Part 4 out of 7
"Dogs' heads, eh? Quite convenient for barking, and
even for man-eating!"
"But one thing that has been, unfortunately, proven
true, is, the ferocity of these tribes, who are really very
fond of human flesh, and devour it with avidity."
"I only hope that they won't take such a particular
fancy to mine!" said Joe, with comic solemnity.
"See that!" said Kennedy.
"Yes, indeed, sir; if I have to be eaten, in a moment
of famine, I want it to be for your benefit and my master's;
but the idea of feeding those black fellows--gracious! I'd
die of shame!"
"Well, then, Joe," said Kennedy, "that's understood;
we count upon you in case of need!"
"At your service, gentlemen!"
"Joe talks in this way so as to make us take good care
of him, and fatten him up."
"Maybe so!" said Joe. "Every man for himself."
In the afternoon, the sky became covered with a warm
mist, that oozed from the soil; the brownish vapor scarcely
allowed the beholder to distinguish objects, and so, fearing
collision with some unexpected mountain-peak, the doctor,
about five o'clock, gave the signal to halt.
The night passed without accident, but in such profound
obscurity, that it was necessary to use redoubled vigilance.
The monsoon blew with extreme violence during all
the next morning. The wind buried itself in the lower
cavities of the balloon and shook the appendage by which
the dilating-pipes entered the main apparatus. They had,
at last, to be tied up with cords, Joe acquitting himself
very skilfully in performing that operation.
He had occasion to observe, at the same time, that the
orifice of the balloon still remained hermetically sealed.
"That is a matter of double importance for us," said
the doctor; "in the first place, we avoid the escape of
precious gas, and then, again, we do not leave behind us
an inflammable train, which we should at last inevitably
set fire to, and so be consumed."
"That would be a disagreeable travelling incident!"
"Should we be hurled to the ground?" asked Kennedy.
"Hurled! No, not quite that. The gas would burn
quietly, and we should descend little by little. A similar
accident happened to a French aeronaut, Madame Blanchard.
She ignited her balloon while sending off fireworks,
but she did not fall, and she would not have been killed,
probably, had not her car dashed against a chimney and
precipitated her to the ground."
"Let us hope that nothing of the kind may happen to
us," said the hunter. "Up to this time our trip has not
seemed to me very dangerous, and I can see nothing to
prevent us reaching our destination."
"Nor can I either, my dear Dick; accidents are generally
caused by the imprudence of the aeronauts, or the
defective construction of their apparatus. However, in
thousands of aerial ascensions, there have not been twenty
fatal accidents. Usually, the danger is in the moment of
leaving the ground, or of alighting, and therefore at those
junctures we should never omit the utmost precaution."
"It's breakfast-time," said Joe; "we'll have to put up
with preserved meat and coffee until Mr. Kennedy has had
another chance to get us a good slice of venison."
The Celestial Bottle.--The Fig-Palms.--The Mammoth Trees.--The Tree of
War.--The Winged Team.--Two Native Tribes in Battle.--A Massacre.--An
Intervention from above.
The wind had become violent and irregular; the balloon
was running the gantlet through the air. Tossed
at one moment toward the north, at another toward the
south, it could not find one steady current.
"We are moving very swiftly without advancing
much," said Kennedy, remarking the frequent oscillations
of the needle of the compass.
"The balloon is rushing at the rate of at least thirty
miles an hour. Lean over, and see how the country is
gliding away beneath us!" said the doctor.
"See! that forest looks as though it were precipitating
itself upon us!"
"The forest has become a clearing!" added the other.
"And the clearing a village!" continued Joe, a moment or two
later. "Look at the faces of those astonished darkys!"
"Oh! it's natural enough that they should be astonished,"
said the doctor. "The French peasants, when they
first saw a balloon, fired at it, thinking that it was an aerial
monster. A Soudan negro may be excused, then, for opening his
eyes VERY wide!"
"Faith!" said Joe, as the Victoria skimmed closely
along the ground, at scarcely the elevation of one hundred
feet, and immediately over a village, "I'll throw them
an empty bottle, with your leave, doctor, and if it reaches
them safe and sound, they'll worship it; if it breaks, they'll
make talismans of the pieces."
So saying, he flung out a bottle, which, of course, was
broken into a thousand fragments, while the negroes
scampered into their round huts, uttering shrill cries.
A little farther on, Kennedy called out: "Look at that
strange tree! The upper part is of one kind and the
lower part of another!"
"Well!" said Joe, "here's a country where the trees
grow on top of each other."
"It's simply the trunk of a fig-tree," replied the doctor,
"on which there is a little vegetating earth. Some fine
day, the wind left the seed of a palm on it, and the
seed has taken root and grown as though it were on the
"A fine new style of gardening," said Joe, "and I'll
import the idea to England. It would be just the thing
in the London parks; without counting that it would be
another way to increase the number of fruit-trees. We
could have gardens up in the air; and the small house-owners
would like that!"
At this moment, they had to raise the balloon so as to
pass over a forest of trees that were more than three
hundred feet in height--a kind of ancient banyan.
"What magnificent trees!" exclaimed Kennedy. "I
never saw any thing so fine as the appearance of these
venerable forests. Look, doctor!"
"The height of these banyans is really remarkable,
my dear Dick; and yet, they would be nothing astonishing
in the New World."
"Why, are there still loftier trees in existence?"
"Undoubtedly; among the 'mammoth trees' of California,
there is a cedar four hundred and eighty feet in
height. It would overtop the Houses of Parliament, and
even the Great Pyramid of Egypt. The trunk at the
surface of the ground was one hundred and twenty feet in
circumference, and the concentric layers of the wood
disclosed an age of more than four thousand years."
"But then, sir, there was nothing wonderful in it!
When one has lived four thousand years, one ought to be
pretty tall!" was Joe's remark.
Meanwhile, during the doctor's recital and Joe's response,
the forest had given place to a large collection of
huts surrounding an open space. In the middle of this
grew a solitary tree, and Joe exclaimed, as he caught
sight of it:
"Well! if that tree has produced such flowers as
those, for the last four thousand years, I have to offer
it my compliments, anyhow," and he pointed to a gigantic
sycamore, whose whole trunk was covered with human
bones. The flowers of which Joe spoke were heads freshly
severed from the bodies, and suspended by daggers thrust
into the bark of the tree.
"The war-tree of these cannibals!" said the doctor;
"the Indians merely carry off the scalp, but these negroes
take the whole head."
"A mere matter of fashion!" said Joe. But, already,
the village and the bleeding heads were disappearing on
the horizon. Another place offered a still more revolting
spectacle--half-devoured corpses; skeletons mouldering
to dust; human limbs scattered here and there, and left
to feed the jackals and hyenas.
"No doubt, these are the bodies of criminals; according
to the custom in Abyssinia, these people have left them a
prey to the wild beasts, who kill them with their terrible
teeth and claws, and then devour them at their leisure.
"Not a whit more cruel than hanging!" said the
Scot; "filthier, that's all!"
"In the southern regions of Africa, they content themselves,"
resumed the doctor, "with shutting up the criminal
in his own hut with his cattle, and sometimes with his
family. They then set fire to the hut, and the whole
party are burned together. I call that cruel; but, like
friend Kennedy, I think that the gallows is quite as cruel,
quite as barbarous."
Joe, by the aid of his keen sight, which he did not fail
to use continually, noticed some flocks of birds of prey
flitting about the horizon.
"They are eagles!" exclaimed Kennedy, after reconnoitring
them through the glass, "magnificent birds, whose flight
is as rapid as ours."
"Heaven preserve us from their attacks!" said the
doctor, "they are more to be feared by us than wild
beasts or savage tribes."
"Bah!" said the hunter, "we can drive them off with
a few rifle-shots."
"Nevertheless, I would prefer, dear Dick, not having
to rely upon your skill, this time, for the silk of our
balloon could not resist their sharp beaks; fortunately, the
huge birds will, I believe, be more frightened than attracted
by our machine."
"Yes! but a new idea, and I have dozens of them,"
said Joe; "if we could only manage to capture a team of
live eagles, we could hitch them to the balloon, and they'd
haul us through the air!"
