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

Chapter xxxi

His reflections on the loss of Zeenab — He is suddenly called upon to exert his skill as a doctor.

As soon as she was gone I sat down on the same spot where we had been standing, and gave myself up to thought. ‘So,’ said I to myself, ‘so, this is being two kernels in one almond? Well, if such be the world, then what I have been taken up with for these two last months is only a dream. I thought myself a Majnoun, and she a Leilah, and as long as the sun and moon endured we should go on loving, and getting thin, and burning like charcoal, and making kabob60 of our hearts. But ’tis clear that my beard has been laughed at. The Shah came, looked, said two words, and all was over. Hajji was forgotten in an instant, and Zeenab took upon herself the airs of royalty.’

I passed a feverish night, and rose early in the morning, full of new projects. In order to reflect more at my ease, I determined to take a walk without the city walls, but just as I had stepped from the house, I met Zeenab mounted on a horse, finely caparisoned, conducted by one of the royal eunuchs, and escorted by servants making way for her to pass. I expected, that at the sight of me she would have lifted up the flap of her veil; but no, she did not even move from her perpendicular on the saddle, and I walked on, more determined than ever to drive her from my recollection. But somehow or other, instead of taking my path to the gate of the city, I followed her, and was led on imperceptibly towards the king’s palace.

A Persian horseman completely equipped.

(From a sketch by James Morier.)

Entering the great square, which is situated immediately before the principal gate, I found it filled with cavalry, passing muster, or the soum, as it is called, before the Shah in person, who was seated in the upper room over the porch. I lost Zeenab and her conductor in the crowd, who were permitted to pass, whilst I was kept back by the guards. The current of my thoughts was soon arrested by the scene carrying on before me. The troops now under examination consisted of a body of cavalry under the command of Namerd Khan, the chief executioner, who was present, dressed in cloth of gold, with the enamelled ornament on his head glittering in the sun, and mounted upon a superb charger. The review was quite new to me; and as I gazed upon the horses and the horsemen, the spears and the muskets, the days which I had passed among the Turcomans came again to my mind, and I longed once more to be engaged in active life. The troops to be reviewed were stationed on one side of the square. The secretary at war with his six scribes were placed in the middle, taken up with their different registers: two criers were also present, the one who, with a loud voice, called out the name of the soldier, and the other answering hazir (present) as soon as he had passed muster. Whenever a name was called, a cavalier, completely equipped, dashed from the condensed body, and crossed the square at the full speed of his horse, making a low obeisance as he passed the Shah; and this ceremony was performed by each man until the whole were reviewed. Many and various were the appearance of the horsemen. Some came forwards in fine style, looking like Rustams, whilst others, who had perhaps borrowed a beast for the occasion, went hobbling through as if the day of battle had already taken place. I recognized many of my acquaintance as they galloped by, and was admiring the animated manner of a young man, who had urged his horse forwards, when, by some fatal accident, the beast fell just as they were about passing the high pole which is erected in the middle of the course, and its rider was thrown with great violence against the foot of it. He was immediately taken up and carried through the crowd. Some one, recognizing me to belong to the Shah’s physician, invited me to take charge of him, and, without the least apprehension from my ignorance, I did not hesitate to put on the airs of a doctor. I found the unfortunate man stretched on the ground, apparently without life. Those who surrounded him had already prescribed largely. One was pouring water down his throat, ‘in the name of the blessed Hossien’; another was smoking a pipe up his nose in order to awaken him; and a third was kneading his body and limbs, to promote circulation. As soon as I appeared, these different operations were suspended, and, room being made, I felt his pulse with great solemnity, and as the surrounding uplifted faces seemed to solicit a decision, I declared, with emphasis, that he had been struck by fate, and that life and death were now wrestling with each other who should have him. Thus (according to the practice of my master) having prepared my hearers for the worst, I ordered, as a preliminary to other remedies, that the patient should be well shaken, in order to discover if life was in him or no. No prescription was ever better administered, for the crowd almost shook him to dislocation. This had no effect. I was about prescribing again, when a cry was heard in the crowd, Rah bedeh, give way: Ser hisab, heads, heads! and the Frank doctor (of whose skill I have before given some account) made his appearance, having been sent by his ambassador, who had witnessed the catastrophe. Without having seen the patient, he cried out, ‘Take blood instantly! you must not lose a moment.’

I, who now felt myself called upon to assert the dignity of the Persian faculty, and give proofs of my superior wisdom, said, ‘Take blood! what doctrine is this? Do not you know that death is cold, and that blood is hot, and that the first principle of the art is to apply warm remedies to cold diseases? Pocrat,61 who is the father of all doctors, has thus ordained, and surely you cannot say that he eats his own soil. If you take blood from that body, it dies; and go tell the world that I say so.’

‘As for that,’ said the Frank, who had now examined it, ‘we may save ourselves any further trouble: it is dead already, and hot and cold are now all one.’ Upon this he took his leave, and left me and my Pocrat with our noses in the air.

‘Then death,’ said I, ‘has had the best of it; the wisdom of man is unavailing, when opposed to the decrees of God. We doctors can no more contend with destiny, than the waters of an aqueduct can overcome those of a river.’

A Mollah, who was present, ordered his feet to be turned towards the Kebleh, his two great toes to be tied together, a handkerchief wrapped under his chin, and fastened over his head, and then all the bystanders after him repeated aloud the profession of the true faith. By this time some of his relatives had gathered round him, and had begun the usual lamentations, when the bier was brought, and the dead body conveyed to his family.

Upon inquiry I found that the deceased had been a nasakchi, i.e. one of the officers attached to the chief executioner, who has one hundred and fifty such under his command, and whose duties consist in preceding the Shah in his marches, dispersing crowds, maintaining order, taking charge of state prisoners, and, in short, acting as police officers throughout the country. It immediately struck me, how agreeable and how convenient it would be to step into the dead man’s shoes, and how much better my temper and disposition were suited to filling such an office than mixing drugs and visiting the sick. In turning over in my mind the possibility of acquiring this situation, I recollected that the chief executioner was a great friend of Mirza Ahmak, and under considerable obligations to him; for, but a few days since, he had persuaded the doctor to swear to the Shah, that wine, which is strictly prohibited at court, was absolutely necessary for his health, and that in consequence he had received a dispensation from the head of the law to drink it — a privilege in which he indulged to the greatest excess. I therefore determined to interest the mirza in my favour, and if possible, to turn the waters of bitterness, which the fountain of fate had been pouring into the cup of the deceased, into streams of sweet sherbet for myself.

60 [ Roast meat.]

61 [ So Hippocrates is called in Persia.]

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