Matilda Betham-Edwards.

In French-Africa; scenes and memories online

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IN FRENCH-AFRICA



BY THE SAME AUTHOR

FRENCH VIGNETTES

With portraits reproduced by special per-
mission. Demy 8vo. lOJ. dd. net.
Second Edition.

FRENCH MEN, WOMEN
AND BOOKS

With portraits reproduced by permission.
Demy 8vo. \os. 6d. net.

UNFREQUENTED
FRANCE

Profusely illustrated. DemySvo. ios.6a.
net. Second Edition.

FRIENDLY FACES OF
THREE NATIONALITIES

Profusely illustrated. DemySvo. lox. 6d.
net.

IN THE HEART OF
THE VOSGES

Profusely illustrated. DemySvo. lOs.Sd.
net.




Markchai. dk Ma(Mahon



IN FRENCH-AFRICA

SCENES AND MEMORIES



BY-



MISS BETHAM-EDWARDS



ILLUSTRATED BY ORIGINAL AND COPYRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHS



"And not a tree but bloomed blossoms and yielded almonds."



LONDON

CHAPMAN AND HALL, Ltd.

1912

All rights reserved



Richard Clay & Sons, Limiteo,

brunswick street, stamford strekt, s.e.,

and bungay, suffolk.



INTRODUCTORY NOTE

For the illustrations of the great cedar forest
of Teniet-el-Haad I am indebted to M. Fauchay,
Lieutenant, ler Tirailleurs, in garrison at Miliana.
No photographer being available, this gentleman
most kindly visited the forest on my behalf and
photographed the most picturesque spots. For
such serviceableness to an entire stranger I am
indeed grateful. The portrait of the Marshal is
reproduced from M. Hanotaux' great history, by
especial permission of MM. Boivin. The views
signed "N.D.," trade-mark of MM. Neurdein
Freres, Paris, are also reproduced by arrange-
ment with that firm. The remaining photographs
are my own property.

As several of the most striking scenes visited by
me have not been described by English writers,
I alternate with these memories, personal and
anecdotal, passages from my former works, A
Winter with the Swallows, and Through Spain to
the Sahara, both long since out of print. As will
be seen, long before the Entente Cordiale was
formulated, the English traveller in French-



vi INTRODUCTORY NOTE

Africa received not only a cordial, but an affec-
tionate welcome; and in a recent work, to
which I refer in the text, Captain Haywood re-
peats the tale. The gallant soldier's journey of
just upon a thousand miles, over which waves the
Tricolour, is one long record of French urbanity
and good-fellowship.



CONTENTS



I A QUIXOTIC DOWNCOME ....

II STREET SCENES

III THE LADY OF MUSTAPHA SUP^RIEURE

IV A VICE-IMPERIAL COURT ....
V FETES IN HONOUR OF AISSAOUA

VI KABVLIAN SCENES AND HOSPITALITIES

VII RAMADHAN ... ...

VIII THROUGH THE METIDJA TO TENIET-EL-HAAD

IX MILIANA

X A SNOWSTORM IN THE CEDAR FOREST

XI SOCIETY AT TENIET-EL-HAAD

XII A ROMAN CITY AND A BREAKFAST WITH THE
TRAPPISTS ......

XIII FLOWERS AND FOUR-FOOTED "PRETTY DEARS "

XIV MORE " PRETTY DEARS " .

XV PLAGUE AND FAMINE

XVI THE START



13

27

41

53
63
79

95
107
121

135

145
165
177
189
199



Vlll



CONTENTS



CHAP. PAGE

XVII NEMOURS (not BALZAC's) 219

XVIII TLEMCEN, THE GRANADA OF THE EAST . . 233

XIX ORAN — AND "THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE " . 247

XX SAIDA — ON THE THRESHOLD OF THE SAHARA . 265

XXI THE EARTHQUAKE . . . . , . 281

XXII SOME OF "THE QUALITY" .... 295

EPILOGUE 319



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



MARECHAL DE MACMAHON

ALGIERS FROM THE SEA

DR. EUGENE BODICHON

MADAME DE MACMAHON

TENIET-EL-HAAD .

