A balloon pretending to resist the wind by aid of its mechanism, when the pressure of a light breeze on a vessel's sails is not less than that of four hundred horsepower; when in the accident at the Tay Bridge you saw the storm produce a pressure of eight and a half hundredweight on a square yard. A balloon, when on such a system nature has never constructed anything flying, whether furnished with wings like birds, or membranes like certain fish, or certain mammalia --"
"Mammalia?" exclaimed one of the members.
"Yes! Mammalia! The bat, which flies, if I am not mistaken! Is the gentleman unaware that this flyer is a mammal? Did he ever see an omelette made of bat's eggs?"
The interrupter reserved himself for future interruption, and Robur resumed: "But does that mean that man is to give up the conquest of the air, and the transformation of the domestic and political manners of the old world, by the use of this admirable means of locomotion? By no means. As he has become master of the seas with the ship, by the oar, the sail, the wheel and the screw, so shall he become master of atmospherical space by apparatus heavier than the air--for it must be heavier to be stronger than the air!"
And then the assembly exploded. What a broadside of yells escaped from all these mouths, aimed at Robur like the muzzles of so many guns! Was not this hurling a declaration of war into the very camp of the balloonists? Was not this a stirring up of strife between 'the lighter" and 'the heavier" than air?
Robur did not even frown. With folded arms he waited bravely till silence was obtained.
By a gesture Uncle Prudent ordered the firing to cease.
"Yes," continued Robur, "the future is for the flying machine. The air affords a solid fulcrum. If you will give a column of air an ascensional movement of forty-five meters a second, a man can support himself on the top of it if the soles of his boots have a superficies of only the eighth of a square meter. And if the speed be increased to ninety meters, he can walk on it with naked feet. Or if, by means of a screw, you drive a mass of air at this speed, you get the same result."
What Robur said had been said before by all the partisans of aviation, whose work slowly but surely is leading on to the solution of the problem. To Ponton d'Amécourt, La Landelle, Nadar, De Luzy, De Louvrié, Liais, Beleguir, Moreau, the brothers Richard, Babinet, Jobert, Du Temple, Salives, Penaud, De Villeneuve, Gauchot and Tatin, Michael Loup, Edison, Planavergne, and so many others, belongs the honor of having brought forward ideas of such simplicity. Abandoned and resumed times without number, they are sure, some day to triumph. To the enemies of aviation, who urge that the bird only sustains himself by warming the air he strikes, their answer is ready. Have they not proved that an eagle weighing five kilograms would have to fill fifty cubic meters with his warm fluid merely to sustain himself in space?
This is what Robur I demonstrated with undeniable logic amid the uproar that arose on all sides. And in conclusion these are the words he hurled in the faces of the balloonists: "With your aerostats you can do nothing--you will arrive at nothing--you dare do nothing! The boldest of your aeronauts, John Wise, although he has made an aerial voyage of twelve hundred miles above the American continent, has had to give up his project of crossing the Atlantic! And you have not advanced one step--not one step--towards your end."
"Sir," said the president, who in vain endeavored to keep himself cool, "you forget what was said by our immortal Franklin at the first appearance of the fire balloon, "It is but a child, but it will grow!" It was but a child, and it has grown.
"No, Mr. President, it has not grown! It has got fatter--and this is not the same thing!"
This was a direct attack on the Weldon Institute, which had decreed, helped, and paid for the making of a monster balloon. And so propositions of the following kind began to fly about the room: 'turn him out!" 'throw him off the platform!" "Prove that he is heavier than the air!"
But these were only words, not means to an end.