The Mysterious Island
"Are we rising again?" "No. On the contrary." "Are we descending?" "Worse than
that, captain! we are falling!" "For Heaven's sake heave out the ballast!" "There!
the last sack is empty!" "Does the balloon rise?" "No!" "I hear a noise like the
dashing of waves. The sea is below the car! It cannot be more than 500 feet from
us!" "Overboard with every weight! ...everything!"
Such were the loud and startling words which resounded through the air, above
the vast watery desert of the Pacific, about four o'clock in the evening of the 23rd
of March, 1865.
Few can possibly have forgotten the terrible storm from the northeast, in the
middle of the equinox of that year. The tempest raged without intermission from
the 18th to the 26th of March. Its ravages were terrible in America, Europe, and
Asia, covering a distance of eighteen hundred miles, and extending obliquely to
the equator from the thirty-fifth north parallel to the fortieth south parallel. Towns
were overthrown, forests uprooted, coasts devastated by the mountains of water
which were precipitated on them, vessels cast on the shore, which the published
accounts numbered by hundreds, whole districts leveled by waterspouts which
destroyed everything they passed over, several thousand people crushed on
land or drowned at sea; such were the traces of its fury, left by this devastating
tempest. It surpassed in disasters those which so frightfully ravaged Havana and
Guadalupe, one on the 25th of October, 1810, the other on the 26th of July,
But while so many catastrophes were taking place on land and at sea, a drama
not less exciting was being enacted in the agitated air.
In fact, a balloon, as a ball might be carried on the summit of a waterspout, had
been taken into the circling movement of a column of air and had traversed
space at the rate of ninety miles an hour, turning round and round as if seized by
some aerial maelstrom.
Beneath the lower point of the balloon swung a car, containing five passengers,
scarcely visible in the midst of the thick vapor mingled with spray which hung
over the surface of the ocean.
Whence, it may be asked, had come that plaything of the tempest? From what
part of the world did it rise? It surely could not have started during the storm. But
the storm had raged five days already, and the first symptoms were manifested