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Chapter II. The First Half Hour
What had happened? What effect had this frightful shock
produced? Had the ingenuity of the constructors of the projectile
obtained any happy result? Had the shock been deadened, thanks to
the springs, the four plugs, the water-cushions, and the
partition-breaks? Had they been able to subdue the frightful
pressure of the initiatory speed of more than 11,000 yards, which
was enough to traverse Paris or New York in a second? This was
evidently the question suggested to the thousand spectators of this
moving scene. They forgot the aim of the journey, and thought only
of the travelers. And if one of them— Joseph T. Maston for
example— could have cast one glimpse into the projectile,
what would he have seen?
Nothing then. The darkness was profound. But its cylindro-
conical partitions had resisted wonderfully. Not a rent or a dent
anywhere! The wonderful projectile was not even heated under the
intense deflagration of the powder, nor liquefied, as they seemed
to fear, in a shower of aluminum.
The interior showed but little disorder; indeed, only a few
objects had been violently thrown toward the roof; but the most
important seemed not to have suffered from the shock at all; their
fixtures were intact.
On the movable disc, sunk down to the bottom by the smashing of
the partition-breaks and the escape of the water, three bodies lay
apparently lifeless. Barbicane, Nicholl, and Michel Ardan—
did they still breathe? or was the projectile nothing now but a
metal coffin, bearing three corpses into space?
Some minutes after the departure of the projectile, one of the
bodies moved, shook its arms, lifted its head, and finally
succeeded in getting on its knees. It was Michel Ardan. He felt
himself all over, gave a sonorous “Hem!” and then
“Michel Ardan is whole. How about the others?”
The courageous Frenchman tried to rise, but could not stand. His
head swam, from the rush of blood; he was blind; he was a drunken
“Bur-r!” said he. “It produces the same effect
as two bottles of Corton, though perhaps less agreeable to
swallow.” Then, passing his hand several times across his
forehead and rubbing his temples, he called in a firm voice:
He waited anxiously. No answer; not even a sigh to show that the
hearts of his companions were still beating. He called again. The
“The devil!” he exclaimed. “They look as if
they had fallen from a fifth story on their heads. Bah!” he
added, with that imperturbable confidence which nothing could
check, “if a Frenchman can get on his knees, two Americans
ought to be able to get on their feet. But first let us light
Ardan felt the tide of life return by degrees. His blood became
calm, and returned to its accustomed circulation. Another effort
restored his equilibrium. He succeeded in rising, drew a match from
his pocket, and approaching the burner lighted it. The receiver had
not suffered at all. The gas had not escaped. Besides, the smell
would have betrayed it; and in that case Michel Ardan could not
have carried a lighted match with impunity through the space filled
with hydrogen. The gas mixing with the air would have produced a
detonating mixture, and the explosion would have finished what the
shock had perhaps begun. When the burner was lit, Ardan leaned over
the bodies of his companions: they were lying one on the other, an
inert mass, Nicholl above, Barbicane underneath.
Ardan lifted the captain, propped him up against the divan, and
began to rub vigorously. This means, used with judgment, restored
Nicholl, who opened his eyes, and instantly recovering his presence
of mind, seized Ardan’s hand and looked around him.
“And Barbicane?” said he.
“Each in turn,” replied Michel Ardan. “I began
with you, Nicholl, because you were on the top. Now let us look to
Barbicane.” Saying which, Ardan and Nicholl raised the
president of the Gun Club and laid him on the divan. He seemed to
have suffered more than either of his companions; he was bleeding,
but Nicholl was reassured by finding that the hemorrhage came from
a slight wound on the shoulder, a mere graze, which he bound up
Still, Barbicane was a long time coming to himself, which
frightened his friends, who did not spare friction.
“He breathes though,” said Nicholl, putting his ear
to the chest of the wounded man.
“Yes,” replied Ardan, “he breathes like a man
who has some notion of that daily operation. Rub, Nicholl; let us
rub harder.” And the two improvised practitioners worked so
hard and so well that Barbicane recovered his senses. He opened his
eyes, sat up, took his two friends by the hands, and his first
“Nicholl, are we moving?”
Nicholl and Ardan looked at each other; they had not yet
troubled themselves about the projectile; their first thought had
been for the traveler, not for the car.
“Well, are we really moving?” repeated Michel
“Or quietly resting on the soil of Florida?” asked
“Or at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico?” added
“What an idea!” exclaimed the president.
And this double hypothesis suggested by his companions had the
effect of recalling him to his senses. In any case they could not
decide on the position of the projectile. Its apparent
immovability, and the want of communication with the outside,
prevented them from solving the question. Perhaps the projectile
was unwinding its course through space. Perhaps after a short rise
it had fallen upon the earth, or even in the Gulf of Mexico—
a fall which the narrowness of the peninsula of Florida would
render not impossible.
