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ACROSS THE SAHEL.
are quartered the 1st Regiment of the Chasseurs d'Afrique. Their colonel, the Vicomte de SalignacFénélon, whose courtesy and high cultivation are not inferior to his acknowledged abilities as an officer and administrator, occupies one of the country houses on the hill above, in the immediate neighbourhood of the palace of Marshal Randon, the Governor-General of Algeria, who is his father-in-law. Beyond the cavalry barracks is an extensive common, on which the reviews of the troops stationed in Algiers take place. Skirting this, another road likewise constructed by General Voirol, runs along the foot of the hills, and in about six miles reaches the Maison Carrée, just after crossing the river Harash on a stone bridge of some centuries old.
Following the course of the route through Mustapha, the visitor, after passing the culminating point (on which a column is placed, commemorating the names of General Voirol and of five regiments of the African army, by whom the operation of making the road was executed), begins to descend through an undulating country, seamed with ravines, of which the sides are richly wooded and the bottoms fertile, to a pretty village called Birmandreis. It only consists of two or three houses, one of which is a café,-the first essential of French existence; but the plentiful supply of water, and the luxuriant foliage of the trees with which it is surrounded, invest it with the highest
beauty in the eye of an African. It has, however, a bad reputation for unhealthiness, being surrounded by hills which prevent a free circulation of air. About two miles further is a larger village-Birkadem (Well of the Negro), so called from a fountain, ornamented with a marble façade, by the side of the road. The village is built in a hollow, below a mamelon on which, in the early part of the French occupation, a fortified camp was established. From another hill, little more than a mile off the village on the south-east side, a good view of the lower portion of the Metidja, and of the Atlas behind it, may be obtained.
There are communal schools here both for boys and girls, but very scantily attended. The mistress of the latter complained that there were some absences from fever, which much surprised me at that time of the year (the middle of January), and the master did not assign any such reason for the small number of his scholars. All the settlers in Birkadem are engaged in agriculture, with the exception of one who was employed in the preparation of crin végétal, the stringy fibres of the leaves of the dwarf palm, which is used instead of wool for stuffing mattresses. Among the children in the school I found two or three Mahonnais and Germans, the latter of which could understand their native language, but had become unable to speak it. The schoolmaster told me there was also a Moorish school kept up by the Government, which was well
ROADS ACROSS THE METIDJA.
attended. I asked if care was taken to teach the scholars French, and he replied that they rarely learnt more than the few words which would be useful to them in intercourse with the officials.
Beyond Birkadem the road approaches the Metidja more apparently, and in about three miles reaches it by descending rather suddenly on the Oued-el-Kerma, which is there crossed by a stone bridge. I estimated this point to be very little more than thirty feet above the level of the sea. Here the work of General Voirol terminated; but the road is now continued, in a westsouth-west direction, along the skirts of the plain, till it cuts the prolongation of the Dely Ibrahim and Douera road, about a mile to the south of Ouled Mendil, at a place called Les quatre chemins. There is a posting station here, and one or two inns to supply the wants of travellers; but nothing can exceed the melancholy appearance of the place. Immediately to the south of it is a fen, through which, at the expense of great labour, the road to Blidah is carried; and this-which is the chief, and indeed only direct military communication between the seat of government and the most important post in the central province-is so rotten, and lies so low, that in the whole of England it would not be easy to find a farming road which would not, taking the whole year round, prove a more secure route. At its lowest point, which is about three or four miles before reaching Bouffarik, it is probably
not more than half a dozen feet above the sea level. A very slight fall of rain destroys the consistency of the surface, and any considerable quantity would interrupt the traffic altogether. One day, while I was at Algiers, the Blidah diligence (which is by no means badly horsed) stuck fast in this Slough of Despond, and even the passengers in the coupé, who on these occasions are generally considered a privileged class, were forced to get out and walk,—when they found the mud up to midthigh.
The connexion of Algiers and Blidah is the most pressing of the problems which the so much desired railroads are required to solve; and the difficulty of solution is enormous. There is not enough stone in the province of Algiers to metal the common roads, much less to furnish ballast for railway embankments such as would be requisite. These, constructed of the soft earth of the Sahel, would not resist even the rains of England, and would be washed away in a year by the almost tropical storms of North Africa.
If, instead of mounting the hill by the road through Mustapha, the traveller pursues the route along the low lands, he will soon arrive at the great botanical garden of Algeria, or (as it is called) the Jardin d'Essai. It, or rather two cafés immediately opposite to it, is a favourite resort of the middle classes of Algiers, both French and native. One of the cafés is
a Moorish one; and it is worth while to step up to it while waiting for one of the many citadines which ply between "Le Ruisseau"-about a mile further than the Jardin d'Essai and Algiers. In fine weather several Moors are generally to be seen sitting outside the café, under the shade of some plane trees, occupied in playing draughts. The laws of the game slightly differ from the European, and the squares, instead of being black and white, are depressed and elevated,— which is, perhaps, the original form of the board, and imitated in later times by the difference of colour.
The public are freely admitted to the main walks of the Jardin d'Essai, but, in order to visit the conservatories and the parts of the garden in which experiments of acclimatization are being carried on, it is necessary to apply to the curator for a written order. This, however, there is no difficulty in obtaining; and the visitor will be well repaid for his trouble. There are some beautiful Norfolk Island pines growing in the open air. One tree particularly struck me-the Araucaria excelsa. It was at least forty feet high, and shooting out with the vigour of a native shrub. Here may be seen a collection of all the different varieties of that cactus to which the prickly pear and the cochineal plant belong. The latter is very like the prickly pear, and its leaves of the same shape, but smaller. The plantain is being fast naturalized. Its fruit comes to the Algiers market, but it is not yet produced cheap enough to be