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.

Baku, a clean, well laid-out city of sixty thousand inhabitants, is the most important town on the shores of the Caspian. Its name is said to be derived from the Persian words bad, "the wind," and kubeda, "beaten," signifying "Wind-beaten;" and this seems credible, for violent storms are prevalent along the coast. The town is essentially European in character. One can scarcely realize that only fifty years ago a tumble-down Persian settlement stood on the spot now occupied by broad, well-paved, gas-lit streets, handsome stone buildings, warehouses, and shops. Baku has, like Tiflis, a mixed population. Although Russians and Tartars form its bulk, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Persia are all represented, most of the Europeans being employed in the manufacture of petroleum. The naphtha springs are said to yield over 170,000 tons of oil yearly.

A French engineer, Mr. B - - , whose acquaintance I made at the hotel, described Baku as terribly monotonous and depressing to live in after a time. There is not a tree or sign of vegetation for miles round the town - nothing but bleak, desolate steppe and marsh, unproductive of sport and cultivation, or, indeed, of anything save miasma and fever. In summer the heat, dust, and flies are intolerable; in winter the sun is seldom seen. There is no amusement of any kind - no cafe, no band, no theatre, to go to after the day's work. This seemed to distress the poor Parisian exile more than anything, more even than the smell of oil, which, from the moment you enter until you leave Baku, there is no getting away from. Although the wells are fully three miles away, the table-cloths and napkins were saturated with it, and the very food one ate had a faint sickly flavour of naphtha. "I bathed in the Caspian once last summer," said Mr. B - - - , despairingly, "and did not get the smell out of my skin for a week, during which time my friends forbade me their houses! Mon Dieu! Quel pays!"

The steamer for Enzelli was to leave at eleven. Having wished my French friend farewell, and a speedy return to his native country, we set out for the quay. The night was fine, but away to our left dense clouds of thick black smoke obscured the lights of the town and starlit sky, while the furnaces of the "Tchornigorod" [B] blazed out of the darkness, their flames reflected in the dark waters of the Caspian, turning the little harbour into a lake of fire.

The landing stage is crowded with passengers - a motley crowd of Russian officials, soldiers, peasants, and Tartars. With difficulty we struggle through the noisy, drunken rabble, for the most part engaged in singing, cursing, fighting, and embracing by turns, and succeed at last in finding our ship, the Kaspia, a small steamer of about a hundred and fifty tons burthen. The captain is, fortunately for us, sober, which is more than can be said of the crew. Alongside us lies the Bariatinsky, a large paddle-steamer bound for Ouzounada, the terminus of the Trans-Caspian Railway. She also is on the point of departure, and I notice, with relief, that most of the crowd are making their way on board her.

The passenger-steamers on the Caspian are the property of the Caucase-Mercure Company, a Russian firm. They are, with few exceptions, as unseaworthy as they are comfortless, which says a great deal. All are of iron, and were built in England and Sweden, sent to St. Petersburg by sea, there taken to pieces and despatched overland to Nijni-Novgorod, on the Volga. At Nijni they were repieced and taken down the Volga to the Caspian.

The Bariatinsky was first away, her decks crammed with soldiers bound for Central Asia. They treated us to a vocal concert as the ship left port, and I paced the moonlit deck for some time, listening to the sweet sad airs sung with the pathos and harmony that seems born in every Russian, high or low. I retired to rest with the "Matoushka Volga," a boat-song popular the length and breadth of Russia, ringing in my ears.

There are no private cabins on board the Kaspia. I share the stuffy saloon with a greasy German Jew (who insists on shutting all the portholes), an Armenian gentleman, his wife, and two squalling children, a Persian merchant, and Gerome.

The captain's cabin, a box-like retreat about eight feet square, leads out of our sleeping-place, which is also used as a drawing and dining-room. As the latter it is hardly desirable, for the German and Persian are both suffering violently from mal-de-mer before we have been two hours out, and no wonder. Though there is hardly a perceptible swell on, the tiny cock-boat rolls like a log. To make matters worse, theKaspia's engines are worked by petroleum, and the smell pursues one everywhere.

