CHAPTER XIX. Kamrasi's cowardice - Interview with the king - The exchange of blood - The royal beggar's last chance - An astounded sovereign.

On January 31st throngs of natives arrived to carry our luggage gratis, by the king's orders. On the following day my wife became very ill, and had to be carried on a litter during the following days. On February 4th I also fell ill upon the road, and having been held on my ox by two men for some time, I at length fell into their arms and was laid under a tree for five hours. Becoming better, I rode on for two hours.

On the route we were delayed in every possible way. I never saw such cowardice as the redoubtable Kamrasi exhibited. He left his residence and retreated to the opposite side of the river, from which point he sent us false messages to delay our advance as much as possible. He had not the courage either to repel us or to receive us. On February 9th he sent word that I was to come on ALONE. I at once turned back, stating that I no longer wished to see Kamrasi, as he must be a mere fool, and I should return to my own country. This created a great stir, and messengers were at once despatched to the king, who returned an answer that I might bring all my men, but that only five of the Turks could be allowed with Ibrahim.

After a quick march of three hours through immense woods we reached the capital - a large village of grass huts situated on a barren slope. We were ferried across a river in large canoes, capable of carrying fifty men, but formed of a single tree upward of four feet wide. Kamrasi was reported to be in his residence on the opposite side; but upon our arrival at the south bank we found ourselves thoroughly deceived. We were upon a miserable flat, level with the river, and in the wet season forming a marsh at the junction of the Kafoor River with the Somerset. The latter river bounded the flat on the east, very wide and sluggish, and much overgrown with papyrus and lotus. The river we had just crossed was the Kafoor. It was perfectly dead water and about eighty yards wide, including the beds of papyrus on either side. We were shown some filthy huts that were to form our camp. The spot was swarming with mosquitoes, and we had nothing to eat except a few fowls that I had brought with me. Kamrasi was on the OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER; they had cunningly separated us from him, and had returned with the canoes. Thus we were prisoners upon the swamp. This was our welcome from the King of Unyoro! I now heard that Speke and Grant had been lodged in this same spot.

Ibrahim was extremely nervous, as were also my men. They declared that treachery was intended, as the boats had been withdrawn, and they proposed that we should swim the river and march back to our main party, who had been left three hours in the rear. I was ill with fever, as was also my wife, and the unwholesome air of the marsh aggravated the disease. Our luggage had been left at our last station, as this was a condition stipulated by Kamrasi; thus we had to sleep upon the damp ground of the marsh in the filthy hut, as the heavy dew at night necessitated shelter. With great difficulty I accompanied Ibrahim and a few men to the bank of the river where we had landed the day before, and, climbing upon a white ant hill to obtain a view over the high reeds, I scanned the village with a telescope. The scene was rather exciting; crowds of people were rushing about in all directions and gathering from all quarters toward the river; the slope from the river to the town M'rooli was black with natives, and I saw about a dozen large canoes preparing to transport them to our side. I returned from my elevated observatory to Ibrahim, who, on the low ground only a few yards distant, could not see the opposite side of the river owing to the high grass and reeds. Without saying more, I merely begged him to mount upon the ant hill and look toward M'rooli. Hardly had he cast a glance at the scene described, than he jumped down from his stand and cried, "They arc going to attack us!" "Let us retreat to the camp and prepare for a fight!" "Let us fire at them from here as they cross in the canoes," cried others; "the buckshot will clear them off when packed in the boats." This my panic-stricken followers would have done had I not been present.

"Fools!" I said, "do you not see that the natives have no SHIELDS with them, but merely lances? Would they commence an attack without their shields? Kamrasi is coming in state to visit us." This idea was by no means accepted by my people, and we reached our little camp, and, for the sake of precaution, stationed the men in position behind a hedge of thorns. Ibrahim had managed to bring twelve picked men instead of five as stipulated; thus we were a party of twenty-four. I was of very little use, as the fever was so strong upon me that I lay helpless on the ground.

In a short time the canoes arrived, and for about an hour they were employed in crossing and recrossing, and landing great numbers of men, until they at length advanced and took possession of some huts about 200 yards from our camp. They now hallooed that Kamrasi had arrived, and, seeing some oxen with the party, I felt sure they had no evil intentions. I ordered my men to carry me in their arms to the king, and to accompany me with the presents, as I was determined to have a personal interview, although only fit for a hospital.

Upon my approach, the crowd gave way, and I was shortly laid on a mat at the king's feet. He was a fine- looking man, but with a peculiar expression of countenance, owing to his extremely prominent eyes; he was about six feet high, beautifully clean, and was dressed in a long robe of bark cloth most gracefully folded. The nails of his hands and feet were carefully attended to, and his complexion was about as dark brown as that of an Abyssinian. He sat upon a copper stool placed upon a carpet of leopard-skins, and he was surrounded by about ten of his principal chiefs.

Our interpreter, Bacheeta, now informed him who I was, and what were my intentions. He said that he was sorry I had been so long on the road, but that he had been obliged to be cautious, having been deceived by Debono's people. I replied that I was an Englishman, a friend of Speke and Grant, that they had described the reception they had met with from him, and that I had come to thank him, and to offer him a few presents in return for his kindness, and to request him to give me a guide to the Lake Luta N'zige. He laughed at the name, and repeated it several times with his chiefs. He then said it was not LUTA, but M-WOOTAN N'zige; but that it was SIX MONTHS' journey from M'rooli, and that in my weak condition I could not possibly reach it; that I should die upon the road, and that the king of my country would perhaps imagine that I had been murdered, and might invade his territory. I replied that I was weak with the toil of years in the hot countries of Africa, but that I was in search of the great lake, and should not return until I had succeeded; that I had no king, but a powerful Queen who watched over all her subjects, and that no Englishman could be murdered with impunity; therefore he should send me to the lake without delay, and there would be the less chance of my dying in his country.

I explained that the river Nile flowed for a distance of two years' journey through wonderful countries, and reached the sea, from which many valuable articles would be sent to him in exchange for ivory, could I only discover the great lake. As a proof of this, I had brought him a few curiosities that I trusted he would accept, and I regretted that the impossibility of procuring porters had necessitated the abandonment of others that had been intended for him.

I ordered the men to unpack the Persian carpet, which was spread upon the ground before him. I then gave him an Abba (large white Cashmere mantle), a red silk netted sash, a pair of scarlet Turkish shoes, several pairs of socks, a double-barrelled gun and ammunition, and a great heap of first-class beads made up into gorgeous necklaces and girdles. He took very little notice of the presents, but requested that the gun might be fired off. This was done, to the utter confusion of the crowd, who rushed away in such haste that they tumbled over each other like so many rabbits. This delighted the king, who, although himself startled, now roared with laughter. He told me that I must be hungry and thirsty; therefore he hoped I would accept something to eat and drink. Accordingly he presented me with seventeen cows, twenty pots of sour plantain cider, and many loads of unripe plantains. I inquired whether Speke had left a medicine-chest with him. He replied that it was a very feverish country, and that he and his people had used all the medicine. Thus my last hope of quinine was cut off. I had always trusted to obtain a supply from the king, as Speke had told me that he had left a bottle with him. It was quite impossible to obtain any information from him, and I was carried back to my hut, where I found Mrs. Baker lying down with fever, and neither of us could render assistance to the other.

