"Life is sweet, brother. There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?
"There's the wind on the heath, brother. If I could only feel that, I would gladly live for ever . . . I'll try to make you feel what a sweet thing it is to be alive, brother."
ON a beautiful stretch of Sussex upland, two miles from the town of Horsham, stand the stately buildings of Christ's Hospital--the ancient school for boys in the new setting to which it was moved from London early in the twentieth century.
Here, on October 24, 1904, Clifford Harris was born; and some account must be given of his early days and of the family life that was to mean so much to him.
He was the youngest of the three children of the Rev. George Harris, a master at the school. Himself of Irish ancestry, the father always made friends by his quick sense of humour and ready fund of enthusiasm. These gifts his youngest son inherited to the full.
His mother was a cousin of that famous medical missionary, Dr. Theodore Pennell, who spent his adventurous life of service among the frontier folk of the North-West Frontier Province of India. Something of his mantle was destined to fall upon his young kinsman.
From his earliest days Clifford, with his brother and sister, knew the happiness of an undivided family life. His sister Ruth, a year older than himself, was his constant companion throughout all his childhood and his best friend in youth. When apart, they wrote regularly to each other every week. Jordan, the elder brother, always exercised a strong inspiration and influence for good over the younger brother. All through Clifford's career this happy, undivided family life strengthened and moulded his character and service. Those who had most to do with him as a small boy found him delightfully unselfish; this, and his natural gaiety of spirit endeared him to all who knew him. But he was wholesomely mischievous, too. A governess who had the early management of him--and found the task none too easy--tells how, on the death of her own father, Clifford showed his practical sympathy by saying: "I am so very sorry your father has died; and I really will try to behave better now." Some days afterwards, however, the strain proving heavy, he warned her: "I don't think I can keep it up much longer"!
He was by nature active and athletic, learning to swim when he was only five, and taking like a duck to the water. He began to play football at seven. During the many summer holidays which the family spent at Hayling Island, when the children were young, tree climbing was his especial delight. He early learned to use his energies for the helping of others. There was the old fisherman, for instance, on Hayling Island, whose filthy hut the family had once ventured to criticize. "Well," said the old man, "and how can I help it? I've nobody to do a bit of spring cleaning for the likes of me." That was a challenge cheerfully accepted. Clifford Harris enjoyed his first job as house decorator; for his family descended inexorably upon the fisherman's cottage, armed with pails, mops, brooms, buckets, and distemper. Every stick of furniture was first moved out of the large front room. It was then depopulated of innumerable creeping and crawling things, scoured from top to bottom, and freshly distempered till it looked as dainty as a Dorset dairy. The old man returned to find the room swept and garnished and, with an eye to the main chance, retired thenceforward to the back room and hung out a large notice outside the front: "APARTMENT TO LET"!
A Plucky Fight
February 2, 1916, was an anxious day for the Harris family. Bad news came suddenly from St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, that Clifford, who lay there desperately ill, had had a serious relapse in the illness which had wracked and contorted him for several weeks, though he had never grumbled or complained in all the pain. "Spotted fever" the authorities called it, or cerebro-spinal meningitis. But the name was the only clear fact about it. This disease was still a new thing to most English doctors; and very, very few who caught it had ever recovered. How Clifford had come by it was itself a mystery still unsolved; unless, perhaps, he had picked up the germ from a railway carriage in which some soldier, unwittingly sickening for the disease, had just travelled to or from France.
His parents watched anxiously at the bedside, hour by hour, during that fateful February day. It was the day for the Church's commemoration of Christ's Dedication in the Temple as a child. This son of theirs, too, had been dedicated to God at his birth. It was hard to accept this strange fulfilment of their hopes and
Erayers for him. But doctor and nurse alike ad given up hope. In the evening, however, he suddenly moved, spoke, rallied. Next morning and the following days found him still fighting bravely for recovery, though very weak. Injections were being given him instead of the food which he could not take. But nobody can live for ever on injections, least of all a growing boy. One day, the doctor said: "He must eat, or he will go under. We must tempt him. Give him anything he asks for, absolutely anything, no matter how unsuitable it may seem." This generous proposition was put to the boy, and at once he said: "Sardines, please." It appeared that in his half-delirious state he had heard a small boy on the other side of the ward being teased by other patients for his liking of this particular delicacy. Sardines were brought to young Harris now and he made his first meal for many weeks. With so free a range of choice, he went on to display a truly catholic taste in foodstuffs: chocolate creams, plum duff, fried sausages--these and many other strange plate-fellows went down like hot cakes when once the spell of hunger had begun to work again.
Slowly he regained his strength and won his way back to health until, on March 17, he was motored down to Horsham for a long spell of convalescence. Bath-chair life followed; then Swedish massage and daily exercises slowly brought back the wasted muscles. But it was a serious early setback to his intellectual equipment for life. A year and a half away from school is not the best preparation for a university degree.
