An Excursion Into Africa
( Originally Published 1903 )
WE spent the night in the neighboring market where we had purchased fruit in the morning. We wanted to go out to the transport as soon as the gate was opened, and we knew that the market would be alive soon after daylight. When we finally reached the gangway and gained the upper deck, we were delighted to find no officer in sight. We went for-ward and found good old Mr. Casey there on watch. He had waited for my return, and when I didn't show up, he decided to stay awake until I came, so that if a master-at-arms were needed, my absence wouldn't be discovered. This kindness touched me very much, and I insisted on standing his watch from four until eight. He didn't think that he had done anything worth mentioning. " We always does that much for a mate," he said.
I was hopeful that no one would discover that we were in Gibraltar over night, but Captain Linder discovered it from some source and came up frowning just after I had reported at eight bells. " Well, well," he exclaimed, " this is a nice beginning. " If you can't go ashore without staying over night, I think you had better remain on the ship." I explained that we were ignorant of the regulations, and had been shut up in the town without our knowledge. He sneered at this. " That'll do to tell," he said, " but you can't fool me." Then he walked off muttering, and I wondered what dreadful punishment would be meted out to us. I fully expected we would be deprived of our shore leave, but a fortunate incident proved to be our salvation. The Captain himself went ashore that night with two of the lady passengers. There was no band concert, but they must have found plenty to interest them, for they, too, were locked in. When they arrived on board the next morning the Captain looked very crestfallen, and he had nothing more to say to us about our absence. It was considered a good joke up forward that the Captain should have shared our experience. " That'll take some o' the starch out of his nibs," said old Dan Driscoll. " He won't be so fault-findin' now for a day or two."
A Jaunt to Africa
When the eight Congressmen went ashore they discovered that it would be easy for them to make an excursion to Tangier, in Morocco, which is only about twenty miles from Gibraltar. So they chartered a small steamer for the day, and invited some of the passengers to go with them. I watched the preparations with considerable interest, for one of my longings had been to visit North Africa, and I felt blue to think that I was now so near, and yet so far. It never occurred to me that a master-at-arms would be allowed to make such an excursion, when even Captain Linder wasn't going. But the good Quartermaster was looking out for my pleasure and profit, and when the Congressmen borrowed some steamer chairs and other furnishings from the transport, he ordered me to go along with them and see that all were brought back. Of course I was delighted to accept this commission. My only fear was that Mr. Casey and Timmie would think that I was unduly favored, and that one of them should have been allowed to go. But I soon found that they were almost as pleased at my good luck as I was myself, and all the men in the fo'c'stle were glad I was going. This friendly spirit made me very happy, and I didn't mind the frowns of Captain Linder and some of the other officers.
The run across the strait was very pleasant, and on the way I became acquainted with the two Eddy boys, whom I had noticed among the passengers on the day we left New York. They told me they were traveling out to the Philip-pines alone. Their father was a colonel in the army and they had been at school in New York. Now they were going out to spend the summer months with their parents. They were jolly and unaffected, so that we had a good time together, and they helped to make the day a pleasant one for me.
A Thrilling Excursion
Our experiences in Tangier were exciting from the very first. It being mid-summer, there had been no tourists in Morocco for some time, and when the natives saw us coming they made ready for an especially rich harvest of backsheesh to make up for lost time. Our little steamer anchored in the bay alongside three ships which were said to compose the Moroccan navy. I remarked that they didn't look very destructive, and one of the Congressmen said that they were more ornamental than useful, since the European Powers permitted them to go only a few miles from shore. Our anchor had no more than touched bottom when we were surrounded by dozens of small rowboats, manned with dusky Moors and Jews. Some of them wore very little clothing, and others seemed to have piled on as much as possible, so that they varied greatly in dress. They swarmed over the rail and began to shout at us in a language which none could understand. It was evident, however, that they wanted to row us ashore in their boats, and we decided to place our lives in their care, since they probably appeared more fierce than they really were. All the women in the party became nervous as soon as they saw the Moors, and I'm sure some of them wished they were back at Gibraltar before they had even landed in Tangier. After seeing those natives it was hard to believe that we were only twenty miles from civilization.
