A sand-storm predicted.—The wind from the north-east.—The storm.—After ostriches.—Two are killed.—Return to camp.—Roast ostrich for supper.—Return to the settlement.
On my return to the camp the men said we were going to have a storm from the desert. They could tell it was coming, and they hoped it would not last long, for these storms are very unpleasant. They did not mean a storm of rain, but that a strong wind would blow from the east or northeast, and passing over the Great Desert, would raise clouds and columns of sand, so that the atmosphere would be thick with it, as if a fog had spread itself over the country.
I may say I was glad to hear this. Like you, my dear young folks, I had heard before of these sand-storms, and that the sand would even be carried far away out to sea and fall on the decks of ships. I wanted to see one of these awful storms, which are said to be so violent in the Great Desert that men, and sometimes caravans, are buried alive beneath the immense masses of sand.
The men were not mistaken. The wind, which had been blowing lightly in an east-northeast direction, began to increase gradually, till at last it blew a perfect gale. The sand began to fly, and the storm increased still more. The air soon became murky with sand, which flew to ward the sea like a thick fog. It was a grand and splendid sight. The light of the day had become quite dim, because the sun's rays could hardly pierce the clouds of sand. It continued blowing for several hours. The wind was hot; my lips became parched and my eyes sore, as, in spite of my thick veil, the sand penetrated every where. Now that I had seen a genuine sand-storm, I hoped that the wind would moderate. Little hillocks and mounds were formed here and there, and our wells were filled up with the drifting sand.
Sand-storm in the desert.
The sand got into my clothes through every opening in them. It filled my hair, my nose, my ears, and even my mouth. It covered every thing in our camp, and completely spoiled our food. But we had to eat it as it was, as there was no choice.
Toward evening the wind gradually calmed down, and by the time the sun had set below the horizon nature became quiet again. The sand-storm of the desert was over, and I was glad I had seen it.
The next morning I again prepared myself to hunt the ostrich. Some of them had been seen the day before by some of the men who had wandered off a little way into the desert. It was but seldom that ostriches were seen where we were, and I wished to take advantage of the opportunity, the more so that I should have to turn back very soon and leave the Senegal region for the Gulf of Guinea.
But first we moved our camp a few miles northward from where we were, because better wells of water could be got in that locality. As soon as our tents were pitched again, I started once more on an ostrich hunt, taking two guides with me.
Our course lay through the desert near the sea-shore. It was exceedingly tiresome walking, for at every step we made our feet would go deep into the sand, and the heat was intense. We had to take every advantage of the ground in order to hide ourselves from sight, for the ostriches, as you know, were very shy, and, though I had been more than three hours on the way, and was assured by my two guides that I should see some, I was yet to discover the first one. I did not expect to see their tracks, as the storm of the day before had obliterated every trace of them.
Yet I had good reason to look for fine sport, for this was the time—just at the close of May, and before the setting in of the rainy season—when the ostriches are accustomed to visit the sea-shore in great numbers. The natives say they wade into the sea during the heat of the day, and splash round in the water at a great rate. This, as you may suppose, is the best time of the year to shoot them.
All at once, as I reached the top of a sand-down or hill, I looked carefully over the crest to see if I could discern any signs of game, and, to my great delight, I saw several ostriches near the sea-shore, and not far from where I was posted. I instantly stopped, and stood still for an instant to observe them. I had never seen them in their wild state till the day previous, and was very much interested in watching their movements as they were strutting about on the shore.
After satisfying my curiosity, I crept toward them with all the caution I could use. They were unaware of my presence, and seemed to be perfectly unconcerned about every thing around them; but, knowing how keen their scent was, I advanced cautiously and slowly, reserving my fire until I came within very short range. If you had been with me you would have become, I am sure, quite as much excited as I was, and you would have enjoyed the chase.
At last I came to a gap between two sand-hills, which put me in great anxiety, as there was danger of my being discovered by the ostriches in crossing, and if I should be, good-by to my hopes! The gap was about forty yards wide, and I must cross it in the quickest and most sly manner. So, protected behind a little hillock of sand, I watched carefully for a chance to scud across. My eyes were riveted on the ostriches, and I waited for a time till they should all look toward the sea or go into the surf, so that I could shift my position without being seen, and gain a hillock that stood within easy range of my beautiful game. At last a good chance came; they all clustered together and turned their backs toward me, looking in the opposite direction. I seized the opportunity, and crossed over the open space in a jiffy, never letting my eyes lose sight of the ostriches, so that if they had suddenly looked back I should have thrown myself flat in the sand and lain as still as a log or a stone. Using all this caution, I crossed in safety, and, on reaching the other shelter, drew a long breath of relief. I was within range of the ostriches at last, and sure of my game.
I rested several seconds in order to get breath to calm my nerves, so that I might take good aim and make a dead shot. Then I slowly raised my gun, took a steady aim at the male, who led the flock, and pulled the trigger. Bang! down came the male ostrich. Bang again! and down came another. The three others that remained alive fled with very great swiftness. This was great sport. I had been entirely successful. I gave a wild shout of joy, and my two friends, who had remained behind, and were watching my movements, ran toward me as fast as they could. I sent one of them back to the camp to fetch the other men to assist in carrying the game. The beautiful feathers were pulled out, the ostriches were cut into small pieces, and then, singing songs of triumph, we returned to camp. That evening we had a splendid supper of roast ostrich.
The next day I thought it was time to go back, for the vessel was soon to be ready to sail, and I must reluctantly say good-by to the Great Desert. So we raised our camp, loaded our donkeys, and departed on our homeward way. It was with a feeling of sorrow that I said good-by to these desert and sandy shores, where I had really enjoyed myself, and learned something that I did not know before.
A few days after my return to the settlement of St. Louis we weighed anchor and sailed for the Gulf of Guinea.