Topsy Turvy

Page 09

Be it as it may, however, the delegates who had avoided each other during their passage over the Atlantic became more and more associated after having arrived in Baltimore. Here is the reason: Since his arrival each one had tried to open communications with the North Polar Practical Association separately, unknown to the other. That which they wished to know were the motives hidden at the bottom of this affair and what profit the Society hoped to make out of the sale. Now, until the present time nothing indicated that the Society had opened an office at Baltimore. No office, no employees. All that could be learned was, “For information address only William S. Forster, High Street, Baltimore.” And it did not look as though the honest consignee of codfish knew any more in this respect than the lowest street porter of the city.

The delegates could, therefore, learn nothing from him. They were accordingly compelled to rely upon the more or less absurd guesses of the public at large. Was the secret of the Society going to be kept inpenetrable as long as it did not make it known itself? This was the question. Without doubt it did not seem inclined to give any information on the subject until the purchase had been made. Therefore, it came that the delegates finished by seeing and meeting each other; they made visits to each other, and finally came in close communication with each other, perhaps with the idea of making a front against the common enemy, or, otherwise, the American Company. And so it happened that one evening they were all together in the Hotel Wolesley, in the suite occupied by Major Donellan and his secretary, Dean Toodrink, holding a conference. In fact, this tendency to a common understanding was principally due to the advice of Col. Boris Karkof, the best diplomat known. At first the conversation was directed to the commercial and industrial consequences which the Society pretended to gain by purchase of the Arctic domain. Prof. Jan Harald asked if any one had been able to gain any information on that point. All finally agreed that they had tried to get information from Mr. William S. Forster, to whom all letters should be addressed.

“I have failed,” said Eric Baldenak.

“And I have not succeeded,” added Jacques Jansen.

“In regard to myself,” answered Dean Toodrink, “when I presented myself at the stores in High Street in the name of Major Donellan I found a large man in black clothes, wearing a high hat, with a white apron, which was short enough to show his high boots. When I asked him for information in the matter he informed me that the South Star had arrived with a full cargo from Newfoundland and that he was ready to furnish me with a fresh stock of codfish on account of Messrs. Ardronell & Co.”

“And,” answered the former counsellor of the Dutch Indies, always a little sceptical, “it would be much better to buy a load of codfish than to throw one’s money into the ice-water of the North.”

“This is not at all the question,” says Major Donellan, with a short and high voice. “The question is not the codfish, but the Polar region.”

“Americans ought to stand on their heads,” said Dean Toodrink, laughing at his own remark. “That will make them catch cold,” finally said Col. Karkof. “The question is not there,” said Major Donellan. “One thing only is certain, that for some reason or another America, represented by the N.P.P.A. (remark the word ‘practical’) wants to buy a surface of 407 square miles around the North Pole, a surface which is actually (remark the word ‘actually’) pierced by the eighty-fourth degree of latitude.”

“We know it, Major Donellan, and much more,” said Jan Harald. “But what we do not know is how the said company will make use of those countries or waters, if they are waters, from a commercial standpoint.”

“This is not the question,” answered for the third time Major Donellan. “A power wants to purchase with money a large part of the globe which, by its geographical situation, seems to belong especially to England”—”to Russia,” said Col. Karkof; “to Holland,” said Jacques Jansen; “to Sweden-Norway,” said Jan Harald; “to Denmark,” said Eric Baldenak.

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