Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter XV

Black mountains appear in the east — they come to a river of salt water, and to wells of fresh water, where they find many horses — description of a singular plant — come to cultivated land; to a fresh water river, and a few stone huts

Slack mountains appear in the east—they come to a river of salt water, and to wells of fresh water, where they find many horses. Description of a singular plant—come to cultivated land; to a fresh water river, and a few stone huts.

The black tops of high mountains appeared in the distant horizon to the eastward about noon, and the camel paths were very much trodden. We kept on until near night, when meeting with a deep valley, we wound our course through it to the southward, and then went down south-eastwardly through another deep valley, where there was a good path. The black bare mountains on both sides of us gave us great hopes that we should soon come to running water and cultivated lands; and in reality near night we came to a'stre^m of water, with high gras* and bushes growing on its margin. The water, however, was very brackish, and could not be drank; but on its opposite hank we saw a company of men at some wells, watering about forty fine looking horses and some camels. Our masters saluted those men, and crossing the stream, which in this part was about two feet deep and thirty feet wide, we watered our camels also at the same place. This river, whose water was clear as crystal, was literally filled with beautiful large fish, which were jumping above the surface at every moment, but the Arabs did not seem to want them, for they could have been caught very easily. The company with the horses and camels left the wells, and went on to the south, riding at a full trot along the river’s side; they were armed only with scimitars. Our company then went towards the sea, and Hassar’s women pitched their tents for the night; here they cooked a goat, which they divided among all the party,, and what fell to our share cannot be supposed to have been much.

I believe we made thirty-six miles this day, as we rode nearly all the time.

October the 18th, we ascended the hill, climbing up in a zigzag path on the steep side of the east bank of this river, and having gained the surface we found it to be a continuation of the same inclined plane on which we had,before been travelling. The bank on our right, t6 the south, still continued to give indubitable proofs of its having been washed by the ocean; whose surges had worn in under the shelving rocks, which hung in immense masses of from two to three hundred feet high over the surface of the inclined plane below, while the plane itself adjoining the cliffs was covered with fragments that had fallen from above, and with other stones that had been washed and worn round by the ocean’s waves, leaving the most positive marks of its having retired to its present bed. These observations, with those I had made before, and was enabled to make afterwards, fully satisfied my mind, that the sea had gradually retired from this continent;—I must leave it to philosophers to account for the cause. The only green thing we had seen for several days past, except what grew immediately on the bank of the river, (which were some bushes resembling dwarf alders and bulrushes) was a shrub that rose in a small bunch at the bottom, having frequently but one stalk, from three to twelve inches in thickness; the limbs spreading out in every direction, like an umbrella, into,innumerable branches, making a diame/ ter of from fifteen to twenty feet, and not more than six feet in height; its leaves very green, smooth, pointed, and about four inches long by one and a half broad; its bark resembled that of the hard or sugar maple tree; its branches terminated abruptly, the point of each twig being nearly as thick as the end of a man’s finger: this shrub, or weed, was very tender, and as we broke off the twigs, a great many drops of glutinous liquid, r.esembling milk, flowed from them, but its odour and taste were of the most disagreeable kind, and the camels would not feed on it. We saw a good deal that had grown up before, and had died, and became dry: on breaking it off,

I found it was hollow, and almost as light as a common dry weed. Neither our masters nor the other Arabs would light a fire with it, on account of its disagreeable smell when burning; the taste of the milk issuing from this plant was the most nauseous and disgusting in nature, though very white and beautiful to behold. About noon we came to the foot of the high mountains we had seen the day before, and turned in between two of them to the south-east, leaving the sea entirely. We went up through a chasm in the bank, over rocks and through a narrow footway, formed by the treading of camels and horses; for we had seen many horse-tracks, and also the tracks of one animal of the kind called neat cattle.

