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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Compasses and lengthy computations


letting the cats loose when we halted, the newly-purchased one attempted to make his escape. I was watching him carefully. He did not do this in a haphazard manner, running here and there as a dog would, but jumped out of the box, took his bearings with great calm and precision and in a most scientific manner, first by looking at the sun, and then at his own shadow, evidently to discover whether when shut up in the box he had travelled east or west, north or south, or to some intermediate point. He repeated this operation several times with a wonderful expression of intelligence and reflection on his little face, and then dashed away with astounding accuracy in the direction of Lawah town. Mind you, he did not at all follow the track that we had come by, which was somewhat circuitous, but went in a bee line for his native place and not a second to the left or right of the direct bearings which I took with my prismatic compass to check his direction. Sadek and the camel men went in pursuit of him and he was brought back.

This seemed so marvellous that I thought it might be a chance. We were then only twenty-two miles from Lawah. I repeated the experiment for three or four days from subsequent camps, until the cat reconciled himself to his new position and declined to run away. I took the trouble to revolve him round himself several times to mislead him in his bearings, but each time he found his correct position by the sun and his own shadow,

and never made a mistake in the absolutely correct bearings of his route.

A remarkable fact in connection with this is that the most ignorant natives of Persia, men who have never seen or heard of a compass, can tell you the exact direction of places by a very similar method, so that there is more in the process than we think.

It is rather humiliating when we reflect that what we highly civilised people can only do with difficulty with the assistance of elaborate theodolites, sextants, artificial horizons, compasses and lengthy computations, an ignorant camel man, or a kitten, can do practically and simply and always correctly in a few seconds by drawing conclusions on facts of nature which speak for themselves better than all the scientific instruments we can manufacture.

There was a high mountain north-east of camp, the Darband, 8,200 feet, and as my fever seemed to be getting worse, and I had no quinine with which to put a sudden stop to it, I thought I would climb to the top of the mountain to sweat the fever out, and also to obtain a view of the surrounding country.

After having slept some three hours and having partaken of a meal--we had the greatest difficulty in raising enough animal fuel for a fire--I started off about one in the afternoon under a broiling sun. The camp was at an altitude of 4,350 feet and the ascent not difficult but very steep and rocky, and involving therefore a good deal of violent exertion. The dark rocks were so hot with the sun that had been shining upon them that they nearly burned one's fingers when one touched them. Still, the view from the top well repaid one for the trouble of getting there.

A general survey showed that the highest mountain to be seen around was to the south-south-east (150 deg. bearings magnetic), and a couple of almost conical hills, exactly alike in shape, but not in size, stood one in front of the other on a line with 160 deg. b.m. Between them both to east and west were a number of misshapen mountains. Were it not for a low confused heap of grey mud and sand the desert would be an absolutely flat stretch from the distant mountains enclosing the plain on the south to the others on the north. A long high mud barrier runs diagonally at the northern end, in a direction from east to west, and another extending from south-east to north-west meets it, forming a slightly acute angle. The latter range is of a most peculiar formation, extremely brilliant in colour, the ground being a vivid red, regularly fluted and striped across so straight with friezes and bands formed by strata of different tones of colour, that from a distance it almost resembles the patient work of a skilful artisan instead of the results of the corrosive action of water. Another parallel and similar range stands exactly opposite on the east.

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