"The thing has been seriously proposed," replied the
doctor, "but I think it hardly practicable with creatures
naturally so restive."
"Oh! we'd tame them," said Joe. "Instead of driving
them with bits, we'd do it with eye-blinkers that would
cover their eyes. Half blinded in that way, they'd go to
the right or to the left, as we desired; when blinded
completely, they would stop."
"Allow me, Joe, to prefer a favorable wind to your
team of eagles. It costs less for fodder, and is more
"Well, you may have your choice, master, but I stick
to my idea."
It now was noon. The Victoria had been going at
a more moderate speed for some time; the country merely
passed below it; it no longer flew.
Suddenly, shouts and whistlings were heard by our
aeronauts, and, leaning over the edge of the car, they saw
on the open plain below them an exciting spectacle.
Two hostile tribes were fighting furiously, and the air
was dotted with volleys of arrows. The combatants were
so intent upon their murderous work that they did not
notice the arrival of the balloon; there were about three
hundred mingled confusedly in the deadly struggle: most
of them, red with the blood of the wounded, in which they
fairly wallowed, were horrible to behold.
As they at last caught sight of the balloon, there was
a momentary pause; but their yells redoubled, and some
arrows were shot at the Victoria, one of them coming
close enough for Joe to catch it with his hand.
"Let us rise out of range," exclaimed the doctor; "there
must be no rashness! We are forbidden any risk."
Meanwhile, the massacre continued on both sides, with
battle-axes and war-clubs; as quickly as one of the combatants
fell, a hostile warrior ran up to cut off his head,
while the women, mingling in the fray, gathered up these
bloody trophies, and piled them together at either extremity
of the battle-field. Often, too, they even fought
for these hideous spoils.
"What a frightful scene!" said Kennedy, with profound disgust.
"They're ugly acquaintances!" added Joe; "but then,
if they had uniforms they'd be just like the fighters of all
the rest of the world!"
"I have a keen hankering to take a hand in at that
fight," said the hunter, brandishing his rifle.
"No! no!" objected the doctor, vehemently; "no,
let us not meddle with what don't concern us. Do you
know which is right or which is wrong, that you would
assume the part of the Almighty? Let us, rather, hurry
away from this revolting spectacle. Could the great
captains of the world float thus above the scenes of their
exploits, they would at last, perhaps, conceive a disgust
for blood and conquest."
The chieftain of one of the contending parties was
remarkable for his athletic proportions, his great height,
and herculean strength. With one hand he plunged his
spear into the compact ranks of his enemies, and with the
other mowed large spaces in them with his battle-axe.
Suddenly he flung away his war-club, red with blood,
rushed upon a wounded warrior, and, chopping off his arm
at a single stroke, carried the dissevered member to his
mouth, and bit it again and again.
"Ah!" ejaculated Kennedy, "the horrible brute! I
can hold back no longer," and, as he spoke, the huge
savage, struck full in the forehead with a rifle-ball, fell
headlong to the ground.
Upon this sudden mishap of their leader, his warriors
seemed struck dumb with amazement; his supernatural
death awed them, while it reanimated the courage and
ardor of their adversaries, and, in a twinkling, the field
was abandoned by half the combatants.
"Come, let us look higher up for a current to bear us
away. I am sick of this spectacle," said the doctor.
But they could not get away so rapidly as to avoid
the sight of the victorious tribe rushing upon the dead
and the wounded, scrambling and disputing for the still
warm and reeking flesh, and eagerly devouring it.
"Faugh!" uttered Joe, "it's sickening."
The balloon rose as it expanded; the howlings of the
brutal horde, in the delirium of their orgy, pursued them
for a few minutes; but, at length, borne away toward the
south, they were carried out of sight and hearing of this
horrible spectacle of cannibalism.
The surface of the country was now greatly varied,
with numerous streams of water, bearing toward the east.
The latter, undoubtedly, ran into those affluents of Lake
Nu, or of the River of the Gazelles, concerning which M.
Guillaume Lejean has given such curious details.
At nightfall, the balloon cast anchor in twenty-seven
degrees east longitude, and four degrees twenty minutes
north latitude, after a day's trip of one hundred and fifty
Strange Sounds.--A Night Attack.--Kennedy and Joe in the Tree.--Two
Shots.--"Help! help!"--Reply in French.--The Morning.--The Missionary.
--The Plan of Rescue.
The night came on very dark. The doctor had not
been able to reconnoitre the country. He had made fast
to a very tall tree, from which he could distinguish only a
confused mass through the gloom.
As usual, he took the nine-o'clock watch, and at midnight
Dick relieved him.
"Keep a sharp lookout, Dick!" was the doctor's good-night injunction.
"Is there any thing new on the carpet?"
"No; but I thought that I heard vague sounds below
us, and, as I don't exactly know where the wind has
carried us to, even an excess of caution would do no harm."
"You've probably heard the cries of wild beasts."
"No! the sounds seemed to me something altogether
different from that; at all events, on the least alarm
don't fail to waken us."
"I'll do so, doctor; rest easy."
After listening attentively for a moment or two longer,
the doctor, hearing nothing more, threw himself on his
blankets and went asleep.
The sky was covered with dense clouds, but not a
breath of air was stirring; and the balloon, kept in
its place by only a single anchor, experienced not
the slightest oscillation.
Kennedy, leaning his elbow on the edge of the car, so
as to keep an eye on the cylinder, which was actively at
work, gazed out upon the calm obscurity; he eagerly
scanned the horizon, and, as often happens to minds that
are uneasy or possessed with preconceived notions, he
fancied that he sometimes detected vague gleams of light
in the distance.
At one moment he even thought that he saw them only
two hundred paces away, quite distinctly, but it was a
mere flash that was gone as quickly as it came, and he
noticed nothing more. It was, no doubt, one of those
luminous illusions that sometimes impress the eye in the
midst of very profound darkness.
Kennedy was getting over his nervousness and falling
into his wandering meditations again, when a sharp whistle
pierced his ear.
Was that the cry of an animal or of a night-bird, or
did it come from human lips?
Kennedy, perfectly comprehending the gravity of the
situation, was on the point of waking his companions, but
he reflected that, in any case, men or animals, the creatures
that he had heard must be out of reach. So he merely
saw that his weapons were all right, and then, with his
night-glass, again plunged his gaze into space.
It was not long before he thought he could perceive
below him vague forms that seemed to be gliding toward
the tree, and then, by the aid of a ray of moonlight that
shot like an electric flash between two masses of cloud, he
distinctly made out a group of human figures moving in
The adventure with the dog-faced baboons returned
to his memory, and he placed his hand on the doctor's
The latter was awake in a moment.
"Silence!" said Dick. "Let us speak below our breath."
"Has any thing happened?"
"Yes, let us waken Joe."
The instant that Joe was aroused, Kennedy told him
what he had seen.
"Those confounded monkeys again!" said Joe.
"Possibly, but we must be on our guard."
"Joe and I," said Kennedy, "will climb down the tree
by the ladder."
"And, in the meanwhile," added the doctor, "I will
take my measures so that we can ascend rapidly at a
"Let us go down, then!" said Joe.
"Don't use your weapons, excepting at the last extremity!
It would be a useless risk to make the natives
aware of our presence in such a place as this."
Dick and Joe replied with signs of assent, and then
letting themselves slide noiselessly toward the tree, took
their position in a fork among the strong branches where
the anchor had caught.
For some moments they listened minutely and motionlessly
among the foliage, and ere long Joe seized Kenedy's hand
as he heard a sort of rubbing sound against the bark of
"Don't you hear that?" he whispered.
"Yes, and it's coming nearer."
"Suppose it should be a serpent? That hissing or
whistling that you heard before--"
"No! there was something human in it."
"I'd prefer the savages, for I have a horror of those
"The noise is increasing," said Kennedy, again, after
a lapse of a few moments.
"Yes! something's coming up toward us--climbing."
"Keep watch on this side, and I'll take care of the other."
There they were, isolated at the top of one of the
larger branches shooting out in the midst of one of
those miniature forests called baobab-trees. The darkness,
heightened by the density of the foliage, was profound;
however, Joe, leaning over to Kennedy's ear and pointing
down the tree, whispered:
"The blacks! They're climbing toward us."
