Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Norman Wolcott
ROBUR THE CONQUEROR
By Jules Verne
I Mysterious sounds
II Agreement Impossible
III A Visitor is Announced
IV In Which a New Character Appears
V Another Disappearance
VI The President and Secretary Suspend Hostilities
VII On board the Albatross
VIII The Balloonists Refuse to be Convinced
IX Across the Prairie
X Westward--but Whither?
XI The Wide Pacific
XII Through the Himalayas
XIII Over the Caspian
XIV The Aeronef at Full Speed
XV A Skirmish in Dahomey
XVI Over the Atlantic
XVII The Shipwrecked Crew
XVIII Over the Volcano
XIX Anchored at Last
XX The Wreck of the Albatross
XXI The Institute Again
XXII The GoAhead is Launched
XXIII The Grand Collapse
The pistol shots were almost simultaneous. A cow peacefully grazing
fifty yards away received one of the bullets in her back. She had
nothing to do with the quarrel all the same.
Neither of the adversaries was hit.
Who were these two gentlemen? We do not know, although this would be
an excellent opportunity to hand down their names to posterity. All
we can say is that the elder was an Englishman and the younger an
American, and both of them were old enough to know better.
So far as recording in what locality the inoffensive ruminant had
just tasted her last tuft of herbage, nothing can be easier. It was
on the left bank of Niagara, not far from the suspension bridge which
joins the American to the Canadian bank three miles from the falls.
The Englishman stepped up to the American.
"I contend, nevertheless, that it was 'Rule Britannia!'"
"And I say it was 'Yankee Doodle!'" replied the young American.
The dispute was about to begin again when one of the seconds--
doubtless in the interests of the milk trade--interposed.
"Suppose we say it was 'Rule Doodle' and 'Yankee Britannia' and
adjourn to breakfast?"
This compromise between the national airs of Great Britain and the
United States was adopted to the general satisfaction. The Americans
and Englishmen walked up the left bank of the Niagara on their way to
Goat Island, the neutral ground. between the falls. Let us leave them
in the presence of the boiled eggs and traditional ham, and floods
enough of tea to make the cataract jealous, and trouble ourselves no
more about them. It is extremely unlikely that we shall again meet
with them in this story.
Which was right; the Englishman or the American? It is not easy to
say. Anyhow the duel shows how great was the excitement, not only in
the new but also in the old world, with regard to an inexplicable
phenomenon which for a month or more had driven everybody to
Never had the sky been so much looked at since the appearance of man
on the terrestrial globe. The night before an aerial trumpet had
blared its brazen notes through space immediately over that part of
Canada between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Some people had heard
those notes as "Yankee Doodle," others had heard them as "Rule
Britannia," and hence the quarrel between the Anglo-Saxons, which
ended with the breakfast on Goat Island. Perhaps it was neither one
nor the other of these patriotic tunes, but what was undoubted by all
was that these extraordinary sounds had seemed to descend from the
sky to the earth.
What could it be? Was it some exuberant aeronaut rejoicing on that
sonorous instrument of which the Renommée makes such obstreperous use?
No! There was no balloon and there were no aeronauts. Some strange
phenomenon had occurred in the higher zones of the atmosphere, a
phenomenon of which neither the nature nor the cause could be
explained. Today it appeared over America; forty-eight hours
afterwards it was over Europe; a week later it was in Asia over the
Hence in every country of the world--empire, kingdom, or republic--
there was anxiety which it was important to allay. If you hear in
your house strange and inexplicable noises, do you not at once
endeavor to discover the cause? And if your search is in vain, do you
not leave your house and take up your quarters in another? But in
this case the house was the terrestrial globe! There are no means of
leaving that house for the moon or Mars, or Venus, or Jupiter, or
any other planet of the solar system. And so of necessity we have to
find out what it is that takes place, not in the infinite void, but
within the atmospherical zones. In fact, if there is no air there is
no noise, and as there was a noise--that famous trumpet, to wit--
the phenomenon must occur in the air, the density of which invariably
diminishes, and which does not extend for more than six miles round
Naturally the newspapers took up the question in their thousands, and
treated it in every form, throwing on it both light and darkness,
recording many things about it true or false, alarming and
tranquillizing their readers--as the sale required--and almost
driving ordinary people mad. At one blow party politics dropped
unheeded--and the affairs of the world went on none the worse for it.
But what could this thing be? There was not an observatory that was
not applied to. If an observatory could not give a satisfactory
answer what was the use of observatories? If astronomers, who doubled
and tripled the stars a hundred thousand million miles away, could
not explain a phenomenon occurring only a few miles off, what was the
use of astronomers?
The observatory at Paris was very guarded in what it said. In the
mathematical section they had not thought the statement worth
noticing; in the meridional section they knew nothing about it; in
the physical observatory they had not come across it; in the geodetic
section they had had no observation; in the meteorological section
there had been no record; in the calculating room they had had
nothing to deal with. At any rate this confession was a frank one,
and the same frankness characterized the replies from the observatory
of Montsouris and the magnetic station in the park of St. Maur. The
same respect for the truth distinguished the Bureau des Longitudes.
The provinces were slightly more affirmative. Perhaps in the night of
the fifth and the morning of the sixth of May there had appeared a
flash of light of electrical origin which lasted about twenty
seconds. At the Pic du Midi this light appeared between nine and ten
in the evening. At the Meteorological Observatory on the Puy de Dome
the light had been observed between one and two o'clock in the
morning; at Mont Ventoux in Provence it had been seen between two and
three o'clock; at Nice it had been noticed between three and four
o'clock; while at the Semnoz Alps between Annecy, Le Bourget, and Le
Léman, it had been detected just as the zenith was paling with the
Now it evidently would not do to disregard these observations
altogether. There could be no doubt that a light had been observed at
different places, in succession, at intervals, during some hours.
Hence, whether it had been produced from many centers in the
terrestrial atmosphere, or from one center, it was plain that the
light must have traveled at a speed of over one hundred and twenty
miles an hour.
In the United Kingdom there was much perplexity. The observatories
were not in agreement. Greenwich would not consent to the proposition
of Oxford. They were agreed on one point, however, and that was: "It
was nothing at all!"
But, said one, "It was an optical illusion!" While the, other
contended that, "It was an acoustical illusion!" And so they
disputed. Something, however, was, it will be seen, common to both
"It was an illusion."
Between the observatory of Berlin and the observatory of Vienna the
discussion threatened to end in international complications; but
Russia, in the person of the director of the observatory at Pulkowa,
showed that both were right. It all depended on the point of view
from which they attacked the phenomenon, which, though impossible in
theory, was possible in practice.
In Switzerland, at the observatory of Sautis in the canton of
Appenzell, at the Righi, at the Gäbriss, in the passes of the St.
Gothard, at the St. Bernard, at the Julier, at the Simplon, at
Zurich, at Somblick in the Tyrolean Alps, there was a very strong
disinclination to say anything about what nobody could prove--and
that was nothing but reasonable.
But in Italy, at the meteorological stations on Vesuvius, on Etna in
the old Casa Inglesi, at Monte Cavo, the observers made no hesitation
in admitting the materiality of the phenomenon, particularly as they
had seen it by day in the form of a small cloud of vapor, and by
night in that of a shooting star. But of what it was they knew
Scientists began at last to tire of the mystery, while they continued
to disagree about it, and even to frighten the lowly and the
ignorant, who, thanks to one of the wisest laws of nature, have
formed, form, and will form the immense majority of the world's
inhabitants. Astronomers and meteorologists would soon have dropped
the subject altogether had not, on the night of the 26th and 27th,
the observatory of Kautokeino at Finmark, in Norway, and during the
night of the 28th and 29th that of Isfjord at Spitzbergen--Norwegian
one and Swedish the other--found themselves agreed in recording that
in the center of an aurora borealis there had appeared a sort of huge
bird, an aerial monster, whose structure they were unable to
determine, but who, there was no doubt, was showering off from his
body certain corpuscles which exploded like bombs.
In Europe not a doubt was thrown on this observation of the stations
in Finmark and Spitzbergen. But what appeared the most phenomenal
about it was that the Swedes and Norwegians could find themselves in
agreement on any subject whatever.
There was a laugh at the asserted discovery in all the observatories
of South America, in Brazil, Peru, and La Plata, and in those of
Australia at Sydney, Adelaide, and Melbourne; and Australian laughter
is very catching.
To sum up, only one chief of a meteorological station ventured on a
decided answer to this question, notwithstanding the sarcasms that
his solution provoked. This was a Chinaman, the director of the
observatory at Zi-Ka-Wey which rises in the center of a vast plateau
less than thirty miles from the sea, having an immense horizon and
wonderfully pure atmosphere. "It is possible," said he, "that the
object was an aviform apparatus--a flying machine!"
But if the controversy was keen in the old world, we can imagine what
it was like in that portion of the new of which the United States
occupy so vast an area.
