CHAPTER XX. TABREEZ TO TEHERAN.
Mr. F - , a Levantine gentleman in charge of the station here, fairly outdoes himself in the practical interpretation of genuine old-fashioned hospitality, which brooks no sort of interference with the comfort of his guest; understanding the perpetual worry a person travelling in so extraordinary a manner must be subject to among an excessively inquisitive people like the Persians, he kindly takes upon himself the duty of protecting me from anything of the kind during the day I remain over as his guest, and so manages to secure me much appreciated rest and quiet. The Governor of the city sends an officer around saying that himself and several prominent dignitaries would like very much to see the bicycle. "Very good, replies Mr. F - , "the bicycle is here, and Mr. Stevens will doubtless be pleased to receive His Excellency and the leading officials of Zendjan any time it suits their convenience to call, and will probably have no objections to showing them the bicycle." It is, perhaps, needless to explain that the Governor doesn't turn up; I, however, have an interesting visitor in the person of the Sheikh-ul-Islam (head of religious affairs in Zendjan), a venerable-looking old party in flowing gown and monster turban, whose hands and flowing beard are dyed to a ruddy yellow with henna. The Sheikh-ul-Islam is considered the holiest personage in Zendjan and his appearance and demeanor does not in the least belie his reputation; whatever may be his private opinion of himself, he makes far less display of sanctimoniousness than many of the common seyuds, who usually gather their garments about them whenever they pass a Ferenghi in the bazaar, for fear their clothing should become defiled by brushing against him. The Sheikh-ul-Islam fulfils one's idea of a gentle-bred, worthy-minded old patriarch; he examines the bicycle and listens to the account of my journey with much curiosity and interest, and bestows a flattering mead of praise on the wonderful ingenuity of the Ferenghis as exemplified in my wheel.
>From Zeudjan eastward the road gradually improves, and after a dozen miles develops into the finest wheeling yet encountered in Asia; the country is a gravelly plain between a mountain chain on the left and a range of lesser hills to the right. Near noon I pass through Sultaneah, formerly a favorite country resort of the Persian monarchs; on the broad, grassy plain, during the autumn, the Shah was wont to find amusement in manoeuvring his cavalry regiments, and for several months an encampment near Sultaneah became the head-quarters of that arm of the service. The Shah's palace and the blue dome of a large mosque, now rapidly crumbling to decay, are visible many miles before reaching the village. The presence of the Shah and his court doesn't seem to have exerted much of a refining or civilizing influence on the common villagers; otherwise they have retrograded sadly toward barbarism again since Sultaneah has ceased to be a favorite resort. They appear to regard the spectacle of a lone Ferenghi meandering through their wretched village on a wheel, as an opportunity of doing something aggressive for the cause of Islam not to be overlooked; I am followed by a hooting mob of bare-legged wretches, who forthwith proceed to make things lively and interesting, by pelting me with stones and clods of dirt. One of these wantonly aimed missiles catches me square between the shoulders, with a force that, had it struck me fairly on the back of the neck, would in all probability have knocked me clean out of the saddle; unfortunately, several irrigating ditches crossing the road immediately ahead prevent escape by a spurt, and nothing remains but to dismount and proceed to make the best of it. There are only about fifty of them actively interested, and part of these being mere boys, they are anything but a formidable crowd of belligerents if one could only get in among them with a stuffed club; they seem but little more than human vermin in their rags and nakedness, and like vermin, the greatest difficulty is to get hold of them. Seeing me dismount, they immediately take to their heels, only to turn and commence throwing stones again at finding themselves unpursued; while I am retreating and actively dodging the showers of missiles, they gradually venture closer and closer, until things becoming too warm and dangerous, I drop the bicycle, and make a feint toward them; they then take to their heels, to return to the attack again as before, when I again commence retreating. Finally I try the experiment of a shot in the air, by way of notifying them of my ability to do them serious injury; this has the effect of keeping them at a more respectful distance, but they seem to understand that I am not intending serious shooting, and the more expert throwers manage to annoy me considerably until ridable ground is reached; seeing me mount, they all come racing pell-mell after me, hurling stones, and howling insulting epithets after me as a Ferenghi, but with smooth road ahead I am, of course, quickly beyond their reach.