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The Purchase of the North Pole
In Which the North Polar Practical Association Rushes a Document Across Two Worlds
“Then Mr Maston, you pretend that a woman has never been able to make mathematical or experimental-science progress?”
“To my extreme regret, I am obliged to, Mrs. Scorbitt,” answered J.T. Maston.
“That there have been some very remarkable women in
mathematics, especially in
“Oh, Mr. Maston, allow me to protest in the name of my sex.”
“A sex, Mrs. Scorbitt, much too charming to give itself up to the higher studies.”
“Well then, according to your opinion, no woman seeing an apple fall could have discovered the law of universal gravitation, so that it would have made her the most illustrious scientific person of the seventeenth century?”
“In seeing an apple fall, Mrs. Scorbitt, a woman would have but the single idea—to eat it—for example, our mother Eve.”
“Pshaw, I see very well that you deny us all aptitude for high speculations.”
“All aptitude? No, Mrs. Scorbitt, and in the meanwhile I would like to prove to you that since there are inhabitants on earth, and consequently women, there has not one feminine brain been found yet to which we owe any discoveries like those of Aristotle, Euclid, Kepler, Laplace, etc.”
“Is this a reason? And does the past always prove the future?”
“Well, a person who has done nothing in a thousand years, without a doubt, never will do anything.”
“I see now that I have to take our part, Mr. Maston, and that we are not worth much.”
“In regard to being worth something”—began Mr. Maston, with as much politeness as he could command.
But Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, who was perfectly willing to be satisfied, answered promptly: “Each one has his or her lot in this world. You may remain the extraordinary calculator which you are, give yourself up entirely to the immense work to which your friends and yourself will devote their existence. I will be the woman in the case and bring to it my pecuniary assistance.”
“And we will owe you an eternal gratitude,” answered Mr. Maston.
Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt blushed deliciously, for she felt, according to report, a singular sympathy for J.T. Maston. Besides, is not the heart of a woman an unfathomable gulf?
It was really an immense undertaking to which this rich American widow had resolved to devote large sums of money.
The scheme and its expected results, briefly outlined, were as follows:
The Arctic regions, accurately expressed, include according to Maltebrun, Roclus, Saint-Martin and other high authorities on geography:
1st. The northern Devon, including the
ice-covered islands of Baffin’s Sea and
2d. The northern
3d. The archipelago of Baffin-Parry, including different parts of the circumpolar continent, embracing Cumberland, Southampton, James-Sommerset, Boothia-Felix, Melville, and other parts nearly unknown. Of this great area, crossed by the 78th parallel, there are over 1,400,000 square miles of land and over 700,000 square miles of water.
Within this area intrepid modern discoverers have advanced to the 84th-degree of latitude, reaching seacoasts lost behind the high chain of icebergs which may be called the Arctic Highlands, given names to capes, to mountains, to gulfs, to bays, etc. But beyond this 84th degree is mystery. It is the terra incognita of the chart-makers, and nobody knows as yet whether behind is hidden land or water for a distance of 6 degrees over impassable heaps of ice to the North Pole.
It was in the year 189- that the Government of the
For several years, it is true, the Conference at
There never is in the
Should a Lesseps propose to dig a channel across Europe to Asia, from the banks of the Atlantic to the waters of China; should a well-sinker offer to bore from the curb-stones to reach the beds of molten silicates, to bring a supply to your fireplaces; should an enterprising electrician want to unite the scattered currents over the surface of the globe into one inexhaustible spring of heat and light; should a bold engineer conceive the idea of putting the excess of Summer temperature into large reservoirs for use during the Winter in our then frigid zones; should an anonymous society be founded to do any of a hundred different similar things, there would be found Americans ready to head the subscription lists and a regular stream of dollars would pour into the company safes as freely as the rivers of America flow into the ocean.
It is natural to expect that opinions were very varied when the news spread that the Arctic region was going to be sold at auction for the benefit of the highest and final bidder, particularly when no public subscription list was started in view of this purchase, as the capital had all been secured beforehand.
To use the Arctic region? Why, such an idea could “only be found in the brain of a fool,” was the general verdict.
Nothing, however, was more serious than this project. A prospectus was sent to the papers of the two continents, to the European publications, to the African, Oceanic, Asiatic, and at the same time to the American journals. The American newspaper announcement read as follows:
To the Inhabitants of the Globe:
“The Arctic region situated within the eighty-fourth degree could not heretofore have been sold at auction for the very excellent reason that it had not been discovered as yet.
“The extreme points reached by navigators of different countries are the following:
“82° 45’ , reached by the English explorer, Parry, in July, 1847, on the twenty-eighth meridian, west, to the north of Spitzberg.
“83° 20’ 28” , reached by Markham, with the English expedition of Sir John Georges Nares, in May, 1867, on the fiftieth meridian, west, in the north of Grinnell Land.
“83° 35’ latitude, reached by Lockwood and Brainard, of the American expedition under Lieut. Greely,
in May, 1882, on the forty-second meridian, west in the north of
“The property extending from the eighty-fourth parallel to the pole on a surface of six degrees must be considered an undivided domain among the different states of the globe and not liable to be transformed into private property through a public auction sale.
“No one is compelled to live in this section, and the
“These conditions having been laid before all the powers,
the Arctic region is to be sold at public auction for the benefit of the
highest and last bidder. The date of the sale is set for the 3d of December of
the current year, in the Auction Hall at
“Address for information Mr. W.S. Forster, Temporary Agent
for the North Polar Practical Association,
The reader may imagine how this communication was received by the public at large. Most people considered it as an absurd idea. Some only saw in it a sample of characteristic American humbug. Others thought that the proposition deserved to be fairly considered, and they pointed to the fact that the newly-founded company did not in any way appeal to the public for pecuniary help, but was willing to do everything with its own capital. It was with its own money that it wanted to purchase the Arctic region. The promoters did not try to put gold, silver, and bank-notes into their pockets and keep them for their own benefit. No, they only asked permission to pay for the land with their own money.
Some people who claimed to know said that the Company could
have gone to work and taken possession of the country without any further
ceremony, as it was their right as first occupants. But that is just where the
difficulty came in, because until this time the Pole seemed to be forbidden
ground to any one. Therefore, in case the
What did this phrase mean? How could there ever be any changes in the geography or meteorology of a country like this one to be sold at auction? “Evidently,” said some shrewd ones, “there must be something behind it.”
The commentators had free swing and exercised it with a
will. One paper in
“Undoubtedly the future purchasers of the Arctic region have information that a hard stone comet will strike this world under such conditions that its blow will produce geographic and meteorologic changes such as the purchasers of the Arctic region will profit by.”
The idea of a blow with a hard stone planet was not accepted by serious people. In any case it was not likely that the would-be purchasers would have been informed of such a coming event.
“Perhaps,” said a
“And why not? Because this movement modifies the direction of the axis of our spheroid,” observed another correspondent.
“Really,” answered the Scientific Review, of
“This is not certain,” replied the Edinburgh Review, “and, besides, supposing that this would be the case, is not a lapse of 12,000 years necessary before Vega becomes our polar star in consequence of this movement and the situation of the Arctic territory consequently changed in regard to its climate?”
“Well,” said the Copenhagen Dagblad, “in 12,000 years it will be time to make preparations, and before that time risk nothing—not even a cent.”
It was possible that the Scientific Review was right with Adhemar. It was also very probable that the North Polar Practical Association had never counted on this modification of climate due to the precession of the equinox. In fact, nobody had clearly discovered what this last paragraph in the circular meant nor what kind of change it had in view.
Perhaps to know it, it would suffice to write to the Secretary of the new Society, or particularly its President. But the President was unknown. Unknown as much as the Secretary and all other members of the Council. It was not even known where the document came from. It was brought to the offices of the New York newspapers by a certain William S. Forster, a codfish dealer of Baltimore, a member of the house of Ardrinell & Co. Everything was so quiet and mysterious in the matter that the best reporters could not make out what it was all about. This North Polar Association had been so anonymous that it was impossible even to give it a definite name.
If, however, the promoters of this speculation persisted in making their personnel an absolute mystery, their intention was clearly indicated by the document spread before the public of two worlds.
Really, after all, the question was the purchase of that
part of the arctic regions bounded by the 84th degree, and of which the North
Pole was the central point. Nothing very exact concerning this region was
known. The modern discoverers who had been nearest to this parallel were Parry,
The length of this portion of the globe surrounded
by the 84th degree, extending from the 84th to the 90th, making six degrees,
which at sixty miles each make a radius of 360 miles and a diameter of 720
miles. The circumference therefore is, 2,260 miles and the surface 407
[square] miles. This is about the tenth part of the whole of
The countries whose rights were absolutely established as
much as those of any countries could be were six in number—
Other countries could claim discoveries made by their mariners and their travellers.
Among the others the courageous Bellot,
who died in 1853, in the islands of Beechey, during
the Phoenix Expedition sent in search of Sir John Franklin. Nor must one forget
Dr. Octave Pavy, who died in 1884, near
In regard to
Which the Delegates from
One thing was evident to the whole world at once, namely,
that if the new association should succeed in buying the Arctic regions, those
regions would become absolutely the property of America or rather of the United
States, a country which was always trying to acquire something. This was not a
pleasing prospect to rival governments, but nevertheless, as has been said, the
different States of Europe and of
It was a difficult matter to fix prices for this polar earth
cap, the business value of which was at least very problematic. Their main
reason for presenting themselves at the sale was that some advantage might
accrue to them.
In the year 1619 did not the navigator, Jean Munk, explore the east coast of
In regard to
Furthermore, the position of the Siberian territories,
extending over 120 degrees to the extreme limits of Kamchatka, the length of
the Asiatic coast, where the Samoyedes, Yakoutes, Tchuoktchis, and other
conquered people lived, did
They had often tried to obtain it by devoting themselves to
the search of Sir John Franklin, with Grinnel, with
Kane, with Hayes, with Greely, with De Long, and other courageous navigators.
They could also plead the geographical situation of their country, which
develops itself below the polar circle from the
If any power had undisputable modern rights to possess the
polar domain it was certainly the
Such were the demands and explanations, but one could see
that the struggle would only be active between American dollars and English
pounds sterling. However, according to the proposition made by the North Polar
Practical Association all countries had to be consulted and given a chance at
the auction. The sale was announced to take place Dec. 3, at
The delegates, furnished with their letters of credit, left
Up to this time
The delegates of the European powers who had been chosen were included in the following list:
For Holland—Jacques Jansen, formerly Counsellor of the Netherlandish India; fifty-three years old, stout, short, well formed, small arms, small bent legs, round and florid face, gray hair; a worthy man, only a little incredulous on the subject of an undertaking the practical consequences of which he failed to see.
For Denmark—Eric Baldenak, ex-Sub-Governor of the Greenlandish possessions; of medium height, a little bent over, large and round head, so short-sighted that the point of his nose would touch his books; not willing to listen to any claim denying the rights of his country, which he considered the legitimate proprietor of the northern region.
For the Swedish-Norwegian peninsula—Jan Harald, Professor of Cosmography in Christiania; a genuine Northern man, red-faced, beard and hair blond; he regarded it as an established fact that the Polar region, being only occupied by the Paleocristic Sea, had absolutely no value. He was, however, not much interested in the matter and went there only as a duty.
For Russia—Col. Boris Karkof, semi-military man, semi-diplomat; a stiff, stubby mustache, seeming uncomfortable in his citizen clothes and feeling absent-mindedly for his sword which he was accustomed to carry; very much puzzled to know what was hidden in the proposition of the North Polar Practical Association, and whether it would not be the cause of international difficulties.
If there ever was an Englishman it was Major Donellan, tall, meagre, bony,
nervous, angular, with a little cough, a head a la Palmerston,
on bending shoulders; legs well formed after his sixty years; indefatigable, a
quality he had well shown when he worked on the frontiers of India. He never
laughed in those days, and perhaps never had. And why should he? Did you ever
see a locomotive or a steam-engine or an elevator laugh? On this point the
Major was very much different from his secretary, Dean Toodrink,
a talkative fellow, very pleasant, with large head, and his hair falling on his
forehead, and small eyes. He became well known on account of his happy manner
and his taste for fairy tales. But, even if he was cheerful, he did not seem
any less personally conceited than Major Donellan
when he talked about
These two delegates were probably going to be the most
desperate opponents to the American Society. The North Pole belonged to them;
it always belonged to them. It was to them as if the Lord had given the mission
to the English people to keep up the rotation of the earth around its axis, and
as if it was their duty to prevent it passing into strange hands. It is
necessary to observe here that
As soon as the European delegates had landed public opinion became more excited. The most singular stories were printed in the newspapers. False theories were established, based on the purchase of the North Pole. What was the Society going to do with it? And what could they do with it? Nothing; or perhaps it was all done to corner the iceberg market. There was even a journal in Paris, the Figaro, which upheld this curious idea. But for this it would be necessary to pass south of the eighty-fourth parallel.
Be it as it may, however, the delegates who had avoided each
other during their passage over the Atlantic became more and more associated
after having arrived in
The delegates could, therefore, learn nothing from him. They were accordingly compelled to rely upon the more or less absurd guesses of the public at large. Was the secret of the Society going to be kept inpenetrable as long as it did not make it known itself? This was the question. Without doubt it did not seem inclined to give any information on the subject until the purchase had been made. Therefore, it came that the delegates finished by seeing and meeting each other; they made visits to each other, and finally came in close communication with each other, perhaps with the idea of making a front against the common enemy, or, otherwise, the American Company. And so it happened that one evening they were all together in the Hotel Wolesley, in the suite occupied by Major Donellan and his secretary, Dean Toodrink, holding a conference. In fact, this tendency to a common understanding was principally due to the advice of Col. Boris Karkof, the best diplomat known. At first the conversation was directed to the commercial and industrial consequences which the Society pretended to gain by purchase of the Arctic domain. Prof. Jan Harald asked if any one had been able to gain any information on that point. All finally agreed that they had tried to get information from Mr. William S. Forster, to whom all letters should be addressed.
“I have failed,” said Eric Baldenak.
“And I have not succeeded,” added Jacques Jansen.
“In regard to myself,” answered
Dean Toodrink, “when I presented myself at the stores
in High Street in the name of Major Donellan I found
a large man in black clothes, wearing a high hat, with a white apron, which was
short enough to show his high boots. When I asked him for information in the
matter he informed me that the South Star had arrived with a full cargo from
“And,” answered the former counsellor of the Dutch Indies, always a little sceptical, “it would be much better to buy a load of codfish than to throw one’s money into the ice-water of the North.”
“This is not at all the question,” says Major Donellan, with a short and high voice. “The question is not the codfish, but the Polar region.”
