At noon, while seated on a grassy knoll discussing the before-mentioned contents of my pockets, I am favored with a free exhibition of what a physical misunderstanding is like among the Persian ryots. Two companies of katir-jees happen to get into an altercation about something, and from words it gradually develops into blows; not blows of the fist, for they know nothing of fisticuffs, but they belabor each other vigorously with their long, thick donkey persuaders, sticks that are anything but small and willowy; it is an amusing spectacle, and seated on the commanding knoll nibbling "drum-sticks" and wish-bones, I can almost fancy myself a Roman of old, eating peanuts and watching a gladiatorial contest in the amphitheatre. The similitude, however, is not at all striking, for thick as are their quarter-staffs the Persian ryots don't punish each other very severely. Whenever one of them works himself up to a fighting-pitch, he commences belaboring one of the others on the back, apparently always striking so that the blow produces a maximum of noise with a minimum of punishment; the person thus attacked never ventures to strike back, but retreats under the blows until his assailant's rage becomes spent and he desists. Meanwhile the war of words goes merrily forward; perchance in a few minutes the person recently attacked suddenly becomes possessed of a certain amount of rage-inspired courage, and he in turn commences a vigorous assault upon somebody, probably his late assailant; this worthy, having become a little cooler, has mysteriously lost his late pugnacity, and now likewise retreats without once attempting to raise his own stick in self-defence. The lower and commercial class Persians are pretty quarrelsome among themselves, but they quarrel chiefly with their tongues; when they fight without sticks it is an ear-pulling, clothes-tugging, wrestling sort of a scuffle, which continues without greater injury than a torn garment until they become exhausted if pretty evenly matched, or until separated by bystanders; they never, never hurt each other unless they are intoxicated, when they sometimes use their short swords; there is no intoxication, except in private drinking-parties.
TABREEZ TO TEHERAN.
The wheeling improves in the afternoon, and alongside my road runs a bit of civilization in the shape of the splendid iron poles of the Indo-European Telegraph Company. Half a dozen times this afternoon I become the imaginary enemy of a couple of cavalrymen travelling in the same direction as myself; they swoop down upon me from the rear at a charging gallop, valiantly whooping and brandishing their Martini-Henrys; when they arrive within a few yards of my rear wheel they swerve off on either side and rein their fiery chargers up, allowing me to forge ahead; they amuse themselves by repeating this interesting performance over and over again. Being usually a good rider, the dash and courage of the Persian cavalryman is something extraordinary in time of peace; no more brilliant and intrepid cavalry charge on a small scale could be well imagined than I have witnessed several times this afternoon. But upon the outbreak of serious hostilities the average warrior in the Shah's service suddenly becomes filled with a wild, pathetic yearning after the peaceful and honorable calling of a katir-jee, an uncontrollable desire to become a humble, contented tiller of the soil, or handy-man about a tchaikhan, anything, in fact, of a strictly peaceful character. Were I a hostile trooper with a red jacket, and a general warlike appearance, and the bicycle a machine gun, though our whooping, charging cavalrymen were twenty instead of two, they would only charge once, and that would be with their horses' crimson-dyed tails streaming in the breeze toward me. The Shah's soldiers are gentle, unwarlike creatures at heart; there are probably no soldiers in the whole world that would acquit themselves less creditably in a pitched battle; they are, nevertheless, not without certain soldierly qualities, well adapted to their country; the cavalrymen are very good riders, and although the infantry does not present a very encouraging appearance on the parade-ground, they would meander across five hundred miles of country on half rations of blotting-paper ekmek without any vigorous remonstrance, and wait uncomplainingly for their pay until the middle of next year.
