Our next camp was a delightful one--in place of the open, dry, stormy desert, we found ourselves in groves of young palm trees on the river bank, with plenty of fresh water and plenty of firewood. So we were in luxury, and stayed two days in this spot to enjoy it to the full.
We had the additional fun here of catching fish in the river with a hook and line attached to a stick cut from an oleander bush. We found some worms in the irrigated garden, and thus we were able to fish and to catch a good number of barbel.
These made a great addition to our larder.
A very useful tip to know in Africa is that when all other wood is wet, dead palm branches will always light and burn well. They are most useful as torches in camp, and are nicknamed "Arabs' Candles."
* * * * *
A DRAGON'S LAIR.
We left our camp ground, with its palm trees down by the river, and with our tent and belongings packed on to two mules, and our two Arabs as guides, trekked across a wide, stony plain under a blazing hot sun.
Not a particle of shade the whole way, nor a drop of water; every footstep had to be picked among the loose, jagged stones, and our way was continually barred by deep, dry water-courses, which had to be carefully clambered into and scrambled out of.
It was a very trying day's march, but yet we enjoyed it.
The views of the mountains around us were splendid.
[Illustration: EL KANTARA]
We were marching parallel with the wonderful range which stands like a turreted wall between Algeria and the Sahara. It is so regular in its outline that it looks almost as if built by the hands of giants, and in the centre is a narrow, broken gap, El Kantara, through which run the road, the river, and the railway.
[Illustration: "THE TOOTH," or THE RED CASTLE MOUNTAIN.]
We passed on our way close under a solitary peak which stands out from the rest of the neighbouring mountains exactly in the likeness of a great red ruined castle, called by the Arabs "The Tooth."
Then we got into a deep ravine with red sandy cliffs on either side, and marching up its rocky bed we finally got in among the mountains, and there made our camp.
After getting our tent pitched, and while the men were finding firewood, my wife and I started a bit of engineering work in order to obtain a water supply.
We cleared out the little trickle of water which we found in the river bed, and digging a hollow in the sandy bed, we planted in it our india rubber bath, and diverted the trickle so that it ran into this, and so gave us a standing supply of clear water for our camp.
It was quite a triumph of engineering, though we got pretty wet and muddy in carrying it out.
Then we went exploring among the hills, following up our gorge. We soon found that it became a narrow fissure between the mountains, so narrow that the overhanging rocks often nearly touched each other high above our heads. It was a most weird place--exactly the sort of spot where one might expect a dragon to dwell.
* * * * *
A thing that strikes one about the Arabs is their politeness and readiness to do good turns.
Every Arab we met as we tramped across the plains greeted us with "good morning" in Arabic or French, and, though it must be a strange sight to them to see a white lady walking, and a man in shorts and shirt-sleeves (for I always wear the Scout kit for camping), they never showed undue curiosity, and never thought of jeering at us as I fear would be the case in many places in England.
[Illustration: AN ARAB TENT. The goatskin slung on a tripod is full of water for the use of the family.]
If they saw our mules in trouble, or found us pitching our camp, they were always ready to lend a hand without any idea of getting a reward or a tip for doing so.
They have a good deal of the Scout in them, and many tribes of them do not know what it is to live in a house-they are "nomads," that is, they are wanderers, and live always in tents, moving with their flocks and families from place to place where the grass gives the best pasture for their sheep and goats.
Their tents are large, low, widespread awnings of black or brown goats'-hair cloth, supported on numerous short poles.
The tent ropes stretch in various directions, and round the whole they put up a hedge or "zareeba" of thorn bushes to keep out the jackals, and to keep in their goats during the night.
In front of the tent hangs a goatskin slung on a tripod, and full of water for the use of the family.
Many Arabs are well behaved and hospitable to strangers. But all are not so polite: there are some tribes who are pretty cunning thieves. Our two Arabs always patrolled round our camp at night with loaded rifle and revolver to drive off any would-be robbers, and our mules were shackled up at night with "handcuffs" on their fetlocks, and these were locked to prevent them being stolen.
