CHAPTER XX. 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.