Louisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. Wilkins.

By desert ways to Baghdad online

. (page 3 of 18)
Online LibraryLouisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. WilkinsBy desert ways to Baghdad → online text (page 3 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

us. They had seen us off at Madame Brot's hotel,
and had then announced their intention of driving to
Nicaea in a landau.

" We thought we would just look you up and see
if you had got here all right, but we cannot stop a
minute ; we've only had an hour to see the walls, they
were so long getting lunch."

" You ought to see the tower on the site of the
church where they discussed the Nicene Creed,"
said X.

" The Nicene Creed — eh, what?" said the American,
as he consulted his guide-book.

" Say, we just ought to have a look at that," he said
to his wife.

"We shall miss the Augusta Victoria if you do,"
said the lady. Then she turned to us. " We go on
to Smyrna in it to-morrow morning," she explained,
" so we must get back to-night."

The landau appeared at that moment ; time was
up. Smyrna, Beyrout, Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo,
and Luxor had to be got in during the allotted time,


and there had been no provision made for the Nicene
Creed. So in they got and dashed away over the

They had come as a whirlwind over from the
West, sweeping the surface of this Eastern land and
catching up the loose fragments on it ; but its
traditions were too deeply rooted to be caught in
the blast ; these had merely bent their heads and let
the blast pass by. Strong as it is, it cannot unloose
the sway of ancient customs. Even for Americans
the East will not move. The natives gazed at the
landau, hardly wondering at it ; then they forgot it.
But we did not forget it so easily. For us an odour
of the West was left hanging over the plain — and
above all, our sense of time had been offended.

A French engineer with his wife and family were
the next to appear on the scene. They were the
only Europeans living in the place, and rejoiced over
the sound of their mother-tongue. The man poured
out volumes of it, and was interesting about his work
up to the point when we became fatigued.

11 Ah ! mademoiselle, what it is to be in civilised
company again ! We live here from day to day and
year after year, and have no one to speak with, no
one with whom to exchange ideas. C'est comme
la mort."

" Do you not see anything of the natives ? " we
inquired. "They seem very friendly, and you can
speak Turkish."

11 Ah ! mademoiselle, what can one do with such
people ; how can one associate with them ? They are
canaille, mere canaille."


"We were talking to some of them," we said,
" and thought them very intelligent."

He held up his hands in horror.

" But, mademoiselle, do you not understand ? Cer-
tainly there are the Christian races, but for the most
part, ce sont des Turques, des infideles, des chiens.
There is Marie there, pauvre Marie ! it is bad enough
for me, but then I have my work ; but Marie, the
pauvre Marie, she dies of ennui, she can speak to no
one but me and the children."

The pauvre Marie seemed indeed to have lost the
power of speech ; she sat silently as her husband
poured out his contempt of the canaille.

We had found the Greek women very entertaining
in the morning, and they too had sat and looked at us
in silence. But they had not been ashamed of their
silence ; Marie was, and felt awkward ; so we all felt
uncomfortable and tried to talk to her.

One felt then how little actual lancruagre had to do
with social intercourse. We could not get into touch
with Marie, whose language we understood, in the
same way that we had got into touch with the native
women, whose lancuiao-e we did not understand.

They sat on and on ; it was not until the sun began
to send out long warning shoots of colour, heralding
its disappearance behind the purple mountains, that
they rose to go.

And we, worn out with this final effort in sociability,
gave ourselves up to the quiet of the deserted camp,
and watched the shades of night creep once more
over the ruined walls and the distant hills, over the
houses of the French engineer and the canaille.



