CHAPTER XXII. Prisoners on the island - Left to starve - Months of helplessness - We rejoin the Turks - The real Kamrasi - In the presence of royalty.

We were prisoners on the island of Patooan as we could not procure porters at any price to remove our effects. We had lost all our riding oxen within a few days. They had succumbed to the flies, and the only animal alive was already half dead; this was the little bull that had always carried the boy Saat. It was the 8th of April, and within a few days the boats upon which we depended for our return to civilization would assuredly quit Gondokoro. I offered the natives all the beads that I had (about 50 lbs.) and the whole of my baggage, if they would carry us to Shooa directly from this spot. We were in perfect despair, as we were both completely worn out with fever and fatigue, and certain death seemed to stare us in the face should we remain in this unhealthy spot. Worse than death was the idea of losing the boats and becoming prisoners for another year in this dreadful land, which must inevitably happen should we not hurry directly to Gondokoro without delay. The natives with their usual cunning at length offered to convey us to Shooa, provided that I paid them the beads in advance. The boats were prepared to ferry us across the river; but I fortunately discovered through the woman Bacheeta their treacherous intention of placing us on the uninhabited wilderness on the north side, and leaving us to die of hunger. They had conspired together to land us, but to return immediately with the boats after having thus got rid of the incubus of their guests.

We were in a great dilemma. Had we been in good health, I would have forsaken everything but the guns and ammunition, and have marched directly to Gondokoro on foot; but this was utterly impossible. Neither my wife nor I could walk a quarter of a mile without fainting. There was no guide, and the country was now overgrown with impenetrable grass and tangled vegetation eight feet high. We were in the midst of the rainy season - not a day passed without a few hours of deluge. Altogether it was a most heart-breaking position. Added to the distress of mind at being thus thwarted, there was also a great scarcity of provision. Many of my men were weak, the whole party having suffered much from fever; in fact, we were completely helpless.

Our guide, Rabonga, who had accompanied us from M'rooli, had absconded, and we were left to shift for ourselves. I was determined not to remain on the island, as I suspected that the boats might be taken away, and that we should be kept prisoners; I therefore ordered my men to take the canoes, and to ferry us to the main land, from whence we had come. The headman, upon hearing this order, offered to carry us to a village, and then to await orders from Kamrasi as to whether we were to be forwarded to Shooa or not. The district in which the island of Patooan was situated was called Shooa Moru, although having no connection with the Shooa in the Madi country to which we were bound.

We were ferried across to the main shore, and my wife and I, in our respective angareps, were carried by the natives for about three miles. Arriving at a deserted village, half of which was in ashes, having been burned and plundered by the enemy, we were deposited on the ground in front of an old hut in the pouring rain, and were informed that we should remain there that night, but that on the following morning we should proceed to our destination.

Not trusting the natives, I ordered my men to disarm them, and to retain their spears and shields as security for their appearance on the following day. This effected, we were carried into a filthy hut about six inches deep in mud, as the roof was much out of repair, and the heavy rain had flooded it daily for some weeks. I had a canal cut through the muddy floor, and in misery and low spirits we took possession.

On the following morning not a native was present! We had been entirely deserted; although I held the spears and shields, every man had absconded. There were neither inhabitants nor provisions. The whole country was a wilderness of rank grass that hemmed us in on all sides. Not an animal, nor even a bird, was to be seen; it was a miserable, damp, lifeless country. We were on elevated ground, and the valley of the Somerset was about two miles to our north, the river roaring sullenly in its obstructed passage, its course marked by the double belt of huge dark trees that grew upon its banks.

My men naturally felt outraged and proposed that we should return to Patooan, seize the canoes, and take provisions by force, as we had been disgracefully deceived. The natives had merely deposited us here to get us out of the way, and in this spot we might starve. Of course I would not countenance the proposal of seizing provisions, but I directed my men to search among the ruined villages for buried corn, in company with the woman Bacheeta, who, being a native of this country, would be up to the ways of the people, and might assist in the discovery.

