CHAPTER X. THE START THROUGH ASIA.

In addition to a cycler's ordinary outfit and the before-mentioned small wedge tent I provide myself with a few extra spokes, a cake of tire cement, and an extra tire for the rear wheel. This latter, together with twenty yards of small, stout rope, I wrap snugly around the front axle; the tent and spare underclothing, a box of revolver cartridges, and a small bottle of sewing-machine oil are consigned to a luggage-carrier behind; while my writing materials, a few medicines and small sundries find a repository in my Whitehouse sole-leather case on a Lamson carrier, which also accommodates a suit of gossamer rubber.

The result of my study of the various routes through Asia is a determination to push on to Teheran, the capital of Persia, and there spend the approaching winter, completing my journey to the Pacific next season.

Accordingly nine o'clock on Monday morning, August 10th, finds me aboard the little Turkish steamer that plies semi-weekly between Ismidt and the Ottoman capital, my bicycle, as usual, the centre of a crowd of wondering Orientals. This Ismidt steamer, with its motley crowd of passengers, presents a scene that upholds with more eloquence than words Constantinople's claim of being the most cosmopolitan city in the world; and a casual observer, judging only from the evidence aboard the boat, would pronounce it also the most democratic. There appears to be no first, second, or third class; everybody pays the same fare, and everybody wanders at his own sweet will into every nook and corner of the upper deck, perches himself on top of the paddle-boxes, loafs on the pilot's bridge, or reclines among the miscellaneous assortment of freight piled up in a confused heap on the fore-deck; in short, everybody seems perfectly free to follow the bent of his inclinations, except to penetrate behind the scenes of the aftmost deck, where, carefully hidden from the rude gaze of the male passengers by a canvas partition, the Moslem ladies have their little world of gossip and coffee, and fragrant cigarettes. Every public conveyance in the Orient has this walled-off retreat, in which Osmanli fair ones can remove their yashmaks, smoke cigarettes, and comport themselves with as much freedom as though in the seclusion of their apartments at home.

Greek and Armenian ladies mingle with the main-deck passengers, however, the picturesque costumes of the former contributing not a little to the general Oriental effect of the scene. The dress of the Armenian ladies differs but little from Western costumes, and their deportment would wreathe the benign countenance of the Lord Chamberlain with a serene smile of approval; but the minds and inclinations of the gentle Hellenic dames seem to run in rather a contrary channel. Singly, in twos, or in cosey, confidential coteries, arm in arm, they promenade here and there, saying little to each other or to anybody else. By the picturesqueness of their apparel and their seemingly bold demeanor they attract to themselves more than their just share of attention; but with well-feigned ignorance of this they divide most of their time and attention between rolling cigarettes and smoking them. Their heads are bound with jaunty silk handkerchiefs; they wear rakish-looking short jackets, down the back of which their luxuriant black hair dangles in two tresses; but the crowning masterpiece of their costume is that wonderful garment which is neither petticoat nor pantaloons, and which can be most properly described as "indescribable," which tends to give the wearer rather an unfeminine appearance, and is not to be compared with the really sensible and not unpicturesque nether garment of a Turkish lady. The male companions of these Greek women are not a bit behind them in the matter of gay colors and startling surprises of the Levantine clothier's art, for they likewise are in all the bravery of holiday attire. There is quite a number of them aboard, and they now appear at their best, for they are going to take part in wedding festivities at one of the little Greek villages that nestle amid the vine-clad slopes along the coast - white villages, that from the deck of the moving steamer look as though they have been placed here and there by nature's artistic hand for the sole purpose of embellishing the lovely green frame-work that surrounds the blue waters of the Ismidt Gulf. Several of these merry-makers enliven the passing hours with music and dancing, to the delight of a numerous audience, while a second ever-changing but never-dispersing audience is gathered around the bicycle. The verbal comments and Solomon-like opinions, given in expressive pantomime, of this latter garrulous gathering concerning the machine and myself, I can of course but partly understand; but occasionally some wiseacre suddenly becomes inflated with the idea that he has succeeded in unravelling the knotty problem, and forthwith proceeds to explain, for the edification of his fellow-passengers, the modus operandi of riding it, supplementing his words by the most extraordinary gestures. The audience is usually very attentive and highly interested in these explanations, and may be considerably enlightened by their self-constituted tutors, whose sole advantage over their auditors, so far as bicycles are concerned, consists simply in a belief in the superiority of their own particular powers of penetration. But to the only person aboard the steamer who really does know anything at all about the subject, the chief end of their exposition seems to be gained when they have duly impressed upon the minds of their hearers that the bicycle is to ride on, and that it goes at a rate of speed quite beyond the comprehension of their - the auditors' - minds; "Bin, bin, bin. Chu, chu, chu. Haidi, haidi, haidi." being repeated with a vehemence that is intended to impress upon them little less than flying-Dutchman speed.

