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Chapter Thirty-Sixth.

From the moment when Kennedy resumed his post of
observation in the front of the car, he had not ceased to
watch the horizon with his utmost attention.
After the lapse of some time he turned toward the
doctor and said:
"If I am not greatly mistaken I can see, off yonder in
the distance, a throng of men or animals moving. It is impossible
to make them out yet, but I observe that they are in violent
motion, for they are raising a great cloud of dust."
"May it not be another contrary breeze?" said the
doctor, "another whirlwind coming to drive us back northward
again?" and while speaking he stood up to examine
the horizon.
"I think not, Samuel; it is a troop of gazelles or of
wild oxen."
"Perhaps so, Dick; but yon throng is some nine or
ten miles from us at least, and on my part, even with the
glass, I can make nothing of it!"
"At all events I shall not lose sight of it. There is
something remarkable about it that excites my curiosity.
Sometimes it looks like a body of cavalry manoeuvring.
Ah! I was not mistaken. It is, indeed, a squadron of
horsemen. Look--look there!"
The doctor eyed the group with great attention, and,
after a moment's pause, remarked:
"I believe that you are right. It is a detachment of
Arabs or Tibbous, and they are galloping in the same
direction with us, as though in flight, but we are going
faster than they, and we are rapidly gaining on them. In
half an hour we shall be near enough to see them and know
what they are."
Kennedy had again lifted his glass and was attentively
scrutinizing them. Meanwhile the crowd of horsemen was
becoming more distinctly visible, and a few were seen to
detach themselves from the main body.
"It is some hunting manoeuvre, evidently," said Kennedy.
"Those fellows seem to be in pursuit of something.
I would like to know what they are about."
"Patience, Dick! In a little while we shall overtake
them, if they continue on the same route. We are going
at the rate of twenty miles per hour, and no horse can
keep up with that."
Kennedy again raised his glass, and a few minutes
later he exclaimed:
"They are Arabs, galloping at the top of their speed;
I can make them out distinctly. They are about fifty in
number. I can see their bournouses puffed out by the wind.
It is some cavalry exercise that they are going through.
Their chief is a hundred paces ahead of them and they
are rushing after him at headlong speed."
"Whoever they may be, Dick, they are not to be
feared, and then, if necessary, we can go higher."
"Wait, doctor--wait a little!"
"It's curious," said Kennedy again, after a brief pause,
"but there's something going on that I can't exactly explain.
By the efforts they make, and the irregularity of
their line, I should fancy that those Arabs are pursuing
some one, instead of following."
"Are you certain of that, Dick?"
"Oh! yes, it's clear enough now. I am right! It is a
pursuit--a hunt--but a man-hunt! That is not their chief
riding ahead of them, but a fugitive."
"A fugitive!" exclaimed the doctor, growing more
and more interested.
"Don't lose sight of him, and let us wait!"
Three or four miles more were quickly gained upon
these horsemen, who nevertheless were dashing onward
with incredible speed.
"Doctor! doctor!" shouted Kennedy in an agitated
"What is the matter, Dick?"
"Is it an illusion? Can it be possible?"
"What do you mean?"
"Wait!" and so saying, the Scot wiped the sights of
his spy-glass carefully, and looked through it again intently.
"Well?" questioned the doctor.
"It is he, doctor!"
"He!" exclaimed Ferguson with emotion.
"It is he! no other!" and it was needless to pronounce
the name.
"Yes! it is he! on horseback, and only a hundred
paces in advance of his enemies! He is pursued!"
"It is Joe--Joe himself!" cried the doctor, turning pale.
"He cannot see us in his flight!"
"He will see us, though!" said the doctor, lowering
the flame of his blow-pipe.
"But how?"
"In five minutes we shall be within fifty feet of the
ground, and in fifteen we shall be right over him!"
"We must let him know it by firing a gun!"
"No! he can't turn back to come this way. He's
headed off!"
"What shall we do, then?"
"We must wait."
"Wait?--and these Arabs!"
"We shall overtake them. We'll pass them. We are
not more than two miles from them, and provided that
Joe's horse holds out!"
"Great God!" exclaimed Kennedy, suddenly.
"What is the matter?"
Kennedy had uttered a cry of despair as he saw Joe
fling himself to the ground. His horse, evidently
exhausted, had just fallen headlong.
"He sees us!" cried the doctor, "and he motions to
us, as he gets upon his feet!"
