This evening we had a famous embroglio between our chaouch and the marabout. The latter had caught a waran, or large species of lizard, and skinned it to dispose of the skin. The chaouch impudently swore he had been eating the flesh of the reptile—a direful accusation. A tremendous war of words ensued; and not of words only, for presently the holy man came in for a gratification of ropes’ end. All the Fezzanees rushed forward to save the honour of the marabout; and the chaouch retreated to my tent in search of arms. A stupid joke was on the point of leading to murder. I interfered, and succeeded in appeasing the storm in some degree. I then rated the chaouch soundly for beating a man invested with a sacred character in the eyes of all Musulmans. This produced a good effect, and the culprit, hanging his head, seemed ashamed of the part he had played. Subsequently he kissed the hand of the holy man, and they were reconciled.
More sandy Desert—Fatiguing March—Water and Herbage—Water-drinking—Sight the Plateau over the Mourzuk—Hot Wind—Arrival in El-Wady—Tuaricks—Laghareefah—Fezzanees—The Chaouches astray—The Sheikh Abd-el-Hady—Description of the Oasis—Tempest—Native Huts—Official Visits—Desert News—Camel-drivers—Ruins of Azerna—Move on—The Kaid—Modest Requests—Ladies of the Wady—Leave the Oasis—Vast Plain—Instinct of the Camel—Reach Agar—Reception—Precede the Caravan—Reach Mourzuk—Mr. Gagliuffi—Honours paid to the Mission—Acting Pasha—Climate—Route from Tripoli—Its Division into Zones—Rain in the Desert.
On the 1st of May we had an arduous piece of work to perform. The khafilah was in motion fourteen entire hours, over heavy sand, with the hot wind breathing fiercely upon it. No amateur walking was indulged in. Every one kept sullenly to his camel; and those who were obliged to advance on foot dragged slowly along, seeming every moment as if they were about to abandon all exertion in despair, and lie down to perish. Our course lay mostly south, as usual; but varied occasionally from south-east to south-west. The scene was one of the most singular that could be imagined. Camels and men were scattered along the track, treading slowly but continually forward, and yet not seeming to advance at all. Instead of the cheering cry of “Isa! Isa!” which urges on the burdened beasts over rocky deserts, the dull, prolonged sound of “Thurr! Thurr!” was substituted. Beyond this there was no noise. The men had no strength to talk or to sing, and the tread of many feet awaken no echo in the sandy waste. Waves of red and yellow, or of dazzling whiteness, swelled round in a circle of ever-varying diameter as we rose and fell. Here and there stretched great stains of black herbage. Every object is magnified and changed to the eye. The heat and the swinging motion of the camel produce a slight dizziness, and the outer world assumes a hazy indistinctness of outline—something like dream-landscapes. There is a desert-intoxication which must be felt to be appreciated.