What had become of Joe, while his master was thus
vainly seeking for him?
When he had dashed headlong into the lake, his first
movement on coming to the surface was to raise his eyes
and look upward. He saw the Victoria already risen far
above the water, still rapidly ascending and growing
smaller and smaller. It was soon caught in a rapid current
and disappeared to the northward. His master--both
his friends were saved!
"How lucky it was," thought he, "that I had that
idea to throw myself out into the lake! Mr. Kennedy
would soon have jumped at it, and he would not have
hesitated to do as I did, for nothing's more natural than
for one man to give himself up to save two others. That's
Satisfied on this point, Joe began to think of himself.
He was in the middle of a vast lake, surrounded by tribes
unknown to him, and probably ferocious. All the greater
reason why he should get out of the scrape by depending
only on himself. And so he gave himself no farther concern
Before the attack by the birds of prey, which, according
to him, had behaved like real condors, he had noticed
an island on the horizon, and determining to reach it, if
possible, he put forth all his knowledge and skill in the art
of swimming, after having relieved himself of the most
troublesome part of his clothing. The idea of a stretch
of five or six miles by no means disconcerted him; and
therefore, so long as he was in the open lake, he thought
only of striking out straight ahead and manfully.
In about an hour and a half the distance between him
and the island had greatly diminished.
But as he approached the land, a thought, at first fleeting
and then tenacious, arose in his mind. He knew that
the shores of the lake were frequented by huge alligators,
and was well aware of the voracity of those monsters.
Now, no matter how much he was inclined to find
every thing in this world quite natural, the worthy fellow
was no little disturbed by this reflection. He feared greatly
lest white flesh like his might be particularly acceptable
to the dreaded brutes, and advanced only with extreme
precaution, his eyes on the alert on both sides and all
around him. At length, he was not more than one hundred
yards from a bank, covered with green trees, when
a puff of air strongly impregnated with a musky odor
"There!" said he to himself, "just what I expected.
The crocodile isn't far off!"
With this he dived swiftly, but not sufficiently so to
avoid coming into contact with an enormous body, the
scaly surface of which scratched him as he passed. He
thought himself lost and swam with desperate energy.
Then he rose again to the top of the water, took breath
and dived once more. Thus passed a few minutes of unspeakable
anguish, which all his philosophy could not overcome,
for he thought, all the while, that he heard behind
him the sound of those huge jaws ready to snap him up
forever. In this state of mind he was striking out under
the water as noiselessly as possible when he felt himself
seized by the arm and then by the waist.
Poor Joe! he gave one last thought to his master; and
began to struggle with all the energy of despair, feeling
himself the while drawn along, but not toward the bottom
of the lake, as is the habit of the crocodile when about to
devour its prey, but toward the surface.
So soon as he could get breath and look around him,
he saw that he was between two natives as black as ebony,
who held him, with a firm gripe, and uttered strange cries.
"Ha!" said Joe, "blacks instead of crocodiles! Well,
I prefer it as it is; but how in the mischief dare these
fellows go in bathing in such places?"
Joe was not aware that the inhabitants of the islands
of Lake Tchad, like many other negro tribes, plunge with
impunity into sheets of water infested with crocodiles and
caymans, and without troubling their heads about them.
The amphibious denizens of this lake enjoy the well-deserved
reputation of being quite inoffensive.
But had not Joe escaped one peril only to fall into
another? That was a question which he left events to
decide; and, since he could not do otherwise, he allowed
himself to be conducted to the shore without manifesting
"Evidently," thought he, "these chaps saw the Victoria
skimming the waters of the lake, like a monster of the
air. They were the distant witnesses of my tumble, and
they can't fail to have some respect for a man that fell
from the sky! Let them have their own way, then."
Joe was at this stage of his meditations, when he was
landed amid a yelling crowd of both sexes, and all ages
and sizes, but not of all colors. In fine, he was surrounded
by a tribe of Biddiomahs as black as jet. Nor had he to
blush for the scantiness of his costume, for he saw that he
was in "undress" in the highest style of that country.
But before he had time to form an exact idea of the
situation, there was no mistaking the agitation of which
he instantly became the object, and this soon enabled him
to pluck up courage, although the adventure of Kazah did
come back rather vividly to his memory.
"I foresee that they are going to make a god of me
again," thought he, "some son of the moon most likely.
Well, one trade's as good as another when a man has no
choice. The main thing is to gain time. Should the
Victoria pass this way again, I'll take advantage of my
new position to treat my worshippers here to a miracle
when I go sailing up into the sky!"
While Joe's thoughts were running thus, the throng
pressed around him. They prostrated themselves before
him; they howled; they felt him; they became even annoyingly
familiar; but at the same time they had the consideration
to offer him a superb banquet consisting of sour
milk and rice pounded in honey. The worthy fellow,
making the best of every thing, took one of the heartiest
luncheons he ever ate in his life, and gave his new adorers
an exalted idea of how the gods tuck away their food upon
When evening came, the sorcerers of the island took
him respectfully by the hand, and conducted him to a sort
of house surrounded with talismans; but, as he was entering
it, Joe cast an uneasy look at the heaps of human
bones that lay scattered around this sanctuary. But he
had still more time to think about them when he found
himself at last shut up in the cabin.
During the evening and through a part of the night,
he heard festive chantings, the reverberations of a kind
of drum, and a clatter of old iron, which were very sweet,
no doubt, to African ears. Then there were howling
choruses, accompanied by endless dances by gangs of
natives who circled round and round the sacred hut with
contortions and grimaces.
Joe could catch the sound of this deafening orchestra,
through the mud and reeds of which his cabin was built;
and perhaps under other circumstances he might have been
amused by these strange ceremonies; but his mind was
soon disturbed by quite different and less agreeable reflections.
Even looking at the bright side of things, he found
it both stupid and sad to be left alone in the midst of this
savage country and among these wild tribes. Few travellers
who had penetrated to these regions had ever again
seen their native land. Moreover, could he trust to the
worship of which he saw himself the object? He had
good reason to believe in the vanity of human greatness;
and he asked himself whether, in this country, adoration
did not sometimes go to the length of eating the object
But, notwithstanding this rather perplexing prospect,
after some hours of meditation, fatigue got the better of
his gloomy thoughts, and Joe fell into a profound slumber,
which would have lasted no doubt until sunrise, had
not a very unexpected sensation of dampness awakened
the sleeper. Ere long this dampness became water, and
that water gained so rapidly that it had soon mounted
to Joe's waist.
"What can this be?" said he; "a flood! a water-spout!
or a new torture invented by these blacks? Faith, though,
I'm not going to wait here till it's up to my neck!"
And, so saying, he burst through the frail wall with
a jog of his powerful shoulder, and found himself--where?
--in the open lake! Island there was none. It had sunk
during the night. In its place, the watery immensity of
"A poor country for the land-owners!" said Joe, once more
vigorously resorting to his skill in the art of natation.
One of those phenomena, which are by no means unusual
on Lake Tchad, had liberated our brave Joe. More than
one island, that previously seemed to have the solidity
of rock, has been submerged in this way; and the people
living along the shores of the mainland have had to
pick up the unfortunate survivors of these terrible catastrophes.
Joe knew nothing about this peculiarity of the region,
but he was none the less ready to profit by it. He caught
sight of a boat drifting about, without occupants, and was
soon aboard of it. He found it to be but the trunk of a
tree rudely hollowed out; but there were a couple of
paddles in it, and Joe, availing himself of a rapid current,
allowed his craft to float along.
"But let us see where we are," he said. "The polar-star
there, that does its work honorably in pointing out
the direction due north to everybody else, will, most likely,
do me that service."
He discovered, with satisfaction, that the current was
taking him toward the northern shore of the lake, and he
allowed himself to glide with it. About two o'clock in the
morning he disembarked upon a promontory covered with
prickly reeds, that proved very provoking and inconvenient
even to a philosopher like him; but a tree grew
there expressly to offer him a bed among its branches,
and Joe climbed up into it for greater security, and there,
without sleeping much, however, awaited the dawn of day.
When morning had come with that suddenness which
is peculiar to the equatorial regions, Joe cast a glance at
the tree which had sheltered him during the last few
hours, and beheld a sight that chilled the marrow in his
bones. The branches of the tree were literally covered
with snakes and chameleons! The foliage actually was
hidden beneath their coils, so that the beholder might
have fancied that he saw before him a new kind of tree
that bore reptiles for its leaves and fruit. And all this
horrible living mass writhed and twisted in the first rays
of the morning sun! Joe experienced a keen sensation
or terror mingled with disgust, as he looked at it, and he
leaped precipitately from the tree amid the hissings of
these new and unwelcome bedfellows.
"Now, there's something that I would never have believed!"
He was not aware that Dr. Vogel's last letters had
made known this singular feature of the shores of Lake
Tchad, where reptiles are more numerous than in any
other part of the world. But after what he had just seen,
Joe determined to be more circumspect for the future;
and, taking his bearings by the sun, he set off afoot toward
the northeast, avoiding with the utmost care cabins, huts,
hovels, and dens of every description, that might serve
in any manner as a shelter for human beings.
How often his gaze was turned upward to the sky!
He hoped to catch a glimpse, each time, of the Victoria;
and, although he looked vainly during all that long,
fatiguing day of sore foot-travel, his confident reliance on
his master remained undiminished. Great energy of character
was needed to enable him thus to sustain the situation
with philosophy. Hunger conspired with fatigue to
crush him, for a man's system is not greatly restored and
fortified by a diet of roots, the pith of plants, such as the
Mele, or the fruit of the doum palm-tree; and yet, according
to his own calculations, Joe was enabled to push on
about twenty miles to the westward.
