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ON THE ROAD TO KHIVA.
FROM THE CRIMEA TO THE CAUCASUS.
OUR age is an age of progress, and travelling has advanced in common with everything else. Our sober grandfathers, who spent three or four years over the Grand Tour, and thought even a trip to Paris an achievement worth talking about, would be thunderstruck at the way in which their descendants dart from Mecca to Mexico, from Sydney to Spitzbergen, from Greenland's icy mountains to India's coral strand, and back again. The time is at hand when the dead walls of London shall flame with advertisements of “Twenty-Five Minutes in the Brazils,” by the Author of “ Through Africa in Half-an-Hour.” In the stupid old days, a man spent half his life in one country, and then confessed frankly that he knew little or nothing about it. We, more enlightened, traverse a whole empire in three months at the heels of an interpreter and a valet-de-place, and then write a full account of its politics, literature, history, jurisprudence, and general condition, including many interesting facts hitherto unknown to the natives themselves. Nil mortalibus arduum est. British climbers have carved their names on the summit of Ararat, and British beefsteaks have ousted human flesh from the restaurants of Fiji; and who can tell whether the next generation may not see M. de Lesseps projecting a railway to the sun with a branch line to Mercury, or Mr Stanley gracefully doffing his hat on the summit of a lunar volcano, with a polite, “ The Man in the Moon, I presume?”
Somewhat after this fashion do I moralise as the Crimean hills melt into the western sky, and the hitherto unknown Caucasus rises before me in all its splendour. For the first time since I set my face toward Khiva three weeks ago,* I am about to break new ground. On the route from London to St Petersburg, and from St Petersburg to the Black Sea, I am already, to my cost, as great an authority as the Koran of Albemarle Street. I have seen, often enough to be heartily sick of them, the tall, scraggy, coffee - pot churches, and "statues long after the antique," of hot, dusty, cosmopolitan Odessa. I have surveyed the little cluster of white houses which the Czar Nicholas cursed with his last breath as “ shameful Eupatoria,” and have seen the dark ridge up which Codrington's stormers went bravely into the jaws of death, looming gauntly against the lustrous sky. I have sat on the smooth green slope whence the little obelisk of stone that guards the dust of those who fell before the Redan, looks down upon ruined Sebastopol. I have seen the
* March 8th, 1873.
vineyards of Yalta crimsoning in the early sunrise, and the ruins of bombarded Kertch lying around the base of the great ridge whence the Temple of Mithridates looks down in scorn upon the showy semi-civilisation of the Coming Race.* But the Caucasus is still untrodden ground, and well worthy of being reserved to the last. There is an air of enchantment about the whole panorama-something which is neither Europe nor Asia, neither civilization nor barbarism, but a mingling of all together—such a mixture as I used to see on the towns of the Suez Canal, where Albert biscuits were sold side by side with the baked meats of Pharaoh, and half-naked dervishes mumbled their prayers under the shadow of the telegraph.
The very scenery is a blending of all countries and all latitudes—Swiss mountains looking down upon French vineyards—dainty little Italian towns nestling in the skirts of dark Russian moorlands—and Persian gardens springing up under the shadow of Swedish forests. Nor is the population a whit less cosmopolitan than the scenery. The sallow beetle-browed Russian, the gaunt Cossack, the bullet-headed Tartar, the keen, dark-eyed, melancholy Jew; the burly Turk, and the high-cheeked Persian ; the handsome, knavish Greek, with the intense vitality of his race betraying itself in every line of his supple frame; the brawny English sailor, looking down with a grand, indulgent contempt upon those unhappy
* The fortifications of Kertch are only effective against an attack by sea. A force landed in the rear might reduce them at once by cutting off the supply of water.
beings whom an inscrutable Providence has condemned to be foreigners; the aquiline Georgian, and the smooth, voluptuous Imeritine; and, conspicuous above all, the sleek, tiger-like beauty of the Circassian, flaunting in all his barbaric bravery.
But, picturesque as is the panorama of the coast, that of the steamer itself fully equals it. I used to think a “ pilgrim-steamer ” on its way to the ports of Central Arabia, or a Brazilian coasting-packet at the end of the cool season, the beau-ideal of a picture; but the steamers of the Black Sea may safely bear comparison with either. The fore-deck alone is a study worthy of Hogarth, in its morning aspect, when the miscellaneous hash of heads and feet begins to animate itself, like a coil of snakes at the approach of spring—when highcheeked Georgians and pudding-faced Tartars wriggle out of the heap of “yellow-haired unbelievers ”—when red-kerchiefed mothers look anxiously about for the little waddling bundles of clothes that are already thrusting their round faces and beady black eyes into every place where they ought not to go—and when brawny peasants, taking their right-hand neighbour's elbow out of their eye, and their heel out of their lefthand neighbour's stomach, make three or four rapid "prostrations ” suggestive of a drinking duck, and then fall upon their black bread and salted cucumber with a gusto which sets at nought all surrounding discomforts..
Nor is the after-deck deficient in “prominent figures.” An officer fresh from Central Asia, faultlessly courteous,