We are already some farsakhs [A] from Teheran when day breaks on the 4th of February, 1889. The start is not a propitious one. Hardly have we cleared the Ispahan gate than down comes the Shagird's horse as if he were shot, breaking his girths and rider's thumb at the same moment. Luckily, we are provided with rope, and Persian saddles are not complicated. In ten minutes we are off again; but it is terribly hard going, and all one can do to keep the horses on their legs. Towards midday the sun slightly thaws the surface of the frozen snow, and makes matters still worse. Up till now the pace has not been exhilarating. Two or three miles an hour at most. It will take some time to reach India at this rate!

Four or five hours of this work, and there is no longer a sign of life to be seen on the white waste, saving, about a mile ahead of us, a thin wreath of grey smoke and half a dozen blackened tents - an encampment of gypsies. Far behind us the tallest minarets of the capital are dipping below the horizon, while to the left the white and glittering cone of Demavend stands boldly out from a background of deep cloudless blue. Though the sun is powerful - so much so, indeed, that face and hands are already swollen and blistered - the cold in the shade is intense. A keen, cutting north-easter sweeps across the white waste, and, riding for a time under the shadow of a low ridge of snow, I find my cigar frozen to my lips - nor can I remove it without painfully tearing the skin. Gerome is in his element, and, as a natural consequence, my spirits fall as his rise. The slowness of our progress, and constant stumbling of my pony, do not improve the temper, and I am forced at last to beg my faithful follower to desist, for a time at least, from a vocal rendering of "La Mascotte" which has been going on unceasingly since we left Teheran. He obeys, but (unabashed) proceeds to carry on a long conversation with himself in the Tartar language, with which I am, perhaps happily, unacquainted. Truly he is a man of unfailing resource!

But even his angelic temper is tried when, shortly afterwards, we ride past the gipsy encampment As he dismounts to light a cigarette out of the wind, one of the sirens in a tent catches sight of the little Russian, and in less than half a minute he is surrounded by a mob of dishevelled, half-naked females, who throw their arms about him, pull his hair and ears, and try, but in vain, to secure his horse and drag him into a tent. These gipsies are the terror of travellers in Persia, the men, most of them, gaining a precarious living as tinkers and leather-workers, with an occasional highway robbery to keep their hand in, the women living entirely by thieving and prostitution. The gentlemen of the tribe were, perhaps luckily for us, away from home on this occasion. One of the women, a good-looking, black-eyed girl, was the most persistent among this band of maenads, and, bolder than the rest, utterly refused to let Gerome get on his pony, till, white with passion, the Russian raised his whip. This was a signal for a general howl of rage. "Strike me if you dare!" said the girl, her eyes ablaze. "If you do you will never reach the next station." But in the confusion Gerome had vaulted into his saddle, and, setting spurs to our horses, we galloped or scrambled off as quick as the deep snow would allow us. "Crapule va!" shouted the little man, whose cheek and hair still bore traces of the struggle. "Il n'y a qu'en Perse qu'on fait des chameaus comme cela!"

Ispahan is about seventy farsakhs distant from Teheran. The journey has, under favourable conditions, been ridden in under two days, but this is very unusual, and has seldom been done except for a wager by Europeans. In our case speed was, of course, out of the question, with the road in the state it was. The ordinary pace is, on an average, six to eight miles an hour, unless the horses are very bad. It was nearly a week, however, before we rode through the gates of Ispahan, and even this was accounted a fair performance considering the difficulties we had to contend with.

Towards sunset the wind rose - a sharp north-easter that made face and ears feel as if they were being flogged with stinging-nettles. It was not until dusk that we reached Rabat Kerim, a small mud village, with a filthy windowless post-house. But a pigstye would have been welcome after such a ride, and the vermin which a flickering oil-lamp revealed in hundreds, on walls and flooring, did not prevent our sleeping soundly till morning. My thermometer marked only one degree above zero when we retired to rest, and the wood was too damp to light a fire. But we are in Persia!

