Get it on Google Play
Download on the App Store

Chapter Eighteenth.

At five o'clock in the morning, preparations for departure
commenced. Joe, with the hatchet which he had
fortunately recovered, broke the elephant's tusks. The
balloon, restored to liberty, sped away to the northwest
with our travellers, at the rate of eighteen miles per hour.
The doctor had carefully taken his position by the altitude
of the stars, during the preceding night. He knew
that he was in latitude two degrees forty minutes below
the equator, or at a distance of one hundred and sixty
geographical miles. He swept along over many villages
without heeding the cries that the appearance of the balloon
excited; he took note of the conformation of places
with quick sights; he passed the slopes of the Rubemhe,
which are nearly as abrupt as the summits of the Ousagara,
and, farther on, at Tenga, encountered the first projections
of the Karagwah chains, which, in his opinion,
are direct spurs of the Mountains of the Moon. So, the
ancient legend which made these mountains the cradle of
the Nile, came near to the truth, since they really border
upon Lake Ukereoue, the conjectured reservoir of the
waters of the great river.
From Kafuro, the main district of the merchants of that
country, he descried, at length, on the horizon, the lake
so much desired and so long sought for, of which Captain
Speke caught a glimpse on the 3d of August, 1858.
Samuel Ferguson felt real emotion: he was almost in
contact with one of the principal points of his expedition,
and, with his spy-glass constantly raised, he kept every
nook and corner of the mysterious region in sight. His
gaze wandered over details that might have been thus
"Beneath him extended a country generally destitute
of cultivation; only here and there some ravines seemed
under tillage; the surface, dotted with peaks of medium
height, grew flat as it approached the lake; barley-fields
took the place of rice-plantations, and there, too, could be
seen growing the species of plantain from which the wine
of the country is drawn, and mwani, the wild plant which
supplies a substitute for coffee. A collection of some fifty
or more circular huts, covered with a flowering thatch,
constituted the capital of the Karagwah country."
He could easily distinguish the astonished countenances
of a rather fine-looking race of natives of yellowish-brown
complexion. Women of incredible corpulence
were dawdling about through the cultivated grounds, and
the doctor greatly surprised his companions by informing
them that this rotundity, which is highly esteemed in that
region, was obtained by an obligatory diet of curdled milk.
At noon, the Victoria was in one degree forty-five
minutes south latitude, and at one o'clock the wind was
driving her directly toward the lake.
This sheet of water was christened Uyanza Victoria,
or Victoria Lake, by Captain Speke. At the place now
mentioned it might measure about ninety miles in breadth,
and at its southern extremity the captain found a group
of islets, which he named the Archipelago of Bengal. He
pushed his survey as far as Muanza, on the eastern coast,
where he was received by the sultan. He made a triangulation
of this part of the lake, but he could not procure a
boat, either to cross it or to visit the great island of
Ukereoue which is very populous, is governed by three
sultans, and appears to be only a promontory at low tide.
The balloon approached the lake more to the northward,
to the doctor's great regret, for it had been his wish
to determine its lower outlines. Its shores seemed to be
thickly set with brambles and thorny plants, growing together
in wild confusion, and were literally hidden, sometimes,
from the gaze, by myriads of mosquitoes of a light-brown
hue. The country was evidently habitable and inhabited.
Troops of hippopotami could be seen disporting
themselves in the forests of reeds, or plunging beneath the
whitish waters of the lake.
The latter, seen from above, presented, toward the
west, so broad an horizon that it might have been called a
sea; the distance between the two shores is so great that
communication cannot be established, and storms are frequent
and violent, for the winds sweep with fury over this
elevated and unsheltered basin.
The doctor experienced some difficulty in guiding his
course; he was afraid of being carried toward the east,
but, fortunately, a current bore him directly toward the
north, and at six o'clock in the evening the balloon
alighted on a small desert island in thirty minutes south
latitude, and thirty-two degrees fifty-two minutes east
longitude, about twenty miles from the shore.
The travellers succeeded in making fast to a tree, and,
the wind having fallen calm toward evening, they remained
quietly at anchor. They dared not dream of taking the
ground, since here, as on the shores of the Uyanza, legions
of mosquitoes covered the soil in dense clouds. Joe even
came back, from securing the anchor in the tree, speckled
with bites, but he kept his temper, because he found it
quite the natural thing for mosquitoes to treat him as they
had done.
Nevertheless, the doctor, who was less of an optimist,
let out as much rope as he could, so as to escape these
pitiless insects, that began to rise toward him with a
threatening hum.
The doctor ascertained the height of the lake above
the level of the sea, as it had been determined by Captain
Speke, say three thousand seven hundred and fifty feet.
"Here we are, then, on an island!" said Joe, scratching
as though he'd tear his nails out.
"We could make the tour of it in a jiffy," added Kennedy,
"and, excepting these confounded mosquitoes, there's
not a living being to be seen on it."
