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CHAPTER II THE PASSING OF THE PEACOCK'S TAIL
AN unaccustomed silence hung over the labyrinth of court-yards, corridors, gardens, mosques, and kiosks which compose the imperial palace in Fez. The chatter of the harem women was hushed; the white-robed officials of the household slipped through the mosaic-paved passages like melancholy ghosts; even the slovenly sentries at the gates, their red tunics over their heads to protect them from the sun, seemed to tread more softly, as though some great one lay dying. Within the palace, in a room whose furnishings were a strange jumble of Oriental taste and European tawdriness, a group of men stood about a table. Certain of them were tall and sinewy and swarthy, their white burnooses, which enveloped them from their snowy turbans to their yellow slippers, marking them unmistakably as Moors. Of the others, whose clearer skins showed them to be Europeans, some wore the sky-blue tunics and scarlet breeches of the chasseurs d'Afrique, some the braided jackets and baggy trousers of the tirailleur regiments, some the simple white linen of the civil administration, while across the chest of one, a grizzled man with the épaulettes of a general of division, slanted a broad scarlet ribbon. At the table sat an old-young man, a man with an aquiline, [Pg 28] high-bred nose, a wonderfully clear, olive skin, and a fringe of scraggy beard along the line of his chin, a man with a weak mouth and sensual lips and heavy-lidded, melancholy eyes. The man with the scarlet ribbon unrolled a parchment and, bowing, spread it upon the table. One of the native dignitaries, with a gesture of reverence which included heart and lips and head, dipped a quill pen into an ink-well and tendered it to the silent figure at the table. “Your Majesty will have the goodness to sign here?” said the soldier, half-questioningly, half-commandingly, as he indicated the place with his finger. The man at the table gravely inclined his head, reached for the pen, hesitated for a moment, then slowly began to trace, from right to left, the strange Arabic signature. “Inshallah! It is done!” he said, and throwing down the pen he sunk his face into his hands. “Vive la France!” said the general solemnly, and “Vive la France!” echoed the officers around him. Well might the one lament and the others rejoice, for, with the final flourish of the Sultan's pen, Morocco had ceased to exist as an independent nation and France had added an empire to her dominions.

“The world is a peacock,” says a Moorish proverb, “and Morocco is the tail of it.” Now, however, it has become the tail of the Gallic cock, for when, on March the thirtieth, 1912, Sultan Mulai-abd-el-Hafid signed the treaty establishing a French protectorate over his country, Morocco entered upon a new phase of its existence. With that act there ended, let us hope for all time, a situation which on more than one occasion [Pg 29] has threatened the peace of the world. Not since the English landed in Egypt a third of a century ago has an event occurred which so vitally concerns the future welfare of Africa; not since the Treaty of Tilsit has France won so decisive a diplomatic victory or added so materially to her territorial possessions. By the signing of that treaty France laid the final stone in the mighty colonial structure which she has built up in Africa, and opened to Christianity, civilisation, and commerce the door of a region which has hitherto been a synonym for mystery, cruelty, intolerance, and fanaticism.

Though scarcely forty hours of travel by train and boat separate the departure platform at the Quai d'Orsay station in Paris from the landing-beach at Tangier, though its coast is skirted by the tens of thousands of American tourists who visit the Mediterranean each year, less is known of Morocco than of many regions in central Asia or inner Africa. Though a few daring travellers have made scattering crow's-feet upon its map, there are regions as large as all our New England States put together which are wholly unexplored. It is almost the last of the unknown countries. As its women draw their veils to hide their faces from the men, so the Moors have attempted to draw a veil of mystery and intolerance over the face of their country to hide it from the stranger. What strange tribes, what ruins of an earlier civilisation, what wealth in forests or minerals lie behind its ranges can only be conjectured. Its maps are still without the names of rivers and mountains and [Pg 30] towns—though the rivers and mountains and towns are there; the sole means of travel are on camels, mules, or donkeys along the wild, worn paths, it being the only country of any size in the world which cannot boast so much as a mile of railway; its ports and the two highways leading from the coast to its capitals, Fez and Morocco City, were, until the coming of the French, alone open to the traveller—and none too safe at that; the foreigner who has the hardihood to stray from the frequented paths is taking his life in his hands. Few of the maps of Morocco are, so far as accuracy is concerned, worth the paper they are printed on, being largely based on unscientific material eked out by probabilities and conjectures, there being less accurate information, in fact, about a country larger than France, and only two days' journey from Trafalgar Square, than there is about Abyssinia or Borneo or Uganda. Even the names which we have given to the country and its inhabitants are purely European terms and are neither used nor recognised by the people themselves, who call their country El Moghreb el Aska, which means literally “Sunset Land,” the term Morocco being a European corruption of the name of one of its capitals, Marrakesh, or, as it is known to foreigners, Morocco City. A land almost as large as the State of Texas, with snow-capped mountain ranges, navigable rivers, vast forests, a fertile soil, an abundant water supply, and an ideal climate; a land of walled cities and white villages, of domed mosques and slender minarets, of veiled women and savage, turbaned men; a land of strange peoples and [Pg 31] still stranger customs; a land of mystery and fatalism, of suspicion and fanaticism, of cruelty and corruption, of confusion and contradiction—that is Morocco, where, as an Arabic writer has put it, a wise man is surprised at nothing that he sees and believes nothing that he hears.

