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

Chapter iii

Into what hands Hajji Baba falls, and the fortune which his razors proved to him.

The distribution of their prisoners which had been made by the Turcomans, turned out to be so far fortunate, that Osman Aga and I fell into the hands of one master, the savage robber whom I have before mentioned. He was called Aslan Sultan,7 or Lion Chief, and proved to be the captain of a considerable encampment, which we reached almost immediately after descending from the mountains into the plain. His tents were situated on the borders of a deep ravine, at the bottom of which flowed a stream that took its rise in a chain of neighbouring hills; and green pastures, teeming with cattle, were spread around as far as the eye could reach. Our other fellow sufferers were carried into a more distant part of the country, and distributed among the different tribes of Turcomans who inhabit this region.

At our appearance the whole encampment turned out to look at us, whilst our conqueror was greeted with loud welcomes, we were barked at and nearly devoured by a pack of large sheep dogs, who had soon selected us out as strangers. My master’s green shawl had hitherto procured some degree of respect; but the chief wife, or the Banou,8 as she was called, was seized at first sight with a strong desire to possess it; so he was with no other covering to his head than his padded caoûk, or tiara, which contained his money. That too was longed for by another wife, who said that it would just do to stuff the pack-saddle which had galled her camel’s back, and it was taken from his head and thrown, among other lumber into a corner of the tent. He did all he could to keep possession of this last remnant of his fortune, but to no purpose; in lieu of it he received an old sheep-skin cap, which had belonged to some unfortunate man, who, like us, had been a prisoner, and who had lately died of grief and wretchedness.

My master having been installed in the possession of the dead man’s cap, was soon appointed to fill his situation, which was that of tending the camels, when they were sent to feed upon the mountains, and, as he was fat and unwieldy, there was no apprehension of his running away. As for me, I was not permitted to leave the tents, but was, for the present, employed in shaking the leather bags which contained the curds from which butter was made.

A man in a sheepskin cap.

(An original drawing by James Morier.)

In order to celebrate the success of the expedition, an entertainment was given by the chief to the whole encampment. A large cauldron, filled with rice, was boiled, and two sheep were roasted whole. The men, consisting of our chief’s relations, who came from the surrounding tents, and most of whom had been at the attack of our caravan, were assembled in one tent, whilst the women were collected in another. After the rice and the sheep had been served up to the men, they were carried to the women, and when they had done, the shepherds’ boys were served, and, after they had devoured their utmost, the bones and scrapings of dishes were given to us and the dogs. But, when I was waiting with great anxiety for our morsel, having scarcely tasted food since we were taken, I was secretly beckoned to by one of the women, who made me screen myself behind a tent, and setting down a dish of rice, with a bit of sheep’s tail in it, which was sent, she said, by the chief’s wife, who pitied my misfortune, and bade me be of good courage, hurried away without waiting for my acknowledgements.

The day was passed by the men in smoking, and relating their adventures, and by the women in singing and beating the tambourine, whilst my poor master and I were left to ponder over our forlorn situation. The mark of favour which I had just received had set my imagination to work, and led me to consider my condition as not entirely desperate. But in vain I endeavoured to cheer up the spirits of my companion; he did not cease to bewail his hard fate. I brought to his mind that constant refuge of every true Mussulman in grief, ’Allah kerim!— God is merciful!’ His answer was, ‘Allah kerim, Allah kerim, is all very well for you who had nothing to lose; but in the meantime I am ruined for ever.’ His greatest concern seemed to be, the having failed to secure the profits which he had expected to make on his lamb-skins, and he passed all his time in calculating, to the utmost farthing, what had been his losses on this occasion. However, we were soon to be parted. He was sent off the next day to the mountains, in charge of a string of fifty camels, with terrible threats from the chief that his nose and ears should pay for the loss of any one of them, and that if one died, its price should be added to the ransom money which he hereafter expected to receive for him. As the last testimony of my affection for him, I made him sit down on a camel’s pack-saddle, and, with some water from a neighbouring spring, and a piece of soap, which, together with my razors, I had saved from the wreck of our fortunes, shaved him in the face of the whole camp.9 I very soon found that this exhibition of my abilities and profession might be productive of the greatest advantage to my future prospects. Every fellow who had a head to scratch immediately found out that he wanted shaving, and my reputation soon reached the ears of the chief, who called me to him, and ordered me to operate upon him without loss of time. I soon went to work upon a large head that exhibited the marks of many a sword cut, and which presented as rough a surface as that of the sheep dogs aforementioned. He who had been accustomed to have his hair clipped, perhaps, with the same instrument that sheared his sheep, and who knew of no greater luxury than that of being mutilated by some country barber, felt himself in paradise under my hand. He freely expressed his satisfaction and his approbation of my services, said, on feeling his head, that I had shaved him two days’ march under the skin, swore that he never would accept of any ransom for me, be it what it might, and that I should, henceforth, be entitled to the appointment of his own body barber. I leave the gentle reader to guess what were my feelings upon this occasion. Whilst I stooped down and kissed the knee of this my new master, with every appearance of gratitude and respect, I determined to make use of the liberty which the confidence reposed in me might afford, by running away on the very first favourable opportunity. From being so often near the person of the chief, I soon began to acquire great ascendancy over him; and although I was still watched with care, yet I could already devise plans, which appeared to me to be practicable, for escaping from this hateful servitude into which I was thrown, and I felt in a less degree than another would have done the drudgery and wretchedness of my situation.

A horseman (Chaoush) carrying a spear.

(A bazaar drawing.)

7 [ The word Sultan, which in Europe is generally used to designate the sovereign of Turkey, among the Tartars, Turcomans, etc., means captain or chief, and is given frequently to subalterns, as well as to those of higher rank.]

8 [ Banou implies a female head or chief; thus in the Arabian Nights, Paribanou, or more properly Peribanou means the chief of the fairies. The King of Persia’s principal wife is styled Banou Harem, chief of the harem.]

9 [ All classes of Mohamedans shave the crown of the head. In Persia two patches of hair are left behind each ear by way of curls. In Turkey, a tuft is left on the very summit of the head.]

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