Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter XVIII

Their masters commit an error , which they are compelled to redress — Sidi Hamet and his brother Seid fight — Horace's critical situation — they come to villages.

October the 23d, we were awakened without making any noise, two hours before daylight,' and went on our journey: I suspected there was some roguery going on, because we had never before started in the night; and we had not travelled more than two leagues, when, just at the dawn of day, we heard the sound of horses’ feet coming up at full speed behind us, the clanking of the arms of their riders- against each other, and spurs against their stirrups, made a great noise. Our masters stripped the covers from their guns, and gave them to me to carry. The horsemen, four in number, came up by this time, and passing us at a short distance on our right, rode round before our camels, and stopped them. Our men were five in number, with four double-barrelled guns; and bidding me to keep as close to them as possible with my men, they ran at their greatest speed to the encounter, whilst we followed on as fast as we could, fearing to be separated from them, (as it was still quite dark) and falling into the hands of the banditti. They approached each other with loud cries; the voices of those on horseback sounded like trumpets, and those of opr masters were very little lower, so that the mountains near rang again with the sound- I expected every moment a slaughter would commence: each one strained his throat to speak, or rather to yell louder than*liis opponents. I had approached near my master, and could distinctly hear one of the horsemen accuse him of a breach of hospitality, and reproach him in the most opprobrious terms, for some wrong which he alleged had been done to him; the others were at the same time wrangling with our other men. This war of words having subsided a little, on^ of them asked my master his name, and after considerable delay on account of punctilio, (each insisting that the other should tell his name first,) my master told him his name was Sidi Hamet —the pther then said his name was Ali Mohammed :—then ensued a long dispute between them, they mutually charging each other with perfidy, &c. During this interval, and as daylight appeared, our adversaries gained strength, for they were joined by many armed and unarmed men, running on foot, and according as they increased in force, our party lowered their tone; but the clamour was still so loud that I frequently could understand nothing of what was said. The Arab who had joined our company with two camels the day before, did not set out with us this morning, but he now came running up: our masters had driven off his camels, and this was the cause of the uproar that was now raging. The purloined camels were then in our drove, and while the others were quarrelling about the matter, the owner ran round and drove his camels back. When our honest masters found they could not keep what they had feloniously taken, they began to lower their voices. By this time the sun had made its appearance, and for two hours prior I had every moment expected a bloody scuffle. I knew our masters were brave, but I had no doubt they would be overpowered by numbers, in which event we should fall to the lot of the conquerors, who were strangers to us; and it was not probable that these men would be as humane to us as Sidi Hamet had been; nor was I indeed certain that we ourselves should not be killed in the contest, both parties being much enraged. I felt our situation to be dreadful, indeed ; but at length Sidi Hamet spoke to Ali Mohammed in a low tone of voice, and requested he would ride apart from the others with him, with which he complied, and they came near where I sat, trembling with apprehension. Sidi Hamet now told Ali that his party had not the least intention of driving off any camels but their own, and that the mistake had- been occasioned entirely by the darkness of the night. He then went on protesting that he was incapable of committing an unworthy action; that he abhorred a robber and a thief, and that as he was entirely innocent of intentionally driving off the man’s camels, he would not acknowledge he had done wrong designedly, but would rather lose his life in maintaining his character, and would sell it as dearly as possible. Ali Mohammed on this appeared to be satisfied, and said to him, “ I am el Rais, (the chief) and am your friend,” because you are a brave manso making Sidi Hamet’s excuse to those about him, and the lost camels being recovered, they left us to pursue our journey.

We had gone up from the sea-bord, and were passing between high mountains towards the southeast, when the late affray happened, but about noon we reached a plain, and took an eastern direction. Hassar’s men with their camels, and Abdallah with his camel, now filed off to the left, leaving us with our masters and their own camels only, and were soon out of sight, among the bushes. The mortifying result of the morning’s enterprise, had rendered Seid uncommonly ill natured; he had claimed Horace as his slave from the very beginning, and Mr. Savage also belonged to him. He had always doubted my word to his brother, and would not believe that a miserable wretch like me could find a friend to advance money for my ransom, though both he, Has- sar, and all the company, had a high opinion of my courage, since I put my own life in jeopardy to save that of Mr. Savage, at the time he fainted :—Seid had endeavoured to sell his slaves at every place we came to, after leaving the desart. Hassar, as well as others, took a particular fancy to Horace, and had offered a large sum for him in camels and other merchandise, but the interference of Sidi Hamet, who had sworn that Horace should not be separated from me, aided by my often renewed entreaties and my tears, whenever J heard it suggested, had saved him thus far. As we were now approaching the Moorish dominions, powerful chiefs, with large bodies of armed men intent on plunder were riding about and scouring the country in every direction, and Setd had come to a determination to take his slaves and make the most of them. Seid was a younger brother of Sidi Hamet, and had, until now, submitted in some degree to his counsel, though they had many slight quarrels at different periods of the journey. Where we stopped the preceding night, the Arabs strove hard to get possession of Horace. Seid had to my knowledge made a bargain to sell him in the morning, but was dissuaded from fulfilling it, by his brother.

