Topsy Turvy

Page 26

Very snug in a comfortable armchair was Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, who should really have had a place on the right hand of the President, as she was in reality the owner of the Arctic region. Several other ladies were in the crowd. They could readily be seen by their large and much-decorated hats in many different colors. The large crowd on the outside tried to push into the hall, and one might easily have thought that all the people present were not merely helpmates of the members of the Gun Club, but rather their personal friends. The European delegates—Swedish, Norwegians, Danish, English, Dutch, and Russian—occupied reserved seats, and if they had bought any stock in this society it was only each one individually to such an extent as to justify a vote in the proceedings. After they had been so closely united in purchasing these regions they were united now only to annoy the purchasers. It may easily be imagined what intense curiosity they had to hear the important communication which the President was about to make to them. This communication undoubtedly would throw some information on the point as to how the society would proceed to reach the North Pole. Was this not a more difficult thing than merely to make use of the coal mines? If there should be any objections to make you may be assured that Major Donellan, backed up by his secretary, Dean Toodrink, would make them, and the other delegates would not be very slow in adding their word also. The Major had firmly decided to harass and annoy his rival, Impey Barbicane, as much as he possibly could.

It was 8 o’clock in the evening. The hall, the parlors, and all quarters occupied by the Gun Club blazed with lights which the Edison electroliers throw out. As soon as the doors were thrown open for the public a terrible crowd jammed into the hall. But everyone became silent as the ushers announced that the Council of Administration was coming. There, on a draped platform, with a table covered with black cloth, in full sight, President Barbicane, his Secretary, J.T. Maston, and his associates, took their places. A triple round of cheers, followed by hearty “tigers,” rang through the hall and out to the adjoining streets. Very solemnly Mr. Maston and Capt. Nicholl took their seats. Then the President, who had remained standing, opened the proceedings. He put his right hand in his trouser’s pocket and his left hand in his vest front and began as follows:

“Lady and gentlemen subscribers, the Council of Administration has called a meeting in these headquarters of the Gun Club to make an important communication to you. You have learned by the circulars and through the discussions in the papers that the object of our Club is to explore the large coal fields situated in the Arctic regions, which we have recently purchased and to which we hold a title from the American Government. The amount of money raised by public subscription will be used for these purposes. The success which will be attained by it surpasses belief and the dividends your money will bring you will be unsurpassed in the commercial or financial history of this or any other country.” Here applause was heard for the first time and for a moment the orator was interrupted. “You do not forget,” said he, “how we have proved to you that there must be vast coal fields in these regions, perhaps also fields of fossil ivory. The articles published on this subject do not allow any doubt that coal fields are there, and coal is now, you know, the basis of all our commercial industry. Without mentioning the coal which is used every year in firing and heating, we might think of coal used for many other purposes, of which I could mention a hundred different ones. It is certain that coal is the most precious substance, and will some day, on account of the large consumption of it; fail in its supply. Before 500 years have passed the coal mines which are at present in use will have stopped giving coal.”

“Three hundred years,” cried one of those present. “Two hundred years,” answered another.

“Let us say at some time sooner or later,” continued the President, calmly, “and let us suppose, too, that we will even discover new coal fields yet, whose coal will give out, say at the end of the nineteenth century.” Here he stopped to give his listeners a chance to grasp the idea.

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