CHAPTER XX. A satanic escort - Prostrated by sun-stroke - Days and nights of sorrow - The reward for all our labor.

The country was a vast flat of grass land interspersed with small villages and patches of sweet potatoes. These were very inferior, owing to the want of drainage. For about two miles we continued on the banks of the Kafoor River. The women who carried the luggage were straggling in disorder, and my few men were much scattered in their endeavors to collect them. We approached a considerable village; but just as we were nearing it, out rushed about six hundred men with lances and shields, screaming and yelling like so many demons. For the moment I thought it was an attack, but almost immediately I noticed that women and children were mingled with the men. My men had not taken so cool a view of the excited throng that was now approaching us at full speed, brandishing their spears, and engaging with each other in mock combat. "There's a fight! there's a fight!" my men exclaimed; "we are attacked! fire at them, Ilawaga." However, in a few seconds I persuaded them that it was a mere parade, and that there was no danger.

With a rush like a cloud of locusts the natives closed around us, dancing, gesticulating, and yelling before my ox, feigning to attack us with spears and shields, then engaging in sham fights with each other, and behaving like so many madmen. A very tall chief accompanied them; and one of their men was suddenly knocked down and attacked by the crowd with sticks and lances, and lay on the ground covered with blood. What his offence had been I did not hear. The entire crowd were most grotesquely got up, being dressed in either leopard or white monkey skins, with cows' tails strapped on behind and antelopes' horns fitted upon their heads, while their chins were ornamented with false beards made of the bushy ends of cows' tails sewed together. Altogether I never saw a more unearthly set of creatures; they were perfect illustrations of my childish ideas of devils- horns, tails, and all, excepting the hoofs. They were our escort, furnished by Kamrasi to accompany us to the lake! Fortunately for all parties, the Turks were not with us on that occasion, or the Satanic escort would certainly have been received with a volley when they so rashly advanced to compliment us by their absurd performances.

We marched till 7 P.m. over flat, uninteresting country, and then halted at a miserable village which the people had deserted, as they expected our arrival. The following morning I found much difficulty in getting our escort together, as they had been foraging throughout the neighborhood; these "devil's own" were a portion of Kamrasi's troops, who considered themselves entitled to plunder ad libitum throughout the march; however, after some delay they collected, and their tall chief approached me and begged that a gun might be fired as a curiosity. The escort had crowded around us, and as the boy Saat was close to me I ordered him to fire his gun. This was Saat's greatest delight, and bang went one barrel unexpectedly, close to the tall chief's ear. The effect was charming. The tall chief, thinking himself injured, clasped his head with both hands, and bolted through the crowd, which, struck with a sudden panic, rushed away in all directions, the "devil's own" tumbling over each other and utterly scattered by the second barrel which Saat exultingly fired in derision, as Kamrasi's warlike regiment dissolved before a sound. I felt quite sure that, in the event of a fight, one scream from the "Baby," with its charge of forty small bullets, would win the battle if well delivered into a crowd of Kamrasi's troops.

On the morning of the second day we had difficulty in collecting porters, those of the preceding day having absconded; and others were recruited from distant villages by the native escort, who enjoyed the excuse of hunting for porters, as it gave them an opportunity of foraging throughout the neighborhood. During this time we had to wait until the sun was high; we thus lost the cool hours of morning, and it increased our fatigue. Having at length started, we arrived in the afternoon at the Kafoor River, at a bend from the south where it was necessary to cross over in our westerly course. The stream was in the centre of a marsh, and although deep, it was so covered with thickly-matted water-grass and other aquatic plants, that a natural floating bridge was established by a carpet of weeds about two feet thick. Upon this waving and unsteady surface the men ran quickly across, sinking merely to the ankles, although beneath the tough vegetation there was deep water.

It was equally impossible to ride or to be carried over this treacherous surface; thus I led the way, and begged Mrs. Baker to follow me on foot as quickly as possible, precisely in my track. The river was about eighty yards wide, and I had scarcely completed a fourth of the distance and looked back to see if my wife followed close to me, when I was horrified to see her standing in one spot and sinking gradually through the weeds, while her face was distorted and perfectly purple. Almost as soon as I perceived her she fell as though shot dead. In an instant I was by her side, and with the assistance of eight or ten of my men, who were fortunately close to me, I dragged her like a corpse through the yielding vegetation; and up to our waists we scrambled across to the other side, just keeping her head above the water. To have carried her would have been impossible, as we should all have sunk together through the weeds. I laid her under a tree and bathed her head and face with water, as for the moment I thought she had fainted; but she lay perfectly insensible, as though dead, with teeth and hands firmly clinched, and her eyes open but fixed. It was a coup de soleil - a sun-stroke.

