CHAPTER XI. THE FORD.
There is a fine grey limestone in the neighbourhood of Katariff. The collection of people is exceedingly interesting upon a market day, as Arabs of all tribes, Tokrooris, and some few Abyssinians, concentrate from distant points. Many of the Arab women would be exceedingly pretty were their beauty not destroyed by their custom of gashing the cheeks in three wounds upon either side; this is inflicted during infancy. Scars are considered ornamental, and some of the women are much disfigured by such marks upon their arms and backs; even the men, without exception, are scarified upon their cheeks. The inhabitants of Kordofan and Darfur, who are generally prized as slaves, are invariably marked, not only with simple scars, but by cicatrices raised high above the natural surface by means of salt rubbed into the wounds; these unsightly deformities are considered to be great personal attractions. The Arab women are full of absurd superstitions; should a woman be in an interesting condition, she will creep under the body of a strong camel, believing that the act of passing between the fore and hind legs will endue her child with the strength of the animal. Young infants are scored with a razor longitudinally down the back and abdomen, to improve their constitutions.
I engaged six strong Tokrooris - natives of Darfur - who agreed to accompany me for five months. These people are a tribe of Mahometan negroes, of whom I shall speak more hereafter; they are generally very powerful and courageous, and I preferred a few men of this race to a party entirely composed of Arabs. Our great difficulty was to procure a slave woman to grind the corn and to make the bread for the people. No proprietor would let his slave on hire to go upon such a journey, and it was impossible to start without one; the only resource was to purchase the freedom of some woman, and to engage her as a servant for the trip. Even this was difficult, as slaves were scarce and in great demand: however, at last I heard of a man who had a Galla slave who was clever at making bread, as it had been her duty to make cakes for sale in the bazaar upon market days. After some delays I succeeded in obtaining an interview with both the master and slave at the same time; the former was an Arab, hard at dealing, but, as I did not wish to drive a bargain, I agreed to the price, thirty-five dollars, 7l. The name of the woman was Barrake; she was about twenty-two years of age, brown in complexion, fat, and strong; rather tall, and altogether she was a fine powerful-looking woman, but decidedly not pretty; her hair was elaborately dressed in hundreds of long narrow curls, so thickly smeared with castor oil that the grease had covered her naked shoulders; in addition to this, as she had been recently under the hands of the hairdresser, there was an amount of fat and other nastiness upon her head that gave her the appearance of being nearly grey.
I now counted out thirty-five dollars, which I placed in two piles upon the table, and through the medium of Mahomet I explained to her that she was no longer a slave, as that sum had purchased her freedom; at the same time, as it was a large amount that I had paid, I expected she would remain with us as a servant until our journey should be over, at which time she should receive a certain sum in money, as wages at the usual rate. Mahomet did not agree with this style of address to a slave, therefore he slightly altered it in the translation, which I at once detected. The woman looked frightened and uneasy at the conclusion; I immediately asked Mahomet what he had told her. "Same like master tell to me!" replied the indignant Mahomet. "Then have the kindness to repeat to me in English what you said to her;" I replied. "I tell that slave woman same like master's word; I tell her master one very good master, she Barrake one very bad woman; all that good dollars master pay, too much money for such a bad woman. Now she's master's slave; she belong to master like a dog; if she not make plenty of good bread, work hard all day, early morning, late in night, master take a big stick, break her head."
This was the substance of a translation of my address tinged with Mahomet's colouring, as being more adapted for the ears of a slave!I My wife was present, and being much annoyed, we both assured the woman that Mahomet was wrong, and I insisted upon his explaining to her literally that "no Englishman could hold a slave; that the money I had paid rendered her entirely free; that she would not even be compelled to remain with us, but she could do as she thought proper; that both her mistress and I should be exceedingly kind to her, and we would subsequently find her a good situation in Cairo; in the meantime she would receive good clothes and wages."
This, Mahomet, much against his will, was obliged to translate literally. The effect was magical; the woman, who had looked frightened and unhappy, suddenly beamed with smiles, and without any warning she ran towards me, and in an instant I found myself embraced in her loving arms; she pressed me to her bosom, and smothered me with castor oily kisses, while her greasy ringlets hung upon my face and neck. How long this entertainment would have lasted I cannot tell, but I was obliged to cry "Caffa! Caffa!" (enough! enough!) as it looked improper, and the perfumery was too rich; fortunately my wife was present, but she did not appear to enjoy it more than I did; my snow-white blouse was soiled and greasy, and for the rest of the day I was a disagreeable compound of smells, castor oil, tallow, musk, sandal-wood, burnt shells, and Barrake.