"Very well?" asked Barbicane, after some minutes' silence.
"Well!" replied Nicholl; every calculation made, v zero, that is to say, the speed necessary for the projectile on leaving the atmosphere, to enable it to reach the equal point of attraction, ought to be----"
"Yes?" said Barbicane.
"Twelve thousand yards."
"What!" exclaimed Barbicane, starting; "you say----"
"Twelve thousand yards."
"The devil!" cried the president, making a gesture of despair.
"What is the matter?" asked Michel Ardan, much surprised.
"What is the matter! why, if at this moment our speed had already diminished one-third by friction, the initiatory speed ought to have been----"
"Seventeen thousand yards."
"And the Cambridge Observatory declared that twelve thousand yards was enough at starting; and our projectile, which only started with that speed----"
"Well?" asked Nicholl.
"Well, it will not be enough."
"We shall not be able to reach the neutral point."
"We shall not even get halfway."
"In the name of the projectile!" exclaimed Michel Ardan, jumping as if it was already on the point of striking the terrestrial globe.
"And we shall fall back upon the earth!"
THE COLD OF SPACE
This revelation came like a thunderbolt. Who could have expected such an error in calculation? Barbicane would not believe it. Nicholl revised his figures: they were exact. As to the formula which had determined them, they could not suspect its truth; it was evident that an initiatory velocity of seventeen thousand yards in the first second was necessary to enable them to reach the neutral point.
The three friends looked at each other silently. There was no thought of breakfast. Barbicane, with clenched teeth, knitted brows, and hands clasped convulsively, was watching through the window. Nicholl had crossed his arms, and was examining his calculations. Michel Ardan was muttering:
"That is just like these scientific men: they never do anything else. I would give twenty pistoles if we could fall upon the Cambridge Observatory and crush it, together with the whole lot of dabblers in figures which it contains."
Suddenly a thought struck the captain, which he at once communicated to Barbicane.
"Ah!" said he; "it is seven o'clock in the morning; we have already been gone thirty-two hours; more than half our passage is over, and we are not falling that I am aware of."
Barbicane did not answer, but after a rapid glance at the captain, took a pair of compasses wherewith to measure the angular distance of the terrestrial globe; then from the lower window he took an exact observation, and noticed that the projectile was apparently stationary. Then rising and wiping his forehead, on which large drops of perspiration were standing, he put some figures on paper. Nicholl understood that the president was deducting from the terrestrial diameter the projectile's distance from the earth. He watched him anxiously.
"No," exclaimed Barbicane, after some moments, "no, we are not falling! no, we are already more than 50,000 leagues from the earth. We have passed the point at which the projectile would have stopped if its speed had only been 12,000 yards at starting. We are still going up."
"That is evident," replied Nicholl; "and we must conclude that our initial speed, under the power of the 400,000 pounds of gun-cotton, must have exceeded the required 12,000 yards. Now I can understand how, after thirteen minutes only, we met the second satellite, which gravitates round the earth at more than 2,000 leagues' distance."
"And this explanation is the more probable," added Barbicane, "Because, in throwing off the water enclosed between its partition-breaks, the projectile found itself lightened of a considerable weight."
"Just so," said Nicholl.
"Ah, my brave Nicholl, we are saved!"
"Very well then," said Michel Ardan quietly; "as we are safe, let us have breakfast."
Nicholl was not mistaken. The initial speed had been, very fortunately, much above that estimated by the Cambridge Observatory; but the Cambridge Observatory had nevertheless made a mistake.