CHAPTER VII. ISPAHAN - SHIRAZ.

We continue our journey next day in summer weather - almost too hot, in the middle of the day, to be pleasant. Sheepskin and bourka are dispensed with, as we ride lazily along under a blazing sun through pleasant green plains of maize and barley, irrigated by babbling brooks of crystal-clear water. A few miles from Abadeh is a cave-village built into the side of a hill. From this issue a number of repulsive-looking, half-naked wretches, men and women, with dark scowling faces, and dirty masses of coarse black hair. Most are covered with skin-disease, so we push on ahead, but are caught up, for the loathsome creatures get over the ground with extraordinary speed. A handful of "sheis" [A] stops them, and we leave them swearing, struggling, and fighting for the coins in a cloud of dust. Then on again past villages nestling in groves of mulberry trees, past more vineyards, maize, and barley, and peasants in picturesque blue dress (save white, no other colour is worn in summer by the country-people) working in the fields. Their implements are rude and primitive enough. The plough is simply a sharpened stick covered with iron. The sickle is used for reaping. Threshing is done by means of an axle with thin iron wheels. If such primitive means can attain such satisfactory results, what could not modern agricultural science be made to do for Persia?

Sunset brings a cool breeze, which before nightfall develops into a cutting north-easter, and we shiver again under a bourka and heavy fur pelisse. Crossing a ridge of rock, we descend upon a white plain, dim and indistinct in the twilight. The ground crackles under our horses' feet. It is frozen snow! A light shines out before us, however, and by ten o'clock we are snug and safe for the night in the telegraph-station of Deybid.

These sudden changes of temperature make the Persian climate very trying. At this time of year, however balmy the air and bright the sunshine at midday, one must always be prepared for a sudden and extreme change after sunset. The Plain of Deybid was covered with snow at least two feet deep, the temperature must have stood at very few degrees above zero, and yet, not five hours before, we were perspiring in our shirt-sleeves.

"Mashallah!" exclaims Gerome next morning, shading his eyes and looking across the dazzling white expanse. "Are we, then, never to finish with this accursed snow?" By midday, however, we are out of it, and, as we subsequently discover, for the last time.

We had up till now been singularly fortunate as regards accidents, or rather evil results from them. To-day, however, luck deserted us, for a few miles out of Deybid my right leg became so swollen that I could scarcely sit on my horse. The pain was acute, the sensation that of having been bitten by some poisonous insect. Gerome, ever the Job's comforter, suggested a centipede, adding, "If so, you will probably have to lie up for four or five days." The look-out was not cheerful, certainly, for at Mourghab, the first stage, I had to be lifted off my horse and carried into the post-house.

With some difficulty my boot was cut off, and revealed the whole leg, below the knee, discoloured and swollen to double its size, but no sign of a wound or bite. "Blood-poisoning," says Gerome, decidedly. "I have seen hundreds of cases in Central Asia. It generally proves fatal there," he adds consolingly; "but the Russian soldier is so badly fed." The little man seems rather disappointed at my diagnosis of my case - the effect due to a new and tight boot which I had not been able to change since leaving Ispahan. Notwithstanding, I cannot put foot to ground without excruciating pain. Spreading the rugs out on the dirty earthen floor, I make up my mind to twenty-four hours here at least. It is, perhaps, the dirtiest post-house we have seen since leaving Teheran; but moving under the present circumstances is out of the question.

The long summer day wears slowly away. Gerome, like a true Russian, hunts up a samovar in the village, and consoles himself with innumerable glasses of tea and cigarettes, while the medicine-chest is brought into requisition, and I bathe the swollen limb unceasingly for three or four hours with Goulard's extract and water, surrounded by a ring of admiring and very dirty natives. But my efforts are in vain, for the following morning the pain is as severe, the leg as swollen as ever. Gerome is all for applying a blister, which he says will "bring the poison out"! Another miserable day breaks, and finds me still helpless. I do not think I ever realized before how slowly time can pass, for I had not a single book, with the exception of "Propos d'Exil," by Pierre Loti, and even that delightful work is apt to pall after three complete perusals in the space of as many weeks. From sunrise to sunset I lay, prone on my back, staring up at the cobwebby, smoke-blackened rafters, while the shadows shortened and lengthened in the bright sunlit yard, the monotonous silence broken only by the deep regular snores of my companion, whose capacity for sleep was something marvellous, the clucking of poultry, and the occasional stamp or snort of a horse in the stable below. Now and again a rat would crawl out, and, emboldened by the stillness, creep close up to me, darting back into its hole with a jump and a squeal as I waved it off with hand or foot. My visitors from the village did not return to-day, which was something to be thankful for, although towards evening I should have hailed even them with delight - dirt, vermin, and all. Patience was rewarded, for next day I was able to stand, and towards evening set out for Kawamabad, twenty-four miles distant. Though still painful and almost black, all inflammation had subsided, and three days later I was able to get on a boot "You'd have been well in half the time," insisted Gerome, "if you had only let me apply a blister."