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Chapter Twenty-Ninth.

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
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
"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.