Part 2 out of 7
of the cannon being given, what would be the quantity of powder
necessary to produce the impulsion? This terrible agent, of which,
however, man has made himself master, was destined to play a part in
It is generally known and often asserted that gunpowder was invented in
the fourteenth century by the monk Schwartz, who paid for his great
discovery with his life. But it is nearly proved now that this story
must be ranked among the legends of the Middle Ages. Gunpowder was
invented by no one; it is a direct product of Greek fire, composed, like
it, of sulphur and saltpetre; only since that epoch these mixtures;
which were only dissolving, have been transformed into detonating
But if learned men know perfectly the false history of gunpowder, few
people are aware of its mechanical power. Now this is necessary to be
known in order to understand the importance of the question submitted to
Thus a litre of gunpowder weighs about 2 lbs.; it produces, by burning,
about 400 litres of gas; this gas, liberated, and under the action of a
temperature of 2,400 deg., occupies the space of 4,000 litres. Therefore the
volume of powder is to the volume of gas produced by its deflagration as
1 to 400. The frightful force of this gas, when it is compressed into a
space 4,000 times too small, may be imagined.
This is what the members of the committee knew perfectly when, the next
day, they began their sitting. Major Elphinstone opened the debate.
"My dear comrades," said the distinguished chemist, "I am going to begin
with some unexceptionable figures, which will serve as a basis for our
calculation. The 24-lb. cannon-ball, of which the Hon. J.T. Maston spoke
the day before yesterday, is driven out of the cannon by 16 lbs. of
"You are certain of your figures?" asked Barbicane.
"Absolutely certain," answered the major. "The Armstrong cannon only
uses 75 lbs. of powder for a projectile of 800 lbs., and the Rodman
Columbiad only expends 160 lbs. of powder to send its half-ton bullet
six miles. These facts cannot be doubted, for I found them myself in the
reports of the Committee of Artillery."
"That is certain," answered the general.
"Well," resumed the major, "the conclusion to be drawn from these
figures is that the quantity of powder does not augment with the weight
of the shot; in fact, if a shot of 24 lbs. took 16 lbs. of powder, and,
in other terms, if in ordinary cannons a quantity of powder weighing
two-thirds of the weight of the projectile is used, this proportion is
not always necessary. Calculate, and you will see that for the shot of
half a ton weight, instead of 333 lbs. of powder, this quantity has been
reduced to 116 lbs. only.
"What are you driving at?" asked the president.
"The extreme of your theory, my dear major," said J.T. Maston, "would
bring you to having no powder at all, provided your shot were
"Friend Maston will have his joke even in the most serious things,"
replied the major; "but he need not be uneasy; I shall soon propose a
quantity of powder that will satisfy him. Only I wish to have it
understood that during the war, and for the largest guns, the weight of
the powder was reduced, after experience, to a tenth of the weight of
"Nothing is more exact," said Morgan; "but, before deciding the quantity
of powder necessary to give the impulsion, I think it would be well to
agree upon its nature."
"We shall use a large-grained powder," answered the major; "its
deflagration is the most rapid."
"No doubt," replied Morgan; "but it is very brittle, and ends by
damaging the chamber of the gun."
"Certainly; but what would be bad for a gun destined for long service
would not be so for our Columbiad. We run no danger of explosion, and
the powder must immediately take fire to make its mechanical effect
"We might make several touchholes," said J.T. Maston, "so as to set fire
to it in several places at the same time."
"No doubt," answered Elphinstone, "but that would make the working of it
more difficult. I therefore come back to my large-grained powder that
removes these difficulties."
"So be it," answered the general.
"To load his Columbiad," resumed the major, "Rodman used a powder in
grains as large as chestnuts, made of willow charcoal, simply rarefied
in cast-iron pans. This powder was hard and shining, left no stain on
the hands, contained a great proportion of hydrogen and oxygen,
deflagrated instantaneously, and, though very brittle, did not much
damage the mouthpiece."
"Well, it seems to me," answered J.T. Maston, "that we have nothing to
hesitate about, and that our choice is made."
"Unless you prefer gold-powder," replied the major, laughing, which
provoked a threatening gesture from the steel hook of his susceptible
Until then Barbicane had kept himself aloof from the discussion; he
listened, and had evidently an idea. He contented himself with saying
"Now, my friends, what quantity of powder do you propose?"
The three members of the Gun Club looked at one another for the space of
"Two hundred thousand pounds," said Morgan at last.
"Five hundred thousand," replied the major.
"Eight hundred thousand," exclaimed J.T. Maston.
This, time Elphinstone dared not tax his colleague with exaggeration. In
fact, the question was that of sending to the moon a projectile weighing
20,000 lbs., and of giving it an initial force of 2000 yards a second. A
moment of silence, therefore, followed the triple proposition made by
the three colleagues.
It was at last broken by President Barbicane.
"My brave comrades," said he in a quiet tone, "I start from this
principle, that the resistance of our cannon, in the given conditions,
is unlimited. I shall, therefore, surprise the Honourable J.T. Maston
when I tell him that he has been timid in his calculations, and I
propose to double his 800,000 lbs. of powder."
"Sixteen hundred thousand pounds!" shouted J.T. Maston, jumping out of
"Quite as much as that."
"Then we shall have to come back to my cannon half a mile long."
"It is evident," said the major.
"Sixteen hundred thousand pounds of powder," resumed the Secretary of
Committee, "will occupy about a space of 22,000 cubic feet; now, as your
cannon will only hold about 54,000 cubic feet, it will be half full, and
the chamber will not be long enough to allow the explosion of the gas to
give sufficient impulsion to your projectile."
There was nothing to answer. J.T. Maston spoke the truth. They all
looked at Barbicane.
"However," resumed the president, "I hold to that quantity of powder.
Think! 1,600,000 pounds of powder will give 6,000,000,000 litres of
"Then how is it to be done?" asked the general.
"It is very simple. We must reduce this enormous quantity of powder,
keeping at the same time its mechanical power."
"Good! By what means?"
"I will tell you," answered Barbicane simply.
His interlocutors all looked at him.
"Nothing is easier, in fact," he resumed, "than to bring that mass of
powder to a volume four times less. You all know that curious cellular
matter which constitutes the elementary tissues of vegetables?"
"Ah!" said the major, "I understand you, Barbicane."
"This matter," said the president, "is obtained in perfect purity in
different things, especially in cotton, which is nothing but the skin of
the seeds of the cotton plant. Now cotton, combined with cold nitric
acid, is transformed into a substance eminently insoluble, eminently
combustible, eminently explosive. Some years ago, in 1832, a French
chemist, Braconnot, discovered this substance, which he called
xyloidine. In 1838, another Frenchman, Pelouze, studied its different
properties; and lastly, in 1846, Schonbein, professor of chemistry at
Basle, proposed it as gunpowder. This powder is nitric cotton."
"Or pyroxyle," answered Elphinstone.
"Or fulminating cotton," replied Morgan.
"Is there not an American name to put at the bottom of this discovery?"
exclaimed J.T. Maston, animated by a lively sentiment of patriotism.
"Not one, unfortunately," replied the major.
"Nevertheless, to satisfy Maston," resumed the president, "I may tell
him that one of our fellow-citizens may be annexed to the study of the
celluosity, for collodion, which is one of the principal agents in
photography, is simply pyroxyle dissolved in ether to which alcohol has
been added, and it was discovered by Maynard, then a medical student."
"Hurrah for Maynard and fulminating cotton!" cried the noisy secretary
of the Gun Club.
"I return to pyroxyle," resumed Barbicane. "You are acquainted with its
properties which make it so precious to us. It is prepared with the
greatest facility; cotton plunged in smoking nitric acid for fifteen
minutes, then washed in water, then dried, and that is all."
"Nothing is more simple, certainty," said Morgan.
"What is more, pyroxyle is not damaged by moisture, a precious quality
in our eyes, as it will take several days to load the cannon. Its
inflammability takes place at 170 deg. instead of at 240 deg. and its
deflagration is so immediate that it may be fired on ordinary gunpowder
before the latter has time to catch fire too."
"Perfect," answered the major.
"Only it will cost more."
"What does that matter?" said J.T. Maston.
"Lastly, it communicates to projectiles a speed four times greater than
that of gunpowder. I may even add that if 8/10ths of its weight of
nitrate of potash is added its expansive force is still greatly
"Will that be necessary?" asked the major.
"I do not think so," answered Barbicane. "Thus instead of 1,600,000 lbs.
of powder, we shall only have 400,000 lbs. of fulminating cotton, and as
we can, without danger, compress 500 lbs. of cotton into 27 cubic feet,
that quantity will not take up more than 180 feet in the chamber of the
Columbiad. By these means the projectile will have more than 700 feet of
chamber to traverse under a force of 6,000,000,000 of litres of gas
before taking its flight over the Queen of Night."
Here J.T. Maston could not contain his emotion. He threw himself into
the arms of his friend with the violence of a projectile, and he would
have been stove in had he not have been bombproof.
This incident ended the first sitting of the committee. Barbicane and
his enterprising colleagues, to whom nothing seemed impossible, had just
solved the complex question of the projectile, cannon, and powder. Their
plan being made, there was nothing left but to put it into execution.
ONE ENEMY AGAINST TWENTY-FIVE MILLIONS OF FRIENDS.
The American public took great interest in the least details of the Gun
Club's enterprise. It followed the committee debates day by day. The
most simple preparations for this great experiment, the questions of
figures it provoked, the mechanical difficulties to be solved, all
excited popular opinion to the highest pitch.
More than a year would elapse between the commencement of the work and
its completion; but the interval would not be void of excitement. The
place to be chosen for the boring, the casting the metal of the
Columbiad, its perilous loading, all this was more than necessary to
excite public curiosity. The projectile, once fired, would be out of
sight in a few seconds; then what would become of it, how it would
behave in space, how it would reach the moon, none but a few privileged
persons would see with their own eyes. Thus, then, the preparations for
the experiment and the precise details of its execution constituted the
real source of interest.
In the meantime the purely scientific attraction of the enterprise was
all at once heightened by an incident.
It is known what numerous legions of admirers and friends the Barbicane
project had called round its author. But, notwithstanding the number and
importance of the majority, it was not destined to be unanimous. One
man, one out of all the United States, protested against the Gun Club.
