"They're quite natural, but they are very fine! Why a dozen of them would make a forest!"
"Those are baobabs," replied Dr. Ferguson. "See, there's one with a trunk fully one hundred feet in circumference. It was, perhaps, at the foot of that very tree that Maizan, the French traveller, expired in 1845, for we are over the village of Deje-la-Mhora, to which he pushed on alone. He was seized by the chief of this region, fastened to the foot of a baobab, and the ferocious black then severed all his joints while the war-song of his tribe was chanted; he then made a gash in the prisoner's neck, stopped to sharpen his knife, and fairly tore away the poor wretch's head before it had been cut from the body. The unfortunate Frenchman was but twenty-six years of age."
"And France has never avenged so hideous a crime?" said Kennedy.
"France did demand satisfaction, and the Said of Zanzibar did all in his power to capture the murderer, but in vain."
"I move that we don't stop here!" urged Joe; "let us go up, master, let us go up higher by all means."
"All the more willingly, Joe, that there is Mount Duthumi right ahead of us. If my calculations be right we shall have passed it before seven o'clock in the evening."
"Shall we not travel at night?" asked the Scotchman.
"No, as little as possible. With care and vigilance we might do so safely, but it is not enough to sweep across Africa. We want to see it."
"Up to this time we have nothing to complain of, master. The best cultivated and most fertile country in the world instead of a desert! Believe the geographers after that!"
Let us wait, Joe! we shall see by-and-by."
About half-past six in the evening the Victoria was directly opposite Mount Duthumi; in order to pass, it had to ascend to a height of more than three thousand feet, and to accomplish that the doctor had only to raise the temperature of his gas eighteen degrees. It might have been correctly said that he held his balloon in his hand. Kennedy had only to indicate to him the obstacles to be surmounted, and the Victoria sped through the air, skimming the summits of the range.
At eight o'clock it descended the farther slope, the acclivity of which was much less abrupt. The anchors were thrown out from the car and one of them, coming in contact with the branches of an enormous nopal, caught on it firmly. Joe at once let himself slide down the rope and secured it. The silk ladder was then lowered to him and he remounted to the car with agility. The balloon now remained perfectly at rest sheltered from the eastern winds.
The evening meal was got ready, and the aeronauts, excited by their day's journey, made a heavy onslaught upon the provisions.
"What distance have we traversed to-day?" asked Kennedy, disposing of some alarming mouthfuls.
The doctor took his bearings, by means of lunar observations, and consulted the excellent map that he had with him for his guidance. It belonged to the Atlas of "Der Neuester Endeckungen in Afrika" ("The Latest Discoveries in Africa"), published at Gotha by his learned friend Dr. Petermann, and by that savant sent to him. This Atlas was to serve the doctor on his whole journey; for it contained the itinerary of Burton and Speke to the great lakes; the Soudan, according to Dr. Barth; the Lower Senegal, according to Guillaume Lejean; and the Delta of the Niger, by Dr. Blaikie.
Ferguson had also provided himself with a work which combined in one compilation all the notions already acquired concerning the Nile. It was entitled "The Sources of the Nile; being a General Survey of the Basin of that River and of its Head-Stream, with the History of the Nilotic Discovery, by Charles Beke, D.D."
He also had the excellent charts published in the "Bulletins of the Geographical Society of London;" and not a single point of the countries already discovered could, therefore, escape his notice.
Upon tracing on his maps, he found that his latitudinal route had been two degrees, or one hundred and twenty miles, to the westward.