Kéraban the Inflexible (Part 1)/Chapter 5

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Turkey in Europe actually comprehends three principal provinces, Roumania (Thrace and Macedonia), Albania, and Thessaly, and a tributary province, Bulgaria. It is only since the treaty of 1878, that the kingdom of Roumania, with the principalities of Servia and Montenegro, have been declared independent, and Austria occupied Bosnia, less the "sanjak" of Novi Bazar.

Seigneur Kéraban, when he made up his mind to follow the littoral of the Black Sea, perceived he would have to proceed by the coasts of Roumelia, Bulgaria, and Roumania to reach the Russian frontier. Thence crossing Bessarabia, the Chersonese, Tauridis, or even the Tcherkess country, over the Caucasus and Transcaucasia, the route would turn southward and eastward by the Euxine to the limit which separates Russia from the Ottoman Empire.

Afterwards, by the littoral of Anatolia to the south of the Black Sea, the most headstrong of Ottomans would reach the Bosphorus at Scutari once again without having paid the newly imposed tax.

In fact, he had to make a journey of six hundred and fifty Turkish "agatchs," which are equal to about two thousand eight hundred kilomètres, or to reckon by the Ottoman league—that is to say, the distance which a horse will ordinarily walk in an hour—the tour embraced a distance of seven hundred leagues, twenty-five to a degree. Now, from the 17th of August to the 30th of September, there are forty-five days; so Kéraban must make fifteen leagues in four-and-twenty hours, if he wished to return by the 30th of September, the last day on which the marriage of Amasia could take place if the conditions of the will respecting the hundred thousand pounds of her aunt must be fulfilled. In any case, Kéraban and his guest would not be able to sit down at his table in Scutari, and eat the dinner there awaiting them, in less than forty-five days.

Nevertheless, by taking advantage of the several railway lines, the journey and the time could have been very considerably abridged. Thus, from Constantinople the railway may be traversed to Adrianople, and a branch thence to Janboli. The Varna and Rutschuck line unites with the Roumanian railways, and these extend to southern Russia by Jassi, Kisscheneff, Kharkow, Taganrog, and so on up to the Caucasus. A line from Tiflis to Poti runs to the Black Sea shore, and reaches almost to the Russian frontier. Certainly there is no railway across Turkey in Asia nearer than Broussa, but thence Scutari may be reached by the iron road.

But to argue on the above lines with Seigneur Kéraban, would have been so much time wasted. That he—one of the Old Turks—would condescend to make use of these modern appliances of locomotion, he, who for forty years had resisted all European encroachments! The idea was preposterous! Never! He would rather walk every step of the way than cede the point!

So that same evening, when Van Mitten and the merchant had reached the office of the latter at Galata, the question had been already raised and settled. The Dutchman's first suggestion respecting railroads was received with a shrug of the shoulders, and finally with a point-blank refusal, by Kéraban.

"Nevertheless," continued Van Mitten, who thought it right to insist, though without any hope of persuading his host, "nevertheless, it seems to me—"

"When I say 'No,'" interrupted Kéraban, "I mean 'No.' Besides, you are my guest; I have to take care of you, and you cannot proceed without me," he added.

"So be it," answered Van Mitten. "But putting railways aside, perhaps there are some simple means whereby we may reach Scutari without crossing the Bosphorus, but still without going all round the Black Sea."

"What are they?" inquired Kéraban, frowning. "If they are good, I will adopt them; if bad, I decline."

"I know an excellent way," said Van Mitten.

"Speak quickly. We have to make all our preparations yet. We have not a minute to lose!"

"This is my idea," said Van Mitten. "Let us go to one of the nearest ports and cross to Scutari by steamer."

"By steamer! Use a steamboat!" exclaimed Kéraban, raised to "boiling point" at once by the very mention of steam.

"Very well, then, by a sailing vessel, a zebec, a felucca, a skiff—anything you please: starting from one of the Anatolian ports, Kirpih, for instance. Thence we could reach Scutari in a day, and drink the health of the Muchir on our arrival!"

Seigneur Kéraban had permitted his friend to continue without interruption. Perhaps he was already inclined to adopt Van Mitten's suggestion, which promised a solution of the difficulty, and at the same time saved his own pride and amour propre. But after a while his eyes kindled, his fingers clenched and unclenched, and at length his fists, tightly closed, indicated a by no means reassuring temper to Nizib, who knew the signs.

