The Twenty-One Balloons

by William Pene du Bois

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What is a quick summary of chapter 10 of Twenty-One Balloons?

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The Twenty-One Balloons is a 1947 novel written by William Pène du Bois. This novel mixes the scientific with the fantastic and tells the story of Professor William Waterman Sherman, a retired teacher who attempts to circumnavigate the globe and crash lands on the island of Krakatoa where he discovers a secret society of vast wealth.

Chapter 10 opens with a lecture given by Sherman to the population of Krakatoa on the subject of San Francisco. During the lecture, an impending volcanic eruption causes a panic and leads to all families evacuating the island via balloon platform.

The balloon platform travels west and the vast majority of the citizens parachute over India. The travel to India is in stark contrast to the lives the families lived on land. On land, the families experience extreme wealth, but here they are forced to ration food. The F family stays with the protagonist until the platform flies over Belgium. After Belgium, Sherman is the only pilot remaining and he struggles to keep the platform flying.

Eventually, he crash lands in the North Atlantic where is he rescued by the S. S. Cunningham. The chapter closes in the preset day, with Sherman telling the members of the Western American Explorers’ Club that he intends to sell the diamond cufflinks he acquired in Krakatoa in order to finance another balloon expedition.

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At the request of Mr. F, the Professor gives a talk to a gathering of all the citizens of Krakatoa about San Francisco.  While he is speaking, the land begins to shake even more ominously than usual, and the decision is made to evacuate.  Everyone runs to their preasssigned chores and gathers at the balloon platform.  The Professor is the last to arrive, and is helped onto the platform just as the balloon takes off.

After being stranded for seventeen hours in a vacuum directly over the volcano, the balloon is safely on its way.  The passengers watch sadly as huge explosions demolish Krakatoa.  Food is carefully rationed as the platform travels over the Indian Ocean, and when the land of India is reached, all the families but one parachute down.  The Professor alone has no parachute, and the F family has volunteered to remain on the platform with him.  The balloon continues over Europe, and in Belgium the F family finally leaves the Professor.  The Professor struggles to navigate the unwieldy platform over the British Isles, and when he reaches the Atlantic, he crashes it into the sea.  He is rescued by the S.S. Cunningham.

The scene shifts back to the beginning of the story, where the Professor is speaking about his adventures to the Western American Explorers' Club in San Francisco.  When asked what he will do with his life now, he responds that he will sell the diamond cuff links given to him by Mr. F, and use the money to buy a balloon, on which he will spend a full year living in the air as he had originally planned (Chapter 10).

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