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The scorching heat of the sun, upon a dry and sandy country, makes the air insufferably hot. Ali having robbed me of my thermometer, I had no means of forming a comparative judgment; but in the middle of the day, when the beams of the vertical sun are seconded by the scorching wind from the Desert, the ground is frequently heated to such a degree, as not to be borne by the naked foot; even the Negro slaves will not run from one tent to another without their sandals. At this time of the day, the Moors lie stretched at length in their tents, either asleep, or unwilling to move ; and I have often felt the wind so hot, that I could not hold my hand in the current of air, which came through the crevices of my hut, without feeling sensible pain.
April 8th. This day the wind blew from the south-west, and in the night there was a heavy shower of rain, accompanied with thunder and lightning.
April 10th. In the evening the Tabala, or large drum, was beat to announce a wedding, which was held at one of the neigbbouring tents. A great number of people of both sexes assembled, but without that mirth and hilarity which take place at a Negro wedding: here was neither singing, nor dancing; nor any other amusement that I could perceive. A woman was beating the drum, and the other women joining at times like a chorus, by setting up a shrill scream ; and at the same time, moving their tongues from one side of the mouth to the other with great celerity. I was soou tired, and had returned into my hut, where I was sitting almost asleep, when an old woman entered, with a wooden bowl in her hand, and signified that she had brought me a present from the bride. Before I could recover from the surprise which
this message created, the woman discharged the contents of the bowl full in my face. Finding that it was the same sort of holy water, with which, among the Hottentots, a priest is said to sprinkle a new married couple, I began to suspect that the old lady was actuated by mischief, or malice; but she gave me seriously to understand, that it was a nuptial benediction from the bride's own person; and which, on such occasions, is always received by the young unmarried Moors as a mark of distinguished favour. This being the case, I wiped my face, and sent my acknowledgments to the lady. The wedding drum continued to beat, and the women to sing, or rather whistle, all night. About nine in the morning, the bride was brought in state from her mother's tent, attended by a number of women who carried her tent (a present from the husband) some bearing up the poles, others holding by the strings; and in this manner they marched, whistling as formerly, until they came to the place appointed for her residence, where they pitched the tent. The husband followed, with a number of men leading four bullocks, which they tied to the tent strings: and having killed another and distributed the beef among the people, the ceremony was concluded.
Occurrences at the Camp continued.— Information collected by the
Author, concerning Houssa and Tombuctoo; and the Situation of the latter.—The Route described from Morocco to Benowm.-The Author's Distress from Hunger. —Ali removes his Camp to the Northward. The Author is carried Prisoner to the new Encampment, and is presented to Queen Fatima.—Great Distress from the Want of Water.
One whole month had now elapsed since I was led into captivity ; during which time each returning day brought me fresh distresses. I watched the lingering course of the sun with anxiety, and blessed his evening beams as they shed a yellow lustre along the sandy floor of my hut; for it was then that my oppressors left me, and allowed me to pass the sultry night in solitude and reflection.
About midnight, a bowl of kouskous with some salt and water, was brought for me and my two attendants: this was our common fare, and it was all that was allowed us,
to allay the cravings of hunger, and support nature for the whole of the following day: for it is to be observed, that this was the Mahomedan Lent; and as the Moors keep the fast with a religious strictness, they thought it proper to compel me, though a Christian, to a similar observance. Time, however, somewhat reconciled me to my situation : I found that I could bear hunger and thirst better than I expected: and at length, I endeavoured to beguile the tedious hours, by learning to write Arabic. The people who came to see me, soon made me acquainted with the characters; and I discovered, that by engaging their attention in this way, they were not so troublesome as otherwise they would have been : indeed when I observed any person whose countenance I thought bore malice towards me, I made it a rule to ask him, either to write in the sand himself, or to decipher what I had already written ; and the pride of shewing his superior attainments, generally induced him to comply with my request.
April 14th. As Queen Fatima had not yet arrived, Ali proposed to go to the north, and bring her back with him: but as the place was two days' journey from Benowm, it was necessary to have some refreshment on the road ; and Ali, suspicious of those about him, was so afraid of being poisoned that he never eat any thing but what was dressed under his own immediate inspection. A fine bullock was therefore killed, and the flesh being cut up into thin slices, was dried in the sun : and this, with two bags of dried kouskous, formed his travelling provisions.
Previous to his departure, the black people of the town of Benowm came, according to their annual custom, to shew their arms, and bring their stipulated tribute of corn and cloth. They were but badly armed: twenty-two with musquets, forty or fifty with bows and arrows; and nearly the same number of men and boys, with spears only: they arranged themselves before the tent, where they waited until their arms were examined and some little disputes settled.
About midnight on the 16th, Ali departed quietly from Benowm, accompanied by a few attendants. He was expected to return in the course of nine or ten days.
April 18th. Two days after the departure of Ali, a Shereef arrived with salt, and some other articles from Walet, the capital of the kingdom of Biroo. As there was no tent appropriated for him, he took up his abode in the same hut with me. He seemed to be a well informed man, and his acquaintance both with the Arabic and Bambarra tongues, enabled him to travel, with ease and safety, through a number of kingdoms; for though his place of residence was Walet, he had visited Houssa, and had lived some years at Tombuctoo. Upon my inquiring so particularly about the distance from Walet to Tombuctoo, he asked me if I intended to travel that way; and being answered in the affirmative, he shook. his head, and said, it would not do; for that Christians were looked upon
there as the devil's children, and enemies to the Prophet. From him I learnt the following particulars ; that Houssa was the largest town he had ever seen ; that Walet was larger than Tombuctoo; but being remote from the Niger, and its trade consisting chiefly of salt, it was not so much resorted to by strangers ; that between Benowm and Walet was ten days' journey ; but the road did not lead through any remarkable towns, and travellers supported themselves by purchasing milk from the Arabs who keep their herds by the watering places ; two of the days' journies were over a sandy country, without water. From Walet to Tombuctoo was eleven days more ; but water was more plentiful, and the journey was usually performed upon bullocks. He said there were many Jews at Tombuctoo, but they all spoke Arabic, and used the same prayers as the Moors. He frequently pointed his hand to the south-east quarter, or rather the east by south ; observing, that Tombuctoo was situated