First came a squad of foot-runners in quaint scarlet coats, knee-breeches, white stockings, and low shoes, and with a most fantastic head-dress, not unlike a peacock's tail on dress-parade; each runner carried a silver staff; they, were clearing the street and shouting their warning for everybody to hide their faces. Behind them came a portion of the Shah's Khajar bodyguard, well mounted, and dressed in a gray uniform, braided with black: each of these also carries a silver staff, and besides sword and dagger, has a gun slung at his back in a red 'baize case. Next came the royal carriage, containing the Shah: the carriage is somewhat like a sheriffs coach of "ye olden tyme," and is drawn by six superb grays; mounted on the off horses are three postilions in gorgeous scarlet liveries. Immediately behind the Shah's carriage, came the higher dignitaries on horseback, and lastly a confused crowd of three or four hundred horsemen. As the royal procession approached, the Persians- one and all-either hid themselves, or backed themselves up against the wall, and remained with heads bowed half-way to the ground until it passed. Seeing that we had no intention of striking this very submissive and servile attitude, first the scarlet foot-runners, and then the advance of the Khajar guard, addressed themselves to us personally, shouting appealingly as though very anxious about it: "Sahib. Sahib!" and motioned for us to do as the natives were doing. These valiant guardians of the Shah's barbaric gloriousness cling tenaciously to the belief that it is the duty of everybody, whether Ferenghi or native, to prostrate themselves in this manner before him, although the monarch himself has long ceased to expect it, and is very well satisfied if the Ferenghi respectfully doffs his hat as he goes past.
Much of the nonsensical glamour and superstitious awe that formerly surrounded the person of Oriental potentates has been dissipated of late years by the moral influence of European residents and travellers. But a few years ago, it was certain death for any luckless native who failed to immediately scuttle off somewhere out of sight, or to turn his face to the wall, whenever the carriages of the royal ladies passed by; and Europeans generally turned down a side street to avoid trouble when they heard the attending eunuchs shouting "gitchin, gitchin!" (begone, begone!) down the street. But things may be done with impunity now. that before the Shah's eye-opening visit to Frangistan would have been punished with instant death; and although the eunuchs shout "gitchin, gitchin!" as lustily as ever, they are now content if people will only avert their faces respectfully as the carriages drive past.
An eccentric Austrian gentleman once saw fit to imitate the natives in turning their faces to the wall, and improved upon the time-honored custom to the extent of making salaams from the back of his head. This singular performance pleased the ladies immensely, and they reported it to the Shah. Sending for the Austrian, the Shah made him repeat the performance in his presence, and was so highly amused that he dismissed him with a handsome present.
Prominent among the improvements that have been introduced in Teheran of late, may be mentioned gas and the electric light. "Were one to make this statement and enter into no further explanations, the impression created would doubtless be illusive; for although the fact remains that these things are in existence here, they could be more appropriately placed under the heading of toys for the gratification of the Shah's desire to gather about him some of the novel and interesting things he had seen in Europe, than improvements made with any idea of benefiting the condition of the city as a whole. Indeed, one might say without exaggeration, that nothing new or beneficial is ever introduced into Persia, except for the personal gratification or glorification of the Shah; hence it is, that, while a few European improvements are to be seen in Teheran, they are found nowhere else in Persia.
Coal of an inferior quality is obtained in the Elburz Mountains, near Kasveen, and brought on the backs of camels to Teheran; and enough gas is manufactured to supply two rows of lamps leading from the lop-maidan to the palace front, two rows on the east side of the palace, and a dozen more in the top-maid.an itself. The gas is of the poorest quality, and the lamps glimmer faintly through the gloom of a moonless evening until half-past nine, giving about as much light, or rather making darkness about as visible as would the same number of tallow candles; at this hour they are extinguished, and any Persian found outside of his own house later than this, is liable to be arrested and fined.
