Louisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. Wilkins.

By desert ways to Baghdad online

. (page 17 of 18)
Online LibraryLouisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. WilkinsBy desert ways to Baghdad → online text (page 17 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" How did you know we liked tough chunks burnt
on a brazier ? " was my icy retort.

Arten shruofofed his shoulders ; there never has
been any accounting for the whims of women.

Small differences of opinion such as these were
continually cropping up between us ; and I would
tell him in calm and measured tones, though in
forcible English, what I thought of him. As the
language was unintelligible to him, this method had
the advantage of relieving my feelings without hurting
his. But there were secret bonds of sympathy
between us. We both suffered intensely from the
cold, and Arten would carefully wrap things round

Bringing in Supplies

• fact page 282.


me so that the apertures and crevices were not
on the windward side. There is a good deal of art
in this, and he did it very scientifically.

11 Little things feel the cold," he would say com-
passionately, and in such a kindly spirit that, for
the moment, I forgave him his greed and forgot to
feel undignified.

We were also on common ground when I tried
to cook dishes which I did not know how to cook.
Currents of great sympathy ran between us when
things did not seem to be turning out right and Arten
would tentatively suggest various ways and means.
But he never did what a foolish or disagreeable
person would have done : he never expressed in his
looks that I was no better than himself, which
obviously would not have been true, since I did not
pretend to be a cook, while Arten did.

And then when the critical moments of our
existence arrived and we placed the dish before X,
we both watched with the same intensity for the
expression of her face after the first mouthful. X
was singularly appreciative, and, when she kept
assuring us how excellent it was, Arten would glance
at me encouragingly and appear to share the delight
I experienced at my own prowess. X thought
Arten's cookery good, too, but then she never knew
what she was eating, and, if you do not know the
name of the dish, how can you judge whether or not
it is cooked as it oucrht to be ?

" What is this ? " X would ask one day.

" Mutton," Arten would answer.

" What is this? " she would say the next day, when
the identical substance was handed to her.


"Chicken," Arten would answer. And X was
perfectly satisfied.

The next day it would be " tinned meat," and it
was all the same to her — and to me ; but then I knew
what a liar Arten was.

His kindness of heart and his desire to please us
made it all the more difficult not to be irritated with
him when circumstances did not draw out the better
side of his nature. It is uncomfortable to despise
people in a qualified manner, and I found it impossible
to despise Arten unreservedly and therefore happily.
There was no doubt that he was a horrible coward.
If he had said " I am a coward — I am afraid," he
would have enlisted my sympathy for what it was
worth, because I was a coward myself and admired
sincerity. If he had even preserved a decent silence
on the subject I should have been unable altogether
to despise him, for that was the course I pursued
myself. But when any real or imaginary danger
was past he would come out with assumed and
aggressive hilarity, and make tales about it and his
prowess, which latter he had already made con-
spicuous enough by its absence. Yet his position
was no doubt complicated: he knew that the Turks in
our train despised not only him but his race , there
was no one to suggest his courage if he did not do it
himself, and, as he was unable to exhibit it in deeds,
I have no doubt he saw no other course to pursue but
that of publishing it by word of mouth. Moreover,
he had suffered personally from bad treatment ; the
tale was a piteous one. Near his native town of
Adana he had a small mill where he ground corn


through the season. On one occasion he had done
well and was on his way back to his wife and children
in the town, carrying his earnings, which were to keep
them through the winter. Half way home he was
attacked by a band of robbers, who relieved him not
only of his gold but of all his clothes. He had to
remain in hiding by the roadside until some one passed
from whom he could borrow a garment in which to
return starved and penniless to his expectant family.
Small wonder that the poor man shuddered at the
word "Khursus" (brigand) which we laughingly joked

" What is it to you ? " he said one day ; " you have
rich relations, kind friends, and a just Government.
If you are robbed, justice is done to you. But what
can I expect but more abuse and ill-treatment? — and
I have a wife and small children into the bargain ! "

When he was not posing as a hero, he was posing
as a feature in the landscape. This was particularly
exasperating, for no amount of pity for his condition
would turn him into a picturesque martyr, even in
the foreground of ancient ruins. No sooner was my
camera produced than Arten produced himself. The
only occasion on which I knew him keep out of sight
was when I was trying to get a snap-shot of the band
of Kurds who held us up on the Tigris. He seemed
to have no desire to show himself, although I was
considerate enough to invite him to occupy a pro-
minent position for once. His appearance was not
calculated to enhance the effect of any picture. He
was like a starved black scarecrow dressed up in tight
and clerical garments, with a fez on the top — and


then there was the nose. He would have made any
warm desert scene look cold, as it would not be
obvious that he was perspiring, and in any group of
picturesque natives he would look ludicrous.

