Osman Aga, my master, was now on a journey to Meshed, the object of which was to purchase the lamb-skins of Bokhara, which he afterwards purposed to convey to Constantinople for sale. Imagine a short squat man, with a large head, prominent spongy nose, and a thick, black beard, and you will see my fellow traveller. He was a good Mussulman, very strict in his devotions, and never failed to pull off his stockings, even in the coldest morning, to wash his feet, in order that his ablutions might be perfect; and, withal, he was a great hater of the sect of Ali, a feeling he strictly kept to himself, as long as he was in Persia. His prevailing passion was love of gain, and he never went to sleep without having ascertained that his money was deposited in a place of safety. He was, however, devoted to his own ease; smoked constantly, ate much, and secretly drank wine, although he denounced eternal perdition to those who openly indulged in it.
The caravan was appointed to collect in the spring, and we made preparations for our departure. My master bought a strong, ambling mule for his own riding; whilst I was provided with a horse, which, besides myself, bore the kaliân2 (for he adopted the Persian style of smoking), the fire-pan and leather bottle, the charcoal, and also my own wardrobe. A black slave, who cooked for us, spread the carpets, loaded and unloaded the beasts, bestrode another mule, upon which were piled the bedding, carpets, and kitchen utensils. A third, carrying a pair of trunks, in which was my master’s wardrobe, and every other necessary, completed our equipment.
The day before our departure, the prudent Osman had taken precaution to sew into the cotton wadding of his heavy turban fifty ducats, a circumstance known only to him and me, and these were to serve in case of accidents; for the remainder of his cash, with which he intended to make his purchases, was sewn up in small white leather bags, and deposited in the very centre of the trunks.
The caravan being ready to depart consisted of about five hundred mules and horses, and two hundred camels, most of which were laden with merchandize for the north of Persia, and escorted by about one hundred and fifty men, composed of merchants, their servants, and the conductors of the caravan. Besides these, a small body of pilgrims bound to the tomb of Imâm Reza at Meshed joined the caravan, and gave a character of sanctity to the procession of which its other members were happy to take advantage, considering in what high estimation persons bound upon so laudable a purpose as a pilgrimage are always supposed to be held.
Every man on these occasions is armed, and my master, who always turned his head away whenever a gun was fired, and became pale at the sight of a drawn sword, now appeared with a long carbine slung obliquely across his back, and a crooked sword by his side, whilst a pair of huge pistols projected from his girdle; the rest of his surface was almost made up of the apparatus of cartouch-boxes, powder-flasks, ramrods, &c. I also was armed cap-à-pie, only in addition to what my master carried, I was honoured by wielding a huge spear. The black slave had a sword with only half a blade, and a gun without a lock.
We started at break of day from the northern suburb of Ispahan, led by the chaoûshes3 of the pilgrimage, who announced our departure by loud cries and the beating of their copper drums. We soon got acquainted with our fellow travellers, who were all armed; but who, notwithstanding their martial equipment, appeared to be very peaceably disposed persons. I was delighted with the novelty of the scene, and could not help galloping and curvetting my horse to the annoyance of my master, who in a somewhat crabbed tone, bid me keep in mind that the beast would not last the journey if I wore it out by unseasonable feats of horsemanship. I soon became a favourite with all the company, many of whom I shaved after the day’s march was over. As for my master, it is not too much to say that I was a great source of comfort to him, for after the fatigue of sitting his mule was at an end, I practised many of the arts which I had acquired at the bath to do away the stiffness of his limbs, by kneading his body all over, and rubbing him with my hands.
We proceeded without impediment to Tehran, where we sojourned ten days to rest our mules, and to increase our numbers. The dangerous part of the journey was to come, as a tribe of Turcomans, who were at war with the king of Persia, were known to infest the road, and had lately attacked and plundered a caravan, whilst at the same time they had carried those who composed it into captivity. Such were the horrors related of the Turcomans, that many of our party, and my master in particular, were fearful of proceeding to Meshed; but the account he received of the enormous price of lamb-skins at Constantinople was so alluring, that, in spite of everything, he resolved not to be frightened out of his prospect of gain.
(An original sketch by James Morier.)
A chaoûsh had long been collecting pilgrims at Tehran and its vicinity, in the expectation of the arrival of our caravan, and as soon as we made our appearance, he informed us, that he was ready to join us with a numerous band, a reinforcement which he assured us we ought to receive with gratitude, considering the dangers which we were about to encounter. He was a character well known on the road between Tehran and Meshed, and enjoyed a great reputation for courage, which he had acquired for having cut off a Turcoman’s head whom he had once found dead on the road. His appearance was most formidable, being in person tall and broad-shouldered, with a swarthy sunburnt face, ornamented by a few stiff hairs by way of beard at the end of a bony chin. Clad in a breastplate of iron, a helmet with a chain cape flapping over his shoulders, a curved sword by his side, pistols in his girdle, a shield slung behind his back, and a long spear in his hand, he seemed to bid defiance to danger. He made such boast of his prowess, and talked of the Turcomans with such contempt, that my master determined to proceed under his immediate escort. The caravan was ready to depart a week after the festival of the New Year’s day4, and after having performed our devotions at the great mosque of the congregation on the Friday, we went to the village of Shahabdul Azim, whence the whole body was to proceed the next day on its journey.
