Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Part 2 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

the Atbara, but we were now to leave that river on our right,
while we should travel S.E. about ninety miles to Cassala, the
capital of the Taka country, on the confines of Abyssinia, the
great depot upon that frontier for Egyptian troops, military
stores, &c.

Having procured fresh camels, we started on 5th July. This
portion of the desert was rich in agates and numerous specimens
of bloodstone. Exactly opposite the village of Gozerajup are
curious natural landmarks,--four pyramidical hills of granite
that can be seen for many miles' distance in this perfectly level
country. One of these hills is about 500 feet high, and is
composed entirely of flaked blocks of grey granite piled one upon
the other; some of these stand perpendicularly in single masses
from 30 to 50 feet high, and from a distance might be taken for
giants climbing the hill-side. The pinnacle has a peculiar
conical cap, which appears to have been placed there by design,
but upon closer inspection it is found to be natural, as no stone
of such immense size could have been placed in such a position.

For the first two hours' march from this landmark, the country
was covered with scrubby bush abounding in gazelles and
guinea-fowl. Here, for the first time, I saw the secretary bird,
known to the Arabs as the "Devil's horse." A pair of these
magnificent birds were actively employed in their useful
avocation of hunting reptiles, which they chased with wonderful
speed. Great numbers of wild asses passed us during the march
towards evening; they were on their way from the desert to the
Atbara river, some miles distant upon the west. Veritable thunder
we now heard for the first time in Africa, and a cloud rose with
great rapidity from the horizon. A cloud was a wonder that we had
not enjoyed for months, but as this increased both in size and
density, accompanied by a gust of cool wind, we were led to
expect a still greater wonder--RAIN! Hardly had we halted for the
night, when down it came in torrents, accompanied by a heavy
thunderstorm. On the following morning, we experienced the
disadvantage of rain; the ground was so slippery that the camels
could not march, and we were obliged to defer our start until the
sun had dried the surface.

We had now arrived at the most interesting point to an explorer.
From Cairo to within a few miles south of Gozerajup stretched the
unbroken desert through which we had toiled from Korosko, and
which had so firmly impressed its dreariness upon the mind that
nothing but desert had been expected: we had learned to be
content in a world of hot sand, rocks, and pebbles; but we had
arrived upon the limit; the curious landmark of Gozerajup was an
everlasting beacon that marked the frontier of the Nubian desert;
it was a giant warder, that seemed to guard the living south from
the dreadful skeleton of nature on the north; the desert had
ceased!

It was a curious and happy coincidence that onr arrival upon the
limits of the desert should have been celebrated by the first
shower of rain: we no longer travelled upon sand and stones, but
we stood upon a fertile loam, rendered soapy and adhesive by the
recent shower. The country was utterly barren at that season, as
the extreme heat of the sun and simoom destroys all vegetation so
thoroughly that it becomes as crisp as glass; the dried grass
breaks in the wind, and is carried away in dust, leaving the
earth so utterly naked and bare that it is rendered a complete
desert.

In the rainy season, the whole of this country, from the south to
Gozerajup, is covered with excellent pasturage, and, far from
resembling a desert, it becomes a mass of bright green herbage.
The Arabs and their flocks are driven from the south by the flies
and by the heavy rains, and Gozerajup offers a paradise to both
men and beasts; thousands of camels with their young, hundreds of
thousands of goats, sheep, and cattle, are accompanied by the
Arabs and their families, who encamp on the happy pastures during
the season of plenty.

We had now passed the hunts occupied by the Bishareens, and we
had entered upon the country of the Hadendowa Arabs. These are an
exceedingly bad tribe, and, together with their neighbours, the
Hallonga Arabs, they fought determinedly against the Egyptians,
until finally conquered during the reign of the famous Mehemet
Ala Pasha, when the provinces of Nubia submitted unconditionally,
and became a portion of Upper Egypt.

Upon arrival at Soojalup we came upon the principal encampment of
the Hadendowa during the dry season. Within a few miles of this
spot the scene had changed: instead of the bare earth denuded of
vegetation, the country was covered with jungle, already nearly
green, while the vast plains of grass, enlivened by beautiful
herds of antelopes, proved not only the fertility of the soil,
but the presence of moisture. Although there was no stream, nor
any appearance of a river's bed, Soojalup was well supplied with
water throughout the hottest season by numerous wells. This spot
is about forty miles distant from Gozerajup, and is the first
watering-place upon the route to Cassala. As we approached the
wells, we passed several large villages surrounded by fenced
gardens of cotton, and tobacco, both of which throve exceedingly.
Every village possessed a series of wells, with a simple
contrivance for watering their cattle:--Adjoining the mouth of
each well was a basin formed of clay, raised sufficiently high
above the level of the ground to prevent the animals from
treading it while drinking. With a rope and a leathern bag
distended by pieces of stick, the water was raised from the wells
and emptied into the clay basins; the latter were circular, about
nine feet in diameter, and two feet deep. I measured the depth of
some of the wells, and found a uniformity of forty feet. We
halted at Soojalup for the night: here for the first time I saw
the beautiful antelope known by the Arabs as the Ariel (Gazelle
Dama). This is a species of gazelle, being similar in form and in
shape of the horns, but as large as a fallow deer: the colour
also nearly resembles that of the gazelle, with the exception of
the rump, which is milk-white.

These animals had no water nearer than the Atbara river, unless
they could obtain a stealthy supply from the cattle basins of the
Arabs during the night; they were so wild, from being constantly
disturbed and hunted by the Arab dogs, that I found it impossible
to stalk them upon the evening of our arrival. The jungles
literally swarmed with guinea-fowl--I shot nine in a few minutes,
and returned to camp with dinner for my whole party. The only
species of guinea-fowl that I have seen in Africa is that with
the blue comb and wattles. These birds are a blessing to the
traveller, as not only are they generally to be met with from the
desert frontier throughout the fertile portions of the south, but
they are extremely good eating, and far superior to the domestic
guinea-fowl of Europe. In this spot, Soojalup, I could have
killed any number, had I wished to expend my shot: but this most
necessary ammunition required much nursing during a long
exploration. I had a good supply, four hundredweight of the most
useful sizes, No. 6 for general shooting, and B B. for geese,
&c.; also a bag of No. 10, for firing into dense flocks of small
birds. On the following morning we left Soojalup; for several
miles on our route were Arab camps and wells, with immense herds
of goats, sheep, and cattle. Antelopes were very numerous, and it
was exceedingly interesting to observe the new varieties as we
increased our distance from the north. I shot two from my camel
(G. Dorcas); they were about the size of a fine roebuck;--the
horns were like those of the gazelle, but the animals were larger
and darker in colour, with a distinguishing mark in a jet black
stripe longitudinally dividing the white of the belly from the
reddish colour of the flank. These antelopes were exceedingly
wild, and without the aid of a camel it would have been
impossible to approach them. I had exchanged my donkey for Hadji
Achmet's dromedary; thus mounted, I could generally succeed in
stalking to within ninety or a hundred yards, by allowing the
animal to feed upon the various bushes, as though I had mounted
it for the purpose of leading it to graze. This deceived the
antelopes, and by carefully ascertaining the correct wind, I
obtained several shots, some of which failed, owing to the
unsteadiness of my steed, which had a strong objection to the
rifle.

The entire country from Gozerajup to Cassala is a dead flat, upon
which there is not one tree sufficiently large to shade a
full-sized tent: there is no real timber in the country, but the
vast level extent of soil is a series of open plains and low bush
of thorny mimosa: there is no drainage upon this perfect level;
thus, during the rainy season, the soakage actually melts the
soil, and forms deep holes throughout the country, which then
becomes an impracticable slough, bearing grass and jungle. Upon
this fertile tract of land, cotton might be cultivated to a large
extent, and sent to Berber, via Atbara, from Gozerajup, during
the season of flood. At the present time, the growth is
restricted to the supply required by the Arabs for the
manufacture of their cloths. These are woven by themselves, the
weaver sitting in a hole excavated in the ground before his rude
loom, shaded by a rough thatch about ten feet square, supported
upon poles. There is a uniformity in dress throughout all the
Nubian tribes of Arabs, the simple toga of the Romans this is
worn in many ways, as occasion may suggest, very similar to the
Scotch plaid. The quality of cotton produced is the same as that
of Lower Egypt, and the cloths manufactured by the Arabs,
although coarse, are remarkably soft. The toga or tope is
generally ornamented with a few red stripes at either extremity,
and is terminated by a fringe.

As we approached within about twenty-five miles o Cassala, I
remarked that the country on our left was in many places flooded;
the Arabs, who had hitherto been encamped in this neighbourhood
during the dry season, were migrating to other localities in the
neighbourhood of Soojalup and Gozerajup, with their vast herds of
camels and goats. As rain had not fallen in sufficient quantity
to account for the flood, I was informed that it was due to the
river Gash, or Mareb, which, flowing from Abyssinia, passed
beneath the walls of Cassala, and then divided into innumerable
ramifications; it was eventually lost, and disappeared in the
porous soil, after having flooded a large extent of country. This
cause accounted for the never-failing wells of Soojalup--doubtless
a substratum of clay prevented the total escape of the water,
which remained at a depth of forty feet from the surface. The
large tract of country thus annually flooded by the river Gash
is rendered extremely fruitful, and is the resort of both the
Hadendowa and the Hallonga Arabs during the dry season, who
cultivate large quantities of dhurra, and other grain.
Unfortunately, in these climates, fertility of soil is
generally combined with unhealthiness, and the commencement of
the rainy season is the signal for fevers and other maladies. No
sooner had we arrived in the flooded country than my wife was
seized with a sudden and severe attack, which necessitated a halt
upon the march, as she could no longer sit upon her camel. In the
evening, several hundreds of Arabs arrived, and encamped around
our fire. It was shortly after sunset, and it was interesting to
watch the extreme rapidity with which these swarthy sons of the
desert pitched their camp--a hundred fires were quickly blazing;
the women prepared the food, children sat in clusters round the
blaze, as all were wet from paddling through the puddled ground,
from which they were retreating.

No sooner was the bustle of arrangement completed, than a grey
old man stepped forward, and, responding to his call, every man
of the hundreds present formed in line, three or four deep. At
once there was total silence, disturbed only by the crackling of
the fires, or by the cry of a child; and with faces turned to the
east, in attitudes of profound devotion, the wild but fervent
followers of Mahomet repeated their evening prayer.

The flickering red light of the fires illumined the bronze faces
of the congregation, and as I stood before the front line of
devotees, I took off my cap in respect for their faith, and at
the close of their prayer I made my salaam to their venerable
Faky (priest); he returned the salutation with the cold dignity
of an Arab. In this part the coorbatch of the Turk was
unnecessary, and we shortly obtained supplies of milk. I ordered
the dragoman Mahomet to inform the Faky that I was a doctor, and
that I had the best medicines at the service of the sick, with
advice gratis. In a short time I had many applicants, to whom I
served out a quantity of Holloway's pills. These are most useful
to an explorer, as, possessing unmistakeable purgative
properties, they create an undeniable effect upon the patient,
which satisfies him of their value. They are also extremely
convenient, as they may be carried by the pound in a tin box, and
served out in infinitesimal doses from one to ten at a time,
according to the age of the patients. I had a large medicine
chest, with all necessary drugs, but I was sorely troubled by the
Arab women, many of whom were barren, who insisted upon my
supplying them with some medicine that would remove this stigma
and render them fruitful. It was in vain to deny them; I
therefore gave them usually a small dose of ipecacuanha, with the
comforting word to an Arab, "Inshallah," "if it please God." At
the same time I explained that the medicine was of little value.

On the following morning, during the march, my wife had a renewal
of fever. We had already passed a large village named Abre, and
the country was a forest of small trees, which, being in leaf,
threw a delicious shade. Under a tree, upon a comfortable bed of
dry sand, we wer obliged to lay her for several hours, until the
paroxysm passed, and she could remount her dromedary. This she
did with extreme difficulty, and we hurried toward Cassala, from
which town we were only a few miles distant.

