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It was disheartening. They thought of those unfortunates shut
up in the projectile for twenty-six days. Perhaps at that
moment they were experiencing the first approach of suffocation;
that is, if they had escaped the dangers of their fall. The air
was spent, and doubtless with the air all their morale.

"The air, possibly," answered J. T. Maston resolutely, "but
their morale never!"

On the 28th, after two more days of search, all hope was gone.
This projectile was but an atom in the immensity of the ocean.
They must give up all idea of finding it.

But J. T. Maston would not hear of going away. He would not
abandon the place without at least discovering the tomb of
his friends. But Commander Blomsberry could no longer persist,
and in spite of the exclamations of the worthy secretary, was
obliged to give the order to sail.

On the 29th of December, at nine A.M., the Susquehanna, heading
northeast, resumed her course to the bay of San Francisco.

It was ten in the morning; the corvette was under half-steam, as
it was regretting to leave the spot where the catastrophe had
taken place, when a sailor, perched on the main-top-gallant
crosstrees, watching the sea, cried suddenly:

"A buoy on the lee bow!"

The officers looked in the direction indicated, and by the help
of their glasses saw that the object signalled had the
appearance of one of those buoys which are used to mark the
passages of bays or rivers. But, singularly to say, a flag
floating on the wind surmounted its cone, which emerged five
or six feet out of water. This buoy shone under the rays
of the sun as if it had been made of plates of silver.
Commander Blomsberry, J. T. Maston, and the delegates of the Gun
Club were mounted on the bridge, examining this object straying
at random on the waves.

All looked with feverish anxiety, but in silence. None dared
give expression to the thoughts which came to the minds of all.

The corvette approached to within two cables' lengths of the object.

A shudder ran through the whole crew. That flag was the
American flag!

At this moment a perfect howling was heard; it was the brave J.
T. Maston who had just fallen all in a heap. Forgetting on the
one hand that his right arm had been replaced by an iron hook,
and on the other that a simple gutta-percha cap covered his
brain-box, he had given himself a formidable blow.

They hurried toward him, picked him up, restored him to life.
And what were his first words?

"Ah! trebly brutes! quadruply idiots! quintuply boobies that we are!"

"What is it?" exclaimed everyone around him.

"What is it?"

"Come, speak!"

"It is, simpletons," howled the terrible secretary, "it is that
the projectile only weighs 19,250 pounds!"

"Well?"

"And that it displaces twenty-eight tons, or in other words
56,000 pounds, and that consequently it floats!"

Ah! what stress the worthy man had laid on the verb "float!"
And it was true! All, yes! all these savants had forgotten
this fundamental law, namely, that on account of its specific
lightness, the projectile, after having been drawn by its fall
to the greatest depths of the ocean, must naturally return to
the surface. And now it was floating quietly at the mercy of
the waves.

The boats were put to sea. J. T. Maston and his friends had
rushed into them! Excitement was at its height! Every heart
beat loudly while they advanced to the projectile. What did
it contain? Living or dead?

Living, yes! living, at least unless death had struck
Barbicane and his two friends since they had hoisted the flag.
Profound silence reigned on the boats. All were breathless.
Eyes no longer saw. One of the scuttles of the projectile was open.
Some pieces of glass remained in the frame, showing that it had
been broken. This scuttle was actually five feet above the water.

A boat came alongside, that of J. T. Maston, and J. T. Maston
rushed to the broken window.

At that moment they heard a clear and merry voice, the voice of
Michel Ardan, exclaiming in an accent of triumph:

"White all, Barbicane, white all!"

Barbicane, Michel Ardan, and Nicholl were playing at dominoes!

CHAPTER XXIII

THE END

We may remember the intense sympathy which had accompanied the
travelers on their departure. If at the beginning of the
enterprise they had excited such emotion both in the old and
new world, with what enthusiasm would they be received on
their return! The millions of spectators which had beset
the peninsula of Florida, would they not rush to meet these
sublime adventurers? Those legions of strangers, hurrying from
all parts of the globe toward the American shores, would they
leave the Union without having seen Barbicane, Nicholl, and
Michel Ardan? No! and the ardent passion of the public was
bound to respond worthily to the greatness of the enterprise.
Human creatures who had left the terrestrial sphere, and returned
after this strange voyage into celestial space, could not fail
to be received as the prophet Elias would be if he came back
to earth. To see them first, and then to hear them, such was
the universal longing.

