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Chapter Fifteenth.

Kazeh, an important point in Central Africa, is not a
city; in truth, there are no cities in the interior. Kazeh
is but a collection of six extensive excavations. There
are enclosed a few houses and slave-huts, with little courtyards
and small gardens, carefully cultivated with onions,
potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, and mushrooms, of perfect
flavor, growing most luxuriantly.
The Unyamwezy is the country of the Moon--above
all the rest, the fertile and magnificent garden-spot of
Africa. In its centre is the district of Unyanembe--a
delicious region, where some families of Omani, who are
of very pure Arabic origin, live in luxurious idleness.
They have, for a long period, held the commerce between
the interior of Africa and Arabia: they trade in
gums, ivory, fine muslin, and slaves. Their caravans
traverse these equatorial regions on all sides; and they
even make their way to the coast in search of those articles
of luxury and enjoyment which the wealthy merchants
covet; while the latter, surrounded by their wives
and their attendants, lead in this charming country the
least disturbed and most horizontal of lives--always
stretched at full length, laughing, smoking, or sleeping.
Around these excavations are numerous native dwellings;
wide, open spaces for the markets; fields of cannabis
and datura; superb trees and depths of freshest
shade--such is Kazeh!
There, too, is held the general rendezvous of the caravans
--those of the south, with their slaves and their freightage
of ivory; and those of the west, which export cotton,
glassware, and trinkets, to the tribes of the great lakes.
So in the market-place there reigns perpetual excitement,
a nameless hubbub, made up of the cries of mixed-breed
porters and carriers, the beating of drums, and the
twanging of horns, the neighing of mules, the braying of
donkeys, the singing of women, the squalling of children,
and the banging of the huge rattan, wielded by the jemadar
or leader of the caravans, who beats time to this pastoral
There, spread forth, without regard to order--indeed,
we may say, in charming disorder--are the showy stuffs,
the glass beads, the ivory tusks, the rhinoceros'-teeth, the
shark's-teeth, the honey, the tobacco, and the cotton of
these regions, to be purchased at the strangest of bargains
by customers in whose eyes each article has a price only
in proportion to the desire it excites to possess it.
All at once this agitation, movement and noise stopped
as though by magic. The balloon had just come in sight,
far aloft in the sky, where it hovered majestically for
a few moments, and then descended slowly, without
deviating from its perpendicular. Men, women, children,
merchants and slaves, Arabs and negroes, as suddenly
disappeared within the "tembes" and the huts.
"My dear doctor," said Kennedy, "if we continue to
produce such a sensation as this, we shall find some
difficulty in establishing commercial relations with
the people hereabouts."
"There's one kind of trade that we might carry on,
though, easily enough," said Joe; "and that would be to
go down there quietly, and walk off with the best of the
goods, without troubling our heads about the merchants;
we'd get rich that way!"
"Ah!" said the doctor, "these natives are a little
scared at first; but they won't be long in coming back,
either through suspicion or through curiosity."
"Do you really think so, doctor?"
"Well, we'll see pretty soon. But it wouldn't be prudent
to go too near to them, for the balloon is not iron-clad,
and is, therefore, not proof against either an arrow
or a bullet."
"Then you expect to hold a parley with these blacks?"
"If we can do so safely, why should we not? There
must be some Arab merchants here at Kazeh, who are better
informed than the rest, and not so barbarous. I remember
that Burton and Speke had nothing but praises
to utter concerning the hospitality of these people; so we
might, at least, make the venture."
The balloon having, meanwhile, gradually approached
the ground, one of the anchors lodged in the top of a tree
near the market-place.
By this time the whole population had emerged from
their hiding-places stealthily, thrusting their heads out
first. Several "waganga," recognizable by their badges
of conical shellwork, came boldly forward. They were
the sorcerers of the place. They bore in their girdles
small gourds, coated with tallow, and several other
articles of witchcraft, all of them, by-the-way, most
professionally filthy.
Little by little the crowd gathered beside them, the
women and children grouped around them, the drums
renewed their deafening uproar, hands were violently
clapped together, and then raised toward the sky.
"That's their style of praying," said the doctor; "and,
if I'm not mistaken, we're going to be called upon to play
a great part."
"Well, sir, play it!"
"You, too, my good Joe--perhaps you're to be a god!"
"Well, master, that won't trouble me much. I like a
little flattery!"
At this moment, one of the sorcerers, a "myanga,"
made a sign, and all the clamor died away into the
profoundest silence. He then addressed a few words to the
strangers, but in an unknown tongue.
Dr. Ferguson, not having understood them, shouted
some sentences in Arabic, at a venture, and was
immediately answered in that language.
The speaker below then delivered himself of a very
copious harangue, which was also very flowery and very
gravely listened to by his audience. From it the doctor
was not slow in learning that the balloon was mistaken for
nothing less than the moon in person, and that the amiable
goddess in question had condescended to approach the town
with her three sons--an honor that would never be forgotten
in this land so greatly loved by the god of day.
The doctor responded, with much dignity, that the
moon made her provincial tour every thousand years,
feeling the necessity of showing herself nearer at hand
to her worshippers. He, therefore, begged them not to be
disturbed by her presence, but to take advantage of it to
make known all their wants and longings.
The sorcerer, in his turn, replied that the sultan, the
"mwani," who had been sick for many years, implored
the aid of heaven, and he invited the son of the moon to
visit him.
The doctor acquainted his companions with the invitation.
"And you are going to call upon this negro king?"
asked Kennedy.
"Undoubtedly so; these people appear well disposed;
the air is calm; there is not a breath of wind, and we have
nothing to fear for the balloon?"
"But, what will you do?"
"Be quiet on that score, my dear Dick. With a little
medicine, I shall work my way through the affair!"
Then, addressing the crowd, he said:
"The moon, taking compassion on the sovereign who
is so dear to the children of Unyamwezy, has charged us
to restore him to health. Let him prepare to receive us!"
The clamor, the songs and demonstrations of all kinds
increased twofold, and the whole immense ants' nest of
black heads was again in motion.
"Now, my friends," said Dr. Ferguson, "we must
look out for every thing beforehand; we may be forced to
leave this at any moment, unexpectedly, and be off with
extra speed. Dick had better remain, therefore, in the
car, and keep the cylinder warm so as to secure a sufficient
ascensional force for the balloon. The anchor is solidly
fastened, and there is nothing to fear in that respect. I
shall descend, and Joe will go with me, only that he must
remain at the foot of the ladder."
"What! are you going alone into that blackamoor's den?"
"How! doctor, am I not to go with you?"
"No! I shall go alone; these good folks imagine that
the goddess of the moon has come to see them, and their
superstition protects me; so have no fear, and each one
remain at the post that I have assigned to him."
"Well, since you wish it," sighed Kennedy.
"Look closely to the dilation of the gas."
By this time the shouts of the natives had swelled to
double volume as they vehemently implored the aid of the
heavenly powers.
"There, there," said Joe, "they're rather rough in
their orders to their good moon and her divine sons."
The doctor, equipped with his travelling medicine-chest,
descended to the ground, preceded by Joe, who kept
a straight countenance and looked as grave and knowing
as the circumstances of the case required. He then seated
himself at the foot of the ladder in the Arab fashion, with
his legs crossed under him, and a portion of the crowd
collected around him in a circle, at respectful distances.
In the meanwhile the doctor, escorted to the sound of
savage instruments, and with wild religious dances, slowly
proceeded toward the royal "tembe," situated a considerable
distance outside of the town. It was about three
o'clock, and the sun was shining brilliantly. In fact, what
less could it do upon so grand an occasion!
The doctor stepped along with great dignity, the waganga
surrounding him and keeping off the crowd. He was soon
joined by the natural son of the sultan, a handsomely-built
young fellow, who, according to the custom of the country,
was the sole heir of the paternal goods, to the exclusion
of the old man's legitimate children. He prostrated himself
before the son of the moon, but the latter graciously raised
him to his feet.
Three-quarters of an hour later, through shady paths,
surrounded by all the luxuriance of tropical vegetation,
this enthusiastic procession arrived at the sultan's palace,
a sort of square edifice called ititenya, and situated on the
slope of a hill.
