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President ; and, spacious as is his official home, it can-
not contain the thousands of his guests.

A kaleidoscope of varied, shifting colours. The
bright hues of the ladies' dresses are dulled by the scar-


let and gold burnouses of Arab caids, the gay uniforms
of officers of Spahis, Chasseurs d'Afrique, Tirailleurs
Indigenes, Colonial Infantry and Desert Camelry.
With them compete the gold epaulettes and dark blue
of many Navies French, American, British, Spanish,
Portuguese whose ships lie visible in the bay below
outlined in tiny electric lights from truck to water's edge.

Bands play upstairs and down, but dancing is not
possible. In a large white room of Moorish architec-
ture glowing with the bright hues of Eastern rugs are
set out card-tables. At the first sits a French military
officer playing bridge with three Arab caids whose
scarlet burnouses are covered with decorations.
Solemnly these chiefs from Tell and Tableland and
Sahara study their cards or discourse on the last rubber
in fluent French. And around them sit or stand a
throng of other caids or sheikhs in gold-embroidered
velvet garments under their flowing drapery, following
the fortunes of the game and awaiting their turn to
cut in.

Presently the dense crowds in hall and court press
eagerly forward and stare open-eyed. Down the broad
marble staircase lined with interested guests come six
tall men in garb bizarre and strange even in this medley
of costume. From turbaned head to ankle they are
draped in black or dark blue, though over it one wears


o W

a; 3








the scarlet burnous that is an alien dress to him. On
their bare feet are sandals. On left arm from elbow to
wrist a cross-hilted dagger is fastened, pommel to hand,
and a long straight sword with silver scabbard at each
man's side. They are covered with amulets little
metal boxes or leather bags containing Koran texts in
parchment, lion's teeth or claws, scraps of giraffe skin.
But, strangest thing of all, each one is veiled to the
eyes with a long black veil that hangs to his chest.

No wonder the civilised guests press forward to
gaze on these desert wanderers. For they are chief-
tains of the legendary Touareg, those strange masked
raiders from the far south of the Sahara. From the
rugged mountains of the Hoggar they have come hun-
dreds of miles on their swift white camels to pay
homage to the great Sheikh of the Roumis whose daring
explorers and devoted soldiers have extended their
empire from the Mediterranean to the Niger River.
And the grim veiled figures complete the picture.

From the sublime to the ridiculous! A smaller
canvas is needed for the next picture, for it portrays
just a group of boys.

Real street Arabs these. They are gathered together
before the terrasse of a European cafe* that looks on a
shady garden filled with the exotic foliage of palm,
banyan and bamboo. Of all ages from eight to fourteen
some in tattered blue cotton gowns to their bare
ankles, others in ragged breeches and shirts, but all
with the red cap fez, you call it in Turkey, tarboosh
in Egypt, checchia or shesshia here that, borrowed
from the infidel Greeks, is now the mark of the True
Believer the world over. Some carry bundles of news-


papers and call out " L'Algerie," " Nouvelles," or the
names of the journals you see on the kiosks of Paris.
Others, with boxes tucked under their arms and shoe-
brushes in their hands, inspect with anxious eyes the
boots of the straw-hatted beer and coffee-drinkers at
the little white marble tables.

" Cireur (Polisher), msieu? " cries one, and, dart-
ing between the chairs, flings himself at the feet of a
seated European.

" Makache drem (No shoeblack needed)," says the
drinker in pidgin-French. " Va-t-en! ''

The disappointed shoe-shiner withdraws reluctantly,
his eager gaze sweeping over the footgear around him.
A smudge on a dandy's boot arrests his eyes. Again
he offers himself, this time with better fortune. Then
with a few coins clinking in his hand he hurries off
round the corner into a side street to seek the rest of
the group who have already disappeared there. And
then newsvendors, shoeblacks and beggar-boys indulge
in a quarrelsome game of pitch and toss. The fiercest,
angriest gambler of them all is an undersized boy of
ten whose pinched face and hacking cough are a sure
income to him and bring in the coppers to be thus
squandered. Now he loses all he has, and with foul-
mouthed abuse of the winners takes himself off.

And five minutes later on the other side of the
square a kind-hearted old lady is deeply touched at the
sight of this poor, starved boy crouching despondently
on the hard pavement with his back against the railing
and out comes her ready purse.

