The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 11: Arrival at Afuddo. Frank's Departure.

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Crossing a Marsh

The weather in the early part of the march from Gondokoro was fine, but Abdul predicted that it was too beautiful to last. Sure enough, it came on to rain one morning, and Frank pronounced it the "wettest rain" he had seen for some time. It poured as though great floodgates had been opened in the sky, and rendered the ground so soft that the feet of the horses sunk out of sight in the mud. Occasionally the way led over marshes, which were not difficult to cross in the dry season, but when soaked with water they became anything but agreeable. It was dangerous to remain on horseback, owing to the liability to stumbling of the animals, and in such places our friends were obliged to dismount and make their way on foot.

Macintosh coats were useful, but even these garments could not keep out the moisture, which penetrated every little crevice where there was the least chance of an entrance. Luckily, the rain was a warm one, and nobody suffered any inconvenience from the temperature. As long as a reasonably high temperature can be maintained there is no great suffering, beyond the liability to contract fevers and other diseases, but when the traveler has cold and wet combined his condition is pitiable. The boys maintained their spirits by laughing as they picked their way among the mudholes, and a stranger would have thought they were enjoying the weary tramp. It was not at all pleasing; but the youths argued that "what can't be cured must be endured," and the best way of enduring the discomfort was to keep up the pretense of enjoying it.

The rain had the effect of driving the mosquitoes to shelter, so that, while drenched with the downpour, the boys were temporarily relieved from the necessity of fighting those tiny destroyers of the traveler's peace; but it brought out many leeches, especially in the marshy ground, and the porters occasionally halted to free their limbs from these annoyances. Frank asked if it would bring them a visitation of snakes, and was glad to learn from Abdul that most of the African snakes are not fond of rain, and would probably stay at home, unless called out on urgent business.
A Wet Road

The tents were pitched on the driest spot that could be found, and the travelers sought their shelter before all the pegs had been driven into the ground. The earth had been levelled a little, partly to form a floor, and partly to remove the moist earth of the surface, and nobody had given any attention to a hole near the roots of a bush which had been cut away in the levelling process.

Frank was busy with his toilet bag, when he thought he felt a movement of the earth under his feet. He stepped a little to one side to see what it meant, and very soon found out.

The head of a snake appeared from beneath the ground, and a pair of eyes contemplated the youth with an expression anything but friendly. Frank then remembered the hole in the ground to which we have alluded, and was not long in concluding that they had camped over the residence of a serpent. Fortunately, he was close to the entrance of the tent, and instantly converted it into an exit.

He shouted for Abdul, and as that individual appeared the story of the intrusion was quickly narrated. The servants were called, and soon dispatched the snake. Fred observed that it was not much of a snake, as it was only seven feet long, which was a tiny affair for Africa. Frank retorted that when snakes were under consideration the measurement was of little consequence, as he had an antipathy to the whole family, big and little. They unanimously decided that the location of the tent was undesirable, as the contents of the hole were unknown. "We don't want to be seeing snakes all night," said Frank, "and we shall be pretty likely to do so unless we change our base."

The tent was moved a dozen yards or so, and if there were any more snakes in that hole, they had no occasion to complain of disturbance. Another snake was killed close to the camp, and altogether it seemed as if their lines had not fallen in pleasant places.
A Snake in Camp

The snakes were not without their uses, as they were carried off by some of the black soldiers of the detachment, and soon found their way into the cooking pot. Abdul said there were not many snake eaters in the detachment, but enough of them to make any ordinary serpent come handy. "The flesh," said he, "is as sweet as that of a chicken, and it is only prejudice that keeps us from trying it."

Of course, the incident led to anecdotes of a snaky character, and between dinner and the hour of retiring there were many wonderful narrations. The precaution of sleeping with the legs crossed or stretched wide apart was again enjoined upon the youths, in case they wanted to save themselves from pythonic deglutition. Abdul repeated a tale he had heard of a snake on the banks of Tanganyika Lake that used to swallow the natives when they paddled their rafts near his lair. He was large enough to take in man and boat at a single gulp, and the boats seemed to aid his digestion instead of injuring it.

Ali said that in his country the antelopes were so large they would be mistaken for elephants, except for their shape; and his statement was verified by another narrator, who declared that in his native place the goats were provided with trunks like elephants, while the chickens had heads and necks like serpents, and could inflict a bite which was instantly fatal. Another disciple of the marvelous told of cats larger than cows, and mice like bulldogs, and he averred that his brother had been in a country where the flies were used as horses, and a strong fly could carry a man five or ten miles without lighting down for a rest.