The passage from Baku to Enzelli (the port of Resht) is usually made in a little over two days in fine weather. All depends upon the latter, for no vessel can enter if it is blowing hard. There is a dangerous bar with a depth of barely five feet of water across the mouth of the harbour, and several Europeans, impatient of waiting, have been drowned when attempting to land in small boats. "I frequently have to take my passengers back to Baku," said Captain Z - - at the meal he was pleased to call breakfast; "but I think we shall have fine weather to-morrow." I devoutly hoped so.

Little did I know what was in store for us; for the glass at midday was falling-fast, and at 2 p.m., when we anchored off Lenkoran, it was snowing hard and blowing half a gale.

The western coasts of the Caspian are flat and monotonous. There are two ports of call between Baku and Enzelli - Lenkoran, a dismal-looking fishing-village of mud huts, backed by stunted poplars and a range of low hills; and Astara, the Russo-Persian frontier. Trade did not seem very brisk at either port. We neither landed nor took in cargo at either. A few small boats came out to the ship with fish to sell. The latter is bad and tasteless in the Caspian, with the exception of the sturgeon, which abounds during certain seasons of the year. The fisheries are nearly all leased by Russians, who extract and export the caviar. There is good shooting in the forests around Lenkoran, and tigers are occasionally met with. The large one in the possession of Prince Dondoukoff Korsakoff, mentioned in the first chapter, was shot within a few miles of the place.

We arrived off Astara about 6.30 that evening. It was too dark to see anything of the place, but I had, unfortunately for myself, plenty of opportunities of examining it minutely a couple of days later. We weighed anchor again at nine o'clock, hoping, all being well, to reach Enzelli at daybreak. The sea had now gone down, and things looked more promising.

My spirits rose at the thought of being able to land on the morrow. I was even able to do justice to the abominable food set before us at dinner - greasy sausages and a leathery beefsteak, served on dirty plates and a ragged table-cloth that looked as if it had been used to clean the boiler. But the German Jew had recovered from his temporary indisposition, the cadaverous Persian had disappeared on deck, and the Armenian children had squalled themselves to sleep, so there was something, at least, to be thankful for. Captain Z - - , a tall, fair-haired Swede, who spoke English fluently, had been on this line for many years, and told us that for dangerous navigation, violent squalls, and thick fogs the Caspian has no equal. Many vessels are lost yearly and never heard of again. He also told us of a submarine city some miles out of Baku, called by the natives "Tchortorgorod," or "City of the Devil." "In calm, sunny weather," said Z - - , "one can distinctly make out the streets and houses." The German Jew, of a facetious disposition, asked him whether he had not also seen people walking about; but Z - - treated the question with contemptuous silence.

Man is doomed to disappointment. I woke at daylight next morning; to find the Kaspia at anchor, pitching, rolling, and tugging at her moorings as if at any moment the cable might part. Every now and again a sea would crash upon the deck, and the wind, howling through the rigging, sounded like the yelling of a thousand fiends. Hurrying on deck, I learn the worst. A terrific sea is running, and the glass falling every hour. One could scarcely discern, through the driving mist, the long low shore and white line of breakers that marked the entrance to Enzelli. To land was out of the question. No boat would live in such a sea. "I will lay-to till this evening," said Captain Z - - "If it does not then abate, I fear you must make up your mind to return to Baku, and try again another day." A pleasant prospect indeed!

