CHAPTER XVI. KAMRASI'S ADIEU.
It was the middle of November - not the wretched month that chills even the recollection of Old England, but the last of the ten months of rain that causes the wonderful vegetation of the fertile soil in Equatorial Africa. The Turks were ready to return to Shooa, and I longed for the change from this brutal country to the still wilder but less bloody tribe of Madi, to the north.
The quantity of ivory in camp was so large that we required 700 porters to carry both tusks and provisions, for the five days' march through uninhabited country. Kamrasi came to see us before we parted; he had provided the requisite porters. We were to start on the following day; he arrived with the Blissett rifle that had been given him by Speke. He told me that he was sorry we were going; and he was much distressed that he had burst his rifle! - he had hammered a large bullet in the endeavour to fit the bore; and the lump of lead having stuck in the middle, he had fired his rifle and split the barrel, which being of remarkably good metal had simply opened. He told me that it did not matter so very much after all, as he had neither powder nor ball (this was false, as Ibrahim had just given him a quantity), therefore his rifle would have been useless if sound; but he added, "You are now going home, where you can obtain all you require, therefore you will want for nothing; give me, before you leave, the little double-barrelled rifle that YOU PROMISED me, and a supply of ammunition!" To the last moment he was determined to persevere in his demand, and, if possible, to obtain my handy little Fletcher 24 rifle, that had been demanded and refused ever since my residence in his country. I was equally persistent in my refusal, telling him that there were many dangers on the road, and I could not travel unarmed.
On the following morning our people crossed the river: this was a tedious operation, as our party consisted of about 700 porters and eighty armed men: Ibrahim had arranged to leave thirty men with Kamrasi to protect him from the M'was until he should return in the following season, when he promised to bring him a great variety of presents. By 4 P.M. the whole party had crossed the river with ivory and baggage. We now brought up the rear, and descended some fine crags of granite to the water's edge; there were several large canoes in attendance, one of which we occupied, and, landing on the opposite shore, we climbed up the steep ascent and looked back upon Unyoro, in which we had passed ten months of wretchedness. It had poured with rain on the preceding day, and the natives had constructed a rough camp of grass huts.
On the break of day on the 17th November we started. It would be tedious to describe the journey, as, although by a different route, it was through the same country that we had traversed on our arrival from Shooa. After the first day's march we quitted the forest and entered upon the great prairies. I was astonished to find after several days' journey a great difference in the dryness of the climate. In Unyoro we had left the grass an intense green, the rain having been frequent: here it was nearly dry, and in many places it had been burnt by the native hunting parties. From some elevated points in the route I could distinctly make out the outline of the mountains running from the Albert lake to the north, on the west bank of the Nile; these would hardly have been observed by a person who was ignorant of their existence, as the grass was so high that I had to ascend a white ant-hill to look for them; they were about sixty miles distant, and my men, who knew them well, pointed them out to their companions.
The entire party, including women and children, amounted to about 1,000 people. Although they had abundance of flour, there was no meat, and the grass being high there was no chance of game. On the fourth day only I saw a herd of about twenty tetel (hartebeest) in an open space that had been recently burnt. We were both riding upon oxen that I had purchased of Ibrahim, and we were about a mile ahead of the flag in the hope of getting a shot; dismounting from my animal, I stalked the game down a ravine, but upon reaching the point that I had resolved upon for the shot, I found the herd had moved their position to about 250 paces from me. They were all looking at me, as they had been disturbed by the oxen and the boy Saat in the distance. Dinner depended on the shot. There was a leafless bush singed by the recent fire; upon a branch of this I took a rest, but just as I was going to fire they moved off - a clean miss! - whizz went the bullet over them, but so close to the ears of one that it shook its head as though stung by a wasp, and capered round and round; the others stood perfectly still, gazing at the oxen in the distance. Crack went the left-hand barrel of the little Fletcher 24, and down went a tetel like a lump of lead, before the satisfactory sound of the bullet returned from the distance. Off went the herd, leaving a fine beast kicking on the ground. It was shot through the spine, and some of the native porters, having witnessed the sport from a great distance, threw down their loads and came racing towards the meat like a pack of wolves scenting blood. In a few minutes the prize was divided, while a good portion was carried by Saat for our own use; the tetel, weighing about 500 lbs. vanished among the crowd in a few minutes.