The two friends could even catch the sound of a few
words uttered in the lowest possible tones.
Joe gently brought his rifle to his shoulder as he spoke.
"Wait!" said Kennedy.
Some of the natives had really climbed the baobab,
and now they were seen rising on all sides, winding along
the boughs like reptiles, and advancing slowly but surely,
all the time plainly enough discernible, not merely to the
eye but to the nostrils, by the horrible odors of the rancid
grease with which they bedaub their bodies.
Ere long, two heads appeared to the gaze of Kennedy
and Joe, on a level with the very branch to which they
"Attention!" said Kennedy. "Fire!"
The double concussion resounded like a thunderbolt
and died away into cries of rage and pain, and in a
moment the whole horde had disappeared.
But, in the midst of these yells and howls, a strange,
unexpected--nay what seemed an impossible--cry had
been heard! A human voice had, distinctly, called aloud
in the French language--
Kennedy and Joe, dumb with amazement, had regained
the car immediately.
"Did you hear that?" the doctor asked them.
"Undoubtedly, that supernatural cry, 'A moi! a moi!'
comes from a Frenchman in the hands of these barbarians!"
"A missionary, perhaps."
"Poor wretch!" said Kennedy, "they're assassinating
him--making a martyr of him!"
The doctor then spoke, and it was impossible for him
to conceal his emotions.
"There can be no doubt of it," he said; "some unfortunate
Frenchman has fallen into the hands of these
savages. We must not leave this place without doing all
in our power to save him. When he heard the sound of
our guns, he recognized an unhoped-for assistance, a
providential interposition. We shall not disappoint
his last hope. Are such your views?"
"They are, doctor, and we are ready to obey you."
"Let us, then, lay our heads together to devise some
plan, and in the morning we'll try to rescue him."
"But how shall we drive off those abominable blacks?"
"It's quite clear to me, from the way in which they
made off, that they are unacquainted with fire-arms. We
must, therefore, profit by their fears; but we shall await
daylight before acting, and then we can form our plans of
rescue according to circumstances."
"The poor captive cannot be far off," said Joe, "because--"
"Help! help!" repeated the voice, but much more
feebly this time.
"The savage wretches!" exclaimed Joe, trembling
with indignation. "Suppose they should kill him
"Do you hear, doctor," resumed Kennedy, seizing the
doctor's hand. "Suppose they should kill him to-night!"
"It is not at all likely, my friends. These savage
tribes kill their captives in broad daylight; they must
have the sunshine."
"Now, if I were to take advantage of the darkness to
slip down to the poor fellow?" said Kennedy.
"And I'll go with you," said Joe, warmly.
"Pause, my friends--pause! The suggestion does
honor to your hearts and to your courage; but you would
expose us all to great peril, and do still greater harm to
the unfortunate man whom you wish to aid."
"Why so?" asked Kennedy. "These savages are
frightened and dispersed: they will not return."
"Dick, I implore you, heed what I say. I am acting
for the common good; and if by any accident you should
be taken by surprise, all would be lost."
"But, think of that poor wretch, hoping for aid, waiting
there, praying, calling aloud. Is no one to go to his
assistance? He must think that his senses deceived him;
that he heard nothing!"
"We can reassure him, on that score," said Dr. Ferguson
--and, standing erect, making a speaking-trumpet
of his hands, he shouted at the top of his voice, in French:
"Whoever you are, be of good cheer! Three friends are
watching over you."
A terrific howl from the savages responded to these
words--no doubt drowning the prisoner's reply.
"They are murdering him! they are murdering him!"
exclaimed Kennedy. "Our interference will have served
no other purpose than to hasten the hour of his doom.
We must act!"
"But how, Dick? What do you expect to do in the
midst of this darkness?"
"Oh, if it was only daylight!" sighed Joe.
"Well, and suppose it were daylight?" said the doctor,
in a singular tone.
"Nothing more simple, doctor," said Kennedy. "I'd
go down and scatter all these savage villains with powder
"And you, Joe, what would you do?"
"I, master? why, I'd act more prudently, maybe, by
telling the prisoner to make his escape in a certain
direction that we'd agree upon."
"And how would you get him to know that?"
"By means of this arrow that I caught flying the other
day. I'd tie a note to it, or I'd just call out to him in a
loud voice what you want him to do, because these black
fellows don't understand the language that you'd speak
"Your plans are impracticable, my dear friends. The
greatest difficulty would be for this poor fellow to escape
at all--even admitting that he should manage to elude
the vigilance of his captors. As for you, my dear Dick,
with determined daring, and profiting by their alarm at
our fire-arms, your project might possibly succeed; but,
were it to fail, you would be lost, and we should have two
persons to save instead of one. No! we must put ALL the
chances on OUR side, and go to work differently."
"But let us act at once!" said the hunter.
"Perhaps we may," said the doctor, throwing considerable
stress upon the words.
"Why, doctor, can you light up such darkness as this?"
"Who knows, Joe?"
"Ah! if you can do that, you're the greatest learned
man in the world!"
The doctor kept silent for a few moments; he was
thinking. His two companions looked at him with much
emotion, for they were greatly excited by the strangeness
of the situation. Ferguson at last resumed:
"Here is my plan: We have two hundred pounds of
ballast left, since the bags we brought with us are still
untouched. I'll suppose that this prisoner, who is evidently
exhausted by suffering, weighs as much as one of
us; there will still remain sixty pounds of ballast to throw
out, in case we should want to ascend suddenly."
"How do you expect to manage the balloon?" asked Kennedy.
"This is the idea, Dick: you will admit that if I can
get to the prisoner, and throw out a quantity of ballast,
equal to his weight, I shall have in nowise altered the
equilibrium of the balloon. But, then, if I want to get a
rapid ascension, so as to escape these savages, I must
employ means more energetic than the cylinder. Well,
then, in throwing out this overplus of ballast at a given
moment, I am certain to rise with great rapidity."
"That's plain enough."
"Yes; but there is one drawback: it consists in the fact that,
in order to descend after that, I should have to part with a
quantity of gas proportionate to the surplus ballast that I
had thrown out. Now, the gas is precious; but we must not
haggle over it when the life of a fellow-creature is at stake."
"You are right, sir; we must do every thing in our
power to save him."
"Let us work, then, and get these bags all arranged on
the rim of the car, so that they may be thrown overboard
at one movement."
"But this darkness?"
"It hides our preparations, and will be dispersed only
when they are finished. Take care to have all our weapons
close at hand. Perhaps we may have to fire; so we
have one shot in the rifle; four for the two muskets;
twelve in the two revolvers; or seventeen in all, which
might be fired in a quarter of a minute. But perhaps we
shall not have to resort to all this noisy work. Are you
"We're ready," responded Joe.
The sacks were placed as requested, and the arms
were put in good order.
"Very good!" said the doctor. "Have an eye to
every thing. Joe will see to throwing out the ballast,
and Dick will carry off the prisoner; but let nothing be
done until I give the word. Joe will first detach the
anchor, and then quickly make his way back to the car."
Joe let himself slide down by the rope; and, in a few
moments, reappeared at his post; while the balloon, thus
liberated, hung almost motionless in the air.
In the mean time the doctor assured himself of the
presence of a sufficient quantity of gas in the mixing-tank
to feed the cylinder, if necessary, without there being any
need of resorting for some time to the Buntzen battery.
He then took out the two perfectly-isolated conducting-wires,
which served for the decomposition of the water, and,
searching in his travelling-sack, brought forth two pieces
of charcoal, cut down to a sharp point, and fixed one at
the end of each wire.
His two friends looked on, without knowing what he
was about, but they kept perfectly silent. When the doctor
had finished, he stood up erect in the car, and, taking
the two pieces of charcoal, one in each hand, drew their
points nearly together.
In a twinkling, an intense and dazzling light was
produced, with an insupportable glow between the two
pointed ends of charcoal, and a huge jet of electric
radiance literally broke the darkness of the night.
"Oh!" ejaculated the astonished friends.
"Not a word!" cautioned the doctor.
The Jet of Light.--The Missionary.--The Rescue in a Ray of Electricity.--A
Lazarist Priest.--But little Hope.--The Doctor's Care.--A Life of Self-Denial.
--Passing a Volcano.
Dr. Ferguson darted his powerful electric jet toward
various points of space, and caused it to rest on a spot
from which shouts of terror were heard. His companions
fixed their gaze eagerly on the place.
The baobab, over which the balloon was hanging almost
motionless, stood in the centre of a clearing, where,
between fields of Indian-corn and sugar-cane, were seen
some fifty low, conical huts, around which swarmed a
A hundred feet below the balloon stood a large post,
or stake, and at its foot lay a human being--a young man
of thirty years or more, with long black hair, half naked,
wasted and wan, bleeding, covered with wounds, his head
bowed over upon his breast, as Christ's was, when He
hung upon the cross.
The hair, cut shorter on the top of his skull, still
indicated the place of a half-effaced tonsure.
"A missionary! a priest!" exclaimed Joe.
"Poor, unfortunate man!" said Kennedy.
"We must save him, Dick!" responded the doctor;
"we must save him!"
The crowd of blacks, when they saw the balloon over
their heads, like a huge comet with a train of dazzling
light, were seized with a terror that may be readily imagined.
Upon hearing their cries, the prisoner raised his
head. His eyes gleamed with sudden hope, and, without
too thoroughly comprehending what was taking place, he
stretched out his hands to his unexpected deliverers.
"He is alive!" exclaimed Ferguson. "God be praised!
The savages have got a fine scare, and we shall save him!
Are you ready, friends?"
"Ready, doctor, at the word."
"Joe, shut off the cylinder!"
The doctor's order was executed. An almost imperceptible
breath of air impelled the balloon directly over
the prisoner, at the same time that it gently lowered with
the contraction of the gas. For about ten minutes it remained
floating in the midst of luminous waves, for Ferguson
continued to flash right down upon the throng his
glowing sheaf of rays, which, here and there, marked out
swift and vivid sheets of light. The tribe, under the
influence of an indescribable terror, disappeared little by
little in the huts, and there was complete solitude around
the stake. The doctor had, therefore, been right in counting
upon the fantastic appearance of the balloon throwing
out rays, as vivid as the sun's, through this intense gloom.
The car was approaching the ground; but a few of the
savages, more audacious than the rest, guessing that their
victim was about to escape from their clutches, came back
with loud yells, and Kennedy seized his rifle. The doctor,
however, besought him not to fire.
The priest, on his knees, for he had not the strength to
stand erect, was not even fastened to the stake, his weakness
rendering that precaution superfluous. At the instant
when the car was close to the ground, the brawny Scot,
laying aside his rifle, and seizing the priest around the
waist, lifted him into the car, while, at the same moment,
Joe tossed over the two hundred pounds of ballast.
The doctor had expected to ascend rapidly, but, contrary
to his calculations, the balloon, after going up some
three or four feet, remained there perfectly motionless.
"What holds us?" he asked, with an accent of terror.
Some of the savages were running toward them, uttering
"Ah, ha!" said Joe, "one of those cursed blacks is
hanging to the car!"
"Dick! Dick!" cried the doctor, "the water-tank!"
Kennedy caught his friend's idea on the instant, and,
snatching up with desperate strength one of the water-tanks
weighing about one hundred pounds, he tossed it
overboard. The balloon, thus suddenly lightened, made a
leap of three hundred feet into the air, amid the howlings
of the tribe whose prisoner thus escaped them in a blaze
of dazzling light.
"Hurrah!" shouted the doctor's comrades.
Suddenly, the balloon took a fresh leap, which carried
it up to an elevation of a thousand feet.
"What's that?" said Kennedy, who had nearly lost
"Oh! nothing; only that black villain leaving us!"
replied the doctor, tranquilly, and Joe, leaning over, saw
the savage that had clung to the car whirling over and
over, with his arms outstretched in the air, and presently
dashed to pieces on the ground. The doctor then separated
his electric wires, and every thing was again buried
in profound obscurity. It was now one o'clock in the
The Frenchman, who had swooned away, at length
opened his eyes.
"You are saved!" were the doctor's first words.
"Saved!" he with a sad smile replied in English,
"saved from a cruel death! My brethren, I thank you,
but my days are numbered, nay, even my hours, and I
have but little longer to live."
With this, the missionary, again yielding to exhaustion,
relapsed into his fainting-fit.
"He is dying!" said Kennedy.
"No," replied the doctor, bending over him, "but he
is very weak; so let us lay him under the awning."
And they did gently deposit on their blankets that
poor, wasted body, covered with scars and wounds, still
bleeding where fire and steel had, in twenty places, left
their agonizing marks. The doctor, taking an old handkerchief,
quickly prepared a little lint, which he spread
over the wounds, after having washed them. These rapid
attentions were bestowed with the celerity and skill of a
practised surgeon, and, when they were complete, the doctor,
taking a cordial from his medicine-chest, poured a few
drops upon his patient's lips.
The latter feebly pressed his kind hands, and scarcely
had the strength to say, "Thank you! thank you!"
The doctor comprehended that he must be left perfectly
quiet; so he closed the folds of the awning and resumed
the guidance of the balloon.
The latter, after taking into account the weight of the
new passenger, had been lightened of one hundred and
eighty pounds, and therefore kept aloft without the aid of
the cylinder. At the first dawn of day, a current drove it
gently toward the west-northwest. The doctor went in
under the awning for a moment or two, to look at his still
"May Heaven spare the life of our new companion!
Have you any hope?" said the Scot.
"Yes, Dick, with care, in this pure, fresh atmosphere."
"How that man has suffered!" said Joe, with feeling.
"He did bolder things than we've done, in venturing all
alone among those savage tribes!"
"That cannot be questioned," assented the hunter.
During the entire day the doctor would not allow the
sleep of his patient to be disturbed. It was really a long
stupor, broken only by an occasional murmur of pain that
continued to disquiet and agitate the doctor greatly.
Toward evening the balloon remained stationary in the
midst of the gloom, and during the night, while Kennedy
and Joe relieved each other in carefully tending the sick
man, Ferguson kept watch over the safety of all.
By the morning of the next day, the balloon had moved,
but very slightly, to the westward. The dawn came up
pure and magnificent. The sick man was able to call his
friends with a stronger voice. They raised the curtains
of the awning, and he inhaled with delight the keen
"How do you feel to-day?" asked the doctor.
"Better, perhaps," he replied. "But you, my friends,
I have not seen you yet, excepting in a dream! I can,
indeed, scarcely recall what has occurred. Who are you
--that your names may not be forgotten in my dying
"We are English travellers," replied Ferguson. "We
are trying to cross Africa in a balloon, and, on our way,
we have had the good fortune to rescue you."
"Science has its heroes," said the missionary.
"But religion its martyrs!" rejoined the Scot.
"Are you a missionary?" asked the doctor.
"I am a priest of the Lazarist mission. Heaven sent
you to me--Heaven be praised! The sacrifice of my life
had been accomplished! But you come from Europe;
tell me about Europe, about France! I have been without
news for the last five years!"
"Five years! alone! and among these savages!" exclaimed
Kennedy with amazement.
"They are souls to redeem! ignorant and barbarous
brethren, whom religion alone can instruct and civilize."
Dr. Ferguson, yielding to the priest's request, talked
to him long and fully about France. He listened eagerly,
and his eyes filled with tears. He seized Kennedy's and
Joe's hands by turns in his own, which were burning with
fever. The doctor prepared him some tea, and he drank
it with satisfaction. After that, he had strength enough
to raise himself up a little, and smiled with pleasure at
seeing himself borne along through so pure a sky.
"You are daring travellers!" he said, "and you will
succeed in your bold enterprise. You will again behold
your relatives, your friends, your country--you--"
At this moment, the weakness of the young missionary
became so extreme that they had to lay him again on the
bed, where a prostration, lasting for several hours, held
him like a dead man under the eye of Dr. Ferguson. The
latter could not suppress his emotion, for he felt that this
life now in his charge was ebbing away. Were they then
so soon to lose him whom they had snatched from an
agonizing death? The doctor again washed and dressed
the young martyr's frightful wounds, and had to sacrifice
nearly his whole stock of water to refresh his burning
limbs. He surrounded him with the tenderest and most
intelligent care, until, at length, the sick man revived,
little by little, in his arms, and recovered his consciousness
if not his strength.
