Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter IX

Two Arabian merchants are persuaded by the author to purchase him and four of his suffering companions—they kill a camel and prepare to set out for Morocco across the Desart.

All the men had gone out a hunting on their camels, carrying their arms with them; that is to say, seeking for plunder as I concluded. My old and young mistresses went to see the strangers; they had no water to carry, as is customary, but took with them a large skin, with a roll of. tent cloth to make them a shelter; the strangers rose as the women drew near, and saluted them by the words “ Labez , Labez-Salem; Labez-Alikom peace, peace be with you, &c. and the women returned these salutations in similar words. They next ran to our tent, and took a couple of sticks, with the help of which and the skin and te'nt cloth, they soon made an awning for the strangers. This done, they took the bundles which were on the camels, and placed them in this tent, with the saddles and all the other things the strangers had brought. The two strangers had a couple of skins that contained water, which the women hung up on a frame they carried from our tent.

During the whole time the women were thus employed, the strangers remained seated on the ground beside their guns, for they had each a double barrelled musket, and so bright, that they glittered in the sun like silver. The women having finished their attentions, seated themselves near the strangers, and made inquiries, as near as 1 could comprehend, by saying, “ where did you come from ? what goods have you got ? how long have you been on your journey ?” &c. Having satisfied their curiosity on these points, they next came to me, and the old woman (in whom as yet I had not discovered one spark of pity) told me that Sidi Hamet had come with blankets and blue cloth to sell; that he came from the Sultan’s dominions, and that he could buy me and carry me there, if he chose, where I might find my friends, and kiss my wife and children.

Before my master returned I went to the tent of Sidi. Hamet, with a wooden bowl, and begged for some water; showing my mouth, which was extremely parched and stiff, so much so, that I could with difficulty speak. He looked at me, and asked - if I was el Rais (the captain). I nodded assent; he told his brother, who was with him, to give me some water, but this his benevolent brother faould not condescend to do; so taking the bowl himself, he poured into it near a quart of clear water, saying, “Sherub Rias”—that is, drink, captain, or chief. I drank about half of it, and after thanking him and imploring the blessing of Heaven upon him for his humanity, I was going to take the rest of it to our tent, where Clark lay stretched out on his back, a perfect wreck of almost naked bones; his belly and back nearly collapsed, and breathing like a person in the last agonies of death: but Sidi Ha- met would not permit me to carry the water away, bidding me drink it myself. I pointed out to him my distressed companion; this l excited his pity, and he suffered me to give Clark the remainder.

The water was perfectly fresh, and revived him exceedingly; it was a cordial to his desponding soul, being the first fresh water either of us had tasted since we left the boat: his eyes that were sunk deep in their sockets, brightened up—“ this is good water, (said he) arid must have come from a better country than this; if we were once there, (added he) and I could get one good drink of such water, ^ could die with pleasure, but now I cannot live another day.” Our masters soon returned, and began, with others of the tribe, who had received the news of the arrival of strangers, to form circles, and chat with them and each qther; this continued till night, and I presume there were at least two hundred men present. After dark they began to separate, and by 10 o’clock at night none remained but my old master’s family, and three or four of their relations, at our tent. On this occasion we were turned out into the open ’ air, and were obliged to pass the night without any shelter or covering. It was a long and tedious night; but at the time of milking the camels, our old master coming to us, as if afraid of losing his property by our death, and anxious we should live, dealt out about a pint of milk to each; this milk tasted better than any I had yet drank; it was a sweet and seasonable relief, and saved poor Clark from dissolution.

This was the first nourishment of any kind our master had given us in three days, and I concluded from this circumstance that he had hopes of selling us to the strangers. The next morning Sidi Hamet came towards the tent, and beckoned me to come there; he was at a considerable distance, and I made the best of my way to him; here he bade me sit down on the ground. I had by this time learned many words in their language, which is ancient Arabic, and could understand the general current of their conversation, by paying strict attention to it.

