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Title: Safar Nameh, Persian Pictures - A Book Of Travel
Author: Bell, Gertrude
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                              SAFAR NAMEH



  ‘Warum bin ich vergänglich, O Zeus? so fragte die Schönheit.
  Macht ich doch, sagte der Gott, nur das Vergängliche schön.
  Und die Liebe, die Blumen, der Tau und die Jugend vernahmens,
  Alle gingen sie weg weinend von Jupiters Thron.’

                                                GOETHE


 ‘Now, a traveller is a creature not always looking at sights--he
 remembers (how often!) the happy land of his birth; he has, too, his
 moments of humble enthusiasm about fire and food--about shade and drink.’

                                              KINGLAKE



                              SAFAR NAMEH

                           PERSIAN PICTURES


                          _A BOOK OF TRAVEL_

                         [Illustration: LOGO]

                                LONDON

                        RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON

            Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen

                                 1894

                        [_All rights reserved_]



                               CONTENTS


                                    PAGE

  AN EASTERN CITY                      1

  THE TOWER OF SILENCE                19

  IN PRAISE OF GARDENS                28

  THE KING OF MERCHANTS               42

  THE IMAM HUSSEIN                    51

  THE SHADOW OF DEATH                 67

  DWELLERS IN TENTS                   83

  THREE NOBLE LADIES                  96

  THE TREASURE OF THE KING           112

  SHEIKH HASSAN                      126

  A PERSIAN HOST                     143

  A STAGE AND A HALF                 156

  A BRIDLE-PATH                      168

  TWO PALACES                        187

  THE MONTH OF FASTING               205

  REQUIESCANT IN PACE                219

  THE CITY OF KING PRUSIAS           236

  SHOPS AND SHOPKEEPERS              247

  A MURRAY OF THE FIRST CENTURY      260

  TRAVELLING COMPANIONS              275



ERRATUM.


 Page 138, line 2, _for_ ‘bouches de cheveux’ _read_ ‘bouches de chevaux.’

 ‘PERSIAN PICTURES.’



                           PERSIAN PICTURES



_AN EASTERN CITY_


THE modern capital of Persia lies in a plain ringed half-way round
by mountains, which on the northern side touch with frozen summits
the regions of eternal snow, and on the east sink into low ranges of
hills, stretching their naked arms into the desert. It is the chief
city of a land of dust and stones--waste and desolate, Persia unfolds
her monotonous length, broken only by ridges of hills even more barren
than the plain itself, southward from the gates of Tehran. There is
a certain fine simplicity in a landscape from which the element of
water, with all the varied life it brings in its murmuring train, is
entirely absent. The empty world looks like a great room cleared for
the reception of some splendid company; presently it will be filled by
a vast pageant of men or angels: their lance-heads will flash back the
dazzling rays of the sun, their banners will float out many-coloured
against the sombre background, the peal of their trumpets will re-echo
from mountain to mountain. But no! day after day rises upon the same
silence, the same solitude, and at length the watcher turns away
impatiently, with the conviction that he has been gazing with futile
expectation upon the changeless features of the dead. The pageant
has long since swept over the land--swept onward. Mother of human
energies, strewn with the ruins of a Titanic past, Persia has slipped
out of the vivid world, and the simplicity of her landscape is the fine
simplicity of death. ‘Alas, poor Yorick!’ says Hamlet, yielding, in an
exceptionally unpremeditated moment, the natural tribute of pity from
the living to the dead. Persia in such an aspect may be pitiful enough,
but it is not admirable.

To the north of Tehran, however, the lower slopes of the Shimran
range are clothed with gardens and cornfields, as though the dense
vegetation which, by a strange freak of nature, stretches its belt of
green along the southern shore of the Caspian, between the shifting
sands of the Oxus and the black, naphtha-saturated earth of Baku, had
sent its roots through the very heart of the mountains and found a
foothold for its irrepressible luxuriance even among dust and stones.
The capital itself, as you approach it from the west, presents the
appearance of a wood rather than of a city--nor minaret, nor tower,
nor dome forms a landmark above it, the trees of its gardens conceal
its stunted buildings, and it is not until the traveller finds himself
under its very walls that he can say, ‘Here is Tehran!’ It owes its
life to the snow mountains, from whence its water flows; the ground
between them and the town is undermined by a network of passages,
vaulted over with stone, and ventilated by air-holes at intervals of
about fifty yards, each hole being protected by a mound of earth.
Within, these arteries of the city are the width of a man’s shoulders,
and scarcely high enough to allow him to walk upright; he stumbles,
knee-deep in water, along the uneven bed, bending himself double where
the vault drops lower, squeezing past narrow corners cut out of the
solid rock. On either side black apertures open into more passages,
bringing in tributary streams from right and leftward, and at intervals
the darkness is broken by the ray of sunlight which strikes through one
of the air-holes, burying itself, like an ill-directed spear, deep into
the earth. No other form of irrigation remains, no storage of water,
in a country where these arts were probably familiar to the far larger
population which dwelt in former ages at the foot of the mountains.
The present system is clumsy and laborious. Constant watchfulness is
needed to keep the Kanats from falling into disrepair and from becoming
blocked by masses of roots, and if this were to be relaxed, Tehran
would in a few years cease to exist.

To what merit it owes its position of capital remains a mystery.
It is the seat of no native industry; arid deserts and narrow
mountain-passes, traversed only by caravans of mules, cut it off from
all convenient intercourse with the west. Isfahan is invested with the
traditions of a former importance; about Shiraz linger the vestiges
of a still mightier antiquity; Casvin lies a hundred miles nearer to
the Caspian; Tehran is only a modern seat of government called to
importance by the arbitrary will of the present race of sovereigns.

Many gates lead into the city, breaking the level of the mud walls,
with their arches and turrets, which are decorated with tiles of
faïence set into patterns and pictures and inscriptions. The space
enclosed by the walls is a large one, but it is not by any means filled
with houses. Passing through one of the western gateways, you will
find yourself at first in desolate tracts of sand, stretching between
unfinished or ruined buildings; occasionally the open doorway in a
long mud wall will reveal to you a luxuriant garden full of tanks and
fountains and flower-beds, under whose plane-trees stands the house
of some rich man who can afford himself a weekly sufficiency of water
to turn the wilderness into fertile pleasure-grounds; further on you
will come upon wide streets, very empty and silent, fringed by low,
mud-built houses; gradually the streets narrow, the sloping counters
of shops present their wares to the passers-by: fruit and vegetables,
and the broad thin flaps of Persian bread; here and there a European
shop-window, behind which the goods are more miscellaneous than
tempting; here and there the frontage of some Government building,
with a doorway gaily patterned in coloured bricks. As the streets grow
narrower, they become more crowded. A kaleidoscopic world of unfamiliar
figures passes to and fro beneath the white mulberry-trees which spring
out between the cobble stones of the pavement: grave elders holding
their cloaks discreetly round them, dervishes with a loincloth about
their waists, and a brilliant scarf bound over their ragged locks,
women enveloped from head to foot in loose black garments, a linen
veil hanging over their faces, and making them look like the members
of some strange religious order, negro slaves and white-robed Arabs,
beggars and loiterers, and troops of children pressing in and out
between the horsemen and the carriages. Sometimes a beggar will accost
you--a woman, perhaps, drawing aside a corner of her veil and imploring
alms in a sweet high voice. If you turn a deaf ear to her prayers, she
will invoke curses on your head, but a copper coin will purchase you
every blessing known to man, including the disappearance of the lady
in question, who would otherwise have followed you with unblushing
persistence, shouting, ‘Pul! pul! pul!’--Money! money! money!--in your
ear.

At a street corner a group of soldiers are shaking the branches
of a mulberry-tree, and eagerly devouring the sickly fruit which
falls into the dust at their feet. Judging from the appearance of
the Persian army, a foreigner would be tempted to conclude that it
subsisted entirely upon white mulberries, and was reduced to a state
of starvation when the summer was over. The hands of paymasters are
adhesive in the East: but a small proportion of his earnings reaches
the common soldier, and mulberries, flavoured with dust, have at least
the merit of furnishing him with an inexpensive meal. His outward
man is not calculated to inspire much alarm in the breast of his
enemies. His gait is slouching, his uniform torn and discoloured; not
infrequently he wears his shirt outside his trousers, and the ragged
flounce of brownish-gray linen hanging below his tunic lends him an
air anything but martial. His temperament seems to be childlike and
peaceable in the extreme. He amuses himself while he is on guard with
foolish games, constructing, for instance, a water-mill of tiny wheels,
which the stream in front of the palace will set a-turning, and whose
movement will delight his eyes as he passes up and down. It is even
related (and the tale is scarcely past credence) that on a certain
occasion when a person of importance was visiting a southern fortress,
he found one of the men who guarded the gateway engaged in knitting
stockings, and the other turning an honest penny by the sale of apples.
Nevertheless, the Shah is proud of his army. He spends happy hours
devising new uniforms for his men--uniforms which are the strangest
jumble of European reminiscences and an Oriental love of bright colour.

Bearing towards the north-eastern quarter of the city, you will enter
a broad square which is looked upon as the ne plus ultra of municipal
magnificence. It is here that the Shah causes his part in the annual
Feast of Sacrifice to be performed, and here the inhabitants of Tehran
assemble in great numbers to witness the slaughter of a camel by the
mollahs, in token that his Majesty has not forgotten, amid the cares of
State, how Abraham bound Ishmael upon the altar (for the Mohammedans
assert that it was the son of Hagar who was the hero of the legend) in
obedience to the command of God. Immediately after the camel has fallen
he is cut up by the knives of the mollahs, and the nearest bystanders,
pouncing upon some portion of the victim, make off with it at full
speed to the palace, where the first comer receives a large reward.

It must be confessed that, in spite of its size, the square makes no
favourable impression upon the mind of the sophisticated European. The
gates leading into it are adorned with ugly modern tiles, the buildings
round it lack all trace of architectural merit. Their stucco face is
questionably embellished by a fresco of lions, exceedingly ill drawn,
each animal looking nervously round at the sun disc with its spiked
circle of rays, which rises from behind its shoulders. Nor does it
contain any press of human activity to atone for its lack of beauty.
About the gate which leads into the Ark, where the palace is situated,
there are indeed some signs of life--groups of soldiers are diversified
by the figures of servants of the palace, clad in brilliant scarlet
uniforms, and mounted on horses wearing bits and collars of solid
silver, and by the fantastic liveries of the Shah’s runners, whose
dress closely resembles that which is depicted on a court-card, and
whose headgear partakes equally of the nature of a beadle’s and of a
jester’s; but for the rest this square is comparatively empty, and the
wind sweeps the dust-clouds round the park of antiquated cannon which
stands in its midst.

More narrow, squalid streets bring you to the bazaar, where, though
little really beautiful or precious is to be found, the thronging
Oriental life is in itself an endless source of delight. Ride through
it on a summer morning, when its vaulted coolness will offer you a
grateful shelter from the sun, and before its activity has been hushed
by the heat of mid-day. In the shadow of the entrance there stands
a small merchant, posted on the doorstep like an emblem of Oriental
commerce--a solemn, long-robed child, so little that his mother’s heart
must have ached when she trusted the dear turbaned head out of her
sight. This morsel of humanity has brought some bunches of flowers to
sell, and has spread them out on a large stone in front of him. In his
improvised shop he stands, motionless and imperturbable, watching the
comers and goers, and waiting in dignified patience till one of them
shall pause and buy. Wish him good luck under your breath (for he would
resent the blessings of unbelievers), and pass on beneath the dark
arches of the bazaar.

Here, at any rate, is bustle enough; trains of laden mules and
donkeys shoulder your horse into the gutter, paying small heed to your
cries of ‘Avardah!’--Make room!--skilful housewives block the narrow
way, driving hard bargains under the protection of their veils; groups
of hungry men cluster round the roasters of kabobs, anxiously awaiting
a breakfast. The shopkeepers alone are unmoved by the universal haste,
but sit cross-legged among their wares, smoking the morning kalyan.
On either side of the street arched doorways lead into caravanseries
and high market-places. In one of them the sellers of cotton goods
have established themselves, their counters laden with piles of cheap
printed stuffs, bearing the Manchester stamp in one corner; next door
is the booksellers’ court, and a certain air of scholastic leisure
pervades it; here are a row of fruit-shops, where the blue earthenware
bowls of curds stand among heaped-up grapes and melons; there you may
buy narrow-necked bottles of rosewater; further on you find yourself
in a street of metal-workers, where the bright mule-bells hang in
festoons over the counters; round the next corner the fires of smithies
gleam on half-naked figures, labouring with strained muscles at their
anvils. The whole bazaar resounds with talk, with the cries of the
mule-drivers, the tinkling bells of the caravans, and the blows of the
smiths’ hammers. The air is permeated with the curious smell, half
musty, half aromatic, of fruits and frying meats, merchandise and
crowded humanity. The light comes from the top through a round hole in
each of the countless tiny domes of the roof; through each hole falls
a shaft of brilliant sunshine, cutting the surrounding darkness like a
sword, and striking the hurrying multitude in successive flashes, white
turban and bright-coloured robe gleaming--fading, gleaming--fading, in
an endless sequence of sun and shadow, as their wearers pass to and fro.

So you may ride through street after narrow crooked street till your
ears are full of sound, and your eyes of colour, and your mind of
restless life, and before you have had time to recover your composure,
you will find yourself in the sunny square, filled with stacks of hay,
and tenanted by disbanded armies of mules, which lies within the Meshed
Gate. Here, too, the town is afoot. Like a swarm of bees the people
jostle one another through the archway. Peasants are driving in their
donkeys laden with roped bundles of grass from the meadows of Shah
Abdul Azim, strings of camels file through the gate, bringing in the
produce of the great cities of the south and east, busy officials are
hurrying Tehranwards in the early morning about their affairs, sellers
of salted nuts have established themselves under the trees, beggars are
lying by the roadside, pilgrims returning from Meshed hasten their step
as the homeward goal comes into sight.

With the impression of the deserted western roads still fresh in your
memory, the appearance of the bazaars and of this eastern gate will
fill you with surprise. Tehran, which from the west looked almost like
a city of the dead, cut off from intercourse with the outer world, is
alive after all and in eager relationship with a world of its own.
Here in the dust and the sunshine is an epitome of the living East,
and standing unnoticed in such a doorway, you will admit that you have
not travelled in vain. But as the wonderful procession of people files
past you, too intent upon their own affairs to give you more than a
contemptuous glance, you will realize what a gulf lies between you. The
East looks to itself; it knows nothing of the greater world, of which
you are a citizen, asks nothing of you and of your civilization.



_THE TOWER OF SILENCE_


HUNDREDS of years ago, when the Persian race first issued from unknown
Bactria and the grim Hyrcanian forests, passing through the Caspian
Gates, they came upon a fertile land lying to the north-east of the
country, which was subsequently named Media. There on the edge of the
province known to-day as Khorasan they founded a city, which with
the rolling centuries gathered greatness and riches and power; the
Greeks (for her fame had penetrated to the limits of the civilized
world) called her Rages. Key to Hyrcania and Parthia, the geographical
position of the Median city lent her considerable importance. The Jews
knew her well: in Rages dwelt that Gabelus to whom the pious Tobit
entrusted his ten talents of silver in the days of the Captivity; there
Tobias was journeying when the angel Raphael met him and instructed him
in the healing properties of fishes; there, relates the author of the
Book of Judith, reigned Phraortes whom Nebuchadnezzar smote through
with his darts and utterly destroyed.

Rages, the Ancient of Days, passed through many vicissitudes of
fortune in the course of her long-drawn life. Under her walls fled the
last Darius when Alexander’s army chased him, vanquished at Arbela,
over the wide plains of Khorasan--fled to the mountains of the Caspian
to seek a luckless fate at the hands of the cruel Bactrian satrap.
At Rages, perhaps, the generous Alexander mourned the untimely death
of his rival, from her palaces hurled his vengeance against Bessus,
and saw the satrap dragged a captive to execution. Twice the city
was destroyed, by earthquake and by Parthian invaders, twice to rise
up afresh under new names. At length, in the twelfth century, an
enemy more devastating than the Parthian hordes, more vindictive than
the earthquake, swept over pleasant Khorasan and turned the fertile
province into the wilderness it is to this day. Tartars from the
uttermost ends of the earth left no stone of Rages standing, and the
great Median city vanished from the history of men. A few miles to the
north-east Tehran has sprung up to be the capital of modern Persia--a
Persia to whom the glorious traditions of the past are as forgotten as
the strength of Phraortes’ walls. ‘The Lion and the Lizard keep the
courts where Jemshyd gloried and drank deep,’ but the foundations of
Rages, the mother of Persian cities, can be traced only by conjecture.

Through waste and solitary places we rode one morning to the city and
the citadel of the dead. It was still so early that the sun had not
overtopped the range of eastern mountains. We rode out of sleeping
Tehran, and took our way along the deserted track that skirts its
walls; to our left lay the wilderness, wrapped in transparent shadow,
and sloping gradually upwards to the barren foot-hills over which winds
the road to Meshed. Before we had gone far, with a flash and a sudden
glitter, the sun leapt up above the snow-peaks, and day rushed across
the plain--day, crude and garish, revealing not the bounteous plenty of
the cornfields and pastures which encircled Rages, but dust and stones
and desert scrub, and the naked, forbidding mountains, wrinkled by many
winters.

To us, with the headlong flight of Darius and the triumph of the
conqueror surging before our eyes, the broken ground round the site of
the ancient stronghold piled itself into ruined turret and rampart,
sank into half-obliterated fosse and ditch. Where we imagined the walls
to have been, we discovered a solid piece of masonry, and our minds
reeled at the thought that it was wildly possible Alexander’s eyes
might have rested on this even brickwork. Time has made gates in the
battlements, but the desert has not even yet established unquestioned
rule within them. At the foot of the wall we came upon a living pool
lying under the shadow of a plane-tree. Round such a pool the sick men
of Bethsaida gathered and waited for the stirring of the waters, but in
Rages all was solitude, ‘and the desired angel came no more.’

Towards the east two parallel lines of hills rear themselves out of
the desert, dividing it from the wider stretch of desert that reaches
southward to Isfahan. Between the hills lies a stony valley, up which
we turned our steps, and which led us to the heart of desolation and
the end of all things. Half-way up the hillside stands a tower, whose
whitewashed wall is a landmark to all the country round. Even from the
far distant peaks of the opposite mountains, the Tower of Silence is
visible, a mocking gleam reminding the living of the vanity of their
eager days. For the tower is the first stage in the weary journey of
the dead; here they come to throw off the mantle of the flesh before
their bones may rest in the earth without fear of defiling the holy
element, before their souls, passing through the seven gates of the
planets, may reach the sacred fire of the sun.

The tower is roofless; within, ten or twelve feet below the upper
surface of its wall, is a chalky platform on which the dead bodies
lie till sun and vultures have devoured them. This grim turret-room
was untenanted. Zoroaster’s religion has faded from that Media where
once it reigned, and few and humble now are the worshippers who raise
prayers to Ormuzd under the open heaven, and whose bodies are borne up
the stony valley and cast into the Tower of Silence.

We dismounted from our horses and sat down on the hillside. The plain
stretched below us like a monotonous ocean which had billowed up
against the mountain flanks and had been fixed there for ever; we could
see the feet of the mountains themselves planted firmly in the waves of
dust, and their glistening peaks towering into the cloudless sky; the
very bones of the naked earth were exposed before us, and the fashion
of its making was revealed.

With the silence of an extinct world still heavy upon us, we made
our way to the upper end of the valley, but at the gates of the plain
Life came surging to meet us. A wild hollyhock stood sentinel among
the stones; it had spread some of its yellow petals for banner, and on
its uplifted spears the buds were fat and creamy with coming bloom.
Rain had fallen in the night, and had called the wilderness itself to
life, clothing its thorns with a purple garment of tiny flowers; the
delicious sun struck upon our shoulders; a joyful little wind blew the
damp, sweet smell of the reviving earth in gusts towards us; our horses
sniffed the air and, catching the infection of the moment, tugged at
the bit and set off at racing speed across the rain-softened ground.
And we, too, passed out of the silence and remembered that we lived.
Life seized us and inspired us with a mad sense of revelry. The humming
wind and the teeming earth shouted ‘Life! life!’ as we rode. Life!
life! the bountiful, the magnificent! Age was far from us--death far;
we had left him enthroned in his barren mountains, with ghostly cities
and out-worn faiths to bear him company. For us the wide plain and the
limitless world, for us the beauty and the freshness of the morning,
for us youth and the joy of living!



_IN PRAISE OF GARDENS_


THERE is a couplet in an Elizabethan book of airs which might serve as
a motto for Eastern life: ‘Thy love is not thy love,’ says the author
of the songs in the ‘Muses’ Garden of Delights’ (and the pretty stilted
title suits the somewhat antiquated ring of the lines):

  ‘Thy love is not thy love if not thine own,
  And so it is not, if it once be known.’

If it once be known! Ah yes! the whole charm of possession vanishes
before the gaze of curious eyes, and for them, too, charm is driven
away by familiarity. It takes the mystery of a Sphinx to keep the
world gazing for thirty centuries. The East is full of secrets--no one
understands their value better than the Oriental; and because she is
full of secrets she is full of entrancing surprises. Many fine things
there are upon the surface: brilliance of colour, splendour of light,
solemn loneliness, clamorous activity; these are only the patterns upon
the curtain which floats for ever before the recesses of Eastern life,
its essential charm is of more subtle quality. As it listeth, it comes
and goes; it flashes upon you through the open doorway of some blank,
windowless house you pass in the street, from under the lifted veil
of the beggar woman who lays her hand on your bridle, from the dark,
contemptuous eyes of a child; then the East sweeps aside her curtains,
flashes a facet of her jewels into your dazzled eyes, and disappears
again with a mocking little laugh at your bewilderment; then for a
moment it seems to you that you are looking her in the face, but while
you are wondering whether she be angel or devil, she is gone.

She will not stay--she prefers the unexpected; she will keep her
secrets and her tantalizing charm with them, and when you think you
have caught at last some of her illusive grace, she will send you back
to shrouded figures and blank house-fronts.

You must be content to wait, and perhaps some day, when you find her
walking in her gardens in the cool of the evening, she will take a
whim to stop and speak to you, and you will go away fascinated by her
courteous words and her exquisite hospitality.

For it is in her gardens that she is most herself--they share her
charm, they are as unexpected as she. Conceive on every side such a
landscape as the dead world will exhibit when it whirls naked and
deserted through the starry interspace--a gray and featureless plain,
over which the dust-clouds rise and fall, build themselves into mighty
columns, and sink back again among the stones at the bidding of hot and
fitful winds; prickly low-growing plants for all vegetation, leafless,
with a foliage of thorns; white patches of salt, on which the sunlight
glitters; a fringe of barren mountains on the horizon.... Yet in this
desolation lurks the mocking beauty of the East. A little water and the
desert breaks into flower, bowers of cool shade spring up in the midst
of dust and glare, radiant stretches of soft colour gleam in that gray
expanse. Your heart leaps as you pass through the gateway in the mud
wall; so sharp is the contrast, that you may stand with one foot in an
arid wilderness and the other in a shadowy, flowery paradise. Under the
broad thick leaves of the plane-trees tiny streams murmur, fountains
splash with a sweet fresh sound, white-rose bushes drop their fragrant
petals into tanks, lying deep and still like patches of concentrated
shadow. The indescribable charm of a Persian garden is keenly present
to the Persians themselves--the ‘strip of herbage strown, which just
divides the desert from the sown,’ an endlessly beautiful parable.
Their poets sing the praise of gardens in exquisite verses, and call
their books by their names. I fear the Muses have wandered more
often in Sa’di’s Garden of Roses than in the somewhat pretentious
pleasure-ground which our Elizabethan writer prepared for them.

The desert about Tehran is renowned for the beauty of its gardens. The
Shah possesses several, others belong to his sons, others to powerful
ministers and wealthy merchants. Sometimes across the gateways a chain
is drawn, denoting that the garden is Bast--sanctuary--and into these
the European may not go; but places of refuge for the hunted criminal
are, fortunately, few, and generally the garden is open to all comers.

Perhaps the most beautiful of all is one which belongs to the Shah,
and which lies under a rocky hillock crowned with the walls and
towers of a palace. We found ourselves at its gate one evening, after
an aimless canter across the desert, and determined to enter. The
loiterers in the gateway let us pass through unchallenged. We crossed
the little entrance-court and came into a long dark avenue, fountains
down the middle of it, and flower-beds, in which the plants were pale
and meagre for want of light; roses, the pink flowers which scent the
rosewater, and briars, a froth of white and yellow bloom, growing along
its edges in spite of the deep shade of the plane-trees. Every tiny
rill of water was fringed with violet leaves--you can imagine how in
the spring the scent of the violets greets you out in the desert when
you are still far away, like a hospitable friend coming open-armed
down his steps to welcome you. We wandered along intersecting avenues,
until we came to one broader than the rest, at the end of which stood a
little house. Tiny streams flowed round and about it, flowed under its
walls and into its rooms; fountains splashed ceaselessly in front of
it, a soft light wind swayed the heavy folds of the patterned curtains
hanging half-way down across its deep balconies. The little dwelling
looked like a fairy palace, jewelled with coloured tiles, unreal and
fantastic, built half out of the ripple of water, and half out of
the shadowy floating of its great curtains. Two or three steps and a
narrow passage, and we were in the central room--such a room to lie and
dream in through the hot summer days!--tiled with blue, in the middle
an overflowing fountain, windows on either side opening down to the
ground, the vaulted ceiling and the alcoved walls set with a mosaic of
looking-glass, in whose diamonds and crescents the blue of the tiles
and the spray of the tossing waters were reflected.

