Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

lation to poetry that the willow-pattern plate does to pictorial art. In nine cases out of ten the theme of the Arab lyrist is, in fact, the 'Sally of his Alley,' her attractions, and his affection for her-a subject which has been rather frequently treated of by lyrical poets. But the mode in which it is administered to a listening public is at least peculiar. The singer (generally a grave, greybearded old fellow, who ought_to know better than sing amatory ditties at that time of night), ignoring his audience, and looking into his tambourine for encouragement, sings

Among the fairest maidens of the tribe there is none like little Sara.

Here the flutes repeat the notes of the air-if air it can be calledwhile he beats time on the tambourine

She is the darling of my heart, and she dwells in the Sahara.

Flutes and tambourine as beforeHer mother is a skilful weaver of häiks: Her father makes horse-shoes for the warriors of the tribe.

Flutes and tambourine again-
But these persons are not really the parents

of Sara.

I cannot believe it.

She is the darling of my heart, and she dwells in the Sahara.

Here comes in a double allowance of flutes and tambourine; and so on to the end, when he declares that as soon as Rhamadan is over, and he has money enough, he will marry Sara, and take her to his tent, but not in the Sahara.

called an omnibus, plus dust and Arab society. For although the 'shore of Araby the blest' may have once diffused Sabean odours of a refreshing sort, the property has not been transmitted to the garments of the children of Araby of the lower and middle class, and they cannot be described as 'spicy' in any sense of the word.

The first view of the course on coming down on it from the Mansourah was very striking. On a race-course in any other part of the world the great bulk of the spectators would have been on foot. Here, except a comparatively small knot of people about the grand stand, every one was on horseback. The course itself was in the form of a circle, about a mile in circumference, and it was hedged in everywhere, with scarcely even a gap, by mounted Arabs, each with his long gun slung over his shoulders or These held upright before him. were the goums or fighting forces of the tribes in the neighbourhood --a wild-looking set of warriors, fit representatives of the old Numidian cavalry, gaunt, bony men mounted on lean, wiry steeds, and, man and horse, ready for anything in the way of barbarous warfare. They are now to some extent in the French service; for, as each tribe submitted, one of the conditions was that its goum should be always ready when called upon to co-operate with the French forces. In this way they have on several occasions made themselves useful, after their own fashion, and have contributed to the subjugation of Algeria; and, theoretically, the French have some hundred thousand irregular cavalry to aid them in preserving order in the colony, provided always that it is not the irregularity of the said cavalry which constitutes the disorder to be corrected. Mixed up with these, or galloping fussily about the plain, were the spahis, looking, in their scarlet bournouses, like fox-hunting Arabs at a meet. These form another military force, which must not be confounded with the goums. The goums are, in fact, nothing more than the original fighting men of Algeria,

On the south side of Constantina rise the heights of Mansourah, and beyond them is a great plain, watered by the Rummel, and crossed by the road to Batna and the Sahara. The race-course was on this plain; and as the distance by path was half that by the road, we elected to go on foot. I think the appearance of the vehicles and their occupants fortified us in this determination. In either case we were sure of heat; but heat in the open air is more endurable than heat in a box on wheels, by courtesy

who, being beaten, have promised on future occasions to fight with, instead of against the French, and are not paid, armed, disciplined, or in any way controlled by them. The spahis, on the other hand, are a highly-organized and efficient body. They are all Arabs of the better class, for it is a service much sought after by the natives for the sake of the importance, the pay, and the privileges it brings. Their duties are something between those of irregular cavalry and mounted police; each man finds his own horse, but the government supplies the red bournous, the carbine, and the sabre, which, by the way, the spahi always carries, not in European fashion, dangling at his side, but tucked in between the saddle and the saddle-cloth, with the hilt just in front of his knee. Away to the left a great mass of red breeches indicated the presence of the irrepressible soldier, always conspicuous at a French ceremony-doubly so when the ceremony takes place in French Africa. The centre of the circle was evidently being kept sacred for some special persons or purpose, and was occupied by only a few soldiers and some dozen mounted Arabs. The grand stand was a creditable affair, all things considered; at any rate it had the great merit of offering shelter from the beams of an African sun, for which reason we sought its protection speedily, without bestowing any time on the humours of the course, which seemed to consist mainly in the consumption of limonade gazeuse.

the government stud, a march past of the troops, and a grand fantasia by the goums. Without a strong faith in French organization, it would have seemed impossible to get through all this in the time. While studying the programme, there arose on the right a sound as if a lunatic piper who had escaped from his keepers was striking up the most insane piece in his repertoire. It was only the band of one of the goums who thought to enliven the proceedings with a little music, and to that end played an air which, like Arab music in general, was well calculated to drive a man to do something desperate. The effect of this on the knot of mounted Arabs opposite was precisely that which the untimely crow of a restless cock produces on his rival in a 'neighbouring yard. A stately old fellow whom I had been respecting as a possible sheik or shereef, or something of that sort, owing to his imposing appearance, suddenly whipped a flagcolet out of the hood of his bournous; his next neighbour disclosed a pair of small kettle-drums; three or four more produced musical instruments in an equally unexpected manner, and the moment the opposition band had blown itself breathless they crowed defiance to it in a tune that was, if possible, a trifle more exasperating. The contest was kept up with a great deal of spirit, and pretty equal success during the day, but at last the venerable conductor of the band opposite hit upon a plan for discomfiting his rivals. They, poor fellows, had nothing but native music-which, whatever Mr. Samuel Lover may say, was not