For the last fifty or sixty miles we had seen the Cassala
mountain--at first a blue speck above the horizon. It now rose in
all the beauty of a smooth and bare block of granite, about 3,500
feet above the level of the country with the town of Cassala at
the base, and the roaring torrent Gash flowing at our feet. When
we reached the end of the day's march, it was between 5 and 6
P.M. The walled town was almost washed by the river, which was at
least 500 yards wide. However, our guides assured us that it was
fordable, although dangerous on account of the strength of the
current. Camels are most stupid and nervous animals in water;
that ridden by my wife was fortunately better than the
generality. I sent two Arabs with poles, ahead of my camel, and
carefully led the way. After considerable difficulty, we forded
the river safely; the water was nowhere above four feet deep,
and, in most places, it did not exceed three; but the great
rapidity of the stream would have rendered it impossible for the
me to cross without the assistance of poles. One of our camels
lost its footing, and was carried helplessly down the river for
some hundred yards, until it stranded upon a bank.

The sun had sunk when we entered Cassala. It is a walled town,
surrounded by a ditch and flanking towers, and containing about
8,000 inhabitants, exclusive of troops. The houses and walls were
of unburnt brick, smeared with clay and cow-dung. As we rode
through the dusty streets, I sent off Mahomet with my firman to
the Mudir; and, not finding a suitable place inside the town, I
returned outside the walls, where I ordered the tents to be
pitched in a convenient spot among some wild fig-trees. Hardly
were the tents pitched than Mahomet returned, accompanied by an
officer and ten soldiers as a guard, with a polite message from
the Mudir or governor, who had, as usual, kissed the potent
firman, and raised it to his forehead, with the declaration that
he was "my servant, and that all that I required should be
immediately attended to." Shortly after, we were called upon by
several Greeks, one of whom was the army doctor, Signor Georgis,
who, with great kindness, offered to supply all our wants. My
wife was dreadfully weak and exhausted, therefore an undisturbed
night's rest was all that was required, with the independence of
our own tent.

Cassala is rich in hyaenas, and the night was passed in the
discordant howling of these disgusting but useful animals: they
are the scavengers of the country, devouring every species of
filth, and clearing all carrion from the earth. Without the
hyaenas and vultures, the neighbourhood of a Nubian village would
be unbearable; it is the idle custom of the people to leave
unburied all animals that die. Thus, among the numerous flocks
and herds, the casualties would create a pestilence were it not
for the birds and beasts of prey.

On the following morning the fever had yielded to quinine, and we
were enabled to receive a round of visits--the governor and
suite, Elias Bey, the doctor and a friend, and, lastly, Malem
Georgis, an elderly Greek merchant, who, with great hospitality,
insisted upon our quitting the sultry tent and sharing his own
roof. We therefore became his guests in a most comfortable house
for some days. Our Turk, Hadji Achmet, returned on his way to
Berber; we discharged our camels, and prepared - to start afresh
from this point for the Nile tributaries of Abyssinia.

CHAPTER IV.

ROUTE FROM CASSALA TO SOUAKIM.

BY dead reckoning, Cassala is ninety-three miles S.S.E. of
Gozerajup, or about 340 miles from Berber. We had ridden about
710 miles from Korosko, 630 miles of which had been through
scorching deserts during the hottest season. We were, therefore,
thankful to exchange the intense heat of the tent for a solid
roof, and to rest for a short time in the picturesque country of
Taka.

The direct route to Cassala, the capital of Taka, should be from
Suez to Souakim, on the Red Sea, and from thence in sixteen days,
by camel. Thus, were there a line from Suez to Souakim by
steamers, similar to that already established to Jedda, Cassala
would be only twenty-two days' journey from Cairo. At present,
the arrival of steamers at Souakim is entirely uncertain;
therefore the trade of the country is paralysed by the apathy of
the Egyptian Government. The Abdul Azziz Company run their
steamers regularly from Suez to Jedda; and, although they
advertise Souakim as a port of call, there is no dependence to be
placed upon the announcement; therefore, all merchants are afraid
not only of delay, but of high warehouse charges at Souakim. The
latter port is only four days' steaming from Suez, and, being the
most central depot for all merchandise both to and from Upper
Egypt, it would become a point of great importance were regular
means of transport established.

Cotton of excellent quality may be grown to an unlimited amount
in the provinces of Upper Egypt, and could be delivered at
Souakim at a trifling cost of transport. A large quantity of gum
arabic is collected throughout this country, which sells in
Cassala at 20 piastres (4s. 2d.) the cantar of 100 lbs. There are
three varieties, produced from various mimosas; the finest
quality is gathered in the province of Kordofan, but I
subsequently met with large quantities of this species in the
Base country. Senna grows wild in the deserts, but the low price
hardly pays for the cost of collection. There are several
varieties; that with extremely narrow and sharp-pointed leaves is
preferred. It grows in sandy situations where few plants would
exist. The bush seldom exceeds three feet in height, and is
generally below that standard; but it is exceedingly thick, and
rich in a pale green foliage, which is a strong temptation to the
hungry camel. Curiously, this purgative plant is the animal's
bonne bouche, and is considered most nourishing as fodder.

The exports of the Soudan are limited to gum arabic, ivory,
hides, senna, and bees'-wax; the latter is the produce of
Abyssinia. These articles are generally collected by travelling
native traders, who sell to the larger merchants resident in
Cassala and Khartoum, the two principal towns of the Soudan. The
bazaar in Cassala was poor, as the principal articles were those
of low price, adapted to the wants of the Arabs, who flock to the
capital as a small London, to make their purchases of cloths,
perfumery for the women, copper cooking pots, &c.

The fortifications of the town, although useless against cannon,
are considered by the Arabs as impregnable. The walls are of
solid mud and sun-baked bricks, carefully loopholed for musketry,
while a deep fosse, by which it is surrounded, is a safeguard
against a sudden surprise.

These engineering precautions were rendered necessary by the
ferocity of the Arabs, who fought the Egyptians with great
determination for some years before they were finally subdued.
Although the weapons of all the Arab tribes are the simple sword
and lance, they defended their country against the regular troops
of Egypt until they were completely defeated by a scarcity of
water, against which there could be no resistance. The Egyptians
turned the course of the river Gash, and entirely shut off the
supply from one portion of the country, while they inundated
another. This was effected by an immense dam, formed of the stems
of the dome palms, as a double row of piles, while the interior
was rendered water-tight by a lining of matting filled up with
sand.

Cassala was built about twenty years before I visited the
country, after Taka had been conquered and annexed to Egypt. The
general annexation of the Soudan and the submission of the
numerous Arab tribes to the Viceroy have been the first steps
necessary to the improvement of the country. Although the
Egyptians are hard masters, and do not trouble themselves about
the future well-being of the conquered races, it must be
remembered that, prior to the annexation, all the tribes were at
war among themselves. There was neither government nor law; thus
the whole country was closed to Europeans. At present, there is
no more danger in travelling in Upper Egypt than in crossing Hyde
Park after dark, provided the traveller be just and courteous. At
the time of my visit to Cassala in 1861, the Arab tribes were
separately governed by their own chiefs or sheiks, who were
responsible to the Egyptian authorities for the taxes due from
their people: since that period, the entire tribes of all
denominations have been placed under the authority of that grand
old Arab patriarch Achmet Abou Sinn, to be hereafter mentioned.
The Sheik Moosa, of the Hadendowa tribe, was in prison during our
stay in that country, for some breach of discipline in his
dealings with the Egyptian Government. The iron hand of despotism
has produced a marvellous change among the Arabs, who are
rendered utterly powerless by the system of government adopted by
the Egyptians; unfortunately, this harsh system has the effect of
paralysing all industry.

The principal object of Turks and Egyptians in annexation, is to
increase their power of taxation by gaining an additional number
of subjects. Thus, although many advantages have accrued to the
Arab provinces of Nubia through Egyptian rule, there exists an
amount of mistrust between the governed and the governing. Not
only are the camels, cattle, and sheep subjected to a tax, but
every attempt at cultivation is thwarted by the authorities, who
impose a fine or tax upon the superficia1 area of the cultivated
land. Thus, no one will cultivate more than is absolutely
necessary, as he dreads the difficulties that the broad acres of
waving crops would entail upon his family. The bona fide tax is
a bagatelle to the amounts squeezed from him by the extortionate
soldiery, who are the agents employed by the sheik; these must
have their share of the plunder, in excess of the amount to be
delivered to their employer; he, also, must have his plunder
before he parts with the bags of dollars to the governor of the
province. Thus the unfortunate cultivator is ground down; should
he refuse to pay the necessary "baksheesh" or present to the
tax-collectors, some false charge is trumped up against him, and
he is thrown into prison. As a green field is an attraction to a
flight of locusts in their desolating voyage, so is a luxuriant
farm in the Soudan a point for the tax-collectors of Upper Egypt.
I have frequently ridden several days' journey through a
succession of empty villages, deserted by the inhabitants upon
the report of the soldiers' approach; the women and children,
goats and cattle, camels and asses, have all been removed into
the wilderness for refuge, while their crops of corn have been
left standing for the plunderers, who would be too idle to reap
and thrash the grain.

Notwithstanding the misrule that fetters the steps of
improvement, Nature has bestowed such great capabilities of
production in the fertile soil of this country, that the yield of
a small surface is more than sufficient for the requirements of
the population, and actual poverty is unknown. The average price
of dhurra is fifteen piastres per "rachel," or about 3s. 2d. for
500 lbs. upon the spot where it is grown. The dhurra (Sorghum
andropogon) is the grain most commonly used throughout the
Soudan; there are great varieties of this plant, of which the
most common are the white and the red. The land is not only
favoured by Nature by its fertility, but the intense heat of the
summer is the labourer's great assistant. As before described,
all vegetation entirely disappears in the glaring Sun, or becomes
so dry that it is swept off by fire; thus the soil is perfectly
clean and fit for immediate cultivation upon the arrival of the
rains. The tool generally used is similar to the Dutch hoe. With
this simple implement the surface is scratched to the depth of
about two inches, and the seeds of the dhurra are dibbled in
about three feet apart, in rows from four to five feet in width.
Two seeds are dropped into each hole. A few days after the first
shower they rise above the ground, and when about six inches
high, the whole population turn out of their villages at break of
day to weed the dhurra fields. Sown in July, it is harvested in
February and March. Eight months are thus required for the
cultivation of this cereal in the intense heat of Nubia. For the
first three months the growth is extremely rapid, and the stem
attains a height of six or seven feet. When at perfection on the
rich soil of the Taka country, the plant averages a height of ten
feet, the circumference of the stem being about four inches. The
crown is a feather very similar to that of the sugar cane; the
blossom falls, and the feather becomes a head of dhurra, weighing
about two pounds. Each grain is about the size of hemp-seed.
I took the trouble of counting the corns contained in an
average-sized head, the result being 4,848. The process of
harvesting and thrashing are remarkably simple, as the heads are
simply detached from the straw and beaten out in piles. The dried
straw is a substitute for sticks in forming the walls of the
village huts; these are plastered with clay and cow-dung, which
form the Arab's lath and plaster.

The millers' work is exclusively the province of the women. There
are no circular hand-mills, as among Oriental nations; but the
corn is ground upon a simple flat stone, of either gneiss or
granite, about two feet in length by fourteen inches in width.
The face of this is roughened by beating with a sharp-pointed
piece of harder stone, such as quartz, or hornblende, and the
grain is reduced to flour by great labour and repeated grinding
or rubbing with a stone rolling-pin. The flour is mixed with
water and allowed to ferment; it is then made into thin pancakes
upon an earthenware flat portable hearth. This species of
leavened bread is known to the Arabs as the kisra. It is not very
palatable, but it is extremely well suited to Arab cookery, as it
can be rolled up like a pancake and dipped in the general dish of
meat and gravy very conveniently, in the absence of spoons and
forks. No man will condescend to grind the corn, and even the
Arab women have such an objection to this labour, that one of the
conditions of matrimony enforced upon the husband, if possible,
provides the wife with a slave woman to prepare the flour.

