Chapter XVI. Bahr El Abiad
First Voyage on the Nile - The Starting - Description of the River and the Country - Meet a Hostile Vessel - A Naval Engagement - Difficulties and Dangers - Judicial Procedure - Messages from the King of Uganda - His Efforts to get us back - Desertion - The Wanyoro Troops - Kamrasi - Elephant-Stalking - Diabolical Possessions.
In five boats of five planks each, tied together and caulked with mbugu rags, I started with twelve Wanguana, Kasoro and his page- followers, and a small crew, to reach Kamrasi's palace in Unyoro- -goats, dogs, and kit, besides grain and dried meat, filling up the complement - but how many days it would take nobody knew. Paddles propelled these vessels, but the lazy crew were slow in the use of them, indulging sometimes in racing spurts, then composedly resting on their paddles whilst the gentle current drifted us along. The river, very unlike what it was from the Ripon Falls downward, bore at once the character of river and lake - clear in the centre, but fringed in most places with tall rush, above which the green banks sloped back like park lands. It was all very pretty and very interesting, and would have continued so, had not Kasoro disgraced the Union Jack, turning it to piratical purposes in less than one hour.
A party of Wanyoro, in twelve or fifteen canoes, made of single tree trunks, had come up the river to trade with the Wasoga, and having stored their vessels with mbugu, dried fish, plantains cooked and raw, pombe, and other things, were taking their last meal on shore before they returned to their homes. Kasoro seeing this, and bent on a boyish spree, quite forgetting we were bound for the very ports they were bound for, ordered our sailors to drive in amongst them, landed himself, and sent the Wanyoro flying before I knew what game was up, and then set to pillaging and feasting on the property of those very men whom it was our interest to propitiate, as we expected them shortly to be our hosts.
The ground we were on belonged to king Mtesa, being a dependency of Uganda, and it struck me as singular that Wanyoro should be found here; but I no sooner discovered the truth than I made our boatmen disgorge everything they had taken, called back the Wanyoro to take care of their things, and extracted a promise from Kasoro that he would not practise such wicked tricks again, otherwise we could not travel together. Getting to boat again, after a very little paddling we pulled in to shore, on the Uganda side, to stop for the night, and thus allowed the injured Wanyoro to go down the river before us. I was much annoyed by this interruption, but no argument would prevail on Kasoro to go on. This was the last village on the Uganda frontier, and before we could go any farther on boats it would be necessary to ask leave of Kamrasi's frontier officer, N'yamyonjo, to enter Unyoro. The Wanguana demanded ammunition in the most imperious manner, whilst I, in the same tone, refused to issue any lest a row should take place and they then would desert, alluding to their dastardly desertion in Msalala, when Grant was attacked. If a fight should take place, I said they must flock to me at once, and ammunition, which was always ready, would be served out to them. They laughed at this, and asked, Who would stop with me when the fight began? This was making a jest of what I was most afraid of - that they would all run away.
I held a levee to decide on the best manner of proceeding. The Waganda wanted us to stop for the day and feel the way gently, arguing that etiquette demands it. Then, trying to terrify me, they said, N'yamyonjo had a hundred boats, and would drive us back to a certainty if we tried to force past them, if he were not first spoken with, as the Waganda had often tried the passage and been repulsed. On the other hand, I argued that Grant must have arrived long ago at Kamrasi's, and removed all these difficulties for us; but, I said, if they would send men, let Bombay start at once by land, and we will follow in boats, after giving him time to say we are coming. This point gained after a hot debate, Bombay started at 10 a.m., and we not till 5 p.m., it being but one hour's journey by water. The frontier line was soon crossed; and then both sides of the river, Usoga as well as Unyoro, belong to Kamrasi.
I flattered myself all my walking this journey was over, and there was nothing left but to float quietly down the Nile, for Kidgwiga had promised boats, on Kamrasi's account, from Unyoro to Gani, where Petherick's vessels were said to be stationed; but this hope shared the fate of so many others in Africa. In a little while an enormous canoe, full of well-dressed and well- armed men, was seen approaching us. We worked on, and found they turned, as if afraid. Our men paddled faster, they did the same, the pages keeping time playfully by beat of drum, until at last it became an exciting chase, won by the Wanyoro by their superior numbers. The sun was now setting as we approached N'yamyongo's. On a rock by the river stood a number of armed men, jumping, jabbering, and thrusting with their spears, just as the Waganda do. I thought, indeed, they were Waganda doing this to welcome us; but a glance at Kasoro's glassy eyes told me such was not the case, but, on the contrary, their language and gestures were threats, defying us to land.