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

Chapter xxii

Hajji Baba asks the doctor for a salary, and of the success of his demand.

I had thus far lived with the doctor more as a friend than as a servant; for he permitted me to sit in his presence, to eat with him, and even to smoke his pipe, whilst at the same time I associated with his servants, ate, drank, and smoked with them also; but I found that this sort of life in nowise suited my views and expectations. The only money which I had received from him was the gold coin aforementioned, for which I was indebted to my own ingenuity; and, as things went, it appeared that it would be the last. I was therefore resolved to come to an explanation with him, and accordingly seized the opportunity when he was elated with his success over the European doctor, to open the subject of my grievances.

He had just returned from the imperial gate, after having seen the Shah; who, by his account, had been very gracious to him, having kept him standing without his shoes only two hours, by the side of a stone fountain, instead of six, which he generally does. ‘What a good king he is!’ he exclaimed, ‘how affable, how considerate! It is impossible to say how much kindness he shows to me. He gave abuse to the European doctor, all out of compliment to my abilities, and said that he is not fit to hold my shoes. He then ordered his favourite running footman to bring me a present of two partridges, which were caught by the royal hawks.’

I observed, ‘Yes, the king says true. Who is your equal nowadays in Persia? Happy Shah! to possess such a treasure. What are the Franks, that they should talk of medicine? If they want learning, science, and skill, let them look to Mirza Ahmak.’

Upon this, with a smile of self-complacency, he took the pipe from his mouth and gave it to me, pulled up his moustaches, and stroked his beard.

Inshallah! may it please God,’ I continued to say, ‘that I also may share in the glory of your reputation; but I am like a dog, I am nothing, I am not even like the piece of clay, which was scented by the company of the rose.’

‘How!’ said the doctor; ‘why are you out of spirits?’

“I will leave you to judge, and relate a story,” said I. ‘Once upon a time there was a dog, who in looks and manners was so like a wolf, that the wolves used to admit him into their society. He ate, drank, and killed sheep with them, and, in short, was everything that a wolf ought to be; at the same time, he lived with his fellow dogs like a dog, and was admitted to all their parties. But, little by little, the dogs perceived that he associated with wolves, and became shy of him; and it also happened that the wolves discovered that he was in fact a dog, and did not like to admit him any longer into their circles; so between both, the poor dog became neglected and miserable; and, unable to bear his undefined state any longer, he determined to make a decided effort to become either a dog or a wolf. I am that dog!’ exclaimed I: ‘you permit me to sit and smoke with you, who are so much my superior; you talk to and consult me, and I am even admitted to the society of your friends; but what does that benefit me? I am still a servant, without enjoying any of the advantages of one: I get nothing. I pray you therefore to appoint me to the situation you wish me to hold in your service, and to fix a salary upon me.’

‘A salary indeed!’ exclaimed the doctor: ‘I never give salaries. My servants get what they can from my patients, and you may do the same; they eat the remains of my dinner, and they receive a coat at the festival of the No Rûz — what can they want more?’ At this moment entered the Shah’s running footman, bearing in his hands a silver tray, upon which were placed the two partridges that his majesty had presented to the doctor, and which, in great form, he gave into his hands, who, rising from his seat, carried the tray to his head, and exclaimed, ‘May the king’s kindness never be less! may his wealth increase, and may he live for ever!’

He then was called upon to make the bearer a present. He sent first five piastres,38 which the servant returned with great indignation. He then sent one tomaun: this also was sent back, until at length in despair he sent five tomauns, which, it was intimated, was the sum proper to be given. This disagreeable circumstance dissipated all the pleasure which such a present had produced, and the Hakîm, in his rage, permitted himself to use such expressions, which, if reported to the king, would have brought him into considerable trouble. ‘A present, indeed!’ said he; ‘I wish such presents were in the other world! ’Tis thus we pay the wages of the king’s servants — a set of rapacious rascals, without either shame or conscience! And the worst of it is, we must pay them handsomely, or else whenever it happens that I get the bastinado on the soles of my feet — which come it will — they, who perform the operation, will show me no mercy. Let me not forget what Saadi says, that you can no more depend upon the friendship of a king than you can upon the voice of a child; the former changes on the slightest suspicion, the latter in the course of a night.’

Upon this reflection the doctor began to be alarmed at what he had said at the outset of his speech; and, with all the terrors of the felek before him, he seemed quite reconciled to the loss of his five tomauns.

I found that this would not be the best moment to resume the subject of my expectations, and therefore reserved it for some future opportunity; but I had heard enough to settle in my own mind, that I would leave the ‘Locman of the age’, whenever an opportunity should offer, and for the present to content myself with being neither dog nor wolf.

38 [ A piastre is about two shillings.]

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