Complete Books

A Ride to India - Across Persia and Baluchistan
HARRY DE WINDT


A RIDE TO INDIA
ACROSS PERSIA AND BALUCHISTÁN.


BY


HARRY DE WINDT, F.R.G.S.,

AUTHOR OF "FROM PEKIN TO CALAIS BY LAND," ETC.


1891.


TO

AUDLEY LOVELL, ESQUIRE, COLDSTREAM GUARDS

THIS VOLUME IS DEDICATED.




CHAPTER I.

TIFLIS--BAKU.


"Ceci non!"

A spacious apartment, its polished _parquet_ strewn with white
bearskins and the thickest and softest of Persian rugs; its panelled
walls hung with Oriental tapestries, costly daggers, pistols, and
shields of barbaric, but beautiful, workmanship, glistening with gold
and silver. Every detail of the room denotes the artistic taste of the
owner. Inlaid tables and Japanese cabinets are littered with priceless
porcelain and _cloisonné_, old silver, and diamond-set miniatures; the
low divans are heaped with cushions of deep-tinted satin and gold;
heavy violet plush curtains drape the windows; while huge palms,
hothouse plants, and bunches of sweet-smelling Russian violets occupy
every available nook and corner. The pinewood fire flashes fitfully
on a masterpiece of Vereschágin's, which stands on an easel by the
hearth, and the massive gold "ikon," [A] encrusted with diamonds and
precious stones, in the corner. A large oil painting of his Majesty
the Czar of Russia hangs over the marble chimneypiece.

It is growing dark. Already a wintry wilderness of garden without,
upon which snow and sleet are pitilessly beating, is barely
discernible. By the window looms, through the dusk, the shadowy shape
of an enormous stuffed tiger, crouched as if about to spring upon a
spare white-haired man in neat dark green uniform, who, seated at a
writing-table covered with papers and official documents, has just
settled himself more comfortably in a roomy armchair. With a pleasant
smile, and a long pull at a freshly lit "papirosh," he gives vent to
his feelings with the remark that heads this chapter.

There is silence for a while, unbroken save by the crackle of blazing
logs and occasional rattle of driving sleet against the window-panes.
It is the 5th of January (O.S.). I am at Tiflis, in the palace of
Prince Dondoukoff Korsákoff, Governor of the Caucasus, and at the
present moment in that august personage's presence.

"Ceci non!" repeats the prince a second time, in answer to my request;
adding impatiently, "They should know better in London than to send
you to me. The War Minister in St. Petersburg alone has power to grant
foreigners permission to visit Central Asia. You must apply to him,
but let me first warn you that it is a long business. No"--after a
pause--"no; were I in your place I would go to Persia. It is a country
replete with interest."

I know, from bitter experience of Russian officials, that further
parley is useless. Making my bow with as good a grace as possible
under the circumstances, I take leave of the governor and am escorted
by an aide-de-camp, resplendent in white and gold, through innumerable
vestibules, and down the great marble staircase, to where my sleigh
awaits me in the cutting north-easter and whirling snow. Gliding
swiftly homewards along the now brilliantly lit boulevards, I realize
for the first time that mine has been but a wild-goose chase after
all; that, if India is to be reached by land, it is not _viâ_ Merv and
Cábul, but by way of Persia and Baluchistán.

The original scheme was a bold one, and I derive some consolation in
the thought that the journey would most probably have ended in defeat.
This was the idea. From Tiflis to Baku, and across the Caspian to
Ouzoun Áda, the western terminus of the Trans-Caspian Railway. Thence
by rail to Merv and Bokhára, and from the latter city direct to India,
_viâ_ Balkh and Cábul, Afghanistán. A more interesting journey can
scarcely be conceived, but Fate and the Russian Government decreed
that it was not to be. Not only was I forbidden to use the railway,
but (notwithstanding the highest recommendation from the Russian
Ambassador in London) even to set foot in Trans-Caspia.

The old adage, "delay is dangerous," is never so true as when applied
to travel. The evening of my interview with the governor, I had
resolved, ere retiring to rest, to make for India _viâ_ Teherán.
My route beyond that city was, perforce, left to chance, and the
information I hoped to gain in the Shah's capital.

Tiflis, capital of the Caucasus, is about midway between the Black
and Caspian seas, and lies in a valley between two ranges of low but
precipitous hills. The river Kúr, a narrow but swift and picturesque
stream spanned by three bridges, bisects the city, which is divided in
three parts: the Russian town, European colony, and Asiatic quarter.
The population of over a hundred thousand is indeed a mixed one.
Although Georgians form its bulk, Persia contributes nearly a quarter,
the rest being composed of Russians, Germans, French, Armenians,
Greeks, Tartars, Circassians, Jews, Turks, and Heaven knows what
besides. [B]

Tiflis is a city of contrasts. The principal boulevard, with its
handsome stone buildings and shops, tramways, gay cafés, and electric
light, would compare favourably with the Nevski Prospect in St.
Petersburg, or almost any first-class European thoroughfare; and yet,
almost within a stone's throw, is the Asiatic quarter, where the
traveller is apparently as far removed from Western civilization as in
the most remote part of Persia or Turkestán. The Armenian and Persian
bazaars are perhaps the most interesting, I doubt whether the streets
of Yčzd or Bokhára present so strange and picturesque a sight, such
vivid effects of movement and colour. Every race, every nationality,
is represented, from the stalwart, ruddy-faced Russian soldier in flat
white cap and olive-green tunic, to the grave, stately Arab merchant
with huge turban and white draperies, fresh from Bagdad or
Bussorah. Georgians and Circassians in scarlet tunics and silver
cartridge-belts, Turks in fez and frock-coat, Greeks and Albanians in
snowy petticoats and black gaiters, Khivans in furs and quaint conical
lamb's-wool hats, Tartars from the Steppes, Turkomans from Merv,
Parsees from Bombay, African negroes,--all may be seen in the Tiflis
Bazaar during the busy part of the day.

But woe to the luckless European who, tempted by the beauty of their
wares, has dealings with the wily Persian merchant. There is a proverb
in Tiflis that "It takes two Jews to rob an Armenian, two Armenians
to rob a Persian," and the "accursed Faringi" is mercilessly swindled
whenever he ventures upon a bargain.

With the exception of the aforesaid boulevard, the European quarter of
Tiflis presents the same mixture of squalor and grandeur found in most
Russian towns, St. Petersburg not excepted. There is the same dead,
drab look about the streets and houses, the same absence of colour,
the same indescribable smell of mud, leather, and drainage, familiar
to all who have visited Asiatic Russia. I had intended remaining a
couple of days, at most, in Tiflis, but my stay was now indefinitely
prolonged. Such a severe winter had not been known for years. The
mountain passes into Persia were reported impassable, and the line to
Baku had for some days been blocked with snow.

My Russian Christmas (which falls, O.S., on our 6th of January) was
not a cheerful one. A prisoner in a stuffy bedroom of the Hôtel de
Londres, I sat at the window most of the day, consuming innumerable
glasses of tea and cigarettes, watching the steadily falling snow, and
wondering whether the weather would ever clear and allow me to escape
from a place so full of unpleasant associations, and which had brought
me so much disappointment and vexation. The loud laughter and
bursts of song that ascended every now and then from the crowded
_salle-á-manger_ (for the Hôtel de Londres is the "Maison Dorée" of
Tiflis) only served to increase my depression and melancholy. Had
there been a train available, I verily believe I should have taken a
ticket then and there, and returned to England!

But morning brings consolation in the shape of blue sky and dazzling
sunshine. The snow has ceased, apparently for good. Descending
to breakfast full of plans for the future, I find awaiting me an
individual destined to play an important part in these pages--one
Gerôme Realini, a Levantine Russian subject, well acquainted with the
Persian language--who offers to accompany me to India as interpreter.
His terms are moderate, and credentials first-rate. The latter include
one from Baker Pasha, with whom he served on the Turkoman frontier
expedition. More for the sake of a companion than anything else, I
close with Gerôme, who, though he does not understand one word of
English, speaks French fluently.

There is a very natural prejudice against the Levantine race, but my
new acquaintance formed an exception to the rule. I never had reason
to regret my bargain; a better servant, pluckier traveller, or
cheerier companion no man could wish for. Gerôme had just returned
from a visit to Bokhára, and his accounts of Central Asia were
certainly not inviting. The Trans-Caspian railway was so badly laid
that trains frequently ran off the line. There was no arrangement for
water, travellers being frequently delayed three or four hours,
while blocks of ice were melted for the boiler; while the so-called
first-class carriages were filthy, and crowded with vermin. The
advance of Holy Russia had apparently not improved Merv, which had
become, since its annexation, a kind of inferior Port Said, a refuge
for the scum, male and female, of St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Odessa.
Drunkenness and debauchery reigned paramount. Low gambling-houses,
_café chantants_, and less reputable establishments flourished under
the liberal patronage of the Russian officers, who, out of sheer
_ennui_, ruined their pockets and constitutions with drunken
orgies, night and day. There was no order of any kind, no organized
police-force, and robberies and assassinations took place almost
nightly. Small-pox was raging in the place when Gerôme left it; also a
loathsome disease called the "Bouton d'alep "--a painful boil which,
oddly enough, always makes its appearance upon the body in odd
numbers, never in even. It is caused by drinking or washing in
unboiled water. Though seldom fatal, there is no cure for the
complaint but complete change of climate.

We now set about making preparations for the journey. Provisions,
saddlery, both had to be thought of; and, having laid in a small stock
of Liebig, tea, biscuits, chocolate, and cigarettes (for space was
limited), I proceeded, under Gerôme's guidance, to purchase a saddle.
Seventy-five roubles bought a capital one, including bridle. Here let
me advise those visiting Persia to follow my example, and buy their
saddlery in Tiflis. There is a heavy duty payable on foreign saddles
in Russia, and they are not one whit better, or indeed so well suited
to the purpose, as those made in the Caucasus.

One hears a deal, in Europe, of the beauty of the Circassian and
Georgian women. Although I remained in Tiflis over a week, I did not
see a single pretty woman among the natives. As in every Russian town,
however, the "Moushtaďd," or "Bois de Boulogne" of Tiflis, was daily,
the theatre nightly, crowded with pretty faces of the dark-eyed,
oval-faced Russian type. The new opera-house, a handsome building near
the governor's palace, is not yet completed.

The Hôtel de Londres was the favourite _rendezvous_ after the play.
Here till the small hours assembled nightly the _élite_ of European
Tiflis. Russian and Georgian officers in gorgeous uniforms of dark
green, gold lace, and astrachan; French and German merchants with
their wives and daughters; with a sprinkling _demi-mondaines_ from
Odessa or Kharkoff, sipping tea or drinking kummel and "kakčti" at the
little marble tables, and discussing the latest scandals. Kakčti, a
wine not unlike Carlowitz, is grown in considerable quantities in
the Caucasus. There are two kinds, red and white, but the former is
considered the best. Though sound and good, it is cheap enough--one
rouble the quart. Tobacco is also grown in small quantities in parts
of Georgia and made into cigarettes, which are sold in Tiflis at three
kopeks per hundred. But it is poor, rank stuff, and only smoked by the
peasantry and droshki-drivers.

[Illustration: TIFLIS]

Tiflis has a large and important garrison, but is not fortified. Its
topographical depôt is one of the best in Russia, and I managed, not
without some difficulty, to obtain from it maps of Afghanistán and
Baluchistán. The latter I subsequently found better and far more
accurate than any obtainable in England. The most insignificant
hamlets and unimportant camel-tracks and wells were set down with
extraordinary precision, especially those in the districts around
Kelát.

There is plenty of sport to be had round Tiflis. The shooting is
free excepting over certain tracts of country leased by the Tiflis
shooting-club. Partridge, snipe, and woodcock abound, and there are
plenty of deer and wild boar within easy distance of the capital. Ibex
is also found in the higher mountain ranges. For this (if for no other
reason) Tiflis seems to be increasing in popularity every year for
European tourists. It is now an easy journey of little over a week
from England, with the advantage that one may travel by land the whole
way from Calais. This route is _viâ_ Berlin, Cracow, Kharkoff, and
Vladikavkas, and from the latter place by coach (through the Dariel
Gorge) to Tiflis.

The purchase of a warm astrachan bonnet, a bourka, [C] and bashlik, [D]
completed my outfit. It now consisted of two small portmanteaus (to be
changed at Teherán for saddle-bags), a common canvas sack for sleeping
purposes, and a brace of revolvers. Gerôme was similarly accoutred,
with the exception of the portmanteaus. My interpreter was evidently
not luxuriously inclined, for his _impedimenta_ were all contained in
a small black leather hand-bag! All being ready, eleven o'clock on the
night of the 12th of January found us standing on the platform of the
Tiflis railway station, awaiting the arrival of the Baku train, which
had been delayed by a violent storm down the line.

I received a letter from the governor a few hours before my departure,
wishing me _bon voyage_, and enclosing a document to ensure help and
civility from the officials throughout his dominions. It may seem
ungrateful, but I felt that I could well have dispensed with this,
especially as I was leaving his Excellency's government at Baku, a
distance of only ten hours by rail.

It was again snowing hard, and the east wind cut through my bourka as
if it had been a thin linen jacket. Seeking shelter in the crowded,
stuffy waiting-room, we solaced ourselves with cigarettes and vodka
till past 2 a.m., when the train arrived. Another delay of two hours
now occurred, the engine having broken down; but the carriages, like
those of most Russian railways, were beautifully warmed, and we slept
soundly, undisturbed by the howling of the wind and shouting of
railway officials. When I awoke, we were swiftly rattling through
the dreary monotonous steppe country that separates Tiflis from the
Caspian Sea.

The Russians may, according to English ideas, be uncivilized in many
ways, but they are undoubtedly far ahead of other European nations,
with the exception perhaps of France, as regards railway travelling.
Although the speed is slow, nothing is left undone, on the most
isolated lines, to ensure comfort, not to say luxury. Even in this
remote district the refreshment-rooms were far above the average in
England. At Akstafá, for instance, a station surrounded by a howling
wilderness of steppe and marsh; well-cooked viands, game, pastry, and
other delicacies, gladdened the eye, instead of the fly-blown buns
and petrified sandwiches only too familiar to the English railway
traveller. The best railway buffet I have ever seen is at Tiumen, the
terminus of the Oural railway, and actually in Siberia.

Railway travelling has, however, one drawback in this part of
Russia, which, though it does not upset the arrangements of a casual
traveller, must seriously inconvenience the natives--the distance of
stations from towns. We drank tea, a couple of hours or so before
arriving at Baku, at a station situated more than one hundred
versts [E] from the town of its name. The inhabitants of the latter
seldom availed themselves of the railway, but found it easier, except
in very bad weather, to drive or ride to the Caspian port.

The dull wintry day wears slowly away, as we crawl along past
league upon league of wild steppe land. The _coup d'oeil_ from our
carriage-window is not inspiriting. It rests upon a bare, bleak
landscape, rolling away to the horizon, of waves of drab and
dirty-green land, unbroken save for here and there a pool of stagnant
water, rotting in a fringe of sedge and rush, or an occasional flock
of wild-fowl. At rare intervals we pass, close to the line, a Tartar
encampment. Half a dozen dirty brown tents surrounded by horses,
camels, and thin shivering cattle, the latter covered with coarse
sack-clothing tied round their bellies to protect them from the
cutting blast that sweeps from the coast across this land of
desolation. None of the human population are visible, and no wonder.
It must be cold enough outside. Even in this well-warmed compartment
one can barely keep feet and fingers from getting numbed.

It is almost dark when, towards six o'clock, there appears, far ahead,
a thin streak of silver, separating the dreary brown landscape from
the cold grey sky.

"We have nearly arrived, monsieur," says Gerôme. "There is the Caspian
Sea."


[Footnote A: The sacred image of the Saviour or Holy Virgin.]

[Footnote B: The name Tiflis is derived from _Tbilis Kalaki_, or "Hot
Town," so called from the hot mineral springs near which it stands.]

[Footnote C: _Bourka_, a long sleeveless coat made of goatskin.]

[Footnote D: _Bashlik_, the soft camel-hair hood and neckerchief in
one, worn by Russian soldiers.]

[Footnote E: A _verst_ is about three-quarters of a mile.]




CHAPTER II.

THE CASPIAN--ASTARÁ--RÉSHT.


I arrived in Baku on (the Russian) New Year's Eve, and found railway
officials, porters, and droshki-drivers all more or less fuddled with
drink in consequence. With some difficulty we persuaded one of the
latter to drive us to the hotel, a clean and well-appointed house, a
stone's throw from the quay. Our Isvostchik [A] was very drunk. His
horses, luckily for us, were quiet; for he fell off his box on the
way, and smilingly, but firmly, declined to remount. Gerôme then
piloted the troika safely to our destination, leaving Jehu prone in
the mud.

Baku, a clean, well laid-out city of sixty thousand inhabitants, is
the most important town on the shores of the Caspian. Its name is said
to be derived from the Persian words _bad_, "the wind," and _kubeda_,
"beaten," signifying "Wind-beaten;" and this seems credible, for
violent storms are prevalent along the coast. The town is essentially
European in character. One can scarcely realize that only fifty years
ago a tumble-down Persian settlement stood on the spot now occupied
by broad, well-paved, gas-lit streets, handsome stone buildings,
warehouses, and shops. Baku has, like Tiflis, a mixed population.
Although Russians and Tartars form its bulk, France, Germany, Italy,
Greece, Turkey, and Persia are all represented, most of the Europeans
being employed in the manufacture of petroleum. The naphtha springs
are said to yield over 170,000 tons of oil yearly.

A French engineer, Mr. B----, whose acquaintance I made at the hotel,
described Baku as terribly monotonous and depressing to live in after
a time. There is not a tree or sign of vegetation for miles round the
town--nothing but bleak, desolate steppe and marsh, unproductive of
sport and cultivation, or, indeed, of anything save miasma and fever.
In summer the heat, dust, and flies are intolerable; in winter the sun
is seldom seen. There is no amusement of any kind--no _café_, no band,
no theatre, to go to after the day's work. This seemed to distress the
poor Parisian exile more than anything, more even than the smell of
oil, which, from the moment you enter until you leave Baku, there is
no getting away from. Although the wells are fully three miles away,
the table-cloths and napkins were saturated with it, and the very
food one ate had a faint sickly flavour of naphtha. "I bathed in the
Caspian once last summer," said Mr. B------, despairingly, "and did
not get the smell out of my skin for a week, during which time my
friends forbade me their houses! Mon Dieu! Quel pays!"

The steamer for Enzelli was to leave at eleven. Having wished my
French friend farewell, and a speedy return to his native country, we
set out for the quay. The night was fine, but away to our left dense
clouds of thick black smoke obscured the lights of the town and
starlit sky, while the furnaces of the "Tchornigorod" [B] blazed out
of the darkness, their flames reflected in the dark waters of the
Caspian, turning the little harbour into a lake of fire.

The landing stage is crowded with passengers--a motley crowd of
Russian officials, soldiers, peasants, and Tartars. With difficulty we
struggle through the noisy, drunken rabble, for the most part engaged
in singing, cursing, fighting, and embracing by turns, and succeed at
last in finding our ship, the _Kaspia_, a small steamer of about a
hundred and fifty tons burthen. The captain is, fortunately for us,
sober, which is more than can be said of the crew. Alongside us lies
the _Bariatinsky_, a large paddle-steamer bound for Ouzounada, the
terminus of the Trans-Caspian Railway. She also is on the point of
departure, and I notice, with relief, that most of the crowd are
making their way on board her.

The passenger-steamers on the Caspian are the property of the
Caucase-Mercure Company, a Russian firm. They are, with few
exceptions, as unseaworthy as they are comfortless, which says a great
deal. All are of iron, and were built in England and Sweden, sent to
St. Petersburg by sea, there taken to pieces and despatched overland
to Nijni-Novgorod, on the Volga. At Nijni they were repieced and taken
down the Volga to the Caspian.

The _Bariatinsky_ was first away, her decks crammed with soldiers
bound for Central Asia. They treated us to a vocal concert as the ship
left port, and I paced the moonlit deck for some time, listening to
the sweet sad airs sung with the pathos and harmony that seems born
in every Russian, high or low. I retired to rest with the "Matoushka
Volga," a boat-song popular the length and breadth of Russia, ringing
in my ears.

There are no private cabins on board the _Kaspia_. I share the stuffy
saloon with a greasy German Jew (who insists on shutting all the
portholes), an Armenian gentleman, his wife, and two squalling
children, a Persian merchant, and Gerôme.

The captain's cabin, a box-like retreat about eight feet square,
leads out of our sleeping-place, which is also used as a drawing and
dining-room. As the latter it is hardly desirable, for the German and
Persian are both suffering violently from _mal-de-mer_ before we
have been two hours out, and no wonder. Though there is hardly a
perceptible swell on, the tiny cock-boat rolls like a log. To make
matters worse, the _Kaspia's_ engines are worked by petroleum, and the
smell pursues one everywhere.

The passage from Baku to Enzelli (the port of Résht) is usually made
in a little over two days in _fine weather_. All depends upon the
latter, for no vessel can enter if it is blowing hard. There is a
dangerous bar with a depth of barely five feet of water across the
mouth of the harbour, and several Europeans, impatient of waiting,
have been drowned when attempting to land in small boats. "I
frequently have to take my passengers back to Baku," said Captain
Z---- at the meal he was pleased to call breakfast; "but I think we
shall have fine weather to-morrow." I devoutly hoped so.

Little did I know what was in store for us; for the glass at midday
was falling-fast, and at 2 p.m., when we anchored off Lenkorán, it
was snowing hard and blowing half a gale.

The western coasts of the Caspian are flat and monotonous. There are
two ports of call between Baku and Enzelli--Lenkorán, a dismal-looking
fishing-village of mud huts, backed by stunted poplars and a range of
low hills; and Astará, the Russo-Persian frontier. Trade did not seem
very brisk at either port. We neither landed nor took in cargo at
either. A few small boats came out to the ship with fish to sell. The
latter is bad and tasteless in the Caspian, with the exception of
the sturgeon, which abounds during certain seasons of the year. The
fisheries are nearly all leased by Russians, who extract and export
the caviar. There is good shooting in the forests around Lenkorán, and
tigers are occasionally met with. The large one in the possession of
Prince Dondoukoff Korsákoff, mentioned in the first chapter, was shot
within a few miles of the place.

We arrived off Astará about 6.30 that evening. It was too dark to see
anything of the place, but I had, unfortunately for myself, plenty
of opportunities of examining it minutely a couple of days later. We
weighed anchor again at nine o'clock, hoping, all being well, to reach
Enzelli at daybreak. The sea had now gone down, and things looked more
promising.

My spirits rose at the thought of being able to land on the morrow. I
was even able to do justice to the abominable food set before us at
dinner--greasy sausages and a leathery beefsteak, served on dirty
plates and a ragged table-cloth that looked as if it had been used to
clean the boiler. But the German Jew had recovered from his temporary
indisposition, the cadaverous Persian had disappeared on deck, and
the Armenian children had squalled themselves to sleep, so there
was something, at least, to be thankful for. Captain Z----, a tall,
fair-haired Swede, who spoke English fluently, had been on this line
for many years, and told us that for dangerous navigation, violent
squalls, and thick fogs the Caspian has no equal. Many vessels are
lost yearly and never heard of again. He also told us of a submarine
city some miles out of Baku, called by the natives "Tchortorgorod," or
"City of the Devil." "In calm, sunny weather," said Z----, "one can
distinctly make out the streets and houses." The German Jew, of a
facetious disposition, asked him whether he had not also seen people
walking about; but Z---- treated the question with contemptuous
silence.

Man is doomed to disappointment. I woke at daylight next morning; to
find the _Kaspia_ at anchor, pitching, rolling, and tugging at her
moorings as if at any moment the cable might part. Every now and again
a sea would crash upon the deck, and the wind, howling through the
rigging, sounded like the yelling of a thousand fiends. Hurrying on
deck, I learn the worst. A terrific sea is running, and the glass
falling every hour. One could scarcely discern, through the driving
mist, the long low shore and white line of breakers that marked the
entrance to Enzelli. To land was out of the question. No boat would
live in such a sea. "I will lay-to till this evening," said Captain
Z---- "If it does not then abate, I fear you must make up your mind
to return to Baku, and try again another day." A pleasant prospect
indeed!

[Illustration: A DIRTY NIGHT IN THE CASPIAN]

I have seldom passed a more miserable twenty-four hours. The weather
got worse as the day wore on. Towards midday it commenced snowing; but
this, instead of diminishing the violence of the gale, seemed only to
increase it. Even the captain's cheery, ruddy face clouded over, as he
owned that he did not like the look of things. "Had I another anchor,
I should not mind," he said; calmly adding, "If this one parts, we
are lost!" I thought, at the time, he might have kept this piece
of information to himself. Meanwhile nothing was visible from the
cabin-windows but great rollers topped with crests of foam, which
looked as if, every moment, they would engulf the little vessel. But
she behaved splendidly. Although green seas were coming in over the
bows, flooding her decks from stem to stern, and pouring down the
gangway into the saloon, the _Kaspia_ rode through the gale like a
duck. To venture on deck was impossible. One could barely sit, much
less stand, and the atmosphere of the saloon may be better imagined
than described. Every aperture tightly closed; every one, with the
exception of the captain, Gerôme, and myself, sea-sick; no food, no
fire, though we certainly did not miss the former much.

About ten o'clock Z---- weighed anchor and stood out to sea. It would
not be safe, he said, to trust to our slender cable another night.
About midnight I struggled on deck, to get a breath of fresh air
before turning in. The night was fine and clear, but the sea around
black as ink, with great foaming white rollers. The decks, a foot
deep in snow, were deserted save by Z---- and the steersman, whose
silhouettes stood out black and distinct against the starlit sky as
they paced the rickety-looking little bridge flanked by red and green
lights. The Enzelli lighthouse was no longer visible. The latter is
under the care of Persians, who light it, or not, as the humour takes
them. This is, on dark nights, a source of considerable danger to
shipping; but, though frequently remonstrated with by the Russian
Government, the Shah does not trouble his head about the matter.

Three routes to Teherán were now open to us: back to Baku, thence to
Tiflis, and over the mountains to Talriz,--very dubious on account of
the snow; the second, from Baku to Astrabad, and thence _viâ_ Mount
Demavend,--still more dubious on account of bad landing as well as
blocked passes; there remained to us Astará, and along the sea-beach
(no road) to Enzelli, with swollen rivers and no post-horses. All
things considered, we resolved to land at Astará, even at the risk of
a ducking. Daylight found us there, anchored a mile from the shore,
and a heavy swell running. But there is no bar here; only a shelving
sandy beach, on which, even in rough weather, there is little
danger. Some good-sized boats came out to the _Kaspia_ with fish and
vegetables, and we at once resolved to land. Anything sooner than
return to Baku!

"There is no road from Astará," said Z----, "and deep rivers to cross.
You will be robbed and murdered like the Italian who travelled this
way three years ago! He was the last European to do so."

Gerôme remembers the incident. In fact, he says, the murdered man was
a friend of his, travelling to Teherán with a large sum of money.
Unable to land at Résht, and impatient to reach his destination, he
took the unfrequented route, was waylaid, robbed, tied to a tree, and
left to starve. "He was alone and unarmed, though," says my companion;
adding with a wink, "Let them try it on with us!"

Seeing remonstrance is useless, Z---- wishes us God-speed. The
good-natured Swede presses a box of Russian cigarettes into my hand
as I descend the ladder--a gift he can ill afford--and twenty minutes
later our boat glides safely and smoothly on Persian soil.

It was a lovely day, and the blue sky and sunshine, singing of birds,
and green of plain and forest, a pleasant relief to the eye and senses
after the cold and misery of the past two days. Astará (though the
port of Tabriz) is an insignificant place, its sole importance lying
in the fact that it is a frontier town. On one side of the narrow
river a collection of ramshackle mud huts, neglected gardens, foul
smells, beggars, and dogs--Persia; on the other, a score of neat stone
houses, well-kept roads and paths, flower-gardens, orchards, a pretty
church, and white fort surrounded by the inevitable black-and-white
sentry-boxes, guarded by a company of white-capped Cossacks--Russia. I
could not help realizing, on landing at Astará, the huge area of this
vast empire. How many thousand miles now separated me from the last
border town of the Great White Czar that I visited--Kiakhta, on the
Russo-Chinese frontier?

Surrounded by a ragged mob, we walked to the village to see about
horses and a lodging for the night. The latter was soon found--a
flat-roofed mud hut about thirty feet square, devoid of chimney or
furniture of any kind. The floor, cracked in several places, was
crawling with vermin, and the walls undermined with rat-holes; but in
Persia one must not be particular. Leaving our baggage in the care of
one "Hassan," a bright-eyed, intelligent-looking lad, and instructing
him to prepare a meal, we made for the bazaar, a hundred yards away,
through a morass, knee deep in mud and abomination of all kinds, to
procure food.

A row of thirty or forty mud huts composed the "bazaar," where, having
succeeded in purchasing tea, bread, eggs, and caviar, we turned our
attention to horseflesh.

An old Jew having previously agreed to convert, at exorbitant
interest, our rouble notes into "sheis" and keráns, negotiations for
horses were then opened by Gerôme, and, as the _patois_ spoken in
Astará is a mixture of Turkish and Persian, with a little Tartar
thrown in, his task was no easy one, especially as every one spoke at
once and at the top of their voices. We discovered at last that but
few of the villagers owned a horse, and those who did were very
unwilling to let the animal for such an uncertain journey. "Who is
going to guarantee that the 'Farangis' will not steal it?" asked one
ragged, wild-looking fellow in sheepskins and a huge lamb's-wool cap.
"Or get it stolen from them?" added another, with a grin. "They can
have my old grey mare for two hundred keráns, but you won't catch me
letting her for hire," added a third.

With the aid of our friend, the Jew, however, we finally persuaded
the sheepskin gentleman (a native of Khiva) to change his mind. After
considerable haggling as to price, he disappeared, to return with two of
the sorriest steeds I ever set eyes on. "We ought to reach Enzelli in
about three days, if we do not get our throats cut," said the Khivan, who
was to accompany us, encouragingly.

Hassan had been busy in our absence; he had prepared an excellent
pilaff, and sent to Russian Astará for some kakčti wine, which was
brought over in a goatskin. This, with our own provisions bought in
the morning, furnished a substantial and much-needed meal. Persian
native bread is somewhat trying at first to a weak digestion. It is
unleavened, baked in long thin strips, and is of suet-like consistency.
The hut, like most native houses in Persia, had no chimney, the only
outlet for the smoke being through the narrow doorway. This necessitates
lying flat on one's back in the clear narrow space between smoke and
flooring, or being suffocated--a minor inconvenience as compared with
others in Persian travel.

The Khivan arrived with the horses at six next morning. By seven
o'clock we were well on the road, which for the first ten miles or so
led by the sea-shore, through dense thickets of brushwood, alternating
with patches of loose drifting sand. I was agreeably disappointed in
the ponies; for though it was deep, heavy going, they stepped out well
and freely. The clear sunshine, keen air, and lovely scenery seemed to
have the same inspiriting effect on them as on ourselves.

The _coup d'oeil_ was indeed a lovely one. To our right a glorious
panorama of palm, forest, and river stretched away for miles, bounded
on the horizon by a chain of lofty precipitous mountains, their snowy
peaks white and dazzling against the deep cloudless blue, their
grassy slopes and rocky ravines hidden, here and there, by grey mists
floating lazily over depths of dark green forest at their feet. To our
left broad yellow sands, streaked with seaweed and dark driftwood, and
cold grey waters of the Caspian Sea--colourless and dead even under
this Mediterranean sky, and bringing one back, so to speak, from a
beautiful dream to stern reality.

About midday we came to a broad but fordable river, which the Khivan
called the Chulŕmak. We all crossed in safety, notwithstanding the
deep holes our guide warned us against, and which, as the water was
thick and muddy, gave Gerôme and myself some anxiety. The stream was
about fifty yards across and much swollen by the snow. Landing on the
other side ahead of my companions, I rode on alone, and presently
found myself floundering about girth-deep in a quicksand. It was only
with great difficulty that we extricated the pony. These quicksands
are common on the shores of the Caspian, and natives, when travelling
alone, have perished from this cause.

Nothing occurred worthy of notice till about 3 p.m., when we reached
the river Djemnil. An arm of the sea more accurately describes this
stream, which is (or was at the time of which I write) over three
hundred yards across. Here we had some difficulty with the Khivan,
who was for encamping till morning. I, however, strongly objected to
sleeping _a la belle étoile_, especially as the sky had now clouded
over, and it was beginning to snow. Partly by conciliation, partly
by threats, we at last persuaded him to make the attempt, following
closely in his wake. It was nasty work. Twice our horses were carried
off their feet by the strong current running out to sea (we were
only a quarter of a mile from the mouth); and once we, or rather the
horses, had to swim for it; but we reached the opposite shore in under
half an hour, wet and numbed to the waist, but safe. At seven we were
snugly housed for the night at Katvesera, a so-called village of three
or four mud hovels, selecting the best (outwardly) for our night's
lodging. We were badly received by the natives. Neither money nor
threats would induce them to produce provisions of any kind, so we
fell back on sticks of chocolate and Valentine's meat-juice. The
latter I never travel without--it is invaluable in uncivilized and
desert countries.

The inhabitants of Katvesera are under a score in number, and live
chiefly on fish, though I noticed in the morning that a considerable
quantity of land was under cultivation--apparently rice and barley.
They were a sullen, sulky lot, and we had almost to take the hut
by force. The Khivan, Gerôme, and myself took it in turns to watch
through the night. It was near here that the Italian was assassinated.

A start was made at daybreak. The weather had now changed. A cutting
north-easter was blowing, accompanied with snow and sleet. We forded,
about 11 a.m., the Kokajeri river, a mountain stream about thirty
yards wide, unfordable except upon the sea-beach. At midday we halted
at Tchergári, a fishing-village on the shores of the Caspian.

Tchergári contains about two hundred inhabitants, mostly fishermen
employed by a Russian firm. The houses, built of tree-trunks plastered
with mud, had roofs of thatched reed, and were far more substantial
and better built than any I had yet seen in Persia. Fearing a
reception like that of the previous evening, we had intended riding
straight through the place to our destination for the night, when a
European advanced to meet us through the snow. Mr. V----, a Russian,
and overseer of the fishery, had made his hut as comfortable as
circumstances would admit, and we were soon seated before a blazing
fire (with a chimney!), discussing a plate of steaming shtchi, [C]
washed down by a bottle of kakčti. Roast mutton and pastry followed,
succeeded by coffee and vodka (for we had the good luck to arrive at
our host's dinner-hour). By the time cigarettes were under way we felt
fully equal to the long cold ride of fifteen miles that separated us
from our night's halting-place, Alalá Résht itself seemed at least
thirty miles nearer than it had before dinner.

"You are bold," said Mr. V----, in French, "to attempt this journey
at this time of year. I do not mean as regards footpads and
robbers reports concerning them are always greatly exaggerated; but
the rivers are in a terrible state. There is one just beyond Alalá,
that I know you cannot cross on horseback. I will send a man on at
once to try and get a boat for you, and you can pull the horses after
you. There is an Armenian at Alalá, who will give you a lodging
to-night" Mr. V---- 's good fare and several glasses of vodka
considerably shortened our ride, and we arrived at Alalá before dark,
where a hearty welcome awaited us. Turning in after a pipe and two
or three glasses of tea, we slept soundly till time to start in the
morning. The outlook from our snug resting-place was not inviting--the
sky of a dirty grey, blowing hard, and snowing harder than ever.

Alalá contains about eight hundred inhabitants. The land surrounding
it is thickly cultivated with rice and tobacco. Neither are, however,
exported in any quantity, the difficulties of transport to Astará or
Enzelli being so great.

It is somewhat puzzling to a stranger to get at the names of places on
the southern shores of the Caspian. Most of the villages are known
by more than one, but Alalá rejoices in as many _aliases_ as an old
gaol-bird, viz. Alalá, Asalim, and Navarim.

Thanks to our Russian friend, a boat and a couple of men were awaiting
us at the big river (I could not ascertain its name). Entering it
ourselves, we swam the horses over one by one. It took us the best
part of two hours. Though only two hundred yards wide, they were off
their legs nearly the whole way. What we should have done without Mr.
V---- 's aid I know not.

Towards sundown the high tower of the Shah's palace at Enzelli came
in sight. At last the neck of this weary journey was broken, and
to-morrow, all being well, we should be at Résht. The road is winding,
and it was not till past ten o'clock that we rode through the silent,
deserted streets to the caravanserai, a filthier lodging than any we
had yet occupied. But, though devoured by vermin, I slept soundly,
tired out with cold and fatigue. We dismissed the Khivan with a
substantial _pour-boire_. He had certainly behaved extremely well for
one of his race.

Enzelli is an uninteresting place. It has but two objects of interest
(in Persian eyes)--the lighthouse (occasionally lit) and a palace of
the Shah, built a few years since as a _pied-ŕ-terre_ for his Majesty
on the occasion of his visits to Europe. It is a tawdry gimcrack
edifice, painted bright blue, red, and green, in the worst possible
taste. The Shah, on returning from Europe last time, is said to have
remarked to his ministers on landing at Enzelli, "I have not seen
a single building in all Europe to compare with this!" Probably
not--from one point of view.

The Caspian may indeed be called a Russian lake, for although the
whole of its southern coast is Persian, the only Persian vessel
tolerated upon it by Russia is the yacht of the Shah, a small steamer,
the gift of the Caucase-Mercure Company, which lies off Enzelli. Even
this vessel is only permitted to navigate in and about the waters of
the Mourdab ("dead water"), a large lake, a kind of encroachment of
the sea, eighteen to twenty miles broad, which separates Enzelli from
Peri-Bazar, the landing-place for Résht, four miles distant. The
imperial yacht did once get as far as Astará (presumably by mistake),
but was immediately escorted back to Enzelli by a Russian cruiser.
There is, however, a so-called Persian fleet--the steamship
_Persepolis_, anchored off Bushire, in the Persian Gulf, and the
_Susa_, which lies off Mohammerah. The former is about six hundred
tons, and carries four Krupp guns; but the latter is little better
than a steam-launch. Both have been at anchor for about four years,
and are practically unseaworthy and useless.

We embarked at nine o'clock, in a boat pulled by eight men. The
crossing of the Mourdab is at times impossible, owing to the heavy
sea; but this time luck was with us, and midday saw us at Peri-Bazar,
where there is no difficulty in procuring riding-horses to take one
into Résht. The country between the two places was formerly morass and
jungle, but on the occasion of the Shah's visit to Europe about twenty
years ago, a carriage-road was made--not a good one, for such a
thing does not exist in Persia--but a very fair riding-track (in dry
weather). We reached Résht wet to the skin, the snow having ceased and
given way to a steady downpour of rain.

Résht bears the unpleasant reputation of being the most unhealthy city
in Persia. Its very name, say the natives, is derived from the word
_rishta_, "death." "If you wish to die," says a proverb of Irak, "go
to Résht!" The city, which had, at the beginning of the century, a
population of over sixty thousand inhabitants, now has barely thirty
thousand. This certainly looks as if there were some truth in the
foregoing remarks; and there is no doubt that, on the visitation of
the plague about ten years ago, the mortality was something frightful.
A great percentage of deaths are ascribed to Résht fever--a terrible
disease, due to the water and the exhalations from the marshes
surrounding the city. It is certainly the dampest place in the world.
The sun is seldom seen, and one's clothes, even on a dry, rainless
day, become saturated with moisture.

The town is, nevertheless, prettily situated in a well-wooded country.
It would almost be imposing were it not for the heavy rains and dews,
which cause a rapid decay of the buildings. The latter are mostly of
red brick and glazed tiles.

Résht is the depôt for goods to and from Persia--chiefly silks.
Tobacco is also grown in yearly increasing quantities. Several Russian
firms have opened here for the manufacture of cigarettes, which,
though they may find favour among the natives, are too hot and coarse
for European tastes. They are well made and cheap enough--sevenpence a
hundred.

In addition to the native population, Résht contains about five
hundred Armenians, and a score or so of Europeans. Among the latter
are a Russian and a British vice-consul. To the residence of the
latter we repaired. Colonel Stewart's kindness and hospitality are a
byword in Persia, and the Sunday of our arrival at Résht was truly a
day of rest after the discomfort and privations we had undergone since
leaving Baku.


[Footnote A: _Isvostchik_, a cab-driver.]

[Footnote B: "Tchornigorod," or "Black Town," so called from the smoke
that hangs night and day over the oil-factories.]

[Footnote C: Russian cabbage-soup.]




CHAPTER III.

RÉSHT--PATCHINAR.


Day broke gloomily enough the morning following the day of our arrival
at Résht. The snow, still falling fast, lay over two feet deep in
the garden beneath my window, while great white drifts barred the
entrance-gates of the Consulate. About eight o'clock our host made his
appearance, and, waking me from pleasant dreams of sunnier climes,
tried to dissuade me from making a start under such unfavourable
circumstances. An imperial courier had just arrived from Teherán, and
his report was anything but reassuring. The roads were in a terrible
state; the Kharzán, a long and difficult pass, was blocked with snow,
and the villages on either side of it crowded with weather-bound
caravans.

The prospect, viewed from a warm and comfortable bed, was not
inviting. Anxiety, however, to reach Teherán and definitely map out
my route to India overcame everything, even the temptation to defer a
journey fraught with cold, hunger, and privation, and take it easy for
a few days, with plenty of food and drink, to say nothing of cigars,
books, and newspapers, in the snug cosy rooms of the Consulate. "You
will be sorry for it to-morrow," said the colonel, as he left the room
to give the necessary orders for our departure; adding with a smile,
"I suppose a wilful man must have his way."

There are two modes of travelling in Persia: marching with a caravan,
a slow and tedious process; and riding post, or "chapar." The latter,
being the quickest, is usually adopted by Europeans, but can only
be done on the Government post-roads, of which there are five: from
Teherán to Résht, Tabriz, Meshéd, Kermán, and the Persian Gulf
port, Bushire. These so-called roads are, however, often mere
caravan-tracks, sometimes totally hidden by drifting sand or snow.
In the interior of the country the hard sun-baked soil is usually
trackless, so that the aid of a "Shagird Chapar," or post-boy, becomes
essential.

The distance between the "Chapar khanehs," as the tumble-down sheds
doing duty for post-houses are called, is generally five farsakhs, or
about twenty English miles; but the Persian farsakh is elastic, and
we often rode more, at other times less, than we paid for. Travel is
cheap: one kerán per farsakh (2-1/2_d_. a mile) per horse, with a
_pour-boire_ of a couple of keráns to the "Shagird" at the end of the
stage.

Given a good horse and fine weather, Persian travel would be
delightful; but the former is, unfortunately, very rarely met with.
Most of the post-horses have been sold for some vice which nothing but
constant hard work will keep under. Kickers, rearers, jibbers, shyers,
and stumblers are but too common, and falls of almost daily occurrence
on a long journey. Goodness knows how many Gerôme and I had between
Résht and the Persian Gulf.

Notwithstanding these drawbacks, the speed attained by the wretched
half-starved animals is little short of marvellous. Nothing seems
to tire them. We averaged fifty miles a day after leaving Teherán,
covering, on one occasion, over a hundred miles in a little over
eleven hours. This is good work, considering the ponies seldom exceed
fourteen hands two inches, and have to carry a couple of heavy
saddle-bags in addition to their rider. Gerôme must have ridden quite
fourteen stone.

About ten o'clock the horses arrived, in charge of a miserable-looking
Shagird, in rags and a huge lamb's-wool cap, the only warm thing about
him. It was pitiful to see the poor wretch, with bare legs and feet,
shivering and shaking in the cutting wind and snow. The ponies, too,
looked tucked up and leg-weary, as if they had just come off a long
stage (which, indeed, they probably had) instead of going on one.

"Don't be alarmed; they are the proverbial rum 'uns to look at," said
our host, who would not hear of our setting out without saddle-bags
crammed with good things: cold meat, sardines, cigarettes, a couple of
bottles of brandy, and a flask of Russian vodka. But for these we must
literally have starved _en route_.

"Good-bye. Good luck to you!" from the colonel.

"En avant!" cries Gerôme, with a deafening crack of his heavy chapar
whip. We are both provided with this instrument of torture--a thick
plaited thong about five feet long, attached to a short thick wooden
handle, and terminating in a flat leathern cracker of eight or ten
inches. A cut from this would make an English horse jump out of his
skin, but had little or no effect on the tough hides of our "chapar"
ponies. The snow is almost up to the knees of the latter as we labour
through the gateway and into the narrow street. Where will it be on
the Kharzán Pass?

Résht is picturesquely situated. It must be a lovely place in
summer-time, when fertile plains of maize, barley, and tobacco stretch
away on every side, bounded by belts of dark green forest and chains
of low well-wooded hills, while the post-road leads for miles through
groves of mulberry trees, apple orchards, and garden-girt villas, half
hidden by roses and jasmine. But this was hardly a day for admiring
the beauties of nature. Once out of the suburbs and in the open
country, nothing met the eye but a dreary wilderness of white earth
and sullen grey sky, that boded ill for the future. The cold was
intense. Although dressed in the thickest of tweeds and sheepskin
jacket, sable pelisse, enormous "bourka," and high felt boots, it was
all I could do to keep warm even when going at a hand gallop, varied
every hundred yards or so by a desperate "peck" on the part of my
pony.

The first stage, Koudoum, five farsakhs from Résht, was reached about
three o'clock in the afternoon. This was my first experience of a Chapar
khaneh. The Shagird informed us that it was considered a very good one,
and was much frequented by Europeans in summer-time--presumably,
judging from the holes in the roof, for the sake of coolness. Let me
here give the reader a brief description of the accommodation provided
for travellers by his Imperial Majesty the Shah. The Koudoum Chapar
khaneh is a very fair example of the average Persian post-house.

Imagine a small one-storied building, whitewashed, save where wind
and rain have disclosed the brown mud beneath. A wooden ladder (with
half the rungs missing) leads to the guest-chamber, a large bare
room, devoid of furniture of any kind, with smoke-blackened walls
and rotten, insecure flooring. A number of rats scamper away at our
approach. I wonder what on earth they can find to eat, until Gerôme
points out a large hole in the centre of the apartment. This affords
an excellent view of the stables, ten or twelve feet below, admitting,
at the same time, a pungent and overpowering odour of manure and
ammonia. A smaller room, a kind of ante-chamber, leads out of this. As
it is partly roofless, I seek, but in vain, for a door to shut out the
icy cold blast. Further search in the guest-room reveals six large
windows, or rather holes, for there are no shutters, much less
window-panes. It is colder here, if anything, than outside, for the
draughts are always at once; but we must in Persia be thankful
for small mercies. There is a chimney, in which a good log fire,
kindled by Gerôme, is soon blazing.

Lunch and a nip of the colonel's vodka work wonders, and we are
beginning to think, over a "papirosh," that Persia is not such a bad
place after all, when the Shagird's head appears at the window. There
are only two horses available for the next stage, but a third has been
sent for from a neighbouring village, and will shortly arrive. As
night is falling fast, I set out with the Shagird for the next
station, Rustemabad, leaving Gerôme, who has already travelled the
road and knows it well, to follow alone.

It is still snowing fast, but my mount is a great improvement on that
of the morning, luckily, for the stage is a long one, and we have a
stiff mountain to climb before reaching our destination for the night.

We ride for three hours, slowly and silently, over a plain knee-deep
in snow. About half-way across a tinkle of bells is heard, clear and
musical, in the distance. Presently a large caravan looms out of the
dusk--fifty or sixty camels and half a dozen men. The latter exchange
a cheery "Good night" with my guide. Slowly the ungainly, heavily
laden beasts file past us, gaunt and spectral in the twilight, the
bells die away on the still wintry air, and we are again alone on the
desolate plain--not a sign of life, not a sound to be heard, but
the crunching of snow under our horses' feet, and the occasional
pistol-like crack of my guide's heavy whip.

It is almost dark when we commence the ascent of the mountain on the
far side of which lies Rustemabad. The path is rough and narrow, and
in places hewn out of the solid rock. Towards the summit, where a
slip or false step would be fatal, a dark shapeless mass appears,
completely barring the pathway, on the white snow. Closer inspection
reveals a dead camel, abandoned, doubtless, by the caravan we
have just passed, for the carcase is yet warm. With considerable
difficulty, but aided by the hard slippery ground, we drag it to the
brink of the precipice, and send it crashing down through bush and
briar, to fall with a loud splash into a foaming torrent far below.
During this performance one of the ponies gets loose, and half an hour
is lost in catching him again.

So the journey wore on. Half-way down on the other side of the
mountain, my pony stumbled and shot me head first into a pool of
liquid mud, from which I was, with some difficulty, extricated wet
through and chilled to the bone. The discomfort was bad enough, but,
worse still, my sable pelisse, the valuable gift of a Russian friend,
was, I feared, utterly ruined.

It was nearly nine o'clock when we reached Rustemabad, to find rather
worse quarters than we had left at Koudoum. To make matters worse,
I had no change of clothes, and the black, ill-smelling mud had
penetrated to the innermost recesses of my saddle-bags, which did
not tend to improve the flavour of the biscuits and chocolate that
constituted my evening meal. No food of any kind was procurable at
the post-house, and all our own provisions were behind with Gerôme.
Luckily, I had stuck to the flask of vodka!

With the help of the postmaster, a decrepit, half-witted old man, and
the sole inmate of the place, I managed to kindle a good fire, and set
to work to dry my clothes, a somewhat uncomfortable process, as it
entailed my remaining three-parts naked for half the night in an
atmosphere very little above zero. The sables were in a terrible
state. It was midnight before the mud on them was sufficiently dry to
brush off, as I fondly hoped, in the morning.

Gerôme did not turn up till one o'clock a.m., his horse not having
arrived at Koudoum till past seven. He had lost his way twice, and had
almost given up all hopes of reaching Rustemabad till daylight, when
my fire, the only light in the place, shone out of the darkness. The
poor fellow was so stiff and numbed with fatigue and cold that I had
to lift him off his horse and carry him into the post-house. He was
a sorry object, but I could not refrain from smiling. My companion's
usually comical, ruddy face wore a woebegone look, while long
icicles hung from his hair, eyebrows, and moustaches, giving him the
appearance of a very melancholy old Father Christmas.

Morning brought a cloudless blue sky and brilliant sunshine. My first
thought on awaking was for the pelisse. Summoning the old postmaster,
I confided the precious garment to him, with strict injunctions to
take it outside, beat it well with a stick, and bring it back to me to
brush. In the mean time, we busied ourselves with breakfast and a
cup of steaming cocoa, for a long ride was before us. It was still
bitterly cold, with a strong north-easter blowing. The thermometer
marked (in the sun) only one degree above zero.

Rustemabad, a collection of straggling, tumble-down hovels, contains
about four or five hundred inhabitants. The post-house, perched on
the summit of a steep hill, is situated some little distance from
the village, which stands in the centre of a plateau, bounded on the
south-west by a chain of precipitous mountains. The country around is
fertile and productive, being well watered by the Sefid Roud (White
River). Rice is largely grown, but to-day not a trace of vegetation is
visible; nothing but the vast white plain, smooth and unbroken, save
where, here and there, a brown village blurrs its smooth surface, an
oasis of mud huts in this desert of dazzling snow.

An exclamation from Gerôme suddenly drew my attention to the
postmaster, who stood at the open doorway, my pelisse in hand. I was
then unused to the ways and customs of the Persian peasantry, or
should have known that it was but labour lost to make one spring at
the old idiot, and, twining my fingers in his throat, shake him till
he yelled for mercy. Nothing but a thick stick has the slightest
effect upon the Shah's subjects; and I was, for a moment, sorely
tempted to use mine. The reader must own that I should have been
justified. It was surely enough to try the patience of a saint, for
the old imbecile had deliberately walked down to the river, made
a hole in the ice, and soaked the garment in water to the waist,
reducing it to its former condition of liquid slime. This was _his_
method of getting the mud off. I may add that this intelligent
official had _assisted me in the drying process up till midnight_.

There was no help for it; nothing to be done but cut off the damaged
portion from the waist to the heels--no easy matter, for it was frozen
as stiff as a board. "It will make a better riding-jacket now," said
Gerôme, consolingly; "but this son of a pig shall not gain by it," he
added, stamping the ruined remains into the now expiring fire.

The village of Patchinar, at the foot of the dreaded Kharzán Pass, was
to be our halting-place for the night. The post-road, after leaving
Rustemabad, leads through the valley of the Sefid Roud river, in
which, by the way, there is excellent salmon-fishing. About six miles
from Rustemabad is a spot called by the natives the "Castle of the
Winds," on account of the high winds that, even in the calmest
weather, prevail there. Although, out on the plain, there was a
scarcely perceptible breeze, we had to literally fight our way against
the terrific gusts that swept through this narrow gorge. Fortunately,
it was a fine day, but the fine powdery snow whirled up and cut into
our eyes and faces, and made travelling very unpleasant.

These violent wind-storms have never been satisfactorily accounted
for. They continue for a certain number of hours every day, summer
and winter, increasing in force till sunset, when they abate, to rise
again the following dawn. On some occasions horses, and even camels,
have been blown over, and caravans are sometimes compelled to halt
until the fury of the storm has diminished.

Crossing a ridge of low hills, we descended into the valley of
Roudbar, a quiet and peaceful contrast to the one we had just left.
The wind now ceased as if by magic. Much of the snow had here
disappeared under the warm sunshine, while before us, nestling in
a grove of olive trees, lay the pretty village, with its white
picturesque houses and narrow streets shaded by gaily striped awnings.
It was like a transformation-scene, this sudden change from winter,
with its grey sky and cold icy blast, to the sunny stillness and
repose of an English summer's day. We rode through the bazaar, a busy
and crowded one for so small a place. A large trade is done here in
olives. Most of it is in the hands of two enterprising Frenchmen, who
started business some years ago, and are doing well.

We managed to get a mouthful of food at Menjil while the horses were
being changed.

Colonel S---- had especially warned us against sleeping here, the
Chapar khaneh being infested with the Meana bug, a species of camel
tick, which inflicts a poisonous and sometimes dangerous wound. It is
only found in certain districts, and rarely met with south of Teherán.
The virus has been known, in some cases, to bring on typhoid fever,
and one European is said to have died from its effects. For the truth
of this I cannot vouch; but there is no doubt that the bite is always
followed by three or four days' more or less serious indisposition.




CHAPTER IV.

PATCHINAR--TEHERÁN.


Our troubles commenced in real earnest at Patchinar, a
desolate-looking place and filthy post-house, which was reached at
sunset. The post from Teherán had just arrived, in charge of a
tall strapping fellow armed to the teeth, in dark blue uniform and
astrachan cap, bearing the Imperial badge, the lion and sun, in brass.
The mail was ten days late, and had met with terrible weather on the
Kharzán. They had passed, only that morning, two men lying by the
roadway, frozen to death. The poor fellows were on their way to
Teherán from Menjil, and had lain where they fell for two or three
days. "You had far better have remained at Résht," added our
informant, unpleasantly recalling to my mind the colonel's prophecy,
"You will be sorry for this to-morrow!"

Notwithstanding hunger and vermin, we managed to enjoy a tolerable
night's rest. The post-house was warm at any rate, being windowless.
Patchinar was evidently a favourite halting-place, for the dingy walls
of the guest-room were covered with writing and pencil sketches, the
work of travellers trying to kill time, from the Frenchman who
warned one (in rhyme) to beware of the thieving propensities of the
postmaster, to the more practical Englishman, who, in a bold hand,
had scrawled across the wall, "_Big bugs here!_" I may add that my
countryman was not exaggerating.

There was no difficulty in getting horses the next morning. The post,
which left for Résht before we were stirring, had left us seven
sorry-looking steeds, worn out with their previous day's journey
through the deep snow-drifts of the Kharzán. By nine o'clock we were
ready to start, notwithstanding the entreaties of the postmaster,
whose anxiety, however, was not on our account, but on that of the
horses.

"I don't believe I shall ever see them again!" he mumbled mournfully,
as we rode out of the yard. "And who is to repay me for their loss?
You will be dead, too, before sundown, if the snow catches you in the
mountains!"

But there seemed no probability of such a contingency. The sky was
blue and cloudless, the sun so bright that the glare off the snow soon
became unbearable without smoked goggles. The promise of an extra
kerán or two if we reached the end of the stage by daylight had a
wonderful effect on the Shagird. Though it was terribly heavy going,
and the snow in places up to our girths, we covered the five miles
lying between Patchinar and the foot of the Kharzán in a little over
three hours--good going considering the state of the road. We were as
often off the former as on it, for there was nothing to guide one;
nothing but telegraph poles and wires were visible, and these are
occasionally laid straight across country away from the track.

Our destination for the night was the village of Kharzán, which is
situated near the summit of the mountain, about six thousand feet
high. The ascent is continuous and precipitous. An idea may be gained
of the steepness by the fact that we now left the valley of the Shah
Roud, barely one thousand feet above sea-level, to ascend, in a
distance of about twelve miles, over six thousand feet.

The Kharzán Pass is at all times dreaded by travellers, native and
European, even in summer, when there are no avalanches to fear,
snow-drifts to bar the way, or ice to render the narrow, tortuous
pathway even more insecure. A serious inconvenience, not to say
danger, is the meeting of two camel caravans travelling in opposite
directions on the narrow track, which, in many places, is barely ten
feet broad, and barely sufficient to allow two horses to pass each
other, to say nothing of heavily laden camels. But to-day we were safe
so far as this was concerned. Not a soul was to be seen in the clefts
and ravines around, or on the great white expanse stretched out
beneath our feet, as we crept cautiously up the side of the mountain,
our guide halting every ten or fifteen yards to probe the snow with a
long pole and make sure that we had not got off the path.

A stiff and tedious climb of nearly seven hours brought us to within a
mile of the summit. Halting for a short time, we refreshed ourselves
with a couple of biscuits and a nip of brandy, and proceeded on our
journey. We had now arrived at the most dangerous part of the pass.
The pathway, hewn out of the solid rock, and about ten feet wide, was
covered with a solid layer of ice eight or ten inches thick, over
which our horses skated about in a most uncomfortable manner. There
was no guard-rail or protection of any sort on the precipice side. All
went well for a time, and I was beginning to congratulate myself on
having reached the summit without-accident, when Gerdme's horse, just
in front of me, blundered and nearly lit on his head. "Ah, son of a
pig's mother!" yelled the little Russian in true Cossack vernacular,
as the poor old screw, thoroughly done up, made a desperate peck,
ending in a slither that brought him to within a foot of the brink.
"That was a close shave, monsieur!" he continued, as his pony
struggled back into safety, "I shall get off and walk. Wet feet are
better than a broken neck any day!"

The words were scarcely out of his mouth, when a loud cry from
the Shagird, and a snort and struggle from the pack-horse behind,
attracted my attention. This time the beast had slipped with a
vengeance, and was half-way over the edge, making, with his fore
feet, frantic efforts to regain _terra firma_ while his hind legs and
quarters dangled in mid-air. There was no time to dismount and render
assistance. The whole thing was over in less than ten seconds. The
Shagird might, indeed, have saved the fall had he kept his head
instead of losing it. All he could do was, with a loud voice and
outstretched arms, to invoke the assistance of "Allah!" We were not
long in suspense. Slowly, inch by inch, the poor brute lost his hold
of the slippery ground, and disappeared, with a shrill neigh of
terror, from sight. For two or three seconds we heard him striking
here and there against a jutting rock or shrub, till, with a final
thud, he landed on a small plateau of deep snow-drifts at least
three hundred feet below. Here he lay motionless and apparently
dead, while we could see through our glasses a thin stream of
crimson flow from under him, gradually staining the white snow
around.

[Illustration: CROSSING THE KHADZÁN]

A cat is popularly supposed to have nine lives. After my experience
of the Persian post-horse, I shall never believe that that rough and
ill-shaped but useful animal has less than a dozen. The fall I
have described would assuredly have killed a horse of any other
nationality, if I may use the word. It seemed, on the contrary, to
have a tonic and exhilarating effect on this Patchinar pony. Before we
could reach him (a work of considerable difficulty and some risk) he
had risen to his feet, given himself a good shake, and was nibbling
away at a bit of gorse that peeped through the snow on which he had
fallen. A deep cut on the shoulder was his only injury, and, curiously
enough, our portmanteaus, with the exception of a broken strap, were
unharmed. There was, luckily, nothing breakable in either.

Kharzán, a miserable village under snow for six months of the year,
was reached without further mishap. There is no post-house, and the
caravanserai was crowded with caravans. Before sundown, however, we
were comfortably installed in the house of the head-man of the place,
who spread carpets of soft texture and quaint design in our honour,
regaled us with an excellent "pilaff," and produced a flask of Persian
wine. The latter would hardly have passed muster in Europe. The cork
consisted of a plug of cotton-wool plastered with clay; the contents
were of a muddy-brown colour. "It is pure Hamadán," said our host with
pride, as he placed the bottle before us. "Perhaps the sahib did not
know that our country is famous for its wines." It was not altogether
unpalatable, something like light but rather sweet hock; very
different, however, in its effects to that innocent beverage, and one
could not drink much with impunity. Its cheapness surprised me:
one shilling a quart bottle. That, at least, is the price our host
charged--probably more than half again its real value.

The winegrowers of Hamadán have many difficulties to contend with;
among others, the severe cold. In winter the wine is kept in huge
jars, containing six or seven hundred bottles. These are buried in
the ground, their necks being surrounded by hot beds of fermenting
horse-dung, to keep the wine from freezing. But even this plan
sometimes fails, and it has to be chopped out in solid blocks and
melted for drinking.

Kharzán has a population of about a thousand inhabitants. It was here
that Baker Pasha was brought some years ago in a dying condition,
after being caught in a wind-storm on the Kharzán Pass, and lay for
three days in the house we were lodging at. Our old friend showed us a
clasp-knife presented him by the colonel, who on that occasion nearly
lost both his feet from frost-bite. Captains Gill and Clayton, [A] of
the Royal Engineers and Ninth Lancers, were with him, but escaped
unharmed.

Stiff and worn out with the events of the day, we soon stretched
ourselves in front of the blazing fire in anticipation of a good
night's rest; but sleep was not for us. In the next room were a party
of Persian merchants from Astrakhan on their way to Bagdad _viâ_
Teherán, who had been prisoners here for five days, and were now
carousing on the strength of getting away on the morrow. A woman was
with them--a brazen-faced, shrill-voiced Armenian, who made more noise
than all the rest put together. Singing, dancing, quarrelling, and
drinking went on without intermission till long past midnight, our
neighbours raising such a din that the good people of Kharzán, a
quarter of a mile away, must have turned uneasily in their slumbers,
and wondered whether an army of fiends had not broken loose. Towards 1
a.m. the noise ceased, and we were just dropping to sleep, when, at
about half-past two in the morning, our drunken friends, headed by the
lady, burst into our apartment, with the information, in bad Russian,
that a gang of fifty men sent that morning to clear a path through
the deep snow had just returned, and the road to Mazreh was now
practicable. The caravans would be starting in an hour, they
added. "And you'd better travel with them," joined in the lady,
contemptuously, "or you will be sure to get into trouble by
yourselves." A reply more forcible than polite from Gerôme then
cleared the apartment; and, rekindling the now expiring embers, we
prepared for the road.

We set out at dawn for the gate of the village, where the caravans
were to assemble. It was still freezing hard, and the narrow streets
like sheets of solid ice, so that our horses kept their legs with
difficulty. We must have numbered fifty or sixty camels, and as many
mules and horses, all heavily laden.

Daybreak disclosed a weird, beautiful scene: a sea of snow, over which
the rising sun threw countless effects of light and colour, from the
cold slate grey immediately around us, gradually lightening to the
faintest tints of rose and gold on the eastern horizon, where stars
were paling in a cloudless sky. Portrayed on canvas, the picture would
have looked unnatural, so brilliant were the hues thrown by the rising
sun over the land-, or rather snow-scape. The cold, though intense,
was not unbearable, for there was fortunately no wind, and the spirits
rose with the crisp, bracing air, brilliant sunshine, and jangle of
caravan bells, as one realized that Teherán was now well within reach,
and the dreaded Kharzán a thing of the past. Gerôme gave vent to his
feelings with a succession of roulades and operatic airs; for my
little friend had a very good opinion of his vocal powers, which I,
unfortunately, did not share. But he was a cheery, indefatigable
creature, and of indomitable pluck, and one gladly forgave him this,
his only failing.

It was terribly hard work all that morning, and Gerôme had four, I
three, falls, on one occasion wrenching my right ankle badly. Some
of the drifts through which we rode must have been at least ten or
fifteen feet deep. Some tough faggots thrown over these afforded a
footing, or we should never have got over. Towards midday Mazreh
was sighted; and we pushed on ahead, leaving the caravan to its own
devices. The going was now better, and it was soon far behind us, the
only object visible from the low hills which we now ascended, the
camels and mules looking, from this distance, like flies crawling over
a huge white sheet.

Lunch at Mazreh consisted of damp, mouldy bread, and some sweet,
sickly liquid the postmaster called tea. Procuring fresh horses
without difficulty, we set out about 3 p.m. for Kazvin. It was not
till 10 p.m. that we were riding through the great gate of that city,
which the soldier on guard consented, with some demur, to open.

Kazvin boasts a hotel and a boulevard! The latter is lit by a dozen
oil-lamps; the former, though a palatial building of brick, with
verandahs and good rooms, is left to darkness and the rats in the
absence of travellers. Having groped our way for half an hour or so
about a labyrinth of dark, narrow streets, we presently emerged on the
dimly lit boulevard (three of the oil-lamps had gone out), and rode
up to the melancholy looking hostelry at the end. Failing to obtain
admission, we burst open the door, and made ourselves as comfortable
as circumstances would allow. Food was out of the question; drink,
saving some villainous raki of Gerôme's, also; but there was plenty
of firewood, and we soon had a good fire in the grate. This hotel
was originally built by the Shah for the convenience of himself
and ministers when on his way to Europe. It is only on these rare
occasions that the barn-like building is put in order. Visions of
former luxury were still visible in our bedroom in the shape of a
bedstead, toilet-table, and looking-glass. "But we can't eat _them_!"
said Gerôme, mournfully.

Kazvin, which now has a population of 30,000, has seen better days. It
was once capital of Persia, with 120,000 inhabitants. Strolling out in
the morning before breakfast, I found it well and regularly built, and
surrounded by a mud wall, with several gates of beautiful mosaic, now
much chipped and defaced.

Being the junction of the roads from Tabriz on the west, and Résht on
the north to the capital, is now Kazvin's sole importance. The road to
Teherán was made some years ago at enormous expense by the Shah; but
it has now, in true Persian style, been left to fall into decay. It is
only in the finest and driest weather that the journey can be made on
wheels, and this was naturally out of the question for us. A
railway was mooted some time since along this, the only respectable
carriage-road in Persia--but the project was soon abandoned.

The post-houses, however, are a great improvement on any in other
parts of the country. At Kishlak, for instance, we found a substantial
brick building with a large guest-room, down the centre of which ran
a long table with spotless table-cloth, spread out with plates
of biscuits, apples, nuts, pears, dried fruits, and sweetmeats,
beautifully decorated with gold and silver paper, and at intervals
decanters of water--rather cold fare with the thermometer at a few
degrees above zero. The fruits and biscuits were shrivelled and
tasteless, having evidently been there some months. It reminded me of
a children's doll dinner-party. With the exception of these Barmecide
feasts and some straw-flavoured eggs, there was nothing substantial to
be got in any of the post-houses till we reached our destination.

About four o'clock on the 27th we first sighted the white peak of
Mount Demavend, and by three o'clock next day were within sight of the
dingy brown walls, mud houses, and white minarets of the city of the
Shah--Teherán.


[Footnote A: Both have since met violent deaths. Captain Gill was
murdered by natives with Professor Palmer near Suez, and Captain
Clayton killed while playing polo in India.]



CHAPTER V.

TEHERÁN.


A brilliant ball-room, pretty faces, smart gowns, good music, and
an excellent supper;--thus surrounded, I pass my first evening in
Teherán, a pleasant contrast indeed to the preceding night of dirt,
cold, and hunger.

But it was not without serious misgivings that I accepted the
courteous invitation of the German Embassy. The crossing of the
Kharzán had not improved the appearance of dress-clothes and shirts,
to say nothing of my eyes being in the condition described by
pugilists as "bunged up," my face of the hue of a boiled lobster, the
effects of sun and snow.

One is struck, on entering Teherán, with the apparent cleanliness of
the place as compared with other Oriental towns. The absence of heaps
of refuse, cess-pools, open drains, and bad smells is remarkable to
one accustomed to Eastern cities; but this was perhaps, at the time of
my visit, due to the pure rarified atmosphere, the keen frosty air, of
winter. Teherán in January, with its cold bracing climate, and Teherán
in June, with the thermometer above ninety in the shade, are two very
different things; and the town is so unhealthy in summer, that all
Europeans who can afford to do so live on the hills around the
capital.

The environs are not picturesque. They have been likened to those of
Madrid, having the same brown calcined soil, the same absence of trees
and vegetation. The city, viewed from outside the walls, is ugly and
insignificant, and, on a dull day, indistinguishable at no great
distance. In clear weather, however, the beehive-like dwellings and
rumbling ramparts stand out in bold relief against a background of
blue sky and dazzling snow-mountains, over which towers, in solitary
grandeur, the peak of Mount Demavend, [A] an extinct volcano, over
20,000 feet high, the summit of which is reported by natives to be
haunted. The ascent is gradual and easy, and has frequently been made
by Europeans.

Teherán is divided into two parts--the old city and the new. In the
former, inhabited only by natives, the streets are narrow, dark, and
tortuous, leading at intervals into large squares with deep tanks of
running water in the centre. The latter are characteristic of Persia,
and have in summer a deliciously cool appearance, the coping of the
fountain being only an inch or so in height, and the water almost
flush with the ground. The new, or European quarter, is bisected by
a broad tree-lined thoroughfare, aptly named the "Boulevard des
Ambassadeurs," for here are the legations of England, France, and
Germany. The Russian Embassy, a poor building in comparison with
the others, stands in another part of the town. Hard by the English
Embassy is the Hôtel Prevôt, kept by a Frenchman of that name, once
confectioner-in-chief to his Majesty the Shah. Here we took up our
quarters during our stay in the capital.

At the extremity of the Boulevard des Ambassadeurs is the "Place des
Canons," so called from the old and useless cannon of various ages
that surround it. The square is formed by low barn-like barracks,
their whitewashed walls decorated with gaudy and rudely drawn pictures
of Persian soldiers and horses. Beyond this again, and approached by
an avenue of poplar trees, lit by electric light, is the palace of the
Shah, with nothing to indicate the presence in town of the sovereign
but a guard of ragged-looking, unkempt Persians in Russian uniform
lounging about the principal gateway.

The Persian soldier is not a credit to his country. Although drilled
and commanded by European officers, he is a slouching, awkward fellow,
badly paid, ill fed, and not renowned for bravery. The ordinary
infantry uniform consists of a dark-blue tunic and trousers with red
facings, and a high astrachan busby with the brass badge of the lion
and sun. To a stranger, however, the varied and grotesque costumes
in which these clowns are put by their imperial master is somewhat
confusing. One may see, for instance, Russian cossacks, French
chasseurs, German uhlans, and Austrian cuirassiers incongruously mixed
up together in the ranks on parade. His army is the Shah's favourite
toy, and nothing affords the eccentric monarch so much amusement as
constant change of uniform. As the latter are manufactured in and sent
out from the countries they represent, the expense to the state is
considerable.

The first Europeans to instruct this rabble were Frenchmen, but
England, Russia, Germany, and Austria have all supplied officers and
instructors within the past fifty years, without, however, any
good result. Although the arsenal at Teherán is full of the latest
improvements in guns and magazine rifles, these are kept locked up,
and only for show, the old Brown Bess alone being used. The Cossack
regiment always stationed at Teherán, ostensibly for the protection of
the Shah, and officered by Russians, is the only one with any attempt
at discipline or order, and is armed with the Berdán rifle.

The Teherán bazaar is, at first sight, commonplace and uninteresting.
Though of enormous extent (it contains in the daytime over thirty
thousand souls), it lacks the picturesque Oriental appearance of those
of Cairo or Constantinople, where costly and beautiful wares are set
out in tempting array before the eyes of the unwary stranger. Here
they are kept in the background, and a European must remain in
the place for a couple of months or so, and make friends with the
merchants, before he be even permitted to see them. The position is
reversed. At Stamboul the stranger is pestered and worried to buy;
at Teherán one must sometimes entreat before being allowed even to
inspect the contents of a silk or jewel stall. Even then, the owner
will probably remain supremely indifferent as to whether the "Farangi"
purchase or not. This fact is curious. It will probably disappear with
the advance of civilization and Mr. Cook.

[Illustration: TEHERÁN]

Debouching from the principal streets or alleys of the bazaar, which
is of brick, are large covered caravanserais, or open spaces for the
storage of goods, where the wholesale merchants have their
warehouses. The architecture of some of these caravanserais is very
fine. The cool, quiet halls, their domed roofs, embellished with
delicate stone carving, and blue, white, and yellow tiles, dimly
reflected in the inevitable marble tank of clear water below, are
a pleasant retreat from the stifling alleys and sun-baked streets.
Talking of tanks, there seems to be no lack of water in Teherán. I was
surprised at this, for there are few countries so deficient in this
essential commodity as Persia. It is, I found, artificially supplied
by "connaughts," or subterranean aqueducts flowing from mountain
streams, which are practically inexhaustible. In order to keep a
straight line, shafts are dug every fifty yards or so, and the earth
thrown out of the shaft forms a mound, which is not removed. Thus
a Persian landscape, dotted with hundreds of these hillocks, often
resembles a field full of huge ant-hills. The mouths of these shafts,
left open and unprotected, are a source of great danger to travellers
by night. Teherán is provided with thirty or forty of these aqueducts,
which were constructed by the Government some years ago at enormous
expense and labour.