It is only fair, however, to say that the road we were now travelling is not the regular post-road, which lies some distance to the eastward of Rabat Kerim, but was now impassable on account of the snow. The smaller track joins the main road at Koom. By taking the less frequented track, we were unable to go through the "Malak al Niote," or "Valley of the Angel of Death," which lies about half-way between the capital and Koom. The valley is so called from its desolate and sterile appearance, though, if this be so, the greater part of Persia might with reason bear the same name. Be this as it may, the Shagirds and natives have the greatest objection to passing through it after dark. A legend avers that it is haunted by monsters having the bodies of men and heads of beasts and birds. Surrounded by these apparitions, who lick his face and hands till he is unconscious, the traveller is carried away - where, history does not state - never to return.

If the first day's work had been hard, it was child's play compared to the second. The track, leading over a vast plain, had recently been traversed by a number of camel caravans, which had transformed it into a kind of Jacob's ladder formed by holes a couple of feet deep in the snow. As long as the horses trod into them all went well, but a few inches to the right or left generally brought them blundering on to their noses. The reader may imagine what a day of this work means. The strain on mind and muscle was almost unbearable, to say nothing of the blinding glare. Yet one could not but admire, during our brief pauses for rest, the picture before us. The boundless expanse of sapphire blue and dazzling white, with not a speck to mar it, save where, occasionally, the warm sun-rays had, here and there, laid bare chains of dark rocks, giving them the appearance of islands in this ocean of snow.

At Pitche, the midday station, no horses were to be had; so, notwithstanding that deep snow-drifts lay between us and Kushku Baira, the halt for the night, we were compelled, after a couple of hours' rest, to set out on the ponies that had brought us from Rabat Kerim. More perhaps by good luck than anything else, we reached the latter towards 9 p.m. A bright starlit night favoured us, and, with the exception of a couple of falls apiece, we were none the worse. We found, too, to our great delight, a blazing fire burning in the post-house, kindled by some caravan-men. But there is always a saving clause in Persia. No water was to be had for love or money till the morning, and, knowing the raging thirst produced by melted snow, we had to forget our thirst till next day.

A pleasant surprise also was in store for us. Two or three miles beyond Kushku Baira we were clear of snow altogether. Not a vestige of white was visible upon the bare stony plain. Nothing but dull drab desert, stretching away on every side to a horizon of snow-capt hills, recalling, by their very whiteness, the miseries of the past two days. "Berik Allah!" [B] cried Gerome. "We have done with the snow now." "Inshallah!" [C] I replied, though with an inward conviction that we should see it again further on, and suffer accordingly.

The sacred city of Koom [D] is one of the pleasantest recollections I retain of the ride between the capital and Ispahan. It was about two o'clock on the afternoon of the 6th of February that, breasting a chain of low sandy hills, the huge golden dome of the Tomb of Fatima became visible. We were then still four miles off; but, even with our jaded steeds, the ride became what it had not yet been - a pleasure. The green sunlit plains of wheat and barley, interspersed with bars of white and red poppies, the picturesque, happy-looking peasantry, the strings of mule and camel caravans, with their gaudy trappings and clashing bells, - all this life, colour, and movement helped to give one new hope and energy, and drown the dreary remembrance of past troubles, bodily and mental. Even the caravans of corpses sent to Koom for interment, which we passed every now and again, failed to depress us, though at times the effluvia was somewhat overpowering, many of the bodies being brought to the sacred city from the most remote parts of Persia. Each mule bore two dead bodies, slung on either side, like saddle-bags, and one could clearly trace the outline of the figure wrapped in blue or grey cloth. A few of the friends and relatives of some of the deceased accompanied this weird procession, but the greater number of the dead had been consigned to the care of the muleteers. The latter, in true chalvadar [E] fashion, were stretched out flat on their stomachs fast asleep, their heads lolling over their animals, arms and legs dangling helplessly, while the caravan roamed about the track unchecked, banging their loads against each other, to the silent discomfiture of the unfortunate mourners.

