CHAPTER VII. ISPAHAN - SHIRAZ.
The Zil-i-Sultan is far more civilized in his habits and mode of life than the Shah. A fair French scholar, he regularly peruses his Temps, Gil Blas, and the latest works of the best French authors. It is strange that, with all his common sense and sterling qualities, this prince should, in some matters, be a perfect child. One of his whims is dress. Suits of clothes, shirts, socks, hats, and uniforms are continually pouring in from all parts of Europe, many of the latter anything but becoming to the fat, podgy figure of the "King's Shadow." A photograph of his Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught in Rifle Brigade uniform was shown him a couple of years since. The Court tailor was at once sent for. "I must have this; make it at once," was the command, the humble request to be allowed to take the measure being met by, "Son of a hell-burnt father! What do you mean? Make it for a well-made man - a man with a better figure than that, and it will fit me!"
Popular as he is with the lower orders, the Zil-i-Sultan does not, when offenders are brought before him, err on the side of mercy. Persian justice is short, sharp, and severe, and a man who commits a crime in the morning, may be minus his head before sunset. Although a Persian would indignantly deny it, some of their punishments are nearly as cruel as the Chinese. For instance, not so very long ago a man in Southern Persia was convicted of incest, for which crime his eyes were first torn out with pincers, and his teeth then extracted, one by one, sharpened to a point, and hammered, like nails, through the top of his skull. It should be said in justice that the present Shah has done all he can to stop the torture system, and confine the death-sentence to one of two methods - painless and instantaneous - throat-cutting and blowing from a gun. Notwithstanding, executions such as the one I have mentioned are common enough in remote districts, and crucifixion, walling up, or burying and burning alive are, although less common than formerly, by no means out of date. Women are usually put to death by being strangled, thrown from a precipice or well, or wrapped up in a carpet and jumped upon; but the execution of a woman is now, fortunately, rare in Persia.
A dreary desert surrounds Ispahan on every side save to the southward, where dark masses of rock, a thousand feet high, break the sky-line. The environs of the city are well populated, and, as we rode out,en route for Shiraz, we passed through a good deal of cultivated land. This is irrigated by the Zandarood, whose blue waters are visible for a long distance winding through the emerald-green plain, with its gay patchwork of white and scarlet poppy-gardens. The cultivation of this plant is yearly increasing in Persia, for there is an enormous demand for the drug in the country itself, to say nothing of the export market, the value of which, in 1871, was 696,000 rupees. In 1881 it had progressed to 8,470,000 rupees, and is steadily increasing every year. Opium is not smoked in Persia, but is taken in the form of pills. Many among the upper classes take it daily, the dose being a grain to a grain and a half.
We covered, the first day out from Ispahan, nearly a hundred miles between sunrise and 10 p.m. - not bad work for Persia. A little after dark, and before the moon had risen, I was cantering easily along in front of Gerome, when a violent blow on the chest, followed by another between the eyes, sent me reeling off my horse on to the sand. My first thought, on collecting myself, was "Robbers!" - this part of the road bearing an unpleasant reputation. Cocking my revolver, I called to Gerome, and was answered by a volley of oaths, while another riderless horse galloped past me and disappeared in the darkness. Our foe was a harmless one. The wind had blown down one of the telegraph-posts, and the wires had done the mischief. By good luck and the aid of lucifer matches, we managed to trace our ponies to a piece of cultivated ground hard by, where we found them calmly feeding in a field of standing corn.
The moon had risen by nine o'clock. Before half-past we were in sight of the rock on which stands the town of Yezdi-Ghazt, towering, shadowy and indistinct, over the moonlit plain. This is unquestionably the most curious and interesting village between Resht and Bushire. The post-house stands at the foot. As we rode to the latter through the semi-darkness caused by the shadow of the huge mass of boulders and mud on which the town is situated, the effect was extraordinary. It was like a picture by Gustave Dore; and, looking up the dark perpendicular side of the rock at the weird city with its white houses, queer-shaped balconies, and striped awnings, standing out clear and distinct against the starlit sky, gave one an uncomfortable, uncanny feeling, hard to shake off, and heightened by the fact that, although the hour was yet early, not a light was visible, not a sound to be heard. It was like a city of the dead.
Daylight does not improve the appearance of Yezdi-Ghazt. The city, which looks so weird and romantic by moonlight, loses much of its beauty, though not its interest, when seen by the broad light of day. The system of drainage in Yezdi-Ghazt is simple, the sewage being thrown over, to fall, haphazard, on the ground immediately below. I nearly had a practical illustration during my examination, which, however, did not last long, for the side of the rock glistened with the filth of years, and the stench and flies were unbearable.