LEAVING the main body of the native levy at their work of building forts and making roads and camps ready for the advance of the expedition, we come, by a very rapid transition, into another state of things. The road, narrow as it was and broken, now becomes a mere foot track, twisting in and out between the trees, impeded with gnarled roots and boggy ruts. Every now and again a huge fallen tree-trunk blocks the way—sometimes the path goes laboriously round the end of it, at other times one clambers over, and when one has clambered over some four or five of these impediments in the course of a hundred yards, one begins to realise what delay they would cause to a long train of troops on the march. Streams and bogs have to be waded through, being so far innocent of bridges and of "corduroy." These are points that will be corrected as the levy moves along. Meanwhile, there is a certain pleasure in thus pushing through the bush in its more natural everyday condition. Villages now become very few and far between: mere clusters of huts in forest clearings, containing a population of about a dozen each, all told. Tracks of animals and of hunters become more frequent in the tangled bush. These are tracks that are used by Ashanti scouts, and we notice that our carriers now no longer straggle along the path or spend their voices in loud jabbering, as they have done before the Prah was reached.
At last two figures meet us, quite in keeping with the scene. No clothes beyond a few discolored rags—their bodies girt about with leathern thongs from which hang powder-gourds and knife-sheaths and bullet-bags of deer’s hide. On their shoulders they carry immense long flintlock guns, and round their necks are strings of fetish charms. They come gliding on, laughing, bowing, and shaking hands-these are the first we meet of our scouts. They have heard—goodness knows how—of our arrival, and have come out to meet and escort us on the way. Their coming to meet us means a little step of ten miles or so over the mountain, but that is as nothing to these fine wild children of the bush. Now we come on a clearing in the bush, where two or three huts are all that remain to show the onetime thriving village of Brofu Edru. Villages of this name are frequent along the road. It means, literally, "the power of the white man"—indicating that the place was instituted when the white man had brought peace to the land in 1874. From this particular Brofu Edru we get our first view of the Adansi Mountains-merely a high bush covered ridge rising above the surrounding trees, less than a mile away. Soon we commence the ascent. Almost direct the path climbs up perhaps the straightest piece of road we have so far met with. Scarce a vestige remains of the beautiful zigzag way that was made by the Royal Engineers on the last campaign. As we rise, the air seems fresher, and much we want it, for never was the meaning so nearly brought home to us of the term "bathed in perspiration," as in our last efforts on the steamy flats. At length we reach the top—breathless and panting, longing for the view. But view there is none. All round us the same impenetrable bush, and where the foliage occasionally grants us a glimpse of the world beyond, we see a rolling expanse of tree-tops, looking sky-blue in the overhanging haze.
Now we descend down "Richmond Hill," past "Greenwich"—a stream where little fish like whitebait may be taken by using your mosquito curtain as a net. Suddenly a figure is before us, where a moment before was nothing but a curtain of bush—another scout stands glistening like a polished bronze statue in a sunlit spot. Again the cheery smile, bow, and handshake. He is one of the sentries from the neighbouring piquet. Already the horn is sounding, like a deep-toned steamer’s whistle, to call the men together, and a few minutes later we are among them—good, cheery-looking bush-warriors, and well up to the work of keeping watch. Then we have a talk.
How they enjoy the palaver in which I tell them that "they are the eyes to the body of the snake which is crawling up the bush-path from the coast, and coiling for its spring! The eyes are hungry, but they will soon have meat; and the main body of white men, armed with the best of weapons, will help them win the day, and get their country back again, to enjoy in peace for ever." Then I show them my own little repeating rifle, and firing one shot after another, slowly at first, then faster and faster, till the fourteen rounds roll off in a roar, I quite bring down the house. They crowd round jabbering and yelling, every man bent on shaking hands with the performer.
Later on we visit other piquets and their outposts. The sentries lie about within the bush close to any main paths, at such distance from the piquet as will allow of them being called in by the horn. Patrols of two men each go out along all paths for some eight or ten miles every day. At night the watch is kept by small parties of half a dozen men, who camp out on the paths a mile or two beyond the piquet: Like most natives, they will not work alone at night, but in small parties they do their night work admirably. . Indeed, with such outposts in front of them, our expedition is pretty safe from any surprise by the enemy. Nor is their work by any means confined to passive watching, for far and wide, and well into the enemy’s country, our scouts and spies have spread themselves—even in Kumassi itself. In this way not only are the actual moves of the Ashantis known to us, but also their every plan and preparation. At one piquet there stands a little group that interests us all. Two of the naked Adansi scouts have charge of a prisoner who is tied to one of them by a width of monkey-creeper.
It is an Ashanti spy whom they have caught within the outpost line. An hour’s interrogation gets little but contradictory statements from him, so he is remanded, under guard, for further inquiry. Other men are caught hiding in the bush, but evidently more fools than knaves, and they are sentenced to help in cutting the track and clearing the path. So, although at present we have not so far come to blows, life at the outpost is not altogether without its charm and interest.