THERE is something very weird and uncanny
in the terminus of a railway in the middle of
a wild and desolate country such as this. The
Monster runs his iron fangs into the heart of its
desolation and shoots you into it like a ball out of
a cannon's mouth. Roaring and hissing and sending
out jets of flame, he comes racing through the dark-
ness to a certain definite spot ; here he discharges
you in the blackness of night and subsides. Next
morning when you awake he is gone, and you are
left to shift for yourself as best you can. But there
is a certain human friendliness about this Monster
while you are travelling with him. He seems to
draw all the signs of life out of an apparently dead
country and collect them at the stations for you to
see. Great warehouses filled with sacks of corn
testify to the productiveness of a country which,
judging it from the train window after harvest-time,
one would dismiss as mere barren soil ; an occasional
MacCormick's M Daisy " reaper awaiting delivery on


a side platform, native carts hanging about, and, truck-
loads of empty sacks tell the same tale. Groups of
peasants, idly gossiping, gathered together by the
whistle which heralds the Monster's approach, belie
the impression of an uninhabited land ; for Turkish
villages are carefully designed so as not to attract
attention. When one's eye gets more familiar with
the seemingly uniform colour of the landscape, varied
only by light and shade, one becomes aware of the
low, flat-topped, mud-brick houses, which, even at
close quarters, often seem but part of the natural

Even the unchanging East is powerless once the
Monster's fangs have taken hold ; he alone of all
influences comes to stay and leave his mark.

Slowly, perhaps, but very surely, he undermines
with irresistible persistence the customs and habits
which from time immemorial have held their own
against the religious, educational, or military forces
of stronger nations.

This particular spot has long been the battlefield of
the East and the West ; now one, now the other, has
had temporary ascendance ; in the long run the East
has always conquered.

But already we can see what a power the East has
to reckon with in the railway. For one thing it
attacks the Eastern in one of his vital points — his
conception of Time. Time waited for him when he
had but camels to load ; but the railway will not wait
for him ; the Monster screeches and is off. Sunrise
or two hours after sunrise is not one and the same
thing to him. Relentless as day and night he comes


and goes, and there is no cheating him as the Eastern
cheats Time.

But the railway is cheating the East out of its
time-worn customs and ideas, and there is a certain
sadness in the evidences of transition. All down the
line picturesque native costumes are being replaced
by ugly European clothes. The men wear terrible
fancy trouserings from Manchester ; the women spend
more money on dress — and unfortunately it is
European dress — and less on the old-fashioned
wedding feasts. The turnover of the shops in the
larger towns has increased fourfold in the last ten
years. The bazaars are now a medley of stalls
exhibiting native manufactures side by side with
cheap trinkets from England and loud flannelettes
from Italy. The price of wheat has doubled ; and
with that of wheat the prices of other exports have also
risen. Opium, wool, mohair, hides, and salt are
amongst the products of these great plains.

Two short days' ride from Nicaea had brought us to
Mekidje, a station on the Anatolian Railway half-way
between Haida Pasha and Eskishehr. The single
line went as far as Konia, and one train ran each way
every day. It stopped for the night at Eskishehr,
continuing the journey next morning.

We arrived at the station some hours before the
train was due, and sat in the stationmaster's strip
of garden, for there did not seem anything else to
do. We said goodbye to the Zaptiehs and to the
muleteers who were returning to Brusa, and watched
them slowly disappear down the road we had come.



Then we heard the low, familiar tinkle of camel bells,
and a score or more of laden animals paced slowly
into the open ground round the station. They have
a more discreet and tuneful way of announcing their
arrival than the Monster, and when they appear
on the scene they do so in a more dignified, calmer
manner. Having arrived also, they do not look as
if they were off again the next minute ; they look
as if they had come to stay for ever, and they give
you time to think. One by one, in answer to a word
of command, they knelt down in the dust, and the
great baskets holding the goods were unfastened and
rolled about on the ground. Their owners seemed
too slack to do any more. They let them lie there
while they looked at the sun. The Monster is slowly
replacing these carriers of the East ; but their day is
not yet done by a long way, for they must feed him
from the interior. His life is still dependent on
the life of those he is working to destroy.

At last we heard his distant shriek. Down upon
us he came, dashing up all in a minute, in such
a splutter and such a hurry, waking us all up.
Officials rushed up and down the platform, and swore
at the natives who were loading our baggage. Every-
body talked at once to everybody else, and the
Monster hissed impatiently, noisy even when he was
standing still.

There were not many passengers ; in a first-class
carriage a Pasha travelled in solitary state ; all his
harem were delegated to a second-class carriage,
where the blinds were pulled down. In the third-

■ We had Established Social Intercourse."
[See page 41.)

foci page 50.

