V. HAREMS AND CEREMONIES
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 equal simplicity, for silken garments are worn in Morocco only by musicians, boy-dancers and other hermaphrodite fry. With his ceremonial raiment the Sultan had put off his air of superhuman majesty, and the expression of his round pale face corresponded with the plainness of his dress. The favourites fluttered about him, respectful but by no means awestruck, and the youngest began to play with the little Prince. We could well believe the report that his was the happiest harem in Morocco, as well as the only one into which a breath of the outer world ever came.
Moulay Youssef greeted Mme. Lyautey with friendly simplicity, made the proper speeches to her companions, and then, with the air of the business-man who has forgotten to give an order before leaving his office, he walked up to a corner of the room, and while the flower-maidens ruffled about him, and through the windows we saw the last participants in the mystic rites galloping away toward the crenellated walls of Rabat, his Majesty the Priest and Emperor of the Faithful unhooked a small instrument from the wall and applied his sacred lips to the telephone.
IN OLD RABAT
Before General Lyautey came to Morocco Rabat had been subjected to the indignity of European "improvements," and one must traverse boulevards scored with tram-lines, and pass between hotel-terraces and cafes and cinema-palaces, to reach the surviving nucleus of the once beautiful native town. Then, at the turn of a commonplace street, one comes upon it suddenly. The shops and cafes cease, the jingle of trams and the trumpeting of motor-horns die out, and here, all at once, are silence and solitude, and the dignified reticence of the windowless Arab house-fronts.
We were bound for the house of a high government official, a Moroccan dignitary of the old school, who had invited us to tea, and added a message to the effect that the ladies of his household would be happy to receive me.
The house we sought was some distance down the quietest of white-walled streets. Our companion knocked at a low green door, and we were admitted to a passage into which a wooden stairway descended. A brother-in-law of our host was waiting for us; in his wake we mounted the ladder-like stairs and entered a long room with a florid French carpet and a set of gilt furniture to match. There were no fretted walls, no painted cedar doors, no fountains rustling in unseen courts: the house was squeezed in between others, and such traces of old ornament as it may have possessed had vanished.
But presently we saw why its inhabitants were indifferent to such details. Our host, a handsome white-bearded old man, welcomed us in the doorway, then he led us to a raised oriel window at one end of the room, and seated us in the gilt armchairs face to face with one of the most beautiful views in Morocco.
Below us lay the white and blue terrace-roofs of the native town, with palms and minarets shooting up between them, or the shadows of a vine-trellis patterning a quiet lane. Beyond, the Atlantic sparkled, breaking into foam at the mouth of the Bou-Regreg and under the towering ramparts of the Kasbah of the Oudayas. To the right, the ruins of the great Mosque rose from their plateau over the river; and, on the farther side of the troubled flood, old Sale, white and wicked, lay like a jewel in its gardens. With such a scene beneath their eyes, the inhabitants of the house could hardly feel its lack of architectural interest.
After exchanging the usual compliments, and giving us time to enjoy the view, our host withdrew, taking with him the men of our party. A moment later he reappeared with a rosy fair-haired girl, dressed in Arab costume, but evidently of European birth. The brother-in-law explained that this young woman, who had "studied in Algeria," and whose mother was French, was the intimate friend of the ladies of the household, and would act as interpreter. Our host then again left us, joining the men visitors in another room, and the door opened to admit his wife and daughters-in-law.
The mistress of the house was a handsome Algerian with sad expressive eyes, the younger women were pale, fat and amiable. They all wore sober dresses, in keeping with the simplicity of the house, and but for the vacuity of their faces the group might have been that of a Professor's family in an English or American University town, decently costumed for an Arabian Nights' pageant in the college grounds. I was never more vividly reminded of the fact that human nature, from one pole to the other, falls naturally into certain categories, and that Respectability wears the same face in an Oriental harem as in England or America.