This empire which has come under the shadow of the tricolour is, above all else, a white man's country. Unlike India and Tripolitania and Rhodesia and the Sudan, Morocco is a country which is admirably adapted for European colonisation, being blessed with every natural advantage that creation has to offer. Its only objectionable feature is its people. Lying at the western gateway of the Mediterranean, where the narrowed sea has so often proved a temptation to invasion, its Atlantic ports within striking distance of the great lanes of commerce between Europe and South America and South Africa, Morocco occupies a position of enormous strategic, political, and commercial importance. The backbone of the country is the Great Atlas, which, taken as a whole, has a higher mean elevation than that of any other range of equal length in Europe, Africa, or western Asia, attaining in places an elevation of nearly fifteen thousand feet. Snow-clad, this mighty and isolated wall rises so abruptly from the plain that it needs but little stretch of the imagination to understand how the ancients believed that on it rested the heavens—whence, indeed, its name. Personally, the thing that surprised me most in Morocco was the total absence of desert. Either because of its proximity to the Sahara, [Pg 32] or because of its camels, or the two combined, I went to Morocco expecting that I should find vast stretches of sun-baked, yellow sand. As a matter of fact, I found nothing of the kind. Traversed from east to west, as I have already said, by the strongly defined range of the Atlas, the greater part of its surface is really occupied by rolling prairies, diversified by low hills, and not at all unlike Ohio and Indiana. Though admirably adapted to the growing of cereals, the strict prohibition against the exportation of grain has naturally resulted in discouraging the native farmers, so that immense tracts of fertile land remain uncultivated. The alluvial soil, which is remarkable for its richness, frequently reaches a depth of fifteen feet and could be brought to an almost incredible degree of productiveness by the application of modern agricultural methods. What greater praise can be given to any soil than to say that it will bear three crops of potatoes in a single year and that corn is commonly sown and reaped all within the space of forty days?

Unlike its neighbouring countries, Algeria, Tunisia, and Tripolitania, Morocco does not lack for navigable waterways, for it possesses several large rivers which could be navigated for hundreds of miles inland, though at present, owing to the apathy of the inhabitants, and the unsettled condition of the regions along their banks, they are used for neither traffic nor irrigation. The chief of these is the Muluya, which, with its tributary the Sharef, provides northeastern Morocco with a valuable commercial waterway for a distance of [Pg 33] more than four hundred miles. The most important river of northwest Morocco is the Sebu, which empties into the Atlantic, while in the central and western districts the Kus, the Bu-Regreg, the Sus, and the Assaka will, under the new régime, prove invaluable as means of opening up the country.

A very large number of people seem to be under the impression that Morocco is unhealthy and suffers from a sweltering heat. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The climate is, as a matter of fact, extremely healthful, malaria, the scourge of the other countries of North Africa, being unknown. In the regions lying between the central range of the Atlas and the sea the thermometer seldom rises above ninety degrees or falls below forty degrees, the mountain wall serving as a protection from the scorching winds of the Sahara. During the winter months the rains are so heavy and frequent along the Atlantic coast that good pasturage is found as far south as Cape Juby, while in the interior the rivers frequently become so swollen that travel is both difficult and dangerous. The unpleasantness of the rains (and you don't know what discomfort is, my friends, until you have journeyed in Morocco during the rainy season) is more than compensated for by the beauties of the spring landscape. For mile after mile I have ridden across meadows literally carpeted with wild flowers, whose varied and brilliant colours, combined with the peculiar fashion in which each species confined itself to its own area, gave the countryside the appearance of a vast floral mosaic. After seeing these [Pg 34] gorgeous natural combinations of colour—dark blue, yellow, white, and scarlet, iris, marigolds, lilies, and poppies—I no longer wondered where the Moors draw the inspiration for that chromatic art of which they left such marvellous examples in the cities of southern Spain.

