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

Chapter xii

Hajji Baba finds that fraud does not remain unpunished, even in this world — He makes fresh plans.

The dervishes having finished their narratives, I thanked them for the entertainment and instruction which they had afforded me, and I forthwith resolved to learn as much from them as possible, in order to become a dervish myself, in case I should be obliged to abandon my present business. Dervish Sefer instructed me in the numerous tricks which he practised, to impose himself upon the world as a person of great sanctity; I learned the art of writing talismans from the second; and the story-teller taught me some of the tales with which his head was stored, lent me his books, and gave me general rules how to lead on the curiosity of an audience, until their money should insensibly be enticed from their pockets.

In the meanwhile, I continued to sell my tobacco and my pipes; but owing to my intimacy with the dervishes, who smoked away all my profits, I was obliged to adulterate the tobacco of my other customers considerably more than usual; so that in fact they enjoyed little else than the fumes of dung, straw, and decayed leaves.

One evening, when it was dusk, and about the time of closing the bazaars, an old woman in rags, apparently bent double with age, stopped me, and requested me to dress a pipe for her to smoke. She was closely veiled, and scarcely uttered a word beyond her want. I filled her one of my very worst mixtures: she put it to her mouth; and at her spitting, coughing, and exclamations, half a dozen stout fellows, with long twigs in their hands, immediately came up, seized me, and threw me on my back. The supposed old woman then cast off her veil, and I beheld the Mohtesib in person.26

‘At length, wretch of an Ispahani!’ said he, ‘I have caught you — you, that have so long been poisoning the people of Meshed with your abominable mixtures. You shall receive as many strokes on your feet as you have received shahies27 for your pipes. Bring the felek,28 said he to his officers, ‘and lay on till his nails drop off.’

The Bastinado.

My feet were instantly inserted into the dreaded noose, and the blows fell upon them so thick, that I soon saw the images of ten thousand Mohtesibs, intermixed with ten thousand old women, dancing before my eyes, apparently enjoying my torture, and laughing at my writhing and contortions. I implored the mercy of my tormentor by the souls of his father, mother, and grandfather — by his own head — by that of his child — and by that of his prince; by the Prophet — by Ali — and by all the Imâms. I cursed tobacco, I renounced smoking. I appealed to the feelings of the surrounding spectators, to my friends the three dervishes, who stood there stirring neither limb nor muscle for me; in short, I bawled, cried, entreated, until I entirely lost all sensation and all recollection.

At length, when I came to myself, I found myself seated with my head against the wall on the side of the road, surrounded by a crowd gaping at my miserable situation. No one seemed to pity me. My pipes, my jug, and everything that I possessed, had been taken from me, and I was left to crawl to my home as well as I was able. Luckily it was not far off, and I reached it on my hands and knees, making the most piteous moans imaginable.

After I had remained a day in horrid torment, with my feet swelled into a misshapen mass of flesh and gore, I received a visit from one of the dervishes, who ventured to approach me, fearful, as he told me, of being taken up as my accomplice, in case he had come sooner to my help. He had, in his early career, undergone a similar beating himself, and, therefore, knew what remedies to apply to my limbs which, in a short time, restored them to their former state.

During my confinement, I had time to reflect upon my situation. I determined to leave Meshed, for I felt that I had entered it at an unlucky hour. Once my back had been sprained, and once I had been bastinadoed. I had managed to collect a small sum of money, which I kept carefully buried in a corner near my room; and with this I intended to make my way to Tehran by the very first caravan that should be on its departure. I communicated my plan to the dervishes, who applauded it; and, moreover, the Dervish Sefer offered to accompany me; ‘for,’ said he, ‘I have been warned that the priesthood of Meshed are jealous of my increasing influence, and that they are laying a plot for my ruin; and, as it is impossible to withstand their power, I will try my fortunes elsewhere.’

It was agreed that I should put on the dress of a dervish; and having made my purchases, in the bazaar, of a cap, some beads, and a goat’s skin, which I slung across my shoulder, I was ready to begin my journey at a moment’s warning.

We became so impatient to depart, that we bad almost made up our minds to set off without any other companions, and trust to our good fortune to find our road, and escape the dangers of it; but we determined to take a fall out of Saadi,29 before we came to a resolution. Dervish Sefer, after making the usual prayer, opened the book, and read: ‘It is contrary to reason, and to the advice of the wise, to take medicine without confidence, or to travel an unknown road without accompanying the caravan.’ This extraordinary warning settled our minds, and we determined to be guided by it.

On making inquiries about the departure of caravans for Tehran, I was delighted to meet my friend Ali Kâtir, the muleteer, who had just arrived at Meshed, and was then making a bargain with a merchant, to convey merchandise, consisting of the lambs’ skins of Bokhara, to the capital. As soon as he saw me, he uttered an exclamation of delight, and immediately lighted his nargil, or water pipe, which he invited me to smoke with him. I related all my adventures since we last parted, and he gave me an account of his. Having left Meshed with a caravan for Ispahan, with his mules loaded partly with bars of silver, and partly with lambs’ skins; and having undergone great fears on account of the Turcomans — he reached his destination in safety. That city was still agitated with the recollections of the late attack of the caravanserai, of which I have given an account; and the general belief was, that the invaders had made their approach in a body, consisting of more than a thousand men; that they had been received with great bravery, and that one Kerbelai Hassan, a barber, had, with his own hand, wounded one of the chiefs so severely, that he had escaped with the greatest difficulty.

I had always kept this part of my adventures secret from everybody; so I hid any emotion that might appear on my face from the muleteer, by puffing out a sufficient volume of smoke in his face.

From Ispahan he carried cotton stuffs, tobacco, and copper ware to Yezd, where he remained some time, until a caravan was collected for Meshed, when he loaded his mules with the manufactures of the former city. Ali Kâtir agreed that Dervish Sefer and I should return with him to Tehran, and that whenever we were tired with walking, he would willingly assist us, by permitting us to mount his mules.

26 [ The mohteshib is an officer who perambulates the city, and examines weights and measures, and qualities of provisions.]

27 [ Twenty shahies make the groush, or piastre, which is worth about two shillings British.]

28 [ The felek is a long pole, with a noose in the middle, through which the feet of him who is to be bastinadoed are passed, whilst its extremities are held up by two men for the two others who strike.]

29 [ Saadi, Hafiz, and the Koran, are the three books to which the Persians most willingly refer for this mode of divination. Its resemblance to that of the Sortes Virgilianoe must occur to every reader.]

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58