Part 3 out of 5
accompany me. We had already left the station when the Caternas
"Are you going for a run round the town, Monsieur Claudius?" asked the
actor, with a comprehensive gesture to show the vast surroundings of
"Such is our intention."
"Will Major Noltitz and you allow me to join you?"
"With Madame Caterna, for I do nothing without her."
"Our explorations will be so much the more agreeable," said the major,
with a bow to the charming actress.
"And," I added, with a view to save fatigue and gain time, "my dear
friends, allow me to offer you an arba."
"An arba!" exclaimed Caterna, with a swing of his hips. "What may that
be, an arba?"
"One of the local vehicles."
"Let us have an arba."
We entered one of the boxes on wheels which were on the rank in front
of the railway station. Under promise of a good "silao," that is to
say, something to drink, the yemtchik or coachman undertook to give
wings to his two doves, otherwise his two little horses, and we went
off at a good pace.
On the left we leave the Russian town, arranged like a fan, the
governor's house, surrounded by beautiful gardens, the public park and
its shady walks, then the house of the chief of the district which is
just on the boundary of the old town.
As we passed, the major showed us the fortress, round which our arba
turned. There are the graves of the Russian soldiers who died in the
attack in 1868, near the ancient palace of the Emir of Bokhara.
From this point, by a straight narrow road, our arba reached the
Righistan square, which, as my pamphlet says, "must not be confounded
with the square of the same name at Bokhara."
It is a fine quadrilateral, perhaps a little spoiled by the fact that
the Russians have paved it and ornamented it with lamps--which would
certainly, please Ephrinell, if he decides upon visiting Samarkand. On
three sides of the square are the well-preserved ruins of three
medresses, where the mollahs give children a good education. These
medresses--there are seventeen of these colleges at Samarkand, besides
eighty-five mosques--are called Tilla-Kari, Chir Dar and Oulong Beg.
In a general way they resemble each other; a portico in the middle
leading to interior courts, built of enameled brick, tinted pale blue
or pale yellow, arabesques designed in gold lines on a ground of
turquoise blue, the dominant color; leaning minarets threatening to
fall and never falling, luckily for their coating of enamel, which the
intrepid traveller Madame De Ujfalvy-Bourdon, declares to be much
superior to the finest of our crackle enamels--and these are not vases
to put on a mantelpiece or on a stand, but minarets of good height.
These marvels are still in the state described by Marco Polo, the
Venetian traveler of the thirteenth century.
"Well, Monsieur Bombarnac," asked the major, "do you not admire the
"It is superb," I say.
"Yes," says the actor, "what a splendid scene it would make for a
ballet, Caroline! That mosque, with a garden alongside, and that other
one with a court--"
"You are right, Adolphe," said his wife; "but we would have to put
those towers up straight and have a few luminous fountains."
"Excellent notion, Caroline! Write us a drama, Monsieur Claudius, a
spectacle piece, with a third act in this square. As for the title--"
"Tamerlane is at once suggested!" I reply. The actor made a significant
grimace. The conqueror of Asia seemed to him to be wanting in
actuality. And leaning toward his wife, Caterna hastened to say:
"As a scene, I have seen a better at the Porte-Saint Martin, in the
_Fils de la Nuit_--"
"And I have at the Chatelet in _Michael Strogoff_."
We cannot do better than leave our comedians alone. They look at
everything from the theatrical point of view. They prefer the air gauze
and the sky-blue foliage, the branches of the stage trees, the agitated
canvas of the ocean waves, the prospectives of the drop scene, to the
sites the curtain represents, a set scene by Cambon or Rube or Jambon
to no matter what landscape; in short, they would rather have art than
nature. And I am not the man to try and change their opinions on the
As I have mentioned the name of Tamerlane, I asked Major Noltitz if we
were going to visit the tomb of the famous Tartar. The major replied
that we would see it as we returned; and our itinerary brought us in
front of the Samarkand bazaar.
The arba stopped at one of the entrances to this vast rotunda, after
taking us in and out through the old town, the houses of which consist
of only one story, and seem very comfortless.
Here is the bazaar in which are accumulated enormous quantities of
woollen stuffs, velvet-pile carpets in the brightest of colors, shawls
of graceful patterns, all thrown anyhow on the counters of the shops.
Before these samples the sellers and buyers stand, noisily arriving at
the lowest price. Among the fabrics is a silk tissue known as Kanaous,
which is held in high esteem by the Samarkand ladies, although they are
very far from appreciating the similar product of Lyons manufacture,
which it excels neither in quality nor appearance.
Madame Caterna appeared extraordinarily tempted, as if she were among
the counters of the _Bon Marche_ or the _Louvre_.
"That stuff would do well for my costume in the _Grande Duchesse_!" she
"And those slippers would suit me down to the ground as Ali Bajou in
the _Caid_!" said Caterna.
And while the actress was investing in a remnant of Kanaous, the actor
paid for a pair of those green slippers which the Turkomans wear when
they enter a mosque. But this was not without recourse to the kindness
of the major, who acted as interpreter between the Caternas and the
merchant, whose "Yoks! Yoks!" sounded like a lot of crackers in his
The arba started again and went off toward the square of Ribi-Khanym,
where stands the mosque of that name which was that of one of
Tamerlane's wives. If the square is not as regular as that of
Righistan, it is in my opinion rather more picturesque. There are
strangely grouped ruins, the remains of arcades, half-unroofed cupolas,
columns without capitals, the shafts of which have retained all the
brightness of their enamelling; then a long row of elliptical porticoes
closing in one side of the vast quadrilateral. The effect is really
grand, for these old monuments of the splendor of Samarkand stand out
from a background of sky and verdure that you would seek in vain, even
at the Grand Opera, if our actor does not object. But I must confess we
experienced a deeper impression when, toward the northeast of the town,
our arba deposited us in front of the finest of the mosques of Central
Asia, which dates from the year 795 of the Hegira (1392 of our era).
I cannot, writing straight away, give you an idea of this marvel. If I
were to thread the words, mosaics, pediments, spandrels, bas-reliefs,
niches, enamels, corbels, all on a string in a sentence, the picture
would still be incomplete. It is strokes of the brush that are wanted,
not strokes of the pen. Imagination remains abashed at the remains of
the most splendid architecture left us by Asiatic genius.
It is in the farthest depths of this mosque that the faithful go to
worship at the tomb of Kassimben-Abbas, a venerated Mussulman saint,
and we are told that if we open the tomb a living man will come forth
from it in all his glory. But the experiment has not been made as yet,
and we prefer to believe in the legend.
We had to make an effort to throw off our contemplative mood; and
fortunately the Caternas did not trouble our ecstasy by evoking any of
their recollections of the theater. Doubtless they had shared in our
We resumed our seats in the arba, and the yemtchik took us at the
gallop of his doves along shady roads which the Russian administration
keeps up with care.
Along these roads we met and passed many figures worthy of notice.
Their costumes were varied enough, "Khalats," in startling colors, and
their heads enturbaned most coquettishly. In a population of forty
thousand there was, of course, a great mingling of races. Most of them
seemed to be Tadjiks of Iranian origin. They are fine strong fellows,
whose white skin has disappeared beneath the tan of the open air and
the unclouded sun. Here is what Madame de Ujfalvy-Bourdon says of them
in her interesting book: "Their hair is generally black, as is also
their beard, which is very abundant. Their eyes are never turned up at
the corners, and are almost always brown. The nose is very handsome,
the lips are not thick, the teeth are small. The forehead is high,
broad, and the general shape of the face is oval."
And I cannot refrain from mentioning a note of approval from Caterna
when he saw one of these Tadjiks superbly draped in his many-colored
"What a splendid lead! What an admirable Melingue! You can see him in
Richepins's _Nana Sahib_ or Meurice's _Schamyl_."
"He would make a lot of money! replied Madame Caterna.
"He just would--I believe you, Caroline!" replied the enthusiastic
And for him, as for all other theatrical folks, is not the money the
most serious and the least disputable manifestation of the dramatic art?
It was already five o clock, and in this incomparable city of Samarkand
scene succeeded scene. There! I am getting into that way of looking at
it now. Certainly the spectacle should finish before midnight. But as
we start at eight o'clock, we shall have to lose the end of the piece.
But as I considered that, for the honor of special correspondents in
general, it would never do to have been at Samarkand without seeing
Tamerlane's tomb, our arba returned to the southwest, and drew up near
the mosque of Gour Emir, close to the Russian town. What a sordid
neighborhood, what a heap of mud huts and straw huts, what an
agglomeration of miserable hovels we have just been through!
The mosque has a grand appearance. It is crowned with its dome, in
which the raw blue of the turquoise is the chief color, and which looks
like a Persian cap; and on its only minaret, which has now lost its
head, there glitter the enamelled arabesques which have retained their
We visited the central hall beneath the cupola. There stands the tomb
of the lame Timour the Conqueror. Surrounded by the four tombs of his
sons and his patron saint, beneath a stone of black jade covered with
inscriptions, whiten the bones of Tamerlane, in whose name is gathered
the whole fourteenth century of Asiatic history. The walls of the hall
are covered with slabs of jade, on which are engraven innumerable
scrolls of foliage, and in the southwest stands a little column marking
the direction of Mecca. Madame De Ujfalvy-Bourdon has justly compared
this part of the mosque of Gour Emir to a sanctuary, and we had the
same impression. This impression took a still more religious tone when,
by a dark and narrow stairway, we descended to the crypt in which are
the tombs of Tamerlane's wives and daughters.
