« AnteriorContinuar »
"We've done it for once," says my companion, drawing a long breath, "if we never do it again." , "It is well worth the trouble," answer I.
And Mourad, secure at last of meeting his longabsent brother, -forgets his habitual stoicism, and gives a boisterous hurrah.
On we go at full speed (for it is all down hill now) over a narrow, shelving road, with an overhanging ridge on one side, and a little stream, half hidden by trees, on the other. Crunch goes one wheel against a projecting bank—thump goes the other into an overladen donkey —while our off horse makes hash of a basket of watermelons, and very nearly of the owner likewise. But who cares for accidents now? Foot-passengers begin to swarm along the road—houses look down from the top of the bank, or peer up at us through the trees below. The road broadens, the houses thicken on either hand, and suddenly we are in the midst of a roaring street, filled with the buzz, and swarm, and strangely mingled filth and finery, of an Asiatic bazaar. The street ends in a vast open space, beyond which looms the huge, grey, battered wall of the famous citadel; and we look around us, and feel that we are really in Samarcand at last.
THE "EARTHLY PARADISE."*
"VERY sorry, gentlemen—but what's to be done? You see, there's only one room for travellers, and it's taken. Perhaps you could make yourselves comfortable in this room for to-day—the other people won't be here long."
"This room," as the worthy postmaster poetically calls it, is a corner just behind the doorway, in which there is barely space enough to stow ourselves and baggage, so as to avoid being trodden upon by every one who comes in. We pile the "traps" into a sort of mound, and, seating ourselves upon it, look blankly at each other. Are we to remain sitting night and day upon our luggage, like a hen hatching eggs, till Mourad (who has gone to hunt up his brother), shall be able to find us quarters? and supposing he cannot find them, what then?
"Well," remark I at length, grasping in my bewilderment at the one idea which, in these parts, you can never go wrong in suggesting, "let's have some tea, anyhow. Hollo there! quick with the samovar!"
The samovar is soon ready, and by the time we have washed down the last of our bread and water-melon,
* The name given to Samarcand by the Persian poets.
back comes Mourad, triumphant at having "found his long-lost brother." We leave him in charge of the baggage, and go off to report ourselves to the police; after which, the next thing is to charter a drosky (for wheeled vehicles have penetrated even here, in the train of Russian conquest), and drive across the town to leave a card upon General Abrimoff.
Away we go—at first over a long stretch of bare, dusty road; then in through the city gate (our posthouse being quite in the suburbs), and under the huge wall of the citadel, thirty-six feet high, in which the great struggle of 1868 has left many a grisly scar; then on across the vast empty space that encircles it, ploughing our way through a clamorous throng of turbaned costermongers—till at length we plunge into an endless cobweb of low, round-shouldered, clay houses, between which there is at times barely room for us to pass.
It must be owned that, apart from its matchless situation and glorious mosques, the actual town of Samarcand is anything but ornamental. A walk or drive through it gives you the exact impression (unromantic as it may sound), of a countless number of disused brick-kilns; and it certainly requires all the profusion of colouring thrown into the picture by the gay dresses of the native population, to relieve the dull, muddy, unchanging greyness of the houses.
To-day, however, the grand old city looks its best. It is a bright, clear morning—tolerably cool for the season and latitude—and every one is abroad. The streets are one whirl of blue robes and crimson girdles, yellow scarfs, and embroidered caftans, long veils, and white turbans, and black sheepskin caps; while ever and anon a line of white-frocked soldiers come by with measured tramp, or a mounted officer, with his silver buttons glittering in the sun, dashes past amid a whirling cloud of dust—the pavement of Samarcand being a thing of the remote future.
Fallen as it is from its former high estate, the city of Timour still ranks high among the commercial centres of the East. Merchants come to it from distant countries, and among the motley throng in its marketplace you may notice at times the slim, graceful, highbred Arab, or the pliant limbs and smooth obsequious face of the Bengalee. European goods of every kind are largely imported, and skins, knives, carpets, silks, embroidered saddles, &c, exported in vast quantities. The city itself is surrounded by a massive wall, containing six fine gateways, and enclosing an enormous space of ground. With respect to the population, I am inclined to regard the official estimate of thirty thousand inhabitants, made at the time of its capture in 1868, as an under-statement; but it is always difficult to ascertain the population of an Asiatic city (especially one so fluctuating as Samarcand), with any accuracy.
And now we leave the streets behind, and turn into a deep, sandy, moat-like road, shut in by those high, blank walls of baked clay, which, with the green boughs that cluster above them, form the leading feature in the environs of these "garden-cities." Dropping my