"Worship me, ladies! worship me!" he said to them. "I'm a clever sort of devil, if I am the son of a goddess."
They brought him propitiatory gifts, such as are usually deposited in the fetich huts or mzimu. These gifts consisted of stalks of barley and of "pombe." Joe considered himself in duty bound to taste the latter species of strong beer, but his palate, although accustomed to gin and whiskey, could not withstand the strength of the new beverage, and he had to make a horrible grimace, which his dusky friends took to be a benevolent smile.
Thereupon, the young damsels, conjoining their voices in a drawling chant, began to dance around him with the utmost gravity.
"Ah! you're dancing, are you?" said he. "Well, I won't be behind you in politeness, and so I'll give you one of my country reels."
So at it he went, in one of the wildest jigs that ever was seen, twisting, turning, and jerking himself in all directions; dancing with his hands, dancing with his body, dancing with his knees, dancing with his feet; describing the most fearful contortions and extravagant evolutions; throwing himself into incredible attitudes; grimacing beyond all belief, and, in fine giving his savage admirers a strange idea of the style of ballet adopted by the deities in the moon.
Then, the whole collection of blacks, naturally as imitative as monkeys, at once reproduced all his airs and graces, his leaps and shakes and contortions; they did not lose a single gesticulation; they did not forget an attitude; and the result was, such a pandemonium of movement, noise, and excitement, as it would be out of the question even feebly to describe. But, in the very midst of the fun, Joe saw the doctor approaching.
The latter was coming at full speed, surrounded by a yelling and disorderly throng. The chiefs and sorcerers seemed to be highly excited. They were close upon the doctor's heels, crowding and threatening him.
Singular reaction! What had happened? Had the sultan unluckily perished in the hands of his celestial physician?
Kennedy, from his post of observation, saw the danger without knowing what had caused it, and the balloon, powerfully urged by the dilation of the gas, strained and tugged at the ropes that held it as though impatient to soar away.
The doctor had got as far as the foot of the ladder. A superstitious fear still held the crowd aloof and hindered them from committing any violence on his person. He rapidly scaled the ladder, and Joe followed him with his usual agility.
"Not a moment to lose!" said the doctor. "Don't attempt to let go the anchor! We'll cut the cord! Follow me!"
"But what's the matter?" asked Joe, clambering into the car.
"What's happened?" questioned Kennedy, rifle in hand.
"Look!" replied the doctor, pointing to the horizon.
"Well?" ejaculated the Scot.
"Well! the moon!"
And, in fact, there was the moon rising red and magnificent, a globe of fire in a field of blue! It was she, indeed--she and the balloon!--both in one sky!
Either there were two moons, then, or these strangers were imposters, designing scamps, false deities!
Such were the very natural reflections of the crowd, and hence the reaction in their feelings.
Joe could not, for the life of him, keep in a roar of laughter; and the population of Kazeh, comprehending that their prey was slipping through their clutches, set up prolonged howlings, aiming, the while, their bows and muskets at the balloon.
But one of the sorcerers made a sign, and all the weapons were lowered. He then began to climb into the tree, intending to seize the rope and bring the machine to the ground.
Joe leaned out with a hatchet ready. "Shall I cut away?" said he.
"No; wait a moment," replied the doctor.
"But this black?"
"We may, perhaps, save our anchor--and I hold a great deal by that. There'll always be time enough to cut loose."
The sorcerer, having climbed to the right place, worked so vigorously that he succeeded in detaching the anchor, and the latter, violently jerked, at that moment, by the start of the balloon, caught the rascal between the limbs, and carried him off astride of it through the air.