We, slaves, were now five in all, travelling on foot, but moving forward very slowly, for we were worn to the bones by our various and complicated suflef- ings. It seemed that the breath of hope alone had kept the vital spark from being totally extinguished. Sidi Hamet was riding on his big camel before us, when Seid ordered us to halt, but the other desired us to come on; upon which Seid laid hold of Mr. Savage and Horace, and stopped them. It was now that Sidi Hamet’s wrath was kindled—he leaped from his camel, and darting like lightning up to Seid, laid hold of him, and disengaged Mr. Savage and Horace from his grasp. They clinched each other like lions, and with fury in their looks, each strove to throw the other to the ground. Seid was th% largest and stoutest man; they writhed and twined in every shape until both fell, but Sidi Hamet was undermost: fire seemed to flash from their eyes, whilst they twisted around each other like a couple of serpents, until at length Sidi Hamet, by superior activity or skill, disengaged himself from his brother’s grasp, and both sprang up on their feet. Instantly they snatched their muskets a't the same moment, and each retiring a few paces with great rapidity and indignation, tore the cloth covers from their guns, and presented them at each other’s breast with dreadful fcuiy:—they were not more than ten yards asunder, and both must have fallen dead, had they fired. Horror had seized and chilled my blood, so that I could neither get from them, nor move, indeed, in any direction. My mind was filled with inexpressible apprehensions—“my God, (I cried aloud) have mercy on these unfortunate brothers, I pray thee, for our sakes, and suffer them not to spill each _ other’s blood.” In the midst of this ejaculation, I was started by the report of two muskets, and imagined that both the brothers had fallen; but on turning my eyes again to this direful scene, I perceived that Sidi Hamet had fired the contents of both his barrels into the air, having had a moment’s reflection, whilst priming and cocking his piece. He now threw it on the ground, then making bare his bosom, he advanced with a firm step towards Seid, and with an energetic voice, exclaimed, “ I am now unarmed, fire! your brother’s heart is ready to receive your balls; glut your vengeance on your be- ijpfactor.” He stopped short; Seid hesitated. Mr. Savage and Horace were near Seid, who threatened them with instant death if they moved. Sidi Hamet finding his brother’s mind wavered, ran to Horace, and sent him towards me, telling his brother, he should have Clark in Horace’s stead, whom he ordered to come near, but Seid would not consent to the exchange, whereupon my master added Burns; that is, two for one. Seid had made Mr. Savage sit down, and had placed one of his feet on his thigh, to keep him there; while his brother ordered me to go with Horace, first to the south and then to the eastward, following the camels; still resolving that we should not be separated, and bade Mr. Savage follow us, but Seid, presenting his gun, told him if he offered to go, he would blow his brains out. As Sidi Hamet, however, bade him run, he obeyed, and when he came near me, we were all ordered to stop, and our masters seated themselves on the ground to settle the dispute by figuring on the sand with their fingers. Here they calculated it every way. Clark and Burns were again offered for Horace, but Seid would not take them: he would keep the slave he had bought with his money: “ you shall not separate him from his father, (said my master) I have sworn it.” “ Then I will destroy him,” exclaimed Seid furiously, and springing up, he seized Horace by the breast, and dashed him on the ground with all his might. The force of the blow beat the breath from his body, and he lay stretched out, apparently dead. Overwhelmed with the most heart-rending emotions, I sank to the earth in an agony of despair. My master observing my anguish, said, “go, Riley^ pointing to the east. With tears and sobs, I told him I could not go, for Horace, my son, was dead. After a flood of tears had relieved my swelling heart, I reflected that it was useless to bewail the fate of my adopted child, as I did not know how soon in might be tpy turn to suffer a similar, or perhaps a more cruel death. Seid’s passion now began to subside a little, and my master then went to Horace, and taking him by the hands, raised him upon his seat: his breath returned, and he revived. Sidi Hamet melted into tears at the sight: I saw the big drops roll down his cheeks, while in a tender tone, he said to Horace, “ go to Riley.” The spot where his head fell, happened to be clear of stones, which entirely covered the ground on every side, otherwise his brains must have been dashed out. I went up to him as quick as I could, and folding him in my arm!;, asked him if he was much hurt; but being in great pain, and his breathing being not yet perfectly restored, he was incapable of answering me: his heart, however, was in unison with mine, in thanking the Author of our being that his life was spared, and in imploring his future protection. Our masters again seated themselves, in order to discuss this affair thoroughly, and began to speak very loud, when, fortunately for us, some strangers came in sight, which reminded them that their united force was necessary for the defence of themselves and their property; so they agreed to seek a village, and take council as to what was best to be done.

