CHAPTER XXI. TREACHERY.
I was almost convinced that we were again subjected to the foulest treachery, and I was extremely anxious about Ramadan and Hafiz. I could hardly believe it possible that these poor men, unarmed, and carrying a valuable present, would be cruelly murdered.
The day passed in hope and expectation of their return. Late in the evening, the act of incendiarism of the preceding night was renewed, and the deserted house of Colonel Abd-el-Kader was in a bright blaze without a native being visible.
No yells were heard, nor any other sound. The troops turned out with their usual quiet discipline, but not a shot was fired.
The 13th June arrived. - Still there were no tidings of either Umbogo, Ramadan, or Hafiz. I now felt convinced that the young villain, Kabba Rega, had played me false, and that he was only gaining time to collect and organize the whole force of Unyoro to attack us, and to line the path to the river with ambuscades.
It is impossible to this day to say whether Umbogo was true or false. I never saw him again; and the unfortunate Ramadan and Hafiz were wantonly murdered.
At about 10 A.M., 13th June, we were let into the secret of Kabba Rega's villainy. A sudden rush of natives was made upon the cattle, which were grazing within sixty yards of the fort! Poisoned arrows were shot, and a general attack was made upon the station. Guns fired; the bullets whistled over our heads, and I thought I recognized the crack of our lost sniders (those of Monsoor and Ferritch), that were employed against us.
The curtain had now risen. When the actual fighting arrived, there was some little relaxation from the intense anxiety of mind that I had suffered for some days.
I at once ordered the men into line, and the bugles and drums sounded the charge with the bayonet.
The gallant "Forty Thieves" led the way, with drums beating and a hearty cheer, and dashed through the ruins of the town and straight into the high grass on the other side, from which the cowardly enemy fled like hares.
On our return to the station, I at once ordered Colonel Abd-el-Kader to take eighty men and some blue lights, and to destroy every village in the neighbourhood. The attack was made on the instant. The large village, about 700 yards distant, which I had raked with the fire of a few sniders, while Abd-el-Kader descended the slope to the attack, was soon a mass of rolling flames. In an hour's time volumes of smoke were rising in various directions.
My active and gallant colonel returned, having driven the enemy from every position, and utterly destroyed the neighbourhood.
I had made up my mind. There could be no longer any doubt of the diabolical treachery of Kabba Rega. He had only endeavoured to gain time by specious assurances of good-will, combined with presents, in order to organize the whole country against us. The natives who shot arrows must have come from Magungo, as none of the other districts were armed with bows. The arrows that had been shot at us, which my men had collected, were thickly poisoned with a hard gummy matter.
It was now rendered certain that a snare had been laid for the massacre of Major Abdullah's party.
Kabba Rega had no doubt ordered the various routes towards Rionga's province to be ambuscaded.
I determined at once to push straight for the camp at Foweera on the Victoria Nile, as Rionga's island was about fifteen miles from that point.
Among the men of the "Forty Thieves", there was a soldier named Abdullah, who had an extraordinary instinct for finding his way. This man never forgot a path if he had ever travelled upon the same route.
I also depended upon my Baris and Molodi; although they had not long experience of the path by which we had arrived from Foweera with the cattle, they were clever as guides.
Unfortunately, the country had changed terribly by the immense growth of the grass and tangled creepers.
I felt sure that the route would be occupied by the enemy throughout the whole distance, and that we should have to fight every mile of the path at a grave disadvantage.
The question of a supply of food was vital. The men had mostly exhausted their provisions.
At this critical moment, when every man of the expedition felt the fatal truth, my wife confided her secret, that she had hitherto concealed, lest the knowledge of a hidden store should have made the men extravagant. She now informed them that in past days of plenty, when flour had been abundant, she had, from time to time, secreted a quantity, and she had now SIX LARGE IRON BOXES FULL (about twelve bushels). This private store she had laid by in the event of some sudden emergency.
"God shall give her a long life!" exclaimed both officers and men. We had now enough flour for the march of seven days to Foweera, at which place there were regular forests of plantains.
My herd of cattle had been reduced to seventy, and I much doubted the possibility of driving them in a high grass country, as they would scatter and make a stampede should we be attacked; they would be scared by the guns.
I mustered my force and spoke to my men, to whom I explained their exact position, and my plan of action.
I should immediately divide among them, as presents, all the cotton stuffs that belonged to the expedition.
Each man would carry three pounds of beads in his knapsack, one-third of which should subsequently belong to him.