1894: ACROSS ASIA ON A BICYCLE

Horse-cart with cycle wheels: A Tibetan 'car' TIBET, 1995

 


ACROSS ASIA ON A BICYCLE: THE JOURNEY OF TWO AMERICAN STUDENTS FROM CONSTANTINOPLE TO PEKING
 by THOMAS GASKELL ALLEN, JR. & WILLIAM LEWIS SACHTLEBEN (NEW YORK: THE CENTURY CO, 1894)

To those at home, whose thoughts and wishes were ever with us in our wanderings
 

 
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                                    PREFACE

This volume is made up of a series of sketches describing the most
interesting part of a bicycle journey around the world —our ride across
Asia. We were actuated by no desire to make a “record” in bicycle travel,
although we covered 15,044 miles on the wheel, the longest continuous land
journey ever made around the world.

The day after we were graduated at Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.,
we left for New York. Thence we sailed for Liverpool on June 23, 1890.
Just three years afterward, lacking twenty days, we rolled into New York
on our wheels, having “put a girdle round the earth.”

Our bicycling experience began at Liverpool. After following many of the
beaten lines of travel in the British Isles we arrived in London, where we
formed our plans for traveling across Europe, Asia, and America. The most
dangerous regions to be traversed in such a journey, we were told, were
western China, the Desert of Gobi, and central China. Never since the days
of Marco Polo had a European traveler succeeded in crossing the Chinese
empire from the west to Peking.

Crossing the Channel, we rode through Normandy to Paris, across the
lowlands of western France to Bordeaux, eastward over the Lesser Alps to
Marseilles, and along the Riviera into Italy. After visiting every
important city on the peninsula, we left Italy at Brindisi on the last day
of 1890 for Corfu, in Greece. Thence we traveled to Patras, proceeding
along the Corinthian Gulf to Athens, where we passed the winter. We went
to Constantinople by vessel in the spring, crossed the Bosporus in April,
and began the long journey described in the following pages. When we had
finally completed our travels in the Flowery Kingdom, we sailed from
Shanghai for Japan. Thence we voyaged to San Francisco, where we arrived
on Christmas night, 1892. Three weeks later we resumed our bicycles and
wheeled by way of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to New York.

During all of this journey we never employed the services of guides or
interpreters. We were compelled, therefore, to learn a little of the
language of every country through which we passed. Our independence in
this regard increased, perhaps, the hardships of the journey, but
certainly contributed much toward the object we sought—a close
acquaintance with strange peoples.

During our travels we took more than two thousand five hundred
photographs, selections from which are reproduced in the illustrations of
this volume.

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                                  CONTENTS

                                                             PAGE
   I.   BEYOND THE BOSPORUS                                     1
  II.   THE ASCENT OF MOUNT ARARAT                             43
 III.   THROUGH PERSIA TO SAMARKAND                            83
  IV.   THE JOURNEY FROM SAMARKAND TO KULDJA                  115
   V.   OVER THE GOBI DESERT AND THROUGH THE WESTERN GATE     149
        OF THE GREAT WALL
  VI.   AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PRIME MINISTER OF CHINA         207
                          *************************
                                    I

                           BEYOND THE BOSPORUS

On a morning early in April the little steamer conveying us across from
Stamboul touched the wharf at Haider Pasha. Amid the rabble of Greeks,
Armenians, Turks, and Italians we trundled our bicycles across the
gang-plank, which for us was the threshold of Asia, the beginning of an
inland journey of seven thousand miles from the Bosporus to the Pacific.
Through the morning fog which enveloped the shipping in the Golden Horn,
the “stars and stripes” at a single masthead were waving farewell to two
American students fresh from college who had nerved themselves for nearly
two years of separation from the comforts of western civilization.

Our guide to the road to Ismid was the little twelve-year-old son of an
Armenian doctor, whose guests we had been during our sojourn in Stamboul.
He trotted for some distance by our side, and then, pressing our hands in
both of his, he said with childlike sincerity: “I hope God will take care
of you”; for he was possessed with the thought popular among Armenians, of
pillages and massacres by marauding brigands.

The idea of a trip around the world had been conceived by us as a
practical finish to a theoretical education; and the bicycle feature was
adopted merely as a means to that end. On reaching London we had formed
the plan of penetrating the heart of the Asiatic continent, instead of
skirting its more civilized coast-line. For a passport and other
credentials necessary in journeying through Russia and Central Asia we had
been advised to make application to the Czar’s representative on our
arrival at Teheran, as we would enter the Russian dominions from Persia;
and to that end the Russian minister in London had provided us with a
letter of introduction. In London the secretary of the Chinese legation, a
Scotchman, had assisted us in mapping out a possible route across the
Celestial empire, although he endeavored, from the very start, to dissuade
us from our purpose. Application had then been made to the Chinese
minister himself for the necessary passport. The reply we received, though
courteous, smacked strongly of reproof. “Western China,” he said, “is
overrun with lawless bands, and the people themselves are very much averse
to foreigners. Your extraordinary mode of locomotion would subject you to
annoyance, if not to positive danger, at the hands of a people who are
naturally curious and superstitious. However,” he added, after some
reflection, “if your minister makes a request for a passport we will see
what can be done. The most I can do will be to ask for you the protection
and assistance of the officials only; for the people themselves I cannot
answer. If you go into that country you do so at your own risk.” Minister
Lincoln was sitting in his private office when we called the next morning
at the American legation. He listened to the recital of our plans, got
down the huge atlas from his bookcase, and went over with us the route we
proposed to follow. He did not regard the undertaking as feasible, and
apprehended that, if he should give his official assistance, he would, in
a measure, be responsible for the result if it should prove unhappy. When
assured of the consent of our parents, and of our determination to make
the attempt at all hazards, he picked up his pen and began a letter to the
Chinese minister, remarking as he finished reading it to us, “I would much
rather not have written it.” The documents received from the Chinese
minister in response to Mr. Lincoln’s letter proved to be indispensable
when, a year and a half later, we left the last outpost of western
civilization and plunged into the Gobi desert. When we had paid a final
visit to the Persian minister in London, who had asked to see our bicycles
and their baggage equipments, he signified his intention of writing in our
behalf to friends in Teheran; and to that capital, after cycling through
Europe, we were now actually _en route_.

Since the opening of the Trans-Bosporus Railway, the wagon-road to Ismid,
and even the Angora military highway beyond, have fallen rapidly into
disrepair. In April they were almost impassable for the wheel, so that for
the greater part of the way we were obliged to take to the track. Like the
railway skirting the Italian Riviera, and the Patras-Athens line along the
Saronic Gulf, this Trans-Bosporus road for a great distance scarps and
tunnels the cliffs along the Gulf of Ismid, and sometimes runs so close to
the water’s edge that the puffing of the _kara vapor_ or “land steamer,”
as the Turks call it, is drowned by the roaring breakers. The country
between Scutari and Ismid surpasses in agricultural advantages any part of
Asiatic Turkey through which we passed. Its fertile soil, and the
luxuriant vegetation it supports, are, as we afterward learned, in
striking contrast with the sterile plateaus and mountains of the interior,
many parts of which are as desolate as the deserts of Arabia. In area,
Asia Minor equals France, but the water-supply of its rivers is only one
third.
One of the principal agents in the work of transforming Asia Minor is the
railroad, to which the natives have taken with unusual readiness. The
locomotive is already competing with the hundred and sixty thousand camels
employed in the peninsula caravan-trade. At Geiveh, the last station on
the Trans-Bosporus Railway, where we left the track to follow the Angora
highway, the “ships of the desert” are beginning to transfer their cargoes
to the “land steamer,” instead of continuing on as in former days to the
Bosporus.


The Trans-Bosporus line, in the year of our visit, was being built and
operated by a German company, under the direct patronage of the Sultan. We
ventured to ask some natives if they thought the Sultan had sufficient
funds to consummate so gigantic a scheme, and they replied, with the
deepest reverence: “God has given the Padishah much property and power,
and certainly he must give him enough money to utilize it.”

A week’s cycling from the Bosporus brought us beyond the Allah Dagh
mountains, among the barren, variegated hills that skirt the Angora
plateau. We had already passed through Ismid, the ancient Nicomedia and
capital of Diocletian; and had left behind us the heavily timbered valley
of the Sakaria, upon whose banks the “Freebooter of the Bithynian hills”
settled with his four hundred tents and laid the foundation of the Ottoman
empire. Since leaving Geiveh we had been attended by a mounted guard, or
_zaptieh_, who was sometimes forced upon us by the authorities in their
anxiety to carry out the wishes expressed in the letters of the Grand
Vizir. On emerging from the door of an inn we frequently found this
unexpected guard waiting with a Winchester rifle swung over his shoulder,
and a fleet steed standing by his side. Immediately on our appearance he
would swing into the saddle and charge through the assembled rabble. Away
we would go at a rapid pace down the streets of the town or village, to
the utter amazement of the natives and the great satisfaction of our
vainglorious zaptieh. As long as his horse was fresh, or until we were out
of sight of the village, he would urge us on with cries of “Gellcha-buk”
(“Come on, ride fast”). When a bad piece of road or a steep ascent forced
us to dismount he would bring his horse to a walk, roll a cigarette, and
draw invidious comparisons between our steeds. His tone, however, changed
when we reached a decline or long stretch of reasonably good road. Then he
would cut across country to head us off, or shout after us at the top of
his voice, “Yavash-yavash” (“Slowly, slowly”). On the whole we found them
good-natured and companionable fellows, notwithstanding their interest in
_baksheesh_ which we were compelled at last, in self-defense, to fix at
one piaster an hour. We frequently shared with them our frugal, and even
scanty meals; and in turn they assisted us in our purchases and
arrangements for lodgings, for their word, we found, was with the common
people an almost unwritten law. Then, too, they were of great assistance
in crossing streams where the depth would have necessitated the stripping
of garments; although their fiery little steeds sometimes objected to
having an extra rider astride their haunches, and a bicycle across their
shoulders. They seized every opportunity to impress us with the necessity
of being accompanied by a government representative. In some lonely
portion of the road, or in the suggestive stillness of an evening
twilight, our Turkish Don Quixote would sometimes cast mysterious glances
around him, take his Winchester from his shoulder, and throwing it across
the pommel of his saddle, charge ahead to meet the imaginary enemy. But we
were more harmful than harmed, for, despite our most vigilant care, the
bicycles were sometimes the occasion of a stampede or runaway among the
caravans and teams along the highway, and we frequently assisted in
replacing the loads thus upset. On such occasions our pretentious cavalier
would remain on his horse, smoking his cigarette and smiling disdainfully.

It was in the company of one of these military champions that we emerged
on the morning of April 12 upon the plateau of Angora. On the spring
pasture were feeding several flocks of the famous Angora goats, and the
_karamanli_ or fat-tailed sheep, tended by the Yurak shepherds and their
half-wild and monstrous collies, whose half-savage nature fits them to
cope with the jackals which infest the country. The shepherds did not
check their sudden onslaught upon us until we were pressed to very close
quarters, and had drawn our revolvers in self-defense. These Yuraks are
the nomadic portion of the Turkish peasantry. They live in caves or rudely
constructed huts, shifting their habitation at will, or upon the
exhaustion of the pasturage. Their costume is most primitive both in style
and material; the trousers and caps being made of sheepskin and the tunic
of plaited wheat-straw. In contradistinction to the Yuraks the settled
inhabitants of the country are called Turks. That term, however, which
means rustic or clown, is never used by the Turks themselves except in
derision or disdain; they always speak of themselves as “Osmanli.”

The great length of the Angora fleece, which sometimes reaches eight
inches, is due solely to the peculiar climate of the locality. The same
goats taken elsewhere have not thriven. Even the Angora dogs and cats are
remarkable for the extraordinary length of their fleecy covering. On
nearing Angora itself, we raced at high speed over the undulating plateau.
Our zaptieh on his jaded horse faded away in the dim distance, and we saw
him no more. This was our last guard for many weeks to come, as we decided
to dispense with an escort that really retarded us. But on reaching
Erzerum, the Vali refused us permission to enter the district of Alashgerd
without a guard, so we were forced to take one.

We were now on historic ground. To our right, on the Owas, a tributary of
the Sakaria, was the little village of Istanas, where stood the ancient
seat of Midas, the Phrygian king, and where Alexander the Great cut with
his sword the Gordian knot to prove his right to the rulership of the
world. On the plain, over which we were now skimming, the great Tatar,
Timur, fought the memorable battle with Bajazet I., which resulted in the
capture of the Ottoman conqueror. Since the time that the title of Asia
applied to the small coast-province of Lydia, this country has been the
theater for the grandest events in human history.
The old mud-houses of modern Angora, as we rolled into the city,
contrasted strongly with the cyclopean walls of its ancient fortress.
After two days in Angora we diverged from the direct route to Sivas
through Yüzgat, so as to visit the city of Kaisarieh. Through the efforts
of the progressive Vali at Angora, a macadamized road was in the course of
construction to this point, a part of which—to the town of Kirshehr—was
already completed. Although surrounded by unusual fertility and luxuriance
for an interior town, the low mud-houses and treeless streets give
Kirshehr that same thirsty and painfully uniform appearance which
characterizes every village or city in Asiatic Turkey. The mud buildings
of Babylon, and not the marble edifices of Nineveh, have served as models
for the Turkish architect. We have seen the Turks, when making the
mud-straw bricks used in house-building, scratch dirt for the purpose from
between the marble slabs and boulders that lay in profusion over the
ground. A few of the government buildings and some of the larger private
residences are improved by a coat of whitewash, and now and then the warm
spring showers bring out on the mud roofs a relieving verdure, that
frequently serves as pasture for the family goat. Everything is low and
contracted, especially the doorways. When a foreigner bumps his head, and
demands the reason for such stupid architecture, he is met with that
decisive answer, “Adet”—custom, the most powerful of all influences in
Turkey and the East.

Our entry into Kirshehr was typical of our reception everywhere. When we
were seen approaching, several horsemen came out to get a first look at
our strange horses. They challenged us to a race, and set a spanking pace
down into the streets of the town. Before we reached the _khan_, or inn,
we were obliged to dismount. “Bin! bin!” (“Ride! ride!”) went up in a
shout. “Nimkin deyil” (“It is impossible”), we explained, in such a jam;
and the crowd opened up three or four feet ahead of us. “Bin bocale”
(“Ride, so that we can see”), they shouted again; and some of them rushed
up to hold our steeds for us to mount. With the greatest difficulty we
impressed upon our persistent assistants that they could not help us. By
the time we reached the khan the crowd had become almost a mob, pushing
and tumbling over one another, and yelling to every one in sight that “the
devil’s carts have come.” The inn-keeper came out, and we had to assure
him that the mob was actuated only by curiosity. As soon as the bicycles
were over the threshold, the doors were bolted and braced. The crowds
swarmed to the windows. While the khanji prepared coffee we sat down to
watch the amusing by-play and repartee going on around us. Those who by
virtue of their friendship with the khanji were admitted to the room with
us began a tirade against the boyish curiosity of their less fortunate
brethren on the outside. Their own curiosity assumed tangible shape. Our
clothing, and even our hair and faces, were critically examined. When we
attempted to jot down the day’s events in our note-books they crowded
closer than ever. Our fountain-pen was an additional puzzle to them. It
was passed around, and explained and commented on at length.

Our camera was a “mysterious” black box. Some said it was a telescope,
about which they had only a vague idea; others, that it was a box
containing our money. But our map of Asiatic Turkey was to them the most
curious thing of all. They spread it on the floor, and hovered over it,
while we pointed to the towns and cities. How could we tell where the
places were until we had been there? How did we even know their names? It
was wonderful—wonderful! We traced for them our own journey, where we had
been and where we were going, and then endeavored to show them how, by
starting from our homes and continuing always in an easterly direction, we
could at last reach our starting-point from the west. The more intelligent
of them grasped the idea. “Around the world,” they repeated again and
again, with a mystified expression.

Relief came at last, in the person of a messenger from Osman Beg, the
inspector-general of agriculture of the Angora vilayet, bearing an
invitation to supper. He stated that he had already heard of our
undertaking through the Constantinople press, and desired to make our
acquaintance. His note, which was written in French, showed him to be a
man of European education; and on shaking hands with him a half-hour
later, we found him to be a man of European origin—an Albanian Greek, and
a cousin of the Vali at Angora. He said a report had gone out that two
devils were passing through the country. The dinner was one of those
incongruous Turkish mixtures of sweet and sour, which was by no means
relieved by the harrowing Turkish music which our host ground out from an
antiquated hand-organ.

Although it was late when we returned to the khan, we found everybody
still up. The room in which we were to sleep (there was only one room) was
filled with a crowd of loiterers, and tobacco smoke. Some were playing
games similar to our chess and backgammon, while others were looking on,
and smoking the gurgling narghile, or water-pipe. The bicycles had been
put away under lock and key, and the crowd gradually dispersed. We lay
down in our clothes, and tried to lose consciousness; but the Turkish
supper, the tobacco smoke, and the noise of the quarreling gamesters, put
sleep out of the question. At midnight the sudden boom of a cannon
reminded us that we were in the midst of the Turkish Ramadan. The sound of
tramping feet, the beating of a bass drum, and the whining tones of a
Turkish bagpipe, came over the midnight air. Nearer it came, and louder
grew the sound, till it reached the inn door, where it remained for some
time. The fast of Ramadan commemorates the revelation of the Koran to the
prophet Mohammed. It lasts through the four phases of the moon. From
daylight, or, as the Koran reads, “from the time you can distinguish a
white thread from a black one,” no good Mussulman will eat, drink, or
smoke. At midnight the mosques are illuminated, and bands of music go
about the streets all night, making a tremendous uproar. One cannon is
fired at dusk, to announce the time to break the fast by eating supper,
another at midnight to arouse the people for the preparation of breakfast,
and still another at daylight as a signal for resuming the fast. This, of
course, is very hard on the poor man who has to work during the day. As a
precaution against oversleeping, a watchman goes about just before
daybreak, and makes a rousing clatter at the gate of every Mussulman’s
house to warn him that if he wants anything to eat he must get it
instanter. Our roommates evidently intended to make an “all night” of it,
for they forthwith commenced the preparation of their morning meal. How it
was despatched we do not know, for we fell asleep, and were only awakened
by the muezzin on a neighboring minaret, calling to morning prayer.

Our morning ablutions were usually made _à la_ Turk: by having water
poured upon the hands from a spouted vessel. Cleanliness is, with the
Turk, perhaps, more than ourselves, the next thing to godliness. But his
ideas are based upon a very different theory. Although he uses no soap for
washing either his person or his clothes, yet he considers himself much
cleaner than the giaour, for the reason that he uses running water
exclusively, never allowing the same particles to touch him the second
time. A Turk believes that all water is purified after running six feet.
As a test of his faith we have often seen him lading up drinking-water
from a stream where the women were washing clothes just a few yards above.

As all cooking and eating had stopped at the sound of the morning cannon,
we found great difficulty in gathering together even a cold breakfast of
_ekmek_, _yaourt_, and raisins. Ekmek is a cooked bran-flour paste, which
has the thinness, consistency, and almost the taste of blotting-paper.
This is the Turkish peasant’s staff of life. He carries it with him
everywhere; so did we. As it was made in huge circular sheets, we would
often punch a hole in the middle, and slip it up over our arms. This we
found the handiest and most serviceable mode of transportation, being
handy to eat without removing our hands from the handle-bars, and also
answering the purpose of sails in case of a favoring wind. Yaourt, another
almost universal food, is milk curdled with rennet. This, as well as all
foods that are not liquid, they scoop up with a roll of ekmek, a part of
the scoop being taken with every mouthful. Raisins here, as well as in
many other parts of the country, are very cheap. We paid two piasters
(about nine cents) for an _oche_ (two and a half pounds), but we soon made
the discovery that a Turkish oche contained a great many “stones”—which of
course was purely accidental. Eggs, also, we found exceedingly cheap. On
one occasion, twenty-five were set before us, in response to our call for
eggs to the value of one piaster—four and a half cents. In Asiatic Turkey
we had some extraordinary dishes served to us, including daintily prepared
leeches. But the worst mixture, perhaps, was the “Bairam soup,” which
contains over a dozen ingredients, including peas, prunes, walnuts,
cherries, dates, white and black beans, apricots, cracked wheat, raisins,
etc.—all mixed in cold water. Bairam is the period of feasting after the
Ramadan fast.

On preparing to leave Kirshehr after our frugal breakfast we found that
Turkish curiosity had extended even to the contents of our baggage, which
fitted in the frames of the machines. There was nothing missing, however:
and we did not lose so much as a button during our sojourn among them.
Thieving is not one of their faults, but they take much latitude in
helping themselves. Many a time an inn-keeper would “help us out” by
disposing of one third of a chicken that we had paid him a high price to
prepare.

When we were ready to start the chief of police cleared a riding space
through the streets, which for an hour had been filled with people. As we
passed among them they shouted “Oorooglar olsun” (“May good fortune attend
you”). “Inshallah” (“If it please God”), we replied, and waved our helmets
in acknowledgment.

At the village of Topakle, on the following night, our reception was not
so innocent and good-natured. It was already dusk when we reached the
outskirts of the village, where we were at once spied by a young man who
was driving in the lowing herd. The alarm was given, and the people
swarmed like so many rats from a corn-bin. We could see from their costume
and features that they were not pure-blooded Turks. We asked if we could
get food and lodging, to which they replied, “Evet, evet” (“Yes, yes”),
but when we asked them where, they simply pointed ahead, and shouted,
“Bin, bin!” We did not “bin” this time, because it was too dark, and the
streets were bad. We walked, or rather were pushed along by the impatient
rabble, and almost deafened by their shouts of “Bin, bin!” At the end of
the village we repeated our question of where. Again they pointed ahead,
and shouted, “Bin!” Finally an old man led us to what seemed to be a
private residence, where we had to drag our bicycles up a dark narrow
stairway to the second story. The crowd soon filled the room to
suffocation, and were not disposed to heed our request to be left alone.
One stalwart youth showed such a spirit of opposition that we were obliged
to eject him upon a crowded stairway, causing the mob to go down like a
row of tenpins. Then the owner of the house came in, and in an agitated
manner declared he could not allow us to remain in his house overnight.
Our reappearance caused a jeering shout to go up from the crowd; but no
violence was attempted beyond the catching hold of the rear wheel when our
backs were turned, and the throwing of clods of earth. They followed us,
_en masse_, to the edge of the village, and there stopped short, to watch
us till we disappeared in the darkness. The nights at this high altitude
were chilly. We had no blankets, and not enough clothing to warrant a camp
among the rocks. There was not a twig on the whole plateau with which to
build a fire. We were alone, however, and that was rest in itself. After
walking an hour, perhaps, we saw a light gleaming from a group of mudhuts
a short distance off the road. From the numerous flocks around it, we took
it to be a shepherds’ village. Everything was quiet except the restless
sheep, whose silky fleece glistened in the light of the rising moon.
Supper was not yet over, for we caught a whiff of its savory odor. Leaving
our wheels outside, we entered the first door we came to, and, following
along a narrow passageway, emerged into a room where four rather
rough-looking shepherds were ladling the soup from a huge bowl in their
midst. Before they were aware of our presence, we uttered the usual
salutation “Sabala khayr olsun.” This startled some little boys who were
playing in the corner, who yelled, and ran into the haremlük, or women’s
apartment. This brought to the door the female occupants, who also uttered
a shriek, and sunk back as if in a swoon. It was evident that the visits
of giaours to this place had been few and far between. The shepherds
returned our salutation with some hesitation, while their ladles dropped
into the soup, and their gaze became fixed on our huge helmets, our
dogskin top-coats, and abbreviated nether garments. The women by this time
had sufficiently recovered from their nervous shock to give scope to their
usual curiosity through the cracks in the partition. Confidence now being
inspired by our own composure, we were invited to sit down and participate
in the evening meal. Although it was only a gruel of sour milk and rice,
we managed to make a meal off it. Meantime the wheels had been discovered
by some passing neighbor. The news was spread throughout the village, and
soon an excited throng came in with our bicycles borne upon the shoulders
of two powerful Turks. Again we were besieged with entreaties to ride,
and, hoping that this would gain for us a comfortable night’s rest, we
yielded, and, amid peals of laughter from a crowd of Turkish peasants,
gave an exhibition in the moonlight. Our only reward, when we returned to
our quarters, was two greasy pillows and a filthy carpet for a coverlet.
But the much needed rest we did not secure, for the suspicions aroused by
the first glance at our bed-cover proved to be well grounded.
About noon on April 20, our road turned abruptly into the broad caravan
trail that runs between Smyrna and Kaisarieh, about ten miles west of the
latter city. A long caravan of camels was moving majestically up the road,
headed by a little donkey, which the _devedejee_ (camel-driver) was riding
with his feet dangling almost to the ground. That proverbially stubborn
creature moved not a muscle until we came alongside, when all at once he
gave one of his characteristic side lurches, and precipitated the rider to
the ground. The first camel, with a protesting grunt, began to sidle off,
and the broadside movement continued down the line till the whole caravan
stood at an angle of about forty-five degrees to the road. The camel of
Asia Minor does not share that antipathy for the equine species which is
so general among their Asiatic cousins; but steel horses were more than
even they could endure.
A sudden turn in the road now brought us in sight of old Arjish Dagh,
which towers 13,000 feet above the city of Kaisarieh, and whose head and
shoulders were covered with snow. Native tradition tells us that against
this lofty summit the ark of Noah struck in the rising flood; and for this
reason Noah cursed it, and prayed that it might ever be covered with snow.
It was in connection with this very mountain that we first conceived the
idea of making the ascent of Ararat. Here and there, on some of the most
prominent peaks, we could distinguish little mounds of earth, the ruined
watch-towers of the prehistoric Hittites.
Kaisarieh (ancient Cæsarea) is filled with the ruins and the monuments of
the fourteenth-century Seljuks. Arrowheads and other relics are every day
unearthed there, to serve as toys for the street urchins. Since the
development of steam-communication around the coast, it is no longer the
caravan center that it used to be; but even now its _charshi_, or inclosed
bazaars, are among the finest in Turkey, being far superior in appearance
to those of Constantinople. These _charshi_ are nothing more than narrow
streets, inclosed by brick arches, and lined on either side with booths.
It was through one of these that our only route to the khan lay—and yet we
felt that in such contracted quarters, and in such an excited mob as had
gathered around us, disaster was sure to follow. Our only salvation was to
keep ahead of the jam, and get through as soon as possible. We started on
the spurt; and the race began. The unsuspecting merchants and their
customers were suddenly distracted from their thoughts of gain as we
whirled by; the crowd close behind sweeping everything before it. The
falling of barrels and boxes, the rattling of tin cans, the crashing of
crockery, the howling of the vagrant dogs that were trampled under foot,
only added to the general tumult.

Through the courtesy of Mr. Peet of the American Bible House at
Constantinople, we were provided with letters of introduction to the
missionaries at Kaisarieh, as well as elsewhere along our route through
Asiatic Turkey, and upon them we also had drafts to the amount of our
deposit made at the Bible House before starting. Besides, we owed much to
the hospitality and kindness of these people. The most striking feature of
the missionary work at Kaisarieh is the education of the Armenian women,
whose social position seems to be even more degraded than that of their
Turkish sisters. With the native Armenians, as with the Turks, fleshiness
adds much to the price of a wife. The wife of a missionary is to them an
object both of wonderment and contempt. As she walks along the street,
they will whisper to one another: “There goes a woman who knows all her
husband’s business; and who can manage just as well as himself.” This will
generally be followed in an undertone by the expression, “Madana satana,”
which means, in common parlance, “a female devil.” At first it was a
struggle to overcome this ignorant prejudice, and to get girls to come to
the school free of charge; now it is hard to find room for them even when
they are asked to pay for their tuition.

The costume of the Armenian woman is generally of some bright-colored
cloth, prettily trimmed. Her coiffure, always elaborate, sometimes
includes a string of gold coins, encircling the head, or strung down the
plait. A silver belt incloses the waist, and a necklace of coins calls
attention to her pretty neck. When washing clothes by the stream, they
frequently show a gold ring encircling an ankle.

In the simplicity of their costumes, as well as in the fact that they do
not expose the face, the Turkish women stand in strong contrast to the
Armenian. Baggy trousers _à la_ Bloomer, a loose robe skirt opening at the
sides, and a voluminous shawl-like girdle around the waist and body,
constitute the main features of the Turkish indoor costume. On the street
a shroud-like robe called yashmak, usually white, but sometimes crimson,
purple, or black, covers them from head to foot. When we would meet a bevy
of these creatures on the road in the dusk of evening, their white,
fluttering garments would give them the appearance of winged celestials.
The Turkish women are generally timorous of men, and especially so of
foreigners. Those of the rural districts, however, are not so shy as their
city cousins. We frequently met them at work in groups about the villages
or in the open fields, and would sometimes ask for a drink of water. If
they were a party of maidens, as was often the case, they would draw back
and hide behind one another. We would offer one of them a ride on our
“very nice horses.” This would cause a general giggle among her
companions, and a drawing of the yashmak closer about the neck and face.

The road scenes in the interior provinces are but little varied. One of
the most characteristic features of the Anatolian landscape are the
storks, which come in flocks of thousands from their winter quarters in
Egypt and build summer nests, unmolested, on the village housetops. These,
like the crows, magpies, and swallows, prove valuable allies to the
husbandmen in their war against the locust. A still more serviceable
friend in this direction is the _smarmar_, a pink thrush with black wings.
Besides the various caravan trains of camels, donkeys, horses, and mules,
the road is frequently dotted with ox-carts, run on solid wooden wheels
without tires, and drawn by that peculiar bovine species, the buffalo.
With their distended necks, elevated snouts, and hog-like bristles, these
animals present an ugly appearance, especially when wallowing in mud
puddles.

