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Maître du monde. English

Jules Verne

  Produced by Norm Wolcott. HTML version by Al Haines.



  Jules Verne


  1 What Happened in the Mountains 2 I Reach Morganton 3 The Great Eyrie 4 A Meeting of the Automobile Club 5 Along the Shores of New England 6 The First Letter 7 A Third Machine 8 At Any Cost 9 The Second Letter 10 Outside the Law 11 The Campaign 12 Black Rock Creek 13 On Board the Terror 14 Niagara 15 The Eagle's Nest 16 Robur, the Conqueror 17 In the Name of the Law 18 The Old Housekeeper's Last Comment

  Chapter 1


  If I speak of myself in this story, it is because I have been deeplyinvolved in its startling events, events doubtless among the mostextraordinary which this twentieth century will witness. Sometimes Ieven ask myself if all this has really happened, if its picturesdwell in truth in my memory, and not merely in my imagination. In myposition as head inspector in the federal police department atWashington, urged on moreover by the desire, which has always beenvery strong in me, to investigate and understand everything which ismysterious, I naturally became much interested in these remarkableoccurrences. And as I have been employed by the government in variousimportant affairs and secret missions since I was a mere lad, it alsohappened very naturally that the head of my department placed In mycharge this astonishing investigation, wherein I found myselfwrestling with so many impenetrable mysteries.

  In the remarkable passages of the recital, it is important that youshould believe my word. For some of the facts I can bring no othertestimony than my own. If you do not wish to believe me, so be it. Ican scarce believe it all myself.

  The strange occurrences began in the western part of our greatAmerican State of North Carolina. There, deep amid the BlueridgeMountains rises the crest called the Great Eyrie. Its huge roundedform is distinctly seen from the little town of Morganton on theCatawba River, and still more clearly as one approaches the mountainsby way of the village of Pleasant Garden.

  Why the name of Great Eyrie was originally given this mountain by thepeople of the surrounding region, I am not quite Sure It rises rockyand grim and inaccessible, and under certain atmospheric conditionshas a peculiarly blue and distant effect. But the idea one wouldnaturally get from the name is of a refuge for birds of prey, eaglescondors, vultures; the home of vast numbers of the feathered tribes,wheeling and screaming above peaks beyond the reach of man. Now, theGreat Eyrie did not seem particularly attractive to birds; on thecontrary, the people of the neighborhood began to remark that on somedays when birds approached its summit they mounted still further,circled high above the crest, and then flew swiftly away, troublingthe air with harsh cries.

  Why then the name Great Eyrie? Perhaps the mount might better havebeen called a crater, for in the center of those steep and roundedwalls there might well be a huge deep basin. Perhaps there might evenlie within their circuit a mountain lake, such as exists in otherparts of the Appalachian mountain system, a lagoon fed by the rainand the winter snows.

  In brief was not this the site of an ancient volcano, one which hadslept through ages, but whose inner fires might yet reawake? Mightnot the Great Eyrie reproduce in its neighborhood the violence ofMount Krakatoa or the terrible disaster of Mont Pelee? If there wereindeed a central lake, was there not danger that its waters,penetrating the strata beneath, would be turned to steam by thevolcanic fires and tear their way forth in a tremendous explosion,deluging the fair plains of Carolina with an eruption such as that of1902 in Martinique?

  Indeed, with regard to this last possibility there had been certainsymptoms recently observed which might well be due to volcanicaction. Smoke had floated above the mountain and once the countryfolk passing near had heard subterranean noises, unexplainablerumblings. A glow in the sky had crowned the height at night.

  When the wind blew the smoky cloud eastward toward Pleasant Garden, afew cinders and ashes drifted down from it. And finally one stormynight pale flames, reflected from the clouds above the summit, castupon the district below a sinister, warning light.

  In presence of these strange phenomena, it is not astonishing thatthe people of the surrounding district became seriously disquieted.And to the disquiet was joined an imperious need of knowing the truecondition of the mountain. The Carolina newspapers had flaringheadlines, "The Mystery of Great Eyrie!" They asked if it was notdangerous to dwell in such a region. Their articles aroused curiosityand fear--curiosity among those who being in no danger themselveswere interested in the disturbance merely as a strange phenomenon ofnature, fear in those who were likely to be the victims if acatastrophe actually occurred. Those more immediately threatened werethe citizens of Morganton, and even more the good folk of PleasantGarden and the hamlets and farms yet closer to the mountain.

  Assuredly it was regrettable that mountain climbers had notpreviously attempted to ascend to the summit of the Great Eyrie. Thecliffs of rock which surrounded it had never been scaled. Perhapsthey might offer no path by which even the most daring climber couldpenetrate to the interior. Yet, if a volcanic eruption menaced allthe western region of the Carolinas, then a complete examination ofthe mountain was become absolutely necessary.

  Now before the actual ascent of the crater, with its many seriousdifficulties, was attempted, there was one way which offered anopportunity of reconnoitering the interior, with out clambering upthe precipices. In the first days of September of that memorableyear, a well-known aeronaut named Wilker came to Morganton with hisballoon. By waiting for a breeze from the east, he could easily risein his balloon and drift over the Great Eyrie. There from a safeheight above he could search with a powerful glass into its deeps.Thus he would know if the mouth of a volcano really opened amid themighty rocks. This was the principal question. If this were settled,it would be known if the surrounding country must fear an eruption atsome period more or less distant.

  The ascension was begun according to the programme suggested. Thewind was fair and steady; the sky clear; the morning clouds weredisappearing under the vigorous rays of the sun. If the interior ofthe Great Eyrie was not filled with smoke, the aeronaut would be ableto search with his glass its entire extent. If the vapors wererising, he, no doubt, could detect their source.

