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Authors: Jules Verne

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BOOK: The Floating Island

“That does not matter. In a day
you will have time to visit a city which is well worth the trouble, and I will
see that you are taken to the nearest station, so that you can be at San Diego
at the appointed time.”

The offer was attractive and
welcome. The quartette were assured of finding a good room in a good hotel

to say nothing of
the attention promised by this obliging personage.

“Gentlemen, do you accept?”

“We accept,” replied Zorn, whom
hunger and fatigue disposed to welcome such an invitation.

“Agreed,” replied the American. “We
start at once. In twenty minutes we shall be there, and you will thank me, I am

We need scarcely say that after
the cheers provoked by the burlesque serenade the windows of the houses were
shut. With its lights extinguished, the village of Freschal was again plunged
in sleep.

The American and the four
artistes went to the car, put down their instruments, and placed themselves
behind them, while the American installed himself forward next to the engineer.
A lever was touched, the electric accumulators worked, the vehicle trembled,
and began to get up a rapid rate of speed, travelling westward.

A quarter of an hour afterwards
an immense whitish light appeared, as if it were a dazzling diffusion of lunar
rays. This was the town, the existence of which none of the Parisians had

The car stopped, and Frascolin

“Here we are on the shore.”

“The shore

no,” replied the American, “but a
watercourse we have to cross.”

“And how?” asked Pinchinat.

“By means of this boat in which
the car is carried.”

It was one of the ferry boats, so
numerous in the United States, and on it the car was placed with its
passengers. Probably the ferry boat was worked by electricity, for there was no
steam, and in two minutes they were on the other side of the watercourse,
alongside a quay. The car resumed its course along some country roads, and
entered a park over which aerial appliances poured an intense light. The gate
of the park gave access to a wide and long road paved with sonorous flags. Five
minutes later the artistes descended at the steps of a comfortable hotel, where
they were received with a welcome that augured well, thanks to a word from the
American. They were immediately placed before a well-served table, and supped
with good appetite, as may be believed.

The repast over, the major-domo
led them to a spacious chamber lighted by incandescent lamps, to which shades
were fitted, so as to shut out nearly all the light at will. Then, postponing
to the morrow the explanation of all these marvels, they slept in the four beds
placed in the four angles of the room, and snored with that extraordinary
simultaneity which had given the Quartette Party its renown.


morning at seven o’clock, these words, or rather these cries, resounded in the
room after a startling imitation of a trumpet-call

something like the reveilée.

“Now then! Whoop! On your feet;
and in two-time!” vociferated Pinchinat.

Yvernès, the most careless of the
four, would have preferred three-time, and even four-time, to disengage himself
from the warm coverings of his bed. But he had to follow the example of his
comrades, and leave the horizontal for the vertical.

“We have not a minute to lose

not one!” observed “his

“Yes,” replied Zorn, “for
to-morrow we must be at San Diego.”

“Good,” replied Yvernès; “half-a-day
will suffice for us to visit the town of this amiable American.”

“What astonishes me,” added
Frascolin, “is that there is an important city in the neighbourhood of
Freschal. How could our driver have forgotten to tell us about it?”

“The point is that we should be
here, my old G key,” said Pinchinat. “And here we are.”

Through the large windows the
light was pouring into the room, and the view extended for a mile down a superb
road planted with trees.

The four friends proceeded to
their toilette in a comfortable cabinet

quick and easy task, for it was fitted with all the latest inventions, taps
graduated thermometrically for hot water and cold water, basins emptying
automatically, hot baths, hot irons, sprays of perfumes, ventilators worked by
voltaic currents, brushes moved mechanically, some for the head, some for the
clothes, some for the boots, either to clean the dust off them, or to black
them. And then there were the buttons of the bells and telephones communicating
with every part of the establishment. And not only could Sebastien Zorn and his
companions obtain communication with every part of the. hotel, but with the
different quarters of the town, and perhaps

was Pinchinat’s opinion

every town in the United States of America.

“Or even in the two worlds,”
added Yvernès. But before they had an opportunity of trying the experiment, a
message was telephoned to them at forty-seven minutes past seven, as follows:

“Calistus Munbar presents his
morning civilities to each of the honourable members of the Quartette Party,
and begs them to descend as soon as they are ready to the dining-room of the
Excelsior Hotel, where their first breakfast awaits them.”

“Excelsior Hotel!” said Yvernès. “The
name of this caravanserai is superb.”

“Calistus Munbar, that is our
obliging American,” remarked Pinchinat. “And the name is splendid.”

“My friends,” said the ‘cellist,
whose stomach was as imperious as its proprietor; “as breakfast is on the
table, let us breakfast, and then

“And then take a run through the
town,” added Frascolin. “But what is this town?”

Our Parisians were dressed or
nearly so. Pinchinat replied telephonically that in less than five minutes they
would do honour to the invitation of Mr. Calistus Munbar. And when their
toilette was finished, they walked to a lift which deposited them in the large
hall of the hotel, at the end of which was the door of the dining-room, an
immense saloon gleaming with gilding.

“I am yours, gentlemen, always yours.”

It was the man of the night
before who had just uttered this phrase of six words. He belonged to that type
of personages who may be said to introduce themselves. It seems as though we
had known them always.

Calistus Munbar was between fifty
and sixty years of age, but he did not look more than forty-five. He was above
the usual height, rather stout, his limbs long and strong, and every movement
vigorous and healthy.

