He opened his eyes, sat up, took his two friends by the hands, and his first words were--
"Nicholl, are we moving?"
Nicholl and Ardan looked at each other; they had not yet troubled themselves about the projectile; their first thought had been for the traveler, not for the car.
"Well, are we really moving?" repeated Michel Ardan.
"Or quietly resting on the soil of Florida?" asked Nicholl.
"Or at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico?" added Michel Ardan.
"What an idea!" exclaimed the president.
And this double hypothesis suggested by his companions had the effect of recalling him to his senses. In any case they could not decide on the position of the projectile. Its apparent immovability, and the want of communication with the outside, prevented them from solving the question. Perhaps the projectile was unwinding its course through space. Perhaps after a short rise it had fallen upon the earth, or even in the Gulf of Mexico-- a fall which the narrowness of the peninsula of Florida would render not impossible.
The case was serious, the problem interesting, and one that must be solved as soon as possible. Thus, highly excited, Barbicane's moral energy triumphed over physical weakness, and he rose to his feet. He listened. Outside was perfect silence; but the thick padding was enough to intercept all sounds coming from the earth. But one circumstance struck Barbicane, viz., that the temperature inside the projectile was singularly high. The president drew a thermometer from its case and consulted it. The instrument showed 81@ Fahr.
"Yes," he exclaimed, "yes, we are moving! This stifling heat, penetrating through the partitions of the projectile, is produced by its friction on the atmospheric strata. It will soon diminish, because we are already floating in space, and after having nearly stifled, we shall have to suffer intense cold.
"What!" said Michel Ardan. "According to your showing, Barbicane, we are already beyond the limits of the terrestrial atmosphere?"
"Without a doubt, Michel. Listen to me. It is fifty-five minutes past ten; we have been gone about eight minutes; and if our initiatory speed has not been checked by the friction, six seconds would be enough for us to pass through the forty miles of atmosphere which surrounds the globe."
"Just so," replied Nicholl; "but in what proportion do you estimate the diminution of speed by friction?"
"In the proportion of one-third, Nicholl. This diminution is considerable, but according to my calculations it is nothing less. If, then, we had an initiatory speed of 12,000 yards, on leaving the atmosphere this speed would be reduced to 9,165 yards. In any case we have already passed through this interval, and----"
"And then," said Michel Ardan, "friend Nicholl has lost his two bets: four thousand dollars because the Columbiad did not burst; five thousand dollars because the projectile has risen more than six miles. Now, Nicholl, pay up."
"Let us prove it first," said the captain, "and we will pay afterward. It is quite possible that Barbicane's reasoning is correct, and that I have lost my nine thousand dollars. But a new hypothesis presents itself to my mind, and it annuls the wager."
"What is that?" asked Barbicane quickly.
"The hypothesis that, for some reason or other, fire was never set to the powder, and we have not started at all."
"My goodness, captain," exclaimed Michel Ardan, "that hypothesis is not worthy of my brain! It cannot be a serious one. For have we not been half annihilated by the shock? Did I not recall you to life? Is not the president's shoulder still bleeding from the blow it has received?"
"Granted," replied Nicholl; "but one question."
"Did you hear the detonation, which certainly ought to be loud?"
"No," replied Ardan, much surprised; "certainly I did not hear the detonation."
"And you, Barbicane?"
"Nor I, either."
"Very well," said Nicholl.
"Well now," murmured the president "why did we not hear the detonation?"
The three friends looked at each other with a disconcerted air. It was quite an inexplicable phenomenon.