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In the Heart of Africa by Sir Samuel White Baker

Part 5 out of 5

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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

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

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

"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.

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