"Which way do we head?" asked Kennedy, as he
saw his friend consulting the compass.
"North-northeast."
"The deuce! but that's not the north?"
"No, Dick; and I'm afraid that we shall have some
trouble in getting to Gondokoro. I am sorry for it; but,
at last, we have succeeded in connecting the explorations
from the east with those from the north; and we must
not complain."
The balloon was now receding gradually from the Nile.
"One last look," said the doctor, "at this impassable
latitude, beyond which the most intrepid travellers could
not make their way. There are those intractable tribes,
of whom Petherick, Arnaud, Miuni, and the young traveller
Lejean, to whom we are indebted for the best work
on the Upper Nile, have spoken."
"Thus, then," added Kennedy, inquiringly, "our discoveries
agree with the speculations of science."
"Absolutely so. The sources of the White Nile, of
the Bahr-el-Abiad, are immersed in a lake as large as a
sea; it is there that it takes its rise. Poesy, undoubtedly,
loses something thereby. People were fond of ascribing
a celestial origin to this king of rivers. The ancients gave
it the name of an ocean, and were not far from believing
that it flowed directly from the sun; but we must come
down from these flights from time to time, and accept
what science teaches us. There will not always be scientific
men, perhaps; but there always will be poets."
"We can still see cataracts," said Joe.
"Those are the cataracts of Makedo, in the third degree
of latitude. Nothing could be more accurate. Oh, if we could
only have followed the course of the Nile for a few hours!"
"And down yonder, below us, I see the top of a mountain,"
said the hunter.
"That is Mount Longwek, the Trembling Mountain of
the Arabs. This whole country was visited by Debono,
who went through it under the name of Latif-Effendi.
The tribes living near the Nile are hostile to each other,
and are continually waging a war of extermination. You
may form some idea, then, of the difficulties he had to
encounter."
The wind was carrying the balloon toward the northwest,
and, in order to avoid Mount Longwek, it was necessary
to seek a more slanting current.
"My friends," said the doctor, "here is where OUR passage
of the African Continent really commences; up to this time
we have been following the traces of our predecessors.
Henceforth we are to launch ourselves upon the unknown.
We shall not lack the courage, shall we?"
"Never!" said Dick and Joe together, almost in a shout.
"Onward, then, and may we have the help of Heaven!"
At ten o'clock at night, after passing over ravines,
forests, and scattered villages, the aeronauts reached the
side of the Trembling Mountain, along whose gentle slopes
they went quietly gliding. In that memorable day, the 23d of
April, they had, in fifteen hours, impelled by a rapid
breeze, traversed a distance of more than three hundred and
fifteen miles.
But this latter part of the journey had left them in
dull spirits, and complete silence reigned in the car. Was
Dr. Ferguson absorbed in the thought of his discoveries?
Were his two companions thinking of their trip through
those unknown regions? There were, no doubt, mingled
with these reflections, the keenest reminiscences of home
and distant friends. Joe alone continued to manifest the
same careless philosophy, finding it QUITE NATURAL that
home should not be there, from the moment that he left
it; but he respected the silent mood of his friends, the
doctor and Kennedy.
About ten the balloon anchored on the side of the
Trembling Mountain, so called, because, in Arab tradition,
it is said to tremble the instant that a Mussulman sets
foot upon it. The travellers then partook of a substantial
meal, and all quietly passed the night as usual, keeping
the regular watches.
On awaking the next morning, they all had pleasanter
feelings. The weather was fine, and the wind was blowing
from the right quarter; so that a good breakfast,
seasoned with Joe's merry pranks, put them in high good-humor.
The region they were now crossing is very extensive.
It borders on the Mountains of the Moon on one side,
and those of Darfur on the other--a space about as
broad as Europe.
"We are, no doubt, crossing what is supposed to be
the kingdom of Usoga. Geographers have pretended that
there existed, in the centre of Africa, a vast depression,
an immense central lake. We shall see whether there is
any truth in that idea," said the doctor.
"But how did they come to think so?" asked Kennedy.
"From the recitals of the Arabs. Those fellows are
great narrators--too much so, probably. Some travellers,
who had got as far as Kazeh, or the great lakes, saw
