Five Weeks in a Balloon
An Evening of Delight.--Joe’s Culinary Performance.--A Dissertation on Raw Meat.--The Narrative of James Bruce.--Camping out.--Joe’s Dreams.--The Barometer begins to fall.--The Barometer rises again.--Preparations for Departure.--The Tempest.
The evening was lovely, and our three friends enjoyed it in the cool shade of the mimosas, after a substantial repast, at which the tea and the punch were dealt out with no niggardly hand.
Kennedy had traversed the little domain in all directions. He had ransacked every thicket and satisfied himself that the balloon party were the only living creatures in this terrestrial paradise; so they stretched themselves upon their blankets and passed a peaceful night that brought them forgetfulness of their past sufferings.
On the morrow, May 7th, the sun shone with all his splendor, but his rays could not penetrate the dense screen of the palm-tree foliage, and as there was no lack of provisions, the doctor resolved to remain where he was while waiting for a favorable wind.
Joe had conveyed his portable kitchen to the oasis, and proceeded to indulge in any number of culinary combinations, using water all the time with the most profuse extravagance.
“What a strange succession of annoyances and enjoyments!” moralized Kennedy. “Such abundance as this after such privations; such luxury after such want! Ah! I nearly went mad!”
“My dear Dick,” replied the doctor, “had it not been for Joe, you would not be sitting here, to-day, discoursing on the instability of human affairs.”
“Whole-hearted friend!” said Kennedy, extending his hand to Joe.
“There’s no occasion for all that,” responded the latter; “but you can take your revenge some time, Mr. Kennedy, always hoping though that you may never have occasion to do the same for me!”
“It’s a poor constitution this of ours to succumb to so little,” philosophized Dr. Ferguson.
“So little water, you mean, doctor,” interposed Joe; “that element must be very necessary to life.”
“Undoubtedly, and persons deprived of food hold out longer than those deprived of water.”
“I believe it. Besides, when needs must, one can eat any thing he comes across, even his fellow-creatures, although that must be a kind of food that’s pretty hard to digest.”
“The savages don’t boggle much about it!” said Kennedy.
“Yes; but then they are savages, and accustomed to devouring raw meat; it’s something that I’d find very disgusting, for my part.”
“It is disgusting enough,” said the doctor, “that’s a fact; and so much so, indeed, that nobody believed the narratives of the earliest travellers in Africa who brought back word that many tribes on that continent subsisted upon raw meat, and people generally refused to credit the statement. It was under such circumstances that a very singular adventure befell James Bruce.”
“Tell it to us, doctor; we’ve time enough to hear it,” said Joe, stretching himself voluptuously on the cool greensward.
“By all means.--James Bruce was a Scotchman, of Stirlingshire, who, between 1768 and 1772, traversed all Abyssinia, as far as Lake Tyana, in search of the sources of the Nile. He afterward returned to England, but did not publish an account of his journeys until 1790. His statements were received with extreme incredulity, and such may be the reception accorded to our own. The manners and customs of the Abyssinians seemed so different from those of the English, that no one would credit the description of them. Among other details, Bruce had put forward the assertion that the tribes of Eastern Africa fed upon raw flesh, and this set everybody against him. He might say so as much as he pleased; there was no one likely to go and see! One day, in a parlor at Edinburgh, a Scotch gentleman took up the subject in his presence, as it had become the topic of daily pleasantry, and, in reference to the eating of raw flesh, said that the thing was neither possible nor true. Bruce made no reply, but went out and returned a few minutes later with a raw steak, seasoned with pepper and salt, in the African style.
“‘Sir, ‘ said he to the Scotchman, ‘in doubting my statements, you have grossly affronted me; in believing the thing to be impossible, you have been egregiously mistaken; and, in proof thereof, you will now eat this beef-steak raw, or you will give me instant satisfaction!’ The Scotchman had a wholesome dread of the brawny traveller, and DID eat the steak, although not without a good many wry faces. Thereupon, with the utmost coolness, James Bruce added: ‘Even admitting, sir, that the thing were untrue, you will, at least, no longer maintain that it is impossible.’”
“Well put in!” said Joe, “and if the Scotchman found it lie heavy on his stomach, he got no more than he deserved. If, on our return to England, they dare to doubt what we say about our travels--”
“Well, Joe, what would you do?”
“Why, I’ll make the doubters swallow the pieces of the balloon, without either salt or pepper!”
All burst out laughing at Joe’s queer notions, and thus the day slipped by in pleasant chat. With returning strength, hope had revived, and with hope came the courage to do and to dare. The past was obliterated in the presence of the future with providential rapidity.
Joe would have been willing to remain forever in this enchanting asylum; it was the realm he had pictured in his dreams; he felt himself at home; his master had to give him his exact location, and it was with the gravest air imaginable that he wrote down on his tablets fifteen degrees forty-three minutes east longitude, and eight degrees thirty-two minutes north latitude.
Kennedy had but one regret, to wit, that he could not hunt in that miniature forest, because, according to his ideas, there was a slight deficiency of ferocious wild beasts in it.