certainly Michel
Ardan and the Yankee Barbicane; both, moreover, being equally
enterprising and daring, each in his own way.
The scrutiny which the president of the Gun Club had instituted
regarding this new rival was quickly interrupted by the shouts
and hurrahs of the crowd. The cries became at last so
uproarious, and the popular enthusiasm assumed so personal a
form, that Michel Ardan, after having shaken hands some
thousands of times, at the imminent risk of leaving his fingers
behind him, was fain at last to make a bolt for his cabin.
Barbicane followed him without uttering a word.
"You are Barbicane, I suppose?" said Michel Ardan, in a tone
of voice in which he would have addressed a friend of twenty
"Yes," replied the president of the Gun Club.
"All right! how d'ye do, Barbicane? how are you getting on--
pretty well? that's right."
"So," said Barbicane without further preliminary, "you are quite
determined to go."
"Nothing will stop you?"
"Nothing. Have you modified your projectile according to my telegram."
"I waited for your arrival. But," asked Barbicane again, "have
you carefully reflected?"
"Reflected? have I any time to spare? I find an opportunity of
making a tour in the moon, and I mean to profit by it. There is
the whole gist of the matter."
Barbicane looked hard at this man who spoke so lightly of his
project with such complete absence of anxiety. "But, at least,"
said he, "you have some plans, some means of carrying your
project into execution?"
"Excellent, my dear Barbicane; only permit me to offer one remark:
My wish is to tell my story once for all, to everybody, and then
have done with it; then there will be no need for recapitulation.
So, if you have no objection, assemble your friends, colleagues,
the whole town, all Florida, all America if you like, and
to-morrow I shall be ready to explain my plans and answer any
objections whatever that may be advanced. You may rest assured
I shall wait without stirring. Will that suit you?"
"All right," replied Barbicane.
So saying, the president left the cabin and informed the crowd of
the proposal of Michel Ardan. His words were received with clappings
of hands and shouts of joy. They had removed all difficulties.
To-morrow every one would contemplate at his ease this European hero.
However, some of the spectators, more infatuated than the rest,
would not leave the deck of the Atlanta. They passed the night
on board. Among others J. T. Maston got his hook fixed in the
combing of the poop, and it pretty nearly required the capstan to
get it out again.
"He is a hero! a hero!" he cried, a theme of which he was never
tired of ringing the changes; "and we are only like weak, silly
women, compared with this European!"
As to the president, after having suggested to the visitors it
was time to retire, he re-entered the passenger's cabin, and
remained there till the bell of the steamer made it midnight.
But then the two rivals in popularity shook hands heartily and
parted on terms of intimate friendship.
A MONSTER MEETING
On the following day Barbicane, fearing that indiscreet
questions might be put to Michel Ardan, was desirous of reducing
the number of the audience to a few of the initiated, his own
colleagues for instance. He might as well have tried to
check the Falls of Niagara! he was compelled, therefore, to
give up the idea, and let his new friend run the chances of a
public conference. The place chosen for this monster meeting
was a vast plain situated in the rear of the town. In a few
hours, thanks to the help of the shipping in port, an immense
roofing of canvas was stretched over the parched prairie, and
protected it from the burning rays of the sun. There three
hundred thousand people braved for many hours the stifling heat
while awaiting the arrival of the Frenchman. Of this crowd of
spectators a first set could both see and hear; a second set saw
badly and heard nothing at all; and as for the third, it could
neither see nor hear anything at all. At three o'clock Michel
Ardan made his appearance, accompanied by the principal members
of the Gun Club. He was supported on his right by President
Barbicane, and on his left by J. T. Maston, more radiant than
the midday sun, and nearly as ruddy. Ardan mounted a platform,
from the top of which his view extended over a sea of black hats.
He exhibited not the slightest embarrassment; he was just as
gay, familiar, and pleasant as if he were at home. To the
hurrahs which greeted him he replied by a graceful bow; then,
waving his hands to request silence, he spoke in perfectly
correct English as follows:
"Gentlemen, despite the very hot weather I request your patience
for a short time while I offer some explanations regarding the
projects which seem to have so interested you. I am neither an
orator nor a man of science, and I had no idea of addressing you
in public; but my friend Barbicane has told me that you would
like to hear me, and I am quite at your service. Listen to me,
therefore, with your six hundred thousand ears, and please
excuse the faults of the speaker. Now pray do not forget that
you see before you a perfect ignoramus whose ignorance goes so
far that he cannot even understand the difficulties! It seemed
to him that it was a matter quite simple, natural, and easy
to take one's place in a projectile and start for the moon!
