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. The roads were in a terrible state; the Kharzan, a long and difficult pass, was blocked with snow, and the villages on either side of it crowded with weather-bound caravans.

The prospect, viewed from a warm and comfortable bed, was not inviting. Anxiety, however, to reach Teheran and definitely map out my route to India overcame everything, even the temptation to defer a journey fraught with cold, hunger, and privation, and take it easy for a few days, with plenty of food and drink, to say nothing of cigars, books, and newspapers, in the snug cosy rooms of the Consulate. "You will be sorry for it to-morrow," said the colonel, as he left the room to give the necessary orders for our departure; adding with a smile, "I suppose a wilful man must have his way."

There are two modes of travelling in Persia: marching with a caravan, a slow and tedious process; and riding post, or "chapar." The latter, being the quickest, is usually adopted by Europeans, but can only be done on the Government post-roads, of which there are five: from Teheran to Resht, Tabriz, Meshed, Kerman, and the Persian Gulf port, Bushire. These so-called roads are, however, often mere caravan-tracks, sometimes totally hidden by drifting sand or snow. In the interior of the country the hard sun-baked soil is usually trackless, so that the aid of a "Shagird Chapar," or post-boy, becomes essential.

The distance between the "Chapar khanehs," as the tumble-down sheds doing duty for post-houses are called, is generally five farsakhs, or about twenty English miles; but the Persian farsakh is elastic, and we often rode more, at other times less, than we paid for. Travel is cheap: one keran per farsakh (2-1/2_d. a mile) per horse, with a pour-boire of a couple of kerans to the "Shagird" at the end of the stage.

Given a good horse and fine weather, Persian travel would be delightful; but the former is, unfortunately, very rarely met with. Most of the post-horses have been sold for some vice which nothing but constant hard work will keep under. Kickers, rearers, jibbers, shyers, and stumblers are but too common, and falls of almost daily occurrence on a long journey. Goodness knows how many Gerome and I had between Resht and the Persian Gulf.

Notwithstanding these drawbacks, the speed attained by the wretched half-starved animals is little short of marvellous. Nothing seems to tire them. We averaged fifty miles a day after leaving Teheran, covering, on one occasion, over a hundred miles in a little over eleven hours. This is good work, considering the ponies seldom exceed fourteen hands two inches, and have to carry a couple of heavy saddle-bags in addition to their rider. Gerome must have ridden quite fourteen stone.

About ten o'clock the horses arrived, in charge of a miserable-looking Shagird, in rags and a huge lamb's-wool cap, the only warm thing about him. It was pitiful to see the poor wretch, with bare legs and feet, shivering and shaking in the cutting wind and snow. The ponies, too, looked tucked up and leg-weary, as if they had just come off a long stage (which, indeed, they probably had) instead of going on one.

"Don't be alarmed; they are the proverbial rum 'uns to look at," said our host, who would not hear of our setting out without saddle-bags crammed with good things: cold meat, sardines, cigarettes, a couple of bottles of brandy, and a flask of Russian vodka. But for these we must literally have starved en route.

"Good-bye. Good luck to you!" from the colonel.

"En avant!" cries Gerome, with a deafening crack of his heavy chapar whip. We are both provided with this instrument of torture - a thick plaited thong about five feet long, attached to a short thick wooden handle, and terminating in a flat leathern cracker of eight or ten inches. A cut from this would make an English horse jump out of his skin, but had little or no effect on the tough hides of our "chapar" ponies. The snow is almost up to the knees of the latter as we labour through the gateway and into the narrow street. Where will it be on the Kharzan Pass?

Resht is picturesquely situated. It must be a lovely place in summer-time, when fertile plains of maize, barley, and tobacco stretch away on every side, bounded by belts of dark green forest and chains of low well-wooded hills, while the post-road leads for miles through groves of mulberry trees, apple orchards, and garden-girt villas, half hidden by roses and jasmine. But this was hardly a day for admiring the beauties of nature. Once out of the suburbs and in the open country, nothing met the eye but a dreary wilderness of white earth and sullen grey sky, that boded ill for the future. The cold was intense. Although dressed in the thickest of tweeds and sheepskin jacket, sable pelisse, enormous "bourka," and high felt boots, it was all I could do to keep warm even when going at a hand gallop, varied every hundred yards or so by a desperate "peck" on the part of my pony.

The first stage, Koudoum, five farsakhs from Resht, was reached about three o'clock in the afternoon. This was my first experience of a Chapar khaneh. The Shagird informed us that it was considered a very good one, and was much frequented by Europeans in summer-time - presumably, judging from the holes in the roof, for the sake of coolness. Let me here give the reader a brief description of the accommodation provided for travellers by his Imperial Majesty the Shah. The Koudoum Chapar khaneh is a very fair example of the average Persian post-house.

Imagine a small one-storied building, whitewashed, save where wind and rain have disclosed the brown mud beneath. A wooden ladder (with half the rungs missing) leads to the guest-chamber, a large bare room, devoid of furniture of any kind, with smoke-blackened walls and rotten, insecure flooring. A number of rats scamper away at our approach. I wonder what on earth they can find to eat, until Gerome points out a large hole in the centre of the apartment. This affords an excellent view of the stables, ten or twelve feet below, admitting, at the same time, a pungent and overpowering odour of manure and ammonia. A smaller room, a kind of ante-chamber, leads out of this. As it is partly roofless, I seek, but in vain, for a door to shut out the icy cold blast. Further search in the guest-room reveals six large windows, or rather holes, for there are no shutters, much less window-panes. It is colder here, if anything, than outside, for the draughts are always at once; but we must in Persia be thankful for small mercies. There is a chimney, in which a good log fire, kindled by Gerome, is soon blazing.

Lunch and a nip of the colonel's vodka work wonders, and we are beginning to think, over a "papirosh," that Persia is not such a bad place after all, when the Shagird's head appears at the window. There are only two horses available for the next stage, but a third has been sent for from a neighbouring village, and will shortly arrive. As night is falling fast, I set out with the Shagird for the next station, Rustemabad, leaving Gerome, who has already travelled the road and knows it well, to follow alone.

It is still snowing fast, but my mount is a great improvement on that of the morning, luckily, for the stage is a long one, and we have a stiff mountain to climb before reaching our destination for the night.

We ride for three hours, slowly and silently, over a plain knee-deep in snow. About half-way across a tinkle of bells is heard, clear and musical, in the distance. Presently a large caravan looms out of the dusk - fifty or sixty camels and half a dozen men. The latter exchange a cheery "Good night" with my guide. Slowly the ungainly, heavily laden beasts file past us, gaunt and spectral in the twilight, the bells die away on the still wintry air, and we are again alone on the desolate plain - not a sign of life, not a sound to be heard, but the crunching of snow under our horses' feet, and the occasional pistol-like crack of my guide's heavy whip.

It is almost dark when we commence the ascent of the mountain on the far side of which lies Rustemabad. The path is rough and narrow, and in places hewn out of the solid rock. Towards the summit, where a slip or false step would be fatal, a dark shapeless mass appears, completely barring the pathway, on the white snow. Closer inspection reveals a dead camel, abandoned, doubtless, by the caravan we have just passed, for the carcase is yet warm. With considerable difficulty, but aided by the hard slippery ground, we drag it to the brink of the precipice, and send it crashing down through bush and briar, to fall with a loud splash into a foaming torrent far below. During this performance one of the ponies gets loose, and half an hour is lost in catching him again.

So the journey wore on. Half-way down on the other side of the mountain, my pony stumbled and shot me head first into a pool of liquid mud, from which I was, with some difficulty, extricated wet through and chilled to the bone. The discomfort was bad enough, but, worse still, my sable pelisse, the valuable gift of a Russian friend, was, I feared, utterly ruined.

It was nearly nine o'clock when we reached Rustemabad, to find rather worse quarters than we had left at Koudoum. To make matters worse, I had no change of clothes, and the black, ill-smelling mud had penetrated to the innermost recesses of my saddle-bags, which did not tend to improve the flavour of the biscuits and chocolate that constituted my evening meal. No food of any kind was procurable at the post-house, and all our own provisions were behind with Gerome. Luckily, I had stuck to the flask of vodka!

With the help of the postmaster, a decrepit, half-witted old man, and the sole inmate of the place, I managed to kindle a good fire, and set to work to dry my clothes, a somewhat uncomfortable process, as it entailed my remaining three-parts naked for half the night in an atmosphere very little above zero. The sables were in a terrible state. It was midnight before the mud on them was sufficiently dry to brush off, as I fondly hoped, in the morning.

