THE morning of the second day we follow the wild green valley of the Oued Nfis, thickly bordered with rose-laurels in flower and luxuriant tropical clusters of Barbary fig cacti. We cross a picturesque old bridge and begin to climb into the low, barren hills. The morning sun is hot but not uncomfortable until we descend into broad valleys, dry and breathless, shut in by surrounding mountains. The only watering place for the thirsty animals is a buried stone reservoir half full of stale, warm water alive with wriggling things. In the wet season this is patiently filled from distant wells, which later dry up. We give each mule a meagre allowance of water dipped up in the wash basin. At the miserable village of Iggouder, where we rest for two scorching hours in the scraggy shade of a few olive trees, we are beset by a swarm of half a hundred children, almost all little girls. The nearly naked brats grin at us from all sides, half frightened but fascinated by curiosity. Gaining confidence in numbers, they press in a close circle around us until, at a shout from old Si Lhassen, they scatter in fifty directions and completely clear the landscape. But in two minutes, dozens of little shaven heads and chocolate coloured faces peer around every cactus clump and olive bole, and soon they are fingering mule trappings and trying to dive into chouari bags.
In the afternoon we pass through scorching hot, new-reaped wheat fields in a rich region made fertile by irrigation. We are approaching the upland valley of Amizmiz. The water of a large stream, which flows from the snow-capped Atlas range, is diverted into innumerable canals and ditches, which wind through flourishing groves of olives and figs and periodicaly inundate small terraced patches of maize and melons.
Here and there are mysterious little white-domed marabouts, the shrines of venerated local saints. They shine dazzling white in the brilliant sunlight, and they seem to be surrounded with a feeling of religious aloofness and sacrosanctity. The great peaks of the Atlas loom near on two sides of us, barren but for stunted green oaks, and gouged and Bullied with old erosions. And high and far beyond them all, Djebel Mskrin towers to fourteen housand feet, its white snowy summit gleaming coldly while we suffocate in the heat beside the equally aloof white marabouts’ shrine.
In the late afternoon we meet Mahommed Laoussine, the calipha of Amizmiz, riding by in state on a beautiful white mule, and surrounded by half a dozen mounted retainers and three or four slaves running beside to keep abreast. The calipha greets us cordially and invites us to his kasba for the night. He and Monsieur Lapandéry are old friends. He sends back with us a tall black seneschal dressed in a striped djellaba. A beautiful silver-hilted poignard hangs from a crimson cord over his shoulder, and he wears one silver earring large as an anklet, a sign of slavery; its size indicates the importance of his position.
We ride on to the gate of the battered old, mud-built kasba, the feudal stronghold of the calipha. Mats are spread for us out of doors in the shade of a square tower, for sleeping in the open will be more comfortable than inside the kasba which the sun has baked all day. A quarter of a mile behind the castle is the town, a huddled group of square mud houses built beside the ruin of an older kasba, the castle of a former holder of the fief, whose power and lordship the present calipha seized by force many years ago.
The calipha holds exactly the position of the mediaeval baron. He is under the suzerainty of a powerful over-lord, and, in turn, he has the power of life and death over his retainers. Amizmiz is a rich fief of the great Caïd Goundafi, one of the three great over-lords of the southern Atlas. These mighty dukes, the Glaoui, the Mtouggi, and the Goundafi, gained their power by force and guile during turbulent sultanates of the last century, and rule with an almost absolute sway, which acknowledges but nominally the control of the sultan. The last Glaoui, in fact, was for years the Warwick of Morocco, who made and unmade sultans, and declared for and really preserved the French protectorate in the south when in 1914 two-thirds of the troops had to be withdrawn. The ancestral castles of these over-lords are in the heart of the Atlas, but they depute their power to some resident relative, while they themselves live in great palaces in Marrakesh and spend their time in diplomacy and higher politics. They hold many great fiefs in the cultivated mountain valleys and rich fertile plains to the south and west, and exact large tribute and military support from scores of under-caïds and caliphas. The caliphas, or barons, in turn demand heavy imposts from the sheiks, or heads of villages, who grievously grind the faces of the poor tribesmen on whom the whole feudal burden rests. The caïds or caliphas seize the best of everything. The tribesman who cultivates the soil or raises flocks is merely a serf who receives but one-fifth of what his labour produces; the sheik, the calipha, the great caïd and the sultan get the rest. The whole political and economic system of Morocco is very like that of the greater part of Europe in the twelfth century. And the parallel is carried out further in the relation of the calipha-barons among themselves, for they are at constant war with one another. The normal life of southern Morocco has been a sequence of feuds, with destruction and pillage, burning of villages and sacking of kasbas. The fighting is done by the body of personal retainers, who in the moments of peace live indolently in their lord’s stronghold, their only duty being to kiss his shoulder in fealty, whenever he crosses his own outer courtyard.