As we sat on the deep step of the windowsill, a door opened softly,
and a long-robed Persian entered. He carried in his hand a twanging
stringed instrument, with which he established himself at the further
side of the fountain, and began to play weird, tuneless melodies on its
feeble strings--an endless, wailing minor. Evening fell, and the dusk
gathered in the glittering room, the fountain bubbled lower and sank
into silence, the wind blew the sweet smell of roses in to us where we
sat--and still the Persian played, while in the garden the nightingales
called to one another with soft thrilling notes.

A week or two later we came back to Doshan Tepe. This time we found it
peopled by a party of Persians. They were sitting round the edge of
one of the tanks at the end of the avenue, men and little children,
and in their green and yellow robes they looked to us as we entered
like a patch of brilliant water-plants, whose vivid colours were not to
be dimmed by the shade of the plane leaves. But the musician did not
reappear; he was too wise a magician to weave his spells ‘save to the
span of heaven and few ears.’

There was a deserted garden at the foot of the mountains which
had a curious history. It belonged to the Zil es Sultan, the Shah’s
eldest son, who had inherited it from his mother, that Schöne Müllerin
whose beauty captivated the King of Kings in the days of his youth.
The Zil (his title, being interpreted, signifies ‘The shadow of the
King’) has fallen into disgrace. The Shah casts his shadow far, and
in order that it may never grow less, the Zil is not allowed to move
from Isfahan; his Shimran garden therefore is empty, and his house is
falling into disrepair. It stands on the edge of a rushing mountain
torrent, which, we will hope, turned the mill-wheels in old days
(though some men assert that the girl was not a miller’s daughter,
after all), and it boasts some magnificent plane-trees, under which we
picnicked one evening, hanging Persian lanterns from the boughs. The
night had brought tall yellow evening primroses into flower, and their
delicious smell mingled with that of the jessamine, which covered the
decaying walls. The light of our lanterns shone on the smooth tree
trunks, between the leaves glimmered a waning moon, and behind us the
mountain-sides lay in sheets of light. We did not envy the Zil his
palaces in Isfahan.

Once in another garden we found the owner at home. It was early in
the morning; he was standing on his doorstep, judging between the
differences of two people of his village, a man and a veiled woman,
who had come to seek his arbitration. They were both talking loudly,
she with shrill exclamations and calls upon God to witness, in her
eagerness forgetting the laws of modesty, and throwing aside her
thick linen veil, that she might plead with eyes and expression, as
well as voice--or perhaps it was policy, for she had a beautiful
face, dark-eyed and pale, round which the folds of black cloak and
white linen fell like the drapery round the head of a Madonna. When
our unknown host saw us, he dismissed his clamorous petitioners, and
greeted us with the courtesy which is the heirloom of the Persian
race. Seats were brought for us, tea and coffee served to us, a blue
cotton-clothed multitude of gardeners offered us baskets of unripe
plums, dishes of lettuce, and bunches of stiffly-arranged flowers.
We sat and conversed, with no undue animation, here and there an
occasional remark, but the intervals were rendered sociable by the
bubbling of kalyans. At length we rose to go, and as we walked down the
garden-paths many compliments passed between us and our host. At the
gate he assured us that our slave had been honoured by our acceptance
of his hospitality, and with low bows we mounted our horses and rode
away.

We had not in reality trenched upon his privacy. There was, indeed, a
part of his domains where even his hospitality would not have bidden
us enter. Behind the house in which we were received lay the women’s
dwelling, a long, low, verandaed building standing round a deep tank,
on whose edge solemn children carry on their dignified games, and
veiled women flit backwards and forwards. Shaded by trees, somewhat
desolate and uncared-for in appearance, washed up at the further end of
the garden beyond the reach of flowers, the sight of the andarun and of
its inhabitants knocks at the heart with a weary sense of discontent,
of purposeless, vapid lives--a wailing, endless minor.

So in the wilderness, between high walls, the secret, mysterious
life of the East flows on--a life into which no European can
penetrate, whose standards, whose canons, are so different from his
own that the whole existence they rule seems to him misty and unreal,
incomprehensible, at any rate unfathomable; a life so monotonous,
so unvaried from age to age, that it does not present any feature
marked enough to create an impression other than that of vague
picturesqueness, of dulness inexpressible, of repose which has turned
to lethargy, and tranquillity carried beyond the point of virtue.

And these gardens, also with their tall trees and peaceful tanks, are
subject to the unexpected vicissitudes of Eastern fortune. The minister
falls into disgrace, the rich merchant is ruined by the exactions of
his sovereign; the stream is turned off, the water ceases to flow into
the tanks and to leap in the fountains, the trees die, the flowers
wither, the walls crumble into unheeded decay, and in a few years the
tiny paradise has been swept forgotten from the face of the earth, and
the conquering desert spreads its dust and ashes once more over it all.



_THE KING OF MERCHANTS_


QUITE early in the morning we rode out to his garden. We had left
Tehran, and moved up to one of the villages lying eight miles nearer
the mountains on the edge of the belt of fertile country which
stretches along their lower slopes. Our road that morning led us still
further upwards through a green land full of wild-flowers, which seemed
to us inexpressibly lovely after the bare and arid deserts about the
town. The air was still fresh with the delicious freshness of the dawn;
dew there was none, but a light, brisk wind, the sun’s forerunner, had
shaken the leaves and grass by the roadside and swept the dust from
them, and dying, it had left some of its cool fragrance to linger till
mid-day in shadowy places. We rode along dark winding paths, under
sweet-smelling walnut-trees, between the high mud walls of gardens,
splashing through the tiny precious streams which came down to water
fields, where, although it was only June, the high corn was already
mellowing amidst a glory of purple vetch. The world was awake--it wakes
early in the East. Laden donkeys passed us on their way to the town,
veiled women riding astride on gaily-caparisoned mules, white-turbaned
priests, and cantering horsemen sitting loosely in their padded
saddles. Ragged beggars and half-naked dervishes were encamped by the
roadside, and as we passed implored alms or hurled imprecations, as
their necessity or their fanaticism indicated.

At the foot of the mountains we stopped before a long wall, less
ruinous than most--a bare mud wall, straight and uncompromising, with
an arched doorway in the midst of it. At our knock the double panels
of the door were flung open, disclosing a flight of steps. Up these we
climbed, and stood at the top amazed by the unexpected beauty which
greeted us. The garden ran straight up the hillside; so steep it was
that the parallel lines of paths were little but flights of high narrow
stairs--short flights broken by terraces on which flower-beds were
laid out, gay with roses and nasturtiums and petunias. Between the two
staircases, from the top of the hill to the bottom, ran a slope of
smooth blue tiles, over which flowed cascades, broadening out on the
terraces into tiny tanks and fountains where the water rose and fell
all day long with a cool, refreshing sound, and a soft splashing of
spray. We toiled up the stairs till we came to the topmost terrace,
wider than the rest. Here the many-coloured carpet of flowers gave
place to a noble grove of white lilies, which stood in full bloom under
the hot sunlight, and the more the sun blazed the cooler and whiter
shone the lilies, the sweeter and heavier grew their fragrance. Those
gardens round Tehran to which we were accustomed had been so thickly
planted with trees that no ray of light had reached the flower-beds,
but here in the hills, where the heat was tempered by cool winds, there
was light and air in abundance. On the further side of this radiant
bodyguard was a pleasure-house--not a house of walls, but of windows
and of shutters, which were all flung open, a house through which all
the winds of heaven might pass unchallenged. There was a splashing
fountain in the midst of it, and on all four sides deep recesses arched
away to the wide window-frames. We entered, and flinging ourselves down
on the cushions of one of these recesses, gazed out on the scene below
us. First in the landscape came the glitter of the little garden; lower
down the hillside the clustered walnuts and poplars which shaded the
villages through which we had ridden; then the brown, vacant plain,
with no atmosphere but the mist of dust, with no features but the
serpentining lines of mounds which marked the underground course of a
stream, bounded far away by a barren line of hills, verdureless and
torrent-scored, and beyond them more brown plains, fainter lines of
barren hills to the edge of the far horizon. Midway across the first
desert lay a wide patch of trees sheltering the gardens of Tehran. Down
there in the town how the sun blazed! The air was a haze of heat and
dust, and a perspiring humanity toiled, hurrying hither and thither,
under the dark arches of the bazaar; but in the garden of the King of
Merchants all day long cool winds blew from the gates of the hills,
all day long the refreshing water rippled and sparkled, all day long
the white lilies at our feet lay like a reflection of the snow-capped
mountains above us.

We sat idly gazing while we sipped our glasses of milkless tea much
sugared, nibbled sweetmeats from the heaped-up dishes on the ground
beside us, handed round the gurgling kalyans, and held out our hands
to be filled with stalkless jessamine blossoms deliciously scented.
At noon we rose, and were conducted yet deeper into the domains of
the royally hospitable merchant--up more flights of steps, past a
big tank at the further side of which stood the andarun, the women’s
lodging, where thinly-clad and shrouded forms stepped silently behind
the shutters at our approach, down long shady paths till we came to
another guest-house standing at the top of another series of cascades
and fountains. Here an excellent repast was served to us--piles of
variously flavoured rice mixed with meat and fruits and sauces, roasted
kabobs, minces wrapped in vine-leaves, ices, fruits, and the fragrant
wine of Shiraz.

Towards the cool of the evening the King of Merchants appeared on
the threshold of his breeze-swept dwelling, a man somewhat past the
prime of life, with a tall and powerful figure wrapped in the long
brown cloak, opening over the coloured under-robe and spotless linen,
which is the dress of rich and poor alike. He was of a pleasing
countenance, straight-browed, red-lipped, with a black beard and an
olive complexion, and his merry dark eyes had a somewhat unexpected
twinkle under his high, white-turbaned forehead. A hospitable friend
and a cheerful host is he, the ready quip, the apt story, the
appreciative laugh, for ever on his lips; a man on whom the world has
smiled, and who smiles back at that Persian world of his which he
has made so pleasant for himself, strewing it with soft cushions and
glowing carpets, and planting it round with flowers. Every evening the
hot summer through, he is to be found in his airy garden at the foot of
the mountains; every evening strings of guests knock at his hospitable
gates, nor do they knock in vain. At the top of his many staircases
he greets them, smiling, prosperous--those stairs of his need never
be wearisome for alien feet to climb. He takes the new-comers by the
hand, and leads them into one of his guest-houses; there, by the edge
of a fountain, he spreads carpets on which they may repose themselves;
there, as the night draws on, a banquet of rice and roasted meats and
fruits is laid before them, tall pitchers of water, curiously flavoured
sherbets, silver kalyans; and while they eat the King of Merchants
sits with them and entertains them with stories garnished with many a
cheerful jest, many a seasonable quotation from the poets. At length
he leaves them to sleep till dawn, when they arise, and, having drunk
a parting glass of weak golden tea, repair to the nearest bath, and so
away from the cool mountain valley and back to the heat and labour of
the day. He himself spends the night in his andarun, or lying wrapped
in a blanket on the roof of his gate-house, from whence he can watch
the day break over the wide plain below.

We took our share in his welcome, listened to his anecdotes, and
played backgammon with him, nor did we bid him farewell until the ring
of lighted lamps on the mosque close at hand warned us that unless we
intended to spend the night on his house-top it was time to be gone.



_THE IMAM HUSSEIN_


TOWARDS the middle of July the month of Muharram began--the month of
mourning for the Imam Hussein. Such heat must have weighed upon the
Plain of Kerbela when the grandson of the Prophet, with his sixty or
seventy followers, dug the trenches of their camp not far from the
Euphrates stream. The armies of Yezid enclosed them, cutting them off
from the river and from all retreat; hope of succour there was none;
on all sides nothing but the pitiless vengeance of the Khalif--the
light of the watch-fires flickered upon the tents of his armies, and
day revealed only the barren plain of Kerbela behind them--the Plain of
Sorrow and Vexation.

In memory of the sufferings and death of that forlorn band and of
their sainted leader, all Persia broke into lamentation. He, the
holy one, hungered and thirsted; the intercessor with God could gain
no mercy from men; he saw his children fall under the spears of his
enemies, and when he died his body was trampled into the dust, and
his head borne in triumph to the Khalif. The pitiful story has taken
hold of the imagination of half the Mohammedan world. Many centuries,
bringing with them their own dole of tragedy and sorrow, have not
dimmed it, nor lessened the feeling which its recital creates, partly,
no doubt, because of the fresh breeze of religious controversy which
has swept the dust of time perpetually from off it, but partly, too,
because of its own poignant simplicity. The splendid courage which
shines through it justifies its long existence. Even Hussein’s enemies
were moved to pity by his patient endurance, by the devotion of his
followers, and by the passionate affection of the women who were with
him. The recorded episodes of that terrible tenth of Muharram are full
of the pure human pathos which moves and which touches generation after
generation. It is not necessary to share the religious convictions of
the Shiahs to take a side in the hopeless battle under the burning sun,
or realize the tragic picture of the Imam sitting before his tent-door
with the dead child in his arms, or lifting the tiny measure of water
to lips pierced through by an arrow-shot--a draught almost as bitter as
the sponge of vinegar and hyssop. ‘Men travel by night,’ says Hussein
in the miracle play, ‘and their destinies travel towards them.’ It was
a destiny of immortal memory that he was journeying to meet on that
march by night through the wilderness, side by side with El Hurr and
the Khalifs army.

Shortly after we landed in Persia we came unexpectedly upon the story
of the martyrdom. In the main street of Kasvin, up which we were
strolling while our horses were being changed (for we were on our
way to Tehran), we found a crowd assembled under the plane-trees. We
craned over the shoulders of Persian peasants, and saw in the centre
of the circle a group of players, some in armour, some robed in long
black garments, who were acting a passion play, of which Hussein was
the hero. One was mounted on a horse which, at his entries and exits,
he was obliged to force through the lines of people which were the
only wings of his theatre; but except for the occasional scuffle he
caused among the audience, there was little action in the piece--or, at
least, in the part of it which we witnessed--for the players confined
themselves to passing silently in and out, pausing for a moment in the
empty space which represented the stage, while a mollah, mounted in
a sort of pulpit, read aloud the incidents they were supposed to be
enacting.

But with the beginning of Muharram the latent religious excitement
of the East broke loose. Every evening at dusk the wailing cries of
the mourners filled the stillness, rising and falling with melancholy
persistence all through the night, until dawn sent sorrow-stricken
believers to bed, and caused sleepless unbelievers to turn with a sigh
of relief upon their pillows. At last the tenth day of Muharram came--a
day of deep significance to all Mohammedans, since it witnessed the
creation of Adam and Eve, of heaven and hell, of life and death; but to
the Shiahs of tenfold deeper moment, for on it Hussein’s martyrdom was
accomplished.

Early in the afternoon sounds of mourning rose from the village. The
inhabitants formed themselves into procession, and passed up the shady
outlying avenues, and along the strip of desert which led back into
the principal street--a wild and savage band whose grief was a strange
tribute to the chivalrous hero whose bones have been resting for twelve
centuries in the Plain of Kerbela. But tribute of a kind it was. Many
brave men have probably suffered greater tortures than Hussein’s, and
borne them with as admirable a fortitude; but he stands among the few
to whom that earthly immortality has been awarded which is acknowledged
to be the best gift the capricious world holds in her hands. If he
shared in the passionate desire to be remembered which assails every
man on the threshold of forgetfulness, it was not in vain that he died
pierced with a hundred spears; and though his funeral obsequies were
brief twelve hundred years ago, the sound of them has echoed down the
centuries with eternal reverberation until to-day.

First in the procession came a troop of little boys, naked to the
waist, leaping round a green-robed mollah, who was reciting the woes of
the Imam as he moved forward in the midst of his disordered crew. The
boys jumped and leapt round him, beating their breasts--there was no
trace of sorrow on their faces. They might have been performing some
savage dance as they came onwards, a compact mass of bobbing heads
and naked shoulders--a dance in which they themselves took no kind
of interest, but in which they recognised that it was the duty of a
Persian boy to take his part. They were followed by men bearing the
standards of the village--long poles surmounted by trophies of beads
and coloured silks, streamers and curious ornaments; and in the rear
came another reciter and another body of men, beating their breasts,
from which the garments were torn back, striking their foreheads and
repeating the name of the Imam in a monotonous chorus, interspersed
with cries and groans.

But it was in the evening that the real ceremony took place. The
bazaar in the centre of the village was roofed over with canvas and
draped with cheap carpets and gaudy cotton hangings; a low platform
was erected at one end, and the little shops were converted into
what looked very like the boxes of a theatre. They were hung with
bright-coloured stuffs and furnished with chairs, on which the
notabilities sat and witnessed the performance, drinking sherbet and
smoking kalyans the while. We arrived at about nine o’clock and found
the proceedings in full swing. The tent was crowded with peasants, some
standing, some sitting on the raised edge of a fountain in the centre.
Round this fountain grew a mass of oleander-trees, their delicate
leaves and exquisite pink flowers standing out against the coarse
blue cotton of the men’s clothing, and clustering round the wrinkled,
toil-worn peasant faces. On the platform was a mollah, long-robed and
white-turbaned, who was reading exhortations and descriptions of the
martyrdom with a drawling, chanting intonation. At his feet the ground
was covered with women, their black cloaks tucked neatly round them,
sitting with shrouded heads and with the long strip of white linen veil
hanging over their faces and down into their laps. They looked for all
the world like shapeless black and white parcels set in rows across the
floor. The mollah read on, detailing the sufferings of the Imam: ‘He
thirsted, he was an hungered!’ the women rocked themselves to and fro
in an agony of grief, the men beat their bare breasts, tears streamed
over their cheeks, and from time to time they took up the mollah’s
words in weary, mournful chorus, or broke into his story with a
murmured wail, which gathered strength and volume until it had reached
the furthest corners of the tent: ‘Hussein! Hussein! Hussein!’

It was intensely hot. Cheap European lamps flared and smoked against
the canvas walls, casting an uncertain light upon the pink oleander
flowers, the black-robed women, and the upturned faces of the men,
streaming with sweat and tears, and all stricken and furrowed with
cruel poverty and hunger--their sufferings would have made a longer
catalogue than those of the Imam. The mollah tore his turban from his
head and cast it upon the ground, and still he chanted on, and the
people took up the throbbing cry: ‘Hussein! Hussein! Hussein!’

Presently a dervish shouldered his way through the throng. A scanty
garment was knotted round his loins, his ragged hair hung over his
shoulders, and about his head was bound a brilliant scarf, whose
stripes of scarlet and yellow fell down his naked back. He had come
from far; he held a long staff in his hands, and the dust of the
wilderness was on the shoes which he laid by the edge of the platform.
He stood there, reciting, praying, exhorting--a wild figure, with eyes
in which flashed the madness of religious fanaticism, straining forward
with passionate gestures through the smoky light which shone on his
brilliant headgear and on his glistening face, distorted by suffering
and excitement. When he had finished speaking he stepped off the
platform, picked up his shoes and staff, and hurried out into the night
to bear his eloquence to other villages....

There is nothing more difficult to measure than the value of visible
emotion. To the Englishman tears are a serious matter; they denote only
the deepest and the most ungovernable feelings, they are reserved for
great occasions. Commonplace sensations are, in his opinion, scarcely
worth bringing on to the surface. The facile expression of emotion
in a foreigner is surprising to him--he can scarcely understand the
gestures of a nation so little removed from him as the French, and he
is apt to be led astray by what seems to him the visible sign of great
excitement, but which to them is only a natural emphasis of speech.
In the East these difficulties are ten times greater. The gesture
itself has often a totally different significance; the Turk nods his
head when he says ‘No,’ and shakes it when he wishes to imply assent;
and even when this is not the case, the feeling which underlies it is
probably quite incomprehensible--quite apart from the range of Western
emotion--and its depth and duration are ruled by laws of which we
have no knowledge. The first thing which strikes us in the Oriental
is his dignified and impassive tranquillity. When we suddenly come
upon the other side of him, and find him giving way, for no apparent
reason, to uncontrolled excitement, we are ready to believe that
only the most violent feelings could have moved him so far from his
habitual calm. So it was that evening. At first it seemed to us that
we were looking upon people plunged into the blackest depths of grief,
but presently it dawned upon us that we were grossly exaggerating
the value of their tears and groans. The Oriental spectators in the
boxes were scarcely moved by an emotion which they were supposed to
be sharing; they sat listening with calm faces, partook of a regular
meal of sweetmeats, ices, and sherbets, and handed round kalyans with
polite phrases and affable smiles. Our Persian servants were equally
unmoved; they conformed so far to the general attitude as to tap their
well-clad chests with inattentive fingers, but they kept the corners of
their eyes fixed upon us, and no religious frenzy prevented them from
supplying our every want. And on the edges of the crowd below us the
people were paying no heed to what was going forward; we watched men
whose faces were all wet with tears, whose breasts were red and sore
with blows, stepping aside and entering into brisk conversation with
their neighbours, sharing an amicable cup of tea, or bargaining for a
handful of salted nuts, as though the very name of Hussein were unknown
to them. Seeing this, we were tempted to swing back to the opposite
extreme, and to conclude that this show of grief was a mere formality,
signifying nothing--a view which was probably as erroneous as the other.

But whatever it meant, it meant something which we could not
understand, and the whole ceremony excited in our minds feelings not
far removed from disgust and weariness. It was forced, it was sordid,
and it was ugly. The hangings of the tent looked suspiciously as though
they had come from a Manchester loom, and if they had, they did not
redound to the credit of Manchester taste; the lamps smelt abominably
of oil, the stifling air was loaded with dust, and the grating chant
of the mollahs was as tedious as the noise of machinery. How long it
all lasted I do not know; we were glad enough to escape from it after
about an hour, and as we walked home through the cool village street,
we shook a sense of chaotic confusion from our minds, and heard with
satisfaction the hoarse sounds fading gradually away into the night
air....

After such fashion the Shiahs mourn the death of the Imam Hussein, the
Rose in the Garden of Glory; and whether he and his descendants are
indeed the only rightful successors of the Prophet is a question which
will never be definitely settled until the coming of the twelfth and
last Imam, who, they say, has already lived on earth, and who will come
again and resume the authority which his deputy, the Shah, holds in his
name. ‘When you see black ensigns’--so tradition reports Mohammed’s
words--‘black ensigns coming out of Khorasan, then go forth and join
them, for the Imam of God will be with those standards, whose name is
El Mahdi. He will fill the world with equity and justice.’



_THE SHADOW OF DEATH_


SLOWLY, slowly through the early summer the cholera crept nearer.
Out of the far East came rumours of death ... the cholera was raging
In Samarkand ... it had crossed the Persian frontier ... it is in
Meshed! said the telegrams. A perfunctory quarantine was established
between Tehran and the infected district, and the streams of pilgrims
that flock ceaselessly to Meshed were forbidden to enter the holy city.
Then came the daily bulletins of death, the number of the victims
increasing with terrible rapidity. Meshed was almost deserted, for
all whom the plague had spared had fled to the mountains, and when a
week or two later its violence began to abate, flashed the ominous
news: ‘It is spreading among the villages to the westward.’ From day
to day it drew ever closer, leaping the quarantine bulwark, hurrying
over a strip of desert, showing its sudden face in a distant village,
sweeping northwards, and causing sanguine men to shake their heads and
murmur: ‘Tehran will be spared; it never comes to Tehran’--in a moment
seizing upon the road to the Caspian, and ringing the city round like a
cunning strategist. Then men held their breath and waited, and almost
wished that the suspense were over and the ineluctable day were come.
Yet with the cholera knocking at their doors they made no preparations
for defence, they organized no hospitals, they planned no system of
relief; cartloads of over-ripe fruit were still permitted to be brought
daily into the town, and the air was still poisoned by the refuse which
was left to rot in the streets. It was the month of Muharram; every
evening the people fell into mad transports of religious excitement,
crowding together in the Shah’s theatre to witness the holy plays and
to mourn with tears the death of Hussein. Perhaps a deeper fervour was
thrown into the long prayers and a greater intensity into the wailing
lamentations, for at the door the grim shadow was standing, and which
of the mourners could answer for it that not on his own shoulder the
clutching hand would fall as he passed out into the night? The cloud
of dust that hung for ever over the desert and the city assumed a more
baleful aspect; it hung now like an omen of the deeper cloud which was
settling down upon Tehran. And still above it the sun shone pitilessly,
and under the whole blue heaven there was no refuge from the hand of
God. So the days passed, and the people drank bad water and gorged
themselves on rotten fruit, and on a sudden the blow fell--the cholera
was in Tehran.

Woe to them that were with child in those days and to them that were
sick! One blind impulse seized alike upon rich and poor--flight!
flight! All who possessed a field or two in the outlying villages,
and all who could shelter themselves under a thin canvas roof in the
desert, gathered together their scanty possessions, and, with the
bare necessaries of life in their hands, crowded out of the northern
gateways. The roads leading to the mountains were blocked by a stream
of fugitives, like an endless procession of Holy Families flying before
a wrath more terrible than that of Herod: the women mounted on donkeys
and holding their babes in front of them wrapped in the folds of their
cloaks, the men hurrying on foot by their side. For the vengeance of
the Lord is swift; in the East he is still the great and terrible God
of the Old Testament; his hand falls upon the just and upon the unjust,
and punishes folly as severely as it punishes crime. In vain the desert
was dotted over with the little white tents of the fugitives, in vain
they sought refuge in the cool mountain villages. Wherever they went
they bore the plague in the midst of them; they dropped dead by the
roadside, they died in the sand of the wilderness, they spread the
fatal infection among the country people.

