As swiftly as it rose the storm subsided, leaving the fruit-market in ruins under a sky as clear and innocent as an infant’s eye. The Chleuh boys had vanished with the rest, like marionettes swept into a drawer by an impatient child, but presently, toward sunset, we were told that we were to see them after all, and our hosts led us up to the roof of the Caid’s house.
The city lay stretched before us like one immense terrace circumscribed by palms. The sky was pure blue, verging to turquoise green where the Atlas floated above mist; and facing the celestial snows stood the Koutoubya, red in the sunset.
People were beginning to come out on the roofs: it was the hour of peace, of ablutions, of family life on the house-tops. Groups of women in pale tints and floating veils spoke to each other from terrace to terrace, through the chatter of children and the guttural calls of bedizened negresses. And presently, on the roof adjoining ours, appeared the slim dancing-boys with white caftans and hennaed feet.
The three swarthy musicians who accompanied them crossed their lean legs on the tiles and set up their throb-throb and thrum-thrum, and on a narrow strip of terrace the youths began their measured steps.
It was a grave static dance, such as David may have performed before the Ark; untouched by mirth or folly, as beseemed a dance in that sombre land, and borrowing its magic from its gravity. Even when the pace quickened with the stress of the music the gestures still continued to be restrained and hieratic, only when, one by one, the performers detached themselves from the round and knelt before us for the peseta it is customary to press on their foreheads, did one see, by the moisture which made the coin adhere, how quick and violent their movements had been.
The performance, like all things Oriental, like the life, the patterns, the stories, seemed to have no beginning and no end: it just went monotonously and indefatigably on till fate snipped its thread by calling us away to dinner. And so at last we went down into the dust of the streets refreshed by that vision of white youths dancing on the house-tops against the gold of a sunset that made them look—in spite of ankle-bracelets and painted eyes—almost as guileless and happy as the round of angels on the roof of Fra Angelico’s Nativity.
THE SAADIAN TOMBS
On one of the last days of our stay in Marrakech we were told, almost mysteriously, that permission was to be given us to visit the tombs of the Saadian Sultans.
Though Marrakech has been in the hands of the French since 1912, the very existence of these tombs was unknown to the authorities till 1917. Then the Sultan’s government privately informed the Resident General that an unsuspected treasure of Moroccan art was falling into ruin, and after some hesitation it was agreed that General Lyautey and the Director of Fine Arts should be admitted to the mosque containing the tombs, on the express condition that the French Government undertook to repair them. While we were at Rabat General Lyautey had described his visit to us, and it was at his request that the Sultan authorized us to see the mosque, to which no travellers had as yet been admitted.