Hajji Baba of Ispahan/Full text
The Reverend Doctor Fundgruben,
Chaplain to the Swedish Embassy at the, Ottoman Porte.
Esteemed and Learned Sir,
You will be astonished to see yourself addressed by one, of whose existence you are perhaps ignorant, and whose name has doubtless long since been errased from your memory. But when I put you in mind of an English traveller, who (forgive my precision) sixteen years ago was frequently admitted to enjoy the pleasure of your conversation, and who was even honoured with a peculiar share of your attention, perhaps then you may indulgently recollect him, and patiently submit to peruse the following volumes, to which he now takes the liberty of prefixing your name.
At the time to which I allude, your precious hours were employed in searching into the very depths of heiroglyphic lore, and you were then almost entirely taken up in putting together the fruits of your researches, which have since appeared and astonished the world in that very luminous work entitled "The Biography of Celebrated Mummies." I have frequently reflected upon the debt of gratitude which you imposed by allowing me to engross so much of your time, and that upon matters of trivial importance, when your mind must have been engaged upon those grave and weighty subjects, which you have treated with such vast learning, clearness, and perspicuity in your above-mentioned treatise. In particular I have borne in mind a conversation, when one beatiful moonlight night, reclining upon a sofa of the Swedish palace, and looking out of those windows which command so magnificent a view of the city and harbour of Constantinople, we discussed subjects which had reference to the life and manners of the extraordinary people its inhabitants.
Excuse me for reporting back your own words; but as the subject interested me much, I recollect well the observation you made, that no traveller had ever satisfied you in his delineation of Asiatic manners; 'for,' 'in general their mode of treating the subject is sweeping assertations, which leave no precise image in the mind, or by disjointed and insulated facts, which for the most part are only of consequence as they relate to the individual traveller himself.' We are both agreed that of all of the books which have ever been published on the subject, the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments" give the truest picture of the Orientals, and that for the best of reasons, because it is the work of one of their own community. 'But' said you, 'notwithstanding they have been put into a European dress, weeded of their numerous repititions, and brought as near to the level of our ideas as can be, still few would be likely to understand them thoroughly who have not lived some time in the East, and who have not had frequent opportunities of associating with its inhabitants. For' you added opening a volume of work at the same time, ' to make a random observation upon the first instance it occurs, here in the history of the three Calendars, I see that Amina, after having requested the porter whom she had met to follow her with his basket, stopped at a closed door, and having rapped, a Christian with a long white beard opened it, into whose hands she put some money without saying a single word. But the Christian, who knew what she wanted, went in again, and a little while after returned, bringing a large pitcher full of excellent wine.' You observed, 'that although we who lived in Turkey might know that wine was in most cities prohibited to be sold openly, and that if it was to be found it would be in the house of a Christian, many of whom disposed of it in a mysterious manner to the Mohamedans, yet that circumstance would not immediately occur to the mere European reader, who perhaps would expect something to be forthcoming in the future narrative, from what is in fact only a trait if common life.'
I then suggested , that perhaps if a European would give a correct idea of Oriental manners, which would comprehend an account of the vicissitudes attendant upon the life of an Eastern, of his feelings about his government, of his conduct in domestic life, of his hopes and plans of advancement, of his rivalities and jealousies, in short, of everything that is connected with the operations of the mind, and those of the body, perhaps his best method would be to collect so many facts and anecdotes of actual life as would illustrate the different stations and ranks which compose a Musselman community, and then work them into one connected narrative, upon the plan of that excellent picture of European life, "GilBlas" of LeSage.
To this you were pleased to object, because you deemed it almost impossible that a European, even supposing him to rejected his own faith and adopted the Mohamedan, as in the case of Monsieur de Bonneval, who rose to high rank in the Turkish government, and of Messrs. C____ and B____, in more modern times (the former a Topchi Bashi of general of artillery, the latter on attendant upon the Capitan Pasha), could ever so exactly seize those nice shades and distinctions of purpose, in action and manner, which a pure Asiatic only could. To support your argument, you illustrated by observing, that neither education, time, nor talent, could ever give to a foreigner, in any given country, so complete a possession of its language as to make him pass for a native; and that, do what he would, some defect in idiom, or even some too great precision in grammar, would detect him, But, said you, if a native Oriental could ever be brought to understand so much of the taste of Europeans, in investigations of this nature, as to write a full and detailed history of his own life, beginning with his earliest education and going through to its decline, we might then stand a chance of acquiring the desired knowledge.
This conversation, reverend sir, has remained treasured up in my mind; for, having lived much in Eastern countries, I never lost sight of the possibilty of either falling in with a native who might have written his own adventures, or of forming such an intimacy with one, as might induce him faithfully to recite them, and thus afford materials for the work which my imagination had fondly conceived might be usefully put together. I have always held in respect most of the customs and habits of the Orientals, many of which, to the generality of Europeans, appear so ridiculous and disgusting, because I have ever conceived them to be copies of ancient originals. For, Who can think the custom of eating with one's fingers disgusting, as now done in the East, when two or more put their hands in the same mess, and at the same time read that partof our sacred history which records, "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, &c.? I must own , every time that, dining with my Eastern friends, I performed this very natural operation (although at the same time, let it be understood that I have a great respect for knives and forks), I could not help feeling myself to be a living illustration of an ancient custom, and the proof of the authenticity of those records upon which our happiness depends. Whenever I heard the exclamation so frequently used in Persia on the occasion of little miseries, "What ashes are fallen on my head!" instead of seeing anything ridiculous in the expression, I could not but meditate on the coincidence which so forcibly illustrated one of the commonest expressions of grief as recorded in ancient writ.
It is an ingenious expression which I owe to you, sir, that the manners of the East are as it were stereotype. Although I do not conceive that they are quite so strongly marked, yet, to make my idea understood, I would say that they are like the last impressions taken from a copperplate engraving, where the whole of the subject to be represented is made out, although parts of it, from much use, have been obliterated.
If I may be allowed the expression, a picturesqueness pervades the whole being of Asiatics, which we do not find in our countries, and in my eyes makes everything relating to them so attractive as to create a desire to impart to others the impressions made upon myself. Thus in viewing a beautiful landscape, the traveller, be he a draughtsman or not, tant bien que mal, endeavours to make a representation of it: and thus do I apologize for venturing before the public even in the character of a humble translator.
Impressed with such feelings, you may conceive the fullness of my joy, when, not very long after the conversation above mentioned, having returned to England, I was fortunate enough to be appointed to fill an official situation in the suite of an ambassador, which our government found itself under the necessity of sending to the Shah of Persia. Persia, that imaginary seat of Oriental splendour! that land of poets and roses! that cradle of mankind! that uncontaminated source of Eastern manners lay before me, and I was delighted with the opportunities which could be afforded of pursuing my favorite subject. I had an undefined feeling about the many countries I was about the many countries I was about to visit, which filled my mind with vast ideas of travel ---
Sive per Syrtes iter aestuosas
Sive factorus per inhospitalem
Caucasum, vel quae loca fabulosus
I was in some degree like a French lady of my acquaintance, who had so general notion of the East, that upon taking leave she enjoined me to get acquainted with a friend of hers, living, as she said, quelque part dans le Indes, and whom, to my astonishment resided at the Cape of Good Hope!
I will not say that all my dreams were realized, for perhaps no country in the world less comes up to one'd expectation than Persia, whether in the beauties of nature, or the riches and magnificence of its inhabitants, But in what regards manners and customs, it appears to me that no Asiatics bear so strong the stampm of an ancient origin as they. Even in their features I thought to have distinguished a decided originality of expression, which was confirmed, when I remarked, that the numerous faces seen among the sculptures of Persopolis, so perfect as if chiselled but yesterday, were so many likenesses of modern Persians, more particularly of the natives of Fars.
During my long residence there, I never lost the recollection of our conversation on the sofa of the Swedish palace, and every time I added an anecdote or an observation illustrative of Oriental manners to my store, or a sketch to my collection, I always thought of the Reverend Doctor Fundgruben, and sighed after that imaginary manuscript which some imaginary native of the Eastmust have written as a complete exposition of the life of his countrymen.
I will not say, learned sir, that the years I passed in Persia were years of happiness; or that during that time I could go so far keep up an illusion, that I was living among the patriarchs in the first ages of the world, or among those Persians whose monarchs gave laws to almost the whole of Asia: no, I sighed for shaven chins and swallow-tailed coats; and to speak the truth though adressing an antiquary of your celebrity, I felt that I would rather be among the croed in the Graben at Vienna or in our own Bond Street, that at liberty to range in the ease of solitude among the ruins of the palaces of Darius.
At length the day of my departure came, and I left Persia with books filled with remarks, and portfolios abounding in original sketches. My ideas during the journey were wholly taken up with schemes for the future, and perhaps, like every other traveller, I nourished a sort of sly and secret conviction that I had seen and observed things which no one before me had ever done, and that when I came to publish to the world the fruits of my discoveries, I should create a sensation equal at least to the discovery of a new planet.
I passed at the foot of the venerable Mount Ararat, and was fortunate to meet a favourable moment for traversing the cold regions of Armenia, 'nec Armeniis in oris stat glacies iners mens per omnes'; and I crossed the dangerous borders of Turkey and Persia without any event occuring worthy of record. But I must request your indulgent attention to what befell me at Tocat, for that occurence you are indebted for this letter, and the world for the accompanying volumes.
It was at the close of a fatiguing day's journey, that I and my escort, consisting of two Tatars, two servants, and the conductors of our baggage and post-horses, entered the city of Tocat. Our approach was as usual announced by the howls of the Surejees, who I suppose more than usually exerted their lungs in my service, because they felt that these sounds, the harbingers of rest and entertainment, could not but be agreeable to weary and jaded travellers like ourselves. The moon was shining bright as our cavalcade was clattering over the long paved road leading to the city, and lighted up in awful grandeur, the turret-toped peaks of the surrounding crags. On entering the post-house, I was immediately conducted into the travellers' room where having disencumbered myself of my cloak, arms and heavy boots, and putting myself at ease in my slippers and loose dress, I quietly enjoyed the cup of strong coffee and the chibouk, which were immediately handed to me, and after that my dish of rice, my tough fowl, and my basin of sour curds.
I was preparing to take my night's rest on the sofas of the post-house, where my bed had been laid, when a stranger unceremoniously walked into the room, and stood before me. I remarked that he was a Persian, and, by his dress, a servant. At any other moment I would have been happy to see and converse with him, because, having lived so long in Persia, I felt myself in some measure identified with its natives, and now in a country where both nations were treated with the same degree of contempt, my fellow-feeling for the sectaries of Ali became infinitely stronger.
I discovered that the stranger had a tale of misery to unfold from the very doleful face that he was pleased to make on the occasion, and I was not mistaken. It was this--that his master, one Mirza Hajji Baba, now on his return from Constantinople, where he had been employed on the Shah's business, had fallen seriously ill, and that he had been obliged to stop at Tocat,--that he had taken up abode at the caravanserai, where he had already spent a week, during which time he had been attended by a Frank doctor, an inhabitant of Tocat, who, instead of curing, had in fact brought him to his last gasp,--that having heard of my arrival from Persia, he had brightened up, and requested, without loss of time, that I would call on him, for he was sure the presence of one coming from his own country would alone restore him to health. In short, his servant, as is usual on such occasions, finished his speech by saying, that with the exception of God and myself, he had nothing left to depend on in this life.
I immediately recollected who Mirza Hajji Baba was; for although I had lost sight of him for many years, yet once on a time I had seen much of him, owing to his having been in England, whither in quality of secretary, he had accompanied the fgirst ambassador which Persia had sent in modern times. He had since been employed in various ways in the government, sometimes in high and sometimes in lower situations, undergoing the vicissitudes which are sure to attend every Persian, and at length he had been sent to Constantinople, as resident agent.
I did hesitate an instant though tired and jaded to accompany his servant; and in the same garb in which I was, only throwing a cloak over my shoulders, I walked in all haste to the caravanserai.