Oriental fatalism, which sounds fine enough in theory, breaks down
woefully in practice. It is mainly based upon the helplessness of a
people to whom it has never occurred to take hold of life with vigorous
hands. A wise philosophy bids men bear the inevitable evil without
complaint, but we of the West are not content until we have discovered
how far the coil is inevitable, and how far it may be modified by
forethought and by a more complete knowledge of its antecedents. It
may be that we turn the channel of immediate fate but little, but
with every effort we help forward the future safety of the world. But
fatalism can seldom be carried through to its logical conclusions--the
attitude of mind which prevented the Persians from laying in medical
stores did not save them a fortnight later from headlong flight.

The most degrading of human passions is the fear of death. It tears
away the restraints and the conventions which alone make social life
possible to man; it reveals the brute in him which underlies them all.
In the desperate hand-to-hand struggle for life there is no element
of nobility. He who is engaged upon it throws aside honour, he throws
aside self-respect, he throws aside all that would make victory worth
having--he asks for nothing but bare life. The impalpable danger into
whose arms he may at any moment be precipitating himself unawares tells
more upon his nerves and upon his imagination than a meeting with the
most redoubtable enemy in the open; his courage breaks under the strain.

Such fear laid hold of the people of Tehran.

The Persian doctors, whose duty it was to distribute medicines among
the sufferers, shut up their stores, and were among the first to leave
the stricken city; masters turned their servants into the streets and
the open fields, if they showed symptoms of the disease, and left them
to die for want of timely help; women and little children were cast out
of the andaruns; the living scarcely dared to bury the bodies of the
dead.

One little group of Europeans preserved a bold front in the midst of
the universal terror. The American missionaries left their homes in
the villages and went down into the town to give what help they could
to the sick, and to hearten with the sight of their own courage those
whom the cholera had not yet touched. They visited the poorer quarters,
they distributed medicines, they started a tiny hospital, in which
they nursed those whom they found lying in the streets, giving them,
if they recovered, clean and disinfected clothes, and if they died a
decent burial. They tried to teach a people who received both their
help and their wisdom at the point of the sword, the elementary laws
of commonsense, to prevent them from eating masses of fruit, and to
put a stop to a fertile cause of fresh infection by persuading them to
burn the clothes of the dead instead of selling them for a few pence
to the first comer. Sometimes we would meet one of these men riding up
from the town in the cool of the evening, when ceaseless labour and
much watching had rendered it imperative that he should take at least
one night’s rest. His face had grown thin and white with the terrible
strain of the work, and in his eyes was the expression which the sight
of helpless suffering puts into the eyes of a brave man.

‘One morning,’ related the doctor months afterwards, ‘as I was going
out early to make my rounds, I found a woman lying on the doorstep.
She was half naked, and she had been dead some hours, for her body
was quite cold. A child crept round her, moaning for food, and on
her breast was a little living baby fast asleep.... It was the most
terrible thing I ever saw in my life,’ he added after a moment. The
missionaries were aided by one or two European volunteers and native
pupils from their own schools, who stood shoulder to shoulder with
them, and helped them to bear the heat and burden of the day. Their
courage and their splendid endurance will remain graven on the minds
of those who knew of it long after shameful memories of cowardice have
been forgotten.

For it was not only the Persians who were terror-stricken; among the
Europeans also there were instances of cowardice. There were men who,
in spite of former protestations of indifference, turned sick and white
with fear when the moment of trial came; there were those who fled
hastily, leaving their servants and their companions to die in their
deserted gardens; and there were those who took to their beds and who
even went to the length of giving up the ghost, victims to no other
malady than sheer terror. The English doctor had his hands full both
in the town and in the country; by many a sick bed he brought comfort
where his skill could not avail to save, and courage to many who were
battling manfully with the disease.

Religious fervour grew apace under the influence of fear. Men to
whom travel and intercourse with foreigners had given a semblance of
Western civilization, exchanged their acquired garb for a pilgrim’s
cloak, and set forth on the long journey to Mecca. The air was full of
rumours. It was whispered that the mollahs were working upon native
fanaticism, and pointing to the presence of Europeans as a primary
cause of evil which must be straightway removed. To-day an incredible
number of deaths were reported to have taken place in Tehran during the
last twenty-four hours, to-morrow the news would run from lip to lip
that the Shah himself had succumbed. At the time when the cholera broke
out in Tehran, his Majesty was making his summer journey through the
country. He at once despatched an order to the effect that the disease
was on no account to be permitted to come near his camp, but it was not
within his conception of the duties of kingship to take precautions
for the safety of any dweller in his realms but himself. He appeared
to be considerably alarmed by the approach of an enemy who is no
respecter of persons. He dismissed the greater part of his followers,
and, making a few nights’ halt in a palace in the neighbourhood of his
capital, he hurried on into the mountains. Even in those nights forty
or fifty people died in his camp, but he was kept in ignorance of this
untoward occurrence. Fortunate indeed were those ladies of his andarun
who accompanied him on his travels, or who had enough influence to
succeed in having themselves transported to one of the numerous country
palaces; the others were obliged to continue in the town, no one having
time to spare them any attention, and it was not till the fury of the
cholera was spent that the poor women were allowed to move into a less
dangerous neighbourhood.

Even under the shadow of death there were incidents which were not
lacking in a certain grim humour. Such, for example, was the tale of
the half-mad and more than half-naked negro who lived in the desert
beyond our doors, and who was accustomed to come whining to us for alms
when we rode out. He must have possessed a sardonic sense of comedy,
and the adventures of the Hunchback cannot have been unfamiliar to
him. He had a wife lurking in the village, though we were unconscious
of her existence till he came in tears to inform us of her decease,
begging that he might be given money wherewith to pay for her burial.
A charitable person provided him with the necessary sum, with which
(having never, in all probability, seen so much silver in his dirty
palm) he incontinently decamped. But before he left he took the
precaution of setting up the dead body of his wife against the palings
of our garden, thereby forcing the European dogs to bear twice over
the expenses of her funeral. Persian beggars and cripples have more
lives than they have limbs. Many good men died in Tehran, but when we
returned there at the end of the season we found precisely the same
group of maimed and ragged loiterers hanging about our doors.

The cholera was not of very long duration. A slight fall of rain
reduced the daily number of deaths by several hundreds; before six
weeks were past the people were returning to the streets they had
quitted in precipitate haste; a fortnight later the surrounding
villages also were free of sickness, and had resumed their accustomed
aspect, except for an air of emptiness in the tiny bazaars, from
which in some cases a third of the population had been reft, and
a corresponding number of fresh graves in the burial-grounds. But
another disease follows on the heels of cholera: typhoid fever is the
inevitable result of an absolute disregard of all sanitary laws. The
system of burial among the Persians is beyond expression evil. They
think nothing of washing the bodies of the dead in a stream which
subsequently runs through the length of the village, thereby poisoning
water which is to be used for numberless household purposes, and in
their selection of the graveyard they will not hesitate to choose
the ground lying immediately above a kanat which is carrying water
to many gardens and drinking-fountains. Even when they are buried,
the bodies are not allowed to rest in peace. The richer families hold
it a point of honour to lay the bones of their relations in some
holy place--Kerbela, where Hussein was slain, or the sacred shrine
of Meshed. They therefore commit them only temporarily to the earth,
laying them in shallow graves, and covering them with an arched roof
of brickwork, which practice accounts for the horrible smell round the
graveyards after an outbreak of cholera. A few months later, and long
before time has killed the germs of disease, these bodies are taken up,
wrapped in sackcloth, and carried, slung across the backs of mules, to
their distant resting-place, sowing not improbably the seeds of a fresh
outbreak as they go. The wonder is, not that the cholera should prove
fatal to so many, but that so large a proportion of the population
should survive in a land where Ignorance is for ever preparing a smooth
highway for the feet of Death.



_DWELLERS IN TENTS_


EVERY man, says a philosopher, is a wanderer at heart. Alas! I fear
the axiom would be truer if he had confined himself to stating that
every man loves to fancy himself a wanderer, for when it comes to the
point there is not one in a thousand who can throw off the ties of
civilized existence--the ties and the comforts of habits which have
become easy to him by long use, of the life whose security is ample
compensation for its monotony. Yet there are moments when the cabined
spirit longs for liberty. A man stands a-tiptoe on the verge of the
unknown world which lures him with its vague promises; the peaceful
years behind lose all their value in his dazzled eyes; like him, ‘qui
n’a pas du ciel que ce qui brille par le trou du volet,’ he pines to
stand in the great free sunlight, the great wide world which is all too
narrow for his adventurous energy. For one brief moment he shakes off
the traditions of a lifetime, swept away by the mighty current which
silently, darkly, goes watering the roots of his race. He, too, is a
wanderer like his remote forefathers; his heart beats time with the
hearts long stilled that dwelt in their bosoms, who came sweeping out
of the mysterious East, pressing ever resistlessly onward till the grim
waste of Atlantic waters bade them stay. He remembers the look of the
boundless plain stretching before him, the nights when the dome of the
sky was his ceiling, when he was awakened by the cold kisses of the
wind that flies before the dawn. He cries for space to fling out his
fighting arm; he burns to measure himself unfettered with the forces of
God.

Many hundreds of miles away, to the southward of the Caspian Sea,
lies a country still untraversed by highroad or railway line. Here
rise mountains clothed in the spring with a gay mantle of crocuses and
wild tulips, but on whose scorched sides the burning summer sun leaves
nothing but a low growth of thorns; here are steep valleys, where the
shadows fall early and rise late, strewn with rocks, crowned with
fantastic crags, scarred with deep watercourses; here the hawks hover,
the eagle passes with mournful cry, and the prisoned wind dashes madly
through the gorge. Here lie reaches of plain bounded on all sides by
the mountain wall, plateau after thorny plateau--a rolling wilderness
over which the headlands stand out as over a sea. Through the middle
of the plain flows a river, its stony bed cut deep into the earth;
silver trout leap in its pools, strips of grass border it--stretches of
pastureland in the midst of the desert--flocks of goats feed along its
banks, and from some convenient hollow rises the smoke of a nomad camp.

For beautiful as it is in its majestic loneliness, this country is not
one where men are tempted to seek an abiding dwelling. In the spring,
when the fresh grass clothes the bottom of the valleys, in the summer,
when the cool winds sweep the plain, they are content to pitch their
tents here; but with the first nip of autumn cold they strike camp, and
are off to warmer levels, leaving the high snow-carpeted regions empty
of all inhabitants but the wild goats and the eagles. To-day, perhaps,
the gloomiest depth of a narrow gorge, which looks as though from the
time of its creation no living thing had disturbed its solitude, is
strewn with black tents, flocks of horses and camels crop the grass by
the edge of the stream, the air is full of the barking of dogs and the
cries of women and children; but to-morrow no sign of life remains--the
nomads have moved onward, silence has spread itself like a mantle from
mountain to mountain, and who can tell what sound will next strike
against their walls?

The sight fills you at first with a delightful sense of
irresponsibility. Go where you will, the rocks will retain no impress
of your footsteps; dwell where you please, the mountains are your only
witnesses, and they gaze with equal indifference on your presence and
on your absence. But the fitfulness of human habitation among them,
the absence of any effort to civilize them, to make them shelter man
and minister to his wants, gives them an air of stubborn hopeless
sterility, very imposing, very repelling. Gradually the loneliness
will strike into your heart with a feeling almost akin to horror. We
are not accustomed to finding ourselves face to face with nature. Even
the most trivial evidences of the lordship of man afford a certain
sense of protection--the little path leading you along the easiest
slope, the green bench selecting for you the best view, the wooden
finger-post with ‘Zum Wasserfall’ written up upon it in large letters
telling you what other men have thought worth seeing. Other men have
been there before--they have smoothed out the way for you--you will
find them waiting at the end, and ready to provide you with shelter and
with food.... But here there is nothing--nothing but vast and pathless
loneliness, silent and desolate.

For the nomads can no more give you a sense of companionship than
the wild goats; they are equally unconscious of the desolation which
surrounds them. All day long the men lie before the low doors of their
tents lazily watching the grazing herds; towards evening, perhaps,
they will stroll along the banks of the river with a bent stick for
fishing-rod, dropping a skilful line into the pools where lie the
guileless trout of those waters. Meantime the women sit weaving the
coarse black roofs which shelter them, or twisting the yellow reeds
into matting for walls, working so deftly that in an incredibly short
time a new dwelling has grown under their fingers. In the clear
sunlight the encampment looks sordid enough; night, which with sudden
fingers sweeps away the sun, revealing the great depths of heaven and
the patined stars, reveals also the mysterious picturesqueness of
camp-life. The red light of the fires flickers between the tents; the
crouching figures of men and women preparing the evening meal seem
to be whispering incantations into the hot ashes. They rise, dim and
gigantic, with faces gleaming in the uncertain starlight; they flit
like demons backwards and forwards between the glowing rays of the
fires and the darkness beyond. You find yourself transplanted into a
circle of the Inferno, of which the shaggy dogs that leap out barking
to meet you are no less vigilant guardians than Cerberus himself A
woman with neck and breast uncovered catches you by the sleeve, and
offers to sell you a bowl of clotted cream or a vociferous fowl; her
dark eyes glisten through the dusk as she tosses the matted hair from
her forehead; perhaps if you stayed to eat at the bidding of this Queen
of Dis you would be kept eternally a prisoner in her mournful domains.
With the dawn the mystery vanishes--the place through which you passed
last night is only a dull little camp, after all--and this woman
clothed in dirty rags, is it possible that she can be the regal figure
of last night?

But daylight will not bring you into closer fellowship with the
nomads; even if you fall into speech with one of them, there are few
common topics on which you can converse. He will question you as to
your nationality. Are you a Russian? he inquires, naming probably the
only European nation he knows. You try to explain that you are English,
and come from far across the seas; and he listens attentively, though
you know that your words throw no light on his boundless ignorance.
Presently he will change the conversation to matters more within his
understanding. What news is there of the Shah? Is he coming this
summer to his camp at Siah Palas? Has the sickness struck him? The
sickness! So with terrible significance he speaks of the cholera which
is ravaging the country, and goes on to tell you that he and his family
are flying before it. ‘From over there they have come,’ pointing to
distant valleys. ‘The sickness fell on them; eleven of their men died,
and since they moved down here two more have been carried off.’ A
sudden picture of grim fear flashes up before you at his simple words.
With what shapeless terror does the plague fill the feeble little camp!
With what awful solemnity must the dead body invest the frail, small
hut! What wailing cries take the place of all the cheerful sounds, and
with what hurried dread is the corpse committed to an unremembered
grave! Many processions of villages on the march pass you now, flying
from the terror of death--a little herd of goats and horses driven
by the children, a few camels carrying the rolled-up bundles of
reed-dwellings, on the top of which sit the men of the family, women on
foot following in the rear, a convoy of yellow dogs barking round the
tiny caravan into whose narrow compass all the worldly goods of so many
human beings are compressed.

But the nomads are not the only inhabitants of the valley; there are
one or two more luxurious encampments. An Indian prince has pitched his
camp there, and greets you as you pass, fishing-rod in hand, with an
amicable ‘Good-evenin’, sar.’ His scanty English, confined though it
be to this one salutation, somewhat destroys the local colour of the
scene. Noble Persians fly in the summer to this cool retreat, pitching
elaborate tents of French or Indian manufacture by the edge of the
river, stabling thirty or forty horses in the open air, riding through
the country attended by an army of servants whom they carry with them
even on their fishing expeditions, and who follow close behind their
masters when they venture waist-high into the stream in the enthusiasm
of sport. The grandees bring their women with them; white canvas walls
enclose the tents of wives and daughters whom captivity holds even in
these free solitudes, and their negro attendants are familiar figures
by the river sallows, where their shrouded forms hover sadly. They
understand camp life, these Persian noblemen; they are as much at home
among the mountains as in their gardens and palaces. Their lavish
magnificence is not out of keeping with the splendours of nature....
But you are only playing at nomads, after all, and when the moonlight
strikes the wall of rock behind your camp, you try to banish from your
mind the recollection of painted theatre scenes which it involuntarily
suggests, and which makes it all seem so unreal to you.

Unreal--unreal! ‘The fancy cannot cheat so well as she is famed to
do.’ In vain you try to imagine yourself akin to these tented races, in
vain you watch and imitate their comings and goings; the whole life is
too strange, too far away. It is half vision and half nightmare; nor
have you any place among dwellers in tents. Like the empty bottles and
greased papers with which a troop of Bank-holiday Philistines sullies
the purity of a purple moor, your presence is a blot on the wild
surroundings, a hint of desecration.

Return to your cities, to your smooth paths and ordered lives; these
are not of your kindred. The irretrievable centuries lie between,
and the stream of civilization has carried you away from the eternal
loneliness of the mountains.



_THREE NOBLE LADIES_


WHEN the Shah takes a girl into his andarun it is said to be a matter
for universal rejoicing among her family, not so much because of the
honour he has done her, as because her relatives look to using her
influence as a means of gaining for themselves many an envied favour.
For aught I know to the contrary, the girl, too, may think herself
a fortunate creature, and the important position of the one man she
may possibly govern may console her for the monotony of her kingdom;
but however delightful as a place of abode the royal andarun may be,
in one respect it must fall short of the delights of the kingdom of
heaven--there cannot fail to be endless talk of marrying and giving
in marriage within its walls. The number of the Shah’s wives is
great, and he is blessed with a proportionately large family; it must
therefore be difficult to find a sufficiency of high-born suitors
with whom to match his daughters. Moreover, there may be a trace of
reluctance in the attitude of the suitors themselves, for the privilege
of being the Shah’s son-in-law is not without its disadvantages. If
the nobleman selected happen to be wealthy, the Shah will make their
close relationship an excuse for demanding from him large gifts; if
at any subsequent period he should have a mind to take another wife,
the etiquette of the Court will stand in his way; and still worse, if
he be already married, he will find himself obliged to seek a divorce
from his wife that he may obey the Shah’s command. The negotiations
preceding the match must be complicated in the extreme, and great must
be the excitement in the andarun before they are concluded.

With one such household we were acquainted. The husband, whose title
may be translated as the Assayer of Provinces, was a charming person,
who had spent much of his youth (much also of his fortune) in Paris.
He was a cultivated man and an enthusiast for sports; a lover of dogs,
which for most Persians are unclean animals, and a devotee to the art
of fishing. He had suffered not a little at the hands of his royal
father-in-law, and had withdrawn in indignation from all public life,
spending his days in hunting and shooting, in improving his breed of
horses, and in looking after his estates. His residence abroad had made
him more liberal-minded than most of his countrymen. He paid special
attention to the education of his daughters, refused to allow them to
be married before they had reached a reasonable age, and gave them such
freedom as was consistent with their rank. They were two in number; we
made their acquaintance, and that of the Princess their mother, one
afternoon in Tehran.

Now, an afternoon call in Persia is not to be lightly regarded; it
is a matter of much ceremony, and it lasts two hours. When we arrived
at the house where the three ladies lived, we were conducted through
a couple of courts and a long passage, and shown into a room whose
windows opened into a vine-wreathed veranda. There was nothing Oriental
in its aspect: a modern French carpet, with a pattern of big red roses
on a white ground, covered the floor; photographs and looking-glasses
hung upon the walls; the mantelpiece was adorned with elaborate vases
under glass shades, and on some brackets stood plaster casts of
statues. We might have imagined ourselves in a French château, but for
the appearance of the châtelaine.

The Princess was a woman of middle age, very fat and very dark; her
black eyebrows met together across her forehead; on her lips there
was more than the suspicion of a moustache; the lower part of her
face was heavy, and its outline lost itself in her neck. The indoor
costume of a Persian lady is not becoming. She wears very full skirts,
reaching barely to the knee, and standing out round her like those of
a ballet-dancer; her legs are clothed in white cotton stockings, and
on her feet are satin slippers. These details are partly concealed
by an outer robe, unfastened in front, which the wearer clutches
awkwardly over her bulging skirts, and which opens as she walks,
revealing a length of white cotton ankles. In the case of the Princess
this garment was of pale blue brocade. She wore her hair loose, and a
white muslin veil was bound low upon her forehead, falling down over
the hair behind. She was too civilized a woman to have recourse to the
cosmetics which are customary in the East; the orange-stain of henna
was absent from her finger-nails, and in the course of conversation she
expressed much disapproval of the habit of painting the eyes, and great
astonishment when we informed her that such barbarism was not unknown
even in England.

It must not be imagined that the conversation was of an animated
nature. In spite of all our efforts and of those of the French lady
who acted as interpreter, it languished woefully from time to time.
Our hostess could speak some French, but she was too shy to exhibit
this accomplishment, and not all the persuasions of her companion could
induce her to venture upon more than an occasional word. She received
our remarks with a nervous giggle, turning aside her head and burying
her face in her pocket-handkerchief, while the Frenchwoman replied
for her, ‘Her Royal Highness thinks so and so.’ When the interview
had lasted for about half an hour, cups of tea were brought in and
set on a round table in the midst of us; shortly afterwards the two
daughters entered, sweeping over the floor towards us in green and
pink satin garments, and taking their places at the table. The younger
girl was about sixteen, an attractive and demure little person, whose
muslin veil encircled a very round and childish face; the other was
two years older, dark, like her mother, though her complexion was of
a more transparent olive, and in her curly hair there were lights
which were almost brown. Her lips were, perhaps, a little too thick,
though they were charmingly curved, and her eyes were big and brown and
almond-shaped, with long lashes and a limpid, pathetic expression--just
such an expression as you see in the trustful eyes of a dog when he
pushes his nose into your hand in token of friendship. Nor did her
confiding air belie her: she took our hands in her little brown ones
and told us shyly about her studies, her Arabic, and her music, and
the French newspapers over which she puzzled her pretty head, speaking
in a very low, sweet voice, casting down her black eyelashes when we
questioned her, and answering in her soft guttural speech: ‘Baleh
Khanum’--‘Yes, madam,’ or with a little laugh and a slow, surprised
‘Naghai-ai-r!’ when she wished to negative some proposition which was
out of the range of her small experience.

During the course of the next hour we were regaled on lemon ices,
and after we had eaten them it was proposed that we should be taken
into the garden. So we wandered out hand-in-hand, stopping to speak
to an unfriendly monkey who was chained under the oleanders, and who
turned a deaf ear to all our blandishments. In the garden there was
a large pond, on the banks of which lay a canoe--an inconvenient
vessel, one would imagine, for ladies attired in stiff and voluminous
petticoats! Tents were pitched on the lawn, for our hostesses were on
the eve of departure for their summer camp in the mountains, and had
been examining the condition of their future lodgings. The garden, with
its tents and its water, was like some fantastic opera stage, and the
women, in their strange bright garments, the masqueraders, who would
begin to dance a _pas de trois_ before us as soon as the orchestra
should strike up. But the play was unaccountably delayed, and while we
sat under the trees servants appeared bringing coffee, a signal that
the appointed time of our visit had come to an end, and that we might
be permitted to take our leave. The girls accompanied us into the
outer court, and watched us through the half-open doors till we drove
away, wishing, perhaps, that they too might drive out into the world
with such unfettered liberty, or perhaps wondering at our unveiled
shamelessness.

We went to see the three ladies again when we were in the mountains.
Their camp was pitched about a mile lower down the river than ours, on
a grassy plateau, from which they had a magnificent view down the long
bare valley and across mountains crowned by the white peak of Demavend.
No sooner had we forded the river in front of our tents than a storm
of wind and rain and hail broke upon us, but we continued dauntlessly
on our way, for the day of our visit had been fixed some time before,
and it was almost pleasant after the summer’s drought to feel the rain
beating on our faces. When we reached the Persian camp we dismounted
before a canvas wall which surrounded the women’s tents, a curtain was
drawn aside for us by a negro slave, and we were taken into a large
tent, where the Princess was sitting on a rolled-up bed for sofa. We
greeted her with chattering teeth and sat down on some wooden chairs
round her, carrying on a laboured conversation in the French tongue,
while our wet clothes grew ever colder upon us. We remembered the
steaming cups of tea of our former visit, and prayed that they might
speedily make their appearance, but, alas! on this occasion they were
omitted, and lemon ices alone were offered to us. It is not to be
denied that lemon ices have their merit on a hot summer afternoon, but
the Persian’s one idea of hospitality is to give you lemon ices--lemon
ices in hail storms, lemon ices when you are drenched with rain, lemon
ices when a biting wind is blowing through the tent door--it was more
than the best regulated constitution could stand. We politely refused
them.

An important event had taken place in the household during the last
two months: a marriage had been arranged between the eldest daughter
and a young Persian nobleman, whose wealth and influence matched
themselves satisfactorily with her rank. He, too, was spending the
summer in the mountains; his camp lay a little beyond ours, and we were
therefore able to observe the daily visits which took place between him
and his future father-in-law, when they rode, attended by troops of
mounted servants, backwards and forwards along the stony bridle-path
on the opposite bank. Doubtless great discussions of the approaching
marriage and of the art of fly-fishing took place in those August days.
We stood in the centre of this Oriental romance, and felt as though we
were lending a friendly hand to the negotiations. Certainly, if good
wishes could help them, we did much for the young couple.

