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singular among Moroccan monuments. The details of its ornament are of
the most intricate refinement: it seems as though the last graces of the
expiring Merinid art had been gathered up into this rare blossom. And
the slant of sunlight on lustrous columns, the depths of fretted gold,
the dusky ivory of the walls and the pure white of the cenotaphs, so
classic in spareness of ornament and simplicity of design - this subtle
harmony of form and color gives to the dim rich chapel an air of
dream-like unreality.

[Illustration: _From a photograph by M. André Chevrillon_

Marrakech - Mausoleum of the Saadian Sultans (sixteenth century) showing
the tombs]

And how can it seem other than a dream? Who can have conceived, in the
heart of a savage Saharan camp, the serenity and balance of this hidden
place? And how came such fragile loveliness to survive, preserving,
behind a screen of tumbling walls, of nettles and offal and dead beasts,
every curve of its traceries and every cell of its honeycombing?

Such questions inevitably bring one back to the central riddle of the
mysterious North African civilization: the perpetual flux and the
immovable stability, the barbarous customs and sensuous refinements, the
absence of artistic originality and the gift for regrouping borrowed
motives, the patient and exquisite workmanship and the immediate neglect
and degradation of the thing once made.

Revering the dead and camping on their graves, elaborating exquisite
monuments only to abandon and defile them, venerating scholarship and
wisdom and living in ignorance and grossness, these gifted races,
perpetually struggling to reach some higher level of culture from which
they have always been swept down by a fresh wave of barbarism, are still
only a people in the making.

It may be that the political stability which France is helping them to
acquire will at last give their higher qualities time for fruition; and
when one looks at the mausoleum of Marrakech and the Medersas of Fez one
feels that, were the experiment made on artistic grounds alone, it would
yet be well worth making.

FOOTNOTES:

[18] Moulay-el-Hassan reigned from 1873 to 1894.

[19] Dates do not ripen in Morocco.




V

HAREMS AND CEREMONIES


I

THE CROWD IN THE STREET

To occidental travellers the most vivid impression produced by a first
contact with the Near East is the surprise of being in a country where
the human element increases instead of diminishing the delight of the
eye.

After all, then, the intimate harmony between nature and architecture
and the human body that is revealed in Greek art was not an artist's
counsel of perfection but an honest rendering of reality: there were,
there still are, privileged scenes where the fall of a green-grocer's
draperies or a milkman's cloak or a beggar's rags are part of the
composition, distinctly related to it in line and colour, and where the
natural unstudied attitudes of the human body are correspondingly
harmonious, however hum-drum the acts it is engaged in. The discovery,
to the traveller returning from the East, robs the most romantic scenes
of western Europe of half their charm: in the Piazza of San Marco, in
the market-place of Siena, where at least the robes of the Procurators
or the gay tights of Pinturicchio's striplings once justified man's
presence among his works, one can see, at first, only the outrage
inflicted on beauty by the "plentiful strutting manikins" of the modern
world.

Moroccan crowds are always a feast to the eye. The instinct of skilful
drapery, the sense of colour (subdued by custom, but breaking out in
subtle glimpses under the universal ashy tints) make the humblest
assemblage of donkey-men and water-carriers an ever-renewed delight. But
it is only on rare occasions, and in the court ceremonies to which so
few foreigners have had access, that the hidden sumptuousness of the
native life is revealed. Even then, the term sumptuousness may seem
ill-chosen, since the nomadic nature of African life persists in spite
of palaces and chamberlains and all the elaborate ritual of the Makhzen,
and the most pompous rites are likely to end in a dusty gallop of wild
tribesmen, and the most princely processions to tail off in a string of
half-naked urchins riding bareback on donkeys.

As in all Oriental countries, the contact between prince and beggar,
vizier and serf is disconcertingly free and familiar, and one must see
the highest court officials kissing the hem of the Sultan's robe, and
hear authentic tales of slaves given by one merchant to another at the
end of a convivial evening, to be reminded that nothing is as democratic
in appearance as a society of which the whole structure hangs on the
whim of one man.


II

AÏD-EL-KEBIR

In the verandah of the Residence of Rabat I stood looking out between
posts festooned with gentian-blue ipomeas at the first shimmer of light
on black cypresses and white tobacco-flowers, on the scattered roofs of
the new town, and the plain stretching away to the Sultan's palace
above the sea.