As in most Eastern cities, each trade has its separate alley or
thoroughfare in the Teherán bazaar. Thus of jewellers, silk mercers,
tailors, gunsmiths, saddlers, coppersmiths, and the rest, each
have their separate arcade. The shops or stalls are much alike in
appearance, though they vary considerably in size. Behind a brick
platform, about three feet wide and two feet in height, is the shop,
a vaulted archway, in the middle of which, surrounded by his wares,
kalyan [B] or cigarette in mouth, squats the shopkeeper. There are no
windows. At night a few rough boards and a rough Russian padlock are
the sole protection, saving a smaller apartment at the back of each
stall, a kind of strong-room, guarded by massive iron-bound doors,
in which the most valuable goods are kept. There is no attempt at
decoration; a few only of the jewellers' shops are whitewashed inside,
the best being hung with the cheapest and gaudiest of French or German
coloured prints. The stalls are usually opened about 6.30 a.m., and
closed at sunset. An hour later the bazaar is untenanted, save for
the watchmen and pariah dogs. The latter are seen throughout the day,
sleeping in holes and corners, many of them almost torn to pieces from
nightly encounters, and kicked about, even by children, with impunity.
It is only at night that the brutes become really dangerous, and when,
in packs of from twenty to thirty, they have been known to attack and
kill men. Occasionally the dogs of one quarter of the bazaar attack
those of another, and desperate fights ensue, the killed and wounded
being afterwards eaten by the victors. It is, therefore, unsafe to
venture out in the streets of Teherán after dark without a lantern and
good stout cudgel.

From 11 to 12 a.m. is perhaps the busiest part of the day in the
bazaar. Then is one most struck with the varied and picturesque types
of Oriental humanity, the continuously changing kaleidoscope of
native races from Archangel to the Persian Gulf, the Baltic Sea to
Afghanistán.

Nor are contrasts wanting. Here is Ivanoff from Odessa or Tiflis, in
the white peaked cap and high boots dear to every Russian, haggling
over the price of a carpet with Ali Mahomet of Bokhára; there
Chung-Yang, who has drifted here from Pekin through Siberia, with a
cargo of worthless tea, vainly endeavouring to palm it off on that
grave-looking Parsee, who, unfortunately for the Celestial, is not
quite such a fool as he looks. Such a hubbub never was heard.
Every one is talking or shouting at the top of their voices, women
screaming, beggars whining, fruit and water sellers jingling their
cymbals, while from the coppersmiths' quarter hard by comes a
deafening accompaniment in the shape of beaten metal. Occasionally a
caravan of laden camels stalk gravely through the alleys, scattering
the yelling crowd right and left, only to reassemble the moment it has
passed, like water in the wake of a ship. Again it separates, and a
sedan, preceded by a couple of gholams with long wands, is carried
by, and one gets a momentary glimpse of a pair of dark eyes and
henna-stained finger-tips, as a fair one from the "anderoon" [C]
of some great man is carried to her jeweller's or perfumer's. The
"yashmak" is getting very thin in these countries, and one can form a
very fair estimate of the lady's features (singularly plain ones) as
the sedan swings by. Towards midday business is suspended for a while,
and the alleys of the bazaar empty as if by magic. For nearly a whole
hour silence, unbroken save by the snarling of some pariah dog, the
hiss of the samovar, and gurgle of the kalyan, falls over the place,
till 2 p.m., when the noise recommences as suddenly as it ceased, and
continues unbroken till sunset.

On the whole, the bazaar is disappointing. The stalls for the sale of
Persian and Central Asian carpets, old brocades and tapestries, and
other wares dear to the lover of Eastern art, are in the minority,
and must be hunted out. Manchester goods, cheap calicoes and prints,
German cutlery, and Birmingham ware are found readily enough, and form
the stock of two-thirds of the shops in the carpet and silk-mercers'
arcade.

It is by no means easy to find one's way about. No one understands
a word of English, French, or German, and had it not been for my
knowledge of Russian--which, by the way, is the one known European
language among the lower orders--I should more than once have been
hopelessly lost.

Europeans in Teherán lead a pleasant though somewhat monotonous life.
Summer is, as I have said, intolerable, and all who can seek refuge in
the hills, where there are two settlements, or villages, presented by
the Shah to England and Russia. Winter is undoubtedly the pleasantest
season. Scarcely an evening passes without a dance, private
theatricals, or other festivity given by one or other of the
Embassies, entertainments which his Imperial Majesty himself
frequently graces with his presence.

There is probably no living sovereign of whom so little is really
known in Europe as Nasr-oo-din, "Shah of Persia," "Asylum of the
Universe," and "King of Kings," to quote three of his more modest
titles. Although he has visited Europe twice, and been made much of in
our own country, most English people know absolutely nothing of the
Persian monarch's character or private life. That he ate _entrées_
with his fingers at Buckingham Palace, expressed a desire to have the
Lord Chamberlain bowstrung, and conceived a violent and unholy passion
for an amiable society lady somewhat inclined to _embonpoint_, we are
most of us aware; but beyond this, the Shah's _vie intime_ remains, to
the majority of us at least, a sealed book. This is perhaps a pity,
for, like many others, Nasr-oo-din is not so black as he is painted,
and, notwithstanding all reports to the contrary, is said, by those
who should know, to be one of the kindest-hearted creatures breathing.

The government of Persia is that of an absolute monarchy. The Shah
alone has power of life and death, and, even in the most remote
districts, the assent of the sovereign is necessary before an
execution can take place. The Shah appoints his own ministers.
These are the "Sadr-Azam," or Prime Minister; the "Sapar-Sala,"
Commander-in-chief; "Mustof-al-Mamalak," Secretary of State, and
Minister of Foreign Affairs. These are supposed to represent the Privy
Council, but they very seldom meet, the Shah preferring to manage
affairs independently. The total revenue of the latter has been
estimated at seven million pounds sterling.

Nasr-oo-din, who is now sixty-five years of age, ascended the throne
in 1848. His reign commenced inauspiciously with a determined attempt
to assassinate him, made by a gang of fanatics of the Babi sect. The
plot, though nearly successful, was frustrated, and the conspirators
executed; but it is said that the Shah has lived in constant dread of
assassination ever since. He is hypochondriacal, and, though in very
fair health, is constantly on the _qui vive_ for some imaginary
ailment. The post of Court physician, filled for many years past by
Dr. Tholozan, a Frenchman, is no sinecure.

The habits of the Shah are simple. He is, unlike most Persians of high
class, abstemious as regards both food and drink. Two meals a day,
served at midday and 9 p.m., and those of the plainest diet, washed
down by a glass or two of claret or other light wine, are all he
allows himself. When on a hunting-excursion, his favourite occupation,
the Shah is even more abstemious, going sometimes a whole day without
food of any kind. He is a crack shot, and is out nearly daily, when
the weather permits, shooting over his splendid preserves around
Teherán. There is no lack of sport. Tiger and bear abound; also
partridge, woodcock, snipe, and many kinds of water-fowl; but the
Shah is better with the rifle than the fowling-piece. The Shah is
passionately fond of music, and has two or three string and brass
bands trained and conducted by a Frenchman. When away on a long
sporting-excursion, he is invariably accompanied by one of these
bands.

Were it not for the running attendants in scarlet and gold, and the
crimson-dyed [D] tail of his horse, no one would take the slim, swarthy
old gentleman in black frock-coat, riding slowly through the streets,
and beaming benignly through a huge pair of spectacles, for the
great Shah-in-Shah himself. Yet he is stern and pitiless enough when
necessary, as many of the Court officials can vouch for. But few have
escaped the bastinado at one time or another; but in Persia this is
not considered an indignity, even by the highest in the land. The
stick is painful, certainly, but not a disgrace in this strange
country.

Nasr-oo-din has three legal wives, and an unlimited number of
concubines. Of the former, the head wife, Shuku-Es-Sultana, is his own
cousin and the great-granddaughter of the celebrated Fatti-Ali-Shah,
whose family was so large that, at the time of his death, one hundred
and twenty of his descendants were still living. Shuku-Es-Sultana is
the mother of the "Valliad," or Crown Prince, now Governor of Tabriz.
The second wife is a granddaughter of Fatti-Ali-Shah; and the third
(the Shah's favourite) is one Anys-u-Dowlet. The latter is the best
looking of the three, and certainly possesses the greatest influence
in state affairs. Of the concubines, the mother of the "Zil-i-Sultan"
("Shadow of the King") ranks the first in seniority. The Zil-i-Sultan
is, though illegitimate, the Shah's eldest son, and is, with the
exception of his father, the most influential man in Persia, the
heir-apparent (Valliad) being a weak, foolish individual, easily led,
and addicted to drink and the lowest forms of sensuality.

With the exception of eunuchs, no male person over the age of ten is
permitted in the seraglio, or anderoon, which is constantly receiving
fresh importations from the provinces. Persians deny that there are
any European women, but this is doubtful. The harems of Constantinople
and Cairo are recruited from Paris and Vienna; why not those of
Teherán? The indoor costume of the Persian lady must be somewhat
trying at first to those accustomed to European toilettes. The
skirt, reaching only to the knee, is full and _bouffé_, like an
opera-dancer's, the feet and legs generally bare. The only becoming
part of the whole costume is the tightly fitting zouave jacket of
light blue or scarlet satin, thickly braided with gold, and the gauze
head-dress embroidered with the same material, and fastened under the
chin with a large turquoise, ruby, or other precious stone.

Some of the women (even among the concubines) are highly educated; can
play on the "tar", [E] or harmonica, sing, and read and write poetry;
but their recreations are necessarily somewhat limited. Picnics,
music, story-telling, kalyan and cigarette smoking, sweetmeat-making,
and the bath, together with somewhat less innocent pastimes, form the
sum total of a Persian concubine's amusements. Outside the walls of
the anderoon they are closely watched and guarded, for Persians
are jealous of their women, and, even in the most formal social
gatherings, there is a strict separation of the sexes. Its imperial
master occasionally joins in the outdoor amusements of his harem;
indeed, he himself invented a game a few years since, which sounds
more original than amusing. A slide of smooth alabaster about twenty
feet long, on an inclined plane, was constructed in one of his
bath-houses. Down this the Shah would gravely slide into the water,
followed by his seraglio. The sight must have been a strange one,
the costumes on these occasions being, to say the least of it, scanty!

[Illustration: PERSIAN DANCING-GIRL]

The Shah's greatest failing is, perhaps, vacillation. He is constantly
changing his mind, on trifling matters chiefly, for his northern
neighbours take care that he is more consistent in affairs of state.
Two or three times, between his visits to Europe in 1871 and 1889, he
has started with great pomp and a large retinue for the land of the
"Farangi," but, on arrival at Résht, has returned to Teherán, without
a word of warning to his ministers, or apparent reason for his sudden
change of plans. These "false starts" became a recognized thing after
a time, and when, in 1888, his Majesty embarked on his yacht and set
sail for Baku, it came as a surprise, pleasant or otherwise, to his
subjects at Teherán. The final undertaking of the journey may
have been advised by his astrologers, for the Shah is intensely
superstitious, and never travels without them. Nor will he, on any
account, start on a journey on a Friday, or the thirteenth day of the
month.

The palace of Teherán is, seen from the outside, a shapeless,
ramshackle structure. The outside walls are whitewashed, and covered
with gaudy red and blue pictures of men and horses, the former in
modern military tunics and shakos, the latter painted a bright red.
The figures, rudely drawn, remind one of a charity schoolboy's
artistic efforts on a slate, but are somewhat out of place on the
walls of a royal residence. The interior of the "Ark," as it is
called, is a pleasant contrast to the outside, although even here, in
the museum, which contains some of the finest gems and _objets d'art_
in the world, the various objects are placed with singular disregard
of order, not to say good taste. One sees, for instance, a tawdrily
dressed mechanical doll from Paris standing next to a case containing
the "Darai Nor," or "Sea of Light," a magnificent diamond obtained
in India, and said to be the largest yet discovered, though somewhat
inferior in quality to the "Koh-i-noor." A cheap and somewhat
dilapidated cuckoo-clock and toy velocipede flank the famous globe of
the world in diamonds and precious stones. This, the most costly and
beautiful piece of workmanship in the place, is about eighteen inches
in diameter, and is said to have cost eight millions of francs. The
different countries are marked out with surprising accuracy and
detail,--Persia being represented by turquoises, England by diamonds,
Africa by rubies, and so on, the sea being of emeralds.

The museum itself is about sixty feet in length by twenty-five feet
broad, its ceiling composed entirely of looking-glasses, its parquet
flooring strewn with priceless Persian rugs and carpets. Large
oil-paintings of Queen Victoria, the Czar of Russia, and other
sovereigns, surround the walls, including two portraits of her Majesty
the Ex-Empress Eugenie. It would weary the reader to wade through a
description of the Jade work and _cloisonné_, the porcelain of all
countries, the Japanese works of art in bronze and gold, and last, but
not least, the cut and uncut diamonds and precious stones, temptingly
laid out in open saucers, like _bonbons_ in a confectioner's shop. The
diamonds are perhaps the finest as regards quality, but there is
a roughly cut ruby surmounting the imperial crown, said to be the
largest in the world.

Though it was very cold, and the snow lay deep upon the ground, my
stay at Teherán was not unpleasant. The keen bracing air, brilliant
sunshine, and cloudless blue sky somewhat made amends for the sorry
lodging and execrable fare provided by mine host at the Hôtel Prevôt.
I have seldom, in my travels, come across a French inn where, be the
materials ever so poor, the landlord is not able to turn out a decent
meal. I have fared well and sumptuously at New Caledonia, Saigon, and
even Pekin, under the auspices of a French innkeeper; but at Teherán
(nearest of any to civilized Europe) was compelled to swallow food
that would have disgraced a fifth-rate _gargotte_ in the slums of
Paris. Perhaps Monsieur Prevôt had become "Persianized"; perhaps
the dulcet tones of Madame P., whose voice, incessantly rating her
servants, reminded one of unoiled machinery, and commenced at sunrise
only to be silenced (by exhaustion) at sunset, disturbed him at his
culinary labours. The fact remains that the _cuisine_ was, to any but
a starving man, uneatable, the bedroom which madame was kind enough to
assign to me, pitch dark and stuffy as a dog-kennel.

A long conference with General S--, an Austrian in the Persian
service, decided my future movements. The general, one of the highest
geographical authorities on Persia, strongly dissuaded my attempting
to reach India _viâ_ Meshéd and Afghanistán. "You will only be stopped
and sent back," said he; "what is the use of losing time?" I resolved,
therefore, after mature deliberation, to proceed direct to Ispahán,
Shiráz, and Bushire, and from thence by steamer to Sonmiani, on the
coast of Baluchistán. From the latter port I was to strike due north
to Kelát and Quetta, and "that," added the general, "will bring you
across eighty or a hundred miles of totally unexplored country. You
will have had quite enough of it when you get to Kelát--if you ever
_do_ get there," he added encouragingly.

The route now finally decided upon, preparations were made for a start
as soon as possible. Portmanteaus were exchanged for a pair of light
leather saddle-bags, artistically embellished with squares of bright
Persian carpet let in at the side, and purchased in the bazaar for
twenty-two keráns, or about seventeen shillings English money. In
these I was able to carry, with ease, a couple of tweed suits, half a
dozen flannel shirts, three pairs of boots, and toilet necessaries, to
say nothing of a box of cigars and a small medicine-chest. Gerôme
also carried a pair of bags, containing, in addition to his modest
wardrobe, our stores for the voyage--biscuits, Valentine's meat juice,
sardines, tea, and a bottle of brandy; for, with the exception of eggs
and Persian bread, one can reckon upon nothing eatable at the Chapar
khanehs. There is an excellent European store shop at Teherán, and had
it not been for limited space, we might have regaled on turtle soup,
aspic jellies, quails, and _pâté de foie gras_ galore throughout
Persia. Mr. R. N----, an _attaché_ to the British Legation at Teherán,
is justly celebrated for his repasts _en voyage_, and assured me that
he invariably sat down to a _recherché_ dinner of soup, three courses,
and iced champagne, even when journeying to such remote cities as
Hamadán or Meshéd, thereby proving that, if you only take your time
about it, you may travel comfortably almost anywhere--even in Persia.


[Footnote A: The word _Demavend_ signifies literally "abundance of
mist," so called from the summit of this mountain being continually
wreathed in clouds.]

[Footnote B: A pipe similar to the Turkish "hubble-bubble," wherein
the tobacco is inhaled through plain or rose water.]

[Footnote C: Harem.]

[Footnote D: A badge of royalty in Persia.]

[Footnote E: A stringed instrument played in the same way as the
European guitar.]




CHAPTER VI.

TEHERÁN--ISPAHÁN.


We are already some farsakhs [A] from Teherán when day breaks on the
4th of February, 1889. The start is not a propitious one. Hardly have
we cleared the Ispahán gate than down comes the Shagird's horse as
if he were shot, breaking his girths and rider's thumb at the same
moment. Luckily, we are provided with rope, and Persian saddles are
not complicated. In ten minutes we are off again; but it is terribly
hard going, and all one can do to keep the horses on their legs.
Towards midday the sun slightly thaws the surface of the frozen snow,
and makes matters still worse. Up till now the pace has not been
exhilarating. Two or three miles an hour at most. It will take some
time to reach India at this rate!

Four or five hours of this work, and there is no longer a sign of life
to be seen on the white waste, saving, about a mile ahead of us,
a thin wreath of grey smoke and half a dozen blackened tents--an
encampment of gypsies. Far behind us the tallest minarets of the
capital are dipping below the horizon, while to the left the white and
glittering cone of Demavend stands boldly out from a background of
deep cloudless blue. Though the sun is powerful--so much so, indeed,
that face and hands are already swollen and blistered--the cold in the
shade is intense. A keen, cutting north-easter sweeps across the white
waste, and, riding for a time under the shadow of a low ridge of
snow, I find my cigar frozen to my lips--nor can I remove it without
painfully tearing the skin. Gerôme is in his element, and, as a
natural consequence, my spirits fall as his rise. The slowness of
our progress, and constant stumbling of my pony, do not improve the
temper, and I am forced at last to beg my faithful follower to desist,
for a time at least, from a vocal rendering of "La Mascotte" which
has been going on unceasingly since we left Teherán. He obeys, but
(unabashed) proceeds to carry on a long conversation with himself in
the Tartar language, with which I am, perhaps happily, unacquainted.
Truly he is a man of unfailing resource!

But even his angelic temper is tried when, shortly afterwards, we ride
past the gipsy encampment As he dismounts to light a cigarette out
of the wind, one of the sirens in a tent catches sight of the little
Russian, and in less than half a minute he is surrounded by a mob of
dishevelled, half-naked females, who throw their arms about him, pull
his hair and ears, and try, but in vain, to secure his horse and drag
him into a tent. These gipsies are the terror of travellers in Persia,
the men, most of them, gaining a precarious living as tinkers and
leather-workers, with an occasional highway robbery to keep their
hand in, the women living entirely by thieving and prostitution. The
gentlemen of the tribe were, perhaps luckily for us, away from home on
this occasion. One of the women, a good-looking, black-eyed girl, was
the most persistent among this band of maenads, and, bolder than the
rest, utterly refused to let Gerôme get on his pony, till, white with
passion, the Russian raised his whip. This was a signal for a general
howl of rage. "Strike me if you dare!" said the girl, her eyes ablaze.
"If you do you will never reach the next station." But in the confusion
Gerôme had vaulted into his saddle, and, setting spurs to our horses,
we galloped or scrambled off as quick as the deep snow would allow us.
"Crapule va!" shouted the little man, whose cheek and hair still bore
traces of the struggle. "Il n'y a qu'en Perse qu'on fait des chameaus
comme cela!"

Ispahán is about seventy farsakhs distant from Teherán. The journey
has, under favourable conditions, been ridden in under two days, but
this is very unusual, and has seldom been done except for a wager by
Europeans. In our case speed was, of course, out of the question, with
the road in the state it was. The ordinary pace is, on an average, six
to eight miles an hour, unless the horses are very bad. It was nearly
a week, however, before we rode through the gates of Ispahán, and even
this was accounted a fair performance considering the difficulties we
had to contend with.

Towards sunset the wind rose--a sharp north-easter that made face and
ears feel as if they were being flogged with stinging-nettles. It was
not until dusk that we reached Rabat Kerim, a small mud village, with
a filthy windowless post-house. But a pigstye would have been welcome
after such a ride, and the vermin which a flickering oil-lamp revealed
in hundreds, on walls and flooring, did not prevent our sleeping
soundly till morning. My thermometer marked only one degree above zero
when we retired to rest, and the wood was too damp to light a fire.
But we are in Persia!

It is only fair, however, to say that the road we were now travelling
is not the regular post-road, which lies some distance to the eastward
of Rabat Kerim, but was now impassable on account of the snow.
The smaller track joins the main road at Koom. By taking the less
frequented track, we were unable to go through the "Malak al Niote,"
or "Valley of the Angel of Death," which lies about half-way between
the capital and Koom. The valley is so called from its desolate and
sterile appearance, though, if this be so, the greater part of Persia
might with reason bear the same name. Be this as it may, the Shagirds
and natives have the greatest objection to passing through it after
dark. A legend avers that it is haunted by monsters having the bodies
of men and heads of beasts and birds. Surrounded by these apparitions,
who lick his face and hands till he is unconscious, the traveller is
carried away--where, history does not state--never to return.

If the first day's work had been hard, it was child's play compared to
the second. The track, leading over a vast plain, had recently been
traversed by a number of camel caravans, which had transformed it into
a kind of Jacob's ladder formed by holes a couple of feet deep in the
snow. As long as the horses trod into them all went well, but a few
inches to the right or left generally brought them blundering on to
their noses. The reader may imagine what a day of this work means. The
strain on mind and muscle was almost unbearable, to say nothing of the
blinding glare. Yet one could not but admire, during our brief pauses
for rest, the picture before us. The boundless expanse of sapphire
blue and dazzling white, with not a speck to mar it, save where,
occasionally, the warm sun-rays had, here and there, laid bare chains
of dark rocks, giving them the appearance of islands in this ocean of
snow.

At Pitché, the midday station, no horses were to be had; so,
notwithstanding that deep snow-drifts lay between us and Kushku Baďra,
the halt for the night, we were compelled, after a couple of hours'
rest, to set out on the ponies that had brought us from Rabat Kerim.
More perhaps by good luck than anything else, we reached the latter
towards 9 p.m. A bright starlit night favoured us, and, with the
exception of a couple of falls apiece, we were none the worse. We
found, too, to our great delight, a blazing fire burning in the
post-house, kindled by some caravan-men. But there is always a saving
clause in Persia. No water was to be had for love or money till the
morning, and, knowing the raging thirst produced by melted snow, we
had to forget our thirst till next day.

[Illustration: POST-HOUSE AT KUSHKU BAIRA]

A pleasant surprise also was in store for us. Two or three miles
beyond Kushku Baďra we were clear of snow altogether. Not a vestige
of white was visible upon the bare stony plain. Nothing but dull drab
desert, stretching away on every side to a horizon of snow-capt hills,
recalling, by their very whiteness, the miseries of the past two days.
"Berik Allah!" [B] cried Gerôme. "We have done with the snow now."
"Inshallah!" [C] I replied, though with an inward conviction that we
should see it again further on, and suffer accordingly.

The sacred city of Koom [D] is one of the pleasantest recollections I
retain of the ride between the capital and Ispahán. It was about two
o'clock on the afternoon of the 6th of February that, breasting a
chain of low sandy hills, the huge golden dome of the Tomb of Fatima
became visible. We were then still four miles off; but, even with our
jaded steeds, the ride became what it had not yet been--a pleasure.
The green sunlit plains of wheat and barley, interspersed with bars of
white and red poppies, the picturesque, happy-looking peasantry, the
strings of mule and camel caravans, with their gaudy trappings and
clashing bells,--all this life, colour, and movement helped to give
one new hope and energy, and drown the dreary remembrance of past
troubles, bodily and mental. Even the caravans of corpses sent to Koom
for interment, which we passed every now and again, failed to depress
us, though at times the effluvia was somewhat overpowering, many of
the bodies being brought to the sacred city from the most remote
parts of Persia. Each mule bore two dead bodies, slung on either
side, like saddle-bags, and one could clearly trace the outline of
the figure wrapped in blue or grey cloth. A few of the friends and
relatives of some of the deceased accompanied this weird procession,
but the greater number of the dead had been consigned to the care
of the muleteers. The latter, in true chalvadar [E] fashion, were
stretched out flat on their stomachs fast asleep, their heads lolling
over their animals, arms and legs dangling helplessly, while the
caravan roamed about the track unchecked, banging their loads against
each other, to the silent discomfiture of the unfortunate mourners.

[Illustration: A CORPSE CARAVAN]

Koom is said to cover nearly twice as much ground as Shiráz, but more
than half the city is in ruins, the Afghans having destroyed it in
1722. The principal buildings are mainly composed of mosques and
sepulchres (for Koom is second only to Meshéd in sanctity), but
most of them are in a state of decay and dilapidation. The mosque
containing the Tomb of Fatima is the finest, its dome being covered
with plates of silver-gilt--the natives say of pure gold. The sacred
character of this city is mainly derived from the fact that Fatima,
surnamed "El Masouna" ("Free from sin"), died here many years ago. The
tradition is that Fatima was on her way to the city of Tus, whither
she was going to visit her brother, Imám Riza. On arrival at Koom, she
heard of his death, which caused her to delay her journey and take up
her residence here for a time, but she shortly afterwards sickened,
and died of a broken heart. A mausoleum was originally built of a very
humble nature, but, by order of Shah Abbas, it was enlarged and richly
ornamented inside and out. Fatti-Ali-Shah and Abbas the Second are
both buried here; also the wife of Mahomet Shah, who died in 1873,
having had the dome of the mosque covered with gold. There is a legend
among natives that Fatima's body no longer lies in the mosque, but was
carried bodily to heaven shortly after death.

The population of Koom, which now amounts to little more than between
ten and twelve thousand, was formerly much larger. Like many other
Persian cities--saving, perhaps, Teherán--it retains but little of
its greatness, either as regards art or commerce. The bazaar is,
notwithstanding, extensive and well supplied. Koom is noted for the
manufacture of a white porous earthenware, which is made into flasks
and bottles, some of beautiful design and workmanship.

The city is entered from the north by a substantial stone bridge,
spanning a swift but shallow river. It presents, at first sight, much
more the appearance of a Spanish or Moorish town than a Persian one.
The dirty brown mud huts are replaced by picturesque white houses,
with coloured domes, gaily striped awnings, and carved wooden
balconies overhanging the stream. Riding through the city gate, we
plunge from dazzling sunshine into the cool semi-darkness of the
bazaar, through which we ride for at least a quarter of an hour, when
a sudden turning brings us once more into daylight in the yard of a
huge caravanserai, crowded with mule and camel caravans.

The apartment or cell allotted to us was, however, so filthy that we
decided to push on at once to Pasingán, the next stage, four farsakhs
distant. Koom is noted for the size and venom of its scorpions; and
the dim recesses of the dark, cobwebby chamber, with its greasy
walls and smoke-blackened ceiling, looked just the place for these
undesirable bedfellows.

So we rode on again into the open country, past crowds of beggars and
dervishes at the eastern gate, as usual, busily engaged, as soon as
they saw us coming, at their devotions. Clear of the city walls, one
sees nothing on every side but huge storks. They are held sacred by
the natives, being supposed to migrate to Mecca every year. I heard at
Ispahán that, notwithstanding the outward austerity and piety of
the people of Koom, there is no town in Persia where so much secret
depravity and licentiousness are carried on as in the "Holy City."

The stage from Koom to Pasingán was accomplished in an incredibly
short time; and I may here mention that this was the only occasion
upon which, in Persia, I was ever given a fairly good horse. The word
_chapar_ signifies in Persian to "gallop," but it is extremely rare to
find "chapar post" pony which has any notion of going out of his own
pace--something between a walk and a canter, like the old grey horse
that carries round the lady in pink and spangles in a travelling
circus. But to-day I got hold of a wiry, game little chestnut, who was
evidently new to the job, and reached and tore away at his bridle as
if he enjoyed the fun. Seeing, about half-way, that he was bleeding at
the mouth, I called Gerôme's attention to the fact, and found that his
horse was in the same plight--as, indeed, was every animal we passed
on the road between Koom and Pasingán. This is on account of the
water at and between the two places, which is full of small leeches,
invisible except through a microscope. Horses, mules, and cattle
suffer much in consequence, for nothing can be done to remedy the
evil.

A pleasant gallop of under an hour brought us to Pasingán. It was
hardly possible to realize, riding through the warm evening air, for
all the world like a June evening in England, that but two days before
we had well-nigh been frozen to death. Had I known what was in store
for us beyond Kashán, I might have marvelled even more at this sudden
and welcome change of climate.

The guest-chamber at Pasingán was already taken by a Persian khan,
a rude, blustering fellow, who refused us even a corner; so we had,
perforce, to make the best of it downstairs among the rats and vermin.
Devoured by the latter, and unable to sleep, we rose at the first
streak of dawn, saddled two of the khan's horses, and rode away to
Sin-Sin before any one was astir. The poor Shagird, whom we had to
threaten with a severe chastisement if he did not accompany us, was in
a terrible state. The bow-string was the least he could expect when
the khan came to know of the trick we had played him. An extra kerán
at Sin-Sin, however, soon consoled our guide. He probably never
returned to Pasingán at all, but sought his fortunes elsewhere.
Persian post-boys are not particular.

Kashán is distant about fifty-two English miles from Pasingán, and
lies south-east of the latter. The caravan track passes a level tract
of country, sparsely cultivated by means of irrigation. Persian soil
is evidently of the kind that, "tickled with a hoe, laughs with a
harvest." Even in this sterile desert, covered for the most part with
white salt deposits, the little oases of grain and garden looked as
fresh and green as though they had been on the banks of a lake or
river. But the green patches were very few and far between, and,
half-way between the post-stations, ceased altogether. Nothing was
then visible but a waste of brown mud and yellow sand, cut clear and
distinct against the blue sky-line on the horizon. It is strange, when
crossing such tracts of country, to note how near to one everything
seems. Objects six or eight miles off, looked to-day as if you could
gallop up to them in five minutes; and the peak of Demavend, on which
we were now looking our last, seemed about twenty miles off, instead
of over one hundred and fifty.

Kashán was reached on the 7th of February. At Nasirabád, a village a
few miles out of the city, there had been an earthquake that morning.
Many of the mud houses were in ruins, and their late owners sitting
dejectedly on the remains. Earthquakes are common enough in
Persia, and this was by no means our last experience in that line.
Commiserating with the homeless ones, we divided a few keráns among
them, in return for which they brought us large water-melons (for
which Nasirabád is celebrated), deliciously flavoured, and as cold as
ice.

Kashán, which stands on a vast plain about two thousand feet above
sea-level, is picturesque and unusually clean for an Eastern town. The
bazaar is a long one, and its numerous caravanserais finer even than
those of the capital. The manufacture of silk [F] and copperware is
extensive; but, as usual, one saw little in the shops, _en evidence
_, but shoddy cloth and Manchester goods, and looked in vain for real
Oriental stuffs and carpets. I often wondered where on earth they
_were_ to be got, for the most persistent efforts failed to produce
the real thing. I often passed, on the road, camel and mule-cloths
that made my mouth water, so old were their texture and delicate their
pattern and colouring, but the owners invariably declined, under any
circumstances, to part with them.

Kashán will ever be associated in my mind with the fact that I there
saw the prettiest woman it was my luck to meet in Persia. The glimpse
was but a momentary one, but amply sufficed to convince me that
those who say that _all_ Persian women are ugly (as many do) know
nothing-whatever about it.

It was towards sunset, in one of the caravanserais, to which, hot and
tired with the long dusty ride, I came for a quiet smoke and a cup of
coffee. The sensation of absolute repose was delicious after the heat
and glare, the stillness of the place unbroken save for the plash of a
marble fountain, and, outside, the far-off voices of the "muezzims,"
calling the faithful to evening prayer. From the blue dome, with its
golden stars and white tracery, the setting sun, streaming in through
coloured glass, threw the softest shades of violet and ruby, emerald
and amber, upon the marble pavement. The stalls around were closed
for the night; all save one, a "manna" [G] shop. Its owner, a
white-turbaned old Turk, and myself were the sole inmates of the
caravanserai. Even my "kafedji" [H] had disappeared, though probably
not without leaving instructions to his neighbour to see that I did
not make off with the quaint little silver coffee-cup and nargileh.

It was here that I saw the "belle" of Kashán, and of Persia, for
aught I know--a tall slim girl, dressed, not in the hideous bag-like
garments usually affected by the Persian female, but soft white
draperies, from beneath which peeped a pair of loose baggy trousers
and tiny feet encased in gold-embroidered slippers. Invisible to her,
I made every effort, from my hiding-place behind a projecting stall,
to catch a glimpse of her face, but, alas! a yashmak was in the
way--not the thin gauzy wisp affected by the smart ladies of Cairo and
Constantinople, but a thick, impenetrable barrier of white linen, such
as the peasant women of Mohammedan countries wear. Who could she be?
What was she doing-out unattended at this late hour?

I had almost given up all hope of seeing her features, when Fortune
favoured me. As the old Turk dived into the recesses of his shop to
attend to the wants of his fair customer, the latter removed her veil,
revealing, as she did so, one of the sweetest and fairest faces it has
ever been my good fortune to look upon. A perfectly oval face, soft
delicate complexion, large dark eyes full of expression, a small
aquiline nose, but somewhat large mouth, and the whitest and smallest
of teeth. Such was the apparition before me. She could not have been
more than sixteen.

I could scarcely restrain from giving vent to my admiration in speech,
when the old Turk returned. In an instant the yashmak was in its
place, and, with a hasty glance around, my vision of beauty was
scuttling away as fast as her legs could carry her. A low musical
laugh like a chime of silver bells came back to me from the dark
deserted alleys of the bazaar, and I saw her no more.

The manna-seller was evidently irritated, and intimated, in dumb show,
that I must leave the caravanserai at once, as he was shutting up for
the night. I bought a pound or so of the sweetmeat to pacify him,
and, if possible, glean some information about the fair one, but my
advances were of no avail.

The history of Kashán is closely allied to that of Ispahán. The
former city was founded by Sultana Zobeide, wife of the celebrated
Haroun-al-Raschid. Ransacked and destroyed by the Afghans in the
eighteenth century, it was again restored, or rather rebuilt, by Haji
Husein Khan. Perhaps the most interesting thing the city contains is
a leaning minaret which dates from the thirteenth century. It is
ascended by a rickety spiral staircase. From here, not so many years
ago, it was the custom to execute adulterous wives. The husband,
accompanied by his relations, forced his unfaithful spouse to the top
of the tower and pushed her over the side (there is no balustrade),
to be dashed to pieces on stone flags about a hundred and thirty feet
below.

"Pas de chance, monsieur," was Gerôme's greeting as I entered the
caravanserai. "The Koudoum Pass is blocked with snow, and almost
impassable. What is to be done?" Mature deliberation brought but one
solution to the question: Start in the morning, and risk it. "It
cannot be worse than the Kharzán, anyhow," said Gerôme, cheerfully, as
we rode out of Kashán next day, past the moated mud walls, forty feet
high, that at one time made this city almost impregnable. I more than
once during the morning, however, doubted whether we had done right in
leaving our comfortable quarters at the caravanserai to embark on this
uncertain, not to say dangerous, journey.

Twenty-nine farsakhs still lay between us and Ispahán; but, once past
the Khurood Pass (which lies about seven farsakhs from Kashán), all
would be plain sailing. The summit of the pass is about seven thousand
feet above sea-level. Its valleys are, in summer, green and fertile,
but during the winter are frequently rendered impassable by the deep
snow, as was now the case. Khurood itself is a village of some size
and importance, built on the slope of the mountain, and here, by
advice of the villagers, we rested for the night. "It will take you at
least a day to get to Bideshk," said the postmaster--"that is, if you
are going to attempt it."

The ride from Kashán had been pleasant enough. No snow was yet
visible, save in the ravines, and the extreme summits of a chain of
low rocky hills, of which we commenced the ascent a couple of hours
or so after leaving Kashán. Half-way up, however, it became more
difficult, the path being covered in places with a thick coating of
ice--a foretaste of the pleasures before us. Towards the summit of the
mountain is an artificial lake, formed by a strong dyke, or bank of
stonework, which intercepts and collects the mountain-streams and
melted snows--a huge reservoir, whence the water is let off to
irrigate the distant low plains of Kashán, and, indeed, to supply the
city itself. The waters of this lake, about fifteen feet deep, were
clear as crystal, the bottom and sides being cemented.