He attacked it violently on every occasion, and--for human nature is
thus constituted--Barbicane was more sensitive to this one man's
opposition than to the applause of all the others.
Nevertheless he well knew the motive of this antipathy, from whence came
this solitary enmity, why it was personal and of ancient date; lastly,
in what rivalry it had taken root.
The president of the Gun Club had never seen this persevering enemy.
Happily, for the meeting of the two men would certainly have had
disastrous consequences. This rival was a _savant_ like Barbicane, a
proud, enterprising, determined, and violent character, a pure Yankee.
His name was Captain Nicholl. He lived in Philadelphia.
No one is ignorant of the curious struggle which went on during the
Federal war between the projectile and ironclad vessels, the former
destined to pierce the latter, the latter determined not to be pierced.
Thence came a radical transformation in the navies of the two
continents. Cannon-balls and iron plates struggled for supremacy, the
former getting larger as the latter got thicker. Ships armed with
formidable guns went into the fire under shelter of their invulnerable
armour. The Merrimac, Monitor, ram Tennessee, and Wechhausen shot
enormous projectiles after having made themselves proof against the
projectiles of other ships. They did to others what they would not have
others do to them, an immoral principle upon which the whole art of war
Now Barbicane was a great caster of projectiles, and Nicholl was an
equally great forger of plate-armour. The one cast night and day at
Baltimore, the other forged day and night at Philadelphia. Each followed
an essentially different current of ideas.
As soon as Barbicane had invented a new projectile, Nicholl invented a
new plate armour. The president of the Gun Club passed his life in
piercing holes, the captain in preventing him doing it. Hence a constant
rivalry which even touched their persons. Nicholl appeared in
Barbicane's dreams as an impenetrable ironclad against which he split,
and Barbicane in Nicholl's dreams appeared like a projectile which
ripped him up.
Still, although they ran along two diverging lines, these _savants_
would have ended by meeting each other in spite of all the axioms in
geometry; but then it would have been on a duel field. Happily for these
worthy citizens, so useful to their country, a distance of from fifty to
sixty miles separated them, and their friends put such obstacles in the
way that they never met.
At present it was not clearly known which of the two inventors held the
palm. The results obtained rendered a just decision difficult. It
seemed, however, that in the end armour-plate would have to give way to
projectiles. Nevertheless, competent men had their doubts. At the latest
experiments the cylindro-conical shots of Barbicane had no more effect
than pins upon Nicholl's armour-plate. That day the forger of
Philadelphia believed himself victorious, and henceforth had nothing but
disdain for his rival. But when, later on, Barbicane substituted simple
howitzers of 600 lbs. for conical shots, the captain was obliged to go
down in his own estimation. It fact, these projectiles, though of
mediocre velocity, drilled with holes and broke to pieces armour-plate
of the best metal.
Things had reached this point and victory seemed to rest with the
projectile, when the war ended the very day that Nicholl terminated a
new forged armour-plate. It was a masterpiece of its kind. It defied all
the projectiles in the world. The captain had it taken to the Washington
Polygon and challenged the president of the Gun Club to pierce it.
Barbicane, peace having been made, would not attempt the experiment.
Then Nicholl, in a rage, offered to expose his armour-plate to the shock
of any kind of projectile, solid, hollow, round, or conical.
The president, who was determined not to compromise his last success,
Nicholl, excited by this unqualified obstinacy, tried to tempt Barbicane
by leaving him every advantage. He proposed to put his plate 200 yards
from the gun. Barbicane still refused. At 100 yards? Not even at 75.
"At 50, then," cried the captain, through the newspapers, "at 25 yards
from my plate, and I will be behind it."
Barbicane answered that even if Captain Nicholl would be in front of it
he would not fire any more.
On this reply, Nicholl could no longer contain himself. He had recourse
to personalities; he insinuated cowardice--that the man who refuses to
fire a shot from a cannon is very nearly being afraid of it; that, in
short, the artillerymen who fight now at six miles distance have
prudently substituted mathematical formulae for individual courage, and
that there is as much bravery required to quietly wait for a cannon-ball
behind armour-plate as to send it according to all the rules of science.
To these insinuations Barbicane answered nothing. Perhaps he never knew
about them, for the calculations of his great enterprise absorbed him
When he made his famous communication to the Gun Club, the anger of
Captain Nicholl reached its maximum. Mixed with it was supreme jealousy
and a sentiment of absolute powerlessness. How could he invent anything
better than a Columbiad 900 feet long? What armour-plate could ever
resist a projectile of 30,000 lbs.? Nicholl was at first crushed by this
cannon-ball, then he recovered and resolved to crush the proposition by
the weight of his best arguments.
He therefore violently attacked the labours of the Gun Club. He sent a
number of letters to the newspapers, which they did not refuse to
publish. He tried to demolish Barbicane's work scientifically. Once the
war begun, he called reasons of every kind to his aid, reasons it must
be acknowledged often specious and of bad metal.
Firstly, Barbicane was violently attacked about his figures. Nicholl
tried to prove by A + B the falseness of his formulae, and he accused
him of being ignorant of the rudimentary principles of ballistics.
Amongst other errors, and according to Nicholl's own calculations, it
was impossible to give any body a velocity of 12,000 yards a second. He
sustained, algebra in hand, that even with that velocity a projectile
thus heavy would never pass the limits of the terrestrial atmosphere. It
would not even go eight leagues! Better still. Granted the velocity, and
taking it as sufficient, the shot would not resist the pressure of the
gas developed by the combustion of 1,600,000 pounds of powder, and even
if it did resist that pressure, it at least would not support such a
temperature; it would melt as it issued from the Columbiad, and would
fall in red-hot rain on the heads of the imprudent spectators.
Barbicane paid no attention to these attacks, and went on with his work.
Then Nicholl considered the question in its other aspects. Without
speaking of its uselessness from all other points of view, he looked
upon the experiment as exceedingly dangerous, both for the citizens who
authorised so condemnable a spectacle by their presence, and for the
towns near the deplorable cannon. He also remarked that if the
projectile did not reach its destination, a result absolutely
impossible, it was evident that it would fall on to the earth again, and
that the fall of such a mass multiplied by the square of its velocity
would singularly damage some point on the globe. Therefore, in such a
circumstance, and without any restriction being put upon the rights of
free citizens, it was one of those cases in which the intervention of
government became necessary, and the safety of all must not be
endangered for the good pleasure of a single individual.
It will be seen to what exaggeration Captain Nicholl allowed himself to
be carried. He was alone in his opinion. Nobody took any notice of his
Cassandra prophecies. They let him exclaim as much as he liked, till his
throat was sore if he pleased. He had constituted himself the defender
of a cause lost in advance. He was heard but not listened to, and he did
not carry off a single admirer from the president of the Gun Club, who
did not even take the trouble to refute his rival's arguments.
Nicholl, driven into his last intrenchments, and not being able to fight
for his opinion, resolved to pay for it. He therefore proposed in the
_Richmond Inquirer_ a series of bets conceived in these terms and in an
He bet that--
1. The funds necessary for the Gun Club's enterprise would not be
forthcoming, 1,000 dols.
2. That the casting of a cannon of 900 feet was impracticable and would
not succeed, 2,000 dols.
3. That it would be impossible to load the Columbiad, and that the
pyroxyle would ignite spontaneously under the weight of the projectile,
4. That the Columbiad would burst at the first discharge, 4,000 dols.
5. That the projectile would not even go six miles, and would fall a few
seconds after its discharge, 5,000 dols.
It will be seen that the captain was risking an important sum in his
invincible obstinacy. No less than 15,000 dols. were at stake.
Notwithstanding the importance of the wager, he received on the 19th of
October a sealed packet of superb laconism, couched in these terms:--
"Baltimore, October 18th.
FLORIDA AND TEXAS.
There still remained one question to be decided--a place favourable to
the experiment had to be chosen. According to the recommendation of the
Cambridge Observatory the gun must be aimed perpendicularly to the plane
of the horizon--that is to say, towards the zenith. Now the moon only
appears in the zenith in the places situated between 0 deg. and 28 deg. of
latitude, or, in other terms, when her declination is only 28 deg.. The
question was, therefore, to determine the exact point of the globe where
the immense Columbiad should be cast.
On the 20th of October the Gun Club held a general meeting. Barbicane
brought a magnificent map of the United States by Z. Belltropp. But
before he had time to unfold it J.T. Maston rose with his habitual
vehemence, and began to speak as follows:--
"Honourable colleagues, the question we are to settle to-day is really
of national importance, and will furnish us with an occasion for doing a
great act of patriotism."
The members of the Gun Club looked at each other without understanding
what the orator was coming to.
"Not one of you," he continued, "would think of doing anything to
lessen the glory of his country, and if there is one right that the
Union may claim it is that of harbouring in its bosom the formidable
cannon of the Gun Club. Now, under the present circumstances--"
"Will you allow me--" said Barbicane.
"I demand the free discussion of ideas," replied the impetuous J.T.
Maston, "and I maintain that the territory from which our glorious
projectile will rise ought to belong to the Union."
"Certainly," answered several members.
"Well, then, as our frontiers do not stretch far enough, as on the south
the ocean is our limit, as we must seek beyond the United States and in
a neighbouring country this 28th parallel, this is all a legitimate
_casus belli_, and I demand that war should be declared against Mexico!"
"No, no!" was cried from all parts.
"No!" replied J.T. Maston. "I am much astonished at hearing such a word
in these precincts!"
"Never! never!" cried the fiery orator. "Sooner or later this war will
be declared, and I demand that it should be this very day."
"Maston," said Barbicane, making his bell go off with a crash, "I agree
with you that the experiment cannot and ought not to be made anywhere
but on the soil of the Union, but if I had been allowed to speak before,
and you had glanced at this map, you would know that it is perfectly
useless to declare war against our neighbours, for certain frontiers of
the United States extend beyond the 28th parallel. Look, we have at our
disposition all the southern part of Texas and Florida."
This incident had no consequences; still it was not without regret that
J.T. Maston allowed himself to be convinced. It was, therefore, decided
that the Columbiad should be cast either on the soil of Texas or on that
of Florida. But this decision was destined to create an unexampled
rivalry between the towns of these two states.
The 28th parallel, when it touches the American coast, crosses the
peninsula of Florida, and divides it into two nearly equal portions.