An Algerian picture should be full of light to match
the sunshine. But there is shadow in some.


A pleasant summer night. Across the bay the
lights on the hillside of Mustapha Superieur climb up
to mingle with the stars. Around the squares of Algiers
the cafes are filled and the tired loungers have deserted
the streets for the marble-topped tables and cooling

The glass doors of a fashionable hotel swing open
and the French hall-porter bows politely as an Arab
passes out. But a superior Arab. On the breast of
his snowy white woollen burnous is the red rosette and
enamelled cross of the Legion d'Honneur and the
bright-coloured ribbons of a few other orders. His
long and soft scented red leather boots are thrust into
heel-less babouches and shuffle over the pavement as
their wearer saunters idly under the arcades. And, as
he goes, a couple of shadows detach themselves from
a dark pillar and two Arabs steal along the deserted
street after him with the noiseless tread of the rare
panther of their stony hills.

The cai'd strolls on carelessly, thinking little of
enmities that he may have kindled in the exercise of his
authority among his tribesmen so far away in the barren
wastes of the south. For he has the whole power of
the French Republic, whose executive officer he is,
behind him. Of course a rifle in the shadow of a rock
in the desert spaces is no respecter of persons. But
rocks and sand and oases of the Sahara are all far
enough away now. This is Algiers, a civilised and
well-policed city, a Paris in petto by the sea. A
stealthy footfall, a panther's spring and a knife flashes
in the light of the incandescent gas lamps to plunge deep
in the caid's back. And with burnouses streaming


behind them two Arabs fly different ways along the
empty street. The vengeance of a desert vendetta
is accomplished.

But there is a companion picture. The silent
thoroughfare is not completely empty. A white man,
a French civilian, chances to be coming along and
witnesses the tragedy. He is unarmed.

But France does not breed cowards. He has
marked the assassin, and unhesitatingly he gives him
chase. The poet may sing of the swift-footed Arab,
but the heel-less babouche will never outrun the prosaic
European boot, and the pursuer closes with his man.
The murderer turns savagely and stabs at him with the
reddened knife. The Frenchman is wounded, falls,
and the native rushes on free.

But only for a moment. Despite the blood stream-
ing from him the courageous white man staggers to his
feet, takes up the chase again, overtakes and captures
the assassin.

And the French police, unrivalled in detective work,
are not long in finding his accomplice ; and the two
Arabs face red-robed judges in the big Palais de Justice
not far from the scene of their crime and hear their death
sentence pronounced.

But they cheat the guillotine in the end; for their
lives are spared, and they are sent overseas to a convict
settlement in French Guiana.

Chained together they climb the side-ladder of the
prison ship that is to take them across the ocean. And,
ere they step on its deck, they check for a moment to
look on the glorious panorama of white city, gay gardens,
green hills and snow-clad mountains that make the last
Algerian picture on which their eyes will ever rest.



THE Square de la Republique in Algiers is already full
of animation, although the small clock near the Munici-
pal Theatre shows that it is not yet nine o'clock in the
morning. Under the bamboos and banyan trees of the
shady Public Gardens passes a cosmopolitan throng
Frenchmen in straw hats and black suits, Arabs in
long, flowing burnouses, white-shrouded Moorish
women veiled to the eyes and neat little shop-girls,
French, Maltese, Sicilian, Spanish, in short skirts and
silk stockings. A barefooted Arab boy in a ragged
blue gown, his only garment, on his head a checchia,
runs across the square with a bundle of newspapers
under his arm and calls out " La Depecke! La
Depeche Alg&rienne! " as he goes.

From the front seat of a big motor diligence with
the words " Boufarik Blida" painted on the sides,
I watch the other passengers for these two inland towns
climb up to their places. There is an officer of a Tirail-
leurs Indigenes regiment in khaki, Sam Browne belt
and gold-ringed kepi with its distinctive broad band of
pale blue. Then a stout Frenchwoman with a restless,



