Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter XVII

Some fresh fish are procured — they pass several small walled villages, and meet with robbers on horseback.

Near evening we met and passed a man driving an ass laden with fish, probably of from ten to twelve pounds weight each: they had much the shape and appearance of salmon, and our roasters endeavoured to procure one from the owner forme, as I gave them to understand ,1 was very fond of fish, and that it would be good for Burns, but the man would not part with one of them on any terms. At evening we found Hassar’s and his family’s tents already pitched on a little hill near the cliffs, and we joined this company. Soon after, Seid, Abdallah, and two of Hassar’s men, went out with their guns:—in about two hours, those with us, namely, Sidi Hamet, Hassar, and two others, hearing footsteps approaching, seized their muskets, and springing forward from their tents, demanded, who came there? It was Seid and his company, who came towards me, and unfolding a blanket, turned out four large fish of the same kind we had seen before. “ Riley, (said Sidi Hamet,) are these good to eat ?” I replied in the affirmative—“ take them and eat them, then, (said he) but take cave, do not choke yourselves with the bones.” I took three of them, cut them into pieces, and put them into an earthen pot, that belonged to Hassar, (this p6t the Arabs call giderah,') added some water, and boiled them directly, and we ate till we were satisfied. We drank the soup, which was extremely grateful and invigorating, and helped to check the dysentery, with which we were all much troubled since eating the honey-comb. We had travelled this day, I think, about forty miles, and slept at night within a circle formed by our masters and their camels, out of which we were not suffered to go, as Sidi Hamet told me there were many robbers in this place, who would seize on us, and carry us off in a minute, without the possibility of my ever being restored to my family.

October 21st, at day-break we set forward''on our journey, all in company, (except Hassar and the women and children. The fresh fish we had eaten the night before, had made us very thirsty; and about noon we came to a kind of cistern, or reservoir of water on the pathway side: this reservoir was built of stone and lime; its top was arched like a vault, rising about four feet from the ground, and the cistern was at least eighty feet in length, eight or ten feet in breadth in the inside, and appeared to be twenty feet deep. It was now nearly full of water, which had been led into it by means of gutters, formed and arranged so as to receive and conduct the rain water when it descends from the neighbouring hills, and is collected in a stream in this valley. I understood this water was the common property Of all travellers along this route, and that the cistern was built by a very rich and pious man, solely for the purpose of refreshing the weary traveller, and that it contained water the whole year round, even though there should be a continued drought for a twelvemonth—but no person of our party ventured to water his camel from it, considering it as sacred for the use of man alone. We were still travelling on the slope between the first and second banks of the sea, which in these parts was much Cut up, occasioned by the waters which had from time to time poured down from the neighbouring mountains, and formed steep and very deep gullies, across which we were obliged to climb. The path on this inclined plane was not much frequented, and the margin of the bank on our right hand had been newly ploughed in many places here and there in the nooks or fertile hollows. On the high lands we saw two small w’alled towns, with prickly-pear bushes planted around them. Near these towns or walled villages, some men were employed in ploughing with a pair of beasts, generally a cow and an ass yoked together in a very singular manner, which 1 shall hereafter describe, and others were watching flocks of sheep and goats on the surrounding eminences, w’hile the women were seen lugging down wood on their backs from the tops of the lofty hills, and large jars or pitchers of water from a distant valley. They generally had a child on their backs, clinging with its arms round the neck of the mother, and the jar or pitcher rested on their shoulders in a manner that reminded me of the story of the beautiful Rebekah, in holy writ, coming to the well with her pitcher.

About noon, we came near a considerable walled village, that stood close by the road; it had gardens close by the walls on all sides, and there was one near the gateway planted with prickly-pear. These gardens were defended by heaps of dry thorn bushes, which served as an outward defence to the town: these heaps were about six feet high, and the walls fifteen feet. Our masters stopped near the gate for some moments, and no one seemed disposed to give them a drink of water, contenting themselves with gazing at them over the walls; so on they went, eursing the inhospitality of these villagers. Near night we'descended into a delightful valley, whose bottom was level and well-disposed into handsome gardens, fenced in with thorn bushes and stone walls, and divided into numerous separate plots. Round about them, and at their corners, stood many fine fig-trees, which looked healthy, though they were leafless, owing to the lateness of the season: we saw also a few pomegranate-trees. These gardens or plots were planted with different kinds of vegetables, such as turnips, cabbage, onions, &c.— they were watered by a small stream that flowed from the hills at a short distance above, and was conducted round and through the whole of them by .gutters dug for that purpose.