As we proceeded on foot, winding upwards, we discovered on our left a few stones piled up in the form of a wall, round a pit of ten or twelve feet across, and six feet deep, dug in the earth by art. There were lying on the ground, around the wall, several earthen pots that would contain from three to four gallons each; and which appeared to have been made for, and used as boilers. One of our young men directly took up one of them, and was lashing it on his camel as a good prize, when Hassar' and Sidi Hamet, observing the circumstance, made him untie and carry it back again to the spot where he had found it. As I already knew the propensity all had for plundering, I could not but imagine that they now restrained themselves through fear. About sunset we came to a small spot of land that had been cultivated, and fell in with a heap of barley straw. Here was the first sign of cultivation we had seen on this continent, and we hailed it as the harbinger of happier days. We had travelled full thirty miles this day, and our masters now gave us the putrid remains of the goat which had hung on one of the camels for four days; this we roasted, and found it a delicious morsel; it was tender, and needed no seasoning. Some of my comrades, as if their taste had become depraved by the rage of hunger, declared that putrid meat was far preferable to fresh; that it wanted neither salt nor pepper to give it a relish, and that if ever they got home again, they should prefer such food to any other. Having finished our savoury supper, we lay down on the straw, and enjoyed a most charming,- sound, and refreshing sleep. To us, who for so lofig 9 . time had been obliged to repose our wearied limbs and wasted frames on the hard-baked bosom of the desart, or the dead sides of the barren sand drifts, this solitary heap of fresh straw seemed softer and sweeter than a bed of down strewn over with the most odoriferous flowers.

October the 19th, we resumed our journey very early in the morning, and travelled on foot, all except Burns, who was so far exhausted as to be unable to walk. Our course rounded from S. E. to E. N. E. keeping the bottom of the valleys, most of which had been cultivated by the plough at no very remote period, but only in a narrow strip. The sides of the mountains were entirely barren and naked of foliage, and we kept on winding as the valleys permitted, until about two o’clock, P. M. when, suddenly through a deep valley before us, a few rough stone huts broke upon our view, and a moment afterwards we beheld a stream of clear water purling over a pebbly bottom, and meandering through banks covered with green bushes and shrubs in full, blossom. On the farther side cows, asses, and sheep, were feeding on green grass, and a number of date trees adorning .and shading the margin of the rivulet. This was a sight none of us expected to behold, and I poured out my soul in rapturous effusions of thankfulness to the Supreme Being. Excess of joy had so far overpowered our faculties, that it was with difficulty we reached the water’s edge; but urging forward to the brink with headlong steps, and fearlessly plunging in our mouths, like thirsty camels, we swallowed down large draughts until satiated nature bade us stop. The rivulet was fresh, and fortunately not so cold as to occasion any injurious effects: it was quite shallow, and not more than about five yards in width; it appeared, however, very evidently that when the rain falls in the surrounding country, it flows with a much deeper and broader current. It is called by the Arabs el Wod noon , or the river Nun; comes from the south-east, and runs from this place to the sea in a northerly direction. We had arrived on its eight bank, where some barren date trees grew, but which afforded to us nothing but their shade: hungry, however, as we were, our fatigue got the better of every other want, and as these were the first trees we had met with during our distressing pilgrimage, we embraced the kindly offer, and enjoyed about two hours of refreshing sleep: I was then awakened by Sidi Hamet, who directed me to come with my companions and follow him: this we instantly did, and going near one of the small houses, he divided amongst us, to our inexpressible joy, about four pounds of honey in the comb. This was indeed a dainty treat; and with the hungriness of greedy bears, we devoured it, comb and all, together with a host of young bees just ready for hatching, ^hat filled two-thirds of the cells; our hearts at the same time swelling with gratitude to God, and tears of joy trickling down our fleshless cheeks.

Hassar’s men pressed around and endeavoured to snatch from us this delicious food, of which they bad no share; but Sidi Hamet placing the bowl on his knees, passed the honey-comb to us piece by piece in one hand, while he held his gun in the other, ready to fire on any one who should attempt to deprive us of our meal. The eyes of these fellows seemed to flash fire at the preference we enjoyed, and we dreaded the effects of their malicious envy; for the Arabs set no bounds to their anger and resentment, and regard no law but that of superior force. Having finished our luscious repast, we were told by our masters to go to rest, which we did. and soon fell asleep in the shade formed by a beautiful umbrella palm-tree.

About dark we were called up and ordered to gather fuel, and were afterwards presented with some pudding of the same kind we had before eaten, though mixed with oil, that I afterwards ascertained was the argan oil, which though fresh, had a very strong smell, and my stomach being cloyed with honey, I declined eating any. My companions, however, relished this oil very much, and preferred it afterwards to butter during our stay in Africa. We found a good shelter this night near a burying place with a small square stone building in the centre, whitewashed and covered with a dome; and I afterwards learned that this was a sanctuary, or saint house: it was fenced in with thorn bushes, and was the first burying place we had seen in this country. I computed we had travelled this day (Oct. 19) about eighteen miles.