slaves that had been brought from this region; interrogated
them concerning it, and, from their different narratives,
made up a jumble of notions, and deduced systems
from them. Down at the bottom of it all there is some
appearance of truth; and you see that they were right
about the sources of the Nile."
"Nothing could be more correct," said Kennedy. "It
was by the aid of these documents that some attempts at
maps were made, and so I am going to try to follow our
route by one of them, rectifying it when need be."
"Is all this region inhabited?" asked Joe.
"Undoubtedly; and disagreeably inhabited, too."
"I thought so."
"These scattered tribes come, one and all, under the
title of Nyam-Nyams, and this compound word is only a
sort of nickname. It imitates the sound of chewing."
"That's it! Excellent!" said Joe, champing his teeth
as though he were eating; "Nyam-Nyam."
"My good Joe, if you were the immediate object of
this chewing, you wouldn't find it so excellent."
"Why, what's the reason, sir?"
"These tribes are considered man-eaters."
"Is that really the case?"
"Not a doubt of it! It has also been asserted that
these natives had tails, like mere quadrupeds; but it was
soon discovered that these appendages belonged to the
skins of animals that they wore for clothing."
"More's the pity! a tail's a nice thing to chase away
mosquitoes."
"That may be, Joe; but we must consign the story to
the domain of fable, like the dogs' heads which the
traveller, Brun-Rollet, attributed to other tribes."
"Dogs' heads, eh? Quite convenient for barking, and
even for man-eating!"
"But one thing that has been, unfortunately, proven
true, is, the ferocity of these tribes, who are really very
fond of human flesh, and devour it with avidity."
"I only hope that they won't take such a particular
fancy to mine!" said Joe, with comic solemnity.
"See that!" said Kennedy.
"Yes, indeed, sir; if I have to be eaten, in a moment
of famine, I want it to be for your benefit and my master's;
but the idea of feeding those black fellows--gracious! I'd
die of shame!"
"Well, then, Joe," said Kennedy, "that's understood;
we count upon you in case of need!"
"At your service, gentlemen!"
"Joe talks in this way so as to make us take good care
of him, and fatten him up."
"Maybe so!" said Joe. "Every man for himself."
In the afternoon, the sky became covered with a warm
mist, that oozed from the soil; the brownish vapor scarcely
allowed the beholder to distinguish objects, and so, fearing
collision with some unexpected mountain-peak, the doctor,
about five o'clock, gave the signal to halt.
The night passed without accident, but in such profound
obscurity, that it was necessary to use redoubled vigilance.
The monsoon blew with extreme violence during all
the next morning. The wind buried itself in the lower
cavities of the balloon and shook the appendage by which
the dilating-pipes entered the main apparatus. They had,
at last, to be tied up with cords, Joe acquitting himself
very skilfully in performing that operation.
He had occasion to observe, at the same time, that the
orifice of the balloon still remained hermetically sealed.
"That is a matter of double importance for us," said
the doctor; "in the first place, we avoid the escape of
precious gas, and then, again, we do not leave behind us
an inflammable train, which we should at last inevitably
set fire to, and so be consumed."
"That would be a disagreeable travelling incident!"
said Joe.
"Should we be hurled to the ground?" asked Kennedy.
"Hurled! No, not quite that. The gas would burn
quietly, and we should descend little by little. A similar
accident happened to a French aeronaut, Madame Blanchard.
She ignited her balloon while sending off fireworks,
but she did not fall, and she would not have been killed,
probably, had not her car dashed against a chimney and
precipitated her to the ground."
"Let us hope that nothing of the kind may happen to
us," said the hunter. "Up to this time our trip has not
seemed to me very dangerous, and I can see nothing to
prevent us reaching our destination."
"Nor can I either, my dear Dick; accidents are generally
caused by the imprudence of the aeronauts, or the
defective construction of their apparatus. However, in
thousands of aerial ascensions, there have not been twenty
fatal accidents. Usually, the danger is in the moment of
leaving the ground, or of alighting, and therefore at those
junctures we should never omit the utmost precaution."
"It's breakfast-time," said Joe; "we'll have to put up
with preserved meat and coffee until Mr. Kennedy has had
another chance to get us a good slice of venison."

 

 

 

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