Koom is said to cover nearly twice as much ground as Shiraz, but more than half the city is in ruins, the Afghans having destroyed it in 1722. The principal buildings are mainly composed of mosques and sepulchres (for Koom is second only to Meshed in sanctity), but most of them are in a state of decay and dilapidation. The mosque containing the Tomb of Fatima is the finest, its dome being covered with plates of silver-gilt - the natives say of pure gold. The sacred character of this city is mainly derived from the fact that Fatima, surnamed "El Masouna" ("Free from sin"), died here many years ago. The tradition is that Fatima was on her way to the city of Tus, whither she was going to visit her brother, Imam Riza. On arrival at Koom, she heard of his death, which caused her to delay her journey and take up her residence here for a time, but she shortly afterwards sickened, and died of a broken heart. A mausoleum was originally built of a very humble nature, but, by order of Shah Abbas, it was enlarged and richly ornamented inside and out. Fatti-Ali-Shah and Abbas the Second are both buried here; also the wife of Mahomet Shah, who died in 1873, having had the dome of the mosque covered with gold. There is a legend among natives that Fatima's body no longer lies in the mosque, but was carried bodily to heaven shortly after death.

The population of Koom, which now amounts to little more than between ten and twelve thousand, was formerly much larger. Like many other Persian cities - saving, perhaps, Teheran - it retains but little of its greatness, either as regards art or commerce. The bazaar is, notwithstanding, extensive and well supplied. Koom is noted for the manufacture of a white porous earthenware, which is made into flasks and bottles, some of beautiful design and workmanship.

The city is entered from the north by a substantial stone bridge, spanning a swift but shallow river. It presents, at first sight, much more the appearance of a Spanish or Moorish town than a Persian one. The dirty brown mud huts are replaced by picturesque white houses, with coloured domes, gaily striped awnings, and carved wooden balconies overhanging the stream. Riding through the city gate, we plunge from dazzling sunshine into the cool semi-darkness of the bazaar, through which we ride for at least a quarter of an hour, when a sudden turning brings us once more into daylight in the yard of a huge caravanserai, crowded with mule and camel caravans.

The apartment or cell allotted to us was, however, so filthy that we decided to push on at once to Pasingan, the next stage, four farsakhs distant. Koom is noted for the size and venom of its scorpions; and the dim recesses of the dark, cobwebby chamber, with its greasy walls and smoke-blackened ceiling, looked just the place for these undesirable bedfellows.

So we rode on again into the open country, past crowds of beggars and dervishes at the eastern gate, as usual, busily engaged, as soon as they saw us coming, at their devotions. Clear of the city walls, one sees nothing on every side but huge storks. They are held sacred by the natives, being supposed to migrate to Mecca every year. I heard at Ispahan that, notwithstanding the outward austerity and piety of the people of Koom, there is no town in Persia where so much secret depravity and licentiousness are carried on as in the "Holy City."

The stage from Koom to Pasingan was accomplished in an incredibly short time; and I may here mention that this was the only occasion upon which, in Persia, I was ever given a fairly good horse. The wordchapar signifies in Persian to "gallop," but it is extremely rare to find "chapar post" pony which has any notion of going out of his own pace - something between a walk and a canter, like the old grey horse that carries round the lady in pink and spangles in a travelling circus. But to-day I got hold of a wiry, game little chestnut, who was evidently new to the job, and reached and tore away at his bridle as if he enjoyed the fun. Seeing, about half-way, that he was bleeding at the mouth, I called Gerome's attention to the fact, and found that his horse was in the same plight - as, indeed, was every animal we passed on the road between Koom and Pasingan. This is on account of the water at and between the two places, which is full of small leeches, invisible except through a microscope. Horses, mules, and cattle suffer much in consequence, for nothing can be done to remedy the evil.

A pleasant gallop of under an hour brought us to Pasingan. It was hardly possible to realize, riding through the warm evening air, for all the world like a June evening in England, that but two days before we had well-nigh been frozen to death. Had I known what was in store for us beyond Kashan, I might have marvelled even more at this sudden and welcome change of climate.

The guest-chamber at Pasingan was already taken by a Persian khan, a rude, blustering fellow, who refused us even a corner; so we had, perforce, to make the best of it downstairs among the rats and vermin. Devoured by the latter, and unable to sleep, we rose at the first streak of dawn, saddled two of the khan's horses, and rode away to Sin-Sin before any one was astir. The poor Shagird, whom we had to threaten with a severe chastisement if he did not accompany us, was in a terrible state. The bow-string was the least he could expect when the khan came to know of the trick we had played him. An extra keran at Sin-Sin, however, soon consoled our guide. He probably never returned to Pasingan at all, but sought his fortunes elsewhere. Persian post-boys are not particular.

Kashan is distant about fifty-two English miles from Pasingan, and lies south-east of the latter. The caravan track passes a level tract of country, sparsely cultivated by means of irrigation. Persian soil is evidently of the kind that, "tickled with a hoe, laughs with a harvest." Even in this sterile desert, covered for the most part with white salt deposits, the little oases of grain and garden looked as fresh and green as though they had been on the banks of a lake or river. But the green patches were very few and far between, and, half-way between the post-stations, ceased altogether. Nothing was then visible but a waste of brown mud and yellow sand, cut clear and distinct against the blue sky-line on the horizon. It is strange, when crossing such tracts of country, to note how near to one everything seems. Objects six or eight miles off, looked to-day as if you could gallop up to them in five minutes; and the peak of Demavend, on which we were now looking our last, seemed about twenty miles off, instead of over one hundred and fifty.

Kashan was reached on the 7th of February. At Nasirabad, a village a few miles out of the city, there had been an earthquake that morning. Many of the mud houses were in ruins, and their late owners sitting dejectedly on the remains. Earthquakes are common enough in Persia, and this was by no means our last experience in that line. Commiserating with the homeless ones, we divided a few kerans among them, in return for which they brought us large water-melons (for which Nasirabad is celebrated), deliciously flavoured, and as cold as ice.

Kashan, which stands on a vast plain about two thousand feet above sea-level, is picturesque and unusually clean for an Eastern town. The bazaar is a long one, and its numerous caravanserais finer even than those of the capital. The manufacture of silk [F] and copperware is extensive; but, as usual, one saw little in the shops, en evidence , but shoddy cloth and Manchester goods, and looked in vain for real Oriental stuffs and carpets. I often wondered where on earth they were to be got, for the most persistent efforts failed to produce the real thing. I often passed, on the road, camel and mule-cloths that made my mouth water, so old were their texture and delicate their pattern and colouring, but the owners invariably declined, under any circumstances, to part with them.

Kashan will ever be associated in my mind with the fact that I there saw the prettiest woman it was my luck to meet in Persia. The glimpse was but a momentary one, but amply sufficed to convince me that those who say that all Persian women are ugly (as many do) know nothing-whatever about it.

It was towards sunset, in one of the caravanserais, to which, hot and tired with the long dusty ride, I came for a quiet smoke and a cup of coffee. The sensation of absolute repose was delicious after the heat and glare, the stillness of the place unbroken save for the plash of a marble fountain, and, outside, the far-off voices of the "muezzims," calling the faithful to evening prayer. From the blue dome, with its golden stars and white tracery, the setting sun, streaming in through coloured glass, threw the softest shades of violet and ruby, emerald and amber, upon the marble pavement. The stalls around were closed for the night; all save one, a "manna" [G] shop. Its owner, a white-turbaned old Turk, and myself were the sole inmates of the caravanserai. Even my "kafedji" [H] had disappeared, though probably not without leaving instructions to his neighbour to see that I did not make off with the quaint little silver coffee-cup and nargileh.

It was here that I saw the "belle" of Kashan, and of Persia, for aught I know - a tall slim girl, dressed, not in the hideous bag-like garments usually affected by the Persian female, but soft white draperies, from beneath which peeped a pair of loose baggy trousers and tiny feet encased in gold-embroidered slippers. Invisible to her, I made every effort, from my hiding-place behind a projecting stall, to catch a glimpse of her face, but, alas! a yashmak was in the way - not the thin gauzy wisp affected by the smart ladies of Cairo and Constantinople, but a thick, impenetrable barrier of white linen, such as the peasant women of Mohammedan countries wear. Who could she be? What was she doing-out unattended at this late hour?

