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Chapter Thirty-First.

About three o'clock in the morning, Joe, who was then
on watch, at length saw the city move away from beneath
his feet. The Victoria was once again in motion, and
both the doctor and Kennedy awoke.
The former consulted his compass, and saw, with satisfaction,
that the wind was carrying them toward the north-northeast.
"We are in luck!" said he; "every thing works in
our favor: we shall discover Lake Tchad this very day."
"Is it a broad sheet of water?" asked Kennedy.
"Somewhat, Dick. At its greatest length and breadth,
it measures about one hundred and twenty miles."
"It will spice our trip with a little variety to sail
over a spacious sheet of water."
"After all, though, I don't see that we have much to
complain of on that score. Our trip has been very much
varied, indeed; and, moreover, we are getting on under
the best possible conditions."
"Unquestionably so; excepting those privations on
the desert, we have encountered no serious danger."
"It is not to be denied that our noble balloon has
behaved wonderfully well. To-day is May 12th, and we
started on the 18th of April. That makes twenty-five
days of journeying. In ten days more we shall have
reached our destination."
"Where is that?"
"I do not know. But what does that signify?"
"You are right again, Samuel! Let us intrust to Providence
the care of guiding us and of keeping us in good
health as we are now. We don't look much as though
we had been crossing the most pestilential country in the
"We had an opportunity of getting up in life, and that's
what we have done!"
"Hurrah for trips in the air!" cried Joe. "Here we
are at the end of twenty-five days in good condition, well
fed, and well rested. We've had too much rest in fact,
for my legs begin to feel rusty, and I wouldn't be vexed
a bit to stretch them with a run of thirty miles or so!"
"You can do that, Joe, in the streets of London, but
in fine we set out three together, like Denham, Clapperton,
and Overweg; like Barth, Richardson, and Vogel, and,
more fortunate than our predecessors here, we are three
in number still. But it is most important for us not to
separate. If, while one of us was on the ground, the
Victoria should have to ascend in order to escape some
sudden danger, who knows whether we should ever see
each other again? Therefore it is that I say again to
Kennedy frankly that I do not like his going off alone to
"But still, Samuel, you will permit me to indulge that
fancy a little. There is no harm in renewing our stock of
provisions. Besides, before our departure, you held out
to me the prospect of some superb hunting, and thus far I
have done but little in the line of the Andersons and Cummings."
"But, my dear Dick, your memory fails you, or your
modesty makes you forget your own exploits. It really
seems to me that, without mentioning small game, you
have already an antelope, an elephant, and two lions on
your conscience."
"But what's all that to an African sportsman who sees
all the animals in creation strutting along under the
muzzle of his rifle? There! there! look at that troop of
"Those giraffes," roared Joe; "why, they're not as big
as my fist."
"Because we are a thousand feet above them; but close
to them you would discover that they are three times as
tall as you are!"
"And what do you say to yon herd of gazelles, and
those ostriches, that run with the speed of the wind?"
resumed Kennedy.
"Those ostriches?" remonstrated Joe, again; "those
are chickens, and the greatest kind of chickens!"
"Come, doctor, can't we get down nearer to them?"
pleaded Kennedy.
"We can get closer to them, Dick, but we must not
land. And what good will it do you to strike down those
poor animals when they can be of no use to you? Now,
if the question were to destroy a lion, a tiger, a cat, a
hyena, I could understand it; but to deprive an antelope
or a gazelle of life, to no other purpose than the gratification
of your instincts as a sportsman, seems hardly worth
the trouble. But, after all, my friend, we are going to
keep at about one hundred feet only from the soil, and,
should you see any ferocious wild beast, oblige us by sending
a ball through its heart!"
The Victoria descended gradually, but still keeping at a safe
height, for, in a barbarous, yet very populous country, it was
necessary to keep on the watch for unexpected perils.
The travellers were then directly following the course
of the Shari. The charming banks of this river were
hidden beneath the foliage of trees of various dyes; lianas
and climbing plants wound in and out on all sides and
formed the most curious combinations of color. Crocodiles
were seen basking in the broad blaze of the sun or plunging
beneath the waters with the agility of lizards, and in
their gambols they sported about among the many green
islands that intercept the current of the stream.
It was thus, in the midst of rich and verdant landscapes
that our travellers passed over the district of Maffatay,
and about nine o'clock in the morning reached the
southern shore of Lake Tchad.
There it was at last, outstretched before them, that
Caspian Sea of Africa, the existence of which was so long
consigned to the realms of fable--that interior expanse of
water to which only Denham's and Barth's expeditions
had been able to force their way.
The doctor strove in vain to fix its precise configuration
upon paper. It had already changed greatly since
1847. In fact, the chart of Lake Tchad is very difficult to
trace with exactitude, for it is surrounded by muddy and
almost impassable morasses, in which Barth thought that
he was doomed to perish. From year to year these
marshes, covered with reeds and papyrus fifteen feet high,
become the lake itself. Frequently, too, the villages on
its shores are half submerged, as was the case with Ngornou
in 1856, and now the hippopotamus and the alligator
frisk and dive where the dwellings of Bornou once stood.
The sun shot his dazzling rays over this placid sheet
of water, and toward the north the two elements merged
into one and the same horizon.
The doctor was desirous of determining the character
of the water, which was long believed to be salt. There
was no danger in descending close to the lake, and the car
was soon skimming its surface like a bird at the distance
of only five feet.
Joe plunged a bottle into the lake and drew it up half
filled. The water was then tasted and found to be but
little fit for drinking, with a certain carbonate-of-soda
While the doctor was jotting down the result of this
experiment, the loud report of a gun was heard close beside
him. Kennedy had not been able to resist the temptation
of firing at a huge hippopotamus. The latter, who
had been basking quietly, disappeared at the sound of the
explosion, but did not seem to be otherwise incommoded
by Kennedy's conical bullet.
"You'd have done better if you had harpooned him,"
said Joe.
"But how?"
"With one of our anchors. It would have been a hook
just big enough for such a rousing beast as that!"
"Humph!" ejaculated Kennedy, "Joe really has an
idea this time--"
"Which I beg of you not to put into execution," interposed
the doctor. "The animal would very quickly have
dragged us where we could not have done much to help
ourselves, and where we have no business to be."
"Especially now since we've settled the question as to
what kind of water there is in Lake Tchad. Is that sort
of fish good to eat, Dr. Ferguson?"
"That fish, as you call it, Joe, is really a mammiferous
animal of the pachydermal species. Its flesh is said to be
excellent and is an article of important trade between the
tribes living along the borders of the lake."
"Then I'm sorry that Mr. Kennedy's shot didn't do
more damage."
"The animal is vulnerable only in the stomach and between
the thighs. Dick's ball hasn't even marked him;
but should the ground strike me as favorable, we shall halt
at the northern end of the lake, where Kennedy will find
himself in the midst of a whole menagerie, and can make
up for lost time."
"Well," said Joe, "I hope then that Mr. Kennedy
will hunt the hippopotamus a little; I'd like to taste the
meat of that queer-looking beast. It doesn't look exactly
natural to get away into the centre of Africa, to feed on
snipe and partridge, just as if we were in England."