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.