Hitherto we had a large stock of biscuits, but as our dragoman
Mahomet had, in a curious fit of amiability, dispensed them among
the camel-drivers, we were now reduced to the Arab kisras.
Although not as palatable as wheaten bread, the flour of dhurra
is exceedingly nourishing, containing, according to Professor
Johnston's analysis, eleven and a half per cent. of gluten, or
one and a half per cent. more than English wheaten flour. Thus
men and beasts thrive, especially horses, which acquire an
excellent condition.

The neighbourhood of Cassala is well adapted for the presence of
a large town and military station, as the fertile soil produces
the necessary supplies, while the river Gash affords excellent
water. In the rainy season this should be filtered, as it brings
down many impurities from the torrents of Abyssinia, but in the
heat of summer the river is entirely dry, and clear and wholesome
water is procured from wells in the sandy bed. The south and
south-east of Cassala is wild and mountainous, affording
excellent localities for hill stations during the unhealthy rainy
season; but such sanitary arrangements for the preservation of
troops are about as much heeded by the Egyptian Government as by
our own, and regiments are left in unwholesome climates to take
their chance, although the means of safety are at hand.

The Taka country being the extreme frontier of Egypt, constant
raids are made by the Egyptians upon their neighbours--the
hostile Base, through which country the river Gash or Mareb
descends. I was anxious to procure all the information possible
concerning the Base, as it would be necessary to traverse the
greater portion in exploring the Settite river, which is the
principal tributary of the Atbara, and which is in fact the main
and parent stream, although bearing a different name. I heard but
one opinion of the Base--it was a wild and independent country,
inhabited by a ferocious race, whose hand was against every man,
and who in return were the enemies of all by whom they were
surrounded--Egyptians, Abyssinians, Arabs, and Mek Nimmur;
nevertheless, secure in their mountainous stronghold, they defied
all adversaries. The Base is a portion of Abyssinia, but the
origin of the tribe that occupies this ineradicable hornet's nest
is unknown. Whether they are the remnant of the original
Ethiopians, who possessed the country prior to the conquests of
the Abyssinians, or whether they are descended from the
woolly-haired tribes of the south banks of the Blue Nile, is
equally a mystery; all we know is that they are of the same type
as the inhabitants of Fazogle, of the upper portion of the Blue
River; they are exceedingly black, with woolly hair, resembling
in that respect the negro, but without the flat nose or
prognathous jaw. No quarter is given on either side, should the
Base meet the Arabs, with whom war is to the knife. In spite of
the overwhelming superiority of their adversaries, the Base
cannot be positively subdued; armed with the lance as their only
weapon, but depending upon extreme agility and the natural
difficulties of their mountain passes, the attack of the Base is
always by stealth; their spies are ever prowling about unseen
like the leopard, and their onset is invariably a surprise;
success or defeat are alike followed by a rapid retreat to their
mountains.

As there is nothing to be obtained by the plunder of the Base but
women and children as slaves, the country is generally avoided,
unless visited for the express purpose of a slave razzia.
Cultivation being extremely limited, the greater portion of the
country is perfectly wild, and is never visited even by the Base
themselves unless for the purpose of hunting. Several beautiful
rivers descend from the mountain ranges, which ultimately flow
into the Atbara; these, unlike the latter river, are never dry:
thus, with a constant supply of water, in a country of forest and
herbage, the Base abounds in elephants, rhinoceroses,
hippopotami, giraffes, buffaloes, lions, leopards, and great
numbers of the antelope tribe.

Cassala, thus situated on the confines of the Taka country, is an
important military point in the event of war between Egypt and
Abyssinia, as the Base would be invaluable as allies to the
Egyptians; their country commands the very heart of Abyssinia,
and their knowledge of the roads would be an incalculable
advantage to an invading force. On the 14th July I had concluded
my arrangements for the start; there had been some difficulty in
procuring camels, but the all-powerful firman was a never-failing
talisman, and, as the Arabs had declined to let their animals for
hire, the Governor despatched a number of soldiers and seized the
required number, including their owners. I engaged two wild young
Arabs of eighteen and twenty years of age, named Bacheet and Wat
Gamma: the latter being interpreted signifies "Son of the Moon."
This in no way suggests lunacy, but the young Arab had happened
to enter this world on the day of the new moon, which was
considered to be a particularly fortunate and brilliant omen at
his birth. Whether the climax of his good fortune had arrived at
the moment he entered my service I know not, but, if so, there
was a cloud over his happiness in his subjection to Mahomet the
dragoman, who rejoiced in the opportunity of bullying the two
inferiors. Wat Gamma was a quiet, steady, well-conducted lad, who
bore oppression mildly; but the younger, Bacheet, was a fiery,
wild young Arab, who, although an excellent boy in his peculiar
way, was almost incapable of being tamed and domesticated. I at
once perceived that Mahomet would have a determined rebel to
control, which I confess I did not regret. Wages were not high in
this part of the world,--the lads were engaged at one and a half
dollar per month and their keep. Mahomet, who was a great man,
suffered from the same complaint to which great men are (in those
countries) particularly subject: wherever he went, he was
attacked with claimants of relationship; he was overwhelmed with
professions of friendship from people who claimed to be
connexions of some of his family; in fact, if all the
ramifications of his race were correctly represented by the
claimants of relationship, Mahomet's family tree would have
shaded the Nubian desert.

We all have our foibles: the strongest fort has its feeble point,
as the chain snaps at its weakest link;--family pride was
Mahomet's weak link. This was his tender point; and Mahomet, the
great and the imperious, yielded to the gentle scratching of his
ear if a stranger claimed connexion with his ancient lineage. Of
course he had no family, with the exception of his wife and two
children, whom he had left in Cairo. The lady whom he had
honoured by an admission to the domestic circle of the Mahomets
was suffering from a broken arm when we started from Egypt, as
she had cooked the dinner badly, and the "gaddah," or large
wooden bowl, had been thrown at her by the naturally indignant
husband, precisely as he had thrown the axe at one man and the
basin at another, while in our service: these were little
contretemps that could hardly disturb the dignity of so great a
man. Mahomet met several relations at Cassala: one borrowed money
of him; another stole his pipe; the third, who declared that
nothing should separate them now that "by the blessing of God"
they had met, determined to accompany him through all the
difficulties of our expedition, provided that Mahomet would only
permit him to serve for love, without wages. I gave Mahomet some
little advice upon this point, reminding him that, although the
clothes of the party were only worth a few piastres, the spoons
and forks were silver, therefore I should hold him responsible
for the honesty of his friend. This reflection upon the family
gave great offence, and he assured me that Achmet, our quondam
acquaintance, was so near a relation that he was--I assisted him
in the genealogical distinction: "Mother's brother's cousin's
sister's mother's son? Eh, Mahomet?" "Yes, sar, that's it!" "Very
well, Mahomet; mind he don't steal the spoons, and thrash him if
he doesn't do his work!" "Yes, sar," replied Mahomet; "he all
same like one brother, he one good man will do his business
quietly; if not, master lick him." The new relation not
understanding English, was perfectly satisfied with the success
of his introduction, and from that moment he became one of the
party. One more addition, and our arrangements were completed:--
the Governor of Cassala was determined that we should not
start without a representative of the Government, in the shape of
a soldier guide; he accordingly gave us a black man, a corporal
in one of the Nubian regiments, who was so renowned as a
sportsman that he went by the name of "El Baggar" (the cow), on
account of his having killed several of the oryx antelope, known
as "El Baggar et Wahash" (the cow of the desert).

The rains had fairly commenced, as a heavy thunder-shower
generally fell at about 2 P.M. On the 15th, the entire day was
passed in transporting our baggage across the river Gash to the
point from which we had started upon our arrival at Cassala: this
we accomplished with much difficulty, with the assistance of
about a hundred men supplied by the Governor, from whom we had
received much attention and politeness. We camped for the night
upon the margin of the river, and marched on the following
morning at daybreak due west towards the Atbara.

The country was a great improvement upon that we had hitherto
passed; the trees were larger, and vast plains of young grass,
interspersed with green bush, stretched to the horizon. The soil
was an exceedingly rich loam, most tenacious when wetted: far as
the eye could reach to the north and west of Cassala was the dead
level plain, while to the south and east arose a broken chain of
mountains.

We had not proceeded many miles, when the numerous tracks of
antelopes upon the soil, moistened by the shower of yesterday,
proved that we had arrived in a sporting country; shortly after,
we saw a herd of about fifty ariels (Gazelle Dama). To stalk
these wary antelopes I was obliged to separate from my party, who
continued on their direct route. Riding upon my camel, I tried
every conceivable dodge without success. I could not approach
them nearer than about 300 yards. They did not gallop off at
once, but made a rush for a few hundred paces, and then faced
about to gaze at the approaching camel. After having exhausted my
patience to no purpose, I tried another plan: instead of
advancing against the wind as before, I made a great circuit and
gave them the wind. No sooner was I in good cover behind a mimosa
bush than I dismounted from my camel, and, leading it until
within view of the shy herd, I tied it to a tree, keeping behind
the animal so as to be well concealed. I succeeded in retreating
through the bushes unobserved, leaving the camel as a gazing
point to attract their attention. Running at my best speed to the
same point from which I had commenced my circuit, and keeping
under cover of the scattered bushes, I thus obtained the correct
wind, and stalked up from bush to bush behind the herd, who were
curiously watching the tied camel, that was quietly gazing on a
mimosa. In this way I had succeeded in getting within 150 yards
of the beautiful herd, when a sudden fright seized them, and they
rushed off in an opposite direction to the camel, so as to pass
about 120 yards on my left; as they came by in full speed, I
singled out a superb animal, and tried the first barrel of the
little Fletcher rifle. I heard the crack of the ball, and almost
immediately afterwards the herd passed on, leaving one lagging
behind at a slow canter; this was my wounded ariel, who shortly
halted, and laid down in an open glade. Having no dog, I took the
greatest precaution in stalking, as a wounded antelope is almost
certain to escape if once disturbed when it has lain down. There
was a small withered stem of a tree not thicker than a man's
thigh; this grew within thirty yards of the antelope; my only
chance of approach was to take a line direct for this slight
object of cover. The wind was favourable, and I crept along the
ground. I had succeeded in arriving within a few yards of the
tree when up jumped the antelope, and bounded off as though
unhurt; but there was no chance for it at this distance, and I
rolled it over with a shot through the spine.

Having done the needful with my beautiful prize, and extracted
the interior, I returned for my camel that had well assisted in
the stalk. Hardly had I led the animal to the body of the ariel,
when I heard a rushing sound like a strong wind, and down came a
vulture with its wings collapsed, falling from an immense height
direct to its prey, in its eagerness to be the first in the race.
By the time that I had fastened the ariel across the back of the
camel, many vultures were sitting upon the ground at a few yards'
distance, while others were arriving every minute: before I had
shot the ariel, not a vulture had been in sight; the instant that
I retreated from the spot a flock of ravenous beaks were tearing
at the offal.

In the constant doubling necessary during the stalk I had quite
lost my way. The level plain to the horizon, covered with
scattered mimosas, offered no object as a guide. I was
exceedingly thirsty, as the heat was intense, and I had been
taking rapid exercise; unfortunately my water-skin was slung upon
my wife's camel. However unpleasant the situation, my pocket
compass would give me the direction, as we had been steering due
west; therefore, as I had turned to my left when I left my party,
a course N.W. should bring me across their tracks, if they had
continued on their route. The position of the Cassala mountain
agreed with this course; therefore, remounting my dromedary, with
the ariel slung behind the saddle, I hastened to rejoin our
caravan. After about half an hour I heard a shot fired not far in
advance, and I shortly joined the party, who had fired a gun to
give me the direction. A long and deep pull at the water-skin was
the first salutation.

