Изображения страниц

the second Captain of the Spahis. A month before, this worthy had been shot through the thigh, and still limped in his walk; and Fleury, the other Spahi officer, was lame also. A fine horse I had sold him in the course of the winter was killed under him, and in springing off its back, he had sprained his ancle. Both were only the more gay on account of their little mishaps. Biais thundered out songs a thousand years old, fit for all good fellows; and we drank and we talked. Every one told his own particular campaign adventures; all spoke at once, experiencing by anticipation the pleasure of garrulous old veterans recalling the souvenirs of early years. It was here that I learnt the particulars of the various marches of the Tenes column. Whilst we were engaged in the South of Africa, this little corps kept the Darha in obedience. A recital of the expeditions and hardships of this column, lost and forgotten in the greater events of 1846, may not, therefore, be without interest. What efforts, what pains it has cost to weave and knot together each mesh of the net we have had to throw over all Africa before we could subdue it. The six months adventures of the Tenes column during the winter of 1845 and 1846, may help to give an idea of this.




“If the tooth be small,” says the Arab proverb, “may it have the venom of the viper! Death is death, and comes only once, come it from poison or from force.” This proverb might well have been the motto of Lieut.-Colonel Canrobert. To strike fast and hard, to be everywhere, to choose commanding military positions, to make activity and constant energy do the work of numbers, was the rule of conduct adopted in this campaign; for the Marshal had, with great difficulty, been able to form the column of twelve hundred men, by taking a small contingent from all the corps of the army. Two hundred Zouaves, five hundred Orleans chasseurs of the 5th battalion, three hundred and fifty men of the 64th line, thirty sappers, fifty men of the 6th light horse, half a section of mountain artillery, a troop of mounted chasseurs, and finally thirty Arab cavaliers, under the command of Captain Lapasset, constituted the whole force. The hunt began immediately, and the Beni-hidja, a Kabyle tribe, whom a most venerable rogue, Mohamed-Beni-Hini had inspired with fanaticism and courage, were the first to be punished. On the 17th, the column ascended the steep slopes of the hill of Sidi-Bousi. Its arrival threw the whole wild population, which swarmed abroad like a hive of bees that a traveller might have disturbed with the point of his stick, into agitation. All along the heights on the right, the Kabyles climbed, ran, screamed, and shouted. Presently shots were heard; and whilst the beat of the drum was maddening the enemy, three companies of infantry of the 64th line, Zouaves and Orleans chasseurs, under the command of Captain Esmieu, of the latter corps, advanced against them at double quick charge time. Who should most distinguish himself was now the question with all. Musketry and the bayonet having cleared the way, each soldier strove to be in front; and the black tunic of the Orleans chasseurs, the grey coat of the line, and the green turban of the Zouaves, in the race to be first, were like the colours and caps of jockeys at a steeple-chase. As usual, some singular episodes took place. Two Zouaves having turned the


elbow of a thickish jungle, one of them came back and remained motionless, evidently watching something. Believing him wounded, his comrade hastened to his assistance; but no shot except from Cupid's bow had hit him. Our Zouave had caught sight in the wood of a young Kabyle girl, extremely pretty, and had forthwith begun to make love to her with soft words, in the midst of showers of shot, whilst his companion watched over and protected their interesting amours.

At three o'clock the heights were free, and half-an-hour afterwards our troops had established themselves in the valley on the opposite side, between the Jouvees of the Oued-Bou-Cheral, and of the Qued-Bon-Rhazeur. During the night the Kabyles tried another attack, but without success. Our great guards held them in respect.

Passing the night on guard, to one who knows not by experience what war is, especially partizan war, awakens only the idea of a certain number of men sleeping at two or three hundred paces distance, with a small band in advance, one of whom walks up and down with a musket on his shoulder. It is thus we are represented in the theatres at Paris; but in Africa the night guards are as unlike this picture as possible. No one sleeps; every one watches. If the rain fall, if the



north-wind blow ice in your face, there must be no fire to warm the limbs fatigued by the day's march. A fire might betray the post. Every one must be on the alert constantly, close to his arms; and those who are on sentry, crouching like wild beasts among the bushes, spying out the slightest movement, listening to catch the slightest sound, are glad to do all this to keep their eyes, heavy with sleep, from closing. The safety of all may depend on their wakefulness. Further, should the enemy attack, no firing; the bayonet is for defence; no false alarms; the sleep of the bivouac must be on no account disturbed. Such is the point of honour; and this the sergeant of the 64th, who commanded an advanced post on the night in question, well knew. A Kabyle column was stealing along a wooded slope, to capture and carry off the little party. A sentinel seeing them, crept back and announced the fact. The sergeant first ascertained it with his own eyes, for in the night objects seem larger than they are, and the soldier might have been frightened. The report was true; and his party being too weak to offer resistance, he immediately gave orders to retreat; but at fifty paces distance took up a fine defensive position. The enemy arriving immediately afterwards, thought the place abandoned, and quietly estab

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »