THE CONSEQUENCES OF DEVIATION.
Barbicane had now no fear, if not
about the issue of the journey, at least about the
projectile’s force of impulsion. Its own
speed would carry it beyond the neutral line.
Therefore it would not return to the earth nor remain
motionless upon the point of attraction. One hypothesis
only remained to be realised, the arrival of the bullet
at its goal under the action of lunar attraction.
In reality it was a fall of 8,296
leagues upon a planet, it is true, where the gravity
is six times less than upon the earth. Nevertheless
it would be a terrible fall, and one against which
all precautions ought to be taken without delay.
These precautions were of two sorts;
some were for the purpose of deadening the shock at
the moment the projectile would touch lunar ground;
others were to retard the shock, and so make it less
In order to deaden the shock, it was
a pity that Barbicane was no longer able to employ
the means that had so usefully weakened the shock at
departure that is to say, the water used
as a spring and the movable partitions. The partitions
still existed, but water was wanting, for they could
not use the reserve for this purpose that
would be precious in case the liquid element should
fail on the lunar soil.
Besides, this reserve would not have
been sufficient for a spring. The layer of water
stored in the projectile at their departure, and on
which lay the waterproof disc, occupied no less than
three feet in depth, and spread over a surface of
not less than fifty-four feet square. Now the
receptacles did not contain the fifth part of that.
They were therefore obliged to give up this effectual
means of deadening the shock.
Fortunately Barbicane, not content
with employing water, had furnished the movable disc
with strong spring buffers, destined to lessen the
shock against the bottom, after breaking the horizontal
partitions. These buffers were still in existence;
they had only to be fitted on and the movable disc
put in its place. All these pieces, easy to handle,
as they weighed scarcely anything, could be rapidly
This was done. The different
pieces were adjusted without difficulty. It was
only a matter of bolts and screws. There were
plenty of tools. The disc was soon fixed on its
steel buffers like a table on its legs. One inconvenience
resulted from this arrangement. The lower port-hole
was covered, and it would be impossible for the travellers
to observe the moon through that opening whilst they
were being precipitated perpendicularly upon her.
But they were obliged to give it up. Besides,
through the lateral openings they could still perceive
the vast lunar regions, like the earth is seen from
the car of a balloon.
This placing of the disc took an hour’s
work. It was more than noon when the preparations
were completed. Barbicane made fresh observations
on the inclination of the projectile, but to his great
vexation it had not turned sufficiently for a fall;
it appeared to be describing a curve parallel with
the lunar disc. The Queen of Night was shining
splendidly in space, whilst opposite the orb of day
was setting her on fire with his rays.
This situation soon became an anxious one.
“Shall we get there?” said Nicholl.
“We must act as though we should,” answered
“You are faint-hearted fellows,”
replied Michel Ardan. “We shall get there,
and quicker than we want.”
This answer recalled Barbicane to
his preparations, and he occupied himself with placing
the contrivances destined to retard the fall.
It will be remembered that, at the
meeting held in Tampa Town, Florida, Captain Nicholl
appeared as Barbicane’s enemy, and Michel Ardan’s
adversary. When Captain Nicholl said that the
projectile would be broken like glass, Michel answered
that he would retard the fall by means of fusees properly
In fact, powerful fusees, resting
upon the bottom, and being fired outside, might, by
producing a recoil action, lessen the speed of the
bullet. These fusees were to burn in the void
it is true, but oxygen would not fail them, for they
would furnish that themselves like the lunar volcanoes,
the deflagration of which has never been prevented
by the want of atmosphere around the moon.
Barbicane had therefore provided himself
with fireworks shut up in little cannons of bored
steel, which could be screwed on to the bottom of
the projectile. Inside these cannons were level
with the bottom; outside they went half a foot beyond
it. There were twenty of them. An opening
in the disc allowed them to light the match with which
each was provided. All the effect took place
outside. The exploding mixture had been already
rammed into each gun. All they had to do, therefore,
was to take up the metallic buffers fixed in the base,
and to put these cannons in their place, where they
This fresh work was ended about 3
p.m., and all precaution taken they had now nothing
to do but to wait.
In the meantime the projectile visibly
drew nearer the moon. It was, therefore, submitted
in some proportion to its influence; but its own velocity
also inclined it in an oblique line. Perhaps the
result of these two influences would be a line that
would become a tangent. But it was certain that
the projectile was not falling normally upon the surface
of the moon, for its base, by reason of its weight,
ought to have been turned towards her.
Barbicane’s anxiety was increased
on seeing that his bullet resisted the influence of
gravitation. It was the unknown that was before
him the unknown of the interstellar regions.
