Louisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. Wilkins.

By desert ways to Baghdad online

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doubtable Kurdish chief; he was still abroad in the
neighbourhood, and any detention on the road increased
the chances of our falling in with him or some of his
stray bands. The knowledge of this and the discom-
forts of the journey made the men fretful and anxious.
We picked out the least dilapidated looking house and
clambered over fallen stones and half-razed walls
until we found a roofless room which boasted of three
undestroyed angles. In one of these the cook tried
to make a fire with the last remnants of charcoal ; we
huddled in another to avoid, if we could, the blast
which rushed across the broken doorways and whistled
through the chinks of the rough stone walls. The
arabas, accompanied by their bedraggled followers,
rumbled heavily past us ; the noise gradually died


away as they disappeared in the distance ; desolation
reigned on all sides ; the howling blast moaned weird
echoes of destruction round the ruined walls.

We managed to boil enough water to make tea ;
and then, yielding to the men's protests, we mounted
and rode on. Hour after hour passed ; the driving
wind hurled the hailstones like a battery of small shot
right into our faces ; the rain collected in small pools
in the folds of my mackintosh, and I guided their descent
outwards and downwards with the point of my riding-
whip. The drop which fell intermittently from the
overflowing brim of my hat had been the signal for a
downward bob to empty the contents, but now the
wet had soaked through and I let it run down my
face unconcernedly. We were a silent and melancholy
band. X rode in front with her chin buried in her
coat collar; her face was screwed up in her endeavour
to face the elements ; the hump in her shoulders
betokened resigned misery. The soldiers' heads were
too enveloped to allow any study of their expres-
sions, but the outward aspect of their bodies was a
sufficient indication of their inward feelings ; the very
outline of their soaked and tattered garments bespoke
discomfort and dejection.

The pale-faced little officer, straight from the military
school at Constantinople, urged his horse alongside
mine. "Nazil?" he said. It was a laconic method,
essentially Turkish, of saying "How?" i.e., " How are
you?" "How's everything?" "Hasta" (111), I an-
swered. " Aman," he groaned. " Kach Saat daha?"
I asked (How many hours more?). "Jarem Saat,
Inshallah. Bak, khan bourda" (Half an hour, In-


shallah. Look, the khan is there). I raised my
head to follow the direction of his pointed whip ;
the jerk sent a trickle of wet down the back of my
neck and the rain blinded my eyes. I dropped
my head again. It was not worth while battling
with the elements even to look upon our approach-
ing haven of rest. I was too familiar with the
aspect of the country to be particularly interested
in the scenery ; it had not altered at all for many
days. If you looked in front you saw an endless
tract of slightly undulating country, the surface of
which was a mass of stones ; there were stones to the
right, there were stones to the left, there were stones
behind ; you rode over stones, slippery, broken, loose,
sliding stones ; and now stones, stones of hail, were
hurled at you from the heavens above. The very bread
we had eaten for our midday meal seemed to have
partaken of the nature of the country. I had acci-
dently dropped my share, and had to hunt for it,
indistinguishable among the other particles on the
ground. We were rapidly turning into stones ourselves.
One seemed to be riding on a huge, dry river-bed, the
waters of which had been drawn up into the heavens
and were now being let down again by degrees.

The officer gave an order to a Zaptieh. The man
tightened the folds of his cloak round him, wound the
ends of his kafiyeh into his collar, and, digging his
heels into the sides of his white mule, darted suddenly
ahead. The crick in the back of my neck made it too
painful for me to turn my head to look, but this must
mean that we were near the khan and that he had
gone on to announce our arrival. Visions of being


otherwise seated than in a saddle faintly loomed in my
brain ; I hardly dared wander on to thoughts of a fire
and something hot to drink. We turned at right
angles off the track and plunged into a bed of mud,
which led up to the door of a great, square, barrack-
looking building with a low, flat roof and a general air
of desolation. The Zaptieh stood grimly at the door.
11 Dollu " (Full), he said. Nevertheless we forced our
way through the narrow entrance and found ourselves
in the usual square courtyard lined with dilapidated
sheds. The whole enclosure, inches deep in mud and
indescribable dirt, was crowded with camels and mules
and haggard, desperate-looking, shivering men, with
bare legs and feet and dripping, ragged cloaks. The
officer laid about him right and left with his riding-whip
and ordered up the khanji (the innkeeper). "You
must find room for us," he said ; " I am travelling with
great English Pashas." The khanji waved his hand
over the seething, jostling mass of men and animals.
" Effendi," he said, "it is impossible; I have already
had to turn away one caravan. If we made way for
the Pashas there would still be no room for their men
and horses. But they are welcome to what shelter
there is."

