Several showers occur during the afternoon, and the distance travelled has been short and unsatisfactory, when just before dark I arrive at Eski Baba, where I am agreeably surprised to find a mehana, the proprietor of which is a reasonably mannered individual. Since getting into Turkey proper, reasonably mannered people have seemed wonderfully scarce, the majority seeming to be most boisterous and headstrong. Next to the bicycle the Turks of these interior villages seem to exercise their minds the most concerning whether I have a passport; as I enter Eski Baba; a gendarme standing at the police-barrack gates shouts after me to halt and produce "passaporte." Exhibiting my passport at almost every village is getting monotonous, and, as I am going to remain here at least overnight, I ignore the gendarme's challenge and wheel on to the mehana. Two gendarmes are soon on the spot, inquiring if I have a "passaporte;" but, upon learning that I am going no farther to-day, they do not take the trouble to examine it, the average Turkish official religiously believing in never doing anything to-day that can be put off till to-morrow.
The natives of a Turkish interior village are not over-intimate with newspapers, and are in consequence profoundly ignorant, having little conception of anything, save what they have been familiar with and surrounded by all their lives, and the appearance of the bicycle is indeed a strange visitation, something entirely beyond their comprehension. The mehana is crowded by a wildly gesticulating and loudly commenting and arguing crowd of Turks and Christians all the evening. Although there seems to be quite a large proportion of native unbelievers in Eski Baba there is not a single female visible on the streets this evening; and from observations next day I judge it to be a conservative Mussulman village, where the Turkish women, besides keeping themselves veiled with orthodox strictness, seldom go abroad, and the women who are not Mohammedan, imbibing something of the retiring spirit of the dominant race, also keep themselves well in the background.
A round score of dogs, great and small, and in all possible conditions of miserableness, congregate in the main street of Eski Baba at eventide, waiting with hungry-eyed expectancy for any morsel of food or offal that may peradventure find its way within their reach. The Turks, to their credit be it said, never abuse dogs; but every male "Christian" in Eski Baba seems to consider himself in duty bound to kick or throw a stone at one, and scarcely a minute passes during the whole evening without the yelp of some unfortunate cur. These people seem to enjoy a dog's sufferings; and one soulless peasant, who in the course of the evening kicks a half-starved cur so savagely that the poor animal goes into a fit, and, after staggering and rolling all over the street, falls down as though really dead, is the hero of admiring comments from the crowd, who watch the creature's sufferings with delight. Seeing who can get the most telling kicks at the dogs seems to be the regular evening's pastime among the male population of Eski Baba unbelievers, and everybody seems interested and delighted when some unfortunate animal comes in for an unusually severe visitation.
A rush mat on the floor of the stable is my bed to-night, with a dozen unlikely looking natives, to avoid the close companionship of whom I take up my position in dangerous proximity to a donkey's hind legs, and not six feet from where the same animal's progeny is stretched out with all the abandon of extreme youth. Precious little sleep is obtained, for fleas innumerable take liberties with my person. A flourishing colony of swallows inhabiting the roof keeps up an incessant twittering, and toward daylight two muezzins, one on the minaret of each of the two mosques near by, begin calling the faithful to prayer, and howling "Allah. Allah!" with the voices of men bent on conscientiously doing their duty by making themselves heard by every Mussulman for at least a mile around, robbing me of even the short hour of repose that usually follows a sleepless night.
It is raining heavily again on Sunday morning - in fact, the last week has been about the rainiest that I ever saw outside of England - and considering the state of the roads south of Eski Baba, the prospects look favorable for a Sunday's experience in an interior Turkish village. Men are solemnly squatting around the benches of the mehana, smoking nargilehs and sipping tiny cups of thick black coffee, and they look on in wonder while I devour a substantial breakfast; but whether it is the novelty of seeing a 'cycler feed, or the novelty of seeing anybody eat as I am doing, thus early in the morning, I am unable to say; for no one else seems to partake of much solid food until about noontide. All the morning long, people swarming around are importuning me with, "Bin, bin, bin, monsieur." The bicycle is locked up in a rear chamber, and thrice I accommodatingly fetch it out and endeavor to appease their curiosity by riding along a hundred-yard stretch of smooth road in the rear of the mehana; but their importunities never for a moment cease. Finally the annoyance becomes so unbearable that the proprietor takes pity on my harassed head, and, after talking quite angrily to the crowd, locks me up in the same room with the bicycle.