The doctor was able to gather something of his history
from his broken murmurs.
"Speak in your native language," he said to the sufferer;
"I understand it, and it will fatigue you less."
The missionary was a poor young man from the village
of Aradon, in Brittany, in the Morbihan country. His
earliest instincts had drawn him toward an ecclesiastical
career, but to this life of self-sacrifice he was also desirous
of joining a life of danger, by entering the mission of the
order of priesthood of which St. Vincent de Paul was the
founder, and, at twenty, he quitted his country for the
inhospitable shores of Africa. From the sea-coast, overcoming
obstacles, little by little, braving all privations,
pushing onward, afoot, and praying, he had advanced to
the very centre of those tribes that dwell among the tributary
streams of the Upper Nile. For two years his faith
was spurned, his zeal denied recognition, his charities
taken in ill part, and he remained a prisoner to one of the
cruelest tribes of the Nyambarra, the object of every
species of maltreatment. But still he went on teaching,
instructing, and praying. The tribe having been dispersed
and he left for dead, in one of those combats which
are so frequent between the tribes, instead of retracing his
steps, he persisted in his evangelical mission. His most
tranquil time was when he was taken for a madman.
Meanwhile, he had made himself familiar with the idioms
of the country, and he catechised in them. At length,
during two more long years, he traversed these barbarous
regions, impelled by that superhuman energy that comes
from God. For a year past he had been residing with
that tribe of the Nyam-Nyams known as the Barafri,
one of the wildest and most ferocious of them all. The
chief having died a few days before our travellers appeared,
his sudden death was attributed to the missionary, and
the tribe resolved to immolate him. His sufferings had
already continued for the space of forty hours, and, as the
doctor had supposed, he was to have perished in the blaze
of the noonday sun. When he heard the sound of fire-arms,
nature got the best of him, and he had cried out, "Help!
help!" He then thought that he must have been dreaming,
when a voice, that seemed to come from the sky, had
uttered words of consolation.
"I have no regrets," he said, "for the life that is passing
away from me; my life belongs to God!"
"Hope still!" said the doctor; "we are near you, and
we will save you now, as we saved you from the tortures
of the stake."
"I do not ask so much of Heaven," said the priest,
with resignation. "Blessed be God for having vouchsafed
to me the joy before I die of having pressed your friendly
hands, and having heard, once more, the language of my
The missionary here grew weak again, and the whole
day went by between hope and fear, Kennedy deeply
moved, and Joe drawing his hand over his eyes more
than once when he thought that no one saw him.
The balloon made little progress, and the wind seemed
as though unwilling to jostle its precious burden.
Toward evening, Joe discovered a great light in the
west. Under more elevated latitudes, it might have been
mistaken for an immense aurora borealis, for the sky
appeared on fire. The doctor very attentively examined
"It is, perhaps, only a volcano in full activity," said he.
"But the wind is carrying us directly over it," replied
"Very well, we shall cross it then at a safe height!"
said the doctor.
Three hours later, the Victoria was right among the
mountains. Her exact position was twenty-four degrees
fifteen minutes east longitude, and four degrees forty-two
minutes north latitude, and four degrees forty-two
minutes north latitude. In front of her a volcanic crater
was pouring forth torrents of melted lava, and hurling
masses of rock to an enormous height. There were jets,
too, of liquid fire that fell back in dazzling cascades--a
superb but dangerous spectacle, for the wind with unswerving
certainty was carrying the balloon directly toward this
This obstacle, which could not be turned, had to be
crossed, so the cylinder was put to its utmost power, and
the balloon rose to the height of six thousand feet, leaving
between it and the volcano a space of more than three
From his bed of suffering, the dying missionary could
contemplate that fiery crater from which a thousand jets
of dazzling flame were that moment escaping.
"How grand it is!" said he, "and how infinite is the
power of God even in its most terrible manifestations!"
This overflow of blazing lava wrapped the sides of the
mountain with a veritable drapery of flame; the lower
half of the balloon glowed redly in the upper night; a
torrid heat ascended to the car, and Dr. Ferguson made
all possible haste to escape from this perilous situation.
By ten o'clock the volcano could be seen only as a red
point on the horizon, and the balloon tranquilly pursued
her course in a less elevated zone of the atmosphere.
Joe in a Fit of Rage.--The Death of a Good Man.--The Night of watching
by the Body.--Barrenness and Drought.--The Burial.--The Quartz Rocks.
--Joe's Hallucinations.--A Precious Ballast.--A Survey of the Gold-bearing
Mountains.--The Beginning of Joe's Despair.
A magnificent night overspread the earth, and the
missionary lay quietly asleep in utter exhaustion.
"He'll not get over it!" sighed Joe. "Poor young
fellow--scarcely thirty years of age!"
"He'll die in our arms. His breathing, which was so
feeble before, is growing weaker still, and I can do nothing
to save him," said the doctor, despairingly.
"The infamous scoundrels!" exclaimed Joe, grinding
his teeth, in one of those fits of rage that came over him
at long intervals; "and to think that, in spite of all, this
good man could find words only to pity them, to excuse,
to pardon them!"
"Heaven has given him a lovely night, Joe--his last
on earth, perhaps! He will suffer but little more after
this, and his dying will be only a peaceful falling asleep."
The dying man uttered some broken words, and the
doctor at once went to him. His breathing became difficult,
and he asked for air. The curtains were drawn
entirely back, and he inhaled with rapture the light
breezes of that clear, beautiful night. The stars sent
him their trembling rays, and the moon wrapped him in
the white winding-sheet of its effulgence.
"My friends," said he, in an enfeebled voice, "I am
going. May God requite you, and bring you to your safe
harbor! May he pay for me the debt of gratitude that I
owe to you!"
"You must still hope," replied Kennedy. "This is
but a passing fit of weakness. You will not die. How
could any one die on this beautiful summer night?"
"Death is at hand," replied the missionary, "I know
it! Let me look it in the face! Death, the commencement
of things eternal, is but the end of earthly cares.
Place me upon my knees, my brethren, I beseech you!"
Kennedy lifted him up, and it was distressing to see
his weakened limbs bend under him.
"My God! my God!" exclaimed the dying apostle,
"have pity on me!"
His countenance shone. Far above that earth on
which he had known no joys; in the midst of that night
which sent to him its softest radiance; on the way to
that heaven toward which he uplifted his spirit, as though
in a miraculous assumption, he seemed already to live and
breathe in the new existence.
His last gesture was a supreme blessing on his new
friends of only one day. Then he fell back into the arms
of Kennedy, whose countenance was bathed in hot tears.
"Dead!" said the doctor, bending over him, "dead!"
And with one common accord, the three friends knelt
together in silent prayer.
"To-morrow," resumed the doctor, "we shall bury him in the
African soil which he has besprinkled with his blood."
During the rest of the night the body was watched,
turn by turn, by the three travellers, and not a word
disturbed the solemn silence. Each of them was weeping.
The next day the wind came from the south, and the
balloon moved slowly over a vast plateau of mountains:
there, were extinct craters; here, barren ravines; not a
drop of water on those parched crests; piles of broken
rocks; huge stony masses scattered hither and thither,
and, interspersed with whitish marl, all indicated the most
Toward noon, the doctor, for the purpose of burying
the body, decided to descend into a ravine, in the midst
of some plutonic rocks of primitive formation. The surrounding
mountains would shelter him, and enable him to
bring his car to the ground, for there was no tree in sight
to which he could make it fast.
But, as he had explained to Kennedy, it was now impossible
for him to descend, except by releasing a quantity
of gas proportionate to his loss of ballast at the time when
he had rescued the missionary. He therefore opened the
valve of the outside balloon. The hydrogen escaped, and
the Victoria quietly descended into the ravine.
As soon as the car touched the ground, the doctor
shut the valve. Joe leaped out, holding on the while to
the rim of the car with one hand, and with the other
gathering up a quantity of stones equal to his own weight.
