About the Author
Date of Birth:February 8, 1828
Date of Death:March 24, 1905
Place of Birth:Nantes, France
Place of Death:Amiens, France
Education:Nantes lycée and law studies in Paris
Read an Excerpt
Mr. Sharp Makes His Entrance
"These English newspapers are really quite well written!" the good doctor murmured to himself as he settled into a large leather armchair.
All his life Dr. Sarrasin had indulged in such soliloquies, no doubt a sign of a certain absentmindedness.
He was a man in his fifties with refined features, sparkling and clear eyes behind their steel-framed glasses, and a face which was both serious and friendly. He was one of those individuals who, at first glance, prompts people to say: "Now there's a fine fellow." Despite the early hour, the doctor had already shaved, and although his attire did not suggest excessive fussiness, he was sporting a white cravat.
Spread out over the rug and the furniture of his Brighton hotel room were the Times, the Daily Telegraph, and the Daily News. It was barely ten o'clock in the morning yet the doctor had already walked around the town, visited a hospital, returned to his hotel, and managed to read all the major London papers covering the detailed report he had presented the night before at the International Hygiene Association Conference on a "blood-cell counter," an instrument which he had invented.
He sat before a breakfast tray covered with a white napkin, on which were placed a cutlet, cooked medium rare, a steaming cup of tea, and a few buttered slices of toast that English cooks prepare so wonderfully, thanks to the special little rolls that bakers prepare for them.
"Yes," he repeated, "these British newspapers are really quite well done, there is no doubt about it! The vice president's speech, the reply of Dr. Cicogna of Naples, the full text of my own paper — everything was caught on the fly, captured just as it occurred, as though it were photographed."
"'Our honorable associate Dr. Sarrasin from Douai took the floor. Speaking in French, he began by saying: 'My listeners will excuse me if I take this liberty, but they surely understand my language better than I could ever speak theirs ...'"
"Five columns of small print followed! I don't know which is better, the article in the Times or the one in the Telegraph ... Neither could be more exact, or more precise!"
Dr. Sarrasin had reached that point in his musings when the master of ceremonies himself — one would scarcely presume to give a lesser title to a person so formally attired in black — knocked on the door and asked if "monsiou" would accept a visitor.
"Monsiou" is the usual term that the English feel obliged to apply to all Frenchmen, without distinction, just as they would designate an Italian as "Signor" and a German as "Herr." Perhaps they are right to do so. This common custom at least has the advantage of immediately identifying a person's nationality.
Dr. Sarrasin took the card that had been presented to him and was quite surprised to receive a visitor in a country where he knew no one. He was even more perplexed when he read on the minuscule calling card:
"Mr. Sharp, solicitor, 93 Southampton Row, London."
He knew that a "solicitor" was the English term for a lawyer, or rather a hybrid attorney-at-law, intermediate between a notary, an attorney, and a lawyer — what used to be called a public prosecutor.
"What possible business could Mr. Sharp have with me?" he wondered. "Have I gotten into some kind of trouble without my being aware of it?"
"You're quite sure this is for me?" he asked.
"Oh! Yes, monsiou."
"Well! Please let him in."
The master of ceremonies let a youthful-looking man into the room, whom the doctor, at first sight, classified as being in the rather large family of "death-heads." His thin, dried-up lips, his long white teeth, his hollow temples beneath skin like parchment, his mummy-like complexion, and his little gray eyes with their piercing stare fully qualified him for this classification. The remainder of his skeletal form, from his heels to his occiput, was hidden beneath a great, checkered "Ulster coat," and in his hand he clenched the handle of a polished leather briefcase.
This personage entered, quickly bowed, placed his briefcase with his hat upon the floor, sat down without asking permission, and immediately said:
"William Henry Sharp, Jr., associate of the firm of Billows, Green, Sharp and Co. This is really Dr. Sarrasin that I have the honor ...?"
"That is indeed my name."
"Douai is my hometown."
"Your father was named Isidore Sarrasin?"
"We can assume then that he was Isidore Sarrasin."
Mr. Sharp drew a notebook from his pocket, consulted it, and said:
"Isidore Sarrasin died in Paris in 1857, in the 6th arrondissement, 54 rue Taranne, Hôtel des Ecoles, since demolished."
