Louisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. Wilkins.

By desert ways to Baghdad online

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the dried and yellow tufts of older grass ; the joy
of being out of the sun and the dust ; the cool
sound of the water in the brook ; the sense of rest
and freedom, the sense of having really escaped at
last. . . . On recalling this lunch with X, after many
adventures had made it seem very remote, I found
that she retained equally vivid recollections of it.
I heard her murmur reflectively to herself, " And
we thought it was always going to be like that ! "

Then we had reluctantly left it all, the unwilling
horses were pulled and dragged away, snatching
at last bites, and we rode off on the dusty road



28 BY DESERT WAYS TO BAGHDAD

again, until we reached the village near which we
had arranged to camp. We had ridden round and
chosen this site in the middle of the mysterious
hillocks, which shut us out so effectually from every-
thing except the stars.

We were destined to spend many more such nights
in camp ; but perhaps none can give you exactly the
same thrill as the one on which for the first time
you sleep out in the open.

It is full of surprises; you expect it to be quiet,
and you find the darkness and stillness is full of
noise. Nothing escapes you : the breathing of men
and animals, the crackling of the fire, the rustling
of leaves and grass ; there seems to be a continuous
movement very close to you. You sit up many times
expecting to see something in your tent ; it all makes
you very wakeful. You drop off into a disturbed
sleep very late, and are awakened before sunrise
by the stir in the camp. You are positive you have
not slept all night and that strange people have been
prowling round you in the dark.

Yet as one lay in this semi-wakeful state of excite-
ment and mystery, one's strongest impression was
that of wanting protection merely against a few
primitive forces ; with the wild beasts we shared the
dangers of cold and hunger and attacks from man.
Slowly and painfully you have crawled out of the
net in which you have all this time been unconsciously
enveloped, and emerging stripped and bewildered
grope about for what is actually going to serve and
protect you in this primeval state of battling against
the primitive forces of nature ; a state, moreover, where



DISENTANGLEMENT 29

protection against the dictates of an organised society-
is no longer needed. To those who are confronted
with this problem for the first time, it is almost
impossible to walk straight out of the net and have
an impartial look round. Tradition still clings to
us in little bits, and we grope hopelessly about,
wondering what will be an essential and what
will not.

Looking back now on these first few days of
preparation for our journey in the wilderness, I
realise that by far the hardest part of the journey
was this initial disentanglement from the forces of
tradition. If you are about to alter fundamentally
your method of living, you must take care that you
are discarding all those accessories which are due
to tradition ; you must either adopt those evolved
by the tradition of the races among which you are
about to travel, or you must bring abstract science
to bear on the question of how to provide for your
immediate wants under the changed conditions.
A bare tent in a country where weather is still an
interesting topic is a safe place for such reflections ;
the realities of the situation make one strictly practical.
On getting out of bed our clothes were damp with
dew and the grass was cold to our bare feet ; at
the next town we bought the strip of carpet, the
idea of which we had rejected at Constantinople.



CHAPTER II



BRIGANDAGE



BRIGANDAGE. The capture of Miss Stone,
ancient history as it now is, has served to give
a vivid meaning to this word in the public mind. We
were being continually asked if we wished to emulate
Miss Stone. Travelling second class through Bulgaria
on our way to Constantinople our fellow-passengers,
rough, good-natured farmers, joked about it ; but they
always added, "No, it will not happen to you." Then
they would look at one another and laugh. The
capture of Miss Stone did not seem to be looked upon
seriously out there.

Then there was the Embassy at Constantinople.
They were horribly nervous about international com-
plications. As a matter of fact capture for ransom
is a decided danger in the neighbourhood of larger
towns in Asiatic Turkey. Not that there are any
professional brigands prowling about, but there is
a certain class of native ready to become a brigand on
the spur of the moment, should they get wind of suit-
able prey. They are not Turks — no Turk would be
bothered ; they are, as a rule, Greeks, and always
Christians. It is as well, therefore, on any expedition,
not to make very great preparations and talk too



30



BRIGANDAGE 31

much of your line of route ; but as quietly and expe-
ditiously as possible to get hold of your horses and men
and start off before news of your movements has been
noised abroad.

It was not at all in our favour that X bore a name
well known to fortune hunters ; one of her uncles was
in the habit of bior-crame shooting in this district, and
his means were fabulously exaggerated.

