Although we arose at four, seven o'clock saw us still at the encampment. Two hours vanished before our gentlemen zaptiehs condescended to rise from their peaceful slumbers; then a great deal of time was unnecessarily consumed in eating their special breakfast. We ourselves had to be content with ekmek and yaourt (blotting-paper bread and curdled milk). This over, they concluded not to go on without sandals to take the place of their heavy military boots, as at this point their horses would have to be discarded. After we had employed a Kurd to make these for them, they declared they were afraid to proceed without the company of ten Kurds armed to the teeth. We knew that this was only a scheme on the part of the Kurds, with whom the zaptiehs were in league, to extort money from us. We still kept cool, and only casually insinuated that we did not have enough money to pay for so large a party. This announcement worked like a charm. The interest the Kurds had up to this time taken in our venture died away at once. Even the three Kurds who, as requested in the message of the mutessarif, were to accompany us up the mountain to the snow-line, refused absolutely to go. The mention of the mutessarif's name awakened only a sneer. We had also relied upon the Kurds for blankets, as we had been advised to do by our friends in Bayazid. Those we had already hired they now snatched from the donkeys standing before the tent. All this time our tall, gaunt, meek-looking muleteer had stood silent. Now his turn had come. How far was he to go with his donkeys?—he didn't think it possible for him to go much beyond this point. Patience now ceased to be a virtue. We cut off discussion at once; told the muleteer he would either go on, or lose what he had already earned; and informed the zaptiehs that whatever they did would be reported to the mutessarif on our return. Under this rather forcible persuasion, they stood not on the order of their going, but sullenly followed our little procession out of camp before the crestfallen Kurds.
In the absence of guides we were thrown upon our own resources. Far from being an assistance, our zaptiehs proved a nuisance. They would carry nothing, not even the food they were to eat, and were absolutely ignorant of the country we were to traverse. From our observations on the previous days, we had decided to strike out on a northeast course, over the gentle slope, until we struck the rocky ridges on the southeast buttress of the dome. On its projecting rocks, which extended nearer to the summit than those of any other part of the mountain, we could avoid the slippery, precipitous snow-beds that stretched far down the mountain at this time of the year.
Immediately after leaving the encampment, the ascent became steeper and more difficult; the small volcanic stones of yesterday now increased to huge obstructing boulders, among which the donkeys with difficulty made their way. They frequently tipped their loads, or got wedged in between two unyielding walls. In the midst of our efforts to extricate them, we often wondered how Noah ever managed with the animals from the ark. Had these donkeys not been of a philosophical turn of mind, they might have offered forcible objections to the way we extricated them from their straightened circumstances. A remonstrance on our part for carelessness in driving brought from the muleteer a burst of Turkish profanity that made the rocks of Ararat resound with indignant echoes. The spirit of insubordination seemed to be increasing in direct ratio with the height of our ascent.
We came now to a comparatively smooth, green slope, which led up to the highest Kurdish encampment met on the line of our ascent, about 7500 feet. When in sight of the black tents, the subject of Kurdish guides was again broached by the zaptiehs, and immediately they sat down to discuss the question. We ourselves were through with discussion, and fully determined to have nothing to do with a people who could do absolutely nothing for us. We stopped at the tents, and asked for milk. "Yes," they said; "we have some": but after waiting for ten minutes, we learned that the milk was still in the goats' possession, several hundred yards away among the rocks. It dawned upon us that this was only another trick of the zaptiehs to get a rest.
We pushed on the next 500 feet of the ascent without much trouble or controversy, the silence broken only by the muleteer, who took the raki bottle off the donkey's pack, and asked if he could take a drink. As we had only a limited supply, to be used to dilute the snow-water, we were obliged to refuse him.
At 8000 feet we struck our first snowdrift, into which the donkeys sank up to their bodies. It required our united efforts to lift them out, and half carry them across. Then on we climbed till ten o'clock, to a point about 9000 feet, where we stopped for lunch in a quiet mountain glen, by the side of a rippling mountain rill. This snow-water we drank with raki. The view in the mean time had been growing more and more extensive. The plain before us had lost nearly all its detail and color, and was merged into one vast whole. Though less picturesque, it was incomparably grander. Now we could see how, in ages past, the lava had burst out of the lateral fissures in the mountain, and flowed in huge streams for miles down the slope, and out on the plain below. These beds of lava were gradually broken up by the action of the elements, and now presented the appearance of ridges of broken volcanic rocks of the most varied and fantastic shapes.
It was here that the muleteer showed evident signs of weakening, which later on developed into a total collapse. We had come to a broad snow-field where the donkeys stuck fast and rolled over helpless in the snow. Even after we had unstrapped their baggage and carried it over on our shoulders, they could make no headway. The muleteer gave up in despair, and refused even to help us carry our loads to the top of an adjoining hill, whither the zaptiehs had proceeded to wait for us. In consequence, Raffl and we were compelled to carry two donkey-loads of baggage for half a mile over the snow-beds and boulders, followed by the sulking muleteer, who had deserted his donkeys, rather than be left alone himself. On reaching the zaptiehs, we sat down to hold a council on the situation; but the clouds, which, during the day, had occasionally obscured the top of the mountain, now began to thicken, and it was not long before a shower compelled us to beat a hasty retreat to a neighboring ledge of rocks. The clouds that were rolling between us and the mountain summit seemed but a token of the storm of circumstances. One thing was certain, the muleteer could go no farther up the mountain, and yet he was mortally afraid to return alone to the Kurdish robbers. He sat down, and began to cry like a child. This predicament of their accomplice furnished the zaptiehs with a plausible excuse. They now absolutely refused to go any farther without him. Our interpreter, the Greek, again joined the majority; he was not going to risk the ascent without the Turkish guards, and besides, he had now come to the conclusion that we had not sufficient blankets to spend a night at so high an altitude. Disappointed, but not discouraged, we gazed at the silent old gentleman at our side. In his determined countenance we read his answer. Long shall we remember Ignaz Raffl as one of the pluckiest, most persevering of old men.
There was now only one plan that could be pursued. Selecting from our supplies one small blanket, a felt mat, two long, stout ropes, enough food to last us two days, a bottle of cold tea, and a can of Turkish raki, we packed them into two bundles to strap on our backs. We then instructed the rest of the party to return to the Kurdish encampment and await our return. The sky was again clear at 2:30 P. M., when we bade good-by to our worthless comrades and resumed the ascent. We were now at a height of nine thousand feet, and it was our plan to camp at a point far enough up the mountain to enable us to complete the ascent on the following day, and return to the Kurdish encampment by nightfall. Beyond us was a region of snow and barren rocks, among which we still saw a small purple flower and bunches of lichens, which grew more rare as we advanced. Our course continued in a northeast direction, toward the main southeast ridge of the mountain. Sometimes we were floundering with our heavy loads in the deep snow-beds, or scrambling on hands and knees over the huge boulders of the rocky seams. Two hours and a half of climbing brought us to the crest of the main southeast ridge, about one thousand feet below the base of the precipitous dome. At this point our course changed from northeast to northwest, and continued so during the rest of the ascent. Little Ararat was now in full view. We could even distinguish upon its northwest side a deep-cut gorge, which was not visible before. Upon its smooth and perfect slopes remained only the tatters of its last winter's garments. We could also look far out over the Sardarbulakh ridge, which connects the two Ararats, and on which the Cossacks are encamped. It was to them that the mutessarif had desired us to go, but we had subsequently determined to make the ascent directly from the Turkish side.
Following up this southeast ridge we came at 5:45 P. M. to a point about eleven thousand feet. Here the thermometer registered 39 deg. Fahrenheit, and was constantly falling. If we should continue on, the cold during the night, especially with our scanty clothing, would become intolerable; and then, too, we could scarcely find a spot level enough to sleep on. We therefore determined to stop here for the night, and to continue the ascent at dawn. Some high, rugged crags on the ridge above us attracted our attention as affording a comparatively protected lodging. Among these we spread our carpet, and piled stones in the intervening spaces to form a complete inclosure. Thus busily engaged, we failed for a time to realize the grandeur of the situation. Over the vast and misty panorama that spread out before us, the lingering rays of the setting sun shed a tinge of gold, which was communicated to the snowy beds around us. Behind the peak of Little Ararat a brilliant rainbow stretched in one grand archway above the weeping clouds. But this was only one turn of nature's kaleidoscope. The arch soon faded away, and the shadows lengthened and deepened across the plain, and mingled, till all was lost to view behind the falling curtains of the night. The Kurdish tents far down the slope, and the white curling smoke from their evening camp-fires, we could see no more; only the occasional bark of a dog was borne upward through the impenetrable darkness.
