THE RAINBOW SIGN
While this bad work had been going forward in the Kasbah a great blessing had fallen on the town. The long-looked for, hoped for, prayed for—the good and blessed rain—had come at last. In gentle drops like dew it had at first been falling from the rack of dark cloud which had gathered over the heads of the mountains, and now, after half an hour of such moisture, the sky over the town was grey, and the rain was pouring down like a flood.
Oh! the joy of it, the sweetness, the freshness, the beauty, the odour! The air overhead, which had been dense with dust, was clearing and whitening as if the water washed it. And the ground underfoot, which had reeked of creeping and crawling things, was running like a wholesome river, and bearing back to the lips a taste as of the sea.
And the people of the town, in their surprise and gladness at the falling of the rain, had come out of their houses to meet it. The streets and the marketplace were full of them. In childish joy they wandered up and down in the drenching flood, without fear or thought of harm, with laughing eyes and gleaming white teeth, holding out their palms to the rain and drinking it. Hailing each other in the voices of boys, jesting and shouting and singing, to and fro they went and came without aim or direction. The Jews trooped out of the Mellah, chattering like jays, and the Moors at the gate salaamed to them. Mule-drivers cried “Balak” in tones that seemed to sing; gunsmiths and saddle-makers sat idle at their doors, greeting every one that passed; solemn Talebs stood in knots, with faces that shone under the closed hoods of their dark jellabs; and the bareheaded Berbers encamped in the market-square capered about like flighty children, grinned like apes, fired their long guns into the air for love of hearing the powder speak, often wept, and sometimes embraced each other, thinking of their homes that were far away.
Now, it was just when the town was alive with this strange scene that the procession which had been ordered by Ben Aboo came out from the Kasbah. At the head of it walked a soldier, staff in hand and gorgeous—notwithstanding the rain—in peaked shasheeah and crimson selham. Behind him were four black police, and on either side of the company were two criers of the street, each carrying a short staff festooned with strings of copper coin, which he rattled in the air for a bell. Between these came the victims of the Basha’s order—Naomi first, barefooted, bareheaded, stripped of all but the last garment that hid her nakedness, her head held down, her face hidden, and her eyes closed—and Israel afterwards, mounted on a lean and ragged ass. A further guard of black police walked at the back of all. Thus they came down the steep arcades into the market-square, where the greater body of the townspeople had gathered together.