Then, plunging into the Gulf of Mexico, it subtends the arc formed by
the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana; then skirting Texas,
off which it cuts an angle, it continues its direction over Mexico,
crosses the Sonora and Old California, and loses itself in the Pacific
Ocean; therefore only the portions of Texas and Florida situated below
this parallel fulfilled the requisite conditions of latitude recommended
by the Observatory of Cambridge.
The southern portion of Florida contains no important cities. It only
bristles with forts raised against wandering Indians. One town only,
Tampa Town, could put in a claim in favour of its position.
In Texas, on the contrary, towns are more numerous and more important.
Corpus Christi in the county of Nuaces, and all the cities situated on
the Rio Bravo, Laredo, Comalites, San Ignacio in Web, Rio Grande city in
Starr, Edinburgh in Hidalgo, Santa-Rita, El Panda, and Brownsville in
Cameron, formed a powerful league against the pretensions of Florida.
The decision, therefore, was hardly made public before the Floridan and
Texican deputies flocked to Baltimore by the shortest way. From that
moment President Barbicane and the influential members of the Gun Club
were besieged day and night by formidable claims. If seven towns of
Greece contended for the honour of being Homer's birthplace, two entire
states threatened to fight over a cannon.
These rival parties were then seen marching with weapons about the
streets of the town. Every time they met a fight was imminent, which
would have had disastrous consequences. Happily the prudence and skill
of President Barbicane warded off this danger. Personal demonstrations
found an outlet in the newspapers of the different states. It was thus
that the _New York Herald_ and the _Tribune_ supported the claims of
Texas, whilst the _Times_ and the _American Review_ took the part of the
Floridan deputies. The members of the Gun Club did not know which to
Texas came up proudly with its twenty-six counties, which it seemed to
put in array; but Florida answered that twelve counties proved more than
twenty-six in a country six times smaller.
Texas bragged of its 33,000 inhabitants; but Florida, much smaller,
boasted of being much more densely populated with 56,000. Besides,
Florida accused Texas of being the home of paludian fevers, which
carried off, one year with another, several thousands of inhabitants,
and Florida was not far wrong.
In its turn Texas replied that Florida need not envy its fevers, and
that it was, at least, imprudent to call other countries unhealthy when
Florida itself had chronic "vomito negro," and Texas was not far wrong.
"Besides," added the Texicans through the _New York Herald_, "there are
rights due to a state that grows the best cotton in all America, a state
which produces holm oak for building ships, a state that contains superb
coal and mines of iron that yield fifty per cent. of pure ore."
To that the _American Review_ answered that the soil of Florida, though
not so rich, offered better conditions for the casting of the Columbiad,
as it was composed of sand and clay-ground.
"But," answered the Texicans, "before anything can be cast in a place,
it must get to that place; now communication with Florida is difficult,
whilst the coast of Texas offers Galveston Bay, which is fourteen
leagues round, and could contain all the fleets in the world."
"Why," replied the newspapers devoted to Florida, "your Galveston Bay is
situated above the 29th parallel, whilst our bay of Espiritu-Santo opens
precisely at the 28th degree of latitude, and by it ships go direct to
"A nice bay truly!" answered Texas; "it is half-choked up with sand."
"Any one would think, to hear you talk," cried Florida, "that I was a
"Well, the Seminoles do still wander over your prairies!"
"And what about your Apaches and your Comanches--are they civilised?"
The war had been thus kept up for some days when Florida tried to draw
her adversary upon another ground, and one morning the _Times_
insinuated that the enterprise being "essentially American," it ought
only to be attempted upon an "essentially American" territory.
At these words Texas could not contain itself.
"American!" it cried, "are we not as American as you? Were not Texas and
Florida both incorporated in the Union in 1845?"
"Certainly," answered the _Times_, "but we have belonged to America
"Yes," replied the _Tribune_, "after having been Spanish or English for
200 years, you were sold to the United States for 5,000,000 of dollars!"
"What does that matter?" answered Florida. "Need we blush for that? Was
not Louisiana bought in 1803 from Napoleon for 16,000,000 of dollars?"
"It is shameful!" then cried the Texican deputies. "A miserable slice of
land like Florida to dare to compare itself with Texas, which, instead
of being sold, made itself independent, which drove out the Mexicans on
the 2nd of March, 1836, which declared itself Federative Republican
after the victory gained by Samuel Houston on the banks of the San
Jacinto over the troops of Santa-Anna--a country, in short, which
voluntarily joined itself to the United States of America!"
"Because it was afraid of the Mexicans!" answered Florida.
"Afraid!" From the day this word, really too cutting, was pronounced,
the situation became intolerable. An engagement was expected between the
two parties in the streets of Baltimore. The deputies were obliged to be
President Barbicane was half driven wild. Notes, documents, and letters
full of threats inundated his house. Which course ought he to decide
upon? In the point of view of fitness of soil, facility of
communications, and rapidity of transport, the rights of the two states
were really equal. As to the political personalities, they had nothing
to do with the question.
Now this hesitation and embarrassment had already lasted some time when
Barbicane resolved to put an end to it; he called his colleagues
together, and the solution he proposed to them was a profoundly wise
one, as will be seen from the following:--
"After due consideration," said he, "of all that has just occurred
between Florida and Texas, it is evident that the same difficulties will
again crop up between the towns of the favoured state. The rivalry will
be changed from state to city, and that is all. Now Texas contains
eleven towns with the requisite conditions that will dispute the honour
of the enterprise, and that will create fresh troubles for us, whilst
Florida has but one; therefore I decide for Tampa Town!"
The Texican deputies were thunderstruck at this decision. It put them
into a terrible rage, and they sent nominal provocations to different
members of the Gun Club. There was only one course for the magistrates
of Baltimore to take, and they took it. They had the steam of a special
train got up, packed the Texicans into it, whether they would or no, and
sent them away from the town at a speed of thirty miles an hour.
But they were not carried off too quickly to hurl a last and threatening
sarcasm at their adversaries.
Making allusion to the width of Florida, a simple peninsula between two
seas, they pretended it would not resist the shock, and would be blown
up the first time the cannon was fired.
"Very well! let it be blown up!" answered the Floridans with a laconism
worthy of ancient times.
"URBI ET ORBI."
The astronomical, mechanical, and topographical difficulties once
removed, there remained the question of money. An enormous sum was
necessary for the execution of the project. No private individual, no
single state even, could have disposed of the necessary millions.
President Barbicane had resolved--although the enterprise was
American--to make it a business of universal interest, and to ask every
nation for its financial co-operation. It was the bounded right and duty
of all the earth to interfere in the business of the satellite. The
subscription opened at Baltimore, for this end extended thence to all
the world--_urbi et orbi_.
This subscription was destined to succeed beyond all hope; yet the money
was to be given, not lent. The operation was purely disinterested, in
the literal meaning of the word, and offered no chance of gain.
But the effect of Barbicane's communication had not stopped at the
frontiers of the United States; it had crossed the Atlantic and Pacific,
had invaded both Asia and Europe, both Africa and Oceania. The
observatories of the Union were immediately put into communication with
the observatories of foreign countries; some--those of Paris, St.
Petersburg, the Cape, Berlin, Altona, Stockholm, Warsaw, Hamburg, Buda,
Bologna, Malta, Lisbon, Benares, Madras, and Pekin--sent their
compliments to the Gun Club; the others prudently awaited the result.
As to the Greenwich Observatory, seconded by the twenty-two astronomical
establishments of Great Britain, it made short work of it; it boldly
denied the possibility of success, and took up Captain Nicholl's
theories. Whilst the different scientific societies promised to send
deputies to Tampa Town, the Greenwich staff met and contemptuously
dismissed the Barbicane proposition. This was pure English jealousy and
Generally speaking, the effect upon the world of science was excellent,
and from thence it passed to the masses, who, in general, were greatly
interested in the question, a fact of great importance, seeing those
masses were to be called upon to subscribe a considerable capital.
On the 8th of October President Barbicane issued a manifesto, full of
enthusiasm, in which he made appeal to "all persons on the face of the
earth willing to help." This document, translated into every language,
had great success.
Subscriptions were opened in the principal towns of the Union with a
central office at the Baltimore Bank, 9, Baltimore street; then
subscriptions were opened in the different countries of the two
continents:--At Vienna, by S.M. de Rothschild; St. Petersburg, Stieglitz
and Co.; Paris, Credit Mobilier; Stockholm, Tottie and Arfuredson;
London, N.M. de Rothschild and Son; Turin, Ardouin and Co.; Berlin,
Mendelssohn; Geneva, Lombard, Odier, and Co.; Constantinople, Ottoman
Bank; Brussels, J. Lambert; Madrid, Daniel Weisweller; Amsterdam,
Netherlands Credit Co.; Rome, Torlonia and Co.; Lisbon, Lecesne;
Copenhagen, Private Bank; Buenos Ayres, Mana Bank; Rio Janeiro, Mana
Bank; Monte Video, Mana Bank; Valparaiso, Thomas La Chambre and Co.;
Lima, Thomas La Chambre and Co.; Mexico, Martin Daran and Co.
Three days after President Barbicane's manifesto 400,000 dollars were
received in the different towns of the Union. With such a sum in hand
the Gun Club could begin at once.
But a few days later telegrams informed America that foreign
subscriptions were pouring in rapidly. Certain countries were
distinguished by their generosity; others let go their money less
easily. It was a matter of temperament.
However, figures are more eloquent than words, and the following is an
official statement of the sums paid to the credit of the Gun Club when
the subscription was closed:--
The contingent of Russia was the enormous sum of 368,733 roubles. This
need astonish no one who remembers the scientific taste of the Russians
and the impetus which they have given to astronomical studies, thanks to
their numerous observatories, the principal of which cost 2,000,000
France began by laughing at the pretensions of the Americans. The moon
served as an excuse for a thousand stale puns and a score of vaudevilles
in which bad taste contested the palm with ignorance. But, as the French
formerly paid after singing, they now paid after laughing, and
subscribed a sum of 1,258,930 francs. At that price they bought the
right to joke a little.
Austria, in the midst of her financial difficulties, was sufficiently
generous. Her part in the public subscription amounted to 216,000
florins, which were welcome.
