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

Chapter lxxviii

Hajji is noticed by the grand vizier, and is the means of gratifying that minister’s favourite passion.

The transactions just recorded were all propitious to my advancement. Owing to the knowledge I was supposed to have acquired respecting Europe, I was employed in most of the affairs which concerned the Franks in Persia, and this had furnished me with many opportunities of becoming known to the grand vizier, and to other ministers and men in power.

The Mirza Firouz was not rich, and the maintenance which he received in his public character ceasing as soon as he returned to Tehran, he could no longer afford to support me, and he was happy to find that I was able to work my own way into a livelihood. He did not fail to praise my good qualities, and never lost an opportunity of extolling my abilities. Nor was I backward in seconding his endeavours, for I brought everything and every person, infidels as well as true believers, to bear upon my ambitious views; and destiny (without whose aid man’s endeavours are of no avail) almost as much as whispered, that the buffetings of the world had taken their departure from me.

The grand vizier was, without a doubt, the man in Persia, who from his acuteness, tact, and presence of mind, had the most influence over the Shah. He had enjoyed his high situation almost from the commencement of the present long reign, and had so interlaced his office with every transaction, public as well as private, that his councils became as necessary to the country as the rising and setting of the sun.

To secure his protection became then the first object of my endeavours. I began by daily attending his levees and standing before him, and as the affairs relating to Europe now took up his principal attention, he never saw me without asking some question referring thereto. This led to my being entrusted with messages to the English ambassador, the answers to which I always brought back, with something of my own surcharged, flattering to his abilities as a great statesman, and thus by creating goodwill between the parties, I myself became a favourite.

The leading passion of the vizier was the love of receiving presents. This was my kebleh in all transactions with the elchi, and my ingenuity was constantly exercised in endeavouring to extract something from him which would be acceptable to the vizier, and serviceable to myself. That presents of ceremony should be received and given was a matter of course, and, therefore, I stood no chance of acquiring any credit on such occasions; but I was once or twice accessory in making the balance strongly preponderate in favour of my own countrymen, and the vizier from that time began to look upon me with a favourable aspect.

A treaty was to be negotiated between the two countries, and my patron was appointed one of the plenipotentiaries on the part of the Shah. Although this was matter in which one of my insignificance could not expect to be employed, yet I did not cease to ply about the negotiators, like a dog at an entertainment seeking for a chance bone; and every now and then I got so much of the scent as to make me almost sure of springing some game for myself.

At length, one morning, after a late sitting of the negotiators, I was summoned to attend the grand vizier in his very anderûn, a place to which none but his most confidential servants were ever admitted. I found him still in bed, bolstered up with many soft pillows, and entirely alone.

‘Hajji,’ said he, in a familiar tone, ‘draw near, and seat yourself close to me; I have something of importance to say.’

I was staggered by so high an honour; but as his command was law, I did not hesitate to kneel by his bedside.

Without circumlocution, he at once told me that he was placed in a situation of great difficulty, for the English ambassador had made some demands impossible to be granted, and declared that he must quit Tehran, should they not receive our acquiescence.

‘Now,’ said he, ‘the Shah has threatened if I permit the elchi to leave Persia dissatisfied, that my head shall answer for it; and at the same time I and my brother plenipotentiary are half persuaded that his majesty will never accede to the demands of England. What is to be done?’

‘Could he not be bribed?’ said I, with all humility, and looking as if I would give other meaning to my words.

He be bribed?’ said the vizier; ‘in the first place, whence could the bribe come? and in the second, these people are such fools, that they know not what a bribe means. But give me your ear. We are no fools, whatever they may be. The elchi is very anxious to carry his point, and you know me well enough to be aware that there is nothing I cannot accomplish if once I take it in hand. You must go and talk to him. You are his friend. You may say that you are mine — you may whisper many things to him which I cannot — do you understand?’

Upon this I kissed his hand with much fervour, and raising it to my head I exclaimed, ‘By my head and by my eyes, I will go — and inshallah, please God, I will not return without a white face.’

He then dismissed me, and full of happy prospects I made the best of my way to the English ambassador.

I will not relate all I said and did to induce him to come into the grand vizier’s terms; but in two words, I so entirely and completely succeeded, that I returned with a heavy sack of gold, of good and solid cash, in my hand, as the forerunner of what was to follow in case all was concluded to the ambassador’s satisfaction, and I also secured the promise of a large diamond ring that was forthwith to be transferred from the finger of England to that of Persia, by way of an emblem of eternal friendship between the representatives of the two states.

The vizier was so astonished when he saw me place the sack before him, that he looked at me and then at it, some time before he spoke, and then broke out into exclamations in praise of my activity and zeal.

‘Hajji,’ said he, ‘you are now my property. We are somebody in Persia, and you will not long remain without a cap to your head. Make an arz, a representation, and its accomplishment will rest with me.

Many were the protestations I made him of fidelity and redoubled zeal. I disowned any intention of asking for any remuneration, except the favour of being permitted to stand before him; and I looked so humble, and talked in so disinterested a manner, that if he ever could have believed a Persian, I flattered myself he did me.

But he understood the value of such speeches a great deal better than I, and said, ‘Do not throw away your words at random. I was once with my head turning round and round in the world for a livelihood as well as yourself, and, therefore, I know the value of the service which you have rendered. Proceed in the path which now lies before you. The Franks are proper materials for your ingenuity. I give you my sanction to work upon them. They have plenty of gold, and are in want of us. What more need be said? The people of Iran are like the earth; they require rishweh,88 their interests must be highly excited, before they will bring forth fruit. The Franks talk of feelings in public life of which we are ignorant. They pretend to be actuated by no other principle than the good of their country. These are words without meaning to us; for as soon as I die, or when the Shah is no more, all that we may have done for the welfare of Persia will most likely be destroyed; and when his successor shall have well ruined the people in securing himself, the whole business of improvement and consolidation must be gone over again. Certain privileges and enjoyments are the lawful inheritance of the Shahs of Persia: let them possess them in the name of Allah! And their viziers also have their allotted portion: why should they refuse them? Certainly not for the good of the country, because not one individual throughout the whole empire even understands what that good means, much less would he work for it.’

My mind was greatly enlightened by this speech, and as the curtain which hitherto had darkened my understanding drew up, I discovered new prospects, and could extend my view over a new and more diversified region of profit. The words, ‘the Franks are proper materials for your ingenuity’ rung in my ears, and my wits immediately began their career of invention.

88 [ The word rishweh, “bribery,” is also used for “manure” in agriculture.]

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