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

Chapter lxviii

He obtains an interview with the fair Shekerleb, makes a settlement upon her, and becomes her husband.

I did not long remain at the foot of the tree, for I felt that much was to be done before the time of assignation. It would be necessary to put on an appearance of wealth, to have a purse well furnished, and a dress suited to my character; and moreover, it quite behoved me to make my person as acceptable as possible by going to the bath, and using all the requisite perfumes. Frequently as I walked along did I apostrophize myself in terms of the highest approbation. ‘Ahi Hajji, friend Hajji,’ would I exclaim, ‘by the beard of your father, and by your own soul, for this once you have shown the difference between a fool and a sage. Well done, thou descendant from the Mansouris! thou scion of the root of Koreish!’

Deeply pondering over my future destinies, at length I reached my caravanserai. I saw the old Osman seated in one corner of our apartment, calculating the profits of his merchandise, and in the other I observed my bundle of pipe-sticks. The contrast which these ignoble objects formed to the great schemes then planning in my mind struck me so forcibly, that it affected my ordinary deportment, and gave a certain tone of superiority to my manner which I had never before felt. I know not whether it was noticed by Osman; but he seemed rather startled when I asked him immediately to advance me fifty gold pieces, for which I offered to deliver over my merchandise as security.

‘My son,’ said he, ‘what news is this? what can you want with so much money, and in such haste? Are you mad, or are you become a gambler?’

‘God forgive me,’ answered I, ‘I am neither a madman nor a gambler. My brain is in good order, and the world has taken me into favour; but give me the money, and you will hear the rest hereafter.’

He did not longer hesitate to accede to my wishes, for he well knew the value of my goods, and that the transaction could not fail to be safe and profitable. So without further hesitation he counted out the money, and I forthwith left him.

I immediately bought some very handsome additions to my wardrobe, and proceeded without delay to the bath, where I went through all the necessary lustrations, and attired myself like a man of the highest fashion.

By the time that my new arrangements were complete, the hour of assignation had arrived, and with a beating heart I proceeded to the place appointed.

I found the old woman waiting, and having looked well round to see that nobody remarked us, she introduced me into the house through a door situated in a remote corner.

I was charmed at the great ease and comfort which appeared to exist throughout the whole establishment; for I now looked upon myself as lord and master of all I saw. We had entered at once into the apartments kept sacred for the use of the women, because it seems that the principal entrance of the house had been but little used since the emir’s death, out of reverence to his memory; and the same sort of mystery and precaution in entering here was kept up as if the good man was still in existence. Having passed through the small street-door, we entered into a courtyard, in which was a fountain. We then ascended a wooden flight of steps, at the top of which we found a cloth curtain, composed of various colours, which being lifted up, I was introduced into an ante-room, the only furniture of which consisted of women’s slippers and a lamp. Four doors, which were now closed, opened upon this, and here I was left to myself, whilst my old conductress shuffled off to prepare her mistress for my reception. I heard voices in the different apartments, the owners of which I presumed belonged to the slippers; and imagined that many eyes were directed at me, for I could distinguish them through the crannies. At length the door at the farthest angle was opened, and I was beckoned to approach.

My heart beat within me as I stepped forwards, and covering myself close with the flaps of my cloak, in order to show my respect, I entered a room that was lighted up by only one lamp, which shed a soft and dubious light over the objects within it. It was surrounded by a divan, covered with the richest light blue satins fringed with gold, in one angle of which, near the window, was seated the object of all my desires. She was carefully veiled from head to foot, and all I could then distinguish of her person was a pair of brilliant black eyes, that seemed to delight in the anxious curiosity which they had roused in my features.

She pointed to me with her hand to be seated; but this I obstinately refused, so anxious was I to show the depth of my respect and gratitude. At length, when further resistance was useless, I took off my slippers, and seated myself with a corner of my hip just resting upon the edge of the sofa, keeping my hands covered with the sleeves of my garment, and affecting a coyness and a backwardness, at which, now that I recollect myself, I cannot help laughing.