There, on a bed laid in the middle of a small room, surrounded by several of his servants, I found the sick Mirza, looking more like a corpse than a living body. When I had first known him he was a remarkably handsome man, with a fine aquiline nose, oval face, an expressive countenance, and a well-made person. He had now passed the meridian of life, but his features were still fine, and his eye was full of fire, As soon as he saw he recognized me, and the joy which he felt at the meeting broke out in a great animation of his features, and in the thousand exclamations so common in a Persian's mouth.
'See,' said he, 'what a fortunate destiny is mine, that at a moment when I thought the angel of death was about to seize me by the arm, the angel of life comes and blows fresh existence into my nostrils!'
After his first transports were over, I endeavoured to make him explain what was the nature of his complaint, and how it had been hitherto treated. I saw well enough by his saffron hue, that bile was the occasion of his disorder, and as I had great experience in treating it during my stay in Persia, I did not hesitate to cheer up his hopes by an assurance of being able to relieve him.
'What can I say?' said he. "I thought at first that I had been struck with the plague. My head ached intensely, my eyes became dim, I had a pain in my side, and a nauseous taste in my mouth, and expected to die on the third day; but no the symptoms still continuem and I am alive. As soon as I arrived here, I inquired for a physician, and was told there were two practitioners in the town, a Jew and a Frank. Of course I chose the latter, but, 'tis plain, that my evil star had a great deal to say in the choice I made. I have not yet been able to discover to what tribe of Franks he belongs,---certainly he is not an Englishman. But a more extraordinary ass never existed in this world be his nation what it may. I began by telling him that I was very, very ill. All he said in answer, with a grave face, was, "Mashallah! Praise be to God!" and when in surprise and rage, I cried out, "but I shall die, man!" with the same grave face he said"Inshallah! Please God!" My servants were about to thrust him from the room, when they found that he knew nothing of our language excepting these two words, which he had only learned to misapply. Supposing that he still might know something pf his profession, I agreed to take his medicine; But I might have saved myself the trouble, for I have been daily getting worse.'
Here the Mirza stopped to take breath. I did not permit him to exert himself further, but without loss of time, returned to the post-house, applied to my medicine-chest, and prepared a dose of calomel, which was administered that evening with all due solemnity. I then retired to rest.
The next morning I repaired to his bed-side, and there, to my great satisfaction, found that my medicine had performed wonders. The patient's eyes were opened, the headache had in great measure ceased, and he was, in short, a different person. I was received by him and his servants with all the honours due to the greatest sage, and they could not collect words sufficiently expressive of their admiration of my profound skill. As they were pouring forth their thanks and gratitude, looking up I saw a strange figure in the room, whose person I must take the liberty to describe, so highly ludicrous and extravagant did it appear. He was of middle size, rather inclined to be corpulent, with thick black eyebrows, dark eyes, a three days' beard, and mustachios. He wore the Turkish long dress, from his shoulders downwards, yellow pabouches, or slippers, shawl about his waist, and carried a long cane in his hand; but from his shoulders up he was a European, with a neckcloth, his hair dressed in the aile de pigeon fashion, a thick tail clubbed, and over all an old-fashioned, three-cornered laced hat. This redoubtable personage made me a bow, and at the same time accosted me in Italian. I was not long in discovering that he was my rival, the doctor, and that he was precisely what, from the description of the MIrza, I expected him to be, viz. an itinerant quack, who perhaps might once have mixed medicines in some apothecary's shop in Italy or Constantinople, and who had now set up for himself, in this remote corner of Asia, where he might physic and kill at pleasure.
I did not shrink from his acquaintance, because I was certain that the life and adventures of such a person must be highly curious and entertaining, and I cordially encouraged him in his advances, hoping thus to acquire his confidence.
He very soon informed me who he was and what were his pursuits, and did not seem to take the least umbrage at my having prescribed for his patiemt without previously consulting him. His name was Ludovico Pestello, and he pretended to have studied at Padua, where he got his diploma. He had not long arrived at Constantinople, with the intention of setting up for himself, where, finding that the city overflowed with Escapulii, he was persuaded to accompany a Pasha of two tails to Tocat, who had recently been appointed to its government, and was now established as his body physician. I suspected this story to be a fabrication, and undertook to examine his knowledge of physic, particularly in the case of my friend the Persian Mirza. The galimatias which he unfolded, as we proceeded, were so extremely ridiculous, and he puzzled himself so entirely by his answers to the plain questions which I put, that at length, not being able to proceed, he joined, most good-naturedly, in the horse laugh from which I could not refrain. I made him candidly confess that he knew nothing of medicine, more than having been servant to a doctor of some eminence at Padua, where he had picked up a smattering; and that, as all his patients were heretics and abominable Musulmans, he never could feel any remorse for those which, during his practice, he had dispatched from this world. 'But caro Signore Dottore,' said I, 'how in the name of all that is sacred,how have you managed hitherto not to have your bones broken? Turks are dangerous tools to play with.'
'Oh,' said he in great unconcern, 'the Turks believe anything, and I take care never to give them medicine that can do harm,'
'But you must have drugs, and you must apply them,' said I. 'Where are they?' 'I have different coloured liquids,' said he, 'and as long as there is bread and water to be had I am never at loss for a pill. I perform all my curesj with them accompanied by the words Inshallah and Mashallah!'
'Bread and water! wonderful!' did I exclaim.
'Signore, si' said he, 'I sprinkle my pills with a little flour for the common people, cover them with gold for my higher patients, the Agas and the Pasha, and they all swallow them without even a wry face.'
I was so highly amused by the account which this extraordinary fellow gave of himself, of the life he lead, and the odd adventures he had met with, that I invited him to dine; and were it not for the length which this letter has already run, I should perhaps have thought it right to make you partake of my entertainment by relating his narrative. I repaid him, as he said, over and above its price by presents from my medicine-chest, which he assured me would plentifully sufficient to administer relief to the whole of Asia Minor.
I could not think of leaving the poor Persian in such hands; and feeling that I might be the means of saving his life, I determined to remain at Tocat until I saw him out of danger.
- 1 Chapter I: Hajji Baba's birth and education
- 2 CHAPTER II — Hajji Baba commences his travels—His encounter with the Turcomans, and his captivity
- 3 Chapter III — Into what hands Hajji Baba falls, and the fortune which his razors proved to him
- 4 Chapter IV: Of his ingenuity in rescuing his master's money from the Turcoman, and of his determination to keep it
- 5 Chapter V: Hajji Baba becomes a robber in his own defence, and invades his native city
- 6 Chapter VI — Concerning the three prisoners taken by the Turcomans, and of the booty made in the caravanserai.
- 7 Chapter VII: Hajji Baba evinces a feeling disposition—History of the poet Asker
- 8 Chapter VIII: Hajji Baba escapes from the Turcomans—The meaning of 'falling from the frying-pan into the fire' illustrated
- 9 Chapter IX: Hajji Baba, in his distress, becomes a saka, or water-carrier
- 10 Chapter X: He makes a soliloquy, and becomes an itinerant vendor of smoke
- 11 Notes
Chapter I: Hajji Baba's birth and education
My father, Kerbelai Hassan, was one of the most celebrated barbers of Ispahan. He was married, when only seventeen years of age, to the daughter of a chandler, who lived in the neighbourhood of his shop; but the connexion was not fortunate, for his wife brought him no offspring, and he, in consequence, neglected her. His dexterity in the use of a razor had gained for him, together with no little renown, such great custom, particularly among the merchants, that after twenty years' industry, he found he could afford to add a second wife to his harem; and succeeded in obtaining the daughter of a rich money-changer, whose head he had shaved, during that period, with so much success, that he made no difficulty in granting his daughter to my father. In order to get rid, for a while, of the importunities and jealousy of his first wife, and also to acquire the good opinion of his father-in-law (who, although noted for clipping money, and passing it for lawful, affected to be a saint), he undertook a pilgrimage to the tomb of Hosein, at Kerbelah. He took his new wife with him, and she was delivered of me on the road. Before the journey took place he was generally known, simply as 'Hassan the barber'; but ever after he was honoured by the epithet of Kerbelai; and I, to please my mother, who spoilt me, was called Hajjî or the pilgrim, a name which has stuck to me through life, and procured for me a great deal of unmerited respect; because, in fact, that honoured title is seldom conferred on any but those who have made the great pilgrimage to the tomb of the blessed Prophet of Mecca.
My father having left his business during his absence to his chief apprentice, resumed it with increased industry on his return; and the reputation of a zealous Mussulman, which he had acquired by his journey, attracted the clergy, as well as the merchants, to his shop. It being intended that I should be brought up to the strap, I should perhaps have received no more education than was necessary to teach me my prayers, and I not been noticed by a mollah, (or priest), who kept a school in an adjoining mosque, whom my father (to keep up the character he had acquired of being a good man) used to shave once a week, as he was wont to explain, purely for the love of God. The holy man repaid the service by teaching me to read and write; and I made such progress under his care, that in two years I could decipher the Koran, and began to write a legible hand. When not in school I attended the shop, where I learnt the rudiments of my profession, and when there was a press of customers, was permitted to practise upon the heads of muleteers and camel-drivers, who indeed sometimes paid dear for my first essays.
By the time I was sixteen it would be difficult to say whether I was most accomplished as a barber or a scholar. Besides shaving the head, cleaning the ears, and trimming the beard, I became famous for my skill in the offices of the bath. No one understood better than I the different modes of rubbing or shampooing, as practised in India, Cashmere, and Turkey; and I had an art peculiar to myself of making the joints to crack, and my slaps echo.
Thanks to my master, I had learnt sufficiently of our poets to enable me to enliven conversation with occasional apt quotations from Saadi, Hafiz, etc.; this accomplishment, added to a good voice, made me considered as an agreeable companion by all those whose crowns or limbs were submitted to my operation. In short, it may, without vanity, be asserted that Hajji Baba was quite the fashion among the men of taste and pleasure.
My father's shop being situated near the Royal Caravanserai, the largest and most frequented in the city, was the common resort of the foreign, as well as of the resident, merchants; they not unfrequently gave him something over and above the usual price, for the entertainment they found in the repartees of his hopeful son. One of them, a Bagdad merchant, took great fancy to me, and always insisted that I should attend upon him, in preference even to my more experienced father. He made me converse with him in Turkish, of which I had acquired a slight knowledge, and so excited my curiosity by describing the beauties of the different cities which he had visited, that I soon felt a strong desire to travel. He was then in want of some one to keep his accounts, and as I associated the two qualifications of barber and scribe, he made me such advantageous offers, to enter into his service, that I agreed to follow him; and immediately mentioned my determination to my father. My father was very loath to lose me, and endeavoured to persuade me not to leave a certain profession for one which was likely to be attended with danger and vicissitudes; but when he found how advantageous were the merchant's offers, and that it was not impossible that I might become one myself in time, he gradually ceased to dissuade me from going; and at length gave me his blessing, accompanied by a new case of razors.
My mother's regret for the loss of my society, and her fears for my safety, derived no alleviation from the prospect of my expected future aggrandizement; she augured no good from a career begun in the service of a Sûni; but still, as a mark of her maternal affection, she gave me a bag of broken biscuit, accompanied by a small tin case of a precious unguent, which, she told me, would cure all fractures, and internal complaints. She further directed me to leave the house with my face towards the door, by way of propitiating a happy return from a journey undertaken under such inauspicious circumstances.
CHAPTER II — Hajji Baba commences his travels—His encounter with the Turcomans, and his captivity
Osman Aga, my master, was now on a journey to Meshed, the object of which was to purchase the lamb-skins of Bokhara, which he afterwards purposed to convey to Constantinople for sale. Imagine a short squat man, with a large head, prominent spongy nose, and a thick, black beard, and you will see my fellow traveller. He was a good Mussulman, very strict in his devotions, and never failed to pull off his stockings, even in the coldest morning, to wash his feet, in order that his ablutions might be perfect; and, withal, he was a great hater of the sect of Ali, a feeling he strictly kept to himself, as long as he was in Persia. His prevailing passion was love of gain, and he never went to sleep without having ascertained that his money was deposited in a place of safety. He was, however, devoted to his own ease; smoked constantly, ate much, and secretly drank wine, although he denounced eternal perdition to those who openly indulged in it.
