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Topsy-Turvy By Jules Verne Characters: 22658

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

One thing was evident to the whole world at once, namely, that if the new association should succeed in buying the Arctic regions, those regions would become absolutely the property of America or rather of the United States, a country which was always trying to acquire something. This was not a pleasing prospect to rival governments, but nevertheless, as has been said, the different States of Europe and of Asia not neighboring to these regions, refused to take part in the proposed auction sale so long as its results seemed so problematical to them. Only the powers whose property touched the eighty-fourth degree resolved to make their rights valuable by the attendance of official delegates. That was all. They did not care to buy even at a relatively moderate price land the possession of which was only a possibility. In this as in all cases insatiable England gave orders to its financial agents to make an imposing showing. The cession of the polar countries did not threaten any European trouble nor any international complication. Herr von Bismarck, the grand Iron Chancellor, who was yet living, did not even knit his heavy brow. There remained only England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland and Russia to be present and make their bids to the Commissioner of Baltimore, against those of the United States.

It was a difficult matter to fix prices for this polar earth cap, the business value of which was at least very problematic. Their main reason for presenting themselves at the sale was that some advantage might accrue to them. Sweden and Norway, proprietors of the North Cape, situated beyond the seventy-second parallel, did not conceal the fact that they thought they had certain rights of proprietorship on these vast lands which extended to Spitsbergen, and from there to the North Pole. Denmark said that it had already in its possession islands and fiords on the line of the polar circle where their colonies had been founded, such as Disko Island, in the Davis Channel; the settlements of Holstein, of Proven, of Godhaven, of Uppernavik, in the Baffin Sea, and on the west coast of Greenland. Besides, did not the famous navigator, Behring (of Danish origin, although he was then in the service of Russia), in the year 1728 pass over the channel which afterwards carried his name before he started again, thirteen years later, and died miserably with thirty of his men on a little island, which also carries his distinguished name.

In the year 1619 did not the navigator, Jean Munk, explore the east coast of Greenland and discover several points formerly totally unknown? Therefore, Denmark had, she thought, undisputable rights to be proprietor of these regions.

In regard to Holland, there were her sailors Barentz and Heemskerk, who had visited the Spitsbergen and the New Zealand about the end of the sixteenth century. It was by one of her children too, Jean Mayen, through whose courageous campaign against the north the island which carries his name came in their possession. It is situated below the 72d degree of latitude. Therefore Holland thought her past had given her rights of possession. In regard to Russia, with Alexis Tschirikof, having Behring under his command; with Paulutski, whose expedition advanced in 1751 beyond the limits of the ice-pack; with Capt. Martin Spangberg, and Lieut. William Walton, who dared to go into these unknown parts in 1739, she had taken a notable part in the search across the gulf which separates Asia and America.

Furthermore, the position of the Siberian territories, extending over 120 degrees to the extreme limits of Kamchatka, the length of the Asiatic coast, where the Samoyedes, Yakoutes, Tchuoktchis, and other conquered people lived, did Russia not rule half of the Northern Ocean? And then, on the 75th parallel to within less than nine hundred miles from the pole, did she not possess the islands of the new Siberia, the Archipelago of Liatkow, discovered in the beginning of the eighteenth century? And finally, since 1764, before the English, before the Americans, before the Swedes, did not the navigator Tschitschagoff search a passage in the North to shorten the route between the two continents? However, notwithstanding this, it seemed that the Americans were more anxious to become possessors of this particularly inaccessible point of the globe than anyone else.

They had often tried to obtain it by devoting themselves to the search of Sir John Franklin, with Grinnel, with Kane, with Hayes, with Greely, with De Long, and other courageous navigators. They could also plead the geographical situation of their country, which develops itself below the polar circle from the Behring Sea to Hudson's Bay. And were not all these countries, all these islands-Wollaston, Prince Albert, Victoria, King William, Melville, Cockburne, Banks, Baffin, not counting the thousand small pieces of the archipelago-like a leaf spreading to the 90th degree? And then supposing that the North Pole should be attached by an uninterrupted line of territory to one of the large continents of the globe, would it not be more to America than to Asia or Europe? Therefore, nothing was more natural than the proposition to purchase this region by the Federal Government for the benefit of an American society.

