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Chapter Thirty-Fourth.

At three o'clock in the morning the wind was raging.
It beat down with such violence that the Victoria could
not stay near the ground without danger. It was thrown
almost flat over upon its side, and the reeds chafed the
silk so roughly that it seemed as though they would tear it.
"We must be off, Dick," said the doctor; "we cannot
remain in this situation."
"But, doctor, what of Joe?"
"I am not likely to abandon him. No, indeed! and
should the hurricane carry me a thousand miles to the
northward, I will return! But here we are endangering
the safety of all."
"Must we go without him?" asked the Scot, with an
accent of profound grief.
"And do you think, then," rejoined Ferguson, "that
my heart does not bleed like your own? Am I not merely
obeying an imperious necessity?"
"I am entirely at your orders," replied the hunter;
"let us start!"
But their departure was surrounded with unusual difficulty.
The anchor, which had caught very deeply, resisted all
their efforts to disengage it; while the balloon,
drawing in the opposite direction, increased its tension.
Kennedy could not get it free. Besides, in his present
position, the manoeuvre had become a very perilous one,
for the Victoria threatened to break away before he should
be able to get into the car again.
The doctor, unwilling to run such a risk, made his
friend get into his place, and resigned himself to the
alternative of cutting the anchor-rope. The Victoria made
one bound of three hundred feet into the air, and took her
route directly northward.
Ferguson had no other choice than to scud before the
storm. He folded his arms, and soon became absorbed in
his own melancholy reflections.
After a few moments of profound silence, he turned to
Kennedy, who sat there no less taciturn.
"We have, perhaps, been tempting Providence," said
he; "it does not belong to man to undertake such a journey!"
--and a sigh of grief escaped him as he spoke.
"It is but a few days," replied the sportsman, "since
we were congratulating ourselves upon having escaped so
many dangers! All three of us were shaking hands!"
"Poor Joe! kindly and excellent disposition! brave
and candid heart! Dazzled for a moment by his sudden
discovery of wealth, he willingly sacrificed his treasures!
And now, he is far from us; and the wind is carrying us
still farther away with resistless speed!"
"Come, doctor, admitting that he may have found
refuge among the lake tribes, can he not do as the travellers
who visited them before us, did;--like Denham, like
Barth? Both of those men got back to their own country."
"Ah! my dear Dick! Joe doesn't know one word of
the language; he is alone, and without resources. The
travellers of whom you speak did not attempt to go forward
without sending many presents in advance of them
to the chiefs, and surrounded by an escort armed and
trained for these expeditions. Yet, they could not avoid
sufferings of the worst description! What, then, can you
expect the fate of our companion to be? It is horrible to
think of, and this is one of the worst calamities that it has
ever been my lot to endure!"
"But, we'll come back again, doctor!"
"Come back, Dick? Yes, if we have to abandon the
balloon! if we should be forced to return to Lake Tchad
on foot, and put ourselves in communication with the
Sultan of Bornou! The Arabs cannot have retained a disagreeable
remembrance of the first Europeans."
"I will follow you, doctor," replied the hunter, with
emphasis. "You may count upon me! We would rather
give up the idea of prosecuting this journey than not
return. Joe forgot himself for our sake; we will sacrifice
ourselves for his!"
This resolve revived some hope in the hearts of these
two men; they felt strong in the same inspiration. Ferguson
forthwith set every thing at work to get into a contrary
current, that might bring him back again to Lake
Tchad; but this was impracticable at that moment, and
even to alight was out of the question on ground completely
bare of trees, and with such a hurricane blowing.
The Victoria thus passed over the country of the Tibbous,
crossed the Belad el Djerid, a desert of briers that
forms the border of the Soudan, and advanced into the
desert of sand streaked with the long tracks of the many
caravans that pass and repass there. The last line of vegetation
was speedily lost in the dim southern horizon, not far
from the principal oasis in this part of Africa, whose fifty
wells are shaded by magnificent trees; but it was impossible
to stop. An Arab encampment, tents of striped
stuff, some camels, stretching out their viper-like heads
and necks along the sand, gave life to this solitude, but
the Victoria sped by like a shooting-star, and in this way
traversed a distance of sixty miles in three hours, without
Ferguson being able to check or guide her course.