Now and then in the villages we passed by a primitive flour-mill moved by
a small stream playing upon a horizontal wheel beneath the floor; or, more
primitive still, by a blindfolded donkey plodding ceaselessly around in
his circular path. In the streets we frequently encountered boys and old
men gathering manure for their winter fuel; and now and then a cripple or
invalid would accost us as “Hakim” (“Doctor”), for the medical work of the
missionaries has given these simple-minded folk the impression that all
foreigners are physicians. Coming up and extending a hand for us to feel
the pulse they would ask us to do something for the disease, which we
could see was rapidly carrying them to the grave.
Our first view of Sivas was obtained from the top of Mount Yildiz, on
which still stands the ruined castle of Mithridates, the Pontine monarch,
whom Lucullus many times defeated, but never conquered. From this point we
made a very rapid descent, crossed the Kizil Irmak for the third time by
an old ruined bridge, and half an hour later saw the “stars and stripes”
flying above the U. S. consulate. In the society of our representative,
Mr. Henry M. Jewett, we were destined to spend several weeks; for a day or
two after our arrival, one of us was taken with a slight attack of typhoid
fever, supposed to have been contracted by drinking from the roadside
streams. No better place could have been chosen for such a mishap; for
recovery was speedy in such comfortable quarters, under the care of the
missionary ladies.

The comparative size and prosperity of Sivas, in the midst of rather
barren surroundings, are explained by the fact that it lies at the
converging point of the chief caravan routes between the Euxine,
Euphrates, and Mediterranean. Besides being the capital of Rumili, the
former Seljuk province of Cappadocia, it is the place of residence for a
French and American consular representative, and an agent of the Russian
government for the collection of the war indemnity, stipulated in the
treaty of ’78. The dignity of office is here upheld with something of the
pomp and splendor of the East, even by the representative of democratic
America. In our tours with Mr. Jewett we were escorted at the head by a
Circassian _cavass_ (Turkish police), clothed in a long black coat, with a
huge dagger dangling from a belt of cartridges. Another native cavass,
with a broadsword dragging at his side, usually brought up the rear. At
night he was the one to carry the huge lantern, which, according to the
number of candles, is the insignia of rank. “I must give the Turks what
they want,” said the consul, with a twinkle in his eye—“form and red tape.
I would not be a consul in their eyes, if I didn’t.” To illustrate the
formality of Turkish etiquette he told this story: “A Turk was once
engaged in saving furniture from his burning home, when he noticed that a
bystander was rolling a cigarette. He immediately stopped in his hurry,
struck a match, and offered a light.”

The most flagrant example of Turkish formality that came to our notice was
the following address on an official document to the Sultan:

    “The Arbiter; the Absolute; the Soul and Body of the Universe; the
    Father of all the sovereigns of the earth; His Excellency, the
    Eagle Monarch; the Cause of the never-changing order of things;
    the Source of all honor; the Son of the Sultan of Sultans, under
    whose feet we are dust, whose awful shadow protects us; Abdul
    Hamid II., Son of Abdul Medjid, whose residence is in Paradise;
    our glorious Lord, to whose sacred body be given health, and
    strength, and endless days; whom Allah keeps in his palace, and on
    his throne with joy and glory, forever. Amen.”
This is not the flattery of a cringing subordinate, for the same spirit is
revealed in an address by the Sultan himself to his Grand Vizir:

    “Most honored Vizir; Maintainer of the good order of the World;
    Director of public affairs with wisdom and judgment; Accomplisher
    of the important transactions of mankind with intelligence and
    good sense; Consolidator of the edifice of Empire and of Glory;
    endowed by the Most High with abundant gifts; and ‘Monshir,’ at
    this time, of my Gate of Felicity; my Vizir Mehmed Pasha, may God
    be pleased to preserve him long in exalted dignity.”

Though the Turks cannot be called lazy, yet they like to take their time.
Patience, they say, belongs to God; hurry, to the devil. Nowhere is this
so well illustrated as in the manner of shopping in Turkey. This was
brought particularly to our notice when we visited the Sivas bazaars to
examine some inlaid silverware, for which the place is celebrated. The
customer stands in the street inspecting the articles on exhibition; the
merchant sits on his heels on the booth floor. If the customer is of some
position in life, he climbs up and sits down on a level with the merchant.
If he is a foreigner, the merchant is quite deferential. A merchant is not
a merchant at all, but a host entertaining a guest. Coffee is served; then
a cigarette rolled up and handed to the “guest,” while the various social
and other local topics are freely discussed. After coffee and smoking the
question of purchase is gradually approached; not abruptly, as that would
involve a loss of dignity; but circumspectly, as if the buying of anything
were a mere afterthought. Maybe, after half an hour, the customer has
indicated what he wants, and after discussing the quality of the goods,
the customer asks the price in an off-hand way, as though he were not
particularly interested. The merchant replies, “Oh, whatever your highness
pleases,” or, “I shall be proud if your highness will do me the honor to
accept it as a gift.” This means nothing whatever, and is merely the
introduction to the haggling which is sure to follow. The seller, with
silken manners and brazen countenance, will always name a price four times
as large as it should be. Then the real business begins. The buyer offers
one half or one fourth of what he finally expects to pay; and a war of
words, in a blustering tone, leads up to the close of this every-day
farce.

The superstition of the Turks is nowhere so apparent as in their fear of
the “evil eye.” Jugs placed around the edge of the roof, or an old shoe
filled with garlic and blue beets (blue glass balls or rings) are a sure
guard against this illusion. Whenever a pretty child is playing upon the
street the passers-by will say: “Oh, what an ugly child!” for fear of
inciting the evil spirit against its beauty. The peasant classes in Turkey
are of course the most superstitious because they are the most ignorant.
They have no education whatever, and can neither read nor write. Stamboul
is the only great city of which they know. Paris is a term signifying the
whole outside world. An American missionary was once asked: “In what part
of Paris is America?” Yet it can be said that they are generally honest,
and always patient. They earn from about six to eight cents a day. This
will furnish them with ekmek and pilaff, and that is all they expect. They
eat meat only on feast-days, and then only mutton. The tax-gatherer is
their only grievance; they look upon him as a necessary evil. They have no
idea of being ground down under the oppressor’s iron heel. Yet they are
happy because they are contented, and have no envy. The poorer, the more
ignorant, a Turk is, the better he seems to be. As he gets money and
power, and becomes “contaminated” by western civilization, he
deteriorates. A resident of twenty years’ experience said: “In the lowest
classes I have sometimes found truth, honesty, and gratitude; in the
middle classes, seldom; in the highest, never.” The corruptibility of the
Turkish official is almost proverbial; but such is to be expected in the
land where “the public treasury” is regarded as a “sea,” and “who does not
drink of it, as a pig.” Peculation and malversation are fully expected in
the public official. They are necessary evils—_adet_ (custom) has made
them so. Offices are sold to the highest bidder. The Turkish official is
one of the politest and most agreeable of men. He is profuse in his
compliments, but he has no conscience as to bribes, and little regard for
virtue as its own reward. We are glad to be able to record a brilliant,
though perhaps theoretical, exception to this general rule. At
Koch-Hissar, on our way from Sivas to Kara Hissar, a delay was caused by a
rather serious break in one of our bicycles. In the interval we were the
invited guests of a district kadi, a venerable-looking and genial old
gentleman whose acquaintance we had made in an official visit on the
previous day, as he was then the acting _caimacam_ (mayor). His house was
situated in a neighboring valley in the shadow of a towering bluff. We
were ushered into the _selamlük_, or guest apartment, in company with an
Armenian friend who had been educated as a doctor in America, and who had
consented to act as interpreter for the occasion.

The kadi entered with a smile on his countenance, and made the usual
picturesque form of salutation by describing the figure 3 with his right
hand from the floor to his forehead. Perhaps it was because he wanted to
be polite that he said he had enjoyed our company on the previous day, and
had determined, if possible, to have a more extended conversation. With
the usual coffee and cigarettes, the kadi became informal and chatty. He
was evidently a firm believer in predestination, as he remarked that God
had foreordained our trip to that country, even the food we were to eat,
and the invention of the extraordinary “cart” on which we were to ride.
The idea of such a journey, in such a peculiar way, was not to be
accredited to the ingenuity of man. There was a purpose in it all. When we
ventured to thank him for his hospitality toward two strangers, and even
foreigners, he said that this world occupied so small a space in God’s
dominion, that we could well afford to be brothers, one to another, in
spite of our individual beliefs and opinions. “We may have different
religious beliefs,” said he, “but we all belong to the same great father
of humanity; just as children of different complexions, dispositions, and
intellects may belong to one common parent. We should exercise reason
always, and have charity for other people’s opinions.”

From charity the conversation naturally turned to justice. We were much
interested in his opinion on this subject, as that of a Turkish judge, and
rather high official. “Justice,” said he, “should be administered to the
humblest person; though a king should be the offending party, all alike
must yield to the sacred law of justice. We must account to God for our
acts, and not to men.”

The regular route from Sivas to Erzerum passes through Erzinjan. From
this, however, we diverged at Zara, in order to visit the city of Kara
Hissar, and the neighboring Lidjissy mines, which had been pioneered by
the Genoese explorers, and were now being worked by a party of Englishmen.
This divergence on to unbeaten paths was made at a very inopportune
season; for the rainy spell set in, which lasted, with scarcely any
intermission, for over a fortnight. At the base of Kosse Dagh, which
stands upon the watershed between the two largest rivers of Asia Minor,
the Kizil Irmak and Yeshil Irmak, our road was blocked by a mountain
freshet, which at its height washed everything before it. We spent a day
and night on its bank, in a primitive flour-mill, which was so far removed
from domestic life that we had to send three miles up in the mountains to
get something to eat. The Yeshil Irmak, which we crossed just before
reaching Kara Hissar, was above our shoulders as we waded through, holding
our bicycles and baggage over our heads; while the swift current rolled
the small boulders against us, and almost knocked us off our feet. There
were no bridges in this part of the country. With horses and wagons the
rivers were usually fordable; and what more would you want? With the Turk,
as with all Asiatics, it is not a question of what is better, but what
will do. Long before we reached a stream, the inhabitants of a certain
town or village would gather round, and with troubled countenances say,
“Christian gentlemen—there is no bridge,” pointing to the river beyond,
and graphically describing that it was over our horses’ heads. That would
settle it, they thought; it never occurred to them that a “Christian
gentleman” could take off his clothes and wade. Sometimes, as we walked
along in the mud, the wheels of our bicycles would become so clogged that
we could not even push them before us. In such a case we would take the
nearest shelter, whatever it might be. The night before reaching Kara
Hissar, we entered an abandoned stable, from which everything had fled
except the fleas. Another night was spent in the pine-forests just on the
border between Asia Minor and Armenia, which were said to be the haunts of
the border robbers. Our surroundings could not be relieved by a fire for
fear of attracting their attention.
When at last we reached the Trebizond-Erzerum highway at Baiboot, the
contrast was so great that the scaling of Kop Dagh, on its comparatively
smooth surface, was a mere breakfast spell. From here we looked down for
the first time into the valley of the historic Euphrates, and a few hours
later we were skimming over its bottom lands toward the embattled heights
of Erzerum.

As we neared the city, some Turkish peasants in the fields caught sight of
us, and shouted to their companions: “Russians! Russians! There they are!
Two of them!” This was not the first time we had been taken for the
subjects of the Czar; the whole country seemed to be in dread of them.
Erzerum is the capital of that district which Russia will no doubt demand,
if the stipulated war indemnity is not paid.

The entrance into the city was made to twist and turn among the ramparts,
so as to avoid a rush in case of an attack. But this was no proof against
a surprise in the case of the noiseless wheel. In we dashed with a roaring
wind, past the affrighted guards, and were fifty yards away before they
could collect their scattered senses. Then suddenly it dawned upon them
that we were human beings, and foreigners besides—perhaps even the dreaded
Russian spies. They took after us at full speed, but it was too late.
Before they reached us we were in the house of the commandant pasha, the
military governor, to whom we had a letter of introduction from our consul
at Sivas. That gentleman we found extremely good-natured; he laughed
heartily at our escapade with the guards. Nothing would do but we must
visit the Vali, the civil governor, who was also a pasha of considerable
reputation and influence.
We had intended, but not so soon, to pay an official visit to the Vali to
present our letter from the Grand Vizir, and to ask his permission to
proceed to Bayazid, whence we had planned to attempt the ascent of Mount
Ararat, an experience which will be described in the next chapter. A few
days before, we heard, a similar application had been made by an English
traveler from Bagdad, but owing to certain suspicions the permission was
refused. It was with no little concern, therefore, that we approached the
Vali’s private office in company with his French interpreter.
Circumstances augured ill at the very start. The Vali was evidently in a
bad humor, for we overheard him storming in a high key at some one in the
room with him. As we passed under the heavy matted curtains the two
attendants who were holding them up cast a rather horrified glance at our
dusty shoes and unconventional costume. The Vali was sitting in a large
arm-chair in front of a very small desk, placed at the far end of a
vacant-looking room. After the usual salaams, he motioned to a seat on the
divan, and proceeded at once to examine our credentials while we sipped at
our coffee, and whiffed the small cigarettes which were immediately
served. This furnished the Vali an opportunity to regain his usual
composure. He was evidently an autocrat of the severest type; if we
pleased him, it would be all right; if we did not, it would be all wrong.
We showed him everything we had, from our Chinese passport to the little
photographic camera, and related some of the most amusing incidents of our
journey through his country. From the numerous questions he asked we felt
certain of his genuine interest, and were more than pleased to see an
occasional broad smile on his countenance. “Well,” said he, as we rose to
take leave, “your passports will be ready any time after to-morrow; in the
mean time I shall be pleased to have your horses quartered and fed at
government expense.” This was a big joke for a Turk, and assured us of his
good-will.

A bicycle exhibition which the Vali had requested was given the morning of
our departure for Bayazid, on a level stretch of road just outside the
city. Several missionaries and members of the consulates had gone out in
carriages, and formed a little group by themselves. We rode up with the
“stars and stripes” and “star and crescent” fluttering side by side from
the handle-bars. It was always our custom, especially on diplomatic
occasions, to have a little flag of the country associated with that of
our own. This little arrangement evoked a smile from the Vali, who, when
the exhibition was finished, stepped forward and said, “I am satisfied, I
am pleased.” His richly caparisoned white charger was now brought up.
Leaping into the saddle, he waved us good-by, and moved away with his
suite toward the city. We ourselves remained for a few moments to bid
good-by to our hospitable friends, and then, once more, continued our
journey toward the east.

                                    II

                        THE ASCENT OF MOUNT ARARAT

According to tradition, Mount Ararat is the scene of two of the most
important events in the history of the human race. In the sacred land of
Eden, which Armenian legend places at its base, the first of human life
was born; and on its solitary peak the last of human life was saved from
an all-destroying flood. The remarkable geographical position of this
mountain seems to justify the Armenian view that it is the center of the
world. It is on the longest line drawn through the Old World from the Cape
of Good Hope to Bering Strait; it is also on the line of the great deserts
and inland seas stretching from Gibraltar to Lake Baikal in Siberia—a line
of continuous depressions; it is equidistant from the Black and Caspian
Seas and the Mesopotamian plain, which three depressions are now watered
by three distinct river-systems emanating from Ararat’s immediate
vicinity. No other region has seen or heard so much of the story of
mankind. In its grim presence empires have come and gone; cities have
risen and fallen; human life has soared up on the wings of hope, and
dashed against the rocks of despair.

To the eye Ararat presents a gently inclined slope of sand and ashes
rising into a belt of green, another zone of black volcanic rocks streaked
with snow-beds, and then a glittering crest of silver. From the burning
desert at its base to the icy pinnacle above, it rises through a vertical
distance of 13,000 feet. There are but few peaks in the world that rise so
high (17,250 feet above sea-level) from so low a plain (2000 feet on the
Russian, and 4000 feet on the Turkish, side), and which, therefore,
present so grand a spectacle. Unlike many of the world’s mountains, it
stands alone. Little Ararat (12,840 feet above sea-level), and the other
still smaller heights that dot the plain, only serve as a standard by
which to measure Ararat’s immensity and grandeur.

Little Ararat is the meeting-point, or corner-stone, of three great
empires. On its conical peak converge the dominions of the Czar, the
Sultan, and the Shah. The Russian border-line runs from Little Ararat
along the high ridge which separates it from Great Ararat, through the
peak of the latter, and onward a short distance to the northwest, then
turns sharply to the west. On the Sardarbulakh pass, between Great and
Little Ararat, is stationed a handful of Russian Cossacks to remind
lawless tribes of the guardianship of the “White Sultan.”

The two Ararats together form an elliptical mass, about twenty-five miles
in length, running northwest and southeast, and about half that in width.
Out of this massive base rise the two Ararat peaks, their bases being
contiguous up to 8800 feet and their tops about seven miles apart. Little
Ararat is an almost perfect truncated cone, while Great Ararat is more of
a broad-shouldered dome supported by strong, rough-ribbed buttresses. The
isolated position of Ararat, its structure of igneous rocks, the presence
of small craters and immense volcanic fissures on its slopes, and the
scoriæ and ashes on the surrounding plain, establish beyond a doubt its
volcanic origin. But according to the upheaval theory of the eminent
geologist, Hermann Abich, who was among the few to make the ascent of the
mountain, there never was a great central crater in either Great or Little
Ararat. Certain it is that no craters or signs of craters now exist on the
summit of either mountain. But Mr. James Bryce, who made the last ascent,
in 1876, seems to think that there is no sufficient reason why craters
could not have previously existed, and been filled up by their own
irruptions. There is no record of any irruption in historical times. The
only thing approaching it was the earthquake which shook the mountain in
1840, accompanied by subterranean rumblings, and destructive blasts of
wind. The Tatar village of Arghuri and a Kurdish encampment on the
northeast slope were entirely destroyed by the precipitated rocks. Not a
man was left to tell the story. Mr. Bryce and others have spoken of the
astonishing height of the snow-line on Mount Ararat, which is placed at
14,000 feet; while in the Alps it is only about 9000 feet, and in the
Caucasus on an average 11,000 feet, although they lie in a very little
higher latitude. They assign, as a reason for this, the exceptionally dry
region in which Ararat is situated. Mr. Bryce ascended the mountain on
September 12, when the snow-line was at its very highest, the first large
snow-bed he encountered being at 12,000 feet. Our own ascent being made as
early as July 4,—in fact, the earliest ever recorded,—we found some snow
as low as 8000 feet, and large beds at 10,500 feet. The top of Little
Ararat was still at that time streaked with snow, but not covered. With so
many extensive snow-beds, one would naturally expect to find copious
brooks and streams flowing down the mountain into the plain; but owing to
the porous and dry nature of the soil, the water is entirely lost before
reaching the base of the mountain. Even as early as July we saw no stream
below 6000 feet, and even above this height the mountain freshets
frequently flowed far beneath the surface under the loosely packed rocks,
bidding defiance to our efforts to reach them. Notwithstanding the
scarcity of snow-freshets, there is a middle zone on Mount Ararat,
extending from about 5000 feet to 9000 feet elevation, which is covered
with good pasturage, kept green by heavy dews and frequent showers. The
hot air begins to rise from the desert plain as the morning sun peeps over
the horizon, and continues through the day; this warm current, striking
against the snow-covered summit, is condensed into clouds and moisture. In
consequence, the top of Ararat is usually—during the summer months, at
least—obscured by clouds from some time after dawn until sunset. On the
last day of our ascent, however, we were particularly fortunate in having
a clear summit until 1:15 in the afternoon.

Among the crags of the upper slope are found only a few specimens of the
wild goat and sheep, and, lower down, the fox, wolf, and lynx. The bird
and insect life is very scanty, but lizards and scorpions, especially on
the lowest slopes, are abundant. The rich pasturage of Ararat’s middle
zone attracts pastoral Kurdish tribes. These nomadic shepherds, a few
Tatars at New Arghuri, and a camp of Russian Cossacks at the well of
Sardarbulakh, are the only human beings to disturb the quiet solitude of
this grandest of nature’s sanctuaries.

The first recorded ascent of Mount Ararat was in 1829, by Dr. Frederick
Parrot, a Russo-German professor in the University of Dorpat. He reached
the summit with a party of three Armenians and two Russian soldiers, after
two unsuccessful attempts. His ascent, however, was doubted, not only by
the people in the neighborhood, but by many men of science and position in
the Russian empire, notwithstanding his clear account, which has been
confirmed by subsequent observers, and in spite of the testimony of the
two Russian soldiers who had gone with him.(1) Two of the Armenians who
reached the summit with him declared that they had gone to a great height,
but at the point where they had left off had seen much higher tops rising
around them. This, thereupon, became the opinion of the whole country.
After Antonomoff, in 1834, Herr Abich, the geologist, made his valuable
ascent in 1845. He reached the eastern summit, which is only a few feet
lower than the western, and only a few minutes’ walk from it, but was
obliged to return at once on account of the threatening weather. When he
produced his companions as witnesses before the authorities at Erivan,
they turned against him, and solemnly swore that at the point which they
had reached a higher peak stood between them and the western horizon. This
strengthened the Armenian belief in the inaccessibility of Ararat, which
was not dissipated when the Russian military engineer, General Chodzko,
and an English party made the ascent in 1856. Nor were their prejudiced
minds convinced by the ascent of Mr. Bryce twenty years later, in 1876.
Two days after his ascent, that gentleman paid a visit to the Armenian
monastery at Echmiadzin, and was presented to the archimandrite as the
Englishman who had just ascended to the top of “Masis.” “No,” said the
ecclesiastical dignitary; “that cannot be. No one has ever been there. It
is impossible.” Mr. Bryce himself says: “I am persuaded that there is not
a person living within sight of Ararat, unless it be some exceptionally
educated Russian official at Erivan, who believes that any human foot,
since Father Noah’s, has trodden that sacred summit. So much stronger is
faith than sight; or rather so much stronger is prejudice than evidence.”

We had expected, on our arrival in Bayazid, to find in waiting for us a
Mr. Richardson, an American missionary from Erzerum. Two years later, on
our arrival home, we received a letter explaining that on his way from Van
he had been captured by Kurdish brigands, and held a prisoner until
released through the intervention of the British consul at Erzerum. It was
some such fate as this that was predicted for us, should we ever attempt
the ascent of Mount Ararat through the lawless Kurdish tribes upon its
slopes. Our first duty, therefore, was to see the mutessarif of Bayazid,
to whom we bore a letter from the Grand Vizir of Turkey, in order to
ascertain what protection and assistance he would be willing to give us.
We found with him a Circassian who belonged to the Russian camp at
Sardarbulakh, on the Ararat pass, and who had accompanied General Chodzko
on his ascent of the mountain in 1856. Both he and the mutessarif thought
an ascent so early in the year was impossible; that we ought not to think
of such a thing until two months later. It was now six weeks earlier than
the time of General Chodzko’s ascent (August 11 to 18), then the earliest
on record. They both strongly recommended the northwestern slope as being
more gradual. This is the one that Parrot ascended in 1829, and where
Abich was repulsed on his third attempt. Though entirely inexperienced in
mountain-climbing, we ourselves thought that the southeast slope, the one
taken by General Chodzko, the English party, and Mr. Bryce, was far more
feasible for a small party. One thing, however, the mutessarif was
determined upon: we must not approach the mountain without an escort of
Turkish zaptiehs, as an emblem of government protection. Besides, he would
send for the chief of the Ararat Kurds, and endeavor to arrange with him
for our safety and guidance up the mountain. As we emerged into the
streets an Armenian professor gravely shook his head. “Ah,” said he, “you
will never do it.” Then dropping his voice, he told us that those other
ascents were all fictitious; that the summit of “Masis” had never yet been
reached except by Noah; and that we were about to attempt what was an
utter impossibility.

In Bayazid we could not procure even proper wood for alpenstocks. Willow
branches, two inches thick, very dry and brittle, were the best we could
obtain. Light as this wood is, the alpenstocks weighed at least seven
pounds apiece when the iron hooks and points were riveted on at the ends
by the native blacksmith, for whom we cut paper patterns, of the exact
size, for everything we wanted. We next had large nails driven into the
souls of our shoes by a local shoemaker, who made them for us by hand out
of an old English file, and who wanted to pull them all out again because
we would not pay him the exorbitant price he demanded. In buying
provisions for the expedition, we spent three hours among the half
dilapidated bazaars of the town, which have never been repaired since the
disastrous Russian bombardment. The most difficult task, perhaps, in our
work of preparation was to strike a bargain with an Armenian muleteer to
carry our food and baggage up the mountain on his two little donkeys.
Evening came, and no word from either the mutessarif or the Kurdish chief.
Although we were extremely anxious to set off on the expedition before bad
weather set in, we must not be in a hurry, for the military governor of
Karakillissa was now the guest of the mutessarif, and it would be an
interference with his social duties to try to see him until after his
guest had departed. On the morrow we were sitting in our small dingy room
after dinner, when a cavalcade hastened up to our inn, and a few minutes
later we were surprised to hear ourselves addressed in our native tongue.
Before us stood a dark-complexioned young man, and at his side a small
wiry old gentleman, who proved to be a native Austrian Tyrolese, who
followed the profession of an artist in Paris. He was now making his way
to Erivan, in Russia, on a sight-seeing tour from Trebizond. His companion
was a Greek from Salonica, who had lived for several years in London,
whence he had departed not many weeks before, for Teheran, Persia. These
two travelers had met in Constantinople, and the young Greek, who could
speak English, Greek, and Turkish, had been acting as interpreter for the
artist. They had heard of the “devil’s carts” when in Van, and had made
straight for our quarters on their arrival in Bayazid. At this point they
were to separate. When we learned that the old gentleman (Ignaz Raffl by
name) was a member of an Alpine club and an experienced mountain-climber,
we urged him to join in the ascent. Though his shoulders were bent by the
cares and troubles of sixty-three years, we finally induced him to
accompany our party. Kantsa, the Greek, reluctantly agreed to do likewise,
and proved to be an excellent interpreter, but a poor climber.

The following morning we paid the mutessarif a second visit, with Kantsa
as interpreter. Inasmuch as the Kurdish chief had not arrived, the
mutessarif said he would make us bearers of a letter to him. Two zaptiehs
were to accompany us in the morning, while others were to go ahead and
announce our approach.

At ten minutes of eleven, on the morning of the second of July, our small
cavalcade, with the two exasperating donkeys at the head laden with mats,
bags of provisions, extra clothing, alpenstocks, spiked shoes, and coils
of stout rope, filed down the streets of Bayazid, followed by a curious
rabble. As Bayazid lies hidden behind a projecting spur of the mountains
we could obtain no view of the peak itself until we had tramped some
distance out on the plain. Its huge giant mass broke upon us all at once.
We stopped and looked—and looked again. No mountain-peak we have seen,
though several have been higher, has ever inspired the feeling which
filled us when we looked for the first time upon towering Ararat. We had
not proceeded far before we descried a party of Kurdish horsemen
approaching from the mountain. Our zaptiehs advanced rather cautiously to
meet them, with rifles thrown across the pommels of their saddles. After a
rather mysterious parley, our zaptiehs signaled that all was well. On
coming up, they reported that these horsemen belonged to the party that
was friendly to the Turkish government. The Kurds, they said, were at this
time divided among themselves, a portion of them having adopted
conciliatory measures with the government, and the rest holding aloof. But
we rather considered their little performance as a scheme to extort a
little more baksheesh for their necessary presence.
The plain we were now on was drained by a tributary of the Aras River, a
small stream reached after two hours’ steady tramping. From the bordering
hillocks we emerged in a short time upon another vast plateau, which
stretched far away in a gentle rise to the base of the mountain itself.
Near by we discovered a lone willow-tree, the only one in the whole sweep
of our vision, under the gracious foliage of which sat a band of Kurds,
retired from the heat of the afternoon sun, their horses feeding on some
swamp grass near at hand. Attracted by this sign of water, we drew near,
and found a copious spring. A few words from the zaptiehs, who had
advanced among them, seemed to put the Kurds at their ease, though they
did not by any means appease their curiosity. They invited us to partake
of their frugal lunch of ekmek and goat’s-milk cheese. Our clothes and
baggage were discussed piece by piece, with loud expressions of merriment,
until one of us arose, and, stealing behind the group, snapped the camera.
“What was that?” said a burly member of the group, as he looked round with
scowling face at his companions. “Yes; what was that?” they echoed, and
then made a rush for the manipulator of the black box, which they
evidently took for some instrument of the black art. The photographer
stood serenely innocent, and winked at the zaptieh to give the proper
explanation. He was equal to the occasion. “That,” said he, “is an
instrument for taking time by the sun.” At this the box went the round,
each one gazing intently into the lens, then scratching his head, and
casting a bewildered look at his nearest neighbor. We noticed that every
one about us was armed with knife, revolver, and Martini rifle, a belt of
cartridges surrounding his waist. It occurred to us that Turkey was
adopting a rather poor method of clipping the wings of these mountain
birds, by selling them the very best equipments for war. Legally, none but
government guards are permitted to carry arms, and yet both guns and
ammunition are sold in the bazaars of almost every city of the Turkish
dominions. The existence of these people, in their wild, semi-independent
state, shows not so much the power of the Kurds as the weakness of the
Turkish government, which desires to use a people of so fierce a
reputation for the suppression of its other subjects. After half an hour’s
rest, we prepared to decamp, and so did our Kurdish companions. They were
soon in their saddles, and galloping away in front of us, with their arms
clanking, and glittering in the afternoon sunlight.

