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Subject: ‘Africa’

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Timbuctoo was an exotic challenge for the adventurous traveller

Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Travel on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about Timbuctoo first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 593 published on 26 May 1973.

Timbuctoo travellers,  picture, image, illustration
Explorers set out for Timbuctoo in Africa whilst braving the tropical heat in clothing only suitable for Britain

The British Consul at Mogadore in Morocco, north-west Africa, was in a bad temper. His afternoon siesta had been disturbed by some half-crazy man who gabbled away in broken English that he wanted to go to America.

As he clumped down the stairs of his consulate building and crunched into the pebbly courtyard, he muttered grumpily, “Why on earth should anyone want to go to America?” It was a good question, for this was 1813, when Britain and America were at war.

In the courtyard, the consul, Mr. Joseph Dupuis, confronted a tattered, sun-blackened scarecrow of a man, who gabbled at him desperately in a mixture of Arabic and English. They were garbled phrases, but they made sense.

“I’m an American,” he said. “My name is Robert Adams. I was shipwrecked three years ago and captured by Arabs. I’ve been their slave ever since. Now I’ve got away and I want to go home.” Finally there came the unbelievable words, “I have been to Timbuctoo.”

Timbuctoo! Dupuis’s immediate reaction was one of sheer disbelief. No white man had ever reached the fabled city that was reputed to lie in the heart of Africa, a city where a strange black race lived in unimaginable splendour and used gold as though it were of no account.

Explorers in France, Britain and Germany were busy compiling every scrap of information they could lay their hands on in an effort to piece together a picture of Timbuctoo. And, here was a half-dead, illiterate sailor who claimed that he had actually been there!

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Giuseppe Maniscalco walked from Ethiopia to South Africa

Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about Giuseppe Maniscalco first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 590 published on 5 May 1973.

Rhinoceros,  picture, image, illustration
Hooves thundering on the hard ground, the rhinoceros charged at Maniscalco

As the bullets splattered into the windscreen and the lorry swerved violently along the dusty road Giuseppe Maniscalco threw open the door and jumped for his life. As he was rolling wildly down the sun-baked slope his hand instinctively grabbed a small bush to stop his descent.

Glancing up he saw the lorry plunge into the ravine but of the Abyssinian bandits who had fired the shots there was no sign. For over four long hours Giuseppe lay motionless, too frightened to move in case the assassins spotted him.

Lying where he had fallen he pondered over his next move. There were no prospects in Asmara, 300 miles to the north, from whence he had travelled. And Addis Ababa, a few miles from where he lay, was no place for an Italian in wartime. He decided that the Kordofan in Sudan would be his destination. There he could hide until the war had finished. With the daunting prospect of several hundred miles of hot, hostile territory ahead of him Giuseppe set out on his long walk.

Within a few days his throat was parched, his feet were blistered, his body soaked in sweat. The sun beat down relentlessly. Some villagers had told him there would be water on his proposed route – but he found none. Luckily for Giuseppe he eventually found water and a tribe of friendly natives who provided food and rest in their humble villages for this strange, unshaven traveller.

One day, after several weeks of weary travel, two men approached him stating that their chief had heard there was a white man in the area and wished to meet him. It would have meant death to refuse the ‘invitation’ so he reluctantly accompanied the men to their village to meet Chief Oman.

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A Niger Trading company paid a deadly ransom to kidnappers

Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Rivers, Trade on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about Africa first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 589 published on 28 April 1973.

Captain Stott,  picture, image, illustration
Captain Stott laid out casks of rum on the beach as a ransom for the safe return of Charles Osborne and Richard Cliff

In May, 1875, Richard Cliff, trader, with Charles Osborne, his assistant, and a crew of seven natives took his small steam launch from the village of Onitsha down the River Niger to the Bight of Biafra. A few days later, the launch ran aground and damaged one of her twin propellers. The next day she ran foul of a rock off Stirling Island and bent her shaft. She drifted helplessly until Cliff regained control of her and hauled her alongside the island to repair the damage.

