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Chapter 25


CHAPTER XXV


FINAL DETAILS


It was the 22nd of November; the departure was to take place in
ten days. One operation alone remained to be accomplished to
bring all to a happy termination; an operation delicate and
perilous, requiring infinite precautions, and against the
success of which Captain Nicholl had laid his third bet. It was,
in fact, nothing less than the loading of the Columbiad, and the
introduction into it of 400,000 pounds of gun-cotton. Nicholl had
thought, not perhaps without reason, that the handling of such
formidable quantities of pyroxyle would, in all probability,
involve a grave catastrophe; and at any rate, that this immense
mass of eminently inflammable matter would inevitably ignite when
submitted to the pressure of the projectile.

There were indeed dangers accruing as before from the
carelessness of the Americans, but Barbicane had set his heart
on success, and took all possible precautions. In the first
place, he was very careful as to the transportation of the
gun-cotton to Stones Hill. He had it conveyed in small
quantities, carefully packed in sealed cases. These were
brought by rail from Tampa Town to the camp, and from thence
were taken to the Columbiad by barefooted workmen, who deposited
them in their places by means of cranes placed at the orifice of
the cannon. No steam-engine was permitted to work, and every
fire was extinguished within two miles of the works.

Even in November they feared to work by day, lest the sun's rays
acting on the gun-cotton might lead to unhappy results. This led
to their working at night, by light produced in a vacuum by means
of Ruhmkorff's apparatus, which threw an artificial brightness
into the depths of the Columbiad. There the cartridges were
arranged with the utmost regularity, connected by a metallic thread,
destined to communicate to them all simultaneously the electric
spark, by which means this mass of gun-cotton was eventually
to be ignited.

By the 28th of November eight hundred cartridges had been
placed in the bottom of the Columbiad. So far the operation had
been successful! But what confusion, what anxieties, what struggles
were undergone by President Barbicane! In vain had he refused
admission to Stones Hill; every day the inquisitive neighbors
scaled the palisades, some even carrying their imprudence to the
point of smoking while surrounded by bales of gun-cotton.
Barbicane was in a perpetual state of alarm. J. T. Maston
seconded him to the best of his ability, by giving vigorous
chase to the intruders, and carefully picking up the still
lighted cigar ends which the Yankees threw about. A somewhat
difficult task! seeing that more than 300,000 persons were
gathered round the enclosure. Michel Ardan had volunteered to
superintend the transport of the cartridges to the mouth of the
Columbiad; but the president, having surprised him with an
enormous cigar in his mouth, while he was hunting out the rash
spectators to whom he himself offered so dangerous an example,
saw that he could not trust this fearless smoker, and was
therefore obliged to mount a special guard over him.

At last, Providence being propitious, this wonderful loading
came to a happy termination, Captain Nicholl's third bet being
thus lost. It remained now to introduce the projectile into the
Columbiad, and to place it on its soft bed of gun-cotton.

But before doing this, all those things necessary for the
journey had to be carefully arranged in the projectile vehicle.
These necessaries were numerous; and had Ardan been allowed to
follow his own wishes, there would have been no space remaining
for the travelers. It is impossible to conceive of half the
things this charming Frenchman wished to convey to the moon.
A veritable stock of useless trifles! But Barbicane interfered
and refused admission to anything not absolutely needed.
Several thermometers, barometers, and telescopes were packed in
the instrument case.

The travelers being desirous of examing the moon carefully
during their voyage, in order to facilitate their studies,
they took with them Boeer and Moeller's excellent _Mappa
Selenographica_, a masterpiece of patience and observation,
which they hoped would enable them to identify those physical
features in the moon, with which they were acquainted.
This map reproduced with scrupulous fidelity the smallest
details of the lunar surface which faces the earth; the
mountains, valleys, craters, peaks, and ridges were all
represented, with their exact dimensions, relative positions,
and names; from the mountains Doerfel and Leibnitz on the
eastern side of the disc, to the _Mare frigoris_ of the North Pole.

They took also three rifles and three fowling-pieces, and a
large quantity of balls, shot, and powder.

