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  • 1863
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It seemed that the travellers by the other balloon had just the same idea, at the same moment, for the same kind of flag repeated precisely the same salute with a hand that moved in just the same manner.

“What does that mean?” asked Kennedy.

“They are apes,” said Joe, “imitating us.”

“It means,” said the doctor, laughing, “that it is you, Dick, yourself, making that signal to yourself; or, in other words, that we see ourselves in the second balloon, which is no other than the Victoria.”

“As to that, master, with all respect to you,” said Joe, “you’ll never make me believe it.”

“Climb up on the edge of the car, Joe; wave your arms, and then you’ll see.”

Joe obeyed, and all his gestures were instantaneously and exactly repeated.

“It is merely the effect of the MIRAGE,” said the doctor, “and nothing else–a simple optical phenomenon due to the unequal refraction of light by different layers of the atmosphere, and that is all.

“It’s wonderful,” said Joe, who could not make up his mind to surrender, but went on repeating his gesticulations.

“What a curious sight! Do you know,” said Kennedy, “that it’s a real pleasure to have a view of our noble balloon in that style? She’s a beauty, isn’t she?– and how stately her movements as she sweeps along!”

“You may explain the matter as you like,” continued Joe, “it’s a strange thing, anyhow!”

But ere long this picture began to fade away; the clouds rose higher, leaving the balloon, which made no further attempt to follow them, and in about an hour they disappeared in the open sky.

The wind, which had been scarcely perceptible, seemed still to diminish, and the doctor in perfect desperation descended toward the ground, and all three of the travellers, whom the incident just recorded had, for a few moments, diverted from their anxieties, relapsed into gloomy meditation, sweltering the while beneath the scorching heat.

About four o’clock, Joe descried some object standing out against the vast background of sand, and soon was able to declare positively that there were two palm-trees at no great distance.

“Palm-trees!” exclaimed Ferguson; “why, then there’s a spring–a well!”

He took up his glass and satisfied himself that Joe’s eyes had not been mistaken.

“At length!” he said, over and over again, “water! water! and we are saved; for if we do move slowly, still we move, and we shall arrive at last!”

“Good, master! but suppose we were to drink a mouthful in the mean time, for this air is stifling?”

“Let us drink then, my boy!”

No one waited to be coaxed. A whole pint was swallowed then and there, reducing the total remaining supply to three pints and a half.

“Ah! that does one good!” said Joe; “wasn’t it fine? Barclay and Perkins never turned out ale equal to that!”

“See the advantage of being put on short allowance!” moralized the doctor.

“It is not great, after all,” retorted Kennedy; “and if I were never again to have the pleasure of drinking water, I should agree on condition that I should never be deprived of it.”

At six o’clock the balloon was floating over the palm-trees.

They were two shrivelled, stunted, dried-up specimens of trees–two ghosts of palms–without foliage, and more dead than alive. Ferguson examined them with terror.

At their feet could be seen the half-worn stones of a spring, but these stones, pulverized by the baking heat of the sun, seemed to be nothing now but impalpable dust. There was not the slightest sign of moisture. The doctor’s heart shrank within him, and he was about to communicate his thoughts to his companions, when their exclamations attracted his attention. As far as the eye could reach to the eastward, extended a long line of whitened bones; pieces of skeletons surrounded the fountain; a caravan had evidently made its way to that point, marking its progress by its bleaching remains; the weaker had fallen one by one upon the sand; the stronger, having at length reached this spring for which they panted, had there found a horrible death.

Our travellers looked at each other and turned pale.

“Let us not alight!” said Kennedy, “let us fly from this hideous spectacle! There’s not a drop of water here!”

“No, Dick, as well pass the night here as elsewhere; let us have a clear conscience in the matter. We’ll dig down to the very bottom of the well. There has been a spring here, and perhaps there’s something left in it!”

The Victoria touched the ground; Joe and Kennedy put into the car a quantity of sand equal to their weight, and leaped out. They then hastened to the well, and penetrated to the interior by a flight of steps that was now nothing but dust. The spring appeared to have been dry for years. They dug down into a parched and powdery sand–the very dryest of all sand, indeed–there was not one trace of moisture!

The doctor saw them come up to the surface of the desert, saturated with perspiration, worn out, covered with fine dust, exhausted, discouraged and despairing.

He then comprehended that their search had been fruitless. He had expected as much, and he kept silent, for he felt that, from this moment forth, he must have courage and energy enough for three.

Joe brought up with him some pieces of a leathern bottle that had grown hard and horn-like with age, and angrily flung them away among the bleaching bones of the caravan.

At supper, not a word was spoken by our travellers, and they even ate without appetite. Yet they had not, up to this moment, endured the real agonies of thirst, and were in no desponding mood, excepting for the future.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIXTH.

One Hundred and Thirteen Degrees.–The Doctor’s Reflections.–A Desperate Search.–The Cylinder goes out.–One Hundred and Twenty-two Degrees.– Contemplation of the Desert.–A Night Walk.–Solitude.–Debility.–Joe’s Prospects.–He gives himself One Day more.

The distance made by the balloon during the preceding day did not exceed ten miles, and, to keep it afloat, one hundred and sixty-two cubic feet of gas had been consumed.

On Saturday morning the doctor again gave the signal for departure.

“The cylinder can work only six hours longer; and, if in that time we shall not have found either a well or a spring of water, God alone knows what will become of us!”

“Not much wind this morning, master,” said Joe; “but it will come up, perhaps,” he added, suddenly remarking the doctor’s ill-concealed depression.

Vain hope! The atmosphere was in a dead calm–one of those calms which hold vessels captive in tropical seas. The heat had become intolerable; and the thermometer, in the shade under the awning, indicated one hundred and thirteen degrees.

Joe and Kennedy, reclining at full length near each other, tried, if not in slumber, at least in torpor, to forget their situation, for their forced inactivity gave them periods of leisure far from pleasant. That man is to be pitied the most who cannot wean himself from gloomy reflections by actual work, or some practical pursuit. But here there was nothing to look after, nothing to undertake, and they had to submit to the situation, without having it in their power to ameliorate it.

The pangs of thirst began to be severely felt; brandy, far from appeasing this imperious necessity, augmented it, and richly merited the name of “tiger’s milk” applied to it by the African natives. Scarcely two pints of water remained, and that was heated. Each of the party devoured the few precious drops with his gaze, yet neither of them dared to moisten his lips with them. Two pints of water in the midst of the desert!

Then it was that Dr. Ferguson, buried in meditation, asked himself whether he had acted with prudence. Would he not have done better to have kept the water that he had decomposed in pure loss, in order to sustain him in the air? He had gained a little distance, to be sure; but was he any nearer to his journey’s end? What difference did sixty miles to the rear make in this region, when there was no water to be had where they were? The wind, should it rise, would blow there as it did here, only less strongly at this point, if it came from the east. But hope urged him onward. And yet those two gallons of water, expended in vain, would have sufficed for nine days’ halt in the desert. And what changes might not have occurred in nine days! Perhaps, too, while retaining the water, he might have ascended by throwing out ballast, at the cost merely of discharging some gas, when he had again to descend. But the gas in his balloon was his blood, his very life!

A thousand one such reflections whirled in succession through his brain; and, resting his head between his hands, he sat there for hours without raising it.

“We must make one final effort,” he said, at last, about ten o’clock in the morning. “We must endeavor, just once more, to find an atmospheric current to bear us away from here, and, to that end, must risk our last resources.”

Therefore, while his companions slept, the doctor raised the hydrogen in the balloon to an elevated temperature, and the huge globe, filling out by the dilation of the gas, rose straight up in the perpendicular rays of the sun. The doctor searched vainly for a breath of wind, from the height of one hundred feet to that of five miles; his starting-point remained fatally right below him, and absolute calm seemed to reign, up to the extreme limits of the breathing atmosphere.

At length the feeding-supply of water gave out; the cylinder was extinguished for lack of gas; the Buntzen battery ceased to work, and the balloon, shrinking together, gently descended to the sand, in the very place that the car had hollowed out there.

It was noon; and solar observations gave nineteen degrees thirty-five minutes east longitude, and six degrees fifty-one minutes north latitude, or nearly five hundred miles from Lake Tchad, and more than four hundred miles from the western coast of Africa.

On the balloon taking ground, Kennedy and Joe awoke from their stupor.

“We have halted,” said the Scot.

“We had to do so,” replied the doctor, gravely.

His companions understood him. The level of the soil at that point corresponded with the level of the sea, and, consequently, the balloon remained in perfect equilibrium, and absolutely motionless.

The weight of the three travellers was replaced with an equivalent quantity of sand, and they got out of the car. Each was absorbed in his own thoughts; and for many hours neither of them spoke. Joe prepared their evening meal, which consisted of biscuit and pemmican, and was hardly tasted by either of the party. A mouthful of scalding water from their little store completed this gloomy repast.

During the night none of them kept awake; yet none could be precisely said to have slept. On the morrow there remained only half a pint of water, and this the doctor put away, all three having resolved not to touch it until the last extremity.

It was not long, however, before Joe exclaimed:

“I’m choking, and the heat is getting worse! I’m not surprised at that, though,” he added, consulting the thermometer; “one hundred and forty degrees!”

“The sand scorches me,” said the hunter, “as though it had just come out of a furnace; and not a cloud in this sky of fire. It’s enough to drive one mad!”

“Let us not despair,” responded the doctor. “In this latitude these intense heats are invariably followed by storms, and the latter come with the suddenness of lightning. Notwithstanding this disheartening clearness of the sky, great atmospheric changes may take place in less than an hour.”

“But,” asked Kennedy, “is there any sign whatever of that?”

“Well,” replied the doctor, “I think that there is some slight symptom of a fall in the barometer.”

“May Heaven hearken to you, Samuel! for here we are pinned to the ground, like a bird with broken wings.”

“With this difference, however, my dear Dick, that our wings are unhurt, and I hope that we shall be able to use them again.”

“Ah! wind! wind!” exclaimed Joe; “enough to carry us to a stream or a well, and we’ll be all right. We have provisions enough, and, with water, we could wait a month without suffering; but thirst is a cruel thing!”

It was not thirst alone, but the unchanging sight of the desert, that fatigued the mind. There was not a variation in the surface of the soil, not a hillock of sand, not a pebble, to relieve the gaze. This unbroken level discouraged the beholder, and gave him that kind of malady called the “desert-sickness.” The impassible monotony of the arid blue sky, and the vast yellow expanse of the desert-sand, at length produced a sensation of terror. In this inflamed atmosphere the heat appeared to vibrate as it does above a blazing hearth, while the mind grew desperate in contemplating the limitless calm, and could see no reason why the thing should ever end, since immensity is a species of eternity.

Thus, at last, our hapless travellers, deprived of water in this torrid heat, began to feel symptoms of mental disorder. Their eyes swelled in their sockets, and their gaze became confused.

When night came on, the doctor determined to combat this alarming tendency by rapid walking. His idea was to pace the sandy plain for a few hours, not in search of any thing, but simply for exercise.

“Come along!” he said to his companions; “believe me, it will do you good.”

“Out of the question!” said Kennedy; “I could not walk a step.”

“And I,” said Joe, “would rather sleep!”

“But sleep, or even rest, would be dangerous to you, my friends; you must react against this tendency to stupor. Come with me!”

But the doctor could do nothing with them, and, therefore, set off alone, amid the starry clearness of the night. The first few steps he took were painful, for they were the steps of an enfeebled man quite out of practice in walking. However, he quickly saw that the exercise would be beneficial to him, and pushed on several miles to the westward. Once in rapid motion, he felt his spirits greatly cheered, when, suddenly, a vertigo came over him; he seemed to be poised on the edge of an abyss; his knees bent under him; the vast solitude struck terror to his heart; he found himself the minute mathematical point, the centre of an infinite circumference, that is to say–a nothing! The balloon had disappeared entirely in the deepening gloom. The doctor, cool, impassible, reckless explorer that he was, felt himself at last seized with a nameless dread. He strove to retrace his steps, but in vain. He called aloud. Not even an echo replied, and his voice died out in the empty vastness of surrounding space, like a pebble cast into a bottomless gulf; then, down he sank, fainting, on the sand, alone, amid the eternal silence of the desert.

At midnight he came to, in the arms of his faithful follower, Joe. The latter, uneasy at his master’s prolonged absence, had set out after him, easily tracing him by the clear imprint of his feet in the sand, and had found him lying in a swoon.

“What has been the matter, sir?” was the first inquiry.

“Nothing, Joe, nothing! Only a touch of weakness, that’s all. It’s over now.”

“Oh! it won’t amount to any thing, sir, I’m sure of that; but get up on your feet, if you can. There! lean upon me, and let us get back to the balloon.”

And the doctor, leaning on Joe’s arm, returned along the track by which he had come.

“You were too bold, sir; it won’t do to run such risks. You might have been robbed,” he added, laughing. “But, sir, come now, let us talk seriously.”

“Speak! I am listening to you.”

“We must positively make up our minds to do something. Our present situation cannot last more than a few days longer, and if we get no wind, we are lost.”

The doctor made no reply.

“Well, then, one of us must sacrifice himself for the good of all, and it is most natural that it should fall to me to do so.”

“What have you to propose? What is your plan?”

“A very simple one! It is to take provisions enough, and to walk right on until I come to some place, as I must do, sooner or later. In the mean time, if Heaven sends you a good wind, you need not wait, but can start again. For my part, if I come to a village, I’ll work my way through with a few Arabic words that you can write for me on a slip of paper, and I’ll bring you help or lose my hide. What do you think of my plan?”

“It is absolute folly, Joe, but worthy of your noble heart. The thing is impossible. You will not leave us.”

“But, sir, we must do something, and this plan can’t do you any harm, for, I say again, you need not wait; and then, after all, I may succeed.”

“No, Joe, no! We will not separate. That would only be adding sorrow to trouble. It was written that matters should be as they are; and it is very probably written that it shall be quite otherwise by-and-by. Let us wait, then, with resignation.”

“So be it, master; but take notice of one thing: I give you a day longer, and I’ll not wait after that. To-day is Sunday; we might say Monday, as it is one o’clock in the morning, and if we don’t get off by Tuesday, I’ll run the risk. I’ve made up my mind to that!”

The doctor made no answer, and in a few minutes they got back to the car, where he took his place beside Kennedy, who lay there plunged in silence so complete that it could not be considered sleep.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVENTH.

Terrific Heat.–Hallucinations.–The Last Drops of Water.–Nights of Despair.–An Attempt at Suicide.–The Simoom.–The Oasis.–The Lion and Lioness.

The doctor’s first care, on the morrow, was to consult the barometer. He found that the mercury had scarcely undergone any perceptible depression.

“Nothing!” he murmured, “nothing!”

He got out of the car and scrutinized the weather; there was only the same heat, the same cloudless sky, the same merciless drought.

“Must we, then, give up to despair?” he exclaimed, in agony.

Joe did not open his lips. He was buried in his own thoughts, and planning the expedition he had proposed.

Kennedy got up, feeling very ill, and a prey to nervous agitation. He was suffering horribly with thirst, and his swollen tongue and lips could hardly articulate a syllable.

There still remained a few drops of water. Each of them knew this, and each was thinking of it, and felt himself drawn toward them; but neither of the three dared to take a step.

Those three men, friends and companions as they were, fixed their haggard eyes upon each other with an instinct of ferocious longing, which was most plainly revealed in the hardy Scot, whose vigorous constitution yielded the soonest to these unnatural privations.

Throughout the day he was delirious, pacing up and down, uttering hoarse cries, gnawing his clinched fists, and ready to open his veins and drink his own hot blood.

“Ah!” he cried, “land of thirst! Well might you be called the land of despair!”

At length he sank down in utter prostration, and his friends heard no other sound from him than the hissing of his breath between his parched and swollen lips.

Toward evening, Joe had his turn of delirium. The vast expanse of sand appeared to him an immense pond, full of clear and limpid water; and, more than once, he dashed himself upon the scorching waste to drink long draughts, and rose again with his mouth clogged with hot dust.

“Curses on it!” he yelled, in his madness, “it’s nothing but salt water!”

Then, while Ferguson and Kennedy lay there motionless, the resistless longing came over him to drain the last few drops of water that had been kept in reserve. The natural instinct proved too strong. He dragged himself toward the car, on his knees; he glared at the bottle containing the precious fluid; he gave one wild, eager glance, seized the treasured store, and bore it to his lips.

At that instant he heard a heart-rending cry close beside him–“Water! water!”

It was Kennedy, who had crawled up close to him, and was begging there, upon his knees, and weeping piteously.

Joe, himself in tears, gave the poor wretch the bottle, and Kennedy drained the last drop with savage haste.

“Thanks!” he murmured hoarsely, but Joe did not hear him, for both alike had dropped fainting on the sand.

What took place during that fearful night neither of them knew, but, on Tuesday morning, under those showers of heat which the sun poured down upon them, the unfortunate men felt their limbs gradually drying up, and when Joe attempted to rise he found it impossible.

He looked around him. In the car, the doctor, completely overwhelmed, sat with his arms folded on his breast, gazing with idiotic fixedness upon some imaginary point in space. Kennedy was frightful to behold. He was rolling his head from right to left like a wild beast in a cage.

All at once, his eyes rested on the butt of his rifle, which jutted above the rim of the car.

“Ah!” he screamed, raising himself with a superhuman effort.

Desperate, mad, he snatched at the weapon, and turned the barrel toward his mouth.

“Kennedy!” shouted Joe, throwing himself upon his friend.

“Let go! hands off!” moaned the Scot, in a hoarse, grating voice–and then the two struggled desperately for the rifle.

“Let go, or I’ll kill you!” repeated Kennedy. But Joe clung to him only the more fiercely, and they had been contending thus without the doctor seeing them for many seconds, when, suddenly the rifle went off. At the sound of its discharge, the doctor rose up erect, like a spectre, and glared around him.

But all at once his glance grew more animated; he extended his hand toward the horizon, and in a voice no longer human shrieked:

“There! there–off there!”

There was such fearful force in the cry that Kennedy and Joe released each other, and both looked where the doctor pointed.

The plain was agitated like the sea shaken by the fury of a tempest; billows of sand went tossing over each other amid blinding clouds of dust; an immense pillar was seen whirling toward them through the air from the southeast, with terrific velocity; the sun was disappearing behind an opaque veil of cloud whose enormous barrier extended clear to the horizon, while the grains of fine sand went gliding together with all the supple ease of liquid particles, and the rising dust-tide gained more and more with every second.

Ferguson’s eyes gleamed with a ray of energetic hope.

“The simoom!” he exclaimed.

“The simoom!” repeated Joe, without exactly knowing what it meant.

“So much the better!” said Kennedy, with the bitterness of despair. “So much the better–we shall die!”

“So much the better!” echoed the doctor, “for we shall live!” and, so saying, he began rapidly to throw out the sand that encumbered the car.

At length his companions understood him, and took their places at his side.

“And now, Joe,” said the doctor, “throw out some fifty pounds of your ore, there!”

Joe no longer hesitated, although he still felt a fleeting pang of regret. The balloon at once began to ascend.

“It was high time!” said the doctor.

The simoom, in fact, came rushing on like a thunderbolt, and a moment later the balloon would have been crushed, torn to atoms, annihilated. The awful whirlwind was almost upon it, and it was already pelted with showers of sand driven like hail by the storm.

“Out with more ballast!” shouted the doctor.

“There!” responded Joe, tossing over a huge fragment of quartz.

With this, the Victoria rose swiftly above the range of the whirling column, but, caught in the vast displacement of the atmosphere thereby occasioned, it was borne along with incalculable rapidity away above this foaming sea.

The three travellers did not speak. They gazed, and hoped, and even felt refreshed by the breath of the tempest.

About three o’clock, the whirlwind ceased; the sand, falling again upon the desert, formed numberless little hillocks, and the sky resumed its former tranquillity.

The balloon, which had again lost its momentum, was floating in sight of an oasis, a sort of islet studded with green trees, thrown up upon the surface of this sandy ocean.

“Water! we’ll find water there!” said the doctor.

And, instantly, opening the upper valve, he let some hydrogen escape, and slowly descended, taking the ground at about two hundred feet from the edge of the oasis.

In four hours the travellers had swept over a distance of two hundred and forty miles!

The car was at once ballasted, and Kennedy, closely followed by Joe, leaped out.

“Take your guns with you!” said the doctor; “take your guns, and be careful!”

Dick grasped his rifle, and Joe took one of the fowling-pieces. They then rapidly made for the trees, and disappeared under the fresh verdure, which announced the presence of abundant springs. As they hurried on, they had not taken notice of certain large footprints and fresh tracks of some living creature marked here and there in the damp soil.

Suddenly, a dull roar was heard not twenty paces from them.

“The roar of a lion!” said Joe.

“Good for that!” said the excited hunter; “we’ll fight him. A man feels strong when only a fight’s in question.”

“But be careful, Mr. Kennedy; be careful! The lives of all depend upon the life of one.”

But Kennedy no longer heard him; he was pushing on, his eye blazing; his rifle cocked; fearful to behold in his daring rashness. There, under a palm-tree, stood an enormous black-maned lion, crouching for a spring on his antagonist. Scarcely had he caught a glimpse of the hunter, when he bounded through the air; but he had not touched the ground ere a bullet pierced his heart, and he fell to the earth dead.

“Hurrah! hurrah!” shouted Joe, with wild exultation.

Kennedy rushed toward the well, slid down the dampened steps, and flung himself at full length by the side of a fresh spring, in which he plunged his parched lips. Joe followed suit, and for some minutes nothing was heard but the sound they made with their mouths, drinking more like maddened beasts than men.

“Take care, Mr. Kennedy,” said Joe at last; “let us not overdo the thing!” and he panted for breath.

But Kennedy, without a word, drank on. He even plunged his hands, and then his head, into the delicious tide–he fairly revelled in its coolness.

“But the doctor?” said Joe; “our friend, Dr. Ferguson?”

That one word recalled Kennedy to himself, and, hastily filling a flask that he had brought with him, he started on a run up the steps of the well.

But what was his amazement when he saw an opaque body of enormous dimensions blocking up the passage! Joe, who was close upon Kennedy’s heels, recoiled with him.

“We are blocked in–entrapped!”

“Impossible! What does that mean?–“

Dick had no time to finish; a terrific roar made him only too quickly aware what foe confronted him.

“Another lion!” exclaimed Joe.

“A lioness, rather,” said Kennedy. “Ah! ferocious brute!” he added, “I’ll settle you in a moment more!” and swiftly reloaded his rifle.

In another instant he fired, but the animal had disappeared.

“Onward!” shouted Kennedy.

“No!” interposed the other, “that shot did not kill her; her body would have rolled down the steps; she’s up there, ready to spring upon the first of us who appears, and he would be a lost man!”

“But what are we to do? We must get out of this, and the doctor is expecting us.”

“Let us decoy the animal. Take my piece, and give me your rifle.”

“What is your plan?”

“You’ll see.”

And Joe, taking off his linen jacket, hung it on the end of the rifle, and thrust it above the top of the steps. The lioness flung herself furiously upon it. Kennedy was on the alert for her, and his bullet broke her shoulder. The lioness, with a frightful howl of agony, rolled down the steps, overturning Joe in her fall. The poor fellow imagined that he could already feel the enormous paws of the savage beast in his flesh, when a second detonation resounded in the narrow passage, and Dr. Ferguson appeared at the opening above with his gun in hand, and still smoking from the discharge.

Joe leaped to his feet, clambered over the body of the dead lioness, and handed up the flask full of sparkling water to his master.

To carry it to his lips, and to half empty it at a draught, was the work of an instant, and the three travellers offered up thanks from the depths of their hearts to that Providence who had so miraculously saved them.

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHTH.

An Evening of Delight.–Joe’s Culinary Performance.–A Dissertation on Raw Meat.–The Narrative of James Bruce.–Camping out.–Joe’s Dreams.–The Barometer begins to fall.–The Barometer rises again.–Preparations for Departure.–The Tempest.

The evening was lovely, and our three friends enjoyed it in the cool shade of the mimosas, after a substantial repast, at which the tea and the punch were dealt out with no niggardly hand.

Kennedy had traversed the little domain in all directions. He had ransacked every thicket and satisfied himself that the balloon party were the only living creatures in this terrestrial paradise; so they stretched themselves upon their blankets and passed a peaceful night that brought them forgetfulness of their past sufferings.

On the morrow, May 7th, the sun shone with all his splendor, but his rays could not penetrate the dense screen of the palm-tree foliage, and as there was no lack of provisions, the doctor resolved to remain where he was while waiting for a favorable wind.

Joe had conveyed his portable kitchen to the oasis, and proceeded to indulge in any number of culinary combinations, using water all the time with the most profuse extravagance.

