Part 15 (1/2)

On the following morning not a native was present! We had been entirely deserted; although I held the spears and s.h.i.+elds, every man had absconded. There were neither inhabitants nor provisions. The whole country was a wilderness of rank gra.s.s that hemmed us in on all sides.

Not an animal, nor even a bird, was to be seen; it was a miserable, damp, lifeless country. We were on elevated ground, and the valley of the Somerset was about two miles to our north, the river roaring sullenly in its obstructed pa.s.sage, its course marked by the double belt of huge dark trees that grew upon its banks.

My men naturally felt outraged and proposed that we should return to Patooan, seize the canoes, and take provisions by force, as we had been disgracefully deceived. The natives had merely deposited us here to get us out of the way, and in this spot we might starve. Of course I would not countenance the proposal of seizing provisions, but I directed my men to search among the ruined villages for buried corn, in company with the woman Bacheeta, who, being a native of this country, would be up to the ways of the people, and might a.s.sist in the discovery.

After some hours pa.s.sed in rambling over the black ashes of several villages that had been burned, they discovered a hollow place, by sounding the earth with a stick, and, upon digging, arrived at a granary of the seed known as ”tullaboon;” this was a great prize, as, although mouldy and bitter, it would keep us from starving. The women of the party were soon hard at work grinding, as many of the necessary stones had been found among the ruins.

Fortunately there were three varieties of plants growing wild in great profusion, that, when boiled, were a good subst.i.tute for spinach; thus we were rich in vegetables, although without a morsel of fat or animal food. Our dinner consisted daily of a mess of black porridge of bitter mouldy flour that no English pig would condescend to notice, and a large dish of spinach. ”Better a dinner of herbs where love is,” etc. often occurred to me; but I am not sure that I was quite of that opinion after a fortnight's grazing upon spinach.

Tea and coffee were things of the past, the very idea of which made our months water; but I found a species of wild thyme growing in the jungles, and this when boiled formed a tolerable subst.i.tute for tea.

Sometimes our men procured a little wild honey, which added to the thyme tea we considered a great luxury.

This wretched fare, in our exhausted state from fever and general effects of climate, so completely disabled us that for nearly two months my wife lay helpless on one angarep, and I upon the other. Neither of us could walk. The hut was like all in Kamrasi's country, with a perfect forest of thick poles to support the roof (I counted thirty-two); thus, although it was tolerably large, there was but little accommodation.

These poles we now found very convenient, as we were so weak that we could not rise from bed without lifting ourselves up by one of the supports.

We were very nearly dead, and our amus.e.m.e.nt was a childish conversation about the good things in England, and my idea of perfect happiness was an English beefsteak and a bottle of pale ale; for such a luxury I would most willingly have sold my birthright at that hungry moment. We were perfect skeletons, and it was annoying to see how we suffered upon the bad fare, while our men apparently throve. There were plenty of wild red peppers, and the men seemed to enjoy a mixture of porridge and legumes a la sauce piquante. They were astonished at my falling away on this food, but they yielded to my argument when I suggested that a ”lion would starve where a donkey grew fat.” I must confess that this state of existence did not improve my temper, which, I fear, became nearly as bitter as the porridge. My people had a windfall of luck, as Saat's ox, that had lingered for a long time, lay down to die, and stretching himself out, commenced kicking his last kick. The men immediately a.s.sisted him by cutting his throat, and this supply of beef was a luxury which, even in my hungry state, was not the English beefsteak for which I sighed, and I declined the diseased bull.

The men made several long excursions through the country to purchase provisions, but in two months they procured only two kids; the entire country was deserted, owing to the war between Kamrasi and Fowooka.

Every day the boy Saat and the woman Bacheeta sallied out and conversed with the inhabitants of the different islands on the river. Sometimes, but very rarely, they returned with a fowl; such an event caused great rejoicing.

We gave up all hope of Gondokoro, and were resigned to our fate. This, we felt sure, was to be buried in Chopi, the name of our village. I wrote instructions in my journal, in case of death, and told my headman to be sure to deliver my maps, observations, and papers to the English Consul at Khartoum. This was my only care, as I feared that all my labor might be lost should I die. I had no fear for my wife, as she was quite as bad as I, and if one should die the other would certainly follow; in fact, this had been agreed upon, lest she should fall into the hands of Kamrasi at my death. We had struggled to win, and I thanked G.o.d that we had won. If death were to be the price, at all events we were at the goal, and we both looked upon death rather as a pleasure, as affording REST. There would be no more suffering, no fever, no long journey before us, that in our weak state was an infliction. The only wish was to lay down the burden. Curious is the warfare between the animal instincts and the mind! Death would have been a release that I would have courted; but I should have liked that one ”English beefsteak and pale ale” before I died!

During our misery of constant fever and starvation at Shooa Moru, insult had been added to injury. There was no doubt that we had been thus deserted by Kamrasi's orders, as every seven or eight days one of his chiefs arrived and told me that the king was with his army only four days' march from me, and that he was preparing to attack Fowooka, but that he wished me to join him, as with my fourteen guns, we should win a great victory. This treacherous conduct, after his promise to forward me without delay to Shooa, enraged me exceedingly. We had lost the boats at Gondokoro, and we were now nailed to the country for another year, should we live, which was not likely. Not only had the brutal king thus deceived us, but he was deliberately starving us into conditions, his aim being that my men should a.s.sist him against his enemy. At one time the old enemy tempted me sorely to join Fowooka against Kamrasi; but, discarding the idea, generated in a moment of pa.s.sion, I determined to resist his proposals to the last. It was perfectly true that the king was within thirty miles of us, that he was aware of our misery, and made use of our extremity to force us to become his allies.

After more than two months pa.s.sed in this distress it became evident that something must be done. I sent my headman, or vakeel, and one man, with a native as a guide (that Saat and Bacheeta had procured from an island), with instructions to go direct to Kamrasi, to abuse him thoroughly in my name for having thus treated us, and tell him that I was much insulted at his treating with me through a third party in proposing an alliance. My vakeel was to explain that I was a much more powerful chief than Kamrasi, and that if he required my alliance, he must treat with me in person, and immediately send fifty men to transport my wife, myself, and effects to his camp, where we might, in a personal interview, come to terms.

I told my vakeel to return to me with the fifty men, and to be sure to bring from Kamrasi some token by which I should know that he had actually seen him. The vakeel and Yaseen started.

After some days the absconded guide, Rabonga, appeared with a number of men, but without either my vakeel or Yaseen. He carried with him a small gourd bottle, carefully stopped; this he broke, and extracted from the inside two pieces of printed paper that Kamrasi had sent to me in reply.

On examining the papers, I found them to be portions of the English Church Service translated into (I think) the ”Kisuabili” language, by Dr Krapf! There were many notes in pencil on the margin, written in English, as translations of words in the text. It quickly occurred to me that Speke must have given this book to Kamrasi on his arrival from Zanzibar, and that he now extracted the leaves and sent them to me as a token I had demanded to show that my message had been delivered to him.

Rabonga made a lame excuse for his previous desertion. He delivered a thin ox that Kamrasi had sent me, and he declared that his orders were that he should take my whole party immediately to Kamrasi, as he was anxious that we should attack Fowooka without loss of time. We were positively to start on the following morning! My bait had taken, and we should escape from this frightful spot, Shooa Moru.

After winding through dense jungles of bamboos and interminable groves of destroyed plantains, we perceived the tops of a number of gra.s.s hats appearing among the trees. My men now begged to be allowed to fire a salute, as it was reported that the ten men of Ibrahim's party who had been left as hostages were quartered at this village with Kamrasi.

Hardly had the firing commenced when it was immediately replied to by the Turks from their camp, who, upon our approach, came out to meet us with great manifestations of delight and wonder at our having accomplished our long and difficult voyage.

My vakeel and Yaseen were the first to meet us, with an apology that severe fever had compelled them to remain in camp instead of returning to Shooa Moru according to my orders; but they had delivered my message to Kamrasi, who had, as I had supposed, sent two leaves out of a book Speke had given him, as a reply. An immense amount of news had to be exchanged between my men and those of Ibrahim. They had quite given us up for lost, until they heard that we were at Shooa Moru. A report had reached them that my wife was dead, and that I had died a few days later. A great amount of kissing and embracing took place, Arab fas.h.i.+on, between the two parties; and they all came to kiss my hand and that of my wife, with the exclamation, that ”By Allah, no woman in the world had a heart so tough as to dare to face what she had gone through.” ”El hamd el Illah! El hamd el Illah bel salaam!” (”Thank G.o.d--be grateful to G.o.d”) was exclaimed on all sides by the swarthy throng of brigands who pressed round us, really glad to welcome us back again; and I could not help thinking of the difference in their manner now and fourteen months before, when they had attempted to drive us back from Gondokoro.

Hardly were we seated in our hut when my vakeel announced that Kamrasi had arrived to pay me a visit. In a few minutes he was ushered into the hut. Far from being abashed, he entered with a loud laugh, totally different from his former dignified manner. ”Well, here you are at last!” he exclaimed. Apparently highly amused with our wretched appearance, he continued, ”So you have been to the M'wootan N'zige!

Well, you don't look much the better for it; why, I should not have known you! ha, ha, ha!” I was not in a humor to enjoy his attempts at facetiousness; I therefore told him that he had behaved disgracefully and meanly, and that I should publish his character among the adjoining tribes as below that of the most petty chief that I had ever seen.

”Never mind,” he replied, ”it's all over now. You really are thin, both of you. It was your own fault; why did you not agree to fight Fowooka?

You should have been supplied with fat cows and milk and b.u.t.ter, had you behaved well. I will have my men ready to attack Fowooka to-morrow.

The Turks have ten men, you have thirteen; thirteen and ten make twenty-three. You shall be carried if you can't walk, and we will give Fowooka no chance. He must be killed--only kill him, and MY BROTHER will give you half of his kingdom.”

He continued, ”You shall have supplies to-morrow; I will go to my BROTHER, who is the great M'Kamma Kamrasi, and he will send you all you require. I am a little man; he is a big one. I have nothing; he has everything, and he longs to see you. You must go to him directly; he lives close by.”

I hardly knew whether he was drunk or sober. ”My bother the great M'Kamma Kamrasi!” I felt bewildered with astonishment. Then, ”If you are not Kamrasi, pray who are you?” I asked. ”Who am I?” he replied. ”Ha, ha, ha! that's very good; who am I?--I am M'Gambi, the brother of Kamrasi; I am the younger brother, but HE IS THE KING.”