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Chapter Eighth.

About the 10th of February, the preparations were
pretty well completed; and the balloons, firmly secured,
one within the other, were altogether finished. They had
been subjected to a powerful pneumatic pressure in all
parts, and the test gave excellent evidence of their solidity
and of the care applied in their construction.
Joe hardly knew what he was about, with delight. He
trotted incessantly to and fro between his home in Greek
Street, and the Mitchell establishment, always full of business,
but always in the highest spirits, giving details of the
affair to people who did not even ask him, so proud was
he, above all things, of being permitted to accompany his
master. I have even a shrewd suspicion that what with
showing the balloon, explaining the plans and views of the
doctor, giving folks a glimpse of the latter, through a
half-opened window, or pointing him out as he passed along
the streets, the clever scamp earned a few half-crowns, but
we must not find fault with him for that. He had as
much right as anybody else to speculate upon the admiration
and curiosity of his contemporaries.
On the 16th of February, the Resolute cast anchor near
Greenwich. She was a screw propeller of eight hundred
tons, a fast sailer, and the very vessel that had been sent
out to the polar regions, to revictual the last expedition
of Sir James Ross. Her commander, Captain Bennet, had
the name of being a very amiable person, and he took a
particular interest in the doctor's expedition, having been
one of that gentleman's admirers for a long time. Bennet
was rather a man of science than a man of war, which
did not, however, prevent his vessel from carrying four
carronades, that had never hurt any body, to be sure, but
had performed the most pacific duty in the world.
The hold of the Resolute was so arranged as to find a
stowing-place for the balloon. The latter was shipped
with the greatest precaution on the 18th of February, and
was then carefully deposited at the bottom of the vessel in
such a way as to prevent accident. The car and its accessories,
the anchors, the cords, the supplies, the water-tanks,
which were to be filled on arriving, all were embarked
and put away under Ferguson's own eyes.
Ten tons of sulphuric acid and ten tons of iron filings,
were put on board for the future production of the hydrogen
gas. The quantity was more than enough, but it was
well to be provided against accident. The apparatus to
be employed in manufacturing the gas, including some
thirty empty casks, was also stowed away in the hold.
These various preparations were terminated on the
18th of February, in the evening. Two state-rooms,
comfortably fitted up, were ready for the reception of Dr.
Ferguson and his friend Kennedy. The latter, all the
while swearing that he would not go, went on board with
a regular arsenal of hunting weapons, among which were
two double-barrelled breech-loading fowling-pieces, and a
rifle that had withstood every test, of the make of Purdey,
Moore & Dickson, at Edinburgh. With such a weapon a
marksman would find no difficulty in lodging a
bullet in the eye of a chamois at the distance of two
thousand paces. Along with these implements, he had two
of Colt's six-shooters, for unforeseen emergencies. His
powder-case, his cartridge-pouch, his lead, and his bullets,
did not exceed a certain weight prescribed by the doctor.
The three travellers got themselves to rights on board
during the working-hours of February 19th. They were
received with much distinction by the captain and his
officers, the doctor continuing as reserved as ever, and
thinking of nothing but his expedition. Dick seemed a
good deal moved, but was unwilling to betray it; while
Joe was fairly dancing and breaking out in laughable
remarks. The worthy fellow soon became the jester and
merry-andrew of the boatswain's mess, where a berth had
been kept for him.
On the 20th, a grand farewell dinner was given to Dr.
Ferguson and Kennedy by the Royal Geographical Society.
Commander Bennet and his officers were present
at the entertainment, which was signalized by copious
libations and numerous toasts. Healths were drunk, in
sufficient abundance to guarantee all the guests a lifetime
of centuries. Sir Francis M---- presided, with restrained
but dignified feeling.
To his own supreme confusion, Dick Kennedy came
in for a large share in the jovial felicitations of the night.
After having drunk to the "intrepid Ferguson, the glory
of England," they had to drink to "the no less courageous
Kennedy, his daring companion."
Dick blushed a good deal, and that passed for modesty;
whereupon the applause redoubled, and Dick blushed again.
A message from the Queen arrived while they were at
dessert. Her Majesty offered her compliments to the two
travellers, and expressed her wishes for their safe and
successful journey. This, of course, rendered imperative
fresh toasts to "Her most gracious Majesty."
At midnight, after touching farewells and warm shaking
of hands, the guests separated.
The boats of the Resolute were in waiting at the stairs
of Westminster Bridge. The captain leaped in, accompanied
by his officers and passengers, and the rapid current
of the Thames, aiding the strong arms of the rowers,
bore them swiftly to Greenwich. In an hour's time all
were asleep on board.
The next morning, February 21st, at three o'clock, the
furnaces began to roar; at five, the anchors were weighed,
and the Resolute, powerfully driven by her screw, began
to plough the water toward the mouth of the Thames.
It is needless to say that the topic of conversation with
every one on board was Dr. Ferguson's enterprise. Seeing
and hearing the doctor soon inspired everybody with
such confidence that, in a very short time, there was no
one, excepting the incredulous Scotchman, on the steamer
who had the least doubt of the perfect feasibility and
success of the expedition.
During the long, unoccupied hours of the voyage, the
doctor held regular sittings, with lectures on geographical
science, in the officers' mess-room. These young men felt
an intense interest in the discoveries made during the last
forty years in Africa; and the doctor related to them the
explorations of Barth, Burton, Speke, and Grant, and depicted
the wonders of this vast, mysterious country, now
thrown open on all sides to the investigations of science.
On the north, the young Duveyrier was exploring Sahara,
and bringing the chiefs of the Touaregs to Paris. Under
the inspiration of the French Government, two expeditions
were preparing, which, descending from the north, and
coming from the west, would cross each other at Timbuctoo.
In the south, the indefatigable Livingstone was
still advancing toward the equator; and, since March,
1862, he had, in company with Mackenzie, ascended the
river Rovoonia. The nineteenth century would, assuredly,
not pass, contended the doctor, without Africa having
been compelled to surrender the secrets she has kept
locked up in her bosom for six thousand years.
But the interest of Dr. Ferguson's hearers was excited
to the highest pitch when he made known to them, in
detail, the preparations for his own journey. They took
pleasure in verifying his calculations; they discussed
them; and the doctor frankly took part in the discussion.
As a general thing, they were surprised at the limited
quantity of provision that he took with him; and one day
one of the officers questioned him on that subject.
"That peculiar point astonishes you, does it?" said
"It does, indeed."
"But how long do you think my trip is going to last?
Whole months? If so, you are greatly mistaken. Were
it to be a long one, we should be lost; we should never
get back. But you must know that the distance from
Zanzibar to the coast of Senegal is only thirty-five
hundred--say four thousand miles. Well, at the rate of two
hundred and forty miles every twelve hours, which does
not come near the rapidity of our railroad trains, by
travelling day and night, it would take only seven days to
cross Africa!"
"But then you could see nothing, make no geographical
observations, or reconnoitre the face of the country."
"Ah!" replied the doctor, "if I am master of my
balloon--if I can ascend and descend at will, I shall stop
when I please, especially when too violent currents of air
threaten to carry me out of my way with them."
"And you will encounter such," said Captain Bennet.
"There are tornadoes that sweep at the rate of more than
two hundred and forty miles per hour."
"You see, then, that with such speed as that, we could
cross Africa in twelve hours. One would rise at Zanzibar,
and go to bed at St. Louis!"
"But," rejoined the officer, "could any balloon withstand
the wear and tear of such velocity?"
"It has happened before," replied Ferguson.
"And the balloon withstood it?"
"Perfectly well. It was at the time of the coronation
of Napoleon, in 1804. The aeronaut, Gernerin, sent up a
balloon at Paris, about eleven o'clock in the evening. It
bore the following inscription, in letters of gold: 'Paris,
25 Frimaire; year XIII; Coronation of the Emperor Napoleon
by his Holiness, Pius VII.' On the next morning,
the inhabitants of Rome saw the same balloon soaring
above the Vatican, whence it crossed the Campagna, and
finally fluttered down into the lake of Bracciano. So you
see, gentlemen, that a balloon can resist such velocities."
"A balloon--that might be; but a man?" insinuated Kennedy.
"Yes, a man, too!--for the balloon is always motionless
with reference to the air that surrounds it. What
moves is the mass of the atmosphere itself: for instance,
one may light a taper in the car, and the flame will not
even waver. An aeronaut in Garnerin's balloon would not
have suffered in the least from the speed. But then I
have no occasion to attempt such velocity; and if I can
anchor to some tree, or some favorable inequality of the
ground, at night, I shall not fail to do so. Besides, we
take provision for two months with us, after all; and there
is nothing to prevent our skilful huntsman here from furnishing
game in abundance when we come to alight."
"Ah! Mr. Kennedy," said a young midshipman, with
envious eyes, "what splendid shots you'll have!"
"Without counting," said another, "that you'll have
the glory as well as the sport!"
"Gentlemen," replied the hunter, stammering with
confusion, "I greatly--appreciate--your compliments--
but they--don't--belong to me."
"You!" exclaimed every body, "don't you intend to go?"
"I am not going!"
"You won't accompany Dr. Ferguson?"
"Not only shall I not accompany him, but I am here so as
to be present at the last moment to prevent his going."
Every eye was now turned to the doctor.
"Never mind him!" said the latter, calmly. "This is
a matter that we can't argue with him. At heart he knows
perfectly well that he IS going."
"By Saint Andrew!" said Kennedy, "I swear--"
"Swear to nothing, friend Dick; you have been ganged
and weighed--you and your powder, your guns, and your
bullets; so don't let us say anything more about it."
And, in fact, from that day until the arrival at Zanzibar,
Dick never opened his mouth. He talked neither about that
nor about anything else. He kept absolutely silent.