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. "You had far better have remained at Resht," added our informant, unpleasantly recalling to my mind the colonel's prophecy, "You will be sorry for this to-morrow!"

Notwithstanding hunger and vermin, we managed to enjoy a tolerable night's rest. The post-house was warm at any rate, being windowless. Patchinar was evidently a favourite halting-place, for the dingy walls of the guest-room were covered with writing and pencil sketches, the work of travellers trying to kill time, from the Frenchman who warned one (in rhyme) to beware of the thieving propensities of the postmaster, to the more practical Englishman, who, in a bold hand, had scrawled across the wall, "Big bugs here!" I may add that my countryman was not exaggerating.

There was no difficulty in getting horses the next morning. The post, which left for Resht before we were stirring, had left us seven sorry-looking steeds, worn out with their previous day's journey through the deep snow-drifts of the Kharzan. By nine o'clock we were ready to start, notwithstanding the entreaties of the postmaster, whose anxiety, however, was not on our account, but on that of the horses.

"I don't believe I shall ever see them again!" he mumbled mournfully, as we rode out of the yard. "And who is to repay me for their loss? You will be dead, too, before sundown, if the snow catches you in the mountains!"

But there seemed no probability of such a contingency. The sky was blue and cloudless, the sun so bright that the glare off the snow soon became unbearable without smoked goggles. The promise of an extra keran or two if we reached the end of the stage by daylight had a wonderful effect on the Shagird. Though it was terribly heavy going, and the snow in places up to our girths, we covered the five miles lying between Patchinar and the foot of the Kharzan in a little over three hours - good going considering the state of the road. We were as often off the former as on it, for there was nothing to guide one; nothing but telegraph poles and wires were visible, and these are occasionally laid straight across country away from the track.

Our destination for the night was the village of Kharzan, which is situated near the summit of the mountain, about six thousand feet high. The ascent is continuous and precipitous. An idea may be gained of the steepness by the fact that we now left the valley of the Shah Roud, barely one thousand feet above sea-level, to ascend, in a distance of about twelve miles, over six thousand feet.

The Kharzan Pass is at all times dreaded by travellers, native and European, even in summer, when there are no avalanches to fear, snow-drifts to bar the way, or ice to render the narrow, tortuous pathway even more insecure. A serious inconvenience, not to say danger, is the meeting of two camel caravans travelling in opposite directions on the narrow track, which, in many places, is barely ten feet broad, and barely sufficient to allow two horses to pass each other, to say nothing of heavily laden camels. But to-day we were safe so far as this was concerned. Not a soul was to be seen in the clefts and ravines around, or on the great white expanse stretched out beneath our feet, as we crept cautiously up the side of the mountain, our guide halting every ten or fifteen yards to probe the snow with a long pole and make sure that we had not got off the path.

A stiff and tedious climb of nearly seven hours brought us to within a mile of the summit. Halting for a short time, we refreshed ourselves with a couple of biscuits and a nip of brandy, and proceeded on our journey. We had now arrived at the most dangerous part of the pass. The pathway, hewn out of the solid rock, and about ten feet wide, was covered with a solid layer of ice eight or ten inches thick, over which our horses skated about in a most uncomfortable manner. There was no guard-rail or protection of any sort on the precipice side. All went well for a time, and I was beginning to congratulate myself on having reached the summit without-accident, when Gerdme's horse, just in front of me, blundered and nearly lit on his head. "Ah, son of a pig's mother!" yelled the little Russian in true Cossack vernacular, as the poor old screw, thoroughly done up, made a desperate peck, ending in a slither that brought him to within a foot of the brink. "That was a close shave, monsieur!" he continued, as his pony struggled back into safety, "I shall get off and walk. Wet feet are better than a broken neck any day!"

The words were scarcely out of his mouth, when a loud cry from the Shagird, and a snort and struggle from the pack-horse behind, attracted my attention. This time the beast had slipped with a vengeance, and was half-way over the edge, making, with his fore feet, frantic efforts to regain terra firma while his hind legs and quarters dangled in mid-air. There was no time to dismount and render assistance. The whole thing was over in less than ten seconds. The Shagird might, indeed, have saved the fall had he kept his head instead of losing it. All he could do was, with a loud voice and outstretched arms, to invoke the assistance of "Allah!" We were not long in suspense. Slowly, inch by inch, the poor brute lost his hold of the slippery ground, and disappeared, with a shrill neigh of terror, from sight. For two or three seconds we heard him striking here and there against a jutting rock or shrub, till, with a final thud, he landed on a small plateau of deep snow-drifts at least three hundred feet below. Here he lay motionless and apparently dead, while we could see through our glasses a thin stream of crimson flow from under him, gradually staining the white snow around.

