ROUNDABOUT TO INDIA.
Baku looks the inartistic, business-like place it is, occupying the base of brown, verdureless hills. Scarcely a green thing is visible to relieve the dull, drab aspect roundabout, and only the scant vegetation of a few gardens relieves the city a trifle itself. To the left of the city the slopes of one hill are dotted with neatly kept Christian cemeteries, and the slopes of another display the disorderly multitude of tombstones characteristic of the graveyards of Islam. On the right are seen numbers of big iron petroleum-tanks similar to those in the oil regions of Pennsylvania. Numbers of petroleum-schooners are riding at anchor in the harbor, and two or three small steamers are moored to the dock.
Our steamer moves up alongside a stout wooden wharf, the gang-plank is ran out, and the passengers permitted to file ashore. A cordon of police prevents them passing down the wharf, while custom-house officers examine their baggage. We are, of course, merely in transit through the country; more than that, the Russian authorities seem anxious, for some reason, to make a very favorable impression upon us two Central Asian travellers; so a special officer comes aboard, takes our passports, and with an excessive show of politeness refuses to take more than a mere formal glance at our traps. A horde of ragamuffin porters struggle desperately for the privilege of carrying the passengers' baggage. Poor, half-starved wretches they seem, reminding me, in their rags and struggles, of desperate curs quarrelling savagely over a bone. American porter's strive for passengers' baggage for the sake of making money; with these Russians, it seems more like a fierce resolve to obtain the wherewithal to keep away starvation. Burly policemen, armed with swords, like the gendarmerie of France, and in blue uniforms, assail the wretched porters and strike them brutally in the face, or kick them in the stomach, showing no more consideration than if they were maltreating the merest curs. Such brutality on the one hand, and abject servility and human degradation on the other is to be seen only in the land of the Czar. Servility, it is true exists everywhere in Asia, but only in Russia does one find the other extreme of coarse brutality constantly gloating over it and abusing it.
Our stay in Baku is limited to a few hours. We are to take the train for Tiflis the same afternoon, as we land at two o'clock so can spare no time to see much of the city or of the oil-refineries.
Summoning one of the swarm of drosky-drivers that beset the exit from the wharf, we are soon tearing over the Belgian blocks to the Hotel de l'Europe. The Russian drosky-driver, whether in Baku or in Moscow, seems incapable of driving at a moderate pace. Over rough streets or smooth he plies the cruel whip, shouts vile epithets at his half-wild steed, and rattles along at a furious pace.
Baku is the first Europeanized city either R------or I have been in for many months; the rows of shops, the saloons, drug-stores, barber-shops, and, above all, the hotels--how we appreciate it all after the bazaars and wretched serais of Persia!
We patronize a barber-shop, and find the tonsorial accommodations equal in every respect to those of America. One of the chairs is occupied by a Cossack officer. He is the biggest dandy in the way of a Cossack we have yet seen. Scarce had we thought it possible that one of these hardy warriors of the Caucasus could blossom forth in the make-up that bursts upon our astonished vision in this Baku barber-chair. The top-boots he wears are the shiniest of patent leather from knee to toe; lemon-colored silk or satin is the material of the long, gown-like coat that distinguishes the Cossack from all others. His hair is parted in the middle to a hair, and smoothed carefully with perfumed pomade; his mustache is twirled and waxed, his face powdered, and eyebrows pencilled. A silver-jointed belt, richly chased, encircles his waist, and the regulation row of cartridge-pockets across his breast are of the same material. He wears a short sword, the hilt and scabbard of which display the elaborate wealth of ornament affected by the Circassians. During the forenoon we take a stroll about the city afoot, but the wind is high, and clouds of dust sweep down the streets. A Persian in gown and turban steps quietly up behind us in a quiet street, and asks if we are mollahs. We know his little game, however, and gruffly order him off. The houses of Baku are mostly of rock and severely simple in architecture; they look like prisons and warehouses mostly--massive and gloomy.
Everywhere, everywhere, hovers the shadow of the police. One seems to breathe dark suspicion and mistrust in the very air. The people in the civil walks of life all look like whipped curs. They wear the expression of people brooding over some deep sorrow. The crape of dead liberty seems to be hanging on every door-knob. Nobody seems capable of smiling; one would think the shadow of some great calamity is hanging gloomily over the city. Nihilism and discontent run riot in the cities of the Caucasus; government spies and secret police are everywhere, and the people on the streets betray their knowledge of the fact by talking little and always in guarded tones.
Our stay at the hotel is but a few hours, but eleven domestics range themselves in a row to wait upon our departure and to smirk and extend their palms for tips as we prepare to go. No country under the sun save the Caucasus could thus muster eleven expectant menials on the strength of one meal served and but three hours actual occupation of our rooms.
Another wild Jehu drives us to the station of the Tiflis & Baku Railway, and he loses a wheel and upsets us into the street on the way. The station is a stone building, strong enough almost for a fort. Military uniforms adorn every employee, from the supercilious station-master to the ill-paid wretch that handles our baggage. Mine is the first bicycle the Tiflis & Baku Railroad has ever carried. Having no precedent to govern themselves by, and, withal, ever eager to fleece and overcharge, the railway officials charge double rates for it; that is, twice as much as an ordinary package of the same weight. No baggage is carried free on the Tiflis & Baku Railroad except what one takes with him in the passenger coach.
The cars are a compromise between the American style and those of England. They are divided into several compartments, but the partitions have openings that enable one to pass from end to end of the car. The doors are in the end compartments, but lead out of the side, there being no platform outside, nor communication between the cars. The seats are upholstered in gray plush and are provided with sliding extensions for sleeping at night. Overhead a second tier of berths unfolds for sleeping. No curtains are employed; the arrangements are only intended for stretching one's self out without undressing. The engines employed on the Tiflis & Baku Railway are without coal-tenders. They burn the residue of petroleum, which is fed to the flames in the form of spray by an atomizer. A small tank above the furnace holds the liquid, and a pipe feeds it automatically to the fire-box. The result of this excellent arrangement is spontaneous conversion into flame, a uniformly hot fire, cleanliness aboard the engine, a total absence of cinders, and almost an absence of smoke. The absence of a tender gives the engine a peculiar, bob-tailed appearance to the unaccustomed eye.