Though the country has, unfortunately, become largely deforested—for what Moor would ever think of planting trees, which could only be of value to another generation?—a wealth of timber still remains in the more remote valleys of the Atlas, the pines and oaks often attaining enormous size. Though Spanish concessionaires are profitably working gold mines in the Riff country, and the great German firm of Mannesmann Brothers has acquired extensive iron-ore-bearing properties in the Sus, and though large deposits of silver, copper, lead, and antimony have been discovered at various points in the interior, the mineral wealth of Morocco is still a matter for speculation. It is not likely to remain so long, however, for history has shown that it is the miners who form the real advance-guard of civilisation.

To the stranger who confines his investigations to the highways which connect the capitals with the coast, Morocco gives the impression of being very sparsely settled. This is due to the fact that the natives take pains to avoid the highroads as they would the plague, the continual passage of troops and of travellers, all of whom practise the time-honoured custom of living on the country and never paying for what they take, having [Pg 35] had the natural result of driving the inhabitants into less travelled regions, though traders and others whose business takes them into the back country find that it is far more densely populated than most foreigners suspect. Heretofore it has been possible for almost any foreigner, by the judicious use of bakshish, to obtain from the authorities an official order which required the people living along the roads to supply food both for him and his escort and fodder for their horses. Now, this was a very serious tax, especially among a people as poverty-stricken as the Moorish peasantry, and as a result of it the heedless traveller often caused much misery and suffering. But if the occasional traveller proved so serious a burden, imagine what it meant to these poor people when the Sultan himself passed, for, able to move only with an army, without any commissariat or transport, and feeding itself as it went, he devastated the land of food and fodder as though he was an invader instead of a ruler, sweeping as ruthlessly across his empire as the Huns did across southern Europe, and leaving his subjects to starve. Is it any wonder, then, that the desperation of the wretched, half-starved peasantry has vented itself in repeated revolutions? The coming of the French is bound to change this deplorable and demoralising state of affairs, however, for, once assured of protection for their crops and justice for themselves, the fugitive country folk will quickly flock back and resume the cultivation of their abandoned lands.

One of the facts about Morocco that will probably [Pg 36] surprise most people—I know that it surprised me—is that the Berbers, who form fully two thirds of the population, are a purely white race, as white indeed, barring the tan which results from life under an African sun, as we ourselves. Though the generic term Moor is applied by Europeans to all the inhabitants of Morocco, there are really four distinct racial divisions of the population: the Berbers, who, being the earliest-known possessors of the land, are the genuine Moroccans, and are, when of unmixed blood, a very energetic and vigorous people, indeed; the Arabs, who are the descendants of the Mohammedan conquerors of the country and possess to the full the Arab characteristics of arrogance, indolence, and cruelty; the negroes, brought into the country as slaves from Central Africa in an influx extending over centuries, this admixture having resulted in deteriorating both the Berbers and the Arabs, the infusion of black blood showing itself in dark skins, thickened lips, low foreheads, sensual tastes, and a marked stupidity; and lastly, but by no means the least important, the ubiquitous, persecuted, and persecuting Jews. The Berbers dwell for the most part in the mountains, while the Arabs, on the contrary, are to be found only on the plains, it being the weak, sensual, and intolerant amalgam produced by the fusion of these two races, and tinctured with negro blood, which forms the population of the Moorish cities and to which the name “Moor” most properly belongs.

Between the Moor of the mountains and the Moor of the towns there is as wide a gulf as there is between [Pg 37] the natives of Vermont and the natives of Venezuela. The town Moor is sullen, suspicious of all strangers, vacillating; the pride, but none of the energy, of his ancestors remains. In his youth he is licentious in his acts; in his old age he is licentious in his thoughts. He is abominably lazy. He never runs if he can walk; he never walks if he can stand still; he never stands if he can sit; he never sits if he can lie down. The only thing he puts any energy into is his talking; he believes that nothing can be done really well without a hullabaloo. The men of the mountains are cast in a wholly different mould, however, from that of the men of the towns. Fierce enemies and stanch friends, they like fighting for fighting's sake. They are intelligent and industrious; though fonder of the sword and the pistol than of the plough and the hoe, their fertile mountain valleys are nevertheless fairly well cultivated. They are a hardy, warlike, and indomitable race and have never yet been conquered. It is well to remember in any discussion of these people that, through all the vicissitudes of their history, they have never before had the flag of another nation flying over them. All the successive invaders of North Africa have been confronted with the problem of subduing them, but always they have failed and have gone back. Not only that, but once the Moors went invading on their own account, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, conquering all southern Spain, holding it for five hundred years, and leaving behind them the architectural glories of Seville, of Cordova, and of Granada to tell the story. Unless I am very much mistaken, [Pg 38] therefore, it will cost France many lives and much money to make them amenable to her rule.

The decadence of the Moors is primarily due to two things: immorality and racial jealousies. They are probably the most licentious race, in both thought and act, in the world. Compared to them the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were positively prudish. This extreme moral degeneracy is in itself enough to ruin the sturdiest people, but, as though it was not sufficient, the two principal races, Arab and Berber, hate each other as the Armenian hates the Turk, this racial antagonism in itself making impossible the upbuilding of a strong and united nation. In fact, the only thing they have in common is their religion, which is the air they breathe, and which, though incapable of producing internal harmony, unites them in hostility to the unbeliever.

There is less public spirit in Morocco than in any place I know. No Moor takes the slightest interest in anything outside his personal affairs, and no one ever plans for the future—other than to hope that he will get a comfortable divan and his share of houris in Paradise. The last thing that would occur to a Moor would be to spend money on anything which will not bring him in an immediate profit, so that, as a consequence, trees are never planted, mines never worked, roads never made, bridges never built. He does not want civilisation. He does not believe in modern inventions or improvements. What was good enough for his father is good enough for him. Why lug in railways and [Pg 39] telegraphs, and similar contrivances of the devil, then, when things are good enough as they are?

There is no cause for the other European nations to envy France the obligations she assumed when she declared a protectorate over Morocco. She has a long and hilly road to travel before she can convert her latest acquisition into a national asset. Before Morocco can be thrown open to French settlers its savage and hostile population will have to be as effectually subdued as were the Indians of our own West. The tribes of southern Morocco are especially hostile to the French occupation, and many military experts believe that the protectorate will never be enforced in those regions without a long campaign and much shedding of blood, while one eminent French general has openly asserted that it will take at least a dozen years fully to subdue the country.

Personally, I am a firm believer in the future of Morocco and the Moors under the guidance and protection of France. I have seen too much of what France has accomplished in far less favoured regions, and under far more discouraging conditions, to think otherwise. Nothing illustrates the latent possibilities of the Moorish character better than an experiment which was made some years ago. At the request of the Sultan, the British minister to Morocco asked his government for permission to send a body of Moors to Gibraltar for the purpose of being instructed in British drill and discipline. The War Office acceding to the request, two hundred Moors, selected at random from various tribes throughout the empire, were sent to [Pg 40] Gibraltar and remained there for three years, the men being occasionally changed as they acquired a knowledge of drill. They had good clothing given them, slept in tents, and were allowed by the Sultan a shilling a day, receiving precisely the same treatment as British soldiers. During the three years they were stationed on the Rock, there were only two cases in the police court against them for dissolute conduct or disorder. The soldiers of what civilised nation could have made such a record? Colonel Cameron, under whose superintendence they were placed, reported that they learned the drill as quickly and as well as any Englishmen, and that they were sober, steady, and attentive to their duties. (The Moors, it should be remarked, are noted for their abstemiousness, the precepts of the Koran which forbid the use of spirits and tobacco being rigidly observed.) This tends to show that Moors, living under a just and humane government, and having, as these men had, proper provision made for their livelihood, are not a lawless or even a disorderly people, and that they are capable of being transformed, under such a form of government as France has established in Algeria and Tunisia, into the splendid warriors which their ancestors were in Spain. It was, as I think I have remarked in the preceding chapter, the knowledge that France, in acquiring Morocco, would obtain the material for a formidable addition to her military forces which was, it is generally believed, one of the motives that inspired Germany's persistent opposition to a French protectorate.

