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Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 4

The Trip Of Le Horla
On the morning of July 8th I received the following telegram: "Fine day. Always my
predictions. Belgian frontier. Baggage and servants left at noon at the social session.
Beginning of manoeuvres at three. So I will wait for you at the works from five o'clock
on. Jovis."
At five o'clock sharp I entered the gas works of La Villette. It might have been mistaken
for the colossal ruins of an old town inhabited by Cyclops. There were immense dark
avenues separating heavy gasometers standing one behind another, like monstrous
columns, unequally high and, undoubtedly, in the past the supports of some tremendous,
some fearful iron edifice.
The balloon was lying in the courtyard and had the appearance of a cake made of yellow
cloth, flattened on the ground under a rope. That is called placing a balloon in a sweep-
net, and, in fact, it appeared like an enormous fish.
Two or three hundred people were looking at it, sitting or standing, and some were
examining the basket, a nice little square basket for a human cargo, bearing on its side in
gold letters on a mahogany plate the words: Le Horla.
Suddenly the people began to stand back, for the gas was beginning to enter into the
balloon through a long tube of yellow cloth, which lay on the soil, swelling and
undulating like an enormous worm. But another thought, another picture occurs to every
mind. It is thus that nature itself nourishes beings until their birth. The creature that will
rise soon begins to move, and the attendants of Captain Jovis, as Le Horla grew larger,
spread and put in place the net which covers it, so that the pressure will be regular and
equally distributed at every point.
The operation is very delicate and very important, for the resistance of the cotton cloth of
which the balloon is made is figured not in proportion to the contact surface of this cloth
with the net, but in proportion to the links of the basket.
Le Horla, moreover, has been designed by M. Mallet, constructed under his own eyes and
made by himself. Everything had been made in the shops of M. Jovis by his own working
staff and nothing was made outside.
We must add that everything was new in this balloon, from the varnish to the valve, those
two essential parts of a balloon. Both must render the cloth gas-proof, as the sides of a
ship are waterproof. The old varnishes, made with a base of linseed oil, sometimes
fermented and thus burned the cloth, which in a short time would tear like a piece of
paper.
 
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