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قراءة كتاب In the Heart of Africa

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‏اللغة: English
In the Heart of Africa

In the Heart of Africa

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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produced, accompanied by tolerably loud reports.

We reached Berber on May 31st, and spent a week in resting after our formidable desert march of fifteen days. From the slight experience I had gained in the journey, I felt convinced that success in my Nile expedition would be impossible without a knowledge of Arabic. My dragoman had me completely in his power, and I resolved to become independent of all interpreters as soon as possible. I therefore arranged a plan of exploration for the first year, to embrace the affluents to the Nile from the Abyssinian range of mountains, intending to follow up the Atbara River from its junction with the Nile in latitude 17 deg. 37 min. (twenty miles south of Berber), and to examine all the Nile tributaries from the southeast as far as the Blue Nile, which river I hoped ultimately to descend to Khartoum. I imagined that twelve months would be sufficient to complete such an exploration, by which time I should have gained a sufficient knowledge of the Arabic to render me able to converse fairly well.

The wind at this season (June) was changeable, and strong blasts from the south were the harbingers of the approaching rainy season. We had no time to lose, and we accordingly arranged to start. I discharged my dirty cook, and engaged a man who was brought by a coffeehouse keeper, by whom he was highly recommended; but, as a precaution against deception, I led him before the Mudir, or Governor, to be registered before our departure. To my astonishment, and to his infinite disgust, he was immediately recognized as an old offender, who had formerly been imprisoned for theft! The Governor, to prove his friendship and his interest in my welfare, immediately sent the police to capture the coffee-house keeper who had recommended the cook. No sooner was the unlucky surety brought to the Divan than he was condemned to receive two hundred lashes for having given a false character. The sentence was literally carried out, in spite of my remonstrance, and the police were ordered to make the case public to prevent a recurrence. The Governor assured me that, as I held a firman from the Viceroy, he could not do otherwise, and that I must believe him to be my truest friend. "Save me from my friends," was an adage quickly proved. I could not procure a cook nor any other attendant, as every one was afraid to guarantee a character, lest he might come in for his share of the two hundred lashes!

The Governor came to my rescue, and sent immediately the promised Turkish soldiers, who were to act in the double capacity of escort and servants. They were men of totally opposite characters. Hadji Achmet was a hardy, powerful, dare-devil-looking Turk, while Hadji Velli was the perfection of politeness, and as gentle as a lamb. My new allies procured me three donkeys in addition to the necessary baggage camels, and we started from Berber on the evening of the 10th of June for the junction of the Atbara River With the Nile.

Mahomet, Achmet, and Ali are equivalent to Smith, Brown, and Thompson. Accordingly, of my few attendants, my dragoman was Mahomet, and my principal guide was Achmet, and subsequently I had a number of Alis. Mahomet was a regular Cairo dragoman, a native of Dongola, almost black, but exceedingly tenacious regarding his shade of color, which he declared to be light brown. He spoke very bad English, was excessively conceited, and irascible to a degree. He was one of those dragomans who are accustomed to the civilized expeditions of the British tourist to the first or second cataract, in a Nile boat replete with conveniences and luxuries, upon which the dragoman is monarch supreme, a whale among the minnows, who rules the vessel, purchases daily a host of unnecessary supplies, upon which he clears his profit, until he returns to Cairo with his pockets filled sufficiently to support him until the following Nile season. The short three months' harvest, from November until February, fills his granary for the year. Under such circumstances the temper should be angelic.

But times had changed. To Mahomet the very idea of exploration was an absurdity. He had never believed in it front the first, and he now became impressed with the fact that he was positively committed to an undertaking that would end most likely in his death, if not in terrible difficulties; he determined, under the circumstances, to make himself as disagreeable as possible to all parties. With this amiable resolution he adopted a physical infirmity in the shape of deafness. In reality, no one was more acute in hearing, but as there are no bells where there are no houses, he of course could not answer such a summons, and he was compelled to attend to the call of his own name—"Mahomet! Mahomet!" No reply, although the individual were sitting within a few feet, apparently absorbed in the contemplation of his own boots. "MaHOMet!" with an additional emphasis upon the second syllable. Again no response. "Mahomet, you rascal, why don't you answer?" This energetic address would effect a change in his position. The mild and lamb-like dragoman of Cairo would suddenly start from the ground, tear his own hair from his head in handfuls, and shout, "Mahomet! Mahomet! Mahomet! always Mahomet! D—n Mahomet! I wish he were dead, or back in Cairo, this brute Mahomet!" The irascible dragoman would then beat his own head unmercifully with his fists, in a paroxysm of rage.

To comfort him I could only exclaim, "Well done, Mahomet! thrash him; pommel him well; punch his head; you know him best; he deserves it; don't spare him!" This advice, acting upon the natural perversity of his disposition, generally soothed him, and he ceased punching his head. This man was entirely out of his place, if not out of his mind, at certain moments, and having upon one occasion smashed a basin by throwing it in the face of the cook, and upon another occasion narrowly escaped homicide by throwing an axe at a man's head, which missed by an inch, he became a notorious character in the little expedition.

We left Berber in the evening, and about two hours after sunset of the following day reached the junction of the Nile and Atbara. The latter presented a curious appearance. In no place was it less than four hundred yards in width, and in many places much wider. The banks were from twenty-five to thirty feet deep, and had evidently been overflowed during floods; but now the river bed was dry sand, so glaring that the sun's reflection was almost intolerable. The only shade was afforded by the evergreen dome palms; nevertheless the Arabs occupied the banks at intervals of three or four miles, wherever a pool of water in some deep bend of the dried river's bed offered an attraction. In such places were Arab villages or camps, of the usual mat tents formed of the dome-palm leaves.

Many pools were of considerable size and of great depth. In flood-time a tremendous torrent sweeps down the course of the Atbara, and the sudden bends of the river are hollowed out by the force of the stream to a depth of twenty or thirty feet below the level of the bed. Accordingly these holes become reservoirs of water when the river is otherwise exhausted. In such asylums all the usual inhabitants of this large river are crowded together in a comparatively narrow space. Although these pools vary in size, from only a few hundred yards to a mile in length, they are positively full of life; huge fish, crocodiles of immense size, turtles, and occasionally hippopotami, consort together in close and unwished-for proximity. The animals of the desert—gazelles, hyenas, and wild asses—are compelled to resort to these crowded drinking-places, occupied by the flocks of the Arabs equally with the timid beasts of the chase. The birds that during the cooler months would wander free throughout the country are now collected in vast numbers along the margin of the exhausted river; innumerable doves, varying in species, throng the trees and seek the shade of the dome-palms; thousands of desert grouse arrive morning and evening to drink and to depart; while birds in multitudes, of

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