Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter XIII

Continuation of the Journey on the Desart—several singular occurrences—they come within sight of the Ocean.

This had detained us about an hour; Mr. Savage was put on the old camel, which still continued very lame, and Horace on the smallest. These camels could not keep pace with the others, and both Mr. Savage and Horace were severely flogged for what eur masters called bad management: though the true reason I suspected was the loss of the stolen barley, which had put them in a bad humour. We kept on to the East as fast as the camels could go, until late in the evening, when hearing the voices of men hallooing to each other, at a short distance on our left, our masters seemed much frightened; kept all still; and finding a deep hollow, we silently descended its steep bank, leaving our little camel with his legs tied, on the level above, as he was so far wtirn down by fatigue that he could scarcely walk. When we got to the bottom of it, we found a considerable number of small bushes, and having taken the saddles from off the camels and fettered their fore legs toge* ier, as usual, we let them go to feed. I calculate we travelled seven hours this day, at two miles an hour, among the sand hills; then two hours on camels, until we came to the strange ones, at the rate of six miles an hour, including two stops, say two hours; then from four until about 10 P. M. six hours at five miles an hour—total this day, fifty-six miles.

As soop as the camels were fettered, our masters examined .their guns, and having ascertained that they were well .primed—ascended the sand hills in this valley, (for there was much drifted sand about it in scattering heaps, and it appeared to have once been a river, whose bed was now dry.) They bade us all follow them, and went first t© the lowest part of the valley; then ascending the steep sides of the sand drifts, made us crawl after them on our hands and knees. After they had gained the top, and waiting for us to climb up, they set up the most tremendous howling I had ever before heard—one counterfeiting the tone of a tiger, the other the roar of a lion, and the third the sharp frightful yell of a famished wolf. Having kept up this concert for some time, they again proceeded, mounting and descending, and searching for tracks, &c.

I was much terrified, I confess, and expected they were hunting for the people we had heard halloo when we entered the valley, to rob and murder them, and that we were to share their danger, and carry their spoil. But after they had kept us mounting and descending about two hours, they found a snug retreat, surrounded on all sides by high sand drifts, where however a few small- bushes were growing: they made us lie down in the deep sand, and, after continuing their howlings for about halt an hour, bade us go to sleep,, which we much needed, as our fatigues were excessive: they had not suffered us to make the least noise since we reached the valley—nor did they,themselves make any, except in imitation of wild ferocious beasts. I was now fully persuaded that they were actuated, by feelings of fear and not views of plunder in these manoeuvres; and taking a station with their guns in their hands around us, as if afraid they should lose their slaves, we soon forgot our troubles in the arms of sleep, and did not awake until the morning of the seventh, when we repaired to our camels and found every thing safe. There were more camels, which we saw in the open vafley, browsing upon the bushes, which grew higher here than any we had hitherto seen; they were of a different species, and not clothed with long thorns.

Just as we were ready to set off on our journey, an old woman and a boy came where we were; the woman appeared very friendly, made inquiries respecting our situation, and if our masters as well as ourselves were not hungry; and finding that we were indeed in want of food, she sent off her boy, who soon returned with the boiled remains of what I conceivedto have been a sheep or goat, consisting of the entrails and a few bones; of these our masters ate the greatest part, but gave us the remainder—that is to say, the bones, which we were very glad to get, bare as they were, for our hunger was extreme.

Having gnawed and swallowed this hard food, and drank about half a pint of water each, coloured with sour milk, which the old woman kindly gave us, we proceeded on our journey, mounting this dry river’s bed or gully, which had been acted upon by water at no very remote period. We here saw the first bushes that deserved that name, since we had been on this continent. They appeared to be of the willow kind, some of them as large as a man’s leg, and about fifteen feet in height. It was with much difficulty the camels could ascend this bank, but when we did reach its summit, we found ourselves on the same level desart as we had before travelled on; our view on every side was bounded only by the distant horizon, except on our left, where a long string of sand-drifts of great height intercepted it. Near these sand hills we discovered a man mounted on a eamel; he rode swiftly towards us, which our masters observing, while he was yet a great way off, dismounted from their camels to wait his approach. Myself and Mr. Savage were on foot, making the best of our way along. We saw our masters dig holes in the sand, and bury two small bags which they had stolen from the stranger the day before, at the time they helped themselves to the barley. The man on his camel soon came up, and we recognized him as the same our masters had plundered ; he had followed us on, and now told them they had stolen his goods and deceived him besides.