According to the correct card,' there was certainly no lack of excitement in store for us. Instead of the paltry four or five races that Mr. Dorling promises at Epsom, there were at least twenty. There were races for poulains et pouliches -colts and fillies-bred in the province, and for horses the property of heads of tents, and for horses of European breeding, and for all comers, Arab or European; not to mention a race à la haie, or hurdlerace, to which I looked forward with great interest. Besides this, there was to be a défilé des étalons of

beyond comparing The sweetest far on the ear that fallswhile he had one Christian tune; and at length greatly daring, he brought up this reserve, determined to do or die. It was that highly popular Quartier Latin melody, the Sire de Framboisie;' and coming from so grave a source, it had all the effect of a comic song by the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the first there was a little uncertainty-the very boldness of the attempt evidently

"

staggered his men-but by the time they had got to the part where the tune, exulting in true French spirit that the 'Sire,' in choosing a wife, 'la prit trop jeune, et bientôt s'en repentit,' breaks out with a jubilant chorus of Youp! youp! youp!' they were themselves again, and performed the beautiful air in a style that quite shut up their antagonists. These latter did make one or two gallant attempts to hold their own, but each time the triumphant 'Sire de Framboisie' came out as fresh as if he had never been played before, and trampled on them, so to speak. There was no use in contending with such accomplished musicians, and they wisely gave up, and I think I saw them afterwards galloping and firing like mad in the fantasia.

Punctual to the announced time, the commandant, superior officers of the garrison, and some of the civil authorities of Constantina, rode across the course, and took up their position opposite the stand. With them came a body of Arab grandees of sufficient importance to be admitted within the sacred circleimposing figures in bournouses of every possible colour, white, black, scarlet, blue, puce, and some of them-magnates from the Sahara these-in enormous straw hats, three or four feet in diameter, covered with black ostrich feathers, and screening the head and shoulders as completely as an umbrella. Thanks to French organization, there was no time lost in clearing the course: it had been kept clear the whole time: even the usual dog had not been allowed to set foot on it; and immediately on the arrival of the great people, the starters for the first race took their places at the post. The Arab is the most reasonable horse in the world: the moment he understands what is expected of him, he accommodates himself to circumstances in the most well-bred way; and however mettlesome he may be, does not fidget, bolt, or caper, as his European cousin is apt to do at a starting-post. We had ample opportunity, therefore, for studying the points of the horses. They

were five Arabs of the ordinary stamp: four of them dappled or silver-grey, the fifth, dark bay; and this, by-the-way, is about the proportion in which the colours are in general distributed, at least in Algeria. For one bay, black, brown, or chestnut, there are three or four whites or greys of one shade or another. To an eye accustomed to European horseflesh they would have looked, perhaps, at the first glance, very like a lot of screws. They had all bad quarters, very indifferent shoulders, and most of them were decidedly ewe-necked, perhaps in part the effect of the Arab bit, which has a tendency to make a horse throw up his head. But when you came to examine them closely, you found undeniable points about them, legs as clean 'as a whip,' small bloodlike ears, heads well set on, with deep jaws, broad foreheads, and full, bright, restless eyes, and, altogether, a look of gameness that showed it was, at any rate, no plebeian animal you had before you. If the horses were unlike what one sees on an English course, the riders were still more so. Most of them were bare-headed and barefooted, and had nothing on except a shirt and a pair of short, baggy trousers. One venerable-looking old fellow, however, sported a very fine plum-coloured silk waistcoat. At the word 'Go,' off they went in a wild, spluttering gallop, every one of them going his hardest, without an idea of holding, or nursing, or waiting, in a mad tangle of men and horses. But before they had got half way round, they were in Indian file, old Plum-colour leading by a good length, which he afterwards increased to two, coming in an easy winner. He seemed to be a kind of Arab Fordham or Wells, for he rode in about dozen races that day. He certainly won six or seven. The moment the race was over, the next starters were put up, and so on, with breathless rapidity, until at last we came to a race which I was particularly anxious to see. All the races up to this, with one exception, had been for Arab horses exclusively, the exception being a race for horses of European origin,

owned by residents in the province, which had been run by three very ordinary-looking nags. Now came on a race for all comers, and I was curious to see how the Arab would come out against the European. As far as that issue went it was a very hollow affair. Three French horses started, among them the winner of the last-mentioned race, and two Arabs. But though the Arabs made all the running at first, they were soon collared and passed, and came in, one of them 'nowhere,' the other several lengths behind the last of the Frenchmen. In fact, the popular notion about the speed of the Arab courser is, I think, erroneous. Great speed is not his strong point: the chances are that on any ordinary race-course the best Arab in the world would be beaten easily by a very second-rate English race-horse. These Arabs were not, of course, first-rate specimens of the race, but they were certainly not bad ones. The province of Constantina has several good breeds of horses; indeed, that of the country near Setif, and the plain of_the Medjana, is second to none in Barbary. At any rate, they were fair average representatives of their race, which is more than could be said for their European competitors. A fortnight or so afterwards, when I was at Tebessa, the commandant showed me an English thoroughbred, which, he said, had easily run away from every Arab he had ever tried him against. But what was far more remarkable about this horse was that, once acclimatized and accustomed to the hard life and hard fare of the Arab horses, he quite equalled them in hardiness and endurance, as had been proved in the course of many expeditions and tours of inspection among the tribes of the district. Endurance, hardiness, and pluck are the real merits of the Arab horse. If he cannot get barley, he will thrive on chopped straw, on the prickly plants of the Sahara, on anything almost, and there is scarcely any limit to his power of endurance.

According to Abd-el-Kader,* fifty miles a day is only regular work for him; when pushed he can do 150; and there are instances of his doing nearly 250 in four-and-twenty hours.

The course à la haie was also open to all competitors, and here again the indigènes did not cover themselves with glory. The haie consisted simply of an obstruction about two feet high, and composed of rushes. The French horses knew what a sham it was, and brushed through it without taking the trouble of even going through the form of rising, but the Arabs were puzzled, and one, ridden I think by old Plum-colour, rose straight into the air, and descended on the obstacle as if out of a balloon, after which he demolished it. The défilé des étalons, which followed the last race, produced one or two magnificent animals, and several very commonplace ones, and then came the great event of the day-the fantasia by the goums. In preparation for this the crowd of mounted Arabs concentrated itself gradually on one side of the course, and the 'swells' withdrew from the centre to leave the space clear. There was a pause for a moment, and then an Arab was seen to dash suddenly out of the crowd, and gallop madly across the open, standing high in his stirrups, his bournous fluttering in the breeze, and the gaudy shelil, or cloth with which on great occasions the Arab always covers the croup of his horse, streaming out like a banner behind him. When he reached the middle of the open space, still galloping furiously, he fired his long gun, and waving it over his head, sped away over the plain as if his life depended on it. Then came another: then came three or four: then came a dozen, until, at length, the whole plain was alive with galloping, firing Bedouins. Then, as soon as there was a strong body mustered on the opposite side, they began to gallop and fire in the reverse direction, and so the game went on. Some

* Quoted in The Horses of the Sahara, by General Daumas: translated by James

Hutton.

times there would be a lull, and we fancied it was all over, but two or three enthusiasts would always break out, let fly, and communicate the infection to the rest. In spite of the excellence of Arab horsemanship, the display was not free from accidents. First one poor fellow, apparently from his girth breaking, came to grief; then another got an ugly purl just in front of the stand, and was helped off the ground: but the worst case was that of an unfortunate fantasiast, whose horse made a mistake somehow in mid career, and over and over rolled horse and rider in a horrible confused mass. After a struggle or two the horse kicked himself loose, and made off, on the middle of the plain leaving a white motionless lump, which was presently surrounded and taken away; but whether it was a man or only what had been a man that was carried past us, we were unable to ascertain.

This was not the only tragical incident connected with the day. As we were returning, and working our way up the slopes of the Mansourah, there was a sudden halt of the procession, and a rush to a ravine, or gully, on the left.

We joined the crowd, and found that the attraction was the dead body of an Arab that had been just found. While we had been enjoying ourselves at the races, there had been foul murder committed on the hill-side not a mile from us, and the blood was hardly dry on the stones which had been used to beat the victim's brains out. Some official suddenly turned up like a Deus ex machina, and made out a signalement of the poor battered corpse, and it was carried off, and nobody seemed to think much of it. I asked an old resident, whom we overtook, what he thought about it, and his opinion seemed to be that it was a very common-place affaironly an Arab assassination arising from one of those quarrels that will occur among the indigènes; and as to bringing the murderer to justice, if he were caught he would certainly be shot; but that the chances were he would not be caught. If it were a European who had been murdered it would have been different: in that case no pains would have been spared. But for the Arabs, what was the use of it? they were used to assassination as eels are to skinning!

LIFE IN DEATH.

THE

HE North wind shrieked against the door,
And shook the snow-drift from the caves,
And hissed among the brown oak-leaves,
Like breakers on a shingly shore;

And swept a pang to the heart's core
Of one who long in sickness pined;
Who wept: 'Oh, whisper warm and kind!
Oh, summer voice of Western wind!
And shall I hear thee nevermore ?'

The Western wind sang at the door,
And rustled through the barley sheaves,
And shook the bees, those highway thieves,
From foxglove bells, and scattered o'er
That dying poet thoughts of yore;

And calling his lament to mind

With quivering smile: 'Oh, voice unkind!' He said, 'keen blast of Northern wind!

Now shall I hear thee nevermore!'

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »