The evening was lovely, and our three friends enjoyed
it in the cool shade of the mimosas, after a substantial
repast, at which the tea and the punch were dealt out with
no niggardly hand.
Kennedy had traversed the little domain in all directions.
He had ransacked every thicket and satisfied himself
that the balloon party were the only living creatures
in this terrestrial paradise; so they stretched themselves
upon their blankets and passed a peaceful night that
brought them forgetfulness of their past sufferings.
On the morrow, May 7th, the sun shone with all his
splendor, but his rays could not penetrate the dense screen
of the palm-tree foliage, and as there was no lack of provisions,
the doctor resolved to remain where he was while
waiting for a favorable wind.
Joe had conveyed his portable kitchen to the oasis, and proceeded
to indulge in any number of culinary combinations, using water
all the time with the most profuse extravagance.
"What a strange succession of annoyances and enjoyments!"
moralized Kennedy. "Such abundance as this after such
privations; such luxury after such want! Ah! I nearly went mad!"
"My dear Dick," replied the doctor, "had it not been
for Joe, you would not be sitting here, to-day, discoursing
on the instability of human affairs."
"Whole-hearted friend!" said Kennedy, extending
his hand to Joe.
"There's no occasion for all that," responded the latter;
"but you can take your revenge some time, Mr. Kennedy,
always hoping though that you may never have occasion
to do the same for me!"
"It's a poor constitution this of ours to succumb to so
little," philosophized Dr. Ferguson.
"So little water, you mean, doctor," interposed Joe;
"that element must be very necessary to life."
"Undoubtedly, and persons deprived of food hold out
longer than those deprived of water."
"I believe it. Besides, when needs must, one can eat
any thing he comes across, even his fellow-creatures,
although that must be a kind of food that's pretty hard
to digest."
"The savages don't boggle much about it!" said
Kennedy.
"Yes; but then they are savages, and accustomed to
devouring raw meat; it's something that I'd find very
disgusting, for my part."
"It is disgusting enough," said the doctor, "that's a
fact; and so much so, indeed, that nobody believed the
narratives of the earliest travellers in Africa who brought
back word that many tribes on that continent subsisted
upon raw meat, and people generally refused to credit the
statement. It was under such circumstances that a very
singular adventure befell James Bruce."
"Tell it to us, doctor; we've time enough to hear it,"
said Joe, stretching himself voluptuously on the cool
greensward.
"By all means.--James Bruce was a Scotchman, of
Stirlingshire, who, between 1768 and 1772, traversed all
Abyssinia, as far as Lake Tyana, in search of the sources
of the Nile. He afterward returned to England, but did
not publish an account of his journeys until 1790. His
statements were received with extreme incredulity, and
such may be the reception accorded to our own. The
manners and customs of the Abyssinians seemed so different
from those of the English, that no one would credit the
description of them. Among other details, Bruce had put
forward the assertion that the tribes of Eastern Africa fed
upon raw flesh, and this set everybody against him. He
might say so as much as he pleased; there was no one
likely to go and see! One day, in a parlor at Edinburgh,
a Scotch gentleman took up the subject in his presence, as
it had become the topic of daily pleasantry, and, in reference
to the eating of raw flesh, said that the thing was
neither possible nor true. Bruce made no reply, but went
out and returned a few minutes later with a raw steak,
seasoned with pepper and salt, in the African style.
"'Sir,' said he to the Scotchman, 'in doubting my
statements, you have grossly affronted me; in believing
the thing to be impossible, you have been egregiously
mistaken; and, in proof thereof, you will now eat this
beef-steak raw, or you will give me instant satisfaction!'
The Scotchman had a wholesome dread of the brawny
traveller, and DID eat the steak, although not without a
good many wry faces. Thereupon, with the utmost coolness,
James Bruce added: 'Even admitting, sir, that the
thing were untrue, you will, at least, no longer maintain
that it is impossible.'"
"Well put in!" said Joe, "and if the Scotchman
found it lie heavy on his stomach, he got no more than he
deserved. If, on our return to England, they dare to
doubt what we say about our travels--"
"Well, Joe, what would you do?"
"Why, I'll make the doubters swallow the pieces of
the balloon, without either salt or pepper!"
All burst out laughing at Joe's queer notions, and thus
the day slipped by in pleasant chat. With returning
strength, hope had revived, and with hope came the courage
to do and to dare. The past was obliterated in the
presence of the future with providential rapidity.
Joe would have been willing to remain forever in this
enchanting asylum; it was the realm he had pictured in
his dreams; he felt himself at home; his master had to
give him his exact location, and it was with the gravest
air imaginable that he wrote down on his tablets fifteen
degrees forty-three minutes east longitude, and eight degrees
thirty-two minutes north latitude.
Kennedy had but one regret, to wit, that he could not
hunt in that miniature forest, because, according to his
ideas, there was a slight deficiency of ferocious wild beasts
