Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

All Around the Moon, Page 2

Jules Verne


  FROM 10 P.M. TO 10 46' 40''.

  The moment that the great clock belonging to the works at Stony Hill hadstruck ten, Barbican, Ardan and M'Nicholl began to take their lastfarewells of the numerous friends surrounding them. The two dogsintended to accompany them had been already deposited in the Projectile.The three travellers approached the mouth of the enormous cannon, seatedthemselves in the flying car, and once more took leave for the last timeof the vast throng standing in silence around them. The windlasscreaked, the car started, and the three daring men disappeared in theyawning gulf.

  The trap-hole giving them ready access to the interior of theProjectile, the car soon came back empty; the great windlass waspresently rolled away; the tackle and scaffolding were removed, and in ashort space of time the great mouth of the Columbiad was completely ridof all obstructions.

  M'Nicholl took upon himself to fasten the door of the trap on the insideby means of a powerful combination of screws and bolts of his owninvention. He also covered up very carefully the glass lights withstrong iron plates of extreme solidity and tightly fitting joints.

  Ardan's first care was to turn on the gas, which he found burning ratherlow; but he lit no more than one burner, being desirous to economize asmuch as possible their store of light and heat, which, as he well knew,could not at the very utmost last them longer than a few weeks.

  Under the cheerful blaze, the interior of the Projectile looked like acomfortable little chamber, with its circular sofa, nicely padded walls,and dome shaped ceiling.

  All the articles that it contained, arms, instruments, utensils, etc.,were solidly fastened to the projections of the wadding, so as tosustain the least injury possible from the first terrible shock. Infact, all precautions possible, humanly speaking, had been taken tocounteract this, the first, and possibly one of the very greatestdangers to which the courageous adventurers would be exposed.

  Ardan expressed himself to be quite pleased with the appearance ofthings in general.

  "It's a prison, to be sure," said he "but not one of your ordinaryprisons that always keep in the one spot. For my part, as long as I canhave the privilege of looking out of the window, I am willing to leaseit for a hundred years. Ah! Barbican, that brings out one of your stonysmiles. You think our lease may last longer than that! Our tenement maybecome our coffin, eh? Be it so. I prefer it anyway to Mahomet's; it mayindeed float in the air, but it won't be motionless as a milestone!"


  Barbican, having made sure by personal inspection that everything was inperfect order, consulted his chronometer, which he had carefully set ashort time before with Chief Engineer Murphy's, who had been charged tofire off the Projectile.

  "Friends," he said, "it is now twenty minutes past ten. At 10 46' 40'',precisely, Murphy will send the electric current into the gun-cotton. Wehave, therefore, twenty-six minutes more to remain on earth."

  "Twenty-six minutes and twenty seconds," observed Captain M'Nicholl, whoalways aimed at mathematical precision.

  "Twenty-six minutes!" cried Ardan, gaily. "An age, a cycle, according tothe use you make of them. In twenty-six minutes how much can be done!The weightiest questions of warfare, politics, morality, can bediscussed, even decided, in twenty-six minutes. Twenty-six minutes wellspent are infinitely more valuable than twenty-six lifetimes wasted! Afew seconds even, employed by a Pascal, or a Newton, or a Barbican, orany other profoundly intellectual being

  Whose thoughts wander through eternity--"

  "As mad as Marston! Every bit!" muttered the Captain, half audibly.

  "What do you conclude from this rigmarole of yours?" interruptedBarbican.

  "I conclude that we have twenty-six good minutes still left--"

  "Only twenty-four minutes, ten seconds," interrupted the Captain, watchin hand.

  "Well, twenty-four minutes, Captain," Ardan went on; "now even intwenty-four minutes, I maintain--"

  "Ardan," interrupted Barbican, "after a very little while we shall haveplenty of time for philosophical disputations. Just now let us think ofsomething far more pressing."

  "More pressing! what do you mean? are we not fully prepared?"

  "Yes, fully prepared, as far at least as we have been able to foresee.But we may still, I think, possibly increase the number of precautionsto be taken against the terrible shock that we are so soon toexperience."

  "What? Have you any doubts whatever of the effectiveness of yourbrilliant and extremely original idea? Don't you think that the layersof water, regularly disposed in easily-ruptured partitions beneath thisfloor, will afford us sufficient protection by their elasticity?"

  "I hope so, indeed, my dear friend, but I am by no means confident."

  "He hopes! He is by no means confident! Listen to that, Mac! Pretty timeto tell us so! Let me out of here!"

  "Too late!" observed the Captain quietly. "The trap-hole alone wouldtake ten or fifteen minutes to open."

  "Oh then I suppose I must make the best of it," said Ardan, laughing."All aboard, gentlemen! The train starts in twenty minutes!"

  "In nineteen minutes and eighteen seconds," said the Captain, who nevertook his eye off the chronometer.

  The three travellers looked at each other for a little while, duringwhich even Ardan appeared to become serious. After another carefulglance at the several objects lying around them, Barbican said, quietly:

  "Everything is in its place, except ourselves. What we have now to do isto decide on the position we must take in order to neutralize the shockas much as possible. We must be particularly careful to guard against arush of blood to the head."

  "Correct!" said the Captain.

  "Suppose we stood on our heads, like the circus tumblers!" cried Ardan,ready to suit the action to the word.

