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   Chapter 7 IN WHICH PRESIDENT BARBICANE SAYS NO MORE THAN SUITS HIS PURPOSE.

Topsy-Turvy By Jules Verne Characters: 15719

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


On the 22nd of December the subscribers to Barbicane & Co. were summoned to a general meeting. It is hardly necessary to say that the headquarters of the Gun Club were selected as the place of the meeting. In reality the whole block would not have been sufficient to give room to the large crowd of subscribers who assembled on that day. But a meeting in the fresh air on one of the public squares of Baltimore was not very agreeable in such cold weather. Usually the large hall of the Gun Club was decorated with models of all kinds lent by members of the Club. It was a real museum of artillery. Even the furniture, chairs and tables, sofas and divans, recalled by their strange shapes those murderous engines which had sent into a better world many brave people whose greatest wish was to die of old age.

On this meeting day all these things were taken down and out. This was not a meeting for the purpose of war, but a commercial and peaceful meeting over which Impey Barbicane was going to preside. All room possible had been made for the subscribers who arrived from all parts of the United States. In the hall as well as in the adjoining rooms the crowds were pushing and pressing each other without heeding the innumerable people who were standing on the adjoining streets. The members of the Gun Club, as first subscribers to the affair, had places reserved for them very near the desk. Among them could be found Col. Bloomsberry, more happy than ever; Tom Hunter, with his wooden legs, and the jolly Bilsby. Very snug in a comfortable armchair was Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, who should really have had a place on the right hand of the President, as she was in reality the owner of the Arctic region. Several other ladies were in the crowd. They could readily be seen by their large and much-decorated hats in many different colors. The large crowd on the outside tried to push into the hall, and one might easily have thought that all the people present were not merely helpmates of the members of the Gun Club, but rather their personal friends. The European delegates-Swedish, Norwegians, Danish, English, Dutch, and Russian-occupied reserved seats, and if they had bought any stock in this society it was only each one individually to such an extent as to justify a vote in the proceedings. After they had been so closely united in purchasing these regions they were united now only to annoy the purchasers. It may easily be imagined what intense curiosity they had to hear the important communication which the President was about to make to them. This communication undoubtedly would throw some information on the point as to how the society would proceed to reach the North Pole. Was this not a more difficult thing than merely to make use of the coal mines? If there should be any objections to make you may be assured that Major Donellan, backed up by his secretary, Dean Toodrink, would make them, and the other delegates would not be very slow in adding their word also. The Major had firmly decided to harass and annoy his rival, Impey Barbicane, as much as he possibly could.

It was 8 o'clock in the evening. The hall, the parlors, and all quarters occupied by the Gun Club blazed with lights which the Edison electroliers throw out. As soon as the doors were thrown open for the public a terrible crowd jammed into the hall. But everyone became silent as the ushers announced that the Council of Administration was coming. There, on a draped platform, with a table covered with black cloth, in full sight, President Barbicane, his Secretary, J.T. Maston, and his associates, took their places. A triple round of cheers, followed by hearty "tigers," rang through the hall and out to the adjoining streets. Very solemnly Mr. Maston and Capt. Nicholl took their seats. Then the President, who had remained standing, opened the proceedings. He put his right hand in his trouser's pocket and his left hand in his vest front and began as follows:

"Lady and gentlemen subscribers, the Council of Administration has called a meeting in these headquarters of the Gun Club to make an important communication to you. You have learned by the circulars and through the discussions in the papers that the object of our Club is to explore the large coal fields situated in the Arctic regions, which we have recently purchased and to which we hold a title from the American Government. The amount of money raised by public subscription will be used for these purposes. The success which will be attained by it surpasses belief and the dividends your money will bring you will be unsurpassed in the commercial or financial history of this or any other country." Here applause was heard for the first time and for a moment the orator was interrupted. "You do not forget," said he, "how we have proved to you that there must be vast coal fields in these regions, perhaps also fields of fossil ivory. The articles published on this subject do not allow any doubt that coal fields are there, and coal is now, you know, the basis of all our commercial industry. Without mentioning the coal which is used every year in firing and heating, we might think of coal used for many other purposes, of which I could mention a hundred different ones. It is certain that coal is the most precious substance, and will some day, on account of the large consumption of it; fail in its supply. Before 500 years have passed the coal mines which are at present in use will have stopped giving coal."