"That is correct," said the doctor, more and more surprised. "But would you kindly explain to me ...?"
"The name of his mother was Julie Langévol," continued Mr. Sharp, unperturbed. "She was born in Bar-le-Duc, a daughter of Benedict Langévol, the latter residing at Loriol cul-de-sac, and deceased in 1812, as it appears on the register of the municipality of that city — those registers are a precious institution, sir, a very precious one indeed. Ahem! ... ahem! — and also the sister of Jean-Jacques Langévol, drum major in the 36th light infantry ..."
"I must confess," Dr. Sarrasin declared at this point, amazed by such a detailed knowledge of his family genealogy, "that you seem better informed than I am on certain points. It is true that the family name of my grandmother was Langévol, but that is all I know about her."
"She left the city of Bar-le-Duc around 1807 with your grandfather Jean Sarrasin, whom she had married in 1799. Both settled in Melun as dealers in tin ware and remained there until 1811, date of the death of Julie Langévol, Sarrasin's wife. Their marriage gave but one child, Isidore Sarrasin, your father. From that moment on, the thread is lost, except for the date of the death of the latter, discovered in Paris ..."
"I can pick up the thread," said the doctor, carried along despite himself by this quite mathematical precision. "My grandfather settled in Paris for the education of his son, who was destined for a career in medicine. He died in 1832, at Palaiseau, near Versailles, where my father exercised his profession and where I was born in 1822."
"You're my man," continued Mr. Sharp. "No brothers or sisters?"
"No. I was an only child, and my mother died two years after my birth. But now, sir, would you kindly tell me ...?"
Mr. Sharp rose.
"Sir Bryah Jowahir Mothooranath," he said, pronouncing these names with the respect that any Englishman professes for noble titles, "I am happy to have discovered you and to be the first to pay you my respects!"
"This man is insane," thought the doctor. "That's fairly common among 'death heads.'"
The solicitor read this diagnosis in his eyes.
"I am not the least bit crazy," he calmly replied. "You are, at the present time the only known heir to the title of baronet, presented in 1819 by the governor-general of Bengal to Jean-Jacques Langévol, a naturalized English subject and widower of the Begum Gokool, usufructuary of her wealth and deceased in 1841, leaving only one son, who died an imbecile, without posterity, incapable and intestate, in 1869. Thirty years ago, the estate was some five million pounds sterling. It remained impounded and under guardianship, and nearly all its interest went to increase its capital throughout the life of Jean-Jacques Langévol's imbecile son. In 1870, the total value of the estate was estimated, in round numbers, at twenty-one million pounds sterling, or five hundred twenty-five million francs. In accordance with an order signed by the Agra tribunal, countersigned by the Delhi court, recognized by the privy council, the property both real and personal was sold, and the total amount realized was placed in deposit at the Bank of England. At present, this amounts to some five hundred twenty-seven million francs, that you can withdraw with a simple check as soon as you have supplied genealogical proof of your identity to the Chancellery. Furthermore, as of today, I am authorized to offer you through the firm of Messrs. Trollop, Smith and Co., bankers, an advance of any amount on this account ..."
Dr. Sarrasin was thunderstruck. For a moment, he remained entirely speechless. Then, feeling a bit guilty about his temporary lapse of critical reasoning and being unable to accept as proven fact this dream straight out of the Thousand and One Nights, he replied:
"But after all, sir, what proofs can you give me of this story, and what led you to find me here?"
"The proofs are all here," replied Mr. Sharp, tapping on his polished leather briefcase. "As for how I found you, it was quite natural. I've been trying to locate you for five years. Finding the next of kin for the numerous confiscated estates which are registered annually in the British colonies is a specialty of our firm. We have been working on the inheritance of the Begum Gokool for a full five years. We have carried out our investigations in all directions, reviewed hundreds of Sarrasin families, without finding the one descended from Isidore. I had even arrived at the conclusion that there was not one Sarrasin in France, when I was struck yesterday morning while reading in the Daily News the review of the International Hygiene Association that there was a doctor by this name with whom I was not familiar. Returning immediately to my notes and to the thousands of handwritten filing cards that we have accumulated about this inheritance, I noted with astonishment that the town of Douai had escaped our attention. Almost certain that I was now on the right track, I took the Brighton train and saw you leaving the meeting, and my conviction became stronger. You are the living portrait of your great-uncle Langévol as he appears in a photograph we have of him, from a painting of the Indian artist Saranoni."
