CHAPTER III. GUN ACCIDENT.
A DAY before the departure of Speke and Grant from Gondokoro, an event occurred which appeared as a bad omen to the superstitions of my men. I had ordered the diahbiah to be prepared for sailing: thus, the cargo having been landed and the boat cleared and washed, we were sitting in the cabin, when a sudden explosion close to the windows startled us from our seats, and the consternation of a crowd of men who were on the bank, showed that some accident had happened. I immediately ran out, and found that the servants had laid all my rifles upon a mat upon the ground, and that one of the men had walked over the guns; his foot striking the hammer of one of the No. 10 Reilly rifles, had momentarily raised it from the nipple, and an instantaneous explosion was the consequence. The rifle was loaded for elephants, with seven drachms of powder. There was a quantity of luggage most fortunately lying before the muzzle, but the effects of the discharge were extraordinary. The ball struck the steel scabbard of a sword, tearing off the ring; it then passed obliquely through the stock of a large rifle, and burst through the shoulder-plate; entering a packing-case of inch-deal, it passed through it and through the legs of a man who was sitting at some distance, and striking the hip-bone of another man, who was sitting at some paces beyond, it completely smashed both hips, and fortunately being expended, it lodged in the body. Had it not been for the first objects happily in the route of the ball, it would have killed several men, as they were sitting in a crowd exactly before the muzzle.
Dr. Murie, who had accompanied Mr. Petherick, very kindly paid the wounded men every attention, but he with the smashed hip died in a few hours, apparently without pain.
After the departure of Speke and Grant, I moved my tent to the high ground above the river; the effluvium from the filth of some thousands of people was disgusting, and fever was prevalent in all quarters. Both of us were suffering; also Mr. and Mrs. Petherick, and many of my men, one of whom died. My animals were all healthy, but the donkeys and camels were attacked by a bird, about the size of a thrush, which caused them great uneasiness. This bird is of a greenish-brown colour, with a powerful red beak, and excessively strong claws. It is a perfect pest to the animals, and positively eats them into holes. The original object of the bird in settling upon the animal is to search for vermin, but it is not contented with the mere insects, and industriously pecks holes in all parts of the animal, more especially on the back. A wound once established, adds to the attraction, and the unfortunate animal is so pestered that it has no time to eat. I was obliged to hire little boys to watch the donkeys, and to drive off these plagues; but so determined and bold were the birds, that I have constantly seen them run under the body of the donkey, clinging to the belly with their feet, and thus retreating to the opposite side of the animal when chased by the watch-boys. In a few days my animals were full of wounds, excepting the horses, whose long tails were effectual whisks. Although the temperature was high, 95 degrees Fahr., the wind was frequently cold at about three o'clock in the morning, and one of my horses, "Priest," that I had lately purchased of the Mission, became paralysed, and could not rise from the ground. After several days' endeavours to cure him, I was obliged to shoot him, as the poor animal could not eat.
I now weighed all my baggage, and found that I had fifty-four cantars (100 lbs. each). The beads, copper, and ammunition were the terrible onus. I therefore applied to Mahommed, the vakeel of Andrea Debono, who had escorted Speke and Grant, and I begged his co-operation in the expedition. These people had brought down a large quantity of ivory from the interior, and had therefore a number of porters who would return empty-handed; I accordingly arranged with Mahommed for fifty porters, who would much relieve the backs of my animals from Gondokoro to the station at Faloro, about twelve days' march. At Faloro I intended to leave my heavy baggage in depot, and to proceed direct to Kamrasi's country. I promised Mahommed that I would use my influence in all new countries that I might discover, to open a road for his ivory trade, provided that he would agree to conduct it by legitimate purchase, and I gave him a list of the quality of beads most desirable for Kamrasi's country, according to the description I had received from Speke.
Mahommed promised to accompany me, not only to his camp at Faloro, but throughout the whole of my expedition, provided that I would assist him in procuring ivory, and that I would give him a handsome present. All was agreed upon, and my own men appeared in high spirits at the prospect of joining so large a party as that of Mahommed, which mustered about two hundred men.