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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

There were a number of opium dens in the place


At

5.30 a.m. we arrived at a village called Fedeshk--quite a large place, situated in a flat oblong plain ten miles long and a mile and a half wide, surrounded by low hills on all sides.

On being asked why he had made the camels go so fast on this march, Ali Murat, my camel man, blushingly confessed that in this village was his home and his wife, whom he had not seen for eight months. The anxiety to see his better half, who lived only a stone-throw from where we made camp, did not, however, prevent him looking carefully after his camels, whom he placed first of all in his affection, and smoking Sadek's cigarettes, and a pipe with the other camel men, and waiting till my tea had been brewed to receive his customary six cups. After all this had been gone through, which took the best part of two hours, he disappeared and we did not see him again for the remainder of the morning.

The people of Fedeshk were striking for two reasons, first for being sadly fever-stricken, secondly because they were addicted to opium smoking to a disastrous degree. There were a number of opium dens in the place, and I went to see them. They were dreadful places, in which one would suspect opium smoking was not the only vice indulged in by the natives.

As I entered one of these houses, after a considerable knocking at the door and a great rustling of people running about the small courtyard inside, we

were admitted into a room so dark that I at first could discern nothing at all. The pungent, sickening odour of the opium pipes gave one quite a turn, and I lighted up a match to see where I was.

There were men lying about on mats in a semi-stupefied state, and men attendants refilling the pipes--similar to those used in China, a cane holder with earthenware pipe in which tiny pills of opium were inserted and consumed over the flame of a small lamp. Several of the men were in such a torpid state that they mechanically inhaled the opium smoke when the pipes were pressed to their lips, but were hardly cognizant of what went about around them. The opium-den keeper in the meantime did a roaring business, and had a little scale on which he weighed the opium that he served out.

It seemed evident, as I lighted match after match, by certain articles of ladies' attire which in the hurried departure had been left behind in the room, that the usual attendants of the smokers were women, but they had stampeded away on our arrival. One heard them chuckle in the adjoining rooms, and in their haste, they had left behind a great many pairs of slippers at the entrance of the room.

I had two men conveyed out into the sun where I wanted to examine them. The pupils of their eyes had contracted to a most abnormal extent, even before they were exposed to the sunlight, and seemed to have almost lost the power of expanding and contracting in various lights, and although the eyes were wide opened and staring they did not seem to discern what was placed before them. The eye-ball had a yellowish tinge and the iris was not well-defined but seemed to have undergone discoloration and faded away into the white of the eye. They seemed affected by a kind of temporary atrophy.


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