This reservoir was constructed by order of Shah Abbas, who seems to
have been one of the wisest and best rulers this unfortunate country
has ever had, for he has certainly done more for his country
than Nasr-oo-din or any of his stock are likely to. Pass a finer
caravanserai than usual, travel a better road, cross a finer bridge,
and interrogate your Shagird as to its history, and you will
invariably receive the answer, "Shah Abbas." At the village of
Khurood, a huge caravanserai (his work) lies in ruins, having been
destroyed seven or eight years ago by an earthquake. Several persons
were killed, the shock occurring at night-time, when the inmates were
asleep.

The post-house at Khurood was cold, filthy, and swarmed with rats--an
animal for which I have always had an especial aversion. Towards
midnight a Persian gentleman arrived from Kashán--a mild,
benign-looking individual, with a grey moustache and large blue
spectacles. The new-comer, who spoke a little French, begged to be
allowed to join us on the morrow, as he was in a hurry to get to
Ispahán. Notwithstanding Gerôme's protestations, I had not the heart
to refuse. He looked so miserable and helpless, and indeed was, as
I discovered too late next day. Our new acquaintance then suggested
sending for wine, to drink to the success of our journey. At this
suggestion Gerôme woke up; and seeing that, in my case, the rats had
successfully murdered sleep, I gladly agreed to anything that would
make the time pass till daylight. A couple of bottles were then
produced by the postmaster; but it was mawkish stuff, as sweet as
syrup, and quite flavourless. Gerôme and the Persian, however, did
not leave a drop, and before they had finished the second bottle were
sworn friends. Although wine is forbidden by the Mohammedan faith, it
is largely indulged in, in secret, by Persians of the upper class. I
never met, however, a follower of the Prophet so open about it as
our friend at Khurood. The wine here was from Ispahán, and cost,
the Persian told us, about sixpence a quart bottle, and was, in my
opinion, dear at that. Shiráz wine is perhaps the best in Persia. It
is white, and, though very sweet when new, develops, if kept for three
or four years, a dry nutty flavour like sherry. This, however, does
not last long, but gives place in a few months to a taste unpleasantly
like sweet spirits of nitre, which renders the wine undrinkable.
With proper appliances the country would no doubt produce excellent
vintages, but at present the production of wine in Persia is a
distinct failure.

Leaving at 8 a.m., we managed to reach the summit of the Koudoum by
two o'clock next day, when we halted to give the horses a rest, and
get a mouthful of food. Our Persian friend had returned to Koudoum
after the first half-mile, during which he managed to get three falls,
for the poor man had no notion of riding or keeping a horse on its
legs. He reminded one of the cockney who sat his horse with consummate
ease, grace, and daring, until it moved, when he generally fell off.
I was sorry for him. He was so meek and unresentful, even when
mercilessly chaffed by Gerôme.

Our greatest difficulty up till now had arisen from ice, which
completely covered the steep narrow pathway up the side of the
mountain, and made the ascent slippery and insecure. The snow had as
yet been a couple of feet deep at most, and we had come across no
drifts of any consequence. Arrived at the summit, however, we saw what
we had to expect. Below us lay a narrow valley or gorge, about a mile
broad, separating us from the low range of hills on the far side of
which lay Bideshk. The depth of the snow we were about to make a way
through was easily calculated by the telegraph-posts, which in places
were covered to within two or three feet of the top. "You see, sahib,"
said the Shagird, pointing with his whip to a huge drift some distance
to the left of the wires; "two men lying under that." The intelligence
did not interest me in the least. Could we or not get over this "Valley
of Death"? was the only question my mind was at that moment
capable of considering.

[Illustration: A DAY IN THE SNOW]

In less than a quarter of an hour we were in the thick of it, up to
our waists in the snow, and pulling, rather than leading, our horses
after us. It reminded me of a bad channel passage from Folkestone to
Boulogne, and took about the same time--two hours, although the actual
distance was under a mile and a half. Gerôme led the way as long as he
was able, but, about half-way across, repeated and violent falls had
so exhausted his horse that we were obliged to halt while I took his
place, by no means an easy one. During this stage of the proceedings
we could scarcely see one another for the steam and vapour arising
from the poor brutes, whose neighs of terror, as they blundered into a
deeper drift than usual, were pitiful to hear. More than once Gerôme's
pony fell utterly exhausted and helpless, and it took our united
efforts to get him on his legs again; while the Shagird and I left our
ponies prone on their sides, only too glad of a temporary respite from
their labours. If there is anything in the Mohammedan religion, the
Shagird was undoubtedly useful. He never ceased calling upon "Allah!"
for help for more than ten consecutive seconds the whole way across.
At four o'clock we rode into the post-house at Bideshk, thoroughly
done up, and wet through with snow and perspiration, but safe,
and determined, if horses were procurable, to push on at once to
Murchakhar, from whence two easy stages of six and three farsakhs
would land us next day at Ispahán.

It was dusk, and we had just secured the only horses available, when
two Armenians, bound for Teherán, rode into the yard. When told they
were just too late for a relay, the rage of one of them--a short,
apoplectic-looking little man--was awful to behold. As I mounted, his
companion came up and politely advised us not to attempt to ride to
Murchakhar by night. "The road swarms with footpads," he said, in a
mysterious undertone; "you run a very great risk of being robbed and
murdered if you go on to-night." "You would have run a far greater
of being frozen to death, if we had not saved you by taking these
horses," cried Gerôme, as we rode coolly out of the gateway.

Bideshk is noted for a great battle fought in its vicinity between
the army of Nadir Shah and Ashraf the Afghan. Its post-house is also
noted, as I can vouch for, for the largest and most venomous bugs
between Teherán and Ispahán. We only remained there three hours, and
felt the effects for days afterwards.

All trace of ice and snow disappeared a few farsakhs from here, and we
galloped gaily across a hard and level plain to our destination for
the night. The post-house was a blaze of light. A couple of armed
sentries stood in front of the doorway, and a motley crowd of
soldiers, Shagird-chapars, and peasants outside.

"You cannot come in," said the postmaster, full of importance. "The
Zil-i-Sultan is here on a hunting expedition. He will start away
early in the morning, and then you can have the guest-room, but not
before." Too tired to mind much--indeed, half asleep already--we
groped our way to the stables, where, on the cleanest bundle of straw
I have ever seen--or smelt, for it was pitch dark--in a Persian
post-stable (probably the property of his Highness the Governor of
Ispahán), we were soon in the land of dreams. Had we known that we
were calmly reposing within a couple of feet of the royal charger's
heels, our slumbers might not have been so refreshing. Daylight
disclosed the fact.

The governor and his suite had apparently made a night of it. Although
it was past eight o'clock when we made a start, the prince, his suite,
soldiers, and grooms were none of them stirring, although his _chef_
was busily engaged, with his staff of assistants, preparing a
sumptuous breakfast of kababs, roast meat and poultry, pastry, and
confectionery of various kinds. I could not help envying the man whose
appetite and digestion would enable him to sit down to such a meal
at such an hour. Sherbet, the Shagird from Murchakhar informed us in
confidence, is the favourite drink of the Zil-i-Sultan. I only once
tasted sherbet in Persia, and was somewhat surprised--so lasting are
one's youthful associations--to find it utterly different to the
refreshing but somewhat depressing beverage of my school-days, sold,
if I remember rightly, at twopence a packet. The real sherbet I was
given (in a native house at Shiráz) consisted simply of a glass of
cold water with a lump of sugar in it--_eau sucré_, in fact. But
Persian sherbets are of endless varieties and flavours. Preserved
syrups of raspberry and pineapple, the juice of the fresh fruit of
lemon, orange, and pomegranate, are all used in the manufacture of
sherbet, which is, however, never effervescing. The water in which it
is mixed should be icy cold, and has, when served in Persia, blocks
of frozen snow floating on the surface. The "sherbet-i-bidmishk," or
"willow-flower sherbet," made from flowers of a particular kind of
willow distilled in water, is perhaps the most popular of all among
the higher classes, and is the most expensive.

The hunting-expedition (the Shagird, who was of a communicative
disposition, informed us) consisted of three parties located at
villages each within a couple of farsakhs of Murchakhar. Numbering
altogether over six hundred men (all mounted), they had been out
from Ispahán nearly ten days. Yesterday the prince's party had been
exceptionally lucky, and had had splendid sport. We passed, on the
road to Géz, a caravan of fifteen mules laden with the spoil--ibex,
deer, wild sheep, and even a wild ass among the slain. The latter had
fallen to the governor's own rifle. There is plenty of sport to be
had in Persia, if you only take the trouble to look for it, and in
comparative comfort too, with tents, stores, cooking apparatus, etc.,
if time is no object. The country swarms with wild animals--tiger,
bear, and leopard in the forests by the Caspian Sea; wild asses,
jackals, and wolves in the desert regions; deer and wild goats in the
mountainous districts; and, as we afterwards had uncomfortable proof,
lions in the southern provinces. There is no permission needed. A
European may shoot over any country he pleases, with the exception of
the Shah's private preserves around Teherán. His Imperial Majesty is
very tetchy on this point.

We galloped nearly the whole of the short stage from Géz to Ispahán.
A couple of miles out of the city we overtook a donkey ridden by two
peasants, heavy men, who challenged us to a trial of speed. We only
just beat them by a couple of lengths at the gates, although our
horses were fresh and by no means slow. The Persian donkey is
unquestionably the best in the East, and is not only speedy, but as
strong as a horse. We frequently passed one of these useful beasts
carrying a whole family--monsieur, madame, and an unlimited number of
bebés--to say nothing of heavy baggage, in one of the queer-looking
arrangements (oblong boxes with a canvas covering stretched over a
wooden framework) depicted on the next page. An ordinary animal costs
from two to three pounds (English), but a white one, the favourite
mount of women and priests, will often fetch as much as ten or
fifteen.

To reach Djulfa, the Armenian and European quarter of Ispahán, the
latter city must be crossed, also the great stone bridge spanning the
"Zandarood," or "Living River," so called from the supposed excellence
of its water for drinking purposes, and its powers of prolonging life.
Nearing the bridge, we met a large funeral, evidently that of a person
of high position, from the costly shawls which covered the bier.


[Illustration: A FAMILY PARTY]

As in many Eastern countries, a man is never allowed to die in peace
in Persia. It is a ceremony like marriage or burial, and as soon as
the doctors have pronounced a case hopeless, the friends and relations
of the sick man crowd into his chamber and make themselves thoroughly
at home, drinking tea and sherbet, and watching, through the smoke of
many hubble-bubbles, the dying agonies of their friend. The wife of
the dying man sits at his side, occasionally holding to the nostrils
the Persian substitute for smelling-salts, i. e. a piece of mud torn
from the wall of the dwelling and moistened with cold water. As a last
resource, a fowl is often killed and placed, warm and bleeding, on the
patient's feet. This being of no avail, and death having taken place,
the wife is led from the apartment, and the preparations for interment
are commenced. Wet cotton-wool is stuffed into the mouth, nose, and
ears of the corpse, while all present witness aloud that the dead man
was a good and true Mohammedan. The body is laid out, a cup of water
is placed at its head, and a moollah, ascending to the roof of the
house, reads in a shrill nasal tone verses from the Korán. The
professional mourners then arrive, and night or day is made hideous
with their cries, while the "washers of the dead" proceed with their
work. The coffin, [I] in Persia, is made of very thin wood; in the case
of a poor man it is often dispensed with altogether, the corpse being
buried in a shroud. Interment in most cases takes place forty-eight
hours at most after death.

We found the house of Mr. P--, the Telegraph Superintendent of the
Indo-European Company, with some difficulty, for the roads or rather
lanes of Djulfa are tortuous and confusing. Mr. P--was out, but
had left ample directions for our entertainment. A refreshing tub,
followed by a delicious curry, washed down with iced pale ale,
prepared one for the good cigar and siesta that followed, though
an unlimited supply of English newspapers, the _Times, Truth_, and
_Punch_, kept me well awake till the return of my host at sunset.


[Footnote A: A farsakh is about four miles.]

[Footnote B: "Hurrah!"]

[Footnote C: "Please God!"]

[Footnote D: _Koom_ signifies "sand."]

[Footnote E: Muleteer.]

[Footnote F: Kashán silk, noted throughout Persia, is of two kinds:
the one thin and light for lining garments, the other thick and heavy
for divans, etc. The patterns are generally white, yellow, and green
on a red ground.]

[Footnote G: A natural sweetmeat like nougat, found and manufactured
in Persia.]

[Footnote H: Attendant.]

[Footnote I: In the north of Persia the dead are buried in a shroud
of dark-blue cloth, which is, oddly enough, called in the Persian
language, a _kaffin_.]




CHAPTER VII.

ISPAHÁN--SHIRÁZ.


The seven telegraph-stations, in charge of Europeans, between Teherán
and Bushire, may be called the oases of Persia to the weary traveller
from Résht to the Persian Gulf. He is sure, at any of these, of a
hearty welcome, a comfortable bedroom, and a well-cooked dinner from
the good Samaritan in charge. The latter is generally the best of
company, full of anecdote and information about the country, and,
necessarily, well posted in the latest news from Europe, from the last
Parliamentary debate to the winner of the Derby. These officials are
usually _ci-devant_ non-commissioned officers of Royal Engineers. Some
are married, for the life is a lonely one, and three or four months
often elapse without personal communication with the outer world,
except on the wires. By this means, when the latter are not in
public use, the telegraphist can lighten his weary hours by animated
conversation with his colleague two or three hundred miles away on
congenial topics--the state of the weather, rate of exchange, chances
of promotion, and so on. Living, moreover, at most of the stations is
good and cheap; there is plenty of sport; and if a young unmarried man
only keeps clear of the attractions of the fair sex, he soon makes
friends among the natives. Love intrigues are dangerous in Persia.
They once led to the massacre of the whole of the Russian Legation at
Teherán.

Ispahán is a city of ruins. A Persian will tell you, with pride, that
it is nearly fifteen miles in circumference, but a third of this
consists of heaps of stones, with merely the foundation-lines around
to show that they were once palaces or more modest habitations.
Chardin the traveller, writing in A.D. 1667, gives the population of
Ispahán at considerably over a million, but it does not now exceed
fifty thousand, including the suburb of Djulfa. The Madrassa, or
College, the governor's palace, and "Chil Situn," or "Palace of the
Forty Pillars," are the only buildings that still retain some traces
of their former glory. Pertaining to the former is a dome of the most
exquisite tile-work, which, partly broken away, discloses the mud
underneath; a pair of massive gates of solid silver, beautifully
carved and embossed; a large shady and well-kept garden in the centre
of the Madrassa, with huge marble tanks of water, surrounded by an
oblong arcade of students' rooms--sixty queer little boxes about ten
feet by six, their walls covered with arabesques of great beauty.
These are still to be seen--and remembered. With the exception of the
"Maidan Shah," or "Square of the King"--a large open space in the
centre of the city, surrounded by modern two-storied houses--the
streets of Ispahán are narrow, dirty, and ill-paved, and its bazaar,
which adjoins the Maidan Shah, very inferior in every way to those of
Teherán or Shiráz.

The palace of "Chil Situn," or "The Forty Pillars," is like most
Persian palaces--the same walled gardens with straight walks, the
usual avenues of cypress trees, and the inevitable tank of stone or
marble in the centre of the grounds. It is owing to the reflection of
the _façade_ of the palace in one of the latter that it has gained its
name. There are in reality but twenty pillars, the forty being (with a
stretch of imagination) made up by reflection in the dull and somewhat
dirty pool of water at their feet. The palace itself is a tawdry,
gimcrack-looking edifice, all looking-glass and vermilion and green
paint in the worst possible taste. From the entrance-hall an arched
doorway leads into the principal apartment, a lofty chamber about
ninety feet long by fifty broad, its walls covered with large
paintings representing the acts of the various Persian kings. Shah
Abbas is portrayed under several conditions. In one scene he is
surrounded by a band of drunken companions and dancing-girls, in
costumes and positions that would hardly pass muster before our Lord
Chamberlain. This room once contained the most beautiful and costly
carpet in all Persia, but it has lately been sold "for the good of the
State," and a dirty green drugget laid down in its place. In one of
the side chambers are pictures representing ladies and gentlemen in
the costume of Queen Elizabeth's time. How they got to Ispahán I was
unable to discover. They are very old, and evidently by good masters.

The way back to our comfortable quarters at Djulfa lay over the
Zandarood river. There are five bridges, the principal one being that
of Allaverdi Khan, named after one of the generals of Shah Abbas, who
superintended its construction. It is of solid stonework, and built in
thirty-three arches, over which are ninety-nine smaller arches
above the roadway on both sides, enclosing a covered-in pathway for
foot-passengers. The roadway in the centre, thirty feet wide, is well
paved with stone, and perfectly level. Every thirty yards or so are
stalls for the sale of kababs, fruit, sweetmeats, and the kalyan, for
a whiff from which passers-by pay a small sum. Ispahán is noted for
its fruit; apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, mulberries, and
particularly fine melons, are abundant in their season.

There is a saying in Persia, "Shiráz for wine, Yčzd for women, but
Ispahán for melons."

Since it has ceased to be the capital of Persia, the trade of Ispahán
has sadly deteriorated. There is still, however, a brisk trade
in opium and tobacco. Silks and satins are also made, as well as
quantities of a coarser kind of cotton stuff for wearing-apparel,
much used by the natives. The sword-blades manufactured here are,
in comparison with those of Khorassan or Damascus, of little value.
Genuine old blades from the latter city fetch enormous prices
everywhere; but a large quantity of worthless imitations is in the
market, and unless a stranger is thoroughly experienced in the art of
weapon-buying, he had better leave it alone in Persia. Modern firearms
are rarely seen in the bazaars, except cheap German and French
muzzle-loaders, more dangerous to the shooter than to the object aimed
at.

If the streets of Ispahán are narrow, those of Djulfa, the Armenian
settlement, can only be described as almost impassable, for, although
the widest are barely ten feet across, quite a third of this space is
taken up by the deep ditch, or drain, lined with trees, by which all
are divided. But the town, or settlement, is as clean and well-kept as
Ispahán itself is the reverse, which is saying a great deal.

Djulfa is called after the Armenian town of that name in Georgia, the
population of which, for commercial reasons, was removed to this place
by Shah Abbas in A.D. 1603. Djulfa, near Ispahán, was once a large
and flourishing city, with as many as twenty district parishes, and a
population of sixty thousand souls, now dwindled down to a little over
two thousand, the greater part of whom live in great want and poverty.
The city once possessed as many as twenty churches, but most of these
are now in ruins. The cathedral, however, is still standing, and in
fair preservation. It dates from A.D. 1655. There is also a Roman
Catholic colony and church. The latter stands in a large garden,
celebrated for its quinces and apricots. Lastly, the English Church
Missionary Society have an establishment here under the direction of
the Rev. Dr. Bruce, whose good deeds during the famine are not likely
to be forgotten by the people of Ispahán and Djulfa, whatever their
creed or religion. The trade of Djulfa is insignificant, although
there is a large amount of wine and arak manufactured there, and sold
"under the rose" to the Ispahánis. The production of the juice of the
grape is somewhat primitive. During the season (September and October)
the grapes are trodden out in a large earthenware pan, and the whole
crushed mass, juice and all, is stowed away in a jar holding from
twenty to thirty gallons, a small quantity of water being added to
it. In a few days fermentation commences. The mass is then stirred up
every morning and evening with sticks for ten or twenty days. About
this period the refuse sinks to the bottom of the jar, and the wine is
drawn off and bottled. In forty days, at most, it is fit to drink.

My time at Ispahán was limited, so much so that I was not able to pay
a visit to the "Shaking minarets," about six miles off. These mud
towers, of from twenty to thirty feet high, are so constructed that a
person, standing on the roof of the building between the two, can, by
a slight movement of his feet, cause them to vibrate.

I spent most of my time, as usual, strolling about the
least-frequented parts of the city, or in the cool, picturesque
gardens of the Madrassa. The people of Teherán, and other Persian
cities, are generally civil to strangers; but at Ispahán the prejudice
against Europeans is very strong, and I more than once had to make a
somewhat hasty exit from some of the lower quarters of the city.

Mrs. S----, the wife of a telegraph official, was stabbed by some
miscreants while walking in broad daylight on the outskirts of the
town, a few months before my visit. The offenders were never caught;
probably, as Ispahán is under the jurisdiction of the Zil-i-Sultan,
were never meant to be.

The Zil-i-Sultan returned to Ispahán before I left. He is rightly
named "Shadow of the King," for, saving his somewhat more youthful
appearance, he is as like Nasr-oo-din as two peas. Like his father in
most of his tastes, his favourite occupations are riding, the chase,
and shooting at a mark; but he is, perhaps, more susceptible to the
charms of the fair sex than his august parent.

The prince is now nearly forty years of age. His wife, daughter of a
former Prime Minister of Persia, who was strangled by order of the
present Shah, died a few years ago, having borne him a son, the
"Jelal-u-dowleh," a bright, clever boy, now about eighteen years old,
and three daughters. The Zil-i-Sultan is adored by his people, and
has, unquestionably, very great influence over the districts of
which he is governor. Within the last two years, however, at least
two-thirds of his possessions have been taken from him--a proceeding
that caused him considerable annoyance, and drew forth the remark that
the Valliad would one day regret it. There can be little doubt that,
at the death of Nasr-oo-din, the Governor of Ispahán will make a
bold bid for the throne; in fact, the latter makes no secret of his
intentions. Drink and debauch having already rendered his younger
brother half-witted, the task should not be a difficult one,
especially as half the people and the whole army side with the
illegitimate, though more popular, prince. It is, perhaps, under
the circumstances, to be regretted that the latter is an ardent
Russophile, ever since his Majesty the Czar sent a special mission to
Ispahán to confer upon him the Order of the Black Eagle. Should the
Zil-i-Sultan succeed Nasr-oo-din, British influence in Persia may
become even less powerful than it is now, if that is possible.

The Zil-i-Sultan is far more civilized in his habits and mode of life
than the Shah. A fair French scholar, he regularly peruses his _Temps,
Gil Blas_, and the latest works of the best French authors. It is
strange that, with all his common sense and sterling qualities, this
prince should, in some matters, be a perfect child. One of his whims
is dress. Suits of clothes, shirts, socks, hats, and uniforms are
continually pouring in from all parts of Europe, many of the latter
anything but becoming to the fat, podgy figure of the "King's Shadow."
A photograph of his Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught in Rifle
Brigade uniform was shown him a couple of years since. The Court
tailor was at once sent for. "I must have this; make it at once," was
the command, the humble request to be allowed to take the measure
being met by, "Son of a hell-burnt father! What do you mean? Make it
for a well-made man--a man with a better figure than that, and it will
fit me!"

Popular as he is with the lower orders, the Zil-i-Sultan does not,
when offenders are brought before him, err on the side of mercy.
Persian justice is short, sharp, and severe, and a man who commits a
crime in the morning, may be minus his head before sunset. Although
a Persian would indignantly deny it, some of their punishments are
nearly as cruel as the Chinese. For instance, not so very long ago a man
in Southern Persia was convicted of incest, for which crime his eyes were
first torn out with pincers, and his teeth then extracted, one by one,
sharpened to a point, and hammered, like nails, through the top of his
skull. It should be said in justice that the present Shah has done all
he can to stop the torture system, and confine the death-sentence to one
of two methods--painless and instantaneous--throat-cutting and blowing
from a gun. Notwithstanding, executions such as the one I have mentioned
are common enough in remote districts, and crucifixion, walling up, or
burying and burning alive are, although less common than formerly, by no
means out of date. Women are usually put to death by being strangled,
thrown from a precipice or well, or wrapped up in a carpet and jumped
upon; but the execution of a woman is now, fortunately, rare in Persia.

A dreary desert surrounds Ispahán on every side save to the southward,
where dark masses of rock, a thousand feet high, break the sky-line.
The environs of the city are well populated, and, as we rode out, _en
route_ for Shiráz, we passed through a good deal of cultivated land.
This is irrigated by the Zandarood, whose blue waters are visible for
a long distance winding through the emerald-green plain, with its gay
patchwork of white and scarlet poppy-gardens. The cultivation of this
plant is yearly increasing in Persia, for there is an enormous demand
for the drug in the country itself, to say nothing of the export
market, the value of which, in 1871, was 696,000 rupees. In 1881 it
had progressed to 8,470,000 rupees, and is steadily increasing every
year. Opium is not smoked in Persia, but is taken in the form of
pills. Many among the upper classes take it daily, the dose being a
grain to a grain and a half.

We covered, the first day out from Ispahán, nearly a hundred miles
between sunrise and 10 p.m.--not bad work for Persia. A little after
dark, and before the moon had risen, I was cantering easily along in
front of Gerôme, when a violent blow on the chest, followed by another
between the eyes, sent me reeling off my horse on to the sand. My
first thought, on collecting myself, was "Robbers!"--this part of the
road bearing an unpleasant reputation. Cocking my revolver, I called
to Gerôme, and was answered by a volley of oaths, while another
riderless horse galloped past me and disappeared in the darkness.
Our foe was a harmless one. The wind had blown down one of the
telegraph-posts, and the wires had done the mischief. By good luck and
the aid of lucifer matches, we managed to trace our ponies to a piece
of cultivated ground hard by, where we found them calmly feeding in a
field of standing corn.

The moon had risen by nine o'clock. Before half-past we were in sight
of the rock on which stands the town of Yezdi-Ghazt, towering, shadowy
and indistinct, over the moonlit plain. This is unquestionably the
most curious and interesting village between Résht and Bushire. The
post-house stands at the foot. As we rode to the latter through the
semi-darkness caused by the shadow of the huge mass of boulders and
mud on which the town is situated, the effect was extraordinary.
It was like a picture by Gustave Doré; and, looking up the dark
perpendicular side of the rock at the weird city with its white
houses, queer-shaped balconies, and striped awnings, standing out
clear and distinct against the starlit sky, gave one an uncomfortable,
uncanny feeling, hard to shake off, and heightened by the fact
that, although the hour was yet early, not a light was visible, not
a sound to be heard. It was like a city of the dead.

[Illustration: YEZDI-GHAZT]

Daylight does not improve the appearance of Yezdi-Ghazt. The city,
which looks so weird and romantic by moonlight, loses much of its
beauty, though not its interest, when seen by the broad light of day.
The system of drainage in Yezdi-Ghazt is simple, the sewage being
thrown over, to fall, haphazard, on the ground immediately below. I
nearly had a practical illustration during my examination, which,
however, did not last long, for the side of the rock glistened with
the filth of years, and the stench and flies were unbearable.

Early next morning I set out alone to explore the strange place, and
with much difficulty and some apprehension--for I did not know how the
natives were disposed--ascended a steep rocky path, at the summit of
which a wooden drawbridge leads over a deep abyss to the gate of the
city. This bridge is the only access to Yezdi-Ghazt, which is, so to
speak, a regular fortress-town.

The rock, about half a mile long, is intersected by one narrow street,
which, covered from end to end with awnings and wooden beams, was
almost in obscurity. The sudden change from the glare outside almost
blinded one. The appearance of a Farangi is evidently rare in
Yezdi-Ghazt, for I was immediately surrounded by a crowd, who,
however, were evidently inclined to be friendly, and escorted me to
the house of the head-man, under whose guidance I visited the city.

The houses are of stone, two-storied, and mortised into the rock,
which gives them the appearance, from below, as if a touch would send
them toppling over, while a curious feature is that none of their
windows looks inwards to the street--all are in the outside wall
facing the desert. I took coffee with the head-man on his balcony--a
wooden construction, projecting over a dizzy height, and supported
by a couple of rickety-looking beams. It was nervous work, for the
flooring, which was rotten and broken into great holes, creaked
ominously. I could see Gerôme (who had evidently missed me) bustling
about the post-house, and reduced, from this height, to the size of a
fly. Making this my excuse, I quickly finished my coffee, and bade my
host farewell, nor was I sorry to be once more safe on _terra firma_.

Yezdi-Ghazt, which has a population of about five hundred, is very
old, and is said to have existed long previous to the Mohammedan
conquest. The present population are a continual source of dread to
the neighbouring towns and villages, on account of their lawlessness
and thieving proclivities, and mix very little with any of their
neighbours, who have given the unsavoury city the Turkish nickname
of "Pokloo Kalla," or "Filth Castle." Yezdi-Ghazt would not be a
desirable residence during an earthquake. The latter are of frequent
occurrence round here. Many of the villages have been laid in ruins,
but, curiously enough, the rock-city has, up till now, never even felt
a shock.

A ride of under fifty miles through level and fertile country brought
us to Abadéh, a pretty village standing in the midst of gardens and
vineyards, enclosed by high mud walls. A European telegraph official,
Mr. G----, resides here. As we passed his house--a neat white stone
building easily distinguishable among the brown mud huts--a native
servant stopped us. His master would not be back till sunset, but had
left directions that we were to be well cared for till his return.
The temptation of a bed and dinner were too much, and, as time was no
object, and snowy passes things of the past, we halted for the night.

An hour later, comfortably settled on Mr. G---- 's sofa, and dozing
over a cigar and a volume of _Punch_, my rest was suddenly disturbed
by a loud bang at the sitting-room door, which, flying open, admitted
two enormous animals, which I at first took for dogs. Both made at
once for my sofa, and, while the larger one curled comfortably round
my feet and quietly composed itself for sleep, the smaller, evidently
of a more affectionate disposition, seated itself on the floor, and
commenced licking my face and hands--an operation which, had I dared,
I should strongly have resented. But the white gleaming teeth and
cruel-looking green eyes inspired me with respect, to use no
stronger term; for I had by now discovered that these domestic
pets were--panthers! To my great relief, Mr. G---- entered at
this juncture. "Making friends with the panthers, I see," he said
pleasantly. "They are nice companionable beasts." They may have been
at the time. The fact remains that, three months after my visit, the
"affectionate one" half devoured a native child! The neighbourhood
of Abadéh, Mr. G---- informed me, swarms with these animals. Bears,
wolves, and hyenas are also common, to say nothing of jackals, which,
judging from the row they made that night, must have been patrolling
the streets of the village in hundreds.

A traveller starting from Teherán for Bushire is expected at every
European station on the telegraph-line. "I thought you would have got
here sooner," said Mr. G----. "P---- (at Ispahán) told me you were
coming through quick."

The dining-room of my host at Abadéh adjoined the little
instrument-chamber. Suddenly, while we were at dinner, a bell was
heard, and the half-caste clerk entered. "So-and-so of Shiráz," naming
an official, "wants to speak to you." "All right," replied G----.
"Just tell him to wait till I've finished my cheese!"

"It's from F----," he said, a few moments later, "to say he expects
you to make his house your head-quarters at Shiráz." So the stranger
is passed on through this desert, but hospitable land. Persian
travel would be hard indeed were it not for the ever-open doors and
hospitality of the telegraph officials.

We continue our journey next day in summer weather--almost too hot,
in the middle of the day, to be pleasant. Sheepskin and bourka are
dispensed with, as we ride lazily along under a blazing sun through
pleasant green plains of maize and barley, irrigated by babbling
brooks of crystal-clear water. A few miles from Abadéh is a
cave-village built into the side of a hill. From this issue a number
of repulsive-looking, half-naked wretches, men and women, with dark
scowling faces, and dirty masses of coarse black hair. Most are
covered with skin-disease, so we push on ahead, but are caught up, for
the loathsome creatures get over the ground with extraordinary speed.
A handful of "sheis" [A] stops them, and we leave them swearing,
struggling, and fighting for the coins in a cloud of dust. Then on
again past villages nestling in groves of mulberry trees, past more
vineyards, maize, and barley, and peasants in picturesque blue dress
(save white, no other colour is worn in summer by the country-people)
working in the fields. Their implements are rude and primitive enough.
The plough is simply a sharpened stick covered with iron. The sickle
is used for reaping. Threshing is done by means of an axle with thin
iron wheels. If such primitive means can attain such satisfactory
results, what could not modern agricultural science be made to do for
Persia?

Sunset brings a cool breeze, which before nightfall develops into a
cutting north-easter, and we shiver again under a bourka and heavy fur
pelisse. Crossing a ridge of rock, we descend upon a white plain, dim
and indistinct in the twilight. The ground crackles under our horses'
feet. It is frozen snow! A light shines out before us, however, and
by ten o'clock we are snug and safe for the night in the
telegraph-station of Deybid.

These sudden changes of temperature make the Persian climate very
trying. At this time of year, however balmy the air and bright the
sunshine at midday, one must always be prepared for a sudden and
extreme change after sunset. The Plain of Deybid was covered with snow
at least two feet deep, the temperature must have stood at very few
degrees above zero, and yet, not five hours before, we were perspiring
in our shirt-sleeves.

"Mashallah!" exclaims Gerôme next morning, shading his eyes and
looking across the dazzling white expanse. "Are we, then, never to
finish with this accursed snow?" By midday, however, we are out of it,
and, as we subsequently discover, for the last time.

We had up till now been singularly fortunate as regards accidents, or
rather evil results from them. To-day, however, luck deserted us, for
a few miles out of Deybid my right leg became so swollen that I could
scarcely sit on my horse. The pain was acute, the sensation that of
having been bitten by some poisonous insect. Gerôme, ever the Job's
comforter, suggested a centipede, adding, "If so, you will probably
have to lie up for four or five days." The look-out was not cheerful,
certainly, for at Mourghab, the first stage, I had to be lifted off my
horse and carried into the post-house.

With some difficulty my boot was cut off, and revealed the whole leg,
below the knee, discoloured and swollen to double its size, but no
sign of a wound or bite. "Blood-poisoning," says Gerôme, decidedly. "I
have seen hundreds of cases in Central Asia. It generally proves fatal
there," he adds consolingly; "but the Russian soldier is so badly
fed." The little man seems rather disappointed at my diagnosis of my
case--the effect due to a new and tight boot which I had not been able
to change since leaving Ispahán. Notwithstanding, I cannot put foot to
ground without excruciating pain. Spreading the rugs out on the dirty
earthen floor, I make up my mind to twenty-four hours here at least.
It is, perhaps, the dirtiest post-house we have seen since leaving
Teherán; but moving under the present circumstances is out of the
question.

The long summer day wears slowly away. Gerôme, like a true Russian,
hunts up a samovar in the village, and consoles himself with
innumerable glasses of tea and cigarettes, while the medicine-chest is
brought into requisition, and I bathe the swollen limb unceasingly for
three or four hours with Goulard's extract and water, surrounded by a
ring of admiring and very dirty natives. But my efforts are in vain,
for the following morning the pain is as severe, the leg as swollen as
ever. Gerôme is all for applying a blister, which he says will "bring
the poison out"! Another miserable day breaks, and finds me still
helpless. I do not think I ever realized before how slowly time can
pass, for I had not a single book, with the exception of "Propos
d'Exil," by Pierre Loti, and even that delightful work is apt to pall
after three complete perusals in the space of as many weeks. From
sunrise to sunset I lay, prone on my back, staring up at the cobwebby,
smoke-blackened rafters, while the shadows shortened and lengthened in
the bright sunlit yard, the monotonous silence broken only by the deep
regular snores of my companion, whose capacity for sleep was something
marvellous, the clucking of poultry, and the occasional stamp or snort
of a horse in the stable below. Now and again a rat would crawl out,
and, emboldened by the stillness, creep close up to me, darting back
into its hole with a jump and a squeal as I waved it off with hand or
foot. My visitors from the village did not return to-day, which was
something to be thankful for, although towards evening I should have
hailed even them with delight--dirt, vermin, and all. Patience was
rewarded, for next day I was able to stand, and towards evening set
out for Kawamabad, twenty-four miles distant. Though still painful and
almost black, all inflammation had subsided, and three days later I
was able to get on a boot "You'd have been well in half the time,"
insisted Gerôme, "if you had only let me apply a blister."

The road from Mourghab to Kawamabad is wild and picturesque, leading
through a narrow gorge, on either side of which are precipitous cliffs
of rock and forest, three or four hundred feet high. A broad, swift
torrent dashes through the valley, which is about a quarter of a mile
broad. In places the pathway, hewn out of the solid rock, is barely
three feet wide, without guard or handrail of any kind. This part of
the journey was reached at sunset, and we did not emerge on the plain
beyond till after dark. Our horses were, fortunately, as active as
cats, and knew their way well, for to guide them was impossible. In
places one's foot actually swung over the precipice, and a false step
must have sent one crashing over the side and into the roaring torrent
below, which, perhaps luckily, we could only hear, not see.

The ruins of Persepolis are situated about fifty miles north-east of
Shiráz, two or three miles from the main road. Signs that we were
approaching the famous city were visible for some distance before we
actually reached them. Not fifty yards from the post-house of Poozeh,
a picturesque spot surrounded by a chain of rocky, snow-capped hills,
we came upon a kind of cave, with carvings in bas-relief on its
granite walls, representing figures of men and horses from eight to
ten feet high, evidently of great antiquity. The desecrating hand of
the British tourist had, however, left its mark in the shape of the
name "J. Isaacson" cut deep into one of the slabs, considerably
marring its beauty.

It is not my intention to write a description of the ruins that now
mark the spot where once stood the capital of the Persian Empire. To
say nothing of its having been so graphically portrayed by far more
competent hands, my visit was of such short duration that I carried
away but faint recollections of the famous city. The fact that it
had been persistently crammed down my throat, upon every available
occasion, ever since I landed in Persia, may have had something to do
with the feeling of disappointment which I experienced on first sight
of the ruins. It may be that, like many other things, they grow upon
one. If so, the loss was mine. I cannot, however, help thinking that
to any but a student of archćology, Persepolis lacks interest. The
Pyramids, Pompeii, the ancient buildings of Rome and Greece, are
picturesque; Persepolis is not. I noticed, however, that here, as at
Poozeh, the British tourist had been busy with chisel and hammer, and,
I am ashamed to add, some of the names I read are as well known in
England as that of the Prince of Wales.

On the 18th of February, just before midnight, we rode into Shiráz.
The approach to the city lying before us, white and still in the
moonlight, through cypress-groves and sweet-smelling gardens, gave me
a favourable impression, which a daylight inspection only served to
increase. Shiráz is the pleasantest reminiscence I retain of the ride
through Persia.


[Footnote A: Small copper money.]




CHAPTER VIII.

SHIRÁZ--BUSHIRE.


"The gardens of pleasure where reddens the rose,
And the scent of the cedar is faint on the air."
OWEN MEREDITH.

Shiráz stands in a plain twenty-five miles long by twelve broad,
surrounded by steep and bare limestone mountains. The latter alone
recall the desert waste beyond; for the Plain of Shiráz is fertile,
well cultivated, and dotted over with prosperous-looking villages
and gardens. Scarcely a foot of ground is wasted by the industrious
inhabitants of this happy valley, save round the shores of the
Denia-el-Memek, a huge salt lake some miles distant, where the
sun-baked, briny soil renders cultivation of any kind impossible.

Were it not for its surroundings--the green and smiling plains
of wheat, barley, and Indian corn; the clusters of pretty sunlit
villages; the long cypress-avenues; and last, but not least, the quiet
shady gardens, with rose and jasmine bowers, and marble fountains
which have been famous from time immemorial--Shiráz would not be what
it now is, the most picturesque city in Persia.

Although over four miles in circumference, the city itself has a
squalid, shabby appearance, not improved by the dilapidated ramparts
of dried mud which surround it. Founded A.D. 695, Shiráz reached its
zenith under Kerim Khan in the middle of the eighteenth century, since
when it has slowly but steadily declined to its present condition. The
buildings themselves are evidence of the apathy reigning among the
Shirázis. Incessant earthquakes destroy whole streets of houses, but
no one takes the trouble to rebuild them, and the population was once
nearly double what it now is--40,000.

There are six gates, five of which are gradually crumbling away.
The sixth, or Ispahán Gate, is the only one with any attempt at
architecture, and is crenellated and ornamented with blue and yellow
tile-work. A mean, poor-looking bazaar, narrow tortuous streets,
knee-deep in dust or mud, as the case may be, and squalid, filthy
houses, form a striking contrast to the broad, well-kept avenues,
gilded domes, and beautiful gardens which encircle the city. Shiráz
has fifteen large mosques and several smaller ones, but the people are
as fanatical as those of Teherán are the reverse. Gerôme, who had a
singular capacity for getting into mischief, entered one of these
places of worship, and was caught red-handed by an old moullah in
charge. Half the little Russian's life having been spent among
Mohammedans, he quickly recited a few verses of the Korán in perfect
Arabic, which apparently satisfied the priest, for he let him depart
with his blessing. Had the trick been discovered, he would undoubtedly
have been roughly treated, if not killed, for the Shirázis have an
unmitigated contempt for Europeans. There are few places, too, in Asia
where Jews are more persecuted than in Shiráz, although they have
their own quarter, in the lowest, most poverty-stricken part of the
town, and other privileges are granted them by the Government. Shortly
before my visit, a whole family was tortured and put to death by a mob
of infuriated Mohammedans. The latter accused them of stealing young
Moslem children, and sacrificing them at their secret ceremonies. [A]
Guilty or innocent of the charge, the assassins were left unpunished.

The climate of Shiráz is delicious, but dangerous. Though to a
new-comer the air feels dry, pure, and exhilarating, the city is
a hot-bed of disease, and has been christened the "Fever Box."
Small-pox, typhus, and typhoid are never absent, and every two or
three years an epidemic of cholera breaks out and carries off a
fearful percentage of the inhabitants. In spring-time, during heavy
rains, the plains are frequently inundated to a depth of two or three
feet, and the water, stagnating and rotting under a blazing sun,
produces towards nightfall a thick white mist, pregnant with miasma
and the dreaded Shiráz fever which has proved fatal to so many
Europeans, to say nothing of natives. Medical science is at a very low
ebb in Persia; purging and bleeding are the two remedies most resorted
to by the native hakim. If these fail, a dervish is called in, and
writes out charms, or forms of prayer, on bits of paper, which are
rolled up and swallowed like pills. Inoculation is performed by
placing the patient in the same bed as another suffering from virulent
small-pox. Under these circumstances, it is scarcely to be wondered at
that the Shirázis die like sheep during an epidemic, and indeed at all
times. Persian surgery is not much better. In cases of amputation the
limb is hacked off by repeated blows of a heavy chopper. In the case
of fingers or toes a razor is used, the wound being dipped into
boiling oil or pitch immediately after the operation.

The office of the Indo-European Telegraph is in Shiráz, but the
private dwellings of the staff are some distance outside the city. A
high wall surrounds the grounds in which the latter are situated--half
a dozen comfortable brick buildings, bungalow style, each with its
fruit and flower garden. Looking out of my bedroom window the morning
following my arrival, on the shrubberies, well-kept lawns, bright
flower-beds, and lawn-tennis nets, I could scarcely realize that this
was Persia; that I was not at home again, in some secluded part of the
country in far-away England. Long residence in the East had evidently
not changed my host Mr. F---- 's ideas as to the necessity for European
comforts. The cheerful, sunlit, chintz-covered bedroom, with its white
furniture, blue-and-white wall-paper, and lattice windows almost
hidden by rose and jasmine bushes, was a pleasant _coup d'oeil_ after
the grimy, bug-infested post-houses; and the luxuries of a good
night's rest and subsequent shave, cold tub, and clean linen were that
morning appreciated as they only can be by one who has spent many
weary days in the saddle, uncombed, unshaven, and unwashed.

There is no regular post-road between Shiráz and Bushire, or rather
Sheif, the landing-place, eight miles from the latter city. The
journey is performed by mule-caravan, resting by night at the
caravanserais. Under the guidance of Mr. F----, I therefore set about
procuring animals and "chalvadars," or muleteers. The task was not an
easy one; for Captain T---- of the Indian Army was then in Shiráz,
buying on behalf of the Government; and everything in the shape of a
mule that could stand was first brought for his inspection. By good
luck, however, I managed to get together half a dozen sorry-looking
beasts; but they suited the purpose well enough. The price of these
animals varies very much in Persia. They can be bought for as little
as Ł4, while the best fetch as much as Ł60 to Ł80.

Those were pleasant days at Shiráz. One never tired of wandering about
the outskirts of the city and through the quiet, shady gardens and
"cities of the silent," as the Persians call their cemeteries;
for, when the solemn stillness of the latter threatened to become
depressing, there was always the green plain, alive from morning till
night with movement and colour, to go back to. Early one morning,
awoke by the sound of a cracked trumpet and drums, I braved the dust,
and followed a Persian regiment of the line to its drill-ground.
The Persian army numbers, on a peace footing, about 35,000 men, the
reserve bringing it up to perhaps twice that number.

Experienced military men have said that material for the smartest
soldiery in the world is to be found in Persia. If so, it would surely
be the work of years to bring the untrained rabble that at present
exists under discipline or order of any kind. The regiment whose
evolutions or antics I witnessed at Shiráz was not in the dress of
the Russian cossack or German uhlan, as at Teherán, but in the simple
uniform of the Persian line--dark-blue tunic, with red piping; loose
red-striped breeches of the same colour, stuffed into ragged leather
gaiters; and bonnets of black sheepskin or brown felt (according to
the taste of the wearer), with the brass badge of the lion and sun.
All were armed with rusty flint-locks.

As regards smartness, the officers were not much better than the
men, who did not appear to take the slightest notice of the words of
command, but straggled about as they pleased, like a flock of sheep.
Some peasants beside me were looking on. "Sons of dogs!" said one;
"they are good for nothing but drunkenness and frightening women and
children." There is no love lost between the army and the people in
Persia--none of the enthusiasm of other countries when a regiment
passes by; and no wonder. The pay of a Persian soldier is, at most, Ł3
a year, and he may think himself lucky if he gets a quarter of that
sum. _En revanche_, the men systematically plunder and rob the
wretched inhabitants of every village passed through on the march. The
passage of troops is sometimes so dreaded that commanders of regiments
are bribed with heavy sums by the villagers to encamp outside
their walls. Troops are not the only source of anxiety to the poor
fellaheen. Princes and Government officials also travel with an
enormous following, mainly composed of hangers-on and riff-raff, who
plunder and devastate as ruthlessly as a band of Kurd or Turkoman
robbers. They are even worse than the soldiery, for the latter usually
leave the women alone. Occasionally a whole village migrates to the
mountains on the approach of the unwelcome guests, leaving houses and
fields at their mercy.

There is probably no peasantry in the world so ground down and
oppressed as the Persian. The agricultural labourer never tries to
ameliorate his condition, or save up money for his old age, for the
simple reason that, on becoming known to the rulers of the land, it is
at once taken away from him. Though poor, however (so far as cash
and valuables are concerned), the general condition of the labouring
classes is not so bad as might be supposed. In a country so vast
(550,000 square miles) and so thinly populated (5,000,000 in all), a
small and sufficient supply of food is easily raised, especially with
such prolific soil at the command of the poorest. At Shiráz, for
instance, there are two harvests in the year. The seifi, sown in
summer and reaped in autumn, consists of rice, cotton, Indian corn,
and garden produce; the tchatvi, sown in October and November, and
reaped from May till July, is exclusively wheat and barley. A quantity
of fruit is also grown--grapes, oranges, and pomegranates. Shiráz is
famed for the latter. The heat and dust, to say nothing of smells,
prevented me from often entering the city; but I walked through the
bazaar once or twice, and succeeded in purchasing some old tapestries
and a prayer-carpet. The merchants here are not so reserved and
secretive as those of Teherán and other cities, and are, moreover,
civil enough to produce coffee and a kalyan at the conclusion of a
bargain, as at Stamboul. The best tobacco for kalyan-smoking is grown
round Shiráz. Some, the coarser kind, from Kazeroon and Zulfaicar,
is exported to Turkey and Egypt, but the most delicate Shiráz
never leaves the country. The pipe is on the same principle as the
narghileh, the smoke being drawn through a vessel of water. The tube,
a wooden stalk about two feet long, is changed when it becomes tainted
with use; for the people of the East (unlike some in the West) like
their tobacco clean.

Manufactories are trifling in comparison with what they were in former
days. Where, a century since, there stood five hundred factories owned
by weavers, there are now only ten, for the supply of a coarse white
cotton material called "kerbas," and carpets of a cheap and common
kind. Earthenware and glass is also made in small quantities, the
latter only for wine-bottles and kalyan water-bowls. All the best
glass is imported from Russia. A kind of mosaic work called "khatemi,"
much used in ornamenting boxes and pen-and-ink cases, is turned out in
large quantities at Shiráz. It is pretty and effective, though some of
the illustrations on the backs of mirrors, etc., are hardly fit for a
drawing-room table. Caligraphy, or the art of writing, is also carried
by the Shirázis to the highest degree of perfection, and they are said
to be the best penmen in the East. To write really well is considered
as great an accomplishment in Persia as to be a successful musician,
painter, or sculptor in Europe; and a famous writer of the last
century, living in Shiráz, was paid as much as five tomans for every
line transcribed.

My favourite walk, after the heat of the day, was to the little
cemetery where Hafiz, the Persian poet, lies at rest--a quiet,
secluded spot, on the side of a hill, in a clump of dark cypress trees
a gap cut through which shows the drab-coloured city, with its white
minarets and gilt domes shining in the sun half a mile away. The tomb,
a huge block of solid marble, brought across the desert from Yčzd, is
covered with inscriptions--the titles of the poet's most celebrated
works. Near it is a brick building containing chambers, where bodies
are put for a year or so previous to final interment at Kermansháh
or Koom. Each corpse was in a separate room--a plain whitewashed
compartment, with a square brick edifice in the centre containing the
body. Some of the catafalques were spread with white table-cloths,
flowers, candles, fruit, and biscuits, which the friends and relations
(mostly women and children) of the defunct were discussing in anything
but a mournful manner. A visit to a departed one's grave is generally
an excuse for a picnic in Persia.

Hard by the tomb of Hafiz is a garden, one of many of the kind around
Shiráz. It is called "The Garden of the Seven Sleepers," and is much
frequented in summer by Shirázis of both sexes. A small open kiosk, in
shape something like a theatre proscenium, stands in the centre, its
outside walls completely hidden by rose and jasmine bushes. Inside
all is gold moulding, light blue, green, and vermilion. A dome of
looking-glass reflects the tesselated floor. Strangely enough, this
garish mixture of colour does not offend the eye, toned down as it is
by the everlasting twilight shed over the mimic palace and garden by
overhanging branches of cypress and yew. An expanse of smooth-shaven
lawn, white beds of lily and narcissus, marble tanks bubbling over
with clear, cold water, and gravelled paths winding in and out of the
trees to where, a hundred yards or so distant, a sunk fence divides
the garden from a piece of ground two or three acres in extent,--a
perfect jungle of trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Here, from about 4 p.m. till long after sunset, you may see the
Shirázi taking his rest, undisturbed save for the ripple of running
water, the sighing of the breeze through the branches, and croon of
the pigeons overhead. Now and again the tinkle of caravan-bells breaks
in upon his meditations, or the click-click of the attendant's sandals
as he crosses the tiled floor with sherbet, coffee, or kalyan; but
the interruption is brief. A few moments, and silence again reigns
supreme--the perfection of rest, the acme of _Dolce far niente._ From
here my way usually lay homewards, through the dusky twilight, past
the city gates and along the now deserted plain. A limestone hill to
the south of Shiráz bears an extraordinary resemblance to the head of
a man in profile. Towards sunset the likeness was startling, and the
nose, chin, and mouth as delicately formed as if chiselled by the
tools of a sculptor. On fine, still evenings, parties of people would
sometimes sit out on the plain till long after dark, conversing,
eating sweetmeats, and tea-drinking, till the stars appeared, and the
white fever mist, gathering round the ramparts, hid the city from
view. Shiráz has been called the "Paris of Persia," from the cheerful,
sociable character of its people as compared with other Persian
cities; also, perhaps, partly from the beauty and coquetry (to use no
other term) of its women.

I was enabled, thanks to my host, to glean some interesting facts
concerning the latter, many European ladies having, from time to
time, resided in Shiráz, and, obtaining access to the "anderoon," had
afterwards given Mr. F---- the benefit of their observations.

Persian women are unquestionably allowed more freedom and liberty
than those of other Oriental countries. It is extremely rare, in the
bazaars of Stamboul or Cairo, to see a lady of the harem unattended,
but the sight is common enough in Shiráz and Ispahán. Infidelity in
Persia is therefore more common in proportion to the licence allowed;
though, when discovered, it is severely punished, in some cases by
death. Though a few are highly educated, the majority of Persian women
are ignorant, indolent, and sensual. _Mariages de convenance_ are as
common as in France, and have a good deal to do with the immorality
and intrigue that go on in the larger cities.

An eye-witness thus describes an "anderoon," or harem, of a prince in
Ispahán: "A large courtyard some thirty yards by ten in extent. All
down the centre is the 'hauz,' or tank--a raised piece of ornamental
water, the surface of which is about two feet above the ground. The
edges are formed of huge blocks of well-wrought stone, so accurately
levelled that the 'hauz' overflows all round its brink, making a
pleasant sound of running water. Goldfish of large size flash in
shoals in the clear tank. On either side of it are long rectangular
flower-beds, sunk six inches below the surface of the court. This
pavement, which consists of what we should call pantiles, is clean
and perfect, and freshly sprinkled; and the sprinkling and consequent
evaporation make a grateful coolness. In the flower-beds are irregular
clumps of marvel of Peru, some three feet high, of varied coloured
blossom, coming up irregularly in wild luxuriance. The moss-rose, too,
is conspicuous, with its heavy odour; while the edging, a foot wide,
is formed by thousands of bulbs of the _Narcissus poeticus_, massed
together like packed figs; these, too, give out a pleasant perfume.
But what strikes one most is the air of perfect repair and cleanliness
of everything. No grimy walls, no soiled curtains, here; all is clean
as a new pin, all is spick and span. The courtyard is shaded by orange
trees covered with bloom, and the heavy odour of neroli pervades the
place. Many of the last year's fruit have been left upon the trees for
ornament, and hang in bright yellow clusters out of reach. A couple of
widgeon sport upon the tank. All round the courtyard are rooms, the
doors and windows of which are jealously closed, but as we pass we
hear whispered conversations behind them, and titters of suppressed
merriment."

"The interior resembles the halls of the Alhambra. A priceless carpet,
surrounded by felt edgings, two inches thick and a yard wide, appears
like a lovely but subdued picture artfully set in a sombre frame. In
the recesses of the walls are many bouquets in vases. The one great
window--a miracle of intricate carpentry, some twenty feet by
twenty--blazes with a geometrical pattern of tiny pieces of glass,
forming one gorgeous mosaic. Three of the sashes of this window
are thrown up to admit air; the coloured glass of the top and four
remaining sashes effectually shuts out excess of light."

Such is the _coup d'oeil_ on entering an anderoon. With such
surroundings, one would expect to find refined, if not beautiful
women; but, though the latter are rare enough, the former are even
rarer in Persia. The Persian woman is a grown-up child, and a very
vicious one to boot. Her daily life, indeed, is not calculated to
improve the health of either mind or body. Most of the time is spent
in dressing and undressing, trying on clothes, painting her face,
sucking sweetmeats, and smoking cigarettes till her complexion is as
yellow as a guinea. Intellectual occupation or amusement of any kind
is unknown in the anderoon, and the obscene conversation and habits of
its inmates worse even than those of the harems of Constantinople and
Cairo, which, according to all accounts, is saying a good deal. A love
of cruelty, too, is shown in the Persian woman; when an execution or
brutal spectacle of any kind takes place, one-third at least of the
spectators is sure to consist of women. But this is, perhaps, not
peculiar to Persia; witness a recent criminal trial at the Old Bailey.

It will thus be seen that sensuality is the prevalent vice of the
female sex in Persia. An English-speaking Persian at Bushire told me
that, with the exception of the women of the wandering Eeliaut tribes,
there were few chaste wives in Persia. Although the nominal punishment
for adultery is death, the law, as it stands at present, is little
else than a dead letter, and, as in some more civilized countries,
husbands who are fond of intrigue, do not scruple to allow their wives
a similar liberty. Not half an hour's walk from the Tomb of Hafiz, at
the summit of the mountain, is a deep well, so deep that no one has
ever yet succeeded in sounding it. The origin of the chasm is unknown;
some say it is an extinct volcano. But the smallest child in Shiráz
knows the use to which it has been put from time immemorial. It is the
grave of adulterous women--the Well of Death.

An execution took place about fifteen years ago, but there have been
none since. Proved guilty of infidelity, the wretched woman, dressed
in a long white gown, was placed on a donkey, her face to the tail,
with shaven head and bared face. In front of the _cortége_ marched
the executioner, musicians, dancers, and abandoned women of the town.
Arrived at the summit of the mountain, the victim, half dead with
fright, was lifted off and carried to the edge of the yawning abyss
which had entombed so many faithless wives before her. "There is but
one God, and Mohammed is His Prophet," cried a moullah, while
the red-robed executioner, with one spurn of his foot, sent the
unconscious wretch toppling over the brink, the awe-stricken crowd
peering over, watching the white wisp disappear into eternity.
Although the last execution is still fresh in the minds of many, the
Well has no terrors for the gay, intrigue-loving ladies of Shiráz.
They make a jest of it, and their husbands jokingly threaten them with
it. Times are changed indeed in Persia!

I left Shiráz with sincere regret. Apart from the interest attached to
the place, I have never received a kinder or more hospitable welcome
than from the little band of Englishmen who watch over the safety, and
work the wires, of the Indo-European telegraph. They are under a dozen
in number. With cheap horseflesh, capital shooting, the latest books
and papers from India, a good billiard-room and lawn-tennis ground,
time never hangs very heavily. Living is absurdly cheap. A bachelor
can do well on Ł6 a month, including servants. He has, of course, no
house-rent to pay.

A number of square stone towers about thirty feet high, loopholed and
crenelated, are visible from the caravan-track between Shiráz and
Khaneh Zinián, where we rested the first night. The towers are
apparently of great antiquity, and must formerly have served for
purposes of defence. We lunched at the foot of one on a breezy upland,
with pink and white heather growing freely around, and a brawling,
tumbling mountain stream at our feet. It was like a bit of Scotland
or North Wales. The tower was in a state of decay and roofless, but a
wandering tribe of ragged Eeliauts had taken up their quarters
inside, and watched us suspiciously through the grey smoke of a damp,
spluttering peat fire. They are a queer race, these Eeliauts, [B] and
have little or nothing in common with the other natives. The sight of
a well-filled lunch-basket and flasks of wine (which our kind hosts
had insisted on our taking) would have brought ordinary gipsies out
like flies round a honey-pot, if recollections of Epsom or Henley go
for anything. Not so the Eeliauts, who, stranger still, never even
begged for a sheis--a self-control I rewarded by presenting the
chief, a swarthy handsome fellow, in picturesque rags of bright
colour, with a couple of keráns. But he never even thanked me!

It seemed, next morning, as if we had jumped, in a night, from early
spring into midsummer. Although at daybreak the ice was thick on a
pool outside the caravanserai, the sun by midday was so strong, and
the heat so excessive, that we could scarcely get the mules along.
The road lies through splendid scenery. Passing Dashti Arjin, or "The
Plain of Wild Almonds," a kind of plateau to which the ascent is
steep and difficult, one might have been in Switzerland or the Tyrol.
Undulating, densely wooded hills, with a background of steep limestone
cliffs, their sharp peaks, just tipped with snow, standing out crisp
and clear against the cloudless sky, formed a fitting frame to the
lovely picture before us; the pretty village, trees blossoming on all
sides, fresh green pastures overgrown in places by masses of fern and
wild flowers, and the white foaming waterfall dashing down the side of
the mountain, to lose itself in the blue waters of a huge lake just
visible in the plains below. The neighbourhood of the latter teems
with game of all kinds--leopard, gazelle, and wild boar, partridge,
duck, snipe, and quail, the latter in thousands.

A stiff climb of four hours over the Kotal Perizun brought us to the
caravanserai of Meyun Kotal. Over this pass, ten miles in length,
there is no path; one must find one's way as best one can through the
huge rocks and boulders. Some of the latter were two to three feet
in height. How the mules managed will ever be a mystery to me. We
dismounted, leaving, by the chalvadar's request, our animals to look
after themselves. The summit of the mountain is under two thousand
feet. We reached it at four o'clock, and saw, to our relief, our
resting-place for the night only three or four hundred feet below us.
But it took nearly an hour to do even this short distance. The passage
of the Kotal Perizun with a large caravan must be terrible work.

[Illustration: THE CARAVANSERAI, MEYUN KOTAL]

The caravanserai was crowded. Two large caravans had arrived that
morning, and a third was hourly expected from Bushire. There was
barely standing-room in the courtyard, which was crowded with
wild-looking men, armed to the teeth, gaily caparisoned mules, and
bales of merchandise.

The caravanserai at Meyun Kotal is one of the finest in Persia. It was
built by Shah Abbas, and is entirely of stone and marble. Surrounded
by walls of enormous thickness, the building is in the shape of a
square. Around the latter are seventy or eighty deep arches for the
use of travellers. At the back of each is a little doorway, about
three feet by three, leading into a dark, windowless stone chamber,
unfurnished, smoke-blackened, and dirty, but dry and weather-proof.
Any one may occupy these. Should the beggar arrive first, the prince
is left out in the cold, and _vice versâ_. Everybody, however, is
satisfied as a rule, for there is nearly as much accommodation for
guests as in a large London or Paris hotel. Behind the sleeping-rooms
is stabling for five or six hundred horses, and, in the centre of the
courtyard, a huge marble tank of pure running water for drinking and
washing purposes. This, and fodder for the horses, is all that there
was to be got in the way of refreshment. But Gerôme, with considerable
forethought, had purchased bread, a fowl, and some eggs on the road,
and, our room swept out and candles lit, we were soon sitting down
to a comfortable meal, with a hissing samovar, the property of the
caravanserai-keeper, between us.

One need sleep soundly to sleep well in a caravanserai. At sunset the
mules, with loud clashing of bells, are driven into the yard from
pasture, and tethered till one or two in the morning, when a start
is made, and sleep is out of the question. In the interim, singing,
talking, story-telling, occasionally quarrelling and fighting, go on
all round the yard till nearly midnight. Tired out with the stiff
climb, I fell into a delicious slumber, notwithstanding the noise,
about nine o'clock, to be awakened shortly after by a soft, cold
substance falling heavily, with a splash, upon my face. Striking a
match, I discovered a large bat which the smoke from our fire (there
was no chimney) had evidently detached from the rafters.

I purchased, the next morning before starting, a Persian dagger
belonging to one of the caravan-men. He was one of the Bakhtiari,
a wild and lawless tribe inhabiting a tract of country (as yet
unexplored by Europeans) on the borders of Persia and Asia Minor. The
blade of the dagger is purest Damascene work, the handle of fossilized
ivory. On the back of the blade is engraved, in letters of inlaid
gold, in Arabic characters--

"There is one God! He is Eternal!"
"Victory is nigh, O true believer!"

Connoisseurs say that the dagger is over a hundred years old. After
quite an hour's haggling (during which our departure was delayed, much
to Gerôme's disgust), I managed to secure it for Ł9 English money,
although the Bakhtiari assured me that he had already sworn "by his
two wives" never to part with it. I have since been offered four times
the amount by a good judge of Eastern weapons.

A second pass, the Kotal Doktar, lay between us and Bushire. Though
steep and slippery in places, the path is well protected, and there
are no boulders to bar the way. On leaving the caravanserai, we paused
to examine the second longest telegraph wire (without support) in the
world. It is laid from summit to summit of two hills, and spans a
valley over a mile in width. [C]

The country round Meyun Kotal is well cultivated, and we passed not
only men, but women, ploughing with the odd-shaped primitive wooden
ploughs peculiar to these parts. Near the foot of the pass some
children were gathering and collecting acorns, which are here eaten in
the form of a kind of bread by the peasantry. Seldom has Nature seemed
more beautiful than on that bright cloudless morning, as we rode
through sweet-scented uplands of beans and clover, meadows of deep
rich grass. By the track bloomed wild flowers, violets and narcissus,
shedding their fresh delicate perfume. The song of birds and hum of
insects filled the air, bright butterflies flashed across our path,
while the soft distant notes of a cuckoo recalled shady country lanes
and the sunlit hay-fields of an English summer. It was like coming
from the grave, after the sterile deserts and bleak desolate plains of
Northern Persia.

There is a small square building at the northern end of the Kotal
Doktar, a mud hut, in which are stationed a guard of soldiers to be
of assistance in the event of robbery of caravans or travellers. Such
cases are not infrequent. Upon our approach, three men armed with
flint-locks and long iron pikes accosted us. "We are the escort," said
one, apparently the leader, from the bar of rusty gold braid on his
sleeve. "You cannot go on alone. It is not safe." We then learnt that
a large lion had infested the caravan-track over the pass for some
days, and had but yesterday attacked the mail and carried off one of
the mules, the native in charge only just escaping by climbing a tree.

Persian travel is full of these little surprises or rather items of
news; for one must be of a very ingenuous disposition to be surprised
at anything after a journey of any length in that country. If the man
had said that an ichthyosaurus or dodo barred the way, I should have
believed him just as much. Gerôme sharing my opinion that the report
was got up for the sake of extorting a few keráns, we soon sent our
informants about their business, and calmly proceeded on our journey.
Nevertheless, the Kotal Doktar would not be a pleasant place to
encounter the "king of beasts," I thought. The pass consists simply of
a narrow pathway four feet wide, on the one side a perpendicular wall
of rock, on the other an equally sheer precipice.

"Did you come across the lion?" was Mr. J---- 's first question, as
we dismounted at the gate of his telegraph-station at Kazeroon. "I
suppose not," he added, seeing the surprise with which I greeted his
remark. "We have had three parties out from here this week, but with
no luck. I just managed to get a sight of him, and that's all. He is a
splendid beast."

Ignorance had indeed been bliss in our case, and I felt some
compunction when I remembered how disdainfully we had treated the
ragged sergeant and his men. They would have been of no use, except
in the way of stop-gaps, like the babies, in cheap prints, that the
Russian traveller in the sleigh throws to the wolves to occupy their
attention while he urges on his mad career, a pistol in each hand and
the reins in his mouth. Still, even for this purpose, they might have
been useful, and were certainly worth a few keráns. I was glad not to
learn the truth till we reached Kazeroon. The enjoyment of the meal of
which we partook at the summit of the pass would have been somewhat
damped by the feeling that at any moment a loud roar, bursting out of
the silent fastnesses of the Kotal Doktar, might announce the approach
of its grim tenant.

There was, after all, nothing very remarkable about the occurrence,
for the southern parts of Persia are infested with wild animals of
many kinds. Of this I was already aware, but not that lions were among
the number.

Kazeroon is, next to Shiráz, the most important place in the province
of Fars, and has a population of about 6000. Surrounded by fields of
tobacco and maize, it is neatly laid out, and presents a cheerful
appearance, the buildings being of white stone, instead of the
everlasting baked mud and clay. Many of the courtyards were
surrounded by date palms, and the people seemed more civilized and
prosperous-looking than those in the villages north of Shiráz.

"So you refused the escort over the Kotal?" said J--that evening, as
we sat over our coffee and cigars in his little stone courtyard, white
and cool in the moonlight, adding, with a laugh, "Well, I don't blame
you. A good story was told me the other day in Shiráz _ŕpropos_ of
escorts. It happened not long ago to an Englishman who was going to
Bagdad from Kermansháh through a nasty bit of country. A good many
robberies with violence had occurred, and the Governor of Kermansháh
insisted on providing him with an escort, at the same time arranging
for a Turkish escort to meet him on the frontier and take him on to
Bagdad."

"You have seen the ordinary cavalry soldier of this country. There
were twelve of them and a sergeant. V---- was the only European. All
went well till they reached a small hamlet near Zarna, about twenty
miles from the Turkish border. It was midday. V---- was quietly
breakfasting in his tent, the horses picketed, the men smoking or
asleep. Suddenly the sound of firing was heard about a mile off, not
sharp and loud, but slow and desultory, like the pop, pop, pop of a
rifle or revolver. V---- was not in the least alarmed, but, the firing
continuing for some time, he thought well at last to inquire into the
matter. What was his surprise, on emerging from his tent, to find
himself alone, not a trace of his companions to be seen. There were
the picket-ropes, a smouldering fire, a kalyan, and the remains of a
pilaff on the ground, but no men. The firing had done it. One and all
had turned tail and fled. The position was not pleasant, for V---- was
naturally absolutely ignorant of the road. 'They will come back,' he
thought, and patiently waited. But sunset came, then night, then the
stars, and still V---- was alone, utterly helpless and unable to move
backwards or forwards. At sunrise a head was shoved into his tent. But
it had a red fez on, not an astrakhan bonnet. It was one of the Bagdad
escort. The Turks laughed heartily when they heard the story. 'It must
have been us,' they said; 'we had nothing to do, and were practising
with our revolvers.' In the mean time the Persians returned post haste
to Kermansháh, and evinced great surprise that V---- was not with
them."

"'He was the first to fly,' said the sergeant. 'I am afraid he must
have lost his way, and fallen into the hands of the robbers. If so,
God help him. There were more than fifty of them.'"

"J---- 's anecdote was followed by many others, coffee was succeeded
by cognac and seltzer, Gerôme gave us some startling Central Asian
experiences, and we talked over men and things Persian far into the
night, or rather morning, for it was nearly 2 a.m. when I retired to
rest."

"I hope you'll sleep well," said J----, as he led the way to a
comfortable bedroom looking out on to the needle-like peaks of the
Kotal Doktar, gleaming white in the moonlight. "By the way, I forgot
to tell you we usually have an earthquake about sunrise, but don't let
it disturb you. The shocks have been very slight lately, and it's sure
not to last long," added my host, as he calmly closed the door, and
left me to my slumbers.

I am not particularly nervous, but to be suddenly aroused from sleep
by a loud crash, as if the house were falling about one's ears; to
see, in the grey dawn, brick walls bending to and fro like reeds,
floors heaving like the deck of a ship, windows rattling, doors
banging, with an accompaniment of women and children screaming as if
the end of the world had arrived, is calculated to give the boldest
man a little anxiety. I must at any rate own to feeling a good deal
when, about 6 a.m. the following morning, the above phenomena took
place. As prophesied, "it" did not last long--eight or ten seconds at
most, which seemed to me an hour. Not the least unpleasant sensation
was a low, rumbling noise, like distant thunder, that accompanied the
shock. It seemed to come from the very bowels of the earth.


"We have them every day," said J---- at breakfast, placidly, "but
one soon gets used to them." My host was obliged to acknowledge
reluctantly that this morning's shock was "a little sharper than
usual"! It was sharp enough, Gerôme afterwards told me, to send all
the people of Kazeroon running out of their houses into the street.
Common as the "Zil-Zillah" [D] is in these parts, the natives are
terrified whenever a shock occurs. The great Shiráz earthquake some
years ago, when over a thousand lost their lives, is still fresh in
their minds.

An easy ride, through a pretty and fertile country, brought us to
the telegraph-station of Konar Takta, where Mr. E----, the clerk in
charge, had prepared a sumptuous breakfast. But we were not destined
to enjoy it. They had, said Mr. E----, experienced no less than nine
severe shocks of earthquake the night before, one of which had rent
the wall of his house from top to bottom. His wife and children were
living in a tent in the garden, and most of the inhabitants of the
village had deserted their mud huts, and rigged up temporary shanties
of palm leaves in the road. "We will have breakfast, anyhow," continued
our host. "You must be hungry"--leading the way into the dining-room,
where a long, deep crack in the whitewashed wall showed traces of
last night's disaster.

The latter had, apparently, considerably upset my host, who,
throughout the meal, kept continually rising and walking to the open
window and back again, in an evidently uneasy state of mind; so much
so that I was about to propose an adjournment to the garden, when a
diversion was created by the entrance of a servant with a dish of
"Sklitch," which he had no sooner placed on the table, than he rapidly
withdrew. Sklitch is peculiar to this part of Persia. It is made of a
kind of moss gathered on the mountains, mixed with cream and dates,
and, iced, is delicious. But scarcely had I raised the first mouthful
to my lips when my host leapt out of his seat. "There it is again," he
cried. "Run!" and with a bound disappeared through the window. Before
I could reach it the floor was rocking so that I could scarcely keep
my feet, and I was scarcely prepared for the drop of nine feet that
landed me on to the flower-beds. The shock lasted quite ten seconds.
Every moment I expected to see the house fall bodily over. I left poor
E---- busily engaged in removing his instruments into the garden.
"Another night like the last would turn my hair grey," he said, as we
bade him good-bye. Truly the lot of a Persian telegraph official is
not always a bed of roses.

A gradual descent of over two thousand feet leads from Konar Takta
to the village of Dalaki, which is situated on a vast plain, partly
cultivated, the southern extremity of which is washed by the waters of
the Persian Gulf. There is a comfortable rest-house at this village,
the population of which is noted as being the most fierce and lawless
in Southern Persia. Rest, though undisturbed by earthquakes, was,
however, almost out of the question, on account of a most abominable
stench of drainage, which came on at sunset and lasted throughout the
night. So overpowering was it that towards 3 a.m. both Gerôme and
myself were attacked by severe vomiting, and recurrence was had to the
medicine-chest and large doses of brandy. One might have been sleeping
over an open drain. It was not till next day that I discovered the
cause--rotten naphtha, which springs in large quantities from the
ground all round the village. Curiously enough, the smell is not
observable in the daytime.