We disembarked at a long pier, and supposed that we would enter the city without further trouble. But it was necessary for us each to pay a small sum of money before we could pass out at the gate. " It's just like paying the price of admission to some Midway show at the World's Fair," said Howard Eddy, and that was indeed the way it seemed. The city of Tangier would not be out of place as an exhibit at Coney Island or in any side-show, and the people were as remarkable as any one could find with a circus. They surrounded us by the hundred when we went into the streets from the pier, and seemed to be engaged in an effort to deafen us with noise. They yelled at us and at each other, and finally it dawned upon the Congressmen that they had some donkeys which they wanted us to ride about the town. As no trolley-cars were in sight, and the streets were rough and hilly, it was decided that the donkeys provided the only means of transportation. The women objected to mounting them because they were so very dirty. They were padded with filthy rags which must have been used for ages, and they had a peculiar aroma which was noticeable afar off. Finally, however, every one was persuaded to ride a donkey, and we started off in a long procession. The Eddy boys and myself were riding first, and after us came the rest of the party and about two hundred natives.
Experiences Among the Moors
The mixed population swarmed about us in such numbers that we could hardly see anything but people, and I suppose, after all, the people are the most interesting sight of Tangier. Some of them were negroes from the desert, with great brass rings in their ears, and there were several classes of Jews and native Moors. The women were wearing bloomers, and were usually veiled, with only their eyes visible to the stranger. Their eyes were large and dark, and the women in our crowd went into raptures over them. I was more interested in what I saw of the street-life as we went along. All the people seemed to be poverty-stricken, and several times I saw old men and women seated by the roadside chewing parched corn with apparent delight. They appeared to be actually ill, but they say the tropical climate makes people look old and pale before their time. The children were running about almost naked, and most of them looked as if they had never had a bath. In an open square we came upon a caravan of camels, which was resting through the heat of midday. They made a picturesque scene, with their Arab masters reclining under near-by tents.
Our party entered several stores where various curiosities were on sale, and every time they emerged it was only after great effort we could find the donkeys we had been riding originally. The natives seemed unable to distinguish one foreigner from another, and they were continually fighting and quarreling among themselves. The Eddy boys and I decided to explore some of the side streets, so we left the crowd in one of the stores and started out in search of adventures. We were glad afterward that we did, for we witnessed one of the fanatical rites of the Moslem Church. Arriving in front of the Mohammedan mosque, we observed a crowd gathered there, and decided to wait and see what happened. They had formed a circle, and in a few moments a man rushed out of some dark doorway, entered the ring with a frantic yell, and began to execute a strange dance, swaying backward and forward, and contorting himself with frightful violence. He was soon joined by others, who began yelling and dancing, and this remarkable performance was kept up until they all dropped to the ground exhausted. Howard and Kenneth Eddy were frightened at all this frenzy, but they had no thought of running away. It was all so weird and fascinating that we couldn't have moved from the spot. An old priest came and took up a collection among the crowd, and then, after some more strange music the performance was over. I learned afterward that this ceremonial is sometimes continued for hours, and that the devoted Moslems not only dance until exhausted, but also scar their bodies with red-hot irons, punch out their eyes with spikes, eat live scorpions and chew broken glass. They execute, in short, any diabolical deed their mania may suggest, until the smell of burning flesh and the sight of blood turn the onlooker sick. We boys were certainly glad that they didn't undertake any such doings at the time we saw them, for things were unusual enough as they were. It is said that the religious exaltation of the dancers renders them insensible to pain, and that the horrible tortures they undergo make no impression on them at the time.
