CHAPTER XX. ESTABLISH COMMERCE.
For some time past the natives had commenced a brisk trade with ivory in exchange for all kinds of trifles, which left a minimum profit for the government of 1500 per cent. A few beads, together with three or four gaudy-coloured cotton handkerchiefs, a zinc mirror, and a fourpenny butcher's knife, would purchase a tusk worth twenty or thirty pounds. I calculated all the expenses of transport from England, together with interest on capital. In some cases we purchased ivory at 2,000 per cent. profit, and both sellers and buyers felt perfectly contented.
I am not sure whether this is considered a decent return for an investment of capital among the descendants of Israel; but I am convinced that at the conclusion of a purchase in Unyoro each party to the bargain thought that he had the best of it. This was the perfection of business.
Here was free trade thoroughly established: the future was tinged with a golden hue. Ivory would be almost inexhaustible, as it would flow from both east and west to the market where such luxuries as twopenny mirrors, fourpenny knives, handkerchiefs, ear-rings at a penny a pair, finger signet-rings at a shilling a dozen, could be obtained for such comparatively useless lumber as elephants' tusks.
Manchester goods would quickly supersede the bark-cloths, which were worn out in a month, and, in a few years, every native of Unyoro would be able to appear in durable European clothes. Every man would be able to provide himself with a comfortable blanket for the chilly nights, and an important trade would be opened that would tend to the development of the country, and be the first step towards a future civilization. Unfortunately for this golden vision, the young king, Kabba Rega, considered that he had a right to benefit himself exclusively, by monopolizing the trade with the government. He therefore gave orders to his people that all ivory should be brought to him; and he strictly prohibited, on pain of death, the free trade that I had endeavoured to establish.
The tusks ceased to arrive; or, if any individual was sufficiently audacious to run the risk of detection, he sent word beforehand, by Monsoor (who was known to be confidential), that he would bring a tusk for sale during the darkness of night.
This was a troublesome affair. Annexation is always a difficult question of absolute right, but, as I trust my readers will acknowledge, I had done all that lay in my power for the real benefit of the country. I had to make allowance for the young king, who now had become a vassal, and I determined to observe the extreme of moderation.
It was generally acknowledged that the conduct of the troops was most exemplary. No thefts had been allowed, nor even those trifling annexations of property which are distinguished from stealing by the innocent name of "cribbing." Not a garden had been disturbed; the tempting tobacco plantations had been rigidly respected, and the natives could only regard my troops as the perfection of police. They were almost as good as London police - there were no areas to the houses, neither insinuating cooks or housemaids, nor even nursemaids with babies in perambulators, to distract their attention from their municipal duties.
Among my troops there was an excellent young man, named Ramadan, who was the clerk of the detachment. This intelligent young fellow was a general favourite among our own men, and also among the natives. He had a great aptitude for languages, and he quickly mastered sufficient of the Unyoro to make himself understood.
I arranged that Ramadan should become the schoolmaster, as it would be useless to establish commerce as a civilizing medium without in some way commencing a system of education.
Ramadan was proud at the idea of being selected for this appointment.
There was a son of Kittakara's, of about nine years old, named Cherri-Merri. This nice little boy had paid us many visits, and had become a great favourite of my wife's. He usually arrived after breakfast, and was generally to be found sitting on a mat at her feet, playing with some European toys that were his great delight, and gaining instruction by conversation through the interpreter.
Although Cherri-Merri was a good boy, he possessed the purely commercial instinct of Unyoro. He seldom arrived without a slave attendant, who carried on his head a package of something that was to be SOLD.
He was told that it was bad taste to bring articles for sale to people who had shown him kindness, at the same time no presents would be received. The little trader quickly relieved himself of this difficulty by marching off with his slave and package to the soldiers' camp, where he exchanged his flour or tobacco for metal buttons, which they cut off their uniforms; or for beads, or other trifles which they possessed.
Cherri-Merri was a general favourite, and he was to form the nucleus for the commencement of a school.
The station was now in perfect order. Altogether, including the soldiers' gardens, about three acres had been cleared and planted. Everything was well above ground, and was growing with that rapidity which can only be understood by those who have witnessed the vegetation of the tropics on the richest soil.
English cucumbers, varieties of melons, pumpkins, tomatoes, Egyptian radishes, onions, Egyptian cotton, were all flourishing. Also a small quantity of wheat.
Every cottage was surrounded by a garden; the boys had formed partnerships, and, having been provided with seeds, they had beds of pumpkins already nearly a foot above the ground.
The girls and women-servants were as usual extremely industrious; they also had formed little companies, and the merits of the rival gardens were often warmly discussed.