Page images
PDF
EPUB

sort of a change they make when they sell only a part of one of those pitiful heaps.

We were at the foot of the hill and out of that delightful Arab quarter all too soon. But we could not stay. Our carriages were waiting there, and we were in and off and going gaily through very beautiful streets to reach the hotel where we were to lunch.

Neither shall I dwell on the governor's palace which we visited, though it is set in a fair garden; nor on the museum, with the exception of just one thing. That one item is, I believe, unique in the world's list of curiosities. It is a plaster cast of the martyr Geronimo in the agony of death. The Algerines put Geronimo alive into a soft mass of concrete which presently hardened into a block, and was built into a fort. This was in 1569, and about forty years later a Spanish writer described the event and told exactly how that particular block could be located.

The fort stood for nearly three hundred years. Then in 1853 it was torn down, the block was identified and broken open, and an almost perfect mould of the dead martyr was found within. They filled the mould with plaster, and the result-a wonderful cast-lies there in the museum to-day, his face down as he died, hands and feet bound and straining, head twisted to one side in the supreme torture of that terrible martyrdom. It is a gruesome, fascinating thing, and you go back to look at it more than once, and you slip out betweentimes for a breath of fresh air.

Remembering the story and looking at that straining figure, you realize a little of the need he must have known, and your lungs contract and you smother and hurry out to the sky and sun and God-given oxygen of life. He could not have lived long, but every second of consciousness must have been an eternity of horror, for there is no such thing as time except as to mode of measurement, and a measurement such as that would compass ages unthinkable. If I lived in Algiers and at any time should sprout a little bud of discontent with the present state of affairs-a little sympathy with the subjugated population-I would go and take a look at Geronimo, and forthwith all the discontent and the sympathy would pass away, and I would come out gloating in the fact that France can crack the whip and that we of the West can ride them down.

We drove through the suburbs, the most beautiful suburbs I have ever seen in any country, and here and there beggars sprang up by the roadside and pursued us up hill and down, though we were going helterskelter with fine horses over perfect roads. How these children could keep up with us I shall never know, or how a girl of not more than ten could carry a big baby and run full speed down hill, crying out “Sou-penny” at every step, never stumbling or falling behind. Of course, nobody could stand that. We flung her sou-pennies and she gathered them up like lightning and was after the rear carriages, unsatisfied and unabated in speed.

We passed a little lake with two frogs in it. They called to us, but they spoke only French or Algerian, so we did not catch the point of their remarks.

And now we drove home—that is, back to the fine streets near the water-front where we were to leave the carriages and wander about for a while, at will. That was a wild, splendid drive. We were all principals in a gorgeous procession that went dashing down boulevards and through villages, our drivers cracking their whips at the scattering people who woke up long enough to make a fairly spry dash for safety.

Oh, but it was grand! The open barouches, the racing teams, the cracking whips! Let the Arab horde have a care. They sank unoffending vessels; they reddened the sea with blood; they enslaved thousands; they martyred Geronimo. Let the whips crack-drive us fast over them!

Still, I wasn't quite so savage as I sound. I didn't really wish to damage any of those Orientals. I only wanted to feel that I could do it and not have to pay a fine—not a big fine—and I invented the idea of taking a lot of those cheap Arabs to America for automobilists to use up, and save money.

When we got back to town, while the others were nosing about the shops, I slipped away and went up into the Arab quarter again, alone. It was toward evening now, and it was twilight in there, and there was such a lot of humanity among which I could not see a single European face or dress. I realized that I was absolutely alone in that weird place and that these people had no love for the “Christian Dog."

I do not think I was afraid, but I thought of these things, and wondered how many years would be likely to pass before anybody would get a trace of what had become of me, if anything did become of me, and what that thing would be likely to be. Something free and handsome, no doubt—something with hot

skewers and boiling oil in it, or perhaps soft concrete.

Still, I couldn't decide to turn back, not yet. If the place had been interesting by daylight, it was doubly so, now, in the dusk, with the noiseless, hooded figures slipping by; the silent coffee-drinkers in the half gloom-leaning over now and then, to whisper a little gossip, maybe, but usually abstracted, indifferent. What could they ever have to gossip about anyway? They had no affairs. Their affairs all ended long ago.

I came to an open place by and by, a tiny square which proved to be a kind of second-hand marketplace. I altered all my standards of economy there in a few minutes. They were selling things that the poorest family of the East Side of New York would pitch into the garbage-barrel. Broken bottles, tin cans, wretched bits of clothing, cracked clay waterjars that only cost a few cents new. I had bought a new one myself as I came along for eight cents. I began to feel a deep regret that I had not waited.

Adjoining the market was a gaming-place and coffeehouse combined. Men squatting on the ground in the dusk played dominoes and chess wordlessly, never looking up, only sipping their coffee now and then, wholly indifferent to time and change and death and the hereafter. I could have watched them longer, but it would really be dark presently, and one must reach the ship by a certain hour. One could hardly get lost in the Arab quarter, for any downhill stair takes you toward the sea, but I did not know by which I had come, so I took the first one and started down. I walked pretty rapidly, and I looked over my shoulder now and then, because—well, never mind, I looked over my shoulder—and I would have been glad to see anything that looked like a Christian. Presently I felt that somebody was following me. I took a casual look and made up my mind that it was true. There were quantities of smoking, drinking people all about, but I didn't feel any safer for that. I stepped aside presently and stood still to let him pass. He did pass — a sinister looking Arab.- but when I started on he stepped aside too, and got behind me again.

So I stopped and let him pass once more, and then it wasn't necessary to manoeuvre again, for a few yards ahead the narrow Arab defile flowed into the lighter French thoroughfare. He was only a pickpocket, perhaps—there are said to be a good many in Algiers—but he was not a pleasant-looking person, and I did not care to cultivate him at nightfall in that dim, time-forgotten place.

I picked up some friends in the French quarter, and Laura and I drifted toward the ship, pressed by a gay crowd of merry-makers. It was carnival-time, as before mentioned, and the air was full of confetti, and the open-air cafés were crowded with persons of both sexes and every nation, drinking, smoking, and chattering, the air reeking with tobacco and the fumes of absinthe. Everywhere were the red and blue soldiers of France-Chasseurs d'Afrique and Zouaves everywhere the fashionable French costumes—everywhere the French tongue. And amid that fashion and gayety of the West the fez and the

« PreviousContinue »