Robur the Conqueror
Chapter 9. Across The Prairie
In one, of the cabins of the after-house Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans had found
two excellent berths, with clean linen, change of clothes, and traveling-cloaks
and rugs. No Atlantic liner could have offered them more comfort. If they did not
Sleep soundly it was that they did not wish to do so, or rather that their very real
anxiety prevented them. In what adventure had they embarked? To what series
of experiments had they been invited? How would the business end? And above
all, what was Robur going to do with them?
Frycollin, the valet, was quartered forward in a cabin adjoining that of the cook.
The neighborhood did not displease him; he liked to rub shoulders with the great
in this world. But if he finally went to sleep it was to dream of fall after fall, of
projections through space, which made his sleep a horrible nightmare.
However, nothing could be quieter than this journey through the atmosphere,
whose currents had grown weaker with the evening. Beyond the rustling of the
blades of the screws there was not a sound, except now and then the whistle
from some terrestrial locomotive, or the calling of some animal. Strange instinct!
These terrestrial beings felt the aeronef glide over them, and uttered cries of
terror as it passed. On the morrow, the 14th of June, at five o'clock, Uncle
Prudent and Phil Evans were walking on the deck of the "Albatross."
Nothing had changed since the evening; there was a lookout forward, and the
helmsman was in his glass cage. Why was there a look-out? Was there any
chance of collision with another such machine? Certainly not. Robur had not yet
found imitators. The chance of encountering an aerostat gliding through the air
was too remote to be regarded. In any case it would be all the worse for the
aerostat--the earthen pot and the iron pot. The "Albatross" had nothing to fear
from the collision.
But what could happen? The aeronef might find herself like a ship on a lee shore
if a mountain that could not be outflanked or passed barred the way. These are
the reefs of the air, and they have to be avoided as a ship avoids the reefs of the
sea. The engineer, it is true, had given the course, and in doing so had taken into
account the altitude necessary to clear the summits of the high lands in the
district. But as the aeronef was rapidly nearing a mountainous country, it was
only prudent to keep a good lookout, in case some slight deviation from the
course became necessary.
Looking at the country beneath them, Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans noticed a
large lake, whose lower southern end the "Albatross" had just reached. They
concluded, therefore, that during the night the whole length of Lake Erie had
been traversed, and that, as they were going due west, they would soon be over
Lake Michigan. "There can be no doubt of it," said Phil Evans, "and that group of
roofs on the horizon is Chicago."
He was right. It was indeed the city from which the seventeen railways diverge,
the Queen of the West, the vast reservoir into which flow the products of Indiana,
Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, and all the States which form the western half of the