Accordingly they made ready; but by the time they were ready to fire, the black army had left their wandering about the poles, and began to stir as if they would come on, though seeing more men stand at some distance behind our negroes, they could not tell what to make of us; but if they did not understand us before, they understood us less afterwards, for as soon as ever our men found them to begin to move forward they fired among the thickest of them, being about the distance of 120 yards, as near as we could guess.
It is impossible to express the fright, the screaming and yelling of those wretches upon this first volley. We killed six of them, and wounded eleven or twelve, I mean as we knew of; for, as they stood thick, and the small shot, as we called it, scattered among them, we had reason to believe we wounded more that stood farther off, for our small shot was made of bits of lead and bits of iron, heads of nails, and such things as our diligent artificer, the cutler, helped us to.
As to those that were killed and wounded, the other frighted creatures were under the greatest amazement in the world, to think what should hurt them, for they could see nothing but holes made in their bodies they knew not how. Then the fire and noise amazed all their women and children, and frighted them out of their wits, so that they ran staring and howling about like mad creatures.
However, all this did not make them fly, which was what we wanted, nor did we find any of them die as it were with fear, as at first; so we resolved upon a second volley, and then to advance as we did before. Whereupon our reserved men advancing, we resolved to fire only three men at a time, and move forward like an army firing in platoon; so, being all in a line, we fired, first three on the right, then three on the left, and so on; and every time we killed or wounded some of them, but still they did not fly, and yet they were so frighted that they used none of their bows and arrows, or of their lances; and we thought their numbers increased upon our hands, particularly we thought so by the noise. So I called to our men to halt, and bid them pour in one whole volley and then shout, as we did in our first fight, and so run in upon them and knock them down with our muskets.
But they were too wise for that too, for as soon as we had fired a whole volley and shouted, they all ran away, men, women, and children, so fast that in a few moments we could not see one creature of them except some that were wounded and lame, who lay wallowing and screaming here and there upon the ground as they happened to fall.
Upon this we came up to the field of battle, where we found we had killed thirty-seven of them, among which were three women, and had wounded about sixty-four, among which were two women; by wounded I mean such as were so maimed as not to be able to go away, and those our negroes killed afterwards in a cowardly manner in cold blood, for which we were very angry, and threatened to make them go to them if they did so again.
There was no great spoil to be got, for they were all stark naked as they came into the world, men and women together, some of them having feathers stuck in their hair, and others a kind of bracelet about their necks, but nothing else; but our negroes got a booty here, which we were very glad of, and this was the bows and arrows of the vanquished, of which they found more than they knew what to do with, belonging to the killed and wounded men; these we ordered them to pick up, and they were very useful to us afterwards. After the fight, and our negroes had gotten bows and arrows, we sent them out in parties to see what they could get, and they got some provisions; but, which was better than all the rest, they brought us four more young bulls, or buffaloes, that had been brought up to labour and to carry burthens. They knew them, it seems, by the burthens they had carried having galled their backs, for they have no saddles to cover them with in that country.
Those creatures not only eased our negroes, but gave us an opportunity to carry more provisions; and our negroes loaded them very hard at this place with flesh and roots, such as we wanted very much afterwards.
In this town we found a very little young leopard, about two spans high; it was exceeding tame, and purred like a cat when we stroked it with our hands, being, as I suppose, bred up among the negroes like a house-dog. It was our black prince, it seems, who, making his tour among the abandoned houses or huts, found this creature there, and making much of him, and giving a bit or two of flesh to him, the creature followed him like a dog; of which more hereafter.
Among the negroes that were killed in this battle there was one who had a little thin bit or plate of gold, about as big as a sixpence, which hung by a little bit of a twisted gut upon his forehead, by which we supposed he was a man of some eminence among them; but that was not all, for this bit of gold put us upon searching very narrowly if there was not more of it to be had thereabouts, but we found none at all.
From this part of the country we went on for about fifteen days, and then found ourselves obliged to march up a high ridge of mountains, frightful to behold, and the first of the kind that we met with; and having no guide but our little pocket-compass, we had no advantage of information as to which was the best or the worst way, but was obliged to choose by what we saw, and shift as well as we could. We met with several nations of wild and naked people in the plain country before we came to those hills, and we found them much more tractable and friendly than those devils we had been forced to fight with; and though we could learn little from these people, yet we understood by the signs they made that there was a vast desert beyond these hills, and, as our negroes called them, much lion, much spotted cat (so they called the leopard); and they signed to us also that we must carry water with us. At the last of these nations we furnished ourselves with as much provisions as we could possibly carry, not knowing what we had to suffer, or what length we had to go; and, to make our way as familiar to us as possible, I proposed that of the last inhabitants we could find we should make some prisoners and carry them with us for guides over the desert, and to assist us in carrying provision, and, perhaps, in getting it too. The advice was too necessary to be slighted; so finding, by our dumb signs to the inhabitants, that there were some people that dwelt at the foot of the mountains on the other side before we came to the desert itself, we resolved to furnish ourselves with guides by fair means or foul.
Here, by a moderate computation, we concluded ourselves 700 miles from the sea-coast where we began. Our black prince was this day set free from the sling his arm hung in, our surgeon having perfectly restored it, and he showed it to his own countrymen quite well, which made them greatly wonder. Also our two negroes began to recover, and their wounds to heal apace, for our surgeon was very skilful in managing their cure.
Having with infinite labour mounted these hills, and coming to a view of the country beyond them, it was indeed enough to astonish as stout a heart as ever was created. It was a vast howling wilderness—not a tree, a river, or a green thing to be seen; for, as far as the eye could look, nothing but a scalding sand, which, as the wind blew, drove about in clouds enough to overwhelm man and beast. Nor could we see any end of it either before us, which was our way, or to the right hand or left; so that truly our men began to be discouraged, and talk of going back again. Nor could we indeed think of venturing over such a horrid place as that before us, in which we saw nothing but present death.
I was as much affected at the sight as any of them; but, for all that, I could not bear the thoughts of going back again. I told them we had marched 700 miles of our way, and it would be worse than death to think of going back again; and that, if they thought the desert was not passable, I thought we should rather change our course, and travel south till we came to the Cape of Good Hope, or north to the country that lay along the Nile, where, perhaps, we might find some way or other over to the west sea; for sure all Africa was not a desert.
Our gunner, who, as I said before, was our guide as to the situation of places, told us that he could not tell what to say to going for the Cape, for it was a monstrous length, being from the place where we now were not less than 1500 miles; and, by his account, we were now come a third part of the way to the coast of Angola, where we should meet the western ocean, and find ways enough for our escape home. On the other hand, he assured us, and showed us a map of it, that, if we went northward, the western shore of Africa went out into the sea above 1000 miles west, so that we should have so much and more land to travel afterwards; which land might, for aught we knew, be as wild, barren, and desert as this. And therefore, upon the whole, he proposed that we should attempt this desert, and perhaps we should not find it so long as we feared; and however, he proposed that we should see how far our provisions would carry us, and, in particular, our water; and we should venture no further than half so far as our water would last; and if we found no end of the desert, we might come safely back again.
This advice was so reasonable that we all approved of it; and accordingly we calculated that we were able to carry provisions for forty-two days, but that we could not carry water for above twenty days, though we were to suppose it to stink, too, before that time expired. So that we concluded that, if we did not come at some water in ten days' time, we would return; but if we found a supply of water, we could then travel twenty-one days; and, if we saw no end of the wilderness in that time, we would return also.
With this regulation of our measures, we descended the mountains, and it was the second day before we quite reached the plain; where, however, to make us amends, we found a fine little rivulet of very good water, abundance of deer, a sort of creature like a hare, but not so nimble, but whose flesh we found very agreeable. But we were deceived in our intelligence, for we found no people; so we got no more prisoners to assist us in carrying our baggage.
The infinite number of deer and other creatures which we saw here, we found was occasioned by the neighbourhood of the waste or desert, from whence they retired hither for food and refreshment. We stored ourselves here with flesh and roots of divers kinds, which our negroes understood better than we, and which served us for bread; and with as much water as (by the allowance of a quart a day to a man for our negroes, and three pints a day a man for ourselves, and three quarts a day each for our buffaloes) would serve us twenty days; and thus loaded for a long miserable march, we set forwards, being all sound in health and very cheerful, but not alike strong for so great a fatigue; and, which was our grievance, were without a guide.