Sweden and Norway contributed 52,000 rix-dollars. The figure was small
considering the country; but it would certainly have been higher if a
subscription had been opened at Christiania as well as at Stockholm. For
some reason or other the Norwegians do not like to send their money to
Prussia, by sending 250,000 thalers, testified her approbation of the
enterprise. Her different observatories contributed an important sum,
and were amongst the most ardent in encouraging President Barbicane.
Turkey behaved generously, but she was personally interested in the
business; the moon, in fact, rules the course of her years and her
Ramadan fast. She could do no less than give 1,372,640 piastres, and she
gave them with an ardour that betrayed, however, a certain pressure from
the Government of the Porte.
Belgium distinguished herself amongst all the second order of States by
a gift of 513,000 francs, about one penny and a fraction for each
Holland and her colonies contributed 110,000 florins, only demanding a
discount of five per cent., as she paid ready money.
Denmark, rather confined for room, gave, notwithstanding, 9,000 ducats,
proving her love for scientific experiments.
The Germanic Confederation subscribed 34,285 florins; more could not be
asked from her; besides, she would not have given more.
Although in embarrassed circumstances, Italy found 2,000,000 francs in
her children's pockets, but by turning them well inside out. If she had
then possessed Venetia she would have given more, but she did not yet
The Pontifical States thought they could not send less than 7,040 Roman
crowns, and Portugal pushed her devotion to the extent of 3,000
Mexico gent the widow's mite, 86 piastres; but empires in course of
formation are always in rather embarrassed circumstances.
Switzerland sent the modest sum of 257 francs to the American scheme. It
must be frankly stated that Switzerland only looked upon the practical
side of the operation; the action of sending a bullet to the moon did
not seem of a nature sufficient for the establishing of any
communication with the Queen of Night, so Switzerland thought it
imprudent to engage capital in an enterprise depending upon such
uncertain events. After all, Switzerland was, perhaps, right.
As to Spain, she found it impossible to get together more than 110
reals. She gave as an excuse that she had her railways to finish. The
truth is that science is not looked upon very favourably in that
country; it is still a little behindhand. And then certain Spaniards,
and not the most ignorant either, had no clear conception of the size of
the projectile compared with that of the moon; they feared it might
disturb the satellite from her orbit, and make her fall on to the
surface of the terrestrial globe. In that case it was better to have
nothing to do with it, which they carried out, with that small
England alone remained. The contemptuous antipathy with which she
received Barbicane's proposition is known. The English have but a single
mind in their 25,000,000 of bodies which Great Britain contains. They
gave it to be understood 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 news the Gun Club contented itself with shrugging 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
into their hands their quota of 300,000 dollars, it found itself
possessed of a considerable capital of which the following is a
United States subscription, 4,000,000 dollars; foreign subscriptions,
1,446,675 dollars; total, 5,446,675 dollars.
This was the large sum poured by the public into the coffers of the Gun
No one need be surprised at its importance. The work of casting, boring,
masonry, transport of workmen, and their installation in an almost
uninhabited country, the construction of furnaces and workshops, the
manufacturing tools, powder, projectile and incidental expenses would,
according to the estimates, absorb nearly the whole. Some of the
cannon-shots fired during the war cost 1,000 dollars each; that of
President Barbicane, unique in the annals of artillery, might well cost
5,000 times more.
On the 20th of October a contract was made with the Goldspring
Manufactory, New York, which during the war had furnished Parrott with
his best cast-iron guns.
It was stipulated between the contracting parties that the Goldspring
Manufactory should pledge itself to send to Tampa Town, in South
Florida, the necessary materials for the casting of the Columbiad.
This operation was to be terminated, at the latest, on the 15th of the
next October, and the cannon delivered in good condition, under penalty
of 100 dollars a day forfeit until the moon should again present herself
under the same conditions--that is to say, during eighteen years and
The engagement of the workmen, their pay, and the necessary transports
all to be made by the Goldspring Company.
This contract, made in duplicate, was signed by I. Barbicane, president
of the Gun Club, and J. Murphison, Manager of the Goldspring
Manufactory, who thus signed on the part of the contracting parties.
Since the choice made by the members of the Gun Club to the detriment of
Texas, every one in America--where every one knows how to read--made it
his business to study the geography of Florida. Never before had the
booksellers sold so many _Bertram's Travels in Florida_, _Roman's
Natural History of East and West Florida_, _Williams' Territory of
Florida_, and _Cleland on the Culture of the Sugar Cane in East
Florida_. New editions of these works were required. There was quite a
rage for them.
Barbicane had something better to do than to read; he wished to see with
his own eyes and choose the site of the Columbiad. Therefore, without
losing a moment, he put the funds necessary for the construction of a
telescope at the disposition of the Cambridge Observatory, and made a
contract with the firm of Breadwill and Co., of Albany, for the making
of the aluminium projectile; then he left Baltimore accompanied by J.T.
Maston, Major Elphinstone, and the manager of the Goldspring
The next day the four travelling companions reached New Orleans. There
they embarked on board the _Tampico_, a despatch-boat belonging to the
Federal Navy, which the Government had placed at their disposal, and,
with all steam on, they quickly lost sight of the shores of Louisiana.
The passage was not a long one; two days after its departure the
_Tampico_, having made four hundred and eighty miles, sighted the
Floridian coast. As it approached, Barbicane saw a low, flat coast,
looking rather unfertile. After coasting a series of creeks rich in
oysters and lobsters, the _Tampico_ entered the Bay of Espiritu-Santo.
This bay is divided into two long roadsteads, those of Tampa and
Hillisboro, the narrow entrance to which the steamer soon cleared. A
short time afterwards the batteries of Fort Brooke rose above the waves
and the town of Tampa appeared, carelessly lying on a little natural
harbour formed by the mouth of the river Hillisboro.
There the _Tampico_ anchored on October 22nd, at seven p.m.; the four
passengers landed immediately.
Barbicane felt his heart beat violently as he set foot on Floridian
soil; he seemed to feel it with his feet like an architect trying the
solidity of a house. J.T. Maston scratched the ground with his steel
"Gentlemen," then said Barbicane, "we have no time to lose, and we will
set off on horseback to-morrow to survey the country."
The minute Barbicane landed the three thousand inhabitants of Tampa Town
went out to meet him, an honour quite due to the president of the Gun
Club, who had decided in their favour. They received him with formidable
exclamations, but Barbicane escaped an ovation by shutting himself up in
his room at the Franklin Hotel and refusing to see any one.
The next day, October 23rd, small horses of Spanish race, full of fire
and vigour, pawed the ground under his windows. But, instead of four,
there were fifty, with their riders. Barbicane went down accompanied by
his three companions, who were at first astonished to find themselves in
the midst of such a cavalcade. He remarked besides that each horseman
carried a carbine slung across his shoulders and pistols in his
holsters. The reason for such a display of force was immediately given
him by a young Floridian, who said to him--
"Sir, the Seminoles are there."
"Savages who frequent the prairies, and we deemed it prudent to give you
"Pooh!" exclaimed J.T. Maston as he mounted his steed.
"It is well to be on the safe side," answered the Floridian.
"Gentlemen," replied Barbicane, "I thank you for your attention, and now
let us be off."
The little troop set out immediately, and disappeared in a cloud of
dust. It was five a.m.; the sun shone brilliantly already, and the
thermometer indicated 84 deg., but fresh sea breezes moderated this
Barbicane, on leaving Tampa Town, went down south and followed the coast
to Alifia Creek. This small river falls into Hillisboro Bay, twelve
miles below Tampa Town. Barbicane and his escort followed its right bank
going up towards the east. The waves of the bay disappeared behind an
inequality in the ground, and the Floridian country was alone in sight.
Florida is divided into two parts; the one to the north, more populous
and less abandoned, has Tallahassee for capital, and Pensacola, one of
the principal marine arsenals of the United States; the other, lying
between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, is only a narrow peninsula,
eaten away by the current of the Gulf Stream--a little tongue of land
lost amidst a small archipelago, which the numerous vessels of the
Bahama Channel double continually. It is the advanced sentinel of the
gulf of great tempests. The superficial area of this state measures
38,033,267 acres, amongst which one had to be chosen situated beyond the
28th parallel and suitable for the enterprise. As Barbicane rode along
he attentively examined the configuration of the ground and its
Florida, discovered by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1512, on Palm Sunday, was
first of all named _Pascha Florida_. It was well worthy of that
designation with its dry and arid coasts. But a few miles from the shore
the nature of the ground gradually changed, and the country showed
itself worthy of its name; the soil was cut up by a network of creeks,
rivers, watercourses, ponds, and small lakes; it might have been
mistaken for Holland or Guiana; but the ground gradually rose and soon
showed its cultivated plains, where all the vegetables of the North and
South grow in perfection, its immense fields, where a tropical sun and
the water conserved in its clayey texture do all the work of
cultivating, and lastly its prairies of pineapples, yams, tobacco, rice,
cotton, and sugarcanes, which extended as far as the eye could reach,
spreading out their riches with careless prodigality.
Barbicane appeared greatly satisfied on finding the progressive
elevation of the ground, and when J.T. Maston questioned him on the
"My worthy friend," said he, "it is greatly to our interest to cast our
Columbiad on elevated ground."
"In order to be nearer the moon?" exclaimed the secretary of the Gun
"No," answered Barbicane, smiling. "What can a few yards more or less
matter? No, but on elevated ground our work can be accomplished more
easily; we shall not have to struggle against water, which will save us
long and expensive tubings, and that has to be taken into consideration
when a well 900 feet deep has to be sunk."
"You are right," said Murchison, the engineer; "we must, as much as
possible, avoid watercourses during the casting; but if we meet with
springs they will not matter much; we can exhaust them with our machines
or divert them from their course. Here we have not to work at an
artesian well, narrow and dark, where all the boring implements have to
work in the dark. No; we can work under the open sky, with spade and
pickaxe, and, by the help of blasting, our work will not take long."
"Still," resumed Barbicane, "if by the elevation of the ground or its
nature we can avoid a struggle with subterranean waters, we can do our
work more rapidly and perfectly; we must, therefore, make our cutting in
ground situated some thousands of feet above the level of the sea."
"You are right, Mr. Barbicane, and, if I am not mistaken, we shall soon
find a suitable spot."
"I should like to see the first spadeful turned up," said the president.
"And I the last!" exclaimed J.T. Maston.