noisy child which starts at once to make itself a nuisance
and is deservedly well slapped for it. Two Arabs
follow, their rounded head-dress covered with the hlafa,
a thin white veil which, bound round above by coils of
brown, camel-hair rope, hides the back of the head and
neck and the cheeks, and is tucked away under the
gandaura, the long garment worn under the burnous,
the white woollen cape with a hood hanging down the
back. With them is a woman enveloped in the ample
white, shrouding cloak worn by Arab females which
conceals her pink jacket and baggy trousers. Her face
is hidden by the lace-trimmed adjar, a veil that hangs
below the eyes. But the solemn infant that she carries
is clothed in European knitted baby-clothes. Two
straw-hatted young Jews in blue suits and a swarthy-
faced Maltese in a bowler make up the rest of the
passengers, most of whom are going to Blida, the pretty
little garrison town 32 miles away at the foot of the
Atlas Range. I am bound for it myself, for it is the end
of the diligence's journey ; and there I must find some
other conveyance to take me on to the Gorges of the
Chiffa, the river that cuts its way through the great
Atlas Mountains and forms a famous and lovely pass.

Beside the big vehicle stands our driver, a sandy-
haired, blue-eyed Kabyle, with the light complexion
that so many of the Berber race owe to the Vandal blood
in them for the Vandals, who carved out a kingdom in
North Africa after the Byzantine monarchs, came from
Germany. This descendant of theirs wears the red
checchia of the Moslem ; but his blue overalls and the
wrist-watch which he compares with the Square clock
are significant of the progressive spirit of his race, so


infinitely more go-ahead than the stagnating Arabs. He
climbs up to his place at the steering wheel, while his
young assistant in checchia and a ragged store suit
cranks up the engine. Then with a warning squawk of
the motor-horn the long vehicle moves off slowly,
dodging electric trams, hired victorias and seven-horsed
carts, while Arab newsboys and Jew street vendors of
gold-embroidered bags, cheap Kabyle jewellery and
imitation Moorish scimitars, skip out of the way.

Around by the railings of the tree-filled gardens in
the Square until the view of the sea bursts on us, past
the arcaded sidewalk of the splendid Boulevard along
the wall over the harbour ; and then the diligence
quickens its pace until up a steep slope it turns away
from the sea and stops beside the General Post Office,
the dazzlingly-white and splendid pile of domed build-
ings in the Neo-Mauresque style. Here is the loveliest
part of New Algiers, the wide square with a shady
thicket of pollarded trees, on one side a view of the
harbour and the sea beyond and the steep slopes of
Mustapha Suprieur, on another the terraced public
garden gay with palms and flowers below the green hill
topped with the high obelisk to the memory of the dead
soldiers of Africa that crowns the city.

Postbags for villages not on the railway and one or
two more passengers are taken aboard ; and on we start
again, up the long Rue Michelet which, lined with
cafes, shops and flats, leads out of the city to the beauti-
ful suburb of Mustapha Superieur clinging to the steep
hills that rise above the blue water of the sunlit bay.
Up between green gardens splashed with the brilliant
reds and purples and pinks of bougainvillea, poinsettia


and roses clothing the white walls of the red-tiled houses.
By the lovely Bardo, the ancient Summer Palace of the
Deys of Algiers, by the modern one of their successor,
the French Governor-General, guarded by picturesque
Spahis in scarlet uniforms draped with long white bur-
nouses. On by the imitation Moorish architecture of
the English Church, by villas and hotels, swinging
round the sharp curves of the zigzagging road, passing
electric trams, automobiles and other big diligences
coming in from a dozen different routes ending in this
road. At length we reach the pinewood of the Bois de
Boulogne that tops the hill and the small obelisk of the
Colonne Voirol where the view of inland valley and
mountain replaces the glorious panorama of sea, shore,
and the climbing houses of Algiers now left behind us.

Down the sharply-curving road skirting a deep
wooded ravine, by terraced fields on the steep hillsides,
on between hedges of wild roses or the sharp spikes of
aloes. The East and the West meet. Here are white
houses of typical Moorish architecture, once the country
mansions of Algerine pashas and now the residences
of rich French colonists. There are red-tiled farms
with hangars and sheds sheltering mechanical reapers
and motor-traction ploughs or lines of the huge metal
tanks that replace the wine casks in a modern vineyard.
Here are palms, orange and fig-trees and the broad,
drooping leaves of the banana contrasting with pines,
cherry and apple trees and fields of the homely cabbage.
There the familiar red of poppies, here the dull green
of exotic cactus and aloe.

