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   Chapter 4 IN WHICH OLD ACQUAINTANCES APPEAR TO OUR NEW READERS, AND IN WHICH A WONDERFUL MAN IS DESCRIBED.

Topsy-Turvy By Jules Verne Characters: 12013

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Barbicane & Co. The president of a gunning club. And really what had gunners to do in such an operation? You will see. Is it necessary to present formally Impey Barbicane, President of the Gun Club, of Baltimore, and Capt. Nicholl, and J. T. Maston, and Tom Hunter with the wooden legs, and the lively Bilsby, and Col. Bloomsberry, and the other associates? No, if these strange persons were twenty years older than at the time when the attention of the world was upon them they had always remained the same, always as much incomplete personally, but equally noisy, equally courageous, equally confusing when it was a question of some extraordinary adventure. Time did not make an impression on these gunners; it respected them as it respects cannons no longer in use, but which decorate museums and arsenals. If the Gun Club had 1,833 members in it when it was founded, names rather than persons, for most of them had lost an arm or leg, if 30,575 corresponding members were proud to owe allegiance to the Club, these figures had not decreased. On the contrary, and even thanks to the incredible attempt which they had made to establish direct communication between earth and moon, its celebrity had grown in an enormous proportion. No one can ever forget the report on this subject which was made by this Club and which deserves a few words of mention here.

A few years after the civil war certain members of the Gun Club, tired of their idleness, proposed to send a projectile to the moon by means of a Columbiad monster. A cannon 900 feet long, nine feet broad at the bore, had been especially made at Moon City and had then been charged with 400,000 pounds of gun-cotton.

From this cannon a small cylindro-conical bomb had been flung towards the stars with a pressure of six millards pounds per square inch. After having made a grand curve it fell back to the earth only to be swallowed up by the Pacific Ocean at 27° 7' of latitude and 41° 37' of longitude, west. It was in this region that the frigate, Susquehanna, of the American Navy, had fished it up to the surface of the ocean, to the great comfort of its occupants. Occupants? Yes, occupants; for two members of the Gun Club-its President, Impey Barbicane, and Capt. Nicholl-accompanied by a Frenchman well known for his boldness in such cases, had been in this flying-machine. All three of them came back well and healthy from this dangerous trip. But if the two Americans were here ready to risk any similar thing, the French Michel Ardan was not. On his return to Europe he brought a fortune with him, although it astonished a good many people, and now he is planting his own cabbage in his own garden, eating them and even digesting them, if one can believe the best-informed reporters.

After this discharge of the cannon, Impey Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl had lived on their reputation in comparative quietness. As they were always anxious to do another thing like it, they dreamt and tried to find out something else. Money they had in plenty. Out of five millions and a half which had been raised for them by subscription they had nearly $200,000 left. This money was raised in the Old and New Worlds alike. Besides, all they had to do was to exhibit themselves in their projectile in America and they could always realize large amounts of money. They had earned all the glory which the most ambitious mortal would look for. Impey Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl would have been well able to keep quiet and idle if this very idleness did not torment them. And it was simply no doubt to do something that they had gone to work and bought this part of the Arctic region.

But it must not be forgotten that if the purchase cost $800,000 and more, that it was Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt who had put the necessary amount into this affair. Thanks to this generous woman Europe had been conquered by America. Since their return President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl had enjoyed a supreme celebrity. But there was another man who deserved credit in the matter. It is easy to guess that J.T. Maston was the man of whom we speak, the temporary Secretary of the Gun Club. Did we not owe to this brilliant calculator all the mathematical formulae which enabled us to tell the story of the voyage to the moon? If he did not accompany his two associates on their terrible journey it was not fear which kept him back. No, indeed, it was only the injuries he had received during the war. For really it would have made a bad impression on the inhabitants on the moon to see him in his disabled condition as a representative of our people, and the moon only our humble satellite. To his extreme regret, Mr. Maston was compelled to stay at home. Nevertheless he had not been idle. After having constructed an immense telescope, which was put on the mountain of Long's Peak, one of the highest mountains of the Rocky range, he went up there personally, and after he had received the signal that the cannon-ball had been fired he did not once leave his post. From his place of observation he essayed the task of following his friends firing across the vast space. One might readily believe that his friends would be lost to the world; that it was very easily possible that this projectile could be compelled by the attraction of the moon to become a sub-satellite. A deviation which one might call providential had changed the direction of the projectile, and after having made one trip around the moon, in place of touching it, it was carried away in a terrible fall and returned to us with a speed of 576,000 miles a minute to the moment when it was swallowed up by the ocean. Happy it was that the great liquid mass had deadened the fall, and that the American frigate Susquehanna was present at the fall. As soon as the news reached Mr. Maston, the Secretary of the Gun Club, he rushed with all possible haste from his observation point at Long's Peak to begin operations to save his friends. Divers were sent to the place where the projectile had

fallen. And Mr. Maston even did not hesitate to put on a cork jacket to save and find his friends again. It was unnecessary to go to so much trouble. The projectile was found floating on the surface of the Pacific Ocean after having made its beautiful fall. And President Barbicane with Capt. Nicholl and Michel Ardan were found playing dominoes in their floating prison on the surface of the ocean.

