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THE MASTER OF THE WORLD


By

Jules Verne






Contents

1 What Happened in the Mountains
2 I Reach Morganton
3 The Great Eyrie
4 A Meeting of the Automobile Club
5 Along the Shores of New England
6 The First Letter
7 A Third Machine
8 At Any Cost
9 The Second Letter
10 Outside the Law
11 The Campaign
12 Black Rock Creek
13 On Board the Terror
14 Niagara
15 The Eagle's Nest
16 Robur, the Conqueror
17 In the Name of the Law
18 The Old Housekeeper's Last Comment




Chapter 1

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE MOUNTAINS


If I speak of myself in this story, it is because I have been deeply
involved in its startling events, events doubtless among the most
extraordinary which this twentieth century will witness. Sometimes I
even ask myself if all this has really happened, if its pictures
dwell in truth in my memory, and not merely in my imagination. In my
position as head inspector in the federal police department at
Washington, urged on moreover by the desire, which has always been
very strong in me, to investigate and understand everything which is
mysterious, I naturally became much interested in these remarkable
occurrences. And as I have been employed by the government in various
important affairs and secret missions since I was a mere lad, it also
happened very naturally that the head of my department placed In my
charge this astonishing investigation, wherein I found myself
wrestling with so many impenetrable mysteries.

In the remarkable passages of the recital, it is important that you
should believe my word. For some of the facts I can bring no other
testimony than my own. If you do not wish to believe me, so be it. I
can scarce believe it all myself.

The strange occurrences began in the western part of our great
American State of North Carolina. There, deep amid the Blueridge
Mountains rises the crest called the Great Eyrie. Its huge rounded
form is distinctly seen from the little town of Morganton on the
Catawba River, and still more clearly as one approaches the mountains
by way of the village of Pleasant Garden.

Why the name of Great Eyrie was originally given this mountain by the
people of the surrounding region, I am not quite Sure It rises rocky
and grim and inaccessible, and under certain atmospheric conditions
has a peculiarly blue and distant effect. But the idea one would
naturally get from the name is of a refuge for birds of prey, eagles
condors, vultures; the home of vast numbers of the feathered tribes,
wheeling and screaming above peaks beyond the reach of man. Now, the
Great Eyrie did not seem particularly attractive to birds; on the
contrary, the people of the neighborhood began to remark that on some
days when birds approached its summit they mounted still further,
circled high above the crest, and then flew swiftly away, troubling
the air with harsh cries.

Why then the name Great Eyrie? Perhaps the mount might better have
been called a crater, for in the center of those steep and rounded
walls there might well be a huge deep basin. Perhaps there might even
lie within their circuit a mountain lake, such as exists in other
parts of the Appalachian mountain system, a lagoon fed by the rain
and the winter snows.

In brief was not this the site of an ancient volcano, one which had
slept through ages, but whose inner fires might yet reawake? Might
not the Great Eyrie reproduce in its neighborhood the violence of
Mount Krakatoa or the terrible disaster of Mont Pelee? If there were
indeed a central lake, was there not danger that its waters,
penetrating the strata beneath, would be turned to steam by the
volcanic fires and tear their way forth in a tremendous explosion,
deluging the fair plains of Carolina with an eruption such as that of
1902 in Martinique?

Indeed, with regard to this last possibility there had been certain
symptoms recently observed which might well be due to volcanic
action. Smoke had floated above the mountain and once the country
folk passing near had heard subterranean noises, unexplainable
rumblings. A glow in the sky had crowned the height at night.

When the wind blew the smoky cloud eastward toward Pleasant Garden, a
few cinders and ashes drifted down from it. And finally one stormy
night pale flames, reflected from the clouds above the summit, cast
upon the district below a sinister, warning light.

In presence of these strange phenomena, it is not astonishing that
the people of the surrounding district became seriously disquieted.
And to the disquiet was joined an imperious need of knowing the true
condition of the mountain. The Carolina newspapers had flaring
headlines, "The Mystery of Great Eyrie!" They asked if it was not
dangerous to dwell in such a region. Their articles aroused curiosity
and fear - curiosity among those who being in no danger themselves
were interested in the disturbance merely as a strange phenomenon of
nature, fear in those who were likely to be the victims if a
catastrophe actually occurred. Those more immediately threatened were
the citizens of Morganton, and even more the good folk of Pleasant
Garden and the hamlets and farms yet closer to the mountain.