At the spring we had turned off the trail that led over the Sardarbulakh
pass into Russia, and were now following a horse-path which winds up to
the Kurdish encampments on the southern slope of the mountain. The plain
was strewn with sand and rocks, with here and there a bunch of tough, wiry
grass about a foot and a half high, which, though early in the year, was
partly dry. It would have been hot work except for the rain of the day
before and a strong southeast wind. As it was, our feet were blistered and
bruised, the thin leather sandals worn at the outset offering very poor
protection. The atmosphere being dry, though not excessively hot, we soon
began to suffer from thirst. Although we searched diligently for water, we
did not find it till after two hours more of constant marching, when at a
height of about 6000 feet, fifty yards from the path, we discerned a
picturesque cascade of sparkling, cold mountain water. Even the old
gentleman, Raffl, joined heartily in the gaiety induced by this clear,
cold water from Ararat’s melting snows.
Our ascent for two and a half hours longer was through a luxuriant
vegetation of flowers, grasses, and weeds, which grew more and more scanty
as we advanced. Prominent among the specimens were the wild pink, poppy,
and rose. One small fragrant herb, that was the most abundant of all, we
were told was used by the Kurds for making tea. All these filled the
evening air with perfume as we trudged along, passing now and then a
Kurdish lad, with his flock of sheep and goats feeding on the
mountain-grass, which was here much more luxuriant than below. Looking
backward, we saw that we were higher than the precipitous cliffs which
overtower the town of Bayazid, and which are perhaps from 1500 to 2000
feet above the lowest part of the plain. The view over the plateau was now
grand. Though we were all fatigued by the day’s work, the cool,
moisture-laden air of evening revived our flagging spirits. We forged
ahead with nimble step, joking, and singing a variety of national airs.
The French “Marseillaise,” in which the old gentleman heartily joined,
echoed and reëchoed among the rocks, and caused the shepherd lads and
their flocks to crane their heads in wonderment. Even the Armenian
muleteer so far overcame his fear of the Kurdish robbers as to indulge in
one of his accustomed funeral dirges; but it stopped short, never to go
again, when we came in sight of the Kurdish encampment. The poor fellow
instinctively grabbed his donkeys about their necks, as though they were
about to plunge over a precipice. The zaptiehs dashed ahead with the
mutessarif’s letter to the Kurdish chief. We followed slowly on foot,
while the Armenian and his two pets kept at a respectful distance in the
rear.

The disk of the sun had already touched the western horizon when we came
to the black tents of the Kurdish encampment, which at this time of the
day presented a rather busy scene. The women seemed to be doing all the
work, while their lords sat round on their haunches. Some of the women
were engaged in milking the sheep and goats in an inclosure. Others were
busy making butter in a churn which was nothing more than a skin vessel
three feet long, of the shape of a Brazil-nut, suspended from a rude
tripod; this they swung to and fro to the tune of a weird Kurdish song.
Behind one of the tents, on a primitive weaving-machine, some of them were
making tent-roofing and matting. Others still were walking about with a
ball of wool in one hand and a distaff in the other, spinning yarn. The
flocks stood round about, bleating and lowing, or chewing their cud in
quiet contentment. All seemed very domestic and peaceful except the
Kurdish dogs, which set upon us with loud, fierce growls and gnashing
teeth.

Not so was it with the Kurdish chief, who by this time had finished
reading the mutessarif’s message, and who now advanced from his tent with
salaams of welcome. As he stood before us in the glowing sunset, he was a
rather tall, but well-proportioned man, with black eyes and dark mustache,
contrasting well with his brown-tanned complexion. Upon his face was the
stamp of a rather wild and retiring character, although treachery and
deceit were by no means wanting. He wore a headgear that was something
between a hat and a turban, and over his baggy Turkish trousers hung a
long Persian coat of bright-colored, large-figured cloth, bound at the
waist by a belt of cartridges. Across the shoulders was slung a
breech-loading Martini rifle, and from his neck dangled a heavy gold
chain, which was probably the spoil of some predatory expedition. A quiet
dignity sat on Ismail Deverish’s stalwart form.
It was with no little pleasure that we accepted his invitation to a cup of
tea. After our walk of nineteen miles, in which we had ascended from 3000
to 7000 feet, we were in fit condition to appreciate a rest. That Kurdish
tent, as far as we were concerned, was a veritable palace, although we
were almost blinded by the smoke from the green pine-branches on the
smoldering fire. We said that the chief invited us to a cup of tea: so he
did—but we provided the tea; and that, too, not only for our own party,
but for half a dozen of the chief’s personal friends. There being only two
glasses in the camp, we of course had to wait until our Kurdish
acquaintances had quenched their burning thirst. In thoughtful mood we
gazed around through the evening twilight. Far away on the western slope
we could see some Kurdish women plodding along under heavy burdens of
pine-branches like those that were now fumigating our eyes and nostrils.
Across the hills the Kurdish shepherds were driving home their herds and
flocks to the tinkling of bells. All this, to us, was deeply impressive.
Such peaceful scenes, we thought, could never be the haunt of warlike
robbers. The flocks at last came home; the shouts of the shepherds ceased;
darkness fell; and all was quiet.

One by one the lights in the tents broke out, like the stars above. As the
darkness deepened, they shone more and more brightly across the
amphitheater of the encampment. The tent in which we were now sitting was
oblong in shape, covered with a mixture of goats’ and sheep’s wool,
carded, spun, and woven by the Kurdish women. This tenting was all of a
dark brown or black color. The various strips were badly joined together,
allowing the snow and rain, during the stormy night that followed, to
penetrate plentifully. A wickerwork fencing, about three feet high, made
from the reeds gathered in the swamps of the Aras River, was stretched
around the bottom of the tent to keep out the cattle as well as to afford
some little protection from the elements. This same material, of the same
width or height, was used to partition off the apartments of the women.
Far from being veiled and shut up in harems, like their Turkish and
Persian sisters, the Kurdish women come and go among the men, and talk and
laugh as they please. The thinness and lowness of the partition walls did
not disturb their astonishing equanimity. In their relations with the men
the women are extremely free. During the evening we frequently found
ourselves surrounded by a concourse of these mountain beauties, who would
sit and stare at us with their black eyes, call attention to our personal
oddities, and laugh among themselves. Now and then their jokes at our
expense would produce hilarious laughter among the men. The dress of these
women consisted of baggy trousers, better described in this country as
“divided skirts,” a bright-colored overskirt and tunic, and a little round
cloth cap encircled with a band of red and black. Through the right lobe
of the nose was hung a peculiar button-shaped ornament studded with
precious stones. This picturesque costume well set off their rich olive
complexions, and black eyes beneath dark-brown lashes.

There were no signs of an approaching evening meal until we opened our
provision-bag, and handed over certain articles of raw food to be cooked
for us. No sooner were the viands intrusted to the care of our hosts, than
two sets of pots and kettles made their appearance in the other
compartments. In half an hour our host and friends proceeded to indulge
their voracious appetites. When our own meal was brought to us some time
after, we noticed that the fourteen eggs we had doled out had been reduced
to six; and the other materials suffered a similar reduction, the whole
thing being so patent as to make their attempt at innocence absurdly
ludicrous. We thought, however, if Kurdish highway robbery took no worse
form than this, we could well afford to be content. Supper over, we
squatted round a slow-burning fire, on the thick felt mats which served as
carpets, drank tea, and smoked the usual cigarettes. By the light of the
glowing embers we could watch the faces about us, and catch their
horrified glances when reference was made to our intended ascent of
Ak-Dagh, the mysterious abode of the jinn. Before turning in for the
night, we reconnoitered our situation. The lights in all the tents, save
our own, were now extinguished. Not a sound was heard, except the heavy
breathing of some of the slumbering animals about us, or the bark of a dog
at some distant encampment. The huge dome of Ararat, though six to eight
miles farther up the slope, seemed to be towering over us like some giant
monster of another world. We could not see the summit, so far was it above
the enveloping clouds. We returned to the tent to find that the zaptiehs
had been given the best places and best covers to sleep in, and that we
were expected to accommodate ourselves near the door, wrapped up in an old
Kurdish carpet. Policy was evidently a better developed trait of Kurdish
character than hospitality.

Although we arose at four, seven o’clock saw us still at the encampment.
Two hours vanished before our gentlemen zaptiehs condescended to rise from
their peaceful slumbers; then a great deal of time was unnecessarily
consumed in eating their special breakfast. We ourselves had to be content
with ekmek and yaourt (blotting-paper bread and curdled milk). This over,
they concluded not to go on without sandals to take the place of their
heavy military boots, as at this point their horses would have to be
discarded. After we had employed a Kurd to make these for them, they
declared they were afraid to proceed without the company of ten Kurds
armed to the teeth. We knew that this was only a scheme on the part of the
Kurds, with whom the zaptiehs were in league, to extort money from us. We
still kept cool, and only casually insinuated that we did not have enough
money to pay for so large a party. This announcement worked like a charm.
The interest the Kurds had up to this time taken in our venture died away
at once. Even the three Kurds who, as requested in the message of the
mutessarif, were to accompany us up the mountain to the snow-line, refused
absolutely to go. The mention of the mutessarif’s name awakened only a
sneer. We had also relied upon the Kurds for blankets, as we had been
advised to do by our friends in Bayazid. Those we had already hired they
now snatched from the donkeys standing before the tent. All this time our
tall, gaunt, meek-looking muleteer had stood silent. Now his turn had
come. How far was he to go with his donkeys?—he didn’t think it possible
for him to go much beyond this point. Patience now ceased to be a virtue.
We cut off discussion at once; told the muleteer he would either go on, or
lose what he had already earned; and informed the zaptiehs that whatever
they did would be reported to the mutessarif on our return. Under this
rather forcible persuasion, they stood not on the order of their going,
but sullenly followed our little procession out of camp before the
crestfallen Kurds.

In the absence of guides we were thrown upon our own resources. Far from
being an assistance, our zaptiehs proved a nuisance. They would carry
nothing, not even the food they were to eat, and were absolutely ignorant
of the country we were to traverse. From our observations on the previous
days, we had decided to strike out on a northeast course, over the gentle
slope, until we struck the rocky ridges on the southeast buttress of the
dome. On its projecting rocks, which extended nearer to the summit than
those of any other part of the mountain, we could avoid the slippery,
precipitous snow-beds that stretched far down the mountain at this time of
the year.

Immediately after leaving the encampment, the ascent became steeper and
more difficult; the small volcanic stones of yesterday now increased to
huge obstructing boulders, among which the donkeys with difficulty made
their way. They frequently tipped their loads, or got wedged in between
two unyielding walls. In the midst of our efforts to extricate them, we
often wondered how Noah ever managed with the animals from the ark. Had
these donkeys not been of a philosophical turn of mind, they might have
offered forcible objections to the way we extricated them from their
straightened circumstances. A remonstrance on our part for carelessness in
driving brought from the muleteer a burst of Turkish profanity that made
the rocks of Ararat resound with indignant echoes. The spirit of
insubordination seemed to be increasing in direct ratio with the height of
our ascent.

We came now to a comparatively smooth, green slope, which led up to the
highest Kurdish encampment met on the line of our ascent, about 7500 feet.
When in sight of the black tents, the subject of Kurdish guides was again
broached by the zaptiehs, and immediately they sat down to discuss the
question. We ourselves were through with discussion, and fully determined
to have nothing to do with a people who could do absolutely nothing for
us. We stopped at the tents, and asked for milk. “Yes,” they said; “we
have some”: but after waiting for ten minutes, we learned that the milk
was still in the goats’ possession, several hundred yards away among the
rocks. It dawned upon us that this was only another trick of the zaptiehs
to get a rest.
We pushed on the next 500 feet of the ascent without much trouble or
controversy, the silence broken only by the muleteer, who took the _raki_
bottle off the donkey’s pack, and asked if he could take a drink. As we
had only a limited supply, to be used to dilute the snow-water, we were
obliged to refuse him.

At 8000 feet we struck our first snowdrift, into which the donkeys sank up
to their bodies. It required our united efforts to lift them out, and half
carry them across. Then on we climbed till ten o’clock, to a point about
9000 feet, where we stopped for lunch in a quiet mountain glen, by the
side of a rippling mountain rill. This snow-water we drank with raki. The
view in the mean time had been growing more and more extensive. The plain
before us had lost nearly all its detail and color, and was merged into
one vast whole. Though less picturesque, it was incomparably grander. Now
we could see how, in ages past, the lava had burst out of the lateral
fissures in the mountain, and flowed in huge streams for miles down the
slope, and out on the plain below. These beds of lava were gradually
broken up by the action of the elements, and now presented the appearance
of ridges of broken volcanic rocks of the most varied and fantastic
shapes.

It was here that the muleteer showed evident signs of weakening, which
later on developed into a total collapse. We had come to a broad
snow-field where the donkeys stuck fast and rolled over helpless in the
snow. Even after we had unstrapped their baggage and carried it over on
our shoulders, they could make no headway. The muleteer gave up in
despair, and refused even to help us carry our loads to the top of an
adjoining hill, whither the zaptiehs had proceeded to wait for us. In
consequence, Raffl and we were compelled to carry two donkey-loads of
baggage for half a mile over the snow-beds and boulders, followed by the
sulking muleteer, who had deserted his donkeys, rather than be left alone
himself. On reaching the zaptiehs, we sat down to hold a council on the
situation; but the clouds, which, during the day, had occasionally
obscured the top of the mountain, now began to thicken, and it was not
long before a shower compelled us to beat a hasty retreat to a neighboring
ledge of rocks. The clouds that were rolling between us and the mountain
summit seemed but a token of the storm of circumstances. One thing was
certain, the muleteer could go no farther up the mountain, and yet he was
mortally afraid to return alone to the Kurdish robbers. He sat down, and
began to cry like a child. This predicament of their accomplice furnished
the zaptiehs with a plausible excuse. They now absolutely refused to go
any farther without him. Our interpreter, the Greek, again joined the
majority; he was not going to risk the ascent without the Turkish guards,
and besides, he had now come to the conclusion that we had not sufficient
blankets to spend a night at so high an altitude. Disappointed, but not
discouraged, we gazed at the silent old gentleman at our side. In his
determined countenance we read his answer. Long shall we remember Ignaz
Raffl as one of the pluckiest, most persevering of old men.
There was now only one plan that could be pursued. Selecting from our
supplies one small blanket, a felt mat, two long, stout ropes, enough food
to last us two days, a bottle of cold tea, and a can of Turkish raki, we
packed them into two bundles to strap on our backs. We then instructed the
rest of the party to return to the Kurdish encampment and await our
return. The sky was again clear at 2:30 P. M., when we bade good-by to our
worthless comrades and resumed the ascent. We were now at a height of nine
thousand feet, and it was our plan to camp at a point far enough up the
mountain to enable us to complete the ascent on the following day, and
return to the Kurdish encampment by nightfall. Beyond us was a region of
snow and barren rocks, among which we still saw a small purple flower and
bunches of lichens, which grew more rare as we advanced. Our course
continued in a northeast direction, toward the main southeast ridge of the
mountain. Sometimes we were floundering with our heavy loads in the deep
snow-beds, or scrambling on hands and knees over the huge boulders of the
rocky seams. Two hours and a half of climbing brought us to the crest of
the main southeast ridge, about one thousand feet below the base of the
precipitous dome. At this point our course changed from northeast to
northwest, and continued so during the rest of the ascent. Little Ararat
was now in full view. We could even distinguish upon its northwest side a
deep-cut gorge, which was not visible before. Upon its smooth and perfect
slopes remained only the tatters of its last winter’s garments. We could
also look far out over the Sardarbulakh ridge, which connects the two
Ararats, and on which the Cossacks are encamped. It was to them that the
mutessarif had desired us to go, but we had subsequently determined to
make the ascent directly from the Turkish side.
Following up this southeast ridge we came at 5:45 P. M. to a point about
eleven thousand feet. Here the thermometer registered 39° Fahrenheit, and
was constantly falling. If we should continue on, the cold during the
night, especially with our scanty clothing, would become intolerable; and
then, too, we could scarcely find a spot level enough to sleep on. We
therefore determined to stop here for the night, and to continue the
ascent at dawn. Some high, rugged crags on the ridge above us attracted
our attention as affording a comparatively protected lodging. Among these
we spread our carpet, and piled stones in the intervening spaces to form a
complete inclosure. Thus busily engaged, we failed for a time to realize
the grandeur of the situation. Over the vast and misty panorama that
spread out before us, the lingering rays of the setting sun shed a tinge
of gold, which was communicated to the snowy beds around us. Behind the
peak of Little Ararat a brilliant rainbow stretched in one grand archway
above the weeping clouds. But this was only one turn of nature’s
kaleidoscope. The arch soon faded away, and the shadows lengthened and
deepened across the plain, and mingled, till all was lost to view behind
the falling curtains of the night. The Kurdish tents far down the slope,
and the white curling smoke from their evening camp-fires, we could see no
more; only the occasional bark of a dog was borne upward through the
impenetrable darkness.

Colder and colder grew the atmosphere. From 39° the thermometer gradually
fell to 36°, to 33°, and during the night dropped below freezing-point.
The snow, which fell from the clouds just over our heads, covered our
frugal supper-table, on which were placed a few hard-boiled eggs, some
tough Turkish bread, cheese, and a bottle of tea mixed with raki. Ice-tea
was no doubt a luxury at this time of the year, but not on Mount Ararat,
at the height of eleven thousand feet, with the temperature at
freezing-point. M. Raffl was as cheerful as could be expected under the
circumstances. He expressed his delight at our progress thus far; and now
that we were free from our “gentlemen” attendants, he considered our
chances for success much brighter. We turned in together under our single
blanket, with the old gentleman between us. He had put on every article of
clothing, including gloves, hat, hood, cloak, and heavy shoes. For pillows
we used the provision-bags and camera. The bottle of cold tea we buttoned
up in our coats to prevent it from freezing. On both sides, and above us,
lay the pure white snow; below us a huge abyss, into which the rocky ridge
descended like a darkened stairway to the lower regions. The awful
stillness was unbroken, save by the whistling of the wind among the rocks.
Dark masses of clouds seemed to bear down upon us every now and then,
opening up their trapdoors, and letting down a heavy fall of snow. The
heat of our bodies melted the ice beneath us, and our clothes became
saturated with ice-water. Although we were surrounded by snow and ice, we
were suffering with a burning thirst. Since separating from our companions
we had found no water whatever, while the single bottle of cold tea we had
must be preserved for the morrow. Sleep, under such circumstances, and in
our cramped position, was utterly impossible. At one o’clock the morning
star peeped above the eastern horizon. This we watched hour after hour, as
it rose in unrivaled beauty toward the zenith, until at last it began to
fade away in the first gray streaks of the morning.
By the light of a flickering candle we ate a hurried breakfast, fastened
on our spiked shoes, and strapped to our backs a few indispensable
articles, leaving the rest of our baggage at the camp until our return.
Just at daybreak, 3:55 A. M., on the 4th of July, we started off on what
proved to be the hardest day’s work we had ever accomplished. We struck
out at once across the broad snow-field to the second rock rib on the
right, which seemed to lead up to the only line of rocks above. The
surface of these large snow-beds had frozen during the night, so that we
had to cut steps with our ice-picks to keep from slipping down their
glassy surface. Up this ridge we slowly climbed for three weary hours,
leaping from boulder to boulder, or dragging ourselves up their
precipitous sides. The old gentleman halted frequently to rest, and showed
evident signs of weariness. “It is hard; we must take it slowly,” he would
say (in German) whenever our impatience would get the better of our
prudence. At seven o’clock we reached a point about 13,500 feet, beyond
which there seemed to be nothing but the snow-covered slope, with only a
few projecting rocks along the edge of a tremendous gorge which now broke
upon our astonished gaze. Toward this we directed our course, and, an hour
later, stood upon its very verge. Our venerable companion now looked up at
the precipitous slope above us, where only some stray, projecting rocks
were left to guide us through the wilderness of snow. “Boys,” said he,
despondently, “I cannot reach the top; I have not rested during the night,
and I am now falling asleep on my feet; besides, I am very much fatigued.”
This came almost like a sob from a breaking heart. Although the old
gentleman was opposed to the ascent in the first instance, his old Alpine
spirit arose within him with all its former vigor when once he had started
up the mountain slope; and now, when almost in sight of the very goal, his
strength began to fail him. After much persuasion and encouragement, he
finally said that if he could get half an hour’s rest and sleep, he
thought he would be able to continue. We then wrapped him up in his
greatcoat, and dug out a comfortable bed in the snow, while one of us sat
down, with back against him, to keep him from rolling down the
mountain-side.
We were now on the chasm’s brink, looking down into its unfathomable
depths. This gigantic rent, hundreds of feet in width and thousands in
depth, indicates that northwest-southeast line along which the volcanic
forces of Ararat have acted most powerfully. This fissure is perhaps the
greatest with which the mountain is seamed, and out of which has
undoubtedly been discharged a great portion of its lava. Starting from the
base of the dome, it seemed to pierce the shifting clouds to a point about
500 feet from the summit. This line is continued out into the plain in a
series of small volcanoes the craters of which appear to be as perfect as
though they had been in activity only yesterday. The solid red and yellow
rocks which lined the sides of the great chasm projected above the
opposite brink in jagged and appalling cliffs. The whole was incased in a
mass of huge fantastic icicles, which, glittering in the sunlight, gave it
the appearance of a natural crystal palace. No more fitting place than
this could the fancy of the Kurds depict for the home of the terrible
jinn; no better symbol of nature for the awful jaws of death.

Our companion now awoke considerably refreshed, and the ascent was
continued close to the chasm’s brink. Here were the only rocks to be seen
in the vast snow-bed around us. Cautiously we proceed, with cat-like
tread, following directly in one another’s footsteps, and holding on to
our alpenstocks like grim death. A loosened rock would start at first
slowly, gain momentum, and fairly fly. Striking against some projecting
ledge, it would bound a hundred feet or more into the air, and then drop
out of sight among the clouds below. Every few moments we would stop to
rest; our knees were like lead, and the high altitude made breathing
difficult. Now the trail of rocks led us within two feet of the chasm’s
edge; we approached it cautiously, probing well for a rock foundation, and
gazing with dizzy heads into the abyss.

The slope became steeper and steeper, until it abutted in an almost
precipitous cliff coated with snow and glistening ice. There was no escape
from it, for all around the snow-beds were too steep and slippery to
venture an ascent upon them. Cutting steps with our ice-picks, and
half-crawling, half-dragging ourselves, with the alpenstocks hooked into
the rocks above, we scaled its height, and advanced to the next abutment.
Now a cloud, as warm as exhausted steam, enveloped us in the midst of this
ice and snow. When it cleared away, the sun was reflected with intenser
brightness. Our faces were already smarting with blisters, and our dark
glasses afforded but little protection to our aching eyes.

At 11 A. M. we sat down on the snow to eat our last morsel of food. The
cold chicken and bread tasted like sawdust, for we had no saliva with
which to masticate them. Our single bottle of tea had given out, and we
suffered with thirst for several hours. Again the word to start was given.
We rose at once, but our stiffened legs quivered beneath us, and we leaned
on our alpenstocks for support. Still we plodded on for two more weary
hours, cutting our steps in the icy cliffs, or sinking to our thighs in
the treacherous snow-beds. We could see that we were nearing the top of
the great chasm, for the clouds, now entirely cleared away, left our view
unobstructed. We could even descry the black Kurdish tents upon the
northeast slope, and, far below, the Aras River, like a streak of silver,
threading its way into the purple distance. The atmosphere about us grew
colder, and we buttoned up our now too scanty garments. We must be nearing
the top, we thought, and yet we were not certain, for a huge, precipitous
cliff, just in front of us, cut off the view.

“Slowly, slowly,” feebly shouted the old gentleman, as we began the attack
on its precipitous sides, now stopping to brush away the treacherous snow,
or to cut some steps in the solid ice. We pushed and pulled one another
almost to the top, and then, with one more desperate effort, we stood upon
a vast and gradually sloping snow-bed. Down we plunged above our knees
through the yielding surface, and staggered and fell with failing
strength; then rose once more and plodded on, until at last we sank
exhausted upon the top of Ararat.

For a moment only we lay gasping for breath; then a full realization of
our situation dawned upon us, and fanned the few faint sparks of
enthusiasm that remained in our exhausted bodies. We unfurled upon an
alpenstock the small silk American flag that we had brought from home, and
for the first time the “stars and stripes” was given to the breeze on the
Mountain of the Ark. Four shots fired from our revolvers in commemoration
of Independence Day broke the stillness of the gorges. Far above the
clouds, which were rolling below us over three of the most absolute
monarchies in the world, was celebrated in our simple way a great event of
republicanism.

Mount Ararat, it will be observed from the accompanying sketch, has two
tops, a few hundred yards apart, sloping, on the eastern and western
extremities, into rather prominent abutments, and separated by a snow
valley, or depression, from 50 to 100 feet in depth. The eastern top, on
which we were standing, was quite extensive, and 30 to 40 feet lower than
its western neighbor. Both tops are hummocks on the huge dome of Ararat,
like the humps on the back of a camel, on neither one of which is there a
vestige of anything but snow.
There remained just as little trace of the crosses left by Parrot and
Chodzko, as of the ark itself. We remembered the pictures we had seen in
our nursery-books, which represented this mountain-top covered with green
grass, and Noah stepping out of the ark, in the bright, warm sunshine,
before the receding waves; and now we looked around and saw this very spot
covered with perpetual snow. Nor did we see any evidence whatever of a
former existing crater, except perhaps the snow-filled depression we have
just mentioned. There was nothing about this perpetual snow-field, and the
freezing atmosphere that was chilling us to the bone, to remind us that we
were on the top of an extinct volcano that once trembled with the
convulsions of subterranean heat.

The view from this towering height was immeasurably extensive, and almost
too grand. All detail was lost—all color, all outline; even the
surrounding mountains seemed to be but excrescent ridges of the plain.
Then, too, we could catch only occasional glimpses, as the clouds shifted
to and fro. At one time they opened up beneath us, and revealed the Aras
valley with its glittering ribbon of silver at an abysmal depth below. Now
and then we could descry the black volcanic peaks of Ali Ghez forty miles
away to the northwest, and on the southwest the low mountains that
obscured the town of Bayazid. Of the Caucasus, the mountains about Erzerum
on the west, and Lake Van on the south, and even of the Caspian Sea, all
of which are said to be in Ararat’s horizon, we could see absolutely
nothing.

Had it been a clear day we could have seen not only the rival peaks of the
Caucasus, which for so many years formed the northern wall of the
civilized world, but, far to the south, we might have descried the
mountains of Quardu land, where Chaldean legend has placed the landing of
the ark. We might have gazed, in philosophic mood, over the whole of the
Aras valley, which for 3000 years or more has been the scene of so much
misery and conflict. As monuments of two extreme events in this historic
period, two spots might have attracted our attention—one right below us,
the ruins of Artaxata, which, according to tradition, was built, as the
story goes, after the plans of the roving conqueror Hannibal, and stormed
by the Roman legions, A. D. 58; and farther away to the north, the modern
fortress of Kars, which so recently reverberated with the thunders of the
Turkish war.

We were suddenly aroused by the rumbling of thunder below us. A storm was
rolling rapidly up the southeast slope of the mountain. The atmosphere
seemed to be boiling over the heated plain below. Higher and higher came
the clouds, rolling and seething among the grim crags along the chasm; and
soon we were caught in its embrace. The thermometer dropped at once below
freezing-point, and the dense mists, driven against us by the hurricane,
formed icicles on our blistered faces, and froze the ink in our
fountain-pens. Our summer clothing was wholly inadequate for such an
unexpected experience; we were chilled to the bone. To have remained where
we were would have been jeopardizing our health, if not our lives.
Although we could scarcely see far enough ahead to follow back on the
track by which we had ascended, yet we were obliged to attempt it at once,
for the storm around us was increasing every moment; we could even feel
the charges of electricity whenever we touched the iron points of our
alpenstocks.

Carefully peering through the clouds, we managed to follow the trail we
had made along the gradually sloping summit, to the head of the great
chasm, which now appeared more terrible than ever. We here saw that it
would be extremely perilous, if not actually impossible, to attempt a
descent on the rocks along its treacherous edge in such a hurricane. The
only alternative was to take the precipitous snow-covered slope. Planting
our ice-hooks deep in the snow behind us, we started. At first the strong
head wind, which on the top almost took us off our feet, somewhat checked
our downward career, but it was not long before we attained a velocity
that made our hair stand on end. It was a thrilling experience; we seemed
to be sailing through the air itself, for the clouds obscured the slope
even twenty feet below. Finally we emerged beneath them into the glare of
the afternoon sunlight; but on we dashed for 6000 feet, leaning heavily on
the trailing-stocks, which threw up an icy spray in our wake. We never
once stopped until we reached the bottom of the dome, at our last night’s
camp among the rocks.

In less than an hour we had dashed down, through a distance which it had
taken us nine and a half hours to ascend. The camp was reached at 4 P. M.,
just twelve hours from the time we left it. Gathering up the remaining
baggage, we hurried away to continue the descent. We must make desperate
efforts to reach the Kurdish encampment by nightfall; for during the last
twenty-seven hours we had had nothing to drink but half a pint of tea, and
our thirst by this time became almost intolerable.

The large snow-bed down which we had been sliding now began to show signs
of treachery. The snow, at this low altitude, had melted out from below,
to supply the subterranean streams, leaving only a thin crust at the
surface. It was not long before one of our party fell into one of these
pitfalls up to his shoulders, and floundered about for some time before he
could extricate himself from his unexpected snow-bath.

Over the rocks and boulders the descent was much slower and more tedious.
For two hours we were thus busily engaged, when all at once a shout rang
out in the clear evening air. Looking up we saw, sure enough, our two
zaptiehs and muleteer on the very spot where we had left them the evening
before. Even the two donkeys were on hand to give us a welcoming bray.
They had come up from the encampment early in the morning, and had been
scanning the mountain all day long to get some clue to our whereabouts.
They reported that they had seen us at one time during the morning, and
had then lost sight of us among the clouds. This solicitude on their part
was no doubt prompted by the fact that they were to be held by the
mutessarif of Bayazid as personally responsible for our safe return, and
perhaps, too, by the hope that they might thus retrieve the good graces
they had lost the day before, and thereby increase the amount of the
forthcoming baksheesh. Nothing, now, was too heavy for the donkeys, and
even the zaptiehs themselves condescended to relieve us of our
alpenstocks.

