Hence it follows, by Hausen's calculations, that its center of gravity is situated in the other hemisphere. Hence it results that the great mass of air and water must have been drawn away to the other face of our satellite during the first days of its creation."
"Pure fancies!" cried the unknown.
"No! Pure theories! which are based upon the laws of mechanics, and it seems difficult to me to refute them. I appeal then to this meeting, and I put it to them whether life, such as exists upon the earth, is possible on the surface of the moon?"
Three hundred thousand auditors at once applauded the proposition. Ardan's opponent tried to get in another word, but he could not obtain a hearing. Cries and menaces fell upon him like hail.
"Enough! enough!" cried some.
"Drive the intruder off!" shouted others.
"Turn him out!" roared the exasperated crowd.
But he, holding firmly on to the platform, did not budge an inch, and let the storm pass on, which would soon have assumed formidable proportions, if Michel Ardan had not quieted it by a gesture. He was too chivalrous to abandon his opponent in an apparent extremity.
"You wished to say a few more words?" he asked, in a pleasant voice.
"Yes, a thousand; or rather, no, only one! If you persevere in your enterprise, you must be a----"
"Very rash person! How can you treat me as such? me, who have demanded a cylindro-conical projectile, in order to prevent turning round and round on my way like a squirrel?"
"But, unhappy man, the dreadful recoil will smash you to pieces at your starting."
"My dear contradictor, you have just put your finger upon the true and only difficulty; nevertheless, I have too good an opinion of the industrial genius of the Americans not to believe that they will succeed in overcoming it."
"But the heat developed by the rapidity of the projectile in crossing the strata of air?"
"Oh! the walls are thick, and I shall soon have crossed the atmosphere."
"But victuals and water?"
"I have calculated for a twelvemonth's supply, and I shall be only four days on the journey."
"But for air to breathe on the road?"
"I shall make it by a chemical process."
"But your fall on the moon, supposing you ever reach it?"
"It will be six times less dangerous than a sudden fall upon the earth, because the weight will be only one-sixth as great on the surface of the moon."
"Still it will be enough to smash you like glass!"
"What is to prevent my retarding the shock by means of rockets conveniently placed, and lighted at the right moment?"
"But after all, supposing all difficulties surmounted, all obstacles removed, supposing everything combined to favor you, and granting that you may arrive safe and sound in the moon, how will you come back?"
"I am not coming back!"
At this reply, almost sublime in its very simplicity, the assembly became silent. But its silence was more eloquent than could have been its cries of enthusiasm. The unknown profited by the opportunity and once more protested:
"You will inevitably kill yourself!" he cried; "and your death will be that of a madman, useless even to science!"
"Go on, my dear unknown, for truly your prophecies are most agreeable!"
"It really is too much!" cried Michel Ardan's adversary. "I do not know why I should continue so frivolous a discussion! Please yourself about this insane expedition! We need not trouble ourselves about you!"
"Pray don't stand upon ceremony!"
"No! another person is responsible for your act."
"Who, may I ask?" demanded Michel Ardan in an imperious tone.
"The ignoramus who organized this equally absurd and impossible experiment!"
The attack was direct. Barbicane, ever since the interference of the unknown, had been making fearful efforts of self-control; now, however, seeing himself directly attacked, he could restrain himself no longer. He rose suddenly, and was rushing upon the enemy who thus braved him to the face, when all at once he found himself separated from him.
The platform was lifted by a hundred strong arms, and the president of the Gun Club shared with Michel Ardan triumphal honors. The shield was heavy, but the bearers came in continuous relays, disputing, struggling, even fighting among themselves in their eagerness to lend their shoulders to this demonstration.