In the morning they search the village over to find the wherewithal to prepare me some tea before my departure. Eight miles from the village I discover that four miles forward yesterday evening, instead of backward, would have brought me to a village containing a caravanserai. I naturally feel a trifle chagrined at the mistake of having journeyed eight unnecessary miles, but am, perhaps, amply repaid by learning something of the utter simplicity of the villagers before their character becomes influenced by intercourse with more enlightened people.
My course now leads over a stony plain. The wheeling is reasonably good, and I gradually draw away from the shore of Lake Ooroomiah. Melon- gardens and vineyards are frequently found here and there across the plain; the only entrance to the garden is a hole about three feet by four in the high mud wall, and this is closed by a wooden door; an arm- hole is generally found in the wall to enable the owner to reach the fastening from the outside. Investigating one of these fastenings at a certain vineyard I discover a lock so primitive that it must have been invented by prehistoric man. A flat, wooden bar or bolt is drawn into a mortise-like receptacle of the wall, open at the top; the man then daubs a handful of wet clay over it; in a few minutes the clay hardens and the door is fast. This is not a burglar-proof lock, certainly, and is only depended upon for a fastening during the temporary absence of the owner in the day-time. During the summer the owner and family not infrequently live in the garden altogether.
During the forenoon the bicycle is the innocent cause of two people being thrown from the backs of their respective steeds. One is a man carelessly sitting sidewise on his donkey; the meek-eyed jackass suddenly makes a pivot of his hind feet and wheels round, and the rider's legs as suddenly shoot upward. He frantically grips his fiery, untamed steed around the neck as he finds himself over- balanced, and comes up with a broad grin and an irrepressible chuckle of merriment over the unwonted spirit displayed by his meek and humble charger, that probably had never scared at anything before in all its life. The other case is unfortunately a lady whose horse literally springs from beneath her, treating her to a clean tumble. The poor lady sings out "Allah!" rather snappishly at finding herself on the ground, so snappishly that it leaves little room for doubt of its being an imprecation; but her rude, unsympathetic attendants laugh right merrily at seeing her floundering about in the sand; fortunately, she is uninjured. Although Turkish and Persian ladies ride a la Amazon, a position that is popularly supposed to be several times more secure than side-saddles, it is a noticeable fact that they seem perfectly helpless, and come to grief the moment their steed shies at anything or commences capering about with anything like violence.
On a portion of road that is unridable from sand I am captured by a rowdyish company of donkey-drivers, returning with empty fruit-baskets from Tabreez. They will not be convinced that the road is unsuitable, and absolutely refuse to let me go without seeing the bicycle ridden. After detaining me until patience on my part ceases to be a virtue, and apparently as determined for their purpose as ever, I am finally compelled to produce the convincing argument with five chambers and rifled barrel. These crowds of donkey-men seem inclined to be rather lawless, and scarcely a day passes lately but what this same eloquent argument has to be advanced in the interest of individual liberty. Fortunately the mere sight of a revolver in the hands of a Ferenghi has the magical effect of transforming the roughest and most overbearing gang of ryots into peaceful, retiring citizens. The plain I am now traversing is a broad, gray-looking area surrounded by mountains, and stretching away eastward from Lake Ooroomiah for seventy-five miles. It presents the same peculiar aspect of Persian scenery nearly everywhere-a general verdureless and unproductive country, with the barren surface here and there relieved by small oases of cultivated fields and orchards. The villages being built solely of mud, and consequently of the same color as the general surface, are undistinguishable from a distance, unless rendered conspicuous by trees.
Laboring under a slightly mistaken impression concerning the distance to Tabreez, I push ahead in the expectation of reaching there to-night; the plain becomes more generally cultivated; the caravan routes from different directions come to a focus on broad trails leading into the largest city in Persia, and which is the great centre of distribution for European goods arriving by caravan to Trebizond. Coming to a large, scattering village, some time in the afternoon, I trundle leisurely through the lanes inclosed between lofty and unsightly mud walls thinking I have reached the suburbs of Tabreez; finding my mistake upon emerging on the open plain again, I am yet again deceived by another spreading village, and about six o'clock find myself wheeling eastward across an uncultivated stretch of uncertain dimensions. The broad caravan trail is worn by the traffic of centuries considerably below the level of the general surface, and consists of a number of narrow, parallel trails, along which swarms of donkeys laden with produce from tributary villages daily plod, besides the mule and camel caravans from a greater distance. These narrow beaten paths afford excellent wheeling, and I bowl along quite briskly. As one approaches Tabreez, the country is found traversed by an intricate network of irrigating ditches, some of them works of considerable magnitude; the embankments on either side of the road are frequently high enough to obscure a horseman. These works are almost as old as the hills themselves, for the cultivation of the Tabreez plain has remained practically an unchanged system for three thousand years, as though, like the ancient laws of the Medes and Persians, it also were made unchangeable.
About dusk I fall in with another riotous crowd of homeward-bound fruit carriers, who, not satisfied at seeing me ride past, want to stop me; one of them rushes up behind, grabs my package attached to the rear baggage-carrier, and nearly causes an overthrow; frightening him off, I spurt ahead, barely escaping two or three donkey cudgels hurled at me in pure wantonness, born of the courage inspired by a majority of twenty to one. There is no remedy for these unpleasant occurrences except travelling under escort, and the avoiding serious trouble or accident becomes a matter for every-day congratulation. At eighteen miles from the last village it becomes too dark to remain in the saddle without danger of headers, and a short trundle brings me, not to Tabreez even now, but to another village eight miles nearer. Here there is a large caravanserai. Near the entrance is a hole-in-the-wall sort of a shop wherein I espy a man presiding over a tempting assortment of cantaloupes, grapes, and pears. The whirligig of fortune has favored me today with tea, blotting-paper ekmek, and grapes for breakfast; later on two small watermelons, and at 2 P.M. blotting-paper ekmek and an infinitesimal quantity of yaort (now called mast). It is unnecessary to add that I arrive in this village with an appetite that will countenance no unnecessary delay. Two splendid ripe cantaloupes, several fine bunches of grapes, and some pears are devoured immediately, with a reckless disregard of consequences, justifiable only on the grounds of semi-starvation and a temporary barbarism born of surrounding circumstances. After this savage attack on the maivah-jee's stock, I learn that the village contains a small tchai-khan; repairing thither I stretch myself on the divan for an hour's repose, and afterward partake of tea, bread, and peaches. At bed-time the khan-jee makes me up a couch on the divan, locks the door inside, blows out the light, and then, afraid to occupy the same building with such a dangerous-looking individual as myself, climbs to the roof through a hole in the wall.
Eager villagers carry both myself and wheel across a bridge-less stream upon resuming my journey to Tabreez next morning; the road is level and ridable, though a trifle deep with dust and sand, and in an hour I am threading the suburban lanes of the city. Along these eight miles I certainly pass not less than five hundred pack- donkeys en route to the Tabreez market with everything, from baskets of the choicest fruit in the world to huge bundles of prickly camel-thorn and sacks of tezek for fuel. No animals in all the world, I should think, stand in more urgent need of the kindly offices of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals than the thousands of miserable donkeys engaged in supplying Tabreez with fuel; their brutal drivers seem utterly callous and indifferent to the pitiful sufferings of these patient toilers. Numbers of instances are observed this morning where the rough, ill-fitting breech-straps and ropes have literally seesawed their way through the skin and deep into the flesh, and are still rasping deeper and deeper every day, no attempt whatever being made to remedy this evil; on the contrary, their pitiless drivers urge them on by prodding the raw sores with sharpened sticks, and by belaboring them unceasingly with an instrument of torture in the shape of whips with six inches of ordinary trace-chain for a lash.
As if the noble army of Persian donkey drivers were not satisfied with the refinement of physical cruelty to which they have attained, they add insult to injury by talking constantly to their donkeys while driving them along, and accusing them of all the crimes in the calendar and of every kind of disreputable action. Fancy the bitter sense of humiliation that must overcome the proud, haughty spirit of a mouse-colored jackass at being prodded in an open wound with a sharp stick and hearing himself at the same time thus insultingly addressed: "Oh, thou son of a burnt father and murderer of thine own mother, would that I myself had died rather than my father should have lived to see me drive such a brute as thou art." yet this sort of talk is habitually indulged in by the barbarous drivers. While young, the donkeys' nostrils are slit open clear up to the bridge-bone; this is popularly supposed among the Persians to be an improvement upon nature in that it gives them greater freedom of respiration. Instead of the well known clucking sound used among ourselves as a persuasive, the Persian makes a sound not unlike the bleating of a sheep; a stranger, being within hearing and out of sight of a gang of donkey drivers in a hurry to reach their destination, would be more likely to imagine himself in the vicinity of a flock of sheep than anything else.
