CHAPTER IX. Fright of the Tokrooris - Deserters who didn't desert - Arrival of the Sherrif brothers - Now for a tally-ho! - On the heels of the rhinoceroses - The Abyssinian rhinoceros - Every man for himself.
Although my people had been in the highest spirits up to this time, a gloom had been thrown over the party by two causes - Jali's accident and the fresh footmarks of the Bas-e that had been discovered upon the sand by the margin of the river. The aggageers feared nothing, and if the Bas-e had been legions of demons they would have faced them, sword in hand, with the greatest pleasure. But my Tokrooris, who were brave in some respects, had been so cowed by the horrible stories recounted of these common enemies at the nightly camp-fires by the Hamran Arabs, that they were seized with panic and resolved to desert en masse and return to Katariff, where I had originally engaged them, and at which place they had left their families.
In this instance the desertion of my Tokrooris would have been a great blow to my expedition, as it was necessary to have a division of parties. I had the Tokrooris, Jaleens, and Hamran Arabs. Thus they would never unite together, and I was certain to have some upon my side in a difficulty. Should I lose the Tokrooris, the Hamran Arabs would have the entire preponderance.
The whole of my Tokrooris formed in line before me and my wife, just as the camels were about to leave. Each man had his little bundle prepared for starting on a journey. Old Moosa was the spokesman. He said that they were all very sorry; that they regretted exceedingly the necessity of leaving us, but some of them were sick, and they would only be a burden to the expedition; that one of them was bound upon a pilgrimage to Mecca, and that God would punish him should he neglect this great duty; others had not left any money with their families in Katariff, that would starve in their absence. (I had given them an advance of wages, when they engaged at Katariff, to provide against this difficulty.) I replied: "My good fellows, I am very sorry to hear all this, especially as it comes upon me so suddenly; those who are sick stand upon one side" (several invalids, who looked remarkably healthy, stepped to the left). "Who wishes to go to Mecca?" Abderachman stepped forward (a huge specimen of a Tokroori, who went by the nickname of "El Jamoos" or the buffalo). "Who wishes to remit money to his family, as I will send it and deduct it from his wages?" No one came forward. During the pause I called for pen and paper, which Mahomet brought. I immediately commenced writing, and placed the note within an envelope, which I addressed and gave to one of the camel-drivers. I then called for my medicine-chest, and having weighed several three-grain doses of tartar emetic, I called the invalids, and insisted upon their taking the medicine before they started, or they might become seriously ill upon the road, which for three days' march was uninhabited. Mixed with a little water the doses were swallowed, and I knew that the invalids were safe for that day, and that the others would not start without them.
I now again addressed my would-be deserters: "Now, my good fellows, there shall be no misunderstanding between us, and I will explain to you how the case stands. You engaged yourselves to me for the whole journey, and you received an advance of wages to provide for your families during your absence. You have lately filled yourselves with meat, and you have become lazy; you have been frightened by the footprints of the Bas-e; thus you wish to leave the country. To save yourselves from imaginary danger, you would forsake my wife and myself, and leave us to a fate which you yourselves would avoid. This is your gratitude for kindness; this is the return for my confidence, when without hesitation I advanced you money. Go! Return to Katariff to your families! I know that all the excuses you have made are false. Those who declare themselves to be sick, Inshallah (please God), shall be sick. You will all be welcomed upon your arrival at Katariff. In the letter I have written to the Governor, inclosing your names, I have requested him to give each man upon his appearance FIVE HUNDRED LASHES WITH THE COORBATCH, FOR DESERTION, and to imprison him until my return."
Checkmate! My poor Tokrooris were in a corner, and in their great dilemma they could not answer a word. Taking advantage of this moment of confusion, I called forward "the buffalo," Abderachman, as I had heard that he really had contemplated a pilgrimage to Mecca. "Abderachman," I continued, "you are the only man who has spoken the truth. Go to Mecca! and may God protect yon on the journey! I should not wish to prevent you from performing your duty as a Mahometan."