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.