On the way home I meet one of the lady missionaries - which reminds me that I ought to mention something about the peculiar position of a Ferenghi lady in these Mohammedan countries, where it is considered highly improper for a woman to expose her face in public. The Persian lady on the streets is enveloped in a shroud-like garment that transforms her into a shapeless and ungraceful-looking bundle of dark-blue cotton stuff. This garment covers head and everything except the face; over the face is worn a white veil of ordinary sheeting, and opposite the eyes is inserted an oblong peep-hole of open needle-work, resembling a piece of perforated card-board. Not even a glimpse of the eye is visible, unless the lady happens to be handsome and coquettishly inclined; she will then manage to grant you a momentary peep at her face; but a wise and discreet Persian lady wouldn't let you see her face on the street - no, not for worlds and worlds!
The European lady with her uncovered face is a conundrum and an object of intense curiosity, even in Teheran at the present day; and in provincial cities, the wife of the lone consul or telegraph employee finds it highly convenient to adopt the native costume, face-covering included, when venturing abroad. Here, in the capital, the wives and daughters of foreign ministers, European officers and telegraphists, have made uncovered female faces tolerably familiar to the natives; but they cannot quite understand but that there is something highly indecorous about it, and the more unenlightened Persians doubtless regard them as quite bold and forward creatures. Armenian women conceal their faces almost as completely as do the Persian, when they walk abroad; by so doing they avoid unpleasant criticism, and the rude, inquisitive gaze of the Persian men. Although the Persian readily recognizes the fact that a Sahib's wife or sister must be a superior person to an Armenian female, she is as much an object of interest to him when she appears with her face uncovered on the street, as his own wives in their highly sensational in-door costumes would be to some of us. In order to establish herself in the estimation of the average Persian, as all that a woman ought to be, the European lady would have to conceal her face and cover her shapely, tight-fitting dress with an inelegant, loose mantle, whenever she ventured outside her own doors.
With something of a penchant for undertaking things never before accomplished, I proposed one morning to take a walk around the ramparts that encompass the Persian capital. The question arose as to the distance. Ali Akbar, the head fan-ash, said it was six farsakhs (about twenty-four miles); Meshedi Ab-dul said it was more. From the well-known Persian characteristic of exaggerating things, we concluded from this that perhaps it might be fifteen miles; and on this basis Mr. Meyrick, of the Indo- European Telegraph staff, agreed to bear me company. The ramparts consist of the earth excavated from a ditch some forty feet wide by twenty deep, banked up on the inner side of the ditch; and on top of this bank it is our purpose to encompass the city.
Eight o'clock on the appointed morning finds us on the ramparts at the Gulaek Gate, on the north side of the city. A cold breeze is blowing off the snowy mountains to the northeast, and we decide to commence our novel walk toward the west. Following the zigzag configuration of the ramparts, we find it at first somewhat rough and stony to the feet; on our right we look down into the broad ditch, and beyond, over the sloping plain, our eyes follow the long, even rows of kanaat mounds stretching away to the rolling foothills; towering skyward in the background, but eight miles away, are the snowy masses of the Elburz Range. Forty miles away, at our back, the conical peak of Demavend peeps, white, spectral, and cold, above a bank of snow-clouds that are piled motionless against its giant sides, as though walling it completely off from the lower world. On our left lies the city, a curious conglomeration of dead mud-walls, flat-roofed houses, and poplar-peopled gardens. A thin haze of smoke hovers immediately above the streets, through which are visible the minarets and domes of the mosques, the square, illumined towers of the Shah's anderoon, the monster skeleton dome of the canvas theatre, beneath which the Shah gives once a year the royal tazzia (representation of the tragedy of "Hussein and Hassan"), and the tall chimney of the arsenal, from which a column of black smoke is issuing. Away in the distance, far beyond the confines of the city, to the southward, glittering like a mirror in the morning sun, is seen the dome of the great mosque at Shahabdullahzeen, said to be roofed with plates of pure gold.
As we pass by we can see inside the walls of the English Legation grounds; a magnificent garden of shady avenues, asphalt walks, and dark-green banks of English ivy that trail over the ground and climb half-way up the trunks of the trees. A square-turreted clock-tower and a building that resembles some old ancestral manor, imparts to "the finest piece of property in Teheran" a home-like appearance; the representative of Her Majesty's Government, separated from the outer world by a twenty-four-foot brick wall, might well imagine himself within an hour's ride of London.
Beyond the third gate, the character of the soil changes from the stone- strewn gravel of the northern side, to red stoneless earth, and both inside and outside the ramparts fields of winter wheat and hardy vegetables form a refreshing relief from the barren character of the surface generally. The Ispahan gate, on the southern side, appears the busiest and most important entrance to the city; by this gate enter the caravans from Bushire, bringing English goods, from Bagdad, Ispahan, Tezd, and all the cities of the southern provinces. Numbers of caravans are camped in the vicinity of the gate, completing their arrangements for entering the city or departing for some distant commercial centre; many of the waiting camels arc kneeling beneath their heavy loads and quietly feeding. They are kneeling in small, compact circles, a dozen camels in a circle with their heads facing inward. In the centre is placed a pile of chopped straw; as each camel ducks his head and takes a mouthful, and then elevates his head again while munching it with great gusto, wearing meanwhile an expression of intense satisfaction mingled with timidity, as though he thinks the enjoyment too good to last long, they look as cosey and fussy as a gathering of Puritanical grand-dames drinking tea and gossiping over the latest news.
Within a mile of the Ispahan gate are two other gates, and between them is an area devoted entirely to the brick-making industry. Here among the clay-pits and abandoned kilns we obtain a momentary glimpse of a jackal, drinking from a ditch. He slinks off out of sight among the caves and ruins, as though conscious of acting an ungenerous part in seeking his living in a city already full of gaunt, half-starved pariahs, who pass their lives in wandering listlessly and hungrily about for stray morsels of offal. Several of these pariahs have been so unfortunate as to get down into the rampart ditch; we can see the places where they have repeatedly made frantic rushes for liberty up the almost perpendicular escarp, only to fall helplessly back to the bottom of their roofless dungeon, where they will gradually starve to death. The natives down in this part of the city greet us with curious looks; they are wondering at the sight of two Ferenghis promenading the ramparts, far away from the European quarter; we can hear them making remarks to that effect, and calling one another's attention. The sun gets warm, although it is January, as we pass the Doshan Tepe and the Meshed gates, remarking as we go past that the Shah's summer palace on the hill to the east compares favorably in whiteness with the snow on the neighboring mountains. As we again reach the Gulaek gate and descend from the ramparts at the place we started, the clock in the English Legation tower strikes twelve.
"How many miles do you call it." asks my companion.
"Just about twelve miles," I reply; "what do you make it?"
"That's about it," he agrees; "twelve miles round, and eleven gates. We have walked or climbed over the archway of eight of the gates; and at the other three we had to climb off the ramparts and on again."
As far as can be learned, this is the first time any Ferenghi has walked clear around the ramparts of Teheran. It is nothing worth boasting about; only a little tramp of a dozen miles, and there is little of anything new to be seen. All around the outside is the level plain, verdureless, except an occasional cultivated field, and the orchards of the tributary villages scattered here and there.
In certain quarters of Teheran one happens across a few remaining families of guebres, or fire-worshippers; remnant representatives of the ancient Parsee religion, whose devotees bestowed their strange devotional offerings upon the fires whose devouring flames they constantly fed, and never allowed to be extinguished. These people are interesting as having kept their heads above the overwhelming flood of Mohammedanism that swept over their country, and clung to their ancient belief through thick and thin - or, at all events, to have steadfastly refused to embrace any other. Little evidence of their religion remains in Persia at the present day, except their "towers of silence" and the ruins of their old fire-temples. These latter were built chiefly of soft adobe bricks, and after the lapse of centuries, are nothing more than shapeless reminders of the past. A few miles southeast of Teheran, in a desolate, unfrequented spot, is the guebre "tower of silence," where they dispose of their dead. On top of the tower is a kind of balcony with an open grated floor; on this the naked corpses are placed until the carrion crows and the vultures pick the skeleton perfectly clean; the dry bones are then cast into a common receptacle in the tower. The guebre communities of Persia are too impecunious or too indifferent to keep up the ever-burning-fires nowadays; the fires of Zoroaster, which in olden and more prosperous times were fed with fuel night and day, are now extinguished forever, and the scattering survivors of this ancient form of worship form a unique item in the sum total of the population of Persia.