Though the reins of Moorish power are already firmly in the hands of the French Resident-General at Fez, there is no reason to believe that the French expect, for the present at least, to depose the Sultan, it being to their interests, for obvious reasons, to maintain the pleasant fiction that Morocco is still an independent empire to which they have disinterestedly lent their protection, In August, 1912, Sultan Mulai-abd-el-Hafid, appreciating the emptiness of his title under the French régime, abdicated in favour of his brother, Mulai Youssef, who is known to be friendly to France. The new Sultan, who is the seventeenth of the dynasty of the Alides and the thirty-seventh lineal descendant of Ali, uncle and son-in-law of the Prophet, is known to his subjects as Emir-el-Mumenin, or Prince of True Believers, and as such he exercises a spiritual influence over his subjects which the French are far too shrewd to disregard. The position of the Sultan of Morocco has, indeed, become strikingly similar to that of his fellow-ruler in the other corner of Africa, the Khedive of Egypt, for, like him, he must needs content himself henceforth with the shadow of power. Even if the imperial form of government is permanently maintained (and this I very much doubt, for it is characteristic of the Latin races—as Taine puts it—that they always want to occupy a “sharply defined and terminologically defensible position”), its real ruler will be the Resident-General of France, whose policies will be carried out by French advisers in every department of the government and whose orders will be backed up by French bayonets. [Pg 42] So long as Mulai Youssef is content meekly to play the part of a puppet, with French officials pulling the strings, he will be permitted to enjoy all the honours and comforts of royalty, but let him once give ear to sedition, let him make the slightest attempt to undermine the authority of the French régime, and he will find himself occupying a sentry-guarded villa in Algiers near the residences of the ex-Queen of Madagascar and the ex-King of Annam, those other Oriental rulers who thought to match themselves against the power of France.

The Sherifian umbrella, which is the Moorish equivalent of a crown, is hereditary in the family of the Filali Sherifs of Tafilelt. Each Sultan is supposed, prior to his death, to indicate the member of the imperial family who, according to his conscientious belief, will best replace him. This succession is, however, elective, and all members of the Sherifian family are eligible. It has generally happened that the late Sultan's nominee has been elected by public acclamation at noonday prayers the Friday after the Sultan's death, as the nominee generally has obtained possession of the imperial treasure and is supported by the body-guard, from whose ranks most of the court officials are appointed. I might add that all of the Moorish Sultans in recent years have been so extremely bad that no successor whom they could appoint, or who could appoint himself, could by any possibility be worse. The present Sultan knows scarcely half a dozen places in his whole empire, and has spent most of his life in two of them—Marrakesh and Fez—having held, up to the [Pg 43] time of his accession to the throne, the important post of Khalif of the latter city. The Moors never pray for their sovereign to journey among them, for, so disturbed has been the condition of the country for many years past, and so numerous have been the pretenders to the Sherifian throne, that recent Sultans have rarely ventured outside the walls of their capitals with less than thirty thousand followers behind them, so that when they had occasion to pass through the territory of a hostile tribe, as not infrequently happened, they fought their way through, leaving ruin and desolation behind them. Though both Mulai Youssef and his predecessors have always resided at one or the other of the two official capitals, the coast city of Tangier has heretofore been the real capital of Morocco. Here lived the diplomatic and consular representatives of the foreign powers and, with a cynical disregard for the Moorish Government and people, ran things between them. Though considerations of safety doubtless entered into the matter, the chief reason for making Tangier the diplomatic capital was the extreme inconvenience to the foreign legations of being obliged to follow the court in its periodical migrations from one capital to the other. Therefore the diplomatic folk remained comfortably in Tangier—which, incidentally, can readily be overawed by a war-ship's guns—and the Sultan appointed ministers to treat with them there and thus carry on the foreign business of the state. When questions of great importance had to be negotiated special missions were sent to the capital at which the Sultan happened to be [Pg 44] residing, the departure of these ambassadorial caravans, with their secretaries, attachés, kavasses, servants, and body-guards, not to mention the immense train of pack-mules and baggage camels, providing a spectacle quite as picturesque and entertaining as any circus procession. That feature of Moorish life disappeared with the coming of the French, however, for the foreign ministers will doubtless shortly be withdrawn; and hereafter, when any negotiations are to be conducted anent Morocco, instead of a diplomatic mission having to make a two-hundred-mile journey on horses or camels, the ambassador at Paris of the power in question will step into his motor-car and whirl over to the Ministry of the Colonies in the Rue Oudinot.

I know of nothing which gives so graphic an idea of the amazing conditions which have heretofore prevailed in Morocco, and to which the French are, thank Heaven, putting an end, as the speech which a former British minister, Sir John Drummond Hay, made some years ago to the reigning Sultan, and which was, probably, the most extraordinary address ever made by a diplomatic representative to a foreign ruler.

