CHAPTER II. BAD RECEPTION AT GONDOKORO
After a few days' detention at Gondokoro, I saw unmistakeable signs of discontent among my men, who had evidently been tampered with by the different traders' parties. One evening several of the most disaffected came to me with a complaint that they had not enough meat, and that they must be allowed to make a razzia upon the cattle of the natives to procure some oxen. This demand being of course refused, they retired, muttering in an insolent manner their determination of stealing cattle with or without my permission. I said nothing at the time, but early on the following morning I ordered the drum to beat, and the men to fall in. I made them a short address, reminding them of the agreement made at Khartoum to follow me faithfully, and of the compact that had been entered into, that they were neither to indulge in slave-hunting nor in cattle-stealing. The only effect of my address was a great outbreak of insolence on the part of the ringleader of the previous evening. This fellow, named Eesur, was an Arab, and his impertinence was so violent, that I immediately ordered him twenty-five lashes, as an example to the others.
Upon the vakeel (Saati) advancing to seize him, there was a general mutiny. Many of the men threw down their guns and seized sticks, and rushed to the rescue of their tall ringleader. Saati was a little man, and was perfectly helpless. Here was an escort: these were the men upon whom I was to depend in hours of difficulty and danger on an expedition in unknown regions; these were the fellows that I had considered to be reduced "from wolves to lambs!"
I was determined not to be done, and to insist upon the punishment of the ringleader. I accordingly went towards him with the intention of seizing him; but he, being backed by upwards of forty men, had the impertinence to attack me, rushing forward with a fury that was ridiculous. To stop his blow, and to knock him into the middle of the crowd, was not difficult; and after a rapid repetition of the dose, I disabled him, and seizing him by the throat, I called to my vakeel Saati for a rope to bind him, but in an instant I had a crowd of men upon me to rescue their leader. How the affair would have ended I cannot say; but as the scene lay within ten yards of my boat, my wife, who was ill with fever in the cabin, witnessed the whole affray, and seeing me surrounded, she rushed out, and in a few moments she was in the middle of the crowd, who at that time were endeavoring to rescue my prisoner. Her sudden appearance had a curious effect, and calling upon several of the least mutinous to assist, she very pluckily made her way up to me. Seizing the opportunity of an indecision that was for the moment evinced by the crowd, I shouted to the drummer boy to beat the drum. In an instant the drum beat, and at the top of my voice I ordered the men to "fall in." It is curious how mechanically an order is obeyed if given at the right moment, even in the midst of mutiny. Two-thirds of the men fell in, and formed in line, while the remainder retreated with the ringleader, Eesur, whom they led away, declaring that he was badly hurt. The affair ended in my insisting upon all forming in line, and upon the ringleader being brought forward. In this critical moment Mrs. Baker, with great tact, came forward and implored me to forgive him if he kissed my hand and begged for pardon. This compromise completely won the men, who, although a few minutes before in open mutiny, now called upon their ringleader Eesur to apologize, and that all would be right. I made them rather a bitter speech, and dismissed them.
From that moment I knew that my expedition was fated. This outbreak was an example of what was to follow. Previous to leaving Khartoum I had felt convinced that I could not succeed with such villains for escort as these Khartoumers: thus I had applied to the Egyptian authorities for a few troops, but had been refused. I was now in an awkward position. All my men had received five months' wages in advance, according to the custom of the White Nile; thus I had no control over them. There were no Egyptian authorities in Gondokoro; it was a nest of robbers; and my men had just exhibited so pleasantly their attachment to me, and their fidelity. There was no European beyond Gondokoro, thus I should be the only white man among this colony of wolves; and I had in perspective a difficult and uncertain path, where the only chance of success lay in the complete discipline of my escort, and the perfect organization of the expedition. After the scene just enacted I felt sure that my escort would give me more cause for anxiety than the acknowledged hostility of the natives.