The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in Southern Africa/Chapter XXIII

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The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in Southern Africa by Jules Verne
Chapter XXIII
Meridiana: The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in South Africa.


Palander's wounds were not serious: the bushman dressed the contused limbs with herbs, and the worthy astronomer, sustained by his triumph, was soon able to travel. Any exuberance on his part, however, was of short duration, and he quickly became again engrossed in his world of figures. He only now retained one of the registers, because it had been thought prudent that Emery should take possession of the other. Under the circumstances, Palander made the surrender with entire good-humour.

The operation of seeking a plain suitable for a base was now resumed. On the 1st of April the march was somewhat retarded by wide marshes; to these succeeded numerous pools, whose waters spread a pestilential odour; but, by forming larger triangles, Colonel Everest and his companions soon escaped the unhealthy region.

The whole party were in excellent spirits. Zorn and Emery often congratulated themselves on the apparent concord that existed between their chiefs. Zorn one day expressed his hope to his friend that when they returned to Europe they would find that peace had been concluded between England and Russia, so that they might remain as good friends as they had been in Africa.

Emery replied that he acquiesced entirely in the hope: in days when war is seldom long protracted they might be sanguine all would be terminated by the date of their return.

Zorn had already understood from Emery that it was not his intention to return immediately to the Cape, and expressed his hope that he might introduce him to the observatory at Kiew. This proposal Emery expressed his desire to embrace, and added that he should indulge the expectation that Zorn would at some future time visit the Cape.

With these mutual assignations they made their plans for future astronomical researches, ever reiterating their hopes that the war would be at an end.

“Anyhow,” observed Emery, “Russia and England will be at peace before the Colonel and Strux; I have no trust in any reconciliation of theirs.”

For themselves, they could only repeat their pledges of mutual good-will.

Eleven days after the adventure with the chacmas, the little troop, not far from the Zambesi Falls, arrived at a level plain several miles in extent, and perfectly adapted for the establishment of a base. On the edge of the plain rose a native village, composed of a few huts containing a small number of inhabitants, who kindly received the Europeans. Colonel Everest found the proximity of the natives very opportune, since the measurement of the base would occupy a month, and being without waggons, or any materials for an encampment, he would have had no resource but to pass the time in the open air, with no other shelter than that afforded by the foliage.

The astronomers took up their abode in the huts, which were quickly appropriated for the use of their new occupants. Their requirements were but small; their one thought was directed towards verifying their calculations by measuring the last side of their last triangle.

The astronomers at once proceeded to their work. The trestles and platinum rods were arranged with all the care that had been applied to the earliest base. Nothing was neglected; all the conditions of the atmosphere, and the variations of the thermometer, were taken into account, and the Commission, without flagging, brought every energy to bear upon their final operation.

The work, which lasted for five weeks, was completed on the 15th of May. When the lengths obtained had been estimated and reduced to the mean level of the sea at the temperature of 61° Fahrenheit, Palander and Emery presented to their colleagues the following numbers:—

New base actually measured   5075.25
The same base deduced trigonometrlcally from the entire series   5075.11
Difference between the calculation and the observation   .14

Thus there was only a difference of less than 1/6 of a toise that is to say, less than ten inches; yet the first base and the last were six hundred miles apart.

When the meridian of France was measured from Dunkirk to Perpignan, the difference between the base at Melunand that at Perpignan was eleven inches. The agreement obtained by the Anglo-Russian Commission was still more remarkable, and thus made the work accomplished in the deserts of Africa, amid dangers of every kind, more perfect than any previous geodetic operation.

The accuracy of this unprecedented result was greeted by the astronomers with repeated cheers.

According to Palander's reductions, the value of a degree in this part of the world was 57037 toises. This was within a toise, the same as was found by Lacaille at the Cape in 1752: thus, at the interval of a century, the French astronomer and the members of the Anglo-Russian Commission had arrived at almost exactly the same result.

To deduce the value of the mètre, they would have to wait the issue of the operations which were to be afterwards undertaken in the northern hemisphere. This value was to be the 1/10000000 of the quadrant of the terrestrial meridian. According to previous calculations, the quadrant, taking the depression of the earth into account, comprised 10,000,856 metres, which brought the exact length of the mètre to .013074 of a toise, or 3 feet 0 inches 11.296 lines. Whether this was correct the subsequent labours of the Commission would have to decide.

•    •    •    •    •

The astronomers had now entirely finished their task, and it only remained for them to reach the mouth of the Zambesi, by following inversely the route afterwards taken by Dr. Livingstone in his second voyage from 1858 to 1864.

On the 25th of May, after a somewhat laborious journey across a country intersected with rivers, they reached the Victoria Falls. These fine cataracts fully justified their native name, which signifies “sounding smoke.” Sheets of water a mile wide, crowned with a double rainbow, rushed from a height twice that of Niagara. Across the deep basalt chasm the enormous torrent produced a roar like peal after peal of thunder.

Below the cataract, where the river regained its calmness, the steamboat, which had arrived a fortnight previously by an inferior affluent of the Zambesi, awaited the astronomers, who soon took their places on board.

There were two to be left behind. Mokoum and the pioneer stood on the bank. In Mokoum the English were leaving, not only a devoted guide, but one whom they might call a friend. Sir John was especially sorry to part from him, and had offered to take him to Europe, and there entertain him as long as he pleased to remain. But Mokoum had previous engagements; in fact, he was to accompany Livingstone on the second voyage which the brave traveller was about to undertake up the Zambesi, and Mokoum was not a man to depart from his word. He was presented with a substantial recompense, and, what he prized still more, the kind assurances of regard of the Europeans, who acknowledged how much they owed to him. As the steamer left the shore to take the current in the middle of the river, Sir John's last gesture was to wave an adieu to his associate.

The descent of the great river, whose banks were dotted with numerous villages, was soon accomplished. The natives, regarding with superstitious admiration the smoking vessel as it moved by mysterious mechanism, made no attempt to obstruct its progress.

On the 15th of June the Colonel and his companions arrived at Quilimane, one of the principal towns at the mouth of the Zambesi. Their first thought was to ask for news of the war. They found that it had not yet come to a termination, and that Sebastopol was still holding out against the allied armies. This was a disappointment to the Europeans, now so united in one scientific object; but they received the intelligence in silence, and prepared to start. An Austrian merchant-vessel, “La Novara,” was just setting out for Suez; in that they resolved to take their passage.

Three days after, as they were on the point of embarking, the Colonel assembled his colleagues, and in a calm voice reminded them how in the last eighteen months they had together experienced many trials, and how they had been rewarded by accomplishing a work which would call forth the admiration of all scientific Europe. He could not refrain from giving expression to his trust that they would feel themselves bound in the common fellowship of a true alliance.

Strux bowed slightly, but did not interrupt the Colonel, who proceeded to deplore the tidings of the continuation of warfare. When he referred to the expected capitulation of Sebastopol, Strux indignantly rejected the possibility of such an event, which no union of France and England, he maintained, could ever effect.

There was, however, it was admitted on all hands, a propriety in the Russians and English submitting to the national status of hostility. The necessities of their position were thus clearly defined, and under these conditions they embarked in company on board “La Novara.”

In a few days they arrived at Suez. At the moment of separation Emery grasped Zorn's hand, and said,—

“We are always friends, Michael!”

“Always and every where, William!” ejaculated Zorn; and with this sentiment of mutual devotion they parted.

The Commission was dissolved.