At Amizmiz time turns back hundreds of years and one can see mediaeval life as it is still lived, and lose all sense of the reality of modern Europe, which is but little more than a week’s journey away. As we sit here on mats of woven rushes spread on the stone roof of a huge cistern, and look through the archway of the kasba gate, which frames a picturesque group of idle Moors in graceful garments, Paris must be some place we dreamed of once and America cannot have been discovered. The sun has dropped behind the near mountain peaks and the grain fields and watered gardens glow in soft golden light. A group of serfs, at a signal from their taskmaster, leave off with a faint shout their lazy winnowing of the calipha’s wheat and stroll toward the little mud huts. A prisoner in a single rag caught up over one shoulder and a horrible leg fetter, two ankle rings connected by a straight iron bar, waddles like a duck, as he makes many painfully hobbled journeys to fill his big earthen water jar at the cistern over which we are sitting.
A comic little negro slave, clad mostly in slippers like an Aubrey Beardsley, drawing, pours water over my hands and grins at the contrast of their dark bronze with the absurd whiteness of my bare forearms. I solemnly quote at him,
Mislike me not for my complexion, The shadow’d livery of the burnished sun,
but the very sound of Shakespeare awes him and he keeps a frightened eye on me as he brings the basin and kettle to Monsieur Lapandéry. The tall black seneschal serves us little glasses of smoking coffee, and then a hot kouskouus made of boiled cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, carrots, and marrow, walled in with steamed white millet. The little slave stands beside us, brushing the flies away with a palm branch. Somewhere over the wall a donkey hee-haws. And from the little slits of windows in the tower over our heads floats the high rippling laughter of the women of the calipha’s household ; they are telling one another questionable stories !
And then the calipha arrives; fat, pleasant, sixty, with the self-confidence of a great personage. He drops his slippers, sits down on the mat with us and fondles his bare pink heels. The charming little Kbira sits between him and Monsieur Lapandéry and interprets the conversation, for the calipha talks the Shelluh Berber dialect and talks it very fast and deep in his beard. Kbira, who was born a diplomat, cuddles up to the old man and exercises the winning fascination of her eight-year-old charm. The conversation turns on the price of sheep in Marrakesh and the probable state of the almond crop in the Souss, and the high cost of living. Amizmiz is the limit of the French protected zone, and as the dangerous part of our journey begins here, the calipha offers us an armed escort. We decline the offer, because soldiers have expensive appetites and large ideas of expected generosity. The calipha says we shall be safe from the tribesmen, for the great Goundafi has ordered them not to get into any trouble with foreigners, for that will mean the sending of machine guns. Our only danger is from lawless bandits, and he warns us specially against the wild Ait Semmeg, through whose country we must pass. And there is also a chance of our being sent back when we get to the kasba of the Goundafi, in the valley at Talat N’ Yaccoub, for the calipha in charge does not like to have foreigners wandering around his domain.