We had been told, late the night before, that the Sultan would allow
Madame Lyautey, with the three ladies of her party, to be present at the
great religious rite of the Aïd-el-Kebir (the Sacrifice of the Sheep).
The honour was an unprecedented one, a favour probably conceded only at
the last moment: for as a rule no women are admitted to these
ceremonies. It was an opportunity not to be missed; and all through the
short stifling night I had lain awake wondering if I should be ready
early enough. Presently the motors assembled, and we set out with the
French officers in attendance on the Governor's wife.

The Sultan's palace, a large modern building on the familiar Arab lines,
lies in a treeless and gardenless waste enclosed by high walls and close
above the blue Atlantic. We motored past the gates, where the Sultan's
Black Guard was drawn up, and out to the _msalla_,[20] a sort of common
adjacent to all the Sultan's residences where public ceremonies are
usually performed. The sun was already beating down on the great plain
thronged with horsemen and with the native population of Rabat on
mule-back and foot. Within an open space in the centre of the crowd a
canvas palissade dyed with a bold black pattern surrounded the Sultan's
tents. The Black Guard, in scarlet tunics and white and green turbans,
were drawn up on the edge of the open space, keeping the spectators at a
distance; but under the guidance of our companions we penetrated to the
edge of the crowd.

The palissade was open on one side, and within it we could see moving
about among the snowy-robed officials a group of men in straight narrow
gowns of almond-green, peach-blossom, lilac and pink; they were the
Sultan's musicians, whose coloured dresses always flower out
conspicuously among the white draperies of all the other court
attendants.

In the tent nearest the opening, against a background of embroidered
hangings, a circle of majestic turbaned old men squatted placidly on
Rabat rugs. Presently the circle broke up, there was an agitated coming
and going, and some one said: "The Sultan has gone to the tent at the
back of the enclosure to kill the sheep."

A sense of the impending solemnity ran through the crowd. The mysterious
rumour which is the Voice of the Bazaar rose about us like the wind in a
palm-oasis; the Black Guard fired a salute from an adjoining hillock;
the clouds of red dust flung up by wheeling horsemen thickened and then
parted, and a white-robed rider sprang out from the tent of the
Sacrifice with something red and dripping across his saddle-bow, and
galloped away toward Rabat through the shouting. A little shiver ran
over the group of occidental spectators, who knew that the dripping red
thing was a sheep with its throat so skilfully slit that, if the omen
were favourable, it would live on through the long race to Rabat and
gasp out its agonized life on the tiles of the Mosque.

The Sacrifice of the Sheep, one of the four great Moslem rites, is
simply the annual propitiatory offering made by every Mahometan head of
a family, and by the Sultan as such. It is based not on a Koranic
injunction, but on the "Souna" or record of the Prophet's "custom" or
usages, which forms an authoritative precedent in Moslem ritual. So far
goes the Moslem exegesis. In reality, of course, the Moslem
blood-sacrifice comes, by way of the Semitic ritual, from far beyond and
behind it; and the belief that the Sultan's prosperity for the coming
year depends on the animal's protracted agony seems to relate the
ceremony to the dark magic so deeply rooted in the mysterious tribes
peopling North Africa long ages before the first Phoenician prows had
rounded its coast.

Between the Black Guard and the tents, five or six horses were being led
up and down by muscular grooms in snowy tunics. They were handsome
animals, as Moroccan horses go, and each of a different colour; and on
the bay horse was a red saddle embroidered in gold, on the piebald a
saddle of peach-colour and silver, on the chestnut, grass-green
encrusted with seed-pearls, on the white mare purple housings, and
orange velvet on the grey. The Sultan's band had struck up a shrill
hammering and twanging, the salute of the Black Guard continued at
intervals, and the caparisoned steeds began to rear and snort and drag
back from the cruel Arab bits with their exquisite _niello_
incrustations. Some one whispered that these were His Majesty's
horses - and that it was never known till he appeared which one he would
mount.

