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A Ride to India across Persia and Baluchistan by Harry De Windt

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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. Gerome 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 Teheran. 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 Gerome 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
Gerome 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!"

Ispahan is about seventy farsakhs distant from Teheran. 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 Ispahan, 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 Pitche, the midday station, no horses were to be had; so,
notwithstanding that deep snow-drifts lay between us and Kushku Baira,
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 Baira 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 Gerome. "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 Ispahan. 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 Shiraz, 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 Meshed 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, Imam 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, Teheran--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 Pasingan, 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
Ispahan 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 Pasingan 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 Gerome'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 Pasingan. 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 Pasingan. 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 Kashan, I might have marvelled even more at this sudden
and welcome change of climate.

The guest-chamber at Pasingan 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 keran
at Sin-Sin, however, soon consoled our guide. He probably never
returned to Pasingan at all, but sought his fortunes elsewhere.
Persian post-boys are not particular.

Kashan is distant about fifty-two English miles from Pasingan, 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.

Kashan was reached on the 7th of February. At Nasirabad, 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 kerans among
them, in return for which they brought us large water-melons (for
which Nasirabad is celebrated), deliciously flavoured, and as cold as
ice.

Kashan, 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.

Kashan 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 Kashan, 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 Kashan is closely allied to that of Ispahan. 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 Gerome'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 Kharzan, anyhow," said Gerome, cheerfully, as
we rode out of Kashan 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 Ispahan; but, once past
the Khurood Pass (which lies about seven farsakhs from Kashan), 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 Kashan 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 Kashan. 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 Kashan, 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 Kashan--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
Ispahan. Notwithstanding Gerome'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 Gerome 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. Gerome 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 Ispahan, and cost,
the Persian told us, about sixpence a quart bottle, and was, in my
opinion, dear at that. Shiraz 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 Gerome.

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. Gerome 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 Gerome'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 Ispahan.

It was dusk, and we had just secured the only horses available, when
two Armenians, bound for Teheran, 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 Gerome, 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 Teheran and Ispahan. 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
Ispahan), 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 Shiraz) consisted simply of a glass of
cold water with a lump of sugar in it--_eau sucre_, 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 Ispahan nearly ten days. Yesterday the prince's party had been
exceptionally lucky, and had had splendid sport. We passed, on the
road to Gez, 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 Teheran. His Imperial Majesty is
very tetchy on this point.

We galloped nearly the whole of the short stage from Gez to Ispahan.
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
bebes--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 Ispahan, 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 Koran. 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: Kashan 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.

ISPAHAN--SHIRAZ.

The seven telegraph-stations, in charge of Europeans, between Teheran
and Bushire, may be called the oases of Persia to the weary traveller
from Resht 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
Teheran.

Ispahan 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
Ispahan 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 Ispahan are narrow, dirty, and ill-paved, and its bazaar,
which adjoins the Maidan Shah, very inferior in every way to those of
Teheran or Shiraz.

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 _facade_ 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 Ispahan 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. Ispahan 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, "Shiraz for wine, Yezd for women, but
Ispahan for melons."

Since it has ceased to be the capital of Persia, the trade of Ispahan
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 Ispahan 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
Ispahan 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 Ispahan, 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 Ispahan 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 Ispahanis. 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 Ispahan 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 Teheran, and other Persian
cities, are generally civil to strangers; but at Ispahan 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 Ispahan is under the jurisdiction of the Zil-i-Sultan,
were never meant to be.

The Zil-i-Sultan returned to Ispahan 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 Ispahan 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
Ispahan 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 Ispahan 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 Shiraz, 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 Ispahan, 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 Gerome, 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 Gerome, 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 Resht 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 Dore; 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 Gerome (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 Abadeh, 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 Abadeh, 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 Teheran 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 Ispahan) told me you were
coming through quick."

The dining-room of my host at Abadeh 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 Shiraz," 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 Shiraz." 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 Abadeh 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 Gerome 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. Gerome, 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 Gerome, 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 Ispahan. 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
Teheran; but moving under the present circumstances is out of the
question.

The long summer day wears slowly away. Gerome, 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. Gerome 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 Gerome, "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
Shiraz, 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 archaeology, 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 Shiraz.
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. Shiraz is the pleasantest reminiscence I retain of the ride
through Persia.

[Footnote A: Small copper money.]

CHAPTER VIII.

SHIRAZ--BUSHIRE.

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

Shiraz 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 Shiraz 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--Shiraz 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, Shiraz 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
Shirazis. 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 Ispahan 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. Shiraz
has fifteen large mosques and several smaller ones, but the people are
as fanatical as those of Teheran are the reverse. Gerome, 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 Koran 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 Shirazis have an
unmitigated contempt for Europeans. There are few places, too, in Asia
where Jews are more persecuted than in Shiraz, 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 Shiraz 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 Shiraz 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 Shirazis 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 Shiraz, 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 Shiraz 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 Shiraz,
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 L4, while the best fetch as much as L60 to L80.

Those were pleasant days at Shiraz. 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 Shiraz was not in the dress of
the Russian cossack or German uhlan, as at Teheran, 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, L3
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 Shiraz, 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. Shiraz 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 Teheran 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 Shiraz. Some, the coarser kind, from Kazeroon and Zulfaicar,
is exported to Turkey and Egypt, but the most delicate Shiraz
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 Shiraz. 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 Shirazis 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 Shiraz, 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 Yezd, 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 Kermanshah
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
Shiraz. It is called "The Garden of the Seven Sleepers," and is much
frequented in summer by Shirazis 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
Shirazi 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 Shiraz 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. Shiraz 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 Shiraz, 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 Shiraz and Ispahan. 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
Ispahan: "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 Shiraz
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 _cortege_ 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 Shiraz.
They make a jest of it, and their husbands jokingly threaten them with
it. Times are changed indeed in Persia!

I left Shiraz 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 L6 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 Shiraz and
Khaneh Zinian, 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 kerans. 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 versa_. 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 Gerome, 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 Gerome's disgust), I managed to secure it for L9 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. Gerome sharing my opinion that the report
was got up for the sake of extorting a few kerans, 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 kerans. 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 Shiraz, 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 Shiraz.

"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 Shiraz _apropos_ of
escorts. It happened not long ago to an Englishman who was going to
Bagdad from Kermanshah through a nasty bit of country. A good many
robberies with violence had occurred, and the Governor of Kermanshah
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 Kermanshah, 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, Gerome 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, Gerome 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 Shiraz 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 Gerome 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 Gerome, 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
Teheran, 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 Teheran and Shiraz is here superseded by
the Anglo-Indian. _Dejeuner a 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 L30,000 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 Baluchistan 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
Baluchistan. 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.

BALUCHISTAN--BEILA.

The coast-line of Baluchistan is six hundred miles long. On it there
is one tree, a sickly, stunted-looking thing, near the telegraph
station of Gwadar, 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 Baluchistan 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 Gerome,
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

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