"But who was this Tamerlane?" asked Caterna. "This Tamerlane everybody
is talking about."
"Tamerlane," replied Major Noltitz, "was one of the greatest conquerors
of the world, perhaps the greatest, if you measure greatness by the
extent of the conquests. Asia to the east of the Caspian Sea, Persia
and the provinces to the north of it, Russia to the Sea of Azof, India,
Syria, Asia Minor, China, on which he threw two hundred thousand
men--he had a whole continent as the theater of his wars."
"And he was lame!" said Madame Caterna.
"Yes, madame, like Genseric, like Shakespeare, like Byron, like Walter
Scott, like Talleyrand, but that did not hinder his getting along in
the world. But how fanatic and bloodthirsty he was! History affirms
that at Delhi he massacred a hundred thousand captives, and at Bagdad
he erected an obelisk of eighty thousand heads."
"I like the one in the Place de la Concorde better," said Caterna, "and
that is only in one piece."
At this observation we left the mosque of Gour Emir, and as it was time
to "hurry up," as our actor said, the arba was driven briskly toward
For my part, in spite of the observations of the Caternas, I was fully
in tone with the local color due to the marvels of Samarkand, when I
was roughly shaken back into modern reality.
In the streets--yes--in the streets near the railway station, in the
very center of Tamerlane's capital, I passed two bicyclists.
"Ah!" exclaimed Caterna. "Messrs. Wheeler!"
And they were Turkomans!
After that nothing more could be done than leave a town so dishonored
by the masterpiece of mechanical locomotion, and that was what we did
at eight o'clock.
We dined an hour after the train left. In the dining car were several
newcomers, among others two negroes whom Caterna began to speak of as
None of these travelers, Popof told me, would cross the Russo-Chinese
frontier, so that they interested me little or not at all.
During dinner, at which all my numbers were present--I have twelve now,
and I do not suppose I shall go beyond that--I noticed that Major
Noltitz continued to keep his eye on his lordship Faruskiar. Had he
begun to suspect him? Was it of any importance in his opinion that this
Mongol seemed to know, without appearing to do so, the three
second-class travelers, who were also Mongols? Was his imagination
working with the same activity as mine, and was he taking seriously
what was only a joke on my part? That I, a man of letters, a chronicler
in search of scenes and incidents, should be pleased to see in his
personage a rival of the famous Ki Tsang, or Ki Tsang himself, could be
understood; but that he, a serious man, doctor in the Russian army,
should abandon himself to such speculations no one would believe. Never
mind now, we shall have something more to say about it by and by.
As for me, I had soon forgotten all about the Mongol for the man in the
case. Tired as I am after that long run through Samarkand, if I get a
chance to visit him to-night I will.
Dinner being over, we all begin to make ourselves comfortable for the
night, with the intention of sleeping till we reach Tachkend.
The distance from Samarkand to Tachkend is three hundred kilometres. The
train will not get in there before seven o'clock in the morning. It will
stop three times at small stations for water and fuel--circumstances
favorable to the success of my project. I add that the night is dark,
the sky overcast, no moon, no stars. It threatens rain; the wind is
freshening. It is no time for walking on platforms, and nobody walks
there. It is important to choose the moment when Popof is sound asleep.
It is not necessary for the interview to be a long one. That the
gallant fellow should be reassured--that is the essential point--and he
will be, as soon as I have made his acquaintance. A little information
concerning him, concerning Mademoiselle Zinca Klork, whence he comes,
why he is going to Pekin, why he chose such a mode of transport, his
provisions for the journey, how he gets into the case, his age, his
trade, his birthplace, what he has done in the past, what he hopes to
do in the future, etc., etc., and I have done all that a conscientious
reporter can do. That is what I want to know; that is what I will ask
him. It is not so very much.
And in the first place let us wait until the car is asleep. That will
not be long, for my companions are more or less fatigued by the hours
they have spent in Samarkand. The beds were ready immediately after
dinner. A few of the passengers tried a smoke on the platform, but the
gust drove them in very quickly. They have all taken up their places
under the curtained lamps, and toward half-past ten the respiration of
some and the snoring of others are blended with the continued grinding
of the train on the steel rails.
I remained outside last of all, and Popof exchanged a few words with me.
"We shall not be disturbed to-night," he said to me, "and I would
advise you to make the most of it. To-morrow night we shall be running
through the defiles of the Pamir, and we shall not travel so quietly, I
"Thanks, Popof, I will take your advice, and sleep like a marmot."
Popof wished me good night and went into his cabin.
I saw no use in going back into the car, and remained on the platform.
It was impossible to see anything either to the left or right of the
line. The oasis of Samarkand had already been passed, and the rails
were now laid across a long horizontal plain. Many hours would elapse
before the train reached the Syr Daria, over which the line passes by a
bridge like that over the Amou-Daria, but of less importance.
It was about half-past eleven when I decided to open the door of the
van, which I shut behind me.
I knew that the young Roumanian was not always shut up in his box, and
the fancy might just have taken him to stretch his limbs by walking
from one end to the other of the van.
The darkness is complete. No jet of light filters through the holes of
the case. That seems all the better for me. It is as well that my No.
11 should not be surprised by too sudden an apparition. He is doubtless
asleep. I will give two little knocks on the panel, I will awake him,
and we will explain matters before he can move.
I feel as I go. My hand touches the case; I place my ear against the
panel and I listen.
There is not a stir, not a breath! Is my man not here? Has he got away?
Has he slipped out at one of the stations without my seeing him? Has my
news gone with him? Really, I am most uneasy; I listen attentively.
No! He has not gone. He is in the case. I hear distinctly his regular
and prolonged respiration. He sleeps. He sleeps the sleep of the
innocent, to which he has no right, for he ought to sleep the sleep of
the swindler of the Grand Transasiatic.
I am just going to knock when the locomotive's whistle emits its
strident crow, as we pass through a station. But the train is not going
to stop, I know, and I wait until the whistling has ceased.
I then give a gentle knock on the panel.
There is no reply.
However, the sound of breathing is not so marked as before.
I knock more loudly.
This time it is followed by an involuntary movement of surprise and
"Open, open!" I say in Russian.
There is no reply.
"Open!" I say again. "It is a friend who speaks. You have nothing to
If the panel is not lowered, as I had hoped, there is the crack of a
match being lighted and a feeble light appears in the case.
I look at the prisoner through the holes in the side.
There is a look of alarm on his face; his eyes are haggard. He does not
know whether he is asleep or awake.
"Open, my friend, I say, open and have confidence. I have discovered
your secret. I shall say nothing about it. On the other hand, I may be
of use to you."
The poor man looks more at ease, although he does not move.
"You are a Roumanian, I think," I add, "and I am a Frenchman."
"Frenchman? You are a Frenchman?"
And this reply was given in my own language, with a foreign accent.
One more bond between us.
The panel slips along its groove, and by the light of a little lamp I
can examine my No. 11, to whom I shall be able to give a less
"No one can see us, nor hear us?" he asked in a half-stifled voice.
My new friend takes my hands, he clasps them. I feel that he seeks a
support. He understands he can depend on me. And he murmurs:
"Do not betray me--do not betray me."
"Betray you, my boy? Did not the French newspapers sympathize with that
little Austrian tailor, with those two Spanish sweethearts, who sent
themselves by train in the way you are doing? Were not subscriptions
opened in their favor? And can you believe that I, a journalist--"
"You are a journalist?"
"Claudius Bombarnac, special correspondent of the _Twentieth Century."_
"A French journal--"
"Yes, I tell you."
"And you are going to Pekin?"
"Through to Pekin."
"Ah! Monsieur Bombarnac, Providence has sent you onto my road."
"No, it was the managers of my journal, and they delegated to me the
powers they hold from Providence, courage and confidence. Anything I
can do for you I will."
"What is your name?"
"Kinko? Excellent name!"
"For my articles! You are a Roumanian, are you not?"
"Roumanian of Bucharest."
"But you have lived in France?"
"Four years in Paris, where I was apprentice to an upholsterer in the
Faubourg Saint Antoine."
"And you went back to Bucharest?"
"Yes, to work at my trade there until the day came when it was
impossible for me to resist the desire to leave--"
"To leave? Why?"
"To marry--Mademoiselle Zinca--"
"Yes, Mademoiselle Zinca Klork, Avenue Cha-Coua, Pekin, China!"
"Certainly. The address is on the box."
"As to Mademoiselle Zinca Klork--"
"She is a young Roumanian. I knew her in Paris, where she was learning
the trade of a milliner. Oh, charming--"
"I am sure upon it. You need not dwell on that."
"She also returned to Bucharest, until she was invited to take the
management of a dressmaker's at Pekin. We loved, monsieur; she
went--and we were separated for a year. Three weeks ago she wrote to
me. She was getting on over there. If I could go out to her, I would do
well. We should get married without delay. She had saved something. I
would soon earn as much as she had. And here I am on the road--in my
"In this box?"
"What would you have, Monsieur Bombarnac?" asked Kinko, reddening. "I
had only money enough to buy a packing case, a few provisions, and get
myself sent off by an obliging friend. It costs a thousand francs to go
from Tiflis to Pekin. But as soon as I have gained them, the company
will be repaid, I assure you."
"I believe you, Kinko, I believe you; and on your arrival at Pekin?"
"Zinca has been informed. The box will be taken to Avenue Cha-Coua, and
"Will pay the carriage?"