A cat is popularly supposed to have nine lives. After my experience of the Persian post-horse, I shall never believe that that rough and ill-shaped but useful animal has less than a dozen. The fall I have described would assuredly have killed a horse of any other nationality, if I may use the word. It seemed, on the contrary, to have a tonic and exhilarating effect on this Patchinar pony. Before we could reach him (a work of considerable difficulty and some risk) he had risen to his feet, given himself a good shake, and was nibbling away at a bit of gorse that peeped through the snow on which he had fallen. A deep cut on the shoulder was his only injury, and, curiously enough, our portmanteaus, with the exception of a broken strap, were unharmed. There was, luckily, nothing breakable in either.

Kharzan, a miserable village under snow for six months of the year, was reached without further mishap. There is no post-house, and the caravanserai was crowded with caravans. Before sundown, however, we were comfortably installed in the house of the head-man of the place, who spread carpets of soft texture and quaint design in our honour, regaled us with an excellent "pilaff," and produced a flask of Persian wine. The latter would hardly have passed muster in Europe. The cork consisted of a plug of cotton-wool plastered with clay; the contents were of a muddy-brown colour. "It is pure Hamadan," said our host with pride, as he placed the bottle before us. "Perhaps the sahib did not know that our country is famous for its wines." It was not altogether unpalatable, something like light but rather sweet hock; very different, however, in its effects to that innocent beverage, and one could not drink much with impunity. Its cheapness surprised me: one shilling a quart bottle. That, at least, is the price our host charged - probably more than half again its real value.

The winegrowers of Hamadan have many difficulties to contend with; among others, the severe cold. In winter the wine is kept in huge jars, containing six or seven hundred bottles. These are buried in the ground, their necks being surrounded by hot beds of fermenting horse-dung, to keep the wine from freezing. But even this plan sometimes fails, and it has to be chopped out in solid blocks and melted for drinking.

Kharzan has a population of about a thousand inhabitants. It was here that Baker Pasha was brought some years ago in a dying condition, after being caught in a wind-storm on the Kharzan Pass, and lay for three days in the house we were lodging at. Our old friend showed us a clasp-knife presented him by the colonel, who on that occasion nearly lost both his feet from frost-bite. Captains Gill and Clayton, [A] of the Royal Engineers and Ninth Lancers, were with him, but escaped unharmed.

Stiff and worn out with the events of the day, we soon stretched ourselves in front of the blazing fire in anticipation of a good night's rest; but sleep was not for us. In the next room were a party of Persian merchants from Astrakhan on their way to Bagdad via Teheran, who had been prisoners here for five days, and were now carousing on the strength of getting away on the morrow. A woman was with them - a brazen-faced, shrill-voiced Armenian, who made more noise than all the rest put together. Singing, dancing, quarrelling, and drinking went on without intermission till long past midnight, our neighbours raising such a din that the good people of Kharzan, a quarter of a mile away, must have turned uneasily in their slumbers, and wondered whether an army of fiends had not broken loose. Towards 1 a.m. the noise ceased, and we were just dropping to sleep, when, at about half-past two in the morning, our drunken friends, headed by the lady, burst into our apartment, with the information, in bad Russian, that a gang of fifty men sent that morning to clear a path through the deep snow had just returned, and the road to Mazreh was now practicable. The caravans would be starting in an hour, they added. "And you'd better travel with them," joined in the lady, contemptuously, "or you will be sure to get into trouble by yourselves." A reply more forcible than polite from Gerome then cleared the apartment; and, rekindling the now expiring embers, we prepared for the road.

We set out at dawn for the gate of the village, where the caravans were to assemble. It was still freezing hard, and the narrow streets like sheets of solid ice, so that our horses kept their legs with difficulty. We must have numbered fifty or sixty camels, and as many mules and horses, all heavily laden.