"So, Van Mitten, you counsel me to embark upon the Black Sea to avoid crossing the Bosphorus? That is what your suggestion comes to."

"That would be the best plan, I think," replied Van Mitten.

"Have you ever heard any mention of a certain malady called sea-sickness?" inquired Kéraban quickly.

"Of course I have," replied the Dutchman.

"And you have never experienced it?"

"Never. Besides, the transit is such a short one—"

"So short!" exclaimed Kéraban. "And may I inquire what you call 'so short?'"

"Scarcely sixty leagues, I imagine."

"Well, it does not matter whether it be only fifty, or twenty, or ten, or only five," exclaimed Kéraban, who always became excited when contradicted or opposed. "If it were only two leagues, they would be too long for me!"

"But just think for a moment——"

"Do you know the Bosphorus?"


"There is scarce half a league of water between here and Scutari?"

"I believe so."

"Well then, whenever there is the least wind, I am always ill when crossing in my caïque."

"Sea-sick?" inquired Van Mitten.

"I should be equally upset on a pond or in a bath. So now speak to me again about crossing the Black Sea, if you dare. Just dare to suggest to me any transit by sailing vessel again! try it!"

We need scarcely add that the worthy Dutchman did not discuss the question farther, and the suggestion dropped.

But how should they proceed? Communications were not easily made—at least in Turkey; but they are not impossible. On the ordinary routes relays could be found, and the travellers could journey on horseback, with provisions and supplies and with a guide—at least they could put themselves under the care of the Tartar courier who is charged with the postal service. But as the courier has only a limited time to proceed from one station to another, to follow him would induce too much fatigue; and to those unaccustomed to such rapid travelling, riding "post haste" was out of the question.

In any case the Seigneur Kéraban did not intend to travel in this manner. He would proceed rapidly, but comfortably. It was merely a question of expense, and that would have no weight with the rich merchant of Galata.

"Well," said Van Mitten in a resigned tone, "since we can't travel by railway, steamboat or sailing vessel, how do you propose that we shall proceed?"

"By post-chaise."

"With your own horses?"

"With relays."

"And do you expect to find relays all along the route?"

"Yes, I do."

"They will be very expensive!"

"What it will cost, it will cost," replied Kéraban, who again began to feel ruffled.

"You won't get out of this journey under a thousand pounds (Turkish)—perhaps fifteen hundred pounds,"[1] said Van Mitten.

"Be it so! I will spend millions, I tell you: millions if necessary. Now have you come to the end of your objections?"

"Yes," replied the Dutchman.

"And time too," said Kéraban, in a tone which suggested to Van Mitten the propriety of holding his tongue.

Nevertheless, he could not refrain from remarking to his imperious host that the journey would be attended with great expense; that he himself was expecting large remittances from Holland, which he intended to place in the bank at Constantinople; that, in fact, he had not much money with him; and—"

Here Kéraban put his hand upon his friend's mouth, and informed him that the expenses of the journey concerned him (Kéraban) and him only; that Van Mitten was his guest; and that it was his custom to pay his guests' expenses, &c., &c.

At the "&c.s" the Dutchman gave in, and no more was said on that point.

Had Kéraban not been the fortunate possessor of an old English-built carriage, he would have been driven to the necessity of hiring a Turkish "araba" drawn by oxen. But the old post-chaise which had made the journey from Rotterdam was there in the stable and quite ready for use.

This chaise was comfortably arranged for three travellers. In front a great box of provisions and luggage was secured, and behind a seat was carried up in the form of a hooded "rumble," in which two servants could travel comfortably. There was no coachman's "box," so the journey must be accomplished by post-horses.

It no doubt appeared ridiculous to modern connoisseurs, but the vehicle was well built, hung on good springs, had large wheels, and was capable of defying the roughest roads.

Van Mitten and Kéraban occupied the interior of the chaise; Bruno add Nizib were perched up behind in the "cabriolet," which afforded them shelter, and was furnished with glasses which they could pull up at pleasure. Under such circumstances they felt equal to the journey to China, but fortunately the Black Sea did not extend so far, or Van Mitten would have been introduced to the "celestial" capital. Preparations for the journey were at once commenced, and if Kéraban could not start that very evening, as in the heat of the discussion he said he would do, he determined to leave the city at dawn next morning.

