Part 13 (1/2)

The oxen shortly arrived; one was immediately killed, and the flesh divided into numerous small portions arranged upon the hide. Blonde hair and white people immediately lost their attractions, and the crowd turned their attention to beef. We gave them to understand that we required flour, beans, and sweet potatoes in exchange.

The market soon went briskly, and the canoe was laden with provisions and sent across to our hungry people on the other side the river.

The difference between the Unyoro people and the tribes we had hitherto seen was most striking. On the north side of the river the natives were either stark naked or wore a mere apology for clothing in the shape of a skin slung across their shoulders. The river appeared to be the limit of utter savagedom, and the people of Unyoro considered the indecency of nakedness precisely in the same light as Europeans.

Nearly all savages have some idea of earthenware; but the scale of advancement of a country between savagedom and civilization may generally be determined by the style of its pottery. The Chinese, who were as civilized as they are at the present day at a period when the English were barbarians, were ever celebrated for the manufacture of porcelain, and the difference between savage and civilized countries is always thus exemplified; the savage makes earthenware, but the civilized make porcelain; thus the gradations from the rudest earthenware will mark the improvement in the scale of civilization. The prime utensil of the African savage is a gourd, the sh.e.l.l of which is the bowl presented to him by nature as the first idea from which he is to model. Nature, adapting herself to the requirements of animals and man, appears in these savage countries to yield abundantly much that savage man can want. Gourds with exceedingly strong sh.e.l.ls not only grow wild, which if divided in halves afford bowls, but great and quaint varieties form natural bottles of all sizes, from the tiny vial to the demijohn containing five gallons.

The most savage tribes content themselves with the productions of nature, confining their manufacture to a coa.r.s.e and half-baked jar for carrying water; but the semi-savage, like those of Unyoro, afford an example of the first step toward manufacturing art, by their COPYING FROM NATURE. The utter savage makes use of nature--the gourd is his utensil; and the more advanced natives of Unyoro adopt it as the model for their pottery. They make a fine quality of jet-black earthenware, producing excellent tobacco-pipes most finely worked in imitation of the small egg-shaped gourd. Of the same earthenware they make extremely pretty bowls, and also bottles copied from the varieties of the bottle gourds; thus, in this humble art, we see the first effort of the human mind in manufactures, in taking nature for a model, precisely as the beautiful Corinthian capital originated in a design from a basket of flowers.

In two days reports were brought that Kamrasi had sent a large force, including several of Speke's deserters, to inspect me and see if I was really Speke's brother. I received them standing, and after thorough inspection I was p.r.o.nounced to be ”Speke's own brother,” and all were satisfied. However, the business was not yet over; plenty of talk, and another delay of four days was declared necessary until the king should reply to the satisfactory message about to be sent. Losing all patience, I stormed, declaring Kamrasi to be mere dust, while a white man was a king in comparison. I ordered all my luggage to be conveyed immediately to the canoe, and declared that I would return immediately to my own country; that I did not wish to see any one so utterly devoid of manners as Kamrasi, and that no other white man would ever visit his kingdom.

The effect was magical! I rose hastily to depart. The chiefs implored, declaring that Kamrasi would kill them all if I retreated, to prevent which misfortune they secretly instructed the canoe to be removed. I was in a great rage, and about 400 natives, who were present, scattered in all quarters, thinking that there would be a serious quarrel. I told the chiefs that nothing should stop me, and that I would seize the canoe by force unless my whole party should be brought over from the opposite side that instant. This was agreed upon. One of Ibrahim's men exchanged and drank blood from the arm of Speke's deserter, who was Kamrasi's representative; and peace thus firmly established, several canoes were at once employed, and sixty of our men were brought across the river before sunset. The natives had nevertheless taken the precaution to send all their women away from the village.

CHAPTER XIX.

Kamrasi's cowardice--Interview with the king--The exchange of blood--The royal beggar's last chance--An astounded sovereign.

On January 31st throngs of natives arrived to carry our luggage gratis, by the king's orders. On the following day my wife became very ill, and had to be carried on a litter during the following days. On February 4th I also fell ill upon the road, and having been held on my ox by two men for some time, I at length fell into their arms and was laid under a tree for five hours. Becoming better, I rode on for two hours.