"Three hundred years," cried one of those present. "Two hundred years," answered another.

"Let us say at some time sooner or later," continued the President, calmly, "and let us suppose, too, that we will even discover new coal fields yet, whose coal will give out, say at the end of the nineteenth century." Here he stopped to give his listeners a chance to grasp the idea. Then he began again: "Therefore, we come here, subscribers, and I ask you to rise and go with me to the North Pole immediately." Everybody present got up and seemed about to rush away and pack their trunks, as if President Barbicane had a vessel ready to take them direct to the North Pole. But a remark made by Major Donellan in a clear and loud voice brought them back to reality and stopped them at once. "Before starting" he asked, "I would like to know by what means we can reach the North Pole?"

"Either by water, or land, or by air," quietly answered President Barbicane.

All the people present sat down, and it may readily be understood with what a feeling of curiosity.

"In spite of all the devotion and courage of previous explorers, the eighty-fourth parallel has thus far been the northern limit reached. And it may fairly be supposed that this is as far north as anybody will ever get by the means employed at the present day. Up to the present time we have only used boats and vessels to reach the icebergs, and rafts to pass over the fields of ice. People should not adopt such rash means and face the dangers to which they are exposed through the low temperature. We must employ other means to reach the North Pole."

It could be seen by the excitement which took hold of the auditors, that they were on the point of hearing the secret which has been so vigorously searched for by every one.

"And how will you reach it?" demanded the delegate of England.

"Before ten minutes have passed you will know it, Major Donellan," said President Barbicane, "and I may add in addressing myself to all the stockholders, that they should have confidence in us as the promoters of this affair, for we are the same who have tried to send a projectile to the moon."

"Yes," cried Dean Toodrink, sarcastically, "they tried to go as far as the moon. And we can easily see that they are here yet."

President Barbicane ignored the interruption. Shrugging his shoulder

s, he said in a loud voice: "Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in ten minutes you will know what we are going to do."

A murmur, made up of many "Ahs!" and "Ohs!" followed this remark. It seemed to them as if the orator had said in ten minutes they would be at the North Pole. He then continued in the following words:

"First of all, it is a continent which forms this arctic region, or it is an ocean, and has Commander Nares been right in calling it 'paleocrystic ocean,' which means an ocean of old ice? To this question I must answer that I think he was not right."

This is not sufficient," exclaimed Eric Baldenak. "It is not the question of supposing, it is the question of being certain."

"Well, we are certain," came the answer to this furious inquirer. "Yes, it is a solid continent and not an ice ocean which the N.P.P.A. has purchased and which now belongs to the United States and which no European power has the right to touch."

A little murmur came from the neighborhood of the delegates of the Old World. "Bah!" they said. "It is full of water, a regular washbasin which you will not be able to empty." Dean Toodrink as usual made most of the remarks and met the hearty applause of his associates. "No, sir," answered President Barbicane, quickly. "There is a regular continent, a platform which rises like the Gobi desert in Central Asia, three or four kilometres above the surface of the ocean. This is very easy to be seen from the observations made in the neighboring countries, of which the polar region is only an extension.

"After their explorations have not Nordenskiold, Perry and Maaigaard stated that Greenland gets higher and higher towards the North Pole?

"Besides, they have found birds, different products and vegetables in the northern ice-ivory teeth also-which indicate that this region must have been inhabited and that animals must have been there, and perhaps people as well. There used to be large forests there, which must have been formed into coal-fields, which we will explore. Yes, there is a continent, without a doubt, around the North Pole-a continent free from all human beings, and on which we will place the banner of the United States."

At this remark the auditors expressed great delight. When the noise had finally subsided Major Donellan could be heard to remark: "Well, seven minutes have already gone by of the ten which, as you say, would be sufficient to reach the North Pole."

"We shall be there in three minutes," coolly answered President Barbicane.

