Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

two splendid melons which have survived, as if by miracle, the crushing exactness of our stowage—and, half an hour later, are drinking tea on a scale that might have moved the envy of Dr Johnson. It is hardly credible what an amount of fluid one can absorb in these regions, without inconvenience or even satiety. I have seen a man drink twenty-three tumblers of tea at a sitting, with no apparent effect beyond that of making him look supremely happy. I have seen another man empty two tea-urns in succession (with very slight assistance from me), and then eat a large amount of fruit by way of qualifier; and I could quote from the history of the Khiva Expedition feats more extraordinary still.

Tea being over, and Mourad having, as usual, gone fast asleep, despite the countless flies which blacken his upturned face, we scramble up the huge posts which fence the gate of the big, dusty yard, and, seating ourselves upon their rounded tops, begin to converse.

“ See how the fellows yonder are staring !” says my comrade; "they'll be worshipping us for saints, if I don't light a cigar to destroy the illusion. It's a pity you don't smoke, for then the picture would be complete

—two‘salvage men’ fumant upon a gate argent, with the motto, ‘In Nubibus !

“And a greater pity I don't drink, according to the Russians; but I should hardly stand this work so well if I did."

“Likely enough. I say, wouldn't it be a joke to go right across to India, now that we are here? Fancy

what a reception we should get at Peshawur! and it can't be such a tremendous way from Samarcand.”

“About four hundred and sixty miles, I believe, as the crow flies; but skirting the Hindoo Koosh, as we should have to do, would make it at least six hundred.”

"Well, that's nothing out of the way, provided the country's anything like decent. Just fish out your map, and see what the Russians make of that terrible * Pamir Steppe,' which our geographers praise and magnify for ever?”

“Well, they don't seem to make much of it—it's just marked as a little table-land among the spurs of the Bolor-Dagh.”

" Just as I thought; most likely the whole route has been a good deal exaggerated, just because nobody's ever done it yet. What do you think ? shall we try it?”

“I'd try it in a minute, if this money in my belt were my own instead of the Daily Telegraph's; but I'll do it later on, or I'll know the reason why."

And, before long, I hope to have a chance of keeping my word.

Later on, we have a bathe in a neighbouring stream -in this abounding region there is always a stream within reach—followed by a fresh brew of tea ; and by nine o'clock we are on our way once more, through a half-seen chaos of dark ridges and shadowy thickets, with the hoarse rush of an unseen river coming up to us ever and anon through the darkness.

“ No sleeping, mind—or off we roll, as sure as a gün!”

“We'll see about that when the time comes—I'm not a bit sleepy yet.”

But as midnight draws on, we find it, despite all our valorous resolutions, very hard to keep awake. Once I fairly doze off, and, losing my balance, am only saved by my companion's strong hand from an ugly fall ; while my Tartar, contriving in some wonderful way to sit on two square inches of plank and hold on to nothing, is sleeping as if at the Opera. In a state of semi-consciousness, we go jolting and creaking along, till, between one and two in the morning, we become dimly aware of lights springing up on either side of us, and long, low, black masses looming through the darkness; while, ever and anon, a stronger gleam flashes upon little hovels of dried mud, and thick bosquets of dark undergrowth, and carts drawn up in snug corners, and black tunnel-like lanes branching off into unknown space.

“ By Jove !” cries my comrade, starting erect, “it strikes me we've arrived somewhere !”

“ I'm very much of the same opinion ; and what's more, I shouldn't wonder if that somewhere should turn out to be Tchinaz!”

Tchinaz it is, sure enough ; and, ten minutes later, we jolt into the yard of the post-house, pull up beside a big creaking platform of crazy planking (the distinguishing feature of a post-house “exterior” in these parts) and drag into a dingy little room, very much like

a lock-up, our entire stock of baggage - one's only chance of preserving property in the East being to imitate the Colorado men, who “ took in their stonefences over-night.” By the light of one spectral candle, which confuses us infinitely more than utter darkness, we contrive to grope out our provisions—swallow three or four junks of bread and melon, as if we had eaten nothing for a week—and then, throwing our plaids on the floor, and ourselves upon them, are asleep almost before we can say Good-night.

“ Time to get up!”.

“Hang it all, why did you wake me? I was dreaming that I'd got across to Peshawur, and they were just going to give me some iced claret-cup !”

"Have some tea to make up for it, then. It's getting on for six, and the old fellow ought to be up by this time ; I'll just go and order a samovar.”

Breakfast over, we stroll out to look about us, leaving orders to Mourad to follow us with the cart and baggage down to the ferry; for this is the famous “ crossing” of the Syr-Daria, and, according to Tashkent authorities, its highest navigable point. The great river lies before us in all the freshness, and brightness, and beauty, of a clear autumn morning, On the farther side, beyond the forest of reeds fringing the shore, stretches the grey, lifeless, eternal desolation of the “hungry steppe ;" on the nearer bank, just above where we stand, are gaunt walls rising amid heaps of ruins, and masses of crumbling earth, and

roofless hovels gaping shell-like, and all the dismal relics of what was once Tchinaz.

“Multiply this by a thousand, and you have just what I saw at Novaya Kouldja,” says Mr Dilke, as we halt to look around us. “It's the most utter smash you can imagine, ever since the Dungans made their sweep. If Russia's going to patch all this together again, she'll have enough to do.”

But, true to Asiatic instincts, there still survives amid the universal ruin a tiny bazaar (composed of about a dozen little shanties of reed and sapling) in which we buy two of the finest melons I ever saw for about twopence each, and add them to our stores in the cart, which comes jolting up at this moment, with Mourad perched on it in triumph. At the same moment, three or four long, wiry, cut-throat looking fellows, with the piercing black eyes of the genuine Turkoman, jump up out of a huge clumsy barge that is lying alongside the bank, and run to assist in unyoking our horses. The cart is dragged on board after them, and we swing slowly out into the stream.

Of all our Asiatic panoramas, this is perhaps the ·most characteristic. The huge ungainly raft, such as those on which the spearmen of Genghis and Octai crossed this same river six hundred years ago ; the gaunt, wild-eyed, half-naked boatmen, unchanged in every feature since the days of Timour, bending to their oars, with the toughened sinews starting like cords under their brown, leathery skin; the great waste of dull grey water, flanked by the ruined village

« AnteriorContinuar »