I had almost given up all hope of seeing her features, when Fortune favoured me. As the old Turk dived into the recesses of his shop to attend to the wants of his fair customer, the latter removed her veil, revealing, as she did so, one of the sweetest and fairest faces it has ever been my good fortune to look upon. A perfectly oval face, soft delicate complexion, large dark eyes full of expression, a small aquiline nose, but somewhat large mouth, and the whitest and smallest of teeth. Such was the apparition before me. She could not have been more than sixteen.

I could scarcely restrain from giving vent to my admiration in speech, when the old Turk returned. In an instant the yashmak was in its place, and, with a hasty glance around, my vision of beauty was scuttling away as fast as her legs could carry her. A low musical laugh like a chime of silver bells came back to me from the dark deserted alleys of the bazaar, and I saw her no more.

The manna-seller was evidently irritated, and intimated, in dumb show, that I must leave the caravanserai at once, as he was shutting up for the night. I bought a pound or so of the sweetmeat to pacify him, and, if possible, glean some information about the fair one, but my advances were of no avail.

The history of Kashan is closely allied to that of Ispahan. The former city was founded by Sultana Zobeide, wife of the celebrated Haroun-al-Raschid. Ransacked and destroyed by the Afghans in the eighteenth century, it was again restored, or rather rebuilt, by Haji Husein Khan. Perhaps the most interesting thing the city contains is a leaning minaret which dates from the thirteenth century. It is ascended by a rickety spiral staircase. From here, not so many years ago, it was the custom to execute adulterous wives. The husband, accompanied by his relations, forced his unfaithful spouse to the top of the tower and pushed her over the side (there is no balustrade), to be dashed to pieces on stone flags about a hundred and thirty feet below.

"Pas de chance, monsieur," was Gerome's greeting as I entered the caravanserai. "The Koudoum Pass is blocked with snow, and almost impassable. What is to be done?" Mature deliberation brought but one solution to the question: Start in the morning, and risk it. "It cannot be worse than the Kharzan, anyhow," said Gerome, cheerfully, as we rode out of Kashan next day, past the moated mud walls, forty feet high, that at one time made this city almost impregnable. I more than once during the morning, however, doubted whether we had done right in leaving our comfortable quarters at the caravanserai to embark on this uncertain, not to say dangerous, journey.

Twenty-nine farsakhs still lay between us and Ispahan; but, once past the Khurood Pass (which lies about seven farsakhs from Kashan), all would be plain sailing. The summit of the pass is about seven thousand feet above sea-level. Its valleys are, in summer, green and fertile, but during the winter are frequently rendered impassable by the deep snow, as was now the case. Khurood itself is a village of some size and importance, built on the slope of the mountain, and here, by advice of the villagers, we rested for the night. "It will take you at least a day to get to Bideshk," said the postmaster - "that is, if you are going to attempt it."

The ride from Kashan had been pleasant enough. No snow was yet visible, save in the ravines, and the extreme summits of a chain of low rocky hills, of which we commenced the ascent a couple of hours or so after leaving Kashan. Half-way up, however, it became more difficult, the path being covered in places with a thick coating of ice - a foretaste of the pleasures before us. Towards the summit of the mountain is an artificial lake, formed by a strong dyke, or bank of stonework, which intercepts and collects the mountain-streams and melted snows - a huge reservoir, whence the water is let off to irrigate the distant low plains of Kashan, and, indeed, to supply the city itself. The waters of this lake, about fifteen feet deep, were clear as crystal, the bottom and sides being cemented.

This reservoir was constructed by order of Shah Abbas, who seems to have been one of the wisest and best rulers this unfortunate country has ever had, for he has certainly done more for his country than Nasr-oo-din or any of his stock are likely to. Pass a finer caravanserai than usual, travel a better road, cross a finer bridge, and interrogate your Shagird as to its history, and you will invariably receive the answer, "Shah Abbas." At the village of Khurood, a huge caravanserai (his work) lies in ruins, having been destroyed seven or eight years ago by an earthquake. Several persons were killed, the shock occurring at night-time, when the inmates were asleep.

The post-house at Khurood was cold, filthy, and swarmed with rats - an animal for which I have always had an especial aversion. Towards midnight a Persian gentleman arrived from Kashan - a mild, benign-looking individual, with a grey moustache and large blue spectacles. The new-comer, who spoke a little French, begged to be allowed to join us on the morrow, as he was in a hurry to get to Ispahan. Notwithstanding Gerome's protestations, I had not the heart to refuse. He looked so miserable and helpless, and indeed was, as I discovered too late next day. Our new acquaintance then suggested sending for wine, to drink to the success of our journey. At this suggestion Gerome woke up; and seeing that, in my case, the rats had successfully murdered sleep, I gladly agreed to anything that would make the time pass till daylight. A couple of bottles were then produced by the postmaster; but it was mawkish stuff, as sweet as syrup, and quite flavourless. Gerome and the Persian, however, did not leave a drop, and before they had finished the second bottle were sworn friends. Although wine is forbidden by the Mohammedan faith, it is largely indulged in, in secret, by Persians of the upper class. I never met, however, a follower of the Prophet so open about it as our friend at Khurood. The wine here was from Ispahan, and cost, the Persian told us, about sixpence a quart bottle, and was, in my opinion, dear at that. Shiraz wine is perhaps the best in Persia. It is white, and, though very sweet when new, develops, if kept for three or four years, a dry nutty flavour like sherry. This, however, does not last long, but gives place in a few months to a taste unpleasantly like sweet spirits of nitre, which renders the wine undrinkable. With proper appliances the country would no doubt produce excellent vintages, but at present the production of wine in Persia is a distinct failure.

Leaving at 8 a.m., we managed to reach the summit of the Koudoum by two o'clock next day, when we halted to give the horses a rest, and get a mouthful of food. Our Persian friend had returned to Koudoum after the first half-mile, during which he managed to get three falls, for the poor man had no notion of riding or keeping a horse on its legs. He reminded one of the cockney who sat his horse with consummate ease, grace, and daring, until it moved, when he generally fell off. I was sorry for him. He was so meek and unresentful, even when mercilessly chaffed by Gerome.

Our greatest difficulty up till now had arisen from ice, which completely covered the steep narrow pathway up the side of the mountain, and made the ascent slippery and insecure. The snow had as yet been a couple of feet deep at most, and we had come across no drifts of any consequence. Arrived at the summit, however, we saw what we had to expect. Below us lay a narrow valley or gorge, about a mile broad, separating us from the low range of hills on the far side of which lay Bideshk. The depth of the snow we were about to make a way through was easily calculated by the telegraph-posts, which in places were covered to within two or three feet of the top. "You see, sahib," said the Shagird, pointing with his whip to a huge drift some distance to the left of the wires; "two men lying under that." The intelligence did not interest me in the least. Could we or not get over this "Valley of Death"? was the only question my mind was at that moment capable of considering.

In less than a quarter of an hour we were in the thick of it, up to our waists in the snow, and pulling, rather than leading, our horses after us. It reminded me of a bad channel passage from Folkestone to Boulogne, and took about the same time - two hours, although the actual distance was under a mile and a half. Gerome led the way as long as he was able, but, about half-way across, repeated and violent falls had so exhausted his horse that we were obliged to halt while I took his place, by no means an easy one. During this stage of the proceedings we could scarcely see one another for the steam and vapour arising from the poor brutes, whose neighs of terror, as they blundered into a deeper drift than usual, were pitiful to hear. More than once Gerome's pony fell utterly exhausted and helpless, and it took our united efforts to get him on his legs again; while the Shagird and I left our ponies prone on their sides, only too glad of a temporary respite from their labours. If there is anything in the Mohammedan religion, the Shagird was undoubtedly useful. He never ceased calling upon "Allah!" for help for more than ten consecutive seconds the whole way across. At four o'clock we rode into the post-house at Bideshk, thoroughly done up, and wet through with snow and perspiration, but safe, and determined, if horses were procurable, to push on at once to Murchakhar, from whence two easy stages of six and three farsakhs would land us next day at Ispahan.