We halted that night near a small pond formed by the recent heavy
rain. Fortunately the sky was clear; there was abundance of fuel,
and pots were shortly boiling an excellent stew of ariel venison
and burnt onions. The latter delicious bulbs are the blessing of
Upper Egypt: I have lived for days upon nothing but raw onions
and sun-dried rusks. Nothing is so good a substitute for meat as
an onion; but if raw, it should be cut into thin slices, and
allowed to soak for half an hour in water, which should be poured
off: the onion thus loses its pungency, and becomes mild and
agreeable; with the accompaniment of a little oil and vinegar it
forms an excellent salad.

The following day's march led us through the same dead level of
grassy plains and mimosas, enlivened with numerous herds of
ariels and large black-striped gazelles (Dorcas), one of which I
succeeded in shooting for my people. After nine hours' journey we
arrived at the, valley of the Atbara, in all sixteen hours'
actual marching from Cassala.

There was an extraordinary change in the appearance of the river
between Gozerajup and this spot. There was no longer the vast
sandy desert with the river flowing through its sterile course on
a level with the surface of the country, but after traversing an
apparently perfect flat of forty-five miles of rich alluvial
soil, we had suddenly arrived upon the edge of a deep valley,
between five and six miles wide, at the bottom of which, about
200 feet below the general level of the country, flowed the river
Atbara. On the opposite side of the valley, the same vast table
lands continued to the western horizon.

We commenced the descent towards the river; the valley was a
succession of gullies and ravines, of landslips and watercourses;
the entire hollow, of miles in width, had evidently been the work
of the river. How many ages had the rains and the stream been at
work to scoop out from the flat table land this deep and broad
valley? Here was the giant labourer that had shovelled the rich
loam upon the delta of Lower Egypt! Upon these vast flats of
fertile soil there can be no drainage except through soakage. The
deep valley is therefore the receptacle not only for the water
that oozes from its sides, but subterranean channels, bursting as
land-springs from all parts of the walls of the valley, wash down
the more soluble portions of earth, and continually waste away
the soil. Landslips occur daily during the rainy season; streams
of rich mud pour down the valley's slopes, and as the river flows
beneath in a swollen torrent, the friable banks topple down into
the stream and dissolve. The Atbara becomes the thickness of
pea-soup, as its muddy waters steadily perform the duty they have
fulfilled from age to age. Thus was the great river at work upon
our arrival on its bank at the bottom of the valley. The Arab
name, "Bahr el Aswat" (black river) was well bestowed; it was the
black mother of Egypt, still carrying to her offspring the
nourishment that had first formed the Delta.

At this point of interest, the journey had commenced; the deserts
were passed, all was fertility and life: wherever the sources of
the Nile might be, the Atbara was the parent of Egypt! This was
my first impression, to be proved hereafter.

CHAPTER V.

THE STORM.

A VIOLENT thunderstorm, with a deluge of rain, broke upon our
camp upon the banks of the Atbara, fortunately just after the
tents were pitched. We thus had an example of the extraordinary
effects of the heavy rain in tearing away the soil of the valley.
Trifling watercourses were swollen to torrents; banks of earth
became loosened and fell in, and the rush of mud and water upon
all sides swept forward into the river with a rapidity which
threatened the destruction of the country, could such a tempest
endure for a few days. In a couple of hours all was over. The
river was narrower than in its passage through the desert, but
was proportionately deeper. The name of the village on the
opposite bank was Goorashee, with which a means of communication
had been established by a ferry-boat belonging to our friend and
late host, Malem Georgis, the Greek merchant of Cassala. He had
much trouble in obtaining permission from the authorities to
introduce this novelty, which was looked upon as an innovation,
as such a convenience had never before existed. The enterprising
proprietor had likewise established a cotton farm at Goorashee,
which appeared to succeed admirably, and was an undeniable
example of what could be produced in this fertile country were
the spirit of improvement awakened. Notwithstanding the advantage
of the ferry-boat, many of the Arabs preferred to swim their
camels across the river to paying a trifle to the ferryman. A
camel either cannot or will not swim unless it is supported by
inflated skins: thus the passage of the broad river Atbara (at
this spot about 300 yards wide) is an affair of great difficulty.
Two water-skins are inflated, and attached to the camel by a band
passed like a girth beneath the belly. Thus arranged, a man sits
upon its back, while one or two swim by the side as guides. The
current of the Atbara runs at a rapid rate; thus the camel is
generally carried at least half a mile down the river before it
can gain the opposite bank. A few days before our arrival, a man
had been snatched from the back of his camel while crossing, and
was carried off by a crocodile. Another man had been taken during
the last week while swimming the river upon a log. It was
supposed that these accidents were due to the same crocodile, who
was accustomed to bask upon a mud bank at the foot of the cotton
plantation. On the day following our arrival at the Atbara, we
found that our camel-drivers had absconded during the night with
their camels; these were the men who had been forced to serve by
the Governor of Cassala. There was no possibility of proceeding
for some days, therefore I sent El Baggar across the river to
endeavour to engage camels, while I devoted myself to a search
for the crocodile. I shortly discovered that it was unfair in the
extreme to charge one particular animal with the death of the two
Arabs, as several large crocodiles were lying upon the mud in
various places. A smaller one was lying asleep high and dry upon
the bank; the wind was blowing strong, so that, by carefully
approaching, I secured a good shot within thirty yards, and
killed it on the spot by a bullet through the head, placed about
an inch above the eyes.

After some time, the large crocodiles, who had taken to the water
at the report of the gun, again appeared, and crawled slowly out
of the muddy river to their basking-places upon the bank. A
crocodile usually sleeps with its mouth wide open; I therefore
waited until the immense jaws of the nearest were well expanded,
showing a grand row of glittering teeth, when I crept carefully
towards it through the garden of thickly-planted cotton. Bacheet
and Wat Gamma followed in great eagerness. In a short time I
arrived within about forty yards of the beast, as it lay upon a
flat mud bank formed by one of the numerous torrents that had
carried down the soil during the storm of yesterday. The cover
ceased, and it was impossible to approach nearer without alarming
the crocodile; it was a fine specimen, apparently nineteen or
twenty feet in length, and I took a steady shot with the little
Fletcher rifle at the temple, exactly in front of the point of
union of the head with the spine. The jaws clashed together, and
a convulsive start followed by a twitching of the tail led me to
suppose that sudden death had succeeded the shot; but, knowing
the peculiar tenacity of life possessed by the crocodile, I fired
another shot at the shoulder, as the huge body lay so close to
the river's edge that the slightest struggle would cause it to
disappear. To my surprise, this shot, far from producing a
quietus, gave rise to a series of extraordinary convulsive
struggles. One moment it rolled upon its back, lashed out right
and left with its tail, and ended by toppling over into the
river.

This was too much for the excitable Bacheet, who, followed by his
friend, Wat Gamma, with more courage than discretion, rushed into
the river, and endeavoured to catch the crocodile by the tail.
Before I had time to call them back, these two Arab water-dogs
were up to their necks in the river, screaming out directions to
each other while they were feeling for the body of the monster
with their feet. At length I succeeded in calling them to shore,
and we almost immediately saw the body of the crocodile appear
belly upwards, about fifty yards down the stream; the forepaws
were above the water, but, after rolling round several times, it
once more disappeared, rapidly carried away by the muddy torrent.
This was quite enough for the Arabs, who had been watching the
event from the opposite bank of the river, and the report quickly
spread that two crocodiles were killed, one of which they
declared to be the public enemy that had taken the men at the
ferry, but upon what evidence I cannot understand. Although my
Arabs looked forward to a dinner of crocodile flesh, I was
obliged to search for something of rather milder flavour for
ourselves. I waited for about an hour while the first crocodile
was being divided, when I took a shot gun and succeeded in
killing three geese and a species of antelope no larger than a
hare, known by the Arabs as the Dik-dik (Nanotragus
Hemprichianus). This little creature inhabits thick bush. Since
my return to England, I have seen a good specimen in the
Zoological Gardens of the Regent's Park.

Upon my arrival at the tents, I found the camp redolent of musk
from the flesh of the crocodile, and the people were quarrelling
for the musk glands, which they had extracted, and which are much
prized by the Arab women, who wear them strung like beads upon a
necklace.

A crocodile possesses four of such glands; they vary in size
according to the age of the reptile, but they are generally about
as large as a hazel-nut, when dried. Two glands are situated in
the groin, and two in the throat, a little in advance of the
fore-legs. I have noticed two species of crocodiles throughout
all the rivers of Abyssinia, and in the White Nile. One of these
is of a dark brown colour, and much shorter and thicker in
proportion than the other, which grows to an immense length, an
is generally of a pale greenish yellow. Throughout the Atbara,
crocodiles are extremely mischievous and bold; this can be
accounted for by the constant presence of Arabs and their flocks,
which the crocodiles have ceased to fear, as they exact a heavy
tribute in their frequent passages of the river. The Arabs assert
that the dark-coloured, thick-bodied species is more to be
dreaded than the other.

The common belief that the scales of the crocodile will stop a
bullet is very erroneous. If a rifle is loaded with the moderate
charge of two and a half drachms it will throw an ounce ball
through the scales of the hardest portion of the back; but were
the scales struck obliquely, the bullet might possibly glance
from the surface, as in like manner it would ricochet from the
surface of water. The crocodile is so difficult to kill outright,
that people are apt to imagine that the scales have resisted
their bullets. The only shots that will produce instant death are
those that strike the brain or the spine through the neck. A shot
through the shoulder is fatal; but as the body immediately sinks,
and does not reappear upon the surface until the gases have
distended the carcase, the game is generally carried away by the
stream before it has had time to float. The body of a crocodile
requires from twelve to eighteen hours before it will rise to the
surface, while that of the hippopotamus will never remain longer
than two hours beneath the water, and will generally rise in an
hour and a half after death. This difference in time depends upon
the depth and temperature; in deep holes of the river of from
thirty to fifty feet, the water is much cooler near the bottom,
thus the gas is not generated in the body so quickly as in
shallow and warmer water. The crocodile is not a grass-feeder,
therefore the stomach is comparatively small, and the contents do
not generate the amount of gas that so quickly distends the huge
stomach of the hippopotamus; thus the body of the former requires
a longer period before it will rise to the surface.

In the evening we crossed with our baggage and people to the
opposite side of the river, and pitched our tents at the village
of Goorashee. A small watercourse had brought down a large
quantity of black sand. Thinking it probable that gold might
exist in the same locality, I washed some earth in a copper
basin, and quickly discovered a few specks of the precious metal.
Gold is found in small quantities in the sand of the Atbara; at
Fazogle, on the Blue Nile, there are mines of this metal worked
by the Egyptian Govermnent. From my subsequent experience I have
no doubt that valuable minerals exist in large quantities
throughout the lofty chain of Abyssinian mountains from which
these rivers derive their sources.

The camels arrived, and once more we were ready to start. Our
factotum, El Baggar, had collected a number of both
baggage-camels and riding dromedaries or "hygeens;" the latter he
had brought for approval, as we had suffered much from the
extreme roughness of our late camels. There is the same
difference between a good hygeen or dromedary and a baggage-camel
as between the thoroughbred and the cart-horse; and it appears
absurd in the eyes of the Arabs that a man of any position should
ride a baggage-camel. Apart from all ideas of etiquette, the
motion of the latter animal is quite sufficient warning. Of all
species of fatigue, the back-breaking monotonous swing of a heavy
camel is the worst; and, should the rider lose patience, and
administer a sharp cut with the coorbatch that induces the
creature to break into a trot, the torture of the rack is a
pleasant tickling compared to the sensation of having your spine
driven by a sledge-hammer from below, half a foot deeper into the
skull. The human frame may be inured to almost anything; thus the
Arabs, who have always been accustomed to this kind of exercise,
hardly feel the motion, and the portion of the body most subject
to pain in riding a rough camel upon two bare pieces of wood for
a saddle, becomes naturally adapted for such rough service, as
monkeys become hardened from constantly sitting upon rough
substances. The children commence almost as soon as they are
born, as they must accompany their mothers in their annual
migrations; and no sooner can the young Arab sit astride and hold
on, than he is placed behind his father's saddle, to which he
clings, while he bumps upon the bare back of the jolting camel.
Nature quickly arranges a horny protection to the nerves, by the
thickening of the skin; thus, an Arab's opinion of the action of
a riding hygeen should never be accepted without a personal
trial. What appears delightful to him may be torture to you, as
a strong breeze and a rough sea may be charming to a sailor, but
worse than death to a landsman.