In the very first entrance of the waste we were exceedingly discouraged, for we found the sand so deep, and it scalded our feet so much with the heat, that after we had, as I may call it, waded rather than walked through it about seven or eight miles, we were all heartily tired and faint; even the very negroes laid down and panted like creatures that had been pushed beyond their strength.
Here we found the difference of lodging greatly injurious to us; for, as before, we always made us huts to sleep under, which covered us from the night air, which is particularly unwholesome in those hot countries. But we had here no shelter, no lodging, after so hard a march; for here were no trees, no, not a shrub near us; and, which was still more frightful, towards night we began to hear the wolves howl, the lions bellow, and a great many wild asses braying, and other ugly noises which we did not understand.
Upon this we reflected upon our indiscretion, that we had not, at least, brought poles or stakes in our hands, with which we might have, as it were, palisadoed ourselves in for the night, and so we might have slept secure, whatever other inconveniences we suffered. However, we found a way at last to relieve ourselves a little; for first we set up the lances and bows we had, and endeavoured to bring the tops of them as near to one another as we could, and so hung our coats on the top of them, which made us a kind of sorry tent. The leopard's skin, and a few other skins we had put together, made us a tolerable covering, and thus we laid down to sleep, and slept very heartily too, for the first night; setting, however, a good watch, being two of our own men with their fuzes, whom we relieved in an hour at first, and two hours afterwards. And it was very well we did this, for they found the wilderness swarmed with raging creatures of all kinds, some of which came directly up to the very enclosure of our tent. But our sentinels were ordered not to alarm us with firing in the night, but to flash in the pan at them, which they did, and found it effectual, for the creatures went off always as soon as they saw it, perhaps with some noise or howling, and pursued such other game as they were upon.
If we were tired with the day's travel, we were all as much tired with the night's lodging. But our black prince told us in the morning he would give us some counsel, and indeed it was very good counsel. He told us we should be all killed if we went on this journey, and through this desert, without some covering for us at night; so he advised us to march back again to a little river-side where we lay the night before, and stay there till we could make us houses, as he called them, to carry with us to lodge in every night. As he began a little to understand our speech, and we very well to understand his signs, we easily knew what he meant, and that we should there make mats (for we remembered that we saw a great deal of matting or bass there, that the natives make mats of)—I say, that we should make large mats there for covering our huts or tents to lodge in at night.
We all approved this advice, and immediately resolved to go back that one day's journey, resolving, though we carried less provisions, we would carry mats with us to cover us in the night. Some of the nimblest of us got back to the river with more ease than we had travelled it the day before; but, as we were not in haste, the rest made a halt, encamped another night, and came to us the next day.
In our return of this day's journey, our men that made two days of it met with a very surprising thing, that gave them some reason to be careful how they parted company again. The case was this:—The second day in the morning, before they had gone half a mile, looking behind them they saw a vast cloud of sand or dust rise in the air, as we see sometimes in the roads in summer when it is very dusty and a large drove of cattle are coming, only very much greater; and they could easily perceive that it came after them; and it came on faster as they went from it. The cloud of sand was so great that they could not see what it was that raised it, and concluded that it was some army of enemies that pursued them; but then considering that they came from the vast uninhabited wilderness, they knew it was impossible any nation or people that way should have intelligence of them or the way of their march; and therefore, if it was an army, it must be of such as they were, travelling that way by accident. On the other hand, as they knew that there were no horses in the country, and that they came on so fast, they concluded that it must be some vast collection of wild beasts, perhaps making to the hill country for food or water, and that they should be all devoured or trampled under foot by their multitude.
Upon this thought, they very prudently observed which way the cloud seemed to point, and they turned a little out of their way to the north, supposing it might pass by them. When they were about a quarter of a mile, they halted to see what it might be. One of the negroes, a nimbler fellow than the rest, went back a little, and came in a few minutes running as fast as the heavy sands would allow, and by signs gave them to know that it was a great herd, or drove, or whatever it might be called, of vast monstrous elephants.
As it was a sight our men had never seen, they were desirous to see it, and yet a little uneasy at the danger too; for though an elephant is a heavy unwieldy creature, yet in the deep sand, which is nothing at all to them, they marched at a great rate, and would soon have tired our people, if they had had far to go, and had been pursued by them.
Our gunner was with them, and had a great mind to have gone close up to one of the outermost of them, and to have clapped his piece to his ear, and to have fired into him, because he had been told no shot would penetrate them; but they all dissuaded him, lest upon the noise they should all turn upon and pursue us; so he was reasoned out of it, and let them pass, which, in our people's circumstances, was certainly the right way.
They were between twenty and thirty in number, but prodigious great ones; and though they often showed our men that they saw them, yet they did not turn out of their way, or take any other notice of them than, as we might say, just to look at them. We that were before saw the cloud of dust they raised, but we had thought it had been our own caravan, and so took no notice; but as they bent their course one point of the compass, or thereabouts, to the southward of the east, and we went due east [? west], they passed by us at some little distance; so that we did not see them, or know anything of them, till evening, when our men came to us and gave us this account of them. However, this was a useful experiment for our future conduct in passing the desert, as you shall hear in its place.
We were now upon our work, and our black prince was head surveyor, for he was an excellent mat-maker himself, and all his men understood it, so that they soon made us near a hundred mats; and as every man, I mean of the negroes, carried one, it was no manner of load, and we did not carry an ounce of provisions the less. The greatest burthen was to carry six long poles, besides some shorter stakes; but the negroes made an advantage of that, for carrying them between two, they made the luggage of provisions which they had to carry so much the lighter, binding it upon two poles, and so made three couple of them. As soon as we saw this, we made a little advantage of it too; for having three or four bags, called bottles (I mean skins to carry water), more than the men could carry, we got them filled, and carried them this way, which was a day's water and more, for our journey.
Having now ended our work, made our mats, and fully recruited our stores of all things necessary, and having made us abundance of small ropes of matting for ordinary use, as we might have occasion, we set forward again, having interrupted our journey eight days in all, upon this affair. To our great comfort, the night before we set out there fell a very violent shower of rain, the effects of which we found in the sand; though the heat of one day dried the surface as much as before, yet it was harder at bottom, not so heavy, and was cooler to our feet, by which means we marched, as we reckoned, about fourteen miles instead of seven, and with much more ease.
When we came to encamp, we had all things ready, for we had fitted our tent, and set it up for trial, where we made it; so that, in less than an hour, we had a large tent raised, with an inner and outer apartment, and two entrances. In one we lay ourselves, in the other our negroes, having light pleasant mats over us, and others at the same time under us. Also we had a little place without all for our buffaloes, for they deserved our care, being very useful to us, besides carrying forage and water for themselves. Their forage was a root, which our black prince directed us to find, not much unlike a parsnip, very moist and nourishing, of which there was plenty wherever we came, this horrid desert excepted.
When we came the next morning to decamp, our negroes took down the tent, and pulled up the stakes; and all was in motion in as little time as it was set up. In this posture we marched eight days, and yet could see no end, no change of our prospect, but all looking as wild and dismal as at the beginning. If there was any alteration, it was that the sand was nowhere so deep and heavy as it was the first three days. This we thought might be because, for six months of the year the winds blowing west (as for the other six they blow constantly east), the sand was driven violently to the side of the desert where we set out, where the mountains lying very high, the easterly monsoons, when they blew, had not the same power to drive it back again; and this was confirmed by our finding the like depth of sand on the farthest extent of the desert to the west.
It was the ninth day of our travel in this wilderness, when we came to the view of a great lake of water; and you may be sure this was a particular satisfaction to us, because we had not water left for above two or three days more, at our shortest allowance; I mean allowing water for our return, if we had been driven to the necessity of it. Our water had served us two days longer than expected, our buffaloes having found, for two or three days, a kind of herb like a broad flat thistle, though without any prickle, spreading on the ground, and growing in the sand, which they ate freely of, and which supplied them for drink as well as forage.
