Professor Skridlov

After this thought had been expressed by a nomad whom we had met by chance, and who had spoken perhaps thanks only to Russian vodka, all our deliberations, that night and the next day, were based on the idea that we might get into this country, not as ordinary mortals, but by assuming the appearance of persons who are shown special respect there and who have the possibility of going freely everywhere without arousing suspicion.

The following evening, still in the midst of our deliberations, we were sitting in one of the Tekinian chaikanas of New Merv, where two parties of Turkoman libertines were indulging in kaif with batchi, that is with boy dancers, whose chief occupation—authorized by local laws, and also encouraged by the laws of the great Empire of Russia which then had a protectorate over this country—is the same as that carried on in Europe, also legally, by women with yellow tickets; and here in this atmosphere, we categorically decided that Professor Skridlov should disguise himself as a venerable Persian dervish and I should pass for a direct descendant of Mohammed, that is to say, for a Seïd.

To prepare ourselves for this masquerade, a long time was necessary, as well as a quiet, isolated spot. And that is why we decided to settle down in the ruins of Old Merv, which met these requirements and where, moreover, we could at times, for a rest, make some excavations.

Our preparation consisted in learning a great many sacred Persian chants and instructive sayings of former times, as well as in letting our hair grow long enough for us to look like the people for whom we intended to pass; make­up in this case was quite out of the question.

After we had lived in this way for about a year and were finally satisfied both with our appearance and our knowledge of religious verses and psalms, one day, very early in the morning, we left the ruins of Old Merv, which had come to be like home for us, and going on foot as far as the station of Baïram Ali on the Central Asiatic Railway, we took a train to Chardzhou, and from there set off by boat up the river Amu Darya.