Johnathan wandered over in the direction of the work-crew trying to discover to see if there was an obvious overseer or foreman in charge of the locals, or any indication of their employer
"Oh, dear," sighed Elizabeth, watching him, "I had hoped our thief would be more thug than smart. Or at least greedy enough not to want to share the map with anyone. This may be a waste of time."
There was a native foreman in charge of the digging crew, but no British overseer in evidence.
"I say old chap," said Johnathan as he approached, "digging for gold are we?"
"No sir, just digging sir," he indicated the hole. "Hole is for new dock piling."
For a while, Sandy watched the men dig, before deciding he had seen all he could see. He returned to Elizabeth (Rose and Godfrey having decided to wait in the hotel.)
"Well, Elizabeth, I don't think there's much to see here - sall we retire to the hotel?"
"I think that's a good idea, Sandy. I could do with a splash of water on my face and a cup of tea."
The next morning, the party loaded their equipment aboard a small boat that was deepdrafted enough to get along the coast, but shallowdrafted enough to head upriver on the Niger. Their crew consisted of three Englishmen and about twenty natives. They had six camels, one for each of them and two cargo beasts.
The small boat would not make the same speed as the steamship, so the trip to the mouth of the Niger would take another three days. The third day was miserable as a storm blew up, but the captain got the ship through allright. After the storm, Elizabeth was fairly sure she saw a ship behind them, but no one else saw it, and if it had existed, it must have turned away or fallen back.
There was a short layover at the mouth of the river to take on water, and then the boat began to journey upriver toward their debarkation point.
The trip up the Niger was slower than travel on the open sea, and was against the current to boot. The captain told them that it was about 600 miles to Sakati, and your route takes you to a point not much south of there.
The first four days were characterized by mostly fair winds, and they covered nearly two-hundred and fifty miles. The terrain through which they passed was lush rainforest, completely unlike the burning desert sands that most think of as dominating Africa. Toward the end of the last day, the land became less lush, turning into a grassland. Coming out from the canopy of the forest, they could see much greater distances, and even the peaks of the mountains south of Sakati.
That afternoon, rain began to fall. Gently at first but with increasing violence. The Captain order the ship in to shore, saying that they would tie up and ride out what looked like a coming storm. Elizabeth was scanning the sky looking at the weather when she saw what looked like a large bird, far off in the distance, swoop off to the East in a strange way. Something about the scene seemed odd to her.
Elizabeth grabbed her trusty spyglass and trained it on the place the "bird" had been.
"I say, Elizabeth, is something up?" asked Johnathan, somewhat alarmed by Elizabeth's sudden dash to grab her spyglass. Just in case there was, Johnathan looked around to be sure his rifle was close by.
Without lowering the glass, Elizabeth replied, "I could swear I saw something. Again. Maybe I'm paranoid, but someone does have it in for us."
"Jonathan! Quick! Before it lands... What is that?" she said, steering him to the spyglass. "I've never seen anything quite like it."
Jonathan was only able to get a fleeting glimpse before the storm obscured his view, but it did not look quite like anything he had ever seen either. I had a certain superficial similiarty to some airships he had seen, but it did not move like a liftwood powered device and the shape was extremely odd.
"Whatever it is, I would guess it to be man-made," said Elizabeth. "And I doubt it is either coincidence or good omen."
"How true, Elizabeth, how true ..." said Johnathan, obviously troubled. "I don't see what else we can do, however. I wish we'd been able to get our own flyer for this trip. Ah well, worrying never cleaned a rifle now did it?"
An so saying Johnathan returned to cleaning his already spotless rifle.
"Worry I shan't, then, but I intend to keep an eye out. How much longer 'til we reach terra firma?"
"Unfortunately, I have no idea; best speak to the captain or cousin Rose - she keeps on top of things like that," replied Johnathan
Then Elizabeth realised they were still tied in at shore. "I feel a bit like a sitting duck here on this boat, tied in and bobbing about" she said. "Does anybody else fancy a bit of a hike? Being cooped up here doesn't agree with my sense of adventure."
"Why not? I could do with the feel of good, honest mud under my boots; in the words of the bard, 'Lay on MacDuff!'" said Johnathan getting his rifle quickly reassembled and ensuring (yet again) his pistol was safely holstered.
"I do feel safer with you and your rifle along, Johnathan," said Elizabeth. "But no use resting on your laurels -- I'm bringing my pistol and knife. Better safe and all that."
"You always were a flatterer, Elizabeth, butI thank you all the same."
"You know, we could head for higher ground and see if we can get a better look at that thing that seems to be following us," said Elizabeth.
