An invariably favorable wind had accelerated the
progress of the Resolute toward the place of her
destination. The navigation of the Mozambique Channel was
especially calm and pleasant. The agreeable character of
the trip by sea was regarded as a good omen of the probable
issue of the trip through the air. Every one looked
forward to the hour of arrival, and sought to give the last
touch to the doctor's preparations.
At length the vessel hove in sight of the town of Zanzibar,
upon the island of the same name, and, on the 15th of April,
at 11 o'clock in the morning, she anchored in the port.
The island of Zanzibar belongs to the Imaum of Muscat,
an ally of France and England, and is, undoubtedly,
his finest settlement. The port is frequented by a great
many vessels from the neighboring countries.
The island is separated from the African coast only by
a channel, the greatest width of which is but thirty miles.
It has a large trade in gums, ivory, and, above all, in
"ebony," for Zanzibar is the great slave-market. Thither
converges all the booty captured in the battles which the
chiefs of the interior are continually fighting. This traffic
extends along the whole eastern coast, and as far as the
Nile latitudes. Mr. G. Lejean even reports that he has
seen it carried on, openly, under the French flag.
Upon the arrival of the Resolute, the English consul at
Zanzibar came on board to offer his services to the doctor,
of whose projects the European newspapers had made him
aware for a month past. But, up to that moment, he had
remained with the numerous phalanx of the incredulous.
"I doubted," said he, holding out his hand to Dr. Ferguson,
"but now I doubt no longer."
He invited the doctor, Kennedy, and the faithful Joe,
of course, to his own dwelling. Through his courtesy,
the doctor was enabled to have knowledge of the various
letters that he had received from Captain Speke. The
captain and his companions had suffered dreadfully from
hunger and bad weather before reaching the Ugogo country.
They could advance only with extreme difficulty,
and did not expect to be able to communicate again for
a long time.
"Those are perils and privations which we shall manage
to avoid," said the doctor.
The baggage of the three travellers was conveyed to
the consul's residence. Arrangements were made for
disembarking the balloon upon the beach at Zanzibar. There
was a convenient spot, near the signal-mast, close by an
immense building, that would serve to shelter it from the
east winds. This huge tower, resembling a tun standing
on one end, beside which the famous Heidelberg tun
would have seemed but a very ordinary barrel, served as
a fortification, and on its platform were stationed
Belootchees, armed with lances. These Belootchees are a
kind of brawling, good-for-nothing Janizaries.
But, when about to land the balloon, the consul was
informed that the population of the island would oppose
their doing so by force. Nothing is so blind as fanatical
passion. The news of the arrival of a Christian, who was
to ascend into the air, was received with rage. The
negroes, more exasperated than the Arabs, saw in this
project an attack upon their religion. They took it into
their heads that some mischief was meant to the sun and
the moon. Now, these two luminaries are objects of
veneration to the African tribes, and they determined to
oppose so sacrilegious an enterprise.
The consul, informed of their intentions, conferred with
Dr. Ferguson and Captain Bennet on the subject. The
latter was unwilling to yield to threats, but his friend
dissuaded him from any idea of violent retaliation.
"We shall certainly come out winners," he said.
"Even the imaum's soldiers will lend us a hand, if we
need it. But, my dear captain, an accident may happen
in a moment, and it would require but one unlucky blow
to do the balloon an irreparable injury, so that the trip
would be totally defeated; therefore we must act with
the greatest caution."
"But what are we to do? If we land on the coast of
Africa, we shall encounter the same difficulties. What
are we to do?"
"Nothing is more simple," replied the consul. "You
observe those small islands outside of the port; land your
balloon on one of them; surround it with a guard of
sailors, and you will have no risk to run."
"Just the thing!" said the doctor, "and we shall be
entirely at our ease in completing our preparations."
The captain yielded to these suggestions, and the
Resolute was headed for the island of Koumbeni. During
the morning of the 16th April, the balloon was placed in
safety in the middle of a clearing in the great woods,
with which the soil is studded.
Two masts, eighty feet in height, were raised at the
same distance from each other. Blocks and tackle, placed
at their extremities, afforded the means of elevating the
balloon, by the aid of a transverse rope. It was then
entirely uninflated. The interior balloon was fastened to
the exterior one, in such manner as to be lifted up in the
same way. To the lower end of each balloon were fixed
the pipes that served to introduce the hydrogen gas.
The whole day, on the 17th, was spent in arranging
the apparatus destined to produce the gas; it consisted
of some thirty casks, in which the decomposition of water
was effected by means of iron-filings and sulphuric acid
placed together in a large quantity of the first-named
fluid. The hydrogen passed into a huge central cask,
after having been washed on the way, and thence into
each balloon by the conduit-pipes. In this manner each
of them received a certain accurately-ascertained quantity
of gas. For this purpose, there had to be employed