A kind of veranda, formed by the thatched roof, adorned the
outside, supported upon wooden pillars, which had some
pretensions to being carved. Long lines of dark-red clay
decorated the walls in characters that strove to reproduce
the forms of men and serpents, the latter better
imitated, of course, than the former. The roofing of this
abode did not rest directly upon the walls, and the air
could, therefore, circulate freely, but windows there were
none, and the door hardly deserved the name.
Dr. Ferguson was received with all the honors by the
guards and favorites of the sultan; these were men of a
fine race, the Wanyamwezi so-called, a pure type of the
central African populations, strong, robust, well-made, and
in splendid condition. Their hair, divided into a great
number of small tresses, fell over their shoulders, and by
means of black-and-blue incisions they had tattooed their
cheeks from the temples to the mouth. Their ears, frightfully
distended, held dangling to them disks of wood and
plates of gum copal. They were clad in brilliantly-painted
cloths, and the soldiers were armed with the saw-toothed
war-club, the bow and arrows barbed and poisoned with
the juice of the euphorbium, the cutlass, the "sima," a long
sabre (also with saw-like teeth), and some small battle-axes.
The doctor advanced into the palace, and there, notwithstanding
the sultan's illness, the din, which was terrific before,
redoubled the instant that he arrived. He noticed, at the
lintels of the door, some rabbits' tails and zebras' manes,
suspended as talismans. He was received by the whole troop
of his majesty's wives, to the harmonious accords of the
"upatu," a sort of cymbal made of the bottom of a copper
kettle, and to the uproar of the "kilindo," a drum five feet
high, hollowed out from the trunk of a tree, and hammered by
the ponderous, horny fists of two jet-black virtuosi.
Most of the women were rather good-looking, and they laughed
and chattered merrily as they smoked their tobacco and "thang"
in huge black pipes. They seemed to be well made, too, under
the long robes that they wore gracefully flung about their
persons, and carried a sort of "kilt" woven from the fibres
of calabash fastened around their girdles.
Six of them were not the least merry of the party,
although put aside from the rest, and reserved for a cruel
fate. On the death of the sultan, they were to be buried
alive with him, so as to occupy and divert his mind during
the period of eternal solitude.
Dr. Ferguson, taking in the whole scene at a rapid
glance, approached the wooden couch on which the sultan
lay reclining. There he saw a man of about forty, completely
brutalized by orgies of every description, and in a
condition that left little or nothing to be done. The
sickness that had afflicted him for so many years was simply
perpetual drunkenness. The royal sot had nearly lost all
consciousness, and all the ammonia in the world would
not have set him on his feet again.
His favorites and the women kept on bended knees
during this solemn visit. By means of a few drops of
powerful cordial, the doctor for a moment reanimated the
imbruted carcass that lay before him. The sultan stirred,
and, for a dead body that had given no sign whatever of
life for several hours previously, this symptom was
received with a tremendous repetition of shouts and cries
in the doctor's honor.
The latter, who had seen enough of it by this time, by a
rapid motion put aside his too demonstrative admirers
and went out of the palace, directing his steps immediately
toward the balloon, for it was now six o'clock in the evening.
Joe, during his absence, had been quietly waiting at
the foot of the ladder, where the crowd paid him their
most humble respects. Like a genuine son of the moon,
he let them keep on. For a divinity, he had the air of a
very clever sort of fellow, by no means proud, nay, even
pleasingly familiar with the young negresses, who seemed
never to tire of looking at him. Besides, he went so far
as to chat agreeably with them.
"Worship me, ladies! worship me!" he said to them.
"I'm a clever sort of devil, if I am the son of a goddess."
They brought him propitiatory gifts, such as are usually
deposited in the fetich huts or mzimu. These gifts
consisted of stalks of barley and of "pombe." Joe considered
himself in duty bound to taste the latter species
of strong beer, but his palate, although accustomed to gin
and whiskey, could not withstand the strength of the new
beverage, and he had to make a horrible grimace, which
his dusky friends took to be a benevolent smile.
Thereupon, the young damsels, conjoining their voices
in a drawling chant, began to dance around him with the
utmost gravity.
"Ah! you're dancing, are you?" said he. "Well, I
won't be behind you in politeness, and so I'll give you one
of my country reels."