"Good idea, Elizabeth. Shall we then? Rose will you join us?" asked Johnathan
"In this rain? No, I think I shall remain with the boat," said Rose. "Godfrey and I shall act as a rear-guard."
Johnathan and Elizabeth picked their way carefully to shore through the mucky ground, which was rapidly getting muckier as the rain picked up in intensity. They chose the highest ground they could see, a ridge, as a destination and made for it. Soon they were soaked through and through, and they could see why the captain had chosen to tie up to ride out the storm as the wind began to whip around the river and across the plain.
The ridge was perhaps a half-mile distant, and by the time they reached the heights, the storm was in full force. They were unable to penetrate the veil of rain and wind to see where they thought the flying object might have landed. For that matter, had the object been only another mile distant rather than the two or three that Elizabeth guessed, they would not have been able to see it in this rain.
"Well, this rain is a damned sight worse than I'd thought it was, Elizabeth. Shall we repair to the boat?" asked Johnathan.
"I think we should. Good grief! Mud to my knees... Drowned rat... Nothing interesting in sight... Wait! What's that? ... Just kidding. Let's go back. Maybe some dry clothes and a cup of tea would smooth my mood."
The slog back to the ship was just as wet and messy as the slog out had been. Once they reached the ship, though, Godfrey was there to provide towels and clean dry clothes and a cup of tea.
For several hours, they waited in the small belowdecks area while the rain pattered against the roof and the wind howled around. Toward tea-time, the storm let up and the party ventured up on deck.
The captain looked at the time, then at the river. "Shall we up sails and try to make a few more miles before dark?" he asked.
"Sounds like a superb idea, Captain. Let's move on I think," replied Johnathan.
"I agree," said Elizabeth, sniffling a little into her tea.
The captain called for his men and the little ship was soon underway again. They made a few miles and then stopped for the night.
Over the next five days, they made good time passing through the grasslands. Now that they were alerted, they caught sight of the flying machine, whatever it was, a few times, but always at such a distance that they could discern no new details.
On the evening of the fight day, they anchored just west of the mountains they had been approaching for nearly a week. The grasslands had been getting sparser the last day or two, and the captain told them that they would be into full desert the next day.
Over dinner, Rose placed the map and directions on the table. "I think we should make landfall soon, perhaps even tomorrow, and continue on foot. My father wrote, 'We travelled up the Niger to a point South of Sakati and then skirted the mountains heading to Kano.' We are south of Sakati and in a position to begin skirting the mountains. What do you think, Sandy? Elizabeth?"
"Best we get all our kit together, is what I think, Rose," replied Johnathan, "It's what we came here to do, after all, isn't it?"
"Absolutely," said Elizabeth. "I'm looking forward to following in the footsteps."
The ship put into shore the next day abou noon and unloaded the six camels, who seemed glad to be back on solid ground (although with camels it can be hard to tell.) The gear was loaded onto the camels' backs and then the passengers themselves mounted. Kano was, judging from the map, nearly three hundred miles distant -- about two weeks ride.
The first day out, the travellers were startled and delighted to see a pride of lions. After admiring these majestic beasts, they continued on their way. The second day, early in the morning, they spied a dust cloud slightly off to the north, a quick glance through the spyglass revealed a party of natives, some fifty strong, on foot heading more or less west. There seemed to be about thirty bearers and the remainder of the party seemed to be armed to some extent or other.
"I don't much believe in coincidence," said Elizabeth, handing the spyglass off to Johnathan, "but do you think it's too out of the way to actively investigate?"
"Hmm, I'm not sure, Elizabeth," said Johnathan as he looked throught the spyglass. "That large a proportion of armed individuals indicates to me that they're expecting trouble. It might be best to avoid them, rather than look for more trouble than we're already courting."
"Hmm ... no guns - which is good," said Johnathan continuing to examine the group through the spyglass, "Still they look like they're expcting trouble. We could go and say hello and find out the lay of the land, or avoid them; what do you think Ladies?"
"I say the more we know, the better. Let's find out what we can from them."
"Very well, let's approach them then," replied Johnathan, "Rose, would you and Godfrey be kind enough to stay about 400 yards away from them and keep your eyes open for trouble while Elizabeth and I talk to these chaps? it would be good if you good find a high spot as well."
"We shall do our best, sir," replied Godfrey.
"Of course," said Rose.
"Elizabeth do we know what we want to ask them? Rose any sugestions?" inquired Johnathan
"Perhaps we should just start with any local news and happenings. And where their troupe is going. Maybe further inquiry will suggest itself from there.
"Of course, I'd rather like to know if they've seen any flying machines today."
"Sounds like a plan to me! Shall we then? after you of course ..."
"Such a gentleman," Elizabeth said, laughing. Checking her weapons were intact and readily available, she set off on course to intercept the natives.
Soon the trading party saw the British and stopped moving away. They seemed open and friendly, and after a few false starts, the main trader, a dark skinned Arab who said to call him al-Hazra, and Jonathan found a common language in Swahili. al-Hazra was moving some ivory to the coast, and expressed surprise at seeing camels this far south and white Europeans here at all.
"We are exploring, al-Hazra," explained Johnathan, "have you seen any other white men hereabouts? or other travellers?"
"No, we have not. We shall see them when we arrive at the coast, I should hope, for to whom else will I sell," the trader laughed.
As you talk, you see that al-Hazra's party is following a rough trail which runs more or less east-west. It is not a road, by any stretch, but is certainly a beaten down path.
"Have you seen any unusual... Birds... On the horizon lately?" Elizabeth asked.
"If we follow this path east, will it take us to Kano?"
"Yes, miss, it will," he said. "We left Kano nine days ago."
"Thank you. Good trip and godspeed to you." Elizabeth watched the traders depart, then said, "I think it might be a good idea to follow the path -- sounds like it might shave a few days off our trip. What do you all think?"
Rose said, "It seems like a good idea, but I defer to our African expert. Sandy?"
"How could I argue with a pair of beautiful ladies? We shall follow this path and se what we shall see ..."
A few days later, they passed a herd of gazelles -- the common prey of hunters in the area. The next day, eagle-eyed Elizabeth spotted another party of natives. This one appeared to be a hunting party of six hunters and two warriors. Sandy was a bit nervous about them, since the difference between hunting party and raiding party was often small.
Johnathan looked all around, trying to convince himself this was the entirety of the group.
It seemed to be, and this jibed with his knowledge of average size for hunting parties.
"Sandy, you look suspicious. Is anything amiss?" asked Elizabeth.
"No, nothing specific - just checking, after all it's better to be safe than sorry," Johnathan replied. "Just wanted to be sure that group didn't have some more friends we hadn't noticed. Are you in the mood for another conversation? or should we press on?"
"Let's continue our journey. At the rate we're meeting people out here, I suspect another group will be along shortly, should I find I'm in the mood for another conversation."
They continued along their way. For another week they saw nothing but wildlife. That day, they saw another hunting party, this one only five strong coming down the road toward them. As usual, they spotted the natives first and had to decided whether to try to avoid them or to meet with them.
"People!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "We're almost to Kano, aren't we? Do you suppose they came from Kano? Perhaps we should talk to them. Sandy?"
"Definitely worth a try, Elizabeth. Will you take the lead again?"
The hunters trooped up, looking with curiosity at the British. Again, Sandy was forced to translate in Swahili. After some difficulty, he found out that they were a party out from Kano.
"Are there any strangers in Kano?" asked Johnathan
"No, not when we left," said one of the warriors.
"Any problems on the road ahead?"
"No, the way is clear," was the reply.
"Have you seen any big demon birds on your journey?"
After some discussion back and forth, the answer came out, "No."
The party continued on. The next day, the came across a lone hunter hurrying to join the party they had met the day before, he could add nothing to their knowledge. The day after that, they disturbed a pride of lions around a kill, but passed around and early in the afternoon they approached the grass huts and thornbush barrier that must be Kano.
"At last!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "I feel we've reached some huge milestone on our journey. Are there any supplies we're to pick up in Kano?"
"Only water and perhaps food," said Rose. "Then we'll have to decide how to continue. Let us consult the map. We have two basic routes, I think. One is direct, but takes us through the desert, the other skirts the desert to the south, and would require us to turn north and follow the lake line up."
"I'm for avoiding the desert if possible," said Johnathan. "What about you, Beth?"
"You read my mind, Sandy. And looking at the map, it seems it's not that much farther to skirt the desert. Shall we have a wash-up, a leisurely dinner and a stay the night and get a fresh start in the morning?"
"Sounds like a plan! Shall we then?" and this time, Johnathan led off
As they entered the village, Elizabeth spotted a thin column of smoke rising from the mountains to the south, it looked a bit large to be caused by a simple campfire, but she wasn't sure.
Then they entered the village proper. The natives were friendly, and one or two who dealt with the traders spoke good Swahili so the British were able to arrange a place to sleep, some fresh food and water and even a sponge bath.