On the day of the feast of Halwet all the damsels discard their veils, without which at all other times they are not permitted to walk about the streets. Then it is that the odalisks of one harem go forth to call upon the odalisks of another. Rows upon rows of brightly variegated tents appear in the midst of the streets and market-places, in which sherbet and other beverages made of violets, cane-sugar, rose-water, pressed raisins, and citron juice, together with sweetmeats, honey-cakes, and such-like delicacies, to which women are so partial, are sold openly, and all the sellers are also women.
Ah! what a spectacle that would be for the eyes of a man! Every street is swarming with thousands and thousands of bewitching shapes. These women, released from their prisons, are like so many gay and thoughtless children. Group after group, singing to the notes of the cithern, saunter along the public ways, decked out in gorgeous butterfly apparel, which flutter around their limbs like gaily coloured wings. The suns and stars of every climate flash and sparkle in those eyes. The whole gigantic city resounds with merry songs and musical chatter, and any man who could have seen them tripping along in whole lines might have exclaimed in despair: “Why have I not a hundred, why have I not a thousand hearts to give away!”
And then when the harem of the Sultan proudly paces forth! Half a thousand odalisks, the lovelinesses of every province in the Empire, for whom the youths of whole districts have raved in vain, in garments radiant with pearls and precious stones, mounted on splendid prancing steeds gaily caparisoned. And in the midst of them all the beautiful Sultana, with the silver heron’s plume in her turban, whose stem flashes with sparkling diamonds. Her glorious figure is protected by a garment of fine lace, scarce concealing the snowy shimmer of her well-rounded arms. She sits upon the tiger-skin saddle of her haughty steed like an Amazon. The regard of her flashing eyes seems to proclaim her the tyrant of two Sultans, who has the right to say: “I am indeed my husband’s consort!”
In front and on each side of the fairy band march four hundred black eunuchs, with naked broadswords across their shoulders, looking up at the windows of the houses before which they march to see whether, perchance, any inquisitive Peeping-Toms are lurking there.
Dancing and singing, this bevy of peris traverses the principal streets of Stambul. Every now and then, a short sharp wail or scream may be heard round the corner of the street the procession is approaching: the eunuchs marching in front have got hold of some inquisitive man or other. By the time the radiant cortege has reached the spot, only a few bloodstains are visible in the street, and, dancing and singing, the fair company of damsels passes over it and beyond. Scarce anyone would believe that those wails and screams did not form part and parcel of the all-pervading cries of joy.