Camels \i Mekidje Station.


class were a few natives, who leaned out of the
windows and gossiped with the camel owners, idle
witnesses of the busy scene.

But the Monster is getting impatient ; he hisses
furiously and finally gives a warning shriek. Then
off he goes, and we take a last look at the kneeling
camels, munching away as unconcernedly as if their
destroyer had never invaded their peaceful country.

Mekidje is practically at sea-level ; Eskishehr is a
tableland two thousand feet high ; we had therefore
a steady rise on the whole journey up the valley
formed by the Kara Su, a river which has its source
in the neighbourhood of Eskishehr. On each side
rounded hills shut out the horizon, save where here
and there a tributary valley would reveal, through
steep-sided gorges, a distant view of purple ridges
with snow-clad tops.

It was night when we arrived at Eskishehr, and we
groped our way to the Grand Hotel d'Anatolie, kept
by Greeks. It was at this hotel that we first met
Hassan, who was destined to play such a large part in
our future travels. He was an Albanian Turk, and
had been introduced to us by our friends in Constan-
tinople, whom he accompanied on their shooting
expeditions in this district. They had written to ask
him to look after us during our brief stay at Eskishehr.

Ibrahim brought him into our room, and there he
stood silently, after salaaming us in the usual way.

Ibrahim was a tall man, but Hassan towered above
him. He wore a huge sheepskin coat, which added to
his massive, impressive look.

X looked up words in her Turkish book.


"They told us you would look after us here?"
she said.

"As my eyes," he answered very quietly and
simply. And thus began one of those friendships on
which neither time nor distance can leave their mark.

Two days later X asked him whether he would
accompany us on the next stage of our journey, across
the Anatolian Plateau and the Taurus Mountains to

"Will you come with us and guard us well?" she
said. He dropped on one knee and kissed her hand.

" On my head be it," he said.

Eskishehr, before the days of the railway, was a
purely Turkish town ; it displayed the usual chaos of
mud-brick and wooden houses, with their lower
windows carefully latticed over for the concealment
of the women ; of narrow, winding bazaars, here a
display of brightly coloured clothes and rugs, there a
noisy street of smithies and carpenters' shops ; and
rising above it all the minarets of half a dozen

But the railway's mark is on it to-day. The popu-
lation has been increased by some five thousand
Tartars and Armenians, whose houses, planted
together near the line, have a neat, modern, shoddy
look, contrasting with the picturesque squalor of the
ancient Turkish town.

The railway is slowly attacking the stronghold of
the Turkish peasant, extending his operations on the
wasted stretches of cultivable land, and slowly open-
ing out dim vistas of prosperity athwart his present


apathy. In the same way the railway is slowly affect-
ing the town merchant. But one shudders here at
the effect of prosperity unaccompanied by civilising
influences. For in the rich merchant of the town you
have the Turk at his worst. The simple, hospitable
Turkish peasant is made of good stuff ; the Turkish
soldier of rank and file, if his fanatical tendencies are
not encouraged, is equally good ; the official Turk is
corrupt, but only because the particular method of
administering his country's laws obliges him to be so ;
the educated Turk of Constantinople is rapidly be-
coming: a civilised beins;. But the rich middle-class
Turk of towns has nothing to be said for him. The
Christians have taught him to drink, and he is rich
enough to keep a large harem. We had an introduc-
tion to one such person in Eskishehr. The polished
Turkish phraseology of welcome could not conceal the
coarseness and vulgarity of his mind, and we were
glad to escape to the sacred inner chambers, where a
very young and pretty woman sat in lonely state, the
latest addition to his harem. There she sat, draped
in the softest silks of gorgeous colourings, surrounded
with all the evidences of luxury and comfort, as sulky
as a little bear.

We were accompanied by a Greek lady, who talked
French and Turkish and acted as our interpreter ; but
never a smile or more than a word could be drawn
out of the cross little thing. She simply stared in
front of her with an expression of acute boredom in
her beautiful eyes. A good-natured, elderly serving-
woman, who stood at the door, explained matters.
She had been very much pampered at home, and she


had had a good time ; she saw all her young friends
at the baths, the social resort for Turkish ladies. The
rich merchant had been considered a great parti ; but
already she had had enough of it. She never went out
except for an occasional drive in a closed carriage.
She was tired of embroidery work, she was tired of
eating sweets, she was tired of smoking, she was tired
of her fine dresses. Aman, but it would come all
right — and the serving-woman winked and nodded,
and stroked her mistress's listless hand.