A Yankee, we know, does not waste time on the road. He takes the
street that leads him straight to his end. And the observatories of
the American Federation did not hesitate to do their best. If they
did not hurl their objectives at each other's heads, it was because
they would have had to put them back just when they most wanted to
use them. In this much-disputed question the observatories of
Washington in the District of Columbia, and Cambridge in
Massachusetts, found themselves opposed by those of Dartmouth College
in New Hampshire, and Ann Arbor in Michigan. The subject of their
dispute was not the nature of the body observed, but the precise
moment of its observation. All of them claimed to have seen it the
same night, the same hour, the same minute, the same second, although
the trajectory of the mysterious voyager took it but a moderate
height above the horizon. Now from Massachusetts to Michigan, from
New Hampshire to Columbia, the distance is too great for this double
observation, made at the same moment, to be considered possible.
Dudley at Albany, in the state of New York, and West Point, the
military academy, showed that their colleagues were wrong by an
elaborate calculation of the right ascension and declination of the
But later on it was discovered that the observers had been deceived
in the body, and that what they had seen was an aerolite. This
aerolite could not be the object in question, for how could an
aerolite blow a trumpet?
It was in vain that they tried to get rid of this trumpet as an
optical illusion. The ears were no more deceived than the eyes.
Something had assuredly been seen, and something had assuredly been
heard. In the night of the 12th and 13th of May--a very dark night--
the observers at Yale College, in the Sheffield Science School, had
been able to take down a few bars of a musical phrase in D major,
common time, which gave note for note, rhythm for rhythm, the chorus
of the Chant du Départ.
"Good," said the Yankee wags. "There is a French band well up in the
"But to joke is not to answer." Thus said the observatory at Boston,
founded by the Atlantic Iron Works Society, whose opinions in matters
of astronomy and meteorology began to have much weight in the world
Then there intervened the observatory at Cincinnati, founded in 1870,
on Mount Lookout, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Kilgour, and known
for its micrometrical measurements of double stars. Its director
declared with the utmost good faith that there had certainly been
something, that a traveling body had shown itself at very short
periods at different points in the atmosphere, but what were the
nature of this body, its dimensions, its speed, and its trajectory,
it was impossible to say.
It was then a journal whose publicity is immense--the "New York
Herald"--received the anonymous contribution hereunder.
"There will be in the recollection of most people the rivalry which
existed a few years ago between the two heirs of the Begum of
Ragginahra, the French doctor Sarrasin, the city of Frankville, and
the German engineer Schultze, in the city of Steeltown, both in the
south of Oregon in the United States.
"It will not have been forgotten that, with the object of destroying
Frankville, Herr Schultze launched a formidable engine, intended to
beat down the town and annihilate it at a single blow.
"Still less will it be forgotten that this engine, whose initial
velocity as it left the mouth of the monster cannon had been
erroneously calculated, had flown off at a speed exceeding by sixteen
times that of ordinary projectiles--or about four hundred and fifty
miles an hour--that it did not fall to the ground, and that it
passed into an aerolitic stag, so as to circle for ever round our globe.
"Why should not this be the body in question?"
Very ingenious, Mr. Correspondent on the "New York Herald!" but how
about the trumpet? There was no trumpet in Herr Schulze's projectile!
So all the explanations explained nothing, and all the observers had
observed in vain. There remained only the suggestion offered by the
director of Zi-Ka-Wey. But the opinion of a Chinaman!
The discussion continued, and there was no sign of agreement. Then
came a short period of rest. Some days elapsed without any object,
aerolite or otherwise, being described, and without any trumpet notes
being heard in the atmosphere. The body then had fallen on some part
of the globe where it had been difficult to trace it; in the sea,
perhaps. Had it sunk in the depths of the Atlantic, the Pacific, or
the Indian Ocean? What was to be said in this matter?
But then, between the 2nd and 9th of June, there came a new series of
facts which could not possibly be explained by the unaided existence
of a cosmic phenomenon.
In a week the Hamburgers at the top of St. Michael's Tower, the Turks
on the highest minaret of St. Sophia, the Rouennais at the end of the
metal spire of their cathedral, the Strasburgers at the summit of
their minister, the Americans on the head of the Liberty statue at
the entrance of the Hudson and on the Bunker Hill monument at Boston,
the Chinese at the spike of the temple, of the Four Hundred Genii at
Canton, the Hindus on the sixteenth terrace of the pyramid of the
temple at Tanjore, the San Pietrini at the cross of St. Peter's at
Rome, the English at the cross of St. Paul's in London, the Egyptians
at the appex of the Great Pyramid of Ghizeh, the Parisians at the
lighting conductor of the iron tower of the Exposition of 1889, a
thousand feet high, all of them beheld a flag floating from some one
of these inaccessible points.
And the flag was black, dotted with stars, and it bore a golden sun
in its center.
"And the first who says the contrary --"
"Indeed! But we will say the contrary so long as there is a place to
say it in!"
"And in spite of your threats --"
"Mind what you are saying, Bat Fynn!"
"Mind what you are saying, Uncle Prudent!"
"I maintain that the screw ought to be behind!"
"And so do we! And so do we!" replied half a hundred voices
confounded in one.
"No! It ought to be in front!" shouted Phil Evans.
"In front!" roared fifty other voices, with a vigor in no whit less
"We shall never agree!"
"Then what is the use of a dispute?"
"It is not a dispute! It is a discussion!"
One would not have thought so to listen to the taunts, objurgations,
and vociferations which filled the lecture room for a good quarter of
The room was one of the largest in the Weldon Institute, the
well-known club in Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U. S.
A. The evening before there had been an election of a lamplighter,
occasioning many public manifestations, noisy meetings, and even
interchanges of blows, resulting in an effervescence which had not
yet subsided, and which would account for some of the excitement just
exhibited by the members of the Weldon Institute. For this was merely
a meeting of balloonists, discussing the burning question of the
direction of balloons.
In this great saloon there were struggling, pushing, gesticulating,
shouting, arguing, disputing, a hundred balloonists, all with their
hats on, under the authority of a president, assisted by a secretary
and treasurer. They were not engineers by profession, but simply
amateurs of all that appertained to aerostatics, and they were
amateurs in a fury, and especially foes of those who would oppose to
aerostats "apparatuses heavier than the air," flying machines, aerial
ships, or what not. That these people might one day discover the
method of guiding balloons is possible. There could be no doubt that
their president had considerable difficulty in guiding them.
This president, well known in Philadelphia was the famous Uncle
Prudent, Prudent being his family name. There is nothing surprising
in America in the qualificative uncle, for you can there be uncle
without having either nephew or niece. There they speak of uncle as
in other places they speak of father, though the father may have had
Uncle Prudent was a personage of consideration, and in spite of his
name was well known for his audacity. He was very rich, and that is
no drawback even in the United States; and how could it be otherwise
when he owned the greater part of the shares in Niagara Falls? A
society of engineers had just been founded at Buffalo for working the
cataract. It seemed to be an excellent speculation. The seven
thousand five hundred cubic meters that pass over Niagara in a second
would produce seven millions of horsepower. This enormous power,
distributed amongst all the workshops within a radius of three
hundred miles, would return an annual income of three hundred million
dollars, of which the greater part would find its way into the pocket
of Uncle Prudent. He was a bachelor, he lived quietly, and for his
only servant had his valet Frycollin, who was hardly worthy of being
the servant to so audacious a master.
Uncle Prudent was rich, and therefore he had friends, as was natural;
but he also had enemies, although he was president of the club--
among others all those who envied his position. Amongst his bitterest
foes we may mention the secretary of the Weldon Institute.
This was Phil Evans, who was also very rich, being the manager of the
Wheelton Watch Company, an important manufactory, which makes every
day five hundred movements equal in every respect to the best Swiss
workmanship. Phil Evans would have passed for one of the happiest men
in the world, and even in the United States, if it had not been for
Uncle Prudent. Like him he was in his forty-sixth year; like him of
invariable health; like him of undoubted boldness. They were two men
made to understand each other thoroughly, but they did not, for both
were of extreme violence of character. Uncle Prudent was furiously
hot; Phil Evans was abnormally cool.
And why had not Phil Evans been elected president of the club? The
votes were exactly divided between Uncle Prudent and him. Twenty
times there had been a scrutiny, and twenty times the majority had
not declared for either one or the other. The position was
embarrassing, and it might have lasted for the lifetime of the
One of the members of the club then proposed a way out of the
difficulty. This was Jem Chip, the treasurer of the Weldon Institute.
Chip was a confirmed vegetarian, a proscriber of all animal
nourishment, of all fermented liquors, half a Mussulman, half a
Brahman. On this occasion Jem Chip was supported by another member of
the club, William T. Forbes, the manager of a large factory where
they made glucose by treating rags with sulphuric acid. A man of good
standing was this William T. Forbes, the father of two charming girls
-- Miss Dorothy, called Doll, and Miss Martha, called Mat, who gave
the tone to the best society in Philadelphia.
It followed, then, on the proposition of Jem Chip, supported by
William T. Forbes and others, that it was decided to elect the
president "on the center point."
This mode of election can be applied in all cases when it is desired
to elect the most worthy; and a number of Americans of high
intelligence are already thinking of employing it in the nomination
of the President of the Republic of the United States.
On two boards of perfect whiteness a black line is traced. The length
of each of these lines is mathematically the same, for they have been
determined with as much accuracy as the base of the first triangle in
a trigonometrical survey. That done, the two boards were erected on
the same day in the center of the conference room, and the two
candidates, each armed with a fine needle, marched towards the board
that had fallen to his lot. The man who planted his needle nearest
the center of the line would be proclaimed President of the Weldon
The operation must be done at once--no guide marks or trial shots
allowed; nothing but sureness of eye. The man must have a compass in
his eye, as the saying goes; that was all.