Cliff sat in the shade, noting the extent of the damage in his log. It had been a disastrous trip so far. Surely nothing else could go wrong. At that very moment, however, a fleet of canoes landed on the far side of the island, disgorging a band of men from a nearby village, who stole through the bush towards the hapless launch. They had seen its plight and intended to take advantage of it. Richard Cliff’s troubles were only just beginning.

By the 1870s trade in the west coast of Africa had become highly organised. The rough adventurers who had first established trading-posts had been succeeded by sophisticated business-men and liberated slaves, too, were making their way in trade. The steamship had extended the range of trading journeys and traders were venturing from the narrow strip of the Grain, Ivory, Slave and Gold Coasts to travel into the interior. Cliff had established posts for his London-based company along the Niger Valley but he was about to learn that trade in this part of Africa was not just a matter of buying and selling.

The attackers announced their arrival with a burst of fire from the bush. One of Cliff’s crew spun round and fell, his arm dangling uselessly, his eyes wide in surprise. Bullets ploughed across the beach and ricocheted off the launch’s iron hull. Ducking and twisting, Cliff raced for the ship, tumbled into it with the rest of the crew and ordered them to shove off the bank. The vessel drifted out into mid-stream where the current caught it and carried it out of range of the guns.

Safe thought Cliff. But were they? Osborne started the launch’s engine; immediately the bent shaft drove the remaining propeller blade into the hull. Water rushed in and in three minutes the launch sank. Cliff and his men had barely time to jump into the boat and cut her adrift lest she be dragged down with the launch. The crew bent to their oars but the natives from the island, who had gone back to their canoes, drove after them in swift pursuit and soon began to gain on the laden boat.

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Marcus Atilius Regulus returned to Carthage and died with honour

Posted in Africa, Ancient History, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Saturday, 8 March 2014

This edited article about Marcus Regulus first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.

Marcus Atilius Regulus in Carthage,  picture, image, illustration
Marcus Atilius Regulus returned to Carthage by Tancredi Scarpelli

Shading his eyes from the hot sun, Marcus Regulus took one last look at the little farm upon which he sustained his family on the outskirts of Rome. Then he kissed his wife Marcia and his two sons goodbye and mounted his horse. The brief act in the life of Regulus that was to give him an amazing place in history had begun.

Regulus was mindful of it. As he rode towards the Senate House in Rome, his mind dwelt on the circumstances that were projecting him, a poor farmer, into a limelight he had never sought.

In this year of 256 BC Rome was at war with Carthage, her bitter enemy on the north coast of Africa. In time of war, the Senate decreed that the command of the army should go to the two consuls elected for that year – one from the rich patrician class and one from the plebian, or working class.

The patrician consul was Lucius Manlius. And his plebian counterpart was Marcus Atilius Regulus, the farmer.

Regulus had no fear of war, not even with the barbarian Africans of Carthage, who were known to feed their prisoners to the flames of the furnace in the belly of their giant, grotesque idol Moloch. But he was justified in being apprehensive of this particular war, for Carthage was famed for her fleet which ruled the Mediterranean, and to defeat the Africans Rome had first to win the war at sea.

To that end, the shipyards of Rome had been at full strength for months, building a fleet to match that of Carthage. Nearly 150,000 sailors were planned to man the new ships – helmsmen, oarsmen, and perhaps most important of all, handlers of the corvus, the secret weapon with which Rome’s architects of war hoped to win the sea battle – the victory they had to have before the land battle on Carthagian territory.

The corvus was simply a grappling iron. With it the Romans planned to pull the Carthaginian ships to their side so that their soldiers, who had little or no experience of fighting at sea, could turn the fight into a land battle, the land being the decks of the two ships linked by the corvus.