That journey must be undertaken sooner or later; and, as for the
mode of locomotion adopted, it follows simply the law of progress.
Man began by walking on all-fours; then, one fine day, on two
feet; then in a carriage; then in a stage-coach; and lastly
by railway. Well, the projectile is the vehicle of the future,
and the planets themselves are nothing else! Now some of you,
gentlemen, may imagine that the velocity we propose to impart to
it is extravagant. It is nothing of the kind. All the stars
exceed it in rapidity, and the earth herself is at this moment
carrying us round the sun at three times as rapid a rate, and
yet she is a mere lounger on the way compared with many others
of the planets! And her velocity is constantly decreasing.
Is it not evident, then, I ask you, that there will some day appear
velocities far greater than these, of which light or electricity
will probably be the mechanical agent?
"Yes, gentlemen," continued the orator, "in spite of the
opinions of certain narrow-minded people, who would shut up the
human race upon this globe, as within some magic circle which it
must never outstep, we shall one day travel to the moon, the
planets, and the stars, with the same facility, rapidity, and
certainty as we now make the voyage from Liverpool to New York!
Distance is but a relative expression, and must end by being
reduced to zero."
The assembly, strongly predisposed as they were in favor of the
French hero, were slightly staggered at this bold theory.
Michel Ardan perceived the fact.
"Gentlemen," he continued with a pleasant smile, "you do not
seem quite convinced. Very good! Let us reason the matter out.
Do you know how long it would take for an express train to reach
the moon? Three hundred days; no more! And what is that?
The distance is no more than nine times the circumference of
the earth; and there are no sailors or travelers, of even
moderate activity, who have not made longer journeys than that
in their lifetime. And now consider that I shall be only ninety-
seven hours on my journey. Ah! I see you are reckoning that the
moon is a long way off from the earth, and that one must think
twice before making the experiment. What would you say, then,
if we were talking of going to Neptune, which revolves at a
distance of more than two thousand seven hundred and twenty
millions of miles from the sun! And yet what is that compared
with the distance of the fixed stars, some of which, such as Arcturus,
are billions of miles distant from us? And then you talk of the
distance which separates the planets from the sun! And there
are people who affirm that such a thing as distance exists.
Absurdity, folly, idiotic nonsense! Would you know what I think
of our own solar universe? Shall I tell you my theory? It is
very simple! In my opinion the solar system is a solid
homogeneous body; the planets which compose it are in actual
contact with each other; and whatever space exists between them
is nothing more than the space which separates the molecules of
the densest metal, such as silver, iron, or platinum! I have
the right, therefore, to affirm, and I repeat, with the
conviction which must penetrate all your minds, `Distance is
but an empty name; distance does not really exist!'"
"Hurrah!" cried one voice (need it be said it was that of
J. T. Maston). "Distance does not exist!" And overcome by the
energy of his movements, he nearly fell from the platform to
the ground. He just escaped a severe fall, which would have
proved to him that distance was by no means an empty name.
"Gentlemen," resumed the orator, "I repeat that the distance
between the earth and her satellite is a mere trifle, and
undeserving of serious consideration. I am convinced that
before twenty years are over one-half of our earth will have
paid a visit to the moon. Now, my worthy friends, if you have
any question to put to me, you will, I fear, sadly embarrass a
poor man like myself; still I will do my best to answer you."
Up to this point the president of the Gun Club had been
satisfied with the turn which the discussion had assumed.
It became now, however, desirable to divert Ardan from
questions of a practical nature, with which he was doubtless
far less conversant. Barbicane, therefore, hastened to get in
a word, and began by asking his new friend whether he thought
that the moon and the planets were inhabited.
"You put before me a great problem, my worthy president,"
replied the orator, smiling. "Still, men of great intelligence,
such as Plutarch, Swedenborg, Bernardin de St. Pierre, and
others have, if I mistake not, pronounced in the affirmative.