I have seldom passed a more miserable twenty-four hours. The weather got worse as the day wore on. Towards midday it commenced snowing; but this, instead of diminishing the violence of the gale, seemed only to increase it. Even the captain's cheery, ruddy face clouded over, as he owned that he did not like the look of things. "Had I another anchor, I should not mind," he said; calmly adding, "If this one parts, we are lost!" I thought, at the time, he might have kept this piece of information to himself. Meanwhile nothing was visible from the cabin-windows but great rollers topped with crests of foam, which looked as if, every moment, they would engulf the little vessel. But she behaved splendidly. Although green seas were coming in over the bows, flooding her decks from stem to stern, and pouring down the gangway into the saloon, the Kaspia rode through the gale like a duck. To venture on deck was impossible. One could barely sit, much less stand, and the atmosphere of the saloon may be better imagined than described. Every aperture tightly closed; every one, with the exception of the captain, Gerome, and myself, sea-sick; no food, no fire, though we certainly did not miss the former much.

About ten o'clock Z - - weighed anchor and stood out to sea. It would not be safe, he said, to trust to our slender cable another night. About midnight I struggled on deck, to get a breath of fresh air before turning in. The night was fine and clear, but the sea around black as ink, with great foaming white rollers. The decks, a foot deep in snow, were deserted save by Z - - and the steersman, whose silhouettes stood out black and distinct against the starlit sky as they paced the rickety-looking little bridge flanked by red and green lights. The Enzelli lighthouse was no longer visible. The latter is under the care of Persians, who light it, or not, as the humour takes them. This is, on dark nights, a source of considerable danger to shipping; but, though frequently remonstrated with by the Russian Government, the Shah does not trouble his head about the matter.

Three routes to Teheran were now open to us: back to Baku, thence to Tiflis, and over the mountains to Talriz, - very dubious on account of the snow; the second, from Baku to Astrabad, and thence viaMount Demavend, - still more dubious on account of bad landing as well as blocked passes; there remained to us Astara, and along the sea-beach (no road) to Enzelli, with swollen rivers and no post-horses. All things considered, we resolved to land at Astara, even at the risk of a ducking. Daylight found us there, anchored a mile from the shore, and a heavy swell running. But there is no bar here; only a shelving sandy beach, on which, even in rough weather, there is little danger. Some good-sized boats came out to the Kaspia with fish and vegetables, and we at once resolved to land. Anything sooner than return to Baku!

"There is no road from Astara," said Z - - , "and deep rivers to cross. You will be robbed and murdered like the Italian who travelled this way three years ago! He was the last European to do so."

Gerome remembers the incident. In fact, he says, the murdered man was a friend of his, travelling to Teheran with a large sum of money. Unable to land at Resht, and impatient to reach his destination, he took the unfrequented route, was waylaid, robbed, tied to a tree, and left to starve. "He was alone and unarmed, though," says my companion; adding with a wink, "Let them try it on with us!"

Seeing remonstrance is useless, Z - - wishes us God-speed. The good-natured Swede presses a box of Russian cigarettes into my hand as I descend the ladder - a gift he can ill afford - and twenty minutes later our boat glides safely and smoothly on Persian soil.

It was a lovely day, and the blue sky and sunshine, singing of birds, and green of plain and forest, a pleasant relief to the eye and senses after the cold and misery of the past two days. Astara (though the port of Tabriz) is an insignificant place, its sole importance lying in the fact that it is a frontier town. On one side of the narrow river a collection of ramshackle mud huts, neglected gardens, foul smells, beggars, and dogs - Persia; on the other, a score of neat stone houses, well-kept roads and paths, flower-gardens, orchards, a pretty church, and white fort surrounded by the inevitable black-and-white sentry-boxes, guarded by a company of white-capped Cossacks - Russia. I could not help realizing, on landing at Astara, the huge area of this vast empire. How many thousand miles now separated me from the last border town of the Great White Czar that I visited - Kiakhta, on the Russo-Chinese frontier?

Surrounded by a ragged mob, we walked to the village to see about horses and a lodging for the night. The latter was soon found - a flat-roofed mud hut about thirty feet square, devoid of chimney or furniture of any kind. The floor, cracked in several places, was crawling with vermin, and the walls undermined with rat-holes; but in Persia one must not be particular. Leaving our baggage in the care of one "Hassan," a bright-eyed, intelligent-looking lad, and instructing him to prepare a meal, we made for the bazaar, a hundred yards away, through a morass, knee deep in mud and abomination of all kinds, to procure food.

