Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter XII

They arrive amongst immense mountains of driving sand—their extreme sufferings—their masters find and steal some barley, and restore it again.

Having watered our camels, and filled two skins with water, and drank as much as we needed—they mounted Horace on the young camel, and all the others being also mounted, we proceeded on towards the N. E. at a long walk, and sometimes a trot, driving the old lame camel before us until dark night, and I think we travelled thirty-five miles this day. The entrails of the sheep were now given us for our supper; these we roasted on a fire we made for the purpose, and ate them, while our masters finished two of the quarters.

We lay this night without any screen or shelter, and early in the morning of the 4th, we set off on our journey, all on foot, driving our camels before us, on the same kind of flat surface we had hitherto travelled over: but, about 10 A. M. it began to assume a new aspect, and become sandy. The sand where we first entered it, lay in small loose heaps, through which it was very difficult to walk, as we sank in nearly to our knees at each step—this sand was scorching hot. The camels were now stopped, and all of us mounted on them, when on their rising up, we saw before us vast numbers of immense sand hills, stretching as far as the eye could reach from the north to the south, heaped up in a most terrific manner; we soon arrived among them, and were struck with horror at the sight:—huge mountains of loose sand piled up like drifted snow, towered two hundred feet above our heads on every side, and seemed to threaten destruction to our whole party : not a green, or even a dry bush or shrub of any kind in view to relieve the eye;—here was no path to guide our footsteps, nor had we a compass to direct our course, obstructed by these dreadful barriers. The trade winds which had hitherto given us so much relief on our journey, by refreshing our bodies when heated by the rays of an almost perpendicular sun, and which had served, in some measure, to direct our course—even these winds, which now blew like a tempest, became our formidable enemy: —the loose sand flew before its blasts, cutting our flesh like hail stones, and very often covering us from each other’s sight, while the gusts (which followed each other in quick*succession) were rushing by.

We were here obliged to dismount, and drive the camels up the sandy steeps after our masters, who went on before to look out a practicable passage. The camels, as well as ourselves, trod deep in the sand, and with great difficulty ascended the hills; but they went down them very easily, and frequently on a long trot, following our masters. Sidi Hamet, Seid, and Abdallah, seemed full of apprehensions for their own and our safety, and were very careful of their camels.

Thus we drove on until dark, when coming to a space where the sand was not so much heaped up, being like a lake surrounded by mountains, we saw a few shrubs: here we stopped for the night, unloaded, and fettered our camels, whose appetites were as keen apparently as ours, for they devoured the few leaves, together with the shrubs, which were as thick as a man’s finger. We next prepared a kind of shelter with the saddles and some sand for our masters and ourselves to keep off in some measure the fierce and chilling blasts of wind, and the driving sand which pierced our sores and caused us much pain. Having kindled a fire, our masters divided the meat that remained of the sheep:—it was sweet to our taste, though but a morsel, and we pounded, chewed and swallowed all the bones, and afterwards got a drink of water:—then lying down on the sand, we had a comfortable night’s sleep, considering our situation. I reckon we haid made thirty-five miles this day, having travelled about eight hours before we got among the heavy sand hills, at the rate of three miles an hour, and five hours among the sand hills, at the rate of two miles an hour. We were all afflicted with a most violent diarrhoea, brought on, no doubt, by excessive drinking and fatigue.

At daylight on the morning of the 5th, I was ordered to fetch the camels, and took Mr. Savage and Clark with me; and the two old ones being fettered, that is, their two fore legs being tied within twelve inches of each other, they could not wander far; we soon found them, and I made the one I found kneel down, and having taken off its fetters, mounted it with a good stick in my hand for its government, as the Arabs of the desart use neither bridle nor halter, but guide and drive then) altogether with a stick, and by words. Mr. Savage having found the big camel, took off his fetters, intending to make him kneel down in order to get on his back; but the old lame camel which had hitherto carried no load, and which had occasioned us much trouble, in forcing him to keep up with the others when on our march, now set off on a great trot to the South :—the young one followed his example, so did Abdallah’s, and the big one started also, running at their greatest speed. Seeing the panic of the other camels, I endeavoured to stop them by riding before them with my camel, which was the most active and fleet; but they would not stop—dodging me every way; my camel also tried to get rid of its load by running, jumping, lying down, rolling over and striving to bite my legs; but I made shift to get on again before he could rise, and had got some miles from where I had started, keeping near and frequently before the other camels, which appeared to be very much frightened. Our masters had watched us, and when the camels set off, had started on a full run after them; but had been hid from my view by the numerous sand hills, over and among which we passed. Finding I could not stop the others, and fearing I should be lost myself, I stopped the one I was on, and Sidi Hamet soon coming in sight, called to me to make my camel lie down. He mounted it, and after inquiring which way the other camels went, (which were now out of sight) and telling me to follow his tracks back to our stuff, he set off after them Qn full speed :—Seid and Abdallah followed him on foot, running as fast as possible., I returned; and picking up a few skins that had jolted off from the little camel, I joined Mr. Savage and Clark, and we reached the place where we had slept, but much fatigued; and here we remained for two or three hours before our masters returned with the camels.

We had during this interval tasted the bark of the roots of the shrubs which grew on the sand near us— : it was bitter, but not ill flavoured, and we continued to eat of it until the runaway camels were brought back; it entirely cured our diarrhoea. They had overtaken the camels with much difficulty, and the creatures were covered with sweat and $and. I expected we should receive a flogging as an atonement for our carelessness in letting the big camel go, that had beenfettered, and in particular, that Mr. Savage would be punished, whom I did not doubt they had seen, when he let his camel escape. So as soon as they got nigh, I began to plead for him; but it was all to nq purpose, for they whipped him with a thick stick (or goad) most unmercifully. Mr. Savage did not beg as I should have done in our situation, apd in a similar,case, and they believed he had done it expressly to give them trouble, and continued to call him Fonte (i. e. a bad fellow,) all the remaining part of the journey. Having settled this affair, and put what stuff they had on the camels, we mounted them and proceeded,—shaping our course, as before, to the E. N. E. as near as the mountains of sand would permit. It was as late as nine o’clock when we started, and at eleven, having made about three leagues, winding round the saqd hills on a trot, we were obliged to dismount. The hills now stood so thick, that great care was necessary to prevent getting the camels into an inextricable situation between them, and our masters went on a head, two of them at a considerable distance, to.pick the way, and one to direct us how to go;—the latter keeping all the time in sight. The sand was heated (as it had been the preceding day) by the rays of the sun, to such a degree that it burned our feet and legs, so that the smart was more severe than the pain we had before experienced, from our blisters and chafing:—it was like wading through glowing embers.

During the whole of this day, we had looked for shrubs, or some green thing to relieve the eye; but not a speck of verdure was to be seen. We had no food; our water was nearly exhausted, and we saw no sign of finding an end to these horrid heaps of drifting sands, or of procuring any thing to relieve our fatigties and sufferings, which were now really intolerable. We continued on our route, however, as near as circumstances would permit, E. N. E. until about nine o’clock in the evening, and stopped to rest among the high and dreary sand heaps, without a shrub for our camels to eat. I calculated we had gone this day from 9 to 11 o’clock, twelve miles, and from that time till we stopped, about two miles an hour, making in all thirty-two miles. We had nothing to eat; our masters however gave us a drink of water, and being fatigued beyond description, we soon sank down and fell asleep. I happened to awake in the night, and hearing a heavy roaring to the northward of us, concluded it must be a violent gust of wind or a hurricane, that would soon bury us in the sand forever. I therefore immediately awa- kened my companions, who were more terrified at the noise even than myself, for a few moments; but when we perceived that the sound came no nearer, I was convinced, (as the wind did not increase ) that it must be the roaring of the sea against the coast not far off. This was the first time we had heard the sea roar since the 10th of September; and it proved to us that our masters were going towards the empire of Morocco, qs„ they had promised. My Comrades were much rejoiced at being undeceived on that subject, for they had all along' continued to suspect the contrary, notwithstanding I had constantly told them that the courses we steered could not fail of bringing us to jjie coast. ^On the sixth; eafty in th? mornmg, we started, and I found, by inquiring of Sidi Hamet, that our conjectures were true; that we were near the sea, and that the.roaring we heard (and which still continued) was that of the surf: he added, “you will get no more -milk,” which I thought he regretted very much. We continued on our course, labouring among the sandhills until noon, when we found, that on our right,' and ahead, they became less frequent, but on our left there was a string of them, and very high ones, stretching out as far as the eye could reach. ' The sand hills through which we had passed rested on the same hard and flat surface I have before mentioned, without being attached to it; for in many places it was blown off, leaving naked the rocks and baked soil, between the towering drifts.

