Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/854

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my father? Have I four legs, that I should drink water like a beast? My name is Ben Khelpus, and the poorest of my tribe have never drunk anything weaker than brand-acid.[1] Yet the All-Knowing is the most compassionate. "Come here," he muttered, and conducted us to the head of a ravine on the other side of the hill. "There is a kraal at the foot of this gully," said he, "and you will find the good-man in a rock-cell, in the side of the hill, where you see that tall tree, down there."

I thanked him for his kindness, and, as the smoke of his weeds had almost suffocated me, I took this opportunity to bid him a good-night. Since he was going to Beth-Raka, I expected to have his company the next day.

"But do not tell them where you have seen me," he called after us, as we were walking away. "Allah may have hardened their hearts, and I want to eat my supper in peace."

The moon was risen, and we had no difficulty in finding our way to the foot of the hill, and, by groping about the rocks near the tall tree, we discovered what we supposed to be the door of the grotto-house. The occupants, however, seemed to be deaf or fast asleep; we knocked and knocked, but nobody answered.

"Listen, sir," said the guide. "Do you not hear something?"

I put my ear to the door and heard, now plainly, a moaning and groaning sound, that seemed to come from the interior of the cave.

"They are sick, and perhaps in need of help," I whispered. "Shall we open the door?"

I listened again, and once more I distinguished the same sound. It resembled the groan of a dying man, and I hesitated no longer. Forcing my cutlass into the crack of the door, I put my shoulder to the wooden lock, and, at the second wrench, the board yielded with a grating sound. By good luck I had braced my knee against the edge of the rock, and could steady myself by a swift grip, or I should certainly have fallen senseless to the ground, for the effluvium of the cave completely stunned me for a second or two.

"For Allah's sake, what is this?" I cried, as I staggered backward, and, like an answer to my words, I heard an uproar of sudden howls, and a hoarse shout that sounded like the voice of an old man. "Woe! woe!" he bellowed. "Cover your heads—cover your heads! The door is open! Who has done that?"

"Here, my father; friends and men of peace!" I cried, for I thought that they had taken us for robbers. But again the wailing broke out with renewed violence. "Night-prowlers! Madmen! Where are they?" cried the old man, as he stepped forth with his head muffled up in a cloak or blanket. "Where are they?"

"Here!" said I. "Not robbers, my father, nor are we madmen, but travelers, perishing with thirst and craving a drink of water. Be-

  1. "Brand-Essig" (W.). A sort of pyroligneous acid.