At School--Climbing back
But Clifford Harris had one invaluable gift--persistent determination to overcome difficulties. ["He always seemed to step over difficulties," said a friend who knew him well later.] Let a friend who closely shared this period of his life at school at Christ's Hospital tell the tale in his own words. He is writing to The Blue, the school magazine, from New York, in the summer of 1930: "I don't think there was anybody while I was in Maine A who was so well liked by everybody as Clifford Harris. I don't suppose you realized that he used to wake up about six in the morning, and try to learn Mr. Dale's Latin exercises under the bedclothes, although, poor old chap, he didn't manage any better with it than R----- or myself, who never learned them at all! And while he was a conscientious and hard-working fellow, he had a very human way of pulling authority's leg, and getting out of doing things. While there were a number of people who were popular with part of the house, there was nobody but Harris who commanded respect from everybody, and who was equally gentle and friendly towards people entirely different from himself." He was the tallest boy of his time at the school, six feet four inches in height, and broad in proportion.
When Clifford was sixteen, his father retired from his mastership at Christ's Hospital to become vicar of Wadhurst, not far away in the same county of Sussex. He died in the following year, 1921, on the eve of Clifford's seventeenth birthday, leaving behind him an inspiring example and a treasured memory. His mother had to leave the vicarage, but lived on in the town with her two sons and her daughter. Meanwhile Clifford made his way up the school, stage by stage, towards the higher forms.
In October, 1922, he entered the residential hostel (in Vincent Square, Westminster), of King's College, London, to read theology with a view to ordination. There he really "found himself" at last, in mind, in body, and in the opportunity for leadership. Much of this awakening he owed to the stimulating friendship of the sub-warden of the hostel, the Rev. F. R. Barry, D.S.O., now vicar of St. Mary's, the University Church at Oxford. Mr. Barry speaks thus of his memories of Harris at that time:--
"He was just beginning really to recover from his long illness when he came to King's College. Still behindhand in his work, and knowing it, he willed to learn; his energetic spirit forced him on against the barriers with which his illness had surrounded him. To me, it was like seeing a triumphant spirit breaking through. I felt I was, as it were, watching a chrysalis as it emerged into the butterfly stage and spread its wings for a flight. He struggled grimly with his Greek and his Greek Testament. English essays were a torture to him at first. But there came a break in this struggle one day, as I well remember. I had grown tired of his essays--laborious, bombastic journalism as they often were, not coming naturally from him. So I said to him: 'Look here, Clifford, write me an essay on any subject you care to choose for yourself--a description, for example, of any bit of country or landscape that you particularly like.' He saw what I wanted, and wrote for me a quite remarkably good essay at once; it was a description, I believe, of the scenery at San Remo, where he had lately spent a holiday. Every word was just right. It was a completely new beginning for his writing of English to find that he had only to express his love of nature in his own way, for he loved nature in all her moods. Colour especially appealed to him, and the water-colour work of other people. He had a wonderful knowledge of birds and flowers."
This quick mental development made a difference even to his outward looks. His head master at Christ's Hospital, Mr. W. H. Fyfe, meeting Mr. Barry one day, said: "What has happened to the boy? His whole look has changed, as though a lamp had been lit inside him!"
In games he was still handicapped for a time by having to "go canny" owing to his long illness. In spite of this, he was one of the best swimmers and tennis players in the college. And he played a useful forward game in the college Rugby XV. He also joined the Territorial artillery, with whom he learned to ride.
It was, however, for sheer force of personality that he was elected to a position at the hostel corresponding to the post, at Oxford, of president of the junior common room; and he also became president of the theological faculty and vice-president of the Union for the whole college. Perhaps he won this position because his evident goodness and whiteness of personal character were combined with an utter freedom from anything "pi" or priggish. Indeed, he was well-known for his escapades and practical jokes--some of which were known to the authorities (and some, perhaps, not!).
While life at King's College quickened his growth in mind and spirit, it also brought him new ideals of social service. One summer vacation, at least, was spent on the hopfields of Kent, where he devoted himself to looking after the hop pickers from the poorer parts of London.
It was in his last term at King's that the General Strike took place, in May, 1926. As with many other university students at that time, it was far less from any political bias than from a desire to be of real use to the community that he volunteered at once for public service. He thus described some of his adventures in the Wadhurst Parish Magazine, in June, 1926:--
"On May 4, when the strike began, I was among the volunteers for unloading milk at Waterloo. When the call for more omnibus drivers came, I felt that the unloading was sufficiently supplied with other fellows to allow me to try my luck as a driver."
He passed a rough-and-ready test, and was given a licence as bus-driver. "Next morning," he goes on, "I was up at five a.m., and took my place as a London omnibus driver--this after ten minutes' experience of driving a 'bus and a couple of years with a baby two-seater! Each morning we were allotted our route and received instructions; then there was a dash down to where the 'buses were parked, and each selected the one he thought would go in style. Sometimes they started after five or ten minutes, but more often after half an hour's hard work. Sometimes, too, we found we had backed the wrong horse and it kicked like a mule. The first day I backed a good one, but it was rather annoying to find that the foot brake was out of action! After half an hour I felt quite an old hand at omnibus driving.