"We cannot halt, we cannot alight!" said the doctor;
"not a tree, not an inequality of the ground! Are
we then to be driven clear across Sahara? Surely, Heaven
is indeed against us!"
He was uttering these words with a sort of despairing
rage, when suddenly he saw the desert sands rising aloft
in the midst of a dense cloud of dust, and go whirling
through the air, impelled by opposing currents.
Amid this tornado, an entire caravan, disorganized,
broken, and overthrown, was disappearing beneath an
avalanche of sand. The camels, flung pell-mell together,
were uttering dull and pitiful groans; cries and howls of
despair were heard issuing from that dusty and stifling
cloud, and, from time to time, a parti-colored garment cut
the chaos of the scene with its vivid hues, and the moaning
and shrieking sounded over all, a terrible accompaniment
to this spectacle of destruction.
Ere long the sand had accumulated in compact masses;
and there, where so recently stretched a level plain as far
as the eye could see, rose now a ridgy line of hillocks,
still moving from beneath--the vast tomb of an entire
The doctor and Kennedy, pallid with emotion, sat
transfixed by this fearful spectacle. They could no longer
manage their balloon, which went whirling round and
round in contending currents, and refused to obey the
different dilations of the gas. Caught in these eddies of
the atmosphere, it spun about with a rapidity that made
their heads reel, while the car oscillated and swung to and
fro violently at the same time. The instruments suspended
under the awning clattered together as though they would
be dashed to pieces; the pipes of the spiral bent to and fro,
threatening to break at every instant; and the water-tanks
jostled and jarred with tremendous din. Although but
two feet apart, our aeronauts could not hear each other
speak, but with firmly-clinched hands they clung convulsively
to the cordage, and endeavored to steady themselves
against the fury of the tempest.
Kennedy, with his hair blown wildly about his face,
looked on without speaking; but the doctor had regained
all his daring in the midst of this deadly peril, and not a
sign of his emotion was betrayed in his countenance, even
when, after a last violent twirl, the Victoria stopped suddenly
in the midst of a most unlooked-for calm; the north
wind had abruptly got the upper hand, and now drove her
back with equal rapidity over the route she had traversed
in the morning.
"Whither are we going now?" cried Kennedy.
"Let us leave that to Providence, my dear Dick; I
was wrong in doubting it. It knows better than we, and
here we are, returning to places that we had expected
never to see again!"
The surface of the country, which had looked so flat
and level when they were coming, now seemed tossed and
uneven, like the ocean-billows after a storm; a long succession
of hillocks, that had scarcely settled to their places
yet, indented the desert; the wind blew furiously, and the
balloon fairly flew through the atmosphere.
The direction taken by our aeronauts differed somewhat
from that of the morning, and thus about nine o'clock,
instead of finding themselves again near the borders of
Lake Tchad, they saw the desert still stretching away
before them.
Kennedy remarked the circumstance.
"It matters little," replied the doctor, "the important
point is to return southward; we shall come across the
towns of Bornou, Wouddie, or Kouka, and I should not
hesitate to halt there."
"If you are satisfied, I am content," replied the Scot,
"but Heaven grant that we may not be reduced to cross
the desert, as those unfortunate Arabs had to do! What
we saw was frightful!"
"It often happens, Dick; these trips across the desert
are far more perilous than those across the ocean. The
desert has all the dangers of the sea, including the risk of
being swallowed up, and added thereto are unendurable
fatigues and privations."
"I think the wind shows some symptoms of moderating;
the sand-dust is less dense; the undulations of the
surface are diminishing, and the sky is growing clearer."
"So much the better! We must now reconnoitre attentively
with our glasses, and take care not to omit a
single point."
"I will look out for that, doctor, and not a tree shall
be seen without my informing you of it."
And, suiting the action to the word, Kennedy took his
station, spy-glass in hand, at the forward part of the car.