“Your Majesty has been so gracious as to ask me,” said Sir John, looking the despot squarely in the eye, “to express frankly my opinion of affairs in Morocco. The administration of the government in Morocco is the worst in the world. The government is like a community of fishes; the giant fish feed upon those that are small, the smaller upon the least, and these again feed upon the worms. In like manner the vizier and other [Pg 45] dignitaries of the court, who receive no salaries, depend for their livelihood upon peculation, trickery, corruption, and the money they extract from the governors of provinces. The governors are likewise enriched through peculation from tithes and taxes, and extortion from sheikhs, wealthy farmers, and traders. A Moor who becomes rich is treated as a criminal. Neither life nor property is secure. Sheikhs and other subordinate officials subsist on what they can extort from the farmers and the peasantry. Then again, even the jailers are not paid; they gain their livelihood by taking money from prisoners, who, when they are paupers, are taught to make baskets, which are sold by the jailers for their own benefit. How can a country, how can a people, prosper under such a government? The tribes are in a constant state of rebellion against their governors. When the Sultan resides in his northern capital of Fez, the southern tribes rebel, and when he marches south to the city of Morocco, eating up the rebels and confiscating their property, the northern tribes rebel. The armies of the Sultan, like locusts, are constantly on the move, ravaging the country to quell the revolts. Agriculture is destroyed, the farmers and peasantry only grow sufficient grain for their own requirements, and rich lands are allowed to lie fallow because the farmers know the crops would be plundered by the governors and sheikhs. Thus it happens with cattle and horses. Breeding is checked, since the man who may become rich through his industry is treated as a criminal and all his possessions [Pg 46] are taken from him, as in the fable the goose is killed to get the golden eggs.”

France, in pursuing her Moroccan adventure, will do well to bear in mind two danger-spots: the Riff and the Sus. Unless she treads carefully in the first she is likely to become embroiled in a quarrel with Spain; with the natives of the Sus she will probably have trouble whether she treads lightly or not. Sooner or later France is bound to come into collision with Spain, for, with Morocco avowedly a French protectorate, I fail to see how she can tolerate Spanish soldiers on its soil. Spain, basing her pretensions on her expulsion of the Moors from Granada in the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, has always considered herself one of the heirs of Morocco. In fact, a secret treaty was signed between France and Spain in 1905 which distinctly defined the respective spheres of influence of the two powers in that country. By the terms of this treaty Spain was acknowledged to have predominating interests in those regions adjacent to the ports of Ceuta, Melilla, and El Araish, as well as in the Riff, a little-known and exceedingly mountainous district, believed to be rich in minerals, which lies in the northwestern corner of the empire, two days' journey eastward from Tetuan. Spain distinctly engaged not to take any action in the zone thus allotted to her other than to proceed with its commercial exploitation, but it was stipulated that, should the weakness of the Sherifian government make the maintenance of the status quo impossible, she should have a free hand in her sphere.

France, meanwhile, steadily continued her “pacific penetration” of Morocco, pushing her Algerian railways closer and closer to Morocco's eastern frontier, mobilising troops at strategic points, and overrunning the Sultan's dominions with “scientific” expeditions and secret agents. Spain soon began to regard with envy and impatience the subtle game which the French were so successfully playing, but it was not until 1910 that she found the opportunity and the excuse for which she had been eagerly waiting. Some Spanish labourers, who were working on a railway which was being laid from Melilla to some mines a few miles distant, were attacked by Riffian tribesmen and a number of the Spaniards were killed. Spain jumped at the opportunity which this incident afforded as a hungry trout jumps at a fly, and a few days later a Spanish army was being disembarked on Moroccan soil. A sharp campaign ensued which ended in the temporary subjugation of the Riffians and the occupation by Spain of a considerable tract of territory extending from Ceuta eastward to Cabo del Agua and southward as far as Seluan, thus comprising practically all of Morocco's Mediterranean seaboard. A Moorish envoy was sent to Madrid and, after protracted negotiations, a convention was signed which permitted Spain to establish a force of Moorish gendarmerie, under Spanish officers, at Melilla, Aljucemas, and Ceuta, for the maintenance of order in the districts near those places. Until this force has shown itself capable of maintaining order, the Spaniards assert that they will remain in occupation of the territory they [Pg 48] now hold. Emboldened by her success in this adventure, and greedy for further expansion, Spain, in June, 1911, sent a vessel to El Araish (Laraiche) on the Atlantic coast, and a column was despatched from there to Alcázar, which lies some twenty miles inland. The region was apparently perfectly calm at the time, and the reasons given by Spain for her action—that mysterious horsemen had been seen upon the walls of Alcázar—appeared, in France at least, to be mere pretensions and raised a storm of indignation. As things now stand, France has proclaimed a definite protectorate over the whole of Morocco, an arrangement to which the Sultan has consented. Despite that proclamation, however, Spain continues to occupy a rich and extensive district of the country with an army of forty thousand men. By what means France will attempt to oust her—for oust her she certainly will—is an interesting subject for speculation and one which is giving both French and Spanish diplomats many sleepless nights.

A word, in passing, upon the region known as the Riff. It is more discussed and less known than any other quarter of Morocco. Nothing has been written upon it except from hearsay and no European has penetrated across its length and breadth, and this although it is but two days' ride on horseback from Tetuan. Situated in the very heart of the Great Atlas range, and accessible only through narrow passes and over rough mountain trails, this region has, from time beyond reckoning, been the home and the refuge of that savage and mysterious clan known as the Riffs. Their feudal chieftains [Pg 49] live in great castles built of stone and lead much the same lives as did the European nobles of the Middle Ages. The passes giving access to the Riff are commanded by hilltop forts impregnable to anything short of modern artillery—and to get within range of them the artillery would need to have wings. They are a people rich in possibilities, are these Riffs, and one whom it is wiser to conciliate than to fight, as France will doubtless sooner or later learn. Brigands by nature, farmers in a small way by occupation, disciples of the vendetta, scorners of the law, suspicious of strangers, their only courts the gun and dagger, the Riffs have more in common with the mountaineers of the Blue Ridge than any people that I know. They have nothing in common with the other inhabitants of Morocco except their dress, wearing the universal brown hooded jellab and over it the toga-like white woollen haik, a skull-cap of red or brown, a belt with pouches of gaily coloured leather, and in it, always, a muzzle-loading pistol and the vicious curved knife, while over the shoulder slants the ten-foot-long Riff rifle, coral-studded, brass-bound, ivory-butted, and almost as dangerous to the man behind it as to the one in front. The Riffs are fair-skinned, blue-eyed, and quite frequently red-haired, and claim to be descended from the Romans, which is no unreasonable assumption on their part, as the Romans were adventuring in Morocco—they called it Mauritania—long before C?sar's day.

The other danger-point in Morocco is the Sus, a “forbidden” and unknown country through which only [Pg 50] a handful of European travellers have ever passed, all in disguise and all in peril of their lives. The Sus is the rich and fertile valley lying between the Great Atlas and the Anti Atlas, and touching the Atlantic coast at Agadir. It is said to be thickly populated; it is believed to contain rich mines; it is fanatical to the last degree. Its Berber inhabitants, who are separated from the Arabs of the surrounding regions by a totally distinct language known as the Tamazight, or Tongue of the Free, though acknowledging the religious supremacy of the reigning Sultan, have always maintained a semi-independence, having never submitted to Moorish rule nor paid tax nor tribute to the government of Morocco. Twice within the last three or four decades Moorish Sultans have invaded and attempted to conquer the Sus, but each time they have been driven back across the Atlas. The origin of the people of this region is lost in the mists of antiquity. According to the Koran its original inhabitants were natives of Syria, where they proved themselves such undesirable citizens that King David ordered them to be tied up in sacks and carried out of the country on camels, since he wished to see their faces no more. Arrived in the vicinity of the Atlas Mountains, the leader of the caravan called out in the Berber tongue “Sus!” which means “Let down! Empty out!” So the exiled undesirables were dumped unceremoniously out of their sacks, and the country in which they found themselves, and where they settled, is called the Sus to this day. The people of the Sus have never liked the French, and [Pg 51] there is little doubt that they will oppose any attempt to treat them as a province of Morocco, and consequently subject to French control. It is obvious that France will sooner or later be obliged to send an expedition into the Sus for the purpose of asserting her power as well as to counteract the German influence which is rapidly gaining ground there, for the Sus, remember, is the region where Germany's interests in Morocco are centred and provided the excuse for sending her gun-boat to Agadir and almost provoking a European war thereby. Germany still retains her commercial interests in the Sus Valley, and France will be obliged to step gingerly indeed if she wishes to avoid stirring up still another affaire Marocaine.

If France accomplishes nothing more in Morocco than the extermination of the slave trade she will have performed a genuine service to humanity. Though slavery has been abolished in every other quarter of Africa, no attempt has ever been made by the European powers to put a check upon the practice in Morocco. Something over three thousand slaves, it is estimated, are imported into Morocco every year, most of them being brought by the terrible desert routes from Equatoria and the Sudan, the trails of the slave caravans being marked by the bleaching bones of the thousands who have died on the way from heat, hunger, or exhaustion. Many smug-faced people will assure you that slavery has been wiped out in Africa—praise be to the Lord!—but I can take you into half a dozen Moroccan cities and show you slaves being auctioned to the [Pg 52] highest bidder as openly as they were in our own South fifty years ago. There is a large and profitable demand for slaves, particularly girls and boys, in all of the Moroccan cities, a young negress having a market value of anywhere from eighty dollars to one hundred and twenty dollars. Although, as I have already remarked, the bulk of the slaves are driven across the Sahara by the time-honoured method, exceptionally pretty girls are often brought from West African ports in French vessels as passengers and disposed of to wealthy Moors by private sale. So great is the demand for young and attractive women that girls are occasionally stolen from Moorish villages, the slave-dealer laying a trail of sweets, of which the native women are inordinately fond, from the outskirts of the villages up to neighbouring clumps of trees, behind which he conceals himself, pouncing out upon his unsuspecting victims as they approach. If France succeeds in stamping out the slave trade in Morocco as effectually as she has in her other African possessions, she will prove herself, as our missionary friends would put it, the flail of the Lord.

Of all France's ambitious projects for the exploitation of North Africa in general, and the opening up of Morocco in particular, the one which most appeals to the imagination, and which, when executed, is likely to be of the greatest benefit to the world, is her astounding scheme for bringing South America a week nearer to Europe by means of a railway from Tangier, in Morocco, to Dakar, in Senegal. The route, as at present planned, would run from Tangier, via Fez, to Tuat. [Pg 53] From Tuat the Sahara would be crossed and the Niger gained at Timbuktu. Though about three hundred miles of this section would lie through the most hopeless desert country, it presents no great obstacle to engineers, the Sudanese line from Wady Halfa to Khartoum proving how easily the difficulties of desert construction and lack of water can be overcome. The third section would be from Timbuktu to Dakar, where the French within the last few years have created a magnificent naval port and commercial harbour. Already Timbuktu and Dakar are in regular communication by a mixed steamer and railway service, the journey taking, when the Senegal is in flood, but five days. As such a system would have, of necessity, to be independent of the Niger and Senegal river services, which are not always reliable, a line is now under construction which will bring Timbuktu into direct rail communication with Dakar, thus eliminating the difficulties and uncertainties of river navigation. From Dakar to Pernambuco, in Brazil, is less than fifteen hundred miles, which could be covered by a fast steamer in three days. There are already regular sailings between these ports, but with the completion of this trans-African system (and, believe me, it is far from being as chimerical as it sounds, for the French do not let the grass grow under their feet when they once get a clear right of way for railway-building) ocean greyhounds will be placed in service between Dakar and the South American ports, it being estimated that the traveller who purchases his ticket via Madrid, Gibraltar, and then over the [Pg 54] Moroccan-Saharan system, can journey from Paris to Rio de Janeiro in twelve days. It is obvious that in some such scheme as this lies the future of the French Sahara, as well as the enormously increased prosperity of the Moroccan hinterland and of the Niger-Senegal possessions, for it was just such a transcontinental line, remember, which brought population and prosperity to the desert regions of our own West.

It is no light task to which France has pledged herself in agreeing to effect the regeneration of an empire so decrepit and decadent as Morocco, but that she will accomplish it is as certain as that the leaves come with the spring. The changes which the coming of the French will effect in Morocco stretch the imagination almost to the breaking-point. Already the wireless crackles and splutters from a mast erected over the French Residency in Fez. With the proclamation of the protectorate the waiting railway-builders jumped their rail-heads across the Moroccan border as homesteaders, hearing the signal gun, jump their horses over the border of newly opened lands. Two or three years more and the traveller will be able to purchase through tickets to Fez and Marrakesh as easily as he can now to San Francisco or Milan. At Tangier, Rabat, El Araish, Mogador, and Agadir harbours will be dredged, break-waters built, and wharves constructed, while the filthy, foul-smelling cities will be made as clean and sanitary as Tunis and Algiers. Under French control Tangier, with its ideal climate, its picturesque features, and its splendid situation, will rival Cairo and the Riviera as [Pg 55] a fashionable winter resort. The Moorish peasantry will be permitted to till their farms in peace, undisturbed by devastating armies, while the warlike Riffs can have their fill of fighting in French uniforms and under the French flag. This is no empty vision, remember. Peace, progress, and prosperity are bound to come to Morocco, just as they have come to those other African regions upon which the Frenchman has set his hand. Just how soon they come depends largely upon the Moors themselves.
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