"But, even if this be a continent, which constitutes your purchase, and if it is a raised country, as we may have reasons to believe, it is also obstructed by eternal ice, and in a condition which will make exploration extremely difficult," responded the Major. "Impossible," cried Jan Harald, who emphasized this remark with a wave of his hand. "Impossible, all right," said Impey Barbicane. "But it is to conquer this impossibility that we have purchased this region. We will need neither vessels nor rafts to reach the North Pole; no, thanks to our operations, the ice and icebergs, new or old, will melt by themselves, and it will not cost one dollar of our capital nor one minute of our time." At this there was absolute silence. The most important moment had come.

"Gentlemen," said the President of the Gun Club, "Archimedes only asked for a lever to lift the world. Well, this lever we have found. We are now in a position to remove the North Pole."

"What, remove the North Pole?" cried Eric Baldenak.

"Will you bring it to America?" asked Jan Harald. Without doubt President Barbicane did not wish to explain himself just yet, for he continued: "In regard to this point of leverage-" "Do not tell it! do not tell it!" cried one of his associates, with a terrible voice.

"In regard to this lever-"

"Keep the secret! keep the secret!" cried the majority of the spectators, taking up the cry.

"We will keep it," said President Barbicane.

Naturally, the European delegates were very much vexed at this remark. This will be easily understood. In spite of all these exclamations the orator never had any intention of making his plan known. He continued to say: "We obtained our object, thanks to a mechanical device, one which has no precedent in the annals of industrial art. We will undertake it and bring it to a successful finish by means of our capital, and how I will inform you forthwith."

"Hear! hear!" said the others present.

"First of all, the idea of our plan comes from one of the ablest, most devoted and illustrious calculators and one of our associates as well," said President Barbicane. "One to whom we owe all the calculations which allows us to have our work in such good condition. As the exploration of the North Pole is not a piece of play the removal of the pole is a problem which could only be solved by the highest calculations. Therefore we have called the assistance of the honorable Secretary, Mr. J.T. Maston."

"Hip, hip, hip, hurrah, for J. T. Maston," exclaimed all the auditors, seemingly electrified by the presence of this extraordinary calculator.

Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt was deeply touched by this recognition of the celebrated mathematician, who had already entirely gained her heart. He contented himself with turning his head to the right and left, bowing and thanking his auditors.

"Already, dear subscribers," said President Barbicane, "since the great meeting in honor of the arrival of the Frenchman, Michel Ardan, in America, some months before our departure for the moon" (and this confident Yankee spoke of the trip to the moon as quietly as if it were no more than a trip to New York), "J T. Maston had already said to himself: 'We must invent machines to move the North Pole. We must find a point for action and put the axis of the earth in the right direction from the object.' Well, any or all of you who listen to me find it if you can. I can only say the machines have been invented, the point of leverage has been found, and now let us pay our attention to the question of fixing, in the right way, for our end of the axis of the earth." Here he stopped speaking, and the astonishment which was expressed on the faces of his auditors it is impossible to describe.

"What!" cried Major Donellan, "you then have the idea of putting the axis of the earth in another direction?"

"Yes, sir," answered President Barbicane promptly. "We have the means of making a new one which will hereafter regulate the routine of day and night."

"You want to modify the daily rotation of the earth?" repeated Col. Karkof, with fire in his eyes.

"Absolutely, but without affecting its duration," answered President Barbicane. This operation will bring the pole at or about the sixty-seventh parallel of latitude, then the earth will be similar to the planet Jupiter, whose axis is nearly perpendicular to the plane of its orbit. Now this movement of 23 degrees 28 minutes will be sufficient to give at our North Pole such a degree of heat that it will melt in less than no time the icebergs and field which have been there for thousands of years."

The audience was out of breath. Nobody thought of interrupting the orator, even to applaud him. All were taken in by this idea, so ingenious and simple, of modifying the axis on which this earthly spheroid is rotating. And as for the European delegates, well, they were simply stupefied, paralyzed, and crushed, they kept their mouths shut in the last stage of astonishment. But the hurrahs seemed to rend the hall asunder, when President Barbicane made the additional remark: "It is the sun which will take upon himself the melting of the icebergs and fields around the North Pole, and thus make access to the same very easy. So, as people cannot go to the pole, the pole will come to them."

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