Jules Verne's conceptions are as brilliant as ever. Dr. Sarrasin, a French savant, simple in taste and absorbed in science, delivers an address at the Brighton Scientific Association. The publication of it with his name in ' The Daily Telegraph' discovers him to a London lawyer as the lost heir of the Begum, whom his uncle had married in India. He inherits a moderate property of twenty-one millions sterling, all ready for him in the Bank of England. Dr. Schultz, a German professor, also a connection by marriage, threatens to dispute it. They settle the dispute by dividing it. Dr. Sarrasin founds in the Rocky Mountains a city of health, modelled on Dr. Richardson's lines. Dr. Schultz founds at thirty miles distance a stupendous cannon manufactory. One piece fires a shot with a velocity and force that give it perpetual motion. He resolves to destroy Dr. Sarrasin's city. How he fails and perishes by his own science the story must tell ; but it is prodigious. The magnificence and the verisimilitude are perfect.
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The Begum's Fortune
Jules Verne – A Biographical Primer
The Begum's Fortune
The Begum's Fortune, J. Verne
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Frontcover: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Angelique
Jules Verne (1828–1905), French author, was born at Nantes on the 8th of February 1828. After completing his studies at the Nantes lycée, he went to Paris to study for the bar. About 1848, in conjunction with Michel Carré, he wrote librettos for two operettas, and in 1850 his verse comedy, Les Pailles rompues, in which Alexandre Dumas fils had some share, was produced at the Gymnase. For some years his interests alternated between the theatre and the bourse, but some travellers’ stories which he wrote for the Musée des Familles seem to have revealed to him the true direction of his talent—the delineation, viz., of delightfully extravagant voyages and adventures to which cleverly prepared scientific and geographical details lent an air of versimilitude. Something of the kind had been done before, after kindred methods, by Cyrano de Bergerac, by Swift and Defoe, and later by Mayne Reid. But in his own particular application of plausible scientific apparatus Verne undoubtedly struck out a department for himself in the wide literary genre of voyages imaginaires. His first success was obtained with Cinq semaines en ballon, which he wrote for Hetzel’s Magazin d’Éducation in 1862, and thenceforward, for a quarter of a century, scarcely a year passed in which Hetzel did not publish one or more of his fantastic stories, illustrated generally by pictures of the most lurid and sensational description.The most successful of these romances include: Voyage au centre de la terre (1864); De la terre à la lune (1865); Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1869); Les Anglais au pôle nord (1870); and Voyage autour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, which first appeared in Le Temps in 1872.The adaptation of this last (produced with success at the Porte St Martin theatre on the 8th of November 1874) and of another excellent tale, Michael Strogoff (at the Châtelet, 1880), both dramas being written in conjunction with Adolphe d’Ennery, proved the most acceptable of Verne’s theatrical pieces. The novels were translated into the various European languages—and some even into Japanese and Arabic—and had an enormous success in England. But after 1877, when he published Hector Servadac, a romance of existence upon a comet, the writer’s invention began to show signs of fatigue (his kingdom had been invaded in different directions and at different times times by such writers as R. M. Ballantyne, Rider Haggard and H. G. Wells), and he even committed himself, somewhat unguardedly, to very gloomy predictions as to the future of the novel. Jules Verne’s own novels, however, will certainly long continue to delight readers by reason of their sparkling style, their picturesque verve—apparently inherited directly from Dumas—their amusing and good-natured national caricatures, and the ingenuity with which the love element is either subordinated or completely excluded. M. Verne, who was always extremely popular in society, divided his time for the most part between Paris, his home at Amiens and his yacht. He was a member of the Legion of Honour, and several of his romances were crowned by the French Academy, but he was never enrolled among its members. He died at Amiens on the 24th of March 1905. His brother, Paul Verne, contributed to the Transactions of the French Alpine Club, and wrote an Ascension du Mont Blanc for his brother’s collection of Voyages extraordinaires in 1874.
ENTER MR. SHARP
“Really these English newspapers are very well written,” said the worthy doctor to himself, as he leant back in a great leather easy-chair. Dr. Sarrasin had all his life been given to soliloquizing, one of the many results of absence of mind.
