« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
well awake, we were all on the road to Blidah, the General's place of residence.
The road from Algiers to Blidah in 1842 and 1843, * was along the street of Babel-Oued, whence it turned to the right near the tomb of Omar Pacha, and sloping up the mountain side, ascended to the Tagarin. † Here the traveller beheld at his feet the little village of Mustapha with its vast cavalry quarters, the entire bay, the Kabyle mountains, and those fresh looking oases standing out in contrast against the sandy sea shore. But this picture soon vanished, and for some hours the hillocks of the Sahel covered with dwarf palms bounded the horizon. At last the heights of Ouled Mandil were reached, and from this point the whole of the Mitidja bay lay unfolded to the view. About five leagues in breadth the Mitidja extends to the foot of the mountains, rising parallel with the hills of the Sahel, stretching from east to west, from the bay of Algiers to the extremity of the plain. Mastic and olive trees clothe the sides of the mountain, and greyish rocks bristle up at its summit in the midst of pines and green oaks. Near the sea, to the east, the traveller descries the Fondouk straight before him;
* Since then the road has been made in another direction. PA Turkish building in the city not far from the Casbah.
in the plain are the shades of Bouffarik; to the right at the base of the mountain Blidah with its orange groves, and beyond the cutting of the Ariffa and the gorge of Mouzaia, famed as the scene of so many brilliant conflicts which will remain engraved on the pages of our military history; further still are Oued-Ger, and Bou Roumi, on both of which the blood of our soldiers has flowed; in the centre is Oued Laleg the grave of one of the Emir's regular battalions; lastly the lake of Alloula, and the valley leading to Cherchell; to the west in the furthest horizon, near the territory of the famous Hadjoutes, the terror of the outlying districts of Algiers, the Chanouan raising aloft its gigantic peak within a few paces
of the tomb de la Chrétienne. * When its summit is wreathed with clouds, let the husbandman prepare for rain, as it will not fail coming down. At this time (March 1843) the rain had already fallen in abundance, the verdure on the plain glittered beneath the
* An immense heap of stones on the hills of the Sahel, between Chauonan and the cutting at Magafran. Tradition relates, that once many centuries ago a Christian woman was buried there, and a considerable treasure deposited at her feet. Its entrance can only be pointed out by a cow on condition of pronouncing certain mysterious words. A pasha of Algiers however, wishing to obtain possession of the treasure, ordered the tomb to be demolished, but at the first stroke of the pickaxe a swarm of bees sallied forth and put the workmen to flight.
rays of the sun, and our horses merrily shook their heads as they sniffed in the perfume of the tall grass while we descended the side of Ouled Mandil.
An hour after, we entered Bouffarik, built on an unhealthy spot, where, according to the Arab saying, the crows themselves cannot exist. Bouffarik, in spite of its insalubrity, which has already frequently swept away its population, enjoys, owing to its central position, a certain degree of popularity. Thanks to the works which have been undertaken, it is hoped that the terrible fevers to which it is exposed will disappear. Fortunately we were merely passing through the incipient town, though not without stopping, according to an established usage, at the celebrated café of la mère Gaspard. La Mère Gaspard is an Amazon, begrimed in the smoke of many a combat. Landing in 1830, she constantly followed the army, selling her rum and tobacoo, until the establishment at Bouffarik. The spot pleased her, and she was tired of following those indefatigable columns; giving up her gipsy life, she took a house, and her tavern soon rose high in renown, so much so, that at the end of a few years she was the possessor of lands and a splendid hotel and café. The place was adorned with paintings, marble statues, mirrors, and more especially by a number of fine engravings after Horace Vernet. These engravings were placed there by the hand of the celebrated artist himself. Horace Vernet, dying with thirst, drew up one day at the house of La Mère Gaspard. Drink was offered him, and at the self-same time the purchase of certain meadow lands. He swallowed the drink and bought the meadows; but while signing the bargain, he perceived that the walls were covered with wretched lithograph copies of his pictures. Like a good neighbour, he promised to send her the engravings, and kept his promise. La Mère Gaspard, proud of the fact, never misses an opportunity of relating this grand history. Is it merely a trait of gipsy vanity? Perhaps ; but I was told the story at Bouffarik, and in my turn I tell it again.
One cannot, alas ! remain for ever at the café of La Mère Gaspard, and so we proceeded on our road to Blidah. Before reaching Beni Mered, we saw the column erected to Serjeant Blandan and his brave comrades. On the 11th of April, 1840, the Algiers post started from Bouffarik, escorted by a brigadier and four chasseurs d'Afrique. Ser
jeant Blandan with fifteen men, on their road to join their corps, travelled in company with them. They were quietly pursuing their way, without having perceived a single Arab, when suddenly from the ravine before Beni Mered four hundred horsemen sallied out upon them. Their chief galloped up to the serjeant, and summoned him in a loud voice to surrender. A musket shot was his only answer; and forming themselves into a square, our soldiers prepared to resist the enemy. One by one the Arab bullets laid them low, the survivors closing their ranks without losing courage. “Defend yourselves to the last,” cried the serjeant, as he received a shot; “face the enemy!” and with these words he fell at the feet of his companions. Out of twenty-two men, five were left still shielding with their bodies the trust confided to them, when the sound of horses galloping at full speed, gave them fresh spirit. Soon a number of horsemen burst out of a cloud of dust, and falling upon the Arabs, put them to flight; they were Joseph de Breteuil and his chasseurs. He was at Bouffarik having his horses led to the water, when the shots were heard. On the instant, giving his men only time to take their sabres, M. de Breteuil started off at full gallop, followed by his chasseurs, accoutred as chance might favour. He was the