We have entered the Mitidja Plain, the marvellously
productive belt of cultivation between the ridges above


Algiers and the cloud-capped chain of the Atlas Moun-
tains that now stretches along to our left not many miles
away. Its fertility is beyond belief. It rivals the
famous Conca d'Oro around Palermo. In the days of
Sallust it was the Granary of Rome and under the
Emperors, the Byzantine and the Vandal rule its har-
vests helped to feed Europe. But when the Curse of
God fell on North Africa in the shape of the Arab Con-
quest its ruin began. Gradually greedy Moslem rulers
taxed the husbandman out of existence, agriculture
languished and died. The land no longer cultivated
became a jungle, its rivers spread into fever-breeding
marshes, famine and pestilence reigned supreme.
When the French took Algiers in 1830 the Mitidja was
only a poisonous waste ; and in subsequent years
Algeria's soldier-rulers tried to dissuade its daring
pioneer-colonists from trying to reclaim it, for they
grudged the soldiers needed to protect the outlying
farms from Arab attacks and had no faith in the agricul-
tural future of the colony. " This poisonous Mitidja! "
said General Duvivier in 1841, " Let us leave it to the
jackals, the brigands and to Death. It will never be
made healthy and habitable."

But all honour to the farmers! they persevered;
and France and Algeria are their debtors to-day. Wide-
stretching fields of waving grain, vast vineyards produc-
ing excellent wines, and large orange groves, replacing
the feverish marshes and jungles of less than a century
ago, are the glorious monument of these gallant colonists
of France who sleep now under the battlefield on which
they vanquished the combined forces of Arabs and


The well-kept road sweeps down to the sleepy, tree-
shaded place of a little town, as French in its character
as though it were in the Mother Country ; although its
name, Birmandreis in Arabic, " The Well of the Cap-
tain " tells of its Moslem origin. Then up a long
slope again and on to another and busier wayside vil-
lage, Birkadem, or " The Well of the Negress," from
its fountain built by Hussein Pasha in 1797 and the
white folk coming to the doors of cafe, shops and black-
smith's forge, the short-skirted girls with Marcelle-
waved hair standing on the sidewalk to see us go by,
again create the illusion of a provincial town in France.
Indeed, only the Kabyle labourers in the fields plough-
ing with mixed teams of oxen, mules and horses between
long rows of vines or sprinkling the green leaves with
sulphate of copper, anywhere remind us that we are in
Africa. Or the work-hating Arab sleeping contentedly
in the shade of the roadside tree.

A lonely school, with small white boys and girls
playing beside it, makes me wonder where its pupils
come from, until I note the big farmhouses scattered
among the fertile fields near it. The road still runs on
parallel to the mountains for miles, then turns sharply
to the left and, heading towards them, enters Boufarik,
a well-laid-out, prosperous European town of eight or
ten thousand inhabitants. Its tree-shaded streets,
cafes, public gardens, church, and the big market-place,
would do credit to the Mother Country ; and it differs in
appearance from a French provincial town only by its
modern aspect. The diligence pulls up in it for a ten
minutes' halt; and some of the passengers leave us


On again by cornfield and vineyard and now by
orange groves as well past a memento of the days
when every foot of this ground was watered with French
blood, a monument to the gallant young Sergeant
Blandin who in 1841 with twenty-two youthful soldiers
at Beni-Mered held three hundred Arabs at bay for
hours until only five of his party were alive when help

Soon by the roadside two-storied villas bowered in
flower-filled gardens announce that we are approaching
Blida ; and the diligence passes through a gateway in
the wall surrounding the pretty little town at the foot
of the Atlas Mountains, the town dear to the heart of
Arab poets of bygone days, the town that Sidi Ahmed
ben Yousef called " The Little Rose."

Although the history of Blida dates back far beyond
the French occupation it is now a typical inland
French-built Algerian town. For it was destroyed
by an earthquake in 1825 and, though soon re-
erected a little distance from its former site, the
Arab edifices were again shaken down in another
earthquake in 1867 and only the new and more
solidly constructed buildings of the invaders
survived. And they have been added to and improved,
until Blida is now a charming little town of wide streets
and squares lined by typically French colonial houses,
villas, shops, hotels, cafes and barracks ; and one has
to hunt in odd corners to find anything essentially
native. Like most other Algerian towns it is sur-
rounded by a loopholed wall sufficient for defence
against ill-armed insurgents ; but as the Pax Gallica
rests on the land the wall is now falling down in places.


Blida was one of the first inland towns captured by the
French after the fall of Algiers.

