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

Chapter xlv

He takes refuge in a sanctuary, where his melancholy thoughts are diverted by a curious story.

I had scarcely got rid of the nasakchi, when I heard the voice of my friend the dervish, who was announcing his arrival in the holy city, by all the different invocations of the Almighty and his attributes, which are frequently made by true believers.

Very soon after, I was delighted to see him coming towards me, and to hear him express his satisfaction that I had reached my resting-place before my pursuer had had time to come up with me.

He proposed to keep me company for a short time, and we took possession of one of the cells situated in the square court forming part of the buildings in the centre of which the tomb is placed. I had by good luck brought away my ready money, consisting of twenty tomauns in gold, besides some silver; and we expended some of this in articles of the first necessity, such as a mat to cover the bare floor of our room, and an earthen jug for our water.

But before we had got any further in our domestic arrangements, the dervish accosted me in the following manner: ‘I must be informed of one thing before we proceed. Do you ever say your prayers? do you keep your fasts? do you make your ablutions regularly? or do you continue to live in that fit state for eternal perdition which we were wont to do at Meshed?’

‘Why do you speak thus to me?’ said I. ‘What can it be to you whether I pray or not?’

‘It is not much to me,’ answered the dervish, ‘but it is a great deal to yourself. This Kom is a place that, excepting on the subject of religion, and settling who are worthy of salvation and who to be damned, no one opens his lips. Every man you meet is either a descendant of the Prophet or a man of the law. All wear long and mortified faces, and seem to look upon that man as an appointed subject for the eternal fires, who happens to have a rosy cheek and a laughing eye. Therefore, as soon as I approach the place, I always change the atmosphere of my countenance from fair to haze, and from haze to downright clouds and darkness, according as circumstances may require. My knees, which scarcely ever touch the praying carpet, now perform their functions five good times per day; and I, who in any other place never consult any Kebleh78 but that of my own pleasure and inclinations, now know the direction of the true one, as well as I know the way to my mouth.’

‘All this is very well,’ said I; ‘but what may be the use of it? I am a Mussulman, ’tis true, but to such a pitch as this — no never.

‘The use?’ answered the dervish. ‘The use is this; that it will save you from being starved or stoned to death. These priests will hearken to no medium — either you are a true believer or you are not. If they were to have the least suspicion that you doubted any of the articles of the faith — that you did not look upon the Koran as a living miracle, and did not read it with becoming reverence, whether you understand or not — they would soon show you what power they possess. And if they were to suppose you to be a Sûfi (a free thinker), by the death of your father and mother, they would tear you into little pieces, and then feel contented that they had got on another post on the high road to paradise. Perhaps, friend Hajji, you do not know that this is the residence of the celebrated Mirza Abdul Cossim, the first mûshtehed (divine) of Persia; a man who, if he were to give himself sufficient stir, would make the people believe any doctrine that he might choose to promulgate. Such is his influence, that many believe he could even subvert the authority of the Shah himself, and make his subjects look upon his firmans as worthless, as so much waste paper. But the truth is, he is a good man; and, except stoning his sûfi, and holding us wandering dervishes as the dirt under his feet, I know of no fault in him.’

Having heard him out, I agreed that, however I might deplore the want of habit in my religious duties, yet, situated as I was, it was necessary that I should acquire them, in order to be held in proper estimation by the great authorities, under whose eye I was immediately placed; and forthwith I set about saying my prayers and making my ablutions, as if my very existence depended upon my regularity. Indeed, what I had formerly looked upon as irksome ceremony, now became an agreeable pastime, and helped greatly to soften the tedium of my melancholy life. I never omitted to rise at the first call; to make my ablutions at the cistern, using all the forms of the strictest shiah, and then to pray in the most conspicuous spot I could find. The intonations of my Allah ho akbar were to be heard in each corner of the tomb, and I hoped they came to the ear of every inhabitant of it. No face wore a more mortified appearance than mine: even the dervish, who was the best mimic possible, could not beat me in the downcast eye, the hypocritical ejaculation, the affected taciturnity of the sour, proud, and bigoted man of the law.

