Imagens das páginas

a shrill cry—while, all around, the great billows of wooded mountain roll up, ridge beyond ridge, like all the waves of the Deluge frozen into forests. Far below, the thin grey streak of the railroad outlines itself amid the sombre green of the hills; and here and there a swarm of human ants may be seen creeping among the débris of the great earth-slide, like the gnomes of Swartheim "toiling in the secret places of the earth.” As we mount higher, the chill mountain blasts make themselves felt in earnest; and when at length, on the crest of the highest ridge, we reach the toll-bar which divides the Government of Kutais from that of Tiflis, there is not one of us who does not gladly avail himself of the wrappings which he laughed to scorn in the sunny valley below. But, once past the summit, we rattle down in gallant style into the quaint little village of Suram, and hasten to seat ourselves over the steaming soup which awaits us in the impromptu refreshment room.

One by one, the other cars trickle in; but night has already begun to fall before the train is ready to start. And after that, all is one dim phantasmagoria of dark mountains, and glimmering rivers, and black wastes of moorland, and stations flashing out for a moment in sudden lamplight—till at length, just about midnight, I find myself jolting through the flaring streets of a great town, and fall asleep an hour later with the comfortable consciousness that I am actually in Tiflis at last.



THERE are places which every one can imagine, but no one describe; and Tiflis is one of them. The monotonous sameness of eastern cities, or the monotonous variety of western ones, is easily sketched; but the mixture of the two at their point of intersection defies all powers of language. How are you to believe in modern times among men who gravely show you the rock on which Prometheus was bound, and the stone to which Jason moored the Argo,* or exhibit genealogies tracing their lineal descent from Solomon? How are you to revive the classic age among French bonnets, and cotelettes à la financière, and copies of Punch or L'Illustration ? Five minutes' walk carries you from the nineteenth century to the fourteenth—from the Russian quarter, with its lamp-lit streets and brand-new brick houses (whose staring red and white surface gives them the look of having just been flayed alive) to the “Persian town,” where you step out of one man's door into another man's chimney, and elbow your way, along narrow lanes, reeking with filth, through crowds of veiled women and bare-legged water-carriers. In this place, as in others which I am destined to visit before my journey is over, the Past has entrenched itself against the Present, and has held its ground. The traditions of Russian clubs and of Athenian lecturerooms meet upon the same ground, and the Arabian Nights clasp hands with the Invalide Russe and the Allgemeine Zeitung:

* This actually happened to me at Kutais.

In the stillness of a quiet April evening, I climb the ridge from which the ancient Georgian fortress looks silently down upon a land whence the sceptre of Georgian royalty has long since departed. At my feet the valley of the Kur lies like a map, throwing out upon its green background, now all ablaze with the western sunlight, the serried roofs, and straight white streets, and glittering church towers, and bridges black with eddying figures, of busy, modern Tiflis. And here the contrast of Past and Present becomes overwhelming. To my right a tall factory chimney flings its smoke over the bank along which the hosts of “ David the Restorer" marched in triumph; to my left a telegraph line runs across the green table land once thronged by the chosen horsemen of Georgia. Just behind me, the fortress-rock falls away in a sheer precipice down to a black, narrow, tomb-like ravine, through which pours one of the countless streams that feed the Kur till summer comes to dry them ; while farther along, on a less precipitous part, hangs a dainty little public garden, with a pavilion in which English porter and limonade gazeuse may be bought ad libitum. And over all this strange medley of ancient and modern, tower, far away on the northern horizon, the eternal snows of the Caucasus, watching the advance of Russia as they watched the march of Xenophon and Alexander.

“It is a queer place, sure enough,” assents my host, a jolly Russian captain, when I give him my first impressions ; “ but what would you have? the country's had no time to settle since Schamyl was finished off, and everything's still topsy-turvy. It's not so many months since we had a railway at all, and now that we have one (it's always breaking down. You see, we're quite out of the world here; it takes ten days for a letter to get to Moscow, and in winter the post's often stopped altogether. We are standing among vast treasures, and can't make any use of them. Some of these Georgian princes, for example (I'll introduce you to a few of them to-morrow, and you can judge for yourself), own mines up in the hills worth millions of roubles, which yield literally nothing from the mere want of capital to work them. It would be a fine chance for the foreign capitalists, if they knew of it; but nobody in the West knows anything of what goes on here. In fact, the Caucasus is very much like Turkestan -a good bill payable at a long date.”

But, all this time, what news of the Khiva Expedition? That the Mangishlak and Tchikishliar columns have already started—that I am too late to reach Khiva in that way, I have learned before this; but beyond that, all is a blank. The knot of Tiflis Athenians who meet daily "to hear or tell some new thing” in the salle à manger of the Hotel de l'Europe know little or

nothing. The telegrams which every now and then filter through from St Petersburg are merely the thinnest gold-leaf of news skilfully beaten out, and occasionally served up in three or four different forms. Young. officers hazard vague conjectures, or make languid bets as to this or that column arriving first; and it is strange to remember now that the general favourite among the five detachments was Col. Markozoff's—the ill-fated column of Tchikishliar. Meanwhile the older militaires already begin to pooh-pooh the whole affair, and talk sneeringly of “men going a walk through the desert to pick up decorations.”

But in the utterances of the Russian official and semiofficial journals on the subject there is no lack of warmth. The conciliatory tone adopted by the St Petersburg press on the publication of Lord Granville's note respecting the line of the Oxus, is now exchanged for one of absolute defiance, significant enough to those who know the secret springs by which Russian journalism is moved. One specimen of this improved style, from the semiofficial Voice (Golos) which I translated and sent home on its first publication, is well worth re-quoting :

“The question, what is to be done with Khiva when subdued, can have but one answer.–Tributary independence, in the case of an Asiatic Khanate, means simply an unbroken series of murders, robberies, rebellions, and interruptions of traffic. As for evacuating the Khanate at the close of the campaign, it would be a virtual suicide. For those who have once advanced into Central Asia, there is no retreat. Our backs once

« AnteriorContinuar »