He now began to question me about my country, and the manner in which I had come here—I made him understand that I was an Englishman, and that my vessel and crew were of the same nation—I found he had heard of that country, and I stated as well asl could the manner of my shipwreck—told him we were reduced to the lowest* depth of misery; that I had a wife and five children in my own country, besides Horace, whom I called my eldest son, mingling with my story sighs and tears, and all the signs of affection and despair which these recollections and my present situation naturally called forth.

I found him to be a very intelligent and feeling man—for although he know no language but the Arabic, he comprehended so well what I wished to communicate, that he actually shed tears at the recital of my distresses, notwithstanding that, among the Arabs, weeping is regarded as a womanish weakness. He seemed to be ashamed of his owri want of fortitude, and said that men who had beard's like him, ought not to shed tears; and he retired, wiping his eyes.

Finding I had awakened his sympathy, I thought if I could rouse his interest by large offers of money, he might buy me and my companions, and carry us up from the desart—so accordingly the first time I saw him alone, I went to him and begged him to buy me, and carry me to the sultan of Morocco or Marocksh, where I could find a friend to redeem me. He said no, but he would carry me to Swearah, describing it as a walled town and seaport. I told him I had seen the sultan, and that he was a friend to my nation. He then asked me many other questions about Mohammed Rassool—I bowed and pointed to the east, then towards heaven, as if I thought he had ascended there: this seemed to please him, and he asked me how much money I would give him to carry me up; upon which I counted over fifty pieces of stones, signifying I would give as many dollars for myself and each of my men. “ I will not buy the others,” said he, “ but how much more than fifty dollars will you give me for yourself, if I buy you and carry you to your friends ?” I told him one hundred dollars. “ Have you any money in Swe- arah'' asked he by signs and words, “ or do you mean to make me wait till you get it from your country?” I replied that my friend in Swearah would give him the money so soon as he brought me there.

“You are deceiving me,” said he. I made the most solemn protestations of my sincerity:—“ I will buy you then,” said he, “ but remember, if you deceive me, I will cut your throat,” (making a motion to that effect.) This I assented to, and begged of him to*' buy my son Horace also, but he would not hear a word about any of my companions, as it would be impossible, he said, to get them up off the desart, which was a great distance. “ Say nothing about it to your old master,” signified he to me, “ nor to my brother, or any of the others.” He then left me, and I went out to seek for snails to relieve my hunger. I saw Mr. Savage and Hogan, and brought them with Clark near Sidi Hamet’s tent, where we sat down on the ground. He came out to see us* miserable objects as we were, and seemed very much shocked at the sight. I told my companions I had great hopes we should be bought by this man and carried up to the cultivated country—but they expressed great fears that they would be left behind. Sidi Hamet asked me many questions about my men—wished to know if any of them had died* and if they had wives and children. I tried all I could to interest him in their behalf, as well as my own, and mentioned to him my son, whom he had not vet seen. I found my companions had been very much stinted in milk as well as inyself, and that they liad no water,—they had found a few snails, which kept them alive; blit even these now failed.

The 24th, we journeyed on towards the N. W. all day—the whole tribe, or nearly so, in company, and the strangers also kept in company with us. When my mistress pitched her tent near night, she made up one for Sidi Hamet also. I begged of him on my. knees every time I had an opportunity, for him to buy me and my companions, and on the 25th I had the happiness to see him pay my old master for me: he gave him two blankets or coarse hoicks, one blue cotton covering, and a bundle of ostrich feathers, with which the old man seemed much pleased, as he had now three suits of clothing. They were a long time in making the bargain.

