The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan, by James Justinian Morier

Chapter xi

History of Dervish Sefer, and of two other dervishes.

When we had again collected ourselves together, each with a pipe in his hand, seated with our backs against the wall, in a room, the window of which opened into a small square planted with flowers, Dervish Sefer, as the acknowledged head of our society, began his story in the following words:

‘I am the son of the Lûti Bashi, or head Merry-Andrew of the Prince of Shiraz, by a celebrated courtezan of the name of Taous, or the Peacock. With such parents, I leave you to imagine the education which I received. My principal associates, during my infancy, were the monkeys and bears that belonged to my father and his friends, and, perhaps, it is to the numerous tricks in which they were instructed, and to the facility with which they learnt them, that I am indebted for the talent of mimicry that has been of so much use to me through life. At fifteen I was an accomplished lûti. I could eat fire, spout water, and perform all sorts of sleight of hand, and I should very probably have continued to prosper in this profession, had not the daughter of the prince’s general of camel artillery become enamoured of me, as I danced on the tight-rope before the court on the festival of the new year’s day. A young camel-driver under his orders had a sister who served in the harem of the general: he was my most intimate friend, and his sister gave him the intelligence of the effect my appearance had produced upon her mistress. I immediately went to a mîrza or scribe, who lived in a small shed in a corner of the bazaar, and requested of him to write a love-letter for me, with as much red ink in it as possible, and crossed and re-crossed with all the complication he could devise. Nothing could be better than this composition — for at the very outset it informed my mistress that I was dead, and that my death was owing to the fire of her eyes, that had made roast meat of my heart. Notwithstanding this assertion, I ventured at the end to say that as I had never yet seen her, I hoped that she would contrive to grant me an interview. In the joy of my heart for the possession of such a letter, in great confidence I told the scribe who my charmer was, which he had no sooner heard, than hoping to receive a present for his trouble, he went forthwith and informed the general himself of the fact. That the son of the Lûti Bashi should dare to look up to the daughter of Zambûrekchi Bashi was a crime not to be forgiven, and as the latter had influence at court, he procured an order for my instant removal from Shiraz. My father did not wish to incur the prince’s displeasure, and fearing, from my growing celebrity, that I should very soon rival him in his own profession, rather urged than delayed my departure. On the morning when I was about quitting Shiraz, and was bidding adieu to my friends the monkeys, bears, and other animals under his care, he said to me, “Sefer, my son, I should be sorry to part with you; but with the education which you have received, and the peculiar advantages which you have had of living almost entirely in the society of me and my beasts, it is impossible but that you will succeed in life. I now endow you with what will ensure you a rapid fortune. I give you my chief ape, the most accomplished of his species. Make a friend of him for your own sake, and love him for mine; and I hope in time that you will reach the eminence to which your father has attained.” Upon this he placed the animal upon my shoulder, and thus accompanied I left the paternal roof.

‘I took the road to Ispahan, in no very agreeable mood, for I scarcely knew whether to be happy or sorry for this change in my circumstances. A monkey and independence were certainly delightful things; but to leave my associates, and the places that were endeared to me from my infancy, and, above all, to abandon that fair unknown, whom my imagination had pictured to me as lovely as Shireen herself, were circumstances which appeared to me so distressing, that by the time I had reached the hut of the dervish, at the Teng Allah Akbar, my mind sank into a miserable fit of despondency. I seated myself on a stone, near the hut, and, with my monkey by my side, I gave vent to my grief in a flood of tears, exclaiming, “Ah wahi! Ah wahi!“ in accents the most piteous that can be imagined.

‘These brought the dervish out, and when he had heard my tale, invited me into the hut, where I found another dervish, of much more commanding aspect than the former. He was clad nearly in the same manner that I am now (indeed, the cap I wear was his); but there was a wildness about his looks that was quite imposing.

‘At the sight of me and my companion, he appeared struck by a sudden thought. He and the other dervish having talked together in private, he proposed that I should accompany him to Ispahan, promised that he would be kind to me, and, if I behaved well, would put me into the way of making my fortune. I readily agreed, and after the dervish of the hut had given us a pipe to smoke, we departed, walking at a good pace; without much being said between us during some time.