The caravan was appointed to collect in the spring, and we made preparations for our departure. My master bought a strong, ambling mule for his own riding; whilst I was provided with a horse, which, besides myself, bore the kaliân (for he adopted the Persian style of smoking), the fire-pan and leather bottle, the charcoal, and also my own wardrobe. A black slave, who cooked for us, spread the carpets, loaded and unloaded the beasts, bestrode another mule, upon which were piled the bedding, carpets, and kitchen utensils. A third, carrying a pair of trunks, in which was my master's wardrobe, and every other necessary, completed our equipment.
The day before our departure, the prudent Osman had taken precaution to sew into the cotton wadding of his heavy turban fifty ducats, a circumstance known only to him and me, and these were to serve in case of accidents; for the remainder of his cash, with which he intended to make his purchases, was sewn up in small white leather bags, and deposited in the very centre of the trunks.
The caravan being ready to depart consisted of about five hundred mules and horses, and two hundred camels, most of which were laden with merchandize for the north of Persia, and escorted by about one hundred and fifty men, composed of merchants, their servants, and the conductors of the caravan. Besides these, a small body of pilgrims bound to the tomb of Imâm Reza at Meshed joined the caravan, and gave a character of sanctity to the procession of which its other members were happy to take advantage, considering in what high estimation persons bound upon so laudable a purpose as a pilgrimage are always supposed to be held.
Every man on these occasions is armed, and my master, who always turned his head away whenever a gun was fired, and became pale at the sight of a drawn sword, now appeared with a long carbine slung obliquely across his back, and a crooked sword by his side, whilst a pair of huge pistols projected from his girdle; the rest of his surface was almost made up of the apparatus of cartouch-boxes, powder-flasks, ramrods, &c. I also was armed cap-à-pie, only in addition to what my master carried, I was honoured by wielding a huge spear. The black slave had a sword with only half a blade, and a gun without a lock.
We started at break of day from the northern suburb of Ispahan, led by the chaoûshes of the pilgrimage, who announced our departure by loud cries and the beating of their copper drums. We soon got acquainted with our fellow travellers, who were all armed; but who, notwithstanding their martial equipment, appeared to be very peaceably disposed persons. I was delighted with the novelty of the scene, and could not help galloping and curvetting my horse to the annoyance of my master, who in a somewhat crabbed tone, bid me keep in mind that the beast would not last the journey if I wore it out by unseasonable feats of horsemanship. I soon became a favourite with all the company, many of whom I shaved after the day's march was over. As for my master, it is not too much to say that I was a great source of comfort to him, for after the fatigue of sitting his mule was at an end, I practised many of the arts which I had acquired at the bath to do away the stiffness of his limbs, by kneading his body all over, and rubbing him with my hands.
We proceeded without impediment to Tehran, where we sojourned ten days to rest our mules, and to increase our numbers. The dangerous part of the journey was to come, as a tribe of Turcomans, who were at war with the king of Persia, were known to infest the road, and had lately attacked and plundered a caravan, whilst at the same time they had carried those who composed it into captivity. Such were the horrors related of the Turcomans, that many of our party, and my master in particular, were fearful of proceeding to Meshed; but the account he received of the enormous price of lamb-skins at Constantinople was so alluring, that, in spite of everything, he resolved not to be frightened out of his prospect of gain.
A chaoûsh had long been collecting pilgrims at Tehran and its vicinity, in the expectation of the arrival of our caravan, and as soon as we made our appearance, he informed us, that he was ready to join us with a numerous band, a reinforcement which he assured us we ought to receive with gratitude, considering the dangers which we were about to encounter. He was a character well known on the road between Tehran and Meshed, and enjoyed a great reputation for courage, which he had acquired for having cut off a Turcoman's head whom he had once found dead on the road. His appearance was most formidable, being in person tall and broad-shouldered, with a swarthy sunburnt face, ornamented by a few stiff hairs by way of beard at the end of a bony chin. Clad in a breastplate of iron, a helmet with a chain cape flapping over his shoulders, a curved sword by his side, pistols in his girdle, a shield slung behind his back, and a long spear in his hand, he seemed to bid defiance to danger. He made such boast of his prowess, and talked of the Turcomans with such contempt, that my master determined to proceed under his immediate escort. The caravan was ready to depart a week after the festival of the New Year's day, and after having performed our devotions at the great mosque of the congregation on the Friday, we went to the village of Shahabdul Azim, whence the whole body was to proceed the next day on its journey.
We advanced by slow marches over a parched and dreary country, that afforded little to relieve the eye or cheer the heart. Whenever we approached a village, or met travellers on the road, our conductors, made invocations of Allah and of the Prophet in loud and shrill tones, accompanied by repeated blows with a leather thong on the drums suspended to their saddle-bow. Our conversation chiefly turned upon the Turcomans, and although we were all agreed that they were a desperate enemy, yet we managed to console ourselves by the hope that nothing could withstand our numbers and appearance, and by repeatedly exclaiming, 'In the name of God, whose dogs are they, that they should think of attacking us?' Every one vaunted his own courage. My master above the rest, with his teeth actually chattering from apprehension, boasted of what he would do, in case we were attacked; and, to hear his language, one would suppose that he had done nothing all his life but fight and slaughter Turcomans. The chaoûsh, who overheard his boastings, and who was jealous of being considered the only man of courage of the party, said aloud, 'No one can speak of the Turcomans until they have seen them—and none but an "eater of lions" (at the same time pulling up his moustaches toward his ears) ever came unhurt out of their clutches. Saadi speaks truth when he sayeth, "A young man, though he hath strength of arm, and the force of an elephant, will kick his heel ropes to pieces with fear in the day of battle."'
But Osman Aga's principal hope of security, and of faring better than others in case we were attacked, was in the circumstance of his being a follower of Omar; and, by way of proclaiming it, he wound a piece of green muslin round his cap, and gave himself out as an emir, or a descendant of the Prophet, to whom, as the reader may guess, he was no more allied than to the mule upon which he rode.
We had proceeded in this manner for several days, when the chaoûsh informed us, in a solemn and important manner, that we were now approaching to the places where the Turcomans generally lie in wait for caravans, and directed that we should all march in a compact body, and invited us to make preparations for a desperate resistance in case we were attacked. The first impulse of my master was to tie his gun, sword, and pistols on one of his baggage mules. He then complained of an affection in the bowels, and so abandoning all his former intentions of engaging in combat, wrapped himself up in the folds of his cloak, put on a face of great misery, took to counting his beads, ever and anon repeating the prayer of Staferallah, or 'God forgive me,' and, thus prepared, resigned himself to his destiny. His greatest dependence for protection he seemed to have placed upon the chaoûsh, who, among other reasons for asserting his indifference to danger, pointed to the numerous talismans and spells that he wore bound on his arms, and which, he boldly maintained, would avert the arrow of a Turcoman at any time.
This double-bladed sword of a man, and one or two of the boldest of the caravan, rode ahead, at some distance, as an advanced guard, and every now and then, by way of keeping up their courage, galloped their horses, brandishing their lances, and thrusting them forward into the air.
At length, what we so much apprehended actually came to pass. We heard some shots fired, and then our ears were struck by wild and barbarous shoutings. The whole of us stopped in dismay, and men and animals, as if by common instinct, like a flock of small birds when they see a hawk at a distance, huddled ourselves together into one compact body. But when we in reality perceived a body of Turcomans coming down upon us, the scene instantly changed. Some ran away; others, and among them my master, losing all their energies, yielded to intense fear, and began to exclaim, 'Oh Allah!—Oh Imâms!—Oh Mohammed the prophet; we are gone! we are dying! we are dead!' The muleteers unloosed their loads from their beasts, and drove them away. A shower of arrows, which the enemy discharged as they came on, achieved their conquest, and we soon became their prey. The chaoûsh, who had outlived many a similar fray, fled in the very first encounter, and we neither saw nor heard any more of him. The invaders soon fell to work upon the baggage, which was now spread all over the plain.
My master had rolled himself up between two bales of goods to wait the event, but was discovered by a Turcoman of great size, and of a most ferocious aspect, who, taking him at first for part of the baggage, turned him over on his back, when (as we see a wood-louse do) he opened out at full length, and expressed all his fears by the most abject entreaties. He tried to soften the Turcoman by invoking Omar, and cursing Ali; but nothing would do; the barbarian was inexorable: he only left him in possession of his turban, out of consideration to its colour, but in other respects he completely stripped him, leaving him nothing but his drawers and shirt, and clothing himself with my master's comfortable cloak and trousers before his face. My clothes being scarcely worth the taking, I was permitted to enjoy them unmolested, and I retained possession of my case of razors, to my no small satisfaction.
The Turcomans having completed their plunder, made a distribution of the prisoners. We were blindfolded, and placed each of us behind a horseman, and after having travelled for a whole day in this manner, we rested at night in a lonely dell. The next day we were permitted to see, and found ourselves on roads known only to the Turcomans.
Passing through wild and unfrequented tracts of mountainous country, we at length discovered a large plain, which was so extensive that it seemed the limits of the world, and was covered with the black tents and the numerous flocks and herds of our enemies.
Chapter III — Into what hands Hajji Baba falls, and the fortune which his razors proved to him
The distribution of their prisoners which had been made by the Turcomans, turned out to be so far fortunate, that Osman Aga and I fell into the hands of one master, the savage robber whom I have before mentioned. He was called Aslan Sultan, or Lion Chief, and proved to be the captain of a considerable encampment, which we reached almost immediately after descending from the mountains into the plain. His tents were situated on the borders of a deep ravine, at the bottom of which flowed a stream that took its rise in a chain of neighbouring hills; and green pastures, teeming with cattle, were spread around as far as the eye could reach. Our other fellow sufferers were carried into a more distant part of the country, and distributed among the different tribes of Turcomans who inhabit this region.
At our appearance the whole encampment turned out to look at us, whilst our conqueror was greeted with loud welcomes, we were barked at and nearly devoured by a pack of large sheep dogs, who had soon selected us out as strangers. My master's green shawl had hitherto procured some degree of respect; but the chief wife, or the Banou, as she was called, was seized at first sight with a strong desire to possess it; so he was with no other covering to his head than his padded caoûk, or tiara, which contained his money. That too was longed for by another wife, who said that it would just do to stuff the pack-saddle which had galled her camel's back, and it was taken from his head and thrown, among other lumber into a corner of the tent. He did all he could to keep possession of this last remnant of his fortune, but to no purpose; in lieu of it he received an old sheep-skin cap, which had belonged to some unfortunate man, who, like us, had been a prisoner, and who had lately died of grief and wretchedness.
My master having been installed in the possession of the dead man's cap, was soon appointed to fill his situation, which was that of tending the camels, when they were sent to feed upon the mountains, and, as he was fat and unwieldy, there was no apprehension of his running away. As for me, I was not permitted to leave the tents, but was, for the present, employed in shaking the leather bags which contained the curds from which butter was made.
In order to celebrate the success of the expedition, an entertainment was given by the chief to the whole encampment. A large cauldron, filled with rice, was boiled, and two sheep were roasted whole. The men, consisting of our chief's relations, who came from the surrounding tents, and most of whom had been at the attack of our caravan, were assembled in one tent, whilst the women were collected in another. After the rice and the sheep had been served up to the men, they were carried to the women, and when they had done, the shepherds' boys were served, and, after they had devoured their utmost, the bones and scrapings of dishes were given to us and the dogs. But, when I was waiting with great anxiety for our morsel, having scarcely tasted food since we were taken, I was secretly beckoned to by one of the women, who made me screen myself behind a tent, and setting down a dish of rice, with a bit of sheep's tail in it, which was sent, she said, by the chief's wife, who pitied my misfortune, and bade me be of good courage, hurried away without waiting for my acknowledgements.