Calphopolos had been sent with us partly because he
could be so thoroughly trusted to take all precautions.
He certainly earned his reputation ; he seemed to
have been born with the fear of brigands in his soul ;
mere conversation about them caused him to break
out into a profuse perspiration. He had talked to us
very seriously on leaving Constantinople, as we sat
on the deck of the steamer which took us across the
Sea of Marmora on our way to Brusa.

" Pour l'amour de Dieu, mesdemoiselles, soyez
secretes ; la secrece, c'est tout."

"La secrece" became his by-word. If there was
one thing he was more afraid of than anything else on
earth it was X's surname. He implored her not to
use it, but to call herself Miss Victoria. He had all
our lucroraae labelled Miss Victoria ; and if in casual
conversation the dreaded name leaked out, beads of
perspiration rolled down his face and he would glance
nervously round to see who was within earshot.

X was rather a reprobate on the subject. On our
arrival at Madame Brot's well-known hotel at Brusa,
from where we were making our final departure the
next day, she marched up to Madame Brot and said,
11 I think you know my uncle" — mentioning him by



32 BY DESERT WAYS TO BAGHDAD

name. Calphopolos, who was just behind, explaining
that our name was Victoria pure and simple, turned
green with horror. With bent back and staring eyes,
shaking the same finger in warning which his sub-
conscious self was trying to put on his lips, he endea-
voured to attract X's attention from behind Madame
Brot's broad back. But X went glibly on, quite
oblivious of the panic she was creating. Calphopolos
turned to me with the resigned expression of a man
on whom death-sentence has been passed. " It is all
over now," he said, "everybody in Brusa will know
about us in half an hour. Mesdemoiselles, did I not
implore you for the love of God to respect the secrecy?
Ah, mon Dieu, mon Dieu, quelles demoiselles ! "

And then poor old Calphopolos, who was not with-
out his sense of fun, laughed till the tears rolled down
his cheeks. " The only thing left to do," he went on,
when he had sufficiently recovered to speak again,
" is to pretend we are going to Angora and put them
off the scent. Mesdemoiselles, for the love of God
please try and remember that it is Angora you are
going to. Tell everybody you are going to Angora.
The secrecy it is everything."

It must be confessed it was very difficult at that
time to feel seriously alarmed about brigandage, for
we seemed to be moving in ordinary respectable society,
and Calphopolos's treatment of the subject merely
caused us to think of it as a joke. Still, we fully
realised that it was a real risk, against which it would
not do to neglect taking ordinary precautions ; and
this sense was heightened by the extreme alarm of
the Vice-Consul at Brusa to whom we applied for the



BRIGANDAGE 33

escort of Zaptiehs, without whom one is not permitted
to travel in Turkey with any guarantee of safety.
He could not understand why we would not drive
through to Nicaea in a landau in one day, like the
ordinary tourist ; this, with a suitable escort, made
the journey quite safe, and it is a common thing for
travellers to do. But to ride there in three days with
our camp, sleeping on the way, was another matter.
Every extra hour spent loitering in any one district
heightened the risk of being attacked by brigands.
X tried to explain that it was for the sake of her
health, which only made him more bewildered ; surely
a landau was more suitable for invalids !

Finding us, however, unmoved by his arguments, he
promised to send us two men the next morning and
implored us never to leave their sides for a moment.
He must have rubbed the same instructions well into
the Zaptiehs, for during the seven days which they
accompanied us as far as Mekidje on the Anatolian
Railway, they never were more than a couple of yards
away from us, day and night. This certainly de-
tracted from the sense of freedom we were otherwise
experiencing. It seemed at first as if we had only
escaped from one form of bondage to fall into another.
But the fact that the men were unable to speak
any language we understood prevented it from be-
coming irksome, and one was soon able to become
nearly oblivious of the clanking sword at one's
elbow.

Calphopolos, however, was not so easily ignored.
He had a sort of feeling that we were always running
away from him, and tried to check this pernicious

3



34 BY DESERT WAYS TO BAGHDAD

tendency on our part by engaging us in constant con-
versation in his broken French. The more we edged
our horses away from his side and tried to put a silent
Zaptieh between him and ourselves, the more persist-
ently would he pursue us, propounding some new
problem which required an answer. Our behaviour
on breaking camp that morning had probably given
rise to his state of mind. We had ordained that the
start should be made at eight o'clock ; but the usual
procrastinations had ensued and the men seemed
totally unable to get off. Calphopolos kept packing
and unpacking his little bag in search of the missing
tooth-brush, and tried to keep us calm.

