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Chapter 2. President Barbicane's Communication
On the 5th of October, at eight p.m., a dense crowd pressed toward the saloons of the
Gun Club at No. 21 Union Square. All the members of the association resident in
Baltimore attended the invitation of their president. As regards the corresponding
members, notices were delivered by hundreds throughout the streets of the city, and, large
as was the great hall, it was quite inadequate to accommodate the crowd of savants. They
overflowed into the adjoining rooms, down the narrow passages, into the outer
courtyards. There they ran against the vulgar herd who pressed up to the doors, each
struggling to reach the front ranks, all eager to learn the nature of the important
communication of President Barbicane; all pushing, squeezing, crushing with that perfect
freedom of action which is so peculiar to the masses when educated in ideas of "self-
On that evening a stranger who might have chanced to be in Baltimore could not have
gained admission for love or money into the great hall. That was reserved exclusively for
resident or corresponding members; no one else could possibly have obtained a place;
and the city magnates, municipal councilors, and "select men" were compelled to mingle
with the mere townspeople in order to catch stray bits of news from the interior.
Nevertheless the vast hall presented a curious spectacle. Its immense area was singularly
adapted to the purpose. Lofty pillars formed of cannon, superposed upon huge mortars as
a base, supported the fine ironwork of the arches, a perfect piece of cast-iron lacework.
Trophies of blunderbuses, matchlocks, arquebuses, carbines, all kinds of firearms, ancient
and modern, were picturesquely interlaced against the walls. The gas lit up in full glare
myriads of revolvers grouped in the form of lustres, while groups of pistols, and
candelabra formed of muskets bound together, completed this magnificent display of
brilliance. Models of cannon, bronze castings, sights covered with dents, plates battered
by the shots of the Gun Club, assortments of rammers and sponges, chaplets of shells,
wreaths of projectiles, garlands of howitzers-- in short, all the apparatus of the artillerist,
enchanted the eye by this wonderful arrangement and induced a kind of belief that their
real purpose was ornamental rather than deadly.
At the further end of the saloon the president, assisted by four secretaries, occupied a
large platform. His chair, supported by a carved gun-carriage, was modeled upon the
ponderous proportions of a 32-inch mortar. It was pointed at an angle of ninety degrees,
and suspended upon truncheons, so that the president could balance himself upon it as
upon a rocking-chair, a very agreeable fact in the very hot weather. Upon the table (a
huge iron plate supported upon six carronades) stood an inkstand of exquisite elegance,
made of a beautifully chased Spanish piece, and a sonnette, which, when required, could
give forth a report equal to that of a revolver. During violent debates this novel kind of
bell scarcely sufficed to drown the clamor of these excitable artillerists.
In front of the table benches arranged in zigzag form, like the circumvallations of a
retrenchment, formed a succession of bastions and curtains set apart for the use of the