CHAPTER XXI. TEHERAN.
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.