He was a man of fifty, or thereabouts; his features were refined; clear, lively eyes shone through his steel spectacles, and the expression of his countenance, although grave, was genial. He was one of those people, looking at whom one says at the first glance, “There is an honest man!”
Notwithstanding the early hour, and the easy style of his dress, the doctor had already shaved and put on a white cravat. Scattered near him on the carpet and on sundry chairs, in the sitting-room of his hotel at Brighton, lay copies of the Times, the Daily Telegraph, and the Daily News. It was not much more than ten o’clock, yet the doctor had been out walking in the town, had visited a hospital, returned to his hotel, and read in the principal London journals the full report of a paper communicated by him two evenings previously at a meeting of the great International Hygienic Conference on the “Compte globules du sang,” or “bloodcorpuscle computator,” an instrument he had invented, and which even in England keeps its French name. Before him stood a breakfast-tray covered with a snowy napkin, on which were placed a well-dressed cutlet, a cup of hot and fragrant tea, and a plate of that buttered toast which English cooks, thanks to English bakers, can make to perfection.
“Yes,” he repeated, “these journals are really admirably well written, there is no denying the fact. Here is the speech of the president, the reply by Dr. Cicogna of Naples, my own paper in full, all as it were caught in the air, seized and photographed at once!
“Dr. Sarrasin of Douai rose and addressed the meeting. The honorable member spoke in French, and said, ‘My auditors will permit me to express myself in my own language, which I am sure they understand far better than I can speak theirs.’
“Five columns in small print! I cannot decide which reports it best, the Times or the Telegraph, each seems so precise.”
Dr. Sarrasin had reached this point in his meditations, when one of the waiters of the establishment, a gentleman most correctly dressed in black, entered, and presenting a card, inquired whether “Monsiou” was “at home” to a visitor. This appellation of “Monsiou” the English consider it necessary to bestow indiscriminately on every Frenchman—in the same way they would think it a breach of all the rules of civility did they fail to address an Italian as “Signor,” and a German as “Herr.” Perhaps on the whole the custom is a good one—it certainly has the advantage of at once indicating nationalities.
Considerably surprised to hear of a visitor in a country where he was acquainted with no one, the doctor took the card, and read with increased perplexity the following address:
Mr. Sharp, Solicitor, 93, Southampton Row, London.
He knew that a “solicitor” meant what he should call an “avoué,” and signified a lawyer of the compound nature of attorney, procurator, and notary.
“What possible business can Mr. Sharp have with me?” thought the doctor. “Can I have got into some scrape or other without knowing it? Are you sure this card is intended for me?” he asked.
“Oh, yes, Monsiou.”
“Well, let the gentleman come in.”
A youngish man entered the room, whom the doctor at once classed in the great family of “death’s heads.” Thin dry lips, drawn back from long white teeth, hollow temple-bones, displayed beneath skin like parchment, the complexion of a mummy, and small gray eyes as sharp as needles, quite justified the title. The rest of the skeleton, from the heels to the occiput, was hidden from view beneath an ulster, of a large checker pattern; his hand grasped a patent leather bag.
This personage entered, bowing in a hasty manner, placed bag and hat on the ground, took a chair without waiting to have one offered, and opened his business by saying, “William Henry Sharp, Junior, of the firm of Billows, Green, Sharp & Co. Have I the honor of speaking to Dr. Sarrasin?”
“That certainly is my name.”
“I reside at Douai.”
“Your father’s name was Isidore Sarrasin?”
“Let us conclude him to have been Isidore Sarrasin.” Mr. Sharp drew a notebook from his pocket, consulted it, and resumed, “Isidore Sarrasin died at Paris in 1857, 6th Arrondissement, Rue Taranne, Number 54—the Hôtel des Ecoles, now demolished.”
“Perfectly correct,” said the doctor, more and more astonished. “But will you have the kindness to explain——?”
