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Chapter XVIII: The Passenger of the Atlanta
If this astounding news, instead of flying through the electric
wires, had simply arrived by post in the ordinary sealed envelope,
Barbicane would not have hesitated a moment. He would have held his
tongue about it, both as a measure of prudence, and in order not to
have to reconsider his plans. This telegram might be a cover for
some jest, especially as it came from a Frenchman. What human being
would ever have conceived the idea of such a journey? and, if such
a person really existed, he must be an idiot, whom one would shut
up in a lunatic ward, rather than within the walls of the
The contents of the dispatch, however, speedily became known;
for the telegraphic officials possessed but little discretion, and
Michel Ardan’s proposition ran at once throughout the several
States of the Union. Barbicane, had, therefore, no further motives
for keeping silence. Consequently, he called together such of his
colleagues as were at the moment in Tampa Town, and without any
expression of his own opinions simply read to them the laconic text
itself. It was received with every possible variety of expressions
of doubt, incredulity, and derision from every one, with the
exception of J. T. Maston, who exclaimed, “It is a grand
When Barbicane originally proposed to send a shot to the moon
every one looked upon the enterprise as simple and practicable
enough— a mere question of gunnery; but when a person,
professing to be a reasonable being, offered to take passage within
the projectile, the whole thing became a farce, or, in plainer
language a humbug.
One question, however, remained. Did such a being exist? This
telegram flashed across the depths of the Atlantic, the designation
of the vessel on board which he was to take his passage, the date
assigned for his speedy arrival, all combined to impart a certain
character of reality to the proposal. They must get some clearer
notion of the matter. Scattered groups of inquirers at length
condensed themselves into a compact crowd, which made straight for
the residence of President Barbicane. That worthy individual was
keeping quiet with the intention of watching events as they arose.
But he had forgotten to take into account the public impatience;
and it was with no pleasant countenance that he watched the
population of Tampa Town gathering under his windows. The murmurs
and vociferations below presently obliged him to appear. He came
forward, therefore, and on silence being procured, a citizen put
point-blank to him the following question: “Is the person
mentioned in the telegram, under the name of Michel Ardan, on his
way here? Yes or no.”
“Gentlemen,” replied Barbicane, “I know no
more than you do.”
“We must know,” roared the impatient voices.
“Time will show,” calmly replied the president.
“Time has no business to keep a whole country in
suspense,” replied the orator. “Have you altered the
plans of the projectile according to the request of the
“Not yet, gentlemen; but you are right! we must have
better information to go by. The telegraph must complete its
“To the telegraph!” roared the crowd.
Barbicane descended; and heading the immense assemblage, led the
way to the telegraph office. A few minutes later a telegram was
dispatched to the secretary of the underwriters at Liverpool,
requesting answers to the following queries:
“About the ship Atlanta— when did she leave Europe?
Had she on board a Frenchman named Michel Ardan?”
Two hours afterward Barbicane received information too exact to
leave room for the smallest remaining doubt.
“The steamer Atlanta from Liverpool put to sea on the 2nd
of October, bound for Tampa Town, having on board a Frenchman borne
on the list of passengers by the name of Michel Ardan.”
That very evening he wrote to the house of Breadwill and Co.,
requesting them to suspend the casting of the projectile until the
receipt of further orders. On the 10th of October, at nine A.M.,
the semaphores of the Bahama Canal signaled a thick smoke on the
horizon. Two hours later a large steamer exchanged signals with
them. the name of the Atlanta flew at once over Tampa Town. At four
o’clock the English vessel entered the Bay of Espiritu Santo.
At five it crossed the passage of Hillisborough Bay at full steam.
At six she cast anchor at Port Tampa. The anchor had scarcely
caught the sandy bottom when five hundred boats surrounded the
Atlanta, and the steamer was taken by assault. Barbicane was the
first to set foot on deck, and in a voice of which he vainly tried
to conceal the emotion, called “Michel Ardan.”
