“Confound it!” Mr. Lowell pounded his fist on the wicker railing. “Doctor Krausbaum and his lackeys have taken the lead! They’ve nearly reached the mountain’s peak!”
“We’ll never win at this rate of ascension!” moaned Dr. Swann. “We’ve dropped our last sandbag!”
“Dr. Krausbaum is about to humiliate our balloon and all of England in a few short minutes, gentlemen! We’re simply too—“ Mr. Lowell trailed off as his eyes fell on Mr. Pettibone, standing on the opposite end of the gondola, watching Krausbaum’s balloon through his binoculars. “…We’re simply too…too heavy. Mr. Pettibone,” Mr. Lowell stepped towards his comrade with a strange look in his eye, and Dr. Swann followed suit.
Mr. Pettibone wedged the binoculars into his vest pocket and looked over his shoulder at Lowell and Swann. “Well, what is it, men? Speak up!” Pettibone’s eyes darted between the two men suspiciously.
“Mr. Pettibone, it would seem that Krausbaum has gained an insurmountable lead against us,” said Dr. Swann, evenly.
“Yes. His is undoubtedly the lighter craft.” Mr. Lowell glanced at Mt. Jeunne Jeanne, looming ahead. “I’m afraid that at this point we really have only one option, Mr. Pettibone.”
There was a brief but loaded silence as Lowell’s meaning dawned on Pettibone.
“But–!” He turned wildly to face his fellows. “You can’t mean–! But gentlemen, I—“
“We know, Pettibone. You’ve done a lot for our cause, and we won’t soon forget that.”
“But Mr. Lowell—Arthur—Done a lot? Why, I’ve put my life and soul into this project! You know that!” Pettibone wiped his jowls with a trembling handkerchief, his breath coming in heavy gulps.
“We know how much this race has meant to you, William,” Dr. Swann tried a wan smile, but could not meet his friend’s stare. “It’s just…you see…”
The crowd on the peak were already cheering and booing Krausbaum’s approach, their voices sharp in the chill air. Pettibone blanched. “Men, you can’t mean you would actually consider—After all we’ve been through!”
“We don’t have another choice, Mr. Pettibone!” barked Lowell. “Pride be damned, we’ll have to forfeit. And I thought we had that Prussian bastard.” Lowell raised the white flag.
Pettibone’s eyes filled with tears as he watched Krausbaum’s balloon settle on the landing dock of Mt. Juenne Jeanne.