"The islands with which the lake is dotted," replied
the doctor, "are nothing, after all, but the tops of submerged
hills; but we are lucky to have found a retreat
among them, for the shores of the lake are inhabited by
ferocious tribes. Take your sleep, then, since Providence
has granted us a tranquil night."
"Won't you do the same, doctor?"
"No, I could not close my eyes. My thoughts would
banish sleep. To-morrow, my friends, should the wind
prove favorable, we shall go due north, and we shall, perhaps,
discover the sources of the Nile, that grand secret
which has so long remained impenetrable. Near as we
are to the sources of the renowned river, I could not
Kennedy and Joe, whom scientific speculations failed
to disturb to that extent, were not long in falling into
sound slumber, while the doctor held his post.
On Wednesday, April 23d, the balloon started at four
o'clock in the morning, with a grayish sky overhead; night
was slow in quitting the surface of the lake, which was
enveloped in a dense fog, but presently a violent breeze
scattered all the mists, and, after the balloon had been
swung to and fro for a moment, in opposite directions, it
at length veered in a straight line toward the north.
Dr. Ferguson fairly clapped his hands for joy.
"We are on the right track!" he exclaimed. "To-day
or never we shall see the Nile! Look, my friends, we are
crossing the equator! We are entering our own hemisphere!"
"Ah!" said Joe, "do you think, doctor, that the equator
passes here?"
"Just here, my boy!"
"Well, then, with all respect to you, sir, it seems to
me that this is the very time to moisten it."
"Good!" said the doctor, laughing. "Let us have a glass
of punch. You have a way of comprehending cosmography
that is any thing but dull."
And thus was the passage of the Victoria over the
equator duly celebrated.
The balloon made rapid headway. In the west could
be seen a low and but slightly-diversified coast, and,
farther away in the background, the elevated plains of the
Uganda and the Usoga. At length, the rapidity of the
wind became excessive, approaching thirty miles per hour.
The waters of the Nyanza, violently agitated, were
foaming like the billows of a sea. By the appearance of
certain long swells that followed the sinking of the waves,
the doctor was enabled to conclude that the lake must
have great depth of water. Only one or two rude boats
were seen during this rapid passage.
"This lake is evidently, from its elevated position,
the natural reservoir of the rivers in the eastern part of
Africa, and the sky gives back to it in rain what it takes
in vapor from the streams that flow out of it. I am certain
that the Nile must here take its rise."
"Well, we shall see!" said Kennedy.
About nine o'clock they drew nearer to the western
coast. It seemed deserted, and covered with woods; the
wind freshened a little toward the east, and the other
shore of the lake could be seen. It bent around in such a
curve as to end in a wide angle toward two degrees forty
minutes north latitude. Lofty mountains uplifted their
arid peaks at this extremity of Nyanza; but, between
them, a deep and winding gorge gave exit to a turbulent
and foaming river.
While busy managing the balloon, Dr. Ferguson never
ceased reconnoitring the country with eager eyes.
"Look!" he exclaimed, "look, my friends! the statements
of the Arabs were correct! They spoke of a river
by which Lake Ukereoue discharged its waters toward
the north, and this river exists, and we are descending it,
and it flows with a speed analogous to our own! And this
drop of water now gliding away beneath our feet is, beyond
all question, rushing on, to mingle with the Mediterranean!
It is the Nile!"
"It is the Nile!" reeechoed Kennedy, carried away by
the enthusiasm of his friend.
"Hurrah for the Nile!" shouted Joe, glad, and always
ready to cheer for something.
Enormous rocks, here and there, embarrassed the
course of this mysterious river. The water foamed as it
fell in rapids and cataracts, which confirmed the doctor
in his preconceived ideas on the subject. From the environing
mountains numerous torrents came plunging and
seething down, and the eye could take them in by hundreds.
There could be seen, starting from the soil, delicate
jets of water scattering in all directions, crossing and
recrossing each other, mingling, contending in the swiftness
of their progress, and all rushing toward that nascent
stream which became a river after having drunk them in.
"Here is, indeed, the Nile!" reiterated the doctor, with
the tone of profound conviction. "The origin of its name,
like the origin of its waters, has fired the imagination of
the learned; they have sought to trace it from the
Greek, the Coptic, the Sanscrit; but all that matters little
now, since we have made it surrender the secret of its
"But," said the Scotchman, "how are you to make
sure of the identity of this river with the one recognized
by the travellers from the north?"
"We shall have certain, irrefutable, convincing, and
infallible proof," replied Ferguson, "should the wind hold
another hour in our favor!"
The mountains drew farther apart, revealing in their
place numerous villages, and fields of white Indian corn,
doura, and sugar-cane. The tribes inhabiting the region
seemed excited and hostile; they manifested more anger
than adoration, and evidently saw in the aeronauts only
obtrusive strangers, and not condescending deities. It
appeared as though, in approaching the sources of the
Nile, these men came to rob them of something, and so
the Victoria had to keep out of range of their muskets.
"To land here would be a ticklish matter!" said the Scot.
"Well!" said Joe, "so much the worse for these natives.
They'll have to do without the pleasure of our conversation."
