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

Chapter lxxii

An incident in the street diverts his despair — He seeks consolation in the advice of old Osman.

When I had got into the street I walked hastily on without, for some time, heeding whither I was bending my steps. My breast was convulsed by a thousand contending passions; and so nearly had I lost possession of my reason, that, when in sight of the sea, I began seriously to consider whether it would not be wisdom to throw myself headlong in.

But, crossing a large open space, an occurrence happened which, however trifling it may appear, was of great consequence to me, inasmuch as it turned the current of my thoughts into a new channel, and saved me from destruction. I was witness to one of those dog fights so frequently seen in the streets of Constantinople. A dog had strayed into the territory of another community, had infringed their rights, and stolen a bone. Immediately an immense uproar ensued; all were on foot, and in full cry, and the strange dog was chased across the border into his own territory. Here, meeting some of his own friends, he called them about him, returned to the attack, and a general engagement ensued as I was passing.

While I stood by, intent upon the scene, a thought struck me, and I exclaimed, ‘Allah, oh Allah, how inscrutable are thy designs! and how little ought man, narrow-minded, short-sighted man, ever to repine at thy decrees! Thou throwest into my path a lesson, which teaches me the way that I should go, and that assistance is ever at hand to those who will seek it; and, though given by a dog, let me not despise it. No, am I to be surprised at anything, when I see animals, without reason, acting like men, with it? Let me not be cast down, but rather retreat to where I may still find a friend, and seek consolation in his advice and experience!’

Upon this, I turned almost mechanically to where I knew I should find my faithful friend and adviser, the old Osman, who, although a Turk and a Sûni, had always behaved to me as if he had been my countryman, and one of my own religious persuasion. He received me in his usual quiet manner; and when I had related all my misfortunes, he puffed out a long volume of smoke from his never-failing chibouk, and exclaimed, with a deep sigh, ’Allah kerim! (God is merciful!)’

‘My friend,’ said he, ‘when you appeared here in all your magnificence before the Persians, from that moment I was apprehensive that some evil would befall you. You perhaps are yet not old enough to have learnt how odious are comparisons. Could you for a moment suppose, that men, in your own station in life, who are drudging on, day after day, intent upon the sale of a pipestick or a bag of Shiraz tobacco, that they could bear to be bearded by an appearance of greatness and prosperity, so much beyond anything which they could ever expect to attain? Had you appeared with a better coat or a richer cap than they, or had you been mounted on a horse, when they could only afford an ass, then, perhaps, nothing more would have been said, but that you were more expert in making your fortune, and a better retailer of your wares. But to crush, to beat them down, with your magnificent dress, your amber-headed pipes, your train of servants, your richly caparisoned horse, and, above all, the airs of grandeur and protection which you took upon yourself, was more than they could allow, and they immediately rose in hostility, and determined to bring you down to their own level again, if possible. Evidently, it is they who have whispered into the ear of your wife’s brothers that you were not a Bagdad merchant, but only the son of an Ispahan barber, and a sorry vender of little wares. They, doubtless, soon undeceived them respecting the possibility of fulfilling the stipulations to which you have bound yourself in your wife’s marriage contract; and they, it is plain, have commented freely upon your pretensions to noble birth, and upon the flourishing account which you gave of your mercantile concerns, of your transactions in Bokhara, and of your ships sailing to China. Had you first visited me in a quiet way, as Hajji Baba, the Ispahani, and not as Hajji Baba, the Turkish Aga, I would have warned you against making an undue exhibition of yourself and your prosperity before your countrymen; but the mischief was done as soon as the deed was over, and now all that can be recommended is, that from the past you gain experience for the future.’ After this speech he took to his pipe again, and puffed away with redoubled vigour.

‘This may be very true,’ said I. ‘What is done, is done, and peace abide with it: but, after all, I am a Mussulman, and justice is due to me as well as to another. I never heard of a woman putting away her husband, although the contrary frequently happens; and it has not yet reached my understanding why I should be the only true believer who is called into the house, and thrust out of it again, in a manner that would even disgrace a dog, merely because it suits a capricious woman one morning to like, and the evening after to dislike, me. Cadies, mufties, sheikh-el-islams, abound here as well as in other Mohamedan cities, and why should I not have recourse to them? They are paid to administer justice, and wherefore should they sit, with their hands across, counting their beads, when such injustice as that, with which I have been visited, is going about the land seeking for redress?’

‘Are you mad, Hajji’, rejoined the old man, ‘to think of redress from the widow and relations of one of the most powerful emirs of Islam, and that, too, when she is supported by her brothers, two of the richest merchants in Constantinople? Where have you lived all your lifetime, not to know, that he who hath most gold hath most justice? and that, if such a man as you were to appear before the tribunal of the mufti, with every word, line, leaf, and surai of the Koran in your favour, and one as rich and powerful as your wife’s brother were to appear on the other side against you, as long as he had gold in his favour, you might appeal to your sacred book until you and it were tired of walking round each other, for justice you would never obtain.’

‘O, Ali! O, Mohammed!’ exclaimed I, ‘if the world is indeed as iniquitous as this, then Hajji Baba, truly, has made a bad bargain, and I wish he were again in possession of his pipesticks: but I cannot, and will not, lose all and everything in this easy manner — I will go and proclaim my misfortunes from the housetop, rather.’

Upon which, in utter despair, I began to cry and moan, and pulled out some of my beard by the roots.

Osman Aga endeavoured to comfort me — made me look back upon my past life, and brought to my recollection our mutual adventures while prisoners among the Turcomans.

‘God is all-powerful and all-merciful,’ said he. ‘Our destinies are written in the book, and therefore what is there left, but to submit?’

‘But I am a Persian,’ exclaimed I (a new thought having crossed my mind), ‘as well as a Mussulman; why, therefore, should I submit to injustice from a Turk? We are, after all, a nation, and have had our Jinghizs, our Timours, and our Nadirs, who made our name respected throughout the world, and who burnt the fathers of the Turks wherever they could find them. I will seek our ambassador, and, if he be a man, he will insist upon justice being done me. Yes, yes! the ambassador shall get back my wife; (oh, lucky thought!) and then we shall see who will take her from me again.’

So elated was I by this idea, that I did not stop to hear what Osman might have to say on the subject, but immediately sallied forth, full of fresh spirits and vigour, to seek out the representative of our King of Kings, who, at the best of all fortunate hours, had very recently arrived on a mission to the Sublime Porte.

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