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- IN THE HEART OF AFRICA - 40/42 -
looked forward to the establishment of a dairy, and already contemplated cheese-making. I sent the king a present of a pound of powder in canister, a box of caps, and a variety of trifles, explaining that I was quite out of stores and presents, as I had been kept so long in his country that I was reduced to beggary, as I had expected to return to my own country long before this.
In the evening M'Gambi appeared with a message from the king, saying that I was his greatest friend, and that he would not think of taking anything from me as he was sure that I must be hard up; that he desired nothing, but would be much obliged if I would give him the "little double rifle that I always carried, and my watch and compass!" He wanted "NOTHING," only my Fletcher rifle, that I would as soon have parted with as the bone of my arm; and these three articles were the same for which I had been so pertinaciously bored before my departure from M'rooli. It was of no use to be wroth, I therefore quietly replied that I should not give them, as Kamrasi had failed in his promise to forward me to Shooa; but that I required no presents from him, as he always expected a thousandfold in return. M'Gambi said that all would be right if I would only agree to pay the king a visit. I objected to this, as I told him the king, his brother, did not want to see me, but only to observe what I had, in order to beg for all that he saw. He appeared much hurt, and assured me that he would be himself responsible that nothing of the kind should happen, and that he merely begged as a favor that I would visit the king on the following morning, and that people should be ready to carry me if I were unable to walk. Accordingly I arranged to be carried to Kamrasi's camp at about 8 A.M.
At the hour appointed M'Gambi appeared, with a great crowd of natives. My clothes were in rags, and as personal appearance has a certain effect, even in Central Africa, I determined to present myself to the king in as favorable a light as possible. I happened to possess a full-dress Highland suit that I had worn when I lived in Perthshire many years before. This I had treasured as serviceable upon an occasion like the present: accordingly I was quickly attired in kilt, sporran, and Glengarry bonnet, and to the utter amazement of the crowd, the ragged-looking object that had arrived in Kisoona now issued from the obscure hut with plaid and kilt of Athole tartan. A general shout of exclamation arose from the assembled crowd, and taking my seat upon an angarep, I was immediately shouldered by a number of men, and, attended by ten of my people as escort, I was carried toward the camp of the great Kamrasi.
In about half an hour we arrived. The camp, composed of grass huts, extended over a large extent of ground, and the approach was perfectly black with the throng that crowded to meet me. Women, children, dogs, and men all thronged at the entrance of the street that led to Kamrasi's residence. Pushing our way through this inquisitive multitude, we continued through the camp until at length we reached the dwelling of the king. Halting for the moment, a message was immediately received that we should proceed; we accordingly entered through a narrow passage between high reed fences, and I found myself in the presence of the actual king of Unyoro, Kamrasi. He was sitting in a kind of porch in front of a hut, and upon seeing me he hardly condescended to look at me for more than a moment; he then turned to his attendants and made some remark that appeared to amuse them, as they all grinned as little men are wont to do when a great man makes a bad joke.
I had ordered one of my men to carry my stool; I was determined not to sit upon the earth, as the king would glory in my humiliation. M'Gambi, his brother, who had formerly played the part of king, now sat upon the ground a few feet from Kamrasi, who was seated upon the same stool of copper that M'Gambi had used when I first saw him at M'rooli. Several of his chiefs also sat upon the straw with which the porch was littered. I made a "salaam" and took my seat upon my stool.
Not a word passed between us for about five minutes, during which time the king eyed me most attentively, and made various remarks to the chiefs who were present. At length he asked me why I had not been to see him before. I replied, because I had been starved in his country, and I was too weak to walk. He said I should soon be strong, as he would now give me a good supply of food; but that he could not send provisions to Shooa Moru, as Fowooka held that country. Without replying to this wretched excuse for his neglect, I merely told him that I was happy to have seen him before my departure, as I was not aware until recently that I had been duped by M'Gambi. He answered me very coolly, saying that although I had not seen him, he had nevertheless seen me, as he was among the crowd of native escort on the day that we left M'rooli. Thus he had watched our start at the very place where his brother M'Gambi had impersonated the king.
Kamrasi was a remarkably fine man, tall and well proportioned, with a handsome face of a dark brown color, but a peculiarly sinister expression. He was beautifully clean, and instead of wearing the bark cloth common among the people, he was dressed in a fine mantle of black and white goatskins, as soft as chamois leather. His people sat on the ground at some distance from his throne; when they approached to address him on any subject they crawled upon their hands and knees to his feet, and touched the ground with their foreheads.
True to his natural instincts, the king commenced begging, and being much struck with the Highland costume, he demanded it as a proof of friendship, saying that if I refused I could not be his friend. The watch, compass, and double Fletcher rifle were asked for in their turn, all of which I refused to give him. He appeared much annoyed, therefore I presented him with a pound canister of powder, a box of caps, and a few bullets. He asked, "What's the use of the ammunition if you won't give me your rifle?" I explained that I had already given him a gun, and that he had a rifle of Speke's. Disgusted with his importunity I rose to depart, telling him that I should not return to visit him, as I did not believe he was the real Kamrasi I had heard that Kamrasi was a great king, but he was a mere beggar, and was doubtless an impostor, like M'Gambi. At this he seemed highly amused, and begged me not to leave so suddenly, as he could not permit me to depart empty-handed. He then gave certain orders to his people, and after a little delay two loads of flour arrived, together with a goat and two jars of sour plantain cider. These presents he ordered to be forwarded to Kisoona. I rose to take leave; but the crowd, eager to see what was going forward, pressed closely upon the entrance of the approach, seeing which, the king gave certain orders, and immediately four or five men with long heavy bludgeons rushed at the mob and belabored them right and left, putting the mass to flight pell-mell through the narrow lanes of the camp.
I was then carried back to my camp at Kisoona, where I was received by a great crowd of people.
The hour of deliverance--Triumphal entry into Gondokoro--Home-bound-- The plague breaks out--Our welcome at Khartoum to civilization.
The hour of deliverance from our long sojourn in Central Africa was at hand. It was the month of February, and the boats would be at Gondokoro. The Turks had packed their ivory; the large tusks were fastened to poles to be carried by two men, and the camp was a perfect mass of this valuable material. I counted 609 loads of upward of 50 lbs. each; thirty-one loads were lying at an out-station; therefore the total results of the ivory campaign during the last twelve months were about 32,000 lbs., equal to about 9,630 pounds sterling when delivered in Egypt. This was a perfect fortune for Koorshid.
We were ready to start. My baggage was so unimportant that I was prepared to forsake everything, and to march straight for Gondokoro independently with my own men; but this the Turks assured me was impracticable, as the country was so hostile in advance that we must of necessity have some fighting on the road; the Bari tribe would dispute our right to pass through their territory.
The day arrived for our departure; the oxen were saddled, and we were ready to start. Crowds of people cane to say "good-by;" but, dispensing with the hand-kissing of the Turks who were to remain in camp, we prepared for our journey toward HOME. Far away though it was, every step would bring us nearer. Nevertheless there were ties even in this wild spot, where all was savage and unfeeling--ties that were painful to sever, and that caused a sincere regret to both of us when we saw our little flock of unfortunate slave children crying at the idea of separation. In this moral desert, where all humanized feelings were withered and parched like the sands of the Soudan, the guilelessness of the children had been welcomed like springs of water, as the only refreshing feature in a land of sin and darkness.
"Where are you going?" cried poor little Abbai in the broken Arabic that we had taught him. "Take me with you, Sitty!" (lady), and he followed us down the path, as we regretfully left our proteges, with his fists tucked into his eyes, weeping from his heart, although for his own mother he had not shed a tear. We could not take him with us; he belonged to Ibrahim, and had I purchased the child to rescue him from his hard lot and to rear him as a civilized being, I might have been charged with slave-dealing. With heavy hearts we saw hint taken up in the arms of a woman and carried back to camp, to prevent him from following our party, that had now started.
I will not detain the reader with the details of our journey home. After much toil and some fighting with hostile natives, we bivouacked one sunset three miles from Gondokoro. That night we were full of speculations. Would a boat be waiting for us with supplies and letters? The morning anxiously looked forward to at length arrived. We started. The English flag had been mounted on a fine straight bamboo with a new lance-head specially arranged for the arrival at Gondokoro. My men felt proud, as they would march in as conquerors. According to White Nile ideas, such a journey could not have been accomplished with so small a party. Long before Ibrahim's men were ready to start, our oxen were saddled and we were off, longing to hasten into Gondokoro and to find a comfortable vessel with a few luxuries and the post from England. Never had the oxen travelled so fast as on that morning; the flag led the way, and the men, in excellent spirits, followed at double-quick pace.
"I see the masts of the vessels!" exclaimed the boy Saat. "El hambd el Illah!" (Thank God! ) shouted the men. "Hurrah!" said I; "Three cheers for Old England and the Sources of the Nile! Hurrah!" and my men joined me in the wild, and to their ears savage, English yell. "Now for a salute! Fire away all your powder, if you like, my lads, and let the people know that we're alive!"
This was all that was required to complete the happiness of my people, and, loading and firing as fast as possible, we approached near to Gondokoro. Presently we saw the Turkish flag emerge from Gondokoro at about a quarter of a mile distant, followed by a number of the traders' people, who waited to receive us. On our arrival they immediately approached and fired salutes with ball cartridge, as usual advancing close to us and discharging their guns into the ground at our feet. One of my servants, Mahomet, was riding an ox, and an old friend of his in the crowd happening to recognize him immediately advanced and saluted him by firing his gun into the earth directly beneath the belly of the ox he was riding.
The effect produced made the crowd and ourselves explode with laughter. The nervous ox, terrified at the sudden discharge between his legs, gave
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