Five Weeks in a Balloon
The Doctor’s Friend.--The Origin of their Friendship.--Dick Kennedy at London.--An unexpected but not very consoling Proposal.--A Proverb by no means cheering.--A few Names from the African Martyrology.--The Advantages of a Balloon.--Dr. Ferguson’s Secret.
Dr. Ferguson had a friend--not another self, indeed, an alter ego, for friendship could not exist between two beings exactly alike.
But, if they possessed different qualities, aptitudes, and temperaments, Dick Kennedy and Samuel Ferguson lived with one and the same heart, and that gave them no great trouble. In fact, quite the reverse.
Dick Kennedy was a Scotchman, in the full acceptation of the word--open, resolute, and headstrong. He lived in the town of Leith, which is near Edinburgh, and, in truth, is a mere suburb of Auld Reekie. Sometimes he was a fisherman, but he was always and everywhere a determined hunter, and that was nothing remarkable for a son of Caledonia, who had known some little climbing among the Highland mountains. He was cited as a wonderful shot with the rifle, since not only could he split a bullet on a knife-blade, but he could divide it into two such equal parts that, upon weighing them, scarcely any difference would be perceptible.
Kennedy’s countenance strikingly recalled that of Herbert Glendinning, as Sir Walter Scott has depicted it in “The Monastery”; his stature was above six feet; full of grace and easy movement, he yet seemed gifted with herculean strength; a face embrowned by the sun; eyes keen and black; a natural air of daring courage; in fine, something sound, solid, and reliable in his entire person, spoke, at first glance, in favor of the bonny Scot.
The acquaintanceship of these two friends had been formed in India, when they belonged to the same regiment. While Dick would be out in pursuit of the tiger and the elephant, Samuel would be in search of plants and insects. Each could call himself expert in his own province, and more than one rare botanical specimen, that to science was as great a victory won as the conquest of a pair of ivory tusks, became the doctor’s booty.
These two young men, moreover, never had occasion to save each other’s lives, or to render any reciprocal service. Hence, an unalterable friendship. Destiny sometimes bore them apart, but sympathy always united them again.
Since their return to England they had been frequently separated by the doctor’s distant expeditions; but, on his return, the latter never failed to go, not to ASK for hospitality, but to bestow some weeks of his presence at the home of his crony Dick.
The Scot talked of the past; the doctor busily prepared for the future. The one looked back, the other forward. Hence, a restless spirit personified in Ferguson; perfect calmness typified in Kennedy--such was the contrast.
After his journey to the Thibet, the doctor had remained nearly two years without hinting at new explorations; and Dick, supposing that his friend’s instinct for travel and thirst for adventure had at length died out, was perfectly enchanted. They would have ended badly, some day or other, he thought to himself; no matter what experience one has with men, one does not travel always with impunity among cannibals and wild beasts. So, Kennedy besought the doctor to tie up his bark for life, having done enough for science, and too much for the gratitude of men.
The doctor contented himself with making no reply to this. He remained absorbed in his own reflections, giving himself up to secret calculations, passing his nights among heaps of figures, and making experiments with the strangest-looking machinery, inexplicable to everybody but himself. It could readily be guessed, though, that some great thought was fermenting in his brain.
“What can he have been planning?” wondered Kennedy, when, in the month of January, his friend quitted him to return to London.
He found out one morning when he looked into the Daily Telegraph.
“Merciful Heaven!” he exclaimed, “the lunatic! the madman! Cross Africa in a balloon! Nothing but that was wanted to cap the climax! That’s what he’s been bothering his wits about these two years past!”
Now, reader, substitute for all these exclamation points, as many ringing thumps with a brawny fist upon the table, and you have some idea of the manual exercise that Dick went through while he thus spoke.
When his confidential maid-of-all-work, the aged Elspeth, tried to insinuate that the whole thing might be a hoax--
“Not a bit of it!” said he. “Don’t I know my man? Isn’t it just like him? Travel through the air! There, now, he’s jealous of the eagles, next! No! I warrant you, he’ll not do it! I’ll find a way to stop him! He! why if they’d let him alone, he’d start some day for the moon!”
On that very evening Kennedy, half alarmed, and half exasperated, took the train for London, where he arrived next morning.
Three-quarters of an hour later a cab deposited him at the door of the doctor’s modest dwelling, in Soho Square, Greek Street. Forthwith he bounded up the steps and announced his arrival with five good, hearty, sounding raps at the door.
Ferguson opened, in person.
“Dick! you here?” he exclaimed, but with no great expression of surprise, after all.
“Dick himself!” was the response.
“What, my dear boy, you at London, and this the mid-season of the winter shooting?”
“Yes! here I am, at London!”
“And what have you come to town for?”
“To prevent the greatest piece of folly that ever was conceived.”
“Folly!” said the doctor.
“Is what this paper says, the truth?” rejoined Kennedy, holding out the copy of the Daily Telegraph, mentioned above.
“Ah! that’s what you mean, is it? These newspapers are great tattlers! But, sit down, my dear Dick.”
“No, I won’t sit down!--Then, you really intend to attempt this journey?”
“Most certainly! all my preparations are getting along finely, and I--”
“Where are your traps? Let me have a chance at them! I’ll make them fly! I’ll put your preparations in fine order.” And so saying, the gallant Scot gave way to a genuine explosion of wrath.
“Come, be calm, my dear Dick!” resumed the doctor. “You’re angry at me because I did not acquaint you with my new project.”
“He calls this his new project!”
“I have been very busy,” the doctor went on, without heeding the interruption; “I have had so much to look after! But rest assured that I should not have started without writing to you.”
“Oh, indeed! I’m highly honored.”
“Because it is my intention to take you with me.”
Upon this, the Scotchman gave a leap that a wild goat would not have been ashamed of among his native crags.
“Ah! really, then, you want them to send us both to Bedlam!”
“I have counted positively upon you, my dear Dick, and I have picked you out from all the rest.”