The Master of the World HTML version

Chapter 4. A Meeting Of The Automobile Club
Was the mystery of the Great Eyrie to be solved some day by chances beyond our
imagining? That was known only to the future. And was the solution a matter of the first
importance? That was beyond doubt, since the safety of the people of western Carolina
perhaps depended upon it.
Yet a fortnight after my return to Washington, public attention was wholly distracted
from this problem by another very different in nature, but equally astonishing.
Toward the middle of that month of May the newspapers of Pennsylvania informed their
readers of some strange occurrences in different parts of the state. On the roads which
radiated from Philadelphia, the chief city, there circulated an extraordinary vehicle, of
which no one could describe the form, or the nature, or even the size, so rapidly did it
rush past. It was an automobile; all were agreed on that. But as to what motor drove it,
only imagination could say; and when the popular imagination is aroused, what limit is
there to its hypotheses?
At that period the most improved automobiles, whether driven by steam, gasoline, or
electricity, could not accomplish much more than sixty miles an hour, a speed that the
railroads, with their most rapid expresses, scarce exceed on the best lines of America and
Europe. Now, this new automobile which was astonishing the world, traveled at more
than double this speed.
It is needless to add that such a rate constituted an extreme danger on the highroads, as
much so for vehicles, as for pedestrians. This rushing mass, coming like a thunder-bolt,
preceded by a formidable rumbling, caused a whirlwind, which tore the branches from
the trees along the road, terrified the animals browsing in adjoining fields, and scattered
and killed the birds, which could not resist the suction of the tremendous air currents
engendered by its passage.
And, a bizarre detail to which the newspapers drew particular attention, the surface of the
roads was scarcely even scratched by the wheels of the apparition, which left behind it no
such ruts as are usually made by heavy vehicles. At most there was a light touch, a mere
brushing of the dust. It was only the tremendous speed which raised behind the vehicle
such whirlwinds of dust.
"It is probable," commented the New Fork Herald, "that the extreme rapidity of motion
destroys the weight."
Naturally there were protests from all sides. It was impossible to permit the mad speed of
this apparition which threatened to overthrow and destroy everything in its passage,
equipages and people. But how could it be stopped? No one knew to whom the vehicle
belonged, nor whence it came, nor whither it went. It was seen but for an instant as it