Michel Ardan examined everything, and declared himself satisfied with his installation.
"It is a prison," said he, "but a traveling prison; and, with the right of putting my nose to the window, I could well stand a lease of a hundred years. You smile, Barbicane. Have you any arriere-pensee? Do you say to yourself, `This prison may be our tomb?' Tomb, perhaps; still I would not change it for Mahomet's, which floats in space but never advances an inch!"
While Michel Ardan was speaking, Barbicane and Nicholl were making their last preparations.
Nicholl's chronometer marked twenty minutes past ten P.M. when the three travelers were finally enclosed in their projectile. This chronometer was set within the tenth of a second by that of Murchison the engineer. Barbicane consulted it.
"My friends," said he, "it is twenty minutes past ten. At forty- seven minutes past ten Murchison will launch the electric spark on the wire which communicates with the charge of the Columbiad. At that precise moment we shall leave our spheroid. Thus we still have twenty-seven minutes to remain on the earth."
"Twenty-six minutes thirteen seconds," replied the methodical Nicholl.
"Well!" exclaimed Michel Ardan, in a good-humored tone, "much may be done in twenty-six minutes. The gravest questions of morals and politics may be discussed, and even solved. Twenty-six minutes well employed are worth more than twenty-six years in which nothing is done. Some seconds of a Pascal or a Newton are more precious than the whole existence of a crowd of raw simpletons----"
"And you conclude, then, you everlasting talker?" asked Barbicane.
"I conclude that we have twenty-six minutes left," replied Ardan.
"Twenty-four only," said Nicholl.
"Well, twenty-four, if you like, my noble captain," said Ardan; "twenty-four minutes in which to investigate----"
"Michel," said Barbicane, "during the passage we shall have plenty of time to investigate the most difficult questions. For the present we must occupy ourselves with our departure."
"Are we not ready?"
"Doubtless; but there are still some precautions to be taken, to deaden as much as possible the first shock."
"Have we not the water-cushions placed between the partition- breaks, whose elasticity will sufficiently protect us?"
"I hope so, Michel," replied Barbicane gently, "but I am not sure."
"Ah, the joker!" exclaimed Michel Ardan. "He hopes!--He is not sure!-- and he waits for the moment when we are encased to make this deplorable admission! I beg to be allowed to get out!"
"And how?" asked Barbicane.
"Humph!" said Michel Ardan, "it is not easy; we are in the train, and the guard's whistle will sound before twenty-four minutes are over."
"Twenty," said Nicholl.
For some moments the three travelers looked at each other. Then they began to examine the objects imprisoned with them.
"Everything is in its place," said Barbicane. "We have now to decide how we can best place ourselves to resist the shock. Position cannot be an indifferent matter; and we must, as much as possible, prevent the rush of blood to the head."
"Just so," said Nicholl.
"Then," replied Michel Ardan, ready to suit the action to the word, "let us put our heads down and our feet in the air, like the clowns in the grand circus."
"No," said Barbicane, "let us stretch ourselves on our sides; we shall resist the shock better that way. Remember that, when the projectile starts, it matters little whether we are in it or before it; it amounts to much the same thing."
"If it is only `much the same thing,' I may cheer up," said Michel Ardan.
"Do you approve of my idea, Nicholl?" asked Barbicane.
"Entirely," replied the captain. "We've still thirteen minutes and a half."
"That Nicholl is not a man," exclaimed Michel; "he is a chronometer with seconds, an escape, and eight holes."
But his companions were not listening; they were taking up their last positions with the most perfect coolness. They were like two methodical travelers in a car, seeking to place themselves as comfortably as possible.