He could then use both hands, and had soon heaped into
the car more than five hundred pounds of stones, which
enabled both the doctor and Kennedy, in their turn, to
get out. Thus the Victoria found herself balanced, and
her ascensional force insufficient to raise her.
Moreover, it was not necessary to gather many of
these stones, for the blocks were extremely heavy, so much
so, indeed, that the doctor's attention was attracted by
the circumstance. The soil, in fact, was bestrewn with
quartz and porphyritic rocks.
"This is a singular discovery!" said the doctor, mentally.
In the mean while, Kennedy and Joe had strolled away
a few paces, looking up a proper spot for the grave. The
heat was extreme in this ravine, shut in as it was like a
sort of furnace. The noonday sun poured down its rays
perpendicularly into it.
The first thing to be done was to clear the surface of
the fragments of rock that encumbered it, and then a
quite deep grave had to be dug, so that the wild animals
should not be able to disinter the corpse.
The body of the martyred missionary was then
solemnly placed in it. The earth was thrown in over
his remains, and above it masses of rock were deposited,
in rude resemblance to a tomb.
The doctor, however, remained motionless, and lost in
his reflections. He did not even heed the call of his
companions, nor did he return with them to seek a shelter
from the heat of the day.
"What are you thinking about, doctor?" asked Kennedy.
"About a singular freak of Nature, a curious effect of
chance. Do you know, now, in what kind of soil that
man of self-denial, that poor one in spirit, has just been
"No! what do you mean, doctor?"
"That priest, who took the oath of perpetual poverty,
now reposes in a gold-mine!"
"A gold-mine!" exclaimed Kennedy and Joe in one breath.
"Yes, a gold-mine," said the doctor, quietly. "Those
blocks which you are trampling under foot, like worthless
stones, contain gold-ore of great purity."
"Impossible! impossible!" repeated Joe.
"You would not have to look long among those
fissures of slaty schist without finding peptites
of considerable value."
Joe at once rushed like a crazy man among the scattered
fragments, and Kennedy was not long in following
"Keep cool, Joe," said his master.
"Why, doctor, you speak of the thing quite at your ease."
"What! a philosopher of your mettle--"
"Ah, master, no philosophy holds good in this case!"
"Come! come! Let us reflect a little. What good
would all this wealth do you? We cannot carry any of
it away with us."
"We can't take any of it with us, indeed?"
"It's rather too heavy for our car! I even hesitated
to tell you any thing about it, for fear of exciting your
"What!" said Joe, again, "abandon these treasures
--a fortune for us!--really for us--our own--leave it
"Take care, my friend! Would you yield to the thirst
for gold? Has not this dead man whom you have just
helped to bury, taught you the vanity of human affairs?"
"All that is true," replied Joe, "but gold! Mr. Kennedy,
won't you help to gather up a trifle of all these
"What could we do with them, Joe?" said the hunter,
unable to repress a smile. "We did not come hither in
search of fortune, and we cannot take one home with us."
"The millions are rather heavy, you know," resumed
the doctor, "and cannot very easily be put into one's
"But, at least," said Joe, driven to his last defences,
"couldn't we take some of that ore for ballast, instead of
"Very good! I consent," said the doctor, "but you
must not make too many wry faces when we come to
throw some thousands of crowns' worth overboard."
"Thousands of crowns!" echoed Joe; "is it possible
that there is so much gold in them, and that all this is
"Yes, my friend, this is a reservoir in which Nature
has been heaping up her wealth for centuries! There is
enough here to enrich whole nations! An Australia and
a California both together in the midst of the wilderness!"
"And the whole of it is to remain useless!"
"Perhaps! but at all events, here's what I'll do to
"That would be rather difficult to do!" said Joe, with
a contrite air.
"Listen! I will take the exact bearings of this spot,
and give them to you, so that, upon your return to England,
you can tell our countrymen about it, and let them have a
share, if you think that so much gold would make them
"Ah! master, I give up; I see that you are right, and
that there is nothing else to be done. Let us fill our car
with the precious mineral, and what remains at the end of
the trip will be so much made."
And Joe went to work. He did so, too, with all his
might, and soon had collected more than a thousand pieces
of quartz, which contained gold enclosed as though in an
extremely hard crystal casket.
The doctor watched him with a smile; and, while Joe
went on, he took the bearings, and found that the missionary's
grave lay in twenty-two degrees twenty-three minutes east
longitude, and four degrees fifty-five minutes
Then, casting one glance at the swelling of the soil,
beneath which the body of the poor Frenchman reposed,
he went back to his car.
He would have erected a plain, rude cross over the
tomb, left solitary thus in the midst of the African deserts,
but not a tree was to be seen in the environs.
"God will recognize it!" said Kennedy.
An anxiety of another sort now began to steal over
the doctor's mind. He would have given much of the
gold before him for a little water--for he had to replace
what had been thrown overboard when the negro was
carried up into the air. But it was impossible to find it
in these arid regions; and this reflection gave him great
uneasiness. He had to feed his cylinder continually; and
he even began to find that he had not enough to quench
the thirst of his party. Therefore he determined to lose
no opportunity of replenishing his supply.
Upon getting back to the car, he found it burdened
with the quartz-blocks that Joe's greed had heaped in it.
He got in, however, without saying any thing. Kennedy
took his customary place, and Joe followed, but not without
casting a covetous glance at the treasures in the ravine.
The doctor rekindled the light in the cylinder; the
spiral became heated; the current of hydrogen came in a
few minutes, and the gas dilated; but the balloon did not
stir an inch.
Joe looked on uneasily, but kept silent.
"Joe!" said the doctor.
Joe made no reply.
"Joe! Don't you hear me?"
Joe made a sign that he heard; but he would not understand.
"Do me the kindness to throw out some of that quartz!"
"But, doctor, you gave me leave--"
"I gave you leave to replace the ballast; that was all!"
"Do you want to stay forever in this desert?"
Joe cast a despairing look at Kennedy; but the hunter
put on the air of a man who could do nothing in the
"Then your cylinder don't work," said the obstinate
"My cylinder? It is lit, as you perceive. But the
balloon will not rise until you have thrown off a little
Joe scratched his ear, picked up a piece of quartz, the
smallest in the lot, weighed and reweighed it, and tossed
it up and down in his hand. It was a fragment of about
three or four pounds. At last he threw it out.
But the balloon did not budge.
"Humph!" said he; "we're not going up yet."
"Not yet," said the doctor. "Keep on throwing."
Kennedy laughed. Joe now threw out some ten pounds,
but the balloon stood still.
Joe got very pale.
"Poor fellow!" said the doctor. "Mr. Kennedy, you
and I weigh, unless I am mistaken, about four hundred
pounds--so that you'll have to get rid of at least that
weight, since it was put in here to make up for us."
"Throw away four hundred pounds!" said Joe, piteously.
"And some more with it, or we can't rise. Come,
The brave fellow, heaving deep sighs, began at last to
lighten the balloon; but, from time to time, he would stop,
"Are you going up?"
"No, not yet," was the invariable response.
"It moves!" said he, at last.
"Keep on!" replied the doctor.
"It's going up; I'm sure."
"Keep on yet," said Kennedy.
And Joe, picking up one more block, desperately tossed it out
of the car. The balloon rose a hundred feet or so, and, aided
by the cylinder, soon passed above the surrounding summits.
"Now, Joe," resumed the doctor, "there still remains
a handsome fortune for you; and, if we can only keep the
rest of this with us until the end of our trip, there you
are--rich for the balance of your days!"
Joe made no answer, but stretched himself out luxuriously
on his heap of quartz.
"See, my dear Dick!" the doctor went on. "Just see
the power of this metal over the cleverest lad in the world!
What passions, what greed, what crimes, the knowledge
of such a mine as that would cause! It is sad to think
By evening the balloon had made ninety miles to the
westward, and was, in a direct line, fourteen hundred miles
The Wind dies away.--The Vicinity of the Desert.--The Mistake in the
Water-Supply.--The Nights of the Equator.--Dr. Ferguson's Anxieties.
--The Situation flatly stated.--Energetic Replies of Kennedy and Joe.
