The Sea-Hawk HTML version

The open space before the gates of the sôk-el-Abeed was thronged with a motley,
jostling, noisy crowd that at every moment was being swelled by the human streams
pouring to mingle in it from the debauching labyrinth of narrow, unpaved streets.
There were brown-skinned Berbers in black goat-hair cloaks that were made in one piece
with a cowl and decorated by a lozenge of red or orange colour on the back, their shaven
heads encased in skull-caps or simply bound in a cord of plaited camel-hair; there were
black Saharowi who went almost naked, and stately Arabs who seemed overmuffled in
their flowing robes of white with the cowls overshadowing their swarthy, finely featured
faces; there were dignified and prosperous-looking Moors in brightly coloured selhams
astride of sleek mules that were richly caparisoned; and there were Tagareenes, the
banished Moors of Andalusia, most of whom followed the trade of slave-dealers; there
were native Jews in sombre black djellabas, and Christian-Jews--so-called because bred
in Christian countries, whose garments they still wore; there were Levantine Turks,
splendid of dress and arrogant of demeanour, and there were humble Cololies, Kabyles
and Biscaries. Here a water-seller, laden with his goatskin vessel, tinkled his little bell;
there an orange-hawker, balancing a basket of the golden fruit upon his ragged turban,
bawled his wares. There were men on foot and men on mules, men on donkeys and men
on slim Arab horses, an ever-shifting medley of colours, all jostling, laughing, cursing in
the ardent African sunshine under the blue sky where pigeons circled. In the shadow of
the yellow tapia wall squatted a line of whining beggars and cripples soliciting alms; near
the gates a little space had been cleared and an audience had gathered in a ring about a
Meddah--a beggar-troubadour--who, to the accompaniment of gimbri and gaitah from
two acolytes, chanted a doleful ballad in a thin, nasal voice.
Those of the crowd who were patrons of the market held steadily amain, and, leaving
their mounts outside, passed through the gates through which there was no admittance for
mere idlers and mean folk. Within the vast quadrangular space of bare, dry ground,
enclosed by dust-coloured walls, there was more space. The sale of slaves had not yet
begun and was not due to begin for another hour, and meanwhile a little trading was
being done by those merchants who had obtained the coveted right to set up their booths
against the walls; they were vendors of wool, of fruit, of spices, and one or two traded in
jewels and trinkets for the adornment of the Faithful.
A well was sunk in the middle of the ground, a considerable octagon with a low parapet
in three steps. Upon the nethermost of these sat an aged, bearded Jew in a black djellaba,
his head swathed in a coloured kerchief. Upon his knees reposed a broad, shallow black
box, divided into compartments, each filled with lesser gems and rare stones, which he
was offering for sale; about him stood a little group of young Moors and one or two
Turkish officers, with several of whom the old Israelite was haggling at once.
The whole of the northern wall was occupied by a long penthouse, its contents
completely masked by curtains of camel-hair; from behind it proceeded a subdued
murmur of human voices. These were the pens in which were confined the slaves to be