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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

He appeared rather sulky at this unwonted visit


Mulla Ahmed, the founder of the village, was a fine old fellow with a kindly face, eyes shining like beads under an overhanging brow, and a crimson beard dyed with henna. He appeared rather sulky at this unwonted visit, and more sulky still later when the visitors left me and he had to provide food for them. He said that the robbers frequently called upon him, and were a great drain on his supplies.

When we left at 1.45 a.m. to go across the pass, he advised Sadek and myself to load our rifles and keep a sharp look-out. As I had already measured the altitude of the pass in the afternoon I had no particular object in keeping awake, so I slung the rifle to my saddle and dozed off on my mule as we were slowly winding our way up to the summit. The long night marches were so dreary and the sound of the mules' bells so monotonous that it was most difficult to keep awake. One gradually learns to balance one's self quite well on the saddle while asleep, and it does shorten the long hours of the night very considerably. Occasionally one wakes up abruptly with a jolt, and one fancies that one is just about to tumble over, but although I suppose I must have ridden in my life hundreds of miles while asleep on the saddle, I have never once had a fall in the natural course of affairs. The animals, too, are generally so intelligent that they do for one the balancing required and manage to keep under the rider.

On that particular

night I was extremely sleepy. I opened my eyes for a second when we reached the pass and began to descend on the other side, but sleepiness overcame me again. I was riding the first mule in the caravan. Unexpectedly I received a fearful blow in the face, and I was very nearly torn off the saddle. There was a curious metallic buzzing resounding in the air, and before I had time to warn those that came after, Sadek, who came next, was knocked down, and the mules, frightened at this unusual occurrence, stampeded down the steep incline. It was the telegraph wire hanging loose right across the road that had caused the accident. The road was in zig-zag, and was crossed several times by the wire which was laid more or less in a straight line. But this, of course, I did not know, so a few minutes later, before we had time to bring the runaway mules to a stop, the wire, unseen, was again met with a foot or so above the ground. It caught the mules on the legs, and as they were tied to one another, and were carried on by the impetus of the pace at which we were going, all the animals tumbled down one on the top of the other in a heap. The packs got mercilessly undone, and it took us the best part of an hour to disentangle all and get things straight again.

The cold was bitter. Some two miles East of the pass there were two roads, one leading to Nain, the other to Nao Gombes. We took the latter and shorter route, and with some sense of relief now we left the telegraph line, which proceeds to Nain.

On the plateau east of the pass, we found six small villages, the most eastern--Eshratawat (Ishratabad)--being the largest (altitude 6,800 ft.). When the sun was about to rise we more clearly distinguished a grey, sombre, mountainous mass to the east, sharply indented at its summit, like the teeth of a gigantic saw, and ending abruptly on the northern terminus.

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