This day Horace came with his master to fetch something to our tent; at his approach, I went to meet him, and embraced him with tears. 'Sidi Hamet was then fully convinced that he was my son. I had found a few snails this morning, and divided thfem between Mr. Savage and Horace before Sidi Hamet, who signified to me in the afternoon that he intended to set out with me in two days for Swea- rah; that he had tried to buy my son, but could not succeed, for his master would not sell him at any price: then said I, “ let me stay in his place; I will be a faithful slave to his master as long as I live— carry him up to Swearah; my friend will pay you for him, and send him home to his mother, whom I cannot see unless I bring her son with me.” “You shall have yoijr son, by Allah,” said Sidi Hamet

The whole tribe was gathered in council, and I supposed relative to this business. In the course of the afternoon they debated the matter over, and seemed to turn it every way;—they fought besides three or four battles with fists and scimitars, in their warm and loud discussions in settling individual disputes; but in the evening I was told that Horace was bought, as the tribe in council had forced his master to sell him, though at a great price. I now redoubled my entreaties with my new master to buy Mr. Savage and Clark, telling him that I would give him a large sum of money if he got us up safe; but he told me he should be obliged to carry us through bands of robbers, who would kill him for our sakes, and that his company was not strong enough to resist them by force of arms—I fell down on my knees, and implored him to buy Mr. Savage and Clark at any rate, thinking if he should buy them, he might be induced to purchase the remaining part of the crew.

My mind had been so busily employed in schemes of redemption, as almost to forget my sufferings since Sidi Hamet had bought me. He had given me two or three drinks of water, and had begged milk for me of my former master. On the morning of the 26th, I renewed my entreaties for him to purchase Mr. Savage, Clark, and Hogan—the others I had not seen since the second or third day after we were in the hands of the Arabs. I did not know where they were, and consequently could not designate them to my master Hamet, though I told him all their names. Mr. Savage and Hogan looked much more healthy and likely to live than Clark, and Sidi Hamet insisted that it was impossible that Clark could live more than three days, and that if he bought him, he should lose his money. I told him no, he should not lose his money, for whether he lived or died, I would pay him the same amount.

Clark was afflicted with the scalded head, rendered a raw sore in consequence of his sufferings, and his hair, which was very long, was, of course, in a very filthy condition ; this attracted the attention of Sidi Hamet and his brother, the latter of whom was a very surly and cross-looking fellow. They poked the hair and scabs open with their sticks, and demanded to know what was the occasion of that filthy appearance. Clark assured them, that it was in consequence of his exposure to the sun, and as that was the reason I had assigned for the horrible sores and blisters that covered our scorched bodies and half-roasted flesh: they said, it might possibly be so, but asked why the heads of the rest of us were not in the same state. They next found fault with my shins, which had been a long time very sore, and they examined every bone to see if all was right in its place, with the same cautious circumspections that a jockey would use, who was about buying a horse, while we, poor trembling wretches, strove with all possible care and anxiety to hide every fault and infirmity in us, occasioned by our dreadful calamities and cruel sufferings.

Sidi Hamet informed me this day, that he had bought Mr. Savage and Clark, and had bargained for Hogan, and that he was going to kill a camel that night for provisions on our journey. Our water had been expended for two days, and all the families around us were also destitute. I did not get more than a gill of milk in twenty-four hours, and a small handful of snails—these served in a little degree to support nature, and I waited with the greatest impatience for the killing of the camel which had been promised, hoping to have a meal of meat once more before I died. Clark and I had been busy all the afternoon in gathering dry sticks to make a fire, and a little after midnight my master came to me and showed me where to carry the wood we had collected; it was in a little gulley, that it might not be seen by our neighbours, whilst our former master and two present ones were leading a camel, up to the same place. This camel, on its arrival, they made lie down in the usual manner: it was a very old one, and so poor, that he had not been able to keep pace with the drove during the journey, and Sidi Hamet told me he had bought him for one blanket.

The camel being down, they put a rope round his under jaw, with a noose in it; then hauling his head round on the left side, made the rope fast to his tail, close up to his body: his neck was so long, that the under jaw reached within six inches of the tail: they then brought a copper kettle that would contain probably three gallons. Thus prepared, Sidi Hamet cut open a vein on the right side of the camel’s neck, close to his breast; the blood streamed out into the kettle, and soon filled it half full; this they set over the fire and boiled, stirring it all the time with a stick until it became thick, and of the consistence of a beef’s liver; then taking it off the fire, they passed it to me, saying, “ coole, Riley,” (eat, Riley.) I did not wait for a second bidding, but fell to, together with Clark : our appetites were voracious, and we soon filled our stomachs with this, to us, delicious food.

Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, and the privacy observed in killing this meagre camel, many of our hungry neighbours had found it out, and came to assist in the dressing and eating of the animal. They insisted on having some of the blood, and would snatch out a handful in spite of all our masters could do to hinder them; they vrere then very officious in assisting to take off the hide, which was soon done, and the entrails were rolled out; they next proceeded to put all the small entrails into the kettle, without cleaning them of their contents, together with what remained of the liver and lights; but they had no water to boil them in. Then one of them went to the camel’s paunch, which was very large, and cutting a slit in the top of it, dipped out some water in a bowl, thick with the camel’s excrement : this they poured into the kettle, and set it a boiling, stirring it round, and now and then taking out a gut, and biting off an end to ascertain whether it was cooked enough. During this time, half a dozen hungry wretches were at work on the camel, which they would not leave under pretence of friendship for our masters, for they would not suffer strangers to work, when in their company, and it being dark, they managed to steal and convey away before morning, more than one-half of the camel’s bones and meat, with half his skin. Our masters were as hungry as any of the Arabs, yet though they had bought the camel, they could scarcely get a bite of the intestines without fighting for it; for what title or argument can prevail against the voracious appetite of a half-starved man ? Though our masters saw the natives in the very act of stealing and carrying off their meat, they could not prevent them, fearing worse consequences than losing it; it being a standing maxim among the Arabs to feed the hungry if in their power, and give them drink, even if the owner of the provisions be obliged to rob himself and his own family to do it.

Notwithstanding the boiled blood we had eaten was perfectly fresh, yet our thirst seemed to increase in consequence of it. As soon as daylight appeared, a boy of from fourteen to sixteen years old came running’ up to the camel’s paunch, and thrusting his head into it up to his shoulders, began to drink of its contents; my master observing him, and seeing that my mouth was very dry, made signs for me to go and pull the boy away, and drink myself; this I soon did, putting my head in like manner into the paunch; the liquid was very thick, but though its taste was exceedingly strong, yet it was not salt, and allayed my thirst: Clark next took a drink of the tame fluid.

This morning we were busied in cutting off the little flesh that remained on the bones of our camel, spreading it out to dry, and roasting the bones on the fire for our masters, who cracking them between two stones, then sucked out the marrow and juices. Near noon, Horace was brought where I was; he was very hungry and thirsty, and said he had not ate any thing of consequence for the last three days. Our common master said to me, “ this is your son Rais,” and seemed extremely glad that he had been able to purchase him, giving him some of the entrails and meat he had boiled and saved for the purpose. I in my turn gave him some of our thick camel’s water, which he found to be delicious; so true it is, that hunger and thirst give a zest to every thing. Burns was brought up soon after, and my master asked me if he was one of my men; I told him he was: “ his master wants to sell him,” said Sidi Hamet, “but he is old and good for nothing,” added he; “ but I can buy him for this blanket,” showing me a very poor old one—I said, “ buy him, he is my countryman, I will repay you as much for him as for the others:”—so he went out, and bought him from his master, and then gave him something to eat. Poor Burns was much rejoiced to find there was a .prospect of recovering his liberty, or at least of getting where he might procure something to eat and drink. During this day, the natives flocked round in great numbers, men, women, and children, and what with begging and stealing reduced our stock of meat to less than fifteen pounds before night.

Sidi Hamet now told me that he had bought Hogan: this was in the afternoon, and he came to us. I congratulated him on our favourable prospects, and our master gave him something to eat; but his former master, Hamet, now demanded one blanket more for him than had been agreed on, a? he was a stout fellow: my master would not be imposed upon, nor had he indeed a blanket left. I begged very hard for poor Hogan, but it was to no purpose, and his old master drove him off, laying on his back with a stick’ most unmercifully. Harriet’s eyes seemed fairly to flash fire as he went from us. Hogan’s hopes had been raised to a high pitch— they were now blasted, and he driven back like a criminal before his brutal owner, to his former miserable abode. He had informed me that he had never as yet, since our captivity, known what it rvas to sleep under the cover of a tent; that his allowance of milk had been so scant, that he did not doubt but he must have died with hunger in a day or two—• he was extremely wasted and sore on every side. My heart bled for him when I saw the blows fall on his emaciated and" mangled frame, but' I could not assist him, and’all I could do was to turn round and hide my face, so as not to witness his further tortures.

