A Desperate Adventure
by Max Adeler
WANTED, four persons who are
suicide, to engage in a hazardous adventure. Apply,
etc., to Captain Cowgill, No.--, Blank Street, after
nine o' clock in the morning.
inserted the above advertisement in three of the morning
papers, with only a faint expectation that it would be
responded to. But the result was that between nine o'clock
and noon five men and two women called at his office to
inquire respecting the nature of the proposed adventure, and
to offer their services in the event that it should involve
nothing of a criminal character. Of these seven, Captain
Cowgill selected four, three men and one young woman; and
when he had dismissed the others, he shut the door and said
to the four applicants:
"What I wanted you for was this: I have
made up my mind that the North Pole can never be reached by
an exploring party travelling upon ships and sledges. The
only route that is possibly practicable is through the air,
and the only available vehicle, of course, is a balloon.
But an attempt to reach the Pole in a balloon must expose
the explorers to desperate risks, and it occurred to me
that those risks had better be taken by persons who do not
value their lives, than by persons who do. It has always
seemed to me that a part of the sin of suicide lies in the
fact that the life wantonly sacrificed might have been
expended in a cause which would have conferred benefits,
directly or indirectly, upon the human race. I have a large
and superbly equipped balloon, which will be thoroughly
stocked for a voyage to the Arctic regions, and, among
other things, it will contain apparatus for making fresh
supplies of hydrogen gas. Are you four persons willing to
make the required attempt in this balloon?"
All four of the visitors answered,
"Were you going to sacrifice your lives,
at any rate?"
An affirmative answer was given by the four.
"Permit me to take your names,"
said Captain Cowgill, and he wrote them down as follows:
- WILLIAM P.
- DR. HENRY
- EDMOND JARNVILLE,
- MARY DERMOTT.
Mr. Crutter was a man apparently of about
sixty years, handsomely dressed, manifestly a gentleman, but
with a flushed face which indicated that he had perhaps
indulged to some extent in dissipation.
Dr. O'Hagan was thin, pallid, and careworn.
He looked as if he were ill, and as if all joy were dead in
Mr. Jarnville appeared to be a working-man,
but his countenance, sad as it was, was full of
intelligence, and his manner was that of a man who had
occupied a social position much above the lowest.
Miss Dermott sat, with an air of dejection,
her hands in her lap, a thin and faded shawl pinned about
her, and with her pale cheeks suggestive of hunger and
"My hope," said Captain Cowgill,
"is that you will safely reach your destination, and
safely return. But you fully understand that the chances
are against you. For my own protection I will ask you to
certify in writing that you go with full knowledge of the
risks. I will inflate the balloon to-morrow. Day after
to-morrow come to this office at nine o'clock, and you shall
then make the ascent at once."
On the appointed day the four volunteers
appeared and Captain Cowgill drove with them, in a carriage,
to a yard in the outskirts of the city, where the balloon,
inflated and swaying to and fro in the wind, was held to the
earth with stout ropes. The three men were supplied with
warm clothing, but Miss Dermott had only her threadbare
shawl, and so Captain Cowgill gave her his overcoat, and two
blankets which he took from the carriage.
While the voyagers were taking their places
in the commodious car attached to the balloon, a young man
entered the yard and hurriedly approached Captain Cowgill.
"I am going with the balloon," he
said, almost fiercely, and hardly deigning to look at the
"Impossible!" said the Captain.
"The crew is made up. You don't comprehend our
"Yes I do," said the young man.
"These people are would-be suicides and they are
starting for the Pole. I am going along."
"But my dear sir----" began the
Captain in a tone of expostulation.
"I will go, or I will slay myself right
here before you! These people are not any more tired of
life than I am."
"Let him come," said Dr. O'Hagan,
"But," returned Captain Cowgill,
"I am afraid the balloon will be overloaded.
"I am going, anyhow," said the
young man, as he leaped into the car.
Captain Cowgill sighed, and said, "Well,
have your own way about it."
"My name is John Winden," remarked
the intruder. "I tell you, so that you will know if
any one inquires after me. But I don't imagine anybody
Then Captain Cowgill bade farewell to the
party, the ropes were loosed, and the balloon went sailing
swiftly towards the clouds.
Dr. O'Hagan was the navigator in charge.
Presently a north-easterly current of wind struck the
air-ship, and it began to move with great rapidity upon a
For a long time nobody in the car spoke.
Indeed, the voyagers scarcely looked at each other; and none
had enough curiosity to peer over the side upon the glorious
landscape that lay beneath.
But, after awhile, Mr. Crutter, gazing at
Miss Dermott, said:
"Are you fully resolved upon
"Yes," she replied.
"So am I," said Mr. Crutter.
"So am I," remarked Mr. Winden.
"So am I," observed Mr. Jarnville.
"And I, also," added Dr. O'Hagan.
"Even if we reach the Pole safely, and
return, I shall not want to live," said Mr. Crutter.
"Neither shall I," said Miss
"Nor I," remarked Mr. Winden.
"Nor I," added Dr. O'Hagan and Mr.
Jarnville in a breath.
Then there was silence for the space of half
an hour or more.
Mr. Crutter then remarked: "Do you know,
I find this to be rather a pleasant experience, sailing
along here through the ether, calmly, far above the
distractions of the world? If I were not so miserable I
think I should really enjoy it!"
"I am too unhappy to enjoy
anything," said Miss Dermott; "but this, I
confess, is not unpleasant."
"Pleasant enough," remarked Mr.
Winden, "if a man had no anguish in his soul."
"I had no idea that there was so much
exhilaration in the upper regions of the atmosphere,"
said Dr. O'Hagan, rather cheerily.
"I think I feel better, myself,"
said Mr. Jarnville.
"It is very strange," observed Mr.
Crutter, addressing Miss Dermott, "that young people,
like you and Mr. Winden here, should be weary of life. That
an old man like me should long for death is comprehensible.
But why do you wish to die?"
Neither Mr. Winden nor Miss Dermott made any
"I'll tell you," said Dr. O'Hagan,
throwing a bag of ballast overboard, to check the descent of
the balloon. "We are all going to destruction
together; and why should we not, as companions in misery,
unfold our griefs to each other?"
"It would be very proper, I think,"
said Mr. Crutter; "and I will begin if the rest will
consent to follow."
The other four travellers agreed to do so.
"Well, I haven't much to tell,"
said Mr. Crutter. "The fact is, I have always had
plenty of money with which to live in idleness and luxury,
and I have so lived. I have tried every kind of pleasure
life can afford and money buy, and I have reached a
condition of satiety.
Moreover, I have ruined my digestion, and I am now a
sufferer from chronic dyspepsia of a horrible kind. This
makes existence a burden. I am eager to quit it. That is
the whole story."
"How strange the difference between
us!" said Dr. O'Hagan. "I have been deeply
engaged in the practice of my profession for many years; and
I am utterly worn-out and broken-down with overwork. I am
nervous, exhausted, irritable, and wretched, but I have lost
my savings in a speculative venture, and cannot rest. I
must either work or die."
"That is partly my case," said Miss
Dermott. "I am friendless and poor. I cannot earn
enough by sewing to buy sufficient food, and I can no longer
face the misery that I have endured for so many years. I
prefer death a thousand times."
"And I," said Mr. Jarnville,
"am a disappointed inventor. I have for years laboured
upon the construction of a smoke-consumer, but now that it
is done, I have not money enough to pay for a patent; and I
am starving. After trying everywhere to obtain assistance,
I have resolved to give up the struggle and to find refuge
in the grave."
Mr. Winden cleared his throat once or twice
before beginning his story. He seemed to labour under some
embarrassment. "The truth is," he said, "I
was rejected last night by a young lady whom I love, and I
made up my mind that life without her would not be worth
Nobody spoke for some time, and then Dr.
O'Hagan said: "The balloon is falling, and, instead of
throwing out ballast, I think it might be better, perhaps,
to let it come down and to tie it to a tree, and make a
fresh start with additional gas in the morning."
The other aeronauts gave their approval to
this plan, and Dr. O'Hagan threw out the grapnel. It caught
upon a tree top, and after some difficulty the balloon was
brought down and tied fast, while the whole party stepped
out of the car.
It was a wild and desolate place, but the
four men soon started a fire, and while Mr. Winden and Mr.
Jarnville prepared supper, Dr. O'Hagan and Mr. Crutter went
to work to arrange some kind of shelter for Miss Dermott for
After supper the five people gathered about
the fire, and there really seemed to be a growth of
cheerfulness in the party.
"I've been thinking," said Mr.
Crutter, "what an outrageous shame it is that this poor
child here," pointing to Miss Dermott should actually
be in want of food, while I have more money than I know what
to do with. I'll tell you what, Miss Dermott, if you will
agree to go back you can have my whole fortune. I've left
it to an asylum, but I'll write a new will now, and tell you
where you can find the other one, so as to tear it up."
"I don't want to go back," said
"I would if I were you," said Mr.
