CHAPTER X. DESTRUCTION OF THE SHIR DETACHMENT.

On July 30, 1871, I was astonished by the arrival of the tall sheik, Niambore, with whom I had left an officer and six men in the Shir tribe, to superintend the cultivation of corn. This fine-looking fellow was introduced, accompanied by five of his principal advisers. He shortly told me his story. He had been four nights on the road, as he had not dared to travel by day, fearing the Baris: thus, in the dark, he had frequently wandered from the track. In the daytime he had slept in the concealment of forests.

He had run this risk in order to be the first to give me the bad news, lest I should suspect him of foul play. All my soldiers were killed, except the major, Achmet Rafik, and a corporal!

When Abou Saood had passed his country some weeks since, his people had attacked a neighbouring sheik, and had carried off a large number of cattle, although he was aware of the presence of a government officer with a very small detachment. Abou Saood had sent three of the captured cows as a present to the officer in command, Achmet Rafik, who, instead of protesting against the razzia, had, Turk-like, actually accepted the present, and thus had fallen into the snare.

The natives, smarting under the unprovoked attack, visited Niambore, and desired him to send my men out of the country, as they were evidently leagued with those of Abou Saood. The sheik Niambore refused, and declared that he should protect them until he received further orders from me. This implicated Niambore, and the neighbours then insisted upon the sacrifice of Achmet Rafik and his few soldiers in revenge for their lost cattle. Niambore, with a chivalry that is rare among negroes, declared his determination of sheltering my people until he should communicate with me. He was attacked at night by the neighbouring sheiks; and my soldiers assisted him in the defence. The attack was repulsed, and he determined to return the compliment on the following day, with the assistance of the soldiers. After a long march across many deep channels, the battle went against him, and in a precipitate retreat, the soldiers could not swim the deep channels like Niambore's people; they were accordingly overtaken and killed, with the loss of their arms and accoutrements, now in possession of the natives.

Major Achmet Rafik and a corporal were safe, as they were both ill, and had therefore not accompanied the five soldiers in the attack. Niambore had faithfully exposed himself to great danger in order to secure their protection, and they were now in his keeping, concealed in a forest about a day's march from the village which had been their station.

On the following day I sent the steamer off at 9 p.m. with Niambore and twenty men, the moon being full. The river had risen about four feet six inches, therefore there was no fear of her touching a sand-bank. At the same time I wrote to Abou Saood, giving him notice of his responsibility for the loss of the government troops, caused by his unprovoked and unjustifiable aggression. (From that time, I of course gave up all ideas of returning the cattle that had been captured by Abou Saood, as I had originally intended. Such an act, after the destruction of my men, would have been received by the Shir as a proof of fear.)

All my anticipations of successful cultivation had been fruitless. The drought of this year had caused a general scarcity. The months of July and August should have the heaviest rainfall; July had just expired with a rainfall of only 1.13 inch. The mean temperature had been 71 degrees F at 6 a.m.; at noon, 84 degrees F.

I was very anxious about our supply of dhurra, which would not last much longer. On 1st August I ordered the troops to receive fifteen days' rations of rice, so as to save the small stock of dhurra until the crops should be ripe upon the island. These were guarded by a company of troops. I extract the following entry from my journal:-

"August 2, 1871. - The Soudani soldiers are discontented with their rations of dhurra; and to-day I was addressed by an unreasonable mob, demanding an increase of corn which does not exist. These people never think of to-morrow, and during the long voyage from Tewfikeeyah they have been stealing the corn, and drinking merissa heedless of the future.

"The black colonel, Tayib Agha, is much to blame for the discontent, as he has, upon several occasions, in THE PRESENCE OF THE TROOPS, told Mr. Higginbotham and myself that 'the men could not work well because they were hungry.' This foolish remark, made before the soldiers by their own lieutenant-colonel, is certain to create bad feeling.

"I went across to the island to examine the corn: the greater portion of the crop will be ready in about eight days, but the Baris, in spite of the guards, are stealing large quantities during the night.

"The terrible difficulty in this country is the want of corn; and now that all direct communication with Khartoum is cut off by the obstructions in the Nile, the affair is most serious. The natives are all hostile, thus a powerful force is absolutely necessary, but the difficulty is to feed this force.

"I wrote an official letter to Raouf Bey to caution Lieutenant-Colonel Tayib Agha against making remarks in the presence of his troops."

On August 3 the steamer returned, bringing Achmet Rafik and the sole surviving soldier from the Shir. This officer declared his men to have been insubordinate, and that they joined the natives against his orders to make an attack upon their enemies in return for attacks on their part.

