Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/859

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

"There is my house," said he, pointing to the valley, "over yonder, where you see that large orchard at the foot of the hill."

"And is the produce of that orchard not sufficient to support you?" I asked him.

"My wants, sir, are but small," said he, "but I have a wife and a daughter who are in need of wakkad[1] trailing-gowns with double tails, and red-squirrel skins are very expensive."

"Have they, then, no other garments?" I inquired.

"Many, sir," he replied, "but they are gray and single-tailed."

"Father," said I, "I am a physician, and it is my duty to warn you," for I had noticed that he breathed with difficulty, like a person exhausted by a grievous cough. Such labor, I told him, would surely aggravate his disease, and if he hoped to recover he must have more rest and better food.

"Alas! we have sold our milch-cow," said the old man, "and I have to furnish those gowns before the end of this season."

"Then repurchase your cow," I replied, "and let your women wear their usual garments."

He sighed and shook his head. "The women of this country have to follow the customs of Moropolis," said he, "a city of great wealth and refinement. The Moropolitans have ordained that trailing-gowns shall be red and double-tailed, and Monghistan has to obey. All the women would be against me: I might defy them, but I dread the consequences."

By much persuasion I at last encouraged his heart, and agreed to follow him to his home. The orchard was not far from our camping ground; so I hoped to return before my companions had prepared our meal. The old man conducted me through a flourishing tree-garden, and ushered me into his cottage, where we found two women, both unveiled, but of very decorous deportment. "My name is Makel-Frit," said the old man, "and this is Pitha, my wife, and my daughter Pitheka."

They received me with politeness and offered me the hospitality of their table; but, seeing a skewered pig upon their hearth, I asked them to excuse me, adding that I would soon be obliged to rejoin my companions.

"How comes it, my husband," said the kabira,[2] at last, "that your labor has ended so long before sunset?"

"It has ended for ever," said Mak-el-Frit, "I can endure it no more"; and, after explaining the nature of his disease, he told them that he intended to repurchase his milch-cow, and that they must content themselves with gowns of gray-squirrel skin.

At these words the two women started up and glared at each

  1. Aboo-l-wakkad, literally "father of a great tail," a squirrel. The name is applied both to the gray palm-squirrel and the civet-cat of Northern Africa.
  2. Kabira, the "head-woman," the mistress of a house.