It was dusk, and we had just secured the only horses available, when two Armenians, bound for Teheran, rode into the yard. When told they were just too late for a relay, the rage of one of them - a short, apoplectic-looking little man - was awful to behold. As I mounted, his companion came up and politely advised us not to attempt to ride to Murchakhar by night. "The road swarms with footpads," he said, in a mysterious undertone; "you run a very great risk of being robbed and murdered if you go on to-night." "You would have run a far greater of being frozen to death, if we had not saved you by taking these horses," cried Gerome, as we rode coolly out of the gateway.

Bideshk is noted for a great battle fought in its vicinity between the army of Nadir Shah and Ashraf the Afghan. Its post-house is also noted, as I can vouch for, for the largest and most venomous bugs between Teheran and Ispahan. We only remained there three hours, and felt the effects for days afterwards.

All trace of ice and snow disappeared a few farsakhs from here, and we galloped gaily across a hard and level plain to our destination for the night. The post-house was a blaze of light. A couple of armed sentries stood in front of the doorway, and a motley crowd of soldiers, Shagird-chapars, and peasants outside.

"You cannot come in," said the postmaster, full of importance. "The Zil-i-Sultan is here on a hunting expedition. He will start away early in the morning, and then you can have the guest-room, but not before." Too tired to mind much - indeed, half asleep already - we groped our way to the stables, where, on the cleanest bundle of straw I have ever seen - or smelt, for it was pitch dark - in a Persian post-stable (probably the property of his Highness the Governor of Ispahan), we were soon in the land of dreams. Had we known that we were calmly reposing within a couple of feet of the royal charger's heels, our slumbers might not have been so refreshing. Daylight disclosed the fact.

The governor and his suite had apparently made a night of it. Although it was past eight o'clock when we made a start, the prince, his suite, soldiers, and grooms were none of them stirring, although his chefwas busily engaged, with his staff of assistants, preparing a sumptuous breakfast of kababs, roast meat and poultry, pastry, and confectionery of various kinds. I could not help envying the man whose appetite and digestion would enable him to sit down to such a meal at such an hour. Sherbet, the Shagird from Murchakhar informed us in confidence, is the favourite drink of the Zil-i-Sultan. I only once tasted sherbet in Persia, and was somewhat surprised - so lasting are one's youthful associations - to find it utterly different to the refreshing but somewhat depressing beverage of my school-days, sold, if I remember rightly, at twopence a packet. The real sherbet I was given (in a native house at Shiraz) consisted simply of a glass of cold water with a lump of sugar in it - eau sucre, in fact. But Persian sherbets are of endless varieties and flavours. Preserved syrups of raspberry and pineapple, the juice of the fresh fruit of lemon, orange, and pomegranate, are all used in the manufacture of sherbet, which is, however, never effervescing. The water in which it is mixed should be icy cold, and has, when served in Persia, blocks of frozen snow floating on the surface. The "sherbet-i-bidmishk," or "willow-flower sherbet," made from flowers of a particular kind of willow distilled in water, is perhaps the most popular of all among the higher classes, and is the most expensive.

The hunting-expedition (the Shagird, who was of a communicative disposition, informed us) consisted of three parties located at villages each within a couple of farsakhs of Murchakhar. Numbering altogether over six hundred men (all mounted), they had been out from Ispahan nearly ten days. Yesterday the prince's party had been exceptionally lucky, and had had splendid sport. We passed, on the road to Gez, a caravan of fifteen mules laden with the spoil - ibex, deer, wild sheep, and even a wild ass among the slain. The latter had fallen to the governor's own rifle. There is plenty of sport to be had in Persia, if you only take the trouble to look for it, and in comparative comfort too, with tents, stores, cooking apparatus, etc., if time is no object. The country swarms with wild animals - tiger, bear, and leopard in the forests by the Caspian Sea; wild asses, jackals, and wolves in the desert regions; deer and wild goats in the mountainous districts; and, as we afterwards had uncomfortable proof, lions in the southern provinces. There is no permission needed. A European may shoot over any country he pleases, with the exception of the Shah's private preserves around Teheran. His Imperial Majesty is very tetchy on this point.

