CHAPTER X. LIFE AT OBBO.
At 4.30 P.m. we arrived at one of the villages of Farajoke. The character of the country had entirely changed; instead of the rank and superabundant vegetation of Obbo, we were in a beautiful open country, naturally drained by its undulating character, and abounding in most beautiful low pasturage. Vast herds of cattle belonged to the different villages, but these had all been driven to concealment, as the report had been received that the Turks were approaching. The country was thickly populated, but the natives appeared very mistrustful; the Turks immediately entered the villages, and ransacked the granaries for corn, digging up the yams, and helping themselves to everything as though quite at home. I was on a beautiful grass sward on the gentle slope of a hill: here I arranged to bivouac for the night.
In three days' march from this point through beautiful park-like country, we arrived at the Asua river. The entire route from Farajoke had been a gentle descent, and I found this point of the Asua in lat N. 3 degrees 12 minutes to be 2,875 feet above the sea level, 1,091 feet lower than Farajoke. The river was a hundred and twenty paces broad, and from the bed to the top of the perpendicular banks was about fifteen feet. At this season it was almost dry, and a narrow channel of about six inches deep flowed through the centre of the otherwise exhausted river. The bed was much obstructed by rocks, and the inclination was so rapid that I could readily conceive the impossibility of crossing it during the rains. It formed the great drain of the country, all its waters flowing to the Nile, but during the dry months it was most insignificant. The country between Farajoke and the Asua, although lovely, was very thinly populated, and the only villages that I saw were built upon low hills of bare granite, which lay in huge piles of disjointed fragments.
On arrival at the river, while the men were washing in the clear stream, I took a rifle and strolled along the margin; I shortly observed a herd of the beautiful Mehedehet antelopes feeding upon the rich but low grass of a sandbank in the very centre of the river. Stalking them to within a hundred and twenty paces they obtained my wind, and, ceasing to graze, they gazed intently at me. I was on the high bank among the bushes, and I immediately picked out the biggest, and fired, missing my mark. All dashed away except the animal at which I fired, who stood in uncertainty for a few moments, when the second barrel of the Fletcher 24 rifle knocked him over, striking him through the neck. Hearing the quick double shot, my people came running to the spot, accompanied by a number of the native porters, and were rejoiced to find a good supply of meat; the antelope weighed about five hundred pounds, and was sufficient to afford a good dinner for the whole party.
The Mehedehet is about 13 hands high, with rough, brown hair like the Samber deer of India. Our resting-place was on the dry, rocky bed of the river, close to the edge of the shallow but clear stream that rippled over the uneven surface. Some beautiful tamarind trees afforded a most agreeable shade, and altogether it was a charming place to bivouac. Although at Obbo the grass was not sufficiently dry to burn, in this country it was reduced to a crisp straw, and I immediately set fire to the prairies; the wind was strong, and we had a grand blaze, the flames crackling and leaping about thirty feet high, and sweeping along with so mad a fury that within an hour the entire country was a continuous line of fire. Not a trace of vegetation remained behind; the country appeared as though covered with a pall of black velvet. Returning from my work, I found my camping place well arranged - beds prepared, and a good dinner ready of antelope soup and cutlets. On waking the next morning, I found that the Turks had all disappeared during the night, and that I was alone with my people. It was shortly explained that they had departed to attack some village, to which they were guided by some natives who had accompanied them from Farajoke.
I accordingly took my rifle and strolled along the margin of the river to look for game, accompanied by two of my porters. Although it was a most likely country, being a natural park well timbered, with a river flowing through the midst, there was a great scarcity of wild animals. At length, in crossing a ravine that had stopped the progress of the fire, an antelope (water buck) jumped out of a hollow, and, rushing through the high grass, he exposed himself for an instant in crossing the summit of a bare knoll, and received a ball from the little Fletcher in the hindquarters. Although badly wounded, he was too nimble for my natives, who chased him with their spears for about a quarter of a mile. These fellows tracked him beautifully, and we at length found him hiding in a deep pool in the river, and he was immediately dispatched.