Regulus dwelt on all these things as, with his orders from the Senate, he embarked with his co-consul Manlius at the head of Rome’s 330 glittering new fighting ships. It wasn’t long before, off the coast of Sicily, they sighted the Carthaginian fleet, larger still, and commanded by Hanno and Hamilcar, two of ancient history’s shrewdest, battle-hardened admirals.

The Romans used ships as they used men – always in tight formation. To break that formation was the enemy’s first priority. Hanno and Hamilcar sailed their great quinqueremes straight at the Roman wedge formation, splitting it in two. Then they split the two into three, isolating each section before bringing it under fire.

Regulus had one strategy, and only one. That was the corvus. If it failed, if he could not bring his ships close in to the enemy, he would be at the mercy of their superior seamanship. Through the Carthaginian broadsides of deadly arrows and huge, burning darts, he sailed remorselessly closer – and closer.

The iron chains of the grappling irons rattled ominously as they swung out through the air, fell, and anchored themselves on the Carthaginian decks. Wooden prows struck and splintered as the Romans, glistening with sweat, pulled on the chains, dragging the enemy ships full against their sides, crunching the outstretched oars as the gap between them closed. Up went the drawbridge and over them went the Roman soldiers, shield to shield, spears poised to strike a thousand lethal blows.

They had turned the sea battle into a ‘land’ battle. And on land they were the masters.

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Francis Brett Young became a great writer about Africa

Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Literature, Medicine, World War 1 on Saturday, 8 March 2014

This edited article about Francis Brett Young first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.

Francis Brett Young,  picture, image, illustration
Francis Brett Young leading his wounded patients to safety

They cut back the thorn bushes and unloaded the panniers from the mules. It was not the best place for a dressing-station but it would have to serve.

The Maxims were crackling ahead of them and other machine guns stammered suddenly. The first wounded were stumbling in and Francis Brett Young, the medical officer, was soon busy, stripping off field-dressings and checking the classification of wounds. He caught a brief glimpse of men filing up to the line; their helmets bore the striped brown flash of the Rhodesians. Then his orderlies warned him that supplies of water were low. He sent them to fill cans at the river. They scampered back empty-handed. German askaris, they babbled, had crossed to this bank and were approaching. At that moment rifles barked nearby. A wounded soldier coming out of his morphine doze, began to scream: ‘They’re coming! They’re coming.’

Ask most people about the First World War and they will tell you at once of the horrors of the Western Front, of Gallipoli and of Lawrence in Arabia. But the war reached the farthest limits of the British empire and men from the British colonies in Africa soon found themselves embroiled. British, Rhodesian, Indian and South African troops fought the Germans in the Cameroons, in Togoland and in German South West Africa.

The longest African campaign was in German East Africa (later Tanganyika, now Tanzania), where, under the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the imperial forces were held at bay by the brilliant German commander, Von Lettow-Vorbeck. The campaign had begun badly with a seaborne assault on the port of Tanga, at the head of a valuable railway. It failed disastrously. For the next year the campaign was bogged down until the South African leader Jan Smuts took command and, with a series of lighting moves, took the initiative once more.

In May 1916 Smuts ordered a second attack on Tanga, this time by land. The allies had to cut their way through the worst sorts of terrain – stretches of impenetrable bush, dense forests and stinking swamps. They had to drive the Germans and their native troops (askaris) from strongly-held positions. And they had to survive countless forms of disease. This last enemy was the worst. So much depended on the extent to which medical officers like the 32-year-old Brett Young could keep the assault force up to fighting strength.

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British warships tried to police the Muslim trade in African slaves

Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Ships on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about slavery first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 585 published on 31 March 1973.

Muslim slavemasters with slaves, , picture, image, illustration
Captives of Arabs led in chains from the docks, with dhow in background by John Millar Watt

A crowd came down to the harbour of Zanzibar to watch the departure of H.M.S. Daphne for Bombay. The last provisions were hoisted aboard, the pedlars and beggars scrambled from her decks and slowly she edged out to sea. Soon her sails had dipped below the horizon and a fleet of Arab dhows (sailing boats) which had been huddled in the port, began to trickle out. With the Daphne out of the way, and their cargo battened down, they could begin their trip northwards to the Persian Gulf.

But the Daphne was not out of the way. Captain Sulivan, her commander, had deliberately leaked the information that he was sailing for India in order to entice the dhows out of Zanzibar’s waters. In fact, he was waiting for them, hove-to a little way up the coast and when the first dhow appeared he steamed at full speed to arrest her. It was October 1867. The Daphne was policing the African coast. And the dhow was a slaver.

The abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the British colonies was one of the Britain’s most beneficial contributions to civilization in the 19th century and the work of Wilberforce and others, culminating in the Act of 1824, is justly famous. Other states followed Britain’s lead, although Portugal and the Americas refrained, and numerous treaties were signed which outlawed traffic in slaves. But as time went on the vigour with which the laws against the slave-trade were enforced diminished and by the 1860s it flourished on the east coast of Africa, as men like Livingstone discovered. Its most notorious outlet was the territory of the Sultan of Zanzibar, where it was carried on by Somali Arabs. But Britain discovered, to her horror, that British subjects, Indian merchants mainly, were also engaged in it and were making huge profits from it.

The British fleet in the Indian Ocean, which existed to protect British colonies, became a police force and found itself off obscure stretches of the African coast, searching vessels suspected of trading in slaves. This was not as easy as it first seemed. The treaties which had been signed with the Sultan of Zanzibar and other petty rulers contained clauses which permitted a certain amount of trade in slaves for domestic use; and the astute traders quickly found numerous loopholes in these clauses by which they could evade arrest. They also terrified the slaves in their dhows by saying that the British would eat them if they caught them. So, when the British boarded a suspected ship, the traders would swear that the blacks on board were crew or domestic slaves and not intended for sale and the terrified natives would agree. In these cases the navy could do nothing.

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Stirling’s Raiders were officially called L Detachment S.A.S.

Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about the Second World War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 584 published on 24 March 1973.

Stirling's Raiders,  picture, image, illustration
David Stirling leads 'Stirling's Raiders' against German and Italian air forces in North Africa by Graham Coton

Hobbling on his crutches, the 6 ft. 6 in. Scottish subaltern presented himself at the main entrance of Middle East Headquarters in Cairo one July morning in 1941, only to be told that no one could enter without a pass. He moved away, waited until the sentries were busy with the occupants of a staff car, then left his crutches against a tree and slipped through a break in the barbed wire. “Stop that man!” roared one of the sentries, but by that time David Stirling, Scots Guards, attached to No. 8 Commando, had disappeared through the front door of H. Q.

Moving as fast as his back and leg injuries would allow – he had been in a parachute accident – he found a door marked Adjutant General and marched in. The major within not only told him to clear out, but reminded him that they had met before when Stirling had slept through his lectures on tactics!

So Stirling decided to aim higher and gatecrashed General Ritchie, Deputy Chief-of-Staff, Middle East, who liked the look of his unexpected guest and asked what he wanted. It turned out that the lame lieutenant wanted to destroy the German and Italian air forces on the ground!

Stirling had become convinced that as modern war was now so mobile, small groups operating behind enemy lines and destroying planes, ammunition dumps, repair shops and vehicles could achieve more than most air attacks. Ritchie liked the idea and summoned in his assistant, who turned out to be the fuming major that Stirling had just left. The major hoped he could arrest the young upstart, but instead found himself being ordered to help him. Ritchie passed Stirling’s plans on to the Commander-in-Chief, General Auchinleck, who liked them so much that he ordered the giant Scot to recruit six officers and 60 men and set up a training camp.

He collected his volunteers and soon proved his point by two “attacks” on an R.A.F. base and a naval vessel, using dummy bombs and then ringing up the next day to ask for them back! One of his men, Lieutenant Jock Lewes, invented a combined explosive and incendiary bomb for their raids, a time bomb which weighed under a pound, but could knock out a plane. A single soldier could carry 24 of them.