"A 'bus is licensed to carry fifty-six passengers, but we allowed a few extra, once totalling ninety-three, who clung on to the stairs and steps and even the bonnet in some cases! One lady came to me and complained in an excited manner how very dangerous it was to carry so many, and said that I ought not to allow it: this was greeted with cheers from those around. I told her the conductor was captain of the 'bus and I drove on with my load. It was all good fun and full of thrills and narrow escapes, and I did not mind how long I was at it."
Doubtless this experience came back to him in the years to be in Persia, where the drivers of lorries to-day are often less trained but even more reckless on the mountain roads than any volunteers in the General Strike!
The Call of Persia
For it was from Persia that the call for his service was now to come, rather unexpectedly. To him (as to most of those who read this book--in spite of the great Persian Exhibition in London of 1931) it was still a closed and mysterious land. Lying as it does behind the great mountain ranges that divide it from Russia and Iraq, and almost entirely without railways, it is off the main highway of the nations now, though in the proud days of Cyrus it was the hub of the civilized world. It is a vast land of mighty mountains and dry deserts. Here and there rise cities famous in history--Tehran, the present political capital, or Isfahan, the former capital and now a great educational and religious centre. But between them are only wild mountain roads or desert tracks; across these the camel and donkey caravans have made their immemorial ways, and now motor cars and lorries also run. Perched on the hillsides or clinging to the banks of some precious stream that meanders through a shallow valley are the innumerable villages where, for century after century, life has gone on almost unchanged. Up on the hills wander the nomad tribes in their moving encampments, the Qashgais, the Bakhtiaris, and the Lurs.
Islam holds sway as the main religion of the people: her lovely mosques shine out upon the eye of the traveller as he approaches the outskirts of Yezd or Kermanshah or many another city. If he be devout, your lorry driver, when the minarets of Qum come in sight over the desert ridge, will jump down from his seat and prostrate himself: for here Fatimeh, sister of the Imam Riza, lies buried, and he is near to holy ground. [A great carpet from this shrine covered the floor, with a border of box hedge, in Room III at the Persian Exhibition at Burlington House.]
But Christian missions have also been at work for many years in Persia. Mission hospitals and schools for boys and girls are bringing to the people something of the knowledge which makes for progress and freedom.
A Christian Public School
There is in the city of Isfahan a Christian public school, the Stuart Memorial College, which is the only school on English public school lines in the whole of Persia. Here Persian boys, whether Christian, Jewish, or Moslem, are given an education of almost exactly the same sort as that which may be had at Christ's Hospital or any other school of its kind, though it also aims at retaining all that is best in the native culture and tradition of that ancient land. Its purpose is to train Persian boys for citizenship and leadership in their own country. It is a school where, as in not a few English public schools, day boys from a great city and boarders from places far distant mix together in the give-and-take of daily school life. It is very definitely a Christian school; but no boy is compelled or persuaded against his will to become a Christian.
The school, founded some twenty years before, was enlarged in 1915 as a memorial to Bishop Stuart. He had courageously resigned his see in New Zealand, in 1894, at the age of sixty-seven, in order to spend the remainder of his life at Isfahan in the service of the C.M.S. Persia Mission. He died in England in 1911, at the age of eighty-four. The school, which was closed during the war, owing to the evacuation of the British community, was re-opened on January 1, 1921, by the Church Missionary Society, under the leadership of the Rev. W. J. Thompson. Educated at an English public school (Monkton Combe) and Trinity, Cambridge, he had, during the war, served as an engineer officer in Persia. [It was Mr. Thompson who superintended the preparation of the facsimile of the beautiful gate of the great mosque at Isfahan in 1930, which later was set up in Burlington House at the Persian Exhibition. A former head boy of the school, Bazl, was a chief interpreter at this exhibition.] He was ordained soon after the war. Mr. Thompson quickly saw that the only way to make this school successful, like others in India which he knew, was to secure the help of a steady stream of "short service" men from England: men, that is, who, having taken their university degree, wish to get some wider experience abroad before taking up their life work. In 1926, while on his furlough, and in search of such men, Mr. Thompson heard of and met Clifford Harris, who had just taken an honours degree in theology, and put before him the opportunity and the fascination of a period of short service in Persia, as a land where great mountains and lonely deserts form the background to spiritual, mental, and social needs that are little known to most people in England.
But it was a difficult question to decide. Ought he to leave his widowed mother, and go abroad to a country so inaccessible? She was perfectly ready to spare him, if it seemed clearly the will of God that he should go.
Mr. Barry once again acted as counsellor and adviser. Weighing the pros and cons, believing in Clifford Harris's obvious desire for some life work that would be of service to others, and counting this short service scheme to be a valuable chance for him to find his feet and gain his own outlook in the wider world of men, Mr. Barry urged him to go for a time and live out his Christian ideals of service against the background of the Moslem world. And so the decision was taken. He would go where he was wanted.
August, 1926, then, found him on board SS. Maloja, bound for Port Said. He had as travelling companion C. L. Hawker, a master at Christ's Hospital, also bound for short service at the Stuart Memorial College in Isfahan--a public school man (Bradfield), a keen athlete, and an Oxford hockey Blue.
Clifford Harris's letters home vividly express the wholehearted zest with which he flung himself into the novel variety of the journey. The route followed the new lines laid down by the introduction of a cross-desert motor service from Beyrout to Baghdad. Again and again the letters reveal the joys that came to him on the journey, as a lover of nature, from the endless variety of colour in the world around, and above all, as a swimmer, from the opportunities, which he never missed, for wayside bathes at places so far apart as Marseilles, Port Said, Tiberias, the Dead Sea, Beyrout, and Baghdad!
The journey from Baghdad into Persia was very interesting: they climbed over high mountain passes and crossed plain after plain of desert land. What a new revelation of colour made a feast for the eye here! The distances in Persia are huge, so that it is a vast expanse of tumbled and craggy groups of reds and yellows and browns lying dry under a blue sky. There would be a patch of trees and houses in the depression between two stony slopes that rise, fifteen miles on either side, up to the jagged cliffs above. The only vegetation on these slopes is the scanty camel scrub--small prickly bushes sparsely scattered everywhere. In the cracks of the hills there is occasionally a stream producing a streak of verdure but dripping away underground as soon as it reaches the plains, where it is carried in deep tunnels, hundreds of years old, to the fields of the central depression.
Isfahan, which stands over 5000 feet above sea level, was reached at last on September 1, 1926, when Mr. Thompson and others, following the hospitable custom of the C.M.S. Mission in Persia, came out some way to meet the travellers. Harris liked the look of the city at once. It was, he wrote, "like all the towns round here, a small, compact, cultivated spot in the midst of a desert plain, with mountains in view all round. There are quite a number of trees in the town, which looks very green and charming."
A New World
"Here we are in a new world," he wrote, on the day after his arrival, September 2. "Everything is the opposite--it's all very odd. I can see I have got to work absolutely 'all out.' I seem to be teaching all sorts of things to the top forms, which know English quite well. My subjects include geography, geometry, English--grammar and literature, science (elementary), and Scripture. I take the two top forms in Scripture four times a week. Hawker and I see that learning Persian is going to be a life work in itself."
Discipline was not easy at first, especially with a form of newcomers. "Hawker and I have had some fun getting them ship-shape. We can now get them to put up their hands when they want to answer a question; they don't all get up and shout at once. The form is now quite subdued; they will even stop talking when we tell them to."
Truthfulness was not a common virtue. "Several of the 'ninth' haven't learnt to tell the truth yet. When I catch one looking up an answer under his desk he will quite merrily say he wasn't. They will be all right in a few months' time I expect. There is one very cheering thing: the more soundly you strafe one of the boys, the more he seems to like you: the boy will come up quite merrily afterwards as if you were his greatest friend!
The work is hard, but meanwhile he wrote: "I have been several times with the boys for a swim; they are very keen and anxious to swim and dive well. The boys are surprisingly nice and jolly--particularly those in the hostel (many of them Christian boys). There is a big difference between the hostel boys (boarders) and those who are day boys."
A day or two later he wrote: "To-day there are to be five baptisms in the college; it is sure to cause a flutter among the mullahs of the town. Just before we came, during the Moslem festivals, the college had to be guarded with soldiers, as the mullahs were going to let the mob in. Nothing happened, however."
A Strenuous Autumn
The autumn of 1926 was a strenuous novitiate for the newcomer from England. Soon after his arrival Hawker was taken ill with sciatica and had to be in hospital for fourteen weeks. The active English masters were therefore reduced to three, Mr. Thompson, Clifford Harris, and Skipworth Harris. The last named was another "short service" man from England, then nineteen years old, who after leaving school (he, like the principal, had been at Monkton Combe), had done a short spell of schoolmastering at Kingsmead School, Hoylake, in Cheshire. But it was his ambition ultimately to take up political or diplomatic work in the East. Accordingly he had welcomed the invitation to gain the useful experience of a schoolmaster's job in Persia, and went out from England to the Stuart Memorial College in October, 1926. The two Harrises shared a room together, and formed a friendship which was to carry them through many queer adventures in the next two years.
School teaching, the organizing and supervising of games, and the correcting of school work kept the reduced staff busy from early morning till far into the night; but they were fortified by cocoa parties in the late evening. Yet those were delightful days, for all the hard work. The two Harrises found the country and the people alike new and fascinating. Together they explored the byways of this large and populous Persian city, talking to all manner of quaint, queer folk in the broken fragments of Persian which were all they could as yet command. They even made their way boldly into Persian religious assemblies where the mullahs held forth. Clifford's desire was to get inside the mind of all sorts and conditions of men.
To Horse and away
A great piece of luck befell the Harris pair at the end of the year (1926). It must be described in Clifford's words, written home:--
"I have a great piece of news--the consul has offered to lend Skipworth Harris and me horses for riding!!!! He said the horses would be very fresh as they had been ridden very little. He asked when I would like to begin and how often I would like to ride. I said: 'To-morrow morning and every day if possible, bar Sundays.' It is all fixed up!!
"At 6.30 yesterday the horses arrived with the groom. It was very fresh and nippy, as the sun was only just rising. We had a glorious ride; the horses were as fresh as could be and went like the wind. We went right out to the desert and had glorious gallops."
