« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
and elevating the heart. It seemed as if a curse weighed heavily on the country all around. On the right, on the left, up to the horizon, arid mountains, waste plains, no vegetation, nothing on which the eye could rest. But this part of the Sahara had, even with the natives, a bad name. It was merely a passage; the nomade inhabitants of the district never made a stay or a halt here.
At about twenty leagues from the waste we were traversing, a fraction of the HamiansGarabas, a tribe which had never submitted to France, had made a temporary settlement. The General learnt this by his spies; and as for several days we had never bivouacked in the low grounds, and whilst the day lasted, the mirage hindered the dust raised by the column from being seen, he determined to attempt a coup de main. For this purpose, six hundred infantry, with the cavalry and the General, left the main body at three o'clock in the afternoon; we were to rejoin them the next day at the wells of Nama.
The heat was excessive, but men inured to all fatigues fear neither burning sun nor icy rain. At six o'clock in the morning, the column halted, and our Arab scouts returned with the announce
ment that the camels of the Hamians were at pasture at about three leagues distance. This was a sign that they felt quite secure. But the infantry had been already marching fifteen hours, and from this spot to the wells of Nama there were four leagues more, so that if the attempt should fail, the troops would have a march of at least thirty hours. The General, therefore, dared not, to the great regret of our Arabs, who anticipated much booty, employ the cavalry alone, and orders were given to take the road to Nama.
At half-past one o'clock in the afternoon, we arrived at the bivouac, bringing only six men in litters, and that not on account of wounds, but of an accident. The cavalry being in advance, we perceived, from the top of one of the downs of sand, an immense piece of water like a Swiss lake, with its banks reflected in the liquid mirror. A cry of joy burst from the whole force, and we hastened to the spot, especially to appease the thirst of our horses. But as we advanced, the water continually receded about six feet before us, till at last we found out our error—that we were again the dupes of a mirage. But we did find water notwithstanding, a little to our right;
we had to pump it up into stone troughs, and drank of it abundantly.
The next day, a few hours after we had been joined by the baggage and the rest of the column, a fearful hurricane swept over us. In ten minutes the whole sky became one curtain of clouds, and the thermometer falling, the most stifling heat was followed by whirlwinds of snow. Happily, we were all together. At three feet before us, the darkness. was nearly complete, and to get a little light we were obliged to gather, at the sound of guiding bugles, bunches of the broom that grows over the downs, and set fire to them. The next day the ground was covered with snow. It is hardly possible to describe our sufferings during the night and the two days which followed, but on the fourth day the darkness disappeared. The sands of the rocky ground and of the plain drank in, on the first shining of the sun, the deep melted snows. The air remained, nevertheless, icy cold, though we were advancing towards the south, nearing the mountains, the highest passes of which we were on the point of reaching. In crossing these sandstone rocks, we saw from time to time a wretched-looking pistacio tree, and now and then a few violet-coloured heath-flowers. Our
column was now descending a steep slope towards Chellala. But the landscape remained unchanged naked, desolate, and excessively monotonous. Our horses trod but upon the Alpha,* or those dirty-leaved herbs which camels are so fond of.
After the eye has been for many days fatigued with sterility, without finding the slightest object on which it could repose, it is impossible to conceive the joy which a little verdure—leaves, large leaves, a running streamlet, and trees under which one might find shelter from the sun -inspire. For a few days past the heat had been insupportable, and by the time we had arrived at the Oasis of Chellala, we had suffered enough to make us think its fig and palm-trees, poor and scanty as they were, beautiful and delicious. The General received the homage of the tribe, and of the townspeople-if habitations huddled together on the ground, filthy, narrow streets, and a sickly, half-starving population deserve to be called town and people. There, as usual, we found the Jew, the same everywhere. Our stay in this place was very short. We resumed, in less than a week, our march towards Bou-Semroun, an oasis situated
* A sort of little round junk.
more to the south, which had refused to pay tribute.
To arrive at Semroun, it is necessary to follow a rather broad sand valley. On two sides of this valley rise arid mountains, and parallel to these mountains—a space being between the foot of the mountains and its base—is a huge mass of rocks, in the shape of a reversed shell. A minaret built on the rocks, indicated the neighbourhood of a city, which we found, in fact, hidden from all eyes, behind a little hill. The gardens of ten thousand palm trees, of this town, lying in a narrow ravine, two leagues long, appeared from the high, sandy downs, whence we contemplated them, like a rivulet of verdure between two great rivers of sand. The inhabitants had taken flight at our approach, though in the minaret one might see a good display of cannon and muskets, in the possession of a few fanatics, who were longing to be killed in a holy war, for which purpose they fired on a company of infantry who were just occupying the Ksour. The column bivouacked on the south, passing through a town and a marabout, rather elegantly built. Who could have built them in these far away lands? Doubtless, some Christian prisoner; the Greek crosses incrusted among the