CHAPTER VII. ISPAHAN - SHIRAZ.

Early next morning I set out alone to explore the strange place, and with much difficulty and some apprehension - for I did not know how the natives were disposed - ascended a steep rocky path, at the summit of which a wooden drawbridge leads over a deep abyss to the gate of the city. This bridge is the only access to Yezdi-Ghazt, which is, so to speak, a regular fortress-town.

The rock, about half a mile long, is intersected by one narrow street, which, covered from end to end with awnings and wooden beams, was almost in obscurity. The sudden change from the glare outside almost blinded one. The appearance of a Farangi is evidently rare in Yezdi-Ghazt, for I was immediately surrounded by a crowd, who, however, were evidently inclined to be friendly, and escorted me to the house of the head-man, under whose guidance I visited the city.

The houses are of stone, two-storied, and mortised into the rock, which gives them the appearance, from below, as if a touch would send them toppling over, while a curious feature is that none of their windows looks inwards to the street - all are in the outside wall facing the desert. I took coffee with the head-man on his balcony - a wooden construction, projecting over a dizzy height, and supported by a couple of rickety-looking beams. It was nervous work, for the flooring, which was rotten and broken into great holes, creaked ominously. I could see Gerome (who had evidently missed me) bustling about the post-house, and reduced, from this height, to the size of a fly. Making this my excuse, I quickly finished my coffee, and bade my host farewell, nor was I sorry to be once more safe on terra firma.

Yezdi-Ghazt, which has a population of about five hundred, is very old, and is said to have existed long previous to the Mohammedan conquest. The present population are a continual source of dread to the neighbouring towns and villages, on account of their lawlessness and thieving proclivities, and mix very little with any of their neighbours, who have given the unsavoury city the Turkish nickname of "Pokloo Kalla," or "Filth Castle." Yezdi-Ghazt would not be a desirable residence during an earthquake. The latter are of frequent occurrence round here. Many of the villages have been laid in ruins, but, curiously enough, the rock-city has, up till now, never even felt a shock.

A ride of under fifty miles through level and fertile country brought us to Abadeh, a pretty village standing in the midst of gardens and vineyards, enclosed by high mud walls. A European telegraph official, Mr. G - - , resides here. As we passed his house - a neat white stone building easily distinguishable among the brown mud huts - a native servant stopped us. His master would not be back till sunset, but had left directions that we were to be well cared for till his return. The temptation of a bed and dinner were too much, and, as time was no object, and snowy passes things of the past, we halted for the night.

An hour later, comfortably settled on Mr. G - - 's sofa, and dozing over a cigar and a volume of Punch, my rest was suddenly disturbed by a loud bang at the sitting-room door, which, flying open, admitted two enormous animals, which I at first took for dogs. Both made at once for my sofa, and, while the larger one curled comfortably round my feet and quietly composed itself for sleep, the smaller, evidently of a more affectionate disposition, seated itself on the floor, and commenced licking my face and hands - an operation which, had I dared, I should strongly have resented. But the white gleaming teeth and cruel-looking green eyes inspired me with respect, to use no stronger term; for I had by now discovered that these domestic pets were - panthers! To my great relief, Mr. G - - entered at this juncture. "Making friends with the panthers, I see," he said pleasantly. "They are nice companionable beasts." They may have been at the time. The fact remains that, three months after my visit, the "affectionate one" half devoured a native child! The neighbourhood of Abadeh, Mr. G - - informed me, swarms with these animals. Bears, wolves, and hyenas are also common, to say nothing of jackals, which, judging from the row they made that night, must have been patrolling the streets of the village in hundreds.

A traveller starting from Teheran for Bushire is expected at every European station on the telegraph-line. "I thought you would have got here sooner," said Mr. G - - . "P - - (at Ispahan) told me you were coming through quick."

The dining-room of my host at Abadeh adjoined the little instrument-chamber. Suddenly, while we were at dinner, a bell was heard, and the half-caste clerk entered. "So-and-so of Shiraz," naming an official, "wants to speak to you." "All right," replied G - - . "Just tell him to wait till I've finished my cheese!"

"It's from F - - ," he said, a few moments later, "to say he expects you to make his house your head-quarters at Shiraz." So the stranger is passed on through this desert, but hospitable land. Persian travel would be hard indeed were it not for the ever-open doors and hospitality of the telegraph officials.