"And with pleasure, I will answer for it."
"You may be sure of it, for we love each other so much."
"And besides, Kinko, what would one not do for a sweetheart who
consents to shut himself up in a box for a fortnight, and arrives
labelled 'Glass,' 'Fragile,' 'Beware of damp--'"
"Ah, you are making fun of a poor fellow."
"Not at all; and you may rest assured I will neglect nothing which will
enable you to arrive dry and in one piece at Mademoiselle Zinca
Klork's--in short, in a perfect state of preservation!"
"Again I thank you," said Kinko, pressing my hands. "Believe me, you
will not find me ungrateful."
"Ah! friend Kinko, I shall be paid, and more than paid!"
"By relating, as soon as I can do so without danger to you, the
particulars of your journey from Tiflis to Pekin. Think now--what a
heading for a column:
'A LOVER IN A BOX!
ZINCA AND KINKO!!
1,500 LEAGUES THROUGH CENTRAL ASIA IN A
The young Roumanian could not help smiling.
"You need not be in too much of a hurry!" he said.
"Never fear! Prudence and discretion, as they say at the matrimonial
Then I went to the door of the van to see that we were in no danger of
surprise, and then the conversation was resumed. Naturally, Kinko asked
me how I had discovered his secret. I told him all that had passed on
the steamer during the voyage across the Caspian. His breathing had
betrayed him. The idea that at first I took him for a wild beast seemed
to amuse him. A wild beast! A faithful poodle, rather! Then with a
sneeze he went up the animal scale to human rank.
"But," said he to me, lowering his voice, "two nights ago I thought all
was lost. The van was closed. I had just lighted my little lamp, and
had begun my supper when a knock came against the panel--"
"I did that, Kinko, I did that. And that night we should have become
acquainted if the train had not run into a dromedary."
"It was you! I breathe again!" said Kinko. "In what dreams I have
lived! It was known that some one was hidden in this box. I saw myself
discovered, handed over to the police, taken to prison at Merv or
Bokhara, and my little Zinca waiting for me in vain; and never should I
see her again, unless I resumed the journey on foot. Well, I would have
resumed, yes, I would."
And he said it with such an air of resolution that it was impossible
not to see that the young Roumanian had unusual spirit.
"Brave Kinko!" I answered. "I am awfully sorry to have caused you such
apprehensions. Now you are at ease again, and I fancy your chances have
improved now we have made friends."
I then asked Kinko to show me how he managed in his box.
Nothing could be simpler or better arranged. At the bottom was a seat
on which he sat with the necessary space for him to stretch his legs
when he placed them obliquely; under the seat, shut in by a lid, were a
few provisions, and table utensils reduced to a simple pocket knife and
metal mug; an overcoat and a rug hung from a nail, and the little lamp
he used at nighttime was hooked onto one of the walls.
The sliding panel allowed the prisoner to leave his prison
occasionally. But if the case had been placed among other packages, if
the porters had not deposited it with the precautions due to its
fragility, he would not have been able to work the panel, and would
have had to make a friend somehow before the end of the journey.
Fortunately, there is a special Providence for lovers, and divine
intervention in favor of Kinko and Zinca Klork was manifested in all
its plenitude. He told me that very night he had taken a walk either in
the van or else on the station platform where the train had stopped.
"I know that, Kinko. That was at Bokhara. I saw you!"
"You saw me?"
"Yes, and I thought you were trying to get away. But if I saw you, it
was because I knew of your presence in the van, and I was there
watching you, no one else having an idea of spying on you.
Nevertheless, it was dangerous; do not do it again; let me replenish
your larder when I get an opportunity."
"Thank you, Monsieur Bombarnac, thank you! I do not believe I am in
danger of being discovered, unless at the Chinese frontier--or rather
"The custom house is very keen on goods going into China. I am afraid
they will come round the packages, and that my box--"
"In fact, Kinko," I replied, "there are a few difficult hours for you."
"If they find me out?"
"I shall be there, and I will do all I can to prevent anything
"Ah! Monsieur Bombarnac!" exclaimed Kinko, in a burst of gratitude.
"How can I repay you?"
"Very easily, Kinko."
"And in what way?"
"Ask me to your marriage with the lovely Zinca."
"I will! And Zinca will embrace you."
"She will be only doing her duty, friend Kinko, and I shall be only
doing mine in returning two kisses for one."
We exchanged a last grip of the hand; and, really, I think there were
tears in the good fellow's eyes when I left him. He put out his lamp,
he pushed back the panel, then through the case I heard one more
"thanks" and an "_au revoir_."
I came out of the van, I shut the door, I assured myself that Popof was
still asleep. In a few minutes, after a breath or two of the night air,
I go into my place near Major Noltitz.
And before I close my eyes my last thought is that, thanks to the
appearance of the episodic Kinko, the journey of their energetic
"Special" will not be displeasing to my readers.
In 1870 the Russians endeavored without success to establish a fair at
Tachkend which would rival that at Nijni-Novgorod. Some twenty years
later the attempt would have succeeded, and as a matter of fact the
fair now exists, owing to the making of the Transcaspian to unite
Samarkand and Tachkend.
And now not only do merchants with their merchandise crowd into this
town, but pilgrims with their pilgrimage outfits. And there will be
quite a procession, or rather an exodus, when the time comes for the
Mussulman faithful to ride to Mecca by railway.
Meanwhile we are at Tachkend, and the time-table shows that we stop
here two hours and a half.
Of course I shall not have time to visit the town, which would be worth
my while to do. But I must confess that these cities of Turkestan are
very much alike, and to have seen one is to have seen another, unless
we can go into details.
Crossing a fertile region where poplars like distaffs rise gracefully
erect, skirting fields bristling with vines, running by gardens where
fruit trees abound, our train stops at the new town.
As is inevitable since the Russian conquest, there are two towns side
by side at Tachkend as at Samarkand, as at Bokhara, as at Merv. Here
the old town has tortuous streets, houses of mud and clay, bazaars of
poor appearance, caravanserais built of bricks dried in the sun, a few
mosques, and schools as numerous as if the czar had decreed by ukase
that everything French should be imitated. It is true that the scholars
are wanting, but there is no want of schools.
The population of Tachkend does not differ very much from that met with
in other parts of Turkestan. It comprises Sarthes, Usbegs, Tadjiks,
Khirgizes, Nogais, Israelites, a few Afghans and Hindoos and--as may be
naturally supposed--a fair supply of Russians.
It is perhaps at Tachkend that the Jews are gathered in the greatest
numbers. And from the day that the town passed under Russian
administration their situation has considerably improved. From that
epoch dates the complete civil and political liberty they now enjoy.
I have only two hours to spare in visiting the town, and I do my work
in true reporter style. You should have seen me dashing through the
grand bazaar, a mere wooden building, which is crammed with Oriental
stuffs, silk goods, metal ware, specimens of Chinese manufacture,
including some very fine examples of porcelain.
In the streets of old Tachkend a certain number of women are to be met
with. I need hardly say that there are no slaves in this country, much
to the displeasure of the Mussulmans. Nowadays woman is free--even in
"An old Turkoman," said Major Noltitz, "once told me that a husband's
power is at an end now that he cannot thrash his wife without being
threatened with an appeal to the czar; and that marriage is at an end!"
I do not know if the fair sex is still beaten, but the husbands know
what they may expect if they knock their wives about. Will it be
believed that these peculiar Orientals can see no progress in this
prohibition to beat their wives? Perhaps they remember that the
Terrestrial Paradise is not far off--a beautiful garden between the
Tigris and Euphrates, unless it was between the Amou and the Syr-Daria.
Perhaps they have not forgotten that mother Eve lived in this
preadamite garden, and that if she had been thrashed a little before
her first fault, she would probably not have committed it. But we need
not enlarge on that.
I did not hear, as Madam Ujfalvy-Bourdon did, the band playing the
_Pompiers de Nanterre_ in the governor-general's garden. No! On this
occasion they were playing _Le Pere la Victoire_, and if these are not
national airs they are none the less agreeable to French ears.
We left Tachkend at precisely eleven o'clock in the morning. The
country through which the Grand Transasiatic is now running is not so
monotonous. The plain begins to undulate, for we are approaching the
outer ramifications of the eastern orographic system. We are nearing
the tableland of the Pamirs. At the same time we continue at normal
speed along this section of a hundred and fifty kilometres which
separates us from Khodjend.
As soon as we are on the move I begin to think of Kinko. His little
love romance has touched me to the heart. This sweetheart who sent
himself off--this other sweetheart who is going to pay the expenses--I
am sure Major Noltitz would be interested in these two turtle doves,
one of which is in a cage; he would not be too hard on this defrauder
of the company, he would be incapable of betraying him. Consequently I
have a great desire to tell him of my expedition into the baggage van.
But the secret is not mine. I must do nothing that might get Kinko into
And so I am silent, and to-night I will, if possible, take a few
provisions to my packing case--to my snail in his shell, let us say.
And is not the young Roumanian like a snail in his shell, for it is as
much as he can do to get out of it?