Looking at the question from the natural philosopher's point of
view, I should say that nothing useless existed in the world;
and, replying to your question by another, I should venture to
assert, that if these worlds are habitable, they either are,
have been, or will be inhabited."
"No one could answer more logically or fairly," replied the
president. "The question then reverts to this: Are these
worlds habitable? For my own part I believe they are."
"For myself, I feel certain of it," said Michel Ardan.
"Nevertheless," retorted one of the audience, "there are many
arguments against the habitability of the worlds. The conditions
of life must evidently be greatly modified upon the majority
of them. To mention only the planets, we should be either
broiled alive in some, or frozen to death in others, according
as they are more or less removed from the sun."
"I regret," replied Michel Ardan, "that I have not the honor of
personally knowing my contradictor, for I would have attempted
to answer him. His objection has its merits, I admit; but I
think we may successfully combat it, as well as all others which
affect the habitability of other worlds. If I were a natural
philosopher, I would tell him that if less of caloric were set
in motion upon the planets which are nearest to the sun, and
more, on the contrary, upon those which are farthest removed
from it, this simple fact would alone suffice to equalize the
heat, and to render the temperature of those worlds supportable
by beings organized like ourselves. If I were a naturalist,
I would tell him that, according to some illustrious men of
science, nature has furnished us with instances upon the earth
of animals existing under very varying conditions of life;
that fish respire in a medium fatal to other animals; that
amphibious creatures possess a double existence very difficult
of explanation; that certain denizens of the seas maintain life
at enormous depths, and there support a pressure equal to that
of fifty or sixty atmospheres without being crushed; that
several aquatic insects, insensible to temperature, are met with
equally among boiling springs and in the frozen plains of the
Polar Sea; in fine, that we cannot help recognizing in nature a
diversity of means of operation oftentimes incomprehensible, but
not the less real. If I were a chemist, I would tell him that
the aerolites, bodies evidently formed exteriorly of our
terrestrial globe, have, upon analysis, revealed indisputable
traces of carbon, a substance which owes its origin solely to
organized beings, and which, according to the experiments of
Reichenbach, must necessarily itself have been endued with
animation. And lastly, were I a theologian, I would tell him
that the scheme of the Divine Redemption, according to St. Paul,
seems to be applicable, not merely to the earth, but to all the
celestial worlds. But, unfortunately, I am neither theologian,
nor chemist, nor naturalist, nor philosopher; therefore, in my
absolute ignorance of the great laws which govern the universe,
I confine myself to saying in reply, `I do not know whether the
worlds are inhabited or not: and since I do not know, I am going
Whether Michel Ardan's antagonist hazarded any further arguments
or not it is impossible to say, for the uproarious shouts of the
crowd would not allow any expression of opinion to gain a hearing.
On silence being restored, the triumphant orator contented himself
with adding the following remarks:
"Gentlemen, you will observe that I have but slightly touched
upon this great question. There is another altogether different
line of argument in favor of the habitability of the stars,
which I omit for the present. I only desire to call attention
to one point. To those who maintain that the planets are not
inhabited one may reply: You might be perfectly in the right,
if you could only show that the earth is the best possible
world, in spite of what Voltaire has said. She has but one
satellite, while Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn, Neptune have each
several, an advantage by no means to be despised. But that
which renders our own globe so uncomfortable is the inclination
of its axis to the plane of its orbit. Hence the inequality of
days and nights; hence the disagreeable diversity of the seasons.
On the surface of our unhappy spheroid we are always either too
hot or too cold; we are frozen in winter, broiled in summer;
it is the planet of rheumatism, coughs, bronchitis; while on the
surface of Jupiter, for example, where the axis is but slightly
inclined, the inhabitants may enjoy uniform temperatures.
It possesses zones of perpetual springs, summers, autumns, and
winters; every Jovian may choose for himself what climate he
likes, and there spend the whole of his life in security from
all variations of temperature. You will, I am sure, readily
admit this superiority of Jupiter over our own planet, to say
nothing of his years, which each equal twelve of ours!