The next day, which was the tenth from our setting out, we came to the edge of this lake, and, very happily for us, we came to it at the south point of it, for to the north we could see no end of it; so we passed by it and travelled three days by the side of it, which was a great comfort to us, because it lightened our burthen, there being no need to carry water when we had it in view. And yet, though here was so much water, we found but very little alteration in the desert; no trees, no grass or herbage, except that thistle, as I called it, and two or three more plants, which we did not understand, of which the desert began to be pretty full.
But as we were refreshed with the neighbourhood of this lake of water, so we were now gotten among a prodigious number of ravenous inhabitants, the like whereof, it is most certain, the eye of man never saw; for as I firmly believe that never man nor body of men passed this desert since the flood, so I believe there is not the like collection of fierce, ravenous, and devouring creatures in the world; I mean not in any particular place.
For a day's journey before we came to this lake, and all the three days we were passing by it, and. for six or seven days' march after it, the ground was scattered with elephants' teeth in such a number as is incredible; and as some of them have lain there for some hundreds of years, so, seeing the substance of them scarce ever decays, they may lie there, for aught I know, to the end of time. The size of some of them is, it seems, to those to whom I have reported it, as incredible as the number; and I can assure you there were several so heavy as the strongest man among us could not lift. As to number, I question not but there are enough to load a thousand sail of the biggest ships in the world, by which I may be understood to mean that the quantity is not to be conceived of; seeing that as they lasted in view for above eighty miles' travelling, so they might continue as far to the right hand, and to the left as far, and many times as far, for aught we knew; for it seems the number of elephants hereabouts is prodigiously great. In one place in particular we saw the head of an elephant, with several teeth in it, but one of the biggest that ever I saw; the flesh was consumed, to be sure, many hundred years before, and all the other bones; but three of our strongest men could not lift this skull and teeth; the great tooth, I believe, weighed at least three hundredweight; and this was particularly remarkable to me, that I observed the whole skull was as good ivory as the teeth, and, I believe, altogether weighed at least six hundredweight; and though I do not know but, by the same rule, all the bones of the elephant may be ivory, yet I think there is this just objection against it from the example before me, that then all the other bones of this elephant would have been there as well as the head.
I proposed to our gunner, that, seeing we had travelled now fourteen days without intermission, and that we had water here for our refreshment, and no want of food yet, nor any fear of it, we should rest our people a little, and see, at the same time, if perhaps we might kill some creatures that were proper for food. The gunner, who had more forecast of that kind than I had, agreed to the proposal, and added, why might we not try to catch some fish out of the lake? The first thing we had before us was to try if we could make any hooks, and this indeed put our artificer to his trumps; however, with some labour and difficulty, he did it, and we catched fresh fish of several kinds. How they came there, none but He that made the lake and all the world knows; for, to be sure, no human hands ever put any in there, or pulled any out before.
We not only catched enough for our present refreshment, but we dried several large fishes, of kinds which I cannot describe, in the sun, by which we lengthened out our provision considerably; for the heat of the sun dried them so effectually without salt that they were perfectly cured, dry, and hard, in one day's time.
We rested ourselves here five days; during which time we had abundance of pleasant adventures with the wild creatures, too many to relate. One of them was very particular, which was a chase between a she-lion, or lioness, and a large deer; and though the deer is naturally a very nimble creature, and she flew by us like the wind, having, perhaps, about 300 yards the start of the lion, yet we found the lion, by her strength, and the goodness of her lungs, got ground of her. They passed by us within about a quarter of a mile, and we had a view of them a great way, when, having given them over, we were surprised, about an hour after, to see them come thundering back again on the other side of us, and then the lion was within thirty or forty yards of her; and both straining to the extremity of their speed, when the deer, coming to the lake, plunged into the water, and swam for her life, as she had before run for it.
The lioness plunged in after her, and swam a little way, but came back again; and when she was got upon the land she set up the most hideous roar that ever I heard in my life, as if done in the rage of having lost her prey.
We walked out morning and evening constantly; the middle of the day we refreshed ourselves under our tent. But one morning early we saw another chase, which more nearly concerned us than the other; for our black prince, walking by the side of the lake, was set upon by a vast, great crocodile, which came out of the lake upon him; and though he was very light of foot, yet it was as much as he could do to get away. He fled amain to us, and the truth is, we did not know what to do, for we were told no bullet would enter her; and we found it so at first, for though three of our men fired at her, yet she did not mind them; but my friend the gunner, a venturous fellow, of a bold heart, and great presence of mind, went up so near as to thrust the muzzle of his piece into her mouth, and fired, but let his piece fall, and ran for it the very moment he had fired it. The creature raged a great while, and spent its fury upon the gun, making marks upon the very iron with its teeth, but after some time fainted and died.
Our negroes spread the banks of the lake all this while for game, and at length killed us three deer, one of them very large, the other two very small. There was water-fowl also in the lake, but we never came near enough to them to shoot any; and as for the desert, we saw no fowls anywhere in it but at the lake.
We likewise killed two or three civet cats; but their flesh is the worst of carrion. We saw abundance of elephants at a distance, and observed they always go in very good company, that is to say, abundance of them together, and always extended in a fair line of battle; and this, they say, is the way they defend themselves from their enemies; for if lions or tigers, wolves or any creatures, attack them, they being drawn in a line, sometimes reaching five or six miles in length, whatever comes in their way is sure to be trod under foot, or beaten in pieces with their trunks, or lifted up in the air with their trunks; so that if a hundred lions or tigers were coming along, if they meet a line of elephants, they will always fly back till they see room to pass by the right hand or the left; and if they did not, it would be impossible for one of them to escape; for the elephant, though a heavy creature, is yet so dexterous and nimble with his trunk, that he will not fail to lift up the heaviest lion, or any other wild creature, and throw him up in the air quite over his back, and then trample him to death with his feet. We saw several lines of battle thus; we saw one so long that indeed there was no end of it to be seen, and I believe there might be 2000 elephants in row or line. They are not beasts of prey, but live upon the herbage of the field, as an ox does; and it is said, that though they are so great a creature, yet that a smaller quantity of forage supplies one of them than will suffice a horse.
The numbers of this kind of creature that are in those parts are inconceivable, as may be gathered from the prodigious quantity of teeth which, as I said, we saw in this vast desert; and indeed we saw a hundred of them to one of any other kind.
One evening we were very much surprised. We were most of us laid down on our mats to sleep, when our watch came running in among us, being frighted with the sudden roaring of some lions just by them, which, it seems, they had not seen, the night being dark, till they were just upon them. There was, as it proved, an old lion and his whole family, for there was the lioness and three young lions, besides the old king, who was a monstrous great one. One of the young ones—who were good, large, well-grown ones too—leaped up upon one of our negroes, who stood sentinel, before he saw him, at which he was heartily frighted, cried out, and ran into the tent. Our other man, who had a gun, had not presence of mind at first to shoot him, but struck him with the butt-end of his piece, which made him whine a little, and then growl at him fearfully; but the fellow retired, and, we being all alarmed, three of our men snatched up their guns, ran to the tent door, where they saw the great old lion by the fire of his eyes, and first fired at him, but, we supposed, missed him, or at least did not kill him; for they went all off, but raised a most hideous roar, which, as if they had called for help, brought down a prodigious number of lions, and other furious creatures, we know not what, about them, for we could not see them; but there was a noise, and yelling and howling, and all sorts of such wilderness music on every side of us, as if all the beasts of the desert were assembled to devour us.
We asked our black prince what we should do with them. "Me go," says he, "and fright them all." So he snatches up two or three of the worst of our mats, and getting one of our men to strike some fire, he hangs the mat up at the end of a pole, and set it on fire, and it blazed abroad a good while; at which the creatures all moved off, for we heard them roar, and make their bellowing noise at a great distance. "Well," says our gunner, "if that will do, we need not burn our mats, which are our beds to lay under us, and our tilting to cover us. Let me alone," says he. So he comes back into our tent, and falls to making some artificial fireworks and the like; and he gave our sentinels some to be ready at hand upon occasion, and particularly he placed a great piece of wild-fire upon the same pole that the mat had been tied to, and set it on fire, and that burnt there so long that all the wild creatures left us for that time.