His body bore in scores of places the marks of the
thorns with which the lake-reeds, the acacias, the mimosas,
and other wild shrubbery through which he had to force
his way, are thickly studded; and his torn and bleeding
feet rendered walking both painful and difficult. But at
length he managed to react against all these sufferings;
and when evening came again, he resolved to pass the
night on the shores of Lake Tchad.
There he had to endure the bites of myriads of insects
--gnats, mosquitoes, ants half an inch long, literally
covered the ground; and, in less than two hours, Joe had
not a rag remaining of the garments that had covered him,
the insects having devoured them! It was a terrible night,
that did not yield our exhausted traveller an hour of sleep.
During all this time the wild-boars and native buffaloes,
reenforced by the ajoub--a very dangerous species of lamantine
--carried on their ferocious revels in the bushes
and under the waters of the lake, filling the night with a
hideous concert. Joe dared scarcely breathe. Even his
courage and coolness had hard work to bear up against so
terrible a situation.
At length, day came again, and Joe sprang to his feet
precipitately; but judge of the loathing he felt when he
saw what species of creature had shared his couch--a
toad!--but a toad five inches in length, a monstrous,
repulsive specimen of vermin that sat there staring at him
with huge round eyes. Joe felt his stomach revolt at the
sight, and, regaining a little strength from the intensity
of his repugnance, he rushed at the top of his speed and
plunged into the lake. This sudden bath somewhat allayed
the pangs of the itching that tortured his whole body;
and, chewing a few leaves, he set forth resolutely, again
feeling an obstinate resolution in the act, for which he
could hardly account even to his own mind. He no longer
seemed to have entire control of his own acts, and, nevertheless,
he felt within him a strength superior to despair.
However, he began now to suffer terribly from hunger.
His stomach, less resigned than he was, rebelled, and he was
obliged to fasten a tendril of wild-vine tightly about his
waist. Fortunately, he could quench his thirst at any
moment, and, in recalling the sufferings he had undergone
in the desert, he experienced comparative relief in his exemption
from that other distressing want.
"What can have become of the Victoria?" he wondered.
"The wind blows from the north, and she should be
carried back by it toward the lake. No doubt the doctor
has gone to work to right her balance, but yesterday
would have given him time enough for that, so that may
be to-day--but I must act just as if I was never to see
him again. After all, if I only get to one of the large
towns on the lake, I'll find myself no worse off than the
travellers my master used to talk about. Why shouldn't
I work my way out of the scrape as well as they did?
Some of them got back home again. Come, then! the
deuce! Cheer up, my boy!"
Thus talking to himself and walking on rapidly, Joe
came right upon a horde of natives in the very depths of
the forest, but he halted in time and was not seen by them.
The negroes were busy poisoning arrows with the juice of
the euphorbium--a piece of work deemed a great affair
among these savage tribes, and carried on with a sort of
Joe, entirely motionless and even holding his breath,
was keeping himself concealed in a thicket, when, happening
to raise his eyes, he saw through an opening in the
foliage the welcome apparition of the balloon--the Victoria
herself--moving toward the lake, at a height of only
about one hundred feet above him. But he could not
make himself heard; he dared not, could not make his
friends even see him!
Tears came to his eyes, not of grief but of thankfulness;
his master was then seeking him; his master had
not left him to perish! He would have to wait for the
departure of the blacks; then he could quit his hiding-place
and run toward the borders of Lake Tchad!
But by this time the Victoria was disappearing in the
distant sky. Joe still determined to wait for her; she
would come back again, undoubtedly. She did, indeed,
return, but farther to the eastward. Joe ran, gesticulated,
shouted--but all in vain! A strong breeze was sweeping
the balloon away with a speed that deprived him of all
For the first time, energy and confidence abandoned
the heart of the unfortunate man. He saw that he was
lost. He thought his master gone beyond all prospect of
return. He dared no longer think; he would no longer
Like a crazy man, his feet bleeding, his body cut and
torn, he walked on during all that day and a part of the
next night. He even dragged himself along, sometimes
on his knees, sometimes with his hands. He saw the moment
nigh when all his strength would fail, and nothing would
be left to him but to sink upon the ground and die.
Thus working his way along, he at length found himself
close to a marsh, or what he knew would soon become
a marsh, for night had set in some hours before, and he fell
by a sudden misstep into a thick, clinging mire. In spite
of all his efforts, in spite of his desperate struggles, he felt
himself sinking gradually in the swampy ooze, and in a
few minutes he was buried to his waist.
"Here, then, at last, is death!" he thought, in agony,
"and what a death!"
He now began to struggle again, like a madman; but
his efforts only served to bury him deeper in the tomb
that the poor doomed lad was hollowing for himself; not
a log of wood or a branch to buoy him up; not a reed to
which he might cling! He felt that all was over! His
eyes convulsively closed!
"Master! master!--Help!" were his last words; but
his voice, despairing, unaided, half stifled already by the
rising mire, died away feebly on the night.