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M'tesa's Idea for Crossing Africa

The next morning our friends went to another audience with the king, who expressed his gratification at the exhibition of the magic lantern and the gaslight, and said nothing of the kind had ever been seen in Uganda. It was easy to observe that his respect for the travelers was steadily increasing. He asked if such things were common in the land they came from. Doctor Bronson said that in America and England whole cities were lighted by "burning air" like that which had been forced from the mysterious bags, and men rode among the clouds in contrivances such as had been sent up with the lantern attached to it. M'tesa was inclined to be sceptical on this point, and said if that was the case the foreigners ought to travel across Africa in airships, instead of walking long distances over the rough hills and through interminable forests.

Just before they started from the zeriba Fred had been reading Jules Verne's "Five Weeks in a Balloon," which describes an imaginary journey across Africa in an airship, which could be made to go wherever its occupants desired, and to rise and descend at will. The copy in Fred's possession was full of illustrations of the supposed adventures of Dr. Ferguson and his two companions in a trans-African voyage. The volume happened to be in his pocket at the time of the visit to the king, and, at the Doctor's suggestion, he produced it when M'tesa made the suggestion last mentioned.

The Doctor took the book and handed it to the king. The latter opened it, and gazed with rapt interest on the pictures which passed before his eyes. There were the very airships he had suggested; there were the mountains and lakes of Africa, its wild animals, its forests, and everything to indicate that his country had been traversed by the wonderful vehicles.

When he came to the illustration of the scene where the anchor of the balloon is caught in the mouth of an elephant, which tows the travelers at a rapid rate, he laughed heartily.

"Only a foreigner would think of having an elephant to draw him in that way," said M'tesa.

Seeing the great interest of M'tesa in the book, Doctor Bronson intimated that he could keep it. The volume was immediately handed to one of the officers, and the business of the visit went on.

The king referred to his promise to send the party to Lake Victoria, and the point where it discharges its waters to send them down to the sea. He asked how far they wanted to go.

"We would like to visit Ripon Falls," said the Doctor, "and return from there to your majesty's capital."

"Very well," replied M'tesa. "You can go to the falls in the boats I will give you, and then you can come back by land, as I said before. I will send the porters to meet you at the falls," he continued, "and an escort to make the road safe when you come back."

Doctor Bronson suggested that they could return the same way as they went. They could come back in the boats, which would be obliged to return in any event, and therefore they could bring the party without any serious effort.
Returning from an Excursion

The suggestion seemed to strike the king favorably, though he received it with some surprise, which Abdul explained by the fact that all the foreigners who had ever been in Uganda seemed unwilling to travel the same route twice. It was therefore natural for the king to suppose that the strangers would prefer returning by the land route, which would be a new one to them, rather than make the water journey a second time. This would have been the case with Doctor Bronson and the youths, but they had learned that the land journey between Ripon Falls and Rubaga was a very difficult one, without any new and interesting features, and therefore they favored the return by water, as it would be easier and far less expensive. Besides, it would be a considerable saving of time to them, and they were anxious to continue their journey to the south as soon as possible.

Accordingly it was settled that they would leave as soon as they were ready, and the king would give them a sufficient number of boats for the journey. All the goods and provisions they did not require could be stored at Rubaga, to await their return, and the king would see that everything was safe. With this understanding the audience ended and our friends retired.

The rest of the day was devoted to arranging their goods and selecting such as they wished to carry. Doctor Bronson told the boys they would take all their firearms and most of the ammunition. The most valuable of the goods were also carried along, together with their tents and camp equipage, and Frank remarked that they had a fairly good supply for continuing their journey through Africa without returning to Rubaga.

"That is precisely what I want," replied the Doctor. "M'tesa is friendly, and I have not the slightest doubt of his sincerity, but we can't say what will happen. He is the king, and cannot stand guard in person over our property. Besides, there is a constant liability to war among these African potentates, and we might find it inconvenient to return here after getting on the waters of the lake."

"I understand," said Frank. "We desire to be so situated that our goods don't mysteriously disappear or a sudden declaration of war between M'tesa and some other ruler, cannot wreck our expedition completely."

The Doctor assented, and on this basis the work of selection went on. By the time it was ended there was not much left to select, except the most bulky and least valuable articles.

The next morning Doctor Bronson sent Abdul to the king with an appropriate present, and asked that the porters might be sent to carry the goods to Usavara. He had already dispatched twenty men, in charge of Frank, with the instruments, camp equipage, and several boxes of ammunition. There would have been no difficulty about engaging the entire number for the work, but it was thought the king would prefer to show his authority by ordering his subjects to be at the service of the travelers.