As is usually the case, a volunteer guide bobs serenely up immediately I enter the city, and I follow confidently along, thinking he is piloting me to the English consulate, as I have requested; instead of this he steers me into the custom-house and turns me over to the officials. These worthy gentlemen, after asking me to ride around the custom-house yard, pretend to become altogether mystified about what they ought to do with the bicycle, and in the absence of any precedent to govern themselves by, finally conclude among themselves that the proper thing would be to confiscate it. Obtaining a guide to show me to the residence of Mr. Abbott, the English consul-general, that energetic representative of Her Majesty's government smiles audibly at the thoughts of their mystification, and then writes them a letter couched in terms of humorous reproachfulness, asking them what in the name of Allah and the Prophet they mean by confiscating a traveller's horse, his carriage, his camel, his everything on legs and wheels consolidated into the beautiful vehicle with which he is journeying to Teheran to see the Shah, and all around the world to see everybody and everything? - ending by telling them that he never in all his consular experiences heard of a proceeding so utterly atrocious. He sends the letter by the consulate dragoman, who accompanies me back to the custom-house. The officers at once see and acknowledge their mistake; but meanwhile they have been examining the bicycle, and some of them appear to have fallen violently in love with it; they yield it up, but it is with apparent reluctance, and one of the leading officials takes me into the stable, and showing me several splendid horses begs me to take my choice from among them and leave the bicycle behind.
Mr. and Mrs. Abbott cordially invite me to become their guest while staying at Tabreez. To-day is Thursday, and although my original purpose was only to remain here a couple of days, the innovation from roughing it on the road, to roast duck for dinner, and breakfast in one's own room of a morning, coupled with warnings against travelling on the Sabbath and invitations to dinner from the American missionaries, proves a sufficient inducement for me to conclude to stay till Monday, satisfied at the prospect of reaching Teheran in good season. It is now something less than four hundred miles to Teheran, with the assurance of better roads than I have yet had in Persia, for the greater portion of the distance; besides this, the route is now a regular post route with chapar- khanas (post-houses) at distances of four to five farsakhs apart. On Friday night Tabreez experienced two slight shocks of an earthquake, and in the morning Mr. Abbott points out several fissures in the masonry of the consulate, caused by previous visitations of the same undesirable nature; the earthquakes here seem to resemble the earthquakes of California in that they come reasonably mild and often. The place likewise awakens memories of the Golden State in another and more appreciative particular nowhere, save perhaps in California, does one find such delicious grapes, peaches, and pears as at ancient Taurus, a specialty for which it has been justly celebrated from time immemorial. On Saturday I take dinner with Mr. Oldfather, one of the missionaries, and in the evening we all pay a visit to Mr. Whipple and family, the consulate link-boy lighting the way before us with a huge cylindrical lantern of transparent oiled muslin called a farnooze.
These lanterns are always carried after night before people of wealth or social consequence, varying in size according to the person's idea of their own social importance. The size of the farmooze is supposed to be an index of the social position of the person or family, so that one can judge something of what sort of people are coming down the street, even on the darkest night, whenever the attendant link-boy heaves in sight with the farnooze. Some of these social indicators are the size of a Portland cement barrel, even in Persia; it is rather a smile-provoking thought to think what tremendous farnoozes would be seen lighting up the streets on gloomy evenings, were this same custom prevalent among ourselves; few of us but what could call to memory people whose farnoozes would be little smaller than brewery mash-tubs, and which would have to be carried between six-foot link-boys on a pole.
