Far from it. People who are competent to speak, and who look into the future for hundreds of years, always allude to this coal famine. “But,” say the opposing party—and in the United States there are many people who like to contradict for the mere sake of argument, and who take pleasure in contradicting—”Why should there be coal around the North Pole?”
“Why?” answered those who took the part of President Barbicane, “because, very probably at the geological formation of the world, the sun was such that the difference of temperature around the equator and the poles were not appreciable. Then immense forests covered this unknown polar region a long time before mankind appeared, and when our planet was submitted to the incessant action of heat and humidity. This theory the journals, magazines, and reviews publish in a thousand different articles either in a joking or serious way. And these large forests, which disappeared with the gigantic changes of the earth before it had taken its present form, must certainly have changed and transformed under the lapse of time and the action of internal heat and water into coal mines. Therefore nothing seemed more admissible than this theory, and that the North Pole would open a large field to those who were able to mine it. These are facts, undeniable facts. Even people who only calculated on simple probabilities could not deny them. And these facts led many people to have great faith in them.
It was on this subject that Major Donellan and his secretary were talking together one day in the most obscure corner of the “Two Friends” inn. “Well,” said Dean Toodrink, “there is a possibility that this Barbicane (who I hope may be hanged some day) is right.”
“It is probable,” said Major Donellan, “and I will almost admit that it is certain. There will be fortunes made in exploring this region around the pole. If North America possesses so many coal mines and, according to the papers, new ones are discovered quite frequently, it is not at all improbable that there are many yet to be discovered. I may add that Prof. Nordenskiol has found many kinds of different stones which contain a great variety of fossil plants in his researches in the Arctic region.”
“Higher up?” asked Dean Toodrink.
“Higher up, or rather further up, in a northerly direction,” answered the Major, “the presence of coal is practically established, and it seems as if you would only have to bend down to pick it up. Well, if coal is so plentiful on the surface of these countries, it is right to conclude that its beds must go all through the crust of the globe.” He was right. Major Donellan knew the geological formation around the North Pole well, and he was not a safe person to dispute this question with. And he might have talked about it at length if other people in the inn had not listened. But he thought it better to keep quiet after asking: “Are you not surprised at one thing? One would expect to see engineers or at least navigators figure in this matter, while there are only gunners at the head of it?”
It is not surprising that the newspapers of the civilized world soon began to discuss the question of coal discoveries at the North Pole.
“And why not,” asked the editor of an American paper who took the part of President Barbicane, “when it is remembered that Capt. Nares, in 1875 and 1876, at the eighty-second degree of latitude, discovered large flower-beds, hazel trees, poplars, beech trees, etc.?”
“And in 1881 and 1884,” added a scientific publication of New York, “during the expedition of Lieut. Greely at Lady Franklin Bay, was not a layer of coal discovered by our explorers a little way from Fort Conger, near Waterhouse? And did not Dr. Pavy say that these countries are certainly full of coal, perhaps placed there to combat at some day the terrible masses of ice which are found there?”
Against such well-established facts brought out by American discoverers the enemies of President Barbicane did not know what to answer. And the people who asked why should there be coal mines began to surrender to the people who asked why should there be none.