Back | Round the Moon | Next
Chapter XX. The Soundings of the Susquehanna
Well, lieutenant, and our soundings?”
“I think, sir, that the operation is nearing its
completion,” replied Lieutenant Bronsfield. “But who
would have thought of finding such a depth so near in shore, and
only 200 miles from the American coast?”
“Certainly, Bronsfield, there is a great
depression,” said Captain Blomsberry. “In this spot
there is a submarine valley worn by Humboldt’s current, which
skirts the coast of America as far as the Straits of
“These great depths,” continued the lieutenant,
“are not favorable for laying telegraphic cables. A level
bottom, like that supporting the American cable between Valentia
and Newfoundland, is much better.”
“I agree with you, Bronsfield. With your permission,
lieutenant, where are we now?”
“Sir, at this moment we have 3,508 fathoms of line out,
and the ball which draws the sounding lead has not yet touched the
bottom; for if so, it would have come up of itself.”
“Brook’s apparatus is very ingenious,” said
Captain Blomsberry; “it gives us very exact
“Touch!” cried at this moment one of the men at the
forewheel, who was superintending the operation.
The captain and the lieutenant mounted the quarterdeck.
“What depth have we?” asked the captain.
“Three thousand six hundred and twenty-seven
fathoms,” replied the lieutenant, entering it in his
“Well, Bronsfield,” said the captain, “I will
take down the result. Now haul in the sounding line. It will be the
work of some hours. In that time the engineer can light the
furnaces, and we shall be ready to start as soon as you have
finished. It is ten o’clock, and with your permission,
lieutenant, I will turn in.”
“Do so, sir; do so!” replied the lieutenant
The captain of the Susquehanna, as brave a man as need be, and
the humble servant of his officers, returned to his cabin, took a
brandy-grog, which earned for the steward no end of praise, and
turned in, not without having complimented his servant upon his
making beds, and slept a peaceful sleep.
It was then ten at night. The eleventh day of the month of
December was drawing to a close in a magnificent night.
The Susquehanna, a corvette of 500 horse-power, of the United
States navy, was occupied in taking soundings in the Pacific Ocean
about 200 miles off the American coast, following that long
peninsula which stretches down the coast of Mexico.
The wind had dropped by degrees. There was no disturbance in the
air. The pennant hung motionless from the maintop-gallant- mast
Captain Jonathan Blomsberry (cousin-german of Colonel
Blomsberry, one of the most ardent supporters of the Gun Club, who
had married an aunt of the captain and daughter of an honorable
Kentucky merchant)— Captain Blomsberry could not have wished
for finer weather in which to bring to a close his delicate
operations of sounding. His corvette had not even felt the great
tempest, which by sweeping away the groups of clouds on the Rocky
Mountains, had allowed them to observe the course of the famous
Everything went well, and with all the fervor of a Presbyterian,
he did not forget to thank heaven for it. The series of soundings
taken by the Susquehanna, had for its aim the finding of a
favorable spot for the laying of a submarine cable to connect the
Hawaiian Islands with the coast of America.
It was a great undertaking, due to the instigation of a powerful
company. Its managing director, the intelligent Cyrus Field,
purposed even covering all the islands of Oceanica with a vast
electrical network, an immense enterprise, and one worthy of
To the corvette Susquehanna had been confided the first
operations of sounding. It was on the night of the 11th-12th of
December, she was in exactly 27° 7’ north latitude, and 41°
37’ west longitude, on the meridian of Washington.
The moon, then in her last quarter, was beginning to rise above
After the departure of Captain Blomsberry, the lieutenant and
some officers were standing together on the poop. On the appearance
of the moon, their thoughts turned to that orb which the eyes of a
whole hemisphere were contemplating. The best naval glasses could
not have discovered the projectile wandering around its hemisphere,
and yet all were pointed toward that brilliant disc which millions
of eyes were looking at at the same moment.
“They have been gone ten days,” said Lieutenant
Bronsfield at last. “What has become of them?”
“They have arrived, lieutenant,” exclaimed a young
midshipman, “and they are doing what all travelers do when
they arrive in a new country, taking a walk!”
“Oh! I am sure of that, if you tell me so, my young
friend,” said Lieutenant Bronsfield, smiling.
