Facing the Flag

Page 07

Otherwise why should he have come to such a place? Certainly not to lay in stores, for Pamlico Sound offered neither the resources nor facilities to be found in such ports as Boston, New York, Dover, Savannah, Wilmington in North Carolina, and Charleston in South Carolina. What could he have procured with his piastres and bank-notes in the small markets of New-Berne? This chief town of Craven County contained barely six thousand inhabitants. Its commerce consisted principally in the exportation of grain, pigs, furniture, and naval munitions. Besides, a few weeks previously, the schooner had loaded up for some destination which, as usual, was unknown.

Had this enigmatical personage then come solely for the purpose of visiting Healthful House? Very likely. There would have been nothing surprising in the fact, seeing that the establishment enjoyed a high and well-merited reputation.

Or perhaps the Count had been inspired by curiosity to meet Thomas Roch? This curiosity would have been legitimate and natural enough in view of the universal renown of the French inventor. Fancy--a mad genius who claimed that his discoveries were destined to revolutionize the methods of modern military art!

As he had notified the director he would do, the Count d'Artigas presented himself in the afternoon at the door of Healthful House, accompanied by Captain Spade, the commander of the _Ebba_.

In conformity with orders given, both were admitted and conducted to the office of the director. The latter received his distinguished visitor with _empressement_, placed himself at his disposal, and intimated his intention of personally conducting him over the establishment, not being willing to concede to anybody else the honor of being his _cicerone_. The Count on his part was profuse in the expression of his thanks for the considerations extended to him.

They went over the common rooms and private habitations of the establishment, the director prattling unceasingly about the care with which the patients were tended--much better care, if he was to be believed, than they could possibly have had in the bosoms of their families--and priding himself upon the results achieved, and which had earned for the place its well-merited success.

The Count d'Artigas listened to his ceaseless chatter with apparent interest, probably in order the better to dissemble the real motive of his visit. However, after going the rounds for an hour he ventured to remark:

"Have you not among your patients, sir, one anent whom there was a great deal of talk some time ago, and whose presence here contributed in no small measure to attract public attention to Healthful House?"

"You refer to Thomas Roch, I presume, Count?" queried the director.

"Precisely--that Frenchman--that inventor--whose mental condition is said to be very precarious."

"Very precarious, Count, and happily so, perhaps! In my opinion humanity has nothing to gain by his discoveries, the application of which would increase the already too numerous means of destruction."

"You speak wisely, sir, and I entirely agree with you. Real progress does not lie in that direction, and I regard as inimical to society all those who seek to follow it. But has this inventor entirely lost the use of his intellectual faculties?"

"Entirely, no; save as regards the ordinary things of life. In this respect he no longer possesses either comprehension or responsibility. His genius as an inventor, however, remains intact; it has survived his moral degeneracy, and, had his insensate demands been complied with, I have no doubt he would have produced a new war engine--which the world can get along very well without."

"Very well without, as you say, sir," re-echoed the Count d'Artigas, and Captain Spade nodded approval.

"But you will be able to judge for yourself, Count, for here is the pavilion occupied by Thomas Roch. If his confinement is well justified from the point of view of public security he is none the less treated with all the consideration due to him and the attention which his condition necessitates.

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Jules Verne

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