We reach Khodjend about three in the afternoon. The country is fertile,
green, carefully cultivated. It is a succession of kitchen gardens,
which seem to be well-kept immense fields sown with clover, which yield
four or five crops a year. The roads near the town are bordered with
long rows of mulberry trees, which diversify the view with eccentric
Again, this pair of cities, old and new. Both of them had only thirty
thousand inhabitants in 1868 and they have from forty-five to fifty
thousand now. Is it the influence of the surroundings which produces
the increase of the birth rate? Is the province affected by the
prolific example of the Celestial Empire? No! It is the progress of
trade, the concentration of merchants of all nations onto these new
Our halt at Khodjend has lasted three hours. I have made my
professional visit and walked on the banks of the Syr-Dana. This river,
which bathes the foot of the high mountains of Mogol-Taou, is crossed
by a bridge, the middle section of which gives passage to ships of
The weather is very warm. The town being protected by its shelter of
mountains, the breezes of the steppe cannot reach it, and it is one of
the hottest places in Turkestan.
I met the Caternas, delighted with their excursion. The actor said to
me in a tone of the best humor:
"Never shall I forget Khodjend, Monsieur Claudius."
"And why will you never forget Khodjend, Monsieur Caterna?"
"Do you see these peaches?" he asked, showing me the fruit he was
"They are magnificent--"
"And not dear! A kilo for four kopeks--that is to say, twelve centimes!"
"Eh!" I answer. "That shows that peaches are rather common in this
country. That is the Asiatic apple and it was one of those apples that
Mrs. Adam took a bite at--"
"Then I excuse her!" said Madame Caterna, munching away at one of these
After leaving Tachkend the railway had curved toward the south, so as
to reach Khodjend; but after leaving town it curved to the east in the
direction of Kokhan. It is at Tachkend that it is nearest to the
Transsiberian, and a branch line is being made to Semipalatinsk to
unite the railway systems of Central and Northern Asia.
Beyond we shall run due east, and by Marghelan and Och pass through the
gorges of the Pamirs so as to reach the Turkesto-Chinese frontier.
The train had only just started when the travelers took their seats at
the table, where I failed to notice any fresh arrival. We shall not
pick up any more until we reach Kachgar. There the Russian cookery will
give place to the Chinese, and although the name does not recall the
nectar and ambrosia of Olympus, it is probable that we shall not lose
by the change.
Ephrinell is in his usual place. Without going as far as familiarity,
it is obvious that a close intimacy, founded on a similarity in tastes
and aptitudes exists between Miss Horatia Bluett and the Yankee. There
is no doubt, in our opinion, but what it will end in a wedding as soon
as the train arrives. Both will have their romance of the rail.
Frankly, I like that of Kinko and Zinca Klork much better. It is true
the pretty Roumanian is not here!
We are all very friendly, and by "we" I mean my most sympathetic
numbers, the major, the Caternas, young Pan Chao, who replies with very
Parisian pleasantries to the actor's fooleries.
The dinner is a pleasant one and a good one. We learn what is the
fourth rule formulated by Cornaco, that Venetian noble, and with the
object of determining the right amount for drinking and eating. Pan
Chao pressed the doctor on this subject, and Tio-King replied, with a
seriousness truly buddhic:
"The rule is founded on the quantity of nourishment proportionate for
each temperament as regards the difference of ages, and the strength
and the food of various kinds."
"And for your temperament, doctor?" asked Caterna, "what is the right
"Fourteen ounces of solid or liquid--"
"No, sir, a day," replied Tio-King. "And it was in this manner that the
illustrious Cornaro lived from the age of thirty-six, so as to leave
himself enough strength of body and mind to write his fourth treatise
when he was eighty-five, and to live to a hundred and two."
"In that case, give me my fifth cutlet," said Pan Ghao, with a burst of
There is nothing more agreeable than to talk before a well-served
table; but I must not forget to complete my notes regarding Kokham. We
were not due there till nine o'clock, and that would be in the
nighttime. And so I asked the major to give me some information
regarding this town, which is the last of any importance in Russian
"I know it all the better," said the major, "from having been in
garrison there for fifteen months. It is a pity you have not time to
visit it, for it remains very Asiatic, and there has not been time yet
for it to grow a modern town. There is a square there unrivalled in
Asia, a palace in great style, that of the old Khan of Khondajar,
situated on a mound about a hundred yards high, and in which the
governor has left his Sarthe artillery. It is considered wonderful, and
there is good reason for it. You will lose by not going there a rare
opportunity of bringing in the high-flown words of your language in
description: the reception hall transformed into a Russian church, a
labyrinth of rooms with the floors of the precious Karagatch wood, the
rose pavilion, in which visitors receive a truly Oriental hospitality,
the interior court of Moorish decoration recalling the adorable
architectural fancies of the Alhambra, the terraces with their splendid
views, the harem where the thousand wives of the Sultan--a hundred more
than Solomon--live in peace together, the lacework of the fronts, the
gardens with their shady walks under the ancient vines--that is what
you would have seen--"
"And which I have already seen with your eyes, dear major," said I. "My
readers will not complain. Pray tell me if there are any bazaars in ."
"A Turkestan town without bazaars would be like London without its
"And Paris without its theaters!" said the actor.
"Yes; there are bazaars at Kokhan, one of them on the Sokh bridge, the two
arms of which traverse the town and in it the finest fabrics of Asia
are sold for tillahs of gold, which are worth three roubles and sixty
kopeks of our money."
"I am sure, major, that you are going to mention mosques after bazaars."
"Certainly; but you must understand that some of them are as good as
the mosques and medresses of Samarkand of Bokhara."
I took advantage of the kindness of Major Noltitz and thanks to him,
the readers of the _Twentieth Century_ need not spend a night in Kokhan. I
will leave my pen inundated with the solar rays of this city of which I
could only see a vague outline.
The dinner lasted till rather late, and terminated in an unexpected
manner by an offer from Caterna to recite a monologue.
I need scarcely say that the offer was gladly accepted.
Our train more and more resembled a small rolling town It had even its
casino, this dining-car in which we were gathered at the moment. And it
was thus in the eastern part of Turkestan, four hundred kilometres from
the Pamir plateau, at dessert after our excellent dinner served in a
saloon of the Grand Transasiatic, that the _Obsession_ was given with
remarkable talent by Monsieur Caterna, grand premier comique, engaged
at Shanghai theater for the approaching season.
"Monsieur," said Pan Chao, "my sincere compliments. I have heard young
"A master, monsieur; a master!" said Caterna.
"Whom you approach--"
The bravos lavished on Caterna had no effect on Sir Francis Trevellyan,
who had been occupying himself with onomatopic exclamations regarding
the dinner, which he considered execrable. He was not amused--not even
sadly, as his countrymen have been for four hundred years, according to
Froissart. And yet nobody took any notice of this grumbling gentleman's
Baron Weissschnitzerdoerfer had not understood a single word of this
little masterpiece, and had he understood it, he would not have been
able to appreciate this sample of Parisian monologomania.
As to my lord Faruskiar and his inseparable Ghangir, it seemed that in
spite of their traditional reserve, the surprising grimaces, the
significant gestures, the comical intonations, had interested them to a
The actor had noticed it, and appreciated this silent admiration.
As he rose from the table he said to me:
"He is magnificent, this seigneur! What dignity! What a presence! What
a type of the farthest East! I like his companion less--a third-rate
fellow at the outside! But this superb Mongol! Caroline, cannot you
imagine him as 'Morales' in the _Pirates of the Savannah_?"
"Not in that costume, at any rate," said I.
"Why not, Monsieur Claudius? One day at Perpignan I played 'Colonel de
Monteclin' in the _Closerie des Genets_ in the costume of a Japanese
"And he was applauded!" added Madame Caterna.
During dinner the train had passed Kastakos station, situated in the
center of a mountainous region. The road curved a good deal, and ran
over viaducts and through tunnels--as we could tell by the noise.
A little time afterward Popof told us that we were in the territory of
Ferganah, the name of the ancient khanate of Kokhan, which was annexed by
Russia in 1876, with the seven districts that compose it. These
districts, in which Sarthes are in the majority, are administered by
prefects, sub-prefects, and mayors. Come, then, to Ferganah, to find
all the machinery of the constitution of the year VIII.
Beyond there is an immense steppe, extending before our train. Madame
de Ujfalvy-Bourdon has justly compared it to a billiard table, so
perfect in its horizontality. Only it is not an ivory ball which is
rolling over its surface, but an express of the Grand Transasiatic
running at sixty kilometres an hour.
Leaving the station of Tchontchai behind, we enter station at nine
o'clock in the evening. The stoppage is to last two hours. We get out
onto the platform.
As we are leaving the car I am near Major Noltitz, who asks young Pan
"Have you ever heard of this mandarin Yen Lou, whose body is being
taken to Pekin?"
"But he ought to be a personage of consideration, to be treated with
the honor he gets."
"That is possible," said Pan Chao; "but we have so many personages of
consideration in the Celestial Empire."
"And so, this mandarin, Yen Lou?"
"I never heard him mentioned."
Why did Major Noltitz ask the Chinaman this question? What was he
Kokhan, two hours to stop. It is night. The majority of the travelers
have already taken up their sleeping quarters in the car, and do not
care to alight.
Here am I on the platform, walking the deck as I smoke. This is rather
an important station, and from the engine house comes a more powerful
locomotive than those which have brought the train along since we left
Uzun Ada. These early engines were all very well as long as the line
lay over an almost horizontal plain. But now we are among the gorges of
the Pamir plateau, there are gradients of such steepness as to require
more engine power.
I watch the proceedings, and when the locomotive has been detached with
its tender, the baggage van--with Kinko in--is at the head of the train.