The electric light improvements consist of four lights, on ordinary gas-lamp posts, in the top-maidan, and a more ornamental and pretentious affair, immediately in front of the palace; these are only used on special occasions. The electric lights are a never-failing source of wonder and mystification to the common people of the city and the peasants coming in from the country. A stroll into the maidan any evening when the four electric lights are making the gas-lamps glimmer feebler than ever, reveals a small crowd of natives assembled about each post, gazing wonderingiy up at the globe, endeavoring to penetrate the secret of its brightness, and commenting freely among themselves in this wise:
"Mashallah. Abdullah," says one, "here does all the light come from. They put no candles in, no naphtha, no anything; where does it come from?"
"Mashallah!" replies Abdullah, "I don't know; it lights up 'biff!' all of a sudden, without anybody putting matches to it, or going anywhere near it; nobody knows how it comes about except Sheitan (Satan) and Sheitan's children, the Ferenghis."
"Al-lah! it is wonderful." echoes another, "and our Shah is a wonderful being to give us such things to look at - Allah be praised!"
All these strange innovations and incomprehensible things produce a deep impression on the unenlightened minds of the common Persians, and helps to deify the Shah in their imagination; for although they know these things come from Frangistan, it seems natural for them to sing the praises of the Shah in connection with them. They think these five electric lights in Teheran among the wonders of the world; the glimmering gas-lamps and the electric lights help to rivet their belief that their capital is the most wonderful city in the world, and their Shah the greatest monarch extant. These extreme ideas are, of course, considerably improved upon when we leave the ranks of illiteracy; but the Persians capable of forming anything like an intelligent comparison between themselves and a European nation, are confined to the Shah himself, the corps diplomatique, and a few prominent personages who have been abroad.
Always on the lookout for something to please the Shah, the news of my arrival in Teheran on the bicycle no sooner reaches the ear of the court officials than the monarch hears of it himself. On the seventh day after my arrival an officer of the palace calls on behalf of the Shah, and requests that I favor them all, by following the soldiers who will be sent to-morrow morning, at eight o'clock, Ferenghi time, to conduct me to the palace, where it is appointed that I am to meet the "Shah-in-shah and King of kings," and ride with him, on the bicycle, to his summer palace at Doshan Tepe.
"Yes, I shall, of course, be most happy to accommodate; and to be the means of introducing to the notice of His Majesty, the wonderful iron horse, the latest wonder from Frangistan," I reply; and the officer, after salaaming with more than French politeness, takes his departure.
Promptly at the hour appointed the soldiers present themselves; and after waiting a few minutes for the horses of two young Englishmen who desire to accompany us part way, I mount the ever-ready bicycle, and together we follow my escort along several fairly ridable streets to the office of the foreign minister. The soldiers clear the way of pedestrians, donkeys, camels, and horses, driving them unceremoniously to the right, to the left, into the ditch - anywhere out of my road; for am I not for the time being under the Shah's special protection. I am as much the Shah's toy and plaything of the moment, as an electric light, a stop-watch, or as the big Krupp gun, the concussion of which nearly scared the soldiers out of their wits, by shaking down the little minars of one of the city gates, close to which they had unwittingly discharged it on first trial.
The foreign office, like every building of pretension, whether public or private, in the land of the Lion and the Sun, is a substantial edifice of mud and brick, inclosing a square court-yard or garden, in which splashing fountains play amid a wealth of vegetation that springs, as if by waft of magician's wand, from the sandy soil of Persia wherever water is abundantly supplied. Tall, slender poplars are nodding in the morning breeze, the less lofty almond and pomegranate, sheltered from the breezes by the surrounding building, rustle never a leaf, but seem to be offering Pomona's choice products of nuts and rosy pomegranates, with modest mien and silence; whilst beds of rare exotics, peculiar to this sunny clime, imparts to the atmosphere of the cool shaded garden, a pleasing sense of being perfumed. Here, by means of the Shah's interpreter, I am introduced to Nasr-i-Mulk, the Persian foreign minister, a kindly-faced yet business-looking old gentleman, at whose request I mount and ride with some difficulty around the confined and quite unsuitable foot-walks of the garden; a crowd of officials and farrashes look on in unconcealed wonder and delight. True to their Persian characteristic of inquisitiveness, Nasr-i-Mulk and the officers catechise me unmercifully for some time concerning the mechanism and capabilities of the bicycle, and about the past and future of the journey around the world.
