CHAPTER II - TURKISH TRAVELLING
IN two or three hours our party was ready; the servants, the Tatar, the mounted Suridgees, and the baggage-horses, altogether made up a strong cavalcade. The accomplished Mysseri, of whom you have heard me speak so often, and who served me so faithfully throughout my Oriental journeys, acted as our interpreter, and was, in fact, the brain of our corps. The Tatar, you know, is a government courier properly employed in carrying despatches, but also sent with travellers to speed them on their way, and answer with his head for their safety. The man whose head was thus pledged for our precious lives was a glorious-looking fellow, with the regular and handsome cast of countenance which is now characteristic of the Ottoman race. * His features displayed a good deal of serene pride, self-respect, fortitude, a kind of ingenuous sensuality, and something of instinctive wisdom, without any sharpness of intellect. He had been a Janissary (as I afterwards found), and kept up the odd strut of his old corps, which used to affright the Christians in former times - that rolling gait so comically pompous, that a close imitation of it, even in the broadest farce, would be looked upon as a very rough over-acting of the character. It is occasioned in part by dress and accoutrements. The weighty bundle of weapons carried upon the chest throws back the body so as to give it a wonderful portliness, and moreover, the immense masses of clothes that swathe his limbs force the wearer in walking to swing himself heavily round from left to right, and from right to left. In truth, this great edifice of woollen, and cotton, and silk, and silver, and brass, and steel is not at all fitted for moving on foot; it cannot even walk without frightfully discomposing its fair proportions; and as to running - our Tatar ran ONCE (it was in order to pick up a partridge that Methley had winged with a pistol- shot), and really the attempt was one of the funniest misdirections of human energy that wondering man ever saw. But put him in his stirrups, and then is the Tatar himself again: there he lives at his pleasure, reposing in the tranquillity of that true home (the home of his ancestors) which the saddle seems to afford him, and drawing from his pipe the calm pleasures of his "own fireside," or else dashing sudden over the earth, as though for a moment he felt the mouth of a Turcoman steed, and saw his own Scythian plains lying boundless and open before him.
* The continual marriages of these people with the chosen beauties of Georgia and Circassia have overpowered the original ugliness of their Tatar ancestors.
It was not till his subordinates had nearly completed their preparations for their march that our Tatar, "commanding the forces," arrived; he came sleek and fresh from the bath (for so is the custom of the Ottomans when they start upon a journey), and was carefully accoutred at every point. From his thigh to his throat he was loaded with arms and other implements of a campaigning life. There is no scarcity of water along the whole road from Belgrade to Stamboul, but the habits of our Tatar were formed by his ancestors and not by himself, so he took good care to see that his leathern water- flask was amply charged and properly strapped to the saddle, along with his blessed TCHIBOUQUE. And now at last he has cursed the Suridgees in all proper figures of speech, and is ready for a ride of a thousand miles; but before he comforts his soul in the marble baths of Stamboul he will be another and a lesser man; his sense of responsibility, his too strict abstemiousness, and his restless energy, disdainful of sleep, will have worn him down to a fraction of the sleek Moostapha that now leads out our party from the gates of Belgrade.
The Suridgees are the men employed to lead the baggage- horses. They are most of them gipsies. Their lot is a sad one: they are the last of the human race, and all the sins of their superiors (including the horses) can safely be visited on them. But the wretched look often more picturesque than their betters; and though all the world despise these poor Suridgees, their tawny skins and their grisly beards will gain them honourable standing in the foreground of a landscape. We had a couple of these fellows with us, each leading a baggage-horse, to the tail of which last another baggage-horse was attached. There was a world of trouble in persuading the stiff angular portmanteaus of Europe to adapt themselves to their new condition and sit quietly on pack- saddles, but all was right at last, and it gladdened my eyes to see our little troop file off through the winding lanes of the city, and show down brightly in the plain beneath. The one of our party that seemed to be most out of keeping with the rest of the scene was Methley's Yorkshire servant, who always rode doggedly on in his pantry jacket, looking out for "gentlemen's seats."
Methley and I had English saddles, but I think we should have done just as well (I should certainly have seen more of the country) if we had adopted saddles like that of our Tatar, who towered so loftily over the scraggy little beast that carried him. In taking thought for the East, whilst in England, I had made one capital hit which you must not forget - I had brought with me a pair of common spurs. These were a great comfort to me throughout my horseback travels, by keeping up the cheerfulness of the many unhappy nags that I had to bestride; the angle of the Oriental stirrup is a very poor substitute for spurs.