CHAPTER XXI. TEHERAN.
Things are valued everywhere for their scarcity, and a patch of greensward large enough to recline on, a shady tree or shrub, and a rippling rivulet are appreciated in Persia at their proper value- appreciated more than broad, green pastures and waving groves of shade-trees in moister climes. Moreover, there is a peculiar charm in these bright emerald gems, set in sombre gray, be they never so small and insignificant in themselves, that is not to be experienced where the contrast is less marked. Scattered here and there about the stony plain between Teheran and the Elburz foot- hills, are many beautiful gardens-beautiful for Persia-where a pleasant hour can be spent wandering beneath the shady avenues and among the fountains. These gardens are simply patches redeemed from the desert plain, supplied with irrigating water, and surrounded with a high mud wall; leading through the garden are gravelled walks, shaded by rows of graceful chenars. The gardens are planted with fig, pomegranate, almond or apricot trees, grape-vines, melons, etc.; they are the property of wealthy Teheranis who derive an income from the sale of the fruit in the Teheran market. The ample space within the city ramparts includes a number of these delightful retreats, some of them presenting the additional charm of historic interest, from having been the property and, peradventure, the favorite summer residence of a former king. Such a one is an extensive garden in the northeast quarter of the city, in which was situated one of the favorite summer palaces of Fatteh-ali Shah, grandfather of Nasree.
It was chiefly to satisfy my curiosity as to the truth of the current stories regarding that merry monarch, and his. exceedingly novel methods of entertaining himself, that I accepted the invitation of a friend to visit this garden one afternoon. My friend is the owner of a pair of white bull-dogs, who accompany us into the garden. After strolling about a little, we are shown into the summer palace; into the audience room, where we are astonished at the beautiful coloring and marvellously life- like representations in the old Persian frescoing on the walls and ceiling. Depicted in life-size are Fatteh-ali Shah and his courtiers, together with the European ambassadors, painted in the days when the Persian court was a scene of dazzling splendor. The monarch is portrayed as an exceedingly handsome man with a full, black beard, and is covered with a blaze of jewels that are so faithfully pictured as to appear almost like real gems on the walls. It seems strange - almost startling - to come in from contemplating the bare, unlovely mud walls of the city, and find one's self amid the life-like scenes of Fatteh-ali Shah's court; and, amid the scenes to find here and there an English face, an English figure, dressed in the triangular cockade, the long Hessian pigtail, the scarlet coat with fold-back tails, the knee-breeches, the yellow stockings, the low shoes, and the long, slender rapier of a George III. courtier. >From here we visit other rooms, glittering rooms, all mirror-work and white stucco. Into rooms we go whose walls consist of myriads of tiny squares of rich stained glass, worked into intricate patterns and geometrical designs, but which are now rapidly falling into decay; and then we go to see the most novel feature of the garden-Fatteh-ali Shah's marble slide, or shute. Passing along a sloping, arched vault beneath a roof of massive marble, we find ourselves in a small, subterranean court, through which a stream of pure spring water is flowing along a white marble channel, and where the atmosphere must be refreshingly cool even in the middle of summer. In the centre of the little court is a round tank about four feet deep, also of white marble, which can be filled at pleasure with water, clear as crystal, from the running stream. Leading from an upper chamber, and overlapping the tank, is a smooth-worn marble slide or shute, about twenty feet long and four broad, which is pitched at an angle that makes it imperative upon any one trusting themselves to attempt the descent, to slide helplessly into the tank. Here, on summer afternoons, with the chastened daylight peeping through a stained- glass window in the roof, and carpeting the white marble floor with rainbow hues, with the only entrance to the cool and massive marble court, guarded by armed retainers, who while guarding it were conscious of guarding their own precious lives, Fattehali Shah was wont to beguile the hours away by making merry with the bewitching nymphs of his anderoon, transforming them for the nonce into naiads.
There are no nymphs nor naiads here now, nothing but the smoothly-worn marble shute to tell the tale of the merry past; but we obtain a realistic idea of their sportive games by taking the bulldogs to the upper chamber, and giving them a start down the slide. As they clutch and claw, and look scared, and appeal mutely for assistance, only to slide gradually down, down, down, and fall with a splash into the tank at last, we have only to imagine the bull-dogs transformed into Fatteh-ali Shah's naiads, to learn something of the truth of current stories. After we have slid the dogs down a few times, and they begin to realize that they are not sliding hopelessly down to destruction, they enjoy the sport as much as we, or as much as the naiads perhaps did a hundred years ago. That portion of the Teheran bazaar immediately behind the Shah's winter palace, is visited almost daily by Europeans, and their presence excites little comment or attention from the natives; but I had frequently heard the remark that a Ferenghi couldn't walk through the southern, or more exclusive native quarters, without being insulted. Determined to investigate, I sallied forth one afternoon alone, entering the bazaar on the east side of the palace wall, where I had entered it a dozen times before.