Part 4 out of 4
that is no reason why we should not. We know what occurred on the
night of the 27th and 28th of July; the daring escape to the earth,
the scramble among the rocks, the bullet fired at Phil Evans, the cut
cable, and the "Albatross" deprived of her propellers, drifting off
to the northeast at a great altitude. Her electric lamps rendered her
visible for some time. And then she disappeared.
The fugitives had little to fear. Now could Robur get back to the
island for three or four hours if his screws were out of gear? By
that time the "Albatross" would have been destroyed by the explosion,
and be no more than a wreck floating on the sea; those whom she bore
would be mangled corpses, which the ocean would not even give up
again. The act of vengeance would be accomplished.
Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans looked upon it as an act of legitimate
self-defence, and felt no remorse whatever. Evans was but slightly
wounded by the rifle bullet, and the three made their way up from the
shore in the hope of meeting some of the natives. The hope was
realized. About fifty natives were living by fishing off the western
coast. They had seen the aeronef descend on the island, and they
welcomed the fugitives as if they were supernatural beings. They
worshipped them, we ought rather to say. They accommodated them in
the most comfortable of their huts.
As they had expected, Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans saw nothing more
of the aeronef. They concluded that the catastrophe had taken place
in some high region of the atmosphere, and that they would hear no
more of Robur and his prodigious machine.
Meanwhile they had to wait for an opportunity of returning to
America. The Chatham Islands are not much visited by navigators, and
all August passed without sign of a ship. The fugitives began to ask
themselves if they had not exchanged one prison for another.
At last a ship came to water at the Chatham Islands. It will not have
been forgotten that when Uncle Prudent was seized he had on him
several thousand paper dollars, much more than would take him back to
America. After thanking their adorers, who were not sparing of their
most respectful demonstrations, Uncle Prudent, Phil Evans, and
Frycollin embarked for Auckland. They said nothing of their
adventures, and in two weeks landed in New Zealand.
At Auckland, a mail-boat took them on board as passengers, and after
a splendid passage the survivors of the "Albatross" stepped ashore at
San Francisco. They said nothing as to who they were or whence they
had come, but as they had paid full price for their berths no
American captain would trouble them further. At San Francisco they
took the first train out on the Pacific Railway, and on the 27th of
September, they arrived at Philadelphia, That is the compendious
history of what had occurred since the, escape of the fugitives. And
that is why this very evening the president and secretary of the
Weldon Institute took their seats amid a most extraordinary
Never before had either of them been so calm. To look at them it did
not seem as though anything abnormal had happened since the memorable
sitting of the 12th of June. Three months and a half had gone, and
seemed to be counted as nothing. After the first round of cheers,
which both received without showing the slightest emotion, Uncle
Prudent took off his hat and spoke.
"Worthy citizens," said he, "The meeting is now open."
Tremendous applause. And properly so, for if it was not extraordinary
that the meeting was open, it was extraordinary that it should be
opened by Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans.
The president allowed the enthusiasm to subside in shouts and
clappings; then he continued: "At our last meeting, gentlemen, the
discussion was somewhat animated--(hear, hear)--between the
partisans of the screw before and those of the screw behind for our
balloon the "Go-Ahead." (Marks of surprise.) We have found a way to
bring the beforists and the behindists in agreement. That way is as
follows: we are going to use two screws, one at each end of the
car!." Silence, and complete stupefaction.
That was all.
Yes, all! Of the kidnapping of the president and secretary of the
Weldon Institute not a word! Not a word of the "Albatross" nor of
Robur! Not a word of the voyage! Not a word of the way in which the
prisoners had escaped! Not a word of what had become of the aeronef,
if it still flew through space, or if they were to be prepared for
new reprisals on the member's of the club!
Of course the balloonists were longing to ask Uncle Prudent and the
secretary about all these things, but they looked so close and so
serious that they thought it best to respect their attitude. When
they thought fit to speak they would do so, and it would be an honor
to hear. After all, there might be in all this some secret which
would not yet be divulged.
And then Uncle Prudent, resuming his speech amid a silence up to then
unknown in the meetings of the Weldon Institute, said, "Gentlemen, it
now only remains for us to finish the aerostat "Go-Ahead." it is left
to her to effect the conquest of the air! The meeting is at an end!"
