Round the Moon.
Chapter I. From 10.20 P.M. to 10.47 P.M.
 

When ten o'clock struck, Michel Ardan, Barbicane, and Nicholl said good-bye to the numerous friends they left upon the earth. The two dogs, destined to acclimatise the canine race upon the lunar continents, were already imprisoned in the projectile. The three travellers approached the orifice of the enormous iron tube, and a crane lowered them to the conical covering of the bullet.

There an opening made on purpose let them down into the aluminium vehicle. The crane's tackling was drawn up outside, and the mouth of the Columbiad instantly cleared of its last scaffolding.

As soon as Nicholl and his companions were in the projectile he closed the opening by means of a strong plate screwed down inside. Other closely-fitting plates covered the lenticular glasses of the skylights. The travellers, hermetically inclosed in their metal prison, were in profound darkness.

"And now, my dear companions," said Michel Ardan, "let us make ourselves at home. I am a domestic man myself, and know how to make the best of any lodgings. First let us have a light; gas was not invented for moles!"

Saying which the light-hearted fellow struck a match on the sole of his boot and then applied it to the burner of the receptacle, in which there was enough carbonised hydrogen, stored under strong pressure, for lighting and heating the bullet for 144 hours, or six days and six nights.

Once the gas lighted, the projectile presented the aspect of a comfortable room with padded walls, furnished with circular divans, the roof of which was in the shape of a dome.

The objects in it, weapons, instruments, and utensils, were solidly fastened to the sides in order to bear the parting shock with impunity. Every possible precaution had been taken to insure the success of so bold an experiment.

Michel Ardan examined everything, and declared himself quite satisfied with his quarters.

"It is a prison," said he, "but a travelling prison, and if I had the right to put my nose to the window I would take it on a hundred years' lease! You are smiling, Barbicane. You are thinking of something you do not communicate. Do you say to yourself that this prison may be our coffin? Our coffin let it be; I would not change it for Mahomet's, which only hangs in space, and does not move!"

Whilst Michel Ardan was talking thus, Barbicane and Nicholl were making their last preparations.

It was 10.20 p.m. by Nicholl's chronometer when the three travellers were definitely walled up in their bullet. This chronometer was regulated to the tenth of a second by that of the engineer, Murchison. Barbicane looked at it.

"My friends," said he, "it is twenty minutes past ten; at thirteen minutes to eleven Murchison will set fire to the Columbiad; at that minute precisely we shall leave our spheroid. We have, therefore, still seven-and-twenty minutes to remain upon earth."

"Twenty-six minutes and thirteen seconds," answered the methodical Nicholl.

"Very well!" cried Michel Ardan good-humouredly; "in twenty-six minutes lots of things can be done. We can discuss grave moral or political questions, and even solve them. Twenty-six minutes well employed are worth more than twenty-six years of doing nothing. A few seconds of a Pascal or a Newton are more precious than the whole existence of a crowd of imbeciles."

"And what do you conclude from that, talker eternal?" asked President Barbicane.

"I conclude that we have twenty-six minutes," answered Ardan.

"Twenty-four only," said Nicholl.

"Twenty-four, then, if you like, brave captain," answered Ardan; "twenty-four minutes, during which we might investigate--"

"Michel," said Barbicane, "during our journey we shall have plenty of time to investigate the deepest questions. Now we must think of starting."

"Are we not ready?"

"Certainly. But there are still some precautions to be taken to deaden the first shock as much as possible!"

"Have we not water-cushions placed between movable partitions elastic enough to protect us sufficiently?"

"I hope so, Michel," answered Barbicane gently; "but I am not quite sure!"

"Ah, the joker!" exclaimed Michel Ardan. "He hopes! He is not quite sure! And he waits till we are encased to make this deplorable acknowledgment! I ask to get out."

"By what means?" asked Barbicane.

"Well!" said Michel Ardan, "it would be difficult. We are in the train, and the guard's whistle will be heard in twenty-four minutes."

"Twenty!" ejaculated Nicholl.

The three travellers looked at one another for a few seconds. Then they examined all the objects imprisoned with them.

"Everything is in its place," said Barbicane. "The question now is where we can place ourselves so as best to support the departing shock. The position we assume must be important too--we must prevent the blood rushing too violently to our heads."

