« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
the Scythians, carry their whole property with them?
“Quorum plaustra vagas,
There is no means of doing it, but by taking away from them the corn that feeds and the flocks that clothe them. Hence the war against grain and cattle, the razzia.
We recommence, then, our partisan life, so full of adventure and sudden surprises, which under an African sky has a charm quite inexpressible. One day we set out very early on one of our expeditions, and penetrated into frightful rayines, stretching to the west of a ridge of land which separates streams that run into the Mina. The road we were following was about two feet broad, and wound along the steep sides of a hill, leading to the bottom of a ravine on the left. Green oaks, mastick trees, and broken trunks covered the whole of this unsafe ground. In the centre of a basin the waters had hollowed a deep ditch across slips of wild vegetation, which was a ravine within a ravine. In the winter rapid falls fell furiously from every hill, tearing a passage through earth and trees, hurrying both away in their course, and opening subterraneous passages, to
reach the quicker a great artery or hollowed bed, fifty feet broad and thirty deep. In the summer when there are a fewfine months, norain, and hardly a drop of dew falls, it is easy to penetrate into these subterranean issues. Now, according to reports we had received, these catacombs contained a great part of the booty and treasures of a tribe of the Flittas. It was said, also, that a great number of them had taken refuge in them, and we were determined to test the truth of this information. Many hiding places were for this purpose explored in vain; at last, about the middle of the ravine, two soldiers, crawling to one of the subterranean orifices, received two balls in the head. At the same instant a volley of balls from the right and the left fell among us. Our position was eertainly a difficult one. How were we to extricate ourselves ? To attack our assailants in front would have been certain death, to turn their flank was impossible; nevertheless, it was necessary, at any cost, to overcome the obstacle, In vain we menaced the enemy, in vain we pro mised to spare their lives; they were deaf to all menaces, to all persuasions. What was to be done ? Nothing, but to have recourse to the eloquence of action, to smoke the fox out of his
hole. We set, then, about making fagots, and, by way of prologue, threw two or three lighted ones into the entrance of the cavern. Our parley thereupon recommenced with as little success as at first. We were forced, therefore, to throw in more blazing faggots, when we waited again. I must do justice to these brave fellows. Whilst they could breathe they resisted. But the fire and the smoke overcame them at last, and they all came out and surrendered. Then sheep, goats, men, women, and children issued from the earth, and became our prisoners and our booty.
Two hundred Arab cavaliers, nearly all of them Medjehrs or Bordjias* formed our Marghzen. under the command of Mustapha-ben-Dif. The word Marqhzen signifies in Arabic, magazine or arsenal; and from hence comes the name given to the state cavaliers. The marqhzen form a kind of police force. Their chief had remained faithful to us at times when almost all our native allies fell away; he had rendered us great services during the actual campaign which was about to be closed, by winter expeditions and forays, that were among the most difficult and distressing enterprises of the whole African war.
* The Medjehrs and the Bordjias belong to the Arab tribes inhabiting the environs of Mostaganem.
Whilst the two combined columns were operating in the Flittas, the insurrection had spread in the environs of Orleansville. Colonel St. Arnaud hastened, therefore, to return to his sub-division. Happily for us, the revolt broke out on this side at the moment when Marshal Bugeaud, coming from Algiers by Teniet-el-Had, arrived in this part of the country. His cavalry not being sufficiently numerous, the marshal took with him the squadrons of General Bourjolly, who was about to receive reinforcements from Mostaganem, and then set out in the direction of Thiaret.
The rigorous winter season increased our fatigues. To oppressive heats had succeeded intense cold, to which we were fully exposed on heights six hundred feet above the level of the
sea. The first rains of Autumn, which the Arabs call the rain of lambs, had already fallen. A month later come the heavier winter rains in large flooding drops. The bad weather was about to set in.
We were in the country of the Kerräich. Whilst the marshal was advancing upon the high lands of Riou, our mission was to surprise Abd-el-Kader, who was then in the neighbourhood. We set out in the evening, under the orders of General Yousouf. The whole night was passed in traversing mountains and defiles. It was a heavy march. Towards three o'clock in the morning, a small rain, hardly regarded at first, fell incessantly, till we became nearly frozen on our horses, which slipped about on narrow paths hardly two feet broad. As the day began to dawn one of my comrades and myself halted under a clump of palm trees, and drank clandestinely a few mouthsfull of brandy, a precious refreshment on such an occasion. The cold of the morning, after a night passed on horseback, produced an almost overpowering inclination to sleep; but the halt of the column, which shortly took place, was too short for us to indulge it. In an hour's time we had to be again on horseback, and through