The next day the weather was better, but the necessity of drying the camp equipage prevented an early start. Everybody rejoiced at the reappearance of the sun, and the horses and donkeys seemed to share in the pleasure of the return of the clear sky.

In the last camp before they reached Miani's Tree, Doctor Bronson told the youths he had a plan for their future movements which he had been carefully considering for several days, and would now unfold to them.

"It is this," said the Doctor. "From Afuddo we have a choice of two routes to the country of King M'tesa—one by land, and one by water. If the steamer is in running order, we can explore Lake Albert, making the circuit of the lake, and ascending the Somerset River, or Victoria Nile, to Murchison Falls, twenty-two miles above the river's mouth.
Scene Near Afuddo

"The other route is altogether by land, through the Mrooli country (present day Masindi Port, Uganda), to Foueira, the station of the Egyptian troops where our detachment is going.

"Now, what I have been considering is for our party to divide, and thus cover both routes. Frank and Abdul can continue with the soldiers to Foueira, while Fred and I will go with the steamer to Murchison Falls. We can meet either at the Falls or at Foueira. In the former case Fred will come down the river to join us, and in the latter we will ascend the river route, to meet him at the station."

Both boys were delighted with the proposition. They were sorry to be separated after having travelled so long together, but they realized that the time would not be long, and they would be using their eyes to better advantage than if they both continued on one route.

"You can describe the lake," said Frank to his cousin, "and I will tell about the journey by land. Abdul and I can get along all right, I think, and we shall be well protected by the soldiers. You ought to have an escort as well as I, and I presume the Doctor will arrange all that with the commander."

The new plan was the subject of a good deal of conversation between the youths at every opportunity for the rest of the march to Afuddo. On their arrival at that point they were eager to learn if the steamer was in good condition for the voyage, and their first inquiry was concerning her.

"The steamer is all right," said the Doctor, as soon as he had delivered his letter to the officer in command of the post. "She is lying at Duflé, the point whence Mr. Gessi started for the first steam voyage on Lake Albert, and we can have her ready to leave in a very short time."

There was some unwelcome intelligence concerning the land route to Foueira. The Acholi and Umiro people, through whose territory the road passes, had recently shown signs of hostility. They had attacked several trading caravans, and while some had defended themselves successfully, others had been broken up or compelled to retreat. There was a prospect that Frank and Abdul might see some fighting if they continued with the land party, and Fred suggested that it might be better to abandon that route and all go by steamer.

Frank opposed this change of plan, and said he was quite willing to take the risk of the land journey. He felt that the troops would be able to take care of themselves if they were attacked. He believed that the Remington rifle, in the hands of a soldier, would be a safe defense against a thousand native spears and arrows. He argued farther that he did not come to Africa to expect travel would be as safe as at home, and it would indicate a faint heart if he should be frightened by the mere rumor of trouble.

Doctor Bronson asked the youths to defer their decision until he could confer with the officer in command of the post at Afuddo, and also with Captain Mohammed, under whose escort they were traveling. The conference was held early the next morning, and the boys anxiously awaited the Doctor's report concerning it.

"We had a long talk over the troubles among the Acholis and Umiros," said the Doctor as he returned to their tents, "and the reports are not encouraging. Still, I am of opinion that there is no great danger, since the soldiers are well armed and disciplined. They will not attack the natives unless seriously threatened by them, as their instructions are not to make trouble, but to act only on the defensive.

"Therefore I see no good reason why Frank should not continue as we had proposed. Perhaps Fred and I will go with him the first day's march, and if no serious intelligence comes in that time he can continue. If actual war has been declared he can turn back and accompany us by the lake route."

The question having been settled, the party at once proceeded to divide the baggage and make the necessary arrangements for the two journeys. The division was easily accomplished, as all the cases were marked and numbered according to a list, of which each of the travelers and also the dragoman had a copy. Frank took only what was needed for his journey, including a good supply of ammunition and a couple of rifles for himself and Abdul, so that they could do their share of fighting in case of necessity. All the heavy baggage, and such things as were intended for use at King M'tesa's court and after the visit to that monarch, went by the steamers, as the easiest and safest mode of transport.
A Caravan of Ivory Traders

The most of the day was consumed in the arrangement, and it was not until late in the afternoon that Frank and Fred had an opportunity to take a stroll around the village near which their camp had been placed.