The speed of our train is about twenty miles an hour, and it starts from Baku an hour behind the advertised time. For the first few miles unfenced fields of ripe wheat characterize the landscape, and a total absence of trees gives the country a dreary aspect. The day is Sunday, but peasants, ragged and more wretched-looking than any seen in Persia, are harvesting grain. The carts they use are most peculiar vehicles, with wheels eight or ten feet in diameter. The tremendous size of the wheels is understood to materially lighten their draught. After a dozen miles the country develops into barren wastes, as dreary and verdureless as the deserts of Seistan. At intervals of a mile the train whirls past a solitary stone hut occupied by the family of the watchman or section-hand. Sometimes a man stands out and waves a little flag, and sometimes a woman. Whether male or female, the flag-signaller is invariably an uncouth bundle of rags. The telegraph-poles consist of lengths of worn-out rail, with an upper section of wood on which to fasten the insulators. These make substantial poles enough, but have a make-shift look, and convey the impression of financial weakness to the road. The stations are often quite handsome structures of mingled stone and brickwork. The names are conspicuously exposed in Russian and Persian and Circassian. Beer, wine, and eatables are exposed for sale at a lunch-counter, and pedlers vend boiled lobsters, fish, and fruit about the platforms. On the platform of every station hangs a bell with a string attached to the tongue. When almost ready for the train to start, an individual, invested with the dignity of a military cap with a red stripe, jerks this string slowly and solemnly thrice. Half a minute later another man in a full military uniform blows a shrill whistle; yet a third warning, in the shape of a smart toot from the engine itself, and the train pulls out. Full half the crowd about the stations appear to be in military uniform; the remainder are a heterogeneous company, embracing the modern Russian dandy, who affects the latest Parisian fashions, the Circassians and Georgians in picturesque attire, and the ever-present ragamuffin moujik. At one station we pass an institution peculiarly Russian--a railway prison-car conveying convicts eastward. It resembles an ordinary box-car, with iron grating toward the top. We can see the poor wretches peeping through the bars, and the handcuffs on their wrists. Outside at either end is a narrow platform, where stands, with loaded guns and fixed bayonets, a guard of four soldiers.
Once or twice before dark the train stops to replenish the engine's supply of fuel. Elevated iron tanks containing a supply of the liquid fuel take the place of the coal-sheds familiar to ourselves. The petroleum is supplied to the smaller tank on the engine through a pipe, as is water to the reservoir.
Such villages as we pass are the most unlovely clusters of mud hovels imaginable. Only the people are interesting, and the life of the railway itself. The Circassian peasantry are picturesque in bright colors, and the thin veneering of Western civilization spread over the semi-barbarity of the Russian officials and first-class passengers is an interesting study in itself.
We have been promising ourselves a day in Tiflis, the old Georgian capital, and now the head-quarters of the Russian army of the Caucasus, which our friends of the French scientific party said we would find interesting.
We find it both pleasant and interesting, for here are all modern improvements of hotel and street, as well as English telegraph officers, one a former acquaintance at Teheran. Tiflis now claims about one hundred and sixty thousand inhabitants, and is situated quite picturesquely in the narrow valley of the Kur. The old Georgian quarters still retain their Oriental appearance--gabled houses, narrow, crooked streets, and filth. The modernized, or European, portion of the city contains broad streets, rows of shops in which is displayed everything that could be found in any city in Europe, and street-railways.
These latter were introduced in 1882, and at first met with fierce antagonism from the drosky-drivers, who swarm here as in every city in Russia. These wild Jehus of the Caucasus expected the tram-cars to turn out the same as any other vehicle. Four people were killed by collisions the first day. Severe punishment had to be resorted to in order to stop the hostility of the drosky-drivers against the strange innovation.
The day is spent in seeing the city and visiting the hot sulphur baths and in the evening we attend a big bal masque in a suburban garden. A regimental band of fifty pieces plays "Around the World," by order of Prince Nicholas F, who exerts himself to make things pleasant for us in the garden. The famed beauties of Georgia, Circassia, and Mingrelia, masked and costumed, promenade and waltz with Russian officers, and sometimes join Circassian officers in a charming native dance.
We spend our promised clay in Tiflis, enjoy it thoroughly, and then proceed to Batoum. The Tiflis railway-station is a splendid building, with fountains and broad nights of stone terrace leading up to it from the street behind. Our drosky-driver rattles up to the foot of these terraced approaches at 8 a.m., and draws up a steed with an abruptness peculiar to the half-wild Jehus of the Caucasus. The same employee of the Hotel de Londres who had mysteriously hailed us by name from the platform as our train glided in from Baku the morning before, accompanies us to the depot now. All English travellers in Russia are supposed to be millionaires; all Americans, possessed of unlimited wealth. Bearing this in mind, our Russian-Armenian henchman has from first to last been most assiduous in his attentions, paying out of his own pocket the few odd copecks to porters carrying our luggage up from drosky to depot, in order to save us bother.
The station is crowded with people going away themselves or seeing friends off. As usual, the military overshadows and predominates everything. Between civilians and the wearers of military uniforms one plainly observes in a Russian Caucasus crowd that no love is lost. The strained relationship between the native population and the military aliens from the north is generally made the more conspicuous by the comparative sociability of the Georgians among themselves and kindred people of the Caucasus. Circassian officers in their picturesque uniforms and beautifully chased swords and pistols mingle sociably with the civilians, and are evidently great favorites; but that the blue-coated, white-capped Russians are hated with a bitter, sullen hatred requires no penetrating eye to see. The military brutality that crushed the brave and warlike people of Georgia, Circassia, and Mingrelia, and well-nigh depopulated the country, has left sore wounds that will take the wine and oil of time many a generation to heal completely up.
With an inner consciousness of duty well done and services faithfully rendered, our friend from the hotel flicks off our seats in the car with the tail of his long linen duster. Not that they need dusting; but as a gentle reminder of the extraordinary care he has bestowed upon us, in little things as well as in bigger, during our brief acquaintance with him, he dusts them off. That last attentive flick of his coat-tail is the finishing touch of an elaborate retrospective panorama we are expected to conjure up of the valuable services he has rendered us, and for which he is now justly entitled to his reward.
The customary three bells are struck, the inevitable military-looking official blows shrilly on his little whistle, and still the train lingers; lastly, the engine toots, however, and we pull slowly out of Tiflis. The town lies below us to the left, the River Kur follows us around a bend, the train speeds through deep gravel cuttings, and when we emerge from them the Georgian capital is no longer visible.
Between Baku and Tiflis, the Caucasus Railway runs for the most part through a flat, uninteresting country. Wastes as dreary and desolate as the steppes of Central Russia or the deserts of Turkestan sometimes stretched away to the horizon on either side of the track. At other points were gray, verdureless slopes and rocky buttes, or saline mud-flats that looked like the old bed of some ancient sea. Occasional oases of life appeared here and there, a few wheat-fields and a wretched mud-built village, or a picturesque scene of smoke-browned tents, gayly dressed nomads, and grazing flocks and herds. At night we had passed through a grassy steppe, a facsimile of the rolling prairies of the West. Though but the 6th of June, the country was parched, and the grass dried, as it stood, into hay by the heat and drought. We saw at one point a wide sweep of flame that set the darkening sky aglow and caused the railway-rails ahead to gleam. It was the steppe on fire--another reproduction of a Far Western prairie scene.
All this had changed as we woke up an hour before reaching Tiflis. The country became green, lovely, and populous in comparison. The people seemed less 'ragged, poverty-stricken, and wretched; the native women wore garments of brightest red and blue; the men put on more style, with their long Circassian coats and ornamental daggers, than I had yet observed. East of Tiflis, the Caucasus Hallway may, roughly speaking, be said to traverse the dreary wastes of an Asiatic country; west of it to wind around among the green hills and forest-clad heights of Europe's southeastern extremity. Lovelier and more beautifully green grows the country, and more interesting, too, grow the people and the towns, as our train speeds westward toward Batoum and the Black Sea coast. Everything about the railway, also, seems to be more prosperous, and better equipped. The improvised telegraph poles of worn-out lengths of rail seen east of Tiflis give place to something more becoming. Sometimes we speed for miles past ordinary cedar poles, procured, no doubt, from the mountain forests near at hand. Occasionally are stretches of iron poles imported from England, and then poles composed of two iron railway-rails clamped together. For much of the way we see the splendidly equipped Indo-European Telegraph Company's line, the finest telegraph line in the world. Equipped with substantial iron poles throughout, and with every insulator covered with an iron cap in countries where the half-civilized natives are wont to do them damage, this line runs through the various countries of Europe and Asia to Teheran, Persia, where it joins hands with the British Government line to India.