The Assayer of Provinces spent most of his time trout-fishing. He
used to make us presents of gaudy flies manufactured by his negro
slave (himself a most successful fisherman), and we found that these
attracted the trout of the Lar considerably more than our March browns
and palmers. The eldest daughter shared her father’s taste. When she
and her sister joined us in her mother’s tent that thundery afternoon,
we fell into a lively discussion of the joys and the disappointments of
the sport, comparing the number of fish we had killed and the size of
our largest victim. The Persian girls had never gone far afield--they
contented themselves with the pools and streams near their tents--but
that they should fish at all spoke volumes for their energy. To throw
a well-considered fly is a difficult art at best, but to throw it when
you are enveloped from head to foot in sweeping robes must be well-nigh
impossible.

This second visit passed more cheerfully than the first. The fresh
mountain wind had blown away the mists of ceremony, there was no
interpreter between us, and we had a common interest on which to
exchange our opinions. That is the secret of agreeable conversation. It
is not originality which charms; even wit ceases in the end to provoke
a smile. The true pleasure is to recount your own doings to your
fellow-man, and if by a lucky chance you find that he has been doing
precisely the same thing, and is therefore able to listen and reply
with understanding, no further bond is needed for perfect friendship.
Unfortunately, this tie was lacking between us and the monkey, who
was also in villeggiatura by the banks of the Lar, and in consequence
we got no further forward with him than before. Our presence seemed,
indeed, to exasperate him more than ever. He spent the time of our
visit making spiteful dashes at us, in the vain hope that the gods
might in the end reward his perseverance and lengthen his chain
sufficiently to allow him to bite us but once before we left.

But the gods have eternity in their hand, and we must hasten, for
our time is short; long ere the monkey’s prayer was answered we had
risen and taken leave of the three ladies. We left them gazing after
us from behind their canvas walls. Their prisoned existence seemed to
us a poor mockery of life as we cantered homewards up the damp valley,
the mountain air sending a cheerful warmth through our veins. The
thunderstorm was past, the sun dropped in clear splendour behind the
mountains, leaving a red glory to linger on the slopes of Demavend, and
bearing the fulness of his light to the Western world--to our own world.



_THE TREASURE OF THE KING_


CHOLERA had swept through Tehran since last we set foot in its
streets, and they seemed to us more than usually empty and deserted in
the vacant sunshine that autumn morning. But the Ark, the centre and
heart of the city, was crowded still. Though many of the tiny shops
had been closed by owners whose own account had been closed summarily
and for ever, the people who remained went about their business as
cheerfully as before, gesticulated over their bargains, drew their
long robes round them in dignified disgust as we passed, and sipped
their glasses of tea with unimpaired enjoyment. The motley crowd was
yet further diversified by the scarlet coats of the Shah’s farrashes,
the many-coloured garments and fantastic headgear of the servants of
the palace, and the ragged uniforms of the soldiers who hung about the
street corners--an army scarcely more efficient, I should imagine, than
its rudely-painted counterpart upon the walls. These rough drawings
satisfy the eye and tickle the artistic taste of the King of Kings. He
is not difficult to please. Take a wooden soldier for model (carefully
omitting his little green stand), magnify him to the size of life, put
the brightest colours into his uniform and his cheeks, and you will be
furnished with a design which is considered worthy of decorating not
only the principal gateways of Tehran, but all the streets leading to
the palace.

In Eastern life there are no modulations. As the day leaps suddenly
into night with no warning time of twilight, so, to adapt the words
of Omar the Tent-Maker, between the house of riches and of penury
there is but a breath. We were accustomed to strange contrasts, yet it
scarcely seemed possible that this gaudy squalor could be the setting
of the priceless Treasure of the King. The stories we had heard of its
magnificence must be due to the fecundity of the Oriental imagination.
The East is the birthplace of wonders; there the oft-repeated tale
gains a semblance of veracity which ends by deceiving not only
credulous listeners, but him also who invented it. We should have
received it like other fairy stories, sedulously nursing the happy
faith which flies all opportunity of proving itself a superstition.

We stopped before an unregal gateway, and were conducted with much
ceremony into the palace. The palace was expectedly beautiful, after
all. Crossing a narrow strip of garden, we found ourselves in its
first court--a court of Government offices, we were told, though
the word _office_ conveys no impression of the graceful buildings,
from the upper galleries of which curtains floated, fanning the air
within to coolness. Our guides led us beneath more archways, through
high, dark passages, and out into the sunlight of the central garden.
It was built round with an irregular architecture. Here the walls
were radiant with faïence, there a row of arches stood back from the
sun-beaten pavement--delicate arches which might have graced some
quiet Italian cloister--beyond them stood the much-decorated building
where the Shah sits in state on the day of the New Year, and which was
separated from the garden in front only by the folds of an immense
curtain, which, when it is drawn back, discloses the carved throne set
in a grove of columns. Still further on we reached the palace itself,
two-storied and many-windowed, from whose steps stretched the dainty
pleasure-grounds, with their paved paths and smooth, fresh grass, their
trees and gay flower-beds, between which fountains leapt joyfully, and
streams meandered over their blue-tiled beds. They were bounded by the
impenetrable and forbidding walls of the andarun.

Mounting the marble staircase, we found ourselves before a big wooden
doorway, the seal on whose lock had to be broken ere it could be thrown
open to us. We stood expectantly while the Minister, our guide, fumbled
at the lock. Perhaps he was really some powerful efreet whom, after
long captivity, our presence had released from the bottle in which
Solomon had prisoned him. We were half prepared for the fairy treasures
he had come forth to reveal to us.

Prepared? Ah, no, indeed! For what sober mortal could be prepared for
the sight that burst upon us?

A great vaulted room with polished floor and painted walls, with
deep alcoves through whose long narrow windows splashes of sunlight
fell--and everywhere jewels! Jewels on all the shelves of the alcoves,
thick-sown jewels on the carpets which hung against the walls, jewels
coruscating from the throne at the top of the room, jewels in glass
cases down the middle, flashing and sparkling in the sunlight, gleaming
through dark corners, irradiating the whole hall with their scintillant
brightness. With dazzled eyes we turned to one of the alcoves, and fell
to examining the contents of the shelves. Here were swords sheathed in
rubies; here were wands and sceptres set from end to end with spirals
of turquoise and sapphire; diamond crowns, worthy to throw a halo of
light round the head of an emperor; breastplates and epaulets, from
whose encrusted emeralds the spear of the enemy would glance aside,
shields whose bewildering splendour would blind his eyes. Here were
rings and bracelets and marvellous necklaces, stars and orders and
undreamt-of ornaments, and, as though the ingenuity of the goldsmiths
had been exhausted before they had reached the end of their task, rows
and rows of tiny glasses filled with unset stones--diamonds, sapphires,
topazes, amethysts--the nectar of an Olympian god frozen in the cup.
Under glass cases lay the diadems of former kings, high, closed
helmets ablaze with precious stones; masses of unstrung pearls; costly
and hideous toys, remarkable only for their extraordinary value--a
globe, for instance, supported by an unbroken column of diamonds,
whose seas were made of great flat emeralds, and whose continents of
rubies and sapphires; and scattered with lavish profusion among the
cases, festoons of turquoise rings and broad gold pieces which have
long passed out of use, but in which regal currency, it is related, an
immense subsidy was once paid to the Czar. On the other side of the
room the treasures were scarcely less valuable and even more beautiful,
for cupboard after cupboard was filled with delicate enamel, bowls and
flagons, and the stems of kalyans all decorated with exquisite patterns
in the soft blended colours whose freshness is immortal. These lay
far beyond the criticism of captious connoisseurs, who would not have
failed to point out to us that the jewels were tinselbacked, after all,
and that most of the enormous rose diamonds were flawed and discoloured.

Taking an honoured place among the jewels and the enamel there were
some objects which raised a ripple of laughter in the midst of our
admiration. The royal owner of the treasure-house, doubtless anxious
to show that he considered no less the well-being of the inward than
the adornment of the outward man, had filled some of his upper shelves
with little bottles of----what could those silvery globules be? we
wondered, gazing curiously upwards. Not white enough for pearls, and
yet they could not be, though they looked suspiciously like--yes, they
were!--they were pills! Yes, indeed they were pills--quack remedies
which the Shah had collected on his Western travels, had brought home
and placed among his treasures. After this discovery we were not
surprised to find bottles of cheap scents and of tooth-powder among the
diamonds, nor to observe that some of the priceless cloisonné bowls
were filled with toothbrushes; nor was it even a disillusion when we
were solemnly told that the wooden cases placed at intervals down
the room, each on its small table, were only musical boxes, which it
is the delight of the Protector of the Universe to set a-playing all
at once when he comes to inspect his treasures. Heaven knows by what
fortunate combination of circumstances he finds those treasures still
intact, for they seemed to us very insufficiently guarded, unless the
tutelary efreet watches over them. There is, indeed, a locked door, of
which the King and the Prime Minister alone possess a key; but a thief
is not usually deterred by the necessity of forcing a lock, and if a
scrupulous sense of honour prevented him from breaking the royal seal,
with a little ingenuity he might contrive an entrance through one of
the many windows, or even through the roof, were he of an enterprising
disposition; and once within, nothing but the glass cupboard-doors
would separate him from riches so vast that he might carry away a
fortune without fear of detection.

We were next taken to see the world-famous Peacock Throne, which
is reported to have been brought from Delhi by a conquering Shah. A
scarlet carpet sewn with pearls covered its floor, on which the King
sits cross-legged in Eastern fashion, surrounded by a blaze of enamel
and precious stones. A year ago this throne had been the centre of
a hideous story of cupidity and palace intrigue--who can tell what
forgotten crimes have invested its jewels with their cruel, tempting
glitter? We passed on into a long succession of charming rooms with
low, painted ceilings, walls covered with a mosaic of looking-glass,
and windows facing the smiling garden. Execrable copies of the very
worst European pictures adorned them; one was hung with framed
photographs--groups taken on the Shah’s travels, in which his shabby
figure occupied a prominent place, and all wearing that inane vacuity
of expression which is characteristic of photographic groups, whether
they be of royal personages or of charity school children. Here and
there a wonderful carpet lent its soft glow to the rooms, but for the
most part the floors were covered with coarse productions of European
looms--those flaming roses, and vulgar, staring patterns, which
exercise an unfortunate attraction over the debased Oriental taste of
to-day.

With a feeling of hopeless bewilderment, we at length quitted the
palace where we had been dazzled by inconceivable wealth and moved
to ridicule by childish folly. Wealth and childishness seemed to us
equally absurd as we rode home in silence along the dusty roads.

Before our garden gates there dwelt a holy dervish. He, too, was a
king--in the realms of poverty--and over the narrow strip of wilderness
he bore undisputed sway. He levied pious alms for taxes, his palace
was a roof of boughs, four bare poles were the columns of his throne,
and the stones of the desert his crown jewels. His days were spent
in a manner which differed little from that of his neighbour and
brother sovereign. The whole long summer through he had collected
the surrounding stones and piled them into regular heaps. His futile
religious exercise was almost completed, he was putting the finishing
touches to a work which winter winds and snows would as surely destroy
as the winter of ill-fortune will scatter the other’s wealth. But the
dervish was untroubled by thoughts of the future; he laboured to the
glory of God in his own strange fashion, and though his jewels needed
neither locks nor seals nor men-at-arms to guard them, their human
interest lent them a value unattained by the Treasure of the King.



_SHEIKH HASSAN_


I USED to watch him coming round the curve of the avenue, his quick
step somewhat impeded by the long robes he wore, holding his cloak
round him with one hand, his head bent down, and his eyes fixed on the
ground. As he drew near he would glance up, wrinkling his eyebrows in
the effort to pierce the darkness of the great tent under which I was
sitting. The plane-trees grew straight and tall on each side of the
road; overhead their branches touched one another, arching together
and roofing it with leaves fresh and green, as only plane-leaves can
be all through the hot summer. Between the broad leaves fell tiny
circles of sunshine, which flickered on his white turban and on the
linen vest about his throat as he came. He looked like a very part of
his surroundings, for his woollen cloak was of a faded gray, the colour
of Persian dust, and his under-robe was as green as the plane-leaves,
and his turban gleamed like the sunshine; but his face was his own,
brown and keen, with dark eyes, deep-set under the well-marked brows,
and his thin brown hands were his own too, and instinct with character.
If you had only seen the hands, you might fairly have hazarded a guess
at the sort of man he was, for they were thoughtful hands, delicate
and nervous, with thin wrists, on which the veins stood out, and long
fingers, rather blunt at the tips; and the skin, which was a shade
darker than the sun can tan, would have told you he was an Oriental.
I believe he came up from Tehran on a mule on the days appointed for
our lesson, and reached our village at some incredibly early hour in
order to avoid the morning heat; but the six-mile journey must have
been disagreeable at best, for the roads were ankle-deep in dust, and
the sun blazed fiercely almost as soon as it was above the horizon. The
cool shaded garden and the dark tent, with an overflowing tank in the
midst of it, and a stream of fresh water running over the blue tiles in
front, was a welcome refuge after the close heat of the town and the
dusty ride.

‘Peace be with you!’ he would say with a low bow. ‘Is the health of
your Excellency good?’ ‘Thanks be to God, it is very good,’ I would
answer. ‘Thanks be to God!’ he would return piously, with another bow.
Then he would draw up a chair and sit down in front of me, folding his
hands under his wide sleeves, crossing his white-stockinged feet, and
gazing round him with his bright quick eyes. He made use of no gestures
while he talked, his hands remained folded and his feet crossed, and
only his keen, restless glances and the sudden movements round the
corners of his lips told when he was interested. He never laughed,
though he smiled often, and his smile was enigmatical, and betokened
not so much amusement as indulgent surprise at the curious views of
Europeans. I often wondered what thoughts there were, lurking in his
brain, that brought that odd curl round the corners of his mouth, but I
never arrived at any certainty as to what was passing through his mind,
except that sometimes he was indubitably bored, and was longing that
the lesson were over, and that he might be permitted to go and sleep
through the hot hours. On these occasions he expressed his feelings by
yawns, very long and very frequent--it certainly was hot! I was often
sleepy too, for I had been up and out riding quite as early as he.

Our intercourse was somewhat restricted by the fact that we had no
satisfactory medium through which to convey our thoughts to each other.
He spoke French--such French as is to be acquired at Tehran! and I--ah
well! I fear my Persian never carried me very far. Nevertheless, we
were accustomed to embark recklessly on the widest discussions. He
was a bit of a reformer was Sheikh Hassan; indeed, he had got himself
into trouble with the Government on more occasions than one by a too
open expression of his opinions, and the modern equivalent for the
bow-string had perhaps flicked nearer his shoulders than he quite
liked; a free-thinker too, and a sceptic to the tips of his brown
fingers. A quatrain of Omar Khayyam’s would plunge us into the deepest
waters of philosophic uncertainty, with not even the poor raft of a
common tongue to float us over, from whence we would emerge, gasping
and coughing, with a mutual respect for each other’s linguistic
efforts, but small knowledge of what they were intended to convey. Pity
that such a gulf lay between us, though I dare say it came to much the
same in the end, for, as Hafiz has remarked in another metaphor, ‘To no
man’s wisdom those grim gates stand open, or will ever stand!’

The Sheikh had an unlimited contempt for Persian politics. ‘It is all
rotten!’ he would say--‘rotten! rotten! What would you have?’ (with
a lifting of the eyebrows). ‘We are all corrupt, and the Shah is our
lord. You would have to begin by sweeping away everything that exists.’
But his disbelief in the efficacy of European civilization was equally
profound, and his pessimism struck me as being further sighted than the
careless optimism of those who seek to pile one edifice upon another, a
Western upon an Eastern world, and never pause to consider whether, if
it stands at all, the newer will only stand by crushing the older out
of all existence. Sheikh Hassan, at all events, was not very hopeful.
‘Triste pays!’ he would say at the end of such a conversation. ‘Ah,
triste pays!’ and though I knew he had his own views as to the possible
future of his country, he was far too discreet a man to confide them to
frivolous ears.

Concerning his private life I never liked to question him, though I
would have given much to know what his own household was like. He had a
wife and children down in Tehran. The good lady looked with unmitigated
disapproval upon infidel foreigners, and her husband was obliged to
conceal from her how many hours of the day he spent with them. Judging
by an anecdote I heard of her during the cholera time, she must have
ruled the establishment with a hand of iron. The Sheikh, being much
concerned over the risk his family was running in the plague-stricken
town, had taken the precaution of laying in six bottles of brandy, the
most convenient medicine he could obtain, and hearing at the same time
that a good bargain offered itself in the matter of olive-oil, he, as
a prudent man, had also purchased six bottles of oil and stored them
too in his cellar. But on one luckless morning, when his wife happened
to enter there, she espied the brandy lurking in a dark corner. Being
a lady of marked religious convictions, she at once called to mind
the words which the Prophet has pronounced against alcoholic liquors,
and without more ado opened the bottles and poured out their contents
upon the floor. On further search her eldest daughter discovered the
oil in another corner. Having observed the conduct of her mother, she
concluded that she could not do better than imitate it, and accordingly
the innocent liquid also streamed out over the cellar floor, libation
to an unheeding god. The unfortunate Sheikh found on his return that
his foresight and his skill in bargaining had alike been brought to
nought by the misguided fervour of the female members of his family. To
none of them did the cholera prove fatal, though the wife suffered from
a slight attack; but Sheikh Hassan spent anxious weeks until the danger
was over. ‘For thirty-seven nights,’ he told me pathetically, ‘I lay
awake and considered what could be done for my children’s safety.’ With
true Oriental fatalism, he did not seem to have taken any active steps
in the matter, and at the end of his thirty-seven nights of thought he
was as far from any conclusion as ever. Happily, the extreme fury of
the cholera had by that time abated.

The mysteries of Eastern education were no less unfathomable to me.
Though he was a man of middle age, Sheikh Hassan had only recently
quitted the Madrasseh, a sort of religious college, of which he
had been a student. There he had been taught Arabic, geography and
astronomy; he had read some philosophy too, for he was acquainted, in
a translation, with the works of Aristotle, and he had learnt much
concerning the doctrines of religion, which study had profited him
little, since he heartily disbelieved in them all. He wrote a beautiful
hand, and was very proud of the accomplishment. He would sharpen a
reed pen and sit for half an hour writing out quatrains with elaborate
care and the most exquisite flourishes, and he evinced such delight
over the performance that I could not find it in my heart to interrupt
him. He was very anxious that I, too, should acquire this art. I asked
him how much time I should have to devote to it. ‘Well,’ he replied
reflectively, ‘if for five or six years you were to spend three hours
of every day in writing, you might at the end be tolerably proficient.’
He did not appear to consider that the achievement was in any way
incommensurate with the labour he proposed that I should undergo,
and I abstained from all criticism that might hurt his feelings. I
wrote him long letters in Persian characters. ‘Duste azize man,’ they
began--‘Dear friend of mine.’ He would read them during the lesson,
and answer them in terms of the most elaborate politeness--‘My slave
was honoured by my commands,’ and so forth; and my crude and uncertain
lines became abhorrent to me when I saw him covering his paper with
a lovely decorative design of courteous phrases. He was not without
dreams of literary fame. One day he laid before me a vast scheme of
collaboration: we were to compile a Persian grammar together; it would
be such a grammar as the world had never seen (in which statement I
fancy he came nearer the truth than he well knew!); he would write the
Persian, and I should translate it into French. I agreed to all, being
well assured that we should never bring our courage to the sticking
point. We never did--the grammar of the Persian language is still to be
written.

The one really useful piece of knowledge he possessed had not been
taught him at the Madrasseh--he had picked up French by himself, he
told me. I could have wished that he had picked it up in a somewhat
less fragmentary condition, for his translations did but little to
define the meaning of the original Persian. We read some of Hafiz
together, but the Sheikh had only one gender at his disposal, and the
poet’s impassioned descriptions of his mistresses were always conveyed
to me in the masculine. ‘Boucles de cheveux’ seemed at first a strange
beauty in a lady, but custom, the leveller of sensations, brought me
to accept without question even this Gorgon-like adornment. The Sheikh
took a particular pleasure in the more philosophical verses. Over these
I would puzzle for long hours, and in all innocence arrive at the
conclusion that some anecdote of angels, or what not, appertaining,
doubtless, to the Mohammedan religion, was related in them. The Sheikh
would then proceed to annotate them in halting French, pointing out
that a pun was contained in every rhyme, that half the words bore at
the smallest computation two or three different meanings, and that
therefore the lines might be done into several English versions, each
with an entirely different significance, and each an equally truthful
rendering of the Persian. At this my brain would begin to whirl. I
was unable to deal with the confusion of difficulties among which the
Sheikh Hassan was delightedly battling; it was enough for me if I could
seize some of the beauty which lay like a sheath about the poems, the
delicate, exquisite rhythm of the love-songs, the recurrent music of
the rhyme, and the noble swing of the refrains. I received and admired
their proud stoicism as it stood written: women were women and wine
red wine for me, the cup-bearer was the person whose advent was most
eagerly to be greeted; roses and nightingales, soft winds and blooming
gardens, were all part of a beautiful imaginative world, and fit
setting for a poet’s dreams.

But this was wilful stupidity. If I had listened to the wisdom of
Sheikh Hassan, I should have realized that we were in the midst
of sublime abstractions, and that the most rigid morality and the
strictest abstinence were inculcated by those glowing lines. In
practice, however, I had the poets themselves on my side; the days
of Hafiz sped merrily, if tradition has not belied him, and the last
prayer of the Tent-Maker was that he might be buried in a rose-garden,
where the scented petals would fall softly upon his head and remind him
after his death of the joys he had loved on earth.

Were these things also abstractions?

For lighter reading we had the Shah’s Diary, a work whose childlike
simplicity admitted of but one interpretation. I never got through very
much of it, but I read far enough to see that the royal author did not
consider himself bound by the ordinary rules of literary production. He
was accustomed in particular to pass from one subject to another with
a rapidity which was almost breathless. The book began somewhat after
this fashion: ‘In the month of Sha’ban, God looked with extraordinary
clemency upon the world; the crops stood high in the fields, and plenty
was showered upon his fortunate people by the hand of Allah. I mounted
my horse and proceeded to the review....’

At last the day of parting came; with much regret I told the Sheikh I
was about to leave Persia. ‘Ah, well,’ he replied, ‘I’m very glad you
are going. Healthy people should not stay here; it’s not the place for
healthy people.’ We fell to making many plans for a meeting in England,
a country he had often expressed a desire to visit, I as often assuring
him that an enthusiastic reception should be his. I fear these also
will never be brought to fulfilment, but if he should ever come, it
would be interesting to find what peculiarities in us and in our ways
would attract the notice of his bright, observant eyes. I confess it
would give me no small pleasure to meet him walking along Piccadilly in
his white turban and flowing robes, and to hear once more the familiar
salutation: ‘The health of your Excellency is good? Thanks be to God!’



_A PERSIAN HOST_


WE were riding. We had left Tehran the previous evening in a storm
of rain and hail, which had covered the mountain-tops with their first
sheet of winter snow. We had slept at a tiny post-house, sixteen miles
from the city gates--an unquiet lodging it had proved, for travellers
came clattering in all through the early hours of the night, and
towards morning the post dashed past, changing horses and speeding
forward on its way to Tabriz. The beauty of the night compensated in a
measure for wakeful hours; the moon--our last Persian moon--shone out
of a clear heaven, its beams glittered on the fields of freshly-fallen
snow far away on the mountains, and touched with mysterious light the
sleeping forms of Persian travellers stretched in rows on the ground in
the veranda of the post-house. We were up before the autumn dawn, and
started on our road just as the sun shot over the mountains. Ali Akbar
led the way--Ali Akbar, the swiftest rider on the road to Resht, he
with the surest judgment as to the merits of a post-horse, the richest
store of curses for delinquent post-boys, the deftest hand in the
confection of a pillau, the brightest twinkle of humour darting from
under shaggy brows--friend, counsellor, protector, and incidentally
our servant. He had wound a scarlet turban round his head, he made it
a practice not to wash on a journey, and his usually shaven beard had
begun to assume alarming proportions before we reached the Caspian. His
saddle-bags and his huge pockets bulged with miscellaneous objects--a
cake, a pot of marmalade, a crossed Foreign Office bag, a saucepan,
a pair of embroidered slippers which he had produced in the rain and
presented to us a mile or two from Tehran, with a view, I imagine,
to establishing the friendliest relations between us. We followed;
in the rear came two baggage-horses carrying our scanty luggage, and
driven by a mounted post-boy, generally deficient. These three, the
baggage-horses and the post-boy, were our weak point--a veritable
heel of Achilles; they represented to us ‘black Care,’ which is said
to follow behind every horseman. What a genius those horses had for
tumbling over stones! What a limitless capacity for sleep was possessed
by those post-boys! How easily could the Gordian knot have been
unloosed if its ropes had shared in the smallest measure that feeling
for simplicity which animated those which bound our baggage!

The first stage that morning was pleasant enough; then came the
heat and the dust with it. Sunshine--sunshine! tedious, changeless,
monotonous! Not that discreet English sunshine which varies its charm
with clouds, with rainbows, with golden mist, as an attractive woman
varies her dress and the fashion of her hair--‘ever afresh and ever
anew,’ as the Persian poet has it--here the sun has long ceased trying
to please so venerable a world. The long straight road lay ahead; the
desolate plain stretched southwards, mile after uninterrupted mile; the
bare mountain barrier shut out the north; and for sound, the thud of
our horses’ feet as we rode, the heavy, tired thud of cantering feet,
and the gasp of the indrawn breath, for as the stage drew to its close
the weary beasts cantered on more and more sullenly through dust and
heat.