"The Wind on the Heath"
In March, 1927, the Harris pair had their first real piece of climbing together, during a short holiday in the hill village of Soh, some seventy miles from Isfahan. Dr. Donald Carr, of the C.M.S. medical mission in Persia, had bought a small Persian house in the village, and on retiring from Persia in 1928, after over thirty years of medical work there, he presented it to the Persia Mission as a holiday resort for missionaries. It is constantly in use now for this purpose. Soh lies among the mountains where no Europeans are to be found. The Harrises reached it on bicycles in one day. Almost as soon as they arrived Clifford suggested to Skipworth (as we must now call the other Harris, for merciful abbreviation's sake) that they should strike out "into the blue" and explore the surrounding mountains. Skipworth was doubtful about the risks, but agreed. Abiyani was their first objective, a village high up among the mountains, in a lovely valley; its red mud houses are built on to the side of the steep, red rock. They reached it by way of some fine peaks and, arriving at 7 p.m. on Monday evening, stayed the night with the head man of the village.
"We caused," says Clifford, "a terrific excitement--all the village turned out to see two feranghis (English) clad in shorts and without hats walking down the main street (narrow like the old town of San Remo), followed by a donkey and Persian servant with the baggage; then came a string of excited children (we might have been the Pied Piper) followed by the men and women!!"
They tried to converse in Persian, but were embarrassingly tongue-tied. From sheer curiosity, however, the villagers readily accepted the small copies of the gospels which Clifford had brought with him. "They are in Persian, these books!" they exclaimed in amazement, and read them with keen interest.
There was the chance of practical usefulness, too. In Abiyani they found a girl who had been suffering for many months from a very severe wound caused by a stab in the leg. It took many hours of argument for Clifford to persuade her father to let him put her on a donkey, and send her with an escort to the C.M.S. hospital at Isfahan. Next day, more peaks were climbed and they made friends with the people of Haz, another mountain village. Further climbs brought them round again to Soh.
The Ascent of Kuh-i-Dinar
Those four days of continuous climbing among the mountains whetted the appetites of Clifford and Skipworth Harris for stronger meat; they wanted longer, higher climbs. That is at once the price and the pleasure of mountaineering. But in a land like Persia the supply waits readily on the demand.
In July of that year the usual summer camp, to which a party of S.M.C. boys always go each year, was pitched at Abiyani. Its purpose was twofold: to give the boys from the school, some of them city dwellers in Isfahan, a first-rate holiday among the wild hills; and at the same time to show them how naturally Christianity expresses itself in a jolly, open-air, virile way of living. Short talks were given each day at prayers by one or other of the staff. Most of the time was spent in climbing, bathing, or rounders. Not a few college boys have owed the beginning of their Christian life to one of these camps.
When camp was ended their first real adventure began for the two Harrises. They had already planned a trip to the high peaks of Kuh-i-Dinar, a mountain several days' journey to the southwest of Isfahan.
Their choice of this expedition is explained by Clifford at the beginning of a vivid record of it, which he called Our Travels with a Donkey and a Silly Ass." They selected it, he says, because Kuh-i-Dinar (18,000 feet) is the second highest mountain in Persia, and because it is in one of the wildest and least known parts: very few white men have ever been there. Their interest was first aroused by seeing all that part of the country marked on their big map (the best obtainable) as "unsurveyed" and "unexplored." The route lay through the mountainous country to which the Qashgai and Bakhtiari tribes migrate in summer.
They left Isfahan on July 21, making for Abadeh, on the Shiraz road. Here they procured a donkey and engaged a muleteer called Ali. They arranged to pay the muleteer ten krans a day for man and beast, and he was to go wherever they wanted him and to feed himself and his donkey. Also he was to feed and serve the pair and do all odd jobs. They explained that they wanted to go up to Kuh-i-Dinar and then back through the Bakhtiari Country to Isfahan. The muleteer said he was prepared to do three stages in one day if necessary and would even drive the donkey to heaven for them!
Ali, however, turned out to be a poor guide and a lazy cook, and was often terrified of the people, especially when they were in a fighting area. Their way lay for many miles through the Qashgai villages, or rather encampments. Sometimes the pair were fiercely attacked by large, wild dogs, but luckily these were usually afraid of stones. On July 25, drawing near to their main objective, the peak of Kuh-i-Dinar itself, they were up before sunrise. They went across the plain and then over a very high pass, climbing over ridge after ridge, and ever mounting higher. It was after mid-day before they reached Seh-deh, the village they were making for. There they found a house to stay at, and large numbers of villagers gathered round, as had become usual, to stare at them. They left odd things out on the ground, shaving things, for example, and these kept the spectators well occupied. A stick of shaving-soap would keep a dozen men quiet for twenty minutes, a tobacco-pouch for fifteen, and a looking-glass for about ten minutes. They would be passed all round and felt, then some one would think of smelling and all would want to smell. In this way the time passed without the travellers being worried.
July 28 saw them at Sisakht, a beautiful village on a little tableland on the side of Kuh-i-Dinar, and quite cut off from the world. In places the track was only two feet wide, with a steep drop below, along which only mules and ponies could pass.