Presently the crowd about the tents thickened, and when it divided again
there emerged from it a grey horse bearing a motionless figure swathed
in blinding white. Marching at the horse's bridle, lean brown grooms in
white tunics rhythmically waved long strips of white linen to keep off
the flies from the Imperial Presence; and beside the motionless rider,
in a line with his horse's flank, rode the Imperial Parasol-bearer, who
held above the sovereign's head a great sunshade of bright green velvet.
Slowly the grey horse advanced a few yards before the tent; behind rode
the court dignitaries, followed by the musicians, who looked, in their
bright scant caftans, like the slender music-making angels of a
Florentine fresco.

The Sultan, pausing beneath his velvet dome, waited to receive the
homage of the assembled tribes. An official, riding forward, drew bridle
and called out a name. Instantly there came storming across the plain a
wild cavalcade of tribesmen, with rifles slung across their shoulders,
pistols and cutlasses in their belts, and twists of camel's-hair bound
about their turbans. Within a few feet of the Sultan they drew in, their
leader uttered a cry and sprang forward, bending to the saddle-bow, and
with a great shout the tribe galloped by, each man bowed over his
horse's neck as he flew past the hieratic figure on the grey horse.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from "France-Maroc"_

The Sultan of Morocco under the green umbrella (at Meknez, 1916)]

Again and again this ceremony was repeated, the Sultan advancing a few
feet as each new group thundered toward him. There were more than ten
thousand horsemen and chieftains from the Atlas and the wilderness, and
as the ceremony continued the dust-clouds grew denser and more
fiery-golden, till at last the forward-surging lines showed through them
like blurred images in a tarnished mirror.

As the Sultan advanced we followed, abreast of him and facing the
oncoming squadrons. The contrast between his motionless figure and the
wild waves of cavalry beating against it typified the strange soul of
Islam, with its impetuosity forever culminating in impassiveness. The
sun hung high, a brazen ball in a white sky, darting down metallic
shafts on the dust-enveloped plain and the serene white figure under its
umbrella. The fat man with a soft round beard-fringed face, wrapped in
spirals of pure white, one plump hand on his embroidered bridle, his
yellow-slippered feet thrust heel-down in big velvet-lined stirrups,
became, through sheer immobility, a symbol, a mystery, a God. The human
flux beat against him, dissolved, ebbed away, another spear-crested wave
swept up behind it and dissolved in turn; and he sat on, hour after
hour, under the white-hot sky, unconscious of the heat, the dust, the
tumult, embodying to the wild factious precipitate hordes a long
tradition of serene aloofness.


III

THE IMPERIAL MIRADOR

As the last riders galloped up to do homage we were summoned to our
motors and driven rapidly to the palace. The Sultan had sent word to
Mme. Lyautey that the ladies of the Imperial harem would entertain her
and her guests while his Majesty received the Resident General, and we
had to hasten back in order not to miss the next act of the spectacle.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from "France-Maroc"_

A clan of mountaineers and their caïd.]

We walked across a long court lined with the Black Guard, passed under a
gateway, and were met by a shabbily dressed negress. Traversing a hot
dazzle of polychrome tiles we reached another archway guarded by the
chief eunuch, a towering black with the enamelled eyes of a basalt bust.
The eunuch delivered us to other negresses, and we entered a labyrinth
of inner passages and patios, all murmuring and dripping with water.
Passing down long corridors where slaves in dim greyish garments
flattened themselves against the walls, we caught glimpses of great dark
rooms, laundries, pantries, bakeries, kitchens, where savoury things
were brewing and stewing, and where more negresses, abandoning their
pots and pans, came to peep at us from the threshold. In one corner, on
a bench against a wall hung with matting, grey parrots in tall cages
were being fed by a slave.

A narrow staircase mounted to a landing where a princess out of an Arab
fairy-tale awaited us. Stepping softly on her embroidered slippers she
led us to the next landing, where another golden-slippered being smiled
out on us, a little girl this one, blushing and dimpling under a
jewelled diadem and pearl-woven braids. On a third landing a third
damsel appeared, and encircled by the three graces we mounted to the
tall _mirador_ in the central tower from which we were to look down at
the coming ceremony. One by one, our little guides, kicking off their
golden shoes, which a slave laid neatly outside the door, led us on soft
bare feet into the upper chamber of the harem.