“Americans ought to stand on their heads,” said Dean Toodrink, laughing at his own remark. “That will make them catch cold,” finally said Col. Karkof. “The question is not there,” said Major Donellan. “One thing only is certain, that for some reason or another America, represented by the N.P.P.A. (remark the word ‘practical’) wants to buy a surface of 407 square miles around the North Pole, a surface which is actually (remark the word ‘actually’) pierced by the eighty-fourth degree of latitude.”
“We know it, Major Donellan, and much more,” said Jan Harald. “But what we do not know is how the said company will make use of those countries or waters, if they are waters, from a commercial standpoint.”
“This is not the question,” answered for the third time Major Donellan. “A power wants to purchase with money a large part of the globe which, by its geographical situation, seems to belong especially to England”—”to Russia,” said Col. Karkof; “to Holland,” said Jacques Jansen; “to Sweden-Norway,” said Jan Harald; “to Denmark,” said Eric Baldenak.
The five delegates jumped to their feet, and it seemed as if
the Council would turn to harsh words, when Dean Toodrink
tried to interfere the first time. “Gentlemen,” said he, in a tone of
reconciliation, “this is not the question, following the expression of my
chief,” of which he made such frequent use. “As long as it has been decided
that the Northern regions are going to be sold at auction, they will naturally
belong to such representative who will make the highest bid for same. As long
‘Deus nobis haec otia fecit,’ “
said this merryman in translating according to his fashion the close of the sixth verse of the first eclogue of Virgil. All began to laugh except Major Donellan, who stopped for the second time the discussion which threatened to finish badly. Then Dean Toodrink said, “Do not quarrel, gentlemen. What good will it do us? Let us rather form a syndicate.”
“And afterwards?” asked Jan Harald.
“Afterwards,” answered Dean Toodrink,
“nothing more simple, gentlemen. After you shall have bought the polar domain
it will remain undivided among us or will be divided after a regular indemnity
to one of the States which have been purchasers. But our purpose would have
already been obtained, which is to save it from the representative of
This proposition did some good, at least for the present moment. As very soon the delegates would not fail to fight with each other, and pull each other’s hair where there was any to pull, it would be at the moment when it was necessary to elect a final buyer of this immovable region, so much disputed and so useless.
“In all cases,” cleverly remarked Dean Toodrink,
“It seems to me very sensible,” said Eric Baldenak.
“Very handy,” said Col. Karkof.
“Right,” said Jan Harald.
“Mean,” said Jacques Jansen.
“Very English,” said Major Donellan.
Each one had given his opinion hoping to convince his colleagues.
“Then, gentlemen, it is perfectly understood that if we form a syndicate the rights of each State will be absolutely reserved for the future.” ... It is understood. There was only to be found out what credit the different delegates had received from their governments. It was supposed that the whole when added up would represent such an enormous sum that there would not be the least doubt that the A.P.P.A. [N.P.P.A.] would fail to surpass this amount of money. This question of funds was met by Dean Toodrink.
Complete silence. Nobody would answer, show your pocketbook.
Empty their pockets into the safes of a syndicate. Make known in advance how
much each country would bid at the sale. No haste was shown. And if there
should be a disagreement in this new-formed syndicate in the future,
and circumstances should compel each one to make his own bids? And should the diplomat Karkof feel
insulted at the trickery of Jacques Jansen, who would be insulted at the
underhand intrigues of Jan Harald, who would refuse
to support the high pretensions of Major Donellan,
who, himself, would not stop to embroil each one of his associates. And
now to show their credits—that was showing their play, when it was necessary to
live up to it. There were really two ways only to answer the proper but
indiscreet suggestion of Dean Toodrink. Either to exaggerate the credits, which would be very embarrassing,
because it would then be the question of the payment, or to diminish them to
such a point that they would be ridiculous and not to the purpose of the
scheme. The ex-counsellor had this idea first,
but it must be said to his credit, he did not seriously hold it. His
colleagues, however, followed suit. “Gentlemen,” said
In Which the Arctic Regions are Sold at Auction to the Highest Bidder
Why was this sale on the 3d of December going to be held in the regular auction hall, where usually only such objects as furniture, utensils, tools, instruments, etc., or art pieces, pictures, medals, and antique objects were sold? Why, so long as it was a piece of realty, was it not sold before a referee or a court of justice appointed for such sales? And why was the aid of a public auctioneer necessary when a part of our globe was going to be sold? How could this piece of the world be compared with any movable object when it was the most fixed thing on the face of the earth? Really, this seemed to be quite illogical, but it was not so, since the whole of the Arctic regions was to be sold in such a way that the contract would be valuable. Did this not indicate that in the opinion of the N.P.P.A. the immovable object in question contained something movable?
This singularity puzzled even the most eminently sagacious
minds to be found in the
It was some years before, in
The sale could hardly fail to be interesting.
Ever since their arrival in
The sale commenced at 12 o’clock.
Since early in the morning all business had been stopped in
the street on account of the large crowd. By telegraph the papers were informed
that most of the bets made by Americans had been taken up by the English, and
Dean Toodrink immediately posted up a notice to that
effect in the auction hall. The nearer the time came the higher grew the
excitement. It was reported that the Government of Great Britain had placed
large sums of money at the disposition of Major Donellan.
“At the office of the Admiralty,” observed one of the
As the time for the auction drew near the crowd grew larger. Three hours before the sale it was impossible to obtain admission to the auction hall. All the space set apart for the public was so much filled that there was danger that the building would fall in. There was only a small space left empty, surrounded by a railing, which had been reserved for the European delegates. They had just space enough to follow the progress of the sale, and were not even comfortably seated.
They were Eric Baldenak, Boris Karkof Jacques Jansen, Jan Harald, Major Donellan and his secretary, Dean Toodrink. They formed a solid group, standing together like soldiers on a battle-field. And were they not really going to battle for the possession of the North Pole? On the American side apparently nobody was represented. Only the codfish dealer was present and his face had an expression of the most supreme indifference.
He seemed little concerned and appeared to be thinking of his cargo which was to arrive by the next steamer. Where were the capitalists represented by this man, who, perhaps, was going to start millions of dollars rolling? This was such a mystery as to excite public curiosity to the utmost.
No one doubted that Mr. J. T. Maston and Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt had something to do with the matter, but what could one guess on? Both were there, lost in the crowd, without any special place, surrounded by some members of the Baltimore Gun Club, friends of Mr. Maston. They seemed to be the least interested spectators in the hall. Mr. William S. Forster even did not seem to recognize them.
The auctioneer began by saying that contrary to the general rule it was impossible to show the article about to be sold. He could not pass from hand to hand the North Pole. Neither could they examine it nor look at it with a magnifying glass or touch it with their fingers to see whether the plating was real or only artificial, or whether it was an antique, which it really was, he said. It was as old as stone, it was as old as the world, since it dated back to the time the world was made.
If, however, the North Pole was not on the desk of the Public Appraiser, a large chart, clear in view of all interested persons, indicated with marked lines the parts which were going to be sold at auction. Seventeen degrees below the Polar Circle was a red line, clearly seen on the 84th parallel, which marked the section on the globe put up for sale. It appeared that there was only water in this region covered with ice of considerable thickness. But this was the risk of the purchaser. In any case he would not be disappointed in the nature of his merchandise by any misrepresentation.
At 12 o’clock exactly the public auctioneer entered by a
little trap-door cut in the boards of the floor and took his place before the
desk. His crier,
The amount of money, no matter how large it would be, must be raised by the delegates. At this moment a large bell ringing with vigor indicated that the bidding was going to begin. What a solemn moment! Many hearts quivered in that neighborhood. A minor riot spread among the crowd outside and reached into the hall, and Andrew R. Gilmour, the auctioneer, had to wait until quiet was restored. He got up and looked steadily at his assistants. Then he let his eyeglasses fall on his breast and said in as quiet a voice as possible: “Gentlemen, according to the plan of the Federal government, and thanks to the acquiescence given it by the European powers, we will sell a great fixed mass, situated around the North Pole, all that is within the limits of the 84th parallel, continents, waters, bays, islands, icebergs, solid parts or liquid, whatever they may be.” Then, turning towards the wall, he said “Look at this chart, which has been outlined according to the latest discoveries. You will see that the surface of this lot contains 407,000 square miles. Therefore, to make the sale easier, it has been decided that the bids should be made for each square mile. Each cent bid, for instance, will be equal to 407,000 cents and each dollar 407,000 dollars on the total purchase. A little silence, please, gentlemen.”
This request was not superfluous,
because the impatience of the public had reached such a degree that the voice
of a bidder would hardly be heard. After partial silence had been established,
thanks to the industry of the crier,
“Thirty cents,” said Jan Harald, for Sweden-Norway.
“Forty cents,” said Col. Boris Karkof,
This represented already a sum of $162,800 to begin with.
The representative of
“Forty cents per square mile,” repeated
The four colleagues of Major Donellan looked at each other. Had they already exhausted the credit allowed them at the beginning of the bidding? Were they already compelled to be silent?
“Go on, gentlemen,” said the Auctioneer Gilmour, “40 cents. Who goes higher? Forty cents; why, the North Pole is worth much more than that, for it is guaranteed to be made of ice.”
The Danish delegate said 50 cents and the Hollandish delegate promptly outbid him by 10 cents.
Nobody said a word. This 60 cents
represented the respectable amount of $244,200. The lift given by
At the moment Jacques Jansen made his offer Major Donellan looked at his secretary, Dean Toodrink, and, with an almost imperceptible negative sign, kept him silent. Mr. William S. Forster, seeming very much interested in his paper, made some pencil notes. Mr. J.T. Maston, only replied to the smiles of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt with a nod of the head.
“Hurry up, gentlemen; a little life. Don’t let us linger. This is very weak, very slow,” said the auctioneer. “Let me see. Nobody says more. Must I knock down the North Pole at such a price?” and as he spoke his hammer went up and down just like the cross in a priest’s hands when he wishes to bless his people.
“Seventy cents,” said Jan Harald, with a voice which trembled a little.
“Eighty,” immediately responded Col. Boris Karkof.
“Hurry up, 80 cents,” said
A gesture of Dean Toodrink made
Major Donellan jump up like a spirit. “One hundred
cents,” said he with a short and sharp tone, becoming in one who represented
The friends of the bidders for the
And the man of the N. P. P. A. did not say one word, did not
even raise his head. Would he decide to make at last one overwhelming bid? If
he wanted to wait until the Danish delegates, those of
“One hundred and ten,” very quietly said William S. Forster, without even raising his eyes, after having turned the page of his paper.
“Hip, hip, hip,” shouted the crowd who had put most of the
“One hundred and forty,” said Major Donellan.
“One hundred and sixty,” said Forster.
“One hundred and eighty,” said the Major, with great excitement.
“One hundred and ninety,” said Forster.
“One hundred and ninety-nine,” roared the delegate of
One might have heard a mouse run, or a miller fly, or a worm creep. All hearts were beating. A life seemed hanging on the lips of Major Donellan. His head, generally restless, was still now. Dean Toodrink had sat down and was pulling out his hairs one by one. Auctioneer Gilmour let a few moments run by. They seemed as long as centuries. The codfish merchant continued reading his paper and making pencil figures which had evidently nothing at all to do wth [with] the question. Was he also at the end of his credit? Did he intend to make a last offer? Did this amount of 199 cents for each square mile or $793,000 for the whole of the fixture at sale seem to him to have reached the last limit of absurdity?
“One hundred and ninety-nine cents,” repeated the public auctioneer. “We will sell it,” and his hammer fell on the table before him. “One hundred and ninety-nine,” cried the helper. “Sell it! Sell it!” And every one was looking at the representative of the N.P.P.A.
That surprising gentleman was blowing his nose on a large bandanna handkerchief, which nearly covered his whole face. Mr. J. T. Maston was looking at him intently, and so was Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. It could easily be seen by their anxious faces how much they tried to supress their violent emotion. Why was Forster hesitating to outbid Major Donellan? As for the imperturbable Forster, he blew his nose a second time, then a third time, with the noise of a real foghorn. But between the second and third blow he said as quietly as possible, with a modest and sweet voice. “Two hundred cents!”
A long shudder went through the hall. Then the American
backers began to make such a noise that the very windows trembled. Major Donellan, overwhelmed, ruined, disappointed, had fallen
into a seat by the side of Dean Toodrink, who himself
was not in a much better condition. Two thousand miles at this price made the
enormous sum of $814,000 and it was apparent that the credit of
“Two hundred cents,” repeated the auctioneer. “Two hundred
In Which Old Acquaintances Appear to Our New Readers, and in which a Wonderful Man is Described
Barbicane & Co. The president of a gunning club. And really what had gunners to do in such an operation? You will see. Is it necessary to present formally Impey Barbicane, President of the Gun Club, of Baltimore, and Capt. Nicholl, and J. T. Maston, and Tom Hunter with the wooden legs, and the lively Bilsby, and Col. Bloomsberry, and the other associates? No, if these strange persons were twenty years older than at the time when the attention of the world was upon them they had always remained the same, always as much incomplete personally, but equally noisy, equally courageous, equally confusing when it was a question of some extraordinary adventure. Time did not make an impression on these gunners; it respected them as it respects cannons no longer in use, but which decorate museums and arsenals. If the Gun Club had 1,833 members in it when it was founded, names rather than persons, for most of them had lost an arm or leg, if 30,575 corresponding members were proud to owe allegiance to the Club, these figures had not decreased. On the contrary, and even thanks to the incredible attempt which they had made to establish direct communication between earth and moon, its celebrity had grown in an enormous proportion. No one can ever forget the report on this subject which was made by this Club and which deserves a few words of mention here.
A few years after the civil war certain members of the Gun
Club, tired of their idleness, proposed to send a projectile to the moon by
means of a Columbiad monster. A
cannon 900 feet long, nine feet broad at the bore, had been especially
From this cannon a small cylindro-conical bomb had been flung towards the stars with
a pressure of six millards pounds per square inch.
After having made a grand curve it fell back to the earth only to be swallowed
up by the
After this discharge of the cannon, Impey
Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl
had lived on their reputation in comparative quietness. As they were always
anxious to do another thing like it, they dreamt and tried to find out
something else. Money they had in plenty. Out of five millions and a half which
had been raised for them by subscription they had nearly $200,000 left. This
money was raised in the Old and New Worlds alike. Besides, all they had to do
was to exhibit themselves in their projectile in
But it must not be forgotten that if the purchase cost
$800,000 and more, that it was Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt who had put the necessary amount into this affair.
Thanks to this generous woman Europe had been conquered by
To return to J.T. Maston, it is proper to say that his part in the affair deserves a good deal of credit. It is certain that he was not pretty with his metallic arm. He was not young, fifty-eight years old, at the time we write this story. But the originality of his character, the vivacity of his intelligence, the vigor which animated him, the ardor which he had in all such things, had made him the ideal of Mrs. Evangeline Scorbitt. His brain carefully hidden under his cover of gutta-percha was yet untouched, and he would still pass as one of the most remarkable calculators of his age.
Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, although the least figuring gave her a headache, had yet a great liking for mathematicians, even if she had no taste for mathematics. She considered them a higher and more endowed race of human beings. Heads where the X, Y, Z were mixed up like nuts in a barrel, brains which played with signs of algebra, hands which juggled with the integral triples, these were what she liked.
Yes, these wise people seemed to her worthy of all admiration and support. She felt herself drawn strongly towards them. And J.T. Maston was exactly that kind of man and one she adored, and her happiness would be complete if they two could be made one. This was the end of her mathematics. This did not disturb the Secretary of the Gun Club, who had never found happiness in unions of this kind.
Mrs Evangelina Scorbitt
was not young any more. She was forty-five years old, had her hair pasted on
her temples, like something which had been dyed and re-dyed; she had a mouth
full of very long teeth, with not one missing; her waist was without shape, her
walk without grace; in short, she had the appearance of an old maid, although
she had been married only a few years before she became a widow. She was an
excellent person withal, and nothing was lacking in her cup of happiness except
one thing, namely, that she wished to make her appearance in the society of
Therefore when Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt had heard of the requirements of Mr. Maston she had gladly agreed to put a few hundred thousand
dollars in the affair of the N.P.P.A. without having the least idea of what
they intended to do with it. It is true she was convinced that as long as J.T. Maston had something to do with the affair it could not
help being grand, sublime, superhuman, etc. Thinking of the Secretary was for
her future enough. One might think that after the auction sale, when it was
declared that Barbicane & Company would be the
name of the new firm, and it would be presided over by the President of the Gun
Club, she would enjoy Mr. Maston’s whole confidence.
Was she not at the same time the largest stockholder in the affair? So it came
about that Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt
found herself proprietress of this polar region, all beyond the line of the
eighty-fourth parallel. But what would she do with it? Or rather, what profit
would the Society get out of it? This was the question; and if it interested
Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt
from a financial standpoint it interested the whole world, more on account of
the general curiosity about the whole mystery. This excellent woman, otherwise
very discreet, had often tried to get some information from Mr. Maston on this subject before putting money at the disposal
of the purchasers. Without a doubt there was a grand enterprise, which, as Jean
Jacques said, has never had its like before, and would never have any
imitation, and which would far outshine the reputation made by the Gun Club in
sending a projectile to the moon and trying to get in direct communication with
our satellite. But when she persists with her queries Mr. Maston
invariably replied: “Dear madame, have patience,” And if Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt had
confidence before, what an immense joy did she feel when the triumph which the
United States of
“You will soon know it,” answered Mr. Maston, shaking heartily the hand of his partner—the American lady.
This calmed for the moment the impatience of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. A few days
afterwards the Old and
The Society had purchased this portion of the circumpolar region to make use of the coal mines of the North Pole.
In which the Possibility that Coal Mines Surround the North Pole is Considered
Are there coal mines at the North Pole? This was the first
question suggested to intelligent people. Some asked why should there be coal
mines at the North Pole? Others with equal propriety
asked why should there not be? It is well known that coal mines are spread all
over the world. There are many in different parts of
“Why?” answered those who took the part of President Barbicane, “because, very probably at the geological formation of the world, the sun was such that the difference of temperature around the equator and the poles were not appreciable. Then immense forests covered this unknown polar region a long time before mankind appeared, and when our planet was submitted to the incessant action of heat and humidity. This theory the journals, magazines, and reviews publish in a thousand different articles either in a joking or serious way. And these large forests, which disappeared with the gigantic changes of the earth before it had taken its present form, must certainly have changed and transformed under the lapse of time and the action of internal heat and water into coal mines. Therefore nothing seemed more admissible than this theory, and that the North Pole would open a large field to those who were able to mine it. These are facts, undeniable facts. Even people who only calculated on simple probabilities could not deny them. And these facts led many people to have great faith in them.
It was on this subject that Major Donellan and his secretary were talking together one day in the most obscure corner of the “Two Friends” inn. “Well,” said Dean Toodrink, “there is a possibility that this Barbicane (who I hope may be hanged some day) is right.”
“It is probable,” said Major Donellan,
“and I will almost admit that it is certain. There will be fortunes made in
exploring this region around the pole. If
“Higher up?” asked Dean Toodrink.
“Higher up, or rather further up, in a northerly direction,” answered the Major, “the presence of coal is practically established, and it seems as if you would only have to bend down to pick it up. Well, if coal is so plentiful on the surface of these countries, it is right to conclude that its beds must go all through the crust of the globe.” He was right. Major Donellan knew the geological formation around the North Pole well, and he was not a safe person to dispute this question with. And he might have talked about it at length if other people in the inn had not listened. But he thought it better to keep quiet after asking: “Are you not surprised at one thing? One would expect to see engineers or at least navigators figure in this matter, while there are only gunners at the head of it?”
It is not surprising that the newspapers of the civilized world soon began to discuss the question of coal discoveries at the North Pole.
“And why not,” asked the editor of an American paper who took the part of President Barbicane, “when it is remembered that Capt. Nares, in 1875 and 1876, at the eighty-second degree of latitude, discovered large flower-beds, hazel trees, poplars, beech trees, etc.?”
“And in 1881 and 1884,” added a scientific publication of New York, “during the expedition of Lieut. Greely at Lady Franklin Bay, was not a layer of coal discovered by our explorers a little way from Fort Conger, near Waterhouse? And did not Dr. Pavy say that these countries are certainly full of coal, perhaps placed there to combat at some day the terrible masses of ice which are found there?”
Against such well-established facts brought out by American discoverers the enemies of President Barbicane did not know what to answer. And the people who asked why should there be coal mines began to surrender to the people who asked why should there be none. Certainly there were some, and very considerable ones, too. The circumpolar ice-cap conceals precious masses of coal contained in those regions where vegetation was formerly luxuriant. But if they could no longer dispute that there were really coal mines in this Arctic region the enemies of the association tried to get revenge in another way. “Well,” said Major Donellan one day after a hard discussion which had arisen in the meeting-room of the Gun Club and during which he met President Barbicane face to face, “all right. I admit that there are coal mines; I even affirm it, there are mines in the region purchased by your society, but go and explore them—ha! ha! ha!”
“That is what we are going to do,” said Impey Barbicane.
“Go over the eighty-fourth degree, beyond which no explorer as yet has been able to put his foot?”
“We will pass it—reach even the North Pole,” said he. “We will reach it.” And after hearing the President of the Gun Club answer with so much coolness, with so much assurance, to see his opinion so strongly, so perfectly affirmed, even the strongest opponent began to hesitate. They seemed to be in the presence of a man who had lost none of his old-time qualities, quiet, cold, and of an eminently serious mind, exact as a clock, adventurous, but carrying his practical ideas into the rashest enterprises.
Major Donellan had an ardent wish
to strangle his adversary. But President Barbicane
was stout and well able to stand against wind and tide, and therefore not
afraid of the Major. His enemies, his friends and people who envied him knew it
only too well. But there were many jealous people, and many jokes and funny
stories went round in regard to the members of the Gun Club. Pictures and
caricatures were made in Europe and particularly in
The celebrated calculator was too quick-tempered to find any pleasure in the drawings which referred to his personal conformation. He was exceedingly annoyed by them, and Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, it may be easily understood, was not slow to share his indignation. Another drawing in the Lanterne of Brussels represented the members of the Council and the members of the Gun Club tending a large number of fires. The idea was to melt the large quantities of ice by putting a whole sea of alcohol on them, which would convert the polar basin into a large quantity of punch. But of all these caricatures, that which had the largest success was that which was published by the French Charivari, under the signature of its designer, “Stop.” In the stomach of a whale Impey Barbicane and J. T. Maston were seated playing checkers and waiting their arrival at a good point. The new Jonah and his Secretary had got themselves swallowed by an immense fish, and it was in this way, after having gone under the icebergs, that they hoped to gain access to the North Pole. The President of this new Society did not care much about these pictures, and let them say and write and sing whatever they liked.
Immediately after the concession was made and the Society
was absolute master of the northern region, appeal was made for a public
subscription of $15,000,000. Shares were issued at $100, to be paid for at
once, and the credit of Barbicane & Co. was such
that the money ran in as fast as possible. The most of it came from the various
States of the
So strong, indeed, were the foundations upon which Barbicane &
The shares were reduced one-third, and on Dec. 16 the capital of the Society was $15,000,000 in cash. This was about three times as much as the amount subscribed to the credit of the Gun Club when it was going to send a projectile from the earth to the moon.
In Which a Telephone Communication Between Mrs. Scorbitt and J.T. Maston is Interrupted
President Barbicane was not only
convinced that he would reach his object when the amount which had been raised
took another obstacle out of his way. Had he not been perfectly sure of success
he would not have made an application for a public subscription. And now the
time had come when the North Pole would be conquered. It was felt certain that
President Barbicane and his Council of Administration
had means to succeed where so many others had failed. They would do what
It cannot be too often repeated that the Secretary of the Gun Club was a remarkable calculator, we might say a postgraduate calculator. But a single day was needed by him to solve the most complicated problems in mathematical science. He laughed at these difficulties whether in algebra or in plain mathematics. You should have seen him handle his figures, the signs which make up algebra, the letters in the alphabet, representing the unknown quantities, the square or crossed lines representing the way in which quantities are to be operated. All signs and lines, and radicals used in this complex language were perfectly familiar to him. And how they flew around under his pen, or rather under the piece of chalk which he attached to his iron hand, because he preferred to work on a blackboard. And this blackboard, six feet square, this was all he wanted, he was perfectly at home in his work. Nor was it figures alone which he used in his calculations. His figures were fantastic, gigantic, written with a practiced hand. His “2” and “3” were as nice and round as they could be, his 7 looked like a crutch and almost invited a person to hang on it. His 8 was as well formed as a pair of eye-glasses; and the letters with which he established his formulas, the first of the alphabet, a, b, c, which he used to represent given or known quantities, and the last, x, y, z, which he used for unknown quantities to be discovered, particularly the “z,” and those Greek letters δ, ω, α. Really an Archimedes might have been well proud of them. And those other signs, made with a clean hand and without fault, it was simply astonishing. His + showed well that this sign meant an addition of one object to the other, his —, if it was a little smaller, was also in good shape. His =, too, showed that Mr. Maston lived in a country where equality was not a vain expression, at least amongst the people of the white race. Just as well were his > and his < and his ::, used in expressing proportions. And the √ , which indicated the root of a certain number or quantity, it was to him a mark of triumph, and when he completed it with a horizontal line in this √—— , it seemed as if this outline on his blackboard would compel the whole world to submit to his figuring.
But do not think that Mr. J.T. Maston’s mathematical intelligence was confined to elementary algebra! No; no matter what figuring he had to do, it was alike familiar to him, and with a practised hand he made all the signs and figures, and even did not hesitate at ∫ which looks very simple, but behind which lays a great deal of calculation. The same with the sign Σ, which represents the sum of a finished number. Also the sign ∞, by which the mathematicians designate the incomplete, and all those mysterious symbols which are used in this language and which are unknown to the common people. This astonishing man was able to do anything even in the very highest grades of mathematics. Such was J. T. Maston. And therefore it was that his associates had such perfect confidence in him when he set out to figure the most difficult problems in his audacious brain. This it was which led the Gun Club to trust him with the difficult problem of sending a projectile to the moon. And this was why Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, jealous of his fame, felt for him an admiration which ended in love. In this present case—that is, how to solve the conquering of the North Pole, J. T. Maston had but to begin to think and dream himself into the Arctic regions. To reach the solution the secretary had but to undertake certain mathematical problems, very complicated, perhaps, but over which in all cases he would come out ahead.
It was safe to trust Mr. J. T. Maston, even where the smallest and simplest mistake would have meant a loss of millions. Never, since the time his youthful brain began to think of mathematics had he committed a mistake—not even one of a thousandth of an inch—if his calculations were made up on the length of an object. If he had made a mistake of only the smallest amount he would have torn his gutta-percha cap from his head. Now let us see him while engaged in his calculations, and for this purpose we must go back a few weeks.
It was about a month before the publication of the circular
addressed to the inhabitants of the Old and New Worlds that Mr. Maston had undertaken to figure out the elements of a
scheme in which he had promised his associates the greatest success. For a
number of years Mr. Maston had lived at
“You will succeed, my dear,” said she at the moment of separation.
“And above all do not make a mistake,” added President Barbicane. “A mistake? He?” exclaimed Mrs. Scorbitt.
“No more than God has made a mistake in putting together
this world,” modestly answered the Secretary. Then, after shaking hands all
around and after several more sighs and wishes of success and suggestions not
to make too severe a work of it, the calculator was left alone. The door of the
Ballistic cottage was closed and Fire-Fire had orders to admit none, not even
if the President of the
During his first two days of seclusion J.T. Maston thought and thought, without even touching the piece of chalk, upon the problem which he had taken on himself. He consulted certain books relative to the elements, the earth—its size, its thickness, its volume, its form, its rotation upon its axis—all elements which he had to use as the basis of his calculations.
The principles of these elements which he used, and which we put before the reader, were as follows:
Form of the earth: An ellipsis of revolution the longest radius of which is 6,377,398 metres; the shortest, 6,356,080 meters. The circumference of the earth at the equator, 40,000 kilometres. Surface of the earth, approximate estimate, 510,000,000 of square kilometers. Bulk of the earth, about 1,000 millards of cubic kilometres; that is, a cube having a metre in length, height, and thickness. Density of the earth, about five times that of the water. Time of the earth on the orbit around the sun, 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes, 10 seconds, 37 centimes. This gives the globe a speed of 30,400 miles travelled over by the rotation of the earth upon its axis. For a point of its surface situated at the equator, 463 meters per second. These were the principal measures of space, time, bulk, etc., which Mr. Maston used in his calculations.
It was the 5th of October, about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, it is important to mention, when this remarkable work was begun, when J. T. Maston began to work upon it. He began his calculation with a diagram representing the circumference of the earth around one of its grand circles, say the equator. The blackboard was there, in a corner of his study, upon a polished oak easel, with good light shining on it, coming by one of the windows near by. Small pieces of chalk were on the board attached to the stand. The sponge was near the hand of the calculator. His right hand, or rather his right hook, was all ready for the placing of figures which he was going to use. Standing up, Mr. Maston made a large round circle, which represented the world. The equator he marked by a straight line. Then in the right corner of the blackboard he began to put the figures which represented the circumference of the earth:
This done, he began figuring on his problem. He was so much occupied by it that he had not observed the weather without. For an hour a storm had raved through the country which affected all living beings. It was a terrific storm, the rain was falling in torrents, everything seemed turned upside down in nature. Two or three times lightning had illuminated the scene around him. But the mathematician, more and more absorbed in his work, saw and heard nothing. Suddenly an electric bolt, attracted by the lightning outside, sparkled in his room, and this disturbed the calculator. “Well,” said Mr. Maston, “if unwelcome visitors cannot get in by the door they come by telephone. A nice invention for people who wish to be left alone. I will go to work and cut off the electric wire, so I will not be disturbed again while my figuring lasts.” With this he went to the telephone and said sternly: “Who wants to talk to me? Just make it short.” The reply came back: “Did you not recognize my voice, my dear Mr. Maston? It is I, Mrs. Scorbitt.” “Mrs. Scorbitt! She will never give me a moment’s rest,” uttered Mr. Maston to himself in a low voice that she could not hear. Then he thought he should at least answer her in a polite manner, and said: “Oh, is that you, Mrs. Scorbitt?”
