In the straight, white boulevards, as in the winding ancient streets; under the huge barn-like walls of barracks, as beneath the marvelous mosaics of mosques; the strange bizarre conflict of European and Oriental life spread its panorama. Staff officers, all aglitter with crosses, galloped past; mules, laden with green maize and driven by lean, brown Bedouins, swept past the plate-glass windows of bonbon shops; grave, white-bearded sheiks drank petits verres in the guinguettes; sapeurs, Chasseurs, Zouaves, cantinieres—all the varieties of French military life—mingled with jet-black Soudans, desert kings wrathful and silent, Eastern women shrouded in haick and serroual, eagle-eyed Arabs flinging back snow-white burnous, and handling ominously the jeweled halts of their cangiars. Alcazar chansons rang out from the cafes, while in their midst stood the mosque, that had used to resound with the Muezzin. Bijou-blondine and Bebee La-la and all the sister-heroines of demi-monde dragged their voluminous Paris-made dresses side by side with Moorish beauties, who only dared show the gleam of their bright black eyes through the yashmak; the reverberes were lit in the Place du Gouvernement, and a group fit for the days of Solyman the Magnificent sat under the white marble beauty of the Mohammedan church. “Rein n’est sacre pour un sapeur!” was being sung to a circle of sous-officiers, close in the ear of a patriarch serenely majestic as Abraham; gaslights were flashing, cigar shops were filling, newspapers were being read, the Rigolboche was being danced, commis-voyageurs were chattering with grisettes, drums were beating, trumpets were sounding, bands were playing, and, amid it all, grave men were dropping on their square of carpet to pray, brass trays of sweetmeats were passing, ostrich eggs were dangling, henna-tipped fingers were drawing the envious veil close, and noble Oriental shadows were gliding to and fro through the open doors of the mosques, like a picture of the “Arabian Nights,” like a poem of dead Islamism—in a word, it was Algiers at evening.
In one of the cafes there, a mingling of all the nations under the sun was drinking demi-tasses, absinthe, vermouth, or old wines, in the comparative silence that had succeeded to a song, sung by a certain favorite of the Spahis, known as Loo-Loo-j’n-m’en soucie guere, from Mlle. Loo-Loo’s well-known habits of independence and bravado, which last had gone once so far as shooting a man through the chest in the Rue Bab-al-Oued, and setting all the gendarmes and sergents-de-ville at defiance afterward. Half a dozen of that famous regiment the Chasseurs d’Afrique were gathered together, some with their feet resting on the little marble-topped tables, some reading the French papers, all smoking their inseparable companions—the brules-gueles; fine, stalwart, sun-burned fellows, with faces and figures that the glowing colors of their uniform set off to the best advantage.
“Loo-Loo was in fine voice to-night,” said one.