He, the savant, believed that he had foreseen
the only three hypotheses that were possible the
return to the earth, the fall upon the moon, or stagnation
upon the neutral line! And here a fourth hypothesis,
full of all the terrors of the infinite, cropped up
inopportunely. To face it without flinching took
a resolute savant like Barbicane, a phlegmatic
being like Nicholl, or an audacious adventurer like
Conversation was started on this subject.
Other men would have considered the question from
a practical point of view. They would have wondered
where the projectile would take them to. Not they,
however. They sought the cause that had produced
“So we are off the line,” said Michel.
“But how is that?”
“I am very much afraid,”
answered Nicholl, “that notwithstanding all the
precautions that were taken, the Columbiad was not
aimed correctly. The slightest error would suffice
to throw us outside the pale of lunar attraction.”
“Then the cannon was pointed badly?” said
“I do not think so,” answered
Barbicane. “The cannon was rigorously perpendicular,
and its direction towards the zenith of the place was
incontestable. The moon passing the zenith, we
ought to have reached her at the full. There
is another reason, but it escapes me.”
“Perhaps we have arrived too late,” suggested
“Too late?” said Barbicane.
“Yes,” resumed Nicholl.
“The notice from the Cambridge Observatory said
that the transit ought to be accomplished in ninety-seven
hours thirteen minutes and twenty seconds. That
means that before that time the moon would not have
reached the point indicated, and after she would have
“Agreed,” answered Barbicane.
“But we started on the 1st of December at 11s. p.m., and we ought to arrive at midnight
on the 5th, precisely as the moon is full. Now
this is the 5th of December. It is half-past
three, and eight hours and a half ought to be sufficient
to take us to our goal. Why are we not going
“Perhaps the velocity was greater
than it ought to have been,” answered Nicholl,
“for we know now that the initial velocity was
greater than it was supposed to be.”
“No! a hundred times no!”
replied Barbicane. “An excess of velocity,
supposing the direction of the projectile to have been
correct, would not have prevented us reaching the
moon. No! There has been a deviation.
We have deviated!”
“Through whom? through what?” asked Nicholl.
“I cannot tell,” answered Barbicane.
“Well, Barbicane,” then
said Michel, “should you like to know what I
think about why we have deviated?”
“Say what you think.”
“I would not give half a dollar
to know! We have deviated, that is a fact.
It does not matter much where we are going. We
shall soon find out. As we are being carried
along into space we shall end by falling into some
centre of attraction or another.”
Barbicane could not be contented with
this indifference of Michel Ardan’s. Not
that he was anxious about the future. But what
he wanted to know, at any price, was why his projectile
In the meantime the projectile kept
on its course sideways to the moon, and the objects
thrown out along with it. Barbicane could even
prove by the landmarks upon the moon, which was only
at 2,000 leagues’ distance, that its speed was
becoming uniform a fresh proof that they
were not falling. Its force of impulsion was
prevailing over the lunar attraction, but the trajectory
of the projectile was certainly taking them nearer
the lunar disc, and it might be hoped that at a nearer
point the weight would predominate and provoke a fall.
The three friends, having nothing
better to do, went on with their observations.
They could not, however, yet determine the topography
of the satellite. Every relief was levelled under
the action of the solar rays.
They watched thus through the lateral
windows until 8 p.m. The moon then looked so
large that she hid half the firmament from them.
The sun on one side, and the Queen of Night on the
other, inundated the projectile with light.
At that moment Barbicane thought he
could estimate at 700 leagues only the distance that
separated them from their goal. The velocity of
the projectile appeared to him to be 200 yards a second,
or about 170 leagues an hour. The base of the
bullet had a tendency to turn towards the moon under
the influence of the centripetal force; but the centrifugal
force still predominated, and it became probable that
the rectilinear trajectory would change to some curve
the nature of which could not be determined.
Barbicane still sought the solution
of his insoluble problem. The hours went by without
result. The projectile visibly drew nearer to
the moon, but it was plain that it would not reach
her. The short distance at which it would pass
her would be the result of two forces, attractive
and repulsive, which acted upon the projectile.
“I only pray for one thing,”
repeated Michel, “and that is to pass near enough
to the moon to penetrate her secrets.”
“Confound the cause that made
our projectile deviate!” cried Nicholl.
“Then,” said Barbicane,
as if he had been suddenly struck with an idea, “confound
that asteroid that crossed our path!”
“Eh?” said Michel Ardan.
“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicholl.
“I mean,” resumed Barbicane,
who appeared convinced, “I mean that our deviation
is solely due to the influence of that wandering body.”
“But it did not even graze us,” continued
“What does that matter?
Its bulk, compared with that of our projectile, was
enormous, and its attraction was sufficient to have
an influence upon our direction.”
“That influence must have been very slight,”
“Yes, Nicholl, but slight as
it was,” answered Barbicane, “upon a distance
of 84,000 leagues it was enough to make us miss the