Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter XX

Moor arrives from, Mogadore, bringing a fetter—the ' letter—they set out for that city.

The eighth day of my master’s absence passed tediously away; when after dark we heard a trampling outside the walls: Seid went forth to learn its cause, and soon returned with Sidi Mohammed, followed by a well looking Moor: they came directly to that part of the yard where we were sitting on the ground, trembling with apprehension and with cold. When they came near me, the Moor called out and said, in English, “ How de-do, Capetan.” This raised me and all my men from the ground; I felt as if my heart was forcing its way up into my throat, and it entirely obstructed my breath. I eagerly seized his hand, and begged to know who he was, and what was my doom, and if Sidi Hamet had come back ; he then asked me in Spanish, if I spoke that language, and being answered in the affirmative, he informed me in Spanish, that he came from Mogadore ; 'that my letter had been received by one of the best of men, an Englishman, who was his friend, and who had shed tears on reading my letter: that he had paid the money to my master immediately, and had sent him (the Moor) off, without giving him scarcely a moment’s time to take leave of his wife, and that he had been on his mule ever since he left Swearah, travelling on as fast as possible, night and day. The anxiety of my companions by this time had risen to such a pitch, that they broke in upon his story, on which I communicated to them the thrice welcome and happy intelligence, that we had a friend who would redeem us from slavery. Our souls were overwhelmed with joy, and yet we trembled with apprehension lest it might not be true: alas! perhaps it was only a delusive dream, or some cruel trick to turn our miseries into mockery. At this moment however the Moor handed me a letter: I broke it open; but my emotions were such, that it was imposssible for me to read its contents, and I handed it to Mr. Savage ; for my frame trembled to such a degree, that I could not stand, and I sunk to the earth, but, thank God, not senseless; while, by means of the light of a fire, he read as follows :—

Mogadore , October 25 , 1815 . My dear and afflicted sir,

I have this moment received your two notes by Sidi Hamet, the contents of which, I hope, you will be perfectly assured have called forth my most sincere pity for your sufferings and those of your companions in captivity.

By a Gibraltar paper I discover, under the arrivals from the 5th to the 11th August, the name of your vessel, and that she was American, front which I conclude both you and your crew must be subjects of the United States: had it not been for the paper adverted to, some delay would have occurred, as you do not state in your notes to what nation you belong.

I congratulate you most sincerely on the good fortune you and your fellow sufferers have met, by being in the hands of a man who seems to be guided by some degree of commiseration.

I can in some measure participate in the severe and dangerous sufferings and hardships you must have undergone; but, my dear Sir, console yourself, for, thanks be to God, I hope they will soon have a happy issue; for which purpose I devoutly pray the great Disposer of allthings will give you and your unfortunate companions health and strength once more to visit your native land.

This letter will be delivered you by Raisbel Cossim , in whom you may place the fullest faith; he speaks Spanish, and has directions to pay attention to your orders,and render you every care yoursevere misfortunes may require:—be pleased to write me an immediate answer, stating every particular relating to yourself, your crew, and vessel, as I have given orders to the Moor to forward it to me without delay.

I have agreed to pay the sum of nine hundred and twenty hard dollars to Sidi Hamet on your safe arrival in this town with your fellow sufferers; he remains here as a kind of hostage for your safe appearance.

I have been induced to trust implicitly to your word, , And the respectable references you have given, in confidence that those gentlemen, or yourself, will readily reimburse me the whole of the expenses that may be incurred in obtaining your redemption.

I have the most sincere pleasure to acquaint you, you will be at liberty to commence your journey for this town on the receipt of this letter, and make what stages you please on the road, as I do'not advise you, in the eagerness all of you must feel, to run into danger by over-exertion and fatigue: I would, therefore, recommend the greatest precaution on this point. I have sent under charge of Rais bel Cossim, shoes and cloaks, whicl^ I have no doubt you will find very useful in preserving you from rain or cold on the road.

I have also forwarded you some provisions and spirits, that you m ky enjoy a foretaste of returning liberty.

I beg to recommend the greatest secrecy of your circumstances until your arrival here, for should the Moors suppose you able to pay more, they would throw difficulties in the way, and thereby much retard your redemption.

I shall send off an express to-morrow to the United States’ Consul General at Tangier, and a letter to Mr. Horatio Sprague of Gibraltar, informing them of your loss, and of the favourable hopes I entertain of your immediate release.

I have appointed with Rais bel Cossim, ort your arrival at a short distance from Mogadore, to wait at the garden of a friend of mine, and send me notice of the same, when I shall immediately set out to meet you.