That night we sat again around the Kurdish camp-fire, surrounded by the
same group of curious faces. It was interesting and even amusing to watch
the bewildered astonishment that overspread their countenances as we
related our experiences along the slope, and then upon the very top, of
Ak-Dagh. They listened throughout with profound attention, then looked at
one another in silence, and gravely shook their heads. They could not
believe it. It was impossible. Old Ararat stood above us grim and terrible
beneath the twinkling stars. To them it was, as it always will be, the
same mysterious, untrodden height—the palace of the jinn.
                                   III

                       THROUGH PERSIA TO SAMARKAND

“It is all bosh,” was the all but universal opinion of Bayazid in regard
to our alleged ascent of Ararat. None but the Persian consul and the
mutessarif himself deigned to profess a belief in it, and the gift of
several letters to Persian officials, and a sumptuous dinner on the eve of
our departure, went far toward proving their sincerity.

On the morning of July 8, in company with a body-guard of zaptiehs, which
the mutessarif forced upon us, we wheeled down from the ruined
embattlements of Bayazid. The assembled rabble raised a lusty cheer at
parting. An hour later we had surmounted the Kazlee Gool, and the “land of
Iran” was before us. At our feet lay the Turco-Persian battle-plains of
Chaldiran, spreading like a desert expanse to the parched barren hills
beyond, and dotted here and there with clumps of trees in the village
oases. And this, then, was the land where, as the poets say, “the
nightingale sings, and the rose-tree blossoms,” and where “a flower is
crushed at every step!” More truth, we thought, in the Scotch traveler’s
description, which divides Persia into two portions—“One desert with salt,
and the other desert without salt.” In time we came to McGregor’s opinion
as expressed in his description of Khorassan. “We should fancy,” said he,
“a small green circle round every village indicated on the map, and shade
all the rest in brown.” The mighty hosts whose onward sweep from the Indus
westward was checked only by the Grecian phalanx upon the field of
Marathon must have come from the scattered ruins around, which reminded us
that “Iran was; she is no more.” Those myriad ranks of Yenghiz Khan and
Tamerlane brought death and desolation from Turan to Iran, which so often
met to act and react upon one another that both are now only landmarks in
the sea of oblivion.
Our honorary escort accompanied us several miles over the border to the
Persian village of Killissakend, and there committed us to the hospitality
of the district khan, with whom we managed to converse in the Turkish
language, which, strange to say, we found available in all the countries
that lay in our transcontinental pathway as far as the great wall of
China. Toward evening we rode in the garden of the harem of the khan, and
at daybreak the next morning were again in the saddle. By a very early
start we hoped to escape the burden of excessive hospitality; in other
words, to get rid of an escort that was an expensive nuisance. At the next
village we were confronted by what appeared to be a shouting,
gesticulating maniac. On dismounting, we learned that a harbinger had been
sent by the khan, the evening before, to have a guard ready to join us as
we passed through. In fact, two armed _ferashes_ were galloping toward us,
armed, as we afterward learned, with American rifles, and the usual
_kamma_, or huge dagger, swinging from a belt of cartridges. These
fellows, like the zaptiehs, were fond of ostentation. They frequently led
us a roundabout way to show us off to their relatives or friends in a
neighboring village. Nature at last came to our deliverance. As we stood
on a prominent ridge taking a last look at Mount Ararat, now more than
fifty miles away, a storm came upon us, showering hailstones as large as
walnuts. The ferashes with frantic steeds dashed ahead to seek a place of
shelter, and we saw them no more.

Five days in Persia brought us to the shores of Lake Ooroomeeyah, the
saltest body of water in the world. Early the next morning we were wading
the chilly waters of the Hadji Chai, and a few hours later found us in the
English consulate at Tabreez, where we were received by the Persian
secretary. The English government, it seemed, had become embroiled in a
local love-affair just at a time when Colonel Stewart was off on
“diplomatic duty” on the Russian Transcaspian border. An exceptionally
bright Armenian beauty, a graduate of the American missionary schools at
this place, had been abducted, it was claimed, by a young Kurdish
cavalier, and carried away to his mountain home. Her father, who happened
to be a naturalized English subject, had applied for the assistance of his
adopted country in obtaining her release. Negotiations were at once set on
foot between London and Teheran, which finally led to a formal demand upon
the Kurds by the Shah himself. Upon their repeated refusal, seven thousand
Persian troops, it was said, were ordered to Soak Boulak, under the
command of the vice-consul, Mr. Patton. The matter at length assumed such
an importance as to give rise, in the House of Commons, to the question,
“Who is Katty Greenfield?” This, in time, was answered by that lady
herself, who declared under oath that she had become a Mohammedan, and was
in love with the man with whom she had eloped. More than this, it was
learned that she had not a drop of English blood in her veins, her father
being an Austrian, and her mother a native Armenian. Whereupon the Persian
troopers, with their much disgusted leader, beat an inglorious retreat,
leaving “Katty Greenfield” mistress of the situation, and of a Kurdish
heart.
In Tabreez there is one object sure to attract attention. This is the
“Ark,” or ancient fortified castle of the Persian rulers. High on one of
the sides, which a recent earthquake has rent from top to bottom, there is
a little porch whence these Persian “Bluebeards,” or rather Redbeards,
were wont to hurl unruly members of the harem. Under the shadow of these
gloomy walls was enacted a tragedy of this century. Babism is by no means
the only heresy that has sprung from the speculative genius of Persia; but
it is the one that has most deeply moved the society of the present age,
and the one which still obtains, though in secret and without a leader.
Its founder, Seyd Mohammed Ali, better known as Bab, or “Gate,”
promulgated the doctrine of anarchy to the extent of “sparing the rod and
spoiling the child,” and still worse, perhaps, of refusing to the ladies
no finery that might be at all becoming to their person. While not a
communist, as he has sometimes been wrongly classed, he exhorted the
wealthy to regard themselves as only trustees of the poor. With no thought
at first of acquiring civil power, he and his rapidly increasing following
were driven to revolt by the persecuting mollas, and the sanguinary
struggle of 1848 followed. Bab himself was captured, and carried to this
“most fanatical city of Persia,” the burial-place of the sons of Ali. On
this very spot a company was ordered to despatch him with a volley; but
when the smoke cleared away, Bab was not to be seen. None of the bullets
had gone to the mark, and the bird had flown—but not to the safest refuge.
Had he finally escaped, the miracle thus performed would have made Babism
invincible. But he was recaptured and despatched, and his body thrown to
the canine scavengers.
Tabreez (fever-dispelling) was a misnomer in our case. Our sojourn here
was prolonged for more than a month by a slight attack of typhoid fever,
which this time seized Sachtleben, and again the kind nursing of the
missionary ladies hastened recovery. Our mail, in the mean time, having
been ordered to Teheran, we were granted the privilege of intercepting it.
For this purpose we were permitted to overhaul the various piles of
letters strewn over the dirty floor of the distributing-office. Both the
Turkish and Persian mail is carried in saddle-bags on the backs of
reinless horses driven at a rapid gallop before the mounted mail-carrier
or herdsman. Owing to the carelessness of the postal officials, legations
and consulates employ special couriers.

The proximity of Tabreez to the Russian border makes it politically, as
well as commercially, one of the most important cities in Persia. For this
reason it is the place of residence of the Emir-e-Nizam (leader of the
army), or prime minister, as well as the Vali-Ahd, or Prince Imperial.
This prince is the Russian candidate, as opposed to the English candidate,
for the prospective vacancy on the throne. Both of these dignitaries
invited us to visit them, and showed much interest in our “wonderful wind
horses,” of the speed of which exaggerated reports had circulated through
the country. We were also favored with a special letter for the journey to
the capital.

On this stage we started August 15, stopping the first night at
Turkmanchai, the little village where was signed the famous treaty of 1828
by virtue of which the Caspian Sea became a Russian lake. The next morning
we were on the road soon after daybreak, and on approaching the next
village overtook a curious cavalcade, just concluding a long night’s
journey. This consisted of a Persian palanquin, with its long pole-shafts
saddled upon the back of a mule at each end; with servants on foot, and a
body-guard of mounted soldiers. The occupant of this peculiar conveyance
remained concealed throughout the stampede which our sudden appearance
occasioned among his hearse-bearing mules, for as such they will appear in
the sequel. In our first article we mentioned an interview in London with
Malcolm Khan, the representative of the Shah at the court of St. James.
Since then, it seemed, he had fallen into disfavor. During the late visit
of the Shah to England certain members of his retinue were so young, both
in appearance and conduct, as to be a source of mortification to the
Europeanized minister. This reached the ears of the Shah some time after
his return home; and a summons was sent for the accused to repair to
Teheran. Malcolm Khan, however, was too well versed in Oriental craft to
fall into such a trap, and announced his purpose to devote his future
leisure to airing his knowledge of Persian politics in the London press.
The Persian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Musht-a-Shar-el-Dowlet, then
residing at Tabreez, who was accused of carrying on a seditious
correspondence with Malcolm Khan, was differently situated, unfortunately.
It was during our sojourn in that city that his palatial household was
raided by a party of soldiers, and he was carried to prison as a common
felon. Being unable to pay the high price of pardon that was demanded, he
was forced away, a few days before our departure, on that dreaded journey
to the capital, which few, if any, ever complete. For on the way they are
usually met by a messenger, who proffers them a cup of coffee, a sword,
and a rope, from which they are to choose the method of their doom. This,
then, was the occupant of the mysterious palanquin, which now was opened
as we drew up before the village caravansary. Out stepped a man, tall and
portly, with beard and hair of venerable gray. His keen eye, clear-cut
features, and dignified bearing, bespoke for him respect even in his
downfall, while his stooped shoulders and haggard countenance betrayed the
weight of sorrow and sleepless nights with which he was going to his tomb.
At Miana, that town made infamous by its venomous insect, is located one
of the storage-stations of the Indo-European Telegraph Company. Its
straight lines of iron poles, which we followed very closely from Tabreez
to Teheran, form only a link in that great wire and cable chain which
connects Melbourne with London. We spent the following night in the German
operator’s room.

The weakness of the Persian for mendacity is proverbial. One instance of
this national weakness was attended with considerable inconvenience to us.
By some mischance we had run by the village where we intended to stop for
the night, which was situated some distance off the road. Meeting a
Persian lad, we inquired the distance. He was ready at once with a
cheerful falsehood. “One farsak” (four miles), he replied, although he
must have known at the time that the village was already behind us. On we
pedaled at an increased rate, in order to precede, if possible, the
approaching darkness; for although traditionally the land of a double
dawn, Persia has only one twilight, and that closely merged into sunset
and darkness. One, two farsaks were placed behind us, and still there was
no sign of a human habitation. At length darkness fell; we were obliged to
dismount to feel our way. By the gradually rising ground, and the rocks,
we knew we were off the road. Dropping our wheels, we groped round on
hands and knees, to find, if possible, some trace of water. With a burning
thirst, a chilling atmosphere, and swarms of mosquitos biting through our
clothing, we could not sleep. A slight drizzle began to descend. During
our gloomy vigil we were glad to hear the sounds of a caravan, toward
which we groped our way, discerning, at length, a long line of camels
marching to the music of their lantern-bearing leader. When our
nickel-plated bars and white helmets flashed in the lantern-light, there
was a shriek, and the lantern fell to the ground. The rear-guard rushed to
the front with drawn weapons; but even they started back at the sound of
our voices, as we attempted in broken Turkish to reassure them.
Explanations were made, and the camels soon quieted. Thereupon we were
surrounded with lanterns and firebrands, while the remainder of the
caravan party was called to the front. Finally we moved on, walking side
by side with the lantern-bearing leader, who ran ahead now and then to
make sure of the road. The night was the blackest we had ever seen.
Suddenly one of the camels disappeared in a ditch, and rolled over with a
groan. Fortunately, no bones were broken, and the load was replaced. But
we were off the road, and a search was begun with lights to find the
beaten path. Footsore and hungry, with an almost intolerable thirst, we
trudged along till morning, to the ding-dong, ding-dong of the deep-toned
camel-bells. Finally we reached a sluggish river, but did not dare to
satisfy our thirst, except by washing out our mouths, and by taking
occasional swallows, with long intervals of rest, in one of which we fell
asleep from sheer exhaustion. When we awoke the midday sun was shining,
and a party of Persian travelers was bending over us.

From the high lands of Azerbeidjan, where, strange to say, nearly all
Persian pestilences arise, we dropped suddenly into the Kasveen plain, a
portion of that triangular, dried-up basin of the Persian Mediterranean,
now for the most part a sandy, saline desert. The argillaceous dust
accumulated on the Kasveen plain by the weathering of the surrounding
uplands resembles in appearance the “yellow earth” of the Hoang Ho
district in China, but remains sterile for the lack of water. Even the
little moisture that obtains beneath the surface is sapped by the
_kanots_, or underground canals, which bring to the fevered lips of the
desert oases the fresh, cool springs of the Elburz. These are dug with
unerring instinct, and preserved with jealous care by means of shafts or
slanting wells dug at regular intervals across the plain. Into these we
would occasionally descend to relieve our reflection-burned—or, as a
Persian would say, “snow-burned”—faces, while the thermometer above stood
at 120° in the shade.

Over the level ninety-mile stretch between Kasveen and the capital a
so-called carriage-road has recently been constructed close to the base of
the mountain. A sudden turn round a mountain-spur, and before us was
presented to view Mount Demavend and Teheran. Soon the paved streets,
sidewalks, lamp-posts, street-railways, and even steam-tramway, of the
half modern capital were as much of a surprise to us as our “wind horses”
were to the curious crowds that escorted us to the French Hotel.
From Persia it was our plan to enter Russian central Asia, and thence to
proceed to China or Siberia. To enter the Transcaspian territory, the
border-province of the Russian possessions, the sanction of its governor,
General Kuropatkine, would be quite sufficient; but for the rest of the
journey through Turkestan the Russian minister in Teheran said we would
have to await a general permission from St. Petersburg. Six weeks were
spent with our English and American acquaintances, and still no answer was
received. Winter was coming on, and something had to be done at once. If
we were to be debarred from a northern route, we would have to attempt a
passage into India either through Afghanistan, which we were assured by
all was quite impossible, or across the deserts of southern Persia and
Baluchistan. For this latter we had already obtained a possible route from
the noted traveler, Colonel Stewart, whom we met on his way back to his
consular post at Tabreez. But just at this juncture the Russian minister
advised another plan. In order to save time, he said, we might proceed to
Meshed at once, and if our permission was not telegraphed to us at that
point, we could then turn south to Baluchistan as a last resort. This, our
friends unanimously declared, was a Muscovite trick to evade an absolute
refusal. The Russians, they assured us, would never permit a foreign
inspection of their doings on the Afghan border; and furthermore, we would
never be able to cross the uninhabited deserts of Baluchistan. Against all
protest, we waved “farewell” to the foreign and native throng which had
assembled to see us off, and on October 5 wheeled out of the fortified
square on the “Pilgrim Road to Meshed.”

Before us now lay six hundred miles of barren hills, swampy _kevirs_,
brier-covered wastes, and salty deserts, with here and there some
kanot-fed oases. To the south lay the lifeless desert of Luth, the
“Persian Sahara,” the humidity of which is the lowest yet recorded on the
face of the globe, and compared with which “the Gobi of China and the
Kizil-Kum of central Asia are fertile regions.” It is our extended and
rather unique experience on the former of these two that prompts us to
refrain from further description of desert travel here, where the
hardships were in a measure ameliorated by frequent stations, and by the
use of cucumbers and pomegranates, both of which we carried with us on the
long desert stretches. Melons, too, the finest we have ever seen in any
land, frequently obviated the necessity of drinking the strongly brackish
water.
Yet this experience was sufficient to impress us with the fact that the
national poets, Hafiz and Sadi, like Thomas Moore, have sought in fancy
what the land of Iran denied them. Those “spicy groves, echoing with the
nightingale’s song,” those “rosy bowers and purling brooks,” on the whole
exist, so far as our experience goes, only in the poet’s dream.

Leaving on the right the sand-swept ruins of Veramin, that capital of
Persia before Teheran was even thought of, we traversed the pass of
Sir-Dara, identified by some as the famous “Caspian Gate,” and early in
the evening entered the village of Aradan. The usual crowd hemmed us in on
all sides, yelling, “Min, min!” (“Ride, ride!”), which took the place of
the Turkish refrain of “Bin, bin!” As we rode toward the caravansary they
shouted, “Faster, faster!” and when we began to distance them, they caught
at the rear wheels, and sent a shower of stones after us, denting our
helmets, and bruising our coatless backs. This was too much; we dismounted
and exhibited the ability to defend ourselves, whereupon they tumbled over
one another in their haste to get away. But they were at our wheels again
before we reached the caravansary. Here they surged through the narrow
gangway, and knocked over the fruit-stands of the bazaars.

We were shown to a room, or windowless cell, in the honeycomb structure
that surrounded an open quadrangular court, at the time filled with a
caravan of pilgrims, carrying triangular white and black flags, with the
Persian coat of arms, the same we have seen over many doorways in Persia
as warnings of the danger of trespassing upon the religious services held
within. The cadaverous stench revealed the presence of half-dried human
bones being carried by relatives and friends for interment in the sacred
“City of the Silent.” Thus dead bodies, in loosely nailed boxes, are
always traveling from one end of Persia to the other. Among the pilgrims
were blue and green turbaned Saids, direct descendants of the Prophet, as
well as white-turbaned mollas. All were sitting about on the _sakoo_, or
raised platform, just finishing the evening meal. But presently one of the
mollas ascended the mound in the middle of the stable-yard, and in the
manner of the muezzin called to prayer. All kneeled, and bowed their heads
toward Mecca. Then the horses were saddled, the long, narrow boxes
attached upright to the pack-mules, and the _kajacas_, or double boxes,
adjusted on the backs of the horses of the ladies. Into these the veiled
creatures entered, and drew the curtains, while the men leaped into the
saddle at a signal, and, with the tri-cornered flag at their head, the
cavalcade moved out on its long night pilgrimage. We now learned that the
village contained a _chappar khan_, one of those places of rest which have
recently been provided for the use of foreigners and others, who travel
_chappar_, or by relays of post-horses. These structures are usually
distinguished by a single room built on the roof, and projecting some
distance over the eaves.
To this we repaired at once. Its keeper evinced unusual pride in the
cleanliness of his apartments, for we were asked to take off our shoes
before entering. But while our boastful host was kicking up the mats to
convince us of the truth of his assertions, he suddenly retired behind the
scenes to rid himself of some of the pests.

Throughout our Asiatic tour eggs were our chief means of subsistence, but
_pillao_, or boiled rice flavored with grease, we found more particularly
used in Persia, like _yaourt_ in Turkey. This was prepared with chicken
whenever it was possible to purchase a fowl, and then we would usually
make the discovery that a Persian fowl was either wingless, legless, or
otherwise defective after being prepared by a Persian _fuzul_, or
foreigner’s servant, who, it is said, “shrinks from no baseness in order
to eat.” Though minus these particular appendages, it would invariably
have a head; for the fanatical Shiah frequently snatched a chicken out of
our hands to prevent us from wringing or chopping its head off. Even after
our meal was served, we would keep a sharp lookout upon the unblushing
pilferers around us, who had called to pay their respects, and to fill the
room with clouds of smoke from their chibouks and gurgling kalians. For a
fanatical Shiah will sometimes stick his dirty fingers into the dishes of
an “unbeliever,” even though he may subsequently throw away the
contaminated vessel. And this extreme fanaticism is to be found in a
country noted for its extensive latitude in the profession of religious
beliefs.

A present from the village khan was announced. In stepped two men bearing
a huge tray filled with melons, apricots, sugar, rock-candy, nuts,
pistachios, etc., all of which we must, of course, turn over to the
khan-keeper and his servants, and pay double their value to the bearers,
as a present. This polite method of extortion was followed the next
morning by one of a bolder and more peremptory nature. Notwithstanding the
feast of the night before at our expense, and in addition to furnishing us
with bedclothes which we really ought to have been paid to sleep in, our
oily host now insisted upon three or four prices for his lodgings. We
refused to pay him more than a certain sum, and started to vacate the
premises. Thereupon he and his grown son caught hold of our bicycles.
Remonstrances proving of no avail, and being unable to force our passage
through the narrow doorway with the bicycles in our hands, we dropped
them, and grappled with our antagonists. A noisy scuffle, and then a heavy
fall ensued, but luckily we were both on the upper side. This unusual
disturbance now brought out the inmates of the adjoining _anderoon_. In a
moment there was a din of feminine screams, and a flutter of garments, and
then—a crashing of our pith helmets beneath the blows of pokers and
andirons. The villagers, thus aroused, came at last to our rescue, and at
once proceeded to patch up a compromise. This, in view of the Amazonian
reinforcements, who were standing by in readiness for a second onset, we
were more than pleased to accept. From this inglorious combat we came off
without serious injury; but with those gentle poker taps were knocked out
forever all the sweet delusions of the “Light of the Harem.”

The great antiquity of this Teheran-Meshed road, which is undoubtedly a
section of that former commercial highway between two of the most ancient
capitals in history—Nineveh and Balk, is very graphically shown by the
caravan ruts at Lasgird. These have been worn in many places to a depth of
four feet in the solid rock. It was not far beyond this point that we
began to feel the force of that famous “Damghan wind,” so called from the
city of that name. Of course this wind was against us. In fact, throughout
our Asiatic tour easterly winds prevailed; and should we ever attempt
another transcontinental spin we would have a care to travel in the
opposite direction.
Our peculiar mode of travel subjected us to great extremes in our mode of
living. Sometimes, indeed, it was a change almost from the sublime to the
ridiculous, and vice versa—from a stable or sheepfold, with a diet of figs
and bread, and an irrigating-ditch for a lavatory, to a palace itself, an
Oriental palace, with all the delicacies of the East, and a host of
servants to attend to our slightest wish. So it was at Bostam, the
residence of one of Persia’s most influential _hakims_, or governors,
literally, “pillars of state,” who was also a cousin to the Shah himself.
This potentate we visited in company with an English engineer whom we met
in transit at Sharoud. It was on the evening before, when at supper with
this gentleman in his tent, that a special messenger arrived from the
governor, requesting us, as the invitation ran, “to take our brightness
into his presence.” As we entered, the governor rose from his seat on the
floor, a courtesy never shown us by a Turkish official. Even the politest
of them would, just at this particular moment, be conveniently engrossed
in the examination of some book or paper. His courtesy was further
extended by locking up our “horses,” and making us his “prisoners” until
the following morning. At the dinner which Mr. Evans and we were invited
to eat with his excellency, benches had to be especially prepared, as
there was nothing like a chair to be found on the premises. The governor
himself took his accustomed position on the floor, with his own private
dishes around him. From these he would occasionally fish out with his
fingers some choice lamb _kebabh_ or cabbage _dolmah_, and have it passed
over to his guests—an act which is considered one of the highest forms of
Persian hospitality.

With a shifting of the scenes of travel, we stood at sunset on the summit
of the Binalud mountains, overlooking the valley of the Kashafrud. Our two
weeks’ journey was almost ended, for the city of Meshed was now in view,
ten miles away. Around us were piles of little stones, to which each pious
pilgrim adds his quota when first he sees the “Holy Shrine,” which we
beheld shining like a ball of fire in the glow of the setting sun.
While we were building our pyramid a party of returning pilgrims greeted
us with “Meshedi at last.” “Not yet,” we answered, for we knew that the
gates of the Holy City closed promptly at twilight. Yet we determined to
make the attempt. On we sped, but not with the speed of the falling night.
Dusk overtook us as we reached the plain. A moving form was revealed to us
on the bank of the irrigating-canal which skirted the edge of the road.
Backward it fell as we dashed by, and then the sound of a splash and
splutter reached us as we disappeared in the darkness. On the morrow we
learned that the spirits of Hassan and Hussein were seen skimming the
earth in their flight toward the Holy City. We reached the bridge, and
crossed the moat, but the gates were closed. We knocked and pounded, but a
hollow echo was our only response. At last the light of a lantern
illumined the crevices in the weather-beaten doors, and a weird-looking
face appeared through the midway opening. “Who’s there?” said a voice,
whose sepulchral tones might have belonged to the sexton of the Holy Tomb.
“We are _Ferenghis_,” we said, “and must get into the city to-night.”
“That is impossible,” he answered, “for the gates are locked, and the keys
have been sent away to the governor’s palace.” With this the night air
grew more chill. But another thought struck us at once. We would send a
note to General McLean, the English consul-general, who was already
expecting us. This our interlocutor, for a certain _inam_, or Persian
bakshish, at length agreed to deliver. The general, as we afterward
learned, sent a servant with a special request to the governor’s palace.
Here, without delay, a squad of horsemen was detailed, and ordered with
the keys to the “Herat Gate.” The crowds in the streets, attracted by this
unusual turnout at this unusual hour, followed in their wake to the scene
of disturbance. There was a click of locks, the clanking of chains, and
the creaking of rusty hinges. The great doors swung open, and a crowd of
expectant faces received us in the Holy City.
Meshed claims our attention chiefly for its famous dead. In its sacred
dust lie buried our old hero Haroun al Raschid, Firdousi, Persia’s
greatest epic poet, and the holy Imaum Riza, within whose shrine every
criminal may take refuge from even the Shah himself until the payment of a
blood-tax, or a debtor until the giving of a guarantee for debt. No
infidel can enter there.
Meshed was the pivotal point upon which our wheel of fortune was to turn.
We were filled with no little anxiety, therefore, when, on the day after
our arrival, we received an invitation to call at the Russian
consulate-general. With great ceremony we were ushered into a suite of
elegantly furnished rooms, and received by the consul-general and his
English wife in full dress. Madame de Vlassow was radiant with smiles as
she served us tea by the side of her steaming silver samovar. She could
not wait for the circumlocution of diplomacy, but said: “It is all right,
gentlemen. General Kuropatkine has just telegraphed permission for you to
proceed to Askabad.” This precipitate remark evidently disconcerted the
consul, who could only nod his head and say, “_Oui, oui_,” in affirmation.
This news lifted a heavy load from our minds; our desert journey of six
hundred miles, therefore, had not been made in vain, and the prospect
brightened for a trip through the heart of Asia.
Between the rival hospitality of the Russian and English consulates our
health was now in jeopardy from excess of kindness. Among other social
attentions, we received an invitation from Sahib Devan, the governor of
Khorassan, who next to the Shah is the richest man in Persia. Although
seventy-six years of age, on the day of our visit to his palace he was
literally covered with diamonds and precious stones. With the photographer
to the Shah as German interpreter, we spent half an hour in an interesting
conversation. Among other topics he mentioned the receipt, a few days
before, of a peculiar telegram from the Shah: “Cut off the head of any one
who attempts opposition to the Tobacco Regie”; and this was followed a few
days after by the inquiry, “How many heads have you taken?” A retinue of
about three hundred courtiers followed the governor as he walked out with
feeble steps to the parade-ground. Here a company of Persian cavalry was
detailed to clear the field for the “wonderful steel horses,” which, as
was said, had come from the capital in two days, a distance of six hundred
miles. The governors extreme pleasure was afterward expressed in a special
letter for our journey to the frontier.
The military road now completed between Askabad and Meshed reveals the
extreme weakness of Persia’s defense against Russian aggression. Elated by
her recent successes in the matter of a Russian consul at Meshed, Russia
has very forcibly invited Persia to construct more than half of a road
which, in connection with the Transcaspian railway, makes Khorassan almost
an exclusive Russian market, and opens Persia’s richest province to
Russia’s troops and cannon on the prospective march to Herat. At this very
writing, if the telegraph speaks the truth, the Persian border-province of
Dereguez is another cession by what the Russians are pleased to call their
Persian vassal. In addition to its increasing commercial traffic, this
road is patronized by many Shiah devotees from the north, among whom are
what the natives term the “silent pilgrims.” These are large stones, or
boulders, rolled along a few feet at a time by the passers-by toward the
Holy City. We ourselves were employed in this pious work at the close of
our first day’s journey from Meshed when we were suddenly aroused by a
bantering voice behind us. Looking up, we were hailed by Stagno Navarro,
the inspector of the Persian telegraph, who was employed with his men on a
neighboring line. With this gentleman we spent the following night in a
telegraph station, and passed a pleasant evening chatting over the wires
with friends in Meshed.

Kuchan, our next stopping-place, lies on the almost imperceptible
watershed which separates the Herat valley from the Caspian Sea. This
city, only a few months ago, was entirely destroyed by a severe
earthquake. Under date of January 28, 1894, the American press reported:
“The bodies of ten thousand victims of the awful disaster have already
been recovered. Fifty thousand cattle were destroyed at the same time. The
once important and beautiful city of twenty thousand people is now only a
scene of death, desolation, and terror.”

From this point to Askabad the construction of the military highway speaks
well for Russia’s engineering skill. It crosses the Kopet Dagh mountains
over seven distinct passes in a distance of eighty miles. This we
determined to cover, if possible, in one day, inasmuch as there was no
intermediate stopping-place, and as we were not a little delighted by the
idea of at last emerging from semi-barbarism into semi-civilization. At
sunset we were scaling the fifth ridge since leaving Kuchan at daybreak,
and a few minutes later rolled up before the Persian custom-house in the
valley below. There was no evidence of the proximity of a Russian
frontier, except the extraordinary size of the tea-glasses, from which we
slaked our intolerable thirst. During the day we had had a surfeit of
cavernous gorges and commanding pinnacles, but very little water. The only
copious spring we were able to find was filled at the time with the
unwashed linen of a Persian traveler, who sat by, smiling in derision, as
we upbraided him for his disregard of the traveling public.
It was already dusk when we came in sight of the Russian custom-house, a
tin-roofed, stone structure, contrasting strongly with the Persian mud
hovels we had left behind. A Russian official hailed us as we shot by, but
we could not stop on the down-grade, and, besides, darkness was too
rapidly approaching to brook any delay. Askabad was twenty-eight miles
away, and although wearied by an extremely hard day’s work, we must sleep
that night, if possible, in a Russian hotel. Our pace increased with the
growing darkness until at length we were going at the rate of twelve miles
per hour down a narrow gorge-like valley toward the seventh and last ridge
that lay between us and the desert. At 9:30 P. M. we stood upon its
summit, and before us stretched the sandy wastes of Kara-Kum, enshrouded
in gloom. Thousands of feet below us the city of Askabad was ablaze with
lights, shining like beacons on the shore of the desert sea. Strains of
music from a Russian band stole faintly up through the darkness as we
dismounted, and contemplated the strange scene, until the shriek of a
locomotive-whistle startled us from our reveries. Across the desert a
train of the Transcaspian railway was gliding smoothly along toward the
city.
A hearty welcome back to civilized life was given us the next evening by
General Kuropatkine himself, the Governor-General of Transcaspia. During
the course of a dinner with him and his friends, he kindly assured us that
no further recommendation was needed than the fact that we were American
citizens to entitle us to travel from one end of the Russian empire to the
other.

