The Columbiad

: From The Earth To The Moon

Had the casting succeeded? They were reduced to mere conjecture.

There was indeed every reason to expect success, since the mould

has absorbed the entire mass of the molten metal; still some

considerable time must elapse before they could arrive at any

certainty upon the matter.

The patience of the members of the Gun Club was sorely tried during

this period of time. But they could do nothing. J. T. Mas

escaped roasting by a miracle. Fifteen days after the casting

an immense column of smoke was still rising in the open sky and

the ground burned the soles of the feet within a radius of two

hundred feet round the summit of Stones Hill. It was impossible

to approach nearer. All they could do was to wait with what

patience they might.

"Here we are at the 10th of August," exclaimed J. T. Maston one

morning, "only four months to the 1st of December! We shall

never be ready in time!" Barbicane said nothing, but his

silence covered serious irritation.

However, daily observations revealed a certain change going on

in the state of the ground. About the 15th of August the vapors

ejected had sensibly diminished in intensity and thickness.

Some days afterward the earth exhaled only a slight puff of

smoke, the last breath of the monster enclosed within its circle

of stone. Little by little the belt of heat contracted, until

on the 22nd of August, Barbicane, his colleagues, and the

engineer were enabled to set foot on the iron sheet which lay

level upon the summit of Stones Hill.

"At last!" exclaimed the president of the Gun Club, with an

immense sigh of relief.

The work was resumed the same day. They proceeded at once to

extract the interior mould, for the purpose of clearing out the

boring of the piece. Pickaxes and boring irons were set to work

without intermission. The clayey and sandy soils had acquired

extreme hardness under the action of the heat; but, by the aid

of the machines, the rubbish on being dug out was rapidly carted

away on railway wagons; and such was the ardor of the work, so

persuasive the arguments of Barbicane's dollars, that by the 3rd

of September all traces of the mould had entirely disappeared.

Immediately the operation of boring was commenced; and by the

aid of powerful machines, a few weeks later, the inner surface

of the immense tube had been rendered perfectly cylindrical, and

the bore of the piece had acquired a thorough polish.

At length, on the 22d of September, less than a twelvemonth

after Barbicane's original proposition, the enormous weapon,

accurately bored, and exactly vertically pointed, was ready

for work. There was only the moon now to wait for; and they

were pretty sure that she would not fail in the rendezvous.

The ecstasy of J. T. Maston knew no bounds, and he narrowly

escaped a frightful fall while staring down the tube. But for

the strong hand of Colonel Blomsberry, the worthy secretary,

like a modern Erostratus, would have found his death in the

depths of the Columbiad.

The cannon was then finished; there was no possible doubt as to

its perfect completion. So, on the 6th of October, Captain

Nicholl opened an account between himself and President Barbicane,

in which he debited himself to the latter in the sum of two

thousand dollars. One may believe that the captain's wrath was

increased to its highest point, and must have made him seriously ill.

However, he had still three bets of three, four, and five

thousand dollars, respectively; and if he gained two out of these,

his position would not be very bad. But the money question did

not enter into his calculations; it was the success of his rival

in casting a cannon against which iron plates sixty feet thick

would have been ineffectual, that dealt him a terrible blow.

After the 23rd of September the enclosure of Stones hill was

thrown open to the public; and it will be easily imagined what

was the concourse of visitors to this spot! There was an

incessant flow of people to and from Tampa Town and the place,

which resembled a procession, or rather, in fact, a pilgrimage.

It was already clear to be seen that, on the day of the

experiment itself, the aggregate of spectators would be counted

by millions; for they were already arriving from all parts of

the earth upon this narrow strip of promontory. Europe was

emigrating to America.

Up to that time, however, it must be confessed, the curiosity

of the numerous comers was but scantily gratified. Most had

counted upon witnessing the spectacle of the casting, and they

were treated to nothing but smoke. This was sorry food for

hungry eyes; but Barbicane would admit no one to that operation.

Then ensued grumbling, discontent, murmurs; they blamed the

president, taxed him with dictatorial conduct. His proceedings

were declared "un-American." There was very nearly a riot round

Stones Hill; but Barbicane remained inflexible. When, however,

the Columbiad was entirely finished, this state of closed doors

could no longer be maintained; besides it would have been bad

taste, and even imprudence, to affront the public feeling.

Barbicane, therefore, opened the enclosure to all comers; but,

true to his practical disposition, he determined to coin money

out of the public curiosity.

It was something, indeed, to be enabled to contemplate this

immense Columbiad; but to descend into its depths, this seemed

to the Americans the ne plus ultra of earthly felicity.

Consequently, there was not one curious spectator who was not

willing to give himself the treat of visiting the interior of

this great metallic abyss. Baskets suspended from steam-cranes

permitted them to satisfy their curiosity. There was a

perfect mania. Women, children, old men, all made it a point

of duty to penetrate the mysteries of the colossal gun.

The fare for the descent was fixed at five dollars per head;

and despite this high charge, during the two months which

preceded the experiment, the influx of visitors enabled the

Gun Club to pocket nearly five hundred thousand dollars!

It is needless to say that the first visitors of the Columbiad

were the members of the Gun Club. This privilege was justly

reserved for that illustrious body. The ceremony took place on

the 25th of September. A basket of honor took down the

president, J. T. Maston, Major Elphinstone, General Morgan,

Colonel Blomsberry, and other members of the club, to the number

of ten in all. How hot it was at the bottom of that long tube

of metal! They were half suffocated. But what delight!

What ecstasy! A table had been laid with six covers on the

massive stone which formed the bottom of the Columbiad, and

lighted by a jet of electric light resembling that of day itself.

Numerous exquisite dishes, which seemed to descend from heaven,

were placed successively before the guests, and the richest wines

of France flowed in profusion during this splendid repast, served

nine hundred feet beneath the surface of the earth!

The festival was animated, not to say somewhat noisy. Toasts flew

backward and forward. They drank to the earth and to her satellite,

to the Gun Club, the Union, the Moon, Diana, Phoebe, Selene, the

"peaceful courier of the night!" All the hurrahs, carried upward

upon the sonorous waves of the immense acoustic tube, arrived with

the sound of thunder at its mouth; and the multitude ranged round

Stones Hill heartily united their shouts with those of the ten

revelers hidden from view at the bottom of the gigantic Columbiad.

J. T. Maston was no longer master of himself. Whether he

shouted or gesticulated, ate or drank most, would be a difficult

matter to determine. At all events, he would not have given his

place up for an empire, "not even if the cannon-- loaded,

primed, and fired at that very moment--were to blow him in

pieces into the planetary world."