A brilliant ball-room, pretty faces, smart gowns, good music, and an excellent supper; - thus surrounded, I pass my first evening in Teheran, a pleasant contrast indeed to the preceding night of dirt, cold, and hunger.

But it was not without serious misgivings that I accepted the courteous invitation of the German Embassy. The crossing of the Kharzan had not improved the appearance of dress-clothes and shirts, to say nothing of my eyes being in the condition described by pugilists as "bunged up," my face of the hue of a boiled lobster, the effects of sun and snow.

One is struck, on entering Teheran, with the apparent cleanliness of the place as compared with other Oriental towns. The absence of heaps of refuse, cess-pools, open drains, and bad smells is remarkable to one accustomed to Eastern cities; but this was perhaps, at the time of my visit, due to the pure rarified atmosphere, the keen frosty air, of winter. Teheran in January, with its cold bracing climate, and Teheran in June, with the thermometer above ninety in the shade, are two very different things; and the town is so unhealthy in summer, that all Europeans who can afford to do so live on the hills around the capital.

The environs are not picturesque. They have been likened to those of Madrid, having the same brown calcined soil, the same absence of trees and vegetation. The city, viewed from outside the walls, is ugly and insignificant, and, on a dull day, indistinguishable at no great distance. In clear weather, however, the beehive-like dwellings and rumbling ramparts stand out in bold relief against a background of blue sky and dazzling snow-mountains, over which towers, in solitary grandeur, the peak of Mount Demavend, [A] an extinct volcano, over 20,000 feet high, the summit of which is reported by natives to be haunted. The ascent is gradual and easy, and has frequently been made by Europeans.

Teheran is divided into two parts - the old city and the new. In the former, inhabited only by natives, the streets are narrow, dark, and tortuous, leading at intervals into large squares with deep tanks of running water in the centre. The latter are characteristic of Persia, and have in summer a deliciously cool appearance, the coping of the fountain being only an inch or so in height, and the water almost flush with the ground. The new, or European quarter, is bisected by a broad tree-lined thoroughfare, aptly named the "Boulevard des Ambassadeurs," for here are the legations of England, France, and Germany. The Russian Embassy, a poor building in comparison with the others, stands in another part of the town. Hard by the English Embassy is the Hotel Prevot, kept by a Frenchman of that name, once confectioner-in-chief to his Majesty the Shah. Here we took up our quarters during our stay in the capital.

At the extremity of the Boulevard des Ambassadeurs is the "Place des Canons," so called from the old and useless cannon of various ages that surround it. The square is formed by low barn-like barracks, their whitewashed walls decorated with gaudy and rudely drawn pictures of Persian soldiers and horses. Beyond this again, and approached by an avenue of poplar trees, lit by electric light, is the palace of the Shah, with nothing to indicate the presence in town of the sovereign but a guard of ragged-looking, unkempt Persians in Russian uniform lounging about the principal gateway.

The Persian soldier is not a credit to his country. Although drilled and commanded by European officers, he is a slouching, awkward fellow, badly paid, ill fed, and not renowned for bravery. The ordinary infantry uniform consists of a dark-blue tunic and trousers with red facings, and a high astrachan busby with the brass badge of the lion and sun. To a stranger, however, the varied and grotesque costumes in which these clowns are put by their imperial master is somewhat confusing. One may see, for instance, Russian cossacks, French chasseurs, German uhlans, and Austrian cuirassiers incongruously mixed up together in the ranks on parade. His army is the Shah's favourite toy, and nothing affords the eccentric monarch so much amusement as constant change of uniform. As the latter are manufactured in and sent out from the countries they represent, the expense to the state is considerable.

The first Europeans to instruct this rabble were Frenchmen, but England, Russia, Germany, and Austria have all supplied officers and instructors within the past fifty years, without, however, any good result. Although the arsenal at Teheran is full of the latest improvements in guns and magazine rifles, these are kept locked up, and only for show, the old Brown Bess alone being used. The Cossack regiment always stationed at Teheran, ostensibly for the protection of the Shah, and officered by Russians, is the only one with any attempt at discipline or order, and is armed with the Berdan rifle.