The deck of a Constantinople steamer affords splendid opportunity for character study, and the Ismidt packet is no exception. Nearly every person aboard has some characteristic, peculiar and distinct from any of the others. At intervals of about fifteen minutes a couple of Armenians, bare-footed, bare-legged, and ragged, clamber with much difficulty and scraping of shins over a large pile of empty chicken-crates to visit one particular crate. Their collective baggage consists of a thin, half-grown chicken tied by both feet to a small bag of barley, which is to prepare it for the useful but inglorious end of all chickendom. They have imprisoned their unhappy charge in a crate that is most difficult to get at. Why they didn't put it in one of the nearer crates, what their object is in climbing up to visit it so frequently, and why they always go together, are problems of the knottiest kind.

A far less difficult riddle is the case of a middle-aged man, whose costume and avocation explain nothing, save that he is not an Osmanli. He is a passenger homeward bound to one of the coast villages, and he constantly circulates among the crowd with a basket of water-melons, which he has brought aboard "on spec," to vend among his fellow-passengers, hoping thereby to gain sufficient to defray the cost of his passage. Seated on whatever they can find to perch upon, near the canvas partition, all unmoved by the gay and stirring scenes before them, is a group of Mussulman pilgrims from some interior town, returning from a pilgrimage to Stamboul - fine-looking Osmanli graybeards, whose haughty reserve not even the bicycle is able to completely overcome, although it proves more efficacious in subduing it and waking them out of their habitual contemplative attitude than anything else aboard. Two of these men are of magnificent physique; their black eyes, rather full lips, and swarthy skins betraying Arab blood. In addition to the long daggers and antiquated pistols so universally worn in the Orient, they are armed with fine, large, pearl-handled revolvers, and they sit cross-legged, smoking cigarette after cigarette in silent meditation, paying no heed even to the merry music and the dancing of the Greeks.

At Jelova, the first village the steamer halts at, a coupleof zaptiehs come aboard with two prisoners whom they are conveying to Ismidt. These men are lower-class criminals, and their wretched appearance betrays the utter absence of hygienic considerations on the part of the Turkish prison authorities; they evidently have had no cause to complain of any harsh measures for the enforcement of personal cleanliness. Their foot-gear consists of pieces of rawhide, fastened on with odds and ends of string; and pieces of coarse sacking tacked on to what were once clothes barely suffice to cover their nakedness; bare-headed - their bushy hair has not for months felt the smoothing influence of a comb, and their hands and faces look as if they had just endured a seven-years' famine of soap and water. This latter feature is a sure sign that they are not Turks, for prisoners are most likely allowed full liberty to keep themselves clean, and a Turk would at least have come out into the world with a clean face.

The zaptiehs squat down together and smoke cigarettes, and allow their charges full liberty to roam wheresoever they will while on board, and the two prisoners, to all appearances perfectly oblivious of their rags, filth, and the degradation of their position, mingle freely with the passengers; and, as they move about, asking and answering questions, I look in vain among the latter for any sign of the spirit of social Pharisaism that in a Western crowd would have kept them at a distance. Both these men have every appearance of being the lowest of criminals - men capable of any deed in the calendar within their mental and physical capacities; they may even be members of the very gang I am taking this steamer to avoid; but nobody seems to either pity or condemn them; everybody acts toward them precisely as they act toward each other. Perhaps in no other country in the world does this social and moral apathy obtain among the masses to such a degree as in Turkey.

While we lie to for a few minutes to disembark passengers at the village where the before-mentioned wedding festivities are in progress, four of the seven imperturbable Osmanlis actually arise from the one position they have occupied unmoved since coming aboard, and follow me to the foredeck, in order to be present while I explain the workings and mechanism of the bicycle to some Arnienian students of Roberts College, who can speak a certain amount of English. Having listened to my explanations without understanding a word, and, without condescending to question the Armenians, they survey the machine some minutes in silence and then return to their former positions, their cigarettes, and their meditations, paying not the slightest heed to several caique loads of Greek merry-makers who have rowed out to meet the new arrivals, and are paddling around the steamer, filling the air with music. Finding that there is someone aboard that can converse with me, the Greeks, desirous of seeing the bicycle in action, and of introducing a novelty into the festivities of the evening, ask me to come ashore and be their guest until the arrival of the next Ismiclt boat - a matter of three days. Offer declined with thanks, but not without reluctance, for these Greek merry-makings are well worth seeing. The Ismidt packet, like everything else in Turkey, moves at a snail's pace, and although we got under way in something less than an hour after the advertised starting-time, which, for Turkey, is quite commendable promptness, and the distance is but fifty-five miles, we call at a number of villages en route, and it is 6 P.M. when we tie up at the Ismidt wharf.