The idea occurs to me that the young Roumanian may perhaps venture out
on the platform. It would be an imprudence for he runs the risk of
being seen by the police, the "gardovois," who move about taking a good
look at the passengers. What my No. 11 had better do is to remain in
his box, or at least in his van. I will go and get a few provisions,
liquid and solid, and take them to him, even before the departure of
the train, if it is possible to do so without fear of being noticed.
The refreshment room at the station is open, and Popof is not there. If
he was to see me making purchases he would be astonished, as the dining
car contains everything we might want.
At the bar I get a little cold meat, some bread, and a bottle of vodka.
The station is not well lighted. A few lamps give only a feeble light.
Popof is busy with one of the railway men. The new engine has not yet
been attached to the train. The moment seems favorable. It is useless
to wait until we have left. If I can reach Kinko I shall be able to
sleep through the night--and that will be welcome, I admit.
I step onto the train, and after assuring myself that no one is
watching me, I enter the baggage van, saying as I do so:
"It is I."
In fact it is as well to warn Kinko in case he is out of his box.
But he had not thought of getting out, and I advise him to be very
He is very pleased at the provisions, for they are a change to his
"I do not know how to thank you, Monsieur Bombarnac," he says to me.
"If you do not know, friend Kinko," I reply, "do not do it; that is
"How long do we stop at ?"
"And when shall we be at the frontier?"
"To-morrow, about one in the afternoon."
"And at Kachgar?"
"Fifteen hours afterward, in the night of the nineteenth."
"There the danger is, Monsieur Bombarnac."
"Yes, Kinko; for if it is difficult to enter the Russian possessions,
it is no less difficult to get out of them, when the Chinese are at the
gates. Their officials will give us a good look over before they will
let us pass. At the same time they examine the passengers much more
closely than they do their baggage. And as this van is reserved for the
luggage going through to Pekin, I do not think you have much to fear.
So good night. As a matter of precaution, I would rather not prolong my
"Good night, Monsieur Bombarnac, good night."
I have come out, I have regained my couch, and I really did not hear
the starting signal when the train began to move.
The only station of any importance which the railway passed before
sunrise, was that of Marghelan, where the stoppage was a short one.
Marghelan, a populous town--sixty thousand inhabitants--is the real
capital of Ferganah. That is owing to the fact that does not enjoy a
good reputation for salubrity. It is of course, a double town, one town
Russian, the other Turkoman. The latter has no ancient monuments, and
no curiosities, and my readers must pardon my not having interrupted my
sleep to give them a glance at it.
Following the valley of Schakhimardan, the train has reached a sort of
steppe and been able to resume its normal speed.
At three o'clock in the morning we halt for forty-five minutes at Och
There I failed in my duty as a reporter, and I saw nothing. My excuse
is that there was nothing to see.
Beyond this station the road reaches the frontier which divides Russian
Turkestan from the Pamir plateau and the vast territory of the
This part of Central Asia is continually being troubled by Plutonian
disturbances beneath its surface. Northern Turkestan has frequently
suffered from earthquake--the terrible experience of 1887 will not have
been forgotten--and at Tachkend, as at Samarkand, I saw the traces of
these commotions. In fact, minor oscillations are continually being
observed, and this volcanic action takes place all along the fault,
where lay the stores of petroleum and naphtha, from the Caspian Sea to
the Pamir plateau.
In short, this region is one of the most interesting parts of Central
Asia that a tourist can visit. If Major Noltitz had never been beyond
Och station, at the foot of the plateau, he knew the district from
having studied it on the modern maps and in the most recent books of
travels. Among these I would mention those of Capus and Bonvalot--again
two French names I am happy to salute out of France. The major is,
nevertheless, anxious to see the country for himself, and although it
is not yet six o'clock in the morning, we are both out on the gangway,
glasses in hand, maps under our eyes.
The Pamir, or Bam-i-Douniah, is commonly called the "Roof of the
World." From it radiate the mighty chains of the Thian Shan, of the
Kuen Lun, of the Kara Korum, of the Himalaya, of the Hindoo Koosh. This
orographic system, four hundred kilometres across, which remained for
so many years an impassable barrier, has been surmounted by Russian
tenacity. The Sclav race and the Yellow race have come into contact.
We may as well have a little book learning on the subject; but it is
not I that speak, but Major Noltitz.
The travelers of the Aryan people have all attempted to explore the
plateau of the Pamir. Without going back to Marco Polo in the
thirteenth century, what do we find? The English with Forsyth, Douglas,
Biddulph, Younghusband, and the celebrated Gordon who died on the Upper
Nile; the Russians with Fendchenko, Skobeleff, Prjevalsky,
Grombtchevsky, General Pevtzoff, Prince Galitzin, the brothers
Groum-Grjimailo; the French with Auvergne, Bonvalot, Capus, Papin,
Breteuil, Blanc, Ridgway, O'Connor, Dutreuil de Rhins, Joseph Martin,
Grenard, Edouard Blanc; the Swedes with Doctor Swen-Hedin.
This Roof of the World, one would say that some devil on two sticks had
lifted it up in his magic hand to let us see its mysteries. We know now
that it consists of an inextricable entanglement of valleys, the mean
altitude of which exceeds three thousand metres; we know that it is
dominated by the peaks of Gouroumdi and Kauffmann, twenty-two thousand
feet high, and the peak of Tagarma, which is twenty-seven thousand
feet; we know that it sends off to the west the Oxus and the Amou
Daria, and to the east the Tarim; we know that it chiefly consists of
primary rocks, in which are patches of schist and quartz, red sands of
secondary age, and the clayey, sandy loess of the quaternary period
which is so abundant in Central Asia.
The difficulties the Grand Transasiatic had in crossing this plateau
were extraordinary. It was a challenge from the genius of man to
nature, and the victory remained with genius. Through the gently
sloping passes which the Kirghizes call "bels," viaducts, bridges,
embankments, cuttings, tunnels had to be made to carry the line. Here
are sharp curves, gradients which require the most powerful
locomotives, here and there stationary engines to haul up the train
with cables, in a word, a herculean labor, superior to the works of the
American engineers in the defiles of the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky
The desolate aspect of these territories makes a deep impression on the
imagination. As the train gains the higher altitudes, this impression
is all the more vivid. There are no towns, no villages--nothing but a
few scattered huts, in which the Pamirian lives a solitary existence
with his family, his horses, his herds of yaks, or "koutars," which are
cattle with horses' tails, his diminutive sheep, his thick-haired
goats. The moulting of these animals, if we may so phrase it, is a
natural consequence of the climate, and they change the dressing gown
of winter for the white fur coat of summer. It is the same with the
dog, whose coat becomes whiter in the hot season.
As the passes are ascended, wide breaks in the ranges yield frequent
glimpses of the more distant portions of the plateau. In many places
are clumps of birches and junipers, which are the principal trees of
the Pamir, and on the undulating plains grow tamarisks and sedges and
mugwort, and a sort of reed very abundant by the sides of the saline
pools, and a dwarf labiate called "terskenne" by the Kirghizes.
The major mentioned certain animals which constitute a somewhat varied
fauna on the heights of the Pamir. It is even necessary to keep an eye
on the platforms of the cars in case a stray panther or bear might seek
a ride without any right to travel either first or second class. During
the day our companions were on the lookout from both ends of the cars.
What shouts arose when plantigrades or felines capered along the line
with intentions that certainly seemed suspicious! A few revolver shots
were discharged, without much necessity perhaps, but they amused as
well as reassured the travelers. In the afternoon we were witnesses of
a magnificent shot, which killed instantly an enormous panther just as
he was landing on the side step of the third carriage.
"It is thine, Marguerite!" exclaimed Caterna. And could he have better
expressed his admiration than in appropriating the celebrated reply of
Buridan to the Dauphine's wife--and not the queen of France, as is
wrongly stated in the famous drama of the _Tour de Nesle_?
It was our superb Mongol to whom we were indebted for this marksman's
"What a hand and what an eye!" said I to the major, who continued to
look on Faruskiar with suspicion.
Among the other animals of the Pamirian fauna appeared wolves and
foxes, and flocks of those large wild sheep with gnarled and gracefully
curved horns, which are known to the natives as arkars. High in the sky
flew the vultures, bearded and unbearded, and amid the clouds of white
vapor we left behind us were many crows and pigeons and turtledoves and
The day passed without adventure. At six o'clock in the evening we
crossed the frontier, after a run of nearly two thousand three hundred
kilometres, accomplished in four days since leaving Uzun Ada. Two
hundred and fifty kilometres beyond we shall be at Kachgar. Although we
are now in Chinese Turkestan, it will not be till we reach that town
that we shall have our first experience of Chinese administration.
Dinner over about nine o'clock, we stretched ourselves on our beds, in
the hope, or rather the conviction, that the night will be as calm as
the preceding one.
It was not to be so.
At first the train was running down the slopes of the Pamir at great
speed. Then it resumed its normal rate along the level.
It was about one in the morning when I was suddenly awakened.
At the same time Major Noltitz and most of our companions jumped up.
There were loud shouts in the rear of the train.
What had happened?
Anxiety seized upon the travelers--that confused, unreasonable anxiety
caused by the slightest incident on a railroad.
"What is the matter? What is the matter?"
These words were uttered in alarm from all sides and in different
My first thought was that we were attacked. I thought of the famous
Ki-Tsang, the Mongol pirate, whose help I had so imprudently called
upon--for my chronicle.
In a moment the train began to slow, evidently preparing to stop.
Popof came into the van, and I asked him what had happened.
"An accident," he replied.
