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Chapter Ninth.

The Resolute plunged along rapidly toward the Cape
of Good Hope, the weather continuing fine, although the
sea ran heavier.
On the 30th of March, twenty-seven days after the departure
from London, the Table Mountain loomed up on the horizon.
Cape City lying at the foot of an amphitheatre of hills,
could be distinguished through the ship's glasses, and soon
the Resolute cast anchor in the port. But the captain touched
there only to replenish his coal bunkers, and that was but a
day's job. On the morrow, he steered away to the south'ard,
so as to double the southernmost point of Africa, and enter
the Mozambique Channel.
This was not Joe's first sea-voyage, and so, for his
part, he soon found himself at home on board; every body
liked him for his frankness and good-humor. A considerable
share of his master's renown was reflected upon him.
He was listened to as an oracle, and he made no more
mistakes than the next one.
So, while the doctor was pursuing his descriptive course
of lecturing in the officers' mess, Joe reigned supreme
on the forecastle, holding forth in his own peculiar
manner, and making history to suit himself--a style of
procedure pursued, by the way, by the greatest historians
of all ages and nations.
The topic of discourse was, naturally, the aerial voyage.
Joe had experienced some trouble in getting the rebellious
spirits to believe in it; but, once accepted by them, nothing
connected with it was any longer an impossibility to the
imaginations of the seamen stimulated by Joe's harangues.
Our dazzling narrator persuaded his hearers that, after
this trip, many others still more wonderful would be undertaken.
In fact, it was to be but the first of a long series
of superhuman expeditions.
"You see, my friends, when a man has had a taste of that
kind of travelling, he can't get along afterward with any
other; so, on our next expedition, instead of going off to
one side, we'll go right ahead, going up, too, all the time."
"Humph! then you'll go to the moon!" said one of
the crowd, with a stare of amazement.
"To the moon!" exclaimed Joe, "To the moon! pooh!
that's too common. Every body might go to the moon,
that way. Besides, there's no water there, and you have
to carry such a lot of it along with you. Then you have
to take air along in bottles, so as to breathe."
"Ay! ay! that's all right! But can a man get a drop of
the real stuff there?" said a sailor who liked his toddy.
"Not a drop!" was Joe's answer. "No! old fellow,
not in the moon. But we're going to skip round among
those little twinklers up there--the stars--and the
splendid planets that my old man so often talks about. For
instance, we'll commence with Saturn--"
"That one with the ring?" asked the boatswain.
"Yes! the wedding-ring--only no one knows what's
become of his wife!"
"What? will you go so high up as that?" said one of
the ship-boys, gaping with wonder. "Why, your master
must be Old Nick himself."
"Oh! no, he's too good for that."
"But, after Saturn--what then?" was the next inquiry
of his impatient audience.
"After Saturn? Well, we'll visit Jupiter. A funny
place that is, too, where the days are only nine hours and
a half long--a good thing for the lazy fellows--and the
years, would you believe it--last twelve of ours, which is
fine for folks who have only six months to live. They get
off a little longer by that."
"Twelve years!" ejaculated the boy.
"Yes, my youngster; so that in that country you'd be
toddling after your mammy yet, and that old chap yonder,
who looks about fifty, would only be a little shaver of four
and a half."
"Blazes! that's a good 'un!" shouted the whole forecastle together.
"Solemn truth!" said Joe, stoutly.
"But what can you expect? When people will stay in
this world, they learn nothing and keep as ignorant as
bears. But just come along to Jupiter and you'll see.
But they have to look out up there, for he's got satellites
that are not just the easiest things to pass."
All the men laughed, but they more than half believed
him. Then he went on to talk about Neptune, where seafaring
men get a jovial reception, and Mars, where the
military get the best of the sidewalk to such an extent
that folks can hardly stand it. Finally, he drew them a
heavenly picture of the delights of Venus.
"And when we get back from that expedition," said the
indefatigable narrator, "they'll decorate us with the Southern
Cross that shines up there in the Creator's button-hole."
"Ay, and you'd have well earned it!" said the sailors.
Thus passed the long evenings on the forecastle in
merry chat, and during the same time the doctor went on
with his instructive discourses.
One day the conversation turned upon the means of
directing balloons, and the doctor was asked his opinion
about it.
"I don't think," said he, "that we shall succeed in finding
out a system of directing them. I am familiar with
all the plans attempted and proposed, and not one has
succeeded, not one is practicable. You may readily
understand that I have occupied my mind with this subject,
which was, necessarily, so interesting to me, but I have
not been able to solve the problem with the appliances
now known to mechanical science. We would have to
discover a motive power of extraordinary force, and
almost impossible lightness of machinery. And, even then,
we could not resist atmospheric currents of any considerable
strength. Until now, the effort has been rather to
direct the car than the balloon, and that has been one
great error."
"Still there are many points of resemblance between a
balloon and a ship which is directed at will."
"Not at all," retorted the doctor, "there is little or no
similarity between the two cases. Air is infinitely less
dense than water, in which the ship is only half submerged,
while the whole bulk of a balloon is plunged in the atmosphere,
and remains motionless with reference to the element
that surrounds it."
"You think, then, that aerostatic science has said its
last word?"
"Not at all! not at all! But we must look for another
point in the case, and if we cannot manage to guide our
balloon, we must, at least, try to keep it in favorable aerial
currents. In proportion as we ascend, the latter become
much more uniform and flow more constantly in one direction.
They are no longer disturbed by the mountains and
valleys that traverse the surface of the globe, and these,
you know, are the chief cause of the variations of the wind
and the inequality of their force. Therefore, these zones
having been once determined, the balloon will merely have
to be placed in the currents best adapted to its destination."
"But then," continued Captain Bennet, "in order to reach them,
you must keep constantly ascending or descending. That is the
real difficulty, doctor."
"And why, my dear captain?"
"Let us understand one another. It would be a difficulty
and an obstacle only for long journeys, and not for
short aerial excursions."
"And why so, if you please?"
"Because you can ascend only by throwing out ballast;
you can descend only after letting off gas, and by these
processes your ballast and your gas are soon exhausted."
"My dear sir, that's the whole question. There is the
only difficulty that science need now seek to overcome.
The problem is not how to guide the balloon, but how to
take it up and down without expending the gas which is
its strength, its life-blood, its soul, if I may use the
"You are right, my dear doctor; but this problem is
not yet solved; this means has not yet been discovered."
"I beg your pardon, it HAS been discovered."
"By whom?"
"By me!"
"By you?"
"You may readily believe that otherwise I should not
have risked this expedition across Africa in a balloon. In
twenty-four hours I should have been without gas!"
"But you said nothing about that in England?"
"No! I did not want to have myself overhauled in
public. I saw no use in that. I made my preparatory
experiments in secret and was satisfied. I have no occasion,
then, to learn any thing more from them."
"Well! doctor, would it be proper to ask what is
your secret?"
"Here it is, gentlemen--the simplest thing in the
The attention of his auditory was now directed to the
doctor in the utmost degree as he quietly proceeded with
his explanation.