PERILS AND CAPTIVITY;
THE SUFFERINGS OF THE PICARD FAMILY
AFTER THE SHIPWRECK OF THE MEDUSA, IN THE YEAR 1816.
OF THE CAPTIVITY OF M. DE BRISSON, IN THE YEAR 1785.
VOYAGE OF MADAME GODIN
ALONG THE RIVER OF THE AMAZONS, IN THE YEAR 1770.
PRINTED FOR CONSTABLE AND CO.
THOMAS HURST AND CO. LONDON.
The expeditions in which it is attempted to explore unknown and distant oceans, are usually those which are most pregnant with adventure and disaster. But land has its perils as well as sea; and the wanderer, thrown into the unknown interior of the Continents of Africa and America, through regions of burning sand and trackless forest, occupied only by rude and merciless barbarians, encounters no less dreadful forms of danger and suffering. Several such examples are presented in the present volume, which exhibit peril, captivity, and 'hair-breadth escape,' in some of their striking and tragical results.
The catastrophe of the Medusa is already known to the public, as one of the most awful and appalling that ever befel any class of human beings. [Pg iv]The Shipwreck, and the dreadful scenes on the Raft, have been recorded in the Narrative of Messrs Savigny and Corréard. But the adventures of the party who were cast ashore, and forced to find their way through the African Desert, could be reported only imperfectly by those gentlemen who were not eye-witnesses. This want is supplied in the first part of the present volume, which contains the Narrative by Mad. Dard, then Mademoiselle Picard, one of the suffering party, and for the translation of which, the Editor is much indebted to Mr Maxwell.
There is in it so much feeling and good sense, mixed with an amiable and girlish simplicity, as to render it particularly engaging. There is also something peculiarly gratifying to an Englishman in the reflection, that such disaster could not have befallen almost any British crew. It was evidently nothing but the utter and thorough selfishness which actuated the leaders and most of those on board both of the ship and the raft, which rendered the affair at all very serious. A wise plan formed and [Pg v]acted upon, with a view to the general good, would have enabled them, without difficulty, to save the crew, the cargo, and perhaps the vessel. The narrative of the shipwreck and journey is also combined with the adventures of an interesting Family, related in such a manner as to give them a strong hold in our sympathy.
The Second Part of the Volume has an affinity to that which has now been mentioned. The western coast of Africa, lying along a great maritime and commercial route, and being heavily encumbered by rocks and shoals, has been the theatre of frequent shipwrecks; and Europeans, when cast ashore, have always experienced the most dreadful fate from the inhuman and bigotted natives. Several relations of this nature have been lately published, but under somewhat of a romantic and dubious aspect. That of Brisson, here inserted, appears the most authentic, and at the same time to present the most interesting and varied train of vicissitudes; and although it is already not unknown to the English reader, its [Pg vi]republication, we presume, will not be altogether unacceptable.
The Third Relation carries them into quite a different quarter of the world—to the shores of the mighty River of the Amazons in South America, and to the boundless forests and deserts by which it is bordered. We shall not anticipate the narrative of what befel Madame Godin in her voyage down this river; but it will not probably be denied to present as extraordinary a series of perils, adventures, and escapes, as are anywhere to be found on record. It is drawn from the account of the Mission of M. de la Condamine, sent, in 1743, by the French Government, along with M. Bouguer and other Academicians, to measure an arc of the meridian, under the latitude of Quito, and thus ascertain the figure of the earth. This forms a well known and respectable source; but the Mission being directed almost exclusively to scientific objects, the narrative may not perhaps have often met the eye of the general reader.
Edinburgh, August 1827.
|I. THE SHIPWRECK OF THE MEDUSA||xiii|
|M. Picard makes his first Voyage to Africa, leaving at Paris his Wife and two young Daughters—Death of Madame Picard—The Children taken home to the House of their Grandfather—Return of M. Picard after Nine years Absence—He marries again, and Departs a short while after, with all his Family, for Senegal—Description of the Journey between Paris and Rochefort||19|
|Departure from Rochefort—The Picard Family Embark in the Medusa Frigate—Account of the Voyage till they reach the Arguin Bank||28|
|The Medusa Frigate runs aground on the Arguin Bank—Description of the Shipwreck—A Raft is constructed—They swear not to abandon those who wish to go upon it||35|
|The Helm of the Medusa is broken by the Waves—It is determined to abandon the Wreck of the Frigate—The Military are put upon the Raft—The greater part of the Officers go into the Boats—The Picard Family are abandoned upon the Medusa—Proceedings of M. Picard to get his Family into a Boat||42|
|Departure of the Boats—They seem desirous of towing the Raft—Generous Conduct of a Naval Officer—The Abandonment of the Raft—Despair of the Wretches who are left to the fury of the Waves—Reproaches of M. Picard to the Authors of the Abandoning the Raft—Description of the Small Fleet which the Boats formed—Frightful Fate, and Deplorable End of the greater part of the Individuals on the Raft||48|
|The Chiefs of the Expedition order the Boats to take the Route for Senegal—Objections of some Generous Officers—The Shores of the Desert of Sahara are discovered—The Sailors of the Pinnace are desirous of Landing—The Boat in which the Picard Family is leaks much—Unheard-of Sufferings—Terrible Situation of the Family—Frightful Tempest—Despair of the Passengers||58|
|After the Frightful Tempest, the Boat, in which are the Picard Family, is still desirous of taking the Route to Senegal—Cruel Alternative to which the Passengers are Driven—It is at last decided to Gain the Coast—Description of the Landing—The Transports of the shipwrecked||65|
|The shipwrecked Party form themselves into a Caravan to go by Land to Senegal—They find Water in the Desert—Some People of the Caravan propose to Abandon the Picard Family—Generous Conduct of an Old Officer of Infantry—Discovery of an Oasis of Wild Purslain—First Repast of the Caravan in the Desert—They Fall in with a Small Camp of Arabs—M. Picard purchases Two Kids—The Moors offer their Services to them—Arrival at last at the Great Camp of the Moors—M. Picard is recognised by an Arab—Generous Proceeding of that Arab—Sudden Departure of the Caravan—They hire Asses||71|
|The Caravan regains the Shore—A Sail is discovered—It brings Assistance to the Caravan—Great Generosity of an Englishman—Continuation of their Journey—Extraordinary Heat—They Kill a Bullock—Repast of the Caravan—At last they discover the River Senegal—Joy of the Unfortunate—M. Picard receives Assistance from some Old Friends at Senegal—Hospitality of the Inhabitants of the Island of St Louis towards every Person of the Caravan||83|
|The English refuse to cede the Colony of Senegal to the French—The whole of the French Expedition are obliged to go and encamp on the Peninsula of Cape Verd—The Picard Family obtain leave of the English Governor to remain at Senegal—Poverty of that Family—Assistance which they receive—Enterprise of M. Picard—Restoration of the Colony to the French—Description of Senegal and its Environs||98|
|The Sickness and Death of Madame Picard break in upon the Happiness of the Family—M. Picard turns his Views to Commerce—Bad Success of his Enterprise—The Distracted Affairs of the Colony disgust Him—The Cultivation of the Island of Safal—Several Merchants protest against M. Picard applying himself to Commerce—Departure of the Expedition to the Island of Galam—M. Picard is deprived of his Employment as Attorney—His eldest Daughter goes to live in the Island of Safal with two of her Brothers||112|
|Miss Picard lives in the Island of Safal—Her Manner of living—Sufferings she endured—She gathers Flowers which contain a deleterious Poison—Her two Brothers fall Sick—They are conveyed to Senegal—Miss Picard, overcome with Melancholy, also falls Sick—State in which she is found—A Negro boils for her an old Vulture—Return of Miss Picard to Senegal—Her Convalescence—Her Return to the Island of Safal—M. Picard goes there to Live with all his Family—Description of the Furniture of the African Cottage—Country Life—Comfort of their Fireside—Walks of the Family—Little Pleasures which they enjoy||120|
|Fresh Misfortunes—Desertion of the Working Negroes—Return of M. Schmaltz to Senegal—Hope Destroyed—Governor Schmaltz refuses all kind of Assistance to the Picard Family—Tigers Devour the Household Dog—Terror of Miss Picard—Bad Harvest—Cruel Prospect of the Family—Increase of Misfortunes—Some generous Persons offer Assistance to M. Picard||131|
|The Picard Family, tormented by the Musquitoes, the Serpents, and Tigers, determine to remove their Cottage to the Banks of the River—The Poultry is discovered by the wild Beasts—Miserable Existence of that Family—Humiliations which it suffered—Their Cottage is overturned by a Tempest—The labouring Negroes form a Scheme to desert||140|
|The Colony of Senegal at War with the Moors—The Picard Family obliged to abandon the Island of Safal—They go to find a Home at St Louis—M. Picard hires an Apartment for his Family and returns to Safal with the eldest of his Sons—The whole unfortunate Family fall sick—Return of M. Picard to Senegal—Death of young Laura—He wishes to return to his Island—The Children oppose it—He falls dangerously ill—The worthy People of the Colony are indignant at the Governor for the State of Misery in which he has left the Picard Family||150|
|M. Dard, whom contrary Winds had detained ten Days in the Port of St. Louis, comes on Shore to see M. Picard—Agony of M. Picard—His last Words—His Death—Despair of his Children—M. Thomas kindly takes charge of Picard's Family—The eldest of the Ladies goes and mourns over the Grave of her Father—Her Resignation—M. Dard disembarks, and adopts the Wrecks of the Picard Family—M. Dard marries Miss Picard, and at last returns to France||159|
|Substance abridged from MM. Corréard and Savigny, of what took place on the Raft during thirteen days before the Sufferers were taken up by the Argus Brig||169|
II. NARRATIVE OF THE CAPTIVITY OF M. DE BRISSON IN THE DESERTS OF AFRICA
III. VOYAGE OF MAD. GODIN ALONG THE RIVER OF THE AMAZONS
HISTORY OF THE SUFFERINGS AND MISFORTUNES OF THE PICARD FAMILY,
AFTER THE SHIPWRECK OF THE MEDUSA, ON THE WESTERN COAST OF AFRICA,
IN THE YEAR 1816.
FROM THE FRENCH OF MADAME DARD, ONE OF THE SUFFERERS.
BY P. MAXWELL, Esq.
OF MADAME DARD'S NARRATIVE
SHIPWRECK AND MISFORTUNES,
IS RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED
MISS AGNES MALCOLM,
BY HER AFFECTIONATE AND GRATEFUL COUSIN,
The following pages are translated from the "African Cottage," of Mad. Dard.1 They contain no romance, but a well authenticated story, corroborated by the previous Narrative of MM. Corréard and Savigny. Those gentlemen have detailed their sufferings on the fatal raft, after the disastrous shipwreck of the Medusa frigate; but the account concerning those who escaped, by aid of their boats, to the shores of Sahara, deficient in their recital, is supplied by Madame Dard, who was present at all the scenes she relates. Interwoven with the Narrative, is an interesting account of the Picard Family, whose wrongs cannot fail to excite pity, and to engage those feeling hearts in her favour, to whom the fair authoress has addressed the story of her misfortunes.
1 "La Chaumière Africaine; ou, Histoire d'une Famille Française jetée sur la côté occidentale de l'Afrique, à la suite du naufrage de la Frégate la Meduse. Par Mme. Dard, née Charlotte Adelaide Picard, aînée de cette famille, et l'une des naufragés de la Meduse." Dijon. 1824, 12mo.
There is not, on the records of misery, an instance of more severe and protracted suffering; and [Pg xviii]I trust there is not, nor ever will be any, where human nature was more foully outraged and disgraced. There are, nevertheless, some pleasing traits of character in the story, and, I am proud to say, some of the brightest of them belong to our own nation. These present a beautiful relief to the selfishness and brutality which so much abound in the dark picture; and are, to our minds, the green spots of the Desert—the fountain and the fruit-tree—as they were in very truth, to the poor wretches they assisted with such genuine singleness of heart.
To the end of the Narrative I have subjoined an Appendix, translated and abridged from the work of MM. Corréard and Savigny, detailing at greater length the sufferings of those who were exposed upon the Raft. I have also added some Notes, extracted from several Authors, illustrative of various matters mentioned in the course of the Narrative.
It may be satisfactory for some readers to know, that, in 1824, Madame Dard was living with her husband in comfort at Bligny-sous-Beaune, a short distance from Dijon. I have lately seen in a French Catalogue, a Dictionary and Grammar of the Woloff and Bambara languages, by M. J. Dard, Bachelier des Sciences, Ancien Instituteur de l'Ecole du Sénégal, brought out under the auspices of the French Government.
Edinburgh, July 1827.
Those who have read the Account of the Shipwreck of the Medusa, by MM. Savigny and Corréard, are already acquainted with the Picard family.
Attracted to Senegal by a faint prospect of advantage, my father, head of that unfortunate family, could not, in spite of a good constitution and the strength of his spirits, resist that destiny, from the mortal influence of which none of us save three escaped out of a family of nine. On his deathbed, he expressed to me the desire that our misfortunes should not remain unknown. This then became my duty, and a duty sacred to the public. I feel a pleasure in fulfilling it, and consolation in the thought, that no feeling mind will read the story of our misfortunes without being affected; and that those who persecuted us will at least experience some regret.[Pg xx]
The recital of the shipwreck of the Medusa was necessary, as much to explain the origin of our misfortunes, as the cause of the connexion between that disastrous event, and the terrible journey in the Desert of Sahara, by which we at last reached Senegal. It will furnish me, also, with an opportunity of adverting to some errors in the work of Messrs Savigny and Corréard.
It only now remains for me to crave the indulgence of the reader for my style. I trust such will not be refused to one who has dared to take the pen, only in compliance with a father's dying request.
M. PICARD MAKES HIS FIRST VOYAGE TO AFRICA, LEAVING AT PARIS HIS WIFE AND TWO YOUNG DAUGHTERS—DEATH OF MADAME PICARD—THE CHILDREN TAKEN HOME TO THE HOUSE OF THEIR GRANDFATHER—RETURN OF M. PICARD AFTER NINE YEARS ABSENCE—HE MARRIES AGAIN, AND DEPARTS A SHORT WHILE AFTER, WITH ALL HIS FAMILY, FOR SENEGAL—DESCRIPTION OF THE JOURNEY BETWEEN PARIS AND ROCHEFORT.
About the beginning of 1800, my father solicited and obtained the situation of resident attorney at Senegal, on the west coast of Africa. My mother was then nursing my youngest sister, and could not be persuaded to expose us, at so tender an age, to the fatigue and danger of so long a voyage. At this period I was not quite two years old.[Pg 20]
It was then resolved that my father should go alone, and that we should join him on the following year; but my mother's hopes were disappointed, war having rendered impossible all communication with our colonies. In despair, at a separation which placed her nearly two thousand leagues from her husband, and ignorant how long it might continue, she soon after fell into a languid condition; and death deprived us of her, at the end of five years of suffering. My grandfather, at whose house we had hitherto lived, now became both father and mother to us; and I owe it to the good old man to say, that his care and attention soon made us forget we were orphans. Too young to reflect, that the condition of happiness which we enjoyed under his guardianship would ever have an end, we lived without a care for the future, and our years glided on in perfect tranquillity.
Thus were we living when, in 1809, the English captured the colony of Senegal, and permitted our father to return to his family. But what a change did he meet with on his arrival at Paris! Wife, home, furniture, friends, had all disappeared; and nothing remained but two young daughters, who refused to acknowledge him for their father: so much were our young minds habituated to see and love but one in the world—the worthy old man who had watched over our infancy.
In 1810, our father thought fit to marry a second time; but a great misfortune befel his children in the death of their grandfather. Our tears were scarcely dry, when we were conducted home to her who had become our second mother. We would hardly acknowledge her. Our sorrow was excessive, and the loss we had sustained irreparable[Pg 21]. But they strove to comfort us; dresses, playthings, amusements in abundance, were given to us to obliterate the loss of our best friend. In this state of perfect happiness we were living, when the armies of the Allies entered Paris in 1814.
France having had the good fortune to recover her King, and with him the blessing of peace, an expedition was fitted out at Brest to go and resume possession of Senegal, which had been restored to us. My father was instantly reinstated in his place of resident attorney, and went in the month of November to Brest.
As our family had become more numerous since the second marriage of my father, he could only take with him our stepmother and the younger children. My sister Caroline and myself were placed in a boarding school at Paris, until the Minister of Marine and the Colonies would grant us a passage; but the events of 1815 caused the expedition to Senegal to be abandoned, while it was still in the harbour of Brest, and all the officers dismissed. My father then returned to Paris, leaving at Brest my stepmother, who was then in an unfit condition for travelling.
In 1816, a new expedition was fitted out. My father was ordered to repair to Rochefort, whence it was to set off. He took measures also for taking along with him his wife, who had remained at Brest during the "hundred days." The design of our accompanying him to Africa, obliged him to address a new petition to the Minister of Marine, praying him to grant us all a passage, which he obtained.
The 23d of May was the day on which we[Pg 22] were to quit the capital, our relations and friends. In the meanwhile, my sister and myself left the boarding school where we had been placed, and went to take farewell of all those who were dear to us. One cousin, who loved us most tenderly, could not hear of our approaching departure without shedding tears; and as it was impossible for her to change our destiny, she offered to share it. Immediately she appeared before the minister, and M. le Baron Portal, struck with a friendship which made her encounter the dangers of so long a voyage, granted her request.
At last, a beautiful morning announced to us the afflicting moment when we were to quit Paris. The postilion, who was to convey us to Rochefort, was already at the door of the house in which we lived, to conduct us to his carriage, which waited for us at the Orléans gate. Immediately an old hackney coach appeared; my father stept into it, and in an instant it was filled. The impatient coachman cracked his whip, sparks flashed from the horse's feet, and the street of Lille, which we had just quitted, was soon far behind us. On arriving before the garden of the Luxumbourg, the first rays of the morning's sun darted fiercely through the foliage, as if to say, you forsake the zephyrs in quitting this beautiful abode. We reached the Observatory, and in an instant passed the gate d'Enfer. There, as yet for a moment to breathe the air of the capital, we alighted at the Hotel du Pantheon, where we found our carriage. After a hasty breakfast, the postilion arranged our trunks, and off again we set. It was nearly seven in the morning when we quitted the gates of Paris, and we ar[Pg 23]rived that evening at the little village of d'Etampes, where our landlord, pressing us to refresh ourselves, almost burned his inn in making us an omelet with rotten eggs. The flames, ascending the old chimney, soon rose to the roof of the house, but they succeeded in extinguishing them. We were, however, regaled with a smoke which made us shed tears. It was broad day when we quitted d'Etampes; and our postilion, who had spent the greater part of the night in drinking with his comrades, was something less than polite. We reproached him, but he made light of the circumstance; for, in the evening, he was completely drunk. On the twenty-fifth of May, at ten in the morning, my father told me we were already thirty-two leagues from Paris. Thirty-two leagues! cried I; alas, so far! Whilst I made this reflection, we arrived at Orléans. Here we remained about three hours to refresh ourselves as well as our horses. We could not leave the place without visiting the statue raised in honour of Joan of Arc, that extraordinary woman, to whom the monarchy once owed its safety.
On leaving Orléans, the Loire, and the fertile pastures through which it rolls its waters, excited our admiration. We had on our right the beautiful vineyards of Beaugency. The road, as far as Amboise, is delightful. I then began to think, that Paris and its environs might perhaps be forgotten, if the country of Senegal, to which we were going, was as fine as that through which we were journeying. We slept at Amboise, which, being situated at the confluence of the Loire and the Maise, presents a most agreeable appearance.[Pg 24]
When we set off, the sun began to show us verdant groves, watered by the majestic course of the river. His disk looked like a glorious lustre suspended in the azure vault of heaven. Our road was studded on both sides with lofty poplars, which seemed to shoot their pyramidal heads into the clouds. On our left was the Loire, and on our right a large rivulet, whose crystal waters every where reflected the bright beams of the sun. The birds, with their songs, celebrated the beauty of the day, whilst the dews, in the form of pearls, quivering fell from the tender boughs, fanned by the zephyrs. A thousand picturesque objects presented themselves to our view. On the one hand were delightful groves, the sweet flowers of which perfumed the air we breathed; on the other, a clear fountain sprang bubbling from the crevice of a rock, and, after falling from the top of a little hill among a tuft of flowers, bent its devious course to join the waters of the river. More distant, a small wood of filbert trees served as a retreat to the ringdoves who cooed, and the nightingales who chanted the spring.
We enjoyed this truly enchanting spectacle till we arrived at Tours. But as our route from Orléans had been diversified and agreeable, from the latter place to Rochefort it was monotonous and tiresome. However, the towns of Chatellerault, Poitiers, and Niort made a slight change in the sameness of the scene. From Niort to Rochefort the road was nearly impassable. We were frequently obliged to alight from the carriage, in order to allow the horses to drag it out from the deep ruts which we met. In approaching to a hamlet, named Charente, we stuck so fast in the mud, that[Pg 25] even after removing the trunks and other baggage, we found it almost next to an impossibility to drag it out. We were in the midst of a wood, and no village within view. It was then resolved to wait till some good soul would be passing, who would assist to extricate us from our embarrassment. After vainly waiting a long hour for this expected succour, the first people who appeared were travelling merchants, who would not stay on any account to give us assistance. At length we saw a young lady upon a little path, which was at the extremity of the wood, walking with a book in her hand. My father instantly ran towards her, and acquainted her with our situation. This lady, far from acting like the travellers we formerly met, went to an adjoining field where were some farmers at work, and requested them to go with their oxen to free us from our jeopardy, and returned herself with them. When our carriage was put in a condition to continue our route, she invited us to refresh ourselves in her country seat, situated in the middle of the wood. We then took the cross-way, and returned with our carriage at the instance of the amiable lady, who received us in the most affable and generous manner. She offered us at first some pears, which were already very good; after which we were served with an exquisite collation, at the end of which a child, beautiful as the loves, presented us with a basket filled with the fairest flowers of the spring. We accepted the gift of Flora, in testimony of our regard for our generous landlady and her charming child. Traversing after that the park of our hospitable hostess, we rejoined the route to Rochefort.
In paying this just tribute of remembrance to[Pg 26] the offices of that person who gave us so great assistance, I cannot resist the pleasure of mentioning her name. She is the wife of M. Télotte, superior officer of the general magazine at Rochefort.
Already the masts of the ships appeared in the horizon, and we heard in the distance a hollow and confused sound, like that made by a multitude of people engaged in various occupations. On approaching nearer to Rochefort, we found that the tumult we heard was caused by the labourers in the wood-yards and the galley-slaves, who, painfully dragging their fetters, attended to the various labours of the port. Having entered the town, the first picture which presented itself to our eyes was that of these unfortunate creatures, who, coupled two and two by enormous chains, are forced to carry the heaviest burdens. It may be mentioned, in passing, that the sight is not very attracting to young ladies who have never been out of Paris; for, in spite of all the repugnance we can have for those who are condemned by the laws to live apart from society, we can never look with indifference on that crowd of thinking beings, degraded, by following their vicious actions, to a level with the beasts of burden.
My mind was yet occupied with these painful reflections, when my father, opening the door of the carriage, requested us to follow him into an hotel in the street Dauphine, where already were our stepmother and our young brothers and sisters, who had returned with her from Brest. Soon our numerous family were again united. What transports of joy, what saluting and embracing! O! there is nothing comparable to the pleasure of meeting with those we love after a long absence![Pg 27]
My father went to visit the officers who were to make the voyage to Senegal along with us. My step-mother busied herself in preparing supper, and my sister Caroline, my cousin, and myself, went to sleep; for any farther exercise but ill accorded with the fatigue we had already undergone; otherwise we could easily have sat till supper, after having eat of the good things we had had at the farm of Charente.
We spent the morrow, the 3d of June, in running about the town. In the space of two hours we had seen every thing worth seeing. What a fine thing a maritime town is for a maker of romances! But as I have neither talents nor desire to write one, and as I have promised to the reader to adhere strictly to the truth, I will content myself by telling him, that in nine days I was tired of Rochefort.[Pg 28]
DEPARTURE FROM ROCHEFORT—THE PICARD FAMILY EMBARK IN THE MEDUSA FRIGATE—ACCOUNT OF THE VOYAGE TILL THEY REACH THE ARGUIN BANK.
Early on the morning of the 12th of June, we were on our way to the boats that were to convey us on board the Medusa, which was riding at anchor off the island of Aix, distant about four leagues from Rochefort. The field through which we passed was sown with corn. Wishing, before I left our beautiful France, to make my farewell to the flowers, and, whilst our family went leisurely forward to the place where we were to embark upon the Charente, I crossed the furrows, and gathered a few blue-bottles and poppies. We soon arrived at the place of embarkation, where we found some of our fellow-passengers, who, like myself, seemed casting a last look to Heaven, whilst they were yet on the French soil. We embarked, however, and left these happy shores. In descending the tortuous course of the Charente, contrary winds so impeded our progress, that we did not reach the Medusa till the morrow, having taken twenty-four hours in sailing four leagues.[Pg 29] At length we mounted the deck of the Medusa, of painful memory. When we got on board, we found our births not provided for us, consequently were obliged to remain indiscriminately together till next day. Our family, which consisted of nine persons, was placed in a birth near the main deck. As the wind was still contrary, we lay at anchor for seventeen days.
On the 17th of June, at four in the morning, we set sail, as did the whole expedition, which consisted of the Medusa frigate, the Loire store-ship, the Argus brig, and the Echo corvette. The wind being very favourable, we soon lost sight of the green fields of l'Aunis. At six in the morning, however, the island of Rhé still appeared above the horizon. We fixed our eyes upon it with regret, to salute for the last time our dear country. Now, imagine the ship born aloft, and surrounded by huge mountains of water, which at one moment tossed it in the air, and at another plunged it into the profound abyss. The waves, raised by a stormy north-west breeze, came dashing in a horrible manner against the sides of our ship. I know not whether it was a presentiment of the misfortune which menaced us that had made me pass the preceding night in the most cruel inquietude. In my agitation, I sprang upon deck, and contemplated with horror the frigate winging its way upon the waters. The winds pressed against the sails with great violence, strained and whistled among the cordage; and the great hulk of wood seemed to split every time the surge broke upon its sides. On looking a little out to sea I perceived, at no great distance on our right, all the other ships of the expedition, which quieted me much. Towards[Pg 30] ten in the morning the wind changed; immediately an appalling cry was heard, concerning which the passengers, as well as myself, were equally ignorant. The whole crew were in motion. Some climbed the rope ladders, and seemed to perch on the extremities of the yards; others mounted to the highest parts of the mast; these bellowing and pulling certain cordages in cadence; those crying, swearing, whistling, and filling the air with barbarous and unknown sounds. The officer on duty, in his turn, roaring out these words, starboard! larboard! hoist! luff! tack! which the helmsman repeated in the same tone. All this hubbub, however, produced its effect: the yards were turned on their pivots, the sails set, the cordage tightened, and the unfortunate sea-boys having received their lesson, descended to the deck. Every thing remained tranquil, except that the waves still roared, and the masts continued their creaking. However the sails were swelled, the winds less violent, though favourable, and the mariner, whilst he caroled his song, said we had a noble voyage.
During several days we did indeed enjoy a delightful passage. All the ships of the expedition still kept together; but at length the breeze became changeable, and they all disappeared. The Echo, however, still kept in sight, and persisted in accompanying us, as if to guide us on our route. The wind becoming more favourable, we held due south, sailing at the rate of sixty-two leagues a day. The sea was so fine, and our journey so rapid, that I began to think it nearly as agreeable to travel by sea as by land; but my illusion was not of long duration.
On the 28th of June, at six in the morning, we[Pg 31] discovered the Peak of Teneriffe, towards the south, the summit of whose cone seemed lost among the clouds. We were then distant about two leagues, which we made in less than a quarter of an hour. At ten o'clock we brought to before the town of St Croix. Several officers got leave to go on shore to procure refreshments.
Whilst these gentlemen were away, a certain passenger, member of the self-instituted Philanthropic Society of Cape Verd,2 suggested that it was very dangerous to remain where we were, adding that he was well acquainted with the country, and had navigated in all these latitudes. M. Le Roy Lachaumareys, Captain of the Medusa, believing the pretended knowledge of the intriguing Richefort, gave him the command of the frigate. Various officers of the navy, represented to the captain how shameful it was to put such confidence in a stranger, and that they would never obey a man who had no character as a commander. The captain despised these wise remonstrances; and, using his authority, commanded the pilots, and all the crew, to obey Richefort; saying he was king, since the orders of the king were, that they should obey him. Immediately the impostor, desirous of [Pg 32]displaying his great skill in navigation, made them change the route for no purpose but that of showing his skill in manœuvring a ship. Every instant he changed the tack, went, came, and returned, and approached the very reefs, as if to brave them. In short, he beat about so much, that the sailors at length refused to obey him, saying boldly that he was a vile impostor. But it was done. The man had gained the confidence of Captain Lachaumareys, who, ignorant of navigation himself, was doubtless glad to get some one to undertake his duty. But it must be told, and told, too, in the face of all Europe, that this blind and inept confidence was the sole cause of the loss of the Medusa frigate, as well as of all the crimes consequent upon it.
2 This Society, which was so ill named Philanthropic, was composed of sixty individuals of all nations, among whom figured Hébrard, Corréard,3 Richefort, &c. They had obtained from government a free passage, and authority to go and cultivate the peninsula of Cape Verd; but that new colony afterwards ended like that of Champ-d'Asile.
3 Not that Corréard, the coadjutor of Savigny, mentioned in the Author's preface. Trans.
Towards three in the afternoon, those officers who had gone on shore in the morning, returned on board loaded with vegetables, fruits, and flowers. They laughed heartily at the manœuvres that had been going on during their absence, which doubtless did not please the captain, who flattered himself he had already found in his pilot Richefort a good and able seaman: such were his words. At four in the afternoon we took a southerly direction. M. Richefort then beaming with exultation for having, as he said, saved the Medusa from certain shipwreck, continued to give his pernicious counsels to Captain Lachaumareys, persuading him he had been often employed to explore the shores of Africa, and that he was perfectly well acquainted with the Arguin Bank. The journals of the 29th and 30th afford nothing very remarkable.
The hot winds from the desert of Sahara began to be felt, which told us we approached the tro[Pg 33]pic; indeed, the sun at noon seemed suspended perpendicularly above our heads, a phenomenon which few among us had ever seen.
On the 1st of July, we recognised Cape Bojador, and then saw the shores of Sahara. Towards ten in the morning, they set about the frivolous ceremony which the sailors have invented for the purpose of exacting something from those passengers who have never crossed the line. During the ceremony, the frigate doubled Cape Barbas, hastening to its destruction. Captain Lachaumareys very good humouredly presided at this species of baptism, whilst his dear Richefort promenaded the forecastle, and looked with indifference upon a shore bristling with dangers. However that may be, all passed on well; nay, it may be even said that the farce was well played off. But the route which we pursued soon made us forget the short-lived happiness we had experienced. Every one began to observe the sudden change which had taken place in the colour of the sea, as we ran upon the bank in shallow water. A general murmur rose among the passengers and officers of the navy;—they were far from partaking in the blind confidence of the captain.
On the 2d of July, at five in the morning, the captain was persuaded that a large cloud, which was discovered in the direction of Cape Blanco, was that Cape itself. After this pretended discovery, they ought to have steered to the west, for about fifty leagues, to have gained sea room to double with certainty the Arguin Bank; moreover, they ought to have conformed to the instructions which the Minister of Marine had given to the ships which set out for Senegal. The other part of the[Pg 34] expedition, from having followed these instructions arrived in safety at their destination. During the preceding night, the Echo, which had hitherto accompanied the Medusa, made several signals, but being replied to with contempt, abandoned us. Towards ten in the morning, the danger which threatened us was again represented to the Captain, and he was strongly urged, if he wished to avoid the Arguin Bank, to take a westerly course; but the advice was again neglected, and he despised the predictions. One of the officers of the frigate, from having wished to expose the intriguing Richefort, was put under arrest. My father, who had already twice made the voyage to Senegal, and who with various persons was persuaded they were going right upon the bank, also made his observations to the unfortunate pilot. His advice was no better received than those of Messrs Reynaud, Espiau, Maudet, &c. Richefort, in the sweetest tone, replied, "My dear, we know our business; attend to yours, and be quiet. I have already twice passed the Arguin Bank; I have sailed upon the Red Sea, and you see I am not drowned." What reply could be made to such a preposterous speech? My father, seeing it was impossible to get our route changed, resolved to trust to Providence to free us from our danger, and descended to our cabin, where he sought to dissipate his fears in the oblivion of sleep.[Pg 35]
THE MEDUSA FRIGATE RUNS AGROUND ON THE ARGUIN BANK—DESCRIPTION OF THE SHIPWRECK—A RAFT IS CONSTRUCTED—THEY SWEAR NOT TO ABANDON THOSE WHO WISH TO GO UPON IT.
At noon, on the 2d of July, soundings were taken. M. Maudet, ensign of the watch, was convinced we were upon the edge of the Arguin Bank. The Captain said to him, as well as to every one, that there was no cause of alarm. In the mean while, the wind blowing with great violence, impelled us nearer and nearer to the danger which menaced us. A species of stupor overpowered all our spirits, and every one preserved a mournful silence, as if they were persuaded we would soon touch the bank. The colour of the water entirely changed, a circumstance even remarked by the ladies. About three in the afternoon, being in 19° 30' north latitude, and 19° 45' west longitude, an universal cry was heard upon deck. All declared they saw sand rolling among the ripple of the sea. The Captain in an instant ordered to sound. The line gave eighteen fathoms; but on a second sound[Pg 36]ing it only gave six. He at last saw his error, and hesitated no longer on changing the route, but it was too late. A strong concussion told us the frigate had struck. Terror and consternation were instantly depicted on every face. The crew stood motionless; the passengers in utter despair. In the midst of this general panic, cries of vengeance were heard against the principal author of our misfortunes, wishing to throw him overboard; but some generous persons interposed, and endeavoured to calm their spirits, by diverting their attention to the means of our safety. The confusion was already so great, that M. Poinsignon, commandant of a troop, struck my sister Caroline a severe blow, doubtless thinking it was one of his soldiers. At this crisis my father was buried in profound sleep, but he quickly awoke, the cries and the tumult upon deck having informed him of our misfortunes. He poured out a thousand reproaches on those whose ignorance and boasting had been so disastrous to us. However, they set about the means of averting our danger. The officers, with an altered voice, issued their orders, expecting every moment to see the ship go in pieces. They strove to lighten her, but the sea was very rough and the current strong. Much time was lost in doing nothing; they only pursued half measures, and all of them unfortunately failed.
When it was discovered that the danger of the Medusa was not so great as was at first supposed, various persons proposed to transport the troops to the island of Arguin, which was conjectured to be not far from the place where we lay aground. Others advised to take us all successively to the coast of the desert of Sahara, by the means of[Pg 37] our boats, and with provisions sufficient to form a caravan, to reach the island of Saint Louis, at Senegal. The events which afterwards ensued proved this plan to have been the best, and which would have been crowned with success; unfortunately it was not adopted. M. Schmaltz, the governor, suggested the making of a raft of a sufficient size to carry two hundred men, with provisions: which latter plan was seconded by the two officers of the frigate, and put in execution.
The fatal raft was then begun to be constructed, which would, they said, carry provisions for every one. Masts, planks, boards, cordage, were thrown over board. Two officers were charged with the framing of these together. Large barrels were emptied and placed at the angles of the machine, and the workmen were taught to say, that the passengers would be in greater security there, and more at their ease, than in the boats. However, as it was forgotten to erect rails, every one supposed, and with reason, that those who had given the plan of the raft, had had no design of embarking upon it themselves.
When it was completed, the two chief officers of the frigate publicly promised, that all the boats would tow it to the shore of the Desert; and, when there, stores of provisions and fire-arms would be given us to form a caravan to take us all to Senegal. Why was not this plan executed? Why were these promises, sworn before the French flag, made in vain? But it is necessary to draw a veil over the past. I will only add, that if these promises had been fulfilled, every one would have been saved, and that, in spite of the detestable egotism of certain personages, humanity would[Pg 38] not now have had to deplore the scenes of horror consequent on the wreck of the Medusa!
On the 3d of July, the efforts were renewed to disengage the frigate, but without success. We then prepared to quit her. The sea became very rough, and the wind blew with great violence. Nothing now was heard but the plaintive and confused cries of a multitude, consisting of more than four hundred persons, who, seeing death before their eyes, deplored their hard fate in bitter lamentations. On the 4th, there was a glimpse of hope. At the hour the tide flowed, the frigate, being considerably lightened by all that had been thrown over board, was found nearly afloat; and it is very certain, if on that day they had thrown the artillery into the water, the Medusa would have been saved; but M. Lachaumareys said, he could not thus sacrifice the King's cannon, as if the frigate did not belong to the King also. However, the sea ebbed, and the ship sinking into the sand deeper than ever, made them relinquish that on which depended our last ray of hope.
On the approach of night, the fury of the winds redoubled, and the sea became very rough. The frigate then received some tremendous concussions, and the water rushed into the hold in the most terrific manner, but the pumps would not work. We had now no alternative but to abandon her for the frail boats, which any single wave would overwhelm. Frightful gulfs environed us; mountains of water raised their liquid summits in the distance. How were we to escape so many dangers? Whither could we go? What hospitable land would receive us on its shores? My thoughts, then reverted to our beloved country. I[Pg 39] did not regret Paris, but I could have esteemed myself happy to have been yet in the marshes on the road to Rochefort. Then starting suddenly from my reverie, I exclaimed: "O terrible condition! that black and boundless sea resembles the eternal night which will ingulf us! All those who surround me seem yet tranquil; but that fatal calm will soon be succeeded by the most frightful torments. Fools, what had we to find in Senegal, to make us trust to the most perfidious of elements! Did France not afford every necessary for our happiness? Happy! yes, thrice happy, they who never set foot on a foreign soil! Great God! succour all these unfortunate beings; save our unhappy family!"
My father perceived my distress, but how could he console me? What words could calm my fears, and place me above the apprehension of those dangers to which we were exposed? How, in a word, could I assume a serene appearance, when friends, parents, and all that was most dear to me were, in all human probability, on the very verge of destruction? Alas! my fears were but too well founded. For I soon perceived that, although we were the only ladies, besides the Misses Schmaltz, who formed a part of the Governor's suit, they had the barbarity of intending our family to embark upon the raft, where were only soldiers, sailors, planters of Cape Verd, and some generous officers who had not the honour (if it could be accounted one) of being considered among the ignorant confidents of MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys. My father, indignant at a proceeding so indecorous, swore we would not embark upon the raft, and that, if we were not judged worthy[Pg 40] of a place in one of the six boats, he would himself, his wife, and children, remain on board the wrecks of the frigate. The tone in which he spoke these words, was that of a man resolute to avenge any insult that might be offered to him. The governor of Senegal, doubtless fearing the world would one day reproach him for his inhumanity, decided we should have a place in one of the boats. This having in some measure quieted our fears concerning our unfortunate situation, I was desirous of taking some repose, but the uproar among the crew was so great I could not obtain it.
Towards midnight, a passenger came to inquire at my father if we were disposed to depart; he replied, we had been forbid to go yet. However, we were soon convinced that a great part of the crew and various passengers were secretly preparing to set off in the boats. A conduct so perfidious could not fail to alarm us, especially as we perceived among those so eager to embark unknown to us, several who had promised, but a little while before, not to go without us.
M. Schmaltz, to prevent that which was going on upon deck, instantly rose to endeavour to quiet their minds; but the soldiers had already assumed a threatening attitude, and, holding cheap the words of their commander, swore they would fire upon whosoever attempted to depart in a clandestine manner. The firmness of these brave men produced the desired effect, and all was restored to order. The governor returned to his cabin; and those who were desirous of departing furtively were confused and covered with shame. The governor, however, was ill at ease; and as he had[Pg 41] heard very distinctly certain energetic words which had been addressed to him, he judged it proper to assemble a council. All the officers and passengers being collected, M. Schmaltz there solemnly swore before them not to abandon the raft, and a second time promised, that all the boats would tow it to the shore of the Desert, where they would all be formed into a caravan. I confess this conduct of the governor greatly satisfied every member of our family; for we never dreamed he would deceive us, nor act in a manner contrary to what he had promised.[Pg 42]
THE HELM OF THE MEDUSA IS BROKEN BY THE WAVES—IT IS DETERMINED TO ABANDON THE WRECK OF THE FRIGATE—THE MILITARY ARE PUT UPON THE RAFT—THE GREATER PART OF THE OFFICERS GO INTO THE BOATS—THE PICARD FAMILY ARE ABANDONED UPON THE MEDUSA—PROCEEDINGS OF M. PICARD TO GET HIS FAMILY INTO A BOAT.
About three in the morning, some hours after the meeting of the council, a terrible noise was heard in the powder room; it was the helm which was broken. All who were sleeping were roused by it. On going on deck every one was more and more convinced that the frigate was lost beyond all recovery. Alas! the wreck was for our family the commencement of a horrible series of misfortunes. The two chief officers then decided with one accord, that all should embark at six in the morning, and abandon the ship to the mercy of the waves. After this decision, followed a scene the most whimsical, and at the same time the most melancholy that can be well conceived. To have a more distinct idea of it, let the reader transport himself in imagination to the midst of the liquid[Pg 43] plains of the ocean; then let him picture to himself a multitude of all classes, of every age, tossed about at the mercy of the waves upon a dismasted vessel, foundered, and half submerged; let him not forget these are thinking beings with the certain prospect before them of having reached the goal of their existence.
Separated from the rest of the world by a boundless sea, and having no place of refuge but the wrecks of a grounded vessel, the multitude addressed at first their vows to heaven, and forgot, for a moment, all earthly concerns. Then, suddenly starting from their lethargy, they began to look after their wealth, the merchandise they had in small ventures, utterly regardless of the elements which threatened them. The miser, thinking of the gold contained in his coffers, hastening to put it in a place of safety, either by sewing it into the lining of his clothes, or by cutting out for it a place in the waistband of his trousers. The smuggler was tearing his hair at not being able to save a chest of contraband which he had secretly got on board, and with which he had hoped to have gained two or three hundred per cent. Another, selfish to excess, was throwing over board all his hidden money, and amusing himself by burning all his effects. A generous officer was opening his portmanteau, offering caps, stockings, and shirts, to any who would take them. These had scarcely gathered together their various effects, when they learned that they could not take any thing with them; those were searching the cabins and store-rooms to carry away every thing that was valuable. Ship-boys were discovering the delicate wines and[Pg 44] fine liqueurs, which a wise foresight had placed in reserve. Soldiers and sailors were penetrating even into the spirit-room, broaching casks, staving others, and drinking till they fell exhausted. Soon the tumult of the inebriated made us forget the roaring of the sea which threatened to ingulf us. At last the uproar was at its height; the soldiers no longer listened to the voice of their captain. Some knit their brows and muttered oaths; but nothing could be done with those whom wine had rendered furious. Next, piercing cries mixed with doleful groans were heard—this was the signal of departure.
At six o'clock on the morning of the 5th, a great part of the military were embarked upon the raft, which was already covered with a large sheet of foam. The soldiers were expressly prohibited from taking their arms. A young officer of infantry, whose brain seemed to be powerfully affected, put his horse beside the barricadoes of the frigate, and then, armed with two pistols, threatened to fire upon any one who refused to go upon the raft. Forty men had scarcely descended when it sunk to the depth of about two feet. To facilitate the embarking of a greater number, they were obliged to throw over several barrels of provisions which had been placed upon it the day before. In this manner did this furious officer get about one hundred and fifty heaped upon that floating tomb; but he did not think of adding one more to the number by descending himself, as he ought to have done, but went peaceably away, and placed himself in one of the best boats. There should have been sixty sailors upon the raft, and there were but about ten. A list had been made out on the 4th, assigning each his proper place; but this wise pre[Pg 45]caution being disregarded, every one pursued the plan he deemed the best for his own preservation. The precipitation with which they forced one hundred and fifty unfortunate beings upon the raft was such, that they forgot to give them one morsel of biscuit. However, they threw towards them twenty-five pounds in a sack, whilst they were not far from the frigate; but it fell into the sea, and was with difficulty recovered.
During this disaster, the governor of Senegal, who was busied in the care of his own dear self, effeminately descended in an arm-chair into the barge, where were already various large chests, all kinds of provisions, his dearest friends, his daughter and his wife. Afterwards the captain's boat received twenty-seven persons, amongst whom were twenty-five sailors, good rowers. The shallop, commanded by M. Espiau, ensign of the ship, took forty-five passengers, and put off. The boat, called the Senegal, took twenty-five; the pinnace thirty-three; and the yawl, the smallest of all the boats, took only ten.
Almost all the officers, the passengers, the mariners and supernumeraries, were already embarked—all, but our weeping family, who still remained upon the boards of the frigate, till some charitable souls would kindly receive us into a boat. Surprised at this abandonment, I instantly felt myself roused, and, calling with all my might to the officers of the boats, besought them to take our unhappy family along with them. Soon after, the barge, in which were the governor of Senegal and all his family, approached the Medusa, as if still to take some passengers, for there were but few in it. I made a motion to descend, hoping that the[Pg 46] Misses Schmaltz, who had, till that day, taken a great interest in our family, would allow us a place in their boat; but I was mistaken: those ladies, who had embarked in a mysterious incognito, had already forgotten us; and M. Lachaumareys, who was still on the frigate, positively told me they would not embark along with us. Nevertheless I ought to tell, what we learned afterwards, that that officer who commanded the pinnace had received orders to take us in, but, as he was already a great way from the frigate, we were certain he had abandoned us. My father however hailed him, but he persisted on his way to gain the open sea. A short while afterwards we perceived a small boat among the waves, which seemed desirous to approach the Medusa; it was the yawl. When it was sufficiently near, my father implored the sailors who were in it to take us on board, and to carry us to the pinnace, where our family ought to be placed. They refused. He then seized a firelock, which lay by chance upon deck, and swore he would kill every one of them if they refused to take us into the yawl, adding that it was the property of the king, and that he would have advantage from it as well as another. The sailors murmured, but durst not resist, and received all our family, which consisted of nine persons, viz. Four children, our stepmother, my cousin, my sister Caroline, my father, and myself. A small box, filled with valuable papers, which we wished to save, some clothes, two bottles of ratafia, which we had endeavoured to preserve amidst our misfortunes, were seized and thrown over board by the sailors of the yawl, who told us we would find in the pinnace every thing which we could wish[Pg 47] for our voyage. We had then only the clothes which covered us, never thinking of dressing ourselves in two suits; but the loss which affected us most was that of several MSS. at which my father had been labouring for a long while. Our trunks, our linen, and various chests of merchandise of great value, in a word, every thing we possessed, was left in the Medusa. When we boarded the pinnace, the officer who commanded it began excusing himself for having set off without forewarning us, as he had been ordered, and said a thousand things in his justification. But without believing the half of his fine protestations, we felt very happy in having overtaken him; for it is most certain they had had no intention of encumbering themselves with our unfortunate family. I say encumber, for it is evident that four children, one of whom was yet at the breast, were very indifferent beings to people who were actuated by a selfishness without all parallel. When we were seated in the long-boat, my father dismissed the sailors with the yawl, telling them he would ever gratefully remember their services. They speedily departed, but little satisfied with the good action they had done. My father hearing their murmurs and the abuse they poured out against us, said, loud enough for all in the boat to hear: "We are not surprised sailors are destitute of shame, when their officers blush at being compelled to do a good action." The commandant of the boat feigned not to understand the reproaches conveyed in these words, and, to divert our minds from brooding over our wrongs, endeavoured to counterfeit the man of gallantry.[Pg 48]
DEPARTURE OF THE BOATS—THEY SEEM DESIROUS OF TOWING THE RAFT—GENEROUS CONDUCT OF A NAVAL OFFICER—THE ABANDONMENT OF THE RAFT—DESPAIR OF THE WRETCHES WHO ARE LEFT TO THE FURY OF THE WAVES—REPROACHES OF M. PICARD TO THE AUTHORS OF THE ABANDONING THE RAFT—DESCRIPTION OF THE SMALL FLEET WHICH THE BOATS FORMED—FRIGHTFUL FATE, AND DEPLORABLE END OF THE GREATER PART OF THE INDIVIDUALS ON THE RAFT.
All the boats were already far from the Medusa, when they were brought to, to form a chain in order to tow the raft. The barge, in which was the governor of Senegal, took the first tow, then all the other boats in succession joined themselves to that. M. Lachaumareys embarked, although there yet remained upon the Medusa more than sixty persons. Then the brave and generous M. Espiau, commander of the shallop, quitted the line of boats, and returned to the frigate, with the intention of saving all the wretches who had been abandoned. They all sprung into the shallop; but as it was very much overloaded, seventeen unfortunates preferred remaining on board, rather than expose[Pg 49] themselves as well as their companions to certain death. But, alas! the greater part afterwards fell victims to their fears or their devotion. Fifty-two days after they were abandoned, no more than three of them were alive, and these looked more like skeletons than men. They told that their miserable companions had gone afloat upon planks and hen-coops, after having waited in vain forty-two days for the succour which had been promised them, and that all had perished.4
4 Two, out of the three wretches who were saved from the wrecks of the Medusa, died a few days after their arrival at the colony; and the third, who pretended to know a great many particulars relative to the desertion of the frigate, was assassinated in his bed at Senegal, when he was just upon the eve of setting off for France. The authorities could not discover the murderer, who had taken good care to flee from his victim after having killed him.
The shallop, carrying with difficulty all those she had saved from the Medusa, slowly rejoined the line of boats which towed the raft. M. Espiau earnestly besought the officers of the other boats to take some of them along with them; but they refused, alleging to the generous officer that he ought to keep them in his own boat, as he had gone for them himself. M. Espiau, finding it impossible to keep them all without exposing them to the utmost peril, steered right for a boat which I will not name. Immediately a sailor sprung from the shallop into the sea, and endeavoured to reach it by swimming; and when he was about to enter it, an officer who possessed great influence, pushed him back, and, drawing his sabre, threatened to cut off his hands, if he again made the attempt. The poor wretch regained the shallop, which was [Pg 50]very near the pinnace, where we were. Various friends of my father supplicated M. Lapérère, the officer of our boat, to receive him on board. My father had his arms already out to catch him, when M. Lapérère instantly let go the rope which attached us to the other boats, and tugged off with all his force. At the same instant every boat imitated our execrable example; and wishing to shun the approach of the shallop, which sought for assistance, stood off from the raft, abandoning in the midst of the ocean, and to the fury of the waves, the miserable mortals whom they had sworn to land on the shores of the Desert.