We galloped nearly the whole of the short stage from Gez to Ispahan. A couple of miles out of the city we overtook a donkey ridden by two peasants, heavy men, who challenged us to a trial of speed. We only just beat them by a couple of lengths at the gates, although our horses were fresh and by no means slow. The Persian donkey is unquestionably the best in the East, and is not only speedy, but as strong as a horse. We frequently passed one of these useful beasts carrying a whole family - monsieur, madame, and an unlimited number of bebes - to say nothing of heavy baggage, in one of the queer-looking arrangements (oblong boxes with a canvas covering stretched over a wooden framework) depicted on the next page. An ordinary animal costs from two to three pounds (English), but a white one, the favourite mount of women and priests, will often fetch as much as ten or fifteen.

To reach Djulfa, the Armenian and European quarter of Ispahan, the latter city must be crossed, also the great stone bridge spanning the "Zandarood," or "Living River," so called from the supposed excellence of its water for drinking purposes, and its powers of prolonging life. Nearing the bridge, we met a large funeral, evidently that of a person of high position, from the costly shawls which covered the bier.

As in many Eastern countries, a man is never allowed to die in peace in Persia. It is a ceremony like marriage or burial, and as soon as the doctors have pronounced a case hopeless, the friends and relations of the sick man crowd into his chamber and make themselves thoroughly at home, drinking tea and sherbet, and watching, through the smoke of many hubble-bubbles, the dying agonies of their friend. The wife of the dying man sits at his side, occasionally holding to the nostrils the Persian substitute for smelling-salts, i. e. a piece of mud torn from the wall of the dwelling and moistened with cold water. As a last resource, a fowl is often killed and placed, warm and bleeding, on the patient's feet. This being of no avail, and death having taken place, the wife is led from the apartment, and the preparations for interment are commenced. Wet cotton-wool is stuffed into the mouth, nose, and ears of the corpse, while all present witness aloud that the dead man was a good and true Mohammedan. The body is laid out, a cup of water is placed at its head, and a moollah, ascending to the roof of the house, reads in a shrill nasal tone verses from the Koran. The professional mourners then arrive, and night or day is made hideous with their cries, while the "washers of the dead" proceed with their work. The coffin, [I] in Persia, is made of very thin wood; in the case of a poor man it is often dispensed with altogether, the corpse being buried in a shroud. Interment in most cases takes place forty-eight hours at most after death.

We found the house of Mr. P - , the Telegraph Superintendent of the Indo-European Company, with some difficulty, for the roads or rather lanes of Djulfa are tortuous and confusing. Mr. P - was out, but had left ample directions for our entertainment. A refreshing tub, followed by a delicious curry, washed down with iced pale ale, prepared one for the good cigar and siesta that followed, though an unlimited supply of English newspapers, the Times, Truth, and Punch, kept me well awake till the return of my host at sunset.

[Footnote A: A farsakh is about four miles.]

[Footnote B: "Hurrah!"]

[Footnote C: "Please God!"]

[Footnote D: Koom signifies "sand."]

[Footnote E: Muleteer.]

[Footnote F: Kashan silk, noted throughout Persia, is of two kinds: the one thin and light for lining garments, the other thick and heavy for divans, etc. The patterns are generally white, yellow, and green on a red ground.]

[Footnote G: A natural sweetmeat like nougat, found and manufactured in Persia.]

[Footnote H: Attendant.]

[Footnote I: In the north of Persia the dead are buried in a shroud of dark-blue cloth, which is, oddly enough, called in the Persian language, a kaffin.]