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

Chapter xxxv

Fortune, which pretended to frown, in fact smiles upon Hajji Baba, and promotes him to be sub-lieutenant to the chief executioner.

Two fat lambs, which were tied on our baggage mule, were the only present we brought with us for our chief. As soon as we reached the camp, we immediately presented ourselves to the naib, who forthwith carried us before the executioner, who was seated in his tent, in conversation with one or two of his friends.

‘Well,’ said he to Shîr Ali, ‘what have you done? Have you brought the corn, or the ked khoda, which?’

‘I beg leave to state for your service,’ said Shîr Ali, ‘neither. The ked khoda and the elders of Kadj Sawar have sent two lambs to be laid at your feet; and they have convinced us with our own eyes, that excepting them, not a thing have they left, not even their own souls, so entirely and completely have they been pillaged: on the contrary, if food be not sent to them, they will eat up one another.’

‘Do you say so, indeed!’ exclaimed the khan: ‘if they have lambs, they must also have sheep. By what account do you reckon?’

‘That’s true,’ said Shîr Ali, ‘and everything that you say is equally so; but we were talking of corn, and not of sheep.’

‘But why did not you follow your orders, and bring the ked khoda and the elders?’ said our chief. ‘If I had been there, the rogues, I would have roasted them alive. I would have tied them with the camel tie,74 until they confessed that they had something. Tell me, why did you not bring them?’

‘We wished much to bring them,’ said Shîr Ali, looking at me to help him out. ‘Yes, we had bound them all together, and we wanted very much to bring them: we also beat and abused them. Hajji Baba knows it all; for Hajji Baba told them if they had not money to give, they would certainly meet with no mercy. Mercy was a thing totally out of our way; for if they knew anything, they must be aware that our khan, our lord and master, the Nasakchi Bashi, was a man of such invincible courage, of a resolution so great, and of bowels so immovable, that if once they got within his grasp, it was all over with them. Yes, we told them all that, and they almost sunk into the earth.’

‘What does he say, Hajji Baba?’ said the khan, turning round to me: ‘I have not quite understood why these men were not brought to me?’

I answered in great humility, ‘Indeed, O khan, I also do not understand. Shîr Ali Beg, who is your deputy-lieutenant, had the whole business in his hands. I went in his service; I am nobody.’

Upon this the khan got into a violent rage, and branded us by every odious name of contempt and reproach that he could think of. ‘It is plain,’ said he to his friends, ‘that these villains have been playing tricks. Tell me,’ said he to Shîr Ali, ‘by my soul, by the king’s salt, tell me, how much have you got for yourself? And you, Aga Hajji,’ addressing himself to me, ‘you, who have scarcely been a month in service, how much have you secured?’

In vain we both protested our innocence; in vain we swore that there was nothing to gain; nobody would believe us; and the scene ended by our being driven out of the tent in custody of the naib, who was ordered to confine us until the chiefs of the village should have been actually brought to the camp, and confronted with us.

When Shîr Ali and I were left to ourselves, he immediately endeavoured to make me a partaker of the spoil, and offered to give me up half of it.

‘Not so, my friend,’ said I; ‘it is now too late. If you have drank and enjoyed the forbidden wine, and have got a headache by it, it is no reason that you should endeavour to make me sick too. I have had a lesson, in which you have acted as master, which will satisfy me for this time.’

He then endeavoured to make me promise to stand by him, when we should be confronted with the ked khoda, and to swear through thick and thin to everything that he intended to advance; but I was too much alive to the consequences to make any such promise. He said that if once he were brought to the felek to receive the bastinado, he knew that he could not survive it; for so universal a terrorist had he been when operating upon the feet of others, that now he felt he should be treated without the least mercy; and he therefore swore upon the Korân, that he would undergo every misery rather than be tied to the stake.

When the time came for being called up again before our chief, Shîr Ali was nowhere to be found. He had absconded, and when I was interrogated, all that I could say amounted to this — that I knew he dreaded the idea of being bastinadoed, and that I supposed he had made off to escape it.

As soon as I appeared before my judge, the men of Kadj Sawar, who were already standing before him, declared one and all, that I had neither exacted nor received anything from them; but, on the contrary, that I had urged them to make a considerable present to the khan. They poured out the whole of their complaints against Shîr Ali, who they declared had put the finishing stroke to their misery, and had even torn off the new skin that had began to cover their old wounds.

All this was slowly working for my advantage, and paving the road to my promotion. The story had got abroad, and was in every one’s mouth. I was looked upon as a paragon of moderation.

‘This comes from having been a doctor,’ says one; ‘wisdom is better than riches.’

‘He knows the doctrine of consequences,’ says another; ‘his feet will never be where his head should be.’

In short, I had acquired the reputation of being a clever and a cautious fellow, merely owing to events playing fortunately into my hands; and I lost nothing from being looked upon as a man whose taleh (luck) was good, and one whose star was fortunate.

The result of this part of my history was, that I was installed in the situation of the fugitive, and became the sub-lieutenant to the chief executioner of Persia — a character, whatever my readers may think of it, of no small consequence, as they will hereafter discover.

74 [ The camel tie is made by fastening the lower and upper limb of one of the forelegs together, which is done to prevent an unruly animal from straying from the pasture ground.]

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