Assuredly it was regrettable that mountain climbers had not
previously attempted to ascend to the summit of the Great Eyrie. The
cliffs of rock which surrounded it had never been scaled. Perhaps
they might offer no path by which even the most daring climber could
penetrate to the interior. Yet, if a volcanic eruption menaced all
the western region of the Carolinas, then a complete examination of
the mountain was become absolutely necessary.

Now before the actual ascent of the crater, with its many serious
difficulties, was attempted, there was one way which offered an
opportunity of reconnoitering the interior, with out clambering up
the precipices. In the first days of September of that memorable
year, a well-known aeronaut named Wilker came to Morganton with his
balloon. By waiting for a breeze from the east, he could easily rise
in his balloon and drift over the Great Eyrie. There from a safe
height above he could search with a powerful glass into its deeps.
Thus he would know if the mouth of a volcano really opened amid the
mighty rocks. This was the principal question. If this were settled,
it would be known if the surrounding country must fear an eruption at
some period more or less distant.

The ascension was begun according to the programme suggested. The
wind was fair and steady; the sky clear; the morning clouds were
disappearing under the vigorous rays of the sun. If the interior of
the Great Eyrie was not filled with smoke, the aeronaut would be able
to search with his glass its entire extent. If the vapors were
rising, he, no doubt, could detect their source.

The balloon rose at once to a height of fifteen hundred feet, and
there rested almost motionless for a quarter of an hour. Evidently
the east wind, which was brisk upon the Surface of the earth, did not
make itself felt at that height. Then, unlucky chance, the balloon
was caught in an adverse current, and began to drift toward the east.
Its distance from the mountain chain rapidly increased. Despite all
the efforts of the aeronaut, the citizens of Morganton saw the
balloon disappear on the wrong horizon. Later, they learned that it
had landed in the neighborhood of Raleigh, the capital of North
Carolina.

This attempt having failed, it was agreed that it should be tried
again under better conditions. Indeed, fresh rumblings were heard
from the mountain, accompanied by heavy clouds and wavering
glimmerings of light at night. Folk began to realize that the Great
Eyrie was a serious and perhaps imminent source of danger. Yes, the
entire country lay under the threat of some seismic or volcanic
disaster.

During the first days of April of that year, these more or less vague
apprehensions turned to actual panic. The newspapers gave prompt echo
to the public terror. The entire district between the mountains and
Morganton was sure that an eruption was at hand.

The night of the fourth of April, the good folk of Pleasant Garden
were awakened by a sudden uproar. They thought that the mountains
were falling upon them. They rushed from their houses, ready for
instant flight, fearing to see open before them some immense abyss,
engulfing the farms and villages for miles around.

The night was very dark. A weight of heavy clouds pressed down upon
the plain. Even had it been day the crest of the mountains would have
been invisible.

In the midst of this impenetrable obscurity, there was no response to
the cries which arose from every side. Frightened groups of men,
women, and children groped their way along the black roads in wild
confusion. From every quarter came the screaming voices: "It is an
earthquake!" "It is an eruption!" "Whence comes it?" "From the Great
Eyrie!"

Into Morganton sped the news that stones, lava, ashes, were raining
down upon the country.

Shrewd citizens of the town, however, observed that if there were an
eruption the noise would have continued and increased, the flames
would have appeared above the crater; or at least their lurid
reflections would have penetrated the clouds. Now, even these
reflections were no longer seen. If there had been an earthquake, the
terrified people saw that at least their houses had not crumbled
beneath the shock. It was possible that the uproar had been caused by
an avalanche, the fall of some mighty rock from the summit of the
mountains.

An hour passed without other incident. A wind from the west sweeping
over the long chain of the Blueridge, set the pines and hemlocks
wailing on the higher slopes. There seemed no new cause for panic;
and folk began to return to their houses. All, however, awaited
impatiently the return of day.

Then suddenly, toward three o'clock in the morning, another alarm!
Flames leaped up above the rocky wall of the Great Eyrie. Reflected
from the clouds, they illuminated the atmosphere for a great
distance. A crackling, as if of many burning trees, was heard.