Two witnesses, the surviving soldier and the wife of one that was killed, declared that Achmet Rafik himself gave the men orders to fight the tribe, in company with the people of Niambore; but fearing responsibility for the result, he now laid the onus of failure upon the insubordination of the men. (The fact remained that in consequence of the razzia made by Abou Saood's orders the natives attacked Niambore and my people. In self-defence, Niambore and my few men returned the attack, and my soldiers were killed. The Shir were thus rendered hostile with the exception of Niambore.)

My people were so obtuse that they could not understand the true position of affairs. The harvest was commencing. I had jealously guarded the corn upon the island, which should have produced at least 500 urdeps; but the officers and men did not wish to see the granaries filled, as that fact would destroy the excuse for a return to Khartoum; thus, instead of labouring with heart and soul to gather the harvest, they worked so lazily, that in nine days they only reaped 237 urdeps, or not one half that was actually upon the fields. They permitted the natives to steal by night, and the swarms of small birds destroyed an incredible quantity by day. These innumerable and ruinous pests do not consume the entire grain, but they nibble the soft sweet portion from the joint of each seed, neatly picking out the heart; thus the ground beneath is strewed with their remnants of destruction.

I had not visited Belinian since their unprovoked attack, for two reasons. First, we were engaged in fortifying the station; and, secondly, I did not wish to raise the suspicion among the Baris that I might come down suddenly upon their crops. Up to the present time we had acted mainly on the defensive, and the natives had no fear for their harvest. I knew that about 2,000 acres of dhurra would be at our service by a sudden attack on Belinian, if the troops would work earnestly to secure it. At the same time I was afraid to mention the subject, lest some intrigue might destroy the possibility of success.

If Abou Saood or his people had possessed a knowledge of my intentions, they would at once have given warning to our enemies, and would have destroyed my plans. Both Abou Saood and the greater number of the officers were anxiously watching the close of the drama, as they imagined that with the disappearance of supplies, the curtain would fall upon the last act.

I possessed information that would render me independent of corn from Khartoum, if the troops would only work honestly. We were at open war with the Baris, and we had been constantly subjected to their attacks. I had arranged my plans to complete my forts so as to be ready for a campaign at the commencement of the harvest, when the country would be full of corn. My two rich harvests would be Belinian - twelve miles distant and the fruitful islands beyond the mountain Regiaf, about fourteen miles south of Gondokoro. The latter would be easily collected, as the vessels could load at the islands, and convey the cargoes down stream direct to head-quarters.

Everything depended upon the officers and men. Raouf Bey, who commanded the troops, was in daily communication with Abou Saood, who was exerting himself to the utmost to ruin the expedition by promoting discontent, and persuading the officers that they would die of starvation, and that the Baris were most dangerous enemies, who would exterminate the troops should I weaken the force by taking a detachment to form stations in the interior.

It was thus pre-arranged by my own people that, even if in the midst of plenty, the corn should not be collected in any larger quantity than would suffice to feed the expedition during the return voyage from Gondokoro to Khartoum.

In that case, the expedition would be broken up and abandoned. The authorities would piously ejaculate, "El hambd el Allah!" (Thanks be to God!) The country would once more fall into the hands of Abou Saood by contract with the government of the Soudan. The good old times of slave-hunting would return and remain undisturbed. The Christian would have been got rid of by an ignominious failure. Abou Saood would have boasted of the success of his diplomacy; and Allorron and his Baris, once freed from the restraint of a government, would have fraternized again with their allies the slave-hunters, to pillage, kidnap, and desolate the productive countries of Central Africa.

I determined that the expedition should succeed, and, with God's help, I would overcome every opposition.

The forts were completed. Gondokoro, or, as I had named it, Ismailia, was protected by a ditch and earthwork, with bastions mounting ten guns. My little station was also fortified; thus I could commence a campaign against the whole Bari tribe, without fearing for the safety of my base.

On August 30, 1871, I started with a force of 450 men, with one gun, and one rocket-trough for Hale's three-pounder rockets.

I left twenty of the "Forty Thieves" at my little station, together with a reinforcement of thirty men. I had ordered the captain of the diahbeeah, upon which my wife resided, to push the vessel off the bank and to anchor in the stream every night.

The Baris of the Belinian Mountain were well provided with guns and ammunition, which they had taken in various massacres of the slave-traders' parties some years before. On one occasion they had killed 126 of the traders in one day, and had possessed themselves of their arms, with many cases of cartridges.