Scarcely had these cowards broken their oath, when we saw the French flag flying upon the raft. The confidence of these unfortunate persons was so great, that when they saw the first boat which had the tow removing from them, they all cried out, the rope is broken! the rope is broken! but when no attention was paid to their observation they instantly perceived the treachery of the wretches who had left them so basely. Then the cries of Vive le Roi arose from the raft, as if the poor fellows were calling to their father for assistance; or, as if they had been persuaded that, at that rallying word, the officers of the boats would return, and not abandon their countrymen. The officers repeated the cry of Vive le Roi, without a doubt, to insult them; but, more particularly, M. Lachaumareys, who, assuming a martial attitude, waved his hat in the air. Alas! what availed these false professions? Frenchmen, menaced with the greatest peril, were demanding assistance with the cries of Vive le Roi; yet none were found sufficiently generous, nor sufficiently French, to go[Pg 51] to aid them. After a silence of some minutes, horrible cries were heard; the air resounded with the groans, the lamentations, the imprecations of these wretched beings, and the echo of the sea frequently repeated, Alas! how cruel you are to abandon us!!! The raft already appeared to be buried under the waves, and its unfortunate passengers immersed. The fatal machine was drifted by currents far behind the wreck of the Frigate; without cable, anchor, mast, sail, oars; in a word, without the smallest means of enabling them to save themselves. Each wave that struck it, made them stumble in heaps on one another. Their feet getting entangled among the cordage, and between the planks, bereaved them of the faculty of moving. Maddened by these misfortunes, suspended, and adrift upon a merciless ocean, they were soon tortured between the pieces of wood which formed the scaffold on which they floated. The bones of their feet and their legs were bruized and broken, every time the fury of the waves agitated the raft; their flesh covered with contusions and hideous wounds, dissolved, as it were, in the briny waves, whilst the roaring flood around them was coloured with their blood.
As the raft, when it was abandoned, was nearly two leagues from the frigate, it was impossible these unfortunate persons could return to it: they were soon after far out at sea. These victims still appeared above their floating tomb; and, stretching out their supplicating hands towards the boats which fled from them, seemed yet to invoke, for the last time, the names of the wretches who had deceived them. O horrid day! a day of shame[Pg 52] and reproach! Alas! that the hearts of those who were so well acquainted with misfortune, should have been so inaccessible to pity!
After witnessing that most inhuman scene, and seeing they were insensible to the cries and lamentations of so many unhappy beings, I felt my heart bursting with sorrow. It seemed to me that the waves would overwhelm all these wretches, and I could not suppress my tears. My father, exasperated to excess, and bursting with rage at seeing so much cowardice and inhumanity among the officers of the boats, began to regret he had not accepted the place which had been assigned for us upon the fatal raft. "At least," said he, "we would have died with the brave, or we would have returned to the wreck of the Medusa; and not have had the disgrace of saving ourselves with cowards." Although this produced no effect upon the officers, it proved very fatal to us afterwards; for, on our arrival at Senegal, it was reported to the Governor, and very probably was the principal cause of all those evils and vexations which we endured in that colony.
Let us now turn our attention to the several situations of all those who were endeavouring to save themselves in the different boats, as well as to those left upon the wreck of the Medusa.
We have already seen, that the frigate was half sunk when it was deserted, presenting nothing but a hulk and wreck. Nevertheless, seventeen still remained upon it, and had food, which, although damaged, enabled them to support themselves for a considerable time; whilst the raft was abandoned to float at the mercy of the waves, upon the vast surface of the ocean. One hundred and fifty[Pg 53] wretches were embarked upon it, sunk to the depth of at least three feet on its fore part, and on its poop immersed even to the middle. What victuals they had were soon consumed, or spoiled by the salt water; and perhaps some, as the waves hurried them along, became food for the monsters of the deep. Two only of all the boats which left the Medusa, and these with very few people in them, were provisioned with every necessary; these struck off with security and despatch. But the condition of those who were in the shallop was but little better than those upon the raft; their great number, their scarcity of provisions, their great distance from the shore, gave them the most melancholy anticipations of the future. Their worthy commander, M. Espiau, had no other hope but of reaching the shore as soon as possible. The other boats were less filled with people, but they were scarcely better provisioned; and, as by a species of fatality, the pinnace, in which were our family, was destitute of every thing. Our provisions consisted of a barrel of biscuit, and a tierce of water; and, to add to our misfortunes, the biscuit being soaked in the sea, it was almost impossible to swallow one morsel of it. Each passenger in our boat was obliged to sustain his wretched existence with a glass of water, which he could get only once a day. To tell how this happened, how this boat was so poorly supplied, whilst there were abundance left upon the Medusa, is far beyond my power. But it is at least certain, that the greater part of the officers commanding the boats, the Shallop, the pinnace, the Senegal boat, and the yawl, were persuaded, when they quitted the frigate, that they would not abandon the raft,[Pg 54] but that all the expedition would sail together to the coast of Sahara; that when there, the boats would be again sent to the Medusa to take provisions, arms, and those who were left there; but it appears the chiefs had decided otherwise.
After abandoning the raft, although scattered, all the boats formed a little fleet, and followed the same route. All who were sincere hoped to arrive the same day at the coast of the Desert, and that every one would get on shore; but MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys gave orders to take the route for Senegal. This sudden change in the resolutions of the chiefs was like a thunderbolt to the officers commanding the boats. Having nothing on board but what was barely necessary to enable us to allay the cravings of hunger for one day, we were all sensibly affected. The other boats, which, like ourselves, hoped to have got on shore at the nearest point, were a little better provisioned than we were; they had at least a little wine, which supplied the place of other necessaries. We then demanded some from them, explaining our situation, but none would assist us, not even Captain Lachaumareys, who, drinking to a kept mistress, supported by two sailors, swore he had not one drop on board. We were next desirous of addressing the boat of the Governor of Senegal, where we were persuaded were plenty of provisions of every kind, such as oranges, biscuits, cakes, comfits, plumbs, and even the finest liqueurs; but my father opposed it, so well was he assured we would not obtain any thing.
We will now turn to the condition of those on the raft, when the boats left them to themselves.
If all the boats had continued dragging the raft[Pg 55] forward, favoured as we were by the breeze from the sea, we would have been able to have conducted them to the shore in less than two days. But an inconceivable fatality caused the generous plan to be abandoned which had been formed.
When the raft had lost sight of the boats, a spirit of sedition began to manifest itself in furious cries. They then began to regard one another with ferocious looks, and to thirst for one another's flesh. Some one had already whispered of having recourse to that monstrous extremity, and of commencing with the fattest and youngest. A proposition so atrocious filled the brave Captain Dupont and his worthy lieutenant M. L'Heureux with horror; and that courage which had so often supported them in the field of glory, now forsook them.
Among the first who fell under the hatchets of the assassins, was a young woman who had been seen devouring the body of her husband. When her turn was come, she sought a little wine as a last favour, then rose, and without uttering one word, threw herself into the sea. Captain Dupont being proscribed for having refused to partake of the sacrilegious viands with which the monsters were feeding on, was saved as by a miracle from the hands of the butchers. Scarcely had they seized him to lead him to the slaughter, when a large pole, which served in place of a mast, fell upon his body; and believing that his legs were broken, they contented themselves by throwing him into the sea. The unfortunate captain plunged, disappeared, and they thought him already in another world.
Providence, however, revived the strength of[Pg 56] the unfortunate warrior. He emerged under the beams of the raft, and clinging with all his might, holding his head above water, he remained between two enormous pieces of wood, whilst the rest of his body was hid in the sea. After more than two hours of suffering, Captain Dupont spoke in a low voice to his lieutenant, who by chance was seated near the place of his concealment. The brave L'Heureux, with eyes glistening with tears, believed he heard the voice, and saw the shade of his captain; and trembling, was about to quit the place of horror; but, O wonderful! he saw a head which seemed to draw its last sigh, he recognised it, he embraced it, alas! it was his dear friend! Dupont was instantly drawn from the water, and M. L'Heureux obtained for his unfortunate comrade again a place upon the raft. Those who had been most inveterate against him, touched at what Providence had done for him in so miraculous a manner, decided with one accord to allow him entire liberty upon the raft.
The sixty unfortunates who had escaped from the first massacre, were soon reduced to fifty, then to forty, and at last to twenty-eight. The least murmur, or the smallest complaint, at the moment of distributing the provisions, was a crime punished with immediate death. In consequence of such a regulation, it may easily be presumed the raft was soon lightened. In the meanwhile the wine diminished sensibly, and the half rations very much displeased a certain chief of the conspiracy. On purpose to avoid being reduced to that extremity, the executive power decided it was much wiser to drown thirteen people, and to get full rations, than that twenty-eight should have half rations. Mer[Pg 57]ciful Heaven! what shame! After the last catastrophe, the chiefs of the conspiracy, fearing doubtless of being assassinated in their turn, threw all the arms into the sea, and swore an inviolable friendship with the heroes which the hatchet had spared. On the 17th of July, in the morning, Captain Parnajon, commandant of the Argus brig, still found fifteen men on the raft. They were immediately taken on board, and conducted to Senegal. Four of the fifteen are yet alive, viz. Captain Dupont, residing in the neighbourhood of Maintenon, Lieutenant L'Heureux, since Captain, at Senegal, Savigny, at Rochefort, and Corréard, I know not where.[Pg 58]
THE CHIEFS OF THE EXPEDITION ORDER THE BOATS TO TAKE THE ROUTE FOR SENEGAL—OBJECTIONS OF SOME GENEROUS OFFICERS—THE SHORES OF THE DESERT OF SAHARA ARE DISCOVERED—IT IS DEFENDED—THE SAILORS OF THE PINNACE ARE DESIROUS OF LANDING—THE BOAT IN WHICH THE PICARD FAMILY IS LEAKS MUCH—UNHEARD-OF SUFFERINGS—TERRIBLE SITUATION OF THE FAMILY—FRIGHTFUL TEMPEST—DESPAIR OF THE PASSENGERS.
On the 5th of July, at ten in the morning, one hour after abandoning the raft, and three after quitting the Medusa, M. Lapérère, the officer of our boat, made the first distribution of provisions. Each passenger had a small glass of water and nearly the fourth of a biscuit. Each drank his allowance of water at one draught, but it was found impossible to swallow one morsel of our biscuit, it being so impregnated with sea-water. It happened, however, that some was found not quite so saturated. Of these we eat a small portion, and put back the remainder for a future day. Our voyage would have been sufficiently agreeable, if the beams of the sun had not been so fierce. On the evening we perceived the shores of the Desert; but[Pg 59] as the two chiefs (MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys) wished to go right for Senegal, notwithstanding we were still one hundred leagues from it, we were not allowed to land. Several officers remonstrated, both on account of our want of provisions and the crowded condition of the boats, for undertaking so dangerous a voyage. Others urged with equal force, that it would be dishonouring the French name, if we were to neglect the unfortunate people on the raft, and insisted we should be set on shore, and whilst we waited there, three boats should return to look after the raft, and three to the wrecks of the frigate, to take up the seventeen who were left there, as well as a sufficient quantity of provisions to enable us to go to Senegal by the way of Barbary. But MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys, whose boats were sufficiently well provisioned, scouted the advice of their subalterns, and ordered them to cast anchor till the following morning. They were obliged to obey these orders, and to relinquish their designs. During the night, a certain passenger, who was doubtless no doctor, and who believed in ghosts and witches, was suddenly frightened by the appearance of flames, which he thought he saw in the waters of the sea, a little way from where our boat was anchored. My father, and some others, who were aware that the sea is sometimes phosphorated, confirmed the poor credulous man in his belief, and added several circumstances which fairly turned his brain. They persuaded him the Arabic sorcerers had fired the sea to prevent us from travelling along their deserts.
On the morning of the 6th of July, at five[Pg 60] o'clock, all the boats were under way on the route to Senegal. The boats of MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys took the lead along the coast, and all the expedition followed. About eight, several sailors in our boat, with threats, demanded to be set on shore; but M. Lapérère, not acceding to their request, the whole were about to revolt and seize the command; but the firmness of this officer quelled the mutineers. In a spring which he made to seize a firelock which a sailor persisted in keeping in his possession, he almost tumbled into the sea. My father fortunately was near him, and held him by his clothes, but he had instantly to quit him, for fear of losing his hat, which the waves were floating away. A short while after this slight accident, the shallop, which we had lost sight of since the morning, appeared desirous of rejoining us. We plied all hands to avoid her, for we were afraid of one another, and thought that that boat, encumbered with so many people, wished to board us to oblige us to take some of its passengers, as M. Espiau would not suffer them to be abandoned like those upon the raft. That officer hailed us at a distance, offering to take our family on board, adding, he was anxious to take about sixty people to the Desert. The officer of our boat, thinking that this was a pretence, replied, we preferred suffering where we were. It even appeared to us that M. Espiau had hid some of his people under the benches of the shallop. But, alas! in the end we deeply deplored being so suspicious, and of having so outraged the devotion of the most generous officer of the Medusa.
Our boat began to leak considerably, but we prevented it as well as we could, by stuffing the[Pg 61] largest holes with oakum, which an old sailor had had the precaution to take before quitting the frigate. At noon the heat became so strong—so intolerable, that several of us believed we had reached our last moments. The hot winds of the Desert even reached us; and the fine sand with which they were loaded, had completely obscured the clearness of the atmosphere. The sun presented a reddish disk; the whole surface of the ocean became nebulous, and the air which we breathed, depositing a fine sand, an impalpable powder, penetrated to our lungs, already parched with a burning thirst. In this state of torment we remained till four in the afternoon, when a breeze from the north-west brought us some relief. Notwithstanding the privations we felt, and especially the burning thirst which had become intolerable, the cool air which we now began to breath, made us in part forget our sufferings. The heavens began again to resume the usual serenity of those latitudes, and we hoped to have passed a good night. A second distribution of provisions was made; each received a small glass of water, and about the eighth part of a biscuit. Notwithstanding our meagre fare, every one seemed content, in the persuasion we would reach Senegal by the morrow. But how vain were all our hopes, and what sufferings had we yet to endure!
At half past seven, the sky was covered with stormy clouds. The serenity we had admired a little while before, entirely disappeared, and gave place to the most gloomy obscurity. The surface of the ocean presented all the signs of a coming tempest. The horizon on the side of the Desert had the appearance of a long hideous chain of[Pg 62] mountains piled on one another, the summits of which seemed to vomit fire and smoke. Bluish clouds, streaked with a dark copper colour, detached themselves from that shapeless heap, and came and joined with those which floated over our heads. In less than half an hour the ocean seemed confounded with the terrible sky which canopied us. The stars were hid. Suddenly a frightful noise was heard from the west, and all the waves of the sea rushed to founder our frail bark. A fearful silence succeeded to the general consternation. Every tongue was mute; and none durst communicate to his neighbour the horror with which his mind was impressed. At intervals the cries of the children rent our hearts. At that instant a weeping and agonized mother bared her breast to her dying child, but it yielded nothing to appease the thirst of the little innocent who pressed it in vain. O night of horrors! what pen is capable to paint thy terrible picture! How describe the agonizing fears of a father and mother, at the sight of their children tossed about and expiring of hunger in a small boat, which the winds and waves threatened to ingulf at every instant! Having full before our eyes the prospect of inevitable death, we gave ourselves up to our unfortunate condition, and addressed our prayers to Heaven. The winds growled with the utmost fury; the tempestuous waves arose exasperated. In their terrific encounter a mountain of water was precipitated into our boat, carrying away one of the sails, and the greater part of the effects which the sailors had saved from the Medusa. Our bark was nearly sunk; the females and the children lay rolling in its bottom, drinking the waters of[Pg 63] bitterness; and their cries, mixed with the roaring of the waves and the furious north wind, increased the horrors of the scene. My unfortunate father then experienced the most excruciating agony of mind. The idea of the loss which the shipwreck had occasioned to him, and the danger which still menaced all he held dearest in the world, plunged him into a deep swoon. The tenderness of his wife and children recovered him; but alas! his recovery was to still more bitterly to deplore the wretched situation of his family. He clasped us to his bosom; he bathed us with his tears, and seemed as if he was regarding us with his last looks of love.
Every soul in the boat were seized with the same perturbation, but it manifested itself in different ways. One part of the sailors remained motionless, in a bewildered state; the other cheered and encouraged one another; the children, locked in the arms of their parents, wept incessantly. Some demanded drink, vomiting the salt water which choked them; others, in short, embraced as for the last time, intertwining their arms, and vowing to die together.
In the meanwhile the sea became rougher and rougher. The whole surface of the ocean seemed a vast plain furrowed with huge blackish waves fringed with white foam. The thunder growled around us, and the lightning discovered to our eyes all that our imagination could conceive most horrible. Our boat, beset on all sides by the winds, and at every instant tossed on the summit of mountains of water, was very nearly sunk in spite of our every effort in baling it, when we discovered a large hole in its poop. It was instantly stuf[Pg 64]fed with every thing we could find;—old clothes, sleeves of shirts, shreds of coats, shawls, useless bonnets, every thing was employed, and secured us as far as it was possible. During the space of six hours, we rowed suspended alternately between hope and fear, between life and death. At last towards the middle of the night, Heaven, which had seen our resignation, commanded the floods to be still. Instantly the sea became less rough, the veil which covered the sky became less obscure, the stars again shone out, and the tempest seemed to withdraw. A general exclamation of joy and thankfulness issued at one instant from every mouth. The winds calmed, and each of us sought a little sleep, whilst our good and generous pilot steered our boat on a still very stormy sea.
The day at last, the day so desired, entirely restored the calm; but it brought no other consolation. During the night, the currents, the waves, and the winds had taken us so far out to sea, that, on the dawning of the 7th of July, we saw nothing but sky and water, without knowing whether to direct our course; for our compass had been broken during the tempest. In this hopeless condition, we continued to steer sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left, until the sun arose, and at last showed us the east.[Pg 65]
AFTER THE FRIGHTFUL TEMPEST, THE BOAT, IN WHICH ARE THE PICARD FAMILY, IS STILL DESIROUS OF TAKING THE ROUTE TO SENEGAL—CRUEL ALTERNATIVE TO WHICH THE PASSENGERS ARE DRIVEN—IT IS AT LAST DECIDED TO GAIN THE COAST—DESCRIPTION OF THE LANDING—THE TRANSPORTS OF THE SHIPWRECKED.
On the morning of the 7th of July, we again saw the shores of the Desert, notwithstanding we were yet a great distance from it. The sailors renewed their murmurings, wishing to get on shore, with the hope of being able to get some wholesome plants, and some more palatable water than that of the sea; but as we were afraid of the Moors, their request was opposed. However, M. Lapérère proposed to take them as near as he could to the first breakers on the coast; and when there, those who wished to go on shore should throw themselves into the sea, and swim to land. Eleven accepted the proposal; but when we had reached the first waves, none had the courage to brave the mountains of water which rolled between them and the beach. Our sailors then betook themselves to[Pg 66] their benches and oars, and promised to be more quiet for the future. A short while after, a third distribution was made since our departure from the Medusa; and nothing more remained than four pints of water, and one half dozen biscuits. What steps were we to take in this cruel situation? We were desirous of going on shore, but we had such dangers to encounter. However, we soon came to a decision, when we saw a caravan of Moors on the coast. We then stood a little out to sea. According to the calculation of our commanding officer, we would arrive at Senegal on the morrow. Deceived by that false account, we preferred suffering one day more, rather than to be taken by the Moors of the Desert, or perish among the breakers. We had now no more than a small half glass of water, and the seventh of a biscuit. Exposed as we were to the heat of the sun, which darted its rays perpendicularly on our heads, that ration, though small, would have been a great relief to us; but the distribution was delayed to the morrow. We were then obliged to drink the bitter sea-water, ill as it was calculated to quench our thirst. Must I tell it! thirst had so withered the lungs of our sailors, that they drank water salter than that of the sea! Our numbers diminished daily, and nothing but the hope of arriving at the colony on the following day sustained our frail existence. My young brothers and sisters wept incessantly for water. The little Laura, aged six years, lay dying at the feet of her mother. Her mournful cries so moved the soul of my unfortunate father, that he was on the eve of opening a vein to quench the thirst which consumed his child; but a wise person opposed his design, observing that all the[Pg 67] blood in his body would not prolong the life of his infant one moment.
The freshness of the night-wind procured us some respite. We anchored pretty near to the shore, and, though dying of famine, each got a tranquil sleep. On the morning of the 8th of July at break of day, we took the route for Senegal. A short while after the wind fell, and we had a dead calm. We endeavoured to row, but our strength was exhausted. A fourth and last distribution was made, and, in the twinkling of an eye, our last resources were consumed. We were forty-two people who had to feed upon six biscuits and about four pints of water, with no hope of a farther supply. Then came the moment for deciding whether we were to perish among the breakers, which defended the approach to the shores of the Desert, or to die of famine in continuing our route. The majority preferred the last species of misery. We continued our progress along the shore, painfully pulling our oars. Upon the beach were distinguished several downs of white sand, and some small trees. We were thus creeping along the coast, observing a mournful silence, when a sailor suddenly exclaimed, Behold the Moors! We did, in fact, see various individuals upon the rising ground, walking at a quick pace, and whom we took to be the Arabs of the Desert. As we were very near the shore, we stood farther out to sea, fearing that these pretended Moors, or Arabs, would throw themselves into the sea, swim out, and take us. Some hours after, we observed several people upon an eminence, who seemed to make signals to us. We examined them atten[Pg 68]tively, and soon recognised them to be our companions in misfortune. We replied to them by attaching a white handkerchief to the top of our mast. Then we resolved to land, at the risk of perishing among the breakers, which were very strong towards the shore, although the sea was calm. On approaching the beach, we went towards the right, where the waves seemed less agitated, and endeavoured to reach it, with the hope of being able more easily to land. Scarcely had we directed our course to that point, when we perceived a great number of people standing near to a little wood surrounding the sand-hills. We recognised them to be the passengers of that boat, which, like ourselves, were deprived of provisions.
Meanwhile we approached the shore, and already the foaming surge filled us with terror. Each wave that came from the open sea, each billow that swept beneath our boat, made us bound into the air; so we were sometimes thrown from the poop to the prow, and from the prow to the poop. Then, if our pilot had missed the sea, we would have been sunk; the waves would have thrown us aground, and we would have been buried among the breakers. The helm of the boat was again given to the old pilot, who had already so happily steered us through the dangers of the storm. He instantly threw into the sea the mast, the sails, and every thing that could impede our proceedings. When we came to the first landing point, several of our shipwrecked companions, who had reached the shore, ran and hid themselves behind the hills, not to see us perish; others made signs not to approach at that place; some covered their eyes with their hands; others, at[Pg 69] last despising the danger, precipitated themselves into the waves to receive us in their arms. We then saw a spectacle that made us shudder. We had already doubled two ranges of breakers; but those which we had still to cross raised their foaming waves to a prodigious height, then sunk with a hollow and monstrous sound, sweeping along a long line of the coast. Our boat sometimes greatly elevated, and sometimes ingulfed between the waves, seemed, at the moment, of utter ruin. Bruised, battered, tossed about on all hands, it turned of itself, and refused to obey the kind hand which directed it. At that instant a huge wave rushed from the open sea, and dashed against the poop; the boat plunged, disappeared, and we were all among the waves. Our sailors, whose strength had returned at the presence of danger, redoubled their efforts, uttering mournful sounds. Our bark groaned, the oars were broken; it was thought aground, but it was stranded; it was upon its side. The last sea rushed upon us with the impetuosity of a torrent. We were up to the neck in water; the bitter sea-froth choaked us. The grapnel was thrown out. The sailors threw themselves into the sea; they took the children in their arms; returned, and took us upon their shoulders; and I found myself seated upon the sand on the shore, by the side of my step-mother, my brothers and sisters, almost dead. Every one was upon the beach except my father and some sailors; but that good man arrived at last, to mingle his tears with those of his family and friends.
Instantly our hearts joined in addressing our prayers and praises to God. I raised my hands to heaven, and remained some time immoveable[Pg 70] upon the beach. Every one also hastened to testify his gratitude to our old pilot, who, next to God, justly merited the title of our preserver. M. Dumège, a naval surgeon, gave him an elegant gold watch, the only thing he had saved from the Medusa.
Let the reader now recollect all the perils to which we had been exposed in escaping from the wreck of the frigate to the shores of the Desert—all that we had suffered during our four days' voyage—and he will perhaps have a just notion of the various sensations we felt on getting on shore on that strange and savage land. Doubtless the joy we experienced at having escaped, as by a miracle, the fury of the floods, was very great; but how much was it lessened by the feelings of our horrible situation! Without water, without provisions, and the majority of us nearly naked, was it to be wondered at that we should be seized with terror on thinking of the obstacles which we had to surmount, the fatigues, the privations, the pains and the sufferings we had to endure, with the dangers we had to encounter in the immense and frightful Desert we had to traverse before we could arrive at our destination? Almighty Providence! it was in Thee alone I put my trust.[Pg 71]
THE SHIPWRECKED PARTY FORM THEMSELVES INTO A CARAVAN TO GO BY LAND TO SENEGAL—THEY FIND WATER IN THE DESERT—SOME PEOPLE OF THE CARAVAN PROPOSE TO ABANDON THE PICARD FAMILY—GENEROUS CONDUCT OF AN OLD OFFICER OF INFANTRY—DISCOVERY OF AN OASIS OF WILD PURSLAIN—FIRST REPAST OF THE CARAVAN IN THE DESERT—THEY FALL IN WITH A SMALL CAMP OF ARABS—M. PICARD PURCHASES TWO KIDS—THE MOORS OFFER THEIR SERVICES TO THEM—ARRIVAL AT LAST AT THE GREAT CAMP OF THE MOORS—M. PICARD IS RECOGNISED BY AN ARAB—GENEROUS PROCEEDING OF THAT ARAB—SUDDEN DEPARTURE OF THE CARAVAN—THEY HIRE ASSES.
After we had a little recovered from the fainting and fatigue of our getting on shore, our fellow-sufferers told us they had landed in the forenoon, and had cleared the breakers by the strength of their oars and sails; but they had not all been so lucky as we were. One unfortunate person, too desirous of getting quickly on shore, had his legs broken under the Shallop, and was taken and laid[Pg 72] on the beach, and left to the care of Providence. M. Espiau, commander of the shallop, reproached us for having doubted him when he wished to board us to take our family along with him. It was most true he had landed sixty-three people that day. A short while after our refusal, he took the passengers of the yawl, who would infallibly have perished in the stormy night of the 6th and 7th. The boat named the Senegal, commanded by M. Maudet, had made the shore at the same time with M. Espiau. The boats of MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys were the only ones which continued the route for Senegal, whilst nine-tenths of the Frenchmen intrusted to these gentlemen were butchering each other on the raft, or dying of hunger on the burning sands of Sahara.
About seven in the morning, a caravan was formed to penetrate into the interior, for the purpose of finding some fresh water. We did accordingly find some at a little distance from the sea, by digging among the sand. Every one instantly flocked round the little wells, which furnished enough to quench our thirst. This brackish water was found to be delicious, although it had a sulphurous taste: its colour was that of whey. As all our clothes were wet and in tatters, and as we had nothing to change them, some generous officers offered theirs. My step-mother, my cousin, and my sister, were dressed in them; for myself, I preferred keeping my own. We remained nearly an hour beside our beneficent fountain then took the route for Senegal; that is, a southerly direction, for we did not know exactly where that country lay. It was agreed that the females and children should walk before the cara[Pg 73]van, that they might not be left behind. The sailors voluntarily carried the youngest on their shoulders, and every one took the route along the coast. Notwithstanding it was nearly seven o'clock, the sand was quite burning, and we suffered severely, walking without shoes, having lost them whilst landing. As soon as we arrived on the shore, we went to walk on the wet sand, to cool us a little. Thus we travelled during all the night, without encountering any thing but shells, which wounded our feet.
On the morning of the 9th, we saw an antelope on the top of a little hill, which instantly disappeared, before we had time to shoot it. The Desert seemed to our view one immense plain of sand, on which was seen not one blade of verdure. However, we still found water by digging in the sand. In the forenoon, two officers of marine complained that our family incommoded the progress of the caravan. It is true, the females and the children could not walk so quickly as the men. We walked as fast as it was possible for us, nevertheless, we often fell behind, which obliged them to halt till we came up. These officers, joined with other individuals, considered among themselves whether they would wait for us, or abandon us in the Desert. I will be bold to say, however, that but few were of the latter opinion. My father being informed of what was plotting against us, stepped up to the chiefs of the conspiracy, and reproached them in the bitterest terms for their selfishness and brutality. The dispute waxed hot. Those who were desirous of leaving us drew their swords, and my father put his hand upon a poignard, with which he had provided himself on quitting the[Pg 74] frigate. At this scene, we threw ourselves in between them, conjuring him rather to remain in the Desert with his family, than seek the assistance of those who were, perhaps, less humane than the Moors themselves. Several people took our part, particularly M. Bégnère, captain of infantry, who quieted the dispute by saying to his soldiers. "My friends, you are Frenchmen, and I have the honour of being your commander; let us never abandon an unfortunate family in the Desert, so long as we are able to be of use to them." This brief, but energetic speech, caused those to blush who wished to leave us. All then joined with the old captain, saying they would not leave us on condition we would walk quicker. M. Bégnère and his soldiers replied, they did not wish to impose conditions on those to whom they were desirous of doing a favour; and the unfortunate family of Picard were again on the road with the whole caravan. Some time after this dispute, M. Rogéry, member of the Philanthropic Society of Cape Verd, secretly left the caravan, striking into the middle of the Desert, without knowing very well what he sought. He wished perhaps to explore the ancient country of the Numidians and Getulians, and to give himself a slave to the great Emperor of Morocco. What would it avail to acquire such celebrity? That intrepid traveller had not time to find that after which he searched; for a few days after he was captured by the Moors, and taken to Senegal, where the governor paid his ransom.
About noon hunger was felt so powerfully among us, that it was agreed upon to go to the small hills of sand which were near the coast, to see if any[Pg 75] herbs could be found fit for eating; but we only got poisonous plants, among which were various kinds of euphorbium. Convolvuluses of a bright green carpeted the downs; but on tasting their leaves we found them as bitter as gall. The caravan rested in this place, whilst several officers went farther into the interior. They came back in about an hour, loaded with wild purslain, which they distributed to each of us. Every one instantly devoured his bunch of herbage, without leaving the smallest branch; but as our hunger was far from being satisfied with this small allowance, the soldiers and sailors betook themselves to look for more. They soon brought back a sufficient quantity, which was equally distributed, and devoured upon the spot, so delicious had hunger made that food to us. For myself, I declare I never eat any thing with so much appetite in all my life. Water was also found in this place, but it was of an abominable taste. After this truly frugal repast, we continued our route. The heat was insupportable in the last degree. The sands on which we trode were burning, nevertheless several of us walked on these scorching coals without shoes; and the females had nothing but their hair for a cap. When we reached the sea-shore, we all ran and lay down among the waves. After remaining there some time, we took our route along the wet beach. On our journey we met with several large crabs, which were of considerable service to us. Every now and then we endeavoured to slake our thirst by sucking their crooked claws. About nine at night we halted between two pretty high sand hills. After a short talk concerning our misfortunes, all seemed[Pg 76] desirous of passing the night in this place, notwithstanding we heard on every side the roaring of leopards. We deliberated on the means of securing ourselves, but sleep soon put an end to our fears. Scarcely had we slumbered a few hours when a horrible roaring of wild beasts awoke us, and made us stand on our defence. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and in spite of my fears and the horrible aspect of the place, nature never appeared so sublime to me before. Instantly something was announced that resembled a lion. This information was listened to with the greatest emotion. Every one being desirous of verifying the truth, fixed upon something he thought to be the object; one believed he saw the long teeth of the king of the forest; another was convinced his mouth was already open to devour us; several, armed with muskets, aimed at the animal, and advancing a few steps, discovered the pretended lion to be nothing more than a shrub fluctuating in the breeze. However, the howlings of ferocious beasts had so frightened us, being yet heard at intervals, that we again sought the sea-shore, on purpose to continue our route towards the south.
Our situation had been thus perilous during the night; nevertheless at break of day we had the satisfaction of finding none amissing. About sunrise we held a little to the east to get farther into the interior to find fresh water, and lost much time in a vain search. The country which we now traversed was a little less arid than that which we had passed the preceding day. The hills, the valleys, and a vast plain of sand, were strewed with Mimosa or sensitive plants, presenting to our sight a scene we had never before seen in the Desert.[Pg 77] The country is bounded as it were by a chain of mountains, or high downs of sand, in the direction of north and south, without the slightest trace of cultivation.
Towards ten in the morning some of our companions were desirous of making observations in the interior, and they did not go in vain. They instantly returned, and told us they had seen two Arab tents upon a slight rising ground. We instantly directed our steps thither. We had to pass great downs of sand very slippery, and arrived in a large plain, streaked here and there with verdure; but the turf was so hard and piercing, we could scarcely walk over it without wounding our feet. Our presence in these frightful solitudes put to flight three or four Moorish shepherds, who herded a small flock of sheep and goats in an oasis.5 At last we arrived at the tents after which we were searching, and found in them three Mooresses and two little children, who did not seem in the least frightened by our visit. A negro servant, belonging to an officer of marine, interpreted between us; and the good women, who, when they had heard of our misfortunes, offered us millet and water for payment. We bought a little of that grain at the rate of thirty pence a handful; the water was got for three francs a glass; it was very good, and none grudged the money it cost. As a glass of water, with a handful of millet, was but a poor dinner for famished people, my father bought two kids, which they would not give him under twenty piasters. We immediately killed them, and our Mooresses boil[Pg 78]ed them in a large kettle. Whilst our repast was preparing, my father, who could not afford the whole of the expense, got others to contribute to it; but an old officer of marine, who was to have been captain of the port of Senegal, was the only person who refused, notwithstanding he had about him nearly three thousand francs, which he boasted of in the end. Several soldiers and sailors had seen him count it in round pieces of gold, on coming ashore on the Desert, and reproached him for his sordid avarice; but he seemed insensible to their reproaches, nor eat the less of his portion of kid with his companions in misfortune.
5 Oasis, a fertile tract of land situated among sand. T.
When about to resume our journey, we saw several Moors approaching to us armed with lances. Our people instantly seized their arms, and put themselves in readiness to defend us in case of an attack. Two officers, followed by several soldiers and sailors, with our interpreter, advanced to discover their intentions. They instantly returned with the Moors, who said, that far from wishing to do us harm, they had come to offer us their assistance, and to conduct us to Senegal. This offer being accepted of with gratitude by all of us, the Moors, of whom we had been so afraid, became our protectors and friends, verifying the old proverb, there are good people every where! As the camp of the Moors was at some considerable distance from where we were, we set off altogether to reach it before night. After having walked about two leagues through the burning sands, we found ourselves again upon the shore. Towards night, our conductors made us strike again into the interior, saying we were very near their camp, which is called in their language Berkelet. But the short[Pg 79] distance of the Moors was found very long by the females and the children, on account of the downs of sand which we had to ascend and descend every instant, also of prickly shrubs over which we were frequently obliged to walk. Those who were barefooted, felt most severely at this time the want of their shoes. I myself lost among the bushes various shreds of my dress, and my feet and legs were all streaming with blood. At length, after two long hours of walking and suffering, we arrived at the camp of that tribe to which belonged our Arab conductors. We had scarcely got into the camp, when the dogs, the children, and the Moorish women, began to annoy us. Some of them threw sand in our eyes, others amused themselves by snatching at our hair, on pretence of wishing to examine it. This pinched us, that spit upon us; the dogs bit our legs, whilst the old harpies cut the buttons from the officers coats, or endeavoured to take away the lace. Our conductors, however, had pity on us, and chased away the dogs and the curious crowd, who had already made us suffer as much as the thorns which had torn our feet. The chiefs of the camp, our guides, and some good women, at last set about getting us some supper. Water in abundance was given us without payment, and they sold us fish dried in the sun, and some bowlfuls of sour milk, all at a reasonable price.
We found a Moor in the camp who had previously known my father at Senegal, and who spoke a little French. As soon as he recognised him, he cried, "Tiens toi, Picard! ni a pas connaître moi Amet?" Hark ye, Picard, know you[Pg 80] not Amet? We were all struck with astonishment at these French words coming from the mouth of a Moor. My father recollected having employed long ago a young goldsmith at Senegal, and discovering the Moor Amet to be the same person, shook him by the hand. After that good fellow had been made acquainted with our shipwreck, and to what extremities our unfortunate family had been reduced, he could not refrain from tears; and this perhaps was the first time a Musulman had ever wept over the misfortunes of a Christian. Amet was not satisfied with deploring our hard fate; he was desirous of proving that he was generous and humane, and instantly distributed among us a large quantity of milk and water free of any charge. He also raised for our family a large tent of the skins of camels, cattle and sheep, because his religion would not allow him to lodge with Christians under the same roof. The place appeared very dark, and the obscurity made us uneasy. Amet and our conductors lighted a large fire to quiet us; and at last, bidding us good night, and retiring to his tent, said, "Sleep in peace; the God of the Christians is also the God of the Musulmen."
We had resolved to quit this truly hospitable place early in the morning; but during the night, some people who had probably too much money, imagined the Moors had taken us to their camp to plunder us. They communicated their fears to others, and pretending that the Moors, who walked up and down among their flocks, and cried from time to time, to keep away the ferocious beasts, had already given the signal for pursuing and murdering us. Instantly a general panic seiz[Pg 81]ed all our people, and they wished to set off forthwith. My father, although he well knew the perfidy of the inhabitants of the Desert, endeavoured to assure them we had nothing to fear, because the Arabs were too frightened for the people of Senegal, who would not fail to avenge us if we were insulted; but nothing could quiet their apprehensions, and we had to take the route during the middle of the night. The Moors being soon acquainted with our fears, made us all kinds of protestations; and seeing we persisted in quitting the camp, offered us asses to carry us as far as the Senegal. These beasts of burden were hired at the rate of 12 francs a day, for each head, and we took our departure under the guidance of those Moors who had before conducted us to the camp. Amet's wife being unwell, he could not accompany us, but recommended us strongly to our guides. My father was able to hire only two asses for the whole of our family; and as it was numerous, my sister Caroline, my cousin, and myself, were obliged to crawl along, whilst my unfortunate father followed in the suite of the caravan, which in truth went much quicker than we did.
A short distance from the camp, the brave and compassionate Captain Bégnère, seeing we still walked, obliged us to accept of the ass he had hired for himself, saying he would not ride when young ladies, exhausted with fatigue, followed on foot. The King afterwards honourably recompensed this worthy officer, who ceased not to regard our unfortunate family with a care and attention I will never forget.[Pg 82]
During the remainder of the night, we travelled in a manner sufficiently agreeable, mounting alternately the ass of Captain Bégnère.[Pg 83]
THE CARAVAN REGAINS THE SHORE—A SAIL IS DISCOVERED—IT BRINGS ASSISTANCE TO THE CARAVAN—GREAT GENEROSITY OF AN ENGLISHMAN—CONTINUATION OF THEIR JOURNEY—EXTRAORDINARY HEAT—THEY KILL A BULLOCK—REPAST OF THE CARAVAN—AT LAST THEY DISCOVER THE RIVER SENEGAL—JOY OF THE UNFORTUNATE—M. PICARD RECEIVES ASSISTANCE FROM SOME OLD FRIENDS AT SENEGAL—HOSPITALITY OF THE INHABITANTS OF THE ISLAND OF ST LOUIS TOWARDS EVERY PERSON OF THE CARAVAN.
At five in the morning of the 11th of July we regained the sea-shore. Our asses, fatigued with the long journey among the sands, ran instantly and lay down among the breakers, in spite of our utmost exertions to prevent them. This caused several of us to take a bath we wished not: I was myself held under my ass in the water, and had great difficulty in saving one of my young brothers who was floating away. But, in the end, as this incident had no unfortunate issue, we laughed, and continued our route, some on foot,[Pg 84] and some on the capricious asses. Towards ten o'clock, perceiving a ship out at sea, we attached a white handkerchief to the muzzle of a gun, waving it in the air, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing it was noticed. The ship having approached sufficiently near the coast, the Moors who were with us threw themselves into the sea, and swam to it. It must be said we had very wrongfully supposed that these people had had a design against us, for their devotion could not appear greater than when five of them darted through the waves to endeavour to communicate between us and the ship; notwithstanding, it was still a good quarter of a league distant from where we stood on the beach. In about half an hour we saw these good Moors returning, making float before them three small barrels. Arrived on shore, one of them gave a letter to M. Espiau from M. Parnajon. This gentleman was the captain of the Argus brig, sent to seek after the raft, and to give us provisions. This letter announced a small barrel of biscuit, a tierce of wine, a half tierce of brandy, and a Dutch cheese. O fortunate event! We were very desirous of testifying our gratitude to the generous commander of the brig, but he instantly set out and left us. We staved the barrels which held our small stock of provisions, and made a distribution. Each of us had a biscuit, about a glass of wine, a half glass of brandy, and a small morsel of cheese. Each drank his allowance of wine at one gulp; the brandy was not even despised by the ladies. I however preferred quantity to quality, and exchanged my ration of brandy for that of wine. To describe our joy, whilst taking this repast, is impossible. Exposed to the fierce[Pg 85] rays of a vertical sun; exhausted by a long train of suffering; deprived for a long while the use of any kind of spirituous liquors, when our portions of water, wine, and brandy, mingled in our stomachs we became like insane people. Life, which had lately been a great burden, now became precious to us. Foreheads, lowering and sulky, began to unwrinkle; enemies became most brotherly; the avaricious endeavoured to forget their selfishness and cupidity; the children smiled for the first time since our shipwreck; in a word, every one seemed to be born again from a condition melancholy and dejected. I even believe the sailors sung the praises of their mistresses.
This journey was the most fortunate for us. Some short while after our delicious meal, we saw several Moors approaching, who brought milk and butter, so that we had refreshments in abundance. It is true we paid a little dear for them; the glass of milk cost not less than three francs. After reposing about three hours, our caravan proceeded on its route.
About six in the evening, my father finding himself extremely fatigued, wished to rest himself. We allowed the caravan to move on, whilst my step-mother and myself remained near him, and the rest of the family followed with their asses. We all three soon fell asleep. When we awoke, we were astonished at not seeing our companions. The sun was sinking in the west. We saw several Moors approaching us, mounted on camels; and my father reproached himself for having slept so long. Their appearance gave us great uneasiness, and we wished much to escape from them, but my step-mother and myself fell quite exhaust[Pg 86]ed. The Moors, with long beards, having come quite close to us, one of them alighted and addressed us in the following words. "Be comforted, ladies; under the costume of an Arab, you see an Englishman who is desirous of serving you. Having heard at Senegal that Frenchmen were thrown ashore on these deserts, I thought my presence might be of some service to them, as I was acquainted with several of the princes of this arid country." These noble words from the mouth of a man we had at first taken to be a Moor, instantly quieted our fears. Recovering from our fright, we rose and expressed to the philanthropic Englishman the gratitude we felt. Mr Carnet,6 the name of the generous Briton, told us that our caravan, which he had met, waited for us at about the distance of two leagues. He then gave us some biscuit, which we eat; and we then set off together to join our companions. Mr Carnet wished us to mount his camels, but my stepmother and myself, being unable to persuade ourselves we could sit securely on their hairy haunches, continued to walk on the moist [Pg 87]sand, whilst my father, Mr Carnet, and the Moors who accompanied him, proceeded on the camels. We soon reached a little river, called in the country Marigot des Maringoins. We wished to drink of it, but found it as salt as the sea. Mr Carnet desired us to have patience, and we should find some at the place where our caravan waited. We forded that river knee-deep. At last, having walked about an hour, we rejoined our companions, who had found several wells of fresh water. It was resolved to pass the night in this place, which seemed less arid than any we saw near us. The soldiers, being requested to go and seek wood to light a fire, for the purpose of frightening the ferocious beasts which were heard roaring around us, refused; but Mr Carnet assured us, that the Moors who were with him knew well how to keep all such intruders from our camp. In truth, during the whole of the night, these good Arabs promenaded round our caravan, uttering cries at intervals like those we had heard in the camp of the generous Amet.
6 In the work of MM. Corréard and Savigny, this gentleman is made mention of in substance as follows. "On the evening of the 11th, they met with more of the natives, and an Irishman, captain of a merchantman, who, of his own accord, had left St Louis with the intention of assisting the sufferers. He spoke the language of the country, and was dressed in the Moorish costume. We are sorry we cannot recollect the name of this foreign officer, which we would have a real pleasure in publishing; but, since time has effaced it from our memories, we will at least publish his zeal and his noble efforts, titles well worthy the gratitude of every feeling heart." pp. 164-165. Paris, 1818, 8vo.—Trans.
We passed a very good night, and at four in the morning continued our route along the shore. Mr Carnet left us to endeavour to procure some provisions. Till then our asses had been quite docile; but, annoyed with their riders so long upon their backs, they refused to go forward. A fit took possession of them, and all at the same instant threw their riders on the ground, or among the bushes. The Moors, however, who accompanied us, assisted to catch our capricious animals, who had nearly scampered off, and replaced us on the hard backs of these headstrong creatures. At noon the heat became so violent, that even the Moors[Pg 88] themselves bore it with difficulty. We then determined on finding some shade behind the high mounds of sand which appeared in the interior; but how were we to reach them! The sands could not be hotter. We had been obliged to leave our asses on the shore, for they would neither advance nor recede. The greater part of us had neither shoes nor hats; notwithstanding, we were obliged to go forward almost a long league to find a little shade. The heat reflected by the sands of the Desert could be compared to nothing but the mouth of an oven at the moment of drawing out the bread; nevertheless, we endured it; but not without cursing those who had been the occasion of all our misfortunes. Arrived behind the heights for which we searched, we stretched ourselves under the Mimosa-gommier, (the acacia of the Desert), several broke branches from the asclepia (swallow-wort), and made themselves a shade. But whether from want of air, or the heat of the ground on which we were seated, we were nearly all suffocated. I thought my last hour was come. Already my eyes saw nothing but a dark cloud, when a person of the name of Borner, who was to have been a smith at Senegal, gave me a boot containing some muddy water, which he had had the precaution to keep. I seized the elastic vase, and hastened to swallow the liquid in large draughts. One of my companions, equally tormented with thirst, envious of the pleasure I seemed to feel, and which I felt effectually, drew the foot from the boot, and seized it in his turn, but it availed him nothing. The water which remained was so disgusting, that he could not drink it, and spilled it on the ground. Captain Bégnère, who was pre[Pg 89]sent, judging, by the water which fell, how loathsome must that have been which I had drank, offered me some crumbs of biscuit, which he had kept most carefully in his pocket. I chewed that mixture of bread, dust, and tobacco, but I could not swallow it, and gave it all masticated to one of my young brothers, who had fallen from inanition.
We were about to quit this furnace, when we saw our generous Englishman approaching, who brought us provisions. At this sight I felt my strength revive, and ceased to desire death, which I had before called on to release me from my sufferings. Several Moors accompanied Mr Carnet, and every one was loaded. On their arrival we had water, with rice and dried fish in abundance. Every one drank his allowance of water, but had not ability to eat, although the rice was excellent. We were all anxious to return to the sea, that we might bathe ourselves, and the caravan put itself on the road to the breakers of Sahara. After an hour's march of great suffering, we regained the shore, as well as our asses, who were lying in the water. We rushed among the waves, and after a bath of half an hour, we reposed ourselves upon the beach. My cousin and I went to stretch ourselves upon a small rising ground, where we were shaded with some old clothes which we had with us. My cousin was clad in an officer's uniform, the lace of which strongly attracted the eyes of Mr Carnet's Moors. Scarcely had we lain down, when one of them, thinking we were asleep, came to endeavour to steal it; but seeing we were awake, contented himself by looking at us very steadfastly.[Pg 90]
Such is the slight incident which it has pleased MM. Corréard and Savigny to relate in their account of the shipwreck of the Medusa in a totally different manner. Believing doubtless to make it more interesting or amusing, they say, that one of the Moors who were our guides, either through curiosity or a stronger sentiment, approached Miss Picard whilst asleep, and, after having examined her form, raised the covering which concealed her bosom, gazing awhile like one astonished, at length drew nearer, but durst not touch her. Then, after having looked a long while, he replaced the covering; and, returning to his companions, related in a joyous manner what he had seen. Several Frenchmen having observed the proceedings of the Moor, told M. Picard, who, after the obliging offers of the officers, decided in clothing the rest of the ladies in the military dress on purpose to prevent their being annoyed by the attentions of the inhabitants of the Desert. Mighty well! I beg pardon of MM. Corréard and Savigny, but there is not one word of truth in all this. How could these gentlemen see from the raft that which passed during the 12th of July on the shore of the Desert of Sahara? And supposing that this was reported to them by some one of our caravan, and inserted in their work, which contains various other inaccuracies, I have to inform them they have been deceived.
About three in the morning, a north-west wind having sprung up and a little refreshed us, our caravan continued its route; our generous Englishman again taking the task of procuring us provisions. At four o'clock the sky became overcast, and we heard thunder in the distance. We all expected a great tempest, which, happily did not take[Pg 91] place. Near seven we reached the spot where we were to wait for Mr. Carnet, who came to us with a bullock he had purchased. Then quitting the shore, we went into the interior to seek a place to cook our supper. We fixed our camp beside a small wood of acacias, near to which were several wells or cisterns of fresh water. Our ox was instantly killed, skinned, cut to pieces, and distributed. A large fire was kindled, and each was occupied in dressing his meal. At this time I caught a smart fever; notwithstanding I could not help laughing at seeing every one seated round a large fire holding his piece of beef on the point of a bayonet, a sabre, or some sharp-pointed stick. The flickering of the flames on the different faces, sunburned and covered with long beards, rendered more visible by the darkness of the night, joined to the noise of the waves and the roaring of ferocious beasts which we heard in the distance, presented a spectacle at once laughable and imposing. If a David or a Girodet had seen us, said I to myself, we would soon have been represented on canvass in the galleries of the Louvre as real cannibals; and the Parisian youth, who know not what pleasure it is to devour a handful of wild purslain, to drink muddy water from a boot, to eat a roast cooked in smoke—who know not, in a word, how comfortable it is to have it in one's power to satisfy one's appetite when hungry in the burning deserts of Africa, would never have believed that, among these half-savages, were several born on the banks of the Seine.
Whilst these thoughts were passing across my mind, sleep overpowered my senses. Being awak[Pg 92]ed in the middle of the night, I found my portion of beef in the shoes which an old sailor had lent me for walking among the thorns. Although it was a little burned and smelt strongly of the dish in which it was contained, I eat a good part of it, and gave the rest to my friend the sailor. That seaman, seeing I was ill, offered to exchange my meat for some which he had had the address to boil in a small tin-box. I prayed him to give me a little water if he had any, and he instantly went and fetched me some in his hat. My thirst was so great that I drank it out of this nasty cap without the slightest repugnance.