Our masters denied the charge, and after showing him that they had nothing about them of the kind he described, told him to satisfy himself fully, and to go and search their stuff on the camels; protesting at the same time that he accused them wrongfully, and calling God to witness that they had nothing of his in their possession. The man seemed satisfied with their protestations, and rode off without further examination. We were going on during this time, and they remained on the spot to dig up the treasure after its owner had left them. When they came up with us, Sidi Hamet said to me, “ that fellow wanted his bags and things, but he has not got them yethe then showed me the bags and their contents. There was a small box in one of the bags, containing opium and several hollow sticks of the thickness of a man’s finger, and six or eight inches long; these were filled with what I supposed to be gold dust; the other bag contained tobacco stalks, and the roots of an herb, which I afterwards understood to be a specific remedy for evil eyes , or witchcraft ; this they esteemed as of great value, even more than the gold dust and opium : the natives smoke this root through the leg or thigh bone of a sheep or goat, they having no other pipes, and then conceit themselves invulnerable. I confess I wafe not much pleased at the discovery of our masters’ propensity to thieving, and could not help being apprehensive of the consequences that might result from such licentiousness, affecting our safety and prospects of release. We travelled fast most of this day, and must have made thirty-five miles on about an E. N. E. course. It was late when we stopped for the night: we were on a hard surface, and had neither shrub, nor indeed any other thing to tend off the cold night wind, which blew extremely fierce from the N. N. E.

October the 8th, we started very early and rode on rapidly until the afternoon, when some camels’ tracks were discovered, at which our masters seemed very much rejoiced, for they were extremely hungry and thirsty. ' We followed these tracks until about four P. M. (they being nearly on our course) when we came in sight of a large drove of camels feeding on the scattered shrubbery in a small shallow valley, with a few sheep and goats, which were nibbling a short brown moss, not more than an inch in height, that grew round about in spots. After due salutations, which were very long and tedious, the owners of the flocks and herds invited our masters to remain with them for the night, which may well be supposed was readily accepted ; wc having travelled this day about forty-five miles. They showed our masters the way to their tents, who, after bidding us follow, set off for ithem on a full trot: we reached them in about half an hour; there were about twenty in number—pitched in a little valley near a small thicket of thorn trees. I call them trees, because they were much larger than any vegetable productions we had yet seen in this country—a few of them might be eight inches in diameter. Our masters had already killed a kid they had bought, and were employed in dressing it: which being prepared and boiled soon after dark, our masters gave us the entrails, which we immediately devoured, though not cleaned, and nearly raw, as we had not patience to wait till they were roasted sufficiently; they then offered some of the meat to the Arabs, who were sitting around them en the ground, but as they only came to gratify their curiosity in viewing us, they did not accept of any. This was the first time I had known any of them refuse so tempting an offer; and I could not but consider it as a favourable omen, and that the land was becoming more fei’tile and productive as we advanced on our journey, and that we must shortly escape from this horrible desart.

After we had swallowed our morsel, these people gave each of us a good drink of water, and at midnight (the hour set apart by the Arabs for taking their refreshment) they awaked me and gave me a bowl, containing probably four or five pounds of a kind of stirabout, or hasty pudding, in the centrfe of which, in a hole made for the purpose, there was poured a pint or more of good sweet milk:—we quickly seated ourselves in a circle around the bowl, and though it was quite hot, we swallowed it in a moment. This was the most delicious food I ever tasted; the effect it produced on my palate has never since been effaced from my memory, and my companions agreed with me, that nothing half so sweet had ever before entered their mouths; and as we all took it up with our hands, each one accused the other of eating like a hog, and of devouring more than his equal share. I endeavoured to convince them that it could not be more equally divided, as each put his hand to his mouth as fast as he could. Notwithstanding every one, by the irresistible impatience of hunger, burnt his mouth and throat, yet this dish was unspeakably grateful: for hunger, sufferings and fatigue had absolutely reduced us to skeletons: it warmed our stomachs, and checked the dysentery, which had been extremely distressing for several days past. This was the first kind of bread we had tasted since we left the wreck.

Our masters had been very much out of humour (probably owing to hunger) for several days, and beat my shipmates oftentimes most unmercifully, who, in their turn, smarting under the lash, and suffering incredibly from their sores, fatigues and privations, became as cross as wild bears, notwithstanding I did all in my power to lighten their burdens, relieve their fatigues, and intercede for and beg them off when our masters were about to beat them, and frequently walking that they might ride; yet one of them would often curse me to my face, and load me with the most opprobrious epithets. My kindness seemed but to inflame his petulence, and to excite in him a strange animosity, so that in the raving of his distemperecl imagination, he declared that he hated the sight of me, and that my very smiles were more cutting to him than daggers presented to his naked breast: he seemed indeed to be transformed into a perfect savage in disposition, nor did this rankling humour forsake him until J showed him in Suze a letter I there received from Mr. Willshire, assuring me he would shortly redeem us from slavery./

Early on the morning of the 9th, we set forward in a N. Easterly direction, and having travelled about ten hours on the camels, at the rate of four miles an hour, we came to a deep well, situated in the midst of a cluster of high bushes; here was a large company of men watering many droves of camels that were round about. These people saluted our masters in a friendly manner, when they came up. I was preparing to assist in drawing water for our camels, but Sidi Hamet would not permit me or my companions to work; indeed we were so extremely reduced and weak, that we could not without difficulty stand steady on our feet, though (from what cause I know not) our sores were fast healing, and our skins uniting in all parts over our bodies.

While Seid and Abdallah were busied in drawing water for our camels, an Arab came up with one, and led him to our masters’ watering tub or bowl, which Seid observing, bade him desist: but the strange Arab swore his camel should drink there, and he (Seid) should draw water for him. This kindled the resentment of Seid; he left his bucket, ran up to the Arab, and gave him a heavy blow on his face with his fist, which staggered him near to falling; but recovering himself, he drew his scimitar, and made a powerful thrust at Seid, who saved his life by springing suddenly from him, and the scimitar but slightly pricked his breast. Sidi Hamet had by this time seized and unsheathed his gun, and presented it to the Arab’s breast within a yard’s distance, ready to blow him through. When he was about to fire, his hand was seized by one of the bystanders, and others of them rushing between the combatants to prevent bloodshed, laid hold of Seid and his antagonist, and having separated them by main force, they removed the Arab to the other side of the well, where some of the company drew water for his camel, which having drank its fill, they sent the fellow off, muttering curses as he went away. Our masters, during all this time, were so exasperated at the conduct of this man, that nothing less than the strength ef superior numbers would have prevented them from putting him to death, and all the company agreed that they had been grossly insulted, especially as they were strangers.

When our camels had finished drinking at this well, the water of which was very brackish, we were mounted, and proceeded further east for about one hour’s ride, where we found two more wells, which appeared to have been lately dug, and the water they contained was very salt. Here was a large drove of camels (probably one hundred) to be watered, and they obliged me to assist in drawing water until they had all finished ; my master encouraging me, by saying, “ their owner was a very good man, and would give us food.” It was about sunset when we had finished drawing water, and we followed the valley in which we were for about three miles east, when we came to the tent we had been in quest of: here was no lee to - keep off the cold wind, nor did we get any thing to eat, notwithstanding our masters had praised the liberality of our host, and tried by every means to obtain some provisions from him. I soon found his goodness was like that of many ethers; (i. e.) he was no longer liberal than while there was a prospect of profit. I presume we travelled forty-five miles this day.

