CHAPTER XVII. THE NATIVES IN MOURNING.
The hour of deliverance from our long sojourn in Central Africa was at hand; it was the month of February, and the boats would be at Gondokoro. The Turks had packed their ivory; the large tusks were fastened to poles to be carried by two men, and the camp was a perfect mass of this valuable material. I counted 609 loads of upwards of 50 lbs. each; thirty-one loads were lying at an outstation: therefore the total results of the ivory campaign during the last twelve months were about 32,000 lbs., equal to about 9,630 pounds when delivered in Egypt. This was a perfect fortune for Koorshid.
We were ready to start. My baggage was so unimportant that I was prepared to forsake everything, and to march straight for Gondokoro independently with my own men; but this the Turks assured me was impracticable, as the country was so hostile in advance that we must of necessity have some fighting on the road; the Bari tribe would dispute our right to pass through their territory.
The porters were all engaged to transport the ivory, but I observed that the greater number were in mourning for either lost friends or cattle, having ropes twisted round their necks and waists, as marks of sorrow.
About 800 men received payment of cattle in advance; the next day they had all absconded with their cows, having departed during the night. This was a planned affair to "spoil the Egyptians:" a combination had been entered into some months before by the Madi and Shooa tribes, to receive payment and to abscond, but to leave the Turks helpless to remove their stock of ivory. The people of Mahommed Wat-el-Mek were in a similar dilemma; not a tusk could be delivered at Gondokoro.
This was not my affair. The greater portion of Ibrahim's immense store of ivory had been given to him by Kamrasi; I had guaranteed him a hundred cantars (10,000 lbs.) should he quit Obbo and proceed to the unknown south; in addition to a large quantity that he had collected and delivered at Gondokoro in the past year, he had now more than three times that amount. Although Kamrasi had on many occasions offered the ivory to me, I had studiously avoided the acceptance of a single tusk, as I wished the Turks to believe that I would not mix myself up with trade in any form, and that my expedition had purely the one object that I had explained to Ibrahim when I first won him over on the road to Ellyria more than two years ago, "the discovery of the Albert lake." With a certain number of presents of first class forty-guinea rifles and guns, to Ibrahim, I declared my intention of starting for Gondokoro. My trifling articles of baggage were packed: a few of the Lira natives were to act as porters, as, although the ivory could not be transported, it was necessary for Ibrahim to send a strong party to Gondokoro to procure ammunition and the usual supplies forwarded annually from Khartoum; the Lira people who carried my luggage would act as return porters.
The day arrived for our departure; the oxen were saddled and we were ready to start. Crowds of people came to say "goodbye," but, dispensing with the hand-kissing of the Turks who were to remain in camp, we prepared for our journey towards HOME. Far away although it was, every step would bring us nearer. Nevertheless there were ties even in this wild spot, where all was savage and unfeeling - ties that were painful to sever, and that caused a sincere regret to both of us when we saw our little flock of unfortunate slave children crying at the idea of separation. In this moral desert, where all humanized feelings were withered and parched like the sands of the Soudan, the guilelessness of the children had been welcomed like springs of water, as the only refreshing feature in a land of sin and darkness. "Where are you going?" cried poor little Abbai in the broken Arabic that we had taught him. "Take me with you, Sitty!" (lady), and he followed us down the path, as we regretfully left our proteges, with his fists tucked into his eyes, weeping from his heart, although for his own mother he had not shed a tear. We could not take him with us; - he belonged to Ibrahim; and had I purchased the child to rescue him from his hard lot and to rear him as a civilized being, I might have been charged with slave dealing. With heavy hearts we saw him taken up in the arms of a woman and carried back to camp, to prevent him from following our party, that had now started.
We had turned our backs fairly upon the south, and we now travelled for several days through most beautiful park-like lands, crossing twice the Un-y-Ame stream, that rises in the country between Shooa and Unyoro, and arriving at the point of junction of this river with the Nile, in latitude 3 degrees 32 minutes N. On the north bank of the Un-y-Ame, about three miles from the embouchure of that river where it flows into the Nile, the tamarind tree was shown me that forms the limit of Signor Miani's journey from Gondokoro, the extreme point reached by any traveller from the north until the date of my expedition. This tree bore the name of "Shedder-el-Sowar" (the traveller's tree), by which it was known to the traders' parties. Several of the men belonging to Ibrahim, also Mahommed Wat-el-Mek, the vakeel of Debono's people, had accompanied Signor Miani on his expedition to this spot. Loggo, the Bari interpreter, who had constantly acted for me during two years, happened to have been the interpreter of Signor Miani; he confessed to me how he had been compelled by his master's escort to deceive him, by pretending that a combined attack was to be made upon them by the natives.