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Chapter Thirty-Third.

On the morrow, the 13th of May, our travellers, for
the first time, reconnoitred the part of the coast on which
they had landed. It was a sort of island of solid ground
in the midst of an immense marsh. Around this fragment
of terra firma grew reeds as lofty as trees are in Europe,
and stretching away out of sight.
These impenetrable swamps gave security to the position
of the balloon. It was necessary to watch only the
borders of the lake. The vast stretch of water broadened
away from the spot, especially toward the east, and nothing
could be seen on the horizon, neither mainland nor islands.
The two friends had not yet ventured to speak of their
recent companion. Kennedy first imparted his conjectures
to the doctor.
"Perhaps Joe is not lost after all," he said. "He was
a skilful lad, and had few equals as a swimmer. He would
find no difficulty in swimming across the Firth of Forth at
Edinburgh. We shall see him again--but how and where
I know not. Let us omit nothing on our part to give him
the chance of rejoining us."
"May God grant it as you say, Dick!" replied the
doctor, with much emotion. "We shall do everything in
the world to find our lost friend again. Let us, in the first
place, see where we are. But, above all things, let us rid
the Victoria of this outside covering, which is of no further
use. That will relieve us of six hundred and fifty pounds,
a weight not to be despised--and the end is worth the
The doctor and Kennedy went to work at once, but
they encountered great difficulty. They had to tear the
strong silk away piece by piece, and then cut it in narrow
strips so as to extricate it from the meshes of the network.
The tear made by the beaks of the condors was found to
be several feet in length.
This operation took at least four hours, but at length
the inner balloon once completely extricated did not appear
to have suffered in the least degree. The Victoria was
thus diminished in size by one fifth, and this difference
was sufficiently noticeable to excite Kennedy's surprise.
"Will it be large enough?" he asked.
"Have no fears on that score, I will reestablish the
equilibrium, and should our poor Joe return we shall find
a way to start off with him again on our old route."
"At the moment of our fall, unless I am mistaken, we
were not far from an island."
"Yes, I recollect it," said the doctor, "but that island,
like all the islands on Lake Tchad, is, no doubt, inhabited
by a gang of pirates and murderers. They certainly witnessed
our misfortune, and should Joe fall into their hands, what
will become of him unless protected by their superstitions?"
"Oh, he's just the lad to get safely out of the scrape, I repeat.
I have great confidence in his shrewdness and skill."
"I hope so. Now, Dick, you may go and hunt in the
neighborhood, but don't get far away whatever you do.
It has become a pressing necessity for us to renew our
stock of provisions, since we had to sacrifice nearly all the
old lot."
"Very good, doctor, I shall not be long absent."
Hereupon, Kennedy took a double-barrelled fowling-piece,
and strode through the long grass toward a thicket
not far off, where the frequent sound of shooting soon let
the doctor know that the sportsman was making a good
use of his time.
Meanwhile Ferguson was engaged in calculating the
relative weight of the articles still left in the car, and in
establishing the equipoise of the second balloon. He found
that there were still left some thirty pounds of pemmican,
a supply of tea and coffee, about a gallon and a half of
brandy, and one empty water-tank. All the dried meat
had disappeared.
The doctor was aware that, by the loss of the hydrogen
in the first balloon, the ascensional force at his disposal
was now reduced to about nine hundred pounds. He
therefore had to count upon this difference in order to
rearrange his equilibrium. The new balloon measured sixty-seven
thousand cubic feet, and contained thirty-three
thousand four hundred and eighty feet of gas. The dilating
apparatus appeared to be in good condition, and neither
the battery nor the spiral had been injured.
The ascensional force of the new balloon was then
about three thousand pounds, and, in adding together the
weight of the apparatus, of the passengers, of the stock of
water, of the car and its accessories, and putting aboard
fifty gallons of water, and one hundred pounds of fresh
meat, the doctor got a total weight of twenty-eight hundred
and thirty pounds. He could then take with him one
hundred and seventy pounds of ballast, for unforeseen
emergencies, and the balloon would be in exact balance
with the surrounding atmosphere.
His arrangements were completed accordingly, and he
made up for Joe's weight with a surplus of ballast. He
spent the whole day in these preparations, and the latter
were finished when Kennedy returned. The hunter had
been successful, and brought back a regular cargo of geese,
wild-duck, snipe, teal, and plover. He went to work at
once to draw and smoke the game. Each piece, suspended
on a small, thin skewer, was hung over a fire of green
wood. When they seemed in good order, Kennedy, who
was perfectly at home in the business, packed them away
in the car.
On the morrow, the hunter was to complete his supplies.
Evening surprised our travellers in the midst of this
work. Their supper consisted of pemmican, biscuit, and
tea; and fatigue, after having given them appetite, brought
them sleep. Each of them strained eyes and ears into the
gloom during his watch, sometimes fancying that they
heard the voice of poor Joe; but, alas! the voice that
they so longed to hear, was far away.
"At the first streak of day, the doctor aroused Kennedy.
"I have been long and carefully considering what
should be done," said he, "to find our companion."
"Whatever your plan may be, doctor, it will suit me. Speak!"
"Above all things, it is important that Joe should hear
from us in some way."
"Undoubtedly. Suppose the brave fellow should take
it into his head that we have abandoned him?"
"He! He knows us too well for that. Such a thought
would never come into his mind. But he must be informed
as to where we are."
"How can that be managed?"
"We shall get into our car and be off again through
the air."