In the evening they walked up above the village and were having a good wash and shave when suddenly they were disturbed by a large cavalcade of armed men who came cantering down the valley. These drew up, enclosing them in a half-circle, and one of them suddenly shouted: "Well, hallo boys, what are you doing here?" It was one of the sons of the Bakhtiari chief, Ali Mohammad Khan. He had been sent by the Persian Government to finish off the tribal war now going on. He spoke English well, having been to Oxford for a short time just before the war. The Harrises sat and talked with him while his armed men ate fruit and then got opium pipes going.
They thought now that time was getting short, so they decided to climb Kuh-i-Dinar the next day and try to descend on the other side and walk to Bir, which was sixteen miles down the valley. On July 29 they woke up at 5 a.m. and, setting off alone, climbed as fast as they could. It was very hot as they made their way up the lower slopes with the sun on their backs. The first part of the climb was heavy going, over steep slopes of loose stones and boulders. They came, about 16,000 feet up, to the first deep snow-drift, lying on the south side. Here they filled their water-bottles with snow, but alas, squeezed too much in; it froze into a solid lump, so that they could not get any water out for quite a long time. Instead, they ate snow, which was not so refreshing.
The last lap was a great effort, taking them over a very steep slope of big loose stones for over a thousand feet. Every time they dragged themselves up two steps they slipped down one. Soon they were gasping like fishes out of water and had to stop and admire the view every ten yards. Their ears, too, began to feel heavy and to buzz. Right at the top of the peak they found a little herd of ibex, which galloped off like lightning as soon as the climbers appeared. There was a great deal of snow hereabouts, but it lay in thick drifts which they could usually get round. It took them six and three-quarter hours to reach the summit. On the way up they saw a huge eagle; it wheeled round and then perched up on a rock above a precipice. They also saw many flowers and birds unknown to them on their climb up Kuh-i-Dinar and on their daily tramps.
They spent an hour and a half on the top of Kuh-i-Dinar and then, beginning to feel cold, thought it was time to look for a place to descend. After searching some time they found a place where they thought they could get down to the pass below. It was a very steep slope of over 1000 feet in depth, covered with loose sand and stones, where they could slide down but could not have found a footing to get back the same way. They succeeded, however, in getting down to the track that led over the pass about 1000 feet from the top. It was a wonderfully high and narrow pass with dark rocks rising up very sheer on both sides. There were big drifts of snow that lay dazzling white in the light of the evening sun, while below deep and gloomy shadows were stretching their arms over the valley. All was silent save for the roar of the icy torrent that went rushing down the mountainside, leaving an angry trail of froth and foam. The sun was low over the distant mountains when the top of the pass was reached, and they had sixteen miles to walk before reaching the village; evidently it would be dark in two hours.
They set off down the mountain track at a long, running pace, and soon reached the foothills which sloped down, ridge after ridge, to the desert plain in the distance; their village lay across the plain at the foot of the distant mountains. Up above them on the mountain slopes they could see the fires of the Qashgai camp. It was a camp that their muleteer had warned them against, and where he had himself refused to go; however it was a very welcome sight. On drawing near they shouted out, and that set all the wild dogs dashing down upon them. The men ran down with sticks and the Harrises used stones to keep the dogs at a safe distance. They answered the men's questions and explained what they were doing at that time of night. The tribesmen would not go down to show them the fords but gave them some hot milk and told them they might sleep outside the tents. So they lay down together, covered over with a couple of light carpets. They had succeeded in getting within about five miles of their village, Bir, which they reached the next morning.
Then came an incident which showed how far-reaching is the influence of the Stuart Memorial College, even in the wildest parts of Persia. On August 3, they walked to Chaqakhur and invited themselves to the camp of Sardar-i-Zaffar, who is the chief of all the Bakhtiari tribes and one of the biggest of the clan. When they arrived at the camp about 1.30 p.m. Sardar-i-Zaffar was asleep. None of the many retainers or servants took any notice of the two visitors. They asked for a tent to sit in, and suggested that a little food would be welcome. Finally they were taken to a big marquee--the dining tent; there they sat and waited in breathless suspense while messengers went to tell His Excellency that two unknown Englishmen had planted themselves down in his camp. The Harrises had said they were from Sahib Thompson's college at Isfahan, hoping that the name would work wonders; but alas! he did not remember any Thompson! They were beginning to feel most uncomfortable, and wishing that they might sink through the ground, when in walked a boy from the S.M.C. [Stuart Memorial College.] He was one of the many sons of Sardar-i-Zaffar. This was a great relief and a very pleasant surprise, for they did not know he would be at the camp. He explained to the authorities who the visitors were, and now they were treated with great kindness, and given a tent to stay in, which was spread with most magnificent Persian carpets.
In the evening they received a message to say that Sardar-i-Zaffar would be pleased to see them. They found the great man outside a grand marquee sitting in a chair and looking through a huge telescope, while a large crowd of retainers and courtiers stood round in a half-circle. Two chairs were placed for the visitors and they sat down and did their best to carry on a conversation in Persian with their host. Skipworth, with his superior knowledge of Persian, managed most skilfully. Sardar-i-Zaffar was a large, portly man and seemed very jolly, but "not the sort of person you would want to disagree with!"