"We have done with the snow now, monsieur," said Gerôme, as we rode
next morning through a land of green barley and cotton plains, date
palms, and mimosa. On the other hand, we had come in for other
annoyances, in the shape of heat, dust, and swarms of flies and
mosquitoes. Nearing the sea, vegetation entirely ceases. Nothing is
visible around but hard calcined plain, brown and level, lost on the
horizon seaward in a series of mirages, ending northward in a chain
of rocky, precipitous mountains. The bright, clear atmosphere was
remarkable; objects thirty or forty miles off looking but a mile or
so away. About midday an unusual sight appeared on the horizon--two
Europeans, a lady and gentleman, mounted on donkeys, and attended by
a chalvadar on a third, who apparently carried all the baggage of
the party. Halting for a few moments, and waiving introduction,
we exchanged a few words. Mr. and Mrs. D---- were on their way to
Teherán, with the object of making scientific researches at Persepolis
and other parts of Persia. I could not help admiring the courage of
the lady, though regretting, at the same time, the task she had set
herself. To inquiries of "How is the road?" I replied, "Very good,"
May the lie be forgiven me! It was told for a humane purpose.

Save a large herd of gazelle on the far horizon, nothing occurred to
break the monotony of the journey through deep heavy sand till about 4
p.m., when a thin thread of dark blue, cutting the yellow desert and
lighter sky-line, appeared before us. It was the Persian Gulf. An hour
later, and Sheif, the landing-place for Bushire, was reached.

A trim steam-launch, with Union Jack floating over her stern, awaited
us. She was sent by Colonel Ross, British Resident at Bushire, who
kindly invited me to the Residence during my stay in the Persian port.
I was not sorry, after the hot, dusty ride, to throw myself at length
on the soft, luxurious cushion, and, after an excellent luncheon, to
peruse the latest English papers. Skimming swiftly through the bright
blue waters, we neared the white city, not sorry to have successfully
accomplished the voyage so far, yet aware that the hardest part of the
journey to India was yet to come.

At a distance, and seen from the harbour, Bushire is not unlike Cadiz.
Its Moorish buildings, the whiteness of its houses and blueness of
the sea, give it, on a fine day, a picturesque and taking appearance,
speedily dissipated, how ever, on closer acquaintance; for Bushire is
indescribably filthy. The streets are mere alleys seven or eight feet
broad, knee-deep in dust or mud, and as irregular and puzzling to a
stranger as the maze at Hampton Court.

The Persian port is cool and pleasant enough in winter-time, but in
summer the stench from open drains and cesspools becomes unbearable,
and Europeans (of whom there are thirty or forty) remove _en masse_ to
Sabsabad, a country place eight or ten miles off. The natives, in
the mean time, live as best they can, and epidemics of cholera and
diphtheria are of yearly occurrence. The water of Bushire producing
guinea-worms (an animal that, unless rolled out of the skin with great
care, breaks, rots, and forms a festering sore), supplies of it are
brought in barrels from Bussorah or Mahommerah; but this is not within
reach of the poorer class. Nearly every third person met in the street
suffers from ophthalmia in some shape or other--the effect of the dust
and glare, for there is no shade in or about the city.

The latter is built at the end of a peninsula ten miles in length and
three in breadth, the portion furthest away from the town being swampy
and overflowed by the sea. Most of the houses are of soft crumbling
stone full of shells; some, of brick and plastered mud; but all are
whitewashed, which gives the place the spurious look of cleanliness
to which I have referred. The inhabitants of this "whited sepulchre"
number from 25,000 to 30,000. There is a considerable trade in
tobacco, attar of roses, shawls, cotton wool, etc.; but vessels
drawing over ten feet cannot approach the town nearer than a distance
of three miles--a great drawback in rough or squally weather.

Were it five thousand miles away, Bushire could scarcely be less like
Persia than it is. It has but one characteristic in common with other
cities--its ruins. Although of no antiquity, Bushire is rich in these.
With this exception, it much more resembles a Moorish or Turkish city.
The native population, largely mixed with Arabs, carries out the
illusion, and bright-coloured garments, white "bournouses," and green
turbans throng the streets, in striking contrast to the sombre,
rook-like garments affected by the natives of Iran. A stranger, too,
is struck by the difference in the mode of life adopted by Europeans
as compared with those inhabiting other parts of the Shah's dominions.
The semi-French style of Teherán and Shiráz is here superseded by
the Anglo-Indian. _Déjeuner ŕ la fourchette, vin ordinaire_, and
cigarettes are unknown in this land of tiffins, pegs, and cheroots.

My recollections of Bushire are pleasant ones. The Residency is a
large, rambling building, all verandahs, passages, and courtyards,
faces the sea on three sides, and catches the slightest breath of air
that may be stirring in hot weather. Two or three lawn-tennis courts,
and a broad stone walk almost overhanging the waves, form a favourite
rendezvous for Europeans in the cool of the evening. From here may be
seen the Persian Navy at anchor, represented by one small gunboat, the
_Persepolis_. This toy of the Shah's was built by a German firm in
1885, and cost the Government over Ł30,000 sterling.

She has never moved since her arrival. Her bottom is now covered with
coral and shells, her screw stuck hard and fast, while the four steel
Krupp guns which she mounts are rusty and useless.

My preparations for Baluchistán were soon completed. The escort
furnished me by the Indian Government had been awaiting me for some
days at Sonmiani, our starting-point on the coast. A telegram from
Karachi, saying that men, camels, tents, and stores were ready, was
the signal for our departure, and on March 7 I took leave of my host
to embark on the British India Company's steamer _Purulia_, for
Baluchistán. With genuine regret did I leave my pleasant quarters at
the Residency. Enjoyable as my visit was, it had not come upon me
quite as a surprise, for the hospitality of Colonel Ross, Resident of
Bushire, is well known to travellers in Persia.


[Footnote A: A similar case happened not long ago in Southern Russia.]

[Footnote B: The Eeliauts are said to be of Arab and Kurd descent.]

[Footnote C: The longest is in Cochin China, across the river Meikong,
the distance from post to post being 2560 feet.]

[Footnote D: Earthquake.]




CHAPTER IX.

BALUCHISTÁN--BEILA.


The coast-line of Baluchistán is six hundred miles long. On it there
is one tree, a sickly, stunted-looking thing, near the telegraph
station of Gwádar, which serves as a landmark to native craft and a
standing joke to the English sailor. Planted some years since by a
European, it has lived doggedly on, to the surprise of all, in this
arid soil. The Tree of Baluchistán is as well known to the manner in
the Persian Gulf as Regent Circus or the Marble Arch to the London
cabman.

With this solitary exception, not a trace of vegetation exists along
the sea-board from Persian to Indian frontier. Occasionally, at
long intervals, a mud hut is seen, just showing that the country is
inhabited, and that is all. The steep, rocky cliffs, with their sharp,
spire-like summits rising almost perpendicularly out of the blue sea,
are typical of the desert wastes inland.

"And this is the India they talk so much about!" says Gerôme,
contemptuously, as we watch the desolate shores from the deck of the
steamer. I do not correct the little man's geography. It is too hot
for argument, for the heat is stifling. There is not a breath of air
stirring, not a ripple on the smooth oily sea, and the sides of the
ship are cracking and blistering in the fierce, blinding sunshine.
Under the awning the temperature is that of a furnace, and one almost
regrets the cold and snow of three weeks ago, so perverse is human
nature.

Mark Tapley himself would scarcely have taken a cheerful view of
things on landing at Sonmiani. Imagine a howling wilderness of rock
and scrub, stretching away to where, on the far horizon, some low
hills cut the brazen sky-line. On the beach the so-called town of
Sonmiani--a collection of dilapidated mud huts, over which two or
three tattered red and yellow banners flutter in the breeze, and
beneath which a small and shallow harbour emits a powerful odour of
mud, sewage, and rotten fish. Every hut is surmounted by a "badgir,"
or wind-catcher--a queer-looking contrivance, in shape exactly like a
prompter's box, used in the summer heats to cool the interior of the
dark, stifling huts. A mob of ragged, wild-looking Baluchis, with
long, matted locks and gaudy rags, completes this dreary picture.

Shouts of "Kamoo!" from the crowd brought a tall, good-looking native,
clad in white, out of an adjacent hut, who, I was relieved to find,
was the interpreter destined to accompany us to Kelát. The camels and
escort were, he said, ready for a start on the morrow, if necessary.
In the mean time there was a bare but clean Government bungalow at our
disposal, and in this we were soon settled. But notwithstanding the
comparative comfort of our quarters compared with the filthy native
houses around, I determined to get away as soon as possible. The
mosquitoes were bad enough, but the flies were far worse. Ceiling,
walls, and floor were black with them. One not only ate them with
one's food, but they inflicted a nasty, poisonous bite. As for the
smells, they were beyond description; but the fact that a dead camel
was slowly decomposing in the immediate vicinity of our dwelling may
have had something to do with this.

With all these drawbacks, I was glad to find the population, although
dirty, decidedly friendly--rather too much so, indeed; for the little
whitewashed room was crowded to overflowing the greater part of the
day with relays of visitors, who apparently looked upon us as a kind
of show got up for their entertainment. Towards sunset a tall, swarthy
fellow, about fifty years old, with sharp, restless eyes and a huge
hook nose, made his appearance at the doorway; and this was the signal
for a general stampede, for my visitor was no other than the head-man
of Sonmiani--Chengiz Khan.

Chengiz was attired in a very dirty white garment, loose and flowing
to the heels, and a pair of gold-embroidered slippers. A small conical
cap of green silk was perched rakishly on the top of his head, from
which fell, below the shoulders, a tumbled mass of thick, coarse,
black hair. The head-man was unarmed, but his followers, five in
number, fairly bristled with daggers and pistols. Like all natives,
Chengiz was at first shy and reserved. It was only when I had
prevailed upon him to take a cigar that my visitor became more at his
ease. Having lit his cheroot, he took a long pull and passed it on to
one of his followers, who repeated the performance. When it had gone
the round twice it was thrown away; and Chengiz, turning to Kamoo,
gravely asked if I wished for anything before he retired for the
night.

"You should reach Kelát in twenty-five days," was the answer to my
question, "provided the camels keep well and you have no difficulty
with the people at Gwarjak; they are not used to Europeans, and may
give you some trouble."

One of the men here whispered to his chief.

"Malak is the name of the head-man at Gwarjak," went on Chengiz--"a
treacherous, dangerous fellow. Do not have much to do with Malak; he
detests Europeans."

Malak was, judging from my experiences that night, not the only
Baluchi possessed of this failing. Chengiz having left, I retired to
rest, to be suddenly aroused at midnight by a piercing yell, and to
find a tall, half-naked fellow, with wild eyes and a face plastered
with yellow mud, standing over me, brandishing a heavy club. Though a
revolver was at hand, it was useless; for I saw at a glance that I had
to deal with a madman. After a severe tussle, Gerôme and I managed to
throw out the unwelcome visitor and bar the door, though we saw him
for an hour or more prowling backwards and forwards in the moonlight
in front of the bungalow, muttering to himself, waving his arms about,
and breaking every now and then into peals of loud laughter. The
incident now seems trifling enough, though it left a powerful
impression upon my mind that night, on the eve of setting out through
an unknown country, where the life of a European more or less is of
little moment to the wild tribes of the interior. The madman was a
dervish, the head-man said, and perfectly harmless as a rule, but
liable to fits of rage at sight of a European and unbeliever. I was,
therefore, not sorry to hear next morning that this ardent follower
of the Prophet had been securely locked up, and would not be released
till the morrow, when we were well on the road to Beďla.

There are, I imagine, few countries practically so little known to
Europeans as the one we were about to traverse. I had, up to the time
of my visit, often wondered that, with India so near, Baluchistán
should have been so long allowed to remain the _terra incognita_
it is. My surprise ceased on arrival at Kelát. It is impossible
to conceive a more monotonous or uninteresting journey, from a
traveller's point of view, than that from the sea to Quetta--a
distance (by my route) of nearly five hundred miles, during which
I passed (with the exception of Kelát and Beďla) but half a dozen
villages worthy of the name, and met, outside the villages in
question, a dozen human beings at the most. This is, perhaps, scarcely
to be wondered at. The entire population of the country does not
exceed 450,000, while its area is estimated at something like 140,000
square miles, of which 60,000 are under Persian rule, and the
remaining 80,000 (nominally) under the suzerainty of the Khan of
Kelát.

The inhabitants of Baluchistán may be roughly divided into two
classes: the Brahuis [A] in the north, and the Baluchis in the south.
The former ascribe their origin to the earliest Mohammedan invaders of
Persia, and boast of their Arab descent; the latter are supposed by
some to have been originally a nation of Tartar mountaineers who
settled at a very early period in the southern parts of Asia, where
they led a nomad existence for many centuries, governed by their own
chiefs and laws, till at length they became incorporated and attained
their present footing at Kelát and throughout Northern Baluchistán.
Both races differ essentially in language and customs, and are
subdivided into an infinitesimal number of smaller tribes under the
command or rule of petty chiefs or khans. Although somewhat similar in
appearance, the Brahuis are said to be morally and physically superior
to their southern neighbours. The Baluch, as I shall now call each, is
not a prepossessing type of humanity on first acquaintance, with his
swarthy sullen features, dark piercing eyes, and long matted locks.
Most I met in the interior looked, a little distance off, like
perambulating masses of dirty rags; but all, even the filthiest and
most ragged, carried a bright, sharp tulwar. Though rough and uncouth,
however, I found the natives, as a rule, hospitable and kindly. It was
only in the far interior that any unpleasantness was experienced. This
was, perhaps, only natural, seeing that seventy miles of the journey
lay through a region as yet unexplored by Europeans, the inhabitants
of which were naturally resentful of what they imagined to be
intrusion and interference.

Owing to the nomadic nature of the Baluchis, the barrenness of
their country, and consequent absence of manufactures and commerce,
permanent settlements are very rare.

[Illustration: SONMIANI]

With the exception of Quetta, Kelát, Beďla, and Kej, there are no
towns in Baluchistán worthy of the name. Even those I have mentioned
are, with the exception of Quetta (now a British settlement),
mere collections of tumble-down mud huts, invariably guarded by a
ramshackle fort and wall of the same material. The dwellings of the
nomads consist of a number of long slender poles bent and inverted
towards each other, over which are stretched slips of coarse fabrics
of camel's hair. It was only in the immediate neighbourhood of Gwarjak
that the native huts were constructed of dried palm-leaves, the
fertile soil of that district rendering this feasible.

Attended by Chengiz Khan in a gorgeous costume of blue and yellow
silk, and followed by a rabble of two or three hundred men and boys, I
visited the bazaar next morning. Chengiz had preceded his visit with
the present of a fine goat, and evidently meant to be friendly,
informing me, before we had gone many yards, that the Queen of England
had just invested the Djam of Beďla (a neighbouring chief) with the
Star of India, and did I think that that honour was very likely to
accrue to him?

The trade of Sonmiani is, as may be imagined, insignificant. Most of
the low dark stalls were kept for the sale of grain, rice, salt, and
tobacco, by Hindus; but I was told that a brisk trade is done in fish
and sharks' fins; and dried fruits, madder, and saffron, sent down
from the northern districts, are exported in small quantities to
India and Persia. In the vicinity are some ancient pearl-fisheries of
considerable value, which were once worked with great profit. These
have been allowed to lie for many years undisturbed, owing to lack of
vigour and enterprise on the part of those in power in the state. Here
is a chance for European speculators.

By a well in the centre of the village stood some young girls and
children. The former were decidedly good looking, and one, but for the
hideous gold nose-ring, [B] would have been almost beautiful. Here, as
elsewhere in Baluchistán, the women present much more the Egyptian
type of face than the Indian--light bronze complexions, straight
regular features, and large, dark, expressive eyes. None of these made
the slightest attempt at concealment. As we passed, one of them
even nodded and smiled at Chengiz, making good use of her eyes, and
disclosing a row of small, pearly teeth. Their dress, a loose divided
skirt of thin red stuff, and short jacket, with tight-fitting sleeves,
open at the breast, showed off their slight graceful figures and
small, well-shaped hands and feet to perfection. Chengiz, pointing to
the group, smiled and addressed me in a facetious tone. "He wants to
know if you think them pretty," said my interpreter; but I thought it
best to maintain a dignified silence. The chief of Sonmiani was, for a
Mohammedan, singularly lax.

A kind of rough pottery is made at Sonmiani, and this is the only
industry. Some of the water-jars were neatly and gracefully fashioned,
of a delicate grey-green colour; others red, with rude yellow devices
painted on them. The clay is porous, and keeps the water deliciously
cool.

By four o'clock next morning all was ready for a start. The caravan
consisted of eighteen camels, four Baluchis, Kamoo, and Gerôme,
with an escort of ten soldiers of the Djam of Beďla, smart-looking,
well-built fellows in red tunics, white baggy trousers, and dark-blue
turbans. Each man, armed with a Snider rifle and twenty rounds of
ammunition, was mounted on a rough, wiry-looking pony. As we were
starting, Chengiz Khan rode up on a splendid camel, and announced his
intention of accompanying us the first stage, one of eighteen miles,
to Shekh-Raj.

Here the honest fellow bade us good-bye. "The sahib will not forget me
when he gets to India," he said, on leaving, thereby implying that he
wished to be well reported to the Indian Government. "But take care of
Malak; he is a bad man--a very bad man."

A rough and tedious journey of two days over deep sandy desert,
varied by an occasional salt marsh, brought us to Beďla, the seat of
government of the Djam, or chief of the province of Las Beďla, eighty
miles due north of Sonmiani. With a feeling of relief I sighted the
dirty, dilapidated city, with its mud huts and tawdry pink and green
banners surmounting the palace and fort. The Baluch camel is not the
easiest animal in existence, and I had, for the first few hours of the
march, experienced all the miseries of _mal de mer_ brought on by a
blazing sun and the rolling, unsteady gait of my ship of the desert.
Though awkward in his paces, the Baluch camel is swift. They are small
and better looking than most; nor do their coats present so much the
appearance of a "doormat with the mange," as those of the animals of
other countries. We had as yet passed but two villages--three or four
low shapeless huts, almost hidden in rock and scrub by the side of
the caravan-track, which, as far as Beďla, is pretty clearly defined.
There had been nothing else to break the dull, dead monotony of sand
and swamp, not a sign of human life, and but one well (at Outhal) of
rather brackish water.

On the second day one of the escort had pointed out a dry rocky bed
as the river Purali, which is one of the largest in Baluchistán, but,
like all the others, quite dry the greater portion of the year. There
are no permanent rivers in this country. To this fact is perhaps due
the slight knowledge obtained up to the present time of the interior,
where arid sandy deserts, dangerous alike to native or European
travellers, are the rule, and cover those large open spaces marked
upon maps as "unexplored." Notwithstanding the great width of the bed
of the Purali river in many places, it has no regular outlet into the
sea. Its waters, when in flood from rainfall, lose themselves in
the level plains in a chain of lagoons or swamps. Some of these are
several miles in length, but decrease considerably in the dry season,
when the water becomes salt. The Habb river, which divides Las from
the British province of Sind, is another case in point. It possesses
permanent banks, is fed from the Pabb chain of mountains, and after
heavy rains in these hills a large body of water is formed, which
rushes down to the sea with great force and velocity. But at other
times water is only to be found in a few small pools in its rocky bed.
It is, in short, a mountain torrent on a large scale. So also with the
greater number of streams in the western districts, though a few of
these have more the semblance of rivers than can be found elsewhere in
Baluchistán. Of lakes there are none throughout the entire area of the
country.

At Outhal we were met by one Hussein Khan, a wild-looking fellow
mounted on a good-looking chestnut horse, its saddle and headstalls
ornamented with bright-coloured leathers and gold and silver
ornaments. Hussein was from Beďla, with a message from the Djam to say
that I was welcome in his dominions. Tents were then pitched, and
I invited Hussein to partake of refreshment, which was refused. He
accepted a cigarette, however, but seemed undecided whether to smoke
or eat it, till presented with a light. Having asked if I would like
to be saluted with guns on arrival, an offer I politely declined, my
visitor then left to prepare for our reception on the morrow.


[Illustration: OUR CAMP AT OUTHAL]

Daybreak saw us well _en route_ and by 10 a.m. we were in sight of
Beďla. About a mile or so out of the city, a mounted sowar in scarlet
and gold uniform, and armed with two huge horse-pistols and a long
cavalry sabre, galloped up to the caravan. "It is a messenger from
the palace," said Kamoo, "to say that his Highness the Djam has been
suddenly called away to Kej, [C] but that his son, Prince Kumal Khan,
is riding out in state to meet the sahib, and conduct him to his
father's city."

The prince shortly afterwards appeared, mounted on a huge camel,
the tail and hind quarters of which were ornamented with intricate
patterns stamped on the hide by some peculiar process. A guard of
honour of thirty soldiers accompanied, while a rabble of two or three
hundred foot people surrounded the party, for the sight of a white
face is rare in Beďla. It was a strange scene: the picturesque city,
brilliant barbaric costume of the young chief and his followers, and
crowd of wild, half-naked Baluchis were fitly set off by surroundings
of desert landscape and dazzling sunshine. A Gerôme or Vereschágin
would have revelled in the sight.

Shaking hands with Kumal (no easy matter on camels), he placed me on
his right hand, and, heading the procession, we rode into Beďla, where
a large tent had been erected for my accommodation. Having placed a
guard at my disposal, the prince then left, announcing his intention
of receiving me in state that afternoon at the palace.

Beďla, which is protected by a fort and high mud wall, is situated on
the right bank of the river Purali, which, at the time of my visit,
was no more than a dry rocky bed. The town contains about 4000
inhabitants, and, from a distance, presents a curious appearance,
each house being fitted, as at Sonmiani, with a large "badgir," or
wind-catcher. Like most Eastern cities, Beďla does not improve on
closer acquaintance. The people are dirty and indolent. There is
little or no trade, and the dark, narrow streets, ankle-deep in mud
and filth, are crowded with beggars and pariah dogs, while the dull
drab colour of the mud houses is depressing in the extreme. The fort
and palace alone are built of brick, and, being whitewashed, relieve
to a certain extent the melancholy aspect of the place. I was escorted
to the latter the afternoon of my arrival by a guard of honour,
preceded by the Djam's band--half a dozen cracked English cavalry
trumpets!

Djam Ali Khan, the present ruler of the state of Las Beďla, is about
fifty years of age, and is a firm ally of England. The Djam is a
vassal of the Khan of Kelát, but, like most independent Baluch chiefs,
only nominally so. So far as I could glean, the court of Kelát has no
influence whatsoever beyond a radius of twenty miles or so from that
city. The provinces of Sarawán, Jhalawán, Kach-Gandáva, Mekrán, [D] and
Las Beďla, which constitute the vast tract of country known as Kalati
Baluchistán, are all governed by independent chiefs, nominally
viceroys of the Khan of Kelát. Practically, however, the latter
has little or no supremacy over them, nor indeed over any part of
Baluchistán, Kelát and its suburbs excepted.

Prince Kumal Khan received me in his father's durbar-chamber, a
cheerless, whitewashed apartment, bare of furniture save for a
somewhat rickety "throne" of painted wood, and a huge white linen
punkah, overlooking a dreary landscape of barren desert and mud roofs.
The prince, a tall, slim young man, about twenty-five years of
age, has weak but not unpleasing features. He was dressed in a
close-fitting tunic of dark-blue cloth, heavily trimmed with gold
braid, baggy white linen trousers, and a pair of European side-spring
boots, very dirty and down at heel. A light-blue turban completed his
attire.

The interview was not interesting. Notwithstanding all my efforts and
the services of the interpreter, Kumal was evidently shy and ill at
ease, and resolutely refused to enter into conversation. One thing,
however, roused him. Hearing that I was accompanied by a Russian,
Kumal eagerly demanded that he should be sent for. Gerôme presently
made his appearance, and was stared at, much to his discomfiture and
annoyance, as if he had been a wild beast. A pair of white-linen
drawers, no socks, carpet slippers, and a thin jersey, were my
faithful follower's idea of a costume suitable to the Indian
climate--surmounted by the somewhat inappropriate head-dress of a
huge astrakhan cap, which for no earthly consideration could he be
persuaded to exchange for a turban. "So that is a Russian!" said the
prince, curiously surveying him from head to foot. "I thought they
were all big men!" But patience has limits, and, with a muttered
"Dourák," [E] poor Gerôme turned and left the princely presence in
anything but a respectful manner.

Coffee and nargileh discussed, my host moved an adjournment to the
roof of the palace, where, he said, I should obtain a better view of
his father's city. This ceremony concluded, the trumpets sounded, a
gentle hint that the audience was at an end, and I took leave, and
returned to camp outside the walls of the town.

The Wazir, or Prime Minister, of the Djam paid me a visit in the
evening _sans cérémonie_--a jolly-looking, fresh-complexioned old
fellow, dressed in a suit of karki, cut European fashion, and with
nothing Oriental about him save a huge white linen turban. The Wazir
spoke English fairly well, and, waxing confidential over a cigar and
whisky-and-water (like my Sonmiani friend, the Wazir was no strict
Mussulman), entertained me with an account of the doings of the
Court in Beďla and the _aventures galantes_ of Kumal, who, from all
accounts, was a veritable Don Juan. "Will the Russians ever take
India?" asked the old fellow of Gerôme, as he left the tent. "You can
tell them they shall never get it so long as _we_ can prevent them;"
but the next moment the poor Wazir, to Gerôme's delight, had measured
his length on the ground. Either the night was very dark, or the
whisky very strong; a tent-rope had avenged the taunt levelled at my
companion's countrymen.

Early next morning came a message from Prince Kumal, inviting me
to visit the caves of Shahr-Rogan, an excavated village of great
antiquity, about ten miles from Beďla. I gladly accepted. The camels
were tired; the men of the caravan unwilling to proceed for another
day, and time hung heavily on one's hands, with nothing to vary the
monotony but an occasional shot at a wood-pigeon (which swarm about
Beďla), or a game of _ecarté_ (for nuts) with Gerôme.

The caves were well worth a visit. I could gain no information at
Beďla, Quetta, or even Karachi, as to the origin of this curious
cave-city, though there can be no doubt that it is of great antiquity.
Carless the traveller's account is perhaps the most authentic.

"About nine miles to the northward of Beďla a range of low hills
sweeps in a semicircle from one side of the valley to the other, and
forms its head. The Purali river issues from a deep ravine on the
western side, and rushes down (in the wet season) about two hundred
yards broad. It is bounded on one side by steep cliffs, forty or
fifty feet high, on the summit of which is an ancient burial-ground.
Following the stream, we gained the narrow ravine through which
it flows, and, turning into one of the lateral branches, entered
Shahr-Rogan."

Here, on the day in question, Prince Kumal called a halt. A couple
of small tents were pitched, and a meal, consisting of an excellent
curry, stewed pigeons, beer, and claret, served. Leaving the Prince
to amuse himself and delight his followers with his skill in
rifle-shooting at a mark chalked out on the rocks, I continued my
explorations. The result is, perhaps, better explained to the reader
in the words of an older and more experienced observer. Carless
says--"The scene was singular. On either side of a wild broken ravine
the rocks rise perpendicularly to the height of four or five hundred
feet, and are excavated, as far as there is footing to ascend, up to
the summit. The excavations are most numerous along the lower part
of the hills, and form distinct houses, most of which are uninjured
by-time. They consist, in general, of a room fifteen feet square,
forming a kind of open verandah, with an interior chamber of the same
dimensions, to which admittance is gained by a narrow doorway. There
are niches for lamps in many, and a place built up and covered in,
apparently to hold grain. Most of the houses or caves at the summits
of the cliffs are now inaccessible, from the narrow precipitous
paths by which they were approached having worn away. The cliffs are
excavated on both sides of the valley for a distance little short of
a mile. There cannot be less than fifteen hundred of these strange
habitations."

The caves of Shahr-Rogan are not the only sights of interest near
Beďla. Time, unfortunately, would not admit of my visiting the
mud-volcanoes of Las, situated near the Harra Mountains, about sixty
miles from Shahr-Rogan. The hills upon which these are found are
from three to four hundred feet high, and are conical in form, with
flattened and discoloured tops and precipitous sides. At their bases
are numerous fissures and cavities reaching far into their interior.
Captain Hart, who visited these geysers some years ago, describes
them as basins of liquid mud, about a hundred paces in diameter, in a
continual state of eruption. These geysers, or "chandra-kupr," as they
are called by the Baluchis, are also found on parts of the Mekrân
coast. Colonel Ross, H.M.'s Resident at Bushire, is of opinion that
these coast craters have communication with the sea, as the state of
the tides has considerable influence on the movements of the mud. This
theory is, perhaps, strengthened by the fact that by the coast natives
the volcanoes are called "Darya-Chân," or "Eyes of the Sea."

On the way back from Shahr-Rogan to Beďla a herd of antelope was
seen. I may here mention that, with one exception, this was the only
occasion upon which I came across big game of any kind throughout the
journey, although, from all accounts, there is no lack of wild animals
in Baluchistán. Bear and hyena are found in the southern districts,
and the leopard, wolf, ibex, and tiger-cat exist in other parts of
the country. The wild dog is also found in the northern and more
mountainous regions. The latter hunt in packs of twenty and thirty,
and will seize a bullock and kill him in a few minutes. On the other
hand, vermin and venomous animals are not so common as in India.
Dangerous snakes are rare, though we were much annoyed by scorpions
and centipedes in the villages of the north, and a loathsome bug, the
"mangar," which infests the houses of Kelát.

Riding homewards, we stopped about a mile out of Beďla to inspect the
Djam's garden, a large rambling piece of ground about fifty acres in
extent, enclosed by high walls of solid masonry. Never was I more
surprised than upon entering the lofty iron gates guarded by a sowar
in neat white uniform. It seemed incredible that such fertility and
abundance could exist in this dry, arid land. The cool fragrant
gardens, with their shady grass walks, forest trees, and palms,
springing up, as it were, out of the scorched, stony desert, reminded
one of a bunch of sweet-smelling flowers in a fever ward, and the
scent of rose, jasmine, and narcissus was apparent quite half a mile
away. In the centre of the garden is a tamarind tree of enormous
girth. It takes twelve men with joined hands to surround it. Half an
hour was spent in this pleasant oasis, which was constructed by the
late Djam, after infinite trouble and expense, by means of irrigation
from the Purali river. There are also two deep wells of clear water in
the grounds, which are never quite dry even in the hottest seasons.

Proceeding homewards, we had scarcely reached camp when a terrific
thunderstorm burst over our heads. The thunderclaps were in some
instances nearly a minute in duration, and the lightning unpleasantly
close and vivid.

The weather clearing, I visited the bazaar in the evening, under
the guidance of my old friend, the Wazir. Trade is, as I have said,
practically _nil_ in Beďla, and the manufactures, which are trifling,
are confined to oil, cotton, a rough kind of cloth, and coarse
carpets; indeed, throughout the country, commerce is almost at a
standstill.

This is scarcely surprising when the semi-savage state of the people,
and consequent risks to life and property, are taken into account. The
export trade of the interior is, though trifling at present, capable,
under firm and wise rule, of great improvement. Madder, almonds, and
dried fruit from Kelát and Mastung, seed and grain from Khozdar, small
quantities of assa-foetida from Nushki, and sulphur from Kach-Gandáva,
comprise all the exports. From Mekrán and Las Beďla are exported
"rogan," or clarified butter used for cooking purposes, hides, tobacco
(of a very coarse kind), salt fish, oil-seeds, and dates. The imports
chiefly consist of rice, pepper, sugar, spices, indigo, wood, and
piece goods, chiefly landed at the ports of Gwádar or Sonmiani. But
little is as yet known of the mineral products of this district. Iron
ore is said to exist in the mountains north of Beďla, while to the
south copper is reported as being found in large quantities; but
nothing has as yet been done to open up the mineral resources of the
district. Although silver and even gold have been found in small
quantities, and other minerals are known to exist, the only mines at
present in Baluchistán are those near Khozdar, in the province of
Jhalawán, where lead and antimony are worked, but in a very primitive
manner.

Notwithstanding the trade stagnation, there seems to be a good deal of
cultivation in and around Beďla. Water is obtained from deep wells;
and vegetables, rice, and tobacco are largely grown. Most of the
stalls in the bazaar were devoted to the sale of rice, wheat, and
tobacco, cheap cutlery, and Manchester goods; and I noticed, with some
surprise, cheap photographs of Mrs. Langtry, Ellen Terry, Miss Nelly
Farren, Sylvia Grey, and other leading lights of society and art,
spread out for sale among the many-bladed knives, nickel forks and
spoons, and German timepieces. Although the narrow alleys reeked with
poisonous smells and filth and abomination of all kinds, Beďla is not
unhealthy--so at least the Wazir informed me. I doubted the truth of
this assertion, however, for the features of every second person I met
were scarred more or less with small-pox.

My caravan, on leaving Beďla, was considerably increased. It now
consisted of twenty-two camels (six of which were laden with water),
five Baluchis, my original escort, and six of the Djam's cavalry. I
could well have dispensed with the latter, but the kindly little Wazir
would not hear of my going without them. An addition also to our party
was a queer creature, half Portuguese, half Malay, picked up by Gerôme
in the Beďla bazaar, and destined to fulfil the duties of cook. How he
had drifted to Beďla I never ascertained, and thought it prudent not
to inquire too much into his antecedents. No one knew anything about
him, and as he talked a language peculiar to himself, no one was ever
likely to; but he was an undeniably good _chef_, and that was the
chief consideration. Gaëtan, this strange being informed us, was his
name--speedily transformed by Gerôme into the more euphonious and
romantic name of Gaetano!

I took leave of the Prince and my old friend the Wazir with some
misgivings, for the new camel-drivers were Beďla men, and frankly
owned that their knowledge of the country lying between Gwarjak and
Noundra (where we were to leave the caravan-track) was derived chiefly
from hearsay.

There are two caravan-roads through Beďla. One, formerly much used, is
that over which we had travelled from the coast, and which, on leaving
Beďla, leads due north to Quetta _viâ_ Wadd and Sohrab. An ordinary
caravan by this route occupies at least forty days in transit.
Traffic is now, therefore, usually carried on by means of the safer
trade-routes through British Sindh, whereby the saving of time is
considerable, and chances of robbery much lessened. The second road
(which has branches leading to the coast towns of Gwádar, Pasui, and
Ormara) proceeds due west to Kej, capital of the Mekrán province,
near the Persian border. The latter track we were to follow as far as
Noundra, ninety miles distant. I should add that the so-called roads
of Baluchistán are nothing more than narrow, beaten paths, as often as
not entirely obliterated by swamp or brushwood. Beyond Noundra, where
we left the main track to strike northwards for Gwarjak, there was
absolutely nothing to guide us but occasional landmarks by day and the
stars at night.

Barring the intense monotony, the journey was not altogether
unenjoyable. To reach Noundra it took us five days. This may appear
slow work, but quicker progress is next to impossible in a country
where, even on the regular caravan-road, the guides are constantly
losing the track, and two or three hours are often wasted in regaining
it. The first two or three days of the journey lay through swampy
ground, through which the camels made their way with difficulty, for a
cat on the ice in walnut-shells is less awkward than a camel in mud.
Broad deep swamps alternating with tracts of sandy desert, with
nothing to relieve the monotonous landscape but occasional clumps of
"feesh," a stunted palm about three feet in height, and rough cairns
of rock erected by travellers to mark the pathway where it had become
obliterated, sufficiently describes the scenery passed through for the
first three days after leaving Beďla. Large stones accurately laid out
in circles of eighteen or twenty feet in diameter were also met with
at intervals of every two miles or so by the side of the track, and
this very often in districts where nothing was visible but a boundless
waste of loose, drifting sand. Our Baluchis could not or would not
explain the _raison d'ętre_ of them, though the stones must, in many
instances, have been brought great distances and for a definite
purpose. I could not, however, get any explanation regarding them at
either Kelát or Quetta.

With the exception of the Lakh Pass leading over a chain of hills
about eighteen miles due west of Beďla, the road to Noundra was as
flat as a billiard-table. The crossing of the Lakh, however, was not
accomplished without much difficulty and some danger; for the narrow
pathway, leading over rocky, almost perpendicular, cliffs, three to
four hundred feet high, had, in places, almost entirely crumbled away.
The summits of these cliffs present a curious appearance--fifty to
sixty needle-like spires, hardly a couple of feet thick at the top,
which look as if the hand of man and not of nature had placed them in
the symmetrical order in which they stand, white and clear-cut against
the deep-blue sky, slender and fragile as sugar ornaments, and looking
as though a puff of wind would send them toppling over. The ascent
was terribly hard work for the camels, and, as the track is totally
unprotected by guard-rail of any kind, anything but comfortable for
their riders. Towards the summit we met a couple of these beasts laden
with tobacco from Kej, in charge of a wild-looking fellow in rags,
as black as a coal, who eyed us suspiciously, and answered in sulky
monosyllables when asked where he hailed from. His merchandise,
consisting of four small bags, seemed hardly worth the carrying, but
Kej tobacco fetches high prices in Beďla. At this point the pathway
had latterly been widened by order of the Djam. Formerly, if two
camels travelling in opposite directions met, their respective owners
drew lots. The animal belonging to the loser was then sacrificed and
pushed over the precipice to clear the way for the other.

In the wet season a foaming torrent dashes through the Valley of Lakh,
but this was, at the time of my visit, a dry bed of rock and shingle.
Indeed, although we were fairly fortunate as regard wells, and I was
never compelled to put the caravan on short allowance, I did not
pass a single stream of running water the whole way from Sonmiani to
Dhaďra, twenty miles south of Gwarjak, though we must in that distance
have crossed at least fifteen dry river-beds, varying from twenty to
eighty yards in width.

Travelling in the daytime soon became impossible, on account of the
heat, as we proceeded further inland. A start was therefore generally
made before it was light, and by 11 a.m. the day's work was over,
tents pitched, camels turned loose, and a halt made till three or four
the next morning. Though the sun at midday was, with the total absence
of shade, dangerously powerful, and converted the interior of our
canvas tents into the semblance of an oven, there was little to
complain of as regards weather. The nights were deliciously cool, and
the pleasantest part of, the twenty-four hours was perhaps that from
8 till 10 a.m., when, dinner over and camp-fires lit, the Baluchis
enlivened the caravan with song and dance. Baluch music is, though
wild and mournful, pleasing. Some of the escort had fine voices,
and sang to the accompaniment of a low, soft pipe, their favourite
instrument. Gerôme was in great request on these occasions, and,
under the influence of some fiery raki, of which he seemed to have an
unlimited stock, would have trolled out "Matoushka Volga" and weird
Cossack ditties till the stars were paling, if not suppressed. As
it was, one got little enough rest, what with the heat and flies at
midday, and, at the halt about 8 a.m., the shouting, hammering of
tent-pegs, and braying of camels that went on till the sun was high in
the heavens.

There is a so-called town or village, Jhow (situated about twenty
miles east of Noundra), in a sparsely cultivated plain of the same
name. Barley and wheat are grown by means of irrigation from the Jhow
river, which in the wet season is of considerable size. I had expected
to find, at Jhow, some semblance of a town or village, as the Wazir
of Beďla had told me that the place contained a population of four or
five hundred, and it is plainly marked on all Government maps. But I
had yet to learn that a Baluch "town," or even village, of forty or
fifty inhabitants often extends over a tract of country many miles
in extent. The "town" of Jhow, for instance, is spread over a plain
thirty-five miles long by fourteen broad, in little clusters of from
two to six houses. A few tiny patches of green peeping out of the
yellow sand and brushwood, a wreath of grey smoke rising lazily here
and there at long intervals over the plain, a few camels and goats
browsing in the dry, withered herbage by the caravan-track, showed
that there were inhabitants; but we saw no dwellings, and only one
native, a woman, who, at sight of Gerôme, who gallantly rode forward
to address her, turned and fled as if she had seen the evil one.
Noundra, which was reached on the 30th of March, was a mere repetition
of Jhow. Neither houses nor natives were visible, though we passed
occasional patches of cultivated ground. About five miles west of this
we left the beaten track and struck out due north for Gwarjak, which,
according to my calculation, lay about seventy miles distant.


[Footnote A: The traveller Masson says that the word _Brahui_ is a
corruption of _Ba-roh-i_, meaning literally, "of the waste."]

[Footnote B: These rings are sometimes so heavy that they are attached
to a band at the top of the head to lessen the weight on the nostril.]

[Footnote C: A town in Western Baluchistán.]

[Footnote D: The word "Mekrán" is said to be derived from
"Mahi-Kharan," or "Fish-eaters," which food the inhabitants of this
maritime province subsisted on in Alexander's time, and do still.]

[Footnote E: Russian, "Fool."]




CHAPTER X.

BALUCHISTÁN--GWARJAK.


Most European travellers through this desolate land have testified to
the fact that the most commendable trait in the Baluch is his practice
of hospitality, or "zang," as it is called. As among the Arabs, a
guest is held sacred, save by some of the wilder tribes on the Afghan
frontier, who, though they respect a stranger actually under their
roof, will rob and murder him without scruple as soon as he has
departed. The natives of Kanéro and Dhaďra (the two villages lying
between Noundra and Gwarjak) were, though civil, evidently not best
pleased at our appearance, but the sight of a well-armed escort
prevented any open demonstration of ill feeling.

The first day's work after Noundra was rough, so much so that the
camels could scarcely struggle through the deep sand, or surmount the
steep, pathless ridges of slippery rock that barred our progress every
two or three miles. Though the greater part of the journey lay through
deep, drifting sand, the soil in places was hard and stony, and here
the babul tree and feesh palm grew freely, also a pretty star-shaped
yellow flower, called by Baluchis the "jour." This plant is poisonous
to camels, but, strangely enough, harmless to sheep, goats, and other
animals.

For a desert-journey, we had little to complain of as regards actual
discomfort. There were no mosquitoes or sandflies, and the heat,
though severe, was never excessive save for a couple of hours or so at
midday, when enforced imprisonment in a thin canvas tent became rather
trying. There was absolutely no shade--not a tree of any kind visible
from the day we left Beďla till our arrival at Dhaďra about midday on
the 31st of March. Scarcity of water was our greatest difficulty. At
Noundra it had been salt and brackish; at Kanéro we searched in vain
for a well. Had we known that a couple of days' march distant lay a
land "with milk and honey blest," this would have inconvenienced us
but little. The fact, however, that only three barrels of the precious
liquid remained caused me some anxiety, especially as the first well
upon which we could rely was at Gwarjak, nearly sixty miles distant.

The sight of Dhaďra, on the morning of the 31st, relieved us of all
further anxiety. This fertile plain, about fifteen miles long by ten
broad, is bounded on the north-west by a chain of limestone mountains,
the name of which I was unable to ascertain. Here for the second time
since Beďla we found a village and traces of inhabitants, the former
encircled for a considerable distance by fields of maize and barley,
enclosed by neat banks and hedges--a grateful contrast to the desolate
waste behind us. It was the most perfect oasis imaginable. Shady
forest trees and shrubs surrounded us on every side, a clear stream of
running water fringed with ferns and wild flowers rippled through our
camp, while the poor half-starved horses of the escort revelled in the
long, rich grass. Hard by a cluster of three or four leaf huts, half
hidden in a grove of date palms, lay (part of) the little village
of Dhaďra, deserted at this busy hour of the day save by women and
children. The latter fled upon our arrival, and did not reappear until
the evening, when the return of the men reassured them sufficiently to
approach our tents and look upon the strange and unwelcome features of
the Farangi without fear.

From here, by advice of the Wazir of Beďla, a messenger was despatched
to Malak, at Gwarjak, twenty miles distant, requesting permission to
travel through his dominions. I resolved to proceed no further without
the chief's sanction, or to afford him in any way an excuse for making
himself unpleasant. In the mean time, arms and accoutrements were
looked to, and the escort cleaned and smartened up as well as
circumstances would permit. The natives overcame their shyness next
morning, and brought us goat's milk and "rogan," or clarified butter.
The Baluchis seldom eat meat, their food principally consisting of
cakes or bread made of grain, with buttermilk and rice. A favourite
preparation known as "shalansh," and called "krout" by the Afghans, is
made by boiling buttermilk till the original quantity is reduced by
half. The remainder is then strained through a thick felt bag, in the
sun. When the draining ceases, the mass in the bag is formed into
small lumps dried hard by the sun's rays. When required for use these
lumps are pounded and placed in warm water, where they are worked by
the hands until dissolved. The thickened fluid is then boiled with
rogan and eaten with bread.

Assafoetida, indigenous to the country, is largely used among all
classes for flavouring dishes. So much is this noxious plant liked
by Baluchis, that it goes by the name of "khush-khorak," or pleasant
food. At Kelát, in the palace of the Khan, I was offered it pickled,
but it is usually eaten stewed in butter.

About midday, to my great surprise, Malak made his appearance in
person, mounted on a good-looking chestnut stallion, its bridle
and saddle adorned with gold and silver trappings. Four attendants
followed on sorry-looking steeds. The chief, a tall, well-built
fellow, about thirty years of age, with a sulky, sinister cast of
countenance, was clad in a bright green satin jacket, white and gold
turban, loose dark-blue trousers, and embroidered slippers. The loss
of one eye gave him a still more unpleasant expression, a lock
of coarse black hair being dragged over the face to conceal the
disfigurement. The whole party were armed to the teeth, and carried
guns, shields, and revolvers.

Our interview did not commence propitiously. Swinging himself off his
horse, Malak returned my salutation with a sulky nod, and swaggered
into the tent, signing to his suite to follow his example. Curtly
refusing my offer of refreshment, he called for his pipe-bearer, and,
lighting a kalyan, commenced puffing vigorously at some abominably
smelling tobacco, which soon rendered the interior of the tent
unbearable. It is, unfortunately, Baluch etiquette to allow a guest
to open the conversation. Malak, well aware of this, maintained
a stolid silence, and appeared hugely to enjoy the annoyance and
impatience I tried in vain to conceal. It was not till nearly an hour
had elapsed that this amiable visitor at last inquired, in a rude,
surly tone, what I wanted. My interpreter's services were then called
in, but it was not without demur and a long consultation with his
suite that Malak consented to accompany me to Gwarjak on the morrow.
Matters were finally arranged, on the understanding that I did not
remain more than one day at Gwarjak, but proceeded to Kelát without
delay.

I strolled out with a gun in the evening, and managed to bag a
brace of partridges, which swarmed in the maize and barley fields.
Overcoming the fears of the women, I was permitted to approach and
inspect, though not enter, one of their dwellings. The latter,
constructed of dried palm leaves, were about fifteen feet long by
eight feet broad, and were entirely devoid of rugs, carpets, or
furniture of any kind, and indescribably filthy. The men, though shy
and suspicious, would have been friendly, had it not been for Malak,
who followed me like a shadow; but nothing would induce the women and
children to approach either Gerôme or myself. "What is this?" said one
old fellow to Malak, stroking my face with his horny, grimy palm. "I
never saw anything like it before." Most of the men were clothed in
dirty, discoloured rags. The women wore simply a cloth tied loosely
over the loins, while male and female children fourteen or fifteen
years old ran about stark naked.

A curious flower, the "kosisant," grows luxuriantly about here. It is
in shape something like a huge asparagus, and about two feet high,
being covered from top to bottom with tiny white-and-yellow blossoms,
with a sweet but sickly perfume. It consists but of one shoot or
stalk, and bursts through the ground apparently with great force,
displacing the soil for several inches.

We left for Gwarjak at 5.30 the following morning. Etiquette compelled
Malak to offer me his horse, while he mounted my camel--an operation
effected with very bad grace by my host. The Baluch saddle consists
simply of two sharp pieces of wood bound together by leathern thongs,
and the exchange was by no means a welcome one so far as I was
concerned. Had it cut me in two, however, I would have borne it, if
only to punish this boorish ruffian for his insolence of yesterday.
Malak's chief failing was evidently vanity, and he was very reluctant,
even for an hour, to cede the place of honour to a European.

The road for the first ten miles or so lay along the dry bed of
a river, which, I ascertained with difficulty from my one-eyed
companion, is named the Mashki. Large holes, from eight to ten feet
deep, had been dug for some distance by the Dhaďra natives, forming
natural cisterns or tanks. These were, even now, after a long spell of
dry weather, more than half full, and the water, with which we filled
barrels and flasks, clear, cold, and delicious.

The Shirengaz Pass, which crosses a chain of hills about five hundred
feet high, separates the Dhaďra Valley from the equally fertile
district of Gwarjak. The ascent and descent are gradual and easy, and
by ten o'clock we were in sight of Gwarjak, before midday had encamped
within half a mile of the town, if a collection of straggling
tumble-down huts can so be called. The news of our arrival had preceded
us, and before tents were pitched the population had turned out _en
masse_, and a mob of quite two hundred men, women, and children were
squatted around our camp, watching, at a respectful distance, the
proceedings of my men with considerable interest. Malak had meanwhile
disappeared, ostensibly to warn the Wazir of our arrival.

Gwarjak is situated on the left bank of the Mashki river, and consists
of some thirty huts, shapeless and dilapidated, built of dried palm
leaves. About two hundred yards north of the village rises a steep
almost perpendicular rock about a hundred feet high, on the summit of
which is perched a small mud fort. The latter is crenelated, loopholed
for musketry, and mounts six cannon of a very primitive kind. It was
at once apparent that we were anything but welcome. The very sight of
my armed escort seemed to annoy and exasperate the male population,
while the women and children gathered together some distance off,
flying in a body whenever one of our party approached them. I looked
forward, with some impatience, to Malak's return, for Kamoo's request
for the loan of a knife from one of the bystanders was met with
an indignant refusal, accompanied by murmuring and unmistakable
expressions of hostility. We were well armed certainly, but were only
ten men against over a hundred.

Our camping-place was wild and picturesque, and, had it not been for
the uncomfortable sensation of not quite knowing what would happen
next, our stay at Gwarjak would have been pleasant enough. Even Gerôme
was depressed and anxious, and the Beďla men and escort ill at ease. I
was sorely tempted more than once to accede to Kamoo's request, strike
tents and move on to Gajjar, the next village, but was restrained by
the thought that such a proceeding would not only be undignified, but
a source of satisfaction to my _bęte noire_, Malak.

[Illustration: MALAK]

After a prolonged absence of four or five hours, the latter returned,
together with his Wazir and about a dozen followers. A more cut-throat
looking set of ruffians I have seldom seen. All wore long black-cloth
robes trimmed with scarlet, and white turbans, and carried a Snider
rifle and belt stuffed with cartridges slung over the left shoulder. I
now noticed with some anxiety that Malak's quiet and undemonstrative
manner had completely altered to one of swaggering insolence and
bravado. "The chief wishes you to know he has twenty more like this,"
said Kamoo, pointing to Malak's villainous-looking suite. "Tell him
I am very glad to hear it," was my reply, politely meant, but which
seemed to unduly exasperate the King of Gwarjak. Brushing past me, he
burst into the tent, followed by his men, and seated himself on my
only camp-stool. Then, producing a large American revolver, he cocked
it with a loud click, placed it on the ground beside him, and called
for his kalyan.

Patience has limits. With the reflection that few white men would have
put up with the insults I had; that "Tommy Atkins" was, after all,
only three hundred miles away; and that, in the event of my death,
Malak would probably be shot, if not blown from a gun,--I ordered him
(through the trembling Kamoo) to instantly leave the tent with all his
followers. The fire-eating chieftain was (unlike most Baluchis) a poor
creature, for to my intense relief he slunk out at once, with his
tail between his legs. Having then re-appropriated the camp-stool,
I ordered in the escort, fixed bayonets, loaded _my_ revolver with
ostentation, and commanded my friend to re-enter alone, which he did,
and, as Americans say, "quickly."

Then ensued an uncomfortable silence, interrupted by the arrival of
one of my men to say that the villagers had refused to sell provisions
of any kind, although eggs, milk, and rice were to be had in plenty.
"I am not the king of these people," said Malak, passionately, on
being remonstrated with. "Every man here is free to do as he pleases
with his own." As our stores were now running uncomfortably short,
this "Boycotting" system was anything but pleasant. "Will _you_ sell
us some eggs and milk?" I asked, as my unwilling guest rose to go. It
was eating humble-pie with a vengeance, but hunger, like many other
things, has no laws. "I am not a stall-keeper," was the answer. A
request to be permitted to ascend the hill and visit the fort was met
by an emphatic refusal. I then, as a last resource, inquired, through
Kamoo, if my hospitable host had any objection to my walking through
the village. "If you like," was the reply; "but I will not be
responsible for your safety. This is not Kelát. The English are not
our masters. We care nothing for them."

Notwithstanding these mysterious warnings, however, I visited the
village towards sunset, alone with Gerôme, fearing lest the sight of
my escort should arouse the ire and suspicions of the natives. There
was little to see and nothing to interest. Gwarjak is built without
any attempt at order or symmetry. Many of the houses had toppled over
till their roofs touched the ground, and the whole place presented an
appearance of poverty and decay strangely at variance with the smiling
plains of grain, rice, and tobacco around it. Not a human being was
visible, for our appearance was the signal for a general stampede
indoors, but the dirty, narrow streets swarmed with huge, fierce dogs,
who would have attacked us but for the heavy "nagaikas" [A] with which
we were armed. We were evidently cordially hated by both men and
beasts! On return to camp I gave orders for a start at four the next
morning. There was no object to be gained by remaining, and the
natives would have been only too glad of an excuse for open attack.

The remains of an ancient city, covering a very large area, are said
to exist near Gwarjak, about a mile due south of it. I could, however,
discover no trace of them, although we came from that direction, and
must have traversed the supposed site.

After the fatigue and anxiety of the day, I was enjoying a cigar in
the bright moonlight, when a messenger from the village arrived in
camp. He had a narrow escape. Not answering the challenge of the
sentry for the second time, the latter was about to fire, when I ran
forward and threw up his rifle, which discharged in the air. A second
later, and the man would have been shot, in which case I do not
suppose we should ever have seen Quetta. The message was from Malak,
inviting me to a "Zigri," a kind of religious dance, taking place just
outside the village. After some reflection, I decided to go. It might,
of course, mean treachery, but the probability was that the chief,
afraid of being reported to the Indian Government for his insolence
and insubordination, wished to atone for his conduct before I left.

Under the messenger's guidance, and attended by Gerôme and a guard of
five men with loaded rifles, I set out. Both the Russian and myself
carried and prominently displayed a brace of revolvers. A walk of ten
minutes brought us to a cleared space by the river. In the centre
blazed a huge bonfire, round which, in a semicircle, were squatted
some two or three hundred natives, watching the twistings and
contortions of half a dozen grotesque creatures with painted faces,
and long, streaming hair, who, as they turned slowly round and round,
varied the performance with leaps and bounds, alternately groaning,
wailing, and screaming at the top of their voices.

[Illustration: A "ZIGRI" IN GWARJAK]

A horn, a lute, and half a dozen tom-toms accompanied the dance. Some
distance away, and surrounded by his grim-looking guard, sat Malak,
who, though he did not rise to receive me, beckoned me to his side
with more politeness than usual. It was a weird, strange sight. The
repulsive, half-naked figures leaping round the fire, the silent,
awestruck crowd of Baluchis, the wild barbaric music, and pillar of
flame flashing on the dark, sullen face of Malak and his followers,
was not a little impressive, especially as I was in a state of
pleasing uncertainty as to the object of my host's sudden change of
manner, and whether this might not be a little dramatic introduction
to an attack upon our party. This was, however, evidently not my sulky
friend's intention, for, as I rose to go, he actually stood up and
took my hand. "At Gajjar," he said, "you will be able to get all you
want, but take my advice, and get away from here early to-morrow
morning. They do not like you."

Four hours after we were _en route_. The Zigri was still going on
as we rode out of the village. Malak and his guard still sat
motionless, the weird dancers and crowd of onlookers were still
there, the huge bonfire blazing as brightly as ever, though the
Eastern sky was lightening. As we passed within a hundred yards, I
waved my hand, but the compliment was not returned. Some of the crowd
looked up at the caravan; all must have seen it, but averted their
faces till we had passed. I was not, on the whole, sorry to leave
Gwarjak.

But one European, Colonel M---- of the Indian service, had visited
Gwarjak for fifteen years prior to my visit. My road thither from
Noundra has never been traversed save by natives, and it was,
perhaps, more by good luck than good management that we came through
successfully. The inhabitants of Gwarjak are a tribe known as the
Nushirvanis, who claim to be of Persian descent. It was only at
Quetta that I learnt that my friend Malak was only Viceroy of this
inhospitable district. The head-quarters and residence of the Chief,
one Nimrood Khan, is at Kharán (a hundred and fifty miles north-west of
Gwarjak). Nimrood, who was fortunately absent, detests Europeans, and
would probably have made matters even worse for us. Intermixed freely
with the wild and lawless tribes of the Baluch-Afghan frontier (from
which Kharán is but a few miles distant), it is scarcely to be
wondered at that the Nushirvanis are inimical to Europeans, whom they
are taught by their chiefs and Afghan neighbours to look upon as
natural enemies.

Although we had not as yet formed a very favourable idea of Baluch
hospitality, our reception at every village from here to the capital
amply atoned for the rough and uncivil behaviour of the wild
Nushirvanis. We were now once more on the beaten track, for though the
country south of Gwarjak was, previous to our crossing it, unexplored,
the journey from Kelát to Gajjar has frequently been made by Europeans
during the past few years. Our reception by the natives of Gajjar
(only twenty miles from Gwarjak) was a pleasant contrast to that given
us at the latter place. Camp was no sooner pitched than presents of
eggs, milk, rice, and tobacco were brought in, and I was cordially
welcomed by the chief of the village.

Gajjar is a ramshackle, tumble-down place of about three hundred
inhabitants. On a small hillock to the right of the village stands
the fort, a square building of solid masonry, which, however, is now
roofless, and has only three walls standing. The garrison (of six men)
were lodged in a flimsy tent pitched in the centre of the ruins.
Half the houses were constructed of dried mud; the remainder, as at
Gwarjak, of palm leaves. The village stands in a grove of date palms,
and the swarms of flies were consequently almost unendurable. We
encamped close to the village well, to which, during the afternoon,
many of the female population came to draw water. Two of them, bright,
pleasant-featured girls of eighteen or twenty, were the best-looking
specimens of the Baluch woman that I met with throughout the journey.

Towards sunset the corpse of a young man was borne past my tent
and interred in a little cemetery hard by. The burial rites of the
Baluchis are very similar to those of Persia. When a death occurs,
mourners are sent for, and food is prepared at the deceased's house
for such friends as desire to be present at the reading of prayers for
the dead, while "kairats," or charitable distributions of food, are
made for the benefit of the soul of the deceased. A wife, on the
decease of her husband, neglects washing, and is supposed to sit
lamenting by herself for not less than fifteen days. Long before this,
however, her female friends come to her house and beg her to
desist from weeping, bringing with them the powder of a plant
called "larra." With this the widow washes her head, and then
resumes her former life and occupations. If, however, by
thoughtlessness or malice, her friends defer their visit, she must
mourn for a much longer period alone. A curious Baluch custom is that
of digging a grave much deeper for a woman than a man. They argue that
woman is by nature so restless she would not remain quiet, even in
death, without a larger proportion of earth over her.

[Illustration: NOMAD BALUCH TENT]

In the matter of births and marriages the Baluchis, being of the
Mohammedan religion, regulate their ceremonies mainly according to the
Korán. Marriage is attended with great festivities. The first step
is the "zang," or betrothal, which is regarded as of a very sacred
nature, the final rite being known as "nikkar." On the wedding-day
the bridegroom, gorgeously arrayed, and mounted on his best horse or
camel, proceeds with his friends to a "ziarat," or shrine, there to
implore a blessing, after which the "winnis," or marriage, is gone
through by a moullah. On the birth of a child there is also much
feasting. The fourth day after birth a name is given to the infant,
and on the sixth an entertainment to friends. The following day the
rite of circumcision ("kattam") is performed, though not always, this
being sometimes postponed for a year or more. On this occasion (as at
a death) large distributions of food are made to the poor.

The country between Gajjar and Jebri, which was reached next day, is
bare and sterile, notwithstanding that, at the latter place, water is
seldom scarce, even in the dryest seasons. The plain, which consists
of loose, drifting sand, with intervals of hard, stony ground, is
called Kandari. The cold here in the months of January and February
is intense. We passed some curious cave-dwellings in the side of the
caravan-track, in which the natives take refuge from the icy blasts
that sweep across here in winter. They are formed by digging holes
eight to ten feet deep. These are rudely thatched over with palm
leaves, bits of stick, and plaited straw, thus forming a warm and
comfortable shelter.

The Chief of Jebri, one Chabas Khan, rode out to meet me, clad in
a long gown of golden thread, which, flashing in the sun, was
discernible a couple of miles off. Jebri contains about four hundred
inhabitants, and is a neatly built village, protected by a large mud
fort, and a garrison of twenty Baluchis armed with Snider rifles.
Chabas, who was very proud of his village, informed me that his
rule extended over a considerable extent of country, containing a
population of over 20,000. Many of his subjects were natives of
Seistan, Kharán, and Shotrawák, all Afghan border districts, and gave
him at times no little trouble. The Jebri fort had been attacked only
a year previous to my visit, but Chabas (who I afterwards heard at
Kelát is a renowned fire-eater) gave the rebels such a warm reception
that there has been no outbreak since. My genial old host had himself
given a good deal of trouble to the Kelát Government in his younger
days, and told me with evident pride that he had led many a chupao in
the good old days. The savage and predatory character of the Baluchi
was formerly well exemplified in these lawless incursions, when large
tracts of country were pillaged and devastated and the most unheard-of
cruelties practised. Chupaos are now a thing of the past. Pottinger,
who traversed this country in the last century, and had more than one
unpleasant _rencontre_ with these armed bands, thus describes one of
these plundering expeditions--

"The depredators are usually mounted on camels, and furnished,
according to the distance they have to go, with food, consisting of
dates, goat's milk, and cheese. They also carry water in a small
skin-bag, if requisite, which is often the case if the expedition
is prolonged. When all is prepared the band sets off and marches
incessantly till within a few miles of where the chupao is to
commence, and then halts in some unfrequented spot to rest their
camels. On the approach of night they mount again, and, as soon as the
inhabitants of a village have retired to rest, begin their attack by
burning, destroying, and carrying off whatever comes in their way.
They never think of resting for one moment during the chupao, but ride
on over the territory on which it is made at the rate of eighty or
ninety miles a day, until they have loaded their camels with as much
pillage as they can possibly remove; and as they are very expert in
the management of their animals, each man on an average will have
charge of ten or twelve. If practicable, they make a circuit which
enables them to return by a different route. This affords a double
prospect of plunder and also misleads those who pursue the robbers--a
step generally taken, though with little effect, when a sufficient
body of men can be collected for that purpose."

"In these desperate undertakings the predatory robbers are not always
successful, and when any of them chance to fall into the hands of
exasperated villagers, they are mutilated and put mercilessly
to death. The fact," concludes Pottinger, "of these plundering
expeditions being an institution in Baluchistán must serve to show how
slight is the power wielded by the paramount rulers, and what risks to
the safety of both person and property must be run by those engaged in
the business of trade in such a country."

Chabas visited me towards evening, accompanied by his son, a
clever-looking, bright-eyed lad about fifteen years old. Noticing that
he wore a belt and buckle of the 66th Regiment, I inquired where
he had procured it, and was told that it had been purchased from a
Gwarjak man, who brought it down from Kharán shortly after the fatal
disaster to the regiment at Maiwand. The kindly old chief now pressed
my acceptance of a fine fat goat--a very acceptable gift, considering
the impoverished condition of the camp larder. We then visited the
fort and village, under his guidance.

Jebri and its neighbourhood are well cultivated. The system of
agriculture practised in this part of Baluchistán is simple, but
effective, the fields being divided off by ridges of earth and raised
embankments to an accurate level. They are then further subdivided
longitudinally by ridges thrown up about seven or eight paces apart.
This is done for purposes of irrigation. The soil is then ploughed and
manured, the former operation being generally carried on by means
of bullocks. Tracts of land not irrigated by streams, but which are
dependent on rain and the rivulets which come down from the hillsides
after it, are called "kash-kawa," and are found scattered about the
valleys here and there near the tent-encampments of the nomad tribes,
who plough a piece of land, sow it, and return to gather in the crop
when it is matured. The implements of husbandry in general use are
a light wooden plough of primitive construction, consisting of a
vertical piece bent forward at the bottom and tipped with an iron
point, and a long horizontal beam, which passes forward between the
pair of bullocks that draw it, and is fastened to the yoke. A harrow,
consisting of a wooden board about six feet long by two wide, is also
used, being dragged over the ploughed land attached to the yoke by
iron chains. If found not sufficiently heavy, the driver stands upon
it. A spade or shovel, exactly like its English counterpart, and a
reaping-hook, or sickle, having its cutting edge furnished with minute
teeth, complete the list of a Baluchi's agricultural tools.

Jebri Fort stands on a steep hillock about fifty feet in height.
From here a good view was obtainable of the surrounding country.
Immediately below were pretty gardens or enclosed spaces, sown in the
centre with maize, wheat, and tobacco, and surrounded by plum and
pomegranate trees and date palms. There is a considerable trade in the
latter between here and Beďla, which perhaps accounted for the myriads
of flies which here, as at Gajjar, proved a source of great annoyance.
In Chabas's garden were roses and other flowers, some remarkably fine
vines, and a number of mulberry trees. The grounds were well and
neatly laid out with paths, grass plots, and artificial streams, upon
which I complimented the old man; but he would talk of nothing but his
fort, which was, indeed, the only structure worthy of the name met
with between Quetta and the sea. In the evening his son brought
me a delicious dish of preserved apricots and cream, for which
I presented him with three rupees, one of which he instantly
returned. It is considered, by Baluchis, extremely unlucky to give
or accept an odd number of coins.

[Illustration: JEBRI]

At Jebri, for the first time, we suffered severely from cold at night,
the thermometer dropping to 42° Fahr. just before sunrise. The climate
of Baluchistán presents extraordinary varieties, and is extremely
trying to Europeans. Although at Kelát the natives suffer considerably
more from cold in winter than summer heats, the hot season in the
low-lying valleys and on the coast, which lasts from April till
October, may be almost said to be the most severe in the world. At
Kej, in Mekram, the thermometer sometimes registers 125° Fahr. in the
shade as early as April, while the heat in the same district during
the "Khurma-Paz," or "Date-ripening," is so intense that the natives
themselves dare not venture abroad in the daytime.

Notwithstanding this, even the south of Baluchistán has its cold
season. Near Beďla, in the month of January, the temperature
frequently falls as low as 35° Fahr. in the mornings, rising no higher
than 65° at any portion of the day. At Kelát, on the other hand, which
stands 6800 feet above sea-level, the extreme maximum heat as yet
recorded during the months of July and August is only 103° Fahr.,
while the extreme minimum during the same months is as low as 48°
Fahr. In winter the cold is intense. Pottinger, the traveller, relates
that on the 7th of February, 1810, when at Baghivana, five marches
from Kelát, his water-skins were frozen into masses of ice, and seven
days afterwards, at Kelát, he found the frost so intense that water
froze instantly when thrown upon the ground. Bellew, a more recent
traveller, in the month of January found the temperature even lower,
as when at Rodinjo, thirteen miles south of Kelát, the thermometer at
7 a.m. stood at 14° Fahr., while the next night, at Kelát, it fell
to 8° Fahr. The weather was at the time clear, sharp, and cold, the
ground frozen hard all day, while snow-wreaths lay in the shelter of
the walls. A detailed account of the eight days' journey from Gajjar
to Kelát would weary the reader. A description of one village will
suffice for all, while the country between these two places is nothing
but bare, stony desert, varied by occasional ranges of low rocky
hills, and considerable tracts of cultivated land surrounding the
villages of Gidar, Sohrab, and Rodingo, at each of which we were well
received by the natives. With the exception of a strike among our
camel-drivers, which fortunately lasted only a few hours, and a
dust-storm encountered a few miles from Sohrab, nothing worthy of
mention occurred to break the monotony of the voyage till, on the
morning of the _9th of_ April, we sighted the flat-roofed houses, mud
ramparts, and towering citadel of the capital of Baluchistán.


[Footnote A: Cossack whips.]




CHAPTER XI.

KELÁT--QUETTA--BOMBAY.


We encamped in the suburbs of the city, about a couple of miles from
the northern or Mastung Gate, and near the telegraph office, a small
brick bungalow in charge of an English-speaking native. There is a
single wire laid to Quetta, a distance, roughly speaking, of ninety
miles. A terrific hurricane, accompanied by thunder, vivid lightning,
and dense clouds of black dust, sprang up about sunset the day of our
arrival. Both tents were instantly blown down, and in a few moments
reduced to shapeless rags of torn canvas. So great was the force of
the wind that it snapped the tent-poles short off, and, tearing them
from the ropes, sent the tents flying over the plain as if they had
been shreds of tissue paper. We managed, however, to find quarters in
the telegraph office, and remained there till our departure, two days
later, for Quetta. During the storm the thermometer sank to 50° Fahr.,
although a few moments before it had marked 78°.

Kelát contains--with its suburbs, which are of considerable
extent--about 15,000 inhabitants, and is picturesquely situated on the
edge of a fertile plain thickly cultivated with wheat, barley, and
tobacco. The city is built in terraces, on the sides and summit of a
limestone cliff, about a hundred and fifty feet high. This is called
the "Shah Mirdan," and is surrounded at the base of the hill by high
mud ramparts, with bastions at intervals, loopholed for musketry.
The "Mir," [A] or palace of the Khan, overhangs the town, and is made
up of a confused mass of buildings, which, though imposing at a
distance, I found on closer inspection to consist chiefly of mud, which
in many places had crumbled away, leaving great gaping holes in the
walls. The Mir mounts a few primitive, muzzle-loading cannon, and the
citadel is garrisoned by a thousand men, chiefly Afghans, deserters from
Cábul, Kandahár, and other parts of the Ameer's dominions. They are a
ragged, undisciplined lot. The Khan himself has a wholesome dread of
his soldiery, who break out at times, and commit great depredations
among the villages surrounding the capital, robbing and murdering the
peasants with impunity, for few dare resist them. The remainder of the
troops, three thousand in number, are quartered in barracks, or rather
mud hovels, at some distance from the palace. Each man is supposed to
receive three rupees a month and a lump sum of forty-eight rupees at
the end of each year, but pay is uncertain and mutiny frequent. When
not engaged on military duties the Khan's Baluch soldiers are put to
agricultural work on his estates, while the Afghans pass their time
in pillaging and plundering their neighbours. As we entered Kelát we
passed a regiment at drill on a sandy plain outside the walls. With
the exception of a conical fur cap, there is no attempt at uniform.
The men, fine strapping fellows, are armed with rusty flint-locks.
Though there appeared to be no officers, European or otherwise, I
was rather surprised to hear the word of command given in
English, and to see this band of ragamuffins march off parade to
the strains of "Home, sweet Home," played by a very fair fife-and-drum
band.

The morning following my arrival, I was startled by the apparition at
my bedside of a swarthy, wild-looking Afghan sowar--a messenger
from the Wazir, to say that his Highness the Khan wished to make my
acquaintance, and would receive me, if convenient, at three o'clock
that afternoon. It had not been my intention to solicit an interview,
for, from all accounts, the Khan is anything but friendly towards
Europeans, Englishmen in particular. To refuse, however, was out of
the question. The morning was therefore devoted to cleaning up, and
getting out a decent suit of wearing-apparel; while my Beďla escort,
who evidently had uncomfortable forebodings as to the appearance
of the Beďla uniform in the streets of Kelát, polished up arms and
accoutrements till they shone like silver, and paid, I noticed,
particular attention to the loading of their rifles and revolvers.

About midday the Wazir made his appearance to conduct me to the
palace. He was a fat, paunchy old man, with beady black eyes and a
shy, shifty expression, very unlike my cheery little friend at Beďla.
After the usual preliminary questions as to who I was, my age,
business, etc., he anxiously inquired after the health of Mr.
Gladstone, and somewhat astonished me by asking whether I was a
Liberal or Conservative. "You have some Beďla men with you, I see,"
said the Khan's adviser, who spoke English perfectly. "Don't let
his Highness see them." I could not, after such a speech, allow my
faithful escort to enter the city without warning. But it had little
effect. "Let the dogs do what they like," was the reply. "We shall not
let the sahib go alone."

Tea and cigarettes discussed, a start was made for the palace. The
Wazir, on a wiry, good looking bay horse, and attended by half a dozen
mounted Afghans, led the way, and I followed on a pony borrowed of
the telegraph clerk. My costume was, if not becoming, at any rate
original: high boots, flannel trousers, and shirt, an evening
dress-coat, and astrakhan cap. Gerôme's wardrobe being even less
presentable, I deemed it prudent to leave him behind. The Beďla men
brought up the rear of the procession some distance from the Afghans,
who, to my anxiety, never ceased scoffing and jeering at them the
whole way. Every moment I expected to hear the crack of a pistol-shot,
followed by a general _męlée_. Arrived at the Mastung Gate, we
dismounted, and, leaving our horses in charge of the guard, slowly
proceeded up the steep narrow streets to the citadel.

The entrance to Kelát is not imposing. There had been a good deal
of rain, and the streets of the lower part of the town were perfect
quagmires of mud nearly knee-deep. It was more like crawling into
a dark passage than entering a city. Many of the thoroughfares are
entirely covered over with wooden beams plastered with mud, which
entirely exclude light, and give them more the appearance of
subterranean passages than streets. The upper part of the town is the
cleanest, for the simple reason that all filth and sewage runs down
open gutters cut in the centre of the steep alleys, until it reaches
the level of the plain. There is no provision made for its escape.
It is allowed to collect in great pools, which in long-continued wet
weather often flood the houses and drive their wretched inhabitants
into the open, to live as best they may, further up the hill.

Kelát is, for this reason only, very unhealthy. Small-pox, typhoid, and
typhus are never absent, though, curiously enough, cholera visitations
are rare. The filthy habits of the inhabitants have, apparently, a
good deal to do with the high death rate. I saw, while walking up
the hill, a native fill a cup from an open drain and drink it off,
although the smell was unbearable, the liquid of a dark-brown colour.
A very common and--in the absence of medical treatment--fatal disease
among the inhabitants of the suburbs (chiefly Afghans) is stone in
the bladder, the water here, though pure and clear in the suburbs,
containing a large quantity of lime.

The bazaar, through which we passed on our way to the Mir, does not
seem a very busy one. Although not a public or religious holiday,
many of the stalls were closed. Kelát was once the great channel for
merchandise from Kandahár and Cábul to India, but the caravan trade is
now insignificant. There is in the season a considerable traffic in
dates, but that is all, for the roads to Persia and Afghanistán are
very unsafe. Only a few weeks previous to my visit, a Kelát merchant,
proceeding with a large caravan to Kermán, in Persia, was robbed and
murdered in the frontier district west of Kharán. Few now attempt the
journey, most of the goods being sent to Quetta, and thence by rail to
various parts of India, by sea to Persia.

Art and industry are, as well as trade, practically at a standstill in
the Khan's city, though a handsome embroidery, peculiar to Kelát, is
made by the women, and fetches high prices in India, while some of the
natives are clever at brass work and ironmongery. Noticing a Russian
samovar in one of the shops, I entered and inquired of the owner
(through the Wazir) how it had reached Kelát. "From Russia," was
the reply, "_viâ_ Meshéd, Herat, and Kandahár. There is a good
caravan-road the whole way," added the Baluchi, taking down a small
brass shield from a peg in the wall. "This came from Bokhára, _viâ_
Cábul, only ten days, ago; but trade is not what it was." "Would there
be any difficulty in making that journey?" I asked. "For you--an
Englishman--yes," said the man, with a queer smile, and was
continuing, when "The Khan will be growing impatient," broke in the
Wazir, taking my hand and leading me hurriedly into the street.

An Afghan guard of honour was drawn up at the entrance of the palace,
wearing the nearest approach to a uniform I had yet seen--dark-green
tunics, light-blue trousers, and white turbans, clean, well fitting,
and evidently kept for state occasions. Each man carried a Berdán
rifle and cavalry sabre. It struck me as a curious coincidence that
the former rifle is in general use throughout the Russian army.
Leaving my escort with strict injunctions to keep their tempers, and
under no circumstances to allow themselves to be drawn into a quarrel,
I followed the Wazir and his attendants into the Mir. The entrance is
through an underground passage about forty yards long by seven wide,
ill-smelling and in total darkness. Arrived at the end, we again
emerged into daylight, and, ascending a flight of rickety wooden
steps, found ourselves in the durbar-room--a spacious apartment, its
walls decorated with green, gold, and crimson panels, alternating with
large looking-glasses. Costly rugs and carpets from Persia and Bokhára
strewed the grimy floor of the chamber, which is about sixty feet
long, and commands a splendid view of the city and fertile plains
beyond. Awaiting me upon the balcony was the Khan, surrounded by
his suite and another guard of Afghans. A couple of dilapidated
cane-bottomed chairs were then brought and set one on each side of the
crimson velvet divan occupied by his Highness. Having made my bow,
which was acknowledged by a curt nod, I was conducted to the seat on
the right hand of the Khan by Azim Khan, his son, who seated himself
upon his father's left hand The Wazir, suite, soldiers, and attendants
then squatted round us in a semicircle, and the interview commenced.

A long silence followed, broken only by the whish of the fly-brush
as a white-clad Baluchi whisked it lazily to and fro over the Khan's
head. The balcony on which we were received is poised at a dizzy
height over the beehive-looking dwellings and narrow, tortuous streets
of the brown city, which to-day were bathed in sunshine. The Khan's
residence is well chosen. The pestilent stenches of his capital cannot
ascend to this height, only the sweet scent of hay and clover-fields,
and the distant murmur of a large population, while a glorious
panorama of emerald-green plain stretches away to a rocky, picturesque
range of hills on the horizon.

His Highness Mir Khudadad, Khan of Kelát, is about sixty years old. He
would be tall were it not for a decided stoop, which, together with a
toothless lower jaw, gives him the appearance of being considerably
more than his age. His complexion is very dark, even for a Baluch, and
he wears a rusty black beard and moustaches, presumably dyed, from
the streaks of red and white that run through them, and long, coarse
pepper-and-salt locks streaming far below his shoulders. His personal
appearance gave me anything but a favourable impression. The Khan has
a scowling expression, keen, piercing black eyes, and a sharp hooked
nose that reminded one forcibly of Cruikshank's picture of Fagin the
Jew in "Oliver Twist."

The Khan was dressed in a long, loose, white garment, with red silk
embroidery of beautiful workmanship. A thin white Cashmere shawl was
thrown carelessly over his shoulders, and he wore a conical violet
silk cap, trimmed with gold lace, and a pair of pointed green morocco
slippers, turned up at the toes, and ornamented with the same
material. A massive gold necklace, or collar, thickly studded with
diamonds, rubies, and sapphires, hung round his neck. The stones, some
of them of great size, were set indiscriminately without any regard
to pattern or design. Mir Khudadad wore no other jewels, with the
exception of three small torquoise rings, all worn on the little
finger of the left hand. He carried no arms, but held in his right
hand a large and very dirty pocket-handkerchief of a bright yellow
hue with large red spots, which somewhat detracted from his regal
appearance. The Khan is a great snuff-taker, and during the audience
continually refreshed himself from the contents of a small gold box
carried by his son. Prince Azim, who was dressed in a green silk
jacket and loose magenta-coloured trousers, is a pleasant-mannered lad
of about twenty. He is of much lighter complexion than his father and
has a strong Jewish cast of feature. A huge cabochon emerald of great
value, suspended from the neck, was Azim's sole ornament.

[Illustration: PALACE OF THE KHAN. KELÁT.]

A conversation now commenced, carried on through the medium
of the Wazir and my interpreter. The Khan has a fidgety, uneasy
manner that must be intensely exasperating to his court. More
than once during the audience, having asked a question with
much apparent earnestness, he would suddenly break in, in the
middle of a reply, and hum a tune, or start off on a totally different
subject from the one under discussion. At other times he would repeat
a question twice or thrice, and, his eyes fixed on vacancy, utterly
ignore the answers of the Wazir, who evidently stood in great awe of
his eccentric sovereign. Though the following colloquy may appear
brief to the reader, it took nearly an hour to get through.

"Where do you come from, and what are you?" was the Khan's first
question.

"From Russia, your Highness."

"From Russia!" returned the Khan, quickly. "But you are English, are
you not?"

"Certainly I am."

"How strong is Russia's army?" continued the Khan, after an
application to the gold snuff box, and a trumpet-blast on the yellow
bandanna.

"Nominally about three millions."

"And England?"

"About two hundred thousand, not counting the reserves."

"Humph!" grunted the Khan. "Tell me, do the English imagine that Abdur
Raman [B] is their friend?"

"I believe so."

"Then tell them from me," cried the Khan, excitedly, half rising from
his seat, "tell Queen Victoria from me that it is not so. Tell her to
beware of Abdur Raman. He is her enemy."

"Is England afraid of Russia?" continued the Khan after a long pause.

"No; the English fear no one."

"Will England reach Kandahár before Russia takes Herat?"

"I really cannot say," was my answer to this somewhat puzzling
question.

Mir Khudadad then turned away to converse with the Wazir in a low
tone. About ten minutes elapsed, during which a long confabulation
was held, in which many of the suite, including the Afghan soldiers,
joined. Prince Azim meanwhile invited me to inspect his sword and
pistols. The former, a splendid Damascus blade, and hilt encrusted
with jewels, I especially admired. Had I known the use to which it
had been put that morning, I should not, perhaps, have been so
enthusiastic.

Again the Khan addressed me.

"Do you know Russia well?"

"Pretty well."

"Is it true that the Russians do not allow Mohammedans to worship in
Central Asia?"

"I believe that is untrue."

"It is a lie?"

"Most certainly it is."

"Your own countrymen told me so." At this there was a roar of
laughter, in which the Khan joined.

The durbar-room of Kelát reminded me of an English court of justice.
When the Khan laughed his courtiers did, and _vice versâ_. After an
interval of more snuff-taking and whispering, the Khan drew forth and
examined my watch. Taking this for a polite hint that the interview
had lasted long enough, I rose to go, but was at once thrust back into
my chair by Azim. "You are not to go," said the Wazir. "The Khan is
much interested by you."

"Dhuleep Singh is in Russia, is he not?" then asked the Khan.

"Yes."

"What does Russia pay him a year?"

"I do not know."

"More than England did?"

"I do not know."

"You English never do know anything," muttered the Khan, impatiently;
adding, "Do you know the Czar of Russia?"

"I have seen him."

"Is he a good man?"

"I believe him to be so."

"Then why do his people try to kill him?"

"Some of them are Socialists."

"Socialists!" repeated the Khan, slowly. "What is that?"

I then explained with some difficulty the meaning of the word.

"Humph!" was the rejoinder. Then, with a whisk of the yellow bandanna:
"I am glad I have none in Kelát!"

A mark of great favour was then shown me, the Khan presenting me with
his photograph, with the request that I would show it to "Parliament"
when I got home. I think he was under the impression that the latter
is a human being. An incident that occurred but two years since is
typical of the intelligence of the ruler of Kelát and his court. It
was at Quetta, on the occasion of the presentation of Mir Khudadad
to the Viceroy of India. Previous to a grand _déjeűner_ given in his
honour, the Khan and his suite were shown into a dressing-room for the
purpose of washing their hands. On entering to announce that luncheon
was ready, the aide-de-camp found that the distinguished guests had
already commenced operations, and were greedily devouring the cakes
of Pears' soap that had been placed there for a somewhat different
purpose. That none of the party felt any after ill effects speaks well
for the purity of the wares of the mammoth advertiser--or the Baluch
digestion!

The Khan shook my hand cordially at parting, and again begged me not
to forget his warnings anent the Ameer of Afghanistán, with whom he is
apparently not on the best of terms. I found, with some relief, that
my Beďla men had made friends with the Afghans, and, surrounded by an
admiring crowd, were hobnobbing over a hissing samovar. One of the
Afghans handed me a glass of tea, which, not to offend him, I drank
and found delicious. It had come from China _viâ_ Siberia, Samarcand,
and Cábul. "Russki!" said the man with a grin, as I handed back the
cup.

The Khan of Kelát very rarely leaves his palace, and is seldom seen
abroad in the streets of Kelát except on Fridays, when he goes to the
mosque on foot, attended by an escort armed to the teeth. He is said
to live in constant dread of assassination, for his cruel, rapacious
character has made him universally detested in and around the capital.
His one thought in life is money and the increase of his income,
which, with the yearly sum allowed him by the British Government, may
be put down at considerably over Ł30,000 per annum. A thorough miser,
the Khan does not, like most Eastern potentates, pass the hours of
night surrounded by the beauties of the harem, but securely locked in
with his money-bags in a small, comfortless room on the roof of his
palace.

[Illustration: THE KHAN OF KELÁT]

There is not the smallest doubt in my mind that Russian influence
is, indirectly, being brought to bear on the Court of Kelát. But Mir
Khudadad may be said to have no policy. As the French say, "Il change
sa nationalité comme je change de chemise," and is to be bought by the
highest bidder.

Although the Khan's subjects are heavily taxed, there is no protection
whatsoever of life or property in or around Kelát. Theft is, according
to the penal code, punished by fine and imprisonment, murder and
adultery by death; but the law is subject to great modifications. In a
word, the Khan is the law, and so long as a man can afford to pay or
bribe him handsomely, he may commit the most heinous offences with
impunity.

Two instances of the way in which justice is carried out happened just
before I arrived at Kelát. In the one, a young Baluch woman was found
by her husband, a soldier, under circumstances which admitted no doubt
of her infidelity. Upon discovery, which took place at night, the
infuriated husband rushed off to the guard-house for his weapon.
During his absence the woman urged her lover, who was well armed, to
meet and slay him in the darkness. Under pretence of so doing the gay
Lothario left his paramour, but, fearful of consequences, made off to
Quetta.

On his return home the husband used no violence, simply handing his
wife over to the guard to be dealt with according to law. Brought
before the Khan the next day, she was lucky enough to find that
monarch in a good temper. Her beauty probably obtained the free pardon
accorded her, and an order that her husband was also to condone her
offence. The latter said not a word, took her quietly home in the
evening, and cut her throat from ear to ear. The Khan, on hearing
of the murder next day, made no remonstrance, nor was the offender
punished. He was an Afghan.

The second case is even more disgraceful. One of the Khan's own suite,
a well-known libertine and drunkard, contracted an alliance with
a young girl of eighteen. He had endeavoured in vain to marry her
younger sister, almost a child, and so beautiful that she was known
for many miles round the city as the "Pearl of Kelát."

Six weeks after marriage this ruffian, in a fit of drunken frenzy
caused by jealousy, almost decapitated his wife with a tulwar, and
afterwards mutilated her body past recognition. The shrieks of the
poor woman having summoned the neighbours, he was seized, bound, and
led before the Khan, who at once sentenced him to death. The execution
was fixed for sunrise the following day. At midnight, however,
a messenger appeared at the gates of the Mir with a canvas bag
containing two thousand rupees. "Tell him he is free," said the ruler
of Kelát. "And if he sends in another thousand, I will _order_ the
younger sister to marry him." The money was paid, and the poor child
handed over to the tender mercies of the human devil who had so
ruthlessly butchered her sister.

I have mentioned that Azim Khan showed me a sword of beautiful
workmanship. It had, the very morning of my visit to the palace, cut
down and hacked to pieces a waiting-maid, not sixteen years old, in
the Khan's harem. I myself saw the corpse of the poor girl the same
evening, as it was being carried outside the walls for interment. [C]

This, then, is the state of things existing at Kelát, not a hundred
miles from the British outposts; this the enlightened sovereign who
has been made "Companion of the Star of India," an order which, among
his own people, he affects to look upon with the greatest contempt.

The few women I saw at Kelát were distinctly good looking, far more so
than those further south. Most of them have an Italian type of face,
olive complexion, and large dark eyes, with sweeping lashes. But very
few wore the hideous nose-rings so common at Beďla and Sonmiani.
Morality is at a discount in the capital, and prostitution common.


The Wazir sent me a bag of dates the morning of my departure, with
a short note, written in English, begging that I would send him in
return the best gold watch and rifle "that could be bought for gold"
in London. The note ended jocosely, "Exchange is no robbery!" The old
man seemed well _au fait_ with Central Asian affairs. On my mentioning
the day before that I had intended entering India _viâ_ Cábul, he at
once said, "Ah! I supposed Alikhanoff stopped you. He is very shy of
strangers."

We left Kelát at 6 a.m. on the 12th of April. The camels and heavy
baggage had been sent on four or five hours previously to Mangachar,
the first station. Our caravan now consisted of only eight camels,
which we found reduced to seven on arrival. Just before daylight a
couple of panthers had appeared close to the caravan and caused a
regular stampede, the beasts flying right and left. On order being
restored, two were found to be missing, one laden with the only small
remaining tent and some native luggage, the other with a couple of
cases of whisky (nearly empty) and my camp-stool. The former was
traced and brought in after a search of over two hours, but the latter
is still, for aught I know, careering over the boundless desert, an
unconscious advertiser of "Jameson and Co." I afterwards heard that
this plain is noted for panther and wolf, also an animal called the
"peshkori," somewhat larger than a cat, with a reddish-coloured hide.
It moves about the country in packs, carrying off deer and sheep. Its
method of descending precipices and steep hillsides is curious, each
animal fixing its teeth in the tail of another, thus forming a kind of
chain.

The plain of Mangachar is situated nearly 6000 feet above sea-level,
and is well cultivated with wheat, lucerne, and tobacco. The
village itself is neatly laid out, and contains about three hundred
inhabitants. The different aspects of the country north and south of
Kelát are striking. We had now done with deserts for good, for at
night lights were seen twinkling all over the plain, while in the
daytime large tracts of well-cultivated land continually met the eye.

Between Mangachar and Mastung a hot wind arose, which made the eyes
smart, and dried up the skin like a blast from a furnace. One's hair
felt as it does in the hottest room of a Turkish bath, with the
unpleasant addition of being filled with fine gritty sand. "I hope
this may not end in a juloh," said Kamoo, anxiously. This, my
interpreter proceeded to explain, is a hot poisonous wind peculiar to
these districts, and perhaps the greatest danger run by travellers in
Baluchistán. The warm breeze, as Kamoo called it, that we experienced
was, though almost unbearable, not dangerous, while the dreaded juloh
has slain its hundreds of victims. Cook, the traveller, who has given
this subject much attention, has come to the conclusion that it is
caused by the generation in the atmosphere of a highly concentrated
form of ozone, by some intensely marked electrical condition. As
evidence of its effect in destroying every green thing on its course,
and in being frequently fatal to human life, he cites the following
well-authenticated cases, which, not having encountered the
death-dealing blast myself, I place before the reader:--

(1) In the year 1851, during one of the hot months, certain officers
of the Sind Horse were sleeping at night on the roof of General
Jacob's house at Jacobabad. They were awakened by a sensation of
suffocation and an exceedingly hot and oppressive feeling in the air,
while at the same time a very powerful smell of sulphur was noticed.
On the following morning a number of trees in the garden were found to
be withered in a very remarkable manner. It looked as if a current of
fire, about two yards in breadth, had passed through the garden in a
perfectly straight line, singeing and destroying every green thing in
its course. Entering on one side, and passing out at the other, its
tract was as clearly defined as the course of a river.

(2) At the close of 1856 a party of five men were crossing the desert
of Shikarpur, being on their way from Kandahár to that city, when
the blast crossed their path, killing three of them instantly and
seriously disabling the other two.

(3) A "moonshi" with two companions was travelling about seven miles
south-east of Bagh, in Kachi (not far distant from Mangachar). About
two o'clock the blast struck them. They were sensible of a scorching
sensation in the air, accompanied by a peculiar sulphurous smell, but
remembered nothing further, as all three were immediately struck to
the ground. They were afterwards found and carried to Bagh, where,
every attention being afforded them, they ultimately, after many days
of sickness, recovered.

As regards the strength of the juloh, Pottinger writes that, so
searching is its nature, it has been known to kill camels and other
hardy animals, and its effects on the human frame are said by
eye-witnesses to be the most agonizing and repulsive imaginable.
Shortly after contact with the wind the muscles of the sufferer become
rigid and contracted, the skin shrivels, a terrible sensation as if
the skin were on fire pervades the whole frame, while, in the last
stage, the skin cracks into deep gashes, producing haemorrhage,
quickly followed by death. It is curious to note that the juloh is
peculiar to the northern districts of Sarawán and Kach-Gandáva,
and does not exist in the southern provinces of Baluchistán.

The road from Mangachar to Mastung is good, though slightly
undulating, and intersected by deep "nullahs." The estimated area of
the Mastung district is two hundred and eighty miles. It is aptly
named "The Garden of Baluchistán," for considerably more than
two-thirds of its area are under cultivation. Water at Mastung is
never-failing, and the pretty town, nestling in a valley of vineyards
and fruit-gardens, fig and olive trees, reminded one more of some
secluded town in the Pyrenees or south of France than a Baluch
settlement. The soil hereabouts is light and sandy and particularly
favourable to the cultivation of grapes, of which there are no less
than five kinds. Apricots, peaches, plums, and pomegranates are also
grown, and supply the markets of Quetta and Kelát. Madder and tobacco
are also exported in large quantities from Mastung, which possesses a
neatly built and busy bazaar.

The plain of Dasht-bi-Dowlat, or "The Unpropitious Plain," lies
between Mastung and Quetta. The name, however, only applies after the
harvest has been gathered, for next to Mastung this is one of the most
fertile spots in Baluchistán. Dasht-bi-Dowlat is mainly cultivated
by wandering tribes. The inhabitants of Mastung were enthusiastic in
their description of the plain in summer. Then, they told us, the
surface is covered with verdure and flowers of all kinds, especially
the "lala," or tulip, which they averred cover it for miles with a
carpet of crimson and gold, and load the air with sweet intoxicating
perfume. The cultivation of this plain is mostly dependent on rain and
heavy dews.

To the west of Dasht-bi-Dowlat is Chehel-Tan, a steep, rocky mountain,
13,000 feet high, in the ravines and valleys of which snow still lay
deeply. Only two Europeans, Masson the traveller, and Sir Henry Green,
have ever succeeded in reaching the summit, on which is a "Zariat," or
shrine. The ascent is difficult and dangerous, as, the mountain
being said to be haunted, no native guides are procurable. The word
"Chehel-Tan" signifies in Baluch "Forty Bodies," and is derived from
the following legend.

A frugal pair, many years married, were unblest with offspring. They
therefore sought the advice of a holy man, who rebuked the wife,
saying that he had not the power to grant her what Heaven had denied.
The priest's son, however (also a moullah), felt convinced he could
satisfy her wishes, and cast forty pebbles into her lap, at the same
time praying that she might bear children. In process of time she was
delivered of forty babes--rather more than she wished or knew how
to provide for. The poor husband, at his wits' end, ascended to the
summit of Chehel-Tan with thirty-nine, and left them there, trusting
to the mercy of the Deity to provide for them, while the fortieth babe
was brought up under the paternal roof.

One day, however, touched by remorse, the wife, unknown to her
husband, explored the mountain with the object of collecting the bones
of her children and burying them. To her surprise, they were all
living and gambolling among the trees and rocks. Wild with joy, she
ran back to her dwelling, brought out the fortieth babe, and, placing
it on the summit of the mountain, left it there for a night to allure
back its brothers, but, on returning in the morning, she found that
the latter had carried it off, and it was never seen again. It is
by the spirits of these forty babes that Chehel-Tan is said to be
haunted.

At 8 a.m. on the 14th of April we sighted, afar off, an oasis on
the dead green plain, of long barrack-like buildings, garden-girt
bungalows, and white tents. We had reached our journey's end. The
church-bells were ringing as I rode into Quetta, for it was Sunday,
and, unfortunately, a bright, fine morning. Had it been otherwise,
I might have been spared the ordeal of riding, on a very dirty and
attenuated camel, past a crowd of well-dressed women and frock-coated
men on their way to church. As we passed a neat victoria, glistening
with varnish, and drawn by a pair of good-looking, high-stepping
ponies, containing a general in full uniform and a pretty, smartly
dressed lady, I cast a glance behind me. Gerôme, who brought up the
rear of the caravan, had (for coolness) divested himself of boots and
socks, and, sublimely unconscious, was refreshing himself from the
contents of a large wicker flask. One cannot, unfortunately, urge on
a camel or quicken his pace at these awkward moments, and I passed
a very uncomfortable quarter of an hour before reaching the Dák
bungalow. But a glance at a looking-glass reassured me. No one would
ever have taken the brick-coloured, ragged-looking ruffians we had
become for Europeans.

I accepted a kind and courteous invitation from Mr. L----, of the
Indo-European Telegraph, with pleasure, for the Dák bungalow was dirty
and comfortless. Although my host and charming hostess would have made
any place agreeable, Quetta is, from everything but a strategical
point of view, dull and uninteresting. It is an English garrison town,
and all is said. The usual nucleus of scandal, surrounded by dances,
theatricals, polo, flirtation, drink, and--divorce. Are they not all
alike from Gibraltar to Hong Kong?

Under the guidance of my host, however, a pleasant trip was made to
the Khojak tunnel. When one considers the comparatively short time
it has been in hand, it is almost incredible that, with so many
difficulties (water, hard rock, etc.), this work should have
progressed as it has. The tunnel, which runs due east and west, is,
or will be, two miles and a half in length and three hundred and
sixty-five feet in depth at the deepest part from the earth's surface.
From the eastern end only sixty-five miles over a firm and level plain
separates it from Kandahár. Even when I was there, [D] a light line
could have been laid to that city in six weeks without difficulty. The
plant, rails, and sleepers were on the spot, having been carried over
the hill, and a railway-carriage could then run from Calcutta to the
eastern extremity of the tunnel without break of gauge. The tunnel,
when completed, will be thirty-four feet broad, and twenty-five feet
in height.

A curious incident happened at one of the railway-stations between
Quetta and Karachi. At the buffet of the one in question, I found
Gerôme conversing volubly in Russian with a total stranger, a native.
On inquiry I found he was a very old friend, a Russian subject and
native of Samarcand. "He has just come through from Cábul," said my
companion. "He often does this journey"--ostensibly for purposes of
trade.

The 20th of April saw us in Bombay. An Italian steamer, the _Venezia_,
was leaving for the Black Sea direct, and in her I secured a passage
for Gerôme, who was not impressed with our Eastern possessions. The
crowd of curious natives who persistently followed him everywhere
may have had something to do with it, for a fur-clad Esquimaux
in Piccadilly would not have created a greater sensation than my
companion in high boots, black velvet breeches, and red caftan in
the busy streets of the great Indian city. Only a Russian could have
existed in that blazing sun with no other protection to the head than
the astrachan bonnet, which he obstinately refused to discard. I saw
him safely on board, and something very like a tear came into my
trusty little friend's eyes, as we shook hands and parted, to meet,
perhaps, never again. For a better companion no man could wish.
Plucky, honest as the day, and tender-hearted as a woman was Gerôme
Realini; and it was with a feeling of loneliness and sincere regret
that I watched the grey smoke of the _Venezia_ sink below the blue
waters, which were soon to bear me, also, back to England and European
civilization.

Has the journey been worth it? Has the result repaid one for the cold,
dirt, and privation of Persia, the torrid heat and long desert marches
through Baluchistán? Perhaps not. There are some pleasant hours,
however, to look back upon. Kashán, a vision of golden domes and dim,
picturesque caravanserais; Ispahán, with its stately Madrassa and blue
Zandarood, winding lazily through miles on miles of white and scarlet
poppyland; Shiráz, a dream of fair women, poetry, and roses, in its
setting of emerald plain, sweet-scented gardens, and cypress trees.
These, at any rate, are bright oases in that somewhat dreary ride from
Teherán to the sea. And then--nearing India--the quiet midday siesta
after the hot dusty march; the _al fresco_ repast by the light of a
glorious sunset, and the welcome rest and fragrant pipe in the cool
night air of the silent, starlit desert.


[Footnote A: Parts of this palace are of great antiquity, as it
owes its foundation to the Hindu kings who preceded the Mohammedan
dynasty.]

[Footnote B: The Ameer of Afghanistán.]

[Footnote C: I am not at liberty to give the name of my authority for
these facts. The reader may rely on their authenticity.]

[Footnote D: April, 1889. The boring of the tunnel is now
accomplished.]




APPENDIX A.


LIST OF STATIONS AND DISTANCES FROM RÉSHT TO
BUSHIRE, PERSIA.



English
Miles.

Résht ---
Koudoum----------- 20
Rustemabad------- 20
Menjil--------------- 12
Patchinar----------- 8
Kharzán------------- 16
Kazvin--------------- 24
Kavarek------------- 16
Kishlak------------- 16
Yengi-Imŕm------- 16
Hessarek---------- 16
Shahabad---------- 16
_Teherán_---------- 16
Rabat Kerim------- 28
Pitché----------- 24
Kushku Baďra------ 16
Mahometabad------ 28
_Koom_--------------- 16
Pasingán------------- 16
Sin-sin--------------- 28
_Kashán_------------ 24
Khurood------------ 28
Bideshk-------------- 24
Murchakhar-------- 24
_Géz_----------------- 24
_Ispahán_------------ 12
Djulfa----------------- 3

Carried forward------------------ 491
Brought forward----------------- 491

Marg------------------ 12
Mayar----------------- 24
Koomisháh---------- 20
Magsogh-Beg------- 16
Yezdi-Ghazt--------- 24
Shoulgistán--------- 24
Abadéh--------------- 20
Sourmah------------- 16
Khina-Khoreh------ 28
Deybid--------------- 20
Mourghab------------ 28
Kawamabad---------- 24
Sivánd-------------- 8
Poozeh-------------- 16
Zergoon------------ 20
Shiráz-------------- 20
Chinar-Ráda----- 8
Khaneh Zinián--- 24
Dashti Arjin------- 12
Meyun Kotal------ 12
Kazeroon---------- 20
Kamarij------------ 24
Konar Takta------ 12
Dalaki-------------- 12
Borazjun------- 16
Sheif-------------- 28
-----------
979

From Sheif to Bushire by sea 7

Total English miles 986




APPENDIX B.

ROUTE--SONMIANI TO QUETTA.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Halting-place. English Remarks.
Miles.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sonmiani.... | | Small sea-port town.
Water abundant,
but brackish.
Fodder and
supplies
procurable.

Shekh-Raj.... | 18 | Road fairly good.
Water sweet and
plentiful.

Outhal...... | 14 | Road stony and undulating;
crossed dry bed
of river Purali.
Well of brackish
water.

Shekron-ka-Got | 22 | Road sandy. Passed several
salt marshes.
No water.

Beďla....... | 24 | Road good through rich
alluvial land
irrigated by
river Purali.
Road near to
Beďla intersected
by deep nullahs
distressing to
camels. Water
plentiful; supplies
procurable.

Lakh........ | 18 | Road good and level
till Pass of Lakh,
which is steep
and extremely
difficult. Water
usually procurable,
though very
brackish.
Forage for horse
and camel a
mile distant.

Natchi...... | 19 | Road stony and
difficult, through
country irrigated
(in wet season)
by river Lakh. A
small grazing
ground midway,
frequented by
nomads. Water
uncertain. Forage
(for camel only)
plentiful.

Lar-Anderi ... | 20 | Road along dry river
bed about three
hundred yards wide
(name unknown), for
about five miles. Then
over Plain of Arrah,
sparsely cultivated.
At end of stage
crossed river
Lar-Anderi, a
broad but shallow
stream about sixty
yards wide, seldom
dry. Good water
from river, but
brackish from
wells, of which
there are three.
Forage for horse
and camel.

Jhow........ | 14 | Crossed Jhow and
Seridab rivers,
both dry. No
cultivation to
be seen. Water
plentiful and
sweet. Forage
for horse and
camel.

Noundra..... | 20 | U { No road. Travelling
{ fairly easy.
n { Water brackish.

Kanéro...... |about| e {Road rough and
| 20 | { in parts with scrub.
x { stony, overgrown
{ A very narrow track
p { extends from
{ Noundra to Kanéro,
l { which we followed.
{ No water or forage.

Dhaďra...... |about| o { No road, but struck
| 20 | { several narrow
r { paths leading in
{ all directions.
e { Water plentiful and
{ good. Forage for
d { horse and camel.

Gwarjak..... |about| {Road level and
| 20 | { good. Water
{ abundant, also
{ forage for horse
{ and camel, but
{ natives unfriendly.

Gajjar...... | 13 | Road good, through
cultivated country.
Water good and
plentiful. Forage
for horse and camel
procurable, also
supplies.

Jebri....... | 20 | Road good, though
deep and marshy
in places. Water
good and
plentiful,
also horse and
camel forage.

Greshak..... | 26 | Road leads over
the Barida Pass.
Gradual and
easy ascent
and descent.
Water good
and plentiful.
Forage for
camel only.

Loch........ | 18 | Road very narrow
and much
overgrown (lost
in places) with
scrub. Water
scarce. Forage
scarce for camel,
none for horse.

Gidar........ | 32 | Good and level road.
Water procurable
from river only.
Forage for camel
only.

Sohrab | 26 | Road difficult.
Passed several
steep, but not
lofty, ranges of
hills. Water
plentiful, but
brackish. No
forage for horse
or camel.

Rodingo | 36 | Road level and
easy. Much
camelthorn,
wild thyme,
and (English)
furze on either
side of track.
Water good, but
scarce. No forage
for horse or camel.

Kelát.... | 14 | Road well defined,
and level. Water
good and abundant.
Forage for horse
and camel. Supplies
of all kinds
procurable.

Mangachar | 26 | Road well defined
and level. Leads
through a fertile
country. Water
good. Forage for
horse and camel,
and supplies
procurable.

Mastung | 32 | Road level and good,
but intersected
by deep nullahs,
rendering it
difficult for heavily
laden camels.
Water good and
plentiful. Forage
for horse and camel,
and supplies
procurable.

Quetta..... | 32 | Road excellent, and
in parts macadamized.
A garrison town,
and railway to all
parts of India.
Total English
miles | 504 |




APPENDIX C.

TABLE OF LANGUAGES OF NORTH AND SOUTH BALUCHISTÁN.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Makrán (South). Kalati (North).
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ant Mor Khar
Ashes P[=u]r Hiss
Barley O S[=a]r
Boy Bachak M[=a]r
Cold Sara Yakt
Copper Rod Miss
Day Roch D[=e]h
Dog Kuchak Kuchik
Earth Duniah Daghar
Fire Ach Kh[=a]ka
Flower P[=u]l P[=u]l
Gold Tila Kisun
Heavy Giran Kolui
To eat Warága Kuning
To kill Kushŕja Kasfing
To bring Arŕga Atning
To see Guidŕga Khanning




APPENDIX D

TEMPERATURE (FAHRENHEIT) BETWEEN
SONMIANI AND QUETTA, BALUCHISTÁN.

----------------------------------------------------------------------
Remarks Mid day
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Shade | Sun
----------------------------------------------------------------------
March

16 Sonmiani. Fine, north
west breeze 79° 83°

17 Sonmiani. Fine, no
breeze 73° 88°
18 Sonmiani. Fine, no
breeze 72° 105°
19 Sonmiani. Fine,
strong
north-east
breeze 80° 98°
20 Shekh-Raj. Fine, light
north-east
breeze 91° 118°
21 Outhal. Fine, light
north-west
breeze 92° 114°
22 Shekron-ka-Got
Fine,
south west
breeze 93° 109°
23 Beďla Rain and
thunder,
light south
breeze 88° 92°
24 Beďla Rain, no wind 83° 87°
25 Lakh Fine,
west wind 84° 103°
26 Natchi Fine, light
south-east
breeze 91° 115°
27 Lar-Anden Dull, no
breeze 93° 108°
28 Jhow. Fine, hot wind
(north east) 94° 110°
29 Noundra Fine, hot
south-west
wind 96° 123°
30 Kanéro Fine, south
west breeze 90° 120°
31 Dhaďra Fine, light
north
breeze 95° 123°
April

1 Gwarjak. Fine, light
south-east
breeze 91° 111°
2 Gajjar. Fine, south
wind 93° 110°
3 Jebri. Fine, strong
north west
wind 91° 110°
4 Greshak Fine, strong
north-west
wind 85° 88°
5 Loch. Fine, strong
north wind 76° 89°
6 Gidar. Fine, light
south-east
breeze 81° 86°
April

7 Sohrab. Fine; light
west breeze. 77° 86°
8 Dám. Rain;
south-west
wind 77° 78°
9 Kelát. Rain and
dust storm 73° 75°
10 Kelát. Fine; west
wind 59° 87°
11 Kelát. Fine; no
breeze. 58° 74°
12 Mangachar. Fine; no
breeze 80° 95°
13 Mastung. Fine;
hot wind. 89° 116°
14 Quetta. Dull;
no breeze 64° 80°
15 Quetta. Fine;
no breeze 61° 83°
16 Quetta. Fine;
south-west
breeze 63° 68°
17 Quetta. Fine; no
breeze 65° 67°
18 Sukkur, Sind. A hot wind
blowing 99° 117°
--------------------------------------------------------------------




APPENDIX E.

GENEALOGY OF THE KHANS OF KELÁT.


Kambar Khan.
|
Sambar.
|
Mahammad Khan.
|
Abdulla Khan.
|
------------------------------------------------
| | |
Mobat Khan, Eltarz Khan, Nazir Khan, originally
reigned some slain a hostage at Kandahár;
time at Kelát; accidentally superseded his brother,
superseded by by his brother, Mobat Khan, and
his brother, Nazir Khan. reigned forty years.
Nazir Khan, |
and died a |
hostage at |
Kandahár. |
| |
| ------------------------------------
| | | |
Haji Khan, Mahmud Mohamed Mustapha Khan,
died a Khan, Rehim Khan, slain by his
hostage at reigned slain by sister brother, Mohamed
Kandahár. at Kelát. of Mustapha Rehim Khan
| Khan. |
Baram Khan, |
died at Kelát | |
| |-------------------
Ahmad Yar | | |
Khan, Mehrab Khan, Azem Khan.
slain by slain by the |
Mehrab British troops. Sarafrez Khan,
Khan. slain by
| Mehrab Khan.
------------------------------------
| |
Hassan Khan Khudadad Khan,
(poisoned). present Ruler.


[Illustration]