About five o'clock I arrive at Hadji Agha, a large village forty miles from Tabreez; here, as soon as it is ascertained that I intend remaining over night, I am actually beset by rival khan-jees, who commence jabbering and gesticulating about the merits of their respective establishments, like hotel-runners in the United States; of course they are several degrees less rude and boisterous, and more considerate of one's personal inclinations than their prototypes in America, but they furnish yet another proof that there is nothing new under the sun. Hadji Agha is a village of seyuds, or descendants of the Prophet, these and the mollahs being the most bigoted class in Persia; when I drop into the tchai-khan for a glass or two of tea, the sanctimonious old joker with henna-tinted beard and finger-nails, presiding over the samovar, rolls up his eyes in holy horror at the thoughts of waiting upon an unhallowed Ferenghi, and it requires considerable pressure from the younger and less fanatical men to overcome his disinclination; he probably breaks the glass I drank from after my departure.
About dusk the Valiat and his courtiers arrive on horseback from Tabreez; the Prince immediately seeks my quarters at the khan, and, after examining the bicycle, wants me to take it out and ride; it is getting rather dark, however, so I put him off till morning; he remains and smokes cigarettes with me for half an hour, and then retires to the residence of the local Khan for the night. The Prince seems an amiable, easy-going sort of a person; while in my company his countenance is wreathed in a pleasant smile continually, and I fancy he habitually wears that same expression. His youthful courtiers seem frivolous young bloods, putting in most of the half-hour in showing me their accomplishments in the way of making floating rings of their cigarette smoke. Later in the evening I stroll around to the tchai-khan again; it is the gossiping-place of the village, and I find our sanctimonious seyuds indulging in uncomplimentary comments regarding the Yaliat's conduct in hobnobbing with the Ferenghi; how bigoted these Persians are, and yet how utterly destitute of principle and moral character.
In the morning the Prince sends me an invitation to come and drink tea with them before starting out; he bears the same perennial smile as yesterday evening. Although he is generally understood to be completely under the influence of the fanatical and bigoted seyuds and mollahs, who are strictly opposed to the Ferenghi and the Fereughi's ideas of progress and civilization, he seems withal an amiable, well-disposed young man, whom one could scarce help liking personally, arid feeling sorry at the troubles in store for him ahead. He has an elder brother, the Zil-es-Sultan, now governor of the Southern Provinces; but not being the son of a royal princess, the Shah has nominated Ameer-i-Nazan as his successor to the throne. The Zil-es-Sultan, although of a somewhat cruel disposition, has proved himself a far more capable and energetic person than the Valiat, and makes no secret of the fact that he intends disputing the succession with his brother, by force of arms if necessary, at the Shah's demise. He has, so at least it is currently reported, had his sword-blade engraved with the grim inscription, "This is for the Valiat's head," and has jocularly notified his inoffensive brother of the fact. The Zil-es-Sultau belongs to the party of progress; recks little of the opinions of priests and fanatics, is fond of Englishmen and European improvements, and keeps a kennel of English bull dogs. Should he become Shah of Persia, Baron Reuter's grand scheme of railways and commercial regeneration, which was foiled by the fanaticism of the seyuds and mollahs soon after the Shah's visit to England, may yet come to something, and the railroad rails now rusting in the swamps of the Caspian littoral may, after all, form part of a railway between the seaboard and the capital.
The road for a short distance east of Hadji Agha is splendid wheeling, and the Prince and his courtiers accompany me for some two miles, finding much amusement in racing with me whenever the road permits of spurting. The country now develops into undulating upland, uncultivated and stone-strewn, except where an occasional stream, affording irrigating facilities, has rendered possible the permanent maintenance of a mud village and a circumscribed area of wheat-fields, melon-gardens, and vineyards.