" It is thus in this country, mademoiselle ; have no
anxiety — we shall go, we shall go."

X and I agreed that there was only one way to go.
We had our horses saddled and rode away, in spite of
Calphopolos's prayers and entreaties to wait till the
whole camp was packed. The Zaptiehs, after the
orders they had received, were obliged to ride after
us. This left Calphopolos and the muleteers without
Government protection, which so filled them with
terror that in a very few minutes they also were on
the way. Calphopolos came tearing down the road
after us, the tails of his long black coat flying out
behind, the tooth-brush sticking out of his pocket,
and the perspiration rolling down his cheeks.

" Pour l'amour de Dieu ! " he gasped as he caught
us up, " pour l'amour de Dieu ! " and then he had
so much to say that he couldn't say it and relapsed
into laughter and ejaculations of " Mais quelles
demoiselles, mon Dieu, quelles demoiselles."



BRIGANDAGE 35

The second day our road lay across the great Jeni-
shehr plain. Herds of buffaloes strayed about on the
wilder parts, and here and there fields of corn and
tobacco, suddenly springing up beside the stretches
of rough grass, signalled the approach to an occasional
village.

Here also it was very difficult to think of brigands;
the harmless look of peaceful cultivators did not
suggest them. Besides which the country was so
open that you could not be suddenly pounced upon ;
you would have ample opportunity of considering evil-
doers as they approached you across the wide plain.
We encamped that evening near the small village
of Jenishehr. The excitement of the novelty had
worn off and we had had a long day in the open air.
I n consequence of this I had fallen into a profound sleep
at once on going to bed. Suddenly I was awakened
by a noise in the tent, and looking up distinctly saw
the figure of a man coming cautiously through the
tent door. In one moment I had hold of my revolver,
kept loaded at the head of my bed, and had it levelled
at him, wondering when the psychological moment for
pulling the trigger would occur and whether I should
manage to live up to its requirements.

" Pour l'amour de Dieu, mademoiselle! pour l'amour
de Dieu ! " came in a terror-stricken voice.

I put down the weapon rather crossly.

" What do you want?" I said.

" Quels sont vos noms," stuttered out Calphopolos
in great agitation.

"What on earth do you mean? " I said ; "you know
our names well enough."



o



6 BY DESERT WAYS TO BAGHDAD



" Pour l'amour de Dieu, quels sont vos noms," he
repeated.

"X," I called out, "wake up and tell me what is
the matter with Calphopolos — I think his head has
been turned by this fright about your name ; he is
going about jibbering over it."

X had a soothing influence on Calphopolos, and
gradually extracted from him that the local Zaptieh
had come up for our tezkerehs and wanted to know
our names. His agitation over the revolver had been
so great that he had been unable to explain articu-
lately that it was our tezkerehs that he had come for.

The next day the whole character of the country
changed. The plain gradually oozed away into a
more tumbled country and cultivation disappeared.
We were about to cross the range of hills which shut
out our view to the north.

The Zaptiehs were very much on the alert here ;
they unslung their rifles from behind and rode with
them across their knees. We were told to keep close
together and ride quietly without talking.

The mountains closed in on either side ; they were
bare, rounded hills for the most part, with stunted
shrubs on the lower slopes, which one soon learnt to
regard purely as cover for a possible enemy. There
was no difficulty about realising possible dangers
here ; the broad road slowly narrowed, and at every
turn in the winding path one almost expected to be
confronted by a villain. At the snap of a twig or the
rustle of a leaf our Zaptiehs grasped their rifles tighter,
and without turning their heads moved their eyes in
that direction. Once, on the wider road we had left,



BRIGANDAGE 37

a cloud of dust had arisen in the distance, and a long
line of camels laden with wood filed slowly past us in
twos and threes. Our men exchanged a few mono-
syllabic words with the drivers, and in another minute
or two the tinkling of the bells and the tramp of feet
had subsided, the dust settled once more, and we
were alone again with the silent hills and the
crackling twigs, and wound our way in and out in
single file across the rounded hillocks. Here and
there the sight of a herd of sheep or goats, tended
by peaceful looking natives, relieved the tension caused
by our escort's precautions, for it is always difficult
to associate danger with such rural scenes. At last
there was a break in front ; we were through the pass
and began to descend.

Calphopolos had been silent all this time ; his con-
versational powers seem to have suffered a severe
check. Now he brightened up, mopped his forehead,
and murmured " Grace a Dieu nous voila."

Half way down the hillside, perched on a projecting
ledge just off the road, stood a lonely coffee-house.
The Zaptiehs, pointing at it with their whips, hailed
it with delight. They slid off their horses, and holding
ours, helped us to dismount. We sat in the porch
and sipped thick, hot Turkish coffee ; below us the
Fake Ascanius lay like a blue sheet between the purple
hills, its eastern end fringed round with a band of
green, in which the minarets and domes of Isnik itself
were just visible. All around us the stunted shrubs
still formed harbour for the suspected brigands. Our
Zaptiehs lay stretched on the ground in front,
apparently asleep ; but their rifles were never laid



$S BY DESERT WAYS TO BAGHDAD

aside, and the least stir in the bushes made us realise
their state of alert watchfulness.

But not a living creature showed itself, and we
rode on down and down the curving incline until
we reached the green band of vegetation and our
horses trod softly through grassy slopes of olive
plantations, whose grey leaves shone like silver as the
sun's low rays beat through them. Past the olive
plantations lay a stretch of low-lying reedy marsh.

" You shall have a good supper to-night," said
Ibrahim ; and throwing his reins to a Zaptieh he
plunged in on foot. He shot two snipe, and joined
us again as we reached the outskirts of the town.

The old city of Nicaea is now represented by a
collection of a few hundred miserable houses forming
the village of Isnik. But, as everywhere in the
ancient towns of Asiatic Turkey, one is confronted
at every point with tokens of former splendour.
Four great gates in the old Roman walls give
access to the town. Courses of brickwork are
built in between the large stones of which the bulk
of the walls consist ; here and there semicircular
towers rise up, their ruins still surmounting the ruins
of the wall. One, more perfect than the rest, is said
to mark the site of the church in which the Nicene
Creed was framed.

We fixed on a spot for the camp just inside the
walls and outside the present town, where a green field,
which merged into a cemetery, lay in the curve of a
shallow brook.

The pots and pans were speedily tumbled out of
Constantin's saddle-bags and Ibrahim had our tents



BRIGANDAGE 39

up with European alacrity ; but it was dark before
the smell of roasted snipe pervaded the night air.
We ate our supper by the light of a lantern hung on
a forked stick. The fear of brigands departed and
the sleep of the just fell upon the camp. Owls
hooted in the green-covered walls of ruined Nicaea,
and away in the distance the still mountains kept
guard over the dark waters of the lake as they lapped
mournfully on the ruins of Roman baths on its stony
shore. The Zaptieh on guard poked fresh sticks into
the dying fire and sighed heavily between the snores
of his companions.

In and out amongst the upright white stones of the
cemetery a jackal prowled stealthily and sniffed the
smell of snipe bones.



CHAPTER III



SOCIAL INTERCOURSE



ONE tree stood out in the middle of the field in
which we were encamped. We spread our
carpet under it and laid ourselves out for a lazy day.
There were letters to write home and plans to make
about the journey ahead. It was impossible to do
such things comfortably after a day's ride and with
the feeling of transitoriness engendered by a short
night in camp. So we had decided to spend this
Sunday at Isnik.

Constantin got out all his pots and pans to give
them an extra cleaning, and promised us a vast
meal. He complained that he had never had time
to show us what he could do.

Animals and men alike were pervaded with that
sense of rest which is in the air on a hot Sunday
morning. The horses, after rolling on their backs,
stretched themselves out motionless on their sides ;
the arabajis dozed in the araba. Calphopolos
retired inside the men's tent, prepared to make up
for the loss of sleep occasioned by anxious nights.
We got out our books and papers and thought about
all we should get through that day.

We were encamped within the old walls of Nicaea,



40



SOCIAL INTERCOURSE 41

and from where we sat were in full view of the out-
skirts of the present town. By and by some native
women sallied out in our direction and, skirting the
camp, peeped cautiously round our tents ; then
getting bolder they sidled towards us, smiling pro-
pitiatingly. We felt peacefully disposed towards the
whole world and smiled back at them. Thus en-
couraged they advanced nearer and felt the substance
of our clothes and examined our hats.

Finally, not finding themselves repulsed, they
fingered our hair and stroked our hands. X hunted
in her vocabulary for suitable remarks and delivered
them at intervals. Meanwhile other women straggled
out from the town, and, finding their sisters already so
much at home, they also satisfied themselves as to
the consistency of our clothes and skin. The earlier
arrivals now established themselves on the ground
around us, jabbering away amongst themselves and
occasionally addressing a single word to us, which
they repeated again and again, pointing at each of
us in turn. X looked it up, and came to the conclu-
sion that it meant " sister." So we shook our heads
and looked up the word for " friend." The effect
was magical ; we had established social intercourse.
More and more women arrived and joined the throng
settled round us, all new-comers being initiated into
the already acquired knowledge concerning us. Soon
everybody had a word they wanted looked out in
the dictionary, until X became fairly exhausted. We
tried "goodbye" and "no more " with disappointing
effect, and finally let them sit there gazing at us while
we went on with our writing, keeping a sharp look-



42 BY DESERT WAYS TO BAGHDAD

out on our hats, which every one was anxious to try
on. It seemed to please them just as much to look at
us as to talk to us, and they sat on in placid content.

By and by Ibrahim hurried up and spoke to the
women ; they all darted to their feet and fled. We
looked at Ibrahim inquiringly. He pointed in the
direction of the town, and we saw two men arriving
at a slow and dignified pace. Constantin appeared
on the scene.

" Gouverneur," he said, " faire visite."

X and I hastily donned our hats and sent for a seat
for the "gouverneur." But Ibrahim could only find
a saddle-bag. X turned over the leaves of the
vocabulary in the hopes of finding suitable greetings.
We bowed and scraped mutually, and X delivered
herself of the first greeting.

" We are very pleased."

The "gouverneur" bowed and made, no doubt,
what was a suitable response ; but as we could only
attack single words we were no wiser. There v/as
a pause while X collected the words for another.

" Beautiful country," she attempted.

The "gouverneur" bowed very gravely,

"I hope I have said that," said X nervously, "he
looks rather shocked."

At that moment Constantin appeared with coffee
and cigarettes, which gave us time to recover.

" I should not bother to talk to him," I said.
" That is the best of these people — they understand
how to sit happily in silence, just looking at you."

But X determined to make another try ; it was good
practice.




Enter i vining i hi Mudu \ i \i< 1 \.



it 'act age ;



SOCIAL INTERCOURSE 43

" Health good ? " she said.

The "gouverneur" turned to his companion and
said a few words in Turkish. The young man
looked rather terrified, and began to speak to us
in what sounded like gibberish. Constantin came
to take the cups away.

" Parle franc^ais," he said, pointing to the young
man.

We strained our ears to try and catch an
intelligible word, but could only shake our heads.

So we all took refuge in silence and looked at
one another. There was no sense of gene. The
Turk and his companion seemed as content to sit
and look at us as the women had been. When
he had finished his cigarette he rose, and, bowing
once more in Turkish fashion, took his leave.

We picked up our papers once more, then
Constantin came and said lunch was ready. We
sat on saddle-bags outside the tent and ate chunks
of mutton and onions out of the tin bowl keeping
hot on the charcoal brazier at our side. Ibrahim
filled our cups with water from the brook, and
the grass tickled our hands each time we lifted
them from the ground. The pots and pans lay
about all around, and Constantin, squatting in the
middle of them, brought the coffee to the boil three
times in the little Turkish pot.

" Sheker, effendi ? " he called out, "un, deux?"
as he ladled in the sugar. Constantin's language
was always of a hybrid nature, consisting of alternate
words of French and Turkish.



44 BY DESERT WAYS TO BAGHDAD

Then we had returned to the carpet under the tree
and sipped the thick, hot coffee out of the little
Turkish cups, and sent thoughtful rings of smoke up
into the branches of the tree above. And with the
rings of smoke went up thoughts of the coffee they
were drinking now in the drawing-rooms ; the little
cups there would have handles, and each one would
help himself to sugar off a little tray.

" I guess you find it slow here ! "

An American tourist couple from Brusa stood over


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Online LibraryLouisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. WilkinsBy desert ways to Baghdad → online text (page 2 of 18)