However, we began to be weary of such company; and, to be rid of them, we set forward again two days sooner than we intended. We found now, that though the desert did not end, nor could we see any appearance of it, yet that the earth was pretty full of green stuff of one sort or another, so that our cattle had no want; and secondly, that there were several little rivers which ran into the lake, and so long as the country continued low, we found water sufficient, which eased us very much in our carriage, and we went on still sixteen days more without yet coming to any appearance of better soil. After this we found the country rise a little, and by that we perceived that the water would fail us; so, for fear of the worst, we filled our bladder-bottles with water. We found the country rising gradually thus for three days continually, when, on the sudden, we perceived that, though we had mounted up insensibly, yet that we were on the top of a very high ridge of hills, though not such as at first.
When we came to look down on the other side of the hills, we saw, to the great joy of all our hearts, that the desert was at an end; that the country was clothed with green, abundance of trees, and a large river; and we made no doubt but that we should find people and cattle also; and here, by our gunner's account, who kept our computations, we had marched about 400 miles over this dismal place of horror, having been four-and-thirty days a-doing of it, and consequently were come about 1100 miles of our journey.
We would willingly have descended the hills that night, but it was too late. The next morning we saw everything more plain, and rested ourselves under the shade of some trees, which were now the most refreshing things imaginable to us, who had been scorched above a month without a tree to cover us. We found the country here very pleasant, especially considering that we came from; and we killed some deer here also, which we found very frequent under the cover of the woods. Also we killed a creature like a goat, whose flesh was very good to eat, but it was no goat; we found also a great number of fowls like partridge, but something smaller, and were very tame; so that we lived here very well, but found no people, at least none that would be seen, no, not for several days' journey; and to allay our joy, we were almost every night disturbed with lions and tigers; elephants, indeed, we saw none here.
In three days' march we came to a river, which we saw from the hills, and which we called the Golden River; and we found it ran northward, which was the first stream we had met with that did so. It ran with a very rapid current, and our gunner, pulling out his map, assured me that this was either the river Nile, or run into the great lake out of which the river Nile was said to take its beginning; and he brought out his charts and maps, which, by his instruction, I began to understand very well, and told me he would convince me of it, and indeed he seemed to make it so plain to me that I was of the same opinion.
But I did not enter into the gunner's reason for this inquiry, not in the least, till he went on with it farther, and stated it thus:—"If this is the river Nile, why should not we build some more canoes, and go down this stream, rather than expose ourselves to any more deserts and scorching sands in quest of the sea, which when we are come to, we shall be as much at a loss how to get home as we were at Madagascar?"
The argument was good, had there been no objections in the way of a kind which none of us were capable of answering; but, upon the whole, it was an undertaking of such a nature that every one of us thought it impracticable, and that upon several accounts; and our surgeon, who was himself a good scholar and a man of reading, though not acquainted with the business of sailing, opposed it, and some of his reasons, I remember, were such as these:—First, the length of the way, which both he and the gunner allowed, by the course of the water, and turnings of the river, would be at least 4000 miles. Secondly, the innumerable crocodiles in the river, which we should never be able to escape. Thirdly, the dreadful deserts in the way; and lastly, the approaching rainy season, in which the streams of the Nile would be so furious, and rise so high—spreading far and wide over all the plain country—that we should never be able to know when we were in the channel of the river and when not, and should certainly be cast away, overset, or run aground so often that it would be impossible to proceed by a river so excessively dangerous.
This last reason he made so plain to us that we began to be sensible of it ourselves, so that we agreed to lay that thought aside, and proceed in our first course, westwards towards the sea; but, as if we had been loth to depart, we continued, by way of refreshing ourselves, to loiter two days upon this river, in which time our black prince, who delighted much in wandering up and down, came one evening and brought us several little bits of something, he knew not what, but he found it felt heavy and looked well, and showed it to me as what he thought was some rarity. I took not much notice of it to him, but stepping out and calling the gunner to me I showed it to him, and told him what I thought, viz., that it was certainly gold. He agreed with me in that, and also in what followed, that we would take the black prince out with us the next day, and make him show us where he found it; that if there was any quantity to be found we would tell our company of it, but if there was but little we would keep counsel, and have it to ourselves.
But we forgot to engage the prince in the secret, who innocently told so much to all the rest, as that they guessed what it was, and came to us to see. When we found it was public, we were more concerned to prevent their suspecting that we had any design to conceal it, and openly telling our thoughts of it, we called our artificer, who agreed presently that it was gold; so I proposed that we should all go with the prince to the place where he found it, and if any quantity was to be had, we would lie here some time and see what we could make of it.
Accordingly we went every man of us, for no man was willing to be left behind in a discovery of such a nature. When we came to the place we found it was on the west side of the river, not in the main river, but in another small river or stream which came from the west, and ran into the other at that place. We fell to raking in the sand, and washing it in our hands; and we seldom took up a handful of sand but we washed some little round lumps as big as a pin's head, or sometimes as big as a grape stone, into our hands; and we found, in two or three hours' time, that every one had got some, so we agreed to leave off, and go to dinner.
While we were eating, it came into my thoughts that while we worked at this rate in a thing of such nicety and consequence, it was ten to one if the gold, which was the make-bait of the world, did not, first or last, set us together by the ears, to break our good articles and our understanding one among another, and perhaps cause us to part companies, or worse; I therefore told them that I was indeed the youngest man in the company, but as they had always allowed me to give my opinion in things, and had sometimes been pleased to follow my advice, so I had something to propose now, which I thought would be for all our advantages, and I believed they would all like it very well. I told them we were in a country where we all knew there was a great deal of gold, and that all the world sent ships thither to get it; that we did not indeed know where it was, and so we might get a great deal, or a little, we did not know whether; but I offered it to them to consider whether it would not be the best way for us, and to preserve the good harmony and friendship that had been always kept among us, and which was so absolutely necessary to our safety, that what we found should be brought together to one common stock, and be equally divided at last, rather than to run the hazard of any difference which might happen among us from any one's having found more or less than another. I told them, that if we were all upon one bottom we should all apply ourselves heartily to the work; and, besides that, we might then set our negroes all to work for us, and receive equally the fruit of their labour and of our own, and being all exactly alike sharers, there could be no just cause of quarrel or disgust among us.
They all approved the proposal, and every one jointly swore, and gave their hands to one another, that they would not conceal the least grain of gold from the rest; and consented that if any one or more should be found to conceal any, all that he had should be taken from him and divided among the rest; and one thing more was added to it by our gunner, from considerations equally good and just, that if any one of us, by any play, bet, game, or wager, won any money or gold, or the value of any, from another, during our whole voyage, till our return quite to Portugal, he should be obliged by us all to restore it again on the penalty of being disarmed and turned out of the company, and of having no relief from us on any account whatever. This was to prevent wagering and playing for money, which our men were apt to do by several means and at several games, though they had neither cards nor dice.
Having made this wholesome agreement, we went cheerfully to work, and showed our negroes how to work for us; and working up the stream on both sides, and in the bottom of the river, we spent about three weeks' time dabbling in the water; by which time, as it lay all in our way, we had gone about six miles, and not more; and still the higher we went, the more gold we found; till at last, having passed by the side of a hill, we perceived on a sudden that the gold stopped, and that there was not a bit taken up beyond that place. It presently occurred to my mind, that it must then be from the side of that little hill that all the gold we found was worked down.
Upon this, we went back to the hill, and fell to work with that. We found the earth loose, and of a yellowish loamy colour, and in some places a white hard kind of stone, which, in describing since to some of our artists, they tell me was the spar which is found by ore, and surrounds it in the mine. However, if it had been all gold, we had no instrument to force it out; so we passed that. But scratching into the loose earth with our fingers, we came to a surprising place, where the earth, for the quantity of two bushels, I believe, or thereabouts, crumbled down with little more than touching it, and apparently showed us that there was a great deal of gold in it. We took it all carefully up, and washing it in the water, the loamy earth washed away, and left the gold dust free in our hands; and that which was more remarkable was, that, when this loose earth was all taken away, and we came to the rock or hard stone, there was not one grain of gold more to be found.
