Luckily the steersman saw them through the windows of his cage, and by the electric bell gave the alarm to the men in the fore-cabin. Four of them came aft, creeping along the deck.
Those who have been at sea, beating to windward in half a gale of wind, will understand what the pressure was like. But here it was the "Albatross" that by her incomparable speed made her own wind.
To allow Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans to get back to their cabin the speed had to be reduced. Inside the deck-house the "Albatross" bore with her a perfectly breathable atmosphere. To stand such driving the strength of the apparatus must have been prodigious. The propellers spun round so swiftly that they seemed immovable, and it was with irresistible power that they screwed themselves through the air.
The last town that had been noticed was Astrakhan, situated at the north end of the Caspian Sea. The Star of the Desert--it must have been a poet who so called it--has now sunk from the first rank to the fifth or sixth. A momentary glance was afforded at its old walls, with their useless battlements, the ancient towers in the center of the city, the mosques and modern churches, the cathedral with its five domes, gilded and dotted with stars as if it were a piece of the sky, as they rose from the bank of the Volga, which here, as it joins the sea, is over a mile in width.
Thenceforward the flight of the "Albatross" became quite a race through the heights of the sky, as if she had been harnessed to one of those fabulous hippogriffs which cleared a league at every sweep of the wing.
At ten o'clock in the morning, of the 4th of July the aeronef, heading northwest, followed for a little the valley of the Volga. The steppes of the Don and the Ural stretched away on each side of the river. Even if it had been possible to get a glimpse of these vast territories there would have been no time to count the towns and villages. In the evening the aeronef passed over Moscow without saluting the flag on the Kremlin. In ten hours she had covered the twelve hundred miles which separate Astrakhan from the ancient capital of all the Russias.
From Moscow to St. Petersburg the railway line measures about seven hundred and fifty miles. This was but a half-day's journey, and the "Albatross," as punctual as the mail, reached St. Petersburg and the banks of the Neva at two o'clock in the morning.
Then came the Gulf of Finland, the Archipelago of Abo, the Baltic, Sweden in the latitude of Stockholm, and Norway in the latitude of Christiania. Ten hours only for these twelve hundred miles! Verily it might be thought that no human power would henceforth be able to check the speed of the "Albatross," and as if the resultant of her force of projection and the attraction of the earth would maintain her in an unvarying trajectory round the globe.
But she did stop nevertheless, and that was over the famous fall of the Rjukanfos in Norway. Gousta, whose summit dominates this wonderful region of Tellermarken, stood in the west like a gigantic barrier apparently impassable. And when the "Albatross" resumed her journey at full speed her head had been turned to the south.
And during this extraordinary flight what was Frycollin doing? He remained silent in a comer of his cabin, sleeping as well as he could, except at meal times.
Tapage then favored him with his company and amused himself at his expense. "Eh! eh! my boy!" said he. "So you are not crying any more? Perhaps it hurt you too much? That two hours hanging cured you of it? At our present rate, what a splendid air-bath you might have for your rheumatics!"
"It seems to me we shall soon go to pieces!"
"Perhaps so; but we shall go so fast we shan't have time to fall! That is some comfort!"
"Do you think so?"
To tell the truth, and not to exaggerate like Tapage, it was only reasonable that owing to the excessive speed the work of the suspensory screws should be somewhat lessened. The "Albatross" glided on its bed of air like a Congreve rocket.