I recall, as I write, isolated moments of exaspera-
tion — when, for instance, he sat, singing a hymn,
kicking up the dust with his heels, when we were
trying to inflate ourselves with worthy feelings on the
contemplation of Babylon, awed by the silence and
desolation of the scene around us. Or again, how in
a fit of nervousness he hurled the whole of our dinner
in agitation on the floor, while we, after an unusually
long fast, could have cried for food.

But reviewing him calmly at a distance, one
remembers a man that one alternately laughed at and
pitied ; who annoyed one by his transparent faults,
but who commanded one's sympathy by his tragic
condition, and one's admiration by his cheerful
willingness in trying circumstances. A man who was
meant by nature to be light-hearted and happy, kind
to his fellows, energetic and interested in his work,
ambitious for his children ; but who fate dictated
was to have his spirit quenched, his nature hardened,
and mean and cowardly qualities developed owing to
the fear, injustice, and poverty in which, like the rest
of his countrymen, he was condemned to live.

II. Hassan.

Hassan was an Albanian Turk; he belonged to one
of the old Turkish families and looked every inch the
gentleman that he was. Introduced to us by a




common friend, he accompanied us during our seven
months' wandering through Asiatic Turkey in a semi-
professional capacity, but what that capacity was it
would be difficult to define by any particular name.
A dragoman he was not, though he called himself our
" tergeman." "Tergeman," literally translated, being
" interpreter," he could claim nothing entitling him to
this function, for he spoke no European language, and
it was not till we learnt Turkish that we could hold
any spoken communication with him. Briefly, he
acted as a sort of amateur dragoman without any of
the qualifications usually expected of these gentlemen
— and possessing a great many of the virtues in which,
as a rule, they are sadly lacking. Essentially he
was our Figure-head, and a splendid one he made,
six foot six in stature and broad in proportion, as
straight as a die and as supple as a willow, with a
handsome head set well back on strong shoulders,
and keen, kindly eyes which looked out very straight
from under shaggy eyebrows. When he walked he
put into his great stride a grace and dignity which
soon earned for him the nickname of "the Prince."
His chief characteristics were that gentleness which
comes of great strength under perfect command ;
the courtesy which arises from a sense of other
people's worth measured by a sense of his own ; and
an imperturbability which could be as irritating as it
was admirable. " Ne faidet ? " (what is the use ?), was
a favourite expression of his, and " ne faidet " he
looked all over. In scenes of human quarrel, excite-
ment, or danger, one was chiefly conscious of his calm
indifference of mind and manner as he silently


surveyed his companions in fear of brigands or in joy
over a piece of meat. Yet he was a man full of the
passions of his race, capable of an iron self-control
when he thought fit to make use of it, but occasionally
roused into a state of temper bordering on madness.
On these occasions he would afterwards say his
"jan" had had him by the throat, and he did not
know what he was doing.

A great man with a great imprisoned soul, as free
and light-hearted as a careless boy when roaming
in the great forests or on the bare mountain side
of his native home, fettered and fretful when the
bonds of artificial civilisation held him.

" What a Kallabalak ! what is the use of this
Kallabalak ? " he would say with a wave of disgust
when he got into the middle of a noisy crowd. "This
is good, this is keyf," was his comment, with great
gasps of enjoyment, when we three sat on the ground
together in some lonely spot of a lonely desert. One
felt he was breathing freely again. A silent
man by nature, he could not bear loquacious people.
" Burra, burra, burra," he would say, pointing his
thumb at them; "burra, burra, burra, what is the
use of all this talking ? " If the remarks were
addressed to him. they were always answered with
stern courtesy. A talkative young Armenian rode
with us one day and tried to draw him into con-
versation. " Is not that mirage in front of us ? What
a wonderful sight — trees and water and mountains !
Do you not think it must be mirage, Effendi ? "

" With the eyes that Allah has given me, it does
seem to be so, young man," was Hassan's grim



answer, and he rode on without turning his head to
right or left.

Yet on occasion he enjoyed a refined " Kallabalak."
One night in Cairo, when we had done for the time
with camping and were seated in cleanliness and
finery in the hotel garden, a confetti feast was going
on. Serious young men and maidens, larky old men
and festive matrons, were diverting themselves in the
essentially hilarious proceeding of scattering confetti
on one another. The garden was hung with Chinese
lanterns ; fireworks hissed and spluttered, shooting
flames of colour. Hassan sat in convulsed enjoyment
of the gay scene. It was a revelation to him of the
lighter side of life. And when a charming young
lady, bolder than the many who cast coy and curious
glances at the handsome Turk, came and administered
a dose of confetti down the back of his neck, he
was overcome with glee and merriment. Afterwards,
on subsequent wanderings in wilds and deserts,
he would turn to us after hours of silence, and,
bursting into a deep roar of laughter, would say,
" Do you remember the paper and the foolish men
and women ? "

His function, as I have said, was first and foremost
that of Figure-head ; he escorted us on our visits
to Turkish officials and dignitaries, and, with grave
dignity and courtly manner, unembarrassed by his
own unshaven chin or the stains and dust of travel
on our weather-worn and unwashed garments, he
would make the most of anything entitling us to
belong to " the great ones of England." He cast
a general air of respectability over us, and we always



felt it was largely due to him that we were shown
so much consideration in a land where all travellers
are treated with suspicion, and where women are not
regarded in a particularly chivalrous light.

But beside this, he was general caretaker of our
personal comforts : he put up our camp beds and
arranged our tent ; he always sat beside us at meals,
which we took seated cross-lego-ed on the ""round,
either outside by the camp-fire, or in bad weather
on the floor of the tent. His first self-constituted
duty was to peel the oranges with which we generally
finished a meal ; he removed the peel to form two
cups, in which he neatly piled the sections and placed
them beside us, carefully counting the pieces to make
sure that he had treated us alike. " Shimdi " (now)
he would say when we had finished the first course
and we would ask for dates. " Shimdi " he would
say again when the last of these were demolished.
" Shimdi Kahiveh," and coffee would come in its turn
"Shimdi." "Nothing more." "Nothing," he would
exclaim; "nothing?" "We will smoke now."
" Ttitiin (tobacco), aha, Shimdi tiitun," and he would
light us each a cigarette. Then, when this too was
finished, " Shimdi " — " Shimdi Rahat " (now rest), we
answer — and he makes pillows for us with our saddle-
bags and covers us over with rugs. This process was
repeated every day until it became a stock joke.
His jokes were all of this kind ; there were certain
standing ones which had to be crone through
periodically. My Turkish was limited to about fifty
words, so that conversation between us did not flow,
but X, who had learned to speak more fluently, would


ride with him for hours together, holding 1 endless
conversations on Turkish religion, habits, and ideas.
When X and he fell out he would come and joke
with me : one day I teazed him about being- a better
friend to her than to me.

" How can that be ? " he said gravely.

"Because," I answered, "you quarrel with the
Vali Pasha " (X was the Vali Pasha and I was the
Padishah), " and then you make it up and are great
friends again. But you are never cross with me.
If I were your friend you would quarrel with me,
too. But I am glad I am not your friend, or you
would get angry with me." This idea seemed to
tickle him immensely, and every day after this
conversation there would be a moment when he
would ride alongside of me, and, feigning an air of
great disgust, would shrug his shoulders and say,
" Istemen, istemen " (I do not want you). It was
his singularly primitive way of acting a quarrel with
me, and thereby showing that he and I were also
friends. X would also attack him on the subject.

"Why don't you go and scold the Padishah?" she
said on one occasion ; " she thinks the same as I do
about these things, only she cannot talk Turkish, so
she does not say them."

"The Padishah is but a child," he answered; "it
would hurt her. It would be a shame to hurt a

As a matter of fact I was older than X in months,
but her bodily proportions were larger than mine, and
everything goes by size in the East.