The case was serious, the problem interesting, and one that must
be solved as soon as possible. Thus, highly excited,
Barbicane’s moral energy triumphed over physical weakness,
and he rose to his feet. He listened. Outside was perfect silence;
but the thick padding was enough to intercept all sounds coming
from the earth. But one circumstance struck Barbicane, viz., that
the temperature inside the projectile was singularly high. The
president drew a thermometer from its case and consulted it. The
instrument showed 81° Fahr.
“Yes,” he exclaimed, “yes, we are moving! This
stifling heat, penetrating through the partitions of the
projectile, is produced by its friction on the atmospheric strata.
It will soon diminish, because we are already floating in space,
and after having nearly stifled, we shall have to suffer intense
“What!” said Michel Ardan. “According to your
showing, Barbicane, we are already beyond the limits of the
“Without a doubt, Michel. Listen to me. It is fifty-five
minutes past ten; we have been gone about eight minutes; and if our
initiatory speed has not been checked by the friction, six seconds
would be enough for us to pass through the forty miles of
atmosphere which surrounds the globe.”
“Just so,” replied Nicholl; “but in what
proportion do you estimate the diminution of speed by
“In the proportion of one-third, Nicholl. This diminution
is considerable, but according to my calculations it is nothing
less. If, then, we had an initiatory speed of 12,000 yards, on
leaving the atmosphere this speed would be reduced to 9,165 yards.
In any case we have already passed through this interval,
“And then,” said Michel Ardan, “friend Nicholl
has lost his two bets: four thousand dollars because the Columbiad
did not burst; five thousand dollars because the projectile has
risen more than six miles. Now, Nicholl, pay up.”
“Let us prove it first,” said the captain,
“and we will pay afterward. It is quite possible that
Barbicane’s reasoning is correct, and that I have lost my
nine thousand dollars. But a new hypothesis presents itself to my
mind, and it annuls the wager.”
“What is that?” asked Barbicane quickly.
“The hypothesis that, for some reason or other, fire was
never set to the powder, and we have not started at all.”
“My goodness, captain,” exclaimed Michel Ardan,
“that hypothesis is not worthy of my brain! It cannot be a
serious one. For have we not been half annihilated by the shock?
Did I not recall you to life? Is not the president’s shoulder
still bleeding from the blow it has received?”
“Granted,” replied Nicholl; “but one
“Did you hear the detonation, which certainly ought to be
“No,” replied Ardan, much surprised;
“certainly I did not hear the detonation.”
“And you, Barbicane?”
“Nor I, either.”
“Very well,” said Nicholl.
“Well now,” murmured the president “why did we
not hear the detonation?”
The three friends looked at each other with a disconcerted air.
It was quite an inexplicable phenomenon. The projectile had
started, and consequently there must have been a detonation.
“Let us first find out where we are,” said
Barbicane, “and let down this panel.”
This very simple operation was soon accomplished.
The nuts which held the bolts to the outer plates of the
right-hand scuttle gave way under the pressure of the English
wrench. These bolts were pushed outside, and the buffers covered
with India-rubber stopped up the holes which let them through.
Immediately the outer plate fell back upon its hinges like a
porthole, and the lenticular glass which closed the scuttle
appeared. A similar one was let into the thick partition on the
opposite side of the projectile, another in the top of the dome,
and finally a fourth in the middle of the base. They could,
therefore, make observations in four different directions; the
firmament by the side and most direct windows, the earth or the
moon by the upper and under openings in the projectile.
Barbicane and his two companions immediately rushed to the
uncovered window. But it was lit by no ray of light. Profound
darkness surrounded them, which, however, did not prevent the
president from exclaiming:
“No, my friends, we have not fallen back upon the earth;
no, nor are we submerged in the Gulf of Mexico. Yes! we are
mounting into space. See those stars shining in the night, and that
impenetrable darkness heaped up between the earth and
“Hurrah! hurrah!” exclaimed Michel Ardan and Nicholl
in one voice.
Indeed, this thick darkness proved that the projectile had left
the earth, for the soil, brilliantly lit by the moon-beams would
have been visible to the travelers, if they had been lying on its
surface. This darkness also showed that the projectile had passed
the atmospheric strata, for the diffused light spread in the air
would have been reflected on the metal walls, which reflection was
wanting. This light would have lit the window, and the window was
dark. Doubt was no longer possible; the travelers had left the
“I have lost,” said Nicholl.