In company with the interpreter, I now ride out to the Doshan Tepe gate, where we are to await the arrival of the Shah. From the Doshan Tepe gate is some four English miles of fairly good artificial road, leading to one of the royal summer palaces and gardens. His Majesty goes this morning to the mountains beyond Doshan Tepe on a shooting excursion, and wishes me to ride out with his party a few miles, thus giving him a good opportunity of seeing something of what bicycle travelling is like. The tardy monarch keeps myself and a large crowd of attendants waiting a full hour at the gate, ere he puts in an appearance. Among the crowd is the Shah's chief shikaree (hunter), a grizzled old veteran, beneath whose rifle many a forest prowler of the Caspian slope of Mazanderau has been laid low. The shikaree, upon seeing me ride, and not being able to comprehend how one can possibly maintain the equilibrium, exclaims: "Oh, ayab Ingilis." (Oh, the wonderful English!)
Everybody's face is wreathed in smiles at the old shikaree's exclamation of wonderment, and when I jokingly advise him that he ought to do his hunting for the future on a bicycle, and again mount and ride with hands off handles to demonstrate the possibility of shooting from the saddle, the delighted crowd of horsemen burst out in hearty laughter, many of them exclaiming, "Bravo! bravo!" At length the word goes round that the Shah is coming. Everybody dismounts, and as the royal carriage drives up, every Persian bows his head nearly to the ground, remaining in that highly submissive attitude until the carriage halts and the Shah summons myself and the interpreter to his side.
I am the only Ferenghi in the party, my two English companions having returned to the city, intending to rejoin me when I separate from the Shah.
The Shah impresses one as being more intelligent than the average Persian of the higher class; and although they are, as a nation, inordinately inquisitive, no Persian has taken a more lively interest in the bicycle than His Majesty seems to take, as, through his interpreter, he plys me with all manner of questions. Among other questions he asks if the Koords didn't molest me when coming through Koordistan without an escort; and upon hearing the story of my adventure with the Koordish shepherds between Ovahjik and Khoi, he seems greatly amused. Another large party of horsemen arrived with the Shah, swelling the company to perhaps two hundred attendants.
Pedaling alongside the carriage, in the best position for the Shah to see, we proceed toward Doshan Tepe, the crowd of horsemen following, some behind and others careering over the stony plain through which the Doshan Tepe highway leads. After covering about half a mile, the Shah leaves the carriage and mounts a saddle-horse, in order to the better "put me through some exercises." First he requests me to give him an exhibition of speed; then I have to ride a short distance over the rough stone-strewn plain, to demonstrate the possibility of traversing a rough country, after which he desires to see me ride at the slowest pace possible. All this evidently interests him not a little, and he seems even more amused than interested, laughing quite heartily several times as he rides alongside the bicycle. After awhile he again exchanges for the carriage, and at four miles from the city gate we arrive at the palace garden. Through this garden is a long, smooth walk, and here the Shah again requests an exhibition of my speeding abilities. The garden is traversed with a network of irrigating ditches; but I am assured there is nothing of the kind across the pathway along which he wishes me to ride as fast as possible. Two hundred yards from the spot where this solemn assurance is given, it is only by a lightning-like dismount that I avoid running into the very thing that I was assured did not exist-it was the narrowest possible escape from what might have proved a serious accident.