At night we all came together to see what we had got; and it appeared we had found, in that day's heap of earth, about fifty pounds' weight of gold dust, and about thirty-four pounds' weight more in all the rest of our works in the river.
It was a happy kind of disappointment to us, that we found a full stop put to our work; for, had the quantity of gold been ever so small, yet, had any at all come, I do not know when we should have given over; for, having rummaged this place, and not finding the least grain of gold in any other place, or in any of the earth there, except in that loose parcel, we went quite back down the small river again, working it over and over again, as long as we could find anything, how small soever; and we did get six or seven pounds more the second time. Then we went into the first river, and tried it up the stream and down the stream, on the one side and on the other. Up the stream we found nothing, no, not a grain; down the stream we found very little, not above the quantity of half an ounce in two miles' working; so back we came again to the Golden River, as we justly called it, and worked it up the stream and down the stream twice more apiece, and every time we found some gold, and perhaps might have done so if we had stayed there till this time; but the quantity was at last so small, and the work so much the harder, that we agreed by consent to give it over, lest we should fatigue ourselves and our negroes so as to be quite unfit for our journey.
When we had brought all our purchase together, we had in the whole three pounds and a half of gold to a man, share and share alike, according to such a weight and scale as our ingenious cutler made for us to weigh it by, which indeed he did by guess, but which, as he said, he was sure was rather more than less, and so it proved at last; for it was near two ounces more than weight in a pound. Besides this, there was seven or eight pounds' weight left, which we agreed to leave in his hands, to work it into such shapes as we thought fit, to give away to such people as we might yet meet with, from whom we might have occasion to buy provisions, or even to buy friendship, or the like; and particularly we gave about a pound to our black prince, which he hammered and worked by his own indefatigable hand, and some tools our artificer lent him, into little round bits, as round almost as beads, though not exact in shape, and drilling holes through them, put them all upon a string, and wore them about his black neck, and they looked very well there, I assure you; but he was many months a-doing it. And thus ended our first golden adventure.
We now began to discover what we had not troubled our heads much about before, and that was, that, let the country be good or bad that we were in, we could not travel much further for a considerable time. We had been now five months and upwards in our journey, and the seasons began to change; and nature told us, that, being in a climate that had a winter as well as a summer, though of a different kind from what our country produced, we were to expect a wet season, and such as we should not be able to travel in, as well by reason of the rain itself, as of the floods which it would occasion wherever we should come; and though we had been no strangers to those wet seasons in the island of Madagascar, yet we had not thought much of them since we began our travels; for, setting out when the sun was about the solstice, that is, when it was at the greatest northern distance from us, we had found the benefit of it in our travels. But now it drew near us apace, and we found it began to rain; upon which we called another general council, in which we debated our present circumstances, and, in particular, whether we should go forward, or seek for a proper place upon the bank of our Golden River, which had been so lucky to us, to fix our camp for the winter.
Upon the whole, it was resolved to abide where we were; and it was not the least part of our happiness that we did so, as shall appear in its place.
Having resolved upon this, our first measures were to set our negroes to work, to make huts or houses for our habitation, and this they did very dexterously; only that we changed the ground where we at first intended it, thinking, as indeed it happened, that the river might reach it upon any sudden rain. Our camp was like a little town, in which our huts were in the centre, having one large one in the centre of them also, into which all our particular lodgings opened; so that none of us went into our apartments but through a public tent, where we all ate and drank together, and kept our councils and society; and our carpenters made us tables, benches, and stools in abundance, as many as we could make use of.
We had no need of chimneys, it was hot enough without fire; but yet we found ourselves at last obliged to keep a fire every night upon a particular occasion. For though we had in all other respects a very pleasant and agreeable situation, yet we were rather worse troubled with the unwelcome visits of wild beasts here than in the wilderness itself; for as the deer and other gentle creatures came hither for shelter and food, so the lions and tigers and leopards haunted these places continually for prey.
When first we discovered this we were so uneasy at it that we thought of removing our situation; but after many debates about it we resolved to fortify ourselves in such a manner as not to be in any danger from it; and this our carpenters undertook, who first palisaded our camp quite round with long stakes, for we had wood enough, which stakes were not stuck in one by another like pales, but in an irregular manner; a great multitude of them so placed that they took up near two yards in thickness, some higher, some lower, all sharpened at the top, and about a foot asunder: so that had any creature jumped at them, unless he had gone clean over, which it was very hard to do, he would be hung upon twenty or thirty spikes.
The entrance into this had larger stakes than the rest, so placed before one another as to make three or four short turnings which no four-footed beast bigger than a dog could possibly come in at; and that we might not be attacked by any multitude together, and consequently be alarmed in our sleep, as we had been, or be obliged to waste our ammunition, which we were very chary of, we kept a great fire every night without the entrance of our palisade, having a hut for our two sentinels to stand in free from the rain, just within the entrance, and right against the fire.
To maintain this fire we cut a prodigious deal of wood, and piled it up in a heap to dry, and with the green boughs made a second covering over our huts, so high and thick that it might cast the rain from the first, and keep us effectually dry.
We had scarcely finished all these works but the rain came on so fierce and so continued that we had little time to stir abroad for food, except indeed that our negroes, who wore no clothes, seemed to make nothing of the rain; though to us Europeans, in those hot climates, nothing is more dangerous.
We continued in this posture for four months, that is to say, from the middle of June to the middle of October; for though the rains went off, at least the greatest violence of them, about the equinox, yet, as the sun was then just over our heads, we resolved to stay awhile till it passed a little to the southward.
During our encampment here we had several adventures with the ravenous creatures of that country; and had not our fire been always kept burning, I question much whether all our fence, though we strengthened it afterwards with twelve or fourteen rows of stakes or more, would have kept us secure. It was always in the night that we had the disturbance of them, and sometimes they came in such multitudes that we thought all the lions and tigers, and leopards and wolves of Africa were come together to attack us. One night, being clear moonshine, one of our men being upon the watch, told us that he verily believed he saw ten thousand wild creatures of one sort or another pass by our little camp, and ever as they saw the fire they sheered off, but were sure to howl or roar, or whatever it was, when they were past.
The music of their voices was very far from being pleasant to us, and sometimes would be so very disturbing that we could not sleep for it; and often our sentinels would call us that were awake to come and look at them. It was one windy, tempestuous night, after a rainy day, that we were indeed called up; for such innumerable numbers of devilish creatures came about us that our watch really thought they would attack us. They would not come on the side where the fire was; and though we thought ourselves secure everywhere else, yet we all got up and took to our arms. The moon was near the full, but the air full of flying clouds, and a strange hurricane of wind to add to the terror of the night; when, looking on the back part of our camp, I thought I saw a creature within our fortification, and so indeed he was, except his haunches, for he had taken a running leap, I suppose, and with all his might had thrown himself clear over our palisades, except one strong pile, which stood higher than the rest, and which had caught hold of him, and by his weight he had hanged himself upon it, the spike of the pile running into his hinder haunch or thigh, on the inside; and by that he hung, growling and biting the wood for rage. I snatched up a lance from one of the negroes that stood just by me, and running to him, struck it three or four times into him, and despatched him, being unwilling to shoot, because I had a mind to have a volley fired among the rest, whom I could see standing without, as thick as a drove of bullocks going to a fair. I immediately called our people out, and showed them the object of terror which I had seen, and, without any further consultation, fired a full volley among them, most of our pieces being loaded with two or three slugs or bullets apiece. It made a horrible clutter among them, and in general they all took to their heels, only that we could observe that some walked off with more gravity and majesty than others, being not so much frighted at the noise and fire; and we could perceive that some were left upon the ground struggling as for life, but we durst not stir out to see what they were.
Indeed they stood so thick, and were so near us, that we could not well miss killing or wounding some of them, and we believed they had certainly the smell of us, and our victuals we had been killing; for we had killed a deer, and three or four of those creatures like goats the day before; and some of the offal had been thrown out behind our camp, and this, we suppose, drew them so much about us; but we avoided it for the future.
