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THE CAID OSMAN.
“It is with grief,” says Montaigne, “as with stones, which receive colours brighter or duller, according to the leaves on which they may have lain, for it only holds as much place in us as we
The African army has proved the truth of these words. It has gone through the severest trials without blenching, supporting sometimes unheard of fatigues, without glory; at others, overcoming great dangers by matchless intrepidity. But if the fortitude and endurance of this noble infantry are to be praised, how many times too has the cavalry shown itself, by its courageous impulses, the worthy inheritor of French impetuosity.
Two elements in the African cavalry unite to give success to our arms: the French element, and the Arab element, the Spahi, and the Chasseur. Those fine soldiers in blue jackets could not, despite their courage, have executed alone those bold coups de main, which have gained them so much renown.
To drive the Indian from the forests of America, the Indian was necessary; and the Arab in Africa is necessary to confront the Arab. To the arm that strikes, the eye that discovers and guides is essential. In this necessity the Spahi corps originated. Money drew the Arab cavaliers to us at first. Their discipline was less severe than ours, and all their uniform consisted in a red bournous and bannerole, ever ready to be lifted up at the slightest sign from their chief. In his Arab character, the Spahi could execute any mission without exciting suspicion, and might be alternately courier, guide, tracker, or scout. A few officers and non-commissioned officers were appointed over these native cavaliers, and some Europeans admitted into their ranks. Thus composed, this troop has often rendered great services. “A refuge of outcasts” they have been called; and in truth many who could hardly have supported the rigour of French discipline, found an asylum among them. Strange characters might be encountered in their ranks: adventurers, whose lives resembled stories of past times torn out of some old book.
Here to-day, there to-morrow, the soldier's destiny depends on the will of his chief. Let an order be given, and he is separated for long years from those whom he has been in the habit of seeing every day. This was the history of our squadron. The Zouaves, our friends of Haut Riou, were far away when we were beating up the country with the Spahis of Mascara.
In this squadron the singular personalities just spoken of were not wanting. Two particularly are worthy of notice. The first, Maréchal de Logis Alfred Siquot was a man very singularly original, belonging to a good family; the name of the other was Mohamed-Ould-Caid-Osman;
he had the rank of a native officer. They were both equally courageous, but on every other point entirely different. Siquot, par excellence, was a humourist, in the sense which the English give to that word. His grave air and quiet humour procured him the soubriquet of jovial. His love of solitude and of action, of any-how existence, and adventures, had attached him to a soldiering life. Siquot, however, wore no veil; every one might know every thing about him. As for Mohamed-Ould-Caid-Osman, this Arab name hid a Prussian, and a life full of agitation, of duels, adventures, condemnations to death, and hangings in effigy. Well informed and highly intelligent, there was in his abrupt manners a seeming frankness very attractive, and the bravery for which he was renowned, gained him the respect of all. On the whole, he was the true type of a soldier of fortune — a lansquenet of past times. His double-barrelled gun, as much feared by Arabs as by partridges, his dog Tom, and his valiant horse, were in the field his only friends. In garrison, a fourth affection found a place in his heart: a little Spanish girl, who never opened her mouth, and was as devoted to him as his dog. Tom, the Chika (the girl's name), and the Caid, then made but one; they lived, laughed, and wept together. Occasionally, however, the Maréchal de Logis Siquot would smoke his pipe with the three friends.
The African life of the Caid was well known, and stories of its many moving accidents often enlivened the long dullness of our bivouac days. On two different occasions he had been seen at Algiers, but under very different circumstances. The first time he was in all his splendour, traveling with prince Puckler Muskau, who speaks of him in his letters, designating him, however, only by initials. The second time in 1840, he carried the knapsack of a foot soldier, and was marching
towards Mount Mouzaia, in the ranks of the foreign legion. Now it is one of the great laws of nature, from which no one is exempt, that when the foot touches the earth, it is impossible to advance without a regular movement of the legs. But this necessity sovereignly displeased the Caid. In brief, the life of a foot soldier was by no means to his taste.
So after a campaign, which was so severe that out of a hundred men only twenty-five remained in the company to which he belonged, the Caid got himself exchanged, and left the legion.
Behold him again free, and ready to take to the highways of new adventures. But if such had been his intention, it soon appeared that he had counted without love, without a passion which lasted him six months, from Moor to German. Half way along the coast of Mustapha, there is a neat little white house embedded in verdure, which commands a view of the bay of Algiers and all its splendours. The Armida of this charming spot was named Aicha, and never has eastern poet dreamed of a creature more enchanting. Is it to be wondered at then, that in this bower, six months were passed by our Lansquenet in peace, quiet, and repose. Every morning the smiling young damsel would come and sit at his knees;