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Chapter VII 


They obtain leave, with some difficulty, to depart from Dancali. The difficulties of their march. A broil with the Moors. They arrive at the plain of salt.

This usage, with some differences we had with a Moor, made us very desirous of leaving this country, but we were still put off with one pretence or other whenever we asked leave to depart. Tired with these delays, I applied myself to his favourite minister, with a promise of a large present if he could obtain us an audience of leave; he came to us at night to agree upon the reward, and soon accomplished all we desired, both getting us a permission to go out of the kingdom, and procuring us camels to carry our baggage, and that of the Abyssinian ambassadors who were ordered to accompany us.

We set out from the kingdom of Dancali on the 15th of June, having taken our leave of the King, who after many excuses for everything that had happened, dismissed us with a present of a cow, and some provisions, desiring us to tell the Emperor of Aethiopia his father that we had met with kind treatment in his territories, a request which we did not at that time think it convenient to deny.

Whatever we had suffered hitherto, was nothing to the difficulties we were now entering upon, and which God had decreed us to undergo for the sake of Jesus Christ. Our way now lay through a region scarce passable, and full of serpents, which were continually creeping between our legs; we might have avoided them in the day, but being obliged, that we might avoid the excessive heats, to take long marches in the night, we were every moment treading upon them. Nothing but a signal interposition of Providence could have preserved us from being bitten by them, or perishing either by weariness or thirst, for sometimes we were a long time without water, and had nothing to support our strength in this fatigue but a little honey, and a small piece of cows' flesh dried in the sun. Thus we travelled on for many days, scarce allowing ourselves any rest, till we came to a channel or hollow worn in the mountains by the winter torrents; here we found some coolness, and good water, a blessing we enjoyed for three days; down this channel all the winter runs a great river which is dried up in the heats, or to speak more properly, hides itself under ground. We walked along its side, sometimes seven or eight leagues without seeing any water, and then we found it rising out of the ground, at which places we never failed to drink as much as we could, and fill our bottles.

In our march, there fell out an unlucky accident, which, however, did not prove of the bad consequence it might have done. The master of our camels was an old Mohammedan, who had conceived an opinion that it was an act of merit to do us all the mischief he could; and in pursuance of his notion, made it his chief employment to steal everything he could lay hold on; his piety even transported him so far, that one morning he stole and hid the cords of our tents. The patriarch who saw him at the work charged him with it, and upon his denial, showed him the end of the cord hanging from under the saddle of one of his camels. Upon this we went to seize them, but were opposed by him and the rest of the drivers, who set themselves in a posture of opposition with their daggers. Our soldiers had recourse to their muskets, and four of them putting the mouths of their pieces to the heads of some of the most obstinate and turbulent, struck them with such a terror, that all the clamour was stilled in an instant; none received any hurt but the Moor who had been the occasion of the tumult. He was knocked down by one of our soldiers, who had cut his throat but that the fathers prevented it: he then restored the cords, and was more tractable ever after. In all my dealings with the Moors, I have always discovered in them an ill- natured cowardice, which makes them insupportably insolent if you show them the least respect, and easily reduced to reasonable terms when you treat them with a high hand.

After a march of some days we came to an opening between the mountains, the only passage out of Dancali into Abyssinia. Heaven seems to have made this place on purpose for the repose of weary travellers, who here exchange the tortures of parching thirst, burning sands, and a sultry climate, for the pleasures of shady trees, the refreshment of a clear stream, and the luxury of a cooling breeze. We arrived at this happy place about noon, and the next day at evening left those fanning winds, and woods flourishing with unfading verdure, for the dismal barrenness of the vast uninhabitable plains, from which Abyssinia is supplied with salt. These plains are surrounded with high mountains, continually covered with thick clouds which the sun draws from the lakes that are here, from which the water runs down into the plain, and is there congealed into salt. Nothing can be more curious than to see the channels and aqueducts that nature has formed in this hard rock, so exact and of such admirable contrivance, that they seem to be the work of men. To this place caravans of Abyssinia are continually resorting, to carry salt into all parts of the empire, which they set a great value upon, and which in their country is of the same use as money. The superstitious Abyssins imagine that the cavities of the mountains are inhabited by evil spirits which appear in different shapes, calling those that pass by their names as in a familiar acquaintance, who, if they go to them, are never seen afterwards. This relation was confirmed by the Moorish officer who came with us, who, as he said, had lost a servant in that manner: the man certainly fell into the hands of the Galles, who lurk in those dark retreats, cut the throats of the merchants, and carry off their effects.

The heat making it impossible to travel through this plain in the day-time, we set out in the evening, and in the night lost our way. It is very dangerous to go through this place, for there are no marks of the right road, but some heaps of salt, which we could not see. Our camel drivers getting together to consult on this occasion, we suspected they had some ill design in hand, and got ready our weapons; they perceived our apprehensions, and set us at ease by letting us know the reason of their consultation. Travelling hard all night, we found ourselves next morning past the plain; but the road we were in was not more commodious, the points of the rocks pierced our feet; to increase our perplexities we were alarmed with the approach of an armed troop, which our fear immediately suggested to be the Galles, who chiefly beset these passes of the mountains; we put ourselves on the defensive, and expected them, whom, upon a more exact examination, we found to be only a caravan of merchants come as usual to fetch salt.

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