Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/May 1882/Entertaining Varieties
THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON;
TRAVELS AND ADVENTURES OF HAKIM BEN SHEYTAN.
Translated by F. L. O.
"Whose sàlam hails me? Hath my friend returned?
It is his form, but not his cheerful voice."
SO says the poet; and thou, too, O father of my faith, wilt find me an altered man, if it be the will of Allah that we shall meet again. Yet not the frost has chilled my heart; not the harmattan-wind has seared my brow: the gloom that clouds my soul is the gloom of sorrow for the boundless misery of my fellow-creatures—even of my fellow-men. For the habitants of Monghistan are not brutes; nor are they apes, gifted with human skill. No: they are men, degraded by vice and monstrous superstitions, and as a human being I share in their shame, and the weight of their woe oppresses my own heart. May the angel of mercy be their helper!
Beth-Raka is not a large town, and I hoped to reach the opposite hills by sunset; but, before we had made our way to the end of the first street, the smoke began to stifle our breath, and we concluded to make a détour to the right and approach the furnace from the north side of the town, where the ground was higher and the air less suffocating. We entered a side-street, and would to Allah the smoke had been dense enough to blind our eyes and save us the distress of beholding such misery! The street forms a hollow way through the hills, and the rocks on both sides are full of caves, most of them widened to a height of eight feet. In and around these caves we saw a swarm of shapes as if the sleepers of a rock-tomb had issued from their gloomy dens—withered forms, bloated or swollen faces, and eyes that were not fit to meet the light of day. We met a half-grown lad with the face of an old man, and laborers that were too infirm to walk erect, and as we proceeded I saw with horror that the condition of these unfortunates was not the result of an exceptional malady, but of 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, a building where numerous dervishes are fattened at the public expense. These holy men consume great quantities of manioc-roots, 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. 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 this country is very short, we feared that we should lose our way in the maze of the suburban roads. The dervishes of the guttle-house seemed disinclined to converse with strangers, and the children at play on the hill were unable to answer our questions; but at last we met a well-dressed old burgher, who gave us all the information we desired. "The road to Kapibad passes through my field," said he, "and if you will follow me I will show you the shortest way. I live at the foot of the hill over yonder, where you see that large mosque of the Tripilates."
"Is not that sect very numerous in this town?" I asked.
"Yes, their buildings occupy all the best sites," said he, "and they have the impudence to call themselves the only true Yeshanees."
"Do you belong to the Thumpers?" I asked.
"The Thumpers," said he, "are nearly as superstitious as the Tripilates. Their teachers walk in darkness. No, I am a Kabir, or Senior, of the Grizzlies, so called because our people follow the rule of the primitive Yeshanees, whose priests were chosen from among the gray-headed and venerable elders of the community.—How do you like this part of our land?" he asked, when we reached the foot of the declivity.
"The hills remind me of the Khundee highlands," said I; "the buildings of Khundistan can not be compared to yours, but the inhabitants seem to be happy in their free wilderness."
"Yes, they have a happy climate," said he, "but they are poor, ignorant wretches, who worship only one God and take a sinful delight in worldly pleasures. They do not know that the welfare of the soul requires the mortification of the body, and that earthly thoughts obstruct the way to heaven."
"Where does all this smoke come from?" I inquired.
"From the mash-house," said he. "We shall pass it before we reach the city gate. The mashers employ a hundred workmen, and it will surprise you to see what quantities of grain pass through their hands."
If the mash-house had been a bakery, its usefulness could have reconciled me to the smoke, for in this quarter of the city, too, the people seemed to be in desperate want of bread, and I asked the Karman to distribute all our provisions to relieve some of the famished children that gathered around us at the street-corners.
Near the gate the road was not paved, and the ground was here covered with mire instead of dust.
"Yes, cities abound with foul odors and all kinds of impurities," remarked the Kabir, "but such evils are outweighed by moral blessings. In this town even the poorest enjoy the advantage of spiritual instruction and edifying sermons."
"A great advantage, indeed," I was going to say, when I stumbled over a big man who was lying prostrate in the middle of the street. A shorter and fatter fellow was sitting near him, but made no attempt to help his comrade, and for good reasons, as it seemed, for, when I tried to assist the prostrate man, he kicked me like a horse, and after a torrent of frightful blasphemies began to pelt us with mud and rubbish.
"Leave them alone!" cried the Karman; "I believe that drunken wretch has hit me with a stone."
But at those words the fat man jumped to his feet and staggered forward as if he were going to follow us. "Do not call a Yeshanee a wretch," he stammered; "that man is fond of mash, but he atones for it on the prayer-day, and in the mosque no one can exceed the frequency and fervor of his groans.—Oh, how Yesha loves a prayerful heart!" he added; when I heard a loud splash, and, looking back, I saw that he, too, had fallen in the mud, and was evidently as drunk as his companion.
"Mash is very cheap in this town," explained the Kabir.
"Not to those poor fellows," said I; "it will cost them their health."
