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Chapter Fourteenth.

The country, dry and parched as it was, consisting of
a clayey soil that cracked open with the heat, seemed,
indeed, a desert: here and there were a few traces of
caravans; the bones of men and animals, that had been
half-gnawed away, mouldering together in the same dust.
After half an hour's walking, Dick and Joe plunged
into a forest of gum-trees, their eyes alert on all sides,
and their fingers on the trigger. There was no foreseeing
what they might encounter. Without being a rifleman, Joe
could handle fire-arms with no trifling dexterity.
"A walk does one good, Mr. Kennedy, but this isn't
the easiest ground in the world," he said, kicking aside
some fragments of quartz with which the soil was bestrewn.
Kennedy motioned to his companion to be silent and
to halt. The present case compelled them to dispense
with hunting-dogs, and, no matter what Joe's agility might
be, he could not be expected to have the scent of a setter
or a greyhound.
A herd of a dozen antelopes were quenching their
thirst in the bed of a torrent where some pools of water
had lodged. The graceful creatures, snuffing danger in
the breeze, seemed to be disturbed and uneasy. Their
beautiful heads could be seen between every draught,
raised in the air with quick and sudden motion as they
sniffed the wind in the direction of our two hunters, with
their flexible nostrils.
Kennedy stole around behind some clumps of shrubbery,
while Joe remained motionless where he was. The
former, at length, got within gunshot and fired.
The herd disappeared in the twinkling of an eye; one
male antelope only, that was hit just behind the
shoulder-joint, fell headlong to the ground, and
Kennedy leaped toward his booty.
It was a blauwbok, a superb animal of a pale-bluish
color shading upon the gray, but with the belly and the
inside of the legs as white as the driven snow.
"A splendid shot!" exclaimed the hunter. "It's a very
rare species of the antelope, and I hope to be able to
prepare his skin in such a way as to keep it."
"Indeed!" said Joe, "do you think of doing that, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Why, certainly I do! Just see what a fine hide it is!"
"But Dr. Ferguson will never allow us to take such an
extra weight!"
"You're right, Joe. Still it is a pity to have to leave
such a noble animal."
"The whole of it? Oh, we won't do that, sir; we'll
take all the good eatable parts of it, and, if you'll let me,
I'll cut him up just as well as the chairman of the honorable
corporation of butchers of the city of London could do."
"As you please, my boy! But you know that in my hunter's way
I can just as easily skin and cut up a piece of game as kill it."
"I'm sure of that, Mr. Kennedy. Well, then, you can
build a fireplace with a few stones; there's plenty of dry
dead-wood, and I can make the hot coals tell in a few
"Oh! that won't take long," said Kennedy, going to
work on the fireplace, where he had a brisk flame crackling
and sparkling in a minute or two.
Joe had cut some of the nicest steaks and the best parts of
the tenderloin from the carcass of the antelope, and these
were quickly transformed to the most savory of broils.
"There, those will tickle the doctor!" said Kennedy.
"Do you know what I was thinking about?" said Joe.
"Why, about the steaks you're broiling, to be sure!"
replied Dick.
"Not the least in the world. I was thinking what a
figure we'd cut if we couldn't find the balloon again."
"By George, what an idea! Why, do you think the
doctor would desert us?"
"No; but suppose his anchor were to slip!"
"Impossible! and, besides, the doctor would find no
difficulty in coming down again with his balloon; he
handles it at his ease."
"But suppose the wind were to sweep it off, so that he
couldn't come back toward us?"
"Come, come, Joe! a truce to your suppositions;
they're any thing but pleasant."
"Ah! sir, every thing that happens in this world is
natural, of course; but, then, any thing may happen, and
we ought to look out beforehand."
At this moment the report of a gun rang out upon the air.
"What's that?" exclaimed Joe.
"It's my rifle, I know the ring of her!" said Kennedy.
"A signal!"
"Yes; danger for us!"
"For him, too, perhaps."
"Let's be off!"
And the hunters, having gathered up the product of
their expedition, rapidly made their way back along the
path that they had marked by breaking boughs and bushes
when they came. The density of the underbrush prevented
their seeing the balloon, although they could not
be far from it.
A second shot was heard.
"We must hurry!" said Joe.
"There! a third report!"
"Why, it sounds to me as if he was defending himself
against something."
"Let us make haste!"
They now began to run at the top of their speed.
When they reached the outskirts of the forest, they, at
first glance, saw the balloon in its place and the doctor in
the car.