“I congratulate you,” replied Ardan.
“Here are the nine thousand dollars,” said the
captain, drawing a roll of paper dollars from his pocket.
“Will you have a receipt for it?” asked Barbicane,
taking the sum.
“If you do not mind,” answered Nicholl; “it is
And coolly and seriously, as if he had been at his strong-box,
the president drew forth his notebook, tore out a blank leaf, wrote
a proper receipt in pencil, dated and signed it with the usual
flourish, 1 and gave it to the captain, who carefully placed it
in his pocketbook. Michel Ardan, taking off his hat, bowed to his
two companions without speaking. So much formality under such
circumstances left him speechless. He had never before seen
anything so “American.”
1 This is a purely French habit.
This affair settled, Barbicane and Nicholl had returned to the
window, and were watching the [constellation[s. The stars looked like
bright points on the black sky. But from that side they could not
see the orb of night, which, traveling from east to west, would
rise by degrees toward the zenith. Its absence drew the following
remark from Ardan:
“And the moon; will she perchance fail at our
“Do not alarm yourself,” said Barbicane; “our
future globe is at its post, but we cannot see her from this side;
let us open the other.”
“As Barbicane was about leaving the window to open the
opposite scuttle, his attention was attracted by the approach of a
brilliant object. It was an enormous disc, whose colossal dimension
could not be estimated. Its face, which was turned to the earth,
was very bright. One might have thought it a small moon reflecting
the light of the large one. She advanced with great speed, and
seemed to describe an orbit round the earth, which would intersect
the passage of the projectile. This body revolved upon its axis,
and exhibited the phenomena of all celestial bodies abandoned in
“Ah!” exclaimed Michel Ardan, “What is that?
Barbicane did not answer. The appearance of this enormous body
surprised and troubled him. A collision was possible, and might be
attended with deplorable results; either the projectile would
deviate from its path, or a shock, breaking its impetus, might
precipitate it to earth; or, lastly, it might be irresistibly drawn
away by the powerful asteroid. The president caught at a glance the
consequences of these three hypotheses, either of which would, one
way or the other, bring their experiment to an unsuccessful and
fatal termination. His companions stood silently looking into
space. The object grew rapidly as it approached them, and by an
optical illusion the projectile seemed to be throwing itself before
“By Jove!” exclaimed Michel Ardan, “we shall
run into one another!”
Instinctively the travelers drew back. Their dread was great,
but it did not last many seconds. The asteroid passed several
hundred yards from the projectile and disappeared, not so much from
the rapidity of its course, as that its face being opposite the
moon, it was suddenly merged into the perfect darkness of
“A happy journey to you,” exclaimed Michel Ardan,
with a sigh of relief. “Surely infinity of space is large
enough for a poor little projectile to walk through without fear.
Now, what is this portentous globe which nearly struck
“I know,” replied Barbicane.
“Oh, indeed! you know everything.”
“It is,” said Barbicane, “a simple meteorite,
but an enormous one, which the attraction of the earth has retained
as a satellite.”
“Is it possible!” exclaimed Michel Ardan; “the
earth then has two moons like Neptune1?”
“Yes, my friends, two moons, though it passes generally
for having only one; but this second moon is so small, and its
speed so great, that the inhabitants of the earth cannot see it. It
was by noticing disturbances that a French astronomer, M. Petit,
was able to determine the existence of this second satellite and
calculate its elements. According to his observations, this
meteorite will accomplish its revolution around the earth in three
hours and twenty minutes, which implies a wonderful rate of
“Do all astronomers admit the existence of this
satellite?” asked Nicholl.
“No,” replied Barbicane; “but if, like us,
they had met it, they could no longer doubt it. Indeed, I think
that this meteorite, which, had it struck the projectile, would
have much embarrassed us, will give us the means of deciding what
our position in space is.”
“How?” said Ardan.
“Because its distance is known, and when we met it, we
were exactly four thousand six hundred and fifty miles from the
surface of the terrestrial globe.”
“More than two thousand French leagues,” exclaimed
Michel Ardan. “That beats the express trains of the pitiful
globe called the earth.”
“I should think so,” replied Nicholl, consulting his
chronometer; “it is eleven o’clock, and it is only
thirteen minutes since we left the American continent.”
“Only thirteen minutes?” said Barbicane.
“Yes,” said Nicholl; “and if our initiatory
speed of twelve thousand yards has been kept up, we shall have made
about twenty thousand miles in the hour.”
“That is all very well, my friends,” said the
president, “but the insoluble question still remains. Why did
we not hear the detonation of the Columbiad?”