"Yes, but such losses, too, often result in spiritual gain," replied the Kabir. "The body must be humbled, the natural heart must be broken, before the soul can partake of grace. The vilest sinners become the devoutest believers.—Here is the mash-house," said he, as we stopped before a high stone-wall.
The building was shrouded in a cloud of hot vapor that added a lurid glow to the lights that shone through every hole and crack in the wall, and when we reached the gate we could hear the hiss of a mighty furnace, but the flues were so high that the black smoke passed harmless over our heads. Still, the atmosphere within was almost suffocating. The air was thick with steam, made more offensive by the intensity of the same vicious odor we had first noticed in the eastern suburbs. All this smell, filling the air for leagues around, seemed to be diffused from a seething kettle in the background of the building. A multitude of half-naked men ran to and fro with sacks, pots, and buckets, while others were raking the furnace which was going to be covered for the night. Nearer by, and all along the walls, were large heaps of grain, besides apples and other fruits.
"Is this hábbada—a provision store-house? "I inquired.
"No, these things are merely stored here till they are ready to use them," said the Kabir, "and that will be soon enough; every day five hundred horse-loads of grain are here used up in the manufacture of strong drink. They make five kinds of mash, the cheaper sorts cheap enough for the poorest."
These words convinced me of what I had suspected for some time, though my soul shrank from the thought as long as there was a shadow of doubt, namely, that these ship-loads of victuals would all be made into fire-water; mountains of grain and fruit turned into poison, while the streets were full of starving children!
"Do you believe in a god?" I asked the Kabir.
"I do, and in more than one!" was the prompt reply.
"And do you believe the gods will forgive you this shameful waste?"
The Kabir touched my arm. "Do not talk so loud," he whispered. "How can we help it?" said he, in an undertone; "we have tried all kinds of remedies, and they have all failed. How can we prevent the manufacture of mash?"
"Simply enough," I replied; "do not drink it. Does your religion not forbid such an outrage, or does not your conscience prompt you to stop it? Is the way to freedom so far?"
"We have not been idle, O son of my uncle," said the Kabir; "the evil has been greatly diminished."
"In what way?" I asked.
"Our dervishes," said he, "prohibit the sale of mash on all prayer-days."
"When do they permit it?" I asked.
"Only on six days out of seven," said he.
"But do you not drink mash in your mosques?" asked my guide.
The Kabir gave him an evil look. "That is a slander," said he. "What they hand around in our mosques has the smell and the appearance of mash, but before we put it to our lips a special miracle turns it into quite a different substance."
"Has it a different taste?" I inquired.
The Kabir hesitated. "Unbelievers deny it," said he. "Our doctors claim that it has the same effect on the human body as a similar quantity of ordinary mash; but science, you know, is always forging weapons to destroy the faith."
The overseer of the mash-house stood near enough to overhear our conversation. He made no remark, but walked up to the furnace and ordered the laborers to quit work. "It is time to close the gate," said he.
We took the hint and left.
"That overseer owns a part of the mash-house," said the Kabir? when we reached the open street. "I wonder if he has heard your remarks?" "Do you care if he did?" said I.
"Oh, certainly!" whispered the Kabir; "he is a man of wealth, and a prominent member of our mosque."
The Kabir's residence was a long wooden building at the end of a field, with several shade-trees, and some fifty acres of land, devoted to the cultivation of poison-berries.
"If you dislike the smell of fire-water, you had better accept the shelter of my roof," said he, "for all our caravansaries are redolent with the fumes of mash. As for myself, I never touch the stronger sorts, though our doctors prescribe them."
We thanked him for his kindness, but, as the night was clear and pleasant, we asked permission to camp under one of his shade-trees. While the Karman pitched our tent, our host pressed me to inspect the interior of the building.
"Do you know a remedy for the gout?" he asked as soon as we were alone. "I have tried all sorts of cures, but unsuccessfully."
"Have you ever tried to drink water! "I asked him.
The Kabir sighed. "I thought you were a physician," said he; "is that the only remedy you know? Never mind," he added, when I made no reply, "I suppose there is no help for it. This earth is a vale of tears."
He had lighted a lamp, and I noticed that the background of his room was full of papyrus-rolls, tablets, and other things that bespoke him a man of letters.
"There is one consolation," said he; "the evils of this earth can not deprive us of spiritual enjoyments. Nay, the more the light of earthly pleasure fades, the brighter the joys of a higher world often dawn upon the mind."
A strange smell began to fill the room, and, looking toward the corner where the Kabir was seated upon his divan, I discovered to my dismay that he had lighted a pot with, stink-weeds. He invited me to take a seat at his side, but, seeing that I was in need of rest, he kindly permitted me to retire to my tent.
Before we resumed our journey the next morning, we had to replenish our provision-bags, and met a boy who offered to show us the way to the market-place. "It is not far from here," said he, "you can already hear the shouting of the doctors."