* * * * *
THE HOT SPRINGS OF HAMMAM MOUSKETINE.
The first thing one notices about the hot springs of Hammam Mousketine which I mentioned above, is clouds of steam coming up out of the bushes at different points. Here you will find water bubbling up out of the ground and through a small mound of hard white or yellow crust.
The water is boiling hot, and the crust is formed from salts and chemicals contained in the water drying on the surface.
There are about a dozen of these springs and a large number of cones or mounds which have been springs, and which have choked themselves up or run dry.
Half a dozen of these cones, of about ten feet high, stand together in a group, and the Arabs have a curious story about them, which I will tell you in the next paragraph. Also close by is a great waterfall about a hundred yards wide by fifty feet high, but all turned to stone by the same process.
* * * * *
THE ARAB MARRIAGE.
A rich Arab named Ali Cassam had a beautiful sister named Ourida.
Ali thought her the best woman in the world, and although she was his sister he determined to marry her.
Such a marriage is considered just as unholy by the Mohammedans as it is with us, and so everybody was against it. But Ali was great and powerful, and he thought that by making a magnificent show of it he would get over the feelings of those who said it was wrong.
[Illustration: The wedding party were all there in their places, but all were turned into stone.]
So a splendid feast was arranged, and the ceremony began on a very big scale.
The priest Abdallah undertook to carry out the religious part of it, and had just taken the first step in the marriage service of placing the bridegroom's hand on the bride's head when there was a tremendous flash of lightning, fire rushed out of the earth, the day was suddenly turned into night, and boiling water spouted up in all directions.
When the sun came out again the wedding party were all there in their places, but all were turned into stone, and the boiling water still bubbles up out of the earth round about them.
Personally I could not recognise exactly the actors in this drama; it needed a lot of imagination to believe that one mound represented Ali and another Ourida, while Abdallah was recognisable by his turban!
This was all that I saw of them.
* * * * *
A GOOD TURN TO A DONKEY.
Owing to the absence of roads in the country the Arabs do not use carts. All the carrying is done by camels, mules, or donkeys. The donkeys are the commonest, being the cheapest; and very patient, hard-working little servants they are.
On one of our tramps we came across an Arab standing very forlornly by his donkey, which had fallen down. There was the little beast lying on its side with its huge load of halfa grass partly across it, and the owner quite at a loss to know what to do. This "halfa" or "esparto" grass is collected by the Arabs on the mountain side, and brought down and sold to merchants to go and make paper in England. It weighs very heavy, which we soon found when we went to the assistance of the Arab, and lifted the load off the donkey. The little animal seemed in no hurry to rise from his comfortable position on the ground, and the Arab was proceeding with a big stick to hint to him that it was time to get up, when my wife intervened, and showed the Arab that this was no way to treat the good little beast.
[Illustration: 1. IN DISTRESS.]
Having induced him at last to rise, the load of grass was up-ended, the donkey put broadside on to it, and the burden was quickly hoisted on to its back again.
[Illustration: 2. ALL HANDS TO THE RESCUE.]
So we had been able to do a little good turn to the man, though the donkey did not probably appreciate it quite so much at first, but he did in the end, for as soon as his load was securely on his back the man started to whack him on along his road.
But again my wife put in a remonstrance, and the Arab, grasping her meaning, refrained from using his stick, and coming back to us he gave us each a hearty handshake, as if to show his gratitude for our help and his determination to treat his four-footed friend with greater kindness in the future.
[Illustration: 3. ALL PLEASED EXCEPT THE DONKEY.]
* * * * *
A CAMP INVENTION.
We were awfully sorry to finish our tramping camp. It was over much too soon, but in the short time that we were at it we picked up lots of health and enjoyment, and also a good many useful camp hints.
[Illustration: WHENEVER WE HAD A MOMENT TO SPARE SHE SET TO WORK TO SCRUB THE SAUCEPAN.]
One of these--like so many great discoveries--was found by accident.
My wife, like a good Scout, kept everything very clean in camp, and our joke was that whenever there was a moment to spare she would set to work to scrub the saucepan. That seemed to be her favourite job, using a handful of sand and a twist of coarse grass, and the result was a bright, clean saucepan in which to cook our food.