The next morning they wanted to get off early; they were up at 4.30 a.m., and said goodbye to Sardar-i-Zanar, who was strolling outside his tent in silk pyjamas and dressing-gown. The last day's walk into Isfahan, on August 5, is worth mentioning, if only for the final "close-up" of Ali the muleteer.
"As we entered Isfahan," Clifford writes, "Ali was riding the donkey, sitting on our baggage (he nearly always rode because he could not keep up with our walking pace for many minutes). The donkey was trotting along to keep up when it tripped and our lazy man was thrown off, landing with a heavy thud. He got up in a raging temper, and seizing his heavy stick brought it whizzing down at the donkey's head; the donkey wheeled round and ducked and the stick crashed to the ground. We shouted with laughter, only too pleased to get some of our own back. We arrived at the college at 7.30 a.m., after a most amusing, interesting, and enjoyable holiday."
During this journey, they had walked 356 miles in seventeen days, an average of just on twenty-one miles a day. Also they had climbed Kuh-i-Dinar, a mountain marked up to 18,000 feet. They now knew more about Persia, and what was more, they felt "as fit as fiddles."
Twelve Hours in the Day
The autumn of 1927 drew on, and with it came Pat Gaussen from Brasenose, Oxford, to lend a hand as short service master at the school. There was plenty of school work for all to do; but bathes and games kept every one fit. Now, too, there was a kind of spiritual "movement" in the school. Several boys began to inquire seriously about Christ and His claims; and Clifford Harris and Pat Gaussen, in particular, felt the need of meeting to pray together for these boys.
In that November a lively break in the routine took the two Harrises out for a typical adventure. A Persian saint's day on a Thursday, coming next to the usual weekly whole holiday (every Friday is a religious "day off" in Persia) gave them the chance of a day and a half away from school. They "pined for air," as they put it, after a spell of continuous hard work.
Mt. Natanz was their objective, the highest mountain anywhere near Isfahan. It lies eighty miles away. They reached its foot on bicycles on Thursday afternoon, climbed to the summit (about 12,500 feet) on Friday, then bicycled home across the desert by moonlight, and were ready for morning school on Saturday!
Runs were now taken almost every day by Clifford and other members of the staff. The diary entry for February 10, 1928, tells of one such run, which aimed at doing a record time up the mountain which overlooks Isfahan. "In afternoon set off with Hawker to run up Kuh-i-Sufi and back in under three hours. [The name of this peak--"hill of the Sufi"--is locally attributed to the ruined cell or "white house" on its upper slope, where a famous sufi (mystic) is reported to have dwelt, many years ago.] Got to top of Hazar Jereeb in twenty minutes and to white house under forty-five minutes. From white house to top in twenty-six minutes. Ate chocolate on top. Came down in light snowstorm. There and back in two hours twenty minutes! It was heavy work going up hill. Then played badminton."
There are diary entries, too, just now which throw a significant light on his steadily growing outlook and purpose.
"Feb. 16 (Thurs.). I had a great discussion in class about our aim in life and what we thought of as the greatest value in life. We nearly all agreed, service for others, and, if need be, suffering to help others. I intend on Monday to carry on and try and show where that falls short, taking John iii.
"Feb. 20 (Mon.). Had a great talk with IX Form in Scripture, following on from the previous discussion. I talked on John iii--Nicodemus."
An important decision is recorded just now in his diary: "Walk with Skip and talk about future. I have planned to stay a fourth year to help Pa T. (Mr. Thompson) when he goes home, but on condition that I have a whole summer off--summer term and hols.--for going out in the villages preaching and getting real experience of missionary work."
"March 4 (Sun.). I preached my first SERMON in the evening.
"March 13. Skip's twenty-first birthday; presented him with a big wooden case filled with little presents, including a large roll of my exam, papers to correct!"
To Yezdikhast and Ali Juq
For some time past the Harrises had heard vague rumours of the existence of certain mysterious large caves at some spot to the east of the Isfahan-Shiraz road, and they decided to use the short spring holiday in March, 1928, to locate these. After a long search, they found and explored them, in a region totally unsurveyed and very wild. From the caves they slowly wandered southwards to Yezdikhast, which they reached one night at sunset. Yezdikhast from a distance reminds the traveller of a picture out of some old book of fairy stories. The village runs along a ridge with perpendicular sides, and the houses cluster on top, clinging like flies to the very edge of the precipice. The pair slept bv the roadside in a very public place just outside a qaveh khaneh (coffee house). The whole village turned out and rocked with laughter to see the strangers getting into their sheet bags, which with somewhat macabre humour were compared to winding sheets! In spite of the fact that they were lying on cobble-stones they slept like logs, and left their warm beds the next morning with the greatest reluctance.
On approaching Yezdikhast, they had seen on the east 'a long, snowy range, culminating in a fine peak." This they identified on their map as Kuh-i-Ali Juq, a mountain of 12,220 feet. They lost their hearts to it at first sight, changed all their plans, and, by a day's detour, managed to climb it on their way home.