  The balloon rose at once to a height of fifteen hundred feet, andthere rested almost motionless for a quarter of an hour. Evidentlythe east wind, which was brisk upon the Surface of the earth, did notmake itself felt at that height. Then, unlucky chance, the balloonwas caught in an adverse current, and began to drift toward the east.Its distance from the mountain chain rapidly increased. Despite allthe efforts of the aeronaut, the citizens of Morganton saw theballoon disappear on the wrong horizon. Later, they learned that ithad landed in the neighborhood of Raleigh, the capital of NorthCarolina.

  This attempt having failed, it was agreed that it should be triedagain under better conditions. Indeed, fresh rumblings were heardfrom the mountain, accompanied by heavy clouds and waveringglimmerings of light at night. Folk began to realize that the GreatEyrie was a serious and perhaps imminent source of danger. Yes, theentire country lay under the threat of some seismic or volcanicdisaster.

  During the first days of April of that year, these more or less vagueapprehensions turned to actual panic. The newspapers gave prompt echoto the public terror. The entire district between the mountains andMorganton was sure that an eruption was at hand.

  The night of the fourth of April, the good folk of Pleasant Gardenwere awakened by a sudden uproar. They thought that the mountainswere falling upon them. They rushed from their houses, ready forinstant flight, fearing to see open before them some immense abyss,engulfing the farms and vil
lages for miles around.

  The night was very dark. A weight of heavy clouds pressed down uponthe plain. Even had it been day the crest of the mountains would havebeen invisible.

  In the midst of this impenetrable obscurity, there was no response tothe cries which arose from every side. Frightened groups of men,women, and children groped their way along the black roads in wildconfusion. From every quarter came the screaming voices: "It is anearthquake!" "It is an eruption!" "Whence comes it?" "From the GreatEyrie!"

  Into Morganton sped the news that stones, lava, ashes, were rainingdown upon the country.

  Shrewd citizens of the town, however, observed that if there were aneruption the noise would have continued and increased, the flameswould have appeared above the crater; or at least their luridreflections would have penetrated the clouds. Now, even thesereflections were no longer seen. If there had been an earthquake, theterrified people saw that at least their houses had not crumbledbeneath the shock. It was possible that the uproar had been caused byan avalanche, the fall of some mighty rock from the summit of themountains.

  An hour passed without other incident. A wind from the west sweepingover the long chain of the Blueridge, set the pines and hemlockswailing on the higher slopes. There seemed no new cause for panic;and folk began to return to their houses. All, however, awaitedimpatiently the return of day.

  Then suddenly, toward three o'clock in the morning, another alarm!Flames leaped up above the rocky wall of the Great Eyrie. Reflectedfrom the clouds, they illuminated the atmosphere for a greatdistance. A crackling, as if of many burning trees, was heard.

  Had a fire spontaneously broken out? And to what cause was it due?Lightning could not have started the conflagration; for no thunderhad been heard. True, there was plenty of material for fire; at thisheight the chain of the Blueridge is well wooded. But these flameswere too sudden for any ordinary cause.

  "An eruption! An eruption!"

  The cry resounded from all sides. An eruption! The Great Eyrie wasthen indeed the crater of a volcano buried in the bowels of themountains. And after so many years, so many ages even, had itreawakened? Added to the flames, was a rain of stones and ashes aboutto follow? Were the lavas going to pour down torrents of molten fire,destroying everything in their passage, annihilating the towns, thevillages, the farms, all this beautiful world of meadows, fields andforests, even as far as Pleasant Garden and Morganton?

  This time the panic was overwhelming; nothing could stop it. Womencarrying their infants, crazed with terror, rushed along the eastwardroads. Men, deserting their homes, made hurried bundles of their mostprecious belongings and set free their livestock, cows, sheep, pigs,which fled in all directions. What disorder resulted from thisagglomeration, human and animal, under darkest night, amid forests,threatened by the fires of the volcano, along the border of marsheswhose waters might be upheaved and overflow! With the earth itselfthreatening to disappear from under the feet of the fugitives! Wouldthey be in time to save themselves, if a cascade of glowing lava camerolling down the slope of the mountain across their route?

  Nevertheless, some of the chief and shrewder farm owners were notswept away in this mad flight, which they did their best to restrain.Venturing within a mile of the mountain, they saw that the glare ofthe flames was decreasing. In truth it hardly seemed that the regionwas immediately menaced by any further upheaval. No stones were beinghurled into space; no torrent of lava was visible upon the slopes; norumblings rose from the ground. There was no further manifestation ofany seismic disturbance capable of overwhelming the land.

  At length, the flight of the fugitives ceased at a distance wherethey seemed secure from all danger. Then a few ventured back towardthe mountain. Some farms were reoccupied before the break of day.

  By morning the crests of the Great Eyrie showed scarcely the leastremnant of its cloud of smoke. The fires were certainly at an end;and if it were impossible to determine their cause, one might atleast hope that they would not break out again.

  It appeared possible that the Great Eyrie had not really been thetheater of volcanic phenomena at all. There was no further evidencethat the neighborhood was at the mercy either of eruptions or ofearthquakes.

  Yet once more about five o'clock, from beneath the ridge of themountain, where the shadows of night still lingered, a strange noiseswept across the air, a sort of whirring, accompanied by the beatingof mighty wings. And had it been a clear day, perhaps the farmerswould have seen the passage of a mighty bird of prey, some monster ofthe skies, which having risen from the Great Eyrie sped away towardthe east.