Oriental Interiors

The United States of America is well represented at Tangier. Colonel Matthews, who commanded the First California Volunteers during the war, and who was appointed by President Grant, has held the office of consul at Tangier, with a short and unfortunate interregnum, ever since. I have been told that he was born in Morocco, but whether this is true or not, lie speaks the language of the country and the other languages of the Mediterranean with fluency, and knows how to protect American interests and make American travellers who call upon him very much at home. The offices of the foreign embassies within the town are not very inviting, and the business to be transacted in their precincts is not always agreeable, but the residences of the officials are delightful. The colonel lives at Mount Washington, about an hour’s ride from the hotel, in a fine villa surrounded by- an extensive garden, from which one can look out, through vistas of foliage, upon the blue Mediterranean, or inland upon the distant mountains, or down at the white roofs and towers of the picturesque city of Tangier.

At an appointed hour, a solemn Moor, tall and straight, with large turban and gray beard, clad in long flowing robes of white, girded with a red silk sash, leading a richly caparisoned horse, and another servant leading a jet black mule, with lady’s saddle and trappings, appeared at the door of the hotel, to convey us to lunch at the consul’s villa. We rode through the lanes and streets of the town, past the market-place, and on, by a road which was lined on either side with hedges of prickly pear and immense aloes with their sharp spears, till we reached the open country. Then the road became a multitude of paths, which had been made by mules and horses and asses and caravans of camels. Through this labyrinth our guides marched, up hill and down hill, and up again, till we reached the villa gate. There were travellers mounted and on foot, and herds of cattle and sheep and goats along the way, and women were washing clothes in the bed of a small river, and spreading them out to dry upon the stones, and other women carrying water jars upon their heads, with one hand held up gracefully to balance the jar; these were slaves and unveiled, and some of them were handsome after their kind.

I could not awaken much enthusiasm respecting feminine beauty in Tangier in the breasts of any of my fellow-travellers ; the ladies would not see it, and as for the men they could not, for all the pretty women were veiled. This must have been the case, since none of those natives who were unveiled were pretty. There is a Jewish quarter in Tangier where there are a plenty of dark-eyed and jet-haired Jewesses, fat and oily-looking, adorned with colored handker chiefs and much sham jewelry. The beauty of these children of Abraham is of a peculiar type and rarely accompanied with grace of movement, a pleasant voice, or feminine delicacy. The Spanish women whom we saw seemed the prettiest, but doubtless their better taste in dress and better civilization heightened the contrast with their Oriental sisters. The children of all the nationalities are attractive, lively, and bright, a little impish and mischievous, as bright children are everywhere, but very amusing and an agreeable part of every Oriental picture.

We passed through the villa gate, and the scene changed at once from an unshaded trail over desolate hills to a most romantic and beautiful garden laid out in avenues of rare trees, loaded with blossoms and fruit, and flowers innumerable, and fountains flowing, and rose-bushes covered with rosebuds and roses in full bloom. There were palms and eucalyptus trees, vines with the promise of a rich vintage, cocoanut and magnolia trees growing to a huge size, orange and citron trees laden with large and luscious fruit. The air was heavy with the perfume of lilac and jasmine and immense shrubs of geranium and heliotrope, and the garden was such an one as Adam might have been content to keep and dress, and Eve to gather its fruits.

The consul had invited to meet us the editor of the Spanish paper in Tangier, whose journal does credit to the profession, though its subscription list is small, and the job office is more lucrative than the journal. The Duke of Carrara and a lady from Gi braltar were the other guests. We spent a pleasant afternoon in this charming and hospitable circle, and came back to the “Continental” laden with oranges and lemons, and a bushel basket of roses of great size and beauty. On the same afternoon we had invitations to other villas, where the ladies and gentlemen of the embassies met for social intercourse, tea, and music; but it involved more riding than we could well take, and a late return to the hotel.

Before leaving, we made a formal visit to the prison and the harem. Of course only ladies were admitted to the latter, but they cheerfully told us what they saw, without pledging us to secrecy or concealment. The prison is situated on a hill near the ruins of the sultan’s palace, and overlooks the harbor. It is a large, whitewashed building, and the prisoners are huddled together in one main room. They are not supplied with food except what they can obtain through the charity of visitors and by the sale of articles which they make of straw and wood. I was informed that deaths from starvation were not unusual. We were only allowed to look through a small opening into the room, and to hand in our contributions through the hole to the hungry occupants.

In the gateway leading to the prison, a kadi holds a sort of court for the settlement of disputes and the administration of justice, not including criminal law. There were half a dozen noisy claimants gesticulating before him as we passed by.

The ladies, who were admitted to the harem of the governor, were not very enthusiastic in their description of the houris dwelling therein. There was a pretty courtyard, or patio, with a fountain and some flowering shrubs and rose-bushes; the inner rooms were strown with rugs, and divans were ranged around the walls. On these or on the rugs the women sat cross-legged. They were fat, with olivecolored faces and black eyes, dressed in Eastern costume with silk burnooses and scarfs, and a quantity of cheap ornaments. They said little, but eagerly scanned the Paris dresses, and especially the bracelets, rings, and ear-rings of the visitors. Sherbet and thick coffee and cigarettes were served to the guests, and each one was presented with a bunch of roses. In return their hosts were more than satisfied with some trifles from Paris, ribbons and the like. None of them were doing anything in the way of embroidery or fancy work, which is so plentiful in the bazaars. We were told that all such things were done by a lower class of slaves, and that the women of the harem spent their time in idleness and sleep. This may be the base invention of their enemies. The romance of the harem seemed to have faded out and given place to a very commonplace and matter-offact impression of its life in the minds of our companions after their visit to the citadel.

The Mohammedans of Morocco are very strict in their religion. The infidel is not allowed to enter or even to look into the mosques, and though I had visited El Akaba at Jerusalem and St. Sophia at Constantinople, the dirty little sanctuary at Tangier was guarded against my profane feet. So I was fain to be content with the voice of the muezzin from the minaret calling the faithful to prayer, and with the religious spectacles in the street at the hours of prayer, when many devout Mohammedans would go through their devotions, regardless of place and, apparently, of observers. It may be that, like the Pharisees of old, they did these things ” to be seen of men.”

Temptations to remain in Morocco were not wanting, and invitations to stay for a boar-hunt, and a journey to Tetuan and Fez, and perhaps to Mogador, were enticing; but we had only planned for a glimpse of the Barbary States, and so we dismissed the idea of further travel in Africa, mounted upon the backs of stalwart porters, while others carried our boxes, and thus waded out to some tossing boats, which bore us to the rickety and rolling Spanish vessel which we hoped would transport us to Cadiz.

We should have made the trip in five hours, but a strong northwest wind and a heavy head sea lengthened the voyage to nine hours. There was no freight to ballast the vessel, except a few vegetables and crates of chickens, and it jumped about like a cork upon the waves. One of the party sent for the doctor, and seriously informed him that she had been so sick that she feared she was losing her mind, and heard continually the crowing of cocks. She recovered her reason and her physical equilibrium at once, when she was informed that the cargo was largely composed of roosters. It was blowing a gale when we cast anchor in the port of Cadiz, and I did not see how we were to get ashore; but the boatmen are used to the business, and, after some trouble and no little risk, we were transferred to a large sail-boat, with a11 of our 11 traps,” and flew to the shore, the gunwale under water all the way, and such a dash of water from the bows that my heavy coat was soaked and I had to change all my clothes. We were ready to rest that night in a town that seemed civilized and clean by contrast with the cities of the African coast.