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Chapter XXII. Recovered from the Sea
The spot where the projectile sank under the waves was exactly
known; but the machinery to grasp it and bring it to the surface of
the ocean was still wanting. It must first be invented, then made.
American engineers could not be troubled with such trifles. The
grappling-irons once fixed, by their help they were sure to raise
it in spite of its weight, which was lessened by the density of the
liquid in which it was plunged.
But fishing-up the projectile was not the only thing to be
thought of. They must act promptly in the interest of the
travelers. No one doubted that they were still living.
“Yes,” repeated J. T. Maston incessantly, whose
confidence gained over everybody, “our friends are clever
people, and they cannot have fallen like simpletons. They are
alive, quite alive; but we must make haste if we wish to find them
so. Food and water do not trouble me; they have enough for a long
while. But air, air, that is what they will soon want; so quick,
And they did go quick. They fitted up the Susquehanna for her
new destination. Her powerful machinery was brought to bear upon
the hauling-chains. The aluminum projectile only weighed 19,250
pounds, a weight very inferior to that of the transatlantic cable
which had been drawn up under similar conditions. The only
difficulty was in fishing up a cylindro-conical projectile, the
walls of which were so smooth as to offer no hold for the hooks. On
that account Engineer Murchison hastened to San Francisco, and had
some enormous grappling-irons fixed on an automatic system, which
would never let the projectile go if it once succeeded in seizing
it in its powerful claws. Diving-dresses were also prepared, which
through this impervious covering allowed the divers to observe the
bottom of the sea. He also had put on board an apparatus of
compressed air very cleverly designed. There were perfect chambers
pierced with scuttles, which, with water let into certain
compartments, could draw it down into great depths. These
apparatuses were at San Francisco, where they had been used in the
construction of a submarine breakwater; and very fortunately it was
so, for there was no time to construct any. But in spite of the
perfection of the machinery, in spite of the ingenuity of the
savants entrusted with the use of them, the success of the
operation was far from being certain. How great were the chances
against them, the projectile being 20,000 feet under the water! And
if even it was brought to the surface, how would the travelers have
borne the terrible shock which 20,000 feet of water had perhaps not
sufficiently broken? At any rate they must act quickly. J. T.
Maston hurried the workmen day and night. He was ready to don the
diving-dress himself, or try the air apparatus, in order to
reconnoiter the situation of his courageous friends.
But in spite of all the diligence displayed in preparing the
different engines, in spite of the considerable sum placed at the
disposal of the Gun Club by the Government of the Union, five long
days (five centuries!) elapsed before the preparations were
complete. During this time public opinion was excited to the
highest pitch. Telegrams were exchanged incessantly throughout the
entire world by means of wires and electric cables. The saving of
Barbicane, Nicholl, and Michel Ardan was an international affair.
Every one who had subscribed to the Gun Club was directly
interested in the welfare of the travelers.
At length the hauling-chains, the air-chambers, and the
automatic grappling-irons were put on board. J. T. Maston, Engineer
Murchison, and the delegates of the Gun Club, were already in their
cabins. They had but to start, which they did on the 21st of
December, at eight o’clock at night, the corvette meeting
with a beautiful sea, a northeasterly wind, and rather sharp cold.
The whole population of San Francisco was gathered on the quay,
greatly excited but silent, reserving their hurrahs for the return.
Steam was fully up, and the screw of the Susquehanna carried them
briskly out of the bay.
It is needless to relate the conversations on board between the
officers, sailors, and passengers. All these men had but one
thought. All these hearts beat under the same emotion. While they
were hastening to help them, what were Barbicane and his companions
doing? What had become of them? Were they able to attempt any bold
maneuver to regain their liberty? None could say. The truth is that
every attempt must have failed! Immersed nearly four miles under
the ocean, this metal prison defied every effort of its
On the 23rd inst., at eight in the morning, after a rapid
passage, the Susquehanna was due at the fatal spot. They must wait
till twelve to take the reckoning exactly. The buoy to which the
sounding line had been lashed had not yet been recognized.
At twelve, Captain Blomsberry, assisted by his officers who
superintended the observations, took the reckoning in the presence
of the delegates of the Gun Club. Then there was a moment of
anxiety. Her position decided, the Susquehanna was found to be some
minutes westward of the spot where the projectile had disappeared
beneath the waves.
The ship’s course was then changed so as to reach this
At forty-seven minutes past twelve they reached the buoy; it was
in perfect condition, and must have shifted but little.
“At last!” exclaimed J. T. Maston.
“Shall we begin?” asked Captain Blomsberry.
“Without losing a second.”
Every precaution was taken to keep the corvette almost
completely motionless. Before trying to seize the projectile,
Engineer Murchison wanted to find its exact position at the bottom
of the ocean. The submarine apparatus destined for this expedition
was supplied with air. The working of these engines was not without
danger, for at 20,000 feet below the surface of the water, and
under such great pressure, they were exposed to fracture, the
consequences of which would be dreadful.
J. T. Maston, the brothers Blomsberry, and Engineer Murchison,
without heeding these dangers, took their places in the
air-chamber. The commander, posted on his bridge, superintended the
operation, ready to stop or haul in the chains on the slightest
signal. The screw had been shipped, and the whole power of the
machinery collected on the capstan would have quickly drawn the
apparatus on board. The descent began at twenty-five minutes past
one at night, and the chamber, drawn under by the reservoirs full
of water, disappeared from the surface of the ocean.
