FROM 10 P.M. TO 10 46' 40''.
The moment that the great clock belonging to the works at Stony Hill had
struck ten, Barbican, Ardan and M'Nicholl began to take their last
farewells of the numerous friends surrounding them. The two dogs
intended to accompany them had been already deposited in the Projectile.
The three travellers approached the mouth of the enormous cannon, seated
themselves in the flying car, and once more took leave for the last time
of the vast throng standing in silence around them. The windlass
creaked, the car started, and the three daring men disappeared in the
The trap-hole giving them ready access to the interior of the
Projectile, the car soon came back empty; the great windlass was
presently rolled away; the tackle and scaffolding were removed, and in a
short space of time the great mouth of the Columbiad was completely rid
of all obstructions.
M'Nicholl took upon himself to fasten the door of the trap on the inside
by means of a powerful combination of screws and bolts of his own
invention. He also covered up very carefully the glass lights with
strong iron plates of extreme solidity and tightly fitting joints.
Ardan's first care was to turn on the gas, which he found burning rather
low; but he lit no more than one burner, being desirous to economize as
much 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 a
comfortable 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 to
sustain the least injury possible from the first terrible shock. In
fact, all precautions possible, humanly speaking, had been taken to
counteract this, the first, and possibly one of the very greatest
dangers to which the courageous adventurers would be exposed.
Ardan expressed himself to be quite pleased with the appearance of
things in general.
"It's a prison, to be sure," said he "but not one of your ordinary
prisons that always keep in the one spot. For my part, as long as I can
have the privilege of looking out of the window, I am willing to lease
it for a hundred years. Ah! Barbican, that brings out one of your stony
smiles. You think our lease may last longer than that! Our tenement may
become our coffin, eh? Be it so. I prefer it anyway to Mahomet's; it may
indeed float in the air, but it won't be motionless as a milestone!"
[Illustration: TURN ON THE GAS.]
Barbican, having made sure by personal inspection that everything was in
perfect order, consulted his chronometer, which he had carefully set a
short time before with Chief Engineer Murphy's, who had been charged to
fire 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. We
have, therefore, twenty-six minutes more to remain on earth."
"Twenty-six minutes and twenty seconds," observed Captain M'Nicholl, who
always aimed at mathematical precision.
"Twenty-six minutes!" cried Ardan, gaily. "An age, a cycle, according to
the use you make of them. In twenty-six minutes how much can be done!
The weightiest questions of warfare, politics, morality, can be
discussed, even decided, in twenty-six minutes. Twenty-six minutes well
spent are infinitely more valuable than twenty-six lifetimes wasted! A
few seconds even, employed by a Pascal, or a Newton, or a Barbican, or
any 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?" interrupted
"I conclude that we have twenty-six good minutes still left--"
"Only twenty-four minutes, ten seconds," interrupted the Captain, watch
"Well, twenty-four minutes, Captain," Ardan went on; "now even in
twenty-four minutes, I maintain--"
"Ardan," interrupted Barbican, "after a very little while we shall have
plenty of time for philosophical disputations. Just now let us think of
something 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 precautions
to be taken against the terrible shock that we are so soon to
"What? Have you any doubts whatever of the effectiveness of your
brilliant and extremely original idea? Don't you think that the layers
of water, regularly disposed in easily-ruptured partitions beneath this
floor, 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 time
to tell us so! Let me out of here!"
"Too late!" observed the Captain quietly. "The trap-hole alone would
take 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 never
took his eye off the chronometer.
The three travellers looked at each other for a little while, during
which even Ardan appeared to become serious. After another careful
glance at the several objects lying around them, Barbican said, quietly:
"Everything is in its place, except ourselves. What we have now to do is
to decide on the position we must take in order to neutralize the shock
as much as possible. We must be particularly careful to guard against a
rush 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 clearly
in mind, dear friends, that at the instant of departure it makes very
little difference to us whether we are inside the bullet or in front of
it. There is, no doubt, _some_ difference," he added, seeing the great
eyes 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 a
repeating chronometer, horizontal escapement, London-made lever, capped,
His companions let him run on while they busied themselves in making
their last arrangements, with the greatest coolness and most systematic
method. In fact, I don't think of anything just now to compare them to
except a couple of old travellers who, having to pass the night in the
train, are trying to make themselves as comfortable as possible for
their long journey. In your profound astonishment, you may naturally ask
me of what strange material can the hearts of these Americans be made,
who can view without the slightest semblance of a flutter the approach
of 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 things
that I could never find out.
Three mattresses, thick and well wadded, spread on the disc forming the
false bottom of the Projectile, were arranged in lines whose parallelism
was simply perfect. But Ardan would never think of occupying his until
the very last moment. Walking up and down, with the restless nervousness
of a wild beast in a cage, he kept up a continuous fire of talk; at one
moment with his friends, at another with the dogs, addressing the latter
by the euphonious and suggestive names of Diana and Satellite.
[Illustration: DIANA AND SATELLITE.]
"Ho, pets!" he would exclaim as he patted them gently, "you must not
forget the noble part you are to play up there. You must be models of
canine deportment. The eyes of the whole Selenitic world will be upon
you. You are the standard bearers of your race. From you they will
receive their first impression regarding its merits. Let it be a
favorable one. Compel those Selenites to acknowledge, in spite of
themselves, that the terrestrial race of canines is far superior to that
of 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, and
no end of chickens!"
"A hundred dollars to one there isn't a single chicken within the whole
Lunar 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's
hand 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 of
six thousand dollars."
"And paid them, too!" cried the captain, monotonously; "ten, thirty-six,
"Yes, and in a quarter of an hour you will have to pay nine thousand
dollars more; four thousand because the Columbiad will not burst, and
five thousand because the Projectile will rise more than six miles from
"I have the money ready," answered the Captain, touching his breeches
pocket. "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 take
the money than there will be of Barbican to pay it!"
"Friend Ardan," quietly observed Barbican, "my stakes are deposited in
the _Wall Street Bank_, of New York, with orders to pay them over to the
Captain's heirs, in case the Captain himself should fail to put in an
appearance 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! I
may admire you, but I'm blessed if I understand you!"
"Ten, forty-two, ten!" repeated M'Nicholl, as mechanically as if it was
the 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 nine
hundred feet long. Underneath this bullet is piled a charge of 400
thousand pounds of gun-cotton, equivalent to 1600 thousand pounds of
ordinary gunpowder! And at this very instant our friend Murphy,
chronometer in hand, eye on dial, finger on discharger, is counting the
last seconds and getting ready to launch us into the limitless regions
"Ardan, dear friend," interrupted Barbican, in a grave tone, "a serious
moment 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 the
other extreme of his apparent levity.
The three brave men united in one last, silent, but warm and impulsively
"And now, great God, our Creator, protect us! In Thee we trust!" prayed
Barbican, the others joining him with folded hands and bowed heads.
"Ten, forty-six!" whispered the Captain, as he and Ardan quietly took
their places on the mattresses.
Only forty seconds more!
Barbican rapidly extinguishes the gas and lies down beside his
The deathlike silence now reigning in the Projectile is interrupted only
by the sharp ticking of the chronometer as it beats the seconds.
Suddenly, a dreadful shock is felt, and the Projectile, shot up by the
instantaneous development of 200,000 millions of cubic feet of gas, is
flying into space with inconceivable rapidity!