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AN EXCURSION IN THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS.

To state that the usual delays occurred in making a start is unnecessary. Those who know Morocco only from report are probably aware that everything is "to-morrow," and that as often as not "to-morrow" extends itself over an unlimited period of time. So none of our party of three Englishmen, much less the natives who were to accompany us on our short expedition, evinced the least surprise when "to-morrow extended itself over a couple of days. Rather, our surprise was that the written permission and firman of the Moorish Sultan ever came at all.

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We had wearied of Moorish dinner parties, of hot rides in uniform, and all the paraphernalia attending a special mission of a Minister Plenipotentiary to the Moorish Court. Even the delightful orange-garden, with its trees full of bloom and fruit, had begun to pall upon us, and the three of us who could find leisure to quit Marakesh, as the southern capital of the empire of Morocco is called, made up our minds for a jaunt to the cool snow-peaks that showed up clearly enough through the heat haze of the plain. But at length the necessary letter arrived from the Sultan, addressed to the Kaid Sid Madani el Glawi, to visit whose castle and territory we had, through her Majesty's Minister, entreated permission. The Kaid of Glawa, as he is usually called, holds jurisdiction over a large portion of the Atlas Mountains to the east and south-east of Marakesh, and it was in this direction that we had decided to go. Our reasons were several; we had only a short time at our disposal, and rather than

try any previously untrodden route and fail, we determined if possible to travel over the pass which the late Joseph Thomson had crossed, and which I myself, in going to and returning from Tafilet, had been over twice. With the letter a verbal message arrived stating that the colonel of a regiment and a considerable bodyguard would be told off to accompany us. Of all the incapable and retrograde creatures in the world commend me to the colonel of a Moorish regiment: for pure incompetency to do anything in the plains, much less cross the Atlas Mountains, he is surpassed by none, save the mounted men he holds under his command, and in this bodyguard we saw our only obstacle and likelihood of failure; so we did the best thing under the circumstances and forgot all about them.

The Kaid of Glawa being at this time in Marakesh, undergoing the yearly-often monthly

process of being squeezed by his superiors, I delivered the letter in person, asked for a couple of guides to go with us, and a letter to the acting governor, and settled the whole business in ten minutes. One curious but common example of things Moorish, however, was brought to my notice-this, that the guides could not travel over the first portion of the road with us, which led through the tribelands of Misfiwa, on account of the ever-existing warfare between the natives of the two tribes in question; so I was obliged to name a meeting-place where we could pick them up on our second day's march on the borders, in fact, of their own frontier. Otherwise their lives, even in the com

pany of Europeans travelling with the credentials we had, would have been in great danger.

So one Friday morning in April of this year we sent our caravan out by one gate of the city, while we with a couple of mounted soldiers left by another, -a manœuvre decided upon in order to avoid calling attention to the fact that by a slip of memory we had forgotten our bodyguard. The two mounted soldiers we took with us were carefully chosen from the Minister's permanent bodyguard, -two harmless docile creatures who we knew would obey us, and who hadn't the spirit to object to any rash proceeding on our part, had we desired to carry out such. Ten mules with three servants and four mulemen completed our caravan, while two mounted tent - pitchers crawled along on what might once have been horses.

Of the first day's march little need be said. The plain on which Marakesh lies extends as far as the foothills of the Atlas, and over this level ground our march lay. There is little worthy of notice on the plain itself, though before one rises the majestic range, peak above peak, until the summits of glistening snow stand out in clear outline against the blue sky, or are hidden in fleecy white clouds. Looking back toward the city, one's eye is caught by the stately minaret of the Kutubía mosque, the sister tower to the Ghiralda at Seville. It was still early when our first camping-ground was reached at Iminzat, where the Wad Misfiwa emerges from the foothills to flow into the plain; and here, on the east bank, in the shade of a luxuriant grove of olive-trees, we had the satisfaction of seeing our tents pitched and our horses and mules turned loose to graze. We were

not the sole occupants of this charming grove, for the newly appointed governor of the tribe was paying a circular visit to his subjects, and collecting from them taxes and anything else he could lay his hands upon. No doubt the worthy official had paid a heavy price for his post, and was occupied in recouping his disbursements. Toward ourselves, however, his hospitality was extreme, and he littered our camp with presents of live provisions, candles, tea and sugar for ourselves and our men.