Mr. Sharp drew a photograph from his notebook and passed it to Dr. Sarrasin. This photograph represented a man of great stature, with a splendid beard, a plumed turban, and a green robe of gold-laced brocade, in that posture so peculiar to historical portraits of a four-star general writing out an order to attack while attentively watching the spectator. In the background, one could vaguely make out the smoke of battle and a charge of cavalry.
"These papers will tell you more than I can," continued Mr. Sharp. "I'm going to leave them with you and I shall return in two hours, if you will permit, to take your orders."
With these words, Mr. Sharp withdrew from his polished briefcase seven or eight packets of documents, placed them on the table, and retreated out the door, murmuring:
"Sir Bryah Jowahir Mothooranath, I have the honor of wishing you a very good day."
Half believing and half skeptical, the doctor picked up the files and began to leaf through them.
A quick examination of them was enough to show him that the story was perfectly true and to dispel all his doubts. Indeed, how could one hesitate when reading a document with a title such as:
"Report to the Very Honorable Lords of the Queen's Privy Council, filed this fifth day of January 1870, concerning the vacant succession of the Begum Gokool of Ragginahra, Bengal province.
"Points of fact: at issue are the property rights to certain mehals and forty-three thousand beegales of arable land, along with diverse structures, palaces, buildings, villages, furniture, treasure, arms, etc., etc., accruing from the estate of the Begum Gokool of Ragginahra. From the accounts submitted to the civil court of Agra and to the higher court of Delhi there results that in 1819 the Begum Gokool, widow of the Rajah Luckmissur and heiress in her own right of considerable wealth, married a foreigner of French origin, named Jean-Jacques Langévol. This foreigner, after having served in the French army as drum major in the 36th Light Cavalry until 1815, embarked in Nantes, at the time of the disbanding of the Loire army, as a cargo master on a commercial ship. He arrived in Calcutta, moved inland, and soon obtained the rank of captain as a military instructor in the small indigenous army that the Rajah Luckmissur was authorized to maintain. He eventually rose to the rank of commander-in-chief, and, shortly after the death of the Rajah, he obtained the hand of his widow. In consideration of various contributions to colonial policy and important services rendered during a perilous situation for Europeans in Agra by Jean-Jacques Langévol, who had become a naturalized British subject, the governor-general of Bengal requested and obtained the title of baronet for the husband of the Begum who also received the land of Bryah Jowahir Mothooranath as his kingdom. The Begum died in 1839, leaving her estate to Langévol, who followed her two years later to the grave. From their marriage there was but one son, who suffered in a state of imbecility since early childhood and whom it was necessary to place under guardians immediately. His estate was faithfully administered until his death in 1869. There are no known heirs to this enormous inheritance. The tribunal of Agra and the court of Delhi having ordered a sale by auction, at the request of the local government acting in the name of the State, we have the honor of requesting of the Lords of the Privy Council for the confirmation of these judgments, etc., etc." Signatures followed.
Certified copies of the legal judgments from Agra and from Delhi, certificates of sale, orders given for the deposit of capital in the Bank of England, a historical account of research carried out in France to find the Langévol heirs, and a veritable mass of documents of the same sort no longer permitted Dr. Sarrasin the slightest hesitation. He was the fitting and proper next of kin and successor to the Begum. The thickness of a birth certificate was the only thing between him and the five hundred twenty-seven million francs deposited in the bank's vault!
Such a stroke of fortune could well excite the calmest soul, and the good doctor could not entirely escape the emotion that such an unexpected event was sure to cause. However, his excitement was of short duration, and only manifested itself by a rapid pacing up and down his room for several minutes. He then quickly regained possession of himself, reproached himself for the weakness of yielding to such a feverish emotion, and settled himself into an armchair where he remained in deep reflection for some time.
Then, jumping out of his chair, he suddenly started pacing up and down again. But this time his eyes burned with a pure flame, and one could tell that some generous and noble thought was evolving in his mind. He welcomed it, caressed it, held it close, and finally adopted it.
