The Shah of Persia
( Originally Published 1903 )
AS soon as I reached the fashionable hotel, I could see that the Shah was really staying there. In the lobby I recognized some of the attendants he had with him in Paris. They wore the same black caps which had impressed me then, and I knew there was no use making inquiries at the desk. The Shah was in Cairo and at this hotel, and I must plan a way in which we boys could see him.
We left our party at the hotel where they were staying, immediately after dinner, because I wanted to reach the Shah before he had time to start out for the evening. One of the Congressmen said as we were leaving, " I wonder what those youngsters are up to now? " We only smiled, and I told him we would report on our return. There was no use telling what our plans were, because something might occur to prevent me carrying out my purpose.
Arrived at the Shah's hotel, I went up to the desk and handed the clerk a card, upon which I had written a little incident by which the Shah might remember me. The clerk looked me over carefully. " Do you know this gentleman? " he inquired. " Oh, yes," I replied, " I know him very well. If you'll just send up the card, there'll be no difficulty about my seeing him." Howard and Kenneth looked at me with bulging eyes. This whole scheme seemed a foolish one to them, and they were horrified to hear me talking about the King of Persia in this way. " I think this is all some practical joke," said Kenneth, " and a dangerous one, too. If the Shah is here, and he doesn't know you, we're liable to be arrested as anarchists." I simply smiled, and waited for the boy to return from his Majesty's apartments. As I expected, the answer was favorable, and we followed the boy down the hallway and up a flight of stairs. Finally we entered a reception-room, and from there passed into a bedroom which was gorgeously decorated in white and gold. Beyond this we could see through the open door a party of gentlemen at dinner. " Come right in," said the boy, " the Shah is having coffee."
With Persia's Shah
The dining-room was small, and there were six gentlemen, all Persians, seated about a small, round table. The Shah sat farthest from the door, and was facing us as we entered. Bon soir, bon soir, he said, in French, and extended his hand. " I didn't know that you would remember me," I said. " These are two other American boys who are on their way out to Manila, and as you are always interested in young people, I thought perhaps you wouldn't object to having them introduced." The Persian ruler laughed in a hearty voice and extended his hand to Howard and Kenneth. " Very glad to meet you," he said, and the boys bowed and smiled. They were plainly embarrassed, and it was surely an awkward position that we were in. The gentlemen were not through dinner, and there didn't seem to be an extra chair in the room. The Shah looked about him for a seat to offer us, and was about to ring a bell when I interrupted him. " We won't stay," I said ; " I only called to say that I remember your kindness in Paris, and that I hope to visit Persia some day and see you there." Then he began to ask questions. He wanted to know how I happened to be in Cairo and where I was going. Then he had to explain to the gentlemen of his party how I had been in Europe all alone at the age of sixteen, and how he had seen me serving American baked beans in a booth at the Paris Exposition. The men appeared to be interested, and kept me talking for several minutes about my traveling experiences. They said they had never heard of such travelers as all Americans seem to be, and the Shah said he was surely going to visit the United States at some time or other. The gentlemen drank their coffee and smoked while talking to me, and we boys might have stood there indefinitely if the servant had not appeared to announce another caller. We had an opportunity, then, to get away, and, as Howard and Kenneth were plainly anxious to go, I said good-night. " I won't be surprised to see you anywhere, after this," said Mouzaffered-Din, " and I hope you'll always call when you're in my neighborhood."
The boys had said almost nothing while we were in the dining-room, but as soon as we reached the hotel lobby they began to chatter. " Isn't he great? " said Howard, and " Wasn't he jolly? " said Kenneth. And then they said that they had expected to see some person 'dressed in Oriental costume, with a turban and rings in his ears. " His suit of clothes must have come direct from London," said Howard, and I told him that it most probably did, since the Shah has all his clothing made in Europe. " He looked rather dissipated," said Kenneth, " but nearly all of these Far Easterners look that way, and he seemed to be well educated in French and a perfect gentleman. " Why shouldn't he be a gentleman? " I asked. " Persia is not a country wholly benighted, and the Shah has a great many foreigners living at his court. And besides, he has traveled very extensively through Europe, and was in France for several weeks at the time of the Exposition."
Characteristics of the Shah
Leaving the hotel, we took seats in front of one of the cafes, and I started to tell the boys something about the characteristics of Persia's ruler. The first time I saw him was on a day when he went to visit the museum of the Gobelin tapes-tries in Paris. It was announced in the papers that he would go there, and a great many people, like myself, thought this would be a good chance to see him at close range. So the galleries were filled with visitors all morning, as the exact hour of the visit wasn't known. About ten o'clock the guards came hurrying into the room where I was, and ordered everyone to line up against the wall. It seemed the Shah had arrived much sooner than he was expected, and they were making way for him to pass through into a reception-room which had been arranged. There was a lot of shoving and pushing, and everyone was talking of " the Shah," and saying over and over, " The Shah is coming now." It happened that there was in the crowd a woman with her little daughter, about six years old, and the child had a fox-terrier in her arms. These people were standing near me, and I noticed that the dog was making an awful racket, with his barking and snarling. The child's mother was doing her best to quiet him, but all to no avail. In a little while the-crowd around was laughing, and finally the whole roomful was convulsed at some joke I couldn't understand. I asked a man next to me what the disturbance was all about, and he explained that the little dog was an unconscious punster. The' word in French for cat is " chat " and is pronounced the same as the title of the Persian King. The little terrier, like many American dogs, had been taught to bark every time a person said " cat " in his presence, and now that he heard everyone saying " Shah," he was convinced that some feline was in the room. The French people were delighted with the mistake, but the little girl was badly frightened. Her mother said that if the dog didn't stop barking the Shah would certainly take it away with him, and she was in terror for fear this prophecy would be carried out. The more the crowd laughed, the louder the terrier barked, until finally there was a general uproar.
