Dr. Ferguson had a friend--not another self, indeed,
an alter ego, for friendship could not exist between two
beings exactly alike.
But, if they possessed different qualities, aptitudes, and
temperaments, Dick Kennedy and Samuel Ferguson lived
with one and the same heart, and that gave them no great
trouble. In fact, quite the reverse.
Dick Kennedy was a Scotchman, in the full acceptation
of the word--open, resolute, and headstrong. He lived
in the town of Leith, which is near Edinburgh, and, in
truth, is a mere suburb of Auld Reekie. Sometimes he
was a fisherman, but he was always and everywhere a
determined hunter, and that was nothing remarkable for a
son of Caledonia, who had known some little climbing
among the Highland mountains. He was cited as a wonderful
shot with the rifle, since not only could he split a
bullet on a knife-blade, but he could divide it into two
such equal parts that, upon weighing them, scarcely any
difference would be perceptible.
Kennedy's countenance strikingly recalled that of Herbert
Glendinning, as Sir Walter Scott has depicted it in
"The Monastery"; his stature was above six feet; full of
grace and easy movement, he yet seemed gifted with herculean
strength; a face embrowned by the sun; eyes keen
and black; a natural air of daring courage; in fine,
something sound, solid, and reliable in his entire person,
spoke, at first glance, in favor of the bonny Scot.
The acquaintanceship of these two friends had been
formed in India, when they belonged to the same regiment.
While Dick would be out in pursuit of the tiger
and the elephant, Samuel would be in search of plants and
insects. Each could call himself expert in his own province,
and more than one rare botanical specimen, that to
science was as great a victory won as the conquest of a
pair of ivory tusks, became the doctor's booty.
These two young men, moreover, never had occasion
to save each other's lives, or to render any reciprocal
service. Hence, an unalterable friendship. Destiny
sometimes bore them apart, but sympathy always united
Since their return to England they had been frequently
separated by the doctor's distant expeditions; but, on
his return, the latter never failed to go, not to ASK for
hospitality, but to bestow some weeks of his presence at
the home of his crony Dick.
The Scot talked of the past; the doctor busily prepared
for the future. The one looked back, the other forward.
Hence, a restless spirit personified in Ferguson; perfect
calmness typified in Kennedy--such was the contrast.
After his journey to the Thibet, the doctor had remained
nearly two years without hinting at new explorations; and
Dick, supposing that his friend's instinct for travel and
thirst for adventure had at length died out, was perfectly
enchanted. They would have ended badly, some day or other,
he thought to himself; no matter what experience one has
with men, one does not travel always with impunity among
cannibals and wild beasts. So, Kennedy besought the doctor
to tie up his bark for life, having done enough for science,
and too much for the gratitude of men.
The doctor contented himself with making no reply to
this. He remained absorbed in his own reflections, giving
himself up to secret calculations, passing his nights among
heaps of figures, and making experiments with the
strangest-looking machinery, inexplicable to everybody but
himself. It could readily be guessed, though, that some great
thought was fermenting in his brain.
"What can he have been planning?" wondered Kennedy, when, in
the month of January, his friend quitted him to return to London.
He found out one morning when he looked into the Daily Telegraph.
"Merciful Heaven!" he exclaimed, "the lunatic! the
madman! Cross Africa in a balloon! Nothing but that
was wanted to cap the climax! That's what he's been
bothering his wits about these two years past!"
Now, reader, substitute for all these exclamation points,
as many ringing thumps with a brawny fist upon the table,
and you have some idea of the manual exercise that Dick
went through while he thus spoke.
When his confidential maid-of-all-work, the aged Elspeth,
tried to insinuate that the whole thing might be a hoax--
"Not a bit of it!" said he. "Don't I know my man? Isn't it
just like him? Travel through the air! There, now, he's
jealous of the eagles, next! No! I warrant you, he'll not
do it! I'll find a way to stop him! He! why if they'd let
him alone, he'd start some day for the moon!"
