CHAPTER XXII. THE MARCH TO RIONGA.
On the morning of the 14th of June, 1872, at 9.30, the advance-guard filed along the gravel path, and halted at the extremity of the station at Masindi. The line was complete, according to the orders for the march. Not a word was spoken. A light, drizzling rain fell, and the sky was a dull grey.
I looked back, and waited for the destruction of my favourite station. In our little house we had left pictures of my own children, and everything that was not absolutely necessary to our existence. Even the Queen and the Princess of Wales were to perish in the conflagration, together with much that was parted with in this moment of exigency.
The smoke now curled in thick, white folds from the government divan and our own private house.
Lieutenant Baker's new house was ignited. O ne by one every hut was fired. The rear-guard, having done their duty, closed up in the line of march.
I did not give the word "Forward!" until the flames had shot up high in the air, and the station was in the possession of the fire. At this moment a loud report announced that all the rockets had exploded. The advance-guard moved forward, and the march commenced.
We soon entered the high grass, which was reeking with the light rain, and we were wet through in an instant.
My wife was walking close behind me with a quantity of spare ammunition for the "Dutchman" in her breast. She had a Colt's revolver in her belt. Lieutenant Baker was heavily loaded, as he carried a Purdy rifle slung across his back, together with a large bag of ammunition, while he held a double breechloader smooth-bore in his hand, with a bag of heavy buckshot cartridges upon his shoulder.
Suleiman and Mohammed Haroon (our servants) were close by with my two breechloading No. 8 elephant rifles. These carried picrate of potash shells that were immensely powerful. Very little would have been left of the body of a man had one of such shells struck him in the chest.
The cattle began to cause much trouble as soon as the march commenced, and we slowly descended the knoll upon which the station stood, and in single file entered the extremely narrow path which led down to a small swamp.
Crossing the swamp, through deep mud, we arrived on firm ground, and continued to march slowly, on account of the cattle. I felt sure they would have to be abandoned. The cows strayed to the right and left, and Morgian the Bari, and Abdullah Djoor the cook, who were the drovers, were rushing about the grass in pursuit of refractory animals, that would shortly end in being speared by the enemy.
We thus marched for about a mile before a hostile sound was heard. We then distinguished the tumultuous voices of the natives in the rear, who had been attracted to the station by the general conflagration.
The slow march continued, through grass about eight feet high, and occasional forest. The rain now descended steadily, and I feared that the old muzzle-loading muskets would miss fire.
The sound of drums and horns was now heard throughout the country, as the alarm spread rapidly from village to village. We could hear the shouts of natives, and drums that were now sounding in the forest upon a hill on our right. These people were evidently in possession of a path unknown to us, which ran parallel to our route.
For seven hours the march continued with such frequent halts, owing to the straying of the cattle, that we had only progressed the short distance of ten miles, when, at 4.40 P.M., we entered the valley of Jon Joke. We saw before us the hill covered with plantain groves where we had slept when upon the march to Masindi.
The grass was very high, and the path hardly a foot wide, only resembling a sheep run. Suddenly the advance-guard opened a hot fire, and the bugle sounded "halt!"
A few paces in front of me, my favourite sailor and fisherman, Howarti, was in the line, carrying a metal box upon his head. In addition to his musket, which was slung across his shoulders, I had given him one of my double breechloading pistols, which he carried in his belt.
The word was suddenly passed that "Howarti was speared!"
Lances now flew across the path, and the line opened fire into the grass upon our right, according to orders.
I immediately went up to Howarti. I found him sitting upon the ground by the side of his box, in the act of reloading his pistol with a Boxer cartridge. A lance had struck him in the fleshy part of the right arm, just below the point of junction with the shoulder, and, passing through his body, it had protruded from his stomach. Upon feeling the wound, Howarti had dropped his load, and drawing his pistol, he shot the native dead, as he leapt from his ambush to recover the lance which was sticking in the poor fellow's body.
Here was another of my best men sacrificed. Howarti had always been a true, good man, and he had just exhibited his cool courage. He had himself pulled the spear from his body.
My wife had followed me immediately upon hearing that Howarti was injured. He had reloaded his pistol, but in reply to my question whether he could sit upon a donkey, he fainted. I roughly bandaged him for the present moment, and we laid him upon an angareb (stretcher-bedstead), but the men were so heavily laden that it was difficult to find supporters. Lieutenant Baker kindly took one end upon his shoulder, and with the assistance of the guard, we carried him forward. The bugle sounded the "advance."
Again the lances flew across the path, but a few shots with the sniders cleared the way, and leaving the narrow route, we broke our way through the tangled grass, and ascended the slope to the plantain forest. Here, thank goodness, there was no grass. The bugle sounded "halt" in the middle of the plantains.