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   Chapter 20 IN WHICH THIS STORY, AS TRUTHFUL AS IT IS IMPROBABLE, IS FINISHED.

Topsy-Turvy By Jules Verne Characters: 9630

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Barbicane!!! Nicholl!!"

"Maston."

"You."

"We."

And in this plural pronoun, uttered simultaneously by the two associates in a single voice, might be heard a flood of irony and reproaches.

J.T. Maston pressed his iron hook on his forehead. Then, with a voice which seemed to stick in his throat, he said:

"Did your shaft at Kilimanjaro really have a diameter of twenty-seven metres?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did your projectile really weigh 180,000,000 of kilograms?"

"Yes."

"And was the shooting really done with 2,000 pounds of melimelonite?"

"Yes."

This thrice-repeated "yes" fell on J. T. Maston like masses of stone on his head.

"Then I can only conclude"-said he.

"What?" asked President Barbicane.

"As follows," said J. T. Maston. "As the operation did not succeed, the powder did not give to the projectile an initial velocity of 2,800 kilometres."

"Really?" said Capt. Nicholl, with a tone of sarcasm.

"Yes, your melimelonite is good only to charge pistols of straw."

Capt. Nicholl sprang up at this remark, which was an outrageous insult to him.

"Maston!" said he.

"Nicholl!"

"You ought to be blown up with the melimelonite."

"No, gun cotton; that is more sure."

Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt had to interfere and cool these two enraged gunners down.

"Gentlemen," said she, between associates.

"And anyhow," President Barbicane resumed, with a very calm expression, "what is the good of criminations? It is certain that the calculations of our friend, J. T. Maston, were correct, as it is certain that the explosive of our friend Nicholl had sufficient power. Yes, we have only employed known quantities of science. We lacked experience. Why did we fail? Perhaps we may never know."

"Well," said the Secretary of the Gun Club, "we will commence all over again." "And the money then which has been spent for this operation is a dead loss," observed Capt. Nicholl.

"But public opinion," said Evangelina Scorbitt, "would not allow you a second trial."

"What will become of our Arctic region?" said Capt. Nicholl." "Where will the stock of the N.P.P.A. fall to?" said President Barbicane. Well, it had already fallen so far that the stock was offered at the price of old paper.

This, then, was the result of the gigantic operation. This was the memorable fiasco to which the superhuman projects of Barbicane & Co. had led.

If ever engineers, unlucky engineers were laughed at in public, if ever the newspaper made drawings, songs, and paragraphs not at all flattering to the people mentioned in them, this occasion exceeded them all. President Barbicane, the Directors of the new Society and their associates of the Gun Club were universally sneered at. In every language they were made ridiculous, and to make it easier to the whole population of the world to read the scornful articles were printed in "Volapuk." In Europe, especially, all the remarks and songs to make the persons of the N.P.P.A. ridiculous were spread broadcast. The greatest hit was made by a Frenchman, who composed a ballad which was sung in every concert hall of France and America. But will we never know to what the failure of this enterprise was due? Did this failure prove that the operation was impossible of realization; that the powers at the disposal of mankind would never be sufficient to bring about a change in the earth's movement? Did it prove that the country around the North Pole would never be removed to those regions where the sun and heat would melt the ice without human help?

Information on this subject came a few days after the return of President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl to the United States. A very simple paragraph appeared in the Times of the 17th of October. Here is the article:

"We all know that the result of the operation to create a new axis has been nothing. However, the calculations of J.T. Maston, founded on established facts, would have produced the desired result if through an unexplainable slip an error had not been embraced in them from the beginning. When the celebrated secretary of the Gun Club took for a basis of his calculations the circumference of the earth's sphere, he figured it at 40,000 metres in place of 40,000,000 metres, and to which the failing of the operation is due.

"Where could such an error come from? Who could have provoked it?... How could such a remarkable calculator commit such an error?

"It is certain that had the problem of the modification of the earth's axis been correctly figured, it would have had been exactly solved. But this forgetting of three zeros has made a change at the end of the calculation of twelve naughts.