--One Night more.
The balloon, having been made fast to a solitary tree,
almost completely dried up by the aridity of the region
in which it stood, passed the night in perfect quietness;
and the travellers were enabled to enjoy a little of the
repose which they so greatly needed. The emotions of
the day had left sad impressions on their minds.
Toward morning, the sky had resumed its brilliant
purity and its heat. The balloon ascended, and, after
several ineffectual attempts, fell into a current that,
although not rapid, bore them toward the northwest.
"We are not making progress," said the doctor. "If
I am not mistaken, we have accomplished nearly half of
our journey in ten days; but, at the rate at which we are
going, it would take months to end it; and that is all the
more vexatious, that we are threatened with a lack of
"But we'll find some," said Joe. "It is not to be
thought of that we shouldn't discover some river, some
stream, or pond, in all this vast extent of country."
"I hope so."
"Now don't you think that it's Joe's cargo of stone
that is keeping us back?"
Kennedy asked this question only to tease Joe; and
he did so the more willingly because he had, for a moment,
shared the poor lad's hallucinations; but, not finding any
thing in them, he had fallen back into the attitude of a
strong-minded looker-on, and turned the affair off with a
Joe cast a mournful glance at him; but the doctor
made no reply. He was thinking, not without secret terror,
probably, of the vast solitudes of Sahara--for there
whole weeks sometimes pass without the caravans meeting
with a single spring of water. Occupied with these
thoughts, he scrutinized every depression of the soil with
the closest attention.
These anxieties, and the incidents recently occurring,
had not been without their effect upon the spirits of our
three travellers. They conversed less, and were more
wrapt in their own thoughts.
Joe, clever lad as he was, seemed no longer the same
person since his gaze had plunged into that ocean of gold.
He kept entirely silent, and gazed incessantly upon the
stony fragments heaped up in the car--worthless to-day,
but of inestimable value to-morrow.
The appearance of this part of Africa was, moreover,
quite calculated to inspire alarm: the desert was gradually
expanding around them; not another village was
to be seen--not even a collection of a few huts; and
vegetation also was disappearing. Barely a few dwarf
plants could now be noticed, like those on the wild heaths
of Scotland; then came the first tract of grayish sand and
flint, with here and there a lentisk tree and brambles.
In the midst of this sterility, the rudimental carcass of the
Globe appeared in ridges of sharply-jutting rock. These
symptoms of a totally dry and barren region greatly
disquieted Dr. Ferguson.
It seemed as though no caravan had ever braved this
desert expanse, or it would have left visible traces of its
encampments, or the whitened bones of men and animals.
But nothing of the kind was to be seen, and the aeronauts
felt that, ere long, an immensity of sand would cover the
whole of this desolate region.
However, there was no going back; they must go forward;
and, indeed, the doctor asked for nothing better;
he would even have welcomed a tempest to carry him beyond
this country. But, there was not a cloud in the sky.
At the close of the day, the balloon had not made thirty
If there had been no lack of water! But, there remained
only three gallons in all! The doctor put aside
one gallon, destined to quench the burning thirst that a
heat of ninety degrees rendered intolerable. Two gallons
only then remained to supply the cylinder. Hence, they
could produce no more than four hundred and eighty cubic
feet of gas; yet the cylinder consumed about nine cubic
feet per hour. Consequently, they could not keep on
longer than fifty-four hours--and all this was a
"Fifty-four hours!" said the doctor to his companions.
"Therefore, as I am determined not to travel by night, for
fear of passing some stream or pool, we have but three
days and a half of journeying during which we must find
water, at all hazards. I have thought it my duty to make
you aware of the real state of the case, as I have retained
only one gallon for drinking, and we shall have to put
ourselves on the shortest allowance."
"Put us on short allowance, then, doctor," responded
Kennedy, "but we must not despair. We have three days
left, you say?"
"Yes, my dear Dick!"
"Well, as grieving over the matter won't help us, in
three days there will be time enough to decide upon what
is to be done; in the meanwhile, let us redouble our
At their evening meal, the water was strictly measured
out, and the brandy was increased in quantity in the punch
they drank. But they had to be careful with the spirits,
the latter being more likely to produce than to quench
The car rested, during the night, upon an immense
plateau, in which there was a deep hollow; its height was
scarcely eight hundred feet above the level of the sea.
This circumstance gave the doctor some hope, since it recalled
to his mind the conjectures of geographers concerning
the existence of a vast stretch of water in the centre
of Africa. But, if such a lake really existed, the point was
to reach it, and not a sign of change was visible in the
To the tranquil night and its starry magnificence succeeded
the unchanging daylight and the blazing rays of
the sun; and, from the earliest dawn, the temperature became
scorching. At five o'clock in the morning, the doctor
gave the signal for departure, and, for a considerable
time, the balloon remained immovable in the leaden
The doctor might have escaped this intense heat by
rising into a higher range, but, in order to do so, he would
have had to consume a large quantity of water, a thing
that had now become impossible. He contented himself,
therefore, with keeping the balloon at one hundred feet
from the ground, and, at that elevation, a feeble current
drove it toward the western horizon.
The breakfast consisted of a little dried meat and pemmican.
By noon, the Victoria had advanced only a few miles.
"We cannot go any faster," said the doctor; "we no
longer command--we have to obey."
"Ah! doctor, here is one of those occasions when a
propeller would not be a thing to be despised."
"Undoubtedly so, Dick, provided it would not require
an expenditure of water to put it in motion, for, in that
case, the situation would be precisely the same; moreover,
up to this time, nothing practical of the sort has been
invented. Balloons are still at that point where ships were
before the invention of steam. It took six thousand years
to invent propellers and screws; so we have time enough yet."
"Confounded heat!" said Joe, wiping away the perspiration
that was streaming from his forehead.
"If we had water, this heat would be of service to us,
for it dilates the hydrogen in the balloon, and diminishes
the amount required in the spiral, although it is true that,
if we were not short of the useful liquid, we should not
have to economize it. Ah! that rascally savage who cost
us the tank!"*
* The water-tank had been thrown overboard when the native
clung to the car.
"You don't regret, though, what you did, doctor?"
"No, Dick, since it was in our power to save that unfortunate
missionary from a horrible death. But, the hundred pounds of
water that we threw overboard would be very useful to us now;
it would be thirteen or fourteen days more of progress secured,
or quite enough to carry us over this desert."
"We've made at least half the journey, haven't we?"
"In distance, yes; but in duration, no, should the wind
leave us; and it, even now, has a tendency to die away
"Come, sir," said Joe, again, "we must not complain;
we've got along pretty well, thus far, and whatever
happens to me, I can't get desperate. We'll find water;
mind, I tell you so."
The soil, however, ran lower from mile to mile; the
undulations of the gold-bearing mountains they had left
died away into the plain, like the last throes of exhausted
Nature. Scanty grass took the place of the fine trees of
the east; only a few belts of half-scorched herbage still
contended against the invasion of the sand, and the huge
rocks, that had rolled down from the distant summits,
crushed in their fall, had scattered in sharp-edged pebbles
which soon again became coarse sand, and finally impalpable dust.
"Here, at last, is Africa, such as you pictured it to
yourself, Joe! Was I not right in saying, 'Wait a
"Well, master, it's all natural, at least--heat and dust.
It would be foolish to look for any thing else in such a
country. Do you see," he added, laughing, "I had no
confidence, for my part, in your forests and your prairies;
they were out of reason. What was the use of coming
so far to find scenery just like England? Here's the first
time that I believe in Africa, and I'm not sorry to get a
taste of it."
Toward evening, the doctor calculated that the balloon
had not made twenty miles during that whole burning day,
and a heated gloom closed in upon it, as soon as the sun
had disappeared behind the horizon, which was traced
against the sky with all the precision of a straight line.
The next day was Thursday, the 1st of May, but the
days followed each other with desperate monotony. Each
morning was like the one that had preceded it; noon
poured down the same exhaustless rays, and night condensed
in its shadow the scattered heat which the ensuing
day would again bequeath to the succeeding night. The
wind, now scarcely observable, was rather a gasp than a
breath, and the morning could almost be foreseen when
even that gasp would cease.