One night is not too long a period to make arrangements for such an expedition, and to put business matters in train. So the employés at the counting-house were "requisitioned" just as they were about to refresh themselves after a long day's fast. And Nizib was there, invaluable on all such occasions.

As for Bruno, he had to return to the Hotel de Pesth, Grande Rue de Pera, where his master and he had arrived that very morning, and arrange for the transfer of their luggage to the business premises of Kéraban. The faithful Dutchman was accompanied by his master, for he would not have dared to leave him.

"So, sir, it is all decided," he said, as soon as he and Van Mitten had quitted the merchant's house.

"How can it be otherwise with such a man as Kéraban?" said Van Mitten.

"And we are going all round the Black Sea?"

"Yes; unless my friend alters his course, which is almost an impossible contingency."

"I never thought we should ever find such a pig-headed Mussulman as he is," remarked Bruno.

"Your comparison, if not polite, is nevertheless correct," replied his master; "so, as I have hurt my hand in trying to hammer sense into him, I will abstain from attempting it in future."

"I was hoping to rest a little in Constantinople," said Bruno. "This journey and I——"

"This is not a journey, Bruno; it is simply 'another way' that Kéraban is taking me home to dine with him!"

But this way of looking at things did not suit Bruno. He did not like moving; and here he was destined to be travelling about for weeks—perhaps months—across various countries; interesting, no doubt, but difficult and dangerous. Besides, the fatigue consequent upon such a journey would reduce him considerably in size and weight, and he would lose some of those hundred and sixty-seven pounds which he valued so highly.

Then his lamentable refrain came to his master's ears over and over again,—

"Something will happen to you, sir; something evil will come of it, I tell you."

"We shall see in good time," replied the Dutchman. "Meanwhile collect our luggage, while I go and purchase a 'Guide' of the countries, and a note-book to record our impressions. Then you can return here and go to bed—or rest yourself."


"When we have made the tour of the Black Sea, for it is fated we must make it."

With this fatalism, which a Mussulman need not have been ashamed of, Bruno shook his head and departed. The journey certainly did not commend itself to him.

Two hours later, Bruno came back with the baggage carried by stout porters. These were the natives whom Théophile Gautier called "two-footed camels without humps."

The "gibbosity," however, was not wanting in this instance, for the men carried heavy packs or trunks on their backs. These were deposited in the court-yard, and the chaise was loaded.

Meantime Kéraban was putting his affairs in order, and giving instructions to his clerks and managers. He wrote some letters, and drew a large sum in gold, as paper money was depreciated. He required Russian money, too, and he proposed to change his Ottoman gold at the caisse of his friend Selim, the banker, at Odessa.

The preparations were rapidly completed. Provisions were packed, and some defensive weapons deposited in the chaise, in readiness for an emergency. Kéraban had not forgotten two narghilés, for Van Mitten and himself, an article quite indispensable to a Turk, and particularly for a tobacco-merchant.

The horses had been ordered to arrive at daybreak. From midnight to sunrise there was time for supper and some sleep. Next morning, when Seigneur Kéraban sent to call the rest of the party, they jumped up and dressed in their travelling costumes.

The chaise was ready; the horses harnessed; the postillion mounted; he was waiting for the travellers.

Seigneur Kéraban repeated his instructions to his men. All were ready to start.

Van Mitten, Bruno, and Nizib waited, silent, in the yard. "So you have really determined?" whispered Van Mitten to his friend Kéraban.

The latter merely pointed to the chaise, but made no verbal reply.

Van Mitten bowed and gravely entered the carriage taking the left-hand seat, Kéraban entered after him. Nizib and Bruno climbed up into the "cabrolet" at the back.

"Ah, my letter!" exclaimed Kéraban, just as the postillion was starting his horses.

Then, letting down the window, he handed a letter to one of his clerks, with directions to put it in the post.

This letter was addressed to his housekeeper at his villa at Scutari, and contained only these words:—

"Dinner put off until my return. Change the menu. Soup au lait caillé, shoulder of mutton aux épices. Be sure it is not over-done."

Then the chaise rolled away through the streets, crossed the Golden Horn on the bridge of Validèh Sultane, and quitted the town by Jené Kapoussi, the New-gate.

Seigneur Kéraban has gone! May Allah protect him!

  1. The Turkish pound is a gold coin equal to 2 paras, 25 cents; about 100 piastres.