On that very evening Kennedy, half alarmed, and half
exasperated, took the train for London, where he arrived
Three-quarters of an hour later a cab deposited him at
the door of the doctor's modest dwelling, in Soho Square,
Greek Street. Forthwith he bounded up the steps and
announced his arrival with five good, hearty, sounding
raps at the door.
Ferguson opened, in person.
"Dick! you here?" he exclaimed, but with no great
expression of surprise, after all.
"Dick himself!" was the response.
"What, my dear boy, you at London, and this the
mid-season of the winter shooting?"
"Yes! here I am, at London!"
"And what have you come to town for?"
"To prevent the greatest piece of folly that ever was
"Folly!" said the doctor.
"Is what this paper says, the truth?" rejoined Kennedy,
holding out the copy of the Daily Telegraph, mentioned above.
"Ah! that's what you mean, is it? These newspapers
are great tattlers! But, sit down, my dear Dick."
"No, I won't sit down!--Then, you really intend to
attempt this journey?"
"Most certainly! all my preparations are getting along
finely, and I--"
"Where are your traps? Let me have a chance at
them! I'll make them fly! I'll put your preparations in
fine order." And so saying, the gallant Scot gave way to
a genuine explosion of wrath.
"Come, be calm, my dear Dick!" resumed the doctor.
"You're angry at me because I did not acquaint you with
my new project."
"He calls this his new project!"
"I have been very busy," the doctor went on, without
heeding the interruption; "I have had so much to look
after! But rest assured that I should not have started
without writing to you."
"Oh, indeed! I'm highly honored."
"Because it is my intention to take you with me."
Upon this, the Scotchman gave a leap that a wild goat
would not have been ashamed of among his native crags.
"Ah! really, then, you want them to send us both to
"I have counted positively upon you, my dear Dick,
and I have picked you out from all the rest."
Kennedy stood speechless with amazement.
"After listening to me for ten minutes," said the doctor,
"you will thank me!"
"Are you speaking seriously?"
"And suppose that I refuse to go with you?"
"But you won't refuse."
"But, suppose that I were to refuse?"
"Well, I'd go alone."
"Let us sit down," said Kennedy, "and talk without
excitement. The moment you give up jesting about it,
we can discuss the thing."
"Let us discuss it, then, at breakfast, if you have no
objections, my dear Dick."
The two friends took their seats opposite to each other,
at a little table with a plate of toast and a huge tea-urn
"My dear Samuel," said the sportsman, "your project
is insane! it is impossible! it has no resemblance to
anything reasonable or practicable!"
"That's for us to find out when we shall have tried it!"
"But trying it is exactly what you ought not to attempt."
"Why so, if you please?"
"Well, the risks, the difficulty of the thing."
"As for difficulties," replied Ferguson, in a serious
tone, "they were made to be overcome; as for risks and
dangers, who can flatter himself that he is to escape them?
Every thing in life involves danger; it may even be
dangerous to sit down at one's own table, or to
put one's hat on one's own head. Moreover, we must
look upon what is to occur as having already occurred,
and see nothing but the present in the future, for the
future is but the present a little farther on."
"There it is!" exclaimed Kennedy, with a shrug.
"As great a fatalist as ever!"
"Yes! but in the good sense of the word. Let us not
trouble ourselves, then, about what fate has in store for us,
and let us not forget our good old English proverb: 'The
man who was born to be hung will never be drowned!'"
There was no reply to make, but that did not prevent
Kennedy from resuming a series of arguments which may
be readily conjectured, but which were too long for us to
"Well, then," he said, after an hour's discussion, "if
you are absolutely determined to make this trip across the
African continent--if it is necessary for your happiness,
why not pursue the ordinary routes?"
"Why?" ejaculated the doctor, growing animated.
