"Anyhow, I shall not try the adventure, for I am responsible for the safety of the guests who do me the honor to travel with me."
"And so," said Uncle Prudent, explosively, "you are not content with being our jailer, but you insult us."
"Oh! a little irony, that is all!"
"Are there any weapons on board?"
"Oh, quite an arsenal."
"Two revolvers will do, if I hold one and you the other."
"A duel!" exclaimed Robur, "a duel, which would perhaps cause the death of one of us."
"Which certainly would cause it."
"Well! No, Mr. President of the Weldon Institute, I very much prefer keeping you alive."
"To be sure of living yourself. That is wise."
"Wise or not, it suits me. You are at liberty to think as you like, and to complain to those who have the power to help you--if you can."
"And that we have done, Mr. Robur."
"Was it so difficult when we were crossing the inhabited part of Europe to drop a letter overboard?"
"Did you do that?" said Robur, in a paroxysm of rage.
"And if we have done it?"
"If you have done it--you deserve --"
"To follow your letter overboard."
"Throw us over, then. We did do it."
Robur stepped towards them. At a gesture from him Tom Turner and some of the crew ran up. The engineer was seriously tempted to put his threat into execution, and, fearful perhaps of yielding to it, he precipitately rushed into his cabin,
"Good!" exclaimed Phil Evans.
"And what he will dare not do," said Uncle Prudent, "I Will do! Yes, I Will do!"
At the moment the population of Timbuktu were crowding onto the squares and roads and the terraces built like amphitheaters. In the rich quarters of Sankere and Sarahama, as in the miserable huts at Raguidi, the priests from the minarets were thundering their loudest maledictions against the aerial monster. These were more harmless than the rifle-bullets; though assuredly, if the aeronef had come to earth she would have certainly been torn to pieces.
For some miles noisy flocks of storks, francolins, and ibises escorted the "Albatross" and tried to race her, but in her rapid flight she soon distanced them.
The evening came. The air was troubled by the roarings of the numerous herds of elephants and buffaloes which wander over this land, whose fertility is simply marvelous. For forty-eight hours the whole of the region between the prime meridian and the second degree, in the bend of the Niger, was viewed from the "Albatross."
If a geographer had only such an apparatus at his command, with what facility could he map the country, note the elevations, fix the courses of the rivers and their affluents, and determine the positions of the towns and villages! There would then be no huge blanks on the map of Africa, no dotted lines, no vague designations which are the despair of cartographers.
In the morning of the 11th the "Albatross" crossed the mountains of northern Guinea, between the Sudan and the gulf which bears their name. On the horizon was the confused outline of the Kong mountains in the kingdom of Dahomey.
Since the departure from Timbuktu Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans noticed that the course had been due south. If that direction was persisted in they would cross the equator in six more degrees. The "Albatross" would then abandon the continents and fly not over the Bering Sea, or the Caspian Sea, or the North Sea, or the Mediterranean, but over the Atlantic Ocean.
This look-out was not particularly pleasing to the two friends, whose chances of escape had sunk to below zero. But the "Albatross" had slackened speed as though hesitating to leave Africa behind. Was Robur thinking of going back? No; but his attention had been particularly attracted to the country which he was then crossing.
We know--and he knew--that the kingdom of Dahomey is one of the most powerful on the West Coast of Africa. Strong enough to hold its own with its neighbor Ashantee, its area is somewhat small, being contained within three hundred and sixty leagues from north to south, and one hundred and eighty from east to west.