The following day we experienced a common occurrence in Morocco, the fact that our carefully chosen guide didn't know the way! In this case, after having led us many miles astray, the individual in question confessed that he was a stranger in the land, and had never been there before. Several hours were lost in wandering vainly about undulating hill country, and it was with no little pleasure that eventually we discovered a native of the soil, who escorted us as far as the spot where the Kaid of Glawa's guides were to meet us; and there, sure enough, they were, perched on the summit of one of the red earth conical hills of which the valley of the Ghadat boasts so many. We had up to this point been travelling nearly south-east; but from here our road lay almost due south, up the stream of the Ghadat. It was not only our route that varied at this point, for the scenery took a decided change for the better, and in place of the corn-fields we had been passing through we entered a wild romantic valley. From the boulder-strewn river-bed the mountains rise precipitously on either hand, for the most part thickly overgrown with a jungle

of pines, cedars, evergreen oaks, lentiscus, and palmeto, to mention only a few of the trees and shrubs -none of which escape the rapacious hands of the charcoal-burner and woodcutter, to reach any great size. But in a country as denuded of forest as is Morocco, the scene was a refreshing as well as a most charming one. Above these wooded mountains appeared the crags and peaks of the higher altitudes, many deep in snow. Fording the Wad Ghadat near the ruins of a bridge, we ascended by an execrable path the steep slope on the east side, along which the track led at varying heights above the riverbed. Riding was at almost all places out of the question, so boulder-strewn and so steep the way; so giving our horses to our men to lead, we pushed along on foot, our caravan animals staggering behind us. increase our discomfort, rain fell heavily, and the soil turned to sticky clay, into which one sank ankle-deep between the stones and boulders of the path. But in spite of these inconveniences and the cold, one could not fail to admire the scenery by which we were surrounded. Heavy banks of dark clouds hid the summits of the mountains above us, but below in deep shadow lay the gorge with its noisy turgid stream, growing every moment more and more swollen, rushing along over its stony bed. Here its white course opened out to the hill slopes, and here again it was hid to sight by steep precipices of rock.

To

All hopes of reaching Zarkten, our intended halting - place, by nightfall, were dashed to the ground, and shortly before sunset we called a halt at the Berber village of Aït Ghrobellu, a collection of flat-roofed mud houses

VOL. CLX.-NQ. DCCCCLXX.

clinging to the steep mountain-side, and boasting not even enough level ground for the pitching of our tents. But the good willing inhabitants soon found quarters for us, our men and our animals; and while we took up our residence in an upper room over a rough half-excavated stable, our men found quarters in a house near by. The roof of our chamber leaked, it is true, but on the whole it was warm and dry, and certainly welcome enough.

It was here that we heard the first and only note of discontent from our men, who, tired, hungry, cold, and wet, didn't see the fun of an expedition of this sort. The well-fed well- clothed plainsmen were horribly dissatisfied with the Atlas, and talking in superlatives, as the Arabs are so fond of doing, implored to be allowed to die there rather than be frozen to death in the snows higher up. This prayer having been treated with the laughter it deserved, they soon recovered their spirits, and the sound of merriment and teadrinking bespoke a change of opinion.

We were delayed till noon the following day by the continual downpour, but at that hour the sky cleared, and in bright sunlight we set out for Zarkten. A crowd of village youths accompanied us, on the pretence of helping our animals over the ford we would have to cross, but really, as they confessed to me en route, to see us make fools of ourselves over their rock-strewn mountain-tracks. Their disappointment was very keen when they discovered that we Englishmen managed to skip about their rocks almost as nimbly as they did themselves; and they generously confessed it. We found the river at Zarkten flooded, but managed with some risk to push

our animals over, lightened as they were by the absence of almost our entire camp equipment, for the tents, soaked by the rain of the previous day, had become too weighty for transport. Nor was there any further necessity for them, for from here there were houses in which shelter could be found for the night. Although we had succeeded in crossing the main ford, we found it impossible to proceed to the fortified castle of the Sheikh of Zarkten, where we had hoped and intended to stay the night, for between us and it flowed a deep narrow stream, flooded with the storm of the previous night. The Sheikh's son had, however, been warned of our approach, and beckoning us not to attempt the ford, told us that we should find quarters in the village half a mile or so farther on, where he would join us. So we pushed on between the wooded hills that surround this charming spot, to emerge upon a level piece of ground on which the main portion of the village stands, small flat-roofed houses built of tabía, the native concrete. Here a clean upper room was soon prepared for us, while accommodation was found for our men and beasts.