On the following morning the king again appeared. I was better, and had a long interview. He did not appear to heed my questions, but he at once requested that I would ally myself with him, and attack his enemy, Rionga. I told him that I could not embroil myself in such quarrels, but that I had only one object, which was the lake. I requested that he would give Ibrahim a large quantity of ivory, and that on his return from Gondokoro he would bring him most valuable articles in exchange. He said that he was not sure whether my belly was black or white; by this he intended to express evil or good intentions; but that if it were white I should, of course, have no objection to exchange blood with him, as a proof of friendship and sincerity. This was rather too strong a dose! I replied that it would be impossible, as in my country the shedding of blood was considered a proof of hostility; therefore he must accept Ibrahim as my substitute. Accordingly the arms were bared and pricked. As the blood flowed it was licked by either party, and an alliance was concluded. Ibrahim agreed to act with him against all his enemies. It was arranged that Ibrahim now belonged to Kamrasi, and that henceforth our parties should be entirely separate.

On February 21st Kamrasi was civil enough to allow us to quit the marsh. My porters had by this time all deserted, and on the following day Kamrasi promised to send us porters and to allow us to start at once. There were no preparations made, however, and after some delay we were honored by a visit from Kamrasi, who promised we should start on the following day.

He concluded, as usual, by asking for my watch and for a number of beads; the latter I gave him, together with a quantity of ammunition for his guns. He showed me a beautiful double-barrelled rifle that Speke had given him. I wished to secure this to give to Speke on my return to England, as he had told me, when at Gondokoro, how he had been obliged to part with that and many other articles sorely against his will. I therefore offered to give him three common double-barrelled guns in exchange for the rifle. This he declined, as he was quite aware of the difference in quality. He then produced a large silver chronometer that he had received from Speke. "It was DEAD," he said, "and he wished me to repair it." This I declared to be impossible. He then confessed to having explained its construction and the cause of the "ticking" to his people, by the aid of a needle, and that it had never ticked since that occasion. I regretted to see such "pearls cast before swine." Thus he had plundered Speke and Grant of all they possessed before he would allow them to proceed.

It is the rapacity of the chiefs of the various tribes that renders African exploration so difficult. Each tribe wishes to monopolize your entire stock of valuables, without which the traveller would be utterly helpless. The difficulty of procuring porters limits the amount of baggage; thus a given supply must carry you through a certain period of time. If your supply should fail, the expedition terminates with your power of giving. It is thus extremely difficult to arrange the expenditure so as to satisfy all parties and still to retain a sufficient balance. Being utterly cut off from all communication with the world, there is no possibility of receiving assistance. The traveller depends entirely upon himself, under Providence, and must adapt himself and his means to circumstances.

The day of starting at length arrived. The chief and guide appeared, and we were led to the Kafoor River, where canoes were in readiness to transport us to the south side. This was to our old quarters on the marsh. The direct course to the lake was west, and I fully expected some deception, as it was impossible to trust Kamrasi. I complained to the guide, and insisted upon his pointing out the direction of the lake, which he did, in its real position, west; but he explained that we must follow the south bank of the Kafoor River for some days, as there was an impassable morass that precluded a direct course. This did not appear satisfactory, and the whole affair looked suspicious, as we had formerly been deceived by being led across the river to the same spot, and not allowed to return. We were now led along the banks of the Kafoor for about a mile, until we arrived at a cluster of huts; here we were to wait for Kamrasi, who had promised to take leave of us. The sun was overpowering, and we dismounted from our oxen and took shelter in a blacksmith's shed. In about an hour Kamrasi arrived, attended by a considerable number of men, and took his seat in our shed. I felt convinced that his visit was simply intended to peel the last skin from the onion. I had already given him nearly all that I had, but he hoped to extract the whole before I should depart.