Following along the valley of the River Kur, our train is sometimes rattling along up a wild gorge between rugged heights whose sides are bristling with dark coniferous growth, or more precipitous, with huge jagged rocks and the variegated vegetation of the Caucasus strewn in wild confusion. Again, we emerge upon a peaceful grassy valley, lovely enough to have been the Happy Valley of Rasselas, and walled in almost completely with forest-clad mountains. Through it, perhaps, there winds a mountain stream, fed by welling springs and hidden rivulets, and on the stream is sure to be a town or village. An old Georgian town it would be, picturesque but dirty, built, too, with an eye to security from attack. One town is particularly noteworthy--not a very large town, but more important, doubtless, in times past than now. Out of the valley there rises a rocky butte, abrupt almost as though it were some monstrous vegetable growth. On the summit of this natural fortress some old Georgian chief had, in the good old days of independence, built a massive castle, and nestling beneath its protecting shadow around the base of the butte is the town, a picturesque town of adobe and wattle walls and quaint red tiles. So intensely verdant is the valley, so thickly wooded the dark surrounding mountains, so brown the walls, so red the tiles, and so picturesque the elevated castle, that even K goes into raptures, and calls the picture beautiful.
The improvement in the Russian telegraph line, perhaps, owes something to its brief association with the invading stranger from England; and now among the sublime loveliness of this Caucasian Switzerland one finds the station-houses built with far more pretence to the picturesque than on the barren steppes toward Baku and the Caspian. Here is the Caucasia of our youthful dreams, and the mystic hills and vales whence Mingrelian princes issued forth to deeds of valor in old romantic tales. Urchins, small mountaineers, more picturesquely clad than anything seen in Alpine Italy, even, now offer us little baskets of wild strawberries at ten copecks a basket-strawberries they and their little brothers and sisters have gathered this very morning at the foot of the hills. The cuisine at the lunch-counters embraces fresh trout from neighboring mountain streams, caught by vagrant Mingrelian Isaac Waltons, who bring them in on strings of plaited grass to sell.
Humorous scenes sometimes enliven our stops at the stations. The Russian warnings for travellers to seek the train before it is everlastingly too late cover fully a minute of time. First come three raps of a bell suspended on the platform, afterward a station employe blows a little whistle, and lastly comes a toot from the engine itself, by way of an ultimatum. Once this afternoon a woman leaves the train to enter the waiting-room for something. Just as she is entering, the station-man rings the bell. The woman, evidently unaccustomed to railway travel, rushes hastily back to the train. Everybody greets her performance with good-natured merriment. Finding the train not pulling out, and encouraged by some of the passengers, the woman ventures to try it again. As she reaches the waiting-room door, the station-man blows a shrill blast on his whistle. The woman rushes back, as before. Again the people laugh, and again words of encouragement tempt her to venture back again. This time it is the toot of the engine that brings that poor female scurrying back across the platform amid the unsympathetic laughter of her fellow-passengers, and this time the train really starts. From this it would appear that too many signals are quite as objectionable at railway-stations as not signals enough. Every stoppage at a lunch-counter station, or where venders of things edible come on the platform, gives us opportunity to turn our minds judicially upon the civilization of our fellow first-class passengers. They present a curious combination of French fashion and polite address, on the one hand, and want of taste and ignorance of civilization's usages on the other. Gentlemen and ladies, dressed in the latest Parisian fashions, stand out on the platform and devour German sausage or dig their teeth into big chunks of yellow cheese with the gusto of half-starved barbarians.
We double our engines--our compact, tenderless, petroleum-burning engines--at the foot of the Suran Pass. At its base, a stream disappears in an arched cave at the foot of a towering rocky cliff, and I have bethought me since of whether, like Allan Quatermain's subterranean stream, it would, if followed, reveal things heretofore unseen. And so we climb the lovely Suran Pass, rattle down the western slope upon the Black Sea coast, and reach Batoum at 11 p.m.
As the chief mercantile port of the Caucasus, Batoum is an important shipping point. By the famous Berlin treaty it was made a free port; but nothing is likely to remain free any length of time upon which the Russian bear has managed to lay his greedy paw. Consequently, Batoum is now afflicted with all sorts of commercial taxes and restrictions, peculiar to a protective and autocratic semi-Oriental government. Notwithstanding this, however, ships from various European ports crowd its harbor, for not only is it the shipping point of Baku petroleum, but also the port of entry for much of the Persian and Central Asian importations from Europe. An oil-pipe line is seriously contemplated from Baku to replace the iron-tank cars now run on the railroad.
Big fortifications are under headway to protect the harbor; its strategic importance as the terminus of the Caucasus Railway and the shipping point for troops and war material making Batoum a place of special solicitation on the part of the Russian military authorities. R------and I walk around and take a look at the fortification works, as well as one can do this; but no strangers are allowed very near, and we are conscious of close surveillance the whole time we are walking out near the scene of operations.
A pleasant day in Batoum, and we take passage aboard a Messageries Maritimes steamer for Constantinople. Late at night we depart, amid the glare and music of a violent thunder-storm, and in the morning wake up in the roadstead of Trebizond.
To fully realize the difference between mock-civilization and the genuine article, one cannot do better than to transfer from a Russian Caspian steamer to a Messageries Maritimes. The Russians affect French methods and manners in pretty much everything; but the thinness and transparency of the varnish becomes very striking in contrast aboard the steamers.
The scenery along the Anatolian coast is striking and lovely in the extreme as we steam along in full view of it all next day. It is mountainous the whole distance, but the prospect is charmingly variable. Sometimes the mountains are heavily wooded down to the water's edge, and sometimes the slopes are prettily chequered with clearings and cultivation.
More and more lovely it grows next day, as we pass Samsoon, celebrated throughout the East for chibouque tobacco; Sinope, memorable as the place where the first blow of the Crimean War was delivered; and, on the morning of the third day, Ineboli, the "town of wines."
On the evening of the third day we lay off the entrance to the Bosphorus till morning, when we steam down that charming strait to Constantinople. It is almost a year since I took, in company with our friend Shelton Bey, a pleasure trip up the Bosphorus and gazed for the first time on its wondrous beauties. I have seen considerable since, but the Bosphorus looks as fresh and lovely as ever.
While yielding as full a measure of praise to the Bosphorus as any of its most ardent admirers, I would, however, at the same time, recommend those in search of lovely coast scenery to take a coasting voyage along the southern shore of the Black Sea in June. I have no hesitation in saying that the traveller who goes into raptures over the beauties of the Bosphorus would, if he saw it, include the whole Anatolian coast to Batoum.
Several very pleasant days are spent in Constantinople, talking over my Central Asian adventures with former acquaintances and seeing the city. But as these were pretty thoroughly described in Volume I., there is no need of repetition here. With many regrets I part company with R, who has proved a very pleasant companion indeed, and set sail for India.