The head-quarters - if they can be said to have any head-quarters - of the Persian guebres are at Yezd, a city that is but little known to Europeans, and which is all but isolated from the remainder of the country by the great central desert. One great result of this geographical isolation is to be observed to-day, in the fact that the guebres of Yezd held their own against the unsparing sword of Islam better than they did in more accessible quarters; consequently they are found in greater numbers there now than in other Persian cities. Curiously enough, the chief occupation - one might say the sole occupation - of the guebres throughout Persia, is taking care of the suburban gardens and premises of wealthy people. For this purpose I am told guebre families are in such demand, that if they were sufficiently numerous to go around, there would be scarcely a piece of valuable garden property in all Persia without a family of guebres in charge of it. They are said to be far more honest and trustworthy than the Persians, who, as Shiite Mohammedans, consider themselves the holiest people on earth; or the Armenians, who hug the flattering unction of being Christians and not Mohammedans to their souls, and expect all Christendom to regard them benignly on that account. It is doubtless owing to this invaluable trait of their character, that the guebres have naturally drifted to their level of guardians over the private property of their wealthy neighbors.
The costume of the guebre female consists of Turkish trousers with very loose, baggy legs, the material of which is usually calico print, and a mantle of similar material is wrapped about the head and body. Unlike her Mohammedan neighbor, she 'makes no pretence of concealing her features; her face is usually a picture of pleasantness and good-nature rather than strikingly handsome or passively beautiful, as is the face of the Persian or Armenian belle.
The costume of the men differs but little from the ordinary costume of the lower-class Persians. Like all the people in these Mohammedan countries, who realize the weakness of their position as a small body among a fanatical population, the Teheran guebres have long been accustomed to consider themselves as under the protecting shadow of the English Legation; whenever they meet a "Sahib" on the street, they seem to expect a nod of recognition.
Among the people who awaken special interest in Europeans here, may be mentioned Ayoob Khan, and his little retinue of attendants, who may be seen on the streets almost any day. Ayoob Khan is in exile here at Teheran in accordance with some mutual arrangement between the English and Persian governments. On almost any afternoon, about four o'clock, he may be met with riding a fine, large chestnut stallion, accompanied by another Afghan on an iron gray. I have never seen them riding faster than a walk, and they are almost always accompanied by four foot-runners, also Afghans, two of whom walk behind their chieftain and two before. These runners carry stout staves with which to warn off mendicants, and with a view to making it uncomfortable for any irrepressible Persian rowdy who should offer any insults. Both Ayoob Khan and his attendants retain their national costume, the main distinguishing features being a huge turban with about two feet of the broad band left dangling down behind; besides this, they wear white cotton pantalettes even in mid-winter. They wear European shoes and overcoats, as though they had profited by their intercourse with Anglo-Indians to the extent of at least shoes and coat. The foot-runners have their legs below the knee bound tightly with strips of dark felt. Judging from outward appearances, Ayoob Khan wears his exile lightly, for his rotund countenance looks pleasant always, and I have never yet met him when he was not chatting gayly with his companion.
Of the interesting scenes and characters to be seen every day on the streets of Teheran, their name is legion. The peregrinating tchai-venders, who, with their little cabinet of tea and sugar in one hand, and samovar with live charcoals in the other, wander about the city picking up stray customers, for whom they are prepared to make a glass of hot tea at one minute's notice; the scores of weird-looking mendicants and dervishes with their highly fantastic costumes, assailing you with "huk, yah huk," the barbers shaving the heads of their customers on the public streets - shaving their pates clean, save little tufts to enable Mohammed to pull them up to Paradise; and many others the description and enumeration of which would, of themselves, fill a good-sized volume.
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