" Is it always like this ? " we asked the Greek lady.

" Ah, mon Dieu ! not at all. This man is very
jealous, and she may not see her friends. He heaps
on her what money can buy and thinks that is enough.
But with the poor it is different. You will see.
There is a wedding to-day in a poor family. I will
arrange for you to go. Mon Dieu ! no, it is not
always thus. La pauvre petite."

The room in which we sat was draped in the usual
Turkish manner with magnificent curtains in rich
Eastern colourings. Round three walls ran low divans
covered in the same way. There was not such a room
in Eskishehr we were told. Had the decorations
stopped there, and we had been able to forget the
unfortunate prisoner, the general effect would have
been decidedly pleasing. But as we sat there our eyes
were kept glued, by some horrible attraction, on the
glitter of a cheap gilt frame of the gaudiest description,
containing a crude coloured print of the German
Emperor ; below this stood a gimcracky little table
covered with a cheap tinseled cloth, on which was
placed a glass and silver cake-basket in the vilest of


European taste. It hit one terribly in the eye. It
was a jarring note in the Monster's work.

We took leave of the sulky little lady, and left her
once more to her sweets and her embroideries in the
long, weary hours of lonely splendour.

We had only seen the second act of this bit of
Turkish drama ; when the curtain went down for us
we had had enough of it.

But we were about to see Act I. in different sur-
roundings. The Greek lady kept her word, and in
due course we found ourselves ushered into the house
of the bridegroom. The preliminary ceremonies had
already begun, in fact they had been going on all day.
There sat the bride at the end of a room which had
been cleared of everything except the low stool which
she occupied alone. She was a lumpy looking girl of
seventeen or so, and sat there motionless with down-
cast eyes. On the floor sat dozens of women, packed
as tight as the room could hold. The bride might
neither look up nor speak, which seemed hard, for every
woman in the room was both looking at her and
speaking about her ; the hubbub was terrible.

She rose as we entered and kissed our hands ; this
much is apparently allowed on the arrival of strangers.
The Greek lady explained that she was obliged to
stand until we asked her to sit down again, and that
she might not look at us. This was a good deal to
ask on such an occasion ; European ladies are not,
as a rule, guests at the wedding of the Turkish poor,
and we caught one or two surreptitious peeps from
under her long eyelashes. We joined the throng on


the floor and continued to gaze at her as every one
else did. Marriage customs in general and her own
affairs in particular, were discussed for our benefit, the
Greek lady interpreting in torrents of voluble French.

" She may not speak to her husband for forty-eight
hours. When he comes in he will lift the veil and see
his bride for the first time. Then he puts a girdle
round her waist and it is finished. His mother chose
her for him. If he does not like her, no matter, he
can choose another, for he is getting good wages and
can afford to keep two."

By and by a large tray was brought in, piled up
with rounds of native bread and plates of chicken.
It was placed on a low stool in the centre of us
all, and, following everybody's example, we grabbed
alternate bits of chicken and bread. Then followed
hunches of cake made of nuts and honey.

We were still eating when we heard a noise of
singing and musical instruments outside ; it became
louder and louder and finally stopped by the

"They are singing 'Behold the bridgroom
cometh,' " said the Greek lady ; " the man is being
brought in a procession of all his friends."

The food was hastily removed, and all the guests
were marshalled into an adjoining room, which
already seemed as full as it could hold of babies
and children and old hags, who presumably had
been left to look after the younger ones. We were
allowed to remain while the finishing touches were
put on the bride. Her face was first plastered all
over with little ornaments cut out of silver paper


and stuck on with white of egg ; then she was
covered over entirely with a large violet veil. And
so we left her sitting there, sheepish and placid
in the extreme, in strange contrast to the voluble
Greek lady and the excited friends. We met the
bridegroom in the passage. He kissed his father, and
stood first on one foot and then on the other. His
mother took him by the shoulders, opened the door
of the room we had just left, and shoved him in.
Let us hope that the silver ornaments did their work
and made his bride pleasing in his sight when he
lifted the violet veil. What she thought of him
need not concern us any more than it did her or
her friends, for such thoughts may not enter the
minds of Turkish brides.

The show was over. The curtain of the first act
had gone down for us. It gave promise of a more
successful drama than the one we had previously

It is 267 miles or thereabouts from Eskishehr to
Konia. It took us a good fifteen hours by rail.
We were now on the summit of the tableland ; the
bounded river valley gradually gave way to long
stretches where signs of cultivation were more
apparent. We were getting into the great wheat-
growing district, which the railway is causing to
extend year by year. At Karahissar, a town of
33,000 inhabitants, a gigantic rock with straight
sides and castellated top rises abruptly out of the
plain, and from here another corn-growing valley
merges into the great plain stretching away to the


north. Mount Olympus, whose base we had skirted
on leaving Brusa, could be very dimly discerned on
the sky-line.

Then darkness set in, and the Monster ran steadily
on with us into the unknown. Towards eisfht o'clock
there was a sudden stop ; it had come to the end
of its tether.

We had left Calphopolos and Ibrahim at Eskishehr,
and now only Constantin remained as a link with
civilisation. Hassan had appeared at the station
at Eskishehr, prepared to accompany us round the
world if need be. He wore a brown suit of Turkish
trousers and zouave under his sheepskin cloak.
His pockets bulged rather, so did the wide leather
belt which he used as a pocket, otherwise his worldly
goods were contained tied up in a white pocket-

And so we arrived at Konia. Behind us was the
railway, leading back to the things we knew, to
the things we should hope to see again ; before
us was the plain, leading us to strange new things,
things we should, perhaps, just see once and leave
behind for ever.

The iron Monster had dumped us down and was
no further concerned with us ; if we would eo further
it must be by taking thought for ourselves.

There were horses and arabas to hire, there were
provisions to lay in, there was the escort of Zaptiehs
to be procured and the goodwill of the authorities
to be obtained. We had letters of introduction to
Ferid Pasha, then Vali of the Konia vilayet and since
Grand Vizier of Constantinople. He was not as other


Valis ; he was called the great and the good, and
had established law and order in his province. There
need be no fear of bri£anda£e while we were within
the boundaries of his jurisdiction.

The Government building, the Konak, occupied
one side of the square in which stood our hotel, and
we sent Hassan across to pay our respects. But
Ferid Pasha was away, which caused us great
disappointment ; we could only see his Vekil, the
acting Governor.

Taking Hassan and Constantin with us, we went
up the long flight of steps and down a corridor
leading to the Vali's room. Peasants and ragged
soldiers hung about the passage, and black-coated
Jewish looking men hurried in and out. A soldier
showed us the way, holding back the curtains which
concealed the entrance to various rooms, and from
behind which the mysterious looking Jews were
continually creeping.

The Vekil sat at a table covered over with official
documents; a divan, higher and harder than those
we had seen in private houses, ran round two walls,
on which squatted several secretaries, holding the
paper on which they wrote on the palms of their
left hands. Beside the Vekil sat an old Dervish
priest, and next him the Muavin, the Christian official
appointed after the massacres to inform Valis of
the wishes of Christians, and better known amongst
those who know him as " Evet Effendi " (Yes,

X was getting fluent in matters of Turkish greet-


ing ; she now reeled off a suitable string in reply to
theirs. Hassan stood beside us, grave and dignified,
and we noticed that all the men greeted hirn very
courteously. X then endeavoured to explain our
desire to travel to Mersina and requested the services
of a suitable escort. Owing to limitations in her
knowledge of the Turkish vocabulary, the nearest she
could get to it was that the Consul at Mersina loved
us dearly and wished us to come to him. Matters
were getting to a deadlock ; the officials appeared to
be asking us what was the object of our journey, and
we could only insist on the intense love of our English

Suddenly another visitor was ushered in, and for the
first time since leaving Niceea the strange sound of

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryLouisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. WilkinsBy desert ways to Baghdad → online text (page 3 of 18)