Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/121

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113
ENTERTAINING VARIETIES.

their daily habits. The starved-looking children were playing in the street; some, too weak to play, were sitting on the ground, diverting themselves as well as they could; the men were busy at work, as if disease had become their accustomed state, an evil too hopeless to attempt its cure. Unlike the beggars of Soodan, their poor prefer tatters to nudity. Even their little ones were encumbered with unsightly rags, and, strange to say, the poorest people seemed to have the largest number of children. Habit has inured them to the impurities of the atmosphere; they breathe the thickest dust with indifference; yet these same people are afraid of the night-air. After dark the fire of the furnace burns low and the smoke clears away, at the very time when the inhabitants close every aperture of their hovels. Where whole families sleep together (as in the den of Er-Masood) this insane habit can not fail to increase their infirmities. Poverty is by no means the only cause of their sickliness. The only manly looking men I saw in that town were the hard-working laborers of a smithy, and in the wealthier quarters, where the children are as pretty as our own, their fathers look unsound and peevish, in spite of their great paunches.

The cave-street led steadily up-hill till we reached the top of an eminence, where we stopped and breathed more freely. On the north slope of the hill the wealthier burghers had some well-built log-houses, and right before us was a large stone building with a spacious court, where I saw a number of fat old fellows, all wearing the same kind of cloaks, and all shaved like the sick of a lazar-house. At first I thought that the place was a sort of hospital for the cure of obesity, but I afterward ascertained that it was a guttle-house,[1] a building where numerous dervishes are fattened at the public expense. These holy men consume great quantities of manioc-roots,[2] which they digest in the interior of the building, where every one of them has a little stall of his own. At daybreak, at sunset, and again at the rise of the moon, they set up a plaintive howl, in order to save their souls from the Great Pitch-Hole, as the Monakees call the vale of Jehannum.[3] They do not perform any kind of useful labor, but, as their howl is supposed to propitiate the wrath of the gods, they are revered as saints, and the people feed them very liberally. They wear a sort of sack-gowns, as tighter garments would be inconvenient; and among those I met at Beth-Raka some were so fat that I could see their cheeks from behind.

In the mean time the sun had gone down, and, as the twilight in

  1. Fress-Haus (W.).
  2. The Jatropha maniot, a species of esculent tubers, as nutritious as our yams or "sweet-potatoes."
  3. The mythology of the Mohammedans represents the bottomless pit as a desolate valley, swept by harmattan-winds, and infested with uncouth goblins and swarms of gad-flies—a sort of tropical Tartarus.