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LETTER xxv    A VISIT UNDER DIFFICULTIES               181

with me to interpret, the sowars suggesting that he could
be screened behind a curtain, quite a usual mode of dis-
posing of such a difficulty. The eunuch returned, and
with him the Khan's mother, a fiendish-looking middle-
aged woman, who looked through the peep-hole, but on
seeing a good-looking young man drew back, and said very
definitely that no man could be admitted, especially in the
absence of the Khan. All the men were warned off, and
the door was opened so as just to allow of my entrance
and no more.

The principal wife received me in a fine lofty room
with fretwork windows opening on a courtyard with a
fountain in it and a few pomegranates, and a crowd of
Persian, Kurdish, and negro women, with all manner of
babies. The lady is from Tihran, and her manners have
some of the ease and polish of the capital. It is still
the Moharrem, and she was enveloped in a black chadar,
and wore as her sole ornament a small diamond-studded
watch as a locket. Her mother-in-law, who, like many
mothers-in-law in Persia, fills the post of duenna to the
establishment, frightened me by the expression of her
handsome face and her sneering, fiendish laugh. It must
be admitted that there was much to amuse her, for
my slender stock of badly-pronounced Persian is the
Persian of muleteers rather than of polite circles, and
she mimicked every word I uttered, looking all the time
like one of Michael Angelo's " Fates."

The room was very prettily curtained, and furnished
with Russian materials, they told me, and the lithographs,
the photographs and their frames, and the many " knick-
knacks " which adorned the tables and recesses were all
Eussian. They showed me several small clocks and very
ingenious watches, all Eussian also. They said that the
goods in the shops at Bijar are chiefly Eussian, and
added, " The English don't try to suit our taste as the