The Twenty-One Balloons

by William Pene du Bois

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What is the summary of chapter 1 in The Twenty-One Balloons?

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The chapter begins by telling readers that the Western American Explorers' Club in San Francisco is buzzing with excitement because Professor Sherman has chosen to tell them his amazing story first. Readers are given a bit of detail about why the story might be intriguing.

Earlier in the year, Sherman flew off in a balloon and hoped to cross the Pacific. A few months later, he was found in the Atlantic ocean with twenty balloons. He was near dead when a ship rescued him and nursed him back to health. The captain wanted to know the details of Sherman's adventure, but Sherman stated that he would tell his tale first to his club. In a rather humorous piece of the story, the captain and ship's crew try all kinds of ways to get Sherman to tell them first. They even resort to getting Sherman drunk:

They tried all sorts of ways to get him to tell his story. They tried arguing with, persuading, tricking, and agitating him. They tried to entice him with spirits. They gave him medicine which made him dopey.

Professor Sherman eventually reaches New York, and he begins making plans to get to San Francisco. During this time, the entire country has been whipped into a news frenzy about Sherman and what could have happened. Sherman is being asked and prodded by just about everybody to tell his story, but Sherman keeps denying their requests. Eventually, the president of the United States requests that Sherman tell him, but Sherman politely declines again. Fortunately, the president is understanding and allows Sherman the use of the presidential train to get Sherman to San Francisco as fast as possible:

". . . the Presidential train at your disposal with instructions to clear the lines between New York and San Francisco so that you may get there with all possible speed."

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Chapter one opens with an introduction to the main character of the book, Professor William Waterman Sherman, who has been rescued out of the Atlantic Ocean, where he was found nearly dead in the wreckage of twenty balloons.  The captain of the boat which picked him up orders that he be placed on bedrest and nursed back to health.  Once Professor Sherman has gained enough strength to talk, the captain wants to know exactly how he came to be stranded in the middle of the Atlantic surrounded by the balloons.

Professor Sherman, despite his weakness, announces that the first telling of his great adventure is reserved for "The Western American Explorer's Club," a fraternity to which he belongs back at home and to which, he is most loyal.  Professor Sherman not only refuses to tell his tale to his rescuers on the ship, but when the captain deposits him in a hotel in New York and sells his version of the story to a local newspaper, Professor Sherman further refuses to give any clues to the reporters who show up at his hotel door.  The short, one-sided story of the captain makes it all the way to the President of the United States, who's secretary writes a letter to Professor Sherman, personally requesting his presence at the White House to announce his story to the world.  Professor Sherman sends a quick and negative reply to the President's secretary.  The chapter concludes with a final note from the secretary of understanding, as well as the provision of the Presidential train to transport Sherman back to his home in San Francisco.

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