Ameer-i-Nazan, the Valiat or heir apparent to the throne, and at present nominal governor of Tabreez, has seen a tricycle in Teheran, one having been imported some time ago by an English gentleman in the Shah's service; but the fame of the bicycle excites his curiosity and he sends an officer around to the consulate to examine and report upon the difference between bicycle and tricycle, and also to discover and explain the modus operandi of maintaining one's balance on two wheels. The officer returns with the report that my machine won't even stand up, without somebody holding it, and that nobody but a Ferenghi who is in league with Sheitan, could possibly hope to ride it. Perhaps it is this alarming report, and the fear of exciting the prejudices of the mollahs and fanatics about him, by having anything to do with a person reported on trustworthy authority to be in league with His Satanic Majesty, that prevents the Prince from requesting me to ride before him in Tabreez; but I have the pleasure of meeting him at Hadji Agha on the evening of the first day out. Mr. Whippie kindly makes out an itinerary of the villages and chapar-khanas I shall pass on the journey to Teheran; the superintendent of the Tabreez station of the Indo-European Telegraph Company voluntarily telegraphs to the agents at Miana and Zendjan when to expect me, and also to Teheran; Mrs. Abbott fills my coat pockets with roast chicken, and thus equipped and prepared, at nine o'clock on Monday morning I am ready for the home-stretch of the season, before going into winter quarters.
The Turkish consul-general, a corpulent gentleman whose avoirdupois I mentally jot down at four hundred pounds, comes around with several others to see me take a farewell spin on the bricked pavements of the consulate garden. Like all persons of four hundred pounds weight, the Effendi is a good-natured, jocose individual, and causes no end of merriment by pretending to be anxious to take a spin on the bicycle himself, whereas it requires no inconsiderable exertion on his part to waddle from his own residence hard by into the consulate. Three soldiers are detailed from the consulate staff to escort me through the city; en route through the streets the pressure of the rabble forces one unlucky individual into one of the dangerous narrow holes that abound in the streets, up to his neck; the crowd yell with delight at seeing him tumble in, and nobody stops to render him any assistance or to ascertain whether he is seriously hurt. Soon a poor old ryot on a donkey, happens amid the confusion to cross immediately in front of the bicycle; whack! whack! whack! come the ready staves of the zealous and vigilant soldiers across the shoulders of the offender; the crowd howls with renewed delight at this, and several hilarious hobble-de-hoys endeavor to shove one of their companions in the place vacated by the belabored ryot, in the hope that he likewise will come in for the visitation of the soldiers' o'er- willing staves.
The broad suburban road, where the people have been fondly expecting to see the bicycle light out in earnest for Teheran at a marvellous rate of speed, is found to be nothing less than a bed of loose sand and stones, churned up by the narrow hoofs of multitudinous donkeys. Quite a number of better class Persians accompany me some distance further on horseback; when taking their departure, a gentleman on a splendid Arab charger, shakes hands and says: "Good-by, my dear," which apparently is all the English he knows. He has evidently kept his eyes and ears open when happening about the English consulate, and the happy thought striking him at the moment, he repeats, parrot-like, this term of endearment, all unsuspicious of the ridiculousness of its application in the present case.
For several miles the road winds tortuously over a range of low, stony hills, the surface being generally loose and unridable. The water-supply of Tabreez is conducted from these hills by an ancient system of kanaats or underground water-ditches; occasionally one comes to a sloping cavern leading down to the water; on descending to the depth of from twenty to forty feet, a small, rapidly-coursing stream of delicious cold water is found, well rewarding the thirsty traveller for his trouble; sometimes these cavernous openings are simply sloping, bricked archways, provided with steps. The course of these subterranean water-ways can always be traced their entire length by uniform mounds of earth, piled up at short intervals on the surface; each mound represents the excavations from a perpendicular shaft, at the bottom of which the crystal water can be seen coursing along toward the city; they are merely man-holes for the purpose of readily cleaning out the channel of the kanaat. The water is conducted underground, chiefly to avoid the waste by evaporation and absorption in surface ditches. These kanaats are very extensive affairs in many places; the long rows of surface mounds are visible, stretching for mile after mile across the plain as far as eye can penetrate, or until losing themselves among the foot-hills of some distant mountain chain; they were excavated in the palmy days of the Persian Empire to bring pure mountain streams to the city fountains and to irrigate the thirsty plain; it is in the interest of self-preservation that the Persians now keep them from falling into decay.
Page 44 of 50