The Teheran bazaar is, at first sight, commonplace and uninteresting. Though of enormous extent (it contains in the daytime over thirty thousand souls), it lacks the picturesque Oriental appearance of those of Cairo or Constantinople, where costly and beautiful wares are set out in tempting array before the eyes of the unwary stranger. Here they are kept in the background, and a European must remain in the place for a couple of months or so, and make friends with the merchants, before he be even permitted to see them. The position is reversed. At Stamboul the stranger is pestered and worried to buy; at Teheran one must sometimes entreat before being allowed even to inspect the contents of a silk or jewel stall. Even then, the owner will probably remain supremely indifferent as to whether the "Farangi" purchase or not. This fact is curious. It will probably disappear with the advance of civilization and Mr. Cook.

Debouching from the principal streets or alleys of the bazaar, which is of brick, are large covered caravanserais, or open spaces for the storage of goods, where the wholesale merchants have their warehouses. The architecture of some of these caravanserais is very fine. The cool, quiet halls, their domed roofs, embellished with delicate stone carving, and blue, white, and yellow tiles, dimly reflected in the inevitable marble tank of clear water below, are a pleasant retreat from the stifling alleys and sun-baked streets. Talking of tanks, there seems to be no lack of water in Teheran. I was surprised at this, for there are few countries so deficient in this essential commodity as Persia. It is, I found, artificially supplied by "connaughts," or subterranean aqueducts flowing from mountain streams, which are practically inexhaustible. In order to keep a straight line, shafts are dug every fifty yards or so, and the earth thrown out of the shaft forms a mound, which is not removed. Thus a Persian landscape, dotted with hundreds of these hillocks, often resembles a field full of huge ant-hills. The mouths of these shafts, left open and unprotected, are a source of great danger to travellers by night. Teheran is provided with thirty or forty of these aqueducts, which were constructed by the Government some years ago at enormous expense and labour.

As in most Eastern cities, each trade has its separate alley or thoroughfare in the Teheran bazaar. Thus of jewellers, silk mercers, tailors, gunsmiths, saddlers, coppersmiths, and the rest, each have their separate arcade. The shops or stalls are much alike in appearance, though they vary considerably in size. Behind a brick platform, about three feet wide and two feet in height, is the shop, a vaulted archway, in the middle of which, surrounded by his wares, kalyan [B] or cigarette in mouth, squats the shopkeeper. There are no windows. At night a few rough boards and a rough Russian padlock are the sole protection, saving a smaller apartment at the back of each stall, a kind of strong-room, guarded by massive iron-bound doors, in which the most valuable goods are kept. There is no attempt at decoration; a few only of the jewellers' shops are whitewashed inside, the best being hung with the cheapest and gaudiest of French or German coloured prints. The stalls are usually opened about 6.30 a.m., and closed at sunset. An hour later the bazaar is untenanted, save for the watchmen and pariah dogs. The latter are seen throughout the day, sleeping in holes and corners, many of them almost torn to pieces from nightly encounters, and kicked about, even by children, with impunity. It is only at night that the brutes become really dangerous, and when, in packs of from twenty to thirty, they have been known to attack and kill men. Occasionally the dogs of one quarter of the bazaar attack those of another, and desperate fights ensue, the killed and wounded being afterwards eaten by the victors. It is, therefore, unsafe to venture out in the streets of Teheran after dark without a lantern and good stout cudgel.

From 11 to 12 a.m. is perhaps the busiest part of the day in the bazaar. Then is one most struck with the varied and picturesque types of Oriental humanity, the continuously changing kaleidoscope of native races from Archangel to the Persian Gulf, the Baltic Sea to Afghanistan.

Nor are contrasts wanting. Here is Ivanoff from Odessa or Tiflis, in the white peaked cap and high boots dear to every Russian, haggling over the price of a carpet with Ali Mahomet of Bokhara; there Chung-Yang, who has drifted here from Pekin through Siberia, with a cargo of worthless tea, vainly endeavouring to palm it off on that grave-looking Parsee, who, unfortunately for the Celestial, is not quite such a fool as he looks. Such a hubbub never was heard. Every one is talking or shouting at the top of their voices, women screaming, beggars whining, fruit and water sellers jingling their cymbals, while from the coppersmiths' quarter hard by comes a deafening accompaniment in the shape of beaten metal. Occasionally a caravan of laden camels stalk gravely through the alleys, scattering the yelling crowd right and left, only to reassemble the moment it has passed, like water in the wake of a ship. Again it separates, and a sedan, preceded by a couple of gholams with long wands, is carried by, and one gets a momentary glimpse of a pair of dark eyes and henna-stained finger-tips, as a fair one from the "anderoon" [C] of some great man is carried to her jeweller's or perfumer's. The "yashmak" is getting very thin in these countries, and one can form a very fair estimate of the lady's features (singularly plain ones) as the sedan swings by. Towards midday business is suspended for a while, and the alleys of the bazaar empty as if by magic. For nearly a whole hour silence, unbroken save by the snarling of some pariah dog, the hiss of the samovar, and gurgle of the kalyan, falls over the place, till 2 p.m., when the noise recommences as suddenly as it ceased, and continues unbroken till sunset.

On the whole, the bazaar is disappointing. The stalls for the sale of Persian and Central Asian carpets, old brocades and tapestries, and other wares dear to the lover of Eastern art, are in the minority, and must be hunted out. Manchester goods, cheap calicoes and prints, German cutlery, and Birmingham ware are found readily enough, and form the stock of two-thirds of the shops in the carpet and silk-mercers' arcade.

It is by no means easy to find one's way about. No one understands a word of English, French, or German, and had it not been for my knowledge of Russian - which, by the way, is the one known European language among the lower orders - I should more than once have been hopelessly lost.

Europeans in Teheran lead a pleasant though somewhat monotonous life. Summer is, as I have said, intolerable, and all who can seek refuge in the hills, where there are two settlements, or villages, presented by the Shah to England and Russia. Winter is undoubtedly the pleasantest season. Scarcely an evening passes without a dance, private theatricals, or other festivity given by one or other of the Embassies, entertainments which his Imperial Majesty himself frequently graces with his presence.

There is probably no living sovereign of whom so little is really known in Europe as Nasr-oo-din, "Shah of Persia," "Asylum of the Universe," and "King of Kings," to quote three of his more modest titles. Although he has visited Europe twice, and been made much of in our own country, most English people know absolutely nothing of the Persian monarch's character or private life. That he ate entrees with his fingers at Buckingham Palace, expressed a desire to have the Lord Chamberlain bowstrung, and conceived a violent and unholy passion for an amiable society lady somewhat inclined to embonpoint, we are most of us aware; but beyond this, the Shah's vie intime remains, to the majority of us at least, a sealed book. This is perhaps a pity, for, like many others, Nasr-oo-din is not so black as he is painted, and, notwithstanding all reports to the contrary, is said, by those who should know, to be one of the kindest-hearted creatures breathing.

The government of Persia is that of an absolute monarchy. The Shah alone has power of life and death, and, even in the most remote districts, the assent of the sovereign is necessary before an execution can take place. The Shah appoints his own ministers. These are the "Sadr-Azam," or Prime Minister; the "Sapar-Sala," Commander-in-chief; "Mustof-al-Mamalak," Secretary of State, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. These are supposed to represent the Privy Council, but they very seldom meet, the Shah preferring to manage affairs independently. The total revenue of the latter has been estimated at seven million pounds sterling.

Nasr-oo-din, who is now sixty-five years of age, ascended the throne in 1848. His reign commenced inauspiciously with a determined attempt to assassinate him, made by a gang of fanatics of the Babi sect. The plot, though nearly successful, was frustrated, and the conspirators executed; but it is said that the Shah has lived in constant dread of assassination ever since. He is hypochondriacal, and, though in very fair health, is constantly on the qui vive for some imaginary ailment. The post of Court physician, filled for many years past by Dr. Tholozan, a Frenchman, is no sinecure.

The habits of the Shah are simple. He is, unlike most Persians of high class, abstemious as regards both food and drink. Two meals a day, served at midday and 9 p.m., and those of the plainest diet, washed down by a glass or two of claret or other light wine, are all he allows himself. When on a hunting-excursion, his favourite occupation, the Shah is even more abstemious, going sometimes a whole day without food of any kind. He is a crack shot, and is out nearly daily, when the weather permits, shooting over his splendid preserves around Teheran. There is no lack of sport. Tiger and bear abound; also partridge, woodcock, snipe, and many kinds of water-fowl; but the Shah is better with the rifle than the fowling-piece. The Shah is passionately fond of music, and has two or three string and brass bands trained and conducted by a Frenchman. When away on a long sporting-excursion, he is invariably accompanied by one of these bands.

Were it not for the running attendants in scarlet and gold, and the crimson-dyed [D] tail of his horse, no one would take the slim, swarthy old gentleman in black frock-coat, riding slowly through the streets, and beaming benignly through a huge pair of spectacles, for the great Shah-in-Shah himself. Yet he is stern and pitiless enough when necessary, as many of the Court officials can vouch for. But few have escaped the bastinado at one time or another; but in Persia this is not considered an indignity, even by the highest in the land. The stick is painful, certainly, but not a disgrace in this strange country.

Nasr-oo-din has three legal wives, and an unlimited number of concubines. Of the former, the head wife, Shuku-Es-Sultana, is his own cousin and the great-granddaughter of the celebrated Fatti-Ali-Shah, whose family was so large that, at the time of his death, one hundred and twenty of his descendants were still living. Shuku-Es-Sultana is the mother of the "Valliad," or Crown Prince, now Governor of Tabriz. The second wife is a granddaughter of Fatti-Ali-Shah; and the third (the Shah's favourite) is one Anys-u-Dowlet. The latter is the best looking of the three, and certainly possesses the greatest influence in state affairs. Of the concubines, the mother of the "Zil-i-Sultan" ("Shadow of the King") ranks the first in seniority. The Zil-i-Sultan is, though illegitimate, the Shah's eldest son, and is, with the exception of his father, the most influential man in Persia, the heir-apparent (Valliad) being a weak, foolish individual, easily led, and addicted to drink and the lowest forms of sensuality.

With the exception of eunuchs, no male person over the age of ten is permitted in the seraglio, or anderoon, which is constantly receiving fresh importations from the provinces. Persians deny that there are any European women, but this is doubtful. The harems of Constantinople and Cairo are recruited from Paris and Vienna; why not those of Teheran? The indoor costume of the Persian lady must be somewhat trying at first to those accustomed to European toilettes. The skirt, reaching only to the knee, is full and bouffe, like an opera-dancer's, the feet and legs generally bare. The only becoming part of the whole costume is the tightly fitting zouave jacket of light blue or scarlet satin, thickly braided with gold, and the gauze head-dress embroidered with the same material, and fastened under the chin with a large turquoise, ruby, or other precious stone.

Some of the women (even among the concubines) are highly educated; can play on the "tar", [E] or harmonica, sing, and read and write poetry; but their recreations are necessarily somewhat limited. Picnics, music, story-telling, kalyan and cigarette smoking, sweetmeat-making, and the bath, together with somewhat less innocent pastimes, form the sum total of a Persian concubine's amusements. Outside the walls of the anderoon they are closely watched and guarded, for Persians are jealous of their women, and, even in the most formal social gatherings, there is a strict separation of the sexes. Its imperial master occasionally joins in the outdoor amusements of his harem; indeed, he himself invented a game a few years since, which sounds more original than amusing. A slide of smooth alabaster about twenty feet long, on an inclined plane, was constructed in one of his bath-houses. Down this the Shah would gravely slide into the water, followed by his seraglio. The sight must have been a strange one, the costumes on these occasions being, to say the least of it, scanty!

The Shah's greatest failing is, perhaps, vacillation. He is constantly changing his mind, on trifling matters chiefly, for his northern neighbours take care that he is more consistent in affairs of state. Two or three times, between his visits to Europe in 1871 and 1889, he has started with great pomp and a large retinue for the land of the "Farangi," but, on arrival at Resht, has returned to Teheran, without a word of warning to his ministers, or apparent reason for his sudden change of plans. These "false starts" became a recognized thing after a time, and when, in 1888, his Majesty embarked on his yacht and set sail for Baku, it came as a surprise, pleasant or otherwise, to his subjects at Teheran. The final undertaking of the journey may have been advised by his astrologers, for the Shah is intensely superstitious, and never travels without them. Nor will he, on any account, start on a journey on a Friday, or the thirteenth day of the month.

The palace of Teheran is, seen from the outside, a shapeless, ramshackle structure. The outside walls are whitewashed, and covered with gaudy red and blue pictures of men and horses, the former in modern military tunics and shakos, the latter painted a bright red. The figures, rudely drawn, remind one of a charity schoolboy's artistic efforts on a slate, but are somewhat out of place on the walls of a royal residence. The interior of the "Ark," as it is called, is a pleasant contrast to the outside, although even here, in the museum, which contains some of the finest gems and objets d'art in the world, the various objects are placed with singular disregard of order, not to say good taste. One sees, for instance, a tawdrily dressed mechanical doll from Paris standing next to a case containing the "Darai Nor," or "Sea of Light," a magnificent diamond obtained in India, and said to be the largest yet discovered, though somewhat inferior in quality to the "Koh-i-noor." A cheap and somewhat dilapidated cuckoo-clock and toy velocipede flank the famous globe of the world in diamonds and precious stones. This, the most costly and beautiful piece of workmanship in the place, is about eighteen inches in diameter, and is said to have cost eight millions of francs. The different countries are marked out with surprising accuracy and detail, - Persia being represented by turquoises, England by diamonds, Africa by rubies, and so on, the sea being of emeralds.

The museum itself is about sixty feet in length by twenty-five feet broad, its ceiling composed entirely of looking-glasses, its parquet flooring strewn with priceless Persian rugs and carpets. Large oil-paintings of Queen Victoria, the Czar of Russia, and other sovereigns, surround the walls, including two portraits of her Majesty the Ex-Empress Eugenie. It would weary the reader to wade through a description of the Jade work and cloisonne, the porcelain of all countries, the Japanese works of art in bronze and gold, and last, but not least, the cut and uncut diamonds and precious stones, temptingly laid out in open saucers, like bonbons in a confectioner's shop. The diamonds are perhaps the finest as regards quality, but there is a roughly cut ruby surmounting the imperial crown, said to be the largest in the world.

Though it was very cold, and the snow lay deep upon the ground, my stay at Teheran was not unpleasant. The keen bracing air, brilliant sunshine, and cloudless blue sky somewhat made amends for the sorry lodging and execrable fare provided by mine host at the Hotel Prevot. I have seldom, in my travels, come across a French inn where, be the materials ever so poor, the landlord is not able to turn out a decent meal. I have fared well and sumptuously at New Caledonia, Saigon, and even Pekin, under the auspices of a French innkeeper; but at Teheran (nearest of any to civilized Europe) was compelled to swallow food that would have disgraced a fifth-rate gargotte in the slums of Paris. Perhaps Monsieur Prevot had become "Persianized"; perhaps the dulcet tones of Madame P., whose voice, incessantly rating her servants, reminded one of unoiled machinery, and commenced at sunrise only to be silenced (by exhaustion) at sunset, disturbed him at his culinary labours. The fact remains that the cuisine was, to any but a starving man, uneatable, the bedroom which madame was kind enough to assign to me, pitch dark and stuffy as a dog-kennel.

A long conference with General S - , an Austrian in the Persian service, decided my future movements. The general, one of the highest geographical authorities on Persia, strongly dissuaded my attempting to reach India via Meshed and Afghanistan. "You will only be stopped and sent back," said he; "what is the use of losing time?" I resolved, therefore, after mature deliberation, to proceed direct to Ispahan, Shiraz, and Bushire, and from thence by steamer to Sonmiani, on the coast of Baluchistan. From the latter port I was to strike due north to Kelat and Quetta, and "that," added the general, "will bring you across eighty or a hundred miles of totally unexplored country. You will have had quite enough of it when you get to Kelat - if you ever do get there," he added encouragingly.

The route now finally decided upon, preparations were made for a start as soon as possible. Portmanteaus were exchanged for a pair of light leather saddle-bags, artistically embellished with squares of bright Persian carpet let in at the side, and purchased in the bazaar for twenty-two kerans, or about seventeen shillings English money. In these I was able to carry, with ease, a couple of tweed suits, half a dozen flannel shirts, three pairs of boots, and toilet necessaries, to say nothing of a box of cigars and a small medicine-chest. Gerome also carried a pair of bags, containing, in addition to his modest wardrobe, our stores for the voyage - biscuits, Valentine's meat juice, sardines, tea, and a bottle of brandy; for, with the exception of eggs and Persian bread, one can reckon upon nothing eatable at the Chapar khanehs. There is an excellent European store shop at Teheran, and had it not been for limited space, we might have regaled on turtle soup, aspic jellies, quails, and pate de foie gras galore throughout Persia. Mr. R. N - - , an attache to the British Legation at Teheran, is justly celebrated for his repasts en voyage, and assured me that he invariably sat down to a recherche dinner of soup, three courses, and iced champagne, even when journeying to such remote cities as Hamadan or Meshed, thereby proving that, if you only take your time about it, you may travel comfortably almost anywhere - even in Persia.

[Footnote A: The word Demavend signifies literally "abundance of mist," so called from the summit of this mountain being continually wreathed in clouds.]

[Footnote B: A pipe similar to the Turkish "hubble-bubble," wherein the tobacco is inhaled through plain or rose water.]

[Footnote C: Harem.]

[Footnote D: A badge of royalty in Persia.]

[Footnote E: A stringed instrument played in the same way as the European guitar.]