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

Chapter lvii

Hajji Baba meets with an extraordinary adventure in the bath, which miraculously saves him from the horrors of despair.

‘So,’ said I to my companion, as soon as we were left to ourselves, ‘so I am indebted to you for this piece of happiness. If I had thought that this adventure was to have been the result of the mûshtehed’s recommendation, you would never have seen Hajji Baba in this trim. What could it signify to you whether rain fell or no, or whether the Armenians got drunk or remained sober? This is what we have got by your officiousness.’

The mollah was in too pitiable a condition for me to continue upbraiding him any longer. We walked in silence by the side of each other in the saddest manner possible, until we reached the first village on our road. Here we made a halt, in order to deliberate upon what we should do. My unfortunate companion was expelled the city, therefore it was impossible for him to show himself in it until the storm had blown over; but as we were both very anxious to know what had become of our respective properties — he of his house and effects, I of my clothes, my money, and mule — it was determined that I should return and gain the necessary intelligence.

I entered Tehran in the evening, and, making myself as little recognizable as possible, I slunk through the streets to the mollah’s house. At the first glimpse I discovered that we were entirely ruined; for it was in possession of a swarm of harpies who made free property of everything that fell under their hands. One of the first persons whom I met coming from it was the very ferash who had been sent by the Shah to conduct us to his presence; and he was mounted on my mule, with a bundle in his lap before him, doubtless containing my wardrobe, or that of the mollah.

So borne down was I by this sight, and so fearful of being discovered, that I hurried away from the spot; and, scarcely knowing whither I was bending my steps, I strolled into a bath, situated not far from the house of our enemy the chief priest. I went in, undressed myself, and it being almost dark, I was scarcely perceived by the bathing attendants. Going from the first heated room into the hottest of all, I there took my station in a dark recess, unseen by any one, and gave free course to my thoughts. I considered to what I could now possibly turn my hands for a livelihood: for fortune seemed to have abandoned me for ever, and it appeared that I was marked out for the stricken deer, as the choice game of misfortune.

‘I no sooner fall in love,’ said I, musing, ‘than the king himself becomes my rival, slays my mistress, and degrades me from my employment. I am the lawful heir to a man of undoubted wealth: he lives just long enough to acknowledge me; and although everybody tells me that I ought to be rich, yet I have the mortification to see myself cheated before my face, and I turn out a greater beggar than ever. The most devout and powerful man of the law in Persia takes a fancy to me, and secures to me what I expect will be a happy retreat for life: my master in an evil hour prays for the blessings of heaven to be poured upon us, instead of which we are visited with its vengeance, driven as exiles from the city, and lose all our property.’ Never did man count up such a sum of miseries as I did when seated in the corner of the bath. The world seemed for ever gone from me, and I wished for nothing better than to die in the very spot in which I had nestled myself.

The bath had now been almost entirely abandoned by the bathers, when of a sudden a stir ensued, and I perceived a man walk in, with a certain degree of parade, whom, through the glimmering of light that was still left, I recognized to be the mollah bashi in person. Neither he nor his attendants perceived me; and as soon as he was left to himself (for so he thought) he immediately got into the reservoir of hot water, or the hazneh (the treasury), as it is called in the baths of Persia.

Here I heard him for some time splashing about and puffing with all his might; a sort of playfulness which struck me as remarkable for so grave and sedate a character; and then a most unusual floundering, attended with a gurgling of the throat, struck my ear.

I conceived that he might be practising some extraordinary bodily exercise, and curiosity impelled me to rise gently from my corner, and with all the precaution possible, to steal softly on the tips of my toes to the aperture of the reservoir, and look in.

To my horror, I perceived the head of the law at his last gasp, apparently without a struggle left in him. It was evident that he had been seized with a fit, and had been drowned before he could call for help.

All the terrible consequences of this unfortunate event stared me full in the face. ‘What can now hinder me,’ said I, ‘from being taken up as his murderer? Everybody knew how ill-disposed against him was my master, the mollah Nadân, and I shall be called the vile instrument of his enmity.’

