CHAPTER XXIII. BUILD A STOCKADE AT FOWEERA.
MY losses from the 8th June to the 24th had been ten killed and eleven wounded. Every officer and soldier had thoroughly done his duty, having displayed admirable coolness and courage upon many trying occasions. None but black troops could have endured the march of about eighty miles with heavy weights upon their heads, in addition to their usual accoutrements.
I at once set to work to build a new station, and with the old wood that had formed the fence of Suleiman's zareeba, I commenced a defensive arrangement.
There was very little heavy timber that was adapted for a stockade. I therefore formed a protection by sinking deep in the ground, at intervals of three feet, two strong posts about seven feet above the surface. These upright timbers, standing opposite to each other at a distance of about ten inches, were filled with long poles laid one over the other horizontally. At two corners of the square fort were flanking works of the same construction, which would sweep each face of the defence.
In a few days my men had completed a strong and neat stockade around a number of small temporary huts which formed our new station.
Having thus housed my troops, it was necessary to prepare for the future. I fully expected that Major Abdullah had fallen into the snare prepared for him by Kabba Rega: thus I should have no other force to rely upon, except the few men that now formed my small but tough little party. If so terrible a calamity should have occurred as the destruction of Abdullah's detachment, I should not only have lost my men, but I should become short of ammunition; as my stores and arms would have fallen into the hands of the enemy. This doubt caused me much grave anxiety.
It was strange that we had not received some communication from Rionga, whose island was only fifteen or sixteen miles above stream from Foweera. Our side of the river appeared to be quite uninhabited, and simply consisted of the interminable groves of bananas, that had belonged to the inhabitants at a time when the district had been thickly populated.
The Victoria Nile, opposite the Foweera station, was about 500 yards wide. At this season the river was full. The huts that we had erected on the north side, upon our arrival from Fatiko, had been destroyed by the natives. This did not look as though much friendship existed.
Upon hearing our drums and bugles on the day of our arrival at Foweera, a few natives had come to the high rock opposite, and had commenced, bawling conversation, and that was only slightly understood by one of our women and Molodi the Madi.
Molodi knew Rionga, as he had visited him at a former time, together with a party of Abou Saood's people. His very slight knowledge of the language was sufficient to explain to the natives across the river that I wished to communicate with Rionga.
The people on the north happened to belong to Kabba Rega, and they were enemies of Rionga; thus we were addressing the wrong parties.
It was highly necessary to make some arrangements for crossing the river. There are no canoes on this side, and it would be dangerous to trust to rafts, as there were waterfalls about three or four hundred yards below upon our left. I determined to construct boats.
We felled three large dolape palms (Borassus ethriopicus), which were the only trees of that species in this neighbourhood. These palms are well adapted for canoes, as the bark, or rather the outside wood, is intensely hard for about an inch and a half, beneath which the tree is simply a pithy, stringy substance, that can be rapidly scooped out.
Two of the logs, when shaped, were each twenty-six feet in length; the third was smaller.
Throughout the march from Masindi we had managed to carry an adze, a hammer, and a cold chisel. The adze now came into play, together with the Bandy little axes of the "Forty Thieves".
Among my troops was a Baggara Arab, who was a "canoe-builder". This was one of the best men of "The Forty", and it was now for the first time that I heard of his abilities as a boat-builder. This man, Said Bagara, has since accompanied Colonel Long with great fidelity to the court of King M'Tese.
The men took an immense interest in the work; but as too many volunteers might interfere with the principal shipwright, I sent them all into the forest to collect plantains. I gave orders that every man should prepare 14 lbs of plantain flour for the journey, in case it should be necessary to march to Fatiko.
The canoes progressed, and a slice of about a foot wide having been taken off horizontally from stem to stern, the soft inside was scooped out with an adze, and with lance-heads bent to form a half circle.
In a few days the logs were neatly hollowed, and were then carried down and launched upon the river. The long, narrow canoes would have been very dangerous without outriggers, therefore I determined to adopt the plan that I had seen in Ceylon; and as Lieutenant Baker well represented the omniscience of naval men in everything that concerns boats, nautical stratagems, incomprehensible forms of knots, rigging, I left all the details of the canoes to his charge. In a short time we possessed three admirable vessels that it was quite impossible to upset. I now required a few rafts for the transport of baggage, as it would be awkward to cross the river by small sections should an enemy oppose our landing on the precipitous bank on the opposite shore. I therefore arranged that we should cross in two journeys. The party now consisted of 97 soldiers including officers, 5 natives, 3 sailors, 51 women, boys, and servants, and 3 Europeans; total, 158 persons.