Louisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. Wilkins.

By desert ways to Baghdad online

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loud and clear, and the echoes slowly died away in
the answering rocks. Arten's white face peered
through a chink in the door. X turned to the
Zaptiehs and demanded of them a full account of their
conversation. " Effendi," said the officer, " it is
merchandise they want ; they dare not touch the
personal effects of the English ; they have had some
good lessons." " But," I interrupted, "we are loaded
with merchandise." " Effendi," said the officer, "we
swore by Allah that it was all your luggage, and that
if they took it the English Padishah would send his
soldiers and kill them all." " Yes," broke in the other


Zaptieh, " and we swore that his Excellency the
English Consul was on board, and that if they fired
a shot he would come out with his great weapon and
blow them all into the next world." The little
boatman's face beamed with radiant smiles. "Ah!
the English are a great people," he said ; " with you
English we are safe. I have been down the river
scores of times, and always at this place I have been
robbed. You saw the solitary woman as we turned
the corner ; she was put there to signal when the
rafts were coming ; if you see a woman alone on a
bank you know what you are in for. The river here
is narrow and the current slow — you have no chance.
On the one side the banks are low, and they can draw
the rafts on shore and unload the merchandise while
the men on the other side, high up on the cliffs, cover
you with their guns."

" Why do you not carry arms ? " we said. The
man smiled sadly. " Pasha, what are we against these
men? If we float on, they sink the raft by shooting
at the skins till they burst, and we lose raft and
merchandise and all ; if we submit quietly, they take
what they want and let us go peaceably. Should we
fire back at the men on the low bank within our
range, we are at the mercy of the men on the cliffs
who have good ambush. No, Allah wishes it. Why
should we resist ? " There was silence for a few-
minutes. The Oriental's first refuge from the ills of
the world is in his subservience to the will of Allah;
his second is in his tobacco; our boatman slowly rolled
up a cigarette. "It is not you English they will
harm," he said, " they are afraid of punishment. It is



we poor ones, who can get no redress. They take our
little all, and know we must submit and they are safe."
11 Surely you can appeal to the local authorities?" we
persisted. The man laughed — a low, quiet laugh.
"The Governor!" he said; "poor man — he is no
better off than the rest of us. He has no authority
over these Hamidieh. Only last week he was set on
and robbed himself by a party of them. They
stripped him and threw him over a bridge ; he was
picked up half dead by a passing caravan next day.
Aman — it is the will of Allah," and he took long,
serene puffs at his cigarette.

During the conversation Arten had emerged from
his retreat, and, after casting furtive glances in all
directions to make sure of the enemy's absence, he
seated himself amongst us on the raft and started
winking and giggling. " Ach, Pasha! " he said, " we
scared them well. We are under the protection of
God. Their shots came whizzing round our heads
but none could hurt us ; they fell round us in the
water like hailstones and the air was black with them,
and when we shot back we left them dying in
hundreds on the bank and they were afraid to follow.
Ah, ah, it was a great fight, and we shall be heroes
in Stambul." "X," I said, " I fear this poor creature's
head has been turned with fright ; do you think a
little quinine would be of any use ? We have only
that and the eye-lotion left in the medicine case."
X looked at me reprovingly. " You know you only
hate him because he is an Armenian," she said;
"you will not make allowances for his belonging
to a down-trodden race. It is only natural he


should boast when he knows what a coward he has

X was putting new ideas in my head ; I transferred
my thoughts from insanity and quinine and looked
with fresh interest at Arten. He was a typical
specimen of his race — sallow complexion, dark hair
and eyes, and a huge hooked nose. He was closely
buttoned up in a long, thin, black overcoat, which had
evidently descended on his shoulders from those of a
missionary ; on his head he wore a dirty red fez,
bound round with a still dirtier coloured handkerchief.
He sat hunched up, shivering with cold or fright, and
his eyes wandered about uneasily. I looked from him
to Hassan, and the contrast was indeed striking :
Hassan was the embodiment of strength ; there was
strength in the massive, well-balanced proportions of
his huge frame ; there was strength in the poise of his
head and in the keen level look of his eyes ; there
was strength in the quiet repose of his mind and
body. If these two men were to be taken as typical
specimens of their respective races, there was indeed
cause to reflect on the result of one race dominating
and crushing another through the course of genera-
tions. I sat down to reflect about it. It was orettinsf
dusk ; the waters were very still ; we hardly moved.
The sun was setting behind us, and the intense
redness of the sky made the rocks underneath look
absolutely dead black ; the moon had arisen and cast
a silver glimmer over the dark waters — dark from
reflecting the blackness of the rocks ; the kalekjis felt
their day's work was over and crooned a low song.
We drifted to the shore and made fast the raft with