The steamers of the Khedivial Line, plying between Constaninople and Alexandria, have their mooring buoys near the Stamboul side of the Golden Horn, between Seraglio Point and the Galata bridge. During the forenoon, Shelton Bey, R--, and I had taken a caique and sought out from among the crowd of shipping in the harbor the steamship Behera, of the above-mentioned line, on which I have engaged my passage to Alexandria, so that we should have no difficulty in finding it in the afternoon. In the afternoon the Behera is found surrounded by a swarm of caiques, bringing passengers and friends who have come aboard to see them off. These slender-built craft are paddling about the black hull of the steamer in busy confusion. A fussy and authoritative little police boat seems to take a wanton delight in increasing the confusion by making sallies in among them to see that newly arriving passengers have provided themselves with the necessary passports, and that their baggage has been duly examined at the custom-house. All is bustle and confusion aboard the Behera, and in two hours after the advertised time (pretty prompt for an Egyptian-owned boat) a tug-boat assists her from her moorings, paddles glibly to one side, and in ten minutes Seraglio Point is rounded, and we are steaming down the Marmora with the domes and minarets of the Ottoman capital gradually vanishing to the rear.
People whose experience of steamship travel is confined to voyages in western waters, and the orderliness and neatness aboard an Atlantic steamer, can form little idea of the appearance aboard an Oriental passenger boat. The small foredeck is reserved for the use of first and second-class passengers; the remainder of the deck-room is pretty well crowded with the most motley and picturesque gathering imaginable. Arabs and Egyptians returning from a visit to Stamboul, pilgrims going to Mecca via Egypt, Greeks, Levantines, and Armenians, all more or less fantastically attired and occupying themselves in their own peculiar way. The nomadic instinct of the Arabs asserts itself even on the deck of the steamer; ere she is an hour from Stamboul they may be seen squatting in little circles around small pans of charcoal, cooking their evening meal in precisely the same manner in which they are wont to cook it in the desert, leaving out, of course, the difference between camel chips and charcoal.
The soothing "bubble bubble" of the narghileh is heard issuing from all sorts of quiet corners, where dreamy-looking Turks are perched cross-legged, happy and contented in the enjoyment of their beloved water-pipe and in the silent contemplation of the moving scenes about them. As we ply our way at a ten-knot speed through the blue waves of the Marmora, and the sun sinks with a golden glow below the horizon, the spirit moves one of the Mecca pilgrims to climb on top of a chicken coop and shout "Allah-il!" for several minutes; the dangling ends of his turban flutter in the fresh evening breeze, streaming out behind him as he faces the east, and flapping in his swarthy face as he turns round facing to the opposite point of the compass. His supplications seem to be addressed to the dancing, white-capped waves, but the old Osmanlis mutter "Allah, Allah," in response between meditative whiffs of the narghileh, and the Arab and his fellow Mecca pilgrims swell the chorus with deep-fetched sighs of "Allah, Ali Akbar!"
A narrow space is walled off with canvas for the exclusive use of the female deck passengers, and in this enclosure scores of women and children of the above-named nationalities are huddled together indiscriminately for the night, packed, I should say, closer than sardines in a tin box. Male sleepers and family groups are sprawled about the deck in every conceivable position, and in walking from the foredeck to the after-cabins by the ghostly glimmer of the ship's lanterns, one has to pick his way cautiously among them. Woe to the person who attempts this difficult feat without the aid of a good pair of sea-legs; he is sure to be pitched head foremost by the motion of the vessel into the bosom of some family peacefully snoozing in a promiscuous heap, or to step on the slim, dusky figure of an Arab.
The ubiquitous Urasian who can speak "a leetle Inglis" soon betrays his presence aboard by singling me out and proceeding to make himself sociable. I am sitting on the foredeck perusing a late copy of a magazine which I had obtained in Constantinople, when that inevitable individual introduces himself by peeping at the corner of the magazine, and, with a winning smile, deliberately spells out its name; and soon we are engaged in as animated a discussion of the magazine as his limited knowledge of English permits. After listening with much interest to the various subjects of which it treats, he parades his profuse knowledge of Anglo-Saxon athletics by asking: "Does it also speak of ballfoot?"
The cuisine in both first and second-class cabins aboard the Egyptian liners is excellent, being served after the French style, with several courses and wine ad libitum. At our table is one solitary female, a Greek lady with an interesting habit of talking and gesticulating during meal-times, and of promenading the fore-deck in a profoundly pensive mood between meals. I have good reason to remember her former peculiarity, as she accidentally knocks a bottle of wine over into my soup-plate while gesticulating to a couple of Levantines across the table. She is a curious woman in more respects than one: she always commences to pick her teeth at the beginning of the meal, and between courses she sticks the little wooden toothpick, pen-fashion, behind her ear. Being Greek, of course she smokes cigarettes, and being Greek, of course she is also arrayed in one of those queer-looking garments that resemble an inverted cloth balloon, with the feet protruding from holes in the bottom. She sometimes absent-mindedly keeps the toothpick behind her ear while promenading the deck, and I have humbly thought that a woman promenading pensively back and forth in the national Greek costume, smoking a cigarette, and with a wooden toothpick behind her starboard ear, was deserving of passing mention.
The chief engineer of the ship is an Englishman with a large experience in the East; he has served with the late lamented General Gordon in the suppression of the slave trade in the Red Sea, and was anchored in Alexandria harbor during the last bombardment of the forts by the English ships. "The best thing about the whole bombardment," he says, "was to see the enthusiasm aboard the Yankee ships; the rigging swarmed with men, waving hats and cheering the English gunners, and whenever a more telling shot than usual struck the forts, wild hurrahs of approval from the American sailors would make the welkin ring again."
"There was no holding the Yankee sailors back when the English were preparing to go ashore," the old engineer continues, a gleam of enthusiasm lighting up his face, "and it was arranged that they should go ashore to protect the American Consulate--only to protect the American Consulate, you know," and the engineer winks profoundly, and thinking I might not comprehend the meaning of a profound wink, he winks knowingly as he repeats, "only to protect the American Consulate, you know." The engineer winds up by remarking: "That little affair in Alexandria harbor taught me more about the true feeling between the English and Americans than all the newspaper gabble on the subject put together." We touch at Smyrna and the Piraeus, and at the latter place a number of recently disbanded Greek soldiers come aboard; some are Albanian Greeks whose costume is sufficiently fantastic to merit description. Beginning at the feet, these extremities are incased in moccasins of red leather, with pointed toes that turn upward and inward and terminate in a black worsted ball. The legs look comfortable and active in tights of coarse gray cloth, but the piece de resistance of the costume is the kilt. This extends from the hips to the middle of the thighs, and instead of being a simple plaited cloth, like the kilt of the Scotch Highlanders, it consists of many folds of airy white material that protrude in the fanciful manner of the stage costume of a coryphee. A jacket of the same material as the tights covers the body, and is embellished with black braid; this jacket is provided with open sleeves that usually dangle behind like immature wings, but which can be buttoned around the wrists so as to cover the back of the arm. The head-gear is a red fez, something like the national Turkish head-dress, but with a huge black tassel that hangs half-way down the back, and which seems ever on the point of pulling the fez off the wearer's head with its weight. At noon of the fifth day out we arrive in Alexandria Harbor, to find the shipping gayly decorated with flags and the cannon booming in honor of the anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Victoria's coronation.