Colder and colder grew the atmosphere. From 39 deg. the thermometer gradually fell to 36 deg., to 33 deg., and during the night dropped below freezing-point. The snow, which fell from the clouds just over our heads, covered our frugal supper-table, on which were placed a few hard-boiled eggs, some tough Turkish bread, cheese, and a bottle of tea mixed with raki. Ice-tea was no doubt a luxury at this time of the year, but not on Mount Ararat, at the height of eleven thousand feet, with the temperature at freezing-point. M. Raffl was as cheerful as could be expected under the circumstances. He expressed his delight at our progress thus far; and now that we were free from our "gentlemen" attendants, he considered our chances for success much brighter. We turned in together under our single blanket, with the old gentleman between us. He had put on every article of clothing, including gloves, hat, hood, cloak, and heavy shoes. For pillows we used the provision-bags and camera. The bottle of cold tea we buttoned up in our coats to prevent it from freezing. On both sides, and above us, lay the pure white snow; below us a huge abyss, into which the rocky ridge descended like a darkened stairway to the lower regions. The awful stillness was unbroken, save by the whistling of the wind among the rocks. Dark masses of clouds seemed to bear down upon us every now and then, opening up their trapdoors, and letting down a heavy fall of snow. The heat of our bodies melted the ice beneath us, and our clothes became saturated with ice-water. Although we were surrounded by snow and ice, we were suffering with a burning thirst. Since separating from our companions we had found no water whatever, while the single bottle of cold tea we had must be preserved for the morrow. Sleep, under such circumstances, and in our cramped position, was utterly impossible. At one o'clock the morning star peeped above the eastern horizon. This we watched hour after hour, as it rose in unrivaled beauty toward the zenith, until at last it began to fade away in the first gray streaks of the morning.
By the light of a flickering candle we ate a hurried breakfast, fastened on our spiked shoes, and strapped to our backs a few indispensable articles, leaving the rest of our baggage at the camp until our return. Just at daybreak, 3:55 A. M., on the 4th of July, we started off on what proved to be the hardest day's work we had ever accomplished. We struck out at once across the broad snow-field to the second rock rib on the right, which seemed to lead up to the only line of rocks above. The surface of these large snow-beds had frozen during the night, so that we had to cut steps with our ice-picks to keep from slipping down their glassy surface. Up this ridge we slowly climbed for three weary hours, leaping from boulder to boulder, or dragging ourselves up their precipitous sides. The old gentleman halted frequently to rest, and showed evident signs of weariness. "It is hard; we must take it slowly," he would say (in German) whenever our impatience would get the better of our prudence. At seven o'clock we reached a point about 13,500 feet, beyond which there seemed to be nothing but the snow-covered slope, with only a few projecting rocks along the edge of a tremendous gorge which now broke upon our astonished gaze. Toward this we directed our course, and, an hour later, stood upon its very verge. Our venerable companion now looked up at the precipitous slope above us, where only some stray, projecting rocks were left to guide us through the wilderness of snow. "Boys," said he, despondently, "I cannot reach the top; I have not rested during the night, and I am now falling asleep on my feet; besides, I am very much fatigued." This came almost like a sob from a breaking heart. Although the old gentleman was opposed to the ascent in the first instance, his old Alpine spirit arose within him with all its former vigor when once he had started up the mountain slope; and now, when almost in sight of the very goal, his strength began to fail him. After much persuasion and encouragement, he finally said that if he could get half an hour's rest and sleep, he thought he would be able to continue. We then wrapped him up in his greatcoat, and dug out a comfortable bed in the snow, while one of us sat down, with back against him, to keep him from rolling down the mountain-side.
We were now on the chasm's brink, looking down into its unfathomable depths. This gigantic rent, hundreds of feet in width and thousands in depth, indicates that northwest-southeast line along which the volcanic forces of Ararat have acted most powerfully. This fissure is perhaps the greatest with which the mountain is seamed, and out of which has undoubtedly been discharged a great portion of its lava. Starting from the base of the dome, it seemed to pierce the shifting clouds to a point about 500 feet from the summit. This line is continued out into the plain in a series of small volcanoes the craters of which appear to be as perfect as though they had been in activity only yesterday. The solid red and yellow rocks which lined the sides of the great chasm projected above the opposite brink in jagged and appalling cliffs. The whole was incased in a mass of huge fantastic icicles, which, glittering in the sunlight, gave it the appearance of a natural crystal palace. No more fitting place than this could the fancy of the Kurds depict for the home of the terrible jinn; no better symbol of nature for the awful jaws of death.
Our companion now awoke considerably refreshed, and the ascent was continued close to the chasm's brink. Here were the only rocks to be seen in the vast snow-bed around us. Cautiously we proceed, with cat-like tread, following directly in one another's footsteps, and holding on to our alpenstocks like grim death. A loosened rock would start at first slowly, gain momentum, and fairly fly. Striking against some projecting ledge, it would bound a hundred feet or more into the air, and then drop out of sight among the clouds below. Every few moments we would stop to rest; our knees were like lead, and the high altitude made breathing difficult. Now the trail of rocks led us within two feet of the chasm's edge; we approached it cautiously, probing well for a rock foundation, and gazing with dizzy heads into the abyss.
The slope became steeper and steeper, until it abutted in an almost precipitous cliff coated with snow and glistening ice. There was no escape from it, for all around the snow-beds were too steep and slippery to venture an ascent upon them. Cutting steps with our ice-picks, and half-crawling, half-dragging ourselves, with the alpenstocks hooked into the rocks above, we scaled its height, and advanced to the next abutment. Now a cloud, as warm as exhausted steam, enveloped us in the midst of this ice and snow. When it cleared away, the sun was reflected with intenser brightness. Our faces were already smarting with blisters, and our dark glasses afforded but little protection to our aching eyes.
At 11 A. M. we sat down on the snow to eat our last morsel of food. The cold chicken and bread tasted like sawdust, for we had no saliva with which to masticate them. Our single bottle of tea had given out, and we suffered with thirst for several hours. Again the word to start was given. We rose at once, but our stiffened legs quivered beneath us, and we leaned on our alpenstocks for support. Still we plodded on for two more weary hours, cutting our steps in the icy cliffs, or sinking to our thighs in the treacherous snow-beds. We could see that we were nearing the top of the great chasm, for the clouds, now entirely cleared away, left our view unobstructed. We could even descry the black Kurdish tents upon the northeast slope, and, far below, the Aras River, like a streak of silver, threading its way into the purple distance. The atmosphere about us grew colder, and we buttoned up our now too scanty garments. We must be nearing the top, we thought, and yet we were not certain, for a huge, precipitous cliff, just in front of us, cut off the view.
"Slowly, slowly," feebly shouted the old gentleman, as we began the attack on its precipitous sides, now stopping to brush away the treacherous snow, or to cut some steps in the solid ice. We pushed and pulled one another almost to the top, and then, with one more desperate effort, we stood upon a vast and gradually sloping snow-bed. Down we plunged above our knees through the yielding surface, and staggered and fell with failing strength; then rose once more and plodded on, until at last we sank exhausted upon the top of Ararat.
For a moment only we lay gasping for breath; then a full realization of our situation dawned upon us, and fanned the few faint sparks of enthusiasm that remained in our exhausted bodies. We unfurled upon an alpenstock the small silk American flag that we had brought from home, and for the first time the "stars and stripes" was given to the breeze on the Mountain of the Ark. Four shots fired from our revolvers in commemoration of Independence Day broke the stillness of the gorges. Far above the clouds, which were rolling below us over three of the most absolute monarchies in the world, was celebrated in our simple way a great event of republicanism.
Mount Ararat, it will be observed from the accompanying sketch, has two tops, a few hundred yards apart, sloping, on the eastern and western extremities, into rather prominent abutments, and separated by a snow valley, or depression, from 50 to 100 feet in depth. The eastern top, on which we were standing, was quite extensive, and 30 to 40 feet lower than its western neighbor. Both tops are hummocks on the huge dome of Ararat, like the humps on the back of a camel, on neither one of which is there a vestige of anything but snow.
There remained just as little trace of the crosses left by Parrot and Chodzko, as of the ark itself. We remembered the pictures we had seen in our nursery-books, which represented this mountain-top covered with green grass, and Noah stepping out of the ark, in the bright, warm sunshine, before the receding waves; and now we looked around and saw this very spot covered with perpetual snow. Nor did we see any evidence whatever of a former existing crater, except perhaps the snow-filled depression we have just mentioned. There was nothing about this perpetual snow-field, and the freezing atmosphere that was chilling us to the bone, to remind us that we were on the top of an extinct volcano that once trembled with the convulsions of subterranean heat.
The view from this towering height was immeasurably extensive, and almost too grand. All detail was lost—all color, all outline; even the surrounding mountains seemed to be but excrescent ridges of the plain. Then, too, we could catch only occasional glimpses, as the clouds shifted to and fro. At one time they opened up beneath us, and revealed the Aras valley with its glittering ribbon of silver at an abysmal depth below. Now and then we could descry the black volcanic peaks of Ali Ghez forty miles away to the northwest, and on the southwest the low mountains that obscured the town of Bayazid. Of the Caucasus, the mountains about Erzerum on the west, and Lake Van on the south, and even of the Caspian Sea, all of which are said to be in Ararat's horizon, we could see absolutely nothing.
