They are accompanied by two dogs, tawny-coated monsters, larger than the largest mastiffs, who now proceed to make things lively and interesting around myself and the bicycle. Keeping the revolver in my hand, and threatening to shoot their dogs if they don't call them away, I continue my progress toward where the stony ground terminates in favor of smooth camel-paths, about' a hundred yards farther on. At this juncture I notice several other "gentle shepherds " coming racing down from the adjacent knolls; but whether to assist their comrades in catching and robbing me, or to prevent a conflict between us, will always remain an uncertainty. I am afraid, however, that with the advantage on their side, the Koordish herdsmen rarely trouble themselves about any such uncongenial task as peace-making. Reaching the smooth ground before any of the new-comers overtake me, I mount and speed away, followed by wild yells from a dozen Koordish throats, and chased by a dozen of their dogs. Upon sober second thought, when well away from the vicinity, I conclude this to have been a rather ticklish incident; had they attacked me in the absence of anything else to defend myself with, I should have been compelled to shoot them; the nearest Persian village is about ten miles distant; the absence of anything like continuously ridable road would have made it impossible to out-distance their horsemen, and a Persian village would have afforded small security against a party of enraged Koords, after all.
The first village I arrive at to-day, I again attempt the "skedaddling" dodge on them that proved so successful on one occasion yesterday; but I am foiled by a rocky "jump-off" in the road to-day. The road is not so favorable for spurting as yesterday, and the racing ryots grab me amid much boisterous merriment ere I overcome the obstruction; they take particular care not to give me another chance until the arrival of the Khan. The country hereabouts consists of gravelly, undulating plateaus between the mountains, and well-worn camel-paths afford some excellent wheeling. Near mid-day, while laboriously ascending a long but not altogether unridable ascent, I meet a couple of mounted soldiers; they obstruct my road, and proceed to deliver themselves of voluble Tabreez Turkish, by which I understand that they are the advance guard of a party in which there is a Ferenghi (the Persian term for an Occidental). While talking with them I am somewhat taken by surprise at seeing a lady on horseback and two children in a kajaveh (mule panier) appear over the slope, accompanied by about a dozen Persians.
If I am surprised, the lady herself not unnaturally evinces even greater astonishment at the apparition of a lone wheelman here on the caravan roads of Persia; of course we are mutually delighted. With the assistance of her servant, the lady alights from the saddle and introduces herself as Mrs. E--, the wife of one of the Persian missionaries; her husband has lately returned home, and she is on the way to join him. The Persians accompanying her comprise her own servants, some soldiers procured of the Governor of Tabreez by the English consul to escort her as far as the Turkish frontier, and a couple of unattached travellers keeping with the party for company and society. A mule driver has charge of pack-mules carrying boxes containing, among other things, her husband's library. During the course of ten minutes' conversation the lady informs me that she is compelled to travel in this manner the whole distance to Trebizond, owing to the practical impossibility of passing through Bussian territory with the library. Were it not for this a comparatively short and easy journey would take them to Tiflis, from which point there would be steam communication with Europe. Ere the poor lady gets to Trebizond she will be likely to reflect that a government so civilized as the Czar's might relax its gloomy laws sufficiently to allow the affixing of official seals to a box of books, and permit its transportation through the country, on condition-if they will-that it should not be opened in transit; surely there would be no danger of the people's minds being enlightened -not even a little bit-by coming in contact with a library tightly boxed and sealed. At the frontier an escort of Turkish zaptiehs will take the place of the Persian soldiers, and at Erzeroum the missionaries will, of course, render her every assistance to Trebizond; but it is not without feelings of anxiety for the health of a lady travelling in this rough manner unaccompanied by her natural protector, that I reflect on the discomforts she must necessarily put up with between here and Erzeroum. She seems in good spirits, however, and says that meeting me here in this extraordinary manner is the "most romantic" incident in her whole experiences of missionary life in Persia. Like many another, she says, she can I scarcely conceive it possible that I am travelling without attendants and without being able to speak the languages. One of the unattached travellers gives me a note of introduction to Mohammed. Ali Khan, the Governor of Peri, a suburban village of Khoi, which I expect to reach some time this afternoon.
PERSIA AND THE TABREEZ CARAVAN TRAIL.
