From the Earth to the Moon
Chapter 16. The Columbiad
Had the casting succeeded? They were reduced to mere conjecture. There was indeed
every reason to expect success, since the mould has absorbed the entire mass of the
molten metal; still some considerable time must elapse before they could arrive at any
certainty upon the matter.
The patience of the members of the Gun Club was sorely tried during this period of time.
But they could do nothing. J. T. Maston escaped roasting by a miracle. Fifteen days after
the casting an immense column of smoke was still rising in the open sky and the ground
burned the soles of the feet within a radius of two hundred feet round the summit of
Stones Hill. It was impossible to approach nearer. All they could do was to wait with
what patience they might.
"Here we are at the 10th of August," exclaimed J. T. Maston one morning, "only four
months to the 1st of December! We shall never be ready in time!" Barbicane said
nothing, but his silence covered serious irritation.
However, daily observations revealed a certain change going on in the state of the
ground. About the 15th of August the vapors ejected had sensibly diminished in intensity
and thickness. Some days afterward the earth exhaled only a slight puff of smoke, the last
breath of the monster enclosed within its circle of stone. Little by little the belt of heat
contracted, until on the 22nd of August, Barbicane, his colleagues, and the engineer were
enabled to set foot on the iron sheet which lay level upon the summit of Stones Hill.
"At last!" exclaimed the president of the Gun Club, with an immense sigh of relief.
The work was resumed the same day. They proceeded at once to extract the interior
mould, for the purpose of clearing out the boring of the piece. Pickaxes and boring irons
were set to work without intermission. The clayey and sandy soils had acquired extreme
hardness under the action of the heat; but, by the aid of the machines, the rubbish on
being dug out was rapidly carted away on railway wagons; and such was the ardor of the
work, so persuasive the arguments of Barbicane's dollars, that by the 3rd of September all
traces of the mould had entirely disappeared.
Immediately the operation of boring was commenced; and by the aid of powerful
machines, a few weeks later, the inner surface of the immense tube had been rendered
perfectly cylindrical, and the bore of the piece had acquired a thorough polish.
At length, on the 22d of September, less than a twelvemonth after Barbicane's original
proposition, the enormous weapon, accurately bored, and exactly vertically pointed, was
ready for work. There was only the moon now to wait for; and they were pretty sure that
she would not fail in the rendezvous.