Under such auspices and such marvelous conditions of existence,
it appears to me that the inhabitants of so fortunate a world
must be in every respect superior to ourselves. All we require,
in order to attain such perfection, is the mere trifle of having
an axis of rotation less inclined to the plane of its orbit!"
"Hurrah!" roared an energetic voice, "let us unite our efforts,
invent the necessary machines, and rectify the earth's axis!"
A thunder of applause followed this proposal, the author of
which was, of course, no other than J. T. Maston. And, in all
probability, if the truth must be told, if the Yankees could
only have found a point of application for it, they would have
constructed a lever capable of raising the earth and rectifying
its axis. It was just this deficiency which baffled these
ATTACK AND RIPOSTE
As soon as the excitement had subsided, the following words were
heard uttered in a strong and determined voice:
"Now that the speaker has favored us with so much imagination,
would he be so good as to return to his subject, and give us a
little practical view of the question?"
All eyes were directed toward the person who spoke. He was a
little dried-up man, of an active figure, with an American
"goatee" beard. Profiting by the different movements in the crowd,
he had managed by degrees to gain the front row of spectators.
There, with arms crossed and stern gaze, he watched the hero of
the meeting. After having put his question he remained silent,
and appeared to take no notice of the thousands of looks directed
toward himself, nor of the murmur of disapprobation excited by
his words. Meeting at first with no reply, he repeated his
question with marked emphasis, adding, "We are here to talk about
the moon and not about the earth."
"You are right, sir," replied Michel Ardan; "the discussion has
become irregular. We will return to the moon."
"Sir," said the unknown, "you pretend that our satellite is inhabited.
Very good, but if Selenites do exist, that race of beings assuredly
must live without breathing, for-- I warn you for your own sake--
there is not the smallest particle of air on the surface of the moon."
At this remark Ardan pushed up his shock of red hair; he saw
that he was on the point of being involved in a struggle with
this person upon the very gist of the whole question. He looked
sternly at him in his turn and said:
"Oh! so there is no air in the moon? And pray, if you are so
good, who ventures to affirm that?
"The men of science."
"Sir," replied Michel, "pleasantry apart, I have a profound
respect for men of science who do possess science, but a
profound contempt for men of science who do not."
"Do you know any who belong to the latter category?"
"Decidedly. In France there are some who maintain that,
mathematically, a bird cannot possibly fly; and others who
demonstrate theoretically that fishes were never made to
live in water."
"I have nothing to do with persons of that description, and I
can quote, in support of my statement, names which you cannot
refuse deference to."
"Then, sir, you will sadly embarrass a poor ignorant, who,
besides, asks nothing better than to learn."
"Why, then, do you introduce scientific questions if you have
never studied them?" asked the unknown somewhat coarsely.
"For the reason that `he is always brave who never suspects danger.'
I know nothing, it is true; but it is precisely my very weakness
which constitutes my strength."
"Your weakness amounts to folly," retorted the unknown in a passion.
"All the better," replied our Frenchman, "if it carries me up to
Barbicane and his colleagues devoured with their eyes the intruder
who had so boldly placed himself in antagonism to their enterprise.
Nobody knew him, and the president, uneasy as to the result of so
free a discussion, watched his new friend with some anxiety.
The meeting began to be somewhat fidgety also, for the contest
directed their attention to the dangers, if not the actual
impossibilities, of the proposed expedition.
"Sir," replied Ardan's antagonist, "there are many and
incontrovertible reasons which prove the absence of an
atmosphere in the moon. I might say that, a priori, if one
ever did exist, it must have been absorbed by the earth; but I
prefer to bring forward indisputable facts."
"Bring them forward then, sir, as many as you please."
"You know," said the stranger, "that when any luminous rays
cross a medium such as the air, they are deflected out of the
straight line; in other words, they undergo refraction. Well!
When stars are occulted by the moon, their rays, on grazing the
edge of her disc, exhibit not the least deviation, nor offer the
slightest indication of refraction. It follows, therefore, that
the moon cannot be surrounded by an atmosphere.
"In point of fact," replied Ardan, "this is your chief, if not
your only argument; and a really scientific man might be
puzzled to answer it. For myself, I will simply say that it is
defective, because it assumes that the angular diameter of the
moon has been completely determined, which is not the case.