Our conversation was interrupted from time to time by servants and functionaries who came to receive orders or beg requests, for the calipha is on familiar terms with his vassals and acts as a patriarchal chief, adviser, judge, leader, and ruler. Two soldiers bring in a handsome young fellow accused of stealing two French francs. He is ragged and unkempt, for he has lain all day in jaila dark pit with a big stone over itbut has the attractive frank features and intelligent eyes that mark the best of the Berber peasants. The soldiers present the evidence against him and several witnesses are heard. Then the accused advances to the mat, drops off his slippers, kneels, and kisses the calipha’s fat hand, and, standing up, makes a vehement and dramatic protestation of his innocence. Then the soldiers and the accused and the witnesses all give accusation and evidence and denial at the same time, with much hubbub and gesticulation. The calipha quietly listens to the wild gabble of voices, thoughtfully scratching his nose and tugging at his beard. At a sign from him, the crowd be-comes silent and, standing barefoot, facing Mecca with uplifted hands, they pray to the Most Merciful. The calipha then solemnly adjudges the fellow guilty and orders him to be given one stroke of the bastinado. The prisoner is led aside and thrown to the ground, his bare feet in the air; and the executioner, a big muscular chap, having but one blow to deliver, makes it a mighty one. The culprit lies on the ground a long time before he can get up and go away.
In the evening, after a dinner of deliciously roasted chickens followed by the usual kouskous, as we sit drinking mint-flavoured tea and chatting with the servants grouped around the yellow glow of the lantern, we hear over in the village a wild confusion of tom-toms, lutes, and viols beating fast, joyous rhythms. And this is intermingled with strange shrill you-you’s, the cries of joy with which the women greet a conqueror or an honoured guest. And in the midst of this a sudden gunshot cracks. There is a wedding in the village and the shot is the bridegroom’s announcement of his arrival outside the house of the bride. The music and the cries cease, while the newly married are left alone together, and the guests devote their attention to the feast which is served out of doors. Laughter and loud merry talk float over to us as we lie back on our blankets smoking and looking up at the warm stars. In a little while, when the distant merry-making has become a vague humming in my drowsy ears, a second loud gunshot wakes me. This is the bridegroom’s signal that the marriage is consummated. The you-you’s recommence, and in the midst of the shouting and crying, women’s voices sing a marriage song. I cannot hear the words, but old Si Lhassen knows them and with little Kbira’s help I get them down:
Gracefully she comes down from the mountains, Robed all in white, And all lovely with her golden hair Her hair which falls in long beautiful tresses. And her brow is fair as the crescent moon In the month of Shaaban. Ee a la laEe a la li.
Her eyebrows are delicately traced as with a pencil, Her eyes are the eyes of a young gazelle. Her little nose is fair as a rosy medlar, And her cheeks are full like rounded apples. Ee a la laEe a la li.
One would think her teeth a string of pearls; Her mouth is like King Solomon’s ring; Her wet lips are sweet as sugar much refined. Ee a la laEe a la li.
O coral lips! O neck that gleams like a silver vase! O bosom white and firm As the pure marble of a Sultan’s bath! A swelling bosom round as two ripe pomegranates ! O ! lovely maid, a green pasture for thy husband, And for the ears of those who hear me ! Ee a la laEe a la li.
The noise of the laughter and shouting and the beating of the tom-toms kept up far into the night. I woke again some time long before morning, when every star of the Great Bear was completely hidden below the northerly horizon and Arcturus and his Sons had long gone to rest, but a single tom-tom was still beating its haunting, empty monotony, the expression of the strange old mournful heart of Africa with its undertone of sadness even in moments of joy. The rest of the party were asleep, breathing quietly beside me, and in the corner of the wall shadowed from the star-shine, loomed the figure of the Ethiopian slave, uncannily tall and motionless, keeping watch over us through the night.
The next morning very early, before the sun had driven us out of our blankets, the calipha paid us a visit. We jumped into our clothes to receive our dignified host, who was on his way to begin the daily round of overseeing his feudal domain. He ceremoniously wished us a good journey and commended us to Allah. And then we drank a cup of Si Lhassen’s coffee, delicious, aromatic, and inspiring; and eager for any event, we set out on the trail through the mountains.
The first day we passed no villages and met but few natives on the road. We went over two high ranges with gorgeous mountain scenery, along difficult steep passages and fascinating changes in vegetation. The first adventure in the dangerous, forbidden zone was the cordial, hospitable reception of a mountaineer. He had fought through the war in a Moroccan regiment, and his Croix de Guerre was still pinned to his tattered blue tunic. He followed us two miles trying to persuade us to be his guests in his mountain hut long enough to eat a kouskous, which the women would shortly prepare. We were pressed for time, but compromised by halting for a half hour’s rest and tea.
The hut was a very crude affair built of mud and roughly shaped wooden beams, the roof of baked mud, plastered thickly on sticks and poles. The animal-like simplicity of the structure suggested a robin’s nest or a beaver-dam. In the little court, around which three shed-like rooms were arranged, were a small hand-mill for grinding corn, an oven, a clay stove, a copper tea kettle, and two or three terra cotta dishes for preparing kouskous and gruel. Two black goats were tethered in a little sty in one corner. Our host lived in this home with his father, mother, brother, and sister-in-law, and half a dozen children, all grown girls.
Two of the girls were very pretty, with liquid brown eyes and a shy half-frightened manner. In Berber poems women are always called gazelles. I persuaded these two gazelles to leave the primitive loom at which they were weaving a white woolen blanket, and approach near enough to eat lumps of sugar from my hand. Their father smiled at their shyness and made several rather broad re-marks, which, instead of embarrassing the lovely animals, amused them extremely.
It is only among these simple mountaineers that a stranger is allowed to talk to Berber women. It is true that they are not kept in the strict seclusion of Arab women, but there is none of the familiar mingling of the sexes in work and play that is usual among European peasants. Berber women have much to say in the conduct of the family, and no man may marry without his mother’s consent, but, as among all Moslems, a wife is the husband’s property, very jealously guarded. A stranger among the Berbers must be very circumspect in his admiration, for their long curved poignards are very sharp. Berber women are not veiled, except those in Marrakesh who have imitated the Arab custom, but in the presence of a stranger they hold one hand vaguely over the lower part of their faces. I have noticed, however, that the old and unattractive ones make a more strict show of Moslem modesty than the young charmers. In the present instance the two girls shyly looked at me through two fingers when they approached closely, but they were quite content to be fully admired from across the courtyard.
This little family group was extremely poor. The greater part of the produce from their pitiful, struggling patches of Indian corn and vegetables must be handed over to the sheik of the nearest village. They had but a handful of tea and a little sugar, but the cordiality and gracious courtesy of our host was the most complete in the world. Hospitality among these simple folk is the first of the cardinal virtues. To illustrate this point, our host, while we were sipping his sweet mint-flavoured tea, told us a story of the Brigand and the Guest of God:
There was once a man who was a brigand and he went to a place in the desert and lived alone. He had killed a hundred men less one. One day, came a man passing by this road. Sunset overtook him. He said to himself, “Where shall I pass the night ?” He saw the house of the brigand beside the road. He said, “I will go pass the night here.” He went, arrived at the house, and the wife of the brigand came out.
“The guest of God!” he said.
But the woman replied : “Friend, what shall I do with thee? My husband slays men.”
He replied : “Yes, I shall pass the night here until morning.”
The woman said: “If thou wilt, I will put thee in the silo so that my husband cannot see thee when he comes.”
“Very well,” said he. She led him to the place, let him down, and left him there. The husband returned.
The woman said : “Husband, there is a man in this place.”
“What is he doing here?”
“He claimed the hospitality of God. I said `I will put thee in the silo.’ He said : `Very well.’ ”
The man said: “Go bring him out.” The woman went and pulled up the stranger.
“Come, talk to him.” The stranger went with her into the room where the master of the house was sitting. The stranger greeted him and the master of the house said:
“Welcome! Whence comest thou?”
“I come from my own abode.”
“I go to the house of God.”
The master of the house said : “Friend, a strange thing has happened.”
“What has happened?”
“I am a brigand. A hundred men less one have I slain. When thou shalt come to the house of God, question Him and say: `I have a friend who has slain a hundred men less one.’ What will He say to thee? Shall I go to paradise or to punishment ?”
The stranger went until he came to the house of God. He said: “Lord God, I wish to ask you about a friend of mine who hath slain a hundred men less one.”
The Lord God replied : “Why bath he not slain thee when thou didst pass the night there?”
“Lord, he did not slay me.”
“What didst thou say?”
“Lord, I said : `The guest of God.’ ”
“What did he give you for supper?”