On the morning of the 20th, we did not go forward, and a number of Arabs and Moors came to see our masters and us. This place appeared to be a great thoroughfare: large droves of unloaded camels were passing up to the eastward from the way we had come, as well as from the southward, and also great numbers of loaded camels going towards the desart. Their loading consisted principally of sacks of barley, some salt and iron, together with other merchandise.

During the fore part of this day, several parties of men, in all from sixty to eighty, passed us; all mounted on handsome horses of the Arabian breed, well-bred and high-spirited: their riders were covered with cloaks or sulams, and every one had a single barrelled musket in his hand, the stocks of which were curiously wrought and inlaid with small pieces of various 'coloured wood and ivory, arranged and fitted in a very particular manner. The locks of these muskets were of the Moorish kind, and very unhandy, though substantial, and they seldom miss fire, although their powder is bad and coarse grained. This and a good scimitar slung on their right side constitute the whole of their weapons. They depend more upon the scimitar for close quarters in battle than upon their musket, for, say they, this will never miss fire ; being similar to the practice which it is said the Russian General (Suwar- row) used to inculcate on his soldiers—“ the ball will lose its way, the bayonet never—the ball is a fool; the bayonet a hero.” A Moor is ashamed to be without his scimitar; their scabbards are made of brass, and plated on the outside with silver, but those worn by the Arabs are made of leather: these weapons both of the Moors and Arabs, are suspended from the neck by cords made of woollen yarn died red, or a strong braided leather thong. They call a scimitar or long knife el skine.

These natives were of a different race of men from any we had hitherto seen; they wear a haick or piece of woollen cloth wrapped about their bodies, which covering them, falls down below their knees; or else a cloak called gzlabbia, made in a similar manner, cut with short sleeves, and one fold of the haick generally covered the head, but those who had not their heads covered with their haick or the hood of their gzlabbia, or sulam, wore a kind of turban; the cloak or sulam, is made of coarse black cloth, very shaggy, and much in the form of the European cloak, with a hood - or head-piece to it; it is, however, sewed together part of the way down in front, so that to get it on, they slip it over their heads, and it covers their arms. They are generally stout men, of five feet eight or ten inches in height, and well set; their complexion a light olive— they wear their beards as long as they will grotv, and consider a man without a great bushy beard an effeminate being, and hold him in great contempt. Their saddles were well made and very high, at least eight or ten inches, fitted before and behind so as almost to make*it impossible, for the horse to throw his rider; their bridles are of the most powerful Arabian kind; their stirrups are made of broad sheets of iron that cover almost the whole foot— many of them were plated with silver. All the men wore slippers and spurs, and had their stirrups tied up very short.

While we remained here, a very respectable looking old man, who spoke a few words of Spanish, after learning from our masters who we were, came to me and inquired about my country and my friends in Swearah; said he knew all the consuls there, and told me their names were Renshaw, Josef \ Este- van , and Corte. He said he was going to Swearah, and should be there in ten days, and would carry a letter for me if my master would let me write: but we had no paper. I informed him that my friend was named Renskaw, guessing him to be the English- consul. This old man told my master he believed I spoke the truth, and that I had been at Swearah, which from his discourse I understood to be the same as Mogadore. He then set off eastward on his mule, which was a very large and handsome one. All the people that passed here appeared very friendly to our masters; they wished to know our story, add requested my opinion of their horses, saddles and bridles, muskets, scimitars, and accoutrements in general, &c. all of which I declared to be of the best possible kind. This morning, Sidi Hamet bought a hive of honey, and undertook to give some of it to us, but was not able to carry his kind intentions into effect, for at the moment he was handing some to me, Hassar’s men rushed on him and got possession of the whole, which they devoured in a minute; there was no getting it back, and after a long and violent dispute with Hassar and his company respecting it, he procured another hive, and being assisted by the man from whom he bought it, and a number of strangers, he succeeded in distributing amongst us about three pounds- of the poorest part of the comb.

Return to the Sufferings In Africa Summary Return to the James Riley Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson