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.