From the Earth to the Moon
Chapter 18. 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 projectile.
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 idea, however!"
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.