Then turning to our left up a hill, we soon came in sight of a village, and entered it by passing between high walls. Having come to its farther extremity, an old, but a very respectable looking man, (a Moor) of a light olive colour, came oat of his gate, and welcomed our masters, saluting them, (as is customary) and seeing us behind, told us to sit down in a shade fotrned by his wall, and rest ourselves; adding, “ I will give you some food.” We accordingly all seated ourselves, and while the food was preparing, our host inquired much about me and my men, and wished to know how I could make myself understood, (being a Christian.) Our owners told him all our stories, together with my promises, which they made me repeat in his presence. They' wanted again to know in what my property consisted; if I had any money in my own country, or a house ; how much money, how many horses, cows, sheep, goats, asses, camels, &c? and lastly, what number of wives and children I had. Having answered all these interrogations to their satisfaction, they made me tell what Mr. Savage, Horace, Clark, and Burns, were worth to me ? how much property I thought they had in their own country? and our host, who spoke a few words of broken Spanish, asked me if Swearah was not called Mogdola by the English ? I answered in the affirmative :—this was the first time I had heard this name mentioned on this continent, though I had endeavoured by inquiring of all the people I had spoken with to ascertain the point; but it appeared they had never heard of the name. One bowl of boiled barley unhulled, was brought out to our masters, and one for us—this last was a very large one, and the old host told us to eat, saying, “ cook raw,” (eat captain.') M e had now before us, for the first time, enough of this food, and falling-to with keen appetites, we filled our stomachs, and were satisfied, leaving some in the bowl, which they tried hard to make us finish, but we could not. Sidi Haqaet would not trust himself again with his brother, without having some person in company to take his part; so he hired a stout young fellow, named Bo-Mohammed, to go along with us to another place or village, not far distant, and we set off for it, travelling at first down towards the sea-coast, and passing along a kind of sandy beach, where the salt water flowed in at high tides, we saw there, under the side of a shelving rock, two boiling springs of fresh water, which formed a considerable stream. This was the first spring I had seen in this country, and having taken a good drink and -watered our camels, we proceeded toward the south-east among sands that had drifted from the sea-beach ; there we remained until it was nearly dark, our masters fearing, as it were, to go forward. About dark we resumed our course, and soon afterwards arrived at a village, where, while the barking of numerous dogs announced to their owners the arrival of strangers, a grave looking man came out, and silencing the curs, bade our masters welcome, and invited both them and us to sit down near his walls, until he should prepare some supper. We had no desire, however, for food, some of us having oppressed our stomachs to such a degree with the boiled barley, as to be racked with pain, and scarce able to breathe, particularly Mr. Savage. Our present host, (whose name I soon learned was Sidi Mohammed ) after causing a mat to be spread near his wall, seated himself and our masters thereon, and desired me to come and do the same. He now made similar inquiries with the former persons ,we had met, and I satisfied his curiosity as well as I could. He then informed me he had been many times in Swearah, and had seen the consuls, and wished me to repeat my promise to Sidi Hamet, which I did. He had a lamp for a light, so that he could see every motion that I made well enough to comprehend me entirely. By this time some cakes had' been baked, which were presented to our masters, and of which they gave us-some: these cakes were made of barley meal, ground coarse; yet it was bread, and it being the first we had seen, we ate a little of it, though our stomachs were not yet prepared to enjoy the treat. After they had eaten and washed their hands and feet, and talked over their affairs, Sidi Hamet again called me to him, and told me he should set out in the morning for Swearah in company with our host, Sidi Mohammed, where he hoped, with God’s blessing, to arrive in three days, for he should travel on a mule, huge- lah , and push on night and day: that I must write a letter to my friend, which he would carry, and said he, “ if your friend will fulfil your engagements and pay the money for you and your men, you shall be free; if not, you must die, for having deceived me, and your men shall be sold for what they, will bring. I have fought for you, (added he) have suffered hunger, thirst, and fatigue, to restore you to your family, for I believe God is with you. I have paid away all my money on your word alone: Seid and Bo-Mohammed will stay and guard you during my absence; they will give you as much khobs (bread) and l'hash, (pudding) as you can eat; so go and sleep till morning.” This night was spent on my part in a state of anxiety not easy to conceive: to whom should I write? I knew no body at Moga- dore, and yet I must take my chance. I remembered my remarkable dream—it had literally come to pass thus far,—why should I doubt its whole accomplishment ; yet I could not rest.


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