On the next day, May 11th, the Victoria resumed her
adventurous journey. Her passengers had the same confidence
in her that a good seaman has in his ship.
In terrific hurricanes, in tropical heats, when making
dangerous departures, and descents still more dangerous,
it had, at all times and in all places, come out safely. It
might almost have been said that Ferguson managed it
with a wave of the hand; and hence, without knowing in
advance, where the point of arrival would be, the doctor
had no fears concerning the successful issue of his journey.
However, in this country of barbarians and fanatics, prudence
obliged him to take the strictest precautions. He
therefore counselled his companions to have their eyes
wide open for every thing and at all hours.
The wind drifted a little more to the northward, and,
toward nine o'clock, they sighted the larger city of Mosfeia,
built upon an eminence which was itself enclosed between
two lofty mountains. Its position was impregnable,
a narrow road running between a marsh and a thick wood
being the only channel of approach to it.
At the moment of which we write, a sheik, accompanied
by a mounted escort, and clad in a garb of brilliant
colors, preceded by couriers and trumpeters, who put aside
the boughs of the trees as he rode up, was making his
grand entry into the place.
The doctor lowered the balloon in order to get a better
look at this cavalcade of natives; but, as the balloon
grew larger to their eyes, they began to show symptoms
of intense affright, and at length made off in different
directions as fast as their legs and those of their horses
could carry them.
The sheik alone did not budge an inch. He merely
grasped his long musket, cocked it, and proudly waited in
silence. The doctor came on to within a hundred and
fifty feet of him, and then, with his roundest and fullest
voice, saluted him courteously in the Arabic tongue.
But, upon hearing these words falling, as it seemed,
from the sky, the sheik dismounted and prostrated himself
in the dust of the highway, where the doctor had to
leave him, finding it impossible to divert him from his
adoration.
"Unquestionably," Ferguson remarked, "those people
take us for supernatural beings. When Europeans came
among them for the first time, they were mistaken for
creatures of a higher race. When this sheik comes to
speak of to-day's meeting, he will not fail to embellish the
circumstance with all the resources of an Arab imagination.
You may, therefore, judge what an account their
legends will give of us some day."
"Not such a desirable thing, after all," said the Scot,
"in the point of view that affects civilization; it would be
better to pass for mere men. That would give these negro
races a superior idea of European power."
"Very good, my dear Dick; but what can we do about
it? You might sit all day explaining the mechanism of
a balloon to the savants of this country, and yet they would
not comprehend you, but would persist in ascribing it to
supernatural aid."
"Doctor, you spoke of the first time Europeans visited
these regions. Who were the visitors?" inquired Joe.
"My dear fellow, we are now upon the very track of
Major Denham. It was at this very city of Mosfeia that
he was received by the Sultan of Mandara; he had quitted
the Bornou country; he accompanied the sheik in an expedition
against the Fellatahs; he assisted in the attack
on the city, which, with its arrows alone, bravely resisted
the bullets of the Arabs, and put the sheik's troops to
flight. All this was but a pretext for murders, raids, and
pillage. The major was completely plundered and stripped,
and had it not been for his horse, under whose stomach he
clung with the skill of an Indian rider, and was borne with
a headlong gallop from his barbarous pursuers, he never
could have made his way back to Kouka, the capital of
Bornou."
"Who was this Major Denham?"
"A fearless Englishman, who, between 1822 and 1824,
commanded an expedition into the Bornou country, in
company with Captain Clapperton and Dr. Oudney. They
set out from Tripoli in the month of March, reached Mourzouk,
the capital of Fez, and, following the route which at
a later period Dr. Barth was to pursue on his way back to
Europe, they arrived, on the 16th of February, 1823, at
Kouka, near Lake Tchad. Denham made several explorations
in Bornou, in Mandara, and to the eastern shores of
the lake. In the mean time, on the 15th of December,
1823, Captain Clapperton and Dr. Oudney had pushed
their way through the Soudan country as far as Sackatoo,
and Oudney died of fatigue and exhaustion in the town
of Murmur."
"This part of Africa has, therefore, paid a heavy tribute
of victims to the cause of science," said Kennedy.
"Yes, this country is fatal to travellers. We are moving
directly toward the kingdom of Baghirmi, which Vogel
traversed in 1856, so as to reach the Wadai country, where
he disappeared. This young man, at the age of twenty-three,