A short while after, every one awoke, and again took the route for arriving at Senegal at an early hour. Towards seven in the morning, having fallen a little behind the caravan, I saw several Moors coming towards me armed with lances. A young sailor boy, aged about twelve years, who sometimes walked with me, stopped and cried in great terror, "Ah! my God, lady, see the Moors are coming, and the caravan is already a great way before us; if they should carry us away?" I told him to fear nothing, although I was really more frightened than he was. These Arabs of the Desert soon came up to us. One of them advanced with a threatening air, and stopping my ass, addressed to me, in his barbarous language, some words which he pronounced with menacing gestures. My little ship-boy having made his escape, I began to weep; for the Moor always prevented my ass going forward, who was perhaps as well content at resting a little. However, from the gestures which he made, I supposed he wished to know whither I was going, and I cried as loud as I[Pg 93] could, "Ndar! Ndar!" (Senegal! Senegal!) the only African words I then knew. At this the Moor let go the bridle of my ass, and also assisted me by making him feel the full weight of the pole of his lance, and then ran off to his companions, who were roaring and laughing. I was well content at being freed from my fears; and what with the word ndar, and the famous thump of his spear, which was doubtless intended for my ass, I soon rejoined the caravan. I told my parents of my adventure, who were ignorant of what had detained me; they reprimanded me as they ought, and I promised faithfully never again to quit them.
At nine o'clock we met upon the shore a large flock herded by young Moors. These shepherds sold us milk, and one of them offered to lend my father an ass for a knife which he had seen him take from his pocket. My father having accepted the proposal, the Moor left his companions to accompany us as far as the river Senegal, from which we were yet two good leagues. There happened a circumstance in the forenoon which had like to have proved troublesome, but it turned out pleasantly. The steersman of the Medusa was sleeping upon the sand, when a Moor found means to steal his sabre. The Frenchman awoke, and as soon as he saw the thief escaping with his booty, rose and pursued him with horrid oaths. The Arab, seeing himself followed by a furious European, returned, fell upon his knees, and laid at the feet of the steersman the sabre which he had stolen; who, in his turn, touched with this mark of confidence or repentance, voluntarily gave it to him to keep. During this scene we frequently stopped to see how it would terminate, whilst the caravan con[Pg 94]tinued its route. Suddenly we left the shore. Our companions appearing quite transported with joy, some of us ran forward, and having gained a slight rising ground, discovered the Senegal at no great distance from them. We hastened our march, and for the first time since our shipwreck, a smiling picture presented itself to our view. The trees always green, with which that noble river is shaded, the humming birds, the red-birds, the paroquets, the promerops, &c. who flitted among their long yielding branches, caused in us emotions difficult to express. We could not satiate our eyes with gazing on the beauties of this place, verdure being so enchanting to the sight, especially after having travelled through the Desert. Before reaching the river, we had to descend a little hill covered with thorny bushes. My ass stumbling threw me into the midst of one, and I tore myself in several places, but was easily consoled when I at length found myself on the banks of a river of fresh water. Every one having quenched his thirst, we stretched ourselves under the shade of a small grove, whilst the beneficent Mr Carnet and two of our officers set forward to Senegal to announce our arrival, and to get us boats. In the meanwhile some took a little repose, and others were engaged in dressing the wounds with which they were covered.
At two in the afternoon, we saw a small boat beating against the current of the stream with oars. It soon reached the spot where we were. Two Europeans landed, saluted our caravans, and inquired for my father. One of them said he came on the part of MM. Artigue and Labouré, inhabitants of Senegal, to offer assistance to our fa[Pg 95]mily; the other added, that he had not waited for the boats which were getting ready for us at the island of St Louis, knowing too well what would be our need. We were desirous of thanking them, but they instantly ran off to the boat and brought us provisions, which my father's old friends had sent him. They placed before us large baskets containing several loaves, cheese, a bottle of Madeira, a bottle of filtered water, and dresses for my father. Every one, who, during our journey, had taken any interest in our unfortunate family, and especially the brave Captain Bégnère, had a share of our provisions. We experienced a real satisfaction in partaking with them, and giving them this small mark of our gratitude.
A young aspirant of marine, who had refused us a glass of water in the Desert, pressed with hunger, begged of us some bread; he got it, also a small glass of Madeira.
It was four o'clock before the boats of the government arrived, and we all embarked. Biscuit and wine were found in each of them, and all were refreshed.
That in which our family were was commanded by M. Artigue, captain of the port, and one of those who had sent us provisions. My father and he embraced as two old friends who had not seen one another for eight years, and congratulated themselves that they had been permitted to meet once more before they died. We had already made a league upon the river when a young navy clerk (M. Mollien) was suddenly taken ill. We put him ashore, and left him to the care of a ne[Pg 96]gro to conduct him to Senegal when he should recover.
Immediately the town of St Louis presented itself to our view. At the distance its appearance is fine; but in proportion as it is approached the illusion vanishes, and it looks as it really is—dirty, very ill built, poor, and filled with straw huts black with smoke. At six in the evening we arrived at the port of St Louis. It would be in vain for me to paint the various emotions of my mind at that delicious moment. I am bold to say all the colony, if we except MM. Schmaltz and Lachaumareys, were at the port to receive us from our boats. M. Artigue going on shore first to acquaint the English governor of our arrival, met him coming to us on horseback, followed by our generous conductor Mr Carnet, and several superior officers. We went on shore carrying our brothers and sisters in our arms. My father presented us to the English governor, who had alighted; he appeared to be sensibly affected with our misfortunes, the females and children chiefly exciting his commiseration. And the native inhabitants and Europeans tenderly shook the hands of the unfortunate people; the negro slaves even seemed to deplore our disastrous fate.
The governor placed the most sickly of our companions in an hospital; various inhabitants of the colony received others into their houses; M. Artigue obligingly took charge of our family. Arriving at his house we there found his wife, two ladies and an English lady, who begged to be allowed to assist us. Taking my sister Caroline and myself, she conducted us to her house, and presented us to her husband, who received us in[Pg 97] the most affable manner; after which she led us to her dressing-room, where we were combed, cleansed, and dressed by the domestic negresses, and were most obligingly furnished with linen from her own wardrobe, the whiteness of which was strongly contrasted with our sable countenances. In the midst of my misfortunes my soul had preserved all its strength; but this sudden change of situation affected me so much, that I thought my intellectual faculties were forsaking me. When I had a little recovered from my faintness, our generous hostess conducted us to the saloon, where we found her husband and several English officers sitting at table. These gentlemen invited us to partake of their repast; but we took nothing but tea and some pastry. Among these English was a young Frenchman, who, speaking sufficiently well their language, served to interpret between us. Inviting us to recite to them the story of our shipwreck and all our misfortunes, which we did in few words, they were astonished how females and children had been able to endure so much fatigue and misery. We were so confused by our agitation, that we scarcely heard the questions which were put to us, having constantly before our eyes the foaming waves, and the immense tract of sand over which we had passed. As they saw we had need of repose, they all retired, and our worthy Englishwoman put us to bed, where we were not long before we fell into a profound sleep.[Pg 98]
THE ENGLISH REFUSE TO CEDE THE COLONY OF SENEGAL TO THE FRENCH—THE WHOLE OF THE FRENCH EXPEDITION ARE OBLIGED TO GO AND ENCAMP ON THE PENINSULA OF CAPE VERD—THE PICARD FAMILY OBTAIN LEAVE OF THE ENGLISH GOVERNOR TO REMAIN AT SENEGAL—POVERTY OF THAT FAMILY—ASSISTANCE WHICH THEY RECEIVE—ENTERPRISE OF M. PICARD—RESTORATION OF THE COLONY TO THE FRENCH—DESCRIPTION OF SENEGAL AND ITS ENVIRONS.
At nine o'clock next morning, after our arrival, we felt quite free from all our fatigues. We arose, and, as soon as we were dressed, went to thank our generous host and hostess, Mr and Mrs Kingsley; then went to see our parents; and afterwards returned to our benefactors, who were waiting breakfast for us. Our conversation was frequently interrupted during our meal, as they were but little acquainted with the French language, and we knew nothing of English. After breakfast we learned that the English governor had not received any orders for giving up the colony to the French; and until that took place, the whole of the French[Pg 99] expedition would be obliged to go to the peninsula of Cape Verd, distant from Senegal about fifty leagues. This information distressed us much, but our affliction was at its height, when my father came and told that the French governor, M. Schmaltz, had ordered him to quit Senegal with all his family, and go and stay at Cape Verd, until farther orders. Mr and Mrs Kingsley, sensibly affected with the misfortunes we had already experienced, assured us they would not part with us, and that they would endeavour to obtain the permission of the English governor. In fact, on the following day, that gentleman informed us by his aid-de-camp, that, having seen the wretched condition in which our family were, he had allowed us to remain at Senegal, and that he had permitted all the officers of the Medusa to stay. This renewed instance of the benevolence of the English governor tranquillized us. We remained comfortably at the house of our benefactors; but a great part of our unhappy companions in misfortune, fearing if they stayed at Senegal they would disobey the French governor, set off for Cape Verd, where hunger and death awaited them. Our family lived nearly twenty days with our benevolent hosts MM. Artigue and Kingsley; but my father, fearing we were too great a burden for the extraordinary expenses which they made each day for us, hired a small apartment, and, on the first of August, we took possession of it, to the great regret of our generous friends, who wished us to stay with them till the surrender of the colony. When we were settled in out new habitation, my father sent a petition to M. Schmaltz, for the purpose of obtaining provisions from the general magazine of the French[Pg 100] administration; but, angry with the reception we had met with from the English, he replied he could not give him any thing. Nevertheless, several French officers, who, like ourselves, had remained at Senegal, each day received their rations, or, which was better, were admitted to the table of M. D——, with whom also the governor, his family and staff, messed. It may be remarked here, that this same M. D——, advanced to the governor of the forts, in provisions and money, to the amount of 50,000 francs; and, it was the general opinion, found means to charge cent. per cent. on these advances, as a small perquisite for himself; moreover, he received, at the request of the governor, the decoration of the Legion of Honour. But I return to that which concerns myself. My father being unable to obtain any thing, either from the governor or M. D——, was obliged to borrow money to enable us to subsist. We were reduced to feed on negroes food, for our means would not allow us to purchase bread at 15 sous the pound, and wine at 3 francs the bottle. However, we were content, and perfectly resigned to our fate; when an English officer, Major Peddie, came and visited us precisely at the moment we were at dinner. That gentleman, astonished at seeing an officer of the French administration dining upon a dish of Kouskou,7 said to my father: "How, Mr Picard! you being in the employment of your government, and living so meanly!" Mortified that a stranger should have seen his misery, my father felt his tears flowing; but, instantly collecting himself, said in a calm yet firm tone, "Know, [Pg 101]Sir, that I blush not for my poverty, and that you have wronged me by upbraiding me. It is true I have not food like the other Europeans in the colony; but I do not consider myself the more unfortunate. I have requested the man who represents my sovereign in this country, to give me the rations to which I have a right; but he has had the inhumanity to refuse. But what of that? I know how to submit, and my family also." Major Peddie, at these words, touched with our misfortunes, and vexed, doubtless, at having mortified us, though that certainly was not his intention, bade us good bye, and retired. Early on the morning of next day, we received a visit from M. Dubois, mayor of the town of St Louis in Senegal. That good and virtuous magistrate told us he had come, at the instance of the English governor, to offer us assistance; viz. an officer's allowance, which consisted of bread, wine, meat, sugar, coffee, &c. As my father had not been able to procure any thing from governor Schmaltz, he thought it his duty to accept that which the English governor had so generously offered. We thanked M. Dubois; and, in a few hours afterwards, we had plenty of provisions sent to us.
If my father had made himself some enemies among the authors of the shipwreck of the Medusa, and the abandoning the raft, he was recompensed by real good friends among the old inhabitants of Senegal, who, with himself, deplored the fate of the unfortunate beings who were left in the midst of the ocean. Among the numerous friends my father had, I ought particularly to mention the families of Pellegrin, Darneville, Lamotte, Dubois, Artigue, Feuilletaine, Labouré, Valentin,[Pg 102] Debonnet, Boucaline, Waterman, &c.: And in truth all the inhabitants of Senegal, if we except one family, were disposed to befriend us. Even the poor negroes of the interior, after hearing of our misfortunes, came and offered us a small share of their crop. Some gave us beans, others brought us milk, eggs, &c.; in a word, every one offered us some assistance, after they had heard to what misery our shipwreck had reduced us.
About a month after our arrival at Senegal, we went to look at the islands of Babaguey and Safal, situated about two leagues from the town of St Louis. The first of these islands had been given to M. Artigue, who had cultivated it; the other had been given to my father in 1807, and he had planted in it about one hundred thousand cotton plants, when the capture of Senegal by the English in 1809 obliged him to abandon his projects, and return to France.
Those who have seen the countries of Europe, and admired the fine soil of France, need not expect to enjoy the same scene at Senegal. Every where nature shows a savage and arid aspect; every where the dregs of a desert and parched soil presents itself to the view; and it is only by care and unremitting toil it can be made to produce any thing. All the cotton which my father had planted in the island of Safal had been devoured by the cattle during his absence; he found not a plant. He then proposed to begin again his first operations. After having walked round the island of Safal, we went to dine with M. Artigue in the island of Babaguey, where we spent the remainder of the day, and in the evening returned to the town of Senegal. Some days after[Pg 103] this jaunt, my father endeavoured to find whether the plants with which the island was covered would be useful in making potass. He arranged with a person in Senegal to hire for him some negroes, and a canoe to gather the ashes of the plants after they were burned. A covered gallery which we had in the small house we inhabited, seemed convenient to hold the apparatus of our manufacture. Here we placed our coppers. We then commenced the making of potass, waiting for the surrender of the colony. The first essay we made gave us hopes. Our ashes produced a potass of fine colour, and we did not doubt of succeeding, when we should have sent a sample of it to France. We made about four barrels, and my father sent a box of it to a friend of his at Paris to analyze. Whilst waiting the reply of the chemist, he hired three negroes to begin the cultivation of his island of Safal. He went himself to direct their operations, but he fell ill of fatigue. Fortunately his illness was not of long continuance, and in the month of December he was perfectly recovered. At this period an English expedition went from Senegal into the interior of Africa, commanded by Major Peddie,8 the gentleman who had given so great assistance to the unfortunates of the Medusa. That worthy philanthropic Englishman died soon after his departure; we sincerely lamented him.
On the 1st of January 1817, the colony of Senegal was surrendered to the French. The English left it, some for Great Britain, others for [Pg 104]Sierra Leone and the Cape of Good Hope; and France entered into all her possessions on the west coast of Africa. We remained yet a month in our first house; at last we procured one much larger. My father then commenced his functions of attorney, and we at last began to receive provisions from the French government. The house in which we lived was very large; but the employment which my father followed was very incompatible with the tranquillity we desired. To remove us from the noise and tumultuous conversations of the people who perpetually came to the office, we had a small hut of reeds constructed for us in the midst of our garden, which was very large. Here my sister, my cousin, and myself, passed the greater part of the day. From that time we began to see a little of the world, and to return unavoidable visits. Every Sunday the family went to the island of Safal, where we very agreeably spent the day; for that day seemed as short in the country, as the six other days of the week were long and listless at Senegal. That country was so little calculated for people of our age, that we continually teazed our father to return with us to France. But as he had great expectations from the manufacture of potass, he made us stay, as we would be of great service to him in the end, for superintending the works of that manufacture.
It is now time to give a brief description of Senegal and its environs, to enable the reader better to appreciate that which I have to say in the sequel.
Travellers who have written about Africa, have given too magnificent a picture of that country[Pg 105] known by the name of Senegal. Apparently, after the fatigues of a long and tedious journey, they have been charmed with the first fresh spot where they could repose. That first impression has all the force of reality to the superficial observer; but if he remain any time, the illusion vanishes, and Senegal appears what it really is—a parched and barren country, destitute of the most necessary vegetables for the nourishment and preservation of the health of man.
The town of St Louis, which is also called Senegal, because it is the head-quarters of the French establishments on that coast, is built upon a small island or a bank of sand, formed in the midst of the river Senegal, at about two leagues from its mouth. It is two thousand toises in length, and three hundred in breadth. The native inhabitants of the country call it Ndar, and Ba-Fing, or Black River, the river which waters it. The last name corresponds to that of Niger, which ancient geographers have given to that river.
The population of St Louis is about ten thousand souls, five hundred of whom are Europeans, two thousand negroes or free mulattoes, and nearly seven thousand five hundred slaves. There are about one hundred and fifty houses in St Louis inhabited by Europeans; the remainder consists of simple squares, or huts of straw, which a slight flame would cause to vanish in a moment, as well as all the houses of brick which are near them. The streets are spacious, but not paved. The greater part are so completely filled with sand, which the winds and hurricanes bring from the deserts of Sahara, that it is nearly impossible to walk along them when the winds are blowing.[Pg 106] That fine and burning sand so impregnates the air, that it is inhaled, and swallowed with the food; in short, it penetrates every thing. The narrow and little frequented streets are often blocked up. Some of the houses are fine enough; they have but one story. Some have covered galleries; but in general the roofs are in the Oriental fashion, in the form of a terrace.
The gardens of Senegal, though their plants have been much praised, are nevertheless few in number, and in very bad condition. The whole of their cultivation is limited to some bad cabbages, devoured by the insects, a plot of bitter radishes, and two or three beds of salad, withered before it is fit for use; but these vegetables, it must be said, are very exquisite, because there are none better. The governor's garden, however, is stocked with various plants, such as cucumbers, melons, carrots, Indian pinks, some plants of barren ananas, and some marigolds. There are also in the garden three date trees, a small vine arbour, and some young American and Indian plants. But these do not thrive, as much on account of the poverty of the soil, as the hot winds of the Desert, which wither them. Some, nevertheless, are vigorous, from being sheltered by walls, and frequently watered.
Five or six trees, somewhat bushy (island fig-trees), are planted here and there in the streets, where may be seen also four or five baobabs, the leaves of which are devoured by the negroes before they are fully blown,9 and a palm of the spe[Pg 107]cies of Ronn, which serves as a signal-post for ships at sea.
9 The negroes use the leaves of the Baobab as gluten, prepare their Kouskou, (a kind of pulp).
A league and a half from the island of St Louis, is situated the island of Babaguey. It is almost entirely cultivated, but the soil is so arid that it will scarcely grow any thing but cotton. There is a military station on this island, and a signal-post. MM. Artigue and Gansfort each have a small dwelling here. The house, built in the European manner, which is there seen, serves to hold the soldiers, and to accommodate the officers of Senegal on their parties of pleasure.
The island of Safal is situated to the east of Babaguey, and is separated from it by an arm of the river. This was the asylum which we chose in the end to withdraw from misery, as will be seen in the sequel.
To the east of the island of Safal, is situated the large island of Bokos, the fertility of which is very superior to the three preceding. Here are seen large fields of millet, maize, cotton, and indigo, of the best quality. The negroes have established large villages here, the inhabitants of which live in happy ease.
To the north of these islands, and to the east of Senegal, is the island of Sor, where resides a kind of Black Prince, called by the French Jean Bart. The general aspect of this island is arid, but there are places susceptible of being made into large plantations. M. Valentin, merchant at St Louis, has already planted several thousand feet of cotton, which is in a thriving condition. But that island being very much exposed to the incursions[Pg 108] of the Moors of the Desert, it would perhaps be imprudent to live in it.
A multitude of other islands, formed by the encroachments of the river upon the mainland, border on those of which I have already spoken, several leagues distant to the north and east. They are principally covered with marshes, which it would be difficult to drain. In these islands grows the patriarch of vegetables described by the celebrated Adanson, under the name of Baobab,10 the circumference of which is often found to be above one hundred feet.
Several other islands, more or less extended than the preceding, rise above the river near to St Louis, as far as Podor; the greater part of which are not inhabited, although their soil is as fertile as those near Senegal. This indifference of the negroes in cultivating these islands, is explained by the influence which the Moors of the Desert of Sahara are permitted to have over all the country bordering upon Senegal, the inhabitants of which they carry off to sell to the slave merchants of the island of St Louis. It is not to be doubted, that the abolition of the slave trade, and the acquisition which the French have made in the country of Dagama, will soon destroy the preponderance of the barbarians of the Desert upon the banks of the Senegal; and that things being placed on their former footing, the negroes established in the French colonies will be permitted to enjoy in peace the fields which they have planted.
Among all the islands, Tolde, which is about two leagues in circumference, seems to be the [Pg 109]most convenient for a military and agricultural station. The fertility of its soil, and its being situated between the two principal points where the gum trade is carried on, gives it the triple advantage of being able to maintain the garrison which is placed upon it, of protecting the trade and navigation of the river, and of preventing the Moors from driving away the negroes from their peaceful habitations. Plantations have already been made in the island of Tolde, of coffee, sugar-canes, indigo, and cotton, which have perfectly succeeded. M. Richard, agricultural botanist to the government, has placed there a general nursery for the French establishments. Three leagues from the island of Tolde, farther up the river, is the village of Dagama, situated upon the left bank of the river, and at the extremity of the kingdom of Brak, or of Walo. In that village, the French have already planted several batteries, where begin their agricultural establishments, which end about six leagues from the island of St Louis. A large portion of that ground has been given to the French planters, who have planted cotton upon it of the best kind, which promises to be a branch of lucrative commerce to France. Here is placed the plantation of M. Boucaline, as being the largest and best cultivated, the king having given him a premium of encouragement of 10,000 franks. A little distant from the plantation of Boucaline are the grounds of the royal grant, covered with more than ten thousand feet of cotton. This beautiful plantation, established by the care of M. Roger, now governor of Senegal, is at present directed by M. Rougemont with a zeal above all praise.
Near to the village of Dagama, up the river, is[Pg 110] the island of Morfil, which is not less than fifty leagues from east to west, and about eight or ten in breadth. The negroes of the republic of Peules cultivate great quantities of millet, maize, indigo, cotton, and tobacco. The country of the Peules negroes extends about one hundred and twenty leagues, by thirty in breadth. It is a portion of the ancient empire of the negro Wolofs, which, in former times, comprehended all the countries situated between the rivers Senegal and Gambia. The country of the Peules is watered by a branch of the Senegal, which they call Morfil; and, like Lower Egypt, owes its extreme fertility to its annual overflowing. The surprising abundance of their harvests, which are twice a year, makes it considered as the granary of Senegal. Here are to be seen immense fields finely cultivated, extensive forests producing the rarest and finest kinds of trees, and a prodigious diversity of plants and shrubs fit for dying and medicine.
To the east of the Peules is the country of Galam,11 or Kayaga, situated two hundred leagues from the island of St Louis. The French have an establishment in the village of Baquel. This country, from its being a little elevated, enjoys at all times a temperature sufficiently cool and healthful. Its soil is considered susceptible of every species of cultivation: the mines of gold and silver, which border upon it, promise one day to rival the richest in the possession of Spain in the New World. This conjecture is sufficiently justified by the reports sent to Europe by the agents of the African and Indian Companies, and particularly by M. de [Pg 111]Buffon, who, in a MS. deposited in the archives of the colonies, thus expresses himself:—"It is certain that there are found in the sand of the rivers (in the country of Galam) various precious stones, such as rubies, topazes, sapphires, and perhaps some diamonds; and there are in the mountains veins of gold and silver." Two productions, not less estimable perhaps than gold and silver, are indigenous to this fine country, and increase in the most prodigious manner there; viz. the Lotus, or bread-tree, of the ancients, spoken of by Pliny, and the Shea, or butter-tree,12 of which the English traveller Mungo Park has given a description.
THE SICKNESS AND DEATH OF MADAME PICARD BREAK IN UPON THE HAPPINESS OF THE FAMILY—M. PICARD TURNS HIS VIEWS TO COMMERCE—BAD SUCCESS OF HIS ENTERPRISE—THE DISTRACTED AFFAIRS OF THE COLONY DISGUST HIM—THE CULTIVATION OF THE ISLAND OF SAFAL—SEVERAL MERCHANTS PROTEST AGAINST M. PICARD APPLYING HIMSELF TO COMMERCE—DEPARTURE OF THE EXPEDITION TO THE ISLAND OF GALAM—M. PICARD IS DEPRIVED OF HIS EMPLOYMENT AS ATTORNEY—HIS ELDEST DAUGHTER GOES TO LIVE IN THE ISLAND OF SAFAL WITH TWO OF HER BROTHERS.
We were happy enough, at least content, at Senegal, until the sickness of my stepmother broke in upon the repose we enjoyed. Towards the middle of July 1817, she fell dangerously ill; all the symptoms of a malignant fever appeared in her; and in spite of all the assistance of art and the care we bestowed upon her, she died in the beginning of November of the same year. Her loss plunged us all into the deepest affliction. My father was inconsolable. From that melancholy pe[Pg 113]riod, there was no happiness for our unfortunate family: chagrin, sickness, enemies, all seemed to conspire against us. A short while after her death my father received a letter from the chemist at Paris, informing him that the sample of potass which he had sent to France was nothing but marine salt, and some particles of potass and saltpetre. This news, although disagreeable, did not affect us, because we had still greater misfortunes to deplore. About the end of the year, my father finding his employment would scarcely enable him to support his numerous family, turned his attention to commerce, hoping thus to do some good, as he intended to send me to look after the family, and to take charge of the new improvements in the island, which had become very dear to him from the time he had deposited in it the mortal remains of his wife and his youngest child. For the better success of his project, he went into co-partnery with a certain personage in the colony; but instead of benefiting his speculations, as he had flattered himself, it proved nothing but loss. Besides he was cheated in an unworthy manner by the people in whom he had placed his confidence; and as he was prohibited by the French authorities from trafficking, he could not plead his own defence, nor get an account of the merchandise of which they had defrauded him. Some time after he had sustained this loss, he bought a large boat, which he refitted at a considerable expense. He made the purchase in the hope of being able to traffic with the Portuguese of the island of Cape Verd, but in vain; the governor of the colony prohibited him from all communication with these islands.[Pg 114]
Such were the first misfortunes which we experienced at Senegal, and which were only the precursors of still greater to come.
Besides all these, my father had much trouble and vexation to endure in the employment he followed. The bad state of the affairs of the colony, the poverty of the greater part of its inhabitants, occasioned to him all sorts of contradictions and disagreements. Debts were not paid, the ready money sales did not go off; processes multiplied in a frightful manner; every day creditors came to the office soliciting actions against their debtors; in a word, he was in a state of perpetual torment either with his own personal matters, or with those of others. However, as he hoped soon to be at the head of the agricultural establishment projected at Senegal, he supported his difficulties with great courage.
In the expedition which was to have taken place in 1815, the Count Trigant de Beaumont, whom the king had appointed governor of Senegal, had promised my father to reinstate him in the rank of captain of infantry, which he had held before the Revolution, and after that to appoint him to the command of the counting-house of Galam, dependent upon the government of Senegal. In 1816, my father again left Paris with that hope, for the employment of attorney did not suit his disposition, which was peaceable and honest. He had the first gift of the documents concerning the countries where they were to found the agricultural establishments in Africa, and had proposed plans which were accepted of at the time by the President of the Council of State, and by the Minister of Marine, for the colonization of Senegal; but[Pg 115] the unfortunate events of 1815 having overturned every thing, another governor was nominated for that colony in place of Count Trigant de Beaumont. All his plans and proposed projects were instantly altered for the purpose of giving them the appearance of novelty; and my father found himself in a situation to apply these lines of Virgil to himself.
These lines I made, another has the praise.
At first the new governor (M. Schmaltz) was almost disposed to employ my father in the direction of the Agricultural Establishment of Senegal; but he allowed himself to be circumvented by certain people, to whom my father had perhaps spoken too much truth. He thought no more of him, and we were set up as a mark of every kind of obloquy.
Finding then that he could no longer reckon upon the promises which had been made to him on the subject of the plans which he had proposed for the colony of Senegal, my father turned his attention to the island of Safal, which seemed to promise a little fortune for himself and family. He doubled the number of his labouring negroes, and appointed a black overseer for superintending his work.
In the beginning of 1818, we believed our cotton crop would make us amends for the loss which we had sustained at various times. All our plants were in the most thriving condition, and promised an abundant harvest. We had also sown maize, millet, and some country beans, which looked equally well.
At this period, M. Schmaltz was recalled to[Pg 116] France. M. Flauriau succeeded him; but the nomination of the new governor did not alleviate our condition. Every Sunday my father went to visit his plantation, and to give directions for the labours of the week. He had built a large hut for the overseer, upon the top of a little hill, which was almost exactly in the centre of the island. It was at a little distance from the small house which he had raised as a tomb, to receive the remains of his wife and child, whom he had at first buried in a place to the south of the cotton field. He surrounded the monument of his sorrow with a kind of evergreen bean tree, which soon crept over the grave, and entirely concealed it from the view. This little grove of verdure attracted, by the freshness of its foliage, a multitude of birds, and served them for a retreat. My father never left this place but he was more tranquil, and less affected with his misfortunes.
Towards the middle of April, seeing his plants had produced less cotton than he expected, and that the hot winds and grasshoppers had made great havock in his plantations, my father decided to leave upon it but one old negro, for superintending the day-labourers, whom he had reduced to four. In the mean time, we learned that some merchants, settled at Senegal, had written to France against my father. They complained that he had not employed sufficient severity against some unfortunate persons who had not been able to pay their debts; and they exclaimed against some miserable speculations which he had made in the country of Fouta Toro, for procuring grain necessary for the support of his negroes.
The expedition to Galam making preparations[Pg 117] for its departure,13 my father, in spite of the insinuations of some merchants of the colony, was desirous also of trying his fortune. He associated himself with a person who was to make the voyage; he bought European goods, and refitted his boat, which again occasioned him loss. Towards the middle of August 1818, the expedition set off. A month after its departure, my cousin, whom the country had considerably affected, returned to France, to our great regret. My sister and myself found ourselves the only society to enable us to support our sorrows; however, as we hoped to return to France in a few years, we overcame our disappointment. We had already in some degree recovered our tranquillity, in spite of all our misfortunes and the solitude in which we lived, when my father received a letter from the governor of the colony, announcing to him, that, by the decision of the Minister of Marine, a new attorney had come to Senegal, and enjoining him at the same time to place the papers of the office in the hands of his successor.
13 The voyage from Senegal to the country of Galam is made but once a year, because it is necessary to take advantage of the overflowing of the river, either in coming or going. The merchant boats which are destined to make the voyage, look like a fleet, and depart in the middle of August, under escort of a king's ship, commissioned to pay the droits and customs to the Negro princes of the interior, with whom that colony is connected.
Such a circumstance could not fail to affect us much; for the few resources we possessed made us anticipate an event almost as horrible as the shipwreck, which exposed our family to all the horrors of want in the boundless deserts of Sahara. My father, however, having nothing with which [Pg 118]he could reproach himself, courageously supported this new misfortune, hoping sooner or later to be able to unmask those who had urged his ruin. He wrote a letter to his Excellency the Minister of Marine, in which he detailed the affairs of the office of the colony, the regularity of the accounts, the unfortunate condition to which his numerous family were reduced by the loss of his employment, and concluded with these words:—"Broken without being heard, at the end of twenty-nine years of faithful service, but too proud to make me afraid of a disgrace which cannot but be honourable to me, especially as it has its source in those philanthropic principles which I manifested in the abandoning of the raft of the Medusa, I resign myself in silence to my destiny."
This letter, full of energy, although a little too firm, failed not to affect the feeling heart of the Minister of Marine, who wrote to the governor of Senegal to give my father some employment in the administration of the colony. But that order had either remained too long in the office of the minister, or the governor of Senegal had judged it proper not to communicate the good news to us, as we did not hear of the order of the minister till after the death of my father, nearly fifteen months after its date.
When my father had rendered his accounts, and installed his successor into the colony's office, he told me it would be quite necessary to think of returning into his island of Safal, to cultivate it ourselves. He persuaded me that our plantation suffered solely from the want of our personal care, and that the happiness and tranquillity of a country life would soon make us forget our enemies and[Pg 119] our sufferings. It was then decided that I should set off on the morrow, with two of my brothers, to go and cultivate the cotton at the plantation. We took our little shallop, and two negro sailors, and, by daybreak, were upon the river, leaving at Senegal my father, my sister Caroline, and the youngest of our brothers and sisters.[Pg 120]
MISS PICARD LIVES IN THE ISLAND OF SAFAL—HER MANNER OF LIVING—SUFFERINGS SHE ENDURED—SHE GATHERS FLOWERS WHICH CONTAIN A DELETERIOUS POISON—HER TWO BROTHERS FALL SICK—THEY ARE CONVEYED TO SENEGAL—MISS PICARD OVERCOME WITH MELANCHOLY ALSO FALLS SICK—STATE IN WHICH SHE IS FOUND—A NEGRO BOILS FOR HER AN OLD VULTURE—RETURN OF MISS PICARD TO SENEGAL—HER CONVALESCENCE—HER RETURN TO THE ISLAND OF SAFAL—M. PICARD GOES THERE TO LIVE WITH ALL HIS FAMILY—DESCRIPTION OF THE FURNITURE OF THE AFRICAN COTTAGE—COUNTRY LIFE—COMFORT OF THEIR FIRESIDE—WALKS OF THE FAMILY—LITTLE PLEASURES WHICH THEY ENJOY.
For the space of two months I endured, as did my little brothers, the beams of a burning sun, the irritations of insects and thorns, and the want of that food to which we had been accustomed. I suffered during all the day from a severe headache; but I collected from the ground which belonged to us the cotton, on which were founded all our[Pg 121] hopes. At night my two young brothers and myself retired into the cottage, which we used in the island; the working negroes brought the cotton we had collected during the day; after which I set about preparing supper. The children, accompanied by the old negro Etienne (the keeper of the plantation), went and picked up some branches of dry wood. We lighted a large fire in the middle of the hut, and I kneaded the cakes of millet flour which were to be our supper, as well as what was to supply us next day. My paste being prepared, I laid each cake upon the fire which the children had lighted. Often, and especially when we were very hungry, I placed them on a shovel of iron which I set upon the fire. This quick mode of proceeding procured us millet-bread in less than half an hour; but it must be confessed that this species of wafers or cakes, though well enough prepared and baked, was far from having the taste of those we eat at Paris. However, to make them more palatable, I added butter when I had it, or we ate them with some sour milk. With the first dish was served up at the same time the dessert, which stood in place of dainties, of roast meat and salad; it generally consisted of boiled beans, or roasted pistachio nuts. On festival days, being those when my father came to see us, we forgot our bad fare in eating the sweet bread he brought with him from Senegal.
In the month of December 1818, having gone one morning with my brothers to take a walk among the woods behind our cottage, I found a tree covered with blossoms as white as snow, and which had a delicious smell. We gathered a great quantity of them, which we carried home; but these[Pg 122] flowers, as we afterwards found by sad experience, contained a deleterious poison. Their strong and pungent odour caused violent pains in the head, forerunners of a malignant fever, which brought us within two steps of the grave. Two days after my young brothers were seized; fortunately my father arrived on the following day, and removed them to Senegal.
Now then I was alone with my old negro Etienne in the island of Safal, far from my family, isolated in the midst of a desert island, in which the birds, the wolves, and the tigers, composed the sole population. I gave free course to my tears and sorrows. The civilized world, said I to myself, is far from me, an immense river separates me from my friends. Alas! what comfort can I find in this frightful solitude? What can I do upon this wretched earth? But although I had said I was unfortunate, was I not necessary to my unhappy father? Had I not promised to assist him in the education of his children, whom cruel death had deprived of their mother? Yes! yes! I was too sensible my life was yet necessary. Engaged in these melancholy reflections, I fell into a depression of mind which it would be difficult to describe. Next morning the tumult of my thoughts led me to the banks of the river, where the preceding evening I had seen the canoe carry away my father and my young brothers. There I fixed my humid eyes upon the expanse of water without seeing any thing but a horrible immensity; then, as recovered from my sorrow, I turned to the neighbouring fields to greet the flowers and plants which the sun was just beginning to gild. They were my friends, my companions; they alone[Pg 123] could yet alleviate my melancholy, and render my loneliness supportable. At last the star of day arising above the horizon, admonished me to resume my labours.
Having returned to the cottage, I went to the harvest with Etienne. For the space of two days, I continued at my accustomed occupation, but on the morning of the third, on returning from the plantation to the house, I felt myself suddenly seized with a violent pain in my head. As soon as I reached home I lay down. On the morning I found myself unable to rise out of bed; a burning fever had manifested itself during the night, and even deprived me of the hope of being able to return to Senegal.
I was incapable of doing any thing. The good Etienne, touched with my condition, took his fowling-piece, and went into the neighbouring woods, to endeavour to shoot me some game. An old vulture was the only produce of the chase. He brought it to me, and, in spite of the repugnance I expressed for that species of bird, he persisted in boiling some of it for me. In about an hour afterwards, he presented me with a bowl of that African broth; but I found it so bitter, I could not swallow it. I felt myself getting worse, and every moment seemed to be the last of life. At last, about noon, having collected all my remaining strength, I wrote to my father the distressed state I was in; Etienne took the charge of carrying my letter, and left me alone in the midst of our island. At night I experienced a great increase of fever; my strength abandoned me entirely; I was unable to shut the door of the house in which I lay. I was far from my family;[Pg 124] no human being dwelt in the island; no person witnessed my sufferings; I fell into a state of utter unconsciousness, and I knew not what I did during the remainder of the night. On the following morning, having recovered from my insensibility, I heard some person near me utter sorrowful cries; it was my good sister Caroline. I opened my eyes, and, to my astonishment, found myself at Senegal, surrounded by my afflicted family. I felt as if I had returned from the other world. My father had set off on the instant he received my letter, with Etienne to the island, and, finding me delirious, took me to Senegal without my being conscious of it. Recovering by degrees from my confusion, I was desirous of seeing my brothers, who had been attacked the same way as myself. Our house looked like an hospital. Here a dying child wished them to take away the monster he imagined he saw before his bed; there another demanded something to drink, then, refusing to take the medicines which were offered to him, filled the house with his groans; at a distance my feeble voice was heard asking something to quench the thirst which consumed me.
However, the unremitting care we received, as well as the generous medicine of M. Quincey, with the tender concern of my father and my sister Caroline, soon placed us out of danger. I then understood that the flowers I had had the imprudence to collect in the wood of Safal, had been the principal cause of my illness, as well as that of my brothers. In the meanwhile, my father built two new huts in the island, with the intention of going and living there with all his family.[Pg 125] But, as his affairs kept him yet some days at Senegal, he was prevented from returning to Safal with the children to continue the collecting of cotton. On the morrow, we all three set off. When we had arrived upon the Marigot, in the island of Babaguey, we hailed the keeper of our island to come and take us over in his canoe. In the mean time I amused myself in looking at our habitation, which seemed to be very much embellished since my departure, as it had been augmented with two new cottages. I discovered the country to be much greener since I last saw it; in a word, all nature seemed smiling and beautiful. At last Etienne, to whom we had been calling for a quarter of an hour, arrived with his canoe, into which we stepped, and soon were again in the island of Safal.
Arrived at my cottage, I began to examine all the changes my father had made during my illness. The small cottage situated to the west, I chose as my sleeping apartment. It was well made with straw and reeds yet green, and the window, whence was seen the cotton-field, was of the greatest advantage to me. I began to clean the floor of our apartments, which was nothing else than sand, among which were various roots and blades of grass. After that I went to visit the little poultry yard, where I found two ducks and some hens placed there a short while before. I was very glad of these little arrangements; and returned to the principal cottage to prepare breakfast. After this we betook ourselves to the business of cotton gathering.
Eight days had already elapsed since our return to the island of Safal, when one morning we per[Pg 126]ceived our shallop upon the river, which we always knew by a signal placed upon the mast-head. It was my father, who brought twelve negroes with him, which he had hired at Senegal, for assisting him in the cultivation of his island. The men were instantly set to break up the soil; the women and children assisted us in gathering cotton. My father then dismissed the negroes, who worked by the day, as he had to come and go to Senegal, where the urgency of his business yet required his presence.
I remained a long while without seeing him; but, at the end of eight days, I was agreeably surprised at finding our boat in the little bay of Babaguey. I ran with the family negroes to disembark our effects, and I soon had the pleasure of holding my sister Caroline in my arms. My father came on shore afterwards with the youngest children, and all the family found themselves united under the roof of the African Cottage, in the island of Safal. "You see, my child," said my father to me on entering our huts, "you see all our riches! we have neither moveables nor house at Senegal; every thing we can claim as our own is here." I embraced my father, and my brothers and sisters, and then went to unload our boat. Our house was soon filled. It served at once for a cellar, granary, store-house, a parlour, and bed-chamber. However, we found a place for every thing. Next day we began to fit them up more commodiously. My sister and myself lived in the small house to the west; my father took up his residence in that towards the east; and the large hut in the centre was the place where the children slept. Round about the last we sus[Pg 127]pended some boards by cords, to hold our dishes and various kitchen utensils. A table, two benches, some chairs, a large couch, some old barrels, a mill to grind the cotton, implements of husbandry, constituted the furniture of that cottage. Nevertheless, in spite of its humbleness, the sun came and gilded our roofs of straw and reeds. My father fitted up his cottage as a study. Here were boards suspended by small cords, upon which his books and papers were arranged with the greatest order;—there a fir board, supported by four feet, driven into the ground, served as a desk; at a distance stood his gun, his pistols, his sword, his clarionet, and some mathematical instruments. A chair, a small couch, a pitcher, and a cup, formed his little furniture.
Our cottage was situated on the top of a little hill of gentle ascent. Forests of mangrove-trees, gum-trees, tamarind-trees, sheltered us on the west, the north, and the east. To the south was situated the plantation which we called South-field. This field was already covered with about three hundred thousand feet of cotton, a third of which had nearly begun to be productive. Upon the banks of the river, and to the west of the cotton field, was situated our garden; finally, to the south of the plain, were our fields of maize, beans, and millet.
Our little republic, to which my father gave laws, was governed in the following manner:—We usually rose about day-break, and met altogether in the large cottage. After having embraced our father, we fell upon our knees to return thanks to the Supreme Being for the gift of ano[Pg 128]ther day. That finished, my father led the negroes to their work, during which my sister and myself arranged the family affairs, and prepared breakfast, when, about eight o'clock, he returned to the cottage. Breakfast being over, each took his little bag, and went and gathered cotton. About noon, as the heat became insupportable, all returned to the cottage, and worked at different employments. I was principally charged with the education of my young brothers and sisters, and the young negroes of the family. Round my little hut were suspended various pictures for study, upon which I taught them to read according to the method of mutual assistance. A bed of sand, smoothed upon a small bench, served the younger ones to trace and understand the letters of the alphabet: the others wrote upon slates. We bestowed nearly two hours upon each exercise, and then my scholars amused themselves at different games. At three o'clock, all returned to the cotton field, and remained till five. Dinner, which we usually had at six, was followed by a little family conversation, in which the children were interrogated concerning what they had been taught during the day. When I was well pleased with them, I promised them a story, or a fable, in the evening. Sometimes after dinner, we went to take a short walk on the banks of the river; then returned to the cottage, where Etienne had had the care of lighting a large fire, the heat of which forced the musquitoes and gnats to yield their place to the little circle which our family made round the hearth. Then my sister Caroline and myself related some fables to the children, or read them a lesson from the Evangelists or the Bible;[Pg 129] whilst my father smoked his pipe, amusing himself by contemplating all his family around him. The hour of going to bed being arrived, we made a common prayer, after which all retired to their separate huts to sleep.
Thus did our days glide away amid the occupations of the fields and the recreations of the family. On Sundays, our labours were suspended. Sometimes to spend the day more agreeably, and avoid the molestations of the hunters, who often came to our island, we went to the island of Bokos, situated to the east of Safal. On reaching it, we seated ourselves under a large baobab, which was more than thirty feet in circumference. After having finished our humble repast under the umbrage of that wonderful tree, my father would go and amuse himself with the chase; my sister Caroline and myself went to search for rare plants, to assist our studies in botany; whilst the children hunted butterflies and other insects. Charles, the eldest of the boys, swam like a fish; and, when my father shot a duck or aigrette upon the water, he would instantly throw himself in, and fetch the game. At other times he would climb to the top of the trees to rob the birds, or bury himself in the midst of bushes to gather the fruits of the country, then ran, all breathless and delighted, to present us with his discovery. We would remain in the island till nearly four in the afternoon, then return to our boat, and our negroes rowed us to our island.
During the time of the greatest heats, for we could not long endure the rays of the sun, we passed a part of the Sunday under a very bushy tamarind-tree, which stood at a little distance from[Pg 130] our cottage. Thus, in the good old times, did the lords, barons, and marquises gather themselves under the old elms of the village, to discuss the concerns of their vassals; in like manner did my father collect us under the tamarind-tree to regulate the affairs of his republic, and also to enjoy the landscapes which our island afforded. We sometimes took our meals there, and on those occasions the ground served us at once for table, table-cloth, and seat. The children gamboled on the grass, and played a thousand tricks to amuse us. We now began to discover that every condition of life had its own peculiar enjoyments. If the labours of the week seemed long and laborious, the Sabbath recompensed us by our country recreations. We lived thus for some time in the greatest tranquillity. Shut up in a desert island, from all society, we ventured to think we had discovered the condition of real happiness.
Every Wednesday we sent two negroes to the village of Gandiolle, to purchase provisions, such as butter, milk, eggs, &c. One day, however, my father resolved to purchase a cow and thirty fowls, that we might have in our island all the little necessaries used by a family. Our poultry yard being thus augmented, we looked upon ourselves as great as the richest princes in Africa; and in truth, since we had a cottage, milk, butter, eggs, maize, millet, cotton, tranquillity and health, what more was necessary for our comfort?[Pg 131]
FRESH MISFORTUNES—DESERTION OF THE WORKING NEGROES—RETURN OF M. SCHMALTZ TO SENEGAL—HOPE DESTROYED—GOVERNOR SCHMALTZ REFUSES ALL KIND OF ASSISTANCE TO THE PICARD FAMILY—TIGERS DEVOUR THE HOUSEHOLD DOG—TERROR OF MISS PICARD—BAD HARVEST—CRUEL PROSPECT OF THE FAMILY—INCREASE OF MISFORTUNES—SOME GENEROUS PERSONS OFFER ASSISTANCE TO M. PICARD.
Whilst we were thus enjoying in peace our little good fortune, my father received a letter, desiring him to return to Senegal in all possible speed. He went, and left me at the head of our establishment, but a great misfortune happened, which we could not prevent;—six of our labouring negroes, whom he had hired, deserted during the night, and took our small boat with them. I was extremely distressed, and instantly made Etienne swim the river, and go and beg of the President at Babaguey to take him to my father, who was still at Senegal, to tell him the melancholy news. That good negro was soon on the other side of the water, and[Pg 132] went to M. Lerouge (the name of the president), who gave him his canoe. At night, we saw him returning without my father, who went into the country to search for the fugitive negroes. He spent three whole days in the countries of Gandiolle and Touby, which lie in the neighbourhood of our island, but all his labour was in vain. The deserting negroes had already gained the forests of the interior; and my father, exhausted with fatigue, returned to Safal. I confess, though I was deeply distressed at the desertion of these slaves, who were so necessary to us for realizing our agricultural projects, my heart could not blame these unfortunate creatures, who only sought to recover that freedom from which they had been torn.
At this date, that is about the 1st of March 1819, we learned that M. Schmaltz had returned from France, and was in the Bay of St Louis; and that the Minister of Marine had approved of all the projects relative to the agricultural establishment at Senegal. This news revived my father's hopes. As this establishment had been originally proposed by him, he flattered himself they would do him justice in the end. In this expectation, he went to meet with governor Schmaltz, who had to pass our house on the morrow; but he would not speak with him. On the following day, my father wrote to him from the hotel at St Louis; four days after which, we were assured that the governor was very far from wishing us well, and still farther from doing justice to my father. However, some of his friends encouraged him to make fresh endeavours, and persuaded him he would obtain a premium of encouragement for having first set the example of cultivating cotton at Sene[Pg 133]gal; they assured him also that funds had been sent to M. Schmaltz for that purpose. Vain hope! every claim was rejected, we had not even the satisfaction of knowing whether the premium which my father sought was due to him or not; we got no reply. My father wishing to make a last attempt to ward off the misery which menaced us, went to supplicate the governor to allow us either money to purchase food, or rations. This last petition was not more successful than the former. We were abandoned to our unhappy fate, whilst more than twenty persons, who had never done any service to the government, received gratis rations every day from the magazines of the colony. "Very well!" said my father to me, when he found he was refused that assistance which M. Schmaltz had ordered to the other unfortunate persons in the colony, "let the governor be happy if he can, I will not envy his felicity. Behold, my child, behold this roof of thatch which covers us; see these hurdles of reeds which moulder into dust, this bed of rashes, my body already impaired by years, and my children weeping around me for bread! You see a perfect picture of poverty! Nevertheless, there are yet beings upon the earth more unfortunate than we are!"—"Alas!" said I to him, "our misery is great; but I can support it, and even greater, without complaining, if I saw you exposed to less harassing cares. All your children are young, and of a good constitution; we can endure misfortune, and even habituate ourselves to it; but we have cause to fear that the want of wholesome and sufficient food will make you fall, and then we shall be deprived of the only stay we have upon earth."—"O![Pg 134] my dear child," cried my father, "you have penetrated into the secrets of my soul, you know all my fears, and I will no longer endeavour to conceal the sorrow which has weighed for a long time upon my heart. However, my death may perhaps be a blessing to my family; my bitter enemies will then doubtless cease to persecute you."—"My father," replied I, "break not my heart; how can you, forgetting your children, their tender affection, the assistance which you ought to give them, and which they have a right to expect from you, wish us to believe your death will be a benefit to us?" He was moved with these words, and his tears flowed in abundance; then, pressing me to his bosom, he cried, "No, no, my dear children, I will not die, but will live to procure for you an existence more comfortable than that you have experienced since we came to Senegal. From this moment I break every tie which binds me to the government of this colony; I will go and procure for you a new abode in the interior of the country of the negroes; yes, my dear children, we will find more humanity among the savage hordes that live in our neighbourhood, than among the greater part of those Europeans who compose the administration of the colony." In fact, some time after, my father obtained from the negro prince of the province of Cayor, a grant on his estates, and we were to take possession of it after the rainy season; but Heaven had decided otherwise.
From this time, my father, always indignant at the manner in which the governor had acted towards us, resolved to retire altogether to his island, and to have as little intercourse with the Europeans of the colony as he could. Nevertheless, he[Pg 135] received with pleasure the friends who from time to time came to visit us, and who sometimes carried him to St Louis, where they disputed among themselves the pleasure of entertaining him, and of making him forget his misfortunes by the favours which they heaped upon him; but the mortifications he had experienced in that town made him always impatient till he returned to his island. One day as he returned from Senegal, after having spent two days at the house of his friends, they lent him a negro mason to build an oven for us; for till then we had always baked our bread upon the embers. With this oven we were no longer obliged to eat our millet-bread with the cinders which so plenteously stuck to it.
One morning, as he was preparing to take the negroes to their labour, he perceived his dog did not follow him as usual. He called, but in vain. Then he thought his faithful companion had crossed the river to Babaguey, as he used to do sometimes. Arrived at the cotton-field, my father remarked large foot-prints upon the sand, which seemed to be those of a tiger, and beside them several drops of blood, and doubted not that his poor Sultan had been devoured. He immediately returned to the cottage to acquaint us with the fate of his dog, which we greatly regretted. From that day the children were prohibited from going any distance from home; my sister and myself durst no more walk among the woods as we used to do.
Four days after the loss of the faithful Sultan, as we were going to bed, we heard behind our cottage mewings like those of a cat, but much louder. My father instantly rose, and, in spite of[Pg 136] our entreaties and fears, went out armed with his sword and gun, in the hope of meeting with the animal whose frightful cries had filled us with dread; but the ferocious beast, having heard a noise near the little hill where it was, made a leap over his head, and disappeared in the woods. He returned, a little frightened at the boldness and agility of the creature, and gave up the pursuit till the following night. On the evening of the following day, he caused some negroes to come from the island of Babaguey, whom he joined with his own, and putting himself at their head, he thought he would soon return with the skin of the tiger. But the carnivorous animal did not appear during all that night; he contented himself with uttering dismal howlings in the midst of the woods. My father being called to Senegal by some of his friends, left us on the morrow. Before going, he strictly enjoined us to keep fast the doors of the house, and to secure ourselves against ferocious beasts. At night we barricadoed every avenue to our cottage, and shut up the dog with us, which a friend of my father had brought to him from the town to supply the place of that which we had lost. But my sister and myself were but ill at ease; for our huts being already decayed, we were afraid the tiger would get in, and devour the successor of poor Sultan. However, Etienne came and quieted our fears a little, by saying he would make the round of the huts during the night. We then lay down, having left our lamp burning. Towards the middle of the night, I was awoke by a hollow noise which issued from the extremity of our large chamber. I listened attentively; and the noise increasing, I heard our dog growling[Pg 137] and also a kind of roaring like that of a lion. Seized with the greatest terror, I awoke my sister Caroline, who, as well as myself, thought a ferocious beast had got into the cottage. In an instant our dog raised the most terrible barking; the other animal replied by a hollow, but hideous growl. All this uproar passed in my father's chamber. Our minds were paralyzed; the children awoke, and came and precipitated themselves into our arms; but none durst call Etienne to our assistance. At last my sister and myself decided we should go and see what occasioned all this noise. Caroline took the lamp in one hand, and a stick in the other, and I armed myself with a long lance. Arrived at the middle of the large cottage, we discovered at the end of my father's study our dog, who had seized a large animal covered with yellowish hair. The fears which perplexed us left us no doubt but that it was either a lion or at least a tiger. We durst neither advance nor retreat, and our weapons fell from our hands. In a moment these two furious creatures darted into the hut where we were; the air was rent with their cries; our legs bent under us; we fell upon the floor in a faint; the lamp was extinguished, and we believed we were devoured. Etienne at length awoke, knocked at the door, then burst it open, ran up to us, lighted the lamp, and showed us our mistake. The supposed lion was nothing else than a large dog from the island of Babaguey, fighting with ours. Etienne separated them with a stick; and the furious animal, which had frightened us so much, escaped through the same hole by which he had entered our house. We stopped up the opening and retired to bed, but were not[Pg 138] able to sleep. My father having arrived next morning from Senegal, we recounted to him the fright we had during the night, and he instantly set about repairing the walls of our cottage.
It was now the beginning of May; our cotton harvest was completely finished, but it was not so productive as we had hoped. The rains had not been abundant the preceding year, which caused the deficiency in our crop. We now became more economical than ever, to be able to pass the bad season which had set in. We now lived entirely on the food of the negroes; we also put on clothing more suitable to our situation than that we had hitherto worn. A piece of coarse cotton, wrought by the negroes, served to make us dresses, and clothes for the children; my father was habited in coarse blue silk. On purpose to ameliorate our condition, he sent on Sundays to Senegal a negro to purchase two or three loaves of white bread. It was, in our melancholy condition, the finest repast we could procure.
One Sunday evening, as all the family were seated round a large fire eating some small loaves which had been brought from Senegal, a negro from the main land gave my father a letter; it was from M. Renaud, Surgeon-Major at Bakal in Galam, announcing to us, to complete the sum of our misfortunes, that the merchandize he had sent to Galam the preceding year had been entirely consumed by fire. "Now," cried my unhappy father, "my ruin is complete! Nothing more wretched can touch us. You see, my dear children, that Fortune has not ceased persecuting us. We have nothing more to expect from her, since the only resource which remained has been destroyed."[Pg 139]
This new misfortune, which we little expected, plunged all our family in the deepest distress. "What misfortunes! what mortifications!" cried I; "it is time to quit this land of wretchedness! Leave it then, return to France; there only we will be able to forget all our misfortunes. And you, cruel enemies of my father, whom we have to reproach for all the misery we have experienced in these lands, may you, in punishment for all the evil you have done us, be tortured with the keenest remorse!"
It cost all the philosophy of my father to quiet our minds after the fatal event. He comforted us by saying, that Heaven alone was just, and that it was our duty to rely upon it. Some days after, our friends from Senegal came to pay us a visit, and testified for us the greatest sorrow. They agreed among themselves to engage all the Europeans in the colony in a voluntary subscription in our behalf; but my father opposed it by saying, he could not receive assistance from those who were so truly his friends. The generous M. Dard, director of the French school, was not the last nor least who took an interest in us. As soon as he heard of the unfortunate news, he cordially offered my father all the money he had, and even endeavoured to get provisions for us from the government stores, but he failed. After the visit of my father's friends, we were not so unhappy, and yet enjoyed some tranquillity in our humble cottage. He bought a barrel of wine, and two of flour, to support us during the rainy season or winter, a period so fatal to Europeans who inhabit the torrid zone.[Pg 140]
THE PICARD FAMILY, TORMENTED BY THE MUSQUITOES, THE SERPENTS, AND TIGERS, DETERMINE TO REMOVE THEIR COTTAGE TO THE BANKS OF THE RIVER—THE POULTRY IS DISCOVERED BY THE WILD BEASTS—MISERABLE EXISTENCE OF THAT FAMILY—HUMILIATIONS WHICH IT SUFFERED—THEIR COTTAGE IS OVERTURNED BY A TEMPEST—THE LABOURING NEGROES FORM A SCHEME TO DESERT.
It was yet but about the beginning of June 1819, and already the humid winds of the south announced the approach of the bad season, or winter. The whirlwinds of the north no longer brought the hot sands of the Desert; but instead of them came the south-east, bringing clouds of locusts, musquitoes, and gnats. We could no longer spend our twilights at the cottage, it was so filled with these insects. We fled every morning to escape their stings, and did not return home till overcome with sleep. One night, on entering the hut, after a long day's work at the cotton-field, we perceived an animal stealing among the bushes at a soft slow pace; but having heard us, it leaped a very high hedge, and disappeared. From its agility,[Pg 141] we discovered it to be a tiger-cat, which had been prowling about our poultry-yard, in the hope of catching some chickens, of which these animals are very fond. The same night, my sister and myself were awoke with a hollow noise which we heard near our bed. Our thoughts instantly returned to the tiger-cat; we believed that it was it we heard, and, springing up, we awoke my father. Being all three armed, we began by looking under my bed, as the noise seemed to proceed from the bottom of a large hole, deep under ground. We were then convinced it was caused by a serpent, but found it impossible to get at it. The song of this reptile so frightened us that we could sleep no longer; however, we soon became accustomed to its invisible music, for at short intervals we heard it all the night. Some time after the discovery of the den of this reptile songster, my sister, going to feed five or six pigeons which she had in a little hut, perceived a large serpent, who seemed to have a wing on each side of his mouth. She instantly called my father, who quickly ran to her with his gun, but the wings which the creature seemed to have, had already disappeared. As his belly was prodigiously swelled, my father made the negroes open it, and, to our great surprise, found four of the pigeons of our dove-cote. The serpent was nearly nine feet in length, and about nine inches in circumference in the middle. After it was skinned, we gave it to the negroes, who regaled themselves upon it. This was not the one, however, which we had heard during the night, for in the evening on which it was killed, we heard the whistlings of its companions. We then resolved to look for a more comfortable place to plant our[Pg 142] cottage, and to abandon the rising ground to the serpents, and the woods to the tigers. We chose a spot on the south side of our island, pretty near to the banks of the river.
When this new ground was prepared, my father surrounded it with a hurdle of reeds, and then transported our cottage thither. This manner of removing from one place to another is very expeditious; in less than three days we were fairly seated in our new abode. However, as we had not time to carry away our poultry, we left them upon the hill till the place we had appropriated for them was completed. It was fenced on all sides, and covered with a large net, to prevent the birds of prey taking away our little chickens, and we had no fear in leaving them during the night. On the evening of the next day, my sister, accompanied with the children, went to feed the various inhabitants of the poultry-yard; but on approaching it she saw the frame of reeds half fallen, the net rent, and feathers scattered here and there upon the road. Having reached the site of our former cottage, heaps of worried ducks and chickens were the only objects which presented themselves. She instantly sent one of the children to acquaint us with the disaster, and my father and myself hastened to the scene of carnage, but it was too late to take any precautions,—all our poultry were destroyed! Two hens and a duck only had escaped the massacre, by having squatted in the bottom of an old barrel. We counted the dead which were left in the yard, and found that the ferocious beasts had eat the half; about two hundred eggs of ducks and hens, nearly hatched, were destroyed at the same time.[Pg 143]
This was a great loss to us, especially as we counted as much upon our poultry-yard as upon our plantation. We were obliged to resign ourselves to our fate; for to what purpose would sorrow serve? The evil was done, and it only remained for us to guard against the recurrence of a like misfortune. The poultry-yard was instantly transported to our new habitation, and we took care to surround it with thorns, to keep off the wolves, the foxes, and the tigers. Our two hens and the duck were placed in it till we could purchase others.
Our new cottage was, as I have already said, situated on the banks of the river. A small wood of mangrove trees and acacias grew to the left, presenting a scene sufficiently agreeable. But the marshy wood sent forth such clouds of musquitoes, that, from the first day, we were so persecuted, as scarcely to be able to inhabit our cottage during the night. We were forced to betake ourselves to our canoe, and sail up and down the river; but we were not more sheltered from the stings of the insects than upon land. Sometimes, after a long course, we would return to the hut, where, in spite of the heat, we would envelop ourselves in thick woollen blankets, to pass the night; then, after being half suffocated, we would fill the house full of smoke, or go and plunge ourselves in the river.
I am bold to say, we were the most miserable creatures that ever existed on the face of the earth. The thought of passing all the bad season in this state of torture, made us regret a hundred times we had not perished in the shipwreck.[Pg 144] How, thought I, how is it possible to endure the want of sleep, the stings of myriads of insects, the putrid exhalations of marshes, the heat of the climate, the smoke of our huts, the chagrin which consumes us, and the want of the most necessary articles of life, without being overcome! My father, however, to prevent us seeing the melancholy which weighed upon him, assumed a serene air, when his soul was a prey to the most horrible anguish; but through this pretended placidity it was easy to see the various sentiments by which his heart was affected. Often would that good man say to us, "My children, I am not unhappy, but I suffer to see you buried in the deserts. If I could gather a sufficient fund to convey you to France, I would at least have the satisfaction of thinking you there enjoyed life, and that your youth did not pass in these solitudes far from human society."—"How, my father," replied I to him, "how can you think we could be happy in France, when we knew you were in misery in Africa! O, afflict us not. You know, and we have said so a hundred times, that our sole desire is to remain near you, to assist you to bring up our young brothers and sisters, and to endeavour by our care to make them worthy of all your tenderness." The good man would then fold us in his arms; and the tears which trickled down his cheeks, for a while soothed his sufferings.
Often, to divert our thoughts from the misery we endured, would we read some of the works of our best authors. My father was usually on these occasions the reader, whilst Caroline and myself listened. Sometimes we would amuse ourselves with shooting the bow, and chasing the wild ducks[Pg 145] and fowls which went about our house. In this manner we endeavoured to dissipate in part our ennui during the day. As our cottage was situated close to the banks of the river, we amused ourselves in fishing, whilst the heat and the musquitoes would permit us. Caroline and our young brothers were chiefly charged with fishing for crabs, and they always caught sufficient to afford supper to all the family. But sometimes we had to forego this evening's repast, for the musquitoes at that hour were in such prodigious numbers, that it was impossible to remain more than an instant in one place, unless we were enveloped in our coverings of wool. But the children not having so much sense, would not allow themselves to be thus suffocated; they could not rest in any place, and every instant their doleful groans forced our tears of pity. O cruel remembrance! thou makest me yet weep as I write these lines.
Towards the beginning of July, the rains showed us it was seed time. We began by sowing the cotton, then the fields of millet, maize, and beans. Early in the morning, the family went to work; some digged, others sowed, till the fierceness of the sun forced us to retire to the cottage, where we expected a plate of kouskous, of fish, and a little rest. At three o'clock, we all returned to the fields, and did not leave off working till the approach of night; then we all went home, and each occupied himself in fishing or hunting. Whilst we were thus busied in providing our supper, and provisions for the morrow, we sometimes would receive a visit from the sportsmen who were returning to Senegal. Some would feel for our misery, but many made us weep with their vulgar af[Pg 146]fronts. On these occasions, Caroline and myself would fly from these disgusting beings as from the wild beasts who prowled about us. Sometimes, to make us forget the insults and mortifications we experienced from the negro merchants who live at Senegal, and whom curiosity brought to our island, my father would say to us, "Wherefore, my dears, are you distressed with the impertinences of these beings? Only think that, in spite of your wretchedness, you are a hundred times better than them, who are nothing more than vile traffickers in human flesh, sons of soldiers, without manners, rich sailors, or freebooters, without education and without country."
One day, a French negro merchant, whom I will not name, having crossed the Senegal to the station of Babaguey, and seeing our cottage in the distance, inquired to whom it belonged. He was told it was the father of a family whom misfortune had forced to seek a refuge in that island. I wish I could see them, said the merchant, it will be very drôle. In fact, a short while after, we had a visit from this curieux, who, after he had said all manner of impertinences to us, went to hunt in our plantation, where he killed the only duck which we had left, and which he had the audacity to carry away in spite of our entreaties. Fortunately for the insolent thief, my father was absent, else he would have avenged the death of the duck, which even the tigers had spared in the massacre of our poultry-yard.
Since the commencement of winter, we had had but little rain, when one night we were roused by a loud peal of thunder. A horrible tempest swept over us, and the hurricane bent the trees of[Pg 147] the fields. The lightning tore up the ground, the sound of the thunder redoubled, and torrents of water were precipitated upon our cottage. The winds roared with the utmost fury, our roofs were swept away, our huts were blown down, and all the waters of heaven rushed in upon us. A flood penetrated our habitation; all our family drenched, confounded, sought refuge under the wrecks of our walls of straw and reeds. All our effects were floating, and hurried off by the floods which surrounded us. The whole heavens were in a blaze; the thunderbolt burst, fell, and burned the main-mast of the French brig Nantaise, which was anchored at a little distance from our island. After this horrible detonation, calm was insensibly restored, whilst the hissing of serpents and howlings of the wild beasts were the only sounds heard around us. The insects and reptiles, creeping out of the earth, dispersed themselves through all the places of our cottage which water had not covered. Large beetles went buzzing on all sides, and attached themselves to our clothes, whilst the millepedes, lizards, and crabs of an immense size, crawled over the wrecks of our huts. At last, about ten o'clock, nature resumed her tranquillity, the thunder ceased to be heard, the winds instantly fell, and the air remained calm and dull.
After the tempest had ceased, we endeavoured to mend our huts a little, but we could not effect it; and were obliged to remain all day under the wrecks of our cottage. Such, however, was the manner in which we spent nearly all our days and nights. In reading this recital, the reader has but a feeble idea of the privations, the sufferings, and the evils, to which the unfortunate Picard family[Pg 148] were exposed during their stay in the island of Safal.
About this time, my father was obliged to go to Senegal. During his absence, the children discovered that the negroes who remained with us had formed a scheme of deserting during the night. Caroline and myself were much embarrassed and undecided what course to pursue, to prevent their escape; at last, having well considered the matter, we thought, as Etienne would be in the plot, we had no other means of preventing their escape but by each of us arming ourselves with a pistol, and thus passing the night in watching them. We bound our canoe firmly with a chain, and seated ourselves, the better to observe their motions. About nine in the evening, the two negroes came to the banks of the river, but having discovered us, they feigned to fish, really holding in their hands a small line; but on coming nearer to them, I saw they had no hooks. I desired them to go to bed, and return on the morrow to fish. One of them came close to our canoe, and threw himself into it, thinking he could instantly put off; but when he found it chained, he left it quite ashamed, and went and lay down with his comrade. I set off to look for Etienne, whom we suspected to have been in the plot, and told him of the design of the two negroes, and prayed him to assist us in watching them during the night. He instantly rose, and taking my father's gun, bade us sleep in quiet, whilst he alone would be sufficient to overcome them; however, they made no farther attempt that night, hoping, doubtless, to be more fortunate another time. Next day I wrote to my father, to return to Safal before night, for that we were on[Pg 149] the eve of losing the remainder of our negroes. He returned in the evening, resolving never again to quit our cottage. He interrogated the negroes concerning their design of desertion, and asked them what excuse they had to plead. "We are comfortable here," replied one of them, "but we are not in our native country; our parents and friends are far from us. We have been deprived of our liberty, and we have made, and will make still farther efforts, for its recovery." He added, addressing himself to my father, "If thou, Picard, my master, wert arrested when cultivating thy fields, and carried far, far from thy family, wouldst thou not endeavour to rejoin them, and recover thy liberty?" My father promptly replied, "I would!" "Very well," continued Nakamou, "I am in the same situation as thyself, I am the father of a numerous family; I have yet a mother, some uncles; I love my wife, my children; and dost thou think it wonderful I should wish to rejoin them?" My unfortunate father, melted to tears with this speech, resolved to send them to the person from whom he had hired them, for fear he should lose them. If he had thought like the colonists, he would have put them in irons, and treated them like rebels; but he was too kind-hearted to resort to such measures. Some days after, the person to whom the negroes were sent, brought us two others; but they were so indolent, we found it impossible to make them work.[Pg 150]
THE COLONY OF SENEGAL AT WAR WITH THE MOORS—THE PICARD FAMILY OBLIGED TO ABANDON THE ISLAND OF SAFAL—THEY GO TO FIND A HOME AT ST LOUIS—M. PICARD HIRES AN APARTMENT FOR HIS FAMILY, AND RETURNS TO SAFAL WITH THE OLDEST OF HIS SONS—THE WHOLE UNFORTUNATE FAMILY FALL SICK—RETURN OF M. PICARD TO SENEGAL—DEATH OF YOUNG LAURA—HE WISHES TO RETURN TO HIS ISLAND—THE CHILDREN OPPOSE IT—HE FALLS DANGEROUSLY ILL—THE WORTHY PEOPLE OF THE COLONY ARE INDIGNANT AT THE GOVERNOR FOR THE STATE OF MISERY IN WHICH HE HAS LEFT THE PICARD FAMILY.
We however continued sowing; and more than twenty-four thousand feet of cotton had already been added to the plantation, when our labours were stopped by war suddenly breaking out between the colony and the Moors. We learned that a part of their troops were in the island of Bokos, situated but a short distance from our own. It was said that the Arab merchants and the Marabouts, (priests of the Musulmen), who usually travel to Senegal on affairs of commerce, had been arrested by the French soldiers. In the fear that the Moors would come to our island and make us prisoners, we resolved to go to the head-quarters[Pg 151] of the colony, and stay there till the war had ceased. My father caused all his effects to be transported to the house of the resident at Babaguey, after which we left our cottage and the island of Safal. Whilst Etienne slowly rowed the canoe which contained our family, I ran my eye over the places we were leaving, as if wishing them an eternal adieu. In contemplating our poor cottage, which we had built with such difficulty, I could not suppress my tears. All our plantations, thought I, will be ravaged during our absence; our home will be burned; and we will lose in an instant that which cost us two years of pain and fatigue. I was diverted from these reflections by our canoe striking against the shore of Babaguey. We landed there, and instantly set off to the residence of M. Lerouge; but he was already at Senegal. We found his house filled with soldiers, which the governor had sent to defend that position against the Moors. My father then borrowed a little shallop to take us to Senegal. Whilst the boat was preparing, we eat a morsel of millet-bread I had had the precaution to make before we left Safal; at last, at six in the evening, we embarked for St Louis, leaving our negroes at Babaguey. My father promised to Etienne to go and rejoin him to continue the work, if it was possible, as soon as we were in safety.
It was very late before we reached Senegal. As we had no lodgings, a friend of my father, (M. Thomas) admitted us, his worthy wife loading us with kindness. During our stay in the island of Safal, my father had made various trips to Senegal; but as my sister and myself had not[Pg 152] quitted it for a long time, we found ourselves in another world. The isolated manner in which we had lived, and the misfortunes we had endured, contributed in no small degree to give us a savage and embarrassed appearance. Caroline especially had become so timid, she could not be persuaded to appear in company. It is true the nakedness to which we were reduced, a good deal caused the repugnance we felt at seeing company. Having no cap but our hair, no clothes but a half-worn robe of coarse silk, without stockings and shoes, we felt very distressed in appearing thus habited before a society among whom we had formerly held a certain rank. The good lady Thomas seeing our embarrassment, kindly dispensed with our appearance at table, as they had strangers in the house. She caused supper to be brought to our chamber, under the pretext that we were indisposed. In this manner we escaped the curious and imprudent regards of various young people, who had not yet been tutored by the hand of misfortune. We learned that we were known at Senegal by different names, some calling us The Hermits of the Isle of Safal, others The Exiles in Africa.
On the morrow, my father hired an apartment in the house of one of his old friends (M. Valentin.) After breakfast we thanked our hosts, and went to our new lodging. It consisted of a large chamber, the windows of which were under ground, filled with broken panes; thus, in the first night, we had such a quantity of musquitoes, that we thought we were yet in the island of Safal. On the following day, my father was desirous of returning to his plantation. We in vain represented[Pg 153] to him the dangers to which he exposed himself; nothing would divert him from his design. He promised, however, to go to Safal only during the day, and to sleep at the house of the resident at Babaguey. He told us that it was not the war with the Moors alone which caused him to bring us to Senegal, but also the state of suffering in which the whole family was. It is true our strength was considerably diminished; the youngest of my brothers had been for several days attacked with a strong fever; and we were all slightly seized with the same disease. My father, taking our oldest brother with him, left us for the isle of Safal, promising to come and see us every Sunday. I went with him to the court-gate, conjuring him, above all things, not to expose himself, and to take care of his health, which was so precious to us. That worthy man embraced me, and bade me fear nothing on that head, for he too well felt how necessary his life was to his children, to expose it imprudently. "For my health," added he, "I hope to preserve it long, unless Heaven has decided otherwise." With these words he bid adieu, and went away; I returned to the house and gave free vent to my tears. I know not what presentiment then seized me, for I felt as if I had seen my father for the last time; and it was only at the end of the third day, on receiving a letter written with his own hand, that I could divest myself of these gloomy ideas. He told us he was very well, and that all was quiet at Safal. On the same day I wrote to inform him of the condition of our young brother, who was a little better during the evening; I sent him at the same time some loaves of new bread and three bottles of wine which a ge[Pg 154]nerous person had had the goodness to give us. On the following Sunday we sat waiting his arrival, but a frightful tempest that raged during all the day, deprived us of that pleasure; we, however, received accounts from him every two days, which were always satisfactory.
About the 1st of August 1819, the best friend of my father, M. Dard, who, from the commencement of our misfortunes, had not withheld his helping hand from us, came to announce his approaching departure for France, and to bid us farewell. We congratulated him on the happiness of leaving so melancholy a place as Senegal. After we had talked some time about our unfortunate situation, and of the little hope we had of ever getting out of it, that sensible man, feeling his tears beginning to flow, took leave of us, promising to visit my father in passing Babaguey. Some days after, our young sister became dangerously ill; the fever attacked me also; and in less than forty-eight hours all our family were seized with the same disease. Caroline, however, had still sufficient strength to take care of us; and, but for her assistance, we would all perhaps have become a prey to the malady which oppressed us. That good sister durst not acquaint my father with the deplorable condition in which we all were; but alas! she was soon obliged to tell him the melancholy news. I know not what passed during two days after my sister had written my father, having been seized with delirium. When the fit had somewhat abated, and I had recovered my senses a little, I began to recognise the people who were about me, and I saw my father weeping near my bed. His presence revived the little strength I[Pg 155] had still left. I wished to speak, but my ideas were so confused that I could only articulate a few unconnected words. I then learned, that after my father was acquainted with our dangerous condition, he had hastened to Senegal with my oldest brother, who also had been attacked. My father seemed to be no better than we were; but to quiet our fears, he told us that he attributed his indisposition to a cold he had caught from sleeping on a bank of sand at Safal. We soon perceived that his disease was more of the mind than of the body. I often observed him thoughtful, with a wild and disquieted look. This good man, who had resisted with such courage all his indignities and misfortunes, wept like a child at the sight of his dying family.
Meanwhile the sickness increased every day in our family; my young sister was worst. Dr Quincey saw her, and prescribed every remedy he thought necessary to soothe her sufferings. During the middle of the night she complained of a great pain in her abdomen, but, after taking the medicine ordered her, she fell quiet, and we believed she was asleep. Caroline, who watched us during the night in spite of her weakness, took advantage of this supposed slumber to take a little repose. A short while after, wishing to see if little Laura still slept, she raised the quilt which covered her, and uttered a piercing shriek. I awoke, and heard her say in a tremulous voice, Alas! Laura is dead. Our weeping soon awoke our unhappy father. He rose, and, seeing the face of the dead child, cried in wild despair: "It is then all over; my cruel enemies have gained their victory! They have taken from[Pg 156] me the bread which I earned with the sweat of my brow to support my children; they have sacrificed my family to their implacable hate; let them now come and enjoy the fruit of their malice with a sight of the victim they have immolated! let them come to satiate their fury with the scene of misery in which they have plunged us! O cruel S——, thy barbarous heart cannot be that of a Frenchman!" On uttering these words, he rushed out, and seated himself under a gallery which was at the door of the house in which we lived. He there remained a long while buried in profound meditation, during which time we could not get him to utter one word. At last, about six o'clock in the morning the physician came, and was surprised on hearing of the death of Laura; then went to my father, who seemed to be insensible to every thing around him, and inquired at him concerning his health. "I am very well," replied he, "and I am going to return to Safal; for I always find myself best there." The Doctor told him his own condition, as well as that of his family, would not allow him to leave Senegal; but he was inflexible. Seeing nothing would induce him to remain at St Louis, I arose, weak as I was, and went to search for a negro and a canoe to carry us to Safal. In the meanwhile a friend of ours took the charge of burying the body of my sister; but my father wished to inter it beside the others in his island, and determined to take it thither along with us. Not to have, however, such a melancholy sight before our eyes during our journey, I hired a second canoe to carry the corpse of poor Laura; and attaching it to the one in which we were, we took our young brothers in[Pg 157] our arms and set off. Having arrived opposite the house possessed by M. Thomas, my father felt himself greatly indisposed. I profited by the circumstance, by getting him to go to the house of his friend; hoping we would persuade him against returning to Safal. He consented without difficulty; but we had scarcely entered the house, when he was again taken very ill. We instantly called a physician, who found in him the seeds of a most malignant fever. We laid him down, and all the family wept around his bed, whilst the canoe which carried the remains of our young sister proceeded to Safal. M. Thomas undertook to procure us a house more healthy than that we had quitted; but the condition of my father was such, that he found it impossible to walk, and we had to put him in a litter to take him to our new habitation. All the worthy people of Senegal could not contain their indignation against governor S——, whose inhuman conduct towards our family had been the principal cause of all our misfortunes. They went to his house, and boldly told him it was a shame for the Chief of the colony thus to allow an unfortunate family entirely to perish. M. S——, either touched with these reproaches, or at last being moved by more friendly feelings towards us, caused provisions secretly to be sent to our house. We received them under the persuasion they had been sent by some friend of my father; but having at last learned they had come from the governor, my father bid me return them to him. I did not know what to do, for a part of the provisions had already been consumed; and, besides, the distressed condition to which we were reduced, made me flatter myself with the[Pg 158] thought, that the governor wished at last to make amends for the wrongs he had done us. But alas! his assistance was too late; the fatal moment was fast approaching when my father had to bend under the pressure of his intolerable sufferings.[Pg 159]
M. DARD, WHOM CONTRARY WINDS HAD DETAINED TEN DAYS IN THE PORT OF ST. LOUIS, COMES ON SHORE TO SEE M. PICARD—AGONY OF M. PICARD—HIS LAST WORDS—HIS DEATH—DESPAIR OF HIS CHILDREN—M. THOMAS KINDLY TAKES CHARGE OF PICARD'S FAMILY—THE ELDEST OF THE LADIES GOES AND MOURNS OVER THE GRAVE OF HER FATHER—HER RESIGNATION—M. DARD DISEMBARKS, AND ADOPTS THE WRECKS OF THE PICARD FAMILY—M. DARD MARRIES MISS PICARD, AND AT LAST RETURNS TO FRANCE.
The day after we had taken possession of our new abode, my father sent me to the Isle of Babaguey, to bring back the things which were left at the house of the Resident. As I found myself considerably better during the last few days, I hired a canoe and went, leaving the sick to the care of Caroline. I soon reached the place of my destination, and finished my business. I was upon the point of returning to Senegal, when a wish came into my head of seeing Safal. Having made two negroes take me to the other side of the river, I walked along the side of the plantation, then visited our cottage, which I found just as we had left it. At last I bent my steps towards the tomb of my step-mother, in which were deposited the re[Pg 160]mains of my little sister. I seated myself under the shrubs which shaded the place of their repose, and remained a long while wrapt in the most melancholy reflections. All the misfortunes we had experienced since our shipwreck, came across my mind, and I asked myself, how I had been able to endure them? I thought that, at this instant, a secret voice said to me, you will yet have greater to deplore. Terrified by this melancholy presentiment, I strove to rise, but my strength failing me, I fell on my knees upon the grave. After having addressed my prayers to the Eternal, I felt a little more tranquil; and, quitting this melancholy spot, old Etienne led me back to Babaguey, where my canoe waited for me. The heat was excessive; however, I endured it, rather than wait for the coolness of evening to return to my father. On my arrival at St Louis, I found him in a violent passion at a certain personage of the colony, who, without any regard to his condition, had said the most humiliating things to him. This scene had contributed, in no small degree, to aggravate his illness; for, on the evening of the same day, the fever returned, and a horrible delirium darkened all his faculties. We spent a terrible night, expecting every moment to be his last. The following day found little change in his condition, except a small glimmering of reason at intervals. In one of these moments, when we hoped he would recover his health, M. Dard, whom we thought already far from Senegal, entered our house. My father instantly recognised him, and, making him sit near to his bed, took his hand, and said, "My last hour is come; Heaven, to whose decrees I humbly submit, will soon[Pg 161] remove me from this world; but one consolation remains with me,—the thought you will not abandon my children. I recommend to you my oldest daughter; you are dear to her, doubt not; would she were your wife, and that you were to her, as you have always been to me, a sincere friend!" On saying these words, he took my hands and pressed them to his burning lips. Tears suffocated my voice, but I pressed him tenderly in my arms; and as he saw I was extremely affected with his situation, he quickly said to me, "My daughter, I have need of rest." I instantly quitted him, and was joined by M. Dard, when we retired to another room, where we found Caroline and the good Mad. Thomas. This worthy friend seeing the deplorable condition to which we were reduced, endeavoured to console us, and to give us hope, saying, that having heard of my father's illness on board the brig Vigilant, in which he had embarked at the port of St Louis, he had obtained leave to come on shore, and to go and offer us some assistance; after which he left us, promising to return on the morrow.
Towards the middle of the night of the 15th August 1819, it struck me that my father wished to speak with me. I drew near to him, and seeing him pale and his eyes wild, I turned away my head to conceal the tears which I could not suppress; but having perceived my distress, he said to me in a mournful voice, "Why are you so much afflicted, my child? My last hour approaches, I cannot escape it; then summon all the strength of your soul to bear it with courage. My conscience is pure, I have nothing with which to reproach myself; I will die in peace if you promise[Pg 162] to protect the children whom I will soon leave. Tell also to feeling hearts the long train of uninterrupted misfortunes which have assailed me; tell the abandoned condition in which we have lived; and tell at last, that in dying, I forgave my enemies all the evils they had made me as well as my family endure!" At these words I fell upon his bed, and cried yes, dear father, I promise to do all you require of me. I was yet speaking when Caroline entered the chamber, and throwing herself upon his bed, tenderly embraced him, whilst he held me by the hand. We gazed on one another in profound silence, which was only interrupted by our sighs. During this heart-rending scene, my father again said to me, "My good Charlotte, I thank you for all the care you have bestowed on me; I die, but I leave you to the protection of friends who will not abandon you. Never forget the obligations you already owe M. Dard. Heaven assist you. Farewell, I go before you to a better world." These words, pronounced with difficulty, were the last he uttered. He instantly became much convulsed. All the physicians of the colony were called, but the medicines they prescribed produced no effect. In this condition he remained more than six hours, during which time we stood suspended between hope and despair. O horrible night! night of sorrow and desolation! who can describe all which the unfortunate family of Picard suffered during thy terrible reign! But the fatal period approached; the physician who prescribed it went out; I followed, and, still seeking for some illusion in the misfortune which menaced us, I tremblingly interrogated him. The worthy man would not dissemble; he took me by the hand and[Pg 163] said, my dear lady, the moment is arrived when you have need to arm yourself with courage; it is all over with M. Picard; you must submit to the will of God. These words were a thunderbolt to me. I instantly returned, bathed in tears; but alas! my father was no more.
Such an irreparable misfortune plunged us into a condition worse than death. Without ceasing, I besought them to put a period to my deplorable life. The friends about me used every endeavour to calm me, but my soul was in the depth of affliction, and their consolations reached it not. "O God!" cried I, "how is it possible thou canst yet let me live? Ought not the misery I feel to make me follow my father to the grave?" It was necessary to employ force to keep me from that plan of horror and dismay. Madame Thomas took us to her house, whilst our friends prepared the funeral of my unhappy father. I remained insensible for a long while; and, when somewhat recovered, my first care was to pray the people with whom we lived to carry the body of my father to the Isle of Safal to be deposited, agreeably to his request, near the remains of his wife. Our friends accompanied it. Some hours after the departure of the funeral procession, Governor S——, doubtless reproaching himself with the helpless condition in which we had been left for so long a time, gave orders to take care of the remainder of our unfortunate family. He himself came to the house of M. Thomas. His presence made such an impression on me, that I swooned away. We did not, however, refuse the assistance he offered us, convinced, as we were, that it was less to the gover[Pg 164]nor of Senegal we were indebted than to the French government, whose intentions he was only fulfilling.
Several days passed before I could moderate my sorrow; but at last our friends represented to me the duties I owed to the orphans who were left with us, and to whom I had promised to hold the place of mother. Then rousing myself from my lethargy, and recollecting the obligations I had to fulfil, I bestowed all my affections on the innocent beings whom my father had confided to me in his dying moments. Nevertheless I was not at rest; the desire of seeing the place where reposed the mortal remains of my worthy father tormented me. They wished to dissuade me; but when they saw I had been frequently weeping in private, they no longer withheld me. I went alone to Safal, leaving Caroline to take charge of the children, two of whom were still in a dangerous condition. What changes did I find at our cottage! The person from whom we had hired our negroes had secretly removed them; rank weeds sprung up everywhere; the cotton withered for want of cultivation; the fields of millet, maize, and beans had been devoured by the herds of cattle from the colony; our house was half plundered; the books and papers of my father taken away. Old Etienne still remained; I found him cultivating cotton. As soon as he saw me he drew near; and having inquired if he wished to remain at the plantation, he replied, "I could stay here all my life; my good master is no more, but he is still here; I wish to work for the support of his children." I promised in my turn to take care of him during my stay in Africa. At last I bent my steps towards my fa[Pg 165]ther's grave. The shrubs which surrounded it were covered with the most beautiful verdure; their thorny branches hung over it as if to shield it from the rays of the sun. The silence which reigned around this solitary place was only interrupted by the songs of the birds, and the rustling of the foliage, agitated by a faint breeze. At the sight of this sacred retreat, I suddenly felt myself penetrated by a religious sentiment, and falling on my knees upon the grass, and resting my head upon the humid stone, remained a long while in deep meditation. Then starting up, I cried, "Dear manes of the best of fathers! I come not hither to disturb your repose; but I come to ask of Him who is omnipotent, resignation to his august decrees. I come to promise also to the worthy author of my existence, to give all my care to the orphans whom he has left on earth. I also promise to make known to feeling hearts all the misfortunes he experienced before being driven to the tomb." After a short prayer, I arose and returned to the cottage. To consecrate a monument to the memory of my father, I took two cocoa-nuts, which he had planted some time previous to his death, and replanted them beside the grave; I then gave my orders to Etienne, and returned to the family at Senegal.
Next day M. Dard came to see us at the house of M. Thomas. This worthy friend of my father, told us he would not abandon in Senegal the orphans whom he had promised to assist. I come, added he, to return to the governor the leave he had given me to pass six months in France, and I charge myself with providing for all your wants till I can convey you again to Paris. Such gener[Pg 166]ous devotion affected me to tears; I thanked our worthy benefactor, and he went into Mad. Thomas's room. When he had gone, Mad. Thomas took me aside, and said, that M. Dard's intention was not only to adopt the wrecks of our family, but he wished also to offer me his hand as soon as our grief had subsided. This confidence, I own, displeased me not; for it was delightful for me to think that so excellent a man, who had already given us such substantial assistance in our distress, did not think himself degraded by uniting his fate with that of a poor orphan. I recollected what my father had said to me during one of our greatest misfortunes. "M. Dard," said that worthy man, "is an estimable youth, whose attachment for us has never diminished in spite of our wretchedness; and I am certain he prefers virtue in a wife above all other riches."
Some days after, our benefactor came to tell us he had disembarked all his effects, and that he had resumed his functions as director of the French school at Senegal. We talked a long while together concerning my father's affairs, and he then left us. However, as one of my brothers was very ill, he returned in the evening to see how he was. He found us in tears; for the innocent creature had expired in my arms. M. Dard and M. Thomas instantly buried him, for his body had already become putrid. We took great care to conceal his death from his brother, who, having a mind superior to his age, would doubtless have been greatly affected. Nevertheless, on the following day, poor Charles inquired where his brother Gustavus was; M. Dard, who was sitting near his bed, told him he was at school; but he[Pg 167] discovered the cheat, and cried, weeping, that he wished a hat to go to school, and see if Gustavus was really living. M. Dard had the kindness to go and purchase him one to quiet him, which, when he saw, he was satisfied, and waited till the morrow to go and see if his brother was at school. This young victim to misery dragged out his melancholy existence during two months; and about the end of October we had the misfortune of losing him also.
This last blow plunged me into a gloomy melancholy. I was indifferent to every thing. I had seen, in three months, nearly all my relations die. A young orphan (Alphonso Fleury), our cousin, aged five years, to whom my father was tutor, and whom he had always considered as his own child, my sister Caroline, and myself, were all that remained of the unfortunate Picard family, who, on setting out for Africa, consisted of nine. We, too, had nearly followed our dear parents to the grave. Our friends, however, by their great care and attention, got us by degrees to recover our composure, and chased from our thoughts the cruel recollections which afflicted us. We recovered our tranquillity, and dared at last to cherish the hope of seeing more fortunate days. That hope was not delusive. Our benefactor, M. Dard, since then having become my husband, gathered together the wrecks of our wretched family, and has proved himself worthy of being a father to us. My sister Caroline afterwards married M. Richard, agricultural botanist, attached to the agricultural establishment of the colony.
Leaving Senegal with my husband and the[Pg 168] young Alphonso Fleury, my cousin, on board his Majesty's ship Ménagere, on the 18th November 1820, we safely arrived at L'Orient on the 31st December following. A few days after our landing, we went to Paris, where we remained two months. At last we reached my husband's native place, at Bligny-sous-Beaune, in the department of the Côte d'Or, where I have had the happiness of finding new relations whose tender friendship consoles me in part for the loss of those of whom cruel death deprived me in Africa.
The following is the substance, abridged from MM. Corréard and Savigny, of what took place on the Raft during thirteen days before the Sufferers were taken up by the Argus Brig.
After the boats had disappeared, the consternation became extreme. All the horrors of thirst and famine passed before our imaginations; besides, we had to contend with a treacherous element, which already covered the half of our bodies. The deep stupor of the soldiers and sailors instantly changed to despair. All saw their inevitable destruction, and expressed by their moans the dark thoughts which brooded in their minds. Our words were at first unavailing to quiet their fears, which we participated with them, but which a greater strength of mind enabled us to dissemble. At last, an unmoved countenance, and our proffered consolations, quieted them by degrees, but could not entirely dissipate the terror with which they were seized.
When tranquillity was a little restored, we began to search about the raft for the charts, the compass, and the anchor, which we presumed had been placed upon it, after what we had been told at the time of quitting the frigate.14 [Pg 170]These things, of the first importance, had not been placed upon our machine. Above all, the want of a compass the most alarmed us, and we gave vent to our rage and vengeance. M. Corréard then remembered he had seen one in the hands of one of the principal workmen under his command; he spoke to the man, who replied, "Yes, yes, I have it with me." This information transported us with joy, and we believed that our safety depended upon this futile resource: it was about the size of a crown-piece, and very incorrect. Those who have not been in situations in which their existence was exposed to extreme peril, can have but a faint knowledge of the price one attaches then to the simplest objects—with what avidity one seizes the slightest means capable of mitigating the rigour of that fate against which they contend. The compass was given to the commander of the raft, but an accident deprived us of it forever: it fell, and disappeared between the pieces of wood which formed our machine. We had kept it but a few hours, and, after its loss, had nothing now to guide us but the rising and setting of the sun.
14 M. Corréard, fearing that on the event of their being separated from the boats by any unforeseen accident, called from the raft to an officer on board the frigate, "Are we in a condition to take the route?—have we instruments and charts?" got the following reply: "Yes, yes, I have provided for you every necessary." M. Corréard again called to him, "Who was to be their commander?" when the same officer said, "'Tis I; I will be with you in an instant;" but he instantly went and seated himself in one of the boats!—Trans.
We had all gone afloat without taking any food. Hunger beginning to be imperiously felt, we mixed our paste of sea-biscuit15 with a little wine, and distributed it thus prepared. Such was our first meal, and the best we had, during our stay upon the raft.
15 The biscuit had fallen into the sea, and was with difficulty recovered.—Trans.
An order, according to our numbers, was established for the distribution of our miserable provisions. The ration of wine was fixed at three quarters a-day.16 We will speak no more of the biscuit, it having been entirely consumed at the first distribution. The day passed away sufficiently tranquil. We talked of the means by which we would save ourselves; we spoke of it as a certain circumstance, which reanimated our courage; and we sus[Pg 171]tained that of the soldiers, by cherishing in them the hope of being able, in a short while, to revenge themselves on those who had so basely abandoned us. This hope of vengeance, it must be avowed, equally animated us all; and we poured out a thousand imprecations against those who had left us a prey to so much misery and danger.
16 The original French is trois quarts, which certainly cannot mean three quarts. In all probability it is three pints.—Trans.
The officer who commanded the raft being unable to move, M. Savigny took upon himself the duty of erecting the mast. He caused them to cut in two one of the poles of the frigate's masts, and fixed it with the rope which had served to tow us, and of which we made stays and shrowds. It was placed on the anterior third of the raft. We put up for a sail the main-top-gallant, which trimmed very well, but was of very little use, except when the wind served from behind; and to keep the raft in this course, we were obliged to trim the sail as if the breeze blew athwart us.
In the evening, our hearts and our prayers, by a feeling natural to the unfortunate, were turned towards Heaven. Surrounded by inevitable dangers, we addressed that invisible Being who has established, and who maintains the order of the universe. Our vows were fervent, and we experienced from our prayers the cheering influence of hope. It is necessary to have been in similar situations, before one can rightly imagine what a charm it is to the heart of the sufferer the sublime idea of a God protecting the unfortunate!
One consoling thought still soothed our imaginations. We persuaded ourselves that the little division had gone to the isle of Arguin, and that after it had set a part of its people on shore, the rest would return to our assistance: we endeavoured to impress this idea on our soldiers and sailors, which quieted them. The night came without our hope being realized; the wind freshened, and the sea was considerably swelled. What a horrible night! The thought of seeing the boats on the morrow, a little consoled our men, the greater part of whom, being unaccustomed with the sea, fell on one another at each movement of the raft. M. Savigny, seconded by some people who still preserved their presence of mind amidst the disorder, stretched cords across the raft, by which the men held, and were better able to resist the swell of the sea: some were even obliged to fasten themselves. In the middle of the night the weather was[Pg 172] very rough; huge waves burst upon us, sometimes overturning us with great violence. The cries of the men, mingled with the roaring of the flood, whilst the terrible sea raised us at every instant from the raft, and threatened to sweep us away. This scene was rendered still more terrible, by the horrors inspired by the darkness of the night. Suddenly we believed we saw fires in the distance at intervals. We had had the precaution to hang at the top of the mast, the gun-powder and pistols which we had brought from the frigate. We made signals by burning a large quantity of cartridges; we even fired some pistols, but it seems the fire we saw, was nothing but an error of vision, or, perhaps, nothing more than the sparkling of the waves.
We struggled with death during the whole of the night, holding firmly by the ropes which were made very secure. Tossed by the waves from the back to the front, and from the front to the back, and sometimes precipitated into the sea; floating between life and death, mourning our misfortunes, certain of perishing; we disputed, nevertheless, the remainder of our existence, with that cruel element which threatened to ingulf us. Such was our condition till day-break. At every instant were heard the lamentable cries of the soldiers and sailors; they prepared for death, bidding farewell to one another, imploring the protection of heaven, and addressing fervent prayers to God. Every one made vows to him, in spite of the certainty of never being able to accomplish them. Frightful situation! How is it possible to have any idea of it, which will not fall far short of the reality!
Towards seven in the morning the sea fell a little, the wind blew with less fury; but what a scene presented itself to our view! Ten or twelve unfortunates, having their inferior extremities fixed in the openings between the pieces of the raft, had perished by being unable to disengage themselves; several others were swept away by the violence of the sea. At the hour of repast, we took the numbers anew; we had lost twenty men. We will not affirm that this was the exact number; for we perceived some soldiers who, to have more than their share, took rations for two, and even three; we were so huddled together, that we found it absolutely impossible to prevent this abuse.
In the midst of these horrors a touching scene of filial piety drew our tears. Two young men raised and recog[Pg 173]nised their father, who had fallen, and was lying insensible among the feet of the people. They believed him at first dead, and their despair was expressed in the most afflicting manner. It was perceived, however, that he still breathed, and every assistance was rendered for his recovery in our power. He slowly revived, and was restored to life, and to the prayers of his sons, who supported him closely, folded in their arms. Whilst our hearts were softened by this affecting episode in our melancholy adventures, we had soon to witness the sad spectacle of a dark contrast. Two ship-boys and a baker feared not to seek death, and threw themselves into the sea, after having bid farewell to their companions in misfortune. Already the minds of our people were singularly altered; some believed they saw land, others ships which were coming to save us; all talked aloud of their fallacious visions.
We lamented the loss of our unfortunate companions. At this moment we were far from anticipating the still more terrible scene which took place on the following night; far from that, we enjoyed a positive satisfaction, so well were we persuaded that the boats would return to our assistance. The day was fine, and the most perfect tranquillity reigned all the while on our raft. The evening came, and no boats appeared. Despondency began again to seize our men, and then a spirit of insubordination manifested itself in cries of rage. The voice of the officers was entirely disregarded. Night fell rapidly in, the sky was obscured by dark clouds; the wind which, during the whole of the day, had blown rather violently, became furious and swelled the sea, which in an instant became very rough.
The preceding night had been frightful, but this was still more so. Mountains of water covered us at every instant, and burst with fury into the midst of us. Very fortunately we had the wind from behind, and the strength of the sea was a little broken by the rapidity with which we were driven before it. We were impelled towards the land. The men, from the violence of the sea, were hurried from the back to the front; we were obliged to keep to the centre, the firmest part of the raft, and those who could not get there almost all perished. Before and behind the waves dashed impetuously, and swept away the men in spite of all their resistance. At the centre the pressure was such, that some unfortunates were suffocate[Pg 174] by the weight of their comrades, who fell upon them at every instant. The officers kept by the foot of the little mast, and were obliged every moment to call to those around them to go to the one or the other side to avoid the wave; for the sea coming nearly athwart us, gave our raft nearly a perpendicular position, to counteract which they were forced to throw themselves upon the side raised by the sea.
The soldiers and sailors, frightened by the presence of almost inevitable danger, doubted not that they had reached their last hour. Firmly believing they were lost, they resolved to soothe their last moments by drinking till they lost their reason. We had no power to oppose this disorder. They seized a cask which was in the centre of the raft, made a hole in the end of it, and, with small tin cups, took each a pretty large quantity; but they were obliged to cease, for the sea-water rushed into the hole they had made. The fumes of the wine failed not to disorder their brains, already weakened by the presence of danger and want of food. Thus excited, these men became deaf to the voice of reason. They wished to involve, in one common ruin, all their companions in misfortune. They avowedly expressed their intention of freeing themselves from their officers, who, they said, wished to oppose their design; and then to destroy the raft, by cutting the ropes which united its different parts. Immediately after, they resolved to put their plans in execution. One of them advanced upon the side of the raft with a boarding-axe, and began to cut the cords. This was the signal of revolt. We stepped forward to prevent these insane mortals, and he who was armed with the hatchet, with which he even threatened an officer, fell the first victim; a stroke of a sabre terminated his existence.
This man was an Asiatic, and a soldier in a colonial regiment. Of a colossal stature, short hair, a nose extremely large, an enormous mouth, dark complexion, he made a most hideous appearance. At first he had placed himself in the middle of the raft, and, at each blow of his fist, knocked down every one who opposed him; he inspired the greatest terror, and none durst approach him. Had there been six such, our destruction would have been certain.
Some men, anxious to prolong their existence, armed and united themselves with those who wished to preserve[Pg 175] the raft; among this number were some subaltern officers and many passengers. The rebels drew their sabres, and those who had none armed themselves with knives. They advanced in a determined manner upon us; we stood on our defence; the attack commenced. Animated by despair, one of them aimed a stroke at an officer; the rebel instantly fell, pierced with wounds. This firmness awed them for an instant, but diminished nothing of their rage. They ceased to advance, and withdrew, presenting to us a front bristling with sabres and bayonets, to the back part of the raft to execute their plan. One of them feigned to rest himself on the small railings on the sides of the raft, and with a knife began cutting the cords. Being told by a servant, one of us sprung upon him. A soldier, wishing to defend him, struck at the officer with his knife, which only pierced his coat; the officer wheeled round, seized his adversary, and threw both him and his comrade into the sea.
There had been as yet but partial affairs: the combat became general. Some one cried to lower the sail; a crowd of infuriated mortals threw themselves in an instant upon the haulyards, the shrouds, and cut them. The fall of the mast almost broke the thigh of a captain of infantry, who fell insensible. He was seized by the soldiers, who threw him into the sea. We saved him, and placed him on a barrel, whence he was taken by the rebels, who wished to put out his eyes with a penknife. Exasperated by so much brutality, we no longer restrained ourselves, but rushed in upon them, and charged them with fury. Sword in hand we traversed the line which the soldiers formed, and many paid with their lives the errors of their revolt. Various passengers, during these cruel moments, evinced the greatest courage and coolness.
M. Corréard fell into a sort of swoon; but hearing at every instant the cries, To arms! with us, comrades; we are lost! joined with the groans and imprecations of the wounded and dying, was soon roused from his lethargy. All this horrible tumult speedily made him comprehend how necessary it was to be upon his guard. Armed with his sabre, he gathered together some of his workmen on the front of the raft, and there charged them to hurt no one, unless they were attacked. He almost always remained with them; and several times they had to defend themselves against the rebels, who, swimming round to[Pg 176] the point of the raft, placed M. Corréard and his little troop between two dangers, and made their position very difficult to defend. At every instant he was opposed to men armed with knives, sabres, and bayonets. Many had carabines which they wielded as clubs. Every effort was made to stop them, by holding them off at the point of their swords; but, in spite of the repugnance they experienced in fighting with their wretched countrymen, they were compelled to use their arms without mercy. Many of the mutineers attacked with fury, and they were obliged to repel them in the same manner. Some of the labourers received severe wounds in this action. Their commander could show a great number received in the different engagements. At last their united efforts prevailed in dispersing this mass who had attacked them with such fury.
During this combat, M. Corréard was told by one of his workmen who remained faithful, that one of their comrades, named Dominique, had gone over to the rebels, and that they had seized and thrown him into the sea. Immediately forgetting the fault and treason of this man, he threw himself in at the place whence the voice of the wretch was heard calling for assistance, seized him by the hair, and had the good fortune to restore him on board. Dominique had got several sabre wounds in a charge, one of which had laid open his head. In spite of the darkness we found out the wound, which seemed very large. One of the workmen gave his handkerchief to bind and stop the blood. Our care recovered the wretch; but, when he had collected strength, the ungrateful Dominique, forgetting at once his duty and the signal service which we had rendered him, went and rejoined the rebels. So much baseness and insanity did not go unrevenged; and soon after he found, in a fresh assault, that death from which he was not worthy to be saved, but which he might in all probability have avoided, if, true to honour and gratitude, he had remained among us.
Just at the moment we finished dressing the wounds of Dominique, another voice was heard. It was that of the unfortunate female who was with us on the raft, and whom the infuriated beings had thrown into the sea, as well as her husband, who had defended her with courage. M. Corréard, in despair at seeing two unfortunates perish; whose pitiful cries, especially the woman's, pierced his[Pg 177] heart, seized a large rope which he found on the front of the raft, which he fastened round his middle, and throwing himself a second time into the sea, was again so fortunate as to save the woman, who invoked, with all her might, the assistance of our Lady of Land. Her husband was rescued at the same time by the head workman, Lavilette. We laid these unfortunates upon the dead bodies, supporting their backs with a barrel. In a short while they recovered their senses. The first thing the woman did was to acquaint herself with the name of the person who saved her, and to express to him her liveliest gratitude. Finding, doubtless, that her words but ill expressed her feelings, she recollected she had in her pocket a little snuff, and instantly offered it to him,—it was all she possessed. Touched with the gift, but unable to use it, M. Corréard gave it to a poor sailor, which served him for three or four days. But it is impossible for us to describe a still more affecting scene,—the joy this unfortunate couple testified, when they had sufficiently recovered their senses, at finding they were both saved.
The rebels being repulsed, as it has been stated above, left us a little repose. The moon lighted with her melancholy rays this disastrous raft, this narrow space, on which were found united so many torturing anxieties, so many cruel misfortunes, a madness so insensate, a courage so heroic, and the most generous—the most amiable sentiments of nature and humanity.
The man and wife, who had been but a little before stabbed with swords and bayonets, and thrown both together into a stormy sea, could scarcely credit their senses when they found themselves in one another's arms. The woman was a native of the Upper Alps, which place she had left twenty-four years before, and during which time she had followed the French armies in the campaigns in Italy, and other places, as a sutler. "Therefore preserve my life," said she to M. Corréard, "you see I am an useful woman. Ah! if you knew how often I have ventured upon the field of battle, and braved death to carry assistance to our gallant men. Whether they had money or not, I always let them have my goods. Sometimes a battle would deprive me of my poor debtors, but after the victory, others would pay me double or triple for what they had consumed before the engagement. Thus I came[Pg 178] in for a share of their victories." Unfortunate woman! she little knew what a horrible fate awaited her among us! They felt, they expressed so vividly that happiness which they alas so shortly enjoyed, that it would have drawn tears from the most obdurate heart. But in that horrible moment, when we scarcely breathed from the most furious attack,—when we were obliged to be continually on our guard, not only against the violence of the men, but a most boisterous sea, few among us had time to attend to scenes of conjugal affection.
After this second check, the rage of the soldiers was suddenly appeased, and gave place to the most abject cowardice. Several threw themselves at our feet, and implored our pardon, which was instantly granted. Thinking that order was reestablished, we returned to our station on the centre of the raft, only taking the precaution of keeping our arms. We, however, had soon to prove the impossibility of counting on the permanence of any honest sentiment in the hearts of these beings.
It was nearly midnight; and after an hour of apparent tranquillity, the soldiers rose afresh. Their mind was entirely gone; they ran upon us in despair with knives and sabres in their hands. As they yet had all their physical strength, and besides were armed, we were obliged again to stand on our defence. Their revolt became still more dangerous, as, in their delirium, they were entirely deaf to the voice of reason. They attacked us, we charged them in our turn, and immediately the raft was strewed with their dead bodies. Those of our adversaries who had no weapons endeavoured to tear us with their sharp teeth. Many of us were cruelly bitten. M. Savigny was torn on the legs and the shoulder; he also received a wound on the right arm, which deprived him of the use of his fourth and little finger for a long while. Many others were wounded; and many cuts were found in our clothes from knives and sabres.
One of our workmen was also seized by four of the rebels, who wished to throw him into the sea. One of them had laid hold of his right leg, and had bit most unmercifully the tendon above the heel; others were striking him with great slashes of their sabres, and with the butt end of their guns, when his cries made us hasten to his assistance. In this affair, the brave Lavilette, ex-serjeant of the[Pg 179] foot artillery of the Old Guard, behaved with a courage worthy of the greatest praise. He rushed upon the infuriated beings in the manner of M. Corréard, and soon snatched the workman from the danger which menaced him. Some short while after, in a fresh attack of the rebels, sub-lieutenant Lozach fell into their hands. In their delirium, they had taken him for Lieutenant Danglas,17 of whom we have formerly spoken, and who had abandoned the raft at the moment when we were quitting the frigate. The troop, to a man, eagerly sought this officer, who had seen little service, and whom they reproached for having used them ill during the time they garrisoned the Isle of Rhé. We believed this officer lost, but hearing his voice, we soon found it still possible to save him. Immediately MM. Clairet, Savigny, L'Heureux, Lavilette, Coudin, Corréard, and some workmen, formed themselves into small platoons, and rushed upon the insurgents with great impetuosity, overturning every one in their way, and retook M. Lozach, and placed him on the centre of the raft.
17 Danglas had gone upon the raft at first, on which his post had been assigned; "but when he saw the danger which he ran upon this frightful machine, he instantly quitted it on pretence of having forgot something on board, and never returned."—Trans.
The preservation of this officer cost us infinite difficulty. Every moment the soldiers demanded he should be delivered to them, designating him always by the name of Danglas. We endeavoured to make them comprehend their mistake, and told them that they themselves had seen the person for whom they sought return on board the frigate. They were insensible to every thing we said; every thing before them was Danglas; they saw him perpetually, and furiously and unceasingly demanded his head. It was only by force of arms we succeeded in repressing their rage, and quieting their dreadful cries of death.
Horrible night! thou shrouded with thy gloomy veil these frightful combats, over which presided the cruel demon of despair.
We had also to tremble for the life of M. Coudin. Wounded and fatigued by the attacks which he had sus[Pg 180]tained with us, and in which he had shown a courage superior to every thing, he was resting himself on a barrel, holding in his arms a young sailor boy of twelve years of age, to whom he had attached himself. The mutineers seized him with his barrel, and threw him into the sea with the boy, whom he still held fast. In spite of his burden, he had the presence of mind to lay hold of the raft, and to save himself from this extreme peril.
We cannot yet comprehend how a handful of men should have been able to resist such a number so monstrously insane. We are sure we were not more than twenty to combat all these madmen. Let it not, however, be imagined, that in the midst of all these dangers we had preserved our reason entire. Fear, anxiety, and the most cruel privations, had greatly changed our intellectual faculties. But being somewhat less insane than the unfortunate soldiers, we energetically opposed their determination of cutting the cords of the raft. Permit us now to make some observations concerning the different sensations with which we were affected.
During the first day, M. Griffon entirely lost his senses. He threw himself into the sea, but M. Savigny saved him with his own hands. His words were vague and unconnected. A second time he threw himself in, but, by a sort of instinct, kept hold of the cross pieces of the raft, and was again saved.
The following is what M. Savigny experienced in the beginning of the night. His eyes closed in spite of himself, and he felt a general drowsiness. In this condition the most delightful visions flitted across his imagination. He saw around him a country covered with the most beautiful plantations, and found himself in the midst of objects delightful to his senses. Nevertheless, he reasoned concerning his condition, and felt that courage alone could withdraw him from this species of non-existence. He demanded some wine from the master-gunner, who got it for him, and he recovered a little from this state of stupor. If the unfortunates who were assailed with these primary symptoms had not strength to withstand them, their death was certain. Some became furious; others threw themselves into the sea, bidding farewell to their comrades with the utmost coolness. Some said—"Fear nothing; I am going to get you assistance, and will re[Pg 181]turn in a short while." In the midst of this general madness, some wretches were seen rushing upon their companions, sword in hand, demanding a wing of a chicken and some bread to appease the hunger which consumed them; others asked for their hammocks to go, they said, between the decks of the frigate to take a little repose. Many believed they were still on the deck of the Medusa, surrounded by the same objects they there saw daily. Some saw ships, and called to them for assistance, or a fine harbour, in the distance of which was an elegant city. M. Corréard thought he was travelling through the beautiful fields of Italy. An officer said to him—"I recollect we have been abandoned by the boats; but fear nothing. I am going to write to the governor, and in a few hours we shall be saved." M. Corréard replied in the same tone, and as if he had been in his ordinary condition.—"Have you a pigeon to carry your orders with such celerity?" The cries and the confusion soon roused us from this languor; but when tranquillity was somewhat restored, we again fell into the same drowsy condition. On the morrow, we felt as if we had awoke from a painful dream, and asked at our companions, if, during their sleep, they had not seen combats, and heard cries of despair. Some replied, that the same visions had continually tormented them, and that they were exhausted with fatigue. Every one believed he was deceived by the illusions of a horrible dream.
After these different combats, overcome with toil, with want of food and sleep, we laid ourselves down and reposed till the morrow dawned, and showed us the horror of the scene. A great number in their delirium had thrown themselves into the sea. We found that sixty or sixty-five had perished during the night. A fourth part at least, we supposed, had drowned themselves in despair. We only lost two of our own numbers, neither of whom were officers. The deepest dejection was painted on every face; each, having recovered himself, could now feel the horrors of his situation; and some of us, shedding tears of despair, bitterly deplored the rigour of our fate.
A new misfortune was now revealed to us. During the tumult, the rebels had thrown into the sea two barrels of wine, and the only two casks of water which we had upon the raft. Two casks of wine had been consumed the day before, and only one was left. We were more[Pg 182] than sixty in number, and we were obliged to put ourselves on half rations.
At break of day, the sea calmed, which permitted us again to erect our mast. When it was replaced, we made a distribution of wine. The unhappy soldiers murmured and blamed us for privations which we equally endured with them. They fell exhausted. We had taken nothing for forty-eight hours, and we had been obliged to struggle continually against a strong sea. We could, like them, hardly support ourselves; courage alone made us still act. We resolved to employ every possible means to catch fish, and, collecting all the hooks and eyes from the soldiers, made fish-hooks of them, but all was of no avail. The currents carried our lines under the raft, where they got entangled. We bent a bayonet to catch sharks; one bit at it, and straightened it, and we abandoned our project. Something was absolutely necessary to sustain our miserable existence, and we tremble with horror at being obliged to tell that of which we made use. We feel our pen fall from our hands: a mortal cold congeals all our members, and our hair bristles erect on our foreheads. Readers! we implore you, feel not indignant towards men already overloaded with misery. Pity their condition, and shed a tear of sorrow for their deplorable fate.
The wretches, whom death had spared during the disastrous night we have described, seized upon the dead bodies with which the raft was covered, cutting them up by slices, which some even instantly devoured. Many nevertheless refrained. Almost all the officers were of this number. Seeing that this monstrous food had revived the strength of those who had used it, it was proposed to dry it, to make it a little more palatable. Those who had firmness to abstain from it, took an additional quantity of wine. We endeavoured to eat shoulder-belts and cartouch-boxes, and contrived to swallow some small bits of them. Some eat linen: others the leathers of the hats, on which was a little grease, or rather dirt. We had recourse to many expedients to prolong our miserable existence, to recount which would only disgust the heart of humanity.
The day was calm and beautiful. A ray of hope beamed for a moment to quiet our agitation. We still expected to see the boats or some ships, and addressed our prayers[Pg 183] to the Eternal, on whom we placed our trust. The half of our men were extremely feeble, and bore upon their faces the stamp of approaching dissolution. The evening arrived, and we found no help. The darkness of the third night augmented our fears, but the wind was still, and the sea less agitated. The sun of the fourth morning since our departure shone upon our disaster, and showed us ten or twelve of our companions stretched lifeless upon the raft. This sight struck us most forcibly, as it told us we would be soon extended in the same manner in the same place. We gave their bodies to the sea for a grave, reserving only one to feed those who, but the day before, had held his trembling hands, and sworn to him eternal friendship. This day was beautiful. Our souls, anxious for more delightful sensations, were in harmony with the aspect of the heavens, and got again a new ray of hope. Towards four in the afternoon, an unlooked for event happened which gave us some consolation. A shoal of flying fish passed under our raft, and as there were an infinite number of openings between the pieces which composed it, the fish were entangled in great quantities. We threw ourselves upon them, and captured a considerable number. We took about two hundred and put them in an empty barrel; we opened them as we caught them, and took out what is called their milt. This food seemed delicious; but one man would have required a thousand.18 Our first emotion was to give to God renewed thanks for this unhoped for favour.
18 These fish are very small, the largest not equal in size to a small herring.
An ounce of gunpowder having been found in the morning, was dried in the sun during the day, which was very fine; a steel, gun-flints, and tinder made also a part of the same parcel. After a good deal of difficulty we set fire to some fragments of dry linen. We made a large opening in the side of an empty cask, and placed at the bottom of it several wet things, and upon this kind of scaffolding we set our fire; all of which we placed on a barrel that the sea-water might not extinguish it. We cooked some fish and eat them with extreme avidity; but our hunger was such, and our portion so small, that we added to it some of the sacrilegious viands, which the [Pg 184]cooking rendered less revolting. This some of the officers touched for the first time. From this day we continued to eat it; but we could no longer dress it, the means of making a fire having been entirely lost; the barrel having caught fire we extinguished it without being able to preserve anything to rekindle it on the morrow. The powder and tinder were entirely done. This meal gave us all additional strength to support our fatigues. The night was tolerable, and would have been happy, had it not been signalized by a new massacre.
Some Spaniards, Italians, and negroes, had formed a plot to throw us all into the sea. The negroes had told them that they were very near the shore, and that, when there, they would enable them to traverse Africa without danger. We had to take to our arms again, the sailors, who had remained faithful to us, pointing out to us the conspirators. The first signal for battle was given by a Spaniard, who, placing himself behind the mast, holding fast by it, made the sign of the Cross with one hand, invoking the name of God, and with the other held a knife. The sailors seized him and threw him into the sea. An Italian, servant to an officer of the troops, who was in the plot, seeing all was discovered, armed himself with the only boarding axe left on the raft, made his retreat to the front, enveloped himself in a piece of drapery he wore across his breast, and of his own accord threw himself into the sea. The rebels rushed forward to avenge their comrades; a terrible conflict again commenced; both sides fought with desperate fury; and soon the fatal raft was strewed with dead bodies and blood, which should have been shed by other hands, and in another cause. In this tumult we heard them again demanding, with horrid rage, the head of Lieut. Danglas! In this assault the unfortunate sutler was a second time thrown into the sea. M. Coudin, assisted by some workmen, saved her, to prolong for a little while her torments and her existence.
In this terrible night Lavillette failed not to give proofs of the rarest intrepidity. It was to him and some of these who have survived the sequel of our misfortunes, that we owed our safety. At last, after unheard of efforts, the rebels were once more repulsed, and quiet restored. Having escaped this new danger, we endeavoured to get some repose. The day at length dawned upon us for the fifth time.[Pg 185] We were now no more than thirty in number. We had lost four or five of our faithful sailors, and those who survived were in the most deplorable condition. The sea-water had almost entirely excoriated the skin of our lower extremities; we were covered with contusions or wounds, which, irritated by the salt water, extorted from us the most piercing cries. About twenty of us only were capable of standing upright or walking. Almost all our fish was exhausted; we had but four days' supply of wine: in four days, said we, nothing will be left, and death will be inevitable. Thus came the seventh day of our abandonment. In the course of the day two soldiers had glided behind the only barrel of wine that was left; pierced it, and were drinking by means of a reed. We had sworn that those who used such means should be punished with death; which law was instantly put in execution, and the two transgressors were thrown into the sea.
This same day saw the close of the life of a child named Leon, aged twelve years. He died like a lamp which ceases to burn for want of aliment. All spoke in favour of this young and amiable creature, who merited a better fate. His angelic form, his musical voice, the interest of an age so tender, increased still more by the courage he had shown, and the services he had performed, for he had already made in the preceding year a campaign in the East Indies, inspired us all with the greatest pity for this young victim, devoted to so horrible and premature a death. Our old soldiers and all our people in general did every thing they could to prolong his existence, but all was in vain. Neither the wine which they gave him without regret, nor all the means they employed, could arrest his melancholy doom, and he expired, in the arms of M. Coudin, who had not ceased to give him the most unwearied attention. Whilst he had strength to move, he ran incessantly from one side to the other, loudly calling for his unhappy mother, for water and food. He trode indiscriminately on the feet and legs of his companions in misfortune, who, in their turn, uttered sorrowful cries, but these were very rarely accompanied with menaces; they pardoned all which the poor boy had made them suffer. He was not in his senses, consequently could not be expected to behave as if he had had the use of his reason.
There now remained but twenty-seven of us. Fifteen[Pg 186] of that number seemed able to live yet some days; the rest, covered with large wounds, had almost entirely lost the use of their reason. They still, however, shared in the distributions, and would, before they died, consume thirty or forty bottles of wine, which to us were inestimable. We deliberated, that by putting the sick on half allowance was but putting them to death by halves; but after a counsel, at which presided the most dreadful despair, it was decided they should be thrown into the sea. This means, however repugnant, however horrible it appeared to us, procured the survivors six days' wine. But after the decision was made, who durst execute it? The habit of seeing death ready to devour us; the certainty of our infallible destruction without this monstrous expedient; all, in short, had hardened our hearts to every feeling but that of self-preservation. Three sailors and a soldier took charge of this cruel business. We looked aside and shed tears of blood at the fate of these unfortunates. Among them were the wretched Sutler and her husband. Both had been grievously wounded in the different combats. The woman had a thigh broken between the beams of the raft, and a stroke of a sabre had made a deep wound in the head of her husband. Every thing announced their approaching end. We console ourselves with the belief that our cruel resolution shortened but a brief space the term of their existence. Ye who shudder at the cry of outraged humanity, recollect, that it was other men, fellow-countrymen, comrades, who had placed us in this awful situation!
This horrible expedient saved the fifteen who remained; for when we were found by the Argus brig, we had very little wine left, and it was the sixth day after the cruel sacrifice we have described. The victims, we repeat, had not more than forty-eight hours to live, and by keeping them on the raft, we would have been absolutely destitute of the means of existence two days before we were found. Weak as we were, we considered it as a certain thing, that it would have been impossible for us to have lived only twenty-four hours more without taking some food. After this catastrophe, we threw our arms into the sea; they inspired us with a horror we could not overcome. We only kept one sabre, in case we had to cut some cordage or some piece of wood.
A new event, for every thing was an event to wretches[Pg 187] to whom the world was reduced to the narrow space of a few toises, and for whom the winds and waves contended in their fury as they floated above the abyss; an event happened which diverted our minds from the horrors of our situation. All on a sudden a white butterfly, of a species common in France, came fluttering above our heads, and settled on our sail. The first thought this little creature suggested was, that it was the harbinger of approaching land, and we clung to the hope with a delirium of joy. It was the ninth day we had been upon the raft; the torments of hunger consumed our entrails; and the soldiers and sailors already devoured with haggard eyes this wretched prey, and seemed ready to dispute about it. Others looking upon it as a messenger from Heaven, declared that they took it under their protection, and would suffer none to do it harm. It is certain we could not be far from land, for the butterflies continued to come on the following days, and flutter about our sail. We had also on the same day another indication not less positive, by a Goéland which flew around our raft. This second visitor left us not a doubt that we were fast approaching the African soil, and we persuaded ourselves we would be speedily thrown upon the coast by the force of the currents.
This same day a new care employed us. Seeing we were reduced to so small a number, we collected all the little strength we had left, detached some planks on the front of the raft, and, with some pretty long pieces of wood, raised on the centre a kind of platform, on which we reposed. All the effects we could collect were placed upon it, and rendered to make it less hard; which also prevented the sea from passing with such facility through the spaces between the different planks, but the waves came across, and sometimes covered us completely.
On this new theatre we resolved to meet death in a manner becoming Frenchmen, and with perfect resignation. Our time was almost wholly spent in speaking of our unhappy country. All our wishes, our last prayers, were for the prosperity of France. Thus passed the last days of our abode upon the Raft.
Soon after our abandonment, we bore with comparative ease the immersions during the nights, which are very cold in these countries; but latterly, every time the waves[Pg 188] washed over us, we felt a most painful sensation, and we uttered plaintive cries. We employed every means to avoid it. Some supported their heads on pieces of wood, and made with what they could find a sort of little parapet to screen them from the force of the waves; others sheltered themselves behind two empty casks. But these means were very insufficient; it was only when the sea was calm that it did not break over us.
An ardent thirst, redoubled in the day by the beams of a burning sun, consumed us. An officer of the army found by chance a small lemon, and it may be easily imagined how valuable such a fruit would be to him. His comrades, in spite of the most urgent entreaties, could not get a bit of it from him. Signs of rage were already manifested, and had he not partly listened to the solicitations of those around him, they would have taken it by force, and he would have perished the victim of his selfishness. We also disputed about thirty clover of garlic which were found in the bottom of a sack. These disputes were for the most part accompanied with violent menaces, and if they had been prolonged, we might perhaps have come to the last extremities. There was found also two small phials, in which was a spirituous liquid for cleaning the teeth. He who possessed them kept them with care, and gave with reluctance one or two drops in the palm of the hand. This liquor which, we think, was a tincture of guiacum, cinnamon, cloves, and other aromatic substances, produced on our tongues an agreeable feeling, and for a short while removed the thirst which destroyed us. Some of us found some small pieces of powder, which made, when put into the mouth, a kind of coolness. One plan generally employed was to put into a hat a quantity of sea-water, with which we washed our faces for a while, repeating it at intervals. We also bathed our hair, and held our hands in the water.19 Misfortune made us[Pg 189] ingenious, and each thought of a thousand means to alleviate his sufferings. Emaciated by the most cruel privations, the least agreeable feeling was to us a happiness supreme. Thus we sought with avidity a small empty phial which one of us possessed, and in which had once been some essence of roses; and every one as he got hold of it respired with delight the odour it exhaled, which imparted to his senses the most soothing impressions. Many of us kept our ration of wine in a small tin cup, and sucked it out with a quill. This manner of taking it was of great benefit to us, and allayed our thirst much better than if we had gulped it of at once.
19 People in a similar situation as that described here, have found great benefit by soaking their clothes in the sea, and then dressing themselves with them. This means was not resorted to by the sufferers on the fatal raft.
Mungo Park when much afflicted by thirst in the Desert, found great relief by keeping a pebble in his mouth.—Trans.
Three days passed in inexpressible anguish. So much did we despise life, that many of us feared not to bathe in sight of the sharks which surrounded our raft; others placed themselves naked upon the front of our machine, which was under water. These expedients diminished a little the ardour of their thirst. A species of molusca, known to seamen by the name of gatère, was sometimes driven in great numbers on our raft; and when their long arms rested on our naked bodies, they occasioned us the most cruel sufferings. Will it be believed, that admist these terrible scenes, struggling with inevitable death, some of us uttered pleasantries which made us yet smile, in spite of the horrors of our situation? One, besides others, said jestingly, "If the brig is sent to search for us, pray God it has the eyes of Argus," in allusion to the name of the vessel we presumed would be sent to our assistance. This consolatory idea never left us an instant, and we spoke of it frequently.
On the 16th, reckoning we were very near land, eight of the most determined among us resolved to endeavour to gain the coast. A second raft, of smaller dimensions, was formed for transporting them thither; but it was found insufficient, and they at length determined to await death in their present situation. Meanwhile night came on, and its sombre veil revived in our minds the most afflicting thoughts. We were convinced there were not above a dozen or fifteen bottles of wine in our barrel. We began to have an invincible disgust at the flesh which had till then scarcely supported us; and we may say, that the sight of it inspired us with feelings of horror, doubtless produced by the idea of our approaching destruction.[Pg 190] On the morning of the 17th, the sun appeared free from clouds. After having addressed our prayers to the Eternal, we divided among us a part of our wine. Each, with delight, was taking his small portion, when a captain of infantry, casting his eyes on the horizon, perceived a ship, and announced it to us by an exclamation of joy. We knew it to be a brig, but it was at a great distance; we could only distinguish the masts. The sight of this vessel revived in us emotions difficult to describe. Each believed his deliverance sure, and we gave a thousand thanks to God. Fears, however, mingled with our hopes. We straightened some hoops of casks, to the ends of which we fixed handkerchiefs of different colours. A man, with our united assistance, mounted to the top of the mast, and waved these little flags. For more than half an hour, we were tossed between hope and fear. Some thought the vessel grew larger, and others were convinced its course was from us. These last were the only ones whose eyes were not blinded by hope, for the ship disappeared.
From the delirium of joy, we passed to that of despondency and sorrow. We envied the fate of those whom we had seen perish at our sides; and we said to ourselves, "When we shall be in want of every thing, and when our strength begins to forsake us, we will wrap ourselves up as well as we can, we will stretch ourselves on this platform, the witness of the most cruel sufferings, and there await death with resignation." At length, to calm our despair, we sought for consolation in the arms of sleep. The day before, we had been scorched by the beams of a burning sun; to-day, to avoid the fierceness of his rays, we made a tent with the main-sail of the frigate. As soon as it was finished, we laid ourselves under it; thus all that was passing without was hid from our eyes. We proposed then to write upon a plank an abridgement of our adventures, and to add our names at the bottom of the recital, and fix it to the upper part of the mast, in the hope it would reach the government and our families.
After having passed two hours, a prey to the most cruel reflections, the master gunner of the frigate, wishing to go to the front of the raft, went out from below the tent. Scarcely had he put out his head, when he turned to us, uttering a piercing cry. Joy was painted upon his face; his hands were stretched towards the sea; he breathed[Pg 191] with difficulty. All he was able to say was: "Saved! see the brig upon us!" and in fact it was not more than half a league distant, having every sail set, and steering right upon us. We rushed from our tent; even those whom enormous wounds in their inferior extremities had confined for many days, dragged themselves to the back of the raft, to enjoy a sight of the ship which had come to save us from certain death. We embraced one another with a transport which looked much like madness, and tears of joy trickled down our cheeks, withered by the most cruel privations. Each seized handkerchiefs, or some pieces of linen, to make signals to the brig, which was rapidly approaching us. Some fell on their knees, and fervently returned thanks to Providence for this miraculous preservation of their lives. Our joy redoubled when we saw at the top of the fore-mast a large white flag, and we cried, "It is then to Frenchmen we will owe our deliverance." We instantly recognised the brig to be the Argus; it was then about two gun-shots from us. We were terribly impatient to see her reef her sails, which at last she did, and fresh cries of joy arose from our raft. The Argus came and lay-to on our starboard, about half a pistol-shot from us. The crew, ranged upon the deck and on the shrouds, announced to us, by the waving of their hands and hats, the pleasure they felt at coming to the assistance of their unfortunate countrymen. In a short time we were all transported on board the brig, where we found the lieutenant of the frigate, and some others who had been wrecked with us. Compassion was painted on every face; and pity drew tears from every eye which beheld us.
We found some excellent broth on board the brig, which they had prepared, and when they had perceived us they added to it some wine, and thus restored our nearly exhausted strength. They bestowed on us the most generous care and attention; our wounds were dressed, and on the morrow many of our sick began to revive. Some, however, still suffered much, for they were placed between decks, very near the kitchen, which augmented the almost insupportable heat of these latitudes. This want of space arose from the small size of the vessel. The number of the shipwrecked was indeed very considerable. Those who did not belong to the navy were laid upon cables, wrapped in flags, and placed under the fire of the kitchen.[Pg 192] Here they had almost perished during the course of the night, fire having broken out between decks about ten in the evening; but timely assistance being rendered, we were saved for the second time. We had scarcely escaped when some of us became again delirious. An officer of infantry wished to throw himself into the sea, to look for his pocket-book, and would have done it had he not been prevented. Others were seized in a manner not less frenzied.
The commander and officers of the brig watched over us, and kindly anticipated our wants. They snatched us from death, by saving us from our raft; their unremitting care revived within us the spark of life. The surgeon of the ship, M. Renaud, distinguished himself for his indefatigable zeal. He was obliged to spend the whole of the day in dressing our wounds; and during the two days we were on the brig, he bestowed on us all the aid of his art, with an attention and gentleness which merit our eternal gratitude.
In truth, it was time we should find an end of our sufferings; they had lasted thirteen days, in the most cruel manner. The strongest among us might have lived forty-eight hours, or so, longer. M. Corréard felt that he must die in the course of the day; he had, however, a presentiment we would be saved. He said, that a series of events so unheard of would not be buried in oblivion; that Providence would at least preserve some of us to tell to the world the melancholy story of our misfortunes.
Such is the faithful history of those who were left upon the memorable raft. Of one hundred and fifty, fifteen only were saved. Five of that number never recovered their fatigue, and died at St Louis. Those who yet live are covered with scars; and the cruel sufferings to which they have been exposed, have materially shaken their constitution.—Naufrage de la Frégate la Meduse; par A. Corréard et J. B. H. Savigny. Seconde Edition. Paris, 8vo. 1818.[Pg 193]
Note A, p. 100.
In preparing their corn for food, the natives use a large wooden mortar called a paloon, in which they bruise the seed until it parts with the outer covering, or husk, which is then separated from the clean corn, by exposing it to the wind, nearly in the same manner as wheat is cleaned from the chaff in England. The corn thus freed from the husk, is returned to the mortar, and beaten into meal; which is dressed variously in different countries; but the most common preparation of it among the nations of the Gambia, is a sort of pudding, which they call kouskous. It is made by first moistening the flour with water, and then stirring and shaking it about in a large calabash, or gourd, till it adheres together in small granules, resembling sago. It is then put into an earthen pot, whose bottom is perforated with a number of holes; and this pot being placed upon another, the two vessels are luted together, either with a paste of meal and water, or cow-dung, and placed upon the fire. In the lower vessel is commonly some animal food and water, the steam or vapour of which ascends through the perforations in the bottom of the upper vessel, and softens and prepares the kouskous, which is very much esteemed throughout all the countries that I visited. I am informed, that the same manner of preparing flour is very generally used on the Barbary coast, and that the dish so prepared is there so called by the same name. It is therefore probable, that the Negroes borrowed the practise from the Moors.
For gratifying a taste for variety, another sort of pud[Pg 194]ding, called realing, is sometimes prepared from the meal of corn; and they have also adopted two or three different modes of dressing their rice. Of vegetable food, therefore, the natives have no want; and although the common class of people are but sparingly supplied with animal food, yet this article is not wholly withheld from them.—Park's Travels, in 1795, 1796, and 1797, pp. 10, 11. Lond. 1799, 4to.
Note B, p. 103.
I cannot withhold the following notice of the worthy Major's death, extracted from a work lately published, entitled Travels, in Western Africa, in the years 1818, 1819, 1820 and 1821, by Major William Gray. Lond. 1825, 8vo.
"On that day (24th December) Major Peddie was attacked with a violent fever, from which he experienced little relief until the morning of the 1st of January 1817, when, thinking himself better, he left his bed, but was soon obliged to resume it, and in a few hours breathed his last.
"This was a sad commencement of the new year, and the melancholy event cast a heavy gloom on the minds of every individual connected with the expedition. It made so deep an impression on some, that it was with much difficulty they could be prevailed on not to abandon the enterprise. Never was a man more sincerely beloved, nor more truly regretted, by all who knew him. His remains were deposited, amidst the heartfelt regrets of his friends and companions, on the following day, in the court-yard of Mr Beatman, under the shade of two orange-trees; and an appropriate epitaph, written by Captain Campbell, and carved on a slab of native mahogany, was placed on his grave." pp. 67.
Note C, p. 108.
When we had reached the other side of the river, they drew the piroque on land. This is the only way that the people of the country have to secure their little boats, which the surge would instantly fill, when they cannot cast anchor at a sufficient distance from the shore.[Pg 195]
This manœuvre did not occupy a long time, and I bent my steps to the village of Sor. I was kindly welcomed as usual; and I requested them to point out to me the best place for hunting; for I had that day left my interpreter, because I had gained a sufficient knowledge of the language of the country to understand all that the negroes said to me, and to make myself understood by them. They led me in a direction whence I had seen a troop of antelopes scamper off; but I thought no more of the chase after I had seen a tree, the enormous dimensions of which completely rivetted my attention. It was a calabash tree, otherwise called the monkey-bread tree, which the Woloffs call goui in their language. Its height was nothing extraordinary, being but about sixty feet; but its trunk was of prodigious dimensions. I spanned it thirteen times with my arms stretched out, but it was more; and, for greater exactness, I at last measured it with twine, and found its circumference to be sixty-five feet, its diameter consequently nearly twenty-two feet. I believe there has never been any thing seen equal to it in any country; and, I am persuaded that, had our ancient travellers known it, they would not have failed to have included it among the wonders of the world. It is also very astonishing that this tree has been totally neglected by those who have given us the history of Senegal, especially as there are but few common to the country.
The trunk of the one which I saw was twenty-two feet in diameter, about eight or twelve feet in height, with many branches, some of which stretched out horizontally, and touched the ground with their tops. These were very large, some being about forty-five or fifty-five feet in length. Each branch would have made one of the largest trees in Europe; and the tout ensemble of the monkey-bread tree looked less like a single tree than a forest. This was not all. The negro who conducted me took me to a second, which was sixty-three feet in circumference, that is twenty-one feet in diameter, and appeared to be about one hundred and ten feet in length, without counting the root which was concealed under the waters of a neighbouring river, the depth of which I had no means of ascertaining. The same negro told me of a third which was not far from the place where we were, and added that, without leaving the island, I would see a great many more[Pg 196] which were not much inferior in size, pp. 54, 55.—Histoire Naturelle du Sénégal; avec le Relation abrégée d'un Voyage fait en ce Pays, pendant les années, 1749, 1750, 1751, 1752 and 1753. Par M. Adanson, Correspondant de l'Academie Royale des Sciences, Paris, 1757, 4to.
It was night before we reached Cogné. Our route was bordered with gum-trees, the yellow flowers of which, arranged in circular bunches, spread a delicious perfume. We also saw some rates. The bark of this tree yields a yellow dye; its leaf is without indentation, and of a beautiful green; it is not very high; the wood is white, and the bark is easily reduced to powder. This was the first time that I saw the baobab, that enormous tree which has been described by Adanson, and which bears his name. I measured one, and found it to be forty feet in circumference. Stripped at this time of its foliage, it resembled an immense wooden tower. This majestic mass is the only monument of antiquity to be met with in Africa. I am astonished that the negroes have not paid to this tree the same honours that the Druids did to the oak; for to them the baobab is perhaps the most valuable of vegetables. Its leaves are used for leaven, its bark furnishes indistructible cordage; and the bees form their hives in the cavities of its trunk. The negroes, too, often shelter themselves from storms in its time-worn caverns. The baobab is indisputably the monarch of African trees, p. 41.—Travels in the interior of Africa, to the sources of the Senegal and Gambia, by G. Mollien. Lond. 1820, 4to.
Mollien was one of the shipwrecked in the Medusa, and who got to the shores of the desert in the boats.—Trans.
Note D, p. 110.
The kingdom of Kajaaga, in which I was now arrived, is called by the French Gallam; but the name that I have adopted is universally used by the natives.—Park's Travels, c. v. p. 1.
Note E, p. 111.
About eight o'clock, we passed a large town called Kabba, situated in the midst of a beautiful and highly[Pg 197] cultivated country; bearing a greater resemblance to the centre of England, than what I should have supposed had been the middle of Africa. The people were everywhere employed in collecting the fruit of the Shea-trees, from which they prepare the vegetable butter, mentioned in a former part of this work. These trees grow in great abundance all over this part of Bambaraa. They are not planted by the natives, but are found growing naturally in the woods; and, in clearing wood-land for cultivation, every tree is cut down but the Shea. The tree itself very much resembles the American oak; and the fruit, from the kernel of which, being first dried in the sun, the butter is prepared by boiling the kernel in water, has somewhat the appearance of a Spanish olive. The kernel is enveloped in a sweet pulp, under a thin green rind; and the butter produced from it, besides the advantage of its keeping the whole year without salt; is whiter, firmer, and, to my palate, of a richer flavour, than the best butter I ever tasted made from cows' milk. The growth and preparation of this commodity seem to be among the first objects of African industry in this and the neighbouring states; and it constitutes a main article of their inland commerce.—Park's Travels, pp. 202, 203.[Pg 199]
NARRATIVE OF THE CAPTIVITY OF M. DE BRISSON
IN THE DESERTS OF AFRICA,
IN THE YEAR 1785.
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH.
After making several voyages to Africa, which had been attended with much difficulty, trouble and loss, I received orders, in the month of June 1785, from Mons. le Marechal de Castries, Minister and Secretary of the Marine Department, to embark for the island of St Louis, in Senegal, in the Ship St Catherine, Captain le Turc commander, the same officer who gained so great a character last war, when commander of the Flessinguois.
Having examined all the coasts from France to the Canary Islands, on the 10th of July following, we passed between these isles and that of Palma, about three o'clock in the afternoon.
Previous to our leaving France, I had taken care to apprise the Captain of the danger to which we should be exposed, in these latitudes, from the violence of the currents. I remarked to him, that[Pg 202] every time I had passed that way, I found cause to fear our being windbound on the coasts of Barbary. This advice, the result of experience, should have met with attention from Captain le Turc; I therefore again repeated it, the moment I perceived the sea began to assume a clearer tinge, and inquired if he did not intend to sound. What are you afraid of? said he, the land! we are more than eighty leagues from it.
Allow me here to express my disapprobation of that immoderate self-conceit and confidence, for which the captains of trading vessels, especially those who visit these coasts, are so remarkable. However important an advice may be, they are not disposed to pay any regard to it; and of whatever kind the impending dangers appear, so much confidence have they in their own abilities, that they are better pleased to repair damage than prevent it.
The under captain made me a very similar reply with his superior. Alas! too soon they experimentally found my fears were far from groundless!
At midnight, I was awakened by a violent motion of the ship, and, thinking we were aground, I immediately leaped on deck. Judge my surprise, when I observed a kind of creek formed by the rocks. The mariners were all sound asleep. I quickly awaked them:—Save yourselves, cried I, we are near the shore! The captain got up in great consternation; and in his alarm, in which his officers partook, ordered them to steer towards the rocks. The vessel thus directed, and hurried at the same time by the force of contending currents, struck thrice on the sands, and remained immoveable.
Suddenly a horrid cry was heard; the masts[Pg 203] were shaken; and the sails being violently shattered, were torn to pieces. The terror became universal, and the cries of the mariners were blended with the horrid noise of the roaring waves, enraged as it were that their course should be stopped by the rocks and the vessel, between which they were to pass. So great was the consternation that no one thought of doing any thing for his preservation. O, my wife!—O, my children!—they cry to one another, raising their hands to heaven. Meantime, they cut the masts by the board, in order, if possible, to right the ship. Vain trouble—the cabin is already filled with water.
In this dismal situation, I made up to the Captain, who, in his perplexity, could pay attention to nothing. It was but eighteen months before, that Captain Cassin had experienced a similar accident near Cape Blanc. In his desperation, he had occasioned the loss of many unhappy wretches by blowing out his own brains. I began to fear that Captain le Turc might act in the same manner, and that we should lose him too. I therefore besought him to have patience, and endeavoured to raise his spirits and courage, but in vain. We had without doubt perished, if M. Yan, his first lieutenant, M. Suret, a passenger, three English sailors and some others, encouraged by my example, had not assisted in throwing over the long boat into the sea, and preventing it afterwards from being broken to pieces against the ship, or sunk. We were compelled to struggle the whole night with a boisterous sea, in hopes that, when day appeared, we might effect a landing on the coast, and shun the rocks which surrounded us on every side.[Pg 204]
Having taken every precaution, I went into the boat with a few of the sailors, and desired they would throw to us some ropes from the ship, to moor our boat, by which means they might pull the boat again to the vessel, in case we were lucky enough to get a safe landing. This was the only method we could think of for preserving the Captain, his mate, and about three-fourths of the hands, who did not incline to hazard themselves in the boat, for the first trial.
Scarcely had we made two strokes with the oars, when the ebbing and flowing of the waves tore them from the hands of the rowers, and the boat was overset; the waves parted us, and cast us all on the shore, except the Sieur Devoise, brother of the Consul of Tripoli, in Syria. I plunged again into the sea, and was lucky enough, at that instant, to snatch him from the grave.
Our unfortunate friends on board the ship, had now no prospect of assistance from us; but I speedily endeavoured to refresh them with hope; and for this end again threw myself into the water, accompanied by Sieur Yan, who always zealously supported me. He soon engaged the rest to assist us in attempting to recover the boat, which we did with much difficulty. Our labour was however abundantly repaid, when we had brought the whole crew safe to land.—Thus did we escape this first danger, only to fall victims to a second vastly more terrible.
I inquired at the Captain, at what distance he supposed we were from Senegal; but his answer was not satisfactory. Ignorant to what hand we should turn, I informed my companions in misfortune, that I could not flatter myself with the hopes of conduct[Pg 205]ing them to any village of the tribe of Trargia, where I might perhaps have been known by some Arab who had relations at the island of St Louis. "In this case," said I, "our captivity would have been shorter and less rigorous; but I am afraid we may fall in with some hordes of the tribe of the Ouadelims and Labdesseba, a ferocious people, who live in a manner truly savage, who always wander through the deserts, and subsist on the milk of their camels."
We had no sooner landed, than I persuaded my companions to ascend the rocks to discover upon what country Providence had cast us. When we reached the summit, we perceived a vast plain, covered with white sand, and interspersed with certain plants, resembling branches of coral. These plants carry a small grain, of the same colour, and almost the same shape, with mustard. The Arabians call it Avezoud: they gather it and make it up into a paste, on which they feast. We observed that the distant hills were covered with a species of wild fern, which bore the appearance of an extensive forest.
In proceeding towards the hills, I found some camel's dung under my feet, and soon after observed the animals pasturing here and there. There remained therefore no doubt of the country being inhabited, a discovery which was very agreeable to us; for although we were entirely ignorant what sort of people they were into whose hands we had fallen, we were very happy in the thoughts of approaching some inhabited village, as hunger began to press very hard. I knew better than any of them, from former experience, what we had to fear from hunger, and still more from thirst.
I was occupied with these dismal reflections,[Pg 206] when I observed at a distance some children eagerly gathering together their herds of goats, and driving them away before them. I instantly concluded that we were discovered, and that our presence had occasioned some terror amongst them. The cries of the children spread the alarm to the neighbouring camps, and the inhabitants very soon appeared coming out to meet us. When they had observed us a little, they separated from one another, skipping and bouncing about upon the sand; they covered their faces with their hands, and screamed out with horrid cries. We had now every reason to believe these people were acquainted with Europeans. Their gestures, and operations in order to surround us, bore no favourable aspect. I therefore charged my unfortunate companions, by all means to keep together, and to proceed in order, till I should be within hearing of the natives. In my former voyages to Senegal, I had acquired a few Arabian words, which I hoped would prove useful on this occasion. First, then, I fastened a white handkerchief to the top of my cane, in the manner of a flag. Perhaps, thought I, they may have some acquaintance with this signal, the rather, if any of them may have seen it at Senegal, or if they have observed any vessel on their coasts, they may perhaps conceive that we are unhappy Frenchmen whom shipwreck has thrown on their coasts.
When we drew near to the savages, some of our people, among whom were the first and second lieutenants, went apart from the rest; they were immediately beset and seized by the collar. It was not till this moment, that, by the reflection of the sun upon the polished steel of their poignards, we observed they were armed. Ignorant of this, I had[Pg 207] consequently advanced without fear. As the two unhappy men who had been seized did not appear again, I did what I could to compose my companions; but my attempts were vain; terror seized them, and they all began to cry out in despair, and disperse from one another. The Arabs, armed with great cutlasses and small clubs, fell upon them with incredible ferocity; and I soon saw some of them lying wounded, and others stript and naked, stretched out expiring on the sand.
Amidst this horrid massacre, I observed an unarmed Arab. From his appearance, I conceived he was one of those who had accompanied Prince Allicoury, in a former visit which he made to the Isle of St Louis. I immediately ran up to him, and threw myself into his arms. After examining me some time, he cast a disdainful look on me, on the Sieur Devoise, the mate of the ship, and five others of my companions who never would leave me, sufficient to convince us our situation was not more favourable than our neighbours. He then took my hand, examined it attentively, counted my fingers, slipped his hand into mine, and, after making several motions with his head, he inquired at me, Who are you? What are you doing here? How came you hither? I traced upon the sand, the figure of a ship, and by means of a few Arabic words with which I was acquainted, and my gestures, I succeeded so far as to make him understand, that I entreated his assistance to conduct us to the place appointed for us. I also informed him, that I had about me what would abundantly repay him for his trouble—an argument which I found he more readily understood, and much more weighty in his mind than any other; for he immediately en[Pg 208]twisted his fingers with mine, to show me that, from that moment, we became closely united, and upon the spot desired me to give him the effects of which I had spoken. I then delivered to him two very elegant watches, one of which was a repeater, with their chains, a gold buckle for the neckcloth, two pair of silver buckles, a ring set with diamonds, a goblet and silver cover, and the sum of two hundred and twenty livres in specie. I easily observed that if the jewels were acceptable, the silver was much more so. He concealed his treasure with great care and secrecy in his shirt, which was blue, promising me at the same time, that he would not forsake me. The precaution which I had taken to preserve these jewels, in the hope of gaining, by their means, the good will of any person into whose hands I should fall, proved in the end a cause of very great regret to me.
As soon as my Arab had secured his booty, he inquired upon what coast we had been shipwrecked. I pointed it out to him, and he immediately called upon some of his people, whom he desired to follow him. From the manner in which they approached him, I perceived that my protector was a man of some note; indeed he proved to be their priest, whom they called Talbe.
Having reached the sea-shore, they began to raise a great shout of joy; but the jealousy which was visible on their countenances, speedily damped their spirits. They wished that we would swim to the ship, and recover all that possibly could be saved; but we excused ourselves, alleging that we could not swim; and they were thus obliged to go themselves. It was impossible for those who remained on the shore to conceal their fear, lest[Pg 209] their neighbours who swam should be greater sharers in the spoil than they. The women, in particular, showed excessive uneasiness on this head.
Meanwhile, the news of our shipwreck spread quickly through the country, and the covetous savages flocked from all quarters, in such numbers, as could not fail to excite suspicion: they soon came to blows, and several of them lost their lives. The furious women who could not reach the ship to pillage, fell upon us, and tore from our backs the few remaining clothes: they attached themselves particularly to me, because mine had been better preserved, and therefore merited the preference.
My master, who was a very great warrior, and who perceived that the number of Arabs was continually increasing, called two of his friends, whom he had, very craftily, made sharers with him, in the property of twelve of the shipwrecked people, who had surrendered themselves to him. This was the best expedient to form a party, and to preserve the share which he had in reserve for himself. After having made the necessary arrangement, for securing his share of the booty taken from the ship, and the slaves which he had acquired, he separated us from the crowd, putting us under shelter to prevent our being insulted. This was a miserable hut covered with moss, and situated more than a league from the sea, where we were all lodged, or rather crammed together.
The first care of our patron was to visit us frequently, fearing that we should conceal any thing from him. Unhappily for my comrades, they could get nothing preserved, from the harsh manner in which he treated them. He stripped them even to their shirt and handkerchief; and gave them to[Pg 210] understand, if he did it not himself, others would. He seemed inclined to come to the same extremities with me, but I observed to him that I had already given him enough; so he left me undisturbed.
I had not yet learned into what tribe we had fallen. In order therefore to get information, I addressed myself to our master, with whom I had the following conversation, partly by words, and partly by signs. "What is your name, and to what tribe do you belong? and why have you fled from the companies which are more advanced upon the sea-coast?"—"My name is Sidy Mahammet del Zouze; my tribe is that of Labdesseba; and I fled from the Ouadelims, because we could not live on good terms with them. But as to you, what is your name? and are you brother to these people?" (pointing to my companions). I answered all his questions; but was not a little distressed to learn, that we had fallen into the hands of the fiercest of all the inhabitants of the Arabian Deserts. I foresaw, from this hour, what distress and uneasiness we were to suffer, till the time we should be delivered.—Well, then! how shall that be? Alas, I durst not any longer flatter myself with this idea.
My fears were too well founded. My master, after having secreted in the sand the little treasure with which I had enriched him, returned to the sea-coast, to see what further accrued to him from the pillage of the ship. During his absence, a troop of the Ouadelims came to attack our retreat. They plundered, pillaged and ransacked the whole; they seized us, some by the neck, and others by the hair. Two of them turned to me, took hold of me by the arms, and threw me sometimes on the one side, and sometimes on the other. The few clothes I[Pg 211] had remaining, seemed to be the object of their jealous fury. Others at the same time running up to me, surrounded me, lifted me up, and dragged me to a lonely place, and after having pulled off my shirt and neckcloth, they threw me behind some heaps of sand. There they committed every sort of outrage on my person. I thought I was now in my last moments, and expected I should expire under their blows. The ropes they had prepared to bind me, seemed to announce death to me. I was thus cruelly perplexed, when one of my master's associates came running up to us quite out of breath. "Stop," cried he, "you have committed unheard of enormities in the hut of Sidy Mahammet, our Talbe. Not satisfied with carrying off his slave, you have trampled under foot, in your fury, the sacred books of our religion. The priest enraged at your sacrilegious conduct, has required the old men of the two parties to assemble, and judge the culprits in open council. Believe me, returning the slave is the only way you have to appease his rage, and to prevent the consequences."20 This threatening produced the effect intended by the messenger of Mahammet. I was delivered back into his hands, by those who had treated me so cruelly after separating me from my companions. And he carried me immediately away, to deliver me up to fresh torments.
20 I was not at this time so well acquainted with Arabic as to understand this conversation, and several others which I will recite; but after I acquired some knowledge of the language, my master caused me repeat them to him.
Nouegem (this was the name of my deliverer) conducted me straight to the place where the coun[Pg 212]cil sat, and when he had presented me, he thus addressed them. "Behold the slave of Mahammet, I have followed him the whole day, not to lose sight of him; and after many fatigues and dangers, I have delivered him from the hands of those who had carried him away. I demand, as a reward for my trouble, that he shall be numbered with my slaves. I have a better right to him, as I have seen him deliver to his master a great many articles, which appeared to me to be very valuable." I immediately saw a multitude of women and children, who assembled around me. They examined me attentively, and cried aloud all at once, "Es Rey!"
Sidy Mahammet, enraged at what Nouegem had revealed concerning the treasure, as well as the pretensions which he had so boldly advanced, cast upon him a contemptuous look, a dreadful frown of rage, and immediately replied, "Whether this Christian be Rey (King) or not, he is mine; he threw himself into my arms of his own accord; I have promised to protect him, and conduct him to Allicoury. I have pledged my word, and I hope this tribunal will know how to make a distinction in favour of my rights, between a man of my character and a man like Nouegem, who deserves the severest punishment from me." One may form some idea, from this discourse, of the pride of Arabian priests.
"Since you make such pretensions," the Arab quickly replied, "and he cannot be mine, he shall perish by my hand!" So saying, he lifted his poignard to strike me. I stood trembling under the threatening sword of this barbarian; but my master, without loss of time, threw upon me a kind of chapelet21 of incredible length; and then took up [Pg 213]a little book, which hung by his girdle; at the same instant, the women, rushing towards me, drew me from under the hand of Nouegem, and put me under those of the enraged priest, as they all dreaded, he was to pronounce an anathema on his opponent. The council in a body approved of this act of authority of the Talbe. They laughed very much at the women's behaviour, of which they at the same time approved.
21 The Talbes cord, on which are strung 115 small black beads. These they keep as the Catholics do their chapelets.
At some distance from the place where this scene had been transacted, I found my comrades, who never expected to see me again. But, Great God! in what situation did I find them!—they now began to feel the first horrors of famine. They had eaten nothing for two days; nor was my own case better; but the awful dilemma, into which I had been thrown, so agitated my spirits, that I had even ceased to feel the hunger which preyed on me.
In a little time, when I became somewhat calmer, I reflected on the danger, which I had so fortunately escaped and my mind was so much affected that I could not refrain from tears. I endeavoured to conceal from those around me, this evidence of my sensibility and distress; but some of the women beside me, observed it, and in place of being affected with my situation, they threw sand into my eyes, to dry, as they said, my eyelids. Happily the night, that screened me from their view, saved me from the rage of these monsters.
We had been now three days in slavery, and had as yet got nothing to support us, but a little [Pg 214]meal, not more corrupted by sea-water, than by a mixture of barley meal, which had been long kept in goats skins; but even this wretched repast was interrupted by alarming cries, which we overheard at a distance.
One of Sidy Mahammet's friends ran up to him, and advised him to hide himself very quickly, because the Ouadelims were arming from every quarter to carry off their seizure. "Fly with your slaves," said he, "whilst I gather together some of ours, and at break of day we will proceed on our march to regain our habitation." I have since learned that the tribe of Labdesseba, had only come to the sea-coast about three days before our shipwreck, to gather together the wild grain for the support of their families. They appointed the place of rendezvous; meantime, we were to conceal ourselves behind the hillocks of sand, where we should remain, till some Arabs of another tribe, but equally interested in preserving their booty, should come to join us, and reinforce our troop. A guide, who should go before us, was to place at little distances, small pyramids of stones, to point out to us the road which we should keep, and to prevent our falling into the midst of some hostile village, more especially of the Ouadelims. The fact was, these people are so avaricious, whether friends or enemies, there is equal cause to be suspicious of either. At break of day, all those who had Christian slaves joined us, and we all proceeded on our march for the interior parts of the country, where the families of our respective masters resided.
It is impossible to describe our sufferings on this journey, especially from thirst. We had such dif[Pg 215]ficulty to move our tongue, that we trembled to ask the smallest question. We were obliged to follow the track of the camels, by which our march was hastened; and dreading our being carried off, our masters caused us to make so many different counter-marches, that we were fifteen days in reaching their habitations—a journey, which we could have accomplished in five, had we followed the direct road.
After having climbed over mountains of a prodigious height, which are wholly covered with small pebbles of a greyish colour, as sharp as flint-stones, we descended into a sandy plain, overspread with thorns and thistles. There we slackened our pace; the soles of my feet were bleeding so much, that it was not in my power to walk any further. My master then desired me to mount behind him on his camel, but this attention on his part was far from giving any ease to me, but on the contrary proved a source of inexpressible torture. The camel is naturally a very dull animal, with a very hard trot. As I was naked, I could not defend myself from the rubbing of the hair of the animal upon me, in such a manner as quite flead me in a very short time. The blood ran copiously down the flanks of the animal—a spectacle which, so far from exciting the compassion, or moving the pity of these barbarians, only contributed to their diversion. They made game of my sufferings, and to heighten the jest, pushed forward their animals. It would certainly have issued in incurable wounds, if I had not adopted a scheme, very violent though necessary, to slip off and walk on the sand. I received no other damage in dismounting, than my body[Pg 216] being universally jagged with the thistles and thorns with which I have already mentioned the ground was covered.
As night approached, we observed a very thick smoke. I supposed we were drawing near to some village, where we might procure something to eat, or rather to drink; but was soon convinced it was only some thick bushes, where our guide had taken up lodgings. I therefore stretched myself out behind a bush to wait for death; and had scarcely lain down, when an Arab of our company came to me, ordering me to get up, and assist him in unloading his camel. I was very much enraged at this order, and answered him accordingly without ceremony. He immediately drew from under my head, a little old sailor's hat, which had been given me in place of my own. He spit upon it as a mark of contempt, and, seizing me violently by the arms, he drew me towards the camels. When he thus laid hands on my body, I could no longer command myself. I immediately struck him a blow on the face; then, having disengaged myself from his hands, I seized a baton which he had armed with a lance, and run up to strike him; but, running away, he escaped from my rage.
I at the same time observed my master advancing to my assistance; but as I did not know his design, I cried out to him, that if he intended to avenge his comrade, he would find me determined to resist, rather than suffer myself to be beat any more. My determination and threatenings made him laugh; notwithstanding, he relieved me of my uneasiness, assuring me that I had nothing to fear. This adventure served likewise to convince me, that by firm behaviour, I might shun much of that[Pg 217] bad treatment to which I would be exposed by showing any timidity; and I experienced in the sequel that this idea was well founded. The Arabs show their courage most when they meet with no opposition.
Meantime I observed they were making preparations which very much alarmed me. They made red hot some stones in a great fire, then, raising up a great stone which lay at the side of a bush, they dug a hole in the earth, and the Arabs, repeating my name, raised great bursts of laughter. At last they called upon me, and desired me to approach the hole which they had digged. The man I had stuck, made several different signs with his hand. He crossed and recrossed himself on the neck, as if he meant to cut it, hereby signifying to me, that I would be cut there myself. Notwithstanding my resolution to defend myself, all these gestures displeased me not a little. But what was my surprise, when I saw them draw up out of the the ditch, as I approached it, a goat's skin bottle full of water, a small leather bag, which was full of barley meal, and a goat just killed! The sight of these provisions perfectly restored my tranquillity, though I remained ignorant to what purposes the stones which were on the fire were to be applied. At length I saw them fill with water a great wooden vessel, into which they turned the barley meal, while the red hot stones thrown into the water served to make it boil. It was thus our masters dressed a sort of broth, which they then kneaded with their hands, and eat unchewed. As for us slaves, we had nothing to eat but the same kind of paste. The Arabs threw it to us upon a kind of carpet, which our patron generally spread[Pg 218] below his feet, when he repeated his prayers, and which he employed as a mattress during the night. After having kneaded this leaven a long time, he gave it to me, that I might divide it among my companions. One can hardly conceive how disagreeable this leaven was to the taste. The water with which it was mixed had been procured upon the sea-shore, and had been preserved afterwards in the skin of a goat newly killed. To prevent it from corrupting, they had mixed a kind of pitch with it, which rendered the smell of it doubly noxious. The same water was given us to drink, and, bad as it was, our allowance of it was extremely small.
The Arab whom I had struck, observing that I was complaining, gave me the remainder of his broth, and told me that to-morrow we should eat the goat that had been killed for us. This he made me understand by signs. I informed him, partly by signs and partly by words, how much I was surprised to have found these provisions. He took the same method of telling me, that the guide, who went before us, had procured them for us from a village in the country, and that he had concealed them under ground, to keep them from the sight of the Moors, in case they should pass that way. These particulars surprised me, though I confess, it was still more astonishing to me, to find the resentment of this Arab turned into acts of kindness and complaisance. Our repast being ended, each of us lay down to sleep behind a bush.
At break of day, we heard the voice of our masters, ordering us to gather together the camels and load them. After doing as desired, we pursued our journey, carrying with us the small remainder of our provisions. It was nearly mid-day when[Pg 219] we stopped in a great plain, where we did not find so much as a single tree to screen us from the sun, which darted right upon our heads. There we were employed in unloading the camels, and in pulling up roots to make a fire, which was a very painful operation, as all the trees, roots and herbs, were thorny. When the fire had thoroughly heated the sand, the goat was wholly covered with it; and we were employed in keeping fuel to the fire, while our masters regaled themselves with the raw fat of the goat: they appeared to consider this as a very great rarity. So soon as the meat was baked, and withdrawn from the fire, our Arabians, without allowing us time to clean it from the sand, devoured it with incredible voracity. After having thoroughly gnawed the bones, they made use of their nails for scraping off any flesh which remained upon them; they then threw them to us, with orders to eat expeditiously, and reload our camels, so that our journey might not be hindered.
The sun was just about setting, when, by the reflection of its rays (for in this country the sun sets every day in a red sky), we discovered tents scattered up and down upon a little eminence, and flocks which had come there for pasturage.
The inhabitants of the village came out in throngs to meet us; but in place of showing us any of the pleasant duties of hospitality, they loaded us with injuries, and made us suffer very inhuman treatment. Two of my comrades were brought into a very pitiable situation. The women particularly, much more fierce than the men, took delight in tormenting us. Our masters could not make any great resistance; they appeared; on the contrary,[Pg 220] much better pleased that they should teaze us, than meddle with the lading of the camels.
While I was at some little distance from mine, I suddenly noticed a man, who aimed a blow at me with a double-barrelled gun.22 I presented him my breast, and desired him to strike. The firmness of my countenance, with which he had been doubtless little accustomed, astonished him. This served the more to strengthen my opinion, that one might impose on these people, by assuming an undaunted appearance. As I approached to this man, a stone thrown from an unknown hand, but which I supposed to be that of a woman, struck me on the head. I lost recollection for a little; but when I recovered, I exclaimed in a very violent rage, and demanded satisfaction with vehement cries. I found this method very serviceable in striking terror among these children. The savages who were gathered around us, not knowing the cause of my exclamations, began to run away. Meantime one of them, before he went off, gave me a blow with the butt-end of a gun, which made me vomit blood. If I could have discovered the fellow who struck me, I should certainly have avenged myself. Reduced to complaining, I did it with such vehemence that I raised the curiosity of many of the monsters. They inquired of my master who I was? "He is," answered he, "a very rich Christian, and possessed of a great quantity of guns, balls, flint-stones [Pg 221]and scarlet cloth.23 That you may understand, what a man of consequence he is, we had access to see that he was very richly clothed, and that his linen was perfumed with a very agreeable odour;24 and to know, that Prince Allicoury and all his retinue had paid him a visit."
22 Several years since, some vessels were lost upon this coast, which were engaged in a treaty with the Negroes. The Arabs carried off the cargoes, so that we need not be surprised that they had guns of different kinds among them.
23 He believed that all the provisions which were in the King's magazine belonged to me.
24 This odour was nothing more than lavender-water, with which my linen had been sprinkled.
I believe I escaped much bad usage from his saying that Prince Allicoury had paid me a visit. To enforce this idea still more, I counterfeited his buffoons, whom they called Egeums. This kind of farce so much pleased my master, that he made me repeat it as often as he found opportunity. He made use of this stratagem to divert those among them, whom he suspected as inclined to pilfer, and thus cunningly occupied their attention. No sooner did he make known my talent for imitating the Egeums, than I was surrounded by men, women, and children, who constantly bawled out to me ganne, (sing then). I had no sooner finished, than I was obliged to begin again; and this I was constrained to do, not only to amuse them, but (why should I not own it?) to procure a tasting of camel's milk—as a reward for this my mean buffoonery.
We rested one day in this village, where the inhabitants, however ill they behaved at first, did not fail to give us provisions for three or four days. The plains which we passed over in proceeding towards the east country, were covered with small stones as white as snow, round and flat as a lentil. As we proceeded, we perceived a dull sound [Pg 222]under our feet, as if the earth had been dug out below us. This country presented no variety to us; the ground was a continued plain, without producing even the smallest plant. The atmosphere was loaded with a reddish vapour. The whole country appeared as if filled with flaming volcanoes. The small stones pricked us, as if they had been sparks of fire. Neither birds nor insects were to be seen in the air. The profound silence which reigned was something frightful. If at any time a gentle breeze arose, the traveller immediately found himself affected with an extreme languor, the lips with chopping, the skin with a burning heat, and the whole body covered with small pimples, which occasioned a very sharp and disagreeable smarting. Our guides, who had gone far up into the country, to shun some tribes whom they had much cause to fear, were not luckier than we in escaping these disagreeable inconveniences, which we suffered in this part of our journey, where the fiercer animals would not enter. The rays of the sun darted upon the stones, and I feared, every minute, that their scorching reflection would have finished me.
We passed through this vast plain into a second, where the winds had furrowed the sand, which was of a reddish colour, at little distances. A few sweet smelling plants grew on the top of the furrows, which were immediately devoured by our camels: they were no less famished than ourselves. We had the happiness, on quitting this sandy plain, to enter into a valley surrounded with mountains, where the soil was white and slimy. At the foot of some tall shrubs, of which the branches were artfully formed into an arbour, we found some water, of which we stood in great need. We there[Pg 223]fore drank of it with much pleasure, although it was very bitter, covered with green moss, and of a noxious smell.
We found some compensation however, in the evening, by falling in with a horde, which was encamped at some leagues distance. They received us very kindly, and pointed out to us some villages, where they informed us we could receive all necessary assistance for prosecuting our journey to the residence of our patrons. This was an event particularly fortunate for us, as our guides had lost the way.
My master's brother-in-law was one of the chiefs of this village, and paid particular attention to all the slaves. He gave us some camel's milk, and flesh of ostriches dried in the sun, and chopped small. I know not why, but he soon showed a partiality towards me; and accordingly, coming up to me, he said, "Unfortunate Christian, my brother has been indebted to me for a long time, if you will put yourself under my care, I will settle the bargain with him." This proposal made me tremble; it appeared to assure me of a long captivity. I believed so certainly that mine was to be short, that I ran immediately to my master, to prevent his agreeing to his brother-in-law's proposition. I entreated him by no means to consent to any terms. I made him understand that he would get more for my ransom, than his brother would give him. "Set yourself at ease," replied he, "you shall not leave me till you go either to Senegal or Morocco, and that will be very soon." This hope filled my heart with inexpressible joy. Meantime, notwithstanding the gratitude which I felt towards[Pg 224] Sidy Sellem, his proposal did not fail to give me considerable uneasiness. He perceived it, and told me, that he would make me repent not having accepted his offer. I attributed this threatening to his desire of possessing me; but I found, in the sequel, he was as good as his word.
After three days rest among the Arabs of the tribe of Roussye, we resumed our journey, in order to get home to the families of our conductors as quickly as possible; though it was not till after sixteen days, in which we endured much fatigue and distress, that we arrived, extenuated and reduced to skin and bone.
At break of day, we discovered a hamlet that seemed to promise a very pleasant dwelling. Several tents pitched among thick bushy trees, numberless flocks feeding along the sides of the hills, made us conceive it to be an asylum of happiness and peace; but upon closer inspection, the appearance of it was much altered. The trees, whose beautiful green foliage we had admired, proved to be nothing more than old gummy stumps, with their few branches, entwisted with thorns; so that their inaccessible shade spread out on every side. They very soon after observed us upon the declivity of a little hill, which led us to the dwelling of our masters.
Several black slaves, who had commonly the charge of the camels, came out to meet their masters, to kiss their feet, and inquire the news of their health. At a greater distance, the children made the air resound with their cries of joy, and their wives stood erect, as a mark of respect, at their tent-doors, waiting their arrival. As soon as they approached, they advanced with a submissive[Pg 225] air, put their right hand upon the head of their husband; then, having kissed them, fell down prostrate before them. This ceremony over, they regarded us first with a look of curiosity, and then proceeded to abuse us. Not content with that, they spat in our face, and threw stones at us. The children, following their example, pinched us, tore our hair, and scratched us with their nails. Their cruel mothers called out first to one, and then to another, encouraging them, amusing themselves by causing them to torment us. Unhappy as we were, exhausted with fatigue, hunger, and thirst, we looked with impatience towards the hour of our arrival, little expecting the fresh trials which awaited us.
Meantime, our masters made a division of their slaves. When mine had received the caresses of all his family, I inquired of him, which of the women who surrounded him was his favourite. He pointed her out to me. I approached, and presented her with two handfuls of cloves, which her husband had very carefully kept, and wished me to present her with, in order to gain her good wishes. I learned that Moorish women were very fond of odours, and in a very particular manner of cloves. She received my present with an insulting haughtiness, and pushed me into the tent with disdain. Immediately after, this woman, the most wicked of all whom I had known, hated by all her companions, such was the blackness of her character, came to order us (viz. Sieurs Devoise, Baudre and myself, who had fallen to the share of her husband) to unload the camels, to clean a kind of kettle, and to gather roots for making a fire. While she was thus employed in giving her orders,[Pg 226] her dear husband was lying fast asleep on the knees of one of his concubines.
The hope of soon regaining my freedom, gave me the necessary spirit to support me under the hardships which this wicked woman made me suffer. I therefore went out to make faggots; but what was my despair to find, on my return, my two companions lying felled with blows, and stretched out on the sand. They had been thus abused, because their strength was totally exhausted, and they could not execute the task which she had enjoined them. I awakened my master with my redoubled cries; and although I could not speak his language well, I made shift to support with him the following conversation:—"Did you bring us hither to kill us by the hands of this cruel woman? Remember the promise which you made me. Conduct me without delay to Senegal or to Morocco; otherwise, I assure you, that though I should perish, I will cause to be taken from you, though I cannot do it myself, all the treasure which I have given you; I will certainly find a master who will treat me with more humanity than you have done."
My rage was excessive. Many of the neighbours, witnesses of my transport, were gathering about us. This was very disagreeable to my master, who feared lest I should cause him to deliver back the valuable effects I had given him. He came to me, took me in his arms, and pushed me hastily into his tent, and entreated me not to make such a noise. He then presented me with a bowl of milk, "Carry that," said I, "to my companions, who are expiring for want." He assured me they should have some, and besought me to be quiet.[Pg 227] I showed him my arms all torn and running with blood. "Recollect," said I, in my bad language, "how, when we were shipwrecked, you cried out, beholding my hands, these hands have never been accustomed to hard labour; and immediately you engage me in the most painful employment. Your countrymen experience in my country a very different treatment." He seemed astonished to learn that the Moors ever came to France. "We shall talk of this another time," replied he; "in the mean time, make yourself easy. I will take care of you as my own son." Then, addressing himself to his wife, "I forbid you to exact from him the least service which may be painful to him, and I at same time prohibit him from obeying you in it. See that some meal be boiled for the slaves; I will return ere long to see if my orders have been executed." From this hour the favourite vowed implacable hatred against me.
Meantime, the month of August drew towards a close, and no preparations were making for our journey. I therefore inquired at Sidy Mahammet, when he proposed to conduct me to Senegal. He told me, that he was in search of two very strong and vigorous camels, that could endure the fatigues of this journey, and that we would set out when he could procure them. I entreated he would make as little delay as possible, as the nights were now turning cool. The dews began also to be so heavy, as to wet us, in our retreat behind the bushes, where we spent the night. It is true, that even the dew proved serviceable in one case, as, by gathering it in handfuls upon our naked bodies, it served to quench our thirst, which the coldness[Pg 228] of the night did not extinguish; and we preferred this drink to our urine, a resource to which we were often reduced. I spoke a second time to our master on the subject of our journey, who answered me in such a manner as convinced me it was not from want of inclination he delayed. "Think you," said he, "that amidst such excessive heat, we can possibly travel without a store of provisions, especially water? We have much cause to fear, that, on our approaching Senegal, the river which surrounds it will have overflowed the plains; we will also be in danger from the Arabs, of the tribe of Trargea, who are our enemies. I tell you the truth," continued he, "we will be obliged to wait till the month of October; about that time, the rains will water the deserts, and afford us pasturage for our camels; it will be impossible for us otherwise to subsist during so long a journey." I fully perceived the justice of his reasoning, and resolved therefore to have recourse to patience.
The heat was so excessive, that the flocks, half-starved, could find no pasture, and the sheep and goats returned in the evening with their dugs almost empty; and yet it was their milk and that of the camels which was to supply food for a numerous family. One may judge from this, how much our portion was diminished. As we were Christians, even the dogs fared better; and it was in basins destined for their use that we received our allowance!
One day the keeper of the camels complained grievously that he was ashamed to serve a master who was so weak as not to keep his slaves to their duty. His wife did not fail to support this com[Pg 229]plaint in such a manner, that her husband, long accustomed to be her dupe, persuaded me, that, to prevent murmuring, he would appoint Baudre to that charge, as he was the youngest. Soon after I was obliged to take an equal share of the sheep and goats. The Sieur Devoise, on account of his age and bad health, was exempted from every sort of servitude, but his situation did not free him from cause of complaint, as he was constantly exposed to the savage treatment of the cruel Arabs. I happily escaped this by my new employment.
One day, as I was returning with my flock, one of my sheep brought forth a young one upon the side of a hill. I took it in my arms, and proceeded to carry it, with equal haste and care, to my master's favourite. I presented it to her when I reached home, supposing that she would receive it with the same pleasure which she had lately shown on a similar occasion. I asked her at the same time, if she would give me the first milk of the mother, as it was customary to give it to those who had the charge of the flocks. By way of reply, she threw a great knife at my legs, and drove me from the tent with disdain, and loading me with abuse. Her husband, who had been witness of her brutality, came to me with an assurance, that, by way of recompense, he should appoint me a very large share of the milk. I had uniformly given credit to his promises, but how much was I astonished, when, in passing by the back of the tent, I heard that rogue joining his wife in her laugh at the stroke which she had given me. I was provoked; but my anger was not a little increased in the evening, when I began to seek the[Pg 230] milk which had been promised to me, my mistress came to me in a rage, and took it out of my hands to give the half of it to her dog.
It now drew near the end of October, and a single drop of rain had not as yet fallen. My situation became every day more and more disagreeable. I had no sort of clothing, but a piece of packcloth about my middle, and was thus wholly abandoned to nature.—Feeling minds!—convey yourselves for a moment to my desert!
The plains and valleys were entirely burnt up, and nothing remained for the nourishment of the cattle. The season was far advanced; it was now the month of December, a period when the rains usually were over till the next October. For three years this bounty of heaven had been withheld from the inhabitants of these deserts. We were now entering upon the fourth year of drought, to be exposed to the most horrid distress, and almost inevitable death. The desolation was become universal, when an Arab from a distant part of the country came to inform them, that abundant showers had covered several cantons where he resided. Joy then succeeded to fear and distress. Every one struck his tent, and all set out together, to seek a habitation in these newly watered districts. This was the thirtieth time they had changed their habitation, and renewed our fatigue in consequence; for these hordes never remain above twelve or fifteen days in the same encampment. I was continually employed in lifting and cleaning the tents, and had the charge of the baggage. Often they compelled me to carry very heavy burdens, in order to ease the camels. I was[Pg 231] too happy when the flocks followed in pretty good order, and did not give me the trouble of gathering them together.
My unfortunate companions were so exhausted, that they were able to do nothing; the consequence was, that the whole drudgery fell on me; and I shared with them the little food which I procured, by labouring to make myself useful; for our master gave them nothing to eat.
At length we arrived at the desired place, where I hoped soon to regain my freedom; but my master, who had hitherto connected the most persuasive language with the blackest treachery, ceased to dissemble longer, and made me endure the most horrid tyranny.
We were now encamped upon a sandy soil, so very moist, that a gentle pressure of the body made the water spring up around us in considerable quantities. Happy would we now have been with an osier netting to lie on, or a coarse carpet of wool, with long hair, to cover us; but these conveniences the Arabs themselves are strangers, to, except those who are rich. During the night, a carpet served for a covering to a whole family. "Sidy Mahammet," said I to my master, "See, is it possible I can long exist in such places? Allow me a covering under the tent. I suffer much from the cold at night, and the ground on which you make me lie is very wet. I have made your fortune, and you promised in return to use me as your son, yet you abandon me!"—"It is true," replied he, "I did promise you my friendship, and I will at this moment give you a particular proof of it. Your situation, you say, is unhappy, but it will be much better than you imagine. Tell[Pg 232] me, what is the destiny to which you are appointed? Fire and flame await you, to torment you through all eternity. Have you considered well your religion?" I quickly replied, and pointed out to him its excellency. He heard me for some time, and then went away, telling me, he preferred a bowl of churned milk to all the absurdities of which I had been talking.—Alas! there is no kind of torment, which this fanatical priest would not have made me endure, to compel me to embrace his religion.
Messieurs Devoise and Baudre, who had heard all this conversation, (which I have here much abridged,) assured me it was very satisfactory. They promised themselves some mitigation of their sufferings. The hour of milking the camels being come, they called me to receive my own and my neighbour's portion. When I saw our portions were somewhat larger than usual, I concluded it was the good effect which my morality had produced; but, on tasting it, we discerned that the increase of quantity was owing to rain water, of which they had now doubled our dose, so that we had nothing but whitened water to support us. This soon weakened us to such a degree, that we were reduced to the hard necessity of seeking our meat with the beasts. The wild plants, which they were trampling under foot, with raw snails, were our only nourishment from this time, till the time we regained our liberty. Meanwhile, he continued to prepare new labours for me. I now had the charge of putting the camels in the plough, labouring the ground, and sowing it; while my master, not content with employing me in his own service, hired me out to other Arabs for a morsel[Pg 233] of milk. I would certainly have sunk under this fatigue, if, from time to time, I had not found opportunity to steal some handfuls of barley. It was by this theft (which I am satisfied was a lawful one) that I preserved my life.
"You see," said I to my master, "with what submission I labour with all my power. I make faggots, churn the butter, keep the flocks, pull up roots, prepare the camels hair, which your wife is to spin, labour the ground, and in short do every thing you exact of me. I have enriched you, and you will not vouchsafe to give me a few rags to cover me." Other Arabs, more compassionate, and always jealous of his being in possession of my riches, which they valued at an infinite price, threw the same in his teeth one day. This determined him to call me to him, when he asked me in their presence, if there was any person at Mogador (which they called Soira) who would pay a good ransom for us? I told him they would to his content. "In that case," replied he, "there is a Jewish merchant who passes this way to-morrow, ask paper from him, and I will permit you to write to those from whom you expect assistance." The Jewish merchant25 passed accordingly, and I wrote a letter, which I addressed to the Consul at Soira, or in case of absence, to his representative. I entreated him to have a feeling with our calamities, and to send us speedy relief. I mentioned to him the best and most certain method of sending to seek us out, and the only one to make use of to procure us [Pg 234]ready deliverance.26 This letter I committed to the hands of the Israelite, and I appeared to myself as if already at liberty—too flattering hope!
25 The Jews born in the Desert live in much the same manner with the Arabs; but those who dwell in the towns are more rigid observers of the law of Moses.
26 When the French government, or any other, get information of any vessel being lost upon these coasts, they should direct their agent, either at Mogador or at Tangiers, to make application to a Jew named Aaron, who lives at Guadnum. He employs emissaries through all the different parts of Africa to buy up wrecks. This advice, dictated by humanity, is the best to be followed in such cases.
A young Moorish girl, whose flocks fed often near mine, relieved me of my mistake, and made me acquainted with the character of Sidy Mahammet. "If he thought he durst," said she to me, "he would not treat you any better than he does your companions; nay, perhaps, he himself would take you to a private place and kill you, so little would he be startled at committing a crime; but then he is afraid of his two brothers, who have a very strong attachment to you. If he promise you liberty, it is only to amuse you. He durst not even send you away, for fear that Muley Adaram would cause him to be arrested, and take from him all that you have given him, perhaps even his life."
This Muley Adaram27 was a son of the Emperor. Having heard vague reports of the effects [Pg 235]which I had brought with me, he supposed that I was a very rich Christian; and, in consequence, travelled more than a hundred leagues, in order to make a purchase of me. I was, however, very happy that I had not fallen into the hands of a prince, so cruel as to revolt against his own father.
27 The Sieur Soret, one of my secretaries, Pinjon, surgeon of the ship, the two friends, Brissiere and John, seamen of the same ship, were made to suffer from this barbarous prince the most cruel treatment. Sometimes they were beaten with a baton or club, at other times their bodies were torn with the strokes of a poignard. Burning firebrands and red hot iron were sometimes employed in tormenting them. It is possible to bring the Sieur Soret from Nantz, the wounds of whose body will attest the truth of what I have advanced.
This conversation of the Moorish girl extinguished every ray of hope, that I should ever regain my native country. My mind was much agitated, and I sank into a state of depression and melancholy. Ever after that day, I experienced continually fresh causes of distress.
I now no more met with any of my unfortunate companions in the fields. I much regretted the loss of the Captain's company. I had been accustomed to it, and found a kind of consolation in talking over with him our hardships, and the hope of soon being again blest with the sight of our own country. One afternoon, that the coolness of the air had led my camels to stray a little farther from home than usual, I was obliged to follow them to a neighbouring hamlet.—My God! what a horrid spectacle there presented itself!—the unhappy Captain, whom it was scarcely possible to recollect, except by the colour of his body, lying stretched out on the sand. He had one of his hands in his mouth, which extreme weakness had doubtless prevented his devouring. Hunger had so altered his appearance, that he now presented to the eye only a horrid carcass. All his features were wholly effaced.
A few days after, the under captain (Baudre) fell down quite exhausted behind a green bush,[Pg 236] being left a prey to the attacks of a monstrous serpent. The famished ravens frightened away the venomous animal with their cries, then falling upon the dying man, they tore him into pieces. Four savages, far more cruel monsters than the furious reptile, were witnesses of this scene, but left the poor unhappy man to struggle in vain. I came running up to endeavour to save him, if in time; the barbarians stopped and insulted me, and then told me, "The Christian was going to broil in flames." I left this place of horror, not knowing where to bend my steps. My camels and sheep directed me. I would have been incapable of reconducting them to their fold. It is impossible to form an idea of the sensations by which I was agitated at this time. My tears fell abundantly, while the most dismal forebodings increased my grief. When I arrived at the tent, I no more knew what I was doing. I constantly imagined I saw the carnivorous birds flying through the air, with pieces of the flesh of my unfortunate companion in their bills. My master, astonished at my disordered situation, inquired at me what was the matter with me, and why I changed the bindings of the camels. "Go," replied I, "to a little distance there,—go and behold what have been the consequences of your cruelty, and that of your wife. You have suffered my comrade to perish for want, because, by his ill health, he was not able to labour; you refused him milk to support him, when his situation was such as demanded in a particular manner your help!" While I thus spoke, I concealed my tears, which would only have afforded a laugh to these monsters. They ordered me to go and search the girdle, all co[Pg 237]vered with the blood of the unhappy victim of their barbarity. I was struck with indignation at a proposal so shocking. The commotion I had undergone, and the ferns which I had eaten to assuage my hunger, occasioned very severe vomitings, which were followed with extreme faintness. I had, however, strength enough left to retire behind a bush, where I found another unhappy wretch. He inquired the cause of my complaints, and if I had seen Baudre? "He is not far off," replied I, unwilling to speak more plainly; but my master's sister, who came to bring us milk, cried out, "Be assured that at this very moment, the ravens are feasting on the entrails of Baudre; the time is not far distant, when you will be fit for nothing else." Notwithstanding my extreme weakness, I was much disposed to give this tigress an answer; but in consideration of the condition of my companion, I resolved to keep silence. If I had been the first to inform him of the matter, I might perhaps have been able to have softened it in the recital; but, there was no time, I was prevented, and could only mingle tears with him.
My health, which had been preserved much better than I could have expected, began now to fail. The skin of my body had been already twice renewed. A third time, with inexpressible pain, I found it was covered, if I may use the expression, with scales, like those of the Arabs. The thistles upon which I walked, had torn my feet to the quick; I could not longer support myself. In a word, the great dogs which they continually hunted after me, and of which I could not get quit, till I had received some cruel bites, altoge[Pg 238]ther tended to make me quite unfit for keeping the camels. To complete my misfortune, about the end of February and March, the excessive heat dried up the water which we had found in this district, and not so much as a single drop of rain had fallen to moisten the ground which I had sowed. Our flocks, finding no more pasturage, were upon the point of perishing, when at last, the two tribes of Labdesseba and the Ouadelims, after having consulted, each for themselves, resolved to go in search of lands occupied by more industrious inhabitants. The Ouadelims carried their ravages as far as Guadnum, about 300 leagues from the place where we had been encamped. Some hordes of the Labdesseba, who were not of so wandering a disposition as the former, remained behind; and as they were not so numerous, they found subsistence for their flocks in the neighbouring districts. They killed some sheep, and thus supported themselves till the end of the following month, at a time when we ourselves were upon our march to get out of the deserts, where extreme misery threatened all the inhabitants.
I was in the dismal situation I have already described, when we accidentally fell in with an Arab, who had in his retinue a Christian slave, whom I immediately recollected to have been baker aboard our ship. This Arab proposed to my master to give him a good bargain of this slave; so that, as he was by no means disturbed in what manner he was to find subsistence for him, he agreed to give a camel in exchange for this new slave, who was employed in my usual occupations. I had then time to recruit a little. The unhappy baker paid very dear for the food which he knew how to pro[Pg 239]cure.—But let us not anticipate upon these matters.
After having eaten all the snails we found in our circuit, we were supported by the sheep which we found dead, partly by hunger, and partly disease. This suggested to us the idea of stifling in the night some young kids, knowing well that our masters would throw them away, as their law prohibits their eating the flesh of any animal whose death is not occasioned by a stroke.
This little scheme, however, occasioned too frequent deaths, and it became observable that the goats, who appeared in best health at night, when the flocks were gathered in, were generally those that were found dead next morning. Our wants gave reason to suspect us, and at length we were taken in the act. We were, however, acquitted for past injuries, with an assurance, that, if we resumed the plan, it should cost us our heads. Meantime, it was necessary for us to bethink ourselves on some new plan of subsistence. Thanks to my good constitution, my strength was recruited, and I was now able to make faggots, for which I found ready sale, as in that country there is no season of the year in which the night can be passed without fire; and the women, who have the charge of these matters, are too lazy to go themselves to cut wood. My little trade procured me thus sufficient milk for my own support, as well as a little to spare to poor Devoise, who was very sick.
As I was preparing to go out one morning to make faggots, this friend spoke to me as follows, in a voice scarcely audible: "All illusion is at an[Pg 240] end; from this moment I will no more flatter myself with the hope of ever again seeing my native country. I feel my strength gradually decline. This night, yes, this night, my friend, (for surely you deserve that name, after what you have done for me), you will find nothing here, but a corpse cold and dead. Fly, my dear Brisson, fly this hated abode. Try every scheme you can devise to escape if possible; you were surely destined for happier days. If Heaven hear my vows in the moment I yield my breath, it will restore you to your wife and unhappy family. Adieu, my friend, the tears you attempt to hide are fresh proofs of your attachment. Write to my brother; assure him that my last words are about him; and that I die with the sentiments of real Christianity. Adieu, my last hour is nearer than I expected; I expire!"—In reality, he died that moment.
Some children, who had been witnesses of my grief, and the cause of it, soon spread the news through the village. My master's sister run up to us, and went off immediately laughing very heartily, and saying that it would be so much milk saved. Some neighbours, who I believe were moved to pity me, by my sobbing, came to carry me away from the lifeless body. They offered me some milk, though at the same time they turned my distress into ridicule. "Why," said I to them, "do you condemn the tears which I shed for my friend? I have seen you in similar cases, roll upon the sand and stones. I have seen your eyes bathed in tears. Do you suppose our souls are not possessed of the same feelings with yours? Deceive not yourselves. In this common calamity we are all brothers and friends." I could not say more[Pg 241] to them. I found it impossible to remain long in the presence of these beings, who had the human shape, but were more ferocious than the most formidable and horrid animals.
Although I had not been acquainted with M. Devoise previous to our departure from France, I was very sensible of his loss. The pleasantness of his manner, his equal temper, acquaintance, and, above all, the similarity of our situation, had contributed to connect us in the strongest ties of friendship. I regretted his loss exceedingly; I went into the fields, to meet again with the only companion I had now remaining, and we retired together with our flocks, the keeping of which became daily a more disagreeable task, on account of the scarcity of pasturage.
On our arrival, we were ordered to lift up the body of our friend, and bury it in a deep ditch, that, as the Arabs said, they might hide from the eyes of their children, the sight of a Christian. We paid him this last duty with much pain, for our weakness was so great, that we could not carry him, and were therefore obliged to draw him by the feet near three quarters of a league; and the earth which surrounded the ditch we had dug, having failed under me, I fell in first, and I believe I fainted away under the weight of his carcass.
Some days after, we quitted these fields to seek a more fertile spot. We encamped in the neighbourhood of different tribes. I recollected by the name Denoux, one of the seamen, who had been enslaved together with me. I asked him the news of his companions. "Six of them," he told me, "were carried off by the Emperor's son, a very short time after our shipwreck; they had repassed[Pg 242] into France. M. Taffaro, chief surgeon, died with the blows of a club, by which he had been struck on the head. The Sieur Raboin, under lieutenant, died since, in terrible sufferings. The others, to escape the horrors of famine, had renounced their religion. As for me, Sir, it will not be long ere I follow those that are in their graves. See what a condition I am in! There is no kind of base treatment which I do not daily suffer." "Alas! my poor lad," replied I, "do not give up yourself entirely to grief. If it prove true, that six of your companions have gotten safe again to France, the Ministry will soon be made acquainted with our situation; their orders will speedily follow the first feelings of their hearts; they will cause search to be made for us, and I doubt not that we will soon see the end of our miseries."
Indeed, I have since learned, that upon the first news of our shipwreck, M. le Marechal de Castries, had given the most positive orders for our redemption. But the Sieur Mure, Vice Consul, to whom the orders had been addressed, in place of acting agreeably to the instructions of the minister, employed himself wholly in making his court to the Emperor of Morocco and his officers, whom he loaded with considerable presents, at the expense of the Court of France.
This agent could have procured our liberty, by applying at Guadnum, to some Arab or Jewish merchant, who, in consideration of 100 piastres (500 livres), would have traversed every corner of the Desert, and who, it might be fairly inferred, would have been satisfied with a sum considerably less, when he had not to go farther than the neighbourhood of Morocco. As soon as he would have[Pg 243] been appointed to conduct the Christian slaves to Mogador, the Arabs would have brought them thither from all quarters, in order to receive the ransom for them; and they would have been glad to have employed what money they received, in purchasing wheat and barley, which may be had in abundance at Santa Cruz in Barbary. But the Vice Consul, by his negligence, prolonged our misfortunes. The Arabs, our masters, were very unwilling to undertake so long a journey, which is at the same time both troublesome and dangerous, without the hope of some reward. The Sieur Mure contented himself with informing the minister, that he had given the strictest orders that a proper search should be made for us. The conduct of Sieur Mure was so blameworthy, that, lest he should consider me as a vile traducer, I did myself the honour to make it known to his masters. It was my duty, as a Frenchman, and a friend of mankind.
On the other hand, what praise ought I not to bestow on Mess. Deprat and Cabannes, merchants at Mogador! It is to their patriotism that the return of the greater part of the unhappy shipwrecked persons is to be attributed. The extensive trade which they carry on in the interior parts of the country has established their reputation in all the towns, as well as in the capital. If their advice had been followed, how many accidents and misfortunes would have been prevented! I have reason to believe, that this charge is now committed to the Consul General, who will particularly interest himself in the redemption of any unfortunate persons who may be shipwrecked on that coast.[Pg 244]
But to return to my narration. I had daily in mind the information of the sailor, and could not imagine how we came to be thus forsaken, when they had such opportunities of redeeming us. I was reflecting one day upon the probable causes of this neglect, when, upon retiring behind my bush, I was surprised to see my master's camels return without their keeper. It was already late, and he was not yet appearing. They called to give me my portion of milk, and I had not yet seen the poor keeper. I inquired at them where he was? They gave me a reserved answer, and drove me away. The forbidding appearance of my master and mistress, made me tremble for the baker. I longed for day, to inquire after his fate. Early in the morning, a young keeper came to tell me that Sidy Mahammet, who suspected the baker of sucking the milk of his camels, and had accordingly watched him, having taken him in the fact, had seized him by the throat, and strangled him. "Take care of yourself," added the young keeper, "a Christian, who touches the dugs of our cattle, profanes them. The proprietor, or any other Arab, has a right to punish with death whoever he finds transgressing; I have forewarned you. Take care, then, lest you commit such a piece of sacrilege."
I had great difficulty to give credit to a story so very infamous. I ran to the tent, and demanded an explanation of what the young man had told me. A general silence confirmed the truth of what I had just learned, and I gave myself up to the most unbounded rage. Every one ran. But my master's brother-in-law was the only person who discovered any signs of compassion towards[Pg 245] me. "Why," said he to his brother, "did you not sell me these slaves, when I offered to purchase them? What pleasure or profit can you have in thus occasioning a miserable death to them? or why treat you thus cruelly the only one that remains? You confess that he deserves regard; nay, you suppose him to be a king; the riches he has given you, I think, should engage you to treat him handsomely."
This last reflection raised the jealousy of the by-standers. They all unanimously appeared to favour my cause. But Sidy Sellem was the only person who spoke through his benevolent disposition. The rest did not speak after him, as a mark of respect to his great age and riches. This was the same Sidy Sellem, of the tribe of Larroussye, who had treated us so kindly after our shipwreck, and who had forewarned me that I would one day repent having refused his offer of purchasing me.
I was now the only slave in the village. I had no person to whom I could communicate my distresses. My situation became daily more and more unhappy; yet I determined with myself to be no longer affected so deeply with it. "After having supported, with boldness, so many dangers," said I to myself, "I have to this hour gone through extraordinary fatigue; my health enables me to encounter still fresh trials; let me support them with courage, and perhaps Providence will soon cease to try me farther."
This resolution, and the manner in which I had conducted myself towards those who were wishing to depress me, had procured me some attention amongst these savages; insomuch, that they permitted me to lie, from time to time, behind their[Pg 246] tents, and even, to drink at times out of their vessels. My master left me in peace, and did not require that I should keep the camels. It is true, he no more spake to me about restoring me to liberty; besides, I would have given very little credit to any thing which he would have said. His treachery towards me had convinced me that I could place very little confidence in him.
I was obliged, however, to continue making faggots, to procure subsistence; but I was often thrown into fits of inconceivable fury by thirst. One must have experienced the torment which I endured, to form an idea of the extremities to which it is possible to be reduced. I saw that the Arabs themselves were in the greatest distress. Many died of hunger and thirst. The season promised no relief to them. This was the fourth time that drought had destroyed the harvest. This cruel situation had so much rankled the dispositions of the inhabitants of the different tribes, that they went to war among themselves. They made it their business to kill as many of their cattle as they could, and dry their flesh, as the milk had almost entirely failed. The water was now very scarce; there was none to be found in any part of the Desert, but in the neighbourhood of the sea-coast, and it was brackish, black, and noxious. This wretched drink, together with the scarcity of pasturage, had driven almost all the Arabs from the coasts. The provisions having failed, no person durst settle in the country; thus were we circumstanced, when I had opportunity to observe what necessity could teach man to do. The camels which we killed, served to supply with water those Arabs who had least milk. They preserved, with great[Pg 247] care, the water which is found lodged in the stomachs of these animals. They separated it from the dung; and, by pressing it, they procured a greenish water, in which they boiled their victuals. That which they took from the bodies of the goats, tasted like fennel, and had a very agreeable flavour. This water is far from being disagreeable; that of the camels is much less pleasant to the taste. But what astonished me most was, that these animals, who did not taste water oftener than twice or thrice in a year, and who were fed upon dried plants, should preserve in their stomach a prodigious quantity of water; the camel in particular.
Providence, which had not wholly forsaken me, continued still watching over my days, which I seemed inclined to cut short, by exposing myself to the dangers of a battle. Life was now a burden to me. In the hope of putting an end to my course, I asked leave of my master to go to the places where his cattle feed, and to join the inhabitants in defending themselves against the pillagers. My offer was accepted; he gave me a beast to ride on, and a pistol, the only fire-arm which he had in his possession; he then addressed his prayers to obtain from heaven the preservation of his camel, and the prosperity of the arms of those of his party. I advanced then, with the pistol in my hand, accompanied by a relation of my master's. I arrived, with my conductor, in the midst of the warriors. They fought in the most disorderly manner; I did not know whether one party fled, or if they rushed upon one another; I could see nothing but a multitude of men, and a cloud of dust, and[Pg 248] could not conceive how they could distinguish one another. My camel, which doubtless had been unaccustomed to such expeditions, marched slowly into the midst of the enemy's fire. My conductor was soon separated from me, and I saw him fall dead by a blow, which struck him on the head. My camel, affrighted, made some dreadful capers, and threw me ten paces from him, upon a heap of sand. Immediately, a foot soldier made up to me, aimed a blow at me with a pistol, which missed me, and he instantly fell down at my feet. Another Arab came up with a poignard in his hand; he attempted to stab me in the breast, when, by a kind of miracle, in lifting his hand round his head, he entangled his arm in his turban, which flowed upon his shoulders. I took that opportunity to strike him a blow with the butt end of my pistol, and pushed him so roughly, that he fell down in a state of insensibility. This was the only use I made of my arms. I had nothing wherewith to recharge the pistol, although, in general, they never go to battle without at least four or five rounds of ammunition. It had twice missed fire with me. These accidents frequently happen with them, as both their arms and powder are very bad. However, the battles of the Arabs are very quickly decided. The greatest harm these savages do to one another in their skirmishes, is by tearing the face with their nails, and striking with the poignard. The camels, generally accustomed to these battles, throw themselves with loud cries into the crowd. They bite and disperse their enemies more readily than armed troopers could do.
When the conflict was ended, many of the Arabs came to me, saying, that I had fought well, very[Pg 249] well indeed. They were convinced I had killed three men, although I had only wounded one. I however allowed them to enjoy their opinion, and took care to empty my pistol, that my character as a warrior might not suffer.
Since Providence still spares me, said I then to myself, I can try every method to escape. I projected a scheme to get away, and to carry off from my master all the treasure which I had given him. With these effects, I proposed to go over to another tribe. Mark my reasonings. If any Arab should meet me, he will not wish for a more favourable opportunity to secrete himself, in order to put my booty in safety, and I would engage him to conduct me quickly to Morocco. This project appeared to me to be an excellent one. Ignorant of the road which I must take, and the dangers which I ran, I hasted to put it in execution. It succeeded so far very well. I concealed myself in a hole till the morning, with a design not only to carry off the treasure, but also either a good or bad covering, as it might occur, to defend me from the cold.
Sidy Mahammet soon observed that his treasure was amissing. He ran quickly to the foot of the bush where I lay. Entreaties, threatenings, and caresses, were all employed, in order to prevail upon me to return his goods; and above all, he entreated me not to speak of them to any person. "I swear to you by Mahomet, by all that I value most," said he to me, "that I will cause you to be soon conducted to Mogador. I promise that I will make you a free man the very first opportunity. Restore to me, I beseech you, that which you formerly gave me. If my wife, who is just[Pg 250] about being delivered, comes to learn my misfortune, it will affect her very seriously; she will lose her infant, and perhaps her life. Think what evils you will occasion."
This observation of Sidy Mahammet would not have affected me greatly, had I not recollected during the night, that it was very possible I might fall into the hands of some unfortunate wretch, too poor to undertake so long a journey, and who, to make sure of what I had, might put an end to my days with his poignard. I made a virtue of necessity, and pretended to restore them, because of his entreaties. I remarked what ascendancy his fear gave me over him, and assured him, that if he broke his word, I would most certainly take again all that I had given him. He renewed his oaths, and promised to give me punctually, for the time to come, a portion of milk, evening and morning. He kept his promise, but never went from home. He feared that his neighbours, with whom I had constant intercourse, and especially his relations, would hear of the seizure which I had lately made, and that some other time his dear casket of jewels might be taken from him for ever. I believe he now sincerely wished to get quit of me, and Heaven soon furnished him with an opportunity, which I had so long wished for.
Chance conducted to the place which I had bathed with my tears, Sidy Mouhamet, sheriff of the tribe of Trargea. He saw me, and asked who I was. He was made acquainted with my history; they boasted to him particularly of my great possessions at Senegal, in powder, guns, &c. The sheriff immediately called me, and inquired what was my situation at the island of St Louis. I an[Pg 251]swered his inquiries. He observed me a little more attentively, and then cried out, Are you Brisson? Alas! Yes, I am the same. He was immediately surprised. Do you know that Christian, added he, all the property at Senegal is his. This man had imagined, that all the effects in the king's magazines, which he had seen me order to be delivered, were my own property. My master's brother-in-law, encouraged by these few words, did not hesitate long in making a purchase of me, which he did for five camels.