We advanced by slow marches over a parched and dreary country, that afforded little to relieve the eye or cheer the heart. Whenever we approached a village, or met travellers on the road, our conductors, made invocations of Allah and of the Prophet in loud and shrill tones, accompanied by repeated blows with a leather thong on the drums suspended to their saddle-bow. Our conversation chiefly turned upon the Turcomans, and although we were all agreed that they were a desperate enemy, yet we managed to console ourselves by the hope that nothing could withstand our numbers and appearance, and by repeatedly exclaiming, ‘In the name of God, whose dogs are they, that they should think of attacking us?’ Every one vaunted his own courage. My master above the rest, with his teeth actually chattering from apprehension, boasted of what he would do, in case we were attacked; and, to hear his language, one would suppose that he had done nothing all his life but fight and slaughter Turcomans. The chaoûsh, who overheard his boastings, and who was jealous of being considered the only man of courage of the party, said aloud, ‘No one can speak of the Turcomans until they have seen them — and none but an “eater of lions” (at the same time pulling up his moustaches toward his ears) ever came unhurt out of their clutches. Saadi speaks truth when he sayeth, “A young man, though he hath strength of arm, and the force of an elephant, will kick his heel ropes5 to pieces with fear in the day of battle."’
But Osman Aga’s principal hope of security, and of faring better than others in case we were attacked, was in the circumstance of his being a follower of Omar;6 and, by way of proclaiming it, he wound a piece of green muslin round his cap, and gave himself out as an emir, or a descendant of the Prophet, to whom, as the reader may guess, he was no more allied than to the mule upon which he rode.
We had proceeded in this manner for several days, when the chaoûsh informed us, in a solemn and important manner, that we were now approaching to the places where the Turcomans generally lie in wait for caravans, and directed that we should all march in a compact body, and invited us to make preparations for a desperate resistance in case we were attacked. The first impulse of my master was to tie his gun, sword, and pistols on one of his baggage mules. He then complained of an affection in the bowels, and so abandoning all his former intentions of engaging in combat, wrapped himself up in the folds of his cloak, put on a face of great misery, took to counting his beads, ever and anon repeating the prayer of Staferallah, or ‘God forgive me,’ and, thus prepared, resigned himself to his destiny. His greatest dependence for protection he seemed to have placed upon the chaoûsh, who, among other reasons for asserting his indifference to danger, pointed to the numerous talismans and spells that he wore bound on his arms, and which, he boldly maintained, would avert the arrow of a Turcoman at any time.
This double-bladed sword of a man, and one or two of the boldest of the caravan, rode ahead, at some distance, as an advanced guard, and every now and then, by way of keeping up their courage, galloped their horses, brandishing their lances, and thrusting them forward into the air.
At length, what we so much apprehended actually came to pass. We heard some shots fired, and then our ears were struck by wild and barbarous shoutings. The whole of us stopped in dismay, and men and animals, as if by common instinct, like a flock of small birds when they see a hawk at a distance, huddled ourselves together into one compact body. But when we in reality perceived a body of Turcomans coming down upon us, the scene instantly changed. Some ran away; others, and among them my master, losing all their energies, yielded to intense fear, and began to exclaim, ‘Oh Allah! — Oh Imâms! — Oh Mohammed the prophet; we are gone! we are dying! we are dead!’ The muleteers unloosed their loads from their beasts, and drove them away. A shower of arrows, which the enemy discharged as they came on, achieved their conquest, and we soon became their prey. The chaoûsh, who had outlived many a similar fray, fled in the very first encounter, and we neither saw nor heard any more of him. The invaders soon fell to work upon the baggage, which was now spread all over the plain.
My master had rolled himself up between two bales of goods to wait the event, but was discovered by a Turcoman of great size, and of a most ferocious aspect, who, taking him at first for part of the baggage, turned him over on his back, when (as we see a wood-louse do) he opened out at full length, and expressed all his fears by the most abject entreaties. He tried to soften the Turcoman by invoking Omar, and cursing Ali; but nothing would do; the barbarian was inexorable: he only left him in possession of his turban, out of consideration to its colour, but in other respects he completely stripped him, leaving him nothing but his drawers and shirt, and clothing himself with my master’s comfortable cloak and trousers before his face. My clothes being scarcely worth the taking, I was permitted to enjoy them unmolested, and I retained possession of my case of razors, to my no small satisfaction.
The Turcomans having completed their plunder, made a distribution of the prisoners. We were blindfolded, and placed each of us behind a horseman, and after having travelled for a whole day in this manner, we rested at night in a lonely dell. The next day we were permitted to see, and found ourselves on roads known only to the Turcomans.
Passing through wild and unfrequented tracts of mountainous country, we at length discovered a large plain, which was so extensive that it seemed the limits of the world, and was covered with the black tents and the numerous flocks and herds of our enemies.
2 [ This is the Persian pipe, made upon the principle of the Indian hookah.]
3 [ Officers whose duties are to find quarters for the pilgrims, establish the prices of provisions, make arrangements for their supply, regulate the hours of march, settle disputes, announce the time of prayer, etc.]
4 [ This takes place in the spring, when the sun enters Aries, and is called the No Ruz, or the new day. The festival is not of Mohamedan origin, and dates from very remote antiquity.]
5 [ By heel ropes is meant those fastenings which are used to secures horses in the East.]
6 [ The Turcomans, as well as the Turks, their descendants, are of the Suni persuasion: with them green is a sacred colour; but it is not so among the Shiahs.]
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53