Five Weeks in a Balloon
Conjectures.--Reestablishment of the Victoria’s Equilibrium.--Dr. Ferguson’s New Calculations.--Kennedy’s Hunt.--A Complete Exploration of Lake Tchad.--Tangalia.--The Return.--Lari.
On the morrow, the 13th of May, our travellers, for the first time, reconnoitred the part of the coast on which they had landed. It was a sort of island of solid ground in the midst of an immense marsh. Around this fragment of terra firma grew reeds as lofty as trees are in Europe, and stretching away out of sight.
These impenetrable swamps gave security to the position of the balloon. It was necessary to watch only the borders of the lake. The vast stretch of water broadened away from the spot, especially toward the east, and nothing could be seen on the horizon, neither mainland nor islands.
The two friends had not yet ventured to speak of their recent companion. Kennedy first imparted his conjectures to the doctor.
“Perhaps Joe is not lost after all,” he said. “He was a skilful lad, and had few equals as a swimmer. He would find no difficulty in swimming across the Firth of Forth at Edinburgh. We shall see him again--but how and where I know not. Let us omit nothing on our part to give him the chance of rejoining us.”
“May God grant it as you say, Dick!” replied the doctor, with much emotion. “We shall do everything in the world to find our lost friend again. Let us, in the first place, see where we are. But, above all things, let us rid the Victoria of this outside covering, which is of no further use. That will relieve us of six hundred and fifty pounds, a weight not to be despised--and the end is worth the trouble!”
The doctor and Kennedy went to work at once, but they encountered great difficulty. They had to tear the strong silk away piece by piece, and then cut it in narrow strips so as to extricate it from the meshes of the network. The tear made by the beaks of the condors was found to be several feet in length.
This operation took at least four hours, but at length the inner balloon once completely extricated did not appear to have suffered in the least degree. The Victoria was thus diminished in size by one fifth, and this difference was sufficiently noticeable to excite Kennedy’s surprise.
“Will it be large enough?” he asked.
“Have no fears on that score, I will reestablish the equilibrium, and should our poor Joe return we shall find a way to start off with him again on our old route.”
“At the moment of our fall, unless I am mistaken, we were not far from an island.”
“Yes, I recollect it,” said the doctor, “but that island, like all the islands on Lake Tchad, is, no doubt, inhabited by a gang of pirates and murderers. They certainly witnessed our misfortune, and should Joe fall into their hands, what will become of him unless protected by their superstitions?”
“Oh, he’s just the lad to get safely out of the scrape, I repeat. I have great confidence in his shrewdness and skill.”
“I hope so. Now, Dick, you may go and hunt in the neighborhood, but don’t get far away whatever you do. It has become a pressing necessity for us to renew our stock of provisions, since we had to sacrifice nearly all the old lot.”
“Very good, doctor, I shall not be long absent.”
Hereupon, Kennedy took a double-barrelled fowling-piece, and strode through the long grass toward a thicket not far off, where the frequent sound of shooting soon let the doctor know that the sportsman was making a good use of his time.
Meanwhile Ferguson was engaged in calculating the relative weight of the articles still left in the car, and in establishing the equipoise of the second balloon. He found that there were still left some thirty pounds of pemmican, a supply of tea and coffee, about a gallon and a half of brandy, and one empty water-tank. All the dried meat had disappeared.
The doctor was aware that, by the loss of the hydrogen in the first balloon, the ascensional force at his disposal was now reduced to about nine hundred pounds. He therefore had to count upon this difference in order to rearrange his equilibrium. The new balloon measured sixty-seven thousand cubic feet, and contained thirty-three thousand four hundred and eighty feet of gas. The dilating apparatus appeared to be in good condition, and neither the battery nor the spiral had been injured.
The ascensional force of the new balloon was then about three thousand pounds, and, in adding together the weight of the apparatus, of the passengers, of the stock of water, of the car and its accessories, and putting aboard fifty gallons of water, and one hundred pounds of fresh meat, the doctor got a total weight of twenty-eight hundred and thirty pounds. He could then take with him one hundred and seventy pounds of ballast, for unforeseen emergencies, and the balloon would be in exact balance with the surrounding atmosphere.
His arrangements were completed accordingly, and he made up for Joe’s weight with a surplus of ballast. He spent the whole day in these preparations, and the latter were finished when Kennedy returned. The hunter had been successful, and brought back a regular cargo of geese, wild-duck, snipe, teal, and plover. He went to work at once to draw and smoke the game. Each piece, suspended on a small, thin skewer, was hung over a fire of green wood. When they seemed in good order, Kennedy, who was perfectly at home in the business, packed them away in the car.
On the morrow, the hunter was to complete his supplies.
Evening surprised our travellers in the midst of this work. Their supper consisted of pemmican, biscuit, and tea; and fatigue, after having given them appetite, brought them sleep. Each of them strained eyes and ears into the gloom during his watch, sometimes fancying that they heard the voice of poor Joe; but, alas! the voice that they so longed to hear, was far away.
“At the first streak of day, the doctor aroused Kennedy.
“I have been long and carefully considering what should be done,” said he, “to find our companion.”
“Whatever your plan may be, doctor, it will suit me. Speak!”
“Above all things, it is important that Joe should hear from us in some way.”
“Undoubtedly. Suppose the brave fellow should take it into his head that we have abandoned him?”
“He! He knows us too well for that. Such a thought would never come into his mind. But he must be informed as to where we are.”
“How can that be managed?”
“We shall get into our car and be off again through the air.”