This day. was employed in preparing for our departure—our masters made me a pair of sandals with two thickness of the camel’s skin; they also made Horace a pair in the same manner, but Clark and Burris were fitted with single ones; they had in the morning given me a small knife, which I hung to my neck in a case: this they meant as a mark of confidence; and they also gave me charge of their stuff, the camels, and the slaves. I soon perceived, however, that although I had this kind of command, yet I was obliged to do all the work. My men were so far exhausted, that even the hope of soon obtaining their liberty, could scarcely animate them to the least exertion.

In the evening Sidi Hamet told me, Jiaron (Mr. Savage) would be with us by and by:—that we should start in the morning for Swearah , and that he hoped, through the blessing of God, I should once more embrace my family; he then told me how much he had paid for each one of us—that he had expended all his property, and that if I had net told him the truth, he was a ruined man—that his brother was a bad man, and had done all he could to prevent his buying us, but that he had at last consented to it, and taken a share.

He next made me repeat, before his brother, my promises to him when we should arrive at Swearah, and my agreement to have my throat cut if my words did not prove true. Late in the evening Mr. Savage joined us—he knew before that I was going to set out, and thought he should be left behind—he was very thankful to be undeceived in this particular, and to get, at the same time, something to eat, for Sidi Hamet had saved some of the camel’s intes? tines, which he immediately gave him.

After having satisfied his hunger in some measure, he began to express his doubts as to where w& were going; declaring, that he did not believe a word these wretches said:—he could not understand them, and said he did not believe I could; and suggested a hundred doubts and difficulties on the subject, that his ill-boding imagination supplied him with: he did not like the price I had agreed to give for our liberty,—it was too much, and I should find no body willing to advance it for me, as I was poor.

We had started what water jjfemained in the paunch of the camel, thick as it was, into a goat skin, straining it through our fingers to keep out the thickest of the filth. The night of the 27 th, as near as we could keep count by marking the day of the month on our legs with a thorn, we passed in the open air, five of us together.

At daylight on the morning of the 28th, we were called up and made to load our camels. I had strong hopes we were going to ride, but it now appeared not to be the case. All the Arabs in the valley set out in the morning with their camels, to drive them to water—they had not been watered since the 10th, having gone without any for eighteen days. They were now at least two days’ journey from the well, where we had first been seized, towards which they now steered, in a N. W. direction. I mention this circumstance, to show the time these wonderful animals can live without drink, and supply their masters with milk, even when nearly destitute of vegetable substances ; and with water from their paunches after death.

Soon after sunrise, our masters bade us drive the' camek up the bank; at this moment Archibald Robins came with his master to see us, and I supposed bis master had brought him with a view of selling him. I had not before seen him for fourteen days, and he had only arrived soon enough to witness our departure—! now on my knees begged, as I had done before of Sidi Hamet, to purchase him; but he said he could not, and so hurried us on.

I told Robbins what my present hopes were, and that if I should succeed in getting clear, I would use my utmost endeavours to procure his and the rest of the crew’s redemption. I begged him to continue as long as he could with his present master, who, for an Arab, appeared to be a very good man; and to encourage Mr. Williams and all the others to bear up with fortitude, and support life as long as it was possible, in the hope that, through my help or some other means, they might obtain their redemption in a short time; and having taken my leave of him in the most affectionate manner, (in which my companions followed the example) we set out on our journey, but with heavy hearts, occasioned by the bitter regret we felt at leaving our fellow sufferers behind, although I had done all in my power to make them partakers of our better fortune.

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