"Five piastres, Effendi," says the ticket-collector, as, after waiting till the crowd has passed the gang-plank, I follow with the bicycle and hand him my ticket.

"What are the five piastres for." I ask. For answer, he points' to my wheel. "Baggage," I explain.

"Baggage yoke, cargo," he replies; and I have to pay it. The fact is, that, never having seen a bicycle before, he don't know whether it is cargo or baggage; but whenever a Turkish official has no precedent to follow, he takes care to be on the right side in case there is any money to be collected; otherwise he is not apt to be so particular. This is, however, rather a matter of private concern than of zealousness in the performance of his official duties; the possibilities of peculation are ever before him.

While satisfying the claim of the ticket-collector a deck-hand comes forward and, pointing to the bicycle, blandly asks me for backsheesh. He asks, not because he has put a finger to the machine, or been asked to do so, but, being a thoughtful, far-sighted youth, he is looking out for the future. The bicycle is something he never saw on his boat before; but the idea that these things may now become common among the passengers wanders through his mind, and that obtaining backsheesh on this particular occasion will establish a precedent that may be very handy hereafter; so he makes a most respectful salaam, calls me "Bey Effendi," and smilingly requests two piastres backsheesh. After him comes the passport officer, who, besides the teskeri for myself, demands a special passport for the machine. He likewise is in a puzzle (it don't take much, by the by, to puzzle the brains of a Turkish official), because the bicycle is something he has had no previous dealings with; but as this is a matter in which finances play no legitimate part - though probably his demand for a passport is made for no other purpose than that of getting backsheesh - a vigorous protest, backed up by the unanimous, and most certainly vociferous, support of a crowd of wharf-loafers, and my fellow-passengers, who, having disembarked, are waiting patiently for me to come and ride down the street, either overrules or overawes the officer and secures my relief. Impatient at consuming a whole day in reaching Ismidt, I have been thinking of taking to the road immediately upon landing, and continuing till dark, taking my chances of reaching some suitable stopping- place for the night. But the good people of Ismidt raise their voices in protest against what they professedly regard as a rash and dangerous proposition. As I evince a disposition to override their well-meant interference and pull out, they hurriedly send for a Frenchman, who can speak sufficient English to make himself intelligible. Speaking for himself, and acting as interpreter in echoing the words and sentiments of the others, the Frenchman straightway warns me not to start into the interior so late in the day, and run the risk of getting benighted in the brush; for "Much very bad people, very bad people! are between Ismidt and Angora; Circassians plenty," he says, adding that the worst characters are near Ismidt, and that the nearer I get to Angora the better I shall find the people. As by this time the sun is already setting behind the hills, I conclude that an early start in the morning will, after all, be the most sensible course.

During the last Russo-Turkish war thousands of Circassian refugees migrated to this part of Asia Minor. Having a restless, roving disposition, that unfits them for the laborious and uneventful life of a husbandman, many of them remain even to the present day loafers about the villages, maintaining themselves nobody seems to know how. The belief appears to be unanimous, however, that they are capable of any deviltry under the sun, and that, while their great specialty and favorite occupation is stealing horses, if this becomes slack or unprofitable, or even for the sake of a little pleasant variety, these freebooters from the Caucasus have no hesitation about turning highwaymen whenever a tempting occasion offers. All sorts of advice about the best way to avoid being robbed is volunteered by the people of Ismidt. My watch-chain, L.A.W. badge, and everything that appears of any value, they tell me, must be kept strictly out of sight, so as not to excite the latent cupidity of such Circassians as I meet on the road or in the villages. Some advocate the plan of adorning my coat with Turkish official buttons, shoulder-straps, and trappings, to make myself, look like a government officer; others think it would be best to rig myself up as a full-blown zaptieh, with whom, of course, neither Circassian nor any other guilty person would attempt to interfere. To these latter suggestions I point out that, while they are very good, especially the zaplieh idea, so far as warding off Circassians is concerned, my adoption of a uniform would most certainly get me into hot water with the military authorities of every town and village, owing to my ignorance of the vernacular, and cause me no end of vexatious delay. To this the quick-witted Frenchman replies by at once offering to go with me to the resident pasha, explain the matter to him, and get a letter permitting me to wear the uniform; which offer I gently but firmly decline, being secretly of the opinion that these excessive precautions are all unnecessary. From the time I left Hungary I have been warned so persistently of danger ahead, and have so far met nothing really dangerous, that I am getting sceptical about there being anything like the risk people seem to think. Without being blind to the fact that there is a certain amount of danger in travelling alone through a country where it is the universal custom either to travel in company or to take a guard, I feel quite confident that the extreme novelty of my conveyance will make so profound an impression on the Asiatic mind that, even did they know that my buttons are gold coins of the realm, they would hesitate seriously to molest me. From past observations among people seeing the bicycle ridden for the first time, I believe that with a hundred yards of smooth road it is quite possible for a cycler to ride his way into the good graces of the worst gang of freebooters in Asia.