He almost immediately commenced the conversation by asking for a pretty yellow muslin Turkish handkerchief fringed with silver drops that Mrs. Baker wore upon her head. One of these had already been given to him, and I explained that this was the last remaining, and that she required it.... He "must" have it.... It was given. He then demanded other handkerchiefs. We had literally nothing but a few most ragged towels. He would accept no excuse, and insisted upon a portmanteau being unpacked, that he might satisfy himself by actual inspection. The luggage, all ready for the journey, had to be unstrapped and examined, and the rags were displayed in succession, but so wretched and uninviting was the exhibition of the family linen that he simply returned them, and said they did not suit him. Beads he must have, or I was "his enemy." A selection of the best opal beads was immediately given him. I rose from the stone upon which I was sitting and declared that we must start immediately. "Don't be in a hurry," he replied; "you have plenty of time; but you have not given me that watch you promised me." ... This was my only watch that he had begged for, and had been refused, every day during my stay at M'rooli. So pertinacious a beggar I had never seen. I explained to him that without the watch my journey would be useless, but that I would give him all that I had except the watch when the exploration should be completed, as I should require nothing on my direct return to Gondokoro. At the same time I repeated to him the arrangement for the journey that he had promised, begging him not to deceive me, as my wife and I should both die if we were compelled to remain another year in this country by losing the annual boats at Gondokoro.

The understanding was this: he was to give me porters to the lake, where I was to be furnished with canoes to take me to Magungo, which was situated at the junction of the Somerset. From Magungo he told me that I should see the Nile issuing from the lake close to the spot where the Somerset entered, and that the canoes should take me down the river, and porters should carry my effects from the nearest point to Shooa, and deliver me at my old station without delay. Should he be faithful to this engagement, I trusted to procure porters from Shooa, and to reach Gondokoro in time for the annual boats. I had arranged that a boat should be sent from Khartoum to await me at Gondokoro early in this year, 1864; but I felt sure that should I be long delayed, the boat would return without me, as the people would be afraid to remain alone at Gondokoro after the other boats had quitted.

In our present weak state another year of Central Africa without quinine appeared to warrant death. It was a race against time; all was untrodden ground before us, and the distance quite uncertain. I trembled for my wife, and weighed the risk of another year in this horrible country should we lose the boats. With the self-sacrificing devotion that she had shown in every trial, she implored me not to think of any risks on her account, but to push forward and discover the lake - that she had determined not to return until she had herself reached the "M'wootan N'zige."

I now requested Kamrasi to allow us to take leave, as we had not an hour to lose. In the coolest manner he replied, "I will send you to the lake and to Shooa, as I have promised, but YOU MUST LEAVE YOUR WIFE WITH ME!"

At that moment we were surrounded by a great number of natives, and my suspicions of treachery at having been led across the Kafoor River appeared confirmed by this insolent demand. If this were to be the end of the expedition, I resolved that it should also be the end of Kamrasi, and drawing my revolver quickly, I held it within two feet of his chest, and looking at him with undisguised contempt, I told him that if I touched the trigger, not all his men could save him; and that if he dared to repeat the insult I would shoot him on the spot. At the same time I explained to him that in my country such insolence would entail bloodshed, and that I looked upon him as an ignorant ox who knew no better, and that this excuse alone could save him. My wife, naturally indignant, had risen from her seat, and maddened with the excitement of the moment she made him a little speech in Arabic (not a word of which he understood), with a countenance almost as amiable as the head of Medusa. Altogether the *mine en scene utterly astonished him. The woman Bacheeta, although savage, had appropriated the insult to her mistress, and she also fearlessly let fly at Kamrasi, translating as nearly as she could the complimentary address that "Medusa" had just delivered.

Whether this little coup be theatre had so impressed Kamrasi with British female independence that he wished to be quit of his proposed bargain, I cannot say; but with an air of complete astonishment he said, "Don't be angry! I had no intention of offending you by asking for your wife. I will give your a wife, if you want one, and I thought you might have no objection to give me yours; it is my custom to give my visitors pretty wives, and I thought you might exchange. Don't make a fuss about it; if you don't like it, there's an end of it; I will never mention it again." This very practical apology I received very sternly, and merely insisted upon starting. He seemed rather confused at having committed himself, and to make amends he called his people and ordered them to carry our loads. His men ordered a number of women, who had assembled out of curiosity, to shoulder the luggage and carry it to the next village, where they would be relieved. I assisted my wife upon her ox, and with a very cold adieu to Kamrasi I turned my back most gladly on M'rooli.