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directions for finding Mr S , which I need not
quote.) I am very glad of this satisfactory conclusion to the misunderstanding which has existed with respect to you.—I remain, with sincere esteem,
Always at your service,
A. M ."
IN THE BAZAAR.
It is high noon in Central Asia, and as hot as befits the hour and the latitude. The little mud-hovels of our village, and the low, grey, earthen wall of the fort around which it has grown up, gape with countless cracks under the blistering glare, as if opening their lips for a drink. The Commandant's thermometer (the only one within a seven days' journey) stands at 103 in the shade; it is a fortnight yesterday since I last saw a cloud, and three weeks to-morrow since I last felt a drop of rain. The fresh morning breeze has long since died away, and the still air is heavy as lead.
However, in spite of all this, the panorama is not without life and bustle. Camels and horses are passing and re-passing through the broad, dusty, sun-parched square of the bazaar; scores of "turbaned unbelievers" are screaming and gesticulating as none but the "stately Oriental" can scream and gesticulate; and I, in a wofully dingy forage-cap and the rags of a linen tunic, am standing at the entrance in fixed contemplation of the tableau.
All Eastern bazaars have a strong family likeness, from the stifling little beehives of Arabian cities to the vast, shadowy, many-pillared galleries of the Great Bazaar at Constantinople; and this little Turkestan offshoot has the generic stamp unmistakeably plain. Small and dirty as it is, there is still about it that oldworld, enchanted atmosphere, that savour of the Arabian Nights, which carries us back at once to the far-off days when any marvel seemed possible and real. Yonder, with a wicked leer in his half-shut eye, the disguised captain of the Forty Thieves is unpacking the huge oil jars in which his band lie hid. Here comes Sinbad the Sailor on his return from a long voyage, somewhat grey and weather-beaten, but hearty as ever, and bringing with him a fresh assortment of those wonderful bales of "spices and ambergris," the very mention of which seems to leave a sweetness in one's mouth. And there, with knitted brow and chopfallen air, goes the adventurous Prince Achmet, who, having lost the Winged Horse which brought him hither, is wondering how on earth he is ever to get home again.
To give a Western reader any clear idea of a genuine Asiatic bazaar is no easy matter. Most people picture to themselves a kind of cross between the Palais Royal and the Burlington Arcade, swarming with gorgeously attired Bluebeards, and displaying every variety of costly merchandise. The reality is widely different. Imagine two gigantic honeycombs of baked mud, one within the other, with an Asiatic tradesman sitting cross-legged in every cell, and a score of camels grouped in the centre—cover everything with a thick coating of dust, and diffuse throughout a smell as of a thousand stables-r-and the product shall* be the thing required,
I saunter leisurely into the bazaar with the air of a man who can afford to take his time, piloting my way dexterously between a very fractious camel which is just coming out, and a lanky, half-naked scarecrow of a Kirghiz, mounted on a hlack cow,* who is just going in. The inner ring is in full bustle, and I, mindful of the pithy Oriental proverb, that "hurry belongs to the devil," make the tour of it at an average rate of one step per minute. But my approach is not unmarked. The point at which I have entered is garrisoned chiefly by Russians, and the mere sight of a man looking their way a mile off is sufficient to stir them into instant activity; so that I have hardly time to lqak round, when I am overwhelmed by a clamour that might silence Billingsgate.
"Buy a spoon, Barin ?f Fine wooden spoons—good to eat soup on the steppe!"
"Cakes, Barin? nice wheaten cakes—one bite last you a whole day!"
"That's very likely," answer I, looking significantly at the filthy paste; whereat a loud laugh circles through the group—for in this primitive region a little wit goes a long way.
"Hold your noise, you fools!" says a portly old grey
* In Central Asia, cattle are used for riding almost as frequently as in Africa. t Master.
beard, whom, by his solemn and venerable appearance, I rightly judge to be the greatest rogue of the lot. "The Barin doesn't want any of your rubbish; he's looking out for a good strong bag to put his provisions in—like this!" And he brandishes triumphantly a nondescript-looking thing like a burst pair of bellows.
"How much for the bag?" ask I.
"Ten roubles (about 30s.) to you, Barin; to any one else. I'd say twelve."
"You old heathen! ten roubles for a thing that's not worth two! Are you mad, or have you not slept off your last night's drink yet?" And I turn as if to go away.
"Barin, Barin! don't be in such a hurry! One might think I wanted to cheat you!! Let us say eight roubles, then—and that'll be a dead loss, so help me Heaven!"
"Ah, you rascal! don't I know, that, whatever I give you, you'll make at least fifty per cent, profit?"
"What's to be done, Barin? you wouldn't grudge a poor trader a rouble or two, surely? You are rich, and can spend as you please; but we poor fellows must take what we can get."
"And you do take it!" answer I, with an emphasis which makes the audience chuckle again. "Come, four roubles—that's my last word."
The Russian groans deeply, and, with the air of a good man submitting bravely to some monstrous injustice, hands me over for four roubles an article not worth three. I sling the bag over my shoulder, and pass on, while the bearded faces behind me twinkle into a quiet grin.