I was determined not to accept the camels now offered as hygeens
until I had seen them tried; I accordingly ordered our black
soldier El Baggar to saddle the most easy-actioned animal for my
wife, but I wished to see him put it through a variety of paces
before she should accept it. The delighted El Baggar, who from
long practice was as hard as the heel of a boot, disdained
a saddle; the animal knelt, was mounted, and off he started at
full trot, performing a circle of about fifty yards' diameter as
though in a circus. I never saw such an exhibition! "Warranted
quiet to ride, of easy action, and fit for a lady!" This had been
the character received with the rampant brute, who now, with head
and tail erect, went tearing round the circle, screaming and
roaring like a wild beast, throwing his fore-legs forward, and
stepping at least three feet high in his trot. Where was El
Baggar? A disjointed-looking black figure was sometimes on the
back of this easy-going camel, sometimes a foot high in the air;
arms, head, legs, hands appeared like a confused mass of
dislocations; the woolly hair of this unearthly individual, that
had been carefully trained in long stiff narrow curls, precisely
similar to the tobacco known as "negro-head," alternately started
upright en masse, as though under the influence of electricity,
and then fell as suddenly upon his shoulders: had the dark
individual been a "black dose," he or it could not have been more
thoroughly shaken. This object, so thoroughly disguised by
rapidity of movement, was El Baggar; happy, delighted El Baggar!
As he came rapidly round towards us flourishing his coorbatch, I
called to him, "Is that a nice hygeen for the Sit (lady), El
Baggar? is it VERY easy?" He was almost incapable of a reply.
"V-e-r-y e-e-a-a-s-y," replied the trustworthy authority,
"j-j-j-just the thin-n-n-g for the S-i-i-i-t-t-t." "All right,
that will do," I answered, and the jockey pulled up his steed.
"Are the other camels better or worse than that?" I asked. "Much
worse," replied El Baggar; "the others are rather rough, but this
is an easy-goer, and will suit the lady well."

It was impossible to hire a good hygeen; an Arab prizes his
riding animal too much, and invariably refuses to let it to a
stranger, but generally imposes upon him by substituting some
lightly-built camel, that he thinks will pass muster. I
accordingly chose for my wife a steady-going animal from among
the baggage-camels, trusting to be able to obtain a hygeen from
the great sheik Abou Sinn, who was encamped upon the road we were
about to take along the valley of the Atbara; we arranged to
leave Goorashee on the following day.

Upon arriving at the highest point of the valley, we found
ourselves on the vast table land that stretches from the Atbara
to the Nile. At this season the entire surface had a faint tint
of green, as the young shoots of grass had replied to the late
showers of rain; so perfect a level was this great tract of
fertile country, that within a mile of the valley of the Atbara
there was neither furrow nor watercourse, but the escape of the
rainfall was by simple soakage. As usual, the land was dotted
with mimosas, all of which were now bursting into leaf. The
thorns of the different varieties of these trees are an
extraordinary freak of Nature, as she appears to have exhausted
all her art in producing an apparently useless arrangement of
defence. The mimosas that are most common in the Soudan provinces
are mere bushes, seldom exceeding six feet in height; these
spread out towards the top like mushrooms, but the branches
commence within two feet of the ground; they are armed with
thorns in the shape of fish-hooks, which they resemble in
sharpness and strength. A thick jungle composed of such bushes is
perfectly impenetrable to any animals but elephants,
rhinoceroses, and buffaloes; and should the clothes of a man
become entangled in such thorns, either they must give way, or he
must remain a prisoner. The mimosa that is known among the Arabs
as the Kittar is one of the worst species, and is probably
similar to that which caught Absalom by the hair; this differs
from the well-known "Wait-a-bit" of South Africa, as no milder
nickname could be applied than "Dead-stop." Were the clothes of
strong material, it would be perfectly impossible to break
through a kittar-bush.

A magnificent specimen of a kittar, with a wide-spreading head in
the young glory of green leaf, tempted my hungry camel during our
march; it was determined to procure a mouthful, and I was equally
determined that it should keep to the straight path, and avoid
the attraction of the green food. After some strong remonstrance
upon my part, the perverse beast shook its ugly head, gave a
roar, and started off in full trot straight at the thorny bush.
I had not the slightest control over the animal, and in a few
seconds it charged the bush with the mad intention of rushing
either through or beneath it. To my disgust I perceived that the
wide-spreading branches were only just sufficiently high to
permit the back of the camel to pass underneath. There was no
time for further consideration; we charged the bush; I held my
head doubled up between my arms, and the next moment I was on my
back, half stunned by the fall. The camel-saddle lay upon the
ground; my rifle, that had been slung behind, my coffee-pot, the
water-skin burst, and a host of other impedimenta, lay around me
in all directions; worst of all, my beautiful gold repeater lay
at some distance from me, rendered entirely useless. I was as
nearly naked as I could be; a few rags held together, but my
shirt was gone, with the exception of some shreds that adhered to
my arms. I was, of course, streaming with blood, and looked much
more as though I had been clawed by a leopard than as having
simply charged a bush. The camel had fallen down with the shock
after I had been swept off by the thorny branches. To this day I
have the marks of the scratching.

Unless a riding-camel is perfectly trained, it is the most
tiresome animal to ride after the first green leaves appear;
every bush tempts it from the path, and it is a perpetual fight
between the rider and his beast throughout the journey.

We shortly halted for the night, as I had noticed unmistakeable
signs of an approaching storm. We quickly pitched the tents,
grubbed up the root and stem of a decayed mimosa, and lighted a
fire, by the side of which our people sat in a circle. Hardly had
the pile begun to blaze, when a cry from Mahomet's new relative,
Achmet, informed us that he had been bitten by a scorpion.
Mahomet appeared to think this highly entertaining, until
suddenly he screamed out likewise, and springing from the ground,
he began to stamp and wring his hands in great agony: he had
himself been bitten, and we found that a whole nest of scorpions
were in the rotten wood lately thrown upon the fire; in their
flight from the heat they stung all whom they met. There was no
time to prepare food; the thunder already roared above us, and in
a few minutes the sky, lately so clear, was as black as ink. I
had already prepared for the storm, and the baggage was piled
within the tent; the ropes of the tents had been left slack to
allow for the contraction, and we were ready for the rain. It was
fortunate that we were in order; a rain descended, with an
accompaniment of thunder and lightning, of a volume unknown to
the inhabitants of cooler climates; for several hours there was
almost an uninterrupted roar of the most deafening peals, with
lightning so vivid that our tent was completely lighted up in the
darkness of the night, and its misery displayed. Not only was the
rain pouring through the roof so that we were wet through as we
crouched upon our angareps (stretchers), but the legs of our
bedstead stood in more than six inches of water. Being as wet as
I could be, I resolved to enjoy the scene outside the tent; it
was curious in the extreme. Flash after flash of sharp forked
lightning played upon the surface of a boundless lake; there was
not a foot of land visible, but the numerous dark bushes
projecting from the surface of the water destroyed the illusion
of depth that the scene would otherwise have suggested. The rain
ceased, but the entire country was flooded several inches deep;
and when the more distant lightning flashed as the storm rolled
away, I saw the camels lying like statues built into the lake. On
the following morning the whole of this great mass of water had
been absorbed by the soil, which had become so adhesive and
slippery that it was impossible for the camels to move; we
therefore waited for some hours, until the intense heat of the
sun had dried the surface sufficiently to allow the animals to
proceed.

Upon striking the tent, we found beneath the valance between the
crown and the walls a regiment of scorpions; the flood had
doubtless destroyed great numbers within their holes, but these,
having been disturbed by the deluge, had found an asylum by
crawling up the tent walls: with great difficulty we lighted a
fire, and committed them all to the flames. Mahomet made a great
fuss about his hand, which was certainly much swollen, but not
worse than that of Achmet, who did not complain, although during
the night he had been again bitten on the leg by one of these
venomous insects, that had crawled from the water upon his
clothes. During our journey that morning parallel with the valley
of the Atbara, I had an excellent opportunity of watching the
effect of the storm. We rode along the abrupt margin of the table
land, where it broke suddenly into the deep valley; from the
sides of this the water was oozing in all directions, creating
little avalanches of earth, which fell as they lost their
solidity from too much moisture. This wonderfully rich soil was
rolling gradually towards Lower Egypt. From the heights above the
river we had a beautiful view of the stream, which at this
distance, reflecting the bright sunlight, did not appear like the
thick liquid mud that we knew it to be. The valley was of the
same general character that we had remarked at Goorashee, but
more abrupt--a mass of landslips, deep ravines, shaded by
mimosas, while the immediate neighbour hood of the Atbara was
clothed with the brightest green foliage. In this part, the
valley was about three miles in width, and two hundred feet deep.

The commencement of the rainy season was a warning to all the
Arabs of this country, who were preparing for their annual
migration to the sandy and firm desert on the west bank of the
river, at Gozerajup; that region, so barren and desolate during
the hot season, would shortly be covered with a delicate grass
about eighteen inches high. At that favoured spot the rains fell
with less violence, and it formed a nucleus for the general
gathering of the people with their flocks.

We were travelling south at the very season when the natives were
migrating north. I saw plainly that it would be impossible for us
to continue our journey during the wet season, as the camels had
the greatest difficulty in carrying their loads even now, at the
commencement: their feet sank deep into the soil; this formed
adhesive clods upon their spongy toes, that almost disabled them.
The farther we travelled south, the more violent would the rains
become, and a long tropical experience warned me that the rainy
season was the signal for fevers. All the camels of the Arabs
were being driven from the country; we had already met many herds
travelling northward, but this day's march was through crowds of
these animals, principally females with their young, many
thousands of which were on the road. Some of the young foals were
so small that they could not endure the march; these were slung
in nets upon the backs of camels, while the mother followed
behind. We revelled in milk, as we had not been able to procure
it since we left Cassala. Some persons dislike the milk of the
camel; I think it is excellent to drink pure, but it does not
answer in general use for mixing with coffee, with which it
immediately curdles; it is extremely rich, and is considered by
the Arabs to be more nourishing than that of the cow. To persons
of delicate health I should invariably recommend boiled milk in
preference to plain; and should the digestion be so extremely
weak that liquid milk disagrees with the stomach, they should
allow it to become thick, similar to curds and whey: this should
be then beaten together, with the admixture of a little salt and
cayenne pepper; it then assumes the thickness of cream, and is
very palatable. The Arabs generally prepare it in this manner; it
is not only considered to be more wholesome, but in its thickened
state it is easier to carry upon a journey. With an apology to
European medical men, I would suggest that they should try the
Arab system whenever they prescribe a milk diet for a delicate
patient. The first operation of curdling, which is a severe trial
to a weak stomach, is performed in hot climates by the
atmosphere, as in temperate climates by the admixture of rennet,
&c.; thus the most difficult work of the stomach is effected by
a foreign agency, and it is spared the first act of its
performance. I have witnessed almost marvellous results from a
milk diet given as now advised.

Milk, if drunk warm from the animal in hot climates will affect
many persons in the same manner as a powerful dose of senna and
salts. Our party appeared to be proof against such an accident,
as they drank enough to have stocked a moderate-sized dairy. This
was most good-naturedly supplied gratis by the Arabs.

It was the season of rejoicing; everybody appeared in good
humour; the distended udders of thousands of camels were an
assurance of plenty. The burning sun that for nine months had
scorched the earth was veiled by passing clouds; the cattle that
had panted for water, and whose food was withered straw, were
filled with juicy fodder: the camels that had subsisted upon the
dried and leafless twigs and branches, now feasted upon the
succulent tops of the mimosas. Throngs of women and children
mounted upon camels, protected by the peculiar gaudy saddle hood,
ornamented with cowrie-shells, accompanied the march; thousands
of sheep and goats, driven by Arab boys, were straggling in all
directions; baggage-camels, heavily laden with the quaint
household goods, blocked up the way; the fine bronzed figures of
Arabs, with sword and shield, and white topes, or plaids, guided
their milk-white dromedaries through the confused throng with the
usual placid dignity of their race, simply passing by with the
usual greeting, "Salaam aleikum," "Peace be with you."