Iron bars guard the rear windows of the houses at Eski Baba, and ere I am fairly stretched out on my mat several swarthy faces appear at the bars, and several voices simultaneously join in the dread chorus of, "Bin, bin, bin, monsieur! bin, bin." compelling me to close, in the middle of a hot day-the rain having ceased about ten o'clock-the one small avenue of ventilation in the stuffy little room. A moment's privacy is entirely out of the question, for, even with the window closed, faces are constantly peering in, eager to catch even the smallest glimpse of either me or the bicycle. Fate is also against me to-day, plainly enough, for ere I have been imprisoned in the room an hour the door is unlocked to admit the mulazim (lieutenant of gendarmes), and two of his subordinates, with long cavalry swords dangling about their legs, after the manner of the Turkish police.
In addition to puzzling their sluggish brains about my passport, my strange means of locomotion, and my affairs generally, they have now, it seems, exercised their minds up to the point that they ought to interfere in the matter of my revolver. But first of all they want to see my wonderful performance of riding a thing that cannot stand alone. After I have favored the gendarmes and the assembled crowd by riding once again, they return the compliment by tenderly escorting me down to police headquarters, where, after spending an hour or so in examining my passport, they place that document and my revolver in their strong box, and lackadaisically wave me adieu. Upon returning to the mehana, I find a corpulent pasha and a number of particularly influential Turks awaiting my reappearance, with the same diabolical object of asking me to "bin! bin!" Soon afterward come the two Mohammedan priests, with the same request; and certainly not less than half a dozen times during the afternoon do I bring out the bicycle and ride, in deference to the insatiable curiosity of the sure enough "unspeakable" Turk; and every separate time my audience consists not only of the people personally making the request, but of the whole gesticulating male population. The proprietor of the mehana kindly takes upon himself the office of apprising me when my visitors are people of importance, by going through the pantomime of swelling his features and form up to a size corresponding in proportion relative to their importance, the process of inflation in the case of the pasha being quite a wonderful performance for a man who is not a professional contortionist.
Once during the afternoon I attempt to write, but I might as well attempt to fly, for the mehana is crowded with people who plainly have not the slightest conception of the proprieties. Finally a fez is wantonly flung, by an extra-enterprising youth, at my ink-bottle, knocking it over, and but for its being a handy contrivance, out of which the ink will not spill, it would have made a mess of my notes. Seeing the uselessness of trying to write, I meander forth, and into the leading mosque, and without removing my shoes, tread its sacred floor for several minutes, and stand listening to several devout Mussulmans reciting the Koran aloud, for, be it known, the great fast of Ramadan has begun, and fasting and prayer is now the faithful Mussulman's daily lot for thirty days, his religion forbidding him either eating or drinking from early morn till close - of day. After looking about the interior, I ascend the steep spiral stairway up to the minaret balcony whence the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer five times a day. As I pop my head out through the little opening leading to the balcony, I am slightly taken aback by finding that small footway already occupied by the muezzin, and it is a fair question as to whether the muezzin's astonishment at seeing my white helmet appear through the opening is greater, or mine at finding him already in possession. However, I brazen it out by joining him, and he, like a sensible man, goes about his business just the same as if nobody were about. The people down in the streets look curiously up and call one another's attention to the unaccustomed sight of a white-helmeted 'cycler and a muezzin upon the minaret together; but the fact that I am not interfered with in any way goes far to prove that the Mussulman fanaticism, that we have all heard and read about so often, has wellnigh flickered out in European Turkey; moreover, I think the Eski Babans would allow me to do anything, in order to place me under obligations to "bin! bin!" whenever they ask me.
