Five Weeks in a Balloon
From Rising Above
Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne, Chapter 20, Excerpt
“Well! if that tree has produced such flowers as those, for the last four thousand years, I have to offer it my compliments, anyhow,” and he pointed to a gigantic sycamore, whose whole trunk was covered with human bones. The flowers of which Joe spoke were heads freshly severed from the bodies, and suspended by daggers thrust into the bark of the tree.
“The war-tree of these cannibals!” said the doctor; “the Indians merely carry off the scalp, but these negroes take the whole head.”
“A mere matter of fashion!” said Joe. But, already, the village and the bleeding heads were disappearing on the horizon. Another place offered a still more revolting spectacle–half-devoured corpses; skeletons mouldering to dust; human limbs scattered here and there, and left to feed the jackals and hyenas.
“No doubt, these are the bodies of criminals; according to the custom in Abyssinia, these people have left them a prey to the wild beasts, who kill them with their terrible teeth and claws, and then devour them at their leisure.
“Not a whit more cruel than hanging!” said the Scot; “filthier, that’s all!”
“In the southern regions of Africa, they content themselves,” resumed the doctor, “with shutting up the criminal in his own hut with his cattle, and sometimes with his family. They then set fire to the hut, and the whole party are burned together. I call that cruel; but, like friend Kennedy, I think that the gallows is quite as cruel, quite as barbarous.”
It now was noon. The Victoria had been going at a more moderate speed for some time; the country merely passed below it; it no longer flew.
Suddenly, shouts and whistlings were heard by our aeronauts, and, leaning over the edge of the car, they saw on the open plain below them an exciting spectacle.
Two hostile tribes were fighting furiously, and the air was dotted with volleys of arrows. The combatants were so intent upon their murderous work that they did not notice the arrival of the balloon; there were about three hundred mingled confusedly in the deadly struggle: most of them, red with the blood of the wounded, in which they fairly wallowed, were horrible to behold.
As they at last caught sight of the balloon, there was a momentary pause; but their yells redoubled, and some arrows were shot at the Victoria, one of them coming close enough for Joe to catch it with his hand.
“Let us rise out of range,” exclaimed the doctor; “there must be no rashness! We are forbidden any risk.”
Meanwhile, the massacre continued on both sides, with battle-axes and war-clubs; as quickly as one of the combatants fell, a hostile warrior ran up to cut off his head, while the women, mingling in the fray, gathered up these bloody trophies, and piled them together at either extremity of the battle-field. Often, too, they even fought for these hideous spoils.
“What a frightful scene!” said Kennedy, with profound disgust.
“They’re ugly acquaintances!” added Joe; “but then, if they had uniforms they’d be just like the fighters of all the rest of the world!”
“I have a keen hankering to take a hand in at that fight,” said the hunter, brandishing his rifle.
“No! no!” objected the doctor, vehemently; “no, let us not meddle with what don’t concern us. Do you know which is right or which is wrong, that you would assume the part of the Almighty? Let us, rather, hurry away from this revolting spectacle. Could the great captains of the world float thus above the scenes of their exploits, they would at last, perhaps, conceive a disgust for blood and conquest.”
The complete text of Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne