CHAPTER XX. TABREEZ TO TEHERAN.
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.