At nine o'clock I begin to grow a trifle uneasy about the fate of my passport and revolver, and, proceeding to the police-barracks, formally demand their return. Nothing has apparently been done concerning either one or the other since they were taken from me, for the mulazim, who is lounging on a divan smoking cigarettes, produces them from the same receptacle he consigned them to this afternoon, and lays them before him, clearly as mystified and perplexed as ever about what he ought to do. I explain to him that I wish to depart in the morning, and gendarmes are despatched to summon several leading Eski Babans for consultation, in the hope that some of them, or all of them put together, might perchance arrive at a satisfactory conclusion concerning me. The great trouble appears to be that, while I got the passport vised at Sofia and Philippopolis, I overlooked Adrianople, and the Eski Baba officials, being in the vilayet of the latter city, are naturally puzzled to account for this omission; and, from what I can gather of their conversation, some are advocating sending me back to Adrianople, a suggestion that I straightway announce my disapproval of by again and again calling their attention to the vise of the Turkish consul-general in London, and giving them to understand, with much emphasis, that this vise answers, for every part of Turkey, including the vilayet of Adrianople. The question then arises as to whether that has anything to do with my carrying a revolver; to which I candidly reply that it has not, at the same time pointing out that I have just come through Servia and Bulgaria (countries in which the Turks consider it quite necessary to go armed, though in fact there is quite as much, if not more, necessity for arms in Turkey), and that I have come through both Mustapha Pasha and Adrianople without being molested on account of the revolver; all of which only seems to mystify them the more, and make them more puzzled than ever about what to do. Finally a brilliant idea occurs to one of them, being nothing less than to shift the weight ot the dreadful responsibility upon the authoritative shoulders of a visiting pasha, an important personage who arrived in Eski Baba by carriage about two hours ago, and whose arrival I remember caused quite a flurry of excitement among the natives.
The pasha is found surrounded by a number of bearded Turks, seated cross-legged on a carpet in the open air, smoking nargilehs and cigarettes, and sipping coffee. This pasha is fatter and more unwieldy, if possible, than the one for whose edification I rode the bicycle this afternoon; noticing which, all hopes of being created a pasha upon my arrival at Constantinople naturally vanish, for evidently one of the chief qualifications for a pashalic is obesity, a distinction to which continuous 'cycling, in hot weather is hardly conducive. The pasha seems a good-natured person, after the manner of fat people generally, and straightway bids me be seated on the carpet, and orders coffee and cigarettes to be placed at my disposal while he examines my case. In imitation of those around me I make an effort to sit cross-legged on the mat; but the position is so uncomfortable that I am quickly compelled to change it, and I fancy detecting a merry twinkle in the eye of more than one silent observer at my inability to adapt my posture to the custom of the country. I scarcely think the pasha knows anything more about what sort of a looking document an English passport ought to be, than does the mulazim and the leading citizens of Eski Baba; but he goes through the farce of critically examining the vise of the Turkish consul-general in London, while another Turk holds his lighted cigarette close to it, and blows from it a feeble glimmer of light. Plainly the pasha cannot make anything more out of it than the others, for many a Turkish pasha is unable to sign his own name intelligibly, using a seal instead; but, probably with a view of favorably impressing those around him, he asks me first if I am an Englishman, and then if I am "a baron," doubtless thinking that an English baron is a person occupying a somewhat similar position in English society to that of a pasha in Turkish: viz., a really despotic sway over the people of his district; for, although there are law and lawyers in Turkey to-day, the pasha, especially in country districts, is still an all-powerful person, practically doing as he pleases.
To the first question I return an affirmative answer; the latter I pretend not to comprehend; but I cannot help smiling at the question and the manner in which it is put - seeing which the pasha and his friends smile in response, and look knowingly at each other, as though thinking, " Ah! he is a baron, but don't intend to let us know it." Whether this self- arrived decision influences things in my favor I hardly know, but anyhow he tosses me my passport, and orders the mulazim to return my revolver; and as I mentally remark the rather jolly expression of the pasha's face, I am inclined to think that, instead of treating the matter with the ridiculous importance attached to it by the mulazim and the other people, he regards the whole affair in the light of a few minutes' acceptable diversion. The pasha arrived too late this evening at Eski Baba to see the bicycle: "Will I allow a gendarme to go to the mehana and bring it for his inspection?" "I will go and fetch it myself," I explain; and in ten minutes the fat pasha and his friends are examining the perfect mechanism of an American bicycle by the light of an American kerosene lamp, which has been provided in the meantime. Some of the on-lookers, who have seen me ride to-day, suggested to the pasha that I "bin! bin!" and the pasha smiles approvingly at the suggestion; but by pantomime I explain to him the impossibility of riding, owing to the nature of the ground and the darkness, and I am really quite surprised at the readiness with which he comprehends and accepts the situation. The pasha is very likely possessed of more intelligence than I have been giving him credit for; anyhow he has in ten minutes proved himself equal to the situation, which the mulazim and several prominent Eski Babans have puzzled their collective brains over for an hour in vain, and, after he has inspected the bicycle, and resumed his cross-legged position on the carpet, I doff my helmet to him and those about him, and return to the mehana, well satisfied with the turn affairs have taken.