We gazed with dismay at the reeking scene.

"How far is it to the next stage?" asked X.

"Two hours," was the answer.

" We had better get on to it, then," she said, and
turned her horse's head outwards. We followed in
silent dejection. The wretched animals, who had
been pricking their ears at the prospect of approach-
ing food and rest, had literally to be thrashed out on



the road again. We waded back through the mud
and turned our faces once more to the biting blast
and driving rain.

The track we followed was apparent only to the
native eye ; to the uninitiated we seemed to be going
at random amongst the loose stones. One had not
even the solace of being carried by an intelligent and
sure-footed beast who could be trusted to pick its own
way. The hired Turkish horse has a mouth of stone
and his brain resembles a rock. Left to himself he
deliberately chooses the most impossible path, until it
becomes so impossible that he stops and gazes in
front of him in stupid despair, and you have to rouse
yourself into action and take the reins in your own
hands once more. His one display of originality is a
desire not to follow his companions, but to veer side-
ways until you are in danger of losing sight of the
rest of the party and become hopelessly lost off the
track. I struggled to keep straight and in pace with
the others. Weariness and disgust had made my stupid
animal obstinate and more stupid, and I finally gave
in and lagged behind, letting him go at his own pace.
The officer pulled up and waited for me.

" We must push on, Hanum " (lady), he said, " or
we shall not get in by sunset."

" My horse is tired," I answered, " and I am tired,"
and I showed him my broken whip. It was the third
I had worn out over this obstinate brute's skin.

He called back one of the Zaptiehs and muttered
to him unintelligibly in Turkish. The man crossed
to the other side of the road, and he and the officer,
one on each side, urged my horse on with continual


blows behind. I dropped the reins almost uncon-
sciously, and, all necessity for action of mind or body
being removed, sat between them numb, petrified, and
hardly conscious of my surroundings.

Fitter, patter came the rain on the saddles ; click,
clack went the horses' hoofs on the stones ; clank went
the captain's sword ; whack came the men's whips
behind ; each noise was hardly uttered before it was
rushed away in the driving wind.

Expectation of something better had made the
present seem unbearable in the earlier part of the
day ; now that one no longer held any hope of allevia-
tion, the general misery had not the same poignant
effect ; or was it that weariness from long hours in the
saddle, and the pains consequent on exposure to cold
and wet, had numbed one's senses ? Jog, jog ; one
was being jogged on somewhere, one did not care
where and one did not care for how lonsf.

The men were saying something ; the sound fell
vaguely on my ears, but the meaning did not travel on
to my brain. Then we stopped suddenly and the jerk
threw me forward on the horse's neck. I felt two
strong arms round me and was lifted bodily off the
horse. " Brigands at last," I thought vaguely ; " well,
they are welcome to all my goods as long as they
leave me to die comfortably in a heap."

"Geldik" (We have arrived). It was Hassan's
voice ; we were at the door of the caravanserai. He
deposited me on the floor of a bare, black hole on one
side of the courtyard and carefully arranged his wet


cloak round me. I was conscious of a motionless
heap in the dark corner opposite.

"X?" I muttered interrogatively.

" Hm," came from the corner.

" Hm," I responded.

The muleteers came and flung the dripping baggage
bales promiscuously about the floor. We were soon
hemmed in by sopping saddles, bridles, saddle-bags,
wet cloaks, and muddy riding-boots.

Hassan sat on a pile of miscellaneous goods, smok-
ing reflectively and giving vent to great groans as he
looked from one corner to the other, where each of his
charges lay in a heap. The cook cleared a small
space in the middle of the room and tried to make a
fire with dried camel-dung, the only fuel to be had.
The whole place was soon filled with suffocating smoke;
there was no window, no hole in the roof to let out
the fumes ; we opened the door until the fire had burnt
up, and a sudden gust of wind tearing round the room
and out again drove the smarting fumes into our eyes,
causing the tears to roll down mercilessly.

Another caravan was arriving, and the animals
passed through the narrow passage by our open door,
on into the courtyard beyond. Mules bearing bales
of cloth or sacks of corn ; camels laden with hard,
square boxes stamped with letters that suggested
Manchester ; donkeys carrying their owners' your-
ghans, quilts which form the native bed, damp and
muddy in spite of the protection afforded by a piece
of ragged carpet thrown over them, the whole secured
by a piece of rope which also fastened on a cooking-
pot and a live hen. The procession wound slowly


through to the sound of tinkling bells, until the whole
caravan had entered the enclosed yard, which now
presented a chaotic scene of indescribable crush and
dirt. Kneeling camels, waiting patiently for the
removal of their loads, looked round beseechingly at
their own burdened backs ; mules munched the straw
out of each other's bursting saddles ; slouching yellow
dogs sniffed about the fallen bundles. The theatre
ladies, in gaudy plushes and silks covered with
tinselled jewels, sat about on the piles of stage scenery
flirting with the young men in the bright waistcoats ;
stern Mahomedans wrapped in long, severe cloaks,
gazed with contemptuous disgust at these unveiled
specimens of the unworthier race, while the short-
coated and less particular muleteers and menials
stared at them with open-mouthed, grinning wonder.
Our little captain sat unconcernedly in a sheltered
corner, deftly rolling up, with his delicate, finely shaped
fingers, endless piles of neat cigarettes ; a Zaptieh,
with his face to the wall, bowed and murmured over
the evening prayer. Each pursued his reflections and
employments with that disregard of his neighbour's
presence which is so impressive in any crowd in the
East. Apart from these by-scenes, the dominating
human note was one of quarrel, in strange contrast with
the silent waiting of the dumb animals, for whose
shelter in the limited accommodation their respective
owners were fiofhtina; with clenched fists and dis-
cordant, strident voices. Then the hush of mealtime
falls on all ; men and animals, side by side, are busy
satisfying their bodily needs. It is a strange mingling
of men and beasts, where the man, in his surroundings


and mode of life, savours of the beast ; and the beast,
wrth his outward aspect of patient and beseeching
pathos, is tinged with human elements. We had shut
the door on the scene, finding smoke preferable to cold
and publicity. It suddenly burst open, and a camel's
hind-quarters backed into the room, upsetting the pot
of water on the fire. We had been anxiously waiting
for its boiling point with the open teapot ready to hand.
The men threw themselves upon the animal and
pushed it back ; they pushed and hit and swore ; it
was ejected ; the fire hissed itself out and the smoke
cleared. A dishevelled looking official in uniform
peeped through the door : "The Governor's salaams,
and do the Princesses require anything?"

Hassan courteously returned his salute. He was
now seated cross-legged by the dying fire, sorting nuts
from tobacco which had been tied up together in a
damp pocket-handkerchief. With the air of a king
on his throne he graciously waved his hand towards
a slimy saddle-bag ; " Buyourun, EfTendi, oturun "
(Welcome ; sit down). The man sat down, care-
fully drawing his ragged cloak round his patched

" The ladies' salaams to his Excellency ; they are
very pleased for his inquiry and send many thanks.
They have all they require."

The quiet dignity of Hassan's appearance and
utterances seemed to dispel any sense of incongruity
the visitor might have entertained as to the limitation
of our wants and the methods of our Royal progress ;
he merely thought we were mad.

He departed, no doubt to glean information from


the more communicative members of our escort. The
cook came in with a pleasing expression.

" What will you have for supper ? " he said.

" What can we have ? " we answered, with the
caution arising from long experience of limited possi-

" What you wish," he said, with as much assurance
and affability as if he was presenting a huge bill of
fare. I knew what one could expect in these places.

" Get a fowl," I said.

" There is not one left here," he answered.

" Eggs, then," I suggested, with the humour of

"No fowl, how eggs ? " he answered with pitying

" Well, we will have what there is," I said faintly.

"There is nothing," he answered cheerfully.

"Miserable man!" I said, "how dared you begin
by holding out hopes of lobster salad and maraschino
croustades ? "

Was there nothing left of our stores ? I rummaged
in the box which held them. Everything was wet
and slimy ; a few bars of chocolate were soaked in
Bovril emanating from a broken bottle ; a sticky tin
held the remains of pekmez, a native jam made with
grape juice ; two dirty linen bags contained respectively
a little tea and rice ; a disgusting looking pasty mess
in what had once been a cardboard box aroused my
curiosity. Could it be — yes, it had once been, protein
flour, " eminently suitable for travellers and tourists,
formula- a delicious and sustaining meal when no
other food is procurable." It had been the parting



gift of our respective mothers, along with injunctions
to air our clothes. I calmly thought the matter out.

"X," I said, " will it be best to eat chocolate with
the Bovril thrown in, or to drink Bovril with the
chocolate thrown in ? "

" Don't talk about it," said X, "cook everything up
together, and let us hope individual flavours will be
merged beyond recognition."

We put a tin of water on the fire and threw in the
rice and protein. The chocolate and Bovril were
added, after carefully picking out the bits of broken
bottle. Hassan fumbled in the wide leathern belt
which he wore round his middle ; the space between
himself and the belt served as a pocket where he
carried all his goods. With an air of unspeakable
pride he produced a small, round, grimy object, which
he held aloft in triumph.

" Soan?" (Onion) we all shouted simultaneously in
excited, ungovernable greed. He nodded ecstatically,
and pulling the long, dagger-like knife out of his belt,
he proceeded with great deliberation to cut the
treasure into slices, and let them fall one by one into
the bubbling pot. The cook sat stirring it all together
with a wooden spoon ; he kept raising spoonfuls out
of the pot, and as the thick liquid dribbled slowly back
again he murmured complacently :

" Pirinje war, chocolad war, Inghiliz suppe war,
soan war, su war " (There is rice, there is chocolate,
there is English soup, there is onion, there is water).

When the moment of complete mergence seemed
to have arrived he lifted the pot off the fire and
placed it between us. " Choc ehe, choc " (Very good


— very), he said encouragingly, and handed us each
a spoon. X swallowed a few mouthfuls.

11 We must leave some for the men," she said, with
a look of apology as she put the spoon down. She
picked up a piece of leathery native bread and started
chewing it.

"Try a cigarette," I said sympathetically. I could
not find it in my heart to tell her the history of that
identical piece of bread, which I had been following
with some interest for several days. It was always
turning up, and I recognised it by a black, burnt mark
resembling a figure 8. It had first appeared on the
scene early in the week ; we had been enjoying a
lavish spread of chicken legs and dried figs, and with
wasteful squander I had rejected it as being less
palatable than other bits. The men had tried it after
me, pinching it with their grimy fingers, but being
unsatisfied with the consistency they had thrown it,
along with other scraps, into a bag containing mis-
cellaneous cooking utensils. The next day it had
appeared to swell the aspect of our diminishing supply
and had been left on the ground. But as we rode
away Hassan's economical spirit overcame him ; he
dismounted again and slipped it into his pocket, where
it lay in close proximity to various articles not
calculated to increase the savouriness of its flavour.
I was determined to see its end, and when X laid
down half — no doubt meaning it for my share — I
threw it on the fire.

"It's hardly the time to waste good food," said X.

The cook picked it out, blew the ashes off, and
rubbed it with his greasy sleeve. He offered it to me.



"Eat it yourself," I said magnanimously, "I have
had enough." But he wrapped it carefully in one of
the dirty linen bags and put it on one side.

" Jarin " (To-morrow), he said.

And so we sit ; a mass of wet clothes, saddles,
cooking-pots, remains of food, ends of cigarettes, men :
unable to move without treading on one or other of
them ; tears rolling down our cheeks from the fumes
of the fire, thankful we cannot see what dirt we are
sitting in or what dirt we have been eating.

We roll our rugs round us and lie on the sodden
earth floor. Hassan turns the men out and stretches
himself across the doorway. Dogs moan, men snore ;
outside the storm rages unceasingly.

In the middle of the night I wake with a start ;
something had hit me on the face and now lay in the
angle of my neck. I knew what it was ; a piece of
plaster had fallen off the walls, and the plaster, like the
fuel, is made of dried camel-dung.


" The age and time of the world is as it were a flood and
swift current, consisting of the things that are brought to pass
in the world. For as soon as anything hath appeared and
is passed away, another succeeds and that also will presently
be out of sight.''



WE rode into Diarbekr on Christmas Day,
arriving just in time to share the plum-
pudding at the house of Major Anderson, the Vice-

They say of Diarbekr that its houses are black, that
its dogs are black, and that the hearts of its people
are black — and they say so truly. The first moment
that one catches sight of it in the distance one is
impressed by the blackness of its walls, built of a
black volcanic stone. When one gets inside, the
people look dourly at one, and the Zaptiehs ride
closer together. But this may be because they have
no other choice, the streets being often only four
feet across. It is quite easy to cross a street
from on high by jumping from one roof to
another ; and it is certainly cleaner, for down below
we are ankle deep in mud, in which great boulders
are embedded — relics, presumably, of ancient pavement
or fallen houses. If you want to take the air at
Diarbekr you walk round and round the flat roof of
your house and watch the life of your neighbours
on adjoining roofs ; or else, closely accompanied by



armed cavasses, you ride out into the bleak, stony
country, and follow up some mud stream in the hopes
of getting a shot at wild duck and snipe.

A week later we sat on the banks of the Tigris
by the Roman bridge which spans the river just
below the black walls of Diarbekr. The raft on
which we were about to embark was moored to
the shore and the men were loading our belong-
ings. A dancing-bear stumped about to the tune
of a bagpipe made of the skin which answers
so many purposes in the East. When inflated they
can be used either for carrying water for people
inside, or for carrying people on water outside. We
were using 260 of them in this latter way. They
were tied on to two layers of poplar poles put cross-
ways, forming a raft about eighteen feet square. At
one end were two small huts made of felt stretched
across upright poles ; the fore end was weighted down
with bags of merchandise laid side by side across the
poles to form a rough floor.

The two kalekjis (raftsmen) waded in and out with
a great seeming sense of hurry but without appearing
to accomplish anything.

" Can't you hurry the men up ? " said X.

" No," I answered, "we are in the East."

" You might try," she said ; " you always leave me
all the talking to do."

"They do not understand my Turkish," I said

" It would not take you long to learn enough for
that," went on X.

AFLOAT t 4 3

"I do know the swears," I answered humbly, and
I stood up amongst the men and delivered myself
of them.

" Quick ! quick ! the Pasha is angry ! " said the men.

Our crew had assembled ; there were our two
personal attendants, Hassan and Arten. Hassan
was now our interpreter, for, although he could only
talk Turkish, he could interpret our signs to other
Turks until we learnt the language. Arten, we found,
was more Armenian than cook, and sang us Christian
hymns in his native language when we felt low after
meals. Then there were two kalekjis in charge of
the raft ; they were Kurds ; we had yet to discover
their qualifications. Two Zaptiehs forming our escort
made up the number. We did not yet look upon
them as individuals, but as part of an abstract regime
in the country with which we now felt tolerably
familiar ; the outward aspect of it was a ragged
uniform and an antiquated rifle, which served many
useful purposes but had forgotten how to eject bullets.

" Hazir dir, hazir" (Ready, ready), shouted the
kalekjis. The owner of the dancing-bear hurriedly
thrust his fez under our noses.

" Don't give him anything," I said, " a bear has
no business to be dancing in this country ; he ought
to be trying to eat us in a cave."

" The demoralisation of the bear comes from the
West," said X, who was studying the primitive habits
of the natives, " we must pay for it."

" Does this abuse of the hat emanate from the
same source ? " I inquired, as she dropped a coin
into the fez.


" That would be an interesting point to inquire
into," said X, and she made an entry in her note-

The worst of X was that you never knew whether
she was laughing at you. It is a most uncomfortable
position, which men as a rule resent. But I was
another woman, and took it philosophically, especially
as X accused me of the same failing, and we never
see ourselves as others see us.

We boarded the raft : the coil of rope which had
fastened it to the shore was hauled in, and we drifted
slowly out into the centre of the muddy stream.
We were followed by another raft, laden up with
bags of merchandise, which was coming with us to
share the protection of our escort.

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Online LibraryLouisa (Jebb) Mrs. Roland Wilkins. WilkinsBy desert ways to Baghdad → online text (page 8 of 18)