Though the creatures fled, yet we heard a frightful roaring all night at the place where they stood, which we supposed was from some that were wounded, and as soon as day came we went out to see what execution we had done. And indeed it was a strange sight; there were three tigers and two wolves quite killed, besides the creature I had killed within our palisade, which seemed to be of an ill-gendered kind, between a tiger and a leopard. Besides this there was a noble old lion alive, but with both his fore-legs broke, so that he could not stir away, and he had almost beat himself to death with struggling all night, and we found that this was the wounded soldier that had roared so loud and given us so much disturbance. Our surgeon, looking at him, smiled. "Now," says he, "if I could be sure this lion would be as grateful to me as one of his majesty's ancestors was to Androcles, the Roman slave, I would certainly set both his legs again and cure him." I had not heard the story of Androcles, so he told it me at large; but as to the surgeon, we told him he had no way to know whether the lion would do so or not, but to cure him first and trust to his honour; but he had no faith, so to despatch him and put him out of his torment, he shot him in the head and killed him, for which we called him the king-killer ever after.
Our negroes found no less than five of these ravenous creatures wounded and dropped at a distance from our quarters; whereof, one was a wolf, one a fine spotted young leopard, and the other were creatures that we knew not what to call them.
We had several more of these gentlefolks about after that, but no such general rendezvous of them as that was any more; but this ill effect it had to us, that it frighted the deer and other creatures from our neighbourhood, of whose company we were much more desirous, and which were necessary for our subsistence. However, our negroes went out every day a-hunting, as they called it, with bow and arrow, and they scarce ever failed of bringing us home something or other; and particularly we found in this part of the country, after the rains had fallen some time, abundance of wild fowl, such as we have in England, duck, teal, widgeon, etc.; some geese, and some kinds that we had never seen before; and we frequently killed them. Also we catched a great deal of fresh fish out of the river, so that we wanted no provision. If we wanted anything, it was salt to eat with our fresh meat; but we had a little left, and we used it sparingly; for as to our negroes, they could not taste it, nor did they care to eat any meat that was seasoned with it.
The weather began now to clear up, the rains were down, and the floods abated, and the sun, which had passed our zenith, was gone to the southward a good way; so we prepared to go on our way.
It was the 12th of October, or thereabouts, that we began to set forward; and having an easy country to travel in, as well as to supply us with provisions, though still without inhabitants, we made more despatch, travelling sometimes, as we calculated it, twenty or twenty-five miles a day; nor did we halt anywhere in eleven days' march, one day excepted, which was to make a raft to carry us over a small river, which, having swelled with the rains, was not yet quite down.
When we were past this river, which, by the way, ran to the northward too, we found a great row of hills in our way. We saw, indeed, the country open to the right at a great distance; but, as we kept true to our course, due west, we were not willing to go a great way out of our way, only to shun a, few hills. So we advanced; but we were surprised when, being not quite come to the top, one of our company, who, with two negroes, was got up before us, cried out, "The sea! the sea!" and fell a-dancing and jumping, as signs of joy.
The gunner and I were most surprised at it, because we had but that morning been calculating that we must have yet above 1000 miles on the sea side, and that we could not expect to reach it till another rainy season would be upon us; so that when our man cried out, "The sea," the gunner was angry, and said he was mad.
But we were both in the greatest surprise imaginable, when, coming to the top of the hill, and though it was very high, we saw nothing but water, either before us or to the right hand or the left, being a vast sea, without any bounds but the horizon.
We went down the hill full of confusion of thought, not being able to conceive whereabouts we were or what it must be, seeing by all our charts the sea was yet a vast way off.
It was not above three miles from the hills before we came to the shore, or water-edge of this sea, and there, to our further surprise, we found the water fresh and pleasant to drink; so that, in short, we knew not what course to take. The sea, as we thought it to be, put a full stop to our journey (I mean westward), for it lay just in the way. Our next question was, which hand to turn to, to the right hand or the left, but this was soon resolved; for, as we knew not the extent of it, we considered that our way, if it had been the sea really, must be on the north, and therefore, if we went to the south now, it must be just so much out of our way at last. So, having spent a good part of the day in our surprise at the thing, and consulting what to do, we set forward to the north.
We travelled upon the shore of this sea full twenty-three days before we could come to any resolution about what it was; at the end of which, early one morning, one of our seamen cried out, "Land!" and it was no false alarm, for we saw plainly the tops of some hills at a very great distance, on the further side of the water, due west; but though this satisfied us that it was not the ocean, but an inland sea or lake, yet we saw no land to the northward, that is to say, no end of it, but were obliged to travel eight days more, and near 100 miles farther, before we came to the end of it, and then we found this lake or sea ended in a very great river which ran N. or N. by E., as the other river had done which I mentioned before.
My friend the gunner, upon examining, said that he believed that he was mistaken before, and that this was the river Nile, but was still of the mind that we were of before, that we should not think of a voyage into Egypt that way; so we resolved upon crossing this river, which, however, was not so easy as before, the river being very rapid and the channel very broad.
It cost us, therefore, a week here to get materials to waft ourselves and cattle over this river; for though here were stores of trees, yet there was none of any considerable growth sufficient to make a canoe.
During our march on the edge of this bank we met with great fatigue, and therefore travelled a fewer miles in a day than before, there being such a prodigious number of little rivers that came down from the hills on the east side, emptying themselves into this gulf, all which waters were pretty high, the rains having been but newly over.
In the last three days of our travel we met with some inhabitants, but we found they lived upon the little hills and not by the water-side; nor were we a little put to it for food in this march, having killed nothing for four or five days but some fish we caught out of the lake, and that not in such plenty as we found before.
But, to make us some amends, we had no disturbance upon all the shores of this lake from any wild beasts; the only inconveniency of that kind was, that we met an ugly, venomous, deformed kind of a snake or serpent in the wet grounds near the lake, that several times pursued us as if it would attack us; and if we struck or threw anything at it, it would raise itself up and hiss so loud that it might be heard a great way. It had a hellish ugly deformed look and voice, and our men would not be persuaded but it was the devil, only that we did not know what business Satan could have there, where there were no people.
It was very remarkable that we had now travelled 1000 miles without meeting with any people in the heart of the whole continent of Africa, where, to be sure, never man set his foot since the sons of Noah spread themselves over the face of the whole earth. Here also our gunner took an observation with his forestaff, to determine our latitude, and he found now, that having marched about thirty-three days northward, we were in 6 degrees 22 minutes south latitude.
After having with great difficulty got over this river, we came into a strange wild country that began a little to affright us; for though the country was not a desert of dry scalding sand as that was we had passed before, yet it was mountainous, barren, and infinitely full of most furious wild beasts, more than any place we had passed yet. There was indeed a kind of coarse herbage on the surface, and now and then a few trees, or rather shrubs. But people we could see none, and we began to be in great suspense about victuals, for we had not killed a deer a great while, but had lived chiefly upon fish and fowl, always by the water-side, both which seemed to fail us now; and we were in the more consternation, because we could not lay in a stock here to proceed upon, as we did before, but were obliged to set out with scarcity, and without any certainty of a supply.
We had, however, no remedy but patience; and having killed some fowls and dried some fish, as much as, with short allowance, we reckoned would last us five days, we resolved to venture, and venture we did; nor was it without cause that we were apprehensive of the danger, for we travelled the five days and met neither with fish nor fowl, nor four-footed beast, whose flesh was fit to eat, and we were in a most dreadful apprehension of being famished to death. On the sixth day we almost fasted, or, as we may say, we ate up all the scraps of what we had left, and at night lay down supperless upon our mats, with heavy hearts, being obliged the eighth day to kill one of our poor faithful servants, the buffaloes that carried our baggage. The flesh of this creature was very good, and so sparingly did we eat of it that it lasted us all three days and a half, and was just spent; and we were on the point of killing another when we saw before us a country that promised better, having high trees and a large river in the middle of it.