“Yes, dear Mr. Maston.”
“And what can I do for Mrs. Scorbitt?” asked Maston.
“I want to tell you that a terrible storm and lightning is destroying a large part of our city.” “Well,” he replied, “I cannot help it.” “But I want to ask whether you have thought to close your windows?” Mrs. Scorbitt had hardly finished her sentence when a terrible thunderbolt struck the town. It struck in the neighborhood of the Ballistic cottage, and the electricity, passing along the wire with which the telephone was provided, threw the calculator to the floor with a terrible force. J.T. Maston made the best summersault he ever did in his life. His metal hook had touched the live wire and he was thrown down like a shuttlecock. The blackboard, which he had struck in his fall, was sent flying to another part of the room. Then the electricity passed into other objects and disappeared through the floor. The stupefied Mr. Maston got up and touched the different parts of his body to assure himself that he was not hurt internally. This done, he resumed his cold, calculating way. He picked everything up in his room, put it in the same place where it had been before and put his blackboard on the easel, picked up the small pieces of chalk and began again his work, which had been so suddenly interrupted. He noticed that on account of the fall the number which he had made on the right side of the blackboard was partly erased, and he was just about to replace it when his telephone again rang with a loud noise. “Again,” said J.T, Maston, and going to the telephone he exclaimed, “who is there?” “Mistress Scorbitt.” “And what does Mrs. Scorbitt want?” “Did not this terrible thunderbolt strike Ballistic cottage? I have good reason to think so. Ah, great God, the thunderbolt!”
“Don’t be alarmed, Mrs. Scorbitt.”
“You have not been injured, Mr. Maston?”
“Not at all,” he replied.
“You are sure you have no injuries whatever,” said the lady.
“I am only touched by your kindness towards me,” replied Mr. Maston, thinking it the best way to answer.
“Good evening, dear Mr. Maston.”
“Good evening, dear Mrs. Scorbitt.”
Returning to his work Mr. Maston said, sotto voce, “To the devil with her. If she had not handled the telephone at such a time I would not have run the risk of being hurt by electricity.”
Mr. Maston did not wish to be interrupted in his work again and so took down his telephone and cut the wire. Then, taking again as basis the figure which he had written, he added different formulas of it, and finally a certain formula which he had written on his left side, and then he began to figure in all the language of algebra. A week later, on the 11th of October, this magnificent calculation was finished and the Secretary of the Gun Club brought his solution of the problem with great pride and satisfaction to the members of the Gun Club, who were awaiting it with very natural impatience. This then was the practical way to get to the North Pole mathematically discovered. Here was also a society, under the name of the N.P.P.A., to which the Government of Washington had accorded a clear title of the Arctic region in case they should buy it on auction, and we have told of the purchase made in favor of American buyers and of the appeal for a subscription of $15,000,000.
In Which President Barbicane Says No More Than Suits His Purpose
On the 22nd of December the subscribers to Barbicane & Co. were summoned to a general meeting. It
is hardly necessary to say that the headquarters of the Gun Club were selected
as the place of the meeting. In reality the whole block would not have been
sufficient to give room to the large crowd of subscribers who assembled on that
day. But a meeting in the fresh air on one of the public squares of
On this meeting day all these things were taken down and
out. This was not a meeting for the purpose of war, but a commercial and
peaceful meeting over which Impey Barbicane
was going to preside. All room possible had been made for the subscribers who
arrived from all parts of the
It was 8 o’clock in the evening. The hall, the parlors, and
all quarters occupied by the Gun Club blazed with lights which the
“Lady and gentlemen subscribers, the Council of Administration has called a meeting in these headquarters of the Gun Club to make an important communication to you. You have learned by the circulars and through the discussions in the papers that the object of our Club is to explore the large coal fields situated in the Arctic regions, which we have recently purchased and to which we hold a title from the American Government. The amount of money raised by public subscription will be used for these purposes. The success which will be attained by it surpasses belief and the dividends your money will bring you will be unsurpassed in the commercial or financial history of this or any other country.” Here applause was heard for the first time and for a moment the orator was interrupted. “You do not forget,” said he, “how we have proved to you that there must be vast coal fields in these regions, perhaps also fields of fossil ivory. The articles published on this subject do not allow any doubt that coal fields are there, and coal is now, you know, the basis of all our commercial industry. Without mentioning the coal which is used every year in firing and heating, we might think of coal used for many other purposes, of which I could mention a hundred different ones. It is certain that coal is the most precious substance, and will some day, on account of the large consumption of it; fail in its supply. Before 500 years have passed the coal mines which are at present in use will have stopped giving coal.”
“Three hundred years,” cried one of those present. “Two hundred years,” answered another.
“Let us say at some time sooner or later,” continued the President, calmly, “and let us suppose, too, that we will even discover new coal fields yet, whose coal will give out, say at the end of the nineteenth century.” Here he stopped to give his listeners a chance to grasp the idea. Then he began again: “Therefore, we come here, subscribers, and I ask you to rise and go with me to the North Pole immediately.” Everybody present got up and seemed about to rush away and pack their trunks, as if President Barbicane had a vessel ready to take them direct to the North Pole. But a remark made by Major Donellan in a clear and loud voice brought them back to reality and stopped them at once. “Before starting” he asked, “I would like to know by what means we can reach the North Pole?”
“Either by water, or land, or by air,” quietly answered President Barbicane.
All the people present sat down, and it may readily be understood with what a feeling of curiosity.
“In spite of all the devotion and courage of previous explorers, the eighty-fourth parallel has thus far been the northern limit reached. And it may fairly be supposed that this is as far north as anybody will ever get by the means employed at the present day. Up to the present time we have only used boats and vessels to reach the icebergs, and rafts to pass over the fields of ice. People should not adopt such rash means and face the dangers to which they are exposed through the low temperature. We must employ other means to reach the North Pole.”
It could be seen by the excitement which took hold of the auditors, that they were on the point of hearing the secret which has been so vigorously searched for by every one.
“And how will you reach it?” demanded the delegate of
“Before ten minutes have passed you will know it, Major Donellan,” said President Barbicane, “and I may add in addressing myself to all the stockholders, that they should have confidence in us as the promoters of this affair, for we are the same who have tried to send a projectile to the moon.”
“Yes,” cried Dean Toodrink, sarcastically, “they tried to go as far as the moon. And we can easily see that they are here yet.”
President Barbicane ignored the interruption. Shrugging his shoulders, he said in a loud voice: “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in ten minutes you will know what we are going to do.”
A murmur, made up of many “Ahs!” and “Ohs!” followed this remark. It seemed to them as if the orator had said in ten minutes they would be at the North Pole. He then continued in the following words:
“First of all, it is a continent which forms this arctic region, or it is an ocean, and has Commander Nares been right in calling it ‘paleocrystic ocean,’ which means an ocean of old ice? To this question I must answer that I think he was not right.”
This is not sufficient,” exclaimed Eric Baldenak. “It is not the question of supposing, it is the question of being certain.”
“Well, we are certain,” came the
answer to this furious inquirer. “Yes, it is a solid continent and not an ice
ocean which the N.P.P.A. has purchased and which now belongs to the
A little murmur came from the neighborhood of the delegates
“After their explorations have not Nordenskiold,
Perry and Maaigaard stated that
“Besides, they have found birds, different products and
vegetables in the northern ice—ivory teeth also—which indicate that this region
must have been inhabited and that animals must have been there, and perhaps
people as well. There used to be large forests there, which must have been
formed into coal-fields, which we will explore. Yes, there is a continent,
without a doubt, around the North Pole—a continent free from all human beings,
and on which we will place the banner of the
At this remark the auditors expressed great delight. When the noise had finally subsided Major Donellan could be heard to remark: “Well, seven minutes have already gone by of the ten which, as you say, would be sufficient to reach the North Pole.”
“We shall be there in three minutes,” coolly answered President Barbicane.
“But, even if this be a continent, which constitutes your purchase, and if it is a raised country, as we may have reasons to believe, it is also obstructed by eternal ice, and in a condition which will make exploration extremely difficult,” responded the Major. “Impossible,” cried Jan Harald, who emphasized this remark with a wave of his hand. “Impossible, all right,” said Impey Barbicane. “But it is to conquer this impossibility that we have purchased this region. We will need neither vessels nor rafts to reach the North Pole; no, thanks to our operations, the ice and icebergs, new or old, will melt by themselves, and it will not cost one dollar of our capital nor one minute of our time.” At this there was absolute silence. The most important moment had come.
“Gentlemen,” said the President of the Gun Club, “Archimedes only asked for a lever to lift the world. Well, this lever we have found. We are now in a position to remove the North Pole.”
“What, remove the North Pole?” cried Eric Baldenak.
“Will you bring it to
“In regard to this lever—”
“Keep the secret! keep the secret!” cried the majority of the spectators, taking up the cry.
“We will keep it,” said President Barbicane.
Naturally, the European delegates were very much vexed at this remark. This will be easily understood. In spite of all these exclamations the orator never had any intention of making his plan known. He continued to say: “We obtained our object, thanks to a mechanical device, one which has no precedent in the annals of industrial art. We will undertake it and bring it to a successful finish by means of our capital, and how I will inform you forthwith.”
“Hear! hear!” said the others present.
“First of all, the idea of our plan comes from one of the ablest, most devoted and illustrious calculators and one of our associates as well,” said President Barbicane. “One to whom we owe all the calculations which allows us to have our work in such good condition. As the exploration of the North Pole is not a piece of play the removal of the pole is a problem which could only be solved by the highest calculations. Therefore we have called the assistance of the honorable Secretary, Mr. J.T. Maston.”
“Hip, hip, hip, hurrah, for J. T. Maston,” exclaimed all the auditors, seemingly electrified by the presence of this extraordinary calculator.
Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt was deeply touched by this recognition of the celebrated mathematician, who had already entirely gained her heart. He contented himself with turning his head to the right and left, bowing and thanking his auditors.
“Already, dear subscribers,” said President Barbicane, “since the great meeting in honor of the arrival of the Frenchman, Michel Ardan, in America, some months before our departure for the moon” (and this confident Yankee spoke of the trip to the moon as quietly as if it were no more than a trip to New York), “J T. Maston had already said to himself: ‘We must invent machines to move the North Pole. We must find a point for action and put the axis of the earth in the right direction from the object.’ Well, any or all of you who listen to me find it if you can. I can only say the machines have been invented, the point of leverage has been found, and now let us pay our attention to the question of fixing, in the right way, for our end of the axis of the earth.” Here he stopped speaking, and the astonishment which was expressed on the faces of his auditors it is impossible to describe.
“What!” cried Major Donellan, “you then have the idea of putting the axis of the earth in another direction?”
“Yes, sir,” answered President Barbicane promptly. “We have the means of making a new one which will hereafter regulate the routine of day and night.”
“You want to modify the daily rotation of the earth?” repeated Col. Karkof, with fire in his eyes.
“Absolutely, but without affecting its duration,” answered President Barbicane. This operation will bring the pole at or about the sixty-seventh parallel of latitude, then the earth will be similar to the planet Jupiter, whose axis is nearly perpendicular to the plane of its orbit. Now this movement of 23 degrees 28 minutes will be sufficient to give at our North Pole such a degree of heat that it will melt in less than no time the icebergs and field which have been there for thousands of years.”
The audience was out of breath. Nobody thought of interrupting the orator, even to applaud him. All were taken in by this idea, so ingenious and simple, of modifying the axis on which this earthly spheroid is rotating. And as for the European delegates, well, they were simply stupefied, paralyzed, and crushed, they kept their mouths shut in the last stage of astonishment. But the hurrahs seemed to rend the hall asunder, when President Barbicane made the additional remark: “It is the sun which will take upon himself the melting of the icebergs and fields around the North Pole, and thus make access to the same very easy. So, as people cannot go to the pole, the pole will come to them.”
Yes, Just Like Jupiter
Since that memorable meeting in honor of Michel Ardan, the Hon. J.T. Maston had
talked and thought of nothing else but the “changing of the axis of the earth.”
He had studied the subject as much as possible and found out all the facts and
figures about it. As the problem had been solved by this eminent calculator a
new axis was going to take the place of the old one upon which the earth was
now turning, and the world would otherwise remain the same. In the scheme it
would be possible for the climate around the North Pole to become exactly the
same as that of Trondhjem, in
What, after all, is the torrid zone?
It is a part of the surface in which the people can see the sun twice yearly at
its zenith, and the temperate zone but a part where the sun never goes to the
zenith, and the icy region but a part of the world which the sun forgets
entirely for a long time, and around the North Pole this extends for six
months. It is simply the position of the sun which makes a country exceedingly
hot or cold. Well, these things would not appear any longer on the surface of
the world. The sun would be always over the equator: it would go down every
twelve hours just as regularly as before. “And among the advantages of the new
method,” said the friends of President Barbicane, “were
these, that each person could choose a climate which was best for himself and
his health; no more rheumatism, no more colds, no more grippe; the variations
of extreme heat would not be known any more. In short, Barbicane
In Which Appears the French Gentleman to Whom We Referred at the Beginning of this Truthful Story
Such, then, were to be the profits due to the changes which were to be wrought by President Barbicane. The earth would continue to revolve and the course of the year would not be much altered. As the changes would concern the whole world it was natural that they became of interest to all. In regard to the new axis which was going to be used that was the secret which neither President Barbicane nor Capt. Nicholl nor J.T. Maston seemed to be willing to give to the public. Were they to reveal it before, or would none know of it until after the change had taken place? A degree of uncertainty began to fill the American mind. Criticisms very natural and to be expected were made in the papers. By what mechanical means was this project to be carried out which would bring about this change? It would necessarily demand a terrible power. One of the greatest papers at that time commented in the following article: “If the earth was not turning on its axis, perhaps a very feeble shock would be sufficient to give it such a movement as might be chosen, but otherwise it would be very difficult if not impossible to deviate it a fixed amount.” Nothing seemed more correct after having discussed the effort which the engineers of the N.P.P.A. were to make. Discussion took on the interesting turn as to whether this result would be reached insensibly or suddenly. And if the latter, would not terrible accidents happen at the moment when the change took place? This troubled scientific people as well as ignorant people. It was not agreeable to know that a blow was to be struck and not know precisely what the after effects were to be.