Dervish Bideen, for that was his name, at length began to question me very closely about my former life, and hearing in what my accomplishments consisted, seemed to be well pleased. He then descanted upon the advantages attending the life of a dervish, proved them to be superior to the low pursuits of a lûti, and at length persuaded me to embrace his profession. He said, that if I would look upon him as my master, he would teach me all he knew, and that, he assured me, was no small portion of knowledge, inasmuch as he was esteemed the most perfect dervish in Persia. He began to talk of magic and astrology, and gave me various receipts for making spells and charms, to serve on every occasion in life; by the sale of which alone I should be able to make my fortune. The tail of a hare, placed under the pillow of a child, he assured me, produces sleep; and its blood, given to a horse, makes him fleet and long-winded. The eye and the knuckle-bones of a wolf, attached to a boy’s person, give him courage; and its fat, rubbed on a woman, will convert her husband’s love into indifference: its gall, used in the same manner, produces fruitfulness. But the article which bore the greatest price in the seraglios was the kûs keftar, the dried skin of a female hyena; which, if worn about the person, conciliated the affection of all to the wearer. He discoursed long upon these and such-like subjects, until he gradually excited so much interest in my heart, by thus placing my fortune apparently in full view, that at length he ventured to make a proposal, which he easily judged would be disagreeable.

‘“Sefer,” said he to me, “you know not the treasure you possess in that ape — I do not mean as he stands now alive, but dead. If he were dead, I could extract such ingredients from him to make charms, which would sell for their weight in gold in the harem of the Shah. You must know, that the liver of an ape, and only of that particular species which you possess, is sure to bring back the love of a desired object to the person who may possess it. Then the skin of its nose, if worn round the neck, is a decisive preventive against poison; and the ashes of the animal itself, after it has been burnt over a slow tire, will, if taken internally, give all the qualities of the ape, cunning, adroitness, and the powers of imitation.” He then proposed that we should kill the beast.

‘I was certainly alarmed at the proposal. I had been brought up with my ape; we had hitherto gone through life together in prosperity as well as in adversity; and to lose him in this barbarous manner was more than I could bear. I was about to give a flat refusal to the dervish, when I observed that his countenance, which hitherto had been all smiles and good humour, had changed to downright furiousness; and fearing that he would take by force that which I could not protect, I, with all the reluctance imaginable, consented to the execution of his project. We then deviated from the road; and having got into a solitary glen, we gathered together some dry stubble and underwood, made a fire, striking a light with a flint and steel, which my companion carried about him. He took my poor ape into his hands, and, without further ceremony, put it to death. He then dissected it; and having taken from it the liver, and the skin off its nose, burnt it in the pile we had made; and when all was over, carefully collected the ashes, which having packed in a corner of his handkerchief, we proceeded on our journey.

‘We reached Ispahan in due time, where I exchanged such parts of my dress as belonged to the lûti for the garb of a dervish, and then we proceeded to Tehran. Here my master’s appearance produced great effect; for no sooner was it known that he was arrived, than all sorts of people flocked to consult him. Mothers wanted protection for their children against the evil eye; wives a spell against the jealousy of their husbands; warriors talismans to secure them from harm in battle. But the ladies of the king’s seraglio were his principal customers. Their most urgent demand was some powerful charm to ensure the attention of the king. The collection of materials for this purpose, which the Dervish Bideen had made, was very great. He had the hairs of a lynx, the back-bone of an owl, and bear’s grease in various preparations. To one of the ladies, who, owing to her advanced age, was more pressing than the others, he sold the liver of my monkey, assuring her, that as soon as she appeared wearing it about her person, his majesty would distinguish her from her rivals. To another, who complained that she was never in favour, and frustrated in all her schemes to attract notice, he administered a decoction of the monkey’s ashes; and to a third, who wanted a charm to drive away wrinkles, he gave an ointment, which, if property applied, and provided she did not laugh, or otherwise move the muscles of her face, would effectually keep them smooth.

I was initiated into all these mysteries, and frequently was a party concerned in a fraud, whenever my master was put to the necessity of doing something supernatural to support his credit, if by chance his spells were palpably of no avail. But whatever profit arose either from these services, or from the spoils of my monkey, he alone was the gainer, for I never touched a ghauz24of it.