It was a collection of huts much like those of the other villages they had seen on the route, and consequently there was nothing new for them to look at. Outside the village were a few fields and gardens, and the boys remarked how easily the region might be made to produce abundantly. The soil had an appearance of great fertility, and under the cultivation of the natives the fields had a luxuriant aspect. "It is a land," said Fred, quoting from Bishop Heber:

"'Where every prospect pleases,

And only man is vile.'"

"Yes," answered Frank, "All the products of the tropics flourish here; and when the natives adopt advancements in farming to improve the crop yield, they can compete successfully with the people of similar lands in Asia."

The conversation was interrupted by the appearance of a caravan coming from the south, and straggling very irregularly along the road. Fred pronounced it the most motley crowd he had seen since leaving Gondokoro, and Frank immediately produced his notebook to take down the characteristics of the group.

"The riding animals," said he, "are oxen and donkeys, instead of horses. Each of the ox-riders has a child clinging on the rump of his steed, while the donkeys are ridden by Africans, armed with rifles and sabers. Two men on foot carry the flags of the leader, and these are unfurled whenever a band of natives is encountered. Then there are goats and cows following the procession, and the rear is brought up by the ivory porters with their burdens."

They followed the caravan, which passed close to their tents and proceeded to some huts a few hundred yards beyond. There the burdens of the porters were deposited, and for a time the scene was decidedly animated.

Abdul joined the youths as they were looking at the caravan, and explained to them that it belonged to one of the wandering traders such as we have already described. "He is the agent of one of the firms at Khartoum," said the dragoman, "and, from the number of burdens he has just brought in, he has evidently made a successful tour. The children that you saw are doubtless intended as merchandise quite as much as the ivory. Though slavery has been abolished here the merchants do not hesitate to indulge in it, and the government officials frequently connive at their so doing. But it is diminishing every year, and will dwindle steadily as the power of the government increases."

"What great risks are taken, and what hardships men undergo," said Fred, "in search of ivory! They traverse Africa, encountering its fevers, and its dangers from beasts and men and serpents; they make long journeys where there are few of the comforts of life, and suffer all kinds of privations, and all in pursuit of wealth to be derived from the tusk of the elephant. The men who bring the ivory from the African wilds are only a little less to be pitied than the huge animal that yields it."

"The difference in their case," his cousin retorted, "is, that their act is voluntary, while that of the elephant is sorely against his will. He has no desire to surrender his tusks, especially when his life must be surrendered at the same time, while they could seek some other employment."

"I have been looking up the subject of ivory," responded Fred, "and find that the elephant hasn't a monopoly of the business. The tusks of the hippopotamus, the walrus, the narwhal, and some other animals are included under the name of ivory, and have nearly the same uses."

"But not exactly the same," was the reply. "Several high authorities contend that the name only belongs properly to the product of the elephant, which has a different composition from that of other animals. A cross-section of an elephant's tusk has the appearance of circular lines, intersecting each other, so as to form lozenge-shaped figures with curved boundaries; this feature exists in no other kind of tusk, and is the distinguishing mark of elephant ivory.

"There is a vegetable ivory which is used for making small articles, but it is too soft to wear well, and tarnishes very easily. It is the kernel of a nut that grows in Peru and New Granada. The tree is a species of palm, and the ivory corresponds to the meat of the familiar coconut. Perhaps somebody will invent a process for converting the coconut into ivory, and then the article will be a good deal cheaper than it is."

"What would be the use?" said Fred. "Haven't we several imitations of ivory already? Have you forgotten celluloid?"

"Quite true," replied Frank; "but then celluloid, while greatly resembling ivory, is far from equaling it. Men who play at billiards say the balls made of celluloid have a dead sound when struck, and that the same is the case with all other imitations. However, there is no doubt that celluloid can take the place of ivory for many uses, and the elephants ought to have a mass meeting, and send a vote of thanks to the man who invented it."

"Perhaps I've got a question you can't answer," said Fred. "What is the composition of ivory?"

"I've informed myself on that point," replied Frank, with a smile. "Ivory contains twenty-four per cent. of animal matter, sixty-four of phosphate of lime, a little more than eleven per cent. of water, and the balance is carbonate of lime and other insignificant ingredients. The water and animal matter are dried away by long exposure, and for this reason ivory is apt to turn yellow and change its form. Billiard balls require to be turned occasionally to correct these changes. They generally shrink or expand more in the direction of the width of the tusks than in that of their length, and consequently the makers of these articles are accustomed to shape them roughly at first, and then keep them for months in a warm room before finishing.