It seemed as if the promoters of this undertaking had not fully considered the consequences - that they would be so very dangerous to the earth, and that it would not do as much good as first thought. The European delegates, more than ever angry at the loss which they had suffered, resolved to make the most of this question and to excite the public as much as possible upon it so as to turn feeling against the members of the Gun Club.
It will not be forgotten that
In Which a Little Uneasiness Begins to Show Itself
A month had elapsed since the meeting of the Gun Club and
the stockholders of the new-formed society, and public opinion was getting much
altered. The advantages of the change to be wrought in the axis of the earth
were forgotten and its disadvantages began to be spoken of. It was very
probable, public opinion said, that a terrible catastrophe would happen, as the
change could only be brought about by a violent shock. What would this
catastrophe exactly be? In regard to the change of climates, was it so
desirable after all? The Esquimaux and the Laps and
the Samoyeden and the Tchuktchees
would benefit by it, as they had nothing to lose. The European delegates were
very energetic in their talk against President Barbicane
and his work. To begin with they sent information to their Government. They
used the cable frequently and always sent cipher messages. They asked questions
and received instructions. What, then, were these instructions, always in
cipher and very guarded? “Show energy, but do not compromise our Government,”
said one. “Act very considerately, but do not touch the ‘statu[s]
quo,’” said another. Major Donellan and his
associates did not fail to predict a terrible accident. “It is very evident
that the American engineers have taken steps so as not to hurt, or at least as
little as possible, the territory of the
“Yes,” said Eric Baldenak, “that is what we have to fear; this change will throw the sea out of its basin, and should the ocean leave its present quarters, would not certain inhabitants of this globe find themselves so located that they could not readily communicate with their fellow-citizens?”
“It is very possible that they may be brought into such a density of surrounding medium,” said Jan Harald, gravely, “that they will be unable to breathe.”
“We will see
Instead of answering such questions Engineer Alcide Pierdeux tried to find
which would be the countries and directions, figured out by Mathematician Maston, in which the test would take place—the exact point
of the globe where the work would begin. As soon as he should know this he
would be master of the situation and know exactly the place which would be in
the most danger. It has been mentioned before that the countries of the old
continent were probably connected with those of the new across the North Pole.
Was it not possible, it was asked in
Soon, however, in spite of the money Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt spent on the
matter, the President and Secretary of the Club came to be considered dangerous
characters by the people of the two worlds. The Government of the
Where did they both go? Nobody could tell. Evidently the two members of the Gun Club went to that mysterious region where preparations were going on for the great operation. But where could this place be? It was most important to know where this place was in order to break up and destroy the plans of these engineers before they had got too far in their work.
The consternation produced by this departure of the
President and his associate was enormous. It soon changed public opinion to
hatred against the N.P.P.A. and its managers. But there was one man who ought
to know where the President and his associate had gone. There was one man who
could answer this gigantic question, which at present excited the whole world
and this man was—J.T. Maston. He was ordered to
appear before the Committee of Inquiry under the Presidency of John Prestice. He did not appear. Had he also left
The first question was, “Where is
President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl
at present?” He answered with a steady voice, “I know where they are, but I am
not at liberty to disclose this information.” Second
question: “Have he and his associates made the necessary preparations to put
this operation in working order?” “This,” said Maston, “is a part of the
secret which I cannot reveal.” “Would he be land enough to let this Committee
examine his own work, so they would be able to judge if his Society would be in
position to accomplish their intentions?” “No, most certainly I shall not allow
it, never; I would rather destroy it. It is my right as a citizen of free
“But,” said President Prestice in
a very serious voice, “if it is your right to keep silent, it is the right of
the whole United States to ask you to stop these rumors and give an explanation
of the means which will be employed by your Company,” Mr. Maston
did not agree that it was his right nor that it was his duty to answer further
questions. In spite of their begging, threatening, etc., they could obtain
nothing from this man with the iron hook. Never, never, would he say one word
of it, and it was hardly possible to believe that such a strong will was
concealed under that cover of “gutta-percha.” Mr. Maston
went away as he had come; he was congratulated by Mrs. Evangelina
Scorbitt, who was delighted by the courageous
attitude taken by him. When the results of this last meeting of the Inquiry
Committee became known public indignation really took a turn which threatened
the security and safety of the calculator. The pressure of public opinion was
so great that the Cabinet of the Government of the
What was Found in the Notebook of J.T. Maston and what it No Longer Contained
The notebook, which was taken possession of by the police, had thirty pages covered with formulae and figures, including all the calculations of J.T. Maston. It was a work of the higher mathematics, which could only be appreciated by the highest mathematicians. The following formula,
which was also to be found in the calculation of From the Earth to the Moon, held a prominent place in these calculations. The majority of people could not understand anything of what was written in the notebook, but it would have given satisfaction to give out the results, which every one expected with so much curiosity. And so it was that all the newspapers, and the Inquiry Committee as well, tried to read the formulae of this celebrated calculator. In the work of Mr. Maston were found some problems correctly executed, others half solved, etc. The calculations had been made with great exactness and of course the Inquiry Committee supposed that they were absolutely correct. If the plan was carried out fully it was seen that without a doubt the earth’s axis would be greatly changed and that the terrible disasters which were predicted would take place with full force. The reports made by the Inquiry Committee to the different newspapers ran as follows:
“The idea followed by the Administrative Council of the N.P.P.A. and the object of which is to substitute a new axis for the old one is to be carried out by means of the recoil of a piece of ordnance fixed at a certain point of the earth. If the barrel of this device is immovably fixed to the ground it is not at all doubtful that it will communicate its shock over our whole planet. The engine adopted by the engineers of the Society is then nothing else but a monster cannon, the effect of shooting which would be absolutely nothing if it were pointed vertically. To produce its highest effect it is necessary to point it horizontally towards the north or south, and it is this last direction which has been chosen by Barbicane & Co. Under these conditions the recoil will produce a movement of the earth towards the north, a movement similar to that of one billiard ball touched very slightly by another.”
This was really just what the clever Alcide Pierdeux had predicted. As soon as the cannon has been fired off, the center line of the earth would be displaced in a parallel direction to that of the recoil. This would change the direction of the orbit somewhat, and consequently the duration of the year, but in such a mild way that it must be considered as absolutely free from bad results. At the same time the earth takes a new movement of rotation around an axis in the plane of the equator, and the daily rotation will then be accomplished indefinitely upon this new axis, as if no daily movement had existed previous to the shock. At present this movement is made around the lines of the poles, and in combination with the accessory force produced by the recoil there was created a new axis, the pole of which moves from the present to the amount of a quantity called “x.” In other words, if the cannon is fired at the moment when the vernal equinox—one of the intersections of the equator and the ecliptic—is at the nadir of the point of shooting, and if the recoil is sufficiently strong to displace the old pole 23 degrees, 28 minutes, the new axis becomes perpendicular to the direction of the earth’s orbit, the same as it is for the planet Jupiter.
What the consequences were expected to be we already know, as President Barbicane had indicated them at the meeting of the 22d of December. But, given the mass of the earth and the quantity of momentum, which she possesses, is it possible to conceive a piece of ordnance so strong that its recoil will be able to produce a modification in the actual direction of the real pole, and especially to the extent of 23 degrees, 28 minutes? Yes, if a cannon or a series of cannons are built with the dimensions required by the laws of mechanics, or, in lieu of these dimensions, if the inventors were in possession of an explosive strong enough to impel a projectile with the necessary velocity for such a displacement.
Now, taking as a basis model the cannon of 27 centimetres of the French Marine Corps, which throws a
projectile of 180 kilograms with an initial velocity of 500 metres
a second, by giving to this piece of ordnance an increased dimension of 100
times—that is, a million times in volume—it would throw a projectile of 180,000
tons: or, in other words, if the powder had strength sufficient to give to the
projectile an initial velocity 5,600 times greater than that of the old black
powder used for a cannon the desired result would be obtained. In fact, with a
velocity of 2,800 kilometres a second, a velocity
sufficient to go from
However, there was one chance for humanity to escape the consequences
of this trial, which was to provoke such revulsions in the geographical and
climatic conditions of the globe. Was it possible to build a cannon of such
dimensions that it was to be a million times greater in volume than the one of
27 centimetres? It was doubtful. That was just the
point and one of the reasons for thinking the attempt of Barbicane
& Co. would not succeed. But there was the other possibility, for it seemed
that the Company had already begun to work on their gigantic project. Now the
question arose, where was their place of operations? No one knew, and
consequently it was impossible to overtake these audacious operations. It was
well known that Barbicane and Nicholl
The facts that were known were: 1st. That the shooting would be done with a cannon a million times larger than the cannon of 27 centimetres. 2d. That the cannon would be loaded with a projectile of 180,000 tons. 3d. That the projectile would be animated with a velocity of 2,800 kilometres. 4th. That the shooting would take place on the 22d of September, twelve hours after the passage of the sun over the meridian of the place “x.” Was it possible to deduce, under these facts, where was the spot “x,” where the operation was to take place? Evidently not, said the Inquiry Committee. There was nothing by which to calculate where the point “x” was, as nothing in the calculations of Mr. Maston indicated through which point of the globe the new axis was to pass, or, in other words, on which part of the present earth the new poles would be situated. Therefore, it would be impossible to know which would be the elevated and submerged countries, due to the changed surface of the ocean, or which parts of the earth would be transformed into water, and where water would be transformed into land. It was evident that the maximum change in the ocean surface would be 8.415 metres, and that in certain points of the globe various areas would be lowered and raised to this amount. All, however, depended upon the location of the point “x,” or where the shooting was to take place. In other words, “x” was the secret of the promoter of this uncertain affair. “We have,” said the Committee, “only to mention again that the inhabitants of the world, no matter in what part of it they are living, are directly interested in knowing this secret, as they are all directly t[h]reatened by the actions of Barbicane & Co. Therefore all the inhabitants of Europe, Africa, Asia, America, and Australia are advised to watch all gun foundries, powder factories, etc., which are situated in their territory and to note the presence of all strangers whose arrival may appear suspicious, and to advise the Inquiry Committee at Baltimore by wire immediately. Heaven grant that this news may arrive before the 22d of September of the present year, as that date threatens to disturb the order established since the creation in our earthly system.
In Which J.T. Maston Heroically Continues to be Silent
According to a former story a gun was to be employed to throw the projectile from the earth to the moon; now the gun was to be employed to change the earth’s axis. The cannon, always the cannon; these gunners of the Gun Club had nothing else in their heads but the cannon. They had a real craze for the cannon. Was this brutal engine again threatening the universe? Yes, we are sorry to confess it, it was a cannon which was uppermost in the mind of President Barbicane and his associates. After the Columbiad of Florida, they had gone on to the monster cannon of the place “x.” We may almost hear them shout with a loud voice: “Take aim at the moon.” First act, “Fire.” “Change the axis of the earth.” Second act, “Fire.” And the wish which the whole world had for them was, “To hell.” Third act, “Fire.” And really their scheme justified the popular opinion.
As it was, the publication of this last report of the
Committee in the newspapers produced an effect of which one can scarcely form
an ideal. The operation to be tried by President Barbicane
and Capt. Nicholl, it was very clear, was going to
bring about one of the most disastrous interruptions in the daily routine of
the earth. Everybody understood what the consequences of it would be. Therefore
the experiment of Barbicane & Co. was generally
cursed, denounced, etc. In the Old as well as in the
Regarding only their personal security, President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl had
acted wisely in leaving
But how was it possible that the two leaders of the Gun Club had disappeared without leaving any trace behind them? How could they have sent away the material and assistants which were necessary to such an operation without any one seeing them? A hundred railroad cars, if it was by rail, a hundred vessels, if it was by water, would not have been more than sufficient to transport the loads of metal of coal, and of melimelonite. It was entirely incomprehensible how this departure could have been made incognito. However, it was done. And still more serious it appeared when it was known after inquiry that no orders had been sent to the gun foundries or powder factories, or the factories which produce chemical products in either of the two continents. How inexplicable all this was! Without doubt it would be explained some day.
At any rate, if President Barbicane
and Capt. Nicholl, who had mysteriously disappeared,
were sheltered from any immediate danger, their colleague, Mr. Maston, was under lock and key, and had to face all the
public indignation. Nothing could make him yield, however. Deep at the bottom
of the cell which he occupied in the prison of
It was already the beginning of April. In two months and a half the meridian star, after having stopped on the Tropic of Cancer, would go back towards the Tropic of Capricorn. Three months later it would traverse the equatorial line at the Fall equinox.
And then these seasons, which have appeared annually for millions of years, and which have changed so regularly, will be brought to an end. For the last time in 189—the sphere would have submitted to this succession of days and nights. Truly, this was a magnificent work, superhuman, even divine. J.T. Maston forgot the Arctic region and the exploration of the coal mines around the pole, and he only saw, in his mind’s eye, the cosmographic consequences of the operation. The principal object of the association was now to make those changes and displacements which were to remodel the face of the earth.
But that was just the point. Did the earth wish to change her face at all? Was she not still young and charming with the one which God had given her at the first hour of her creation?
Alone and defenseless in his prison cell, nothing could induce Mr. Maston to speak about the matter, no matter what plan was tried. The members of the Inquiry Committee urged him daily to speak, and visited him daily, but they could obtain nothing. It was about this time that John Prestice had the idea of using an influence which might possibly succeed, and this was the aid of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. Every one knew what feelings the generous widow entertained for Mr. Maston, how devoted she was to him, and what unlimited interest she had in this celebrated calculator. Therefore, after deliberation of the Committee, Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt was authorized to come and go, visiting the prisoner as much as she liked.
Was she not threatened just as well as any other person on
this earth by the recoil of this monster cannon? Would
her palace at
Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt was therefore admitted to the prison whenever she wished it. She was most desirous of seeing J.T. Maston again after he had been taken from his comfortable study at Ballistic Cottage by those rough police agents. If any impolite person had on the 9th of April put his ear at the door of his cell the first time when Mrs. Scorbitt entered he would have heard the following conversation:
“Ah, at last, my dear Maston, I see you again.”
“You, Mrs. Scorbitt!”
“Yes, my dear friend, after four weeks—four long weeks of separation.”
“Exactly twenty-eight days, five hours and forty-five minutes,” answered J.T. Maston, after having consulted his watch.
“Finally we are reunited.”
“But how did it happen that they allowed you to penetrate as far as this cell to see me, dear Mrs. Scorbitt?”
“Under the condition of using all my influence over you, thanks to my affection for you, in advising you to disclose the secret of the whereabouts of President Barbicane.”
“What, Evangelina!” cried Mr. Maston, “and you have consented to give me such advice. You have entertained the thought that I could betray my associates.”