Had it been a clear day we could have seen not only the rival peaks of the Caucasus, which for so many years formed the northern wall of the civilized world, but, far to the south, we might have descried the mountains of Quardu land, where Chaldean legend has placed the landing of the ark. We might have gazed, in philosophic mood, over the whole of the Aras valley, which for 3000 years or more has been the scene of so much misery and conflict. As monuments of two extreme events in this historic period, two spots might have attracted our attention—one right below us, the ruins of Artaxata, which, according to tradition, was built, as the story goes, after the plans of the roving conqueror Hannibal, and stormed by the Roman legions, A. D. 58; and farther away to the north, the modern fortress of Kars, which so recently reverberated with the thunders of the Turkish war.
We were suddenly aroused by the rumbling of thunder below us. A storm was rolling rapidly up the southeast slope of the mountain. The atmosphere seemed to be boiling over the heated plain below. Higher and higher came the clouds, rolling and seething among the grim crags along the chasm; and soon we were caught in its embrace. The thermometer dropped at once below freezing-point, and the dense mists, driven against us by the hurricane, formed icicles on our blistered faces, and froze the ink in our fountain-pens. Our summer clothing was wholly inadequate for such an unexpected experience; we were chilled to the bone. To have remained where we were would have been jeopardizing our health, if not our lives. Although we could scarcely see far enough ahead to follow back on the track by which we had ascended, yet we were obliged to attempt it at once, for the storm around us was increasing every moment; we could even feel the charges of electricity whenever we touched the iron points of our alpenstocks.
Carefully peering through the clouds, we managed to follow the trail we had made along the gradually sloping summit, to the head of the great chasm, which now appeared more terrible than ever. We here saw that it would be extremely perilous, if not actually impossible, to attempt a descent on the rocks along its treacherous edge in such a hurricane. The only alternative was to take the precipitous snow-covered slope. Planting our ice-hooks deep in the snow behind us, we started. At first the strong head wind, which on the top almost took us off our feet, somewhat checked our downward career, but it was not long before we attained a velocity that made our hair stand on end. It was a thrilling experience; we seemed to be sailing through the air itself, for the clouds obscured the slope even twenty feet below. Finally we emerged beneath them into the glare of the afternoon sunlight; but on we dashed for 6000 feet, leaning heavily on the trailing-stocks, which threw up an icy spray in our wake. We never once stopped until we reached the bottom of the dome, at our last night's camp among the rocks.
In less than an hour we had dashed down, through a distance which it had taken us nine and a half hours to ascend. The camp was reached at 4 P. M., just twelve hours from the time we left it. Gathering up the remaining baggage, we hurried away to continue the descent. We must make desperate efforts to reach the Kurdish encampment by nightfall; for during the last twenty-seven hours we had had nothing to drink but half a pint of tea, and our thirst by this time became almost intolerable.
The large snow-bed down which we had been sliding now began to show signs of treachery. The snow, at this low altitude, had melted out from below, to supply the subterranean streams, leaving only a thin crust at the surface. It was not long before one of our party fell into one of these pitfalls up to his shoulders, and floundered about for some time before he could extricate himself from his unexpected snow-bath.
Over the rocks and boulders the descent was much slower and more tedious. For two hours we were thus busily engaged, when all at once a shout rang out in the clear evening air. Looking up we saw, sure enough, our two zaptiehs and muleteer on the very spot where we had left them the evening before. Even the two donkeys were on hand to give us a welcoming bray. They had come up from the encampment early in the morning, and had been scanning the mountain all day long to get some clue to our whereabouts. They reported that they had seen us at one time during the morning, and had then lost sight of us among the clouds. This solicitude on their part was no doubt prompted by the fact that they were to be held by the mutessarif of Bayazid as personally responsible for our safe return, and perhaps, too, by the hope that they might thus retrieve the good graces they had lost the day before, and thereby increase the amount of the forthcoming baksheesh. Nothing, now, was too heavy for the donkeys, and even the zaptiehs themselves condescended to relieve us of our alpenstocks.
That night we sat again around the Kurdish camp-fire, surrounded by the same group of curious faces. It was interesting and even amusing to watch the bewildered astonishment that overspread their countenances as we related our experiences along the slope, and then upon the very top, of Ak-Dagh. They listened throughout with profound attention, then looked at one another in silence, and gravely shook their heads. They could not believe it. It was impossible. Old Ararat stood above us grim and terrible beneath the twinkling stars. To them it was, as it always will be, the same mysterious, untrodden height—the palace of the jinn.
THROUGH PERSIA TO SAMARKAND
"It is all bosh," was the all but universal opinion of Bayazid in regard to our alleged ascent of Ararat. None but the Persian consul and the mutessarif himself deigned to profess a belief in it, and the gift of several letters to Persian officials, and a sumptuous dinner on the eve of our departure, went far toward proving their sincerity.
On the morning of July 8, in company with a body-guard of zaptiehs, which the mutessarif forced upon us, we wheeled down from the ruined embattlements of Bayazid. The assembled rabble raised a lusty cheer at parting. An hour later we had surmounted the Kazlee Gool, and the "land of Iran" was before us. At our feet lay the Turco-Persian battle-plains of Chaldiran, spreading like a desert expanse to the parched barren hills beyond, and dotted here and there with clumps of trees in the village oases. And this, then, was the land where, as the poets say, "the nightingale sings, and the rose-tree blossoms," and where "a flower is crushed at every step!" More truth, we thought, in the Scotch traveler's description, which divides Persia into two portions—"One desert with salt, and the other desert without salt." In time we came to McGregor's opinion as expressed in his description of Khorassan. "We should fancy," said he, "a small green circle round every village indicated on the map, and shade all the rest in brown." The mighty hosts whose onward sweep from the Indus westward was checked only by the Grecian phalanx upon the field of Marathon must have come from the scattered ruins around, which reminded us that "Iran was; she is no more." Those myriad ranks of Yenghiz Khan and Tamerlane brought death and desolation from Turan to Iran, which so often met to act and react upon one another that both are now only landmarks in the sea of oblivion.
Our honorary escort accompanied us several miles over the border to the Persian village of Killissakend, and there committed us to the hospitality of the district khan, with whom we managed to converse in the Turkish language, which, strange to say, we found available in all the countries that lay in our transcontinental pathway as far as the great wall of China. Toward evening we rode in the garden of the harem of the khan, and at daybreak the next morning were again in the saddle. By a very early start we hoped to escape the burden of excessive hospitality; in other words, to get rid of an escort that was an expensive nuisance. At the next village we were confronted by what appeared to be a shouting, gesticulating maniac. On dismounting, we learned that a harbinger had been sent by the khan, the evening before, to have a guard ready to join us as we passed through. In fact, two armed ferashes were galloping toward us, armed, as we afterward learned, with American rifles, and the usual kamma, or huge dagger, swinging from a belt of cartridges. These fellows, like the zaptiehs, were fond of ostentation. They frequently led us a roundabout way to show us off to their relatives or friends in a neighboring village. Nature at last came to our deliverance. As we stood on a prominent ridge taking a last look at Mount Ararat, now more than fifty miles away, a storm came upon us, showering hailstones as large as walnuts. The ferashes with frantic steeds dashed ahead to seek a place of shelter, and we saw them no more.
Five days in Persia brought us to the shores of Lake Ooroomeeyah, the saltest body of water in the world. Early the next morning we were wading the chilly waters of the Hadji Chai, and a few hours later found us in the English consulate at Tabreez, where we were received by the Persian secretary. The English government, it seemed, had become embroiled in a local love-affair just at a time when Colonel Stewart was off on "diplomatic duty" on the Russian Transcaspian border. An exceptionally bright Armenian beauty, a graduate of the American missionary schools at this place, had been abducted, it was claimed, by a young Kurdish cavalier, and carried away to his mountain home. Her father, who happened to be a naturalized English subject, had applied for the assistance of his adopted country in obtaining her release. Negotiations were at once set on foot between London and Teheran, which finally led to a formal demand upon the Kurds by the Shah himself. Upon their repeated refusal, seven thousand Persian troops, it was said, were ordered to Soak Boulak, under the command of the vice-consul, Mr. Patton. The matter at length assumed such an importance as to give rise, in the House of Commons, to the question, "Who is Katty Greenfield?" This, in time, was answered by that lady herself, who declared under oath that she had become a Mohammedan, and was in love with the man with whom she had eloped. More than this, it was learned that she had not a drop of English blood in her veins, her father being an Austrian, and her mother a native Armenian. Whereupon the Persian troopers, with their much disgusted leader, beat an inglorious retreat, leaving "Katty Greenfield" mistress of the situation, and of a Kurdish heart.
