Even Alcide Pierdeux repeated it, and added: “Even if they did shoot, what is the difference? The earth will not stop waltzing on its old axis and turning as it used to do.”
In fact no one knew what had happened at Kilimanjaro. But at the close of the day an answer came to the question which was engrossing the attention of mankind.
A cablegram arrived in the United States, and here is what this dispatch, sent by Richard W. Trust, Consul at Zanzibar, contained:
“Zanzibar, Sept. 23, 7:25 A.M.” “To John S. Wright, Minister of State: “The cannon was fired off yesterday evening at midnight exactly by the device bored in the southern part of Kilimanjaro. Passage of the projectile was accompanied with a powerful whirr and terrible detonation. Whole provinces destroyed by the concussion of the air. Ocean agitated as far as the Mozambique channel. A large number of vessels disabled and thrown on the coast. Towns and villages destroyed. Everything else is well. RICHARD W. TRUST.” Yes, everything else went on well. Nothing had been changed in the state of worldly affairs save the terrible disasters produced in Wamasai, which was partly deluged by the artificial waterspout, and the shipwrecks which were produced by the current of air. The same thing precisely happened when the Columbiad threw its projectile to the moon. The shock to the ground of Florida, was it not felt through a radius of 100 miles? Yes, certainly, but this time the effect should have been a hundred times stronger.
Whatever had happened the dispatch gave two pieces of information to the interested people of the old and new worlds.
First—That the enormous cannon had been erected in the flank of Kilimanjaro.
Second—That the gun had been fired at the fixed hour. And now, the whole world uttered an exclamation of intense satisfaction, followed by a great burst of laughter.
The trial which Barbicane & Co. had made had entirely failed. The calculations of J.T. Maston were good only for the waste basket. The N.P.P.A. could only announce its failure. But, perhaps, it might be that the secretary of the Gun Club had made a mistake in his calculations.
“Rather would I believe that I have been mistaken in the affection which I feel for him,” said Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt.
But beyond all, the most discontented human being was J.T. Maston. When he saw that nothing had been changed in the movement of the earth, that the conditions remained precisely the same as they were since the creation, he hoped that some accident had prevented the success of Barbicane & Co., and that his associates had met with some disaster.
But there was the cablegram from Zanzibar which stated without a doubt that the operation had taken place.
Failed! ! And what of the formulas and calculations on which he had spent so much time? Is it possible that a cylinder 600 metres long, 27 metres wide, throwing a projectile of 180.000 kilograms, with the deflagration of 200 tons of melimelonite, with an initial velocity of 2,800 kilometres, would not be sufficient to move the earthly axis? It did not seem probable.
So J.T. Maston, in a state of violent excitement, declared that he would quit his retreat. Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt tried in vain to prevent it. Not that she feared for his life, as all danger of that sort had passed. But the insults which he would have to bear, the jokes which would be cracked about him, the remarks which would be made in regard to his work—she wanted to spare him from these. And then, moreover, what would his associates of the Gun Club say? Did they not have to thank this man for the want of success of their operation and for making them ridiculous? Was he not the man who had figured out the whole affair and on whose shoulders rested all the responsibility?
J.T. Maston would not listen to any one. He resisted the begging and tears of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. He went out of the house where he had kept himself hiding. He was recognized, and those who had trembled for fear of the consequences of his work now took revenge by joking and laughing at him, and this in many thousand different ways.