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As we approached Thiaret, the aspect of the country completely changed. To the long grey, naked hills, piled upon each other along the horizon, now succeeded woods of oak and cedar, large pasture lands, and springs of water. A troop of gazelles fled before our horses, sometimes bounding across the trees, sometimes stopping and turning round, as it were, to defy us, but swiftly disappearing the moment they were pursued. From time to time the sun broke out between clouds, throwing a pale light on a part of the wood, whilst the long range of the Thiaret mountains threw out the lengthened shadows of its precipitous crests. At last we attained the passage of the Guertoufa, and saw before us the ascent, two hundred feet high, which we were to pass over. To accomplish this, it was necessary to scramble over a stone cascade, and then to wind zigzag up the side of the mountain. Eagles spread their wings majestically over our heads. Our horses' hoofs sounded hard upon the stones, and our sabres clicked against the walls of rock as we passed, one by one. These obstacles roused up the whole man, while the grandeur around filled
we reached the summit, how magnificent and
imposing was the spectacle ! At our feet the immense cascade of rocks we had just clambered up lay rolled out, as it were, in all its length, under the glare of the sun, which glittered on the bayonets of our infantry. Further on, woods, verdure, meadows; further on still, hills rising upon hills. The eye rested, at last, on the long silhouettes, dim and naked, which in the distance formed the horizon, and were like waves to which some unknown force had given fixity when most massed and tumbling together. At the extremity of the Guertoufa, lighted up by the last rays of the sun, might be seen, rising from the midst, bluish fantastic vapours, the lofty mountains of BelAssel. A little to the right, the two peaks of Teguiguess stood out like a headland, stretching along to a distance of twenty leagues towards the east, where they seemed to strike against the case of the Quarsenis, whose long crest, swelling up in solitary sublimity, commanded a view of the whole country sixty leagues round. The jagged obelisk form of this crest gave it the appearance of an ancient cathedral, surmounted by a majestic dome. There was a grandeur and serenity in the whole of this landscape, that carried the thoughts back to the primitive ages.
The defile continued still for some five hundred meters, and then we were at Thiaret. This post, on the frontier of the Tell and of the little desert, is renowned for the excellence of its water. The Tell, the nursing mother of Africa, produces corn as abundantly as the Sersous, and feeds innumerable flocks. It seems as if God had determined to set a rampart of mountains, as a barrier, between these two people. The highest of these mountains is the Thiaret chain, which can only be crossed at three passages. From Thiaret a part of the Sersous may be discovered, which stretches out in a plain of little hillocks, from between almost each of which gushes a spring of water, thanks to which the pasturage is extremely rich, and feeds large flocks and herds of sheep and cattle.
The war had for a long time hindered the revictualling of Thiaret; merchants would not go there. On our arrival we found a dearth of all things. A bougie was a wonder, and there was only a dim recollection among the officers of the garrison of having formerly drank wine. Happily, barley and provender failed not, and for two days our horses could eat their fill. At the expiration of these two days we were, despite the cold and the ice, again in pursuit of the Emir. This ex
pedition was a cruelly severe one; no wood and no shelter against the weather; a few thistles and dried dung to cook our food; every morning our tents stiff with frost and icicles; the only variation being rain. It was at this moment that the first day of the year 1846, pale with abstinence and desolation, showed its haggard face. It seemed like a mockery to wish one another a happy new year, for we were destitute of everything. The sugar was all consumed, the brandy drunk, and not a coffee berry remained. Separated from our friends, far from the inhabited world, for three long months indeed quite isolated, we were like passengers in a ship. But the column had become our country, the tent our house, the squadron our family, and the hours passed away in active occupation, constantly varied by some new emotion, or by the expectation of new dangers. Unfortunately, the rain, the wind, the cold, the hail, and the frost, kept us constant company. On the second of January they seemed to have met together by appointment to celebrate the fête of storms. This second of January was a day violently tempestuous all over Africa. Eight hundred men perished in the snow at Sétif, at the very time when we, marching on Thiaret, were
bending on our saddles under a storm of iced rain and melted snow, mixed with enormous hailstones, and buffeted by a horrible north-east wind. On our arrival at Thiaret six men were carried to the hospital with frozen feet. The rest made great fires; that is to say, burning coals were thrown in holes dug for the purpose in each tent. Then we dined, warmed ourselves again, and slept as we could.
Toward the end of February we had already for some time rejoined the marshal, but we did not remain longinactive; Abd-el-Kader, it was reported, was in the neighbourhood of Oled-Nail, so we marched in an eastern direction, for it was necessary to take up a position which would enable us to watch his movements in the south, whilst we could, at the same time, incline at pleasure to the east or west. The sources of the Narh-Ouessel were therefore just the post that suited us. Thither our column moved, having no other cavalry force than the squadrons of the 4th African Chasseurs. The arrival of troops, half starved, and in want of everything, was a piece of great good luck for the merchants of Teniet-el-Had. We established our camp five leagues from this town, at the foot of the mountains on the frontier