A row of thirty or forty mud huts composed the "bazaar," where, having succeeded in purchasing tea, bread, eggs, and caviar, we turned our attention to horseflesh.

An old Jew having previously agreed to convert, at exorbitant interest, our rouble notes into "sheis" and kerans, negotiations for horses were then opened by Gerome, and, as the patois spoken in Astara is a mixture of Turkish and Persian, with a little Tartar thrown in, his task was no easy one, especially as every one spoke at once and at the top of their voices. We discovered at last that but few of the villagers owned a horse, and those who did were very unwilling to let the animal for such an uncertain journey. "Who is going to guarantee that the 'Farangis' will not steal it?" asked one ragged, wild-looking fellow in sheepskins and a huge lamb's-wool cap. "Or get it stolen from them?" added another, with a grin. "They can have my old grey mare for two hundred kerans, but you won't catch me letting her for hire," added a third.

With the aid of our friend, the Jew, however, we finally persuaded the sheepskin gentleman (a native of Khiva) to change his mind. After considerable haggling as to price, he disappeared, to return with two of the sorriest steeds I ever set eyes on. "We ought to reach Enzelli in about three days, if we do not get our throats cut," said the Khivan, who was to accompany us, encouragingly.

Hassan had been busy in our absence; he had prepared an excellent pilaff, and sent to Russian Astara for some kaketi wine, which was brought over in a goatskin. This, with our own provisions bought in the morning, furnished a substantial and much-needed meal. Persian native bread is somewhat trying at first to a weak digestion. It is unleavened, baked in long thin strips, and is of suet-like consistency. The hut, like most native houses in Persia, had no chimney, the only outlet for the smoke being through the narrow doorway. This necessitates lying flat on one's back in the clear narrow space between smoke and flooring, or being suffocated - a minor inconvenience as compared with others in Persian travel.

The Khivan arrived with the horses at six next morning. By seven o'clock we were well on the road, which for the first ten miles or so led by the sea-shore, through dense thickets of brushwood, alternating with patches of loose drifting sand. I was agreeably disappointed in the ponies; for though it was deep, heavy going, they stepped out well and freely. The clear sunshine, keen air, and lovely scenery seemed to have the same inspiriting effect on them as on ourselves.

The coup d'oeil was indeed a lovely one. To our right a glorious panorama of palm, forest, and river stretched away for miles, bounded on the horizon by a chain of lofty precipitous mountains, their snowy peaks white and dazzling against the deep cloudless blue, their grassy slopes and rocky ravines hidden, here and there, by grey mists floating lazily over depths of dark green forest at their feet. To our left broad yellow sands, streaked with seaweed and dark driftwood, and cold grey waters of the Caspian Sea - colourless and dead even under this Mediterranean sky, and bringing one back, so to speak, from a beautiful dream to stern reality.

About midday we came to a broad but fordable river, which the Khivan called the Chulamak. We all crossed in safety, notwithstanding the deep holes our guide warned us against, and which, as the water was thick and muddy, gave Gerome and myself some anxiety. The stream was about fifty yards across and much swollen by the snow. Landing on the other side ahead of my companions, I rode on alone, and presently found myself floundering about girth-deep in a quicksand. It was only with great difficulty that we extricated the pony. These quicksands are common on the shores of the Caspian, and natives, when travelling alone, have perished from this cause.

