CHAPTER XIV. Startling disclosures - The last hope seems gone - The Bari chief's advice - Hoping for the best - Ho for Central Africa!

We were to start upon the following Monday. Mahommed had paid me a visit, assuring me of his devotion, and begging me to have my baggage in marching order, as he would send me fifty porters on Monday, and we would move off in company. At the very moment that he thus professed, he was coolly deceiving me. He had arranged to start without me on Saturday, while he was proposing to march together on Monday. This I did not know at the time.

One morning I had returned to the tent after having, as usual, inspected the transport animals, when I observed Mrs. Baker looking extraordinarily pale, and immediately upon my arrival she gave orders for the presence of the vakeel (headman). There was something in her manner so different from her usual calm, that I was utterly bewildered when I heard her question the vakeel, whether the men were willing to march. "Perfectly ready," was the reply. "Then order them to strike the tent and load the animals; we start this moment."

The man appeared confused, but not more so than I. Something was evidently on foot, but what I could not conjecture. The vakeel wavered, and to my astonishment I heard the accusation made against him that during the night the whole of the escort had mutinously conspired to desert me, with my arms and ammunition that were in their hands, and to fire simultaneously at me should I attempt to disarm them. At first this charge was indignantly denied, until the boy Saat manfully stepped forward and declared that the conspiracy was entered into by the whole of the escort, and that both he and Richarn, knowing that mutiny was intended, had listened purposely to the conversation during the night; at daybreak the boy reported the fact to his mistress. Mutiny, robbery, and murder were thus deliberately determined.

I immediately ordered an angarep (travelling bedstead) to be placed outside the tent under a large tree. Upon this I laid five double-barrelled guns loaded with buckshot, a revolver, and a naked sabre as sharp as a razor. A sixth rifle I kept in my hands while I sat upon the angarep, with Richarn and Saat both with double- barrelled guns behind me. Formerly I had supplied each of my men with a piece of mackintosh waterproof to be tied over the locks of their guns during the march. I now ordered the drum to be beaten, and all the men to form in line in marching order, with their locks TIED UP IN THE WATERPROOF. I requested Mrs. Baker to stand behind me and point out any man who should attempt to uncover his locks when I should give the order to lay down their arms. The act of uncovering the locks would prove his intention, in which event I intended to shoot him immediately and take my chance with the rest of the conspirators.

I had quite determined that these scoundrels should not rob me of my own arms and ammunition, if I could prevent it.

The drum beat, and the vakeel himself went into the men's quarters and endeavored to prevail upon them to answer the call. At length fifteen assembled in line; the others were nowhere to be found. The locks of the arms were secured by mackintosh as ordered. It was thus impossible for any man to fire at me until he should have released his locks.

Upon assembling in line I ordered them immediately to lay down their arms. This, with insolent looks of defiance, they refused to do. "Down with your guns thus moment," I shouted, "sons of dogs!" And at the sharp click of the locks, as I quickly cocked the rifle that I held in my hands, the cowardly mutineers widened their line and wavered. Some retreated a few paces to the rear; others sat down and laid their guns on the ground, while the remainder slowly dispersed, and sat in twos or singly, under the various trees about eighty paces distant. Taking advantage of their indecision, I immediately rose and ordered my vakeel and Richarn to disarm them as they were thus scattered. Foreseeing that the time had arrived for actual physical force, the cowards capitulated, agreeing to give up their arms and ammunition if I would give them their written discharge. I disarmed them immediately, and the vakeel having written a discharge for the fifteen men present, I wrote upon each paper the word "mutineer" above my signature. None of them being able to read, and this being written in English, they unconsciously carried the evidence of their own guilt, which I resolved to punish should I ever find them on my return to Khartoum.

Thus disarmed, they immediately joined other of the traders' parties. These fifteen men were the "Jalyns" of my party, the remainder being Dongolowas - all Arabs of the Nile, north of Khartoum. The Dongolowas had not appeared when summoned by the drum, and my vakeel being of their nation, I impressed upon him his responsibility for the mutiny, and that he would end his days in prison at Khartoum should my expedition fail.

The boy Saat and Richarn now assured me that the men had intended to fire at me, but that they were frightened at seeing us thus prepared, but that I must not expect one man of the Dongolowas to be any more faithful than the Jalyns. I ordered the vakeel to hunt up the men and to bring me their guns, threatening that if they refused I would shoot any man that I found with one of my guns in his hands.