Barbicane, Michel Ardan, Nicholl, and the delegates of the Gun
Club, returning without delay to Baltimore, were received with
indescribable enthusiasm. The notes of President Barbicane's
voyage were ready to be given to the public. The New York
Herald bought the manuscript at a price not yet known, but
which must have been very high. Indeed, during the publication
of "A Journey to the Moon," the sale of this paper amounted to
five millions of copies. Three days after the return of
the travelers to the earth, the slightest detail of their
expedition was known. There remained nothing more but to see
the heroes of this superhuman enterprise.

The expedition of Barbicane and his friends round the moon had
enabled them to correct the many admitted theories regarding the
terrestrial satellite. These savants had observed de visu,
and under particular circumstances. They knew what systems
should be rejected, what retained with regard to the formation
of that orb, its origin, its habitability. Its past, present,
and future had even given up their last secrets. Who could
advance objections against conscientious observers, who at less
than twenty-four miles distance had marked that curious mountain
of Tycho, the strangest system of lunar orography? How answer
those savants whose sight had penetrated the abyss of
Pluto's circle? How contradict those bold ones whom the chances
of their enterprise had borne over that invisible face of the
disc, which no human eye until then had ever seen? It was now
their turn to impose some limit on that selenographic science,
which had reconstructed the lunar world as Cuvier did the
skeleton of a fossil, and say, "The moon was this, a habitable
world, inhabited before the earth. The moon is that, a world
uninhabitable, and now uninhabited."

To celebrate the return of its most illustrious member and his
two companions, the Gun Club decided upon giving a banquet, but
a banquet worthy of the conquerors, worthy of the American
people, and under such conditions that all the inhabitants of
the Union could directly take part in it.

All the head lines of railroads in the States were joined by
flying rails; and on all the platforms, lined with the same
flags, and decorated with the same ornaments, were tables laid
and all served alike. At certain hours, successively
calculated, marked by electric clocks which beat the seconds at
the same time, the population were invited to take their places
at the banquet tables. For four days, from the 5th to the 9th
of January, the trains were stopped as they are on Sundays on
the railways of the United States, and every road was open.
One engine only at full speed, drawing a triumphal carriage, had
the right of traveling for those four days on the railroads of
the United States.

The engine was manned by a driver and a stoker, and bore, by
special favor, the Hon. J. T. Maston, secretary of the Gun Club.
The carriage was reserved for President Barbicane, Colonel
Nicholl, and Michel Ardan. At the whistle of the driver, amid
the hurrahs, and all the admiring vociferations of the American
language, the train left the platform of Baltimore. It traveled
at a speed of one hundred and sixty miles in the hour. But what
was this speed compared with that which had carried the three
heroes from the mouth of the Columbiad?

Thus they sped from one town to the other, finding whole
populations at table on their road, saluting them with the same
acclamations, lavishing the same bravos! They traveled in this
way through the east of the Union, Pennsylvania, Connecticut,
Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire; the north and
west by New York, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin; returning to
the south by Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana;
they went to the southeast by Alabama and Florida, going up by
Georgia and the Carolinas, visiting the center by Tennessee,
Kentucky, Virginia, and Indiana, and, after quitting the
Washington station, re-entered Baltimore, where for four days
one would have thought that the United States of America were
seated at one immense banquet, saluting them simultaneously with
the same hurrahs! The apotheosis was worthy of these three
heroes whom fable would have placed in the rank of demigods.

And now will this attempt, unprecedented in the annals of
travels, lead to any practical result? Will direct
communication with the moon ever be established? Will they
ever lay the foundation of a traveling service through the
solar world? Will they go from one planet to another, from
Jupiter to Mercury, and after awhile from one star to another,
from the Polar to Sirius? Will this means of locomotion allow
us to visit those suns which swarm in the firmament?

To such questions no answer can be given. But knowing the bold
ingenuity of the Anglo-Saxon race, no one would be astonished if
the Americans seek to make some use of President Barbicane's attempt.

Thus, some time after the return of the travelers, the public
received with marked favor the announcement of a company,
limited, with a capital of a hundred million of dollars, divided
into a hundred thousand shares of a thousand dollars each, under
the name of the "National Company of Interstellary Communication."
President, Barbicane; vice-president, Captain Nicholl; secretary,
J. T. Maston; director of movements, Michel Ardan.

And as it is part of the American temperament to foresee
everything in business, even failure, the Honorable Harry
Trolloppe, judge commissioner, and Francis Drayton, magistrate,
were nominated beforehand!

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