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it ?” Meanwhile Mourad, who is quite at home in these living jungles, slips through the mass like a lizard, looking back every now and then, with the calm contempt of superior science, upon our fruitless attempts to keep up with him.
But after a time we begin to get used to the turmoil, and are able to form some idea of the bazaar. As among the Russians (who, indeed, probably borrowed the fashion from the East) the place is portioned off according to the different trades, each craft having a street of its own—the tailors' row, the fruiterers' row, the hardware row, the silk row, and so on. In the facial panorama of the tradesmen there is not much variety, the native element being here paramount—for the Russians, as a rule, confine themselves to the smaller markets in their own quarter of the town. Here and there, indeed, one may espy the long, narrow visage and high cheek-bones of the Persian, or the handsome, scornful, aquiline face of the Bokhariote, or the keen black eyes of the Jew gleaming under his high square cap; but the predominating feature is the heavy, bloated, sensual mask of the Sart. Looking at the endless line of lumpish, expressionless faces, and fabby, nerveless limbs, one begins to understand how so many thousands of them have been put to fight, once and again, by a handful of Russian grenadiers. Of them, as of all like them, Herodotus' bitter definition still holds good, “Many persons, but few men.” If such creatures are a fair specimen of Central Asia, it is full time for her to be purged by foreign invasion.
But, despite all drawbacks, the interior of the bazaar is a wonderful picture. Thanks to the roof of light matting, every avenue of the great catacomb is flooded with a rich summer gloom of shaded sunlight, lending a new picturesqueness to the motley swarm below. Nor is the merchandise itself by any means to be despised. The carved pipe-heads, the glittering em. broidery, the curiously worked slippers, the silvermounted pistols and damascened yataghans,—above all, the magnificent collection of native silks—might have tempted Elwes himself to extravagance; and notwithstanding Albert Smith's warning that “you can buy nothing abroad which you will not get cheaper in London,” I make a bid for two silk scarfs of Bokharian manufacture, Mr Dilke immediately following my example. Thereupon the true believers (who have already begun to take considerable interest in our proceedings) surround us in a body, and criticise, with remarkable freedom, our intended purchase and general appearance, ceasing only when the bargain is concluded.
Now, whether our morning's work has really given us an appetite, or whether the Duke of Burgundy was right in asserting that “Never was Englishman who loved a dry-lipped bargain," certain it is, that at this stage of our proceedings we begin to feel startlingly hungry, and to look keenly about for some kind of provender. A few years ago, the bare idea of the food to be met with in an Eastern bazaar would probably have sent us both into hysterics ; but travel is a
wonderful teacher, and in our present state we are ready for anything.
Nor have we far to look. Barely ten yards off, a thick onion-scented steam marks the whereabouts of a “cook-shop," a dingy little nook, very much like the bottom of a burnt-out stove, the only habitable part being the farther corner, where a sheet of grey felt masks the black shining greasiness of the floor. Upon this extempore carpet we squat ourselves, under the eyes of a wondering crowd (the shop being completely open, and not more than six feet square), while the proprietor, recovering from his first stupefaction, timidly offers us a brace of hot pies which he has just fished up from a kind of miniature coal-hole in the pavement, and then retires precipitately, as if apprehensive of the possible consequences to himself. Hardened as we are, we look doubtfully first at the viands, and then at one another.
“Well, I'll risk it !” says my comrade valiantly ; “it can't be worse than some of the things I used to get in that Chinese restaurant at Kouldja ; and after all this crush, I need something to stuff me out—I'm as flat as a fashionable novel.”
“Or the Yankee officer when the rock fell upon him," suggest I. “You remember, ‘Underneath the mighty stone, when they lifted it, lay a kind of human pancake, not more than two inches thick at any part. It was. I. They raised me upon a shovel, and bore me slowly and mournfully away.'”
With the last word, down goes my pie,—a little tennis-ball of chopped meat and onions, lacquered with a thin paste. The result is satisfactory; and, to the unspeakable delight of the gazing crowd, we immediately order a whole dish. The proprietor briskly produces ten more pies on a tray, with a bowl of vinegar to dip them in, and a couple of sharp wooden toothpicks to harpoon them withal; and we fall to in earnest.
Meanwhile the mob outside continues to increase, attracted first by the novel spectacle of two Giaours eating native food with unmistakeable relish, and next by the astounding appetite which we display. Just as we are finishing the first batch, my henchman Mourad, who has been out of sight altogether for the last halfhour, suddenly turns up in the thickest of the press, and, catching sight of us, begins to enliven the public with a full detail of who and what we are (doubtless with some embellishment of his own), which is listened to with marked interest. But when, having despatched our first relay of pies, we order a second, and finally a third, the popular enthusiasm rises to a height; and I begin to fear that, in gratitude for our liberal encouragement of Asiatic commerce, we shall be carried round the bazaar in triumph, or stuck up on a cart, and done sacrifice to, “as the manner of the Scythians is.”
And certainly, if we wanted originality, we have got it; for, in any part of the world, I have seldom made a stranger meal. The heart of an Asiatic desert, four thousand miles from England; a town which (if report may be trusted) only one other Englishman has reached since the Russians first occupied it ; food such as the piemen of Bagdad sold in the days of "the good Haroun Alraschid ;” a swarm of goblin figures in quaint Oriental garb, and not a European face within an hour's march of us.
Dinner being over, the next thing is to pay our bill, which, for the thirty-two pies and their concomitant seasoning, is thirty kopecks, or about ten pence English.
“Well, I'll tell you what,” says my companion, with the air of a discoverer, “we'll just dine à la Sart so long as we're in Tashkent. They may say what they like about the Officers' Club, but this is quite good enough for me.”
“And for me too."
Having thus decided, we regain our drosky (which, by some miracle, has kept within hail all the time), and turn our faces homeward once more.