A good deal of sickness comes in camps when dirty saucepans are used.
When she was not cleaning the saucepan her other spare minutes were spent in cleaning up the camp ground, and burning all scraps.
One morning when doing this she made the great discovery. It was this--how to make toast without a good fire. She had wrapped some unused slices of bread in some waste paper, and put the whole lot among the ashes of our palm-leaf fire in order to burn them.
The paper gradually charred and burnt itself away, and left the bread behind it nicely roasted into crisp brown toast!
* * * * *
Another tip which we learnt in camp was how to find truffles. These are a kind of root akin to a mushroom, which grow entirely underground. They are very nice to eat, and command a good price in the market.
In France the people find them with pigs; the pigs are able to scent them, and proceed to root them up with their snouts, when the man steps in and collars the truffle.
The Arabs showed us how to find them on the desert, where they are quite plentiful.
We had to examine the ground pretty carefully as we went along, and where we saw a few little cracks in the surface leading out from one centre where the earth bulged up a little--there we dug down two or three inches and found the truffle.
* * * * *
AN EX-BOY SCOUT.
At one railway station in Algeria we found a motor-car waiting to take us to our destination. The driver, unlike so many motor-car drivers, set to work to carry our luggage himself, and worked for us most willingly and well. He spoke English perfectly, with a South African accent.
We soon found that he came from the Transvaal, and had learnt his energetic helpfulness and courtesy through having been a Boy Scout in Johannesburg!
* * * * *
THE STORY OF THE SIWASH ROCK.
The story of the "Arab Marriage" reminds me of another legend about rocks, but this one was a Red Indian story about a rock in British Columbia, Canada.
The Arab story showed that the Arabs respect decent behaviour, and this one, on the opposite side of the world, shows that the Red Indians also give honour to manliness and purity.
[Illustration: TUNISIAN ARAB BOY WEARING A "CHEKIA" OR FEZ.]
[Illustration: TUNISIAN WOMAN OUT FOR A WALK--BLACK MASK AND ROOMY "BAGS."]
Just at the entrance to the harbour of Vancouver stands a solitary pinnacle of rock, straight and upright. It is called the Siwash Rock.
A young chief had made himself renowned for his wonderful courage in war and for his sense of duty to his tribe and to his religion, and for his courtesy to women.
He had married a wife, and when she was about to give birth to a child they did as laid down in the laws of the tribe, that is, they both bathed in the sea to be so clean that no wild animal should be able to scent them. This would ensure their child being clean in thought and deed.
The woman returned to their tent, but the young chief went on swimming to make sure that he should be clean and pure for the birth of his son.
While he swam a canoe came along with four giants in it. These shouted to him to get out of their way, but he only laughed back at them that he was swimming on important business.
But they shouted to him that he must cease swimming in the channel, as they were messengers of the great God, and that if he did not they would turn him into a fish, or a tree, or a stone.
[Illustration: A SPAHI (NATIVE CAVALRY SOLDIER) ADMIRED BY AN ABAB BOY SCOUT OF THE FUTURE.]
But he only replied that he must be clean for the birth of his child, and therefore he meant to go on swimming, no matter what the risk was to him.
This quite nonplussed the giants.
They could not run him down, because if their canoe were to touch a human being their power over men would be lost.
Just then, when they were pausing, wondering what to do, they heard the cry of a baby come from the woods on the shore.
Then one of the giants stood up and chanted to the swimmer a message from the great God that, because he had bravely held out against all their threats in order that his child should be the son of a clean father, he should never die, but should remain for ever as a reminder to other warriors to do their duty, and to obey the law of the tribe. And his wife and child, too, should be for ever near him.
So the moment he touched the shore he became the great upright rock, now called the Siwash Rock. And a short distance from him, in the woods, are two more rocks, a big one and a little one beside it--his wife and child.
They are monuments to the Indian belief that those who do their duty in spite of any difficulty or danger are the best men and the greatest heroes.
* * * * *