‘I accompanied the Dervish Bideen into various countries, where we practised our art: sometimes we were adored as saints, and at others stoned for vagrants. Our journeys being performed on foot, I had good opportunities to see every place in detail. We travelled from Tehran to Constantinople, and from that capital to Grand Cairo, through Aleppo and Damascus. From Cairo we showed ourselves at Mecca and Medina; and taking ship at Jedda, landed at Surat, in the Guzerat, whence we walked to Lahore and Cashmire.

‘At this last place, the dervish, according to custom, endeavoured to deceive the natives; but they were too enlightened for us, and we were obliged to steal away in disgrace; and we at length fixed ourselves at Herat, where we were repaid for our former want of success by the credulity of the Affghans, who were good enough to admit all that we chose to tell them. But here, as the dervish was getting up a plan to appear as a prophet, and when our machinery for performing miracles was nearly completed, he, who had promised eternal youth to thousands, at length paid the debt of nature himself. He had shut himself up in a small hut, situated at the top of a mountain near Herat, where we made the good people believe he was living upon no other food than that which the Gins and Peris brought to him; but unfortunately he actually died of a surfeit, having ate more of a roast lamb and sweetmeats than his nature could support. For my own credit, I was obliged to say, that the Gins, jealous of us mortals for possessing the society of so wonderful a person, had so inflated him with celestial food, that, leaving no room for his soul, it had been completely blown out of his body, and carried away into the fifth heaven by a strong north-east wind, which was blowing at the time. This wind, which lasts for 120 days during the summer months, and without which the inhabitants would almost die with heat, I endeavoured to make them believe was a miracle performed by the dervish in their favour, as a parting legacy to them and their descendants for ever. The old men, indeed, who recollected the wind ever since their youth, were incredulous; but their testimony bore but little weight, compared to the influence which we had acquired. He was buried with the greatest honours; and the prince of Herat himself, Eshek Mirza, lent his shoulder to bear his coffin to the grave. A mausoleum was erected over it by some of the most pious of the Affghans, and it has ever since been a place of pilgrimage from all the country round.

‘I remained at Herat for some time after the death of my companion, in order to enjoy the advantages which might accrue to me from being the friend and disciple of one of such high reputation, and I did not repent of my resolution. I disposed of my spells at great prices, and moreover made a considerable sum by selling the combings of my deceased friend’s beard, and the cuttings of his nails, which I assured my purchasers had been carefully preserved during the time of his retirement in the mountains; although in fact they were chiefly collected from my own person. When I had sold of these relics enough to make several respectable beards, and a proportionate quantity of nails, I felt that if I persisted in the traffic, notwithstanding the inordinate credulity of the Affghans, I might be discovered for a cheat, therefore I took my departure, and, having travelled into various parts of Persia, I at length fixed myself among the Hezareh, a large tribe, living for the most part in tents, and which occupy the open country between Caboul and Candahar. My success among them was something quite beyond my expectation, for I put into practice what the Dervish Bideen had planned at Herat, and actually appeared in the character of a prophet.’

The Dervish Sefer then, laying his hand upon the shoulder of the dervish who sat next to him, said, ‘My friend, here, was my accomplice on that occasion, and he will remember how ingeniously we managed to make the Hezareh believe that we possessed a cauldron which was always full of boiled rice — a miracle which even the most incredulous did not fail to believe, as long as they got their share of it. In short, I am the celebrated Hazret Ishan himself; he of whom you have lately heard so much in Khorassan; and although my sacred character was not proof against the attacks made upon it by the arms of the Shah, yet, while it lasted, I collected enough from the zeal and credulity of my disciples to enable me to pass the remainder of my life in comfort. I have lived at Meshed for some time; and it is but a week ago that we contrived to perform the miracle of giving sight to a blind girl; so now are held in the highest veneration.’

Here the Dervish Sefer ended his history, and then called upon his next neighbour to give an account of himself. This was the dervish who had been his accomplice among the Hezareb, and he began as follows:

‘My father was a celebrated man of the law, of the city of Kom, enjoying the reputation of saying his prayers, making his ablutions, and keeping his fasts more regularly than any man in Persia; in short, he was the cream of Shîahs, and the model of Mussulmans. He had many sons, and we were brought up in the strictest practice of the external parts of our religion. The rigour and severity with which we were treated were combated on our part by cunning and dissimulation. These qualities gradually fixed themselves in our character; and without any consideration for our circumstances, we were early branded as a nest of hypocrites, and as the greatest cheats and liars of our birth-place. I, in particular, was so notorious that in my own defence I became a dervish, and I owe the reputation which I have acquired in that calling to the following fortunate circumstance.


A Druggist’s Shop.

(Persian drawing.)

‘I had scarcely arrived at Tehran, and had taken up my quarters opposite to a druggist’s shop, when I was called up in a great hurry by an old woman, who informed me that her master, the druggist, had just been taken exceedingly ill, after having eaten more than usual; that the medicine which he had taken had not performed its office; and that his family wished to try what a talisman would do for him: she therefore invited me to write one suited to his case. As I had neither paper, pens, nor ink, I insisted upon going into his anderûn, or woman’s apartments, and writing it there, to which she consented. I was introduced into a small square yard, and then into a room, where I found the sick man extended on his bed on the ground, surrounded by as many women as the place could hold, who cried aloud, and exclaimed, ”Wahi, wahi, in the name of God he dies, he dies!” The implements of medicine were spread about, which showed that everything had been done either to kill or save him. A large basin, which had contained the prescription, was seen on the shelf; the long glass tube, that instrument of torture, was in a corner; and among other furniture, the dotor himself was seen seated, unconcernedly enjoying his pipe, and who, having found that human means were inefficient, had had recourse to supernatural, and had prescribed, as a last resource, the talisman, which it was my fate to write. A new dervish excited new hopes, for I saw that I produced much stir as I entered the sick room, I asked for paper with an air of authority, as if I felt great confidence in my own powers, (although, in fact, I had never written a talisman before), and a large piece was produced, which seemed to have been the wrapper to some drug or other. Pen and ink were also given me; and then calling up all my gravity, I scrawled the paper over in a variety of odd characters, which here and there contained the names of Allah, Mohamed, Ali, Hassan, and Hossein, and all the Imâms, placing them in different anagrams, and substituting here and there figures instead of letters. I then handed it over with great ceremony to the doctor, who, calling for water and a basin, washed the whole from off the paper into the basin, whilst the bystanders offered up prayers for the efficacy of the precious writing. The doctor then said, “In the name of the prophet, let the patient take this; and if fate hath decreed that he is to live, then the sacred names which he will now swallow will restore him: but if not, neither my skill, nor that of any other man, can ever be of the least avail.”

‘The draught was administered, and every eye was immediately fixed upon the wretched man’s face, as if a resuscitation was expected to ensue. He remained for some time without showing any symptom of life; when, to the astonishment of all, not excepting myself and the doctor, he groaned, opened his eyes, raised his head on his arm, then called for a basin, and at length vomited in a manner that would have done credit to the prescription of Abu Avicenna himself. In short, he recovered.

‘In my own mind, I immediately attributed the happy change to the drug which had once been wrapped in the paper, and which, with the nausea of the ink, had produced the effect just described; but I took care to let the bystanders know that the cure was entirely owing to the interference and to the handwriting of one of my sanctity; and that but for me he would have died.

‘The doctor, on the other hand, took all the merit of the case to himself; for as soon as his patient had opened his eyes, he exclaimed, “Did I not tell you so?” and in proportion as the draught operated, he went on exulting thus: “There, there, see the efficacy of my prescription! Had it not been for me, you would have seen the druggist dead before you.”

‘I, however, would not allow him to proceed, and said: “If you are a doctor, why did you not cure your patient without calling for me? Keep to your blisters and to your bleedings, and do not interfere with that which doth not belong to you.”

‘He answered, “Mr. Dervish, I make no doubt that you can write a very good talisman, and also can get a very good price for it; but every one knows who and what dervishes are; and if their talismans are ever of use, it is not their sanctity which makes them so.”

“Whose dog are you,” exclaimed I, in return, “to talk to me after this manner? I, who am a servant of the prophet. As for you doctors, your ignorance is proverbial: you hide it by laying all to fate: if by chance your patient recovers, then you take all the credit of the cure to yourselves; should he die, you say, God hath decreed thus; what can the efforts of man avail? Go to, go to; when you have nearly killed your next patient, and then know not what more to ordain, send for me again, and I will cover your impudent ignorance by curing him as I have just done the druggist.”

“By my head, and by your death,” returned the doctor, “I am not a man to hear this from any one, much less from a dog of a dervish:” and immediately he got up and approached me in a threatening attitude, making use of every epithet of abuse that he could think of.

‘I received him with suitable expressions of contempt, and we very soon came to blows; he so effectually fastened upon my hair, and I upon his beard,25 that we plucked out whole handfuls from each other: we bit and spat, and fought with such fury, heedless of the sick man and the cries of the women, that the uproar became very great, and perhaps would have terminated in something serious, if one of the women had not run in to us, in great agitation, assuring us that the Darogah’s officers (police men) were then knocking at the door of the house, and inquiring whence proceeded all the disturbance.

‘This parted us; and then I was happy to find that the bystanders were in my favour, for they expressed their contempt of the skill of the physician, whose only object was to obtain money without doing his patients any good, whilst they looked upon me in the light of a divine person, who in handwriting alone possessed the power of curing all manner of disease.

‘The doctor, seeing how ill matters were going for him, stole away with the best face he could; but before he left the room, he stooped down, and collecting as many of the hairs of his beard, which I had plucked from him, as he could find, to which he cunningly added some of my own hair, he brandished them in my face, saying, “We shall see on whose side the laugh will be when you are brought before the cadi to-morrow; for beards are worth a ducat per hair in Tehran, and I doubt, with all your talismans, whether you can buy these that I hold in my hand.”

‘It was evident, that when his anger was cooled, out of regard to his own reputation, he would not put his threat into execution; so the fear of being dragged before the justice gave me no uneasiness, and I therefore only considered how to make the most of the fortunate circumstance which had just taken place. The report that the druggist (who was the first in Tehran) had been brought to life, when on the point of death, by a newly arrived dervish, was soon spread about, and I became the object of general concern. From morning to night I was taken up in writing talismans, for which I made my customers pay according to their means, and in a short time I found myself the possessor of some hundreds of piastres. But unfortunately for me, I did not meet with a dying druggist and a piece of his paper every day; and feeling myself reduced to live upon the reputation of this one miracle, which I perceived to my sorrow daily diminished, I made a virtue of necessity, and determining to make the tour of Persia, I immediately left Tehran. To whichsoever city I bent my steps, I managed matters so adroitly, that I made my reputation precede my arrival there. The druggist had given me an attestation under his seal, that he had been restored to life by virtue of a talisman written by my hand, and this I exhibited wherever I went, to corroborate the truth of the reports which had been circulated in my favour. I am now living upon this reputation: it supports me very tolerably for the present, but whenever I find that it begins to rail, I shall proceed elsewhere.’— The dervish here ended his history.

When the third dervish came to his turn to speak, he said: ‘My tale is but short, although story-telling is my profession. I am the son of a schoolmaster, who, perceiving that I was endowed with a very retentive memory, made me read and repeat to him most of the histories with which our language abounds; and when he found that he had furnished my mind with a sufficient assortment, he turned me out into the world under the garb of dervish, to relate them in public to such audiences as my talents might gather round me.

‘My first essays were anything but successful. My auditors heard my stories, and then walked away without leaving me any reward for my pains. Little by little I acquired experience. Instead of being carried away, as I had at first permitted myself to he, by the interest of the story, I made a pause when the catastrophe drew near, and then, looking around me, said, “All ye that are present, if you will be liberal towards me, I will tell you what follows;” and I seldom failed in collecting a good handful of copper coin. For instance, in the story of the Prince of Khatai and the Princess of Samarcand, when the Ogre Hezar Mun seizes the prince, and is about to devour him; when he is suspended in the ogre’s mouth, between his upper and lower jaw; when the princess, all dishevelled and forlorn, is on her knees praying that he may be spared; when the attendants couch their lances, and are in dismay; when the horses start back in fright; when the thunder rolls, and the ogre growls; then I stop, and say, “Now, my noble hearers, open your purses, and you shall hear in how miraculous a manner the Prince of Khatai cut the ogre’s head off!” By such arts, I manage to extract a subsistence from the curiosity of men; and when my stock of stories is exhausted in one place, I leave it, travel to another, and there renew my labours.’


A Dervish.

(From a bazaar drawing.)

24 [ A ghauz is a small copper coin.]

25 [ A beard is held so sacred in the East, that every hair which grows upon a Mohamedan’s chin is protected from molestation by a heavy fine.]

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09