“Lord, he was very good to me.”
Then said the Lord God : “Go tell him I have added a hundred years to his life. His abode shall be in paradise because he hath given hospitality to a guest of God.”
The next day our journey through rough passes and deep ravines and over high ranges was broken by another glimpse of mountain life. We stopped to rest at the agadir of the Sheik of Tadirt N’ Bourd, a quaint old mud stronghold, strategically placed in a narrow part of the gorges of the Oued Nfis. The agadir looks like several smooth-sided, cubical mud blocks piled rudely and irregularly against a steep barren hillside. In front, far be-low the pass, the Oued Nfis roars along its pebbly bottom. On the big rough-hewn beam of the square, low doorway are cut a dozen mystic symbols, square and angular characters potent against the power of djinns. After a few minutes’ waiting we are led in to the sheik. The interior of the agadir is very rough and primitive; no evidence of even simple art or of luxury. The sheik lives in much the same manner as our poor mountain host of yesterday, except that he has a much larger house, and plenty of food, and does not have to toil for these advantages. The rather fat and infirm old man, sitting on a mat of rushes, receives us with a faint smile of welcome and a courteous hand. We sit beside him on the mat and a half dozen of his retainers come up to greet us. A dish of rich wild honey and melted butter is brought in; we all sit around and sop up sweet sticky mouthfuls with pieces of thick pancakes.
Little Kbira, as before, sits beside the old sheik stroking his white beard, and asking questions in a low, childish whisper. We undoubtedly owe our safety on the trip to the charm of Kbira, as well as to the tact of Monsieur Lapandéry, who understands the ways of these native chieftains. The sheik assures us that we may pass freely through his territory, for his brave retainers have quite put down all bands of wandering brigands, and that thanks to him the valley of the Oued Nfis is as safe as the sanctuary of a mosque. He did not tell us, however, that his own noble followers themselves turned brigands whenever the probable booty seemed worth the risk of incurring the displeasure of the caïd. Nor did we think it tactful to ask him whether the two European rings on his fat little finger had not been slipped from the hands of dead French soldiers.
A keen eyed, supple-limbed, young Berber comes over and sits beside me, and with courteous gestures that help along my as yet hazy notion of the Shelluh dialect, makes me understand that he wishes to have an American for his friend. There is nothing of his that he will not gladly share with me. Then he admires my amber sun glasses and tries them on with great delight; he would like to see the world as I do! Kbira here comes to my rescue and suggests that when he visits us at Marrakesh we shall find him a pair.
We ride on all day through valleys and over water courses and in the midst of lurid volcanic scenery. The villagers we pass are never unaffriendly, but they are not hospitable, and will neither give nor sell us any food. For ourselves, we can get on with our store of ham and sardines, but the essential thing is to find oats and straw for the animals. One does not feel safe riding along the verge of an abrupt cañon on the back of a mule that has not eaten in twelve hours. The reason for the attitude of the natives is not a hostile feeling toward us as foreigners, but their own necessity for conservation of resources. We are now on one of the two great caravan trails between Marrakesh and the Souss; for hundreds of years commerce in oil, almonds, and grain has been carried on by trains of mules and asses that pass daily through these narrow and precarious defiles. By bitter experience the valley villagers have learned that hospitality may go beyond the point of being a virtue, and that a winter food supply is better than a few silver douros. The caïd exacts his four-fifths and the remainder is barely enough to keep the wretched peasant alive.