THE GO-AHEAD IS LAUNCHED
On the following 19th of April, seven months after the unexpected
return of Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans, Philadelphia was in a state
of unwonted excitement. There were neither elections nor meetings
this time. The aerostat "Go-Ahead," built by the Weldon Institute,
was to take possession of her natural element.
The celebrated Harry W. Tinder, whose name we mentioned at the
beginning of this story, had been engaged as aeronaut. He had no
assistant, and the only passengers were to be the president and
secretary of the Weldon Institute.
Did they not merit such an honor? Did it not come to them
appropriately to rise in person to protest against any apparatus that
was heavier than air?
During the seven months, however, they had said nothing of their
adventures; and even Frycollin had not uttered a whisper of Robur and
his wonderful clipper. Probably Uncle Prudent and his friend desired
that no question should arise as to the merits of the aeronef, or any
other flying machine.
Although the "Go-Ahead" might not claim the first place among aerial
locomotives, they would have nothing to say about the. inventions of
other aviators. They believed, and would always believe, that the
true atmospheric vehicle was the aerostat, and that to it alone
belonged the future.
Besides, he on whom they had been so terribly--and in their idea so
justly--avenged, existed no longer. None of those who accompanied
him had survived. The secret of the "Albatross" was buried in the
depths of the Pacific!
That Robur had a retreat, an island in the middle of that vast ocean,
where he could put into port, was only a hypothesis; and the
colleagues reserved to themselves the right of making inquiries on
the subject later on. The grand experiment which the Weldon Institute
had been preparing for so long was at last to take place. The
"Go-Ahead" was the most perfect type of what had up to then been
invented in aerostatic art--she was what an "Inflexible" or a
"Formidable" is in ships of war.
She possessed all the qualities of a good aerostat. Her dimensions
allowed of her rising to the greatest height a balloon could attain;
her impermeability enabled her to remain for an indefinite time in
the atmosphere; her solidity would defy any dilation of gas or
violence of wind or rain; her capacity gave her sufficient
ascensional force to lift with all their accessories an electric
engine that would communicate to her propellers a power superior to
anything yet obtained. The "Go-Ahead" was of elongated form, so as to
facilitate her horizontal displacement. Her car was a platform
somewhat like that of the balloon used by Krebs and Renard; and it
carried all the necessary outfit, instruments, cables, grapnels,
guide-ropes, etc., and the piles and accumulators for the mechanical
power. The car had a screw in front, and a screw and rudder behind.
But probably the work done by the machines would be very much less
than that done by the machines of the "Albatross."
The "Go-Ahead" had been taken to the clearing in Fairmount Park, to
the very spot where the aeronef had landed for a few hours.
Her ascensional power was due to the very lightest of gaseous bodies.
Ordinary lighting gas possesses an elevating force of about 700 grams
for every cubic meter. But hydrogen possesses an ascensional force
estimated at 1,100 grams per cubic meter. Pure hydrogen prepared
according to the method of the celebrated Henry Gifford filled the
enormous balloon. And as the capacity of the "Go-Ahead" was 40,000
cubic meters, the ascensional power of the gas she contained was
40,000 multiplied by 1,100 or 44,000 kilograms.
On this 29th of April everything was ready. Since eleven o'clock the
enormous aerostat had been floating a few feet from the ground ready
to rise in mid-air. It was splendid weather and seemed to have been
made specially for the experiment, although if the breeze had been
stronger the results might have been more conclusive. There had never
been any doubt that a balloon could he guided in a calm atmosphere;
but to guide it when the atmosphere is in motion is quite another
thing; and it is under such circumstances that the experiment should
But there was no wind today, nor any sign of any. Strange to say,
North America on that day omitted to send on to Europe one of those
first-class storms which it seems to have in such inexhaustible
numbers. A better day could not have been chosen for an aeronautic
The crowd was immense in Fairmount Park; trains had poured into the
Pennsylvania capital sightseers from the neighboring states;
industrial and commercial life came to a standstill that the people
might troop to the show-master, workmen, women, old men, children,
members of Congress, soldiers, magistrates, reporters, white natives
and black natives, all were there. We need not stop to describe the
excitement, the unaccountable movements, the sudden pushings, which
made the mass heave and swell. Nor need we recount the number of
cheers which rose from all sides like fireworks when Uncle Prudent
and Phil Evans appeared on the platform and hoisted the American
colors. Need we say that the majority of the crowd had come from afar
not so much to see the "Go-Ahead" as to gaze on these extraordinary
Why two and not three? Why not Frycollin? Because Frycollin thought
his campaign in the "Albatross" sufficient for his fame. He had
declined the honor of accompanying his master, and he took no part in
the frenzied declamations that greeted the president and secretary of
the Weldon Institute.
Of the members of the illustrious assembly not one was absent from
the reserved places within the ropes. There were Truck Milnor, Bat T.
Fynn, and William T. Forbes with his two daughters on his arm. All
had come to affirm by their presence that nothing could separate them
from the partisans of "lighter than air."
About twenty minutes past eleven a gun announced the end of the final
preparations. The "Go-Ahead" only waited the signal to start. At
twenty-five minutes past eleven the second gun was fired.
The "Go-Ahead" was about one hundred and fifty feet above the
clearing, and was held by a rope. In this way the platform commanded
the excited crowd. Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans stood upright and
placed their left hands on their hearts, to signify how deeply they
were touched by their reception. Then they extended their right hands
towards the zenith, to signify that the greatest of known balloons
was about to take possession of the supra-terrestrial domain.
A hundred thousand hands were placed in answer on a hundred thousand
hearts, and a hundred thousand other hands were lifted to the sky.
The third gun was fired at half-past eleven. "Let go!" shouted Uncle
Prudent; and the "Go-Ahead" rose "majestically"--an adverb
consecrated by custom to all aerostatic ascents.
It really was a superb spectacle. It seemed as if a vessel were just
launched from the stocks. And was she not a vessel launched into the
aerial sea? The "Go-Ahead" went up in a perfectly vertical line--a
proof of the calmness of the atmosphere--and stopped at an altitude
of eight hundred feet.
Then she began her horizontal maneuvering. With her screws going she
moved to the east at a speed of twelve yards a second. That is the
speed of the whale--not an inappropriate comparison, for the balloon
was somewhat of the shape of the giant of the northern seas.
A salvo of cheers mounted towards the skillful aeronauts. Then under
the influence of her rudder, the "Go-Ahead" went through all the
evolutions that her steersman could give her. She turned in a small
circle; she moved forwards and backwards in a way to convince the
most refractory disbeliever in the guiding of balloons. And if there
had been any disbeliever there he would have been simply annihilated.
But why was there no wind to assist at this magnificent experiment?
It was regrettable. Doubtless the spectators would have seen the
"Go-Ahead" unhesitatingly execute all the movements of a
sailing-vessel in beating to windward, or of a steamer driving in the
At this moment the aerostat rose a few hundred yards. The maneuver
was understood below. Uncle Prudent and his companions were going in
search of a breeze in the higher zones, so as to complete the
experiment. The system of cellular balloons--analogous to the
swimming bladder in fishes--into which could be introduced a certain
amount of air by pumping, had provided for this vertical motion.
Without throwing out ballast or losing gas the aeronaut was able to
rise or sink at his will. Of course there was a valve in the upper
hemisphere which would permit of a rapid descent if found necessary.
All these contrivances are well known, but they were here fitted in
The "Go-Ahead" then rose vertically. Her enormous dimensions
gradually grew smaller to the eye, and the necks of the crowd were
almost cricked as they gazed into the air. Gradually the whale became
a porpoise, and the porpoise became a gudgeon. The ascensional
movement did not cease until the "Go-Ahead" had reached a height of
fourteen thousand feet. But the air was so free from mist that she
remained clearly visible.
However, she remained over the clearing as if she were a fixture. An
immense bell had imprisoned the atmosphere and deprived it of
movement; not a breath of wind was there, high or low. The aerostat
maneuvered without encountering any resistance, seeming very small
owing to the distance, much as if she were being looked at through
the wrong end of a telescope.
Suddenly there was a shout among the crowd, a shout followed by a
hundred thousand more. All hands were stretched towards a point on the
horizon. That point was the northwest. There in the deep azure
appeared a moving body, which was approaching and growing larger. Was
it a bird beating with its wings the higher zones of space? Was it an
aerolite shooting obliquely through the atmosphere? In any case, its
speed was terrific, and it would soon be above the crowd. A suspicion
communicated itself electrically to the brains of all on the clearing.
But it seemed as though the "Go-Ahead" had sighted this strange
object. Assuredly it seemed as though she feared some danger, for her
speed was increased, and she was going east as fast as she could.
Yes, the crowd saw what it meant! A name uttered by one of the
members of the Weldon Institute was repeated by a hundred thousand
"The "Albatross!" The "Albatross!""
THE GRAND COLLAPSE
It was indeed the "Albatross!" It was indeed Robur who had reappeared
in the heights of the sky! It was he who like a huge bird of prey was
going to strike the "Go-Ahead."
And yet, nine months before, the aeronef, shattered by the explosion,
her screws broken, her deck smashed in two, had been apparently
Without the prodigious coolness of the engineer, who reversed the
gyratory motion of the fore propeller and converted it into a
suspensory screw, the men of the "Albatross" would all have been
asphyxiated by the fall. But if they had escaped asphyxia, how had
they escaped being drowned in the Pacific?
The remains of the deck, the blades of the propellers, the
compartments of the cabins, all formed a sort of raft. When a wounded
bird falls on the waves its wings keep it afloat. For several hours
Robur and his men remained unhelped, at first on the wreck, and
afterwards in the india-rubber boat that had fallen uninjured. A few
hours after sunrise they were sighted by a passing ship, and a boat
was lowered to their rescue.
Robur and his companions were saved, and so was much of what remained
of the aeronef. The engineer said that his ship had perished in a
collision, and no further questions were asked him.
The ship was an English three-master, the "Two Friends," bound for
Melbourne, where she arrived a few days afterwards.
Robur was in Australia, but a long way from X Island, to which he
desired to return as soon as possible.
In the ruins of the aftermost cabin he had found a considerable sum
of money, quite enough to provide for himself and companions without
applying to anyone for help. A short time after he arrived in
Melbourne he became the owner of a small brigantine of about a
hundred tons, and in her he sailed for X Island.
There he had but one idea--to be avenged. But to secure his
vengeance he would have to make another "Albatross." This after all
was an easy task for him who made the first. He used up what he could
of the old material; the propellers and engines he had brought back
in the brigantine. The mechanism was fitted with new piles and new
accumulators, and, in short, in less than eight months, the work was
finished, and a new "Albatross," identical with the one destroyed by
the explosion, was ready to take flight. And he had the same crew.
The "Albatross" left X Island in the first week of April. During this
aerial passage Robur did not want to be seen from the earth, and he
came along almost always above the clouds. When he arrived over North
America he descended in a desolate spot in the Far West. There the
engineer, keeping a profound incognito, learnt with considerable
pleasure that the Weldon Institute was about to begin its
experiments, and that the "Go-Ahead," with Uncle Prudent and Phil
Evans, was going to start from Philadelphia on the 29th of April.
Here was a chance for Robur and his crew to gratify their longing for
revenge. Here was a chance for inflicting on their foes a terrible
vengeance, which in the "Go-Ahead" they could not escape. A public
vengeance, which would at the same time prove the superiority of the
aeronef to all aerostats and contrivances of that nature!
And that is why, on this very day, like a vulture from the clouds,
the aeronef appeared over Fairmount Park.
Yes! It was the "Albatross," easily recognizable by all those who had
never before seen her.
The "Go-Ahead" was in full flight; but it soon appeared that she
could not escape horizontally, and so she sought her safety in a
vertical direction, not dropping to the ground, for the aeronef would
have cut her off, but rising to a zone where she could not perhaps be
reached. This was very daring, and at the same time very logical.
But the "Albatross" began to rise after her. Although she was smaller
than the "Go-Ahead," it was a case of the swordfish and the whale.
