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

Chapter xlii

He proceeds to the king’s camp, and gives a specimen of lying on a grand scale.

I returned to my chief full of apprehension at the threat which I had received; and knowing how very tenacious all our great men are of power over their own servants, I did not fail immediately to inform him of the language which the serdar had entertained me with. He became furious, and I had only to fan the flame which I had raised in order to create a quarrel between them; but, having more fears about the serdar’s power of hurting me than I had confidence in the ability of the chief executioner to protect me, I thought it best for all parties that I should retire from the scene, and craved my master’s permission to return to Tehran. Pleased with an opportunity of showing the serdar that no body but himself could control his servants, he at once assented to my proposal; and forthwith began to give me instructions concerning what I should say to the grand vizier touching the late expedition, and particularly in what light I was to place his own individual prowess.

‘You yourself were there, Hajji,’ said he to me, ‘and therefore can describe the whole action as well as I could. We cannot precisely say that we gained a victory, because, alas! we have no heads to show; but we also were not defeated. The serdar, ass that he is, instead of waiting for the artillery, and availing himself of the infantry, attacks a walled town with his cavalry only, and is very much surprised that the garrison shut their gates, and fire at him from the ramparts: of course he can achieve nothing, and retires in disgrace. Had I been your leader, things would have gone otherwise; and as it was, I was the only man who came hand to hand with the enemy. I was wounded in a desperate manner; and had it not been for the river between us, not a man of them would have been left to tell the tale. You will say all this, and as much more as you please’; then, giving me a packet of letters to the grand vizier, and to the different men in office, and an arizeh (a memorial) to the Shah, he ordered me to depart; I found the Shah still encamped at Sultanieh, although the autumn was now far advanced, and the season for returning to Tehran near at hand. I presented myself at the grand vizier’s levee, with several other couriers, from different parts of the empire, and delivered my dispatches. When he had inspected mine, he called me to him, and said aloud, ‘You are welcome! You also were at Hamamlû? The infidels did not dare to face the Kizzil bashes, eh? The Persian horseman, and the Persian sword, after all, nobody can face. Your khan, I see, has been wounded; he is indeed one of the Shah’s best servants. Well it was no worse. You must have had hot work on each bank of the river.’

To all of this, and much more, I said ‘Yes, yes,’ and ‘no, no,’ as fast as the necessity of the remark required; and I enjoyed the satisfaction of being looked upon as a man just come out of a battle. The vizier then called to one of his mirzas or secretaries, ‘Here,’ said he, ‘you must make out a fatteh nameh (a proclamation of victory), which must immediately be sent into the different provinces, particularly to Khorassan, in order to overawe the rebel khans there; and let the account be suited to the dignity and character of our victorious monarch. We are in want of a victory just at present; but, recollect, a good, substantial, and bloody victory.’

‘How many strong were the enemy?’ inquired the mirza, looking towards me.

Bisyar, bisyar, many, many,’ answered I, hesitating and embarrassed how many it would be agreeable that I should say.

‘Put down fifty thousand,’ said the vizier coolly.

‘How many killed?’ said the mirza, looking first at the vizier, then at me.

‘Write ten to fifteen thousand killed,’ answered the minister: ‘remember these letters have to travel a great distance. It is beneath the dignity of the Shah to kill less than his thousands and tens of thousands. Would you have him less than Rustam, and weaker than Afrasiab? No, our kings must be drinkers of blood, and slayers of men, to be held in estimation by their subjects, and surrounding nations. Well, have you written?’ said the grand vizier.

‘Yes, at your highness’s service,’ answered the mirza; ‘I have written (reading from his paper) ‘that the infidel dogs of Moscovites (whom may Allah in his mercy impale on stakes of living fires!) dared to appear in arms to the number of fifty thousand, flanked and supported by a hundred mouths spouting fire and brimstone; but that as soon as the all-victorious armies of the Shah appeared, ten to fifteen thousand of them gave up their souls; whilst prisoners poured in in such vast numbers, that the prices of slaves have diminished 100 per cent in all the slave-markets of Asia.’

‘Barikallah! Well done,’ said the grand vizier. ‘You have written well. If the thing be not exactly so, yet, by the good luck of the Shah, it will, and therefore it amounts to the same thing. Truth is an excellent thing when it suits one’s purpose, but very inconvenient when otherwise.’

‘Yes,’ said the mirza, as he looked up from his knee, upon which he rested his hand to write his letter, and quoting a well-known passage in Saadi, ‘Falsehood mixed with good intentions, is preferable to truth tending to excite strife.’

The vizier then called for his shoes, rose from his seat, mounted the horse that was waiting for him at the door of his tent, and proceeded to the audience of the Shah, to give an account of the different dispatches that he had just received. I followed him, and mixed in with his large retinue of servants, until he turned round to me, and said, ‘You are dismissed; go, and take your rest.’

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