Alexandria is the most flourishing and Europeanized city I have thus far seen in the East. That portion of the city destroyed by the incendiary torches of Arabi Pasha is either built up again or in process of rebuilding. Like all large city fires, the burning would almost seem to have been more of a benefit than otherwise, in the long-run, for imposing blocks of substantial stone buildings, many with magnificent marble fronts, have risen, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of the inferior structures destroyed by the fire. After seeing Constantinople, Teheran, or even Tiflis, one cannot but be surprised at Alexandria--surprised at finding its streets well paved with massive stone blocks, smoothly laid, and elevated in the middle, after the most approved methods; surprised at the long row of really splendid shops, in which is displayed everything that can be found in a European city; surprised at the swell turn-outs on the Khediveal Boulevard of an evening; surprised at the many evidences of wealth and European enterprise. In the yet unfinished quarters of the city, houses are going up everywhere, the large gangs of laborers, both men and women, engaged in their erection, create an impression of beehive-like activity, and everybody looks happy and contented. After so many surprises comes a feeling of regret that this commercial and industrial rose, that looks so bright and flourishing under the stimulating influence of the English occupation, should ever again be exposed to the blighting influence of an Oriental administration. Red-coated "Tommy Atkins," stalking in conscious superiority down the streets, or standing guard in front of the barracks, is no doubt chiefly responsible for much of this flourishing state of affairs in Alexandria, and the withdrawal of his peace--insuring presence could not fail to operate adversely to the city's good.
The many groves of date-palms, rising up tall and slender, vying in gracefulness with the tapering minarets of the mosques, and with their feathery foliage mingling with and overtopping the white stone buildings, lends a charm to Alexandria that is found wanting in Constantinople --albeit the Osmanli capital presents by far the more lovely appearance from the sea. Massive marble seats are ranged along the Khediveal Boulevard beneath the trees, and dusky statues, in the scant drapery of the Egyptian plebe, are either sitting on them or reclining at lazy length, an occasional movement of body alone betraying that they are not part and parcel of the tomb-like marble slabs.
The tall, slim figures of Soudanese and Arabs mingle with the cosmopolitan forms in the streets; Nubians black as ebony, their skins seemingly polished, and their bare legs thin almost as beanpoles, slouch lazily along, or perhaps they are bestriding a diminutive donkey, their long, bony feet dangling idly to the ground. All the donkeys of Alexandria are not diminutive, however. Some of the finest donkeys in the world are here, large, sleek-coated, well-fed-looking animals, that appear quite as intelligent as their riders, or as the native donkey-boys who follow behind and persuade them along. These donkeys are for hire on every street-corner, and all sorts and conditions of people, from an English soldier to a lean Arab, may be seen coming jollity-jolt along the streets on the hurricane-deck of a donkey, with a half-naked donkey-boy racing behind, belaboring him along. The population of Alexandria is essentially cosmopolitan, but, considering the English occupation, one is scarcely prepared to find so few English. The great majority of Europeans are Germans, French, and Italian, nearly all the shopkeepers being of these nationalities. But English language and Bullish money seem to be almost universally understood, and probably the Board of Trade returns would show that English commerce predominates, and that it is only the retail trade in which the foreign element looms so conspicuously to the fore. An English evening paper, the Egyptian Gazette, has taken root here, and the following rather humorous account of a series of camel races, copied from its pages, serves to show something of how the sporting proclivities of the English army of occupation enlist the services of even the awkward and ungainly ships of the desert:
5.15 p.m.-Camel race, for gentlemen riders. Once round and a distance. Sweepstakes, 10 shillings. Don Juan, a fine, long-maned, fast-looking dromedary, started first favorite, Commodore Goodridge, K. N., our popular naval transport officer, being as good a judge of the ship of the desert as he is of a man-of-war. There was some difficulty at the post to get the riders together, owing to the fractiousness of Don Juan, who, with Kobert the Devil (ridden by Surgeon Porke), did not seem quite agreed about the Professional Beauty (ridden by Surgeon Moir). At the start Shaitan (ridden by Mr. Airey, E. N.) shoved to the front, closely followed by Surgeon Robertson's Mother-in-law, who, with Lieutenant Shuckburg's Purely Patience, Mr. Dumreicher's First Love, and Surgeon Halle's Microbe, rather shut out Don Juan. They kept this order until rounding Tattenham Corner, when Mr. Dumreicher brought his camel to the front, proving to his backers that he meant business with his First Love, and won a splendid race by her neck, Don Juan making a good second, with Professional Beauty about a length behind.
6.15 p.m.-Camel race, for sailors and soldiers. Once round and a distance. First prize, 10s.; second, 5s.; third, 2s. 6d. Eleven competitors turned up for this race, which was very well contested, although one of the camels appeared to think it too much trouble to run, and quietly squatted down immediately after the start, and could not be induced to join his fellows. Abdel Hal Hassin of the Coast Guard came in first, with Wickers of the Royal Artillery second, and Simpson of the commissariat and transport corps third.
"Second camel race, for gentlemen riders. This was got up on the course by a sporting naval officer. Five camels started: G. O. M., Hartington, Goschen, Chamberlain, and Unionist. This looked a certainty for G. O. M., as all but Unionist were in the same stable. However, the jockeys seem to have been 'got at,' for although G. O. M. got away with a good start, yet rounding the second corner he was shut out by a combined effort of Hartington, Goschen, Chamberlain, and Unionist, the latter winning, amid thunders of applause, by 30 lengths."
Egypt is pre-eminently the land of backsheesh, and Alexandria, as the chief port of arrival and departure, naturally comes in for its share of this annoying attention. From ship to hotel, and from hotel to railway-station, the traveller has to run the gauntlet of people deeply versed in the subtle arts and wiles of backsheesh diplomacy. At any time, as you stroll down the street, some native will suddenly bob up like a sable ghost beside you, point out something you don't want to see, and brazenly demand backsheesh for showing it. Cook's tourists' office is but a few hundred yards from my hotel. I have passed it before, and know exactly where it is, but one of these dusky shadows glides silently behind me, until the office is nearly reached, when he slips ahead, points it out, and with consummate assurance demands backsheesh for guiding me to it. The worst of it is there is no such thing as getting rid of these pests; they are the most persevering and unscrupulous blackmailers in their own small way that could be imagined. People whom you could swear you never set eyes on before will boldly declare they have acted as guide or something, and dog your footsteps all over the city; most of them are as "umble" as Uriah Heep himself in their annoying importunities, but some will not even hesitate to create a scene to gain their object, and, as the easiest way to get rid of them, the harassed traveller generally gives them a coin.
In leaving by the train, after one has backsheeshed the hungry swarm of hotel servitors, backsheeshed the porter who has doggedly persisted in coming with you to the station, regardless of repeatedly telling him he wasn't wanted, backsheeshed the baggage man, and bolted almost like a hunted thing into the railway-carriage from a small host of people who want backsheesh--one because he happened to detect your wandering gaze in search of the station clock and eagerly pointed out its whereabouts, another because he has told you, without being asked, that the train starts in ten minutes, another because he pointed out your carriage, which for a brief transitory instant you failed to recognize, and others for equally trivial things, for which they all seem keenly on the alert--you shut yourself in with a feeling of relief that must be something akin to escaping from a gang of brigands. King Backsheesh evidently rules supreme in Egypt yet.
My route to India takes me along the Egyptian Railway to Suez, thence by steamer down the Red Sea to Aden and Karachi. A passenger train on this railway consists of carriages divided into classes as they are in England, the first and second class cars being modelled on the same lines as the English. The third-class cars, however, are mere boxes provided with seats, and with iron bars instead of windows. Nice airy vehicles these, where the conditions of climate render airiness desirable, but it must be extremely interesting to ride in one of them through an Egyptian sand-storm.
At the Alexandria station, an old wrinkle-faced native, bronzed and leathery almost as an Egyptian mummy, pulls a bell-rope three times, the conductor comes to the car-window for the second time and examines your ticket, the engine gives a cracked shriek and pulls out. As the train glides through the suburbs one's attention is arrested by well-kept carriage-drives, lined and overarched with feathery palm-tree groves, and other evidences of municipal thrift.
From the suburbs we plunge at once into a rich and populous agricultural country, the famed Nile Delta, of which a passing descriptive glimpse will not here be considered out of place. Cotton seems to be the most important crop as seen from the windows of my car, and for many a mile after leaving Alexandria we glide through luxuriant fields of that important Egyptian staple.
Interspersed among the darker green of the growing cotton are fields of young rice, sometimes showing bright and green in contrast to the darker shade of the cotton, and sometimes being represented by square areas of glistening water, beneath which the young rice is submerged.
The Nile Delta is a net-work of irrigating ditches from end to end. Large canals, big enough to float barges, and on which considerable commerce is carried, tap the Nile above the Delta, and traversing it in all directions, furnish water to systems of smaller ditches and canals, and these again to still smaller channels of distribution.
The water in these channels is all below the surface, and a goodly proportion of the whole teeming population of the delta is engaged between seed-time and harvest in pumping the life-giving water from these ditches into the small surface trenches that conduct it over their fields and gardens. The water-pumping fellahs, ranged along the net-work of canals, often at intervals of not more than one hundred yards, create an impression of marvellous industry pervading the whole scene, as the train speeds its way alongside the larger canals.
The pumping in most cases is done by men or buffaloes, and the clumsy-looking but effective Egyptian water-wheel, a rough wooden contrivance that as it revolves, raises the water from below and pours it from holes in the side into a wooden trough, from whence it flows over the field.
Small rude shelters are erected close by, beneath which the attendant fellah can squat in the shade and keep the meek and gentle, but lazy buffaloes up to their task, by constant threats and bellicose demonstrations. Most of these animals are blindfolded, a contrivance that, no doubt, inspires them to pace round and round their weary circle with becoming perseverance, inasmuch as it tends to keep them in perpetual fear of the dusky driver beneath the shade.
People too poor, or with holdings too small, to justify the employment of oxen in pumping water, raise it from the ditches themselves, with buckets at the end of long well-sweeps; in some localities one can cast his eye over the landscape and see scores of these rude sweeps continually rising and falling, rising and falling.
A few windmills are also used for pumping, but the wind is a fickle thing to depend on, and his utter dependence on the water supply makes the Egyptian agriculturist unwilling to run such risks. Steam-engines, both stationary and portable, are observed at frequent intervals. Both the engines and the coal for fuel have to be imported from England; but they evidently pump enough water to repay the outlay, otherwise there would not be so many of them in use. It must be a rich, productive soil that can afford the expensive luxury of importing steam-engines and coal from a distant market to supply it with water for irrigation.
The sediment from the Nile, which settles in the canals and ditches, is cleaned out at frequent intervals and spread over the fields, providing a new dressing of rich alluvial soil to annually stimulate the productive capacity of the soil.
In the larger cotton-fields the dusky sons and daughters of Egypt are seen strung out in long rows, wielding cumbersome hoes, reminding one of old plantation days in Dixie; or they are paddling about in the inundated rice-fields like amphibious things. Swarms of happy youngsters are splashing about in the canals and ditches; all about is teeming with life and animation.
Villages are populous and close together. They are, for the most part, mere jumbles of low, mud houses with curious domed roofs, and they rise above the dead level of the delta like mounds. Many of these villages have probably occupied the same site since the days of the Pharaohs, the debris and rubbish of centuries have accumulated and been built upon again and again as the unsubstantial mud dwellings have crumbled away, until they have gradually developed into mounds that rise like huge mole-hills above the plain, and on which the present houses are built. Near each village is a graveyard, also forming a mound-like excrescence on the dead level of the surrounding surface.
At intervals the train passes some stately white mansion, looking lovely and picturesque enough for anything, peeping from a grove of date-palms or other indigenous vegetation. The tall, slender palms with their beautiful feathery foliage, lend a charm to the sunny Egyptian landscape with its golden dawns and sunsets that is simply indescribable. There seems no reason why every village on the whole delta should not be hiding its ugliness beneath a grove of this charming vegetation. Further east, near Fantah, nearly every village is found thus embowered, and date-palm groves form a very conspicuous feature of the landscape. One need hardly add that here the fellaheen look more intelligent, more prosperous and happy.
At all the larger stations women come to the train with roast quails stuffed with rice, which they sell at six-pence apiece, and at every station along the line children bring water in the porous clay bottles of the country. This latter is badly needed, for the train rattles along most of the time in a stifling cloud of dust, that penetrates the car and settles over one in incredible quantities.
During the afternoon we pass the battle-field of Tel-el-Kebre, the train whisking right through the centre of Arabi Pasha's earthworks. Near the battle-field is a little cemetery where the English soldiers killed in the battle were buried. The cemetery is kept green and tidy, and surrounded by a neat iron fence; amid the gray desert that begins at Tel-el-Kebre this little cemetery is the only bright spot immediately about. From Tel-el-Kebre to Suez the country is a sandy desert, where sand-fences, like the snow-fences of the Rocky Mountains, have been found necessary to protect the railway from the shifting sand. On this dreary waste are seen herds of camels, happy, no doubt, as clams at high tide, as they roam about and search for tough camel-thorn shrubs, that here and there protrude above the wavy ridges of white sand. Put a camel in a pasture of rich, succulent grass and he will roam about with a far-away, disconsolate look and an expression of disgust, but here, on the glaring white sands of the desert with nothing to browse upon but prickly dry shrubs he is in the seventh 'heaven of a camel's delight.
Very curious it looks as we approach Suez to see the spars and masts of big steamers moving along the ship-canal, close at hand, without seeing anything of the water. The high dumps, representing the excavations from the canal, conceal everything but the masts and the top of the funnels even when one is close by.
Several days are spent at Suez, waiting for the steamer which we will call the Mandarin, on which I am to take passage to Karachi. Suez is a wretched hole, although there is a passably good English hotel facing the water-front. It is the month of Bairam, however, and there is consequently a good deal of picturesque life in the native quarters.
Suez seems swarming with guides, and as I am, for the greater part of a week, the only guest at the hotel, they show me far more attention than a dozen people would know what to do with. Some want to take me to see the place where Moses struck the rock, others urge me to visit the spot where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea; both these places being suspiciously handy to Suez.