I did not know of this bargain being concluded, when I was one day struck all at once with surprise and joy. I had returned with my master from giving the camels drink (for the third time in three months), and his wife had ordered me to go and carry into the neighbouring tent a leathern bucket which she had borrowed. Sidy Sellem, whom I have just mentioned, was there; he called me, and ordered me to prepare to go with him the next day to Mogador. I had been so often flattered with this hope, and had so often been disappointed in my expectation, that I could not persuade myself that what he said was truth. However, some persons who heard what the Arab said to me, assured me that it was no deception. The old man himself again protested this to me. I threw myself at his feet, I wept, I sobbed, I laughed, I did not know where I was. Alas! who can estimate the value of liberty? or form an idea of what I felt, when I understood that my fetters were indeed broken?
My first master called me, and told me I was no longer his property. "I have fulfilled my pro[Pg 252]mise," added he, "you shall again see your native country." I forgot in that moment all my resentment, and gave myself up to unbounded joy. It was no small addition to my satisfaction, when I understood I was to have a companion on the journey. "We are to meet with some others at a little distance," added he. How little did I expect to find the unhappy baker there. I asked at him, when I saw him, by what miracle he had been raised from the dead. "Alas!" he answered me, "I know not how it comes to pass that I am not indeed dead. Sidy Mahammet surprised me one day sucking a she-camel. He ran up to me, gave me several blows, and grasped me so hard by the neck, that I fell down almost lifeless at his feet. I was greatly surprised, on recovering from my trance, to find myself alone. I found my neck was all bloody, and you may see the marks of his nails at this hour. I crept upon my hands into a hole in a rock. The echo frequently caused the voice of my barbarous master to resound in my ears; he had come again a little after in quest of me, or at least to see what was become of me. Not having fallen upon the place where he thought he left me expiring, he called upon me on all sides; but I would not answer him. I had resolved with myself, either to perish with hunger, or to reach the borders of the sea, in hopes of seeing some ship. I arrived at length, after ten days travel, having nothing to support me but snails, and urine for my drink. The sight of a little fishing smack, which had anchored near the land, redoubled my strength. I ran as fast as I could by the water's edge, endeavouring to make them observe me by signs, and to get the captain[Pg 253] to send a boat for me. But I had scarcely entered upon the rocks which border on the sea, when I was seized by two young Arabs,28 who dragged me to some distance from the sea-coast. The fright occasioned by having fallen into their hands, disappointment in having failed in my enterprise, and particularly hunger, had altogether reduced me to such an extremity, that I would certainly have expired, had not they very quickly given me some support. They took very great care of me, and from that day became my masters. I had the charge of keeping their goats, for they have no other flocks, nor any other livelihood but what they procure by means of their fish. They appeared to be a much more pleasant people than those who inhabit the inland part of the country; they are more industrious. About fifteen days afterwards, they informed me they were to conduct me to the Sultan; and if they carried me thither, I believed they would meet with your master at the rendezvous, and inform him that they had arrested me. I much wished, Sir," added he, "that you had been with me, well convinced that you would have been happier, for I found no cause to be displeased with these people. They often spoke to me about you; it appeared that they all had known of you.29 But at last we have met. [Pg 254]What are they to do with us? Are they to conduct us to the Emperor of Morocco?"
28 The Arabs who dwell along that coast live upon their fish. They are exceedingly poor, but of much milder manners than the inhabitants of the interior parts, by whom they are greatly despised.
29 The jewels which I had given Sidy Mahammet had made so much noise through all the country, that the travelling Arabs who passed through our districts asked frequently at my companions in misfortune, when they met me—Es Brisson?
After having heard the baker's history, I answered his inquiries to this purpose, that we were to set out to Morocco, but that we had a very long journey to make. "We have much to suffer," added I, "as we must follow the track of the camels; I know not, besides, on what we are to subsist, for we have no she-camels, and of consequence can have no milk. I am persuaded we will be obliged to beg our way from village to village, which will greatly retard our journey."
The next day the inhabitants of the tribe of Trarge assembled around Sidy Sellem, and made a long prayer; after which they brought both to him and us a kettle full of broth, prepared with meal of a wild grain, of which I believe I had formerly heard them speak. They added to this mess a large portion of milk, and their best wishes for a good journey to us.
Sidy Mahammet bade me a very affecting adieu. "Adieu, Brisson," said he to me, "you are about to undertake a very long and troublesome journey. You may easily conceive what reasons I have to fear the exposing myself to it. I wish you may have a safe journey, and that your sea-voyage may be more fortunate than the last; adieu, forget not to send a piece of scarlet cloth to my wife. You will give it in charge to Sidy Sellem. Adieu, my friend Brisson." The tears which accompanied these last words would certainly have imposed upon me, if I had not known how capable he was to deceive. However, the pleasure I felt in getting away from him, enabled me to express some gratitude. I engaged to send what he wanted for[Pg 255] his wife. He assisted me in mounting a stout camel which was appointed for me and the baker, but we were obliged to leave it a few days after; we were not the only persons who did so. These animals not finding pasturage, were not in a condition to continue the journey; besides, the camels in this country are not able to endure so much fatigue. On the other hand, we were not able to keep our seats very long, as they had no saddles. We were therefore obliged to walk on foot the rest of our journey. Judge what I suffered, when the sand penetrated into the wounds of my feet, and when the thistles opened these wounds again afresh. I frequently fell down without expecting I would be able to rise again. At the same time I had frequently to turn, sometimes to the right, and sometimes to the left, to reassemble the camels which fell behind; and we were often obliged to make counter marches to avoid these hordes of Arabs, whom we had reason to fear might pursue us.
One day,—Alas! the recollection of that unhappy day will long be imprinted on my memory!—we descended into a valley which was covered with verdure by the rains which had lately fallen. My master therefore made a halt here, in order that the famished camels might get a little nourishment. He ascended to an eminence, upon a high mountain which surrounded part of the valley. He sat down a little there, while his own beast and the other camels should feed, as he meant to carry them to the city and sell them. I passed on before him to reach the summit of the mountain, supposing that to be the road which we were to follow. What confirmed me in my opinion was,[Pg 256] that the old man permitted me to continue my journey, and I also observed the path which I took was a beaten one. At length, having reached the top, I went to a little distance from the road, to shake my long beard, which was constantly filled with vermin, notwithstanding all my care. Having lain near an hour quiet behind a bush, without seeing any of the travellers appear, I returned again to the edge of the hill. My God, what was my astonishment when I could see no person! Where are they? Which way have they gone? What road shall I take? As the hordes which encamped in this neighbourhood came thither to feed their flocks, a great number of different roads met here. I could not think of any other way, than to cry aloud different times on Sidy Sellem. At length I observed at a distance four or five Arabs, who were coming up towards me. I ran to meet them, supposing them to belong to our company. I soon discovered my mistake; a great dog, and one of the stoutest of the barbarians, made up to me at the same time. The Arab aimed a blow at me with the back of the blade of his sabre, which struck me on the head. The others coming up, drew me among the rocks, where they had an asylum, and there prepared to place me in a frightful situation.
See then the hope of recovering my liberty entirely lost! My slavery promised to be harder now than ever. I was absorbed in these reflections, when the assassins conducted me to a declivity, which led to a place, where they expected to hide me from the sight of their companions. Suddenly I observed our flocks, and our little caravan, to the number of twenty persons, in a valley which[Pg 257] surrounded the mountains. I luckily escaped out of the hands of my plunderers, and found as much strength, as enabled me to reach to my old man. The vagabonds affrighted, took to their heels.
My master reprimanded me severely, and charged me never to separate from him again. I complained on my part, that he had not stopped me, when he observed that the road which I pursued, was not that which he himself was to take, and by his silence, I supposed I was right; in a word, that he had gone off without calling me back, and that he had not sent any person in search of me. He gave me for answer, that he had not stopped me in the road I had taken, because he intended to follow me immediately; but he had been under the necessity of going after the camels, who had strayed through the valley, eating the green herbs, of which they had been long deprived. "I was preparing to overtake you," said he, "at the very moment, when the sound of your voice reached me, and apprised me both of your danger, and of that to which I would have been exposed in following you. But I durst not risk my camels, nor hazard my own life, to preserve yours; we have, besides, no time to lose; let us escape as quickly as possible, from a place, in which I am in as great danger as yourself." In consequence, we doubled our pace, for the following six hours, and made a cross-march, in order to deceive those who might be disposed to follow us. We eat no food the next and following day, until the evening. I had taken nothing for my support for two days, but a few handfuls of wild succory, which I had gathered in the fatal valley.
The day following, we were in an open country.[Pg 258] We had passed over the hills, and travelled through plains, filled with calcined flint-stones, which resembled smith's charcoal. Above these stones, arose at a little distance, a whitish earth, upon which we saw great trunks of trees, heaped upon one another, the roots of which were torn off. The bark was entirely stripped off, and the branches, brittle as glass, were twisted like cords. The wood was of a yellowish colour, like the wood of liquorice, and besides, the inside of these trees was filled with a powder, very hard to the touch. All this announced to me a very extraordinary revolution. I was anxious to learn, if these trunks had any taste of sulphur; but neither the wood, the dust enclosed in the heart of the trees, nor the calcined stones, had either taste or smell.
At some distance, we found the mountains of a prodigious height, appearing as if they were piled one above another. The rocks, which were detached, had formed, by their crumbling down, as it were precipices. Others, suspended in the air, threatened to crush in pieces the traveller below. Others, again, in their striking one upon another, by receiving in their shock, slimy earth, which hurled down continually, formed frightful caverns. The surrounding valleys were filled with rocks, which appeared to rise one above another, and produced new masses, not less frightful. To conclude, it appeared like a long range of mountains, from which pieces of a great size were frequently falling, which were reduced to dust, before they reached the ground.
From another side issued two fountains, one of which drew along with it, in its course, a black slimy stuff, which occasioned a sulphurous smell.[Pg 259] The other, separated from the first, by a small isthmus of sand, from twelve to fifteen paces broad, is clearer than crystal. The taste of these waters is pretty agreeable; the bottom of their bed is filled with small stones of various colours, which presented to the eye a delightful prospect.
It was in the same place I observed a singularity, which I submit to the understanding of my readers. In a valley, which appeared at first sight, to be very much circumscribed by the number of surrounding mountains, across threatening vaults, formed by the falling of different rocks, heaped upon one another, I discovered an immense region, which astonished me by the variety which it presented to our view. At the first entrance of this valley, the ground is moist and furrowed, as if rivulets had formerly winded through it. The borders of these furrows were covered with many beds, and thickly spread over with a nitrous kind of ice. The rocks, which served to enclose them, were covered with the same, and had a near resemblance to cascades. The thick reddish roots, and the branches, covered with leaves, like those of the laurel tree, crept across the different crevices. At a greater distance, on advancing towards the west, we saw pyramids of great stones, as white as alabaster, towering one above another, which seemed to indicate the border of a bank, and above which very high date-trees grew up, of which the trunks were warped round even to the top. The palm trees, extended upon a mass of stones, by their length and colour, gave proof of their antiquity. Others, lying across here and there, and wholly stripped of their bark, afforded a very dismal spectacle.[Pg 260]
I split one of the palm-trees with my nails, and put a piece of it in my mouth; it had a taste, at once bitter and salt, but no smell. Those which were overturned, fell in pieces immediately upon my touching them; and the filaments which remained under the bark, were covered over with a saltish powder, as clear as crystal. The roots which hung far down from the rocks were glutinous, and the bark broke off with the least touch. I plucked up several branches of wild laurel, from which I immediately distilled some white drops, one of which, having fallen upon my hand, occasioned a very smart pain, and a black spot, which took off the skin. I durst not venture to taste it. In a word, the stones, the nitrous beds, the overturned date-trees and others, enveloped to the very top the immense plain covered with an extremely fine salt, the ground cut and furrowed, which appeared to have been turned up by the torrents, those rent mountains, if I may use the expression, all seemed to indicate, that at some former period, the scum of the sea had been carried into these places. I asked at Sidy Sellem, if we were far from the sea, and if ever it had passed that way? He told me, that we were perhaps the first of the human race who had landed there; that he was looking for the sea, which ought to be before us, in order to discover the places where, he had been told, some Arab camps were to be found, among whom he had friends who had accompanied him in a journey to Mecca.
"Keep yourself easy," added he, "the sun is my guide, he will conduct me where I wish to go. You may therefore follow, without fear, the footsteps of the camels." Indeed, I thought that I[Pg 261] walked with considerable ease; but it was not long, when I began to feel excessive pain, as my feet, severely torn, were filled with a kind of saltish dust. How greatly was I astonished, when, after two days' travelling, I found we were on the brink of the sea, and perceived below me the rolling waves foaming upon a frightful precipice! Towards the east, where I then was, its course was limited by immense rocks. On considering this elevation, I could not persuade myself, that ever this element had carried its waves to such a height. The rocks, said I to myself, would then serve for a bed to it. I lost myself in my conjectures;—besides, I set out at first to report facts, and it is not my province to make learned dissertations.
After some days journey farther, gradually advancing towards Morocco, we found other mountains no less elevated than the first, covered with stones of rose, violet, citron and green colours, and I observed extensive forests at a distance. I had not seen any before all the thirteen months I had been in the deserts. I was astonished to see the trunks of trees coming out of the centre of rocks, and to appearance hanging down like fruits. I saw with surprise also the roebucks running after one another, upon these same trees, leaping on the hanging rocks with incredible velocity, when they perceived any one following them. The moment one of them took to flight, the rest immediately followed. I observed, among many other trees, that of which the leaf resembled the gum-tree, or our parsley, to be the only one of the different kinds which I had seen, in all these countries, that had suffered from lightning. The thunder had no influence upon the rest.[Pg 262]
We travelled through the forests for three days. We had spent already four nights, and, during that time, had not heard any thing of the fierce animals, with which the deserts of Africa are overspread. They must certainly inhabit the country which lies far to the eastward; but how do they procure water?
The more we advanced, the more my distress abated. We frequently found fields of barley ready to be reaped. I sat down and ate, with a degree of pleasure which I cannot express. The water now also became more abundant. On every side, we frequently fell in with villages, where we were well received. In others, where we would not have been so safe, Sidy Sellem was much respected, as he had formerly made a journey to Mecca. However, the Arabs of the tribe of Telkoennes exceeded all in their attention to us.
After having paid Sidy Sellem all the customary honours due to a stranger, they caused to be set before him, at the usual hour, barley, meal, and milk. He gave me the remainder of his supper, which I went to eat apart with my new comrade the baker; for, especially on a journey, a Christian ought neither to eat nor drink, and far less to sleep, beside his master. My repast being ended, I dug a hole in the sand, in order to screen myself from the cold. To prevent the sand from entering into my eyes, I covered my head with a piece of packing-cloth, which I wore about my middle. But I had scarcely closed my eyes, when I heard the report of two gunshots, which appeared to have been fired hard by me, and immediately I was seized by the body. I very readily threw off me the covering of sand which I had[Pg 263] made myself, and which was warm. One of those who held me, asked me if I was wounded. I supposed that the fire, which had taken hold of my linen, had come from the wadding of the gun. "No," replied I, "but on what account do you treat me in this manner?"—"Sir,"30 answered he, "follow us." My master, who had been awakened by the report of the gun, ran towards the place where he had heard my voice. He complained of their abusing in such a manner one of his slaves, and that they had violated the laws of hospitality towards such a man as he was. The Arab of the mountains, in reply, told him, with an imperious tone, that during the night he watched his flock, not knowing that I belonged to his retinue; and having seen a man conceal himself in the sand, he had supposed him to be one of those robbers, who, during the night, come to carry off their young goats. Sidy Sellem pretended to believe him, commended his zeal, and took me out of his hands. As soon as he imagined that the village was all quiet, he left a place where he was as much afraid of his own safety as mine.
30 The language which they speak in the Desert, differs from that spoken in the capital. Sidy Sellem, who was considered as a scholar among them, was obliged to repeat several times, before he could make himself understood by Effendy, who interrogated him in the presence of the Emperor.
The Arabs of the tribe of Telkoennes are the worst situated of any that I have seen in all the Desert. They live in the midst of mountains of sand, raised by the winds. One would think they endeavoured to hide themselves from the light of [Pg 264]day, so difficult is it to penetrate into their retreats, or to find the way out of them. The plains in their neighbourhood abound with prodigious serpents. Three times I had occasion to see them frighten our camels; and the animals, when affrighted, fled, and obliged the baker and myself to take long races in order to assemble them again.
At last we approached to the famous city of Guadnum, of which I had heard so much talking for a long time past. It was across a cave of rocks, that I saw at a distance a city built upon an eminence, the environs of which announced formidable fortifications. When we drew near it, a little after, I could see no more than earthen bulwarks, almost all broken down. We observed some of the inhabitants, who appeared at small windows opposite to us. They seemed to be meditating some wicked action. The chief of the village, having learned that Sidy Sellem was the leader of this small caravan, came to meet him, attended by four negro slaves. They carried on their heads a basket of dates, which their master had presented as a mark of respect to him. "Is this Guadnum which I see?" I asked at Sidy Sellem. "No," replied he, "it is Fort Labat. The city is very near; you may observe it." Indeed, we arrived there two hours after.
This city, so much longed for, is the refuge of all the most resolute rebels of the different tribes. It is divided into two parts. The lower part is commanded by Sidy Adalla, There was a governor for the higher part, which is situated upon a little hill, and which very much resembles Fort Labat. Almost all the houses are built in the same manner. Four great walls occupy an im[Pg 265]mense space of ground. All those of the same part, build a house which will only admit light by the door and the top, which remains uncovered. The four walls which surround the house are very high. There is only one gate in all their circumference. This is guarded by large dogs. Every particular person has his own dog to protect himself; and without this precaution, although enclosed within walls, would have no security against the depredations of any neighbour more daring, or more skillful than himself.
I could not reconcile this general mistrust with the considerable trade which was carried on in this city. I saw two markets in it, which certainly were not inferior in any respect to the largest fairs in the provinces of France. Though specie of different kinds circulates here, I am inclined to think that their trade is principally carried on by barter. Fine wool may be found here in great abundance, and, above all, woollen stuffs, half white and half crimson, which are used by the inhabitants for their dresses. The merchants who purchase them, in order to sell them in the interior parts of the country, give camels in exchange.
Their ordinary profit is four hundred per cent.; and on these articles they gain much less than on wheat, barley, dates, horses, sheep, goats, oxen, she-asses, tobacco, gunpowder, combs, small mirrors, and other toys, which are not carried to a great distance. They are consumed in certain small towns of the country, in each of which a market is held on fixed days. What is very surprising is, that the Jews are almost the only people who carry on this trade. They are, however, exposed to the most humiliating insults. An Arab[Pg 266] snatches the bread from31 the hand of an Israelite, enters his house, makes him give him a handful of tobacco, often beats him, and always behaves to him with insolence; and yet the poor Jew must suffer with patience. It is true, that he indemnifies himself after his own manner; that is to say, by the address with which he disposes of his merchandise to advantage, and by the cunning by which he overreaches an Arab. The latter, in general, are exceedingly stupid.
31 It was at Guadnum that I first saw bread again. Whether brick or stones be scarce, or they have not learned the method of laying their ovens with these materials, I cannot say; but their custom is, to make little flint-stones, red hot, and on them bake their dough. The bread is pretty good. That which the emperor caused to be provided for the consul, appeared to be baked in a different manner, though I cannot say how. I found it more agreeable to the taste.
I met with a Moor in this city, who happened to have been at the sea-shore the very time of our shipwreck. I owe him an acknowledgment, for he treated me well. His sister-in-law, Paphye, appeared to take a very lively concern in my situation. During eight days I spent in Guadnum, she employed me in grinding some corn. She entertained me well, and, I may say, showed me numberless instances of care and attention. She wished much that I would stay with her. But nothing can equal the generous assistance I received from Aaron the Jew, and his wives, notwithstanding the ingratitude which they have often experienced from many Christian slaves.
I left Guadnum, after having rested there eight days. On the road to Mogador, I found nothing but villages or castles, situated, for the most part, [Pg 267]on very high mountains. At a distance, one would suppose them superb edifices, but, on coming nearer, we found them much the same with the others. We were very well entertained. The nearer we approached the city, however, we found the less hospitality. There is reason to believe the inhabitants are afraid of the affluence of foreign travellers.
We were sixty-six days on this march; my strength was exhausted, my limbs swelled, and my feet almost in a state of suppuration.32 I had infallibly sunk under it, if my master, to encourage me, had not constantly said to me, "Keep up your heart, there is the sea, behold the ships; take courage, we will be soon there." Hope supported me; and, in a moment, when I had not the least expectation of it, at length I perceived that element of which I had so much cause to complain, and which was still to be the arbiter of my fate. Sidy Sellem, without doubt, wished to enjoy my surprise. On coming out of a labyrinth of broom, we arrived at the top of some hillocks of sand.—Oh! you who read this history, which is too true, you never can form an idea of the joy which I felt at that moment, when I again saw the flag of France, and that of other nations, flying at the stern of the different ships, at anchor in the road of Mogador, which I still knew by no other name than that of Soira. "Very well! Brisson," said my master to me; "Very well!—Speak, wont you?—Are you satisfied?—Do you see these vessels?—Do you want those of France?[Pg 268]—I promised to conduct you to the Consul, you see I have kept my word: but what? you give me no answer!"—Alas! what could I answer? my tears could not find vent; I could not articulate a syllable. I looked at the sea, the flags, the ships, the city, and I thought that all was a dream. The unhappy baker, not less exhausted, and equally astonished with myself, mingled his sobs with mine. My tears trickled down upon the hands of the generous old man, who had made me so happy with an agreeable surprise.
32 A thorn of a gum bush had run into my foot, which I could not get extracted, till it was entirely putrified.
At length we arrived in the city, but still I was not without my fears. I trembled lest I should be retained as a slave. I had access to know, before I left France, that the emperor had abused M. Chenier, and that he had made his complaint at court. I had not learned if France had paid any attention to it, or if a new consul had been appointed; but in every case I had cause to fear. I was not long, however, in being set at ease. On entering the city, I met two Europeans, "Who and what are you," said I to them, "you see my misery, condescend to assist me. Comfort me, support me. Where am I? From what country are you? What month is this? and what day of it?" I was addressing natives of Bourdeaux, who, after having considered, went to inform Messrs Duprat and Cabannes, who had made it their business to relieve any unhappy persons, whom unlucky accident had thrown upon their coast. They came to meet me; and, without being ashamed at my shocking appearance, they took me in their arms, and bathed me with the tears, which the joy of relieving an unfortunate man made them shed. "Your misfortunes are at[Pg 269] an end, Sir," said they to me; "come with us; we will do our best to make you forget your troubles." They carried me immediately away with them, after having desired my master to follow us, and to make himself easy, as to any arrangements which I had it now in my power to make with him. I entreated these gentlemen to permit me to take along with me, not only Sidy Sellem, but also his son. Their house became as my own. Care, attention, friendship—all were heaped upon me without affectation. They dressed me from head to foot in their own clothes, till such time as I could get some made to answer my shape. I was visited soon after by all the Europeans who were at Mogador; they congratulated me upon the change in my condition, and particularly that I had arrived at so favourable a juncture, as that of the entry of a new consul, who had brought with him from France very considerable presents to the Emperor.
I was presented the same day to the governor of the place, who signified to us an order to go to Morocco. The king had given a declaration to that effect. He wished to see all the slaves with his own eyes, and that they should hear from his own mouth, the proclamation of their liberty.
We therefore set out in about eight days after, with a guard, which accompanied the treasure, my master, myself and the baker, as Sidy Mahammet had sent him by his brother, reserving to himself the ransom which he might receive for him. We were supplied with mules, a tent, victuals, and men to serve us. We arrived after four days journey.
The first thing I observed, was the steeple of one of the mosques, which appeared to be at a[Pg 270] great distance. I expected to see the dwelling of ancient emperors, and other remains of antiquity, but I could observe nothing except the residence of the king of Fez and Mequinez. The walls which surround the palace are of earth, and the two corners are wholly in ruins. One would have supposed them to be the enclosure of a churchyard. The houses in the neighbourhood of the park are low, and built in the same manner as those of Guadnum, but dirtier, and not so well aired.
The guard who attended my person, presented me to the consul and vice-consul. They offered me board and lodging, till I should set out for France. A second guard very soon came to acquaint me, that, the emperor informed of my arrival, had ordered me to appear immediately before him. I therefore followed this messenger, who conducted me through vast courts, where I saw nothing but very high walls of sand, and a scorching sun, which darted right on our heads the whole day. I at length reached the palace, where his majesty's guards are assembled. Those who attend his majesty's person, are armed with a gun. Their dress consists of one coat of any colour, and a cloak, similar to those of the capuchin friars. They have on their head a small red cap, with a blue tassel at top. Their naked feet only half enter their slippers, which they are obliged to drag after them. They carry the case of their gun in the form of St Andrew's Cross, and have a girdle around their body, by which hangs a cartouch box. Those who do not belong to this corps, have only a white staff for all their armour.
The horsemen are dressed in the same manner. They wear half-boots on their feet, and great spurs[Pg 271] of nine or ten inches long, which resemble so many spikes of iron. Their horses have always their sides opened to the quick; the riders jag them continually, and appear to have pleasure in it. This is a faithful portrait of the troops of his majesty the King of Morocco.
While I waited for an audience, I saw a captain review his troops. He sat down on the ground, his chin leaning on his two hands, and his arms placed on his knees, and turned up towards his chin. He made the soldiers advance two by two, and gave them the word of command. These, having prostrated themselves before him, retired behind, and went about their affairs.
Five or six of those who were armed with clubs, seized me by the collar, as if I had been a criminal. They caused open two great folding gates, like those of our granaries, and pushed me roughly into the park.
In vain I looked around me in search of some ensign of royalty. At length, having passed a kind of bruette,33 15 or 20 paces, they made me turn about my face, and I was ordered while they pushed me roughly forward, to prostrate myself before this bruette, in which the king sat, amusing himself in stroking the toes of his foot, which he held on his knee. He looked at me for some time, and then inquired if I was one of these Christian slaves, whose vessel had been wrecked upon his coasts about a year ago, and what was my business at Senegal, &c. "Your loss was owing to [Pg 272]your own misconduct," said he to me; "why did you not keep yourself at large? Are you rich," continued he; "Are you married?" I had scarcely answered his questions, when he ordered paper and ink to be brought him, then, with a small reed, which served him for a pen, he traced the four principal winds, and made me observe, that Paris lay to the northward. He then ciphered about twelve figures in French. "Do you know these?" asked he; and put several similar questions to me, to show me that he was a scholar.
33 A very mean sort of carriage, drawn by two horses, very often to be seen in the streets of Paris.
"Tell me," continued the Prince, "did the Mountaineers34 use you well or ill? have they taken many of your effects?" I hastened to answer all his questions, and informed him, that the nearer I approached to the capital, the more civil usage I met with. "I have not the sovereignty," replied he, "of all the countries through which you have passed; or, to express myself more properly, my orders cannot be put so effectually into execution at such a distance. With whom are you come?—With Sidy Sellem of La Roussye. I know him, bring him hither." Immediately after, my master was introduced in the same manner I had been.
34 The inhabitants of the towns call those of the deserts mountaineers.
The emperor asked him, if he had bought me very dear, and what were his intentions. Sidy Sellem answered him very archly, by informing him, that he had no other intention in traversing these immense regions, but to come and prostrate himself at the feet of his sovereign, and present [Pg 273]him with the homage of his slave.35 "Do you know," continued the Prince, "if any other of these people are to be found among the Ouadelims and Labdesseba, as it was by these tribes they were all seized?" My patron answered him very humbly. "Yes, Sir, and they may be very easily collected together, if you issue orders to that effect." The emperor did not push this conversation farther; he commanded one of his guards to attend me and the baker, upon a fresh order; and that we should eat in the royal kitchen. This man expressed no little surprise, that the Sultan should have condescended to converse so long with a slave.
35 It is certain, that if Sidy Sellem had not wished to pay his homage to the emperor, (it was fifty years since he had been at Morocco), and had he not been called to the city by his own particular business, I would never have seen my native country; I was too far into the interior parts of the country ever to have escaped otherwise.
The next day, the consul called me back before the guard, saying, that when the king inquired after me, the guard should come and seek me in his house. I had then appointed for my dwelling, a cave, which had formerly been the residence of the Spanish ambassador. The emperor, willing to pay the same attention to the envoy of France, gave him the same lodging.
This palace, which was the best the emperor had in his disposal, was nothing else than a long cave dug in the earth, the vault of which was supported by two ranges of pillars. The descent was by a small stair, and there was no air but what was procured by small windows, placed on the head of the vault. The emperor keeps here his [Pg 274]tents and war equipage. In fine, naked walls, spiders webs, bats and rats, were all that we could see in this dwelling. This building stands in one of the finest situations in his majesty's gardens, which are adorned with olive and quince trees, pomegranates and apples. The four high walls which surround them, gives one the idea of a state prison. It was in this place that the emperor lodged the ambassadors, or representatives of powerful foreign nations, and did not provide them with a single piece of furniture. He contented himself with ordering them a certain quantity of beef, mutton, poultry, bread and water.
His majesty's own palace consisted of six large courts, surrounded by walls. The outside of the seraglio resembled a granary. The mosque is built in the same manner. I know not if the inside is any thing more agreeable, but there is nothing in its exterior to please the eye. The city is separated from the palace by masses of clay. The filth and bones of beasts which have been killed, heaped upon one another, serve, to use the expression, as a girdle to the capital. These pyramids of nastiness are ever to be found within the city. They prevail even on the tops of the houses, and keep out the very light of day. The sun, which beats upon these hills of filth, exhales the putrefaction from them. The houses, ill built, resemble hogsties, and are very ill aired. The streets are narrow, and partly covered with beds of straw.
One day that the New England ambassador, who had taken lodgings in the city, the consul and myself, were taking an airing on horseback, we were obliged to alight. The people, under bad[Pg 275] government, or rather without any, run before us, and interrupted us in our journey, as we had no guards to escort us. Without this precaution, a person runs the risk of being cut in pieces. In spite of all the care I could take, I got a stroke on the head with a stone. But I neither could discover from whence, or by whom it was thrown. Take this as a just specimen of the city of Morocco.
The character of the inhabitants differs very little from that of those of the deserts. They are not quite so stout, and rather fairer. They are more accustomed to the sight of Europeans, and therefore are less surprised with it, but they are equally addicted to the practice of insulting them. I have seen many of them enter into the houses of the consul and M. Duprat, sit down, and without asking it as a favour, demand of them something to eat and drink; nay, even require that they should give them what they thought fit to ask. A porter, who had no other trouble than to open three times to the consul, the gate of the court where the emperor was, came with great effrontery to him demanding a gratification. He gave him some silver pieces, with which he was far from satisfied. He therefore continued holding out his hand, and crying Zit (give more, this is not sufficient), with an arrogance equally ridiculous as his demand.
The secretaries and writers behave in the same manner; they impose their demands on all who have any concern with them. The principal crown officers are still more greedy of presents, and especially of great piastres, of which the value is 5[Pg 276] livres and 10 sols. Their master makes it his daily business, to examine them what they have gained by doing any piece of business, or executing any commission. He gives them considerable posts, or sends them upon an embassy; and when it is presumed that they have amassed a certain fortune, they are accused of some misconduct, stripped of all their possessions, and left to finish their days in slavery. Their very children are not exempted from these acts of barbarity. The same Mouley Adaram, whom I have already mentioned, lives at this day wandering in the Desert, and among his banditti, in consequence of having fallen a victim to his father's covetousness. I do not know if this young prince has ever shown any good qualities, but in the Desert he is only considered as a barbarous prince, who will prove a very cruel tyrant, if ever he mounts the throne. It is true, the throne appears at present to be destined for his brother Moulem36 Azy, who is as worthless as himself.
36 This was written before my return from Senegal. It may be noticed, that the son has since declared war against the father.
May I be permitted to observe, how extraordinary it is, that a prince so little to be dreaded as the Emperor of Morocco, should oblige the different powers of Europe to send ambassadors to him, and that he should even dictate laws to them. There is not a single sovereign who dares to send a representative to his court without making him at the same time considerable presents; and what envoy would present himself without having his hands full? When M. Chenier, envoy from the court of France, delivered his despatches to the [Pg 277]emperor, some thing in them had given offence to him; he therefore wrapped them in a dirty handkerchief, and hung them about the consul's neck, who was accordingly publickly exposed to the mockeries and insults of that cruel nation. How happens it that the consuls have not, by common consent, represented to their respective sovereigns, that the Emperor of Morocco becomes every day more and more powerful by the supplies which they themselves furnish him? Twenty years ago, this prince was absolutely destitute of resources. He had neither materials, nor any place for casting cannons; and he was equally in want of wood for building ships, of ropes, of nails, and even of workmen. It is France, and other European powers, that assist him, else the Emperor of Morocco would be of little consideration. His superb batteries of brass cannons, twenty-four, thirty-six, and forty-eight pounders, were furnished by Holland, Spain, England, and France. England has done more than other nations, by selling him those beautiful cannons which were taken on the floating batteries. Mogador, that part of it which is next to Morocco, is built in an advantageous situation. Its batteries are well disposed, and there are cannon at each embrasure; but they are there only in a manner for show, as they have no carriages, and are supported only by brick work. There are no workmen in the country capable of mounting them on carriages, nor is there wood proper for making them. Did a few vessels only wait for the sailing of those small frigates, which are almost all unfit for sea, except only two, nothing would be easier than to prevent them from returning, and to block up the ports of Mogador,[Pg 278] Rabat, and Sallee. What would become of his commerce, and, above all, his marine, did the Christian princes cease to assist him, contrary to the interests of humanity! Would England and Spain unite only for a moment, Tangiers, his most beautiful port, would soon be so far ruined, that it could not afford shelter to his subjects, who, destitute of ships, would soon be obliged to give over their piracies.
If the consuls of different nations have never made these observations, and if they have never pointed out the means of curbing the insolence of the Emperor of Morocco, it is because they are at the head of the commerce which these different powers carry on in that part of the world. The Spanish consul bought up almost all the corn of the country, and ships were sent off with it, according to his consignments. The French consul is the only one who does not engage in commerce. I can positively assert, that these representatives, instead of furnishing their courts with the means of diminishing the power of the emperor, never cease to add to his strength, and to incite him to make new pretensions. How much we assist these pirates to hurt the advantageous trade which we might carry on! Their situation renders them very dangerous; but if we leave them only their situation, it would be impossible for them to profit much by it. Let impartial people pay a visit to that country—let them speak with the same sincerity as I do, and they will no doubt be convinced that the Emperor of Morocco, of all the princes in the world, would be the least able to do mischief, did the sovereigns of Europe cease to furnish him with succours.[Pg 279]
At length, the hour came, when my chains were to be broken off. One day the prince, on coming out of the mosque, gave the consul to understand, that he wished him to attend with his slaves, in the court where he held his Mechoir (a kind of public audience). "Consul," said he to M. Durocher, "I hope that you will not be like your predecessor, whose haughtiness displeased me exceedingly. Observe this young man (pointing to the vice-consul), he is pleasant and complaisant. He constantly endeavours to please me. I wish you to imitate him. I have desired it of you. You must write to your master, that I am satisfied with his presents. Adieu, retire a little with the slaves which I have given you.37 Choose any of my ports which may be most convenient for your embarkation. Adieu, I go to name the officers of my court, who will accompany you to the place of the consular residence."
37 We were seven in number, viz. myself, the baker, and five others, belonging to the ship (Les Deux Amis) the Two Friends, which had been shipwrecked some time before us.
It was customary at these audiences, for the emperor to take cognizance of all the affairs of police. He appeared mounted upon a white horse, caparisoned with a scarlet and blue cloth; gold tassels hung round the crupper. A squire walked at the side of the sovereign, who held in his hand a long pole, at the end of which was an umbrella, to defend his majesty from the heat of the sun. The guard followed them on foot in great silence. Every thing announced fear. A look from the sovereign every where spread consternation. At his least word, he saw the head of one or more of [Pg 280]his subjects fall without the least emotion. The culprit is lifeless, ere the last words of the sentence are out of his mouth. However, I never knew a rich man, who could buy his favour, suffer death, be his crime what it might.
What can be thought of a prince, who, upon an idea which had been suggested to him, that I was doubtless a Christian, more remarkable than the rest, because I was better drest, and the consul paid me more attention, forget every thing he had promised, and sent orders to Mogador, to arrest me, and send me back to Morocco? Happily the winds had wafted me to too great a distance, when the messenger came to signify to the governor his master's pleasure.
I may therefore say that misfortune followed me to the last. I had certainly sunk under my misfortunes as well as my companions, had I not been supported by a steady firmness, and an unlimited confidence in Divine Providence. I must not forget to mention, that before my departure, Sidy Sellem went away abundantly satisfied with the generosity of the consul.
I did not wish to interrupt my narrative, as I thought it would be more proper, that it should be followed with my various observations on the religion, manners, usages, &c. of a people, who are very little known, and who, for that reason, may become very interesting. Fatal experience has put it in my power to represent them. The reader may rest assured, that I will be no less guided by truth, in the description which I am now to lay[Pg 281] before him, than I have been in the preceding recital of my particular adventures.
The Arabs of the Desert follow the religion of Mahomet; but they have entirely disfigured it by the grossest superstitions. They live constantly wandering in the midst of the dry sands of Africa. There are certain colonies of them who traverse continually the borders of the sea, without having any fixed dwelling. They are distributed into tribes, more or less considerable. Every tribe is divided into hordes, and every horde encamps in the districts which appear most likely to furnish pasturage for the support of their cattle, and that in such a manner, that one tribe is never wholly united. They are thus frequently intermixed with certain villages of the tribes of the Ouadelims, Labdesseba, La Loussye, Lathidium, Chelus, Tucanois, Ouadelis, &c. The two first are the most formidable—they carry their ravages to the very gates of Morocco. It is not therefore without reason that the Emperor fears them. They are in general tall, handsome, stout and vigorous men. They have commonly bristled hair, a long beard, a furious look, large hanging ears, and their nails as long as claws; they always use their nails in the wars wherein they are almost constantly engaged with their neighbours. The Ouadelims, in a particular manner, are fierce, arrogant, warlike, and given to plunder; they carry terror and dread with them wherever they go. However, like the other Arabs, their courage commonly fails them, when they have not a decided superiority.
All these colonies lodge by families, in tents, covered with a thick cloth made of camels hair. It is the women who spin their cloth, and weave[Pg 282] it upon a loom, so small, that they work it sitting upon the ground. The furniture of their dwellings, consists of two large leather sacks, which answer the purpose of keeping all their old clothes, and any pieces of old iron; of three or four goat-skins (if they can procure as many), in which they keep their milk and water; of some wooden dishes, some pack-saddles for their camels, two large stones for grinding their barley, a smaller one to drive in the pikes of their tents, an osier matting which serves for a bed, a thick carpet for a covering, and a small kettle. These are the pieces of furniture which distinguish the rich from the poor. Their flocks, by which their riches are estimated, consist of two or three horses, several camels, some sheep and goats. The less fortunate have goats and sheep only.
The principal part of their devotions, and that which they observe with the greatest attention, is prayer. There are different kinds of it: the first commences always before sun-rising. The Talbe is distinguished by the length of his beard, a piece of woollen cloth, half white and half crimson, which he leaves loose and flowing about his body, and under which appears a figure, exhausted by fasting, (the consequence of excessive laziness), and a kind of chaplet of an enormous size. He raises a sad and lamentable voice, which one would be ready to suppose to be that of a pious and contrite man, but which is, in fact, that of a hypocrite. Girt with a poignard, he seeks the place where his perfidious arm can, with assurance, aim the blow with which he wishes to pierce the heart of his neighbour, his friend, and often his brother. By his uncouth sounds, he calls his peo[Pg 283]ple to come and range themselves under his banner, to hear the praises of the Prophet. They all run up to him with a holy respect; but before the priest begins his prayer, they throw off a little coat, which they wear fastened to their girdle, and in which they are wrapped, as it is the drapery of which their clothing consists. The Talbe afterwards bows himself towards the ground. He removes with his hands that upon which his feet were placed; then takes up a handful of the sand which has not been dirtied, and in place of water, rubs with it his face, hands and arms up to the elbows, in order to purify himself from all his uncleanness. The people follow his example.
When the prayer is ended, they stop for some time, sitting squat-down behind, and trace different figures upon the sand with their fingers, and turn them round their head, as if sprinkling themselves with a holy unction. The savages, while thus employed, show as much exterior piety and respect as we can do in our churches. I do not believe, however, that it is possible to make a greater jest of religion than they do, when their prayers are ended. The women, who only attend the morning matins, and those which they go about at ten o'clock at night, place themselves at the gate of their tents, and keep themselves with their faces towards the east.
When the first part of their religious exercise is performed, their next business is the milking of the flocks. They begin with the she-camels, giving them a great many blows with their feet, until they make them rise. As soon as they are on their legs, they take off from their udder a kind of[Pg 284] covering made of ropes worked together, which is intended to prevent the young camel from sucking. The young one then runs up to its mother, and, by its caresses, prepares her to yield her milk in greater abundance. The master and the keeper of the flock watch the moment when the lips of the young camel are covered with a white foam: they then separate it from its mother; and each resting his head on different sides against the animal's belly, they press the udder, from which they sometimes draw five pints of milk, when the rains have rendered the earth fruitful. The keeper of the flock, after taking a few draughts every time he milks, pours the rest into a vessel destined for that purpose, and placed close by the side of his mistress; for he is allowed no other nourishment than the milk which he draws from the last of the camels. When all the milk is thus collected, the mistress puts aside her part, which is never the least; then serves her husband and his children; and lays up the rest in a goat's skin, which she leaves exposed to the sun before the milk be made into butter. Three or four hours after, the young girls bring from the fields the sheep and the goats. The mother, who is always present at the last milking, mixes the milk procured by it with that of the camels; and when the sun has sufficiently warmed it, they separate the cream from it, in order to make butter. What remains, serves as drink for the rest of the day. When the butter is made, they put it into small skins, where it acquires a strong smell, which, according to the taste of these barbarians, adds to its value. The women use it for greasing their hair: without this they would think something deficient in their[Pg 285] dress. One cannot believe to what excess they carry their coquetry. They dress their hair with great art. They keep it flowing in tresses upon their breasts, and fasten to it any thing they can find. I have seen some of them ornament it with shell-work, keys of chests, and padlocks, rings of umbrellas, and buttons of trowsers, which they have taken from sailors.
When their head-dress is thus so far prepared, they cover it with a greasy cloth, which surrounds their head, covers the one half of their nose, and ties below their chin. To give a brilliancy to their eyes, they comb the eye-lashes with a great copper needle, which they have rubbed upon a blue stone. Next comes the adjustment of their drapery; and here all the art lies in plaiting it neatly, and so as to keep the folds, in doing which they employ neither pins, cords, nor sewing. But that the work of the toilette may be complete, they paint the nails of their feet and hands with a reddish colour. A Moorish woman, who wishes to be considered as a beauty, must have long teeth shooting out of her mouth; the flesh from the shoulder to the elbow loose and flabby; their limbs, thighs and body, prodigiously thick; their gait slow and cramped. They have bracelets like the collar of great Danish dogs upon their arms and legs. In a word, they labour from their infancy to efface any beauties for which they are indebted to nature, and to substitute in their room ridiculous and disagreeable whims. They have no other dress in all their wardrobe than what I have described. To add to the inconveniences to which these women are subjected, let us only reflect, that the same linen on which they are deli[Pg 286]vered of a child, they receive its nastiness and blow their noses in; it is impossible to form an idea sufficiently disgusting, of the nastiness and horrid smell of the Moorish women.
Could one suppose that these hideous women are addicted to jealousy and evil-speaking? It is, however, a truth. One of them has, perhaps, occasion to go and borrow something from her neighbour. If she meets the husband, she veils her face, and presently with a trembling air enters the tent. But if the woman is by herself, she begins to speak all the evil she can of any neighbour who is better drest. This conversation goes on, when perhaps a third enters, who does not fail to lay in her word, in such a manner, as that the one half of the day is spent in evil speaking; and she very frequently goes away, probably without recollecting to seek what she came to borrow. Laziness and gluttony are also their favourite sins. They will expose themselves to numberless affronts, in order to procure a little camel or goat's flesh, when they know that it is dressing in any person's house. Their favourite morsel is the liver.
The men are addicted to almost the same vices. They commonly pass the whole day stretched out upon a netting to sleep, to smoke, or to clean themselves from vermin which torment them. The women have generally committed to their care those employments which the men would otherwise find no hesitation in doing reciprocally. There can be no cause of surprise that the whole country is infected with vermin. They content themselves with throwing them down, without taking the trouble to destroy them. Notwithstanding all my precaution, my beard was always filled[Pg 287] with them, and I may safely say it was none of the least of my sufferings during my captivity.
The men meet together sometimes in the day time, to entertain one another with their warlike exploits. Every one recites the number of enemies whom he has conquered. A ridiculously false story is almost constantly followed by a charge of lying; a quarrel is the consequence; and the conversation is generally terminated with some blows of the poignard. They can never agitate even the most indifferent question, without having their eyes inflamed with rage. Fury is depicted in every the least motion, and they cannot even converse upon domestic affairs, without roaring and yelling hideously.
Perfidy and treachery are two innate vices of the Arabs. It is for this reason they never stir from their tents unarmed. They never make any agreements in writing, well assured that he who receives an obligation would poignard him to whom he signed it, to cancel his debt; and therefore they always carry hung to their neck, a little leather purse, in which they carry about with them whatever they consider as precious. Although they keep nothing in their tents under lock and key, yet I have seen some of them having small chests; these coffers, which often do not contain the value of a small crown, are an object of desire to the whole colony—I must not even except the brother, father, nor son of the proprietor. My master's brother was particularly envious on account of the small booty with which I had enriched his brother. He proposed to me one day, as a very simple matter, that I should[Pg 288] kill him during the night. He offered me his poignard, and promised to conduct me to Morocco when I had committed the crime. However discontented I then was with my situation, this proposal shocked me—it struck me with horror. However, it was soon renewed to me, with entreaties, by one of Sidy Mahammet's uncles, who, of all his relations, appeared to be most attached to him. I have frequently seen this man steal into my master's tent during the night, in order to carry off some old iron, or leather thong. This same man was one of the most considerable in the village. He was consulted in their different disputes, and his judgment was always deemed weighty by the poor—the rich paid little attention to any man's opinion.
Among the first lessons that they teach their young folks, are, to be expert in using the poignard, to tear the entrails of their enemy with their nails, and to give to a falsehood the semblance of truth. Those who to these talents add that of reading and writing, become very dangerous monsters, and thus acquire a very great ascendancy over their companions. It may be justly said, that they are from their infancy familiarized with vice, and equally happy in committing a bad or good action.
According to the custom of the country, every stranger Arab, to whatever district or tribe he belongs, known or unknown, is entitled to their hospitality. If there are many travellers, they all contribute towards the expense of their entertainment. All, without distinction, go out to meet a stranger, and welcome him upon his arrival, assist him in dismounting from his beast, and carry his[Pg 289] baggage behind the bush, which is to defend him from the rigour of the night; for it is an established custom, that no stranger is admitted into their tent. This ceremony over, they sit down around the new comer; inquire of him the news of the country, whence he comes, and if the party have evacuated the places where they were encamped; if he fell in with any other person in districts more or less remote; and likewise if he found plenty of pasturage in the places through which he passed. When they have got an answer to these different questions, they then inquire to what tribe he belongs; but they never think of inquiring about his own health or welfare, till they are satisfied as to the other questions.
If no person is acquainted with the stranger in the horde which he visits, the richest among them entertain him. If there are many of them, the expense, as I have already said, becomes common. They serve to each a large bowl of milk, and of barley meal mixed with boiled milk, or water when it can be had. If the stranger can read, they give him the honour of saying prayers; in which case the Talbe of the village places himself by his side, as master of the ceremonies. This sums up all his entertainment, if he is a stranger little known among them; but if has any friends in the horde, or known to be rich, they quickly kill a good ram, or a fat sheep, to regale him. The women prepare the banquet; and while they are dressing the flesh, they serve up the fat first raw. So soon as the meat is ready, they begin by laying aside a portion for the husband; then that which they appoint for any of their neighbours, with whom they live on good terms. If this attention was neglected, it[Pg 290] would be an irreparable fault. They then place, with care, the travellers mess upon a truss of straw. The Arab who is the entertainer, causes a Christian slave or negro, to follow him, carrying on his head the repast for the guest, which however is not set before him till ten o'clock at night, although perhaps he arrived early in the morning. Their practice is to give nothing to eat, till night, when they feast either by the light of a clear moon, or by a great fire, for they must have fire in almost every season of the year. The traveller never fails earnestly to entreat the person who brings him his mess, to do him the honour of eating with him, but he generally declines it as much as possible, and his refusal is founded on respect for his guest.
The next morning the travellers pursue their journey, without taking leave of any person whatever. This manner of entertaining one another would be surely very commendable, were it not for the many stratagems which they make use of to avoid it. When an unknown stranger appears, they sometimes place at a little distance from their tent a camel's saddle, a mat, a gun and a little bundle, all seeming to intimate the baggage of some traveller who has alighted from his horse; but often these precautions do not hinder the stranger from settling beside the same baggage. The chief comes to declare that they belong to some Arab of a neighbouring village; but as this is a plan with which they are all equally acquainted, the visitor generally is not discouraged, he remains there; but in this case they revenge themselves on his importunity, by giving him a very slender portion of victuals. Then he keeps a sharp look[Pg 291]out, and if he sees any fire, he runs towards it in the hope of getting some flesh or broth. He takes great care to keep himself at first concealed behind the tent, in order to overhear what passes there, and to discover if they are at victuals; for they are at great pains, in order to prevent such visits, to take away very speedily the three stones which support the kettle; and in this case his plan succeeds, since they never see any person pass without inviting him to enter and partake of the feast. It often happens that, while the gormandizing goes on, they steal from behind the bush the effects which he secreted there; but this is only one trick for another, for he takes the first opportunity of paying them home in their own coin.
It is difficult to form a just idea of the pride and ignorance of these people. They not only imagine that they are the first people in the world, but they have the presumption to believe that the sun rises only for them. Several of them have repeatedly said to me, "Behold that luminary! which is unknown in thy country. During the night thou art not enlightened, as we are, by that heavenly body, which regulates our days and our fasts. His children38 point out to us the hours of prayer. You have neither trees nor camels, sheep, goats, nor dogs. Are your women made like ours?"—"How long didst thou remain in the womb of thy mother?" said another. "As long," replied I, "as thou in that of thine."—"Indeed!" replied a third, counting my fingers and toes, "he is made like us; he differs only in his colour and language, which astonishes me."—"Do you sow barley in [Pg 292]your houses?" meaning our ships. "No," answered I; "we sow our fields almost in the same season as you."&mdashmdash;"How!" cried out several of them, "do you inhabit the earth? We believed that you were born and lived on the sea." Such were the different questions I had to answer, when I had the honour of their conversation.