“His mother’s name,” pursued the imperturbable Mr. Sharp, “was Julie Langévol, originally of Bar-le-Duc, daughter of Benedict Langévol, who lived in the alley Loriol, and died in 1812, as is shown by the municipal registers of the said town—these registers are a valuable institution, sir—highly valuable—hem—hem—and sister of Jean Jacques Langévol, drum-major in the 36th Light——”
“I assure you,” interrupted Dr. Sarrasin, confounded by this intimate acquaintance with his genealogy, “that you are better informed on these points than I am myself. It is true that my grandmother’s family name was Langévol, and that is all I know about her.”
“About the year 1807 she left the town of Bar-le-Duc with your grandfather, Jean Sarrasin, whom she had married in 1799. They settled at Melun, where he worked as a tinsmith, and where, in 1811, Julie Langévol, Sarrasin’s wife, died, leaving only one child, Isidore Sarrasin, your father. From that time, up to the date of his death, discovered at Paris, the thread is lost.”
“I can supply it,” said the doctor, interested in spite of himself by this wonderful precision. “My grandfather settled in Paris for the sake of the education of his son, whom he destined to the medical profession. He died in 1832, at Palaiseau, near Versailles, where my father practised as a physician, and where I was born in 1822.”
“You are my man,” resumed Mr. Sharp. “No brothers or sisters?”
“None. I was the only son; my mother died two years after my birth. Now, sir, will you tell me——?”
Mr. Sharp stood up.
“Rajah Bryah Jowahir Mothooranath,” said he, pronouncing the names with the respect shown by every Englishman to a title, “I am happy to have discovered you, and to be the first to congratulate you.”
“The man is deranged,” thought the doctor; “it is not at all uncommon among these death’s heads.”
The solicitor read this opinion in his eyes. “I am not mad in the slightest degree,” said he calmly. “You are at the present moment the sole known heir to the title of Rajah, which Jean Jacques Langévol—who became a naturalized British subject in 1819, succeeded to the property of his wife the Begum Gokool, and died in 1841, leaving only one son, an idiot, who died without issue in 1869—was allowed to assume by the Governor-General of the province of Bengal.
“The value of the estate has risen during the last thirty years to about five millions of pounds sterling. It remained sequestered and under guardianship, almost the whole of the interest going to increase the capital during the life of the imbecile son of Jean Jacques Langévol.
“In 1870 the value of the inheritance was given in round numbers to be twenty-one millions of pounds sterling, or five hundred and twenty-five millions of francs. In fulfillment of an order of the law court of Agra, countersigned by that of Delhi, and confirmed by the Privy Council, the whole of the landed and personal property has been sold, and the sum realized has been placed in the Bank of England.
“The actual sum is five hundred and twenty-seven millions of francs, which you can withdraw by a check as soon as you have proved your genealogical identity in the Court of Chancery. And in the meantime I am authorized by Messrs. Trollop, Smith & Co., Bankers, to offer you advances to any amount.”
Dr. Sarrasin sat petrified—for some minutes he could not utter a word; then, impressed by a conviction that this fine story was without any foundation in fact, he quietly said, “After all, sir, where are the proofs of this, and in what way have you been led to find me out?”
“The proofs are here, sir,” replied Mr. Sharp, tapping on his shiny leather bag. “As to how I discovered you, it has been in a very simple way: I have been searching for you for five years. It is the speciality of our firm to find heirs for the numerous fortunes which year by year are left in escheat in the British dominions.
“For five years the question of the inheritance of the Begum Gokool has exercised all our ingenuity and activity. We have made investigations in every direction, passed in review hundreds of families of your name without finding that of Isidore Sarrasin. I was almost convinced that there was not another of the name in all France, when yesterday morning I read in the Daily News a report of the meeting of the Hygienic Conference, and observed that among the members was a Dr. Sarrasin, of whom I had never before heard.
“Referring instantly to my notes, and to hundreds of papers on the subject of this estate, I ascertained with surprise that the town of Douai had entirely escaped our notice. With the conviction that I had got on the right scent, I took the train for Brighton, saw you leave the meeting, and all doubt vanished. You are the living image of your great uncle Langévol, of whom we possess a photograph taken from a portrait by the Indian painter Saranoni.”