Many of the porters had gone on ahead with the baggage, and I started off a man in haste to recall an angarep upon which to carry her and also for a bag with a change of clothes, as we had dragged her through the river. It was in vain that I rubbed her heart and the black women rubbed her feet to restore animation. At length the litter came, and after changing her clothes she was carried mournfully forward as a corpse. Constantly we had to halt and support her head, as a painful rattling in the throat betokened suffocation. At length we reached a village, and halted for the night.

I laid her carefully in a miserable hut, and watched beside her. I opened her clinched teeth with a small wooden wedge and inserted a wet rag, upon which I dropped water to moisten her tongue, which was dry as fur. The unfeeling brutes that composed the native escort were yelling and dancing as though all were well, and I ordered their chief at once to return with them to Kamrasi, as I would travel with them no longer. At first they refused to return, until at length I vowed that I would fire into them should they accompany us on the following morning. Day broke, and it was a relief to have got rid of the brutal escort. They had departed, and I had now my own men and the guides supplied by Kamrasi.

There was nothing to eat in this spot. My wife had never stirred since she fell by the coup de soleil, and merely respired about five times in a minute. It was impossible to remain; the people would have starved. She was laid gently upon her litter, and we started forward on our funereal course. I was ill and broken- hearted, and I followed by her side through the long day's march over wild park lands and streams, with thick forest and deep marshy bottoms, over undulating hills and through valleys of tall papyrus rushes, which, as we brushed through them on our melancholy way, waved over the litter like the black plumes of a hearse.

We halted at a village, and again the night was passed in watching. I was wet and coated with mud from the swampy marsh, and shivered with ague; but the cold within was greater than all. No change had taken place; she had never moved. I had plenty of fat, and I made four balls of about half a pound, each of which would burn for three hours. A piece of a broken water-jar formed a lamp, several pieces of rag serving for wicks. So in solitude the still calm night passed away as I sat by her side and watched. In the drawn and distorted features that lay before me I could hardly trace the same face that for years had been my comfort through all the difficulties and dangers of my path. Was she to die? Was so terrible a sacrifice to be the result of my selfish exile?

Again the night passed away. Once more the march. Though weak and ill, and for two nights without a moment's sleep, I felt no fatigue, but mechanically followed by the side of the litter as though in a dream. The same wild country diversified with marsh and forest! Again we halted. The night came, and I sat by her side in a miserable hut, with the feeble lamp flickering while she lay as in death. She had never moved a muscle since she fell. My people slept. I was alone, and no sound broke the stillness of the night. The ears ached at the utter silence, till the sudden wild cry of a hyena made me shudder as the horrible thought rushed through my brain that, should she be buried in this lonely spot, the hyena - would disturb her rest.

The morning was not far distant; it was past four o'clock. I had passed the night in replacing wet cloths upon her head and moistening her lips, as she lay apparently lifeless on her litter. I could do nothing more; in solitude and abject misery in that dark hour, in a country of savage heathen, thousands of miles away from a Christian land, I beseeched an aid above all human, trusting alone to Him.

The morning broke; my lamp had just burned out, and cramped with the night's watching I rose from my low seat and seeing that she lay in the same unaltered state I went to the door of the hut to breathe one gasp of the fresh morning air. I was watching the first red streak that heralded the rising sun, when I was startled by the words, "Thank God," faintly uttered behind me. Suddenly she had awoke from her torpor, and with a heart overflowing I went to her bedside. Her eyes were full of madness! She spoke, but the brain was gone!

I will not inflict a description of the terrible trial of seven days of brain fever, with its attendant horrors. The rain poured in torrents, and day after day we were forced to travel for want of provisions, not being able to remain in one position. Every now and then we shot a few guinea-fowl, but rarely; there was no game, although the country was most favorable. In the forests we procured wild honey, but the deserted villages contained no supplies, as we were on the frontier of Uganda, and M'tese's people had plundered the district. For seven nights I had not slept, and although as weak as a reed, I had marched by the side of her litter. Nature could resist no longer. We reached a village one evening. She had been in violent convulsions successively; it was all but over. I laid her down on her litter within a hat, covered her with a Scotch plaid, and fell upon my mat insensible, worn out with sorrow and fatigue. My men put a new handle to the pickaxe that evening, and sought for a dry spot to dig her grave!