“Me, dear Maston! Do you consider me so bad? Me! To sacrifice your security for your honor. Me! To persuade you to an act which would shame a life consecrated entirely to the highest speculations of pure mathematics.”
“Bravo, Mrs. Scorbitt! I see in you once more the generous patron of our Society. No, I have never doubted your great heart.”
“Thank you, Mr. Maston.”
“In regard to myself,” continued Maston, “allow me to say, before telling the point of the earth where our great shooting will take place—sell, so to speak, the secret which I have been able to keep so well, to allow these barbarians to fly and pursue our friends, to interrupt their works, which will make our profit and glory, I would rather die.”
“Splendid, Mr. Maston!” cried Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt.
And these two beings, united by the same enthusiasm, crazed by it if you will, one as well as the other, were well matched in understanding each other perfectly.
“No, they will never know the name of the country which my calculations have designated, and the reputation of which will become immortal,” said J.T. Maston. “They can silence me if they like, but they will never have the secret from me.”
“And they can kill me with you,” said Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt; “I will also be mute.”
“It is lucky, dear Evangelina, that they are ignorant of your knowledge of the place.”
“Do you believe that I would be capable of betraying it, because I am only a woman? Betray my associates and you! No, my friend, no. If they should raise the whole city and country against you—if the whole world would come to the door of this cell to take you away, I shall be there, too, and we will at least have one consolation—we will die together.”
As if there could be any greater consolation and Mr. Maston could dream of a sweeter death than dying in the arms of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt! And so ended the conversation every time that this excellent woman visited the prisoner. And when the Inquiry Committee asked her what the result was, she would say: “Nothing as yet; perhaps with time I shall be able to reach my point.”
Ah, women, women! What are women? “In time,” she urged. But time went on with fast steps. Weeks went ‘round like days, days like hours and hours like minutes.
It was already May. Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt had not been able to get any information from J.T. Maston, and where she had failed there was no hope of any other person succeeding.
Was it, then, necessary to accept this terrible shock without interfering in any way? No, no! Under such circumstances resignation was impossible. The European delegates became more and more out of spirits. There was wrangling between them every day. Even Jacques Jansen woke up out of his Dutch placidity and annoyed his colleagues greatly by his daily charges and countercharges. Col. Boris Karkof even had a duel with the Secretary of the Inquiry Committee in which he only slightly injured his adversary. And Major Donellan; well, he neither fought with firearms nor with bare fists, quite contrary to English use, and he only looked on while his Secretary, Dean Toodrink, exchanged a few blows according to prize-ring rules with William S. Forster, the phlegmatic dealer in codfish, the straw man of the N.P.P.A., who really knew absolutely nothing of the affair.
The whole world was leagued against the
At the Close of Which J.T. Maston Utters an Epigram
Time went on, however, and very likely also the works of Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl who were going on also under these very surprising conditions, no one knew where.
How was it possible, it was asked, that an operation which
required the establishment of a considerable iron foundry, the erection of high
blast furnaces, capable of melting a mass of metal a million times as large as
the marine corps cannon of 27 centimeters, and a projectile weighing 180,000
tons, all of which necessitated the employment of several thousand workmen,
their transport, their management, etc., —yes, how was it possible that such an
operation could go on without the interested world getting any knowledge of it.
In which part of the Old or
Now, what did Alcide Pierdeux think of all this? He was dreaming of all kinds of consequences which this operation would have. That Capt. Nicholl had invented an explosive of such tremendous power, that he had found the melimelonite, with an expansive force three or four thousand times stronger than that of the most violent explosive known, and 5,600 times stronger than the good old black gunpowder of our ancestors, this was astonishing enough—very astonishing. But it was not impossible at all. One can hardly know what the future will bring in these days of progress when devices exist to destroy whole armies at very long distances. In any event, the change of the earth’s axis, produced by the recoil of a piece of ordnance, was not sufficiently novel to astonish the French engineer. Then, considering the plans of President Barbicane, he said: “It is evident that the earth receives daily the recoil of all the blows which are given on its surface. Hundreds of thousands of people amuse themselves daily by sending thousands of projectiles weighing a few kilograms or millions of projectiles weighing a few grammes, and even when I walk or jump, or when I stretch out my arm, all this takes place on the surface of our sphere and adds to or checks its motion. Is, then, your great machine of such a nature as to produce the recoil asked for? How in the name of candor can this recoil be sufficient to move the earth? And if the calculations of this fellow, J.T. Maston, prove it, it is easy enough to show it. Alcide Pierdeux could not but admire the ingenious calculations of the Secretary of the Gun Club, which were communicated by the members of the Inquiry Committee to those wise people who were able to understand them. And Alcide Pierdeux, who was able to read algebra like one would read a newspaper, found in this sort of reading matter an inexpressible charm. If these changes were to take place, what a terrible catastrophe it would be! Towns would be turned upside down, oceans would be thrown out of their beds, people killed by millions. It would be an earthquake of incomparable violence. If besides, said Alcide Pierdeux, this damnable powder of Capt. Nicholl were less strong, we might hope that the projectile would again strike the earth after the shooting, and after having made the trip around the globe, then everything would be replaced in a very short time and without having caused any very great destruction. But do not worry about that. Thanks to their melimelonite, the bullet will go its way and not return to the earth to beg her pardon for having deranged her by putting her back again in her place. Pierdeux finally said: “If the place of shooting were known I would soon be able to say upon which places the movement would have the least and where the greatest effect. The people might be informed in time to save themselves before their cities and houses had fallen under the blow.” But how were we to know it? “I think,” he said, “the consequences of the shock may be more complicated than can even be imagined. The volcanoes, profiting by this occasion, would vomit like a person who is seasick. Perhaps a part of the ocean might fall into one of their craters. It would make small difference then. It is entirely possible that we might have explosions which would make our earth jump. Ah, this Satan Maston, imagine him juggling with our earthly globe and playing with it as if he were playing billiards!”
So talked and reasoned Alcide Pierdeux. Soon these terrible hypotheses were taken up and discussed by the newspapers. The confusion which would be the result of the scheme of Barbicane & Co. could only result in terrible accidents. And so it happened that the nearer the day came the greater the fright which took possession of the bravest people. It was the same as it was in the year 1000, when all living people supposed that they would be thrown suddenly into the jaws of death. It maybe recalled what happened at this period. According to the Apocalypse the people were led to believe that the judgment day had come. In the last year of the 10th century, says H. Martin, everything was interrupted—pleasures, business, interest, all, even the public works of the country. Thinking only of the eternity which was to begin on the morrow, provision was made only for the most necessary articles for one or two days. All possessions, real estate, castles, were bequeathed to the Church, so as to acquire protection in that kingdom of heaven where all were so soon to enter. Many donations to the churches were made with these words: “As the end of the world has come, and its ruin is imminent.” When this fatal time came, all the people ran to the churches and places set apart for religious meetings, and waited to hear the seven trumpets of the seven angels of the judgment day sound and call from heaven. We know that the first day of 1,000 came and went, and nothing was changed. But this time it was not the question of a disturbance simply based upon some verse of the Bible. It was the question of removing the axis of the earth, and this was founded on very reliable calculations, and was very probable.
Under these conditions the situation of J.T. Maston became each day more and more critical. Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt trembled lest
he would become the victim of a universal cry for vengeance. Perhaps she even
had in her mind the idea of making him give up the information which he so
heroically held to himself. But she did not dare to mention it to him and she
did well. It would have been unwise for her to expose herself to the volley of
rebukes he would have given her. As we may well understand, fright had taken a
strong foothold in the city of
On the morning of the 5th September the President of the Commission went personally to the cell of the prisoner. Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, at her own request, had been allowed to accompany him. Perhaps at this last attempt the influence of this excellent lady would succeed and bring the hoped-for result. There was nothing to be left undone. All means possible were to be used to make this last attempt successful. If it was not—well, we will see. “Yes, we will see.” What we would see is the hanging of this brute Maston, said the people, and the event would have come off in all its horror if the people could have it their way. So it happened that at 11 o’clock J.T. Maston was ushered into the presence of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt and John Prestice, President of the Inquiry Committee.
The opening was a very simple one. The conversation consisted of the following questions and answers, very rapid on one side and very quiet on the other. And even under these circumstances the calm, quiet speaker was J.T. Maston.
“For the last time will you answer?” asked John Prestice.
“Answer what?” ironically observed the Secretary of the Gun Club.
“Answer the question, where is the place in which your associate, Barbicane, is at present.”
“I have told it to you a hundred times.”
“Repeat it for the one hundred and first time.”
“He is where the shooting will take place.”
“Where will the shooting take place?”
“Where my associate, Barbicane, is.”
“Have a care, J.T. Maston.”
“For the consequences of your refusal to answer, the result of which will be—”
“To prevent you from learning that which you should not know.”
“What we have the right to know.”
“That is not my opinion.”
“We will bring you before the court.”
“And the jury will condemn you.”
“What care I.”
“And as soon as judgment is rendered it will be executed.”
“Dear Maston,” ventured Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, whose heart nearly broke on account of these terrible threats.
“What! You, madam?” said J.T. Maston.
She hung her head and was silent.
“And do you want to know what this judgment will be?”
“If you wish to tell it,” said J.T. Maston.
“That you will suffer capital punishment, as you deserve.”
“That you will be hanged as sure, sir, as two and two make four.”
“Then, sir, I have yet a chance,” said J.T. Maston, reflectingly. “If you were a little better mathematician you would not say that two and two are four. You simply prove that all mathematicians have been fools until to-day in affirming that the sum of two numbers is equal to one of their parts; that is, two and two are exactly four.”
“Sir!” cried the President, absolutely puzzled.
“Well,” said J.T. Maston, “if you would say, as sure as one and one are two, all right. That is absolutely evident, because that is no longer a theorem; this is a definition.”
After this lesson in simple arithmetic the President of the Committee went out, followed by Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, who had so much admiration for the calculator that she did not venture to look at him.
Very Short, but in Which “X” Takes a Geographical Value
Very luckily for J.T. Maston, the
Federal Government received the following telegram sent by the American Consul
“To John S. Wright, Minister of
“RICHARD W. TRUST, Consul”
And this was how the secret of J.T. Maston became known. And therefore, were the Secretary of the Gun Club still in prison, he could not have been hanged.
But, after all, who knows whether he would not rather have been glad to meet with death in the full glory of his life than to live on with all the chances of disappointment.
Which Contains a Few Interesting Details for the Inhabitants of the Earthly Sphere
Finally the Government of Washington had found out the place
where Barbicane &
How could they have secretly reached this lost country, at
the foot of the celebrated mountain, discovered in 1849 by Drs. Rebviani and Krapf, ascended by
the travellers Otto Ehlers and Abbot? How were they
able to establish their workshops there, erect a
foundry and bring a large number of help, or at least enough to succeed? How
had they been able to establish friendly relations with the dangerous tribes of
the country and their sover[e]igns,
as cunning as they were cruel? This we do not know. And perhaps it would never
be known, as there were only a few days left before the 22d of September would
arrive. J.T. Maston heard from Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt that the
mystery of Kilimanjaro had been unveiled by a telegram sent from
Those who saw and heard this remarkable man utter these words were astonished at the energy in the old gunner.
J.T. Maston was right. There was no time left to send agents to Wamasai with orders to arrest President Barbicane. They would even have been too late had they departed from Algiers or Egypt, even from Aden, Madagascar, or Zanzibar, as they would have met thousands of difficulties in this mountainous region, and perhaps they would have met with an army composed of followers of the Sultan, who was interested in the matter. Therefore all hope of preventing this operation had to be given up. But if prevention was impossible nothing seemed more easy than the figuring out of the terrible consequences, as the exact situation of “x” was now known.
This problem was difficult enough, but all algebraists and
mathematicians of large reputation ought to be able to solve it. As the cable
of the Consul of Zanzibar had been sent direct to the Minister of State at
On the 14th of September the cable dispatch was sent to the
office of the Observatory at
This was the question which everybody was asking at every point of the globe.
The following was the notice made by the Observatory at
The operation which is being tried by President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl is as follows:
The production of a recoil, on the 22d of September, at midnight, by means of a cannon a million times larger in volume than the cannon of twenty-seven centimetres, throwing a projectile of 180,000 tons, with a powder giving it a velocity of 2,800 kilometres.
Now, if this shooting takes place below the equatorial line, nearly on the thirty-fourth degree of latitude west of the meridian of Paris, at the foot of Kilimanjaro, and if it is directed towards the south, these are the mechanical effects which it will have on the earth’s sphere: Instantly, in consequence of the shock acting with the daily movement a new axis will be formed and, as the old axis will be displaced to the amount of twenty-three degrees and twenty-eight minutes, according to the figures obtained by J.T. Maston, the new axis will be perpendicular to the direction of the ediptic.
Which point will the new axis start from? As the point of shooting is known, it has been easy to calculate this.
In the North the extremity of the new axis will be situated
between Greenland and Grinnelland, exactly on that
In connection with this new axis of rotation, starting from
In the northern hemisphere: The first section west of Kilimanjaro would take in Africa from the Congo to Egypt, Europe from Turkey to Greenland, America from English Columbia to Peru, and from Brazil as high as San Salvador, and finally the whole northern Atlantic Ocean and the largest part of the temperate Atlantic zone.
The second section, east of Kilimanjaro, would include the greater patt of Europe, from the Black Sea to Sweden, European and Asiatic Russia, Arabia, nearly the whole of India, Persia, Beloochistan, Afganistan, Turkestan, the Celestial Empire, Mongolia, Japan, Corea, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the greater part of the Pacific Ocean, the territories of Alaska in North America, and also the polar region which belonged to the American society, North Polar Practical Association.
The southern hemisphere would embrace the third section east of Kilimanjaro, which would include Madagascar, the islands of Marion, Kerguelen, Maurice, Reunion, and all the islands of the Indian Ocean, the Antarctic Ocean (as far as the new pole), half the island of Malacca, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, the islands of Sonde, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, New Caledonia, all the northern parts of the Pacific and its numerous archipelagos, nearly up to the 160th meridian.
The fourth section, west of Kilimanjaro, would comprise the southern part of Africa, from the Congo to the canal of Mozambique to the Cape of Good Hope, the southern Atlantic Ocean from Pernambuco and Lima, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uraguay, the Argentine Republic, Patagonia, the Fire Islands, the Malouine Islands, Sandwich and Shetland Islands, and the southern part of the Pacific Ocean east of the present 160th degree of latitude.
These would be the four sections, separated by the line of zero in calculating the sea-level changes. Now, the question was to indicate the effects produced on the surface of the four sections in consequence of the displacement of the oceans.
Upon each of these sections there was a central point on which the effect would be at a maximum, either by the oceans rising up or by the waters retiring entirely. The calculations of J. T. Maston had established without a doubt, that at each of these maxima points the greatest height obtained would be 8,415 metres. It was therefore certain that the consequences would be most severe against the security of those points through the operation carried out by Barbicane & Co. The two effects may be considered separate in their action.