We sometimes send old Si Lhassen on alone to a village, for his patriarchal aspect and the reputed knowledge of secret things and occult necromoncies that always attaches to the very old, can often procure food when the offer of money alone can not. One day I saw him practising his white magic. We were halting for a hungry noonday rest in a breath-less valley beside a shrunken stream. The only shade was a clump of rose-laurels covered with pink blooms like flowering oleanders. The bushes were too thick to creep into, and as the sun was directly overhead we hugged the few inches of shadow around the edges. A poor tribesman came over from a group of huts steeply terraced on a bare hill-slope. He and Si Lhassen conferred long together, the old grandfather assuming his most saintly air. Presently the man went away, and shortly returned with two women bringing a naked idiot child of about five years, whom they placed before Si Lhassen. They then counted out nine hen’s eggs, which the old man boiled in a pan over a little fire, and while they were cooking he selected a handful of little clear, coloured pebbles. When the eggs had cooked, he took them out and put them aside as the sorcerer’s prerequisite, and, taking the pan of water from the fire, poured into it a handful of pinkish salt. The idiot child stared and blinked and feebly moved his little arms. The perfect childlike calm of Si Lhassen’s wrinkled old face lapsed into a blank beatitude; he seemed to shrink into his reverend self with an aloof other-worldliness. He slowly dissolved the salt, stirring with one finger, and counted the pebbles like beads in a rosary, muttering inaudible prayers. When he had told over all the little pebbles, he wetted the face of the idiot child who whimpered witlessly. The ceremony over, the Berbers took the child away. The rite may well be the remnant of Christian baptism, preserved as a superstition for twelve hundred years, from the ante-Islamic time when Christianity flourished in Mauretania Tingitane, preserved like the sign of the Cross woven in rugs and cut in the beams of doorways. The use of salt in the water is a pagan touch, for the seven kinds of malignant djinns that pester the world abhor salt.
A sequel must be added to this incident. When we came to eat the eggs we found them all bad! Si Lhassen was piqued and muttered that no good would come to men who sought God’s blessing by deception.
At the end of the fourth day out from Marrakesh we enjoyed the pleasant surprise of meeting two Frenchmen prospecting along the trail. They led us down a difficult, twisting descent to the valley of the Oued, a thousand feet below, to their comfortable little camp where we spent the night, both of our parties sharing our scanty supplies. They assured us the villages would sell them nothing had nothing, in fact, to sell, but Si Lhassen came from the village by nine o’clock with a chicken which no human teeth could penetrate. It suffered us, however, to enjoy the communal pleasure of hungry people loudly inhaling hot soup.
The Frenchmen advise us to turn back. They tell us that we shall be stopped at the next valley, where the Kasba of the Goundafi is situated. They have tried for six months to pass over the next great range to get down to the Souss. They say that the calipha will come out with fifty followers and bar our way, as soon as news comes to him that we are in the valley. We can shoot two or three, but what then? Better not risk the meeting. But Monsieur Lapandéry and I are for trying to get through.
The next morning we set out for the Talat N’ Yaccoub, riding our hungry animals. Si Lhassen succeeds in finding a little straw for them on the way, and we make an early halt for luncheon. We decide to ride on through the heat of the day so that we shall encounter fewer people on the trail. The Talat N’ Yaccoub is a vast valley in the very heart of the Atlas, surrounded on four sides by giant peaks with sharp, precipitate slopes. We enter it from the north by the deep-cut valley of the Oued Nfis, along which we have been travelling. The entrance is at the confluence of the Oued Nfis with the Oued Agoundis, two mountain streams which the melting winter snows swell to great rivers for a few months of every year. In summer they are shallow brooks fordable almost anywhere. Out of the great valley are two difficult passes both leading into the Souss, one over the Tizi N’ Test which reaches a height of sixty-one hundred feet, the other over Tizi Ouicheddan, almost nine thou-sand feet. The valley is therefore the key to the Atlas. The possession of it has made the caïds of Goundafi for centuries the lords of the mountains, and they have lived on the tolls demanded from richly laden caravans. The clan of the Goundafi are descended from the mighty tribe of the Masmouda who, during the twelfth century, led by the mystic reformer Ibn Toumert, swept in wild hordes up from these valleys and founded the great dynasty of the Almohades, conquerors of all Barbary and lords of Spain. It was here that the power of the latest pretender, El Hibba, dissolved when in his flight from Marrakesh a few years ago, he arrived with five thousand asses and camels. The Goundafi allowed him to pass, but on condition that he hand over the whole great train!
