According to a British travel agent visiting South Africa, today’s British tourists are no longer intrepid. They are not a patch on their explorer ancestors who came to Africa – Englishmen such as Sir Richard Burton; Welshmen such as Sir Henry Morton Stanley and Scotsmen such as Dr David Livingstone.
Not only are visitors afraid of mosquitoes said the travel agent, “The new type of traveller flies into a panic if he is bitten by almost anything at all”.
My mind floated back to the Old Type. Were they ever fazed by bites? Ha!
It is dawn and the mist thins slightly to reveal a small camp near the Ruwenzoris. Montague Cadwallader Ponsonby walks into his companion’s tent.
“What ho, Carruthers old boy! I say, not still in bed?”
“Ah, I’ll be up in a jiffy my dear fellow. Just feeling a little seedy. Had a restless night.”
“Not well, old man?” says Ponsonby with genuine concern.
“Actually, dear boy, I was bitten during the night.”
Ponsonby then notices Carruthers’ leg is just a bloody stump, torn off above the knee.
“I say, that IS a nasty bite!”
“Lion,” says Carruthers. “Came into my tent during the night and tried to carry me off! Dashed thing! I’m surprised you didn’t hear the commotion – though I did try not to wake everybody. ”
“I say! And we still have about 200 miles to go, what?”
“My dear Ponsonby, it’s a bite. That’s all. No need to make a big thing out of it. I’ll be tickety-boo after a cup of tea.”
“But the Ruwenzoris, old boy! We have to cross the Ruwenzoris. It’s going to be frightfully difficult with only one leg. And what if we run into the waHitto?
“My dear Ponsonby, you worry so. Now, be a good man and help me to my feet. Or, rather, my foot! Ha ha ha. That was rather funny, what?”
Ponsonby helps Carruthers to his foot.
After a few miles Ponsonby says, “I think we’re being followed. Bless me, it’s the waHittos.”
But the two men manage to shake them off, at least for the time being. They press on. Occasionally they have to beat off creatures unknown to science at the time.
Inevitably Carruthers’ bloody stump begins to attract hyenas. On of them bites off his arm.
“I say, Ponsonby, I’m dashed if I haven’t been bitten again!”
“Oh, What absolutely beastly luck, my dear fellow! Here, try some more Peaceful Sleep.”
They come to the Semliki River and swim across. Ponsonby is bitten by a crocodile. He stifles a curse for he is a deeply religious man.
As they gain the far bank Ponsonby, now badly holed by crocodile teeth, makes light of his injuries. He then says, “Don’t look now Carruthers, but I think the waHittos have surrounded us. Try as he might, not to look, Caruthers nevertheless finds himself eye-to-eye with a fierce waHitto warrior leading a war party.
Ponsonby addresses them:
“My dear chaps, we come in peace for all mankind. And womenkind also of course. We just want your land in the name of the Great White Queen, that’s all.
“Of course, if you want something for it I’m sure we can come to some amicable arrangement. Here, have a bag of salt old chap. No? Some beads perhaps? They’re jolly pretty, what?”
The tallest warrior says in sign language: “Chief Ntgathla, Chief of Chiefs, Man Among Men, sends cordial greetings to the bwanas and says he would be awfully glad if I brought you fellows back for dinner tonight.”
“How dashed decent of him!” cries Carruthers.
“Carruthers, for goodness sake!” whispers Ponsonby, urgently, “When the Chief says he wants us for dinner I don’t think he is necessarily going to entertain us – I think he will be more inclined to casserole us. We have no choice but to hop it.”
“I say, how very droll,” says Carruthers. “That’s all I can do is to ‘hop it’, what? Ha ha ha.”
He becomes serious: “Look, my dear Ponsonby, why don’t YOU make a dash for it on your own? After all you’ve got twice as many legs as I have and they probably look upon me as being perfectly ‘armless. Ha ha ha, there I go again! Gettit? Armless!
“I’ll distract them with my renditions from the Pirates of Penzance until you are safely away.”
Ponsonby solemnly salutes Carruthers’ noble self-sacrifice and escapes.
The waHittos, fascinated at first by Carruthers rendition of, “I am the very model of a modern major-general“, become restless and close in with their spears.
Carruthers switches to “God save the Queen” (as best he can while maintaining a stiff upper lip) – the spears fly.