About noon we left these high sands, and mounting on the camels, proceeded^along southward of them, where the sand was still deep, but not high, on about an East course. Near this line of sand hills our masters discovered two camels—they bore about N. E. and we made directly for them as fast as possible. On a near approach we observed they tvere loaded, and our masters now took off the sheaths from their guns and primed them anew; and upon coming near the camels, they dismounted and made us do the saniQii We saw no human being.

The camels had large sacks on their backs, made of tent cloth, and well filled with something; there was also a large earthen pot lashed on one of them, and two or three small skin bags. Sejd and abdallah drove these camels on with ours, observing strict silence while Sidi Hamet was searching for the owner of them with his double barrelled gun, cocked and primed. Mr. Savage was on the young camel, and not being able to keep up, was a mile or more behind; when Sidi Hamet found the owner of the camels asleep on the sand near where Mr. Savage was. He went towards him, keeping his gun in readiness to fire, until he saw the other had no fire arms, and was fast asleep; when stepping carefully, he snatched a small bag from, near the sleeper’s head, and went slowly away with it until past the fear of waking him. He then assisted in driving Mr. Savage’s camel along, and they soon came up with us, where Seid and Abdallah had made the two loaded camels lie down between some small hillocks of sand. They untied the mouth of one of the sacks, and behold its contents were barley ! This was the first bread stuff we had seen, and it gave us new hopes; they poured out about 50pounds of it, I should guess, and put into a large leather bag of their own ; then tying up the neck of the sack again, they made the camels get up with their loads. They now began to examine the contents of the small bags, and found them to consist of a number of small articles: but the one that was taken from near the Arab’s head was partly filled with barley meal. They were all overjoyed at this discovery, and immediately poUred out some of it into a bowi; mixed it with water, and ate it; then giving us about a quart of water between us, with a handful of this meal in it, making a most delicious gruel, they hurried us on to our camels, and set off to the S. E. on a long trot, leaving the strange camels to themselves.

We had not proceeded more than half an hour, before we saw a man running swiftly in chase of us, and hallooing to make our masters stop; they knew he must be the owner of the camels they had robbed, and paid no other attention to him than to jatish on the camels faster. Sidi Hamet now told me that that fellow was a “ poor devil—he has not evten a musket,” said he “and he let me take this bag while he was asleep.” The man gained on us very f&st. I was afraid he would get back what had been taken from him by our masters, especially the barley—so were my shipmates; one of whom wished he had a loaded musket—saying, “ I would soon stop him if I had one, and thus save the barley.” Our masters made their signs for this man to go back.

But he continued to advance, while our Arab masters tinding he would come up, kept their guns cocked in their hands, and ready to fire on him, though he had no other arms than a scimitar; and drawing near they halted, upon which the stranger making an appeal to God and bowing himself down and worshipping, declared that he had lost a part of his property, and thatheknew theymust have taken it; that he was their brother, and would rather die than commit a bad action, or suffer others to do it with impunity: “ you have fire-arms” ( Celibeatahs ) said he, “and believe you can kill me in an instant; but the God of justice is my shield, and will protect the innocent; I do not fear you.” Sidi Hamet then told him to leave his scimitar where he was, and approach without fear, and then making our camels kneel down, we all dismounted. The stranger upon this came forward and asked—“ is it peace ?” —“ it is,” was the reply of Sidi Hamet; they then saluted each other with—“peace be with you—peace be to your house—4o all your friends,” &c. &c. and shaking one another in a most cordial manner by the hand, seated themselves in a circle on the ground. After a long debate, in which our masters justified themselves for having taken the provision without leave, because we, their slaves, were in a state of starvation, which was very true, they added—“ you would not have refused them a morsel, if you had been awake!” and it was thereupon finally agreed, to restore all that they had taken: so they made us clear a place on the ground that was hard, and pour out the barley from our bag.

They also gave him up his bag of meal, which had been much lightened, and a very small bag, which I supposed to contain opium; this they said was all they had taken:—then after they had prayed together, we ajl mounted our camels and proceeded on our journey. Religion, and honour even among thieves, thought I!

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