CHAPTER XXI. TREACHERY.
I had no interpreter of my own; Umbogo was Kabba Rega's slave, and although I fancied that he was fond of us, I had no faith in any one of these detestable people. This want of confidence was keenly felt at a time when I required an interpreter in whom I could absolutely trust. I was obliged to confide my plan to Umbogo, as I wished him to find some man among the natives who would take a message to Rionga.
I knew that many people hated Kabba Rega. Umbogo had frequently assured me that Mashudi, which was only two days distant from Masindi, to the south-east, had always been Rionga's stronghold; and that the natives of that district would rise in favour of their chief, should any reverse befall Kabba Rega.
The news of the defeat of his army, and the complete destruction of his capital, would run through the country like wild-fire. It was well known that Rionga had spies, who were disguised as friends, even at the court of Kabba Rega; these agents sent him information of all that occurred.
If Umbogo could communicate with one of these people, I might send off to Rionga, and beg him to send 300 men to Fatiko, with a letter from myself to Major Abdullah. Rionga's people would transport the effects instead of Rabba Rega's carriers, who would be seized and held as hostages. This would save Abdullah from the intended treachery, if it were done at once; but there was not a moment to lose.
Already fifteen days had elapsed since my party with the post had started, and by this time they should be near Fatiko, (at that time they had already been treacherously attacked.) unless they had been delayed upon the road, as was usual in Unyoro.
If I could depend upon Rionga, he would at once save Abdullah's party, and he would send a large force to communicate with me at Masindi.
Had I provisions, I could have held my now fortified position against a whole world of niggers; but with only a hundred men, I should be unable to forage in this country of high grass, and at the same time defend the station.
All depended upon the possibility of my communication with Rionga.
Umbogo declared that if I would only march to Mashudi, the natives would rise in his favour and join me.
I told him that if this were true, he could surely find some person who would run to Mashudi, and raise the malcontents, who would at once carry my message to Rionga.
Umbogo promised to do his best: at the same time he expressed an opinion that Rionga would not wait long in inaction, but that he would invade Kabba Rega directly that he should hear of the war. From my experience of natives, I did not share his opinion.
As Kittakara had apologized for the attack to Colonel Abd-el-Kader, and a truce had been arranged, a great number of natives spread themselves over the ruins of the town, to search for the iron molotes, which are generally concealed in the earth, beneath the floor of the huts. The natives were all prodding the smoking ground with the iron-tipped butt-ends of their lances to discover the treasures.
Umbogo now went among them with his guard, and conversed upon the cause of the late attack.
In the evening, Umbogo declared that he was not quite certain of the truth; he evidently suspected the sincerity of Kabba Rega. It was quite impossible to procure any messenger at present that could be trusted with a message to Rionga.
The memorable 8th of June happened to be my birthday. It had been the day of death to my lamented follower, Monsoor; but we had well avenged him.
Umbogo reported that the natives had given him the names of nine matongales (chiefs) killed in the action, together with a large number of common people. A great many were still missing: these were probably lying in the high grass which had been raked by the hot fire of the sniders. Vultures were collected in immense numbers over many spots in this dense covert, which denoted the places where the "missing" had fallen.
I ordered the troops to abandon their undefended camp, and to sleep within the fort that night.
The morning of the 9th of June arrived - the night had passed in perfect quiet.
My troops set to work with their sharp sword-bayonets, swords, knives, to cut down all the high grass in the neighbourhood, so as to throw open the view, and prevent the enemy from attacking us by another surprise. They worked for many hours, and soon found a number of the missing, who were lying dead. Five bodies were discovered close together, as though they had been killed by a shell. This was in a spot where the "Forty Thieves" had been at work.
One unfortunate creature was found in the high grass with a smashed leg. He had been lying, thirsty and in pain, for about thirty hours in the same spot. My men gave him water and food, and his friends came and took him away. The wounded man seemed very grateful, and he told my soldiers that they were "better men than the Unyoros, who would certainly murder a wounded enemy instead of giving him food and water."
I had told Umbogo to make inquiries as to the safety of little Cherri-Merri. The boy was unharmed, as he had been taken away before the fight.
It was now proved that the cows had also been removed during the night previous to the attack, as I had suspected.
During the day, vast number of people were collected at a large village, situated on a knoll, about 700 yards from our station in a direct line. This place, we were informed, was now occupied by Kabba Rega. The knoll was about eighty feet lower than our high position; therefore, as we had roughly cut down the grass, we looked directly upon the village.