It was a large room, enclosed on all sides by a balcony glazed with
panes of brightly-coloured glass. On a gaudy modern Rabat carpet stood
gilt armchairs of florid design and a table bearing a commercial bronze
of the "art goods" variety. Divans with muslin-covered cushions were
ranged against the walls and down an adjoining gallery-like apartment
which was otherwise furnished only with clocks. The passion for clocks
and other mechanical contrivances is common to all unmechanical races,
and every chief's palace in North Africa contains a collection of
time-pieces which might be called striking if so many had not ceased to
go. But those in the Sultan's harem of Rabat are remarkable for the fact
that, while designed on current European models, they are proportioned
in size to the Imperial dignity, so that a Dutch "grandfather" becomes a
wardrobe, and the box-clock of the European mantelpiece a cupboard that
has to be set on the floor. At the end of this avenue of time-pieces a
European double-bed with a bright silk quilt covered with Nottingham
lace stood majestically on a carpeted platform.

But for the enchanting glimpses of sea and plain through the lattices of
the gallery, the apartment of the Sultan's ladies falls far short of
occidental ideas of elegance. But there was hardly time to think of
this, for the door of the _mirador_ was always opening to let in another
fairy-tale figure, till at last we were surrounded by a dozen houris,
laughing, babbling, taking us by the hand, and putting shy questions
while they looked at us with caressing eyes. They were all (our
interpretess whispered) the Sultan's "favourites," round-faced
apricot-tinted girls in their teens, with high cheek-bones, full red
lips, surprised brown eyes between curved-up Asiatic lids, and little
brown hands fluttering out like birds from their brocaded sleeves.

In honour of the ceremony, and of Mme. Lyautey's visit, they had put on
their finest clothes, and their freedom of movement was somewhat
hampered by their narrow sumptuous gowns, with over-draperies of gold
and silver brocade and pale rosy gauze held in by corset-like sashes of
gold tissue of Fez, and the heavy silken cords that looped their
voluminous sleeves. Above their foreheads the hair was shaven like that
of an Italian fourteenth-century beauty, and only a black line as narrow
as a pencilled eyebrow showed through the twist of gauze fastened by a
jewelled clasp above the real eye-brows. Over the forehead-jewel rose
the complicated structure of the head-dress. Ropes of black wool were
plaited through the hair, forming, at the back, a double loop that stood
out above the nape like the twin handles of a vase, the upper veiled in
airy shot gauzes and fastened with jewelled bands and ornaments. On each
side of the red cheeks other braids were looped over the ears hung with
broad earrings of filigree set with rough pearls and emeralds, or gold
hoops and pendants of coral; and an unexpected tulle ruff, like that of
a Watteau shepherdess, framed the round chin above a torrent of
necklaces, necklaces of amber, coral, baroque pearls, hung with
mysterious barbaric amulets and fetiches. As the young things moved
about us on soft hennaed feet the light played on shifting gleams of
gold and silver, blue and violet and apple-green, all harmonized and
bemisted by clouds of pink and sky-blue; and through the changing group
capered a little black picaninny in a caftan of silver-shot purple with
a sash of raspberry red.

But presently there was a flutter in the aviary. A fresh pair of
_babouches_ clicked on the landing, and a young girl, less brilliantly
dressed and less brilliant of face than the others, came in on bare
painted feet. Her movements were shy and hesitating, her large lips
pale, her eye-brows less vividly dark, her head less jewelled. But all
the little humming-birds gathered about her with respectful rustlings as
she advanced toward us leaning on one of the young girls, and holding
out her ringed hand to Mme. Lyautey's curtsey. It was the young
Princess, the Sultan's legitimate daughter. She examined us with sad
eyes, spoke a few compliments through the interpretess, and seated
herself in silence, letting the others sparkle and chatter.

Conversation with the shy Princess was flagging when one of the
favourites beckoned us to the balcony. We were told we might push open
the painted panes a few inches, but as we did so the butterfly group
drew back lest they should be seen looking out on the forbidden world.

Salutes were crashing out again from the direction of the _msalla_:
puffs of smoke floated over the slopes like thistle-down. Farther off, a
pall of red vapour veiled the gallop of the last horsemen wheeling away
toward Rabat. The vapour subsided, and moving out of it we discerned a
slow procession. First rode a detachment of the Black Guard, mounted on
black horses, and, comically fierce in their British scarlet and Meccan
green, a uniform invented at the beginning of the nineteenth century by
a retired English army officer. After the Guard came the
standard-bearers and the great dignitaries, then the Sultan, still
aloof, immovable, as if rapt in the contemplation of his mystic office.
More court officials followed, then the bright-gowned musicians on
foot, then a confused irrepressible crowd of pilgrims, beggars, saints,
mountebanks, and the other small folk of the Bazaar, ending in a line of
boys jamming their naked heels into the ribs of world-weary donkeys.

