The adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan/39

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Chapter XXXIX — The Armenian Yûsûf proves himself worthy of Hajji Baba's confidence[edit]

We proceeded towards the Georgian frontier, shaping our track over unfrequented parts of the mountains, in which we were very materially assisted by Yûsûf, who appeared to be acquainted with every landmark, and who knew the directions of places with a precision that quite surprised us. He did not seem anxious to visit his own village; and, in fact, he assured me, that had he even permission so to do, he could not, because he felt himself bound by the oath which he had taken upon last quitting it, not to return, except accompanied by his wife.

The intelligence which had been brought to the serdar of the advance of the Moscovites proved false, for we found them posted on the banks of the Pembaki river, occupying the village of Hamamlû, and fortifying themselves in Karaklisseh. We were not far from the former place; and as we approached it, I became anxious to acquire some precise intelligence concerning the numbers and the dispositions of the enemy. A thought struck me, as I pondered over the fate of my Armenian protégé—'I will either save this youth or lose him,' thought I, 'and never was there a better opportunity than the present. He shall go to Hamamlû: if he brings me the intelligence we want, nothing can prevent me from procuring both his pardon and his wife for him—if he proves a traitor, I get rid of him, and demand a reward from the serdar, for restoring his fugitive slave.'

I called him to me, and proposed the undertaking. Quicker than thought, he seized all the different bearings of the question, and without hesitation accepted of my proposal. He girt himself afresh, he tucked the skirts of his coats into his girdle, putting his cap on one side, and slinging his long gun at his back, he darted down the mountain's side, and we very soon lost him amid the sloping woods.

'Ruft ke ruft. He is gone and doubly gone,' said the young delikhan; 'we shall never see him again.'

'And why should he not return?' said I. 'Have we not got a hostage? Armenian though he is, he will not leave his wife.'

'Yes,' said the youth, 'he is an Armenian; but he is also an Isauvi (a Christian). The Russians too are Isauvis; and we all know, that when these infidels get together, they will rather die than return to the sons of Islam. No; were he the chaste Joseph himself, and his wife Zuleikha in person, I will bet this horse,' pointing to the beast under him, 'that we see him no more.'

'Do not coin false words, my little gentleman!' said a sturdy old cavalier, whose sunburnt face was harrowed by a thousand wrinkles, and shaded by a shaggy beard, mustachios, and eyebrows:—'why, without any use, do you eat dirt? The horse is the Shah's, not yours: and do you pretend to make the bahs (bets) upon it?'

'The Shah's property is mine, and mine is my own,' retorted the youth.

I and my party kept up this sort of desultory talk for a little while before we thought of settling ourselves, when, seeing a spot where there was much grass, we made for it, and dismounted from our horses. We dispersed ourselves here and there, each making a temporary establishment of horse-cloths and cloaks spread upon the ground, whilst our steeds, picketed among the grass, fed at pleasure. I announced my intention of passing the night here in case Yûsûf did not appear before its close; and preparatory to this, two of our best marauders set off in quest of a sheep, fowls, or anything they could get for our evening's meal. After an hour's absence, they returned with a sheep which they had seized from a flock grazing in the neighbourhood of the river. It was soon killed, and preparations were made for roasting it. Two stakes with hooks at the top were cut from the forest and stuck into the ground; then a long stick was passed through the animal in lieu of a spit, and placed on the hooks. A fire having been lighted, one of our men was stationed near it to turn the animal at intervals; and it was not long before it was ready for eating. By way of variety, some of the prime bits, with the fat of the tail, were cut off, spitted upon a ramrod, and thus roasted. The sheep was served up on its stake, and our party fell upon it with an intense appetite, whilst, by way of distinction, the ramrod was handed over to me for my share.

By this time the day had entirely closed in, and Yûsûf had not appeared. We then composed ourselves to sleep, leaving one or two to keep watch and to attend upon the horses. About an hour after midnight, when the moon was about going down, a distant shout was heard—presently a second, more distinctly and nearer to us. We were immediately upon the alert, and the shouts being repeated, we could no longer doubt but that the Armenian was at hand. We then shouted in return, and not very long after we saw him appear. He was almost exhausted with fatigue, but still strong enough to be able to relate his adventures since he had left us.

He informed me that having reached Hamamlû, he was recognized by some of the Russian soldiers who had escaped the attack of the Persians upon his village, and who immediately introduced him into the fort, and treated him very kindly. He was taken before the commanding officer, who questioned him narrowly upon the object of his visit; but the ready pretext which he advanced, of seeking his wife, answered every difficulty; besides which, the ruin of his village, the destruction of his family property, and the acquaintances which he had on the spot, furnished him with so much matter of conversation, that no suspicion of his designs could be entertained. He was then permitted to walk about the fort, and by asking his questions with prudence, and making his own observations, as enabled to furnish me with the information I required on the strength and position of the enemy, with some very good conjectures on the nature and probability of their future operations. He then managed to slip away unperceived before the gates of the place were closed, and regained the mountains without the smallest impediment.

Having permitted Yûsûf to refresh himself with food and rest, and being now perfectly satisfied that his story was true, and that all confidence might be placed in his integrity, I ordered my party to hold themselves in readiness to return to Erivan. He was permitted to ride behind either of the horsemen when tired with walking, and in this manner, taking the shortest cuts over the mountains, we regained the village of Ashtarek. Whilst we stopped here to refresh ourselves and horses, and to gain intelligence of the movements of the serdar and the chief executioner, I permitted the youth to visit his wife. He returned beaming with joy, for he had found her almost cured of her bruises, and full of thanks for the kindness and hospitality with which she had been treated.

The serdar and the chief executioner had moved from Erivan, and were now encamped close to the residence of the Armenian patriarch; and thither we bent our steps, accompanied by Yûsûf.