In Tabreez there is one object sure to attract attention. This is the "Ark," or ancient fortified castle of the Persian rulers. High on one of the sides, which a recent earthquake has rent from top to bottom, there is a little porch whence these Persian "Bluebeards," or rather Redbeards, were wont to hurl unruly members of the harem. Under the shadow of these gloomy walls was enacted a tragedy of this century. Babism is by no means the only heresy that has sprung from the speculative genius of Persia; but it is the one that has most deeply moved the society of the present age, and the one which still obtains, though in secret and without a leader. Its founder, Seyd Mohammed Ali, better known as Bab, or "Gate," promulgated the doctrine of anarchy to the extent of "sparing the rod and spoiling the child," and still worse, perhaps, of refusing to the ladies no finery that might be at all becoming to their person. While not a communist, as he has sometimes been wrongly classed, he exhorted the wealthy to regard themselves as only trustees of the poor. With no thought at first of acquiring civil power, he and his rapidly increasing following were driven to revolt by the persecuting mollas, and the sanguinary struggle of 1848 followed. Bab himself was captured, and carried to this "most fanatical city of Persia," the burial-place of the sons of Ali. On this very spot a company was ordered to despatch him with a volley; but when the smoke cleared away, Bab was not to be seen. None of the bullets had gone to the mark, and the bird had flown—but not to the safest refuge. Had he finally escaped, the miracle thus performed would have made Babism invincible. But he was recaptured and despatched, and his body thrown to the canine scavengers.
Tabreez (fever-dispelling) was a misnomer in our case. Our sojourn here was prolonged for more than a month by a slight attack of typhoid fever, which this time seized Sachtleben, and again the kind nursing of the missionary ladies hastened recovery. Our mail, in the mean time, having been ordered to Teheran, we were granted the privilege of intercepting it. For this purpose we were permitted to overhaul the various piles of letters strewn over the dirty floor of the distributing-office. Both the Turkish and Persian mail is carried in saddle-bags on the backs of reinless horses driven at a rapid gallop before the mounted mail-carrier or herdsman. Owing to the carelessness of the postal officials, legations and consulates employ special couriers.
The proximity of Tabreez to the Russian border makes it politically, as well as commercially, one of the most important cities in Persia. For this reason it is the place of residence of the Emir-e-Nizam (leader of the army), or prime minister, as well as the Vali-Ahd, or Prince Imperial. This prince is the Russian candidate, as opposed to the English candidate, for the prospective vacancy on the throne. Both of these dignitaries invited us to visit them, and showed much interest in our "wonderful wind horses," of the speed of which exaggerated reports had circulated through the country. We were also favored with a special letter for the journey to the capital.
On this stage we started August 15, stopping the first night at Turkmanchai, the little village where was signed the famous treaty of 1828 by virtue of which the Caspian Sea became a Russian lake. The next morning we were on the road soon after daybreak, and on approaching the next village overtook a curious cavalcade, just concluding a long night's journey. This consisted of a Persian palanquin, with its long pole-shafts saddled upon the back of a mule at each end; with servants on foot, and a body-guard of mounted soldiers. The occupant of this peculiar conveyance remained concealed throughout the stampede which our sudden appearance occasioned among his hearse-bearing mules, for as such they will appear in the sequel. In our first article we mentioned an interview in London with Malcolm Khan, the representative of the Shah at the court of St. James. Since then, it seemed, he had fallen into disfavor. During the late visit of the Shah to England certain members of his retinue were so young, both in appearance and conduct, as to be a source of mortification to the Europeanized minister. This reached the ears of the Shah some time after his return home; and a summons was sent for the accused to repair to Teheran. Malcolm Khan, however, was too well versed in Oriental craft to fall into such a trap, and announced his purpose to devote his future leisure to airing his knowledge of Persian politics in the London press. The Persian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Musht-a-Shar-el-Dowlet, then residing at Tabreez, who was accused of carrying on a seditious correspondence with Malcolm Khan, was differently situated, unfortunately. It was during our sojourn in that city that his palatial household was raided by a party of soldiers, and he was carried to prison as a common felon. Being unable to pay the high price of pardon that was demanded, he was forced away, a few days before our departure, on that dreaded journey to the capital, which few, if any, ever complete. For on the way they are usually met by a messenger, who proffers them a cup of coffee, a sword, and a rope, from which they are to choose the method of their doom. This, then, was the occupant of the mysterious palanquin, which now was opened as we drew up before the village caravansary. Out stepped a man, tall and portly, with beard and hair of venerable gray. His keen eye, clear-cut features, and dignified bearing, bespoke for him respect even in his downfall, while his stooped shoulders and haggard countenance betrayed the weight of sorrow and sleepless nights with which he was going to his tomb.
At Miana, that town made infamous by its venomous insect, is located one of the storage-stations of the Indo-European Telegraph Company. Its straight lines of iron poles, which we followed very closely from Tabreez to Teheran, form only a link in that great wire and cable chain which connects Melbourne with London. We spent the following night in the German operator's room.
The weakness of the Persian for mendacity is proverbial. One instance of this national weakness was attended with considerable inconvenience to us. By some mischance we had run by the village where we intended to stop for the night, which was situated some distance off the road. Meeting a Persian lad, we inquired the distance. He was ready at once with a cheerful falsehood. "One farsak" (four miles), he replied, although he must have known at the time that the village was already behind us. On we pedaled at an increased rate, in order to precede, if possible, the approaching darkness; for although traditionally the land of a double dawn, Persia has only one twilight, and that closely merged into sunset and darkness. One, two farsaks were placed behind us, and still there was no sign of a human habitation. At length darkness fell; we were obliged to dismount to feel our way. By the gradually rising ground, and the rocks, we knew we were off the road. Dropping our wheels, we groped round on hands and knees, to find, if possible, some trace of water. With a burning thirst, a chilling atmosphere, and swarms of mosquitos biting through our clothing, we could not sleep. A slight drizzle began to descend. During our gloomy vigil we were glad to hear the sounds of a caravan, toward which we groped our way, discerning, at length, a long line of camels marching to the music of their lantern-bearing leader. When our nickel-plated bars and white helmets flashed in the lantern-light, there was a shriek, and the lantern fell to the ground. The rear-guard rushed to the front with drawn weapons; but even they started back at the sound of our voices, as we attempted in broken Turkish to reassure them. Explanations were made, and the camels soon quieted. Thereupon we were surrounded with lanterns and firebrands, while the remainder of the caravan party was called to the front. Finally we moved on, walking side by side with the lantern-bearing leader, who ran ahead now and then to make sure of the road. The night was the blackest we had ever seen. Suddenly one of the camels disappeared in a ditch, and rolled over with a groan. Fortunately, no bones were broken, and the load was replaced. But we were off the road, and a search was begun with lights to find the beaten path. Footsore and hungry, with an almost intolerable thirst, we trudged along till morning, to the ding-dong, ding-dong of the deep-toned camel-bells. Finally we reached a sluggish river, but did not dare to satisfy our thirst, except by washing out our mouths, and by taking occasional swallows, with long intervals of rest, in one of which we fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. When we awoke the midday sun was shining, and a party of Persian travelers was bending over us.
From the high lands of Azerbeidjan, where, strange to say, nearly all Persian pestilences arise, we dropped suddenly into the Kasveen plain, a portion of that triangular, dried-up basin of the Persian Mediterranean, now for the most part a sandy, saline desert. The argillaceous dust accumulated on the Kasveen plain by the weathering of the surrounding uplands resembles in appearance the "yellow earth" of the Hoang Ho district in China, but remains sterile for the lack of water. Even the little moisture that obtains beneath the surface is sapped by the kanots, or underground canals, which bring to the fevered lips of the desert oases the fresh, cool springs of the Elburz. These are dug with unerring instinct, and preserved with jealous care by means of shafts or slanting wells dug at regular intervals across the plain. Into these we would occasionally descend to relieve our reflection-burned—or, as a Persian would say, "snow-burned"—faces, while the thermometer above stood at 120 deg. in the shade.
Over the level ninety-mile stretch between Kasveen and the capital a so-called carriage-road has recently been constructed close to the base of the mountain. A sudden turn round a mountain-spur, and before us was presented to view Mount Demavend and Teheran. Soon the paved streets, sidewalks, lamp-posts, street-railways, and even steam-tramway, of the half modern capital were as much of a surprise to us as our "wind horses" were to the curious crowds that escorted us to the French Hotel.
