CHAPTER XXI. The cradle of the Nile - Arrival at Magungo - The blind leading the blind - Murchison Falls.
The beach was perfectly clean sand, upon which the waves rolled like those of the sea, throwing up weeds precisely as seaweed may be seen upon the English shore. It was a grand sight to look upon this vast reservoir of the mighty Nile and to watch the heavy swell tumbling upon the beach, while far to the south-west the eye searched as vainly for a bound as though upon the Atlantic. It was with extreme emotion that I enjoyed this glorious scene. My wife, who had followed me so devotedly, stood by my side pale and exhausted - a wreck upon the shores of the great Albert Lake that we had so long striven to reach. No European foot had ever trod upon its sand, nor had the eyes of a white man ever scanned its vast expanse of water. We were the first; and this was the key to the great secret that even Julius Caesar yearned to unravel, but in vain. Here was the great basin of the Nile that received EVERY DROP OF WATER, even from the passing shower to the roaring mountain torrent that drained from Central Africa toward the north. This was the great reservoir of the Nile!
The first coup d'oeil from the summit of the cliff 1500 feet above the level had suggested what a closer examination confirmed. The lake was a vast depression far below the general level of the country, surrounded by precipitous cliffs, and bounded on the west and south-west by great ranges of mountains from five to seven thousand feet above the level of its waters - thus it was the one great reservoir into which everything MUST drain; and from this vast rocky cistern the Nile made its exit, a giant in its birth. It was a grand arrangement of nature for the birth of so mighty and important a stream as the river Nile. The Victoria N'yanza of Speke formed a reservoir at a high altitude, receiving a drainage from the west by the Kitangule River; and Speke had seen the M'fumbiro Mountain at a great distance as a peak among other mountains from which the streams descended, which by uniting formed the main river Kitangule, the principal feeder of the Victoria Lake from the west, in about 2 degrees S. latitude. Thus the same chain of mountains that fed the Victoria on the east must have a watershed to the west and north that would flow into the Albert Lake. The general drainage of the Nile basin tending from south to north, and the Albert Lake extending much farther north than the Victoria, it receives the river from the latter lake, and thus monopolizes the entire head-waters of the Nile. The Albert is the grand reservoir, while the Victoria is the eastern source. The parent streams that form these lakes are from the same origin, and the Kitangule sheds its waters to the Victoria to be received EVENTUALLY by the Albert, precisely as the highlands of M'fumbiro and the Blue Mountains pour their northern drainage DIRECTLY into the Albert Lake.
That many considerable affluents flow into the Albert Lake there is no doubt. The two waterfalls seen by telescope upon the western shore descending from the Blue Mountains must be most important streams, or they could not have been distinguished at so great a distance as fifty or sixty miles. The natives assured me that very many streams, varying in size, descended the mountains upon all sides into the general reservoir.
It was most important that we should hurry forward on our journey, as our return to England depended entirely upon the possibility of reaching Gondokoro before the end of April, otherwise the boats would have departed. I started off Rabonga, to Magungo, where he was to meet us with riding oxen.
We were encamped at a small village on the shore of the lake, called Vacovia. On the following morning not one of our party could rise from the ground. Thirteen men, the boy Saat, four women, besides my wife and me, were all down with fever. The natives assured us that all strangers suffered in a like manner. The delay in supplying boats was most annoying, as every hour was precious. The lying natives deceived us in every possible manner, delaying us purposely in hope of extorting beads.
The latitude of Vacovia was 1"degree" 15' N.; longitude 30 "degrees" 50' E. My farthest southern point on the road from M'rooli was latitude 1 "degree" 13'. We were now to turn our faces toward the north, and every day's journey would bring us nearer home. But where was home? As I looked at the map of the world, and at the little red spot that represented old England far, far away, and then gazed on the wasted form and haggard face of my wife and at my own attenuated frame, I hardly dared hope for home again. We had now been three years ever toiling onward, and having completed the exploration of all the Abyssinian affluents of the Nile, in itself an arduous undertaking, we were now actually at the Nile head. We had neither health nor supplies, and the great journey lay all before us.
Eight days were passed at Vacovia before we could obtain boats, which, when they did come, proved to be mere trees neatly hollowed out in the shape of canoes. At last we were under way, and day after day we journeyed along the shore of the lake, stopping occasionally at small villages, and being delayed now and then by deserting boatmen.
The discomforts of this lake voyage were great; in the day we were cramped in our small cabin like two tortoises in one shell, and at night it almost invariably rained. We were accustomed to the wet, but no acclimatization can render the European body mosquito-proof; thus we had little rest. It was hard work for me; but for my unfortunate wife, who had hardly recovered from her attack of coup de soleil, such hardships were most distressing.