No sooner does one find himself launched upon the comparatively well-travelled post-route than a difference becomes manifest in the character of the people. Commercially speaking, the Persian is considerably more of a Jew than the Jew himself, and along a route frequented by travellers, the person possessing some little knowledge of the thievish ways of the country and of current prices, besides having plenty of small change, finds these advantages a matter for congratulation almost every hour of the day. The proprietor of a wretched little mud hovel, solemnly presiding over a few thin sheets of bread, a jar of rancid, hirsute butter, and a dozen half-ripe melons, affects a glum, sorrowful expression to think that he should happen to be without small change, and consequently obliged to accept the Hamsherri's fifty kopec piece for provisions of one-tenth the value; but the mysterious frequency of this same state of affairs and accompanying sorrowful expression, taken in connection with the actual plenitude of small change in Persia, awakens suspicions even in the mind of the most confiding and uninitiated person. A peculiar system of commercial mendicancy obtains among the proprietors of melon and cucumber gardens alongside the road of this particular part of the country; observing a likely-looking traveller approaching, they come running to him with a melon or cucumber that they know to be utterly worthless, and beg the traveller to accept it as a present; delighted, perhaps with their apparent simple-hearted hospitality, and, moreover, sufficiently thirsty to appreciate the gift of a melon, the unsuspecting wayfarer tenders the crafty proprietor of the garden a suitable present of money in return and accepts the proffered gift; upon cutting it open he finds the melon unfit for anything, and it gradually dawns upon him that he has just grown a trifle wiser concerning the inbred cunningness and utter dishonesty of the Persians than he was before. Ere the day is ended the same game will probably be attempted a dozen times.
In addition to these artful customers, one occasionally comes across small colonies of lepers, who, being compelled to isolate themselves from their fellows, have taken up their abode in rude hovels or caves by the road-side, and sally forth in all their hideousness to beset the traveller with piteous cries for assistance. Some of these poor lepers are loathsome in appearance to the last degree; their scanty coverings of rags and tatters conceals nothing of the ravages of their dread disease; some sit at the entrance to their hovels, stretching out their hands and piteously appealing for alms; others drop down exhausted in the road while endeavoring to run and overtake the passer-by; there is nothing deceptive about these wretched outcasts, their condition is only too glaringly apparent.
Toward sundown I arrive at Turcomanchai, a large village, where in 1828, was drawn up the Treaty of Peace between Persia and Russia, which transferred the remaining Persian territory of the Caucasus into the capacious maw of the Northern Bear. It is currently reported that after depriving the Persians of their rights to the navigation of the Caspian Sea the Czar coolly gave his amiable friend the Shah a practical lesson concerning the irony of fortune by presenting him with a yacht. Seeking the guidance of a native to the caravanserai, this quick-witted individual leads the way through tortuous alleyways to the other end of the village and pilots me to the camp of a tea caravan, pitched on the outskirts, thinking I had requested to be guided to a caravan; the caravan men direct me to the chapar-khana, where accommodations of the usual rude nature are provided. Sending into the village for eggs, sugar, and tea, the chapar- khana keeper and stablemen produce a battered samovar, and after frying my supper, they prepare tea; they are poor, ragged fellows, but they seem light-hearted and contented; the siren song of the steaming samovar seems to a waken in their semi-civilized breasts a sympathetic response, and they fall to singing and making merry over tiny glasses of sweetened tea quite as naturally as sailors in a seaport groggery, or Germans over a keg of lager. Jolly, happy-go-lucky fellows though they outwardly appear, they prove no exception, however, to the general run of their countrymen in the matter of petty dishonesty; although I gave them money enough to purchase twice the quantity of provisions they brought back, besides promising them the customary small present before leaving, in the morning they make a further attempt on my purse under pretence of purchasing more butter to cook the remainder of the eggs. These are trifling matters to discuss, but they serve to show the wide difference between the character of the peasant classes in Persia and Turkey. The chapar-khana usually consists of a walled enclosure containing stabling for a large number of horses and quarters for the stablemen and station- keeper. The quickest mode of travelling in Persia is by chapar, or, in other words, on horseback, obtaining fresh horses at each chapar-khana.