From Persia it was our plan to enter Russian central Asia, and thence to proceed to China or Siberia. To enter the Transcaspian territory, the border-province of the Russian possessions, the sanction of its governor, General Kuropatkine, would be quite sufficient; but for the rest of the journey through Turkestan the Russian minister in Teheran said we would have to await a general permission from St. Petersburg. Six weeks were spent with our English and American acquaintances, and still no answer was received. Winter was coming on, and something had to be done at once. If we were to be debarred from a northern route, we would have to attempt a passage into India either through Afghanistan, which we were assured by all was quite impossible, or across the deserts of southern Persia and Baluchistan. For this latter we had already obtained a possible route from the noted traveler, Colonel Stewart, whom we met on his way back to his consular post at Tabreez. But just at this juncture the Russian minister advised another plan. In order to save time, he said, we might proceed to Meshed at once, and if our permission was not telegraphed to us at that point, we could then turn south to Baluchistan as a last resort. This, our friends unanimously declared, was a Muscovite trick to evade an absolute refusal. The Russians, they assured us, would never permit a foreign inspection of their doings on the Afghan border; and furthermore, we would never be able to cross the uninhabited deserts of Baluchistan. Against all protest, we waved "farewell" to the foreign and native throng which had assembled to see us off, and on October 5 wheeled out of the fortified square on the "Pilgrim Road to Meshed."
Before us now lay six hundred miles of barren hills, swampy kevirs, brier-covered wastes, and salty deserts, with here and there some kanot-fed oases. To the south lay the lifeless desert of Luth, the "Persian Sahara," the humidity of which is the lowest yet recorded on the face of the globe, and compared with which "the Gobi of China and the Kizil-Kum of central Asia are fertile regions." It is our extended and rather unique experience on the former of these two that prompts us to refrain from further description of desert travel here, where the hardships were in a measure ameliorated by frequent stations, and by the use of cucumbers and pomegranates, both of which we carried with us on the long desert stretches. Melons, too, the finest we have ever seen in any land, frequently obviated the necessity of drinking the strongly brackish water.
Yet this experience was sufficient to impress us with the fact that the national poets, Hafiz and Sadi, like Thomas Moore, have sought in fancy what the land of Iran denied them. Those "spicy groves, echoing with the nightingale's song," those "rosy bowers and purling brooks," on the whole exist, so far as our experience goes, only in the poet's dream.
Leaving on the right the sand-swept ruins of Veramin, that capital of Persia before Teheran was even thought of, we traversed the pass of Sir-Dara, identified by some as the famous "Caspian Gate," and early in the evening entered the village of Aradan. The usual crowd hemmed us in on all sides, yelling, "Min, min!" ("Ride, ride!"), which took the place of the Turkish refrain of "Bin, bin!" As we rode toward the caravansary they shouted, "Faster, faster!" and when we began to distance them, they caught at the rear wheels, and sent a shower of stones after us, denting our helmets, and bruising our coatless backs. This was too much; we dismounted and exhibited the ability to defend ourselves, whereupon they tumbled over one another in their haste to get away. But they were at our wheels again before we reached the caravansary. Here they surged through the narrow gangway, and knocked over the fruit-stands of the bazaars.
We were shown to a room, or windowless cell, in the honeycomb structure that surrounded an open quadrangular court, at the time filled with a caravan of pilgrims, carrying triangular white and black flags, with the Persian coat of arms, the same we have seen over many doorways in Persia as warnings of the danger of trespassing upon the religious services held within. The cadaverous stench revealed the presence of half-dried human bones being carried by relatives and friends for interment in the sacred "City of the Silent." Thus dead bodies, in loosely nailed boxes, are always traveling from one end of Persia to the other. Among the pilgrims were blue and green turbaned Saids, direct descendants of the Prophet, as well as white-turbaned mollas. All were sitting about on the sakoo, or raised platform, just finishing the evening meal. But presently one of the mollas ascended the mound in the middle of the stable-yard, and in the manner of the muezzin called to prayer. All kneeled, and bowed their heads toward Mecca. Then the horses were saddled, the long, narrow boxes attached upright to the pack-mules, and the kajacas, or double boxes, adjusted on the backs of the horses of the ladies. Into these the veiled creatures entered, and drew the curtains, while the men leaped into the saddle at a signal, and, with the tri-cornered flag at their head, the cavalcade moved out on its long night pilgrimage. We now learned that the village contained a chappar khan, one of those places of rest which have recently been provided for the use of foreigners and others, who travel chappar, or by relays of post-horses. These structures are usually distinguished by a single room built on the roof, and projecting some distance over the eaves.
To this we repaired at once. Its keeper evinced unusual pride in the cleanliness of his apartments, for we were asked to take off our shoes before entering. But while our boastful host was kicking up the mats to convince us of the truth of his assertions, he suddenly retired behind the scenes to rid himself of some of the pests.
Throughout our Asiatic tour eggs were our chief means of subsistence, but pillao, or boiled rice flavored with grease, we found more particularly used in Persia, like yaourt in Turkey. This was prepared with chicken whenever it was possible to purchase a fowl, and then we would usually make the discovery that a Persian fowl was either wingless, legless, or otherwise defective after being prepared by a Persian fuzul, or foreigner's servant, who, it is said, "shrinks from no baseness in order to eat." Though minus these particular appendages, it would invariably have a head; for the fanatical Shiah frequently snatched a chicken out of our hands to prevent us from wringing or chopping its head off. Even after our meal was served, we would keep a sharp lookout upon the unblushing pilferers around us, who had called to pay their respects, and to fill the room with clouds of smoke from their chibouks and gurgling kalians. For a fanatical Shiah will sometimes stick his dirty fingers into the dishes of an "unbeliever," even though he may subsequently throw away the contaminated vessel. And this extreme fanaticism is to be found in a country noted for its extensive latitude in the profession of religious beliefs.
A present from the village khan was announced. In stepped two men bearing a huge tray filled with melons, apricots, sugar, rock-candy, nuts, pistachios, etc., all of which we must, of course, turn over to the khan-keeper and his servants, and pay double their value to the bearers, as a present. This polite method of extortion was followed the next morning by one of a bolder and more peremptory nature. Notwithstanding the feast of the night before at our expense, and in addition to furnishing us with bedclothes which we really ought to have been paid to sleep in, our oily host now insisted upon three or four prices for his lodgings. We refused to pay him more than a certain sum, and started to vacate the premises. Thereupon he and his grown son caught hold of our bicycles. Remonstrances proving of no avail, and being unable to force our passage through the narrow doorway with the bicycles in our hands, we dropped them, and grappled with our antagonists. A noisy scuffle, and then a heavy fall ensued, but luckily we were both on the upper side. This unusual disturbance now brought out the inmates of the adjoining anderoon. In a moment there was a din of feminine screams, and a flutter of garments, and then—a crashing of our pith helmets beneath the blows of pokers and andirons. The villagers, thus aroused, came at last to our rescue, and at once proceeded to patch up a compromise. This, in view of the Amazonian reinforcements, who were standing by in readiness for a second onset, we were more than pleased to accept. From this inglorious combat we came off without serious injury; but with those gentle poker taps were knocked out forever all the sweet delusions of the "Light of the Harem."
The great antiquity of this Teheran-Meshed road, which is undoubtedly a section of that former commercial highway between two of the most ancient capitals in history—Nineveh and Balk, is very graphically shown by the caravan ruts at Lasgird. These have been worn in many places to a depth of four feet in the solid rock. It was not far beyond this point that we began to feel the force of that famous "Damghan wind," so called from the city of that name. Of course this wind was against us. In fact, throughout our Asiatic tour easterly winds prevailed; and should we ever attempt another transcontinental spin we would have a care to travel in the opposite direction.
Our peculiar mode of travel subjected us to great extremes in our mode of living. Sometimes, indeed, it was a change almost from the sublime to the ridiculous, and vice versa—from a stable or sheepfold, with a diet of figs and bread, and an irrigating-ditch for a lavatory, to a palace itself, an Oriental palace, with all the delicacies of the East, and a host of servants to attend to our slightest wish. So it was at Bostam, the residence of one of Persia's most influential hakims, or governors, literally, "pillars of state," who was also a cousin to the Shah himself. This potentate we visited in company with an English engineer whom we met in transit at Sharoud. It was on the evening before, when at supper with this gentleman in his tent, that a special messenger arrived from the governor, requesting us, as the invitation ran, "to take our brightness into his presence." As we entered, the governor rose from his seat on the floor, a courtesy never shown us by a Turkish official. Even the politest of them would, just at this particular moment, be conveniently engrossed in the examination of some book or paper. His courtesy was further extended by locking up our "horses," and making us his "prisoners" until the following morning. At the dinner which Mr. Evans and we were invited to eat with his excellency, benches had to be especially prepared, as there was nothing like a chair to be found on the premises. The governor himself took his accustomed position on the floor, with his own private dishes around him. From these he would occasionally fish out with his fingers some choice lamb kebabh or cabbage dolmah, and have it passed over to his guests—an act which is considered one of the highest forms of Persian hospitality.
