CHAPTER XXIII. The hour of deliverance - Triumphal entry into Gondokoro - Home-bound - The plague breaks out - Our welcome at Khartoum to civilization.

The hour of deliverance from our long sojourn in Central Africa was at hand. It was the month of February, and the boats would be at Gondokoro. The Turks had packed their ivory; the large tusks were fastened to poles to be carried by two men, and the camp was a perfect mass of this valuable material. I counted 609 loads of upward of 50 lbs. each; thirty-one loads were lying at an out-station; therefore the total results of the ivory campaign during the last twelve months were about 32,000 lbs., equal to about 9,630 pounds sterling when delivered in Egypt. This was a perfect fortune for Koorshid.

We were ready to start. My baggage was so unimportant that I was prepared to forsake everything, and to march straight for Gondokoro independently with my own men; but this the Turks assured me was impracticable, as the country was so hostile in advance that we must of necessity have some fighting on the road; the Bari tribe would dispute our right to pass through their territory.

The day arrived for our departure; the oxen were saddled, and we were ready to start. Crowds of people cane to say "good-by;" but, dispensing with the hand-kissing of the Turks who were to remain in camp, we prepared for our journey toward HOME. Far away though it was, every step would bring us nearer. Nevertheless there were ties even in this wild spot, where all was savage and unfeeling - ties that were painful to sever, and that caused a sincere regret to both of us when we saw our little flock of unfortunate slave children crying at the idea of separation. In this moral desert, where all humanized feelings were withered and parched like the sands of the Soudan, the guilelessness of the children had been welcomed like springs of water, as the only refreshing feature in a land of sin and darkness.

"Where are you going?" cried poor little Abbai in the broken Arabic that we had taught him. "Take me with you, Sitty!" (lady), and he followed us down the path, as we regretfully left our proteges, with his fists tucked into his eyes, weeping from his heart, although for his own mother he had not shed a tear. We could not take him with us; he belonged to Ibrahim, and had I purchased the child to rescue him from his hard lot and to rear him as a civilized being, I might have been charged with slave-dealing. With heavy hearts we saw hint taken up in the arms of a woman and carried back to camp, to prevent him from following our party, that had now started.

I will not detain the reader with the details of our journey home. After much toil and some fighting with hostile natives, we bivouacked one sunset three miles from Gondokoro. That night we were full of speculations. Would a boat be waiting for us with supplies and letters? The morning anxiously looked forward to at length arrived. We started. The English flag had been mounted on a fine straight bamboo with a new lance-head specially arranged for the arrival at Gondokoro. My men felt proud, as they would march in as conquerors. According to White Nile ideas, such a journey could not have been accomplished with so small a party. Long before Ibrahim's men were ready to start, our oxen were saddled and we were off, longing to hasten into Gondokoro and to find a comfortable vessel with a few luxuries and the post from England. Never had the oxen travelled so fast as on that morning; the flag led the way, and the men, in excellent spirits, followed at double-quick pace.

"I see the masts of the vessels!" exclaimed the boy Saat. "El hambd el Illah!" (Thank God! ) shouted the men. "Hurrah!" said I; "Three cheers for Old England and the Sources of the Nile! Hurrah!" and my men joined me in the wild, and to their ears savage, English yell. "Now for a salute! Fire away all your powder, if you like, my lads, and let the people know that we're alive!"

This was all that was required to complete the happiness of my people, and, loading and firing as fast as possible, we approached near to Gondokoro. Presently we saw the Turkish flag emerge from Gondokoro at about a quarter of a mile distant, followed by a number of the traders' people, who waited to receive us. On our arrival they immediately approached and fired salutes with ball cartridge, as usual advancing close to us and discharging their guns into the ground at our feet. One of my servants, Mahomet, was riding an ox, and an old friend of his in the crowd happening to recognize him immediately advanced and saluted him by firing his gun into the earth directly beneath the belly of the ox he was riding.

The effect produced made the crowd and ourselves explode with laughter. The nervous ox, terrified at the sudden discharge between his legs, gave a tremendous kick, and continued madly kicking and plunging, until Mahomet was pitched over his head and lay sprawling on the ground. This scene terminated the expedition.

Dismounting from our tired oxen, our first inquiry was concerning boats and letters. What was the reply? Neither boats, letters, supplies, nor any intelligence of friends or the civilized world! We had long since been given up as dead by the inhabitants of Khartoum, and by all those who understood the difficulties and dangers of the country. We were told that some people had suggested that we might possibly have gone to Zanzibar, but the general opinion was that we had all been killed.