After some hours passed in rambling over the black ashes of several villages that had been burned, they discovered a hollow place, by sounding the earth with a stick, and, upon digging, arrived at a granary of the seed known as "tullaboon;" this was a great prize, as, although mouldy and bitter, it would keep us from starving. The women of the party were soon hard at work grinding, as many of the necessary stones had been found among the ruins.

Fortunately there were three varieties of plants growing wild in great profusion, that, when boiled, were a good substitute for spinach; thus we were rich in vegetables, although without a morsel of fat or animal food. Our dinner consisted daily of a mess of black porridge of bitter mouldy flour that no English pig would condescend to notice, and a large dish of spinach. "Better a dinner of herbs where love is," etc. often occurred to me; but I am not sure that I was quite of that opinion after a fortnight's grazing upon spinach.

Tea and coffee were things of the past, the very idea of which made our months water; but I found a species of wild thyme growing in the jungles, and this when boiled formed a tolerable substitute for tea. Sometimes our men procured a little wild honey, which added to the thyme tea we considered a great luxury.

This wretched fare, in our exhausted state from fever and general effects of climate, so completely disabled us that for nearly two months my wife lay helpless on one angarep, and I upon the other. Neither of us could walk. The hut was like all in Kamrasi's country, with a perfect forest of thick poles to support the roof (I counted thirty-two); thus, although it was tolerably large, there was but little accommodation. These poles we now found very convenient, as we were so weak that we could not rise from bed without lifting ourselves up by one of the supports.

We were very nearly dead, and our amusement was a childish conversation about the good things in England, and my idea of perfect happiness was an English beefsteak and a bottle of pale ale; for such a luxury I would most willingly have sold my birthright at that hungry moment. We were perfect skeletons, and it was annoying to see how we suffered upon the bad fare, while our men apparently throve. There were plenty of wild red peppers, and the men seemed to enjoy a mixture of porridge and legumes a la sauce piquante. They were astonished at my falling away on this food, but they yielded to my argument when I suggested that a "lion would starve where a donkey grew fat." I must confess that this state of existence did not improve my temper, which, I fear, became nearly as bitter as the porridge. My people had a windfall of luck, as Saat's ox, that had lingered for a long time, lay down to die, and stretching himself out, commenced kicking his last kick. The men immediately assisted him by cutting his throat, and this supply of beef was a luxury which, even in my hungry state, was not the English beefsteak for which I sighed, and I declined the diseased bull.

The men made several long excursions through the country to purchase provisions, but in two months they procured only two kids; the entire country was deserted, owing to the war between Kamrasi and Fowooka. Every day the boy Saat and the woman Bacheeta sallied out and conversed with the inhabitants of the different islands on the river. Sometimes, but very rarely, they returned with a fowl; such an event caused great rejoicing.

We gave up all hope of Gondokoro, and were resigned to our fate. This, we felt sure, was to be buried in Chopi, the name of our village. I wrote instructions in my journal, in case of death, and told my headman to be sure to deliver my maps, observations, and papers to the English Consul at Khartoum. This was my only care, as I feared that all my labor might be lost should I die. I had no fear for my wife, as she was quite as bad as I, and if one should die the other would certainly follow; in fact, this had been agreed upon, lest she should fall into the hands of Kamrasi at my death. We had struggled to win, and I thanked God that we had won. If death were to be the price, at all events we were at the goal, and we both looked upon death rather as a pleasure, as affording REST. There would be no more suffering, no fever, no long journey before us, that in our weak state was an infliction. The only wish was to lay down the burden. Curious is the warfare between the animal instincts and the mind! Death would have been a release that I would have courted; but I should have liked that one "English beefsteak and pale ale" before I died!

During our misery of constant fever and starvation at Shooa Moru, insult had been added to injury. There was no doubt that we had been thus deserted by Kamrasi's orders, as every seven or eight days one of his chiefs arrived and told me that the king was with his army only four days' march from me, and that he was preparing to attack Fowooka, but that he wished me to join him, as with my fourteen guns, we should win a great victory. This treacherous conduct, after his promise to forward me without delay to Shooa, enraged me exceedingly. We had lost the boats at Gondokoro, and we were now nailed to the country for another year, should we live, which was not likely. Not only had the brutal king thus deceived us, but he was deliberately starving us into conditions, his aim being that my men should assist him against his enemy. At one time the old enemy tempted me sorely to join Fowooka against Kamrasi; but, discarding the idea, generated in a moment of passion, I determined to resist his proposals to the last. It was perfectly true that the king was within thirty miles of us, that he was aware of our misery, and made use of our extremity to force us to become his allies.