A short trundle to the summit of a sloping pass, and then a winding descent of several miles brings me to a position commanding a view of an extensive valley that looks from this distance as lovely as a dreamy vision of Paradise. An hour later and I am bowling along beneath overhanging peach and mulberry trees, following a volunteer horseman to Mohammed Ali Khan's garden. Before reaching the garden a gang of bare-legged laborers engaged in patching up a mud wall favor me with a fusillade of stones, one of which caresses me on the ankle, and makes me limp like a Greenwich pensioner when I dismount a minute or two afterward. This is their peculiar way of complimenting a lone Ferenghi. Mohammed Ali Khan is found to be rather a moon-faced individual under thirty, who, together with his subordinate officials, are occupying tents in a large garden. Here, during the summer, they dispense justice to applicants for the same within their jurisdiction, and transact such other official business as is brought before them. In Persi, the distribution of justice consists chiefly in the officials ruthlessly looting the applicants of everything lootable, and the weightiest task of the officials is intriguing together against the pocket of the luckless wight who ventures upon seeking equity at their hands.
A sorrowful-visaged husbandman is evidently experiencing the easy simplicity of Persian civil justice as I enter the garden; he wears the mournful expression of a man conscious of being irretrievably doomed, while the festive Kahn and his equally festive moonshi bashi (chief secretary) are laying their wicked heads together and whispering mysteriously, fifty paces away from everybody, ever and anon looking suspiciously around as though fearful of the presence of eavesdroppers. After duly binning, a young man called Abdullah, who seems to be at the beck and call of everybody, brings forth the samovar, and we drink the customary tea of good fellowship, after which they examine such of my modest effects as take their fancy.
The moonshi bashi, as becomes a man of education, is quite infatuated with my pocket map of Persia; the fact that Persia occupies so great a space on the map in comparison with the small portions of adjoining countries visible around the edges makes a powerful appeal to his national vanity, and he regards me with increased affection every time I trace out for him the comprehensive boundary line of his native Iran. After nightfall we repair to the principal tent, and Mohammed Ali Khan and his secretary consume the evening hours in the joyous occupation of alternately smoking the kalian (Persian water-pipe, not unlike the Turkish nargileh, except that it has a straight stem instead of a coiled tube), and swallowing glasses of raw arrack every few minutes; they furthermore amuse themselves by trying to induce me to follow their noble example, and in poking fun at another young man because his conscientious scruples regarding the Mohammedan injunction against intoxicants forbids him indulging with them. About eight o'clock the Khan becomes a trifle sentimental and very patriotic. Producing a pair of silver-mounted horse-pistols from a corner of the tent, and waving them theatrically about, he proclaims aloud his mighty devotion to the Shah. At nine o'clock Abdullah brings in the supper. The Khan's vertebra has become too limp and willowy to enable him to sit upright, and he has become too indifferent to such coarse, un-spiritual things as stewed chicken and musk-melons to care about eating any, while the moonshi bashi's affection for me on account of the map has become so overwhelming that he deliberately empties all the chicken on to my sheet of bread, leaving none whatever for himself and the phenomenal young person with the conscientious scruples.
When bedtime arrives it requires the united exertions of Abdullah and the phenomenal young man to partially undress Mohammed Ali Khan and drag him to his couch on the floor, the Kahn being limp as a dish-rag and a moderately bulky person. The moonshi bashi, as becomes an individual of lesser rank and superior mental attainments, is not quite so helpless as his official superior, but on retiring he humorously reposes his feet on the pillow and his head on nothing but the bare floor of the tent, and stubbornly refuses to permit Abdullah to alter either his pillow or his position. The phenomenal young man and myself likewise seek our respective pile of quilts, Abdullah removes the lamp, draws a curtain over the entrance of the tent, and retires.
The Persians, as representing the Shiite division of the Mohammedan religion, consider themselves by long odds the holiest people on the earth, far holier than the Turks, whom they religiously despise as Sunnites and unworthy to loose the latchets of their shoes. The Koran strictly enjoins upon them great moderation in the use of intoxicating drinks, yet certain of the Persian nobility are given to drinking this raw intoxicant by the quart daily. When asked why they don't use it in moderation, they reply, "What is the good of drinking arrack unless one drinks enough to become drunk and happy. "Following this brilliant idea, many of them get " drank and happy " regularly every evening. They likewise frequently consume as much as a pint before each meal to create a false appetite and make themselves feel boozy while eating.
In the morning the moonshi bashi, with a soldier for escort, accompanies me on horseback to Khoi, which is but about seven miles distant over a perfectly level road. Sad to say, the moonshi bashi, besides his yearning affection for fiery, untamed arrack, is a confirmed opium smoker, and after last night's debauch for supper and "hitting the pipe " this morning for breakfast, he doesn't feel very dashing in the saddle; consequently I have to accommodate myself to his pace. It is the slowest seven miles ever ridden on the road by a wheelman, I think; a funeral procession is a lively, rattling affair, beside our onward progress toward the mud battlements of Khoi, but there is no help for it. Whenever I venture to the fore a little the dreamy-eyed moonshi bashi regards me with a gaze of mild reproachfulness, and sings out in a gently-chide-the-erring tone of voice: "Kardash. Kardash." meaning " f we are brothers, why do you seem to want to leave me." Human nature could scarcely be proof against an appeal wherein endearment and reproach are so beautifully and harmoniously blended, and it always brings me back to a level with his horse.
Reaching the suburbs of Khoi, I am initiated into a new departure - new to myself at this time - of Persian sanctimoniousness. Halting at a fountain to obtain a drink, the soldier shapes himself for pouring the water out of the earthenware drinking vessel into my hands; supposing this to be merely an indication of the Persian's own method of drinking, I motion my preference for drinking out of the jar itself. The soldier looks appealingly toward the moonshi bashi, who tells him to let me drink, and then orders him to smash the jar. It then dawns upon my unenlightened mind, that being a Ferenghi, I should have known better than to have touched my unhallowed lips to a drinking vessel at a public fountain, defiling it by so doing, so that it must be smashed in order that the sons of the "true prophet" may not unwittingly drink from it afterward and themselves become defiled. The moonshi bashi pilots me to the residence of a certain wealthy citizen outside the city walls; this person, a mild- mannered, purring-voiced man, is seated in a room with a couple of seyuds, or descendants of the prophet; they are helping themselves from a large platter of the finest, pears, peaches, and egg plums I ever saw anywhere. The room is carpeted with costly rugs and carpets in which one's feet sink perceptibly at every step; the walls and ceiling are artistically stuccoed, and the doors and windows are gay with stained glass.
Abandoning myself to the guidance of the moonshi bashi, I ride around the garden-walks, show them the bicycle, revolver, map of Persia, etc.; like the moonshi bashi, they become deeply interested in the map, finding much amusement and satisfaction in having me point out the location of different Persian cities, seemingly regarding my ability to do so as evidence of exceeding cleverness and erudition. The untravelled Persians of the northern provinces regard Teheran as the grand idea of a large and important city; if there is any place in the whole world larger and more important, they think it may perhaps be Stamboul. The fact that Stamboul is not on my map while Teheran is, they regard as conclusive proof of the superiority of their own capital. The moonshi bashi's chief purpose in accompanying me hither has been to introduce me to the attention of the "hoikim"; although the pronunciation is a little different from hakim, I attribute this to local brogue, and have been surmising this personage to be some doctor, who, perhaps, having graduated at a Frangistan medical college, the moonshi bashi thinks will be able to converse with me. After partaking of fruit and tea we continue on our way to the nearest gate-way of the city proper, Khoi being surrounded by a ditch and battlemented mud wall. Arriving at a large, public inclosure, my guide sends in a letter, and shortly afterward delivers me over to some soldiers, who forthwith conduct me into the presence of - not a doctor, but Ali Khan, the Governor of the city, an officer who hereabouts rejoices in the title of the "hoikim."
The Governor proves to be a man of superior intelligence; he has been Persian ambassador to France some time ago, and understands French fairly well; consequently we manage to understand each other after a fashion. Although he has never before seen a bicycle, his knowledge of the mechanical ingenuity of the Ferenghis causes him to regard it with more intelligence than an un-travelled native, and to better comprehend my journey and its object. Assisted by a dozen mollahs (priests) and officials in flowing gowns and henna-tinted beards and finger-nails, the Governor is transacting official business, and he invites me to come into the council chamber and be seated. In a few minutes the noon-tide meal is announced; the Governor invites me to dine with them, and then leads the way into the dining-room, followed by his counsellors, who form in line behind him according to their rank. The dining-room is a large, airy apartment, opening into an extensive garden; a bountiful repast is spread on yellow- checkered tablecloths on the carpeted floor; the Governor squats cross- legged at one end, the stately-looking wiseacres in flowing gowns range themselves along each side in a similar attitude, with much solemnity and show of dignity; they - at least so I fancy - evidently are anything but rejoiced at the prospect of eating with an infidel Ferenghi.
The Governor, being a far more enlightened and consequently less bigoted personage, looks about him a trifle embarrassed, as if searching for some place where he can seat me in a position of becoming honor without offending the prejudices of his sanctimonious counsellors. Noticing this, I at once come to his relief by taking the position farthest from him, attempting to imitate them in their cross-legged attitude. My unhappy attempt to sit in this uncomfortable attitude - uncomfortable at least to anybody unaccustomed to it - provokes a smile from His Excellency, and he straightway orders an attendant to fetch in a chair and a small table; the counsellors look on in silence, but they are evidently too deeply impressed with their own dignity and holiness to commit themselves to any such display of levity as a smile. A portion of each dish is placed upon my table, together with a travellers' combination knife, fork and spoon, a relic, doubtless, of the Governor's Parisian experience. His Excellency having waited and kept the counsellors waiting until these preparations are finished, motions for me to commence eating, and then begins himself. The repast consists of boiled mutton, rice pillau with curry, mutton chops, hard-boiled eggs with lettuce, a pastry of sweetened rice-flour, musk-melons, water-melons, several kinds of fruit, and for beverage glasses of iced sherbet; of all the company I alone use knife, fork, and plates. Before each Persian is laid a broad sheet of bread; bending their heads over this they scoop up small handfuls of pillau, and toss it dextrously into their mouths; scattering particles missing the expectantly opened receptacle fall back on to the bread; this handy sheet of bread is used as a plate for placing a chop or anything else on, as a table-napkin for wiping finger-tips between courses, and now and then a piece is pulled off and eaten. When the meal is finished, an attendant waits on each guest with a brazen bowl, an ewer of water and a towel.
After the meal is over the Governor is no longer handicapped by the religious prejudices of the mollahs, and leaving them he invites me into the garden to see his two little boys go through their gymnastic exercises. They are clever little fellows of about seven and nine, respectively, with large black eyes and clear olive complexions; all the time we are watching them the Governor's face is wreathed in a fond, parental smile. The exercises consist chiefly in climbing a thick rope dangling from a cross-beam. After seeing me ride the bicycle the Governor wants me to try my hand at gymnastics, but being nothing of a gymnast I respectfully beg to be excused. While thus enjoying a pleasant hour in the garden, a series of resounding thwacks are heard somewhere near by, and looking around some intervening shrubs I observe a couple of far-rashes bastinadoing a culprit; seeing me more interested in this novel method of administering justice than in looking at the youngsters trying to climb ropes, the Governor leads the way thither. The man, evidently a ryot, is lying on his back, his feet are lashed together and held soles uppermost by means of an horizontal pole, while the farrashes briskly belabor them with willow sticks. The soles of the ryot's feet are hard and thick as rhinoceros hide almost from habitually walking barefooted, and under these conditions his punishment is evidently anything but severe. The flagellation goes merrily and uninterruptedly forward until fifty sticks about five feet long and thicker than a person's thumb are broken over his feet without eliciting any signals of distress from the horny-hoofed ryot, except an occasional sorrowful groan of "A-l-l-ah." He is then loosed and limps painfully away, but it looks like a rather hypocritical limp, after all; fifty sticks, by the by, is a comparatively light punishment, several hundred sometimes being broken at a single punishment. Upon taking my leave the Governor kindly details a couple of soldiers to show me to the best caravanserai, and to remain and protect me from the worry and annoyance of the crowds until my departure from the city.
Arriving at the caravanserai, my valiant protectors undertake to keep the following crowd from entering the courtyard; the crowd refuses to see the justice of this arbitrary proceeding, and a regular pitched battle ensues in the gateway. The caravanserai-jees reinforce the soldiers, and by laying on vigorously with thick sticks, they finally put the rabble to flight. They then close the caravanserai gates until the excitement has subsided. Khoi is a city of perhaps fifty thousand inhabitants, and among them all there is no one able to speak a word of English. Contemplating the surging mass of woolly-hatted Persians from the bala-khana (balcony; our word is taken from the Persian), of the caravanserai, and hearing nothing but unintelligible language, I detect myself unconsciously recalling the lines: "Oh it was pitiful; in a whole city full--." It is the first large city I have visited without finding somebody capable of speaking at least a few words of my own language. Locking the bicycle up, I repair to the bazaar, my watchful and zealous attendants making the dust fly from the shoulders of such unlucky wights whose eager inquisitiveness to obtain a good close look brings them within the reach of their handy staves. We are followed by immense crowds, a Ferenghi being a rara avis in Khoi, and the fame of the wonderful asp- i (horse of iron) has spread like wild-fire through the city. In the bazaar I obtain Russian silver money, which is the chief currency of the country as far east as Zendjan. Partly to escape from the worrying crowds, and partly to ascertain the way out next morning, as I intend making an early start, I get the soldiers to take me outside the city wall and show me the Tabreez road.