"Nevertheless, descend I must," said the doctor,
"were it only for a quarter of an hour. Without doing
so I cannot verify the results of our expedition."
"It is indispensable, then, doctor?"
"Indispensable; and we will descend, even if we have
to do so with a volley of musketry."
"The thing suits me," said Kennedy, toying with his
pet rifle.
"And I'm ready, master, whenever you say the word!"
added Joe, preparing for the fight.
"It would not be the first time," remarked the doctor,
"that science has been followed up, sword in hand. The
same thing happened to a French savant among the mountains
of Spain, when he was measuring the terrestrial meridian."
"Be easy on that score, doctor, and trust to your two
"Are we there, master?"
"Not yet. In fact, I shall go up a little, first, in order
to get an exact idea of the configuration of the country."
The hydrogen expanded, and in less than ten minutes the
balloon was soaring at a height of twenty-five hundred
feet above the ground.
From that elevation could be distinguished an inextricable
network of smaller streams which the river received into
its bosom; others came from the west, from between numerous
hills, in the midst of fertile plains.
"We are not ninety miles from Gondokoro," said the
doctor, measuring off the distance on his map, "and less
than five miles from the point reached by the explorers
from the north. Let us descend with great care."
And, upon this, the balloon was lowered about two
thousand feet.
"Now, my friends, let us be ready, come what may."
"Ready it is!" said Dick and Joe, with one voice.
In a few moments the balloon was advancing along
the bed of the river, and scarcely one hundred feet above
the ground. The Nile measured but fifty fathoms in width
at this point, and the natives were in great excitement,
rushing to and fro, tumultuously, in the villages
that lined the banks of the stream. At the second degree
it forms a perpendicular cascade of ten feet in height, and
consequently impassable by boats.
"Here, then, is the cascade mentioned by Debono!"
exclaimed the doctor.
The basin of the river spread out, dotted with numerous
islands, which Dr. Ferguson devoured with his eyes.
He seemed to be seeking for a point of reference which he
had not yet found.
By this time, some blacks, having ventured in a boat
just under the balloon, Kennedy saluted them with a shot
from his rifle, that made them regain the bank at their
utmost speed.
"A good journey to you," bawled Joe, "and if I were in
your place, I wouldn't try coming back again. I should
be mightily afraid of a monster that can hurl thunderbolts
when he pleases."
But, all at once, the doctor snatched up his spy-glass,
and directed it toward an island reposing in the middle
of the river.
"Four trees!" he exclaimed; "look, down there!" Sure
enough, there were four trees standing alone at one
end of it.
"It is Bengal Island! It is the very same," repeated
the doctor, exultingly.
"And what of that?" asked Dick.
"It is there that we shall alight, if God permits."
"But, it seems to be inhabited, doctor."
"Joe is right; and, unless I'm mistaken, there is a
group of about a score of natives on it now."
"We'll make them scatter; there'll be no great trouble
in that," responded Ferguson.
"So be it," chimed in the hunter.
The sun was at the zenith as the balloon approached
the island.
The blacks, who were members of the Makado tribe,
were howling lustily, and one of them waved his bark hat
in the air. Kennedy took aim at him, fired, and his hat
flew about him in pieces. Thereupon there was a general
scamper. The natives plunged headlong into the river,
and swam to the opposite bank. Immediately, there came
a shower of balls from both banks, along with a perfect
cloud of arrows, but without doing the balloon any damage,
where it rested with its anchor snugly secured in the
fissure of a rock. Joe lost no time in sliding to the ground.
"The ladder!" cried the doctor. "Follow me, Kennedy."
"What do you wish, sir?"
"Let us alight. I want a witness."
"Here I am!"
"Mind your post, Joe, and keep a good lookout."
"Never fear, doctor; I'll answer for all that."
"Come, Dick," said the doctor, as he touched the ground.
So saying, he drew his companion along toward a
group of rocks that rose upon one point of the island;
there, after searching for some time, he began to rummage
among the brambles, and, in so doing, scratched his hands
until they bled.
Suddenly he grasped Kennedy's arm, exclaiming:
"Look! look!"
Yes; there, indeed, could be descried, with perfect
precision of outline, some letters carved on the rock. It
was quite easy to make them out:
"A. D."
"A.D.!" repeated Dr. Ferguson. "Andrea Debono--
the very signature of the traveller who farthest ascended
the current of the Nile."
"No doubt of that, friend Samuel," assented Kennedy.
"Are you now convinced?"
"It is the Nile! We cannot entertain a doubt on that
score now," was the reply.
The doctor, for the last time, examined those precious
initials, the exact form and size of which he carefully noted.
"And now," said he--"now for the balloon!"
"Quickly, then, for I see some of the natives getting
ready to recross the river."
"That matters little to us now. Let the wind but
send us northward for a few hours, and we shall reach
Gondokoro, and press the hands of some of our countrymen."
Ten minutes more, and the balloon was majestically
ascending, while Dr. Ferguson, in token of success, waved
the English flag triumphantly from his car.