"It is not a cannon one million times larger than that of twenty-seven centimetres, which was necessary. A trillion of these cannons thro

wing a trillion projectiles of 80,000 tons each would be necessary to displace the North Pole, admitting that the melimelonite had the expansive power which had been attributed to it by Capt. Nicholl.

"Therefore the whole shock under the conditions under which it was produced has displaced the North Pole only three-thousandths of a milimeter, and has only changed the level of the ocean at the most nine-thousandths of three-thousandths of a milimetre. In regard to the projectile fired, it will be a small planet, and will belong in future to the solar system, sustained by solar attraction.

ALCIDE PIERDEUX ".

So this want of attention on the part of J.T. Maston at the beginning of his calculations had produced such a humiliating result for his Company.

But even if his associates were very angry against him, if everybody laughed and joked at him, it is only fair to state in his favor that this mistake which had wrecked the operation had spared the world a terrible catastrophe.

A flood of telegrams and letters arrived from all parts of the world congratulating J.T. Maston on his mistake of three naughts. J.T. Maston, more downhearted and crushed than ever, would not listen to the hurrahs which the world now uttered for him. President Barbicane, Capt. Nicholl, Tom Hunter, with wooden legs; Col. Bloomsberry, the gay Bilsby, and his associates would never pardon him. But Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt she could not be angry with him, most excellent lady.

J.T. Maston had begun to do his calculations over again, refusing to admit that he was wrong at that point.

He was, however; the Engineer Alcide Pierdeux had not made a mistake. Having learnt his error at the last moment, when he had no time to make it known, he had remained perfectly composed among all the fright and terror of those about him. That was why he proposed a toast in champagne at the moment when the shooting was taking place in the Old World. Yes, indeed, three naughts had been forgotten in the circumference of the earth. Suddenly J.T. Maston remembered the whole matter.

It was at the beginning of his work when he had shut himself up in the "Ballistic Cottage," and written the number 40,000,000 on his blackboard. At that moment the electric bell began to ring with great force. J.T. Maston went to the phone. He exchanged a few words with Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. Suddenly a terrible stroke of lightning from the storm through the telephone knocked over his blackboard and himself. He got up, commenced to write over again the numbers which had been half rubbed out on his blackboard. He had just written the numbers 40,000 when the telephone rang for the second time. He went again to listen to Mme. Scorbitt, and when he did begin his work he forgot to put on the last three naughts of the earth's circumference.

It was the fault of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. If she had not interrupted him he would not have been thrown on the floor by the shock from the telephone. He would not have noticed anything of lightning and thunder, and all his mass of figures and calculations would not have ended in a mistake.

What a terrible blow it was to this unhappy lady when J.T. Maston was compelled to tell her the circumstances which had produced the mistake! Yes, she was the cause of the disaster. It was on her account that J.T. Maston found himself dishonored through the long years which he bad yet to live, as nearly every member of the Gun Club usually lived to the age of a hundred years.

After this conversation at New Park, J. T. Maston had gone away from the mansion. He went back to his Ballistic Cottage and walked into his study muttering to himself: "Well, now I am not good for anything any more in this world."

"Not even good enough to get married," said a broken voice at his elbow.

It was that of Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt. Absolutely crushed and heart-broken, she had followed him.

"Dear Maston"-she began.

"Well, yes," said he, "but only under one condition-that I shall never make any mathematical calculations."

"My dear friend, I have a horror of them," answered the excellent widow.

Thus it happened that the Secretary of the Gun Club made Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt Mrs. J. T. Maston.

In regard to the article of Alcide Pierdeux, we might say that it brought him into great celebrity and reputation.

It was translated into all languages, printed in every paper, and thus his name became known all over the world. The father of his old sweetheart had refused him his daughter's hand, after telling him that he could not give him his daughter, as he was too smart. But now, after having read this article and being unable to understand it without any help, he began to feel sorry and know better. He sent him an invitation to dine with him and his daughter.

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