Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

of the Sersous, near the fountain of Ain-Tekria. As soon as it was known that such a famishing multitude had arrived, our encampment assumed

he appearance of a great market of all sorts of goods and wares. From Teniet-el-Had came a procession of camels, laden with potatoes, onions, and eatables of all kinds, while oxen followed with large cases slung over their backs. All around the camp shops were open, under tents, which were ramparted about with the boxes in which the merchandise had been brought. I think I see now those busy and eager speculators, the Jew with his dirty turban, brilliant eyes, and pickpocket fingers; the European colonist, selling brandy; all clamouring, swearing, and puffing off their goods together, and in haste, whilst the purchasers seized upon what they wanted, without ceremony, at the tariff fixed at head quarters. When the administration had received the fifty killogrammes of war store, we were on the move again.

"Small rain beats down high winds," says the French proverb; but it takes heavy rain to beat down high winds in Africa; and after the incessant storminess of the climate from November fine weather, just before the sleet showers of the month of March commence, returns suddenly as by enchantment. We were exactly in this season of the year. Every morning a cloudless sun warmed and cheered us. Our route lay through a beautiful country, and great hunts in the Narh-Ouessel were in prospect. What more was needed to make our spirits light and joyous ?

In the Narh-Ouessel, indeed, there is a kind of natural reservoir of springs of water, extending over about a square league, on a slight elevation, about three feet higher than the surrounding country. All around innumerable reedy plants spring up, forming a haunt for thousands of wild ducks. The waters trickling down irrigate vast meadows intersected by tamarind trees; and it was close to these meadows, where we found wood and some pasture for our horses, that we established our bivouac. In this beautiful spot sporting was our chief occupation. The marshes had the attraction of a promised land to all of us. The Marshal, above all, enjoyed this pastime, and woe to the duck he aimed at! In the squadron there was a trumpeter, an old poacher in former times—for what kind of character was there not in the squadron; and the poacher was now quite in his element. He was provided with powder and

shot and a good coursing gun, and returned every evening with a magnificent provision of game. One day, re-entering the bivouac rather more heavily-laden than usual, the Marshal happened to meet him, and in answer to the questions put to him, the poaching trooper told briefly the story of his life. Thereupon a discussion took place on the sports of the field, a subject on which the Marshal was a proficient, but the poacher was no less so. The conversation was so interesting to both the speakers that it was drawn out to a great length, and the Marshal took such a liking to the poacher, that he made him his chief purveyor, and attached him to his person. On what slight accidents do our destinies depend! A few ducks less, and the fortune of the poacher would have remained unchanged.

The southern tribes, whom the Marshal had been long expecting, at last arrived. For several days their immense flocks of sheep defiled before us. Then came the horsemen, in their white burnous (in the winter the inhabitants of the Tell wear black ones), escorting their wives, hoisted on the backs of camels decked out with woollen camerolles, and hidden from all eyes in great palanquins. These precautions do not always mean what they seem to indicate. Those tribes who hide their women so scrupulously under great veils, carry, it is said, their hospitality beyond all bounds. Our Arabs greeted us most amicably. They were quite en règle with France. They had paid their fines, and their taxes, and were the declared enemies of Abd-el-Kader, of whose presence in the east they assured us. We were consequently to quit Narh-Ouessel, in order to march in the direction of Ouled-Nail; but first it was necessary to revictual. Besides, horses unshod, and men ill clothed, are poorly fitted for service. Towards Boghar, therefore, was our first move.

Boghar, under the meridian of Algiers, or nearly so, rises like an eagle's nest at the entrance of the valley leading to Medeah. Abd-el-Kader had formerly established there a foundry, and other important works. We had converted the town into an advanced post, and a place of halt, refreshment, and repose for the columns operating in the province of Algiers. Without stopping there, we pushed on to Medeah, where we could find all we had need of, and besides, for a time form the cavalry of the little column under the orders of General Molière. It was a verdant and

beautiful valley we were passing through. On the right and on the left rose hills covered with wood. The nearer we approached Medeah the more varied the landscape became. Finally, after having made a circuit round the hills, and round the mountains, Medeah was before us, perched on an elevation which, from the opposite side, ran on into a long table land. Still we had two hours' march before we could reach the gigantic trees which shadow the fountain of the Regulars, and the magnificent esplanade in front of the city, where we established our bivouac.

After so many privations we arrived at Medeah just at carnival time, on the day of the last masqued ball. We had no dress, but this was an additional reason for going to the ball, where every sort of costume, known or unknown, was admitted, except the military uniform. What a delight to come so far, through so many dangers and fatigues, to personate a bear, or a pacha, a marquis, or a porter! What delicious repose ! to dance frantic dances all night long, by the light of a dozen wretched lamps, venerable and primitive luminaries, borrowed from the ancient saloons of Mars and of Apollo, or like the antique ornaments of the barriers of Paris ! But we had no right just

VOL. II.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »