CHAPTER XXI. TEHERAN.
The Shah impresses one as being more intelligent than the average Persian of the higher class; and although they are, as a nation, inordinately inquisitive, no Persian has taken a more lively interest in the bicycle than His Majesty seems to take, as, through his interpreter, he plys me with all manner of questions. Among other questions he asks if the Koords didn't molest me when coming through Koordistan without an escort; and upon hearing the story of my adventure with the Koordish shepherds between Ovahjik and Khoi, he seems greatly amused. Another large party of horsemen arrived with the Shah, swelling the company to perhaps two hundred attendants. Pedaling alongside the carriage, in the best position for the Shah to see, we proceed toward Doshan Tepe, the crowd of horsemen following, some behind and others careering over the stony plain through which the Doshan Tepe highway leads. After covering about half a mile, the Shah leaves the carriage and mounts a saddle-horse, in order to the better "put me through some exercises." First he requests me to give him an exhibition of speed; then I have to ride a short distance over the rough stone-strewn plain, to demonstrate the possibility of traversing a rough country, after which he desires to see me ride at the slowest pace possible. All this evidently interests him not a little, and he seems even more amused than interested, laughing quite heartily several times as he rides alongside the bicycle. After awhile he again exchanges for the carriage, and at four miles from the city gate we arrive at the palace garden. Through this garden is a long, smooth walk, and here the Shah again requests an exhibition of my speeding abilities. The garden is traversed with a network of irrigating ditches; but I am assured there is nothing of the kind across the pathway along which he wishes me to ride as fast as possible. Two hundred yards from the spot where this solemn assurance is given, it is only by a lightning-like dismount that I avoid running into the very thing that I was assured did not exist-it was the narrowest possible escape from what might have proved a serious accident.
Riding back toward the advancing party, I point out my good fortune in escaping the tumble. The Shah asks if people ever hurt themselves by falling off bicycles; and the answer that a fall such as I would have experienced by running full speed into the irrigating ditch, might possibly result in broken bones, appeared to strike him as extremely humorous; from the way he laughed I fancy the sending me flying toward the irrigating ditch was one of the practical jokes that he is sometimes not above indulging in. After mounting and forcing my way for a few yards through deep, loose gravel, to satisfy his curiosity as to what could be done in loose ground, I trundle along with him to a small menagerie he keeps at this place. On the way he inquires about the number of wheelmen there are in England and America; whether I am English or American; why they don't use iron tires on bicycles instead of rubber, and many other questions, proving the great interest aroused in him by the advent of the first bicycle to appear in his Capital. The menagerie consists of one cage of monkeys, about a dozen lions, and two or three tigers and leopards. We pass along from cage to cage, and as the keeper coaxes the animals to the bars, the Shah amuses himself by poking them with an umbrella. It was arranged in the original programme that I should accompany them up into their rendezvous in the foot-hills, about a mile beyond the palace, to take breakfast with the party; but seeing the difficulty of getting up there with the bicycle, and not caring to spoil the favorable impression already made, by having to trundle up, I ask permission to take my leave at this point, The request is granted, and the interpreter returns with me to the city - thus ends my memorable bicycle ride with the Shah of Persia.
Soon after my ride with the Shah, the Naib-i-Sultan, the Governor of Teheran and commander-in-chief of the army, asked me to bring the bicycle down to the military maidan, and ride for the edification of himself and officers. Being busy at something or other when the invitation was received, I excused myself and requested that he make another appointment. I am in the habit of taking a constitutional spin every morning; by means of which I have figured as an object of interest, and have been stared at in blank amazement by full half the wonder-stricken population of the city. The fame of my journey, the knowledge of my appearance before the Shah, and my frequent appearance upon the streets, has had the effect of making me one of the most conspicuous characters in the Persian Capital; and the people have bestowed upon me the expressive and distinguishing title of "the aspi Sahib" (horse-of-iron Sahib).
A few mornings after receiving the Naib-i-Sultan's invitation, I happened to be wheeling past the military maidan, and attracted by the sound of martial music inside, determined to wheel in and investigate. Perhaps in all the world there is no finer military parade ground than in Teheran; it consists of something over one hundred acres of perfectly level ground, forming a square that is walled completely in by alcoved walls and barracks, with gaily painted bala-kkanas over the gates. The delighted guards at the gate make way and present arms, as they see me approaching; wheeling inside, I am somewhat taken aback at finding a general review of the whole Teheran garrison in progress; about ten thousand men are manoeuvring in squads, companies, and regiments over the ground.