CHAPTER XX. TABREEZ TO TEHERAN.
I am now within fifty miles of Teheran, my destination until spring-time comes around again and enables me to continue on eastward toward the Pacific; the wheeling continues fair, and in the cool of early morning good headway is made for several miles; as the sun peeps over the summit of a mountain spur jutting southward a short distance from the main Elburz Range, a wall of air comes rushing from the east as though the sun were making strenuous exertions to usher in the commencement of another day with a triumphant toot. Multitudes of donkeys are encountered on the road, the omnipresent carriers of the Persian peasantry, taking produce to the Teheran market; the only wheeled vehicle encountered between Kasveen and Teheran is a heavy-wheeled, cumbersome mail wagon, rattling briskly along behind four galloping horses driven abreast, and a newly imported carriage for some notable of the capital being dragged by hand, a distance of two hundred miles from Resht, by a company of soldiers. Pedalling laboriously against a stiff breeze I round the jutting mountain spur about eleven o'clock, and the conical snow-crowned peak of Mount Demavend looms up like a beacon-light from among the lesser heights of the Elburz Range about seventy-five miles ahead. De-niavend is a perfect cone, some twenty thousand feet in height, and is reputed to be the highest point of land north of the Himalayas. From the projecting mountain spur the road makes a bee-line across the intervening plain to the capital; a large willow-fringed irrigating ditch now traverses the stony plain for some distance parallel with the road, supplying the caravanserai of Shahabad and several adjacent villages with water. Teheran itself, being situated on the level plain, and without the tall minarets that render Turkish cities conspicuous from a distance, leaves one undecided as to its precise location until within a few miles of the gate; it occupies a position a dozen or more miles south of the base of the Elburz Mountains, and is flanked on the east by another jutting spur; to the southward is an extensive plain sparsely dotted with villages, and the walled gardens of the wealthier Teheranis.
At one o'clock on the afternoon of September 30th, the sentinels at the Kasveen gate of the Shah's capital gaze with unutterable astonishment at the strange spectacle of a lone Ferenghi riding toward them astride an airy wheel that glints and glitters in the bright Persian sunbeams. They look still more wonder-stricken, and half-inclined to think me some supernatural being, as, without dismounting, I ride beneath the gaudily colored archway and down the suburban streets. A ride of a mile between dead mud walls and along an open business street, and I find myself surrounded by wondering soldiers and citizens in the great central top- maidan, or artillery square, and shortly afterward am endeavoring to eradicate some of the dust and soil of travel, in a room of a wretched apology for an hotel, kept by a Frenchman, formerly a pastry-cook to the Shah. My cyclometre has registered one thousand five hundred and seventy-six miles from Ismidt; from Liverpool to Constantinople, where I had no cyclometre, may be roughly estimated at two thousand five hundred, making a total from Liverpool to Teheran of four thousand and seventy-six miles. In the evening several young Englishmen belonging to the staff of the Indo-European Telegraph Company came round, and re-echoing my own above- mentioned sentiments concerning the hotel, generously invite mo to become a member of their comfortable bachelor establishment during my stay in Teheran. "How far do you reckon it from London to Teheran by your telegraph line." I inquire of them during our after-supper conversation. "Somewhere in the neighborhood of four thousand miles," is the reply. "What does your cyclometre say?"