The day was passed by the men in smoking, and relating their adventures, and by the women in singing and beating the tambourine, whilst my poor master and I were left to ponder over our forlorn situation. The mark of favour which I had just received had set my imagination to work, and led me to consider my condition as not entirely desperate. But in vain I endeavoured to cheer up the spirits of my companion; he did not cease to bewail his hard fate. I brought to his mind that constant refuge of every true Mussulman in grief, 'Allah kerim!—God is merciful!' His answer was, 'Allah kerim, Allah kerim, is all very well for you who had nothing to lose; but in the meantime I am ruined for ever.' His greatest concern seemed to be, the having failed to secure the profits which he had expected to make on his lamb-skins, and he passed all his time in calculating, to the utmost farthing, what had been his losses on this occasion. However, we were soon to be parted. He was sent off the next day to the mountains, in charge of a string of fifty camels, with terrible threats from the chief that his nose and ears should pay for the loss of any one of them, and that if one died, its price should be added to the ransom money which he hereafter expected to receive for him. As the last testimony of my affection for him, I made him sit down on a camel's pack-saddle, and, with some water from a neighbouring spring, and a piece of soap, which, together with my razors, I had saved from the wreck of our fortunes, shaved him in the face of the whole camp. I very soon found that this exhibition of my abilities and profession might be productive of the greatest advantage to my future prospects. Every fellow who had a head to scratch immediately found out that he wanted shaving, and my reputation soon reached the ears of the chief, who called me to him, and ordered me to operate upon him without loss of time. I soon went to work upon a large head that exhibited the marks of many a sword cut, and which presented as rough a surface as that of the sheep dogs aforementioned. He who had been accustomed to have his hair clipped, perhaps, with the same instrument that sheared his sheep, and who knew of no greater luxury than that of being mutilated by some country barber, felt himself in paradise under my hand. He freely expressed his satisfaction and his approbation of my services, said, on feeling his head, that I had shaved him two days' march under the skin, swore that he never would accept of any ransom for me, be it what it might, and that I should, henceforth, be entitled to the appointment of his own body barber. I leave the gentle reader to guess what were my feelings upon this occasion. Whilst I stooped down and kissed the knee of this my new master, with every appearance of gratitude and respect, I determined to make use of the liberty which the confidence reposed in me might afford, by running away on the very first favourable opportunity. From being so often near the person of the chief, I soon began to acquire great ascendancy over him; and although I was still watched with care, yet I could already devise plans, which appeared to me to be practicable, for escaping from this hateful servitude into which I was thrown, and I felt in a less degree than another would have done the drudgery and wretchedness of my situation.
Chapter IV: Of his ingenuity in rescuing his master's money from the Turcoman, and of his determination to keep it
One of the first objects which I had in view for the furtherance of my plan of escape was to obtain possession of the money which was sewed in the padding of my former master's turban. But it had been thrown into a corner of the women's tent, to which I had no access, and it required much ingenuity to get at it without creating suspicion. I had established my reputation as a barber throughout ours and the neighbouring encampments, and had become a favourite of the men; but although I had reason to believe that the Banou of my master would fain become more intimately acquainted with me than she hitherto had been, yet as neither she nor any of the other women could employ me in my profession as a shaver, our intercourse hitherto had been confined to tender glances, occasional acts of kindness on her part, and of corresponding marks of thankfulness and acknowledgement on mine. But as they knew enough of civilized life to be aware that in Persia barbers were also surgeons—that besides shaving and rubbing in the bath, they could bleed, draw teeth, and set a broken limb—the Banou soon discovered that she wanted to be bled, and sent a deputation to ask me if I could perform that service for her. Looking upon this as a favourable opportunity to learn some tidings of the object of my solicitude, or perhaps to gain possession of it, I immediately answered that provided I was furnished with a penknife, I hoped that I could bleed as dexterously as the best of my profession. The instrument was produced, and one of the elders of the tribe, who pretended to a smattering of astrology, announced that a conjunction of the planets favourable to such an operation would take place on the following morning. At that auspicious moment, I was introduced into the women's tent, where I found the Banou seated on a carpet on the ground, waiting for me with great impatience. She was not a person to excite sensations of a tender nature in a novice like me; for, in the first place, she was of an unwieldy size (so different from the slim forms that we are taught to prize in Persia) that I looked upon her with disgust; and, in the next, I lived in such terror of Aslan Sultan, that had I aspired to her favour, it must have been in the constant dread of the loss of my ears. However, I was much noticed by her, and received great attentions from her companions, who, looking upon me as a being of a superior order, all wanted to have their pulses felt. Whilst making my preparations for bleeding the Banou, I cast my eyes about the tent, in the hopes of seeing the prize, which I was anxious to possess. It struck me that I might make the very operation in which I was engaged subservient to my views, and demanding to feel the patient's pulse once more, which I did with a look of intense meditation, I observed that this was a complicated disorder—that the blood must not be allowed to flow upon the ground, but be collected in a vessel, that I might examine it at leisure. This strange proposal of mine raised an immediate outcry amongst the women; but with the Banou a deviation from the usual practice only served to confirm her opinion of my superior skill. Here, however, a new difficulty arose. The scanty stock of a Turcoman could ill afford to sacrifice any utensil by applying it to a service which would defile it for ever. They were recapitulated one by one, and all found too precious to be thrown away. I was hesitating whether I might venture to go straight to my point, when the Banou bethought herself of an old leather drinking-cup, which she desired one of the women to search for in a corner of the tent. 'This will never do: you can see the light through it,' said I, holding it up towards the tent door, and pointing to the seams with the penknife, which I held in my hand, and with I cut, at the same time, half a dozen of the stitches.
'Where is the cap of that old Emir?' cried out the Banou.
'It is mine,' said the second wife; 'I want it to stuff my saddle with.'
'Yours!' returned the other in a fury. 'There is but one God! Am not I the Banou of this harem? I will have it.'
'You shall not,' retorted the other.
Upon this an uproar ensued which became so loud and threatening, that I feared it would come to the ears of Aslan Sultan, who very probably would have settled the dispute by taking at once the bone of contention from the contending parties. But luckily the astrologer interfered, and when he had assured the second wife that the blood of the Banou would be upon her head if anything unfortunate happened on this occasion, she consented to give up her pretensions. I accordingly prepared to bleed my patient; but when she saw the penknife, the cap underneath to receive her blood, and the anxious faces of those about her, she became frightened, and refused to permit me to proceed. Fearing after all that I should lose my prize, I put on a very sagacious look, felt her pulse, and said that her refusal was unavailing, for that it was her fate to be bled, and that she and every one knew nothing could avert an event which had been decreed since the beginning of the world. To this there was no reply; and all agreeing that she would commit a great sin were she to oppose herself to the decrees of Providence, she put out her bare arm, and received the stab from my penknife with apparent fortitude. The blood was caught, and, when the operation was over, I ordered that it should be conveyed to a little distance from the camp, and that none but myself should be permitted to approach it, as much of the good or evil that might accrue to the patient from bleeding depended upon what happened to the blood after it had flown from the body. I waited until night, when everybody was asleep, and then with great anxiety ripped up the lining, where to my joy I found the fifty ducats, which I immediately concealed in an adjacent spot, and then dug a hole for the cap, which I also concealed. In the morning I informed the Banou, that having seen some wolves prowling about the tents, I feared that something unlucky might happen to her blood, and that I had buried it, caoûk and all. This appeared to satisfy her; and by way of recompense for the service I had rendered, she sent me a dish made with her own hands, consisting of a lamb roasted whole, stuffed with rice and raisins, accompanied by a bowl of sour milk with salt in it.
I must confess that when I became possessed of the fifty ducats, a recollection of my poor former master, who was leading a melancholy life in the mountains with the camels, whilst I was living in comparative luxury, came across my mind, and I half resolved to restore them to him; but by little and little I began to argue differently with myself. 'Had it not been for my ingenuity,' said I, 'the money was lost for ever; who therefore has a better claim to it than myself? If he was to get possession of it again, it could be of no use to him in his new profession, and it is a hundred to one but what it would be taken from him, therefore, I had best keep it for the present: besides, it was his fate to lose, and mine to recover it.' This settled every difficulty, and I looked upon myself as the legitimate possessor of fifty ducats, which I conceived no law could take from me. Meanwhile, I made an attempt to convey to him half of the roasted lamb which I had just received, through the means of a shepherd's boy who was going into the mountains, and who promised not to eat any of it by the wayside. Although I doubted his word, yet, after my deliberation about the ducats, my conscience wanted some quietus: 'I cannot do less,' said I, 'than make my fellow sufferer in adversity a partaker of my prosperity.' But alas! the boy had scarcely crossed the deep ravine that bordered the encampment ere I could perceive him carrying the meat to his mouth, and I made no doubt that every bone was picked clean before he was out of sight. It would have been a useless undertaking to have pursued him, considering the distance that already separated us, so I contented myself by discharging a stone and a malediction at his head, neither of which reached their destination.
Chapter V: Hajji Baba becomes a robber in his own defence, and invades his native city
I had now been above a year in the hands of the Turcomans, during which I had acquired the entire confidence of my master. He consulted me upon all his own affairs, as well as those of his community, and as he considered that I might now be depended upon, he determined to permit me to accompany him in a predatory excursion into Persia,—a permission, which, in hopes of a good opportunity to escape, I had frequently entreated of him to grant. Hitherto I had never been allowed to stray beyond the encampment and its surrounding pastures, and as I was totally ignorant of the roads through the great salt desert which separated us from Persia, I knew that it would be in vain for me to attempt flight, as many before me had done, and had invariably perished or returned to their masters, who treated them with more rigour than before. I therefore rejoiced that I now had an opportunity of observing the country we were about to cross, and determined with myself that if I could not get away during this expedition, nothing should hinder my attempting it on my return. The Turcomans generally make their principal excursions in the spring, when they find pasturage for their horses in the highlands, and fresh corn in the plains, and because they then are almost certain of meeting caravans to plunder on their march. This season being now near at hand, Aslan called together the chiefs of his tribe, the heads of tens and the heads of hundreds, and all those who were skilled in plunder, and proposed a plan to them of an incursion into the very heart of Persia. Their object was to reach Ispahan itself, to enter the city in the night, when all was quiet, and to sack the caravanserai, to which the richest merchants were known to resort. Our guide through the great salt desert was to be my master in person, whose experience and local knowledge were greater than that of any of his contemporaries; and he proposed to the council that as no one amongst them, except myself, knew the streets and bazaars of Ispahan, I should lead the way, when once we had entered the city. This was opposed by several, who said that it was imprudent to trust a stranger and a native of the very place they intended to attack, who would be likely to run off the moment he could do so with safety. At length, after much discussion, it was agreed that I should be their guide in Ispahan; that two men should ride close on each side of me, and in case I showed the least symptom of treachery in my movements, kill me on the spot. This being settled, the Turcomans put their horses in training, and one was appointed for my use, which had the reputation of having twice borne away the flag at their races. I was equipped as a Turcoman, with a large sheep-skin cap on my head, a sheep-skin coat, a sword, a bow and arrows, and a heavy spear, the head of which was taken off or put on as the occasion might require. I had a bag of corn tied behind on my horse, besides ropes to tether him with when we made a halt,—and for my own food I carried several flaps of bread, and half a dozen of hard eggs, trusting to the chapter of accidents, and to my own endurance of hunger, for further sustenance. I had already made a very tolerable apprenticeship to a hard life since I had first been taken, by sleeping on the ground with the first thing that I could seize for a pillow, and thus I looked upon the want of a bed as no privation. My companions were equally hardy, and in point of bodily fatigue, perhaps, we were a match for any nation in the world.