"Because, all attempts to do so, up to this time, have
utterly failed. Because, from Mungo Park, assassinated
on the Niger, to Vogel, who disappeared in the Wadai
country; from Oudney, who died at Murmur, and Clapperton,
lost at Sackatou, to the Frenchman Maizan, who was cut to
pieces; from Major Laing, killed by the Touaregs, to Roscher,
from Hamburg, massacred in the beginning of 1860, the names
of victim after victim have been inscribed on the lists of
African martyrdom! Because, to contend successfully against
the elements; against hunger, and thirst, and fever; against
savage beasts, and still more savage men, is impossible!
Because, what cannot be done in one way, should be tried
in another. In fine, because what one cannot pass through
directly in the middle, must be passed by going to one side
"If passing over it were the only question!" interposed Kennedy;
"but passing high up in the air, doctor, there's the rub!"
"Come, then," said the doctor, "what have I to fear?
You will admit that I have taken my precautions in such
manner as to be certain that my balloon will not fall; but,
should it disappoint me, I should find myself on the ground
in the normal conditions imposed upon other explorers.
But, my balloon will not deceive me, and we need make
no such calculations."
"Yes, but you must take them into view."
"No, Dick. I intend not to be separated from
the balloon until I reach the western coast of Africa.
With it, every thing is possible; without it, I fall back
into the dangers and difficulties as well as the natural
obstacles that ordinarily attend such an expedition: with it,
neither heat, nor torrents, nor tempests, nor the simoom,
nor unhealthy climates, nor wild animals, nor savage men,
are to be feared! If I feel too hot, I can ascend; if too
cold, I can come down. Should there be a mountain, I can
pass over it; a precipice, I can sweep across it; a river, I can
sail beyond it; a storm, I can rise away above it; a torrent,
I can skim it like a bird! I can advance without fatigue,
I can halt without need of repose! I can soar above the
nascent cities! I can speed onward with the rapidity of a
tornado, sometimes at the loftiest heights, sometimes only a
hundred feet above the soil, while the map of Africa unrolls
itself beneath my gaze in the great atlas of the world."
Even the stubborn Kennedy began to feel moved, and
yet the spectacle thus conjured up before him gave him the
vertigo. He riveted his eyes upon the doctor with wonder
and admiration, and yet with fear, for he already felt
himself swinging aloft in space.
"Come, come," said he, at last. "Let us see, Samuel.
Then you have discovered the means of guiding a balloon?"
"Not by any means. That is a Utopian idea."
"Then, you will go--"
"Whithersoever Providence wills; but, at all events,
from east to west."
"Because I expect to avail myself of the trade-winds,
the direction of which is always the same."
"Ah! yes, indeed!" said Kennedy, reflecting; "the
trade-winds--yes--truly--one might--there's something
"Something in it--yes, my excellent friend--there's
EVERY THING in it. The English Government has placed a
transport at my disposal, and three or four vessels are to
cruise off the western coast of Africa, about the presumed
period of my arrival. In three months, at most, I shall be
at Zanzibar, where I will inflate my balloon, and from that
point we shall launch ourselves."
"We!" said Dick.
"Have you still a shadow of an objection to offer?
Speak, friend Kennedy."
"An objection! I have a thousand; but among other
things, tell me, if you expect to see the country. If you
expect to mount and descend at pleasure, you cannot do
so, without losing your gas. Up to this time no other
means have been devised, and it is this that has always
prevented long journeys in the air."
"My dear Dick, I have only one word to answer--I
shall not lose one particle of gas."
"And yet you can descend when you please?"
"I shall descend when I please."
"And how will you do that?"
"Ah, ha! therein lies my secret, friend Dick. Have
faith, and let my device be yours--'Excelsior!'"
"'Excelsior' be it then," said the sportsman, who did
not understand a word of Latin.
But he made up his mind to oppose his friend's departure
by all means in his power, and so pretended to give
in, at the same time keeping on the watch. As for the
doctor, he went on diligently with his preparations.