The seven telegraph-stations, in charge of Europeans, between Teheran and Bushire, may be called the oases of Persia to the weary traveller from Resht to the Persian Gulf. He is sure, at any of these, of a hearty welcome, a comfortable bedroom, and a well-cooked dinner from the good Samaritan in charge. The latter is generally the best of company, full of anecdote and information about the country, and, necessarily, well posted in the latest news from Europe, from the last Parliamentary debate to the winner of the Derby. These officials are usually ci-devant non-commissioned officers of Royal Engineers. Some are married, for the life is a lonely one, and three or four months often elapse without personal communication with the outer world, except on the wires. By this means, when the latter are not in public use, the telegraphist can lighten his weary hours by animated conversation with his colleague two or three hundred miles away on congenial topics - the state of the weather, rate of exchange, chances of promotion, and so on. Living, moreover, at most of the stations is good and cheap; there is plenty of sport; and if a young unmarried man only keeps clear of the attractions of the fair sex, he soon makes friends among the natives. Love intrigues are dangerous in Persia. They once led to the massacre of the whole of the Russian Legation at Teheran.

Ispahan is a city of ruins. A Persian will tell you, with pride, that it is nearly fifteen miles in circumference, but a third of this consists of heaps of stones, with merely the foundation-lines around to show that they were once palaces or more modest habitations. Chardin the traveller, writing in A.D. 1667, gives the population of Ispahan at considerably over a million, but it does not now exceed fifty thousand, including the suburb of Djulfa. The Madrassa, or College, the governor's palace, and "Chil Situn," or "Palace of the Forty Pillars," are the only buildings that still retain some traces of their former glory. Pertaining to the former is a dome of the most exquisite tile-work, which, partly broken away, discloses the mud underneath; a pair of massive gates of solid silver, beautifully carved and embossed; a large shady and well-kept garden in the centre of the Madrassa, with huge marble tanks of water, surrounded by an oblong arcade of students' rooms - sixty queer little boxes about ten feet by six, their walls covered with arabesques of great beauty. These are still to be seen - and remembered. With the exception of the "Maidan Shah," or "Square of the King" - a large open space in the centre of the city, surrounded by modern two-storied houses - the streets of Ispahan are narrow, dirty, and ill-paved, and its bazaar, which adjoins the Maidan Shah, very inferior in every way to those of Teheran or Shiraz.

The palace of "Chil Situn," or "The Forty Pillars," is like most Persian palaces - the same walled gardens with straight walks, the usual avenues of cypress trees, and the inevitable tank of stone or marble in the centre of the grounds. It is owing to the reflection of the facade of the palace in one of the latter that it has gained its name. There are in reality but twenty pillars, the forty being (with a stretch of imagination) made up by reflection in the dull and somewhat dirty pool of water at their feet. The palace itself is a tawdry, gimcrack-looking edifice, all looking-glass and vermilion and green paint in the worst possible taste. From the entrance-hall an arched doorway leads into the principal apartment, a lofty chamber about ninety feet long by fifty broad, its walls covered with large paintings representing the acts of the various Persian kings. Shah Abbas is portrayed under several conditions. In one scene he is surrounded by a band of drunken companions and dancing-girls, in costumes and positions that would hardly pass muster before our Lord Chamberlain. This room once contained the most beautiful and costly carpet in all Persia, but it has lately been sold "for the good of the State," and a dirty green drugget laid down in its place. In one of the side chambers are pictures representing ladies and gentlemen in the costume of Queen Elizabeth's time. How they got to Ispahan I was unable to discover. They are very old, and evidently by good masters.

The way back to our comfortable quarters at Djulfa lay over the Zandarood river. There are five bridges, the principal one being that of Allaverdi Khan, named after one of the generals of Shah Abbas, who superintended its construction. It is of solid stonework, and built in thirty-three arches, over which are ninety-nine smaller arches above the roadway on both sides, enclosing a covered-in pathway for foot-passengers. The roadway in the centre, thirty feet wide, is well paved with stone, and perfectly level. Every thirty yards or so are stalls for the sale of kababs, fruit, sweetmeats, and the kalyan, for a whiff from which passers-by pay a small sum. Ispahan is noted for its fruit; apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, mulberries, and particularly fine melons, are abundant in their season.

There is a saying in Persia, "Shiraz for wine, Yezd for women, but Ispahan for melons."

Since it has ceased to be the capital of Persia, the trade of Ispahan has sadly deteriorated. There is still, however, a brisk trade in opium and tobacco. Silks and satins are also made, as well as quantities of a coarser kind of cotton stuff for wearing-apparel, much used by the natives. The sword-blades manufactured here are, in comparison with those of Khorassan or Damascus, of little value. Genuine old blades from the latter city fetch enormous prices everywhere; but a large quantity of worthless imitations is in the market, and unless a stranger is thoroughly experienced in the art of weapon-buying, he had better leave it alone in Persia. Modern firearms are rarely seen in the bazaars, except cheap German and French muzzle-loaders, more dangerous to the shooter than to the object aimed at.

If the streets of Ispahan are narrow, those of Djulfa, the Armenian settlement, can only be described as almost impassable, for, although the widest are barely ten feet across, quite a third of this space is taken up by the deep ditch, or drain, lined with trees, by which all are divided. But the town, or settlement, is as clean and well-kept as Ispahan itself is the reverse, which is saying a great deal.

Djulfa is called after the Armenian town of that name in Georgia, the population of which, for commercial reasons, was removed to this place by Shah Abbas in A.D. 1603. Djulfa, near Ispahan, was once a large and flourishing city, with as many as twenty district parishes, and a population of sixty thousand souls, now dwindled down to a little over two thousand, the greater part of whom live in great want and poverty. The city once possessed as many as twenty churches, but most of these are now in ruins. The cathedral, however, is still standing, and in fair preservation. It dates from A.D. 1655. There is also a Roman Catholic colony and church. The latter stands in a large garden, celebrated for its quinces and apricots. Lastly, the English Church Missionary Society have an establishment here under the direction of the Rev. Dr. Bruce, whose good deeds during the famine are not likely to be forgotten by the people of Ispahan and Djulfa, whatever their creed or religion. The trade of Djulfa is insignificant, although there is a large amount of wine and arak manufactured there, and sold "under the rose" to the Ispahanis. The production of the juice of the grape is somewhat primitive. During the season (September and October) the grapes are trodden out in a large earthenware pan, and the whole crushed mass, juice and all, is stowed away in a jar holding from twenty to thirty gallons, a small quantity of water being added to it. In a few days fermentation commences. The mass is then stirred up every morning and evening with sticks for ten or twenty days. About this period the refuse sinks to the bottom of the jar, and the wine is drawn off and bottled. In forty days, at most, it is fit to drink.

My time at Ispahan was limited, so much so that I was not able to pay a visit to the "Shaking minarets," about six miles off. These mud towers, of from twenty to thirty feet high, are so constructed that a person, standing on the roof of the building between the two, can, by a slight movement of his feet, cause them to vibrate.

I spent most of my time, as usual, strolling about the least-frequented parts of the city, or in the cool, picturesque gardens of the Madrassa. The people of Teheran, and other Persian cities, are generally civil to strangers; but at Ispahan the prejudice against Europeans is very strong, and I more than once had to make a somewhat hasty exit from some of the lower quarters of the city.

Mrs. S - - , the wife of a telegraph official, was stabbed by some miscreants while walking in broad daylight on the outskirts of the town, a few months before my visit. The offenders were never caught; probably, as Ispahan is under the jurisdiction of the Zil-i-Sultan, were never meant to be.

The Zil-i-Sultan returned to Ispahan before I left. He is rightly named "Shadow of the King," for, saving his somewhat more youthful appearance, he is as like Nasr-oo-din as two peas. Like his father in most of his tastes, his favourite occupations are riding, the chase, and shooting at a mark; but he is, perhaps, more susceptible to the charms of the fair sex than his august parent.