To return to J.T. Maston, it is proper to say that his part in the affair deserves a good deal of credit. It is certain that he was not pretty with his metallic arm. He was not young, fifty-eight years old, at the time we write this story. But the originality of his character, the vivacity of his intelligence, the vigor which animated him, the ardor which he had in all such things, had made him the ideal of Mrs. Evangeline Scorbitt. His brain carefully hidden under his cover of gutta-percha was yet untouched, and he would still pass as one of the most remarkable calculators of his age.

Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, although the least figuring gave her a headache, had yet a great liking for mathematicians, even if she had no taste for mathematics. She considered them a higher and more endowed race of human beings. Heads where the X, Y, Z were mixed up like nuts in a barrel, brains which played with signs of algebra, hands which juggled with the integral triples, these were what she liked.

Yes, these wise people seemed to her worthy of all admiration and support. She felt herself drawn strongly towards them. And J.T. Maston was exactly that kind of man and one she adored, and her happiness would be complete if they two could be made one. This was the end of her mathematics. This did not disturb the Secretary of the Gun Club, who had never found happiness in unions of this kind.

Mrs Evangelina Scorbitt was not young any more. She was forty-five years old, had her hair pasted on her temples, like something which had been dyed and re-dyed; she had a mouth full of very long teeth, with not one missing; her waist was without shape, her walk without grace; in short, she had the appearance of an old maid, although she had been married only a few years before she became a widow. She was an excellent person withal, and nothing was lacking in her cup of happiness except one thing, namely, that she wished to make her appearance in the society of Baltimore as Mrs. J.T. Maston. Her fortune was very considerable. She was not rich like the Goulds, Mackays, or Vanderbilts, whose fortunes run into the millions, and who might give alms to the Rothschilds. Neither did she possess three hundred millions like Mrs. Stewart, eighty millions like Mrs. Crocker, and two hundred millions like Mrs. Carper. Neither was she rich like Mrs. Hamersley, Mrs. Hetty Green, Mrs. Mafitt, Mrs. Marshall, Mrs. Paran Stevens, Mrs. Minturn, and many others. At any rate she had a right to take a place at that memorable feast at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York, where there were only admitted as guests people who had at least five millions. In brief, Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt had four millions of good sound dollars, or twenty millions of francs, which came to her from John P. Scorbitt, who made his fortune both in the business of selling dry goods and salt pork. Well, this fortune this generous widow would have been glad to use for the profit of J. T. Maston, to whom she would also bring a treasure of tenderness much more inexhaustible.

Therefore when Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt had heard of the requirements of Mr. Maston she had gladly agreed to put a few hundred thousand dollars in the affair of the N.P.P.A. without having the least idea of what they intended to do with it. It is true she was convinced that as long as J.T. Maston had something to do with the affair it could not help being grand, sublime, superhuman, etc. Thinking of the Secretary was for her future enough. One might think that after the auction sale, when it was declared that Barbicane & Company would be the name of the new firm, and it would be presided over by the President of the Gun Club, she would enjoy Mr. Maston's whole confidence. Was she not at the same time the largest stockholder in the affair? So it came about that Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt found herself proprietress of this polar region, all beyond the line of the eighty-fourth parallel. But what would she do with it? Or rather, what profit would the Society get out of it? This was the question; and if it interested Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt from a financial standpoint it interested the whole world, more on account of the general curiosity about the whole mystery. This excellent woman, otherwise very discreet, had often tried to get some information from Mr. Maston on this subject before putting money at the disposal of the purchasers. Without a doubt there was a grand enterprise, which, as Jean Jacques said, has never had its like before, and would never have any imitation, and which would far outshine the reputation made by the Gun Club in sending a projectile to the moon and trying to get in direct communication with our satellite. But when she persists with her queries Mr. Maston invariably replied: "Dear madame, have patience," And if Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt had confidence before, what an immense joy did she feel when the triumph which the United States of America had won over the combined European powers. "But shall I not finally know the object?" asked she, smiling at the eminent calculator.

"You will soon know it," answered Mr. Maston, shaking heartily the hand of his partner-the American lady.

This calmed for the moment the impatience of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. A few days afterwards the Old and New World were shaken up quite enough when the secret object of the company was announced, and for the realization of which the N.P.P.A. made an appeal to the public for a subscription.

The Society had purchased this portion of the circumpolar region to make use of the coal mines of the North Pole.

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