“What a strange succession of annoyances and enjoyments!” moralized Kennedy. “Such abundance as this after such privations; such luxury after such want! Ah! I nearly went mad!”

“My dear Dick,” replied the doctor, “had it not been for Joe, you would not be sitting here, to-day, discoursing on the instability of human affairs.”

“Whole-hearted friend!” said Kennedy, extending his hand to Joe.

“There’s no occasion for all that,” responded the latter; “but you can take your revenge some time, Mr. Kennedy, always hoping though that you may never have occasion to do the same for me!”

“It’s a poor constitution this of ours to succumb to so little,” philosophized Dr. Ferguson.

“So little water, you mean, doctor,” interposed Joe; “that element must be very necessary to life.”

“Undoubtedly, and persons deprived of food hold out longer than those deprived of water.”

“I believe it. Besides, when needs must, one can eat any thing he comes across, even his fellow-creatures, although that must be a kind of food that’s pretty hard to digest.”

“The savages don’t boggle much about it!” said Kennedy.

“Yes; but then they are savages, and accustomed to devouring raw meat; it’s something that I’d find very disgusting, for my part.”

“It is disgusting enough,” said the doctor, “that’s a fact; and so much so, indeed, that nobody believed the narratives of the earliest travellers in Africa who brought back word that many tribes on that continent subsisted upon raw meat, and people generally refused to credit the statement. It was under such circumstances that a very singular adventure befell James Bruce.”

“Tell it to us, doctor; we’ve time enough to hear it,” said Joe, stretching himself voluptuously on the cool greensward.

“By all means.–James Bruce was a Scotchman, of Stirlingshire, who, between 1768 and 1772, traversed all Abyssinia, as far as Lake Tyana, in search of the sources of the Nile. He afterward returned to England, but did not publish an account of his journeys until 1790. His statements were received with extreme incredulity, and such may be the reception accorded to our own. The manners and customs of the Abyssinians seemed so different from those of the English, that no one would credit the description of them. Among other details, Bruce had put forward the assertion that the tribes of Eastern Africa fed upon raw flesh, and this set everybody against him. He might say so as much as he pleased; there was no one likely to go and see! One day, in a parlor at Edinburgh, a Scotch gentleman took up the subject in his presence, as it had become the topic of daily pleasantry, and, in reference to the eating of raw flesh, said that the thing was neither possible nor true. Bruce made no reply, but went out and returned a few minutes later with a raw steak, seasoned with pepper and salt, in the African style.

“‘Sir,’ said he to the Scotchman, ‘in doubting my statements, you have grossly affronted me; in believing the thing to be impossible, you have been egregiously mistaken; and, in proof thereof, you will now eat this beef-steak raw, or you will give me instant satisfaction!’ The Scotchman had a wholesome dread of the brawny traveller, and DID eat the steak, although not without a good many wry faces. Thereupon, with the utmost coolness, James Bruce added: ‘Even admitting, sir, that the thing were untrue, you will, at least, no longer maintain that it is impossible.'”

“Well put in!” said Joe, “and if the Scotchman found it lie heavy on his stomach, he got no more than he deserved. If, on our return to England, they dare to doubt what we say about our travels–“

“Well, Joe, what would you do?”

“Why, I’ll make the doubters swallow the pieces of the balloon, without either salt or pepper!”

All burst out laughing at Joe’s queer notions, and thus the day slipped by in pleasant chat. With returning strength, hope had revived, and with hope came the courage to do and to dare. The past was obliterated in the presence of the future with providential rapidity.

Joe would have been willing to remain forever in this enchanting asylum; it was the realm he had pictured in his dreams; he felt himself at home; his master had to give him his exact location, and it was with the gravest air imaginable that he wrote down on his tablets fifteen degrees forty-three minutes east longitude, and eight degrees thirty-two minutes north latitude.

Kennedy had but one regret, to wit, that he could not hunt in that miniature forest, because, according to his ideas, there was a slight deficiency of ferocious wild beasts in it.

“But, my dear Dick,” said the doctor, “haven’t you rather a short memory? How about the lion and the lioness?”

“Oh, that!” he ejaculated with the contempt of a thorough-bred sportsman for game already killed. “But the fact is, that finding them here would lead one to suppose that we can’t be far from a more fertile country.”

“It don’t prove much, Dick, for those animals, when goaded by hunger or thirst, will travel long distances, and I think that, to-night, we had better keep a more vigilant lookout, and light fires, besides.”

“What, in such heat as this?” said Joe. “Well, if it’s necessary, we’ll have to do it, but I do think it a real pity to burn this pretty grove that has been such a comfort to us!”

“Oh! above all things, we must take the utmost care not to set it on fire,” replied the doctor, “so that others in the same strait as ourselves may some day find shelter here in the middle of the desert.”

“I’ll be very careful, indeed, doctor; but do you think that this oasis is known?”

“Undoubtedly; it is a halting-place for the caravans that frequent the centre of Africa, and a visit from one of them might be any thing but pleasant to you, Joe.”

“Why, are there any more of those rascally Nyam-Nyams around here?”

“Certainly; that is the general name of all the neighboring tribes, and, under the same climates, the same races are likely to have similar manners and customs.”

“Pah!” said Joe, “but, after all, it’s natural enough. If savages had the ways of gentlemen, where would be the difference? By George, these fine fellows wouldn’t have to be coaxed long to eat the Scotchman’s raw steak, nor the Scotchman either, into the bargain!”

With this very sensible observation, Joe began to get ready his firewood for the night, making just as little of it as possible. Fortunately, these precautions were superfluous; and each of the party, in his turn, dropped off into the soundest slumber.

On the next day the weather still showed no sign of change, but kept provokingly and obstinately fair. The balloon remained motionless, without any oscillation to betray a breath of wind.

The doctor began to get uneasy again. If their stay in the desert were to be prolonged like this, their provisions would give out. After nearly perishing for want of water, they would, at last, have to starve to death!

But he took fresh courage as he saw the mercury fall considerably in the barometer, and noticed evident signs of an early change in the atmosphere. He therefore resolved to make all his preparations for a start, so as to avail himself of the first opportunity. The feeding-tank and the water-tank were both completely filled.

Then he had to reestablish the equilibrium of the balloon, and Joe was obliged to part with another considerable portion of his precious quartz. With restored health, his ambitious notions had come back to him, and he made more than one wry face before obeying his master; but the latter convinced him that he could not carry so considerable a weight with him through the air, and gave him his choice between the water and the gold. Joe hesitated no longer, but flung out the requisite quantity of his much-prized ore upon the sand.

“The next people who come this way,” he remarked, “will be rather surprised to find a fortune in such a place.”

“And suppose some learned traveller should come across these specimens, eh?” suggested Kennedy.

“You may be certain, Dick, that they would take him by surprise, and that he would publish his astonishment in several folios; so that some day we shall hear of a wonderful deposit of gold-bearing quartz in the midst of the African sands!”

“And Joe there, will be the cause of it all!”

This idea of mystifying some learned sage tickled Joe hugely, and made him laugh.

During the rest of the day the doctor vainly kept on the watch for a change of weather. The temperature rose, and, had it not been for the shade of the oasis, would have been insupportable. The thermometer marked a hundred and forty-nine degrees in the sun, and a veritable rain of fire filled the air. This was the most intense heat that they had yet noted.

Joe arranged their bivouac for that evening, as he had done for the previous night; and during the watches kept by the doctor and Kennedy there was no fresh incident.

But, toward three o’clock in the morning, while Joe was on guard, the temperature suddenly fell; the sky became overcast with clouds, and the darkness increased.

“Turn out!” cried Joe, arousing his companions. “Turn out! Here’s the wind!”

“At last!” exclaimed the doctor, eying the heavens. “But it is a storm! The balloon! Let us hasten to the balloon!”

It was high time for them to reach it. The Victoria was bending to the force of the hurricane, and dragging along the car, the latter grazing the sand. Had any portion of the ballast been accidentally thrown out, the balloon would have been swept away, and all hope of recovering it have been forever lost.

But fleet-footed Joe put forth his utmost speed, and checked the car, while the balloon beat upon the sand, at the risk of being torn to pieces. The doctor, followed by Kennedy, leaped in, and lit his cylinder, while his companions threw out the superfluous ballast.

The travellers took one last look at the trees of the oasis bowing to the force of the hurricane, and soon, catching the wind at two hundred feet above the ground, disappeared in the gloom.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINTH.