There was no time for mild measures. I had only Saat (a mere child) and Richarn upon whom I could depend; and I resolved with them alone to accompany Mahommed's people to the interior, and to trust to good fortune for a chance of proceeding.

I was feverish and ill with worry and anxiety, and I was lying down upon my mat when I suddenly heard guns firing in all directions, drums beating, and the customary signs of either an arrival or departure of a trading party. Presently a messenger arrived from Koorshid Aga, the Circassian, to announce the departure of Mahommed's party without me, and my vakeel appeared with a message from the same people, that if I followed on their road (my proposed route) they would fire upon me and my party, as they would allow no English spies in their country.

My last hope seemed gone. No expedition had ever been more carefully planned; everything had been well arranged to insure success. My transport animals were in good condition, their saddles and pads had been made under my own inspection, my arms, ammunition, and supplies were abundant, and I was ready to march at five minutes' notice to any part of Africa; but the expedition, so costly and so carefully organized, was completely ruined by the very people whom I had engaged to protect it. They had not only deserted, but they had conspired to murder. There was no law in these wild regions but brute force; human life was of no value; murder was a pastime, as the murderer could escape all punishment. Mr. Petherick's vakeel had just been shot dead by one of his own men, and such events were too common to create much attention. We were utterly helpless, the whole of the people against us, and openly threatening. For myself personally I had no anxiety; but the fact of Mrs. Baker's being with me was my greatest care. I dared not think of her position in the event of my death among such savages as those around her. These thoughts were shared by her; but she, knowing that I had resolved to succeed, never once hinted an advice for retreat.

Richarn was as faithful as Saat, and I accordingly confided in him my resolution to leave all my baggage in charge of a friendly chief of the Baris at Gondokoro, and to take two fast dromedaries for him and Saat, and two horses for Mrs. Baker and myself, and to make a push through the hostile tribe for three days, to arrive among friendly people at "Moir," from which place I trusted to fortune. I arranged that the dromedaries should carry a few beads, ammunition, and the astronomical instruments.

Richarn said the idea was very mad; that the natives would do nothing for beads; that he had had great experience on the White Nile when with a former master, and that the natives would do nothing without receiving cows as payment; that it was of no use to be good to them, as they had no respect for any virtue but "force;" that we should most likely be murdered; but that if I ordered him to go, he was ready to obey.

I was delighted with Richarn's rough and frank fidelity. Ordering the horses to be brought, I carefully pared their feet. Their hard flinty hoofs, that had never felt a shoe, were in excellent order for a gallop, if necessary. All being ready, I sent for the chief of Gondokoro. Meanwhile a Bari boy arrived, sent by Koorshid Aga, to act as my interpreter.

The Bari chief was, as usual, smeared all over with red ochre and fat, and had the shell of a small land tortoise suspended to his elbow as an ornament. I proposed to him my plan of riding quickly through the Bari tribe to Moir. He replied, "Impossible! If I were to beat the great nogaras (drums), and call my people together to explain who you are, they would not hurt you; but there are many petty chiefs who do not obey me, and their people would certainly attack you when crossing some swollen torrent, and what could you do with only a man and a boy?"

His reply to my question concerning the value of beads corroborated Richarn's statement: nothing could be purchased for anything but cattle. The traders had commenced the system of stealing herds of cattle from one tribe to barter with the next neighbor; thus the entire country was in anarchy and confusion, and beads were of no value. My plan for a dash through the country was impracticable.

I therefore called my vakeel, and threatened him with the gravest punishment on my return to Khartoum. I wrote to Sir R. Colquhoun, H.M. Consul-General for Egypt, which letter I sent by one of the return boats, and I explained to my vakeel that the complaint to the British authorities would end in his imprisonment, and that in case of my death through violence he would assuredly be hanged. After frightening him thoroughly, I suggested that he should induce some of the mutineers, who were Dongolowas (his own tribe), many of whom were his relatives, to accompany me, in which case I would forgive them their past misconduct.

In the course of the afternoon he returned with the news that he had arranged with seventeen of the men, but that they refused to march toward the south, and would accompany me to the east if I wished to explore that part of the country. Their plea for refusing a southern route was the hostility of the Bari tribe. They also proposed a condition, that I should "LEAVE ALL MY TRANSPORT ANIMALS AND BAGGAGE BEHIND ME." To this insane request, which completely nullified their offer to start, I only replied by vowing vengeance against the vakeel.

