Dr. Ferguson darted his powerful electric jet toward
various points of space, and caused it to rest on a spot
from which shouts of terror were heard. His companions
fixed their gaze eagerly on the place.
The baobab, over which the balloon was hanging almost
motionless, stood in the centre of a clearing, where,
between fields of Indian-corn and sugar-cane, were seen
some fifty low, conical huts, around which swarmed a
numerous tribe.
A hundred feet below the balloon stood a large post,
or stake, and at its foot lay a human being--a young man
of thirty years or more, with long black hair, half naked,
wasted and wan, bleeding, covered with wounds, his head
bowed over upon his breast, as Christ's was, when He
hung upon the cross.
The hair, cut shorter on the top of his skull, still
indicated the place of a half-effaced tonsure.
"A missionary! a priest!" exclaimed Joe.
"Poor, unfortunate man!" said Kennedy.
"We must save him, Dick!" responded the doctor;
"we must save him!"
The crowd of blacks, when they saw the balloon over
their heads, like a huge comet with a train of dazzling
light, were seized with a terror that may be readily imagined.
Upon hearing their cries, the prisoner raised his
head. His eyes gleamed with sudden hope, and, without
too thoroughly comprehending what was taking place, he
stretched out his hands to his unexpected deliverers.
"He is alive!" exclaimed Ferguson. "God be praised!
The savages have got a fine scare, and we shall save him!
Are you ready, friends?"
"Ready, doctor, at the word."
"Joe, shut off the cylinder!"
The doctor's order was executed. An almost imperceptible
breath of air impelled the balloon directly over
the prisoner, at the same time that it gently lowered with
the contraction of the gas. For about ten minutes it remained
floating in the midst of luminous waves, for Ferguson
continued to flash right down upon the throng his
glowing sheaf of rays, which, here and there, marked out
swift and vivid sheets of light. The tribe, under the
influence of an indescribable terror, disappeared little by
little in the huts, and there was complete solitude around
the stake. The doctor had, therefore, been right in counting
upon the fantastic appearance of the balloon throwing
out rays, as vivid as the sun's, through this intense gloom.
The car was approaching the ground; but a few of the
savages, more audacious than the rest, guessing that their
victim was about to escape from their clutches, came back
with loud yells, and Kennedy seized his rifle. The doctor,
however, besought him not to fire.
The priest, on his knees, for he had not the strength to
stand erect, was not even fastened to the stake, his weakness
rendering that precaution superfluous. At the instant
when the car was close to the ground, the brawny Scot,
laying aside his rifle, and seizing the priest around the
waist, lifted him into the car, while, at the same moment,
Joe tossed over the two hundred pounds of ballast.
The doctor had expected to ascend rapidly, but, contrary
to his calculations, the balloon, after going up some
three or four feet, remained there perfectly motionless.
"What holds us?" he asked, with an accent of terror.
Some of the savages were running toward them, uttering
ferocious cries.
"Ah, ha!" said Joe, "one of those cursed blacks is
hanging to the car!"
"Dick! Dick!" cried the doctor, "the water-tank!"
Kennedy caught his friend's idea on the instant, and,
snatching up with desperate strength one of the water-tanks
weighing about one hundred pounds, he tossed it
overboard. The balloon, thus suddenly lightened, made a
leap of three hundred feet into the air, amid the howlings
of the tribe whose prisoner thus escaped them in a blaze
of dazzling light.
"Hurrah!" shouted the doctor's comrades.
Suddenly, the balloon took a fresh leap, which carried
it up to an elevation of a thousand feet.
"What's that?" said Kennedy, who had nearly lost
his balance.
"Oh! nothing; only that black villain leaving us!"
replied the doctor, tranquilly, and Joe, leaning over, saw
the savage that had clung to the car whirling over and
over, with his arms outstretched in the air, and presently
dashed to pieces on the ground. The doctor then separated
his electric wires, and every thing was again buried
in profound obscurity. It was now one o'clock in the
morning.
The Frenchman, who had swooned away, at length
opened his eyes.
"You are saved!" were the doctor's first words.
"Saved!" he with a sad smile replied in English,
"saved from a cruel death! My brethren, I thank you,
but my days are numbered, nay, even my hours, and I
have but little longer to live."
With this, the missionary, again yielding to exhaustion,
relapsed into his fainting-fit.
"He is dying!" said Kennedy.
"No," replied the doctor, bending over him, "but he
is very weak; so let us lay him under the awning."
And they did gently deposit on their blankets that
poor, wasted body, covered with scars and wounds, still
bleeding where fire and steel had, in twenty places, left
their agonizing marks. The doctor, taking an old handkerchief,
quickly prepared a little lint, which he spread
over the wounds, after having washed them. These rapid
attentions were bestowed with the celerity and skill of a
practised surgeon, and, when they were complete, the doctor,
taking a cordial from his medicine-chest, poured a few
drops upon his patient's lips.
The latter feebly pressed his kind hands, and scarcely
had the strength to say, "Thank you! thank you!"
The doctor comprehended that he must be left perfectly
quiet; so he closed the folds of the awning and resumed
the guidance of the balloon.
The latter, after taking into account the weight of the
new passenger, had been lightened of one hundred and
eighty pounds, and therefore kept aloft without the aid of
the cylinder. At the first dawn of day, a current drove it
gently toward the west-northwest. The doctor went in
under the awning for a moment or two, to look at his still
sleeping patient.
"May Heaven spare the life of our new companion!
Have you any hope?" said the Scot.
"Yes, Dick, with care, in this pure, fresh atmosphere."
"How that man has suffered!" said Joe, with feeling.
"He did bolder things than we've done, in venturing all
alone among those savage tribes!"
"That cannot be questioned," assented the hunter.
During the entire day the doctor would not allow the
sleep of his patient to be disturbed. It was really a long
stupor, broken only by an occasional murmur of pain that
continued to disquiet and agitate the doctor greatly.
Toward evening the balloon remained stationary in the
midst of the gloom, and during the night, while Kennedy
and Joe relieved each other in carefully tending the sick
man, Ferguson kept watch over the safety of all.
By the morning of the next day, the balloon had moved,
but very slightly, to the westward. The dawn came up
pure and magnificent. The sick man was able to call his
friends with a stronger voice. They raised the curtains
of the awning, and he inhaled with delight the keen
morning air.
"How do you feel to-day?" asked the doctor.
"Better, perhaps," he replied. "But you, my friends,
I have not seen you yet, excepting in a dream! I can,
indeed, scarcely recall what has occurred. Who are you
--that your names may not be forgotten in my dying
prayers?"
"We are English travellers," replied Ferguson. "We
are trying to cross Africa in a balloon, and, on our way,
we have had the good fortune to rescue you."
"Science has its heroes," said the missionary.
"But religion its martyrs!" rejoined the Scot.
"Are you a missionary?" asked the doctor.
"I am a priest of the Lazarist mission. Heaven sent
you to me--Heaven be praised! The sacrifice of my life
had been accomplished! But you come from Europe;
tell me about Europe, about France! I have been without
news for the last five years!"
"Five years! alone! and among these savages!" exclaimed
Kennedy with amazement.
"They are souls to redeem! ignorant and barbarous
brethren, whom religion alone can instruct and civilize."
Dr. Ferguson, yielding to the priest's request, talked
to him long and fully about France. He listened eagerly,
and his eyes filled with tears. He seized Kennedy's and
Joe's hands by turns in his own, which were burning with
fever. The doctor prepared him some tea, and he drank
it with satisfaction. After that, he had strength enough
to raise himself up a little, and smiled with pleasure at
seeing himself borne along through so pure a sky.
"You are daring travellers!" he said, "and you will
succeed in your bold enterprise. You will again behold
your relatives, your friends, your country--you--"
At this moment, the weakness of the young missionary
became so extreme that they had to lay him again on the
bed, where a prostration, lasting for several hours, held
him like a dead man under the eye of Dr. Ferguson. The
latter could not suppress his emotion, for he felt that this
life now in his charge was ebbing away. Were they then
so soon to lose him whom they had snatched from an
agonizing death? The doctor again washed and dressed
the young martyr's frightful wounds, and had to sacrifice
nearly his whole stock of water to refresh his burning
limbs. He surrounded him with the tenderest and most
intelligent care, until, at length, the sick man revived,
little by little, in his arms, and recovered his consciousness
if not his strength.
The doctor was able to gather something of his history
from his broken murmurs.