"But, should the wind bear us away?"
"Happily, it will not. See, Dick! it is carrying us
back to the lake; and this circumstance, which would
have been vexatious yesterday, is fortunate now. Our
efforts, then, will be limited to keeping ourselves above
that vast sheet of water throughout the day. Joe cannot
fail to see us, and his eyes will be constantly on the
lookout in that direction. Perhaps he will even manage to
let us know the place of his retreat."
"If he be alone and at liberty, he certainly will."
"And if a prisoner," resumed the doctor, "it not being
the practice of the natives to confine their captives, he will
see us, and comprehend the object of our researches."
"But, at last," put in Kennedy--"for we must anticipate
every thing--should we find no trace--if he should
have left no mark to follow him by, what are we to do?"
"We shall endeavor to regain the northern part of
the lake, keeping ourselves as much in sight as possible.
There we'll wait; we'll explore the banks; we'll search
the water's edge, for Joe will assuredly try to reach the
shore; and we will not leave the country without having
done every thing to find him."
"Let us set out, then!" said the hunter.
The doctor hereupon took the exact bearings of the
patch of solid land they were about to leave, and arrived
at the conclusion that it lay on the north shore of Lake
Tchad, between the village of Lari and the village of
Ingemini, both visited by Major Denham. During this
time Kennedy was completing his stock of fresh meat.
Although the neighboring marshes showed traces of the
rhinoceros, the lamantine (or manatee), and the hippopotamus,
he had no opportunity to see a single specimen of
those animals.
At seven in the morning, but not without great difficulty
--which to Joe would have been nothing--the balloon's
anchor was detached from its hold, the gas dilated,
and the new Victoria rose two hundred feet into the air.
It seemed to hesitate at first, and went spinning around,
like a top; but at last a brisk current caught it, and it
advanced over the lake, and was soon borne away at a
speed of twenty miles per hour.
The doctor continued to keep at a height of from two
hundred to five hundred feet. Kennedy frequently discharged
his rifle; and, when passing over islands, the
aeronauts approached them even imprudently, scrutinizing
the thickets, the bushes, the underbrush--in fine, every spot
where a mass of shade or jutting rock could have afforded
a retreat to their companion. They swooped down close
to the long pirogues that navigated the lake; and the
wild fishermen, terrified at the sight of the balloon, would
plunge into the water and regain their islands with every
symptom of undisguised affright.
"We can see nothing," said Kennedy, after two hours
of search.
"Let us wait a little longer, Dick, and not lose heart.
We cannot be far away from the scene of our accident."
By eleven o'clock the balloon had gone ninety miles.
It then fell in with a new current, which, blowing almost
at right angles to the other, drove them eastward about
sixty miles. It next floated over a very large and populous
island, which the doctor took to be Farram, on which
the capital of the Biddiomahs is situated. Ferguson expected
at every moment to see Joe spring up out of some
thicket, flying for his life, and calling for help. Were he
free, they could pick him up without trouble; were he a
prisoner, they could rescue him by repeating the manoeuvre
they had practised to save the missionary, and he would
soon be with his friends again; but nothing was seen, not
a sound was heard. The case seemed desperate.
About half-past two o'clock, the Victoria hove in sight
of Tangalia, a village situated on the eastern shore of
Lake Tchad, where it marks the extreme point attained
by Denham at the period of his exploration.
The doctor became uneasy at this persistent setting
of the wind in that direction, for he felt that he was being
thrown back to the eastward, toward the centre of Africa,
and the interminable deserts of that region.
"We must absolutely come to a halt," said he, "and
even alight. For Joe's sake, particularly, we ought to
go back to the lake; but, to begin with, let us endeavor
to find an opposite current."
During more than an hour he searched at different
altitudes: the balloon always came back toward the mainland.
But at length, at the height of a thousand feet, a
very violent breeze swept to the northwestward.
It was out of the question that Joe should have been
detained on one of the islands of the lake; for, in such case
he would certainly have found means to make his presence
there known. Perhaps he had been dragged to the mainland.
The doctor was reasoning thus to himself, when he
again came in sight of the northern shore of Lake Tchad.
As for supposing that Joe had been drowned, that was
not to be believed for a moment. One horrible thought
glanced across the minds of both Kennedy and the doctor:
caymans swarm in these waters! But neither one
nor the other had the courage to distinctly communicate
this impression. However, it came up to them so forcibly
at last that the doctor said, without further preface:
"Crocodiles are found only on the shores of the islands
or of the lake, and Joe will have skill enough to avoid
them. Besides, they are not very dangerous; and the
Africans bathe with impunity, and quite fearless of their
Kennedy made no reply. He preferred keeping quiet
to discussing this terrible possibility.
The doctor made out the town of Lari about five
o'clock in the evening. The inhabitants were at work
gathering in their cotton-crop in front of their huts,
constructed of woven reeds, and standing in the midst of clean
and neatly-kept enclosures. This collection of about fifty
habitations occupied a slight depression of the soil, in a
valley extending between two low mountains. The force
of the wind carried the doctor farther onward than he
wanted to go; but it changed a second time, and bore
him back exactly to his starting-point, on the sort of
enclosed island where he had passed the preceding night.
The anchor, instead of catching the branches of the tree,
took hold in the masses of reeds mixed with the thick mud
of the marshes, which offered considerable resistance.
The doctor had much difficulty in restraining the balloon;
but at length the wind died away with the setting
in of nightfall; and the two friends kept watch together
in an almost desperate state of mind.