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   Chapter 18 IN WHICH THE POPULATION OF WAMASAI ASSEMBLE TO HEAR PRESIDENT BARBICANE SAY “FIRE” TO CAPT. NICHOLL.

Topsy-Turvy By Jules Verne Characters: 4734

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


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 Maryland. The weather was magnificent. The sun had just gone down on the plains of Wamasai, behind a horizon of perfect purity. It was impossible to wish for a prettier night, one more calm or starry, in which to throw the projectile across space. Not a cloud would be mixed with the artificial vapors developed by the deflagration of the melimelonite.

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 province of Wamasai. A sharp whistle passed the crowd, a terrible rush of air, caused by the milliards of milliards of measures of gas, made by the instantaneous deflagrations of the 2,000 tons of melimelonite. It might be described as one of those meteors in which all the violence of nature is accumulated sweeping across the earth. The effect could not have been more terrible if all the cannons of the whole globe had been joined together with all the thunderbolts of heaven and all had united in one grand report.

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