On several occasions they had destroyed smaller parties with the same result, and they had never been at peace with Abou Saood since he had treacherously murdered their Sheik and his family. Recently having allied with Abou Saood's friends (the Baris of Gondokoro), against the government, some of the Belinian people had ventured to trade, and had established a communication with Abou Saood's people, from whom they purchased ammunition in exchange for tobacco.

Having given orders on the previous evening that the men were to be under arms ready for the march at 1 a.m., I was annoyed to find that neither officers nor men were prepared when I arrived punctually at the hour appointed at head-quarters. The colonel, Raouf Bey, was fast asleep, and had to be roused by the sentry. This was a breach of discipline that cost Major Achmet Rafik his life. After some annoying delay I started for Belinian. At that time, in the dark night, I was not aware that Achmet Rafik was absent. This officer was a thorough-bred Turk, and he had seen much service, having been through the Crimean war, and also in that of Arabia, under Abbas Pacha. He ought to have known better, but he shared the prevalent feeling of discontent; thus, instead of being on the alert and at his post, he was asleep when the troops started on their night march.

When awakened, he hastily dressed, buckled on his sword and revolver, and taking a double-barrelled gun in his hand he endeavoured to follow the troops, but mistook the direction, and lost his way in the dark.

We arrived at the open valley of Belinian at day-break, but native scouts had already given the alarm of our approach. There were some hundred villages situated in the vale and on the heights along the base of the mountain; but at this season only the tops of the huts were visible above the high dhurra, which was just ripened, although the general harvest had not yet commenced.

There is no covert so much in favour of native warfare as the high dhurra, which perfectly conceals their movements, at the same time that it is easily passed through at speed.

The Bari drums were beating throughout the country, and their horns were sounding in all directions. Clearing the way with skirmishers, we marched along a good path for about four miles parallel with the base of the mountain, until we arrived at a plain or bottom, which bore the marks of cattle-hoofs in great numbers. This spot was about thirteen miles from head-quarters at Gondokoro.

There was no dhurra cultivation on the right, near the base of the mountain, as the soil was poor and sandy: we thus had a clear view of the country. The cattle had been driven off, and we were only in time to see them disappearing over the distant high ground. The natives had collected in large numbers, and seemed disposed to dispute the advance of the troops.

The ground was perfectly clean, as the cattle had fed off the grass until it was as smooth as a garden lawn. From the position we occupied, the country inclined upwards towards the base of the mountain, about a mile and a half distant; this interval abounded in villages, all of which were defended by stockades. At the base of the mountain were broken hills, composed of huge granite rocks, the foundations of mountains that had long since decayed. Upon all these strong positions were the usual stockaded villages.

I ordered the troops to extend in two lines, supported by a reserve with the field-piece and rocket-trough. With the "Forty Thieves" in the front, we advanced along the plain towards the mountain.

The Baris now opened fire upon us from their villages, from which they were driven in succession, until no enemy remained to oppose us except those upon the high ground.

Our right was now protected by an exceedingly deep ravine, which was a watercourse cut by the torrents from the mountain. I accordingly took a party of the "Forty Thieves," and following along the edge of the ravine, ascended the slope that led to the stockades upon the heights. Great numbers of natives had assembled, and were shouting the most abusive epithets in Arabic until we arrived at about a hundred yards from the foremost stockade. This now opened fire upon us, the natives being concealed within, and aiming with their muskets between the interstices of the upright piles.

My riflemen now knelt down and fired at the puffs of smoke as they issued from the impenetrable ironwood zareebas. This was just the work that the Baris understood, as their position enabled them to fight unseen among the numerous stockades and high rocks clothed with bush.

The bullets were whistling merrily, and presently a soldier by my side was shot through the fleshy part of the hip. I examined him, and saw that the bullet bad passed through, - therefore he continued firing. A wife of one of the soldiers was shot through the calf of the leg. She had accompanied him with a small parcel of cooking-pots and food from Gondokoro that morning and thus came under fire.

The main body was delayed in the rear, replying to the fire of the Baris on the other side of the impassable ravine. I had only twenty men with me in addition to Lieutenant Baker. I therefore ordered the bugler to sound the "assembly," as I determined to attack the stockades with the whole force.

In a few minutes the main body arrived, and formed for the attack. The bugles and drums sounded the advance, and the troops, having fired several volleys, rushed on at the double and stormed the position. This was well executed, and the rush was so unexpected by the Baris, that the stockades were taken at the point of the bayonet; Captain Morgian Sherreef [*] distinguishing himself by the gallant manner in which he led his company; he was the first man to break through the gateway.

