CHAPTER XV. A start made at last - A forced march - Lightening the ship - Waiting for the caravan - Success hangs in the balance - The greatest rascal in Central Africa - Legge demands another bottle.

The country was park-like, but much parched by the dry weather. The ground was sandy, but firm, and interspersed with numerous villages, all of which were surrounded with a strong fence of euphorbia. The country was well wooded, being free from bush or jungle, but numerous trees, all evergreens, were scattered over the landscape. No natives were to be seen but the sound of their drums and singing in chorus was heard in the far distance. Whenever it is moonlight the nights are passed in singing and dancing, beating drums, blowing horns, and the population of whole villages thus congregate together.

After a silent march of two hours we saw watchfires blazing in the distance, and upon nearer approach we perceived the trader's party bivouacked. Their custom is to march only two or three hours on the first day of departure, to allow stragglers who may have lagged behind in Gondokoro to rejoin the party before morning.

We were roughly challenged by their sentries as we passed, and were instantly told "not to remain in their neighborhood." Accordingly we passed on for about half a mile in advance, and bivouacked on some rising ground above a slight hollow in which we found water.

The following morning was clear, and the mountain of Belignan, within three or four miles, was a fine object to direct our course. I could distinctly see some enormous trees at the foot of the mountain near a village, and I hastened forward, as I hoped to procure a guide who would also act as interpreter, many of the natives in the vicinity of Gondokoro having learned a little Arabic from the traders. We cantered on ahead of the party, regardless of the assurance of our unwilling men that the natives were not to be trusted, and we soon arrived beneath the shade of a cluster of most superb trees. The village was within a quarter of a mile, situated at the very base of the abrupt mountain. The natives seeing us alone had no fear, and soon thronged around us. The chief understood a few words of Arabic, and I offered a large payment of copper bracelets and beads for a guide. After much discussion and bargaining a bad-looking fellow offered to guide us to Ellyria, but no farther. This was about twenty-eight or thirty miles distant, and it was of vital importance that we should pass through that tribe before the trader's party should raise them against us. I had great hopes of outmarching the trader's party, as they would be delayed in Belignan by ivory transactions with the chief.

At that time the Turks were engaged in business transactions with tile natives; it was therefore all important that I should start immediately, and by a forced march arrive at Ellyria and get through the pass before they should communicate with the chief. I had no doubt that by paying blackmail I should be able to clear Ellyria, provided I was in advance of the Turks; but should they outmarch me, there would be no hope; a fight and defeat would be the climax. I accordingly gave orders for an IMMEDIATE start. "Load the camels, my brothers!" I exclaimed to the sullen ruffians around me; but not a man stirred except Richarn and a fellow named Sali, who began to show signs of improvement. Seeing that the men intended to disobey, I immediately set to work myself loading the animals, requesting my men not to trouble themselves, and begging them to lie down and smoke their pipes while I did the work. A few rose from the ground ashamed and assisted to load the camels, while the others declared it an impossibility for camels to travel by the road we were about to take, as the Turks had informed them that not even the donkeys could march through the thick jungles between Belignan and Ellyria.

"All right, my brothers!" I replied; "then we'll march as far as the donkeys can go, and leave both them and the baggage on the road when they can go no farther; but I GO FORWARD."

With sullen discontent the men began to strap on their belts and cartouche boxes and prepare for the start. The animals were loaded, and we moved slowly forward at 4.30 P.M. We had just started with the Bari guide that I had engaged at Belignan, when we were suddenly joined by two of the Latookas whom I had seen when at Gondokoro and to whom I had been very civil. It appeared that these follows, who were acting as porters to the Turks, had been beaten, and had therefore absconded and joined me. This was extraordinary good fortune, as I now had guides the whole way to Latooka, about ninety miles distant. I immediately gave them each a copper bracelet and some beads, and they very good-naturedly relieved the camels of one hundred pounds of copper rings, which they carried in two baskets on their heads.

We now crossed the broad dry bed of a torrent, and the banks being steep a considerable time was occupied in assisting the loaded animals in their descent. The donkeys were easily aided, their tails being held by two men while they shuffled and slid down the sandy banks; but every camel fell, and the loads had to be carried up the opposite bank by the men, and the camels reloaded on arrival. Here again the donkeys had the advantage, as without being unloaded they were assisted up the steep ascent by two men in front pulling at their ears, while others pushed behind. Altogether the donkeys were far more suitable for the country, as they were more easily loaded. The facility of loading is all-important, and I now had an exemplification of its effect upon both animals and men. The latter began to abuse the camels and to curse the father of this and the mother of that because they had the trouble of unloading them for the descent into the river's bed, while the donkeys were blessed with the endearing name of "my brother," and alternately whacked with the stick.

For some miles we passed through a magnificent forest of large trees. The path being remarkably good, the march looked propitious. This good fortune, however, was doomed to change. We shortly entered upon thick thorny jungles. The path was so overgrown that the camels could scarcely pass under the overhanging branches, and the leather bags of provisions piled upon their backs were soon ripped by the hooked thorns of the mimosa. The salt, rice, and coffee bags all sprang leaks, and small streams of these important stores issued from the rents which the men attempted to repair by stuffing dirty rags into the holes. These thorns were shaped like fishhooks; thus it appeared that the perishable baggage must soon become an utter wreck, as the great strength and weight of the camels bore all before them, and sometimes tore the branches from the trees, the thorns becoming fixed in the leather bags. Meanwhile the donkeys walked along in comfort, being so short that they and their loads were below the branches.

My wife and I rode about a quarter of a mile at the head of the party as an advance guard, to warn the caravan of any difficulty. The very nature of the country showed that it must be full of ravines, and yet I could not help hoping against hope that we might have a clear mile of road without a break. The evening had passed, and the light faded. What had been difficult and tedious during the day now became most serious; we could not see the branches of hooked thorns that over-hung the broken path. I rode in advance, my face and arms bleeding with countless scratches, while at each rip of a thorn I gave a warning shout - "Thorn!" for those behind, and a cry of "Hole!" for any deep rut that lay in the path. It was fortunately moonlight; but the jungle was so thick that the narrow track was barely perceptible; thus both camels and donkeys ran against the trunks of trees, smashing the luggage and breaking all that could be broken. Nevertheless the case was urgent; march we must at all hazards.

My heart sank whenever we cane to a deep ravine or hor; the warning cry of "halt" told those in the rear that once more the camels must be unloaded and the same fatiguing operation must be repeated. For hours we marched; the moon was sinking; the path, already dark, grew darker; the animals, overloaded even for a good road, were tired out, and the men were disheartened, thirsty, and disgusted. Everything was tired out. I had been working like a slave to assist and to cheer the men; I was also fatigued. We had marched from 4.30 P.M - it was now 1 A.M.; we had thus been eight hours and a half struggling along the path. The moon had sunk, and the complete darkness rendered a further advance impossible; therefore, on arrival at a large plateau of rock, I ordered the animals to be unloaded and both man and beast to rest.

Every one lay down supperless to sleep. Although tired, I could not rest until I had arranged some plan for the morrow. It was evident that we could not travel over so rough a country with the animals thus overloaded; I therefore determined to leave in the jungle such articles as could be dispensed with, and to rearrange all the loads.

At 4 A.M. I awoke, and lighting a lamp I tried in vain to wake any of the men, who lay stretched upon the ground like so many corpses, sound asleep.

I threw away about 100 lbs. of salt, divided the heavy ammunition more equally among the animals, rejected a quantity of odds and ends that, although most useful, could be forsaken, and by the time the men awoke, a little before sunrise, I had completed the work. We now reloaded the animals, who showed the improvement by stepping out briskly. We marched well for three hours at a pace that bade fair to keep us well ahead of the Turks, and at length we reached the dry bed of a stream, where the Latooka guides assured us we should obtain water by digging. This proved correct; but the holes were dug deep in several places, and hours passed before we could secure a sufficient supply for all the men and animals. Ascending from this place about a mile we came to the valley of Tollogo. We passed the night in a village of the friendly natives, and were off again bright and early. On reaching the extremity of the valley we had to thread our way through the difficult pass. Had the natives been really hostile they could have exterminated us in five minutes, as it was only necessary to hurl rocks from above to insure our immediate destruction. It was in this spot that a trader's party of one hundred and twenty-six men, well armed, had been massacred to a man the year previous.

Bad as the pass was, we had hope before us, as the Latookas explained that beyond this spot there was level and unbroken ground the whole way to Latooka. Could we only clear Ellyria before the Turks, I had no fear for the present; but at the very moment when success depended upon speed we were thus baffled by the difficulties of the ground. I therefore resolved to ride on in advance of my party, leaving them to overcome the difficulties of the pass by constantly unloading the animals, while I would reconnoitre in front, as Ellyria was not far distant. My wife and I accordingly rode on, accompanied only by one of the Latookas as a guide. After turning a sharp angle of the mountain, leaving the cliff abruptly rising to the left from the narrow path, we descended a ravine worse than any place we had previously encountered, and were obliged to dismount in order to lead our horses up the steep rocks on the opposite side. On arrival at the summit a lovely view burst upon us. The valley of Ellyria was about four hundred feet below, at about a mile distant. Beautiful mountains, some two or three thousand feet high, of gray granite, walled in the narrow vale, while the landscape of forest and plain was bounded at about fifty or sixty miles' distance to the east by the blue mountains of Latooka. The mountain of Ellyria was the commencement of the fine range that continued indefinitely to the south. The whole country was a series of natural forts occupied by a large population. A glance at the scene before me was quite sufficient. To FIGHT a way through a valley a quarter of a mile wide, hemmed in by high walls of rock and bristling with lances and arrows, would be impossible with my few men, encumbered by transport animals. Should the camels arrive I could march into Ellyria in twenty minutes, make the chief a large present, and pass on without halting until I cleared the Ellyria valley. At any rate I was well before the Turks, and the forced march at night, however distressing, had been successful. The great difficulty now lay in the ravine that we had just crossed; this would assuredly delay the caravan for a considerable time.

Tying our horses to a bush, we sat upon a rock beneath the shade of a small tree within ten paces of the path, and considered the best course to pursue. I hardly liked to risk an advance into Ellyria alone before the arrival of my whole party, as we had been very rudely received by the Tollogo people on the previous evening; nevertheless I thought it might be good policy to ride unattended into Ellyria, and thus to court an introduction to the chief. However, our consultation ended in a determination to wait where we then were until the caravan should have accomplished the last difficulty by crossing the ravine, when we would all march into Ellyria in company. For a long time we sat gazing at the valley before us in which our fate lay hidden, feeling thankful that we had thus checkmated the brutal Turks. Not a sound was heard of our approaching camels; the delay was most irksome. There were many difficult places that we had passed through, and each would be a source of serious delay to the animals.

At length we heard them in the distance. We could distinctly hear the men's voices, and we rejoiced that they were approaching the last remaining obstacle; that one ravine passed through, and all before would be easy. I heard the rattling of the stones as they drew nearer, and looking toward the ravine I saw emerge from the dark foliage of the trees within fifty yards of us the hated RED FLAG AND CRESCENT LEADING THE TURK'S PARTY! We were outmarched!

One by one, with scowling looks, the insolent scoundrels filed by us within a few feet, without making the customary salaam, neither noticing us in any way, except by threatening to shoot the Latooka, our guide, who had formerly accompanied them.

Their party consisted of a hundred and forty men armed with guns, while about twice as many Latookas acted as porters, carrying beads, ammunition, and the general effects of the party. It appeared that we were hopelessly beaten.

However, I determined to advance at all hazards on the arrival of my party, and should the Turks incite the Ellyria tribe to attack us, I intended, in the event of a fight, to put the first shot through the leader. To be thus beaten at the last moment was unendurable. Boiling with indignation as the insolent wretches filed past, treating me with the contempt of a dog, I longed for the moment of action, no matter what were the odds against us. At length their leader, Ibrahim, appeared in the rear of the party. He was riding on a donkey, being the last of the line, behind the flag that closed the march.

I never saw a more atrocious countenance than that exhibited in this man. A mixed breed, between a Turk sire and all Arab mother, he had the good features and bad qualities of either race - the fine, sharp, high-arched nose and large nostril, the pointed and projecting chin, rather high cheek-bones and prominent brow, overhanging a pair of immense black eyes full of expression of all evil. As he approached he took no notice of us, but studiously looked straight before him with the most determined insolence.

The fate of the expedition was at this critical moment retrieved by Mrs. Baker. She implored me to call him, to insist upon a personal explanation, and to offer him some present in the event of establishing amicable relations. I could not condescend to address the sullen scoundrel. He was in the act of passing us, and success depended upon that instant. Mrs. Baker herself called him. For the moment he made no reply; but upon my repeating the call in a loud key he turned his donkey toward us and dismounted. I ordered him to sit down, as his men were ahead and we were alone.

The following dialogue passed between us after the usual Arab mode of greeting. I said: "Ibrahim, why should we be enemies in the midst of this hostile country? We believe in the same God; why should we quarrel in this land of heathens, who believe in no God? You have your work to perform; I have mine. You want ivory; I am a simple traveller; why should we clash? If I were offered the whole ivory of the country I would not accept a single tusk, nor interfere with you in any way. Transact your business, and don't interfere with me; the country is wide enough for us both. I have a task before me, to reach a great lake - the head of the Nile. Reach it I WILL(Inshallah). No power shall drive me back. If you are hostile I will imprison you in Khartoum; if you assist me I will reward you far beyond any reward you have ever received. Should I be killed in this country, you will be suspected. You know the result: the Government would hang you on the bare suspicion. On the contrary, if you are friendly I will use my influence in any country that I discover, that you may procure its ivory for the sake of your master, Koorshid, who was generous to Captains Speke and Grant, and kind to me. Should you be hostile, I shall hold your master responsible as your employer. Should you assist me, I will befriend you both. Choose your course frankly, like a man - friend or enemy?"

Before he had time to reply, Mrs. Baker addressed him much in the same strain, telling him that he did not know what Englishmen were; that nothing would drive them back; that the British Government watched over them wherever they might be, and that no outrage could be committed with impunity upon a British subject; that I would not deceive him in any way; that I was not a trader; and that I should be able to assist him materially by discovering new countries rich in ivory, and that he would benefit himself personally by civil conduct.

He seemed confused, and wavered. I immediately promised him a new double-barrelled gun and some gold when my party should arrive, as an earnest of the future.

He replied that he did not himself wish to be hostile, but that all the trading parties, without one exception, were against me, and that the men were convinced that I was a consul in disguise, who would report to the authorities at Khartoum all the proceedings of the traders. He continued that he believed me, but that his men would not; that all people told lies in their country, therefore no one was credited for the truth. "However," said he, "do not associate with my people, or they may insult you; but go and take possession of that large tree (pointing to one in the valley of Ellyria) for yourself and people, and I will come there and speak with you. I will now join my men, as I do not wish them to know that I have been conversing with you." He then made a salaam, mounted his donkey, and rode off.

I had won him. I knew the Arab character so thoroughly that I was convinced that the tree he had pointed out, followed by the words, "I will come there and speak to you," was to be the rendezvous for the receipt of the promised gun and money.

I did not wait for the arrival of my men, but mounting our horses, my wife and I rode down the hillside with lighter spirits than we had enjoyed for some time past. I gave her the entire credit of the "ruse." Had I been alone I should have been too proud to have sought the friendship of the sullen trader, and the moment on which success depended would leave been lost.

On arrival at the grassy plain at the foot of the mountain there was a crowd of the trader's ruffians quarrelling for the shale of a few large trees that grew on the banks of the stream. We accordingly dismounted, and turning the horses to graze we took possession of a tree at some distance, under which a number of Latookas were already sitting. Not being very particular as to our society, we sat down and waited for the arrival of our party.

The natives were entirely naked, and precisely the same as the Bari. Their chief, Legge, was among them, and received a present from Ibrahim of a long red cotton shirt, and he assumed an air of great importance. Ibrahim explained to him who I was, and he immediately came to ask for the tribute he expected to receive as "blackmail" for the right of entree into his country. Of all the villainous countenances that I have ever seen, that of Legge excelled. Ferocity, avarice, and sensuality were stamped upon his face, and I immediately requested him to sit for his portrait, and in about ten minutes I succeeded in placing within my portfolio an exact likeness of about the greatest rascal that exists in Central Africa.

I had now the satisfaction of seeing my caravan slowly winding down the hillside in good order, having surmounted all their difficulties.

Upon arrival my men were perfectly astonished at seeing us so near the trader's party, and still more confounded at my sending for Ibrahim to summon him to my tree, where I presented him with some English sovereigns and a double-barrelled gun. Nothing escapes the inquisitiveness of these Arabs; and the men of both parties quickly perceived that I had established an alliance in some unaccountable manner with Ibrahim. I saw the gun lately presented to him being handed from one to the other for examination, and both my vakeel and men appeared utterly confused at the sudden change.

The chief of Ellyria now came to inspect my luggage, and demanded fifteen heavy copper bracelets and a large quantity of beads. The bracelets most in demand are simple rings of copper five-eighths of an inch thick and weighing about a pound, smaller ones not being so much valued. I gave him fifteen such rings, and about ten pounds of beads in varieties, the red coral porcelain (dimiriaf) being the most acceptable. Legge was by no means satisfied; he said his belly was very big and it must be filled, which signified that his desire was great and must be gratified. I accordingly gave him a few extra copper rings; but suddenly he smelt spirits, one of the few bottles that I possessed of spirits of wine having broken in the medicine chest. Ibrahim begged me to give him a bottle to put him in a good humor, as he enjoyed nothing so much as araki. I accordingly gave him a pint bottle of the strongest spirits of wine.

To my amazement he broke off the neck, and holding his head well back he deliberately allowed the whole of the contents to trickle down his throat as innocently as though it had been simple water. He was thoroughly accustomed to it, as the traders were in the habit of bringing him presents of araki every season. He declared this to be excellent, and demanded another bottle. At that moment a violent storm of thunder and rain burst upon us with a fury well known in the tropics. The rain fell like a waterspout, and the throng immediately fled for shelter. So violent was the storm that not a man was to be seen; some sheltered themselves under the neighboring rocks, while others ran to their villages that were close by. The trader's people commenced a fusillade, firing off all their guns lest they should get wet and miss fire.