"But the Arabs will overtake him! What is he
waiting for? Ah! the brave lad! Huzza!" shouted the
sportsman, who could no longer restrain his feelings.
Joe, who had immediately sprung up after his fall, just
as one of the swiftest horsemen rushed upon him, bounded
like a panther, avoided his assailant by leaping to one
side, jumped up behind him on the crupper, seized the
Arab by the throat, and, strangling him with his sinewy
hands and fingers of steel, flung him on the sand, and
continued his headlong flight.
A tremendous howl was heard from the Arabs, but,
completely engrossed by the pursuit, they had not taken
notice of the balloon, which was now but five hundred
paces behind them, and only about thirty feet from the
ground. On their part, they were not twenty lengths of
their horses from the fugitive.
One of them was very perceptibly gaining on Joe, and
was about to pierce him with his lance, when Kennedy,
with fixed eye and steady hand, stopped him short with a
ball, that hurled him to the earth.
Joe did not even turn his head at the report. Some
of the horsemen reined in their barbs, and fell on their
faces in the dust as they caught sight of the Victoria;
the rest continued their pursuit.
"But what is Joe about?" said Kennedy; "he don't stop!"
"He's doing better than that, Dick! I understand him!
He's keeping on in the same direction as the balloon. He
relies upon our intelligence. Ah! the noble fellow! We'll
carry him off in the very teeth of those Arab rascals! We
are not more than two hundred paces from him!"
"What are we to do?" asked Kennedy.
"Lay aside your rifle,Dick."
And the Scot obeyed the request at once.
"Do you think that you can hold one hundred and fifty
pounds of ballast in your arms?"
"Ay, more than that!"
"No! That will be enough!"
And the doctor proceeded to pile up bags of sand in
Kennedy's arms.
"Hold yourself in readiness in the back part of the car,
and be prepared to throw out that ballast at a single effort.
But, for your life, don't do so until I give the word!"
"Be easy on that point."
"Otherwise, we should miss Joe, and he would be lost."
"Count upon me!"
The Victoria at that moment almost commanded the
troop of horsemen who were still desperately urging their
steeds at Joe's heels. The doctor, standing in the front
of the car, held the ladder clear, ready to throw it at any
moment. Meanwhile, Joe had still maintained the distance
between himself and his pursuers--say about fifty feet.
The Victoria was now ahead of the party.
"Attention!" exclaimed the doctor to Kennedy.
"I'm ready!"
"Joe, look out for yourself!" shouted the doctor in his
sonorous, ringing voice, as he flung out the ladder, the
lowest ratlines of which tossed up the dust of the road.
As the doctor shouted, Joe had turned his head, but
without checking his horse. The ladder dropped close to
him, and at the instant he grasped it the doctor again
shouted to Kennedy:
"Throw ballast!"
"It's done!"
And the Victoria, lightened by a weight greater than
Joe's, shot up one hundred and fifty feet into the air.
Joe clung with all his strength to the ladder during
the wide oscillations that it had to describe, and then
making an indescribable gesture to the Arabs, and climbing
with the agility of a monkey, he sprang up to his companions,
who received him with open arms.
The Arabs uttered a scream of astonishment and rage.
The fugitive had been snatched from them on the wing,
and the Victoria was rapidly speeding far beyond
their reach.
"Master! Kennedy!" ejaculated Joe, and overwhelmed,
at last, with fatigue and emotion, the poor fellow
fainted away, while Kennedy, almost beside himself,
kept exclaiming:
"Saved indeed!" murmured the doctor, who had recovered
all his phlegmatic coolness.
Joe was almost naked. His bleeding arms, his body
covered with cuts and bruises, told what his sufferings had
been. The doctor quietly dressed his wounds, and laid
him comfortably under the awning.
Joe soon returned to consciousness, and asked for a
glass of brandy, which the doctor did not see fit to refuse,
as the faithful fellow had to be indulged.
After he had swallowed the stimulant, Joe grasped the
hands of his two friends and announced that he was ready
to relate what had happened to him.
But they would not allow him to talk at that time, and
he sank back into a profound sleep, of which he seemed to
have the greatest possible need.
The Victoria was then taking an oblique line to the
westward. Driven by a tempestuous wind, it again approached
the borders of the thorny desert, which the travellers
descried over the tops of palm-trees, bent and broken
by the storm; and, after having made a run of two hundred
miles since rescuing Joe, it passed the tenth degree
of east longitude about nightfall.