38 Thus they name the stars.
War among them is nothing else than robbery; therefore they never engage in it, but in the view of indulging their sloth, when they have pillaged the flocks, and ravaged the fields before they are reaped. One day that the fields were covered with the whole flocks of the village, one of the keepers ran up, quite out of breath, to inform us that some squadrons of the Ouadelims had appeared upon the top of the hills, with an apparent intention of carrying off the cattle. Immediately the drum39 beat, all ran to arms, and advanced towards the enemy. The riders on horseback are enveloped in a cloud of dust. The camel, who has a very long step, is almost as agile. Pushed on by the roaring cries of his rider, he darts into the crowd, and makes a more terrible carnage by his bites than all the musketry. They never make an attack drawn up in line of battle. Every warrior has his own particular combatant. He who throws his adversary on the ground, or who carries off his arms or his beast, retires precipitately with the fruit of his victory. Others, if they think they are the stronger party, lay hold on them, give [Pg 293]them several blows with a poignard, or trail out their entrails with their horrid claws. The person who to-day is possessed of considerable riches in bestial, may find himself reduced to-morrow to extreme poverty, and stripped by him who, the preceding day, had no property at all. The weakest tribes, who are in consequence most exposed, are careful to live at a considerable distance, especially from the Ouadelims and Labdesseba. I have seen some of these two tribes, sometimes before leaving their country, begin their ravages in the neighbourhood of Arguin, which they call Agadir, and carry them even to the gates of Morocco.
39 This great drum is committed to the charge of one of the most considerable inhabitants. It is used on different occasions; sometimes to call to arms, sometimes to inform that an Arab is bewildered in the Desert, and at other times that the camels are lost.
In general, they cultivate no other grain but barley, and sometimes wheat, when there has been plenty of rain. But after three years of drought, their fields producing nothing, their method is to carry the horrors of war into more fortunate countries, and there seize from their brethren the fruits of their labour and industry. It thus happens that plentiful crops fall into the hands of ferocious men, who are more disposed to fight, than to labour for their subsistence.
When the battle is over, each party dig graves for the slain. The Talbes, being desired to repair to the place stained with the blood of their brethren, ran up to perform the duties of their function. These consist in pronouncing some plaintive sounds upon a few handfuls of sand gathered together in a shell, and sprinkling it upon the unhappy persons whom they prepare for death, by placing their thumb upon their forehead, as if they were applying some holy oil, and conclude with throwing upon their bodies a scarf and chaplet. When they expire, they stretch them in a grave,[Pg 294] always carefully laying them on the left side, with their face towards the east, as if to contemplate the tomb of their prophet. They then enclose the tomb with great stones heaped upon one another, which serve as a monument to these pillaging soldiers. The ages of their warriors are distinguished by the space of ground which their coffin occupies. The women, bathed in tears, come to throw themselves around these mausoleums. Their gestures, wry faces, and harmonious sobs, form a very ridiculous spectacle. A traveller should never pass before these tombs, without depositing there his staff; and, after a short prayer, he raises around the tomb heaps of stones, which are evidences of the vows he has made for the repose of his soul.
After these funeral rites, cries of desolation resound through the village. Every person mingles tears with those of the afflicted relations. The tent of the deceased is conveyed to another place. All his effects are exposed to the open air; and one of the fattest rams is slain to comfort the relations and friends, who offer it to the deceased in sacrifice. The repast being ended, they bury all differences. The day after the battle, I have seen them pay visits to one another. He who has dangerously wounded his neighbour the day before, goes to see him, and converses with him on the dexterity with which he seized the favourable moment to strike the blow. But what I consider as most extraordinary is, that earth is their only cure for the deepest wounds. From whatever place they take the earth, the effect is the same. In order to heal their pains, they have recourse to another expedient, which however does not always prove equally efficacious; that is, to apply red hot[Pg 295] iron to the part affected. Indeed, these Arabs are subject to few diseases. I have seen many old people, of both sexes, who were oppressed with no kind of infirmity. Sore eyes, and colics, are the most usual disorders among them. Children, above all, are exposed to these, though in other respects strong and robust. In the morning it is difficult for them to open their eyelids. With regard to the colic, I think it is occasioned by the verdigris which is mixed with every thing they eat or drink. The reason of its not occasioning more sudden disasters, is, perhaps, the large quantities of milk which they use. The kettles in which they cook their victuals are not tinned; they never wash them, on account of the scarcity of water; so that they remain covered with a crust of verdigris, which they do not scrape away even when they scour them with sand. During my stay among them, I was desirous of taking that charge, and of rubbing, until I should clear the verdigris entirely away. But they absolutely forbad me, telling me that I should wear their kettle. It is therefore impossible but that victuals kept in such vessels must prove prejudicial to their health.
It sometimes happens that the fields of these barbarians are covered with plentiful crops. But instead of waiting till the grain attains to maturity, they cut it down, and dry it over hot cinders; without reflecting that, by pursuing this method, they deprive themselves of that abundance which is necessary for the support of their families, and of straw to feed their cattle, which, for the most part, are reduced to the necessity of browzing on dry branches of trees; and that they[Pg 296] themselves are often obliged to eat the saddles and girths from the backs of their camels. I could not see, without regret, the little care which these barbarians take in preparing the earth. They leave the seed between heaps of stones, and among bushes, the parched roots of which absorb all the moisture of the ground, on which the waters leave a kind of mud very proper for assisting early vegetation. The person who is employed to till the ground, repairs to those spots which the rain has principally moistened, and scatters the seed here and there indifferently; after which, he turns up the earth with a plough drawn by one camel, which consequently makes a furrow of very little depth. If the moisture of the clouds happens to second his labour, each retires with his portion to some rock or cavern. In passing through more fertile cantons, I have found under my feet sheaves of corn, the full ears of which invited the most opulent Arab to collect them. Others, heaped one upon another, remained exposed to the injuries of the weather, because the proprietor found himself provided with enough to last him until the season when the vapours attracted by the mountains should fall down in torrents, and overflow the valleys.
"Is it possible," reasoned I with myself, "that any of mankind are in such a state of ignorance, as to make so little improvement of the blessings of Providence? How happy would I think myself with any kind of food suited to my taste!" I have at times taken a few handfuls of this barley, and, having cleaned the grain by rubbing it in my hands, I then eat it with inexpressible pleasure. On such occasions, I could have imagined that I was transported where the manna rained[Pg 297] down from the sky for the support of the Israelites in the wilderness.
From any thing I could ever learn from the Arabs with whom I lived, they are wholly strangers to every kind of industrious labour, and equally unwilling to be instructed. They have only two artisans among them, and these they regard with a kind of veneration, and doubtless with astonishment, when they see them imitate in any manner the works of foreigners, for they themselves are incapable of doing any thing. A wheelwright and a blacksmith were in possession of the whole arts and sciences of the country. The knowledge of the first was exercised in making wooden dishes, mortars, and ploughs; but he has never yet been able to give to that instrument of agriculture that shape which is proper, and would make it easy for the hand of the labourer. The other labours with strength of arm upon iron, and is equally ignorant of its good and bad qualities. I have frequently seen him heat his iron many times in the fire till he had exhausted all its virtue, and then he was obliged to give it up, without making any thing of it; and if at other times he was more fortunate, he never produced more than a clumsy resemblance of the article which he wished to imitate. The same artisan wrought with equal confidence in precious metals. My master one day brought to him the chain of gold which I had given him, with orders to make rings of it for his daughter. The ignorant fellow, after having examined it, pretended that it was not gold. He compared it with a piece of a mixed metal, which he had procured from one of our wrecks, and which he insisted was pure gold. To support his[Pg 298] assertion, he remarked that mine was of various colours, but his was real metal, and of a yellower hue. In short, after several remarks and dissertations equally ridiculous as ill founded, he came to the resolution of making a hole in a piece of charcoal, in which he enclosed it; and after having blown the fire well, he was lucky enough to melt it, and to form rings as large as the round of a snuff-box. His genius was generally admired, and he got a bowl of butter-milk for his reward.
What pains did I not take to teach them a method of grinding their barley with more ease, and of fanning it! How much have I laboured to instruct them how to load their camels, with more equal weight on both sides, in such a manner as not to hurt their sides, and to keep their instruments from being in continual danger of being broken, by falling to the ground! I wished to make them take more pains in labouring the earth, and gather in their harvest with more care; in short, I wished to polish them, but my attempts were vain; they are more conceited than their camels, (which is by no means saying little;—much have I suffered from these animals during the thirteen months I kept them!) What evidences do they give in every thing they undertake of their want of capacity! It is not possible to root out their prejudices, or correct their ill habits. I have seen in the hands of the smith the flourish of a gun-lock, with which he laboured fifteen whole days. When he had finished his work, I told him that it was so ill fitted to the case, that the person to whom it belonged could not make use of it without running great risks. All the by-standers wished me to make a trial of it, but[Pg 299] I declined it. The workman, however, through the abundance of his self-conceit, would try it himself, and accordingly it carried off part of his jaw-bone and hand. I was convinced from what I had seen, that this gunsmith's want of skill was the occasion of many wounds which they received in battle.
Often did they question us, if there was not a gunsmith among us. They seemed to think I was one from the observations which I had made. Their arms are in the worst condition imaginable. They are in general exported guns which the Arabs of the tribe of Trargea get in barter for camels. Some tribes have procured them from ships which have been wrecked on their coasts, and some bring them so far as from Morocco. These last are more substantial, but so difficult to manage, that they prefer those from Europe; and, above all, double-barrelled guns. There is not an Arab who would not cheerfully give a Christian slave for one of these guns. When they need repair, it is done with iron which they have abstracted from ships. I was at first astonished to see with what eagerness they staved barrels of spirits (aquavitæ) for the sake of their iron hoops. I could not have supposed they could have made use of such wretched iron for that purpose. If metal and guns are objects of such value in their eyes, one can readily conceive that stones, balls, lead and powder, are far from being of little consequence with them. They can very well distinguish good powder from bad. There is a powder manufactory in the little city of Guadnum; but it is so coarse and bad, as to have often[Pg 300] very little effect, sometimes none at all. It clogs and dirties the gun; and for want of oil, they are often obliged to grease them with butter.
If we may except these crimes which they endeavour to commit under night, these people never make a mystery of their actions. If any of them are proposing to take a long journey, they inform the whole village, who meet together to give their best advice to the traveller. Every one puts in his word, even children of fourteen years, who speak with as much confidence as an old man could do in proposing an affair of importance. These conferences, which they hold together for the purposes of either condemning or approving of one another's schemes, are sometimes prolonged for a whole month. In the same manner they consult about changing their encampment, or removing the camels to the sea-coast. This last matter is always very long of being decided upon, on account of the distance, and of what they must suffer in being deprived of milk till the return of these animals. It is true, that, in such cases, those who do not send away their camels supply those that are in want, but it is always in the view of being fully repaid, as they express it themselves. They never manifest such joy as on the return of the flocks. They come back with their interior well filled with water; and although it has contracted a taste and smell exceedingly disagreeable, it is however so scarce, that they drink it with much enjoyment.
Every person in Europe supposes that a dog would run mad if deprived of drink. In the deserts of Arabia, where the heat is excessive, they never drink any, and commonly live on excrement.[Pg 301] The camels will subsist four months without tasting a drop of water. The goats and sheep drink still less. Indeed, if it were not for the horses, the Arabs would never go in search of water; they would wait on that which falls from the sky. The rains, which usually fall about the month of October, spread an universal joy. They keep all their holidays at this period. You can form no idea of this general happiness, having never experienced this want.
A husband cannot divorce his wife, without the previous permission of the old men of the village, who never refuse it. The women are on all occasions treated with the greatest contempt. They never assume the name of their husband, but retain that which was given them at their birth. The children are not even called by their father's name. In almost all the colonies in which I have been conversant, there are only four or five different names in use among them. They are distinguished by that of their tribe, or some other surname. When an Arab sets out on a long journey, his spouse, after having received his adieu, follows him about twenty paces from his dwelling, and throws after him the stone, which is used for driving in the pikes of their tent, and, in the place where it lies, she buries it in the sand till his return. It is thus she expresses her good wishes for a successful journey to him.
Although the women behave very indecently, both in their words and actions, they are however faithful to their husbands. It is difficult to reconcile the tenderness which they show towards their children, and the barbarity with which they correct them, especially the daughters, who are much[Pg 302] neglected both by the father and mother. However, it is in their appearance that they display their opulence. They ornament their ears, arms and legs, with rings of gold and silver. They put so much alloy in their silver, that it is little else than whitened copper. The poorer class make use of no other metal than this.
Nothing can exceed the joy of the parents upon the birth of a son. They think it is a very lucky circumstance when the mother is delivered without assistance from either male or female; thus it frequently happens that she is delivered alone. She is stretched out upon the sand, and when the child is born, takes a drop of milk to strengthen her, and remains lying on the ground, in a wretched tent, which scarcely defends her from the weather.
Every woman, on the birth of a son, as a demonstration of her joy, blackens her face for forty days. When a daughter is born, she only daubs the half of her face, and that for twenty days. If the poor infants could only see what a hideous appearance their mother makes, they would not come near her breast. I never in my life saw so shocking a sight.
I could never keep in temper to see the cruelty with which these women use their children, even while at the breast. They give them great blows with their fist upon the back, to make them sleep; and, to prevent their crying, pinch them unmercifully, and twist their skin with their fingers. I have seen these inhuman mothers set out with them the same day they were delivered, to go to an encampment fifteen or twenty leagues distant. They place them without care in a kind of cradle,[Pg 303] which is set on the top of a camel's load. As in this situation they are very conspicuous, they endeavour to make a show, and eclipse one another; for this purpose they decorate the bodies of their camels with stripes of scarlet-coloured cloth, and white rags. The four stoops which support the body of the cradle, are adorned with leaves of copper, gilt with gold or silver.
It is the women in general who lift the pikes of the tents, when their husbands are resolved to move their camp. They also have the charge of the camels under the inspection of their masters. When the husband mounts his horse, it is his wife who holds the stirrup to him, although she sometimes falls and hurts herself. This gives him little uneasiness, provided, at his arrival, she is sufficiently recovered to attend him with a bowl of butter-milk.
I have often been shocked to see one of these Arabs (who, not being rich enough to keep a horse, having been mounted above his packages), leave to the affrighted women the trouble of lifting up again the load which had been thrown over, while he went to lie at his ease behind a bush.
Nothing can be more haughty than an Arab's behaviour to his wife, and nothing more humble than that of a wife in the presence of her husband. She is not allowed to eat with him, but, after having served him, she retires till her husband calls upon her, to give her what he leaves.
An Arab cannot, without incivility, enter into his neighbour's tent on any account; he calls standing at the door, and the woman who hears him vails herself immediately, in the same manner which she does when she passes any person. A[Pg 304] husband would be much to blame, if, on entering into his tent, he should lie down upon the mat which belongs to his wife; he cannot enjoy this favour but when she is in bed. They are indeed very attentive to their wives when with child. In every family there is at least five or six children; and a plurality of wives being permitted, one may easily conceive how soon these colonies become considerable. No jealousy subsists between these rival wives, although they all live under the same tent, and are witnesses of their husband's embraces to each other.
The lodging which is appointed for a new married couple is adorned with a small white flag. The bridegroom wears around his brows a bandage of the same colour; whether it be his first or fifth marriage, he is always decorated with this mark of virginity, be his age what it may. The day of the marriage ceremony, he causes a camel to be slain for the entertainment of his guests. The women and children, without any distinction, assemble round the drummer; while he, set upon the ground, beats with his hand upon the instrument, and sounding through the other hand like a trumpet, he adds to this horrid noise the beating of his drum, and an iron chain which he moves with his arm. One person only dances to these instruments. Without moving from his place, his arms, his head and his eyes, follow the music. His body remains without any perceptible motion. His hands waving before his body, form different gestures, every one more indecent than another. All the spectators beat time with their hands. With the neck bent forward, and the jaw-bone turned sometimes to one side, and sometimes an[Pg 305]other, they make a thousand different wry faces, to which the dancing lady answers with an astonishing precision. She finishes with gently reclining towards the musician; the sounds of the instrument gradually become weaker; the eyes of the actress are half closed; she gently presses her bosom; every thing expresses violent passion. But it is not possible to give an idea of what now passes, nor the air of indifference with which the woman, who lately played a like part, joins her companions. The young people form themselves into a circle, in the midst of which only one remains standing on one leg, and with the other endeavours to defend himself from the blows which they wish to aim at him; and the first whom he strikes takes his place. This piece of dexterity is the only one with which they are acquainted.
The day following the marriage, they separate the new married bride from her husband, and the friends who are present take water and wash her from the middle to the feet. They then comb and dress her hair, paint her nails red, and dress her with new linen. If she is not rich enough to buy these things, they lend her what she needs till the end of the feast.
I have always considered as a fable, what I have been told of the breasts of a Moorish woman, but am now convinced of my error. I have seen (to cite no other examples), I have seen, I say, one of these women teazed by one of her children, throw them one of her breasts with such force, that it reached the ground.
Their male children can scarcely walk, when the mother treats them with the same respect as her husband, that is to say, prepares food for them,[Pg 306] and will not eat herself till her son has been served. The Talbe who teaches them to read and write, gives them instructions with a loud voice; and as each of them is learning a different lesson, it occasions a horrid noise. The lessons they give them are written upon small boards of polished wood. One lesson learned, they efface it, and write another upon it; they make their pen of a small piece of wood. Their ciphers pretty much resemble ours.
After what I have related of these barbarians, was it possible that I should not be anxious to be again restored to my native country! We complain when we change our dwellings; weep, when we part with friends; are uneasy when we forget a handkerchief, or have a beard two days without being shaved; and I have been a slave, naked, bit with vermin, wounded in every part of my body, my bed among sand, either burning or moist, for fourteen months. O Divine Providence! It is by Thee I have been supported in what I have undergone, to Thee I have sacrificed my sufferings, and from Thee I expect my reward.[Pg 307]
ACCOUNT OF THE ADVENTURES OF MADAME GODIN DES ODONAIS,
IN PASSING DOWN THE RIVER OF THE AMAZONS,
IN THE YEAR 1770.
M. GODIN DES ODONAIS TO M. DE LA CONDAMINE.
St Amand, Berry, 28th July 1773.
You require of me a narrative of the travels of my spouse along the Amazons River, the same route I followed after you. The rumours which have reached your ears of the dangers to which she was exposed, and which she alone of eight persons surmounted, augment your curiosity. I had resolved never to speak of them again, so painful to me was the recollection of them; but, as an old companion in your travels, a distinction which I prize, I cannot refuse, in return for the interest you take in our welfare, and the marks of friendship you have shown me, to give you the satisfaction you require.
We landed at Rochelle on the 26th of June last, after a passage from Cayenne, effected in sixty-five days, having left this last place on the[Pg 310] 21st of April. On our arrival, I made inquiries after you, and learnt, with much grief, that four or five months had elapsed since you were no more. While yet in tears, my wife and myself were delighted, on wiping them away, to find that at Rochelle the literary journals, and what regards the Academy, are far less read than the news which relates to commerce. Accept, Sir, for yourself and Mad. de la Condamine, our heartiest congratulations.
You will recollect, that the last time I had the honour of seeing you in 1742, previous to your leaving Quito, I told you that I reckoned on taking the same road that you were about to do, along the River of Amazons, as much owing to the wish I had of knowing this way, as to insure for my wife the most commodious mode of travelling, by saving her a long journey over-land, through a mountainous country, in which the only conveyance is on mules. You took the pains, in the course of your voyage, to give information at the Spanish and Portuguese missions established on its banks, that one of your companions would follow you; and, though several years elapsed from the period of your leaving them, this had not been forgotten. My wife was exceedingly solicitous of seeing France; but her repeated pregnancies, for several years after your departure, prevented my consent to her being exposed to the fatigues incident on so long a voyage. Towards the close of 1748, I received intelligence of the death of my father; and my presence thence becoming indispensable for the arrangement of my family affairs, I resolved on repairing to Cayenne by myself down the river; and planning every thing on the[Pg 311] way to enable my wife to follow the same road with comfort, I departed in March 1749 from the Quito, leaving Mad. Godin at that time pregnant. I arrived at Cayenne in April following, and immediately wrote to M. Rouillé, then minister of the navy, entreating him to procure me passports and recommendations to the court of Portugal, to enable me to ascend the Amazons, for the purpose of proceeding to my family, and bringing it back with me by the same channel. Any one but you, Sir, might be surprised at my undertaking thus lightly a voyage of fifteen hundred leagues, for the mere purpose of preparing accommodations for a second; but you will know that travels in that part of the world are undertaken with much less concern than in Europe; and those I had made during twelve years for reconnoitring the ground for the meridian of Quito, for fixing signals on the loftiest mountains, in going to and returning from Carthagena, had made me perfectly a veteran. I availed myself of the opportunity afforded by the conveyance which took my letters, to forward several objects relating to natural history for the King's garden; among others, seed of the Sarsaparilla, and of the five species of the Butua; with these also a grammar, printed at Lima, of the language of the Incas, which I designed as a present for M. de Buffon, from whom I received no answer. By that with which I was honoured from M. Rouillé, I learnt that his Majesty had been pleased to direct that the governor and intendant of Cayenne should both furnish me with recommendations to the government of Para. Upon this, I wrote to you, Sir, and you were so obliging[Pg 312] as to solicit passports for me. You moreover favoured me with a letter of recommendation from Commander La Cerda, minister of Portugal to France, addressed to the governor of Para, with a letter from M. l'Abbé de la Ville, which informed you that my passports had been expedited and forwarded to Para. I inquired respecting them of the governor of that place, who expressed his entire ignorance of the fact. I repeated my letters to M. Rouillé, who then was no longer in the ministry. Since that time I renewed my letters every year, four, five, and even six times, for the purpose of obtaining my passports, and constantly without effect. Many of my letters were lost, or intercepted, during the war, of which I the less doubt, from your having ceased to receive any, notwithstanding I regularly continued my correspondence. At length, hearing casually that M. le Comte d'Herouvillo was in the confidence of M. de Choiseul, I ventured, in 1765, to write to the former of these noblemen, although I had not the honour of being known to him, explaining, in a few words, who I was, and entreating him to intercede with the Duc de Choiseul for the transmission of my passports. To the kindness of this nobleman alone can I attribute the success that followed this step; for, the tenth month from the date of my letter to M. le Comte de Herouville, I saw a decked galliot arrive at Cayenne, equipped at Para by order of the King of Portugal, manned with thirty oars, and commanded by a captain of the garrison of Para, instructed to bring me to Para, thence transport me up the river as high as the first Spanish settlement, to await there till I returned with my family, and ultimately re[Pg 313]conduct me to Cayenne, all at the special charge of his Most Faithful Majesty; a liberality truly loyal, and such as is little common among sovereigns. We left Cayenne at the close of November 1765, in order to take in property belonging to me at the fort of Oyapoc, where I resided. Here I fell sick, and even dangerously so. M. de Rebello, the captain, a knight of the order of Christ, was so complaisant as to wait for me six weeks. Finding at length that I still continued too ill to venture on the voyage, and fearful of abusing the patience of this officer, I besought him to continue his route, and that he would permit me to put some one on board, to whom I might intrust my letters, and who might fill my place in taking care of my family on its return. I cast my eyes on Tristan D'Oreasaval, a person whom I had long known, and in whom I had confidence. The packet I intrusted to him contained the orders of the Father-general of the Jesuits to the Provincial of Quito, and the Superior of the missions of Maynas, for furnishing the canoes and equipage necessary for the voyage of my spouse. The instructions I gave to Tristan were simply to deliver those letters to the Superior, resident at La Laguna, the capital of the Spanish missions of Maynas, whom I entreated to forward my letters to Riobamba, in order that my wife might receive information of the vessel despatched by his Majesty of Portugal, at the recommendation of the King of France, to bring her to Cayenne. Tristan was further directed to wait an answer from Riobamba at Laguna. He sailed from Oyapoc on the 24th January 1766, and arrived at Loreto, the[Pg 314] first establishment belonging to Spain on ascending the river, in the month of July or August of the same year. Loreto is a mission established below that of Pevas, since the period of your coming down the river in 1743; nay, both this and the Portuguese mission of Savatinga, above that of St Pablo, which was before their last settlement up the river, have been founded since my passage descending in 1749. The better to comprehend what I now describe, it may be well you should cast your eyes over the chart made by you of the course of the Amazons, or that of the province of Quito, inserted in your Historical Journal of the Voyage to the Equator. The Portuguese officer, M. de Rebello, after landing Tristan at Loreto, returned to Savatinga, in conformity to the orders he had received of waiting there until Madame Godin should arrive; and Tristan, in lieu of repairing to Laguna, the capital of the Spanish missions, and there delivering his letters to the Superior, meeting with a missionary Jesuit, called Father Yesquen, who was on his return to Quito, by an unpardonable oversight, which had every appearance of a bad intent, delivered to his care the packet of letters. This was addressed to Laguna, some days' journey from the spot where Tristan was; but instead of attending to this circumstance, he sent it five hundred leagues beyond, to the other side of the Cordilleras, and himself remained in the Portuguese missions, carrying on trade.
You will please to notice, that, besides different articles which I had intrusted to him to dispose of for me, I had furnished him, in addition, with more than sufficient to defray all expense in travelling through the Spanish missions.[Pg 315]
In spite, however, of his bad conduct, a vague rumour obtained circulation through the province of Quito, and reached the ears of Madame Godin, not only of letters addressed to her being on their way in the custody of a Jesuit, but also, that, in the uppermost missions of Portugal, a vessel equipped by his Most Faithful Majesty had arrived to transport her to Cayenne. Her brother, a monk of the order of Augustins, in conjunction with Father Terol, a provincial Dominican, exerted themselves much to induce the Provincial of the Jesuits to obtain these letters. The Jesuit who received them at length made his appearance, and stated he had delivered them to another; this other being interrogated, replied, he had committed them to a third; but, notwithstanding the most diligent inquiry, the letters never were found. With respect to the arrival of the vessel, opinions differed, some giving credit to, while others disputed the fact. To venture on a voyage of such length without any certainty, and preparatory thereto to arrange all family affairs, and part with her furniture, was what Madame Godin could not, without much risk and imprudence, resolve upon. She determined on the commendable medium of despatching a faithful negro, who departed with some Americans, but who, in consequence of obstacles, was obliged to return. His mistress sent him forward a second time with new instructions, and means of surmounting the difficulties which had prevented his progress before. More fortunate on this second trip, the negro reached Loreto, saw and communicated with Tristan, and, returning, acquainted Madame Godin of the reality of the[Pg 316] report, and that Tristan was at Loreto. Upon this she determined on her journey, sold part of her furniture, but left the rest, as well as her house at Riobamba, a garden and estate at Guaslen, and another property of ours between Galté and Maguazo, to her brother-in-law. Some idea of the length of time which elapsed since the month of September 1766, at which epoch the letters were delivered to the Jesuit, may be formed by computing how long the journey of the reverend father to Quito must have occupied, how much time would be lost in seeking the letters, in inquiry into the fact of the rumour, in hesitating about what was best to be done, and in the two journeys of the negro to Loreto and back to Riobamba, the sale also of our effects, and the requisite preparations for a voyage of such length; in fact, these prevented her setting out from Riobamba, forty leagues south of Quito, before the 1st of October 1769.
The arrival of the Portuguese vessel was rumoured at Guayaquil, and even as far as the shore of the South Sea; for M. R., who reported himself to be a French physician, coming from Upper Peru, and on his way to Panama and Porto Bello, in the view of passing thence to Santo Domingo, Martinico, or, at any rate, to the Havannah, and from that place to Europe, touching at Point St Helena, learnt there that a lady of Riobamba was on the point of setting out for the Amazons river, and embarking thence in a vessel equipped by the order of his Portuguese Majesty, to take her to Cayenne. This engaged him to change his route, and ascending the Guayaquil river, he proceeded to Riobamba, to entreat Madame Godin to grant him a pas[Pg 317]sage, undertaking, in return, to watch over her health, and show her every attention. At first she answered, that she had no authority to grant his request; but M. R. applying to her two brothers, they represented to her so urgently that she might have need of the assistance of a physician on so long a voyage, that she at length consented to his accompanying her. Her two brothers, who likewise were setting out for Europe, hesitated not an instant to avail themselves of the opportunity which now offered of hastening their arrival, the one at Rome, whither he was called by business relative to his order, the other in Spain, where his private affairs required his presence. The latter took with him a son about nine or ten years of age, whom he wished to educate in France. M. de Grandmaison, my father-in-law, went on before to obtain every possible accommodation for his daughter on the road, to the point of embarkation beyond the Great Cordillera. He at first met with obstacles from the president and captain-general of the province of Quito, for you, Sir, are aware that the passage by the Amazons is forbidden by the Spanish court; but these difficulties were soon overcome. On my return from Carthagena, whither I had been despatched on matters relative to our company in 1740, I brought back with me a passport from the viceroy of Santa Fé, Don Sebastian de Eslava, authorizing our taking whatever road we pleased; and in consequence of the production of this, the Spanish governor of the province of Maynas and Omaguas, informed of the approach of Madame Godin, politely sent to meet her a canoe stored with refreshments, such as fruit, milk, &c. which reached her at a little distance from[Pg 318] the town of Omaguas; but to what misfortunes, what a horrible situation was she not exposed before that happy moment! She left her residence of Riobamba with her escort on the 1st of October 1769; and with these she reached Canelos, the spot at which they were to embark, situate on the little river Bobonasa, which empties itself into the Pastaca, as this last does into the Amazons. M. de Grandmaison, who preceded them a month on the way, found the village of Canelos well inhabited, and immediately embarked, continuing his journey, to prepare every thing necessary for the transport of his daughter at each stage of her way. As he knew that she was accompanied by her brothers, a physician, her negro, and three female mulattoes or Americans, he proceeded on to the Portuguese missions. In the interval, however, between his journey and the arrival of my wife, the small-pox, an European importation, more fatal to the Americans in this part than the plague, which is fortunately here unknown, is to the people of Levant, had caused the village of Canelos to be utterly abandoned by its population. They had seen those first attacked by this distemper irremediably carried off, and had in consequence dispersed among the woods, where each had his own hut, serving as a country retreat. On her departure, my wife was escorted by thirty-one American natives to carry herself and baggage. You know, Sir, that this road, the same pursued by M. de Maldonada, is impracticable even for mules; that those who are able effect the passage on foot, but that others are carried. The Americans who escorted Madame Godin, who were paid in advance, according to the bad custom in this coun[Pg 319]try, a custom founded on mistrust, at times but too well founded, scarcely reached Canelos before they retraced their steps, either from dread of the air being infected, or from apprehension of being obliged to embark,—a matter obnoxious in the extreme to individuals who had perhaps never seen a canoe in their lives but at a distance. Nay, such excuses are possibly superfluous, for you well know how often we are abandoned by them on our mountains, on no pretence whatever. What, under such circumstances, was to be done? Had my wife been able to return, yet the desire of reaching the vessel waiting her, together with her anxiety to rejoin a husband from whom she had been parted twenty years, were incentives powerful enough to make her, in the peculiar circumstances in which she was placed, brave even greater obstacles.
In the village only two Indians remained free from the contagion. These had no boat, but they engaged to construct one, and pilot it to the mission of Andoas, about twelve days journey below, descending the river of Bobonaza, a distance of from one hundred and forty to one hundred and fifty leagues; she paid them beforehand. The canoe being finished, they all departed from Canelos. After navigating the river two days, on the succeeding morning the pilots absconded; the unfortunate party embarked without any one to steer the boat, and passed the day without accident. The next day at noon, they discovered a canoe in a small port adjoining a leaf-built hut, in which was a native recovering from illness, who consented to pilot them. On the third day of his voyage, while stooping over to recover the hat of Mr K., which had fallen into the water, the poor man fell[Pg 320] overboard, and, not having sufficient strength to reach the shore, was drowned. Behold the canoe again without a steersman, abandoned to individuals perfectly ignorant of managing it. In consequence, it was shortly overset, which obliged the party to land, and build themselves a hut. They were now but from five to six days journey from Andoas. Mr R. proposed to repair thither, and get off with another Frenchman of the party, and the faithful negro belonging to Madame Godin, taking especial care to carry his effects with him. I since blamed my wife for not having despatched one of her brothers to accompany Mr R., but found that neither of them, after the accident which had befallen the canoe, were inclined to trust themselves on the water again without a proper pilot. Mr R. moreover promised, that within a fortnight a canoe should be forwarded to them with a proper complement of natives. The fortnight expired, and even five-and-twenty days, when, giving over all hopes, they constructed a raft on which they ventured themselves, with their provisions and property. The raft, badly framed, struck against the branch of a sunken tree, and overset, all their effects perishing in the waves, and the whole party being plunged into the water. Thanks to the little breadth of the river at this place no one was drowned, Madame Godin being happily saved, after twice sinking, by her brothers. Placed now in a situation still more distressing than before, they collectively resolved on tracing the course of the river along its banks. How difficult an enterprise this was, you, Sir, are well aware, who know how thickly the banks of the rivers are beset with trees, underwood, herbage[Pg 321] and lianas, and that it is often necessary to cut one's way. They returned to their hut, took what provisions they had left behind, and began their journey. By keeping along the river's side, they found its sinuosities greatly lengthened their way, to avoid which inconvenience they penetrated the wood, and in a few days they lost themselves. Wearied with so many days' march in the midst of woods, incommodious even for those accustomed to them, their feet torn by thorns and brambles, their provisions exhausted, and dying with thirst, they were fain to subsist on a few seeds, wild fruit, and the palm cabbage. At length, oppressed with hunger and thirst, with lassitude and loss of strength, they seated themselves on the ground without the power of rising, and, waiting thus the approach of death, in three or four days expired one after the other. Madame Godin, stretched on the ground by the side of the corpses of her brothers and other companions, stupified, delirious, and tormented with choking thirst, at length assumed resolution and strength enough to drag herself along in search of the deliverance which providentially awaited her. Such was her deplorable condition, she was without shoes, and her clothes all torn to rags. She cut the shoes off her brothers' feet, and fastened the soles on her own. It was about the period, between the 25th and 30th of December 1769, that this unfortunate party (at least seven of the number of them) perished in this miserable manner; the date I gather by what I learn from the only survivor, who related that it was nine days after she quitted the scene of the wretched catastrophe described before she reached the banks of the Bobonasa. Doubtless this interval must have[Pg 322] appeared to her of great length; and how a female so delicately educated, and in such a state of want and exhaustion, could support her distress, though but half the time, appears most wonderful. She assured me that she was ten days alone in the wood, two awaiting death by the side of her brothers, the other eight wandering at random. The remembrance of the shocking spectacle she witnessed, the horror incident on her solitude and the darkness of night in a desert, the perpetual apprehension of death, which every instant served to augment, had such effect on her spirits as to cause her hair to turn grey. On the second day's march, the distance necessarily inconsiderable, she found water, and the succeeding day some wild fruit and fresh eggs, of what bird she knew not, but which, by her description, I conjecture to have been a species of partridge. These with the greatest difficulty was she enabled to swallow, the œsophagus, owing to the want of aliment, having become so much parched and straitened; but these and other food she accidentally met with, sufficed to support her skeleton frame. At length, and not before it was indispensable, arrived the succour designed for her by Providence.
Were it told in a romance that a female of delicate habit, accustomed to all the comforts of life, had been precipitated into a river; that, after being withdrawn when on the point of drowning, this female, the eighth of a party, had penetrated into unknown and pathless woods, and travelled in them for weeks, not knowing whither she directed her steps; that, enduring hunger, thirst, and fatigue to very exhaustion, she should have seen her two brothers, far more robust than her, a nephew yet[Pg 323] a youth, three young women her servants, and a young man, the domestic left by the physician who had gone on before, all expire by her side, and she yet survive; that, after remaining by their corpses two whole days and nights, in a country abounding in tigers and numbers of dangerous serpents, without once seeing any of these animals or reptiles, she should afterwards have strength to rise, and continue her way, covered with tatters, through the same pathless wood for eight days together till she reached the banks of the Bobonasa, the author would be charged with inconsistency; but the historian should paint facts to his reader, and this is nothing but the truth. The truth of this marvellous tale is attested by original letters in my hands, from many missionaries on the Amazons, who felt an interest in this event, and by other proofs, as will be seen in the sequel of this narrative. These misfortunes would have been avoided altogether but for the infidelity of Tristan, but for his neglect, instead of stopping at Loreto, of delivering, as instructed, in person, my letters to the Superior at Laguna; with this precaution, on his part, my wife would, as her father had done, have found the village of Canelos peopled with natives, and a canoe ready to convey her forward.
To return, it was on the eighth or ninth day, according to Madame Godin, after leaving the dreadful scene of the death of her companions, that she found herself on the banks of the Bobonasa. At day-break she heard a noise at about two hundred paces from her. Her first emotions, which were those of terror, occasioned her to strike into the wood; but, after a moment's reflection,[Pg 324] satisfied that nothing worse, could possibly befal her, than to continue in her present state, and that alarm was therefore childish, she proceeded to the bank of the river, and perceived two native Americans launching a boat into the stream. It is the custom of these people, on their landing to pass the night, to draw their canoe either wholly, or partially on shore, as a security against accidents; for, should it be left afloat, and the fastening tackle break, it would be carried away by the current, and leave the sleepers on shore in a truly helpless state. The natives, perceiving Madame Godin, advanced towards her, on which she conjured them to transport her to Andoas. They had been driven by the contagion prevalent at Canelos, to withdraw with their wives to a hut they had at a distance, and were then going to Andoas. They received my wife on board with kindness truly affectionate, showed every attention to her wants, and conducted her to that village. Here she might have stopped some days to rest herself and recruit her strength, (and well may it be conceived she had great need of rest), but, indignant at the conduct of the missionary at whose mercy she was left, and with whom for that reason she was obliged to dissemble, she resolved on making no stay at Andoas, nor would even have stopped a single night had it been possible to avoid it.
A great revolution in the missions of Spanish America dependent upon Lima, Quito, Charcas, and Paraguay, founded and administered by the Jesuits, for from one to two centuries, had recently taken place. An unexpected order from the court of Madrid expelled them from all their colleges and missions; they had in consequence[Pg 325] been every where arrested, put on board, and transported to the Pope's dominions. This event, however, had occasioned no more disturbance than would have done the change of a village-rector. In lieu of them, the secular clergy were substituted, of which class was the individual who officiated as missionary at Andoas, an individual whose name I wish to banish from my memory. Madame Godin, stripped of almost every thing, not knowing otherwise how to testify her gratitude to the two Americans who had saved her life, took from her neck two chains of gold, such as are usually worn in this country, of about four ounces weight, and gave one to each of them, whose admiration at the richness of the present equalled that they would have experienced had the heavens opened before them; but the missionary, in her very presence, took possession of the chains, and gave the poor Americans in their room about three or four yards of coarse cotton, such as is manufactured in the country, and called Tucuyo. Conduct thus infamous exasperated my wife to such a degree, that she instantly demanded a canoe and men, and the next day set out for Laguna. A female American at Andaos made a cotton petticoat for her, which she sent to pay for immediately on reaching Laguna, and which she preserves with care, with the soles of the shoes of her brothers, converted by her into sandals—mournful tokens, rendered dear to me as they are to herself!
While my wife was yet wandering in the woods, her faithful negro, with a party of Americans from Andoas, ascended the river. M. R. thinking more of his own affairs than forwarding the boat which should recal his benefactors to life, scarcely reached[Pg 326] Andoas before he departed with his companion and baggage for Omaguas. The negro, on reaching the hut where he left his mistress and her brothers, traced them through the woods, in company with his companions, until he came to the spot where their corpses laid, already putrid and uncognizable. At sight of these, persuaded that no one had escaped death, the negro and his companions returned to the hut, collected what had been left there, and again reached at Andoas before my wife arrived there. The negro thence repaired to M. R. at Omaguas, and delivered to him the property of his mistress. This man was not ignorant that M. Grandmaison, who had reached Loreto, awaited there with impatience the arrival of his children. A letter in my possession even proves that my father-in-law, informed that the negro Joachim was at Omaguas, advised Tristan to repair thither and bring him forward; but neither Tristan nor M. R. thought fit to satisfy him, and so far from complying with his request, M. R., of his own accord, sent the negro back to Quito, keeping the property he had brought back with him.
You know, Sir, that Laguna is not situate on the Amazons, but some leagues up the Guallaga, a tributary of the former river. Joachim, dismissed by M. R., did not in course proceed to Laguna in search of his mistress, whom he imagined dead, but returned to Quito, and thus have we lost his services. You will certainly be far from guessing the excuse of M. R. for sending away a faithful servant, who was so much wanted by us. "I was afraid," said he in answer to this inquiry, "that he would murder me."—"What," replied[Pg 327] I, "could have given birth to a suspicion of such intention in a man whose zeal and fidelity were so well known to you, and with whom you so long had travelled? If you apprehended he might dislike you, from imputing the death of his mistress to your negligence, what prevented your sending him forward to M. Grandmaison, who exacted this of you, and who was so nigh at hand? At least, what hindered your putting him in prison? You lodged with the governor of Omaguas, who would readily have complied, had you made him such a request."
In the mean time, Madame Godin, with the canoe and crew from Andoas, had reached Laguna, where they were received with the greatest politeness by Dr Romero, the new chief of the missions, who, by his kind treatment during six weeks that she remained with him, did much towards reestablishing her health, but too much impaired, and making her forget her misfortunes. The first care of this respectable character was, to forward an express to the governor of Omaguas, to inform him of the arrival of Madame Godin, and the languid state of her health. Upon this intelligence, M. R. could do no less, having promised to render her his services, than hasten to join her, bringing with him four silver dishes, a silver saucepan, a velvet petticoat, one of Persiana, and one of taffety, some linen, and other trifles, belonging to her brothers as well as herself; adding, that all the rest were rotten, forgetting that bracelets, snuff-boxes, and rosaries of gold, and ear-rings set with emeralds, were not subject to rottenness, any more than various other effects. "Had you," said Madame Godin, "had you[Pg 328] brought back my negro, I should have learnt from him what he had done with my property found in the hut. But of whom, respecting it, am I now to inquire? Go your ways, Sir; it is impossible that I can ever forget that, to you, I owe all my misfortunes and all my losses; manage henceforward as you may, I am determined you shall make no part of my company." My wife had but too much reason on her side, but the intercessions of M. Romero, to whom she could refuse nothing, and who represented to her that, if she abandoned M. R., his condition would be deplorable, at length overcame her repugnance, and induced her to consent he should yet continue with her.
When Madame Godin was somewhat recovered, M. Romero wrote to M. Grandmaison, informing him that she was out of danger, and requesting him to despatch Tristan to accompany her to the Portuguese vessel. He likewise wrote to the governor, acquainting him that he had represented to Madame Godin, whose courage and piety he could never sufficiently admire, that she was yet merely at the beginning of a long and tedious voyage; and that, though she had already travelled upwards of four hundred leagues, she had yet four or five times that distance to pass before she reached Cayenne; that, but just relieved from the perils of death, she was about to incur fresh danger; concluding with offering, if she chose to return, to cause her to be escorted back in perfect security to her residence of Riobamba. To these he added, that Madame Godin replied, "She was surprised at his proposals; that the Almighty had preserved her when alone amid perils in which all her for[Pg 329]mer companions had perished; that the first of her wishes was to rejoin her husband; that for this purpose she had begun her journey; and, were she to cease to prosecute her intention, that she should esteem herself guilty of counteracting the views of Providence, and render useless the assistance she had received from her two dear Americans and their wives, as well as all the kindness for which she was indebted to him, and for which God alone could recompense them." My wife was ever dear to me, but sentiments like these add veneration to tenderness. Tristan failing to arrive when expected, M. Romero, wearied with waiting for him in vain, equipped a canoe, and gave directions for the transport of Madame Godin, without halting any where, to the Portuguese vessel. Then it was that the governor of Omaguas, knowing of her coming, and that she was to stop no where by the way, despatched a canoe to meet her, loaded with refreshments.
The Portuguese commander, M. de Rebello, hearing of her approach, fitted out a pirogue, commanded by two of his men, and stored with provisions, to meet her, which they did at the village of Pevas. This officer, the better to fulfil the orders of his master, with great labour, and by doubling the number of oars, worked his vessel up the river as high as the mission of Loreto, where he received her on board. I learn from her, that from that instant till she reached Oyapok, throughout a course of nearly a thousand leagues, she wanted for nothing to render her comfortable, not even the nicest delicacies, and such as could not be expected in the country; wine and liquors which she never uses, fish, game, &c. were supplied by[Pg 330] two canoes which preceded the galliot. The governor of Para, moreover, had sent orders to the chief part of the stages at which they had to halt, with additional refreshments.
I forgot to mention, that the sufferings of my wife were not at an end, and that one of her thumbs was in a very bad state, owing to its being wounded by thorns in the wood, which had not yet been extricated, and which had not only occasioned an abscess, but had injured the tendon and even the bone itself. It was proposed to take off the thumb, but, by dint of care and fermentations, she had only the pain to undergo occasioned by the extraction of two splinters at San Pablo, but she entirely lost the use of the tendon. The galliot continued its course to the fortress of Curupa about sixty leagues above Para. M. de Martel, knight of the Order of Christ, and major of the garrison of Para, arrived there the succeeding day, by order of the governor, to take command of the galliot, and conduct Madame Godin to Fort Oyapok. A little beyond the mouth of the river, at a spot off the coast where the currents are very violent, he lost one of his anchors; and as it would have been imprudent to venture with only one, he sent a boat to Oyapok, to seek assistance, which was immediately forwarded. Hearing by this means of the approach of Madame Godin, I left Oyapok on board a galliot belonging to me, in view of meeting her; and, on the fourth day of my departure, fell in with her vessel opposite to Mayacare. On board this vessel, after twenty years' absence, and a long endurance on either side of alarms and misfortunes, I again met with a cherished wife, whom I had almost given over every[Pg 331] hope of seeing again. In her embraces I forgot the loss of the fruits of our union, nay, I even congratulated myself on their premature death, as it saved them from the dreadful fate which befel their uncle in the wood of Canelos beneath their mother's eye, who certainly could never have survived the sight. We anchored at Oyapok the 22d July 1770. I found in M. Murtel an officer as much distinguished by his acquirements as by his prepossessing exterior. He has acquaintance with most of the languages of Europe, is an excellent Latinist, and well calculated to shine on a more extensive scene than Para. He is a descendant of the illustrious French family of similar name. I had the pleasure of his company for a fortnight at Oyapok, whither M. de Fiedmont, governor of Cayenne, whom the commandant of Oyapok, advised of his arrival by express, immediately despatched in a boat with refreshments. We caused the Portuguese vessel to undergo a repair, which it much wanted, and refitted it with sails to enable it to stem the currents on its return. The commandant of Oyapok gave M. Martel, moreover, a coast-pilot, to accompany him to the frontiers. I offered to go so far as his consort on board my galliot, but he would suffer me to proceed no farther than Cape D'Orange. I took my leave of him with those feelings which the polite attention and noble behaviour of that officer and his generous nation were so well calculated to inspire in me, as well as my wife, a conduct on the part of either, which I was led to expect from what I had individually experienced on my former voyage.
I should previously have told you that, when I descended the Amazons in 1749, with no other[Pg 332] recommendation to the notice of the Portuguese than arose from the remembrance of the intimation afforded by you in 1743, that one of the companions of your travels would follow the same way, I was received in all the Portuguese settlements, by the missionaries and commandants of the forts, with the utmost courtesy. On passing San Pablo I purchased a canoe, in which I descended the river to Fort Curupa, whence I wrote to the governor of Grand Para, M. Francis Mendoza Gorjaô, to acquaint him of my arrival, and beg permission of sailing from Curupa to Cayenne, whither I intended to repair direct. He favoured me with so polite an answer, that I made no hesitation of quitting my intended cruise and taking a longer, in order to thank him and pay him my respects. He received me with open arms, and insisted on my making his house and table my own during a week that I stopped with him; nor would he suffer me to depart before he set off himself for St. Louis de Marinhan, whither he was about to go on his circuit. After his departure, I remounted the river to Curupa with my canoe, escorted by one of greater dimensions, sent with me by the commandant of that fort on my voyage to Para, a city which, as you have justly remarked, stands on a large river, considered, but improperly, the right arm of the Amazons, as the river of Para merely communicates with the Amazons by a channel hollowed by the tides, and called Tagipuru. At Curupa I found waiting for me, by order of the governor of Para, a large pirogue of fourteen oars, commanded by a serjeant of the garrison, and destined to carry me to Cayenne, whither I repaired by Macapa, coasting along the left of the Amazons[Pg 333] to its mouth, without, like you, making tour of the great island of Joanes, or Marajo. After similar courtesies, unprovoked by express recommendations, what had I not to expect, seeing his Most Faithful Majesty had condescended to issue precise orders to expedite a vessel to the very frontiers of his dominions, for the purpose of receiving my family on board, and transporting it to Cayenne?
To resume my narrative.—After taking leave of M. de Martel off Cape D'Orange with those reciprocal salutes common with sailors, I returned to Oyapok, and thence to Cayenne.
Here I was engaged in a lawsuit. Tristan demanded of me the wages I had promised him of sixty livres per month. I offered to pay him for eighteen months, the utmost time the voyage could have required, had he strictly followed his instructions. The sentence pronounced by the superior council of Cayenne condemned him to render me an account of from seven to eight thousand franks, the value of effects I had committed to his care, deducting one thousand and eighty for the eighteen months's salary I had offered him; but the wretch, after dealing treacherously with me as he had done, after causing the death of eight persons, including the American who was drowned, and all the misfortunes which befel my wife; in short, after dissipating the whole of the effects I had intrusted with him, proved insolvent; and, for my part, I judged it unnecessary to augment the losses I had already sustained by having to support him in prison.
I conceive, Sir, that I have now complied to the full with your request. The narrative I have given, by recalling the mournful scenes I have de[Pg 334]picted, has cost me infinite anguish. The lawsuit with Tristan, and the illness of my wife on reaching Cayenne, a consequence but too natural of the sufferings she had undergone, did not admit of my venturing to expose her earlier than the present year (1773), to so long a voyage by sea. At present she is, with her father, in the midst of my family, by whom they have been tenderly received. M. de Grandmaison had originally no intention of proceeding to France, but merely meant, by his voyage, to see his daughter safe on board the Portuguese vessel; but finding old age creep on apace, and penetrated with the most lively grief at the intelligence of the sad death of his children, he abandoned all, and embarked with her, trusting the care of his property to his other son-in-law, M. Savula, who resides at Riobamba. For my wife, however solicitous all about her to enliven her spirits, she is constantly subject to melancholy, her horrible misfortunes being ever present to her imagination. How much did it cost me to obtain from her the relations requisite for the judges in the course of my lawsuit! I can even readily conceive that, from delicacy, she has abstained from entering into many details, the remembrance of which she was anxious to lose, and which, known, could but add to the pain I feel. Nay she was even anxious that I should not prosecute Tristan, compassionating even that wretch; thus following the gentle impulse of a heart inspired with the purest benevolence, and the genuine principles of religion!
Printed by the Heirs
of D. Willison.