The country east of Turcomanchai consists of rough, uninteresting upland, with nothing to vary the monotony of the journey, until noon, when after wheeling five farsakhs I reach the town of Miana, celebrated throughout the Shah's dominions for a certain poisonous bug which inhabits the mud walls of the houses, and is reputed to bite the inhabitants while they are sleeping. The bite is said to produce violent and prolonged fever, and to be even, dangerous to life. It is customary to warn travellers against remaining over night at Miana, and, of course, I have not by any means been forgotten. Like most of these alleged dreadful things, it is found upon close investigation to be a big bogey with just sufficient truthfulness about it to play upon the imaginative minds of the people. The "Miana bug-bear" would, I think, be a more appropriate name than Miana bug. The people here seem inclined to be rather rowdyish in their reception of a Ferenghi without an escort. While trundling through the bazaar toward the telegraph station I become the unhappy target for covertly thrown melon-rinds and other unwelcome missiles, for which there appears no remedy except the friendly shelter of the station. This is just outside the town, and before the gate is reached, stones are exchanged for melon-rinds, but fortunately without any serious damage being done.
Mr. F--, a young German operator, has charge of the control-station here, and welcomes me most cordially to share his comfortable quarters, urging me to remain with him several days. I gladly accept his hospitality till tomorrow morning. Mr. F-- has a brother who has recently become a Mussulman, and married a couple of Persian wives; he is also residing temporarily at Miana. He soon comes around to the telegraph station, and turns out to be a wild harum-skarum sort of a person, who regards his transformation into a Mussulman and the setting up of a harem of his own as anything but a serious affair. As a reward for embracing the Mohammedan religion and becoming a Persian subject the Shah has given him a sum of money and a position in the Tabreez mint, besides bestowing upon him the sounding title of Mirza Ab-dul Karim Khan. It seems that inducements of a like substantial nature are held out to any Ferenghi of known respectability who formally embraces the Shiite branch of the Mohammedan religion, and becomes a Persian subject - a rare chance for chronic ne'er-do-wells among ourselves, one would think.
This novel and festive convert to Islam readily gives me a mental peep behind the scenes of Persian domestic life, and would unhesitatingly have granted me a peep in person had such a thing been possible. Imagine the ordinary costume of an opera-bouffe artist, shorn of all regard for the difference between real indecency and the suggestiveness of indelicacy permissible behind the footlights, and we have the every-day costume of the Persian harem. In the dreamy eventide the lord of the harem usually betakes himself to that characteristic institution of the East and proceeds to drive dull care away by smoking the kalian and watching an exhibition of the terpsichorean talent of his wives or slaves. This does not consist of dancing, such as we are accustomed to understand the art, but of graceful posturing and bodily contortions, spinning round like a coryphee, with hand aloft, and snapping their fingers or clashing tiny brass cymbals; standing with feet motionless and wriggling the joints, or bending backward until their loose, flowing tresses touch the ground. Persians able to afford the luxury have their womens' apartment walled with mirrors, placed at appropriate angles, so that when enjoying these exhibitions of his wives' abilities he finds himself not merely in the presence of three or six wives, as the case may be, but surrounded on all sides by scores of airy-fairy nymphs, and amid the dreamy fumes and soothing bubble-bubbling of his kalian can imagine himself the happy - or one would naturally think, unhappy - possessor of a hundred. The effect of this mirror-work arrangement can be better imagined than described.
"You haven't got one of those mirrored rooms, have you?" I inquire, beginning to get a trifle inquisitive, and perhaps rather impertinent. "You couldn't manage to smuggle a fellow inside, disguised as a seyud or--" "Nicht," replies Mirza Abdul Kaiim Khan, laughing, "I have not bothered about a mirror chamber yet, because I only remain here for another month; but if you happen to come to Tabreez any time after I get settled down there, look me up, and I'll-hello! here comes Prince Assabdulla to see your velocipede!"
Fatteh - Ali Shah, the grandfather of the present monarch, had some seventy-two sons, besides no lack of daughters. As the son of a prince inherits his father's title in Persia, the numerous descendants of Fatteh-Ali Shah are scattered all over the empire, and royal princes bob serenely up in every town of any consequence in the country. They are frequently found occupying some snug, but not always lucrative, post under the Government. Prince Assabdulla has learned telegraphy, and has charge of the government control-station here, drawing a salary considerably less than the agent of the English company's line. The Persian Government telegraph line consists of one wire strung on tumble-down wooden poles. It is erected alongside the splendid English line of triple wires and substantial iron poles, and the control-stations are built adjacent to the English stations, as though the Persians were rather timid about their own abilities as telegraphists, and preferred to nestle, as it were, under the protecting shadow of the English line. Prince Assabdulla has an elder brother who is Governor of Miana, and who comes around to see the bicycle during the afternoon; they both seem pleasant and agreeable fellows. "When the heat of the day has given place to cooler eventide, and the moon comes peeping over the lofty Koflan Koo Mountains, near-by to the eastward, we proceed to a large fruit-garden on the outskirts of the town, and, sitting on the roof of a building, indulge in luscious purple grapes as large as walnuts, and pears that melt away in the mouth. Mirza Abdul Karim Khan plays a German accordeon, and Prince Assabdulla sings a Persian love-song; the leafy branches of poplar groves are whispering in response to a gentle breeze, and playing hide-and-seek across the golden face of the moon, and the mountains have assumed a shadowy, indistinct appearance. It is a scene of transcendental loveliness, characteristic of a Persian moonlight night.
Afterward we repair to Mirza Abdul Kiirim Khan's house to smoke the kalian and drink tea. His favorite wife, whom he has taught to respond to the purely Frangistan name of "Eosie," replenishes and lights the kalian-giving it a few preliminary puffs herself by way of getting it under headway before handing it to her husband-and then serves us with glasses of sweetened tea from the samovar. In deference to her Ferenghi brother-in-law and myself, Eosie has donned a gauzy shroud over the above-mentioned in-door costume of the Persian female. "She is a beautiful dancer," says her husband, admiringly, "I wish it were possible for you to see her dance this evening; bat it isn't; Eosie herself wouldn't mind, but it would be pretty certain to leak out, and Miana being a rather fanatical place, my life wouldn't be worth that much," and the Khan carelessly snapped his fingers. Supper is brought up to the telegraph station. Prince Assabdulla is invited, and comes round with his servant bearing a number of cucumbers and a bottle of arrack; the Prince, being a genuine Mohammedan, is forbidden by his religion to indulge; consequently he consumes the fiery arrack in preference to some light and harmless native wine; such is the perversity of human nature.
Two princes and a khan are cantering (not khan-tering) alongside the bicycle as I pull out eastward from Miana. They accompany me to the foot- hills approaching the Koflan Koo Pass, and wishing me a pleasant journey, turn their horses' heads homeward again. Reaching the pass proper, I find it to be an exceedingly steep trundle, but quite easy climbing compared with a score of mountain passes in Asia Minor, for the surface is reasonably smooth, and toward the summit is an ancient stone causeway. A new and delightful experience awaits me upon the summit of the pass; the view to the westward is a revelation of mountain scenery altogether new and novel in my experience, which can now scarcely be called unvaried. I seem to be elevated entirely above the surface of the earth, and gazing down through transparent, ethereal depths upon a scene of everchanging beauty. Fleecy cloudlets are floating lazily over the valley far below my position, producing on the landscape a panoramic scene of constantly changing shadows; through the ethery depths, so wonderfully transparent, the billowy gray foothills, the meandering streams fringed with green, and Miana with its blue-domed mosques and emerald gardens, present a phantasmagorical appearance, as though they themselves were floating about in the lower strata of space, and undergoing constant transformation. Perched on an apparently inaccessible crag to the north is an ancient robber stronghold commanding the pass; it is a natural fortress, requiring but a few finishing touches by man to render it impregnable in the days when the maintenance of robber strongholds were possible. Owing to its walls and battlements being chiefly erected by nature, the Persian peasantry call it the Perii-Kasr, believing it to have been built by fairies. While descending the eastern slope, I surprise a gray lizard almost as large as a rabbit, basking in the sunbeams; he briskly scuttles off into the rocks upon being disturbed.