Five Weeks in a Balloon
Joe in a Fit of Rage.--The Death of a Good Man.--The Night of watching by the Body.--Barrenness and Drought.--The Burial.--The Quartz Rocks.--Joe’s Hallucinations.--A Precious Ballast.--A Survey of the Gold-bearing Mountains.--The Beginning of Joe’s Despair.
A magnificent night overspread the earth, and the missionary lay quietly asleep in utter exhaustion.
“He’ll not get over it!” sighed Joe. “Poor young fellow--scarcely thirty years of age!”
“He’ll die in our arms. His breathing, which was so feeble before, is growing weaker still, and I can do nothing to save him,” said the doctor, despairingly.
“The infamous scoundrels!” exclaimed Joe, grinding his teeth, in one of those fits of rage that came over him at long intervals; “and to think that, in spite of all, this good man could find words only to pity them, to excuse, to pardon them!”
“Heaven has given him a lovely night, Joe--his last on earth, perhaps! He will suffer but little more after this, and his dying will be only a peaceful falling asleep.”
The dying man uttered some broken words, and the doctor at once went to him. His breathing became difficult, and he asked for air. The curtains were drawn entirely back, and he inhaled with rapture the light breezes of that clear, beautiful night. The stars sent him their trembling rays, and the moon wrapped him in the white winding-sheet of its effulgence.
“My friends,” said he, in an enfeebled voice, “I am going. May God requite you, and bring you to your safe harbor! May he pay for me the debt of gratitude that I owe to you!”
“You must still hope,” replied Kennedy. “This is but a passing fit of weakness. You will not die. How could any one die on this beautiful summer night?”
“Death is at hand,” replied the missionary, “I know it! Let me look it in the face! Death, the commencement of things eternal, is but the end of earthly cares. Place me upon my knees, my brethren, I beseech you!”
Kennedy lifted him up, and it was distressing to see his weakened limbs bend under him.
“My God! my God!” exclaimed the dying apostle, “have pity on me!”
His countenance shone. Far above that earth on which he had known no joys; in the midst of that night which sent to him its softest radiance; on the way to that heaven toward which he uplifted his spirit, as though in a miraculous assumption, he seemed already to live and breathe in the new existence.
His last gesture was a supreme blessing on his new friends of only one day. Then he fell back into the arms of Kennedy, whose countenance was bathed in hot tears.
“Dead!” said the doctor, bending over him, “dead!” And with one common accord, the three friends knelt together in silent prayer.
“To-morrow,” resumed the doctor, “we shall bury him in the African soil which he has besprinkled with his blood.”
During the rest of the night the body was watched, turn by turn, by the three travellers, and not a word disturbed the solemn silence. Each of them was weeping.
The next day the wind came from the south, and the balloon moved slowly over a vast plateau of mountains: there, were extinct craters; here, barren ravines; not a drop of water on those parched crests; piles of broken rocks; huge stony masses scattered hither and thither, and, interspersed with whitish marl, all indicated the most complete sterility.
Toward noon, the doctor, for the purpose of burying the body, decided to descend into a ravine, in the midst of some plutonic rocks of primitive formation. The surrounding mountains would shelter him, and enable him to bring his car to the ground, for there was no tree in sight to which he could make it fast.
But, as he had explained to Kennedy, it was now impossible for him to descend, except by releasing a quantity of gas proportionate to his loss of ballast at the time when he had rescued the missionary. He therefore opened the valve of the outside balloon. The hydrogen escaped, and the Victoria quietly descended into the ravine.
As soon as the car touched the ground, the doctor shut the valve. Joe leaped out, holding on the while to the rim of the car with one hand, and with the other gathering up a quantity of stones equal to his own weight. He could then use both hands, and had soon heaped into the car more than five hundred pounds of stones, which enabled both the doctor and Kennedy, in their turn, to get out. Thus the Victoria found herself balanced, and her ascensional force insufficient to raise her.
Moreover, it was not necessary to gather many of these stones, for the blocks were extremely heavy, so much so, indeed, that the doctor’s attention was attracted by the circumstance. The soil, in fact, was bestrewn with quartz and porphyritic rocks.
“This is a singular discovery!” said the doctor, mentally.
In the mean while, Kennedy and Joe had strolled away a few paces, looking up a proper spot for the grave. The heat was extreme in this ravine, shut in as it was like a sort of furnace. The noonday sun poured down its rays perpendicularly into it.
The first thing to be done was to clear the surface of the fragments of rock that encumbered it, and then a quite deep grave had to be dug, so that the wild animals should not be able to disinter the corpse.
The body of the martyred missionary was then solemnly placed in it. The earth was thrown in over his remains, and above it masses of rock were deposited, in rude resemblance to a tomb.
The doctor, however, remained motionless, and lost in his reflections. He did not even heed the call of his companions, nor did he return with them to seek a shelter from the heat of the day.
“What are you thinking about, doctor?” asked Kennedy.
“About a singular freak of Nature, a curious effect of chance. Do you know, now, in what kind of soil that man of self-denial, that poor one in spirit, has just been buried?”
“No! what do you mean, doctor?”
“That priest, who took the oath of perpetual poverty, now reposes in a gold-mine!”
“A gold-mine!” exclaimed Kennedy and Joe in one breath.
“Yes, a gold-mine,” said the doctor, quietly. “Those blocks which you are trampling under foot, like worthless stones, contain gold-ore of great purity.”
“Impossible! impossible!” repeated Joe.
“You would not have to look long among those fissures of slaty schist without finding peptites of considerable value.”
Joe at once rushed like a crazy man among the scattered fragments, and Kennedy was not long in following his example.
“Keep cool, Joe,” said his master.
“Why, doctor, you speak of the thing quite at your ease.”
“What! a philosopher of your mettle--”
“Ah, master, no philosophy holds good in this case!”
“Come! come! Let us reflect a little. What good would all this wealth do you? We cannot carry any of it away with us.”