Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter XVI

The company is divided - they set off to the eastward their master's are attacked by a band of robbers.

After we had eaten this, our masters prepared the camels, and Hassar’s company divided, that is to say, two men and all the women and children took the plain great route which led east in a deep valley, driving off about'one-half of the camels; Hassar and the others drove off the rest (including ourY) in a N. E, direction, and we with our masters, accompanied by two other men, proceeded along the river’s eastern bank to the northward for a short distance, and then ascended the high, steep, and craggy mountains eastward of us. The labour in clambering up these steep precipices is indescribable; we continued mounting them as fast as possible for about four hours, and I was fully convinced our masters took that route for fear they should be followed and surprised in the night by some who had seen us, and thus be robbed of their slaves and other property. After climbing over the highest peaks of these mountains, we saw Hassar and part of his company who had driven the camels, and had gotten up by another and more practicable path. It was now near night, and we travelled along the craggy steeps, assisting one another over the most difficult parts, while Hassar sought out the easiest places for the ascent of the camels. Coming at length to a small level spot of ground, we saw some tents, and directed our course towards them: the tents were twelve in number, and placed in a semicircle. Having approached to within one hundred yards in front of the largest one, our masters seated themselves on the ground with their backs towards the tents, and a woman soon came out bringing a bowl of water, which she presented to them after the usual salutations of Labez, &c. &c.'

Our masters drank of the water, and Sidi Hamet was soon after presented with a bowl filled with dates lately plucked from the trees, and not fully ripe: these he gave to us; though Seid, Abdallah, and Hassar, snatched each a handful, to which we were forced to subpit: we found them excellent, but did not know at that time what sort of fruit they were. Here we remained during the night, and rested our emaciated bodies, which were, if possible, more fatigued than they ever were before.

October the 21st, we set off to the northward very early, and made down towards the sea through numerous steep gullies, and got into the inclined plane below the former sea-shore, about mid-day; here were the same sort of marks in this bank that we had before observed, and the same signs of its having been laved by the ocean. We went along through the same kind of thick bushes as those I have before described, near to the cliffs that at present formed a barrier to the mighty waters, where we discovered a number of tents, and soon reached them. Here our masters, Sidi Hamet and Hassar, were recognized by some of the men, who were in all about twenty, with their families: these'people had large sacks of barley with them, which they had procured far eastward up the country. Sidi Hamet was now sick with violent pains in his head and in all his limbs. These people (who were Arabs, as all are who live in tents in the country) took compassion on him, and cleared a tent for him to lie under, where having made up a large fire, he kept his head towards it, turning about and almost roasting his brains, but obtained no relief from this manner of treating his disorder; he next had recourse to another singular remedy: he had a large knife put into the fire and heated red hot; then made his brother draw the back of it, hot as it was, several times across the top of his head, making it hiss (as may well be supposed) in all directions!—when it had in some measure cooled, be would again heat it as before, then making bare his legs and arms, he went through with the process of striking its back along them at the distance of three or four inches, scorching off the skin; and though it made him twitch and jump at every touch, he continued to do it for the space of an hour or more. Burns had bee'n very ill for some time, and was so weak that he scarcely was able to stand, and could not walk—he was therefore, always placed on a camel, and as Sidi Hamet was now applying to himself a remedy for what he ihought a stroke of the moon, he undertook to administer the red hot knife to the limbs of poor Burns, who from mere want of bodily strength was not able, poor fellow, to jump, but would at every touch cry out, “ God have mercy upon me.” As I was hungry, I begged of my masters to let me go and search for muscles on the sea-beach, (for there was a hollow at a little distance, through which we might gain it) but they refused, saying, “ to-morrow, if God please, we shall be on the sea-beach; there are no muscles on this part of the coast—here, however, we received a good supper of lhash or pudding, and rested our wearied limbs under the tent with our masters.

October the 22d, we went forward, driving our own camels only ; as Hassar had taken the young one, we had but three remaining; so we rode by turns, crossing the deep hollows which had been worn down by the rains or other causes, until afternoon, when we were forced to have recourse to the se^-beach to get past one of these deep places, whose sides were so steep as to render a passage down it 'impracticable. When rve gained the beach, we found ourselves on a narrow strip of land, which was then dry, the tide being out; this extended in length eight or ten miles, but from the water’s edge to the perpendicular cliffs on our right, not more than ten yards: these cliffs appeared to be one hundred and fifty feet in height. When we came to the sea-water, I went into it, and let a surf wash over me, that I might once more feel its refreshing effects; but my master, fearing I should be carried away by the receding waves, told me not to go near them again. As we proceeded along this narrow beach, and had passed over half its length, the huge cliffs overhanging us on our right, with the ocean on our left; just as we were turning a point, we observed four men, armed each with a musket and scimitar, spring from beneath the jutting rocks, to intercept our march. Our masters were at this time on the camels, but they instantly leaped off, at the same time unsheathing their guns: to retreat would betray fear, and lead to inevitable destruction—so they determined to advance, two against four, and Sidi Hamet, though Still in so weak a state as to be thought incapable of walking before he saw these men, now ran towards them with his musket in his hand, while Seid, that cruel coward, lagged behind—rso true it is, that the most generous and humane men are always the most courageous. The foe was but a few paces from us, and stood in a line across the beach—Sidi Hamet, holding his gun ready to lire—demanded if it was peace ? while he eyed their countenances to see if they were deceitful—one of them answered, “ it is peace,” and extended his hand to receive that of Sidi Hamet, who gave him his right hand, sus-» pecting no treachery, but the fellow grasped it fast, and would have shot him and Seid in a moment, but at that critical juncture, two of Hassar’s men came in sight, running like the wind towards us, with each a good double-barrelled gun in his hand, all ready to fire; the robbers saw them as they turned the point, and the fellow who had seized Sidi Hamet’s hand, instantly let it go, turning the affair off with a loud laugh, and saying, he only did it to frighten him: this excuse was deemed sufficient, merely because our men did not now feel themselves sufficiently strong to resent this insult, and we proceeded on; but these fellows, who were very stout and active, hovered around us, slaves, endeavouring to separate us from our masters, as it appeared, in the hope of seizing on us as their own, which Sidi Hamet observing, ordered me with mj men to keep close to the camels’ heels, while he and his company (now strong, though none of them armed with scimitars) kept between us and the banditti. When they found that our masters were too vigilant for them, they took French leave of us, and ran aloqg the beach with incredible swiftness, chasing each other, and taking up and throwing stones, that I should suppose would weigh from six to eight pounds, with a jerk that made them whiz through the air like cannon balls:—they threw them against the cliffs of rocks, which resounded with the blow, and many of the stones were dashed to pieces as they struck. I could see the marks they aimed at, and that the stones went with great precision, as well as force. I had before no idea that it was possible for men to acquire by practice such enormous power of arm; for they threw these stones with such velocity, that I am convinced they would have killed a man at the distance of fifty yards at least.

Having come to the end of the beach, we ascended the bank again, leaving these formidable' ruffians masters of the shore, where the^, no doubt, got some plunder before they left it. After we had mounted the bank and were clear, Sidi Hamet told me that the fellows we had met were very bad men, and would have killed him and Seid, and would have taken us away where l could never have hoped to see my wife and children again, if the great God had not at that time sent to our relief the two men; he then asked if I would fight to save his life ? I told him I would, and that no one should kill him while I was alive, if it was in my power to prevent it; “ good Riley, (said he,) you are worth fighting for, God is with you, or I must have lost my life there.”

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