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   Chapter 10 IN WHICH A LITTLE UNEASINESS BEGINS TO SHOW ITSELF.

Topsy-Turvy By Jules Verne Characters: 13395

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


A month had elapsed since the meeting of the Gun Club and the stockholders of the new-formed society, and public opinion was getting much altered. The advantages of the change to be wrought in the axis of the earth were forgotten and its disadvantages began to be spoken of. It was very probable, public opinion said, that a terrible catastrophe would happen, as the change could only be brought about by a violent shock. What would this catastrophe exactly be? In regard to the change of climates, was it so desirable after all? The Esquimaux and the Laps and the Samoyeden and the Tchuktchees would benefit by it, as they had nothing to lose. The European delegates were very energetic in their talk against President Barbicane and his work. To begin with they sent information to their Government. They used the cable frequently and always sent cipher messages. They asked questions and received instructions. What, then, were these instructions, always in cipher and very guarded? "Show energy, but do not compromise our Government," said one. "Act very considerately, but do not touch the 'statu[s] quo,'" said another. Major Donellan and his associates did not fail to predict a terrible accident. "It is very evident that the American engineers have taken steps so as not to hurt, or at least as little as possible, the territory of the United States," thought Col. Boris Karkof. "But how could they do it?" asked Jan Harald. "If you shake a tree do not all its branches suffer while you are shaking it?" "And if somebody hits you on the back does not your whole body feel the pain?" said Jacques Jansen. "That is, then, what this strange paragraph of the document meant," said Dean Toodrink. "That is the reason why they mentioned certain geographical changes."

"Yes," said Eric Baldenak, "that is what we have to fear; this change will throw the sea out of its basin, and should the ocean leave its present quarters, would not certain inhabitants of this globe find themselves so located that they could not readily communicate with their fellow-citizens?"

"It is very possible that they may be brought into such a density of surrounding medium," said Jan Harald, gravely, "that they will be unable to breathe."

"We will see London at the top of Mount Blanc," exclaimed Major Donellan. And with his legs crossed and his head thrown back this gentleman looked straight up as if the capital of his country was already lost in the clouds. In short, it became a public danger and a most annoying one. True, it was only a question of a change of 23 degrees and 28 minutes, but this change might bring about a great movement of the oceans as the new earth flattened itself around the pole. Protestations were heard from all over, and the Government of the United States was asked to interfere. "It was best not to try the operation at all." "The consequences of it might destroy this world." "God has done all things well; it was not necessary to better his work," were the comments. And yet there were people light-hearted enough to make merry at the whole matter. "Look at these Yankees," they said, "they want to turn the earth on its axis. If the earth had shown any faults in its motion it would be all right to better it, but it had gone on for millions of years and always as regularly as clockwork."

Instead of answering such questions Engineer Alcide Pierdeux tried to find which would be the countries and directions, figured out by Mathematician Maston, in which the test would take place-the exact point of the globe where the work would begin. As soon as he should know this he would be master of the situation and know exactly the place which would be in the most danger. It has been mentioned before that the countries of the old continent were probably connected with those of the new across the North Pole. Was it not possible, it was asked in Europe, that President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl and J.T. Maston had considered only how to save their own country from any ill consequences which might come from the shock? He was a Yankee-it was pointed out they were all Yankees-and particularly this man Barbicane, who had created the idea of going to the moon. In any case, it was argued, the whole new world, from the Arctic regions to the Gulf of Mexico, would not have to fear anything from the shock. It is even probable on the other hand that America would profit immensely by it and gain some territory. "Who knows what is lying in the two oceans which wash the American coast? Was it not probable that there was some valuable territory which they wished to take possession of?" asked people who never saw anything but the dark side of a question. "Is it sure that there is no danger? Suppose J.T. Maston should make a mistake in his calculations? And could not the President have made a mistake when he came to put his apparatus in working order? This might happen to the smartest people. They might not always put the bullet in the target, or they might neglect to put the cannonball into the cannon," were the comments of these nervous folk. This uneasiness was fomented by the European delegates. Secretary Dean Toodrink published several articles in this line, and even stronger ones were put by him in the Standard. Jan Harald put some in the Swedish journal Aftenbladt, and Col. Boris Karkof in a Russian journal which had a large circulation. Even in America opinions differed. The Republicans were friends of President Barbicane, but the Democrats declared themselves against him. A part of the American press agreed with the European press. And as in the United States the papers had become great powers, paying yearly for news about twenty millions of dollars, they had great influence on the people. In vain did other journals of large circulation speak in favor of the N.P.P.A. In vain did Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt pay as high as $10 a line for articles showing the advantages of this invention. In vain did this ardent widow try to demonstrate that everything was perfectly correct, and that J.T. Maston could never commit an error in figuring. Finally America took fright in the matter and was inclined to be governed by Europe. But neither President Barbicane nor Secretary Maston of the Gun Club seemed to care what was said. They did not even take the trouble to correct the different articles. They let people say what they liked and did not try to change their minds at all. They were too much occupied in preparations for the immense undertaking. It is indeed strange that the public, who were at first so enthusiastic and so certain of success, should so suddenly turn and go against this operation.

Soon, however, in spite of the mone

y Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt spent on the matter, the President and Secretary of the Club came to be considered dangerous characters by the people of the two worlds. The Government of the United States was asked officially by the European powers to interfere and examine the matter. The originators were to openly show their ideas and by what means they hoped to accomplish what they intended. They would have to inform the Government which parts of the world would be most in danger and, in short, tell everything which the public demanded to know. The Government at Washington was compelled to do what they were asked. The uprising of public sentiment in the Northern, Southern, and Middle States of the Union did not allow them any other course. A commission of engineers, mechanicians, mathematicians, and geographers were appointed-fifty in all, presided over by John Prestice-by the act of the 19th of February, with full power to do anything which they considered necessary in the matter. At first the President of the Society received orders to appear before this committee. President Barbicane did not respond. Agents went to his house in Baltimore, but the President was gone. Where was he? No one knew. When did he depart? Six weeks ago, on the 11th of January, he had left the city, and the State of Maryland as well, in company with Capt. Nicholl.

Where did they both go? Nobody could tell. Evidently the two members of the Gun Club went to that mysterious region where preparations were going on for the great operation. But where could this place be? It was most important to know where this place was in order to break up and destroy the plans of these engineers before they had got too far in their work.

The consternation produced by this departure of the President and his associate was enormous. It soon changed public opinion to hatred against the N.P.P.A. and its managers. But there was one man who ought to know where the President and his associate had gone. There was one man who could answer this gigantic question, which at present excited the whole world and this man was-J.T. Maston. He was ordered to appear before the Committee of Inquiry under the Presidency of John Prestice. He did not appear. Had he also left Baltimore? Had he also gone to join his associates to aid them in their work, the results of which the whole world now expected with such immense fright? No. J.T. Maston was living still in his Ballistic Cottage, at No. 179 Franklin Street, working all the time and already beginning new calculations, only interrupting his work when he wanted to spend a social evening with Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt at her magnificent residence at New Park. An agent was sent to him by the President of the Inquiry Committee with orders to bring him to their meeting. The agent arrived at the cottage, knocked at the door and introduced himself. He was harshly received by "Fire-Fire," but much worse by the proprietor of the house. However, Mr. Maston thought it was no more than right that he should go to the meeting, and he went with the agent. As soon as he had arrived they began to question him.

The first question was, "Where is President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl at present?" He answered with a steady voice, "I know where they are, but I am not at liberty to disclose this information." Second question: "Have he and his associates made the necessary preparations to put this operation in working order?" "This," said Maston, "is a part of the secret which I cannot reveal." "Would he be man enough to let this Committee examine his own work, so they would be able to judge if his Society would be in position to accomplish their intentions?" "No, most certainly I shall not allow it, never; I would rather destroy it. It is my right as a citizen of free America to refuse to communicate to any person the result of my work."

"But," said President Prestice in a very serious voice, "if it is your right to keep silent, it is the right of the whole United States to ask you to stop these rumors and give an explanation of the means which will be employed by your Company," Mr. Maston did not agree that it was his right nor that it was his duty to answer further questions. In spite of their begging, threatening, etc., they could obtain nothing from this man with the iron hook. Never, never, would he say one word of it, and it was hardly possible to believe that such a strong will was concealed under that cover of "gutta-percha." Mr. Maston went away as he had come; he was congratulated by Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, who was delighted by the courageous attitude taken by him. When the results of this last meeting of the Inquiry Committee became known public indignation really took a turn which threatened the security and safety of the calculator. The pressure of public opinion was so great that the Cabinet of the Government of the United States was compelled to give the Committee full permission to do what they thought most necessary and advisable in the matter. One evening, the 13th of March, J.T. Maston was in his study at the Ballistic Cottage, very much interested in different figures, when suddenly the telephone bell attracted his attention. "Hello! hello!" said he, annoyed by this sudden interruption, "who wants me?" "Mme. Scorbitt." "What does Mrs. Scorbitt want?" "She wants to put you on your guard, I am informed this moment"-and she had not time to finish the phrase when Mr. Maston heard a terrible noise at the door of his house. On the stairs which led to his study there was an extraordinary racket. He could hear loud voices, many angry voices. Then the noise of a whole army of men moving towards his door. It was his servant Fire-Fire, who was trying to keep the intruders from breaking, into the house and disturbing the "home" of the master. A moment afterwards the door was violently opened and a policeman appeared, followed by several others. This policeman had a warrant to make a visit to the house and to take possession of all papers and also of J.T. Maston himself. The angry Secretary of the Gun Club reached for his revolver, and would have certainly defended himself had he not been suddenly disarmed. He was held by officers, and all his papers were put in a bundle. Suddenly he made a bold effort, freed himself, grabbed his note-book, out of which he tore the last page and began to chew it very quickly. "Now you can take it," said he, "for it will be no good to you." An hour afterwards he was a prisoner in the jail of Baltimore. This was undoubtedly the best that could happen to him, as it was extremely dangerous for him to be at liberty due to the then excited state of the public mind.

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