The sun had risen when I woke. I had slept, and horrified as the idea flashed upon me that she must be dead and that I had not been with her, I started up. She lay upon her bed, pale as marble, and with that calm serenity that the features assume when the cares of life no longer act upon the mind and the body rests in death. The dreadful thought bowed me down; but as I gazed upon her in fear her chest gently heaved, not with the convulsive throbs of fever, but naturally. She was asleep; and when at a sudden noise she opened her eyes, they were calm and clear. She was saved! When not a ray of hope remained, God alone knows what helped us. The gratitude of that moment I will not attempt to describe.

Fortunately there were many fowls in this village. We found several nests of fresh eggs in the straw which littered the hut; these were most acceptable after our hard fare, and produced a good supply of soup. Having rested for two days we again moved forward, Mrs. Baker being carried on a litter.

The next day we reached the village of Parkani. For several days past our guides had told us that we were very near to the lake, and we were now assured that we should reach it on the morrow. I had noticed a lofty range of mountains at an immense distance west, and I had imagined that the lake lay on the other side of this chain; but I was now informed that those mountains formed the western frontier of the M'wootan N'zige, and that the lake was actually within a day's march of Parkani. I could not believe it possible that we were so near the object of our search. The guide Rabonga now appeared, and declared that if we started early on the following morning we should be able to wash in the lake by noon!

That night I hardly slept. For years I had striven to reach the "sources of the Nile." In my nightly dreams during that arduous voyage I had always failed, but after so much hard work and perseverance the cup was at my very lips, and I was to DRINK at the mysterious fountain before another sun should set - at that great reservoir of nature that ever since creation had baffled all discovery.

I had hoped, and prayed, and striven through all kinds of difficulties, in sickness, starvation, and fatigue, to reach that hidden source; and when it had appeared impossible we had both determined to die upon the road rather than return defeated. Was it possible that it was so near, and that to-morrow we could say, "The work is accomplished"?

The sun had not risen when I was spurring my ox after the guide, who, having been promised a double handful of beads on arrival at the lake, had caught the enthusiasm of the moment. The day broke beautifully clear, and having crossed a deep valley between the hills, we toiled up the opposite slope. I hurried to the summit. The glory of our prize burst suddenly upon me! There, like a sea of quicksilver, lay far beneath the grand expanse of water - a boundless sea horizon on the south and south-west, glittering in the noonday sun; and in the west, at fifty or sixty miles' distance, blue mountains rose from the bosom of the lake to a height of about 7000 feet above its level.

It is impossible to describe the triumph of that moment. Here was the reward for all our labor - for the years of tenacity with which we had toiled through Africa. England had won the sources of the Nile! Long before I reached this spot I had arranged to give three cheers with all our men in English style in honor of the discovery; but now that I looked down upon the great inland sea lying nestled in the very heart of Africa, and thought how vainly mankind had sought these sources throughout so many ages, and reflected that I had been the humble instrument permitted to unravel this portion of the great mystery when so many greater than I had failed, I felt too serious to vent my feelings in vain cheers for victory, and I sincerely thanked God for having guided and supported us through all dangers to the good end. I was about 1500 feet above the lake, and I looked down from the steep granite cliff upon those welcome waters - upon that vast reservoir which nourished Egypt and brought fertility where all was wilderness - upon that great source so long hidden from mankind, that source of bounty and of blessings to millions of human beings; and as one of the greatest objects in nature, I determined to honor it with a great name. As an imperishable memorial of one loved and mourned by our gracious Queen and deplored by every Englishman, I called this great lake "the Albert N'yanza." The Victoria and the Albert lakes are the two Sources of the Nile.

The zigzag path to descend to the lake was so steep and dangerous that we were forced to leave our oxen with a guide, who was to take them to Magungo and wait for our arrival. We commenced the descent of the steep pass on foot. I led the way, grasping a stout bamboo. My wife in extreme weakness tottered down the pass, supporting herself upon my shoulder, and stopping to rest every twenty paces. After a toilsome descent of about two hours, weak with years of fever, but for the moment strengthened by success, we gained the level plain below the cliff. A walk of about a mile through flat sandy meadows of fine turf interspersed with trees and bushes brought us to the water's edge. The waves were rolling upon a white pebbly beach; I rushed into the lake, and thirsty with heat and fatigue, with a heart full of gratitude, I drank deeply from the Sources of the Nile.