Donkey boys dog one's footsteps with their long-eared chargers, whenever one ventures outside the hotel. "I'm the Peninsular and Oriental Donkey Boy, sir, Jimmy Johnson; I have a good donkey, sir, when you want to ride, ask for Jimmy Johnson." To all this, sundry seductive offers are added, such as a short trial trip along the bund.
The Mandarin comes along on July 7th, and a decidedly stably smell is wafted over the waters toward us as we follow behind her with the little launch that is to put me aboard when the steamer condescends to ease up and allow us to approach. The Mandarin, owing to the quarantine, has kept me waiting several days at Suez, and when at last she steams out of the canal and we give chase with the little launch, and finally range alongside, the whole length of the deck is observed to be bristling with ears. Some particularly hopeful agent of the Indian Government has been sanguine enough to ship one hundred and forty mules from Italy to Karachi during the monsoon season, on the deck of a notoriously rolling ship, and with nothing but temporary plank fittings to confine the mules. The mules are ranged along either side of the deck, seventy mules on each side, heads facing inward, and with posts and a two-inch plank separating them from the remainder of the deck, and into stalls of six mules each. Cocoanut matting is provided for them to stand on, and a plank nailed along the deck for them to brace their feet against when the vessel rolls. Nothing could be more happily arranged than this, providing the mules were unanimously agreed about remaining inside the railed-off space, and providing the monsoons had agreed not to roll the Mandarin violently about. With unpardonable short-sightedness, however, it seems that neither of these important factors in the case has been seriously considered or consulted, and, as an additional insult to the mules, the plank in front of them is elevated but four feet six above the deck.
They are a choice lot of four-year-old mules, unbroken and wild, harum-skarum and skittish. Well-fed four-year-old mules are skin-full of deviltry under any circumstances, and ranged like so many red herrings in their boxes, with no exercise, and every motion of the ship jostling them against one another, they very quickly developed a capacity for simon-pure cussedness that caused the officers of the ship no little anxiety from day to day, and a good deal more anxiety when they reflected on the weather that would be encountered on the Indian Ocean.
The officers of the Mandarin are excellent seamen; they are perfectly at home and at their ease when it comes to managing a vessel, but their knowledge of mules is not so profound and exhaustive as of vessels; in short, their experience of mules has hitherto been confined to casually noticing meek and sober-sided specimens attached to the street cars of certain cities they have visited. Three Italian muleteers have been hired to assist and instruct the coolies in feeding and watering the mules, and to supervise their general welfare. The three muleteers is an excellent arrangement, providing there were but three mules, but unfortunately there are one hundred and forty, and before they had been aboard the Mandarin two days it became apparent that they ought to have engaged an equal number of Italians to keep the mules out of devilment.
Uneasy in their minds at the wild restlessness and seemingly dare-devil and inconsiderate pranks of their long-eared and unspeakable charges, the officers are naturally anxious to avail themselves of any stray grains of enlightenment concerning their management they might perchance drop on to by appealing to persons they come in contact with. Accordingly, one of them approaches me, the only passenger aboard, except some Hindoos returning home from a visit to the Colinderies, and asks me if I understand anything about mules. I modestly own up to having reared, broken, driven, and generally handled mules in the West, whereat the officer is much pleased, and proceeds to unburden his mind concerning the animals aboard the ship. "Fine young mules," he says they are, and in reply to a question of what the government of India is importing mules from Europe for, instead of raising them in India, he says he thinks they must be intended for breeding purposes.
Understanding well enough that all this is quite natural and excusable in a sea-faring man, I succeed in checking a rising smile, and gently, but firmly, convince the officer of the erroneousness of this conclusion. The officer is delighted to find a person possessing so complete a knowledge of mules, and I am henceforth regarded as the oracle on this particular subject, and the person to be consulted in regard to sundry things they don't quite understand.
Between the two-inch plank and the awning overhead is a space of about three feet; the mate says he is a trifle misty as to how a sixteen-hand mule can leap through this small space without touching either the plank or the awning; "and yet," he says, "there is hardly a mule on board that has not performed this seemingly miraculous feat over and over again, and a good many of them, make a practice of doing it every night." This jumping mania makes him feel uneasy every night, the mate goes on to explain, for fear some of the reckless and "light-heeled cusses" should make a mistake and jump over the bulwarks into the sea; the bulwarks are no higher than the plank, yet, while half the mules were found outside the plank every morning, none of them had happened to jump outside the bulwarks so far. Many of the mules, he says, were putting in most of their time bulldozing their fellows, and doing their best to make their life unbearable, and the downtrodden specimens seem so desperately scared of the bulldozers that he expects to see some of them jump overboard from sheer fright and desperation.
At this juncture we are joined by another officer, and the mate joyfully informs him that I am a man who knows more about mules than anybody he had ever talked mule with. His brother officer is delighted to hear this, as he has been uneasy about the mules' appetites; they would devour all the hay and coarse feed they could get hold of, but didn't seem to have that constant hankering after grain that he had always understood to be part and parcel of a horse's, and, consequently, a mule's, nature. He knows something about horses, he says, for his wife keeps a pony in Scotland, and the pony would leave hay at any time to eat oats and bran; consequently, he thinks there must be something radically wrong with the mules; and yet they seem lively enough--in fact, they seem d-d lively.
The two salts are also troubled somewhat in their minds at the marvellous kicking powers and propensities of the mules. One says he could understand an animal kicking to defend itself when attacked in the rear, or when anything tickled its heels, but the mules aboard the Mandarin had their heels in the air most of the time, and they battered away at one another, and pounded the iron bulwarks, without the slightest provocation. "Yes," chimes in the other officer, "and, more than that, I've seen 'em throw their heels clear over the bulwarks, kicking at a white-capped wave--if you'll believe me, sir, actually kicking at a white-capped wave--that happened to favor them with a trifle of spray." I say I have no doubt what the officer says is true, and not necessarily exaggerated, and the officer says: "No, there is no exaggeration about it. You'll see the same thing yourself before you've been aboard twelve hours. There'll be h-ll to pay aboard this ship when we strike the monsoons."
After explaining to the officers that there are not men enough, nor bulldozing and tyrannical mules enough, aboard the Mandarin to scare the timidest mule of the consignment into jumping over the bulwarks into the sea; that it is quite natural for mules to prefer hay to bran and oats, and that it is as natural and necessary for a four-year-old mule to kick as it is to breathe, they thank me and say they shall sleep sounder tonight than they have for a week. The heat, as we steam slowly down the Red Sea, is almost overpowering at this time of the year, July. A universal calm prevails; day after day we glide through waters smooth as a mirror, resort to various expedients to keep cool, and witness fiery red sunsets every evening. Every day the deck presents a scene of animation, from the pranks and vagaries of our long-eared cargo.
