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Topsy-Turvy By Jules Verne Characters: 12412

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

According to a former story a gun was to be employed to throw the projectile from the earth to the moon; now the gun was to be employed to change the earth's axis. The cannon, always the cannon; these gunners of the Gun Club had nothing else in their heads but the cannon. They had a real craze for the cannon. Was this brutal engine again threatening the universe? Yes, we are sorry to confess it, it was a cannon which was uppermost in the mind of President Barbicane and his associates. After the Columbiad of Florida, they had gone on to the monster cannon of the place "x." We may almost hear them shout with a loud voice: "Take aim at the moon." First act, "Fire." "Change the axis of the earth." Second act, "Fire." And the wish which the whole world had for them was, "To hell." Third act, "Fire." And really their scheme justified the popular opinion.

As it was, the publication of this last report of the Committee in the newspapers produced an effect of which one can scarcely form an ideal. The operation to be tried by President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl, it was very clear, was going to bring about one of the most disastrous interruptions in the daily routine of the earth. Everybody understood what the consequences of it would be. Therefore the experiment of Barbicane & Co. was generally cursed, denounced, etc. In the Old as well as in the New World the members of the N.P.P.A. had at the time only enemies. If there were indeed a few friends left to them among their cranky American admirers, they were very few.

Regarding only their personal security, President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl had acted wisely in leaving Baltimore and America. It was safe to believe that some accident had happened to them. They could not without divine punishment threaten fourteen hundred million inhabitants by a change wrought in the habitability of the earth.

But how was it possible that the two leaders of the Gun Club had disappeared without leaving any trace behind them? How could they have sent away the material and assistants which were necessary to such an operation without any one seeing them? A hundred railroad cars, if it was by rail, a hundred vessels, if it was by water, would not have been more than sufficient to transport the loads of metal of coal, and of melimelonite. It was entirely incomprehensible how this departure could have been made incognito. However, it was done. And still more serious it appeared when it was known after inquiry that no orders had been sent to the gun foundries or powder factories, or the factories which produce chemical products in either of the two continents. How inexplicable all this was! Without doubt it would be explained some day.

At any rate, if President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl, who had mysteriously disappeared, were sheltered from any immediate danger, their colleague, Mr. Maston, was under lock and key, and had to face all the public indignation. Nothing could make him yield, however. Deep at the bottom of the cell which he occupied in the prison of Baltimore, the Secretary of the Gun Club gave himself up more and more to thinking of those distant associates whom he was not able to follow. He pictured the vision of President Barbicane and his associate, Capt. Nicholl, preparing their gigantic operation at this unknown point of the globe, with nothing in their way. He saw them build their enormous device, combining their melimelonite, moulding the projectile which the sun would so soon count as one of its small satellites. This new star was to have the charming name "Scorbetta," in gallant acknowledgment of the love and esteem felt towards the rich capitalist widow of New Park. J.T. Maston calculated the days which would elapse before the one on which the gun would be fired.

It was already the beginning of April. In two months and a half the meridian star, after having stopped on the Tropic of Cancer, would go back towards the Tropic of Capricorn. Three months later it would traverse the equatorial line at the Fall equinox.

And then these seasons, which have appeared annually for millions of years, and which have changed so regularly, will be brought to an end. For the last time in 189-the sphere would have submitted to this succession of days and nights. Truly, this was a magnificent work, superhuman, even divine. J.T. Maston forgot the Arctic region and the exploration of the coal mines around the pole, and he only saw, in his mind's eye, the cosmographic consequences of the operation. The principal object of the association was now to make those changes and displacements which were to remodel the face of the earth.

But that was just the point. Did the earth wish to change her face at all? Was she not still young and charming with the one which God had given her at the first hour of her creation?

Alone and defenseless in his prison cell, nothing could induce Mr. Maston to speak about the matter, no matter what plan was tried. The members of the Inquiry Committee urged him daily to speak, and visited him daily, but they could obtain nothing. It was about this time that John Prestice had the idea of using an influence which might possibly succeed, and this was the aid of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. Every one knew what feelings the generous widow entertained for Mr. Maston, how devoted she was to him, and what unlimited interest she had in this celebrated calculator. Therefore, after deliberation of the Committee, Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt was authorized to come and go, visiting the prisoner as much as she liked.

Was she not threatened just as well as any other person on this earth by the recoil of this monster cannon? Would her palace at New Park be spared any more than the smallest hut of the Indian? Was not her very existence just as much in doubt as that of the savage living on the furthest isle of the Pacific Ocean? That is what the President of the Inquiry Committee gave her to understand, and for this reason she was begged to use her influence with the mathematician. If he would consent to speak, and would say at what place President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl were, and how many people they had with them to accomplish their ends

, it would yet be time to go and stop them and put an end to their project, and thus save humanity from this most dangerous catastrophe which threatened the world.

Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt was therefore admitted to the prison whenever she wished it. She was most desirous of seeing J.T. Maston again after he had been taken from his comfortable study at Ballistic Cottage by those rough police agents. If any impolite person had on the 9th of April put his ear at the door of his cell the first time when Mrs. Scorbitt entered he would have heard the following conversation:

"Ah, at last, my dear Maston, I see you again."

"You, Mrs. Scorbitt!"

"Yes, my dear friend, after four weeks-four long weeks of separation."

"Exactly twenty-eight days, five hours and forty-five minutes," answered J.T. Maston, after having consulted his watch.

"Finally we are reunited."

"But how did it happen that they allowed you to penetrate as far as this cell to see me, dear Mrs. Scorbitt?"

"Under the condition of using all my influence over you, thanks to my affection for you, in advising you to disclose the secret of the whereabouts of President Barbicane."

"What, Evangelina!" cried Mr. Maston, "and you have consented to give me such advice. You have entertained the thought that I could betray my associates."

"Me, dear Maston! Do you consider me so bad? Me! To sacrifice your security for your honor. Me! To persuade you to an act which would shame a life consecrated entirely to the highest speculations of pure mathematics."

"Bravo, Mrs. Scorbitt! I see in you once more the generous patron of our Society. No, I have never doubted your great heart."

"Thank you, Mr. Maston."

"In regard to myself," continued Maston, "allow me to say, before telling the point of the earth where our great shooting will take place-sell, so to speak, the secret which I have been able to keep so well, to allow these barbarians to fly and pursue our friends, to interrupt their works, which will make our profit and glory, I would rather die."

"Splendid, Mr. Maston!" cried Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt.

And these two beings, united by the same enthusiasm, crazed by it if you will, one as well as the other, were well matched in understanding each other perfectly.

"No, they will never know the name of the country which my calculations have designated, and the reputation of which will become immortal," said J.T. Maston. "They can silence me if they like, but they will never have the secret from me."

"And they can kill me with you," said Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt; "I will also be mute."

"It is lucky, dear Evangelina, that they are ignorant of your knowledge of the place."

"Do you believe that I would be capable of betraying it, because I am only a woman? Betray my associates and you! No, my friend, no. If they should raise the whole city and country against you-if the whole world would come to the door of this cell to take you away, I shall be there, too, and we will at least have one consolation-we will die together."

As if there could be any greater consolation and Mr. Maston could dream of a sweeter death than dying in the arms of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt! And so ended the conversation every time that this excellent woman visited the prisoner. And when the Inquiry Committee asked her what the result was, she would say: "Nothing as yet; perhaps with time I shall be able to reach my point."

Ah, women, women! What are women? "In time," she urged. But time went on with fast steps. Weeks went 'round like days, days like hours and hours like minutes.

It was already May. Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt had not been able to get any information from J.T. Maston, and where she had failed there was no hope of any other person succeeding.

Was it, then, necessary to accept this terrible shock without interfering in any way? No, no! Under such circumstances resignation was impossible. The European delegates became more and more out of spirits. There was wrangling between them every day. Even Jacques Jansen woke up out of his Dutch placidity and annoyed his colleagues greatly by his daily charges and countercharges. Col. Boris Karkof even had a duel with the Secretary of the Inquiry Committee in which he only slightly injured his adversary. And Major Donellan; well, he neither fought with firearms nor with bare fists, quite contrary to English use, and he only looked on while his Secretary, Dean Toodrink, exchanged a few blows according to prize-ring rules with William S. Forster, the phlegmatic dealer in codfish, the straw man of the N.P.P.A., who really knew absolutely nothing of the affair.

The whole world was leagued against the United States and wanted to hold the Americans responsible for the actions of one of their number-the celebrated Impey Barbicane. There was talk of recalling the ambassadors and the foreign Ministers at present accredited to this most reckless Government at Washington and of declaring war against the United States. Poor United States! It only wished to lay its hands on Barbicane & Co. In vain did the Republic reply to the Powers of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia that they were at liberty to arrest these adventurous Americans wherever they found them. Nobody would listen patiently to such talk. And so, far away President Barbicane and his associate were occupied in preparing their great operation. As nothing could be found of them the foreign countries began to say: "You have their accomplice; now it is sure that Mr. Maston knows where these people are and what they are doing. Make him speak, this man, Mr. Maston. Why not use hot oil, melted lead, etc.? Why not use such means as were used formerly under circumstances less grave and for cases which only interested a few private people? But it was answered that, while such means were justified in former times, they could not be used at the end of a century as far advanced as the nineteenth century was. Therefore, J.T. Maston had nothing to fear in that line; all that was left to hope was that he would finally consider the enormity of his crime and would decide to reveal his secret, or that some accident would reveal it for him.

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