Chapter XIII. Palace, Uganda - Continued
Now for the lake. Everybody in a hurry falls into his place the best way he can - Wakungu leading, and women behind. They rattle along, through plantains and shrubs, under large trees, seven, eight, and nine feet in diameter, till the beautiful waters are reached - a picture of the Rio scenery, barring that of the higher mountains in the background of that lovely place, which are here represented by the most beautiful little hills. A band of fifteen drums of all sizes, called the Mazaguzo, playing with the regularity of a lot of factory engines at work, announced the king's arrival, and brought all the boats to the shore - but not as in England, where Jack, with all the consequence of a lord at home, invites the ladies to be seated, and enjoys the sight of so many pretty faces. Here every poor fellow, with his apprehensions written in his face, leaps over the gunwale into the water - ducking his head for fear of being accused of gazing on the fair sex, which is death - and bides patiently his time. They were dressed in plantain leaves, looking like grotesque Neptunes. The king, in his red coat and wideawake, conducted the arrangements, ordering all to their proper places - the women, in certain boats, the Wakungu and Wanguana in others, whilst I sat in the same boat with him at his feet, three women holding mbugus of pombe behind. The king's Kisuahali now came into play, and he was prompt in carrying out the directions he got from myself to approach the hippopotami. But the waters were too large and the animals too shy, so we toiled all the day without any effect, going only once ashore to picnic; not for the women to eat - for they, poor things, got nothing - but the king, myself, the pages, and the principal Wakungu. As a wind-up to the day's amusement, the king led the band of drums, changed the men according to their powers, put them into concert pitch, and readily detected every slight irregularity, showing himself a thorough musician.
This day requires no remark, everything done being the counterpart of yesterday, excepting that the king, growing bolder with me in consequence of our talking together, became more playful and familiar - amusing himself, for instance, sometimes by catching hold of my beard as the rolling of the boat unsteadied him.
We started early in the usual manner; but after working up and down the creek, inspecting the inlets for hippopotami, and tiring from want of sport, the king changed his tactics, and, paddling and steering himself with a pair of new white paddles, finally directing the boats to an island occupied by the Mgussa, or Neptune of the N'yanza, not in person - for Mgussa is a spirit - but by his familiar or deputy, the great medium who communicates the secrets of the deep to the king of Uganda. In another sense, he might be said to be the presiding priest of the source of the mighty Nile, and as such was, of course, an interesting person for me to meet. The first operation on shore was picnicking, when many large bugus of pombe were brought for the king; next, the whole party took a walk, winking through the trees, and picking fruit, enjoying themselves amazingly, till, by some unlucky chance, one of the royal wives, a most charming creature, and truly one of the best of the lot, plucked a fruit and offered it to the king, thinking, doubtless, to please him greatly; but he, like a madman, flew into a towering passion, said it was the first time a woman ever had the impudence to offer him anything, and ordered the pages to seize, bind, and lead her off to execution.
These words were no sooner uttered by the king than the whole bevy of pages slipped their cord turbans from their heads, and rushed, like a pack of cupid beagles upon the fairy queen, who, indignant at the little urchins daring to touch her majesty, remonstrated with the king, and tried to beat them off like flies, but was soon captured, overcome, and dragged away, crying, in the names of the Kamraviona and Mzungu (myself), for help and protection; whilst Lubuga, the pet sister, and all the other women, clasped the king by his legs, and, kneeling, implored forgiveness for their sister. The more they craved for mercy, the more brutal he became, till at last he took a heavy stick and began to belabour the poor victim on the head.
Hitherto I had been extremely careful not to interfere with any of the king's acts of arbitrary cruelty, knowing that such interference, at an early stage, would produce more harm than good. This last act of barbarism, however, was too much for my English blood to stand; and as I heard my name, Mzungu, imploringly pronounced, I rushed at the king, and, staying his uplifted arm, demanded from him the woman's life. Of course I ran imminent risk of losing my own in thus thwarting the capricious tyrant; but his caprice proved the friend of both. The novelty of interference even made him smile, and the woman was instantly released.