CHAPTER XXI. TEHERAN.
"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.