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

Chapter vi

Concerning the three prisoners taken by the Turcomans, and of the booty made in the caravanserai.

When we had reached our place of rendezvous, we dismounted from our horses, and made a halt to rest them, and to recruit ourselves after the fatigues of the night. One of the party had not forgotten to steal a lamb as we rode along, which was soon put into a fit state to be roasted. It was cut up into small pieces, which were stuck on a ram-rod, and placed over a slow fire made of what underwood we could find, mixed up with the dung of the animals, and, thus heated, was devoured most ravenously by us all.

Our next care was to ascertain the value of our prisoners. One was a tall thin man, about fifty years of age, with a sharp eye, a hollow aguish cheek, a scanty beard, wearing a pair of silken drawers, and a shawl undercoat. The other was a short round man, of a middle age, with a florid face, dressed in a dark vest, buttoning over his breast, and looked like an officer of the law. The third was stout and hairy, of rough aspect, of a strong vigorous form, and who was bound with more care than the others on account of the superior resistance which he had made.

After we had finished our meal, and distributed the remains of it to the prisoners, we called them before us, and questioned them as to their professions and situations in life. The tall thin man, upon whose rich appearance the Turcomans founded their chief hope, was first examined, and as I was the only one of our party who could talk Persian, I stood interpreter.

‘Who and what are you?’ said Aslan Sultan.

‘I,’ said the prisoner, in a very subdued voice — ‘I beg to state, for the good of your service, that I am nothing — I am a poor man.’

‘What’s your business?’

‘I am a poet, at your service; what can I do more?’

‘A poet!’ cried one of the roughest of the Turcomans; ‘what is that good for?’

‘Nothing,’ answered Aslan Sultan, in a rage; ‘he won’t fetch ten tomauns;16 poets are always poor, and live upon what they can cozen from others. Who will ransom a poet? But if you are so poor,’ said Aslan Sultan, ‘how do you come by those rich clothes?’

‘They are part of a dress of honour,’ returned the poet, ‘which was lately conferred upon me by the Prince of Shiraz, for having written some verses in his praise.’

Upon which the clothes were taken from him, a sheep-skin cloak given to him in return, and he was dismissed for the present. Then came the short man.

‘Who are you?’ said the chief: ‘what is your profession?’

‘I am a poor cadi,’ answered the other.

‘How came you to sleep in a fine bed, if you are poor?’ said his interrogator. ‘You father of a dog, if you lie, we’ll take your head off! Confess that you are rich! All cadies are rich: they live by selling themselves to the highest bidder.’

‘I am the cadi of Galadoun, at your service,’ said the prisoner. ‘I was ordered to Ispahan by the governor to settle for the rent of a village which I occupy.’

‘Where is the money for your rent?’ said Aslan.

‘I came to say,’ answered the cadi, ‘that I had no money to give, for that the locusts had destroyed all my last year’s crops, and that there had been a want of water.’

‘Then after all, what is this fellow worth?’ said one of the gang.

‘He is worth a good price,’ replied the chief, ‘if he happens to be a good cadi, for then the peasants may wish him back again; but if not, a dinar17 is too much for him. We must keep him: perhaps he is of more value than a merchant. But let us see how much this other fellow is likely to fetch.’

They then brought the rough man before them, and Aslan Sultan questioned him in the usual manner —‘What are you?’

‘I am a ferash‘ (a carpet-spreader), said he, in a very sulky manner.

A ferash!‘ cried out the whole gang —‘a ferash! The fellow lies! How came you to sleep in a fine bed?’ said one.

‘It was not mine,’ he answered, ‘it was my master’s.’

‘He lies! he lies!’ they all cried out: ‘he is a merchant — you are a merchant. Own it, or we’ll put you to death.’

In vain he asserted that he was only a carpet-spreader, nobody believed him, and he received so many blows from different quarters, that at last he was obliged to roar out that he was a merchant.

But I, who judged from the appearance of the man that he could not be a merchant, but that he was what he owned himself to be, assured my companions that they had got but a sorry prize in him, and advised them to release him; but immediately I was assailed in my turn with a thousand maledictions, and was told, that if I chose to take part with my countrymen, I should share their fate, and become a slave again — so I was obliged to keep my peace and permit the ruffians to have their own way.

Their speculation in man-stealing having proved so unfortunate, they were in no very good humour with their excursion, and there was a great difference of opinion amongst them, what should be done with such worthless prisoners. Some were for keeping the cadi, and killing the poet and the ferash, and others for preserving the cadi for ransom, and making the ferash a slave; but all seemed to be for killing the poet.

I could not help feeling much compassion for this man, who in fact appeared to be from his manners, and general deportment, a man of consequence, although he had pleaded poverty; and seeing it likely to go very hard with him, I said, ‘What folly are you about to commit? Kill the poet! why it will be worse than killing the goose with the golden egg. Don’t you know that poets are sometimes very rich, and can, if they choose, become rich at all times, for they carry their wealth in their heads? Did you never hear of the king who gave a famous poet a miscal18 of gold for every stanza which he composed? Is not the same thing said of the present Shah? And — who knows? — perhaps your prisoner may be the King’s poet himself.’

‘Is that the case?’ said one of the gang; ‘then let him make stanzas for us immediately, and if they don’t fetch a miscal each, he shall die.’

‘Make on! make on!’ exclaimed the whole of them to the poet, elated by so bright a prospect of gain; ‘if you don’t, we’ll cut your tongue out.’

At length it was decided that all three should be preserved, and that as soon as they had made a division of the booty, we should return to the plains of Kipchâk.

Aslan then called us together, and every man was obliged to produce what he had stolen. Some brought bags of silver and others gold. Nor did they confine themselves to money only; gold heads of pipes, a silver ewer, a sable pelisse, shawls, and a variety of other things, were brought before us. When it came to my turn, I produced the heaviest bag of tomauns that had yet been given in, which secured to me the applause of the company.

‘Well done! well done! Hajji,’ said they all to me; ‘he has become a good Turcoman: we could not have done better ourselves.’

My master in particular was very loud in his praises, and said, ‘Hajji, my son, by my own soul, by the head of my father, I swear that you have done bravely, and I will give you one of my slaves for a wife, and you shall live with us — and you shall have a tent of your own, with twenty sheep, and we’ll have a wedding, when I will give an entertainment to all the encampment.’

These words sunk deep in my mind, and only strengthened my resolution to escape on the very first opportunity; but in the meanwhile I was very intent upon the division of the spoil which was about to be made, as I hoped to be included for a considerable portion of it. To my great mortification they gave me not a single dinar. In vain I exclaimed, in vain I entreated; all I could hear was, ‘If you say a word more, we will cut your head off.’ So I was obliged to console myself with my original fifty ducats, whilst my companions were squabbling about their shares. At length it became a scene of general contention, and would have finished by bloodshed, if a thought had not struck one of the combatants, who exclaimed, ‘We have got a cadi here; why should we dispute? He shall decide between us.

So immediately the poor cadi was set in the midst of them, and was made to legislate upon goods, part of which belonged in fact to himself, without even getting the percentage due to him as judge.

16 [ A tomaun is the principal gold coin of Persia, worth about 14s.]

17 [ The dinar is the smallest denomination of money in Persia.]

18 [ Twenty-four grains make one miscal.]

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