had been sent to cooperate with Dr. Barth. They
met on the 1st of December, 1854, and thereupon commenced
his explorations of the country. Toward 1856, he
announced, in the last letters received from him, his
intention to reconnoitre the kingdom of Wadai, which no
European had yet penetrated. It appears that he got as
far as Wara, the capital, where, according to some accounts,
he was made prisoner, and, according to others,
was put to death for having attempted to ascend a sacred
mountain in the environs. But, we must not too lightly
admit the death of travellers, since that does away with
the necessity of going in search of them. For instance,
how often was the death of Dr. Barth reported, to his
own great annoyance! It is, therefore, very possible that
Vogel may still be held as a prisoner by the Sultan of
Wadai, in the hope of obtaining a good ransom for him.
"Baron de Neimans was about starting for the Wadai country when he died at Cairo, in 1855; and we now know that De Heuglin has set out on Vogel's track with the expedition sent from Leipsic, so that we shall soon be accurately informed as to the fate of that young and interesting explorer."[1]
Mosfeia had disappeared from the horizon long ere this,
and the Mandara country was developing to the gaze of
our aeronauts its astonishing fertility, with its forests of
acacias, its locust-trees covered with red flowers, and the
herbaceous plants of its fields of cotton and indigo trees.
The river Shari, which eighty miles farther on rolled its
impetuous waters into Lake Tchad, was quite distinctly
seen.
The doctor got his companions to trace its course upon
the maps drawn by Dr. Barth.
"You perceive," said he, "that the labors of this savant
have been conducted with great precision; we are moving
directly toward the Loggoum region, and perhaps toward
Kernak, its capital. It was there that poor Toole died, at
the age of scarcely twenty-two. He was a young Englishman,
an ensign in the 80th regiment, who, a few weeks
before, had joined Major Denham in Africa, and it was
not long ere he there met his death. Ah! this vast
country might well be called the graveyard of European
travellers."
Some boats, fifty feet long, were descending the current
of the Shari. The Victoria, then one thousand feet
above the soil, hardly attracted the attention of the
natives; but the wind, which until then had been blowing
with a certain degree of strength, was falling off.
"Is it possible that we are to be caught in another dead
calm?" sighed the doctor.
"Well, we've no lack of water, nor the desert to fear,
anyhow, master," said Joe.
"No; but there are races here still more to be dreaded."
"Why!" said Joe, again, "there's something like a town."
"That is Kernak. The last puffs of the breeze are
wafting us to it, and, if we choose, we can take an exact
plan of the place."
"Shall we not go nearer to it?" asked Kennedy.
"Nothing easier, Dick! We are right over it. Allow
me to turn the stopcock of the cylinder, and we'll not be
long in descending."
Half an hour later the balloon hung motionless about
two hundred feet from the ground.
"Here we are!" said the doctor, "nearer to Kernak
than a man would be to London, if he were perched in the
cupola of St. Paul's. So we can take a survey at our
ease."
"What is that tick-tacking sound that we hear on all sides?"
Joe looked attentively, and at length discovered that
the noise they heard was produced by a number of weavers
beating cloth stretched in the open air, on large trunks of
trees.
The capital of Loggoum could then be seen in its entire
extent, like an unrolled chart. It is really a city with
straight rows of houses and quite wide streets. In the
midst of a large open space there was a slave-market,
attended by a great crowd of customers, for the Mandara
women, who have extremely small hands and feet, are in
excellent request, and can be sold at lucrative rates.
At the sight of the Victoria, the scene so often produced
occurred again. At first there were outcries, and
then followed general stupefaction; business was abandoned;
work was flung aside, and all noise ceased. The
aeronauts remained as they were, completely motionless,
and lost not a detail of the populous city. They even
went down to within sixty feet of the ground.
Hereupon the Governor of Loggoum came out from his residence,
displaying his green standard, and accompanied by his
musicians, who blew on hoarse buffalo-horns, as though
they would split their cheeks or any thing else,
excepting their own lungs. The crowd at once gathered
around him. In the mean while Dr. Ferguson tried to
make himself heard, but in vain.
This population looked like proud and intelligent people,
with their high foreheads, their almost aquiline noses,
and their curling hair; but the presence of the Victoria
troubled them greatly. Horsemen could be seen galloping
in all directions, and it soon became evident that the
