CHAPTER V. MESHED THE HOLY.
"Ever hear of Dadur?" queries Mr. Gray. "Ever hear of Dadur, the place of which the Persians tritely say: 'Seeing that there is Dadur, why did Allah, then, make the infernal regions?' That is somewhere in Beloochistan. You'll find yourself slowly broiling to death on a geographical gridiron if you attempt to reach India down that way."
"Never mind; tell them at Teheran I am going that way anyhow."
Having entered upon this decision, I bid my genial host farewell on April 7th, and mounting at the door, depart in the presence of a well-behaved crowd of spectators. In my pocket is a general letter from the Governor-General of Khorassan to subordinate officials of the province, ordering them to render me any assistance I may require, and another from a prominent person in Meshed to his friend Heshmet-i-Molk, the Ameer of Kain and Governor of Seistan, a powerful and influential chief, with his seat of government at Beerjand.
Couched in the sentimental language of the country, one of these letters concludes with the touching remark: "The Sahib, of his own choice is travelling like a dervish, with no protection but the protection of Allah."
It is a fine bracing morning as I leave the Mecca of Khorassan behind, and the paths leading round outside the walls and moat of the city from gate to gate afford excellent wheeling. The Beerjand trail branches off from the Teheran and Meshed road about a farsakh east of Shahriffabad; for this distance I shall be retraversing the road by which I came, and shall be confronted at every turn of my wheel by reminiscences of dried fish, a Mazanderau dervish, and an angular steed.
The streams that under the influence of the storm ran thigh-deep have now dwindled to mere rivulets, and the narrow, miry trail through the melting snow has become dry and smooth enough to ride wherever the grade permits. The hills are verdant with the green young life of early spring, and are clothed in one of nature's prettiest costumes - a costume of seal-brown rocks and green turf studded with a profusion of blue and yellow flowers.
Shahriffabad is reached early in the afternoon, and the threatening aspect of the changed weather forbids going any farther today.
Shortly after taking up my quarters in the chapar-khana, a party of Persian travellers appear upon the scene, and with them a fussy little man in big round spectacles and semi-European clothes. Scarcely have they had time to alight and seek out quarters than the little man makes his appearance at my menzil door in all the glory of a crimson velvet dressing-cap and blue slippers, and beaming gladsomely through his moon-like spectacles, he comes forward and without further ceremony shakes hands. "Some queer little French professor, geologist, entomologist, or something, wandering about the country in search of scientific knowledge," is the instinctive conclusion I arrive at the moment he appears; and my greeting of "bonjour, monsieur," is quite as involuntary as the conclusion.
"Paruski ni?" he replies, arching his eyebrows and smiling.
"Paruski ni; Ingilis."
In this brief interchange of words in the vernacular of the country we define at once each other's nationality and linguistic abilities. He is a Russian and can speak a little Persian. It is difficult, however, to believe him anything else than a little French professor, wise above his generation and skin-full of occult wisdom in some particular branch of science; but then the big round spectacles, the red dressing-cap, and the cerulean leather slippers of themselves impart an air of owlish and preternatural wisdom.
Six times during the afternoon he bounces into my quarters and shakes hands, and six times shakes hands and bounces out again. Every time he renews his visit he introduces one or more natives, who take as much interest in the hand-shaking as they do in the bicycle. Evidently his object in coming round so frequently is to exhibit for the gratification of his own vanity and the curiosity of the Persians, this European mode of greeting, and the profound depth of his own knowledge of the subject.
Later in the evening the women of the village come round in a body to see the Ferenghi and his iron horse, and the wearer of the spectacles, the red cap, and blue slippers, takes upon himself the office of showman for the occasion; pointing out, with a good deal of superficial enthusiasm, the peculiar points of both steed and rider.
Particularly is it impressed upon these woefully ignorant fail-ones, that the bicycle is not a horse, but a machine - a thing of iron and not of flesh and blood.
The fair ones nod their heads approvingly, but it is painfully apparent that they don't comprehend in the least, how, since it is an asp-i-awhan, it can be anything else but a horse, regardless of the material entering into its composition.
When supper-time arrives the chapar-Jee announces his willingness to turn cook and prepare anything I order. Knowing well enough that this seemingly sweeping proposition embraces but two or three articles, I order him to prepare scrambled eggs, bread, and sheerah. An hour later he brings in the scrambled eggs, swimming in hot molasses and grease! He has stirred the grease and molasses together, and in this outlandish mixture cooked the eggs.