IN THE CEDAR FOREST

CHALET REPLACING OUR HUT

CHERCHELL — A MARABOUT

BOMBONNEL .

TLEMCEN

TLEMCEN — A STREET SCENE

THE MOSQUE OF SIDI BON MEDINE

THE MINARET

MASCARA

AN ARAB TENT

ALGIERS — THE PORT



To f cue page
Frontis-biece



7

35

49

125

127

128

151
171

234
237
241

243
259
271
321



PART I
MY FIRST SOUTHING

CHAPTER I
A QUIXOTIC DOWNCOME



CHAPTER I

A QUIXOTIC DOWNCOME

On arriving for the first time in Algeria I
experienced a mortifying little surprise recalling
an incident in the world's greatest romance. The
beloved Don, fondly awaiting a winged chariot
for his homeward journey, found himself hoisted
into an ox-wagon; instead of being wafted aloft
by griffins, he was jolted over stones and ruts by
cart-horses. And a similar disillusion befell the
chronicler of these French-African sojourns.
The matter happened thus —

During the MacMahon Governor-Generalship,
an artist, whom I had known for some years,
was wintering in Algiers under quite exceptional
circumstances. A draughtswoman of no mean
capacity, an exhibitor in the Royal Academy, in
1866-7 she was lodged in the winter palace amid
Vice-Imperial surroundings; she was, indeed,
the guest of no less a personage than Mme. la
Marechale, the last to bear that historic title.

This great lady, who spoke English as to the

manner born and loved English folks, had taken

drawing-lessons of my friend and had also

arranged for lessons to her children. Cordial

E 2 3



IN FRENCH-AFRICA



relations having ensued, during the winter of
1866-7 the artist was accommodated under the
Governor's roof.

When, therefore, towards the close of the first-
mentioned year, she wrote urging me to join her,
saying that room was to be found for myself also
in the same august quarters, I did not for a
moment shilly-shally. How could I for one
second hesitate? It was a case of now or never.
Such a chance could never possibly occur again.
The proposition was unrefusable. So with post-
haste I packed scrip and scrippage, settled my
small literary, household and farming affairs, and
having loftily forwarded admiring relations and
friends, and — as I fondly hoped — much impressed
publishers, the following address —

Miss Betham- Edwards,
Palais du Gouverneur,
Alger,

I quitted my Suffolk farm en route for Marseilles,
with exhilarating visions easier imagined than
described.

My kind friend had written in haste and without
entering into particulars. I had no distinct idea
of what my co-guestship was to be. I only knew
that the invitation seemed in her eyes, as in my
own, quite an exceptional piece of luck — especially
to " a chiel amang ye taking notes."



A QUIXOTIC DOWNCOME



Were the two English visitors to take their
meals with the Marechale's ladies-in-attendance,
Presidential tutor, governess and pupils? Were
they to be admitted to the quasi-Imperiale circle
in the evening?

One thing was beyond question. We should
be received both by the first lady in French-Africa
and her courtiers as friends. And however other
things might turn out, I should gain immense
stores of experience — and no bagatelle to me in
those early days — daily hear delightful French.

At the time I speak of, the sail from Marseilles
to Algiers lasted two days, which often meant a
tossing in that unfriendly Gulf of Lyons. Of
the Bay of Biscay I have much more endearing
remembrances, having glided from Southampton
to Gibraltar in halcyon weather, although the
month was November. But my four crossings
to and from Algiers recall another unpleasant
little voyage, that from Athens to Venice, the
Adriatic in May vindicating the Roman poet's
well-known epithet. In fair days the neutral-
tinted sky of our northern atmosphere is left
behind with the Chateau d'lf, azure heavens and
waves of deeper azure still compensating the
philosophic for what sailors call "a jumpy sea,"
a sea always apparently very jumpy between the
French and African coasts. After nearly forty-
eight hours we came within sight of Algiers, rising
like a vision from the waves, terrace upon terrace



IN FRENCH-AFRICA



glittering as if of white marble piled upon a sunny
height, on either side stretching verdant plains,
alternating gardens and tillage, wood and orchard,
beyond these a line of snow-tipped mountains,
the farthermost summits dim and distant as
clouds.

On nearer approach the lovely panorama be-
comes distinct, we see elegant villas dotting the
nearer green slopes, minarets and domes, a light-
house, arches of splendid docks crowded with
shipping, brand-new hotels, palm trees and olive
groves close to the shore. Then we slowly
steamed towards the landing-place, a scene I shall
never forget. The sky was of a burning blue, and
as we reached the quay, scores of boats surrounded
the steamer, plied by Arabs, Negroes, Maltese,
Turks and Spaniards, in the transparent atmo-
sphere their dark skins and brilliantly coloured
garments seeming positively to shine with lustre,
whilst the stalwartness, muscularity and grace of
their unfettered limbs as they leapt on deck was
wonderful to behold. What with the cries, ges-
ticulations and elbow-catching of these boatmen,
half-a-dozen pouncing upon myself, almost forcing
me away for a moment, I forgot to look ashore.
When I did so, to my great concern neither semi-
Imperial carriage, Presidential footmen, nor friend
were visible. The steamer must have arrived
considerably before it was due, I thought, and a
young Arab, with a beautiful face and of sym-




i C/3



A QUIXOTIC DOWNCOME 7

metrical proportions, having beat off his com-
petitors and shouldered my bag and rugs, I
elbowed my way down the gangway.

Here, again, I was too much preoccupied to
cast longing looks towards the quay. I had un-
luckily reached the quay at Marseilles too late for
the registration of luggage. Whilst, therefore,
the other passengers could land at once, leaving
their effects in the custom-house, I had to obtain
permission to carry my own away or leave them
to chance. The leave being granted, my card and
address sufficing, there followed a scene of indes-
cribable confusion and uproar.

Under a blazing sun, ragged old Pariahs in
malodorous burnouses besieging me for a sou,
stark-naked little Arabs and Kabyles hanging to
my cloak with the same petition, I waited, power-
less to stir, whilst a fight fierce as that waged over
the body of Patroclus, took place over my boxes.
One after another brown-skinned, bare-legged,
powerfully-built fellows leaped upon the spoil,
one by one my Antinous beating them off, trying
to select from the mob. For quite a mob it
was : Moors, Arabs and Kabyles pommelling,
vituperating, cursing each other with a vehemence
that would have been terrifying but for the comi-
cality and picturesqueness of the scene.

On a sudden appeared a mild-looking French-
man, a custom-house official, and the uproar
vanished quickly, as the fisherman's unbottled



8 IN FRENCH-AFRICA

geni, into smoke. The French clerk, my good
angel, nodded to the beautiful young Arab, whose
name was AH, and who turned out to be the
laziest loon imaginable. For being endowed with
authority, he immediately chose two rather poor-
looking creatures, probably poor relations, neither
of them his match in physique, on whose backs
he piled bags, portmanteau and heavy trunk
with ineffable coolness reserving for himself two
umbrellas only.

Now followed a truly suspensive halt. In that
blazing noonday sun I waited with my three
porters, straining my eyes in vain for the promised
friend and carriage. To drive in such humble
guise to the Governor's palace and unfurnished
with anything in the shape of an introduction,
seemed out of the question; to settle down in a
hotel might mean a vexatious game of hide-and-
seek. And meantime, after two unappetizing days
in a jumpy sea I felt cravings of hunger. What
could have happened ?

I had just decided upon taking a fiacre to
the nearest hotel when I saw my friend tripping
jauntily towards us, a large white umbrella shield-
ing her from the sun, her lightest possible attire
suited to this July weather in December, her atti-
tude of entire composure " calm and unruffled
as a summer's sea." Nothing like the artistic
temperament to minimize contretemps and pecca-
dilloes !



A QUIXOTIC DOWNCOME 9

" I could not write to you or telegraph in time,"
she began (aerial telegraphy had not yet been
thought of), " all the arrangements I wrote of
had to be changed at the last moment. I am
very sorry, but I have taken a room for you at the
Hotel de I'Europe. You will be most comfortable
there, and as it is so near, we can follow your
belongings on foot."

So off we set, my companion evidently revelling
in the tropic heat, myself blowzed and panting.
I learned that although the artist was remaining
yet awhile under the palace roof, to the Mare-
chale's great regret accommodation, after all, had
not been found for her friend.

" But you will, of course, receive invitations for
all Mme.de MacMahon's receptions, and at Mme.
Bodichon's you will meet all the best people,
French and English, in the place."

A quarter of an hour later I was comfortably
housed in the hotel afore-named, recounting home
news to my friend over a dejeuner of quails
roasted in vine leaves, fresh figs, bananas, dates,
olives, Blidah oranges and salads of all kinds —
a truly exotic and Arabian Nights repast !

On settling down one feature of this thoroughly
old-fashioned French house greatly struck me.
This was the company; with two or three excep-
tions, all seated at the table d'hote in the evening
being my country people.

Every one seemed hale and hearty and on the



10 IN FRENCH-AFRICA

friendliest terms with each other, but I could
gather from their tittle-tattle hardly an inkling of
what had brought them so far from home — unless
it was the insular craze, rather necessity, of being
anywhere except at home. And the majority here,
it seemed to me, might every whit have just as
well been holiday-making in English health-
resorts, say Bath or Brighton.

There were a couple of artists certainly who
discussed what they called "moddles," and
similar topics of their craft; there was a good-
natured Swiss with his equally good-natured
German wife, who did testify a little interest in
Algeria and Algerian affairs; then there was a
Gnddigcs Frdiilcin or aristocratic young German
lady with her companion, two oldish young Eng-
lish ladies chaperoned by a married sister sup-
posed to be invalidish, an Anglican clergyman
with his pretty timid bride on their wedding-tour,
and a few others.

I was tabled by my neighbour on the second
storey, and whose acquaintance I had already
made on the landing-place. She was a Scotch-
woman wintering here with an admirable old
Scotch maid, both kindest of the kind. The lady
had popped her head out of her bedroom door on
hearing my ascent with artist friend, porters and
luggage, and having already met the former, an
introduction of course followed. So at dinner we
chatted amicably enough, our conversation turn-



A QUIXOTIC DOWNCOME 11

ing mostly on the Arabs and their bad treatment
of donkeys.

Unfortunately, however, this excellent lady had
heard of my authorship, and doubtless actuated
by the desire of being congenial, plunged head
first into belles-lettres. I expressed, of course,
unweening admiration for the great twin-gods of
Scotland, the beloved Sir Walter and the equally
dear and immortal ploughman of Ayr.

" Well," broke out my companion, " true
enough, all you say, but after all that is said and
done, no poet living or dead — to my humble mind
— can touch Byron. Only think of those lovely
lines —

" And Hugo is gone to his lonely bed
To covet there another's bride ! "

I heard aghast. This, then, was what I must
expect? Instead of rapturously drinking in
French sallies and subtleties, persiflage and
potins, gossip, diplomatic and social, pronounced
with the exquisiteness of the Comedie Frangaise,
that school of French in its sovereign purity,
my fate was to be native twaddle-dum-dee only
matched at parochial garden-parties and mothers'
meetings ! An ox-wagon instead of Astolfo's
winged chariot indeed, or as street urchins would
say of an overturned apple-cart, " My ! What a
cropper ! "



CHAPTER II
STREET SCENES



CHAPTER II

STREET SCENES

But what could vulgarize this delightsome
land?

It is not only the climate, that from October
till May is as near perfection as any in the world,
but the beauty of the scenery, the odd mixture of
races, the picturesqueness of daily life, and the
perpetually varying interests around, that render
Algiers and the entire colony so interesting. Here
you find all the amiability, sprightliness and
enthusiasm of French life, with all the colour,
poetry and vagabondage of the desert. You may
spend one day amid scenes as gorgeous and
Oriental as those of the Thotisand and One
Nights, the next may be given up to botanical
expeditions under learned guidance, meetings of
archaeological societies, concerts, social gatherings
and other distractions of a capital. The city itself
is attractive, ancient Moorish quarters, mosques
and minarets strangely contrasted with the
bustling boulevards and new squares. But the
enchantment of Algeria begins farther off.

Exquisitely lovely as is the view of Algiers
from the bay, envious and " paintable " as our
German neighbours would call the Arab streets,

IS



16 IN FRENCH-AFRICA

none but artists bent upon figure-subjects care
to linger in the modern French town. The
immediate environment is enchanting, whether
you ramble along the rocky promontory of Pointe
Piscard, where the crystal waves so musically lap
the frowning coast, or climb the sunny slopes of
Mustapha Superieur and from a wilderness of
wild flowers look down upon the romantic Hydra
valley and the white walls of numerous villas
rising amid olive and cypress groves, on the one
side, or whether, still ascending between hedges
of blue-leaved agate and feathery palmetto,
stately palms rising here and there, you reach
the breezy Bouzareah, from its summit gaining a
splendid perspective, marble-white city, glittering
blue bay and purple Atlas range — all to the new-
comer is sheer fairyland.

The flowers, of which I shall speak later, are
indescribable in beauty as in profusion — perhaps
I should say were, as doubtless much of the
flowery wastes that I describe have long since
been built over.

The French arcades, streets and squares occupy
a level lying parallel with the sea, whilst the old
Moorish city is built on a steep ascent. No sooner
do you begin to climb than you turn your back
upon Europe and are in the East.

This Arab architecture seems strange at first,
but is logical enough. What so adapted to burn-
ing African suns as these narrow streets through



STREET SCENES 17

which scant light or solar rays can penetrate?
You wander hither and thither vainly trying to
discover some design in the interminable network,
to find blind alleys, crooked or straight, every-
where, and often barely wide enough to admit
two donkeys abreast. So continuous is the ascent
that every street may be called a staircase, and
but for the diversions by the way, would be found
a weariful staircase too.

The houses are often built so closely together
as almost to meet overhead, and have a construc-
tion as unique as it is fanciful. Sometimes you
have a line of bare white wall, only broken here
and there by an iron grating or heavy door; or,
finding the sky shut out on a sudden, you look up
and see that the dwelling on your right communi-
cates with that on your left by an arch; or you
come upon a picturesque corner house, the irregu-
lar sides being supported by wooden buttresses,
sloping and slender, after the manner of thatch.
Nothing is made to match; nothing is made to
please the eye of the beholder from without;
nothing is thought of but security against three
enemies, namely, the public eye, the rays of the
sun, and the catastrophe of an earthquake.

On the morning after arrival I climbed with
my friend to the Moorish town, at every step
realizing Browning's words —

" All we have willed, or hoped, or dreamed, of good shall exist
Not its semblance but itself."
c



18 IN FRENCH-AFRICA

After the Bible, Shakespeare and Milton, the
Arabian Nights had been a foremost educator of
my unschooled childhood. How little I dreamed
in the old Suffolk manor-house that I should one
day discover the truth of poetic fiction !

There sits Alnaschar dreaming in the sun over
his basket of trumpery glass-ware; with his arms
out at elbows, his grey cotton pantaloons in
rags, and his shabby slippers hanging from the
heels, he looks a good-for-nothing fellow enough,
and quite answering to the account of his im-
mortal brother, the barber. In a moment, he will
rouse himself, kick his imaginary wife, the
Vizier's daughter, and one feels tempted to wait
and see the amusement of his industrious neigh-
bour, lie is no dreamer, that tailor, it is certain.
As he sits cross-legged in his little shop, built
like an oven in the wall, no machine works
quicker than his nimble fingers with needle and
gold thread ; and if he gossips now and then, it
is only to take breath. And lo ! there is the shop
of poor Bedreddin Hassan, the brother-in-law of
Noureddin Ali and the bridegroom of the Queen
of Beauty, who, by the force of mysterious cir-
cumstances, became an alien and a pastry-cook.
He is handsome, prince-like, and melancholy,
as we imagine him; but a pleasant smell of hot
pepper-cakes reaches the nose, those very cakes,
of course, by which he is restored to his dignities
and his bride.



STREET SCENES 19

A step farther and we meet Morgiana bound
to the apothecary's, a well-knit, superb figure,
half Negress, half Mauresque. What a dignified
gait she has ! .What self-possession. She is
wrapped from head to foot in a blue cotton shawl-
like garment, having a single strip of crimson silk
embroidery inserted in the shoulders, and in this
simple dress possesses Greek statuesqueness and
dignity. Numberless silver necklaces, anklets
and bracelets adorn her fine limbs, thus testifying
to the liberality of the master she serves so
thoroughly.

And surely the leader of those mischievous
urchins must be Aladdin ! Half-a-score of them
are playing round a fountain, impish, dirty,
ragged, but fascinating little creatures, who cover
us with dust, splash us with water, drive us against
the wall, yet with a frolicsomeness that disarms
anger.

Yon sinister old man watching the group must
surely be the Magician whose marvellous lamp
will lead to Aladdin's wealth and perdition.

Next comes a Jewess dressed as doubtless was
her ancestress centuries ago, an ivory-skinned,
coal-eyed woman, inclined to embonpoint and
having the strongly marked features of her race.
She wears a straight, narrow skirt of rich brocade,
a black silk kerchief bound round her head,
and a vest profusely embroidered in gold and
silver. By her side trips her pretty young

C 2



20 IN FRENCH-AFRICA

daughter, wearing, in sign of her maidenhood, the
most coquettish little cap imaginable, a mere tea-
cup of gold and crimson, with a long drooping
tassel.

Behind them, — is it a mummer or a ghost? — a
Moorish lady shuffles along in her comical and
ungainly dress of full white trousers, reaching to
the ankle, and white shawl of woven silk and
cotton, so wrapped round her as to form hood and
mantle in one. Only her eyes are visible, but
the white muslin handkerchief muffling her chin
is a very unpicturesque veil indeed. A bright
sash is the only relief to this queer toilette. Close
at her side follows her domestic, a jovial-looking
Negress, wrapped, like Morgiana, in blue drapery
from head to foot, and bearing on her arm the
daintiest little baby in the world, whose tiny hands
are dyed to a brilliant yellowish pink with henna.

Here is a Kabyle woman, fresh from the moun-
tain fastnesses of the Djurdjura, and the so-called
legitimate descendant of the old Berber race.
One sees at a glance that she has neither Arab
nor Negro blood in her veins; the brow is square,
the chin massive, the eye grey, the skin clear and
red.

Her dress has a certain dignity. It consists of
a long shawl-shaped piece of dyed cloth reaching
to the ankles, confined round the waist with a
belt, and fastened on the shoulders with metal
pins. The arms and throat are bare, and are



STREET SCENES 21

ornamented with rude chains of silver, palm-
seeds and coral. On her brow is a handkerchief
fastened by a round brooch, betokening that she
has borne her husband a male chikd.

There is something touching in the utter isola-
tion of this wild creature, as she wanders through


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