Facing the Flag

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It is certain that a sort of disequilibrium had then occurred in his mental faculties. It was felt that he was developing a condition of mind that would gradually lead to definite madness. No government could possibly condescend to treat with him under the conditions he imposed.

The French commission was compelled to break off all negotiations with him, and the newspapers, even those of the Radical Opposition, had to admit that it was difficult to follow up the affair.

In view of the excess of subjectivity which was unceasingly augmenting in the profoundly disturbed mind of Thomas Roch, no one will be surprised at the fact that the cord of patriotism gradually relaxed until it ceased to vibrate. For the honor of human nature be it said that Thomas Roch was by this time irresponsible for his actions. He preserved his whole consciousness only in so far as subjects bearing directly upon his invention were concerned. In this particular he had lost nothing of his mental power. But in all that related to the most ordinary details of existence his moral decrepitude increased daily and deprived him of complete responsibility for his acts.

Thomas Roch's invention having been refused by the commission, steps ought to have been taken to prevent him from offering it elsewhere. Nothing of the kind was done, and there a great mistake was made.

The inevitable was bound to happen, and it did. Under a growing irritability the sentiment of patriotism, which is the very essence of the citizen--who before belonging to himself belongs to his country-- became extinct in the soul of the disappointed inventor. His thoughts turned towards other nations. He crossed the frontier, and forgetting the ineffaceable past, offered the fulgurator to Germany.

There, as soon as his exorbitant demands were made known, the government refused to receive his communication. Besides, it so happened that the military authorities were just then absorbed by the construction of a new ballistic engine, and imagined they could afford to ignore that of the French inventor.

As the result of this second rebuff Roch's anger became coupled with hatred--an instinctive hatred of humanity--especially after his _pourparlers_ with the British Admiralty came to naught. The English being practical people, did not at first repulse Thomas Roch. They sounded him and tried to get round him; but Roch would listen to nothing. His secret was worth millions, and these millions he would have, or they would not have his secret. The Admiralty at last declined to have anything more to do with him.

It was in these conditions, when his intellectual trouble was growing daily worse, that he made a last effort by approaching the American Government. That was about eighteen months before this story opens.

The Americans, being even more practical than the English, did not attempt to bargain for Roch's fulgurator, to which, in view of the French chemist's reputation, they attached exceptional importance. They rightly esteemed him a man of genius, and took the measures justified by his condition, prepared to indemnify him equitably later.

As Thomas Roch gave only too visible proofs of mental alienation, the Administration, in the very interest of his invention, judged it prudent to sequestrate him.

As is already known, he was not confined in a lunatic asylum, but was conveyed to Healthful House, which offered every guarantee for the proper treatment of his malady. Yet, though the most careful attention had been devoted to him, no improvement had manifested itself.

Thomas Roch, let it be again remarked--this point cannot be too often insisted upon--incapable though he was of comprehending and performing the ordinary acts and duties of life, recovered all his powers when the field of his discoveries was touched upon. He became animated, and spoke with the assurance of a man who knows whereof he is descanting, and an authority that carried conviction with it. In the heat of his eloquence he would describe the marvellous qualities of his fulgurator and the truly extraordinary effects it caused.

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