With a shifting of the scenes of travel, we stood at sunset on the summit of the Binalud mountains, overlooking the valley of the Kashafrud. Our two weeks' journey was almost ended, for the city of Meshed was now in view, ten miles away. Around us were piles of little stones, to which each pious pilgrim adds his quota when first he sees the "Holy Shrine," which we beheld shining like a ball of fire in the glow of the setting sun.
While we were building our pyramid a party of returning pilgrims greeted us with "Meshedi at last." "Not yet," we answered, for we knew that the gates of the Holy City closed promptly at twilight. Yet we determined to make the attempt. On we sped, but not with the speed of the falling night. Dusk overtook us as we reached the plain. A moving form was revealed to us on the bank of the irrigating-canal which skirted the edge of the road. Backward it fell as we dashed by, and then the sound of a splash and splutter reached us as we disappeared in the darkness. On the morrow we learned that the spirits of Hassan and Hussein were seen skimming the earth in their flight toward the Holy City. We reached the bridge, and crossed the moat, but the gates were closed. We knocked and pounded, but a hollow echo was our only response. At last the light of a lantern illumined the crevices in the weather-beaten doors, and a weird-looking face appeared through the midway opening. "Who's there?" said a voice, whose sepulchral tones might have belonged to the sexton of the Holy Tomb. "We are Ferenghis," we said, "and must get into the city to-night." "That is impossible," he answered, "for the gates are locked, and the keys have been sent away to the governor's palace." With this the night air grew more chill. But another thought struck us at once. We would send a note to General McLean, the English consul-general, who was already expecting us. This our interlocutor, for a certain inam, or Persian bakshish, at length agreed to deliver. The general, as we afterward learned, sent a servant with a special request to the governor's palace. Here, without delay, a squad of horsemen was detailed, and ordered with the keys to the "Herat Gate." The crowds in the streets, attracted by this unusual turnout at this unusual hour, followed in their wake to the scene of disturbance. There was a click of locks, the clanking of chains, and the creaking of rusty hinges. The great doors swung open, and a crowd of expectant faces received us in the Holy City.
Meshed claims our attention chiefly for its famous dead. In its sacred dust lie buried our old hero Haroun al Raschid, Firdousi, Persia's greatest epic poet, and the holy Imaum Riza, within whose shrine every criminal may take refuge from even the Shah himself until the payment of a blood-tax, or a debtor until the giving of a guarantee for debt. No infidel can enter there.
Meshed was the pivotal point upon which our wheel of fortune was to turn. We were filled with no little anxiety, therefore, when, on the day after our arrival, we received an invitation to call at the Russian consulate-general. With great ceremony we were ushered into a suite of elegantly furnished rooms, and received by the consul-general and his English wife in full dress. Madame de Vlassow was radiant with smiles as she served us tea by the side of her steaming silver samovar. She could not wait for the circumlocution of diplomacy, but said: "It is all right, gentlemen. General Kuropatkine has just telegraphed permission for you to proceed to Askabad." This precipitate remark evidently disconcerted the consul, who could only nod his head and say, "Oui, oui," in affirmation. This news lifted a heavy load from our minds; our desert journey of six hundred miles, therefore, had not been made in vain, and the prospect brightened for a trip through the heart of Asia.
Between the rival hospitality of the Russian and English consulates our health was now in jeopardy from excess of kindness. Among other social attentions, we received an invitation from Sahib Devan, the governor of Khorassan, who next to the Shah is the richest man in Persia. Although seventy-six years of age, on the day of our visit to his palace he was literally covered with diamonds and precious stones. With the photographer to the Shah as German interpreter, we spent half an hour in an interesting conversation. Among other topics he mentioned the receipt, a few days before, of a peculiar telegram from the Shah: "Cut off the head of any one who attempts opposition to the Tobacco Regie"; and this was followed a few days after by the inquiry, "How many heads have you taken?" A retinue of about three hundred courtiers followed the governor as he walked out with feeble steps to the parade-ground. Here a company of Persian cavalry was detailed to clear the field for the "wonderful steel horses," which, as was said, had come from the capital in two days, a distance of six hundred miles. The governors extreme pleasure was afterward expressed in a special letter for our journey to the frontier.
The military road now completed between Askabad and Meshed reveals the extreme weakness of Persia's defense against Russian aggression. Elated by her recent successes in the matter of a Russian consul at Meshed, Russia has very forcibly invited Persia to construct more than half of a road which, in connection with the Transcaspian railway, makes Khorassan almost an exclusive Russian market, and opens Persia's richest province to Russia's troops and cannon on the prospective march to Herat. At this very writing, if the telegraph speaks the truth, the Persian border-province of Dereguez is another cession by what the Russians are pleased to call their Persian vassal. In addition to its increasing commercial traffic, this road is patronized by many Shiah devotees from the north, among whom are what the natives term the "silent pilgrims." These are large stones, or boulders, rolled along a few feet at a time by the passers-by toward the Holy City. We ourselves were employed in this pious work at the close of our first day's journey from Meshed when we were suddenly aroused by a bantering voice behind us. Looking up, we were hailed by Stagno Navarro, the inspector of the Persian telegraph, who was employed with his men on a neighboring line. With this gentleman we spent the following night in a telegraph station, and passed a pleasant evening chatting over the wires with friends in Meshed.
Kuchan, our next stopping-place, lies on the almost imperceptible watershed which separates the Herat valley from the Caspian Sea. This city, only a few months ago, was entirely destroyed by a severe earthquake. Under date of January 28, 1894, the American press reported: "The bodies of ten thousand victims of the awful disaster have already been recovered. Fifty thousand cattle were destroyed at the same time. The once important and beautiful city of twenty thousand people is now only a scene of death, desolation, and terror."
From this point to Askabad the construction of the military highway speaks well for Russia's engineering skill. It crosses the Kopet Dagh mountains over seven distinct passes in a distance of eighty miles. This we determined to cover, if possible, in one day, inasmuch as there was no intermediate stopping-place, and as we were not a little delighted by the idea of at last emerging from semi-barbarism into semi-civilization. At sunset we were scaling the fifth ridge since leaving Kuchan at daybreak, and a few minutes later rolled up before the Persian custom-house in the valley below. There was no evidence of the proximity of a Russian frontier, except the extraordinary size of the tea-glasses, from which we slaked our intolerable thirst. During the day we had had a surfeit of cavernous gorges and commanding pinnacles, but very little water. The only copious spring we were able to find was filled at the time with the unwashed linen of a Persian traveler, who sat by, smiling in derision, as we upbraided him for his disregard of the traveling public.
It was already dusk when we came in sight of the Russian custom-house, a tin-roofed, stone structure, contrasting strongly with the Persian mud hovels we had left behind. A Russian official hailed us as we shot by, but we could not stop on the down-grade, and, besides, darkness was too rapidly approaching to brook any delay. Askabad was twenty-eight miles away, and although wearied by an extremely hard day's work, we must sleep that night, if possible, in a Russian hotel. Our pace increased with the growing darkness until at length we were going at the rate of twelve miles per hour down a narrow gorge-like valley toward the seventh and last ridge that lay between us and the desert. At 9:30 P. M. we stood upon its summit, and before us stretched the sandy wastes of Kara-Kum, enshrouded in gloom. Thousands of feet below us the city of Askabad was ablaze with lights, shining like beacons on the shore of the desert sea. Strains of music from a Russian band stole faintly up through the darkness as we dismounted, and contemplated the strange scene, until the shriek of a locomotive-whistle startled us from our reveries. Across the desert a train of the Transcaspian railway was gliding smoothly along toward the city.
A hearty welcome back to civilized life was given us the next evening by General Kuropatkine himself, the Governor-General of Transcaspia. During the course of a dinner with him and his friends, he kindly assured us that no further recommendation was needed than the fact that we were American citizens to entitle us to travel from one end of the Russian empire to the other.
From Askabad to Samarkand there was a break in the continuity of our bicycle journey. Our Russian friends persuaded us to take advantage of the Transcaspian railway, and not to hazard a journey across the dreaded Kara-Kum sands. Such a journey, made upon the railroad track, where water and food were obtainable at regular intervals, would have entailed only a small part of the hardships incurred on the deserts in China, yet we were more than anxious to reach, before the advent of winter, a point whence we could be assured of reaching the Pacific during the following season. Through the kindness of the railway authorities at Bokhara station our car was side-tracked to enable us to visit, ten miles away, that ancient city of the East. On November 6 we reached Samarkand, the ancient capital of Tamerlane, and the present terminus of the Transcaspian railway.