Mr. Sharp took a photograph from his pocketbook and handed it to Dr. Sarrasin. It represented a tall man with a magnificent beard, a crested turban, and a richly brocaded robe. He was seated after the manner of conventional portraits of generals in the army, appearing to be drawing up a plan of attack, while attentively regarding the spectator. In the background could be dimly discerned the smoke of battle and a charge of cavalry.
“A glance at these papers will inform you on this matter better than I can do,” continued Mr. Sharp; “I will leave them with you, and return in a couple of hours, if you will then permit me to take your orders.”
So saying, Mr. Sharp drew from the depths of his glazed bag seven or eight bundles of documents, some printed, some manuscript, placed them on the table, and backed out of the room, murmuring, “I have the honor to wish the Rajah Bryah Jowahir Mothooranath a very good morning.”
Partly convinced, partly ridiculing the idea, the doctor took the papers and began to peruse them. A rapid examination sufficed to show him the truth of Mr. Sharp’s statements, and to remove his doubts. Among the printed documents he read the following:
Evidence placed before the Right Honorable Lords of Her Majesty’s Privy Council on the 5th of January, 1870, touching the vacant succession of the Begum Gokool of Ragginahra, in Bengal. Points of the case. The question concerns the rights of possession to certain landed estates, together with a variety of edifices, palaces, mercantile establishments, villages, personal properties, treasure, arms, etc., etc., forming the inheritance of the Begum Gokool of Ragginahra.
From evidence submitted to the civil tribunal of Agra, and to the Superior Court at Delhi, it appears that in 1819, the Begum Gokool, widow of Rajah Luckmissur, and possessed in her own right of considerable wealth, married a foreigner, of French origin, by name Jean Jacques Langévol.
This foreigner, after serving until 1815 in the French army as drum-major in the 36th Light Cavalry, embarked at Nantes, upon the disbandment of the army of the Loire, as supercargo of a merchant ship. He reached Calcutta, passed into the interior, and speedily obtained the appointment of military instructor in the small native army which the Rajah Luckmissur was authorized to maintain. In this army he rose to be commander-in-chief, and shortly after the Rajah’s death he obtained the hand of his widow.
In consideration of various important services rendered to the English residents at Agra by Jean Jacques Langévol, he was constituted a British subject, and the Governor-General of Bengal obtained for the husband of the Begum the title of Rajah of Bryah Jowahir Mothooranath, which was the name of one of the most considerable of her estates. The Begum died in 1839, leaving the whole of her wealth and property to Langévol, who survived her only two years.
Their only child was imbecile from his infancy. The inheritance was carefully managed by trustees until his death, which occurred in 1869.
To this immense heritage there is no known heir. The courts of Agra and Delhi having ordered its sale by auction, on the application of the local government acting for the state, we have the honor to request from the Lords of the Privy Council a confirmation of their decision, etc. Here followed the signatures.
Copies of legal documents from Agra and Delhi, deeds of sale, an account of the efforts made in France to discover the next of kin to Langévol’s family, and a whole mass of imposing evidence of the like nature, left Dr. Sarrasin no room for doubt or hesitation. Between him and the five hundred and twenty-seven millions of francs deposited in the strong rooms of the Bank of England there was but a step, the production of authentic certificates of certain births and deaths.
Such a stroke of fortune being enough to dazzle the imagination of the most sober-minded man, the good doctor could not contemplate it without some emotion. Yet it was of short duration, and exhibited simply by a rapid walk for a few minutes up and down his apartment. Quickly recovering his self-possession, he accused himself of weakness for yielding to this feverish agitation, threw himself into his chair, and remained for a time lost in profound reflection.
Then suddenly rising, he resumed his walk backwards and forwards, while his eyes shone with a pure light as though a noble and generous project burned within his breast. He seemed to welcome, to caress, to encourage, and finally to adopt it.
A knock at the door. Mr. Sharp returned. “I ask pardon a thousand times for my doubts as to the correctness of your information,” said the doctor in a cordial tone. “You see me now perfectly convinced, and extremely obliged to you for the trouble you have taken.”
“Not at all—mere matter of business—in the way of my profession—nothing more,” replied Mr. Sharp. “May I venture to hope that the Rajah will remain our client?”
“That is understood. I place the whole affair in your hands. I only beg you to desist from giving me that absurd title.”
“Absurd!—a title worth twenty millions!” were the words Mr. Sharp would have uttered had he known no better; but he said, “Certainly, sir, if you wish it. As you please, sir. I am now going to return by train to London, where I shall await your orders.”
“May I keep these documents?” inquired the doctor.
“Most assuredly—we retain copies.”
Dr. Sarrasin was left alone. He seated himself at his desk, took out a sheet of paper, and wrote as follows:
BRIGHTON, 28th October, 1871
My dear child,
We have become possessed of an enormous fortune, a fortune absurdly colossal. Do not fancy that I have lost my senses, but read the printed papers enclosed in my letter. You will there plainly see that I am proved to be the heir to a native title in India, and a sum equivalent to many millions of francs, actually deposited in the Bank of England.
I can feel sure of the sentiments with which you, my dear Otto, will receive this news. You will perceive, as I do myself, the new duties which such wealth will impose upon us, and the danger we are in of being tempted to use it unwisely.
It is but an hour since I was made aware of the fact, and already the overpowering sense of responsibility seems to lessen the pleasure it first gave me as I thought of you. This change may be fatal instead of fortunate to our destiny. In the modest position of pioneers of science we were content and happy in obscurity. Shall we continue to be so? I doubt it,—unless—perhaps—could I venture to mention an idea which has flashed across my brain—unless this same fortune were to become in our hands a new and powerful engine of science, a mighty tool in the great work of civilization and progress! We will talk about this. Write to me—let me know very soon what impression this wonderful news makes on your mind—and let your mother hear of it from you. Sensible woman as she is, I am convinced she will receive it calmly. As to your sister, she is too young to have her head turned by anything of the sort. Besides, that little head of hers is a very sober one, and even if she could comprehend all that this change in our position implies, I believe she would take it more quietly than any of us.
Remember me cordially to Max; I connect him with all my schemes for the future.
Your affectionate father,
FRANÇOIS SARRASIN. This letter was addressed to—
Monsieur Octave Sarrasin,
Student at the Upper School of Arts and Manufactures,
32, Rue du Roi de Sicile, Paris
Then the doctor put on his overcoat, took his hat, and went to the Conference.
In a quarter of an hour, the worthy man had forgotten all about his millions.
A PAIR OF CHUMS
Dr. Sarrasin’s son Octavius was not exactly what one would call a dunce. He was neither a blockhead nor a genius, neither plain nor handsome, neither tall nor short, neither dark nor fair. His complexion was nut-brown, and he was altogether an average specimen of the middle class. At school he had never taken a very high place, although occasionally gaining a prize. He had failed in his first examination for passing into the College of Engineers, but a second attempt admitted him, although with no great credit. There was a want of decision in his character—his mind was content with inaccuracies; he was one of those people who are satisfied to have a general idea of a subject, and who walk through life by moonlight. Such men float at the mercy of fate, as corks do on the crests of waves. They are driven to the equator or to the pole, according to whether the wind blows north or south. Chance decides their career. Had Dr. Sarrasin altogether understood his son’s character, he might have hesitated to write the letter he did; but the wisest man may be a blind father.
Fortunately for Octavius, he had during his school life come under the influence of an energetic nature, which by its vigorous strength ruled him for his good, albeit somewhat tyrannically. He formed a close friendship with one of his companions, Max Bruckmann, a native of Alsace, a year younger than himself, but far his superior in physical, intellectual and moral vigor.
Max Bruckmann, left an orphan at the age of twelve, inherited a small income, just sufficient to defray the expense of his education. His life at college would have been monotonous had he not passed the holidays with Octavius, or Otto, as he called his friend, at his home. The young Alsacian very soon felt himself one of Dr. Sarrasin’s family. Beneath a cold exterior lay a warm and sensitive nature, and he considered that he was bound for life to those who acted like father and mother to him.
He positively adored Dr. Sarrasin, his wife, and their pretty thoughtful little daughter; his heart expanded under the influence of their kindness, and he greatly wished to be useful to them by helping Jeannette, who loved her studies, to advance in them, and thoroughly to cultivate her excellent abilities and firm, sensible mind, while he longed to lead Otto to become as good a man as his father. This latter task he well knew to be by no means so easy as the former, yet Max was resolved to attain his double purpose.