"We shall manage it, gentlemen," answered the engineer; "and, believe
me, the Goldspring Company will not have to pay you any forfeit for
"Faith! it had better not," replied J.T. Maston; "a hundred dollars a
day till the moon presents herself in the same conditions--that is to
say, for eighteen years and eleven days--do you know that would make
"No, sir, we do not know, and we shall not need to learn."
About ten a.m. the little troop had journeyed about twelve miles; to the
fertile country succeeded a forest region. There were the most varied
perfumes in tropical profusion. The almost impenetrable forests were
made up of pomegranates, orange, citron, fig, olive, and apricot trees,
bananas, huge vines, the blossoms and fruit of which rivalled each other
in colour and perfume. Under the perfumed shade of these magnificent
trees sang and fluttered a world of brilliantly-coloured birds, amongst
which the crab-eater deserved a jewel casket, worthy of its feathered
gems, for a nest.
J.T. Maston and the major could not pass through such opulent nature
without admiring its splendid beauty.
But President Barbicane, who thought little of these marvels, was in a
hurry to hasten onwards; this country, so fertile, displeased him by its
very fertility; without being otherwise hydropical, he felt water under
his feet, and sought in vain the signs of incontestable aridity.
In the meantime they journeyed on. They were obliged to ford several
rivers, and not without danger, for they were infested with alligators
from fifteen to eighteen feet long. J.T. Maston threatened them boldly
with his formidable hook, but he only succeeded in frightening the
pelicans, phaetons, and teals that frequented the banks, while the red
flamingoes looked on with a stupid stare.
At last these inhabitants of humid countries disappeared in their turn.
The trees became smaller and more thinly scattered in smaller woods;
some isolated groups stood amidst immense plains where ranged herds of
"At last!" exclaimed Barbicane, rising in his stirrups. "Here is the
region of pines."
"And savages," answered the major.
In fact, a few Seminoles appeared on the horizon. They moved about
backwards and forwards on their fleet horses, brandishing long lances or
firing their guns with a dull report. However, they confined themselves
to these hostile demonstrations, which had no effect on Barbicane and
They were then in the middle of a rocky plain, a vast open space of
several acres in extent which the sun covered with burning rays. It was
formed by a wide elevation of the soil, and seemed to offer to the
members of the Gun Club all the required conditions for the construction
of their Columbiad.
"Halt!" cried Barbicane, stopping. "Has this place any name?"
"It is called Stony Hill," answered the Floridians.
Barbicane, without saying a word, dismounted, took his instruments, and
began to fix his position with extreme precision. The little troop drawn
up around him watched him in profound silence.
At that moment the sun passed the meridian. Barbicane, after an
interval, rapidly noted the result of his observation, and said--
"This place is situated 1,800 feet above the sea level in lat. 27 deg. 7'
and West long. 5 deg. 7' by the Washington meridian. It appears to me by its
barren and rocky nature to offer every condition favourable to our
enterprise; we will therefore raise our magazines, workshops, furnaces,
and workmen's huts here, and it is from this very spot," said he,
stamping upon it with his foot, "the summit of Stony Hill, that our
projectile will start for the regions of the solar world!"
PICKAXE AND TROWEL.
That same evening Barbicane and his companions returned to Tampa Town,
and Murchison, the engineer, re-embarked on board the _Tampico_ for New
Orleans. He was to engage an army of workmen to bring back the greater
part of the working-stock. The members of the Gun Club remained at Tampa
Town in order to set on foot the preliminary work with the assistance of
the inhabitants of the country.
Eight days after its departure the _Tampico_ returned to the
Espiritu-Santo Bay with a fleet of steamboats. Murchison had succeeded
in getting together 1,500 workmen. In the evil days of slavery he would
have lost his time and trouble; but since America, the land of liberty,
has only contained freemen, they flock wherever they can get good pay.
Now money was not wanting to the Gun Club; it offered a high rate of
wages with considerable and proportionate perquisites. The workman
enlisted for Florida could, once the work finished, depend upon a
capital placed in his name in the bank of Baltimore.
Murchison had therefore only to pick and choose, and could be severe
about the intelligence and skill of his workmen. He enrolled in his
working legion the pick of mechanics, stokers, iron-founders,
lime-burners, miners, brickmakers, and artisans of every sort, white or
black without distinction of colour. Many of them brought their families
with them. It was quite an emigration.
On the 31st of October, at 10 a.m., this troop landed on the quays of
Tampa Town. The movement and activity which reigned in the little town
that had thus doubled its population in a single day may be imagined. In
fact, Tampa Town was enormously benefited by this enterprise of the Gun
Club, not by the number of workmen who were immediately drafted to Stony
Hill, but by the influx of curious idlers who converged by degrees from
all points of the globe towards the Floridian peninsula.
During the first few days they were occupied in unloading the flotilla
of the tools, machines, provisions, and a large number of plate iron
houses made in pieces separately pieced and numbered. At the same time
Barbicane laid the first sleepers of a railway fifteen miles long that
was destined to unite Stony Hill and Tampa Town.
It is known how American railways are constructed, with capricious
bends, bold slopes, steep hills, and deep valleys. They do not cost much
and are not much in their way, only their trains run off or jump off as
they please. The railway from Tampa Town to Stony Hill was but a trifle,
and wanted neither much time nor much money for its construction.
Barbicane was the soul of this army of workmen who had come at his call.
He animated them, communicated to them his ardour, enthusiasm, and
conviction. He was everywhere at once, as if endowed with the gift of
ubiquity, and always followed by J.T. Maston, his bluebottle fly. His
practical mind invented a thousand things. With him there were no
obstacles, difficulties, or embarrassment. He was as good a miner,
mason, and mechanic as he was an artilleryman, having an answer to every
question, and a solution to every problem. He corresponded actively with
the Gun Club and the Goldspring Manufactory, and day and night the
_Tampico_ kept her steam up awaiting his orders in Hillisboro harbour.
Barbicane, on the 1st of November, left Tampa Town with a detachment of
workmen, and the very next day a small town of workmen's houses rose
round Stony Hill. They surrounded it with palisades, and from its
movement and ardour it might soon have been taken for one of the great
cities of the Union. Life was regulated at once and work began in
Careful boring had established the nature of the ground, and digging was
begun on November 4th. That day Barbicane called his foremen together
and said to them--
"You all know, my friends, why I have called you together in this part
of Florida. We want to cast a cannon nine feet in diameter, six feet
thick, and with a stone revetment nineteen and a half feet thick; we
therefore want a well 60 feet wide and 900 feet deep. This large work
must be terminated in nine months. You have, therefore, 2,543,400 cubic
feet of soil to dig out in 255 days--that is to say, 10,000 cubic feet a
day. That would offer no difficulty if you had plenty of elbow-room, but
as you will only have a limited space it will be more trouble.
Nevertheless as the work must be done it will be done, and I depend upon
your courage as much as upon your skill."
At 8 a.m. the first spadeful was dug out of the Floridian soil, and from
that moment this useful tool did not stop idle a moment in the hands of
the miner. The gangs relieved each other every three hours.
Besides, although the work was colossal it did not exceed the limit of
human capability. Far from that. How many works of much greater
difficulty, and in which the elements had to be more directly contended
against, had been brought to a successful termination! Suffice it to
mention the well of Father Joseph, made near Cairo by the Sultan Saladin
at an epoch when machines had not yet appeared to increase the strength
of man a hundredfold, and which goes down to the level of the Nile
itself at a depth of 300 feet! And that other well dug at Coblentz by
the Margrave Jean of Baden, 600 feet deep! All that was needed was a
triple depth and a double width, which made the boring easier. There was
not one foreman or workman who doubted about the success of the
An important decision taken by Murchison and approved of by Barbicane
accelerated the work. An article in the contract decided that the
Columbiad should be hooped with wrought-iron--a useless precaution, for
the cannon could evidently do without hoops. This clause was therefore
given up. Hence a great economy of time, for they could then employ the
new system of boring now used for digging wells, by which the masonry is
done at the same time as the boring. Thanks to this very simple
operation they were not obliged to prop up the ground; the wall kept it
up and went down by its own weight.
This manoeuvre was only to begin when the spade should have reached the
solid part of the ground.
On the 4th of November fifty workmen began to dig in the very centre of
the inclosure surrounded by palisades--that is to say, the top of Stony
Hill--a circular hole sixty feet wide.
The spade first turned up a sort of black soil six inches deep, which it
soon carried away. To this soil succeeded two feet of fine sand, which
was carefully taken out, as it was to be used for the casting.
After this sand white clay appeared, similar to English chalk, and which
was four feet thick.
Then the pickaxes rang upon the hard layer, a species of rock formed by
very dry petrified shells. At that point the hole was six and a half
feet deep, and the masonry was begun.
At the bottom of that excavation they made an oak wheel, a sort of
circle strongly bolted and of enormous strength; in its centre a hole
was pierced the size of the exterior diameter of the Columbiad. It was
upon this wheel that the foundations of the masonry were placed, the
hydraulic cement of which joined the stones solidly together. After the
workmen had bricked up the space from the circumference to the centre,
they found themselves inclosed in a well twenty-one feet wide.
When this work was ended the miners began again with spade and pickaxe,
and set upon the rock under the wheel itself, taking care to support it
on extremely strong tressels; every time the hole was two feet deeper
they took away the tressels; the wheel gradually sank, taking with it
its circle of masonry, at the upper layer of which the masons worked
incessantly, taking care to make vent-holes for the escape of gas during
the operation of casting.
This kind of work required great skill and constant attention on the
part of the workmen; more than one digging under the wheel was
dangerous, and some were even mortally wounded by the splinters of
stone; but their energy did not slacken for a moment by day nor night;
by day, when the sun's rays sent the thermometer up to 99 deg. on the
calcined planes; by night, under the white waves of electric light, the
noise of the pickaxe on the rock, the blasting and the machines,
together with the wreaths of smoke scattered through the air, traced a
circle of terror round Stony Hill, which the herds of buffaloes and the
detachments of Seminoles never dared to pass.
In the meantime the work regularly advanced; steam-cranes speeded the
carrying away of the rubbish; of unexpected obstacles there were none;
all the difficulties had been foreseen and guarded against.
