Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/120

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ENTERTAINING VARIETIES.



THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON;[1]

OR,

TRAVELS AND ADVENTURES OF HAKIM BEN SHEYTAN.

Translated by F. L. O.
CHAPTER III.
"Whose sàlam hails me? Hath my friend returned?
It is his form, but not his cheerful voice."

SO says the poet; and thou, too, O father of my faith,[2] wilt find me an altered man, if it be the will of Allah that we shall meet again. Yet not the frost has chilled my heart; not the harmattan-wind has seared my brow: the gloom that clouds my soul is the gloom of sorrow for the boundless misery of my fellow-creatures—even of my fellow-men. For the habitants of Monghistan are not brutes; nor are they apes,[3] gifted with human skill. No: they are men, degraded by vice and monstrous superstitions, and as a human being I share in their shame, and the weight of their woe oppresses my own heart. May the angel of mercy be their helper!

Beth-Raka is not a large town, and I hoped to reach the opposite hills by sunset; but, before we had made our way to the end of the first street, the smoke began to stifle our breath, and we concluded to make a détour to the right and approach the furnace from the north side of the town, where the ground was higher and the air less suffocating. We entered a side-street, and would to Allah the smoke had been dense enough to blind our eyes and save us the distress of beholding such misery! The street forms a hollow way through the hills, and the rocks on both sides are full of caves, most of them widened to a height of eight feet. In and around these caves we saw a swarm of shapes as if the sleepers of a rock-tomb had issued from their gloomy dens—withered forms, bloated or swollen faces, and eyes that were not fit to meet the light of day. We met a half-grown lad with the face of an old man, and laborers that were too infirm to walk erect, and as we proceeded I saw with horror that the condition of these unfortunates was not the result of an exceptional malady, but of

  1. Copyright by D. Appleton & Company, 1882.
  2. Addressed to the Mollah of Tripoli. The pastor fides of an Arabian mosque styles himself "Guardian of the Faith," and "Gate-keeper of the Peace-house" (Kada'l Beth-Salàm).
  3. "All that day we met neither man nor beast nor ape," says Ibn Koteiba in his chronicle of the Mauritanian campaign. Monkeys, in the opinion of the Arabs, are not beasts, but Ayd-Kapi's—a sort of half-men.