The owners of these gardens lived in tovo little walled villages, near the top of the bank on the east side, but they offered us no refreshment. We passed in the course of the day three beds of streams or rivers, which were now dry, and one whose mouth was filled with sand, so as to stop its communication with the sea, though there was some, water in it, where people from all quarters w r ere watering their cows, sheep, goats, asses, and camels, and carrying it off in skins and pitchers. In the afternoon, a company of ten men on horseback, and well-armed, rode towards us on the plain, making a loud jingling with their spurs against their stirrups, and crying out, Hah! hah! hah! hah! Our company consisted of our two masters, and two of Has- sar’s men, Abdallah, and one stranger, who had joined us that day, and being armed with five double-barrelled muskets, and some scimitars, they all sprang from their camels on the approach of the strangers, drew their guns from their sheaths, primed them anew, and took a station in front of their property, in a line ready for action.

The horsemen rode up to within five yards of our men at full speed, and then stopped their horses short. I expected now to see a battle, though I rather feared our men would be trampled to death by the horses; for their arms could not have saved them from the shock- of this impetuous onset, yet they were on the point of firing the moment the horses stopped. The chief of the horsemen then demanded in a very imperious tone who our masters were ? where they came from ? if they knew Sidi Ishem? what countrymen we, their slaves, were? and where they had found us ? Sidi Hamet replied to all their questions in a sharp quick manner, and as briefly as possible, and in his turn deirianded, “ who are you ? where do you come from ? and, what right have you to ride up to me in such a manner, and stop me and my slaves on the road?” This is as near as I could understand what they said. A loud dis 7 pute was kept up on both sides for half an hour, when it ceased, and we were allowed to proceed; while the others rode off to the southward among the mountains. The force on both sides was so nearly equal, that I have little doubt this was the only circumstance that prevented a battle.

We travelled on till long after dark, when we came to a number of tents, and stopped for the night, and here we were treated with some dried muscles and barley pudding. Hassar and; his family had not travelled with us the last day, but the two men who had assisted in relieving us from our critical situation on the beach, were in company, and we had also been joined by one more Arab, and two camels. Ever since we had come to the cultivated country, off the desart, we had found the people sickly; many of them were afflicted with swelled legs, and some with what I took to be the leprosy; and also with pains in different parts of their bodies and limbs; though when on the desart we did not see the smallest sign of sickness or disorder among its inhabitants. They now considered us as skilled in medicine, and consulted me wherever I came; one of the women here had a swelled breast, which was astonishingly large, and very much inflamed: she was in such pain as to cry out at every breath. They wished me to examine it, and prescribe a remedy, which I did by recommending a poultice of the barley lhash , or pudding, to be applied, and renewed often until the swelling should subside or burst. The woman was very thankful, gave me a drink of water and a handful of muscles, and requested I would examine a swelled leg of her brother; this was also inflamed, and very painful:—perceiving no skin broken, I directed a thick plaster of coarse salt to be bound round it, so as fully to cover the afflicted part; this they did immediately, and the man thought he felt instantaneous relief.

From the great expedition we had used, I think we must have travelled this day about fifty miles, as we were almost continually on the camels, and they going a great part of the time on a trot. In the afternoon of this day, we discovered land that was very high, a good way eastward of us, stretching about north as far as the eye could reach. We saw it when on a high hill and at an immense distance; looking over the ocean, which was near us, it appeared like a high and distant island: “ there is Swearah, Riley,” (said Sidi Hamet) pointing to the northernmost land in view: it was a great way off. I asked him how many dkys it would take us to get there? he answered, “ ten, at our slow pace.”

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