Then he began again: “Therefore, we come here, subscribers, and I ask you to rise and go with me to the North Pole immediately.” Everybody present got up and seemed about to rush away and pack their trunks, as if President Barbicane had a vessel ready to take them direct to the North Pole. But a remark made by Major Donellan in a clear and loud voice brought them back to reality and stopped them at once. “Before starting” he asked, “I would like to know by what means we can reach the North Pole?”
“Either by water, or land, or by air,” quietly answered President Barbicane.
All the people present sat down, and it may readily be understood with what a feeling of curiosity.
“In spite of all the devotion and courage of previous explorers, the eighty-fourth parallel has thus far been the northern limit reached. And it may fairly be supposed that this is as far north as anybody will ever get by the means employed at the present day. Up to the present time we have only used boats and vessels to reach the icebergs, and rafts to pass over the fields of ice. People should not adopt such rash means and face the dangers to which they are exposed through the low temperature. We must employ other means to reach the North Pole.”
It could be seen by the excitement which took hold of the auditors, that they were on the point of hearing the secret which has been so vigorously searched for by every one.
“And how will you reach it?” demanded the delegate of England.
“Before ten minutes have passed you will know it, Major Donellan,” said President Barbicane, “and I may add in addressing myself to all the stockholders, that they should have confidence in us as the promoters of this affair, for we are the same who have tried to send a projectile to the moon.”
“Yes,” cried Dean Toodrink, sarcastically, “they tried to go as far as the moon. And we can easily see that they are here yet.”
President Barbicane ignored the interruption. Shrugging his shoulders, he said in a loud voice: “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in ten minutes you will know what we are going to do.”
A murmur, made up of many “Ahs!” and “Ohs!” followed this remark. It seemed to them as if the orator had said in ten minutes they would be at the North Pole. He then continued in the following words:
“First of all, it is a continent which forms this arctic region, or it is an ocean, and has Commander Nares been right in calling it ‘paleocrystic ocean,’ which means an ocean of old ice? To this question I must answer that I think he was not right.”
This is not sufficient,” exclaimed Eric Baldenak. “It is not the question of supposing, it is the question of being certain.”
“Well, we are certain,” came the answer to this furious inquirer. “Yes, it is a solid continent and not an ice ocean which the N.P.P.A. has purchased and which now belongs to the United States and which no European power has the right to touch.”
A little murmur came from the neighborhood of the delegates of the Old World. “Bah!” they said. “It is full of water, a regular washbasin which you will not be able to empty.” Dean Toodrink as usual made most of the remarks and met the hearty applause of his associates. “No, sir,” answered President Barbicane, quickly. “There is a regular continent, a platform which rises like the Gobi desert in Central Asia, three or four kilometres above the surface of the ocean. This is very easy to be seen from the observations made in the neighboring countries, of which the polar region is only an extension.
“After their explorations have not Nordenskiold, Perry and Maaigaard stated that Greenland gets higher and higher towards the North Pole?
“Besides, they have found birds, different products and vegetables in the northern ice—ivory teeth also—which indicate that this region must have been inhabited and that animals must have been there, and perhaps people as well. There used to be large forests there, which must have been formed into coal-fields, which we will explore. Yes, there is a continent, without a doubt, around the North Pole—a continent free from all human beings, and on which we will place the banner of the United States.”
At this remark the auditors expressed great delight.