Signs of Vegetation.–The Fantastic Notion of a French Author.–A Magnificent Country.–The Kingdom of Adamova.–The Explorations of Speke and Burton connected with those of Dr. Barth.–The Atlantika Mountains.–The River Benoue.–The City of Yola.–The Bagele.–Mount Mendif.

From the moment of their departure, the travellers moved with great velocity. They longed to leave behind them the desert, which had so nearly been fatal to them.

About a quarter-past nine in the morning, they caught a glimpse of some signs of vegetation: herbage floating on that sea of sand, and announcing, as the weeds upon the ocean did to Christopher Columbus, the nearness of the shore–green shoots peeping up timidly between pebbles that were, in their turn, to be the rocks of that vast expanse.

Hills, but of trifling height, were seen in wavy lines upon the horizon. Their profile, muffled by the heavy mist, was defined but vaguely. The monotony, however, was beginning to disappear.

The doctor hailed with joy the new country thus disclosed, and, like a seaman on lookout at the mast-head, he was ready to shout aloud:

“Land, ho! land!”

An hour later the continent spread broadly before their gaze, still wild in aspect, but less flat, less denuded, and with a few trees standing out against the gray sky.

“We are in a civilized country at last!” said the hunter.

“Civilized? Well, that’s one way of speaking; but there are no people to be seen yet.”

“It will not be long before we see them,” said Ferguson, “at our present rate of travel.”

“Are we still in the negro country, doctor?”

“Yes, and on our way to the country of the Arabs.”

“What! real Arabs, sir, with their camels?”

“No, not many camels; they are scarce, if not altogether unknown, in these regions. We must go a few degrees farther north to see them.”

“What a pity!”

“And why, Joe?”

“Because, if the wind fell contrary, they might be of use to us.”

“How so?”

“Well, sir, it’s just a notion that’s got into my head: we might hitch them to the car, and make them tow us along. What do you say to that, doctor?”

“Poor Joe! Another person had that idea in advance of you. It was used by a very gifted French author– M. Mery–in a romance, it is true. He has his travellers drawn along in a balloon by a team of camels; then a lion comes up, devours the camels, swallows the tow-rope, and hauls the balloon in their stead; and so on through the story. You see that the whole thing is the top-flower of fancy, but has nothing in common with our style of locomotion.”

Joe, a little cut down at learning that his idea had been used already, cudgelled his wits to imagine what animal could have devoured the lion; but he could not guess it, and so quietly went on scanning the appearance of the country.

A lake of medium extent stretched away before him, surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills, which yet could not be dignified with the name of mountains. There were winding valleys, numerous and fertile, with their tangled thickets of the most various trees. The African oil-tree rose above the mass, with leaves fifteen feet in length upon its stalk, the latter studded with sharp thorns; the bombax, or silk-cotton-tree, filled the wind, as it swept by, with the fine down of its seeds; the pungent odors of the pendanus, the “kenda” of the Arabs, perfumed the air up to the height where the Victoria was sailing; the papaw-tree, with its palm-shaped leaves; the sterculier, which produces the Soudan-nut; the baobab, and the banana-tree, completed the luxuriant flora of these inter-tropical regions.

“The country is superb!” said the doctor.

“Here are some animals,” added Joe. “Men are not far away.”

“Oh, what magnificent elephants!” exclaimed Kennedy. “Is there no way to get a little shooting?”

“How could we manage to halt in a current as strong as this? No, Dick; you must taste a little of the torture of Tantalus just now. You shall make up for it afterward.”

And, in truth, there was enough to excite the fancy of a sportsman. Dick’s heart fairly leaped in his breast as he grasped the butt of his Purdy.

The fauna of the region were as striking as its flora. The wild-ox revelled in dense herbage that often concealed his whole body; gray, black, and yellow elephants of the most gigantic size burst headlong, like a living hurricane, through the forests, breaking, rending, tearing down, devastating every thing in their path; upon the woody slopes of the hills trickled cascades and springs flowing northward; there, too, the hippopotami bathed their huge forms, splashing and snorting as they frolicked in the water, and lamantines, twelve feet long, with bodies like seals, stretched themselves along the banks, turning up toward the sun their rounded teats swollen with milk.

It was a whole menagerie of rare and curious beasts in a wondrous hot-house, where numberless birds with plumage of a thousand hues gleamed and fluttered in the sunshine.

By this prodigality of Nature, the doctor recognized the splendid kingdom of Adamova.

“We are now beginning to trench upon the realm of modern discovery. I have taken up the lost scent of preceding travellers. It is a happy chance, my friends, for we shall be enabled to link the toils of Captains Burton and Speke with the explorations of Dr. Barth. We have left the Englishmen behind us, and now have caught up with the Hamburger. It will not be long, either, before we arrive at the extreme point attained by that daring explorer.”

“It seems to me that there is a vast extent of country between the two explored routes,” remarked Kennedy; “at least, if I am to judge by the distance that we have made.”

“It is easy to determine: take the map and see what is the longitude of the southern point of Lake Ukereoue, reached by Speke.”

“It is near the thirty-seventh degree.”

“And the city of Yola, which we shall sight this evening, and to which Barth penetrated, what is its position?”

“It is about in the twelfth degree of east longitude.”

“Then there are twenty-five degrees, or, counting sixty miles to each, about fifteen hundred miles in all.”

“A nice little walk,” said Joe, “for people who have to go on foot.”

“It will be accomplished, however. Livingstone and Moffat are pushing on up this line toward the interior. Nyassa, which they have discovered, is not far from Lake Tanganayika, seen by Burton. Ere the close of the century these regions will, undoubtedly, be explored. But,” added the doctor, consulting his compass, “I regret that the wind is carrying us so far to the westward. I wanted to get to the north.”

After twelve hours of progress, the Victoria found herself on the confines of Nigritia. The first inhabitants of this region, the Chouas Arabs, were feeding their wandering flocks. The immense summits of the Atlantika Mountains seen above the horizon–mountains that no European foot had yet scaled, and whose height is computed to be ten thousand feet! Their western slope determines the flow of all the waters in this region of Africa toward the ocean. They are the Mountains of the Moon to this part of the continent.

At length a real river greeted the gaze of our travellers, and, by the enormous ant-hills seen in its vicinity, the doctor recognized the Benoue, one of the great tributaries of the Niger, the one which the natives have called “The Fountain of the Waters.”

“This river,” said the doctor to his companions, “will, one day, be the natural channel of communication with the interior of Nigritia. Under the command of one of our brave captains, the steamer Pleiad has already ascended as far as the town of Yola. You see that we are not in an unknown country.”

Numerous slaves were engaged in the labors of the field, cultivating sorgho, a kind of millet which forms the chief basis of their diet; and the most stupid expressions of astonishment ensued as the Victoria sped past like a meteor. That evening the balloon halted about forty miles from Yola, and ahead of it, but in the distance, rose the two sharp cones of Mount Mendif.

The doctor threw out his anchors and made fast to the top of a high tree; but a very violent wind beat upon the balloon with such force as to throw it over on its side, thus rendering the position of the car sometimes extremely dangerous. Ferguson did not close his all night, and he was repeatedly on the point of cutting the anchor-rope and scudding away before the gale. At length, however, the storm abated, and the oscillations of the balloon ceased to be alarming.

On the morrow the wind was more moderate, but it carried our travellers away from the city of Yola, which recently rebuilt by the Fouillans, excited Ferguson’s curiosity. However, he had to make up his mind to being borne farther to the northward and even a little to the east.

Kennedy proposed to halt in this fine hunting-country, and Joe declared that the need of fresh meat was beginning to be felt; but the savage customs of the country, the attitude of the population, and some shots fired at the Victoria, admonished the doctor to continue his journey. They were then crossing a region that was the scene of massacres and burnings, and where warlike conflicts between the barbarian sultans, contending for their power amid the most atrocious carnage, never cease.

Numerous and populous villages of long low huts stretched away between broad pasture-fields whose dense herbage was besprinkled with violet-colored blossoms. The huts, looking like huge beehives, were sheltered behind bristling palisades. The wild hill-sides and hollows frequently reminded the beholder of the glens in the Highlands of Scotland, as Kennedy more than once remarked.

In spite of all he could do, the doctor bore directly to the northeast, toward Mount Mendif, which was lost in the midst of environing clouds. The lofty summits of these mountains separate the valley of the Niger from the basin of Lake Tchad.