The prince is now nearly forty years of age. His wife, daughter of a former Prime Minister of Persia, who was strangled by order of the present Shah, died a few years ago, having borne him a son, the "Jelal-u-dowleh," a bright, clever boy, now about eighteen years old, and three daughters. The Zil-i-Sultan is adored by his people, and has, unquestionably, very great influence over the districts of which he is governor. Within the last two years, however, at least two-thirds of his possessions have been taken from him - a proceeding that caused him considerable annoyance, and drew forth the remark that the Valliad would one day regret it. There can be little doubt that, at the death of Nasr-oo-din, the Governor of Ispahan will make a bold bid for the throne; in fact, the latter makes no secret of his intentions. Drink and debauch having already rendered his younger brother half-witted, the task should not be a difficult one, especially as half the people and the whole army side with the illegitimate, though more popular, prince. It is, perhaps, under the circumstances, to be regretted that the latter is an ardent Russophile, ever since his Majesty the Czar sent a special mission to Ispahan to confer upon him the Order of the Black Eagle. Should the Zil-i-Sultan succeed Nasr-oo-din, British influence in Persia may become even less powerful than it is now, if that is possible.

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.

Early next morning I set out alone to explore the strange place, and with much difficulty and some apprehension - for I did not know how the natives were disposed - ascended a steep rocky path, at the summit of which a wooden drawbridge leads over a deep abyss to the gate of the city. This bridge is the only access to Yezdi-Ghazt, which is, so to speak, a regular fortress-town.

The rock, about half a mile long, is intersected by one narrow street, which, covered from end to end with awnings and wooden beams, was almost in obscurity. The sudden change from the glare outside almost blinded one. The appearance of a Farangi is evidently rare in Yezdi-Ghazt, for I was immediately surrounded by a crowd, who, however, were evidently inclined to be friendly, and escorted me to the house of the head-man, under whose guidance I visited the city.

The houses are of stone, two-storied, and mortised into the rock, which gives them the appearance, from below, as if a touch would send them toppling over, while a curious feature is that none of their windows looks inwards to the street - all are in the outside wall facing the desert. I took coffee with the head-man on his balcony - a wooden construction, projecting over a dizzy height, and supported by a couple of rickety-looking beams. It was nervous work, for the flooring, which was rotten and broken into great holes, creaked ominously. I could see Gerome (who had evidently missed me) bustling about the post-house, and reduced, from this height, to the size of a fly. Making this my excuse, I quickly finished my coffee, and bade my host farewell, nor was I sorry to be once more safe on terra firma.

Yezdi-Ghazt, which has a population of about five hundred, is very old, and is said to have existed long previous to the Mohammedan conquest. The present population are a continual source of dread to the neighbouring towns and villages, on account of their lawlessness and thieving proclivities, and mix very little with any of their neighbours, who have given the unsavoury city the Turkish nickname of "Pokloo Kalla," or "Filth Castle." Yezdi-Ghazt would not be a desirable residence during an earthquake. The latter are of frequent occurrence round here. Many of the villages have been laid in ruins, but, curiously enough, the rock-city has, up till now, never even felt a shock.

A ride of under fifty miles through level and fertile country brought us to Abadeh, a pretty village standing in the midst of gardens and vineyards, enclosed by high mud walls. A European telegraph official, Mr. G - - , resides here. As we passed his house - a neat white stone building easily distinguishable among the brown mud huts - a native servant stopped us. His master would not be back till sunset, but had left directions that we were to be well cared for till his return. The temptation of a bed and dinner were too much, and, as time was no object, and snowy passes things of the past, we halted for the night.

An hour later, comfortably settled on Mr. G - - 's sofa, and dozing over a cigar and a volume of Punch, my rest was suddenly disturbed by a loud bang at the sitting-room door, which, flying open, admitted two enormous animals, which I at first took for dogs. Both made at once for my sofa, and, while the larger one curled comfortably round my feet and quietly composed itself for sleep, the smaller, evidently of a more affectionate disposition, seated itself on the floor, and commenced licking my face and hands - an operation which, had I dared, I should strongly have resented. But the white gleaming teeth and cruel-looking green eyes inspired me with respect, to use no stronger term; for I had by now discovered that these domestic pets were - panthers! To my great relief, Mr. G - - entered at this juncture. "Making friends with the panthers, I see," he said pleasantly. "They are nice companionable beasts." They may have been at the time. The fact remains that, three months after my visit, the "affectionate one" half devoured a native child! The neighbourhood of Abadeh, Mr. G - - informed me, swarms with these animals. Bears, wolves, and hyenas are also common, to say nothing of jackals, which, judging from the row they made that night, must have been patrolling the streets of the village in hundreds.

