Robur the Conqueror
Chapter 2. Agreement Impossible
"And the first who says the contrary --"
"Indeed! But we will say the contrary so long as there is a place to say 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 voices confounded in one.
"No! It ought to be in front!" shouted Phil Evans.
"In front!" roared fifty other voices, with a vigor in no whit less remarkable.
"We shall never agree!"
"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 of an hour.
The room was one of the largest in the Weldon Institute, the well-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 even interchanges of blows, resulting in an effervescence which
had not yet subsided, and which would account for some of the excitement just
exhibited by the members of the Weldon Institute. For this was merely a meeting
of balloonists, discussing the burning question of the direction of balloons.
In this great saloon there were struggling, pushing, gesticulating, shouting,
arguing, disputing, a hundred balloonists, all with their hats on, under the
authority of a president, assisted by a secretary and treasurer. They were not
engineers by profession, but simply amateurs of all that appertained to
aerostatics, and they were amateurs in a fury, and especially foes of those who
would oppose to aerostats "apparatuses heavier than the air," flying machines,
aerial ships, or what not. That these people might one day discover the method
of guiding balloons is possible. There could be no doubt that their president had
considerable difficulty in guiding them.
This president, well known in Philadelphia was the famous Uncle Prudent,
Prudent being his family name. There is nothing surprising in America in the
qualificative uncle, for you can there be uncle without having either nephew or
niece. There they speak of uncle as in other places they speak of father, though
the father may have had no children.
Uncle Prudent was a personage of consideration, and in spite of his name was
well known for his audacity. He was very rich, and that is no drawback even in
the United States; and how could it be otherwise when he owned the greater part
of the shares in Niagara Falls? A society of engineers had just been founded at
Buffalo for working the cataract. It seemed to be an excellent speculation. The
seven thousand five hundred cubic meters that pass over Niagara in a second
would produce seven millions of horsepower. This enormous power, distributed