In two of the sections situated opposite each other in the northern hemisphere and in the southern as well, the oceans would retreat and invade the two other sections, opposing each other in each of the two hemispheres.
In the first section: The Atlantic Ocean would be nearly
entirely emptied and the maximum point of depression being nearly at the region
of Bermuda, where the ground would appear, if the depth of the ocean was
inferior at that point to 8,415 metres. Consequently
between Europe and
The same effect would obtain in the opposite section, which
would contain the Indian Ocean,
The air into which they would be thrown would be very clear; there was no doubt on that point, but it would not be dense enough for human wants.
These in general were a part of the modifications which would take place in the two sections in which the oceans would be more or less emptied. There would undoubtedly appear new islands and mountains in such parts as the water did not entirely abandon.
But if the diminuation of the
thickness of the air did not bring enough inconveniences to those parts of the
new continents raised to the high zones of the atmosphere, what was to be the
case of those parts which the erruption of waters put
below the surface? We may still breathe under the diminished pressure of air
below the atmospheric pressure. On the contrary, under a very few inches of
water we cannot breathe at all, and this was the condition in which the other
two sections found themselves. In the section northwest of Kilimanjaro the
maximum point would be at Yakoutsk, in
From this city submerged 8,415 metres
under the water, less its present actual altitude, the liquid mass, decreasing,
would extend to the neutral lines, drowning the greater part of Asiatic Russia
In the section southeast of Kilimanjaro the disasters would
be equally marked. This section is in a great part covered by the Atlantic and
Pacific oceans, the level of which would raise 8,415 metres
at the Archipelagos of the
This, then, must be the result, the lowering of the upper and raising of the lower sections, and an entirely new surface to the oceans, produced by the corruscations in the surface of the earth’s sphere. Such were the happenings which would result, and against which the people of this world had no help if they could not prompdy stop Barbicane & Co. in their criminal attempt.
In Which a Crowd of Dissatisfied People Break into the Cell of J. T. Maston
After this public notice there was nothing left but to wait
for the coming danger or to run away to the neutral lines, where there would be
no danger. The threatened people were, in general, divided into two classes—”the
people who would be suffocated and those who would be drowned.” This
communication roused many different suggestions, which, however, all turned
into the strongest and most violent protestations against the schemer and
schemers. Among those who would suffocate were the Americans in the
If under the new oceans only Samoyedens, Lapons of Siberia, Feugans, Patogonians—even Tartars, Chinese, Japanese, or a few Argentines—would suffer and be lost, perhaps the civilized powers would have accepted this sacrifice complacently. But too many powers took part in the great catastrophe not to raise a torrent of protest.
And what especially concerned Europe was, that although the
central part of it would be nearly intact, it would be raised in the west and
lowered in the east, half suffocated on one side and half drowned on the other.
This was not very acceptable. The
No, never, never would
These protestations became more and more violent after the
arrival of the cablegram from
In regard to Maston, it looked as
if his last hour had come. A rabid crowd rushed into his prison on the evening
of Sept. 17, with the intention of lynching him, and the jailer did not put any
obstacles in their way. They rushed along the corridor but the cell of J.T. Maston was empty. Mrs. Evangelina
Scorbitt had come to his help with a heavy purse of
gold, and he had made his escape. The jailer had been bribed by an amount of
money on which he could live the rest of his life without working. He
J.T. Maston had gained a quiet
resting spot and a safe place from the enraged crowd of people, and so this
great man owed his life to the devotion of a loving woman. There were only four
days to wait, four days only before the gigantic operation of Barbicane & Co. would be accomplished. The public
notice had been read far and wide and had created as much public excitement as
such a momentous document only could. If there were at the beginning a few sceptics on the subject, there were none at present. The
various governments had notified in haste those of their provinces which would
be raised into the air and those, a much larger number, the territory of which
would be overrun with water. In consequence of this advice sent by telegraph
over the five continents of the world an emigration began such as had never
been seen before. Every race was represented, white, black, brown, yellow,
etc., in one chromatic procession. Unhappily, time was wanting for all to secure
safety. The hours were now counted. A few months notice would be required for
the Chinese to leave
Be this as it may, the failure of the operation was the only hope which was left for certain parts of the world to escape more terrible destruction.
What had Been Done at Kilimanjaro During Eight Month of this Memorable Year
The country of Wamasai is situated
in the eastern part of Central Africa, between the coast of
Three degrees below the Equator is situated the chain of
Kilimanjaro, which here reaches its greatest altitude. Among other peaks is the
Mount of Kibo, with an altitude of 5,704 metres. The important ruler of this region has under his
domination towards the south, north, and west the vast and fertile plains of Wamasai, which stretch from the
A few leagues below Kilimanjaro is
This Sultan rightly ranked as one of the most remarkable
rulers of those people of Central Africa who try to escape the influence, or more correctly the domination of
He had in short an extraordinary sympathy for the creators
of these mysterious operations which were going to be accomplished in his
kingdom. He also promised them absolute secrecy on his part as well as on the
part of his people, whose co-operation was assured to them. Not a single Negro
who worked at their shop would be allowed to leave them for a single day under
pain of the most severe punishment. This is how this operation was veiled in
mystery so that the most active and sharpest agents of
And now, why had Barbicane &
Co. chosen the Wamasai for the theatre of their
operations? First, because the country suited them in regard to its
geographical situation, as it was in a very little known part of
Now, first of all, how had Barbicane & Co. met the problem of manufacturing a cannon of such colossal dimensions? We will see and understand at the same time that the difficulty of creating such a device was not easily comprehensible by the inhabitants of the world. In reality the making of a cannon a million times larger than that of twenty-seven centimetres was a superhuman work. Already great difficulties had been met in the manufacture of pieces of forty-two centimetres long, which would throw projectiles of 780 kilos with 274 kilograms of powder. Barbicane & Co. did not think of these difficulties. It was not a cannon, not even a mortar, which they intended to make, but simply a gallery bored in the massive rock of Kilimanjaro,—a shaft of a mine, if you wish to call it so.
Evidently this shaft of a mine, this enormous elongated mine, could replace a metal cannon the fabrication of which would have been as dear as difficult and to which it would. be necessary to give an unwieldy thickness to avoid all risk of an explosion. Barbicane & Co. had always entertained the idea of operating in this manner, and if the notebook of J. T. Maston mentioned a cannon it was that of 27 centimetres which had been used in the calculations as a basis. Consequently a spot was chosen at a height of a hundred feet on the southern slope of the chain. Nothing would be in the way of the projectile when it would fly out of the mouth of this tunnel bored in the massive rock of Kilimanjaro. It was with extreme precision and not without very hard work that the men could dig this gallery. But Barbicane & Co. could readily make perforations with simple machines put in action by means of compressed air which was secured by using the powerful falls of water from the mountains. In the holes bored through the headings of the shaft were placed charges of melimelonite. And nothing more was necessary than this violent explosive to shiver the rock, extremely hard as it was.
The thousands of workmen, led by their ten co-operators
under the general direction of Barbicane & Co.,
labored with a great deal of zeal and intelligence to bring the work to a
speedy end. At the end of six months the shaft measured 27 metres
in diameter and the lining of it 6 metres in
thickness. As it was absolutely necessary that the projectile should glide
through a bore perfectly smooth the interior of it was covered with a casting
exactly prepared. In reality this part of the work was very similar to that of
the celebrated Columbiad, of
As soon as the boring was finished the workmen pushed on with the work at the second workshop.
At the same time that this metallic lining was being made they were also employed at making the enormous projectile. For this operation it was necessary to obtain a cylindrical mass which would weigh 80,000,000 kilograms, or 180,000 tons. It must be understood that there was never any idea of melting this projectile in one single piece. It had to be manufactured in thousand-ton pieces, which would be hoisted one after the other into the shaft and put in place over the chamber where the melimelonite was stored. After having been jointed each to the other, these pieces would form a compact whole, which would fit the sides of the tubular lining. In regard to the construction of the massive furnaces to effect the melting of the metal, there was met perhaps the greatest difficulty. Ten furnaces of ten metres each in height were at the end of a month in working order and able to produce each 180 tons per day. This would be 1,800 tons for twenty-four hours—180,000 tons after 100 work-days.
In regard to the third workshop, made for the manufacture of the melimelonite, the work was easily done, but under such secret precautions, that the composition of this explosive it has not been possible to state perfectly. Everything went along splendidly. It could not have been possible to have met with more success in any factory. One would hardly expect to escape an accident of some sort on a three-hundred-thousand franc job. It is easily understood that the Sultan was delighted. He followed the operation with indefatigable interest. And the presence of His Majesty helped greatly to make these Negroes work as hard as possible. One day Bali-Bali asked what all these operations were going on for. He received his reply from President Barbicane: “It is a work,” said he, “which will change the face of the earth—a work which will bring the greatest glory on the greatest Sultan of all the Eastern kings.”
By the 29th of August the works were entirely finished.
The shaft was bored to the wished-for point. It was provided with a smooth bore of six metres diameter. At the bottom of the shaft were placed the 2,000 tons of melimelonite; then came the projectile 105 metres long. After deducting the space occupied by the powder and projectile there remained still 492 metres before the muzzle was reached, which secured all the effect possible by the recoil produced by the expansion of the gas.
Now, the first question which might come up was, would the
projectile deviate from the trajectory assigned to it by the calculations of
J.T. Maston? In no way, for the calculations were
absolutely correct. They indicated to what extent the projectile would deviate
to the east of the meridian of Kilimanjaro because of the rotation of the earth
on its axis, and what would be the form of the curve which it would describe
because of its enormous initial velocity. Secondly, would it be visible during
its course? No, because in going out of the shaft it would be thrown in the
shadow of the earth and it could not be seen, for in consequence of its low
trajectory it would have a very sharp angle of velocity compared with the earth’s
course. In fact, Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl could well be proud of their work, which had so far
succeeded in its every detail. Why was J.T. Maston
not there to watch this great operation, founded on the figuring which he had
done? And who was it that kept him so far away, so very far, when this terrible
detonation would wake the echoes as far as the furthermost horizon of
Thinking of him, his two associates did not know that the Secretary had been compelled to keep away from Ballistic Cottage after having got out of prison and hidden himself in a safe place away from the savage people. They did not know to what extent indignation had been roused against the engineer of the N. P. P. A. They did not know that they, too, would have been burnt or hanged and tortured to death if it had been possible to have reached them. Really, they ought to have been glad that at the moment when the shooting would take place they would only be saluted by the cries of this Negro people of Eastern Africa, “Well, at last!” said Capt. Nicholl to President Barbicane, when on the 22d of September they were standing before their finished work. “Yes, at last,” said Impey Barbicane. “What a chance it was that placed at our disposition this admirable melimelonite!” said Capt. Nicholl. “Which will make you the most illustrious person on the earth, Nicholl.” “Without doubt, Barbicane,” modestly answered Capt. Nicholl. “But do you know how much it would have been necessary to dig out Kilimanjaro if we only had gun-cotton equal to that which threw our projectile to the moon?”
“How much, Nicholl?”
“One hundred and eighty galleries, Barbicane.”
“Well, we would have digged them, Captain.”
“And 180 projectiles of 180,000 tons.”
“We would have melted them, Nicholl.”
“It was useless to expect reasonable conversation between
two persons of this type. But after they made the trip to the moon, what would
they not be capable of? On the very same evening only a few hours before the
minute when the gun was to be fired, and while President Barbicane
and Capt. Nicholl were congratulating themselves, Alcide Pierdeux, closeted in his
Then, suddenly getting up from the table, which was covered with figures and calculations, he cried out:
“Ah! What a fool Maston is!—what a stupid fellow! His whole problem will go in the soup! Christopher Columbus! Why did I not see this before? If I only knew where he was at this moment I would invite him to have supper with me and to sip a glass of champagne at the very moment when they are going to fire off the gun.”
And after these and many exclamations which he generally used in playing whist he said: “Oh, the old fool! Without a doubt he must have been dull when he made his calculations for this affair of Kilimanjaro. He will find it very necessary to make another. Oh, what a fool with his cannon!”
In Which the Population of Wamasai Assemble to Hear President Barbicane Say “Fire” to Capt. Nicholl
It was in the evening of the 22d of September, that memorable date which public opinion credited with an influence as unlucky as that of the 1st of January of the year 1000. Twelve hours after the sun had passed the meridian of Kilimanjaro, that is at midnight, Capt. Nicholl was to touch off the terrible cannon.
Kilimanjaro being 35 degrees east of the meridian of Paris,
and Baltimore 79 degrees east of said meridian, there was a difference of 114
degrees between these two places, or 456 minutes in time, or 7 hours and 36
minutes. So the exact moment at which the shooting would take place would be 5
hours and 24 minutes post meridian in that great city of
Who knows, perhaps President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl regretted that they were not able to get into the projectile. In the first second they would have travelled 2,800 kilometres. Sultan Bali-Bali, with the great personages of his court, that is, his Finance Ministers and his Ministers of Public Works, together with the Black Brigade, who had helped in the great work, were all assembled to watch the different steps of the shooting.
But, with great precaution, they had all taken a position three kilometres from the shaft bored in the Kilimanjaro, so that they would have nothing to fear from the concussion of the air.
Several thousand natives, deputed from Kisongo and neighboring States in the south of the province, by the orders of the Sultan, were present to witness this splendid spectacle. A wire was stretched, connecting an electric battery to the touch-hole of the shaft, ready to send the current and start the deflagration of the melimelonite. As a preliminary an excellent meal had been served at the table of the Sultan for his American guests and the persons of his court, all at the expense of Bali-Bali, who did everything very grandly as long as he was reimbursed by the members of the firm of Barbicane & Co.
It was 11 o’clock when this feast, commenced at 7:30, was finished, and at the end of it the Sultan proposed a toast to the engineers of the N. P. P. A. and to the success of their great enterprise. An hour yet, and the change in the geographical and climatic conditions of the earth would be accomplished.
President Barbicane, his associate, and his ten helpers took their places around the cannon, to the interior of which ran the wire of the electric battery. Barbicane with his chronometer in his hand counted the minutes, and never in his life did they seem so long to him. The minutes seemed not merely years but centuries. At ten minutes before midnight Capt. Nicholl and Barbicane approached the key which put the electric thread in communication with the shaft of Kilimanjaro. The Sultan, his court and the crowd of natives formed an immense circle around the cannon. It was important that the shooting should take place at the exact moment indicated in the calculations of J. T. Maston—that is, at the moment when the sun would cut that equinoctial line which it would never leave again in its apparent orbit around the earth. Five minutes to twelve, four minutes, three minutes, two minutes, one minute to twelve—
President Barbicane watched the hands of his chronometer, lighted by a lantern which was held by one of his helpers, while Capt. Nicholl, his finger on the button of the apparatus, was ready to connect the circuit of electricity.
