Robur the Conqueror
Chapter 1. Mysterious Sounds
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
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 distraction.
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 Renommee 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.