By the afternoon of the next day everything they wanted was at Usavara, and ten boats had been assigned to their use for the journey to the falls and back. The king had given the necessary orders, but according to the custom of Africa it was necessary for the Doctor to make a bargain with the head men of the boats, who were to receive payment in cloth, brass wire, beads, and other currency of Uganda, very much as if they had not been in the service of the king at all.
An African Drum Corps

They passed the night in the huts which had been assigned to them by the king, and bright and early the next morning the work of loading the boats was begun. Doctor Bronson had promised the captains an extra present if they would hurry matters as much as possible, and he certainly had no cause of complaint. The boatmen were assisted by a gang of the king's slaves, who were brought from a neighboring field, where they had been carrying fuel and cultivating rice. Though M'tesa had become a Christian he had not reached the point of looking upon slavery as at all incompatible with his new religion. He not only kept a large number of slaves, most of them captives taken in wars with his neighbors, but he had no objection to dealing in human merchandise whenever he could make a good bargain. When he was told that it was not proper for a Christian to hold slaves, or buy and sell them, he replied that a good deal of the slave trade of Africa was owing to the encouragement of Christian nations, and asked if there had never been any slaves in England and America. He even made quotations from the Bible in support of his theory, and threw several difficulties in the way of a free discussion of the subject.

By the middle of the forenoon everything was ready, and the signal was given for departure. There was a good deal more noise in the signal than had been bargained for, as it was made by a band of music of twenty pieces—but this time each piece was a drum. Every drummer played with all his might. Time was kept by a leader, who stood in front of the musicians, with a smaller and lighter drum than any of the rest. Frank said it reminded him of the way in which the celebrated Strauss conducts an orchestra, by making free use of a violin instead of confining himself to a baton.

The drums lay upon the ground, and had a strong resemblance to a battery of mortars ready for siege operations. Fred thought the performance could be complimented further by charging each drum with a few pounds of powder and firing the whole lot at once, as a grand finale.
Lake Scenery in Central Africa

Down the creek and into the bay went the ten large canoes, the men keeping time by a monotonous chant, and paddling steadily along, though not so fast as did the crew of the boat that took them on their first excursion on the waters of the lake. Doctor Bronson and Abdul took the lead in the first boat, while Frank and Fred brought up the rear in the last. This was thought to be the best arrangement for preserving order and preventing straggling. Before starting from Usavara, Doctor Bronson had numbered the boats, and affixed a placard to each for its identification, his own boat being "number one," while that of the youths became naturally "number ten." The men in each boat very soon caught the monosyllable by which their craft was known, and it was amusing to hear them calling out the numerals that distinguished them from others. It was their first lesson in the language of the foreigners.

They descended the bay to the lake and turned in the direction of the outlet of the great water. Looking away to the south and east was like gazing on the ocean, as the opposite shores were entirely hidden from view. A breeze rippled over the water and raised a little swell, but it was not sufficient to interfere with the progress of the boats or the comfort of their occupants. The rowers wore nothing but their waist cloths, and it concerned them very little to receive a drenching; but it was otherwise with the strangers, who were arrayed in suits of white linen, and would have presented an appearance the reverse of dignified, if their garments had been washed by an impertinent wave.

We will now glance at the characteristics of the lake.

Lake Victoria is situated directly under the equator, extending from 2° 24' south latitude to 0° 21' north. As before stated, it was discovered by Captain Speke in 1858, who travelled along its western and northern shores a few years later, but was unable to follow the entire line around it. In 1875 Stanley circumnavigated it, and made a careful survey of nearly all its bays and indentations. He estimates the area to be not far from twenty-one thousand five hundred square miles, and fixes its elevation at four thousand one hundred and sixty-eight feet above the level of the sea. Speke made it three thousand three hundred and eight feet, but Stanley's observation is probably the correct one, as it is supported by Baker, who found the Victoria Nile at Mrooli four thousand and sixty-one feet above sea level.

Leaving out the indentations, the lake is nearly of a circular form. Its length from north to south is about one hundred and fifty miles, and its breadth perhaps twenty miles less. The natives say it is very deep, but Stanley's observations do not confirm their theory, as he found it shallow in most places where he took soundings.

Frank observed that the water of the lake was not clear. It had an off-white color, something like that of the Nile, but when taken into a glass the color almost entirely disappeared. The boys tasted of the water, and found it perfectly good and sweet; and so much did it meet their approval that they drank again and again.

"No one can doubt that this is the source of the Nile," said Fred, "if he is familiar with the water of the river, and then drinks from the lake. The taste, or rather the sweetness, is exactly the same."
Kambari Fish

"Yes," answered Frank, "and the Persian conqueror who forbade his soldiers to ask for wine when the water of the Nile could be procured would have included that of Lake Victoria, if he had known of its existence."

"And they wouldn't have been restricted in the least," replied Fred, "as all the armies of the world might drink from the lake without affecting it. Twenty thousand square miles of water ought to be a good source of supply."

Frank was looking over the side of the boat, and suddenly spied a large fish darting away, as if frightened by the strange apparition of the craft above him.

