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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Illustration Fever Stricken Man at Fedeshk


The

pulse beat extremely slow and faintly; the lips were drawn tight; the hearing so dulled that even loud noises seemed to have no effect upon them. The body was flabby and almost lifeless. It was not possible to obtain an answer to anything one asked them. They had quite a cadaverous appearance, with yellowish, pallid skins, sunken eyes, and teeth showing fully under the drawn lips.

Only now and then, as one watched them, a sigh, followed by a shiver or a grunt, came forth to show us that they were still alive. The fingers and toes displayed some muscular contraction, but not the other joints, which were quite loose. The heart beat so feebly that one could hardly feel it.

They remained spread out in the yard in the positions we had placed them, and were indeed most pitiful objects. The den-keeper told me that these two men were most inveterate smokers, and were at it the whole time until they became quite unconscious.

There were other men in a slightly better condition, but all more or less showing the same symptoms of stupefaction. Those that could mutter words said that it was an irresistible passion that they could never stop. The opium gave them no dreams, they told me, but a delicious feeling of absolute contentment and happiness, which they could never experience when not indulging in this disastrous vice.

On looking upon things impartially,

however, one came to the conclusion that, bad as it was, opium-smoking had certainly more peaceful and less disgusting effects upon those unfortunates addicted to it than whiskey or absinthe, or votka drunkenness, for instance.

The entire population of this village was, unfortunately, given to this bad habit, and it was quite pitiable to look upon their haggard, staring faces, and idiotic expression.

Malarial fever is very prevalent at Fedeshk, and some of the corpse-like people affected by it came to my camp for medicine. They were not unlike walking skeletons, with stringy hands and feet and a skin of ghastly yellow colour. They had parched, bloodless ears, curled forward, and sunken cheeks, with deep sunk-in eyes. In the more virulent cases fever was accompanied by rheumatic pains so strong as practically to paralyse the legs and arms, which were reduced to a positive minimum of flesh.

The dwellings of Fedeshk were not impressive. Mud hovels as usual, with domes over the rooms, as everywhere in Persia, only the familiar aperture, instead of being directly in the centre of the dome itself, had a kind of hood over it to screen it from the terrific winds of the West.

[Illustration: Fever Stricken Man at Fedeshk.]

[Illustration: The Citadel, Birjand.]

It is to be noticed in connection with these winds that to the west of Fedeshk there are rather high mountains, and even winds originally not coming from the west may be turned back or switched in that direction by this chain of mountains.


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