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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

All the luggage removed from the fourgon and carriage


Now

and then, miles and miles apart, comes a quadrangular or rectangular, castellated mud wall enclosing a cluster of fruit trees and vegetable gardens; then miles and miles again of dreary, barren country.

Were it not for the impudence of the natives--increasing to a maximum--there is nothing to warn the traveller that one is approaching the capital of the Persian Empire, and one finds one's self at the gate of the city without the usual excitement of perceiving from a distance a high tower, or a dome or a steeple or a fortress, or a landmark of some sort or other, to make one enjoy the approach of one's journey's end.

Abdulabad, 4,015 feet, Kishslak, 3,950 feet, Sankarabad, 4,210 feet, Sulimaneh, 4,520 feet, are the principal places and main elevations on the road, but from the last-named place the incline in the plateau tends to descend very gently. Teheran is at an altitude of 3,865 feet.

Six farsakhs from Teheran, where we had to change horses, an individual connected with the transport company made himself very obnoxious, and insisted on accompanying the carriage to Teheran. He was picturesquely attired in a brown long coat, and displayed a nickel-plated revolver, with a leather belt of cartridges. He was cruel to the horses and a nuisance to the coachman. He interfered considerably with the progress of the carriage and made himself unbearable in every possible way. When

I stopped at a khafe-khana for a glass of tea, he actually removed a wheel of the carriage, which we had considerable difficulty in putting right again, and he pounded the coachman on the head with the butt of his revolver, in order, as far as I could understand, that he should be induced to go half-shares with him in the backshish that the driver would receive at the end of the stage.

All this provided some entertainment, until we reached the Teheran gate. Only half a mile more and I should be at the hotel. But man proposes and the Persian disposes. The carriage and fourgon were driven into a large courtyard, the horses were unharnessed, all the luggage removed from the fourgon and carriage, and deposited in the dust. A primitive scale was produced and slung to a tripod, and each article weighed and weighed over again so as to take up as much of one's time as possible. Various expedients to impose upon me, having failed I was allowed to proceed, a new fourgon and fresh horses being provided for the journey of half a mile more, the obnoxious man jumping first on the box so as to prevent being left behind.

At last the hotel was reached, and here another row arose with a profusion of blows among a crowd of beggars who had at once collected and disputed among themselves the right of unloading my luggage.

A strange figure appeared on the scene. A powerful, half-naked African, as black as coal, and no less than six foot two in height. He sported a huge wooden club in his hand, which he whirled round in a most dangerous manner, occasionally landing it on people's skulls and backs in a sonorous fashion. The crowd vanished, and he, now as gently as possible, removed the luggage from the fourgon and conveyed it into the hotel.

The obnoxious man now hastily descended from his seat and demanded a backshish.

"What for?"

"Oh, sir," intervened a Persian gentleman present, "this man says he has annoyed you all the way, but he could not make you angry. He must have backshish! He makes a living by annoying travellers!"

In contrast to this low, depraved parasite, the African black seemed quite a striking figure,--a scamp, if you like, yet full of character. He was a dervish, with drunken habits and a fierce nature when under the influence of drink, but with many good points when sober. On one occasion an Englishman was attacked by a crowd of Persians, and was in danger of losing his life, when this man, with considerable bravery (not to speak of his inseparable mallet which he used freely), went to the rescue of the sahib and succeeded in saving him. For this act of courage he has ever since been supported by the charity of foreigners in Teheran. He unfortunately spends all his earnings in drink, and can be very coarse indeed, in his songs and imitations, which he delights in giving when under the influence of liquor. He hangs round the hotel, crying out "_Yahu! yahu!_" when hungry--a cry quite pathetic and weird, especially in the stillness of night.


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