“But,” continued another officer, “their
arrival cannot be doubted. The projectile was to reach the moon
when full on the 5th at midnight. We are now at the 11th of
December, which makes six days. And in six times twenty-four hours,
without darkness, one would have time to settle comfortably. I
fancy I see my brave countrymen encamped at the bottom of some
valley, on the borders of a Selenite stream, near a projectile
half-buried by its fall amid volcanic rubbish, Captain Nicholl
beginning his leveling operations, President Barbicane writing out
his notes, and Michel Ardan embalming the lunar solitudes with the
perfume of his——”
“Yes! it must be so, it is so!” exclaimed the young
midshipman, worked up to a pitch of enthusiasm by this ideal
description of his superior officer.
“I should like to believe it,” replied the
lieutenant, who was quite unmoved. “Unfortunately direct news
from the lunar world is still wanting.”
“Beg pardon, lieutenant,” said the midshipman,
“but cannot President Barbicane write?”
A burst of laughter greeted this answer.
“No letters!” continued the young man quickly.
“The postal administration has something to see to
“Might it not be the telegraphic service that is at
fault?” asked one of the officers ironically.
“Not necessarily,” replied the midshipman, not at
all confused. “But it is very easy to set up a graphic
communication with the earth.”
“By means of the telescope at Long’s Peak. You know
it brings the moon to within four miles of the Rocky Mountains, and
that it shows objects on its surface of only nine feet in diameter.
Very well; let our industrious friends construct a giant alphabet;
let them write words three fathoms long, and sentences three miles
long, and then they can send us news of themselves.”
The young midshipman, who had a certain amount of imagination,
was loudly applauded; Lieutenant Bronsfield allowing that the idea
was possible, but observing that if by these means they could
receive news from the lunar world they could not send any from the
terrestrial, unless the Selenites had instruments fit for taking
distant observations at their disposal.
“Evidently,” said one of the officers; “but
what has become of the travelers? what they have done, what they
have seen, that above all must interest us. Besides, if the
experiment has succeeded (which I do not doubt), they will try it
again. The Columbiad is still sunk in the soil of Florida. It is
now only a question of powder and shot; and every time the moon is
at her zenith a cargo of visitors may be sent to her.”
“It is clear,” replied Lieutenant Bronsfield,
“that J. T. Maston will one day join his friends.”
“If he will have me,” cried the midshipman, “I
“Oh! volunteers will not be wanting,” answered
Bronsfield; “and if it were allowed, half of the
earth’s inhabitants would emigrate to the moon!”
This conversation between the officers of the Susquehanna was
kept up until nearly one in the morning. We cannot say what
blundering systems were broached, what inconsistent theories
advanced by these bold spirits. Since Barbicane’s attempt,
nothing seemed impossible to the Americans. They had already
designed an expedition, not only of savants, but of a whole colony
toward the Selenite borders, and a complete army, consisting of
infantry, artillery, and cavalry, to conquer the lunar world.
At one in the morning, the hauling in of the sounding-line was
not yet completed; 1,670 fathoms were still out, which would entail
some hours’ work. According to the commander’s orders,
the fires had been lighted, and steam was being got up. The
Susquehanna could have started that very instant.
At that moment (it was seventeen minutes past one in the
morning) Lieutenant Bronsfield was preparing to leave the watch and
return to his cabin, when his attention was attracted by a distant
hissing noise. His comrades and himself first thought that this
hissing was caused by the letting off of steam; but lifting their
heads, they found that the noise was produced in the highest
regions of the air. They had not time to question each other before
the hissing became frightfully intense, and suddenly there appeared
to their dazzled eyes an enormous meteor, ignited by the rapidity
of its course and its friction through the atmospheric strata.
This fiery mass grew larger to their eyes, and fell, with the
noise of thunder, upon the bowsprit, which it smashed close to the
stem, and buried itself in the waves with a deafening roar!
A few feet nearer, and the Susquehanna would have foundered with
all on board!
At this instant Captain Blomsberry appeared, half-dressed, and
rushing on to the forecastle-deck, whither all the officers had
hurried, exclaimed, “With your permission, gentlemen, what
And the midshipman, making himself as it were the echo of the
body, cried, “Commander, it is ‘they’ come back
Back | Round the Moon | Next