At this cold and barren reply I felt almost choked. We had looked forward to arriving at Gondokoro as to a home; we had expected that a boat would have been sent on the chance of finding us, as I had left money in the hands of an agent in Khartoum ; but there was literally nothing to receive us, and we were helpless to return. We had worked for years in misery, such as I have but faintly described, to overcome the difficulties of this hitherto unconquerable exploration. We had succeeded - and what was the result? Not even a letter from home to welcome us if alive!

As I sat beneath a tree and looked down upon the glorious Nile that flowed a few yards beneath my feet, I pondered upon the value of my toil. I had traced the river to its great Albert source, and as the mighty stream glided before me, the mystery that had ever shrouded its origin was dissolved. I no longer looked upon its waters with a feeling approaching to awe, for I knew its home, and had visited its cradle. Had I overrated the importance of the discovery? and had I wasted some of the best years of my life to obtain a shadow? I recalled to recollection the practical question of Commoro, the chief of Latooka, "Suppose you get to the great lake, what will you do with it? What will be the good of it? If you find that the large river does flow from it, what then?"

At length the happy day came when we were to quit this miserable place of Gondokoro. The boat was ready to start, we were all on board, and Ibrahim and his people came to say good-by. Crowds lined the cliff and the high ground by the old ruins of the mission-station to see us depart. We pushed off from shore into the powerful current; the English flag, that had accompanied us all through our wanderings, now fluttered proudly from the masthead unsullied by defeat, and amidst the rattle of musketry we glided rapidly down the river and soon lost sight of Gondokoro.

What were our feelings at that moment? Overflowing with gratitude to a Divine Providence that had supported us in sickness and guided us through all dangers. There had been moments of hopelessness and despair; days of misery, when the future had appeared dark and fatal; but we had been strengthened in our weakness, and led, when apparently lost, by an unseen hand. I felt no triumph, but with a feeling of calm contentment and satisfaction we floated down the Nile. My great joy was in the meeting that I contemplated with Speke in England, as I had so thoroughly completed the task we had agreed upon.

We had heard at Gondokoro of a remarkable obstruction in the White Nile a short distance below the junction of the Bahr el Gazal. We found this to be a dam formed by floating masses of vegetation that effectually blocked the passage.

The river had suddenly disappeared; there was apparently an end to the White Nile. The dam was about three-quarters of a mile wide, was perfectly firm, and was already overgrown with high reeds and grass, thus forming a continuation of the surrounding country. Many of the traders' people had died of the plague at this spot during the delay of some weeks in cutting the canal; the graves of these dead were upon the dam. The bottom of the canal that had been cut through the dam was perfectly firm, composed of sand, mud, and interwoven decaying vegetation. The river arrived with great force at the abrupt edge of the obstruction, bringing with it all kinds of trash and large floating islands. None of these objects hitched against the edge, but the instant they struck they dived under and disappeared. It was in this manner that a vessel had recently been lost. Having missed the narrow entrance to the canal, she had struck the dam stem on; the force of the current immediately turned her broadside against the obstruction, the floating islands and masses of vegetation brought down by the river were heaped against her and, heeling over on her side, she was sucked bodily under and carried beneath the dam. Her crew had time to save themselves by leaping upon the firm barrier that had wrecked their ship. The boatmen told me that dead hippopotami had been found on the other side, that had been carried under the dam and drowned.

Two days' hard work from morning till night brought us through the canal, and we once more found ourselves on the open Nile on the other side of the dam. The river was in that spot perfectly clean; not a vestige of floating vegetation could be seen upon its waters. In its subterranean passage it had passed through a natural sieve, leaving all foreign matter behind to add to the bulk of the already stupendous work.

All before us was clear and plain sailing. For some days two or three of our men had been complaining of severe headache, giddiness, and violent pains in the spine and between the shoulders. I had been anxious when at Gondokoro concerning the vessel, as many persons while on board had died of the plague, during the voyage from Khartoum. The men assured me that the most fatal symptom was violent bleeding from the nose; in such cases no one had been known to recover. One of the boatmen, who had been ailing for some days, suddenly went to the side of the vessel and hung his head over the river; his nose was bleeding!

Another of my men, Yaseen, was ill; his uncle, my vakeel, came to me with a report that "his nose was bleeding violently!" Several other men fell ill; they lay helplessly about the deck in low muttering delirium, their eyes as yellow as orange-peel. In two or three days the vessel was so horribly offensive as to be unbearable. THE PLAGUE HAD BROKEN OUT! We floated past the river Sobat junction; the wind was fair from the south, thus fortunately we in the stern were to windward of the crew. Yaseen died; he was one who had bled at the nose. We stopped to bury him. The funeral hastily arranged, we again set sail. Mahommed died; he had bled at the nose. Another burial. Once more we set sail and hurried down the Nile. Several men were ill, but the dreaded symptom had not appeared. I had given each man a strong dose of calomel at the commencement of the disease; I could do nothing more, as my medicines were exhausted. All night we could hear the sick muttering and raving in delirium, but from years of association with disagreeables we had no fear of the infection.

One morning the boy Saat carne to me with his head bound up, and complained of severe pain in the back and limbs, with all the usual symptoms of plague. In the afternoon I saw him leaning over the ship's side; his nose was bleeding violently! At night he was delirious. On the following morning he was raving, and on the vessel stopping to collect firewood he threw himself into the river to cool the burning fever that consumed him. His eyes were suffused with blood, which, blended with a yellow as deep as the yolk of egg, gave a terrible appearance to his face, that was already so drawn and changed as to be hardly recognized. Poor Saat! the faithful boy that we had adopted, and who had formed so bright an exception to the dark character of his race, was now a victim to this horrible disease. He was a fine strong lad of nearly fifteen, and he now lay helplessly on his mat, and cast wistful glances at the face of his mistress as she gave him a cup of cold water mixed with a few lumps of sugar that we had obtained from the traders at Gondokoro.

Saat grew worse and worse. Nothing would relieve the unfortunate boy from the burning torture of that frightful disease. He never slept; but night and day he muttered in delirium, breaking the monotony of his malady by occasionally howling like a wild animal. Richarn won my heart by his careful nursing of the boy, who had been his companion through years of hardship. We arrived at the village of Wat Shely, only three days from Khartoum. Saat was dying. The night passed, and I expected that all would be over before sunrise; but as morning dawned a change had taken place; the burning fever had left him, and, although raised blotches had broken out upon his chest and various parts of his body, he appeared much better. We now gave him stimulants; a teaspoonful of araki that we had bought at Fashooder was administered every ten minutes on a lump of sugar. This he crunched in his mouth, while he gazed at my wife with an expression of affection; but he could not speak. I had him well washed and dressed in clean clothes, that had been kept most carefully during the voyage, to be worn on our entree to Khartoum. He was laid down to sleep upon a clean mat, and my wife gave him a lump of sugar to moisten his mouth and relieve his thickly-furred tongue. His pulse was very weak, and his skin cold. "Poor Saat," said my wife, "his life hangs upon a thread. We must nurse him most carefully; should he have a relapse, nothing will save him."

An hour passed, and he slept. Karka, the fat, good-natured slave woman, quietly went to his side; gently taking him by the ankles and knees, she stretched his legs into a straight position, and laid his arms parallel with his sides. She then covered his face with a cloth, one of the few rags that we still possessed. "Does he sleep still?" we asked. The tears ran down the cheeks of the savage but good-hearted Karka as she sobbed, "He is dead!"

We stopped the boat. It was a sandy shore; the banks were high, and a clump of mimosas grew above high-water mark. It was there that we dug his grave. My men worked silently and sadly, for all loved Saat. He had been so good and true, that even their hard hearts had learned to respect his honesty. We laid him in his grave on the desert shore, beneath the grove of trees.

Again the sail was set, and, filled by the breeze, it carried us away from the dreary spot where we had sorrowfully left all that was good and faithful. It was a happy end - most merciful, as he had been taken from a land of iniquity in all the purity of a child converted from Paganism to Christianity. He had lived and died in our service a good Christian. Our voyage was nearly over, and we looked forward to home and friends; but we had still fatigues before us: poor Saat had reached his home and rest.

On the following morning, May 6, 1865, we were welcomed by the entire European population of Khartoum, to whom are due my warmest thanks for many kind attentions. We were kindly offered a house by Monsieur Lombrosio, the manager of the Khartoum branch of the "Oriental and Egyptian Trading Company."

I now heard the distressing news of the death of my poor friend Speke. I could not realize the truth of this melancholy report until I read the details of his fatal accident in the appendix of a French translation of his work. It was but a sad consolation that I could confirm his discoveries, and bear witness to the tenacity and perseverance with which he had led his party through the untrodden path of Africa to the first Nile source.

While at Khartoum I happened to find Mahommed Iler! the vakeel of Chenooda's party, who had instigated my men to mutiny at Latooka, and had taken my deserters into his employ. I had promised to make an example of this fellow; I therefore had him arrested and brought before the divan. With extreme effrontery, he denied having had anything to do with the affair. Having a crowd of witnesses in my own men, and others that I had found in Khartoum who had belonged to Koorshid's party at that time, his barefaced lie was exposed, and he was convicted. I determined that he should be punished, as an example that would insure respect to any future English traveller in those regions. My men, and all those with whom I had been connected, had been accustomed to rely most implicitly upon all that I had promised, and the punishment of this man had been an expressed determination.