It was the Exodus; all were hurrying towards the promised
land--"the land flowing with milk and honey," where men and
beasts would be secure, not only from the fevers of the south,
but from that deadly enemy to camels and cattle, the fly; this
terrible insect drove all before it.

If all were right in migrating to the north, it was a logical
conclusion that we were wrong in going to the south during the
rainy season; however, we now heard from the Arabs that we were
within a couple of hours' march from the camp of the great Sheik
Achmet Abou Sinn, to whom I had a letter of introduction. At the
expiration of about that time we halted, and pitched the tents
among some shady mimosas, while I sent Mahomet to Abou Sinn with
the letter, and my firman.

I was busily engaged in making sundry necessary arrangements in
the tent, when Mahomet returned, and announced the arrival of the
great sheik in person. He was attended by several of his
principal people, and as he approached through the bright green
mimosas, mounted upon a beautiful snow-white hygeen, I was
exceedingly struck with his venerable and dignified appearance.
Upon near arrival I went forward to meet him, and to assist him
from his camel; but his animal knelt immediately at his command,
and he dismounted with the ease and agility of a man of twenty.

He was the most magnificent specimen of an Arab that I have ever
seen. Although upwards of eighty years of age, he was as erect as
a lance, and did not appear more than between fifty and sixty; he
was of Herculean stature, about six feet three inches high, with
immensely broad shoulders and chest; a remarkably arched nose;
eyes like an eagle, beneath large, shaggy, but perfectly white
eyebrows; a snow-white beard of great thickness descended below
the middle of his breast. He wore a large white turban, and a
white cashmere abbai, or long robe, from the throat to the
ankles. As a desert patriarch he was superb, the very perfection
of all that the imagination could paint, if we would personify
Abraham at the head of his people. This grand old Arab with the
greatest politeness insisted upon our immediately accompanying
him to his camp, as he could not allow us to remain in his
country as strangers. He would hear of no excuses, but he at once
gave orders to Mahomet to have the baggage repacked and the tents
removed, while we were requested to mount two superb white
hygeens, with saddle-cloths of blue Persian sheep-skins, that he
had immediately accoutred when he heard from Mahomet of our
miserable camels. The tent was struck, and we joined our
venerable host with a line of wild and splendidly-mounted
attendants, who followed us towards the sheik's encampment.

CHAPTER VI.

SHEIK ACHMET ABOU SINN.

AMONG the retinue of the aged sheik, whom we now accompanied,
were ten of his sons, some of whom appeared to be quite as old as
their father. We had ridden about two miles, when we were
suddenly met by a crowd of mounted men, armed with the usual
swords and shields; many were on horses, others upon hygeens, and
all drew up in lines parallel with our approach. These were Abou
Sinn's people, who had assembled to give us the honorary welcome
as guests of their chief; this etiquette of the Arabs consists in
galloping singly at full speed across the line of advance, the
rider flourishing the sword over his head, and at the same moment
reining up his horse upon its haunches so as to bring it to a
sudden halt. This having been performed by about a hundred riders
upon both horses and hygeens, they fell into line behind our
party, and, thus escorted, we shortly arrived at the Arab
encampment. In all countries the warmth of a public welcome
appears to be exhibited by noise--the whole neighbourhood had
congregated to meet us; crowds of women raised the wild shrill
cry that is sounded alike for joy or sorrow; drums were beat; men
dashed about with drawn swords and engaged in mimic fight, and in
the midst of din and confusion we halted and dismounted. With
peculiar grace of manner the old sheik assisted my wife to
dismount, and led her to an open shed arranged with angareps
(stretchers) covered with Persian carpets and cushions, so as to
form a divan. Sherbet, pipes, and coffee were shortly handed to
us, and Mahomet, as dragoman, translated the customary
interchange of compliments; the sheik assured us that our
unexpected arrival among them was "like the blessing of a new
moon," the depth of which expression no one can understand who
has not experienced life in the desert, where the first faint
crescent is greeted with such enthusiasm. After a long
conversation we were led to an excellent mat tent that had been
vacated by one of his sons, and shortly afterwards an admirable
dinner of several dishes was sent to us, while with extreme good
taste we were left undisturbed by visitors until the following
morning. Our men had been regaled with a fat sheep, presented by
the sheik, and all slept contentedly.

At sunrise we were visited by Abou Sinn. It appeared that, after
our conversation of the preceding evening, he had inquired of
Mahomet concerning my future plans and intentions; he now came
specially to implore us not to proceed south at this season of
the year, as it would be perfectly impossible to travel; he
described the country as a mass of mud, rendered so deep by the
rains that no animal could move; that the fly called the "seroot"
had appeared, and that no domestic animal except a goat could
survive its attack; he declared that to continue our route would
be mere insanity: and he concluded by giving us a most hospitable
invitation to join his people on their road to the healthy
country at Gozerajup, and to become his guests for three or four
months, until travelling would be feasible in the south, at which
time he promised to assist me in my explorations by an escort of
his own people, who were celebrated elephant hunters, and knew
the entire country before us. This was an alluring programme; but
after thanking him for his kindness, I explained how much I
disliked to retrace my steps, which I should do by returning to
Gozerajup; and that as I had heard of a German who was living at
the village of Sofi, on the Atbara, I should prefer to pass the
season of the rains at that place, where I could gather
information, and be ready on the spot to start for the
neighbouring Base country when the change of season should
permit. After some hesitation he consented to this plan, and
promised not only to mount us on our journey, but to send with us
an escort commanded by one of his grandsons. Sofi was about
seventy-eight miles distant.

Abou Sinn had arranged to move northwards on the following day;
we therefore agreed to pass one day in his camp, and to leave for
Sofi the next morning. The ground upon which the Arab encampment
was situated was a tolerably flat surface, like a shelf, upon the
slope of the Atbara valley, about thirty or forty feet below the
rich table lands; the surface of this was perfectly firm, as by
the constant rains it had been entirely denuded of the loam that
had formed the upper stratum. This formed a charming place for
the encampment of a large party, as the ground was perfectly
clean, a mixture of quartz pebbles upon a hard white sandstone.
Numerous mimosas afforded a shade, beneath which the Arabs sat in
groups, and at the bottom of the valley flowed the Atbara.

This tribe, which was peculiarly that of Abou Sinn, and from
which he had sprung, was the Shookeriyah, one of the most
powerful among the numerous tribes of Upper Egypt.

From Korosko to this point we had already passed the Bedouins,
Bishareens, Hadendowas, Hallongas, until we had entered the
Shookeriyahs. On the west of our present position were the
Jalyns, and to the south near Sofi were the Dabainas. Many of the
tribes claim a right to the title of Bedouins, as descended from
that race. The customs of all the Arabs are nearly similar, and
the distinction in appearance is confined to a peculiarity in
dressing the hair; this is a matter of great importance among
both men and women. It would be tedious to describe the minutiae
of the various coiffures, but the great desire with all tribes,
except the Jalyn, is to have a vast quantity of hair arranged in
their own peculiar fashion, and not only smeared, but covered
with as much fat as can be made to adhere. Thus, should a man
wish to get himself up as a great dandy, he would put at least
half a pound of butter or other fat upon his head; this would be
worked up with his coarse locks by a friend, until it somewhat
resembled a cauliflower. He would then arrange his tope or plaid
of thick cotton cloth, and throw one end over his left shoulder,
while slung from the same shoulder his circular shield would hang
upon his back; suspended by a strap over the right shoulder would
hang his long two-edged broadsword.

Fat is the great desideratum of an Arab; his head, as I have
described, should be a mass of grease; he rubs his body with oil
or other ointment; his clothes, i.e. his one garment or tope, is
covered with grease, and internally he swallows as much as he can
procure.

The great Sheik Abou Sinn, who is upwards of eighty, as upright
as a dart, a perfect Hercules, and whose children and
grandchildren are like the sand of the sea-shore, has always
consumed daily throughout his life two rottolis (pounds) of
melted butter. A short time before I left the country he married
a new young wife about fourteen years of age. This may be a hint
to octogenarians.

The fat most esteemed for dressing the hair is that of the sheep.
This undergoes a curious preparation, which renders it similar in
appearance to cold cream; upon the raw fat being taken from the
animal it is chewed in the mouth by an Arab for about two hours,
being frequently taken out for examination during that time,
until it has assumed the desired consistency. To prepare
sufficient to enable a man to appear in full dress, several
persons must be employed in masticating fat at the same time.
This species of pomade, when properly made, is perfectly white,
and exceedingly light and frothy. It may be imagined that when
exposed to a burning sun, the beauty of the head-dress quickly
disappears, but the oil then runs down the neck and back, which
is considered quite correct, especially when the tope becomes
thoroughly greased; the man is then perfectly anointed. We had
seen an amusing exanmple of this when on the march from Berber to
Gozerajup. The Turk, Hadji Achmet, had pressed into our service,
as a guide for a few miles, a dandy who had just been arranged as
a cauliflower, with at least half a pound of white fat upon his
head. As we were travelling upwards of four miles an hour in an
intense heat, during which he was obliged to run, the fat ran
quicker than he did, and at the end of a couple of hours both the
dandy and his pomade were exhausted; the poor fellow had to
return to his friends with the total loss of personal appearance
and half a pound of butter.

Not only are the Arabs particular in their pomade, but great
attention is bestowed upon perfumery, especially by the women.
Various perfumes are brought from Cairo by the travelling native
merchants; among which those most in demand are oil of roses, oil
of sandalwood, an essence from the blossom of a species of
mimosa, essence of musk, and the oil of cloves. The women have a
peculiar method of scenting their bodies and clothes by an
operation that is considered to be one of the necessaries of
life, and which is repeated at regular intervals. In the floor of
the tent, or hut, as it may chance to be, a small hole is
excavated sufficiently large to contain a common-sized champagne
bottle: a fire of charcoal, or of simply glowing enmbers, is made
within the hole, into which the woman about to be scented throws
a handful of various drugs; she then takes off the cloth or tope
which forms her dress, and crouches naked over the fumes, while
she arranges her robe to fall as a mantle from her neck to the
ground like a tent. When this arrangement is concluded she is
perfectly happy, as none of the precious fumes can escape, all
being retained beneath the robe, precisely as if she wore a
crinoline with an incense-burner beneath it, which would be a far
more simple way of performing the operation. She now begins to
perspire freely in the hot-air bath, and the pores of the skin
being thus opened and moist, the volatile oil from the smoke of
the burning perfumes is immediately absorbed.

By the time that the fire has expired, the scenting process is
completed, and both her person and robe are redolent of incense,
with which they are so thoroughly impregnated that I have
frequently smelt a party of women strongly at full a hundred
yards' distance, when the wind has been blowing from their
direction. Of course this kind of perfumery is only adapted for
those who live in tents and in the open air, but it is considered
by the ladies to have a peculiar attraction for the other sex, as
valerian is said to ensnare the genus felis. As the men are said
to be allured by this particular combination of sweet smells, and
to fall victims to the delicacy of their nasal organs, it will be
necessary to give the receipt for the fatal mixture, to be made
up in proportions according to taste :--Ginger, cloves, cinnamon,
frankincense, sandal-wood, myrrh, a species of sea-weed that is
brought from the Red Sea, and lastly, what I mistook for shells,
but which I subsequently discovered to be the horny disc that
closes the aperture when a shell-fish withdraws itself within its
shell; these are also brought from the Red Sea, in which they
abound throughout the shores of Nubia and Abyssinia. In addition
to the charm of sweet perfumes, the women who can afford the
luxury, suspend from their necks a few pieces of the dried glands
of the musk cat, which is a native of the country; such an
addition completes the toilet, when the coiffure has been
carefully arranged.