At that moment, there were knocks on the door. Mr. Sharp was returning.
"Please excuse my misgivings," the doctor told him cordially. "But I'm now quite convinced and infinitely obliged to you for the effort you have taken."
"Don't feel obliged ... a simple matter ... my job ...," responded Mr. Sharp. "May I hope that Sir Bryah will remain one of my clients?"
"That goes without saying, of course. I will place the whole business in your hands. I will only ask you to stop calling me by that absurd title."
"Absurd! A title that is worth twenty-one million pounds sterling?" Mr. Sharp thought to himself; but he was too gracious a courtier not to give in.
"As you wish; you are the master," he replied. "I am going to take the train back to London, and will await your orders."
"May I keep these documents?" asked the doctor.
"Of course, we have copies of them."
Dr. Sarrasin, alone again, sat down at his desk, took a sheet of writing paper and wrote the following:
"Brighton, October 28, 1871
"My dear son,
"We are the inheritors of an enormous, colossal, unbelievable fortune! Do not think I have been struck with some mental derangement, and do read the two or three printed pages that I enclose with my letter. You'll clearly see that I am heir to the title of English — or rather Indian — baronet, and to a capital fortune in excess of half a billion francs which are currently on deposit at the Bank of England. I can well imagine, dear Octave, the feelings you will undoubtedly have upon hearing this news. Like myself, you will understand the new responsibilities that such a fortune imposes upon us, as well as the many dangers it poses in using it wisely. I have come to learn of this hardly an hour ago, and already the awareness of such a responsibility almost stifles the joy it first brought me when thinking of you. Perhaps this event will change our destiny. Modest pioneers in science, we were happy in our obscurity. Will we continue to be? No, perhaps, unless — but I don't dare to tell you about an idea that has suddenly come to me! — unless this fortune itself becomes, in our hands, some new and powerful scientific instrument, a prodigious tool of civilization! We'll talk more about it later. Write me soon, tell me your reactions to this wonderful news, and be sure to pass the word on to your mother. I'm sure that, sensible woman that she is, she'll accept the news with perfect calmness. As for your sister, she is still too young to have her head turned by anything like this. Besides, her little head is quite sound, and were she able to understand all the possible ramifications of this news that I'm telling you, I'm sure that, of all of us, she would be the least disturbed. Give Marcel a good handshake for me. He is not absent from any of my future plans.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Begum's Millions"
Copyright © 2005 Wesleyan University Press.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
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Table of Contents<P>A Note on the Translation<BR>Introduction<BR>The Begum's Millions by Jules Verne<BR>Mr. Sharp Makes his Entrance<BR>Two Friends<BR>A News Item<BR>Divided by Two<BR>The City of Steel<BR>The Albrecht Mine<BR>The Central Block<BR>The Dragon's Lair<BR>Absent without Leave<BR>An Article from Unsere Centurie, a German Journal<BR>Dinner at Dr. Sarrasin's<BR>The Council<BR>Letter from Marcel Bruckmann to Professor Schultze, Stahlstadt,<BR>Preparing for Combat<BR>The San Francisco Stock Exchange<BR>Two Frenchman against a City<BR>Explanations at Gunpoint<BR>The Kernel of Mystery<BR>A Family Affair<BR>Conclusion<BR>Notes<BR>Bibliography<BR>Jules Gabriel Verne: A Biography<BR>About the Contributors</P>
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"This edition of The Begum's Millions is a significant work of scholarship and an important contribution to the ongoing project of reclaiming and redefining Verne's reputation in the English-speaking world."
Gary K. Wolfe, Professor of Humanities and English, Roosevelt University
“This book captures Verne's verve and vision, never lapsing in its narrative drive, throwing off ideas in joyful glee. The 19th Century lives on!”
"This edition of The Begum's Millions is a significant work of scholarship and an important contribution to the ongoing project of reclaiming and redefining Verne's reputation in the English-speaking world."Gary K. Wolfe, Professor of Humanities and English, Roosevelt University
"This book captures Verne's verve and vision, never lapsing in its narrative drive, throwing off ideas in joyful glee. The 19th Century lives on!"Gregory Benford, Professor of Physics, University of California, Irvine