I took previous care to unbury the fifty ducats, which I tied very carefully in my girdle, and I promised my former master, who from fretting had worn himself down to a skeleton, that if ever I had an opportunity, I would do all in my power to make his friends ransom him. 'Ah,' said be, 'no one will ever ransom me. As for my son, he will be happy to get my property; and as for my wife, she will be happy to get another husband: so no hope is left. There is only one favour I beg of you, which is, to inquire what is the price of lamb-skins at Constantinople.'
Here I had another struggle with my conscience on the subject of the ducats. Should I restore them? Would it not be more advantageous, even to my master, that I should keep them? My ability to take advantage of this opportunity to escape might depend upon my having a little money in my purse—and what chance had he of being relieved but through my interference? All things considered, I let them remain in my girdle.
The astrologer having fixed upon a lucky hour for our departure, we, mounted at nightfall. Our party consisted of Aslan Sultan, who was appointed chief of the expedition, and of twenty men, myself included. Our companions were composed of the principal men of the different encampments in our neighbourhood, and were all, more or less, accomplished cavaliers. They were mounted upon excellent horses, the speed and bottom of which are so justly celebrated throughout Asia; and as we rode along in the moonlight, completely armed, I was persuaded that we looked as desperate a gang of ruffians as ever took the field. For my part, I felt that nature had never intended me for a warrior, and although I thought that I could keep up appearances as well as most men in my predicament, and indeed I believe did act my part so perfectly, as to make both my master and his companions believe that they had got a very Rustam in me, yet I dreaded the time when I should be put to the trial.
I was surprised to observe the dexterity with which our chief led us through the thick forests that clothe the mountains which border the plains of Kipchâk. The dangers of the precipices and the steep ascents were something quite appalling to a young traveller like me; but my companions rode over everything with the greatest unconcern, confident in the sure-footedness of their horses. Having once ascended the mountains, we entered upon the arid plains of Persia, and here my master's knowledge of the country was again conspicuous. He knew every summit the moment it appeared, with the same certainty as an experienced Frank sailor recognizes a distant headland at sea. But he showed his sagacity most in drawing his inferences from the tracks and footsteps of animals. He could tell what sort of travellers they belonged to, whence coming, whither going, whether enemy or friend, whether laden or unladen, and what their probable numbers, with the greatest precision.
We travelled with much precaution as long as we were in the inhabited parts of the country, lying by during the day, and making all expedition at night. Our stock of provender and provisions was renewed at the last encampment of the wandering tribes which we visited before we reached the great salt desert, and when we entered it, we urged our horses on with as much haste as we knew their strength was likely to support. At length, after travelling about 120 parasangs, we found ourselves in the environs of Ispahan. The moment for reaping the fruit of our fatigue, and for trying my courage, was now at hand, and my heart quite misgave me when I heard of the plan of attack which my companions proposed.
Their scheme was to enter the city through one of the unguarded avenues, which were well known to me, and at midnight to make straight for the Royal Caravanserai, where we were sure to find a great many merchants, who at this season of the year collect there with ready money to make their purchases. We were at once to carry off all the cash we could find, then to seize and gag each a merchant if we were able, that before the city could be alarmed, we might be on the road to our encampment again. I found the plan so hazardous, and so little likely to succeed, that I gave it as my opinion that we ought not to attempt it; but my master, putting on his most determined look, said to me, 'Hajji! open your eyes—this is no child's play!—I swear by the beard of the Prophet, that if you do not behave well, I'll burn your father. We have succeeded before, and why should we not be as successful now? He then ordered me to ride near him, and placed another ruffian at my side, and both vowed, if I flinched, that they would immediately run me through the body. We then took the lead, and, from my knowledge of Ispahan, I easily picked my way through the ruins which surround it, and then entered into the inhabited streets, which were at that time of night entirely forsaken. When near the scene of action, we stopped under the arches of one of the ruined houses, which are so frequently to be met with even in the most inhabited parts of the city, and dismounting from our horses, picketed them to the ground with pegs and heelropes, and left them under the care of two of our men. By way of precaution we appointed a rendezvous in a lonely dell about five parasangs from Ispahan, to which it was determined we should retreat as circumstances might require. Once on foot, we proceeded without noise in a body, avoiding as much as we could the bazaars, where I knew that the officers of the police kept watch, and by lanes reached the gate of the caravanserai. Here was a place, every square inch of which I knew by heart, namely, my father's shaving shop. Being aware that the gate of the caravanserai would be locked, I made the party halt there, and, taking up a stone, knocked, and called out to the doorkeeper by name: 'Ali Mohammed,' said I, 'open, open: the caravan is arrived.'
Between asleep and awake, without showing the least symptom of opening, 'What caravan?' said he.
'The caravan from Bagdad.'
'From Bagdad? why that arrived yesterday. Do you laugh at my beard?'
Seeing myself entrapped, I was obliged to have recourse to my own name, and said, 'Why, a caravan to be sure with Hajji Baba, Kerbelai Hassan the barber's son, who went away with Osman Aga, the Bagdad merchant. I bring the news, and expect the present.'
'What, Hajji?' said the porter, 'he who used to shave my head so well? His place has long been empty. You are welcome.'
Upon which he began to unbolt the heavy gates of the entrance porch, which, as they creaked on their hinges, discovered a little old man in his drawers with an iron lamp in his hand, which shed enough light to show us that the place was full of merchants and their effects.
One of our party immediately seized upon him, and then we all rushed in and fell to work. Expert in these sort of attacks, my companions knew exactly where to go for plunder, and they soon took possession of all the gold and silver that was to be found; but their first object was to secure two or three of the richest merchants, whose ransom might be a further source of wealth to them. Ere the alarm had been spread, they had seized upon three, who from their sleeping upon fine beds, covered with shawl quilts, and reposing upon embroidered cushions, they expected would prove a good prize. These they bound hand and foot after their fashion, and forcing them away, placed them upon their best horses behind riders, who immediately retreated from the scene of action to the rendezvous.
From my knowledge of the caravanserai itself, and of the rooms which the richest merchants generally occupied, I knew where cash was to be found, and I entered one room as softly as I could (the very room which my first master had occupied), and seizing upon the small box in which the merchants generally keep their money, I made off with it. To my joy, I found it contained a heavy bag, which I thrust into my bosom, and carried it about with me as well as I could; although, on account of the darkness, I could not ascertain of what metal it was.
By the time we had nearly finished our operations the city had been alarmed. Almost all the people within the caravanserai, such as servants, grooms, and mule-drivers, at the first alarm had retreated to the roof; the neighbouring inhabitants then came in flocks, not knowing exactly what to do: then came the police magistrate and his officers, who also got on the roof of the caravanserai, but who only increased the uproar by their cries, exclaiming, 'Strike, seize, kill!' without in fact doing anything to repulse the enemy. Some few shots were fired at random; but, owing to the darkness and the general confusion, we managed to steal away without any serious accident. During the fray I was frequently tempted to leave the desperate gang to which I belonged, and hide myself in some corner until they were gone; but I argued thus with myself: If I should succeed in getting away, still my dress would discover me, and before I could explain who I really was, I should certainly fall a sacrifice to the fury of the populace, the effects of which more than once I had had occasion to witness. My father's shop was before me; the happy days I had passed in that very caravanserai were in my recollection, and I was in the act of deliberating within myself what I should do, when I felt myself roughly seized by the arm, and the first thing which I recognized on turning round was the grim face of Aslan Sultan, who threatened to kill me on the spot, if I did not render myself worthy of the confidence he had placed in me. In order to show him my prowess, I fastened upon a Persian who had just rushed by us, and, throwing him down, I exclaimed that, if he did not quietly submit to be taken prisoner and to follow me, I would put him to death. He began to make the usual lamentations, 'For the sake of Iman Hossein, by the soul of your father, by the beard of Omar, I conjure you to leave me!' and immediately I recognized a voice that could belong to no one but my own father. By a gleam from a lantern, I discovered his well-known face. It was evident, that hearing the commotion, he had left his bed to secure the property in his shop, which altogether did not consist of more than half-a-dozen of towels, a case of razors, soap, and a carpet. The moment I recognized him, I let go his beard, of which I had got a fast hold, and, owing to that habit of respect which we Persians show to our parents, would have kissed his hand and stood before him; but my life was in danger if I appeared to flinch, so I continued to struggle with him, and in order to show myself in earnest, pretending to beat him, I administered my blows to a mule's pack-saddle that was close to where he lay. This while I heard my father muttering to himself, 'Ah, if Hajji was here, he would not permit me to be served in this way!' which had such an effect upon me, that I immediately let him go, and exclaimed in Turkish to the surrounding Turcomans: 'He won't do for us; he's only a barber.' So without more ceremony I quitted the scene of action, mounted my horse, and retreated in full gallop through the city.
Chapter VI — Concerning the three prisoners taken by the Turcomans, and of the booty made in the caravanserai.
When we had reached our place of rendezvous, we dismounted from our horses, and made a halt to rest them, and to recruit ourselves after the fatigues of the night. One of the party had not forgotten to steal a lamb as we rode along, which was soon put into a fit state to be roasted. It was cut up into small pieces, which were stuck on a ram-rod, and placed over a slow fire made of what underwood we could find, mixed up with the dung of the animals, and, thus heated, was devoured most ravenously by us all.
Our next care was to ascertain the value of our prisoners. One was a tall thin man, about fifty years of age, with a sharp eye, a hollow aguish cheek, a scanty beard, wearing a pair of silken drawers, and a shawl undercoat. The other was a short round man, of a middle age, with a florid face, dressed in a dark vest, buttoning over his breast, and looked like an officer of the law. The third was stout and hairy, of rough aspect, of a strong vigorous form, and who was bound with more care than the others on account of the superior resistance which he had made.
After we had finished our meal, and distributed the remains of it to the prisoners, we called them before us, and questioned them as to their professions and situations in life. The tall thin man, upon whose rich appearance the Turcomans founded their chief hope, was first examined, and as I was the only one of our party who could talk Persian, I stood interpreter.
'Who and what are you?' said Aslan Sultan.
'I,' said the prisoner, in a very subdued voice,—'I beg to state, for the good of your service, that I am nothing—I am a poor man.'
'What's your business?'
'I am a poet, at your service; what can I do more?'
'A poet!' cried one of the roughest of the Turcomans; 'what is that good for?'
'Nothing,' answered Aslan Sultan, in a rage; 'he won't fetch ten tomauns; poets are always poor, and live upon what they can cozen from others. Who will ransom a poet? But if you are so poor,' said Aslan Sultan, 'how do you come by those rich clothes?'
'They are part of a dress of honour,' returned the poet, 'which was lately conferred upon me by the Prince of Shiraz, for having written some verses in his praise.'
Upon which the clothes were taken from him, a sheep-skin cloak given to him in return, and he was dismissed for the present. Then came the short man.
'Who are you?' said the chief: 'what is your profession?'
'I am a poor cadi,' answered the other.
'How came you to sleep in a fine bed, if you are poor?' said his interrogator. 'You father of a dog, if you lie, we'll take your head off! Confess that you are rich! All cadies are rich: they live by selling themselves to the highest bidder.'
'I am the cadi of Galadoun, at your service,' said the prisoner. 'I was ordered to Ispahan by the governor to settle for the rent of a village which I occupy.'
'Where is the money for your rent?' said Aslan.
'I came to say,' answered the cadi, 'that I had no money to give, for that the locusts had destroyed all my last year's crops, and that there had been a want of water.'
'Then after all, what is this fellow worth?' said one of the gang.
'He is worth a good price,' replied the chief, 'if he happens to be a good cadi, for then the peasants may wish him back again; but if not, a dinar is too much for him. We must keep him: perhaps he is of more value than a merchant. But let us see how much this other fellow is likely to fetch.'
They then brought the rough man before them, and Aslan Sultan questioned him in the usual manner—'What are you?'
'I am a ferash' (a carpet-spreader), said he, in a very sulky manner.
'A ferash!' cried out the whole gang—'a ferash! The fellow lies! How came you to sleep in a fine bed?' said one.