I went to the divan and demanded that he should be flogged. Omer Bey was then Governor of the Soudan, in the place of Moosa Pacha deceased. He sat upon the divan, in the large hall of justice by the river. Motioning me to take a seat by his side, and handing me his pipe, he called the officer in waiting, and gave the necessary orders. In a few minutes the prisoner was led into the hall, attended by eight soldiers. One man carried a strong pole about seven feet long, in the centre of which was a double chain, riveted through in a loop. The prisoner was immediately thrown down with his face to the ground, while two men stretched out his arms and sat upon them. His feet were then placed within the loop of the chain, and the pole being twisted round until firmly secured, it was raised from the ground sufficiently to expose the soles of the feet. Two men with powerful hippopotamus whips stood one on either side. The prisoner thus secured, the order was given. The whips were most scientifically applied, and after the first five dozen the slave-hunting scoundrel howled most lustily for mercy. How often had he flogged unfortunate slave women to excess, and what murders had that wretch committed, who now howled for mercy! I begged Omer Bey to stop the punishment at 150 lashes, and to explain to him publicly in the divan that he was thus punished for attempting to thwart the expedition of an English traveller, by instigating my escort to mutiny.

We stayed at Khartoum two months, waiting for the Nile to rise sufficiently to allow the passage of the cataracts. We started June 30th, and reached Berber, from which point, four years before, I had set out on my Atbara expedition.

I determined upon the Red Sea route to Egypt, instead of passing the horrible Korosko desert during the hot month of August. After some delay I procured camels, and started east for Souakim, where I hoped to procure a steamer to Suez.

There was no steamer upon our arrival. After waiting in intense heat for about a fortnight, the Egyptian thirty-two-gun steam frigate Ibrahimeya arrived with a regiment of Egyptian troops, under Giaffer Pacha, to quell the mutiny of the black troops at Kassala, twenty days' march in the interior. Giaffer Pacha most kindly placed the frigate at our disposal to convey us to Suez.

Orders for sailing had been received; but suddenly a steamer was signalled as arriving. This was a transport, with troops. As she was to return immediately to Suez, I preferred the dirty transport rather than incur a further delay. We started from Souakim, and after five days' voyage we arrived at Suez. Landing from the steamer, I once more found myself in an English hotel.

The hotel was thronged with passengers to India, with rosy, blooming English ladies and crowds of my own countrymen. I felt inclined to talk to everybody. Never was I so in love with my own countrymen and women; but they (I mean the ladies) all had large balls of hair at the backs of their heads! What an extraordinary change! I called Richarn, my pet savage from the heart of Africa, to admire them. "Now, Richarn, look at them!" I said. "What do you think of the English ladies? eh, Richarn? Are they not lovely?"

"Wah Illahi!" exclaimed the astonished Richarn, "they are beautiful! What hair! They are not like the negro savages, who work other people's hair into their own heads; theirs is all real - all their own - how beautiful!"

"Yes, Richarn," I replied, "ALL THEIR OWN!" This was my first introduction to the "chignon."

We arrived at Cairo, and I established Richarn and his wife in a comfortable situation as private servants to Mr. Zech, the master of Sheppard's Hotel. The character I gave him was one that I trust has done him service. He had shown an extraordinary amount of moral courage in totally reforming from his original habit of drinking. I left my old servant with a heart too full to say good-by, a warm squeeze of his rough but honest black hand, and the whistle of the train sounded - we were off!

I had left Richarn, and none remained of my people. The past appeared like a dream; the rushing sound of the train renewed ideas of civilization. Had I really come from the Nile Sources? It was no dream. A witness sat before me - a face still young, but bronzed like an Arab by years of exposure to a burning sun, haggard and worn with toil and sickness, and shaded with cares happily now past, the devoted companion of my pilgrimage, to whom I owed success and life - my wife.

I had received letters from England, that had been waiting at the British Consulate. The first I opened informed me that the Royal Geographical Society had awarded me the Victoria Gold Medal, at a time when they were unaware whether I was alive or dead, and when the success of my expedition was unknown. This appreciation of my exertions was the warmest welcome that I could have received on my first entrance into civilization after so many years of savagedom. It rendered the completion of the Nile Sources doubly grateful, as I had fulfilled the expectations that the Geographical Society had so generously expressed by the presentation of their medal BEFORE my task was done.