Uncle Prudent stuck in his needle at the same moment as Phil Evans
did his. Then there began the measurement to discover which of the
two competitors had most nearly approached the center.
Wonderful! Such had been the precision of the shots that the measures
gave no appreciable difference. If they were not exactly in the
mathematical center of the line, the distance between the needles was
so small as to be invisible to the naked eye.
The meeting was much embarrassed.
Fortunately one of the members, Truck Milnor, insisted that the
measurements should be remade by means of a rule graduated by the
micrometrical machine of M. Perreaux, which can divide a millimeter
into fifteen-hundredths of a millimeter with a diamond splinter, was
brought to bear on the lines; and on reading the divisions through a
microscope the following were the results: Uncle Prudent had
approached the center within less than six fifteenth-hundredths of a
millimeter. Phil Evans was within nine fifteen-hundredths.
And that is why Phil Evans was only secretary of the Weldon
Institute, whereas Uncle Prudent was president. A difference of three
fifteen-hundredths of a millimeter! And on account of it Phil Evans
vowed against Uncle Prudent one of those hatreds which are none the
less fierce for being latent.
A VISITOR IS ANNOUNCED
The many experiments made during this last quarter of the nineteenth
century have given considerable impetus to the question of guidable
balloons. The cars furnished with propellers attached in 1852 to the
aerostats of the elongated form introduced by Henry Giffard, the
machines of Dupuy de Lome in 1872, of the Tissandier brothers in
1883, and of Captain Krebs and Renard in 1884, yielded many important
results. But if these machines, moving in a medium heavier than
themselves, maneuvering under the propulsion of a screw, working at
an angle to the direction of the wind, and even against the wind, to
return to their point of departure, had been really "guidable," they
had only succeeded under very favorable conditions. In large, covered
halls their success was perfect. In a calm atmosphere they did very
well. In a light wind of five or six yards a second they still moved.
But nothing practical had been obtained. Against a miller's wind--
nine yards a second--the machines had remained almost stationary.
Against a fresh breeze--eleven yards a second--they would have
advanced backwards. In a storm--twenty-seven to thirty-three yards a
second--they would have been blown about like a feather. In a
hurricane--sixty yards a second--they would have run the risk of
being dashed to pieces. And in one of those cyclones which exceed a
hundred yards a second not a fragment of them would have been left.
It remained, then, even after the striking experiments of Captains
Krebs and Renard, that though guidable aerostats had gained a little
speed, they could not be kept going in a moderate breeze. Hence the
impossibility of making practical use of this mode of aerial
With regards to the means employed to give the aerostat its motion a
great deal of progress had been made. For the steam engines of Henry
Giffard, and the muscular force of Dupuy de Lome, electric motors had
gradually been substituted. The batteries of bichromate of potassium
of the Tissandier brothers had given a speed of four yards a second.
The dynamo-electric machines of Captain Krebs and Renard had
developed a force of twelve horsepower and yielded a speed of six and
a half yards per second.
With regard to this motor, engineers and electricians had been
approaching more and more to that desideratum which is known as a
steam horse in a watch case. Gradually the results of the pile of
which Captains Krebs and Renard had kept the secret had been
surpassed, and aeronauts had become able to avail themselves of
motors whose lightness increased at the same time as their power.
In this there was much to encourage those who believed in the
utilization of guidable balloons. But yet how many good people there
are who refuse to admit the possibility of such a thing! If the
aerostat finds support in the air it belongs to the medium in which
it moves; under such conditions, how can its mass, which offers so
much resistance to the currents of the atmosphere, make its way
against the wind?
In this struggle of the inventors after a light and powerful motor,
the Americans had most nearly attained what they sought. A
dynamo-electric apparatus, in which a new pile was employed the
composition of which was still a mystery, had been bought from its
inventor, a Boston chemist up to then unknown. Calculations made with
the greatest care, diagrams drawn with the utmost exactitude, showed
that by means of this apparatus driving a screw of given dimensions a
displacement could be obtained of from twenty to twenty-two yards a
Now this was magnificent!
"And it is not dear," said Uncle Prudent, as he handed to the
inventor in return for his formal receipt the last installment of the
hundred thousand paper dollars he had paid for his invention.
Immediately the Weldon Institute set to work. When there comes along
a project of practical utility the money leaps nimbly enough from
American pockets. The funds flowed in even without its being
necessary to form a syndicate. Three hundred thousand dollars came
into the club's account at the first appeal. The work began under the
superintendence of the most celebrated aeronaut of the United States,
Harry W. Tinder, immortalized by three of his ascents out of a
thousand, one in which he rose to a height of twelve thousand yards,
higher than Gay Lussac, Coxwell, Sivet, Crocé-Spinelli, Tissandier,
Glaisher; another in which he had crossed America from New York to
San Francisco, exceeding by many hundred leagues the journeys of
Nadar, Godard, and others, to say nothing of that of John Wise, who
accomplished eleven hundred and fifty miles from St. Louis to
Jefferson county; the third, which ended in a frightful fall from
fifteen hundred feet at the cost of a slight sprain in the right
thumb, while the less fortunate Pilâtre de Rozier fell only seven
hundred feet, and yet killed himself on the spot!
At the time this story begins the Weldon institute had got their work
well in hand. In the Turner yard at Philadelphia there reposed an
enormous aerostat, whose strength had been tried by highly compressed
air. It well merited the name of the monster balloon.
How large was Nadar's Géant? Six thousand cubic meters. How large was
John Wise's balloon? Twenty thousand cubic meters. How large was the
Giffard balloon at the 1878 Exhibition? Twenty-five thousand cubic
meters. Compare these three aerostats with the aerial machine of the
Weldon Institute, whose volume amounted to forty thousand cubic
meters, and you will understand why Uncle Prudent and his colleagues
were so justifiably proud of it.
This balloon not being destined for the exploration of the higher
strata of the atmosphere, was not called the Excelsior, a name which
is rather too much held in honor among the citizens of America. No!
It was called, simply, the "Go-Ahead," and all it had to do was to
justify its name by going ahead obediently to the wishes of its
The dynamo-electric machine, according to the patent purchased by the
Weldon Institute, was nearly ready. In less than six weeks the
"Go-Ahead" would start for its first cruise through space.
But, as we have seen, all the mechanical difficulties had not been
overcome. Many evenings had been devoted to discussing, not the form
of its screw nor its, dimensions, but whether it ought to be put
behind, as the Tissandier brothers had done, or before as Captains
Krebs and Renard had done. It is unnecessary to add that the
partisans of the two systems had almost come to blows. The group of
"Beforists" were equaled in number by the group of "Behindists."
Uncle Prudent, who ought to have given the casting vote--Uncle
Prudent, brought up doubtless in the school of Professor Buridan--
could not bring himself to decide.
Hence the impossibility of getting the screw into place. The dispute
might last for some time, unless the government interfered. But in
the United States the government meddles with private affairs as
little as it possibly can. And it is right.
Things were in this state at this meeting on the 13th of June, which
threatened to end in a riot--insults exchanged, fisticuffs
succeeding the insults, cane thrashings succeeding the fisticuffs,
revolver shots succeeding the cane thrashings--when at thirty-seven
minutes past eight there occurred a diversion.
The porter of the Weldon Institute coolly and calmly, like a
policeman amid the storm of the meeting, approached the presidential
desk. On it he placed a card. He awaited the orders that Uncle
Prudent found it convenient to give.
Uncle Prudent turned on the steam whistle, which did duty for the
presidential bell, for even the Kremlin clock would have struck in
vain! But the tumult slackened not.
Then the president removed his hat. Thanks to this extreme measure a
semi-silence was obtained.
"A communication!" said Uncle Prudent, after taking a huge pinch from
the snuff-box which never left him.
"Speak up!" answered eighty-nine voices, accidentally in agreement on
this one point.
"A stranger, my dear colleagues, asks to be admitted to the meeting."
"Never!" replied every voice.
"He desires to prove to us, it would appear," continued Uncle
Prudent, 'that to believe in guiding balloons is to believe in the
absurdest of Utopias!"
"Let him in! Let him in!"
"What is the name of this singular personage?" asked secretary Phil
"Robur," replied Uncle Prudent.
"Robur! Robur! Robur!" yelled the assembly. And the welcome accorded
so quickly to the curious name was chiefly due to the Weldon
Institute hoping to vent its exasperation on the head of him who bore
IN WHICH A NEW CHARACTER APPEARS
"Citizens of the United States! My name is Robur. I am worthy of the
name! I am forty years old, although I look but thirty, and I have a
constitution of iron, a healthy vigor that nothing can shake, a
muscular strength that few can equal, and a digestion that would be
thought first class even in an ostrich!"
They were listening! Yes! The riot was quelled at once by the totally
unexpected fashion of the speech. Was this fellow a madman or a
hoaxer? Whoever he was, he kept his audience in hand. There was not a
whisper in the meeting in which but a few minutes ago the storm was
in full fury.
And Robur looked the man he said he was. Of middle height and
geometric breadth, his figure was a regular trapezium with the
greatest of its parallel sides formed by the line of his shoulders.
On this line attached by a robust neck there rose an enormous
spheroidal head. The head of what animal did it resemble from the
point of view of passional analogy? The head of a bull; but a bull
with an intelligent face. Eyes which at the least opposition would
glow like coals of fire; and above them a permanent contraction of
the superciliary muscle, an invariable sign of extreme energy. Short
hair, slightly woolly, with metallic reflections; large chest rising
and falling like a smith's bellows; arms, hands, legs, feet, all
worthy of the trunk. No mustaches, no whiskers, but a large American
goatee, revealing the attachments of the jaw whose masseter muscles
were evidently of formidable strength. It has been calculated--what
has not been calculated?--that the pressure of the jaw of an
ordinary crocodile can reach four hundred atmospheres, while that of
a hound can only amount to one hundred. From this the following
curious formula has been deduced: If a kilogram of dog produces eight
kilograms of masseteric force, a kilogram of crocodile could produce
twelve. Now, a kilogram of, the aforesaid Robur would not produce
less than ten, so that he came between the dog and the crocodile.
From what country did this remarkable specimen come? It was difficult
to say. One thing was noticeable, and that was that he expressed
himself fluently in English without a trace of the drawling twang
that distinguishes the Yankees of New England.
He continued: "And now, honorable citizens, for my mental faculties.
You see before you an engineer whose nerves are in no way inferior to
his muscles. I have no fear of anything or anybody. I have a strength
of will that has never had to yield. When I have decided on a thing,
all America, all the world, may strive in vain to keep me from it.
When I have an idea, I allow no one to share it, and I do not permit
any contradiction. I insist on these details, honorable citizens,
because it is necessary you should quite understand me. Perhaps you
think I am talking too much about myself? It does not matter if you
do! And now consider a little before you interrupt me, as I have come
to tell you something that you may not be particularly pleased to
A sound as of the surf on the beach began to rise along the first row
of seats--a sign that the sea would not be long in getting stormy
"Speak, stranger!" said Uncle Prudent, who had some difficulty in
And Robur spoke as follows, without troubling himself any more about
"Yes! I know it well! After a century of experiments that have led to
nothing, and trials giving no results, there still exist ill-balanced
minds who believe in guiding balloons. They imagine that a motor of
some sort, electric or otherwise, might be applied to their
pretentious skin bags which are at the mercy of every current in the
atmosphere. They persuade themselves that they can be masters of an
aerostat as they can be masters of a ship on the surface of the sea.
Because a few inventors in calm or nearly calm weather have succeeded
in working an angle with the wind, or even beating to windward in a
gentle breeze, they think that the steering of aerial apparatus
lighter than the air is a practical matter. Well, now, look here; You
hundred, who believe in the realization of your dreams, are throwing
your thousands of dollars not into water but into space! You are
fighting the impossible!"
Strange as it was that at this affirmation the members of the Weldon
Institute did not move. Had they become as deaf as they were patient?
Or were they reserving themselves to see how far this audacious
contradictor would dare to go?
Robur continued: "What? A balloon! When to obtain the raising of a
couple of pounds you require a cubic yard of gas. A balloon
pretending to resist the wind by aid of its mechanism, when the
pressure of a light breeze on a vessel's sails is not less than that
of four hundred horsepower; when in the accident at the Tay Bridge
you saw the storm produce a pressure of eight and a half
hundredweight on a square yard. A balloon, when on such a system
nature has never constructed anything flying, whether furnished with
wings like birds, or membranes like certain fish, or certain mammalia
"Mammalia?" exclaimed one of the members.
"Yes! Mammalia! The bat, which flies, if I am not mistaken! Is the
gentleman unaware that this flyer is a mammal? Did he ever see an
omelette made of bat's eggs?"
The interrupter reserved himself for future interruption, and Robur
resumed: "But does that mean that man is to give up the conquest of
the air, and the transformation of the domestic and political manners
of the old world, by the use of this admirable means of locomotion?
By no means. As he has become master of the seas with the ship, by
the oar, the sail, the wheel and the screw, so shall he become master
of atmospherical space by apparatus heavier than the air--for it
must be heavier to be stronger than the air!"
And then the assembly exploded. What a broadside of yells escaped
from all these mouths, aimed at Robur like the muzzles of so many
guns! Was not this hurling a declaration of war into the very camp of
the balloonists? Was not this a stirring up of strife between 'the
lighter" and 'the heavier" than air?
Robur did not even frown. With folded arms he waited bravely till
silence was obtained.
By a gesture Uncle Prudent ordered the firing to cease.
"Yes," continued Robur, "the future is for the flying machine. The
air affords a solid fulcrum. If you will give a column of air an
ascensional movement of forty-five meters a second, a man can support
himself on the top of it if the soles of his boots have a superficies
of only the eighth of a square meter. And if the speed be increased
to ninety meters, he can walk on it with naked feet. Or if, by means
of a screw, you drive a mass of air at this speed, you get the same
What Robur said had been said before by all the partisans of
aviation, whose work slowly but surely is leading on to the solution
of the problem. To Ponton d'Amécourt, La Landelle, Nadar, De Luzy, De
Louvrié, Liais, Beleguir, Moreau, the brothers Richard, Babinet,
Jobert, Du Temple, Salives, Penaud, De Villeneuve, Gauchot and Tatin,
Michael Loup, Edison, Planavergne, and so many others, belongs the
honor of having brought forward ideas of such simplicity. Abandoned
and resumed times without number, they are sure, some day to triumph.
To the enemies of aviation, who urge that the bird only sustains
himself by warming the air he strikes, their answer is ready. Have
they not proved that an eagle weighing five kilograms would have to
fill fifty cubic meters with his warm fluid merely to sustain himself
This is what Robur I demonstrated with undeniable logic amid the
uproar that arose on all sides. And in conclusion these are the words
he hurled in the faces of the balloonists: "With your aerostats you
can do nothing--you will arrive at nothing--you dare do nothing!
The boldest of your aeronauts, John Wise, although he has made an
aerial voyage of twelve hundred miles above the American continent,
has had to give up his project of crossing the Atlantic! And you have
not advanced one step--not one step--towards your end."
"Sir," said the president, who in vain endeavored to keep himself
cool, "you forget what was said by our immortal Franklin at the first
appearance of the fire balloon, "It is but a child, but it will
grow!" It was but a child, and it has grown.
"No, Mr. President, it has not grown! It has got fatter--and this is
not the same thing!"
This was a direct attack on the Weldon Institute, which had decreed,
helped, and paid for the making of a monster balloon. And so
propositions of the following kind began to fly about the room: 'turn
him out!" 'throw him off the platform!" "Prove that he is heavier
than the air!"
But these were only words, not means to an end.
Robur remained impassible, and continued: "There is no progress for
your aerostats, my citizen balloonists; progress is for flying
machines. The bird flies, and he is not a balloon, he is a piece of
"Yes, he flies!" exclaimed the fiery Bat T. Fynn; "but he flies
against all the laws of mechanics."
"Indeed!" said Robur, shrugging his shoulders, and resuming, "Since
we have begun the study of the flight of large and small birds one
simple idea has prevailed--to imitate nature, which never makes
mistakes. Between the albatross, which gives hardly ten beats of the
wing per minute, between the pelican, which gives seventy --"
"Seventy-one," said the voice of a scoffer.
"And the bee, which gives one hundred and ninety-two per second --"
"One hundred and ninety-three!" said the facetious individual.
"And, the common house fly, which gives three hundred and thirty --"
"And a half!"
"And the mosquito, which gives millions --"
But Robur, the interrupted, interrupted not his demonstration.
"Between these different rates --" he continued.
"There is a difference," said a voice.
"There is a possibility of finding a practical solution. When De Lucy
showed that the stag beetle, an insect weighing only two grammes,
could lift a weight of four hundred grammes, or two hundred times its
own weight, the problem of aviation was solved. Besides, it has been
shown that the wing surface decreases in proportion to the increase
of the size and weight of the animal. Hence we can look forward to
such contrivances --"
"Which would never fly!" said secretary Phil Evans.
"Which have flown, and which will fly," said Robur, without being in
the least disconcerted, "and which we can call streophores,
helicopters, orthopters--or, in imitation of the word 'nef,' which
comes from 'navis,' call them from 'avis,' 'efs,'--by means of which
man will become the master of space. The helix --"
"Ah, the helix!" replied Phil Evans. "But the bird has no helix; that
"So," said Robur; "but Penaud has shown that in reality the bird
makes a helix, and its flight is helicopteral. And the motor of the
future is the screw --"
"From such a maladee Saint Helix keep us free!" sung out one of the
members, who had accidentally hit upon the air from Herold's "Zampa."
And they all took up the chorus: "From such a maladee Saint Helix
keep us free!" with such intonations and variations as would have
made the French composer groan in his grave.
As the last notes died away in a frightful discord Uncle Prudent took
advantage of the momentary calm to say, "Stranger, up to now, we let
you speak without interruption." It seemed that for the president of
the Weldon Institute shouts, yells, and catcalls were not
interruptions, but only an exchange of arguments.
"But I may remind you, all the same, that the theory of aviation is
condemned beforehand, and rejected by the majority of American and
foreign engineers. It is a system which was the cause of the death of
the Flying Saracen at Constantinople, of the monk Volador at Lisbon,
of De Leturn in 1852, of De Groof in 1864, besides the victims I
forget since the mythological Icarus --"
"A system," replied Robur, "no more to be condemned than that whose
martyrology contains the names of Pilâtre de Rozier at Calais, of
Blanchard at Paris, of Donaldson and Grimwood in Lake Michigan, of
Sivel and of Crocé-Spinelli, and others whom it takes good care, to
This was a counter-thrust with a vengeance.
"Besides," continued Robur, "With your balloons as good as you can
make them you will never obtain any speed worth mentioning. It would
take you ten years to go round the world--and a flying machine could
do it in a week!"
Here arose a new tempest of protests and denials which lasted for
three long minutes. And then Phil Evans look up the word.
"Mr. Aviator," he said "you who talk so much of the benefits of
aviation, have you ever aviated?"
"And made the conquest of the air?"
"Hooray for Robur the Conqueror!" shouted an ironical voice.
"Well, yes! Robur the Conqueror! I accept the name and I will bear
it, for I have a right to it!"
"We beg to doubt it!" said Jem Chip.
"Gentlemen," said Robur, and his brows knit, "when I have just
seriously stated a serious thing I do not permit anyone to reply to
me by a flat denial, and I shall be glad to know the name of the
"My name is Chip, and I am a vegetarian."
"Citizen Chip," said Robur, "I knew that vegetarians had longer
alimentary canals than other men--a good foot longer at the least.
That is quite long enough; and so do not compel me to make you any
longer by beginning at your ears and --"
"Throw him out."
"Into the street with him!"
The rage of the balloonists burst forth at last. They rushed at the
platform. Robur disappeared amid a sheaf of hands that were thrown
about as if caught in a storm. In vain the steam whistle screamed its
fanfares on to the assembly. Philadelphia might well think that a
fire was devouring one of its quarters and that all the waters of the
Schuyllkill could not put it out.
Suddenly there was a recoil in the tumult. Robur had put his hands
into his pockets and now held them out at the front ranks of the
In each hand was one of those American institutions known as
revolvers which the mere pressure of the fingers is enough to fire --
pocket mitrailleuses in fact.
And taking advantage not only of the recoil of his assailants but
also of the silence which accompanied it.
"Decidedly," said he, "it was not Amerigo that discovered the New
World, it was Cabot! You are not Americans, citizen balloonists! You
are only Cabo-"
Four or five shots cracked out, fired into space. They hurt nobody.
Amid the smoke, the engineer vanished; and when it had thinned away
there was no trace of him. Robur the Conqueror had flown, as if some
apparatus of aviation had borne him into the air.
This was not the first occasion on which, at the end of their stormy
discussions, the members of the Weldon Institute had filled Walnut
Street and its neighborhood with their tumult. Several times had the
inhabitants complained of the noisy way in which the proceedings
ended, and more than once had the policemen had to interfere to clear
the thoroughfare for the passersby, who for the most part were
supremely indifferent on the question of aerial navigation. But never
before had the tumult attained such proportions, never had the
complaints been better founded, never had the intervention of the
police been more necessary.
But there was some excuse for the members of the Weldon Institute.
They had been attacked in their own house. To these enthusiasts for
"lighter than air" a no less enthusiast for "heavier than air" had
said things absolutely abhorrent. And at the moment they were about
to treat him as he deserved, he had disappeared.
So they cried aloud for vengeance. To leave such insults unpunished
was impossible to all with American blood in their veins. Had not the
sons of Amerigo been called the sons of Cabot? Was not that an insult
as unpardonable as it happened to be just--historically?
The members of the club in several groups rushed down Walnut Street,
then into the adjoining streets, and then all over the neighborhood.
They woke up the householders; they compelled them to search their
houses, prepared to indemnify them later on for the outrage on their
privacy. Vain were all their trouble and searching. Robur was nowhere
to be found; there was no trace of him. He might have gone off in the
"Go-Ahead," the balloon of the Institute, for all they could tell.
After an hour's hunt the members had to give in and separate, not
before they had agreed to extend their search over the whole
territory of the twin Americas that form the new continent.
By eleven o'clock quiet had been restored in the neighborhood of
Walnut Street. Philadelphia was able to sink again into that sound
sleep which is the privilege of non-manufacturing towns. The
different members of the club parted to seek their respective houses.
To mention the most distinguished amongst them, William T. Forbes
sought his large sugar establishment, where Miss Doll and Miss Mat
had prepared for him his evening tea, sweetened with his own glucose.
Truck Milnor took the road to his factory in the distant suburb,
where the engines worked day and night. Treasurer Jim Chip, publicly
accused of possessing an alimentary canal twelve, inches longer than
that of other men, returned to the vegetable soup that was waiting
Two of the most important balloonists--two only--did not seem to
think of returning so soon to their domicile. They availed themselves
of the opportunity to discuss the question with more than usual
acrimony. These were the irreconcilables, Uncle Prudent and Phil
Evans, the president and secretary of the Weldon Institute.
At the door of the club the valet Frycollin waited for Uncle Prudent,
his master, and at last he went after him, though he cared but little
for the subject which had set the two colleagues at loggerheads.
It is only an euphemism' that the verb "discuss" can be used to
express the way in which the duet between the president and secretary
was being performed. As a matter of fact they were in full wrangle
with an energy born of their old rivalry.
"No, Sir, no," said Phil Evans. "If I had had the honor of being
president of the Weldon Institute, there never, no, never, would have
been such a scandal."
"And what would you have done, if you had had the honor?" demanded
"I would have stopped the insulter before he had opened his mouth."
"It seems to me it would have been impossible to stop him until he
had opened his mouth," replied Uncle Prudent.
"Not in America, Sir; not in America."
And exchanging such observations, increasing in bitterness as they
went, they walked on through the streets farther and farther from
their homes, until they reached a part of the city whence they had to
go a long way round to get back.
Frycollin followed, by no means at ease to see his master plunging
into such deserted spots. He did not like deserted spots,
particularly after midnight. in fact the darkness was profound, and
the moon was only a thin crescent just beginning its monthly life.
Frycollin kept a lookout to the left and right of him to see if he
was followed. And he fancied he could see five or six hulking follows
dogging his footsteps. Instinctively he drew nearer to his master,
but not for the world would be have dared to break in on the
conversation of which the fragments reached him.
In short it so chanced that the president and secretary of the Weldon
Institute found themselves on the road to Fairmount Park. In the full
heat of their dispute they crossed the Schuyllkill river by the
famous iron bridge. They met only a few belated wayfarers, and
pressed on across a wide open tract where the immense prairie was
broken every now and then by the patches of thick woodland--which
make the park different to any other in the world.
There Frycollin's terror became acute, particularly as he saw the
five or six shadows gliding after him across the Schuyllkill bridge.
The pupils of his eyes broadened out to the circumference of his
iris, and his limbs seemed to diminish as if endowed with the
contractility peculiar to the mollusca and certain of the articulate;
for Frycollin, the valet, was an egregious coward.
He was a pure South Carolina Negro, with the head of a fool and the
carcass of an imbecille. Being only one and twenty, he had never been
a slave, not even by birth, but that made no difference to him.
Grinning and greedy and idle, and a magnificent poltroon, he had been
the servant of Uncle Prudent for about three years. Over and over
again had his master threatened to kick him out, but had kept him on
for fear of doing worse. With a master ever ready to venture on the
most audacious enterprises, Frycollin's cowardice had brought him
many arduous trials. But he had some compensation. Very little had
been said about his gluttony, and still less about his laziness.
Ah, Valet Frycollin, if you could only have read the future! Why, oh
why, Frycollin, did you not remain at Boston with the Sneffels, and
not have given them up when they talked of going to Switzerland? Was
not that a much more suitable place for you than this of Uncle
Prudent's, where danger was daily welcomed?
But here he was, and his master had become used to his faults. He had
one advantage, and that was a consideration. Although he was a Negro
by birth he did not speak like a Negro, and nothing is so irritating
as that hateful jargon in which all the pronouns are possessive and
all the verbs infinitive. Let it be understood, then, that Frycollin
was a thorough coward.
And now it was midnight, and the pale crescent of the moon began to
sink in the west behind the trees in the park. The rays streaming
fitfully through the branches made the shadows darker than ever.
Frycollin looked around him anxiously. "Brrr!" he said, "There are
those fellows there all the time. Positively they are getting nearer!
Master Uncle!" he shouted.
It was thus he called the president of the Weldon Institute, and thus
did the president desire to be called.
At the moment the dispute of the rivals had reached its maximum, and
as they hurled their epithets at each other they walked faster and
faster, and drew farther and farther away from the Schuyllkill
bridge. They had reached the center of a wide clump of trees, whose
summits were just tipped by the parting rays of the moon. Beyond the
trees was a very large clearing--an oval field, a complete
amphitheater. Not a hillock was there to hinder the gallop of the
horses, not a bush to stop the view of the spectators.
And if Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans had not been so deep in their
dispute, and had used their eyes as they were accustomed to, they
would have found the clearing was not in its usual state. Was it a
flour mill that had anchored on it during the night? It looked like
it, with its wings and sails--motionless and mysterious in the
But neither the president nor the secretary of the Weldon Institute
noticed the strange modification in the landscape of Fairmount Park;
and neither did Frycollin. It seemed to him that the thieves were
approaching, and preparing for their attack; and he was seized with
convulsive fear, paralyzed in his limbs, with every hair he could
boast of on the bristle. His terror was extreme. His knees bent under
him, but he had just strength enough to exclaim for. the last time,
"Master Uncle! Master Uncle!"
