CHAPTER IV. THROUGH KHORASSAN.
A well-dressed individual makes his salaam and intrudes his person upon the scene of my early preparations to depart, on the following morning, and, when I start, takes upon himself the office of conducting me through the labyrinthian bazaar and to the gate of exit beyond. I am wondering somewhat who this individual may be, and wherefore the officiousness of his demeanor to the crowd at our heels; but his mission is soon revealed, for on the way out he pilots me into the court-yard of the Reis, or mayor of the city. The Reis receives me with the glad and courteous greeting of a person desirous of making himself agreeable and of creating a favorable impression; trays of sweetmeats are produced, and tea is served up in little porcelain cups.
As soon as tea and sweetmeats and kalians appear on the board, mollahs and seyuds mysteriously begin to put in an appearance likewise, filing noiselessly in and taking their places near or distant from the Reis, according to their respective rank and degree of holiness. My observations everywhere in the Land of the Lion and the Sun all tend to the conclusion that whenever and wherever a samovar of tea begins to sing its cheery and aromatic song, and the soothing hubble-bubble of the kalian begins telling its seductive tale of solid comfort and social intercourse, a huge green or white turban is certain to appear on the scene, a robed figure steps out of its slippers at the door, glides noiselessly inside, puts its hand on its stomach, salaams, and drops, as silently as a ghost might, in a squatting attitude among the guests. Hardly has this one taken his position than another one appears at the door and goes through precisely the same programme, followed shortly afterward by another, and yet others; these foxy-looking members of the Persian priesthood always seem to me to possess the faculty of scenting these little occasions from afar and of following their noses to the place with unerring precision.
Upon emerging from the shelter of the city and adjacent ruins, I find myself confronted by a furious head-wind, against which it is quite impossible to ride, and almost impossible to trundle. During the forenoon I meet on the road a disgraced official, in the person of the Asaf-i-dowleh, Governor-General of Khorassan, returning to Teheran from Meshed, having been recalled at New Year's by the Shah to give an account of himself for "oppressing the people, insulting the Prophet, and intriguing with the Russians." The Asaf-i-dowleh made himself very obnoxious to the priests and people of the holy city by arresting a criminal within the place of refuge at Imam Riza's tomb, and by an outrageous devotion to his own pecuniary interests at the public expense. Riots occurred, the mob taking possession of the telegraph-office and smashing the windows, because they fancied their petition to the Shah was being tampered with. A timely rain-storm dispersed the mob and gave time for the Shah's reply to arrive, promising the Asaf-i-dowleh's removal and disgrace. The ex-Governor is in a carriage drawn by four grays; his own women are in gayly gilded taktrowans, upholstered with crimson satin; the women of his followers occupy several pairs of kajavehs, and the household goods of the party follow behind in a number of huge Russian forgans or wagons, each drawn by four mules abreast. Besides these are a long string of pack-camels, mules, and attendants on horseback, forming altogether the most imposing cavalcade I have met on a Persian road. How they manage to get the heavily loaded forgans and the Governor's carriage over such places as the pass near Lasgird is something of a mystery - but there may be another route - at any rate, hundreds of villagers would be called out to assist.
An opportunity also presents this morning of seeing the amount of obstinacy and perverseness that manages to find lodgement within the unsightly curves and angles of a runaway camel. A riding-camel, led by its owner, scares at the bicycle, and, breaking away, leads him a lively chase through a belt of low sand ridges near the road, jolting various packages off his back as he runs. Every time the man gets almost within seizing distance of the rope, the contrary camel starts off again in a long, awkward lope, slowing up again, as though maliciously inviting his owner to try it over again, when he has covered a couple of hundred yards. These manoeuvres are repeated again and again, until the chase has extended to perhaps four miles, when a party of travellers assist in rounding him up; the man then has to re-traverse the whole four miles and gather up the things.