All goes well with them, however, as we glide along the placid bosom of the Red Sea; the oppressive heat has a wilting effect even on the riotous spirits of the young mules. They still exhibit their mulish contempt for the barriers reared so confidingly around them, and develop new and startling traits of devilment every day; but it is not until we leave Aden, and the long swells come rolling up from the monsoon region, that the real fun begins. The Mandarin lurches and rolls awfully, making it extremely difficult at times for any of the mules to keep their feet; each mule seems to think his next neighbor responsible for the jostling and crowding, and the kicking and squealing is continuous along both lines. While battering away at each other, each mule seems to be at the same time keeping a loose eye behind him for the oncoming waves and swells that occasionally curl over the bulwarks and irrigate and irritate them in the rear. Most of the mules seem capable of kicking at their neighbors and at a wave at the same time; but it is when their undivided attention is centred upon the crested billow of a swell that sweeps alongside the ship and flings a white, foamy cataract at the business end of each mule as it advances, that their marvellous heel-flinging capacity becomes apparent. Each mule batters frantically away as the wave strikes him, and the rattle of nimble and indignant hoofs on the iron bulwarks follows the wave along from one end of the ship to the other.
One of the most arrogant and overbearing of the animals aboard is a ginger-colored mule stationed almost amidships on the starboard side. This mule soon develops the extraordinary capacity of casting its eye over the heaving waste of waters and distinguishing the particular wave that intends coming over the bulwarks long before it reaches the vessel. The historical arrogance of Canute's followers in thinking the waves would recede at his command, is nothing in comparison to the cheeky assumption of this ginger mule. This mule will fold back its ears, look wild, and raise its heels menacingly at a white-crested wave when the wave is yet a hundred yards away; and on the second day out from Aden its arrogance develops in such an alarming degree that it bristles up and lifts its heels at waves that its experience and never-flagging observation must have taught it wouldn't come half-way up the bulwarks!
Now and then a mule will be caught off his guard and be flung violently to the deck, but the look of astonishment dies away as it nimbly regains its feet, and gives place to angry attack on its neighbor and a half-reproachful, half-apprehensive look at the sea. So far, however, the mules seem to more than hold their own, and, all oblivious of what is before them, they are comparatively happy and mischievous. But on the night of the third day out from Aden, the full force of the monsoon swells strikes the Mandarin, and, true to her character, she responds by rolling and pitching about in the trough of the sea in a manner that fills the mules with consternation, and ends in their utter collapse and demoralization. Planks break and give way as the whole body of mules are flung violently and simultaneously forward, and before midnight the mules are piled up in promiscuous and struggling heaps, while tons of water come on deck and wash and tumble them about in all imaginable shapes and forms.
All hands are piped up and kept busy tying the mules' legs, to prevent them regaining their feet only to be flung violently down again in the midst of a struggling heap of their fellows. There is only one mule actually dead in the morning, but the others are the worst used up, discouraged lot of mules I ever saw. Mules that but the day before would nearly jump out of their skins if one attempted to pat their noses, now seem anxious to court human attention and to atone for past sins. Many of them are pretty badly skinned up and bruised, and a few of them are well-nigh flayed alive from being see-sawed back and forth about the deck. It is not a pleasant picture to dwell upon, and it would be much pleasanter to have to record that the mules proved too much for the monsoon, but truth will prevail, and before we reach Karachi the monsoon has scored fourteen mules dead and pretty much all the others more or less wounded. But this is no discredit to the mules; in fact, I have greater respect for the staying qualities of a mule than ever before, since the monsoon only secures ten per cent of them for the sharks after all.
A week from Aden, and fourteen days from Suez we reach Karachi. The tide happens to be out at the time, and so we have to lay to till the following morning, when the Mandarin crosses the bar and drops anchor preparatory to unloading the now badly demoralized mules into lighters.
Karachi bids fair to develop into a very prominent sea-port in the near future. The extension of the frontier into Beloochistan gives Karachi a strategic importance as the port of arrival of troops and war material from England. Not less is its importance from a purely commercial view; for down the Indus Valley Railway to Karachi for shipment, come the enormous and yearly increasing wheat exportations from the Punjab.
Thus far my precise plans have been held in abeyance until my arrival on Indian soil. Whether I would find it practicable to start on the wheel again from Karachi, or whether it would be necessary to proceed to the northeast, I had not yet been able to find out. At any rate, it is always best to leave these matters until one gets on the spot.
The result of my investigations at once proves the impossibility, even were it desirable, of starting from Karachi. The Indus River is at flood, inundating the country, which is also jungly and wild and without roads. The heat throughout Scinde in July is something terrific; and to endeavor to force a way through flooded jungle with a bicycle at such a time would be little short of madness.
Under these conditions I decide to proceed by rail to Lahore, the capital of the Punjab, whence, I am told, there will be a good road all the way to Calcutta. As the crow flies, Lahore is nearer to Furrah than Karachi is, so that my purpose of making a continuous trail will be better served from that point anyhow.
It is an interesting jaunt by rail up the Indus Valley; but one's first impression of India is sure to be one of disappointment by taking this route. It is a desert country, taken all in all, this historic Scinde; through which, however, the Indus Valley makes a narrow streak of agricultural richness.
The cars on the railroad are provided with kus-kus tatties to mollify the intense heat. They are fixed into the windows so that the passengers may turn them round from time to time to raise the water from the lower half to the top, whence it trickles back again and cools the heated air that percolates through.
The heat increases as we reach Rohri and Sukhar, where passengers are transferred by ferry across the Indus; the country seems a veritable furnace, cracking and blistering with heat. At Sukhar our train glides through some rich date-palms, the origin of which, legend says, were the date-stones thrown away by the soldiers of Alexander the Great. They seem to have taken root in congenial soil, anyway, for every tree is heavily laden with ripe and ripening dates. Reclining under the date-trees or wandering about are many dusky sons and daughters of Scinde, the latter in bright raiment and with children in no raiment whatever. The heat, the fruitful date-palms, and the lotus-eating natives combine to make up a truly tropical scene.
Much of the country population seems to be nomadic, or semi-nomadic, dwelling in tents with which they remove to the higher ground when the Indus becomes inundated, and return again to the valley to cultivate and harvest their crops. They seem a picturesque people mostly, sometimes strangely incongruous in the matter of apparel, as, for instance, one I saw wearing a white breech-cloth and a hussar coat. This was the whole extent of his wardrobe, for he had neither shoes, shirt, nor hat.
Water-buffaloes are wading and swimming about in the overflowed jungle, browsing off bulrushes and rank grass. Youngsters are sometimes seen perched on the buffaloes' backs, taking care of the herd.
About Mooltan the aspect of the country changes to level, barren plain, and this, as we gradually approach Lahore, gives place to a cultivated country of marvellous richness. Here one first sees the matchless kunkah roads, traversing the country from town to town, the first glimpse of which is very reassuring to me.
It is July 28th when I at length find myself in Lahore. The heat is not only well-nigh unbearable, but dangerous. Prickly heat has seized hold upon me with a promptness that is anything but agreeable; the thermometer in my room at Clarke's Hotel registers 108 deg. at midnight. A punkah-wallah is indispensable night and day.
A couple of days are spent in affixing a new set of tires to my wheel and seeing something of the lions of Lahore. The Shalamar Mango Gardens, a few miles east of the city, and Shah-Jehan's fort, museum, etc., are the regular things to visit.
In the museum is a rare collection of ancient Asiatic arms, some of which throw a new light on the origin of modern firearms. Here are revolving muskets that were no doubt used long before the revolving principle was ever applied to arms in the West. But our narrative must not linger amid the antiquities of Lahore, fascinating as they may, peradventure, be.
Text, code and images © Ray Schumacher 2005