CHAPTER IX. FORM A RAFT WITH THE SPONGING BATH.
I had a good supply of tackle, and I chose a beautifully straight and tapering bamboo that had been brought down by the river floods. I cut off the large brass ring from a game-bag, which I lashed to the end of my rod; and having well secured my largest winch, that carried upwards of 200 yards of the strongest line, I arranged to fish with a live bait upon a set of treble hooks. In one of the rocks at the water's edge was a circular hole about three feet in diameter and five or six feet deep; this appeared like an artificial well, but it was simply the effect of natural boring by the joint exertions of the strong current conmbined with hard sand and gravel. This had perhaps years ago settled in some slight hollow in the rock, and had gradually worked out a deep well by perpetual revolutions. I emptied this natural bait box of its contents of sand and rounded pebbles, and having thoroughly cleaned and supplied it with fresh water, I caught a large number of excellent baits by emptying a hole in the Till; these I consigned to my aquarium. The baits were of various kinds: some were small "boulti" (a species of perch), but the greater number were young fish of the Silurus species; these were excellent, as they were exceedingly tough in the skin, and so hardy in constitution, that they rather enjoyed the fun of fishing. I chose a little fellow about four inches in length to begin with, and I delicately inserted the hook under the back fin. Gently dropping my alluring and lively little friend in a deep channel between the rocks and the mouth of the Till, I watched my large float with great interest, as, carried by the stream, it swept past the corner of a large rock into the open river; that corner was the very place where, if I had been a big fish, I should have concealed myself for a sudden rush upon an unwary youngster. The large green float sailed leisurely along, simply indicating, by its uneasy movement, that the bait was playing; and now it passed the point of the rock and hurried round the corner in the sharper current towards the open river. Off it went! - Down dipped the tip of the rod, with a rush so sudden that the line caught somewhere, I don't know where, and broke!
"Well, that was a monster!" I exclaimed, as I recovered my inglorious line; fortunately the float was not lost, as the hooks had been carried away at the fastening to the main line; a few yards of this I cut off, as it had partially lost its strength from frequent immersion.
I replaced the lost hooks by a still larger set, with the stoutest gimp and swivels, and once more I tried my fortune with a bait exactly resembling the first. In a short time I had a brisk run, and quickly landed a fish of about twelve pounds: this was a species known by the Arabs as the "bayard;" it has a blackish green back, the brightest silver sides and belly, with very peculiar back fins, that nearest to the tail being a simple piece of flesh free from rays. This fish has four long barbules in the upper jaw, and two in the lower: the air-bladder, when dried, forms a superior quality of isinglass, and the flesh of this fish is excellent. I have frequently seen the bayard sixty or seventy pounds' weight, therefore I was not proud of my catch, and I recommenced fishing. Nothing large could be tempted, and I only succeeded in landing two others of the same kind, one of about nine pounds, the smaller about six. I resolved upon my next trial to use a much larger bait, and I returned to camp with my fish for dinner.
The life at our new camp was charmingly independent; we were upon Abyssinian territory; but, as the country was uninhabited, we considered it as our own. I had previously arranged with the sheik of Sofi that, whenever the rifle should be successful and I could spare meat, I would hoist the English flag upon my flagstaff; thus I could at any time summon a crowd of hungry visitors, who were ever ready to swim the river and defy the crocodiles in the hope of obtaining flesh. We were exceedingly comfortable, having a large stock of supplies; in addition to our servants we had acquired a treasure in a nice old slave woman, whom we had hired from the sheik at a dollar per month to grind the corn. Masara (Sarah) was a dear old creature, the most willing and obliging specimen of a good slave; and she was one of those bright exceptions of the negro race that would have driven Exeter Hall frantic with enthusiasm. Poor old Masara! she had now fallen into the hands of a kind mistress, and as we were improving in Arabic, my wife used to converse with her upon the past and present; future had never been suggested to her simple mind. Masara had a weighty care; her daily bread was provided; money she had none, neither did she require it; husband she could not have had, as a slave has none, but is the common property of all who purchase her: but poor Masara had a daughter, a charming pretty girl of about seventeen, the offspring of one of the old woman's Arab masters. Sometimes this girl came to see her mother, and we arranged the bath on the inflated skins, and had her towed across for a few days. This was Masara's greatest happiness, but her constant apprehension; the nightmare of her life was the possibility that her daughter should be sold and parted from her. The girl was her only and all absorbing thought, the sole object of her affection: she was the moon in her mother's long night of slavery; without her, all was dark and hopeless. The hearts of slaves are crushed and hardened by the constant pressure of the yoke; nevertheless some have still those holy feelings of affection that nature has implanted in the human mind: it is the tearing asunder of those tender chains that renders slavery the horrible curse that it really is; human beings are reduced to the position of animals, without the blessings enjoyed by the brute creation - short memories and obtuse feelings.