At last far away, where the road dipped and turned, stood the
longed-for clump of trees, clustered round the great caravanserai and
the glittering blue-tiled dome of the little mosque. This was not an
ordinary post-house, but a stately pile, four-square, built by some
pious person in the reign of Shah Abbas, and the mosque was the shrine
and tomb of a saint, a descendant of the Prophet. Behind it lay a huge
mound of earth, a solid watch-tower heaped up in turbulent times.
From its summit the anxious inhabitants of the caravanserai could see
far and wide over the plain, and shut their gates betimes before an
on-coming foe.... War has passed away round the shrine of the Yengi
Imam, yet it is not security, but indifference, that is high-priest
under the blue dome, and though the shadows of the old watchers gazing
from the earth-heap would see no sturdy band of Persian robbers rushing
down on them from the mountains, they may tremble some day before a
white-capped Russian army, marching resistless along the dusty road.

The clatter of the post-horses over the stones broke the noon-day
silence. Yengi Imam looked very desolate and uncared-for as we rode
through the mud-heaps before its hospitable doors. Half the blue tiles
had fallen from the dome, unnoticed and unreplaced, meagre poplars
shivered in the sun, stunted pomegranate bushes carpeted the ground
with yellow autumn leaves, their heavy dark-red fruit a poor exchange
for the spring glory of crimson flower. Persians love pomegranates,
and on a journey prize them above all other fruits, and even to the
foreigner their pink fleshy pips, thick set like jewels, are not
without charm. But it is mainly the charm of the imagination and of
memories of Arabian Night stories in which disguised princes ate
preserved pomegranate seeds, and found them delicious. Do not attempt
to follow their example, for when you have tasted the essence of
steel knife with which a pomegranate is flavoured, you will lose all
confidence in the judgment of princes, even in disguise. And it is a
pity to destroy illusions. But for beauty give me pomegranate bushes in
the spring, with dark, dark green leaves and glowing flowers, thick and
pulpy like a fruit, and winged with delicate petals, red as flame.

Through the low door of the caravanserai we entered the cool vault
of the stable which ran all round the garden court. A lordly stable
it was, lighted by shafts of sunshine falling from the glass balls
with which each tiny dome was studded--vault beyond vault, dusty
light and shadowy darkness following each other in endless succession
till the eye lost itself in the flickering sunshine of a corner
dome. Here stood weary post-horses, sore-backed and broken-kneed;
here lay piles of sweet-smelling hay and heaped-up store of grain.
At one corner was a minute bazaar, where we could buy thin flaps of
bread if we had a mind to eat flour mixed in equal parts with sand
and fashioned into the semblance of brown paper; raisins also, and
dried figs, bunches of black grapes, sweet and good, and tiny glasses
of weak hot tea, much sugared, which pale amber-coloured beverage
is more comforting to the traveller on burning Persian roads than
the choicest of the forbidden juices of the grape. The great stable
enclosed a square plot of garden--orchard, rather, for it was all
planted with fruit-trees--which, after the manner of Eastern gardens,
was elaborately watered by a network of rivulets flowing into a large
central tank, roofed over to protect it from the sun. He did his work
well, the pious founder of the caravanserai, but he thought more of
the comfort of beasts than of men. One or two bare rooms opening into
the garden, a few windowless, airless holes in the inner wall, a row
of dark niches above the mangers--that was what he judged to be good
enough for such as he; the high, cool domes were for weary horses and
tinkling caravans of mules.

We were well content to stretch ourselves in the mules’ palace with
a heap of their hay for bed. Thirty-two miles of road lay behind us,
thirty-two miles in front--an hour’s rest at mid-day did not come amiss.

As we lay we saw in the garden a Persian, dressed in the pleated
frock-coat and the tall brimless astrakhan hat which are the customary
clothes of a gentleman. Round his hat was wrapped a red scarf to
protect it from the dust of travelling; the rest of his attire was as
spotless as though dust were an unknown quantity to him. He watched
us attentively for some minutes, and then beckoned us to his room
opposite. We rose, still stiff from the saddle, and walked slowly round
the court. He greeted us with the calm dignity of bearing that sits as
easily on the Oriental as his flowing robes. Manner and robe would be
alike impossible in the busy breathless life of the West, where, if you
pause for a moment even to gird your loins, half your competitors have
passed you before you look up. The Oriental holds aloof, nor are the
folds of his garments disturbed by any unseemly activity. He stands and
waits the end; his day is past. There is much virtue in immobility if
you take the attitude like a philosopher, yet to fade away gracefully
is a difficult task for men or nations--the mortal coil is apt to
entangle departing feet and compromise the dignity of the exit.

‘Salaam uleikum!’ said our new friend--‘Peace be with you!’ and,
taking us by the hand, he led us into his room, which was furnished
with a mat and a couple of wooden bedsteads. On one of these he made
us sit, and set out before us on a sheet of bread a roast chicken, an
onion, some salt, a round ball of cheese, and some bunches of grapes;
then, seeing that we hesitated as to the proper mode of attacking the
chicken, he took it in his fingers, delicately pulled apart wings, legs
and breast, and motioned us again to eat. He himself was provided with
another, to which he at once turned his attention, and thus encouraged,
we also fell to. Never did roast chicken taste so delicious! I judge
from other experiences that he was probably tough; he was, alas!
small, but, for all that, we look back to him with gratitude as having
furnished the most excellent luncheon we ever ate. In ten minutes his
bones, the onion, and a pile of grape skins were the only traces left
of our repast, and we got up feeling that two more stages on tired
post-horses were as nothing in the length of a September afternoon.

We said farewell to our unknown host, stammering broken phrases of
polite Persian. ‘Out of his great kindness we had eaten an excellent
breakfast; the clemency of his nobility was excessive; we hoped that he
might carry himself safely to Tehran, and that God would be with him.’
But though our Persian was poor, gratitude shone from our faces. He
bowed and smiled, and assured us that our servant was honoured by our
having partaken of his chicken, but he would not shake hands with us
because he had not yet washed his fingers, which, as he had used them
as knives and forks both for himself and for us, were somewhat sticky.

So we mounted our horses, and rode away towards our crude Western
world, and he mounted his and passed eastward into his own cities.
Who he is, and what his calling, we shall never know--nor would we.
He remains to us a type, a charming memory, of the hospitality, the
courtesy, of the East. Whether he be prince or soldier or simple
traveller, God be with him! Khuda hafez--God be his Protector!



_A STAGE AND A HALF_


‘AS music at the close is sweetest last,’ says Shakespeare. We
cling regretfully to the close, but the beginning is what is worth
having--the beginning, with all its freshness, all its enthusiasm,
all its unexpected charm, Hercules for strength, Atalanta for speed,
Gabriel for fair promise. Say what you will, the end is sad. Do not
linger over the possibilities to which (all unfulfilled) it sets a
term, but remember the glorious energy which spurred you forward at
first, and which lies ready to spring forth anew.

When we were riding post, we had occasion to study the philosophy of
beginnings. ‘Ah, if we could only have gone on like that!’ we sighed
when, finding ourselves at the end of a weary day only thirty miles
removed from our starting-point, we remembered the sixty flashing
miles that had passed beneath our horses’ feet the day before. The
long road to the sea seemed an eternity of space not to be measured by
our creeping, tired steps. Yet with the dawn our views had changed.
However weary, however stiff you may be when in the dusk you reach the
last half-farsakh of the last half-stage, the night’s rest will send
you on with as keen a pleasure as if you had been lying idle for a
week before. The clear day, the low cool sun, the delicious cup of tea
flavoured with the morning, the fresh horse, the long straight road in
front of you--away! away! A careful jog, a steady canter, who does not
feel that he could put a girdle round the earth at the beginning of the
first stage? And then the sun creeps higher, shadows and mists vanish,
the dust dances in the hot road, your horse jogs on more slowly--how
large the world is, how long four farsakhs! And beyond them lie another
four, and yet another; better not to think of them--Inshallah, we shall
sleep somewhere to-night!

Through all these vicissitudes of mood we were destined to pass on
the second day of our riding. The sun was already high when we reached
the city which lay at the end of our first stage, and passed under
its tiled gateway into a wide street, a good half of whose mud houses
were so ruinous that they can have fulfilled none of the objects for
which houses are erected. As we penetrated further into the city, the
streets narrowed and became more populous--thronged, indeed, with
long-robed men and shrouded women, buying and selling, eating fruit,
chatting before the barbers’ shops, scowling at us as they moved out
of our way. We rode down a wide tree-planted avenue, bordered by
houses gaily patterned with coloured bricks, past the hammam where the
coarse blue towels were stretched in line against the wall to dry,
past the beautiful gateway of the Prince’s palace, under whose arch
of blue and green and yellow faïence we could see the cool garden set
with trees and fountains. Presently we were lying in a little alcove
under the archway of a tiny tumble-down post-house, vainly demanding
fresh horses. Stray Persians sat round in the street, eating grapes
and bread, drinking water out of earthen pitchers, watching us with
grave, observant faces, quite unmoved by our expostulations and
entreaties. There was a mythical mail in front of us which had swept
away an incredible number of horses--seventeen or eighteen, the owner
of the post-house assured us; indeed, he had none left. We had heard
of this mail before--all our difficulties and discomforts were in turn
attributed to it. No one could explain what made the bags so unusually
heavy, but I fancy such an obstacle is not infrequent on Persian roads.
At any rate, the postmaster was not mistaken when he foretold our
disbelief of his statements.

At length we were off again at the very hottest moment of the day. At
the town gate the baggage-horses turned homesick, and refused to move
any further from their ruined stalls; in despair we left Ali Akbar to
deal with them and rode on alone. On and on slowly through endless
vineyards, past an evil-smelling cemetery where the cholera had dug
many rows of fresh graves; on and on till the signs of habitation that
encircled the town had disappeared, and we found ourselves in a bare,
flat, desolate land. A keen wind rose, and blew from the mountains
wreaths of storm-cloud which eclipsed the sun, and still there was no
sign of the little town which marked the next half-stage. We looked
round us in complete ignorance of our whereabouts, and espied in the
distance a village walled round with crenellated mud, in front of
whose gates some children were playing. Riding up to them, we inquired
whether we were on the right road. Alas! we were not. Unperceived, it
had trended away northwards, and heaven knows to what dim cities we
were diligently riding! So we turned northwards, directed by a barely
defined track through the wilderness.

Just as the storm began to break we met a blue-robed pedlar with
a merry face, who assured us that we had only half an hour further to
go. He, too, was making for Agababa; he had seen our nobilities lying
in the post-house at Kasvin--yes, it was only a thin farsakh more now.
At length, through wind and rain, we reached the vineyards and gardens
of Agababa, and passed under the shelter of its big gate-house. Here
we determined to lodge, deciding that on such a night further progress
was out of the question. We turned to the people who were gathered
under the archway, talking and smoking kalyans, and asked them whose
house this was. It belonged to Hadgi Abdullah, the Shah’s farrash. We
intimated that we wished to lodge here--where was Hadgi Abdullah? He
was in Tehran, they replied, but offered no suggestion as to the course
we should pursue. We left them to smoke their kalyans in peace, and,
taking the matter into our own hands, we dismounted, ordered tea and
fire, and climbed the steep staircase that led into the balakhaneh.
It consisted of three rooms: a large one in the centre, with a long
low window of tiny panes set in delicate but broken woodwork, and
opening on to a balcony; on either side two smaller rooms, one of which
was furnished with a carpet and inhabited by two Persians, while the
other was completely empty except for some walnuts spread out to dry
in one corner. Here we established ourselves, to the entire unconcern
of the Persians, who treated the sudden invasion of their quarters
by two damp and muddy travellers as a matter not worthy of remark.
Half an hour later Ali Akbar joined us. We interrogated him as to the
probable fate of the baggage. He replied, laying his head upon his
clasped hands, that the horses were most likely asleep, which seemed so
reasonable an explanation from what we had seen of their disposition
that it did not occur to us to inquire why no steps had been taken to
have them awakened. But the valiant Ali Akbar was not to be daunted
by the unpromising aspect of things. Borrowing a brazier, he began to
cook us a meal, a process which we impeded by vainly attempting to
dry our clothes over the glowing charcoal, for our own fire smoked so
abominably that it was not possible to stay in the same room with it,
and in self-defence we were obliged to let it go out. It was a glad
moment when our supper was set before us, for since the cake and tea
of the early morning we had eaten nothing, and the chicken, the eggs,
and the boiled rice (which had been filched from the evening meal of
some inhabitant of Agababa) looked most appetising. Moreover, the
same obliging person--he was a ragged muleteer, whose feet had been
developed to an abnormal size either by much travelling or by the
necessity of kicking his mules to drive them onward--had provided us
with a large dish of delicious grapes.

The servants of the palace are not, unfortunately, numbered among
our friends, and it seems improbable that we shall ever make the
acquaintance of Hadgi Abdullah, but we remain eternally his debtors
for the night’s shelter his roof afforded us. His hospitality went no
further than a roof--we spread our own cloaks for beds, our own saddles
served us for pillows, and for our dinner we went a-foraging--but
though his floor was hard, though his fire smoked, though his walnuts
stained our elbows when we leant on them, though the bond of bread and
salt is not between us, still that unknown pilgrim was a benefactor to
us pilgrims of a more distant land than holy Mecca. How does he spend
his days, I wonder, in that Agababa gate-house of his, where for one
stormy autumn night we rested? Does he fly to his peaceful, mud-walled
village from time to time when the service of the palace has become
hateful to him? Does he sit at sunset on the balcony overlooking his
laden fruit-trees, smoking a kalyan, and watching the village folk as
they drive home the flocks of goats under his archway--as they stagger
through it loaded with wood bundles? And when the sun has set behind
the sweeping curve of mountains, what peaceful thoughts of the future,
of restful age, of projects accomplished, come to him with the sweet
smell of wood fires and of savoury evening meals?

Ah, simple pleasures, so familiar in a land so far removed! Not in
great towns, not in palaces, had we felt the tie of humanity which
binds East and West, but in that distant roadside village, lying on the
floor of the Shah’s farrash, we claimed kinship with the toilers of
an alien soil. For one night we, too, were taking our share in their
lives, with one flash of insight the common link of joy and sorrow was
revealed to us--to us of a different civilization and a different world.

So we lay and listened to the wind, and slept a little; but a
waterproof is not the best of mattresses, and our beds were passing
hard. Moreover, the good pilgrim had neglected the sweeping of
his floors for some time previously, and there were many strange
inhabitants of the dust besides ourselves. In the middle of the night
news was brought that our baggage had passed us and gone on to the end
of the stage; an hour or two later we rose and followed it, with the
keen storm-wind still blowing in our faces. A late waning moon shone
brilliantly over our heads, and behind the house of Hadgi Abdullah lay
the first white streaks of the day.



_A BRIDLE-PATH_


WHEN we saw the post-house of Mazreh, where we rejoined our missing
baggage, we rejoiced that not under its roof, but under the hospitable
roof of Hadgi Abdullah, we had taken shelter through the windy night.
It was more than common dirty: the mud floors were littered with
eggshells and with nameless horrors, which spoke of a yet more uneasy
lodging than that of the previous evening. It stood some little way
from the village of Mazreh, which lay on the lower slopes of the
mountains, and beyond it our path turned upwards and was lost in the
mist that hid the top of the pass.

In a year or two this bridle-path across the hills will have joined
the long roll of things that were; no more will travellers entering
Persia climb the narrow track which was the Shah’s highway; no more
will their horses’ feet slip among pools of mud and ring out against
the solid rock; the Russian Government have taken the highroad to
Tehran into their hands, and are even now constructing a broad
carriage-way from the Caspian to join the Persian road at Kasvin. But
the bridle-path, which had served generations of travellers before us,
had a charm of its own, too--the charm of all such tracks which lead
you, as it were, through the very heart of a country as uncivilized as
when the waters first retreated from the hill-tops. A foot on either
side of you the mountains rise in steep slopes and walls of rock, or
fall into deep valleys and precipices. The narrow way seems to vanish
into wilderness as you pass over it, but when you look ahead you see it
running between Scylla and Charybdis, clear and secure.

The post-horses of Mazreh matched the accommodation it offered. We
spent an hour listening to Ali Akbar condemning the father of the
postmaster to eternal fire, and at the end found ourselves provided
with sorry beasts, the merest apologies for horses, to which animals
they bore but a blurred resemblance. A few hundred yards up the hill,
however, we met a man driving some laden beasts, and cajoled him so
successfully that he consented to exchange baggage-horses with us,
whereupon we went gaily onwards, leaving him to his fate. In all
probability he is still toiling towards Kasvin, with his own goods and
the skins of our horses upon his shoulders.

Our path breasted the hillside boldly, and we were presently buried in
a cold mist, which seemed to us all the colder after the dust and heat
of the last two days in the plain. The mist lay thickly round us at
the top of the pass; we pushed on at a good pace until we caught sight
of a solitary tree which grows just above the hollow, where, somewhat
sheltered from winter winds and snows, lies the village of Kharzan, a
tiny citadel girt round with mud walls. Only half the stage was done,
but we stopped at the caravanserai to breathe our horses after the long
pull.

The gateway of a caravanserai is lined within on either side by a
narrow platform, on which you can sit enjoying rest and shelter,
smoking your kalyan and drinking your cup of tea. At Kharzan a
wood-fire was burning merrily upon the bricks of one of these
platforms; various Persians who were cooking and warming themselves
over it made room for us when they saw us approaching, and gave us
steaming glasses of tea, which we drank gratefully. There was a good
deal of coming and going through the archway: laden donkeys and men
wrapped in coats of sheepskin over their blue cotton garments appeared
suddenly out of the mist and disappeared as suddenly into it; the
crackling sticks sent bright jets of firelight flickering over wild
faces and the rough coats of men and animals.

Leaving Kharzan, we turned down the pass between mountain sides bare
now after the summer’s scorching, but where in the spring we had seen
masses of scarlet tulips in full bloom. The lower slopes in spring and
autumn are covered with the black tent roofs and yellow reed walls of
nomads driving their flocks from lowland pastures up to mountain-tops
when the snow melts, and back to the valleys when the winter returns.
But the season was well advanced when we passed, and the mountains were
already deserted.

As we descended, slipping down steep places and stumbling over
shelving rocks, the sun began to play that old game of his by which he
loves to prove himself superior to wind and storms. We loosened and
finally stripped off waterproofs, coats and cloaks, and fastened them
behind our saddles; but nothing would satisfy him--he blazed more and
more furiously upon the narrow, open path and upon the walls of rock
and upon us, until we regretted the chill mist which still lay upon the
Kharzan Pass behind us. At length we reached the bottom of the hill
and crossed a stony river-bed, overgrown with tamarisk bushes, at the
further side of which stood a post-house, with some fig-trees in front
of it. The post-house of Paichenar is not an agreeable resting-place.
It is a ‘murmurous haunt of flies’ even on late autumn afternoons:
flies are served up with your roast chicken, flies flavour your pillau,
flies swim in your wine, they buzz through the tiny rooms, and creep up
the whitewashed walls, regardless of the caustic references to their
presence which are written up in all languages by travellers whose
patience they have tried beyond endurance. Flies are so illiterate; not
one of those many tongues appeals to them.

We ate our mid-day meal in their company, and set off again towards
Menjil, following the course of the river--a long stage through
burning afternoon sun and the cold chill of dusk, before we reached
the Valley of the White River. Menjil has an unhonoured name among
Persian villages; it is reputed to be the windiest place in all the
Iranian Empire. Morning, noon and night the wind whistles round its
mud-houses--that they stand at all must be due only to the constant
interposition of Providence in their favour, and even so they stand in
a most dilapidated condition. It blows the branches of the olive-trees
all to one side, making them look like stunted people breasting the
elements, with their hair streaming out behind them; it lashes the
swift current of the Sefid Rud until its waters seem to turn backward
and beat in waves against the lower side of the bridge piers. By the
time we caught sight of the twinkling lights of the village, we felt as
though we had traversed every climate the world has to offer, beginning
with the frigid zone in the morning, and crossing the equator in the
afternoon, to say nothing of a long evening ride through the second
circle of the Inferno and the ‘Bufera infernal che mai non resta.’

It was dark as we plashed through the stream which runs between
the low houses as you approach Menjil, almost too dark to avoid
trampling on the children who were playing along it, and the homeward
plodding goats which stepped suddenly out of the night. We knew our
way, however, and turned up from the water (not without a curious
sensation of surprise at our own intimacy with that small and remote
Persian village) into the main street, where the post-house and the
telegraph-office stand. The post-house, where we had slept before on
our outward journey, was comfortable enough as post-houses go--it was
even furnished with some luxury, for it boasted a wooden table and
some chairs. There was a Russian family in possession when we arrived,
father, mother, and a troop of children, who were making their way
down to Enzeli; but they did not discommode us, as they appeared to be
content with one room, and resigned the other two to us. They had left
Tehran some days before us, but had travelled very slowly, the women
and children going at a foot-pace, either slung in covered panniers
across the backs of mules, or carried in a box-shaped litter, which, as
it crossed hills and valleys, jolted them first on to their feet and
then on to their heads in a manner which must have been disturbing to
the most equable of temperaments.

We went to the telegraph-office, where we sent and received messages,
profiting by the opportunity of being once more in touch with the world
of men. The telegraph clerk was an agreeable Persian, who entertained
us with cups of tea while we delivered our messages. His office was
hung round with curtains, behind which we could hear much chattering
and laughing going forward in subdued tones, and between the folds we
caught from time to time glimpses of the inquisitive, laughing faces
of his womenkind. What with the tea and the laughing women and the
conversation of the clerk, the sending of telegrams becomes an amusing
pastime in Menjil.

Next day, when we descended into the street, we found our servant
engaged in heaping objurgations upon the head of a European who was
sullenly watching the saddling of our fresh mounts. We inquired as to
the cause of difference between them, and were informed by Ali Akbar
that the man--he was an Austrian merchant--had attempted to suborn the
people of the post-house, and to purloin our horses while we slept.

‘And when you would have reached the parakhod (steamer),’ said Ali
Akbar, ‘Allah alone knows, for there are no other horses fit for your
Excellencies to ride!’

The stables must have been passing ill supplied, for our Excellencies
had not been accustomed to show a very critical spirit in the matter of
horseflesh.

‘Does he also wish to reach the parakhod?’ we asked in sympathetic
tones.

‘He is the son of a dog!’ Ali Akbar replied laconically, upon which we
felt that the subject might fitly be brought to a close.

The Austrian did not appear on the steamer, from which we argued that
he had not succeeded in securing post-horses, after having been baffled
in his attempt to ride away on ours.

We rode all the morning along a rocky little path, following the
downward course of the Sefid Rud. The river where the bridge of Menjil
crosses it presents an aspect extraordinarily wild and beautiful.
The deep, bare valley below the bridge opens out above it into wider
ground, bordered by rugged mountains, and narrowing away upwards to
where heavy clouds rest upon blue peaks. The wind races through the
desolate valley, and finding nothing to resist it but the bridge, whose
strong piers stand firmly in the foaming water, it wreaks its vengeance
on the storm-clouds, which it collects and scatters at its pleasure,
tearing them apart and driving them headlong in front of it, till the
valley is flecked with their dark shadows, and with glints of brilliant
sunshine between.

We rode through the tiny village of Rudbar, embedded in a wealth of
olives, down by the water’s edge. Some inhabitant, with a tasteful
eye for decoration, had covered the houses with a continuous pattern
of red lines and rows of rudely-drawn hands, with the five fingers
outstretched, intended to represent the Prophet’s hands, and to serve
not only as an adornment, but as a charm against evil. We had great
difficulty in persuading our baggage-mules to pass by open doors and
narrow side streets without satisfying their curiosity as to what lay
beyond; they developed all the qualities of ardent explorers, and
whenever we were not looking, turned into courtyards and disappeared
up slums, Ali Akbar pursuing them with cries and curses, waving his
Turkoman lash over his head and dealing blows to right and left. The
villagers were gathering in the olive harvest; we shouted to them to
throw us some of the fruit, but on experience we came to the conclusion
that olives au naturel are not good eating.

Towards mid-day we reached the post-house of Rustemabad, standing
half-way up the hillside, and from the platform in front of it we
looked across the valley and saw the opposite mountains covered
with--forest! Damp, delicious, green forest, trees and trees set
thickly over the uneven ground--such a joy to the eye as never was
after long months of arid desert, dust and stones! We lunched and
changed horses (with some regret, for wisdom had been justified in
Ali Akbar, and the Menjil mounts had proved to be excellent, full of
spirit and go--a delightful break in the usual monotony of stumbling
three-legged brutes), and then we hurried down into the fertile
province of Ghilan. Oh, the pleasant forest track all overgrown with
moss and maidenhair fern, and the damp, sweet smell of leaves, and the
shafts of tempered sunlight between interlacing boughs, and the sound
of splashing water! We lifted our eyes only to see the wide Sefid Rud
foaming down over his stones, and beyond him more woods, and more and
more.

At the bottom of the hill we rested for a few minutes, and drank
tea at the caravanserai of the Imam Zadeh Hashem. Here our friendly
bridle-path came to an end, and a muddy road lay before us, leading to
Resht and the Caspian. We set off with renewed spirits, and traversed
the four or five miles between us and our last post-house at a gentle
canter. On either side of the road rose a wall of densest vegetation,
with here and there a marshy pond covered with rushes, and here and
there a tiny clearing, from which the encroaching jungle was with
difficulty held back. A luxuriant plant-life covered every stem and
every log of wood with moss and ferns, the very huts were half hidden
under gourds, which climbed up the walls and laid their fruit and
broad leaves across the thatching of the roofs. Charming indeed are
the wooden cottages of Ghilan, standing with their backs set into the
forest, which has been forced to yield them a foot or two of ground,
with verandas supported by columns of rudely-dressed tree-trunks, and
with the glow of the firelight (as when we passed that evening) shining
through doors and chinks and crevices, while the pleasant smell of
wood-smoke rises round them; but the damp climate has set its seal of
disease upon the people--they are white and hollow-cheeked, the dark
eyes look enormous in the thin faces and glow with the light of fever.
They die young, these people, whose meagre bodies are consumed by
malaria and shaken by agues.

The post-house of Kudum stands in a small clearing, with ponds round
it, the abode of frogs. We found it tolerably comfortable; the swallows
which had been nesting in the rafters when we had passed in the spring,
and which had disturbed us in the very early hours of the morning with
twitterings and flutterings, had fled now, taking their fledged little
ones with them; but one of the rooms which was offered to us seemed
to belong to someone more important than swallows. His bed was all
prepared in it, and on a table were strewn his writing materials, reed
pens and inkpots and sheets of paper. We inquired whose was the room
of which we had thus summarily entered into possession. ‘Oh,’ said the
people of the post-house indifferently, ‘it is only the room of the
Naïb.’ Now, Naïb means deputy, it is also the title of the Shah’s third
son, the Commander-in-Chief--who this particular Naïb was we failed to
ascertain, but we had visions of a trampling ragged army surrounding
our beds late at night, while the Naïb-es-Sultan, with the portrait of
the Shah blazing in diamonds upon his breast, commanded us in indignant
tones to quit the rooms which had been prepared for him, or of waking
to find some humbler deputy seated at the table and writing busily with
his reed pens complaints of our insolence to his Government. We were
undisturbed, however, except by frogs, who croaked unsoothing lullabies
in our ears, and by the bells of a caravan of camels which passed at
dead of night--an endless train, with silent, ghostly steps, looming
out like shadows through the mists, and passing like shadows into the
mists again.

Next morning we woke to feel with relief that our ride was over;
for the last time we saw our luggage strapped on to the backs of
pack-horses, and mounting ourselves into a battered shay, we jolted
down the road to the red roofs and the civilization of Resht.



_TWO PALACES_


MANY, many years have passed since the ingenious Shahrazad beguiled
the sleepless hours of the Sultan Shahriyar with her deftly-woven
stories, and still for us they are as entrancing, as delightful, as
they were for him when they first flowed from her lips. Still those
exciting volumes keep generations of English children on wakeful
pillows, still they throw the first glamour of mystery and wonder
over the unknown East. By the light of our earliest readings we look
upon that other world as upon a fairy region full of wild and magical
possibilities; imprisoned efreets and obedient djinns, luckless
princesses and fortunate fishermen, fall into their appointed places as
naturally as policemen and engine-drivers, female orators and members
of the Stock Exchange with us; flying carpets await them instead of
railway trains, and the one-eyed Kalender seeks a night’s shelter as
readily in the palace of the three beautiful ladies as he would hie
him to the Crown Hotel at home. Yet though one may be prepared in
theory for the unexpected, some feeling of bewilderment is excusable
when one finds one’s self actually in the midst of it, for even in
these soberer days the East remembers enough of her former arts as
to know that surprise lies at the root of all witchcraft. The supply
of bottled magicians seems, indeed, to be exhausted, and the carpets
have, for the most part, lost their migratory qualities--travellers
must look nowadays to more commonplace modes of progression, but they
will be hard put to it from time to time if they do not consent to
resign themselves so far to the traditions of their childhood as to
seek refuge under a palace roof. It may be that the modern dispensation
is as yet incompletely understood, or perhaps civilization marches
slowly along Persian roads--at any rate, you will search in vain for
the welcoming sign which hangs in English cottage windows, and if the
village of mud huts be but a little removed from the track beaten by
the feet of post horses, not even the most comfortless lodging will
offer itself to you. Fortunately palaces are many in this land where
inns are few, and if the hospitality of a king will satisfy you, you
may still be tolerably at ease. But luxury will not be yours. The
palaces, too, have changed since the fairy-tale days; they are empty
now, unfurnished, neglected, the rose-gardens have run wild, the
plaster is dropping from the walls, and the Shah himself, when he
visits them, is obliged to carry the necessaries of life with him.
Take, therefore, your own chicken if you would dine, and your own bed
if you have a mind to sleep, and send your servants before you to sweep
out the dusty rooms.

It was to the palace of Afcheh, twenty miles to the north-east of
Tehran, that we were riding one hot evening. Our road led us across
a sun-scorched plain and over a pass, at the top of which we found
ourselves looking down on to a long upland valley. A river ran
through it, giving life to a belt of trees and cornfields, and on
each side rose the bare mountains which are the Shah’s favourite
hunting grounds. Down on the river bank stood a tea-house with an
inviting veranda, roofed over with green boughs, under which a group of
Persians were sitting, listening with inattentive ears to an excited
story-teller while he wove some tale of adventure in the sleepy warmth
of the twilight. The veranda was screened from the road by clumps of
oleanders, whose pink flowers made an exquisite Japanese setting to
the cluster of blue-robed peasants. Beyond the tea-house the river was
spanned by a bridge, the arches of which were so skilfully fitted into
the opposite hill that a carriage--if ever carriage comes--driving down
the steep and crooked path must almost inevitably fall headlong into
the water below. Night fell as we made our way along the valley; the
moon rose, turning the mountain-sides into gleaming sheets of light,
filling the gorges with deepest, most mysterious shadow, and after an
hour or two of foot-pace riding, we reached the village of Afcheh, our
destination.

In the courtyard of the palace preparations for the night were already
afoot. In one corner glowed a charcoal brazier, over which the cook was
busily concocting a dinner, a table was spread in the middle, and at
the further end, protected from the brilliant moonlight by the shadow
of a wall, stood a row of camp-beds, for though numberless empty rooms
were at our disposal, we had been warned that they were infested by
insects, and had chosen the more prudent course of sleeping in the open
air. Fortunately, the night was hot and fine, and the court was amply
large enough to serve as kitchen, dining-room, and bedroom.

We retired, therefore, to rest, but an Eastern night is not meant
for sleep. The animals of the village shared this conviction to the
full. The horses, our near neighbours, moved to and fro, and tugged
impatiently against their tethering ropes; a traveller riding down
the stony streets was saluted by a mad outcry of dogs, who felt it
incumbent upon them to keep up a fitful barking long after the sound of
his footsteps had died away; and stealthy cats crept round our beds,
and considered (not without envy) the softness of our blankets. It was
too light for sleep. The moon flooded high heaven, and where the shadow
of the wall ended, the intense brightness beat even through closed
eyelids. The world was too lovely for sleep. It summoned you forth to
watch and to wonder, to listen to the soft rush of mountain streams and
the whispering of poplar leaves, to loiter through the vacant palace
rooms where the moonbeams fell in patches from the latticed windows,
to gaze down the terraced gardens bathed in the deceptive light which
seemed to lay everything bare, and yet hid neglect and decay, to strain
your eyes towards the shimmering mud roofs on which the villagers
snatched a broken rest, turning over with a sigh and a muttered prayer
or rising to seek a smoother bed; and yet away towards the dim ranges
of mountains that stretched southwards. All the witchery of an Eastern
night lay upon Afcheh--surely, if Shahrazad had but once conducted her
lord to his open window, she might have spared her fertile imagination
many an effort.

In the early hours of the morning the moon set, and darkness fell upon
the world, for though the sky was alive with newly revealed stars,
their rays were lost in the depths of heaven, and left night to reign
on the earth. A little wind shivered through the poplars in the garden,
warning us it was time to continue on our way if we would reach the top
of the next pass before the heat of day fell upon us, and we drank an
early cup of tea in the dark, and waited under the clump of trees that
served for stables while the mules were loaded and the horses saddled.

As we waited, suddenly the daystar flashed up over the mountains,
a brilliant herald summoning the world to wake. The people on the
house-tops lifted their heads, and saw that the night was past. As we
rode down the village street they were rising and rolling up their
beds, and by the time we reached the valley they were breakfasting
on their doorsteps, and the glory of the star had faded in the white
dawn. In some meadows watered by the mountain streams a family of
nomads had already struck camp, and were starting out on their day’s
journey; the narrow path over the hills--at best little more than a
steep staircase of rock--was blocked by trains of mules laden with coal
(black stone, explained our servants); the air rang with the cries of
the mule-drivers, and as we rode upwards in cold shadow, the sun struck
the mountain-tops, and turned them into solid gold. Day is swift-footed
in the East, and man early abroad. Half-way up the pass we paused to
look back at our last night’s resting-place, but a shoulder of rock
hid the palace, and we carried away with us only an impression of the
mysterious beauty of its moonlit courts and gardens.

Autumn had come and had almost passed before we found ourselves a
second time the guests of the Shah, and under his roof we spent our
last two nights in Persia--the one willingly, the other unwillingly.

This other palace stood in the midst of a grove of orange-trees;
the waters of the Caspian lapped round its walls, and before its
balconies stretched the densely-wooded hills of Ghilan. The Russian
steamer which was to take us to Baku (for no Persian flag may float
on the inland sea) touched at Enzeli early in the morning to pick up
passengers, and we had been advised to pass the night there, so that
we might be ready betimes. Accordingly, we had driven through the
damp flat country, a tangled mass of vegetation, that lies between
Resht and the sea, we had been rowed by half-naked sailors up the long
canal and across the lagoons, and in the evening we had reached the
peninsula on which the village stands. We were conducted at once to the
palace, and, passing down moss-grown garden paths, bordered by zinnias
and some belated China roses, we came upon a two-storied house, with
deep verandas, and a red-tiled roof rising above the orange-trees. At
the top of the staircase we found ourselves in an endless succession
of rooms, most of them quite tiny, with windows opening on to the
veranda--all unpeopled, all desolate. We chose our suite of apartments,
and proceeded to establish ourselves by setting up our beds and
dragging a wooden table into our dining-room. Next door to us Ali
Akbar had organized his kitchen, and we sat hungrily waiting while he
roasted a chicken and heated some boiled rice for our supper. Presently
a shadow darkened our doorway, and from the veranda there entered a
Persian general dressed in shabby uniform, with some inferior order on
his breast, and the badge of the Lion and the Sun fastened into his
kolah. He bowed, and politely claimed acquaintance with us, and after
a moment of hesitation we recognised in him a fasting official who had
come to meet us on our arrival in Persia. The month of Ramazan was then
just over, and, in instant expectation of the appearance of the new
moon, he had neglected to make a good meal just before dawn. For some
reason unknown to us the moon had not been seen that night, and mid-day
had found him still compelled to fast. He had sat for full two hours
in suffering silence while we crossed the lagoons, but as we paused by
the banks of the canal someone had shouted to him that the moon had,
in fact, been signalled, and in jubilant haste he had jumped out of
our boat, and had rushed away to enjoy his long-deferred breakfast,
from which he returned to us smiling, contented, and, I trust, replete.
This gentleman it was who now stood upon our palatial threshold; we
brought some wooden chairs from one of the numberless untenanted rooms,
and invited him and the friend he had with him to enter. They sat down
opposite to us and folded their hands, and we sat down, too, and looked
at them, and wondered how they expected to be entertained. After an
interval of silence we ventured upon a few remarks touching the weather
and similar topics, to which they replied with a polite assent that did
not seem to contain the promise of many conversational possibilities.

We questioned them as to the condition of Enzeli--what the people did
there, how they lived, and, finally, how many inhabitants the peninsula
contained. At this our military friend fell into deep thought, so
prolonged that we argued from it that he was about to give us the most
recent and accurate statistics. At length he looked up with a satisfied
air, as though he had succeeded in recalling the exact figures to
mind, and replied, ‘Kheli!’--‘A great many!’ No wonder the question
had puzzled him. The matter-of-fact European mode of arriving at the
size of a village had never before been presented to his Persian brain.
How many people? Why, enough to catch fish for him, to make caviare,
to sell in the bazaars and tend the orange-gardens--Kheli, therefore,
a great many. The interview came to a close when our servant appeared
with steaming dishes. Our two guests rose, and, saying they would leave
us to the rest and refreshment we must surely need, bowed themselves
out.

A curious savour of mingled East and West hung about the little palace.
We slept in bare Persian rooms, the loaded orange boughs touched our
verandas, and the soft air of the Eastern night rustled through the
reed curtains that hung over them; but the brisk, fresh smell of the
sea mixed itself with the heavy Oriental atmosphere, beyond the garden
walls the moon shone on the broad Caspian, highway to many lands, and
the silence of the night was broken by the whistling of steamers, as
though Enzeli itself were one of those greater ports on busier seas to
which we were speeding.

Speeding? Alas! we had forgotten that we were still in Persia.
Next morning the steamer had not come in; we went down to the quay
and questioned the officials as to the possible time of its arrival.
They, however, shrugged their shoulders in mute surprise at our
impatience. How could they know when it might please Allah to send the
steamer? We strolled idly through the orange-grove and into a larger
pleasure-ground, laid out with turf and empty flower-beds, as though
some Elizabethan gardener had designed it--and had left it to be
completed by Orientals. The pleasant melancholy of autumn lay upon it
all, but of an autumn unlike those to which we were accustomed, for it
had brought renewed freshness to the grass, scorched by the summer sun,
and a second lease of life to the roses. It was almost with surprise
that we noticed the masses of fruit hanging on the green orange boughs
which ‘never lose their leaves nor ever bid the spring adieu.’ In the
inner garden stood a tower into whose looking-glass rooms we climbed,
and from its balconies searched the Caspian for some sign of our ship.
But none was to be seen. In despair we sallied forth into the bazaar,
and purchased fish and fowls, honey and dried figs, on which we made an
excellent breakfast.

All day long we waited, and how the ‘many’ inhabitants of Enzeli
contrive to pass the time remains a mystery to us. As a watering-place,
it is not to be recommended, for the tideless sea leaves all the refuse
of the village to rot in the sand; sleep may prove a resource to them,
as it did to us, for the greater part of the afternoon and evening; but
their lot in the narrow peninsula did not seem to us an enviable one
as we hurried through the orange-grove in the dawn, summoned by the
whistling of the long-expected boat.

So we steamed away across the Caspian, and the sleepy little place
vanished behind the mists that hung over its lagoons and enveloped
its guardian mountains--faded and faded from our eyes till the Shah’s
palace was no longer visible; faded and faded from our minds, and sank
back into the mist of vague memories and fugitive sensations.



_THE MONTH OF FASTING_


OF the powers which come by prayer and fasting, every Mohammedan
should have a large share. It is impossible, of course, for the
uninitiated to judge how far the inward grace tallies with the
outward form, but he can at least bear witness that the forms of the
Mohammedan religion are stricter, and that they appear to be more
accurately obeyed, than those of the Christian. Religious observances
call upon a man with a rougher and a louder voice, and at the same
time they are more intimately connected with his everyday life--before
the remembrance of the things which are not of this world can have
faded from his mind, the muezzin summons him again to turn the eye of
faith towards Mecca. The mosques of Constantinople wear a friendly
and a homelike air which is absent from Western churches; even those
frequented shrines in some small chapel of one of our cathedrals, hung
about with pictures and votive offerings, and lighted with wax tapers
by pious fingers, do not suggest a more constant devotion than is to
be found in the stern and beautiful simplicity of Mohammedan places of
worship. At every hour of the day you may see grave men lifting the
heavy curtain which hangs across the doorway, and, with their shoes
in their hand, treading softly over the carpeted floor, establishing
themselves against one of the pillars which support a dome bright
with coloured tiles, reading under their breath from the open Koran
before them, meditating, perhaps, or praying, if they be of the poorer
sort which meditates little, but, however poor they may be, their
rags unabashed by glowing carpets and bright-hued tiles. As you pass,
slipping over the floor in your large outer shoes, they will look up
for a moment, and immediately return to devotions which are too serious
to be disturbed by the presence of unbelievers.

To the stranger, religious ceremonies are often enough the one visible
expression of a nation’s life. In his churches you meet a man on
familiar ground, for, prince or beggar, Western or Oriental, all have
this in common--that they must pray. We had seen the beggars, we were
also to see the Sultan on his way to mosque in Stamboul. He crosses
the Golden Horn for this purpose only twice in the year, and even when
these appointed times come round, he is so fearful of assassination
that he does his best to back out of the disagreeable duty--small
wonder, when you think of the examples he has behind him! When he
finally decides to venture forth, no one knows until the last moment
what route he will take; all the streets and bridges are lined with
rows of soldiers, through which, when he comes, his carriage drives
swiftly, followed by innumerable carriage-loads of the women of his
harem, dressed in pink and blue and green satin, their faces very
incompletely concealed by muslin veils--wrappings which are extremely
becoming to dark-eyed beauties.

Every Friday Abdul Hamed goes to mid-day prayers in a small mosque
near his palace of Yildiz Kiosk. We stood one sunny morning on the
balconies of a house opposite the mosque waiting for his coming; the
roads were again lined with soldiers--those tall lean Turks whose grim
faces danger and hardship are powerless to disturb--the bands played
waltz tunes, the muezzin appeared upon the platform of the minaret, and
the Sultan’s horses came prancing through the crowds of spectators.
Just as he turned into the enclosure of the mosque, a man broke through
the crowd and rushed, shouting and waving a roll of paper above his
head, towards the carriage window. He pushed his way through two lines
of soldiers, with such impetuous force he came, but the third turned
him back, still struggling and waving his petition above his head. The
waltz tunes drowned his cries, the Sultan disappeared into the mosque,
and the petitioner, having been shoved and buffeted from hand to hand,
having lost his paper and the better part of his garments in the
scuffle, was sent homeward sadly and in rags. When the Sultan came out
half an hour later and drove his white horses back through the serried
lines of people, the soldiers were again standing with imperturbable
faces, and peace had been restored to the Ottoman Empire.

In Constantinople religious observances go far to paralyze the conduct
of mundane affairs. Three days of the week are _dies non_: on Friday
the Turks are making holiday, Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, and on
Sunday the Christians do no work. Moreover, as far as the Mohammedans
are concerned, there is one month of the year when all business is at
a standstill. During the twenty-eight days of Ramazan they are ordered
by the Prophet to fast from an hour before sunrise until sunset. The
Prophet is not always obeyed; the richer classes rarely keep the fast;
those whose position does not lift them entirely beyond the pressure of
public opinion, soften the harshness of his command by sleeping during
the day and carousing during the night--a part of the bazaars, for
instance, is not opened until mid-day in Ramazan, at which hour sleepy
merchants may be seen spreading out their wares upon the counters with
a tribute of many yawns to last night’s wakefulness; but the common
people still keep to the letter of the law, and to all Ramazan is a
good excuse for postponing any disagreeable business.

Such a fast as that enjoined by Mohammed would fill the most ascetic
Christian of to-day with indignant horror. Not only is every true
believer forbidden to eat during the prescribed hours, but nothing of
any kind may pass his lips: he may drink nothing, he may not smoke.
These rules, which are to be kept by all except travellers and the
sick, fall heavily upon the poorer classes, who alone preserve them
faithfully. Porters carrying immense loads up and down the steep
streets of Pera and Galata, caïquejis rowing backwards and forwards
under the hot sun across the Golden Horn and the swift current of
the Bosphorus, owners of small shops standing in narrow, stuffy
streets and surrounded by smells which would take the heart out of
any man--all these not one drop of water, not one whiff of tobacco,
refreshes or comforts during the weary hours of daylight. As the sun
sinks lower behind the hill of Stamboul, the tables in front of the
coffee-shops are set out with bottles of lemon-water and of syrups, and
with rows and rows of water-pipes, and round them cluster groups of
men, thirstily awaiting the end of the fast. The moments pass slowly,
slowly--even the European grows athirst as he watches the faces about
him--the sun still lingers on the edge of the horizon. On a sudden
the watchman sees him take his plunge into another hemisphere, and
the sunset-gun booms out over the town, shaking minarets and towers
as the sound rushes from hill to hill, shaking the patient, silent
people into life. At once the smoke of tobacco rises like an incense
into the evening air, the narghilehs begin to gurgle merrily, the smoke
of cigarettes floats over every group at the street corners, the very
hamal pauses under his load as he passes down the hills and lights the
little roll of tobacco which he carries all ready in the rags about his
waist. Iced water and syrups come later; still later tongues will be
loosened over the convivial evening meal; but for the moment what more
can a man want than the elusive joy of tobacco-smoke?

From that hour until dawn time passes gaily in Constantinople, and
especially in Stamboul, the Turkish quarter. The inhabitants are afoot,
the mosques are crowded with worshippers, the coffee-shops are full
of men eating, drinking, smoking, and listening to songs and to the
tales of story-tellers. The whole city is bright with twinkling lamps;
the carved platforms round the minarets, which are like the capitals
of pillars supporting the great dome of the sky, are hung about with
lights, and, slung on wires between them, sentences from the Koran
blaze out in tiny lamps against the blackness of the night. As you look
across the Golden Horn the slender towers of the minarets are lost in
the darkness, rings of fire hang in mid-air over Stamboul, the word
of God flames forth in high heaven, and is reflected back from the
waters beneath. Towards morning the lamps fade and burn out, but at
dusk the city again decks herself in her jewels, and casts a glittering
reflection into her many waters.

On the twenty-fourth night the holy month reaches its culminating
point. It is the Night of Predestination; God in heaven lays down His
decrees for the coming year, and gives them to His angels to carry
to the earth in due season. No good Mohammedan thinks of sleep; the
streets are as bright as day, and from every mosque rise the prayers
of thousands of worshippers. The great ceremony takes place in the
mosque of St. Sophia. Under that vast dome, which the most ancient
temples have been ransacked to adorn, until from Heliopolis, from
Ephesus, from Athens, and from Baalbec, the dead gods have rendered
up their treasures of porphyry and marble--under the dome which was
the glory of Christendom is celebrated the festival of the Mohammedan
faith. By daylight St. Sophia is still the Christian church, the place
of memories. The splendours of Justinian linger in it; the marbles
glow with soft colour as though they had caught and held the shadow of
that angel’s wings who was its architect; the doves which flit through
the space of the dome are not less emblems of Christianity than the
carved dove of stone over the doorway; the four great painted angels
lift their mutilated faces in silent protest against the desecration
of the church they guard. Only the bareness, the vast emptiness, which
keeps the beauty of St. Sophia unspoilt by flaring altars and tawdry
decorations, reminds you that it is a mosque in which you are standing,
and the shields hung high up above the capitals, whose twisted golden
letters proclaim the names of the Prophet and his companions. Long
shafts of dusty sunlight counterchange the darkness, weaving peaceful
patterns on the carpeted pavement which was once washed with the blood
of fugitives from Turkish scimitars.

But on the Night of Power Christian memories are swept aside, and
the stern God of Mohammed fills with His presence the noblest mosque
in all the world. As you look down between the pillars of the vast
gallery your eyes are blinded by a mist of light--thousands of lamps
form a solid roof of brightness between you and the praying people on
the floor of the mosque. Gradually the light breaks and disparts, and
between the lamps you see the long lines of worshippers below--long,
even lines, set all awry across the pavement that the people may
turn their eyes not to the East, but further south, where the Ka’bah
stands in holy Mecca. From the pulpit the words of the preacher echo
round the mosque, and every time that he pronounces the name of God
the people fall upon their faces with a great sound, which is like
the sound of all nations falling prostrate before their Creator. For
a moment the silence of adoration weighs upon the air, then they rise
to their feet, and the preacher’s voice rolls out again through arches
and galleries and domes. ‘God is the Light of Heaven and Earth!’ say
the golden letters overhead. ‘He is the Light!’ answer the thousands
of lamps beneath. ‘God Is the Light!’ reads the preacher. ‘God is the
Light!’ repeats a praying nation, and falls with a sound like thunder,
prostrate before His name.

With the Night of Predestination Ramazan is drawing to a close. On
the fifth succeeding evening all the Mohammedan world will be agog to
catch the first glimpse of the crescent moon, whose rays announce the
end of the fast. Woe to true believers if clouds hang over the horizon!
The heaven-sent sign alone may set a term to the penance imposed by
heavenly decree, and not until the pale herald has ushered in the month
of Shawwal may men return to the common comforts of every day.



_REQUIESCANT IN PACE_


IT is a friendly ordering of the world that the episodes of
each man’s life come to him with so vivid a freshness that his own
experience (which is nothing but the experience of all his fellows)
might be unique in the history of the race. Providence is but an
unskilful strategist, and having contrived one scheme to fill the
three-score years and ten, she keeps a man to it, regardless of his
disposition and of his desires. Sometimes, indeed, he forces her hand,
wresting from her here a little more of power, there a sweeter burst of
romance, making her blow a louder peal of warrior trumpets to herald
him, and beat a longer roll of drums when he departs; sometimes he
outwits her, dying before he has completed the task she set him, or
disturbing her calculations by his obstinate vitality. But for the
most part he is content to obey, and the familiar story takes its
course until death abruptly closes the chapter, and sends the little
universe of his deeds to roll unevenly down the centuries, balanced
or unbalanced as he left it, with no hand more to modify its course.
Familiar and yet never monotonous--though wherever you turn the air
is full of memories everywhere the same, though the page of every
historian repeats the same tale, though every poet sighs over it, and
every human being on the earth lives it over again in his own person.
A man will not complain of the want of originality; he is more likely
to be cheered when he looks round him and sees his fellows suffering
and rejoicing in like manner with himself, when he looks back and sees
his predecessors absorbed by the same cares, urged forward by the same
hopes. The experience of those who have passed before him along the
well-trodden road will not hold him back or turn him aside; to each
newcomer the way is new and still to be enjoyed--new and exciting the
dangers and the difficulties, new the pleasant sensation of rest by the
fountain at mid-day, new and terrible the hunger and the foot-soreness,
new, with a grim unexpectedness, the forbidding aspect of that last
caravanserai where he lays himself down to sleep out the eternal night.
Yes, Death is newest of all and least considered in the counsels of
men--Death, who comes silent-footed at all moments, who brushes us with
his sleeve as he passes us by, who plucks us warningly by the cloak
lest we should forget his presence--he, too, will surprise us at the
last.

And if it were not so, small pleasure would be reaped from life. If
the past were to stand for ever holding a mirror of the future before
his eyes, many a man would refuse to venture forward--it is upon the
unknown that he lays his trust--and if the universal presence of death
had but once found a lodging in his mind, the whole world would seem to
him to be but one vast graveyard, the cheerful fields but a covering
for dead men’s bones, and the works of their hands but as tombstones
under which the dead hands lie.

Yet at times they are good and quiet company, the dead; they will
not interrupt your musings, but when they speak, whether they be Jews
or Turks or heathens, they will speak in a tongue all can understand.
There are even countries where the moving, breathing people are
less intelligible, dwell in a world further apart from you, than
that silent population under the earth. You may watch the medley of
folk hurrying into Stamboul across the Galata Bridge--that causeway
between East and West--and the Dervishes washing their feet under the
arches of a mosque, and the eager bartering in the bazaars, without
one feeling of fellowship with these men and women who look at you
askance as you go by; you may pass between long rows of crumbling,
closely-latticed houses without venturing to hazard the widest solution
of the life within--without even knowing whether there be life at all,
so inhospitable they seem, so undomestic. But, once beyond the walls,
you have done with distinctions of race. From the high towers of Yedi
Kuli on the topmost hill down to the glittering waters of the Golden
Horn are scattered countless graves--on the one hand, the triple line
of Constantine’s city wall, rent and torn, with cracking bastions and
dismantled towers, in its hopeless decrepitude still presenting a noble
front to all comers, save where the great breach tells of the inrush
of the Turkish conquerors Judas-trees drop their purple flowers over
the spot where Constantine Palæologus fell, red rose-bushes spring
from the crevices, a timid army of lizards garrisons the useless
forts. On the other hand, the great city of the dead--acre upon acre
of closely-packed graves, regiment upon regiment of headstones, some
with a rude turban carved atop, some (and these mark where women lie)
unadorned, and all pushed awry by time and storms and the encroaching
roots and stems of cypress-trees, all neglected, all desolate.
Constantinople, the dying city, is girt about with graves--not more
forgotten the names of those that rest there than her own glory on the
lips of men. So they speak to you, these dead warriors, dead statesmen,
dear dead women, and to the spiritual ear they speak in tragic tones.

The cypresses cast their shadows over this page of Turkish history,
springing upwards in black and solemn luxuriance, nourished by dead
bodies. The cypress-trees are like mutes, who follow the funeral
procession clothed in mourning garments, but with sleek and well-fed
faces. They rear their dark heads into the blue sky and beckon to their
fellows in Scutari across the Bosphorus.

From the Scutari hill-top the eye is greeted by one of the most
enchanting prospects the world has to show--the blue waters of Marmora
traversed by greener Bosphorus currents, light mists resting along the
foot of the hill-bound coast of Asia, a group of islands floating on
the surface of the water, the Golden Horn glimmering away northwards,
with the marble walls of the Seraglio stretching a long white finger
between it and the sea, Stamboul crowned with minarets and domes.
Flocks of gray birds flit aimlessly across the water--the restless
souls of women, says Turkish legend--the waves lap round the tower of
Leander, the light wind comes whispering down between the exquisite
Bosphorus shores, bringing the breath of Russian steppes to shake the
plane-leaves in Scutari streets. Constantinople the Magnificent gathers
her rags round her, throws over her shoulders her imperial robe of
sunshine, and sits in peaceful state with her kingdom of blue waters
at her feet.... But all around you the dead speak and command your
ears. The ground is thick with the graves of men who died fighting,
who died of cold and hunger in bleak Crimea; under your feet are great
pits filled with unhonoured bones, and the white stones which strew the
grass cry aloud the story of struggle and fight into the quiet air.
Beyond them the dark canopy of cypresses shadows countless thousands
of Turkish graves; the surface of the ground is broken and heaped up
as though the dead men had not been content to sleep, but had turned
and twisted in their shallow covering of earth, knocking over their
tombstones in the effort to force a way out of the cold and the dark
into the beautiful world a foot or two above their heads. ‘Remember
us--remember us!’ they cried, as we passed under the cypress-trees. But
no one remembered them, and their forgotten sorrows could only send a
thrill of vague pity through our hearts.

Not less pitiful in their magnificence are the tombs of the Sultans
in Stamboul itself. Here under marble domes, adorned with priceless
tiles and hung round with inlaid armour, you may sit upon the ground
and tell sad stories of the death of kings, and as you tell of poison
and of dagger, of unfaithful wives and treacherous sons, each splendid
sarcophagus will serve as illustration to your words. The graves of
the dead Sultans are strewn with costly hangings, and set about with
railings of mother-of-pearl and precious woods; plumed and jewelled
turbans stand over their heads, their wives lie round them like a
bodyguard, but gold and pearl and precious stones all serve to blazon
forth the tragic histories of those men who lie buried in such mournful
state.

With the glitter of this vain pomp before our eyes, we idled on a
windy Friday through one of the poorer quarters of the town. A bazaar
was being held in Kassim Pasha; women were bargaining over their weekly
purchases of dried fruits and grains and household goods; copper pots
lay in shining rows among the coarse crockery and the flowers and cheap
luxuries of the poor; the sun shone upon veils and turbans and bronzed
faces. It was the hour of mid-day prayer, the little mosque at the end
of the street was full to overflowing, the people were kneeling all
down the sunny outer steps, rising and falling, bowing their heads upon
the stone at the name of God. We paused a moment, and went on round
the mosque. In the shadow of a neglected corner behind it, supported
on a couple of trestles, lay something swathed in coarse blue linen,
with a stick planted into the ground at its head, and surmounted by a
discoloured fez. It was the corpse of a man which lay waiting there
until the mid-day prayers should be concluded, and his relations could
find time for his burial. The wind flapped the corners of his blue
cotton coverings to and fro, and shook the worn-out fez, but the dead
man waited patiently upon the pleasure of the living--perhaps he knew
that he was already forgotten and was content.

In Turkish cities the graves are scattered up and down and anywhere;
the stone lattice-work of a saint’s tomb breaks the line of houses
in every street of Stamboul; wherever there is a little patch of
disused ground, there spring a couple of cypresses under which half a
dozen tombstones lean awry, and solemn Turkish children play in and
out among the graves. We, too, scrambled down the slopes between the
half-obliterated mounds, and stood under the shadow of their guardian
trees, until the nodding stone turbans wore to us as familiar an aspect
as the turbaned heads before the coffee shop in the street.

From time to time, indeed, we remembered the strangeness of this
companionship with the generations behind us. One April afternoon, as
we were walking down the steep streets of Trebizond, looking round us
with curious eyes, there fell upon our ears a continuous tinkling of
bells. We listened: there was no sound of feet, but the bells came
nearer and nearer, and at last from one of the narrow streets emerged a
camel, and behind him more camels and more, marching on with noiseless
padded tread, with impassive Oriental faces and outstretched necks,
round which the rows of tiny bells swung backwards and forwards with
every step. By their side trudged their drivers, noiselessly, too, in
sandalled feet, their faces half hidden by huge caps of long-haired
fur, and wearing an expression less human than that of the beasts
over which they cracked their whips. ‘Look,’ said our guide; ‘it is
a caravan from Tabriz,’ and he pushed us back out of the road, for
camels have an evil reputation, and are apt to enliven the way by a
fretful biting at any person they may happen to encounter. So we stood,
without noticing where we had retreated, and watched the long caravan
as it passed us with even, measured tread--so slowly that we fell to
wondering how many hundred hundred thousand of those deliberate steps
had marked the dust and crunched upon the stones across the mountains
and valleys and deserts between Trebizond and Tabriz. And though their
caravanserai was in sight, the camels never mended their pace, and
though they had come so many hundred miles, they did not seem weary
with their journey or glad to reach their goal; but as they passed they
turned their heads and looked us in the eyes, and we knew that they
were thinking that we were only Westerns, and could not understand
their placid Oriental ways. When they had passed we glanced down,
and found that we were standing upon a grave mound; behind us sprang
cypress-trees, and the stone upon which we were leaning bore the dead
man’s turban carved upon it. There he lay upon the edge of the great
road which he too, perhaps, had trodden from end to end in his day--lay
now at rest with the cypresses to shade his head, and the caravans
moving ceaseless past him, away and away into the far East. May he rest
in peace, the dead man by the living road!

To such charming Turkish sepulchres we looked back as to hallowed
resting-places when we had come to know the Persian graveyards. The
stretch of dusty stony earth outside the mud walls of the town, the
vacant space in the heart of the village where the gravestones were
hardly to be distinguished from the natural rockiness of the earth,
the home of evil smells, untrodden by living feet, though it lay in
the centre of the village life--those shallow graves seemed to us
ill-suited to eternal rest. From many of them, indeed, the occupants
were to suffer a premature resurrection. After a few months’ sleep they
would be rudely awakened, wrapped in cloths, and carried on the backs
of mules to the holy places. Men who have met these caravans of the
dead winding across the desert say that their hearts stood still as
that strange and mournful band of wayfarers passed them silently by.

But the pang of sorrow is only for the living. Though we find it hard
enough to dissociate sensation from the forms which have once felt
like ourselves, the happy dead people are no longer concerned with the
fate of the outer vestments they have cast off. They fear no more the
heat of the sun, nor the furious winter’s rages; the weary journey to
Kerbela is nothing to them, nor whether they lie under cypresses, whose
silent fingers point to heaven, or under marble domes, of out in the
bare desert. Wherever they rest, they rest in peace.



_THE CITY OF KING PRUSIAS_


AT the foot of the Bithynian Olympus lies a city founded, says
tradition, by Cyrus. Philip, the son of Demetrius, gave it to Prusias,
King of Bithynia, the friend of Hannibal; Prusias rebuilt it, calling
it after himself, and for over two hundred years it was the capital of
the Bithynian kingdom. In the first century after Christ it fell into
the hands of the Romans; Roman governors took up their abode in Brusa,
the younger Pliny described to Trajan the agora, the library, the baths
of sulphur, which gave it an honoured place in the civilization of
Rome. During the ensuing centuries many men fought and fell for its
possession; the cry of battle raged perpetually about its walls. Turks
and Christians contended for Brusa, Theodore Lascaris, the Roumanian
despot, held it, Orkan ravished it from the Greeks, Timur overwhelmed
it with his shepherd warriors from distant Tartary; finally the Turks
reconquered it and turned the capital of King Prusias into the capital
of the Ottoman Empire.

The soaring minarets, the white domes of mosques and baths, lie amid
cypresses and plane-trees at the foot of the mountain. The streams
of Olympus, many-fountained like its neighbour Ida, water the town
and the surrounding country with such profusion that every inch of
ground yields fruit and flowers in tenfold abundance; the hot steam of
the sulphur springs diffuses a drowsy warmth through the atmosphere;
the city is full of the sound of tinkling fountains and murmuring
plane-leaves, and of the voices of black-eyed Turkish children--no
wonder if the eagerness of men for its possession drove peace for so
many hundred years from its vineyards and olive-groves.

It is said that of the Romans no trace remains. If this be so, the
spirit of the Roman builders must have lingered on among Byzantine
masons. There is a gateway at the southern side of the town from which
part of the stone casing has fallen away, revealing that exquisite
brickwork whose secret was known to the Romans only--an entablature of
long, narrow bricks, set into arches of complicated pattern, with the
sure eye and the even hand that ennoble the commonest materials, and
make Roman bricks and plain Roman stonework as beautiful in their way
as frieze, or fresco, or marble-casing. Pliny’s baths, however, are
gone; the present buildings are of Turkish origin. They lie a little to
the east of the town, in fields which vine and olive share with irises
and great scarlet poppies. You enter, and find yourself under the dome
of a large hall, round the walls of which are railed off compartments
where, upon piles of cushions, the bathers rest after the exertion of
the bath, smoking a narghileh and drinking a cup of coffee. Beyond this
is another and smaller hall, with a fountain of clear cold water in the
midst of it, and through various chambers of different temperatures
you reach the farthest and hottest of all. The air is thick and heavy
with the steam which rises from the blue-tiled basin, where, when the
process of washing is over, the Turkish youths swim in the hot water of
the sulphur springs, while through the mist the sunlight glimmers down
on them from the windows in the dome.

The mosques share the indescribable charm of Brusa--a charm in
which the luxuriant fertility of the land and the accumulated arts
of many nations bear an equal part. The tomb of Orkan the Conqueror
owes its beauty to the Byzantines, for it lies in the church they
reared and dedicated to the prophet Elijah. Before the Green Mosque
is a fountain, one of those exquisite fountains of Olympus, shaded by
huge plane-trees, and protected by a pointed roof rising on delicate
columns, and arches with the Moorish curve in them; and on the mosque
itself, the colour of leaves with the sun shining through them is
rivalled by the brilliant green of the tiles which encase the dome,
and the tracery of laden branches against the sky by the carving
round the doorway, until you cannot tell which is the most successful
decorator, man or nature. Sultan Mahmud employed Christian workmen
in the mosque he built; its architecture wears a curious likeness to
that of the West, and the Christian vines and fig-trees are wreathed
round the capitals of the Mohammedan shafts. In the big mosque in
the centre of the town the builders seem to have recognised that the
beauty of curving roofs and the splendour of coloured tiles could go
no further--they have called in Heaven to their aid. The entrance,
indeed, is vaulted over, the floor is strewn with carpets, and the
walls glow with colour; but the central court is open to the sky, and
a fountain plashes under the blaze of light and sunshine which falls
through the opening. Round the edge of the basin beggars sit washing
their feet, grave elders dip their hands and bathe their faces in the
cool water; in the columned darkness beyond, bands of Turkish children
play at hide-and-seek between the pillars, so noiselessly that they do
not disturb the quiet worshippers and the groups of men chatting in
undertones, or drown the delicious sound of water and the whispering of
the outer airs which fill the building.

Above the town Olympus rears his lofty head: his feet are planted in
groves of plane-trees, among the soaring dark spires of cypresses and
the white spires of the minarets, beech thickets cover his flanks, and
on his shoulders lies a mantle of snow, which narrows and narrows as
the summer climbs upwards, but which never entirely disappears.

As we ascended the mountain on our lean ponies, we felt as though we
were gradually leaving Turkey behind us, and climbing up into Greece.
The snow still lay low enough (for it was in the early summer) to
prevent our reaching the summit, yet we could see over the shoulders of
the hills the spurs of the beautiful range of Ida, and where the plain
of Troy might be on clearer days, with Lake Aphnitis, the furthest
boundary of the Troad, gleaming on its edge--‘Aphneian Trojans,’ says
Homer in his catalogue of warriors, ‘who inhabit Zeleia at the furthest
extremity of Ida, and drink the dark waters of Æsepus.’ We could see,
too, the long stretch of Marmora and the peninsula of Cyzicus, whose
king met with such dire ill-fortune at the hands of Jason, and though
this was not that Olympus which was crowned with the halls of Zeus, we
comforted ourselves by imagining that Homer may have had the slopes of
the Bithynian mountain in the eye of his mind when he wandered singing
through the Troad. The beech coppices whispered graceful legends in
our ears, the glades, thickset with flowers, seemed to us to be marked
with the impress of divine feet--it was the Huntress and her train who
had stirred the fritillary bells, Pan’s pregnant footing had called
the golden crocuses to life, the voices of the nymphs who charmed
away Hylas the Argonaut still floated on the air, and through the
undergrowth what glimpse was that of flying robe and unloosed shining
locks?... We rode upward beyond the region of sheltered, flower-strewn
glades, beyond the pines, until we came to rough, stony ground,
sprinkled with juniper-bushes--and to the very edge of the snow. The
mountain-top was all bare and silent; no clash of battle rises now
above the plain of Troy; in the blue peaks of Ida, Œnone’s cries are
hushed; Paris is dead, of Helen’s beauty there is nothing but the name;
Zeus no longer watches the tide of war from the summit of the Bithynian
Olympus, and the nymphs have fled....

The day was nearly over when we descended, the cypresses of Brusa
cast long shadows between the white domes--it was the magic moment
when the sun, like a second Midas, turns all he touches into gold. The
western sky was a sheet of pure gold, the broad plane-leaves hung in
golden patterns upon the boughs, the low light lay in a carpet of gold
upon the grass, the very air breathed incantations, and on the lowest
slope of the mountain we found Ganymede awaiting us. There he sat under
a tree by the roadside; he had clothed himself in the semblance of an
old Turkish beggar, and hidden his yellow curls beneath a scarlet fez,
and the nectar he offered us was only Turkish coffee; but we knew him,
in spite of his disguise, when he put one of the tiny cups into our
hands, for no coffee brewed by mortal could have tasted so ambrosial or
mingled so divine a fragrance with the sweet flowery smell of evening.
We sat down on the grass round the primitive brazier--a mere dishful
of charcoal set on a shaky iron tripod. The heavenly cup-bearer was
well versed in the arts of coffee-making; he kept half a dozen of his
little copper pots a-boiling on the tray of charcoal, which he blew to
a red glow round them, and when the coffee frothed up over the edges,
he poured it in the nick of time into the cups which we held out to
him. The sun flooded our Olympian hall of plane-trees with soft light;
we lay in grateful silence upon our couch of grass while the coffee
bubbled up over the charcoal fire and frothed steaming into our cups.
At length we rose, handed our Ganymede some Turkish coins, at which he
must have chuckled in his Greek heart, and rode away in the twilight
through the streets of Brusa.



_SHOPS AND SHOPKEEPERS_


‘WE lived together for the space of a month,’ related the second of
the three ladies of Baghdad to Haroun al Rashid, Ja’far the Wezir,
and Mesroor the Executioner, ‘after which I begged my husband that he
would allow me to go to the bazaar to purchase some stuffs for dress.’
She went, accompanied by the inevitable old woman, to the house of
a young merchant whose father had recently died, leaving him great
wealth. ‘He produced all we wanted, and we handed him the money, but
he refused to take it, saying: “It is an offer of hospitality for your
visit.” I said: “If he will not take the money, I will return to him
the stuffs.” But he would not receive it again, and exclaimed: “By
Allah! I will take nothing from you; all this is a present from me for
a single kiss, which I will value more than the contents of my whole
shop.”’ The Khalifeh, when the story was concluded--it went on through
many and surprising adventures--expressed no astonishment at the young
man’s generosity. Such an exaggerated view of hospitality seemed
to him quite natural on the part of a shopkeeper, nor did he pause
to inquire whether the inflammable young man found that the wealth
which his father had left him increased with any rapidity through his
transactions with pretty ladies.

So reckless a disposition is no longer to be found among Eastern
merchants; shopping is now conducted purely on business principles,
though it is not without a charm which is absent from Western counters.
Instead of the sleek young man, indistinguishable from his fellows, you
have the turbaned Turk, bundled up in multitudinous baggy garments,
which he holds round him with one hand, while he takes down his goods
with the other; or the keen-featured Persian, from whom you need hope
to make no large profit, wrapped in closely-hanging robes, his white
linen shirt buttoned neatly across his brown chest; or the specious
Armenian in his red fez, cunning and voluble, an easy liar, asking
impossible prices for worthless objects, and hoping to ingratiate
you by murmuring with a leer that he remembers seeing your face in
Spitalfields last time he was there. Shopping with these merchants is
not merely the going through of certain forms for the acquisition of
necessary commodities--it is an end in itself, an art which combines
many social arts, an amusement which will not pall, though many hours
be devoted to it, a study in character and national characteristics.

It was in Brusa that we went out to purchase some ‘stuffs for
dress’--not that we contemplated making for ourselves ten robes each
to the value of a thousand golden pieces, like the lady of Baghdad,
but that we had heard rumours of certain of the Brusa silks which
were suited to less extravagant requirements. It was a hot, steaming
afternoon; we hired diminutive donkeys and rode down Brusa streets
and under the many domes of the bazaar. The quick, short steps of the
donkeys clicked over the cobble stones; we looked round us as they went
at the rows and rows of shop-counters, the high vaults which arched
away to right and left ward, the courtyards open to the sky, set round
with shops, grown over with vines, gleaming with sunshine at the end
of some dark narrow passage, the people standing about in leisurely
attitudes, and the donkeys, which walked diligently up and down,
carrying now a veiled woman sitting astride on her padded saddle, now a
turbaned Turk, and now a bale of merchandise. At length we came to the
street of the silk merchants, and dismounted before the shop of an old
Turk who was sitting cross-legged within.

He rose, and with many polite salaams begged us to enter, and set
chairs for us round the low enamelled table. We might have been paying
a morning call: we talked--those of us who could speak Turkish--of
Sa’di and the musical glasses, we sipped our cups of delicious coffee,
we puffed our narghilehs--those of us who could derive any other
pleasure from a narghileh than that of a strong taste of charcoal
flavoured with painted wood. Presently the subject of silks was
broached, and set aside again as unworthy of discussion; after a few
more minutes our--host, shall I say?--laid before us a bundle of
embroideries, which we examined politely, complimenting him upon his
possessions. At length, as if the idea had just struck him, though he
knew perfectly well the object of our visit, he pulled a roll of silk
from a corner of the shop and laid it before us. We asked tentatively
whether he would not permit us to see more, and the business of the
afternoon began. The stuffs were certainly charming. There were the
usual stripes of silk and cotton, there were muslins woven with tinsel
lines, coarse Syrian cottons, and the brocades for which Brusa is
famous, mixtures of cotton and silk woven in small patterns something
like a Persian pattern, yellow on white, gold on blue, orange on
yellow. No doubt we paid more for our purchases than they were worth,
but not more than the pleasure of a delightful afternoon spent in the
old Turk’s company was worth to us.

On our way home we stopped before a confectioner’s shop and
invited him to let us taste of his preserves. He did not, like the
confectioner in the Arabian Nights, prepare for us a delicious dish of
pomegranate-seeds, but he gave us Rahat Lakoum, and slices of sugared
oranges, and a jelly of rose-leaves (for which cold cream is a good
European substitute), and many other delicacies, ending with some round
white objects, which I take to have been sugared onions, floating in
syrup--after we had tasted them we had small desire to continue our
experimental repast.

The bazaars in Constantinople are not so attractive: the crowds jostle
you, the shopkeepers, throwing aside Oriental dignity, run after you
and catch you by the sleeve, offering to show you Manchester cottons
and coarse embroidered muslins. A fragrant savour, indeed, of fried
meats and garlic hangs about the eating-shops, on whose counters
appetizing mixtures of meat and rice are displayed, and bowls of a
white substance like curds, into which a convenient spoon is sticking
for the common use of all hungry passers-by, and under the high vaults
of the carpet bazaar solemn merchants sit in state among their woven
treasures, their silver, and their jewels.

We spent a morning among Persian and Circassian shopmen in Tiflis.
There the better part of the bazaar is not roofed over, and the shops
open on to a street inches deep in dust or in mud, according to the
weather, as is the manner of the streets of Tiflis. They were full
of lovely silver ornaments, and especially we noted the heavy silver
belts which were hanging in every window and round the waist of every
Circassian merchant. We fixed upon one which was being thus informally
exhibited round a waist, and, in spite of the many protestations of
its wearer, we succeeded in buying it from him. It had belonged to his
father, he said, and I think that it was with some reluctance that he
pocketed our gold pieces and saw us carrying off his family heirloom.

In Persia the usual order of shopping is reversed: you buy not when
you stand in need, but when the merchants choose to come to you.
Moreover, the process is very deliberative, and a single bargain may
stretch out over months. The counters are the backs of mules, which
animals are driven into your garden whenever their owners happen to
be passing by. As you sit under the shadow of your plane-trees you
become conscious of bowing figures before you, leading laden mules
by the bridle; you signify to them that they may spread out their
goods, and presently your garden-paths are covered with crisp Persian
silks and pieces of minute stitching, with Turkoman tent-hangings,
embroideries from Bokhara, and carpets from Yezd and Kerman, and the
sunlight flickers down through the plane-leaves into the extemporary
shop. There is a personal note about these charming materials which
lends them an interest other than that which could be claimed by bright
colours and soft textures alone. They speak of individual labour and
individual taste. Those tiny squares of Persian work have formed part
of a woman’s dress--in some andarun, years of a woman’s life were spent
stitching the close intricate pattern in blended colours from corner to
corner; those strips of linen on which the design of red flowers and
green leaves is not quite completed, come from the fingers of a girl of
Bokhara, who, when she married, threw aside her embroidery-needle and
left her fancy-work thus unfinished.

The bargaining begins: you turn over the stuffs with careless
fingers--this one is very dirty, that very coarse; you lift a corner of
the carpets, and, examining the wrong side with what air of knowledge
you can summon to your aid, you mutter that they are only partially
silken, after all. Finally you make your offer, which is received with
indignant horror on the part of the merchant. He sweeps his wares
aside, and draws from the folds of his garments a box of turquoises,
which he displays to you with many expressions of admiration, and which
you return to him with contemptuous politeness: ‘Mal-e shuma!’--‘They
are your possession!’ He packs up his bundles and retires. In a week or
two he will return with reduced demands; you will raise your offer a
toman or two, and after a few months of coming and going and of mutual
concessions, the disputed carpet will be handed over to you at perhaps
half the price that the owner originally asked; or perhaps the merchant
will return in triumph and inform you that he has sold it to someone
less grasping than you.

Urbane Persian phrases are confusing at first to the brusque European;
it was not until we had made several mistakes that we grew accustomed
to them.

As we were coming through the garden in the dusk one evening a
somewhat ragged stranger accosted us and handed us a long-haired
kitten. ‘Mal-e shuma!’ he said. We were surprised, but since we had
been making inquiries for long-haired kittens, we thought that some
kind acquaintance had heard of our wants and taken this opportunity
of making us a present--presents from casual acquaintances being not
uncommon in the East. We thanked the man and passed on with our mewing
acquisition. But the Persian did not seem satisfied; he followed us
with dogged persistence, and at length the thought struck us that it
might not be a gift, after all. We turned and asked:

‘What is the cost?’

‘Out of your great kindness,’ he replied, ‘the cost of the cat is three
tomans’ (about thirty shillings).

‘By Allah!’ we said, ‘in that case it is your possession still;’ and we
gave the kitten back to him.

When you buy, you might think from the words that pass that you had
gained, together with your purchase, a friend for life; and even when
you refuse to buy, you veil the terms of your refusal in such a manner
that the uninitiated would conclude that you were making a handsome
present to your vagrant shopkeeper.



_A MURRAY OF THE FIRST CENTURY_


THERE are few more curious subjects for observation than the
continuity of human life in a given place. Generations of men will
go on living on the same spot, though it does not offer them any
particular advantages--even though, living there, they must be content
with poverty, with insignificance, with a station outside the great
swing of the world. ‘Some little town by river or sea-shore’ is all
their universe--not theirs only, but their children’s and their
children’s children’s from century to century. You are tempted to
believe that these anchored people, who cling like limpets to the rock
on which they find themselves, are no more conscious of their own
vitality than the limpets their counterparts; rather, it is the town
which knows that it exists; with living eyes it watches the coming and
going of races, the ebb and flow of the tide of history, trusting in
its own immortality, and careless whether Greek or Barbarian, washed up
to it on the wave of a folk wandering, fill its walls.

The truth is that man is a stationary animal, and that which seems
a backwater of life is the stagnant mid-ocean, after all--that is the
first lesson which the East writes in her big wise book, which you may
read and read and never reach the last chapter. For the most part, he
is unenterprising; he prefers to remain with the evils he knows rather
than risk worse fortune in the hope of better, and unless he be driven
forth by hunger or by the sword, he will not seek fresh woods and
pastures new. It has been said before, and repeated until it should be
familiar, that the swift current of Western life is an exception to
the general rule, and not the rule itself--said and repeated, and yet
when you are brought face to face with tiny towns and remote fishing
villages, for whose birth there seems to be no reason but caprice, for
whose continuance even caprice can scarcely be alleged, and which may
yet boast two thousand years of life, you will stand aghast at such
hoar conservative antiquity. Where is progress? Where is the march
of civilization? Where the evolution of the race?... You have passed
beyond the little patch of the globe where these laws bear sway; they
are not eternal, still less are they universal, the great mass of
mankind is untouched by them, and if you must generalize, you will
come nearer the truth in saying that man is stationary than that he is
progressive.

On the southern shores of the Black Sea, where the mountains of
Anatolia drop their wooded flanks into the water, cluster villages to
which the name of progress is unknown; the Greek colonists laid their
foundation stones--wanderers they, a seafaring folk of unexampled
activity. In those steep valleys and on the open stretches of beach
two thousand five hundred years have slipped past almost unnoticed.
The Greek names, indeed, have been mutilated by barbarian tongues, and
other gods are worshipped on those coasts; the temples of Amisus are
buried among brushwood, Mars finds no honour in the island of Aretias,
nor does the most adventurous of travellers follow in the steps of
Hercules through the mouth of the Acherusian cavern; the slender
columns of minarets shoot upwards over the flat white roofs, and the
Turk is master in the Bithynian waters. For the rest, what difference?
Still from sheltered beaches the rude fishing-boats put forth; still
the hard oaks are felled in the mountains and sold in the Byzantium of
to-day; still the people till their fields of millet, and gather the
wild fruits on the fertile lower slopes; still the harbour of Sinope
is filled with the sound of the building of ships, as it was when the
Milesian navy anchored behind Cape Syrias. Nay, more--you may journey
here with the latest guide-book in one hand and Strabo in the other,
and the Murray of the first century will furnish you with more minute
information than he of the nineteenth.

For Strabo knew this country well; it was the land of his birth.
‘Amaseia, my native place,’ lay not far away on the banks of the river
Iris, which the Turks call Jeschil Irmak. He praises its fertility, he
unfolds its riches, he enumerates every village it contains. He is much
occupied, too, with its past history, and to his elaborate researches
there is little to be added even to-day, save here and there the story
of a Genoese and a Venetian settlement, or of a Byzantine church, and
of the final invasion of the Turkish conquerors. He collects much
conflicting evidence concerning the origin of divers tribes along the
coast--a question which it would puzzle the most learned ethnologist
to decide with the materials that lay to Strabo’s hand; he notes the
boundary of the dominions of Mithridates, and the manner in which
the Roman emperors divided the kingdom of Pontus in later times; he
sketches the history of Heracleia, the Eregli of to-day, and the birth
of the colony of Amastris, which the Turks call Sesamyos, and which was
formed by Queen Amastris, niece of Darius and wife of Dionysius the
Tyrant, out of four cities--Sesamus, Cytorum (whose green box groves
have been famous since the days of Homer), Cromna, and Tieum, the
Turkish Tilijos. Above all, he catches at any allusion in the Homeric
poems: from these mountains, sings the poet, the warriors marched
forth to the defence of Troy; ‘From Cromna and Ægialus and the lofty
Erythini’ they came, they left their country where the wild mules
breed, they left the banks of the Sangarius and of that Parthenius
stream whose name was tribute to its virgin beauty. I fear the wild
mules breed no longer by the river Sakaria, but Ægialus is still to be
found under the name of Kara Agatsch, and the lofty Erythini still lift
their rocky heads out of the sea.

Some of the places which Strabo mentions were sufficiently unimportant
even in his day to have escaped all observation less accurate than his
own. Concerning Ak Liman, an anchoring place to the west of Sinope, he
quotes a joking proverb: ‘He who had nothing to do built a wall about
Armene.’ Some have fallen from a higher estate, as Sinope itself, which
was a naval power of repute in the first century, and the Colchian
coast at the eastern end of the Black Sea, which, as he justly remarks,
must have been celebrated in the earliest antiquity, as is shown by
the story of Jason’s voyage thither in search of the Golden Fleece.
He explains the legend of the Golden Fleece, by the way, quite in the
modern spirit: the torrents of the Caucasus, he says, bring down gold;
the Barbarians collect their waters in troughs pierced with holes and
lined with the fleeces of sheep, which catch and hold the dust.

Such memories were our travelling companions as we coasted along the
wooded shores towards the latter end of the spring. They came rushing
in upon us one evening when our ship stopped at a tiny port built at
the bottom of a valley sloping down to the water. Intercourse with
the outer world is limited to such passing visits of steamers; the
inhabitants of the Black Sea villages grow nearly all the necessaries
of life in their fertile valleys, and content themselves with a small
exchange of wood and dried fruits for cloth and sugar and a few of the
luxuries of civilization, amongst which, oddly enough, tombstones are
an important item. As we watched the wide Turkish boats, rising high
out of the water at stem and stern, which came dancing out towards us
over the swell of the waves and poised round us like great sea-birds
while the tombstones and the bundles of goods were dropped into them,
we fell to wondering, while the evening light faded from land and sea,
what the meagre history of Ineboli could be--so remote it seemed, so
forgotten--and it presently occurred to us to consult the learned
Strabo. There in his book it was duly mentioned: ‘Abonteichos, a small
city,’ ‘the modern Ineboli,’ added a commentator, and we gazed with
different eyes at the small city which was backed by such a long line
of experiences.

Next day we reached Samsoun, Strabo’s ‘Amisus, which Mithridates
adorned with temples.’ A number of Turks, who were passengers
on our ship, disembarked there, for what reason Heaven only
knows--Mithridates’ pomp has been long since forgotten, and one would
think that a man must be hard pressed for occupation before he would
seek it in Samsoun. The town lies on sloping ground, rising gently
upwards; on the hill behind it we could see the broad road which leads
to Diabekir and the people walking in it; the sound of Armenian church
bells came to us across the water, and from hour to hour a clock tolled
out Turkish time, though no one seemed to heed it. Some Armenian women
came on board to examine the ship, and ran up and down the companion
ladders, looking at everything with curious eyes and much loud
laughter. They were dressed in very bright colours and unveiled, which
struck us as indecent in a woman.

Very early on the following morning we woke to find ourselves outside
Kerasounde, the Greek Pharnacia--‘a small fortified city,’ says Strabo.
It was a charming little place, just waking under the misty morning
sunshine. Its irregular streets dropped down to the water’s edge, and
even beyond, for some of the wide-roofed houses were planted out on
stakes in the shallow bay. The mountain-side against which it nestled
was white with blossoming fruit-trees, and behind it the higher peaks
were still white with snow. As for the fortifications, they seem to
have disappeared, and, indeed, what foe would turn his arms against
Kerasounde?

Towards mid-day we reached Trebizond, and greeted it with almost as
much enthusiasm as Xenophon must have displayed when he and his Ten
Thousand saw it lying at their feet with the blue sea beyond, and knew
that an end was set at last to their weary march. Greek and Roman and
Genoese merchant have successively borne sway in Trebizond; fortress
walls, churches and monasteries tell of their rule. The Turk has
encamped himself now within the fortified limits of the old town, but
a large Armenian suburb, half hidden under plane-trees, holds to the
religion which he displaced.

It happened that on that day the foundations of an Armenian church
were being laid, and the Christian town wore a festive air. We watched
the ceremony, standing among a crowd of men dressed in their shabby
European best, and of women wrapped in white feridgis, with beautiful
caps of coins upon their heads. It was not very attractive. A priest
was reading prayers before a gaudy picture of the Virgin, a troop of
little boys droned Gregorian chants, their discordant voices led by
an old man in a fez and blue spectacles, and with no ear for music,
who was apparently the choirmaster. Higher up, on the top of the
hill overlooking the town, we came upon an interesting and beautiful
Byzantine monastery, walled about like a fort--though the walls were
in ruins--and with a chapel cut into the solid rock. The chapel walls
were covered with frescoes, the half-effaced portraits of saints and
of Greek emperors--those banished Comneni who ruled in Trebizond; a
pleasant smell of incense hung about the courtyard, round which were
built the cells of the monks--rather dilapidated indeed, but still
charming under their roofs of red tiles; blue starch hyacinths lifted
their prim heads beneath the apple trees which stood in full flower in
the rocky gardens on the hillside, and from the summit of the peaceful
walls we could see far inland towards the valleys where the Amazons
dwelt, and where, says Strabo, quoting Homer, were the silver mines.
Silver is still to be found there, but the Amazons are gone; they might
have troubled the good monks in their lodging on the hill-top.

So with regret we returned to our ship, and quitted the cypresses
and the plane trees of Trebizond, taking our way ‘to Phasis, where
ships end their course,’ as Strabo quotes (or very near it), thence to
pursue our journey by means other than those which the primitive Murray
recommends, and through countries which he knew only by hearsay.



_TRAVELLING COMPANIONS_


ALL the earth is seamed with roads, and all the sea is furrowed
with the tracks of ships, and over all the roads and all the waters a
continuous stream of people passes up and down--travelling, as they
say, for their pleasure. What is it, I wonder, that they go out for to
see? Some, it is very certain, are hunting the whole world over for the
best hotels; they will mention with enthusiasm their recent journey
through Russia, but when you come to question them, you will find that
they have nothing to tell except that in Moscow they were really as
comfortable as if they had been at home, and even more luxurious, for
they had three varieties of game at the table of their host. Some have
an eye fixed on the peculiarities of foreign modes of life, that they
may gratify their patriotic hearts by condemning them when they differ
(as they not infrequently do) from the English customs which they have
left, and to which their thoughts turn regretfully; as I have heard the
whole French nation summarily dismissed from the pale of civilization
because they failed to perceive that boiled potatoes were an essential
complement to the roast. To some travelling is merely the traversing of
so many hundred miles; no matter whether not an inch of country, not an
object of interest, remains in the eye of the mind--they have crossed
a continent, they are travellers. These bring back with them only the
names of the places they have visited, but are much concerned that the
list should be a long one. They will cross over to Scutari that they
may conscientiously say they have been in Asia, and traverse India from
end to end that they may announce that they have visited all the tombs.
They are full of expedients to lighten the hardships of a road whose
varied pleasures have no charm for them. They will exhibit with pride
their bulky luncheon-baskets, and cast withering glances at that humble
flask of yours which has seen so many adventures over the edge of your
coat-pocket. ‘Ah,’ they will say, ‘when you have travelled a little you
will begin to learn how to make yourself comfortable.’ And you will
hold your peace, and hug your flask and your adventures the closer to
your heart.

All these, and more also, are not travellers in the true sense of the
word; they might as well have stayed at home and read a geography-book,
or turned over a volume of photographs, and engaged a succession
of cooks of different nationalities; but the real travellers, what
pleasures are they seeking in fresh lands and strange cities? Reeds
shaken in the wind are a picturesque foreground, but scarcely worth a
day’s journey into the wilderness; men clothed in soft raiment are not
often to be met with in hotel or caravanserai, and as for prophets,
there are as many at home, maybe, as in other places.

Well, every man carries a different pair of eyes with him, and no two
people would answer the question in the same fashion. For myself, I am
sometimes tempted to believe that the true pleasure of travel is to be
derived from travelling companions. Such curious beings as you fall in
with, and in such unexpected places! Although your acquaintance may be
short in hours, it is long in experience; and when you part you feel
as intimate as if you had shared the same slice of bread-and-butter in
your nursery, and the same bottle of claret in your college hall. The
vicissitudes of the road have a wonderful talent for bringing out the
fine flavour of character. One day may show a man in as many different
aspects as it would take ten years of the customary life to exhibit.
Moreover, time goes slowly on a ship or in a railway train, and a man
is apt to better its pace by relating the incidents of his career to a
sympathetic listener. In this manner the doors of palaces and of secret
chambers in remote corners of the world fly open to you, and though you
may have crossed no more unfamiliar waters than those of the North Sea,
you pass through Petersburg and Bokhara, Poland and Algeria, on your
way to Antwerp. English people are not so communicative, even abroad,
and what they have to tell is of less interest if you are athirst
for unknown conditions; their tales lack the charm of those which
fall from the lips of men coming, as it were, out of a dream-world,
crossing but once the glow of solid reality which lights your own path,
and vanishing as suddenly as they came into space. Like packmen, we
unfasten our wares, open our little bundle of experiences, spread them
out and finger them over: the ship touches at the port, the silks and
tinsel are gathered up and strapped upon our backs and carried--God
knows where!

The man who carried the most amusing wares we ever examined was
a Russian officer, and he spread them out for our inspection as we
steamed round the eastern and northern coasts of the Black Sea. He
was a magnificent creature, fair-haired, blue-eyed, broad-shouldered,
and tall; he must have stood six feet four in those shining top boots
of his. His beard was cut into a point, and his face was like that of
some handsome, courteous seventeenth-century nobleman smiling out of a
canvas of Vandyke’s. He was a mighty hunter, so he told us; he lived
with his wife and daughters out in Transcaspia, where he governed
a province, and hunted the lions and the wolves (and perhaps the
Turkomans also) with packs of dogs and regiments of mounted huntsmen.
He was writing a book about Transcaspia; there would be much, he said,
of hunt in its pages. He spoke English, and hastened to inform us that
every Russian of good family learnt English from his youth up. I trust
that the number of his quarterings was in direct proportion to the
number of grammatical errors he perpetrated in our tongue, for if so
our friend must have been as well connected as he said he was. He told
wonderful stories of the wealth and splendour of his family; all the
great Slav houses and all their most ancient names seemed to be united
in his person. His mother was Princess This, his wife was Princess
That, his father had been a governor of such and such a province; he
himself, until a few years back, was the most brilliant of the officers
In the Czar’s guards--indeed, he had only left Petersburg because, with
a growing family, he could no longer afford to spend £40,000 a year (or
some such sum--I remember it seemed to us enormous). ‘And you know,’ he
added, ‘under £40,000 a year you cannot live in Petersburg--not as _I_
am accustomed to live.’ So he had retired to economize among the lions
and the Turkomans until his fortunes should retrieve themselves, which
there was every prospect of their doing, since his wife was to inherit
one of the largest properties in Russia, and he himself would come into
the second largest on the death of his mother. Of that lady he spoke
with a gentle sorrow: ‘She is very miser,’ he would say whenever he
alluded to her. ‘She send me her blessing, but no pence!’ We murmured
words of sympathy, but he was not to be comforted--her avarice rankled.
‘Ah, yes,’ he sighed, when her name came up again in the course of
conversation, ‘she is very miser!’

It may be that our agreeable companion did not consider himself to
be bound by those strict rules of accuracy which tied in a measure our
own tongues; his velvets may have been cotton-backed, and his diamonds
paste, for all their glitter. We had the opportunity of testing only
one of his statements, and I must confess that we were lamentably
disappointed. One evening at dinner he was telling us of the prodigies
of strength he had accomplished, how he had lifted men with one finger,
thrown stupendous weights, and grappled with wild beasts of monstrous
size. He even descended into further details. ‘In the house of my
mother,’ he said, ‘I took a napkin and bent him twenty times and tore
him across!’ We were interested, and, to beguile the monotony of the
evening, we begged him to perform the same feat on the captain’s linen;
he acceded, and after dinner we assembled on deck full of expectation.
The napkin was produced and folded three or four times; he tore and
tore--not a thread gave way! Again he pulled and wrenched until he was
red in the face with pulling (and we with shame), and still the napkin
was as united as ever. At length we offered some effete excuses--in
the house of his mother, even though she was so very miser, the linen
was probably of finer quality; no one could be expected to tear one
of the ship’s napkins, which was as coarse as sackcloth! He accepted
the explanation, but nothing is so disconcerting as to be convicted of
exaggeration, and though we were heartily sorry for our indiscretion,
our acquaintance never again touched those planes of intimacy which
it had reached before. Next morning we arrived at Odessa, and parted
company with distant bows, nor will he ever, I fear me, send us the
promised volume containing some description of Transcaspia and much of
hunt.

There is a curious reservation in the communicativeness of a Russian.
He will tell you all you wish to know (and more) of himself and of his
family, but once touch upon his country or his Government and he is
dumb. We noticed this trait in another casual travelling acquaintance,
who talked so freely of his own doings, and even of more general
topics, such as the novels of Tolstoi, that we were encouraged to
question him concerning the condition of the peasantry. ‘What of the
famine?’ we asked. ‘Famine!’ he said, and a blank expression came over
his face. ‘I have heard of no famine--there is no famine in Russia!’
And yet credible witnesses had informed us that the people were dying
by thousands in the southern provinces, not so far removed from
Batoum, where our friend occupied a high official position. Doubtless,
if we had asked of the Jews, he would have replied with the same
imperturbable face--‘Jews! I have heard of no Jews in Russia!’

The charm of such friendships lies in their transient character.
Before you have time to tire of the new acquaintances they are gone,
and in all probability the discussion, which was beginning to grow
a little tedious, will never be renewed. You meet them as you meet
strangers at a dinner-table, but with less likelihood that the chances
of fortune will throw you again together, and less within the trammels
of social conventions. Ah, but for those conventions how often might
one not sit beside the human being instead of beside the suit of
evening clothes! People put on their indistinctive company manners with
their indistinctive white shirt-fronts, and only once can I remember
to have seen the man pierce through the dress. The transgressor was
a Turkish secretary of legation. He was standing gloomily before a
supper-table, eyeing the dishes with a hungry glance, when someone
came up and asked him why he would not sup. ‘Ah,’ he sighed, ‘ma
ceinture! Elle est tellement serrée que je ne puis rien manger!’ There
was a touch of human nature for you! The suffering Turk said nothing
memorable for the rest of the evening, but his own remark brands
itself upon the mind, and will not be easily forgotten. I have often
wondered at what compromise he and his waistband have arrived during
the elapsing years, which must, in spite of all his care, have added
certain inches to his circumference.

Not with such fugitive acquaintanceships alone may your
fellow-travellers beguile the way: there are many whom you never come
to know, and who yet afford a delightful field for observation. In
the East a man may travel with his whole family, and yet scarcely
interrupt the common flow of everyday life, and by watching them you
will learn much concerning Oriental habits which would never otherwise
have penetrated through the harem walls. A Turk will arrive on board
a ship with half a dozen of his womenkind and as many misshapen
bundles, scarcely to be distinguished in form from the beveiled and
becloaked ladies themselves. In the course of the next half-hour you
will discover that these bundles contain the beds of the family, their
food, and all the necessaries of life for the three or four days of the
voyage. They will proceed presently to camp out on some portion of the
deck roped off for their protection, spreading out their mattresses
and their blankets under the open sky, performing what summary toilet
they may under their feridgis, eating, sleeping, praying, conversing
together, or playing with the pet birds they have brought with them,
all in full view of the other passengers, but with as little heed to
them as if the rope barrier were really the harem wall it simulates.
Meantime, the grave lord of this troop of women paces the deck with
dignified tread, and from time to time stops beside his wife and
daughters and throws them a word of encouragement.

These family parties may prove of no small inconvenience to other
passengers, as once when we were crossing the Sea of Marmora we found
the whole of the upper deck cut off from us by an awning and canvas
walls, and occupied by chattering women. We remonstrated, and were
told that it was unavoidable; the women were great ladies, the family
of the Governor of Brousa, with their attendants; they were going to
Constantinople, there to celebrate the marriage of one of his daughters
with the son of a wealthy pasha. Hence all the laughter and the subdued
clatter of tongues, and the air of festive expectation which penetrated
through cloaks and veils and canvas walls. But we, who had not the good
fortune to be related to pashas, were obliged to content ourselves with
the stairs which led on to the deck, on which we seated ourselves with
the bad grace of Europeans who feel that they have been cheated of
their rights.

Such comparative comfort is enjoyed only by the richer sort; for
the poor a sea-voyage is a matter of considerable hardship. They,
too, sleep on deck; down on the lower deck they spread their ragged
mattresses among ropes and casks and all the miscellaneous detritus of
a ship, with the smell and the rattle of the engines in the midst of
them, and their rest disturbed by the coming and going of sailors and
the bustle of lading and unlading. They cook their own food, for they
will not touch that which is prepared by Christian hands, and on chilly
nights they seek what shelter they may under the warm funnels. We used
to watch these fellow-travellers of ours upon the Caspian boat, setting
forth their evening meal as the dusk closed in--it needed little
preparation, but they devoured their onions and cheese and coarse
sandy cakes of bread with no less relish, and scooped out the pink
flesh of their water-melons until nothing but the thinnest paring of
rind remained. And as we watched the strange dinner-party of rags and
tatters, we fancied that we realized what the feelings of that hasty
personage in the Bible must have been after he had gathered in the
people from the highways and the byways to partake of his feast, and
we congratulated ourselves that we were not called upon to sit as host
among them.

Pilgrims from Mecca form a large proportion of the Oriental travellers
on the Black Sea. There were two such men on our boat. They were
Persians; they wore long Persian robes of dark hues, and on their
heads the Persian hat of astrakhan; but you might have guessed their
nationality by their faces--the pale, clear-cut Persian faces, with
high, narrow foreheads, deep-set eyes and arching brows. They were
always together, and held little or no converse with the other
passengers, than whom they were clearly of a much higher social status.
They stood in the ship’s bow gazing eastward, as though they were
already looking for the walls of their own Meshed on the far horizon,
and perhaps they pondered over the accomplishment of the holy journey,
and over the aspect of the sacred places which they, too, had seen
at last, but I think their minds were occupied with the prospect of
rejoining wife and children and Heimat out there in Meshed, and that
was why their silent gaze was turned persistently eastward.

We tried to picture what miseries these people must undergo when
storms sweep the crowded deck, and the wind blows through the tattered
blankets, and the snow is bedfellow on the hard mattresses; but for us
the pleasant summer weather lies for ever on those inland seas, sun
and clear starlight bathe coasts beautiful and desolate, sloping down
to green water, the playing-ground of porpoises, the evening meals are
eaten under the clear skies we knew, and morning breaks fresh and cool
through the soft mists to light mysterious lands and wonderful.


                               THE END.


                BILLING AND SONS, PRINTERS, GUILDFORD.

                             _J. D. & Co._



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE:

--Obvious print and punctuation errors were corrected.





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