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Chapter Forty-First.

On the 27th of May, at nine o'clock in the morning,
the country presented an entirely different aspect. The
slopes, extending far away, changed to hills that gave
evidence of mountains soon to follow. They would have to
cross the chain which separates the basin of the Niger
from the basin of the Senegal, and determines the course
of the water-shed, whether to the Gulf of Guinea on the
one hand, or to the bay of Cape Verde on the other.
As far as Senegal, this part of Africa is marked down
as dangerous. Dr. Ferguson knew it through the recitals
of his predecessors. They had suffered a thousand privations
and been exposed to a thousand dangers in the midst
of these barbarous negro tribes. It was this fatal climate
that had devoured most of the companions of Mungo Park.
Ferguson, therefore, was more than ever decided not to
set foot in this inhospitable region.
But he had not enjoyed one moment of repose. The
Victoria was descending very perceptibly, so much so
that he had to throw overboard a number more of useless
articles, especially when there was a mountain-top to pass.
Things went on thus for more than one hundred and
twenty miles; they were worn out with ascending and
falling again; the balloon, like another rock of Sisyphus,
kept continually sinking back toward the ground. The
rotundity of the covering, which was now but little inflated,
was collapsing already. It assumed an elongated shape,
and the wind hollowed large cavities in the silken surface.
Kennedy could not help observing this.
"Is there a crack or a tear in the balloon?" he asked.
"No, but the gutta percha has evidently softened or
melted in the heat, and the hydrogen is escaping through
the silk."
"How can we prevent that?"
"It is impossible. Let us lighten her. That is the
only help. So let us throw out every thing we can spare."
"But what shall it be?" said the hunter, looking at
the car, which was already quite bare.
"Well, let us get rid of the awning, for its weight is
quite considerable."
Joe, who was interested in this order, climbed up on
the circle which kept together the cordage of the network,
and from that place easily managed to detach the heavy
curtains of the awning and throw them overboard.
"There's something that will gladden the hearts of a
whole tribe of blacks," said he; "there's enough to dress
a thousand of them, for they're not very extravagant with
The balloon had risen a little, but it soon became evident
that it was again approaching the ground.
"Let us alight," suggested Kennedy, "and see what
can be done with the covering of the balloon."
"I tell you, again, Dick, that we have no means of repairing it."
"Then what shall we do?"
"We'll have to sacrifice every thing not absolutely indispensable;
I am anxious, at all hazards, to avoid a detention in these
regions. The forests over the tops of which we are skimming are
any thing but safe."
"What! are there lions in them, or hyenas?" asked
Joe, with an expression of sovereign contempt.
"Worse than that, my boy! There are men, and some
of the most cruel, too, in all Africa."
"How is that known?"
"By the statements of travellers who have been here
before us. Then the French settlers, who occupy the
colony of Senegal, necessarily have relations with the
surrounding tribes. Under the administration of Colonel
Faidherbe, reconnoissances have been pushed far up into
the country. Officers such as Messrs. Pascal, Vincent, and
Lambert, have brought back precious documents from their
expeditions. They have explored these countries formed by
the elbow of the Senegal in places where war and pillage
have left nothing but ruins."
"What, then, took place?"
"I will tell you. In 1854 a Marabout of the Senegalese
Fouta, Al-Hadji by name, declaring himself to be inspired
like Mohammed, stirred up all the tribes to war
against the infidels--that is to say, against the
Europeans. He carried destruction and desolation over the
regions between the Senegal River and its tributary,
the Fateme. Three hordes of fanatics led on by him
scoured the country, sparing neither a village nor a hut
in their pillaging, massacring career. He advanced in
person on the town of Sego, which was a long time
threatened. In 1857 he worked up farther to the northward,
and invested the fortification of Medina, built by the
French on the bank of the river. This stronghold was
defended by Paul Holl, who, for several months, without
provisions or ammunition, held out until Colonel Faidherbe
came to his relief. Al-Hadji and his bands then
repassed the Senegal, and reappeared in the Kaarta,
continuing their rapine and murder.--Well, here below us
is the very country in which he has found refuge with his
hordes of banditti; and I assure you that it would not be
a good thing to fall into his hands."
"We shall not," said Joe, "even if we have to throw
overboard our clothes to save the Victoria."
"We are not far from the river," said the doctor, "but
I foresee that our balloon will not be able to carry
us beyond it."
"Let us reach its banks, at all events," said the Scot,
"and that will be so much gained."
"That is what we are trying to do," rejoined Ferguson,
"only that one thing makes me feel anxious."
"What is that?"
"We shall have mountains to pass, and that will be
difficult to do, since I cannot augment the ascensional force
of the balloon, even with the greatest possible heat that I
can produce."
"Well, wait a bit," said Kennedy, "and we shall see!"
"The poor Victoria!" sighed Joe; "I had got fond
of her as the sailor does of his ship, and I'll not give her
up so easily. She may not be what she was at the start--
granted; but we shouldn't say a word against her. She
has done us good service, and it would break my heart to
desert her."
"Be at your ease, Joe; if we leave her, it will be in
spite of ourselves. She'll serve us until she's completely
worn out, and I ask of her only twenty-four hours more!"
"Ah, she's getting used up! She grows thinner and
thinner," said Joe, dolefully, while he eyed her. "Poor
"Unless I am deceived," said Kennedy, "there on the
horizon are the mountains of which you were speaking,
"Yes, there they are, indeed!" exclaimed the doctor,
after having examined them through his spy-glass, "and
they look very high. We shall have some trouble in
crossing them."
"Can we not avoid them?"
"I am afraid not, Dick. See what an immense space
they occupy--nearly one-half of the horizon!"
"They even seem to shut us in," added Joe. "They
are gaining on both our right and our left."
"We must then pass over them."
These obstacles, which threatened such imminent peril,
seemed to approach with extreme rapidity, or, to speak
more accurately, the wind, which was very fresh, was
hurrying the balloon toward the sharp peaks. So rise it
must, or be dashed to pieces.
"Let us empty our tank of water," said the doctor,
"and keep only enough for one day."
"There it goes," shouted Joe.
"Does the balloon rise at all?" asked Kennedy.
"A little--some fifty feet," replied the doctor, who
kept his eyes fixed on the barometer. "But that is not
In truth the lofty peaks were starting up so swiftly before
the travellers that they seemed to be rushing down upon them.
The balloon was far from rising above them. She lacked an
elevation of more than five hundred feet more.
The stock of water for the cylinder was also thrown
overboard and only a few pints were retained, but still all
this was not enough.
"We must pass them though!" urged the doctor.
"Let us throw out the tanks--we have emptied them."
said Kennedy.
"Over with them!"
"There they go!" panted Joe. "But it's hard to see
ourselves dropping off this way by piecemeal."
"Now, for your part, Joe, make no attempt to sacrifice
yourself as you did the other day! Whatever happens,
swear to me that you will not leave us!"
"Have no fears, my master, we shall not be separated."
The Victoria had ascended some hundred and twenty
feet, but the crest of the mountain still towered above it.
It was an almost perpendicular ridge that ended in a regular
wall rising abruptly in a straight line. It still rose
more than two hundred feet over the aeronauts.
"In ten minutes," said the doctor to himself, "our car
will be dashed against those rocks unless we succeed in
passing them!"
"Well, doctor?" queried Joe.
"Keep nothing but our pemmican, and throw out all
the heavy meat."
Thereupon the balloon was again lightened by some
fifty pounds, and it rose very perceptibly, but that was of
little consequence, unless it got above the line of the
mountain-tops. The situation was terrifying. The Victoria
was rushing on with great rapidity. They could
feel that she would be dashed to pieces--that the shock
would be fearful.
The doctor glanced around him in the car. It was
nearly empty.
"If needs be, Dick, hold yourself in readiness to throw
over your fire-arms!"
"Sacrifice my fire-arms?" repeated the sportsman,
with intense feeling.
"My friend, I ask it; it will be absolutely necessary!"
"Samuel! Doctor!"
"Your guns, and your stock of powder and ball might
cost us our lives."
"We are close to it!" cried Joe.
Sixty feet! The mountain still overtopped the balloon
by sixty feet.
Joe took the blankets and other coverings and tossed
them out; then, without a word to Kennedy, he threw
over several bags of bullets and lead.
The balloon went up still higher; it surmounted the
dangerous ridge, and the rays of the sun shone upon its
uppermost extremity; but the car was still below the level
of certain broken masses of rock, against which it would
inevitably be dashed.
"Kennedy! Kennedy! throw out your fire-arms, or
we are lost!" shouted the doctor.
"Wait, sir; wait one moment!" they heard Joe exclaim,
and, looking around, they saw Joe disappear over
the edge of the balloon.
"Joe! Joe!" cried Kennedy.
"Wretched man!" was the doctor's agonized expression.
The flat top of the mountain may have had about
twenty feet in breadth at this point, and, on the other
side, the slope presented a less declivity. The car just
touched the level of this plane, which happened to be quite
even, and it glided over a soil composed of sharp pebbles
that grated as it passed.
"We're over it! we're over it! we're clear!" cried out
an exulting voice that made Ferguson's heart leap to his
The daring fellow was there, grasping the lower rim of
the car, and running afoot over the top of the mountain,
thus lightening the balloon of his whole weight. He had
to hold on with all his strength, too, for it was likely to
escape his grasp at any moment.
When he had reached the opposite declivity, and the
abyss was before him, Joe, by a vigorous effort, hoisted
himself from the ground, and, clambering up by the cordage,
rejoined his friends.
"That was all!" he coolly ejaculated.
"My brave Joe! my friend!" said the doctor, with
deep emotion.
"Oh! what I did," laughed the other, "was not for
you; it was to save Mr. Kennedy's rifle. I owed him
that good turn for the affair with the Arab! I like to
pay my debts, and now we are even," added he, handing
to the sportsman his favorite weapon. "I'd feel very
badly to see you deprived of it."
Kennedy heartily shook the brave fellow's hand, without
being able to utter a word.
The Victoria had nothing to do now but to descend.
That was easy enough, so that she was soon at a height
of only two hundred feet from the ground, and was then
in equilibrium. The surface seemed very much broken
as though by a convulsion of nature. It presented numerous
inequalities, which would have been very difficult to
avoid during the night with a balloon that could no longer
be controlled. Evening was coming on rapidly, and,
notwithstanding his repugnance, the doctor had to make
up his mind to halt until morning.
"We'll now look for a favorable stopping-place," said he.
"Ah!" replied Kennedy, "you have made up your
mind, then, at last?"
"Yes, I have for a long time been thinking over a plan
which we'll try to put into execution; it is only six o'clock
in the evening, and we shall have time enough. Throw
out your anchors, Joe!"
Joe immediately obeyed, and the two anchors dangled
below the balloon.
"I see large forests ahead of us," said the doctor; "we
are going to sweep along their tops, and we shall grapple
to some tree, for nothing would make me think of passing
the night below, on the ground."
"But can we not descend?" asked Kennedy.
"To what purpose? I repeat that it would be dangerous
for us to separate, and, besides, I claim your help
for a difficult piece of work."
The Victoria, which was skimming along the tops of
immense forests, soon came to a sharp halt. Her anchors
had caught, and, the wind falling as dusk came on, she
remained motionlessly suspended above a vast field of
verdure, formed by the tops of a forest of sycamores.