in it.
"But, my dear Dick," said the doctor, "haven't you
rather a short memory? How about the lion and the
lioness?"
"Oh, that!" he ejaculated with the contempt of a
thorough-bred sportsman for game already killed. "But
the fact is, that finding them here would lead one to
suppose that we can't be far from a more fertile country."
"It don't prove much, Dick, for those animals, when
goaded by hunger or thirst, will travel long distances, and
I think that, to-night, we had better keep a more vigilant
lookout, and light fires, besides."
"What, in such heat as this?" said Joe. "Well, if it's
necessary, we'll have to do it, but I do think it a real pity
to burn this pretty grove that has been such a comfort to us!"
"Oh! above all things, we must take the utmost care
not to set it on fire," replied the doctor, "so that others
in the same strait as ourselves may some day find shelter
here in the middle of the desert."
"I'll be very careful, indeed, doctor; but do you think
that this oasis is known?"
"Undoubtedly; it is a halting-place for the caravans
that frequent the centre of Africa, and a visit from one
of them might be any thing but pleasant to you, Joe."
"Why, are there any more of those rascally Nyam-Nyams
around here?"
"Certainly; that is the general name of all the neighboring
tribes, and, under the same climates, the same
races are likely to have similar manners and customs."
"Pah!" said Joe, "but, after all, it's natural enough.
If savages had the ways of gentlemen, where would be the
difference? By George, these fine fellows wouldn't have
to be coaxed long to eat the Scotchman's raw steak, nor
the Scotchman either, into the bargain!"
With this very sensible observation, Joe began to get
ready his firewood for the night, making just as little of
it as possible. Fortunately, these precautions were superfluous;
and each of the party, in his turn, dropped off into
the soundest slumber.
On the next day the weather still showed no sign of
change, but kept provokingly and obstinately fair. The
balloon remained motionless, without any oscillation to
betray a breath of wind.
The doctor began to get uneasy again. If their stay in the
desert were to be prolonged like this, their provisions
would give out. After nearly perishing for want of
water, they would, at last, have to starve to death!
But he took fresh courage as he saw the mercury fall
considerably in the barometer, and noticed evident signs
of an early change in the atmosphere. He therefore resolved
to make all his preparations for a start, so as to
avail himself of the first opportunity. The feeding-tank
and the water-tank were both completely filled.
Then he had to reestablish the equilibrium of the balloon,
and Joe was obliged to part with another considerable
portion of his precious quartz. With restored health,
his ambitious notions had come back to him, and he made
more than one wry face before obeying his master; but
the latter convinced him that he could not carry so considerable
a weight with him through the air, and gave
him his choice between the water and the gold. Joe
hesitated no longer, but flung out the requisite quantity
of his much-prized ore upon the sand.
"The next people who come this way," he remarked,
"will be rather surprised to find a fortune in such a
place."
"And suppose some learned traveller should come
across these specimens, eh?" suggested Kennedy.
"You may be certain, Dick, that they would take him
by surprise, and that he would publish his astonishment
in several folios; so that some day we shall hear of a
wonderful deposit of gold-bearing quartz in the midst of the
African sands!"
"And Joe there, will be the cause of it all!"
This idea of mystifying some learned sage tickled Joe
hugely, and made him laugh.
During the rest of the day the doctor vainly kept on
the watch for a change of weather. The temperature rose,
and, had it not been for the shade of the oasis, would have
been insupportable. The thermometer marked a hundred
and forty-nine degrees in the sun, and a veritable rain of
fire filled the air. This was the most intense heat that
they had yet noted.
Joe arranged their bivouac for that evening, as he had
done for the previous night; and during the watches kept
by the doctor and Kennedy there was no fresh incident.
But, toward three o'clock in the morning, while Joe
was on guard, the temperature suddenly fell; the sky
became overcast with clouds, and the darkness increased.
"Turn out!" cried Joe, arousing his companions.
"Turn out! Here's the wind!"
"At last!" exclaimed the doctor, eying the heavens.
"But it is a storm! The balloon! Let us hasten to the
balloon!"
It was high time for them to reach it. The Victoria
was bending to the force of the hurricane, and dragging
along the car, the latter grazing the sand. Had any portion
of the ballast been accidentally thrown out, the
balloon would have been swept away, and all hope of
recovering it have been forever lost.
But fleet-footed Joe put forth his utmost speed, and
checked the car, while the balloon beat upon the sand, at
the risk of being torn to pieces. The doctor, followed by
Kennedy, leaped in, and lit his cylinder, while his companions
threw out the superfluous ballast.
The travellers took one last look at the trees of the
oasis bowing to the force of the hurricane, and soon,
catching the wind at two hundred feet above the ground,
disappeared in the gloom.

 

 

 

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