Had a fire spontaneously broken out? And to what cause was it due?
Lightning could not have started the conflagration; for no thunder
had been heard. True, there was plenty of material for fire; at this
height the chain of the Blueridge is well wooded. But these flames
were too sudden for any ordinary cause.

"An eruption! An eruption!"

The cry resounded from all sides. An eruption! The Great Eyrie was
then indeed the crater of a volcano buried in the bowels of the
mountains. And after so many years, so many ages even, had it
reawakened? Added to the flames, was a rain of stones and ashes about
to follow? Were the lavas going to pour down torrents of molten fire,
destroying everything in their passage, annihilating the towns, the
villages, the farms, all this beautiful world of meadows, fields and
forests, even as far as Pleasant Garden and Morganton?

This time the panic was overwhelming; nothing could stop it. Women
carrying their infants, crazed with terror, rushed along the eastward
roads. Men, deserting their homes, made hurried bundles of their most
precious belongings and set free their livestock, cows, sheep, pigs,
which fled in all directions. What disorder resulted from this
agglomeration, human and animal, under darkest night, amid forests,
threatened by the fires of the volcano, along the border of marshes
whose waters might be upheaved and overflow! With the earth itself
threatening to disappear from under the feet of the fugitives! Would
they be in time to save themselves, if a cascade of glowing lava came
rolling down the slope of the mountain across their route?

Nevertheless, some of the chief and shrewder farm owners were not
swept away in this mad flight, which they did their best to restrain.
Venturing within a mile of the mountain, they saw that the glare of
the flames was decreasing. In truth it hardly seemed that the region
was immediately menaced by any further upheaval. No stones were being
hurled into space; no torrent of lava was visible upon the slopes; no
rumblings rose from the ground. There was no further manifestation of
any seismic disturbance capable of overwhelming the land.

At length, the flight of the fugitives ceased at a distance where
they seemed secure from all danger. Then a few ventured back toward
the mountain. Some farms were reoccupied before the break of day.

By morning the crests of the Great Eyrie showed scarcely the least
remnant of its cloud of smoke. The fires were certainly at an end;
and if it were impossible to determine their cause, one might at
least hope that they would not break out again.

It appeared possible that the Great Eyrie had not really been the
theater of volcanic phenomena at all. There was no further evidence
that the neighborhood was at the mercy either of eruptions or of
earthquakes.

Yet once more about five o'clock, from beneath the ridge of the
mountain, where the shadows of night still lingered, a strange noise
swept across the air, a sort of whirring, accompanied by the beating
of mighty wings. And had it been a clear day, perhaps the farmers
would have seen the passage of a mighty bird of prey, some monster of
the skies, which having risen from the Great Eyrie sped away toward
the east.




Chapter 2

I REACH MORGANTON


The twenty-seventh of April, having left Washington the night before,
I arrived at Raleigh, the capital of the State of North Carolina.

Two days before, the head of the federal police had called me to his
room. He was awaiting me with some impatience. "John Strock," said
he, "are you still the man who on so many occasions has proven to me
both his devotion and his ability?"

"Mr. Ward," I answered, with a bow, "I cannot promise success or even
ability, but as to devotion, I assure you, it is yours."

"I do not doubt it," responded the chief. "And I will ask you instead
this more exact question: Are you as fond of riddles as ever? As
eager to penetrate into mysteries, as I have known you before?"

"I am, Mr. Ward."

"Good, Strock; then listen."

Mr. Ward, a man of about fifty years, of great power and intellect,
was fully master of the important position he filled. He had several
times entrusted to me difficult missions which I had accomplished
successfully, and which had won me his confidence. For several months
past, however, he had found no occasion for my services. Therefore I
awaited with impatience what he had to say. I did not doubt that his
questioning implied a serious and important task for me.

"Doubtless you know," said he, "what has happened down in the
Blueridge Mountains near Morganton."

"Surely, Mr. Ward, the phenomena reported from there have been
singular enough to arouse anyone's curiosity."

"They are singular, even remarkable, Strock. No doubt about that. But
there is also reason to ask, if these phenomena about the Great Eyrie
are not a source of continued danger to the people there, if they are
not forerunners of some disaster as terrible as it is mysterious."

"It is to be feared, sir."

"So we must know, Strock, what is inside of that mountain. If we are
helpless in the face of some great force of nature, people must be
warned in time of the danger which threatens them."

"It is clearly the duty of the authorities, Mr. Ward," responded I,
"to learn what is going on within there."

"True, Strock; but that presents great difficulties. Everyone reports
that it is impossible to scale the precipices of the Great Eyrie and
reach its interior. But has anyone ever attempted it with scientific
appliances and under the best conditions? I doubt it, and believe a
resolute attempt may bring success."

"Nothing is impossible, Mr. Ward; what we face here is merely a
question of expense."

"We must not regard expense when we are seeking to reassure an entire
population, or to preserve it from a catastrophe. There is another
suggestion I would make to you. Perhaps this Great Eyrie is not so
inaccessible as is supposed. Perhaps a band of malefactors have
secreted themselves there, gaining access by ways known only to
themselves."

"What! You suspect that robbers - "

"Perhaps I am wrong, Strock; and these strange sights and sounds have
all had natural causes. Well, that is what we have to settle, and as
quickly as possible."

"I have one question to ask."

"Go ahead, Strock."

"When the Great Eyrie has been visited, when we know the source of
these phenomena, if there really is a crater there and an eruption is
imminent, can we avert it?"

"No, Strock; but we can estimate the extent of the danger. If some
volcano in the Alleghanies threatens North Carolina with a disaster
similar to that of Martinique, buried beneath the outpourings of Mont
Pelee, then these people must leave their homes."

"I hope, sir, there is no such widespread danger."

"I think not, Strock; it seems to me highly improbable that an active
volcano exists in the Blueridge mountain chain. Our Appalachian
mountain system is nowhere volcanic in its origin. But all these
events cannot be without basis. In short, Strock, we have decided to
make a strict inquiry into the phenomena of the Great Eyrie, to
gather all the testimony, to question the people of the towns and
farms. To do this, I have made choice of an agent in whom we have
full confidence; and this agent is you, Strock."

"Good! I am ready, Mr. Ward," cried I, "and be sure that I shall
neglect nothing to bring you full information."

"I know it, Strock, and I will add that I regard you as specially
fitted for the work. You will have a splendid opportunity to
exercise, and I hope to satisfy, your favorite passion of curiosity."

"As you say, sir."

"You will be free to act according to circumstances. As to expenses,
if there seems reason to organize an ascension party, which will be
costly, you have carte blanche."

"I will act as seems best, Mr. Ward."

"Let me caution you to act with all possible discretion. The people
in the vicinity are already over-excited. It will be well to move
secretly. Do not mention the suspicions I have suggested to you. And
above all, avoid arousing any fresh panic."

"It is understood."

"You will be accredited to the Mayor of Morganton, who will assist
you. Once more, be prudent, Strock, and acquaint no one with your
mission, unless it is absolutely necessary. You have often given
proofs of your intelligence and address; and this time I feel assured
you will succeed."

I asked him only "When shall I start?"

"Tomorrow."

"Tomorrow, I shall leave Washington; and the day after, I shall be at
Morganton."

How little suspicion had I of what the future had in store for me!

I returned immediately to my house where I made my preparations for
departure; and the next evening found me in Raleigh. There I passed
the night, and in the course of the next afternoon arrived at the
railroad station of Morganton.

Morganton is but a small town, built upon strata of the jurassic
period, particularly rich in coal. Its mines give it some prosperity.
It also has numerous unpleasant mineral waters, so that the season
there attracts many visitors. Around Morganton is a rich farming
country, with broad fields of grain. It lies in the midst of swamps,
covered with mosses and reeds. Evergreen forests rise high up the
mountain slopes. All that the region lacks is the wells of natural
gas, that invaluable natural source of power, light, and warmth, so
abundant in most of the Alleghany valleys. Villages and farms are
numerous up to the very borders of the mountain forests. Thus there
were many thousands of people threatened, if the Great Eyrie proved
indeed a volcano, if the convulsions of nature extended to Pleasant
Garden and to Morganton.

The mayor of Morganton, Mr. Elias Smith, was a tall man, vigorous and
enterprising, forty years old or more, and of a health to defy all
the doctors of the two Americas. He was a great hunter of bears and
panthers, beasts which may still be found in the wild gorges and
mighty forests of the Alleghanies.

Mr. Smith was himself a rich land-owner, possessing several farms in
the neighborhood. Even his most distant tenants received frequent
visits from him. Indeed, whenever his official duties did not keep
him in his so-called home at Morganton, he was exploring the
surrounding country, irresistibly drawn by the instincts of the
hunter.

I went at once to the house of Mr. Smith. He was expecting me, having
been warned by telegram. He received me very frankly, without any
formality, his pipe in his mouth, a glass of brandy on the table. A
second glass was brought in by a servant, and I had to drink to my
host before beginning our interview.

"Mr. Ward sent you," said he to me in a jovial tone. "Good; let us
drink to Mr. Ward's health."

I clinked glasses with him, and drank in honor of the chief of police.

"And now," demanded Elias Smith, "what is worrying him?"

At this I made known to the mayor of Morganton the cause and the
purpose of my mission in North Carolina. I assured him that my chief
had given me full power, and would render me every assistance,
financial and otherwise, to solve the riddle and relieve the
neighborhood of its anxiety relative to the Great Eyrie.

Elias Smith listened to me without uttering a word, but not without
several times refilling his glass and mine. While he puffed steadily
at his pipe, the close attention which he gave me was beyond
question. I saw his cheeks flush at times, and his eyes gleam under
their bushy brows. Evidently the chief magistrate of Morganton was
uneasy about Great Eyrie, and would be as eager as I to discover the
cause of these phenomena.

When I had finished my communication, Elias Smith gazed at me for
some moments in silence. Then he said, softly, "So at Washington they
wish to know what the Great Eyrie hides within its circuit?"

"Yes, Mr. Smith."

"And you, also?"

"I do."

"So do I, Mr. Strock."

He and I were as one in our curiosity.

"You will understand," added he, knocking the cinders from his pipe,
"that as a land-owner, I am much interested in these stories of the
Great Eyrie, and as mayor, I wish to protect my constituents."

"A double reason," I commented, "to stimulate you to discover the
cause of these extraordinary occurrences! Without doubt, my dear Mr.
Smith, they have appeared to you as inexplicable and as threatening
as to your people."

"Inexplicable, certainly, Mr. Strock. For on my part, I do not
believe it possible that the Great Eyrie can be a volcano; the
Alleghanies are nowhere of volcanic origins. I, myself, in our
immediate district, have never found any geological traces of scoria,
or lava, or any eruptive rock whatever. I do not think, therefore,
that Morganton can possibly be threatened from such a source."

"You really think not, Mr. Smith?"

"Certainly."

"But these tremblings of the earth that have been felt in the
neighborhood!"

"Yes these tremblings! These tremblings!" repeated Mr. Smith, shaking
his head; "but in the first place, is it certain that there have been
tremblings? At the moment when the flames showed most sharply, I was
on my farm of Wildon, less than a mile from the Great Eyrie. There
was certainly a tumult in the air, but I felt no quivering of the
earth."

"But in the reports sent to Mr. Ward - "

"Reports made under the impulse of the panic," interrupted the mayor
of Morganton. "I said nothing of any earth tremors in mine."

"But as to the flames which rose clearly above the crest?"

"Yes, as to those, Mr. Strock, that is different. I saw them; saw
them with my own eyes, and the clouds certainly reflected them for
miles around. Moreover noises certainly came from the crater of the
Great Eyrie, hissings, as if a great boiler were letting off steam."

"You have reliable testimony of this?"

"Yes, the evidence of my own ears."

"And in the midst of this noise, Mr. Smith, did you believe that you
heard that most remarkable of all the phenomena, a sound like the
flapping of great wings?"

"I thought so, Mr. Strock; but what mighty bird could this be, which
sped away after the flames had died down, and what wings could ever
make such tremendous sounds. I therefore seriously question, if this
must not have been a deception of my imagination. The Great Eyrie a
refuge for unknown monsters of the sky! Would they not have been seen
long since, soaring above their immense nest of stone? In short,


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