If any power had undisputable modern rights to possess the polar domain it was certainly the United States of America. It must also be considered that the United Kingdom of Great Britain, which possessed Canada and British Columbia, numerous sailors of which had distinguished themselves in these Arctic countries, urged very good reasons for annexing this part of the globe to their vast empire. And its journals discussed the matter at great length. "Yes, without a doubt," answered the great English geographer, Kliptringan, in an article in a London newspaper, which made a great sensation; "yes, the Danes, the Hollanders, the Russians, and the Americans, can be proud of their rights." As for England, she did not wish to let this country escape her. Did not the northern part of the continent already belong to them? Have not these lands, these islands which composed them, been discovered and conquered by English discoverers since Willoughby, who visited Spitsbergen and New Zealand in 1739, to McClure, whose vessel made in 1853 the passage of the northwest? And then were not Frobisher, Davis, Hall, Weymouth, Hudson, Baffin, Cook, Ross, Parry, Bechey, Belcher, Franklin, Mulgrave, Scoresby, MacClinton, Kennedy, Nares, Collinson, Archer, all of Anglo-Saxon origin? And what country could make a more just claim on the portion of these Arctic regions that that which these navigators had been able to acquire? "Well," said a California journal, "let us put the matter on its real point, and as there is a question of amour-propre between the United States and England, let us ask, If the English Markham of the Nares expedition had gone 83 degrees 20 minutes of latitude and the Americans, Lockwood and Brainard, of the Greely expedition, went to 83 degrees 35 minutes, to whom then does the honor belong of having come nearest to the North Pole?"

Such were the demands and explanations, but one could see that the struggle would only be active between American dollars and English pounds sterling. However, according to the proposition made by the North Polar Practical Association all countries had to be consulted and given a chance at the auction. The sale was announced to take place Dec. 3, at Baltimore. The sum realized by the sale was to be divided among the States which were unsuccessful bidders, and they were to accept it as indemnity and renounce all their rights in the Arctic regions for the future.

The delegates, furnished with their letters of credit, left London. The Hague, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and St. Petersburg, and arrived three weeks before the day fixed for the auction sale.

Up to this time America had only been represented by Mr. W.S. Forster, of the North Polar Practical Association.

The delegates of the European powers who had been chosen were included in the following list:

For Holland-Jacques Jansen, formerly Counsellor of the Netherlandish India; fifty-three years old, stout, short, well formed, small arms, small bent legs, round and florid face, gray hair; a worthy man, only a little incredulous on the subject of an undertaking the practical consequences of which he failed to see.

For Denmark-Eric Baldenak, ex-Sub-Governor of the Greenlandish possessions; of medium height, a little bent over, large and round head, so short-sighted that the point of his nose would touch his books; not willing to listen to any claim denying the rights of his country, which he considered the legitimate proprietor of the northern region.

For the Swedish-Norwegian peninsula-Jan Harald, Professor of Cosmography in Christiania; a genuine Northern man, red-faced, beard and hair blond; he regarded it as an established fact that the Polar region, being only occupied by the Paleocristic Sea, had absolutely no value. He was, however, not much interested in the matter and went there only as a duty.

For Russia-Col. Boris Karkof, semi-military man, semi-diplomat; a stiff, stubby mustache, seeming uncomfortable in his citizen clothes and feeling absent-mindedly for his sword which he was accustomed to carry; very much puzzled to know what was hidden in the proposition of the North Polar Practical Association, and whether it would not be the cause of international difficulties.

Finally for England-Major Donellan and his secretary, Dean Toodrink. The last two named represented all the tastes and aspirations of the United Kingdom, its commercial and industrial instincts, its aptitude to consider, by a law of nature, the northern regions their own property just as any country which did not belong to anyone else.

If there ever was an Englishman it was Major Donellan, tall, meagre, bony, nervous, angular, with a little cough, a head a la Palmerston, on bending shoulders; legs well formed after his sixty years; indefatigable, a quality he had well shown when he worked on the frontiers of India. He never laughed in those days, and perhaps never had. And why should he? Did you ever see a locomotive or a steam-engine or an elevator laugh? On this point the Major was very much different from his secretary, Dean Toodrink, a talkative fellow, very pleasant, with large head, and his hair falling on his forehead, and small eyes. He became well known on account of his happy manner and his taste for fairy tales. But, even if he was cheerful, he did not seem any less personally conceited than Major Donellan when he talked about Great Britain.