"No, a coupling has broken, and the two last vans are left behind."
As soon as the train pulls up, a dozen travelers, of whom I am one, get
out onto the track.
By the light of the lantern it is easy to see that the breakage is not
due to malevolence. But it is none the less true that the two last
vans, the mortuary van and the rear van occupied by the goods guard,
are missing. How far off are they? Nobody knows.
You should have heard the shouts of the Persian guards engaged in
escorting the remains of Yen Lou, for which they were responsible! The
travelers in their van, like themselves, had not noticed when the
coupling broke. It might be an hour, two hours, since the accident.
What ought to be done was clear enough. The train must be run backward
and pick up the lost vans.
Nothing could be more simple. But--and this surprised me--the behavior
of my lord Faruskiar seemed very strange. He insisted in the most
pressing manner that not a moment should be lost. He spoke to Popof, to
the driver, to the stoker, and for the first time I discovered that he
spoke Russian remarkably well.
There was no room for discussion. We were all agreed on the necessity
of a retrograde movement.
Only the German baron protested. More delays! A waste of time for the
sake of a mandarin--and a dead mandarin!
He had to walk about and bear it. As to Sir Francis Trevellyan, he
merely shrugged his shoulders, as much as to say: "What management!
What couplings! We should not get this sort of thing on an Anglo-Indian
Major Noltitz was as much struck as I was at the behavior of my lord
Faruskiar. This Mongol, usually so calm, so impassible, with his cool
look beneath his motionless eyelid, had become a prey to a sort of
furious anxiety which he appeared incapable of controlling. His
companion was as excited as he was. But what was there in these two
missing vans which could be of interest to them? They had not even any
luggage in the rear van! Was it the mandarin, Yen Lou? Was it for that
reason that at Donchak they had so carefully watched the van which
contained the corpse? I could see clearly enough that the major thought
it all very suspicious.
The train began to run back as soon as we had taken our places. The
German baron attempted to curse, but Faruskiar gave him such a look
that he did not care to get another, and stowed himself away in the
Dawn appeared in the east when the two wagons were found a kilometre
off, and the train gently slowed up to them after an hour's run.
Faruskiar and Ghangir went to help in coupling on the vans, which was
done as firmly as possible. Major Noltitz and I noticed that they
exchanged a few words with the other Mongols. After all, there was
nothing astonishing in that, for they were countrymen of theirs.
We resume our seats in the train, and the engineer tries to make up for
Nevertheless, the train does not arrive at Kachgar without a long
delay, and it is half-past four in the morning when we enter the
capital of Chinese Turkestan.
* * * * *
Kachgaria is Oriental Turkestan which is gradually being metamorphosed
into Russian Turkestan.
The writers in the _New Review_ have said: "Central Asia will only be a
great country when the Muscovite administration have laid hands on
Tibet, or when the Russians lord it at Kachgar."
Well, that is a thing half done! The piercing of the Pamir has joined
the Russian railway with the Chinese line which runs from one frontier
of the Celestial Empire to the other. The capital of Kachgaria is now
as much Russian as Chinese. The Sclav race and the Yellow race have
rubbed elbows and live in peace. How long will it last? To others leave
the future; I am content with the present.
We arrive at half-past four; we leave at eleven. The Grand Transasiatic
shows itself generous. I shall have time to see Kachgar, on condition
of allowing myself an hour less than the time stated.
For what was not done at the frontier has to be done at Kachgar.
Russians and Chinese are one as bad as the other when there are vexing
formalities; papers to verify, passports to sign, etc., etc. It is the
same sort of meddling, minute and over-fastidious, and we must put up
with it. We must not forget the terrible threat of the formula the
functionary of the Celestial Empire affixes to his acts--"Tremble and
obey!" I am disposed to obey, and I am prepared to appear before the
authorities of the frontier. I remember the fears of Kinko, and it is
with regard to him that the trembling is to be done, if the examination
of the travelers extends to their packages and luggage.
Before we reached Kachgar, Major Noltitz said to me:
"Do not imagine that Chinese Turkestan differs very much from Russian
Turkestan. We are not in the land of pagodas, junks, flower boats,
yamens, hongs and porcelain towers. Like Bokhara, Merv and Samarkand,
Kachgar is a double town. It is with the Central Asian cities as it is
with certain stars, only they do not revolve round one another."
The major's remark was very true. It was not so long ago since emirs
reigned over Kachgaria, since the monarchy of Mohammed Yakoub extended
over the whole of Turkestan, since the Chinese who wished to live here
had to adjure the religion of Buddha and Confucius and become converts
to Mahometanism, that is, if they wished to be respectable. What would
you have? In these days we are always too late, and those marvels of
the Oriental cosmorama, those curious manners, those masterpieces of
Asiatic art, are either memories or ruins. The railways will end by
bringing the countries they traverse down to the same level, to a
mutual resemblance which will certainly be equality and may be
fraternity. In truth, Kachgar is no longer the capital of Kachgaria; it
is a station on the Grand Transasiatic, the junction between the
Russian and Chinese lines, and the strip of iron which stretches for
three thousand kilometres from the Caspian to this city runs on for
nearly four thousand more to the capital of the Celestial Empire.
I return to the double town. The new one is Yangi-Chahr: the old one,
three and a half miles off, is Kachgar. I have seen both, and I will
tell you what they are like.
In the first place, both the old and the new towns are surrounded with
a villainous earthen wall that does not predispose you in their favor.
Secondly, it is in vain that you seek for any monument whatever, for
the materials of construction are identical for houses as for palaces.
Nothing but earth, and not even baked earth. It is not with mud dried
in the sun that you can obtain regular lines, clean profiles and finely
worked sculptures. Your architecture must be in stone or marble, and
that is precisely what you do not get in Chinese Turkestan.
A small carriage quickly took the major and myself to Kachgar, which is
three miles round. The Kizil-Sou, that is to say the Red River, which
is really yellow, as a Chinese river ought to be, clasps it between its
two arms, which are united by two bridges. If you wish to see a few
ruins of some interest, you must go a short distance beyond the town,
where there are the remains of fortifications dating from five hundred
or two thousand years ago, according to the imagination of the
archaeologist. What is certain is that Kachgar submitted to the furious
assault of Tamerlane, and we will agree that without the exploits of
this terrible cripple the history of Central Asia would be singularly
monotonous. Since his time there have been fierce sultans, it is
true--among others that Ouali-Khan-Toulla, who, in 1857, strangled
Schlagintweit, one of the most learned and most daring explorers of the
Asiatic continent. Two tablets of bronze, presented by the Geographical
Societies of Paris and Petersburg, ornament his commemorative monument.
Kachgar is an important centre of trade, which is almost entirely in
Russian hands. Khotan silks, cotton, felt, woolen carpets, cloth, are
the principal articles in the markets, and these are exported beyond
the frontier between Tachkend and Koulja, to the north of Oriental
Here, as the major told me, Sir Francis Trevellyan should have special
cause for manifesting his ill humor. In fact, an English embassy under
Chapman and Gordon in 1873 and 1874 had been sent from Kashmir to
Kachgar by way of Kothan and Yarkand. At this time the English had
reason to hope that commercial relations could be established to their
advantage. But instead of being in communication with the Indian
railways, the Russian railways are in communication with the Chinese,
and the result of this junction has been that English influence has had
to give place to Russian.
The population of Kachgar is Turkoman, with a considerable mixture of
Chinese, who willingly fulfil the duties of domestics, artisans or
porters. Less fortunate than Chapman and Gordon, Major Noltitz and I
were not able to see the Kachgarian capital when the armies of the
tumultuous emir filled its streets. There were none of those Djiguit
foot soldiers who were mounted, nor of those Sarbaz who were not.
Vanished had those magnificent bodies of Taifourchis, armed and
disciplined in the Chinese manner, those superb lancers, those Kalmuck
archers, bending bows five feet high, those "tigers" with their daubed
shields and their matchlocks. All have disappeared, the picturesque
warriors of Kachgaria and the emir with them.
At nine o'clock we are on our return to Yangi-Chahr. There, at the end
of the streets near the citadel, what do we see? The Caternas in
ecstatic admiration before a troop of musical dervishes.
Who says dervish says beggar, and who says beggar evokes the completest
type of filth and laziness. But with what an extraordinary combination
of gestures, with what attitudes in the management of the long-stringed
guitar, with what acrobatic swingings of the body do they accompany
their singing of their legends and poetry which could not be more
profane. The instinct of the old actor was awakened in Caterna. He
could not keep still; it was too much for him.
And so these gestures, these attitudes, these swingings he imitated
there with the vigor of an old topman joined to that of a leading
premier, and I saw him as he was figuring in this quadrille of dancing
"Eh! Monsieur Claudius!" he said, "it is not difficult to copy the
exercises of these gallant fellows! Make me a Turkestan operetta, let
me act a dervish, and you will see if I don't do it to the very life."
"I do not doubt it, my dear Caterna," I replied; "but before you do
that, come into the restaurant at the railway station and bid farewell
to Turkestan cookery, for we shall soon be reduced to Chinese."
The offer is accepted all the more willingly, for the reputation of the
Kachgarian cooks is well justified, as the major made us remark.
In fact, the Caternas, the major, young Pan Chao and I were astonished
and enchanted at the quantity of dishes that were served us, as well as
at their quality. Sweets alternated capriciously with roasts and
grills. And as the Caternas could never forget--any more than they
could forget the famous peaches of Khodjend--there are a few of these
dishes which the English embassy wished to retain in remembrance, for
they have given the composition in the story of their journey: pigs'
feet dusted with sugar and browned in fat with a dash of pickles;
kidneys fried with sweet sauce and served with fritters.
Caterna asked for the first twice, and for the other three times.
"I take my precautions," said he. "Who knows what the dining-car
kitchen will give us on the Chinese railways? Let us beware of shark
fins, which may perhaps be rather horny, and of swallows' nests which
may not be quite fresh!"
It is ten o'clock when a stroke of the gong announces that the police
formalities are about to begin. We leave the table after a parting
glass of Choa-Hing wine, and a few minutes afterward are in the waiting
All my numbers are present, with the exception, of course, of Kinko,
who would have done honor to our breakfast if it had been possible for
him to take part in it. There was Doctor Tio-King, his _Cornaro_ under
his arm; Fulk Ephrinell and Miss Horatia Bluett, mingling their teeth
and hair, figuratively, be it understood; Sir Francis Trevellyan,
motionless and silent, intractable and stiff, smoking his cigar on the
threshold; Faruskiar, accompanied by Ghangir; Russian, Turkoman,
Chinese travelers--in all from sixty to eighty persons. Every one had
in his turn to present himself at the table, which was occupied by two
Celestials in uniform; a functionary speaking Russian fluently, an
interpreter for German, French and English.
The Chinese was a man about fifty, with a bald head, a thick moustache,
a long pigtail, and spectacles on his nose. Wrapped in a flowery robe,
fat as if he belonged to the most distinguished people in the country,
he had not a prepossessing face. After all, it was only a verification
of our papers, and as ours were in order it did not much matter how
repulsive he looked.
"What an air he has!" murmured Madame Caterna.
"The air of a Chinaman!" said her husband, "and frankly I do not want
to have one like it."
I am one of the first to present my passport, which bears the visas of
the consul at Tiflis and the Russian authorities at Uzun-Ada. The
functionary looks at it attentively. When you are dealing with a
mandarin, you should always be on the lookout. Nevertheless, the
examination raises no difficulty, and the seal of the green dragon
declares me all in order.
The same result with regard to the actor and actress. Nevertheless it
was worth while looking at Caterna while his papers were being
examined. He assumed the attitude of a criminal endeavoring to mollify
a magistrate, he made the sheepiest of eyes, and smiled the most
deprecating of smiles, and seemed to implore a grace or rather a favor,
and yet the most obdurate of the Chinamen had not a word to say to him.
"Correct," said the interpreter.
"Thank you, my prince!" replied Caterna, with the accent of a Paris
As to Ephrinell and Miss Bluett, they went through like a posted
letter. If an American commercial and an English ditto were not in
order, who would be? Uncle Sam and John Bull are one as far as that
The other travelers, Russian and Turkoman, underwent examination
without any difficulty arising. Whether they were first-class or
second-class, they had fulfilled the conditions required by the Chinese
administration, which levies a rather heavy fee for each visa, payable
in roubles, taels or sapeks.
Among the travelers I noticed an American clergyman bound to Pekin.
This was the Reverend Nathaniel Morse, of Boston, one of those honest
Bible distributors, a Yankee missionary, in the garb of a merchant, and
very keen in business matters. At a venture I make him No. 13 in my
The verification of the papers of young Pan Chao and Doctor Tio-King
gave rise to no difficulty, and on leaving they exchanged "ten thousand
good mornings" with the more amiable of the Chinese representatives.
When it came to the turn of Major Noltitz, a slight incident occurred.
Sir Francis Trevellyan, who came to the table at the same moment, did
not seem inclined to give way. However, nothing resulted but haughty
and provoking looks. The gentleman did not even take the trouble to
open his mouth. It is evidently written above that I am not to hear the
sound of his voice! The Russian and the Englishman each received the
regulation visa, and the affair went no further.
My lord Faruskiar, followed by Ghangir, then arrived before the man in
spectacles, who looked at him with a certain amount of attention. Major
Noltitz and I watched him. How would he submit to this examination?
Perhaps we were to be undeceived regarding him.
But what was our surprise and even our stupefaction at the dramatic
outburst which at once took place!
After throwing a glance at the papers presented to him by Ghangir, the
Chinese functionary rose and bowed respectfully to Faruskiar, saying:
"May the General Manager of the Grand Transasiatic deign to receive my
ten thousand respects!"
General Manager, that is what he is, this lord Faruskiar! All is
explained. During our crossing of Russian Turkestan he had maintained
his _incognito_ like a great personage in a foreign country; but now on
the Chinese railways he resumed the rank which belonged to him.
And I--in a joke, it is true--had permitted myself to identify him with
the pirate Ki-Tsang. And Major Noltitz, who had spent his time
suspecting him! At last I have some one of note in our train--I have
him, this somebody, I will make his acquaintance, I will cultivate it
like a rare plant, and if he will only speak Russian I will interview
him down to his boots!
Good! I am completely upset, and I could not help shrugging my
shoulders, when the major whispers to me:
"Perhaps one of the bandit chiefs with whom the Grand Transasiatic had
to make terms!"
"Come, major, be serious."
The visit was nearing its end when Baron Weissschnitzerdoerfer appeared.
He is preoccupied, he is troubled, he is anxious, he is confused, he is
fidgety. Why is he shaking, and bending, and diving into his pockets
like a man who has lost something valuable?
"Your papers!" demands the interpreter in German.
"My papers!" replies the baron, "I am looking for them. I have not got
them; they were in my letter case."
And he dived again into his trousers pockets, his waistcoat pockets,
his coat pockets, his great-coat pockets--there were twenty of them at
the least--and he found nothing.
"Be quick--be quick!" said the interpreter. "The train cannot wait!"
"I object to its going without me!" exclaimed the baron. "These
papers--how have they gone astray? I must have let them drop out of my
case. They should have given them back to me--"
At this moment the gong awoke the echoes of the interior of the railway
"Wait! wait! Donner vetter! Can't you wait a few moments for a man who
is going round the world in thirty-nine days--"
"The Grand Transasiatic does not wait," says the interpreter.
Without waiting for any more, Major Noltitz and I reach the platform,
while the baron continues to struggle in the presence of the impassible
I examine the train and see that its composition has been modified on
account of there being fewer travelers between Kachgar and Pekin.
Instead of twelve carriages, there are now only ten, placed in the
following order: engine, tender, front van, two first-class cars,
dining car, two second-class cars, the van with the defunct mandarin,
The Russian locomotives, which have brought us from Uzun-Ada, have been
replaced by a Chinese locomotive, burning not naphtha but coal, of
which there are large deposits in Turkestan, and stores at the chief
stations along the line.
My first care is to look in at the front van. The custom-house officers
are about to visit it, and I tremble for poor Kinko.
It is evident that the fraud has not been discovered yet, for there
would have been a great stir at the news. Suppose the case is passed?
Will its position be shifted? Will it be put hind side before or upside
down? Kinko will not then be able to get out, and that would be a
The Chinese officers have come out of the van and shut the door, so
that I cannot give a glance into it. The essential point is that Kinko
has not been caught in the act. As soon as possible I will enter the
van, and as bankers say, "verify the state of the safe."
Before getting into our car, Major Noltitz asks me to follow him to the
rear of the train.
The scene we witness is not devoid of interest; it is the giving over
of the corpse of the mandarin Yen Lou by the Persian guards to a
detachment of soldiers of the Green Standard, who form the Chinese
gendarmerie. The defunct passes into the care of twenty Celestials, who
are to occupy the second-class car in front of the mortuary van. They
are armed with guns and revolvers, and commanded by an officer.
"Well," said I to the major, "this mandarin must be some very exalted
personage if the Son of Heaven sends him a guard of honor--"
"Or of defence," replies the major.
Faruskiar and Ghangir assist at these proceedings, in which there is
nothing surprising. Surely the general manager of the line ought to
keep an eye on the illustrious defunct, entrusted to the care of the
The gong was struck for the last time; we hasten into our cars.
And the baron, what has become of him?
Here he comes out on to the platform like a whirlwind. He has found his
papers at the bottom of his nineteenth pocket. He has obtained the
necessary visa--and it was time.
"Passengers for Pekin, take your seats!" shouts Popof in a sonorous
The train trembles, it starts, it has gone.
We are off on a Chinese railway, single line, the train drawn by a
Chinese engine, driven by a Chinese driver. Let us hope we shall not be
telescoped on the road, for among the passengers is one of the chief
functionaries of the company in the person of Faruskiar.
After all, if an accident should happen it will break the monotony of
the journey, and furnish me with an episode. I am forced to admit that
up to the present my personages have not behaved as I expected. The
drama does not run well, the action languishes. We want something
startling to bring all the actors on--what Caterna would call "a good
But then Ephrinell and Miss Bluett are all the time absorbed in their
commercial tete-a-tete. Pan Chao and the doctor amused me for a time,
but they are not equal to it now. The actor and the actress are of no
use without opportunity. Kinko, Kinko himself, on whom I had built such
hopes, has passed the frontier without difficulty, he will reach Pekin,
he will marry Zinca Klork. Decidedly there is a want of excitement. I
cannot get anything out of the corpse of Yen Lou! and the readers of
the _Twentieth Century_ who looked to me for something sensational and
Must I have recourse to the German baron? No! he is merely ridiculous,
stupidly ridiculous, and he has no interest for me.
I return to my idea: I want a hero, and up to the present no hero has
appeared on the scene.
Evidently the moment has come to enter into more intimate relations
with Faruskiar. Perhaps he will not now be so close in his incognito.
We are under his orders, so to say. He is the mayor of our rolling
town, and a mayor owes something to those he governs. Besides, in the
event of Kinko's fraud being discovered I may as well secure the
protection of this high functionary.
Our train runs at only moderate speed since we left Kachgar. On the
opposite horizon we can see the high lands of the Pamir; to the
southwest rises the Bolor, the Kachgarian belt from which towers the
summit of Tagharma lost among the clouds.
I do not know how to spend my time. Major Noltitz has never visited the
territories crossed by the Grand Transasiatic, and I am deprived of the
pleasure of taking notes from his dictation. Dr. Tio-King does not lift
his nose from his Cornaro, and Pan Chao reminds me more of Paris and
France than of Pekin and China; besides, when he came to Europe he came
by Suez, and he knows no more of Oriental Turkestan than he does of
Kamtschatka. All the same, we talk. He is a pleasant companion, but a
little less amiability and a little more originality would suit me
I am reduced to strolling from one car to another, lounging on the
platforms, interrogating the horizon, which obstinately refuses to
reply, listening on all sides.
Hello! there are the actor and his wife apparently in animated
conversation. I approach. They sing in an undertone. I listen.
"I'm fond of my turkeys--eys--eys," says Madame Caterna.
"I'm fond of my wethers--ers--ers," says Monsieur Caterna, in any
number of baritones.
It is the everlasting duet between Pipo and Bettina; and they are
rehearsing for Shanghai. Happy Shanghai! They do not yet know the
Ephrinell and Miss Bluett are talking away with unusual animation, and
I catch the end of the dialogue.
"I am afraid," said she, "that hair will be rising in Pekin--"
"And I," said he, "that teeth will be down. Ah! If a good war would
only break out in which the Russians would give the Chinaman a smack on
There now! Smack them on the jaw, in order that Strong, Bulbul & Co.,
of New York, might have a chance of doing a trade!
Really I do not know what to do, and we have a week's journey before
us. To Jericho with the Grand Transasiatic and its monotonous security!
The Great Trunk from New York to San Francisco has more life in it! At
least, the redskins do sometimes attack the trains, and the chance of a
scalping on the road cannot but add to the charm of the voyage!
But what is that I hear being recited, or rather intoned at the end of
"There is no man, whoever he may be, who cannot prevent himself from
eating too much, and avoid the evils due to repletion. On those who are
intrusted with the direction of public affairs this is more incumbent
than on others--"
It is Dr. Tio-King reading Cornaro aloud, in order that he may remember
his principles better. Eh! after all, this principle is not to be
despised. Shall I send it by telegram to our cabinet ministers? They
might, perhaps, dine with more discretion after it.
During this afternoon I find by the guide-book that we shall cross the
Yamanyar over a wooden bridge. This stream descends from the mountains
to the west, which are at least twenty-five thousand feet high, and its
rapidity is increased by the melting of the snows. Sometimes the train
runs through thick jungles, amid which Popof assures me tigers are
numerous. Numerous they may be, but I have not seen one. And yet in
default of redskins we might get some excitement out of tiger-skins.
What a heading for a newspaper, and what a stroke of luck for a
journalist! TERRIBLE CATASTROPHE. A GRAND TRANSASIATIC EXPRESS ATTACKED
BY TIGERS. FIFTY VICTIMS. AN INFANT DEVOURED BEFORE ITS MOTHER'S
EYES--the whole thickly leaded and appropriately displayed.
Well, no! The Turkoman felidae did not give me even that satisfaction!
And I treat them--as I treat any other harmless cats.
The two principal stations have been Yanghi-Hissar, where the train
stops ten minutes, and Kizil, where it stops a quarter of an hour.
Several blast furnaces are at work here, the soil being ferruginous, as
is shown by the word "Kizil," which means red.
The country is fertile and well cultivated, growing wheat, maize, rice,
barley and flax, in its eastern districts. Everywhere are great masses
of trees, willows, mulberries, poplars. As far as the eye can reach are
fields under culture, irrigated by numerous canals, also green fields
in which are flocks of sheep; a country half Normandy, half Provence,
were it not for the mountains of the Pamir on the horizon. But this
portion of Kachgaria was terribly ravaged by war when its people were
struggling for independence. The land flowed with blood, and along by
the railway the ground is dotted with tumuli beneath which are buried
the victims of their patriotism. But I did not come to Central Asia to
travel as if I were in France! Novelty! Novelty! The unforeseen! The
It was without the shadow of an accident, and after a particularly fine
run, that we entered Yarkand station at four o'clock in the afternoon.
If Yarkand is not the administrative capital of eastern Turkestan, it
is certainly the most important commercial city of the province.
"Again two towns together," said I to Major Noltitz. "That I have from
"But this time," said the major, "it was not the Russians who built the
"New or old," I added, "I am afraid is like the others we have seen, a
wall of earth, a few dozen gateways cut in the wall, no monuments or
buildings of note, and the eternal bazaars of the East."
I was not mistaken, and it did not take four hours to visit both
Yarkands, the newer of which is called Yanji-Shahr.
Fortunately, the Yarkand women are not forbidden to appear in the
streets, which are bordered by simple mud huts, as they were at the
time of the "dadkwahs," or governors of the province. They can give
themselves the pleasure of seeing and being seen, and this pleasure is
shared in by the farangis--as they call foreigners, no matter to what
nation they may belong. They are very pretty, these Asiatics, with
their long tresses, their transversely striped bodices, their skirts of
bright colors, relieved by Chinese designs in Kothan silk, their
high-heeled embroidered boots, their turbans of coquettish pattern,
beneath which appear their black hair and their eyebrows united by a
A few Chinese passengers alighted at Yarkand, and gave place to others
exactly like them--among others a score of coolies--and we started
again at eight o'clock in the evening.
During the night we ran the three hundred and fifty kilometres which
separate Yarkand from Kothan.
A visit I paid to the front van showed me that the box was still in the
same place. A certain snoring proved that Kinko was inside as usual,
and sleeping peacefully. I did not care to wake him, and I left him to
dream of his adorable Roumanian.
In the morning Popof told me that the train, which was now traveling
about as fast as an omnibus, had passed Kargalik, the junction for the
Kilian and Tong branches. The night had been cold, for we are still at
an altitude of twelve hundred metres. Leaving Guma station, the line
runs due east and west, following the thirty-seventh parallel, the same
which traverses in Europe, Seville, Syracuse and Athens.
We sighted only one stream of importance, the Kara-kash, on which
appeared a few drifting rafts, and files of horses and asses at the
fords between the pebbly banks. The railroad crosses it about a hundred
kilometres from Khotan, where we arrived at eight o'clock in the
Two hours to stop, and as the town may give me a foretaste of the
cities of China, I resolve to take a run through it.
It seems to be a Turkoman town built by the Chinese, or perhaps a
Chinese town built by Turkomans. Monuments and inhabitants betray their
double origin. The mosques look like pagodas, the pagodas look like
And I was not astonished when the Caternas, who would not miss this
opportunity of setting foot in China, were rather disappointed.
"Monsieur Claudius," said the actor to me, "there is not a single scene
here that would suit the _Prise de Pekin!_"
"But we are not at Pekin, my dear Caterna."
"That is true, and it has to be remembered, if we are to be thankful
"'Thankful for very little,' as the Italians say."
"Well, if they say that, they are no fools."
As we were about to board the car again, I saw Popof running toward me,
"What is the matter, Popof?"
"A telegraph messenger asked me if there was any one belonging to the
_Twentieth Century_ in the train."
"A telegraph messenger?"
"Yes, on my replying in the affirmative, he gave me this telegram for
"Give it me! give it me!"
I seize the telegram, which has been waiting for me for some days. Is
it a reply to my wire sent from Merv, relative to the mandarin Yen Lou?
I open it. I read it. And it falls from my hand.
This is what it said:
"Khotan, Chinese Turkestan.
"It is not the corpse of a mandarin that the train
is taking to Pekin, but the imperial treasure,
value fifteen millions, sent from Persia to China,
as announced in the Paris newspapers eight days
ago; endeavor to be better informed for the future."
* * * * *
"Millions--there are millions in that pretended mortuary van!"
In spite of myself, this imprudent phrase had escaped me in such a way
that the secret of the imperial treasure was instantly known to all, to
the railway men as well as to the passengers. And so, for greater
security, the Persian government, in agreement with the Chinese
government, has allowed it to be believed that we were carrying the
corpse of a mandarin, when we were really taking to Pekin a treasure
worth fifteen million of francs.
Heaven pardon me, what a howler--pardonable assuredly--but what a
howler I had been guilty of! But why should I have doubted what Popof
told me, and why should Popof have suspected what the Persians had told
him regarding this Yen Lou? There was no reason for our doubting their
I am none the less deeply humiliated in my self-esteem as a journalist,
and I am much annoyed at the call to order which I have brought upon
myself. I shall take very good care not to breathe a word of my
misadventure, even to the major. Is it credible? In Paris the
_Twentieth Century_ is better informed of what concerns the Grand
Transasiatic than I am! They knew that an imperial treasure is in the
van, and I did not! Oh! the mistakes of special correspondents!
Now the secret is divulged, and we know that this treasure, composed of
gold and precious stones, formerly deposited in the hands of the Shah
of Persia, is being sent to its legitimate owner, the Son of Heaven.