Gerome did not turn up till one o'clock a.m., his horse not having arrived at Koudoum till past seven. He had lost his way twice, and had almost given up all hopes of reaching Rustemabad till daylight, when my fire, the only light in the place, shone out of the darkness. The poor fellow was so stiff and numbed with fatigue and cold that I had to lift him off his horse and carry him into the post-house. He was a sorry object, but I could not refrain from smiling. My companion's usually comical, ruddy face wore a woebegone look, while long icicles hung from his hair, eyebrows, and moustaches, giving him the appearance of a very melancholy old Father Christmas.

Morning brought a cloudless blue sky and brilliant sunshine. My first thought on awaking was for the pelisse. Summoning the old postmaster, I confided the precious garment to him, with strict injunctions to take it outside, beat it well with a stick, and bring it back to me to brush. In the mean time, we busied ourselves with breakfast and a cup of steaming cocoa, for a long ride was before us. It was still bitterly cold, with a strong north-easter blowing. The thermometer marked (in the sun) only one degree above zero.

Rustemabad, a collection of straggling, tumble-down hovels, contains about four or five hundred inhabitants. The post-house, perched on the summit of a steep hill, is situated some little distance from the village, which stands in the centre of a plateau, bounded on the south-west by a chain of precipitous mountains. The country around is fertile and productive, being well watered by the Sefid Roud (White River). Rice is largely grown, but to-day not a trace of vegetation is visible; nothing but the vast white plain, smooth and unbroken, save where, here and there, a brown village blurrs its smooth surface, an oasis of mud huts in this desert of dazzling snow.

An exclamation from Gerome suddenly drew my attention to the postmaster, who stood at the open doorway, my pelisse in hand. I was then unused to the ways and customs of the Persian peasantry, or should have known that it was but labour lost to make one spring at the old idiot, and, twining my fingers in his throat, shake him till he yelled for mercy. Nothing but a thick stick has the slightest effect upon the Shah's subjects; and I was, for a moment, sorely tempted to use mine. The reader must own that I should have been justified. It was surely enough to try the patience of a saint, for the old imbecile had deliberately walked down to the river, made a hole in the ice, and soaked the garment in water to the waist, reducing it to its former condition of liquid slime. This was his method of getting the mud off. I may add that this intelligent official had assisted me in the drying process up till midnight.

There was no help for it; nothing to be done but cut off the damaged portion from the waist to the heels - no easy matter, for it was frozen as stiff as a board. "It will make a better riding-jacket now," said Gerome, consolingly; "but this son of a pig shall not gain by it," he added, stamping the ruined remains into the now expiring fire.

The village of Patchinar, at the foot of the dreaded Kharzan Pass, was to be our halting-place for the night. The post-road, after leaving Rustemabad, leads through the valley of the Sefid Roud river, in which, by the way, there is excellent salmon-fishing. About six miles from Rustemabad is a spot called by the natives the "Castle of the Winds," on account of the high winds that, even in the calmest weather, prevail there. Although, out on the plain, there was a scarcely perceptible breeze, we had to literally fight our way against the terrific gusts that swept through this narrow gorge. Fortunately, it was a fine day, but the fine powdery snow whirled up and cut into our eyes and faces, and made travelling very unpleasant.

These violent wind-storms have never been satisfactorily accounted for. They continue for a certain number of hours every day, summer and winter, increasing in force till sunset, when they abate, to rise again the following dawn. On some occasions horses, and even camels, have been blown over, and caravans are sometimes compelled to halt until the fury of the storm has diminished.

Crossing a ridge of low hills, we descended into the valley of Roudbar, a quiet and peaceful contrast to the one we had just left. The wind now ceased as if by magic. Much of the snow had here disappeared under the warm sunshine, while before us, nestling in a grove of olive trees, lay the pretty village, with its white picturesque houses and narrow streets shaded by gaily striped awnings. It was like a transformation-scene, this sudden change from winter, with its grey sky and cold icy blast, to the sunny stillness and repose of an English summer's day. We rode through the bazaar, a busy and crowded one for so small a place. A large trade is done here in olives. Most of it is in the hands of two enterprising Frenchmen, who started business some years ago, and are doing well.

We managed to get a mouthful of food at Menjil while the horses were being changed.

Colonel S - - had especially warned us against sleeping here, the Chapar khaneh being infested with the Meana bug, a species of camel tick, which inflicts a poisonous and sometimes dangerous wound. It is only found in certain districts, and rarely met with south of Teheran. The virus has been known, in some cases, to bring on typhoid fever, and one European is said to have died from its effects. For the truth of this I cannot vouch; but there is no doubt that the bite is always followed by three or four days' more or less serious indisposition.