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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Benn were peacefully riding along the city wall


Now, if we choose to allow these creatures to bring infection into other countries--and it must be remembered that if they do go to the shrine it is generally because they are infected with some complaint or other, or actually for the purpose of dying there--we ought not to grumble if the Russians, who see their thickly populated territories of Transcaspia threatened, enforce upon the Persian officials the necessity of hampering the progress of such parties towards Meshed. Nor can we blame them if, when the Persian authorities are unable to enforce stringent measures, they take matters into their own hands, whether in a strictly legal way or otherwise, in order to prevent these sickly hordes from coming towards their frontier.

I am sure that if the sacred shrine were in British territory, and ailing Russian pilgrims came over bringing bundles of badly-packed dead relations with them, the outcry in this country would be general, and we should soon put a stop to it.

As it is, the provocation to hinder them is very great, while the benefit that we reap by letting these wretches through is rather difficult to detect; they are an expense to the Government rather than otherwise, not to speak of the endless bother and annoyance they give our various officials on the road, for indeed, religious people, whether Mussulman or Christian or Buddhist, can make themselves a nuisance for religion's sake. Moreover, our caravans, following directly after these funereal parties, have occasionally fared badly at the hands of the alarmed natives.

In Sistan, Major Benn was telling me an amusing incident: one or two members of one of these fanatical parties died at the Consulate; the local Persian doctor pronounced it--or them--cases of plague, and the natives were scared to death for fear that the infection should spread; and one day when Major and Mrs. Benn were peacefully riding along the city wall, a number of people with rifles collected upon the ramparts and fired a volley with actual bullets over their heads. It was explained afterwards that the intention was not to cause the riders any harm but merely to drive away the "spirits of infection" which hung over the Consul, who had been with the pilgrims.

There seems to be a belief that the intense cold of the winter, the terrific heat of the summer, and the torrential rains of the autumn, make the Nushki route impracticable during the greater part of the year, but nothing could be further from the truth. One can travel on this route comfortably at almost any time of the year, except during the heavy rains, when the desert becomes a swamp and makes it impossible for camels to go on. In summer, of course, one has to travel at night, and in winter it is pleasanter travelling during the day.

CHAPTER XXXVI


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