THE JOURNEY FROM SAMARKAND TO KULDJA
On the morning of November 16 we took a last look at the blue domes and minarets of Samarkand, intermingled with the ruins of palaces and tombs, and then wheeled away toward the banks of the Zerafshan. Our four days' journey of 180 miles along the regular Russian post-road was attended with only the usual vicissitudes of ordinary travel. Wading in our Russian top-boots through the treacherous fords of the "Snake" defile, we passed the pyramidal slate rock known as the "Gate of Tamerlane," and emerged upon a strip of the Kizil-Kum steppe, stretching hence in painful monotony to the bank of the Sir Daria river. This we crossed by a rude rope-ferry, filled at the time with a passing caravan, and then began at once to ascend the valley of the Tchirtchick toward Tashkend. The blackened cotton which the natives were gathering from the fields, the lowering snow-line on the mountains, the muddy roads, the chilling atmosphere, and the falling leaves of the giant poplars—all warned us of the approach of winter.
We had hoped at least to reach Vernoye, a provincial capital near the converging point of the Turkestan, Siberian, and Chinese boundaries, whence we could continue, on the opening of the following spring, either through Siberia or across the Chinese empire. But in this we were doomed to disappointment. The delay on the part of the Russian authorities in granting us permission to enter Transcaspia had postponed at least a month our arrival in Tashkend, and now, owing to the early advent of the rainy season, the roads leading north were almost impassable even for the native carts. This fact, together with the reports of heavy snowfalls beyond the Alexandrovski mountains, on the road to Vernoye, lent a rather cogent influence to the persuasions of our friends to spend the winter among them.
Then, too, such a plan, we thought, might not be unproductive of future advantages. Thus far we had been journeying through Russian territory without a passport. We had no authorization except the telegram to "come on," received from General Kuropatkine at Askabad, and the verbal permission of Count Rosterzsoff at Samarkand to proceed to Tashkend. Furthermore, the passport for which we had just applied to Baron Wrevsky, the Governor-General of Turkestan, would be available only as far as the border of Siberia, where we should have to apply to the various governors-general along our course to the Pacific, in case we should find the route across the Chinese empire impracticable. A general permission to travel from Tashkend to the Pacific coast, through southern Siberia, could be obtained from St. Petersburg only, and that only through the chief executive of the province through which we were passing.
Permission to enter Turkestan is by no means easily obtained, as is well understood by the student of Russian policy in central Asia. We were not a little surprised, therefore, when our request to spend the winter in its capital was graciously granted by Baron Wrevsky, as well as the privilege for one of us to return in the mean time to London. This we had determined on, in order to secure some much-needed bicycle supplies, and to complete other arrangements for the success of our enterprise. By lot the return trip fell to Sachtleben. Proceeding by the Transcaspian and Transcaucasus railroads, the Caspian and Black seas, to Constantinople, and thence by the "overland express" to Belgrade, Vienna, Frankfort, and Calais, he was able to reach London in sixteen days.
Tashkend, though nearly in the same latitude as New York, is so protected by the Alexandrovski mountains from the Siberian blizzards and the scorching winds of the Kara-Kum desert as to have an even more moderate climate. A tributary of the Tchirtchick river forms the line of demarcation between the native and the European portions of the city, although the population of the latter is by no means devoid of a native element. Both together cover an area as extensive as Paris, though the population is only 120,000, of which 100,000 are congregated in the native, or Sart, quarter. There is a floating element of Kashgarians, Bokhariots, Persians, and Afghans, and a resident majority of Kirghiz, Tatars, Jews, Hindus, gypsies, and Sarts, the latter being a generic title for the urban, as distinguished from the nomad, people.
Our winter quarters were obtained at the home of a typical Russian family, in company with a young reserve officer. He, having finished his university career and time of military service, was engaged in Tashkend in the interest of his father, a wholesale merchant in Moscow. With him we were able to converse either in French or German, both of which languages he could speak more purely than his native Russian. Our good-natured, corpulent host had emigrated, in the pioneer days, from the steppes of southern Russia, and had grown wealthy through the "unearned increment."
The Russian samovar is the characteristic feature of the Russian household. Besides a big bowl of cabbage soup at every meal, our Russian host would start in with a half-tumbler of vodka, dispose of a bottle of beer in the intervals, and then top off with two or three glasses of tea. The mistress of the household, being limited in her beverages to tea and soup, would usually make up in quantity what was lacking in variety. In fact, one day she informed us that she had not imbibed a drop of water for over six years. For this, however, there is a very plausible excuse. With the water at Tashkend, as with that from the Zerafshan at Bokhara, a dangerous worm called reshta is absorbed into the system. Nowhere have we drunk better tea than around the steaming samovar of our Tashkend host. No peasant is too poor, either in money or in sentiment, to buy and feel the cheering influence of tea. Even the Cossack, in his forays into the wilds of central Asia, is sustained by it. Unlike the Chinese, the Russians consider sugar a necessary concomitant of tea-drinking. There are three methods of sweetening tea: to put the sugar in the glass; to place a lump of sugar in the mouth, and suck the tea through it; to hang a lump in the midst of a tea-drinking circle, to be swung around for each in turn to touch with his tongue, and then to take a swallow of tea.
The meaning of the name Tashkend is "city of stone," but a majority of the houses are one-story mud structures, built low, so as to prevent any disastrous effects from earthquakes. The roofs are so flat and poorly constructed that during the rainy season a dry ceiling is rather the exception than the rule. Every building is covered with whitewash or white paint, and fronts directly on the street. There are plenty of back and side yards, but none in front. This is not so bad on the broad streets of a Russian town. In Tashkend they are exceptionally wide, with ditches on each side through which the water from the Tchirtchick ripples along beneath the double, and even quadruple, rows of poplars, acacias, and willows. These trees grow here with remarkable luxuriance, from a mere twig stuck into the ground. Although twenty years of Russian irrigation has given Nature a chance to rear thousands of trees on former barren wastes, yet wood is still comparatively scarce and dear.
The administration buildings of the city are for the most part exceedingly plain and unpretentious. In striking contrast is the new Russian cathedral, the recently erected school, and a large retail store built by a resident Greek, all of which are fine specimens of Russian architecture. Among its institutions are an observatory, a museum containing an embryo collection of Turkestan products and antiquities, and a medical dispensary for the natives, where vaccination is performed by graduates of medicine in the Tashkend school. The rather extensive library was originally collected for the chancellery of the governor-general, and contains the best collection of works on central Asia that is to be found in the world, including in its scope not only books and pamphlets, but even magazines and newspaper articles. For amusements, the city has a theater, a small imitation of the opera-house at Paris; and the Military Club, which, with its billiards and gambling, and weekly reunions, balls, and concerts, though a regular feature of a Russian garrison town, is especially pretentious in Tashkend. In size, architecture, and appointments, the club-house has no equal, we were told, outside the capital and Moscow.
Tashkend has long been known as a refuge for damaged reputations and shattered fortunes, or "the official purgatory following upon the emperor's displeasure." One of the finest houses of the city is occupied by the Grand Duke Nicholai Constantinovitch Romanoff, son of the late general admiral of the Russian navy, and first cousin to the Czar, who seems to be cheerfully resigned to his life in exile. Most of his time is occupied with the business of his silk-factory on the outskirts of Tashkend, and at his farm near Hodjent, which a certain firm in Chicago, at the time of our sojourn, was stocking with irrigating machinery. All of his bills are paid with checks drawn on his St. Petersburg trustees. His private life is rather unconventional and even democratic. Visitors to his household are particularly impressed with the beauty of his wife and the size of his liquor glasses. The example of the grand duke illustrates the sentiment in favor of industrial pursuits which is growing among the military classes, and even among the nobility, of Russia. The government itself, thanks to the severe lesson of the Crimean war, has learned that a great nation must stand upon a foundation of something more than aristocracy and nobility. To this influence is largely due the present growing prosperity of Tashkend, which, in military importance, is rapidly giving way to Askabad, "the key to Herat."
That spirit of equality and fraternity which characterizes the government of a Russian mir, or village, has been carried even into central Asia. We have frequently seen Russian peasants and natives occupying adjoining apartments in the same household, while in the process of trade all classes seem to fraternize in an easy and even cordial manner. The same is true of the children, who play together indiscriminately in the street. Many a one of these heterogeneous groups we have watched "playing marbles" with the ankle-bones of sheep, and listened, with some amusement, to their half Russian, half native jargon. Schools are now being established to educate the native children in the Russian language and methods, and native apprentices are being taken in by Russian merchants for the same purpose.
In Tashkend, as in every European city of the Orient, drunkenness, and gambling, and social laxity have followed upon the introduction of Western morals and culture. Jealousy and intrigue among the officers and functionaries are also not strange, perhaps, at so great a distance from headquarters, where the only avenue to distinction seems to lie through the public service. At the various dinner-parties and sociables given throughout the winter, the topic of war always met with general welcome. On one occasion a report was circulated that Abdurrahman Khan, the Ameer of Afghanistan, was lying at the point of death. Great preparations, it was said, were being made for an expedition over the Pamir, to establish on the throne the Russian candidate, Is-shah Khan from Samarkand, before Ayub Khan, the rival British protege, could be brought from India. The young officers at once began to discuss their chances for promotion, and the number of decorations to be forthcoming from St. Petersburg. The social gatherings at Tashkend were more convivial than sociable. Acquaintances can eat and drink together with the greatest of good cheer, but there is very little sympathy in conversation. It was difficult for them to understand why we had come so far to see a country which to many of them was a place of exile.
