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HOME > Classical Novels > A White King in East Africa > CHAPTER X
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 Government send an expedition into my country to take over the administration—Go with my followers to meet the Government officials—Am asked to disarm my followers by the Government officials, who are in a state of panic—Consent to this to allay their fears, and am then put under arrest—Am charged with “dacoity”- -Am sent down to Mombasa to be tried, and placed in the jail—Am released on bail—Tried and acquitted—I am appointed intelligence officer, and guide to a Government expedition into the Kikuyu country
I had been living and trading in the Kikuyu country for something like two and a half years now, and during the whole of that time had had no white visitors in the country, when one day the news was brought in that some white men had come into my neighbourhood. News of an event of this sort of course spreads very quickly, and the natives reported to me that at Mberri, about thirty miles to the east of my headquarters, two white men were camping with a lot of troops, and had commenced to build a fort. When I had made a few inquiries, I found that they were Government officials, who had come out to take over the country, and when I was satisfied of this, as soon as I could spare the time, I called all the
chiefs together and told them that these two white men were evidently officers of the Government and had come to take the country over, and that as it had hitherto fallen to my lot to settle quarrels and disputes and generally manage the affairs of the whole country, so now, I explained, these new-comers had been sent for that purpose and to take my place. I gave the chiefs some days’ notice to be ready to go up with me, and said that I would take them up and introduce them to the officials.
When the time came to start for Mberri all the chiefs did not turn up, but I found that a good number of the thirty-six who at that time looked to me as their head were ready to accompany me. Each chief brought some of his followers with him, and we started off with about one thousand men, and, as it was too far for a day’s march, I camped after travelling about three-parts of the way to the fort. Resuming our journey the next morning, we had nearly covered the remaining portion of the distance, when it suddenly struck me that if such a large body of armed natives were seen approaching the fort without any notice of their coming having been received, they might easily be mistaken for a hostile force coming to attack the new station, so I called a halt about two or three miles from the fort, and, leaving the natives behind, went on ahead to report their arrival.
On reaching Mberri I met one of the officers in charge of the fort, a Mr. Hall, who turned out to be a man I knew very well, having met him previously at Fort Smith, when he was in charge of that station; while Captain Longfield, who was with him, was also known to me through my having been in communication with him on several occasions respecting certain happenings in the Kikuyu country. The two officials received me in a friendly way and invited me to have some breakfast with them. Having reported to them that I had brought in a number of friendly chiefs to introduce to them, and explained my mission, I sent a man back to my people to tell them to come on in, and was still at breakfast when I heard a lot of shouting and talking, and went out to see what was the matter. On asking what the fuss was about, I was told that my askaris were being placed under arrest, and when I inquired what they had been doing, was told that they had no right to be in uniform. As a matter of fact they were not wearing a Government uniform, but as they were all dressed alike in khaki, this was made a pretext for a display of officiousness on the part of the officials, and the officer proceeded to cut some buttons off their tunics, and the rank badges off the arms of the sergeant and corporal, which, as I alone was responsible for their dress, was a needlessly insulting piece of red tape. I had previously
ordered my men to disarm, and they submitted very quietly to the insulting disfigurement of their clothes. My greatest crime of all in the eyes of these officials, however, was the fact that I was flying the union Jack, which my men carried with them, as they were accustomed to do on all their expeditions. I mildly put the question to the officer as to whether he expected me to fly the Russian flag, or any other except that of my own country, but it seemed that, to the official mind, it was a most serious offence for an Englishman to display the flag under which he had been born and for which he had fought, unless he held some position in the official oligarchy which ruled, or was in the habit of thinking it ruled, the country.
In the meantime a fearful row was going on amongst my people and the other Kikuyu who lived near Mberri, who had joined them. Mr. Hall and Captain Longfield were in a terrible state of panic. They asked me why I had brought all those men there, saying that there was bound to be a fight, and no end of trouble. I told them that there would be no trouble with my men, as I could manage them all right. They asked me to disarm them, and I agreed to do so, provided that they would be responsible for their weapons, and on their undertaking to do so, I explained to the chiefs that it was the white men’s wish that they should disarm. This they
very reluctantly consented to do, and gave up their weapons on my assuring them that they would be restored to them.