From Askabad to Samarkand there was a break in the continuity of our
bicycle journey. Our Russian friends persuaded us to take advantage of the
Transcaspian railway, and not to hazard a journey across the dreaded
Kara-Kum sands. Such a journey, made upon the railroad track, where water
and food were obtainable at regular intervals, would have entailed only a
small part of the hardships incurred on the deserts in China, yet we were
more than anxious to reach, before the advent of winter, a point whence we
could be assured of reaching the Pacific during the following season.
Through the kindness of the railway authorities at Bokhara station our car
was side-tracked to enable us to visit, ten miles away, that ancient city
of the East. On November 6 we reached Samarkand, the ancient capital of
Tamerlane, and the present terminus of the Transcaspian railway.
                                    IV

                   THE JOURNEY FROM SAMARKAND TO KULDJA

On the morning of November 16 we took a last look at the blue domes and
minarets of Samarkand, intermingled with the ruins of palaces and tombs,
and then wheeled away toward the banks of the Zerafshan. Our four days’
journey of 180 miles along the regular Russian post-road was attended with
only the usual vicissitudes of ordinary travel. Wading in our Russian
top-boots through the treacherous fords of the “Snake” defile, we passed
the pyramidal slate rock known as the “Gate of Tamerlane,” and emerged
upon a strip of the Kizil-Kum steppe, stretching hence in painful monotony
to the bank of the Sir Daria river. This we crossed by a rude rope-ferry,
filled at the time with a passing caravan, and then began at once to
ascend the valley of the Tchirtchick toward Tashkend. The blackened cotton
which the natives were gathering from the fields, the lowering snow-line
on the mountains, the muddy roads, the chilling atmosphere, and the
falling leaves of the giant poplars—all warned us of the approach of
winter.

We had hoped at least to reach Vernoye, a provincial capital near the
converging point of the Turkestan, Siberian, and Chinese boundaries,
whence we could continue, on the opening of the following spring, either
through Siberia or across the Chinese empire. But in this we were doomed
to disappointment. The delay on the part of the Russian authorities in
granting us permission to enter Transcaspia had postponed at least a month
our arrival in Tashkend, and now, owing to the early advent of the rainy
season, the roads leading north were almost impassable even for the native
carts. This fact, together with the reports of heavy snowfalls beyond the
Alexandrovski mountains, on the road to Vernoye, lent a rather cogent
influence to the persuasions of our friends to spend the winter among
them.
Then, too, such a plan, we thought, might not be unproductive of future
advantages. Thus far we had been journeying through Russian territory
without a passport. We had no authorization except the telegram to “come
on,” received from General Kuropatkine at Askabad, and the verbal
permission of Count Rosterzsoff at Samarkand to proceed to Tashkend.
Furthermore, the passport for which we had just applied to Baron Wrevsky,
the Governor-General of Turkestan, would be available only as far as the
border of Siberia, where we should have to apply to the various
governors-general along our course to the Pacific, in case we should find
the route across the Chinese empire impracticable. A general permission to
travel from Tashkend to the Pacific coast, through southern Siberia, could
be obtained from St. Petersburg only, and that only through the chief
executive of the province through which we were passing.

Permission to enter Turkestan is by no means easily obtained, as is well
understood by the student of Russian policy in central Asia. We were not a
little surprised, therefore, when our request to spend the winter in its
capital was graciously granted by Baron Wrevsky, as well as the privilege
for one of us to return in the mean time to London. This we had determined
on, in order to secure some much-needed bicycle supplies, and to complete
other arrangements for the success of our enterprise. By lot the return
trip fell to Sachtleben. Proceeding by the Transcaspian and Transcaucasus
railroads, the Caspian and Black seas, to Constantinople, and thence by
the “overland express” to Belgrade, Vienna, Frankfort, and Calais, he was
able to reach London in sixteen days.

Tashkend, though nearly in the same latitude as New York, is so protected
by the Alexandrovski mountains from the Siberian blizzards and the
scorching winds of the Kara-Kum desert as to have an even more moderate
climate. A tributary of the Tchirtchick river forms the line of
demarcation between the native and the European portions of the city,
although the population of the latter is by no means devoid of a native
element. Both together cover an area as extensive as Paris, though the
population is only 120,000, of which 100,000 are congregated in the
native, or Sart, quarter. There is a floating element of Kashgarians,
Bokhariots, Persians, and Afghans, and a resident majority of Kirghiz,
Tatars, Jews, Hindus, gypsies, and Sarts, the latter being a generic title
for the urban, as distinguished from the nomad, people.
Our winter quarters were obtained at the home of a typical Russian family,
in company with a young reserve officer. He, having finished his
university career and time of military service, was engaged in Tashkend in
the interest of his father, a wholesale merchant in Moscow. With him we
were able to converse either in French or German, both of which languages
he could speak more purely than his native Russian. Our good-natured,
corpulent host had emigrated, in the pioneer days, from the steppes of
southern Russia, and had grown wealthy through the “unearned increment.”

The Russian samovar is the characteristic feature of the Russian
household. Besides a big bowl of cabbage soup at every meal, our Russian
host would start in with a half-tumbler of vodka, dispose of a bottle of
beer in the intervals, and then top off with two or three glasses of tea.
The mistress of the household, being limited in her beverages to tea and
soup, would usually make up in quantity what was lacking in variety. In
fact, one day she informed us that she had not imbibed a drop of water for
over six years. For this, however, there is a very plausible excuse. With
the water at Tashkend, as with that from the Zerafshan at Bokhara, a
dangerous worm called _reshta_ is absorbed into the system. Nowhere have
we drunk better tea than around the steaming samovar of our Tashkend host.
No peasant is too poor, either in money or in sentiment, to buy and feel
the cheering influence of tea. Even the Cossack, in his forays into the
wilds of central Asia, is sustained by it. Unlike the Chinese, the
Russians consider sugar a necessary concomitant of tea-drinking. There are
three methods of sweetening tea: to put the sugar in the glass; to place a
lump of sugar in the mouth, and suck the tea through it; to hang a lump in
the midst of a tea-drinking circle, to be swung around for each in turn to
touch with his tongue, and then to take a swallow of tea.

The meaning of the name Tashkend is “city of stone,” but a majority of the
houses are one-story mud structures, built low, so as to prevent any
disastrous effects from earthquakes. The roofs are so flat and poorly
constructed that during the rainy season a dry ceiling is rather the
exception than the rule. Every building is covered with whitewash or white
paint, and fronts directly on the street. There are plenty of back and
side yards, but none in front. This is not so bad on the broad streets of
a Russian town. In Tashkend they are exceptionally wide, with ditches on
each side through which the water from the Tchirtchick ripples along
beneath the double, and even quadruple, rows of poplars, acacias, and
willows. These trees grow here with remarkable luxuriance, from a mere
twig stuck into the ground. Although twenty years of Russian irrigation
has given Nature a chance to rear thousands of trees on former barren
wastes, yet wood is still comparatively scarce and dear.

The administration buildings of the city are for the most part exceedingly
plain and unpretentious. In striking contrast is the new Russian
cathedral, the recently erected school, and a large retail store built by
a resident Greek, all of which are fine specimens of Russian architecture.
Among its institutions are an observatory, a museum containing an embryo
collection of Turkestan products and antiquities, and a medical dispensary
for the natives, where vaccination is performed by graduates of medicine
in the Tashkend school. The rather extensive library was originally
collected for the chancellery of the governor-general, and contains the
best collection of works on central Asia that is to be found in the world,
including in its scope not only books and pamphlets, but even magazines
and newspaper articles. For amusements, the city has a theater, a small
imitation of the opera-house at Paris; and the Military Club, which, with
its billiards and gambling, and weekly reunions, balls, and concerts,
though a regular feature of a Russian garrison town, is especially
pretentious in Tashkend. In size, architecture, and appointments, the
club-house has no equal, we were told, outside the capital and Moscow.
Tashkend has long been known as a refuge for damaged reputations and
shattered fortunes, or “the official purgatory following upon the
emperor’s displeasure.” One of the finest houses of the city is occupied
by the Grand Duke Nicholai Constantinovitch Romanoff, son of the late
general admiral of the Russian navy, and first cousin to the Czar, who
seems to be cheerfully resigned to his life in exile. Most of his time is
occupied with the business of his silk-factory on the outskirts of
Tashkend, and at his farm near Hodjent, which a certain firm in Chicago,
at the time of our sojourn, was stocking with irrigating machinery. All of
his bills are paid with checks drawn on his St. Petersburg trustees. His
private life is rather unconventional and even democratic. Visitors to his
household are particularly impressed with the beauty of his wife and the
size of his liquor glasses. The example of the grand duke illustrates the
sentiment in favor of industrial pursuits which is growing among the
military classes, and even among the nobility, of Russia. The government
itself, thanks to the severe lesson of the Crimean war, has learned that a
great nation must stand upon a foundation of something more than
aristocracy and nobility. To this influence is largely due the present
growing prosperity of Tashkend, which, in military importance, is rapidly
giving way to Askabad, “the key to Herat.”

That spirit of equality and fraternity which characterizes the government
of a Russian _mir_, or village, has been carried even into central Asia.
We have frequently seen Russian peasants and natives occupying adjoining
apartments in the same household, while in the process of trade all
classes seem to fraternize in an easy and even cordial manner. The same is
true of the children, who play together indiscriminately in the street.
Many a one of these heterogeneous groups we have watched “playing marbles”
with the ankle-bones of sheep, and listened, with some amusement, to their
half Russian, half native jargon. Schools are now being established to
educate the native children in the Russian language and methods, and
native apprentices are being taken in by Russian merchants for the same
purpose.

In Tashkend, as in every European city of the Orient, drunkenness, and
gambling, and social laxity have followed upon the introduction of Western
morals and culture. Jealousy and intrigue among the officers and
functionaries are also not strange, perhaps, at so great a distance from
headquarters, where the only avenue to distinction seems to lie through
the public service. At the various dinner-parties and sociables given
throughout the winter, the topic of war always met with general welcome.
On one occasion a report was circulated that Abdurrahman Khan, the Ameer
of Afghanistan, was lying at the point of death. Great preparations, it
was said, were being made for an expedition over the Pamir, to establish
on the throne the Russian candidate, Is-shah Khan from Samarkand, before
Ayub Khan, the rival British protégé, could be brought from India. The
young officers at once began to discuss their chances for promotion, and
the number of decorations to be forthcoming from St. Petersburg. The
social gatherings at Tashkend were more convivial than sociable.
Acquaintances can eat and drink together with the greatest of good cheer,
but there is very little sympathy in conversation. It was difficult for
them to understand why we had come so far to see a country which to many
of them was a place of exile.
An early spring did not mean an early departure from winter quarters.
Impassable roads kept us anxious prisoners for a month and a half after
the necessary papers had been secured. These included, in addition to the
local passports, a carte-blanche permission to travel from Tashkend to
Vladivostock through Turkestan and Siberia, a document obtained from St.
Petersburg through the United States minister, the Hon. Charles Emory
Smith. Of this route to the Pacific we were therefore certain, and yet,
despite the universal opinion that a bicycle journey across the Celestial
empire was impracticable, we had determined to continue on to the border
line, and there to seek better information. “Don’t go into China” were the
last words of our many kind friends as we wheeled out of Tashkend on the
seventh of May.

At Chimkend our course turned abruptly from what was once the main route
between Russia’s European and Asiatic capitals, and along which De
Lesseps, in his letter to the Czar, proposed a line of railroad to connect
Orenburg with Samarkand, a distance about equal to that between St.
Petersburg and Odessa, 1483 miles. This is also the keystone in that wall
of forts which Russia gradually raised around her unruly nomads of the
steppes, and where, according to Gortchakoff’s circular of 1864, “both
interest and reason” required her to stop; and yet at that very time
General Tchernaieff was advancing his forces upon the present capital,
Tashkend. Here, too, we began that journey of 1500 miles along the
Celestial mountain range which terminated only when we scaled its summit
beyond Barkul to descend again into the burning sands of the Desert of
Gobi. Here runs the great historical highway between China and the West.

From Auli-eta eastward we had before us about 200 miles of a vast steppe
region. Near the mountains is a wilderness of lakes, swamps, and streams,
which run dry in summer. This is the country of the “Thousand Springs”
mentioned by the Chinese pilgrim Huen T’sang, and where was established
the kingdom of Black China, supposed by many to have been one of the
kingdoms of “Prester John.” But far away to our left were the white sands
of the Ak-Kum, over which the cloudless atmosphere quivers incessantly,
like the blasts of a furnace. Of all these deserts, occupying probably one
half of the whole Turkestan steppe, none is more terrible than that of the
“Golodnaya Steppe,” or Steppe of Hunger, to the north of the “White Sands”
now before us. Even in the cool of evening, it is said that the soles of
the wayfarer’s feet become scorched, and the dog accompanying him finds no
repose till he has burrowed below the burning surface. The monotonous
appearance of the steppe itself is only intensified in winter, when the
snow smooths over the broken surface, and even necessitates the placing of
mud posts at regular intervals to mark the roadway for the Kirghiz
post-drivers. But in the spring and autumn its arid surface is clothed, as
if by enchantment, with verdure and prairie flowers. Both flowers and
birds are gorgeously colored. One variety, about half the size of the
jackdaw which infests the houses of Tashkend and Samarkand, has a bright
blue body and red wings; another, resembling our field-lark in size and
habits, combines a pink breast with black head and wings. But already this
springtide splendor was beginning to disappear beneath the glare of
approaching summer. The long wagon-trains of lumber, and the occasional
traveler’s tarantass rumbling along to the discord of its _duga_ bells,
were enveloped in a cloud of suffocating dust.
Now and then we would overtake a party of Russian peasants migrating from
the famine-stricken districts of European Russia to the pioneer colonies
along this Turkestan highway. The peculiarity of these villages is their
extreme length, all the houses facing on the one wide street. Most of them
are merely mud huts, others make pretensions to doors and windows, and a
coat of whitewash. Near-by usually stands the old battered telega which
served as a home during many months of travel over the Orenburg highway.
It speaks well for the colonizing capacity of the Russians that they can
be induced to come so many hundreds of miles from their native land, to
settle in such a primitive way among the half-wild tribes of the steppes.
As yet they do very little farming, but live, like the Kirghiz, by raising
horses, cows, sheep, and goats, and, in addition, the Russian hog, the
last resembling very much the wild swine of the jungles. Instead of the
former military colonies of plundering Cossacks, who really become more
assimilated to the Kirghiz than these to their conquerors, the _mir_, or
communal system, is now penetrating these fertile districts, and
systematically replacing the Mongolian culture. But the ignorance of this
lower class of Russians is almost as noticeable as that of the natives
themselves. As soon as we entered a village, the blacksmith left his
anvil, the carpenter his bench, the storekeeper his counter, and the
milkmaid her task. After our parade of the principal street, the crowd
would gather round us at the station-house. All sorts of queries and
ejaculations would pass among them. One would ask: “Are these gentlemen
baptized? Are they really Christians?” On account of their extreme
ignorance these Russian colonists are by no means able to cope with their
German colleagues, who are given the poorest land, and yet make a better
living.

The steppe is a good place for learning patience. With the absence of
landmarks, you seem never to be getting anywhere. It presents the
appearance of a boundless level expanse, the very undulations of which are
so uniform as to conceal the intervening troughs. Into these, horsemen,
and sometimes whole caravans, mysteriously disappear. In this way we were
often enabled to surprise a herd of gazelles grazing by the roadside. They
would stand for a moment with necks extended, and then scamper away like a
shot, springing on their pipe-stem limbs three or four feet into the air.
Our average rate was about seven miles an hour, although the roads were
sometimes so soft with dust or sand as to necessitate the laying of straw
for a foundation. There was scarcely an hour in the day when we were not
accompanied by from one to twenty Kirghiz horsemen, galloping behind us
with cries of “Yakshee!” (“Good!”) They were especially curious to see how
we crossed the roadside streams. Standing on the bank, they would watch
intently every move as we stripped and waded through with bicycles and
clothing on our shoulders. Then they would challenge us to a race, and, if
the road permitted, we would endeavor to reveal some of the possibilities
of the “devil’s carts.” On an occasion like this occurred one of our few
mishaps. The road was lined by the occupants of a neighboring tent
village, who had run out to see the race. One of the Kirghiz turned
suddenly back in the opposite direction from which he had started. The
wheel struck him at a rate of fifteen miles per hour, lifting him off his
feet, and hurling over the handle-bars the rider, who fell upon his left
arm, and twisted it out of place. With the assistance of the bystanders it
was pulled back into the socket, and bandaged up till we reached the
nearest Russian village. Here the only physician was an old blind woman of
the faith-cure persuasion. Her massage treatment to replace the muscles
was really effective, and was accompanied by prayers and by signs of the
cross, a common method of treatment among the lower class of Russians. In
one instance a cure was supposed to be effected by writing a prayer on a
piece of buttered bread to be eaten by the patient.
Being users but not patrons of the Russian post-roads, we were not legally
entitled to the conveniences of the post-stations. Tipping alone, as we
found on our journey from Samarkand, was not always sufficient to preclude
a request during the night to vacate the best quarters for the
post-traveler, especially if he happened to wear the regulation brass
button. To secure us against this inconvenience, and to gain some special
attention, a letter was obtained from the overseer of the Turkestan post
and telegraph district. This proved advantageous on many occasions, and
once, at Auli-eta, was even necessary. We were surveyed with suspicious
glances as soon as we entered the station-house, and when we asked for
water to lave our hands and face, we were directed to the irrigating ditch
in the street. Our request for a better room was answered by the question,
if the one we had was not good enough, and how long we intended to occupy
that. Evidently our English conversation had gained for us the covert
reputation of being English spies, and this was verified in the minds of
our hosts when we began to ask questions about the city prisons we had
passed on our way. To every interrogation they replied, “I don’t know.”
But presto, change, on the presentation of documents! Apologies were now
profuse, and besides tea, bread, and eggs, the usual rations of a Russian
post-station, we were exceptionally favored with chicken soup and
_verainyik_, the latter consisting of cheese wrapped and boiled in dough,
and then served in butter.

It has been the custom for travelers in Russia to decry the Russian
post-station, but the fact is that an appreciation of this rather
primitive form of accommodation depends entirely upon whether you approach
it from a European hotel or from a Persian khan. Some are clean, while
others are dirty. Nevertheless, it was always a welcome sight to see a
small white building looming up in the dim horizon at the close of a long
day’s ride, and, on near approach, to observe the black and white striped
post in front, and idle tarantasses around it. At the door would be found
the usual crowd of Kirghiz post-drivers. After the presentation of
documents to the _starosta_, who would hesitate at first about quartering
our horses in the travelers’ room, we would proceed at once to place our
dust-covered heads beneath the spindle of the washing-tank. Although by
this dripping-pan arrangement we would usually succeed in getting as much
water down our backs as on our faces, yet we were consoled by the thought
that too much was better than not enough, as had been the case in Turkey
and Persia. Then we would settle down before the steaming samovar to
meditate in solitude and quiet, while the rays of the declining sun shone
on the gilded eikon in the corner of the room, and on the chromo-covered
walls. When darkness fell, and the simmering music of the samovar had
gradually died away; when the flitting swallows in the room had ceased
their chirp, and settled down upon the rafters overhead, we ourselves
would turn in under our fur-lined coats upon the leather-covered benches.

In consequence of the first of a series of accidents to our wheels, we
were for several days the guests of the director of the botanical gardens
at Pishpek. As a branch of the Crown botanical gardens at St. Petersburg,
some valuable experiments were being made here with foreign seeds and
plants. Peaches, we were told, do not thrive, but apples, pears, cherries,
and the various kinds of berries, grow as well as they do at home. Rye,
however, takes three years to reach the height of one year in America.
Through the Russians, these people have obtained high-flown ideas of
America and Americans. We saw many chromos of American celebrities in the
various station-houses, and the most numerous was that of Thomas A.
Edison. His phonograph, we were told, had already made its appearance in
Pishpek, but the natives did not seem to realize what it was. “Why,” they
said, “we have often heard better music than that.” Dr. Tanner was not
without his share of fame in this far-away country. During his fast in
America, a similar, though not voluntary, feat was being performed here. A
Kirghiz messenger who had been despatched into the mountains during the
winter was lost in the snow, and remained for twenty-eight days without
food. He was found at last, crazed by hunger. When asked what he would
have to eat, he replied, “Everything.” They foolishly gave him
“everything,” and in two days he was dead. For a long time he was called
the “Doctor Tanner of Turkestan.”
A divergence of seventy-five miles from the regular post-route was made in
order to visit Lake Issik Kul, which is probably the largest lake for its
elevation in the world, being about ten times larger than Lake Geneva, and
at a height of 5300 feet. Its slightly brackish water, which never
freezes, teems with several varieties of fish, many of which we helped to
unhook from a Russian fisherman’s line, and then helped to eat in his
primitive hut near the shore. A Russian Cossack, who had just come over
the snow-capped Ala Tau, “of the Shade,” from Fort Narin, was also
present, and from the frequent glances cast at the fisherman’s daughter we
soon discovered the object of his visit. The ascent to this lake, through
the famous Buam Defile, or Happy Pass, afforded some of the grandest
scenery on our route through Asia. Its seething, foaming, irresistible
torrent needs only a large volume to make it the equal of the rapids at
Niagara.

Our return to the post-road was made by an unbeaten track over the Ala Tau
mountains. From the Chu valley, dotted here and there with Kirghiz tent
villages and their grazing flocks and herds, we pushed our wheels up the
broken path, which wound like a mythical stairway far up into the
low-hanging clouds. We trudged up one of the steepest ascents we have ever
made with a wheel. The scenery was grand, but lonely. The wild tulips,
pinks, and verbenas dotting the green slopes furnished the only pleasant
diversion from our arduous labor. Just as we turned the highest summit,
the clouds shifted for a moment, and revealed before us two Kirghiz
horsemen. They started back in astonishment, and gazed at us as though we
were demons of the air, until we disappeared again down the opposite and
more gradual slope. Late in the afternoon we emerged upon the plain, but
no post-road or station-house was in sight, as we expected; nothing but a
few Kirghiz kibitkas among the straggling rocks, like the tents of the
Egyptian Arabs among the fallen stones of the pyramids.
Toward these we now directed our course, and, in view of a rapidly
approaching storm, asked to purchase a night’s lodging. This was only too
willingly granted in anticipation of the coming _tomasha_, or exhibition.
The milkmaids as they went out to the rows of sheep and goats tied to the
lines of woolen rope, and the horsemen with reinless horses to drive in
the ranging herds, spread the news from tent to tent. By the time darkness
fell the kibitka was filled to overflowing. We were given the seat of
honor opposite the doorway, bolstered up with blankets and pillows. By the
light of the fire curling its smoke upward through the central opening in
the roof, it was interesting to note the faces of our hosts. We had never
met a people of a more peaceful temperament, and, on the other hand, none
more easily frightened. A dread of the evil eye is one of their
characteristics. We had not been settled long before the _ishan_, or
itinerant dervish, was called in to drive away the evil spirits, which the
“devil’s carts” might possibly have brought. Immediately on entering, he
began to shrug his shoulders, and to shiver as though passing into a state
of trance. Our dervish acquaintance was a man of more than average
intelligence. He had traveled in India, and had even heard some one speak
of America. This fact alone was sufficient to warrant him in posing as
instructor for the rest of the assembly. While we were drinking tea, a
habit they have recently adopted from the Russians, he held forth at great
length to his audience about the _Amerikón_.

The rain now began to descend in torrents. The felt covering was drawn
over the central opening, and propped up at one end with a pole to emit
the clouds of smoke from the smoldering fire. This was shifted with the
veering wind. Although a mere circular rib framework covered with white or
brown felt, according as the occupant is rich or poor, the Kirghiz
kibitka, or more properly _yurt_, is not as a house builded upon the sand,
even in the fiercest storm. Its stanchness and comfort are surprising when
we consider the rapidity with which it may be taken down and transported.
In half an hour a whole village may vanish, emigrating northward in
summer, and southward in winter. Many a Kirghiz cavalcade was overtaken on
the road, with long tent-ribs and felts tied upon the backs of two-humped
camels, for the Bactrian dromedary has not been able to endure the
severities of these Northern climates. The men would always be mounted on
the camels’ or horses’ backs, while the women would be perched on the oxen
and bullocks, trained for the saddle and as beasts of burden. The men
never walk; if there is any leading to be done it falls to the women. The
constant use of the saddle has made many of the men bandy-legged, which,
in connection with their usual obesity,—with them a mark of dignity,—gives
them a comical appearance.

After their curiosity regarding us had been partly satisfied, it was
suggested that a sheep should be slaughtered in our honor. Neither meat
nor bread is ever eaten by any but the rich Kirghiz. Their universal
kumiss, corresponding to the Turkish yaourt, or coagulated milk, and other
forms of lacteal dishes, sometimes mixed with meal, form the chief diet of
the poor. The wife of our host, a buxom woman, who, as we had seen, could
leap upon a horse’s back as readily as a man, now entered the doorway,
carrying a full-grown sheep by its woolly coat. This she twirled over on
its back, and held down with her knee while the butcher artist drew a
dagger from his belt, and held it aloft until the assembly stroked their
scant beards, and uttered the solemn bismillah. Tired out by the day’s
ride, we fell asleep before the arrangements for the feast had been
completed. When awakened near midnight, we found that the savory odor from
the huge caldron on the fire had only increased the attraction and the
crowd. The choicest bits were now selected for the guests. These consisted
of pieces of liver, served with lumps of fat from the tail of their
peculiarly fat-tailed sheep. As an act of the highest hospitality, our
host dipped these into some liquid grease, and then, reaching over, placed
them in our mouths with his fingers. It required considerable effort on
this occasion to subject our feelings of nausea to a sense of Kirghiz
politeness. In keeping with their characteristic generosity, every one in
the kibitka must partake in some measure of the feast, although the women,
who had done all the work, must be content with remnants and bones already
picked over by the host. But this disposition to share everything was not
without its other aspect; we also were expected to share everything with
them. We were asked to bestow any little trinket or nick-nack exposed to
view. Any extra nut on the machine, a handkerchief, a packet of tea, or a
lump of sugar, excited their cupidity at once. The latter was considered a
bonbon by the women and younger portion of the spectators. The attractive
daughter of our host, “Kumiss John,” amused herself by stealing lumps of
sugar from our pockets. When the feast was ended, the beards were again
stroked, the name of Allah solemnly uttered by way of thanks for the
bounty of heaven, and then each gave utterance to his appreciation of the
meal.

Before retiring for the night, the dervish led the prayers, just as he had
done at sunset. The praying-mats were spread, and all heads bowed toward
Mecca. The only preparation for retiring was the spreading of blankets
from the pile in one of the kibitkas. The Kirghiz are not in the habit of
removing many garments for this purpose, and under the circumstances we
found this custom a rather convenient one. Six of us turned in on the
floor together, forming a semicircle, with our feet toward the fire.
“Kumiss John,” who was evidently the pet of the household, had a rudely
constructed cot at the far end of the kibitka.

Vernoye, the old Almati, with its broad streets, low wood and brick
houses, and Russian sign-boards, presented a Siberian aspect. The ruins of
its many disastrous earthquakes lying low on every hand told us at once
the cause of its deserted thoroughfares. The terrible shocks of the year
before our visit killed several hundred people, and a whole mountain in
the vicinity sank. The only hope of its persistent residents is a branch
from the Transsiberian or Transcaspian railroad, or the reannexation by
Russia of the fertile province of Ili, to make it an indispensable depot.
Despite these periodical calamities, Vernoye has had, and is now
constructing, under the genius of the French architect, Paul L. Gourdet,
some of the finest edifices to be found in central Asia. The orphan
asylum, a magnificent three-story structure, is now being built on
experimental lines, to test its strength against earthquake shocks.
One of the chief incidents of our pleasant sojourn was afforded by
Governor Ivanoff. We were invited to head the procession of the Cossacks
on their annual departure for their summer encampment in the mountains.
After the usual religious ceremony, they filed out from the city
parade-ground. Being unavoidably detained for a few moments, we did not
come up until some time after the column had started. As we dashed by to
the front with the American and Russian flags fluttering side by side from
the handle-bars, cheer after cheer arose from the ranks, and even the
governor and his party doffed their caps in acknowledgment. At the camp we
were favored with a special exhibition of horsemanship. By a single twist
of the rein the steeds would fall to the ground, and their riders crouch
down behind them as a bulwark in battle. Then dashing forward at full
speed, they would spring to the ground, and leap back again into the
saddle, or, hanging by their legs, would reach over and pick up a
handkerchief, cap, or a soldier supposed to be wounded. All these
movements we photographed with our camera. Of the endurance of these
Cossacks and their Kirghiz horses we had a practical test. Overtaking a
Cossack courier in the early part of a day’s journey, he became so
interested in the velocipede, as the Russians call the bicycle, that he
determined to see as much of it as possible. He stayed with us the whole
day, over a distance of fifty-five miles. His chief compensation was in
witnessing the surprise of the natives to whom he would shout across the
fields to come and see the _tomasha_, adding in explanation that we were
the American gentlemen who had ridden all the way from America. Our speed
was not slow, and frequently the poor fellow would have to resort to the
whip, or shout, “Slowly, gentlemen, my horse is tired; the town is not far
away, it is not necessary to hurry so.” The fact is that in all our
experience we found no horse of even the famed Kirghiz or Turkoman breed
that could travel with the same ease and rapidity as ourselves even over
the most ordinary road.

