She eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 371 pages of information about She.
they never pay attention to, or even acknowledge, any man as their father, even when their male parentage is perfectly well known.  There is but one titular male parent of each tribe, or, as they call it, “Household,” and he is its elected and immediate ruler, with the title of “Father.”  For instance, the man Billali was the father of this “household,” which consisted of about seven thousand individuals all told, and no other man was ever called by that name.  When a woman took a fancy to a man she signified her preference by advancing and embracing him publicly, in the same way that this handsome and exceedingly prompt young lady, who was called Ustane, had embraced Leo.  If he kissed her back it was a token that he accepted her, and the arrangement continued until one of them wearied of it.  I am bound, however, to say that the change of husbands was not nearly so frequently as might have been expected.  Nor did quarrels arise out of it, at least among the men, who, when their wives deserted them in favour of a rival, accepted the whole thing much as we accept the income-tax or our marriage laws, as something not to be disputed, and as tending to the good of the community, however disagreeable they may in particular instances prove to the individual.

It is very curious to observe how the customs of mankind on this matter vary in different countries, making morality an affair of latitude, and what is right and proper in one place wrong and improper in another.  It must, however, be understood that, since all civilised nations appear to accept it as an axiom that ceremony is the touchstone of morality, there is, even according to our canons, nothing immoral about this Amahagger custom, seeing that the interchange of the embrace answers to our ceremony of marriage, which, as we know, justifies most things.

VII

USTANE SINGS

When the kissing operation was finished—­by the way, none of the young ladies offered to pet me in this fashion, though I saw one hovering round Job, to that respectable individual’s evident alarm—­the old man Billali advanced, and graciously waved us into the cave, whither we went, followed by Ustane, who did not seem inclined to take the hints I gave her that we liked privacy.

Before we had gone five paces it struck me that the cave that we were entering was none of Nature’s handiwork, but, on the contrary, had been hollowed by the hand of man.  So far as we could judge it appeared to be about one hundred feet in length by fifty wide, and very lofty, resembling a cathedral aisle more than anything else.  From this main aisle opened passages at a distance of every twelve or fifteen feet, leading, I supposed, to smaller chambers.  About fifty feet from the entrance of the cave, just where the light began to get dim, a fire was burning, which threw huge shadows upon the gloomy walls around.  Here Billali halted, and asked us to be seated, saying

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She from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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