But let us proceed. Tell me, my dear sir, do you admit the
existence of volcanoes on the moon's surface?"
"Extinct, yes! In activity, no!"
"These volcanoes, however, were at one time in a state of activity?"
"True, but, as they furnish themselves the oxygen necessary for
combustion, the mere fact of their eruption does not prove the
presence of an atmosphere."
"Proceed again, then; and let us set aside this class of
arguments in order to come to direct observations. In 1715 the
astronomers Louville and Halley, watching the eclipse of the
3rd of May, remarked some very extraordinary scintillations.
These jets of light, rapid in nature, and of frequent recurrence,
they attributed to thunderstorms generated in the lunar atmosphere."
"In 1715," replied the unknown, "the astronomers Louville and
Halley mistook for lunar phenomena some which were purely
terrestrial, such as meteoric or other bodies which are
generated in our own atmosphere. This was the scientific
explanation at the time of the facts; and that is my answer now."
"On again, then," replied Ardan; "Herschel, in 1787, observed a
great number of luminous points on the moon's surface, did he not?"
"Yes! but without offering any solution of them. Herschel himself
never inferred from them the necessity of a lunar atmosphere.
And I may add that Baeer and Maedler, the two great authorities
upon the moon, are quite agreed as to the entire absence of air
on its surface."
A movement was here manifest among the assemblage, who appeared
to be growing excited by the arguments of this singular personage.
"Let us proceed," replied Ardan, with perfect coolness, "and
come to one important fact. A skillful French astronomer, M.
Laussedat, in watching the eclipse of July 18, 1860, probed that
the horns of the lunar crescent were rounded and truncated.
Now, this appearance could only have been produced by a
deviation of the solar rays in traversing the atmosphere of
the moon. There is no other possible explanation of the facts."
"But is this established as a fact?"
A counter-movement here took place in favor of the hero of the
meeting, whose opponent was now reduced to silence. Ardan resumed
the conversation; and without exhibiting any exultation at the
advantage he had gained, simply said:
"You see, then, my dear sir, we must not pronounce with absolute
positiveness against the existence of an atmosphere in the moon.
That atmosphere is, probably, of extreme rarity; nevertheless at
the present day science generally admits that it exists."
"Not in the mountains, at all events," returned the unknown,
unwilling to give in.
"No! but at the bottom of the valleys, and not exceeding a few
hundred feet in height."
"In any case you will do well to take every precaution, for the
air will be terribly rarified."
"My good sir, there will always be enough for a solitary
individual; besides, once arrived up there, I shall do my best
to economize, and not to breathe except on grand occasions!"
A tremendous roar of laughter rang in the ears of the mysterious
interlocutor, who glared fiercely round upon the assembly.
"Then," continued Ardan, with a careless air, "since we are in
accord regarding the presence of a certain atmosphere, we are
forced to admit the presence of a certain quantity of water.
This is a happy consequence for me. Moreover, my amiable
contradictor, permit me to submit to you one further observation.
We only know one side of the moon's disc; and if there is but
little air on the face presented to us, it is possible that there
is plenty on the one turned away from us."
"And for what reason?"
"Because the moon, under the action of the earth's attraction,
has assumed the form of an egg, which we look at from the
smaller end. Hence it follows, by Hausen's calculations, that
its center of gravity is situated in the other hemisphere.
Hence it results that the great mass of air and water must have
been drawn away to the other face of our satellite during the
first days of its creation."
"Pure fancies!" cried the unknown.
"No! Pure theories! which are based upon the laws of mechanics,
and it seems difficult to me to refute them. I appeal then to
this meeting, and I put it to them whether life, such as exists
upon the earth, is possible on the surface of the moon?"
Three hundred thousand auditors at once applauded the proposition.
Ardan's opponent tried to get in another word, but he could not
obtain a hearing. Cries and menaces fell upon him like hail.
"Enough! enough!" cried some.
"Drive the intruder off!" shouted others.
"Turn him out!" roared the exasperated crowd.
But he, holding firmly on to the platform, did not budge an
inch, and let the storm pass on, which would soon have assumed
formidable proportions, if Michel Ardan had not quieted it by
a gesture. He was too chivalrous to abandon his opponent in an
"You wished to say a few more words?" he asked, in a pleasant voice.