This encouraged us, and we quickened our march for the river-side, though with empty stomachs, and very faint and weak; but before we came to this river we had the good hap to meet with some young deer, a thing we had long wished for. In a word, having shot three of them, we came to a full stop to fill our bellies, and never gave the flesh time to cool before we ate it; nay, it was much we could stay to kill it and had not eaten it alive, for we were, in short, almost famished.
Through all that inhospitable country we saw continually lions, tigers, leopards, civet cats, and abundance of kinds of creatures that we did not understand; we saw no elephants, but every now and then we met with an elephant's tooth lying on the ground, and some of them lying, as it were, half buried by the length of time that they had lain there.
When we came to the shore of this river, we found it ran northerly still, as all the rest had done, but with this difference, that as the course of the other rivers were N. by E. or N.N.E., the course of this lay N.W.N.
On the farther bank of this river we saw some sign of inhabitants, but met with none for the first day; but the next day we came into an inhabited country, the people all negroes, and stark naked, without shame, both men and women.
We made signs of friendship to them, and found them a very frank, civil, and friendly sort of people. They came to our negroes without any suspicion, nor did they give us any reason to suspect them of any villainy, as the others had done; we made signs to them that we were hungry, and immediately some naked women ran and fetched us great quantities of roots, and of things like pumpkins, which we made no scruple to eat; and our artificer showed them some of his trinkets that he had made, some of iron, some of silver, but none of gold. They had so much judgment as to choose that of silver before the iron; but when we showed them some gold, we found they did not value it so much as either of the other.
For some of these things they brought us more provisions, and three living creatures as big as calves, but not of that kind; neither did we ever see any of them before; their flesh was very good; and after that they brought us twelve more, and some smaller creatures like hares; all which were very welcome to us, who were indeed at a very great loss for provisions.
We grew very intimate with these people, and indeed they were the civillest and most friendly people that we met with at all, and mightily pleased with us; and, which was very particular, they were much easier to be made to understand our meaning than any we had met with before.
At last we began to inquire our way, pointing to the west. They made us understand easily that we could not go that way, but they pointed to us that we might go north-west, so that we presently understood that there was another lake in our way, which proved to be true; for in two days more we saw it plain, and it held us till we passed the equinoctial line, lying all the way on our left hand, though at a great distance.
Travelling thus northward, our gunner seemed very anxious about our proceedings; for he assured us, and made me sensible of it by the maps which he had been teaching me out of, that when we came into the latitude of six degrees, or thereabouts, north of the line, the land trended away to the west to such a length that we should not come at the sea under a march of above 1500 miles farther westward than the country we desired to go to. I asked him if there were no navigable rivers that we might meet with, which, running into the west ocean, might perhaps carry us down their stream, and then, if it were 1500 miles, or twice 1500 miles, we might do well enough if we could but get provisions.
Here he showed me the maps again, and that there appeared no river whose stream was of any such a length as to do any kindness, till we came perhaps within 200 or 300 miles of the shore, except the Rio Grande, as they call it, which lay farther northward from us, at least 700 miles; and that then he knew not what kind of country it might carry us through; for he said it was his opinion that the heats on the north of the line, even in the same latitude, were violent, and the country more desolate, barren, and barbarous, than those of the south; and that when we came among the negroes in the north part of Africa, next the sea, especially those who had seen and trafficked with the Europeans, such as Dutch, English, Portuguese, Spaniards, etc., they had most of them been so ill-used at some time or other that they would certainly put all the spite they could upon us in mere revenge.
Upon these considerations he advised us that, as soon as we had passed this lake, we should proceed W.S.W., that is to say, a little inclining to the south, and that in time we should meet with the great river Congo, from whence the coast is called Congo, being a little north of Angola, where we intended at first to go.
I asked him if ever he had been on the coast of Congo. He said, yes, he had, but was never on shore there. Then I asked him how we should get from thence to the coast where the European ships came, seeing, if the land trended away west for 1500 miles, we must have all that shore to traverse before we could double the west point of it.
He told me it was ten to one but we should hear of some European ships to take us in, for that they often visited the coast of Congo and Angola, in trade with the negroes; and that if we could not, yet, if we could but find provisions, we should make our way as well along the sea-shore as along the river, till we came to the Gold Coast, which, he said, was not above 400 or 500 miles north of Congo, besides the turning of the coast west about 300 more; that shore being in the latitude of six or seven degrees; and that there the English, or Dutch, or French had settlements or factories, perhaps all of them.
I confess I had more mind, all the while he argued, to have gone northward, and shipped ourselves in the Rio Grande, or, as the traders call it, the river Negro or Niger, for I knew that at last it would bring us down to the Cape de Verd, where we were sure of relief; whereas, at the coast we were going to now, we had a prodigious way still to go, either by sea or land, and no certainty which way to get provisions but by force; but for the present I held my tongue, because it was my tutor's opinion.
But when, according to his desire, we came to turn southward, having passed beyond the second great lake, our men began all to be uneasy, and said we were now out of our way for certain, for that we were going farther from home, and that we were indeed far enough off already.
But we had not marched above twelve days more, eight whereof were taken up in rounding the lake, and four more south-west, in order to make for the river Congo, but we were put to another full stop, by entering a country so desolate, so frightful, and so wild, that we knew not what to think or do; for, besides that it appeared as a terrible and boundless desert, having neither woods, trees, rivers, or inhabitants, so even the place where we were was desolate of inhabitants, nor had we any way to gather in a stock of provisions for the passing of this desert, as we did before at our entering the first, unless we had marched back four days to the place where we turned the head of the lake.
Well, notwithstanding this, we ventured; for, to men that had passed such wild places as we had done, nothing could seem too desperate to undertake. We ventured, I say, and the rather because we saw very high mountains in our way at a great distance, and we imagined, wherever there were mountains there would be springs and rivers; where rivers there would be trees and grass; where trees and grass there would be cattle; and where cattle, some kind of inhabitants. At last, in consequence of this speculative philosophy, we entered this waste, having a great heap of roots and plants for our bread, such as the Indians gave us, a very little flesh or salt, and but a little water.
We travelled two days towards those hills, and still they seemed as far off as they did at first, and it was the fifth day before we got to them; indeed, we travelled but softly, for it was excessively hot; and we were much about the very equinoctial line, we hardly knew whether to the south or the north of it.
As we had concluded, that where there were hills there would be springs, so it happened; but we were not only surprised, but really frighted, to find the first spring we came to, and which looked admirably clear and beautiful, to be salt as brine. It was a terrible disappointment to us, and put us under melancholy apprehensions at first; but the gunner, who was of a spirit never discouraged, told us we should not be disturbed at that, but be very thankful, for salt was a bait we stood in as much need of as anything, and there was no question but we should find fresh water as well as salt; and here our surgeon stepped in to encourage us, and told us that if we did not know he would show us a way how to make that salt water fresh, which indeed made us all more cheerful, though we wondered what he meant.
Meantime our men, without bidding, had been seeking about for other springs, and found several; but still they were all salt; from whence we concluded that there was a salt rock or mineral stone in those mountains, and perhaps they might be all of such a substance; but still I wondered by what witchcraft it was that our artist the surgeon would make this salt water turn fresh, and I longed to see the experiment, which was indeed a very odd one; but he went to work with as much assurance as if he had tried it on the very spot before.
He took two of our large mats and sewed them together, and they made a kind of a bag four feet broad, three feet and a half high, and about a foot and a half thick when it was full.
He caused us to fill this bag with dry sand and tread it down as close as we could, not to burst the mats. When thus the bag was full within a foot, he sought some other earth and filled up the rest with it, and still trod all in as hard as he could. When he had done, he made a hole in the upper earth about as broad as the crown of a large hat, or something bigger about, but not so deep, and bade a negro fill it with water, and still as it shrunk away to fill it again, and keep it full. The bag he had placed at first across two pieces of wood, about a foot from the ground; and under it he ordered some of our skins to be spread that would hold water. In about an hour, and not sooner, the water began to come dropping through the bottom of the bag, and, to our great surprise, was perfectly fresh and sweet, and this continued for several hours; but in the end the water began to be a little brackish. When we told him that, "Well, then," said he, "turn the sand out, and fill it again." Whether he did this by way of experiment from his own fancy, or whether he had seen it done before, I do not remember.