As soon as daylight appeared on the morning of the 10th, we set forward, all mounted on the camels, and kept on steadily until night over this most dreary desart, and came to a halt long after dark, without any- thing to keep off the wind, which was blowing a strong gale. We travelled this day about thirteen hours, at four miles an hour; as the camels went all day on a quick walk, we • must have made at least fifty-two miles E. N. E.

Oct. the 11th, we set off very early on a full trot, and went on until about noon, seven hours, at six miles an hour, when the land before us appeared broken, and we descended gradually into a deep valley, whose bottom was covered with sand; and on both sides of us, at a great distance, we saw very high and steep banks like those of a river, and followed the tongue of land that separated them. Our course was nearly East. At about two P. M. our masters said they saw camels ahead, but we could not perceive them for a long time after, when keeping on a great trot, we came up with a drove about six P. M. We could however find no owners, nor in fact any human being; for all had fled and hid themselves, probably from fear of being robbed, or that contributions might be levied on their charity for some provisions. We searched, some time for the owners of these camels, but not finding them, we continued on, and having come to. the abrupt end of the tongue of land on which we had been travelling, we descended into the river’s bed, which was dry and soft. Pushing forward, we reached a large cluster of bushes, which appeared like an island in a lake, when seen at a distance, and I suppose it was ten o’clock at night before we arrived at the spot, though we saw it in the distant horizon long before dark. As we entered among the bushes, our masters preserved a profound silence; and having found a clear spot of about twenty yards in diameter, encircled by high bushes, which kept off the wind, we stopped there for the night; having travelled that day for the space of about fourteen hours, at the rate of five miles an hour, making a distance of seventy miles. We had nothing this night wherewith to allay our hunger ; our fatigues and sufferings may be more easily conceived than expressed; yet as we were sheltered from the night winds, we slept very soundly until we were roused up to continue our journey.

On the 12th of October, as soon as daylight appeared, we watered the camels at a well of brackish water near the bushes before mentioned. Our masters had been careful not to make the least noise during the night, nor to kindle a fire, fearing they should be discovered and surprised by some more powerful party; but neither foe nor friend appeared; and having filled a skin with some of this brackish water, we descended a second steep bank to the bottom, or lowest part of this river’s bed, which was then dry, sandy, and encrusted with salt; it appeared very white, and crumbled under the feet of our camels, making a loud crackling noise. The reasons of this bed being then without water, appeared to be the recess of the tide: its left bank rose very high in perpendicular cliffs, while its right wa9 sloping and covered with stand, evidently blown by the winds from the sea beach, and which lay in drifts up to its very summit. This bay (for it can be nothing else) ran into the land from near a S. W. to a West direction, and was not more than eight or ten miles wide here, which I afterwards found was near its mouth, but was very broad within, an v d extended a great distance into the country; for since we entered its former bed we had travelled twelve hours, at the rate of five miles an hour, making sixty miles, and it then extended farther than the eye could reach to the S. W.

The steep banks on both sides, which were four or five hundred feet high, showed most evident signs of their having been washed by sea water from their base to near their summits, (but at a very remote period) and that the sea had gradually retired from them. Our masters being in a state of starvation, their ill humour increased exceedingly, when about nine o’clock in the forenoon we saw two men, driving two camels, come down the sand hills on our right. Our masters rode off to meet them, and having made the necessary inquiries, returned to us, who had continued going forward, accompanied by Abdallah. Sidi Hamet informed us that there were goats in an E. S. E. direction not far distant, and that we should soon have some meat; so we commenced climbing over the high hills of sand, in order that we might fall in with them. In ascending these hills, which were extremely difficult and long, our old lame camel gave out, having fallen down several times, which caused much delay; so finding him nearly expiring, we abandoned him and proceeded on; though this circumstance of losing the camel, also helped to increase the rage of our masters, who now behaved like madmen. As wb were climbing up, we perceived a hole dug in the sand, and we were told that the entrails of a camel had been roasted there, which Seid discovered by applying his nose to the surrounding earth. Sidi Hamet having gone on before us with his gun, we had already ascended several miles of this steep and sandy bank, and on arriving near the level of the surrounding country, we heard the, report of a musket fired, at no great distance from where we were, and soon perceived Sidi Hamet, accompanied by another Arab, driving a flock of goats before them. This Arab was much intimidated at the sight and report of a gun, for my master had fired off one of the barrels to frighten him. When the goats came near us, our masters, who considered possession as a very important preliminary, ran in among the flock, and seized four of them, which they gave into our charge, until they should settle about the price with their owner, wh» was alone and unarmed, but at this moment he was joined by his wife:—she had not been at all frightened, and commenced scolding at our masters most immoderately and loudlyshe said, she would not consent to part with the goats, even if her husband did, and insisted on knowing Sidi Hamet’s name: this he told her, and she then began to tantalize him for being so cowardly as to rob an unarmed man; said the whole country should ring with his name and actions, and she did not doubt but she could find some man who would revenge this injury—her husband all this time strove to stop her tongue, but to no purpose; nor did she cease scolding until Seid presented his gun to her breast, and threatened her, if she spoke another word, to blow her to pieces. This compelled her to pause a moment, while our masters (taking advantage of her silence) informed them that he had left a good camel a little distance behind, which being only tired, could not proceed with them, and that he would give them this camel in exchange for these four goats. I could plainly discover, however, that these people did not believe him. Sidi Hamet nevertheless spoke the truth in part; a camel was indeed left behind, but not a good one; yet as there was no alternative, they were necessitated to submit; the woman however insisted on exchanging one goat we had for another, which our masters assented to, merely to gratify her caprice.

This business being thus settled, which had taken up nearly an hour’s time, our goats were tied fast to each other by their necks, and given into my charge; leaving Mr. Savage and Horace to assist in driving them. Clark and Burns were ordered to drive the camels, whilst our masters, a little less fretful. than before, went forward to pick out a practicable passage for them and the goats, while my party brought up the rear. The goats were difficult to manage, but we continued to drive them along, and generally within sight of the camels, though with great fatigue and exertion. Our hunger arid- thirst were excessive—the direct heat of the sun, as well as that reflected from the deep and yielding sands, was intense. Mr. Savage found here a very short green weed, which he pulled and ate, telling me it was most delicious, and as sweet as honey, but I begged him not to swallow any of it until I should ask our masters what was the nature of it, for it might be poison; and I refused to touch it myself, though it looked tempting. In our distressed condition, however, he thought a green thing that tasted so well could do him no harm, and continued to eat whatever he ccmld find of it, which (happily for him) was not much: but in a short time he was convinced to the contrary, for he soon began to vomit violently:—this alarmed me for his safety, and I examined the weed he had been so delighted with, and after a close investigation, I was convinced it was no other than what is called in America the Indian tobacco. Its effects were also similar; but how these plants came to grow on those sands I cannot conceive.

Mr. Savage continued to vomit by spells for two hours or more, which, as he had very little in his stomach, strained it so excessively as to bring forth blood. I could not wait for him, because both our masters, their camels, and our shipmates, were already out of sight. When he could proceed no further, he would stop and vomit, and then by running (though in great distress) as fast as he was able, come up with us again. I encouraged him all I could—told him what the herb was, and that its effects need not be dreaded.

Ever since we had been coming near the summit of the land, we had discerned the sea; though at .a great distance ahead and on our left, but as it appeared dark and smooth in the distant horizon, I supposed it to be an extensive ridge of high woodland, and hoped we should soon reach it, as our course bent that way, and that this would prove to. be the termination of the desart. Horace, however, thought it appeared too dark and smooth for land, and regarding it again attentively, I discovered it was in fact the ocean, and I could plainly distinguish its mountainous waves as they rolled along, for it was greatly agitated by fierce winds. This was the first view we had had of the sea since we were made slaves; it was a highly gratifying sight to us all, and particularly so, as it was quite unexpected; and it very much revived the spirits of myself and desponding companions.


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