The Explorers' Club is having a "membership drive" this spring, and quite a diverse set of persons are asked to join. Among them are several military officers, a "spiritist", and several "gentlemen of elegant liesure." Half a dozen of the most enterprising of these men are asked by the club's directors to take part in an upcoming Expedition to Africa.
It soon becomes clear to the Expedition members that the directors are acting secretly on behalf of Her Majesty's government, and in fact the club was partly created by the government as a focus for covert activities. Also, last year's expedition to Tibet was a colossal failure, and only one member returned alive!
The gathered explorers are shown a chunk of liftwood, found in Equatoria by a previous expedition, and apparently brought to Equatoria from Darfur. The liftwood is very old and weatherbeaten, and has barely any lifting power; and it is not of a known species of the liftwood plant. The Expedition's goal is to find the source of this item, and if possible secure any supply of liftwood for Great Britain. Six months ago another expedition (which had several of the earliest Explorers' Club members along) was sent to Darfur, but failed to return; and an expedition lost in 1887 is thought to have been headed to Darfur also. Both of these expeditions were travelling on small liftwood-based aerial fliers. The club directors (and presumably the government) fear that news of this possible source of Earthly liftwood may get out; and the source may be in some part of Africa under French, German, Belgian, or Italian influence.
Under pressure from his formidable aunts, Mr. Bertram Wooster is picked to head the Expedition. Also to accompany the Expedition is a Venusian, sort of a club mascot, rescued by one of the directors from a tawdry carnival. A private aerial yacht, the Mercury is placed at the Expedition's disposal -- publicly due to the owner's zeal for exploring, but actually due to pressure from the Admiralty. A large number of other devices, inventions, supplies and other baggage are contributed by various persons, once the Expedition is announced in the press. The departure is to take place in mid-June.
In addition, a beautiful French opera comique singer, the famous Mlle Liselle, asked Mr. Wooster and several of the explorers to save her "brave and dashing friend", Captain Henri Houlin of the French Foreign Legion, from the perils of Africa. It seems that Captain Houlin was a protege of General Boulanger, who nearly overthrew the French government in a coup last month. While Houlin was not involved in the coup, Mlle Liselle feels (not without justification) that powerful persons in the French government wish Captain Houlin to never return from Africa. She fears both suborned (or just naturally bad) enlisted men in his unit, and the dangers with which Africa so abounds (such as "krokodils"). She reveals that he will be leading a detachment of the 2ème Régiment Etranger d'Infanterie (or 2ème REI from now on ...) to roughly the same area where the Expedition is headed. Her pleas for help have so far gone unanswered ...
Our Stalwart Heroes got themselves sorted out and (after Derby Week) boarded the aerial flyer "Mercury" on June 16th to travel to Equatoria. First stop: Paris, where the Universal Exposition was the focus of some attention.
See photos here and more info on the Exposition at this web page. The enormous French aerial fortress "Charlemagne" is first displayed publicly at the Exposition.
Mr. Harris discovered, from a source he won't reveal, a plot against one or more of the Expedition members, by an "anarchist" group. Several of the Expedition members went to beard the anarchists in their lair, on the Rue de Molay, but mostly suceeded in angering their leader, Vincent Vallon. After a late-night attack on Mr. Harris's hotel room by a pair of the "anarchists", the Expedition decided it was time to depart from Paris! During the five day trip to Cairo, news reached them that Vallon's group had stolen a French government aerial gunboat -- presumably to chase the Expedition! Quelle fromage!
Arriving in Cairo on June 22nd, the Stalwart Heroes touristed the usual sights -- pyramids, sphinxes, etc. Some unwise snooping in the native areas of the city led to a slight encounter or two, but nothing terribly dangerous. The news that Italian, German and French military expeditions, plus a privately-financed American one, are all headed in the very general direction of Darfur gave the group some pause. Plus, of course, the "anarchists" ... and, the Madhist general Nejumi is at Sarras with over 6000 fighting men and 8000 followers.
Major General Sir Francis Grenfell, KCB, the Sirdar of the Egyptian Army, has invited the Expedition members to an official Ball on June 25th; the Khedive, Tewfik Pasha, his wife Amina Hanem, and his son Abbas will attend; many other dignitaries will be there. Also, Sir Francis has asked the military members of the Expedition if they could nominate an officer capable and willing of assuming the post of Governor of Equatorial Sudan ...
Sir Francis is also an Egyptologist and antiquarian of note. He is 48, and married his wife Evelyn two years ago; they have no children. His nominal regiment is the 60th Rifles.
