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Our first day's experience of this uncanny region was not, on the whole, unfavorable. It is true that we had to march sixteen miles on end before we could reach any water, that we lost our way amidst the labyrinth of low hills in the centre of which the particular spring which was the goal of our day's march was situated; and that all our servants
despondent frame of mind regarding the proposed line of march, and were determined that we were all fated to die of thirst, or in some strange or violent manner in the desert; also that the spring itself, when we found it, was so brackish in its taste we could hardly drink it, and so limited in the amount it supplied that our camels and mules could only drink by detachments, each successive one waiting till the little hollow in the ground which it filled, and which had been completely emptied by the one preceding it, had had time to fill itself again. In spite, however, of these little désagréments, the air which we breathed was fresh and bracing, and the temperature so denciously cool, that the discomfort resulting from them appeared hardly worth considering, compared with the general sensation experienced of health and enjoyment.
Great Desert of Persia. So little are they | in the wildness of their manners and apacquainted with these regions, into which pearance, accord well with the surroundthey rarely venture themselves, that there ings amidst which they spend their lives. is nothing which they are not ready to believe regarding the wonders and horrors to be seen there, and described by those whom the overpowering calls of superstition, as in the case of pilgrims to the sacred shrine of Meshed, or business, as in that of the camel owners who gain their living by transporting merchandise to and fro, between the towns and villages on either side of this desert, — have | and followers were of the most resolutely compelled, however unwillingly, to visit the strange region. These even hurry along the beaten tracks which have been traversed for unknown centuries, looking neither to the right nor to the left, thankful to get each day to their journey's end, without having encountered devil, monster, or bandit, and to find there a supply of water sufficient for their needs, but utterly ignorant of anything regarding the country they have passed through, beyond that portion of it which lay within a few hundred yards of their path. And yet such is the scene of absolute desolation which encounters the eye in every direction as one marches on hour after hour and day after day through these vast solitudes, and the weirdness of the appearances of the forms assumed by the ragged and broken outlines of the sterile ranges of hills and mountains which rise abruptly at intervals from the otherwise level surface of the plains, — rendered still more grotesque and imposing through the dryness and clearness of the atmosphere, which magnifies their dimension tenfold and equally exaggerates the relief between light and shade, till a little bush appears in the distance like a big tree, and a trifling rock like a huge mountain, while the mountains themselves appear covered with all sorts of fantastic appearances, in the forms of castles, precipices, and black, awesome abysses, -so strange and unworldlike is the landscape thus presented on all sides, that even to the prosaic and well-balanced mind of the European traveller the desert is not without its charms, if only on account of the strange qualms which the extreme solitude of the scene and the unaccustomed appearances which there surround him produce upon his mind. The only beings who frequent these parts are scattered bands of the Ibyats, or wandering tribes of Persia, who graze their flocks in the more favored portions, where a supply of water sufficient for the purpose of supporting their limited numbers is to be found; and these,
As night fell, our servants, having exhausted their alarms regarding the perils to be encountered from risk of thirst or starvation, had a fresh access on account of those which they imagined they might be likely to incur from robbers; and nothing would satisfy them but that our armament of rifles and revolvers should be distributed amongst them, equipped with which they patrolled the camp all night, while we slept in peaceful security under such ample protection. The night passed without any occasion for resorting to extremes, and we arose refreshed by our slumbers to continue our journey to the next spring, which in this case lay about twenty-five miles distant amongst the recesses of the Siah Kab, or Black Mountains, which stand out as an important feature in the general landscape, being visible for many miles on all sides. These mountains have always had an unenviable reputation, as being, on account of their inaccessibility, the haunts of all sorts of outcasts and refugees from other parts of Persia, and similar desperate characters; so much so, that Shah Abbas the Great, who appears to have been the only one of
the sovereigns of Persia, within memory, who had any sense of duty towards his country and his subjects, caused no less than three strongly fortified caravansarais to be built, within about ten miles of each other, in spots where water was procurable amidst the valleys of these mountains; so that travellers might, with in the protection thus afforded, feel themselves secure from all danger at the hands of the lawless population which haunted the neighborhood. And here these caravansarais still stand, though in a lamentable condition of ruin; for not only have none of this monarch's successors had the public spirit to keep them in repair, but it is even said that one of the earlier members of the present Kazar dynasty, in an inconceivably childish spirit of jealousy at the greatness of his predecessor, truly Oriental in its character, did his utmost to destroy them. In spite, however, of this barbarous treatment and the ravages of time, these buildings, thanks to the substantial manner in which they were erected, still afford a considerable amount of shelter to the traveller, if not the degree of protection for which they were intended in former times.