"Speak in your native language," he said to the sufferer;
"I understand it, and it will fatigue you less."
The missionary was a poor young man from the village
of Aradon, in Brittany, in the Morbihan country. His
earliest instincts had drawn him toward an ecclesiastical
career, but to this life of self-sacrifice he was also desirous
of joining a life of danger, by entering the mission of the
order of priesthood of which St. Vincent de Paul was the
founder, and, at twenty, he quitted his country for the
inhospitable shores of Africa. From the sea-coast, overcoming
obstacles, little by little, braving all privations,
pushing onward, afoot, and praying, he had advanced to
the very centre of those tribes that dwell among the tributary
streams of the Upper Nile. For two years his faith
was spurned, his zeal denied recognition, his charities
taken in ill part, and he remained a prisoner to one of the
cruelest tribes of the Nyambarra, the object of every
species of maltreatment. But still he went on teaching,
instructing, and praying. The tribe having been dispersed
and he left for dead, in one of those combats which
are so frequent between the tribes, instead of retracing his
steps, he persisted in his evangelical mission. His most
tranquil time was when he was taken for a madman.
Meanwhile, he had made himself familiar with the idioms
of the country, and he catechised in them. At length,
during two more long years, he traversed these barbarous
regions, impelled by that superhuman energy that comes
from God. For a year past he had been residing with
that tribe of the Nyam-Nyams known as the Barafri,
one of the wildest and most ferocious of them all. The
chief having died a few days before our travellers appeared,
his sudden death was attributed to the missionary, and
the tribe resolved to immolate him. His sufferings had
already continued for the space of forty hours, and, as the
doctor had supposed, he was to have perished in the blaze
of the noonday sun. When he heard the sound of fire-arms,
nature got the best of him, and he had cried out, "Help!
help!" He then thought that he must have been dreaming,
when a voice, that seemed to come from the sky, had
uttered words of consolation.
"I have no regrets," he said, "for the life that is passing
away from me; my life belongs to God!"
"Hope still!" said the doctor; "we are near you, and
we will save you now, as we saved you from the tortures
of the stake."
"I do not ask so much of Heaven," said the priest,
with resignation. "Blessed be God for having vouchsafed
to me the joy before I die of having pressed your friendly
hands, and having heard, once more, the language of my
country!"
The missionary here grew weak again, and the whole
day went by between hope and fear, Kennedy deeply
moved, and Joe drawing his hand over his eyes more
than once when he thought that no one saw him.
The balloon made little progress, and the wind seemed
as though unwilling to jostle its precious burden.
Toward evening, Joe discovered a great light in the
west. Under more elevated latitudes, it might have been
mistaken for an immense aurora borealis, for the sky
appeared on fire. The doctor very attentively examined
the phenomenon.
"It is, perhaps, only a volcano in full activity," said he.
"But the wind is carrying us directly over it," replied
Kennedy.
"Very well, we shall cross it then at a safe height!"
said the doctor.
Three hours later, the Victoria was right among the
mountains. Her exact position was twenty-four degrees
fifteen minutes east longitude, and four degrees forty-two
minutes north latitude, and four degrees forty-two
minutes north latitude. In front of her a volcanic crater
was pouring forth torrents of melted lava, and hurling
masses of rock to an enormous height. There were jets,
too, of liquid fire that fell back in dazzling cascades--a
superb but dangerous spectacle, for the wind with unswerving
certainty was carrying the balloon directly toward this
blazing atmosphere.
This obstacle, which could not be turned, had to be
crossed, so the cylinder was put to its utmost power, and
the balloon rose to the height of six thousand feet, leaving
between it and the volcano a space of more than three
hundred fathoms.
From his bed of suffering, the dying missionary could
contemplate that fiery crater from which a thousand jets
of dazzling flame were that moment escaping.
"How grand it is!" said he, "and how infinite is the
power of God even in its most terrible manifestations!"
This overflow of blazing lava wrapped the sides of the
mountain with a veritable drapery of flame; the lower
half of the balloon glowed redly in the upper night; a
torrid heat ascended to the car, and Dr. Ferguson made
all possible haste to escape from this perilous situation.
By ten o'clock the volcano could be seen only as a red
point on the horizon, and the balloon tranquilly pursued
her course in a less elevated zone of the atmosphere.

 

 

 

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