Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/297

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285
POPULAR MISCELLANY.

be abundant in that locality, it would be caught in a forked twig, the ends of which were then tied together with a wisp of grass, and the butt end of the twig afterward planted in the soil. Thus treated, the lizard soon died and became a natural mummy. If, during the progress of the work, any one found and carelessly tossed aside one of these lizards, the Indians would throw down their tools and search diligently until they found it and secured it in this manner. A similar belief to the one here recorded is noticed in Nature by Mr. C. Bushe, as prevailing in Ireland, with reference to water-newts, which are there called man-eaters. One woman to whom a specimen was shown, said they were known to jump down people's throats, to their certain destruction.

 

Life in Morocco.—The present population of Morocco, says Nature, is a puzzle almost as difficult, although on a smaller scale, as that of China. The authors, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Lambert Playfair and Dr. Robert Brown, of the Bibliography of the country, give 4,000,000 as an estimate, but the guesses of various authorities vary between 1,500,000 and 15,000,000. The roads shown on the map are merely mule and camel tracks made by the feet of the pack animals, unaided by any engineer. Ferries are rare, and, of course, bridges are unknown in the interior. The distribution of towns and villages is often at variance with the rules holding for civilized countries. The villages are built out of the way of the main tracks, because people never travel in Morocco for the good of the inhabitants, and it is safer to live off the path of the tax collector and the government official, who demand free food and quarters. The great number of place-names on the map of so thinly peopled a country is due to the fact that the tombs of saints are such important landmarks that they must be indicated, even if only a few persons live beside them. All the places beginning with Sidi (Lord, Master) are either actually tombs, or the tomb has formed the nucleus of the town or village. "Sok," another affix of frequent occurrence, means market-place, and many of the established sites for periodical fairs are uninhabited between the gatherings of people from far and near. Many of the place-names on the coast exist in two forms at least—the native word and its Portuguese or Spanish translation; Casablanca and Dar-el-beida (both meaning white house), for example.

 

Sirius and its Companion.—The slight periodical displacements of Sirius, first observed about seventy years ago, were found by Bessell in 1851 to be due to its revolution in an ellipse, the largest diameter of which is 2·4″, which is accomplished in about fifty years. Sirius was therefore concluded to be a double star, with a satellite of considerable relative importance, which, as it was not seen, was supposed to be dark. The satellite, which is not quite dark, was seen for the first time in 1862; and can now, by taking proper precautions, be found at will. The period of revolution of the group has been determined by M. Auwers at forty-nine years and between four and five months, and the orbit an ellipse, the greater axis of which is 2·42″. Hence, according to the estimated distance of Sirius, the two stars are about twenty times as far apart as the distance of the earth from the sun, or equal to the distance of Uranus. The mass of the whole system has been computed to be 5·24 times that of the sun, of which Sirius has 2·20 times and the companion 1·04 time. The orbit of the companion is larger than that of Sirius. The distance apart of the two stars, now less than 4″, will diminish for two years longer, after which it will begin to increase again, till in twenty-six or twenty-seven years it will exceed 11″. The discovery of the system and of the rate of its revolutions affords proof of the operation of the force of gravity beyond the limits of the solar system.

 

Origin of Cholera.—All the theories of the origin of cholera, Mr. C. Egerton Fitzgerald suggests, may be right. The disease will eventually be found to be a miasmatic one, of which the hitherto undiscovered germ can be conveyed through the air, by water, excreta, infected bodies, and clothing. What the special germ may be we as yet know not; but that it multiplies with enormous rapidity under favorable conditions of heat, moisture, and dirt there can be no doubt. Each individual aa he is attacked becomes a fresh nidus, a hotbed for disease germs, which seek and require only a suitable soil or cul-