Reginald Rankin.

In Morocco with General d'Amade online

. (page 13 of 18)
Online LibraryReginald RankinIn Morocco with General d'Amade → online text (page 13 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

stood in a well-dressed line, as though on parade,
firing at the Arabs in front of them, some of
whom were making for the two doudrs ahead,
whilst others galloped out into the plain towards
the west.

The Spahi fell close behind the Legionaries,
and still the report of rifles came from the tents
in their rear. So the order was given to fire a
volley into them, and the Legionaries faced about
right willingly and let drive at the ruffians hidden
in tents flying the white flag.

The line had now reached the limit of the main
doudr, and a little grassy strip, edged with rocks
towards the south, intervened between it and the
two villages beyond. Across that strip the Legion
had driven their hissing sheets of lead, and the green
of it was stained with crimson patches. A loose


horse already wouuded in the shoulder had hobbled
within twenty yards of the line ; and now he lay
dead, pierced by a dozen bullets, his four legs
])ointing to the sky. In the doorway of a tent
right in the line of fire, yet quite unharmed, stood
a boy of eight or nine, gazing with placid eyes at
the hedge of flashing bayonets. A little beyond
him a woman sat with a smile on her face, talking
as though to herself in a low musical voice, whilst
she wrapped closer round her a thin garment red
with the blood that was gushing from a wound
in her thigh. Beyond her another woman, evi-
dently wounded to the death, raised herself with
difficulty on her elbow, gave one look at the
oncoming line, folded her ha'ik over her face, and
turned on her side to die.

The Arabs now threw away their arms and
pretended they had taken no part in the fight.
The French went forward ; a group of men on
the left crouched with some women beneath the
shelter of a tangle of rocks. They expected
quarter ; the French drew nearer ; and still they
sat quietly on. But the Frenchmen's blood was
up ; they had been treacherously fired at under
cover of the white flag ; with a shout their bayonets
were levelled to the charge. The Arabs fled yell-
ing in every direction ; within two yards of where
I stood one enormous fellow fell pierced by the
simultaneous thrusts of two Tirailleurs ; he rolled
on to the bayonet, bending it inside hun, so that


his assailant could not draw it out. He called
his comrade to his aid ; they set their feet against
the body ; and at last the bayonet came out,
twisted like a bent pin. Another of the group
rushed by with a Tirailleur — liis weapon out-
stretched to its full extent — close upon his heels.
The pursuer spurted and lunged ; the bayonet
came back reddened ; the Arab screamed and ran
still faster. Seeing that he was surrounded by
his foes he determined to kill one at least of them
before he died ; an engineer officer, with no weapon
in his hand, was standing near. On him the
Arab hurled himself with all his force, jumping
into the air with bent arms, which twined round
the Frenchman's neck with the grip of a bear.
The Sapper was carried off his feet by the shock,
and Moor and Frenchman rolled on the ground
toc^ether. But the latter was in the midst of
friends ; the Moor was alone ; he was bound to
die, but he had done his best to take a foeman
with him to the shades. A lieutenant of Spahis
made a cut at him with his sword — a thing hard
to do witliout hurting his comrade. But he did
it ; the Arab relaxed his hold, and a Legionary
plunged his bayonet into the writhing body.

The long blue line surged on ; the sun sank
behind a dark pall of violet clouds ; the air was
thick with the cries of dying men and the stench
of burning tents.

The twilight was illumined by the flames, and


while the last pale gleam of the sunset flickered
on the bayonets the faces of the men who wielded
them glowed red and black in the flashing fires.

The far-flung hedge of steel swept through the
brown camel's-hair villages ; every man was put to
the sword. Outside a tent sat a young and very
pretty woman, with uncovered face and naked
breast, suckling her baby. Beside her sat a man,
presumably her husband ; a gigantic, black-bearded,
savage-eyed Arab, whose thick lips betrayed a dash
of negro blood.

A Spahi, not forgetful of the treachery which
had lost liim a comrade half-an-hour before, killed
by a bullet fired from a tent flying the white flag,
raised his sabre and spurred his horse at the man.
The horse, unwilling to trample on live flesh,
reared and swerved ; his hoofs flashed in front of
the mother's face, and passed within a few inches
of her child. Yet she never moved, nor did a cry
or a prayer escape her. The Spahi turned his
horse again, while the Arab half rose, begging for
mercy in Allah's name.

The Spahi muttered a curse, and his sabre fell
across the man's head, and drops of blood be-
spattered the white robe of the silent woman at
his side.

The Arab staggered to his feet ; the ferocious
blow availed nothing against his vast strength ;
he was yelling with fury now. The Spahi, mounted
and armed as he was, would have fared ill had he


been alone, but two Tirailleurs came runnint,^ up,
their crimsoned bayonets at the charge, and while
one lunged from the front at the Arab's privy parts,
the other thrust his weapon deep into his side.

The dying man sank back, calling on Mo-
hammed, his black beard pointing to the sky ;
his mouth writhing, his teeth gleaming, his eyes
rolling ; like some huge wild boar who feels his
death-wound. The red stains on his white gar-
ments grew bigger and bigger ; one moan and he
lay dead. And still the woman never stirred, nor
cried ; as the line passed on I looked back ; there
she sat still beside the bloody corpse, her child
asleep upon her breast.

The sun had now set ; the moon and the stars
were blotted out by heavy clouds ; and soon the
rain began to fall in torrents. For miles the plain
was aglow with fiery rings, the relics of Arab
homes ; and amid the billowy wreaths of smoke
the dark figures of the soldiers dashed hither and
thither in pursuit of terrified fowls.

Bullets from the front, where at last the enemy
had stayed his flight, whistled over our heads ; the
rattle of cartridges exploding in the flames was
mingled with the loud hissing of ignited powder,
where geysers of grey smoke rose majestically
high into the gloomy sky.

At last the bugles sounded the Assembly, and
the troops moved slowly, unit after unit, towards
the Staff* in the open space between the doudrs.


I was on the outskirts of the furthest village.
The pillaging soldiers had all fallen in and marched
away ; I too turned to go.

A cold wind had sprung up ; the wrack of
clouds blew fitfully across the moon ; the rain
drove with a cutting slant. The lines of tents
were nothing now but a series of fiery disks.
Beyond one of these, on the outer confines of the
village, alone in the dark and the cold and the
rain, sat a woman with folded hands.

I passed her ; she did not turn her head ; she
sat like one in a dream, gazing at the red circle
that had been her home.

The force, silhouetted against the expiring
flames, filed slowly away, drenched by the pelting
rain, and sliding and falling in the greasy mud.
Now and then the moon broke from the domi-
nation of the clouds, and turned the pools along
the track to gold.

Far away to the north a huge fire burned
steadily, like some great lamp : there the refugees
were making their bivouac. For hour after hour
the march went on ; the leagues that passed un-
noticed in the pursuit seemed interminable now.

At last the moonlight showed on the silvered
spires of the aloes about el Ourimi, and on its
snowy shrine ; beyond, the horizon was broken
by black tumbled rocks, and the men knew that
the long day's work was nearly done. Two
artillery horses, with broken backs, lay here side


by side ; together they had toiled ; together they
fell ; together they died. As the head of the
column reached the camp on the stroke of mid-
night a terrific burst of fire came from down the
line. Some men had fancied in the dark that
they saw the enemy approaching ; but it was a
false alarm. The rear of the column got in at
2 A.M. : the force had marched and fought, with
a rest of two hours, since 7 a.m. the previous day.

This expedition, which cost the French only
one Spahi killed and one Tirailleur wounded, must
be regarded as the most brilliant stroke of the
campaign. Conceived on the instant, the outcome
of acute observation, effected with prodigious speed
and crowned with unqualified success, the defeat
of Bou Nuallah has done more, perhaps, to bring
the superstitious Arabs of the Chaouiya to their
senses, and to hasten their submission to the
French, than all the rest of the beatings they
have had put together. Bou Nuallah may be
alive or he may be dead ; his power is gone
for ever.

He was a Shereef, a descendant of the Prophet,
and possessed of all the influence which his birth
confers. He openly aspired to the Sultanate,
telline: his followers that Mulai Hafid was as
pro-Christian and unfitted to rule as his brother
Abd-ul-Aziz ; but the grandeur of his ambition
paled before the powers by which he was to attain
it. He was able, he said, by a wave of his hand


to transport Casablanca and its hated Nazarenes
to the bottom of the sea ; and he warned the
Musalmin there of their fate if they remained.
Many of these credulous fanatics joined him ; and
when the news of his discomfiture was brought
to Casablanca the streets rang with the wailings
of women. He asserted that he could turn the
bullets of the French to water ; there was no lie
too gross to impose on his adherents. The force
he had gathered round him must have amounted
to at least five thousand fighting men ; there were
more than twelve hundred tents in the doiuh's.
About eighty bodies were found killed by shell
fire ; perhaps fifty men were bayoneted by the
French. Hundreds of corpses must have been
carried away ; the fate of the Marabout himself
is unknown.


Until the Couference of Algeciras Casablanca,
although of late years it has been the most flourish-
ing port in Morocco, lay outside the current of the
world's progress, and passed on its way undisturbed
by the changes and chances of the time, save when
a quarrel between two tribes whose very names
were all but unknown to European gazetteers
closed the trade routes. Long strings of camels
laden with wheat, with barley, and with canary
seed paced into its gates, and long strings of
camels laden with cottons, with candles, and
with sugar paced out of them, whilst the handful
of traders who had established themselves on its
sun-cracked plains saw their banking accounts
swelling every autumn. Thus traders lived in
the factories of the Levant, exiled from their
homes for years, laying the foundations of the
fortunes which have covered England with stately
manor-houses rich in Grinling Gibbons' carving,
and glowing with the masterpieces of Lely and
of Kneller. There were moments when in winter
no mail could cross the barrier of surf for three
weeks at a time, and the nearest telegraph ofiice,
that at Tangier, was cut ofl" from Casablanca by



many a weary mile of mud. Now the advent of the
wireless telegraph and the coming of the French
has swept the sleeping city with a rush into the
mainstream of the world.

Casablanca is cosmopolitan. European infants,
if they are not to remain dumb, must prattle in
three languages ; their mother tongue ; Spanish,
which, until 1907, was the lingua franca of the
European community ; and Arabic, which is the
dialect of the kitchen and of the stable. As is the
case in every Moorish port, there is a large consular
body which recent events have raised to diplomatic
importance, and, thanks to the regulations which
in nearly every European Foreign Office control
the Eastern branch of their service, most of its pro-
fessional members have a wide knowledge of men
and things in all Mohammedan lands. Next to the
Spaniards, the Germans are numerically the most
important, in some degree thanks to the policy which
leads the great trading centres to found travel-
ling scholarships whose holders are thus enabled
to study foreign countries on condition that they
do all that in them lies to promote the interests
of their native place. The English traders, on the
other hand, are as a rule, in bearing if not in years,
grave and reverend seigniors, whose fathers lived
at Casablanca before them, and who in many cases,
as indeed may likewise be said of the Germans, are
" Mauris ijms Mauriores."

Amusements are few. There is no racecourse ;


cricket and football are unknown ; and an attempt
to establish a golf-links was put an end to by the
war. A few birds, here and there, of varying sizes
and culinary properties, invite the Sunday si)orts-
man to the fields round the town ; there are,
perhaps, three bicycles to be found in the whole
place ; motoring is out of the question ; only one or
two residents have tennis courts or sailing boats.
The amusements consist in rides up and down the
sandhill-bordered beach, in lawn-tennis parties at
the houses which possess cement or gravel courts,
and in the dances which are got up impromptu in
private drawing-rooms or by subscription at the
Club. Bridge, dominoes, skat, or billiards consti-
tute the every-day recreation of the average resi-
dent ; the caf^s chantants may be visited if any
special attraction has arrived from Tangier or some
third-rate provincial theatre in Andalusia.

His garden is the chief interest of the consul or
merchant at Casablanca, for, in that land of glare,
the sight of a tree and the cool dark shadows be-
neath its branches are even more precious to the
Englishman or to the German than they are to the
Moor, lover of flowers though every native is.
Most of the villas were destroyed in the fighting
which followed the landing of the French, but, for
the most part, their gardens remained uninjured,
and more than one new one is now being laid out.
In style they are, as a rule, Italian, with wide
shady alleys hedged with roses or geranium, whilst


in the old Moorish fashion, which is to be seen in
perfection at the Alcazar in Seville, the beds are
surrounded with raised walls and banks of earth, to
retain the water led into them through tile-lined
channels from the noria- filled cisterns. Every-
where the creaking of the wheel, the splash of the
water falling from its pitchers, and the trampling of
the eternally-circling donkey call up memories of
cooler climes, but the ruts and dust of the road
which is hidden by the creeper-tapestried boundary
wall too soon remind the traveller that he has not
yet reached the gardens of the Hesperides.

Mr. Lamb's garden, with its Bougainvilleas,
is the goal of every tourist who, with sun-helmet
and kodak, lands at Casablanca water-port from
Messrs. Forwood's steamers ; but before the bom-
bardment it must have been excelled in beauty by
that of the Quinta, which Mr. Fernau had trans-
formed from a Moorish farmhouse into a very
handsome villa. The Quinta is now a ruin, loop-
holed and garrisoned as a French outpost, but
though its woodwork is torn down and its court-
yard a desolation. Nature was awakening in its
orchard, and pear and apple trees were just
putting forth their buds. The flower-beds were
a jungle of mallows, but the palm-tree and
geranium hedge in the kitchen garden, which
is traversed by a wide alley leading up to the
house, survived uninjured, although an outer hedge
of aloes which separates it and a small vineyard


from the fields had been cut down by the sappers.
From the terrace the eye ranges over the rolling
downs which extend in a semicircle round the
plain of Casablanca from sea to sea.

The Quinta has, however, other memories than
those of flowers. A friend and I were taken there by
a black-mustachioed Zouave from the Point d'Appui
camp. As we tramped through a wilderness of rape
and marigolds our conductor held forth at length on
the dreadful outrage which, shortly after the bom-
bardment, had been committed by Arab marauders
on a young English girl, the only member of her
family who had escaped death. With an eye made
tender by the prospect of the coming tip he expatiated
on the rage and horror which had filled his comrades'
hearts when they learnt of the injury done to one
of a nation so dear to every true Frenchman : he
described in detail the vengeance to be taken by
the Tirailleurs and Zouaves on the guilty wretches,
and proposed to show us the upper room which
had witnessed the agonies of the guiltless martyr.
We accepted his offer, and after trampling over the
mutilated remnants of a grand piano whose case
bore traces of fire and whose keys had once been
touched by the victim's fingers, we ascended a
staircase of which the balustrades had vanished
into the cooking fires of the outpost. At length
we stood on the hallowed spot. A broken bath, filled
with miscellaneous rubbish, and other remnants of a
lavatory added to the impressiveness of the scene.


On the walls were inscriptions in French and

They ran as follows : "A cette famille noble
d'Angleterre en proie aux cruautes d'un peuple
barbare Nous addressons le vif regret de n'avoir
point (3 to la pour la defendre."

2. A la Pucelle de Casablanca livree si atroce-
ment aux mains sacrileges laissez-vous lui crier bien
pr^s a son chevet d'hopital " Tes parents et toi, vous
aurez vengeance." Un caporal du ler Zouaves.

3. C'est ici dans ce bien paisible au milieu de
ces plaines que perit une famille ddvoree par les
Marocains Fan 1907.

4. " Vengeance " encircling a heart pierced with
a dagger.

My companion, overcome by his Francophile
emotions, took out his pencil and added a forcible
apostrophe addressed to the French in their own
tongue, interspersed with somewhat dubious Vul-
gate Latin applauding their noble sentiments and
invoking superhuman vengeance on the murderers.

We walked away between the geranium hedges,
and as a broken water-wheel creaked and groaned
in the wind, in a frenzy of composition I thought
out eloquent paragraphs describing " how the wheel
turned with a harsh grating cry, as if demanding
vengeance for those who are gone."

We rewarded our guide profusely ; but when we
got back to the Club and l)egan to make further
inquiries as to the particulars of a tale not the


less horrid or interesting because it had escaped
the stylographs of all our predecessors, we were
presented to the departed family consuming a
whiskey and soda, and were informed that the
victim in question had never existed in the

Amongst the trees at Casablanca are the
banana, pine, palm, cypress, juniper, pepper-tree,
cardb, and ilex. The creepers, shrubs, and flowering
plants include geraniums, ipomea, hibiscus, Bougain-
villea, arum, Montbretia, carnations, oleanders, a
huge yellow senecio, New Zealand flax, bamboo,
abutilon, lantana, Weigela, the castor-oil plant,
and Choisya.

In Mr. Harris' beautiful garden at Tangier grow
Mandevillea suaveolens, Antholiza, Tritonia, orchid-
flowering caunas, Lagostroemia indica rosea, Melia
asdarak, Melianthus with its dark red flower,
papyrus, Cupressus macrocarpa, Judas trees, the
Banksia or " Bottlebrush " (remarkable for the
adhesion of its seeds to the stem), arums, water-
lilies, polygala mixta, bamboo, roses, mimosa, and

One of the prettiest sights near the town is
the Catholic cemetery, shut out from the world by
high white walls. A small Moorish-looking chapel
stands at one side of the entrance ; a wide walk
bordered by tall cypresses runs down the centre ;
graves with inscriptions in many different languages
show that all nations meet at last in peace under


the shadow of the cross. Some of the monu-
ments would attract attention even in a European
cemetery ; but to me the beauty of this God's
Acre were the flowers, for the heaving turf was
briglit with iris and mesembryanthemum. Appa-
rently the Avhite iris is to the Moor what rose-
mary is to the German, for at Rabat in the
INlussulman burial-grounds it grew in sheets, and
elsewhere very rarely.

Death had been busy around Casablanca, and
wooden crosses loaded with wreaths of wild
flowers showed where brave soldiers rested from
their labours. Many a rudely-executed legend
in the mother tongue of him who lay keeping
his last watch below told how some man of
alien birth had given his life for France in
the ranks of the Foreign Legion. It may com-
fort those who mourn to know that they were
laid to rest in honour under the folds of the
tricolour, and that the accents of the holy burial
service sounded as the earth fell upon their coffins.
In simple words their deeds are told ; and the
inscription placed upon the cross which marks the
grave of Lagadec, that brave Breton sailor who
lost his life in trying to carry a hawser ashore
from the stranded transport Nivc, is specially
affecting. Striking is the monument to a German
Legionary, beautifully carved by his comrades in
some red wood.

But it must not be thought that the Protestant




dead are forgotten. The English community at
Casablanca is not numerous, but it has erected a
very pretty little chapel in the Early English style,
round which lies a small cemetery, fragrant with
stocks, and gay with pink mesembryanthemum.
Here the Protestant Legionaries are buried beside
the corpse of the unfortunate French farmer, whose
fool-hardiness in making an expedition alone to
Alvarez' Farm against the wishes of General
Drude cost him his life in October 1907. Thanks
to the efforts of the Red Cross Society of Paris
there is now a French pasteur at Casablanca who
ministers to the Protestant sick ; before he came
out the burial service was read by Mr. Edmund
Fernau, who has been licensed as a lay reader by
the Bishop of Sierra Leone. The English chapel
at Casablanca marks the northern boundary of his
diocese, and is the one spot where services are held
in an English church between Tangier and the
Gambia. The building was badly damaged during
the bombardment, and the expense of restoring it
has thrown a heavy burden upon the congre-

The European houses in the town are better
than might be expected. Several Jews have
erected lofty blocks of buildings, such as would
not appear out of place in Tubingen or in the
suburbs of Cologne, containing suites of handsome
apartments looking out over the harbour, and
furnished in the style of Stuttgart or of Bremen.


Moorish curiosities are more rarely to be seen
than might bo suj)posed, although several of the
reside] its possess a specialist knowledge of the
archaeology and history of Morocco rivalling that
of Mr, Walter B. Harris ; and various learned
societies in Europe have received with applause
papers written at Casablanca. In f^ict most of
the older inhabitants take far more interest in
the country and in the people than is displayed
by the average merchant in India or China, and
the Anfa Club owns a small but valuable library
of works upon Morocbo,

To the Casablancan the Anfa Club is indeed
the centre and hub of the universe. Tlie building
is in the old Moorish style, a glass-roofed cloister
gay Avith Rabat tiles and flanked by card and
reading rooms. Here the news of the day cir-
culates in the tongues of Babel.

It would be a good test for those competing
in the Indian Civil Service Examination if they
could be asked to give an account of a general
meeting at the Club. Every one speaks in a
different language, and nobody seems to under-
stand any one else.

Society at Casablanca is, of course, composed
mainly of the male element, but there are several
European ladies, and very pleasant drawing-rooms
are not lacking. The wide galleries and lush
green gardens of the English Consulate, with its
heliotropes, its covered arcades, its arums, ranun-


cuius, and daffodils, clustering' round a moss-grown
fountain ; tlio banana-shaded tennis courts of the
Belgian Vice-Consulate, where the French oliicers
found themselves once more at Paris ; the Dutch

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryReginald RankinIn Morocco with General d'Amade → online text (page 13 of 18)