Winden. "It's a shame for you to go upon such an awful
journey as this. And I've been thinking Mr. Jarnville,
since you spoke about your smoke-consumer, that my father,
who is a wealthy iron-mill owner, has offered a large reward
for a perfect contrivance of that sort. If yours is a good
one, he will
help you to a fortune."
"I wish I had known that
yesterday," said Mr. Jarnville
"Yes," said Dr. O'Hagan, "and
if I had known that Mr. Crutter here was being driven to
suicide by dyspepsia, I could have helped him, for I have
been very successful in treating that complaint. Let me
examine you, Mr. Crutter. Yes," said the doctor, after
expending a few moments looking at and talking to Mr.
Crutter, "I feel certain I can cure you."
"I would have given you half my fortune
yesterday for such an assurance," said Mr. Crutter.
"But it is now too late."
"If I had met you then," said the
Doctor, "I should not have been here now."
"Can't we all go back again?" asked Mr.
"Impossible!" said Dr. O'Hagan.
"I've got nothing to go back for,"
said Mr. Winden. "There is no remedy for my trouble,
"There are other young ladies who could
make good wives," said Mr. Crutter.
"Oh, I know, but----" said Mr.
Winden hesitating, and looking furtively at Miss Dermott.
Miss Dermott blushed.
"Suppose we rest for the night and sleep
on the matter," said Dr. O'Hagan. "There's no use
being in a hurry."
Miss Dermott retired to sleep beneath a
shelter of boughs where were strewn some pine and hemlock
branches. Dr. O'Hagan covered her carefully with the
blankets, and then the four men stretched themselves by the
fire and fell asleep.
The conversation between the travellers must
inevitably have had a good effect. The surest remedy for a
morbid propensity to brood over our own troubles is to have
our sympathy excited for the troubles of other people.
After breakfast in the morning Mr. Crutter:
"I have solemnly considered all that was
said last night, and I have a proposition to make. Dr.
O'Hagan, if you will return with Miss Dermott and Mr.
Jarnville, you three may divide my fortune between you, and
Mr. Winden can give a letter to his father to Mr. Jarnville,
about the smoke-consumer; and dear Mr. Winden and I will
continue this journey together. How will that do?"
"I am willing to drop off and
return," said Mr. Jarnville.
"I will go only on condition you will go
also," said Dr. O'Hagan. "I will make you a well
man if you agree."
"But," said Mr. Crutter, "it
would be a shame to leave Winden here alone with this
balloon. No; I have had enough of life. I'll proceed on
"There is a good deal of force in what
the Doctor says, though," remarked Mr. Winden.
"Why, you are not thinking about backing
out, too, are you?" inquired Mr. Crutter.
"Well, I don't know," said Mr.
Winden, looking half ashamed. "It seemed to me last
night, when I got to thinking about it, that a woman's scorn
is hardly worth a man's life, and I----"
"You're right!" said Mr. Crutter.
"It isn't. Suppose we put the matter in this way: If
Dr. O'Hagan cures me, I will pay him fifty thousand dollars
in cash, and I will go into partnership with Mr. Jarnville
in his invention. We can see your father about it, and you
can return to him while I adopt Miss Dermott as my
"I had thought," said Mr. Winden,
"of a slightly different plan, but possibly it could
not be carried out."
"What was that?" asked Dr. O'Hagan.
"Why," said Mr. Winden, "I
thought, perhaps--But, no! there is no use of mentioning
""Out with it," said Mr.
Crutter. "We want the opinions of all hands."
"I did think," said Mr. Winden,
"that possibly Miss Dermott instead of becoming your
daughter would consent to become my wife. Would you
entertain such a proposition, Miss Dermott?"
Miss Dermott hung her head, and seemed to be
covered with confusion. "I will think about it,"
"That means she will give her
consent," said Mr. Crutter, smiling. "Let her
come with me while she is thinking the matter over. Are you
all agreed to my plan?" Everybody expressed assent to
it, and everybody seemed very happy.
"Why, what is that?" suddenly
exclaimed Miss Dermott, pointing to a distant object above
"I verily believe that is our
balloon," said Dr. O'Hagan. "Yes, it is gone! it
must have broken loose while we were at breakfast."
"Oh, well," said Mr. Crutter,
"let it go! Who cares! I'll pay Captain Cowgill for
his losses. And now let us see about getting home."
Mr. Winden and Mr. Jarnville started to hunt
for a conveyance, and in about two hours they returned with
one. The nearest railway station was thirteen miles away,
but in two more hours the party reached it, and while Mr.
Crutter purchased tickets for the coming train, Dr. O'Hagan
went into the telegraph office and sent the following
"Captain W.A. Cowgill. Balloon escaped.
Party all safe perfectly happy. Will reach home to-morrow