The fugitives began to ask themselves if they had not exchanged one prison for another.
At last a ship came to water at the Chatham Islands. It will not have been forgotten that when Uncle Prudent was seized he had on him several thousand paper dollars, much more than would take him back to America. After thanking their adorers, who were not sparing of their most respectful demonstrations, Uncle Prudent, Phil Evans, and Frycollin embarked for Auckland. They said nothing of their adventures, and in two weeks landed in New Zealand.
At Auckland, a mail-boat took them on board as passengers, and after a splendid passage the survivors of the "Albatross" stepped ashore at San Francisco. They said nothing as to who they were or whence they had come, but as they had paid full price for their berths no American captain would trouble them further. At San Francisco they took the first train out on the Pacific Railway, and on the 27th of September, they arrived at Philadelphia, That is the compendious history of what had occurred since the, escape of the fugitives. And that is why this very evening the president and secretary of the Weldon Institute took their seats amid a most extraordinary attendance.
Never before had either of them been so calm. To look at them it did not seem as though anything abnormal had happened since the memorable sitting of the 12th of June. Three months and a half had gone, and seemed to be counted as nothing. After the first round of cheers, which both received without showing the slightest emotion, Uncle Prudent took off his hat and spoke.
"Worthy citizens," said he, "The meeting is now open."
Tremendous applause. And properly so, for if it was not extraordinary that the meeting was open, it was extraordinary that it should be opened by Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans.
The president allowed the enthusiasm to subside in shouts and clappings; then he continued: "At our last meeting, gentlemen, the discussion was somewhat animated--(hear, hear)--between the partisans of the screw before and those of the screw behind for our balloon the "Go-Ahead." (Marks of surprise.) We have found a way to bring the beforists and the behindists in agreement. That way is as follows: we are going to use two screws, one at each end of the car!." Silence, and complete stupefaction.
That was all.
Yes, all! Of the kidnapping of the president and secretary of the Weldon Institute not a word! Not a word of the "Albatross" nor of Robur! Not a word of the voyage! Not a word of the way in which the prisoners had escaped! Not a word of what had become of the aeronef, if it still flew through space, or if they were to be prepared for new reprisals on the member's of the club!
Of course the balloonists were longing to ask Uncle Prudent and the secretary about all these things, but they looked so close and so serious that they thought it best to respect their attitude. When they thought fit to speak they would do so, and it would be an honor to hear. After all, there might be in all this some secret which would not yet be divulged.
And then Uncle Prudent, resuming his speech amid a silence up to then unknown in the meetings of the Weldon Institute, said, "Gentlemen, it now only remains for us to finish the aerostat "Go-Ahead." it is left to her to effect the conquest of the air! The meeting is at an end!"
THE GO-AHEAD IS LAUNCHED
On the following 19th of April, seven months after the unexpected return of Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans, Philadelphia was in a state of unwonted excitement. There were neither elections nor meetings this time. The aerostat "Go-Ahead," built by the Weldon Institute, was to take possession of her natural element.
The celebrated Harry W. Tinder, whose name we mentioned at the beginning of this story, had been engaged as aeronaut. He had no assistant, and the only passengers were to be the president and secretary of the Weldon Institute.
Did they not merit such an honor? Did it not come to them appropriately to rise in person to protest against any apparatus that was heavier than air?
During the seven months, however, they had said nothing of their adventures; and even Frycollin had not uttered a whisper of Robur and his wonderful clipper.