When the first month had gone by the well had attained the depth
assigned for the time--i.e., 112 feet. In December this depth was
doubled, and tripled in January. During February the workmen had to
contend against a sheet of water which sprang from the ground. They were
obliged to employ powerful pumps and apparatus of compressed air to
drain it off, so as to close up the orifice from which it issued, just
as leaks are caulked on board ship. At last they got the better of these
unwelcome springs, only in consequence of the loosening of the soil the
wheel partially gave way, and there was a landslip. The frightful force
of this bricked circle, more than 400 feet high, may be imagined! This
accident cost the life of several workmen. Three weeks had to be taken
up in propping the stone revetment and making the wheel solid again.
But, thanks to the skill of the engineer and the power of the machines,
it was all set right, and the boring continued.
No fresh incident henceforth stopped the progress of the work, and on
the 10th of June, twenty days before the expiration of the delay fixed
by Barbicane, the well, quite bricked round, had reached the depth of
900 feet. At the bottom the masonry rested upon a massive block, thirty
feet thick, whilst at the top it was on a level with the soil.
President Barbicane and the members of the Gun Club warmly congratulated
the engineer Murchison; his cyclopean work had been accomplished with
During these eight months Barbicane did not leave Stony Hill for a
minute; whilst he narrowly watched over the boring operations, he took
every precaution to insure the health and well-being of his workmen, and
he was fortunate enough to avoid the epidemics common to large
agglomerations of men, and so disastrous in those regions of the globe
exposed to tropical influence.
It is true that several workmen paid with their lives for the
carelessness engendered by these dangerous occupations; but such
deplorable misfortunes cannot be avoided, and these are details that
Americans pay very little attention to. They are more occupied with
humanity in general than with individuals in particular. However,
Barbicane professed the contrary principles, and applied them upon every
occasion. Thanks to his care, to his intelligence and respectful
intervention in difficult cases, to his prodigious and humane wisdom,
the average of catastrophes did not exceed that of cities on the other
side of the Atlantic, amongst others those of France, where they count
about one accident upon every 200,000 francs of work.
THE CEREMONY OF THE CASTING.
During the eight months that were employed in the operation of boring
the preparatory works of the casting had been conducted simultaneously
with extreme rapidity; a stranger arriving at Stony Hill would have been
much surprised at what he saw there.
Six hundred yards from the well, and standing in a circle round it as a
central point, were 1,200 furnaces, each six feet wide and three yards
apart. The line made by these 1,200 furnaces was two miles long. They
were all built on the same model, with high quadrangular chimneys, and
had a singular effect. J.T. Maston thought the architectural arrangement
superb. It reminded him of the monuments at Washington. He thought there
was nothing finer in the world, not even in Greece, where he
acknowledged never to have been.
It will be remembered that at their third meeting the committee decided
to use cast-iron for the Columbiad, and in particular the grey
description. This metal is, in fact, the most tenacious, ductile, and
malleable, suitable for all moulding operations, and when smelted with
pit coal it is of superior quality for engine-cylinders, hydraulic
But cast-iron, if it has undergone a single fusion, is rarely
homogeneous enough; and it is by means of a second fusion that it is
purified, refined, and dispossessed of its last earthly deposits.
Before being forwarded to Tampa Town, the iron ore, smelted in the great
furnaces of Goldspring, and put in contact with coal and silicium heated
to a high temperature, was transformed into cast-iron. After this first
operation the metal was taken to Stony Hill. But there were 136 millions
of pounds of cast-iron, a bulk too expensive to be sent by railway; the
price of transport would have doubled that of the raw material. It
appeared preferable to freight vessels at New York and to load them with
the iron in bars; no less than sixty-eight vessels of 1,000 tons were
required, quite a fleet, which on May 3rd left New York, took the Ocean
route, coasted the American shores, entered the Bahama Channel, doubled
the point of Florida, and on the 10th of the same month entered the Bay
of Espiritu-Santo and anchored safely in the port of Tampa Town. There
the vessels were unloaded and their cargo carried by railway to Stony
Hill, and about the middle of January the enormous mass of metal was
delivered at its destination.
It will easily be understood that 1,200 furnaces were not too many to
melt these 60,000 tons of iron simultaneously. Each of these furnaces
contained about 1,400,000 lbs. of metal; they had been built on the
model of those used for the casting of the Rodman gun; they were
trapezoidal in form, with a high elliptical arch. The warming apparatus
and the chimney were placed at the two extremities of the furnace, so
that it was equally heated throughout. These furnaces, built of
fireproof brick, were filled with coal-grates and a "sole" for the bars
of iron; this sole, inclosed at an angle of 25 deg., allowed the metal to
flow into the receiving-troughs; from thence 1,200 converging trenches
carried it down to the central well.
The day following that upon which the works of masonry and casting were
terminated, Barbicane set to work upon the interior mould; his object
now was to raise in the centre of the well, with a coincident axis, a
cylinder 900 feet high and nine in diameter, to exactly fill up the
space reserved for the bore of the Columbiad. This cylinder was made of
a mixture of clay and sand, with the addition of hay and straw. The
space left between the mould and the masonry was to be filled with the
molten metal, which would thus make the sides of the cannon six feet
This cylinder, in order to have its equilibrium maintained, had to be
consolidated with iron bands and fixed at intervals by means of
cross-clamps fastened into the stone lining; after the casting these
clamps would be lost in the block of metal, which would not be the worse
This operation was completed on the 8th of July, and the casting was
fixed for the 10th.
"The casting will be a fine ceremony," said J.T. Maston to his friend
"Undoubtedly," answered Barbicane, "but it will not be a public one!"
"What! you will not open the doors of the inclosure to all comers?"
"Certainly not; the casting of the Columbiad is a delicate, not to say a
dangerous, operation, and I prefer that it should be done with closed
doors. When the projectile is discharged you may have a public ceremony
if you like, but till then, no!"
The president was right; the operation might be attended with unforeseen
danger, which a large concourse of spectators would prevent being
averted. It was necessary to preserve complete freedom of movement. No
one was admitted into the inclosure except a delegation of members of
the Gun Club who made the voyage to Tampa Town. Among them was the brisk
Bilsby, Tom Hunter, Colonel Blomsberry, Major Elphinstone, General
Morgan, and _tutti quanti_, to whom the casting of the Columbiad was a
personal business. J.T. Maston constituted himself their cicerone; he
did not excuse them any detail; he led them about everywhere, through
the magazines, workshops, amongst the machines, and he forced them to
visit the 1,200 furnaces one after the other. At the end of the 1,200th
visit they were rather sick of it.
The casting was to take place precisely at twelve o'clock; the evening
before each furnace had been charged with 114,000 lbs. of metal in bars
disposed crossway to each other so that the warm air could circulate
freely amongst them. Since early morning the 1,200 chimneys had been
pouring forth volumes of flames into the atmosphere, and the soil was
shaken convulsively. There were as many pounds of coal to be burnt as
metal to be melted. There were, therefore, 68,000 tons of coal throwing
up before the sun a thick curtain of black smoke.
The heat soon became unbearable in the circle of furnaces, the rambling
of which resembled the rolling of thunder; powerful bellows added their
continuous blasts, and saturated the incandescent furnaces with oxygen.
The operation of casting in order to succeed must be done rapidly. At a
signal given by a cannon-shot each furnace was to pour out the liquid
iron and to be entirely emptied.
These arrangements made, foremen and workmen awaited the preconcerted
moment with impatience mixed with emotion. There was no longer any one
in the inclosure, and each superintendent took his place near the
aperture of the run.
Barbicane and his colleagues, installed on a neighbouring eminence,
assisted at the operation. Before them a cannon was planted ready to be
fired as a sign from the engineer.
A few minutes before twelve the first drops of metal began to run; the
reservoirs were gradually filled, and when the iron was all in a liquid
state it was left quiet for some instants in order to facilitate the
separation of foreign substances.
Twelve o'clock struck. The cannon was suddenly fired, and shot its flame
into the air. Twelve hundred tapping-holes were opened simultaneously,
and twelve hundred fiery serpents crept along twelve hundred troughs
towards the central well, rolling in rings of fire. There they plunged
with terrific noise down a depth of 900 feet. It was an exciting and
magnificent spectacle. The ground trembled, whilst these waves of iron,
throwing into the sky their clouds of smoke, evaporated at the same time
the humidity of the mould, and hurled it upwards through the vent-holes
of the masonry in the form of impenetrable vapour. These artificial
clouds unrolled their thick spirals as they went up to a height of 3,000
feet into the air. Any Red Indian wandering upon the limits of the
horizon might have believed in the formation of a new crater in the
heart of Florida, and yet it was neither an irruption, nor a typhoon,
nor a storm, nor a struggle of the elements, nor one of those terrible
phenomena which Nature is capable of producing. No; man alone had
produced those reddish vapours, those gigantic flames worthy of a
volcano, those tremendous vibrations like the shock of an earthquake,
those reverberations, rivals of hurricanes and storms, and it was his
hand which hurled into an abyss, dug by himself, a whole Niagara of
Had the operation of casting succeeded? People were reduced to mere
conjecture. However, there was every reason to believe in its success,
as the mould had absorbed the entire mass of metal liquefied in the
furnaces. Still it was necessarily a long time impossible to be certain.
In fact, when Major Rodman cast his cannon of 160,000 lbs., it took no
less than a fortnight to cool. How long, therefore, would the monstrous
Columbiad, crowned with its clouds of vapour, and guarded by its intense
heat, be kept from the eyes of its admirers? It was difficult to
The impatience of the members of the Gun Club was put to a rude test
during this lapse of time. But it could not be helped. J.T. Maston was
nearly roasted through his anxiety. A fortnight after the casting an
immense column of smoke was still soaring towards the sky, and the
ground burnt the soles of the feet within a radius of 200 feet round the
summit of Stony Hill.
The days went by; weeks followed them. There were no means of cooling
the immense cylinder. It was impossible to approach it. The members of
the Gun Club were obliged to wait with what patience they could muster.
"Here we are at the 10th of August," said J.T. Maston one morning. "It
wants hardly four months to the 1st of December! There still remains the
interior mould to be taken out, and the Columbiad to be loaded! We never
shall be ready! One cannot even approach the cannon! Will it never get
cool? That would be a cruel deception!"
