The Celestial Bottle.--The Fig-Palms.--The Mammoth Trees.--The Tree of
War.--The Winged Team.--Two Native Tribes in Battle.--A Massacre.--An
Intervention from above.
The wind had become violent and irregular; the balloon
was running the gantlet through the air. Tossed
at one moment toward the north, at another toward the
south, it could not find one steady current.
"We are moving very swiftly without advancing
much," said Kennedy, remarking the frequent oscillations
of the needle of the compass.
"The balloon is rushing at the rate of at least thirty
miles an hour. Lean over, and see how the country is
gliding away beneath us!" said the doctor.
"See! that forest looks as though it were precipitating
itself upon us!"
"The forest has become a clearing!" added the other.
"And the clearing a village!" continued Joe, a moment or two
later. "Look at the faces of those astonished darkys!"
"Oh! it's natural enough that they should be astonished,"
said the doctor. "The French peasants, when they
first saw a balloon, fired at it, thinking that it was an aerial
monster. A Soudan negro may be excused, then, for opening his
eyes VERY wide!"
"Faith!" said Joe, as the Victoria skimmed closely
along the ground, at scarcely the elevation of one hundred
feet, and immediately over a village, "I'll throw them
an empty bottle, with your leave, doctor, and if it reaches
them safe and sound, they'll worship it; if it breaks, they'll
make talismans of the pieces."
So saying, he flung out a bottle, which, of course, was
broken into a thousand fragments, while the negroes
scampered into their round huts, uttering shrill cries.
A little farther on, Kennedy called out: "Look at that
strange tree! The upper part is of one kind and the
lower part of another!"
"Well!" said Joe, "here's a country where the trees
grow on top of each other."
"It's simply the trunk of a fig-tree," replied the doctor,
"on which there is a little vegetating earth. Some fine
day, the wind left the seed of a palm on it, and the
seed has taken root and grown as though it were on the
"A fine new style of gardening," said Joe, "and I'll
import the idea to England. It would be just the thing
in the London parks; without counting that it would be
another way to increase the number of fruit-trees. We
could have gardens up in the air; and the small house-owners
would like that!"
At this moment, they had to raise the balloon so as to
pass over a forest of trees that were more than three
hundred feet in height--a kind of ancient banyan.
"What magnificent trees!" exclaimed Kennedy. "I
never saw any thing so fine as the appearance of these
venerable forests. Look, doctor!"
"The height of these banyans is really remarkable,
my dear Dick; and yet, they would be nothing astonishing
in the New World."
"Why, are there still loftier trees in existence?"
"Undoubtedly; among the 'mammoth trees' of California,
there is a cedar four hundred and eighty feet in
height. It would overtop the Houses of Parliament, and
even the Great Pyramid of Egypt. The trunk at the
surface of the ground was one hundred and twenty feet in
circumference, and the concentric layers of the wood
disclosed an age of more than four thousand years."
"But then, sir, there was nothing wonderful in it!
When one has lived four thousand years, one ought to be
pretty tall!" was Joe's remark.
Meanwhile, during the doctor's recital and Joe's response,
the forest had given place to a large collection of
huts surrounding an open space. In the middle of this
grew a solitary tree, and Joe exclaimed, as he caught
sight of it:
"Well! if that tree has produced such flowers as
those, for the last four thousand years, I have to offer
it my compliments, anyhow," and he pointed to a gigantic
sycamore, whose whole trunk was covered with human
bones. The flowers of which Joe spoke were heads freshly
severed from the bodies, and suspended by daggers thrust
into the bark of the tree.
"The war-tree of these cannibals!" said the doctor;
"the Indians merely carry off the scalp, but these negroes
take the whole head."
"A mere matter of fashion!" said Joe. But, already,
the village and the bleeding heads were disappearing on
the horizon. Another place offered a still more revolting
spectacle--half-devoured corpses; skeletons mouldering
to dust; human limbs scattered here and there, and left
to feed the jackals and hyenas.
"No doubt, these are the bodies of criminals; according
to the custom in Abyssinia, these people have left them a
prey to the wild beasts, who kill them with their terrible
teeth and claws, and then devour them at their leisure.
"Not a whit more cruel than hanging!" said the
Scot; "filthier, that's all!"
"In the southern regions of Africa, they content themselves,"
resumed the doctor, "with shutting up the criminal
in his own hut with his cattle, and sometimes with his
family. They then set fire to the hut, and the whole
party are burned together. I call that cruel; but, like
friend Kennedy, I think that the gallows is quite as cruel,
quite as barbarous."
Joe, by the aid of his keen sight, which he did not fail
to use continually, noticed some flocks of birds of prey
flitting about the horizon.
"They are eagles!" exclaimed Kennedy, after reconnoitring
them through the glass, "magnificent birds, whose flight
is as rapid as ours."
"Heaven preserve us from their attacks!" said the
doctor, "they are more to be feared by us than wild
beasts or savage tribes."
"Bah!" said the hunter, "we can drive them off with
a few rifle-shots."
"Nevertheless, I would prefer, dear Dick, not having
to rely upon your skill, this time, for the silk of our
balloon could not resist their sharp beaks; fortunately, the
huge birds will, I believe, be more frightened than attracted
by our machine."
"Yes! but a new idea, and I have dozens of them,"
said Joe; "if we could only manage to capture a team of
live eagles, we could hitch them to the balloon, and they'd
haul us through the air!"
"The thing has been seriously proposed," replied the
doctor, "but I think it hardly practicable with creatures
naturally so restive."
"Oh! we'd tame them," said Joe. "Instead of driving
them with bits, we'd do it with eye-blinkers that would
cover their eyes. Half blinded in that way, they'd go to
the right or to the left, as we desired; when blinded
completely, they would stop."
"Allow me, Joe, to prefer a favorable wind to your
team of eagles. It costs less for fodder, and is more
"Well, you may have your choice, master, but I stick
to my idea."
It now was noon. The Victoria had been going at
a more moderate speed for some time; the country merely
passed below it; it no longer flew.
Suddenly, shouts and whistlings were heard by our
aeronauts, and, leaning over the edge of the car, they saw
on the open plain below them an exciting spectacle.
Two hostile tribes were fighting furiously, and the air
was dotted with volleys of arrows. The combatants were
so intent upon their murderous work that they did not
notice the arrival of the balloon; there were about three
hundred mingled confusedly in the deadly struggle: most
of them, red with the blood of the wounded, in which they
fairly wallowed, were horrible to behold.
As they at last caught sight of the balloon, there was
a momentary pause; but their yells redoubled, and some
arrows were shot at the Victoria, one of them coming
close enough for Joe to catch it with his hand.
"Let us rise out of range," exclaimed the doctor; "there
must be no rashness! We are forbidden any risk."
Meanwhile, the massacre continued on both sides, with
battle-axes and war-clubs; as quickly as one of the combatants
fell, a hostile warrior ran up to cut off his head,
while the women, mingling in the fray, gathered up these
bloody trophies, and piled them together at either extremity
of the battle-field. Often, too, they even fought
for these hideous spoils.
"What a frightful scene!" said Kennedy, with profound disgust.
"They're ugly acquaintances!" added Joe; "but then,
if they had uniforms they'd be just like the fighters of all
the rest of the world!"
"I have a keen hankering to take a hand in at that
fight," said the hunter, brandishing his rifle.
"No! no!" objected the doctor, vehemently; "no,
let us not meddle with what don't concern us. Do you
know which is right or which is wrong, that you would
assume the part of the Almighty? Let us, rather, hurry
away from this revolting spectacle. Could the great
captains of the world float thus above the scenes of their
exploits, they would at last, perhaps, conceive a disgust
for blood and conquest."
The chieftain of one of the contending parties was
remarkable for his athletic proportions, his great height,
and herculean strength. With one hand he plunged his
spear into the compact ranks of his enemies, and with the
other mowed large spaces in them with his battle-axe.
Suddenly he flung away his war-club, red with blood,
rushed upon a wounded warrior, and, chopping off his arm
at a single stroke, carried the dissevered member to his
mouth, and bit it again and again.
"Ah!" ejaculated Kennedy, "the horrible brute! I
can hold back no longer," and, as he spoke, the huge
savage, struck full in the forehead with a rifle-ball, fell
headlong to the ground.
Upon this sudden mishap of their leader, his warriors
seemed struck dumb with amazement; his supernatural
death awed them, while it reanimated the courage and
ardor of their adversaries, and, in a twinkling, the field
was abandoned by half the combatants.
"Come, let us look higher up for a current to bear us
away. I am sick of this spectacle," said the doctor.
But they could not get away so rapidly as to avoid
the sight of the victorious tribe rushing upon the dead
and the wounded, scrambling and disputing for the still
warm and reeking flesh, and eagerly devouring it.
"Faugh!" uttered Joe, "it's sickening."
The balloon rose as it expanded; the howlings of the
brutal horde, in the delirium of their orgy, pursued them
for a few minutes; but, at length, borne away toward the
south, they were carried out of sight and hearing of this
horrible spectacle of cannibalism.
The surface of the country was now greatly varied,
with numerous streams of water, bearing toward the east.
The latter, undoubtedly, ran into those affluents of Lake
Nu, or of the River of the Gazelles, concerning which M.
Guillaume Lejean has given such curious details.
At nightfall, the balloon cast anchor in twenty-seven
degrees east longitude, and four degrees twenty minutes
north latitude, after a day's trip of one hundred and fifty