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suffice to establish my foreign nationality. And now, having done all I can for myself, I hasten to thank my friend the Governor, and to bid him good night.
"Don't be cast down about it," are his last words. "They're pretty sure to let you through; and, at all events, any evening when you have nothing better to do, come and take a glass of tea with me."
"It's not foreigners in general that you hate then— only Englishmen," suggest I laughing.
"Well," answers the veteran, unconsciously uttering the opinion of every military man in Central Asia: "you see, we've got too close now to be very good friends. Men can be friendly enough when there's a good distance between 'em; but when they come to touch elbows, they're apt to jostle each other. When we occupy Bokhara (which will be the next thing after Khiva, of course), we shall come to blows with England at once ; and the sooner the better."
Over his weather-beaten face, as he utters the last words, breaks the same light of grim gladness which may have shone there years ago, when he looked the English in the face, under the death-mist of the fatal 5th of November; and I see, for the hundredth time, the undercurrent of deep hatred that boils up against us below the smooth surface of diplomatic courtesy which deludes Western Europe.
As I step forth into the open air, the sky is clear, and the air cool; but far away upon the horizon hovers a long low cloud, sullenly biding its time. In that sky is the future of Central Asia.
On the following day, I migrate from the post-house to "MorozofFs," the sole approach to an inn which the town possesses, and am duly installed in the little whitewashed cell which my Tartar and I are fated to inhabit for seven weary weeks to come. The shock-headed servant who shows me in, after expatiating upon the beauties of the furniture (a rickety deal table and chair, with two huge, black, sarcophagus-like divans), points triumphantly to a long, low, bare-looking room just opposite mine.
"That," says he, with the air of an astronomer pointing out a new planet, "that's the very room in which our prisoners had their first dinner when they came from Khiva—the whole one-and-twenty of them."
"Were you there then ?" ask I.
"Was I there? Why, I myself, with my own hands, brought in the dishes, and had a talk with them all into the bargain—upon my oath I did!"
"Indeed ? you must tell me about that to-night."
And he did so; but as some of the details did not reach me till many days later, I had better give the story in my own words.
THE RETURN OF THE RUSSIAN PRISONERS FROM KHIVA.
It is the morning of the ist April 1873, and the little town of Kazalinsk is all in a ferment, from the three little windmills that face the northern desert to the low wall of baked clay, over which the eight guns of Fort No. 1 look down upon the Syr-Daria. Stout men in huge turbans whisper together amid the booths of the bazaar; gaunt men in white tunics catch each other by the arm upon the path beside the river. Officers, strolling about with linen scarfs wound round their forage-caps, salute each other with a knowing air; and flat-faced women, turbaned with scarlet handkerchiefs, chatter volubly in the doorways of the little mud hovels which they are pleased to call houses. Evidently some great event is at hand, the nature of which may be guessed from the conversation of this knot of big, bearded, sallow-faced Russian traders, who are grouped round their little tea-urn, under the canvas awning of one of those heterogeneous shops common in Russian outposts, where one may buy anything from a sceptre to a saucepan.
"I tell you, brothers, it's as true as the Scriptures. Ivan Feodorovitch came in just now from the bureau, and told me that they're only a day's journey off with their escort; and that the commandant's going to send half a squadron to meet 'em."
"There's a Khan for you! there's a brave fellow!" cries his vis-a-vis, with righteous indignation. "So long as he's in fair weather, he robs, and murders, and kidnaps the orthodox,* and serves the devil in every way; but once the bayonets come near his beard, and he finds himself in trouble, he sends back our brethren, and crouches down like a whipped dog."
"Well, what would you have? he's only a heathen, you know. You can't expect a heathen to be as brave as a Christian."
"Gently there, brother," strikes in the third, a portly old greybeard, who, having once been actually as far as Moscow, is the oracle of his untravelled brethren. "There are brave fellows among the unbelievers, say what you will. It's not every one of the orthodox, I can tell you, who could have done such deeds as the English sorcerer, Dr Davidovitch Livenshtonn."
"And who was he t" ask the other two in a breath.
"Eh! have you had your ears stuffed with glue, never to have heard of him! He was a great sorcerer, who turned himself into a lion, and in that shape went all over the deserts of Africa, beyond thrice nine lands" (the Russian phrase for extreme distance), " and fought with another lion and beat him, but got his own arm broken in the fight (for you see the devil helped him, being an Englishman). But at last the black sorcerers, * The common name for the Russians among themselves.
whose magic was stronger than his, came upon him and took him prisoner, and carried him away where Makar never drove his cattle. So then, Victoria Ivanovna, the Empress of England, sent out a huge army to rescue him, under a great general named Count Stenli; and this Stenli had a magic flag (I've seen a picture of it in Moscow, all over stripes) which, when he waved it, struck all the black men powerless, like one benumbed with frost; and so the sorcerer-Doctor was saved."
"Gospodi pomilui!" (Lord have mercy) chorus the two hearers in amazement; and the narrator drains his glass with a complacent air. But a sudden trampling of horses breaks the spell.
"There go the Cossacks!" cries number one; and, sure enough, at the end of the street (if this broad dusty ditch, lined with little burrows of baked mud, can be so called) appear a long file of gaunt, sinewy, brigand-like men, whose bronzed faces look doubly dark between the linen cap and white tunic—each with his carabine slung over his shoulder, and his sabre clinking at his side. These are the famous Cossacks of the Ural, hardy and untiring as the men they are sent to hunt down—enduring heat and cold with equal indifference, and deeming it the height of happiness to lie in the shade and get drunk. Away they go, the shadows of man and horse standing out sharp as a photograph in the blinding glare—till, little by little, they melt into the vast stretch of pale dusty green that lies between the shining river and the dull brassy yellow of the everlasting desert, and are seen no more.