The doctor reacted against the gloominess of the situation
and retained all the coolness and self-possession of a
disciplined heart. With his glass he scrutinized every
quarter of the horizon; he saw the last rising ground
gradually melting to the dead level, and the last vegetation
disappearing, while, before him, stretched the immensity
of the desert.
The responsibility resting upon him pressed sorely, but
he did not allow his disquiet to appear. Those two men,
Dick and Joe, friends of his, both of them, he had induced
to come with him almost by the force alone of friendship
and of duty. Had he done well in that? Was it not like
attempting to tread forbidden paths? Was he not, in
this trip, trying to pass the borders of the impossible?
Had not the Almighty reserved for later ages the knowledge
of this inhospitable continent?
All these thoughts, of the kind that arise in hours of
discouragement, succeeded each other and multiplied in
his mind, and, by an irresistible association of ideas, the
doctor allowed himself to be carried beyond the bounds
of logic and of reason. After having established in his
own mind what he should NOT have done, the next
question was, what he should do, then. Would it be impossible
to retrace his steps? Were there not currents higher up
that would waft him to less arid regions? Well informed
with regard to the countries over which he had passed, he
was utterly ignorant of those to come, and thus his conscience
speaking aloud to him, he resolved, in his turn, to
speak frankly to his two companions. He thereupon
laid the whole state of the case plainly before them; he
showed them what had been done, and what there was
yet to do; at the worst, they could return, or attempt it, at
least.--What did they think about it?
"I have no other opinion than that of my excellent
master," said Joe; "what he may have to suffer, I can
suffer, and that better than he can, perhaps. Where he
goes, there I'll go!"
"And you, Kennedy?"
"I, doctor, I'm not the man to despair; no one was
less ignorant than I of the perils of the enterprise, but I
did not want to see them, from the moment that you
determined to brave them. Under present circumstances,
my opinion is, that we should persevere--go clear to the
end. Besides, to return looks to me quite as perilous as
the other course. So onward, then! you may count upon us!"
"Thanks, my gallant friends!" replied the doctor,
with much real feeling, "I expected such devotion as this;
but I needed these encouraging words. Yet, once again,
thank you, from the bottom of my heart!"
And, with this, the three friends warmly grasped each
other by the hand.
"Now, hear me!" said the doctor. "According to
my solar observations, we are not more than three hundred
miles from the Gulf of Guinea; the desert, therefore,
cannot extend indefinitely, since the coast is inhabited, and
the country has been explored for some distance back into
the interior. If needs be, we can direct our course to that
quarter, and it seems out of the question that we should
not come across some oasis, or some well, where we could
replenish our stock of water. But, what we want now, is
the wind, for without it we are held here suspended in the
air at a dead calm.
"Let us wait with resignation," said the hunter.
But, each of the party, in his turn, vainly scanned the
space around him during that long wearisome day. Nothing
could be seen to form the basis of a hope. The very
last inequalities of the soil disappeared with the setting
sun, whose horizontal rays stretched in long lines of fire
over the flat immensity. It was the Desert!
Our aeronauts had scarcely gone a distance of fifteen
miles, having expended, as on the preceding day, one
hundred and thirty-five cubic feet of gas to feed the
cylinder, and two pints of water out of the remaining
eight had been sacrificed to the demands of intense thirst.
The night passed quietly--too quietly, indeed, but the
doctor did not sleep!
A Little Philosophy.--A Cloud on the Horizon.--In the Midst of a Fog.--The
Strange Balloon.--An Exact View of the Victoria.--The Palm-Trees.--Traces
of a Caravan.--The Well in the Midst of the Desert.
On the morrow, there was the same purity of sky, the
same stillness of the atmosphere. The balloon rose to an
elevation of five hundred feet, but it had scarcely changed
its position to the westward in any perceptible degree.
"We are right in the open desert," said the doctor.
"Look at that vast reach of sand! What a strange spectacle!
What a singular arrangement of nature! Why should there be,
in one place, such extreme luxuriance of vegetation yonder,
and here, this extreme aridity, and that in the same latitude,
and under the same rays of the sun?"
"The why concerns me but little," answered Kennedy,
"the reason interests me less than the fact. The thing is
so; that's the important part of it!"
"Oh, it is well to philosophize a little, Dick; it does
"Let us philosophize, then, if you will; we have time
enough before us; we are hardly moving; the wind is
afraid to blow; it sleeps."
"That will not last forever," put in Joe; "I think I
see some banks of clouds in the east."
"Joe's right!" said the doctor, after he had taken a look.
"Good!" said Kennedy; "now for our clouds, with a
fine rain, and a fresh wind to dash it into our faces!"
"Well, we'll see, Dick, we'll see!"
"But this is Friday, master, and I'm afraid of Fridays!"
"Well, I hope that this very day you'll get over those
"I hope so, master, too. Whew!" he added, mopping his
face, "heat's a good thing, especially in winter,
but in summer it don't do to take too much of it."
"Don't you fear the effect of the sun's heat on our
balloon?" asked Kennedy, addressing the doctor.
"No! the gutta-percha coating resists much higher
temperatures than even this. With my spiral I have
subjected it inside to as much as one hundred and
fifty-eight degrees sometimes, and the covering does
not appear to have suffered."
"A cloud! a real cloud!" shouted Joe at this moment,
for that piercing eyesight of his beat all the glasses.
And, in fact, a thick bank of vapor, now quite distinct,
could be seen slowly emerging above the horizon.
It appeared to be very deep, and, as it were, puffed out.
It was, in reality, a conglomeration of smaller clouds.
The latter invariably retained their original formation,
and from this circumstance the doctor concluded that
there was no current of air in their collected mass.
This compact body of vapor had appeared about eight
o'clock in the morning, and, by eleven, it had already
reached the height of the sun's disk. The latter then
disappeared entirely behind the murky veil, and the lower
belt of cloud, at the same moment, lifted above the line
of the horizon, which was again disclosed in a full blaze
"It's only an isolated cloud," remarked the doctor.
"It won't do to count much upon that."
"Look, Dick, its shape is just the same as when we
saw it this morning!"
"Then, doctor, there's to be neither rain nor wind, at
least for us!"
"I fear so; the cloud keeps at a great height."
"Well, doctor, suppose we were to go in pursuit of
this cloud, since it refuses to burst upon us?"
"I fancy that to do so wouldn't help us much; it
would be a consumption of gas, and, consequently, of
water, to little purpose; but, in our situation, we must
not leave anything untried; therefore, let us ascend!"
And with this, the doctor put on a full head of flame
from the cylinder, and the dilation of the hydrogen,
occasioned by such sudden and intense heat, sent the
balloon rapidly aloft.
About fifteen hundred feet from the ground, it encountered
an opaque mass of cloud, and entered a dense
fog, suspended at that elevation; but it did not meet with
the least breath of wind. This fog seemed even destitute
of humidity, and the articles brought in contact with it
were scarcely dampened in the slightest degree. The
balloon, completely enveloped in the vapor, gained a little
increase of speed, perhaps, and that was all.
The doctor gloomily recognized what trifling success
he had obtained from his manoeuvre, and was relapsing
into deep meditation, when he heard Joe exclaim, in tones
of most intense astonishment:
"Ah! by all that's beautiful!"
"What's the matter, Joe?"
"Doctor! Mr. Kennedy! Here's something curious!"
"What is it, then?"
"We are not alone, up here! There are rogues about!
They've stolen our invention!"
"Has he gone crazy?" asked Kennedy.
Joe stood there, perfectly motionless, the very picture
"Can the hot sun have really affected the poor fellow's
brain?" said the doctor, turning toward him.
"Will you tell me?--"
"Look!" said Joe, pointing to a certain quarter of
"By St. James!" exclaimed Kennedy, in turn, "why,
who would have believed it? Look, look! doctor!"
"I see it!" said the doctor, very quietly.
"Another balloon! and other passengers, like ourselves!"
And, sure enough, there was another balloon about
two hundred paces from them, floating in the air with its
car and its aeronauts. It was following exactly the same
route as the Victoria.
"Well," said the doctor, "nothing remains for us but
to make signals; take the flag, Kennedy, and show them