Hair-dressing in all parts of the world, both civilized and
savage, is a branch of science; savage negro tribes are
distinguished by the various arrangements of their woolly heads.
Arabs are marked by similar peculiarities, that have never
changed for thousands of years, and may be yet seen depicted upon
the walls of Egyptian temples in the precise forms as worn at
present, while in modern times the perfection of art has been in
the wig of a Lord Chancellor. Although this latter example of the
result of science is not the actual hair of the wearer, it adds
an imposing glow of wisdom to the general appearance, and may
have originated as a necessity where a deficiency of sagacity had
existed, and where the absence of years required the fictitious
crown of grey old age. A barrister in his wig, and the same
amount of learning without the wig, is a very different affair;
he is an imperfect shadow of himself. Nevertheless, among
civilized nations, the men do not generally bestow much anxiety
upon the fashion of their hair; the labour in this branch of art
is generally performed by the women, who in all countries and
climes, and in every stage of civilization, bestow the greatest
pains upon the perfection of the coiffure, the various
arrangements of which might, I should imagine, be estimated by
the million. In some countries they are not even contented with
the natural colour of the hair, either if black or blonde, but
they use a pigment that turns it red. I only noticed this among
the Somauli tribe; and that of the Nuehr, some of the wildest
savages of the White Nile, until I returned to England, where I
found the custom was becoming general among the civilized, and
that ladies were adopting the lovely tint of the British fox. The
Arab women do not indulge in fashions; strictly conservative in
their manners and customs, they never imitate, but they simply
vie with each other in the superlativeness of their own style;
thus the dressing of the hair is a most elaborate affair, which
occupies a considerable portion of their time. It is quite
impossible for an Arab woman to arrange her own hair; she
therefore employs an assistant, who, if clever in the art, will
generally occupy about three days before it is satisfactorily
concluded. First, the hair must be combed with a long skewer-like
pin; then, when well divided, it becomes possible to use an
exceedingly coarse wooden comb. When the hair is reduced to
reasonable order by the latter process, a vigorous hunt takes
place, which occupies about an hour, according to the amount of
game preserved; the sport concluded, the hair is rubbed with a
mixture of oil of roses, myrrh, and sandal-wood dust mixed with
a powder of cloves and cassia. When well greased and rendered
somewhat stiff by the solids thus introduced, it is plaited into
at least two hundred fine plaits; each of these plaits is then
smeared with a mixture of sandal-wood dust and either gum water
or paste of dhurra flour. On the last day of the operation, each
tiny plait is carefully opened by the long hair-pin or skewer,
and the head is ravissante. Scented and frizzled in this manner,
with a well-greased tope or robe, the Arab lady's toilet is
complete, her head is then a little larger than the largest sized
English mop, and her perfume is something between the aroma of a
perfumer's shop and the monkey-house at the Zoological Gardens.
This is considered "very killing," and I have been quite of that
opinion when a crowd of women have visited my wife in our tent,
with the thermometer at 95 degrees, and they have kindly
consented to allow me to remain as one of the party. It is hardly
necessary to add, that the operation of hair-dressing is not
often performed, but that the effect is permanent for about a
week, during which time the game become so excessively lively,
that the creatures require stirring up with the long hair-pin or
skewer whenever too unruly; this appears to be constantly
necessary from the vigorous employment of the ruling sceptre
during conversation. A levee of Arab women in the tent was
therefore a disagreeable invasion, as we dreaded the fugitives;
fortunately, they appeared to cling to the followers of Mahomet
in preference to Christians.

The plague of lice brought upon the Egyptians by Moses has
certainly adhered to the country ever since, if "lice" is the
proper translation of the Hebrew word in the Old Testament: it is
my own opinion that the insects thus inflicted upon the
population were not lice, but ticks. Exod. viii. 16, "The dust
became lice throughout all Egypt;" again, Exod. viii. 17, "Smote
dust . . . it became lice in man and beast." Now the louse that
infects the human body and hair has no connexion whatever with
"dust," and if subject to a few hours' exposure to the dry heat
of the burning sand, it would shrivel and die; but the tick is an
inhabitant of the dust, a dry horny insect without any apparent
moisture in its composition; it lives in hot sand and dust, where
it cannot possibly obtain nourishment, until some wretched animal
should lie down upon the spot, and become covered with these
horrible vermin. I have frequently seen desert places so infested
with ticks, that the ground was perfectly alive with them, and it
would have been impossible to have rested on the earth; in such
spots, the passage in Exodus has frequently occurred to me as
bearing reference to these vermin, which are the greatest enemies
to man and beast. It is well known that, from the size of a grain
of sand in their natural state, they will distend to the size of
a hazel-nut after having preyed for some days upon the blood of
an animal. The Arabs are invariably infested with lice, not only
in their hair, but upon their bodies and clothes; even the small
charms or spells worn upon the arm in neatly-sewn leathern
packets are full of these vermin. Such spells are generally
verses copied from the Koran by the Faky, or priest, who receives
some small gratuity in exchange; the men wear several of such
talismans upon the arm above the elbow, but the women wear a
large bunch of charms, as a sort of chatelaine, suspended beneath
their clothes round the waist. Although the tope or robe, loosely
but gracefully arranged around the body, appears to be the whole
of the costume, the women wear beneath this garment a thin blue
cotton cloth tightly bound round the loins, which descends to a
little above the knee; beneath this, next to the skin, is the
last garment, the rahat--the latter is the only clothing of young
girls, and may be either perfectly simple or adorned with beads
and cowrie shells according to the fancy of the wearer; it is
perfectly effective as a dress, and admirably adapted to the
climate.

The rahat is a fringe of fine dark brown or reddish twine,
fastened to a belt, and worn round the waist. On either side are
two long tassels, that are generally ornamented with beads or
cowries, and dangle nearly to the ankles, while the rahat itself
should descend to a little above the knee, rather shorter than a
Highland kilt. Nothing can be prettier or more simple than this
dress, which, although short, is of such thickly hanging fringe,
that it perfectly answers the purpose for which it is intended.
Many of the Arab girls are remarkably good-looking, with fine
figures until they become mothers. They generally marry at the
age of thirteen or fourteen, but frequently at twelve, or even
earlier. Until married, the rahat is their sole garment.
Throughout the Arab tribes of Upper Egypt, chastity is a
necessity, as an operation is performed at the early age of from
three to five years that thoroughly protects all females, and
which renders them physically proof against incontinency.

There is but little love-making among the Arabs. The affair of
matrimony usually commences by a present to the father of the
girl, which, if accepted, is followed by a similar advance to the
girl herself, and the arrangement is completed. All the friends
of both parties are called together for the wedding; pistols and
guns are fired off, if possessed. There is much feasting, and the
unfortunate bridegroom undergoes the ordeal of whipping by the
relations of his bride, in order to test his courage. Sometimes
this punishment is exceedingly severe, being inflicted with the
coorbatch or whip of hippopotamus hide, which is cracked
vigorously about his ribs and back. If the happy husband wishes
to be considered a man worth having, he must receive the
chastisement with an expression of enjoyment; in which case the
crowds of women again raise their thrilling cry in admiration.
After the rejoicings of the day are over, the bride is led in the
evening to the residence of her husband, while a beating of drums
and strumming of guitars (rhababas) are kept up for some hours
during the night, with the usual discordant idea of singing.

There is no divorce court among the Arabs. They are not
sufficiently advanced in civilization to accept a pecuniary fine
as the price of a wife's dishonour; but a stroke of the husband's
sword, or a stab with the knife, is generally the ready remedy
for infidelity. Although strictly Mahometans, the women are never
veiled; neither do they adopt the excessive reserve assumed by
the Turks and Egyptians. The Arab women are generally idle; and
one of the conditions of accepting a suitor is, that a female
slave is to be provided for the special use of the wife. No Arab
woman will engage herself as a domestic servant; thus, so long as
their present customs shall remain unchanged, slaves are
creatures of necessity. Although the law of Mahomet limits the
number of wives for each man to four at one time, the Arab women
do not appear to restrict their husbands to this allowance, and
the slaves of the establishment occupy the position of concubines.

The customs of the Arabs in almost every detail have remained
unchanged. Thus, in dress, in their nomadic habits, food, the
anointing with oil (Eccles. ix. 8, "Let thy garments be always
white, and let thy head lack no ointment"), they retain the
habits and formalities of the distant past, and the present is
but the exact picture of those periods which are historically
recorded in the Old Testament. The perfumery of the women already
described, bears a resemblance to that prepared by Moses for the
altar, which was forbidden to be used by the people. "Take thou
also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred
shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and
fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty
shekels, and of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of
the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin: and thou shalt make it an
oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the
apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil."--Exod. xxx. 23-25.

The manner of anointing by the ancients is exhibited by the Arabs
at the present day, who, as I have already described, make use of
so large a quantity of grease at one application that, when
melted, it runs down over their persons and clothes. In
Ps. cxxxiii. 2, "It is like the precious ointment upon the head,
that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, that went down
to the skirts of his garments."

In all hot climates, oil or other fat is necessary to the skin as
a protection from the sun, where the body is either naked or very
thinly clad. I have frequently seen both Arabs and the negro
tribes of Africa suffer great discomfort when for some days the
supply of grease has been exhausted; the skin has become coarse,
rough, almost scaly, and peculiarly unsightly, until the
much-loved fat has been obtained, and the general appearance of
smoothness has been at once restored by an active smearing. The
expression in Ps. civ. 15, "And oil to make his face to shine,"
describes the effect that was then considered beautifying, as it
is at the present time.

The Arabs generally adhere strictly to their ancient customs,
independently of the comparatively recent laws established by
Mahomet. Thus, concubinage is not considered a breach of
morality; neither is it regarded by the legitimate wives with
jealousy. They attach great importance to the laws of Moses, and
to the customs of their forefathers; neither can they understand
the reason for a change of habit in any respect where necessity
has not suggested the reform. The Arabs are creatures of
necessity; their nomadic life is compulsory, as the existence of
their flocks and herds depends upon the pasturage. Thus, with the
change of seasons they must change their localities, according to
the presence of fodder for their cattle. Driven to and fro by the
accidents of climate, the Arab has been compelled to become a
wanderer; and precisely as the wild beasts of the country are
driven from place to place either by the arrival of the fly, the
lack of pasturage, or by the want of water, even so must the
flocks of the Arab obey the law of necessity, in a country where
the burning sun and total absence of rain for nine months of the
year convert the green pastures into a sandy desert. The Arabs
and their herds must follow the example of the wild beasts, and
live as wild and wandering a life. In the absence of a fixed
home, without a city, or even a village that is permanent, there
can be no change of custom. There is no stimulus to competition
in the style of architecture that is to endure only for a few
months; no municipal laws suggest deficiencies that originate
improvements. The Arab cannot halt in one spot longer than the
pasturage will support his flocks; therefore his necessity is
food for his beasts. The object of his life being fodder, he must
wander in search of the ever-changing supply. His wants must be
few, as the constant changes of encampment necessitate the
transport of all his household goods; thus he reduces to a
minimum the domestic furniture and utensils. No desires for
strange and fresh objects excite his mind to improvement, or
alter his original habits; he must limit his impedimenta, not
increase them. Thus with a few necessary articles he is
contented. Mats for his tent, ropes manufactured with the hair of
his goats and camels, pots for carrying fat; water-jars and
earthenware pots or gourd-shells for containing milk; leather
water-skins for the desert, and sheep-skin bags for his
clothes,--these are the requirements of the Arabs. Their patterns
have never changed, but the water-jar of to-day is of the same
form that was carried to the well by the women of thousands of
years ago. The conversation of the Arabs is in the exact style of
the Old Testament. The name of God is coupled with every trifling
incident in life, and they believe in the continual action of
Divine special interference. Should a famine afflict the country,
it is expressed in the stern language of the Bible--"The Lord has
sent a grievous famine upon the land;" or, "The Lord called for
a famine, and it came upon the land." Should their cattle fall
sick, it is considered to be an affliction by Divine command; or
should the flocks prosper and multiply particularly during one
season, the prosperity is attributed to special interference.
Nothing can happen in the usual routine of daily life without a
direct connexion with the hand of God, according to the Arab's
belief.