They tried to calm the impatient secretary without succeeding. Barbicane
said nothing, but his silence covered serious irritation. To see himself
stopped by an obstacle that time alone could remove--time, an enemy to
be feared under the circumstances--and to be in the power of an enemy
was hard for men of war.
However, daily observations showed a certain change in the state of the
ground. Towards the 15th of August the vapour thrown off had notably
diminished in intensity and thickness. A few days after the earth only
exhaled a slight puff of smoke, the last breath of the monster shut up
in its stone tomb. By degrees the vibrations of the ground ceased, and
the circle of heat contracted; the most impatient of the spectators
approached; one day they gained ten feet, the next twenty, and on the
22nd of August Barbicane, his colleagues, and the engineer could take
their place on the cast-iron surface which covered the summit of Stony
Hill, certainly a very healthy spot, where it was not yet allowed to
have cold feet.
"At last!" cried the president of the Gun Club with an immense sigh of
The works were resumed the same day. The extraction of the interior
mould was immediately proceeded with in order to clear out the bore;
pickaxes, spades, and boring-tools were set to work without
intermission; the clay and sand had become exceedingly hard under the
action of the heat; but by the help of machines they cleared away the
mixture still burning at its contact with the iron; the rubbish was
rapidly carted away on the railway, and the work was done with such
spirit, Barbicane's intervention was so urgent, and his arguments,
presented under the form of dollars, carried so much conviction, that on
the 3rd of September all trace of the mould had disappeared.
The operation of boring was immediately begun; the boring-machines were
set up without delay, and a few weeks later the interior surface of the
immense tube was perfectly cylindrical, and the bore had acquired a high
At last, on the 22nd of September, less than a year after the Barbicane
communication, the enormous weapon, raised by means of delicate
instruments, and quite vertical, was ready for use. There was nothing
but the moon to wait for, but they were sure she would not fail.
J.T. Maston's joy knew no bounds, and he nearly had a frightful fall
whilst looking down the tube of 900 feet. Without Colonel Blomsberry's
right arm, which he had happily preserved, the secretary of the Gun
Club, like a modern Erostatus, would have found a grave in the depths of
The cannon was then finished; there was no longer any possible doubt as
to its perfect execution; so on the 6th of October Captain Nicholl
cleared off his debt to President Barbicane, who inscribed in his
receipt-column a sum of 2,000 dollars. It may be believed that the
captain's anger reached its highest pitch, and cost him an illness.
Still there were yet three bets of 3,000, 4,000, and 5,000 dollars, and
if he only gained 2,000, his bargain would not be a bad one, though not
excellent. But money did not enter into his calculations, and the
success obtained by his rival in the casting of a cannon against which
iron plates sixty feet thick would not have resisted was a terrible blow
Since the 23rd of September the inclosure on Stony Hill had been quite
open to the public, and the concourse of visitors will be readily
In fact, innumerable people from all points of the United States flocked
to Florida. The town of Tampa was prodigiously increased during that
year, consecrated entirely to the works of the Gun Club; it then
comprised a population of 150,000 souls. After having surrounded Fort
Brooke in a network of streets it was now being lengthened out on that
tongue of land which separated the two harbours of Espiritu-Santo Bay;
new quarters, new squares, and a whole forest of houses had grown up in
these formerly-deserted regions under the heat of the American sun.
Companies were formed for the erection of churches, schools, private
dwellings, and in less than a year the size of the town was increased
It is well known that Yankees are born business men; everywhere that
destiny takes them, from the glacial to the torrid zone, their instinct
for business is usefully exercised. That is why simple visitors to
Florida for the sole purpose of following the operations of the Gun Club
allowed themselves to be involved in commercial operations as soon as
they were installed in Tampa Town. The vessels freighted for the
transport of the metal and the workmen had given unparalleled activity
to the port. Soon other vessels of every form and tonnage, freighted
with provisions and merchandise, ploughed the bay and the two harbours;
vast offices of shipbrokers and merchants were established in the town,
and the _Shipping Gazette_ each day published fresh arrivals in the port
Whilst roads were multiplied round the town, in consequence of the
prodigious increase in its population and commerce, it was joined by
railway to the Southern States of the Union. One line of rails connected
La Mobile to Pensacola, the great southern maritime arsenal; thence from
that important point it ran to Tallahassee. There already existed there
a short line, twenty-one miles long, to Saint Marks on the seashore. It
was this loop-line that was prolonged as far as Tampa Town, awakening in
its passage the dead or sleeping portions of Central Florida. Thus
Tampa, thanks to these marvels of industry due to the idea born one line
day in the brain of one man, could take as its right the airs of a large
town. They surnamed it "Moon-City," and the capital of Florida suffered
an eclipse visible from all points of the globe.
Every one will now understand why the rivalry was so great between Texas
and Florida, and the irritation of the Texicans when they saw their
pretensions set aside by the Gun Club. In their long-sighted sagacity
they had foreseen what a country might gain from the experiment
attempted by Barbicane, and the wealth that would accompany such a
cannon-shot. Texas lost a vast centre of commerce, railways, and a
considerable increase of population. All these advantages had been given
to that miserable Floridian peninsula, thrown like a pier between the
waves of the Gulf and those of the Atlantic Ocean. Barbicane, therefore,
divided with General Santa-Anna the Texan antipathy.
However, though given up to its commercial and industrial fury, the new
population of Tampa Town took care not to forget the interesting
operations of the Gun Club. On the contrary, the least details of the
enterprise, every blow of the pickaxe, interested them. There was an
incessant flow of people to and from Tampa Town to Stony Hill--a perfect
procession, or, better still, a pilgrimage.
It was already easy to foresee that the day of the experiment the
concourse of spectators would be counted by millions, for they came
already from all points of the earth to the narrow peninsula. Europe was
emigrating to America.
But until then, it must be acknowledged, the curiosity of the numerous
arrivals had only been moderately satisfied. Many counted upon seeing
the casting who only saw the smoke from it. This was not much for hungry
eyes, but Barbicane would allow no one to see that operation. Thereupon
ensued grumbling, discontent, and murmurs; they blamed the president for
what they considered dictatorial conduct. His act was stigmatised as
"un-American." There was nearly a riot round Stony Hill, but Barbicane
was not to be moved. When, however, the Columbiad was quite finished,
this state of closed doors could no longer be kept up; besides, it would
have been in bad taste, and even imprudent, to offend public opinion.
Barbicane, therefore, opened the inclosure to all comers; but, in
accordance with his practical character, he determined to coin money out
of the public curiosity.
It was, indeed, something to even be allowed to see this immense
Columbiad, but to descend into its depths seemed to the Americans the
_ne plus ultra_ of earthly felicity. In consequence there was not one
visitor who was not willing to give himself the pleasure of visiting the
interior of this metallic abyss. Baskets hung from steam-cranes allowed
them to satisfy their curiosity. It became a perfect mania. Women,
children, and old men all made it their business to penetrate the
mysteries of the colossal gun. The price for the descent was fixed at
five dollars a head, and, notwithstanding this high charge, during the
two months that preceded the experiment, the influx of visitors allowed
the Gun Club to pocket nearly 500,000 dollars!
It need hardly be said that the first visitors to the Columbiad were the
members of the Gun Club. This privilege was justly accorded to that
illustrious body. The ceremony of reception took place on the 25th of
September. A basket of honour took down the president, J.T. Maston,
Major Elphinstone, General Morgan, Colonel Blomsberry, and other members
of the Gun Club, ten in all. How hot they were at the bottom of that
long metal tube! They were nearly stifled, but how delightful--how
exquisite! A table had been laid for ten on the massive stone which
formed the bottom of the Columbiad, and was lighted by a jet of electric
light as bright as day itself. Numerous exquisite dishes, that seemed to
descend from heaven, were successively placed before the guests, and the
richest wines of France flowed profusely during this splendid repast,
given 900 feet below the surface of the earth!
The festival was a gay, not to say a noisy one. Toasts were given and
replied to. They drank to the earth and her satellite, to the Gun Club,
the Union, the Moon, Diana, Phoebe, Selene, "the peaceful courier of the
night." All the hurrahs, carried up by the sonorous waves of the immense
acoustic tube, reached its mouth with a noise of thunder; then the
multitude round Stony Hill heartily united their shouts to those of the
ten revellers hidden from sight in the depths of the gigantic Columbiad.
J.T. Maston could contain himself no longer. Whether he shouted or ate,
gesticulated or talked most would be difficult to determine. Any way he
would not have given up his place 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 universe."
The great work undertaken by the Gun Club was now virtually ended, and
yet two months would still elapse before the day the projectile would
start for the moon. These two months would seem as long as two years to
the universal impatience. Until then the smallest details of each
operation had appeared in the newspapers every day, and were eagerly
devoured by the public, but now it was to be feared that this "interest
dividend" would be much diminished, and every one was afraid of no
longer receiving his daily share of emotions.
They were all agreeably disappointed: the most unexpected,
extraordinary, incredible, and improbable incident happened in time to
keep up the general excitement to its highest pitch.
On September 30th, at 3.47 p.m., a telegram, transmitted through the
Atlantic Cable, arrived at Tampa Town for President Barbicane.
He tore open the envelope and read the message, and, notwithstanding his
great self-control, his lips grew pale and his eyes dim as he read the
The following is the text of the message stored in the archives of the
"September 30th, 4 a.m.
"Barbicane, Tampa Town, Florida, United States.
"Substitute a cylindro-conical projectile for your spherical shell.
Shall go inside. Shall arrive by steamer _Atlanta_.
THE PASSENGER OF THE ATLANTA.
If this wonderful news, instead of coming by telegraph, had simply
arrived by post and in a sealed envelope--if the French, Irish,
Newfoundland, and American telegraph clerks had not necessarily been
acquainted with it--Barbicane would not have hesitated for a moment. He
would have been quite silent about it for prudence' sake, and in order
not to throw discredit on his work. This telegram might be a practical
joke, especially as it came from a Frenchman. What probability could
there be that any man should conceive the idea of such a journey? And if
the man did exist was he not a madman who would have to be inclosed in a
strait-waistcoat instead of in a cannon-ball?