  "Better than that," said Barbican; "we can lie on our side. Keep clearlyin mind, dear friends, that at the instant of departure it makes verylittle difference to us whether we are inside the bullet or in front ofit. There is, no doubt, _some_ difference," he added, seeing the greateyes made by his friends, "but it is exceedingly little."

  "Thank heaven for the _some_!" interrupted Ardan, fervently.

  "Don't you approve of my suggestion, Captain?" asked Barbican.

  "Certainly," was the hasty reply. "That is to say, absolutely.Seventeen minutes twenty-seven seconds!"

  "Mac isn't a human being at all!" cried Ardan, admiringly. "He is arepeating chronometer, horizontal escapement, London-made lever, capped,jewelled,--"

  His companions let him run on while they busied themselves in makingtheir last arrangements, with the greatest coolness and most systematicmethod. In fact, I don't think of anything just now to compare them toexcept a couple of old travellers who, having to pass the night in thetrain, are trying to make themselves as comfortable as possible fortheir long journey. In your profound astonishment, you may naturally askme of what strange material can the hearts of these Americans be made,who can view without the slightest semblance of a flutter the approachof the most appalling dangers? In your curiosity I fully participate,but, I'm sorry to say, I can't gratify it. It is one of those thingsthat I could never find out.

  Three mattresses, thick and well wadded, spread on the disc forming thefalse bottom of the Projectile, were arranged in lines whose parallelismwas simply perfect. But Ardan would never think of occupying his untilthe very last moment. Walking up and down, with the restless nervousnessof a wild beast in a cage, he kept up a continuous fire of talk; at onemoment with his friends, at another with the dogs, addressing the latterby the euphonious and suggestive names of Diana and Satellite.


  "Ho, pets!" he would exclaim as he patted them gently, "you must notforget the noble part you are to play up there. You must be models ofcanine deportment. The eyes of the whole Selenitic world will be uponyou. You are the standard bearers of your race. From you they willreceive their first impression regarding its merits. Let it be afavorable one. Compel tho
se Selenites to acknowledge, in spite ofthemselves, that the terrestrial race of canines is far superior to thatof the very best Moon dog among them!"

  "Dogs in the Moon!" sneered M'Nicholl, "I like that!"

  "Plenty of dogs!" cried Ardan, "and horses too, and cows, and sheep, andno end of chickens!"

  "A hundred dollars to one there isn't a single chicken within the wholeLunar realm, not excluding even the invisible side!" cried the Captain,in an authoritative tone, but never taking his eye off the chronometer.

  "I take that bet, my son," coolly replied Ardan, shaking the Captain'shand by way of ratifying the wager; "and this reminds me, by the way,Mac, that you have lost three bets already, to the pretty little tune ofsix thousand dollars."

  "And paid them, too!" cried the captain, monotonously; "ten, thirty-six,six!"

  "Yes, and in a quarter of an hour you will have to pay nine thousanddollars more; four thousand because the Columbiad will not burst, andfive thousand because the Projectile will rise more than six miles fromthe Earth."

  "I have the money ready," answered the Captain, touching his breechespocket. "When I lose I pay. Not sooner. Ten, thirty-eight, ten!"

  "Captain, you're a man of method, if there ever was one. I think,however, that you made a mistake in your wagers."

  "How so?" asked the Captain listlessly, his eye still on the dial.

  "Because, by Jove, if you win there will be no more of you left to takethe money than there will be of Barbican to pay it!"

  "Friend Ardan," quietly observed Barbican, "my stakes are deposited inthe _Wall Street Bank_, of New York, with orders to pay them over to theCaptain's heirs, in case the Captain himself should fail to put in anappearance at the proper time."

  "Oh! you rhinoceroses, you pachyderms, you granite men!" cried Ardan,gasping with surprise; "you machines with iron heads, and iron hearts! Imay admire you, but I'm blessed if I understand you!"

  "Ten, forty-two, ten!" repeated M'Nicholl, as mechanically as if it wasthe chronometer itself that spoke.

  "Four minutes and a half more," said Barbican.

  "Oh! four and a half little minutes!" went on Ardan. "Only think of it!We are shut up in a bullet that lies in the chamber of a cannon ninehundred feet long. Underneath this bullet is piled a charge of 400thousand pounds of gun-cotton, equivalent to 1600 thousand pounds ofordinary gunpowder! And at this very instant our friend Murphy,chronometer in hand, eye on dial, finger on discharger, is counting thelast seconds and getting ready to launch us into the limitless regionsof planetary--"

  "Ardan, dear friend," interrupted Barbican, in a grave tone, "a seriousmoment is now at hand. Let us meet it with some interior recollection.Give me your hands, my dear friends."

  "Certainly," said Ardan, with tears in his voice, and already at theother extreme of his apparent levity.

  The three brave men united in one last, silent, but warm and impulsivelyaffectionate pressure.

  "And now, great God, our Creator, protect us! In Thee we trust!" prayedBarbican, the others joining him with folded hands and bowed heads.

  "Ten, forty-six!" whispered the Captain, as he and Ardan quietly tooktheir places on the mattresses.

  Only forty seconds more!

  Barbican rapidly extinguishes the gas and lies down beside hiscompanions.

  The deathlike silence now reigning in the Projectile is interrupted onlyby the sharp ticking of the chronometer as it beats the seconds.

  Suddenly, a dreadful shock is felt, and the Projectile, shot up by theinstantaneous development of 200,000 millions of cubic feet of gas, isflying into space with inconceivable rapidity!