CHAPTER XI. ON THROUGH ASIA.
Early dawn on Tuesday morning finds me already astir and groping about the hotel in search of some of the slumbering employees to let me out. Pocketing a cold lunch in lieu of eating breakfast, I mount and wheel down the long street leading out of the eastern end of town. On the way out I pass a party of caravan-teamsters who have just arrived with a cargo of mohair from Angora; their pack-mules are fairly festooned with strings of bells of all sizes, from a tiny sleigh-bell to a solemn-voiced sheet-iron affair the size of a two-gallon jar. These bells make an awful din; the men are unpacking the weary animals, shouting both at the mules and at each other, as if their chief object were to create as much noise as possible; but as I wheel noiselessly past, they cease their unpacking and their shouting, as if by common consent, and greet me with that silent stare of wonder that men might be supposed to accord to an apparition from another world. For some few miles a rough macadam road affords a somewhat choppy but nevertheless ridable surface, and further inland it develops into a fairly good roadway, where a dismount is unnecessary for several miles. The road leads along a depression between a continuation of the mountain-chains that inclose the Ismidt gulf, which now run parallel with my road on either hand at the distance of a couple of miles, some of the spurs on the south range rising to quite an imposing height. For four miles out of Ismidt the country is flat and swampy; beyond that it changes to higher ground; and the swampy flat, the higher ground, and the mountain-slopes are all covered with timber and a dense growth of underbrush, in which wild-fig shrubs and the homely but beautiful ferns of the English commons, the Missouri Valley woods, and the California foot-hills, mingle their respective charms, and hob-nob with scrub-oak, chestnut, walnut, and scores of others. The whole face of the country is covered with this dense thicket, and the first little hamlet I pass on the road is nearly hidden in it, the roofs of the houses being barely visible above the green sea of vegetation. Orchards and little patches of ground that have been cleared and cultivated are hidden entirely, and one cannot help thinking that if this interminable forest of brushwood were once to get fairly ablaze, nothing could prevent it from destroying everything these villagers possess.
A foretaste of what awaits me farther in the interior is obtained even within the first few hours of the morning, when a couple of horsemen canter at my heels for miles; they seem delighted beyond measure, and their solicitude for my health and general welfare is quite affecting. When I halt to pluck some blackberries, they solemnly pat their stomachs and shake their heads in chorus, to make me understand that blackberries are not good things to eat; and by gestures they notify me of bad places in the road which are yet out of sight ahead. Eude mehanax, now called khans, occupy little clearings by the roadside, at intervals of a few miles; and among the habitues congregated there I notice several of the Circassian refugees on whose account friends at Ismidt and Constantinople have shown themselves so concerned for my safety.