For want of an answer the conversation dropped, and Barbicane
began thoughtfully to let down the shutter of the second side. He
succeeded; and through the uncovered glass the moon filled the
projectile with a brilliant light. Nicholl, as an economical man,
put out the gas, now useless, and whose brilliancy prevented any
observation of the inter-planetary space.
The lunar disc shone with wonderful purity. Her rays, no longer
filtered through the vapory atmosphere of the terrestrial globe,
shone through the glass, filling the air in the interior of the
projectile with silvery reflections. The black curtain of the
firmament in reality heightened the moon’s brilliancy, which
in this void of ether unfavorable to diffusion did not eclipse the
neighboring stars. The heavens, thus seen, presented quite a new
aspect, and one which the human eye could never dream of. One may
conceive the interest with which these bold men watched the orb of
night, the great aim of their journey.
In its motion the earth’s satellite was insensibly nearing
the zenith, the mathematical point which it ought to attain
ninety-six hours later. Her mountains, her plains, every projection
was as clearly discernible to their eyes as if they were observing
it from some spot upon the earth; but its light was developed
through space with wonderful intensity. The disc shone like a
platinum mirror. Of the earth flying from under their feet, the
travelers had lost all recollection.
It was captain Nicholl who first recalled their attention to the
“Yes,” said Michel Ardan, “do not let us be
ungrateful to it. Since we are leaving our country, let our last
looks be directed to it. I wish to see the earth once more before
it is quite hidden from my eyes.”
To satisfy his companions, Barbicane began to uncover the window
at the bottom of the projectile, which would allow them to observe
the earth direct. The disc, which the force of the projection had
beaten down to the base, was removed, not without difficulty. Its
fragments, placed carefully against a wall, might serve again upon
occasion. Then a circular gap appeared, nineteen inches in
diameter, hollowed out of the lower part of the projectile. A glass
cover, six inches thick and strengthened with upper fastenings,
closed it tightly. Beneath was fixed an aluminum plate, held in
place by bolts. The screws being undone, and the bolts let go, the
plate fell down, and visible communication was established between
the interior and the exterior.
Michel Ardan knelt by the glass. It was cloudy, seemingly
“Well!” he exclaimed, “and the
“The earth?” said Barbicane. “There it
“What! that little thread; that silver
“Doubtless, Michel. In four days, when the moon will be
full, at the very time we shall reach it, the earth will be new,
and will only appear to us as a slender crescent which will soon
disappear, and for some days will be enveloped in utter
“That the earth?” repeated Michel Ardan, looking
with all his eyes at the thin slip of his native planet.
The explanation given by President Barbicane was correct. The
earth, with respect to the projectile, was entering its last phase.
It was in its octant, and showed a crescent finely traced on the
dark background of the sky. Its light, rendered bluish by the thick
strata of the atmosphere was less intense than that of the crescent
moon, but it was of considerable dimensions, and looked like an
enormous arch stretched across the firmament. Some parts
brilliantly lighted, especially on its concave part, showed the
presence of high mountains, often disappearing behind thick spots,
which are never seen on the lunar disc. They were rings of clouds
placed concentrically round the terrestrial globe.
While the travelers were trying to pierce the profound darkness,
a brilliant cluster of shooting stars burst upon their eyes.
Hundreds of meteorites, ignited by the friction of the atmosphere,
irradiated the shadow of the luminous train, and lined the cloudy
parts of the disc with their fire. At this period the earth was in
its perihelion, and the month of December is so propitious to these
shooting stars, that astronomers have counted as many as
twenty-four thousand in an hour. But Michel Ardan, disdaining
scientific reasonings, preferred thinking that the earth was thus
saluting the departure of her three children with her most
Indeed this was all they saw of the globe lost in the solar
world, rising and setting to the great planets like a simple
morning or evening star! This globe, where they had left all their
affections, was nothing more than a fugitive crescent!
Long did the three friends look without speaking, though united
in heart, while the projectile sped onward with an ever-decreasing
speed. Then an irresistible drowsiness crept over their brain. Was
it weariness of body and mind? No doubt; for after the
over-excitement of those last hours passed upon earth, reaction was
“Well,” said Nicholl, “since we must sleep,
let us sleep.”
And stretching themselves on their couches, they were all three
soon in a profound slumber.
But they had not forgotten themselves more than a quarter of an
hour, when Barbicane sat up suddenly, and rousing his companions
with a loud voice, exclaimed——
“I have found it!”
“What have you found?” asked Michel Ardan, jumping
from his bed.
“The reason why we did not hear the detonation of the
“And it is——?” said Nicholl.
“Because our projectile traveled faster than the
in fact has eight moons: Triton
. , only two where known in Verne's time.
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