Twenty seconds, ten seconds, five seconds, one second. Not the slightest tremor could be noted in the hand of the impassive Nicholl. His partner and himself were no more excited than, at the moment when they waited, sitting in the projectile, for the Columbiad to fire them to the regions of the moon.
“Fire,” ordered President Barbicane.
At this moment Capt. Nicholl
pressed the button. A terrible detonation followed, the echoes of which spread
to the furthest corners of the
In Which J.T. Maston Regrets that the Crowd Did Not Lynch Him When He was in Prison
The capitals of two worlds, the largest cities as well as the smaller ones, stood waiting terror-stricken. Thanks to the journals which had published the news broadcast over the world, every one knew the precise hour at which the shooting would take place and the local hour which corresponded with that of Kilimanjaro, situated 35 degrees east, allowing for the difference of longitude.
A few of the principal cities, the sun travelling a degree in four minutes were as follows:
Every human being felt the marrow in his bones creep and shake at this fearful moment.
Yes, all trembled, all save one person, and that one was the engineer Alcide Pierdeux. As he had not had time to make known to the public the discoveries which he had made by means of his last calculations, he drank a bumper of champagne to the health of both worlds in the café of one of the best known hotels. Just as the twenty-fourth minute after 5 o’clock, corresponding with midnight at Kilimanjaro, was reached—
Mr. John Milne, standing in his coal mine at Shamokui with a seismometer which he had arranged there,
did not note the least abnormal movement in the earth’s shell in this part of
the globe. In
What a night J.T. Maston passed in his place of safety which was unknown to all save Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt! He was beside himself, this visionary engineer. He could not rest in his place of hiding. He seemed to have grown old in one day and looked sharply out to see if the daily course of the sun was modified. This would have been a certain proof of the success of his work. This change could not be seen even on the morning of the 23d of September, because at this date the star invariably rises in the east for all points of the globe. The next day the sun travelled over the horizon the same as it had always done.
The European delegates had assembled on the platform of their hotel. They had by their side instruments of extreme precision which would enable them to note if the sun took a course in the direction of the equator.
Well, nothing changed. A few minutes after the rising of the sun the great disc inclined away towards the Australian hemisphere. Nothing was changed in its apparent course.
Major Donellan and his associates saluted the heavenly torch with enthusiastic hurrahs, and gave it a reception like a favorite star in the theatre. The heavens were in superb condition, the horizon free from the vapors of the night, never did the great sun-god present a more beautiful aspect in such splendid condition before the astonished public. “And precisely at the place marked by the laws of astronomy,” said Eric Baldenak.
“Yes by our old astronomy,” said Boris Karkof, “and these fools pretended to destroy it.”
“Well, they will have their expenses to pay and ridicule to
endure besides,” added Jacques Jansen, by whose voice
“And the Arctic regions will eternally stay under the ice as they have discovered,” said Prof. Jan Harald.
“Hurrah for the sun,” said Major Donellan. “Such as it is, it has been and always will be sufficient for our earth.”
“Hurrah, hurrah,” repeated in single voice the
representatives of old
But perhaps they did not shoot yet.
“Not shoot yet,” said the Major. “Heaven grant that they have fired off the cannon twice rather than once.”
And that was exactly what J. T. Maston and Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt were saying.
The wise and the ignorant were united this time by the logic of the situation. Even Alcide Pierdeux repeated it, and added: “Even if they did shoot, what is the difference? The earth will not stop waltzing on its old axis and turning as it used to do.”
In fact no one knew what had happened at Kilimanjaro. But at the close of the day an answer came to the question which was engrossing the attention of mankind.
A cablegram arrived in the
“The cannon was fired off yesterday
evening at midnight exactly by the device bored in the southern part of
Kilimanjaro. Passage of the projectile was accompanied with a powerful whirr
and terrible detonation. Whole provinces destroyed by the concussion of the
air. Ocean agitated as far as the
Yes, everything else went on well. Nothing had been changed
in the state of worldly affairs save the terrible disasters produced in Wamasai, which was partly deluged by the artificial
waterspout, and the shipwrecks which were produced by the current of air. The
same thing precisely happened when the Columbiad
threw its projectile to the moon. The shock to the ground of
Whatever had happened the dispatch gave two pieces of information to the interested people of the old and new worlds.
First—That the enormous cannon had been erected in the flank of Kilimanjaro.
Second—That the gun had been fired at the fixed hour. And now, the whole world uttered an exclamation of intense satisfaction, followed by a great burst of laughter.
The trial which Barbicane & Co. had made had entirely failed. The calculations of J.T. Maston were good only for the waste basket. The N.P.P.A. could only announce its failure. But, perhaps, it might be that the secretary of the Gun Club had made a mistake in his calculations.
“Rather would I believe that I have been mistaken in the affection which I feel for him,” said Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt.
But beyond all, the most discontented human being was J.T. Maston. When he saw that nothing had been changed in the movement of the earth, that the conditions remained precisely the same as they were since the creation, he hoped that some accident had prevented the success of Barbicane & Co., and that his associates had met with some disaster.
But there was the cablegram from
Failed! ! And what of the formulas and calculations on which he had spent so much time? Is it possible that a cylinder 600 metres long, 27 metres wide, throwing a projectile of 180.000 kilograms, with the deflagration of 200 tons of melimelonite, with an initial velocity of 2,800 kilometres, would not be sufficient to move the earthly axis? It did not seem probable.
So J.T. Maston, in a state of violent excitement, declared that he would quit his retreat. Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt tried in vain to prevent it. Not that she feared for his life, as all danger of that sort had passed. But the insults which he would have to bear, the jokes which would be cracked about him, the remarks which would be made in regard to his work—she wanted to spare him from these. And then, moreover, what would his associates of the Gun Club say? Did they not have to thank this man for the want of success of their operation and for making them ridiculous? Was he not the man who had figured out the whole affair and on whose shoulders rested all the responsibility?
J.T. Maston would not listen to
any one. He resisted the begging and tears of Mrs. Evangelina
Scorbitt. He went out of the house where he had kept
himself hiding. He was recognized, and those who had trembled for fear of the
consequences of his work now took revenge by joking and laughing at him, and this in many thousand different ways. He was forced
to listen to jeering remarks, even from the street gamins. “Ah,” they shouted, “here
he is who wanted to change the axis of the earth, who wanted to discover coal
mines around the North Pole, who even wanted to remove it.” In short, the
Secretary of the Gun Club was compelled to return to the
A fortnight and no news yet from President
Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl.
Had they perished by the discharge in the
After the detonation both were overthrown along with the Sultan arid his court, and a thousand natives in one grand tumble, but they all got up after a little time strong and hearty.
“Did you succeed?” asked Bali-Bali, rubbing his shoulder.
“Do you doubt it?”
“Me doubt it?”
“But when will you know?”
“In a few days,” said Barbicane.
Did he appreciate that the operation had failed? Perhaps. But he never would have acknowledged it before the Sultan at Wamasai.
Forty-eight hours later the two partners had taken leave of Wamasai, not, however, before having paid an enormous sum for the damage done to the country. As this amount of money went into the private purse of the Sultan, and as his subjects did not receive one cent of it, he had no reason to complain of the operation.
Then the two associates, followed by their
ten helpers, reached
In Which this Story, as Truthful as it is Improbable, is Finished
And in this plural pronoun, uttered simultaneously by the two associates in a single voice, might be heard a flood of irony and reproaches.
J.T. Maston pressed his iron hook on his forehead. Then, with a voice which seemed to stick in his throat, he said:
“Did your shaft at Kilimanjaro really have a diameter of twenty-seven metres?”
“Did your projectile really weigh 180,000,000 of kilograms?”
“And was the shooting really done with 2.000 pounds of melimelonite?”
This thrice-repeated “yes” fell on J. T. Maston like masses of stone on his head.
“Then I can only conclude”—said he.
“What?” asked President Barbicane.
“As follows,” said J. T. Maston. “As the operation did not succeed, the powder did not give to the projectile an initial velocity of 2,800 kilometres.”
“Really?” said Capt. Nicholl, with a tone of sarcasm.
“Yes, your melimelonite is good only to charge pistols of straw.”
Capt. Nicholl sprang up at this remark, which was an outrageous insult to him.
“Maston!” said he.
“You ought to be blown up with the melimelonite.”
“No, gun cotton; that is more sure.”
Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt had to interfere and cool these two enraged gunners down.
“Gentlemen,” said she, between associates.
“And anyhow,” President Barbicane resumed, with a very calm expression, “what is the good of criminations? It is certain that the calculations of our friend, J. T. Maston, were correct, as it is certain that the explosive of our friend Nicholl had sufficient power. Yes, we have only employed known quantities of science. We lacked experience. Why did we fail? Perhaps we may never know.”
“Well,” said the Secretary of the Gun Club, “we will commence all over again.” “And the money then which has been spent for this operation is a dead loss,” observed Capt. Nicholl.
“But public opinion,” said Evangelina Scorbitt, “would not allow you a second trial.”
“What will become of our Arctic region?” said Capt. Nicholl.” “Where will the stock of the N.P.P.A. fall to?” said President Barbicane. Well, it had already fallen so far that the stock was offered at the price of old paper.
This, then, was the result of the gigantic operation. This was the memorable fiasco to which the superhuman projects of Barbicane & Co. had led.
If ever engineers, unlucky engineers were laughed at in
public, if ever the newspaper made drawings, songs, and paragraphs not at all
flattering to the people mentioned in them, this occasion exceeded them all.
President Barbicane, the Directors of the new Society
and their associates of the Gun Club were universally sneered at. In every
language they were made ridiculous, and to make it easier to the whole
population of the world to read the scornful articles were printed in “Volapuk.” In
Information on this subject came a few days after the return
of President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl
“We all know that the result of the operation to create a new axis has been nothing. However, the calculations of J.T. Maston, founded on established facts, would have produced the desired result if through an unexplainable slip an error had not been embraced in them from the beginning. When the celebrated secretary of the Gun Club took for a basis of his calculations the circumference of the earth’s sphere, he figured it at 40,000 metres in place of 40,000,000 metres, and to which the failing of the operation is due.
“Where could such an error come from? Who could have provoked it?... How could such a remarkable calculator commit such an error?
“It is certain that had the problem of the modification of the earth’s axis been correctly figured, it would have had been exactly solved. But this forgetting of three zeros has made a change at the end of the calculation of twelve naughts.
“It is not a cannon one million times larger than that of twenty-seven centimetres, which was necessary. A trillion of these cannons throwing a trillion projectiles of 80,000 tons each would be necessary to displace the North Pole, admitting that the melimelonite had the expansive power which had been attributed to it by Capt. Nicholl.
“Therefore the whole shock under the conditions under which it was produced has displaced the North Pole only three-thousandths of a milimeter, and has only changed the level of the ocean at the most nine-thousandths of three-thousandths of a milimetre. In regard to the projectile fired, it will be a small planet, and will belong in future to the solar system, sustained by solar attraction.
So this want of attention on the part of J.T. Maston at the beginning of his calculations had produced such a humiliating result for his Company.
But even if his associates were very angry against him, if everybody laughed and joked at him, it is only fair to state in his favor that this mistake which had wrecked the operation had spared the world a terrible catastrophe.
A flood of telegrams and letters arrived from all parts of the world congratulating J.T. Maston on his mistake of three naughts. J.T. Maston, more downhearted and crushed than ever, would not listen to the hurrahs which the world now uttered for him. President Barbicane, Capt. Nicholl, Tom Hunter, with wooden legs; Col. Bloomsberry, the gay Bilsby, and his associates would never pardon him. But Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt she could not be angry with him, most excellent lady.
J.T. Maston had begun to do his calculations over again, refusing to admit that he was wrong at that point.
He was, however; the Engineer Alcide
Pierdeux had not made a mistake. Having learnt his
error at the last moment, when he had no time to make it known, he had remained
perfectly composed among all the fright and terror of those about him. That was
why he proposed a toast in champagne at the moment when the shooting was taking
place in the
It was at the beginning of his work when he had shut himself up in the “Ballistic Cottage,” and written the number 40,000, 000 on his blackboard. At that moment the electric bell began to ring with great force. J.T. Maston went to the phone. He exchanged a few words with Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. Suddenly a terrible stroke of lightning from the storm through the telephone knocked over his blackboard and himself. He got up, commenced to write over again the numbers which had been half rubbed out on his blackboard. He had just written the numbers 40,000 when the telephone rang for the second time. He went again to listen to Mme. Scorbitt, and when he did begin his work he forgot to put on the last three naughts of the earth’s circumference.
It was the fault of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. If she had not interrupted him he would not have been thrown on the floor by the shock from the telephone. He would not have noticed anything of lightning and thunder, and all his mass of figures and calculations would not have ended in a mistake.
What a terrible blow it was to this unhappy lady when J.T. Maston was compelled to tell her the circumstances which had produced the mistake! Yes, she was the cause of the disaster. It was on her account that J.T. Maston found himself dishonored through the long years which he bad yet to live, as nearly every member of the Gun Club usually lived to the age of a hundred years.
After this conversation at
“Not even good enough to get married,” said a broken voice at his elbow.
It was that of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. Absolutely crushed and heart-broken, she had followed him.
“Dear Maston”—she began.
“Well, yes,” said he, “but only under one condition—that I shall never make any mathematical calculations.”
“My dear friend, I have a horror of them,” answered the excellent widow.
Thus it happened that the Secretary of the Gun Club made Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt Mrs. J. T. Maston.
In regard to the article of Alcide Pierdeux, we might say that it brought him into great celebrity and reputation.
It was translated into all languages, printed in every paper, and thus his name became known all over the world. The father of his old sweetheart had refused him his daughter’s hand, after telling him that he could not give him his daughter, as he was too smart. But now, after having read this article and being unable to understand it without any help, he began to feel sorry and know better. He sent him an invitation to dine with him and his daughter.
Very Short, Since Enough has been Said to Make the World’s Population Feel Perfectly Sure Again
And now the inhabitants of the world could again be perfectly easy. President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl will not again begin that enterprise so woefully miscarried, J.T. Maston will not again figure out any calculations, however free from mistakes. The article of Alcide Pierdeux has told the truth. What the law of mechanics proves to us is that to produce a displacement of the axis of 23 degrees and 28 minutes, even with the melimelonite, a trillion cannons similar to the one which had been bored into the cliff of Kilimanjaro would be necessary. But our whole sphere, bored over its whole surface, is too small to accommodate them. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth may sleep in peace. To modify the conditions in which the earth is moving is beyond the efforts of humanity. It is not meet that mere humanity should change anything in the order established by our Creator in the system of the universe.
END OF THE VOYAGE EXTRAORDINAIRE
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