Thomas Roch is a brilliant inventor with a long string of successes, and he has come up with one of his greatest: the fulgurator, a weapon that could give a nation dominance on land and sea. However, he has become bitter at what he sees as people unfairly taking advantage of his inventions to profit themselves, and at what he regards as a general lack of appreciation, so when he approaches the French government, he demands a very high price, and, what is more, refuses to demonstrate the weapon until he is paid, and stubbornly refuses to see the unreasonableness of this.
The French break off negotiations. Feeling betrayed, Roch turns his back on the French flag and offers his invention first to the Germans, who don't think they need the help of a Frenchman, and then to the more practical English, who hear him out but also turn him down.
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Increasingly sour on the world and emotionally unstable, Roch approaches the even more practical Americans who, recognizing that he is not quite right in the head, seize him and put him in a mental institution, the Healthful House, until he becomes more sane and amenable to negotiation -- an action that probably not accidentally also keeps him from approaching any other governments with the weapon. A French engineer named Simon Hart hears about the situation, and so, under an assumed name, gets himself hired at Healthful House to keep an eye on Roch and make sure that the fulgurator is not used against French interests.
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But other people have also heard about the situation, and see all too well the potential Verne at several points does refer to Turpin's inventions. And while Turpin could not have known it, Roch was indeed inspired by Turpin's case; in his correspondence with his brother Paul, Verne refers to Roch as "le Turpin".
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The director of Healthful House could never have imagined why the cardshould have been sent to him, had it not been accompanied by anote from the Count d'Artigas soliciting permission to visit theestablishment. This desire to penetrate to the interior of the celebrated sanitarium,then in great request by the wealthy invalids of the United States,was natural enough on the part of a foreigner. Others who did not bearsuch a high-sounding name as the Count d'Artigas had visited it, andhad been unstinting in their compliments to the director.
The lattertherefore hastened to accord the authorization demanded, and addedthat he would be honored to open the doors of the establishment to theCount d'Artigas. It would have been difficult to find a more agreeable situation thanthat of Healthful House. On the landward slope of a hill extended apark of two hundred acres planted with the magnificent vegetation thatgrows so luxuriantly in that part of North America, which is equal inlatitude to the Canary and Madeira Islands.
Healthful House, where rich invalids were cared for under suchexcellent hygienic conditions, was more generally reserved for thetreatment of chronic complaints; but the management did not decline toadmit patients affected by mental troubles, when the latter were notof an incurable nature. It thus happened--a circumstance that was bound to attract a good dealof attention to Healthful House, and which perhaps was the motivefor the visit of the Count d'Artigas--that a person of world-widenotoriety had for eighteen months been under special observationthere.
This person was a Frenchman named Thomas Roch, forty-five years ofage. He was, beyond question, suffering from some mental malady, butexpert alienists admitted that he had not entirely lost the use ofhis reasoning faculties. Otherwise his condition manifested itself by complete lossof memory;--the impossibility of concentrating his attention uponanything, lack of judgment, delirium and incoherence. He no longereven possessed the natural animal instinct of self-preservation, andhad to be watched like an infant whom one never permits out of one'ssight.
Therefore a warder was detailed to keep close watch over himby day and by night in Pavilion No. Ordinary insanity, when it is not incurable, can only be cured bymoral means. Medicine and therapeutics are powerless, and theirinefficacy has long been recognized by specialists. Were these moralmeans applicable to the case of Thomas Roch? One may be permittedto doubt it, even amid the tranquil and salubrious surroundings ofHealthful House.
As a matter of fact the very symptoms of uneasiness,changes of temper, irritability, queer traits of character,melancholy, apathy, and a repugnance for serious occupations weredistinctly apparent; no treatment seemed capable of curing or evenalleviating these symptoms. This was patent to all his medicalattendants.
It has been justly remarked that madness is an excess of subjectivity;that is to say, a state in which the mind accords too much to mentallabor and not enough to outward impressions. In the case of ThomasRoch this indifference was practically absolute. He lived but withinhimself, so to speak, a prey to a fixed idea which had brought him tothe condition in which we find him. Could any circumstance occurto counteract it--to "exteriorize" him, as it were?