Shah Abbas appears, indeed, to have been an unaccountably enlightened monarch to have been produced in such an obstinately non-progressive country as Persia. Had it been any other country or people that were concerned, one would have said that he had been before his times; in a Mohammedan country, how ever, all times are the same, for the idea of any advancement proportionate to the duration of the national existence is quite opposed to all the ideas current amongst the followers of a religion to which every other consideration is subordinate, and the main principles of the teaching of which is based upon a doctrine of fatalism, according to which the greatest duty of mankind is to accept everything which may occur, whether inevitable or no, as the will of God, and that to attempt to evade it by any personal exercise of energy or authority is nothing less than an impious interference with his decrees.
Though the monarch Shah Abbas thus cannot be said to be before his times according to Mohammedan ideas, he is a singular character amidst them, for wherever there are to be seen the ruins of a road, a bridge, a caravansarai, or any work intended for the benefit of mankind throughout Persia, its origin is invariably ascribed to him. We did not camp at either of these caravansarais, as the water
there, though abundant and to all appearance as bright and pure and sparkling as could be seen, was, we found on trial, too salt to be drinkable by those unaccustomed to its flavor; and we continued our march a few miles farther on, where the water was less tainted by minerals. Here we determined to halt for a day before undertaking the long march which lay between us and the next reliable supply of water, distant about forty miles off, across a plain covered with salt incrustation known locally by the term kavir. Early next morning we ascended the highest points of the mountains to view the neighborhood, and trace out if possible our proposed route, and here we were rewarded by the prospect of one of the most peculiar sights it had been our fortune to look upon, and one, too, as unexpected as it was strange, for the very existence of this wonderful natural phenomenon was, we found, completely unknown to the European population in Persia, none of whom had ever had the enterprise to venture so far off the beaten track into these unpromising regions. At our feet lay what looked like an immense frozen sea, but which was in reality a deposit of salt, which entirely filled the hollow in the plains towards the south and stretched away as far as the eye could reach on either side, glittering in the sun like a sheet of glass. According to the accounts of the guides who had accompanied us, this vast deposit of salt was in reality of the consistency of ice, and, like the latter, formed a coat of varying degrees of thickness upon the surface of the water or swampy ground which lay beneath it. In places this incrustation attained a thickness of many feet, and in others an unknown depth, so that laden mules and camels could pass over it with perfect safety; elsewhere, however, where this was not the case, it would break beneath their weight did they venture upon it, and they would be forthwith swallowed up by the morass which lay below. The path across was thus only known to those who were in the habit of traversing it, and a very little deviation on either side of this would probably involve certain destruction; and many were the tales they recounted of the various travellers who had attempted to cross it without sufficient acquaintance with the route or at unfavorable times, such as by day or in a storm, and had never been heard of again.
It was very difficult, of course, to imagine how all this could be the case, as in a saturated solution of salt and water the salt would naturally be deposited upon the
bottom, and not caked upon the surface. | in the hands. We were told that at this
distance from the land the salt incrusta-
The next evening, accordingly, just as the sun was low on the horizon, found us approaching the brilliant white expanse which had attracted our attention so much on the previous day. This we found to be more immediately surrounded by a stretch of swampy ground, through which | wound a single path, trodden into some degree of consistency by the traffic of ages. In the winter the ground on either side of this must constitute a regular morass, to judge from the skeletons lying about of animals who had wandered off the track, and, apparently sinking into it, had been unable to extricate themselves again, and thus died as they fell. After following this track for about a couple of miles, we came upon the actual sheet of salt. This at the edge was soft and sloppy, like half-melted ice; but, as we proceeded, it gained more and more in consistency, till at a distance of three or four miles it resembled nothing more than very solid ice, strong enough to bear any weight. After marching for a further distance of five or six miles upon this strange surface, we halted, to examine as far as we could, its composition; and by means of an iron tent peg and a hammer, we endeavored to detach a block to take with us; but we found it far too hard for us to be able to make any impression, and though we suc-ous points of the vast hollow in which this ceeded in bending our tent-pins, we made no impression upon the salt beyond detaching a few chips, which we were obliged to be satisfied with as the result of our labors; these we found to be of the purest white, and as hard as granite, though later on, in exposure to the damper air beyond the margin of the salt plain, they turned a greyish color and lost a good deal of their consistency, becoming quite pliable
We crossed the margin of the salt, on our entrance upon it about 6.30 P.M., and marching steadily at an average pace of not less than three and a half miles an hour, we found ourselves at the other side about 3 A.M., and must thus have trav ersed a distance from edge to edge of about twenty-five miles in a straight line. From the view which we obtained at vari
incrustation is accumulated, and from the
It is difficult to explain the origin of this strange phenomenon. It may be that this incrustation is the deposit accumulated in the vast low-lying plain in the course of centuries upon centuries, during which the rainfall and the annual melting of the snows upon the mountains, besides the perennial streams which all drain into this basin, have brought down in their waters from the strata of salt through which they have passed these incalculable quantities of salt in solution. The summer sun has dried up the water by evaporation, and left the salt deposit lying upon a soil more or less saturated with moisture. The layer of salt thus deposited has gained in thickness and consistency year by year, till it has become, at a distance from its margin on either side, a solid, homogeneous mass of the purest salt such as, in any other country than Persia, would constitute a natural treasure of great value, for here there is no occasion for mining expenses; the salt has only to be broken up by dynamite or other means and carted away. But so deficient are the simplest means of communication in this country, that here it must lie, absolutely useless, though distant only about one hundred miles from its capital, for want of any possibility of transporting it
From The Spectator.
A CANNIBAL PLANT.
SOME years ago, a striking story was published in France describing a wonderful flesh-eating plant discovered by a great botanist. If we remember rightly, the story recounted how a certain collector discovered a plant of the fly-trap species of so gigantic a size that it could consume huge masses of raw meat. Just as the flycatching plant snaps up a fly, and draws nutriment from the fly's dead body, so this one fed itself on the legs of mutton and sirloins of beef which were thrown into its ravening maw. The botanist in the story, for some reason, possibly fear of having his plant destroyed as dangerous to public safety, keeps the existence of the plant a secret, and preserves it in a lockedup conservatory. His wife, however, who is made miserable by his absorption of mind- he thinks of nothing but how to feed and improve his wonderful and fascinating plant - determines to follow him. This she does, accompanied by an old school friend of the husband. When the pair reach the inner conservatory, they see, to their horror, the infatuated botanist tossing bleeding joints of raw meat into the huge jaws of a giant fly-trap. They are at first petrified with horror. At last, however, the wife throws herself into the arms of her husband, and implores him to give up dwelling upon the horrible carnivorous monstrosity which he has discovered and reared. Unfortunately, however, the wife in appealing to her husband goes too close to the plant. Its huge tentacles surround her and then proceed to drag her in, and the two stupefied men see the plant begin to devour its victim. Fortunately, however, the friend catches sight of an axe lying near, and seizing this he strikes at the roots of the plant. A few frenzied blows do the necessary work, and the flesheating plant tumbles to the ground and releases from its clutches the terrified woman. The botanist, however, cannot survive his most cherished discovery, and with the exclamation, "You have killed my plant!" he falls back dead.
After one day of welcome rest for man and beast, we started on a march of twentyfour miles, across an expanse of sand, to the nearest well. It is curious to notice, that while to the north of the plain of salt no sand is visible, the whole of the southern side is covered with huge sand-hills, which stretch some fifteen or sixteen miles inland. Through the outskirts it was of these that our way lay, and weary work it was indeed for all of us, plodding through such heavy ground. As the day grew, moreover, the wind rose, and the air became filled with particles of sand, which inflamed the eyes, so that for a couple of days afterwards they did not recover from the effects. As we proceeded, the plain of salt, which was on our right, gradually receded from us, till at our camping-ground it was only faintly The story is good enough as a story, but visible in the distance. Here we found if we are to believe an article said in the the remains of another old caravansarai, Review of Reviews to be taken from Luwhich had become so buried in the sand cifer - we say "said " advisedly, because that we had to enter it by the roof, and a we have looked in the October Lucifer and spring of delicious sweet water. And can find no such article, and therefore precontinuing our journey the next day for a sume there must be some mistake it is distance of twelve or fourteen miles only another instance of fiction being prothrough the same sand, we found our-phetic, and anticipating scientific discov selves in the neighborhood of Kashan and ery. According to the article quoted by in the midst of civilization, at least such a Mr. Stead, there has been discovered in degree of it as exists in Persia. Nicaragua a flesh-eating, or rather, man
open for the reception of food." "If the substance is animal, the blood is drawn off and the carcass or refuse then dropped. A lump of raw meat being thrown it, in the short space of five minutes the blood will be thoroughly drunk off and the mass thrown aside. Its voracity is almost beyond belief."
eating plant, which for horror is quite the | however, its power of suction is contained equal of the novelist's imagination. This "in a number of infinitesimal mouths or plant is found, it is asserted, in Nicaragua, little suckers, which, ordinarily closed, and is called by the natives "the devil's snare." In form it is a kind of vegetable octopus, or devil-fish, and is able to drain the blood of any living thing which comes within its clutches. We give the story with all reserve, but it must be admitted to be circumstantial enough in all its details to be possible. It appears that a Mr. Dunstan, a naturalist, has lately returned from Central America, where he spent two years in the study of the plants and animals of those regions. In one of the swamps which surround the great Nicara gua Lake, he discovered the singular growth of which we are writing. "He was engaged in hunting for botanical and entomological specimens, when he heard his dog cry out, as if in agony, from a distance. Running to the spot whence the animal's cries came, Mr. Dunstan found him enveloped in a perfect network of what seemed to be a fine, rope-like tissue of roots and fibres. The plant or vine seemed composed entirely of bare, interlacing stems, resembling, more than anything else, the branches of the weepingwillow denuded of its foliage, but of a dark, nearly black hue, and covered with a thick, viscid gum that exuded from the pores." Drawing his knife, Mr. Dunstan attempted to cut the poor beast free; but it was with the very greatest difficulty that he managed to sever the fleshy muscular fibres of the plant. When the dog was extricated from the coils of the plant, Mr. Dunstan saw, to his horror and amazement, that the dog's body was bloodstained, "while the skin appeared to have been actually sucked or puckered in spots," and the animal staggered as if from exhaustion. "In cutting the vine, the twigs curled like living, sinuous fingers about Mr. Dunstan's hand, and it required no slight force to free the member from its clinging grasp, which left the flesh red and blistered. The gum exuding from the vine was of a greyish-dark tinge, remarkably adhesive, and of a disagreeable animal odor, powerful and nauseating to inhale." The natives, we are told, showed the greatest horror of the plant, which, as we have noted above, they called the "devil's snare," and they recounted to the naturalist many stories of its death-dealing powers. Mr. Dunstan, we are told, was able to discover very little about the nature of the plant, owing to the difficulty of handling it, for its grasp can only be shaken off with the loss of skin, and even of flesh. As near as he could ascertain,
The story is unquestionably a very curious one, and we may rely upon it, that if the plant really does exist, we shall soon have a specimen at Kew. The digging of the Nicaragua Canal will bring plenty of Americans and Englishmen into the very country where the "vampire vine" is said to exist, and the question whether the whole thing is or is not a hoax may very soon be tested. This fact makes, we readily admit, very much in favor of the truth of the story. Since the shores of the Nicaragua Lake are so soon to be explored, it would have been far safer for a botanical practical joker to have "seated " his plant in that natural home of unverifiable strange stories, the upper valley of the Amazon. The neighborhood inhabited by that Amazonian tribe who by the use of some secret process can reduce a human corpse to a tenth of its original size, and so produce a perfectly proportioned miniature mummy of the dead man, would have been a good locality in which to "place" the tale of the cannibal plant. Again, Nicaragua is within the Tropics, and plant-life there is therefore specially gross and vigorous. Besides, there is no inherent impossibility in the idea of a flesh-eating plant. It is merely a question as to whether evolution has or has not happened to develop the fly-eating plant on a sufficiently large enough scale to do what is related of the vampire vine. No one who has seen the ugly snap which that tiny vegetable crab, Venus's fly-trap, gives when the hairs inside its mouth are tickled by the human finger in the way that a fly would tickle them by walking, can doubt for a moment that the development of a plant capable of eating or sucking the blood of a man, is only a matter of degree. Even in England, there are plants which act on a small scale exactly the part asserted to be played by the vampire vine, - for example, Lathræa squamaria, the toothwort, "a pale, chlorophyl·less parasite found in British woods." The account of the plant given by Mr. G. A. Thomson in "Chambers's Encyclopædia," is as follows: "Excepting the flower-stalk, the stalk is virtually underground; it bears