[*Footnote: This officer was a Soudani who had served under Marshal Bazaine for four years in Mexico.]

This attack was something that the Baris did not comprehend. They had only been accustomed to face the slave-hunters' irregular companies, and they had never seen a charge borne with the bayonet. They now began to clamber up the rocks and ascend the mountain with the activity of baboons, while a sharp fire from the snider rifles acted like a spur upon their movements. A shell from the gun now burst over a number of the enemy who had collected about 800 yards in our rear. This was an unmistakable notice to quit. We set fire to the stockades, and the Baris having disappeared, I selected a position for a night's bivouac.

There was a bad supply of water, and we could procure, nothing but a muddy mixture which smelt strongly of goats. We had found a number of fat calves and sheep; thus, having fixed upon a site in the flat open plain, the men collected firewood, and when the evening set in, the camp fires were blazing and every man was well supplied with food.

I doubled the sentries for the night, but we remained undisturbed.

I was very anxious about the major, Achmet Rafik, as Raouf Bey and the officers declared that he would have certainly endeavoured to follow the troops rather than run the risk of disobeying the orders he had received. The Baris never take prisoners, and should they meet him, which would be most probable, his death was certain.

On the following morning I ordered an advance towards the north side of the plain, where I had observed a line of zareebas upon elevated ground that commanded a view of the plain and the base of the mountain that we had attacked yesterday.

On arrival upon the higher ground, I found the country perfectly flat and completely covered with heavy crops of ripe dhurra, in which the zareebas were concealed, with the exception of the tops of the huts. Drums were beating and horns blowing in all these stockades.

I had a suspicion that the Baris might have stationed sharp-shooters in ambush among the high dhurra. I therefore directed a couple of rockets through the corn. The rush of these unknown projectiles produced a great effect, as they burst through the stockade, and buzzed and whizzed about the huts within the defence. An eight-pound shell from the gun now crashed through the stockade and went howling along through the dense fields of dhurra, until it exploded about 500 yards in the rear.

The bugle immediately sounded the advance with the bayonet, and the troops made a rush forward through the corn and captured the stockade.

We now found no less than six of these powerful inclosures within an area of about four acres. These would form an admirable position. I therefore gave orders that the corn should be immediately cleared away so as to leave an open space. Guards were posted in various places; sentries were placed on the summits of the tallest huts to keep a good look-out, while the remainder of the force set to work and commenced clearing. By sunset we had cut down about six acres.

I gave orders to Raouf Bey to divide the troops in four stockades, which formed a sort of quadrilateral. This officer suggested that the men might all be massacred by a Bari night-attack if thus divided, and he proposed to inclose the whole force of 450 men within one zareeba, like sheep or cattle! In spite of our successes, the officers had a wholesome dread of the Baris, that relieved me from all apprehensions of their erring by an excess of rashness.

I divided the soldiers of the line in three zareebas, while I occupied the fourth with Lieutenant Baker and twenty men of the "Forty Thieves."

Every day was now passed in collecting corn, but the soldiers as usual worked badly. In the mean time the natives worked most energetically during the night, and carried off ten times the amount gathered by the troops. There was so bad a feeling among the officers, that it was easy to perceive they were predetermined to neglect this opportunity of filling our granaries.

The Baris were excellent diplomatists, and, seeing that we were too powerful to resist by open force, they sent women to treat for peace. This was simply a manoeuvre to gain time, as during the truce they could carry off the corn by day as well as night. I always leant towards peace, although the war had been wantonly forced upon me; thus we soon established friendly relations with an old sheik named Jarda, about two miles from the Belinian mountain. This old fellow had an exceedingly clever sister who would have made a good foreign minister. She explained just as much of the Belinian politics as would suit her purpose, and very properly declared that the women were all in favour of the government, and they would use their influence with the men, some of whom she asserted had very "hard heads."

Old Jarda, who was about eighty and had sufficient worldly experience to appreciate the value of a good counsellor, left the diplomatic arrangements to his sister, who became extremely active, and ran about the country to collect the principal headmen.

We had many palavers, which as usual ended in nothing but assurances of goodwill, and an explanation that the attacks on Gondokoro were made by certain districts, but that Jarda's people were not responsible. In the mean time thousands of women and children were engaged in carrying off the corn. The country seemed alive with baskets, as these useful articles were seen gliding about in all directions on the heads of natives that were invisible in the high grass.