Zorn and his friends had many
times met with people of this type, which is not rare in the United States.
Calistus Munbar’s head was enormous, round, with hair still fair and curly,
shaking like leaves in a breeze; his features were highly coloured, his beard
long, yellow, divided into points; moustache shaven; mouth, with the corners
raised, smiling, satirical perhaps; teeth white as ivory; nose rather large at
the end, with quivering nostrils, marked at the base of the forehead with two
vertical folds supporting an eyeglass fastened to a thread of silver as fine
and supple as a thread of silk. Behind the glasses gleamed an eye always in
movement, with a greenish iris and a pupil glowing like fire.

Calistus Munbar wore a very ample
loose jacket of brown diagonal stuff. From the side pocket peeped a
handkerchief with a pattern on it. His waistcoat was white, very open, and
fastened with three gold buttons. From one pocket to the other a massive chain
was festooned, with a chronometer at one end of it and a pedometer at the
other, to say nothing of the charms which jingled in the centre. His jewellery
was completed by a series of rings which ornamented his fat, pink hands. His
shirt was of immaculate whiteness, stiff with starch, dotted with three
diamonds, surmounted by a wide, open collar, beneath the fold of which lay an
almost imperceptible cravat of reddish brown cord. The trousers were striped
and very full, and at the feet showed the laced boots with aluminium

The Yankee’s physiognomy was in
the highest degree expressive

face of a man who suspected nobody, and could only see good in others. This was
a man who could get out of difficulties, certainly, and he was also energetic,
as was shown by the tonacity of his muscles, the apparent contraction of his
superciliary and his masseter. He laughed noisily, but his laugh was nasal
rather than oral, a sort of giggle, the
of the physiologists.

Such was Calistus Munbar. He
raised his big hat at the entrance of the Quartette Party. He shook hands with
the four artistes. He led them to a table where the tea-urn was steaming and
the traditional toast was smoking. He spoke all the time, giving them no
opportunity to ask a single question

with the object of avoiding having to reply

of the splendours of his town, the extraordinary creation of this city, keeping
up the monologue without interruption, and when the breakfast was over, ending
his monologue with these words,

“Come, gentlemen, and follow me.
But one piece of advice.”

“What?” asked Frascolin.

“It is expressly forbidden to
spit in the streets. “

“We are not accustomed to,” protested

“Good! That will save you a fine.”

“Not spit

in America!” murmured Pinchinat, in a
tone in which surprise was mingled with incredulity.

It would have been difficult to
have obtained a guide and cicerone more complete than Calistus Munbar. This
town he knew thoroughly. There was not a hotel of which he did not know the
owner’s name, not a house that he did not know who lived there, not a man in
the street by whom he was not saluted with sympathetic familiarity.

The city was built on a regular
plan. The avenues and roads, provided with verandahs above the footways,
crossed each other at right angles, forming a sort of chessboard. There was no
want of variety about the houses; in their style and interior arrangements they
were according to no other rule than the fancy of their architects. Except
along a few commercial streets, these houses had a look of the palace about
them, with their courtyards flanked by elegant wings, the architectural
arrangement of their front, the luxury of the furniture of their rooms, the
gardens, not to say parks, in their rear. It was remarkable that the trees, o£
recent planting, no doubt, were none of them fully grown. So it was with the
squares at the intersection of the chief arteries of the city, carpeted with
lawns of a freshness quite English, in which the clumps of trees of both
temperate and torrid species had not drawn from the soil its full vegetative
power. This peculiarity presented a striking contrast with the portion of
Western America, where forest giants abound in the vicinity of the great
Californian cities.

The quartette walked in front of
him, observing this part of the town, each according to his manner

Yvernès attracted
by what did not attract Frascolin; Zorn interested in what did not interest

of them curious as to the mystery which enveloped this unknown city. From this
diversity of views arose a fairly complete assemblage of remarks. But Calistus
Munbar was there, and he had an answer for everything. An answer? He did not
wait to be asked; he talked and talked, and never left off talking. His
windmill of words turned and turned at the slightest wind.

Twenty minutes after leaving the
Excelsior Hotel, Calistus Munbar said,

“Here we are in Third Avenue, and
there are thirty in the town. This is the most business one, it is our
Broadway, our Regent Street, our Boulevard des Italiens. In this stores and
bazaars you find the superfluous and the necessary, all that can be asked for
by the requirements of modern comfort.”

“I see the shops,” observed
Pinchinat, “but I don’t see the customers.”

“Perhaps it is too early in the
morning?” added Yvernès.

“It is due,” said Calistus Munbar,
“to most of the orders being given telephonically, or rather

“What does that mean?” asked

“It means that we commonly use
the telautograph, an instrument which sends the written as the telephone sends
the spoken word, without forgetting the kinetograph, which registers the
movements; being for the eye what the phonograph is for the ear, and the
telephote, which reproduces the images. The telautograph gives a better
guarantee than the mere message, which the first to come is free to make bad
use of. We sign our orders and deeds by electricity.”

“Even the marriage registers?”
asked Pinchinat, ironically.

“Doubtless, Mr. Alto. Why should
you not marry by the telegraphic wire?”

“And divorce?”

“And divorce; that is the very
thing that keeps the wires busiest.”

And he laughed a long laugh that
made all the jewellery on his waistcoat jingle.

“You are merry, Mr. Munbar,” said
Pinchinat, joining in the American’s hilarity.

“Yes, as a flock of finches on a
sunshiny day.”

At this point a transverse artery
was reached. This was Nineteenth Avenue, from which all trade was banished.
Tram lines ran down it as down the others, swift cars passed along without
raising a grain of dust, for the roadway, laid with an imputrescible pavement
of Australian karry or jarrah, was as clean as if it had been polished.
Frascolin, always observant of physical phenomena, noticed that the footway
sounded under his feet like a plate of metal.

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