Persia

Most European travellers through this desolate land have testified to the fact that the most commendable trait in the Baluch is his practice of hospitality, or "zang," as it is called. As among the Arabs, a guest is held sacred, save by some of the wilder tribes on the Afghan frontier, who, though they respect a stranger actually under their roof, will rob and murder him without scruple as soon as he has departed.

We encamped in the suburbs of the city, about a couple of miles from the northern or Mastung Gate, and near the telegraph office, a small brick bungalow in charge of an English-speaking native. There is a single wire laid to Quetta, a distance, roughly speaking, of ninety miles. A terrific hurricane, accompanied by thunder, vivid lightning, and dense clouds of black dust, sprang up about sunset the day of our arrival. Both tents were instantly blown down, and in a few moments reduced to shapeless rags of torn canvas.

I arrived in Baku on (the Russian) New Year's Eve, and found railway officials, porters, and droshki-drivers all more or less fuddled with drink in consequence. With some difficulty we persuaded one of the latter to drive us to the hotel, a clean and well-appointed house, a stone's throw from the quay. Our Isvostchik [A] was very drunk. His horses, luckily for us, were quiet; for he fell off his box on the way, and smilingly, but firmly, declined to remount. Gerome then piloted the troika safely to our destination, leaving Jehu prone in the mud.

Day broke gloomily enough the morning following the day of our arrival at Resht. The snow, still falling fast, lay over two feet deep in the garden beneath my window, while great white drifts barred the entrance-gates of the Consulate. About eight o'clock our host made his appearance, and, waking me from pleasant dreams of sunnier climes, tried to dissuade me from making a start under such unfavourable circumstances. An imperial courier had just arrived from Teheran, and his report was anything but reassuring.

Our troubles commenced in real earnest at Patchinar, a desolate-looking place and filthy post-house, which was reached at sunset. The post from Teheran had just arrived, in charge of a tall strapping fellow armed to the teeth, in dark blue uniform and astrachan cap, bearing the Imperial badge, the lion and sun, in brass. The mail was ten days late, and had met with terrible weather on the Kharzan. They had passed, only that morning, two men lying by the roadway, frozen to death. The poor fellows were on their way to Teheran from Menjil, and had lain where they fell for two or three days.

A brilliant ball-room, pretty faces, smart gowns, good music, and an excellent supper; - thus surrounded, I pass my first evening in Teheran, a pleasant contrast indeed to the preceding night of dirt, cold, and hunger.

But it was not without serious misgivings that I accepted the courteous invitation of the German Embassy. The crossing of the Kharzan had not improved the appearance of dress-clothes and shirts, to say nothing of my eyes being in the condition described by pugilists as "bunged up," my face of the hue of a boiled lobster, the effects of sun and snow.

We are already some farsakhs [A] from Teheran when day breaks on the 4th of February, 1889. The start is not a propitious one. Hardly have we cleared the Ispahan gate than down comes the Shagird's horse as if he were shot, breaking his girths and rider's thumb at the same moment. Luckily, we are provided with rope, and Persian saddles are not complicated. In ten minutes we are off again; but it is terribly hard going, and all one can do to keep the horses on their legs. Towards midday the sun slightly thaws the surface of the frozen snow, and makes matters still worse.

The seven telegraph-stations, in charge of Europeans, between Teheran and Bushire, may be called the oases of Persia to the weary traveller from Resht to the Persian Gulf. He is sure, at any of these, of a hearty welcome, a comfortable bedroom, and a well-cooked dinner from the good Samaritan in charge. The latter is generally the best of company, full of anecdote and information about the country, and, necessarily, well posted in the latest news from Europe, from the last Parliamentary debate to the winner of the Derby.

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