CHAPTER X. THE START THROUGH ASIA.
In addition to a cycler's ordinary outfit and the before-mentioned small wedge tent I provide myself with a few extra spokes, a cake of tire cement, and an extra tire for the rear wheel. This latter, together with twenty yards of small, stout rope, I wrap snugly around the front axle; the tent and spare underclothing, a box of revolver cartridges, and a small bottle of sewing-machine oil are consigned to a luggage-carrier behind; while my writing materials, a few medicines and small sundries find a repository in my Whitehouse sole-leather case on a Lamson carrier, which also accommodates a suit of gossamer rubber.
The result of my study of the various routes through Asia is a determination to push on to Teheran, the capital of Persia, and there spend the approaching winter, completing my journey to the Pacific next season.
Accordingly nine o'clock on Monday morning, August 10th, finds me aboard the little Turkish steamer that plies semi-weekly between Ismidt and the Ottoman capital, my bicycle, as usual, the centre of a crowd of wondering Orientals. This Ismidt steamer, with its motley crowd of passengers, presents a scene that upholds with more eloquence than words Constantinople's claim of being the most cosmopolitan city in the world; and a casual observer, judging only from the evidence aboard the boat, would pronounce it also the most democratic. There appears to be no first, second, or third class; everybody pays the same fare, and everybody wanders at his own sweet will into every nook and corner of the upper deck, perches himself on top of the paddle-boxes, loafs on the pilot's bridge, or reclines among the miscellaneous assortment of freight piled up in a confused heap on the fore-deck; in short, everybody seems perfectly free to follow the bent of his inclinations, except to penetrate behind the scenes of the aftmost deck, where, carefully hidden from the rude gaze of the male passengers by a canvas partition, the Moslem ladies have their little world of gossip and coffee, and fragrant cigarettes. Every public conveyance in the Orient has this walled-off retreat, in which Osmanli fair ones can remove their yashmaks, smoke cigarettes, and comport themselves with as much freedom as though in the seclusion of their apartments at home.
Greek and Armenian ladies mingle with the main-deck passengers, however, the picturesque costumes of the former contributing not a little to the general Oriental effect of the scene. The dress of the Armenian ladies differs but little from Western costumes, and their deportment would wreathe the benign countenance of the Lord Chamberlain with a serene smile of approval; but the minds and inclinations of the gentle Hellenic dames seem to run in rather a contrary channel. Singly, in twos, or in cosey, confidential coteries, arm in arm, they promenade here and there, saying little to each other or to anybody else. By the picturesqueness of their apparel and their seemingly bold demeanor they attract to themselves more than their just share of attention; but with well-feigned ignorance of this they divide most of their time and attention between rolling cigarettes and smoking them. Their heads are bound with jaunty silk handkerchiefs; they wear rakish-looking short jackets, down the back of which their luxuriant black hair dangles in two tresses; but the crowning masterpiece of their costume is that wonderful garment which is neither petticoat nor pantaloons, and which can be most properly described as "indescribable," which tends to give the wearer rather an unfeminine appearance, and is not to be compared with the really sensible and not unpicturesque nether garment of a Turkish lady. The male companions of these Greek women are not a bit behind them in the matter of gay colors and startling surprises of the Levantine clothier's art, for they likewise are in all the bravery of holiday attire. There is quite a number of them aboard, and they now appear at their best, for they are going to take part in wedding festivities at one of the little Greek villages that nestle amid the vine-clad slopes along the coast - white villages, that from the deck of the moving steamer look as though they have been placed here and there by nature's artistic hand for the sole purpose of embellishing the lovely green frame-work that surrounds the blue waters of the Ismidt Gulf. Several of these merry-makers enliven the passing hours with music and dancing, to the delight of a numerous audience, while a second ever-changing but never-dispersing audience is gathered around the bicycle. The verbal comments and Solomon-like opinions, given in expressive pantomime, of this latter garrulous gathering concerning the machine and myself, I can of course but partly understand; but occasionally some wiseacre suddenly becomes inflated with the idea that he has succeeded in unravelling the knotty problem, and forthwith proceeds to explain, for the edification of his fellow-passengers, the modus operandi of riding it, supplementing his words by the most extraordinary gestures. The audience is usually very attentive and highly interested in these explanations, and may be considerably enlightened by their self-constituted tutors, whose sole advantage over their auditors, so far as bicycles are concerned, consists simply in a belief in the superiority of their own particular powers of penetration. But to the only person aboard the steamer who really does know anything at all about the subject, the chief end of their exposition seems to be gained when they have duly impressed upon the minds of their hearers that the bicycle is to ride on, and that it goes at a rate of speed quite beyond the comprehension of their - the auditors' - minds; "Bin, bin, bin. Chu, chu, chu. Haidi, haidi, haidi." being repeated with a vehemence that is intended to impress upon them little less than flying-Dutchman speed.