I returned to Gondokoro for reinforcements, and I collected 200 armed sailors. With this additional force my wife also accompanied me to our camp at Belinian. We had now 650 men to collect the corn. I noticed an extraordinary diminution in the crop during my absence of only two days, but not a corresponding increase in the store collected by the troops left under the command of Raouf Bey.

I had occupied the valley by a line of three stockaded positions, at intervals of about a mile and a half; thus a very large area of corn was commanded, and if the patrols had done their duty, it would have been impossible for the natives to have carried it off.

Nothing had been heard of the missing major, Achmet Rafik; he had not returned to Gondokoro as I had hoped. I now discovered, through the native women, that he had been killed by the Baris on the same day that we had arrived at Belinian. It appeared that the unfortunate officer had steered his course for the Belinian mountain peak, in the hope of overtaking the troops. This route through the forest led him to the extreme end of the valley at the foot of the mountain, quite in the wrong direction. Having arrived at the nearly dry bed of the Belinian river, he sat beneath a tree to rest. The natives quickly observed him, and stalked him as though he had been a wild animal.

It appeared that, when attacked, he had wounded one native in the head with his "little gun," as the Baris termed his revolver; and this man was still alive with the bullet in his skull, which the women declared was swollen as large as a pumpkin.

Achmet Rafik was thus overpowered and killed, with the gain to the Baris of his arms and ammunition.

I immediately started off with a company of troops, led by a Bari guide, to the west end of the plain, where my officer had been killed. I had not yet visited this spot, but the guilty natives were wide awake, and they had concealed the arms, which I had hoped to recover. The forest was tolerably open, and was full of small villages concealed by the trees. I spread out my men and regularly drove the covert. Suddenly we came upon a herd of cattle and a number of natives who had imagined themselves secure in the depths of the forest.

I immediately dashed into them on horseback, accompanied by Lieutenant Baker, Colonel Abd-el-Kader, and Monsoor, followed by the troops. The cattle, seeing the red shirts of the "Forty Thieves," had gone off in a regular stampede through the forest; this precipitate flight had been quickened by the report of the rifles. It was difficult work to manage the herd with only four horses. No one who has not hunted African, and especially Bari cattle, can have an idea of the activity of these animals. They go along at a tremendous pace, and never appear to get blown: thus we were spurring hard through the forest in order to overtake the herd, when to my great satisfaction we arrived at the broad bed (nearly dry) of the Belinian river. This checked the pace, and we reined up our horses, and quietly waited for the troops, who were excellent runners.

A few men of "The Forty" were the first up, and we managed to drive the cattle across the river on to the open plain. Hardly had we arrived on the level ground, when they started off in another stampede, and kept us going for about three miles, as though we were following hounds.

With a horse on each flank and in the rear of the herd we at length managed to control their movements. Fortunately we had been running towards our camp.

A herd of cattle generally depends upon a few of its members, which are usually followed by the others. Upon this occasion there were two cows that appeared to direct their movements. These wild creatures refused to enter our cattle kraal upon arrival at the camp, when the troops, having seen our approach, came out to render assistance. With skilful management the herd was secured within the kraal, with the exception of the two undisciplined cows, which started off at full speed along the plain, followed by Abd-el-Kader and myself. A black and white cow was exceedingly vicious, and being hard pressed for about a quarter of a mile, she turned to bay on the open plain. I was riding my best horse, named "The Pig," who was very powerful and fast, and understood cattle-driving thoroughly. "The Pig," accordingly avoided the charge of the infuriated cow, which dashed at him like a wild buffalo. I immediately shot her in the shoulder with a revolver, which had no other effect than to turn her towards Colonel Abd-el-Kader, who was riding a large, clumsy chestnut called "Jamoos" (the buffalo). This horse remained perfectly still when the cow rushed at him, and Abd-ed-Kader instead of firing his rifle, received the charge full upon his left leg, into which the cow drove her sharp horn, making a serious wound nearly through the calf. I then shot the cow through the head, but Abd-el-Kader was in great pain and quite disabled.

Upon counting our cattle we found 165. This was a very small herd, but they had been difficult to capture.

Our new ally, old Jarda, with his diplomatic sister, came to visit us upon hearing of our success, and immediately asked for a calf, which I gave him.

Jarda's sister now informed me that the sheik of the mountain wished for peace, and requested permission to visit me. On the following day he appeared. He was a fine powerful fellow, but with a bad expression. I had already heard that Jarda and he were not friends, therefore I looked upon this introduction with suspicion.

After the usual declaration of friendship by the new sheik, and an apology for past misdemeanours, presents were requested. A fat calf was given - then a sheep was demanded; this was also supplied. We now came to business. It appeared that the Belinian Baris had been called upon by Allorron to become allies, at the same time that Loqiua had been invited to join in the general attack that had been made upon Gondokoro.

Loquia had hesitated, but had at length joined Belinian, as the government troops had been reported as great cowards who were afraid to venture far from their head-quarters. The many thousand cattle known to be at Gondokoro, and the fabulous amount of stores and material, at length tempted the Loquia to join forces.

On the night of the attack, it now appeared that Loquia had lost many men killed; others who were wounded dropped on the way, and died on the route through Belinian. This loss so enraged Loquia (who considered that he had been only used as a cat's-paw), that he was determined not to return home empty-handed. He therefore revenged himself upon his allies, and captured about 2,000 head of cattle from Belinian, with which he returned to his mountains two days' distant.

On the day following my interview with the sheik of the mountain, "Wani," I received information which made me suspect that he was not the real sheik, and that some trick was intended.

Once more I was waited upon by old Jarda, with his female minister of foreign affairs, in company with Wani, the reputed sheik of the mountain, together with a number of headmen.

I now received a direct proposal to form a general alliance. The Belinian Baris declared allegiance to the government, and proposed to join all their forces to make a great attack, in conjunction with the troops, upon a country about sixteen miles distant, governed by a sheik named Lokko. They described this country as abounding in corn, and sesame, in addition to great wealth in cattle. They also declared that they had already sent spies into the land, who had returned with the news that the harvest was over, and all the grain was stowed in the granaries; thus the troops would have no trouble in collecting the corn.

They also promised that if I would make the attack, they would collect all their women and transport the corn to head-quarters at Gondokoro; thus the soldiers would have no fatigue. At the same time they described the people of Lokko as very powerful, and declared that I should require nearly all my force, as very few troops would be now necessary to protect my camp at Belinian, as we WERE ALL FRIENDS!

This kind regard for my military arrangements confirmed my suspicions. It was intended to draw off the greater portion of the troops to a distance, in company with the pretended allies. The attack was really to be made on Lokko, but my troops were also to be overpowered when unsuspectingly returning by a night march with the spoil. The cattle captured from Lokko would then fall into the hands of Belinian, and my camp, protected by a weak force, was to be surprised.

I pretended to enter into this scheme, but I expressed a doubt whether they would perform their part of the engagement, and convey the corn from Lokko to Gondokoro. This they declared emphatically they would do without failing.

I proposed, that if they could convey such an enormous quantity so great a distance from Lokko to Gondokoro, they should first prove their fidelity by transporting the few hundred urdeps from our Belinian camp to head-quarters. If they would assist us in this manner, they should be paid for their trouble, and I should then believe in their sincerity. On the other hand, if they refused, I should be perfectly certain that they would also decline to transport the corn from Lokko, and that every individual would merely scramble for spoil, and return to Belinian with a load of plunder for his own use.

We should then be left at Lokko in a foolish position.

After much discussion, they promised to carry the corn to Gondokoro before commencing operations against Lokko; but I at once perceived by their manner, that they had not the slightest intention of performing any such contract. They felt that their scheme had been found out.

Although Africans are notoriously cunning and treacherous, they have not sufficient patience or self-sacrifice to enable them to carry out a perfect scheme. If the Belinians had wished to succeed in their plan, they should have willingly carried the corn to Gondokoro, and thus have established confidence. In all my experience with African tribes, I have observed this want of organization in their plans. Like ignorant chess-players, they only think of the first few moves, and thus are at a loss when suddenly checked.

Of course I had no intention of attacking Lokko, as I had no complaint against him; and although a Bari, he was a chief who had always behaved well to the Austrian missionaries. This portion of the Bari tribe, instead of being sixteen miles, was at least thirty from the north of Belinian, and was situated on the White Nile, where the sheik, Lokko, was known to the traders as "Oom Nickla."

The following extracts from my journal will at once explain the state of affairs. The natives had lost their chance, and feeling that their treachery had been discovered, they never came to me again: -

"September 22, 1871. - No natives will come near us. Abou Saood arrived with forty men to ask my permission that he might start for Khartoum.

"September 23. - The natives, disappointed in their trick, will have nothing to say to us."

On the 25th September the natives treacherously attacked an unarmed soldier. This man had strayed a few hundred yards from the camp, against orders, to search for wild thyme. A native met him and accosted him by the welcome "Adotto julio." The soldier advanced close, when the treacherous Bari immediately shot an arrow into him. This passed through his arm with such force that more than half the length of the arrow protruded on the other side. The soldier shouted for help, and the Bari decamped as he saw others running to the rescue.

On the same day, two women were attacked when they went to fetch water, and their clothes were stolen by the natives.

On September 27, an artilleryman went to the river about 400 yards distant to fetch water, alone. This was quite contrary to orders. The thoughtless fellow left his musket on the bank while he descended to the sandy bed, through which trickled a clear stream.

He was watched by the natives who were lying in wait, concealed by the high dhurra. These rascals suddenly rushed out and speared him to death. The man screamed so loudly before he died, that a number of soldiers rushed to his assistance from the camp, but they were only in time to bring in his body.

This was at 4 P.M., and I observed natives armed, who were hovering about on all sides.

I sounded the bugle, and attacked them without delay, destroying several stockades. It is impossible to come to any terms with such treacherous people. In spite of my kindness and wish to do good and to benefit their country, they requite me with the murder of any unarmed man whom they can find.

"September 29. - I attacked a position on the mountain. Having fired several rockets from the base, into a station about 350 feet above, I ordered the troops to advance from two sides. My men scrambled quickly up the rocks and destroyed the station.

"September 30. - A few days ago, the soldiers purposely burnt several granaries full of corn, and threatened to kill Sherroom and Morgian, my Bari interpreters, if they should report the act to me, saying, 'If the corn is finished, we shall all go back to Khartoum.'"

"This proves that the old spirit against the expedition still exists. The men take their cue from the officers."

In spite of the general discontent, I could place the greatest reliance upon the "Forty Thieves" and their officers. This little corps performed nearly all the active service. Their red shirts had become so well known, that the colour was enough to keep the natives at a distance; but although the Baris were now afraid to risk a stand-up fight, they troubled us by their stealthy tactics. It was impossible to say where they were concealed. They were spread all over the country: some hidden in the tall dhurra, others behind bushes. Their favourite place was in the grass and scattered bush on the banks of the river, where they lay in wait for any unlucky soldier whose disobedience of orders led him to tempt his fate.

It seemed almost as impossible to clear the country of these people, as to purge Africa from snakes. Patrols were of little service, as the natives lay as closely concealed as hares in form.

I determined at length to meet them with their own tactics:

They occupied the neighbourhood in ambush. . .I would also lie in ambush. This system of ambuscade employed so generally by the Baris had created a wholesome alarm among the troops, which tended to obedience. They now began to appreciate the orders that no one should stray alone from the camp, and that the watering party should consist of a powerful guard. At the same time, the surprises that had occurred had somewhat shaken their confidence.

I called the "Forty Thieves" together. These fine fellows always took a great interest in their work.

I explained to them the difficulty of fighting against an enemy whose tactics would not permit a battle; at the same time, I should now operate against them somewhat upon their own principle; by establishing a series of sharpshooters who should occupy the neighbourhood, and render it impossible for the Baris to remain in the country.

My corps was now complete, as I had brought up those who had remained at Gondokoro; I had thus forty-eight officers and men. To this force I now added fifty selected men from the line, and marched them away from camp.

Upon arrival at the broad bed of the river, I explained to them the plan. The natives generally approached unperceived by means of this winding trench, which entirely concealed them. The banks of this river were in most places nearly perpendicular, and were about nine feet deep. The river was about sixty or seventy paces broad, and was nearly dry, as a very shallow stream flowed through the centre of its bed.

If the high banks were occupied for a distance of several miles by small parties of sharpshooters concealed in high dhurra, or behind an ant-hill, or crouched in high grass or bush, or in anything that would serve as a protection, it would be impossible for the Baris to approach by the favourite river-bed, without being exposed to a deadly fire from the long line of sentries.

I therefore selected a position commencing far beyond my line of posts, and entirely commanding the river-bed for a distance of several miles. The soldiers were delighted with the plan suggested. I arranged that before daylight on the following morning, they should occupy the positions assigned in parties of two men if sniders, or three if muskets, at intervals of one hundred paces; thus the country would be protected by a chain of guards perfectly concealed from view.

I gave orders to the officers commanding the two stockades to carry out this system throughout the neighbourhood, so that it would be impossible for any enemy to move without falling into an ambuscade.

At daybreak I was up, and as usual drank my coffee and smoked the morning pipe. At that time my wife and I occupied a tent outside the stockade, beneath the most magnificent tamarind-tree that I have ever seen. From this spot we had a clear view of the country. On the west of the plain, two miles distant, rose the mountain of Belinian. On the east was park-like land interspersed with fine ornamental timber, through which the river winded. For about a hundred acres around the camp, the high dhurra had been cut down; therefore the view was uninterrupted.

