A SUMMER'S EVENING IN MOROCCO-1898

A SUMMER'S EVENING IN MOROCCO-1898

AT long length the apparently interminable undulating hills are passed and our caravan, weary with its hot journey on a summer's day in Morocco, nears its destination. One little valley more remains to be crossed, where in the muddy stream we can water our animals; one more low range of hills to be climbed, and our camping-ground for the night is reached.

The sun is sinking toward the West and the whole sky is ablaze with the strange white effulgence which tells of approaching evening. With strained necks and weary gait our half-dozen horses and mules tramp onward, and the stolid Arab caravan-men scarcely ever speak. There is a slight show of hurry as we near the stream; then a dismounting of men, a removing of the beasts' bridles, and men, horses and mules plunge into the water.

Ten minutes' rest, while the animals drink and we bathe our parched faces and arms, and then on again for the last little stage of our fifteen hours' march. Up the hard clay road, worn deep into the hillside by the traffic of a thousand caravans, between scorched fields of stubble and dry thistles, until at length the summit is reached, and before us we can see the little white village with its gardens of olives and oranges where we are to spend the night. From the spot where we stand to the glow of the sunset sky extends one vast plain, seemingly immeasurable, dying away in distance in streaks of cobalt blue and crimson. It is almost sunset now and the great orb of fire is brickdust red as it sinks near the horizon into the heat mist that rises from the parched soil, the heat mist that renders it almost impossible to distinguish where the plain ends and space begins. There is not a cloud to be seen; above us the heated atmosphere still appears as a sheet of green molten metal which changes nearer the horizon into every shade of gold, red and yellow. The plain stretching away below us boasts of every combination of deep purples, blues, and greens, yet so subtly blended, so soft, that there is no crude contrast of colour. From the marshes and river-bed away to the right the white mists of evening are already rising. Not a hill, scarcely an undulation in the plain, is visible, and the entire absence of trees, except those surrounding the little village, adds to the fantastic impression of immeasurable expanse. But life is not wanting, for half a mile away below us a circle of low black tents tells of the pastoral Arabs who inhabit this great plain. Further away, where the haze of evening hides the detail, one can trace fine coils of smoke rising like pillars into the sky and telling of tent-villages beyond. In the still air the monotonous grinding of the hand corn-mills is heard by us on the hillside, and the cries and laughter of women as with their pitchers on their backs they troop in single file to the wells. The lowing cattle collect from all sides, driven to the villages by the sharp cries of the herdsmen, and here across the foreground, returning from the hills at the head of his flock, breathing sweet music from his little flute of cane as he goes, pass the goatherd and his brother. Indistinct in the darkening eve, the flocks and herds follow them, bleating as they go. Close by the side of the musician's brotherrun two of the goats gazing with upturned faces on the little kids, born to-day, which he bears in his arms. A long line of weary camels, with outstretched necks and swaying paces, collect near by and lie down, groaning and grunting as their heavy burdens are removed by the caravan men. The sun has set.

From the little mosque of the village arises the watchword of Islam, and with long-sustained musical notes the "mueddin" calls the faithful to prayer. In the gathering gloom one sees the Arabs congregating at the mosque, and a minute later the monotonous buzz of their prayers is heard.

Then for a moment the sky is illumined, and the strange afterglow, a gauzy mist of golden film, enwraps the whole scene. The plain becomes crimson once again, and the heavens are ablaze with shafts of light. Black and gloomy against the glowing sky stands the outline of the stone village and its gardens. The owl ceases her already commenced hoot hoot, and silence reigns.

It is but for a few moments and then night falls, so swiftly, so surely that it seems as though a veil were drawn over the scene. The cattle cease their lowing and the flocks and herds their bleating, and in their place the watchdogs bark. Where but a minute ago the tents were visible there is nought distinguishable now but the glow of the camp fires. The falling heavy dew brings forth the pent-up fragrance of the earth, and the night air is heavy with the scent of the orange blossom in the gardens near by.

For an hour the stars reign over the world, the deep sapphire sky ablaze with their myriad fires; then they in turn fade before the moon, as, through the steamy mist of the plain, she rises in the East.

Then all the world is silver, and silence reigns supreme, except for the little owls in the olive-trees.

Walter B. Harris.