Besides the Sirdar, Britons of note in Egypt include Sir Francis Wingate (Assistant Adjutant General, Intelligence); brevet Colonel Horatio Kitchener, commanding an Egyptian brigade; Captain Hector MacDonald, commanding a Sudanese battalion; Sir Evelyn Baring, the Consul-General; and Quartermaster Sergeant Frank Bourne DCM (5' 6" tall, age 35) ...
Here are some maps and charts for the Expedition.
Some members of the Expedition took in the sights and sounds of ancient, storied Egypt; others, duller and more diligent, sought advice and last-minute additions to the equipage. Several attempts were made on the life of some friends of Mr. Wooster, much to his dismay.
At the Sirdar's Ball, the Expedition was introduced to the Khedive, who unexpectedly designated Wooster as Governor of Darfur province, a pasha of the Ottoman Empire, and a Miralai (Colonel) in the Egyptian Army! A bejeweled sword, chest of treasure, Ottoman and Darfurian flags, fancy tarboosh (the local term for a "fez"), lumpy blue uniform, green sash with jewel of office, and many documents come with the position. While Mr. Wooster was bemused by the appointment, some discussion occured regarding the choice of a Vice Governor -- some Army officer, already part of the Expedition, with perhaps a smattering of Arabic. All eyes fell upon Captain Gray, wearing the Khedive's Star, and asking a servant in Arabic for a vintage champagne.
The British military and political staff had a quick meeting with Mr. Wooster in a drawing room, and persuaded him that it would be "bad form" for a Britisher to turn down the Khedive's request. The British were, however, somewhat put out by what seemed to be the Khedive's scheme to embarrass them. Sir Evelyn Baring's instruction to Wooster Pasha was, in brief, "The policy which it is desirable to follow in the Sudan should consist in standing purely on the defensive against any hostile movement or combination of the Arab tribes, in avoiding any course of action which might involve the ultimate necessity of offensive action, and in encouraging legitimate trade by every means in our power." The Sirdar and his officers didn't entirely seem to agree with the Consul-General, but Egypt is his to command ...
Mr. Matthews was approached by an Arabic merchant, Khemal by name. He made an offer to Matthews: if the "trade" is not interfered with, and if nothing occurs to draw the wrath of the British Empire upon Darfur, Matthews will be rewarded greatly. Matthews received 50 Austrian gold ducat coins (worth 4 pounds 7 shillings each).
Captain Grey was surprised to learn that he has the Ottoman title of Bey, the position of Vice Governor of Darfur, and the rank of Bimbashi (Major) in the Egyptian Army all thrust upon him, as well as a gilt dirk, nice tarboosh, lumpy blue uniform, green sash with a badge of office, and some paperwork.
Two more days of preparation pass, and then the Expedition was ready to depart on June 28th. At the airship-field, a delegation from the Khedive presented His Excellency Miralai the Honorable Bertram Wooster Pasha with a half-ton stone plinth, showing the Khedive in bas-relief, and bearing an Arabic inscription proclaiming Egyptian rule and the end of slavery. The plinth is to be placed, by the Khedive's order, at the entrance to His Excellency's palace in Darfur.
During the first day's travel south, over the Nile, the Mercury sighted an unknown steam-powered aerial flier "shadowing" from far astern. At sunset, the Mercury descended to the border post at Derr (aka Horosko), where they were greeted by the British officers of the army gathered to repel a Mahdist advance. Lt. Colonel Josceline Heneage Wodehouse (really!) is the commander; he is an artillery officer, age 37, a veteran of the Zulu War, various Afghan engagements, and the Gordon Relief Expedition. Here, also, Mr. Matthews was contacted by an agent of Khemal; he is given the name of Khemal's brother in Lado (capital of Equatoria), Abdul el-Krit, as a contact, and also a pot of "sleeping salve". The Expedition views with some uncertainty the "Land Ironclad" being constructed at this camp also; Lt. Delacy comments, "It seems rather a waste of over a hundred Maxim guns."
Departing early for the dangerous run south to Equatoria, the Expedition watched anxiously below, where armies of dervishes, Arabs, fuzzy-wuzzies, and other dangerous types maneuvered and prepared far below. The mysterious aerial flier was seen far astern from time to time, also. Two days of travel, with only a brief watering-stop hovering over the Nile, brought them to Lado, where a tawdry band (playing, slightly alarmingly, the "Kaiserlied", used as the anthem for both Austria-Hungary and Germany) and enthusiastic crowd greeted them.
Lado is a grimy, poor town at the southern edge of a great marsh; the marsh is largely why the Mahdists have not captured Equatoria (also the two battalions of Sudanese troops). The Vice-Governor, Etoom Bey, greeted the Expedition happily, hoping for a new Governor and assistance from Egypt; but alas his hopes were dashed.