Everything was perfectly still at this early hour; the birds were only beginning to chirp, and the vultures were just lazily assembling to see if they could discover one more morsel at the slaughtering-place of the preceding day.

No one would have suspected that the entire neighbourhood was occupied by sharpshooters, for a distance of some miles. The wily Baris had delighted in their leopard-like tactics, which had given them several opportunities of inflicting loss upon the troops. They now commenced their daily occupation, and started in small but numerous parties from their distant villages, for the purpose of waylaying any stragglers. The sun rose, and with my telescope I observed natives about half a mile distant on the other side of the river; sometimes these people disappeared in the high dhurra; every now and then they reappeared; then again they were lost to view. They were stealthily approaching for the purpose of occupying their positions for concealment. These wily Baris imagined that we were, as usual, keeping on the alert around the camp, but they had no idea that the leopard was himself so near the hidden snare.

Suddenly a puff of white smoke shot rip from the bright green grass on the other side of the river-bed - then another, followed by the reports of two rifles! I saw natives running at full speed to the left. Another and another puff of smoke issued from a different quarter, as the astonished Baris in their hasty retreat stumbled over the next ambuscade. I now saw a native running like a deer, but chased like a good deerhound by one of the "Forty Thieves." The native was so hard pressed by this good runner, who was encumbered with clothes, rifle, and ammunition, that he had been obliged to throw away his bow and arrows, together with his lance. He now gained upon the soldier slightly, but they were not five paces apart when they disappeared in the high dhurra. That soldier was Ali Nedjar, of the "Forty Thieves," the strongest man, the best shot, and the fleetest runner of the force. Presently I heard a shot.

Throughout that day occasional shots were heard in every conceivable quarter. I took a walk through the country, attended by a few of my men, and upon several occasions I was challenged from a bush, or tump of high grass, showing that the men were all in position and well concealed. When the bugle recalled the sharpshooters in the evening, each had some adventure to recount, and the whole camp rejoiced in the success of the manoeuvre; it was a case of "the biter bit."

The men now looked forward to this employment, and starting at daybreak, they took their supply of food for the day.

Some of them were very clever at this kind of service, especially Ali Nedjar. Ali was a native of Bongo - a broad-shouldered, muscular fellow, with thighs like a grasshopper. It was a pleasure to see him run, and to witness the immense power and speed with which he passed all competitors in the prize races, in which I sometimes indulged my men. Ali Nedjar was a good soldier, a warm lover of the girls, and a great dancer; thus, according to African reputation, he was the ne plus ultra of a man. Added to this, he was a very willing, good fellow, and more courageous than a lion.

I had several men of Ali Nedjar's stamp in "The Forty," among which were the three Ferritch - Ferritch Agha Suachli, Ferritch Ajoke (formerly condemned to be shot), and Ferritch Baggara; and it may be easily imagined that a corps composed of such material was an awkward enemy for the Baris.

After a few days, the ground became almost too hot for the natives. They now ascended high trees, from which they could survey the country and direct the movements of their scouts. Ali Nedjar was too much for them even with this precaution. He had observed them like rooks in a large tree at a great distance. The tree grew wild in a field of high dhurra, and while the wily Baris were looking out from their lofty post, expecting to discover us in the distance, the still more wily Ali Nedjar had crept on hands and knees through the corn, and was actually beneath the tree!

The report of a snider rifle under their feet, and the fall of one of their party, was the first intimation they received of the soldier's presence.

This plan of occupying the country was most successful, and in a short time the Baris entirely abandoned the neighbourhood. They confessed afterwards, that it was useless to attempt to fight with such people, as the earth was full of soldiers who sprang up out of the ground beneath their feet.

We had been thirty-five days at Belinian, and the enemy had been entirely subdued. I explained to them my determination of paying them another visit should we ever be disturbed again at Gondokoro; thus if they wished for peace, they must remain quiet.

The soldiers and sailors, including all the women of the camp, were employed for some days in conveying the corn to head-quarters. If our people had worked well, we should have had a supply for twelve months. Instead of which, a force of 650 men had actually delivered in the magazine only 150 urdeps, or about 670 bushels.

I have naturally omitted many military incidents, and have only given an outline of the Belinian campaign, but the moral effect was good on all sides. The soldiers had learnt their own superiority to the natives, and had gained experience and confidence; and the Baris of Belinian had learnt the truth: and in future we should sleep in peace at head-quarters.