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to the mouth of the Attreck) in the end of March, before the great heat had begun, though even then it was quite hot enough in the middle of the day, I can promise you. At first we headed almost due north, turning gradually east as we advanced. The Turkomans had two tries at us with their favourite trick of a night surprise, but they didn't catch us napping; we gave them a good thrashing, and only had one man hurt each time. Just at the first we were all in good spirits enough; for with only five hundred and fifty-one miles of ground to cover, and every one telling us that there was plenty of water in the wells, we hoped to be at Khiva before any of the other columns, except, perhaps, the Kazalinsk. As for Markozoff himself, of course he was doubly anxious to do the thing well after his breakdown on the very same route last November, when the Turkomans cut off his camel-train. Everything went well enough till we struck the ancient channel of the Oxus ;* but then our troubles began in earnest."
"No water in it now, of course?" interrupt I.
"A very little here and there; but every drop bitter and undrinkable. Well, as I was saying, we began at once to get into difficulties. All along the channel the sand lay deep, and that, too, not level, but all up and down like hills, so that the labour of marching became something frightful; and when the wind blew, the whole air was just one whirl of hot, prickly dust, that
* With the other theories respecting this famous channel I shall deal later on.
got into your eyes, and nose, and mouth, and the very pores of your skin. Even the little water that we found was bad and hardly fit to drink; and more than once, when our men came up to a pool half-mad with thirst, they found it salt!
"As to the heat, there's no describing it—it was as if earth and sky were all red-hot together, and the night was almost as bad as the day. It was different from anything I had felt before—a sort of thick, stifling closeness, more like the heat of a stuffy room than that of the open air. The horses began to drop almost immediately, and the camels soon followed; so that even before we got to Igdieh, a good part of our men were dismounted, and tramping on foot as best they might.
"At Igdieh, (as, I daresay, you've heard) we gave the Turkomans another thrashing, and took a number of sheep and camels; but that came too late to do us any good. For now the heat which had struck down the horses and camels began to tell upon the men likewise, and they kept dropping right and left as if mown down by shot. It's true that (so far as I recollect) only three died outright, but the rest were good for nothing; and then we had to be always sending out parties to bring them in, which, of course, broke up the column a good deal. To do our fellows justice, they stood out as well as mortal man could do; but it got beyond any endurance at last. Some of them took to ways of quenching their thirst such as one only reads of in shipwrecks; and I myself missed my brandy-flask one day, and had it handed to me at
the next halt, empty, by a great raw-boned Cossack, who looked rather shamefaced over it—' If your honour were to shoot me,' said he, 'I must have drunk it; but (with a kind of groan) it's done me no good!'
"I can't remember when the idea first began to get about that we should have to turn back; indeed, it was less that any one man said so, than that the same thought crept into everybody's mind by degrees. It was not till we got to Orta-Kuyu, however, (the cavalry being then about a day's march ahead) that Markozoff summoned the council of war which decided everything. It was agreed that we could not reach Khiva on our own resources, and that no help was to be looked for from the other columns, while, again, it would be impossible to await fresh supplies from Krasnovodsk; so the word was given to turn back. It was time. Of the four thousand camels with which we had started, barely eight hundred were left. Three-fourths of the horses had died, and those which survived could hardly put one foot before the other. Nearly fifty per cent, of our eighteen hundred men were unfit for duty; and, with all this, we had hardly gone two-thirds of the way. The last day before we turned (April 21, O.S.) the thermometer stood at 149 degrees Fahrenheit; and I can't think, even now, how any of us got off."
"And, after all this, you mean to try it again?" ask I, looking at him with involuntary admiration.
"To be sure," answers he lightly. "I'm off for Tashkent to-night, and from Tashkent I hope to get on to Khiva by Samarcand and Kette-Kurgan. I'm only sorry you can't come with me—it would be grand fun!"
"So am I—very sorry; but at all events, we must have a farewell dinner together, for the sake of old times. We'll drink the health of all your friends in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and you can tell them of it when you get home."
Three hours later, a battered waggon, with three rough-looking horses, and a gaunt, brigand-like Kirghiz driver, clatters up to the door; and my friend, with a hearty shake of the hand, vanishes once more into the eternal desert.
"I'm sorry to leave you in this scrape," are his last words; "but don't be cast down about it. If I can possibly do anything for you at Tashkent, you may rely upon its being done."
How that pledge was redeemed, will be seen hereafter.
"WELL, is there any news yet?" ask I, putting my head into the long, low-roofed hall in which my friend the Governor and his subs, are busy with their official duties, about ten o'clock on a fine July morning.
The term prescribed for the arrival from Tashkent of the answer to my petition has already expired, and for the last three days I have daily looked in with the same question, and received the same negative answer. But to-day the first glance shows me that something is afoot far more important than the imprisonment of a stray traveller. The six broad sallow faces, usually expressionless as the gargoyles of a cathedral, wear the peculiar " what-do-you-think " look of one who has just heard a great piece of news, and feels himself master of the situation pro tem.; while even the iron mask of my head gaoler gives passage to a momentary gleam of excitement.
"Yes, there is news—news of the right sort! We've got the place at last, and the dogs are paid as they deserve. Look here—look for yourself!"
And he hands me across the table, with the eagerness of a young author exhibiting his first proof-sheet,