The time was passed by the men in vociferously quarrelling among themselves during the day and in close conference with the vakeel during the night, the substance of which was reported on the following morning by the faithful Saat. The boy recounted their plot. They agreed to march to the east, with the intention of deserting me at the station of a trader named Chenooda, seven days' march from Gondokoro, in the Latooka country, whose men were, like themselves, Dongolowas; they had conspired to mutiny at that place and to desert to the slave-hunting party with my arms and ammunition, and to shoot me should I attempt to disarm them. They also threatened to shoot my vakeel, who now, through fear of punishment at Khartoum, exerted his influence to induce them to start. Altogether it was a pleasant state of things.

I was determined at all hazards to start from Gondokoro for the interior. From long experience with natives of wild countries I did not despair of obtaining an influence over my men, however bad, could I once quit Gondokoro and lead them among the wild and generally hostile tribes of the country. They would then be separated from the contagion of the slave-hunting parties, and would feel themselves dependent upon me for guidance. Accordingly I professed to believe in their promises to accompany me to the east, although I knew of their conspiracy; and I trusted that by tact and good management I should eventually thwart all their plans, and, although forced out of my intended course, should be able to alter my route and to work round from the east to my original plan of operations south. The interpreter given by Koorshid Aga had absconded; this was a great loss, as I had no means of communication with the natives except by casually engaging a Bari in the employment of the traders, to whom I was obliged to pay exorbitantly in copper bracelets for a few minutes' conversation.

A party of Koorshid's people had just arrived with ivory from the Latooka country, bringing with them a number of that tribe as porters. They were to return shortly, but they not only refused to allow me to accompany them, but they declared their intention of forcibly repelling me, should I attempt to advance by their route. This was a good excuse for my men, who once more refused to proceed. By pressure upon the vakeel they again yielded, but on condition that I would take one of the mutineers named "Bellaal," who wished to join them, but whose offer I had refused, as he had been a notorious ringleader in every mutiny. It was a sine qua non that he was to go; and knowing the character of the man, I felt convinced that it had been arranged that he should head the mutiny conspired to be enacted upon our arrival at Chenooda's camp in the Latooka country.

The plan that I had arranged was to leave all the baggage not indispensable with Koorshid Aga at Gondokoro, who would return it to Khartoum. I intended to wait until Koorshid's party should march, when I resolved to follow them, as I did not believe they would dare to oppose me by force, their master himself being friendly. I considered their threats as mere idle boasting to frighten me from an attempt to follow them; but there was another more serious cause of danger to be apprehended.

On the route between Gondokoro and Latooka there was a powerful tribe among the mountains of Ellyria. The chief of that tribe (Legge) had formerly massacred a hundred and twenty of a trader's party. He was an ally of Koorshid's people, who declared that they would raise the tribe against me, which would end in the defeat or massacre of my party. There was a difficult pass through the mountains of Ellyria which it would be impossible to force; thus my small party of seventeen men would be helpless. It would be merely necessary for the traders to request the chief of Ellyria to attack my party to insure its destruction, as the plunder of the baggage would be an ample reward.

There was no time for deliberation. Both the present and the future looked as gloomy as could be imagined; but I had always expected extraordinary difficulties, and they were, if possible, to be surmounted. It was useless to speculate upon chances. There was no hope of success in inaction, and the only resource was to drive through all obstacles without calculating the risk.

The day arrived for the departure of Koorshid's people. They commenced firing their usual signals, the drums beat, the Turkish ensign led the way, and they marched at 2 o'clock P.M., sending a polite message "DARING" me to follow them.

I immediately ordered the tent to be struck, the luggage to be arranged, the animals to be collected, and everything to be ready for the march. Richarn and Saat were in high spirits; even my unwilling men were obliged to work, and by 7 P.M. we were all ready.

We had neither guide nor interpreter. Not one native was procurable, all being under the influence of the traders, who had determined to render our advance utterly impossible by preventing the natives from assisting us. All had been threatened, and we, perfectly helpless, commenced the desperate journey in darkness about an hour after sunset.

"Where shall we go?" said the men, just as the order was given to start. "Who can travel without a guide? No one knows the road." The moon was up, and the mountain of Belignan was distinctly visible about nine miles distant. Knowing that the route lay on the east side of that mountain, I led the way, Mrs. Baker riding by my side, and the British flag following close behind us as a guide for the caravan of heavily laden camels and donkeys. And thus we started on our march into Central Africa on the 26th of March, 1863.