"That is true," said Nicholl.

"Then," answered Michel Ardan, always ready to suit the action to the word, "we will stand on our heads like the clowns at the circus."

"No," said Barbicane; "but let us lie on our sides; we shall thus resist the shock better. When the bullet starts it will not much matter whether we are inside or in front."

"If it comes to 'not much matter' I am more reassured," answered Michel Ardan.

"Do you approve of my idea, Nicholl?" asked Barbicane.

"Entirely," answered the captain. "Still thirteen minutes and a-half."

"Nicholl is not a man," exclaimed Michel; "he is a chronometer marking the seconds, and with eight holes in--"

But his companions were no longer listening to him, and they were making their last preparations with all the coolness imaginable. They looked like two methodical travellers taking their places in the train and making themselves as comfortable as possible. One wonders, indeed, of what materials these American hearts are made, to which the approach of the most frightful danger does not add a single pulsation.

Three beds, thick and solidly made, had been placed in the projectile. Nicholl and Barbicane placed them in the centre of the disc that formed the movable flooring. There the three travellers were to lie down a few minutes before their departure.

In the meanwhile Ardan, who could not remain quiet, turned round his narrow prison like a wild animal in a cage, talking to his friends and his dogs, Diana and Satellite, to whom it will be noticed he had some time before given these significant names.

"Up, Diana! up, Satellite!" cried he, exciting them. "You are going to show to the Selenite dogs how well-behaved the dogs of the earth can be! That will do honour to the canine race. If we ever come back here I will bring back a cross-breed of 'moon-dogs' that will become all the rage."

"If there are any dogs in the moon," said Barbicane.

"There are some," affirmed Michel Ardan, "the same as there are horses, cows, asses, and hens. I wager anything we shall find some hens."

"I bet a hundred dollars we find none," said Nicholl.

"Done, captain," answered Ardan, shaking hands with Nicholl. "But, by-the-bye, you have lost three bets with the president, for the funds necessary for the enterprise were provided, the casting succeeded, and lastly, the Columbiad was loaded without accident--that makes six thousand dollars."

"Yes," answered Nicholl. "Twenty-three minutes and six seconds to eleven."

"I hear, captain. Well, before another quarter of an hour is over you will have to make over another nine thousand dollars to the president, four thousand because the Columbiad will not burst, and five thousand because the bullet will rise higher than six miles into the air."

"I have the dollars," answered Nicholl, striking his coat pocket, "and I only want to pay."

"Come, Nicholl, I see you are a man of order, what I never could be; but allow me to tell you that your series of bets cannot be very advantageous to you."

"Why?" asked Barbicane.

"Because if you win the first the Columbiad will have burst, and the bullet with it, and Barbicane will not be there to pay you your dollars."

"My wager is deposited in the Baltimore Bank," answered Barbicane simply; "and in default of Nicholl it will go to his heirs."

"What practical men you are!" cried Michel Ardan. "I admire you as much as I do not understand you."

"Eighteen minutes to eleven," said Nicholl.

"Only five minutes more," answered Barbicane.

"Yes, five short minutes!" replied Michel Ardan. "And we are shut up in a bullet at the bottom of a cannon 900 feet long! and under this bullet there are 400,000 lbs. of gun-cotton, worth more than 1,600,000 lbs. of ordinary powder! And friend Murchison, with his chronometer in hand and his eye fixed on the hand and his finger on the electric knob, is counting the seconds to hurl us into the planetary regions."

"Enough, Michel, enough!" said Barbicane in a grave tone. "Let us prepare ourselves. A few seconds only separate us from a supreme moment. Your hands, my friends."

"Yes," cried Michel Ardan, more moved than he wished to appear.

The three bold companions shook hands.

"God help us!" said the religious president.

Michel Ardan and Nicholl lay down on their beds in the centre of the floor.

"Thirteen minutes to eleven," murmured the captain.

Twenty seconds more! Barbicane rapidly put out the gas, and lay down beside his companions.

The profound silence was only broken by the chronometer beating the seconds.

Suddenly a frightful shock was felt, and the projectile, under the impulsion of 6,000,000,000 litres of gas developed by the deflagration of the pyroxyle, rose into space.