CHAPTER XV. THE ADVANCE TO LOBORE.
I determined upon a new plan. I knew the direction of Lobore, as I had been there during my former expedition; the distance could not exceed sixty miles.
If the soldiers could draw the carts, I might yet manage to advance, as I should be able to procure carriers on arrival at Lobore; provided always that the natives were as friendly as when I left them some years ago.
It would be impossible to convey the steamer, as I could not expect to provide 2,000 carriers; but I might be able to penetrate south, suppress the slave-hunters, establish the government, and open up a legitimate trade.
The first step necessary was to convey the large herd of cattle across the river, which was about 400 yards in width, with a very rapid stream. I fully expected that we should be attacked by the natives in great force during this operation, which necessitated a division of my force upon both banks of the Nile.
The sheep were taken across in vessels, but the cows were obliged to swim. This passage was very tedious, as the animals were necessarily taken in small batches, guided by men who swam by their side in the manner already described at Gondokoro.
Although the natives were avowedly hostile, they dared not face us in the open. They made another attempt by night to surprise the cattle kraal, but Colonel Abd-el-Kader immediately set fire to a few villages as a response and warning.
We were occupied four days in passing the cattle across the river. During the passage, we lost one taken by a crocodile, and three cows were wantonly seized and drowned by hippopotami. A herd of these creatures happened to be in the way as the cows were floating in large numbers down the stream, and several were seen to attack the cattle and seize them in their jaws. As the hippopotamus is not carnivorous, this was an unexpected attack.
My Englishmen had been busily engaged in erecting the carts, greasing the wheels, and attaching the ropes necessary for hauling. They were all loaded, and were arranged to be drawn by fifteen men each.
On the evening of the 5th February, while we were at dinner, I was astonished by the unexpected mustering of my whole force, excepting the "Forty Thieves." The men were without arms or officers, but they marched to the margin of the river and formed a line two deep alongside the diahbeeah, which lay close against the bank.
I knew at once what all this meant, but I pretended to take no notice, and I continued eating my dinner.
I was quickly interrupted by loud cries from the men. "We can't draw the carts! that's not the work for soldiers; we'll fight, or do anything else you may desire, but we are not camels to drag the waggons."
The "Forty Thieves" immediately seized their arms, and marching quickly to the spot, they formed in line upon the bank, between the diahbeeah and the men who thus mutinously had appeared without their officers.
I at once ordered the bugle call for all officers, and at the same time I sent for the Englishmen to come to the diahbeeah.
When all had arrived, and the shouts still continued, I rose from the table and addressed the troops in Arabic, from the poop-deck of the diahbeeah.
I recalled to their recollection how I had always led them successfully through every difficulty, and I assured them that the distance to Lobore was trifling, and that we should find good and willing natives to convey the baggage, if we could only once reach the desired tribe.
Cries of "there are no good negroes-they are all bad," interrupted my discourse. I nevertheless continued; but having a thorough knowledge of the African character, and knowing that if a negro gets an idea into his head, that idea can only be eradicated by cutting the head off, I was not fool enough to persist in swimming against a torrent. The "Forty Thieves" now joined the tumult by declaring that "THEY would draw the carts, or do anything that I should command."
I took immediate advantage of the occasion, and exclaimed, "You SHALL do all that I command. I have changed my plans, and I order you to take the carts to pieces at sunrise to-morrow morning. All those who are afraid to follow me shall return with the vessels and carts to Gondokoro. I never turn back; and my lady and I will go on alone with Mr. Baker. I only require orderly soldiers, who know their duty; if you have forgotten your duty, you shall return at once to Gondokoro."
This declaration was followed by loud shouts - "We won't let you go alone; the natives are treacherous; we will follow wherever you lead. Are we not soldiers of the Sultan? are you not the Sultan's Pacha?"
I had them in hand; therefore I at once terminated the scene by commanding silence. I then gave an order aloud to the officers: "Return carts and all baggage on board vessels at sunrise to-morrow. All troops to be ready for the advance."
"Bugler! sound the retreat."
That peculiar habit of discipline yielded instinctively to the sound of the bugle. The officer gave the order, "Right, turn," and the late tumultuous crowd marched quietly to their quarters. This was ended; at the same time it was not cheering.
My Englishmen, who had been witnesses of this scene, were filled with indignation. They were men who thoroughly represented English determination, and they at once volunteered to carry their own baggage if I would only permit them to accompany me.
How often my heart has beaten with pride when I have seen the unconquerable spirit of the country burst forth like an unextinguishable flame in any great emergency!
I now had to quell the eagerness of my own good fellows, as I knew that if "the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak," and it would be impossible for Englishmen to carry loads through a journey in a tropical country.
I saw the necessity of the occasion at a glance; and I gave the necessary orders.