Page images

it had also the disadvantage of exposing me fully to the gaze of the passers by, so that I could only slowly and with many interruptions, succeed in making a sketch of the scene thus offered to my view, and which is represented in the plate opposite. At the same time I became aware of the great inaccuracy which characterises the view of the town as given by M. Caillié; still, on the whole, the character of the single dwellings was well represented by that traveller, the only error being that in his representation the whole town seems to consist of scattered and quite isolated houses, while, in reality, the streets are entirely shut in, as the dwellings form continuous and uninterrupted rows. But it must be taken into account that Timbuktu, at the time of Caillie's visit, was not so well off as it is at present, having been overrun by the Fúlbe the preceding year, and he had no opportunity of making a drawing on the spot.

Although I was greatly delighted at the pleasant place of retreat for refreshing my spirits and invigorating my body by a little exercise which the terrace afforded me, I was disgusted by the custom which prevails in the houses like that in which I was lodged, of using the terrace as a sort of closet; and I had great difficulty in preventing my guide Ammer el Waláti, who still staid with me and made the terrace his usual residence, from indulging in this filthy practice.

Being anxious to impart to my friends in Europe the news of my safe arrival in this far-famed town,

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

I was busily employed in writing letters, which gave fresh impulse to my energy. My tormentor Sídi Alawáte himself seemed anxious to rouse my spirits, which he could not but be conscious of having contributed a great deal to depress, by sending me word that he himself would undertake to accompany me on my home journey, as he intended making the pilgrimage to Mekka ; but, having once had full opportunity of judging of the character of this man, I placed but little confidence in his words.

Meanwhile, I began to provide what was most necessary for my comfort, and bought for myself and my people a piece of good bleached calico, “shígge,” * or “sehen hindi,” as it is called here, for 13,500 shells, and three pieces of unbleached calico for 8000 each. At the same time I sent several articles into the market, in order to obtain a supply of the currency of the place, 3000 shells being reckoned equal to one Spanish dollar.

* It is a highly interesting fact, that we find this native name, which is given to calico in the region of the Niger, already mentioned by that most eminent and clear-sighted of Arab geographers, A'bu 'Obaid Allah el Bekrí, in the middle of the eleventh century, or fully 800 years ago. For, in describing the manufacture of cotton in the town of Silla, which has become so familiar to Europeans in consequence of Mungo Park's adventures, he expressly mentions that this calico was called “shígge” by the natives, wheelli ölamell jl. (El Bekrí, ed. de Slane, 1857, p. 173.) Great interest is imparted by such incidents to the life of a region which, to the common observer, seems dead and uninteresting.

Thus I had begun to make myself a little more comfortable, when suddenly on the morning of the 10th, while I was suffering from another attack of fever, I was excited by the report being circulated, that the party opposed to my residence in the town was arming in order to attack me in my house. Now, I must confess that, notwithstanding the profession of sincere friendship made to me by Sidi A'lawáte, I am inclined to believe that he himself was not free from treachery, and, perhaps, was in some respect implicated in this manœuvre, as he evidently supposed that, on the first rumour of such an attack being intended, I should abandon my house, or at least my property, when he might hope to get possession underhand of at least a good portion of the latter before the arrival of his brother, whom he knew to be a straightforward man, and who would not connive at such intrigues. With this view, I have no doubt, he sent a female servant to my house, advising me to deposit all my goods * in safety with the Táleb el Wafi, as Chap. LXVII.

* On this occasion, which was a rather serious one, a most ridiculous misunderstanding was caused by the peculiarity of the Arabic dialect used in Timbúktu, which puzzled me and my companions very often, and sometimes made conversation between me and my friends very difficult and intricate. When the servant said that we should remove all our “haiwán ” from our house, supposing that she meant animals, we told her that we had only one animal in our house, viz. my horse; and it was some time before we learned that in Timbúktu, which is inhabited mostly by such Arabs as have been at a former period dwellers in the desert, and whose property consisted almost exclusively of camels and cattle, the word “haiwán” comprises all kinds of movable property,



the danger which threatened me was very great; but this errand had no other effect than to rouse my spirits. I armed immediately, and ordered my servants to do the same, and my supposed protector was not a little astonished, when he himself came shortly afterwards with the Waláti (who, no doubt, was at the bottom of the whole affair), and found me ready to defend myself and my property, and to repulse any attack that might be made upon my residence, from whatever quarter it might proceed. He asked me whether I meant to fight the whole population of the town, uttering the words “gúwet e' Rúm," "strength of the Christians;" and protested that I was quite safe under his protection and had nothing to fear, and certainly, for the moment, my energetic conduct had dispersed the clouds that might have been impending over my head.

But notwithstanding his repeated protestations of sincere friendship, and although he confirmed with his own mouth what I had already heard from other people, that he himself was to accompany me on my return journey as far as Bórnu, he did not discontinue for a moment his importunity in begging for more presents day by day.

One day he called on me in company with his principal pupils, and earnestly recommended me to change my religion, and from an unbeliever to become a true believer. Feeling myself strong enough in arguments to defend my own religious principles, I challenged him to demonstrate to me the superiority of his creed, telling him that in that case I should


not fail to adopt it, but not till then. Upon this, he and his pupils began with alacrity a spirited discussion, in the firm hope that they would soon be able to overcome my arguments; but after a little while they found them rather too strong, and were obliged to give in, without making any further progress at the time in their endeavours to persuade me to turn Mohammedan. This incident improved my situation in an extraordinary degree, by basing my safety on the sincere esteem which several of the most intelligent of the inhabitants contracted for me.

While thus gaining a more favourable position, even in the eyes of this unprincipled man, I had the pleasure of receiving a letter from his elder, more intelligent, and straightforward brother, the Sheikh el Bakáy himself, late in the evening of the 13th, full of the most assuring promises that I should be quite safe under his protection, and that he would soon arrive to relieve me from my unsatisfactory position. And although I felt very unwell all this time, and especially the very day that I received this message, I did not lose a moment in sending the Sheikh a suitable answer, wherein I clearly set forth all the motives which had induced me to visit this city, in conformity with the direct wish of the British government, whose earnest desire it was to open friendly intercourse with all the chiefs and princes of the earth; mentioning among other Mohammedan chiefs with whom such a relation existed, the Sultan 'Abd el Mejid, Múlá ‘Abd e' Rahmán, and

« PreviousContinue »