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

Chapter lxiii

He is discovered and seized, but his good stars again befriend and set him free.

The caravan pursued its march early the next morning, and I took my station among the muleteers and the hangers on (many of whom are always at hand), in order to screen myself from notice. The litter with the chief priest’s widow, and her attendants, preceded the line of march, the camels with the bodies followed, and the remainder of the caravan, consisting principally of loaded mules, spread itself in a long straggling line over the road.

I envied every fellow who had a more ruffian-like face, or a more ragged coat than my own; so fearful was I of being thought good-looking enough to be noticed. More particularly I dreaded the approach of the widow’s servants, for although I was dying to know if any of them were of my acquaintance, yet I carefully turned my head on one side, as soon as there was the smallest likelihood of their looking towards me.

The first day’s march had passed over in safety; and I laid my head on a projecting part of the baggage, where I slept sound through the night. I was equally fortunate on the second day, and with so much confidence did this success inspire me, that I began to be ambitious of associating with something better than a common mule-driver.

I had opened a conversation with one, who I was informed was an Armenian bishop; and had already made him understand how thankful he ought to be for being thus noticed by a true believer, when one of the much dreaded attendants rode by us, and in him I recognized the man who had endeavoured to palm off a mûtî upon me, upon my first introduction to the mollah Nadân. My heart leapt into my mouth at the sight of him. The chief priest’s ghost, had it appeared, could not have frightened me more. I turned my head quickly on one side, but he passed on without heeding me; so for this time I was let off only with the fright; but I resolved to return to my humble station again, and forthwith left the bishop to his own meditations.

On the following day we were to pass through the defiles infested by the Cûrdish banditti, when every one would be too much taken up with his own safety to think of me. Once having passed them, we should no longer be in the Persian territory, and I might then claim protection of the Turks, in case I were discovered and seized.

On that eventful day, a day well remembered in the annals of my adventurous life, the caravan wore a military appearance. All those who possessed anything in the form of a weapon brought it forth and made a display. The whole scene put me in mind of a similar one which I have recorded in the first pages of my history; when, in company with Osman Aga, we encountered an attack from the Turcomans. The same symptoms of fear showed themselves on this occasion as on that; and I am honest enough to own that time had not strengthened my nerves, nor given me any right to the title of lion-eater.

The whole caravan marched in compact order, marshalled by a chaoush and by the conductor, who, with the servants of the chief priest’s wife, formed a sort of vanguard to the main body. I, who had my own safety to consult for more reasons than one, huddled myself among the crowd, and enjoyed the idea that I was encumbered with no other property than the money in my girdle.

We were proceeding in silence; nothing was heard save the bells of the caravan, and I was deep in thought in what manner I might dispose of my ninety-five tomauns, on our arrival at Bagdad; when, turning up my eyes, I perceived the conductor and a well-equipped Persian riding towards me.

The conductor pointed with his hand to me, and said to his companions, ’hem een est, this is even he!’

‘By the beard of Ali!’ thought I, ‘my good fortune has turned its back upon me.’

I looked at the conductor’s companion, whom I instantly discovered to be the very Abdul Kerim, from whom I had extracted the one hundred tomauns, at the village of Seidabad, by means of the letter which I had written in the name of the deceased chief priest.

I was about giving myself up for lost, when the conductor relieved me a little, by saying, ‘You are the last man who joined our caravan: perhaps you can tell us upon what part of the frontier Kelb Ali Khan, the robber, is said to be at present.’

I answered him in a great state of perturbation; but kept my eyes fixed upon Abdul all the while, who also began to stare at me with those penetrating eyes of his, which almost turned my heart inside out. He continued looking at me like one in doubt, whilst I endeavoured to skulk away; but at length appearing to recollect himself, he exclaimed, ‘I have it, I have it! it is the very man; he it was who laughed at my beard and stole the hundred tomauns.’ Then addressing himself to the bystanders, he said, ‘If you want a thief, there is one. Seize him in the name of the Prophet!’

I began to expostulate, and to deny the accusation, and probably should have succeeded to convince those who surrounded us that I was wrongly accused, when, to my consternation, the promoter of matrimony came up, at once recognized me, and called me by my name. Then my whole history came to light. I was denounced as the murderer of the chief priest, and this event produced so general a bustle throughout the caravan, that fear of the robbers was for a while suspended, and every one came to gaze upon me.

I was seized, my hands were pinioned behind my back, I was about being dragged before the chief priest’s widow to be exhibited, when my good planet came to my help and showed its ascendant. Of a sudden a great cry was heard at a distance, and to my delight I beheld a body of cavaliers rushing down the slope of an adjacent hill. These were the very Cûrds so much dreaded. The consternation was universal, the whole caravan was thrown into confusion, and resistance was unavailing when both heart and hand were wanting. Those who were mounted ran away; the muleteers, anxious for the safety of their cattle, cut the ropes of their loads, which fell and were left spread on the plain to the mercy of the marauders. The camels were also disencumbered of their burdens, and coffins were to be seen in all parts of the road. I remarked that the one containing the chief priest had fallen into a rivulet, as if fate was not tired of drowning him. In short, the rout was universal and complete.

I soon was left to myself, and easily found means to disengage my bonds. I perceived that the Cûrds had directed their attention principally to the litter and its attendants, where they naturally expected to find prisoners of consequence; and it rejoiced me to observe, that those whom but a few minutes before I had looked upon as destined to be the perpetrators of my ruin, and very possibly of my death, were now themselves thrown into a dilemma nearly equally disastrous with the one from which I was now relieved.

In vain the widow’s attendants threatened, swore, and bade defiance; nothing would soften their wild and barbarous assailants, who, under some lawless pretext of fees to be paid, began a regular pillage of such parts of the caravan as had not fled their attack. I again had an opportunity of ascertaining that my good star was prevailing; for now, whilst those who possessed any article of dress which might give respectability to their appearance became the object of the robbers’ attention, I and my solitary mule had the satisfaction to find ourselves so totally unworthy of notice, that we proceeded without molestation on the original object of our journey. I owned no corpse — I was not called upon to pay duty upon a dead relation — I was free as air; and as soon as I once found myself released from the thousand miseries which had arisen all around me, and which, as if by magic, had been as quickly dispelled, I went on my way, exclaiming, Barikallah, ai talleh mun! Well done, oh my good fortune!’

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