Stirling’s men were known as L Detachment S.A.S. – Special Air Service – which would make the Germans think that there were British parachute troops in the North African desert.

Even David Stirling’s quick brain did not at once stumble on the right method of transport for his men. Their first operation used planes to get them near their target and then the men dropped by parachute, but the raid failed because too many men failed to rendezvous after the drop. So it was decided to team up with the Long Range Desert Group, a reconnaissance unit, who could take them by truck exactly where they wanted to go and pick them up again after their raids.

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The heroes at Rorke’s Drift earned eleven Victoria Crosses

Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014

This edited article about Rorke’s Drift first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.

Rorke's Drift,  picture, image, illustration
Battle of Rorke's Drift, Natal,during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 by Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton

Dust flicked into the horseman’s eyes and caked on to his skin still prickling with fear and shock. The rocky landscape flashed by, a cheerless, inhospitable vista which, for all its surface calm, could easily hide clutches of warriors, ready to pounce, not content, as Lieutenant Vane well knew, merely to kill their victims. After what had happened at Isandhlwana, Vane had no doubt about the fate that awaited him if he fell into Zulu hands.

A gentle rise in the ground brought him within sight of Rorke’s Drift. It looked pitifully vulnerable, just a couple of long, stone buildings with the slopes of Mount Oskarberg rising behind them, and it had no defences, no ramparts and no entrenchments.

The wave of Zulus swarming over the few miles from Isandhlwana could swamp the place in minutes and “wash their spears,” as their ruthless king had commanded, in yet more human blood.

The ferocity and dedication of the Zulu warrior was well known and well feared in the Transvaal a century ago. The Boers, who first ventured there in 1835, had found them a constant danger to their farms, their herds, in fact to their very survival, and when the British annexed the Transvaal in 1877, they inherited the problem.

Their solution was both imperious and arbitrary: the only way to remove the Zulu menace was to annexe Zululand.

It was to provide an excuse for annexation that in December 1878, the British presented Cetawayo, the Zulu king, with demands they knew he could not meet: for to do so would have meant handing his land and people over to the British and dismantling his army.

As expected, Cetawayo ignored the ultimatum, and the result, as planned, was the invasion of Zululand in mid-January 1879 by 13,000 British troops.

When their entry went unopposed, many British soldiers presumed that this was to be yet another colonial war in which wild, disorganised savages would be quickly overcome by the superior weapons and fighting methods of the white man.

The first troops to discover the fatal falsity of this notion were those who were encamped, casually and without defences, at Isandhlwana on 22nd January. That morning, a great tide of Zulus poured down from the surrounding hills and erupted into the camp, slashing and stabbing with their assegais until over 1,300 men lay dead.

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Tuaregs decided that Mungo Park would not leave Africa alive

Posted in Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Rivers on Thursday, 6 March 2014

This edited article about Mungo Park first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 580 published on 24 February 1973.

Mungo Park,  picture, image, illustration
Mungo Park was exhibited in a market place as a sideshow and forced to dress and undress many times a day to show the tribesmen his strange white skin and odd-buttoned clothes, by Angus McBride

“Nothing can be more beautiful than the views of the immense river; sometimes as smooth as a mirror, at other times ruffled with a gentle breeze, but at all times sweeping us along at the rate of six or seven miles an hour.”

So wrote Mungo Park about Africa’s mystery river, called by the inhabitants the “Joliba” – the “Great Water.” In 1805, when Park went to Africa, no one knew where the Niger rose nor where it terminated. Geographers believed it ran to waste in the burning deserts. Park himself believed it to be a tributary of the Congo. But he was in Africa determined to trace it, and wherever it went – he was going.

Mungo Park was the son of a Lowland Scots farmer. As a boy he was known for “the gravity and decorum of his manner.” Apprenticed to a surgeon, Thomas Anderson, whose daughter Alison he was to marry, and whose son Alexander he was to whisk away to his death in Africa, Mungo was “passed at Surgeons’ Hall” in 1791.