When my men were all disarmed, and their weapons had been safely stowed in a tent, under the care of a sentry, the official announced that I was to consider myself a prisoner as well. To this I merely replied, “All right,” feeling that if I were to express the feelings of utter contempt I possessed at that moment for these two gallant specimens of British officialdom, it would be the worse for my people and would only give an excuse for ill-treatment. I could see too much unpleasantness ahead for them as it was, if these two gentlemen were fairly representative of the class to whom the future administration of the country was to be entrusted, if I acted with precipitation and gave way to my natural feelings against the mean trick that had been played on me. I was told that I should be allowed to retain my cook and personal servants, and that no restraint would be put upon my movements, provided that I would give my word of honour not to attempt to clear out. As my real offence was that I had brought into a state of order a country which, previous to my coming, had such a reputation that no official would set foot across the border if he could help it, I had no cause to fear the results of an investigation into my conduct, and I made up my mind to await
calmly the termination of this comedy. Besides, I thought that my personal influence might very likely be needed to prevent some “regrettable occurrence.” Both the officials were in such a state of unreasoning fear of the natives that it was more than likely that they would be guilty of some piece of foolishness which might set the whole country in a blaze. So I retired to my tent and amused myself for a great part of the day with a gramophone which I had brought with me. Of course, my men could not understand what had happened, and, fortunately, none of them knew that I was under arrest.
In the meantime my men were being questioned as to what had happened in the Kikuyu country during the time that I had been there, and the following day an askari came to my tent and presented me with a lengthy document, written on blue paper, which proved to be a summons to appear that day before the officers in charge of the fort. The summons read something after the following style: “I, Francis George Hall, charge you, John Boyes, that during your residence in the Kenia district you waged war, set shauris, personated Government, went on six punitive expeditions, and committed dacoity.” I must confess that I read over this formidable list of charges with some amusement, though I was well aware that any one of them, if proved, meant capital punishment. There was
one item on the list that I could not make out, and I took the first opportunity of inquiring the meaning of the word “dacoity,” which was a term I had never heard used in the country before. I remembered reading a book called “The Last of the Dacoits,” and it struck me that either the title of the book was wrong, or that the official, in his anxiety to fulfil his instructions to pile up as heavy a list of crimes against me as possible, had allowed his imagination to run away with him. It was explained to me that “Dacoit” was an Indian term, meaning a native outlaw.
At the time appointed I presented myself at the “court-house,” which was a primitively-constructed mud-hut, furnished with two chairs and a table, and as the two former were occupied by Mr. Hall and Captain Longfield, there was nothing left for me but to make myself as comfortable as possible on the corner of the table, which I did, much to the scandal of those two important officials. The charge having been read over to me, I was cautioned in the same manner that an English bobby cautions a prisoner, that anything I might say, &c., and then I was asked what I had to say. I told them that I certainly had nothing to say to them one way or the other, and would reserve my defence, and the proceedings—which were of a purely formal character—were then over and I returned to my tent.
The next four days were spent in collecting evidence against me, and as nobody could be persuaded to go to my headquarters to collect evidence against me on the spot, Captain Longfield himself finally went, taking with him the whole of his troops, while during his absence Mr. Hall gathered all the information he could from the chiefs and other natives at Mberri.
When they had, as they thought, satisfactorily arranged for sufficient evidence to secure my conviction, the Kikuyu who had come in with me had their arms restored to them, and I and my personal bodyguard, together with about two hundred native witnesses, were sent down to Nairobi under charge of an escort of about ten native soldiers, commanded by a black sergeant! The situation was ludicrously Gilbertian. Here was I, a (so-called) dangerous outlaw, being sent down to be tried for my life on a series of awful indictments, through a country in which I had only to lift a finger to call an army of savage warriors to my assistance. I was accompanied by a personal following twenty times as numerous as the guard of ten natives who kept me prisoner, and who trembled every time they passed a native village lest the inhabitants should rush out and wipe them out of existence; while on the first day out the humour of the situation was considerably increased by the sergeant in
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