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steppes, I have never yet seen. As they were in the days of Abraham, so they are now—fruitless, useless, lifeless, unredeemed, and unredeemable. And, altogether, it is not too much to assert that the aspect of this region is without a parallel in the world. The sea is of one colour, but it has boundless life and motion. The prairie, though lacking life and motion, makes full atonement by the rich colouring of its splendid vegetation. The very deserts of Arabia draw a weird animation from the Walpurgis-dance of their whirling sands. But Iicre all these are wholly wanting. The "bad steppe" has no dimpling surface, no varied colouring, no stately trees, no fresh herbage, only a grey unending level, the fit incarnation of nature in her sternest mood, vast, soul-less, conscienceless, destroying—a colossal vis inertia, against whose tremendous passivity all the energies of man are as nothing.
For the first hour, however, I get on well enough. Though every stride carries me farther from the river, there is still a breath of the fresh breeze which blows over it during the morning hours; but the ground underfoot is as hot as the sky overhead, and an immense, dreary silence broods over everything like a pall. Miles away upon the endless level, on the farther side of the Syr-Daria, I can descry the low grey mound, not much bigger than a good-sized English hedge, which marks the caravan ferry of Kara-Toubeh. Were an untravelled English or American reader suddenly put down beside me, he might be rather startled to learn that he is actually upon the great highway of Central Asia, the post-road from Orenburg to Tashkent. Yet such is indeed the case. This half-effaced wheel-track over the clay, which only the little mounds of earth planted at intervals on either side keep one from losing altogether, is the main line of communication between European and Asiatic Russia, and a fit emblem of the hopeful state of Eastern civilisation.
But as time wears on, the work begins to tell. The heat is not unusually great for Turkestan (112 deg. Fahrenheit); but those who have tried it can bear witness that, in these regions, no man can long do his five miles an hour with impunity. Half way through the second hour my actual pace is almost as good as ever; but an experienced eye would note that the elastic spring of my first start is now replaced by that dogged, "hard-and-heavy" tramp which marks the point where the flesh and the spirit begin to pull in opposite directions. Bare and dusty and immeasurable, the great waste lengthens out before me; and still no sign of the river. It needs all my Anglo-Saxon obstinacy to keep me from halting outright; but on I go, with teeth set and fists dug into my ribs, just as, fourteen years ago, I ran the last mile of the Crick Run at Rugby.
Suddenly a black spot arises far away out on the plain, broadens, deepens, approaches rapidly, and shapes itself at length into a camel with a Kirghiz rider, the beast coming steadily on with that long, lazy, noiseless stride which covers more ground than the staunchest horse, the rider's lean, brown, half-naked figure glistening in the sun like a bronze statue, and his shaven skull fenced by an astounding headgear, very much like a half-open umbrella thrust through a doormat. He surveys me in passing with that look of quiet amazement, slightly tinged with contempt, wherewith a Swiss guide contemplates the freaks of a mountaineering Englishman; but I retort his astonishment with a stare of defiance, and tramp steadily on. Hurrah! there at last is a shining streak breaking the endless plain, which grows broader, and brighter, and nearer with every stride, till at length, tearing my way through the encircling belt of prickly undergrowth, I come out upon the bank; and, flinging off my clothes, plunge rejoicingly into the cool, soft, delicious water, with the same delight wherewith I swam across the Irgiz in the hottest part of the Kara-Koum Desert.
Were I near home, I would gladly lie floating for another hour; but the eight miles of scorching steppe which lie between me and my quarters have still to be thought off. There is nothing for it but to harden my heart, and set to.
But by this time the fresh morning breeze has long since died away, and the sun is now smiting its fiercest. After an hour's marching, the bristly thicket that girdles the bank seems almost as near as when I started ; while the three little wind-mills which cut the sky-line above the still unseen village, look terribly distant. And now I begin to suffer in earnest; for the bath which has cooled my skin has in no way quenched my thirst, the drinking of the Syr-Daria water au naturel being a feat not to be ventured upon by any but a Kirghiz digestion. So on I go, with bleeding lips, and feet raw from toe to heel, and eyes that ache with a dull unceasing pain, and a furred leathery tongue that seems too big for my mouth—but still sticking to my work with the bull-dog instinct of the Anglo-Saxon.
I am still a good mile from home, when a buzzing in my ears, a red mist all around me, and a creeping numbness in the back of my neck, warn me that English athletics are not importable without paying duty; and when I at length reach the village, it is difficult to steer my way among the houses that keep jolting into the middle of the road, and dancing impishly up and down. Fortunately, the afternoon meal is in progress when I arrive, and a kettle of boiling soup stands on the fire, of which I have just sense enough left to order a liberal measure. I swallow it almost at a draught, and then drop all my length on a bench in the corner. For the next three hours I have more than enough to do in mopping up the mingled blood and perspiration which oozes from every part of my face; but nevertheless I have saved my scalp. That dose of hot soup has turned the scale, and by evening I am sufficiently recovered to jot down in my diary the notes from which this chronicle has been compiled.*
* It must be remembered that this march was done in a light summer dress, without weight of any kind. What, then, would it have been in heavy marching order?
THE FATE OF THE TCHIKISHLIAR COLUMN.
"Master," says my Tartar servant, entering with the steaming tea-urn, "how much longer do you think they'll keep us here? This is the sixteenth day already!"
"Can't say, my good Mourad—but if you were as much used to being imprisoned as I am, you wouldn't think sixteen days very long."
Nevertheless, Mourad is right . The official "Thus far and no farther" is always galling to the independent Anglo-Saxon; but when it comes to him at the end of a long and tedious journey, just as he is within reach of his terminus ad quern, it becomes absolutely unbearable. And such is precisely my case at present. Three hundred and seventy-seven miles to the south, the last act of the Khiva tragedy is being played out; and I, having got to the last starting-point en route for the seat of war, find myself suddenly pounced upon and detained a prisoner at large, "till the decision of the Commanderin-Chief shall be known"—which, as his Excellency's couriers arrive (when they arrive at all) about once a month, is rather a vague limit. Meanwhile, I am quartered in a long, low, one-storeyed building, with brick