After we had sat facing each other for some few minutes, little, except commonplace compliments, having passed, my fair mistress ordered the old Ayesha (for that was the name of my conductress) to leave the room, and then leaning forwards, as if to take up her fan of peacock’s feathers, which was on the cushion, she permitted her veil to fall, and exhibited to my impatient eyes the most beautiful face that nature had ever formed.

This was the signal for laying by all reserve, and I prostrated myself before this divinity with all the adoration of a profound devotee, and poured out such a rhapsody of love and admiration, as to leave no doubt in her mind of the tenderness of my heart, the acuteness of my wit, and the excellence of my taste. In short, the emir’s widow had every reason to be satisfied with the choice she had made; and she very soon showed the confidence which she intended to place in me, by making me at once the depository of her secrets.

‘I am in a difficult situation,’ said she, ‘and the evil eye which many cast upon me hath embittered my soul. You may conceive, that, owing to the wealth with which I have been endowed by my late husband (upon whom be eternal blessings!) and to my own dower besides, which was considerable, I have been tormented with many persecutions, and they have almost driven me mad. My relations all claim a right to me, as if I were part of the family estate. My brothers have their own interest in view when they would negotiate a husband for me, as if they would barter a sack of wool against bags of rice. A nephew of my husband, a man of the law, pretends to claim an old custom, by which, when a man died, one of his relations had a right to his widow, which he might assert by throwing his cloak over her. Another relation again pretends, that, according to the law, I am not entitled to the whole of what I now possess, and threatens to dispute it. In short, so sadly perplexed have I been under these circumstances, I only saw one way to set the matter at rest, which was to marry again. Fate has thrown you in my way, and I am no longer at a loss.’

She then informed me of the arrangements she had made for our immediate union, in case I was not averse to it, and referred me to a man of the law, whom she had secured to act in her behalf, who would make out all the proper papers, and whom she informed me was now in the house ready to officiate. I was not prepared for quite so much dispatch, and felt my heart misgive me, as if it were hovering between heaven and earth; but I did not hesitate to reiterate my protestations of eternal love and devotion, and said nothing to my intended but what seemed to overwhelm her with delight.

So impatient was she of any delay, that she immediately ordered the old Ayesha to conduct me to the man of the law, who was in attendance in a small apartment, in a more distant part of the house. Besides himself he had brought another, who, he informed me, would act as my vakeel or trustee, such an intervention being necessary on the part of the man as well as the woman; and then he exhibited before me the akdnameh or marriage deed, in which he had already inscribed the dower of my intended, consisting of her own property, and demanded from me what additions it was my intention to make thereto.

I was again thrown back upon my ingenuity, and as the best answer I could give, repeated what I had before said to Ayesha, namely, that a merchant was uncertain of his wealth, which was dispersed in trade in different parts of the world; but I did not hesitate to settle all that I possessed upon my wife, provided such engagement were mutual.

‘That is very liberal,’ replied my wily scribe; ‘but we require something more specific. As for instance, what do you possess here at Constantinople? You cannot have come thus far, except for important purposes. Settle the wealth which you can command upon the spot, be it in cash, merchandise, or houses, and that will suffice for the present.’

‘Be it so,’ said I, putting the best face possible upon the demand. ‘Be it so — let us see.’ Then appearing to calculate within myself what I could command, I boldly said, ‘You may insert that I give twenty purses in money and ten in clothes.’

Upon this, a communication took place between the emir’s widow and her agent, for the purpose of informing her what were my proposals, and for gaining her consent to them. After some little negotiation, the whole was arranged to the apparent satisfaction of both parties, and our different seals having been affixed to the documents, and the necessary forms of speech having been pronounced by our different vakeels, the marriage was declared lawful, and I received the compliments of all present.

I did not fail to reward the scribes before they were dismissed, and also to send a very liberal donation to be distributed throughout the household of my fair bride.

Then instead of returning to old Osman, and my pillow of pipe-sticks, I retired, with all the dignity and consequence of the gravest Turk, into the inmost recesses of my harem.

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