Barbicane continued his work without regarding these attacks.
Nicholl then took up the question in its other aspects. Without touching upon its uselessness in all points of view, he regarded the experiment as fraught with extreme danger, both to the citizens, who might sanction by their presence so reprehensible a spectacle, and also to the towns in the neighborhood of this deplorable cannon. He also observed that if the projectile did not succeed in reaching its destination (a result absolutely impossible), it must inevitably fall back upon the earth, and that the shock of such a mass, multiplied by the square of its velocity, would seriously endanger every point of the globe. Under the circumstances, therefore, and without interfering with the rights of free citizens, it was a case for the intervention of Government, which ought not to endanger the safety of all for the pleasure of one individual.
In spite of all his arguments, however, Captain Nicholl remained alone in his opinion. Nobody listened to him, and he did not succeed in alienating a single admirer from the president of the Gun Club. The latter did not even take the pains to refute the arguments of his rival.
Nicholl, driven into his last entrenchments, and not able to fight personally in the cause, resolved to fight with money. He published, therefore, in the Richmond Inquirer a series of wagers, conceived in these terms, and on an increasing scale:
No. 1 ($1,000).-- That the necessary funds for the experiment of the Gun Club will not be forthcoming.
No. 2 ($2,000).-- That the operation of casting a cannon of 900 feet is impracticable, and cannot possibly succeed.
No. 3 ($3,000).-- That is it impossible to load the Columbiad, and that the pyroxyle will take fire spontaneously under the pressure of the projectile.
No. 4 ($4,000).-- That the Columbiad will burst at the first fire.
No. 5 ($5,000).-- That the shot will not travel farther than six miles, and that it will fall back again a few seconds after its discharge.
It was an important sum, therefore, which the captain risked in his invincible obstinacy. He had no less than $15,000 at stake.
Notwithstanding the importance of the challenge, on the 19th of May he received a sealed packet containing the following superbly laconic reply: "BALTIMORE, October 19. "Done. "BARBICANE."
FLORIDA AND TEXAS
One question remained yet to be decided; it was necessary to choose a favorable spot for the experiment. According to the advice of the Observatory of Cambridge, the gun must be fired perpendicularly to the plane of the horizon, that is to say, toward the zenith. Now the moon does not traverse the zenith, except in places situated between 0@ and 28@ of latitude. It became, then, necessary to determine exactly that spot on the globe where the immense Columbiad should be cast.
On the 20th of October, at a general meeting of the Gun Club, Barbicane produced a magnificent map of the United States. "Gentlemen," said he, in opening the discussion, "I presume that we are all agreed that this experiment cannot and ought not to be tried anywhere but within the limits of the soil of the Union. Now, by good fortune, certain frontiers of the United States extend downward as far as the 28th parallel of the north latitude. If you will cast your eye over this map, you will see that we have at our disposal the whole of the southern portion of Texas and Florida."
It was finally agreed, then, that the Columbiad must be cast on the soil of either Texas or Florida. The result, however, of this decision was to create a rivalry entirely without precedent between the different towns of these two States.
The 28th parallel, on reaching the American coast, traverses the peninsula of Florida, dividing it into two nearly equal portions. Then, plunging into the Gulf of Mexico, it subtends the arc formed by the coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana; then skirting Texas, off which it cuts an angle, it continues its course over Mexico, crosses the Sonora, Old California, and loses itself in the Pacific Ocean.