Daybreak disclosed a weird, beautiful scene: a sea of snow, over which the rising sun threw countless effects of light and colour, from the cold slate grey immediately around us, gradually lightening to the faintest tints of rose and gold on the eastern horizon, where stars were paling in a cloudless sky. Portrayed on canvas, the picture would have looked unnatural, so brilliant were the hues thrown by the rising sun over the land-, or rather snow-scape. The cold, though intense, was not unbearable, for there was fortunately no wind, and the spirits rose with the crisp, bracing air, brilliant sunshine, and jangle of caravan bells, as one realized that Teheran was now well within reach, and the dreaded Kharzan a thing of the past. Gerome gave vent to his feelings with a succession of roulades and operatic airs; for my little friend had a very good opinion of his vocal powers, which I, unfortunately, did not share. But he was a cheery, indefatigable creature, and of indomitable pluck, and one gladly forgave him this, his only failing.

It was terribly hard work all that morning, and Gerome had four, I three, falls, on one occasion wrenching my right ankle badly. Some of the drifts through which we rode must have been at least ten or fifteen feet deep. Some tough faggots thrown over these afforded a footing, or we should never have got over. Towards midday Mazreh was sighted; and we pushed on ahead, leaving the caravan to its own devices. The going was now better, and it was soon far behind us, the only object visible from the low hills which we now ascended, the camels and mules looking, from this distance, like flies crawling over a huge white sheet.

Lunch at Mazreh consisted of damp, mouldy bread, and some sweet, sickly liquid the postmaster called tea. Procuring fresh horses without difficulty, we set out about 3 p.m. for Kazvin. It was not till 10 p.m. that we were riding through the great gate of that city, which the soldier on guard consented, with some demur, to open.

Kazvin boasts a hotel and a boulevard! The latter is lit by a dozen oil-lamps; the former, though a palatial building of brick, with verandahs and good rooms, is left to darkness and the rats in the absence of travellers. Having groped our way for half an hour or so about a labyrinth of dark, narrow streets, we presently emerged on the dimly lit boulevard (three of the oil-lamps had gone out), and rode up to the melancholy looking hostelry at the end. Failing to obtain admission, we burst open the door, and made ourselves as comfortable as circumstances would allow. Food was out of the question; drink, saving some villainous raki of Gerome's, also; but there was plenty of firewood, and we soon had a good fire in the grate. This hotel was originally built by the Shah for the convenience of himself and ministers when on his way to Europe. It is only on these rare occasions that the barn-like building is put in order. Visions of former luxury were still visible in our bedroom in the shape of a bedstead, toilet-table, and looking-glass. "But we can't eat them!" said Gerome, mournfully.

Kazvin, which now has a population of 30,000, has seen better days. It was once capital of Persia, with 120,000 inhabitants. Strolling out in the morning before breakfast, I found it well and regularly built, and surrounded by a mud wall, with several gates of beautiful mosaic, now much chipped and defaced.

Being the junction of the roads from Tabriz on the west, and Resht on the north to the capital, is now Kazvin's sole importance. The road to Teheran was made some years ago at enormous expense by the Shah; but it has now, in true Persian style, been left to fall into decay. It is only in the finest and driest weather that the journey can be made on wheels, and this was naturally out of the question for us. A railway was mooted some time since along this, the only respectable carriage-road in Persia - but the project was soon abandoned.

The post-houses, however, are a great improvement on any in other parts of the country. At Kishlak, for instance, we found a substantial brick building with a large guest-room, down the centre of which ran a long table with spotless table-cloth, spread out with plates of biscuits, apples, nuts, pears, dried fruits, and sweetmeats, beautifully decorated with gold and silver paper, and at intervals decanters of water - rather cold fare with the thermometer at a few degrees above zero. The fruits and biscuits were shrivelled and tasteless, having evidently been there some months. It reminded me of a children's doll dinner-party. With the exception of these Barmecide feasts and some straw-flavoured eggs, there was nothing substantial to be got in any of the post-houses till we reached our destination.

About four o'clock on the 27th we first sighted the white peak of Mount Demavend, and by three o'clock next day were within sight of the dingy brown walls, mud houses, and white minarets of the city of the Shah - Teheran.

[Footnote A: Both have since met violent deaths. Captain Gill was murdered by natives with Professor Palmer near Suez, and Captain Clayton killed while playing polo in India.]