CHAPTER XIV. ACROSS THE KIZIL IRMAK RIVER TO YUZGAT.

The country continues much the same as yesterday, with the road indifferent for wheeling. Reaching the expected village about eight o'clock, I breakfast off ekmek and new buffalo milk, and at once continue on my way, meeting nothing particularly interesting, save a lively bout occasionally with goat-herds' dogs - the reminiscences of which are doubtless more vividly interesting to myself than they would be to the reader - until high noon, when I arrive at another village, larger, but equally wretched- looking, on the Kizil Irmak River, called Jas-chi-khan. On the west bank of the stream are some ancient ruins of quite massive architecture, and standing on the opposite side of the road, evidently having some time been removed from the ruins with a view to being transported elsewhere, is a couchant lion of heroic proportions, carved out of a solid block of white marble; the head is gone, as though its would-be possessors, having found it beyond their power to transport the whole animal, have made off with what they could. An old and curiously arched bridge of massive rock spans the river near its entrance to a wild, rocky gorge in the mountains; a primitive grist mill occupies a position to the left, near the entrance to the gorge, and a herd of camels are slaking their thirst or grazing near the water's edge to the right - a genuine Eastern picture, surely, and one not to be seen every day, even in the land where to see it occasionally is quite possible.

Riding into Jas-chi-khan, I dismount at a building which, from the presence of several "do-nothings," I take to be a khan for the accommodation of travellers. In a partially open shed-like apartment are a number of demure looking maidens, industriously employed in weaving carpets by hand on a rude, upright frame, while two others, equally demure-looking, are seated on the ground cracking wheat for pillau, wheat being substituted for rice where the latter is not easily obtainable, or is too expensive. Waiving all considerations of whether I am welcome or not, I at once enter this abode of female industry, and after watching the interesting process of carpet-weaving for some minutes, turn my attention to the preparers of cracked wheat. The process is the same primitive one that has been employed among these people from time immemorial, and the same that is referred to in the passage of Scripture which says: "Two women were grinding corn in the field;" it consists of a small upper and nether millstone, the upper one being turned round by two women sitting facing each other; they both take hold of a perpendicular wooden handle with one hand, employing the other to feed the mill and rake away the cracked grain. These two young women have evidently been very industrious this morning; they have half-buried themselves in the product of their labors, and are still grinding away as though for their very lives, while the constant "click-clack " of the carpet weavers prove them likewise the embodiment of industry. They seem rather disconcerted by the abrupt intrusion and scrutinizing attentions of a Frank and a stranger; however, the fascinating search for bits of interesting experience forbids my retirement on that account, but rather urges me to make the most of fleeting opportunities. Picking up a handful of the cracked wheat, I inquire of one of the maidens if it is for pillau; the maiden blushes at being thus directly addressed, and with downcast eyes vouchsafes an affirmative nod in reply; at the same time an observant eye happens to discover a little brown big-toe peeping out of the heap of wheat, and belonging to the same demure maiden with the downcast eyes. I know full well that I am stretching a point of Mohammedan etiquette, even by coming among these industrious damsels in the manner I am doing, but the attention of the men is fully concentrated on the bicycle outside, and the temptation of trying the experiment of a little jocularity, just to see what comes of it, is under the circumstances irresistible. Conscious of venturing where angels fear to tread. I stoop down, and take hold of the peeping little brown big-toe, and addressing the demure maiden with the downcast eyes, inquire, "Is this also for pillau." This proves entirely too much for the risibilities of the industrious pillau grinders, and letting go the handle of the mill, they both give themselves up to uncontrollable laughter; the carpet-weavers have been watching me out of the corners of their bright, black eyes, and catching the infection, the click clack of the carpet-weaving machines instantly ceases, and several of the weavers hurriedly retreat into an adjoining room to avoid the awful and well-nigh unheard-of indiscretion of laughing in the presence of a stranger. Having thus yielded to the temptation and witnessed the results, I discreetly retire, meeting at the entrance a gray-bearded Turk coming to see what the merriment and the unaccountable stopping of the carpet-weaving frames is all about. A sheep has been slaughtered in Jas-chi-khan this morning, and I obtain a nice piece of mutton, which I hand to a bystander, asking him to go somewhere and cook it; in five minutes he returns with the meat burnt black outside and perfectly raw within. Seeing my evident disapproval of its condition, the same ancient person who recently appeared upon the scene of my jocular experiment and who has now squatted himself down close beside me, probably to make sure against any further indiscretions, takes the meat, slashes it across in several directions with his dagger, orders the afore-mentioned bystander to try it over again, and then coolly wipes his blackened and greasy fingers on my sheet of ekmek as though it were a table napkin. I obtain a few mouthfuls of eatable meat from the bystander's second culinary effort, and then buy a water-melon from a man happening along with a laden donkey; cutting iuto the melon I find it perfectly green all through, and toss it away; the men look surprised, and some youngsters straightway pick it up, eat the inside out until they can scoop out no more, and then, breaking the rind in pieces, they scrape it out with their teeth until it is of egg-shell thinness. They seem to do these things with impunity in Asia.