Max Bruckmann was one of those trusty and gallant champions whom year by year Alsace sends forth to do battle on the great arena of life in Paris.
As a mere child he distinguished himself by the strength and flexibility of his muscles, as much as by the vivacity and intelligence of his mind. Inwardly full of life and courage, his outward form exhibited strong muscular development rather than graceful proportions. At college he excelled in everything he attempted, whether sport or study. Reaping an annual harvest of prizes, he thought the year wasted if he failed to gain all within his reach. At twenty his form was large, robust, and in splendid condition; his movements were animated, and his well-shaped head betokened unusual intelligence. When he entered college, the same year with Octavius, he stood second, and was resolved to be first when the time came for leaving it.
Without his persistent energy to urge him forward, Octavius would never have got in at all. For the space of a whole year Max had driven and goaded him to work, had regularly compelled him to succeed. He entertained for this friend of weak and vacillating nature a sentiment of kindly compassion such as one might suppose a lion to exhibit toward a little puppy. He liked to feel that he could nourish this parasitical plant from the superabundance of his own sap, and cause it to flourish and blossom beside him.
The war of 1870 broke out at the close of one of their terms. Max, full of patriotic grief at the fate which threatened Strasburg and Alsace, hastened to enlist in the 31st Regiment of Light Infantry. Otto, as Max called him, and as we will for the future, at once followed his example. Side by side the two friends, stationed in the outposts of Paris, went through the severe campaign of the siege. At Champigny Max received a ball in his right arm, at Buzenval an epaulet on his left shoulder. Otto received neither wound nor decoration. It could not have been his fault, for he followed his friend everywhere, scarcely half a dozen yards in his rear. But those half-dozen yards made all the difference.
After the peace, the two friends resumed their studies, occupying modest apartments together near the college.
The recent misfortunes of France, the loss to her of Lorraine and Alsace, had matured the character of Max—he felt and spoke like a man. “It is the vocation of the youth of France,” said he; “to repair the errors of their fathers. By genuine hard work alone can this be done.”
Max rose every morning at five o’clock, and made Otto do the same. He obliged him to be punctual at his classes, and never lost sight of him during the hours of recreation. The evening was devoted to study, with occasional pauses for a pipe or a cup of coffee. At ten they retired to rest, their hearts content, their brains well filled. A game at billiards now and then, a well-chosen play or concert, a ride to the forest of Verrières, a country walk, and twice a week a lesson in fencing and boxing—these were their amusements.
From time to time Otto, casting curious eyes at the very questionable enjoyments of other students, would make feeble attempts at revolt, and talk of going to see Cæsar Leroux, who was “studying law,” and passed most of his time at the beer-shop of St. Michel; but Max treated these fancies with such utter contempt and derision that they usually passed off quietly.
On the 29th of October, 1871, about seven o’clock in the evening, the two friends were seated, as was their wont, side by side at the same table, with a shaded lamp between them.
Max was working a problem in applied mathematics, relative to the stability of blocks, and had thrown himself heart and soul into his subject. Otto was devoting himself sedulously to something which he thought of much greater consequence, the brewing of a pint of coffee. It was one of the few things in which he flattered himself he really excelled, perhaps because he had daily practice in it, thereby escaping for a few minutes the troublesome business of squaring equations, which he considered that Max really did carry too far.
Drop by drop he let his boiling water pass through a thick layer of powdered mocha, and he ought to have been contented with such tranquil happiness; but he was annoyed at the devoted industry of Max and felt an unconquerable desire to interrupt him.
“It would be a good plan to buy a percolator,” said he, suddenly. “This ancient and solemn method of filtering is a disgrace to our modem civilization.”
“Do buy a percolator; it will perhaps prevent your wasting an hour every evening with this cookery,” replied Max, and he returned to his problem.
“The intrados of a vault is an ellipsoid; let ABCD be that principal ellipse which contains the two axes——”
At this moment came a rap at the door.
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