Since daybreak we had, indeed, heard the sound of repeated whoops, often accompanied by the tooting of a cow-horn; and when we arrived at the market-place we soon discovered the cause of the noise. In opposite corners of the square two medicine-venders had erected their platforms, and their incessant yells had already attracted large crowds of the natives. One of the doctors had decorated his booth with all sorts of fanciful pictures, and, while he exalted the merits of his medicine, the mahudis blew their horns, while two assistants ran to and fro distributing spoonfuls and handfuls of a blue powder and collecting copper coins. The doctor had the voice of a steer, and I noticed that his sudden whoops sometimes opened the purse-strings of spectators who had listened with indifference to his quieter remarks.
His rival had no pictures, but talked with astonishing volubility and attracted customers by a very ingenious device. Behind his platform he had made an inclosure with chains and ropes and filled it with a troop of sickly-looking fellows—cripples, lepers, and such like—as he could easily have collected in any back street of the town. Now and then, in the course of his fluent harangue, the doctor would stop and turn toward this cadaverous assembly. "Have you not all derived great benefits from the use of my oil?" he inquired.
"Yes, yes, yes!" the lepers shouted in chorus, whereupon the mahud blew his horn, and the collectors rushed into the crowd to exchange bottles for coin. At times the doctor varied his query: "Is there any disease which my oil will fail to cure?"
"No, no, no!" yelled the chorus, and a shower of coin followed as before. At longer intervals a couple of assistants would bring a large tub from an adjoining building, and, with the appearance of a strenuous effort, lift it up and exchange it for an apparently empty pot upon the stage.
"Another barrelful sold!" then cried the doctor. "By Allah (whose perfection be extolled!), there is no medicine like it! Oh, the wonderful virtues of my oil! "whereupon the mahud blew his horn vigorously till coppers showered in from all sides.
Walking toward the gate, we overtook several men whom I remembered to have seen at the stand of the oil-man.
"What is that oil good for, O friend?" I asked a young fellow who carried a bottle of it in his hand.
He looked at me with surprise. "Did you not hear what the doctor said?" he replied; "it cures all diseases, so it can not fail to be good for something."
"Tell me, O my master," I asked an old burgher, "do you know what that bottle contains? "
"That I can not tell," said he; "but surely it must be a powerful medicine."
"And do you prefer it to the other doctor's powder?" I asked again.
"Judging from its taste, the potency of this oil can not be exceeded," 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, 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.
"May Allah bless the day and the hour of your arrival!" said he. "This morning a messenger of the Emir has arrived from Kapibad, and is now awaiting your coming under a tree where all the roads from the east meet near the village gate."
[To be continued.]
—— Dornian, in his "Origin of Primitive Superstitions," gives the following on the authority of Schoolcraft: "Sleep is thought by the Algic race to be produced by fairies, the prince of whom is Weeng. The power of this Indian Morpheus is exerted in a peculiar manner and by a novel agency. Weeng seldom acts directly in inducing sleep, but he exercises dominion over hosts of gnome-like beings, who are everywhere present. These beings are invisible. Each one is armed with a tiny club, and when he observes a person sitting or reclining under circumstances favorable to sleep, he nimbly climbs upon his forehead and inflicts a blow. The first blow only creates drowsiness; the second makes the person lethargic, so that he occasionally closes his eyelids; the third produces sound sleep. It is the constant duty of these little emissaries to put every one to sleep whom they encounter—men, women, and children. They hide themselves everywhere, and are ready to fly out and exert their sleep-compelling power, although their peculiar season of action is in the night. They are also alert during the day. "While the forms of these gnomes are believed to be those of little or fairy men, the figure of Weeng himself is unknown, and it is not certain that he has ever been seen. Iagoo is said to have seen him sitting upon a branch of a tree. He was in the shape of a giant insect, with many wings upon his back, which made a low, deep, murmuring sound, like distant falling water. Weeng is not only the dispenser of sleep, but it seems he is also the author of dullness. If an orator fails, he is said to be struck by Weeng. If a warrior lingers, he has ventured too near the sleepy god. If children begin to nod or yawn, the Indian mother looks up smilingly and says they have been struck by Weeng, and puts them to bed."
—— In his "Diseases of Memory," Ribot says: "When a child learns to write, according to Lewes, it is impossible for him to use his hand alone; he must also move his tongue, the facial muscles, and perhaps his feet. In time he is able to suppress these useless discharges of nerve-force. And so, when we attempt for the first time any muscular act, we expend a great quantity of superfluous energy which we learn gradually to subdue. By exercise certain movements are fixed, to the exclusion of others."
—— What is a Cause?—Kingdon Clifford says that the word represented by "cause" has sixty-four meanings in Plato and forty-eight in Aristotle. He further observes that "these were men who liked to know as near as might be what they meant; but how many meanings the word has had in the writings of the myriads of people who have not tried to know what they meant by it will, I hope, never be counted."
—— Oxygen and Consciousness.—Brown-Séquard, according to Dr. Luys, once injected the head of a dog, when separated from the trunk, with defibrilated and oxygenated blood, and at the moment when the injection of this blood had recalled the manifestations of life he called the dog by his name. The eyes of the head thus separated from the trunk turned toward him, as if the voice of the master had still been heard and recognized.