Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Robur-le-conquerant. English, Page 2

Jules Verne

  Chapter II


  "And the first who says the contrary--"

  "Indeed! But we will say the contrary so long as there is a place tosay 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 voicesconfounded in one.

  "No! It ought to be in front!" shouted Phil Evans.

  "In front!" roared fifty other voices, with a vigor in no whit lessremarkable.

  "We shall never agree!"

  "Never! Never!"

  "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 ofan hour.

  The room was one of the largest in the Weldon Institute, thewell-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 eveninterchanges of blows, resulting in an effervescence which had notyet subsided, and which would account for some of the excitement justexhibited by the members of the Weldon Institute. For this was merelya meeting of balloonists, discussing the burning question of thedirection of balloons.

  In this great saloon there were struggling, pushing, gesticulating,shouting, arguing, disputing, a hundred balloonists, all with theirhats on, under the authority of a president, assisted by a secretaryand treasurer. They were not engineers by profession, but simplyamateurs of all that appertained to aerostatics, and they wereamateurs in a fury, and especially foes of those who would oppose toaerostats "apparatuses heavier than the air," flying machines, aerialships, or what not. That these people might one day discover themethod of guiding balloons is possible. There could be no doubt thattheir president had considerable difficulty in guiding them.

  This president, well known in Philadelphia, was the famous UnclePrudent, Prudent being his family name. There is nothing surprisingin America in the qualificative uncle, for you can there be unclewithout having either nephew or niece. There they speak of uncle asin other places they speak of father, though the father may have hadno children.

  Uncle Prudent was a personage of consideration, and in spite of hisname was well known for his audacity. He was very rich, and that isno drawback even in the United States; and how could it be otherwisewhen he owned the greater part of the shares in Niagara Falls? Asociety of engineers had just been founded at Buffalo for working thecataract. It seemed to be an excellent speculation. The seventhousand five hundred cubic meters that pass over Niagara in a secondwould produce seven millions of horsepower. This enormous power,distributed amongst all the workshops within a radius of threehundred miles, would return an annual income of three hundred milliondollars, of which the greater part would find its way into the pocketof Uncle Prudent. He was a bachelor, he lived quietly, and for hisonly servant had his valet Frycollin, who was hardly worthy of beingthe 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--amongothers all those who envied his position. Amongst his bitterestfoes we may mention the secretary of the Weldon Institute.

  This was Phil Evans, who was also very rich, being the manager of theWheelton Watch Company, an important manufactory, which makes everyday five hundred movements equal in every respect to the best Swissworkmanship. Phil Evans would have passed for one of the happiest menin the world, and even in the United States, if it had not been forUncle Prudent. Like him he was in his forty-sixth year; like him ofinvariable health; like him of undoubted boldness. They were two menmade to understand each other thoroughly, but they did not, for bothwere of extreme violence of character. Uncle Prudent was furiouslyhot; Phil Evans was abnormally cool.

  And why had not Phil Evans been elected president of the club? Thevotes were exactly divided between Uncle Prudent and him. Twentytimes there had been a scrutiny, and twenty times the majority hadnot declared for either one or the other. The position wasembarrassing, and it might have lasted for the lifetime of thecandidates.

  One of the members of the club then proposed a way out of thedifficulty. This was Jem Chip, the treasurer of the Weldon Institute.Chip was a confirmed vegetarian, a proscriber of all animalnourishment, of all fermented liquors, half a Mussulman, half aBrahman. On this occasion Jem Chip was supported by another member ofthe club, William T. Forbes, the manager of a large factory wherethey made glucose by treating rags with sulphuric acid. A man of goodstanding was this William T. Forbes, the father of two charminggirls--Miss Dorothy, called Doll, and Miss Martha, called Mat, who gavethe tone to the best society in Philadelphia.

  It followed, then, on the proposition of Jem Chip, supported byWilliam T. Forbes and others, that it was decided to elect thepresident "on the center point."

  This mode of election can be applied in all cases when it is desiredto elect the most worthy; and a number of Americans of highintelligence are already thinking of employing it in the nominationof the President of the Republic of the United States.

  On two boards of perfect whiteness a black line is traced. The lengthof each of these lines is mathematically the same, for they have beendetermined with as much accuracy as the base of the first triangle ina trigonometrical survey. That done, the two boards were erected onthe same day in the center of the conference room, and the twocandidates, each armed with a fine needle, marched towards the boardthat had fallen to his lot. The man who planted his needle nearestthe center of the line would be proclaimed President of the WeldonInstitute.

  The operation must be done at once--no guide marks or trial shotsallowed; nothing but sureness of eye. The man must have a compass inhis eye, as the saying goes; that was all.

  Uncle Prudent stuck in his needle at the same moment as Phil Evansdid his. Then there began the measurement to discover which of thetwo competitors had most nearly approached the center.

  Wonderful! Such had been the precision of the shots that the measuresgave no appreciable difference. If they were not exactly in themathematical center of the line, the distance between the needles wasso small as to be invisible to the naked eye.

  The meeting was much embarrassed.

  Fortunately one of the members, Truck Milnor, insisted that themeasurements should be remade by means of a rule graduated by themicrometrical machine of M. Perreaux, which can divide a millimeterinto fifteen-hundredths of a millimeter with a diamond splinter, wasbrought to bear on the lines; and on reading the divisions through amicroscope the following were the results: Uncle Prudent hadapproached the center within less than six fifteenth-hundredths of amillimeter. Phil Evans was within nine fifteen-hundredths.

  And that is why Phil Evans was only secretary of the WeldonInstitute, whereas Uncle Prudent was president. A difference of threefifteen-hundredths of a millimeter! And on account of it Phil Evansvowed against Uncle Prudent one of those hatreds which are none theless fierce for being latent.