Nothing occurred worthy of notice till about 3 p.m., when we reached the river Djemnil. An arm of the sea more accurately describes this stream, which is (or was at the time of which I write) over three hundred yards across. Here we had some difficulty with the Khivan, who was for encamping till morning. I, however, strongly objected to sleeping a la belle etoile, especially as the sky had now clouded over, and it was beginning to snow. Partly by conciliation, partly by threats, we at last persuaded him to make the attempt, following closely in his wake. It was nasty work. Twice our horses were carried off their feet by the strong current running out to sea (we were only a quarter of a mile from the mouth); and once we, or rather the horses, had to swim for it; but we reached the opposite shore in under half an hour, wet and numbed to the waist, but safe. At seven we were snugly housed for the night at Katvesera, a so-called village of three or four mud hovels, selecting the best (outwardly) for our night's lodging. We were badly received by the natives. Neither money nor threats would induce them to produce provisions of any kind, so we fell back on sticks of chocolate and Valentine's meat-juice. The latter I never travel without - it is invaluable in uncivilized and desert countries.

The inhabitants of Katvesera are under a score in number, and live chiefly on fish, though I noticed in the morning that a considerable quantity of land was under cultivation - apparently rice and barley. They were a sullen, sulky lot, and we had almost to take the hut by force. The Khivan, Gerome, and myself took it in turns to watch through the night. It was near here that the Italian was assassinated.

A start was made at daybreak. The weather had now changed. A cutting north-easter was blowing, accompanied with snow and sleet. We forded, about 11 a.m., the Kokajeri river, a mountain stream about thirty yards wide, unfordable except upon the sea-beach. At midday we halted at Tchergari, a fishing-village on the shores of the Caspian.

Tchergari contains about two hundred inhabitants, mostly fishermen employed by a Russian firm. The houses, built of tree-trunks plastered with mud, had roofs of thatched reed, and were far more substantial and better built than any I had yet seen in Persia. Fearing a reception like that of the previous evening, we had intended riding straight through the place to our destination for the night, when a European advanced to meet us through the snow. Mr. V - - , a Russian, and overseer of the fishery, had made his hut as comfortable as circumstances would admit, and we were soon seated before a blazing fire (with a chimney!), discussing a plate of steaming shtchi, [C] washed down by a bottle of kaketi. Roast mutton and pastry followed, succeeded by coffee and vodka (for we had the good luck to arrive at our host's dinner-hour). By the time cigarettes were under way we felt fully equal to the long cold ride of fifteen miles that separated us from our night's halting-place, Alala Resht itself seemed at least thirty miles nearer than it had before dinner.

"You are bold," said Mr. V - - , in French, "to attempt this journey at this time of year. I do not mean as regards footpads and robbers reports concerning them are always greatly exaggerated; but the rivers are in a terrible state. There is one just beyond Alala, that I know you cannot cross on horseback. I will send a man on at once to try and get a boat for you, and you can pull the horses after you. There is an Armenian at Alala, who will give you a lodging to-night" Mr. V - - 's good fare and several glasses of vodka considerably shortened our ride, and we arrived at Alala before dark, where a hearty welcome awaited us. Turning in after a pipe and two or three glasses of tea, we slept soundly till time to start in the morning. The outlook from our snug resting-place was not inviting - the sky of a dirty grey, blowing hard, and snowing harder than ever.

Alala contains about eight hundred inhabitants. The land surrounding it is thickly cultivated with rice and tobacco. Neither are, however, exported in any quantity, the difficulties of transport to Astara or Enzelli being so great.

It is somewhat puzzling to a stranger to get at the names of places on the southern shores of the Caspian. Most of the villages are known by more than one, but Alala rejoices in as many aliases as an old gaol-bird, viz. Alala, Asalim, and Navarim.

Thanks to our Russian friend, a boat and a couple of men were awaiting us at the big river (I could not ascertain its name). Entering it ourselves, we swam the horses over one by one. It took us the best part of two hours. Though only two hundred yards wide, they were off their legs nearly the whole way. What we should have done without Mr. V - - 's aid I know not.

Towards sundown the high tower of the Shah's palace at Enzelli came in sight. At last the neck of this weary journey was broken, and to-morrow, all being well, we should be at Resht. The road is winding, and it was not till past ten o'clock that we rode through the silent, deserted streets to the caravanserai, a filthier lodging than any we had yet occupied. But, though devoured by vermin, I slept soundly, tired out with cold and fatigue. We dismissed the Khivan with a substantial pour-boire. He had certainly behaved extremely well for one of his race.

