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

Chapter xxix

A description of the entertainment, which is followed by an event destructive to Hajji Baba’s happiness.

The only persons, besides servants, admitted into the saloon where the Shah dined, were the three princes, his sons, who had accompanied him; and they stood at the farthest end, with their backs against the wall, attired in dresses of ceremony, with swords by their sides. Mirza Ahmak remained in attendance without. A cloth, of the finest Cashmerian shawl fringed with gold, was then spread on the carpet before the king, by the chief of the valets, and a gold ewer and basin were presented for washing hands. The dinner was then brought in trays which, as a precaution against poison, had been sealed with the signet of the head steward before they left the kitchen, and were broken open by him again in the presence of the Shah. Here were displayed all the refinements of cookery. Rice, in various shapes, smoked upon the board; first the chilau, as white as snow; then the pilau, with a piece of boiled lamb smothered in the rice; then another pilau, with a baked fowl in it; a fourth coloured with saffron, mixed up with dried peas; and at length, the king of Persian dishes, the narinj pilau, made with slips of orange-peel, spices of all sorts, almonds, and sugar: salmon and herring, from the Caspian Sea, were seen among the dishes; and trout from the river Zengî, near Erivan; then in china basins and bowls of different sizes were the ragouts, which consisted of hash made of a fowl boiled to rags, stewed up with rice, sweet herbs, and onions; a stew, in which was a lamb’s marrow-bone, with some loose flesh about it, and boiled in its own juice; small gourds, crammed with force-meat, and done in butter; a fowl stewed to rags, with a brown sauce of prunes; a large omelette, about two inches thick; a cup full of the essence of meat, mixed up with rags of lamb, almonds, prunes, and tamarinds, which was poured upon the top of the chilau; a plate of poached eggs, fried in sugar and butter; a dish of badenjáns, slit in the middle and boiled in grease; a stew of venison; and a great variety of other messes too numerous to mention. After these came the roasts. A lamb was served up hot from the spit, the tail of which, like marrow, was curled up over its back. Partridges, and what is looked upon as the rarest delicacy in Persia, two capk dereh, partridges of the valley, were procured on the occasion. Pheasants from Mazanderan were there also, as well as some of the choicest bits of the wild ass and antelope. The display and the abundance of delicacies surprised every one; and they were piled up in such profusion around the king, that he seemed almost to form a part of the heap. I do not mention the innumerable little accessories of preserves, pickles, cheese, butter, onions, celery, salt, pepper, sweets, and sours, which were to be found in different parts of the tray, for that would be tedious: but the sherbets were worthy of notice, from their peculiar delicacy: these were contained in immense bowls of the most costly china, and drank by the help of spoons of the most exquisite workmanship, made of the pear-tree. They consisted of the common lemonade, made with superior art; of the sekenjebîn, or vinegar, sugar, and water, so mixed that the sour and the sweet, were as equally balanced as the blessings and miseries of life; the sherbet of sugar and water, with rose-water to give it a perfume, and sweet seeds to increase its flavour; and that made of the pomegranate; all highly cooled by lumps of floating ice.

The king then, doubling himself down with his head reclining towards his food, buried his hand in the pilaus and other dishes before him, and ate in silence, whilst the princes and the servants in waiting, in attitudes of respect, remained immovable. When he had finished he got up, and walked into an adjoining room, where he washed his hands, drank his coffee, and smoked his water-pipe.

In the course of his eating he ordered one of the pilaus, of which he had partaken, to be carried to Mirza Ahmak, his host, by a servant in waiting. As this is considered a mark of peculiar honour, the mirza was obliged to give a present in money to the bearer. A similar distinction was conferred upon the poet for his impromptu, and he also made a suitable present. His majesty also sent one of the messes, of which he had freely partaken, to the doctor’s wife, who liberally rewarded the bearer. And in this manner he contrived to reward two persons, the one who received the present, and the other who bore it.

