CHAPTER VI. Preparations for advance - Mek Nimmur makes a foray - The Hamran elephant-hunters - In the haunts of the elephant - A desperate charge.
The time was approaching when the grass throughout the country would be sufficiently dry to be fired. We accordingly prepared for our expedition; but it was first necessary for me to go to Katariff, sixty miles distant, to engage men, and to procure a slave in place of old Masara, whose owner would not trust her in the wild region we were about to visit.
I engaged six strong Tokrooris for five months, and purchased a slave woman for thirty-five dollars. The name of the woman was Barrake. She was about twenty-two years of age, brown in complexion, fat and strong, rather tall, and altogether she was a fine, powerful-looking woman, but decidedly not pretty. Her hair was elaborately dressed in hundreds of long narrow curls, so thickly smeared with castor oil that the grease had covered her naked shoulders. In addition to this, as she had been recently under the hands of the hairdresser, there was an amount of fat and other nastiness upon her head that gave her the appearance of being nearly gray.
Through the medium of Mahomet I explained to her that she was no longer a slave, as I had purchased her freedom; that she would not even be compelled to remain with us, but she could do as she thought proper; that both her mistress and I should be exceedingly kind to her, and we would subsequently find her a good situation in Cairo; in the mean time she would receive good clothes and wages. This, Mahomet, much against his will, was obliged to translate literally. The effect was magical; the woman, who had looked frightened and unhappy, suddenly beamed with smiles, and without any warning she ran toward me, and in an instant I found myself embraced in her loving arms. She pressed me to her bosom, and smothered me with castor-oily kisses, while her greasy ringlets hung upon my face and neck. How long this entertainment would have lasted I cannot tell, but I was obliged to cry "Caffa! Caffa!" (enough! enough!) as it looked improper, and the perfumery was too rich. Fortunately my wife was present, but she did not appear to enjoy it more than I did. My snow-white blouse was soiled and greasy, and for the rest of the day I was a disagreeable compound of smells - castor oil, tallow, musk, sandal-wood, burnt shells, and Barrake.
Mahomet and Barrake herself, I believe, were the only people who really enjoyed this little event. "Ha!" Mahomet exclaimed, "this is your own fault! You insisted upon speaking kindly, and telling her that she is not a slave; now she thinks that she is one of your WIVES!" This was the real fact; the unfortunate ** Barrake ** had deceived herself. Never having been free, she could not understand the use of freedom unless she was to be a wife. She had understood my little address as a proposal, and of course she was disappointed; but as an action for breach of promise cannot be pressed in the Soudan, poor Barrake, although free, had not the happy rights of a free-born Englishwoman, who can heal her broken heart with a pecuniary plaster, and console herself with damages for the loss of a lover.
We were ready to start, having our party of servants complete, six Tokrooris - Moosa, Abdoolahi, Abderachman, Hassan, Adow, and Hadji Ali, with Mahomet, Wat Gamma, Bacheet, Mahomet secundus (a groom), and Barrake; total, eleven men and the cook.
When half way on our return from Katariff to Wat el Negur, we found the whole country in alarm, Mek Nimmur having suddenly made a foray. He had crossed the Atbara, plundered the district, and driven off large numbers of cattle and camels, after having killed a considerable number of people. No doubt the reports were somewhat exaggerated, but the inhabitants of the district were flying from their villages with their herds, and were flocking to Katariff. We arrived at Wat el Negur on the 3d of December, and we now felt the advantage of our friendship with the good Sheik Achmet, who, being a friend of Mek Nimmur, had saved our effects during our absence. These would otherwise have been plundered, as the robbers had paid him a visit. He had removed our tents and baggage to his own house for protection. Not only had he thus protected our effects, but he had taken the opportunity of delivering the polite message to Mek Nimmur that I had entrusted to his charge - expressing a wish to pay him a visit as a countryman and friend of Mr. Mansfield Parkyns, who had formerly been so well received by his father.
My intention was to examine thoroughly all the great rivers of Abyssinia that were tributaries to the Nile. These were the Settite, Royan, Angrab, Salaam, Rahad, Dinder, and the Blue Nile. If possible, I should traverse the Galla country, and crossing the Blue Nile, I should endeavor to reach the White Nile. But this latter idea I subsequently found impracticable, as it would have interfered with the proper season for my projected journey up the White Nile in search of the sources. The Hamran Arabs were at this time encamped about twenty- five miles from Wat el Negur. I sent a messenger, accompanied by Mahomet, to the sheik, with the firman of the Viceroy, requesting him to supply me with elephant hunters (aggageers).
During the absence of Mahomet I received a very polite message from Mek Nimmur, accompanied by a present of twenty pounds of coffee, with an invitation to pay him a visit. His country lay between the Settite River and the Bahr Salaam; thus without his invitation I might have found it difficult to traverse his territory. So far all went well. I returned my salaams, and sent word that we intended to hunt through the ** Base ** country, after which we should have the honor of passing a few days with him on our road to the river Salaam, at which place we intended to hunt elephants and rhinoceroses.