Having decided to remain here over-night, I seek the accommodation of a rudely comfortable hotel, kept by an Armenian, where, at the supper-table, I am first made acquainted with the Asiatic dish called "pillau," that is destined to form no inconsiderable part of my daily bill of fare for several weeks. Pillau is a dish that is met - with in one disguise or another all over Asia. With a foundation of boiled rice, it receives a variety of other compounds, the nature of which will appear as they enter into my daily experiences. In deference to the limited knowledge of each other's language possessed by myself and the proprietor, I am invited into the cookhouse and permitted to take a peep at the contents of several different pots and kettles simmering over a slow fire in a sort of brick trench, to point out to the waiter such dishes as I think I shall like. Failing to find among the assortment any familiar acquaintances, I try the pillau, and find it quite palatable, preferring it to anything else the house affords.

Our friend the Frenchman is quite delighted at the advent of a bicycle in Ismidt, for in his younger days, he tells me with much enthusiasm, he used to be somewhat partial to whirling wheels himself; and when he first came here from France, some eighteen years ago, he actually brought with him a bone-shaker, with which, for the first summer, he was wont to surprise the natives. This relic of by-gone days has been stowed away among a lot of old traps ever since, all but forgotten; but the appearance of a mounted wheelman recalls it to memory, and this evening, in honor of my visit, it is brought once more to light, its past history explained by its owner, and its merits and demerits as a vehicle in comparison with my bicycle duly discussed. The bone-shaker has wheels heavy enough for a dog-cart; the saddle is nearly all gnawed away by mice, and it presents altogether so antiquated an appearance that it seems a relic rather of a past century than of a past decade. Its owner assays to take a ride on it; but the best he can do is to wabble around a vacant space in front of the hotel, the awkward motions of the old bone-shaker affording intense amusement to the crowd. After supper this chatty and entertaining gentleman brings his wife, a rotund, motherly-looking person, to see the bicycle; she is a Levantine Greek, and besides her own lingua franca, her husband has improved her education to the extent of a smattering of rather misleading English. Desiring to be complimentary in return for my riding back and forth a few times for her special benefit, the lady comes forward as I dismount and, smiling complacently upon me, remarks, "How very grateful you ride, monsieur!" and her husband and tutor, desiring also to say something complimentary, echoes, " Much grateful - very."

The Greeks seem to be the life and poetry of these sea-coast places on the Ismidt gulf. My hotel faces the water; and for hours after dark a half-dozen caique-loads of serenaders are paddling about in front of the town, making quite an entertaining concert in the silence of the night, the pleasing effect being heightened by the well-known softening influence of the water, and not a little enhanced by a display of rockets and Roman candles. Earlier in the evening, while taking a look at Ismidt and the surrounding scenery, in company with a few sociable natives, who point out beauty-spots in the surrounding landscape with no little enthusiasm, I am impressed with the extreme loveliness of the situation. The town itself, now a place of thirteen thousand inhabitants, is the Nicomedia of the ancients. It is built in the form of a crescent, facing the sea; the houses, many of them painted white, are terraced upon the slopes of the green hills, whose sides and summits are clothed with verdure, and whose bases are laved by the blue waves of the gulf, which here, at the upper extremity, narrows to about a mile and a half in width; white villages dot the green mountain-slopes on the opposite shore, prominent among them being the Armenian town of Bahgjadjik, where for a number of years has been established an American missionary-school, a branch, I think, of Roberts College. Every mile of visible country, whether gently sloping or more rugged and imposing, is green with luxuriant vegetation, and the waters of the gulf are of that deep-blue color peculiar to mountain-locked inlets; the bright green hills, the dancing blue waters, and the white painted villages combine to make a scene so lovely in the chastened light of early eventide that, after the Bosporus, I think I never saw a place more beautiful. Besides the loveliness of the situation, the little mountain-sheltered inlet makes an excellent anchorage for shipping; and during the late war, at the well-remembered crisis when the Russian armies were bearing down on Constantinople and the British fleet received the famous order to pass through the Dardanelles with or without the Sultan's permission, the head-waters of the Ismidt gulf became, for several months, the rendezvous of the ships.