A traveller starting from Teheran for Bushire is expected at every European station on the telegraph-line. "I thought you would have got here sooner," said Mr. G - - . "P - - (at Ispahan) told me you were coming through quick."

The dining-room of my host at Abadeh adjoined the little instrument-chamber. Suddenly, while we were at dinner, a bell was heard, and the half-caste clerk entered. "So-and-so of Shiraz," naming an official, "wants to speak to you." "All right," replied G - - . "Just tell him to wait till I've finished my cheese!"

"It's from F - - ," he said, a few moments later, "to say he expects you to make his house your head-quarters at Shiraz." So the stranger is passed on through this desert, but hospitable land. Persian travel would be hard indeed were it not for the ever-open doors and hospitality of the telegraph officials.

We continue our journey next day in summer weather - almost too hot, in the middle of the day, to be pleasant. Sheepskin and bourka are dispensed with, as we ride lazily along under a blazing sun through pleasant green plains of maize and barley, irrigated by babbling brooks of crystal-clear water. A few miles from Abadeh is a cave-village built into the side of a hill. From this issue a number of repulsive-looking, half-naked wretches, men and women, with dark scowling faces, and dirty masses of coarse black hair. Most are covered with skin-disease, so we push on ahead, but are caught up, for the loathsome creatures get over the ground with extraordinary speed. A handful of "sheis" [A] stops them, and we leave them swearing, struggling, and fighting for the coins in a cloud of dust. Then on again past villages nestling in groves of mulberry trees, past more vineyards, maize, and barley, and peasants in picturesque blue dress (save white, no other colour is worn in summer by the country-people) working in the fields. Their implements are rude and primitive enough. The plough is simply a sharpened stick covered with iron. The sickle is used for reaping. Threshing is done by means of an axle with thin iron wheels. If such primitive means can attain such satisfactory results, what could not modern agricultural science be made to do for Persia?

Sunset brings a cool breeze, which before nightfall develops into a cutting north-easter, and we shiver again under a bourka and heavy fur pelisse. Crossing a ridge of rock, we descend upon a white plain, dim and indistinct in the twilight. The ground crackles under our horses' feet. It is frozen snow! A light shines out before us, however, and by ten o'clock we are snug and safe for the night in the telegraph-station of Deybid.

These sudden changes of temperature make the Persian climate very trying. At this time of year, however balmy the air and bright the sunshine at midday, one must always be prepared for a sudden and extreme change after sunset. The Plain of Deybid was covered with snow at least two feet deep, the temperature must have stood at very few degrees above zero, and yet, not five hours before, we were perspiring in our shirt-sleeves.

"Mashallah!" exclaims Gerome next morning, shading his eyes and looking across the dazzling white expanse. "Are we, then, never to finish with this accursed snow?" By midday, however, we are out of it, and, as we subsequently discover, for the last time.

We had up till now been singularly fortunate as regards accidents, or rather evil results from them. To-day, however, luck deserted us, for a few miles out of Deybid my right leg became so swollen that I could scarcely sit on my horse. The pain was acute, the sensation that of having been bitten by some poisonous insect. Gerome, ever the Job's comforter, suggested a centipede, adding, "If so, you will probably have to lie up for four or five days." The look-out was not cheerful, certainly, for at Mourghab, the first stage, I had to be lifted off my horse and carried into the post-house.

With some difficulty my boot was cut off, and revealed the whole leg, below the knee, discoloured and swollen to double its size, but no sign of a wound or bite. "Blood-poisoning," says Gerome, decidedly. "I have seen hundreds of cases in Central Asia. It generally proves fatal there," he adds consolingly; "but the Russian soldier is so badly fed." The little man seems rather disappointed at my diagnosis of my case - the effect due to a new and tight boot which I had not been able to change since leaving Ispahan. Notwithstanding, I cannot put foot to ground without excruciating pain. Spreading the rugs out on the dirty earthen floor, I make up my mind to twenty-four hours here at least. It is, perhaps, the dirtiest post-house we have seen since leaving Teheran; but moving under the present circumstances is out of the question.