Of course, this incident roused the curiosity of the youths to know something of the finny products of the lake. Ali questioned the boatmen, and learned that there were several kinds of fishes in the lake. Some of them grew so large that it took two men to handle one of them, and it sometimes happened that a man who grappled a fish of this sort was dragged under water by it.

The boatmen said there was another fish in the lake, which occasionally grew to the size of a boy. Frank intimated that it was important to know what size of boy was referred to. It might be anywhere from five pounds up to two hundred-weight—a very wide margin on which to base a calculation.

With some difficulty Ali learned that a boy of eight or ten years was meant, and with this explanation the answer was considered satisfactory.

The captain of the boat opened a parcel and drew from it a dried fish, which formed part of their provisions. He said it was known as "samaki kambari," and lived in the mud at the bottom of the shallow bays and in the small creeks flowing into the lake. It was caught in great numbers, and dried over a fire and in the sun, very much as herrings are dried in other countries.

Another lake fish that was described is the "sama-moa," which grows to a length of twenty inches, and belongs to the shad family. It is covered with scales, and its body is more slender than that of the American shad. The dorsal fin extends from the center of the back almost to the tail, and the body is full of bones. At the place where they spent the night one of these fish was served up for supper, and proved a toothsome morsel.
Fred's Experiment in Cooking Fish

Frank thought he could make a "planked shad" out of the new fish. The next morning he tried his hand at amateur cooking, and his effort was fairly successful. The fish was split and nailed to one side of a short plank taken from an old boat on the shore. In this position it was exposed to the fire, and properly seasoned while the cooking process went on. When it was served up both the Doctor and Fred were unanimous in declaring it delicious, and proposed that Frank should be installed as cook for the remainder of the excursion. However, the young gentleman declined the proffered honor. The fact was he had been baked nearly as much as the fish he had prepared, and was in no mood for repeating the experiment.

"Well," said Fred, "if you won't accept the office of cook I'll tell you what I'll do. We'll 'turn and turn about,' as they say at home, and I'll cook the fish at the next camp."

"All right," Frank responded. "I'll agree to take turns with you until you are tired of the business."

With this understanding the topic of conversation was changed. During the day more fish were obtained, and when they halted at night Fred proceeded to try his hand at cooking.

He told Abdul to bring several flat-topped stones and heat them in the fire. The stones were taken from the water, as they were cleaner than those on dry land, the latter being covered with moss and other tropical products.

"Now I'll show you how we used to cook fish in the Adirondacks," said Fred, with a dignified air. "You will find the flavor delicious, provided the fish are good for anything, to start with.

"When the stone is hot we brush off all the ashes and lay the fish upon it, first wrapping it in a leaf. Another and smaller stone laid above it will bake the fish in a way that is superb, and preserves all the flavor."

The stones were duly heated, and the fishes were spread out according to Fred's directions. The coffee pot was in front of the fire, and the frying pan was sizzling in the old-fashioned way, when suddenly there was an explosion that sent Fred and his trout in different directions, put Frank to a hasty flight, overturned the coffee pot, and made a mess of things generally.
On the Lake

Luckily, nobody was hurt, though there was quite a scare all around. The Africans who witnessed the performance were of the impression that the Europeans were trying some new experiment in keeping with the telephone and the magic lantern, and therefore took the explosion as a matter of course. They were less moved by the incident than were the travelers—perhaps in consequence of having been farther from the fire at the moment of the explosion.

"How did it happen?" said Fred, in open-mouthed wonder, as soon as he had gathered himself together.

"I can't imagine," said Frank; "but anyway it seems as though your new process of cooking was not a brilliant success. You won't hold office as cook very long."

"Not if the dinner is going to blow up in this way every time," was the reply. "But I'd like to know how it happened."

"The explanation is very simple," said the Doctor, who had been called from his tent by the explosion. "The stones came from the lake, where they have been lying for centuries. They contained cells filled with water, and as the stones were heated the water was turned to steam. Hence the blow up."

Fred decided that he would make no farther experiments in teaching the Africans about the mysteries of American cookery. Frank made a sketch of the scene, with a few exaggerations, and said he believed a similar incident was narrated in "Porte Crayon's" account of a journey in the mountains of North Carolina.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Airship: A lighter-than-air aircraft that can be propelled forward through the air as well as steered.
Equipage: Equipment or supplies, especially military ones.
Potentate: A powerful leader.
Mortar: A muzzle-loading, indirect fire weapon with a tube length of 10 to 20 calibers and designed to lob shells at very steep trajectories.
Siege: A prolonged military assault or a blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by force or attrition.
Adirondacks: A range of mountains in New York State within the United States of America.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the mentioned locale in more recent times: the Adirondacks in New York State.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the state of New York, home of the Adirondack mountains, on the map of the United States.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the applicable mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.


  1. 'Ripon Falls.' Wikipedia. Wikipedia.org. n.p.
  2. 'Picture of Ripon Falls by Dudley Essex (CC BY 3.0).' Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ripon_Falls.jpg. n.p.