The adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan/18

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Chapter XVIII: The poet returns from captivity—the consequences of it for Hajji Baba[edit]

I took my road towards the poet's house, in the hope of gaining some intelligence about him. From the head of the street, I perceived a crowd surrounding the gate, and I was soon informed that he had just arrived, and had gone through the ceremony of making his entrance over the roof instead of through the door; for such is the custom when a man who has been thought dead returns home alive.

I immediately pushed through the crowd, made my way into the room where the poet was seated, and with every demonstration of great joy, congratulated him upon his safe arrival. He did not recognize me, and even when I had explained who I was, he could scarcely believe that one so trim and smart as I then was could be the same dirty ragged ruffian whom he had known before.

The apartment was filled with all sorts of people, some happy at his return, others full of disappointment. Among the latter, and those who paid him the finest compliments, was Mirza Fûzûl, the man who had been nominated to succeed him in his situation, and who did not cease exclaiming, 'Your place has been empty, and our eyes are enlightened,' as long as he remained in the room. At length, a great bustle was heard, the doors were opened, and an officer from the king was announced, who commanded the poet forthwith to repair to the presence, which he did in the very clothes, boots, dust and all, in which he had travelled.

The party then broke up, and I left the house in the determination of returning the next day; but as I was going out of the yard, I met the Nazir, with whom I had had a conversation as before related. He did not appear to me to be among the happy ones. 'In the name of Allah,' said I, 'you see that my words have proved true: the Khan is alive!'

'True enough,' answered he, with a sigh; 'he is alive; and may his life be a long one! but God is great!' and then making two or three more similar exclamations, he left me, apparently full of care and misery.

I passed the remainder of the day in strolling about, and building castles in the air. I walked through the bazaars, went to the mosques, and lounged among the idlers, who are always to be found in great numbers about the gate of the royal palace. Here, the news of the day was the poet's return, and the reception which he had met with from the Shah. Some said, that his majesty, upon hearing of his arrival had ordained that it could not be; that he was dead, and must be so. Others, that, on the contrary, the king was happy at the intelligence, and had ordered ten tomauns to be given to the bearer of it. The truth, however, was this; the king had been disappointed at the poet's resurrection, because it destroyed the arrangements he had made with respect to his house and effects, and he was not disposed to give him a good reception; but Asker who well knew his majesty's passion for poetry, and particularly of that kind which sings the royal praises, had long since foreseen the event, and had provided himself with an impromptu, which he had composed even when he was living an exile among the Turcomans. This he repeated at the proper moment; and thus the tide of the king's favour, which was running full against him, he entirely turned, and made it flow to his advantage. In short, he had his mouth filled with gold for his pains, was invested with a magnificent dress, and was reinstated in his situation and his possessions.

I lost no time in again congratulating my adopted patron, and did not miss a single morning in attending his levee. Finding that he was favourably inclined towards me, I made known to him my situation, and entreated him either to give me a place in his household, or to recommend me as a servant to one of his acquaintance. I had found out that the Nazir's despondency at his master's return proceeded from the fear of being detected in certain frauds which he had committed on his property; and, as I hoped that I might eventually succeed to his situation, I expressed the greatest zeal for the poet's interest, and disclosed all that I knew concerning the delinquency of his servant. However, I did not succeed; for whether he had a clearer insight into characters than I gave him credit for, or whether the Nazir managed to prove his innocence, and make me suspected, I know not; but the fact was, that he kept his place, and I continued to be an attendant at the levees.

At length, one morning Asker called me to him, and said, 'Hajji, my friend, you know how thankful I have always expressed myself for your kindness to me when we were prisoners together in the hands of the Turcomans, and now I will prove my gratitude. I have recommended you strongly to Mirza Ahmak, the king's Hakîm Bashi, or chief physician, who is in want of a servant; and I make no doubt, that if you give him satisfaction, he will teach you his art, and put you in the way of making your fortune. You have only to present yourself before him, saying that you come from me, and he will immediately assign you an employment.'

I had no turn for the practice of physic, and recollecting the story which had been related to me by the dervish, I held the profession in contempt: but my case was desperate; I had spent my last dinâr, and therefore I had nothing left me but to accept of the doctor's place. Accordingly, the next morning I proceeded to his house, which was situated in the neighbourhood of the palace; and as I entered a dull, neglected court-yard, I there found several sick persons, some squatted against the wall, others supported by their friends, and others again with bottles in their hands, waiting the moment when the physician should leave the women's apartments to transact business in public. I proceeded to an open window, where those who were not privileged to enter the room stood, and there I took my station until I should be called in. Within the room were several persons who came to pay their court to the doctor (for every man who is an officer of the court has his levee), and from remarking them, I learnt how necessary it was, in order to advance in life, to make much of everything, even the dog or the cat, if they came in my way, of him who can have access to the ear of men in power. I made my reflections upon the miseries I had already undergone, and was calculating how long it would take me to go through a course of cringing and flattery to be entitled to the same sorts of attention myself, when I perceived, by the bows of those near me, that the doctor had seated himself at the window, and that the business of the day had commenced.

The Hakîm was an old man, with an eye sunk deep in his head, high cheek bones, and a scanty beard. He had a considerable bend in his back, and his usual attitude, when seated, was that of a projecting chin, his head reclining back between his shoulders, and his hands resting on his girdle, whilst his elbows formed two triangles on each side of his body. He made short snappish questions, gave little hums at the answers, and seemed to be thinking of anything but the subject before him. When he heard the account of the ailments of those who had come to consult him, and had said a few words to his little circle of parasites, he looked at me, and after I had told him that I was the person of whom the poet had spoken, he fixed his little sharp eyes upon me for a second or two, and then desired me to wait, for that he wished to speak to me in private. Accordingly, he soon after got up, and went out of the room, and I was called upon to attend him in a small separate court, closely walled on all sides, except on the one where was situated the khelwet, or private room, in which the doctor was seated.