The next day we mounted the tops of the hills, where the prospect was indeed astonishing, for as far as the eye could look, south, or west, or northwest, there was nothing to be seen but a vast howling wilderness, with neither tree nor river, nor any green thing. The surface we found, as the part we passed the day before, had a kind of thick moss upon it, of a blackish dead colour, but nothing in it that looked like food, either for man or beast.
Had we been stored with provisions to have entered for ten or twenty days upon this wilderness, as we were formerly, and with fresh water, we had hearts good enough to have ventured, though we had been obliged to come back again, for if we went north we did not know but we might meet with the same; but we neither had provisions, neither were we in any place where it was possible to get them. We killed some wild ferine creatures at the foot of these hills; but, except two things, like to nothing that we ever saw before, we met with nothing that was fit to eat. These were creatures that seemed to be between the kind of a buffalo and a deer, but indeed resembled neither; for they had no horns, and had great legs like a cow, with a fine head, and the neck like a deer. We killed also, at several times, a tiger, two young lions, and a wolf; but, God be thanked, we were not so reduced as to eat carrion.
Upon this terrible prospect I renewed my motion of turning northward, and making towards the river Niger or Rio Grande, then to turn west towards the English settlements on the Gold Coast; to which every one most readily consented, only our gunner, who was indeed our best guide, though he happened to be mistaken at this time. He moved that, as our coast was now northward, so we might slant away north-west, that so, by crossing the country, we might perhaps meet with some other river that run into the Rio Grande northward, or down to the Gold Coast southward, and so both direct our way and shorten the labour; as also because, if any of the country was inhabited and fruitful, we should probably find it upon the shore of the rivers, where alone we could be furnished with provisions.
This was good advice, and too rational not to be taken; but our present business was, what to do to get out of this dreadful place we were in. Behind us was a waste, which had already cost us five days' march, and we had not provisions for five days left to go back again the same way. Before us was nothing but horror, as above; so we resolved, seeing the ridge of the hills we were upon had some appearance of fruitfulness, and that they seemed to lead away to the northward a great way, to keep under the foot of them on the east side, to go on as far as we could, and in the meantime to look diligently out for food.
Accordingly we moved on the next morning; for we had no time to lose, and, to our great comfort, we came in our first morning's march to very good springs of fresh water; and lest we should have a scarcity again, we filled all our bladder bottles and carried it with us. I should also have observed that our surgeon, who made the salt water fresh, took the opportunity of those salt springs, and made us the quantity of three or four pecks of very good salt.
In our third march we found an unexpected supply of food, the hills being full of hares. They were of a kind something different from ours in England, larger and not as swift of foot, but very good meat. We shot several of them, and the little tame leopard, which I told you we took at the negro town that we plundered, hunted them like a dog, and killed us several every day; but she would eat nothing of them unless we gave it her, which, indeed, in our circumstance, was very obliging. We salted them a little and dried them in the sun whole, and carried a strange parcel along with us. I think it was almost three hundred, for we did not know when we might find any more, either of these or any other food. We continued our course under these hills very comfortably for eight or nine days, when we found, to our great satisfaction, the country beyond us began to look with something of a better countenance. As for the west side of the hills, we never examined it till this day, when three of our company, the rest halting for refreshment, mounted the hills again to satisfy their curiosity, but found it all the same, nor could they see any end of it, no, not to the north, the way we were going; so the tenth day, finding the hills made a turn, and led as it were into the vast desert, we left them and continued our course north, the country being very tolerably full of woods, some waste, but not tediously long, till we came, by our gunner's observation, into the latitude of eight degrees five minutes, which we were nineteen days more in performing.
All this way we found no inhabitants, but abundance of wild ravenous creatures, with which we became so well acquainted now that really we did not much mind them. We saw lions and tigers and leopards every night and morning in abundance; but as they seldom came near us, we let them go about their business: if they offered to come near us, we made false fire with any gun that was uncharged, and they would walk off as soon as they saw the flash.
We made pretty good shift for food all this way; for sometimes we killed hares, sometimes some fowls, but for my life I cannot give names to any of them, except a kind of partridge, and another that was like our turtle. Now and then we began to meet with elephants again in great numbers; those creatures delighted chiefly in the woody part of the country.
This long-continued march fatigued us very much, and two of our men fell sick, indeed, so very sick that we thought they would have died; and one of our negroes died suddenly. Our surgeon said it was an apoplexy, but he wondered at it, he said, for he could never complain of his high feeding. Another of them was very ill; but our surgeon with much ado persuading him, indeed it was almost forcing him to be let blood, he recovered.
We halted here twelve days for the sake of our sick men, and our surgeon persuaded me and three or four more of us to be let blood during the time of rest, which, with other things he gave us, contributed very much to our continued health in so tedious a march and in so hot a climate.
In this march we pitched our matted tents every night, and they were very comfortable to us, though we had trees and woods to shelter us in most places. We thought it very strange that in all this part of the country we yet met with no inhabitants; but the principal reason, as we found afterwards, was, that we, having kept a western course first, and then a northern course, were gotten too much into the middle of the country and among the deserts; whereas the inhabitants are principally found among the rivers, lakes, and lowlands, as well to the south-west as to the north.
What little rivulets we found here were so empty of water, that except some pits, and little more than ordinary pools, there was scarcely any water to be seen in them; and they rather showed that during the rainy months they had a channel, than that they had really running water in them at that time, by which it was easy for us to judge that we had a great way to go; but this was no discouragement so long as we had but provisions, and some seasonable shelter from the violent heat, which indeed I thought was much greater now than when the sun was just over our heads.
Our men being recovered, we set forward again, very well stored with provisions, and water sufficient, and bending our course a little to the westward of the north, travelled in hopes of some favourable stream which might bear a canoe; but we found none till after twenty days' travel, including eight days' rest; for our men being weak, we rested very often, especially when we came to places which were proper for our purpose, where we found cattle, fowl, or anything to kill for our food. In those twenty days' march we advanced four degrees to the northward, besides some meridian distance westward, and we met with abundance of elephants, and with a good number of elephants' teeth scattered up and down, here and there, in the woody grounds especially, some of which were very large. But they were no booty to us; our business was provisions, and a good passage out of the country; and it had been much more to our purpose to have found a good fat deer, and to have killed it for our food, than a hundred ton of elephants' teeth; and yet, as you shall presently hear, when we came to begin our passage by water, we once thought to have built a large canoe, on purpose to have loaded it with ivory; but this was when we knew nothing of the rivers, nor knew anything how dangerous and how difficult a passage it was we were likely to have in them, nor had considered the weight of carriage to lug them to the rivers where we might embark.
At the end of twenty days' travel, as above, in the latitude of three degrees sixteen minutes, we discovered in a valley, at some distance from us, a pretty tolerable stream, which we thought deserved the name of a river, and which ran its course N.N.W., which was just what we wanted. As we had fixed our thoughts upon our passage by water, we took this for the place to make the experiment, and bent our march directly to the valley.
There was a small thicket of trees just in our way, which we went by, thinking no harm, when on a sudden one of our negroes was dangerously wounded with an arrow shot into his back, slanting between his shoulders. This put us to a full stop; and three of our men, with two negroes, spreading the wood, for it was but a small one, found a negro with a bow, but no arrow, who would have escaped, but our men that discovered him shot him in revenge of the mischief he had done; so we lost the opportunity of taking him prisoner, which, if we had done, and sent him home with good usage, it might have brought others to us in a friendly manner.
Going a little farther, we came to five negro huts or houses, built after a different manner from any we had seen yet; and at the door of one of them lay seven elephants' teeth, piled up against the wall or side of the hut, as if they had been provided against a market. Here were no men, but seven or eight women, and near twenty children. We offered them no incivility of any kind, but gave them every one a bit of silver beaten out thin, as I observed before, and cut diamond fashion, or in the shape of a bird, at which the women were overjoyed, and brought out to us several sorts of food, which we did not understand, being cakes of a meal made of roots, which they bake in the sun, and which ate very well. We went a little way farther and pitched our camp for that night, not doubting but our civility to the women would produce some good effect when their husbands might come home.