After more than two months passed in this distress it became evident that something must be done. I sent my headman, or vakeel, and one man, with a native as a guide (that Saat and Bacheeta had procured from an island), with instructions to go direct to Kamrasi, to abuse him thoroughly in my name for having thus treated us, and tell him that I was much insulted at his treating with me through a third party in proposing an alliance. My vakeel was to explain that I was a much more powerful chief than Kamrasi, and that if he required my alliance, he must treat with me in person, and immediately send fifty men to transport my wife, myself, and effects to his camp, where we might, in a personal interview, come to terms.

I told my vakeel to return to me with the fifty men, and to be sure to bring from Kamrasi some token by which I should know that he had actually seen him. The vakeel and Yaseen started.

After some days the absconded guide, Rabonga, appeared with a number of men, but without either my vakeel or Yaseen. He carried with him a small gourd bottle, carefully stopped; this he broke, and extracted from the inside two pieces of printed paper that Kamrasi had sent to me in reply.

On examining the papers, I found them to be portions of the English Church Service translated into (I think) the "Kisuabili" language, by Dr Krapf! There were many notes in pencil on the margin, written in English, as translations of words in the text. It quickly occurred to me that Speke must have given this book to Kamrasi on his arrival from Zanzibar, and that he now extracted the leaves and sent them to me as a token I had demanded to show that my message had been delivered to him.

Rabonga made a lame excuse for his previous desertion. He delivered a thin ox that Kamrasi had sent me, and he declared that his orders were that he should take my whole party immediately to Kamrasi, as he was anxious that we should attack Fowooka without loss of time. We were positively to start on the following morning! My bait had taken, and we should escape from this frightful spot, Shooa Moru.

After winding through dense jungles of bamboos and interminable groves of destroyed plantains, we perceived the tops of a number of grass hats appearing among the trees. My men now begged to be allowed to fire a salute, as it was reported that the ten men of Ibrahim's party who had been left as hostages were quartered at this village with Kamrasi. Hardly had the firing commenced when it was immediately replied to by the Turks from their camp, who, upon our approach, came out to meet us with great manifestations of delight and wonder at our having accomplished our long and difficult voyage.

My vakeel and Yaseen were the first to meet us, with an apology that severe fever had compelled them to remain in camp instead of returning to Shooa Moru according to my orders; but they had delivered my message to Kamrasi, who had, as I had supposed, sent two leaves out of a book Speke had given him, as a reply. An immense amount of news had to be exchanged between my men and those of Ibrahim. They had quite given us up for lost, until they heard that we were at Shooa Moru. A report had reached them that my wife was dead, and that I had died a few days later. A great amount of kissing and embracing took place, Arab fashion, between the two parties; and they all came to kiss my hand and that of my wife, with the exclamation, that "By Allah, no woman in the world had a heart so tough as to dare to face what she had gone through." "El hamd el Illah! El hamd el Illah bel salaam!" ("Thank God - be grateful to God") was exclaimed on all sides by the swarthy throng of brigands who pressed round us, really glad to welcome us back again; and I could not help thinking of the difference in their manner now and fourteen months before, when they had attempted to drive us back from Gondokoro.

Hardly were we seated in our hut when my vakeel announced that Kamrasi had arrived to pay me a visit. In a few minutes he was ushered into the hut. Far from being abashed, he entered with a loud laugh, totally different from his former dignified manner. "Well, here you are at last!" he exclaimed. Apparently highly amused with our wretched appearance, he continued, "So you have been to the M'wootan N'zige! Well, you don't look much the better for it; why, I should not have known you! ha, ha, ha!" I was not in a humor to enjoy his attempts at facetiousness; I therefore told him that he had behaved disgracefully and meanly, and that I should publish his character among the adjoining tribes as below that of the most petty chief that I had ever seen.

"Never mind," he replied, "it's all over now." You really are thin, both of you. It was your own fault; why did you not agree to fight Fowooka? You should have been supplied with fat cows and milk and butter, had you behaved well. I will have my men ready to attack Fowooka to-morrow. The Turks have ten men, you have thirteen; thirteen and ten make twenty-three. You shall be carried if you can't walk, and we will give Fowooka no chance. He must be killed - only kill him, and MY BROTHER will give you half of his kingdom."

He continued, "You shall have supplies to-morrow; I will go to my BROTHER, who is the great M'Kamma Kamrasi, and he will send you all you require. I am a little man; he is a big one. I have nothing; he has everything, and he longs to see you. You must go to him directly; he lives close by."

I hardly knew whether he was drunk or sober. "My bother the great M'Kamma Kamrasi!" I felt bewildered with astonishment. Then, "If you are not Kamrasi, pray who are you?" I asked. "Who am I?" he replied. "Ha, ha, ha! that's very good; who am I? - I am M'Gambi, the brother of Kamrasi; I am the younger brother, but HE IS THE KING."

The deceit of this country was incredible. I had positively never seen the real Kamrasi up to this moment, and this man M'Gambi now confessed to having impersonated the king, his brother, as Kamrasi was afraid that I might be in league with Debono's people to murder him, and therefore he had ordered his brother M'Gambi to act the king.

I told M'Gambi that I did not wish to see his brother, the king, as I should perhaps be again deceived and be introduced to some impostor like himself; and that as I did not choose to be made a fool of, I should decline the introduction. This distressed him exceedingly. He said that the king was really so great a man that he, his own brother, dared not sit on a stool in his presence, and that he had only kept in retirement as a matter of precaution, as Debono's people had allied themselves with his enemy Rionga in the preceding year, and he dreaded treachery. I laughed contemptuously at M'Gambi, telling him that if a woman like my wife dared to trust herself far from her own country among such savages as Kamrasi's people, their king must be weaker than a woman if he dared not show himself in his own territory. I concluded by saying that I should not go to see Kamrasi, but that he should come to visit me.

On the following morning, after my arrival at Kisoona, M'Gambi appeared, beseeching me to go and visit the king. I replied that "I was hungry and weak from want of food, and that I wanted to see meat, and not the man who had starved me." In the afternoon a beautiful cow appeared with her young calf, also a fat sheep and two pots of plantain cider, as a present from Kamrasi. That evening we revelled in milk, a luxury that we had not tasted for some months. The cow gave such a quantity that we looked forward to the establishment of a dairy, and already contemplated cheese-making. I sent the king a present of a pound of powder in canister, a box of caps, and a variety of trifles, explaining that I was quite out of stores and presents, as I had been kept so long in his country that I was reduced to beggary, as I had expected to return to my own country long before this.

In the evening M'Gambi appeared with a message from the king, saying that I was his greatest friend, and that he would not think of taking anything from me as he was sure that I must be hard up; that he desired nothing, but would be much obliged if I would give him the "little double rifle that I always carried, and my watch and compass!" He wanted "NOTHING," only my Fletcher rifle, that I would as soon have parted with as the bone of my arm; and these three articles were the same for which I had been so pertinaciously bored before my departure from M'rooli. It was of no use to be wroth, I therefore quietly replied that I should not give them, as Kamrasi had failed in his promise to forward me to Shooa; but that I required no presents from him, as he always expected a thousandfold in return. M'Gambi said that all would be right if I would only agree to pay the king a visit. I objected to this, as I told him the king, his brother, did not want to see me, but only to observe what I had, in order to beg for all that he saw. He appeared much hurt, and assured me that he would be himself responsible that nothing of the kind should happen, and that he merely begged as a favor that I would visit the king on the following morning, and that people should be ready to carry me if I were unable to walk. Accordingly I arranged to be carried to Kamrasi's camp at about 8 A.M.

