CHAPTER III. GUN ACCIDENT.
From morning till night natives of all ranks surrounded the tent to ask for presents; these being generally granted, as it was highly necessary to create a favourable impression. Koorshid's party, who had arrived from Latooka, were to return shortly, but they not only refused to allow me to accompany them, but they declared their intention of forcibly repelling me, should I attempt to advance by their route. This was a grand excuse for my men, who once more refused to proceed. By pressure upon the vakeel they again yielded, but on condition that I would take one of the mutineers named "Bellaal," who wished to join them, but whose offer I had refused, as he had been a notorious ringleader in every mutiny. It was a sine qua non that he was to go; and knowing the character of the man, I felt convinced that it had been arranged that he should head the mutiny conspired to be enacted upon our arrival at Chenooda's camp in the Latooka country. The vakeel of Chenooda, one Mahommed Her, was in constant communication with my men, which tended to confirm the reports I had heard from the boy Saat. This Mahommed Her started from Gondokoro for Latooka. Koorshid's men would start two days later; these were rival parties, both antagonistic, but occupying the same country, the Latooka; both equally hostile to me, but as the party of Mahommed Her were Dongolowas, and that of Koorshid were Jalyns and Soodanes, I trusted eventually to turn their disputes to my own advantage.
The plan that I had arranged was to leave all the baggage not indispensable with Koorshid Aga at Gondokoro, who would return it to Khartoum. I intended to wait until Koorshid's party should march, when I resolved to follow them, as I did not believe they would dare to oppose me by force, their master himself being friendly. I considered their threats as mere idle boasting, to frighten me from an attempt to follow them; but there was another more serious cause of danger to be apprehended.
On the route, between Gondokoro and Latooka, there was a powerful tribe among the mountains of Ellyria. The chief of that tribe (Legge) had formerly massacred a hundred and twenty of a trader's party. He was an ally of Koorshid's people, who declared that they would raise the tribe against me, which would end in the defeat or massacre of my party. There was a difficult pass through the mountains of Ellyria, which it would be impossible to force; thus my small party of seventeen men would be helpless. It would be merely necessary for the traders to request the chief of Ellyria to attack my party to insure its destruction, as the plunder of the baggage would be an ample reward.
There was no time for deliberation. Both the present and the future looked as gloomy as could be imagined; but I had always expected extraordinary difficulties, and they were, if possible, to be surmounted. It was useless to speculate upon chances; there was no hope of success in inaction; and the only resource was to drive through all obstacles without calculating the risk.
Once away from Gondokoro we should be fairly launched on our voyage, the boats would have returned to Khartoum, thus retreat would be cut off; it only remained to push forward, trusting in Providence and good fortune. I had great faith in presents. The Arabs are all venal; and, having many valuable effects with me, I trusted, when the proper moment should arrive, to be able to overcome all opposition by an open hand. The day arrived for the departure of Koorshid's people. They commenced firing their usual signals; the drums beat; the Turkish ensign led the way; and they marched at 2 o'clock P.M., sending a polite message, "daring" me to follow them.
I immediately ordered the tent to be struck, the luggage to be arranged, the animals to be collected, and everything to be ready for the march. Richarn and Saat were in high spirits, even my unwilling men were obliged to work, and by 7 P.M. we were all ready. The camels were too heavily loaded, carrying about seven hundred pounds each. The donkeys were also overloaded, but there was no help for it. Mrs. Baker was well mounted on my good old Abyssinian hunter "Tetel," ("Hartebeest") and was carrying several leather bags slung to the pommel, while I was equally loaded on my horse "Filfil;" ("Pepper") in fact, we were all carrying as much as we could stow.
We had neither guide, nor interpreter. Not one native was procurable, all being under the influence of the traders, who had determined to render our advance utterly impossible by preventing the natives from assisting us. All had been threatened, and we, perfectly helpless, commenced the desperate journey in darkness about an hour after sunset.
"Where shall we go?" said the men, just as the order was given to start. "Who can travel without a guide? No one knows the road." The moon was up, and the mountain of Belignan was distinctly visible about nine miles distant. Knowing that the route lay on the east side of that mountain, I led the way, Mrs. Baker riding by my side, and the British flag following close behind us as a guide for the caravan of heavily laden camels and donkeys. We shook hands warmly with Dr. Murie, who had come to see us off, and thus we started on our march in Central Africa on the 26th of March, 1863.