The Shah entered the room just when the merriment was at its height, and when he saw everyone laughing and heard the dog barking, his natural curiosity came into evidence. He inquired of the director what it was all about, and that embarrassed official had to explain that the terrier had mistaken his Majesty for a cat, and that the mistake had pleased the people. The Shah was delighted. He asked that the little girl be brought to him, but when the attendant went after her the child refused to move. She was positive then that the Shah was going to take her dog, and she burst into tears. Then, since the mountain wouldn't go to Mohammed, Mohammed went over to the tearful mountain and asked to see the dog. The little girl had put it behind her back, and she refused to bring it forth. The King stood there for at least two minutes, talking and cajoling. "I'd like to buy the dog if it's pretty," he said, and this remark caused the child to cry more than ever. Finally the situation became too embarrassing for even Mouzaffer-ed-Din, and he moved on to the reception-room. I imagine that after this experience he was careful not to speak to little girls who were crying in public. It is probable that the incident was laughed over by the royal party when they were at dinner that evening, and it was chronicled in the papers next morning, to the delight of the Parisians.
A Lover of Children
A few days later he went to visit the Louvre Museum, and after he had visited several of the galleries, the officials took him to a room where they had ready a buffet lunch. A crowd had been following the Shah about the building. and when he began to eat in this room the people lined up in the doorways to watch the operation. He always seemed delighted to have the crowd about, and made objection when the French police ordered people to keep a block away from the house where he was staying. Even after an anarchist jumped on the step of his carriage and fired a pistol point-blank at his chest, he persisted in his desire to have the populace follow him about the city. He seemed to enjoy the excitement of their cheers. On this day at the Louvre there was in the crowd a little ragamuffin about seven years old, who went up to the Shah while he was eating lunch and handed him a faded rose, which he had probably picked up in the street. The flower was dirty and withered, but this bit of attention pleased his Majesty very much. He took the little bog's hand and held it for two or three minutes while he talked. Then he brought out a shining gold piece with his effigy upon it, and handed it to the child, who ran off grinning. I have often wondered since what became of this royal souvenir. Very likely the boy took it to a money-changer's and had it turned into French gold; but I would like to believe that he will keep it always, and perhaps relate to his children's children how he came by that Persian gold.
The Shah showed his love for children in many ways. There was a long line of boys and girls at his house every morning, waiting to ask for almost any-thing, from a doll to a bicycle. It was said that not one was turned away empty-handed, and frequently the King himself would chat with the little ones. When he visited Brussels, the children there besieged his residence all through his stay, and his generosity was never exhausted. He seemed to have no end of money, and he was reported to have said that he would rather give it to deserving children than spend it in any other way. He spent $20,000 during one visit to the grounds of the Paris Exposition; and it would be hard to estimate the sum he disposed of during the whole of his European tour. Before we boys left Cairo the following evening, we met the Shah driving through the native quarter, and throwing money out of the windows of his carriage. This was very nice for the natives, but it caused such a disturbance that I imagine the police would rather he would distribute alms in some more formal way. But it would be unnatural for Mouzaffer-ed-Din to be like other rulers or live as others do. He is a unique character, and I will always think of him as one of the remarkable men I have met in going about the world.
When Howard and Kenneth and I returned to our hotel about ten o'clock at night, our friends reminded us of our promise to tell where we had been. " I'll bet you have been in some mischief," said an old colonel, who had the Eddy boys under his charge. " Well," said I, " we've been to call on the Shah of Persia, and we found him as charming as usual." The people looked as if a thunderbolt had struck in their midst, and then they all began to ask questions at once. They talked until they finally knew as much about the visit as we did ourselves, and then they were angry because we hadn't taken them along. They said we were as selfish as could be; we had visited the pyramids by moonlight without taking anyone along, and now we had talked with the Shah without inviting them to share the experience. " Well," said Kenneth, " you can't all be boys, you know, and you can't expect to have a good time wearing skirts. We expect to do some other interesting things before we leave here, but three is the limit of our crowd." When we were in our room and preparing for bed Howard expressed his opinion of people who were always wanting to do things and yet hadn't the nerve to under-take them. " They're much happier playing whist than they would be running around as we do," he said, " and it's their own fault if they miss a lot of interesting sights."