At Vernoye we began to glean practical information about China, but all
except our genial host, M. Gourdet, counseled us against our proposed
journey. He alone, as a traveler of experience, advised a divergence from
the Siberian route at Altin Imell, in order to visit the Chinese city of
Kuldja, where, as he said, with the assistance of the resident Russian
consul we could test the validity of the Chinese passport received, as
before mentioned, from the Chinese minister at London.

A few days later we were rolling up the valley of the Ili, having crossed
that river by the well-constructed Russian bridge at Fort Iliysk, the head
of navigation for the boats from Lake Balkash. New faces here met our
curious gaze. As an ethnological transition between the inhabitants of
central Asia and the Chinese, we were now among two distinctly
agricultural races—the Dungans and Taranchis. As the invited guests of
these people on several occasions, we were struck with their extreme
cleanliness, economy, and industry; but their deep-set eyes seem to
express reckless cruelty.
The Mohammedan mosques of this people are like the Chinese pagodas in
outward appearance, while they seem to be Chinese in half-Kirghiz
garments. Their women, too, do not veil themselves, although they are much
more shy than their rugged sisters of the steppes. Tenacious of their
word, these people were also scrupulous about returning favors. Our
exhibitions were usually rewarded by a spread of sweets and yellow Dungan
tea. Of this we would partake beneath the shade of their well-trained
grape-arbors, while listening to the music, or rather discord, of a
peculiar stringed instrument played by the boys. Its bow of two parts was
so interlaced with the strings of the instrument as to play upon two at
every draw. Another musician usually accompanied by beating little sticks
on a saucer.

These are the people who were introduced by the Manchus to replace the
Kalmucks in the Kuldja district, and who in 1869 so terribly avenged upon
their masters the blood they previously caused to flow. The fertile
province of Kuldja, with a population of 2,500,000, was reduced by their
massacres to one vast necropolis. On all sides are canals that have become
swamps, abandoned fields, wasted forests, and towns and villages in ruins,
in some of which the ground is still strewn with the bleached bones of the
murdered.

As we ascended the Ili valley piles of stones marked in succession the
sites of the towns of Turgen, Jarkend, Akkend, and Khorgos, names which
the Russians are already reviving in their pioneer settlements. The
largest of these, Jarkend, is the coming frontier town, to take the place
of evacuated Kuldja. About twenty-two miles east of this point the large
white Russian fort of Khorgos stands bristling on the bank of the river of
that name, which, by the treaty of 1881, is now the boundary-line of the
Celestial empire. On a ledge of rocks overlooking the ford a Russian
sentinel was walking his beat in the solitude of a dreary outpost. He
stopped to watch us as we plunged into the flood, with our Russian telega
for a ferry-boat. “All’s well,” we heard him cry, as, bumping over the
rocky bottom, we passed from Russia into China. “Ah, yes,” we thought;
“ ‘All’s well that ends well,’ but this is only the beginning.”
A few minutes later we dashed through the arched driveway of the Chinese
custom-house, and were several yards away before the lounging officials
realized what it was that flitted across their vision. “Stop! Come back!”
they shouted in broken Russian. Amid a confusion of chattering voices,
rustling gowns, clattering shoes, swinging pigtails, and clouds of opium
and tobacco smoke, we were brought into the presence of the head official.
Putting on his huge spectacles, he read aloud the visé written upon our
American passports by the Chinese minister in London. His wonderment was
increased when he further read that such a journey was being made on the
“foot-moved carriages,” which were being curiously fingered by the
attendants. Our garments were minutely scrutinized, especially the
buttons, while our caps and dark-colored spectacles were taken from our
heads, and passed round for each to try on in turn, amid much laughter.
Owing to the predominant influence of Russia in these northwestern
confines, our Russian papers would have been quite sufficient to cross the
border into Kuldja. It was only beyond this point that our Chinese
passport would be found necessary, and possibly invalid. After the usual
visés had been stamped and written over, we were off on what proved to be
our six months’ experience in the “Middle Kingdom or Central Empire,” as
the natives call it, for to Chinamen there is a fifth point to the
compass—the center, which is China. Not far on the road we heard the
clatter of hoofs behind us. A Kalmuck was dashing toward us with a
portentous look on his features. We dismounted in apprehension. He stopped
short some twenty feet away, leaped to the ground, and, crawling up on
hands and knees, began to _chin-chin_ or knock his head on the ground
before us. This he continued for some moments, and then without a word
gazed at us in wild astonishment. Our perplexity over this performance was
increased when, at a neighboring village, a bewildered Chinaman sprang out
from the speechless crowd, and threw himself in the road before us. By a
dexterous turn we missed his head, and passed over his extended queue.
Kuldja, with its Russian consul and Cossack station, still maintains a
Russian telegraph and postal service. The mail is carried from the border
in a train of three or four telegas, which rattle along over the primitive
roads in a cloud of dust, with armed Cossacks galloping before and after,
and a Russian flag carried by the herald in front. Even in the Kuldja
post-office a heavily armed picket stands guard over the money-chest. This
postal caravan we now overtook encamped by a small stream, during the
glaring heat of the afternoon. We found that we had been expected several
days before, and that quarters had been prepared for us in the postal
station at the town of Suidun. Here we spent the night, and continued on
to Kuldja the following morning.

Although built by the Chinese, who call it Nin-yuan, Kuldja, with its
houses of beaten earth, strongly resembles the towns of Russian Turkestan.
Since the evacuation by the Russians the Chinese have built around the
city the usual quadrangular wall, thirty feet in height and twenty feet in
width, with parapets still in the course of construction. But the rows of
poplars, the whitewash, and the telegas were still left to remind us of
the temporary Russian occupation. For several days we were objects of
excited interest to the mixed population. The doors and windows of our
Russian quarters were besieged by crowds. In defense of our host, we gave
a public exhibition, and with the consent of the _Tootai_ made the circuit
on the top of the city walls. Fully 3000 people lined the streets and
housetops to witness the race to which we had been challenged by four
Dungan horsemen, riding below on the encircling roadway. The distance
around was two miles. The horsemen started with a rush, and at the end of
the first mile were ahead. At the third turning we overtook them, and came
to the finish two hundred yards ahead, amid great excitement. Even the
commander of the Kuldja forces was brushed aside by the chasing rabble.
Russian influence, which even now predominates at Kuldja, was forcibly
indicated, the day after our arrival, during our investigations as to the
validity of our Chinese passports for the journey to Peking. The Russian
consul, whose favor we had secured in advance through letters from
Governor Ivanoff at Vernoye, had pronounced them not only good, but by far
the best that had been presented by any traveler entering China at this
point. After endeavoring to dissuade us from what he called a foolhardy
undertaking, even with the most valuable papers, he sent us, with his
interpreter, to the Kuldja Tootai for the proper visé.

That dignitary, although deeply interested, was almost amused at the
boldness of our enterprise. He said that no passport would insure success
by the method we proposed to pursue; that, before he could allow us to
make the venture, we must wait for an order from Peking. This, he said,
would subject us to considerable delay and expense, even if the telegraph
and post were utilized through Siberia and Kiakhta. This was discouraging
indeed. But when we discovered, a few minutes later, that his highness had
to call in the learned secretary to trace our proposed route for him on
the map of China, and even to locate the capital, Peking, we began to
question his knowledge of Chinese diplomacy. The matter was again referred
to the consul, who reported back the following day that his previous
assurances were reliable, that the Tootai would make the necessary visés,
and send away at once, by the regular relay post across the empire, an
open letter that could be read by the officials along the route, and be
delivered long before our arrival at Peking. Such easy success we had not
anticipated. The difficulty, as well as necessity, of obtaining the proper
credentials for traveling in China was impressed upon us by the arrest the
previous day of three Afghan visitors, and by the fact that a German
traveler had been refused, just a few weeks before, permission even to
cross the Mozart pass into Kashgar. So much, we thought, for Russian
friendship.

Upon this assurance of at least official consent to hazard the journey to
Peking, a telegram was sent to the chief of police at Tomsk, to whose care
we had directed our letters, photographic material, and bicycle supplies
to be sent from London in the expectation of being forced to take the
Siberian route. These last could not have been dispensed with much longer,
as our cushion-tires, ball-bearings, and axles were badly worn, while the
rim of one of the rear wheels was broken in eight places for the lack of
spokes. These supplies, however, did not reach us till six weeks after the
date of our telegram, to which a prepaid reply was received, after a
week’s delay, asking in advance for the extra postage. This, with that
prepaid from London, amounted to just fifty dollars. The warm weather,
after the extreme cold of a Siberian winter, had caused the tires to
stretch so much beyond their intended size that, on their arrival, they
were almost unfit for use. Some of our photographic material also had been
spoiled through the useless inspection of postal officials.
The delay thus caused was well utilized in familiarizing ourselves as much
as possible with the language and characteristics of the Chinese, for, as
we were without guides, interpreters, or servants, and in some places
lacked even official assistance, no travelers, perhaps, were ever more
dependent upon the people than ourselves. The Chinese language, the most
primitive in the world, is, for this very reason perhaps, the hardest to
learn. Its poverty of words reduces its grammar almost to a question of
syntax and intonation. Many a time our expressions, by a wrong inflection,
would convey a meaning different from the one intended. Even when told the
difference, our ears could not detect it.

Our work of preparation was principally a process of elimination. We now
had to prepare for a forced march in case of necessity. Handle-bars and
seat-posts were shortened to save weight, and even the leather
baggage-carriers, fitting in the frames of the machines, which we
ourselves had patented before leaving England, were replaced by a couple
of sleeping-bags made for us out of woolen shawls and Chinese
oiled-canvas. The cutting off of buttons and extra parts of our clothing,
as well as the shaving of our heads and faces, was also included by our
friends in the list of curtailments. For the same reason one of our
cameras, which we always carried on our backs, and refilled at night under
the bedclothes, we sold to a Chinese photographer at Suidun, to make room
for an extra provision-bag. The surplus film, with our extra baggage, was
shipped by post, via Siberia and Kiakhta, to meet us on our arrival in
Peking.
And now the money problem was the most perplexing of all. “This alone,”
said the Russian consul, “if nothing else, will defeat your plans.” Those
Western bankers who advertise to furnish “letters of credit to any part of
the world” are, to say the least, rather sweeping in their assertions. At
any rate, our own London letter was of no use beyond the Bosporus, except
with the Persian imperial banks run by an English syndicate. At the
American Bible House at Constantinople we were allowed, as a personal
favor, to buy drafts on the various missionaries along the route through
Asiatic Turkey. But in central Asia we found that the Russian bankers and
merchants would not handle English paper, and we were therefore compelled
to send our letter of credit by mail to Moscow. Thither we had recently
sent it on leaving Tashkend, with instructions to remit in currency to
Irkutsk, Siberia. We now had to telegraph to that point to re-forward over
the Kiakhta post-route to Peking. With the cash on hand, and the proceeds
of the camera, sold for more than half its weight in silver, four and one
third pounds, we thought we had sufficient money to carry us, or, rather,
as much as we could carry, to that point; for the weight of the Chinese
money necessary for a journey of over three thousand miles was, as the
Russian consul thought, one of the greatest of our almost insurmountable
obstacles. In the interior of China there is no coin except the _chen_, or
_sapeks_, an alloy of copper and tin, in the form of a disk, having a hole
in the center by which the coins may be strung together. The very recently
coined _liang_, or _tael_, the Mexican piaster specially minted for the
Chinese market, and the other foreign coins, have not yet penetrated from
the coast. For six hundred miles over the border, however, we found both
the Russian money and language serviceable among the Tatar merchants,
while the _tenga_, or Kashgar silver-piece, was preferred by the natives
even beyond the Gobi, being much handier than the larger or smaller bits
of silver broken from the _yamba_ bricks. All, however, would have to be
weighed in the _tinza_, or small Chinese scales we carried with us, and on
which were marked the _fün_, _tchan_, and _liang_ of the monetary scale.
But the value of these terms is reckoned in _chen_, and changes with
almost every district. This necessity for vigilance, together with the
frequency of bad silver and loaded _yambas_, and the propensity of the
Chinese to “knock down” on even the smallest purchase, tends to convert a
traveler in China into a veritable Shylock. There being no banks or
exchanges in the interior, we were obliged to purchase at Kuldja all the
silver we would need for the entire journey of over three thousand miles.
“How much would it take?” was the question that our past experience in
Asiatic travel now aided us to answer. That our calculations were close is
proved by the fact that we reached Peking with silver in our pockets to
the value of half a dollar. Our money now constituted the principal part
of our luggage, which, with camera and film, weighed just twenty-five
pounds apiece. Most of the silver was chopped up into small bits, and
placed in the hollow tubing of the machines to conceal it from Chinese
inquisitiveness, if not something worse. We are glad to say, however, that
no attempt at robbery was ever discovered, although efforts at extortion
were frequent, and sometimes, as will appear, of a serious nature.
The blowing of the long horns and boom of the mortar cannon at the fort
awoke us at daylight on the morning of July 13. Farewells had been said
the night before. Only our good-hearted Russian host was up to put an
extra morsel in our provision-bag, for, as he said, we could get no food
until we reached the Kirghiz aouls on the high plateau of the Talki pass,
by which we were to cut across over unbeaten paths to the regular
so-called imperial highway, running from Suidun. From the Catholic
missionaries at Kuldja we had obtained very accurate information about
this route as far as the Gobi desert. The expression Tian Shan Pe-lu, or
northern Tian Shan route, in opposition to the Tian Shan Nan-lu, or
southern Tian Shan route, shows that the Chinese had fully appreciated the
importance of this historic highway, which continues the road running from
the extreme western gate of the Great Wall obliquely across Mongolian
Kan-su, through Hami and Barkul, to Urumtsi. From here the two natural
highways lead, one to the head-waters of the Black Irtish, the other to
the passes leading into the Ili valley, and other routes of the
Arolo-Caspian depression. The latter route, which is now commanded at
intervals by Chinese forts and military settlements, was recently
relinquished by Russia only when she had obtained a more permanent footing
on the former in the trading-posts of Chuguchak and Kobdo, for she very
early recognized the importance of this most natural entry to the only
feasible route across the Chinese empire. In a glowing sunset, at the end
of a hot day’s climb, we looked for the last time over the Ili valley, and
at dusk, an hour later, rolled into one of the Kirghiz aouls that are here
scattered among the rich pasturage of the plateau.
Even here we found that our reputation had extended from Kuldja. The chief
advanced with _amans_ of welcome, and the heavy-matted curtains in the
kibitka doorway were raised, as we passed, in token of honor. When the
refreshing kumiss was served around the evening camp-fire, the dangers of
the journey through China were discussed among our hosts with frequent
looks of misgiving. Thus, from first to last, every judgment was against
us, and every prediction was of failure, if not of something worse; and
now, as we stole out from the tent by the light of the rising moon, even
the specter-like mountain-peaks around us, like symbols of coming events,
were casting their shadows before. There was something so illusive in the
scene as to make it very impressive. In the morning, early, a score of
horsemen were ready to escort us on the road. At parting they all
dismounted and uttered a prayer to Allah for our safety; and then as we
rode away, drew their fingers across their throats in silence, and waved a
solemn good-by. Such was the almost superstitious fear of these western
nomads for the land which once sent forth a Yengiz Khan along this very
highway.
Down the narrow valley of the Kuitun, which flows into the Ebi-nor,
startling the mountain deer from the brink of the tree-arched rivulet, we
reached a spot which once was the haunt of a band of those border-robbers
about whom we had heard so much from our apprehensive friends. At the base
of a volcano-shaped mountain lay the ruins of their former dens, from
which only a year ago they were wont to sally forth on the passing
caravans. When they were exterminated by the government, the head of their
chief, with its dangling queue, was mounted on a pole near-by, and
preserved in a cage from birds of prey, as a warning to all others who
might aspire to the same notoriety. In this lonely spot we were forced to
spend the night, as here occurred, through the carelessness of the Kuldja
Russian blacksmith, a very serious break in one of our gear wheels. It was
too late in the day to walk back the sixteen miles to the Kirghiz
encampment, and there obtain horses for the remaining fifty-eight miles to
Kuldja, for nowhere else, we concluded, could such a break be mended. Our
sleeping-bags were now put to a severe test between the damp ground and
the heavy mountain dew. The penetrating cold, and the occasional
panther-like cry of some prowling animal, kept us awake the greater part
of the night, awaiting with revolvers in hand some expected attack.
Five days later we had repassed this spot and were toiling over the sand
and saline-covered depression of the great “Han-Hai,” or Dried-up Sea. The
mountain freshets, dissolving the salt from their sandy channels, carry it
down in solution and deposit it with evaporation in massive layers,
forming a comparatively hard roadway in the midst of the shifting
sand-dunes. Over these latter our progress was extremely slow. One stretch
of fifteen miles, which it took us six hours to cover, was as formidable
as any part of the Turkoman desert along the Transcaspian railway. At an
altitude of only six hundred feet above the sea, according to our aneroid
barometer, and beneath the rays of a July sun against which even our felt
caps were not much protection, we were half-dragging, half-pushing, our
wheels through a foot of sand, and slapping at the mosquitos swarming upon
our necks and faces. These pests, which throughout this low country are
the largest and most numerous we have ever met, are bred in the
intermediate swamps, which exist only through the negligence of the
neighboring villagers. At night smoldering fires, which half suffocate the
human inmates, are built before the doors and windows to keep out the
intruding insects. All travelers wear gloves, and a huge hood covering the
head and face up to the eyes, and in their hands carry a horse-tail switch
to lash back and forth over their shoulders. Being without such protection
we suffered both day and night.
The mountain freshets all along the road to Urumtsi were more frequent and
dangerous than any we had yet encountered. Toward evening the melting
snows, and the condensing currents from the plain heated during the day,
fill and overflow the channels that in the morning are almost dry. One
stream, with its ten branches, swept the stones and boulders over a
shifting channel one mile in width. It was when wading through such
streams as this, where every effort was required to balance ourselves and
our luggage, that the mosquitos would make up for lost time with impunity.
The river, before reaching Manas, was so swift and deep as to necessitate
the use of regular government carts. A team of three horses, on making a
misstep, were shifted away from the ford into deep water and carried far
down the stream. A caravan of Chinese traveling-vans, loaded with goods
from India, were crossing at the time, on their way to the outlying
provinces and the Russian border. General Bauman at Vernoye had informed
us that in this way English goods were swung clear around the circle and
brought into Russia through the unguarded back door.

With constant wading and tramping, our Russian shoes and stockings, one of
which was almost torn off by the sly grab of a Chinese spaniel, were no
longer fit for use. In their place we were now obliged to purchase the
short, white cloth Chinese socks and string sandals, which for mere
cycling purposes and wading streams proved an excellent substitute, being
light and soft on the feet and very quickly dried. The calves of our legs,
however, being left bare, we were obliged, for state occasions at least,
to retain and utilize the upper portion of our old stockings. It was owing
to this scantiness of wardrobe that we were obliged when taking a bath by
the roadside streams to make a quick wash of our linen, and put it on wet
to dry, or allow it to flutter from the handle-bars as we rode along. It
was astonishing even to ourselves how little a man required when once
beyond the pale of Western conventionalities.
From Manas to Urumtsi we began to strike more tillage and fertility.
Maize, wheat, and rice were growing, but rather low and thin. The last is
by no means the staple food of China, as is commonly supposed, except in
the southern portion. In the northern, and especially the outlying,
provinces it is considered more a luxury for the wealthy. Millet and
coarse flour, from which the _mien_ or dough-strings are made, is the
foundation, at least, for more than half the subsistence of the common
classes. Nor is there much truth, we think, in the assertion that Chinamen
eat rats, although we sometimes regretted that they did not. After a month
or more without meat a dish of rats would have been relished, had we been
able to get it. On the other hand we have learned that there is a society
of Chinamen who are vegetarians from choice, and still another that will
eat the meat of no animal, such as the ass, horse, dog, etc., which can
serve man in a better way.
Urumtsi, or Hun-miao (red temple) of the Chinese, still retains its
ancient prestige in being the seat of government for the viceroyalty of
Sin-tsiang, which includes all that portion of western China lying without
the limit of Mongolia and Tibet. Thanks to its happy position, it has
always rapidly recovered after every fresh disaster. It now does
considerable trade with Russia through the town of Chuguchak, and with
China through the great gap which here occurs in the Tian Shan range. It
lies in a picturesque amphitheater behind the solitary “Holy Mount,” which
towers above a well-constructed bridge across its swiftly flowing river.
This city was one of our principal landmarks across the empire; a long
stage of the journey was here completed.
On entering a Chinese city we always made it a rule to run rapidly through
until we came to an inn, and then lock up our wheels before the crowd
could collect. Urumtsi, however, was too large and intricate for such a
manœuver. We were obliged to dismount in the principal thoroughfare. The
excited throng pressed in upon us. Among them was a Chinaman who could
talk a little Russian, and who undertook to direct us to a comfortable inn
at the far end of the city. This street parade gathered to the inn yard an
overwhelming mob, and announced to the whole community that “the foreign
horses” had come. It had been posted, we were told, a month before, that
“two people of the new world” were coming through on “strange iron
horses,” and every one was requested not to molest them. By this, public
curiosity was raised to the highest pitch. When we returned from supper at
a neighboring restaurant, we were treated to a novel scene. The doors and
windows of our apartments had been blocked with boxes, bales of cotton,
and huge cart-wheels to keep out the irrepressible throng. Our host was
agitated to tears; he came out wringing his hands, and urging upon us that
any attempt on our part to enter would cause a rush that would break his
house down. We listened to his entreaties on the condition that we should
be allowed to mount to the roof with a ladder, to get away from the
annoying curiosity of the crowd. There we sat through the evening
twilight, while the crowd below, somewhat balked, but not discouraged,
stood taking in every move. Nightfall and a drizzling rain came at last to
our relief.

The next morning a squad of soldiers was despatched to raise the siege,
and at the same time presents began to arrive from the various officials,
from the Tsongtu, or viceroy, down to the superintendent of the local
prisons. The matter of how much to accept of a Chinese present, and how
much to pay for it, in the way of a tip to the bearer, is one of the
finest points of that finest of fine arts, Chinese etiquette; and yet in
the midst of such an abundance and variety we were hopelessly at sea.
Fruits and teas were brought, together with meats and chickens, and even a
live sheep. Our Chinese visiting-cards—with the Chinese the great insignia
of rank—were now returned for those sent with the presents, and the hour
appointed for the exhibition of our bicycles as requested.
Long before the time, the streets and housetops leading from the inn to
the viceroy’s palace at the far end of the city began to fill with people,
and soldiers were detailed at our request to make an opening for us to
ride through abreast. This, however, did not prevent the crowd from
pushing us against each other, or sticking sticks in the wheels, or
throwing their hats and shoes in front of us, as we rode by. When in sight
of the viceroy’s palace, they closed in on us entirely. It was the worst
jam we had ever been in. By no possibility could we mount our machines,
although the mob was growing more and more impatient. They kept shouting
for us to ride, but would give us no room. Those on the outside pushed the
inner ones against us. With the greatest difficulty could we preserve our
equilibrium, and prevent the wheels from being crushed, as we surged along
toward the palace gate; while all the time our Russian interpreter, Mafoo,
on horseback in front, continued to shout and gesticulate in the wildest
manner above their heads. Twenty soldiers had been stationed at the palace
gate to keep back the mob with cudgels. When we reached them, they pulled
us and our wheels quickly through into the inclosure, and then tried to
stem the tide by belaboring the heads and shoulders in reach, including
those of our unfortunate interpreter, Mafoo. But it was no use. Everything
was swept away before this surging wave of humanity. The viceroy himself,
who now came out to receive us, was powerless. All he could do was to
request them to make room around the palace courtyard for the coming
exhibition. Thousands of thumbs were uplifted that afternoon, in praise of
the wonderful _twee-tah-cheh_, or two-wheeled carts, as they witnessed our
modest attempt at trick riding and special manœuvering. After refreshments
in the palace, to which we were invited by the viceroy, we were counseled
to leave by a rear door, and return by a roundabout way to the inn,
leaving the mob to wait till dark for our exit from the front.
The restaurant or tea-house in China takes the place of the Western
club-room. All the current news and gossip is here circulated and
discussed over their eating or gambling. One of their games of chance,
which we have frequently noticed, seems to consist in throwing their
fingers at one another, and shouting at the top of their voices. It is
really a matching of numbers, for which the Chinamen make signs on their
fingers, up to the numeral ten. Our entry into a crowded _dungan_, or
native Mohammedan restaurant, the next morning, was the signal for
exciting accounts of the events of the previous day. We were immediately
invited to take tea with this one, a morning dish of _tung-posas_, or nut
and sugar dumplings, with another, while a third came over with his can of
_sojeu_, or Chinese gin, with an invitation “to join him.” The Chinese of
all nations seem to live in order to eat, and from this race of epicures
has developed a nation of excellent cooks. Our fare in China, outside the
Gobi district, was far better than in Turkey or Persia, and, for this
reason, we were better able to endure the increased hardships. A plate of
sliced meat stewed with vegetables, and served with a piquant sauce,
sliced radishes and onions with vinegar, two loaves of Chinese _mo-mo_, or
steamed bread, and a pot of tea, would usually cost us about three and one
quarter cents apiece. Everything in China is sliced so that it can be
eaten with the chop-sticks. These we at length learned to manipulate with
sufficient dexterity to pick up a dove’s egg—the highest attainment in the
chop-stick art. The Chinese have rather a sour than a sweet tooth. Sugar
is rarely used in anything, and never in tea. The steeped tea-flowers,
which the higher classes use, are really more tasty without it. In many of
the smaller towns, our visits to the restaurant would sometimes result in
considerable damage to its keepers, for the crowd would swarm in after us,
knocking over the table, stools, and crockery as they went, and collect in
a circle around us to watch the “foreigners” eat, and to add their opium
and tobacco smoke to the suffocating atmosphere.

A visit to the local mint in Urumtsi revealed to us the primitive method
of making the _chen_, or money-disks before mentioned. Each is molded
instead of cut and stamped as in the West. By its superintendent we were
invited to a special breakfast on the morning of our departure.
The Chinese are the only people in the Orient, and, so far as we know, in
the European and Asiatic continents, who resemble the Americans in their
love for a good, substantial morning meal. This was much better adapted to
our purpose than the Russian custom, which compelled us to do the greater
part of our day’s work on merely bread and weak tea.
From Urumtsi we had decided to take the northern route to Hami, via
Gutchen and Barkul, in order to avoid as much as possible the sands of the
Tarim basin on the southern slope of the Tian Shan mountains. Two guards
were commissioned by the viceroy to take us in charge, and hand us over to
the next relay station. Papers were given them to be signed by the
succeeding authorities on our safe arrival. This plan had been adopted by
every chief mandarin along the route, in order, not only to follow out the
request of the London minister as written on the passport, but principally
to do us honor in return for the favor of a bicycle exhibition; but many
times we would leave our discomfited guards to return with unsigned
papers. Had we been traveling in the ordinary way, not only these favors
might not have been shown us, but our project entirely defeated by local
obstructions, as was the case with many who attempted the same journey by
caravan. To the good-will of the mandarins, as well as the people, an
indispensable concomitant of a journey through China, our bicycles were
after all our best passports. They everywhere overcame the antipathy for
the foreigner, and made us cordially welcome.