As time went on, however, we too had our little


rubs, and his methods of making friends aa"ain were
what one would expect from his schoolboy nature.
If I was in the tent, he would throw stones at it until
I looked out smiling ; this was taken as a sign that
the quarrel was over ; he would roll up an extra large
cigarette for me, and we would sit on the ground and
have a smoke of peace together. Our friendship was
of a silent nature. I made my fifty words express
everything I had to say, and to simplify matters only
used the verbs in the infinitive and nouns in the
nominative. Lono" custom had established a certain
meaning to various sentences between us which would
have been unintelligible to any other Turk.

" What Turkish, aman, what Turkish she speaks ! "
he used to say to X, holding up his hands in amused

We taught him a few English sentences, of which
he was very proud.

" Pull it up," he invariably said when he held
out his hand to help us off the ground.

" Pull it down," was his formula when he arranged
our habit skirts after mounting us.

" Pull it off," when he helped us off with our

When he was in a temper I made him say, " I am
a silly man," which he pronounced :

" I am

"A Silliman."

Although he did not know the meaning of the
words, he connected them with his own misdemeanours.

" Silliman yok (not), silliman yok," he used to
say fiercely when he was beginning to repent and



m fact page 292


get ashamed of himself. He always said " Good-
bight " for " Goodbye," confusing it with " Good-

Great was his pleasure whenever in the course
of our travels we came across a European, or any one
who could speak a language which I understood.

"See now," he would exclaim at the unwonted
sight of me talking with any one, " she has found a
friend ! " And then, when we parted and I relapsed
into silence : "See now, how sad she looks! She is
thinking of her friend."

And he would ride up to me compassionately.

"Where is your friend now, Padishah ? "

" Where, indeed? " I answer. " I have no friend ;
you must buy me one in the bazaars next time we
ijet to a town."

"And how much money must I give for him,
Padishah ? "

"You must not give much, because I am poor, but
you must get a very good one."

"Aman, aman, see now what she says : I must get
a good one, and yet not give much money. Do you
hear, Vali Pasha ? "

And when he came back from the bazaars :

" I have bought the friend, Padishah."

" Where is he? I don't see him."

" He is here, in my bag."

" How much did you give for him ? "

" Ten piastres."

" He cannot be a good one if he is as cheap as
that, and so small that he will go in your bag."

" Oh yes, he is a good friend," and he produces


a roll of tobacco; "a good friend and little money.
That was what you said, wasn't it, Padishah ? "

And I reflect that there is many a true word
spoken in jest.

" Has she no friend in England," he asked X
one day, " or does she never speak in England
either? "

" Yes," said X, " she has a friend in England,
and she does not speak because she is thinking of

"And you, Vali Pasha, have you also a friend
in England ? "

"Yes," I answered for X ; "she has twenty-nine
friends in England, and you are only the thirtieth."

And Hassan would ride on in silence, pondering
over the strange ways of English ladies.

Amongst his other duties he had to purchase the
food, pay the muleteers and soldiers, and give tips ;
and it fell to my lot to do up the accounts with him
periodically. The unusual mental exertion required
by this he found very trying. His imperturbability
would forsake him completely. On the first occasion
he broke down altogether. " What can I do with
figures?" he said, the tears rolling down his cheeks;
" let me go back to my hills and forests ; I am only
a poor hunter. She brings out her little book and
I shall not know how the piastres have gone, and
she will think I have taken her piastres," and he
laid his head on his knees and groaned aloud.

When we became better acquainted, however,
" hisab " (accounts) became a joke, though they
always caused him to perspire profusely.


At first my entire ignorance of the language made
our intercourse over the account-book somewhat
difficult. We would sit on the ground opposite one
another, and Hassan would fumble in the folds of
his belt until he had found his spectacles and his

"Are you ready ? "


" Peki (very good), Effendim ; yimurta (eggs) 2
piastres." I would write it down.

" Yasdin me? "

" Ne yasdin me ? " (what is " yasdin me? ").

" Yasdin me ? yasdin me ? yasdin me ? "

I have not the smallest idea what "yasdin me"
means, but I pretend to write it down and then
say :

" How many piastres was it ? "

Hassan makes a gesture of despair.

