The adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan/16
Chapter XVI: He makes plans for the future, and is involved in a quarrel
I determined to wait the arrival of the poet, and through his interference to endeavour to get into some situation, where I might gain my bread honestly, and acquire a chance of advancing myself in life, without having recourse to the tricks and frauds which I had hitherto practised: for I was tired of herding with the low and the vulgar; and I saw so many instances before me of men rising in the world, and acquiring both riches and honour, who had sprung from an origin quite as obscure as my own, that I already anticipated my elevation, and even settled in my own mind how I should act when I was a prime vizier.
'Who,' said I to myself, 'was the Shah's chief favourite, Ismael Beg tellai, or the golden, but a ferash, or a tent pitcher? He is neither handsomer nor better spoken than I; and if ever there should be an opportunity of comparing our horsemanship, I think one who has been brought up amongst the Turcomans would show him what riding is, in spite of his reputation. Well; and the famous lord high treasurer, who fills the king's coffers with gold, and who does not forget his own—who and what was he? A barber's son is quite as good as a greengrocer's, and, in our respective cases, a great deal better too; for I can read and write, whereas his excellency, as report says, can do neither. He eats and drinks what he likes; he puts on a new coat every day; and after the Shah, has the choice of all the beauties of Persia; and all this without half my sense, or half my abilities: for to hear the world talk, one must believe him to be little better than a khûr be teshdeed, i.e. a doubly accented ass.'
I continued wrapt up in these sort of meditations, seated with my back against the wall of one of the crowded avenues which lead to the gate of the royal palace, and had so worked up my imagination by the prospect of my future greatness, that on rising to walk away, I instinctively pushed the crowd from before me, as if such respect from them was due to one of my lofty pretensions. Some stared at me, some abused me, and others took me for a madman; and indeed when I came to myself, and looked at my tattered clothes and my beggarly appearance, I could not help smiling at their surprise, and at my folly; and straightway went into the cloth bazaar in the determination of fitting myself out in decent apparel, as the first step towards my change of life.
Making my way through the crowd, I was stopped by a violent quarrel between three men, who were abusing each other with more than ordinary violence. I pushed into the circle which surrounded them, and there, to my dismay, discovered the courier, whom I had deceived, seconded by a peasant, attacking the horse-dealer, whom they had just pulled off the horse, which I had sold him.
'That is my horse,' said the peasant.
'That is my saddle,' said the courier.
'They are mine,' exclaimed the horse-dealer.
I immediately saw the danger in which I stood, and was about to slink away, when I was perceived by the horse-dealer, who seized hold of my girdle, and said, 'This is the man I bought the horse of.' As soon as I was recognized by the courier, immediately the whole brunt of the quarrel, like a thunder-cloud, burst on my head, and I was almost overwhelmed by its violence. Rascal, thief, cheat, were epithets which were dinned into my ears without mercy.
'Where's my horse?' cried one.
'Give me my saddle,' vociferated the other.
'Return me my money,' roared out the third.
'Take him to the cadi,' said the crowd.
In vain I bawled, swore, and bade defiance; in vain I was all smoothness and conciliation: it was impossible for the first ten minutes to gain a hearing: every one recited his griefs. The courier's rage was almost ungovernable; the peasant complained of the injustice which had been done him; and the horse-dealer called me every sort of name, for having robbed him of his money. I first talked to the one, then coaxed the other, and endeavoured to bully the third. To the courier I said, 'Why are you so angry? there is your saddle safe and sound, you can ask no more.' To the peasant I exclaimed, 'You could not say more if your beast had actually been killed; take him and walk away, and return thanks to Allah that it is no worse.' As for the horse-dealer, I inveighed against him with all the bitterness of a man who had been cheated of his property:—'You have a right to talk indeed of having been deceived, when to this moment you know that you have only paid me one-half of the cost of the horse, and that you wanted to fob me off with a dying ass for the other half.'
I offered to return him the money; but this he refused: he insisted upon my paying him the keep of the horse besides: upon which a new quarrel ensued, in which arguments were used on both sides which convinced neither party, and consequently we immediately adjourned to the daroga or police magistrate, who, we agreed, should decide the question.
We found him at his post, at the cross streets in the bazaar, surrounded by his officers, who, with their long sticks, were in readiness to inflict the bastinado on the first offender. I opened the case, and stated all the circumstances of it; insisting very strongly on the evident intention to cheat me, which the horse-dealer had exhibited. The horse-dealer answered me, and showed that as the horse did not belong to him, it being stolen from another, he had no right to pay for its keep.
The question puzzled the daroga so much, that he declined interfering, and was about ordering us to the tribunal of the cadi, when a decrepit old man, a bystander, said, 'Why do you make so much difficulty about a plain question? when the horse-dealer shall have paid the hajji the remaining half of the price of the horse, then the hajji shall pay for the keep of the beast, as long as it was in the horse-dealer's possession.'
Every one cried Barîk Allah! Barîk Allah! Praise be to God! and right or wrong, they all appeared so struck by the specious justice of the decision, that the daroga dismissed us, and told us to depart in peace.
I did not lose a moment in repaying to the horse-dealer the purchase-money of the horse, and in getting from him a receipt in full: it was only after he had settled with me that he began to ponder over the merits of the decision, and seemed extremely puzzled to discover why, if he was entitled to the horse's keep at all, he was not entitled to it, whether he had paid me half or the whole of the money? He seemed to think, that he for once had been duped; and very luckily his rage was averted from me to the daroga, who he very freely accused of being a puzzle-headed fool, and one who had no more pretension to law than he had to honesty.