"Yes, a thousand; or rather, no, only one! If you persevere in
your enterprise, you must be a----"
"Very rash person! How can you treat me as such? me, who have
demanded a cylindro-conical projectile, in order to prevent
turning round and round on my way like a squirrel?"
"But, unhappy man, the dreadful recoil will smash you to pieces
at your starting."
"My dear contradictor, you have just put your finger upon the
true and only difficulty; nevertheless, I have too good an
opinion of the industrial genius of the Americans not to believe
that they will succeed in overcoming it."
"But the heat developed by the rapidity of the projectile in
crossing the strata of air?"
"Oh! the walls are thick, and I shall soon have crossed
"But victuals and water?"
"I have calculated for a twelvemonth's supply, and I shall be
only four days on the journey."
"But for air to breathe on the road?"
"I shall make it by a chemical process."
"But your fall on the moon, supposing you ever reach it?"
"It will be six times less dangerous than a sudden fall upon the
earth, because the weight will be only one-sixth as great on the
surface of the moon."
"Still it will be enough to smash you like glass!"
"What is to prevent my retarding the shock by means of rockets
conveniently placed, and lighted at the right moment?"
"But after all, supposing all difficulties surmounted, all
obstacles removed, supposing everything combined to favor you,
and granting that you may arrive safe and sound in the moon, how
will you come back?"
"I am not coming back!"
At this reply, almost sublime in its very simplicity, the
assembly became silent. But its silence was more eloquent than
could have been its cries of enthusiasm. The unknown profited
by the opportunity and once more protested:
"You will inevitably kill yourself!" he cried; "and your death
will be that of a madman, useless even to science!"
"Go on, my dear unknown, for truly your prophecies are most agreeable!"
"It really is too much!" cried Michel Ardan's adversary. "I do
not know why I should continue so frivolous a discussion!
Please yourself about this insane expedition! We need not
trouble ourselves about you!"
"Pray don't stand upon ceremony!"
"No! another person is responsible for your act."
"Who, may I ask?" demanded Michel Ardan in an imperious tone.
"The ignoramus who organized this equally absurd and
The attack was direct. Barbicane, ever since the interference
of the unknown, had been making fearful efforts of self-control;
now, however, seeing himself directly attacked, he could
restrain himself no longer. He rose suddenly, and was rushing
upon the enemy who thus braved him to the face, when all at once
he found himself separated from him.
The platform was lifted by a hundred strong arms, and the president
of the Gun Club shared with Michel Ardan triumphal honors.
The shield was heavy, but the bearers came in continuous relays,
disputing, struggling, even fighting among themselves in their
eagerness to lend their shoulders to this demonstration.
However, the unknown had not profited by the tumult to quit
his post. Besides he could not have done it in the midst of that
compact crowd. There he held on in the front row with crossed
arms, glaring at President Barbicane.
The shouts of the immense crowd continued at their highest pitch
throughout this triumphant march. Michel Ardan took it all with
evident pleasure. His face gleamed with delight. Several times
the platform seemed seized with pitching and rolling like a
weatherbeaten ship. But the two heros of the meeting had good
sea-legs. They never stumbled; and their vessel arrived without
dues at the port of Tampa Town.
Michel Ardan managed fortunately to escape from the last
embraces of his vigorous admirers. He made for the Hotel
Franklin, quickly gained his chamber, and slid under the
bedclothes, while an army of a hundred thousand men kept watch
under his windows.
During this time a scene, short, grave, and decisive, took place
between the mysterious personage and the president of the Gun Club.
Barbicane, free at last, had gone straight at his adversary.
"Come!" he said shortly.
The other followed him on the quay; and the two presently found
themselves alone at the entrance of an open wharf on Jones' Fall.
The two enemies, still mutually unknown, gazed at each other.
"Who are you?" asked Barbicane.
"So I suspected. Hitherto chance has never thrown you in my way."
"I am come for that purpose."
"You have insulted me."
"And you will answer to me for this insult?"
"At this very moment."
"No! I desire that all that passes between us shall be secret.
Their is a wood situated three miles from Tampa, the wood
of Skersnaw. Do you know it?"
"I know it."
"Will you be so good as to enter it to-morrow morning at five