large stones laid on the ropes. A very unsavoury
smell of cooking alone kept our thoughts well on the
solid earth. Arten appeared at the door of the hut.
" Supper is ready, Pashas," he said. So we ate our
supper that night.



HASSAN KAIF is the first place of any interest
along the banks, and we arrived there early
on the fourth day, having floated about eighty miles
in that time.

As we approached the village the banks of the
river rose perpendicularly in a wall of rock which was
simply riddled with tombs. Many of them seemed to
be quite inaccessible ; those which had any sort of
approach from the land side appeared to be inhabited
by Kurds. We passed between the ruined buttresses
of a Roman bridge of four arches, and then had a
view of the whole village on the right bank. The
mountains curve away from the river at this point and
leave a semicircular level space, which is occupied by
the ruins of an ancient Christian town. At the back,
extending right up the curving side of the hill to
where the topmost peak, surmounted by a castle,
crowns the river, is a vast necropolis. The natives
live in the tombs and in caves cut out of the rocks.
We landed here and slowly toiled up the stony paths

on the face of the rock, which led over the roofs of



one habitation to the next above it. Near the top we
were met by a local Zaptieh, who guided us to the
house of the Mudir. 1 We were not sorry to have
this opportunity of examining the interior of the
dwellings. The house consisted of a single room, into
which we stumbled down a dark passage ; the walls
were roughly levelled off inside, the marks of the
chisel everywhere apparent. A low divan ran down
each side of the room. In one corner the rock had
been hollowed out to form a cupboard, inside which,
through the chinks of a rough wooden door, we
caught glimpses of his Excellency's bedding — for
the Oriental keeps his bed in a cupboard in the day-
time and spreads it on the floor at night. With all
the instincts of a wandering tribe, the Turk, however
permanent his abode, conducts his household exactly
as if it were in the nature of a tent. He lives in one
room, sleeping, eating, and doing business. Should
he wish to eat, his meal is carried in on a little low
table, beside which he squats on the floor ; the meal
over, the table is carried out and the floor swept.
Should he wish to write, he discards the rickety table
occasionally found in an official dwelling, and writes
upon his hand, balancing the ink-pot upon his knee as
he sits cross-leo;a-ed on the floor. When it is time to
sleep, his bed is pulled out of the cupboard and laid
upon the floor ; his slumbers over, it is rolled up and
put away again.

The Mudir received us with salaams, and taking X
by the hand led her to the seat of honour at the top
end of the divan ; our men ranged themselves below
1 Local Governor.


in order of rank, and a few ragged soldiers hung
about the door. A servant appeared with cups of
coffee and we were offered cigarettes. Then water-
melon and sweets were handed round. Conversation
was limited by our small knowledge of Turkish ; but
X was by this time proficient in the formal modes
of greeting.

Mudir. How do the ladies like Turkey ?

X. We think Turkey is a very fine country, and
everybody has been very kind to us.

Mudir. How could they be otherwise ; are the
ladies not the honoured guests of the Sultan ? Have
the ladies a kalek * in London ?

X. No, we never saw one until we came here. We
find it very comfortable. We should like to take one
back with us.

Mudir. The ladies are sisters, then?

X. No, we are friends ; we were educated at the
same college.

Mudir. The lady's father, is he a great Pasha?

Hassan. He is a very great Pasha and a friend of
the Oueen of England.

{Mutual salaams.')

Mudir. Your father, the great Pasha, has he many
sons ?

X. Yes, he has five sons.

Mudir. Mashallah ! God has been good to your
{A patise, during zvkich we were closely scrutinised.)

Mudir. Have the ladies no husbands, then ? Why
are they not married ?