Soon afterward was seen the Bagele, with its eighteen villages clinging to its flanks like a whole brood of children to their mother’s bosom–a magnificent spectacle for the beholder whose gaze commanded and took in the entire picture at one view. Even the ravines were seen to be covered with fields of rice and of arachides.

By three o’clock the Victoria was directly in front of Mount Mendif. It had been impossible to avoid it; the only thing to be done was to cross it. The doctor, by means of a temperature increased to one hundred and eighty degrees, gave the balloon a fresh ascensional force of nearly sixteen hundred pounds, and it went up to an elevation of more than eight thousand feet, the greatest height attained during the journey. The temperature of the atmosphere was so much cooler at that point that the aeronauts had to resort to their blankets and thick coverings.

Ferguson was in haste to descend; the covering of the balloon gave indications of bursting, but in the meanwhile he had time to satisfy himself of the volcanic origin of the mountain, whose extinct craters are now but deep abysses. Immense accumulations of bird-guano gave the sides of Mount Mendif the appearance of calcareous rocks, and there was enough of the deposit there to manure all the lands in the United Kingdom.

At five o’clock the Victoria, sheltered from the south winds, went gently gliding along the slopes of the mountain, and stopped in a wide clearing remote from any habitation. The instant it touched the soil, all needful precautions were taken to hold it there firmly; and Kennedy, fowling-piece in hand, sallied out upon the sloping plain. Ere long, he returned with half a dozen wild ducks and a kind of snipe, which Joe served up in his best style. The meal was heartily relished, and the night was passed in undisturbed and refreshing slumber.

CHAPTER THIRTIETH.

Mosfeia.–The Sheik.–Denham, Clapperton, and Oudney.–Vogel.–The Capital of Loggoum.–Toole.–Becalmed above Kernak.–The Governor and his Court. –The Attack.–The Incendiary Pigeons.

On the next day, May 11th, the Victoria resumed her adventurous journey. Her passengers had the same confidence in her that a good seaman has in his ship.

In terrific hurricanes, in tropical heats, when making dangerous departures, and descents still more dangerous, it had, at all times and in all places, come out safely. It might almost have been said that Ferguson managed it with a wave of the hand; and hence, without knowing in advance, where the point of arrival would be, the doctor had no fears concerning the successful issue of his journey. However, in this country of barbarians and fanatics, prudence obliged him to take the strictest precautions. He therefore counselled his companions to have their eyes wide open for every thing and at all hours.

The wind drifted a little more to the northward, and, toward nine o’clock, they sighted the larger city of Mosfeia, built upon an eminence which was itself enclosed between two lofty mountains. Its position was impregnable, a narrow road running between a marsh and a thick wood being the only channel of approach to it.

At the moment of which we write, a sheik, accompanied by a mounted escort, and clad in a garb of brilliant colors, preceded by couriers and trumpeters, who put aside the boughs of the trees as he rode up, was making his grand entry into the place.

The doctor lowered the balloon in order to get a better look at this cavalcade of natives; but, as the balloon grew larger to their eyes, they began to show symptoms of intense affright, and at length made off in different directions as fast as their legs and those of their horses could carry them.

The sheik alone did not budge an inch. He merely grasped his long musket, cocked it, and proudly waited in silence. The doctor came on to within a hundred and fifty feet of him, and then, with his roundest and fullest voice, saluted him courteously in the Arabic tongue.

But, upon hearing these words falling, as it seemed, from the sky, the sheik dismounted and prostrated himself in the dust of the highway, where the doctor had to leave him, finding it impossible to divert him from his adoration.

“Unquestionably,” Ferguson remarked, “those people take us for supernatural beings. When Europeans came among them for the first time, they were mistaken for creatures of a higher race. When this sheik comes to speak of to-day’s meeting, he will not fail to embellish the circumstance with all the resources of an Arab imagination. You may, therefore, judge what an account their legends will give of us some day.”

“Not such a desirable thing, after all,” said the Scot, “in the point of view that affects civilization; it would be better to pass for mere men. That would give these negro races a superior idea of European power.”

“Very good, my dear Dick; but what can we do about it? You might sit all day explaining the mechanism of a balloon to the savants of this country, and yet they would not comprehend you, but would persist in ascribing it to supernatural aid.”

“Doctor, you spoke of the first time Europeans visited these regions. Who were the visitors?” inquired Joe.

“My dear fellow, we are now upon the very track of Major Denham. It was at this very city of Mosfeia that he was received by the Sultan of Mandara; he had quitted the Bornou country; he accompanied the sheik in an expedition against the Fellatahs; he assisted in the attack on the city, which, with its arrows alone, bravely resisted the bullets of the Arabs, and put the sheik’s troops to flight. All this was but a pretext for murders, raids, and pillage. The major was completely plundered and stripped, and had it not been for his horse, under whose stomach he clung with the skill of an Indian rider, and was borne with a headlong gallop from his barbarous pursuers, he never could have made his way back to Kouka, the capital of Bornou.”

“Who was this Major Denham?”

“A fearless Englishman, who, between 1822 and 1824, commanded an expedition into the Bornou country, in company with Captain Clapperton and Dr. Oudney. They set out from Tripoli in the month of March, reached Mourzouk, the capital of Fez, and, following the route which at a later period Dr. Barth was to pursue on his way back to Europe, they arrived, on the 16th of February, 1823, at Kouka, near Lake Tchad. Denham made several explorations in Bornou, in Mandara, and to the eastern shores of the lake. In the mean time, on the 15th of December, 1823, Captain Clapperton and Dr. Oudney had pushed their way through the Soudan country as far as Sackatoo, and Oudney died of fatigue and exhaustion in the town of Murmur.”

“This part of Africa has, therefore, paid a heavy tribute of victims to the cause of science,” said Kennedy.

“Yes, this country is fatal to travellers. We are moving directly toward the kingdom of Baghirmi, which Vogel traversed in 1856, so as to reach the Wadai country, where he disappeared. This young man, at the age of twenty-three, had been sent to cooperate with Dr. Barth. They met on the 1st of December, 1854, and thereupon commenced his explorations of the country. Toward 1856, he announced, in the last letters received from him, his intention to reconnoitre the kingdom of Wadai, which no European had yet penetrated. It appears that he got as far as Wara, the capital, where, according to some accounts, he was made prisoner, and, according to others, was put to death for having attempted to ascend a sacred mountain in the environs. But, we must not too lightly admit the death of travellers, since that does away with the necessity of going in search of them. For instance, how often was the death of Dr. Barth reported, to his own great annoyance! It is, therefore, very possible that Vogel may still be held as a prisoner by the Sultan of Wadai, in the hope of obtaining a good ransom for him.

“Baron de Neimans was about starting for the Wadai country when he died at Cairo, in 1855; and we now know that De Heuglin has set out on Vogel’s track with the expedition sent from Leipsic, so that we shall soon be accurately informed as to the fate of that young and interesting explorer.”*

* Since the doctor’s departure, letters written from El’Obeid by Mr. Muntzinger, the newly-appointed head of the expedition, unfortunately place the death of Vogel beyond a doubt.

Mosfeia had disappeared from the horizon long ere this, and the Mandara country was developing to the gaze of our aeronauts its astonishing fertility, with its forests of acacias, its locust-trees covered with red flowers, and the herbaceous plants of its fields of cotton and indigo trees. The river Shari, which eighty miles farther on rolled its impetuous waters into Lake Tchad, was quite distinctly seen.

The doctor got his companions to trace its course upon the maps drawn by Dr. Barth.

“You perceive,” said he, “that the labors of this savant have been conducted with great precision; we are moving directly toward the Loggoum region, and perhaps toward Kernak, its capital. It was there that poor Toole died, at the age of scarcely twenty-two. He was a young Englishman, an ensign in the 80th regiment, who, a few weeks before, had joined Major Denham in Africa, and it was not long ere he there met his death. Ah! this vast country might well be called the graveyard of European travellers.”

Some boats, fifty feet long, were descending the current of the Shari. The Victoria, then one thousand feet above the soil, hardly attracted the attention of the natives; but the wind, which until then had been blowing with a certain degree of strength, was falling off.

“Is it possible that we are to be caught in another dead calm?” sighed the doctor.

“Well, we’ve no lack of water, nor the desert to fear, anyhow, master,” said Joe.

“No; but there are races here still more to be dreaded.”