Enzelli is an uninteresting place. It has but two objects of interest (in Persian eyes) - the lighthouse (occasionally lit) and a palace of the Shah, built a few years since as a pied-a-terre for his Majesty on the occasion of his visits to Europe. It is a tawdry gimcrack edifice, painted bright blue, red, and green, in the worst possible taste. The Shah, on returning from Europe last time, is said to have remarked to his ministers on landing at Enzelli, "I have not seen a single building in all Europe to compare with this!" Probably not - from one point of view.

The Caspian may indeed be called a Russian lake, for although the whole of its southern coast is Persian, the only Persian vessel tolerated upon it by Russia is the yacht of the Shah, a small steamer, the gift of the Caucase-Mercure Company, which lies off Enzelli. Even this vessel is only permitted to navigate in and about the waters of the Mourdab ("dead water"), a large lake, a kind of encroachment of the sea, eighteen to twenty miles broad, which separates Enzelli from Peri-Bazar, the landing-place for Resht, four miles distant. The imperial yacht did once get as far as Astara (presumably by mistake), but was immediately escorted back to Enzelli by a Russian cruiser. There is, however, a so-called Persian fleet - the steamship Persepolis, anchored off Bushire, in the Persian Gulf, and the Susa, which lies off Mohammerah. The former is about six hundred tons, and carries four Krupp guns; but the latter is little better than a steam-launch. Both have been at anchor for about four years, and are practically unseaworthy and useless.

We embarked at nine o'clock, in a boat pulled by eight men. The crossing of the Mourdab is at times impossible, owing to the heavy sea; but this time luck was with us, and midday saw us at Peri-Bazar, where there is no difficulty in procuring riding-horses to take one into Resht. The country between the two places was formerly morass and jungle, but on the occasion of the Shah's visit to Europe about twenty years ago, a carriage-road was made - not a good one, for such a thing does not exist in Persia - but a very fair riding-track (in dry weather). We reached Resht wet to the skin, the snow having ceased and given way to a steady downpour of rain.

Resht bears the unpleasant reputation of being the most unhealthy city in Persia. Its very name, say the natives, is derived from the word rishta, "death." "If you wish to die," says a proverb of Irak, "go to Resht!" The city, which had, at the beginning of the century, a population of over sixty thousand inhabitants, now has barely thirty thousand. This certainly looks as if there were some truth in the foregoing remarks; and there is no doubt that, on the visitation of the plague about ten years ago, the mortality was something frightful. A great percentage of deaths are ascribed to Resht fever - a terrible disease, due to the water and the exhalations from the marshes surrounding the city. It is certainly the dampest place in the world. The sun is seldom seen, and one's clothes, even on a dry, rainless day, become saturated with moisture.

The town is, nevertheless, prettily situated in a well-wooded country. It would almost be imposing were it not for the heavy rains and dews, which cause a rapid decay of the buildings. The latter are mostly of red brick and glazed tiles.

Resht is the depot for goods to and from Persia - chiefly silks. Tobacco is also grown in yearly increasing quantities. Several Russian firms have opened here for the manufacture of cigarettes, which, though they may find favour among the natives, are too hot and coarse for European tastes. They are well made and cheap enough - sevenpence a hundred.

In addition to the native population, Resht contains about five hundred Armenians, and a score or so of Europeans. Among the latter are a Russian and a British vice-consul. To the residence of the latter we repaired. Colonel Stewart's kindness and hospitality are a byword in Persia, and the Sunday of our arrival at Resht was truly a day of rest after the discomfort and privations we had undergone since leaving Baku.

[Footnote A: Isvostchik, a cab-driver.]

[Footnote B: "Tchornigorod," or "Black Town," so called from the smoke that hangs night and day over the oil-factories.]

[Footnote C: Russian cabbage-soup.]