1 Raft.


Hassan. In England the ladies do not care about
husbands. In that country they rule the men. If
anything were to happen to these ladies, the Queen
of England would send her soldiers out here to
revenge them.

( The whole room gives vent to murmurs of ' ' Mashal-
lak" and every eye is fixed on us.)

Mudir. The other lady (nodding at me), is she a
servant that she does not speak ?

Hassan. No, she too is a Pasha, but she cannot
speak Turkish.

Mudir {incredulously). No Turkish ?

Hassan (scornfully). Well, only such words as
"hot water," "tea," and "be quick," and "is my
horse ready ? "

The Mudir then inquired calmly " how many
times " we had been held up by brigands in his
district, a strange satire on Turkish methods of
government. There was not a doubt in his mind
that we had not been waylaid and robbed.

He then took us to visit another house which
boasted of three rooms, all leading out of each other.
The first one appeared to be the general living- and
sleeping-room, absolutely bare save for strips of felt
ranged down the far end and a pile of native quilts in
a corner ; the second room, which could only be
reached through the first, was dedicated to the
animals ; and the third, which was almost pitch dark,
was a larder and store-house. We were received by
several women, who held us fast by the hands while
they displayed their abode with great signs of pride.
One of them was a strikingly handsome dark girl,


dressed in gorgeous coloured native silks and velvet,
and literally plastered with ornaments from the face
and hair downwards.

On returning to the raft we were somewhat
puzzled (one is never surprised in Turkish dominions)
by finding it taken possession of by two women,
magnificently dressed and closely veiled, accompanied
by a man and a woman servant. They were sitting
in a row on our beds examining all our belongings

" We are very pleased to have a visit from the
ladies," said X to the local Zaptieh who had accom-
panied us back to the raft, " but they must go on land
now, as we are starting at once."

" But they will travel with you," said the Zaptieh.

" That would be very pleasant," said X, who never
forgot to be polite, "but the raft is so small, I am
afraid there will be no room for us all and they will
not be comfortable."

" Oh, there is plenty of room," said the man re-
assuringly. " The ladies need not trouble themselves."

X turned to one of our Zaptiehs.

" Will you explain," she said, " that the raft is ours,
and that we are very sorry but we are afraid we
cannot take the ladies with us?"

"It is an arrangement of the Mudir's," explained
Ali ; "he has been waiting for an opportunity to send
the harem of a great Pasha to a neighbouring village,
and he ordered them to travel with you. They will
land before evening."

As there seemed no choice in the matter we
expressed our tremendous appreciation of the honour,


and instructed Hassan to keep an eye on their
pockets. Hassan, who had looked somewhat per-
turbed from the outset, had resolutely ensconced him-
self at the furthest corner of the raft with his back
turned to everything. He refused to change his
position, and explained to us that the ladies were
such very great Pashas that it would be " shame "
for him to look in their direction.

Towards evening we reached a spot where two
armed Kurds, with long black curls and magnificent
striped coats, stood waiting with saddled horses. The
servant woman carefully wrapped the great ladies up
in their gaudy silk cloaks, and the man servant helped
them off the raft on to the backs of the horses. The
little party rode away up a lonely looking mountain
pass, and as we floated on we caught occasional
glimpses of their bright colours in and out of the
rocks until they disappeared entirely over the crest of
a distant hill.

That night we moored the raft at Sheveh, a village
backed by high hills, the last spurs of a great range
of snow mountains, at whose base we had been wind-
ing in and out. We arrived at sunset, just as the
women were trooping down, with jars on their heads,
to fetch water from the river. I went and sat on a
rock above them, and one by one, having filled their
jars, they filed up past me, and, stopping for an
instant, fingered my garments and gently stroked my
hair. Many and various questions they asked me, of
which I could understand nothing beyond the note
of interrogation, and they sailed on with that free and
graceful carriage which is the gift of uncivilised races,


balancing the jars at an angle on their white-veiled

We had finished supper and had stretched ourselves
out on the raft under the stars, enjoying the quiet and
beauty of the scene. The boatmen belonging to the
two rafts had joined forces and pitched a tent on
the shore close by. Most of the village had
straggled down to the river and were flitting
mysteriously about in waving white garments. All
of a sudden a wild, savage noise of screaming and
singing arose.