'It was not mine,' he answered, 'it was my master's.'
'He lies! he lies!' they all cried out: 'he is a merchant—you are a merchant. Own it, or we'll put you to death.'
In vain he asserted that he was only a carpet-spreader, nobody believed him, and he received so many blows from different quarters, that at last he was obliged to roar out that he was a merchant.
But I, who judged from the appearance of the man that he could not be a merchant, but that he was what he owned himself to be, assured my companions that they had got but a sorry prize in him, and advised them to release him; but immediately I was assailed in my turn with a thousand maledictions, and was told, that if I chose to take part with my countrymen, I should share their fate, and become a slave again—so I was obliged to keep my peace and permit the ruffians to have their own way.
Their speculation in man-stealing having proved so unfortunate, they were in no very good humour with their excursion, and there was a great difference of opinion amongst them, what should be done with such worthless prisoners. Some were for keeping the cadi, and killing the poet and the ferash, and others for preserving the cadi for ransom, and making the ferash a slave; but all seemed to be for killing the poet.
I could not help feeling much compassion for this man, who in fact appeared to be from his manners, and general deportment, a man of consequence, although he had pleaded poverty; and seeing it likely to go very hard with him, I said, 'What folly are you about to commit? Kill the poet! why it will be worse than killing the goose with the golden egg. Don't you know that poets are sometimes very rich, and can, if they choose, become rich at all times, for they carry their wealth in their heads? Did you never hear of the king who gave a famous poet a miscal of gold for every stanza which he composed? Is not the same thing said of the present Shah? And—who knows?—perhaps your prisoner may be the King's poet himself.'
'Is that the case?' said one of the gang; 'then let him make stanzas for us immediately, and if they don't fetch a miscal each, he shall die.'
'Make on! make on!' exclaimed the whole of them to the poet, elated by so bright a prospect of gain; 'if you don't, we'll cut your tongue out.'
At length it was decided that all three should be preserved, and that as soon as they had made a division of the booty, we should return to the plains of Kipchâk.
Aslan then called us together, and every man was obliged to produce what he had stolen. Some brought bags of silver and others gold. Nor did they confine themselves to money only; gold heads of pipes, a silver ewer, a sable pelisse, shawls, and a variety of other things, were brought before us. When it came to my turn, I produced the heaviest bag of tomauns that had yet been given in, which secured to me the applause of the company.
'Well done! well done! Hajji,' said they all to me; 'he has become a good Turcoman: we could not have done better ourselves.'
My master in particular was very loud in his praises, and said, 'Hajji, my son, by my own soul, by the head of my father, I swear that you have done bravely, and I will give you one of my slaves for a wife, and you shall live with us—and you shall have a tent of your own, with twenty sheep, and we'll have a wedding, when I will give an entertainment to all the encampment.'
These words sunk deep in my mind, and only strengthened my resolution to escape on the very first opportunity; but in the meanwhile I was very intent upon the division of the spoil which was about to be made, as I hoped to be included for a considerable portion of it. To my great mortification they gave me not a single dinar. In vain I exclaimed, in vain I entreated; all I could hear was, 'If you say a word more, we will cut your head off.' So I was obliged to console myself with my original fifty ducats, whilst my companions were squabbling about their shares. At length it became a scene of general contention, and would have finished by bloodshed, if a thought had not struck one of the combatants, who exclaimed, 'We have got a cadi here; why should we dispute? He shall decide between us.
So immediately the poor cadi was set in the midst of them, and was made to legislate upon goods, part of which belonged in fact to himself, without even getting the percentage due to him as judge.
Chapter VII: Hajji Baba evinces a feeling disposition—History of the poet Asker
We made our retreat by the same road we came, but not with the same expedition, on account of our prisoners. They sometimes walked and sometimes rode.
The general appearance of the poet had, from the first moment, interested me in his misfortunes; and being a smatterer in learning myself, my vanity, perhaps, was flattered with the idea of becoming the protector of a man of letters in distress. Without appearing to show any particular partiality to him, I succeeded in being appointed to keep watch over him, under the plea that I would compel him to make verses; and conversing in our language, we were able to communicate with each other with great freedom without the fear of being understood. I explained my situation, and informed him of my intentions to escape, and assured him that I would do everything in my power to be useful to him. He seemed delighted to meet with kind words, where he expected nothing but ill-treatment; and when I had thus acquired his confidence, he did not scruple to talk to me freely about himself and his concerns. I discovered what I had before suspected, that he was a man of consequence, for he was no less a personage than the court poet, enjoying the title of Melek al Shoherah, or the Prince of Poets. He was on his road from Shiraz (whither he had been sent by the Shah on business) to Tehran, and had that very day reached Ispahan, when he had fallen into our hands. In order to beguile the tediousness of the road through the Salt Desert, after I had related my adventures, I requested him to give me an account of his, which he did in the following words:
'I was born in the city of Kerman, and my name is Asker. My father was for a long time governor of that city, during the reign of the eunuch Aga Mohammed Shah; and although the intrigues that were set on foot against him to deprive him of his government were very mischievous, still such was his respectability, that his enemies never entirely prevailed against him. His eyes were frequently in danger, but his adroitness preserved them; and he had at last the good fortune to die peaceably in his bed in the present Shah's reign. I was permitted to possess the property which he left, which amounted to about 10,000 tomauns. In my youth I was remarkable for the attention which I paid to my studies, and before I had arrived at the age of sixteen I was celebrated for writing a fine hand. I knew Hafiz entirely by heart, and had myself acquired such a facility in making verses, that I might almost have been said to speak in numbers. There was no subject that I did not attempt. I wrote on the loves of Leilah and Majnoun; I never heard the note of a nightingale, but I made it pour out its loves to the rose; and wherever I went I never failed to produce my poetry and chant it out in the assembly. At this time the king was waging war with Sadik Khan, a pretender to the throne, and a battle was fought, in which his majesty commanded in person, and which terminated in the defeat of the rebel. I immediately sang the king's praises. In describing the contest I made Rustam appear standing in a cloud over the field of battle; who seeing the king lay about him desperately, exclaims to himself, "Lucky wight am I to be here instead of below, for certainly I should never escape from his blows." I also exerted my wit, and was much extolled when I said, that Sadik Khan and his troops ought not to repine after all; for although they were vanquished, yet still the king, in his magnanimity, had exalted their heads to the skies. In this, I alluded to a pillar of skulls which his majesty had caused to be erected of the heads of the vanquished. These sayings of mine were reported to the Shah, and he was pleased to confer upon me the highest honour which a poet can receive; namely, causing my mouth to be filled with gold coin in the presence of the whole court, at the great audience. This led to my advancement: and I was appointed to attend at court, and to write verses on all occasions. In order to show my zeal, I represented to the king, that as in former times our great Ferdousi had written his "Shah Nameh," or the History of the Kings, it behooved him, who was greater than any monarch Persia ever possessed, to have a poet who should celebrate his reign; and I entreated permission to write a "Shahin Shah Nameh," or the History of the King of Kings; to which his majesty was most graciously pleased to give his consent. One of my enemies at court was the lord high treasurer, who, without any good reason, wanted to impose upon me a fine of 12,000 tomauns, which the king, on the plea that I was the first poet of the age, would not allow. It happened one day, that in a large assembly, the subject of discussion was the liberality of Mahmoud Shah Ghaznevi to Ferdousi, who gave him a miscal of gold for every couplet in the Shah Nameh. Anxious that the king should hear what I was about to say, I exclaimed: "The liberality of his present majesty is equal to that of Mahmoud Shah—equal did I say?—nay greater; because in the one case, it was exercised towards the most celebrated poet of Persia; and in my case, it is exercised towards the humble individual now before you."
'All the company were anxious to hear how and when such great favours had been conferred upon me. "In the first place," said I, "when my father died, he left a property of 10,000 tomauns; the king permitted me to inherit it; he might have taken it away—there are 10,000 tomauns. Then the lord high treasurer wanted to fine me 12,000 tomauns; the king did not allow it—there are 12,000 more. Then the rest is made up of what I have subsisted upon ever since I have been in the Shah's service, and so my sum is made out." And then I took to my exclamations of "May the king live for ever!—may his shadow never be less!—may he conquer all his enemies!"—all of which I flattered myself was duly reported to his majesty: and some days after I was invested with a dress of honour, consisting of a brocade coat, a shawl for the waist, and one for the head, and a brocade cloak trimmed with fur. I was also honoured with the title of Prince of Poets, by virtue of a royal firman, which, according to the usual custom, I wore in my cap for three successive days, receiving the congratulations of my friends, and feeling of greater consequence than I had ever done before. I wrote a poem, which answered the double purpose of gratifying my revenge for the ill-treatment I had received from the lord high treasurer, and of conciliating his good graces; for it had a double meaning all through: what he in his ignorance mistook for praise, was in fact satire; and as he thought that the high-sounding words in which it abounded (which, being mostly Arabic, he did not understand) must contain an eulogium, he did not in the least suspect that they were in fact expressions containing the grossest disrespect. In truth, I had so cloaked my meaning, that, without my explanation, it would have been difficult for any one to have discovered it. But it was not alone in poetry that I excelled. I had a great turn for mechanics, and several of my inventions were much admired at court. I contrived a wheel for perpetual motion, which only wants one little addition to make it go round for ever. I made different sorts of coloured paper; I invented a new sort of ink-stand; and was on the high road to making cloth, when I was stopped by his majesty, who said to me, "Asker, stick to your poetry: whenever I want cloth, my merchants bring it from Europe." And I obeyed his instructions; for on the approaching festival of the new year's day, when it is customary for each of his servants to make him a present, I wrote something so happy about a toothpick, I which I presented in a handsome case, that the principal nobleman of the court, at the great public audience of that sacred day, were ordered to kiss me on the mouth for my pains. I compared his majesty's teeth to pearls, and the toothpick to the pearl-diver; his gums to a coral-bank, near which pearls are frequently found; and the long beard and mustachios that encircled the mouth to the undulations of the ocean. I was complimented by everybody present upon the fertility of my imagination. I was assured that Ferdousi was a downright ass when compared to me. By such means, I enjoyed great favour with the Shah; and his majesty being anxious to give me an opportunity of acquiring wealth as well as honours, appointed me to be the bearer of the usual annual dress of honour which he sends to his son, the prince of the province of Fars. I was received at Shiraz with the greatest distinctions, and presents were made to me to a considerable amount; which, in addition to what I had levied from the villages on the road, made a handsome sum. The event of last night has deprived me of all: all has been stolen from me, and here you see me the most miserable of human beings. If you do not manage to help me to escape, I fear that I shall die a prisoner. Perhaps the king may be anxious to release me, but certainly he will never pay one farthing for my ransom. The lord high treasurer is not my friend; and since I told the grand vizier, that with all his wisdom he did not know how to wind up a watch, much less how it was made, I fear that he also will not care for my loss. The money, with which I might have purchased my ransom, the barbarians have taken; and where to procure a similar sum I know not. It is my fate to have fallen into this disaster, therefore I must not repine; but let me entreat you, as you are a fellow Mussulman—as you hate Omar, and love Ali—let me entreat you to help me in my distress.'
Chapter VIII: Hajji Baba escapes from the Turcomans—The meaning of 'falling from the frying-pan into the fire' illustrated
As soon as the poet had finished his narrative, I assured him that I would do everything in my power to serve him; but I recommended patience to him for the present, as I had not yet devised the means of procuring my own liberty, and foresaw great difficulties in saving him at the same time. It would be impossible to evade the watchfulness of our masters, as long as we were in the open desert: their horses were as good as mine, and they were much better acquainted with the country than I was. To run away from them under these circumstances would be madness; therefore it was only left us to watch my opportunity that might be given us of escape.
We had reached the limits of the Salt Desert, and were about crossing the high road that leads from Tehran to Meshed, about twenty parasangs to the east of Damgan, when Aslan Sultan made a halt, and proposed that we should remain concealed for a day in the broken ground that borders the road, in the hopes that fortune might throw us in the way of a passing caravan, which it was his intention that we should pillage. At the very dawn of the following clay, a spy, who had been stationed on an adjacent hill, came in great haste to report that he saw clouds of dust rising in the direction of Damgan, and approaching towards us, on the road leading to Meshed.
Immediately we were all upon the alert. The Turcomans left their prisoners, bound hand and foot, on the spot where we had rested, with the intention of returning to take them up as soon as we should have rifled the caravan, and, fully equipped, we sallied forth with great caution, determined on blood and plunder.
Aslan himself proceeded before the rest, in order to reconnoitre; and calling me to him, said, 'Now, Hajji, here is an opportunity for distinguishing yourself. You shall accompany me; and you will observe the precautions I use previous to showing our whole body, which it may be necessary for you to know, in order that you may be able to conduct such an enterprise yourself on some future occasion. I take you with me, in case I should be obliged to use an interpreter; for frequently in these caravans, there is not a person who understands our language. We will approach as near as we can, perhaps have a parley with the conductor, and if we cannot make terms with him, we will fall on with our whole party.'
As the travellers approached, I perceived that Aslan Sultan became uneasy. 'This is no caravan, I fear,' said he; 'they march in too compact a body: besides, I hear no bells; the dust is too great in one spot. I see spears!—it is an immense cavalcade—five led horses!—this is no game for us.'
In fact, as they approached, it was easy to discover that it was no caravan, but some great personage, the governor of a province at least, who was travelling, attended by a numerous escort of horsemen and servants, and with all the pomp and glitter usual on such occasions.
My heart leaped within me when I saw this, for here was an excellent opportunity for escape. Could I approach near enough to be taken prisoner by them, without exciting any previous suspicion in my master, I should be safe; and although I might be ill-treated at first, still I trusted to my eloquence to make my story believed. Accordingly, I said to my companion, 'Let us approach nearer'; and, without waiting for his permission, I excited my horse onwards. He immediately followed, with an intention of stopping me; but we had no sooner cleared the small elevated ground behind which we had posted ourselves, than we came in full view of the whole party, and were scarcely a bow-shot from them. As soon as we were discovered, some six or seven of their best horsemen were detached from the rest of the body, and, at the fullest speed of their horses, came towards us. We turned about to fly: as much as Aslan urged on his steed, so much did I restrain mine; and by this maneuver I was very soon overtaken and seized. To be knocked off my horse, disarmed, plundered of my fifty ducats, my razors and all my other effects, was but the business of a few seconds; and although I assured my new masters that I was in no intention to leave them, still they persisted in tying my arms behind me, with my own shawl, which they took from round my waist for that purpose. Thus pinioned, and receiving blows every now and then, because I did not move fast enough, I was dragged before their chief, who had made a halt, surrounded by his attendants.
From the sort of attentions which he received, and the low inclinations of the body that were made before him, I imagined that he must be a royal personage, and I was soon informed as much, when I came near; for several blows on the head were given me, as hints to make me prostrate myself before a shahzadeh, or prince. A large circle being made, he ordered me to be released, and, as soon as I felt myself free, at one bound I disengaged myself from those near me, and seizing upon the skirt of his cloak, as he was seated on his horse, exclaimed, 'Penah be shahzadeh! protection from the prince.' One of the guards rushed forward to punish my audacity; but the prince would not allow the sacred custom to be infringed, and promised me his protection. Ordering his servants not to molest me, he, at the same time, commanded me to relate how I came to be placed in the predicament in which I now stood.
Falling on my knees, and kissing the ground, I related my story in as concise a manner as possible; and, to corroborate all that I had said, added, that if he would order his horsemen to attack the party of Turcomans, who still were close at hand, they might release the king's poet, with two other Persians, who were prisoners in their hands, and they would fully confirm all that I had asserted.
I had no sooner said this than the horsemen, who had pursued Aslan Sultan, returned, with looks of great dismay, swearing by Ali and by the head of the king, that an immense body of Turcomans, at least 1,000 strong, were marching down upon us, and that the prince must prepare to fight. In vain I explained to them that they were only twenty in number—no body would believe me; I was treated as a spy and a liar, and every one said that if the Turcomans did attack, they would put me to death on the spot. The party then proceeded onwards at a good pace, looking about in all directions for the expected enemy, and betraying all those symptoms of apprehension which the very name of Turcoman excites throughout the whole of Persia.
My own horse had been taken from me, and I was permitted to ride upon a baggage mule, where I had time to ponder over my wretched fate and miserable prospects. Without a farthing in my pocket, without a friend, I saw nothing before me but starvation. I had not yet become a sufficiently good Mussulman to receive comfort from predestination, and I absolutely sobbed aloud at my own folly, for having voluntarily been the cause of my present misery. That fond partiality for my own countrymen, which used to predominate so powerfully in my breast when I was a prisoner, entirely forsook me here, and I cursed them aloud.
'You call yourselves Mussulmans!' said I to those around me: 'you have not the feelings of dogs. Dogs did I say? You are worse than Christian dogs—the Turcomans are men compared to you.'
Then when I found that this sort of language only produced laughter in my auditors, I tried what entreaty would do. 'For the love of Imam Hossein, for the sake of the Prophet, by the souls of your children, why do you treat a stranger thus? Am I not a Mussulman like yourselves? What have I done that I should be made to devour this grief? I sought refuge amongst you as friends, and I am thrust away as an enemy.'
For all this I got no consolation, excepting from an old muleteer, by name Ali Katir, who had just lighted his kalian, or water pipe, and giving it to me to smoke, said, 'My son, everything in this world is in the hand of God.' Pointing to the mule upon which he rode, he added, 'If God has made this animal white, can Ali Katir make it black? It one day gets a feed of corn; on the next it browses upon a thistle. Can we contend with fate? Smoke your pipe now and be happy, and be thankful that it is no worse with you. Hafiz says, "Every moment of pleasure that you enjoy, account it gain—who can say what will be the event of any thing?"'
This speech of the muleteer soothed me a little, and as he found that I was as well versed in Hafiz as he, and not backward in permitting myself to be comforted, he treated me with much kindness, and made me a partaker of his mess during the remainder of the journey. He informed me that the prince, into whose hands I had fallen, was the Shah's fifth son, who had lately been installed in the government of the province of Khorassan, and was now on his road to Meshed, the seat of his jurisdiction. He was escorted by a greater number of attendants than ordinary, on account of the alarming state of the Turcoman frontier, and it was said that he had instructions to commence very active operations against that people, as many of whose heads as possible he was invited to send to Tehran, to be piled up before the gate of the royal palace; and you may account yourself very fortunate,' added the muleteer, 'that yours was not taken off your shoulders. Had you happened to be fair, with little eyes, and without much hair, instead of being a dark man, as you are, you certainly would have been put to death, and your head have been pickled, and made to pass for that of a Turcoman.'
When we had reached our resting-place at night, which was a lonely caravanserai half in ruins, situated on the skirts of the desert, I determined to endeavour to procure admittance to the prince, and to make an effort to regain my fifty ducats, and my horse and arms, which I made no scruple in claiming as my own, notwithstanding a certain little voice within me, which told me that another had almost as much right to them as I had. I accordingly watched an opportunity, just before the evening prayer, of presenting myself to him. He was seated on a carpet that had been spread on the terrace of the caravanserai, reposing himself on his cushion, and before his attendants had time to beat me off, I exclaimed, 'Arzi darum, I have a petition to make.' Upon which he ordered me to approach, and asked me what I wanted? I complained of the treatment I had received from his servants who had first seized me—related how they had robbed me of my fifty ducats; and then entreated that my horse and arms might be restored to me. He inquired of those surrounding him who the men were that I complained of, and when their names were mentioned, he sent his chief tent-pitcher to conduct them to him. As soon as they appeared, for they were two, I recognized the aggressors, and affirmed them to be such to the prince.
'Sons of dogs,' said he to them, 'where is the money you stole from this man?'
'We took nothing,' they immediately exclaimed.
'We shall soon see that,' answered he. 'Call the ferashes,' said he to one of his officers, 'and let them beat the rogues on the soles of their feet till they produce the fifty ducats.'
They were immediately seized, and when their feet were in the air, strongly tied in the noose, and after receiving a few blows, they confessed that they had taken the money, and produced it. It was forthwith carried to the prince, who deliberately counted it over, and, putting it under the cushion upon which he was reclining, released the culprits, and said in a loud voice to me, 'You are dismissed.' I stood with my mouth wide open, hoping to see the money handed over to me, when his master of the ceremonies took me by the shoulders and pushed me away. I exclaimed, 'And my money, where is it?'
'What does he say?' said the prince: 'give him the shoe if he speaks again.'
When the master of the ceremonies, taking off his high green slipper, struck me over the mouth with the heel of it, shod with iron, saying, 'Do you speak to a king's son thus? Go in peace, and keep your eyes open, or you'll have your ears cut off'; and so I was pushed and dragged violently away.
I returned in utter despair to my muleteer, who appeared not in the least surprised at what had happened and said, 'What could you expect more? After all, is he not a prince? When once he or any man in power gets possession of a thing, do you think that they will ever restore it? You might as well expect a mule to give up a mouthful of fresh grass, when once it has got it within its mouth, as a prince to give up money that has once been in his hands.'
Chapter IX: Hajji Baba, in his distress, becomes a saka, or water-carrier
We reached Meshed in due time, and the prince made his solemn entry amidst all the noise, parade, and confusion, attendant upon such ceremonies. I found myself a solitary being, in a strange city, distant from my friends, and from any creature to whom I might look for assistance, and without even a pair of razors to comfort me. When I looked at my present means, I found that they consisted of five tomauns—which I had managed to secrete from the sack I had stolen in the caravanserai, and which I put between the lining of my cap—of a brown woollen coat, of a sheep-skin jacket, a shirt, a pair of trousers, and a heavy pair of boots. I had lived upon the muleteer as long as he enjoyed the daily allowance of provisions that he received during the time when he was attached to the suite of the prince; but now that he and his mules were discharged, I could not expect that he should continue to support me. I thought of again taking to my profession; but who would trust their throats to a man who had the reputation of being a Turcoman spy? Besides, although I might purchase razors, yet my means were not large enough to set up a shop, and I was determined not to become a journeyman.
My friend the muleteer, who knew the ways and means of Meshed, recommended me strongly to become a saka, or water-carrier. 'You are young, and strong,' said he: 'you have a good voice, and would entice people to drink by a harmonious cry. You have besides a great talent for cant and palaver, and for laughing at one's beard. The number of pilgrims who come to Meshed to perform their devotions at the tomb of the Imâm is great, and charity being one of the principal instruments which they use for the salvation of their souls, they give freely to those who promise them the best reward. You must sell each draught in the name and for the sake Imâm Hossein, our favourite saint. Always offer it gratis; but be sure you get money in hand before you pour it out; and when your customer has drunk, say, with great emphasis, 'May your draught be propitious! May the holy Imâm take you under his protection! May you never suffer the thirst of the blessed Hossein!' and such like sort of speeches, which you must chant out so loud that everybody may hear you. In short, to devotees who come some hundreds of parasangs to say their prayers, you may say anything and everything, and you will be sure to be believed. I myself have been a saka at Meshed, and know the trade. It has enabled me to buy a string of mules, and to be the man you see.'