The costumes of our soldiers were strikingly picturesque. Over the front
and back of the scarlet waistcoats were worked in black silk letters their
military credentials. Over their full baggy trousers were drawn their
riding overalls, which cover only the front and sides of the legs, the
back being cut out just above the cloth top of their Chinese boots.
Instead of a cap, they wear a piece of printed cloth wrapped tightly
around the head, like the American washerwomen. Their well-cushioned
saddles did not save them from the constant jolting to which our high
speed subjected them. At every stopping-place they would hold forth at
length to the curious crowd about their roadside experiences. It was
amusing to hear their graphic descriptions of the mysterious “ding,” by
which they referred to the ring of the cyclometer at every mile. But the
phrase _quai-ti-henn_ (very fast), which concluded almost every sentence,
showed what feature impressed them most. Then, too, they disliked very
much to travel in the heat of the day, for all summer traveling in China
is done at night. They would wake us up many hours before daylight to make
a start, despite our previous request to be left alone. Our week’s run to
Barkul was made, with a good natural road and favoring conditions, at the
rate of fifty-three miles per day, eight miles more than our general
average across the empire. From Kuldja to the Great Wall, where our
cyclometer broke, we took accurate measurements of the distances. In this
way, we soon discovered that the length of a Chinese _li_ was even more
changeable than the value of the _tael_. According to time and place, from
185 to 250 were variously reckoned to a degree, while even a difference in
direction would very often make a considerable difference in the distance.
It is needless to say that, at this rate, the guards did not stay with us.
Official courtesy was now confined to despatches sent in advance. Through
this exceptionally wild district were encountered several herds of
antelope and wild asses, which the natives were hunting with their long,
heavy, fork-resting rifles. Through the exceptional tameness of the
jack-rabbits along the road, we were sometimes enabled to procure with a
revolver the luxury of a meat supper.
At Barkul (Tatar) the first evidence of English influence began to appear
in the place of the fading Russian, although the traces of Russian
manufacture were by no means wanting far beyond the Great Wall. English
pulverized sugar now began to take the place of Russian lump. India
rubber, instead of the Russianized French _elastique_, was the native name
for our rubber tires. English letters, too, could be recognized on the
second-hand paper and bagging appropriated to the natives’ use, and even
the gilded buttons worn by the soldiers bore the stamp of “treble gilt.”
From here the road to Hami turns abruptly south, and by a pass of over
nine thousand feet crosses the declining spurs of the Tian Shan mountains,
which stand like a barrier between the two great historic highways,
deflecting the westward waves of migration, some to Kashgaria and others
to Zungaria. On the southern slope of the pass we met with many large
caravans of donkeys, dragging down pine-logs to serve as poles in the
proposed extension of the telegraph-line from Su-Chou to Urumtsi. In June
of this year the following item appeared in the newspapers:

“Within a few months Peking will be united by wire with St. Petersburg;
and, in consequence, with the telegraph system of the entire civilized
world. According to the latest issue of the Turkestan ‘Gazette,’ the
telegraph-line from Peking has been brought as far west as the city of
Kashgar. The European end of the line is at Osh, and a small stretch of
about 140 miles now alone breaks the direct telegraph communication from
the Atlantic to the Pacific.”
Hami is one of those cities which may be regarded as indispensable. At the
edge of the Great Gobi and the converging point of the Nan-lu and
Pe-lu—that is, the southern and northern routes to the western world—this
oasis is a necessary resting-place. During our stop of two days, to make
necessary repairs and recuperate our strength for the hardships of the
desert, the usual calls were exchanged with the leading officials. In the
matter of social politeness the Chinese, especially the “literati,” have
reason to look down upon the barbarians of the West. Politeness has been
likened generally to an air-cushion. There is nothing in it, but it eases
the jolts wonderfully. As a mere ritual of technicalities it has perhaps
reached its highest point in China. The multitude of honorific titles, so
bewildering and even maddening to the Occidental, are here used simply to
keep in view the fixed relations of graduated superiority. When wishing to
be exceptionally courteous to “the foreigners,” the more experienced
mandarins would lay their doubled fists in the palms of our hands, instead
of raising them in front of their foreheads, with the usual salutation
_Homa_. In shaking hands with a Chinaman we thus very often had our hands
full. After the exchange of visiting-cards, as an indication that their
visits would be welcome, they would come on foot, in carts, or palanquins,
according to their rank, and always attended by a larger or smaller
retinue. Our return visits would always be made by request, on the wheels,
either alone or with our interpreter, if we could find one, for our
Chinese was as yet painfully defective. Russian had served us in good
stead, though not always directly. In a conversation with the Tootai of
Schicho, for instance, our Russian had to be translated into Turki and
thence interpreted in Chinese. The more intelligent of these conversations
were about our own and other countries of the world, especially England
and Russia, who, it was rumored, had gone to war on the Afghanistan
border. But the most of them generally consisted of a series of trivial
interrogations beginning usually with: “How old are you?” Owing to our
beards, which were now full grown, and which had gained for us the
frequent title of _yeh renn_, or wild men, the guesses were far above the
mark. One was even as high as sixty years, for the reason, as was stated,
that no Chinaman could raise such a beard before that age. We were
frequently surprised at their persistence in calling us brothers when
there was no apparent reason for it, and were finally told that we must be
“because we were both named _Mister_ on our passports.”
It was already dusk on the evening of August 10 when we drew up to the
hamlet of Shang-loo-shwee at the end of the Hami oasis. The Great Gobi, in
its awful loneliness, stretched out before us, like a vast ocean of
endless space. The growing darkness threw its mantle on the scene, and
left imagination to picture for us the nightmare of our boyhood days. We
seemed, as it were, to be standing at the end of the world, looking out
into the realm of nowhere. Foreboding thoughts disturbed our repose, as we
contemplated the four hundred miles of this barren stretch to the Great
Wall of China. With an early morning start, however, we struck out at once
over the eighty-five miles of the Takla Makan sands. This was the worst we
could have, for beyond the caravan station of Kooshee we would strike the
projecting limits of Mongolian Kan-su. This narrow tract, now lying to our
left between Hami and the Nan Shan mountains, is characterized by
considerable diversity in its surface, soil, and climate. Traversed by
several copious streams from the Nan Shan mountains, and the
moisture-laden currents from the Bay of Bengal and the Brahmaputra valley,
its “desert” stretches are not the dismal solitudes of the Tarim basin or
the “Black” and “Red” sands of central Asia. Water is found almost
everywhere near the surface, and springs bubble up in the hollows, often
encircled by exterior oases. Everywhere the ground is traversable by
horses and carts. This comparatively fertile tract, cutting the Gobi into
two great sections, has been, ever since its conquest two thousand years
ago, of vast importance to China, being the only feasible avenue of
communication with the western provinces, and the more important link in
the only great highway across the empire. A regular line of caravan
stations is maintained by the constant traffic both in winter and summer.
But we were now on a bit of the genuine Gobi—that is, “Sandy Desert”—of
the Mongolian, or “Shamo” of the Chinese. Everywhere was the same
interminable picture of vast undulating plains of shifting reddish sands,
interspersed with quartz pebbles, agates, and carnelians, and relieved
here and there by patches of wiry shrubs, used as fuel at the desert
stations, or lines of hillocks succeeding each other like waves on the
surface of the shoreless deep. The wind, even more than the natural
barrenness of the soil, prevents the growth of any vegetation except low,
pliant herbage. Withered plants are uprooted and scattered by the gale
like patches of foam on the stormy sea. These terrible winds, which of
course were against us, with the frequently heavy cart-tracks, would make
it quite impossible to ride. The monotony of many weary hours of plodding
was relieved only by the bones of some abandoned beast of burden, or the
occasional train of Chinese carts, or rather two-wheeled vans, loaded with
merchandise, and drawn by five to six horses or mules. For miles away they
would see us coming, and crane their necks in wondering gaze as we
approached. The mulish leaders, with distended ears, would view our
strange-looking vehicles with suspicion, and then lurch far out in their
twenty-foot traces, pulling the heavily loaded vehicles from the
deep-rutted track. But the drivers were too busy with their eyes to notice
any little divergence of this kind. Dumb with astonishment they continued
to watch us till we disappeared again toward the opposite horizon. Farther
on we would meet a party of Chinese emigrants or exiles, on their way to
the fertile regions that skirt the northern and southern slopes of the
Tian Shan mountains. By these people even the distant valley of the Ili is
being largely populated. Being on foot, with their extraordinary loads
balanced on flexible shoulder-poles, these poor fellows could make only
one station, or from twelve to twenty miles a day. In the presence of
their patience and endurance, we were ashamed to think of such a thing as
hardship.
The station-houses on the desert were nothing more than a collection of
mud huts near a surface well of strongly brackish water. Here, most of the
caravans would put up during the day, and travel at night. There was no
such thing as a restaurant; each one by turn must do his own cooking in
the inn kitchen, open to all. We, of course, were expected to carry our
own provisions and do our own culinary work like any other respectable
travelers. This we had frequently done before where restaurants were not
to be found. Many a time we would enter an inn with our arms filled with
provisions, purchased at the neighboring bazaars, take possession of the
oven and cooking utensils, and proceed to get up an American meal, while
all the time a hundred eyes or more would be staring at us in blank
amazement. But here on the desert we could buy nothing but very coarse
flour. When asked if they had an egg or a piece of vegetable, they would
shout “_Ma-you_” (“There is none”) in a tone of rebuke, as much as to say:
“My conscience! man, what do you expect on the Gobi?” We would have to be
content with our own tea made in the iron pot, fitting in the top of the
mud oven, and a kind of sweetened bread made up with our supply of sugar
brought from Hami. This we nicknamed our “Gobi cake,” although it did
taste rather strongly of brackish water and the garlic of previous
contents of the one common cooking-pot. We would usually take a large
supply for road use on the following day, or, as sometimes proved, for the
midnight meal of the half-starved inn-dog. The interim between the evening
meal and bedtime was always employed in writing notes by the feeble,
flickering light of a primitive taper-lamp, which was the best we had
throughout the Chinese journey.

  [Illustration: STATION OF SEB-BOO-TCHAN.]

A description of traveling in China would by no means be complete without
some mention of the vermin which infest, not only inns and houses, but the
persons of nearly all the lower classes. Lice and fleas seem to be the
_sine qua non_ of Chinese life, and in fact the itching with some seems to
furnish the only occasion for exercise. We have seen even shopkeepers
before their doors on a sunny afternoon, amusing themselves by picking
these insidious creatures from their inner garments. They are one of the
necessary evils it seems, and no secret is made of it. The sleeping
_kangs_ of the Chinese inns, which are made of beaten earth and heated in
winter like an oven, harbor these pests the year round, not to mention the
filthy coverlets and greasy pillows that were sometimes offered us. Had we
not had our own sleeping-bags, and used the camera, provision-bag, and
coats for pillows, our life would have been intolerable. As it was there
was but little rest for the weary.

The longest station on the desert was thirty-one miles. This was the only
time that we suffered at all with thirst. In addition to the high mean
elevation of the Gobi, about four thousand feet, we had cloudy weather for
a considerable portion of the journey, and, in the Kan-su district, even a
heavy thunder-shower. These occasional summer rains form, here and there,
temporary meres and lakes, which are soon evaporated, leaving nothing
behind except a saline efflorescence. Elsewhere the ground is furrowed by
sudden torrents tearing down the slopes of the occasional hills or
mountains. These dried up river-beds furnished the only continuously hard
surfaces we found on the Gobi; although even here we were sometimes
brought up with a round turn in a chuck hole, with the sand flying above
our heads.

Our aneroid barometer registered approximately six thousand five hundred
feet, when we reached at dusk the summit of the highest range of hills we
encountered on the desert journey. But instead of the station-hut we
expected to find, we were confronted by an old Mongolian monastery. These
institutions, we had found, were generally situated as this one, at the
top of some difficult mountain-pass or at the mouth of some cavernous
gorge, where the pious intercessors might, to the best advantage, strive
to appease the wrathful forces of nature. In this line of duty the lama
was no doubt engaged when we walked into his feebly-lighted room, but,
like all Orientals, he would let nothing interfere with the performance of
his religious duties. With his gaze centered upon one spot, his fingers
flew over the string of beads in his lap, and his tongue over the
stereotyped prayers, with a rapidity that made our head swim. We stood
unnoticed till the end, when we were at once invited to a cup of tea, and
directed to our destination, five _li_ beyond. Toward this we plodded
through the growing darkness and rapidly cooling atmosphere; for in its
extremes of temperature the Gobi is at once both Siberian and Indian, and
that, too, within the short period of a few hours. Some of the mornings of
what proved to be very hot days were cold enough to make our extremities
fairly tingle.
A constant diet of bread and tea, together with the hard physical exercise
and mental anxiety, caused our strength at length to fail.
The constant drinking of brackish water made one of us so ill that he
could retain no food. A high fever set in on the evening of August 15, and
as we pulled into the station of Bay-doon-sah, he was forced to go to bed
at once. The other, with the aid of our small medicine supply, endeavored
to ward off the ominous symptoms. In his anxiety, however, to do all that
was possible he made a serious blunder. Instead of antipyrin he
administered the poison, sulphate of zinc, which we carried to relieve our
eyes when inflamed by the alkali dust. This was swallowed before the truth
was discovered. It was an anxious moment for us both when we picked up the
paper from the floor and read the inscription. We could do nothing but
look at each other in silence. Happily it was an overdose, and the
vomiting which immediately followed relieved both the patient and the
anxious doctor. What to do we did not know. The patient now suggested that
his companion should go on without him, and, if possible, send back
medical aid or proper food; but not to remain and get worse himself. He,
on the other hand, refused to leave without the other. Then too, the
outlying town of Ngan-si-chou, the first where proper food and water could
be obtained, was only one day’s journey away. Another effort was decided
upon. But when morning came, a violent hurricane from the southeast swept
the sand in our faces, and fairly blew the sick man over on his wheel.
Famishing with thirst, tired beyond expression, and burning with fever as
well as the withering heat, we reached at last the bank of the Su-la-ho.
Eagerly we plunged into its sluggish waters, and waded through under the
walls of Ngan-si-chou.
Ngan-si-chou was almost completely destroyed during the late Dungan
rebellion. Little is now to be seen except heaps of rubbish, ruined
temples, and the scattered fragments of idols. The neglected gardens no
longer check the advancing sands, which in some places were drifting over
the ramparts. Through its abandoned gateway we almost staggered with
weakness, and directed our course to the miserable bazaar. The only meat
we could find was pork, that shibboleth between Mohammedanism and
Confucianism. The Dungan restaurant-keeper would not cook it, and only
after much persuasion consented to have it prepared outside and brought
back to be eaten beneath his roof. With better water and more substantial
food we began, from this time on, to recuperate. But before us still a
strong head wind was sweeping over the many desert stretches that lay
between the oases along the Su-la-ho, and with the constant walking our
sandals and socks were almost worn away. For this reason we were delayed
one evening in reaching the town of Dyou-min-shan. In the lonely stillness
of its twilight a horseman was approaching across the barren plain,
bearing a huge Chinese lantern in his hand, and singing aloud, as is a
Chinaman’s custom, to drive off the evil spirits of the night. He started
back, as we suddenly appeared, and then dismounted, hurriedly, to throw
his lantern’s glare upon us. “Are you the two Americans?” he asked in an
agitated manner. His question was surprising. Out in this desert country
we were not aware that our identity was known, or our visit expected. He
then explained that he had been instructed by the magistrate of
Dyou-min-shan to go out and look for us, and escort us into the town. He
also mentioned in this connection the name of Ling Darin—a name that we
had heard spoken of almost with veneration ever since leaving Urumtsi. Who
this personage was we were unable to find out beyond that he was an
influential mandarin in the city of Su-chou, now only a day’s journey
away.
Near that same fortieth parallel of latitude on which our Asiatic journey
was begun and ended, we now struck, at its extreme western limit, the
Great Wall of China. The Kiayu-kuan, or “Jade Gate,” by which it is here
intersected, was originally so called from the fact that it led into the
Khotan country, whence the Chinese traders brought back the precious
mineral. This, with the Shanghai-kuan near the sea, and the Yuamin-kuan,
on the Nankow pass, are the principal gateways in this “wall of ten
thousand _li_,” which, until forced by Yengiz Khan, protected the empire
from the Mongolian nomads for a period of fourteen hundred years. In its
present condition the Great Wall belongs to various epochs. With the
sudden and violent transitions of temperature in the severe Mongolian
climate, it may be doubted whether any portion of Shi Hoangti’s original
work still survives. Nearly all the eastern section, from Ordos to the
Yellow Sea, was rebuilt in the fifth century, and the double rampart along
the northwest frontier of the plains of Peking was twice restored in the
fifteenth and sixteenth. North of Peking, where this prodigious structure
has a mean height of about twenty-six feet, and width of twenty feet, it
is still in a state of perfect repair, whereas in many western districts
along the Gobi frontier, as here before us, it is little more than an
earthen rampart about fifteen feet in height, while for considerable
distances, as along the road from Su-chou to Kan-chou, it has entirely
disappeared for miles at a stretch. Both the gate and the wall at this
point had been recently repaired. We could now see it rising and falling
in picturesque undulations as far as the Tibetan ranges. There it stops
altogether, after a westward course of over fifteen hundred miles. In view
of what was before us, we could not but smile as we thought of that French
abbé who undertook, in an elaborate volume, to prove that the “Great Wall
of China” was nothing more than a myth.

We were now past another long anticipated land-mark, and before us, far
down in the plain, lay the city of Su-chou, which, as the terminal point
of the Chinese telegraph-line, would bring us again into electric touch
with the civilized world. But between us and our goal lay the Edzina
river, now swollen by a recent freshet. We began to wade cautiously
through with luggage and wheels balanced on our shoulders. But just at
that moment we perceived, approaching from the distance, what we took to
be a mounted Chinese mandarin, and his servant leading behind him two
richly caparisoned and riderless horses. At sight of us they spurred
ahead, and reached the opposite bank just as we passed the middle of the
stream. The leader now rose in his stirrups, waved his hat in the air and
shouted, in clear though broken English, “Well, gentlemen, you have
arrived at last!” To hear our mother tongue so unexpectedly spoken in this
out-of-the-way part of the world, was startling. This strange individual,
although clad in the regular mandarin garb, was light-complexioned, and
had an auburn instead of a black queue dangling from his shaven head. He
grasped us warmly by the hand as we came dripping out of the water, while
all the time his benevolent countenance fairly beamed with joy. “I am glad
to see you, gentlemen,” he said. “I was afraid you would be taken sick on
the road ever since I heard you had started across China. I just got the
news five minutes ago that you were at Kiayu-kuan, and immediately came
out with these two horses to bring you across the river, which I feared
would be too deep and swift for you. Mount your ponies, and we will ride
into the city together.”
It was some time before the idea flashed across our minds that this might
indeed be the mysterious Ling Darin about whom we had heard so much.
“Yes,” said he, “that is what I am called here, but my real name is
Splingard.” He then went on to tell us that he was a Belgian by birth;
that he had traveled extensively through China, as the companion of Baron
Richthofen, and had thus become so thoroughly acquainted with the country
and its people that on his return to the coast he had been offered by the
Chinese government the position of custom mandarin at Su-chou, a position
just then established for the levying of duty on the Russian goods passing
in through the northwest provinces; that he had adopted the Chinese dress
and mode of living, and had even married, many years ago, a Chinese girl
educated at the Catholic schools in Tientsin. We were so absorbed in this
romantic history that we scarcely noticed the crowds that lined the
streets leading to the Ling Darin’s palace, until the boom of a cannon
recalled us to our situation. From the smile on the jolly face beside us,
we knew at once whom we could hold responsible for this reception. The
palace gates were now thrown open by a host of servants, and in our rags
and tatters we rolled at once from the hardships of the inhospitable
desert into the lap of luxury.

A surplus is not always so easily disposed of as a deficit—at least we
were inclined to think so in the case of our Su-chou diet. The Ling
Darin’s table, which, for the exceptional occasion, was set in the foreign
fashion with knives and forks, fairly teemed with abundance and variety.
There was even butter, made from the milk of the Tibetan yak, and
condensed milk for our coffee, the first we had tasted since leaving
Turkey, more than a year before. The Ling Darin informed us that a can of
this milk, which he once presented to Chinese friends, had been mistaken
for a face cosmetic, and was so used by the ladies of the family. The lack
of butter has led many of the missionaries in China to substitute lard,
while the Chinese fry their fat cakes in various oils. The Ling Darin’s
wife we found an excellent and even artistic cook, while his buxom twin
daughters could read and write their own language—a rare accomplishment
for a Chinese woman. Being unaccustomed to foreign manners, they would
never eat at the same table with us, but would come in during the evening
with their mother, to join the family circle and read aloud to us some of
their father’s official despatches. This they would do with remarkable
fluency and intelligence.

As guests of our highly respected and even venerated host, we were visited
by nearly all the magistrates of the city. The Ling Darin was never before
compelled to answer so many questions. In self-defense he was at last
forced to get up a stereotyped speech to deliver on each social occasion.
The people, too, besieged the palace gates, and clamored for an
exhibition. Although our own clothes had been sent away to be boiled, we
could not plead this as an excuse. The flowing Chinese garments which had
been provided from the private wardrobe of the Ling Darin fluttered wildly
in the breeze, as we rode out through the city at the appointed hour. Our
Chinese shoes, also, were constantly slipping off, and as we raised the
foot to readjust them, a shout went up from the crowd for what they
thought was some fancy touch in the way of riding.
From the barrenness of the Gobi to the rank vegetation of the Edzina
valley, where the grass and grain were actually falling over from
excessive weight, was a most relieving change. Water was everywhere. Even
the roadway served in many places as a temporary irrigating-canal. On the
journey to Kan-chou we were sometimes compelled to ride on the narrow
mud-wall fences that separated the flooded fields of wheat, millet, and
sorghum, the prevailing cereals north of the Hoang-ho river. Fields of
rice and the opium poppy were sometimes met with, but of the silk-worm and
tea-plant, which furnish the great staples of the Chinese export trade, we
saw absolutely nothing on our route through the northern provinces. Apart
from the “Yellow Lands” of the Hoang-ho, which need no manure, the arable
regions of China seem to have maintained their fecundity for over four
thousand years, entirely through the thoughtful care of the peasantry in
restoring to the soil, under another form, all that the crops have taken
from it. The plowing of the Chinese is very poor. They scarcely do more
than scratch the surface of the ground with their bent-stick plows,
wooden-tooth drills, and wicker-work harrows; and instead of straight
lines, so dear to the eye of a Western farmer, the ridges and furrows are
as crooked as serpents. The real secret of their success seems to lie in
the care they take to replenish the soil. All the sewage of the towns is
carried out every morning at daybreak by special coolies, to be preserved
for manure; while the dried herbs, straw, roots, and other vegetable
refuse, are economized with the greatest care for fuel. The Chinese
peasant offsets the rudeness of his implements with manual skill. He weeds
the ground so carefully that there is scarcely a leaf above the ground
that does not appertain to the crop. All kinds of pumps and hydraulic
wheels are worked, either by the hand, animals, or the wind. The system of
tillage, therefore, resembles market-gardening rather than the broad
method of cultivation common in Europe and America. The land is too
valuable to be devoted to pasture, and the forests nearly everywhere have
been sacrificed to tillage to such an extent that the material for the
enormously thick native coffins has now to be imported from abroad.

Streams and irrigating-ditches were so frequent that we were continually
saturated with water or covered with mud. Our bare arms and legs were so
tanned and coated that we were once asked by a group of squalid villagers
if “foreigners” ever bathed like themselves. On dashing down into a
village, we would produce consternation or fright, especially among the
women and children, but after the first onset, giggling would generally
follow, for our appearance, especially from the rear, seemed to strike
them as extremely ridiculous. The wheel itself presented various aspects
to their ignorant fancies. It was called the “flying machine” and
“foot-going carriage,” while some even took it for the “fire-wheel cart,”
or locomotive, about which they had heard only the vaguest rumors. Their
ignorance of its source of motive power often prompted them to name it the
“self-moving cart,” just as the natives of Shanghai are wont to call the
electric-light “the self-coming moon.”

In one out-of-the-way village of northwestern China, we were evidently
taken for some species of centaurs; the people came up to examine us while
on the wheel to see whether or no rider and wheel were one. We became so
harassed with importunities to ride that we were compelled at last to seek
relief in subterfuge, for an absolute refusal, we found, was of no avail.
We would promise to ride for a certain sum of money, thinking thus to
throw the burden of refusal on themselves. But, nothing daunted, they
would pass round the hat. On several occasions, when told that eggs could
not be bought in the community, an offer of an exhibition would bring them
out by the dozen. In the same way we received presents of tea, and by this
means our cash expenses were considerably curtailed. The interest in the
“foreign horses” was sometimes so great as to stop business and even
amusements. A rather notable incident of this kind occurred on one of the
Chinese holidays. The flag-decked streets, as we rode through, were filled
with the neighboring peasantry, attracted by some traveling theatrical
troupe engaged for the occasion. In fact, a performance was just then in
progress at the open-air theater close at hand. Before we were aware of it
we had rolled into its crowded auditorium. The women were sitting on
improvised benches, fanning and gossiping, while the men stood about in
listless groups. But suddenly their attention was aroused by the counter
attraction, and a general rush followed, to the great detriment of the
temporary peddlers’ stands erected for the occasion. Although entirely
deserted, and no doubt consumed with curiosity, the actors could not lose
what the Chinese call “face.” They still continued their hideous noises,
pantomimes, and dialogues to the empty seats.
The last fifty miles into Liang-chou, a city founded by a Catholic
Chinaman over two hundred years ago, we were compelled to make on foot,
owing to an accident that caused us serious trouble all through the
remainder of our Chinese journey. In a rapid descent by a narrow pathway,
the pedal of one of the machines struck upon a protuberance, concealed by
a tuft of grass, snapping off the axle, and scattering the ball-bearings
over the ground. For some miles we pushed along on the bare axle inverted
in the pedal-crank. But the wrenching the machine thus received soon began
to tell. With a sudden jolt on a steep descent, it collapsed entirely, and
precipitated the rider over the handle-bars. The lower part of the frame
had broken short off, where it was previously cracked, and had bent the
top bar almost double in the fall. In this sad plight, we were rejoiced to
find in the “City under the Shade” the Scotch missionary, Mr. Laughton,
who had founded here the most remote of the China Inland Missions. But
even with his assistance, and that of the best native mechanic, our
repairs were ineffective. At several points along the route we were
delayed on this account. At last the front and rear parts of the machine
became entirely separated. There was no such thing as steel to be found in
the country, no tools fit to work with, and no one who knew the first
principles of soldering. After endeavoring to convince the native
blacksmiths that a delicate bicycle would not stand pounding like a
Chinese cart-wheel, we took the matter into our own hands. An iron bar was
placed in the hollow tubing to hold it in shape, and a band of telegraph
wire passed round from front to rear, along the upper and lower rods, and
then twisted so as to bring the two parts as tightly together as possible.
With a waddling frame, and patched rear-wheel describing eccentric
revolutions, we must have presented a rather comical appearance over the
remaining thousand miles to the coast.
Across the Yellow Hoang-ho, which is the largest river we encountered in
Asia, a pontoon bridge leads into the city of Lan-chou-foo. Its
strategical position at the point where the Hoang-ho makes its great bend
to the north, and where the gateway of the West begins, as well as its
picturesque location in one of the greatest fruit-bearing districts of
China, makes it one of the most important cities of the empire. On the
commanding heights across the river, we stopped to photograph the
picturesque scene. As usual, the crowd swarmed in front of the camera to
gaze into the mysterious lens. All the missionaries we had met cautioned
us against taking photographs in China, lest we should do violence to the
many popular superstitions, but the only trouble we ever experienced in
this respect was in arousing popular curiosity. We soon learned that in
order to get something besides Chinese heads in our pictures it was
necessary first to point the camera in the opposite direction, and then
wheel suddenly round to the scene we wished to take. As we crossed the
river, the bridge of boats so creaked and swayed beneath the rushing
rabble, that we were glad to stand once more upon the terra firma of the
city streets, which were here paved with granite and marble blocks. As we
rode down the principal thoroughfare, amid the usual din and uproar, a
well-dressed Chinaman rushed out from one of the stores and grabbed us by
the arm. “Do you speak English?” he shouted, with an accent so like an
American, that we leaped from our wheels at once, and grasped his hand as
that of a fellow countryman. This, in fact, he proved to be in everything
but birth. He was one of that party of mandarins’ sons which had been sent
over to our country some years ago, as an experiment by the Chinese
government, to receive a thorough American training. We cannot here give
the history of that experiment, as Mr. Woo related it—how they were
subsequently accused of cutting off their queues and becoming
denationalized; how, in consequence, they were recalled to their native
land, and degraded rather than elevated, both by the people and the
government, because they were foreign in their sentiments and habits; and
how, at last, they gradually began to force recognition through the power
of merit alone. He had now been sent out by the government to engineer the
extension of the telegraph-line from Su-chou to Urumtsi, for it was feared
by the government that the employment of a foreigner in this capacity
would only increase the power for evil which the natives already
attributed to this foreign innovation. The similarity in the phrases,
_telegraph pole_ and _dry heaven_, had inspired the common belief that the
line of poles then stretching across the country was responsible for the
long-existing drought. In one night several miles of poles were sawed
short off, by the secret order of a banded conspiracy. After several
decapitations, the poles were now being restored, and labeled with the
words, “Put up by order of the Emperor.”
In company with the English missionary, Mr. Redfern, while attempting to
get out of the city on the way to his mountain home, we were caught in
another jam. He counseled us to conceal the weapons we were carrying in
our belts, for fear the sight of them should incite the mob to some act of
violence. Our own experience, however, had taught us that a revolver in
China was worth nothing if not shown. For persistence, this mob surpassed
any we had ever seen. They followed us out of the city and over the three
miles’ stretch to the mission premises, and there announced their
intention of remaining indefinitely. Again Mr. Redfern feared some
outbreak, and counseled us to return to the city and apply to the viceroy
himself for protection. This proved a good move. A special exhibition on
the palace parade-grounds gained for us the valuable favor of one who was
only fourth in rank to the emperor himself. A body-guard of soldiers was
furnished, not only during our sojourn in the city, but for the journey to
Singan-foo, on which a good reception was everywhere insured by an
official despatch sent in advance. In order to secure for us future
respect, a small flag with the government stamp and of yellow color was
given us to fly by the side of our “stars and stripes.” On this was
inscribed the title of “The Traveling Students,” as well as answers to the
more frequent of the common questions—our nationality, destination, and
age. The best mechanic in the local cannon-foundry was then ordered to
make, at government expense, whatever repairs were possible on our
disabled machines. This, however, as it proved, was not much; most of his
time was spent in taking measurements and patterns for another purpose. If
his intentions have been carried out, Lan-chou-foo is to-day possessed of
a “foot-moving carriage” of home production.

Our sojourn in this city is especially associated with the three names of
Woo, Choo, and Moo—names by no means uncommon in Chinese nomenclature. We
heard of a boy named the abstract numeral, “sixty-five,” because his
grandfather happened to reach that age on the very day of his birth. Mr.
Moo was the local telegraph operator, with whom we, and our friends Woo
and Choo, of Shanghai, associated. All operators in the Chinese telegraph
system are required to read and write English. The school established for
this purpose at Lan-chou we occasionally visited, and assisted the Chinese
schoolmaster to hear the recitations from Routledge’s spelling-book. He,
in turn, was a frequent partaker of our “foreign chows,” which our
English-speaking friends served with knives and forks borrowed from the
missionaries. Lily and bamboo roots, sharks’ fins and swallows’ nests, and
many other Chinese delicacies, were now served in abundance, and with the
ever-accompanying bowl of rice. In the matter of eating and drinking,
Chinese formality is extreme. A round table is the only one that can be
used in an aristocratic household. The seat of honor is always the one
next to the wall. Not a mouthful can be taken until the host raises his
chop-sticks in the air, and gives the signal. Silence then prevails; for
Confucius says: “When a man eats he has no time for talk.” When a cup of
tea is served to any one in a social party, he must offer it to every one
in the room, no matter how many there are, before proceeding to drink
himself. The real basis of Chinese politeness seems to be this: They must
be polite enough to offer, and you must be polite enough to refuse. Our
ignorance of this great underlying principle during the early part of the
Chinese journey led us into errors both many and grievous. In order to
show a desire to be sociable, we accepted almost everything that was
offered us, to the great chagrin, we fear, of the courteous donors.
                                    VI

              AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PRIME MINISTER OF CHINA

Our departure from Lan-chou was not, we thought, regretted by the
officials themselves, for we heard that apprehension was expressed lest
the crowds continuing to collect around the telegraph-office should
indulge in a riot. However, we were loath to leave our genial friends for
the society of opium-smokers, for we were now in that province of China
which, next to Sechuen, is most addicted to this habit. From dusk till
bed-time, the streets of the villages were almost deserted for the squalid
opium dens. Even our soldier attendant, as soon as the wooden saddle was
taken from his sore-backed government steed, would produce his portable
lamp, and proceed to melt on his needle the wax-like contents of a small,
black box. When of the proper consistency, the paste was rolled on a metal
plate to point it for the aperture in the flute-shaped pipe. Half the
night would be given to this process, and a considerable portion of the
remaining half would be devoted to smoking small pinches of tobacco in the
peculiar Chinese water-pipe. According to an official note, issued early
in 1882, by Mr. Hart, Inspector-General of Chinese Customs, considerably
less than one per cent. of the population is addicted to opium-smoking,
while those who smoke it to excess are few. More to be feared is the use
of opium as a poison, especially among Chinese women. The government
raises large sums from the import duty on opium, and tacitly connives at
its cultivation in most of the provinces, where the traders and mandarins
share between them the profits of this officially prohibited drug.

This part of the great historic highway on which we were now traveling,
between the two bends of the Hoang-ho, was found more extensively
patronized than heretofore. Besides the usual caravans of horses, donkeys,
and two-wheeled vans, we occasionally met with a party of shaven-headed
Tibetans traveling either as emissaries, or as traders in the famous
Tibetan sheep-skins and furs, and the strongly-scented bags of the
musk-deer. A funeral cortège was also a very frequent sight. Chinese
custom requires that the remains of the dead be brought back to their
native place, no matter how far they may have wandered during life, and as
the carriage of a single body would often be expensive, they are generally
interred in temporary cemeteries or mortuary villages, until a sufficient
number can be got together to form a large convoy. Mandarins, however, in
death as in life, travel alone and with retinue. One coffin we met which
rested upon poles supported on the shoulders of thirty-two men. Above on
the coffin was perched the usual white rooster, which is supposed to
incorporate, during transportation, the spirit of the departed. In funeral
ceremonies, especially of the father, custom also requires the children to
give public expression to their grief. Besides many other filial
observances, the eldest son is in duty bound to render the journey easy
for the departed by scattering fictitious paper-money, as spirit toll, at
the various roadside temples.
Singan-foo, the capital of the Middle Kingdom, under the Tsin dynasty, and
a city of the first importance more than two thousand years ago, is still
one of the largest places in the empire, being exceeded in population
probably by Canton alone. Each of its four walls, facing the cardinal
points, is over six miles long and is pierced in the center by a
monumental gate with lofty pavilions. It was here, among the ruins of an
old Nestorian church, built several centuries before, that was found the
famous tablet now sought at a high price by the British Museum. The
harassing mobs gathered from its teeming population, as well as the
lateness of the season, prompted us to make our sojourn as short as
possible. Only a day sufficed to reach Tong-quan, which is the central
stronghold of the Hoang-ho basin, and one of the best defended points in
China. Here, between precipitous cliffs, this giant stream rushes madly
by, as if in protest against its sudden deflection. Our ferry this time
was not the back of a Chinese coolie nor a jolting ox-cart, but a spacious
flat-boat made to accommodate one or two vehicles at a time. This was
rowed at the stern, like the gondolas of Venice. The mob of hundreds that
had been dogging our foot-steps and making life miserable, during our
brief stop for food, watched our embarkation. We reached the opposite
shore, a mile below the starting-point, and began to ascend from the
river-basin to the highlands by an excavated fissure in the famous “yellow
earth.” This gives its name, not only to the river it discolors, but, from
the extensive region comprised, even to the emperor himself, who takes the
title of “Yellow Lord,” as equivalent to “Master of the World.” The
thickness of this the richest soil in China, which according to Baron
Richthofen is nothing more than so much dust accumulated during the course
of ages by the winds from the northern deserts, is in some places at least
two thousand feet. Much ingenuity has been displayed in overcoming the
difficulties offered to free communication by the perpendicular walls of
these yellow lands. Some of the most frequented roads have been excavated
to depths of from forty to one hundred feet. Being seldom more than eight
or ten feet wide, the wheeled traffic is conducted by means of sidings,
like the “stations” in the Suez Canal. Being undrained or unswept by the
winds, these walled-up tracks are either dust-beds or quagmires, according
to the season; for us, the autumn rains had converted them into the
latter. Although on one of the imperial highways which once excited the
admiration of Marco Polo, we were now treated to some of the worst
stretches we have ever seen. The mountain ascents, especially those
stair-like approaches to the “Heavenly Gates” before reaching the Pe-chili
plains, were steep, gradeless inclines, strewn with huge upturned blocks
of stone, over which the heavy carts were fairly lifted by the sheer force
of additional horse-flesh. The bridges, too, whose Roman-like masonry
attests the high degree of Chinese civilization during the middle ages,
have long since been abandoned to the ravages of time; while over the
whole country the late Dungan rebellion has left its countless ruins.
The people of Shan-si province are noted for their special thrift, but
this quality we observed was sometimes exhibited at the expense of the
higher virtue of honesty. One of the most serious of the many cases of
attempted extortion occurred at a remote country town, where we arrived
late one evening, after learning to our dismay that one of our remarkably
few mistakes in the road had brought us just fifty miles out of the way.
Unusually wearied as we were by the cross-country cuts, we desired to
retire early. In fact, on this account, we were not so observant of
Chinese formality as we might have been. We did not heed the hinted
requests of the visiting officials for a moon-light exhibition, nor go to
the inn-door to bow them respectfully out. We were glad to take them at
their word when they said, with the usual hypocritical smirk, “Now, don’t
come out any farther.” This indiscretion on our part caused them, as well
as ourselves, to suffer in the respect of the assembled rabble. With
official connivance, the latter were now free, they thought, to take
unusual liberties. So far, in our dealings with the Chinese, we had never
objected to anything that was reasonable even from the native point of
view. We had long since learned the force of the Chinese proverb that, “in
order to avoid suspicion you must not live behind closed doors”; and in
consequence had always recognized the common prerogative to ransack our
private quarters and our luggage, so long as nothing was seriously
disturbed. We never objected, either, to their wetting our paper windows
with their tongues, so that they might noiselessly slit a hole in them
with their exceptionally long finger nails, although we did wake up some
mornings to find the panes entirely gone. It was only at the request of
the innkeeper that we sometimes undertook the job of cleaning out the
inn-yard; but this, with the prevalent superstition about the “withering
touch of the foreigner,” was very easily accomplished. Nor had we ever
shown the slightest resentment at being called “foreign devils”; for this,
we learned, was, with the younger generation at least, the only title by
which foreigners were known. But on this particular night, our forbearance
being quite exhausted, we ejected the intruders bodily. Mid mutterings and
threats we turned out the lights, and the crowd as well as ourselves
retired. The next morning the usual exorbitant bill was presented by the
innkeeper, and, as usual, one half or one third was offered and finally
accepted, with the customary protestations about being under-paid. The
innkeeper’s grumblings incited the crowd which early assembled, and from
their whispers and glances we could see that trouble of some kind was
brewing. We now hastened to get the wheels into the road. Just then the
innkeeper, at the instigation of the crowd, rushed out and grabbed the
handle-bars, demanding at the same time a sum that was even in advance of
his original price. Extortion was now self-evident, and, remonstrance
being of no avail, we were obliged to protect ourselves with our fists.
The crowd began to close in upon us, until, with our backs against the
adjoining wall, we drew our weapons, at which the onward movement changed
suddenly to a retreat. Then we assumed the aggressive, and regained the
wheels which had been left in the middle of the road. The innkeeper and
his friend now caught hold of the rear wheels. Only by seizing their
queues could we drag them away at all, but even then before we could mount
they would renew their grasp. It was only after another direct attack upon
them that we were able to mount, and dash away.
A week’s journeying after this unpleasant episode brought us among the
peanuts, pigs, and pig-tails of the famous Pe-chili plains. Vast fields of
peanuts were now being plowed, ready to be passed through a huge coarse
sieve to separate the nuts from the sandy loam. Sweet potatoes, too, were
plentiful. These, as well as rice balls, boiled with a peculiar dry date
in a triangular corn-leaf wrapper, we purchased every morning at daybreak
from the pots of the early street-venders, and then proceeded to the local
bake-shops, where the rattling of the rolling-pins prophesied of stringy
fat cakes cooked in boiling linseed oil, and heavy dough biscuits cleaving
to the urn-like oven.

It was well that we were now approaching the end of our journey, for our
wheels and clothing were nearly in pieces. Our bare calves were pinched by
the frost, for on some of the coldest mornings we would find a quarter of
an inch of ice. Our rest at night was broken for the want of sufficient
covering. The straw-heated _kangs_ would soon cool off, and leave us half
the night with only our thin sleeping-bags to ward off rheumatism.

But over the beaten paths made by countless wheelbarrows we were now fast
nearing the end. It was on the evening of November 3, that the giant walls
of the great “Residence,” as the people call their imperial capital, broke
suddenly into view through a vista in the surrounding foliage. The goal of
our three-thousand-one-hundred-and-sixteen-mile journey was now before us,
and the work of the seventy-first riding day almost ended. With the dusk
of evening we entered the western gate of the “Manchu City,” and began to
thread its crowded thoroughfares. By the time we reached Legation street
or, as the natives egotistically call it, “The Street of the Foreign
Dependencies,” night had veiled our haggard features and ragged garments.
In a dimly lighted courtyard we came face to face with the English
proprietor of the Hotel de Peking. At our request for lodging, he said,
“Pardon me, but may I first ask who you are and where you come from?” Our
unprepossessing appearance was no doubt a sufficient excuse for this
precaution. But just then his features changed, and he greeted us
effusively. Explanations were now superfluous. The “North China Herald”
correspondent at Pao-ting-foo had already published our story to the
coast.

That evening the son of the United States minister visited us, and offered
a selection from his own wardrobe until a Chinese tailor could renew our
clothing. With borrowed plumes we were able to accept invitations from
foreign and Chinese officials. Polite cross-examinations were not
infrequent, and we fear that entire faith in our alleged journey was not
general until, by riding through the dust and mud of Legation street, we
proved that Chinese roads were not altogether impracticable for bicycle
traveling.
The autumn rains had so flooded the low-lying country between the capital
and its seaport, Tientsin, that we were obliged to abandon the idea of
continuing to the coast on the wheels, which by this time were in no
condition to stand unusual strain. On the other hand the house-boat
journey of thirty-six hours down the Pei-ho river was a rather pleasant
diversion.

Our first evening on the river was made memorable by an unusual event.
Suddenly the rattling of tin pans, the tooting of horns, and the shouting
of men, women, and children, aroused us to the realization that something
extraordinary was occurring. Then we noticed that the full moon in a
cloudless sky had already passed the half-way mark in a total eclipse. Our
boatmen now joined in the general uproar, which reached its height when
the moon was entirely obscured. In explanation we were told that the
“Great Dragon” was endeavoring to swallow up the moon, and that the
loudest possible noise must be made to frighten him away. Shouts hailed
the reappearance of the moon. Although our boatmen had a smattering of
pidjin, or business, English, we were unable to get a very clear idea of
Chinese astronomy. In journeying across the empire we found sufficient
analogy in the various provincial dialects to enable us to acquire a
smattering of one from another as we proceeded, but we were now unable to
see any similarity whatever between “You makee walkee look see,” and “You
go and see,” or between “That belong number one pidjin,” and “That is a
first-class business.” This jargon has become a distinct dialect on the
Chinese coast.
On our arrival in Tientsin we called upon the United States Consul,
Colonel Bowman, to whom we had brought several letters from friends in
Peking. During a supper at his hospitable home, he suggested that the
viceroy might be pleased to receive us, and that if we had no objection,
he would send a communication to the _yamen_, or official residence.
Colonel Bowman’s secretary, Mr. Tenney, who had been some time the
instructor of the viceroy’s sons, and who was on rather intimate terms
with the viceroy himself, kindly offered to act as interpreter. A
favorable answer was received the next morning, and the time for our visit
fixed for the afternoon of the day following. But two hours before the
appointed time a message was received from the viceroy, stating that he
was about to receive an unexpected official visit from the _phantai_, or
treasurer, of the Pe-chili province (over which Li-Hung-Chang himself is
viceroy), and asking for a postponement of our visit to the following
morning at 11 o’clock. Even before we had finished reading this unexpected
message, the booming of cannon along the Pei-ho river announced the
arrival of the _phantai’s_ boats before the city. The postponement of our
engagement at this late hour threatened to prove rather awkward, inasmuch
as we had already purchased our steamship tickets for Shanghai, to sail on
the _Fei-ching_ at five o’clock the next morning. But through the kindness
of the steamship company it was arranged that we should take a tug-boat at
Tong-ku, on the line of the Kai-ping railroad, and overtake the steamer
outside the Taku bar. This we could do by taking the train at Tientsin,
even as late as seven hours after the departure of the steamer. Steam
navigation in the Pei-ho river, over the forty or fifty miles’ stretch
from Tientsin to the gulf, is rendered very slow by the sharp turns in the
narrow stream—the adjoining banks being frequently struck and plowed away
by the bow or stern of the large ocean steamers.

When we entered the consulate the next morning, we found three palanquins
and a dozen coolies in waiting to convey our party to the viceroy’s
residence. Under other circumstances we would have patronized our “steeds
of steel,” but a visit to the “biggest” man in China had to be conducted
in state. We were even in some doubt as to the propriety of appearing
before his excellency in bicycle costume; but we determined to plead our
inability to carry luggage as an excuse for this breach of etiquette.
The first peculiarity the Chinese notice in a foreigner is his dress. It
is a requisite with them that the clothes must be loose, and so draped as
to conceal the contour of the body. The short sack-coat and tight trousers
of the foreigner are looked upon as certainly inelegant, if not actually
indecent.
It was not long before we were out of the foreign settlement, and wending
our way through the narrow, winding streets, or lanes, of the densely
populated Chinese city. The palanquins we met were always occupied by some
high dignitary or official, who went sweeping by with his usual vanguard
of servants, and his usual frown of excessive dignity. The fact that we,
plain “foreign devils,” were using this mode of locomotion, made us the
objects of considerable curiosity from the loiterers and passers-by, and
in fact had this not been the case, we should have felt rather
uncomfortable. The unsympathetic observation of mobs, and the hideous
Chinese noises, had become features of our daily life.

The _yamen_ courtyard, as we entered, was filled with empty palanquins and
coolie servants waiting for the different mandarins who had come on
official visits. The _yamen_ itself consisted of low one-story structures,
built in the usual Chinese style, of wood and adobe brick, in a
quadrangular form around an inner courtyard. The common Chinese paper
which serves for window-glass had long since vanished from the ravages of
time, and the finger-punches of vandals. Even here, at the _yamen_ of the
prime minister of China, dirt and dilapidation were evident on every hand.
The anteroom into which we were ushered was in keeping with its exterior.
The paper that covered the low walls and squatty ceiling, as well as the
calico covering on the divans, was soiled and torn. The room itself was
filled with mandarins from various parts of the country, waiting for an
audience with his excellency. Each wore the official robe and dish-pan
hat, with its particular button or insignia of rank. Each had a portly,
well-fed appearance, with a pompous, dignified mien overspreading his
features. The servant by whom we had sent in our Chinese visiting-cards
returned and asked us to follow him. Passing through several rooms, and
then along a narrow, darkened hallway, we emerged into an inner courtyard.
Here there were several servants standing like sentinels in waiting for
orders; others were hurrying hither and thither with different messages
intrusted to their care. This was all there was to give to the place the
air of busy headquarters. On one side of the courtyard the doors of the
“foreign reception” room opened. Through these we were ushered by the
liveried servant, who bore a message from the viceroy, asking us to wait a
few moments until he should finish some important business.

The foreign reception-room in which we were now sitting was the only one
in any official residence in the empire, and this single instance of
compliance with foreign customs was significant as bearing upon the
attitude toward Western ideas of the man who stands at the head of the
Chinese government. Everything about us was foreign except a Chinese divan
in one corner of the room. In the middle of the floor stood a circular
sofa of the latest pattern, with chairs and settees to match, and at one
end a foreign stove, in which a fire had been recently lighted for our
coming. Against the wall were placed a full-length mirror, several
brackets, and some fancy work. The most interesting of the ornaments in
the room were portraits of Li-Hung-Chang himself, Krupp the gun-maker,
Armstrong the ship-builder, and the immortal “Chinese Gordon,” the only
foreigner, it is said, who has ever won a spark of admiration from the
Chinese people.

While we were waiting for the viceroy, his second son, the pupil of Mr.
Tenney, came in and was introduced in the foreign fashion. His English was
fluent and correct. He was a bright, intelligent lad of nineteen years,
then about to take his first trial examinations for the Chinese degree of
scholarship, which, if attained, would make him eligible for official
position. Although a son of the viceroy he will have to rise by his own
merit.

Our conversation with the viceroy’s son extended over ten or fifteen
minutes. He asked many questions about the details of our journey. “How,”
said he, “could you get along without interpreter, guide, or servant, when
every foreigner who goes even from here to Peking has to have them?” He
questioned us as to whether or not the Chinese had ever called us names.
We replied that we usually traveled in China under the _nom de Chinois_,
_yang queedza_ (the foreign devils), alias _yeh renn_ (the wild men). A
blush overspread his cheeks as he said: “I must apologize for my
countrymen; I hope you will excuse them, for they know no better.” The
young man expressed deep interest in America and American institutions,
and said if he could obtain his father’s consent he would certainly make a
visit to our country. This was the only son then at home with the viceroy,
his eldest son being minister to Japan. The youngest, the viceroy’s
favorite, was, it was said, the brightest and most promising. His death
occurred only a few months before our arrival in Tientsin.

We were holding an animated conversation when the viceroy himself was
announced. We all stood to show our respect for the prime minister whom
General Grant included among the three greatest statesmen of his day. The
viceroy was preceded by two body-servants. We stood before a man who
appeared to be over six feet in height, although his head and shoulders
were considerably bent with age. His flowing dress was made of rich
colored silk, but very plain indeed. Any ornamentation would have been a
profanation of the natural dignity and stateliness of Li-Hung-Chang. With
slow pace he walked into the room, stopped a moment to look at us, then
advanced with outstretched hand, while a faint smile played about his
features and softened the piercing glance of his eyes. He shook our hands
heartily in the foreign fashion, and without any show of ceremony led the
way into an adjoining room, where a long council-table extended over half
the length. The viceroy took the arm-chair at the head, and motioned us to
take the two seats on his left, while Mr. Tenney and the viceroy’s son sat
on his right. For almost a minute not a word was said on either side. The
viceroy had fixed his gaze intently upon us, and, like a good general
perhaps, was taking a thorough survey of the field before he opened up the
cannonade of questions that was to follow. We in turn were just as busily
engaged in taking a mental sketch of his most prominent physical
characteristics. His face was distinctly oval, tapering from a very broad
forehead to a sharp pointed chin, half-obscured by his thin, gray
“goatee.” The crown of his head was shaven in the usual Tsing fashion,
leaving a tuft of hair for a queue, which in the viceroy’s case was short
and very thin. His dry, sallow skin showed signs of wrinkling; a thick
fold lay under each eye, and at each end of his upper lip. There were no
prominent cheek-bones or almond-shaped eyes, which are so distinctively
seen in most of the Mongolian race. Under the scraggy mustache we could
distinguish a rather benevolent though determined mouth; while his small,
keen eyes, which were somewhat sunken, gave forth a flash that was perhaps
but a flickering ember of the fire they once contained. The left eye,
which was partly closed by a paralytic stroke several years ago, gave him
a rather artful, waggish appearance. The whole physiognomy was that of a
man of strong intuition, with the ability to force his point when
necessary, and the shrewd common sense to yield when desiring to be
politic.
“Well, gentlemen,” he said at last, through Mr. Tenney as interpreter,
“you don’t look any the worse for your long journey.”

“We are glad to hear your excellency say so,” we replied; “it is
gratifying to know that our appearance speaks well for the treatment we
have received in China.”

We hope our readers will consider the requirements of Chinese etiquette as
sufficient excuse for our failure to say candidly that, if we looked
healthy, it was not the fault of his countrymen.

“Of all the countries through which you have passed, which do you consider
the best?” the viceroy then asked.

In our answer to this question the reader would no doubt expect us to
follow etiquette, and say that we thought China was the best; and,
perhaps, the viceroy himself had a similar expectation. But between
telling a positive lie, and not telling the truth, there is perhaps
sufficient difference to shield us from the charge of gross inconsistency.
We answered, therefore, that in many respects, we considered America the
greatest country we had seen. We ought of course to have said that no
reasonable person in the world would ever think of putting any other
country above the Celestial Empire; our bluntness elicited some surprise,
for the viceroy said:

“If then you thought that America was the best why did you come to see
other countries?”

“Because until we had seen other countries,” we replied, “we did not know
that America was the best.” But this answer the viceroy evidently
considered a mere subterfuge. He was by no means satisfied.

“What was your real object in undertaking such a peculiar journey?” he
asked rather impatiently.

“To see and study the world and its peoples,” we answered; “to get a
practical training as a finish to a theoretical education. The bicycle was
adopted only because we considered it the most convenient means of
accomplishing that purpose.”

The viceroy, however, could not understand how a man should wish to use
his own strength when he could travel on the physical force of some one
else; nor why it was that we should adopt a course through central Asia
and northwestern China when the southern route through India would have
been far easier and less dangerous. He evidently gave it up as a
conundrum, and started out on another line.

“Do you consider the Shah of Persia a powerful monarch?” was his next
question.

“Powerful, perhaps, in the Oriental sense,” we replied, “but very weak in
comparison with the Western nations. Then, too, he seems to be losing the
power that he does have—he is compelled to play more and more into the
hands of the Russians.”

“Do you think that Russia will eventually try to take possession of
Persia?” the viceroy interrupted.

“That, of course, is problematical,” we answered, with the embarrassment
men of our age might feel at being instigated to talk politics with a
prime minister. “What we do know, for certain, is that Russia is now, with
her Transcaspian railroad, within about forty miles of Meshed, the capital
of Persia’s richest province of Khorasan; that she now has a
well-engineered and, for a great portion of the way, a macadamized road to
that city across the Kopet Dagh mountains from Askabad, the capital of
Russian Transcaspia; and that half that road the Persians were rather
forcibly invited to construct.”
“Do you think,” again interrupted the viceroy, whose interest in the
Russians now began to take a more domestic turn, “that the Russians would
like to have the Chinese province of Ili?”

To this question we might very appropriately have said, “No”; for the
reason that we thought Russia had it already. She is only waiting to draw
it in, when she feels certain that her Siberian flank is better protected.
The completion of the Transsiberian railroad, by which troops can be
readily transported to that portion of her dominion, may change Russia’s
attitude toward the province of Ili. We did not, however, say this to his
excellency. We merely replied that we believed Russia was seldom known to
hold aloof from anything of value, which she thought she could get with
impunity. As she was now sending cart-load after cart-load of goods over
the border, through Ili, into northern and western China, without paying a
cent of customs duty, while on the other hand not even a leaf of tea or
thread of cotton passed over the Russian line from China without the
payment of an exorbitant tariff; and as she had already established in
Kuldja a postal, telegraph, and Cossack station, it would seem that she
does not even now view the province of Ili as wholly foreign to the
Russian empire.

At this the viceroy cleared his throat, and dropped his eyes in thoughtful
mood, as much as to say: “Ah, I know the Russians; but there is no help
for it.”

At this point we ventured to ask the viceroy if it were true, as we had
been informed, that Russia had arranged a treaty with China, by which she
was entitled to establish consuls in several of the interior provinces of
the Chinese empire, but he evaded the question with adroitness, and asked:

“Didn’t you find the roads very bad in China?”

This question was creditable to the viceroy’s knowledge of his own
country, but to this subject we brought the very best Chinese politeness
we could muster. We said that inasmuch as China had not yet adopted the
bicycle, her roads, of course, were not adapted to that mode of
locomotion.

The viceroy then asked us to describe the bicycle, and inquired if such a
vehicle did not create considerable consternation among the people.
We told him that the bicycle from a Chinese point of view was capable of
various descriptions. On the passports given us by the Chinese minister in
London the bicycle was called “a seat-sitting, foot-moving machine.” The
natives in the interior had applied to it various epithets, among which
were _yang ma_ (foreign horse), _fei-chay_ (flying-machine), _szüdzun
chay_ (self-moving cart), and others. The most graphic description,
perhaps, was given by a Chinaman whom we overheard relating to his
neighbors the first appearance of the bicycle in his quiet little village.
“It is a little mule,” said he, “that you drive by the ears, and kick in
the sides to make him go.” A dignified smile overspread the viceroy’s
features.

“Didn’t the people try to steal your money?” he next inquired.

“No,” we replied. “From our impoverished appearance, they evidently
thought we had nothing. Our wardrobe being necessarily limited by our mode
of travel, we were sometimes reduced to the appearance of traveling
mendicants, and were often the objects of pity or contempt. Either this,
or our peculiar mode of travel, seemed to dispel all thought of highway
robbery; we never lost even so much as a button on our journey of over
three thousand miles across the Chinese empire.”

“Did the governors you met treat you well?” he asked; and then immediately
added: “Being scholars, were you not subjected to some indignity by being
urged to perform for every mandarin you met?”

“By nearly all the governors,” we said, “we were treated very kindly
indeed; but we were not so certain that the same favors would have been
extended to us had we not cheerfully consented to give exhibitions of
bicycle riding.”

There was now a lull in the conversation. The viceroy shifted his position
in his chair, and took another whiff from the long, slender Chinese pipe
held to his mouth by one of his body-servants. One whiff, and the pipe was
taken away to be emptied and refilled. After a short respite he again
resumed the conversation, but the questions he now asked were of a
personal nature. We enumerate a few of them, without comment, only for the
purpose of throwing some additional light on the character of our
questioner.

“About how much did the trip cost you? Do you expect to get back all or
more than you spent? Will you write a book?

“Did you find on your route any gold or silver deposits?

“Do you like the Chinese diet; and how much did one meal cost you?

“How old are you? [One of the first questions a Chinese host usually asks
his guest.] Are you married? What is the trade or profession of your
parents? Are they wealthy? Do they own much land?” (A Chinaman’s idea of
wealth is limited somewhat by the amount of land owned.)

“Will you telegraph to your parents from Shanghai your safe arrival there?

“Were you not rash in attempting such a journey? Suppose you had been
killed out in the interior of Asia, no one would ever have heard of you
again.

“Are you Democrats or Republicans?” (The viceroy showed considerable
knowledge of our government and institutions.)

“Will you run for any political office in America? Do you ever expect to
get into Congress?

“Do you have to buy offices in America?” was the last inquiry.

There was considerable hesitancy on the part of us both to answer this
question. Finally we were obliged to admit that sometimes such was the
case. “Ah,” said the viceroy, “that is a very bad thing about American
politics.” But in this censure he was even more severe on his own country
than America. Referring to ourselves in this connection, the viceroy
ventured to predict that we might become so well-known as the result of
our journey that we could get into office without paying for it. “You are
both young,” he added, “and can hope for anything.”

During the conversation the viceroy frequently smiled, and sometimes came
so near overstepping the bounds of Chinese propriety as to chuckle. At
first his reception was more formal, but his interest soon led him to
dispense with all formality, and before the close of the interview the
questions were rapidly asked and discussed. We have had some experience
with examining attorneys, and an extended acquaintance with the American
reporter; but we are convinced that for genuine inquisitiveness
Li-Hung-Chang stands peerless. We made several attempts to take leave, but
were interrupted each time by a question from the viceroy. Mr. Tenney, in
fact, became fatigued with the task of interpreting, so that many of the
long answers were translated by the viceroy’s son.
The interview was conducted as nearly as possible in the foreign fashion.
We smoked cigarettes, and a bottle of champagne was served. Finally the
interview was brought to a close by a health from the viceroy to
“Ta-mā-quo” (the great American country).

In conclusion we thanked the viceroy for the honor he had done us. He
replied that we must not thank him at all; that he was only doing his
duty. “Scholars,” said he, “must receive scholars.”

The viceroy rose from his chair with difficulty; the servant took him by
the elbows and half lifted him to his feet. He then walked slowly out of
the room with us, and across the courtyard to the main exit. Here he shook
us heartily by the hand, and bowed us out in the Chinese manner.

Li-Hung-Chang is virtually the emperor of the Celestial Empire; the
present “Son of Heaven” (the young emperor) has only recently reached his
majority. Li-Hung-Chang is China’s intellectual height, from whom emanate
nearly all her progressive ideas. He stands to-day in the light of a
mediator between foreign progressiveness and native prejudice and
conservatism. It has been said that Li-Hung-Chang is really anti-foreign
at heart; that he employs the Occidentals only long enough for them to
teach his own countrymen how to get along without them. Whether this be so
or not, it is certain that the viceroy recognizes the advantages to be
derived from foreign methods and inventions, and employs them for the
advancement of his country. Upon him rests the decision in nearly all the
great questions of the empire. Scarcely an edict or document of any kind
is issued that does not go over his signature or under his direct
supervision. To busy himself with the smallest details is a distinctive
characteristic of the man. Systematic methods, combined with an
extraordinary mind, enable him to accomplish his herculean task. In the
eastern horizon Li-Hung-Chang shines as the brilliant star of morning that
tells of the coming of a brighter dawn.