CHAPTER IX. 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 rny mat to-night thoroughly convinced that a month's cycling among the Turks would worry most people into premature graves.