"What is the matter with you?" asked Uncle Prudent.
Perhaps the disputants would not have been sorry to have relieved
their fury at the expense of the unfortunate valet. But they had no
time; and neither even had he time to answer.
A whistle was heard. A flash of electric light shot across the
A signal, doubtless? The moment had come for the deed of violence. In
less time that it takes to tell, six men came leaping across from
under the trees, two onto Uncle Prudent, two onto Phil Evans, two
onto Frycollin--there was no need for the last two, for the Negro
was incapable of defending himself. The president and secretary of
the Weldon Institute, although taken by surprise, would have resisted.
They had neither time nor strength to do so. In a second they were
rendered speechless by a gag, blind by a bandage, thrown down,
pinioned and carried bodily off across the clearing. What could they
think except that they had fallen into the hands of people who
intended to rob them? The people did nothing of the sort, however.
They did not even touch Uncle Prudent's pockets, although, according
to his custom, they were full of paper dollars.
Within a minute of the attack, without a word being passed, Uncle
Prudent, Phil Evans, and Frycollin felt themselves laid gently down,
not on the grass, but on a sort of plank that creaked beneath them.
They were laid down side by side.
A door was shut; and the grating of a bolt in a staple told them that
they were prisoners.
Then there came a continuous buzzing, a quivering, a frrrr, with the
And that was the only sound that broke the quiet of the night.
Great was the excitement next morning in Philadelphia Very early was
it known what had passed at the meeting of the Institute. Everyone
knew of the appearance of the mysterious engineer named Robur--Robur
the Conqueror--and the tumult among the balloonists, and his
inexplicable disappearance. But it was quite another thing when all
the town heard that the president and secretary of the club had also
disappeared during the night.
Long and keen was the search in the city and neighborhood! Useless!
The newspapers of Philadelphia, the newspapers of Pennsylvania, the
newspapers of the United States reported the facts and explained them
in a hundred ways, not one of which was the right one. Heavy rewards
were offered, and placards were pasted up, but all to no purpose. The
earth seemed to have opened and bodily swallowed the president and
secretary of the Weldon Institute.
THE PRESIDENT AND SECRETARY SUSPEND HOSTILITIES
A bandage over the eyes, a gag in the mouth, a cord round the wrists,
a cord round the ankles, unable to see, to speak, or to move, Uncle
Prudent, Phil Evans, and Frycollin were anything but pleased with
their position. Knowing not who had seized them, nor in what they had
been thrown like parcels in a goods wagon, nor where they were, nor
what was reserved for them--it was enough to exasperate even the
most patient of the ovine race, and we know that the members of the
Weldon Institute were not precisely sheep as far as patience went.
With his violence of character we can easily imagine how Uncle
Prudent felt. One thing was evident, that Phil Evans and he would
find it difficult to attend the club next evening.
As to Frycollin, with his eyes shut and his mouth closed, it was
impossible for him to think of anything. He was more dead than alive.
For an hour the position of the prisoners remained unchanged. No one
came to visit, them, or to give them that liberty of movement and
speech of which they lay in such need. They were reduced to stifled
sighs, to grunts emitted over and under their gags, to everything
that betrayed anger kept dumb and fury imprisoned, or rather bound
down. Then after many fruitless efforts they remained for some time
as though lifeless. Then as the sense of sight was denied them they
tried by their sense of hearing to obtain some indication of the
nature of this disquieting state of things. But in vain did they seek
for any other sound than an interminable and inexplicable f-r-r-r
which seemed to envelop them in a quivering atmosphere.
At last something happened. Phil Evans, regaining his coolness,
managed to slacken the cord which bound his wrists. Little by little
the knot slipped, his fingers slipped over each other, and his hands
regained their usual freedom.
A vigorous rubbing restored the circulation. A moment after he had
slipped off the bandage which bound his eyes, taken the gag out of
his mouth, and cut the cords round his ankles with his knife. An
American who has not a bowie-knife in his pocket is no longer an
But if Phil Evans had regained the power of moving and speaking, that
was all. His eyes were useless to him--at present at any rate. The
prison was quite dark, though about six feet above him a feeble gleam
of light came in through a kind of loophole.
As may be imagined, Phil Evans did not hesitate to at once set free
his rival. A few cuts with the bowie settled the knots which bound
him foot and hand.
Immediately Uncle Prudent rose to his knees and snatched away his
bandage and gag.
"Thanks," said he, in stifled voice.
"Here we are no longer the president and secretary of the Weldon
Institute. We are adversaries no more."
"You are right," answered Evans. "We are now only two men agreed to
avenge ourselves on a third whose attempt deserves severe reprisals.
And this third is --"
"It is Robur!"
On this point both were absolutely in accord. On this subject there
was no fear of dispute.
"And your servant?" said Phil Evans, pointing to Frycollin, who was
puffing like a grampus. "We must set him free."
"Not yet," said Uncle Prudent. "He would overwhelm us with his
jeremiads, and we have something else to do than abuse each other."
"What is that, Uncle Prudent?"
"To save ourselves if possible."
"You are right, even if it is impossible."
"And even if it is impossible."
There could be no doubt that this kidnapping was due to Robur, for an
ordinary thief would have relieved them of their watches, jewelry,
and purses, and thrown their bodies into the Schuyllkill with a good
gash in their throats instead of throwing them to the bottom of--Of
what? That was a serious question, which would have to be answered
before attempting an escape with any chance of success.
"Phil Evans," began Uncle Prudent, "if, when we came away from our
meeting, instead of indulging in amenities to which we need not
recur, we had kept our eyes more open, this would not have happened.
Had we remained in the streets of Philadelphia there would have been
none of this. Evidently Robur foresaw what would happen at the club,
and had placed some of his bandits on guard at the door. When we left
Walnut Street these fellows must have watched us and followed us, and
when we imprudently ventured into Fairmount Park they went in for
their little game."
"Agreed," said Evans. "We were wrong not to go straight home."
"It is always wrong not to be right," said Prudent.
Here a long-drawn sigh escaped from the darkest corner of the prison.
"What is that?" asked Evans.
"Nothing! Frycollin is dreaming."
"Between the moment we were seized a few steps out into the clearing
and the moment we were thrown in here only two minutes elapsed. It is
thus evident that those people did not take us out of Fairmount Park."
"And if they had done so we should have felt we were being moved."
"Undoubtedly; and consequently we must be in some vehicle, perhaps
some of those long prairie wagons, or some show-caravan --"
"Evidently! For if we were in a boat moored on the Schuyllkill we
should have noticed the movement due to the current --"
"That is so; and as we are still in the clearing, I think that now is
the time to get away, and we can return later to settle with this
"And make him pay for this attempt on the liberty of two citizens of
the United States."
"And he shall pay pretty dearly!"
"But who is this man? Where does he come from? Is he English, or
German, or French --"
"He is a scoundrel, that is enough!" said Uncle Prudent. "Now to
work." And then the two men, with their hands stretched out and their
fingers wide apart, began to feel round the walls to find a joint or
Nothing. Nothing; not even at the door. It was closely shut and it
was impossible to shoot back the lock. All that could be done was to
make a hole, and escape through the hole. It remained to be seen if
the knives could cut into the walls.
"But whence comes this never-ending rustling?" asked Evans, who was
much impressed at the continuous f-r-r-r.
"The wind, doubtless," said Uncle Prudent.
"The wind! But I thought the night was quite calm."
"So it was. But if it isn't the wind, what can it be?"
Phil Evans got out the best blade of his knife and set to work on the
wall near the door. Perhaps he might make a hole which would enable
him to open it from the outside should it be only bolted or should
the key have been left in the lock. He worked away for some minutes.
The only result was to nip up his knife, to snip off its point, and
transform what was left of the blade into a saw.
"Doesn't it cut?" asked Uncle Prudent.
"Is the wall made of sheet iron?"
"No; it gives no metallic sound when you hit it."
"Is it of ironwood?"
"No; it isn't iron and it isn't wood."
"What is it then?"
"Impossible to say. But, anyhow, steel doesn't touch it." Uncle
Prudent, in a sudden outburst of fury, began to rave and stamp on the
sonorous planks, while his hands sought to strangle an imaginary
"Be calm, Prudent, he calm! You have a try."
Uncle Prudent had a try, but the bowie-knife could do nothing against
a wall which its best blades could not even scratch. The wall seemed
to be made of crystal.
So it became evident that all flight was impracticable except through
the door, and for a time they must resign themselves to their fate--
not a very pleasant thing for the Yankee temperament, and very much
to the disgust of these eminently practical men. But this conclusion
was not arrived at without many objurgations and loud-sounding
phrases hurled at this Robur--who, from what had been seen of him at
the Weldon Institute, was not the sort of man to trouble himself much
Suddenly Frycollin began to give unequivocal signs of being unwell.
He began to writhe in a most lamentable fashion, either with cramp in
his stomach or in his limbs; and Uncle Prudent, thinking it his duty
to put an end to these gymnastics, cut the cords that bound him.