He was twenty-three when he received an offer to explore the Niger for the African Association, which had already sent three unsuccessful expeditions. In June, 1795, he landed at Jonkakonda on the Gambia River, dressed in cotton breeches, a blue coat and a waistcoat with brass buttons. The last of these buttons was to save his life in the wild interior of Africa.

All that Mungo wrote about that first journey showed him to have been a humane, kindly man who looked upon the Africans as equal human beings with whom he made many friendships. He was young and inexperienced, so that often he was robbed and cheated unmercifully, but he took it in good part, until he came to the “Moors.” These were people of mixed descent, Arab and African, who lived on the southern fringes of the Great Desert. According to him, they were a vicious people who terrorised and robbed the Africans, considering them only good for slavery. Fanatical Moslems, they viewed Christians as devils in human form whose destruction would be rewarded in Paradise.

Into their hands, Mungo naively delivered himself, penniless, alone except for a servant boy and unarmed. They seized him and enslaved his “boy.” Mungo, they subjected to insult and indignity. He was exhibited in the market place as a side show, and forced to undress and dress forty times a day to display his strange white skin and odd-buttoned clothes. For three months, he was the prisoner of King Ali, dragged out to amuse the tribesmen, otherwise kept in a hut with barely enough food or water to sustain life. Had it not been for Queen Fatima, who looked favourably upon the handsome young Scot and interceded with Ali on his behalf, he knew he would have been murdered out of hand.

In the confusion of a tribal war, Mungo finally escaped. A fugitive, followed by Ali’s men, he still pressed on, using his last brass button to buy a few days’ food. Reaching the Niger at Sego, he fell on his knees, to drink the water and give thanks to God. Only then did he turn back, joining a slave trader’s caravan which at last brought him safely to Gambia and a ship to Britain.

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Corsairs sold captive Englishmen in the slave markets of Algiers

Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Religion, Ships on Wednesday, 5 March 2014

This edited article about Muslim slave traffickers first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 579 published on 17 February 1973.

The bombardment of Algiers,  picture, image, illustration
The bombardment of Algiers by Lord Exmouth in 1816


Seconds after the quarter-master’s command, flame belched from the cannons’ mouths. A cannon-ball whistled through the black sail of one of the pirate ships which was closing in on the English vessel Mercy.

The Mercy, bound for Jamaica with a cargo of wool, had little chance against the sleek Algerian Corsairs. These pirates were the terror of the Mediterranean and the seas off the African coast. Sometimes they even raided the English Channel, carrying off the crews of French and English fishing-boats to sell in the slave markets of Algiers.

During the Napoleonic Wars they had become even bolder, because the ships of Christian Europe had been too busy doing battle with each other to worry about the Muslim raiders.

Now the Mercy was to become another victim. For an hour she had held the pirates at bay with her six guns, but now they were bearing down for the kill.

As they swept alongside, grappling hooks were thrown into the rigging of the Mercy and a wave of yelling Moors clambered aboard the merchantman. In vain the English seamen fought them with their cutlasses. Within minutes they were overwhelmed. Half the crew were killed, and the other half locked in chains.

Five weeks later, the survivors of the attack were herded into the slave market of Algiers. In those days Algiers had a population of 80,000, of whom 25,000 were slaves.

“Before the bidding begins, you have a chance to win your freedom,” said the master of the market. “If you give up your religion and turn to the true faith, your chains will be thrown away.”

There was no response from the little band of captives. The master gave the word for the selling to begin.

The highest price that day was paid for a tall Englishman called John Oakley. He had been a carpenter aboard the Mercy, and his fine physique made him a good investment in the eyes of the Moorish merchants.

Oakley was bought by an Algerian nobleman, and in the weeks that followed he had to toil in the gardens of a palace. Often he felt the burning pain of the overseer’s whip across his naked back. But he did not cry out. Only one thought filled his mind. Somehow he was going to escape. . .

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