eighteen hundred and sixty-six pounds of sulphuric acid,
sixteen thousand and fifty pounds of iron, and nine thousand
one hundred and sixty-six gallons of water. This
operation commenced on the following night, about three
A.M., and lasted nearly eight hours. The next day, the
balloon, covered with its network, undulated gracefully
above its car, which was held to the ground by numerous
sacks of earth. The inflating apparatus was put together
with extreme care, and the pipes issuing from the balloon
were securely fitted to the cylindrical case.
The anchors, the cordage, the instruments, the travelling-wraps,
the awning, the provisions, and the arms, were
put in the place assigned to them in the car. The supply
of water was procured at Zanzibar. The two hundred
pounds of ballast were distributed in fifty bags placed at
the bottom of the car, but within arm's-reach.
These preparations were concluded about five o'clock in the
evening, while sentinels kept close watch around the island,
and the boats of the Resolute patrolled the channel.
The blacks continued to show their displeasure by
grimaces and contortions. Their obi-men, or wizards,
went up and down among the angry throngs, pouring
fuel on the flame of their fanaticism; and some of the
excited wretches, more furious and daring than the rest,
attempted to get to the island by swimming, but they
were easily driven off.
Thereupon the sorceries and incantations commenced;
the "rain-makers," who pretend to have control over the
clouds, invoked the storms and the "stone-showers," as
the blacks call hail, to their aid. To compel them to do
so, they plucked leaves of all the different trees that grow
in that country, and boiled them over a slow fire, while,
at the same time, a sheep was killed by thrusting a long
needle into its heart. But, in spite of all their ceremonies,
the sky remained clear and beautiful, and they profited
nothing by their slaughtered sheep and their ugly grimaces.
The blacks then abandoned themselves to the most
furious orgies, and got fearfully drunk on "tembo," a
kind of ardent spirits drawn from the cocoa-nut tree, and
an extremely heady sort of beer called "togwa." Their
chants, which were destitute of all melody, but were sung
in excellent time, continued until far into the night.
About six o'clock in the evening, the captain assembled
the travellers and the officers of the ship at a farewell
repast in his cabin. Kennedy, whom nobody ventured to
question now, sat with his eyes riveted on Dr. Ferguson,
murmuring indistinguishable words. In other respects,
the dinner was a gloomy one. The approach of the final
moment filled everybody with the most serious reflections.
What had fate in store for these daring adventurers?
Should they ever again find themselves in the midst of
their friends, or seated at the domestic hearth? Were
their travelling apparatus to fail, what would become of
them, among those ferocious savage tribes, in regions that
had never been explored, and in the midst of boundless
deserts?
Such thoughts as these, which had been dim and vague
until then, or but slightly regarded when they came up,
returned upon their excited fancies with intense force at
this parting moment. Dr. Ferguson, still cold and impassible,
talked of this, that, and the other; but he strove in vain
to overcome this infectious gloominess. He utterly failed.
As some demonstration against the personal safety of
the doctor and his companions was feared, all three slept
that night on board the Resolute. At six o'clock in the
morning they left their cabin, and landed on the island of
Koumbeni.
The balloon was swaying gently to and fro in the
morning breeze; the sand-bags that had held it down
were now replaced by some twenty strong-armed sailors,
and Captain Bennet and his officers were present to
witness the solemn departure of their friends.
At this moment Kennedy went right up to the doctor,
grasped his hand, and said:
"Samuel, have you absolutely determined to go?"
"Solemnly determined, my dear Dick."
"I have done every thing that I could to prevent this
expedition, have I not?"
"Every thing!"
"Well, then, my conscience is clear on that score, and
I will go with you."
"I was sure you would!" said the doctor, betraying
in his features swift traces of emotion.
At last the moment of final leave-taking arrived. The
captain and his officers embraced their dauntless friends
with great feeling, not excepting even Joe, who, worthy
fellow, was as proud and happy as a prince. Every one
in the party insisted upon having a final shake of the
doctor's hand.
At nine o'clock the three travellers got into their car.
The doctor lit the combustible in his cylinder and turned
the flame so as to produce a rapid heat, and the balloon,
which had rested on the ground in perfect equipoise, began
to rise in a few minutes, so that the seamen had to slacken
the ropes they held it by. The car then rose about twenty
feet above their heads.
"My friends!" exclaimed the doctor, standing up between
his two companions, and taking off his hat, "let us
give our aerial ship a name that will bring her good luck!
let us christen her Victoria!"
This speech was answered with stentorian cheers of
"Huzza for the Queen! Huzza for Old England!"
At this moment the ascensional force of the balloon
increased prodigiously, and Ferguson, Kennedy, and Joe,
waved a last good-by to their friends.
"Let go all!" shouted the doctor, and at the word the
Victoria shot rapidly up into the sky, while the four
carronades on board the Resolute thundered forth a parting
salute in her honor.

 

 

 

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