CHAPTER XIX. 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.