As the trail over the Tizi N’ Test leads directly by the Kasba of Goundafi, we took the other, more difficult, way over Tizi Ouicheddan. And strangely enough, we got through in spite of the Frenchmen’s prophecies. As we passed two or three wretched mud villages, partly melted into ruins, groups of natives stared curiously at us but did not offer to stop us. We did not carry our arms openly for fear of seeming suspicious, but Kbira sat on the two automatics in the chouari bag, and we rode close to her mule, ready to close up if necessary. We learned afterward that the reason for our not being molested was that the calipha of the caïd Goundafi had gone off into the mountains with his retainers on a hunting expedition, and there was no one left to arrest us but the peasants, who are too timid to interfere with Europeans.
We toiled all the afternoon over the savage and rugged pass and descended again to inhabited valleys on the other side. Toward nightfall we ran into an adventure which came near bringing the expedition to a sudden and fatal end. By some such mistake as we made, through an imperfect knowledge of native customs, many a European has left his bones to lie in waste places, whitening in the winter rains and African sunlight. We had sent Si Lhassen on ahead to try his luck or his sorcery at getting a little oats or straw for the mules, and so we did not for the moment have the ad-vantage of his knowledge and advice. At a turn in the trail we spied a little knoll not far off, with what seemed the ruin of a little roofless stone hut on top, and beside it a large pile of new straw shining yellow in the sunlight. On the principle that necessity need not be overscrupulous, we decided to halt here long enough for the animals to “borrow” a meal, and then go on and see what luck Si Lhassen may have had.
We lifted the chouari bags off the mules, un-bridled Kino and Aziza, and left them to the enjoyment of their stolen meal. I settled down to the complete satisfaction of a restful pipe, and Monsieur Lapandéry, with the awkward tenderness of a man, began combing little Kbira’s curly hair. We were too keenly elated over our success in slipping by the Goundafi to think much about the fact that we had reached the country of the Ait Semmeg, the bandit tribe against whom the calipha of Amizmiz had warned us. Monsieur Lapandéry was making scornful remarks about the action of the French authorities with their fear of native hostility, and he felt that the two French prospectors had reasons of their own for trying to keep us out of the country. And just at this moment, a very ugly head with a savage scar over the jaw popped up in front of us. In a minute two more heads appeared and shortly the knoll was completely surrounded by eight Berbers armed with rifles and long, brass-sheathed poignards. They closed about us in an angry circle, all hoarsely shouting at once and gesticulating with clenched fists. One small, active chap thrust his face up to mine and sullenly glowered, and as he turned away to kick the mules from the straw, he vehemently spat on the ground, the fanatic Moslem’s gesture of contempt at contact with a Christian dog. The natives were so excited and rapid in their talk that it was impossible to catch what they were saying. Little Kbira was frightened and clung close to Monsieur Lapandéry, who tried to calm her so that she could tell what the trouble was about. The conaffused excitement did not seem to indicate an attack of brigands, who might be expected to proceed at once to the securing of our persons while they robbed our baggage. But evidently we were in a predicament.
Before anything more than a frenzy of talk had occurred, a fine looking young Berber, who proved to be the son of a sheik, strode quickly up the hill, pushed the men aside, and calmly took command of the situation. “Why,” he exclaimed with a fierce directness, while Kbira timidly translated, “do you Europeans come into our country, make a law for yourselves and violate this shrine of a holy saint? No one but a Christian would turn pack animals loose in a sacred place and give them straw that is under the protection of a marabout.” The little ruined hut was a marabout’s tomb, and the villagers, lacking any granary to store their surplus straw, piled it here where it would be safe under the protection of the venerated shrine. We had committed the unpardonable sin of sacrilege.
Monsieur Lapandéry’s tact came to our rescue. He explained, mostly with Kbira’s help, that our fault was through ignorance. The marabouts’ shrines in the Bled we could tell, but here we were in a strange country and did not know them. We were at heart, though Christians, religious men with deep respect for sacred places. We should not knowingly have done this thing and would make reparation. The dignified boy accepted our ex-planation and the men reluctantly acquiesced, though with longing looks at our fat chouari bags. They accepted a few silver douros by way of tangible apology. The sheik’s son shook hands with us graciously and they helped us load the mules and go on our way.
And that night as we were camping by a well outside a village, and, sleepy and fatigued, were trying to get our teeth into another of Si Lhassen’s chickens, a man arrived and presented me with a small jar of wild honey as a present from the sheik’s son.