" The men have bought a piece of meat," said Ali,
" and are singano- to it."

o o

It was a weird sight; a roaring fire blazed in the
gloaming ; in the centre hung a large black pot
containing the meat which was the object of this
adoration. The men had joined hands and were
dancing round the fire in a circle, dark figures in long
white flowing robes which waved about in the semi-
darkness as their owners flung their feet up or swung
suddenly round. All at once the men dropped on the
ground with a prolonged dwindling yell, which finally
died off into an expectant silence. The head boatman
fished out the meat and began to tear it to pieces with
his hands, distributing it amongst his companions. A
deathly silence reigned while the carcass was being
consumed. This gave place, as time went on, to a
murmuring ripple of satisfaction, which developed a
little later into bursts of contented song. Then they
sprang to their feet and flung themselves once more
into a dance.

" Let's join in," said X.


We each seized a Zaptieh by the hand and were
included in the circle. We sprang and kicked and
stamped ; we turned and hopped and stamped. One
man stood in the middle clapping the time with his
hands as he led the song. It was a war-dance; the
circle broke into two lines and we dashed against one
another. Then the lines receded and the song became
a low murmur as of gathering hordes, whilst our feet
beat slow time. The murmur swelled and our feet
quickened ; louder and louder we shouted, quicker
and quicker we moved, and finally with a great roar
the two lines dashed against one another. We gave
one great stamp altogether and stopped dead ; another
great stamp and a roar, then a hush, and the lines
receded. Thoroughly exhausted, I fell out of the line
while this proceeding was repeated. By this time the
moon shone out bright and strong. On one side a
great desert stretched away into the starry night ; on
the other the waters of the Tigris swept darkly past
us. The wild shrieks flew up into the clear, silent air.
X danced furiously on between Hassan and Ali. Her
face was strangely white lit up by the moon, amongst
the dark complexions of her companions. They
sprang and hopped and stamped, they turned and
hopped and stamped ; a white robe here, a red cloak
there, a naked foot and a soldier's boot, hopping and
turning and stamping.

"X," I said to myself, " you are mad, and I, poor
sane fool, can only remember that I once did crotchet
work in drawing-rooms."

A feeling of wild rebellion took hold of me ; I
sprang into the circle.


" Make me mad ! " I cried out, " I want to be
mad too ! "

The men seized me and on we went, on and on
with the hopping and turning and stamping. And
soon I too was a savage, a glorious, free savage under
the white moon.



BETWEEN Hassan Kaif and Jezireh, a distance
of thirty-five miles, the scenery is very fine.
The river winds through narrow gorges with steep
walls of limestone rock riddled with rock tombs.
Here and there in the black gorges the high turreted
rocks would be skirted below with bands of vegetation ;
little spurts of glistening water shooting over the
rocky tops, as they dashed down to join the river,
shot between masses of ferns or trickled through beds
of green moss. It was months since we had seen
anything green, and we feasted our eyes and senses
on the unaccustomed luxuriance. All the grim bare-
ness and desolation of the stone and mud country
through which we had passed seemed to serve a
purpose now in heightening the intoxication of this
scene. Reluctantly I had been compelled to admit,
on more than one occasion, that Nature could be
positively revolting in places where absence of life
and colour were not relieved by any sense of stern
ruggedness or the freedom of space ; where day after
day we had journeyed through a country of little
meaningless hillocks strewn with grey stones, only


oettinsf round the corner of one to be confronted with
another of the same appearance ; where it seemed as
if Nature had chosen a spot, far from the eye of man,
to dump all the clinkers of life, all the stony refuse
which even she could not turn to any profitable account
— she, the great mother, of whom men say she knows
no waste. We had discovered her ugly secret hidden
away in this far corner ; and now she was using her
chief weapon, contrast, to make us feel the true extent
of her power. She had wearied and revolted us, and
now she seemed to make use of this very fact to give
us an intenser appreciation of her best.

" Pretty view, isn't it?" said a voice in the native
tongue at my side. Startled from another world, I
turned round. Arten was rubbing some spoons with
a dirty cloth and waved his hands towards the banks.

"Got anything like this in London?" he asked

I looked at him in silence. He dived into the hut
with a scared look, and complained later on to X that
the other Pasha had an uncertain temper.

The spell of enchantment was broken ; but senti-
ment was in the air with the smell of wet earth and
the sound of drinking vegetation ; oleander bushes
with bright red blossoms stood out against the dark
rock, water-birds darted in and out and vultures
hovered overhead. I had a sudden desire, awakened
by Arten's interruption, to share the emotions called
up by the surrounding scene. I glanced at X, She
looked fairly sentimental, I thought, lying motionless
in her favourite place at the extreme end of the raft,
with a dreamy, far-away look in her eyes.


" X," I murmured softly, " what does this make you
think about ? "

X was one of those rare people who always know
what they are thinking about. She did not fail me
on this occasion.

"It reminds me of Scotland," she said without
hesitation. " Why, what does it make you think
about ? "

But I had stopped thinking about it, and agreed
that I had seen places like it in Scotland.

" Pasha," said Hassan, "the boatmen want you not
to sit so near the edge of the raft."

"W T hy," laughed X, "do they think I shall roll
over t

" No," replied Hassan, pointing ahead, " but we
are going to shoot a rapid and they say you will be

" I would sooner be frightened than go through the
awful exertion of moving on this raft," said X, and
she gazed placidly at the line of foaming waters which
we were rapidly nearing. There was only just room
for the raft to rush between hard, sharp-edged boulders
of rock, and it seemed as if we should inevitably be
dashed to pieces or stranded at an acute angle on one
of them.

The Zaptiehs helped with the oars, they and the
boatmen keeping up one prolonged yell of "Allah!
Allah ! " They exerted themselves strenuously, a strange
thing for Easterns to do ; the raft creaked and rocked
and plunged ; there was a very disturbing sense of
fuss and unseemly exertion on board ; the cook was
saying his prayers inside ; Hassan, with an air of


total unconcern or even apparent perception of what
was going on, was laboriously adding up his accounts ;
and X, with equal unconcern, was mending her
gloves. On such occasions one thinks of one's past
sins and the future ; I thought of the future. I stood
up and leaned my back against the wall of the hut
to steady myself.

"X," I roared above the din, " I wonder what there
is for supper to-night."

X looked at me with a bored expression. " The
same, I should think," she said, " as we had last
night and the night before and the night before that.
Why this sudden interest in your food? "

" Because," I said, " I have an idea I shall enjoy
my supper to-night."

" Yes," said X (she was always sympathetic), "this
sort of weather does make one hungry."

Further conversation was prevented by a sudden
leap of water and raft right into the air, and with
the leap went up a loud cry to Allah as the men
threw themselves, with one great determination, on
the oars. We shot head downwards into the dark
waters past the white froth of foam ; there was a
moment of turmoil, then everything became very
still ; the men rested exhausted on their oars, the
roaring waters sounded faint in the distance. I looked
round ; Hassan was still at his accounts ; X had
finished her gloves and was lying back with her
eyes closed ; the cook's prayers had ceased ; we were
through. The cook came out rubbing his hands jocosely.

" Arten," I said, "your prayers have saved us from
some inconvenience."



Arten looked conscious. "What danger has there
been," he said ; " was the Pasha afraid of the
waters ? "

" No, indeed," I returned ; " it was not the Pasha
who was afraid of the waters, but she was afraid she
might not get her supper to-night."

"The Pasha is hungry," said X; "we must have
onions as well as potatoes to-night."

We arrived at Jezireh, without further adventure,
at noon the next day. The River Jezeer runs into
the Tigris at this point, so that the town can only
be reached by wading through the water.

We were making preparations to go on shore when
we observed a little man being carried across the
water on the back of a half-naked Arab. He had
that incongruous look made up of the European
overcoat with a fur collar, the black trousers, and the
brown boots, all surmounted with a fez, which we had
learnt to associate, curiously enough, both with the
office of local Governor and with that of the native
Christian Man.

In this case our visitor was the Kaimakam. He
was spilt off the Arab's shoulders on to the raft, and

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Online LibraryLouisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. WilkinsBy desert ways to Baghdad → online text (page 10 of 18)