The emotion of the officers and sailors on board was now divided
between the prisoners in the projectile and the prisoners in the
submarine apparatus. As to the latter, they forgot themselves, and,
glued to the windows of the scuttles, attentively watched the
liquid mass through which they were passing.
The descent was rapid. At seventeen minutes past two, J. T.
Maston and his companions had reached the bottom of the Pacific;
but they saw nothing but an arid desert, no longer animated by
either fauna or flora. By the light of their lamps, furnished with
powerful reflectors, they could see the dark beds of the ocean for
a considerable extent of view, but the projectile was nowhere to be
The impatience of these bold divers cannot be described, and
having an electrical communication with the corvette, they made a
signal already agreed upon, and for the space of a mile the
Susquehanna moved their chamber along some yards above the
Thus they explored the whole submarine plain, deceived at every
turn by optical illusions which almost broke their hearts. Here a
rock, there a projection from the ground, seemed to be the
much-sought-for projectile; but their mistake was soon discovered,
and then they were in despair.
“But where are they? where are they?” cried J. T.
Maston. And the poor man called loudly upon Nicholl, Barbicane, and
Michel Ardan, as if his unfortunate friends could either hear or
answer him through such an impenetrable medium! The search
continued under these conditions until the vitiated air compelled
the divers to ascend.
The hauling in began about six in the evening, and was not ended
“To-morrow,” said J. T. Maston, as he set foot on
the bridge of the corvette.
“Yes,” answered Captain Blomsberry.
“And on another spot?”
J. T. Maston did not doubt of their final success, but his
companions, no longer upheld by the excitement of the first hours,
understood all the difficulty of the enterprise. What seemed easy
at San Francisco, seemed here in the wide ocean almost impossible.
The chances of success diminished in rapid proportion; and it was
from chance alone that the meeting with the projectile might be
The next day, the 24th, in spite of the fatigue of the previous
day, the operation was renewed. The corvette advanced some minutes
to westward, and the apparatus, provided with air, bore the same
explorers to the depths of the ocean.
The whole day passed in fruitless research; the bed of the sea
was a desert. The 25th brought no other result, nor the 26th.
It was disheartening. They thought of those unfortunates shut up
in the projectile for twenty-six days. Perhaps at that moment they
were experiencing the first approach of suffocation; that is, if
they had escaped the dangers of their fall. The air was spent, and
doubtless with the air all their morale.
“The air, possibly,” answered J. T. Maston
resolutely, “but their morale never!”
On the 28th, after two more days of search, all hope was gone.
This projectile was but an atom in the immensity of the ocean. They
must give up all idea of finding it.
But J. T. Maston would not hear of going away. He would not
abandon the place without at least discovering the tomb of his
friends. But Commander Blomsberry could no longer persist, and in
spite of the exclamations of the worthy secretary, was obliged to
give the order to sail.
On the 29th of December, at nine A.M., the Susquehanna, heading
northeast, resumed her course to the bay of San Francisco.
It was ten in the morning; the corvette was under half-steam, as
it was regretting to leave the spot where the catastrophe had taken
place, when a sailor, perched on the main-top-gallant crosstrees,
watching the sea, cried suddenly:
“A buoy on the lee bow!”
The officers looked in the direction indicated, and by the help
of their glasses saw that the object signalled had the appearance
of one of those buoys which are used to mark the passages of bays
or rivers. But, singularly to say, a flag floating on the wind
surmounted its cone, which emerged five or six feet out of water.
This buoy shone under the rays of the sun as if it had been made of
plates of silver. Commander Blomsberry, J. T. Maston, and the
delegates of the Gun Club were mounted on the bridge, examining
this object straying at random on the waves.
All looked with feverish anxiety, but in silence. None dared
give expression to the thoughts which came to the minds of all.
The corvette approached to within two cables’ lengths of
A shudder ran through the whole crew. That flag was the American
At this moment a perfect howling was heard; it was the brave J.
T. Maston who had just fallen all in a heap. Forgetting on the one
hand that his right arm had been replaced by an iron hook, and on
the other that a simple gutta-percha cap covered his brain-box, he
had given himself a formidable blow.
They hurried toward him, picked him up, restored him to life.
And what were his first words?
“Ah! trebly brutes! quadruply idiots! quintuply boobies
that we are!”
“What is it?” exclaimed everyone around him.
“What is it?”
“It is, simpletons,” howled the terrible secretary,
“it is that the projectile only weighs 19,250
“And that it displaces twenty-eight tons, or in other
words 56,000 pounds, and that consequently it floats!”
Ah! what stress the worthy man had laid on the verb
“float!” And it was true! All, yes! all these savants
had forgotten this fundamental law, namely, that on account of its
specific lightness, the projectile, after having been drawn by its
fall to the greatest depths of the ocean, must naturally return to
the surface. And now it was floating quietly at the mercy of the
The boats were put to sea. J. T. Maston and his friends had
rushed into them! Excitement was at its height! Every heart beat
loudly while they advanced to the projectile. What did it contain?
Living or dead?
Living, yes! living, at least unless death had struck Barbicane
and his two friends since they had hoisted the flag. Profound
silence reigned on the boats. All were breathless. Eyes no longer
saw. One of the scuttles of the projectile was open. Some pieces of
glass remained in the frame, showing that it had been broken. This
scuttle was actually five feet above the water.
A boat came alongside, that of J. T. Maston, and J. T. Maston
rushed to the broken window.
At that moment they heard a clear and merry voice, the voice of
Michel Ardan, exclaiming in an accent of triumph:
“White all, Barbicane, white all!”
Barbicane, Michel Ardan, and Nicholl were playing at
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