He had cause to be sorry for it. Immediately there was poured forth
an interminable litany, in which the terrors of fear were mingled
with the tortures of hunger. Frycollin was no worse in his brain than
in his stomach, and it would have been difficult to decide to which
organ the chief cause of the trouble should be assigned.
"Frycollin!" said Uncle Prudent.
"Master Uncle! Master Uncle!" answered the Negro between two of his
"It is possible that we are doomed to die of hunger in this prison,
but we have made up our minds not to succumb until we have availed
ourselves of every means of alimentation to prolong our lives,"
"To eat me?" exclaimed Frycollin.
"As is always done with a Negro under such circumstances! So you had
better not make yourself too obvious --"
"Or you'll have your bones picked!" said Evans.
And as Frycollin saw he might be used to prolong two existences more
precious than his own, he contented himself thenceforth with groaning
The time went on and all attempts to force the door or get through
the wall proved fruitless. What the wall was made of was impossible
to say. It was not metal; it was not wood; it was not stone, And all
the cell seemed to be made of the same stuff. When they stamped on
the floor it gave a peculiar sound that Uncle Prudent found it
difficult to describe; the floor seemed to sound hollow, as if it was
not resting directly on the ground of the clearing. And the
inexplicable f-r-r-r-r seemed to sweep along below it. All of which
was rather alarming.
"Uncle Prudent," said Phil Evans.
"Do you think our prison has been moved at all?"
"Not that I know of."
"Because when we were first caught I distinctly remember the fresh
fragrance of the grass and the resinous odor of the park trees. While
now, when I take in a good sniff of the air, it seems as though all
that had gone."
"So it has."
"We cannot say why unless we admit that the prison has moved; and I
say again that if the prison had moved, either as a vehicle on the
road or a boat on the stream, we should have felt it."
Here Frycollin gave vent to a long groan, which might have been taken
for his last had he not followed it up with several more.
"I expect Robur will soon have us brought before him," said Phil
"I hope so," said Uncle Prudent. "And I shall tell him --"
"That he began by being rude and ended in being unbearable."
Here Phil Evans noticed that day was beginning to break. A gleam,
still faint, filtered through the narrow window opposite the door. It
ought thus to be about four o'clock in the morning for it is at that
hour in the month of June in this latitude that the horizon of
Philadelphia is tinged by the first rays of the dawn.
But when Uncle Prudent sounded his repeater--which was a masterpiece
from his colleague's factory--the tiny gong only gave a quarter to
three, and the watch had not stopped.
"That is strange!" said Phil Evans. "At a quarter to three it ought
still to be night".
"Perhaps my watch has got slow," answered Uncle Prudent.
"A watch of the Wheelton Watch Company!" exclaimed Phil Evans.
Whatever might be the reason, there was no doubt that the day was
breaking. Gradually the window became white in the deep darkness of
the cell. However, if the dawn appeared sooner than the fortieth
parallel permitted, it did not advance with the rapidity peculiar to
lower latitudes. This was another observation--of Uncle Prudent's -
a new inexplicable phenomenon.
"Couldn't we get up to the window and see where we are?"
"We might," said Uncle Prudent. "Frycollin, get up!"
The Negro arose.
"Put your back against the wall," continued Prudent, "and you, Evans,
get on his shoulders while I buttress him up."
"Right!" said Evans.
An instant afterwards his knees were on Frycollin's shoulders, and
his eyes were level with the window. The window was not of lenticular
glass like those on shipboard, but was a simple flat pane. It was
small, and Phil Evans found his range of view was much limited.
"Break the glass," said Prudent, "and perhaps you will be able to see
Phil Evans gave it a sharp knock with the handle of his bowie-knife.
It gave back a silvery sound, but it did not break.
Another and more violent blow. The same result.
"It is unbreakable glass!" said Evans.
It appeared as though the pane was made of glass toughened on the
Siemens system--as after several blows it remained intact.
The light had now increased, and Phil Evans could see for some
distance within the radius allowed by the frame.
"What do you see?" asked Uncle Prudent.
"What? Not any trees?"
"Not even the top branches?"
"Then we are not in the clearing?:
"Neither in the clearing nor in the park."
"Don't you see any roofs of houses or monuments?" said Prudent, whose
disappointment and anger were increasing rapidly.
"What! Not a flagstaff, nor a church tower, nor a chimney?"
"Nothing but space."
As he uttered the words the door opened. A man appeared on the
threshold. It was Robur.
"Honorable balloonists" he said, in a serious voice, "you are now
free to go and come as you like."
"Free!" exclaimed Uncle Prudent.
"Yes--within the limits of the "Albatross!" "
Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans rushed out of their prison. And what did
Four thousand feet below them the face of a country they sought in
vain to recognize.
ON BOARD THE ALBATROSS
"When will man cease to crawl in the depths to live in the azure and
quiet of the sky?"
To this question of Camille Flammarion's the answer is easy. It will
be when the progress of mechanics has enabled us to solve the problem
of aviation. And in a few years--as we can foresee--a more
practical utilization of electricity will do much towards that
In 1783, before the Montgolfier brothers had built their
fire-balloon, and Charles, the physician, had devised his first
aerostat, a few adventurous spirits had dreamt of the conquest of
space by mechanical means. The first inventors did not think of
apparatus lighter than air, for that the science of their time did
not allow them to imagine. It was to contrivances heavier than air,
to flying machines in imitation of the birds, that they trusted to
realize aerial locomotion.
This was exactly what had been done by that madman Icarus, the son of
Daedalus, whose wings, fixed together with wax, had melted as they
approached the sun.
But without going back to mythological times, without dwelling on
Archytas of Tarentum, we find, in the works of Dante of Perugia, of
Leonardo da Vinci and Guidotti, the idea of machines made to move
through the air. Two centuries and a half afterwards inventors began
to multiply. In 1742 the Marquis de Bacqueville designed a system of
wings, tried it over the Seine, and fell and broke his arm. In 1768
Paucton conceived the idea of an apparatus with two screws,
suspensive and propulsive. In 1781 Meerwein, the architect of the
Prince of Baden, built an orthopteric machine, and protested against
the tendency of the aerostats which had just been invented. In 1784
Launoy and Bienvenu had maneuvered a helicopter worked by springs. In
1808 there were the attempts at flight by the Austrian Jacques Degen.
In 1810 came the pamphlet by Denian of Nantes, in which the
principles of "heavier than air" are laid down. From 1811 to 1840
came the inventions and researches of Derblinger, Vigual, Sarti,
Dubochet, and Cagniard de Latour. In 1842 we have the Englishman
Henson, with his system of inclined planes and screws worked by
steam. In 1845 came Cossus and his ascensional screws. In 1847 came
Camille Vert and his helicopter made of birds' wings. in 1852 came
Letur with his system of guidable parachutes, whose trial cost him
his life; and in the same year came Michel Loup with his plan of
gliding through the air on four revolving wings. In 1853 came
Béléguic and his aeroplane with the traction screws,
Vaussin-Chardannes with his guidable kite, and George Cauley with his
flying machines driven by gas. From 1854 to 1863 appeared Joseph
Pline with several patents for aerial systems. Bréant, Carlingford,
Le Bris, Du Temple, Bright, whose ascensional screws were
left-handed; Smythies, Panafieu, Crosnier, &c. At length, in 1863,
thanks to the efforts of Nadar, a society of "heavier than air" was
founded in Paris. There the inventors could experiment with the
machines, of which many were patented. Ponton d'Amécourt and his
steam helicopter, La Landelle and his system of combining screws with
inclined planes and parachutes, Louvrié and his aeroscape, Esterno
and his mechanical bird, Groof and his apparatus with wings worked by
levers. The impetus was given, inventors invented, calculators
calculated all that could render aerial locomotion practicable.
Bourcart, Le Bris, Kaufmann, Smyth, Stringfellow, Prigent, Danjard,
Pomés and De la Pauze, Moy, Pénaud, Jobert, Haureau de Villeneuve,
Achenbach, Garapon, Duchesne, Danduran, Pariesel, Dieuaide,
Melkiseff, Forlanini, Bearey, Tatin, Dandrieux, Edison, some with
wings or screws, others with inclined planes, imagined, created,
constructed, perfected, their flying machines, ready to do their
work, once there came to be applied to thereby some inventor a motor
of adequate power and excessive lightness.
This list may be a little long, but that will be forgiven, for it is
necessary to give the various steps in the ladder of aerial
locomotion, on the top of which appeared Robur the Conqueror. Without
these attempts, these experiments of his predecessors, how could the
inquirer have conceived so perfect an apparatus? And though he had
but contempt for those who obstinately worked away in the direction
of balloons, he held in high esteem all those partisans of "heavier
than air," English, American, Italian, Austrian, French--and
particularly French--whose work had been perfected by him, and led
him to design and then to build this flying engine known as the
"Albatross," which he was guiding through the currents of the
"The pigeon flies!" had exclaimed one of the most persistent adepts
"They will crowd the air as they crowd the earth!" said one of his
most excited partisans.
"From the locomotive to the aeromotive!" shouted the noisiest of all,
who had turned on the trumpet of publicity to awaken the Old and New
Nothing, in fact, is better established, by experiment and
calculation, than that the air is highly resistant. A circumference
of only a yard in diameter in the shape of a parachute can not only
impede descent in air, but can render it isochronous. That is a fact.