The princes then sat down, and when they had eat their fill they rose, and the dishes were served up in another room, where the noble of nobles, the court poet, the master of the horse, and all the officers of state and courtiers who had attended his majesty, were seated, and who continued the feast which the king and his sons had begun. After this, the dinner was taken in succession to the different servants, until the dishes were cleared by the tent-pitchers and scullions.

In the meanwhile the Shah had been introduced into the harem by the doctor in person; and as immediate death would have been inflicted upon any one who might have been caught peeping, I waited in the greatest suspense until I could learn what might have taken place there; but what was my horror! what my consternation! on hearing (as soon as the king had returned to the great saloon) that the doctor had made a present of his Cûrdish slave to his majesty! At this intelligence I grew sick with apprehension; and, although there was every reason to rejoice at her leaving her present situation, yet there were consequences which I anticipated — consequences which might even ultimately affect her life — at the very thought of which my blood ran cold. We had been too much enamoured to listen to the dictates of prudence, and now the future opened a prospect to me, the background of which was darkened by images the most horrible that the imagination can conceive.

‘I will endeavour,’ thought I, to gain some certain intelligence of what has happened; perhaps in the confusion, I may chance to get a sight of Zeenab herself.’ I lost no time, therefore, in resorting to our old place of meeting on the terrace. Much noise and clatter were heard below amongst the women, a large number having come as visitors, in addition to those which composed the doctor’s harem; but I could perceive no one amongst them that looked at all like her I sought; indeed, the night had closed in, and I despaired of making any sign which might be recognized; but, trusting to the sympathies of love, I thought it certain that she would hit upon precisely the same plan which I had devised to see her. Part of the terrace where our first interview had taken place was situated near the street, and upon this the women of the harem were accustomed to take their station whenever anything remarkable was to be seen abroad. Here I hoped Zeenab would not fail to come at the moment of the Shah’s departure, which was now close at hand. The clatter of the horses, the shouts of men, the passing to and fro of lanterns, all announced the close of the scene; and to my delight I heard a corresponding shuffling of women’s slippers and voices making for the steps of the terrace. I had placed myself behind the wall, so as to be seen by those only who had a knowledge of the premises, and I flattered myself that Zeenab, by a natural impulse, would turn her eyes towards me. I was not mistaken. She was among the women who had ascended the terrace, and she recognized me. That was all I wanted, and I left it to her ingenuity to devise a mode of conversing with me.

The cry of Gitchin! Begone! made by the heralds whenever the king rises to depart, was now heard, and every one arranged himself in the procession. With the exception of the numerous lanterns; which by their size announced the dignity of the different personages whose steps they lighted, the ceremony of the king’s return to his palace was the same as on his leaving it, and with his majesty departed all that had a moment before given life and animation to the place.

The women, satisfied that nothing more was to be seen, also left the terrace. Their conversation, during the time of their stay, had consisted almost entirely of disputes of who had been most seen and admired by the Shah; and, as they were descending, I overheard great expressions of envy and jealousy at the good fortune which, in their eyes, had fallen to the share of Zeenab.

‘I can’t conceive,’ said one, ‘what the Shah could have seen so attractive in her. After all, she has no beauty. Did you ever see so large a mouth? She has no salt in her complexion.’58

‘She is crooked,’ said another.

‘As for her waist,’ said a third, “tis like that of an elephant; and then her feet — a camel has smaller.’

‘And then,’ said a fourth, ‘she is a Yezeedi. She must have got a charm from the shaitan himself, to make herself remarked.’

‘That is the truth,’ they all exclaimed. ‘Yes, that’s it — she and the devil are in partnership to make the king eat dirt.’ Upon this they all seemed satisfied, and I heard no more of them.

But one woman still remained behind on the terrace, apparently engrossed with what was passing on in the street; she immediately rose when the others had left it, and came towards me. It was Zeenab.

58 [ This is a Persian idiom, and is intended to denote the fascinations of a brunette.]

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