" Yasdin me ? yasdin me ? yasdin me ? " he repeats

"X," I shout across the tent, " what does 'yasdin
me ' mean ? I suppose it's some sort of food, only
he won't tell me how many piastres it costs."

" It means ' Have you written it ? ' " said X calmly.

"Yasdin me?" repeats Hassan again.

" Yes," I answer meekly.

"Aha, now she know," says Hassan, and he mops
his forehead vigorously. " I say ' Yasdin me ' and
she says, ' How many piastres ? Aman, aman ! "

" Peki, Effendim " (very good), he goes on. " Etmek
(bread), 3 piastres. Have you written it ? "



" Peki, Effendim. Et (meat), 12 piastres. Have
you written it ? "


"Peki, Effendim. Pilij (chicken), 3 piastres."

" Ne Pilij ? " (what is pilij ?).

" Pilij, pilij, pilij."

" Yes, but what is it ? "

"Pilij, pilij — she doesn't know pilij, and she learns
it every day."

He begins to crow like a cock.

" Oh yes, I know."

"Ah, ah, now she knows! Peki; pilij 3 piastres.
Have you written it ? "


" Peki, Effendim."

And so we go on through all the items, and finally
add up the total in our respective languages. By
means of holding up our ten fingers a large number
of times, we ascertain whether the results tally, for
in those early days I could only count in Turkish
up to twenty-nine, and knew the words for a hundred
and a thousand. Then Hassan would give a great
sigh, close his book, fold his spectacles, take off his
fez, and wipe his head all over, and finally forget his
troubles under the soothing influence of tobacco.

And so the days slipped away. At the end of
six months we landed out of the Syrian desert into
Damascus. An immense change came over Hassan
when he was released from the anxieties of
piloting us through impossible places and rumoured
dangers. He became more boyish and cheerful
and amused at everything. His first care on arriving


at the end of our journey was, after spending several
hours in a public bath, to go a clean and happy man
to the Mosque, to return thanks to Allah for having
brought us safely through.

We had been to call at the consulate, and, as we
drove up to the hotel on our return, I caught sight
of Hassan in the street with a crowd round him ;
he was strutting up and down in his shirt-sleeves,
with his head even more thrown back than usual
and a wild look in his eye.

"Good heavens," I said to X, "the Prince must
have got into one of his tempers and killed a few
people in the street," and I anxiously looked round
for signs of gore. The Prince took no notice of
us, but stalked up and down, the crowd making
way before him with looks of awe.

" What are we to do ? " I said ; " he looks as if he
had gone off his head and would knock down any one
who comes near him."

"He does look like a prize-fighter," said X; "I
have never seen him look like that before."

Our cook was standing on the steps.

" What is the matter with Hassan ? " I said to him.

The man stared.

" Nothing," he said, "it's only his new shirt."

We went inside, telling him to fetch Hassan
to us.

The Prince stalked into the room with the same
air with which he had been stalking the streets, and
stood in front of us with an excited and expectant

" The cook is right," said X ; "it is his new shirt.


He is overcome with pride and conceit ; he is on
parade, that's all."

He certainly had something to be conceited about.
The shirt was of fine silk in gorgeous yellow and
red stripes ; round his waist was a wide, bright-
coloured kammerband, round his head a new keffiyeh
flashed all the colours of the rainbow. Clean and
shaven, his tight-fitting shirt showing up the strong
outline of his muscular frame, he exhibited, to say the
least of it, a striking spectacle.

We were evidently expected to be overcome at
the magnificence of his appearance, and certainly
we did not disappoint him in this respect.

"You are grand," said X to him in his own
language ; " you quite surprise us."

Hassan put his hands into his trouser pockets
and strutted up and down the room, speechless
with delight.

11 Who would have thought you could be such a
turkey-cock, you old gander ! " I said in English.

" What is she saying?" said Hassan to X.

" She says you are just like a very magnificent
bird we have in England," answered X.

Hassan beamed triumphantly.

" You have fine clothes," he said ; " I must not
disgrace you."

"Is he always going about in his shirt-sleeves, I

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17

Online LibraryLouisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. WilkinsBy desert ways to Baghdad → online text (page 17 of 18)