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Topsy-Turvy By Jules Verne Characters: 15152

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The country of Wamasai is situated in the eastern part of Central Africa, between the coast of Zanzibar and the regions of the large lakes, where the Victoria Nyanza and the Tanganiyka form a great interior ocean. The part best known is that which has been visited by the Englishman Johnston, Count Tekeli and the German doctor Meyer. This mountainous land is under the sovereignty of Sultan Bali-Bali, whose people consist of 30,000 or 40,000 Negroes.

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 lake of Victoria Nyanza across the province of Mozambique.

A few leagues below Kilimanjaro is the small village of Kisongo, the regular residence of the Sultan. This capital is in reality only a large hamlet. It is occupied by a very intelligent and industrious people, who work themselves as industriously as their slaves under the iron rule which Bali-Bali imposes on them.

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 England. At this capital of Kisongo, President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl accompanied by six men who were devoted to them, arrived in the first week of January of the current year. On leaving the United States, whence their departure was only known to Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, and J. T. Maston, they had embarked in New York for the Cape of Good Hope, whence a vessel transported them to Zanzibar, on the island of the same name. There a bark secretly chartered by the Sultan brought them to the port of Mombas, on the African border on the other side of the channel. An escort sent by the Sultan waited for them at this port, and after a hard voyage nearly a hundred leagues across this terrible region, obstructed by forests, deep marshes, etc., they arrived at the royal residence. After knowing the calculations of J.T. Maston, President Barbicane had already put himself in communication with Bali-Bali through the help of a Swedish explorer, who had passed several years in this part of Africa. As the Sultan had become one of their most ardent admirers since their trip to the moon, a trip whose reputation had gone as far as these countries, he had a great friendship for these courageous Yankees. Without telling him for what purpose it was, Impey Barbicane had easily obtained permission from the Sultan to undertake important works at the southern foot of Kilimanjaro. In return for a large sum, estimated at $300,000, Bali-Bali had bound himself to furnish them all the workmen necessary. In other words, the captain and his friends were authorized to do at Kilimanjaro whatever they liked to do. They could dispose of the large chain of mountains according to their desires; they could tear them down if they liked, or they could take them away if they would be able to do so. In consequence of these arrangements, which the Sultan had made at his own figure, the North Polar Practical Association was as much proprietor of this country as they already were to the polar region. The reception which President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl received at Kisongo was very cordial. Bali-Bali displayed an admiration amounting to adoration for these celebrated travellers who had made this dangerous voyage to reach the country around the North Pole.

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 America and Europe failed to penetrate it. If it was finally discovered it must have been that the Sultan modified his severe rules after the accomplishment of the works and that there were traitors and babblers even amongst the Negroes. In this way Richard W. Trust, consul at Zanzibar, had received wind of what was going on at Kilimanjaro. But then at that date, the 13th of September, it was too late to stop President Barbicane in the accomplishment of his design.

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 Africa, and as it was very far from the territory usually visited by travellers. Then, the mass of Kilimanjaro offered them all the qualities of solidity and material necessary for their work. And, moreover, on the surface of this country were found the raw materials which they needed in a condition very easy to handle. A few months before leaving the United States President Barbicane had learnt from the Swedish explorer that at the foot of Kilimanjaro iron and coal were plentiful on the ground. No mines to dig into, no fields to explore a thousand feet deep in the earth's shell. Iron and coal were so plentiful even for this great undertaking that they only had to stoop down to pick it up. In other words, there existed in the neighborhood of this mountain enormous fields of nitrate of soda and of iron pyrites, which were necessary for the manufacture of melimelonite. President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl had taken with them only ten people, of whom they were absolutely sure, and no one else. These ten men had to supervise the 10,000 Negroes put at their disposal by Bali-Bali, and to them was given the task of manufacturing the monster cannon and its not less monster projectile. Two weeks after the arrival of President Barbicane and his associate at Wamasai three large workshops were established at the southern foot of Kilimanjaro, one for the cannon foundry, the second for the manufacture of the projectile, and the third for the manufacture of the melimelonite.

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 diameter, 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 chose

n 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 Moon City, which had sent the projectile to the moon. But such work as this is impossible to the ordinary engineers of this world at present.

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 Africa?

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 studio at Baltimore, uttered a cry of hurrah! as if he were crazy.

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!"

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