governor's troops were assembling to oppose so extraordinary
a foe. Joe wore himself out waving handkerchiefs
of every color and shape to them; but his exertions were
all to no purpose.
However, the sheik, surrounded by his court, proclaimed
silence, and pronounced a discourse, of which the
doctor could not understand a word. It was Arabic, mixed
with Baghirmi. He could make out enough, however, by
the universal language of gestures, to be aware that he
was receiving a very polite invitation to depart. Indeed,
he would have asked for nothing better, but for lack of
wind, the thing had become impossible. His noncompliance,
therefore, exasperated the governor, whose courtiers
and attendants set up a furious howl to enforce immediate
obedience on the part of the aerial monster.
They were odd-looking fellows those courtiers, with
their five or six shirts swathed around their bodies! They
had enormous stomachs, some of which actually seemed
to be artificial. The doctor surprised his companions by
informing them that this was the way to pay court to the
sultan. The rotundity of the stomach indicated the ambition
of its possessor. These corpulent gentry gesticulated
and bawled at the top of their voices--one of them
particularly distinguishing himself above the rest--to
such an extent, indeed, that he must have been a prime
minister--at least, if the disturbance he made was any
criterion of his rank. The common rabble of dusky denizens
united their howlings with the uproar of the court,
repeating their gesticulations like so many monkeys, and
thereby producing a single and instantaneous movement
of ten thousand arms at one time.
To these means of intimidation, which were presently
deemed insufficient, were added others still more formidable.
Soldiers, armed with bows and arrows, were drawn
up in line of battle; but by this time the balloon was
expanding, and rising quietly beyond their reach. Upon
this the governor seized a musket and aimed it at the
balloon; but, Kennedy, who was watching him, shattered
the uplifted weapon in the sheik's grasp.
At this unexpected blow there was a general rout.
Every mother's son of them scampered for his dwelling
with the utmost celerity, and stayed there, so that the
streets of the town were absolutely deserted for the remainder
of that day.
Night came, and not a breath of wind was stirring.
The aeronauts had to make up their minds to remain
motionless at the distance of but three hundred feet
above the ground. Not a fire or light shone in the deep
gloom, and around reigned the silence of death; but the
doctor only redoubled his vigilance, as this apparent quiet
might conceal some snare.
And he had reason to be watchful. About midnight,
the whole city seemed to be in a blaze. Hundreds of
streaks of flame crossed each other, and shot to and fro
in the air like rockets, forming a regular network of fire.
"That's really curious!" said the doctor, somewhat
puzzled to make out what it meant.
"By all that's glorious!" shouted Kennedy, "it looks
as if the fire were ascending and coming up toward us!"
And, sure enough, with an accompaniment of musket-shots,
yelling, and din of every description, the mass of
fire was, indeed, mounting toward the Victoria. Joe got
ready to throw out ballast, and Ferguson was not long at
guessing the truth. Thousands of pigeons, their tails garnished
with combustibles, had been set loose and driven
toward the Victoria; and now, in their terror, they were
flying high up, zigzagging the atmosphere with lines of
fire. Kennedy was preparing to discharge all his batteries
into the middle of the ascending multitude, but what
could he have done against such a numberless army?
The pigeons were already whisking around the car; they
were even surrounding the balloon, the sides of which,
reflecting their illumination, looked as though enveloped
with a network of fire.
The doctor dared hesitate no longer; and, throwing
out a fragment of quartz, he kept himself beyond the
reach of these dangerous assailants; and, for two hours
afterward, he could see them wandering hither and thither
through the darkness of the night, until, little by little,
their light diminished, and they, one by one, died out.
"Now we may sleep in quiet," said the doctor.
"Not badly got up for barbarians," mused friend Joe,
speaking his thoughts aloud.
"Oh, they employ these pigeons frequently, to set fire
to the thatch of hostile villages; but this time the village
mounted higher than they could go."
"Why, positively, a balloon need fear no enemies!"
"Yes, indeed, it may!" objected Ferguson.
"What are they, then, doctor?"
"They are the careless people in the car! So, my friends,
let us have vigilance in all places and at all times."

 

↑ Since the doctor's departure, letters written from El'Obeid by Mr. Muntzinger, the newly-appointed head of the expedition, unfortunately place the death of Vogel beyond a doubt.

 

 


 

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