Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/127

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ceeded," said he; "no powder in the world could be so bitter and disgusting."

"Why did you buy that bottle, O brother of my uncle?" I asked one other man, an old fellow with the long hair of a villager.

"I bought it because I saw all the townsfolk do the same," he replied; "it must surely be good for something. I should have bought a larger bottle," he added, "but the times are very hard. Our fields are suffering from a drought, and on the western border people are dying with hunger."

The appearance of the country seemed to confirm these words. Six miles from Beth-Raka the fields looked as if the samum-wind had scorched the grass; and here and there at the road-side the people had gathered around a singing dervish, praying for rain, as my guide assured me, though he confessed that he could not understand the chants of the singer. Toward noon we passed a mountain that seemed to be a general meeting-place of the dervishes, for high up among the rocks of the summit we could see a large assembly of people, and even at this distance we heard the sound of their chants.

"What are those people doing up there?" I asked a man who had halted his wagon near a point where a by-road led up toward the top of the mountain.

"Praying for rain," said he; "I am going there myself."

"Your horses will have a hard pull before you reach the top," said I, for his wagon was heavily loaded with grain.

"Oh, no," said he; "my servant will take this load to the mash-house at Beth-Raka. The brewers are paying high prices because of the scarcity of grain."

"And what will you do on the hill?" I inquired.

"Sing and pray," said he. "Will you join me and let us ask Allah to deliver us from this famine?"

"No, sir," I replied, "but I wish I could deliver you from that mash-house."

The fellow turned away with an angry look and remarked that I must be a Murchuk—a word which they apply to a race of impious savages who refuse to exalt the glory of Allah.

We had now passed the last ridge that divides the plain of Beth-Raka from the valley of Kápibad; and before us, on the heights of the western hills, we saw the towers and gardens of the Monghistan capital. My guide was well acquainted with this part of the country, and when we reached the next hamlet he took me to a caravansary where he had often stopped, and where we intended to clean our garments before proceeding to the capital. But we had hardly entered the gate of the Asmakan,[1] when the gate-keeper took my guide aside, and, after a few questions, crossed his arms and greeted me after the manner of the Galla highlanders.

  1. The court-yard where caravans water their camels.