At first the President of the Society received orders to appear before this committee. President Barbicane did not respond. Agents went to his house in Baltimore, but the President was gone. Where was he? No one knew. When did he depart? Six weeks ago, on the 11th of January, he had left the city, and the State of Maryland as well, in company with Capt. Nicholl.
Where did they both go? Nobody could tell. Evidently the two members of the Gun Club went to that mysterious region where preparations were going on for the great operation. But where could this place be? It was most important to know where this place was in order to break up and destroy the plans of these engineers before they had got too far in their work.
The consternation produced by this departure of the President and his associate was enormous. It soon changed public opinion to hatred against the N.P.P.A. and its managers. But there was one man who ought to know where the President and his associate had gone. There was one man who could answer this gigantic question, which at present excited the whole world and this man was—J.T. Maston. He was ordered to appear before the Committee of Inquiry under the Presidency of John Prestice. He did not appear. Had he also left Baltimore? Had he also gone to join his associates to aid them in their work, the results of which the whole world now expected with such immense fright? No. J.T. Maston was living still in his Ballistic Cottage, at No. 179 Franklin Street, working all the time and already beginning new calculations, only interrupting his work when he wanted to spend a social evening with Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt at her magnificent residence at New Park. An agent was sent to him by the President of the Inquiry Committee with orders to bring him to their meeting. The agent arrived at the cottage, knocked at the door and introduced himself. He was harshly received by “Fire-Fire,” but much worse by the proprietor of the house. However, Mr. Maston thought it was no more than right that he should go to the meeting, and he went with the agent. As soon as he had arrived they began to question him.
The first question was, “Where is President Barbicane and Capt. Nicholl at present?” He answered with a steady voice, “I know where they are, but I am not at liberty to disclose this information.” Second question: “Have he and his associates made the necessary preparations to put this operation in working order?” “This,” said Maston, “is a part of the secret which I cannot reveal.” “Would he be land enough to let this Committee examine his own work, so they would be able to judge if his Society would be in position to accomplish their intentions?” “No, most certainly I shall not allow it, never; I would rather destroy it. It is my right as a citizen of free America to refuse to communicate to any person the result of my work.”
“But,” said President Prestice in a very serious voice, “if it is your right to keep silent, it is the right of the whole United States to ask you to stop these rumors and give an explanation of the means which will be employed by your Company,” Mr. Maston did not agree that it was his right nor that it was his duty to answer further questions. In spite of their begging, threatening, etc., they could obtain nothing from this man with the iron hook. Never, never, would he say one word of it, and it was hardly possible to believe that such a strong will was concealed under that cover of “gutta-percha.” Mr. Maston went away as he had come; he was congratulated by Mrs. Evangelina Scorbitt, who was delighted by the courageous attitude taken by him. When the results of this last meeting of the Inquiry Committee became known public indignation really took a turn which threatened the security and safety of the calculator. The pressure of public opinion was so great that the Cabinet of the Government of the United States was compelled to give the Committee full permission to do what they thought most necessary and advisable in the matter. One evening, the 13th of March, J.T. Maston was in his study at the Ballistic Cottage, very much interested in different figures, when suddenly the telephone bell attracted his attention.