Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/857

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835
ENTERTAINING VARIETIES.

I peeped through the bushes and saw that he was right: it was Ben Khelpus, the man with the goat-skin and pest-pot. His performance had lasted about five minutes, when he stopped and turned his head sidewise, and, following the direction of his gaze, we saw a little girl walking across the fields with a sort of basket in her hand. Ben Khelpus crouched down, drew a short club from his bundle, and, rising suddenly on his hind-legs, he made for the field in a kind of a bear trot. The girl saw him come and ran away, shrieking, but the pilgrim, too, then broke into a gallop, and chased her through a canebrake, where we lost sight of them. In the next minute, however, we heard a loud scream, and a second later Ben Khelpus reappeared, carrying in his hand the girl's basket, which he flung away after devouring its contents. He then returned to the cross-road, where he took a deep draught from his goat-skin, and finished his devotion by performing a number of hand-springs. While he repacked his bundle we left our hiding-place, and approached him from the other side of the road.

"How fares my brother?" I asked, when he turned his head.

"Well! thanks to Allah, whose perfection be extolled," he replied; "a man feels so much better after prayers!"

"Are you, too, going to Kápeebad?" I inquired, as he prepared to accompany us.

"Nearly," said he, "but after a day's journey beyond Beth-Raka, I shall ascend the mountain of Sidi-Máyas, for the promotion of my spiritual welfare—Hold this bundle a moment," said he, when we passed an inclosed orchard; and, after pushing down some of the upper stones, he succeeded in climbing the wall, and soon returned with a cloutful of apricots.

"Are you not afraid the owner might see you?" I asked.

"Not I," said he; "no heretic would dare to lay his hands upon a pilgrim: they fear the vengeance of my fellow-believers."

"Who are those heretics?" I asked.

"Vile misbelievers," replied he; "they waste all their prayers on the nephew of Allah."

"I told you so," said the Karman, who had repeatedly mentioned that shocking superstition.

"Yes, the Horn-Ghost[1] will roast them severely," added the pilgrim; "they confine their worship to that nephew, and pay no respect to the rest of the family, nor to the three hundred servants of his household. They even despise the gate-keeper of the heavenly mosque."

"And do you hope to enter that gate?" I asked.

"Yesha is merciful," said he; "I constantly make the sign of the

  1. El Cornado, "Old Horny." The horns of Eblis, are not confined to the cacodæmons of the Semitic religions; in the language of the Siberian Yakoots, Atkinson tells us, the local Beelzebub is called "the Old Horn Man," and the national Jehovah "the Gentleman with the Russian Uniform."