On the route we were delayed in every possible way. I never saw such cowardice as the redoubtable Kamrasi exhibited. He left his residence and retreated to the opposite side of the river, from which point he sent us false messages to delay our advance as much as possible. He had not the courage either to repel us or to receive us. On February 9th he sent word that I was to come on ALONE. I at once turned back, stating that I no longer wished to see Kamrasi, as he must be a mere fool, and I should return to my own country. This created a great stir, and messengers were at once despatched to the king, who returned an answer that I might bring all my men, but that only five of the Turks could be allowed with Ibrahim.

After a quick march of three hours through immense woods we reached the capital--a large village of gra.s.s huts situated on a barren slope. We were ferried across a river in large canoes, capable of carrying fifty men, but formed of a single tree upward of four feet wide. Kamrasi was reported to be in his residence on the opposite side; but upon our arrival at the south bank we found ourselves thoroughly deceived. We were upon a miserable flat, level with the river, and in the wet season forming a marsh at the junction of the Kafoor River with the Somerset.

The latter river bounded the flat on the east, very wide and sluggish, and much overgrown with papyrus and lotus. The river we had just crossed was the Kafoor. It was perfectly dead water and about eighty yards wide, including the beds of papyrus on either side. We were shown some filthy huts that were to form our camp. The spot was swarming with mosquitoes, and we had nothing to eat except a few fowls that I had brought with me.

Kamrasi was on the OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER; they had cunningly separated us from him, and had returned with the canoes. Thus we were prisoners upon the swamp. This was our welcome from the King of Unyoro! I now heard that Speke and Grant had been lodged in this same spot.

Ibrahim was extremely nervous, as were also my men. They declared that treachery was intended, as the boats had been withdrawn, and they proposed that we should swim the river and march back to our main party, who had been left three hours in the rear. I was ill with fever, as was also my wife, and the unwholesome air of the marsh aggravated the disease. Our luggage had been left at our last station, as this was a condition stipulated by Kamrasi; thus we had to sleep upon the damp ground of the marsh in the filthy hut, as the heavy dew at night necessitated shelter. With great difficulty I accompanied Ibrahim and a few men to the bank of the river where we had landed the day before, and, climbing upon a white ant hill to obtain a view over the high reeds, I scanned the village with a telescope. The scene was rather exciting; crowds of people were rus.h.i.+ng about in all directions and gathering from all quarters toward the river; the slope from the river to the town M'rooli was black with natives, and I saw about a dozen large canoes preparing to transport them to our side. I returned from my elevated observatory to Ibrahim, who, on the low ground only a few yards distant, could not see the opposite side of the river owing to the high gra.s.s and reeds. Without saying more, I merely begged him to mount upon the ant hill and look toward M'rooli. Hardly had he cast a glance at the scene described, than he jumped down from his stand and cried, ”They are going to attack us!” ”Let us retreat to the camp and prepare for a fight!” ”Let us fire at them from here as they cross in the canoes,”

cried others; ”the buckshot will clear them off when packed in the boats.” This my panic-stricken followers would have done had I not been present.

”Fools!” I said, ”do you not see that the natives have no s.h.i.+ELDS with them, but merely lances? Would they commence an attack without their s.h.i.+elds? Kamrasi is coming in state to visit us.” This idea was by no means accepted by my people, and we reached our little camp, and, for the sake of precaution, stationed the men in position behind a hedge of thorns. Ibrahim had managed to bring twelve picked men instead of five as stipulated; thus we were a party of twenty-four. I was of very little use, as the fever was so strong upon me that I lay helpless on the ground.

In a short time the canoes arrived, and for about an hour they were employed in crossing and recrossing, and landing great numbers of men, until they at length advanced and took possession of some huts about 200 yards from our camp. They now hallooed that Kamrasi had arrived, and, seeing some oxen with the party, I felt sure they had no evil intentions. I ordered my men to carry me in their arms to the king, and to accompany me with the presents, as I was determined to have a personal interview, although only fit for a hospital.

Upon my approach, the crowd gave way, and I was shortly laid on a mat at the king's feet. He was a fine-looking man, but with a peculiar expression of countenance, owing to his extremely prominent eyes; he was about six feet high, beautifully clean, and was dressed in a long robe of bark cloth most gracefully folded. The nails of his hands and feet were carefully attended to, and his complexion was about as dark brown as that of an Abyssinian. He sat upon a copper stool placed upon a carpet of leopard-skins, and he was surrounded by about ten of his princ.i.p.al chiefs.

Our interpreter, Bacheeta, now informed him who I was, and what were my intentions. He said that he was sorry I had been so long on the road, but that he had been obliged to be cautious, having been deceived by Debono's people. I replied that I was an Englishman, a friend of Speke and Grant, that they had described the reception they had met with from him, and that I had come to thank him, and to offer him a few presents in return for his kindness, and to request him to give me a guide to the Lake Luta N'zige. He laughed at the name, and repeated it several times with his chiefs. He then said it was not LUTA, but M-WOOTAN N'zige; but that it was SIX MONTHS' journey from M'rooli, and that in my weak condition I could not possibly reach it; that I should die upon the road, and that the king of my country would perhaps imagine that I had been murdered, and might invade his territory. I replied that I was weak with the toil of years in the hot countries of Africa, but that I was in search of the great lake, and should not return until I had succeeded; that I had no king, but a powerful Queen who watched over all her subjects, and that no Englishman could be murdered with impunity; therefore he should send me to the lake without delay, and there would be the less chance of my dying in his country.

I explained that the river Nile flowed for a distance of two years'

journey through wonderful countries, and reached the sea, from which many valuable articles would be sent to him in exchange for ivory, could I only discover the great lake. As a proof of this, I had brought him a few curiosities that I trusted he would accept, and I regretted that the impossibility of procuring porters had necessitated the abandonment of others that had been intended for him.

I ordered the men to unpack the Persian carpet, which was spread upon the ground before him. I then gave him an Abba (large white Cashmere mantle), a red silk netted sash, a pair of scarlet Turkish shoes, several pairs of socks, a double-barrelled gun and ammunition, and a great heap of first-cla.s.s beads made up into gorgeous necklaces and girdles. He took very little notice of the presents, but requested that the gun might be fired off. This was done, to the utter confusion of the crowd, who rushed away in such haste that they tumbled over each other like so many rabbits. This delighted the king, who, although himself startled, now roared with laughter. He told me that I must be hungry and thirsty; therefore he hoped I would accept something to eat and drink.

Accordingly he presented me with seventeen cows, twenty pots of sour plantain cider, and many loads of unripe plantains. I inquired whether Speke had left a medicine-chest with him. He replied that it was a very feverish country, and that he and his people had used all the medicine.

Thus my last hope of quinine was cut off. I had always trusted to obtain a supply from the king, as Speke had told me that he had left a bottle with him. It was quite impossible to obtain any information from him, and I was carried back to my hut, where I found Mrs. Baker lying down with fever, and neither of us could render a.s.sistance to the other.

On the following morning the king again appeared. I was better, and had a long interview. He did not appear to heed my questions, but he at once requested that I would ally myself with him, and attack his enemy, Rionga. I told him that I could not embroil myself in such quarrels, but that I had only one object, which was the lake. I requested that he would give Ibrahim a large quant.i.ty of ivory, and that on his return from Gondokoro he would bring him most valuable articles in exchange. He said that he was not sure whether my belly was black or white; by this he intended to express evil or good intentions; but that if it were white I should, of course, have no objection to exchange blood with him, as a proof of friends.h.i.+p and sincerity. This was rather too strong a dose! I replied that it would be impossible, as in my country the shedding of blood was considered a proof of hostility; therefore he must accept Ibrahim as my subst.i.tute. Accordingly the arms were bared and p.r.i.c.ked. As the blood flowed it was licked by either party, and an alliance was concluded. Ibrahim agreed to act with him against all his enemies. It was arranged that Ibrahim now belonged to Kamrasi, and that henceforth our parties should be entirely separate.

On February 21st Kamrasi was civil enough to allow us to quit the marsh.

My porters had by this time all deserted, and on the following day Kamrasi promised to send us porters and to allow us to start at once.