"What's the matter?" shouted Kennedy.
"Good God!" suddenly exclaimed Joe.
"What do you see?"
"Down there! look! a crowd of blacks surrounding
the balloon!"
And, in fact, there, two miles from where they were,
they saw some thirty wild natives close together, yelling,
gesticulating, and cutting all kinds of antics at the foot of
the sycamore. Some, climbing into the tree itself, were
making their way to the topmost branches. The danger
seemed pressing.
"My master is lost!" cried Joe.
"Come! a little more coolness, Joe, and let us see how
we stand. We hold the lives of four of those villains in
our hands. Forward, then!"
They had made a mile with headlong speed, when
another report was heard from the car. The shot had,
evidently, told upon a huge black demon, who had been
hoisting himself up by the anchor-rope. A lifeless body
fell from bough to bough, and hung about twenty feet
from the ground, its arms and legs swaying to and fro in
the air.
"Ha!" said Joe, halting, "what does that fellow hold by?"
"No matter what!" said Kennedy; "let us run! let
us run!"
"Ah! Mr. Kennedy," said Joe, again, in a roar of
laughter, "by his tail! by his tail! it's an ape! They're
all apes!"
"Well, they're worse than men!" said Kennedy, as he
dashed into the midst of the howling crowd.
It was, indeed, a troop of very formidable baboons of
the dog-faced species. These creatures are brutal, ferocious,
and horrible to look upon, with their dog-like muzzles
and savage expression. However, a few shots scattered
them, and the chattering horde scampered off,
leaving several of their number on the ground.
In a moment Kennedy was on the ladder, and Joe,
clambering up the branches, detached the anchor; the car
then dipped to where he was, and he got into it without
difficulty. A few minutes later, the Victoria slowly
ascended and soared away to the eastward, wafted by a
moderate wind.
"That was an attack for you!" said Joe.
"We thought you were surrounded by natives."
"Well, fortunately, they were only apes," said the doctor.
"At a distance there's no great difference," remarked Kennedy.
"Nor close at hand, either," added Joe.
"Well, however that may be," resumed Ferguson, "this
attack of apes might have had the most serious consequences.
Had the anchor yielded to their repeated efforts, who knows
whither the wind would have carried me?"
"What did I tell you, Mr. Kennedy?"
"You were right, Joe; but, even right as you may
have been, you were, at that moment, preparing some
antelope-steaks, the very sight of which gave me a
monstrous appetite."
"I believe you!" said the doctor; "the flesh of the
antelope is exquisite."
"You may judge of that yourself, now, sir, for supper's ready."
"Upon my word as a sportsman, those venison-steaks
have a gamy flavor that's not to be sneezed at, I tell you."
"Good!" said Joe, with his mouth full, "I could live
on antelope all the days of my life; and all the better with
a glass of grog to wash it down."
So saying, the good fellow went to work to prepare a
jorum of that fragrant beverage, and all hands tasted it
with satisfaction.
"Every thing has gone well thus far," said he.
"Very well indeed!" assented Kennedy.
"Come, now, Mr. Kennedy, are you sorry that you
came with us?"
"I'd like to see anybody prevent my coming!"
It was now four o'clock in the afternoon. The Victoria
had struck a more rapid current. The face of the
country was gradually rising, and, ere long, the barometer
indicated a height of fifteen hundred feet above the level
of the sea. The doctor was, therefore, obliged to keep
his balloon up by a quite considerable dilation of gas, and
the cylinder was hard at work all the time.
Toward seven o'clock, the balloon was sailing over the
basin of Kanyeme. The doctor immediately recognized
that immense clearing, ten miles in extent, with its villages
buried in the midst of baobab and calabash trees.
It is the residence of one of the sultans of the Ugogo
country, where civilization is, perhaps, the least backward.
The natives there are less addicted to selling members of
their own families, but still, men and animals all live
together in round huts, without frames, that look like
Beyond Kanyeme the soil becomes arid and stony, but
in an hour's journey, in a fertile dip of the soil, vegetation
had resumed all its vigor at some distance from Mdaburu.
The wind fell with the close of the day, and the atmosphere
seemed to sleep. The doctor vainly sought for a
current of air at different heights, and, at last, seeing this
calm of all nature, he resolved to pass the night afloat, and,
for greater safety, rose to the height of one thousand feet,
where the balloon remained motionless. The night was
magnificent, the heavens glittering with stars, and profoundly
silent in the upper air.
