Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/193

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
179
ASPECTS OF NATURE IN THE SAHARA.

was constructed of a firm setting of gravel and sand; only at rare intervals did it bury itself beneath an extensive sand covering, and even then it emerged, as clearly marked as before, to continue farther into the interior. The caravans have trod the line firmly, and their trail is a broad, open road; but the French have given stronger contour to its outlines by planting one hundred and seventy miles of telegraph poles, and to-day the service is being conducted still farther, to beyond Ouargla. The Arab chief, except in so far as he may be the leader of a caravan, has virtually disappeared from this section of the route; but at two or three days' journey the Tuaregs and other wandering tribes, to whom tribute is paid at the point of the spear, hold almost undisputed possession of the desert. It was along this route, considerably beyond Ouargla, that the scientific corps of General Flatters, sent out with a view of examining into the possibilities of railroad construction into the far Sahara, was virtually annihilated; and it is for this same route that the indomitable M. Rolland seems finally to have secured the practical co-operation of his Government toward building the road which has been so long outlined.

Not knowing the exact nature of the country, and least of all the conditions of security which govern traveling in a region so near to that in which unpleasant tragedies had recently been enacted, I applied for a military pass before leaving Algiers, and through a fortunate access to the good-will, in the absence of the governor-general himself, of his representative, Captain Lasson, obtained the following order:

"The French Republic, General Government of Algeria:

We, the Governor-General of Algeria, beg the civil and military authorities to give aid and protection in case of necessity to

Messrs. . . . . . . and . . . . . . traveling to Fort National, Biskra, and Tuggurt.

By command of the Governor-General, the Captain, Chief of Internal Affairs and of the Military Service. Algiers, August 29, 1896."

While this paper was naturally a very pleasant addition to the "documentaries" with which we had already provided ourselves, as so often proves the case with papers of its kind, there was no occasion to bring it into use—at least, not for the purpose for which it was prepared. We nowhere met with hostile tribes, and at the wayside caravansary—the Borj, Burg, or fort—received only hospitality and that simple attention which distinguishes the Arab. Humble refreshment, except coffee, is hardly to be obtained here, but the refreshing shade of the large stone building is at the service of the traveler, and it is not often that he is tempted to pass without availing him-