I trust there is no occasion for me to say how truly I commiserate and enter into all your misfortunes: when God grants me the pleasure to embrace you, it will be to me a day of true rejoicing.—I beg you will assure every one w ith you of my truest regard; and with sentiments embittered by the thoughts of the miseries you have undergone, but with the most sanguine hope of a happy end to all your sufferings, I subscribe myself, with the greatest esteem, my dear Sir, your friend,

William Willshire.

P. S. I willingly agree to advance the money, considering a month or more must elapse before I could receive an answer from Mr. Sprague. I therefore concluded you would prefer being at liberty in this town, to experiencing a prolongation of your Bufferings during that period. I shall be happy in Tendering you every comfort that my house and this country can afford. W. W.

My feelings, during the reading of this letter, may perhaps be conceived, but I cannot attempt to describe them; to form an idea of my emotions at that time, it is necessary for the reader to transport himself in imagination to the country where I then was, a wretched slave, and to fancy himself as having passed through all the dangers and distresses that I had experienced: reduced to the lowest pitch of human wretchedness, degradation, and despair, a skinless skeleton, expecting death at every instant: then let him fancy himself receiving such a letter from a perfect stranger, whose name he had never before heard, and from a place where there was not an individual creature that had ever before heard of his existence, and in one of the most barbarous regions of the habitable globe: let him receive at the same time clothes to cover and defend his naked, emaciated, and trembling frame, shoes for his mangled feet, and such provisions as he had been accustomed to in his happier days—let him find a soothing and sympathizing friend in a barbarian, and one who spoke perfectly w r ell the language of a Christian nation ; and with all this, let him behold a prospect of a speedy liberation and restoration to his beloved family:—here let him pause, and his heart must, like mine, expand near to bursting with gratitude to his all-wise and beneficent Creator, who had upheld his tottering frame, and preserved in his bosom the vital spark, w'hile he conducted him, with unerring wisdom and goodness, through the greatest perils and sufferings, by a continued miracle, and now prepared the heart of a stranger to accomplish what had been before determined.

The letter being finished, we could only raise our eyes and hearts to heaven m adoration and silent thankfulness, while tears of joy trickled down our haggard cheeks. Amidst these joyful and heart- thrilling sensations, my attention was aroused by the thundering voice of Sheivk Jlli, who stormed awaj most furiously on being informed that Sidi Hamet had given up me and my companions for such a.paltry sum;—he said, Sidi Hamet must be a fool and a madman to put himself in the potver of a vil- lanous Christian, who would undoubtedly mhrder him and take back his money so soon as we should arrive in Swearah. The Moor, who had hitherto remained silent, now spoke out in a very spirited manner, and told the Sheick in a very firm,.but eloquent and persuasive tone, that he had bought me and my companions with his own money, which he had paid to Sidi Hamet before he left Swearah; and that he (Sidi Haraqt) remained there voluntarily as a hostage for his (Rais bel Cossim's) safety, as well as security for the delivery of the slaves.

“ We are of the same religion, (added Rais) and owe these Christian dogs nothing; but we have an undoubted right to make merchandise of them, and oblige them to carry our burdens like camels. That fellow (said he, pointing to me) calls himself the captain of a vessel,—he has deceived his master and you; for he was nothing more than cook on board, and the captain has long been dead.” This the Sheick would not believe, if it was so; how could I write a note to induce a stranger to pay so much money for me and my men? “It was only a short one, (added he) and its writer must be a man of much consequence, as w r ell as knowledge. F fear you (though a Moslemin) have leagued with a Christian against Sidi Hamet, first to rob him of his slaves, and then to take his life.” “ No—by Allah ! I am incapable of such an act of treachery,” (retorted Rais) and told the Sheick I was indeed the cook, but being a stout fellow, had been able to endure fatigues better than the others: “ but (added lie) give them paper, pen, and ink, and they will soon convince you they can all'write, and much better than Riley.” This controversy continued a long time, and I found that Rais bel Cossim was a man of great Gourage, as well as knowledge and eloquence; and he certainly displayed great address and management in checking the avaricious calculations of the Sheick, by insisting upon my not being a captain, and thus depreciating my value as a slave. Seid seemed to have sunken into a kind of sullert silence; it was now late, and Sidi Mohammed conducted the whole company into an apartment that had served, from appearances, as a stable for mules. They had loudly insisted that we should lodge in the same place where we had been before confined, but Rais would not consent, and declared that his slaves should stay by his side, both night and day. They had cost him a great deal of money, (he said) and he was determined not to lose them. Having thus got into comfortable quarters, our cloaks were produced from a basket, and we put them on. Our friend had sent us some hard biscuits, and boiled neats’ tongues—he had also forwarded tea, coffee, and sugar, and a few bottles of rum, with a teakettle, tea-pot, cups and saucers, all nicely packed up in a small box. Rais then procured a lighted lamp, and I gave each of my men a slice of tongue, some biscuit, and a drink of rum:—this revived their spirits exceedingly, and we all felt as if new life was infused into our hearts, which at the same time swelled with gratitude to God for his infinite mercy and goodness. We were next regaled with a very fine water-melon; and having put on our new shoes to make our feet warm, and wrapped ourselves up in large cloaks or gzlabbias, we stretched ourselves on the ground to sleep, whilst Rais, Seid, and his companion, Bo-Mohammed, and Sheick Ali, laid themselves down on a platform made of boards that must have been brought from the wreck of some vessel, and was raised two feet from the ground. The food which I and my companions had eaten, together with the melon and liquor, caused us such violent griping pains in our stomachs and intestines, that we could with great difficulty forbear screaming out with agony, and we found no relief till morning, after having passed a sleepless night.

