CHAPTER XII. Abyssinian slave-girls - Khartoum - The Soudan under Egyptian rule - Slave-trade in the Soudan - The obstacles ahead.
A rapid march of sixteen miles brought us to Metemma or Gallabat. As we descended the valley we perceived great crowds of people in and about the town, which, in appearance, was merely a repetition of Katariff. It was market-day, and as we descended the hill and arrived in the scene below, with our nine camels heavily laden with the heads and horns of a multitude of different beasts, from the gaping jaws of hippopotami to the vicious-looking heads of rhinoceroses and buffaloes, while the skins of lions and various antelopes were piled above masses of the much-prized hide of the rhinoceros, we were beset by crowds of people, who were curious to know whence so strange a party had come. We formed a regular procession through the market, our Tokrooris feeling quite at home among so many of their brethren.
While here I visited the establishments of the various slave merchants. These were arranged under large tents formed of matting, and contained many young girls of extreme beauty, ranging from nine to seventeen years of age. These lovely captives, of a rich brown tint, with delicately formed features, and eyes like those of the gazelle, were natives of the Galla, on the borders of Abyssinia, from which country they were brought by the Abyssinian traders to be sold for the Turkish harems. Although beautiful, these girls are useless for hard labor; they quickly fade away, and die unless kindly treated. They are the Venuses of that country, and not only are their faces and figures perfection, but they become extremely attached to those who show them kindness, and they make good and faithful wives. There is something peculiarly captivating in the natural grace and softness of these young beauties, whose hearts quickly respond to those warmer feelings of love that are seldom known among the sterner and coarser tribes. Their forms are peculiarly elegant and graceful; the hands and feet are exquisitely delicate; the nose is generally slightly aquiline, the nostrils large and finely shaped; the hair is black and glossy, reaching to about the middle of the back, but rather coarse in texture. These girls, although natives of Galla, invariably call themselves Abyssinians, and are generally known under that name. They are exceedingly proud and high-spirited, and are remarkably quick at learning. At Khartoum several of the Europeans of high standing have married these charming ladies, who have invariably rewarded their husbands by great affection and devotion. The price of one of these beauties of nature at Gallabat was from twenty-five to forty dollars!
On the march from Gallabat to the Rahad River I was so unfortunate as to lose my two horses, Gazelle and Aggahr. The sudden change of food from dry grass to the young herbage which had appeared after a few showers, brought on inflammation of the bowels, which carried them off in a few hours. We now travelled for upward of a hundred miles along the bank of the Rahad, through a monotonous scene of flat alluvial soil. The entire country would be a Mine of wealth were it planted with cotton, Which could be transported by river to Katariff, and thence directly to Souakim.
I shall not weary the reader with the details of the rest of our journey to Khartoum, the capital of the Soudan provinces, at which we arrived on the 11th of June.
The difference between the appearance of Khartoum at the distance of a mile, with the sun shining upon the bright river Nile in the foreground, and its appearance upon close inspection, was equal to the difference in the scenery of a theatre as regarded from the boxes or from the stage. Even that painful exposure of an optical illusion would be trifling compared with the imposture of Khartoum. The sense of sight had been deceived by distance, but the sense of smell was outraged by innumerable nuisances, when we set foot within the filthy and miserable town. After winding through some narrow, dusty lanes, hemmed in by high walls of sun-baked bricks that had fallen in gaps in several places, exposing gardens of prickly pears and date palms, we at length arrived at a large open place, that, if possible, smelt more strongly than the landing spot. Around this square, which was full of holes where the mud had been excavated for brick-making, were the better class of houses; this was the Belgravia of Khartoum. In the centre of a long mud wall, ventilated by certain attempts at frameless windows, guarded by rough wooden bars, we perceived a large archway with closed doors. Above this entrance was a shield, with a device that gladdened my English eyes: there was the British lion and the unicorn! Not such a lion as I had been accustomed to meet in his native jungles, a yellow cowardly fellow that had often slunk away from the very prey from which I had driven him; but a real red British lion, that, although thin and ragged in the unhealthy climate of Khartoum, looked as though he was pluck to the back-bone.
This was the English Consulate. The consul was absent, in the hope of meeting Speke and Grant in the upper Nile regions, on the road from Zanzibar, but he had kindly placed rooms at our disposal.