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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Maghreb zemin continued Mahommed Azin


"When

Alexander was 'in the West' (_i.e._ _maghreb zemin_)" continued Mahommed Azin, "he had seen this wonderful 'animal of laughter' produced by Aristotles, and some seventy or eighty thousand soldiers had actually died of laughter which they could not repress on seeing it. Plato only, who was a wise man, devised a ruse to overcome the terrible effects of looking at the animal. He brought with him a looking-glass which he placed in front of the brute, and, sure enough, the demon, which had caused the hilarious death of many others, in its turn was seized by hysterical laughing at itself, and of course could not stop and died too."

Mahommed Azin was somewhat uncertain whether the animal itself had resided in the fortress of the Kuh-i-Kwajah mountain, or whether the owner of the animal had visited the place, or whether the place had been named merely in honour of the legend of the "animal of laughter." All I can say is that when Mahommed, with a grave face, had finished his inimitable story, Gul Khan and I were also seized with such uncontrollable fits of hilarity that, notwithstanding our mournful surroundings of graves and dead-houses, we, too, very nearly went to swell the number of victims of Mahommed Azin's "animal of laughter," although without the pleasure of having made its personal acquaintance.

Mahommed Azin positively finished us up when he gravely added that it was most dangerous to recount the legend he

had told us for he had known people die of laughter by merely listening to it. There was some truth in that. We nearly did, not only at the story but at the story-teller himself!

Kala-i-Kakaha is a famous spot in Persian history, for it is said that the great Persian hero Rustam's first exploit was to capture this city and slay its king _Kuk_, after whom the fort standing above Kakaha is named. In more modern days Kakaha, which, from ancient times, had been a place of shelter for retreating princes hard driven by the enemy, has become noteworthy for its seven years' resistance to the attacks of Nadir's troops, when the Kayani King Malik-Fath, having abandoned his capital, Kala-i-Fath had taken refuge in the impregnable city of Kala-i-Kakaha.

CHAPTER XXV

Villages between Sher-i-Nasrya and Kuh-i-Kwajah--The last of the Kayani--Husena Baba--Thousands of sheep--The Patang Kuh--Protecting black walls--A marsh--Sand dunes--Warmal--Quaint terraces--How roofs are built--A spacious residence built for nine shillings--Facial characteristics of natives--Bread making--Semi-spherical sand mounts--Natural protections against the northerly winds.

We were benighted on the mountain and did not reach the village of Deh-i-Husena till nearly nine o'clock, our friend and guide having lost his way in the dark and having taken us round the country for a good many more miles than was necessary. It is true the night was rather black and it was not easy to see where the low mud-houses of his village were.

The distance in a direct line from Deh-i-Husena to the foot of the Kuh-i-Kwajah mountain was 4 miles, and the village of Deh-i-Husena was about 15 miles from Sher-i-Nasrya, the village of Dadi we had passed being 9 miles off, and Sanchuli 143/4 miles from the city and only a quarter of a mile from Deh-i-Husena. To the south of the latter village was Deh-i-Ali-Akabar.

We spent the night at Deh-i-Husena, Mahommed Azin, the head village man and guide, being so entertaining in his conversation that he kept us up till all hours of the morning. He professed to be one of the only two surviving members of the Kayani family which formerly reigned over Sistan, his cousin being the other. According to his words--which, however, could not always claim to be models of accuracy--his family had a good deal of power in Sistan up to about forty years ago (1860). They were now very poor.


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