So at it he went, in one of the wildest jigs that ever
was seen, twisting, turning, and jerking himself in all
directions; dancing with his hands, dancing with his body,
dancing with his knees, dancing with his feet; describing
the most fearful contortions and extravagant evolutions;
throwing himself into incredible attitudes; grimacing beyond
all belief, and, in fine giving his savage admirers a
strange idea of the style of ballet adopted by the deities
in the moon.
Then, the whole collection of blacks, naturally as imitative
as monkeys, at once reproduced all his airs and
graces, his leaps and shakes and contortions; they did
not lose a single gesticulation; they did not forget an
attitude; and the result was, such a pandemonium of movement,
noise, and excitement, as it would be out of the
question even feebly to describe. But, in the very midst
of the fun, Joe saw the doctor approaching.
The latter was coming at full speed, surrounded by a
yelling and disorderly throng. The chiefs and sorcerers
seemed to be highly excited. They were close upon the
doctor's heels, crowding and threatening him.
Singular reaction! What had happened? Had the sultan
unluckily perished in the hands of his celestial physician?
Kennedy, from his post of observation, saw the danger
without knowing what had caused it, and the balloon,
powerfully urged by the dilation of the gas, strained and
tugged at the ropes that held it as though impatient to
soar away.
The doctor had got as far as the foot of the ladder. A
superstitious fear still held the crowd aloof and hindered
them from committing any violence on his person. He
rapidly scaled the ladder, and Joe followed him with his
usual agility.
"Not a moment to lose!" said the doctor. "Don't
attempt to let go the anchor! We'll cut the cord!
Follow me!"
"But what's the matter?" asked Joe, clambering into
the car.
"What's happened?" questioned Kennedy, rifle in hand.
"Look!" replied the doctor, pointing to the horizon.
"Well?" ejaculated the Scot.
"Well! the moon!"
And, in fact, there was the moon rising red and magnificent,
a globe of fire in a field of blue! It was she, indeed--she
and the balloon!--both in one sky!
Either there were two moons, then, or these strangers
were imposters, designing scamps, false deities!
Such were the very natural reflections of the crowd,
and hence the reaction in their feelings.
Joe could not, for the life of him, keep in a roar of
laughter; and the population of Kazeh, comprehending
that their prey was slipping through their clutches, set
up prolonged howlings, aiming, the while, their bows and
muskets at the balloon.
But one of the sorcerers made a sign, and all the
weapons were lowered. He then began to climb into the
tree, intending to seize the rope and bring the machine to
the ground.
Joe leaned out with a hatchet ready. "Shall I cut
away?" said he.
"No; wait a moment," replied the doctor.
"But this black?"
"We may, perhaps, save our anchor--and I hold a
great deal by that. There'll always be time enough to
cut loose."
The sorcerer, having climbed to the right place, worked
so vigorously that he succeeded in detaching the anchor,
and the latter, violently jerked, at that moment, by the
start of the balloon, caught the rascal between the limbs,
and carried him off astride of it through the air.
The stupefaction of the crowd was indescribable as
they saw one of their waganga thus whirled away into
"Huzza!" roared Joe, as the balloon--thanks to its
ascensional force--shot up higher into the sky, with
increased rapidity.
"He holds on well," said Kennedy; "a little trip will
do him good."
"Shall we let this darky drop all at once?" inquired Joe.
"Oh no," replied the doctor, "we'll let him down
easily; and I warrant me that, after such an adventure,
the power of the wizard will be enormously enhanced in
the sight of his comrades."
"Why, I wouldn't put it past them to make a god of
him!" said Joe, with a laugh.
The Victoria, by this time, had risen to the height of
one thousand feet, and the black hung to the rope with
desperate energy. He had become completely silent, and
his eyes were fixed, for his terror was blended with
amazement. A light west wind was sweeping the balloon right
over the town, and far beyond it.
Half an hour later, the doctor, seeing the country deserted,
moderated the flame of his cylinder, and descended
toward the ground. At twenty feet above the turf, the
affrighted sorcerer made up his mind in a twinkling: he
let himself drop, fell on his feet, and scampered off at a
furious pace toward Kazeh; while the balloon, suddenly
relieved of his weight, again shot up on her course.