These two delegates were probably going to be the most desperate opponents to the American Society. The North Pole belonged to them; it always belonged to them. It was to them as if the Lord had given the mission to the English people to keep up the rotation of the earth around its axis, and as if it was their duty to prevent it passing into strange hands. It is necessary to observe here that France did not consider it necessary to send a delegate, but an engineer, of France, was present at the sale, just for the fun of it. We shall introduce him later on. The delegates of the Northern Euro

pean States had arrived in Baltimore on different steamers, to give it the appearance that they had nothing at all to do with each other. They were really rivals. Each one of them had in his pocket the necessary means to fight against the American Society. But they could not fight with equal force. One could dispose of a sum of money which amounted to nearly a million, another could pass that amount. And really to purchase a piece of our globe to reach which seemed an impossibility, this ought still appear to be dear. In reality the best provided for was the English delegate, to whose order the Government had opened a very large credit. Thanks to this credit Major Donellan would not have very hard work to conquer his adversaries of Sweden, Denmark-Holland, and Russia. In regard to America-well, that was a different thing. It would be much more difficult to win against the fusillade of dollars. At least it was very probable that the mysterious society must have enough money on hand to go on in their work. Therefore, the highest bidding, which might come to millions, was between America and England.

As soon as the European delegates had landed public opinion became more excited. The most singular stories were printed in the newspapers. False theories were established, based on the purchase of the North Pole. What was the Society going to do with it? And what could they do with it? Nothing; or perhaps it was all done to corner the iceberg market. There was even a journal in Paris, the Figaro, which upheld this curious idea. But for this it would be necessary to pass south of the eighty-fourth parallel.

Be it as it may, however, the delegates who had avoided each other during their passage over the Atlantic became more and more associated after having arrived in Baltimore. Here is the reason: Since his arrival each one had tried to open communications with the North Polar Practical Association separately, unknown to the other. That which they wished to know were the motives hidden at the bottom of this affair and what profit the Society hoped to make out of the sale. Now, until the present time nothing indicated that the Society had opened an office at Baltimore. No office, no employees. All that could be learned was, "For information address only William S. Forster, High Street, Baltimore." And it did not look as though the honest consignee of codfish knew any more in this respect than the lowest street porter of the city.

The delegates could, therefore, learn nothing from him. They were accordingly compelled to rely upon the more or less absurd guesses of the public at large. Was the secret of the Society going to be kept inpenetrable as long as it did not make it known itself? This was the question. Without doubt it did not seem inclined to give any information on the subject until the purchase had been made. Therefore, it came that the delegates finished by seeing and meeting each other; they made visits to each other, and finally came in close communication with each other, perhaps with the idea of making a front against the common enemy, or, otherwise, the American Company. And so it happened that one evening they were all together in the Hotel Wolesley, in the suite occupied by Major Donellan and his secretary, Dean Toodrink, holding a conference. In fact, this tendency to a common understanding was principally due to the advice of Col. Boris Karkof, the best diplomat known. At first the conversation was directed to the commercial and industrial consequences which the Society pretended to gain by purchase of the Arctic domain. Prof. Jan Harald asked if any one had been able to gain any information on that point. All finally agreed that they had tried to get information from Mr. William S. Forster, to whom all letters should be addressed.

"I have failed," said Eric Baldenak.

"And I have not succeeded," added Jacques Jansen.

"In regard to myself," answered Dean Toodrink, "when I presented myself at the stores in High Street in the name of Major Donellan I found a large man in black clothes, wearing a high hat, with a white apron, which was short enough to show his high boots. When I asked him for information in the matter he informed me that the South Star had arrived with a full cargo from Newfoundland and that he was ready to furnish me with a fresh stock of codfish on account of Messrs. Ardronell & Co."

"And," answered the former counsellor of the Dutch Indies, always a little sceptical, "it would be much better to buy a load of codfish than to throw one's money into the ice-water of the North."

"This is not at all the question," says Major Donellan, with a short and high voice. "The question is not the codfish, but the Polar region."

"Americans ought to stand on their heads," said Dean Toodrink, laughing at his own remark. "That will make them catch cold," finally said Col. Karkof. "The question is not there," said Major Donellan. "One thing only is certain, that for some reason or another America, represented by the N.P.P.A. (remark the word 'practical') wants to buy a surface of 407 square miles around the North Pole, a surface which is actually (remark the word 'actually') pierced by the eighty-fourth degree of latitude."

"We know it, Major Donellan, and much more," said Jan Harald. "But what we do not know is how the said company will make use of those countries or waters, if they are waters, from a commercial standpoint."

"This is not the question," answered for the third time Major Donellan. "A power wants to purchase with money a large part of the globe which, by its geographical situation, seems to belong especially to England"-"to Russia," said Col. Karkof; "to Holland," said Jacques Jansen; "to Sweden-Norway," said Jan Harald; "to Denmark," said Eric Baldenak.