Riding back toward the advancing party, I point out my good fortune in escaping the tumble. The Shah asks if people ever hurt themselves by falling off bicycles; and the answer that a fall such as I would have experienced by running full speed into the irrigating ditch, might possibly result in broken bones, appeared to strike him as extremely humorous; from the way he laughed I fancy the sending me flying toward the irrigating ditch was one of the practical jokes that he is sometimes not above indulging in. After mounting and forcing my way for a few yards through deep, loose gravel, to satisfy his curiosity as to what could be done in loose ground, I trundle along with him to a small menagerie he keeps at this place. On the way he inquires about the number of wheelmen there are in England and America; whether I am English or American; why they don't use iron tires on bicycles instead of rubber, and many other questions, proving the great interest aroused in him by the advent of the first bicycle to appear in his Capital. The menagerie consists of one cage of monkeys, about a dozen lions, and two or three tigers and leopards. We pass along from cage to cage, and as the keeper coaxes the animals to the bars, the Shah amuses himself by poking them with an umbrella. It was arranged in the original programme that I should accompany them up into their rendezvous in the foot-hills, about a mile beyond the palace, to take breakfast with the party; but seeing the difficulty of getting up there with the bicycle, and not caring to spoil the favorable impression already made, by having to trundle up, I ask permission to take my leave at this point, The request is granted, and the interpreter returns with me to the city - thus ends my memorable bicycle ride with the Shah of Persia.
Soon after my ride with the Shah, the Naib-i-Sultan, the Governor of Teheran and commander-in-chief of the army, asked me to bring the bicycle down to the military maidan, and ride for the edification of himself and officers. Being busy at something or other when the invitation was received, I excused myself and requested that he make another appointment.
I am in the habit of taking a constitutional spin every morning; by means of which I have figured as an object of interest, and have been stared at in blank amazement by full half the wonder-stricken population of the city. The fame of my journey, the knowledge of my appearance before the Shah, and my frequent appearance upon the streets, has had the effect of making me one of the most conspicuous characters in the Persian Capital; and the people have bestowed upon me the expressive and distinguishing title of "the aspi Sahib" (horse-of-iron Sahib).
A few mornings after receiving the Naib-i-Sultan's invitation, I happened to be wheeling past the military maidan, and attracted by the sound of martial music inside, determined to wheel in and investigate. Perhaps in all the world there is no finer military parade ground than in Teheran; it consists of something over one hundred acres of perfectly level ground, forming a square that is walled completely in by alcoved walls and barracks, with gaily painted bala-kkanas over the gates. The delighted guards at the gate make way and present arms, as they see me approaching; wheeling inside, I am somewhat taken aback at finding a general review of the whole Teheran garrison in progress; about ten thousand men are manoeuvring in squads, companies, and regiments over the ground.
Having, from previous experience on smaller occasions, discovered that my appearance on the incomprehensible "asp-i-awhan" would be pretty certain to temporarily demoralize the troops and create general disorder and inattention, I am for a moment undetermined about whether to advance or retreat. The acclamations of delight and approval from the nearest troopers at seeing me enter the gate, however, determines me to advance; and I start off at a rattling pace around the square, and then take a zig-zag course through the manoeuvring bodies of men.
The sharp-shooters lying prostrate in the dust, mechanically rise up to gaze; forgetting their discipline, squares of soldiers change into confused companies of inattentive men; simultaneous confusion takes place in straight lines of marching troops, and the music of the bands degenerates into inharmonious toots and discordant squeaks, from the inattention of the musicians. All along the line the signal runs - not "every Persian is expected to do his duty," but "the asp-i-awhan Sahib! the asp-i-awhan Sahib!" the whole army is in direful commotion. In the midst of the general confusion, up dashes an orderly, who requests that I accompany him to the presence of the Commander-in-Chief and staff; which, of course, I readily do, though not without certain misgivings as to my probable reception under the circumstances. There is no occasion for misgivings, however; the Naib-i-Sultan, instead of being displeased at the interruption to the review, is as delighted at the appearance of "the asp-i-anhan, as is Abdul, the drummer-boy, and he has sent for me to obtain a closer acquaintance. After riding for their edification, and answering their multifarious questions, I suggest to the Commander-in-Chief that he ought to mount the Shah's favorite regiment of Cossacks on bicycles. The suggestion causes a general laugh among the company, and he replies: "Yes, asp-i-awhan Cossacks would look very splendid on our dress parade here in the maidan; but for scouting over our rough Persian mountains" - and the Naib-i-Sultan finished the sentence with a laugh and a negative shrug of his shoulders.
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