An early spring did not mean an early departure from winter quarters. Impassable roads kept us anxious prisoners for a month and a half after the necessary papers had been secured. These included, in addition to the local passports, a carte-blanche permission to travel from Tashkend to Vladivostock through Turkestan and Siberia, a document obtained from St. Petersburg through the United States minister, the Hon. Charles Emory Smith. Of this route to the Pacific we were therefore certain, and yet, despite the universal opinion that a bicycle journey across the Celestial empire was impracticable, we had determined to continue on to the border line, and there to seek better information. "Don't go into China" were the last words of our many kind friends as we wheeled out of Tashkend on the seventh of May.
At Chimkend our course turned abruptly from what was once the main route between Russia's European and Asiatic capitals, and along which De Lesseps, in his letter to the Czar, proposed a line of railroad to connect Orenburg with Samarkand, a distance about equal to that between St. Petersburg and Odessa, 1483 miles. This is also the keystone in that wall of forts which Russia gradually raised around her unruly nomads of the steppes, and where, according to Gortchakoff's circular of 1864, "both interest and reason" required her to stop; and yet at that very time General Tchernaieff was advancing his forces upon the present capital, Tashkend. Here, too, we began that journey of 1500 miles along the Celestial mountain range which terminated only when we scaled its summit beyond Barkul to descend again into the burning sands of the Desert of Gobi. Here runs the great historical highway between China and the West.
From Auli-eta eastward we had before us about 200 miles of a vast steppe region. Near the mountains is a wilderness of lakes, swamps, and streams, which run dry in summer. This is the country of the "Thousand Springs" mentioned by the Chinese pilgrim Huen T'sang, and where was established the kingdom of Black China, supposed by many to have been one of the kingdoms of "Prester John." But far away to our left were the white sands of the Ak-Kum, over which the cloudless atmosphere quivers incessantly, like the blasts of a furnace. Of all these deserts, occupying probably one half of the whole Turkestan steppe, none is more terrible than that of the "Golodnaya Steppe," or Steppe of Hunger, to the north of the "White Sands" now before us. Even in the cool of evening, it is said that the soles of the wayfarer's feet become scorched, and the dog accompanying him finds no repose till he has burrowed below the burning surface. The monotonous appearance of the steppe itself is only intensified in winter, when the snow smooths over the broken surface, and even necessitates the placing of mud posts at regular intervals to mark the roadway for the Kirghiz post-drivers. But in the spring and autumn its arid surface is clothed, as if by enchantment, with verdure and prairie flowers. Both flowers and birds are gorgeously colored. One variety, about half the size of the jackdaw which infests the houses of Tashkend and Samarkand, has a bright blue body and red wings; another, resembling our field-lark in size and habits, combines a pink breast with black head and wings. But already this springtide splendor was beginning to disappear beneath the glare of approaching summer. The long wagon-trains of lumber, and the occasional traveler's tarantass rumbling along to the discord of its duga bells, were enveloped in a cloud of suffocating dust.
Now and then we would overtake a party of Russian peasants migrating from the famine-stricken districts of European Russia to the pioneer colonies along this Turkestan highway. The peculiarity of these villages is their extreme length, all the houses facing on the one wide street. Most of them are merely mud huts, others make pretensions to doors and windows, and a coat of whitewash. Near-by usually stands the old battered telega which served as a home during many months of travel over the Orenburg highway. It speaks well for the colonizing capacity of the Russians that they can be induced to come so many hundreds of miles from their native land, to settle in such a primitive way among the half-wild tribes of the steppes. As yet they do very little farming, but live, like the Kirghiz, by raising horses, cows, sheep, and goats, and, in addition, the Russian hog, the last resembling very much the wild swine of the jungles. Instead of the former military colonies of plundering Cossacks, who really become more assimilated to the Kirghiz than these to their conquerors, the mir, or communal system, is now penetrating these fertile districts, and systematically replacing the Mongolian culture. But the ignorance of this lower class of Russians is almost as noticeable as that of the natives themselves. As soon as we entered a village, the blacksmith left his anvil, the carpenter his bench, the storekeeper his counter, and the milkmaid her task. After our parade of the principal street, the crowd would gather round us at the station-house. All sorts of queries and ejaculations would pass among them. One would ask: "Are these gentlemen baptized? Are they really Christians?" On account of their extreme ignorance these Russian colonists are by no means able to cope with their German colleagues, who are given the poorest land, and yet make a better living.
The steppe is a good place for learning patience. With the absence of landmarks, you seem never to be getting anywhere. It presents the appearance of a boundless level expanse, the very undulations of which are so uniform as to conceal the intervening troughs. Into these, horsemen, and sometimes whole caravans, mysteriously disappear. In this way we were often enabled to surprise a herd of gazelles grazing by the roadside. They would stand for a moment with necks extended, and then scamper away like a shot, springing on their pipe-stem limbs three or four feet into the air. Our average rate was about seven miles an hour, although the roads were sometimes so soft with dust or sand as to necessitate the laying of straw for a foundation. There was scarcely an hour in the day when we were not accompanied by from one to twenty Kirghiz horsemen, galloping behind us with cries of "Yakshee!" ("Good!") They were especially curious to see how we crossed the roadside streams. Standing on the bank, they would watch intently every move as we stripped and waded through with bicycles and clothing on our shoulders. Then they would challenge us to a race, and, if the road permitted, we would endeavor to reveal some of the possibilities of the "devil's carts." On an occasion like this occurred one of our few mishaps. The road was lined by the occupants of a neighboring tent village, who had run out to see the race. One of the Kirghiz turned suddenly back in the opposite direction from which he had started. The wheel struck him at a rate of fifteen miles per hour, lifting him off his feet, and hurling over the handle-bars the rider, who fell upon his left arm, and twisted it out of place. With the assistance of the bystanders it was pulled back into the socket, and bandaged up till we reached the nearest Russian village. Here the only physician was an old blind woman of the faith-cure persuasion. Her massage treatment to replace the muscles was really effective, and was accompanied by prayers and by signs of the cross, a common method of treatment among the lower class of Russians. In one instance a cure was supposed to be effected by writing a prayer on a piece of buttered bread to be eaten by the patient.
Being users but not patrons of the Russian post-roads, we were not legally entitled to the conveniences of the post-stations. Tipping alone, as we found on our journey from Samarkand, was not always sufficient to preclude a request during the night to vacate the best quarters for the post-traveler, especially if he happened to wear the regulation brass button. To secure us against this inconvenience, and to gain some special attention, a letter was obtained from the overseer of the Turkestan post and telegraph district. This proved advantageous on many occasions, and once, at Auli-eta, was even necessary. We were surveyed with suspicious glances as soon as we entered the station-house, and when we asked for water to lave our hands and face, we were directed to the irrigating ditch in the street. Our request for a better room was answered by the question, if the one we had was not good enough, and how long we intended to occupy that. Evidently our English conversation had gained for us the covert reputation of being English spies, and this was verified in the minds of our hosts when we began to ask questions about the city prisons we had passed on our way. To every interrogation they replied, "I don't know." But presto, change, on the presentation of documents! Apologies were now profuse, and besides tea, bread, and eggs, the usual rations of a Russian post-station, we were exceptionally favored with chicken soup and verainyik, the latter consisting of cheese wrapped and boiled in dough, and then served in butter.
It has been the custom for travelers in Russia to decry the Russian post-station, but the fact is that an appreciation of this rather primitive form of accommodation depends entirely upon whether you approach it from a European hotel or from a Persian khan. Some are clean, while others are dirty. Nevertheless, it was always a welcome sight to see a small white building looming up in the dim horizon at the close of a long day's ride, and, on near approach, to observe the black and white striped post in front, and idle tarantasses around it. At the door would be found the usual crowd of Kirghiz post-drivers. After the presentation of documents to the starosta, who would hesitate at first about quartering our horses in the travelers' room, we would proceed at once to place our dust-covered heads beneath the spindle of the washing-tank. Although by this dripping-pan arrangement we would usually succeed in getting as much water down our backs as on our faces, yet we were consoled by the thought that too much was better than not enough, as had been the case in Turkey and Persia. Then we would settle down before the steaming samovar to meditate in solitude and quiet, while the rays of the declining sun shone on the gilded eikon in the corner of the room, and on the chromo-covered walls. When darkness fell, and the simmering music of the samovar had gradually died away; when the flitting swallows in the room had ceased their chirp, and settled down upon the rafters overhead, we ourselves would turn in under our fur-lined coats upon the leather-covered benches.