At the hour appointed M'Gambi appeared, with a great crowd of natives. My clothes were in rags, and as personal appearance has a certain effect, even in Central Africa, I determined to present myself to the king in as favorable a light as possible. I happened to possess a full-dress Highland suit that I had worn when I lived in Perthshire many years before. This I had treasured as serviceable upon an occasion like the present: accordingly I was quickly attired in kilt, sporran, and Glengarry bonnet, and to the utter amazement of the crowd, the ragged-looking object that had arrived in Kisoona now issued from the obscure hut with plaid and kilt of Athole tartan. A general shout of exclamation arose from the assembled crowd, and taking my seat upon an angarep, I was immediately shouldered by a number of men, and, attended by ten of my people as escort, I was carried toward the camp of the great Kamrasi.

In about half an hour we arrived. The camp, composed of grass huts, extended over a large extent of ground, and the approach was perfectly black with the throng that crowded to meet me. Women, children, dogs, and men all thronged at the entrance of the street that led to Kamrasi's residence. Pushing our way through this inquisitive multitude, we continued through the camp until at length we reached the dwelling of the king. Halting for the moment, a message was immediately received that we should proceed; we accordingly entered through a narrow passage between high reed fences, and I found myself in the presence of the actual king of Unyoro, Kamrasi. He was sitting in a kind of porch in front of a hut, and upon seeing me he hardly condescended to look at me for more than a moment; he then turned to his attendants and made some remark that appeared to amuse them, as they all grinned as little men are wont to do when a great man makes a bad joke.

I had ordered one of my men to carry my stool; I was determined not to sit upon the earth, as the king would glory in my humiliation. M'Gambi, his brother, who had formerly played the part of king, now sat upon the ground a few feet from Kamrasi, who was seated upon the same stool of copper that M'Gambi had used when I first saw him at M'rooli. Several of his chiefs also sat upon the straw with which the porch was littered. I made a "salaam" and took my seat upon my stool.

Not a word passed between us for about five minutes, during which time the king eyed me most attentively, and made various remarks to the chiefs who were present. At length he asked me why I had not been to see him before. I replied, because I had been starved in his country, and I was too weak to walk. He said I should soon be strong, as he would now give me a good supply of food; but that he could not send provisions to Shooa Moru, as Fowooka held that country. Without replying to this wretched excuse for his neglect, I merely told him that I was happy to have seen him before my departure, as I was not aware until recently that I had been duped by M'Gambi. He answered me very coolly, saying that although I had not seen him, he had nevertheless seen me, as he was among the crowd of native escort on the day that we left M'rooli. Thus he had watched our start at the very place where his brother M'Gambi had impersonated the king.

Kamrasi was a remarkably fine man, tall and well proportioned, with a handsome face of a dark brown color, but a peculiarly sinister expression. He was beautifully clean, and instead of wearing the bark cloth common among the people, he was dressed in a fine mantle of black and white goatskins, as soft as chamois leather. His people sat on the ground at some distance from his throne; when they approached to address him on any subject they crawled upon their hands and knees to his feet, and touched the ground with their foreheads.

True to his natural instincts, the king commenced begging, and being much struck with the Highland costume, he demanded it as a proof of friendship, saying that if I refused I could not be his friend. The watch, compass, and double Fletcher rifle were asked for in their turn, all of which I refused to give him. He appeared much annoyed, therefore I presented him with a pound canister of powder, a box of caps, and a few bullets. He asked, "What's the use of the ammunition if you won't give me your rifle?" I explained that I had already given him a gun, and that he had a rifle of Speke's. Disgusted with his importunity I rose to depart, telling him that I should not return to visit him, as I did not believe he was the real Kamrasi I had heard that Kamrasi was a great king, but he was a mere beggar, and was doubtless an impostor, like M'Gambi. At this he seemed highly amused, and begged me not to leave so suddenly, as he could not permit me to depart empty-handed. He then gave certain orders to his people, and after a little delay two loads of flour arrived, together with a goat and two jars of sour plantain cider. These presents he ordered to be forwarded to Kisoona. I rose to take leave; but the crowd, eager to see what was going forward, pressed closely upon the entrance of the approach, seeing which, the king gave certain orders, and immediately four or five men with long heavy bludgeons rushed at the mob and belabored them right and left, putting the mass to flight pell-mell through the narrow lanes of the camp.

I was then carried back to my camp at Kisoona, where I was received by a great crowd of people.