I followed my friend's advice. I forthwith laid out my money in buying a leather sack, with a brass cock, which I slung round my body, and also a bright drinking cup. After having filled my sack with water, and let it soak for some time, in order to do away the bad smell of the leather, I sallied forth, and proceeded to the tomb, where I immediately began my operations. The cry I adopted was 'Water, water! in the name of the Imâm, water.' This I chanted with all the force and swell of my lungs, and having practised under the tuition of the muleteer for two days before, I was assured that I acquitted myself as well as the oldest practitioners. As soon as I appeared, I immediately drew the attention of the other sakas, who seemed to question the right I had to exercise their profession. When I showed myself at the reservoir, to draw water, they would have quarrelled with me, and one attempted to push me in; but they found I was resolute, and that my resolution was backed by a set of strong and active limbs, and therefore confined themselves to abusive language, of which being the entire master, I soon got the lead, and completely silenced them. Nature, in fact, seemed to have intended me for a saka. The water which I had a moment before drawn from a filthy reservoir, I extolled as having flowed from a spring created by Ali in person equal to the sacred well of Zem Zem, and a branch of the river which flows through Paradise. It is inconceivable how it was relished, and how considerable was the money I received for giving it gratis. I was always on the watch to discover when a new set of pilgrims should arrive, and before they had even alighted from their mules, all dusty from the road, and all happy at having escaped the Turcomans, I plied them in the name of the Prophet with a refreshing draught, and made them recollect that, this being the first devotional act which they performed on reaching Meshed, so out of gratitude for their safe arrival, they ought to reward me liberally; and my admonitions were scarcely ever disregarded.
The commemoration of the death of Hossein, which is so religiously kept throughout Persia, was now close at hand, and I determined to put myself into training to appear as the water-carrier, who on the last day of the festival, which is held the most sacred, performs a conspicuous character in the tragedy. This was to be acted in public before the prince in the great open square of the city, and I expected to acquire much reputation and profit from the feat of strength which I should perform, which consists of carrying an immense sack full of water on the back, accompanied by additional exertions. I had a rival, who accomplished the task on the last festival; but as the sack I was about to carry contained infinitely more water than he could support, my claim to superiority was not to be disputed. However, I was advised to be on my guard, for he was of a jealous character, and would not lose an opportunity of doing me an injury if he could. When the day arrived, the prince being seated in an upper room situated over the gate of his palace, and the whole population of the city assembled to witness the religious ceremonies, I appeared naked to the waist, with my body streaming with blood, slowly walking under the weight of my immense sack. Having reached the window at which the prince was seated, I attracted his notice by loud exclamations for his happiness and prosperity. He threw me down a gold coin, and expressed himself pleased with my performance. In my exultation I invited several boys, who were near at hand for the purpose, to pile themselves upon my load, which they did, to the astonishment of the crowd, who encouraged me by their cries and applause. I called for another boy, when my rival, who had watched his opportunity, sprang forwards and mounted himself on the very top of all, hoping, no doubt, to crush me: but, exerting myself to the utmost of my strength, I carried my burden clean off, amidst the animating shouts of the staring multitude. But although in the heat of the exertion I felt no inconvenience, yet when I was disencumbered I found that my back was sprained so severely, that I was totally unfitted for the trade of a water-carrier for the future. I therefore sold my sack and other articles, and, with the money that I had gained in water-selling, found myself well off, compared to the deplorable situation in which I was on my arrival at Meshed. My friend the muleteer had departed some time before the festival with a caravan for Tehran, so I was deprived of his counsels. I should have demanded justice for the injury done me by my rival, and might have dragged him before the cadi; but I was assured that in the Mohammedan law there is no provision made for a sprain. It is written an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but there is no sprain for a sprain. Had I had some powerful protector, who would have prosecuted the business for me, perhaps I might have got redress; but a miserable creature like myself, unknown and unfriended, I could have gained nothing, and should perhaps have stood a chance of losing the little money I had acquired.
Chapter X: He makes a soliloquy, and becomes an itinerant vendor of smoke
I held a consultation with myself as to what I should do next for my livelihood. Various walks in life were open to me. The begging line was an excellent one in Meshed, and, judging from my success as water-carrier, I should very soon have been at the head of the profession. I might also have become a lûti, and kept a bear; but it required some apprenticeship to learn the tricks of the one, and to know how to tame the other: so I gave that up. Still I might have followed my own profession, and have taken a shop; but I could not bear the thoughts of settling, particularly in so remote a town as Meshed. At length I followed the bent of my inclination, and, as I was myself devotedly fond of smoking, I determined to become an itinerant seller of smoke. Accordingly I bought pipes of various sizes, a wooden tray, containing the pipe-heads, which was strapped round my waist, an iron pot for fire, which I carried in my hand, a pair of iron pincers, a copper jug for water, that was suspended by a hook, behind my back, and some long bags for my tobacco. All these commodities were fastened about my body, and when I was fully equipped, I might be said to look like a porcupine with all its quills erect. My tobacco was of various sorts—Tabas, Shiraz, Susa, and Damascus. It is true that I was not very scrupulous about giving it pure; for with a very small quantity of the genuine leaf I managed to make a large store, with the assistance of different sorts of dungs. I had a great tact in discovering amongst my customers the real connoisseur, and to him I gave it almost genuine. My whole profits, in fact, depended upon my discrimination of characters. To those of the middling ranks, I gave it half-mixed; to the lower sort, three-quarters; and to the lowest, almost without any tobacco at all. Whenever I thought I could perceive a wry face, I immediately exerted my ingenuity in favour of the excellence of my tobacco. I showed specimens of the good, descanted on its superior qualities, and gave the history of the very gardener who had reared it, and pledged myself to point out the very spot in his grounds where it grew.
I became celebrated in Meshed for the excellence of my pipes. My principal customer was a dervish, who was so great a connoisseur that I never dared to give him any but pure tobacco; and although I did not gain much by his custom, as he was not very exact in his payments, yet his conversation was so agreeable, and he recommended so many of his friends to me, that I cultivated his good will to the utmost of my power.
Dervish Sefer (for that was his name) was a man of peculiar aspect. He had a large aquiline nose, piercing black eyes, a thick beard, and a great quantity of jet black hair flowing over his shoulders. His conical cap was embroidered all over with sentences from the Koran, and holy invocations: the skin of a red deer was fastened loosely upon his back, with the hairy side outwards: he bore in hand a long steel staff, which he generally carried on his shoulder, and in the other a calabash, suspended by three chains, which he extended whenever he deigned to ask the charity of passengers. In his girdle he wore large agate clasps, from which hung a quantity of heavy wooden beads; and, as he swung himself along through the streets and bazaars, there was so much of wildness and solicitude in all his words and actions, that he did not fail to inspire a certain awe in all beholders. This, I afterwards learn, was put on, in order to suit the character which he had adopted; for when he smoked my pipes, if no one chanced to be present, he was the most natural and unreserved of beings. Our acquaintance soon improved into intimacy, and at length he introduced me into a small circle of dervishes, men of his own turn and profession, with whom he lived almost exclusively, and I was invited to frequent their meetings. It is true that this did not suit my views in the smoking line, for they amongst them consumed more of my good tobacco than all the rest of my other customers put together; but their society was so agreeable that I could not resist the temptation.
Dervish Sefer, one evening when we had smoked more than usual, said to me, 'Hajji Baba, you are too much of a man to be a seller of smoke all your life:—why do you not turn dervish, like us? We hold men's beards as cheap as dirt; and although our existence is precarious, yet it is one of great variety, as well as of great idleness. We look upon mankind as fair game—we live upon their weakness and credulity; and, from what I have seen of you, I think you would do honour to our profession, and in time become as celebrated as even the famous Sheikh Saadi himself.' This speech was applauded by the other two, who pressed my entering upon their profession. I was nothing loath, but I pleaded my ignorance of the necessary qualifications.
'How is it possible,' said I, 'that a being so ignorant and unexperienced as I am can at once attain to all the learning requisite for a dervish? I know how to read and write, 'tis true; I have gone through the Koran, and have my Hafiz and Saadi nearly by heart; besides which, I have read a great part of the Shah Nameh of Ferdûsi, but beyond that I am totally ignorant.'
'Ah, my friend,' said Dervish Sefer, 'little do you know of dervishes, and still less of humankind. It is not great learning that is required to make a dervish: assurance is the first ingredient. With one-fiftieth part of the accomplishments that you have mentioned, and with only a common share of effrontery, I promise you, that you may command not only the purses, but even the lives of your hearers. By impudence I have been a prophet, by impudence I have wrought miracles, by impudence I have restored the dying to health—by impudence, in short, I lead a life of great ease, and am feared and respected by those who, like you, do not know what dervishes are. If I chose to give myself the trouble, and incur the risks which Mahomed himself did, I might even now become as great a prophet as he. It would be as easy for me to cut the moon in two with my finger as it was for him, provided I once made my hearers have confidence in me; and impudence will do that, and more, if exerted in a proper manner.'
When Dervish Sefer had done talking, his companions applauded what he had said, and they related so many curious anecdotes of the feats which they had performed, that I became very anxious to know more of these extraordinary men. They promised to relate the history of their lives at our next meeting, and, in the meanwhile, recommended me strongly to turn my thoughts to a line of life more dignified, and fuller of enjoyment, than that of a vagabond seller of adulterated smoke.
- It is perhaps almost needless to remind the reader, that the Mussulmans are divided into two inimical sects; viz. suni and shiah; and that the Turks are of the former, and the Persians of the latter, persuasion. The Sunies hold, that Omar, Osman and Abubekr, were the lawful successors of Mohamed. The Shiahs assert that they were usurpers, and that Ali, his son-in-law, was the next in succession.
- This is the Persian pipe, made upon the principle of the Indian hookah.
- Officers whose duties are to find quarters for the pilgrims, establish the prices of provisions, make arrangements for their supply, regulate the hours of march, settle disputes, announce the time of prayer, etc.
- This takes place in the spring, when the sun enters Aries, and is called the No Ruz, or the new day. The festival is not of Mohamedan origin, and dates from very remote antiquity.
- By heel ropes is meant those fastenings which are used to secures horses in the East.
- The Turcomans, as well as the Turks, their descendants, are of the Suni persuasion: with them green is a sacred colour; but it is not so among the Shiahs.
- The word Sultan, which in Europe is generally used to designate the sovereign of Turkey, among the Tartars, Turcomans, etc., means captain or chief, and is given frequently to subalterns, as well as to those of higher rank.
- Banou implies a female head or chief; thus in the Arabian Nights, Paribanou, or more properly Peribanou means the chief of the fairies. The King of Persia's principal wife is styled Banou Harem, chief of the harem.
- All classes of Mohamedans shave the crown of the head. In Persia two patches of hair are left behind each ear by way of curls. In Turkey, a tuft is left on the very summit of the head.
- The Turks differ materially from the Persians in their tastes for women, the one admiring corpulency, whilst the latter show greater refinement, and esteem those forms which are mostly prized in Europe.
- The races that take place among the Turcomans and the Persians are intended to try the bottom, rather than the actual speed of their horses.
- The bread here alluded to is baked on small and convex iron plates, and when prepared is about the thickness of brown paper.
- Rustam is the fabulous hero of Persian history, so much celebrated in the Shah Nameh as a paragon of strength and courage. His duel with Asfendiar, which lasted two whole days, is the theme of Persian romance.
- A parasang is equivalent to about three and a half geographical miles.
- A full-equipped horseman in the East generally carries with him an iron peg, to which is affixed a rope terminated by a noose, with which he pickets his horse wherever he may alight. The rope is buttoned to the fore-leg, whilst the peg is driven into the ground with a stone.
- A tomaun is the principal gold coin of Persia, worth about 14s.
- The dinar is the smallest denomination of money in Persia.
- Twenty-four grains make one miscal.
- The loves of these personages have been treated by various Oriental writers. Majnoun is looked upon as the model of a lover, and Leilah as the most beautiful and perfect of her sex.
- In sketching the history of the poet Asker, the author has attempted to record part of the life of the late Fatteh Ali Khan, poet- laureate to the Shah, a most ingenious and amiable man, well known to the English who were at Tehran in the years 1812 and 1813.
- Seizing the skirt of a man in authority, or the heel ropes of his horses in the stable, are as great protection to a culprit in Persia as the precincts of a church are in Roman Catholic countries.
- It is no uncommon circumstance in Persia to find men of the lowest estate well versed in their poets. The Persians are eminently a poetical people.
- The luties are privileged buffoons, usually keeping monkeys, bears, and other animals.