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Africa, which at the decline of day, sheds brown tints and heat unknown in the North upon the earth, streamed its setting rays upon us as red as blood. We pushed our horses on, and looked eagerly before us. One more turn of the road, and we should see the enemy. This was soon done, and cavaliers innumerable, in firm phalanx, fronted us.
In the centre floated a broad green banner, and the two wings of the enemy, in the shape of a horse shoe, seemed ready to envelope
“Slow time !" cried the Colonel, and we pulled up, and advanced at a steady walk, sabres in their sheaths. In his sonorous, field-day voice, Colonel Tartas then gave the word of command, and the squadrons formed into rank, each having a division of reserve. Between the two squadrons marched the Colonel with his bannerolle; by his side was the Khalifat; behind him a little escort; on our two wings a few Arab cavaliers, who had remained faithful to us. “ Where is the rallying place ?” asked the adjutant major.
"Behind where my banner will be seen," replied the Colonel; and, as if linked together with chains, the squadron advanced at a trot, sabres still in their sheaths. When within musket range, “Draw swords !” cried the Colonel,
and two hundred and fifty sabres were drawn in the same moment as by a single hand. At a hundred
further on, we broke into a gallop, serried still together as a wall. Seeing this iron storm, so calm, so collected, so strong, advancing upon them, the innumerable host hesitated. A confused noise, like the noise of waves in a tempest, rose up; for a moment they fluctuated undecided, and the instant after disappeared, like dust scattered by the wind. In a quarter of an hour we halted. A hundred of the enemy had bitten the dust, and the cavaliers of Sidi-el-Aribi, pursuing the fugitives, came back laden with spoils. We were victorious without a battle; but the slightest hesitation, being without support, and at three leagues and a half from all possibility of succour, would have destroyed us. Firmness, collectedness, and boldness, saved us.
This charge was, since we left Flittas, our first offensive movement, our first success. Flocking round Colonel Tartas and his banner which had been twice shot through, the men of great tents, * the bronzed-faced Arab chiefs, their eyes sparkling
* So are men of great families in Africa called; as we say in France, such a one is of a good house.
All this gave
with the excitement of powder, thanked him as their saviour. At their head, with the majestic dignity that never forsook him, stood Sidi-el-Aribi, and around, to complete the scene, foaming horses, chasseurs leaning on their saddles, the floating drapery of Arab costume, and the heads of some of the enemy at their saddle-bows. to the spectacle something of the wild grandeur of a victory in primitive times.
The night had closed in. It was time to be on our road again towards the camp, so the trumpets sounded the march; and with jokes and songs we made the road to Bel-Assel pleasant and short. At ten o'clock the chasseurs entered the bivouac. The horses were picketted, but we had four hours to wait before they were unsaddled, which was the signal that we might retire to rest, of which we stood in great need.
This success gave the first check to the insurrection in this part of the country. In spite of fevers and marches, we remained long at BelAssel. It was a good military position, and we had to wait for the Orleansville column, in order to penetrate again into the Flittas country. We made many successful razzias. On these occasions we started in the evenings, marched all night,
and in the day chastised the rebels. In the morning, on ordinary days, the cavalry went on foraging parties, with the beasts of burthen. Sometimes they were molested by the enemy, but on these fine open plains combat was only an exciting exercise. At other times their mission was to carry off grain from the grain pits for the use of the column. Then it was that the ban and arrierre ban of the friendly tribes were convoked; old men, women, and children, all came, some with wretched little donkeys, and woollen racks; others with mules. Having reached the place where pits were known to be, the ground was sounded by ramrods, and as soon as any spot partially sunk or gave way, or felt hollow, the spade was resorted to, and an aperture soon effected through which a man might slip, who usually found corn and barley in abundance. In every tribe the same family make these pits, as they are thought to have preserved by tradition from their fathers the particular art of doing so. The soldiers took great pleasure in these expeditions. The one who went first into the aperture was obliged to fill the sacks in a stooping position; when, the pit being widened, his comrades helped him; and when they came out from under ground they were eovered with sweat, dust and dirt, but as happy as possible; for they knew well the great importance of keeping their horses in good condi
ion; as, if the horse got out of heart, the rider was often obliged to go on foot for a long march perhaps; and then in battle, which might any day happen, without a horse to be relied upon, the trooper felt himself not half a man.
The Orleansville column at last joined us, giving us not only an excellent infantry corps, but two squadrons of chasseurs, and a squadron of Spahis. This last body, without losing any of its precious Arab qualities, gained much in discipline under the command of Captain Fleury. Being devoted to their Captain, they followed him wherever he would lead, never doubting either of him or of themselves. When one saw them mounted on good horses, upright in their silver stirrups, their haiks floating, and the red burnous thrown over their shoulders, one could almost fancy the men-of-arms of old chronicles, of whom we have such marvellous portraits, were passing before one. Half the squadron had been put hors-de-combat in less than three months. This was a brevet of courage, of which our Spahis were about to give us new proofs. We had now