The long summer day wears slowly away. Gerome, like a true Russian, hunts up a samovar in the village, and consoles himself with innumerable glasses of tea and cigarettes, while the medicine-chest is brought into requisition, and I bathe the swollen limb unceasingly for three or four hours with Goulard's extract and water, surrounded by a ring of admiring and very dirty natives. But my efforts are in vain, for the following morning the pain is as severe, the leg as swollen as ever. Gerome is all for applying a blister, which he says will "bring the poison out"! Another miserable day breaks, and finds me still helpless. I do not think I ever realized before how slowly time can pass, for I had not a single book, with the exception of "Propos d'Exil," by Pierre Loti, and even that delightful work is apt to pall after three complete perusals in the space of as many weeks. From sunrise to sunset I lay, prone on my back, staring up at the cobwebby, smoke-blackened rafters, while the shadows shortened and lengthened in the bright sunlit yard, the monotonous silence broken only by the deep regular snores of my companion, whose capacity for sleep was something marvellous, the clucking of poultry, and the occasional stamp or snort of a horse in the stable below. Now and again a rat would crawl out, and, emboldened by the stillness, creep close up to me, darting back into its hole with a jump and a squeal as I waved it off with hand or foot. My visitors from the village did not return to-day, which was something to be thankful for, although towards evening I should have hailed even them with delight - dirt, vermin, and all. Patience was rewarded, for next day I was able to stand, and towards evening set out for Kawamabad, twenty-four miles distant. Though still painful and almost black, all inflammation had subsided, and three days later I was able to get on a boot "You'd have been well in half the time," insisted Gerome, "if you had only let me apply a blister."

The road from Mourghab to Kawamabad is wild and picturesque, leading through a narrow gorge, on either side of which are precipitous cliffs of rock and forest, three or four hundred feet high. A broad, swift torrent dashes through the valley, which is about a quarter of a mile broad. In places the pathway, hewn out of the solid rock, is barely three feet wide, without guard or handrail of any kind. This part of the journey was reached at sunset, and we did not emerge on the plain beyond till after dark. Our horses were, fortunately, as active as cats, and knew their way well, for to guide them was impossible. In places one's foot actually swung over the precipice, and a false step must have sent one crashing over the side and into the roaring torrent below, which, perhaps luckily, we could only hear, not see.

The ruins of Persepolis are situated about fifty miles north-east of Shiraz, two or three miles from the main road. Signs that we were approaching the famous city were visible for some distance before we actually reached them. Not fifty yards from the post-house of Poozeh, a picturesque spot surrounded by a chain of rocky, snow-capped hills, we came upon a kind of cave, with carvings in bas-relief on its granite walls, representing figures of men and horses from eight to ten feet high, evidently of great antiquity. The desecrating hand of the British tourist had, however, left its mark in the shape of the name "J. Isaacson" cut deep into one of the slabs, considerably marring its beauty.

It is not my intention to write a description of the ruins that now mark the spot where once stood the capital of the Persian Empire. To say nothing of its having been so graphically portrayed by far more competent hands, my visit was of such short duration that I carried away but faint recollections of the famous city. The fact that it had been persistently crammed down my throat, upon every available occasion, ever since I landed in Persia, may have had something to do with the feeling of disappointment which I experienced on first sight of the ruins. It may be that, like many other things, they grow upon one. If so, the loss was mine. I cannot, however, help thinking that to any but a student of archaeology, Persepolis lacks interest. The Pyramids, Pompeii, the ancient buildings of Rome and Greece, are picturesque; Persepolis is not. I noticed, however, that here, as at Poozeh, the British tourist had been busy with chisel and hammer, and, I am ashamed to add, some of the names I read are as well known in England as that of the Prince of Wales.

On the 18th of February, just before midnight, we rode into Shiraz. The approach to the city lying before us, white and still in the moonlight, through cypress-groves and sweet-smelling gardens, gave me a favourable impression, which a daylight inspection only served to increase. Shiraz is the pleasantest reminiscence I retain of the ride through Persia.

[Footnote A: Small copper money.]