"A gentleman who has studied the statistics of the ivory trade says the total amount of ivory imported into Great Britain during the nine years from 1873 to 1881 inclusive was 5286 tons. The whole number of tusks being known, the average weight per pair can be easily ascertained. This average is put at forty pounds, which is above rather than below the true weight. Assuming this to be correct, the 5286 tons of ivory represent 296,016 pairs of tusks, and consequently the same number of elephants, that have died long ago or have been slaughtered in later times to supply the demands of luxury for the past nine years. At this rate of destruction, it will be seen how rapidly this noble animal must disappear, and how surely ivory will become a thing of the past. The highest price paid at a recent sale in Liverpool for the best African ivory was at the rate of $6740 per ton, or more than three dollars per pound.
The Central African Steamer 'Khedive'

"If," concluded Frank, "you want another lecture on ivory please give me fair warning, so that I can get my information in proper shape."

They returned to camp just as dinner was announced. Of course, the chief topic of conversation was the proposed exploration of Lake Albert and the land journey to Foueira.

The next morning the boys accompanied Doctor Bronson on a visit to the Khedive, the steamer in which the voyage on Lake Albert was to be made. They found a handsome boat, of the dimensions already given, and propelled by a screw instead of paddles. It had two masts, so that sails could be spread in case the engines were disabled; and it had an awning extending the entire length of the deck, to shelter its passengers from the heat of the tropical sun. Below deck there were several comfortable cabins, and there were quarters for the crew, and a well-fitted galley for the cook's use. Altogether they were pleased with the boat, and Frank began to wish that he had not been so persistent about making the journey by land. But an instant's reflection drove away the thought, and he was firmer than ever in his purpose.

The Khedive was all ready for service, and only needed to be provisioned and supplied with the necessary fuel for working her engines. A Scotch engineer, named Cameron, was in charge of her, with a couple of Arab assistants. He was quite willing to be employed, and declared himself heartily weary of lying idle for six months, waiting for something to do, and constantly expecting orders that never came.

Doctor Bronson told him to get ready as soon as he liked; and in order that there could be no mistake about it he showed his authority from the government officials at Cairo, and also those from the commander of the district at Gondokoro. Mr. Cameron said he would have the provisions and fuel on board in a couple of days, provided he had the assistance of the commander of the post to compel the people to work. They needed a little urging, he said, and the best way of urging them was to put them under the guard of a file of soldiers.

Our friends were well aware that the two days would grow to four or five, as nothing is ever done in Africa in the time agreed upon. So it was decided that Frank should continue his journey with the escort, which was to leave the next day, and the Doctor and Fred would accompany him for the first day's journey, as agreed. This would cause no detention of the boat, as their baggage could be put on board in a few hours when the Khedive was in readiness.

They were off in good season in the morning, and made their camp in a pretty little valley, close by a brook that reminded the boys of a similar stream near their birthplace. The next morning the goodbyes and good wishes were pronounced, and the travelers turned away from each other. There were tears in their eyes as their hands met in a farewell clasp; their utterance was so choked by the lumps in their throats that the words they forced out were indistinct. Africa is a land of dangers and uncertainties, and perhaps they were destined not to meet again.

No wonder there was sadness at the separation, or that Frank regretfully parted with friends he loved so well, and by whom he was warmly cherished. At last the windings of the road hid them from view, and he turned resolutely with his gaze directed toward the equator.

    The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 11: Arrival at Afuddo. Frank's Departure.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Macintosh: A raincoat.
Tramp: A long walk, possibly of more than one day, in a scenic or wilderness area.
Antipathy: A feeling of dislike, repugnance, distaste. Natural incompatibility, such as water and oil.
Prejudice: An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge of the facts.
Anecdote: A short account of a real incident or person, often humorous or interesting.
Deglutition: The act or process of swallowing.
Aver: To assert the truth of, to affirm with confidence.
Ascend: To move upward.
Lake Albert: A lake between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo that connects to the White Nile.
Equator: An imaginary great circle around the Earth, equidistant from the two poles, and dividing earth's surface into the northern and southern hemisphere.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: Lake Albert in Uganda.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the following on map of the world:

  • Trace the equator with your finger (estimate its location as it is not marked)
  • Point to the northern hemisphere and then the southern hemisphere

Trace the following path on the map of Uganda:

  • Start at Juba in South Sudan
  • Travel south down the White Nile River to Nimule on the border between South Sudan and Uganda
  • Travel south down the Albert Nile to Lake Albert

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the applicable mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.