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

Chapter lxiv

He reaches Bagdad, meets his first master, and turns his views to commerce.

Leaving the mollah bashi’s widow, her slaves, and attendants in the hands of the Cûrds, I made the best of my way to my destination; and caring little to hold converse with any one, after what had so recently taken place, I shaped my course in such a manner as not to attract observation.

Many stragglers, flying from the Cûrds, were to be seen on the road; but as they all, more or less, had interest in the fate of the caravan, they did not proceed far, but hovered about the scene of action, in the hopes of reclaiming either their friends or their property. I alone seemed to be totally independent, and by the time I had travelled two or three parasangs from the danger, I had the road to myself. Everything that had befallen me was turned over and over again in my mind, and I came to this conclusion, that powerfully protected as I seemed to be by fate, I might again turn my steps towards the paths of ambition, and hope that my last failure in the pursuits of advancement was to be made up by realizing a speedy and ample fortune.

‘Ninety-five tomauns in my girdle, and all the world before me,’ said I, ‘is no insignificant prospect. And if Nadân be but blown from a mortar, and the chief priest’s widow detained and ruined by the Cûrds, I do not see why I may not put my cap on one side as well as the best man in Persia.’

At length the walls and turrets of Bagdad appeared in view, and I entered the city a total stranger, and ignorant of its localities. Caravanserais I knew that I should find at every turn, and indifferent whither I bent my steps, or where I alighted, I let my mule take the road it liked best. Well acquainted with every street, the animal took me to a large caravanserai, where it no doubt had long been accustomed to resort, and there stopping, gave several loud grunts as it entered the porch, in the expectation of meeting its companions of the caravan. Although disappointed, yet I was more fortunate (if fortunate I could call myself), in seeing some of my countrymen in the square, and I soon found out that this was their usual rendezvous.

My person, I flattered myself, could attract no notice, go where I might: but I was sorry to find it otherwise. Upon alighting I was assailed by a thousand questions — the caravan was hourly expected, the merchants were eager for the reception of their goods, and I might possibly give them some intelligence respecting it. I made such answers as were necessary for the occasion; but resolved within myself very soon to quit so inquisitive a society, and bury myself in obscurity. I accordingly left my mule to its fate, reflecting that its owner would very soon arrive and take possession of it, and straightway settled myself in another part of the city.

As a first step towards preserving my incognito, I exchanged my dusty and weather-beaten sheep’s -skin cap for a head-dress of the country, namely, a long red cloth bag, which fell down in a flap behind, and fastened to my head with a parti-coloured silk. I also bought a second-hand beniche, or cloak, usually worn by the Turks, which, going over my Persian garments, gave me the general appearance of an Osmanli; and finished my adjustment by a pair of bright crimson leather slippers.

Having done this, it came into my head that much good might accrue if I made myself known to the family of my first master, Osman Aga, for through them I might make acquaintance in the city, and promote my views in trade.

I accordingly sallied forth, and took my road through the principal bazaars and bezestens, in order to make inquiries, and particularly stopped where lambskins were sold, for I well recollected that they were his favourite article of trade. I also recollected many particulars concerning Bagdad, which he used to take pleasure in relating during our journeys, and I fancied that I could almost find my way to his very door without inquiry.

However, my trouble was soon at an end, for in putting my head into the shop of one of the principal Bokhara merchants, and inquiring if any news had reached Bagdad of one Osman Aga, I heard a well-known voice, in answer, say, ‘Who wants me? In the name of the Prophet, I am he!’

Guess at my joy and surprise — it was the old man himself. I was almost as much astonished to see him at Bagdad, as I had before been to meet him at Tehran, and his surprise was equal to mine. I related as much of my history as I thought it necessary for him to know, and he told me his in return, which in two words was as follows.

He had left Tehran in the determination of proceeding to Constantinople, there to dispose of his merchandise, but hearing that great danger of being robbed existed on the road between Erivan and Arz Roum, he had deemed it a safer plan to visit Bagdad; and here he was, restored to his native city after an absence of many years. He had found his son grown up to man’s estate, who, having gone through all the ceremony of mourning for his loss, had duly taken possession of his patrimony, which, according to the law, he had shared in the prescribed portions between his mother and sister. But as soon as his father was restored to him, he made no wry faces, but, like a good Mussulman, put into practice that precept of the Koran which ordaineth man to show kindness to his parents — but not to say unto them ‘Fie upon you!’ The old man added, that he had found his wife alive, and that his daughter was old enough to be married.

But having thus disburthened himself of this short history of his adventures, he turned round upon me in a sharper manner than he had even done before, and said, ‘But Hajji, my friend, in the name of the blessed Mohammed, what could have possessed you to join me to that female Satan at Tehran, by way of making me pass my time agreeably? By the salt which we have so often eat together, the few days that I passed in her company were filled with more misery than was the whole time I spent among the Turcomans! Was it right to treat an old friend thus?’

I assured him that I had no object in view but his happiness, taking it for granted that she, who had been the favourite of the monarch of Persia, must, even in her later days, have had charms more than enough for one who had passed some of the best years of his life with camels.

‘Camels!’ exclaimed Osman, ‘camels, indeed! they are angels compared to this fury. Would to Heaven that you had married me to a camel instead, for it, at least, poor animal, would have sat quiet, with calm and thoughtful gravity, and let me have my own way; whereas your dragon, she, the viper, she passed her whole time in telling me how vastly honoured I was in having taken to wife one who had led the Shah by the beard, and enforced each word with either a slap or a scratch. Amân! Amân!‘ said the old man, rubbing his hand on his cheek, ‘I think I feel them now.’

He at length ceded to my assurances that I had no other object in view than his happiness, and then very kindly asked me to take up my abode at his house during my stay at Bagdad, to which, of course, I acceded with all manner of pleasure.

This conversation had taken place in the back room of the Bokhara merchant’s shop, during which the old man had treated me to five paras’ worth of coffee, brought from a neighbouring coffee-house; and when it was over, he proposed going to his son’s shop, situated in the same bazaar, some few doors farther on. His son’s name was Suleiman. Having set himself up in the cloth trade during his father’s long absence, he had acquired an easy livelihood, and passed the greatest part of the day (except when necessary to go to his prayers) seated in the little platform in the front of his shop, surrounded by his merchandise, neatly arranged on shelves fixed in the wall. He was a fat, squat little man, very like his father; and when he was informed that I was Hajji Baba, he said that I was welcome, and taking the pipe which he was smoking from his own mouth, he immediately transferred it to mine.

These preliminaries of mutual good-will being established, I enjoyed the prospect of an easy and quiet sojourn at Bagdad, in the company of these good people; but in order to show that I did not intend wholly to be a dependant upon them, I made it known that I was possessed of ninety-five tomauns, and asked their opinion upon the mode of laying them out to the best advantage in trade. I gave them to understand that, tired of the buffetings of an adventurer’s life, it was my intention for the future to devote my time to securing an independence by my own industry. Many had acquired wealth from beginnings much smaller than mine, said I; to which they both agreed: and, as we anticipated the fortune that I was to make, Osman Aga gravely let off the only bit of Persian poetry which he had picked up during his travels —‘Drop by drop water distilleth from the rock, till at length it becometh a sea.’

Upon this conclusion we, that is, the father and I, proceeded to his house, which was situated at a convenient distance from the bazaars.

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