The five delegates jumped to their feet, and it seemed as if the Council would turn to harsh words, when Dean Toodrink tried to interfere the first time. "Gentlemen," said he, in a tone of reconciliation, "this is not the question, following the expression of my chief," of which he made such frequent use. "As long as it has been decided that the Northern regions are going to be sold at auction, they will naturally belong to such representative who will make the highest bid for same. As long as Sweden, Norway, Russia, Denmark, Holland, and England have given large credits to their delegates, would it not be best for these nations to form a syndicate and raise a sum of money against which America could not make a bid? The delegates looked at each other. It was possible that Dean Toodrink had found the missing link. A syndicate-at present it is heard everywhere. Everything is syndicate nowadays, what one drinks, what one eats, what one reads, what one sleeps on. Nothing is more modern, in politics as well as business, than a trust. But an objection was started, or rather an explanation was needed, and Jacques Jansen tried to find out the sentiments of his colleagues by saying, "and afterwards," yes, after the purchase of the region by the syndicate, then what? "But it seems to me that England," said the Major in a rough voice, "and Russia," said the Colonel, with nostrils terribly dilated, "and Holland," said the Counsellor; "as God has given Denmark to the Danish," observed Eric Baldenak-"Excuse me, there is only one country," interrupted Dean Toodrink, "which has been given by our Lord, and that is the world." "And why," said the Swedish delegate? "Did not the poet say

'Deus nobis haec otia fecit,' "

said this merryman in translating according to his fashion the close of the sixth verse of the first eclogue of Virgil. All began to laugh except Major Donellan, who stopped for the second time the discussion which threatened to finish badly. Then Dean Toodrink said, "Do not quarrel, gentlemen. What good will it do us? Let us rather form a syndicate."

"And afterwards?" asked Jan Harald.

"Afterwards," answered Dean Toodrink, "nothing more simple, gentlemen. After you shall have bought the polar domain it will remain undivided among us or will be divided after a regular indemnity to one of the States which have been purchasers. But our purpose would have already been obtained, which is to save it from the representative of America."

This proposition did some good, at least for the present moment. As very soon the delegates would not fail to fight with each other, and pull each other's hair where there was any to pull, it would be at the moment when it was necessary to elect a final buyer of this immovable region, so much disputed and so useless.

"In all cases," cleverly remarked Dean Toodrink, "the United States will be entirely out of the question."

"It seems to me very sensible," said Eric Baldenak.

"Very handy," said Col. Karkof.

"Right," said Jan Harald.

"Mean," said Jacques Jansen.

"Very English," said Major Donellan.

Each one had given his opinion hoping to convince his colleagues.

"Then, gentlemen, it is perfectly understood that if we form a syndicate the rights of each State will be absolutely reserved for the future." ... It is understood. There was only to be found out what credit the different delegates had received from their governments. It was supposed that the whole when added up would represent such an enormous sum that there would not be the least doubt that the A.P.P.A. [N.P.P.A.] would fail to surpass this amount of money. This question of funds was met by Dean Toodrink.

Complete silence. Nobody would answer, show your pocketbook. Empty their pockets into the safes of a syndicate. Make known in advance how much each country would bid at the sale. No haste was shown. And if there should be a disagreement in this new-formed syndicate in the future, and circumstances should compel each one to make his own bids? And should the diplomat Karkof feel insulted at the trickery of Jacques Jansen, who would be insulted at the underhand intrigues of Jan Harald, who would refuse to support the high pretensions of Major Donellan, who, himself, would not stop to embroil each one of his associates. And now to show their credits-that was showing their play, when it was necessary to live up to it. There were really two ways only to answer the proper but indiscreet suggestion of Dean Toodrink. Either to exaggerate the credits, which would be very embarrassing, because it would then be the question of the payment, or to diminish them to such a point that they would be ridiculous and not to the purpose of the scheme. The ex-counsellor had this idea first, but it must be said to his credit, he did not seriously hold it. His colleagues, however, followed suit. "Gentlemen," said Holland, through its mouthpiece, "I regret, but for the purpose of the Arctic regions I can only dispose of fifty riechsthaler." "And I of thirty-five rubles," said Russia. "And I of twenty kronors," said Norway-Sweden. "And I of fifteen cronen," said Denmark. "Well," said Major Donellan, in a tone well befitting the disdainful attitude so common and natural to the English character, "then it would be better that you make the purchase, gentlemen, as England can only put up at the most one shilling and sixpence." And with this ironical remark the conference of the delegates of old Europe was at an end.

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