CHAPTER XVIII. THE LATEST NEWS FROM KHARTOUM.
The various trading parties were assembled in Gondokoro with a total of about three thousand slaves; but there was consternation depicted upon every countenance. Only three boats had arrived from Khartoum - one diahbiah and two noggurs - these belonged to Koorshid Aga. The resume of news from Khartoum was as follows: -
"Orders had been received by the Egyptian authorities from the European Governments to suppress the slave-trade. Four steamers had arrived at Khartoum from Cairo. Two of these vessels had ascended the White Nile, and had captured many slavers; their crews were imprisoned, and had been subjected to the bastinado and torture; - the captured slaves had been appropriated by the Egyptian authorities.
"It would be impossible to deliver slaves to the Soudan this season, as an Egyptian regiment had been stationed in the Shillook country, and steamers were cruising to intercept the boats from the interior in their descent to Khartoum; - thus the army of slaves then at Gondokoro would be utterly worthless.
"The plague was raging at Khartoum, and had killed 15,000 people; - many of the boats' crews had died on their passage from Khartoum to Gondokoro of this disease, which had even broken out in the station where we then were: people died daily.
"The White Nile was dammed up by a freak of nature, and the crews of thirty vessels had been occupied five weeks in cutting a ditch through the obstruction, wide enough to admit the passage of boats."
Such was the intelligence received by the latest arrival from Khartoum. No boats having been sent for me, I engaged the diahbiah that had arrived for Koorshid's ivory; - this would return empty, as no ivory could be delivered at Gondokoro. The prospect was pleasant, as many men had died of the plague on board our vessel during the voyage from Khartoum; thus we should be subject to a visitation of this fearful complaint as a wind-up to the difficulties we had passed through during our long exile in Central Africa. I ordered the vessel to be thoroughly scrubbed with boiling water and sand, after which it was fumigated with several pounds of tobacco, burnt within the cabin.
Three days were employed in ferrying the slaves across the river in the two noggurs, or barges, as they must be returned to their respective stations. I rejoiced at the total discomfiture of the traders, and, observing a cloud of smoke far distant to the north, I spread the alarm that a steamer was approaching from Khartoum! Such was the consternation of the traders' parties at the bare idea of such an occurrence that they prepared for immediate flight into the interior, as they expected to be captured by Government troops sent from Khartoum to suppress the slave-trade. Profiting by this nervous state of affairs, I induced them to allow the boat to start immediately, and we concluded all our arrangements, contracting for the diahbiah at 4,000 piastres (40 pounds). The plague having broken out at Gondokoro, the victims among the natives were dragged to the edge of the cliff and thrown into the river; - it is impossible to describe the horrible effluvium produced by the crowds of slaves that had been confined upon the limited area of the station. At length the happy moment arrived that we were to quit the miserable spot. The boat was ready to start - we were all on board, and Ibrahim and his people came to say good-bye. It is only justice to Ibrahim to say, that, although he had been my great enemy when at Gondokoro in 1863, he had always behaved well since peace was established at Ellyria; and, although by nature and profession a slave-hunter, like others of the White Nile, he had frequently yielded to my interference to save the lives of natives who would otherwise have been massacred without pity.
I had gained an extraordinary influence over all these ruffianly people. Everything that I had promised them had been more than performed; all that I had foretold had been curiously realized. They now acknowledged how often I had assured them that the slave-trade would be suppressed by the interference of European powers, and the present ruin of their trade was the result; they all believed that I was the cause, by having written from Gondokoro to the Consul-general of Egypt in 1863, when the traders had threatened to drive me back. Far from retaliating upon me, they were completely cowed. The report had been spread throughout Gondokoro by Ibrahim and his people that their wonderful success in ivory hunting was chiefly due to me; that their sick had been cured; that good luck had attended their party; that disaster had befallen all who had been against me; and that no one had suffered wrong at our hands. With the resignation of Mahommedans they yielded to their destiny, apparently without any ill-feeling against us. Crowds lined the cliff and the high ground by the old ruins of the mission station to see us depart. We pushed off from shore into the powerful current; the English flag that had accompanied us all through our wanderings now fluttered proudly from the masthead unsullied by defeat, and amidst the rattle of musketry we glided rapidly down the river, and soon lost sight of Gondokoro.
What were our feelings at that moment? Overflowing with gratitude to a Divine Providence that had supported us in sickness, and guided us through all dangers. There had been moments of hopelessness and despair; days of misery, when the future had appeared dark and fatal; but we had been strengthened in our weakness, and led, when apparently lost, by an unseen hand. I felt no triumph, but with a feeling of calm contentment and satisfaction we floated down the Nile. My great joy was in the meeting that I contemplated with Speke in England, I had so thoroughly completed the task we had agreed upon.