Whilst making these reflections, standing upon the step that leads into the reservoir, the mollah bashi’s servant, followed by a bathing attendant, came in, with the warm linen that is used on leaving the bath; and seeing a man apparently coming out of the water, naturally took me for the deceased, and without any words proceeded to rub me down and to put on the bathing linen. This gave me time for thought; and as I foresaw an adventure that might perhaps lead me safely out of the scrape into which my destiny had thrown me, I let it take its course, and at once resolved to personify the chief priest.

A dim lamp, suspended from on high, was the only light that shone in the large vault of the dressing-room; and as I happened to be about the size and stature of the deceased, his servants, who were without suspicion, very naturally took me for their master. I had known and seen a great deal of him during my stay with the Mollah Nadân, and, therefore, was sufficiently acquainted with the manners of the man to be able to copy him for the short time it would take to be attended upon by his servants, until we reached his house. The most difficult part of the imposture would be, when I should enter the women’s apartments; for I was quite unacquainted with the locality there, and totally ignorant of the sort of footing he was upon with the inmates of his anderûn. Indeed, I once heard that he was a perfect tyrant over the fairer part of the creation; and as much gossip was carried on at my master’s, it came to my recollection, that it had been said he waged a continual war with his lawful wife, for certain causes of jealousy which his conduct was said to promote. He was a man of few words, and when he spoke generally expressed himself in short broken sentences; and as he affected to use words of Arabic origin on all occasions, more gutteral sounds obtruded themselves upon the ear than are generally heard from those who talk pure Persian.

I did not permit myself to open my lips during the whole time that I was dressing. I kept my face in shade as much as possible; and when the waterpipe was offered to me, I smoked it in the manner that I had seen the chief priest do; that is, taking two or three long whiffs, and then disgorging a seemingly interminable stream of smoke.

One of the servants appeared to be struck by something unusual, as I pronounced my Khoda hafiz! to the owner of the bath upon leaving it; but all suspicion was at an end when they felt the weight which I gave myself, as they helped me to mount the horse that was in waiting.

I deliberately dismounted at the gate of the house of the deceased; and although I bungled about the passages, yet, following the man who seemed to act as the confidential servant, I came to the little door which leads into the anderûn. I permitted him to do what he no doubt was daily accustomed to do, and just as he had opened the door, and I had advanced two or three paces, he shouted out, ’Cheragh biar, bring lights,’ and then retired.

A clatter of slippers and women’s voices was then immediately heard, and two young slaves came running towards me with tapers in their hands, apparently striving who should first reach me.

The largest apartment of the building was lighted up, and I could perceive in it more women than one. That I took to be the residence of the principal personage, the now widow of the deceased; and I dreaded lest the slaves should conduct me thither. But, aided by my good stars, I must have fallen upon a most propitious moment, when the mollah bashi and his wife had quarrelled; an event which seemed to be understood by my conductors, who, seeing me unwilling to proceed to the lighted apartment, drew me on to a door which led into a small inner court, where I found a khelwet, or retiring room, into which they introduced me. How to get rid of them was my next care; for as they had walked before me, they could not have got a sight of my face, and had they entered the room with me, perhaps they would have made a discovery fatal to my safety. I took the light from the hand of one, and dismissed the other, with a sign of the head. Had I been the same inconsiderate youth as at the time of my acquaintance with Zeenab, perhaps I should have committed some act of imprudence that might have led to my discovery; but now I eyed the two young slaves with apprehension and even with terror; and certainly one of the most agreeable moments of my existence was, when I saw them turn their backs upon me and leave me to my own meditations. The change in my fortune, which had taken place during the last hour, was so unexpected, that I felt like one treading between heaven and earth; and my first impulse, upon finding myself in safety, after having got over the most difficult part of the imposture, was at one moment to exult and be joyful, and at another to shiver with apprehension lest my good fortune might abandon me.

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