But the message was known, and Michel Ardan's proposition was already
all over the States of the Union, so Barbicane had no reason for
silence. He therefore called together his colleagues then in Tampa Town,
and, without showing what he thought about it or saying a word about the
degree of credibility the telegram deserved, he read coldly the laconic
"Not possible!"--"Unheard of!"--"They are laughing at
us!"--"Ridiculous!"--"Absurd!" Every sort of expression for doubt,
incredulity, and folly was heard for some minutes with accompaniment of
appropriate gestures. J.T. Maston alone uttered the words:--
"That's an idea!" he exclaimed.
"Yes," answered the major, "but if people have such ideas as that they
ought not to think of putting them into execution."
"Why not?" quickly answered the secretary of the Gun Club, ready for an
argument. But the subject was let drop.
In the meantime Michel Ardan's name was already going about Tampa Town.
Strangers and natives talked and joked together, not about the
European--evidently a mythical personage--but about J.T. Maston, who had
the folly to believe in his existence. When Barbicane proposed to send a
projectile to the moon every one thought the enterprise natural and
practicable--a simple affair of ballistics. But that a reasonable being
should offer to go the journey inside the projectile was a farce, or, to
use a familiar Americanism, it was all "humbug."
This laughter lasted till evening throughout the Union, an unusual thing
in a country where any impossible enterprise finds adepts and partisans.
Still Michel Ardan's proposition did not fail to awaken a certain
emotion in many minds. "They had not thought of such a thing." How many
things denied one day had become realities the next! Why should not this
journey be accomplished one day or another? But, any way, the man who
would run such a risk must be a madman, and certainly, as his project
could not be taken seriously, he would have done better to be quiet
about it, instead of troubling a whole population with such ridiculous
But, first of all, did this personage really exist? That was the great
question. The name of "Michel Ardan" was not altogether unknown in
America. It belonged to a European much talked about for his audacious
enterprises. Then the telegram sent all across the depths of the
Atlantic, the designation of the ship upon which the Frenchman had
declared he had taken his passage, the date assigned for his
arrival--all these circumstances gave to the proposition a certain air
of probability. They were obliged to disburden their minds about it.
Soon these isolated individuals formed into groups, the groups became
condensed under the action of curiosity like atoms by virtue of
molecular attraction, and the result was a compact crowd going towards
President Barbicane's dwelling.
The president, since the arrival of the message, had not said what he
thought about it; he had let J.T. Maston express his opinions without
manifesting either approbation or blame. He kept quiet, proposing to
await events, but he had not taken public impatience into consideration,
and was not very pleased at the sight of the population of Tampa Town
assembled under his windows. Murmurs, cries, and vociferations soon
forced him to appear. It will be seen that he had all the disagreeables
as well as the duties of a public man.
He therefore appeared; silence was made, and a citizen asked him the
following question:--"Is the person designated in the telegram as Michel
Ardan on his way to America or not?"
"Gentlemen," answered Barbicane, "I know no more than you."
"We must get to know," exclaimed some impatient voices.
"Time will inform us," answered the president coldly.
"Time has no right to keep a whole country in suspense," answered the
orator. "Have you altered your plans for the projectile as the telegram
"Not yet, gentlemen; but you are right, we must have recourse to the
telegraph that has caused all this emotion."
"To the telegraph-office!" cried the crowd.
Barbicane descended into the street, and, heading the immense
assemblage, he went towards the telegraph-office.
A few minutes afterwards a telegram was on its way to the underwriters
at Liverpool, asking for an answer to the following questions:--
"What sort of vessel is the _Atlanta_? When did she leave Europe? Had
she a Frenchman named Michel Ardan on board?"
Two hours afterwards Barbicane received such precise information that
doubt was no longer possible.
"The steamer _Atlanta_, from Liverpool, set sail on October 2nd for
Tampa Town, having on board a Frenchman inscribed in the passengers'
book as Michel Ardan."
At this confirmation of the first telegram the eyes of the president
were lighted up with a sudden flame; he clenched his hands, and was
heard to mutter--
"It is true, then! It is possible, then! the Frenchman does exist! and
in a fortnight he will be here! But he is a madman! I never can
And yet the very same evening he wrote to the firm of Breadwill and Co.
begging them to suspend the casting of the projectile until fresh
Now how can the emotion be described which took possession of the whole
of America? The effect of the Barbicane proposition was surpassed
tenfold; what the newspapers of the Union said, the way they accepted
the news, and how they chanted the arrival of this hero from the old
continent; how to depict the feverish agitation in which every one
lived, counting the hours, minutes, and seconds; how to give even a
feeble idea of the effect of one idea upon so many heads; how to show
every occupation being given up for a single preoccupation, work
stopped, commerce suspended, vessels, ready to start, waiting in the
ports so as not to miss the arrival of the _Atlanta_, every species of
conveyance arriving full and returning empty, the bay of Espiritu-Santo
incessantly ploughed by steamers, packet-boats, pleasure-yachts, and
fly-boats of all dimensions; how to denominate in numbers the thousands
of curious people who in a fortnight increased the population of Tampa
Town fourfold, and were obliged to encamp under tents like an army in
campaign--all this is a task above human force, and could not be
undertaken without rashness.
At 9 a.m. on the 20th of October the semaphores of the Bahama Channel
signalled thick smoke on the horizon. Two hours later a large steamer
exchanged signals with them. The name _Atlanta_ was immediately sent to
Tampa Town. At 4 p.m. the English vessel entered the bay of
Espiritu-Santo. At 5 p.m. she passed the entrance to Hillisboro Harbour,
and at 6 p.m. weighed anchor in the port of Tampa Town.
The anchor had not reached its sandy bed before 500 vessels surrounded
the _Atlanta_ and the steamer was taken by assault. Barbicane was the
first on deck, and in a voice the emotion of which he tried in vain to
"Michel Ardan!" he exclaimed.
"Present!" answered an individual mounted on the poop.
Barbicane, with his arms crossed, questioning eyes, and silent mouth,
looked fixedly at the passenger of the _Atlanta_.
He was a man forty-two years of age, tall, but already rather stooping,
like caryatides which support balconies on their shoulders. His large
head shook every now and then a shock of red hair like a lion's mane; a
short face, wide forehead, a moustache bristling like a cat's whiskers,
and little bunches of yellow hair on the middle of his cheeks, round and
rather wild-looking, short-sighted eyes completed this eminently feline
physiognomy. But the nose was boldly cut, the mouth particularly humane,
the forehead high, intelligent, and ploughed like a field that was never
allowed to remain fallow. Lastly, a muscular body well poised on long
limbs, muscular arms, powerful and well-set levers, and a decided gait
made a solidly built fellow of this European, "rather wrought than
cast," to borrow one of his expressions from metallurgic art.
The disciples of Lavater or Gratiolet would have easily deciphered in
the cranium and physiognomy of this personage indisputable signs of
combativity--that is to say, of courage in danger and tendency to
overcome obstacles, those of benevolence, and a belief in the
marvellous, an instinct that makes many natures dwell much on superhuman
things; but, on the other hand, the bumps of acquisivity, the need of
possessing and acquiring, were absolutely wanting.
To put the finishing touches to the physical type of the passenger of
the _Atlanta_, his garments wide, loose, and flowing, open cravat, wide
collar, and cuffs always unbuttoned, through which came nervous hands.
People felt that even in the midst of winter and dangers that man was
On the deck of the steamer, amongst the crowd, he bustled about, never
still for a moment, "dragging his anchors," in nautical speech,
gesticulating, making friends with everybody, and biting his nails
nervously. He was one of those original beings whom the Creator invents
in a moment of fantasy, and of whom He immediately breaks the cast.
In fact, the character of Michel Ardan offered a large field for
physiological analysis. This astonishing man lived in a perpetual
disposition to hyperbole, and had not yet passed the age of
superlatives; objects depicted themselves on the retina of his eye with
exaggerated dimensions; from thence an association of gigantic ideas; he
saw everything on a large scale except difficulties and men.
He was besides of a luxuriant nature, an artist by instinct, and witty
fellow; he loved arguments _ad hominem_, and defended the weak side
tooth and nail.
Amongst other peculiarities he gave himself out as "sublimely ignorant,"
like Shakspeare, and professed supreme contempt for all _savants_,
"people," said he, "who only score our points." He was, in short, a
Bohemian of the country of brains, adventurous but not an adventurer, a
harebrained fellow, a Phaeton running away with the horses of the sun, a
kind of Icarus with relays of wings. He had a wonderful facility for
getting into scrapes, and an equally wonderful facility for getting out
of them again, falling on his feet like a cat.
In short, his motto was, "Whatever it may cost!" and the love of the
impossible his "ruling passion," according to Pope's fine expression.
But this enterprising fellow had the defects of his qualities. Who risks
nothing wins nothing, it is said. Ardan often risked much and got
nothing. He was perfectly disinterested and chivalric; he would not have
signed the death-warrant of his worst enemy, and would have sold himself
into slavery to redeem a negro.
In France and Europe everybody knew this brilliant, bustling person. Did
he not get talked of ceaselessly by the hundred voices of Fame, hoarse
in his service? Did he not live in a glass house, taking the entire
universe as confidant of his most intimate secrets? But he also
possessed an admirable collection of enemies amongst those he had cuffed
and wounded whilst using his elbows to make a passage in the crowd.
Still he was generally liked and treated like a spoiled child. Every one
was interested in his bold enterprises, and followed them with uneasy
mind. He was known to be so imprudent! When some friend wished to stop
him by predicting an approaching catastrophe, "The forest is only burnt
by its own trees," he answered with an amiable smile, not knowing that
he was quoting the prettiest of Arabian proverbs.
Such was the passenger of the _Atlanta_, always in a bustle, always
boiling under the action of inward fire, always moved, not by what he
had come to do in America--he did not even think about it--but on
account of his feverish organisation. If ever individuals offered a
striking contrast they were the Frenchman Michel Ardan and the Yankee
Barbicane, both, however, enterprising, bold, and audacious, each in his
Barbicane's contemplation of his rival was quickly interrupted by the
cheers of the crowd. These cries became even so frantic and the
enthusiasm took such a personal form that Michel Ardan, after having
shaken a thousand hands in which he nearly left his ten fingers, was
obliged to take refuge in his cabin.
Barbicane followed him without having uttered a word.
"You are Barbicane?" Michel Ardan asked him as soon as they were alone,
and in the same tone as he would have spoken to a friend of twenty
"Yes," answered the president of the Gun Club.
"Well, good morning, Barbicane. How are you? Very well? That's right!