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The thing wasimprobable, but it was not impossible. It is now necessary to explain how this Frenchman came to quit France,what motive attracted him to the United States, why the Federalgovernment had judged it prudent and necessary to intern him in thissanitarium, where every utter ance that unconsciously escaped himduring his crises were noted and recorded with the minutest care.
Eighteen months previously the Secretary of the Navy at Washington,had received a demand for an audience in regard to a communicationthat Thomas Roch desired to make to him. As soon as he glanced at the name, the secretary perfectly understoodthe nature of the communication and the terms which would accompanyit, and an immediate audience was unhesitatingly accorded.
Translation of "tournez s'il vous plaît" in English
Thomas Roch's notoriety was indeed such that, out of solicitude forthe interests confided to his keeping, and which he was bound tosafeguard, he could not hesitate to receive the petitioner and listento the proposals which the latter desired personally to submit to him. Thomas Roch was an inventor--an inventor of genius. Several importantdiscoveries had brought him prominently to the notice of theworld.
Thanks to him, problems that had previously remained purelytheoretical had received practical application. He occupied aconspicuous place in the front rank of the army of science. It will beseen how worry, deceptions, mortification, and the outrages with whichhe was overwhelmed by the cynical wits of the press combined to drivehim to that degree of madness which necessitated his internment inHealthful House.
His latest invention in war-engines bore the name of Roch'sFulgurator. This apparatus possessed, if he was to be believed, suchsuperiority over all others, that the State which acquired it wouldbecome absolute master of earth and ocean. The deplorable difficulties inventors encounter in connection withtheir inventions are only too well known, especially when theyendeavor to get them adopted by governmental commissions.
Several ofthe most celebrated examples are still fresh in everybody's memory. It is useless to insist upon this point, because there are sometimescircumstances underlying affairs of this kind upon which it isdifficult to obtain any light. In regard to Thomas Roch, however,it is only fair to say that, as in the case of the majority of hispredecessors, his pretensions were excessive. He placed such anexorbitant price upon his new engine that it was practicablyimpossible to treat with him.
This was due to the fact--and it should not be lost sight of--that inrespect of previous inventions which had been most fruitful in result,he had been imposed upon with the greatest audacity. Being unableto obtain therefrom the profits which he had a right to expect, histemper had become soured. He became suspicious, would give up nothingwithout knowing just what he was doing, impose conditions thatwere perhaps unacceptable, wanted his mere assertions accepted assufficient guarantee, and in any case asked for such a large sum ofmoney on account before condescending to furnish the test of practicalexperiment that his overtures could not be entertained.
In the first place he had offered the fulgurator to France, and madeknown the nature of it to the commission appointed to pass upon hisproposition.
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The fulgurator was a sort of auto-propulsive engine,of peculiar construction, charged with an explosive composed of newsubstances and which only produced its effect under the action of adeflagrator that was also new. When this engine, no matter in what way it was launched, exploded, noton striking the object aimed at, but several hundred yards from it,its action upon the atmospheric strata was so terrific that anyconstruction, warship or floating battery, within a zone of twelvethousand square yards, would be blown to atoms.
This was the principleof the shell launched by the Zalinski pneumatic gun with whichexperiments had already been made at that epoch, but its results weremultiplied at least a hundred-fold. If, therefore, Thomas Roch's invention possessed this power, itassured the offensive and defensive superiority of his native country. But might not the inventor be exaggerating, notwithstanding that thetests of other engines he had conceived had proved incontestably thatthey were all he had claimed them to be?
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This, experiment could aloneshow, and it was precisely here where the rub came in. Roch wouldnot agree to experiment until the millions at which he valued hisfulgurator had first been paid to him. It is certain that a sort of disequilibrium had then occurred in hismental faculties. It was felt that he was developing a condition ofmind that would gradually lead to definite madness.
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No governmentcould possibly condescend to treat with him under the conditions heimposed. The French commission was compelled to break off all negotiations withhim, and the newspapers, even those of the Radical Opposition, had toadmit that it was difficult to follow up the affair. In view of the excess of subjectivity which was unceasingly augmentingin the profoundly disturbed mind of Thomas Roch, no one will besurprised at the fact that the cord of patriotism gradually relaxeduntil it ceased to vibrate.
For the honor of human nature be it saidthat Thomas Roch was by this time irresponsible for his actions.