“Why!” said Joe, again, “there’s something like a town.”

“That is Kernak. The last puffs of the breeze are wafting us to it, and, if we choose, we can take an exact plan of the place.”

“Shall we not go nearer to it?” asked Kennedy.

“Nothing easier, Dick! We are right over it. Allow me to turn the stopcock of the cylinder, and we’ll not be long in descending.”

Half an hour later the balloon hung motionless about two hundred feet from the ground.

“Here we are!” said the doctor, “nearer to Kernak than a man would be to London, if he were perched in the cupola of St. Paul’s. So we can take a survey at our ease.”

“What is that tick-tacking sound that we hear on all sides?”

Joe looked attentively, and at length discovered that the noise they heard was produced by a number of weavers beating cloth stretched in the open air, on large trunks of trees.

The capital of Loggoum could then be seen in its entire extent, like an unrolled chart. It is really a city with straight rows of houses and quite wide streets. In the midst of a large open space there was a slave-market, attended by a great crowd of customers, for the Mandara women, who have extremely small hands and feet, are in excellent request, and can be sold at lucrative rates.

At the sight of the Victoria, the scene so often produced occurred again. At first there were outcries, and then followed general stupefaction; business was abandoned; work was flung aside, and all noise ceased. The aeronauts remained as they were, completely motionless, and lost not a detail of the populous city. They even went down to within sixty feet of the ground.

Hereupon the Governor of Loggoum came out from his residence, displaying his green standard, and accompanied by his musicians, who blew on hoarse buffalo-horns, as though they would split their cheeks or any thing else, excepting their own lungs. The crowd at once gathered around him. In the mean while Dr. Ferguson tried to make himself heard, but in vain.

This population looked like proud and intelligent people, with their high foreheads, their almost aquiline noses, and their curling hair; but the presence of the Victoria troubled them greatly. Horsemen could be seen galloping in all directions, and it soon became evident that the governor’s troops were assembling to oppose so extraordinary a foe. Joe wore himself out waving handkerchiefs of every color and shape to them; but his exertions were all to no purpose.

However, the sheik, surrounded by his court, proclaimed silence, and pronounced a discourse, of which the doctor could not understand a word. It was Arabic, mixed with Baghirmi. He could make out enough, however, by the universal language of gestures, to be aware that he was receiving a very polite invitation to depart. Indeed, he would have asked for nothing better, but for lack of wind, the thing had become impossible. His noncompliance, therefore, exasperated the governor, whose courtiers and attendants set up a furious howl to enforce immediate obedience on the part of the aerial monster.

They were odd-looking fellows those courtiers, with their five or six shirts swathed around their bodies! They had enormous stomachs, some of which actually seemed to be artificial. The doctor surprised his companions by informing them that this was the way to pay court to the sultan. The rotundity of the stomach indicated the ambition of its possessor. These corpulent gentry gesticulated and bawled at the top of their voices–one of them particularly distinguishing himself above the rest–to such an extent, indeed, that he must have been a prime minister–at least, if the disturbance he made was any criterion of his rank. The common rabble of dusky denizens united their howlings with the uproar of the court, repeating their gesticulations like so many monkeys, and thereby producing a single and instantaneous movement of ten thousand arms at one time.

To these means of intimidation, which were presently deemed insufficient, were added others still more formidable. Soldiers, armed with bows and arrows, were drawn up in line of battle; but by this time the balloon was expanding, and rising quietly beyond their reach. Upon this the governor seized a musket and aimed it at the balloon; but, Kennedy, who was watching him, shattered the uplifted weapon in the sheik’s grasp.

At this unexpected blow there was a general rout. Every mother’s son of them scampered for his dwelling with the utmost celerity, and stayed there, so that the streets of the town were absolutely deserted for the remainder of that day.

Night came, and not a breath of wind was stirring. The aeronauts had to make up their minds to remain motionless at the distance of but three hundred feet above the ground. Not a fire or light shone in the deep gloom, and around reigned the silence of death; but the doctor only redoubled his vigilance, as this apparent quiet might conceal some snare.

And he had reason to be watchful. About midnight, the whole city seemed to be in a blaze. Hundreds of streaks of flame crossed each other, and shot to and fro in the air like rockets, forming a regular network of fire.

“That’s really curious!” said the doctor, somewhat puzzled to make out what it meant.

“By all that’s glorious!” shouted Kennedy, “it looks as if the fire were ascending and coming up toward us!”

And, sure enough, with an accompaniment of musket-shots, yelling, and din of every description, the mass of fire was, indeed, mounting toward the Victoria. Joe got ready to throw out ballast, and Ferguson was not long at guessing the truth. Thousands of pigeons, their tails garnished with combustibles, had been set loose and driven toward the Victoria; and now, in their terror, they were flying high up, zigzagging the atmosphere with lines of fire. Kennedy was preparing to discharge all his batteries into the middle of the ascending multitude, but what could he have done against such a numberless army? The pigeons were already whisking around the car; they were even surrounding the balloon, the sides of which, reflecting their illumination, looked as though enveloped with a network of fire.

The doctor dared hesitate no longer; and, throwing out a fragment of quartz, he kept himself beyond the reach of these dangerous assailants; and, for two hours afterward, he could see them wandering hither and thither through the darkness of the night, until, little by little, their light diminished, and they, one by one, died out.

“Now we may sleep in quiet,” said the doctor.

“Not badly got up for barbarians,” mused friend Joe, speaking his thoughts aloud.

“Oh, they employ these pigeons frequently, to set fire to the thatch of hostile villages; but this time the village mounted higher than they could go.”

“Why, positively, a balloon need fear no enemies!”

“Yes, indeed, it may!” objected Ferguson.

“What are they, then, doctor?”

“They are the careless people in the car! So, my friends, let us have vigilance in all places and at all times.”

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIRST.

Departure in the Night-time.–All Three.–Kennedy’s Instincts.–Precautions.– The Course of the Shari River.–Lake Tchad.–The Water of the Lake.–The Hippopotamus.–One Bullet thrown away.

About three o’clock in the morning, Joe, who was then on watch, at length saw the city move away from beneath his feet. The Victoria was once again in motion, and both the doctor and Kennedy awoke.

The former consulted his compass, and saw, with satisfaction, that the wind was carrying them toward the north-northeast.

“We are in luck!” said he; “every thing works in our favor: we shall discover Lake Tchad this very day.”

“Is it a broad sheet of water?” asked Kennedy.

“Somewhat, Dick. At its greatest length and breadth, it measures about one hundred and twenty miles.”

“It will spice our trip with a little variety to sail over a spacious sheet of water.”

“After all, though, I don’t see that we have much to complain of on that score. Our trip has been very much varied, indeed; and, moreover, we are getting on under the best possible conditions.”

“Unquestionably so; excepting those privations on the desert, we have encountered no serious danger.”

“It is not to be denied that our noble balloon has behaved wonderfully well. To-day is May 12th, and we started on the 18th of April. That makes twenty-five days of journeying. In ten days more we shall have reached our destination.”

“Where is that?”

“I do not know. But what does that signify?”

“You are right again, Samuel! Let us intrust to Providence the care of guiding us and of keeping us in good health as we are now. We don’t look much as though we had been crossing the most pestilential country in the world!”

“We had an opportunity of getting up in life, and that’s what we have done!”

“Hurrah for trips in the air!” cried Joe. “Here we are at the end of twenty-five days in good condition, well fed, and well rested. We’ve had too much rest in fact, for my legs begin to feel rusty, and I wouldn’t be vexed a bit to stretch them with a run of thirty miles or so!”

“You can do that, Joe, in the streets of London, but in fine we set out three together, like Denham, Clapperton, and Overweg; like Barth, Richardson, and Vogel, and, more fortunate than our predecessors here, we are three in number still. But it is most important for us not to separate. If, while one of us was on the ground, the Victoria should have to ascend in order to escape some sudden danger, who knows whether we should ever see each other again? Therefore it is that I say again to Kennedy frankly that I do not like his going off alone to hunt.”

“But still, Samuel, you will permit me to indulge that fancy a little. There is no harm in renewing our stock of provisions. Besides, before our departure, you held out to me the prospect of some superb hunting, and thus far I have done but little in the line of the Andersons and Cummings.”

“But, my dear Dick, your memory fails you, or your modesty makes you forget your own exploits. It really seems to me that, without mentioning small game, you have already an antelope, an elephant, and two lions on your conscience.”

“But what’s all that to an African sportsman who sees all the animals in creation strutting along under the muzzle of his rifle? There! there! look at that troop of giraffes!”

“Those giraffes,” roared Joe; “why, they’re not as big as my fist.”

“Because we are a thousand feet above them; but close to them you would discover that they are three times as tall as you are!”

“And what do you say to yon herd of gazelles, and those ostriches, that run with the speed of the wind?” resumed Kennedy.

“Those ostriches?” remonstrated Joe, again; “those are chickens, and the greatest kind of chickens!”

“Come, doctor, can’t we get down nearer to them?” pleaded Kennedy.

“We can get closer to them, Dick, but we must not land. And what good will it do you to strike down those poor animals when they can be of no use to you? Now, if the question were to destroy a lion, a tiger, a cat, a hyena, I could understand it; but to deprive an antelope or a gazelle of life, to no other purpose than the gratification of your instincts as a sportsman, seems hardly worth the trouble. But, after all, my friend, we are going to keep at about one hundred feet only from the soil, and, should you see any ferocious wild beast, oblige us by sending a ball through its heart!”

The Victoria descended gradually, but still keeping at a safe height, for, in a barbarous, yet very populous country, it was necessary to keep on the watch for unexpected perils.

The travellers were then directly following the course of the Shari. The charming banks of this river were hidden beneath the foliage of trees of various dyes; lianas and climbing plants wound in and out on all sides and formed the most curious combinations of color. Crocodiles were seen basking in the broad blaze of the sun or plunging beneath the waters with the agility of lizards, and in their gambols they sported about among the many green islands that intercept the current of the stream.

It was thus, in the midst of rich and verdant landscapes that our travellers passed over the district of Maffatay, and about nine o’clock in the morning reached the southern shore of Lake Tchad.

There it was at last, outstretched before them, that Caspian Sea of Africa, the existence of which was so long consigned to the realms of fable–that interior expanse of water to which only Denham’s and Barth’s expeditions had been able to force their way.

The doctor strove in vain to fix its precise configuration upon paper. It had already changed greatly since 1847. In fact, the chart of Lake Tchad is very difficult to trace with exactitude, for it is surrounded by muddy and almost impassable morasses, in which Barth thought that he was doomed to perish. From year to year these marshes, covered with reeds and papyrus fifteen feet high, become the lake itself. Frequently, too, the villages on its shores are half submerged, as was the case with Ngornou in 1856, and now the hippopotamus and the alligator frisk and dive where the dwellings of Bornou once stood.

The sun shot his dazzling rays over this placid sheet of water, and toward the north the two elements merged into one and the same horizon.

The doctor was desirous of determining the character of the water, which was long believed to be salt. There was no danger in descending close to the lake, and the car was soon skimming its surface like a bird at the distance of only five feet.

Joe plunged a bottle into the lake and drew it up half filled. The water was then tasted and found to be but little fit for drinking, with a certain carbonate-of-soda flavor.

While the doctor was jotting down the result of this experiment, the loud report of a gun was heard close beside him. Kennedy had not been able to resist the temptation of firing at a huge hippopotamus. The latter, who had been basking quietly, disappeared at the sound of the explosion, but did not seem to be otherwise incommoded by Kennedy’s conical bullet.

“You’d have done better if you had harpooned him,” said Joe.

“But how?”

“With one of our anchors. It would have been a hook just big enough for such a rousing beast as that!”

“Humph!” ejaculated Kennedy, “Joe really has an idea this time–“

“Which I beg of you not to put into execution,” interposed the doctor. “The animal would very quickly have dragged us where we could not have done much to help ourselves, and where we have no business to be.”

“Especially now since we’ve settled the question as to what kind of water there is in Lake Tchad. Is that sort of fish good to eat, Dr. Ferguson?”

“That fish, as you call it, Joe, is really a mammiferous animal of the pachydermal species. Its flesh is said to be excellent and is an article of important trade between the tribes living along the borders of the lake.”

“Then I’m sorry that Mr. Kennedy’s shot didn’t do more damage.”

“The animal is vulnerable only in the stomach and between the thighs. Dick’s ball hasn’t even marked him; but should the ground strike me as favorable, we shall halt at the northern end of the lake, where Kennedy will find himself in the midst of a whole menagerie, and can make up for lost time.”

“Well,” said Joe, “I hope then that Mr. Kennedy will hunt the hippopotamus a little; I’d like to taste the meat of that queer-looking beast. It doesn’t look exactly natural to get away into the centre of Africa, to feed on snipe and partridge, just as if we were in England.”

CHAPTER THIRTY-SECOND.

The Capital of Bornou.–The Islands of the Biddiomahs.–The Condors.–The Doctor’s Anxieties.–His Precautions.–An Attack in Mid-air.–The Balloon Covering torn.–The Fall.–Sublime Self-Sacrifice.–The Northern Coast of the Lake.

Since its arrival at Lake Tchad, the balloon had struck a current that edged it farther to the westward. A few clouds tempered the heat of the day, and, besides, a little air could be felt over this vast expanse of water; but about one o’clock, the Victoria, having slanted across this part of the lake, again advanced over the land for a space of seven or eight miles.

The doctor, who was somewhat vexed at first at this turn of his course, no longer thought of complaining when he caught sight of the city of Kouka, the capital of Bornou. He saw it for a moment, encircled by its walls of white clay, and a few rudely-constructed mosques rising clumsily above that conglomeration of houses that look like playing-dice, which form most Arab towns. In the court-yards of the private dwellings, and on the public squares, grew palms and caoutchouc-trees topped with a dome of foliage more than one hundred feet in breadth. Joe called attention to the fact that these immense parasols were in proper accordance with the intense heat of the sun, and made thereon some pious reflections which it were needless to repeat.

Kouka really consists of two distinct towns, separated by the “Dendal,” a large boulevard three hundred yards wide, at that hour crowded with horsemen and foot passengers. On one side, the rich quarter stands squarely with its airy and lofty houses, laid out in regular order; on the other, is huddled together the poor quarter, a miserable collection of low hovels of a conical shape, in which a poverty-stricken multitude vegetate rather than live, since Kouka is neither a trading nor a commercial city.

Kennedy thought it looked something like Edinburgh, were that city extended on a plain, with its two distinct boroughs.

But our travellers had scarcely the time to catch even this glimpse of it, for, with the fickleness that characterizes the air-currents of this region, a contrary wind suddenly swept them some forty miles over the surface of Lake Tchad.

Then then were regaled with a new spectacle. They could count the numerous islets of the lake, inhabited by the Biddiomahs, a race of bloodthirsty and formidable pirates, who are as greatly feared when neighbors as are the Touaregs of Sahara.

These estimable people were in readiness to receive the Victoria bravely with stones and arrows, but the balloon quickly passed their islands, fluttering over them, from one to the other with butterfly motion, like a gigantic beetle.

At this moment, Joe, who was scanning the horizon, said to Kennedy:

“There, sir, as you are always thinking of good sport, yonder is just the thing for you!”

“What is it, Joe?”

“This time, the doctor will not disapprove of your shooting.”

“But what is it?”

“Don’t you see that flock of big birds making for us?”

“Birds?” exclaimed the doctor, snatching his spyglass.

“I see them,” replied Kennedy; “there are at least a dozen of them.”

“Fourteen, exactly!” said Joe.

“Heaven grant that they may be of a kind sufficiently noxious for the doctor to let me peg away at them!”

“I should not object, but I would much rather see those birds at a distance from us!”

“Why, are you afraid of those fowls?”

“They are condors, and of the largest size. Should they attack us–“

“Well, if they do, we’ll defend ourselves. We have a whole arsenal at our disposal. I don’t think those birds are so very formidable.”

“Who can tell?” was the doctor’s only remark.

Ten minutes later, the flock had come within gunshot, and were making the air ring with their hoarse cries. They came right toward the Victoria, more irritated than frightened by her presence.

“How they scream! What a noise!” said Joe.

“Perhaps they don’t like to see anybody poaching in their country up in the air, or daring to fly like themselves!”

“Well, now, to tell the truth, when I take a good look at them, they are an ugly, ferocious set, and I should think them dangerous enough if they were armed with Purdy-Moore rifles,” admitted Kennedy.

“They have no need of such weapons,” said Ferguson, looking very grave.

The condors flew around them in wide circles, their flight growing gradually closer and closer to the balloon.