Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

the nation for their ancient line of kings was too deep to allow the legitimate heir to be wholly superseded. He was drawn forth from obscurity, received the title of sultan, and was established in empty pomp at the city of Birnie; while the successful soldier, under an humbler name, retained in his own hands all the real power of the kingdom.

After five days an invitation arrived from the sheik to visit him at Kouka, for which city the travellers immediately departed. In their way they passed the Yeou, the first river of any description which had crossed their path in this long journey, exciting considerable interest from being for a moment supposed to be the Niger flowing from Timbuctoo. The stream was fifty yards broad, and proceeded with some rapidity eastward into the Tchad : in the wet season its breadth became twice as great. On the bank, for the convenience of passengers, lay two large canoes, rudely put together, constructed of planks fastened by cords, and having the openings stuffed with straw. The men and goods were ferried over on these rafts, while the horses and camels, having their heads fastened to them, swam across.

In approaching Kouka Major Denham experienced considerable emotion, in consequence of the contradictory reports which he heard respecting the array and aspect of this great central court of Africa. Some told him that the sheik was surrounded by a mere handful of half-armed, half-naked negroes, fit only for plunder; while, according to others, he was at the head of a numerous cavalry, highly equipped and well-disciplined. The Major pressed eagerly forward before the main body, and, emerging from the forest, had his curiosity gratified by seeing a body

of several thousand horse drawn up in line, and extending on each side as far as the eye could reach. He now awaited the coming up of the Arabs; at sight of whom the Bornou troops, who had previously stood immoveable, raised a mighty shout or yell, which rent the air, followed by a sound, equally loud, of rude martial music. Then, forming detached parties, they galloped up full speed to the strangers, never pausing till they almost touched the horses' heads, when they suddenly wheeled round and returned, exclaiming, "Blessing! blessing! sons of your country! sons of your country!" They had soon completely surrounded the party, and wedged them in so close, waving their spears over their heads, that it was impossible for the strangers to move. Boo Khalloom had nearly lost all patience at this vehement and incommodious welcome; but at length Barca Gana, the commander-in-chief, made his appearance, restored order, and caused a way to be opened, by which the caravan, though somewhat slowly, at length made its way to the city.

But, after their arrival at Kouka, symptoms of jealousy appeared, and only twelve of the principal persons, the English included, were allowed to enter. They were led through a wide street, lined with spearmen, to the door of the sheik's residence. Here the principal courtiers came out in succession, and welcomed the party with cries of "Barca! Barca!" but as no one invited them to go in, the wrath of Boo Khalloom, who held himself scarcely inferior to the sheik, was kindled, and he declared that, unless immediately admitted, he would return to his tent. A chief merely waved his hand as a signal for patience; but at last Barca Gana ap

peared, and invited the Arab leader to enter alone. Another half-hour elapsed ere the gates were again opened, and the four Englishmen were called. They found, on the present as well as on other occasions, the etiquette of this barbarian court extremely rigid, and enforced too in a manner the most rough and unceremonious. They were allowed to walk only one by one, and, when thought to be going too fast, the guards grasped them by the leg so abruptly that they could with difficulty avoid falling flat forward; and when it was time to stop, instead of their being told so, spears were crossed before them, and the palm of the hand applied to their breast. At the close of all this ceremony, they found the sheik quietly seated on a carpet, plainly dressed, in a small dark room, ornamented solely with guns and pistols, which he had received in presents from crowned heads, and esteemed the most rare and precious of decorations. He appeared about forty or forty-five years of age, and his countenance was pleasing and expressive. He inquired their object in visiting Bornou; when being informed that they had come merely to see the country, and to give an account of its appearance, produce, and people, he engaged to forward their views, and even to gratify their wishes to the utmost of his power. Such motives, however, afterwards proved entirely incomprehensible to his illiterate mind.

Major Denham next day waited again on the sheik and delivered his presents. A double-barrelled gun and two pistols, with powder-flask and shotcases, were examined by the chief with the most minute attention; the other gifts, consisting of fine cloths, spices, and porcelain, were no sooner produced than the slaves carried them off. The African was

particularly gratified on being told that the King of England had heard of him, and said, turning to his captains, "This must be in consequence of our hav ing defeated the Begharmis;" upon which Bagah Furby, a grim old soldier, who had made a figure in that war, came forward and asked, "Did he ever hear of me?" Major Denham scrupled not to answer "Certainly;" when the whole party instantly called out, "Oh! the King of England must be a great man."

The Major, in the course of his residence at Kouka, had frequent opportunities of visiting the sheik. One day he received a message that he must come instantly and exhibit a musical box playing tunes by itself, which the other understood to be in his possession. This great warrior, who had never before shown any interest unless about grave concerns, was quite enchanted on hearing its performance, and raised shouts of delight and astonishment. He examined minutely the different parts of the mechanism, declaring he would willingly give a thousand dollars in exchange for it. The Major, unable to misunderstand so broad a hint, presented the box to his highness. The display of sky-rockets also caused the utmost amazement and joy, and was even employed to strike the enemies of the sheik with superstitious awe. Finding that our traveller could speak Arabic, and give much information not attainable from any other quarter, Barca Gana became fond of his conversation, and invited him to pay frequent visits.

It remained that Major Denham should be introduced to the sultan in his royal residence at Birnie, where all the state and pomp of the kingdom, with

none of its real power, were concentrated. On the 2d March, the English accompanied Boo Khalloom to that city, and, on their arrival there, the following morning was fixed for the interview. Fashion, even in the most refined European courts, does not always follow the absolute guidance of reason or taste, and her magic power is often displayed in converting deformities into beauties; but there is certainly no court of which the taste is so absurd, grotesque, or monstrous, as that to which Major Denham was now introduced. An enormous protruding belly, and a huge mishapen head are the two features, without which it is vain to aspire to the rank of a courtier or of a fine gentleman. This form, valued probably as a type of abundance and luxury, is esteemed so essential, that, where nature has not bestowed, and the most excessive feeding and cramming cannot produce it, wadding is employed, and a false belly produced, which, in riding, appears to hang over the pummel of the saddle. Turbans also are wrapped round the head, in fold after fold, till it appears swelled on one side to the most unnatural dimensions, and only one-half of the face remains visible. The factitious bulk of the lords of Bornou is still farther augmented by drawing round them, even in this burning climate, ten or twelve successive robes of cotton or silk, while the whole is covered over with numberless charms enclosed in green leather cases. Yet under all these encumbrances they do sometimes mount and take the field; but the idea of such unwieldy hogsheads being of any avail in the day of battle appeared altogether ridiculous,—and it proved accordingly, that, on such high occasions,

« AnteriorContinua »