THROUGH EUROPEAN TURKEY.
On Monday morning I am again awakened by the muezzin calling the Mussulmans to their early morning devotions, and, arising from my mat at five o'clock, I mount and speed away southward from Eski Baba, Not less than a hundred people have collected to see the wonderful performance again.
All pretence of road-making seems to have been abandoned; or, what is more probable, has never been seriously attempted, the visible roadways from village to village being mere ox-wagon and pack-donkey tracks, crossing the wheat-fields and uncultivated tracts in any direction. The soil is a loose, black loam, which the rain converts into mud, through which I have to trundle, wooden scraper in hand; and I not infrequently have to carry the bicycle through the worst places. The morning is sultry, requiring good roads and a breeze-creating pace for agreeable going.
Harvesting and threshing are going forward briskly, but the busy hum of the self-binder and the threshing-machine is not heard; the reaping is done with rude hooks, and the threshing by dragging round and round, with horses or oxen, sleigh-runner shaped, broad boards, roughed with flints or iron points, making the surface resemble a huge rasp. Large gangs of rough-looking Armenians, Arabs, and Africans are harvesting the broad acres of land-owning pashas, the gangs sometimes counting not less than fifty men. Several donkeys are always observed picketed near them, taken, wherever they go, for the purpose of carrying provisions and water. Whenever I happen anywhere near one of these gangs they all come charging across the field, reaping-hooks in hand, racing with each other and good-naturedly howling defiance to competitors. A band of Zulus charging down on a fellow, and brandishing their assegais, could scarcely present a more ferocious front. Many of them wear no covering of any kind on the upper part of the body, no hat, no foot-gear, nothing but a pair of loose, baggy trousers, while the tidiest man among them would be immediately arrested on general principles in either England or America. Rough though they are, they appear, for the most part, to be good-natured fellows, and although they sometimes emphasize their importunities of "bin! bin!" by flourishing their reaping-hooks threateningly over my head, and one gang actually confiscates the bicycle, which they lay up on a shock of wheat, and with much flourishing of reaping-hooks as they return to their labors, warn me not to take it away, these are simply good-natured pranks, such as large gangs of laborers are wont to occasionally indulge in the world over.
Streams have to be forded to-day for the first time in Europe, several small creeks during the afternoon; and near sundown I find my pathway into a village where I propose stopping for the night, obstructed by a creek swollen bank-full by a heavy thunder-shower in the hills. A couple of lads on the opposite bank volunteer much information concerning the depth of the creek at different points; no doubt their evident mystification at not being understood is equalled only by the amazement at my answers. Four peasants come down to the creek, and one of them kindly wades in and shows that it is only waist deep. Without more ado I ford it, with the bicycle on my shoulder, and straight-way seek the accommodation of the village mehana. This village is a miserable little cluster of mud hovels, and the best the mehana affords is the coarsest of black-bread and a small salted fish, about the size of a sardine, which the natives devour without any pretence of cooking, but which are worse than nothing for me, since the farther they are away the better I am suited. Sticking a flat loaf of black-bread and a dozen of these tiny shapes of salted nothing in his broad waistband, the Turkish peasant sallies forth contentedly to toil.
I have accomplished the wonderful distance of forty kilometres to-day, at which I am really quite surprised, considering everything. The usual daily weather programme has been faithfully carried out - a heavy mist at morning, that has prevented any drying up of roads during the night, three hours of oppressive heat - from nine till twelve - during which myraids of ravenous flies squabble for the honor of drawing your blood, and then, when the mud begins to dry out sufficient to justify my dispensing with the wooden scraper, thunder-showers begin to bestow their unappreciated favor upon the roads, making them well-nigh impassable again. The following morning the climax of vexation is reached when, after wading through the mud for two hours, I discover that I have been dragging, carrying, and trundling my laborious way along in the wrong direction for Tchorlu, which is not over thirty-five kilometres from my starting-point, but it takes me till four o'clock to reach there. A hundred miles on French or English roads would not be so fatiguing, and I wisely take advantage of being in a town where comparatively decent accommodations are obtainable to make up, so far as possible, for this morning's breakfast of black bread and coffee, and my noontide meal of cold, cheerless reflections on the same. The same programme of "bin! bin." from importuning crowds, and police inquisitiveness concerning my "passporte" are endured and survived; but I spread myself upon my mat to-night thoroughly convinced that a month's cycling among the Turks would worry most people into premature graves.