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  • 1863
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“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!” said Joe.

“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.”

CHAPTER TWENTIETH.

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 plain ground.”

“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 reliable.”

“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 miles.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIRST.

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 shadow.

The adventure with the dog-faced baboons returned to his memory, and he placed his hand on the doctor’s shoulder.

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 moment’s warning.”

“Agreed!”

“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 the tree.

“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 snakes.”

“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.”

“Very good!”

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 were clinging.

“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–

“Help! help!”

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 traveller.”

“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?” asked Kennedy.

“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 to-night!”

“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 ball!”

“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 in!”

“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 ready?”

“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.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SECOND.

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 numerous tribe.

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 ferocious cries.

“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 his balance.

“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 morning.

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 sleeping patient.

“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 morning air.

“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 prayers?”

“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 country!”

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 the phenomenon.

“It is, perhaps, only a volcano in full activity,” said he.

“But the wind is carrying us directly over it,” replied Kennedy.

“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 blazing atmosphere.

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 hundred fathoms.

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.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THIRD.

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 complete sterility.

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 buried?”

“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 his example.

“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 regret!”

“What!” said Joe, again, “abandon these treasures –a fortune for us!–really for us–our own–leave it behind!”

“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 millions?”

“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 pocket.”

“But, at least,” said Joe, driven to his last defences, “couldn’t we take some of that ore for ballast, instead of sand?”

“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 the same?”

“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 console you.”

“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 happy.”

“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 north latitude.

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!”

“But–“

“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 matter.

“Well, Joe?”

“Then your cylinder don’t work,” said the obstinate fellow.

“My cylinder? It is lit, as you perceive. But the balloon will not rise until you have thrown off a little ballast.”

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, courage, Joe!”

The brave fellow, heaving deep sighs, began at last to lighten the balloon; but, from time to time, he would stop, and ask:

“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 of it!”

By evening the balloon had made ninety miles to the westward, and was, in a direct line, fourteen hundred miles from Zanzibar.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOURTH.

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 water.”

“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 laugh.

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 miles.

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 mathematical calculation!

“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 vigilance!”

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 thirst.

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 motionless sky.

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 atmosphere.

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?” asked Joe.

“In distance, yes; but in duration, no, should the wind leave us; and it, even now, has a tendency to die away altogether.”

“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 little?’ eh?”

“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!

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIFTH.

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 no harm.”

“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 notions.”

“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 of daylight.

“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 of amazement.

“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 the sky.

“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 our colors.”