[Illustration: _From a photograph from "France-Maroc"_

The Sultan entering Marrakech in state]

The Sultan rode into the court below us, and Vizier and chamberlains,
snowy-white against the scarlet line of the Guards, hurried forward to
kiss his draperies, his shoes, his stirrup. Descending from his velvet
saddle, still entranced, he paced across the tiles between a double line
of white servitors bowing to the ground. White pigeons circled over him
like petals loosed from a great orchard, and he disappeared with his
retinue under the shadowy arcade of the audience chamber at the back of
the court.

At this point one of the favourites called us in from the _mirador_. The
door had just opened to admit an elderly woman preceded by a respectful
group of girls. From the newcomer's round ruddy face, her short round
body, the round hands emerging from her round wrists, an inexplicable
majesty emanated; and though she too was less richly arrayed than the
favourites she carried her head-dress of striped gauze like a crown.

This impressive old lady was the Sultan's mother. As she held out her
plump wrinkled hand to Mme. Lyautey and spoke a few words through the
interpretess one felt that at last a painted window of the _mirador_ had
been broken, and a thought let into the vacuum of the harem. What
thought, it would have taken deep insight into the processes of the Arab
mind to discover; but its honesty was manifest in the old Empress's
voice and smile. Here at last was a woman beyond the trivial
dissimulations, the childish cunning, the idle cruelties of the harem.
It was not a surprise to be told that she was her son's most trusted
adviser, and the chief authority in the palace. If such a woman deceived
and intrigued it would be for great purposes and for ends she believed
in: the depth of her soul had air and daylight in it, and she would
never willingly shut them out.

The Empress Mother chatted for a while with Mme. Lyautey, asking about
the Resident General's health, enquiring for news of the war, and
saying, with an emotion perceptible even through the unintelligible
words: "All is well with Morocco as long as all is well with France."
Then she withdrew, and we were summoned again to the _mirador_.

This time it was to see a company of officers in brilliant uniforms
advancing at a trot across the plain from Rabat. At sight of the figure
that headed them, so slim, erect and young on his splendid chestnut,
with a pale blue tunic barred by the wide orange ribbon of the Cherifian
Order, salutes pealed forth again from the slope above the palace and
the Black Guard presented arms. A moment later General Lyautey and his
staff were riding in at the gates below us. On the threshold of the
inner court they dismounted, and moving to the other side of our balcony
we followed the next stage of the ceremony. The Sultan was still seated
in the audience chamber. The court officials still stood drawn up in a
snow-white line against the snow-white walls. The great dignitaries
advanced across the tiles to greet the General; then they fell aside,
and he went forward alone, followed at a little distance by his staff. A
third of the way across the court he paused, in accordance with the
Moroccan court ceremonial, and bowed in the direction of the arcaded
room; a few steps farther he bowed again, and a third time on the
threshold of the room. Then French uniforms and Moroccan draperies
closed in about him, and all vanished into the shadows of the audience
hall.

Our audience too seemed to be over. We had exhausted the limited small
talk of the harem, had learned from the young beauties that, though they
were forbidden to look on at the ceremony, the dancers and singers would
come to entertain them presently, and had begun to take leave when a
negress hurried in to say that his Majesty begged Mme. Lyautey and her
friends to await his arrival. This was the crowning incident of our
visit, and I wondered with what Byzantine ritual the Anointed One fresh
from the exercise of his priestly functions would be received among his
women.

The door opened, and without any announcement or other preliminary
flourish a fat man with a pleasant face, his djellabah stretched over a
portly front, walked in holding a little boy by the hand. Such was his
Majesty the Sultan Moulay Youssef, despoiled of sacramental burnouses
and turban, and shuffling along on bare yellow-slippered feet with the
gait of a stout elderly gentleman who has taken off his boots in the
passage preparatory to a domestic evening.

The little Prince, one of his two legitimate sons, was dressed with


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