The valley at Zarkten is altogether as charming a spot as could be desired. It is here that the pines and cedars reach their greatest size, though that is not much to boast of, for few escape the woodcutter, who naturally selects the largest. How finely they would grow were they untouched can be judged from the few specimens which stand near a local saint's tomb on the conical hill above the Sheikh's house, which being holy soil has preserved them from the axe. Along the river's edge are narrow terraced fields, dotted with olive and walnut trees, from which the steep slopes of the

mountains, with their thick covering of jungle, rise to a great altitude. Here and there through an opening views of the higher peaks can be obtained, glistening in their caps of snow. It was not long before the Sheikh's son was with us, wishing us welcome and bringing provisions for the night. As fine a specimen of Berber as one could wish to see is this youth, with all the manner of a man able to give commands and see that he is obeyed, and the walk of a leopard. To merely sit and watch the quick turn of his head and the flash of his eye, to hear his distinct orders, short and to the point, was sufficient to recognise the spirit he possessed. Although as yet no hair is visible on his face, he has earned a reputation for prowess in their mountain warfare, which a single look at his movement and a single word from his lips are sufficient to assure one is well deserved. In peace he is as charming as he is said to be valiant in warfare, quick and intelligent, ready to listen and to talk-in fact, as handsome and charming a host as one could wish to see anywhere. He spent the evening with us in conversation and drinking tea, and we shared together the excellent supper that was brought us from his house. A rough trunk of a tree stretched across the river some little way higher up formed the sole means of communication between his strange fortress home and the main part of the village.

The Sheikh's house cannot be passed over without some mention, for although the style of architecture in which it is built is common enough on the southern side of the Atlas, it is extremely rare on the northern slopes. The main portion of the building, which is constructed entirely of tabía, is a

high square fortress, with tapering towers at each corner reaching a greater elevation than the principal part. The colour of the whole is deep yellow, but the summits of the four towers are whitewashed. Surrounding this Surrounding this building is a thick wall, serving for rooms and stables, which open on to the courtyard within. One gate alone gives entrance and exit to the castle. Although utterly incapable of withstanding artillery, the place is sufficiently strong to resist all attacks of the poorly armed natives; and only last year, during a local rebellion, it was invested for seven days by a horde of the Misfiwa tribe, who eventually retired on the eighth night, finding all their attempts at taking it frustrated by the pluck and skilful shooting of the little band of defenders. With its background of fir-clad hills and high mountains, and its foreground of river and olive-trees, the spot is one of the most picturesque it has been my lot to see in my various travels in the Atlas Mountains.

On leaving Zarkten the road ascends abruptly until, two hours on, one finds oneself at an altitude of some 6000 feet above the sealevel, gazing far down into the valley beneath, while opposite and above one, some ten miles distant, rises the sublime peak of Jibel Tidili. For a while the road continues at about this level, only descending once to any extent, when the upper reaches of the Wad Ghadat, called here the Wad Tetsula, are crossed at "Sôk el Gurgur" ("Walnut-market "), a picturesque Berber village with a few narrow-terraced fields and some fine specimens of the trees from which the place takes its name. Charming as the spot looked in this spring weather, one could not help realising the sorry

plight of its inhabitants in winter, when all the few cattle they possess, as well as mankind, have to seek the shelter of their poorly built hovels for protection from the intense cold and deep snow. Often for three months of the year their few cows and oxen never leave their stables, being fed upon the scanty supply of hay the barren surroundings yield in spring and early summer. Yet the people seem healthy enough, though living in extreme poverty, and a finer set of men than the mountaineers could not be imagined. Sparely built, with the pleasant open features and light complexion of the Berber race, they move with the agility of the muflon, with which they share these barren heights. A friendly salaama greets one as one passes along the road, together with a nod and smile, such as an Arab seldom bestows upon the "infidel."

Considerable surprise was evinced everywhere at our appearance, for the Europeans who have penetrated thus far into the Atlas can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the natives themselves seldom go to Marakesh, the nearest spot where Christians are to be seen. Even greater was the look of pleasant astonishment that shone in the face of the wild caravanmen of the southern side of the Atlas, on their way to the city with caravan mules loaded with dates from Tafilet and the oases of the Wad Draa. But with them, too, it was almost always a nod and a smile and a word of welcome, many even bursting into Bon jour, the only European expression that has crept into Southern Morocco, no doubt from the fact that many of the youths of the oases go for the harvest season into Algeria.

From Sôk el Gurgur one commences again to ascend, and in

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