Clifford Harris, at the end of his diary for this trip writes: "Our Ali Juq day was second only to Kuh-i-Dinar in the amount of distance covered and energy expended; we did it with practically no food. On our trip we had some good times, reading the Bible with Persians in the evenings. Many were very pleased to have a 'gospel' or a tract, i.e. the Beatitudes."
The Sulphur Springs of Demavand
That summer, the boys' camp was held at Khunsar, in June. The site had been selected in a typical "two days' dash" which the Harris pair took early in the month, doing, as usual, much of the journey by moonlight and at least sixty miles of it with a partly broken bicycle! They had some narrow escapes from disaster.
The camp, when it came, was a great success. And more than usually the masters and the Christian boys felt that the non-Christians were realizing the presence and influence of Christ.
One of these Christian boys was Imani, a particularly sturdy walker. Not long before he had become a baptized Christian, after many runs and talks with Clifford. He was now invited to join the two Harrises in a long and ambitious trek. They intended to climb Mt. Demavand (not far from Tehran), and walk on down to the Caspian Sea. Then they hoped to go by sailing boat along the coast to Chalus, and from there to walk back over the mountains to Tehran.
They started for Tehran on Tuesday, July 17, in a lorry. Saturday found them climbing with their donkey and chavadar (muleteer) up the lower slopes of the mountains, which were covered with grass and flowers: below this path was a dashing mountain torrent. Away ahead towered the great snow peak of Demavand. [Of this Lord Curzon writes: "The shapely white cone, cutting so keenly and so high into the air, becomes so familiar and cherished a figure in the daily landscape that on leaving Tehran and losing sight thereof (which ... he does not do for 160 miles), the traveller is conscious of a very perceptible void. Demavand is a volcano ... in a state of suspended animation." Persia, vol. I, p. 345.] Next day, they climbed over snow-covered slopes to the summit. On top there was a crater, like a white basin full of snow. Coming down, they raced large boulders down steep slopes. Three hours brought them to the camping place, and then ten miles back to Rehneh, through little valleys blue with wild mint and lit up by brilliant patches of poppies. But the night was spent in agonies from snow-blindness: it was just as if they had sharp grit under their eyelids scraping their eyeballs; mosquitoes and fleas had undisturbed meals--they were quite out of the running that night, and had no attention paid to them; the travellers hardly slept a wink. Foolishly, they remembered, they had not worn their coloured glasses when climbing up the snow. But Imani, the Persian boy, was hardly affected. Next day they bathed in the hot sulphur water of Ab-i-Garm. Where the water came out of the ground it was nearly boiling, and villagers boiled their eggs in the spring. There was a very strong smell of sulphur. Many people suffering from rheumatism go to Ab-i-Garm for the hot baths, also the deaf, dumb, blind, and lame, hoping to be cured.
On Tuesday, the 24th, they walked for thirty miles along the River Lar through magnificent gorges. At mid-day they bathed in a clear pool of soda water, and drank from the spring. When they dived in, the water became quite milky with air bubbles. The water was rather flat, but there was a strong taste of soda. But what a night they spent there! "One of the worst," says Skipworth, "that I can remember. It was a sort of gala day for all the fleas in the district, for they came and danced on us by their thousands."
They walked on down to Amul, while the valley opened out through fine beech woods and clearings with carpets of fresh, green grass and moss. They felt they might have been back in England. Amul, too, a town of some 15,000 people, had smart little bungalows, roofed with red tiles, so that from a distance it looked like an English seaside resort.
At Amul they changed their route, heading not for Barfarush but for Mohammadabad and the Caspian Sea. When at last they saw the sea, like Xenophon's homesick soldiers they shouted to Imani: "The sea, Imani, the sea!" He had never seen it in his life. But true to type he turned, laconically indifferent, and said: "Do you think this place will do for lunch?"
They bathed twice in the sea, slept on the sand that night, and reached Ferikenard next afternoon, to find that the sailing boats they had hoped to catch had left the day before!
No other boat could be got. So they walked on to Mashad-i-Sar, twelve miles on, where Clifford and Imani swam far out to a Port Pahlevi steamer, only to be told that its departure would be too late to be of any use. Back they tramped to Barfarush, where they waited for a lorry bound for Tehran. The route lay through a river which rose swiftly in the night. A ferry took the baggage across; but before it could convey the passengers, the river had risen to an alarming height. Skipworth and Clifford waded into the water in bathing kit, to see whether it was possible to detain the relief lorry on the far side till they could cross. The current was strong, but Clifford insisted on trying to cross by the diagonal rope, holding on by his arms, till, in midstream, the strain overcame him. "I saw him," says Skipworth, "sink into the rushing torrent, and go careering downstream. You can imagine my feelings! His chance of safety was almost ml. Luckily, however, the current swept him against the stern of the ferry. He grabbed it just in time, and so got to the shore. It was a very near shave."
The lorry on the far side, however, waited, and they made their way to Tehran and back to the college on Sunday, August 5.