“Here!” replied an individual perched on the
Barbicane, with arms crossed, looked fixedly at the passenger of
He was a man of about forty-two years of age, of large build,
but slightly round-shouldered. His massive head momentarily shook a
shock of reddish hair, which resembled a lion’s mane. His
face was short with a broad forehead, and furnished with a
moustache as bristly as a cat’s, and little patches of
yellowish whiskers upon full cheeks. Round, wildish eyes, slightly
near-sighted, completed a physiognomy essentially feline. His nose
was firmly shaped, his mouth particularly sweet in expression, high
forehead, intelligent and furrowed with wrinkles like a
newly-plowed field. The body was powerfully developed and firmly
fixed upon long legs. Muscular arms, and a general air of decision
gave him the appearance of a hardy, jolly, companion. He was
dressed in a suit of ample dimensions, loose neckerchief, open
shirtcollar, disclosing a robust neck; his cuffs were invariably
unbuttoned, through which appeared a pair of red hands.
On the bridge of the steamer, in the midst of the crowd, he
bustled to and fro, never still for a moment, “dragging his
anchors,” as the sailors say, gesticulating, making free with
everybody, biting his nails with nervous avidity. He was one of
those originals which nature sometimes invents in the freak of a
moment, and of which she then breaks the mould.
Among other peculiarities, this curiosity gave himself out for a
sublime ignoramus, “like Shakespeare,” and professed
supreme contempt for all scientific men. Those
“fellows,” as he called them, “are only fit to
mark the points, while we play the game.” He was, in fact, a
thorough Bohemian, adventurous, but not an adventurer; a
hare-brained fellow, a kind of Icarus, only possessing relays of
wings. For the rest, he was ever in scrapes, ending invariably by
falling on his feet, like those little figures which they sell for
children’s toys. In a few words, his motto was “I have
my opinions,” and the love of the impossible constituted his
Such was the passenger of the Atlanta, always excitable, as if
boiling under the action of some internal fire by the character of
his physical organization. If ever two individuals offered a
striking contrast to each other, these were certainly Michel Ardan
and the Yankee Barbicane; both, moreover, being equally
enterprising and daring, each in his own way.
The scrutiny which the president of the Gun Club had instituted
regarding this new rival was quickly interrupted by the shouts and
hurrahs of the crowd. The cries became at last so uproarious, and
the popular enthusiasm assumed so personal a form, that Michel
Ardan, after having shaken hands some thousands of times, at the
imminent risk of leaving his fingers behind him, was fain at last
to make a bolt for his cabin.
Barbicane followed him without uttering a word.
“You are Barbicane, I suppose?” said Michel Ardan,
in a tone of voice in which he would have addressed a friend of
twenty years’ standing.
“Yes,” replied the president of the Gun Club.
“All right! how d’ye do, Barbicane? how are you
getting on— pretty well? that’s right.”
“So,” said Barbicane without further preliminary,
“you are quite determined to go.”
“Nothing will stop you?”
“Nothing. Have you modified your projectile according to
“I waited for your arrival. But,” asked Barbicane
again, “have you carefully reflected?”
“Reflected? have I any time to spare? I find an
opportunity of making a tour in the moon, and I mean to profit by
it. There is the whole gist of the matter.”
Barbicane looked hard at this man who spoke so lightly of his
project with such complete absence of anxiety. “But, at
least,” said he, “you have some plans, some means of
carrying your project into execution?”
“Excellent, my dear Barbicane; only permit me to offer one
remark: My wish is to tell my story once for all, to everybody, and
then have done with it; then there will be no need for
recapitulation. So, if you have no objection, assemble your
friends, colleagues, the whole town, all Florida, all America if
you like, and to-morrow I shall be ready to explain my plans and
answer any objections whatever that may be advanced. You may rest
assured I shall wait without stirring. Will that suit
“All right,” replied Barbicane.
So saying, the president left the cabin and informed the crowd
of the proposal of Michel Ardan. His words were received with
clappings of hands and shouts of joy. They had removed all
difficulties. To-morrow every one would contemplate at his ease
this European hero. However, some of the spectators, more
infatuated than the rest, would not leave the deck of the Atlanta.
They passed the night on board. Among others J. T. Maston got his
hook fixed in the combing of the poop, and it pretty nearly
required the capstan to get it out again.
“He is a hero! a hero!” he cried, a theme of which
he was never tired of ringing the changes; “and we are only
like weak, silly women, compared with this European!”
As to the president, after having suggested to the visitors it
was time to retire, he re-entered the passenger’s cabin, and
remained there till the bell of the steamer made it midnight.
But then the two rivals in popularity shook hands heartily and
parted on terms of intimate friendship.
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