Dick and Joe stretched themselves on their peaceful
couch, and were soon sound asleep, the doctor keeping the
first watch. At twelve o'clock the latter was relieved by
"Should the slightest accident happen, waken me,"
said Ferguson, "and, above all things, don't lose sight of
the barometer. To us it is the compass!"
The night was cold. There were twenty-seven degrees
of difference between its temperature and that of the daytime.
With nightfall had begun the nocturnal concert
of animals driven from their hiding-places by hunger and
thirst. The frogs struck in their guttural soprano,
redoubled by the yelping of the jackals, while the imposing
bass of the African lion sustained the accords of this living
Upon resuming his post, in the morning, the doctor
consulted his compass, and found that the wind had
changed during the night. The balloon had been bearing
about thirty miles to the northwest during the last two
hours. It was then passing over Mabunguru, a stony
country, strewn with blocks of syenite of a fine polish, and
knobbed with huge bowlders and angular ridges of rock;
conic masses, like the rocks of Karnak, studded the soil
like so many Druidic dolmens; the bones of buffaloes and
elephants whitened it here and there; but few trees could
be seen, excepting in the east, where there were dense
woods, among which a few villages lay half concealed.
Toward seven o'clock they saw a huge round rock
nearly two miles in extent, like an immense tortoise.
"We are on the right track," said Dr. Ferguson.
"There's Jihoue-la-Mkoa, where we must halt for a few
minutes. I am going to renew the supply of water necessary
for my cylinder, and so let us try to anchor somewhere."
"There are very few trees," replied the hunger.
"Never mind, let us try. Joe, throw out the anchors!"
The balloon, gradually losing its ascensional force,
approached the ground; the anchors ran along until, at
last, one of them caught in the fissure of a rock, and the
balloon remained motionless.
It must not be supposed that the doctor could entirely
extinguish his cylinder, during these halts. The equilibrium
of the balloon had been calculated at the level of
the sea; and, as the country was continually ascending,
and had reached an elevation of from six to seven hundred
feet, the balloon would have had a tendency to go lower
than the surface of the soil itself. It was, therefore,
necessary to sustain it by a certain dilation of the gas. But,
in case the doctor, in the absence of all wind, had let the
car rest upon the ground, the balloon, thus relieved of a
considerable weight, would have kept up of itself, without
the aid of the cylinder.
The maps indicated extensive ponds on the western
slope of the Jihoue-la-Mkoa. Joe went thither alone
with a cask that would hold about ten gallons. He found
the place pointed out to him, without difficulty, near to a
deserted village; got his stock of water, and returned in
less than three-quarters of an hour. He had seen nothing
particular excepting some immense elephant-pits. In fact,
he came very near falling into one of them, at the bottom
of which lay a half-eaten carcass.
He brought back with him a sort of clover which the
apes eat with avidity. The doctor recognized the fruit
of the "mbenbu"-tree which grows in profusion, on the
western part of Jihoue-la-Mkoa. Ferguson waited for
Joe with a certain feeling of impatience, for even a short
halt in this inhospitable region always inspires a degree
of fear.
The water was got aboard without trouble, as the car
was nearly resting on the ground. Joe then found it easy
to loosen the anchor and leaped lightly to his place beside
the doctor. The latter then replenished the flame in the
cylinder, and the balloon majestically soared into the air.
It was then about one hundred miles from Kazeh, an
important establishment in the interior of Africa, where,
thanks to a south-southeasterly current, the travellers
might hope to arrive on that same day. They were moving
at the rate of fourteen miles per hour, and the guidance
of the balloon was becoming difficult, as they dared
not rise very high without extreme dilation of the gas, the
country itself being at an average height of three thousand
feet. Hence, the doctor preferred not to force the
dilation, and so adroitly followed the sinuosities of a
pretty sharply-inclined plane, and swept very close to the
villages of Thembo and Tura-Wels. The latter forms
part of the Unyamwezy, a magnificent country, where the
trees attain enormous dimensions; among them the cactus,
which grows to gigantic size.
About two o'clock, in magnificent weather, but under a
fiery sun that devoured the least breath of air, the balloon
was floating over the town of Kazeh, situated about three
hundred and fifty miles from the coast.
"We left Zanzibar at nine o'clock in the morning,"
said the doctor, consulting his notes, "and, after two
days' passage, we have, including our deviations, travelled
nearly five hundred geographical miles. Captains
Burton and Speke took four months and a half to make
the same distance!"