CHAPTER XI—SUFFERINGS IN CAPTIVITY
One whole month had now elapsed since I was led into captivity, during which time each returning day brought me fresh distresses. I watched the lingering course of the sun with anxiety, and blessed his evening beams as they shined a yellow lustre along the sandy floor of my hut; for it was then that my oppressors left me, and allowed me to pass the sultry night in solitude and reflection.
About midnight a bowl of kouskous, with some salt and water, were brought for me and my two attendants. This was our common fare, and it was all that was allowed us to allay the cravings of hunger and support nature for the whole of the following day; for it is to be observed that this was the Mohammedan Lent, and as the Moors keep the fast with a religious strictness, they thought it proper to compel me, though a Christian, to similar observance. Time, however, somewhat reconciled me to my situation. I found that I could bear hunger and thirst better than I expected; and at length I endeavoured to beguile the tedious hours by learning to write Arabic.
April 14.—As Queen Fatima had not yet arrived, Ali proposed to go to the north and bring her back with him; but as the place was two days’ journey from Benowm it was necessary to have some refreshment on the road; and Ali, suspicious of those about him, was so afraid of being poisoned, that he never ate anything but what was dressed under his own immediate inspection. A fine bullock was therefore killed, and the flesh being cut up into thin slices, was dried in the sun; and this, with two bags of dry kouskous, formed his travelling provisions.
Previous to his departure, the black people of the town of Benowm came, according to their annual custom, to show their arms, and bring their stipulated tribute of corn and cloth. They were but badly armed—twenty-two with muskets, forty or fifty with bows and arrows, and nearly the same number of men and boys with spears only. They arranged themselves before the tent, where they waited until their arms were examined, and some little disputes settled.
About midnight on the 16th, Ali departed quietly from Benowm, accompanied by a few attendants. He was expected to return in the course of nine or ten days.
April 18.—Two days after the departure of Ali a shereef arrived with salt and some other articles from Walet, the capital of the kingdom of Biroo. As there was no tent appropriated for him, he took up his abode in the same hut with me. He seemed to be a well-informed man, and his acquaintance both with the Arabic and Bambarra tongues enabled him to travel with ease and safety through a number of kingdoms; for though his place of residence was Walet, he had visited Houssa, and had lived some years at Timbuctoo. Upon my inquiring so particularly about the distance from Walet to Timbuctoo, he asked me if I intended to travel that way; and being answered