The grade and the wind are united against me on leaving Jas-chi-khan, but it is ridable, and having made such a dismal failure about getting dinner, I push on toward a green area at the base of a rocky mountain spur, which I observed an hour ago from a point some distance west of the Kizil Irmak, and concluded to be a cluster of vineyards. This conjecture turns out quite correct, and, what is more, my experience upon arriving there would seem to indicate that the good genii detailed to arrange the daily programme of my journey had determined to recompense me to-day for having seen nothing of the feminine world of late but yashmaks and shrouds, and momentary monocular evidence; for here again am I thrown into the society of a bevy of maidens, more interesting, if anything, than the nymphs of industry at Jas-chi-khan. There is apparently some festive occasion at the little vineyard-environed village, which stands back a hundred yards or so from the road, and which ia approached by a narrow foot-way between thrifty-looking vineyards. Three blooming damsels, in all the bravery of holiday attire, with necklaces and pendants of jingling coins to distinguish them from the matrons, come hurrying down the pathway toward the road at my approach. Seeing me dismount, upon arriving opposite the village, the handsomest and gayest dressed of the three goes into one of the vineyards, and with charming grace of manner, presents herself before me with both hands overflowing with bunches of luscious black grapes. Their abundant black tresses are gathered in one long plait behind; they wear bracelets, necklaces, pendants, brow-bands, head ornaments, and all sorts of wonderful articles of jewelry, made out of the common silver and metallic coins of the country; they are small of stature and possess oval faces, large black eyes, and warm, dark complexions. Their manner and dress prove rather a puzzle in determining their nationality; they are not Turkish, nor Greek, nor Armenian, nor Circassian; they may possibly be sedentary Turkomans; but they possess rather a Jewish cast of countenance, and my first impression of them is, that they are "Bible people," the original inhabitants of the country, who have somehow managed to cling to their little possessions here, in spite of Greeks, Turks, and Persians, and other conquering races who have at times overrun the country; perhaps they have softened the hearts of everybody undertaking to oust them by their graceful manners.

Other villagers soon collect, making a picturesque and interesting group around the bicycle; but the maiden with the grapes makes too pretty and complete a picture, for any of the others to attract more than passing notice. One of her two companions whisperingly calls her attention to the plainly evident fact that she is being regarded with admiration by the stranger. She blushes perceptibly through her nut-brown cheeks at hearing this, but she is also quite conscious of her claims to admiration, and likes to be admired; so she neither changes her attitude of respectful grace, nor raises her long drooping eyelashes, while I eat and eat grapes, taking them bunch after bunch from her overflowing hands, until ashamed to eat any more. I confess to almost falling in love with that maiden, her manners were so easy and graceful; and when, with ever-downcast eyes and a bewitching manner that leaves not the slightest room for considering the doing so a bold or forward action, she puts the remainder of the grapes in my coat pockets, a peculiar fluttering sensation - but I draw a veil over my feelings, they are too sacred for the garish pages of a book. I do not inquire about their nationality, I would rather it remain a mystery, and a matter for future conjecture; but before leaving I add something to her already conspicuous array of coins that have been increasing since her birth, and which will form her modest dowry at marriage. The road continues of excellent surface, but rather hilly for a few miles, when it descends into the Valley of the Delijeh Irmak, where the artificial highway again deteriorates into the unpacked condition of yesterday; the donkey trails are shallow trenches of dust, and are no longer to be depended upon as keeping my general course, but are rather cross-country trails leading from one mountain village to another. The well-defined caravan trail leading from Ismidt to Angora comes no farther eastward than the latter city, which is the central point where the one exportable commodity of the vilayet is collected for barter and transportation to the seaboard. The Delijeh Irmak Valley is under partial cultivation, and occasionally one passes through small areas of melon gardens far away from any permanent habitations; temporary huts or dug- outs are, however, an invariable adjunct to these isolated possession of the villagers, in which some one resides day and night during the melon season, guarding their property with gun and dog from unscrupulous wayfarers, who otherwise would not hesitate to make their visit to town profitable as well as pleasurable, by surreptitiously confiscating a donkey-load of salable melons from their neighbor's roadside garden. Sometimes I essay to purchase a musk-melon from these lone sentinels, but it is impossible to obtain one fit to eat; these wretched prayers on Nature's bounty evidently pluck and devour them the moment they develop from the bitterness of their earliest growth. No villages are passed on the road after leaving the vintagers' cluster at noon, but bunches of mud hovels are at intervals descried a few miles to the right, perched among the hills that form the southern boundary of the valley; being of the same color as the general surface about them, they are not easily distinguishable at a distance. There seems to be a decided propensity among the natives for choosing the hills as an habitation, even when their arable lands are miles away in the valley; the salubrity of the more elevated location may be the chief consideration, but a swiftly flowing mountain rivulet near his habitation is to the Mohammedan a source of perpetual satisfaction.

I travel along for some time after nightfall, in hopes of reaching a village, but none appearing, I finally decide to camp out. Choosing a position behind a convenient knoll, I pitch the tent where it will bo invisible from the road, using stones in lieu of tent-pegs; and inhabiting for the first time this unique contrivance, I sup off the grapes remaining over from the bountiful feast at noon-and, being without any covering, stretch myself without undressing beside the upturned bicycle; notwithstanding the gentle reminders of unsatisfied hunger, I am enjoying the legitimate reward of constant exercise in the open air ten minutes after pitching the tent. Soon after midnight I am awakened by the chilly influence of the "wee sma' hours," and recognizing the likelihood of the tent proving more beneficial as a coverlet than a roof, in the absence of rain, I take it down and roll myself up in it; the thin, oiled cambric is far from being a blanket, however, and at daybreak the bicycle and everything is drenched with one of the heavy dews of the country. Ten miles over an indifferent road is traversed next morning; the comfortless reflection that anything like a "square meal" seems out of the question anywhere between the larger towns scarcely tends to exert a soothing influence on the ravenous attacks of a most awful appetite; and I am beginning to think seriously of making a detour of several miles to reach a mountain village, when I meet a party of three horsemen, a Turkish Bey - with an escort of two zaptiehs. I am trundling at the time, and without a moment's hesitancy I make a dead set at the Bey, with the single object of satisfying to some extent my gastronomic requirements.

"Bey Effendi, have you any ekmek?" I ask, pointing inquiringly to his saddle-bags on a zaptieh's horse, and at the same time giving him to understand by impressive pantomime the uncontrollable condition of my appetite. With what seems to me, under the circumstances, simply cold- blooded indifference to human suffering; the Bey ignores my inquiry altogether, and concentrating his whole attention on the bicycle, asks, "What is that?" "An Americanish araba, Effendi; have you any ekmek ?" toying suggestively with the tell-tale slack of my revolver belt.

"Where have you come from?" "Stamboul; have you ekmek in the saddle- bags, Effendi." this time boldly beckoning the zaplieh with the Bey's effects to approach nearer.

"Where are you going?" "Yuzgat! ekmek! ekmek!" tapping the saddle-bags in quite an imperative manner. This does not make any outward impression upon the Bey's aggravating imperturbability, however; he is not so indifferent to my side of the question as he pretends; aware of his inability to supply my want, and afraid that a negative answer would hasten my departure before he has fully satisfied his curiosity concerning me, he is playing a. little game of diplomacy in his own interests.

"What is it for." he now asks, with soul-harrowing indifference to all my counter inquiries." To bin," I reply, desperately, curt and indifferent, beginning to see through his game. " Bin, bin! bacalem." he says; supplementing the request with a coaxing smile. At the same moment my long-suffering digestive apparatus favors me with an unusually savage reminder, and nettled beyond the point where forbearance ceases to be any longer a virtue, I return an answer not exactly complimentary to the Bey's ancestors, and continue my hungry way down the valley. A couple of miles after leaving the Bey, I intercept a party of peasants traversing a cross-country trail, with a number of pack-donkeys loaded with rock-salt, from whom I am fortunately able to obtain several thin sheets of ekmek, which I sit down and devour immediately, without even water to moisten the repast; it seems one of the most tasteful and soul-satisfying breakfasts I ever ate.

Like misfortunes, blessings never seem to come singly, for, an hour after thus breaking my fast I happen upon a party of villagers working on an unfinished portion of the new road; some of them are eating their morning meal of ekmek and yaort, and no sooner do I appear upon the scene than I am straightway invited to partake, a seat in the ragged circle congregated around the large bowl of clabbered milk being especially prepared with a bunch of pulled grass for my benefit. The eager hospitality of these poor villagers is really touching; they are working without so much as "thank you" for payment, there is not a garment amongst the gang fit for a human covering; their unvarying daily fare is the "blotting-paper ekmek" and yaort, with a melon or a cucumber occasionally as a luxury; yet, the moment I approach, they assign me a place at their "table," and two of them immediately bestir themselves to make me a comfortable seat. Neither is there so much as a mercenary thought among them in connection with the invitation; these poor fellows, whose scant rags it would be a farce to call clothing, actually betray embarrassment at the barest mention of compensation; they fill my pockets with bread, apologize for the absence of coffee, and compare the quality of their respective pouches of native tobacco in order to make me a decent cigarette.

Never, surely, was the reputation of Dame Fortune for fickleness so completely proved as in her treatment of me this morning - ten o'clock finds me seated on a pile of rugs in a capacious black tent, "wrassling" with a huge bowl of savory mutton pillau, flavored with green herbs, as the guest of a Koordish sheikh; shortly afterwards I meet a man taking a donkey-load of musk-melons to the Koordish camp, who insists on presenting me with the finest melon I have tasted since leaving Constantinople; and high noon finds me the guest of another Koordish sheikh; thus does a morning, which commenced with a fair prospect of no breakfast, following after yesterday's scant supply of unsuitable food, end in more hospitality than I know what to do with. These nomad tribes of the famous "black-tents " wander up toward Angora every summer with their flocks, in order to be near a market at shearing time; they are famed far and wide for their hospitality. Upon approaching the great open-faced tent of the Sheikh, there is a hurrying movement among the attendants to prepare a suitable raised seat, for they know at a glance that I am an Englishman, and likewise are aware that an Englishman cannot sit cross-legged like an Asiatic; at first, I am rather surprised at their evident ready recognition of my nationality, but I soon afterwards discover the reason. A hugh bowl of pillau, and another of excellent yaort is placed before me without asking any questions, while the dignified old Sheikh fulfils one's idea of a gray-bearded nomad patriarch to perfection, as he sits cross legged on a rug, solemnly smoking a nargileh, and watching to see that no letter of his generous code of hospitality toward strangers is overlooked by the attendants. These latter seem to be the picked young men of the tribe; fine, strapping fellows, well-dresed, six-footers, and of athletic proportions; perfect specimens of semi- civilized manhood, that would seem better employed in a grenadier regiment than in hovering about the old Sheikh's tent, attending to the filling and lighting of his nargileh, the arranging of his cushions by day and his bed at night, the serving of his food, and the proper reception of his guests; and yet it is an interesting sight to see these splendid young fellows waiting upon their beloved old chieftain, fairly bounding, like great affectionate mastiffs, at his merest look or suggestion. Most of the boys and young men are out with the flocks, but the older men, the women and children, gather in a curious crowd before the open tent; they maintain a respectful silence so long as I am their Sheikh's guest, but they gather about me without reserve when I leave the hospitable shelter of that respected person's quarters. After examining my helmet and sizing up my general appearance, they pronounce me an "English zaptieh," a distinction for which I am indebted to the circumstance of Col. N - , an English officer, having recently been engaged in Koordistan organizing a force of native zaptiehs. The women of this particular camp seem, on the whole, rather unprepossessing specimens; some of them are hooked-nosed old hags, with piercing black eyes, and hair dyed to a flaming "carrotty" hue with henna; this latter is supposed to render them beautiful, and enhance their personal appearance in the eyes of the men; they need something to enhance their personal appearance, certainly, but to the untutored and inartistic eye of the writer it produces a horrid, unnatural effect. According to our ideas, flaming red hair looks uncanny and of vulgar, uneducated taste, when associated with coal-black eyes and a complexion like gathering darkness. These vain mortals seem inclined to think that in me they have discovered something to be petted and made much of, treating me pretty much as a troop of affectionate little girls - would treat a wandering kitten that might unexpectedly appear in their midst. Giddy young things of about fifty summers cluster around me in a compact body, examining my clothes from helmet to moccasins, and critically feeling the texture of my coat and shirt, they take off my helmet, reach over each other's shoulders to stroke my hair, and pat my cheeks in the most affectionate manner; meanwhile expressing themselves in soft, purring comments, that require no linguistic abilities to interpret into such endearing remarks as, "Ain't he a darling, though?" "What nice soft hair and pretty blue eyes." "Don't you wish the dear old Sheikh would let us keep him. "Considering the source whence it comes, it requires very little of this to satisfy one, and as soon as I can prevail upon them to let me escape, I mount and wheel away, several huge dogs escorting me, for some minutes, in the peculiar manner Koordish dogs have of escorting stray 'cyclers.