Robur the Conqueror
Chapter 12. Through The Himalayas
During, the night the fog cleared off. There were symptoms of an approaching
typhoon--a rapid fall of the barometer, a disappearance of vapor, large clouds of
ellipsoid form clinging to a copper sky, and, on the opposite horizon, long streaks
of carmine on a slate-colored field, with a large sector quite clear in the north.
Then the sea was smooth and calm and at sunset assumed a deep scarlet hue.
Fortunately the typhoon broke more to the south, and had no other result than to
sweep away the mist which had been accumulating during the last three days.
In an hour they had traversed the hundred and twenty-five miles of the Korean
strait, and while the typhoon was raging on the coast of China, the "Albatross"
was over the Yellow Sea. During the 22nd and 23rd she was over the Gulf of
Pechelee, and on the 24th she was ascending the valley of the Peiho on her way
to the capital of the Celestial Empire.
Leaning over the rail, the two colleagues, as the engineer had told them, could
see distinctly the immense city, the wall which divides it into two parts--the
Manchu town, and the Chinese town--the twelve suburbs which surround it, the
large boulevards which radiate from its center, the temples with their green and
yellow roofs bathed in the rising sun, the grounds surrounding the houses of the
mandarins; then in the middle of the Manchu town the eighteen hundred acres of
the Yellow town, with its pagodas, its imperial gardens, its artificial lakes, its
mountain of coal which towers above the capital; and in the center of the Yellow
town, like a square of Chinese puzzle enclosed in another, the Red town, that is
the imperial palace, with all the peaks of its outrageous architecture.
Below the "Albatross" the air was filled with a singular harmony. It seemed to be
a concert of Aeolian harps. In the air were a hundred kites of different forms,
made of sheets of palm-leaf, and having at their upper end a sort of bow of light
wood with a thin slip of bamboo beneath. In the breath of the wind these slips,
with all their notes varied like those of a harmonicon, gave forth a most
melancholy murmuring. It seemed as though they were breathing musical
It suited Robur's whim to run close up to this aerial orchestra, and the "Albatross"
slowed as she glided through the sonorous waves which the kites gave off
through the atmosphere.
But immediately an extraordinary effect was produced amongst the innumerable
population. Beatings of the tomtoms and sounds of other formidable instruments
of the Chinese orchestra, gun reports by the thousand, mortars fired in hundreds,
all were brought into play to scare away the aeronef. Although the Chinese
astronomers may have recognized the aerial machine as the moving body that
had given rise to such disputes, it was to the Celestial million, from the humblest
tankader to the best-buttoned mandarin, an apocalyptical monster appearing in
the sky of Buddha.
The crew of the "Albatross" troubled themselves very little about these
demonstrations. But the strings which held the kites, and were tied to fixed pegs
in the imperial gardens, were cut or quickly hauled in; and the kites were either