It is equally well known that when the speed is great the work of the
weight varies in almost inverse ratio to the square of the speed, and
therefore becomes almost insignificant.
It is also known that as the weight of a flying animal increases, the
less is the proportional increase in the surface beaten by the wings
in order to sustain it, although the motion of the wings becomes
A flying machine must therefore be constructed to take advantage of
these natural laws, to imitate the bird, "that admirable type of
aerial locomotion," according to Dr. Marcy, of the Institute of
In short the contrivances likely to solve the problem are of three
1. Helicopters or spiralifers, which are simply screws with vertical
2. Ornithopters, machines which endeavour to reproduce the natural
flight of birds.
3. Aeroplanes, which are merely inclined planes like kites, but towed
or driven by screws.
Each of these systems has had and still has it partisans obstinately
resolved to give way in not the slightest particular. However, Robur,
for many reasons, had rejected the two first.
The ornithopter, or mechanical bird, offers certain advantages, no
doubt. That the work and experiments of M. Renard in 1884 have
sufficiently proved. But, as has been said, it is not necessary to
copy Nature servilely. Locomotives are not copied from the hare, nor
are ships copied from the fish. To the first we have put wheels which
are not legs; to the second we have put screws which are not fins.
And they do not do so badly. Besides, what is this mechanical
movement in the flight of birds, whose action is so complex? Has not
Doctor Marcy suspected that the feathers open during the return of
the wings so as to let the air through them? And is not that rather a
difficult operation for an artificial machine?
On the other hand, aeroplanes have given many good results. Screws
opposing a slanting plane to the bed of air will produce an
ascensional movement, and the models experimented on have shown that
the disposable weight, that is to say the weight it is possible to
deal with as distinct from that of the apparatus, increases with the
square of the speed. Herein the aeroplane has the advantage over the
aerostat even when the aerostat is furnished with the means of
Nevertheless Robur had thought that the simpler his contrivance the
better. And the screws--the Saint Helices that had been thrown in
his teeth at the Weldon Institute--had sufficed for all the needs of
his flying machine. One series could hold it suspended in the air,
the other could drive it along under conditions that were marvelously
adapted for speed and safety.
If the ornithopter--striking like the wings of a bird--raised
itself by beating the air, the helicopter raised itself by striking
the air obliquely, with the fins of the screw as it mounted on an
inclined plane. These fins, or arms, are in reality wings, but wings
disposed as a helix instead of as a paddle wheel. The helix advances
in the direction of its axis. Is the axis vertical? Then it moves
vertically. Is the axis horizontal? Then it moves horizontally.
The whole of Robur's flying apparatus depended on these two
movements, as will be seen from the following detailed description,
which can be divided under three heads--the platform, the engines of
suspension and propulsion, and the machinery.
Platform.--This was a framework a hundred feet long and twelve wide,
a ship's deck in fact, with a projecting prow. Beneath was a hull
solidly built, enclosing the engines, stores, and provisions of all
sorts, including the watertanks. Round the deck a few light uprights
supported a wire trellis that did duty for bulwarks. On the deck were
three houses, whose compartments were used as cabins for the crew, or
as machine rooms. In the center house was the machine which drove the
suspensory helices, in that forward was the machine that drove the
bow screw, in that aft was the machine that drove the stern screw. In
the bow were the cook's galley and the crew's quarters; in the stern
were several cabins, including that of the engineer, the saloon, and
above them all a glass house in which stood the helmsman, who steered
the vessel by means of a powerful rudder. All these cabins were
lighted by port-holes filled with toughened glass, which has ten
times the resistance of ordinary glass. Beneath the hull was a system
of flexible springs to ease off the concussion when it became
advisable to land.
Engines of suspension and propulsion.--Above the deck rose
thirty-seven vertical axes, fifteen along each side, and seven, more
elevated, in the centre. The "Albatross" might be called a clipper
with thirty-seven masts. But these masts instead of sails bore each
two horizontal screws, not very large in spread or diameter, but
driven at prodigious speed. Each of these axes had its own movement
independent of the rest, and each alternate one spun round in a
different direction from the others, so as to avoid any tendency to
gyration. Hence the screws as they rose on the vertical column of air
retained their equilibrium by their horizontal resistance.
Consequently the apparatus was furnished with seventy-four suspensory
screws, whose three branches were connected by a metallic circle
which economized their motive force. In front and behind, mounted on
horizontal axes, were two propelling screws, each with four arms.
These screws were of much larger diameter than the suspensory ones,
but could be worked at quite their speed. In fact, the vessel
combined the systems of Cossus, La Landelle, and Ponton d'Amécourt, as
perfected by Robur. But it was in the choice and application of his
motive force that he could claim to be an inventor.
Machinery.--Robur had not availed himself of the vapor of water or
other liquids, nor compressed air and other mechanical motion. He
employed electricity, that agent which one day will be the soul of
the industrial world. But he required no electro-motor to produce it.
All he trusted to was piles and accumulators. What were the elements
of these piles, and what were the acids he used, Robur only knew. And
the construction of the accumulators was kept equally secret. Of what
were their positive and negative plates? None can say. The engineer
took good care--and not unreasonably--to keep his secret
unpatented. One thing was unmistakable, and that was that the piles
were of extraordinary strength; and the accumulators left those of
Faure-Sellon-Volckmar very far behind in yielding currents whose
ampères ran into figures up to then unknown. Thus there was obtained
a power to drive the screws and communicate a suspending and
propelling force in excess of all his requirements under any
But--it is as well to repeat it--this belonged entirely to Robur.
He kept it a close secret. And, if the president and secretary of the
Weldon Institute did not happen to discover it, it would probably be
lost to humanity.
It need not be shown that the apparatus possessed sufficient
stability. Its center of gravity proved that at once. There was no
danger of its making alarming angles with the horizontal, still less
of its capsizing.
And now for the metal used by Robur in the construction of his
aeronef--a name which can be exactly applied to the "Albatross."
What was this material, so hard that the bowie-knife of Phil Evans
could not scratch it, and Uncle Prudent could not explain its nature?
For some years this fabrication had been making considerable
progress. Unsized paper, with the sheets impregnated with dextrin and
starch and squeezed in hydraulic presses, will form a material as
hard as steel. There are made of it pulleys, rails, and wagon-wheels,
much more solid than metal wheels, and far lighter. And it was this
lightness and solidity which Robur availed himself of in building his
aerial locomotive. Everything--framework, hull, houses, cabins--
were made of straw-paper turned hard as metal by compression, and -
what was not to be despised in an apparatus flying at great heights--
incombustible. The different parts of the engines and the screws were
made of gelatinized fiber, which combined in sufficient degree
flexibility with resistance. This material could be used in every
form. It was insoluble in most gases. and liquids, acids or essences,
to say nothing of its insulating properties, and it proved most
valuable in the electric machinery of the "Albatross."
Robur, his mate Tom Turner, an engineer and two assistants, two
steersman and a cook--eight men all told--formed the crew of the
aeronef, and proved ample for all the maneuvers required in aerial
navigation. There were arms of the chase and of war; fishing
appliances; electric lights; instruments of observation, compasses,
and sextants for checking the course, thermometers for studying the
temperature, different barometers, some for estimating the heights
attained, others for indicating the variations of atmospheric
pressure; a storm-glass for forecasting tempests; a small library; a
portable printing press; a field-piece mounted on a pivot; breech
loading and throwing a three-inch shell; a supply of powder, bullets,
dynamite cartridges; a cooking-stove, warmed by currents from the
accumulators; a stock of preserves, meats and vegetables sufficient
to last for months. Such were the outfit and stores of the aeronef--
in addition to the famous trumpet.
There was besides a light india-rubber boat, insubmersible, which
could carry eight men on the surface of a river, a lake, or a calm
But were there an parachutes in case of accident? No. Robur did not
believe in accidents of that kind. The axes of the screws were
independent. The stoppage of a few would not affect the motion of the
others; and if only half were working, the "Albatross" could still
keep afloat in her natural element.
"And with her," said Robur to his guests--guests in spite of
themselves--"I am master of the seventh part of the world, larger
than Africa, Oceania, Asia, America, and Europe, this aerial Icarian
sea, which millions of Icarians will one day people."
THE BALLOONISTS REFUSE TO BE CONVINCED
The President of the Weldon Institute was stupefied; his companion
was astonished. But neither of them would allow any of their very
natural amazement to be visible.
The valet Frycollin did not conceal his terror at finding himself
borne through space on such a machine, and he took no pains whatever
to hide it.
The suspensory screws were rapidly spinning overhead. Fast as they
were going, they would have to triple their speed if the "Albatross"
was to ascend to higher zones. The two propellers were running very
easily and driving the ship at about eleven knots an hour.
As they leaned over the rail the passengers of the "Albatross" could
perceive a long sinuous liquid ribbon which meandered like a mere
brook through a varied country amid the gleaming of many lagoons
obliquely struck by the rays of the sun. The brook was a river, one
of the most important in that district. Along its left bank was a
chain of mountains extending out of sight.
"And will you tell us where we are?" asked Uncle Prudent, in a voice
tremulous with anger.
"I have nothing to teach you," answered Robur.
"And will you tell us where we are going?" asked Phil Evans.
"And how long will that last?"
"Until it ends."
"Are we going round the world?" asked Phil Evans ironically.