Topsy Turvy

Page 04

Besides, the circular had a paragraph which provided for all future chances. This paragraph was capable of so many interpretations that the exact meaning of it could not be rendered even by those who studied it closely. It was stipulated that the right of proprietorship should not depend upon any chances or changes in the country, no matter whether these changes were in the position or climate of the country.

What did this phrase mean? How could there ever be any changes in the geography or meteorology of a country like this one to be sold at auction? “Evidently,” said some shrewd ones, “there must be something behind it.”

The commentators had free swing and exercised it with a will. One paper in Philadelphia published the following pleasant notice:

“Undoubtedly the future purchasers of the Arctic region have information that a hard stone comet will strike this world under such conditions that its blow will produce geographic and meteorologic changes such as the purchasers of the Arctic region will profit by.”

The idea of a blow with a hard stone planet was not accepted by serious people. In any case it was not likely that the would-be purchasers would have been informed of such a coming event.

“Perhaps,” said a New Orleans newspaper, “the new Company thinks the precession of the equinox will in time favor the conditions likely to lead to the utilization of this domain.”

“And why not? Because this movement modifies the direction of the axis of our spheroid,” observed another correspondent.

“Really,” answered the Scientific Review, of Paris. “As Adhemar has predicted in his book on the ocean currents, the precession of the equinox, combined with the movement of the earth’s axis, will be such as to modify in a long period the average temperature of the different parts of the earth and in the quantities of ice accumulated around the two poles.”

“This is not certain,” replied the Edinburgh Review, “and, besides, supposing that this would be the case, is not a lapse of 12,000 years necessary before Vega becomes our polar star in consequence of this movement and the situation of the Arctic territory consequently changed in regard to its climate?”

“Well,” said the Copenhagen Dagblad, “in 12,000 years it will be time to make preparations, and before that time risk nothing—not even a cent.”

It was possible that the Scientific Review was right with Adhemar. It was also very probable that the North Polar Practical Association had never counted on this modification of climate due to the precession of the equinox. In fact, nobody had clearly discovered what this last paragraph in the circular meant nor what kind of change it had in view.

Perhaps to know it, it would suffice to write to the Secretary of the new Society, or particularly its President. But the President was unknown. Unknown as much as the Secretary and all other members of the Council. It was not even known where the document came from. It was brought to the offices of the New York newspapers by a certain William S. Forster, a codfish dealer of Baltimore, a member of the house of Ardrinell & Co. Everything was so quiet and mysterious in the matter that the best reporters could not make out what it was all about. This North Polar Association had been so anonymous that it was impossible even to give it a definite name.

If, however, the promoters of this speculation persisted in making their personnel an absolute mystery, their intention was clearly indicated by the document spread before the public of two worlds.

Really, after all, the question was the purchase of that part of the arctic regions bounded by the 84th degree, and of which the North Pole was the central point. Nothing very exact concerning this region was known. The modern discoverers who had been nearest to this parallel were Parry, Markham, Lockwood and Brainard. In regard to the other navigators of the northern seas they stopped far short of the above-mentioned point—such as Payez, in 1874, to 82° 15’ north of the land of Francis Joseph, of New Zemble; Leout, in 1870, to 72°74’ above Siberia; De Long in the Jeanette expedition, in 1879, to 78° 45’ around the islands which bear his name.

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