She never left the line; and about midnight she was over the "city of light," which merits its name even when its inhabitants are asleep or ought to be.
By what strange whim was it that she was stopped over the city of Paris? We do not know; but down she came till she was within a few hundred feet of the ground. Robur then came out of his cabin, and the crew came on to the deck to breathe the ambient air.
Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans took care not to miss such an excellent opportunity. They left their deck-house and walked off away from the others so as to be ready at the propitious moment. It was important their action should not be seen.
The "Albatross," like a huge coleopter, glided gently over the mighty city. She took the line of the boulevards, then brilliantly lighted by the Edison lamps. Up to her there floated the rumble of the vehicles as they drove along the streets, and the roll of the trains on the numerous railways that converge into Paris. Then she glided over the highest monuments as if she was going to knock the ball off the Pantheon or the cross off the Invalides. She hovered over the two minarets of the Trocadero and the metal tower of the Champ de Mars, where the enormous reflector was inundating the whole capital with its electric rays.
This aerial promenade, this nocturnal loitering, lasted for about an hour. It was a halt for breath before the voyage was resumed.
And probably Robur wished to give the Parisians the sight of a meteor quite unforeseen by their astronomers. The lamps of the "Albatross" were turned on. Two brilliant sheaves of light shot down and moved along over the squares, the gardens, the palaces, the sixty thousand houses, and swept the space from one horizon to the other.
Assuredly the "Albatross" was seen this time--and not only well seen but heard, for Tom Turner brought out his trumpet and blew a rousing tarantaratara.
At this moment Uncle Prudent leant over the rail, opened his hand, and let his snuff-box fall.
Immediately the "Albatross" shot upwards, and past her, higher still, there mounted the noisy cheering of the crowd then thick on the boulevards--a hurrah of stupefaction to greet the imaginary meteor.
The lamps of the aeronef were turned off, and the darkness and the silence closed in around as the voyage was resumed at the rate of one hundred and twenty miles an hour.
This was all that was to be seen of the French capital. At four o'clock in the morning the "Albatross" had crossed the whole country obliquely; and so as to lose no time in traversing the Alps or the Pyrenees, she flew over the face of Provence to the cape of Antibes. At nine o'clock next morning the San Pietrini assembled on the terrace of St. Peter at Rome were astounded to see her pass over the eternal city. Two hours afterwards she crossed the Bay of Naples and hovered for an instant over the fuliginous wreaths of Vesuvius. Then, after cutting obliquely across the Mediterranean, in the early hours of the afternoon she was signaled by the look-outs at La Goulette on the Tunisian coast.
After America, Asia! After Asia, Europe! More than eighteen thousand miles had this wonderful machine accomplished in less than twenty-three clays!
And now she was off over the known and unknown regions of Africa!
It may be interesting to know what had happened to the famous snuff-box after its fall?
It had fallen in the Rue de Rivoli, opposite No. 200, when the street was deserted. In the morning it was picked up by an honest sweeper, who took it to the prefecture of police. There it was at first supposed to be an infernal machine. And it was untied, examined, and opened with care.
Suddenly a sort of explosion took place. It was a terrific sneeze on the part of the inspector.
The document was then extracted from the snuff-box, and to the general surprise, read as follows:
""Messrs. Prudent and Evans, president and secretary of the Weldon Institute, Philadelphia, have been carried off in the aeronef Albatross belonging to Robur the engineer.""
""Please inform our friends and acquaintances.""