"We cannot tell whom we shall have to deal with," said Michel Ardan.
"Men or beasts may possibly object to our visit. It is only wise
to take all precautions."

These defensive weapons were accompanied by pickaxes, crowbars,
saws, and other useful implements, not to mention clothing
adapted to every temperature, from that of polar regions to that
of the torrid zone.

Ardan wished to convey a number of animals of different sorts,
not indeed a pair of every known species, as he could not see
the necessity of acclimatizing serpents, tigers, alligators, or
any other noxious beasts in the moon. "Nevertheless," he said
to Barbicane, "some valuable and useful beasts, bullocks, cows,
horses, and donkeys, would bear the journey very well, and would
also be very useful to us."

"I dare say, my dear Ardan," replied the president, "but our
projectile-vehicle is no Noah's ark, from which it differs both in
dimensions and object. Let us confine ourselves to possibilities."

After a prolonged discussion, it was agreed that the travelers
should restrict themselves to a sporting-dog belonging to
Nicholl, and to a large Newfoundland. Several packets of seeds
were also included among the necessaries. Michel Ardan, indeed,
was anxious to add some sacks full of earth to sow them in; as
it was, he took a dozen shrubs carefully wrapped up in straw to
plant in the moon.

The important question of provisions still remained; it being
necessary to provide against the possibility of their finding
the moon absolutely barren. Barbicane managed so successfully,
that he supplied them with sufficient rations for a year.
These consisted of preserved meats and vegetables, reduced by
strong hydraulic pressure to the smallest possible dimensions.
They were also supplied with brandy, and took water enough for
two months, being confident, from astronomical observations,
that there was no lack of water on the moon's surface. As to
provisions, doubtless the inhabitants of the _earth_ would find
nourishment somewhere in the _moon_. Ardan never questioned
this; indeed, had he done so, he would never have undertaken
the journey.

"Besides," he said one day to his friends, "we shall not be
completely abandoned by our terrestrial friends; they will take
care not to forget us."

"No, indeed!" replied J. T. Maston.

"Nothing would be simpler," replied Ardan; "the Columbiad will
be always there. Well! whenever the moon is in a favorable
condition as to the zenith, if not to the perigee, that is to
say about once a year, could you not send us a shell packed
with provisions, which we might expect on some appointed day?"

"Hurrah! hurrah!" cried J. T. Matson; "what an ingenious fellow!
what a splendid idea! Indeed, my good friends, we shall not
forget you!"

"I shall reckon upon you! Then, you see, we shall receive news
regularly from the earth, and we shall indeed be stupid if we
hit upon no plan for communicating with our good friends here!"

These words inspired such confidence, that Michel Ardan carried
all the Gun Club with him in his enthusiasm. What he said
seemed so simple and so easy, so sure of success, that none
could be so sordidly attached to this earth as to hesitate to
follow the three travelers on their lunar expedition.

All being ready at last, it remained to place the projectile in
the Columbiad, an operation abundantly accompanied by dangers
and difficulties.

The enormous shell was conveyed to the summit of Stones Hill.
There, powerful cranes raised it, and held it suspended over the
mouth of the cylinder.

It was a fearful moment! What if the chains should break under
its enormous weight? The sudden fall of such a body would
inevitably cause the gun-cotton to explode!

Fortunately this did not happen; and some hours later the
projectile-vehicle descended gently into the heart of the cannon
and rested on its couch of pyroxyle, a veritable bed of
explosive eider-down. Its pressure had no result, other than
the more effectual ramming down of the charge in the Columbiad.

"I have lost," said the captain, who forthwith paid President
Barbicane the sum of three thousand dollars.

Barbicane did not wish to accept the money from one of his
fellow-travelers, but gave way at last before the determination
of Nicholl, who wished before leaving the earth to fulfill all
his engagements.

"Now," said Michel Ardan, "I have only one thing more to wish
for you, my brave captain."

"What is that?" asked Nicholl.

"It is that you may lose your two other bets! Then we shall be
sure not to be stopped on our journey!"

Jules Verne

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