Early in the morning, Rais desired me, in Arabic, to make some tea—so I took out the kettle, had it filled with water, made a fire with a few sticks, and soon had the tea ready for drinking. The men and boys in and near this village, hearing of Sidi Mohammed’s return to his family, came now to congratulate him, and to see the Moor, who directed me to pour out a cup of tea for each of the men, which he made thick with sugar. None of the people had ever before seen such a thing as a tea-cup, nor knew what the taste of tea was, and it was with difficulty that several of them could be persuaded to drink it, and they appeared to be reconciled to it only on account of the sugar. I waited on them all until they had finished; when Rais, turning to Sheick Ali, said, “ I told you before that Riley was the cook, and now • you see with your own eyes that he is the only one that can wait upon us.” I next made a strong cup of tea for ourselves, which had a most remarkable effect in composing and restoring the tone of our stomachs.

All our things being soon packed up and loaded on mules, we set forward at about eight o’clock. The Moor had tried to procure mules for us to ride on; but they could not be had in this part of the country at any price. Our company consisted of Sheick Ali., Sidi Mohammed , (who had been to Swearah on our account) Seid, our master, Bo-Mo- hammed , (who had assisted in guarding us) and Rais bel Cossim, all well armed. Though he could procure no beasts, exclusively for our use, yet Rais managed in such a manner as to |et us ride by turns, and Burns all the time, for he was so feeble as not to be able to walk. So soon as we were on the road, Rais bel Cossim begged me to give him an account of my misfortunes and sufferings, and by what miracle my life and the lives of those who were with me had been preserved—I satisfied his curiosity as well as I could by a short narration of the most prominent occurrences. When I had finished, he raised his eyes towards heaven with an air and expression of true devotion, and exclaimed in Spanish, “ Praised be God, the most high and holy ! for his goodness:” then addressing himself to me, he remarked, “ You have indeed been preserved most wonderfully by the peculiar protection and assistance of an overruling Providence, and must be a particular favourite of heaven: there never was an instance (added he) of a Christian’s passing the great desart for such a distance before, and you are no doubt destined to do some great good in the world; and may the Almighty continue to preserve you, and restore you to your distressed family. Sidi Hamet (added he) admired your conduct, courage, and intelligence, and says they are more than human—that God is with you in all your transactions, and has blessed him for your sake.” I mention this conversation to show the light in which my master had viewed me, and this will account for the interest he took in my restoration to liberty, over and above his motives of gain.

I now inquired who Slieick Ali was, and why he was going on in company; and said, I much feared him. Rais informed me that all he knew about him, he had learned from Sidi Mohammed, which was, that he is the chief of a very large and powerful tribe of Arabs, who inhabit the hills south of us, and near the borders of the great desart ; that Sidi Hamet hack-married one of his daughters, but had since been at war with him, and that in the contest his father-in-law had destroyed Sidi Hamet’s town, and taken back his daughter, but afterwards restored her again on making peace—that this Sheick could bring ten or fifteen thousand men into the field whenever he pleased, and that he was a man of the greatest talents and capacity in war, as well as in peace; but why he was going on in our company in this manner, he could not tell, and agreed with me in suspecting that it could be for no good purpose, yet he observed, “ God could turn his evil intentions to our good, and that that power which had protected me thus far, would not forsake me until his will was accomplished.”


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