CHAPTER IX. FORM A RAFT WITH THE SPONGING BATH.
ON the 15th September the entire male population of Sofi turned out to assist us in crossing the river, as I had promised them a certain sum should the move be effected without the loss or destruction of baggage. I had arranged a very superior raft to that I had formerly used, as I now had eight inflated skins attached to the bedstead, upon which I lashed our large circular sponging bath, which, being three feet eight inches in diameter, and of the best description, would be perfectly safe for my wife, and dry and commodious for the luggage. In a very short time the whole of our effects were carried to the water's edge, and the passage of the river commenced. The rifles were the first to cross with Bacheet, while the water-tight iron box that contained the gunpowder was towed like a pinnace behind the raft. Four hippopotami hunters were harnessed as tug steamers, while a change of swimmers waited to relieve them every alternate voyage. The raft answered admirably, and would easily support about three hundred pounds. The power of flotation of the sponging bath alone I had proved would support a hundred and ninety pounds, thus the only danger in crossing was the chance of a crocodile making a dash either at the inflated skins in mistake for the body of a man, or at the swimmers themselves. All the usual necessaries were safely transported, with the tents and personal baggage, before I crossed myself, with a number of Arabs. We quickly cleared the grass from the hard pebbly soil of a beautiful plateau on the summit of a craggy sandstone cliff, about eighty feet above the river; here we pitched the tents, close to some mimosas of dense foliage, and all being in order, I went down to the river to receive the next arrival. My wife now came across the ferry, and so perfectly had this means of transport succeeded, that by the evening, the whole of our stores and baggage had been delivered without the slightest damage, with the exception of a very heavy load of corn, that had caused the sponging bath to ship a sea during a strong squall of wind. The only person who had shown the least nervousness in trusting his precious body to my ferry-boat was Mahomet the dragoman, who, having been simply accustomed to the grand vessels of the Nile, was not prepared to risk himself in a voyage across the Atbara in a sponging bath. He put off the desperate attempt until the last moment, when every other person of my party had crossed; I believe he hoped that a wreck would take place before his turn should arrive, and thus spare him the painful necessity, but when at length the awful moment arrived, he was assisted carefully imito the bath by his servant Achmet and a number of Arabs, all of whom were delighted at his imbecility. Perched nervously in the centre of the bath, and holding on tight by either side, he was towed across with his travelling bag of clothes, while Achmet remained in charge of his best clothes and sundry other personal effects, that were to form the last cargo across the ferry. It appeared that Achmet, the dearly beloved and affectionate relative of Mahomet, who had engaged to serve him for simple love instead of money, was suddenly tempted by Satan, and seeing that Mahomet and the entire party were divided from him and the property in his charge, by a river two hundred yards wide, about forty feet deep, with a powerful current, he made up his mind to bolt with the valuables; therefore while Mahomet, in a nervous state in the ferry-bath, was being towed towards the east, Achmet turned in another direction and fled towards the west. Mahomet having been much frightened by the nautical effort he had been forced to make, was in an exceedingly bad temper upon the arrival on the opposite bank, and having at length succeeded in climbing up the steep ascent, in shoes that were about four sizes too large for him, he arrived on the lofty plateau of our camp, and doubtless would like ourselves have been charmed with the view of the noble river rushing between the cliffs of white sandstone, had he only seen Achmet his fond relative with his effects on the opposite bank. Mahomet strained his eyes, but the blank was no optical delusion; neither Achmet nor his effects were there. The Arabs, who hated the unfortunate Mahomet for his general overbearing conduct, now comforted him with the suggestion that Achmet had run away, and that his only chance was to re-cross the river and give chase. Mahomet would not have ventured upon another voyage to the other side and back again, for the world, and as to giving chase in boots (highlows) four sizes too big, and without strings, that would have been as absurd as to employ a donkey to catch a horse. Mahomet could do nothing but rush frantically to the very edge of the cliff, and scream and gesticulate to a crowd of Arab women who had passed the day beneath the shady trees by the Faky's grave, watching our passage of the Atbara. Beating his own head and tearing his hair were always the safety valves of Mahomet's rage, but as hair is not of that mushroom growth that reappears in a night, he had patches upon his cranium as bald as a pumpkin shell, from the constant plucking, attendant upon losses of temper; he now not only tore a few extra locks from his head, but he shouted out a tirade of abuse towards the far-distant Achmet, calling him a "son of a dog," cursing his father, and paying a few compliments to the memory of his mother, which if only half were founded upon fact were sad blots upon the morality of the family to which Mahomet himself belonged, through his close relationship to Achmet, whom he had declared to be his mother's brother's cousin's sister's mother's son.