This striking similarity to the descriptions of the Old Testament
is exceedingly interesting to a traveller when residing among
these curious and original people. With the Bible in one hand,
and these unchanged tribes before the eyes, there is a thrilling
illustration of the sacred record; the past becomes the present;
the veil of three thousand years is raised, and the living
picture is a witness to the exactness of the historical
description. At the same time, there is a light thrown upon many
obscure passages in the Old Testament by the experience of the
present customs and figures of speech of the Arabs which are
precisely those that were practised at the periods described. I
do not attempt to enter upon a theological treatise, therefore it
is unnecessary to allude specially to these particular points.
The sudden and desolating arrival of a flight of locusts, the
plague, or any other unforeseen calamity, is attributed to the
anger of God, and is believed to be an infliction of punishment
upon the people thus visited, precisely as the plagues of Egypt
were specially inflicted upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians.

Should the present history of the country be written by an Arab
scribe, the style of the description would be purely that of the
Old Testament; and the various calamities or the good fortunes
that have in the course of nature befallen both the tribes and
individuals, would be recounted either as special visitations of
Divine wrath, or blessings for good deeds performed. If in a
dream a particular course of action is suggested, the Arab
believes that God has spoken and directed him. The Arab scribe or
historian would describe the event as the "voice of the Lord"
("kallam el Allah"), having spoken unto the person; or, that God
appeared to him in a dream and "said," &c. Thus much allowance
would be necessary on the part of a European reader for the
figurative ideas and expressions of the people. As the Arabs are
unchanged, the theological opinions which they now hold are the
same as those which prevailed in remote ages, with the simple
addition of their belief in Mahomet as the Prophet.

There is a fascination in the unchangeable features of the Nile
regions. There are the vast Pyramids that have defied time; the
river upon which Moses was cradled in infancy; the same sandy
deserts through which he led his people; and the watering-places
where their flocks were led to drink. The wild and wandering
tribes of Arabs who thousands of years ago dug out the wells in
the wilderness, are represented by their descendants unchanged,
who now draw water from the deep wells of their forefathers with
the skins that have never altered their fashion. The Arabs,
gathering with their goats and sheep around the wells to-day,
recall the recollection of that distant time when "Jacob went on
his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east.
And he looked, and behold a well in the field; and, lo, there
were three flocks of sheep lying by it, for out of that well they
watered the flocks; and a great stone was upon the well's mouth.
And thither were all the flocks gathered; and they rolled the
stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the
stone again upon the well's mouth in his place." The picture of
that scene would be an illustration of Arab daily life in the
Nubian deserts, where the present is the mirror of the past.

CHAPTER VII

THE DEPARTURE.

ON the morning of the 25th July, 1861, Abou Sinn arrived at our
tent with a number of his followers, in their whitest apparel,
accompanied by one of his grandsons, Sheik Ali, who was to
command our escort and to accompany us to the frontier of the
Dabaina tribe, at which spot we were to be handed over to the
care of the sheik of those Arabs, Atalan Wat Said, who would
conduct us to Sofi. There were two superb hygeens duly equipped
for my wife and myself: they were snow-white, without speck or
blemish, and as clean and silk-like as good grooming could
accomplish. One of these beautiful creatures I subsequently
measured,--seven feet three and a half inches to the top of the
hump; this was much above the average. The baggage-camels were
left to the charge of the servants, and we were requested to
mount immediately, as the Sheik Abou Sinn was determined to
accompany us for some distance as a mark of courtesy, although he
was himself to march with his people on that day in the opposite
direction towards Gozerajup. Escorted by our grand old host, with
a great number of mounted attendants, we left the hospitable
camp, and followed the margin of the Atbara valley towards the
south, until, at the distance of about two miles, Abou Sinn took
leave, and returned with his people.

We now enjoyed the contrast between the light active step of
first-class hygeens, and the heavy swinging action of the camels
we had hitherto ridden. Travelling was for the first time a
pleasure; there was a delightful movement in the elasticity of
the hygeens, who ambled at about five miles and a half an hour,
as their natural pace; this they can continue for nine or ten
hours without fatigue. Having no care for the luggage, and the
coffee-pot being slung upon the saddle of an attendant, who also
carried our carpet, we were perfectly independent, as we were
prepared with the usual luxuries upon halting,--the carpet to
recline upon beneath a shady tree, and a cup of good Turkish
coffee. Thus we could afford to travel at a rapid rate, and await
the arrival of the baggage-camels at the end of the day's
journey. In this manner the march should be arranged in these
wild countries, where there is no resting-place upon the path
beyond the first inviting shade that suggests a halt. The day's
journey should be about twenty-four miles. A loaded camel seldom
exceeds two miles and a half per hour; at this rate nearly ten
hours would be consumed upon the road daily, during which time
the traveller would be exposed to the intense heat of the sun,
and to the fatigue inseparable from a long and slow march. A
servant mounted upon a good hygeen should accompany him with the
coffee apparatus and a cold roast fowl and biscuits; the ever
necessary carpet should form the cover to his saddle, to be ready
when required; he then rides far in advance of the caravan. This
simple arrangement insures comfort, and lessens the ennui of the
journey; the baggage-camels are left in charge of responsible
servants, to be brought forward at their usual pace, until they
shall arrive at the place selected for the halt by the traveller.
The usual hour of starting is about 5.30 A.M. The entire day's
journey can be accomplished in something under five hours upon
hygeens, instead of the ten hours dreary pace of the caravan;
thus, the final halt would be made at about 10.30 A.M. at which
time the traveller would be ready for breakfast. The carpet would
be spread under a shady tree; upon a branch of this his
water-skin should be suspended, and the day's work over, he can
write up his journal and enjoy his pipe while coffee is being
prepared. After breakfast he can take his gun or rifle and
explore the neighbourhood, until the baggage-camels shall arrive
in the evening, by which time, if he is a sportsman, he will have
procured something for the dinner of the entire party. The
servants will have collected firewood, and all will be ready for
the arrival of the caravan, without the confusion and bustle of
a general scramble, inseparable from the work to be suddenly
performed, when camels must be unloaded, fuel collected, fires
lighted, the meals prepared, beds made, &c. &c. all at the same
moment, with the chance of little to eat. Nothing keeps the
camel-drivers and attendants in such good humour as a successful
rifle. While they are on their long and slow march, they
speculate upon the good luck that may attend the master's gun,
and upon arrival at the general bivouac in the evening they are
always on the alert to skin and divide the antelopes, pluck the
guinea-fowls, &c. &c. We now travelled in this delightful manner;
there were great numbers of guinea-fowl throughout the country,
which was the same everlasting flat and rich table land,
extending for several hundred miles to the south, and dotted with
green mimosas; while upon our left was the broken valley of the
Atbara.

The only drawback to the journey was the rain. At about 2 P.M.
daily we were subjected to a violent storm, which generally
lasted until the evening; and although our guides invariably
hurried forward on the march to the neighbourhood of some
deserted huts, whose occupants had migrated north, our baggage
and servants upon the road were exposed to the storm, and arrived
late in the evening, wet and miserable. There could be no doubt
that the season for travelling was past. Every day's journey
south had proved by the increased vegetation that we were
invading the rainy zone, and that, although the northern deserts
possessed their horrors of sandy desolation, they at the same
time afforded that great advantage to the traveller, a dry
climate.

In a few rapid marches we arrived at Tomat, the commencement of
the Dabainas and the principal head-quarters of the sheik of that
tribe, Atalan Wat Said. This was a lovely spot, where the country
appeared like green velvet, as the delicate young grass was about
two inches above the ground. The Arab camp was situated upon a
series of knolls about a hundred and fifty feet above the Atbara,
upon the hard ground denuded by the rains, as this formed a
portion of the valley. At this spot, the valley on the west bank
of the river was about two miles broad, and exhibited the usual
features of innumerable knolls, ravines, and landslips, in
succession, like broken terraces from the high level table land,
sloping down irregularly to the water's edge. On the opposite
side of the river was the most important feature of the country;
the land on the east bank was considerably higher than upon the
west, and a long tongue formed a bluff cliff that divided the
Atbara valley from the sister valley of the Settite, which,
corresponding exactly in character and apparent dimensions,
joined that of the Atbara from the S.E., forming an angle like
the letter V, in a sudden bend of the river. Through the valley
of the eastern bank flowed the grand river Settite, which here
formed a junction with the Atbara.

Looking down upon the beautifully wooded banks of the two rivers
at this interesting point, we rode leisurely across a ravine, and
ascended a steep incline of bright green grass, upon the summit
of which was a fine level space of several acres that formed the
Arab head-quarters. This surface was nearly covered with the
usual mat tents, and in a few moments our camels knelt before
that of the sheik, at which we dismounted. A crowd of inquisitive
Arabs surrounded us upon seeing so large a party of hygeens, and
the firman having been delivered by our guide, Sheik Ali, we were
almost immediately visited by Sheik Atalan Wat Said. He was a man
in the prime of life, of an intelligent countenance, and he
received us with much politeness, immediately ordering a fat
sheep to be brought and slaughtered for our acceptance.

The usual welcome upon the arrival of a traveller, who is well
received in an Arab camp, is the sacrifice of a fat sheep, that
should be slaughtered at the door of his hut or tent, so that the
blood flows to the threshold. This custom has evidently some
connexion with the ancient rites of sacrifice. Should an
important expedition be undertaken, a calf is slaughtered at the
entrance of the camp, and every individual steps over the body as
the party starts upon the enterprise.

Upon learning my plans, he begged us to remain through the rainy
season at Tomat, as it was the head-quarters of a party of
Egyptian irregular troops, who would assist me in every way. This
was no great temptation, as they were the people whom I most
wished to avoid; I therefore explained that I was bound to Sofi
by the advice of Abou Sinn, from whence I could easily return if
I thought proper, but I wished to proceed on the following
morning. He promised to act as our guide, and that hygeens should
be waiting at the tent-door at sunrise. After our interview, I
strolled down to the river's side and shot some guinea-fowl.

The Settite is the river par excellence, as it is the principal
stream of Abyssinia, in which country it bears the name of
"Tacazzy." Above the junction, the Atbara does not exceed two
hundred yards in width. Both rivers have scooped out deep and
broad valleys throughout their course; this fact confirmed my
first impression of the supply of soil having been brought down
by the Atbara to the Nile. The country on the opposite or eastern
bank of the Atbara is contested ground; in reality it forms the
western frontier of Abyssinia, of which the Atbara river is the
boundary, but since the annexation of the Nubian provinces to
Egypt there has been no safety for life or property upon the line
of frontier; thus a large tract of country actually forming a
portion of Abyssinia is uninhabited.

Upon my return to the camp, I was informed by the Sheik Wat Said
that a detachment of troops was stationed at Tomat expressly to
protect the Egyptian frontier from the raids of Mek Nimmur, who
was in the habit of crossing the Atbara and pillaging the Arab
villages during the dry season, when the river was fordable. This
Mek Nimmur was a son of the celebrated Mek Nimmur, the chief of
Shendy, a district upon the west bank of the Nile between Berber
and Khartoum. When the Egyptian forces, under the command of
Ismael Pasha, the son of the Viceroy Mehemet Ali Pasha, arrived
at Shendy, at the time of the conquest of Nubia, he called the
great Sheik Mek (from Melek, signifying king) Nimmur before him,
and demanded the following supplies for his army, as tribute for
the Pasha:--1,000 young girls as slaves; 1,000 oxen; and of
camels, goats, sheep, each 1,000; also camel-loads of corn and
straw each 1,000, with a variety of other demands expressed by
the same figure. It is said that Mek Nimmur replied to these
demands with much courtesy, "Your arithmetic exhibits a charming
simplicity, as the only figure appears to be 1,000." In a short
time the supplies began to arrive, strings of camels, laden with

Book of the day: