Reginald Rankin.

In Morocco with General d'Amade online

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Consulate with flowers bloominix over the remains
of Iloman pavements, stiff Norfolk Island j)ines,
and walls hung with clever water-colours of street
scenes sketched in the native town, are unfading

But European civilisation is but a thin veneer
superimposed on the life of Casablanca. Every-
where the houses showed the marks of bullets,
stains of blood were to be seen on peaceful terraces,
and nearly every resident had his own story to
relate of what had befallen him during the bom-

Possibly the most interesting of these histories
was that of Domingo Perea, a Spaniard by birth,
who, after an adventurous life, had become
naturalised in Cuba, and who had finally settled
at Casablanca as the proprietor of an hotel. He
was kind enough to dictate his experiences, which
are here reproduced as nearly as possible in his
own words : —

"On August 5, 1907, between two and three
in the morning the Consuls sent for all their
subjects living in my hotel to come to their re-
spective Consulates.

" I did not wish to leave my house, as I
thought nothing would happen.


" At 5 A.M. the French began to land, and
firing commenced at the gate.

"At 6.30 A.M. a crowd of Moors, about fifty
in number, attacked my door. They broke it
open, Imt when they entered the passage leading
into the 2)atio, I began to fire at them from my
upper gallery through the fanlight over the
inner door with a sporting gun, carrying car-
tridires with No. 14 shot. I had also a sword
and a revolver which had been the property of
the Cuban Ceneral Bandera.

" Their attacks continued during thirty-five
consecutive hours with only three intermissions,
one of half-an-hour, one of a quarter, and one of
five minutes.

" When the critical moment of the fight came,
they fought me hand to hand, and though I had,
for a time, kept them back by firing from the
stair-head at those who were trying to break
down the door leading into the gallery, I was
driven back into the saloii after narrowly escaping
a knife which was hurled at me by a gigantic
Moor, whom I cut down. Mr. C. Hands after-
wards bought this knife from me.

"Just as I had been driven back into the
salon the French troops and the French Consul
arrived at the corner of the street. I had been
able to hoist the Cuban flag on my belvedere on
a flagstaff which I extemporised out of a bench,
and they had seen it flying. Whilst I was hoist-


ing it I was under a rain of shot from the
neighbouring houses, and was nearly hit on tlie
head, but, at last, my assailants were kept down
by the fire from the English Consulate, a bullet
from Avhich all but struck me. As you see, that
Consulate is behind my house.

" During these thirty-five hours I killed about
sixty Moors. Some of them were firing from tlie
rooms round the courtyard and others from the
wall of the belvedere of the Cercle de V Union,
which adjoins this hotel.

" The Moors, when they first saw that they
could not break into the jxUio, occupied the
houses to the right and left and in front, and
fired from them. I killed two Moors in the
passage leading from my scullery, into which
they had broken through a side door, and many
others in the corner which is formed by my
house and the front of the Cercle de l' Union, by
firing down upon them from behind a shutter in
the little bedroom which commands that wall.
Some of them were trying to break through the
window of the ground-floor room which faces
the same way, and thus enter the jmtio.

" I was bare-footed and almost naked, and during
all the thirty-five hours which the fighting lasted,
had not a moment to eat, drink, or dress myself.
The Moors also tried to break into my house from
behind, but were driven off by the fire from the
Ene;lish Consulate, which commands that side of it.


"This is all that happened. I suffered great
privations, great hunger, and great thirst, and was
expecting death at every moment.

" I wish it to be known that I, Domingo Perea,
killed with my own hand more Moors than were
slain by all the other Christians in Casablanca put

More dead Moors were taken from his house
than from anywhere else. Blood was everywhere
on the walls and pavement, and ran down the
street gutter. Many Moorish corpses were found
in the ixitio and carried into the dining-room,
which, to judge from the evidence of our noses,
still retained unfragrant memories of the unjust.

There were blood-stains visible on the walls of
the hostelry, and splashes of bullets were every-
where, especially on the belvedere and in the lower
room, into which the marauders had fired through
its wooden grating. The outer door was badly

The French force which escorted Domingo Perea
to the American Consulate, where, after all, he only
slept one night, had to enter his house from be-
hind, as so many Moors were still firing on the
street in front. After returning home he used to
go out at night with the patrols.

For some time the governor of the town })osted
guards at each end of the street to prevent the
natives from passing the hotel on their way to the
Marrakesh Gate. Wlien at last this restriction


was removed, the Moors used to get by it at a
run, ducking and dodging as if to avoid being

Don Domingo liad only five revolver and twenty
gun cartridges left when the troops at last
arrived, though he still retained his sword. On
his way to the American Consulate — for, as a
Cuban subject, he is under the protection of the
United States Consul — he was so dazed that he
lost the scabbard, and has never since been able
to recover it.

Such is the story of the defence of the Hotel
Continental, which may well rank with that of
the house at Arrah during the Indian Mutiny.

Our own quarters were, save in name, by no
means palatial. The " Palace of Varieties " — so
nicknamed by some friendly wag — closely resembled
the descriptions I have read of a jail in some bank-
rupt South American state.

Bare white walls, pierced high up with small
square loopholes of a very prison-cell-like aspect,
and doorways blessed with a pleasing absence of
doors may keep out the heat, but they certainly
do not exclude the air. After a certain time they
are apt to remind the inmate of that last long
home to which the perpetual draught seems to be
swiftly hurrying him. The sole furniture of our
bedrooms consisted of camp-beds and pigeon-holed
boxes, and Mohammed, our cook, was in the habit
of keeping the remnants of last night's dinner


in the bath-room, which greatly exercised the
faculties of the bather desirous of having dry
chicken for lunch. There, too, were stored the
jars of thin, sour Spanish wine, which lent a con-
vivial touch to our Barebones feasts. Another
drawback to the bath-room — indeed, to Casablanca
— was that it did not contain a bath. Each dawn
found the inmates fighting for the possession of a
somewhat exiguous tin basin.

Harris came to stay with us, but it was re-
markable in how short a time he recalled a previous
invitation, given at some very indefinite period, to
the English Consulate ; while his sleek Tangier
body-servants, before swiftly proceeding to remove
his traps, scanned their surroundings with ill-
concealed disgust.

Owls were our constant visitors. They had
their home in the garden of the English Consulate,
but passed their nights in making rounds of visits
to neighbouring houses. Frequently loud flappings
would be heard in the small hours of the morning,
and an unfortunate bird would be seen beating
itself against the wire-netting of our hall skylight,
whilst excited gentlemen in pyjamas were trying to
chase it through the narrow opening with the long
ljam1)00s which we used to open our port-lioles.
One direful night I never shall forget. My mules
and horses were stabled in a nmddy yard adorned
with weeds and rotting loot, which lay beside our
house, and which also contained, besides tlie horse,


mule, and donkey of an English merchant, a M'Dakra
puppy of the native breed, which had followed my
caravan from a doudr on our return from Bou Znika.
Poor Frances — so called from a native name Fran-
soz, bestowed on her by my men in honour of the
French — was a dubious joy. A brindled lurcher
with white feet and a white-tipped tail almost
as long as her body, she was, when she first
arrived, the fiercest little beast I ever saw.
Curled up in her corner, nominally asleep, the
slightest movement in the room provoked a fierce
growl and a display of gleaming white teetli.
Later on, thanks to our host's skilful treatment,
Frances became quite friendly, and I should be sorry
to think that she is now reposing at the bottom
of Casablanca Harbour. One night, however, the
merchant's horse broke away, and after wandering
round the yard, proceeded to assail my mules, who
were tethered to the opposite wall. A fearful din
ensued ; the mules screamed, the donkey brayed,
the horse neighed, sounds of hoofs resounded, and
Frances filled the air with piercing yells. For two
hours Pandemonium was let loose, but human
patience has its limits, and at last the row was
intermingled with frequent crashes. I ran up to
the roof, and to my horror found a lightly-clad
friend, lantern in hand, bombarding the court-
yard with a succession of stone gin-bottles which
had accumulated near our poultry-house under
the ausjjices of a medical neighbour who, by his


own account, never drank anything but water.
My thoughts flew to my precious mules, whom I
fully expected to see stretched dead in the mud,
and whose very existence my friend had apparently
forgotten. I was scarcely appeased by his explana-
tion that he was merely trying to relieve us of
Frances. I retired again to my camp-bed, only
to be reawakened by a succession of awful bangs,
which I discovered were the result of my friend's
efforts to force back the rusty bolt of a skylight
in order to liberate an owl, who had taken this
opportunity to pay us a visit. A caterwaul is,
indeed, the only form of nightly noise which was
spared us at Casablanca, mainly because most of
the cats had been killed or scared away during
the bombardment, although, as French and Algerian
soldiers are well known to be fond of such deli-
cacies, it is quite possible other reasons may have
accounted for their disappearance.

Our roof, open to the sea breezes, and command-
ing a view over the tow^n and the French camps
as far as the rolling downs which separated us
from Mediouna, was our chief resort. Spanish
troops had been stationed on it during the bom-
bardment, and had engaged in a lively rifle duel
with the defenders of a house with green shutters
some three hundred yards off, whose walls were
still white with the splashes of the bullets whose
empty cartridge-cases were strewn around us.
From our house-top we could study the life of


the town ; we could become familiar with the linen
of a neighbouring Consulate ; we could survey the
women who were squatted in the square l^ofore
our door winnowing wheat from dawn to sunset ;
and it was easy for us to understand how David
became intimate with Bathsheba. Had firearms
existed at the time, Uriah could easily have been
annihilated without the formality of a letter to
Joab. From the roof we watched the incoming
mail being rowed ashore from a cruiser or a
torpedo-boat destroyer in the offing ; and from
the roof could be seen the serried columns of the
Frencli marching out on some expedition down
the Mediouna or Fedallah road. At the time of
the panic my friends might, indeed, have thought
themselves in the Ariel of old, for all Israel was
gone out upon the house-tops.

If the roofs are pleasant at Casablanca, the
roadways are the reverse. Previous to the
arrival of the French they were, save for a few
sharp-edged cobbles, innocent of paving, and the
horrid attempts at sanitation were manifested
solely by a succession of reeking gully - holes.
A sea of mud in winter and a desert of dust in
summer they, as a rule, required careful naviga-
tion to avoid sundry abysses which rendered a
walk home in the dark a thing of danger. Since
the landing of the French much has been done
to improve the roadways, but after a heavy storm
in February we saw half the inmates of the


Mellah busily engaged in bailing out the muddy
water which lay in pools on the tracks between
their miserable huts of old packing-case boards
and flattened paraffin tins. A few lamps had
been installed in the neighbourhood of the Con-
sulates, but everywhere else the nocturnal way-
farer was bound to be provided v/ith a lantern,
covered with fantastically -pierced tin, through
which the light within cast weird shadows on
his path. The shops, with but few exceptions,
were mere holes in the wall, although they were
far better stocked than might have been expected
from their surroundings ; but, as is the case all
over the East, many handicrafts were carried
on in the street, and carpenters planed, tinsmiths
hammered, and rope - makers paced to and fro
in every open space. The cafes, always crowded
with French and Spaniards, would not have
looked out of keeping in any sous-prefecture in

The chief trade of the place, so far as tlie
natives are concerned, is done in the "Souk" or
market, inside and outside the walls. Imagine
a narrow street of broken-down huts, in which
grave and bearded traders are squatting on low
platforms. Some are poorly clothed in torn brown
djellabas, others are resplendent in their blue cloth
cloaks. On Fridays a few may he seen studying
illuminated manuscripts with devout attention ;
on other days these same scribes will be casting


up accounts and inditing correspondence for their
less literate brethren. A large string of beads
figures at every girdle. Up and down the street
moves a miscellaneous crowd. Strings of camels
are picking their way through the mud, donkeys
half hidden in bundles of brushwood of thorny
quality, jostle the wayfarer into the shop fronts.
Spanish officers and their orderlies are catering
for the mess, ladies in Marseilles toilettes are
chaffering for eatables ; Jew boys in ancestral
gaberdines, toned by dirt to a protective like-
ness to the gutters, are squatting before rudely
painted roulette boards, where an unevenly balanced
skewer revolves over divisions encircled with a ring
of nails, and rake in the coppers which a mixed
public of street boys and loungers are staking
with all a gambler's earnestness. The following
wares seem to constitute the staple of the contents
of the shops ; oranges, lemons, beans, potatoes,
onions, brushes of palmetto, walnuts, eggs, butter,
sugar, candles, slippers, cigarettes, olives, prunes,
carrots, radishes, turnips, rapeseed, soft soap, clay
pipes, beetroot, lettuce, matches, salt, chxxrcoal,
sultanas, spices, figs, sheeps' heads, chilies, and
sweetmeats. Money-changers are haggling over
a startling variety of coins, of varying ages and
origin, and to judge only from their outward
expressions are fully qualified to join their fellows
in Malebolge at a moment's notice.

In the Souk outside are squatted large rings


of forage merchants ; restaurants of boards and
tent-cloth are doing a roaring trade in strange
fragments of meat and slices of odoriferous fish,
although they are subjected to a lively competition
from the ambulant hawkers on whose stoves, glow-
in o; with charcoal and redolent of oil, fritters and
wafers are spluttering and spitting. Story-tellers
are amusing a listening throng with the deeds of
Haroun-al-Raschid or with the latest exploits of
some native saint. Everywhere the French police
are keeping a vigilant watch on the crowd, and
forcing new arrivals from the interior to dismount
from their steeds before they enter the town.
Occasionally their persons and saddle-bags are
searched for concealed arms, but, as a rule, tlie
Arab is prudent enough to have left his rifle
hidden in some secure place outside the line of

As Casablanca is comparatively speaking a
modern town, there is little that is remarkable
in its architecture. It is only within the last
forty years that stone buildings have begun to
replace the native huts of reeds with their court-
yards shut in with matting. One or two of the
mosques have doorways adorned with coloured
plaster - work which feebly carries on the tradi-
tions of the Alhambra. In some instances the
Moorish arches and pilasters are in appearance,
if not in construction, reminiscent of our own
later Norman style, and a courtyard in the Kaid


of Mediouna's town house, which the French have
turned into a field hospital, would not seem out
of place at Romsey. But, as a rule, the streets
in the better quarters of Casablanca are a succes-
sion of square white blocks of different heiglits,
pierced here and there with loophole-like windows,
varied by an occasional balcony, and resemble
nothing so much as the town backgrounds seen
in Masaccio's pictures. Indeed when, at the festival
of the Eed, the holiday crowd in its bright djellabas
of green, pink, blue, and orange, flecked here and
there with crimson, was bustling down the Rue
du Kaid to pay homage to the Maghzen, one
might well have fancied oneself in Dante's Florence.

Flags and flagstaffs are a great feature. Bags
of faded green or pink calico adorn the court-
yards before the tombs of saints ; the mos(|ues
announce the hours of prayer by hoisting a square
of white, blue, or green ; on the Consulates the
ensigns and pennons of nearly ever}'- European
and American state are fluttering in the breeze.

When seen from the roadstead Casablanca well
deserves its name. The long line of white houses
bordered by the yellow wall pierced with cavernous
gateways is broken only by the square towers
of the mosques, ornamented with outlined tiers
of half - flamboyant arches of mystic meaning,
with fanciful finials and interlaced tracery ; by
the outlooks of the Spanish, German, and English
Consulates, and by the red belfry of the Franciscan


Church, surmounted by a lofty cross of iron to
remind the traveller of home.

But to the weary soldier plodding through the
night Casablanca is an unreality ; for the violet of
her plain merges in the violet sea, and her vv^hite-
ness is the whiteness of the surf


They call Rabdt the Pearl of Morocco. It stands
high on the steep southern bank of the Bouragrag,
where the green river lashes the blue sea, above
cactus-grown ochre rocks, a long, rambling line of
white and yellow, everywhere dominated by the
huge grey Tower of Hassan.

Across the river, on a flat sandy shore, lies
Sallee, a compact town protected by a mighty
bastioned wall, and treeless, save for a solitary
palm. No two places, so close together, could be
more unlike. Sallee, grim, dusty, arid, crouches
in the sand like a beast of prey ; Babilt, aloft
amidst her orange-groves, decked with emeralds
and gold, looks out smiling on the world like a

The winding river fades into rolling, grassy
hills ; not far away the sea thunders ; a great
wall joining the guardian waters, and the raging
surf of her bar, keep Rabdt inviolate. The cross-
ing of the bar, always an experience, is sometimes
a peril, and often an impossibility. Vessels have
lain for twenty days outside the port, waiting in
vain foi the opportunity to land their cargo.

The cities are linked by the long white lines



of foam cresting the Atlantic rollers ; and the de-
scendants of the Rovers are hardy, skilful mariners,
always ready to urge their great barcasses into the
maelstrom, singing antiphonally as they wield tlie
long sweeps, and utterly untinged by the "sadness
of farewell."

They are a picturesque crew, bare - legged,
resplendent in colour, tunic, knickerbockers, and
twisted rag of headgear all differing in different
individuals, constituting what on the luciis a non
Incendo principle must be called the uniform of the
Sultan, whose soldiers they are when they have
nothing better to do.

These town-bred men, unlike the country Arabs,
are pale-complexioned, and pride themselves on the
purity of their race ; those who know Tintoretto's
" Pirates," at Madrid, will recognise the type.

Their captain is the steersman, who unceasingly
yells objurgations at the ten pairs of rowers chant-
ing their weird song ; Mohammed is sugaring ;
Bou Chaib stojjs to hammer in his thole-pins with
unnecessary frequency ; Abdullah, son of a dog, is
never in time — let him look to it, or his pay is
forfeit. Sometimes, incensed to a pitch where
words avail nothing, the skipper throws the tiller
to the waves, darts along the benches, and punches
the offending head.

When tlie dangerous zone is reached, and tlie
Imge barcasse shivers as the screaming flood thrusts
her head down into the green caverns, the din on


hoard rivals that of the sea. Tlie crew repent of
their misdeeds, aud hellow invocations to their
patron saints, while the skipper, \s'itli a more
lively faith in salvation by works, adds some
telling paragraphs to the Commination Service.
And so the black ship glides on, out of the
hurly-burly of the breakers into the calm waters
beneath the maidenhair-clad cliiFs, where the
brown walls of the dismantled kasbah rise sheer
above brown rocks, and laughing girls peep down
from flower-framed windows.

Beyond the quay, stacked with such stuff as
the Moor condescends to buy from the Nazarene
— candles, sugar, and cottons— a little flotilla of
boats rides at anchor, while others ply to and fro
across the stream, and a snaky coil of white- robed
travellers weds the two cities with its living bond.
This is the great ferry of Morocco, the high-road
from north to south, by which every man who
values his skin journeys from Fez to Marrakesh.

At Babat the choosing of his hotel does not
long delay the visitor. There is only one in the
place, and its proprietor, hands deep in pockets,
receives you with the cool aloofness of the bored
monopolist. But he is an excellent fellow, mine
host of the Hotel de la Douane ; and as he pre-
sides at his sorry dinner- table, ladling out greasy
soup to bagmen and talking politics with felicitous
eloquence, you feel that he would adorn a higher


For tliu place is not exactly a llitz. Down a
dark and narrow passage the way leads over a
little wooden drawbridge across a deep gully. The
tiny house has the universal patio open to the sky ;
you are offered, and refuse, a windowless bedroom
on the ground - floor ; on the verandahed, balus-
traded, twelve-foot-square first-floor, reached by
gloomy steps nearly as high as the Pyramids, are
more bedrooms, the dining-room, and kitchen ;
above again is the fiat roof.

A peaky Jewess, wrinkled with toil, accom-
plishes the impossible feat of cooking a dinner of
four courses and waiting on the six eaters thereof
at one and the same time ; her assistant, a
heroically tall Amazon of an Arab, whose henna-
dyed hair flows far down her back, floods the
corridor with cabbage-water as the guests open
their doors on the stroke of seven. There per-
force they stand, doomed inhalers of the gale,
until the horrid flood subsides down holes where
wall and floor meet.

Mine host emerges slowly from his den, a carbine
in his hand. " Cats are a nuisance," he murmurs
reflectively, and points his weapon skywards.

The bullet flies true through the cat's head, f
and wings on its way amid the piled-up roofs.
It may hit somebody else, or it may not ; this is
Morocco, where the lives of cats and men are
alike held cheap.

It is Friday, the day the Sultan goes in state


to mosque. The road leads through tlie long,
twisting streets of the business quarter of the
town, where every house is a httle shop, protected
by a wooden penthouse set on at a different angle
to its neighbour's. Here, as in London city, the
merchant works by day, and goes home in the

The narrow, raised sidewalks are utterly inade-
quate for the stream of passengers ; the villainous,
hollow, pool-flecked roadway is filled with a jostling
crowd of animals and men, where everybody, except

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Online LibraryReginald RankinIn Morocco with General d'Amade → online text (page 14 of 18)