CHAPTER XXIII. The hour of deliverance - Triumphal entry into Gondokoro - Home-bound - The plague breaks out - Our welcome at Khartoum to civilization.
The hour of deliverance from our long sojourn in Central Africa was at hand. It was the month of February, and the boats would be at Gondokoro. The Turks had packed their ivory; the large tusks were fastened to poles to be carried by two men, and the camp was a perfect mass of this valuable material. I counted 609 loads of upward of 50 lbs. each; thirty-one loads were lying at an out-station; therefore the total results of the ivory campaign during the last twelve months were about 32,000 lbs., equal to about 9,630 pounds sterling when delivered in Egypt. This was a perfect fortune for Koorshid.
We were ready to start. My baggage was so unimportant that I was prepared to forsake everything, and to march straight for Gondokoro independently with my own men; but this the Turks assured me was impracticable, as the country was so hostile in advance that we must of necessity have some fighting on the road; the Bari tribe would dispute our right to pass through their territory.
The day arrived for our departure; the oxen were saddled, and we were ready to start. Crowds of people cane to say "good-by;" but, dispensing with the hand-kissing of the Turks who were to remain in camp, we prepared for our journey toward HOME. Far away though it was, every step would bring us nearer. Nevertheless there were ties even in this wild spot, where all was savage and unfeeling - ties that were painful to sever, and that caused a sincere regret to both of us when we saw our little flock of unfortunate slave children crying at the idea of separation. In this moral desert, where all humanized feelings were withered and parched like the sands of the Soudan, the guilelessness of the children had been welcomed like springs of water, as the only refreshing feature in a land of sin and darkness.
"Where are you going?" cried poor little Abbai in the broken Arabic that we had taught him. "Take me with you, Sitty!" (lady), and he followed us down the path, as we regretfully left our proteges, with his fists tucked into his eyes, weeping from his heart, although for his own mother he had not shed a tear. We could not take him with us; he belonged to Ibrahim, and had I purchased the child to rescue him from his hard lot and to rear him as a civilized being, I might have been charged with slave-dealing. With heavy hearts we saw hint taken up in the arms of a woman and carried back to camp, to prevent him from following our party, that had now started.
I will not detain the reader with the details of our journey home. After much toil and some fighting with hostile natives, we bivouacked one sunset three miles from Gondokoro. That night we were full of speculations. Would a boat be waiting for us with supplies and letters? The morning anxiously looked forward to at length arrived. We started. The English flag had been mounted on a fine straight bamboo with a new lance-head specially arranged for the arrival at Gondokoro. My men felt proud, as they would march in as conquerors. According to White Nile ideas, such a journey could not have been accomplished with so small a party. Long before Ibrahim's men were ready to start, our oxen were saddled and we were off, longing to hasten into Gondokoro and to find a comfortable vessel with a few luxuries and the post from England. Never had the oxen travelled so fast as on that morning; the flag led the way, and the men, in excellent spirits, followed at double-quick pace.
"I see the masts of the vessels!" exclaimed the boy Saat. "El hambd el Illah!" (Thank God! ) shouted the men. "Hurrah!" said I; "Three cheers for Old England and the Sources of the Nile! Hurrah!" and my men joined me in the wild, and to their ears savage, English yell. "Now for a salute! Fire away all your powder, if you like, my lads, and let the people know that we're alive!"
This was all that was required to complete the happiness of my people, and, loading and firing as fast as possible, we approached near to Gondokoro. Presently we saw the Turkish flag emerge from Gondokoro at about a quarter of a mile distant, followed by a number of the traders' people, who waited to receive us. On our arrival they immediately approached and fired salutes with ball cartridge, as usual advancing close to us and discharging their guns into the ground at our feet. One of my servants, Mahomet, was riding an ox, and an old friend of his in the crowd happening to recognize him immediately advanced and saluted him by firing his gun into the earth directly beneath the belly of the ox he was riding.
The effect produced made the crowd and ourselves explode with laughter. The nervous ox, terrified at the sudden discharge between his legs, gave a tremendous kick, and continued madly kicking and plunging, until Mahomet was pitched over his head and lay sprawling on the ground. This scene terminated the expedition.
Dismounting from our tired oxen, our first inquiry was concerning boats and letters. What was the reply? Neither boats, letters, supplies, nor any intelligence of friends or the civilized world! We had long since been given up as dead by the inhabitants of Khartoum, and by all those who understood the difficulties and dangers of the country. We were told that some people had suggested that we might possibly have gone to Zanzibar, but the general opinion was that we had all been killed.
At this cold and barren reply I felt almost choked. We had looked forward to arriving at Gondokoro as to a home; we had expected that a boat would have been sent on the chance of finding us, as I had left money in the hands of an agent in Khartoum ; but there was literally nothing to receive us, and we were helpless to return. We had worked for years in misery, such as I have but faintly described, to overcome the difficulties of this hitherto unconquerable exploration. We had succeeded - and what was the result? Not even a letter from home to welcome us if alive!