Matthews contacted Abdul el-Krit, a large, bald, homicidal Arab, who offered to make sure that Wooster Pasha is not killed by enemies of Britain ("Perhaps krokodils", he suggested). This offer was declined, but Matthews did agree to Abdul's offer of bold, dangerous, competent and cheap guides and camel-handlers for the Expedition.
A couple of days were spent in Lado, engaging eight Sudanese soldiers as guards, a dozen Arabs as guides and cameleers, and twenty-eight camels. The camels, soldiers, guides, and luggage (ammunition, golf clubs, evening wear, and all) were all carried, in a couple of trips, west to the town of Wau, on the Equatorian border. While staying in Lado, there was an incident involving scorpions in a chamberpot. Also, some information about Darfur was gained fom the Arab guides provided by Abdul.
Lt. Colonel Wodehouse on July 2nd led his "Flying Column" of nearly 2000 Egyptian troops to victory at the border village of Argin, against the forces of the Mahdists; the sharp action resulted in 900 enemy deaths, including many important amirs; 500 prisoners are taken. The Egyptians suffered only slight losses; Wodehouse will recieve the CB for his role as commander.
Thus, on the morning of July 3rd, 1889, the Expedition disembarked from the Mercury for the last time, fired up the "Little Wonder" and headed north towards Darfur (a journey of about 300 miles, thus at least two weeks travel with the "Little Wonder" along).
Some of the minor Expedition members:
-- John McCormick, reluctant mechanic for the Little Wonder
-- Corporal Gohr Nember, leading the Sudanese soldiers
-- Mohammed el-Shakoosh Kabir, leader of the Arab guides
Mohammed's statement about Darfur:
"Many men of my tribe, the Baggara, have served the White Queen as slave-takers and warriors; in the past we were well paid. Great slave-pens and slave-trading markets were long established at El Fasher. But, as slave-trading towards the Atlantic coast has diminished greatly in recent decades, so has the wealth and power of the White Queen. Nonetheless, she remains immortal and dangerous, using sorcery [Ar. as-sihr 'that whose cause is invisible'] without pity. But does not the Koran say, sorcerers shall not prosper? The barracks of El Fasher are nearly empty now; the chief of El Fasher, Muhammad al-Din, fifth of that name, is old and weak, and his followers are few."
"Nearly one hundred miles west of El Fasher, at the end of a well-made road, is the White Queen's main city Nyala, at the base of Jebel Marra [Ar. 'bad mountain']. Verdant fields and orchards surround the tall mountain; steam jets and hot springs are found on its slopes. The city, Nyala, is located on the lower slopes, just below a great cliff, hundreds of feet high, which runs entirely around the mountain. Clouds shroud the peak, where the White Queen has her temple."
"A secret passage or hidden road within Nyala leads to the upper slopes of Jebel Marra; none but the White Queen's most trusted servants may travel on the mountain above the cliffs. Few indeed of the Baggara or other proper Muslims came even to Nyala."
"Long ago, before the time of Mohammed, may Allah bless him, and perhaps even before the years of Moses, the people of Kor served the White Queen, and raised up Nyala. Indeed, she may be one of that lost tribe. Another, greater city, lies within the bowl atop Jebel Marra, made by those of Kor, but it is said to be long-ruined, deserted except for the White Queen's temple."
"The people of the White Queen are black, their blood blended from every tribe and land of Africa -- for she in former times chose the best of the slaves in the markets of El Fasher as her toll. Those who serve her above the rampart-wall of Jebel Marra are mostly mute; those who live in Nyala, or work the fields, speak Arabic. She herself is said to be pale, with long black hair -- of course, none of the Baggara have ever laid eyes upon her."
"The soldiers of Nyala user spears, pole-arms and bows; I have heard though that in recent years, as the forces of the Mahdi armed themselves with guns, so too the army of Nyala seeks to do so. The last time I was there, four years ago, they had only a small supply of old muskets."
"Strange trees? Not that I have seen; but of course the great bowl at the top of Jebel Marra is verdant, and no doubt has many strange things within it."
Our Stalwart Heroes began the long trek across the arid, thorn-and-insect-infested plains north of Wau. From time to time, a small aerial scout flier was spotted at great distances, shadowing the expedition. One morning, after a week of travel, a faint pillar of smoke was spotted a few miles to the west; upon investigation, it proved to be a steam tripod, flying German colours!
A cautious approach led to a peaceful meeting with Hauptmann Eric von Plack, leader of a small expedition sent north from Cameroon. He possesses a document signed by the Kaiser, naming von Plack "Governor of the province of Darfur and any other lands he may rightfully claim in Africa." There is a bit of disagreement about who should be governor of Darfur ...
Proceeding on in cautious company with von Plack, the expedition notices one morning that the distant scout flier has swooped down to the ground, and then up and away again. Curious, Our Heroes investigate the terrain, and discover a tired, hungry, thirsty group of Foreign Legion soldiers -- led by Captain Houlin. They've had quite a troublesome time, travelling east across the Sahara, and are now down to twenty men (from more than two hundred a month ago). Legionnaire Winterbean is acting as Houlin's personal servant, and is somewhat ticked off at Wooster Pasha ...
After two weeks of travel from Wau, the expedition (including their German and French travelling companions) arrive at El Fasher, a dusty Arab town surrounding a caravanserai. Baggara tribesmen, Egyptian and African slaves, Arab slavers, Mahdists, Fuzzy-Wuzzies and Dervishes give the town an exotic -- and dangerous -- air. Also in the town are a couple of aerial fliers (including the stolen gunboat Aspic), guarded by the White Queen's troops; thirty or so Cossacks, accompanying the "Palestine Society" expedition led by Nikolai Ashinov; and Norbert "Bizzie" Hyde-Tennant, an old schoold chum of Wooster Pasha.
Hyde-Tennant has been in Darfur for three years, seeking various obscure species of moth; he provides a bit more information on recent events in the province. The Aspic arrived just over a week ago, brought by white men who seemed "quite chummy with the Queen's men." The other, more yacht-like flier, is unknown to Hyde-Tennant.
An Italian spy among the Russians' bearers contacts Our Heroes the first morning of their stay in El Fasher, warning them of Ashinov's plan to arm the Mahdists with rifles and some kind of anti-flier weapons. Captain Grey and Lieutenant Delacy concoct a scheme whereby the Expedition's Arab guide and camel-drivers attack the Russian camp -- a scheme which succeeds perhaps too well. Only two of the Cossacks survive the late night attack, and are taken into custody by the Expedition, along with two aerial mines.
The expeditions are invited to visit Nyala, the White Queen's city at the base of Jebel Marra. The Germans politely decline, but the British and French begin the two-day trip towards the high, verdant mountain. As they approach Nyala, the landscape becomes more and more cultivated, with ancient canals, fine roads, and the remnants of what might be Egyptian architecture. In one roadside shrine, the Expedition views an alabaster statue of the White Queen ... she seems to possess the large, pointed ears seen in Martians, but of course the depiction is very stylized. Another, smaller statue in the shrine depicts a tall, willowy man, not at all Martian, with rather handsome Anglo-Saxon features...
It is now the 22nd of July, 1889.
Emin Pasha evacuated Wadelai in April 1889, in the face of Dervish aggression; Battle of Argin, July 2nd; Battle of Toski, August 3rd; about 30 members of the Royal Irish Rifles, and a squadron of the 20th Hussars, were present at this conflict, an attempted invasion of Egypt by 5000 Dervishes (led by Wad-el-Nejumi, who commanded in Dongola)
"The troubles in Darfur and with Abyssinia (q.v.) induced the khalifa to reduce the garrisons of the north; nevertheless, the dervishes reoccupied Sarras, continued active in raids and skirmishes, and destroyed the railway south of Sarras, which during the Nile expedition of 1884 and 1885 had been carried as far as Akasha. It was not until May 1889 that an invasion of the frontier on a large scale was attempted. At this time the power and prestige of the khalifa were at their height: the rebellions in Darfur and Kordofan had been stamped out, the anti-mahdi was dead, and even the dervish defeat by the Abyssinians had been converted by the death of King John and the capture of his body into a success. It was therefore an opportune time to try to sweep the Turks and the British into the sea. On the 22nd of June Nejumi was at Sarras with over 6000 fighting men and 8000 followers. On the 2nd of July Colonel J. Wodehouse headed off a part of this force from the river at Argin, and, after a sharp action, completely defeated it, killing 900, among whom were many important amirs, and taking 500 prisoners and 12 banners, with very small loss to his own troops. A British brigade was on its way up stream, but the sirdar, who had already arrived to take the command in person, decided not to wait for it. The Egyptian troops, with a squadron of the 20th Hussars, concentrated at Toski, and thence, on the 3rd of August (Battle of Toski) General Grenfell, with slight loss, gained a decisive victory. Wad en Nejumi, most of his amirs, and more than 1200 Arabs were killed; 4000 prisoners and 147 standards were taken, and the dervish army practically destroyed. No further serious attempts were made to disturb the frontier, of which the most southerly outpost was at once advanced to Sarras."