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and behind us and about us, demanding “sou-penny,” at least it sounded like that-a sort of French-English combination, I suppose, which probably has been found to work well enough to warrant its general adoption.
We thought we had seen beggars at Madeira, and had become hardened to them. We had become hardened toward the beggars, but not to our own sufferings. One can only stand about so much punishment—then he surrenders. It is easier and quicker to give a sou-penny, or a dozen of them, than it is to be bedevilled and besmirched and bewildered by these tatterdemalion Arabs who grab and cling and obstruct until one doesn't know whether he is in Algiers or Altoona, and wishes only to find relief and sanctuary. Evidently sight-seeing in the East has not become less strenuous since the days when the “Innocents” made their pilgrimage in these waters.
We found temporary sanctuary in the mosque, but it was not such as one would wish to adopt permanently. It was a bare, unkempt place, and they made us put on very objectionable slippers before we could step on their sacred carpets. This is the first mosque we have seen, so of course I am not a purist in the matter of mosques yet, but I am wondering if it takes dirt and tatters to make a rug sacred, and if half a dozen mangy, hungry-looking Arab priests inspire the regular attendants in a place like that with religious fervor.
They inspired me only with a desire to get back to the beggars, where I could pay sou-pennies for the privilege of looking at the variegated humanity
and of breathing the open air. The guide-book says this is a poor mosque, but that is gratuitous information; I could have told that myself as soon as I looked at it. Anybody could.
We went through some markets after that, and saw some new kinds of flowers and fruit and fish, but they did not matter. I knew there were better things than these in Algiers, and I was impatient to get to them. I begrudged the time, too, that we put in on some public buildings, though a down-town palace of Ali Ben Hussein, the final Dey of Algiers —a gaudy wedding-cake affair, all fluting and frost
ing—was not without interest, especially when we found that the late Hussein had kept his seven wives there. It was a comparatively old building, built in
Barbarossa times, the guide said, and now used only on certain official occasions. It is not in good taste, I imagine, even from the Oriental standpoint.
But what we wanted, some of us at least, was to get out of these show-places and into the shops—the native shops that we could see stretching down the little side-streets. We could discover perfectly marvellous baskets and jugs and queer things of every sort fairly stuffing these little native selling-places, and there were always fascinating groups in those sidestreets, besides men with big copper water-jars on their shoulders that looked a thousand years oldthe jars, I mean—all battered and dented and polished by the mutations of the passing years.
I wanted one of those jars. I would have given more for one of those jars than for the mosque, including all the sacred rugs and the holy men, or for the palace of A. B. Hussein, and Hussein himself, with his seven wives thrown in for good measure. No, I withdraw that last item. I would not make a quick decision like that in the matter of the wives. I would like to look them over first. But, dear me, I forgot—they have been dead a long, long time, so let the offer stand. That is to say, I did want the jar and I was willing to do without the other things. There was no good opportunity for investment just then, and when I discussed the situation with Laura, who was in the carriage with me, she did not encourage any side-adventures. She was right, I suppose, for we were mostly on the move. We went clattering away through some pleasing parks, presently, and our drivers, who were French, cracked their whips at the Algerine rabble and would have run them down, I believe, with great willingness, and could have done so, perhaps, without fear of penalty. Certainly French soldiers are immune to retribution in Algiers. We saw evidence of that, and I would have resented their conduct more, if I had not remembered those days not so long ago of piracy and bondage, and realized
that these same people might be murdering and enslaving yet but for the ever-ready whip of France.
From one of the parks we saw above us an old, ruined, vine-covered citadel. Could we go up there? we asked; we did not care much for parks. Yes, we could go up there—all in good time. One does not hurry the Orient-one waits on it. We did go up there, all in good time, and then we found it was the Kasba, the same where had occurred the incident which had brought about the fall of Algiers.
They did not show us the room where that historic spark had been kindled, but they did tell us the story again, and they showed us a view of the city and the harbor and the Atlas Mountains with snow on them, and one of our party asked if those mountains were in Spain. I would have been willing to watch that view for the rest of the day had we had time. We did not have time. We were to lunch somewhere by and by, and meantime we were to go through the very heart, the very heart of hearts, of Algiers.
That is to say, the Arab quarter—the inner circle of circles where, so far as discoverable, French domination has not yet laid its hand. We left the carriages at a point somewhere below the Kasba, passed through an arch in a dead wall—an opening so low that the tallest of us had to stoop (it was a "needle's eye,” no doubt)—and there we were. At one step we had come from a mingling of East and West to that which was eternally East with no hint or suggestion of contact with any outside world.
I should say the streets would average six to eight feet wide, all leading down hill. They were winding streets, some of them dim, and each a succession of stone steps and grades that meander down and down into a stranger labyrinth of life than I had ever dreamed of.
How weak any attempt to tell of that life seems! The plastered, blind-eyed houses with their mysterious