Chapter XII. Palace, Uganda - Continued

Continued Diplomatic Difficulties - Negro Chaffing - The King in a New Costume - Adjutant and Heron Shooting at Court - My Residence Changed - Scenes at Court - The Kamraviona, or Commander-in-Chief- -Quarrels - Confidential Communications with the King - Court Executions and Executioners - Another Day with the Queen.

7th. - The farce continued, and how to manage these haughty capricious blacks puzzled my brains considerably; but I felt that if I did not stand up now, no one would ever be treated better hereafter. I sent Nasib to the queen, to explain why I had not been to see her. I desired to do so, because I admired her wisdom; but before I went I must first see the king, to provide against any insult being offered to me, such as befell Bombay when I sent him with medicine. Having despatched him, I repaired again to the palace. In the antechamber I found a number of Wakungu, as usual, lounging about on the ground, smoking, chatting, and drinking pombe, whilst Wasoga amused them singing and playing on lap-harps, and little boys kept time on the harmonicon.

These Wakungu are naturally patient attendants, being well trained to the duty; but their very lives depend upon their presenting themselves at court a certain number of months every year, no matter from what distant part of the country they have to come. If they failed, their estates would be confiscated, and their lives taken unless they could escape. I found a messenger who consented to tell the king of my desire to see him. He returned to say that the king was sleeping - a palpable falsehood. In a huff, I walked home to breakfast, leaving my attendants, Maula and Uledi, behind to make explanations. They saw the king, who simply asked, "Where is Bana?" And on being told that I came, but went off again, he said, as I was informed, "That is a lie, for had he come here to see me he would not have returned"; then rising, he walked away and left the men to follow me.

I continued ruminating on these absurd entanglements, and the best way of dealing with them, when lo! to perplex me still more, in ran a bevy of the royal pages to ask for mtende beads - a whole sack of them; for the king wished to go with his women on a pilgrimage to the N'yanza. Thinking myself very lucky to buy the king's ear so cheaply, I sent Maula as before, adding that I considered my luck very bad, as nobody here knew my position in society, else they would not treat me as they did. My proper sphere was the palace, and unless I got a hut there, I wished to leave the country. My first desire had always been to see the king; and if he went to the N'yanza, I trusted he would allow me to go there also. The boys replied, "How can you go with his women? No one ever is permitted to see them." "Well," said I, "if I cannot go to the N'yanza with him" (thinking only of the great lake, whereas they probably meant a pond in the palace enclosures, where Mtesa constantly frolics with his women), "I wish to go to Usoga and Amara, as far as the Masai; for I have no companions here but crows and vultures." They promised to take the message, but its delivery was quite another thing; for no one can speak at this court till he is spoken to, and a word put in out of season is a life lost.

On Maula's return, I was told the king would not believe so generous a man as Bana could have sent him so few beads; he believed most of my store must have been stolen on the road, and would ask me about that to-morrow. He intimated that for the future I must fire a gun at the waiting-hut whenever I entered the palace, so that he might hear of my arrival, for he had been up that morning, and would have been glad to see me, only the boys, from fear of entering his cabinet, had forged a lie, and deprived him of any interview with me, which he had long wished to get. This ready cordiality was as perplexing as all the rest. Could it be possible, I thought, I had been fighting with a phantom all this while, and yet the king had not been able to perceive it? At all events, now, as the key to his door had been given, I would make good use of it and watch the result. Meanwhile Nasib returned from the queen-dowager's palace without having seen her majesty, though he had waited there patiently the whole day long, for she was engaged in festivities, incessantly drumming and playing, in consequence of the birth of twins (Mabassa), which had just taken place in her palace; but he was advised to return on the morrow.

8th. - After breakfast I walked to the palace, thinking I had gained all I wanted; entered, and fired guns, expecting an instant admittance; but, as usual, I was required to sit and wait; the king was expected immediately. All the Wagungu talked in whispers, and nothing was heard but the never-ceasing harps and harmonicons. In a little while I felt tired of the monotony, and wished to hang up a curtain, that I might lie down in privacy and sleep till the king was ready; but the officers in waiting forbade this, as contrary to law, and left me the only alternative of walking up and down the court to kill time, spreading my umbrella against the powerful rays of the sun. A very little of that made me fidgety and impetuous, which the Waganda noticed, and, from fear of the consequences, they began to close the gate to prevent my walking away. I flew out on them, told Bombay to notice the disrespect, and shamed them into opening it again. The king immediately, on hearing of this, sent me pombe to keep me quiet; but as I would not touch it, saying I was sick at heart, another page rushed out to say the king was ready to receive me; and, opening a side gate leading into a small open court without a hut in it, there, to be sure, was his majesty, sitting on an Arab's donkey run, propped against one page, and encompassed by four others.