CHAPTER XX. TABREEZ TO TEHERAN.
This novel and festive convert to Islam readily gives me a mental peep behind the scenes of Persian domestic life, and would unhesitatingly have granted me a peep in person had such a thing been possible. Imagine the ordinary costume of an opera-bouffe artist, shorn of all regard for the difference between real indecency and the suggestiveness of indelicacy permissible behind the footlights, and we have the every-day costume of the Persian harem. In the dreamy eventide the lord of the harem usually betakes himself to that characteristic institution of the East and proceeds to drive dull care away by smoking the kalian and watching an exhibition of the terpsichorean talent of his wives or slaves. This does not consist of dancing, such as we are accustomed to understand the art, but of graceful posturing and bodily contortions, spinning round like a coryphee, with hand aloft, and snapping their fingers or clashing tiny brass cymbals; standing with feet motionless and wriggling the joints, or bending backward until their loose, flowing tresses touch the ground. Persians able to afford the luxury have their womens' apartment walled with mirrors, placed at appropriate angles, so that when enjoying these exhibitions of his wives' abilities he finds himself not merely in the presence of three or six wives, as the case may be, but surrounded on all sides by scores of airy-fairy nymphs, and amid the dreamy fumes and soothing bubble-bubbling of his kalian can imagine himself the happy - or one would naturally think, unhappy - possessor of a hundred. The effect of this mirror-work arrangement can be better imagined than described.
"You haven't got one of those mirrored rooms, have you?" I inquire, beginning to get a trifle inquisitive, and perhaps rather impertinent. "You couldn't manage to smuggle a fellow inside, disguised as a seyud or - " "Nicht," replies Mirza Abdul Kaiim Khan, laughing, "I have not bothered about a mirror chamber yet, because I only remain here for another month; but if you happen to come to Tabreez any time after I get settled down there, look me up, and I'll-hello! here comes Prince Assabdulla to see your velocipede!" Fatteh - Ali Shah, the grandfather of the present monarch, had some seventy-two sons, besides no lack of daughters. As the son of a prince inherits his father's title in Persia, the numerous descendants of Fatteh-Ali Shah are scattered all over the empire, and royal princes bob serenely up in every town of any consequence in the country. They are frequently found occupying some snug, but not always lucrative, post under the Government. Prince Assabdulla has learned telegraphy, and has charge of the government control-station here, drawing a salary considerably less than the agent of the English company's line. The Persian Government telegraph line consists of one wire strung on tumble-down wooden poles. It is erected alongside the splendid English line of triple wires and substantial iron poles, and the control-stations are built adjacent to the English stations, as though the Persians were rather timid about their own abilities as telegraphists, and preferred to nestle, as it were, under the protecting shadow of the English line. Prince Assabdulla has an elder brother who is Governor of Miana, and who comes around to see the bicycle during the afternoon; they both seem pleasant and agreeable fellows. "When the heat of the day has given place to cooler eventide, and the moon comes peeping over the lofty Koflan Koo Mountains, near-by to the eastward, we proceed to a large fruit-garden on the outskirts of the town, and, sitting on the roof of a building, indulge in luscious purple grapes as large as walnuts, and pears that melt away in the mouth. Mirza Abdul Karim Khan plays a German accordeon, and Prince Assabdulla sings a Persian love-song; the leafy branches of poplar groves are whispering in response to a gentle breeze, and playing hide-and-seek across the golden face of the moon, and the mountains have assumed a shadowy, indistinct appearance. It is a scene of transcendental loveliness, characteristic of a Persian moonlight night.
Afterward we repair to Mirza Abdul Kiirim Khan's house to smoke the kalian and drink tea. His favorite wife, whom he has taught to respond to the purely Frangistan name of " Eosie," replenishes and lights the kalian-giving it a few preliminary puffs herself by way of getting it under headway before handing it to her husband-and then serves us with glasses of sweetened tea from the samovar. In deference to her Ferenghi brother-in-law and myself, Eosie has donned a gauzy shroud over the above-mentioned in-door costume of the Persian female. "She is a beautiful dancer," says her husband, admiringly, "I wish it were possible for you to see her dance this evening; bat it isn't; Eosie herself wouldn't mind, but it would be pretty certain to leak out, and Miana being a rather fanatical place, my life wouldn't be worth that much," and the Khan carelessly snapped his fingers. Supper is brought up to the telegraph station. Prince Assabdulla is invited, and comes round with his servant bearing a number of cucumbers and a bottle of arrack; the Prince, being a genuine Mohammedan, is forbidden by his religion to indulge; consequently he consumes the fiery arrack in preference to some light and harmless native wine; such is the perversity of human nature.