A Runaway Donkey
We dispersed from the neighborhood of the mosque along with the crowd, and started down a hilly street. For some unknown reason, Kenneth Eddy's donkey became frightened, and started off at full speed. We were all scared, and Kenneth yelled most vociferously. It seemed impossible that he should be able to keep his seat. He leaned forward, with his arms clasped tightly around the donkey's neck, and his feet flew into the air with every jump that the animal made. He might have held on indefinitely if the flight had continued, but all at once the donkey stopped, and poor Kenneth went over his head to the ground, alighting about ten feet away. We hurried up, expecting to find him seriously injured, but before we reached him he sat up grinning. " My," he said, " it was just like flying through the air, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything." A crowd of natives gathered round to watch the proceedings, and when Kenneth remounted the donkey and rode off their amazement knew no bounds. They evidently expected that we would rather walk than risk our bones again. We started off to find the remainder of the party, and after a while came to a building in front of which there was a crowd. We saw some donkeys which appeared to belong to our party, and decided that everyone was inside, viewing some curiosity. We decided to go in, too. Several of the natives yelled at us when we entered the door; but we were used to yells by this time and paid no attention. Once inside, we found everything deliciously clean and cool, and thought we had found the paradise of Tangier. A long, dark hallway stretched before us, and we passed along until we came to a curtained door at the end. There we were suddenly confronted by several stalwart negresses who blocked our further progress. They appeared greatly excited, and motioned us away. We backed toward the front entrance, and they followed us until they saw we were safely in the street. " What do you suppose is wrong? " said Howard Eddy. I told him it was beyond me to explain why we were put out, when some of our party were evidently in there. Just then one of the Congress-men appeared, and when we told him our trouble, he laughed until we thought he would never stop. " Why, you little fools," he said, " that's the Governor's harem, which no strange man is ever allowed to penetrate. The ladies were allowed to go in as a special favor." We blushed when we remembered how we had entered so boldly, and when all the party was together again they joked us unmercifully about our mistake.
When the ladies emerged from the harem, we all visited a filthy prison, and we boys were sorry we went there. The smell was horrible, and the poor prisoners looked as if they were about to die with all sorts of terrible skin diseases. " It's an outrage," I said to the Eddy boys, " that such a hole as this should exist anywhere in the Twentieth Century, and I think one of the European Powers ought to step in and clean this city out. It is a menace to the health of Europe." One of the Congressmen said later that several European Powers would be very glad to take charge of Morocco, but they are all so jealous of each other that they can't agree as to which shall be the one to occupy the country.
Our Hurried Departure
After the disgusting filth of the prison, everyone was anxious to regain the ship in the harbor and sail back to Gibraltar. So we went down to the pier, and there occurred a worse row than any we had experienced during the excursion. When we tried to pay for the donkeys we had been riding, we discovered that each little beast had about twelve different owners in the crowd, and of course each person wanted money. It was useless to argue the question when none of us could speak their language, so we each paid what we thought was right and got away as quickly as possible. I had an English sixpence which I handed to the native nearest the donkey's head. He seemed well satisfied with the payment until he saw another man get two shillings. Then he was determined to have more from me, and started after me as I was hurrying to the pier. I saw him coming, and thought if I ran I could get inside the gate before he caught up. But he was an excellent sprinter, and caught me by the coat-tail just as I reached the turnstile. I had in my hands an old copper-pot of queer design which I hoped to carry home as a souvenir. He grabbed this away from me, and when I saw the fierce look in his eyes I decided to let it go, and get on the pier at any cost. I had seen no police while in Tangier, and there was no telling what those natives would do for money; so I hurried
through the gate, and breathed more freely when at last I was safe on the steamer in the bay. The party was soon gathered together, and on the return to Gibraltar they had an exciting time telling of their various unpleasant experiences, and how much money they had lost to the natives. We all agreed that though Tangier is a decidedly interesting place to visit, we wouldn't care to go again unless we had a strong escort of police to guard our interests. Some carried away tangible souvenirs in the shape of copperware and silks, but I know such things were unnecessary, as none of us could ever forget the smell of those filthy streets and the people who inhabit them.