Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

looks wistfully up in his friend's face for a moment, and then apparently re-assured, wags his tail and sets off home again as swiftly as he came.

The sun is already setting, when the grey walls of Djizak rise before us like a brooding mist, and the purple ridges of the Sanzar-Tau begin to marshal themselves along the sky. And here again, as at Tchinaz (though on a much larger scale) we are struck with the aspect of utter ruin and desolation which seems to haunt this whole region like an evil spirit. Street after street of tumble-down mud houses, gapped, roofless, falling to pieces, stretches on every side under the gathering dimness of the twilight; while, ghostlier than all, the huge crumbling wall of the citadel looks mournfully down at us through the deepening gloom, like the grave of the old Tartar dominion.

“It's a pity some one can't photograph this, and exhibit it in England,” remarks Mr Dilke ; “it would save the next traveller in these parts an immense deal of repetition. All these towns are exactly alike, and all the people in them are exactly alike too. You should just see some of the places I came across on the Chinese frontiergreat lumping clay walls thirty miles round, with corn fields, and plantations, and all sorts of things inside. Whenever there's a war out there, the people just shut themselves up in these places, and begin raising corn, and hold out as long as it lasts. Then the first year there's a bad harvest, they run short, and have to surrender.”

Mingling with the last word comes a tremendous crash ; the cart goes over on one side ; I ram my head with surgical accuracy into the pit of my companion's stomach, and Mourad and the driver come to the ground in a kind of composite ball, while the horses, kicking and plunging like fiends incarnate, raise a cloud of dust which, for the moment, blots out everything.

“What's the matter, Mourad ?”.
“Only a wheel off, master."
“Oh, is that all? All right.”

The damage is quickly repaired by a “make-shift,” sufficient to carry us as far as the big courtyard, or rather paddock, in which stands our post-house. And here, before entering upon our night journey through the hills, we refresh ourselves as usual with an unlimited “brew” of tea, sitting under the trees upon a long wooden divan which the postmaster has obligingly placed there. 1

“Fancy a commons of bread and butter on each side of the table,” suggest I; "and a wine going on next door, and this the night before an exam.”

“So it is, I expect, for we shall have to show up at the bureau of police when we get to Samarcand tomorrow, to say nothing of Abrâmoff afterwards. However, with the wonderful way in which you, and I, and the two Yankees have got blurred up together in the official mind, any attempt to identify us will be like tracing a cuttle fish!”

“Rather-especially as the general belief is that I never got into Central Asia at all, but was sent back from Tiflis. In fact, with their uncertainty as to whether it was I who went through the Caucasus to Persia, or the American Secretary who rode across the desert to meet Kaufmann, or Lord Granville who was imprisoned at Kazalinsk, or you who wrote for the Daily News from Tiflis, it's my opinion that the Governor and his staff will all go mad as soon as they have an hour to

spare.”

“Or despair of keeping the country closed any longer, and throw it open to the world. After all, we may be said to represent England as far as the two 'Varsities go—you for Oxford, and I for Cambridge.”

“At all events, we are probably the first 'Varsity men who have got here."

" I suppose so—except, indeed, H— , the man I mentioned the other day at Tashkent."

“By-the-by, what was the story about him? He did get as far as Tashkent, did'nt he ?

“ Indeed he did, went from Orenburg with an officer (just the way you wanted to do), so that he didn't need to show his passport till he got to Tashkent; but at Tashkent Kaufmann spotted him, and told him he must go back at once. So then H— just took a drosky, and drove round the town as hard as he could tear, to see as much of it as possible; and when he got back he found his travelling-pass waiting for him, and the cart at the door.”

“And when did all this happen?”
“The year before last, if I recollect right.”

“Well, I have the pull of him in one way, seeing I've got to Samarcand; but, on the other hand, he was spared my seven weeks' imprisonment, which was not exactly the pleasantest thing in the world.”

“And you've got little enough thanks for it, either, if all I hear be true.”

“Bah! what of that? When I go back and tell my own story fairly, I'll answer for it they'll believe me. A man who has been pilloried in his absence can always count upon a fair hearing in England, if he only chooses to ask for it. I shall just write the whole story exactly as it happened, and then let them judge for themselves.”

“Taking as a motto, ‘Such is the lot of heroes upon earth.'”

“No, I've got a better one than that : 'I awoke one morning, and found myself infamous !””

“Hear, hear!”

The moon is just rising behind the slopes of the Sanzar-Tau as we start again, over a road which seems to be the chosen playground of a whole school of young rivers, each with its own deep, narrow bed, and its own outlying sheet of gravel. Jolting, crunching, bumping, splashing, on we go—the low hills on either side rolling up, as we advance, to a height which, compared with the dead level over which we have been creeping all day, appears gigantic—till at length they culminate in the famous gorge which has been so aptly named “The Gate of Tamerlane ” (Tamerlânoviya Vorotá).

It is the misfortune of this splendid pass, that no photographer has yet succeeded in giving both sides of it at once. The current illustrations do full justice to the grandeur of the right or left-hand cliff, but the general effect is wholly lost in them. As we now see it, however, under the glory of the full moon, with all its grand details visible at once, it forms a matchless picture. Vast, solid, massive, as the wall of a fortress, the great cliffs tower up on either side, like the twin giants who guarded the Valley of the Shadow of Death; and between them the road runs deep and narrow, and the streams which cross it sparkle like silver in the moonlight, and over all broods a grand, solemn silence, like the hush that fills the interior of some great cathedral.

From Djizak right onward to Samarcand, we are in the region of wood and water once more; and the night-panorama (could we but stay awake to look at it) is one of perpetual vegetation, well watered and cultivated. But the Gate of Tamerlane is barely past, when we both fall into a sound sleep, from which we are only roused at length by a tremendous hallooing, to find ourselves lying “promiscuous,” and Mourad's dark face peer, ing down at us by the light of a lantern.

“What's the matter now?”. "A wheel broken again.”

“And what do you mean by disturbing us for a trifle like that, you fool ? Fix it up again, and go on as soon as it's ready.”

The abashed Tartar obeys in silence, and we go to sleep again almost before his back is turned—so soundly, indeed, as to be wholly unconscious of another break

« AnteriorContinuar »