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43. CHAPTER FORTY-THIRD.
The Talabas.--The Pursuit.--A Devastated Country.--The Wind begins to fall.--The Victoria sinks.--The last of the Provisions.--The Leaps of the Balloon.--A Defence with Fire-arms.--The Wind freshens.--The Senegal River.--The Cataracts of Gouina.--The Hot Air.--The Passage of the River.
"Had we not taken the precaution to lighten the balloon yesterday evening, we should have been lost beyond redemption," said the doctor, after a long silence.
"See what's gained by doing things at the right time!" replied Joe. "One gets out of scrapes then, and nothing is more natural."
"We are not out of danger yet," said the doctor.
"What do you still apprehend?" queried Kennedy. "The balloon can't descend without your permission, and even were it to do so--"
"Were it to do so, Dick? Look!"
They had just passed the borders of the forest, and the three friends could see some thirty mounted men clad in broad pantaloons and the floating bournouses. They were armed, some with lances, and others with long muskets, and they were following, on their quick, fiery little steeds, the direction of the balloon, which was moving at only moderate speed.
When they caught sight of the aeronauts, they uttered savage cries, and brandished their weapons. Anger and menace could be read upon their swarthy faces, made more ferocious by thin but bristling beards. Meanwhile they galloped along without difficulty over the low levels and gentle declivities that lead down to the Senegal.
"It is, indeed, they!" said the doctor; "the cruel Talabas! the ferocious marabouts of Al-Hadji! I would rather find myself in the middle of the forest encircled by wild beasts than fall into the hands of these banditti."
"They haven't a very obliging look!" assented Kennedy; "and they are rough, stalwart fellows."
"Happily those brutes can't fly," remarked Joe; "and that's something."
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