This could easily be seen from below and with what anxiety! In a few
moments the aerostat had attained a height of sixteen thousand feet.
The "Albatross" followed her as she rose. She flew round her flanks,
and maneuvered round her in a circle with a constantly diminishing
radius. She could have annihilated her at a stroke, and Uncle Prudent
and his companions would have been dashed to atoms in a frightful
The people, mute with horror, gazed breathlessly; they were seized
with that sort of fear which presses on the chest and grips the legs
when we see anyone fall from a height. An aerial combat was beginning
in which there were none of the chances of safety as in a sea-fight.
It was the first of its kind, but it would not be the last, for
progress is one of the laws of this world. And if the "Go-Ahead" was
flying the American colors, did not the "Albatross" display the stars
and golden sun of Robur the Conqueror?
The "Go-Ahead" tried to
distance her enemy by rising still higher. She threw away the ballast
she had in reserve; she made a new leap of three thousand feet; she
was now but a dot in space. The "Albatross," which followed her round
and round at top speed, was now invisible.
Suddenly a shout of terror rose from the crowd. The "Go-Ahead"
increased rapidly in size, and the aeronef appeared dropping with
her. This time it was a fall. The gas had dilated in the higher zones
of the atmosphere and had burst the balloon, which, half inflated
still, was falling rapidly.
But the aeronef, slowing her suspensory screws, came down just as
fast. She ran alongside the "Go-Ahead" when she was not more than
four thousand feet from the ground.
Would Robur destroy her?
No; he was going to save her crew!
And so cleverly did he handle his vessel that the aeronaut jumped on
Would Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans refuse to be saved by him? They
were quite capable of doing so. But the crew threw themselves on them
and dragged them by force from the "Go-Ahead" to the "Albatross."
Then the aeronef glided off and remained stationary, while the
balloon, quite empty of gas, fell on the trees of the clearing and
hung there like a gigantic rag.
An appalling silence reigned on the ground. It seemed as though life
were suspended in each of the crowd; and many eyes had been closed so
as not to behold the final catastrophe. Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans
had again become the prisoners of the redoubtable Robur. Now he had
recaptured them, would he carry them off into space, where it was
impossible to follow him?
It seemed so.
However, instead of mounting into the sky the "Albatross" stopped six
feet from the ground. Then, amid profound silence, the engineer's
voice was heard.
"Citizens of the United States," he said, "The president and
secretary of the Weldon Institute are again in my power. In keeping
them I am only within my right. But from the passion kindled in them
by the success of the "Albatross" I see that their minds are not
prepared for that important revolution which the conquest of the air
will one day bring, Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans, you are free!"
The president, the secretary, and the aeronaut had only to jump down.
Then Robur continued.
"Citizens of the United States, my experiment is finished; but my
advice to those present is to be premature in nothing, not even in
progress. It is evolution and not revolution that we should seek. In
a word, we must not be before our time. I have come too soon today to
withstand such contradictory and divided interests as yours. Nations
are not yet fit for union.
"I go, then; and I take my secret with me. But it will not be lost to
humanity. It will belong to you the day you are educated enough to
profit by it and wise enough not to abuse it. Citizens of the United
And the "Albatross," beating the air with her seventy-four screws,
and driven by her propellers, shot off towards the east amid a
tempest of cheers.
The two colleagues, profoundly humiliated, and through them the whole
Weldon Institute, did the only thing they could. They went home.
And the crowd by a sudden change of front greeted them with
particularly keen sarcasms, and, at their expense, are sarcastic
And now, who is this Robur? Shall we ever know?
We know today. Robur is the science of the future. Perhaps the
science of tomorrow. Certainly the science that will come!
Does the "Albatross" still cruise in the atmosphere in the realm that
none can take from her? There is no reason to doubt it.
Will Robur, the Conqueror, appear one day as he said? Yes! He will
come to declare the secret of his invention, which will greatly
change the social and political conditions of the world.
As for the future of aerial locomotion, it belongs to the aeronef and
not the aerostat.
It is to the "Albatross" that the conquest of the air will assuredly
--End of Voyage Extraordinaire--Robur the Conqueror--