Built at the foot of the Atlas Mountains at a height
of nearly 800 feet above the sea and on the
Oued-el-Kebir stream which flows into the larger river
the Chiffa close by, Blida is well supplied with water ;
and the country around it is noted for its fertility and
its numerous orange groves, vine nurseries and gardens.
In the flourishing days of piracy in Algiers the town
was the favourite holiday resort of the corsairs who came
there to recuperate after the hardships of the sea and
the turmoil of battle and spill their ill-gotten gold into
the laps of its courtesans. For it was a hotbed of vice.
Its brothels were filled with the women of all nations
of Europe, Africa and Asia, captured at sea or in coastal
raids or brought by caravans from the interior. Arab
poets lauded it to the skies for the beauty of its situ-
ation, for its climate, for its sensual delights that were
a foretaste of the Moslem Paradise, for its lovely flowers
that earned for it the titles of " The Rose Town " and
"The Little Rose."

But even among the followers of the Prophet there
were ascetic and holy men ; and one of them anathema-
tised Blida and asked Allah to rain destruction
on it.

" They call thee Little Rose. I term thee Harlot,"
he cried, as he prayed that ruin might befall it. But
the pirates still flocked to it in carriage, on horseback
or in litters borne by wretched Christian slaves ; and
the wine-bibbers and courtesans mocked at the holy
man. But when the mountains shook and seemed
about to fall on them, when the earth gaped and the


houses tumbled in ruins about them they remembered
his words and prayed for his intercession too late !

The memory of the punishment of its sins has faded
from the minds of its native inhabitants to-day; and,
although the European town is decorous and well-
behaved, there is in the Arab portion a quarter that
shelters the successors of the gay ladies of pirate days,
a quarter of whitewashed houses with flat roofs, blank
outer walls and iron-studded doors with small grated
openings in them a foot or so from the sill. And when
the narrow lanes are dark light streams through these
peepholes and shows the pretty, painted faces of girls
seated on the ground and peering through at the burn-
oused Arab or turquoise blue-uniformed native soldier
who bends down and begs Fathma or Ayesha or Zohra
to admit him. Or through the gratings the laughing
women exchange banter with squatting groups of
jesting men outside.

And suddenly the disciplined tramp of soldiers rings
through the whitewashed alleys; arid a night patrol of
Tirailleurs Indigenes on regimental police duty marches
through the quarter of the Daughters of Joy. And the
corporal in charge halts them while he stops Arab
civilians in flowing robes and takes from them the wire-
bound heavy sticks matraques they are called that
against town regulations they carry and which are as
effective weapons in a street riot as the Indian lathi.
And when female shrieks and male voices raised in
objurgation ring out from a closed house near by the
sous-officier pauses to listen with ear trained to distin-
guish between a mere brothel brawl and a murderous
outrage by an angry Arab with a ready knife.


By day this quarter is peaceful and picturesque.
On the flat roofs, by the doors, sit groups of girls in
pink and yellow and blue silk jackets, baggy trousers
and gaudy skirts. Here at a doorway one is playing
draughts with a bearded, elderly and most respectable-
looking Mussulman; and benevolent-looking men
squat beside them and follow the game intently.

The open door gives an attractive glimpse of a
white courtyard inside shaded by trellised vines. A
group of dark-eyed girls with whitened faces and rouged
cheeks and crosses tattooed on chin and forehead are
lounging at the entrance, gay as tropical butterflies in
.their flimsy silken garments of bright colours. Should
you signify a desire to inspect the establishment they
smile on you and show white teeth between reddened
lips as they pray you in French and Arabic to enter.
Pass through the doorway into the little hall that opens
on the square court, across which a vine has been
trained to give needed shade from the summer sun.
Around the court are little cells with colourwashed
walls, one for each girl. Enter one of them. In a
recess a high, hard Moorish bed with glittering brass
frame. A foot from the ground in another recess a
low, cushioned masonry bench. On the wall a few
photographs of Arab girls in gala dress and one of some
favourite native soldier in uniform, smirkingly self-
conscious and mindful of the photographer's instruction
to strike an attitude. Over these is hung a thick candle
three feet long, bedizened with gold leaf and coloured
paint and paper flowers and ornaments. A " marabout
candle " this, to be burned before a shrine or the tomb
of a Moslem saint to bring a blessing.

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Online LibraryGordon CasserlyAlgeria today → online text (page 7 of 18)