CHAPTER XII. AKEN BACK TO PERSIA.
The Governor of Herat sends "khylie salaams" and permission for me to ride the bicycle, stipulating that I keep near the escort. So, with many an injunction to me about dasht-adam, kooh, dagh, etc., by way of warning me against venturing too far ahead, we bid farewell to the garden, with its strange associations, in the early morning. Beside Mohammed Ahzim Khan and myself are three sowars, mounted on splendid horses.
The morning is bright and cheerful, and shortly after starting the animal spirits of the sowars find vent in song. I have been laboring under the impression that, for soul-harrowing vocal effort, the wild-eyed sowars of Khorassan, as exemplified in my escort from Beerjand, were entitled to the worst execrations of a discriminating Ferenghi, but the Afghans can go them one better. If it is possible to imagine anything in the whole world of sound more jarring and discordant than the united efforts of these Afghan sowars, I have never yet discovered it. Out of pure consideration and courtesy, I endure it for some little time; but they finally reach a high-searching key that is positively unendurable, and I am compelled in sheer self-protection to beg the khan to suppress their exuberance. "These men are not bul-buls; then why do they sing?" is all that is necessary for me to say. They all laugh heartily at the remark, and the khan orders them to sing no more. Over a country that consists chiefly of trailless hills and intervening strips of desert, we wend our weary way, the bicycle often proving more of a drag than a benefit. The weather gets insufferably hot; in places the rocks fairly shimmer with heat, and are so hot that one can scarce hold the hand to them. We camp for the first night at a village, and on the second at an umbar that suggests our approach to Persia, and in the morning we make an early start with the object of reaching Karize before evening.
The day grows warm apace, and, at ten miles, the khan calls a halt for the discussion of what simple refreshments we have with us. Our larder embraces dry bread and cold goat-meat and a few handfuls of raisins. It ought also to include water in the leathern bottle swinging from the stirrup of one of the sowars; but when we halt, it is to discover that this worthy has forgotten to fill his bottle. The way has been heavy for a bicycle, trundling wearily through sand mainly, with no riding to speak of; and young as is the day, I am well-nigh overcome with thirst and weariness. I am too thirsty to eat, and, miserably tired and disgusted, one gets an instructive lesson in the control of the mind over the body. Much of my fatigue comes of low spirits, born of disappointment at being conducted back into Persia.
One of the sowars is despatched ahead to fill his bottle with water at a well known to be some five miles farther ahead, and to meet us with it on the way. On through the sand and heat we plod wearily, myself almost sick with thirst, fatigue, and disgust. Mohammed Ahzim Khan, observing my wretched condition, insists upon me letting one of the sowars try his hand at trundling the wheel, while I rest myself by riding his horse. Both the sowars bravely try their best to relieve me, but they cut ridiculous figures, toppling over every little while. At length one of them upsets the bicycle into a little gully, and falling on it, snaps asunder two spokes. The khan gives him a good tongue-lashing for his carelessness; but one can hardly blame the fellow, and I take it under my own protection again, before it goes farther and fares worse.
About 2 p.m. the sowar sent forward meets us with water; but it is almost undrinkable. Far better luck awaits us, however, farther along. Sighting an Eimuck camel-rider in the distance, one of the sowars gives chase and halts him until we can come up. Slung across his camel he has a skin of doke, the most welcome thing one can wish for under the circumstances. Everybody helps himself liberally of the refreshing beverage, shrinking the Eimuck's supply very perceptibly. The Eimuck joins heartily with our party in laughing at the altered contour of the pliant skin, as pointed out jocularly by Mohammed Ahzim Khan, bids us "salaam aleykum," and pursues his way across country.
During the afternoon we cross several well-worn trails; though evidently but little used of late, they have seen much travel. My escort explains that they are daman trails, in other words the trails worn by Turkoman raiders passing back and forth on their man-stealing expeditions, before their subjugation by the Russians.
By and by we emerge from a belt of low hills, and descend into a broad, level plain. A few miles off to the right can be seen the Heri Rood, its sinuous course plainly outlined by a dark fringe of jungle. Some miles ahead the village-fortress of Kafir Kaleh is visible. A horseman comes galloping across the plain to intercept us. Mohammed Ahzim Khan produces his written orders concerning my delivery at Karize and reads it to the new arrival. Thereupon ensues a long explanation, which ends in, our turning about and following the new-comer across the trailless plain toward the Heri Rood.
"What's up now?" I wonder; but the only intelligible reply I get in reply to queries is that we are going to camp in the jungle. Misgivings as to possible foul play mingle with speculations regarding this person's mission, as I follow in the wake of the Afghans.
We camp on a plot of rising ground that elevates us above the overflow, and shortly after our arrival we are visited by a band of nomads who are hunting through the jungle with greyhounds, Mohammed Ahzim Khan informs me that both baabs, and palangs (panthers) are to be found along the Heri Rood.