It became known that. I was a refugee at the sanctuary; and I very soon discovered the advantages which the dervish had promised me, from taking upon me the airs of the place, and assuming the character of a rigid Mussulman. He spread abroad the history of my misfortune, of course much to my advantage, giving me out for one who was suffering for the sins of another, and asserting that the doctor ought, in fact, to have been the sufferer.

I became acquainted with the principal personages of the town, who were agreed that they had never known a better model of a true believer than I; and had I not been confined to the walls of the sanctuary, it was in contemplation to have made me a peish namaz (a leader of the prayers) at their religious meetings in the mosque. I found that the profound taciturnity which I had adopted was the best help towards the establishment of a high reputation for wisdom; and that, by the help of my beads, which I kept constantly counting, a mumble of my lips, and occasional groans and pious exclamations, the road to the highest consideration was open to me.

My dervish and I lived almost free of expense, so plentifully were we supplied with food. The women, in particular, did not lose an opportunity of bringing me presents of fruit, honey, bread, and other necessaries, for which I repaid them with kind thanks, and now and then with a talisman, written with my own hand.

But although our life was one of ease, yet it was so dull, and so void of incident, that even the spirits of my companion began to sink under it. In order to fill up some of the long hours of listlessness which oppressed us, I encouraged him to recite all his stories, one by one, not forgetting the one which he had related with so much effect in the caravanserai of the sultan’s reservoir, and we found this a very agreeable mode of closing the day.

I feel, O reader, that you also may partake of that same dullness which oppressed me; and I think it but fair that I should endeavour to dissipate it, in the same manner as mine was by the dervish — therefore I will repeat the story which he related to me; and, whether it amuses you or not, yet perhaps you will be glad to know how the mind of a poor prisoner, in the sanctuary at Kom, was diverted from its miseries.


The present Khon-khor of Roum79 is a staunch Mussulman and a rigid upholder of the true faith. Upon his coming to the throne, he announced his intention of doing away with many customs common to the infidels, which had crept into the administration of the state during the reign of his predecessor; and he thought it his duty to endeavour to restore things to their primitive simplicity and to adopt a mode of government purely Turkish. Accordingly he resumed a custom which had almost got into disuse — that of going about the city in tebdil, or disguise; and he was so careful about the disguises which he adopted, and the people whom he admitted into his secrets on these occasions, that he took all sorts of precautions, and invented all sorts of schemes of secrecy, in whatever related to his dresses, and the characters in which he chose to appear.

It is not long ago that considerable discontent prevailed throughout Turkey, and rebellion threatened to break out in Constantinople itself. He was then very anxious to ascertain the temper of the public mind; and, in his usual wary manner, determined to get a suit made that would make him undiscoverable by even his own immediate attendants.

He usually sent for different tailors at different times, and in different places. On this occasion he ordered his favourite slave, the white eunuch Mansouri, to bring him one of no repute, with all the requisite secrecy, at midnight, in order that he might receive instructions about a dress.

The slave in great humility made his bash ustun (on my head be it), and went his way to execute the command.

Close to the gate of the Bezesten, or cloth-market, he saw an old man in a stall, so narrow that he could scarce turn himself about in it, who was taken up in patching an old cloak. He was almost bent double with constant labour at his shopboard; and his eyes seemed not to have benefited by his application, for a pair of glasses were mounted on his nose. “This is precisely the man I want,” said the slave to himself: “I am sure he can be of no repute.” So intent was he upon his work, that he did not heed the salutation of “Peace be with you, friend!” with which Mansouri accosted him; and when he did look up, and saw the well-dressed personage whom he thought had spoken, he continued his work, without making the usual reply; for he could not suppose that the salutation was meant for such a poor devil as he.

However, finding that he was the object of the eunuch’s attention, he doffed the spectacles, threw away his work, and was about getting on his legs, when he was stopped, and requested not to disturb himself.

“What your name?” said Mansouri.

“Abdallah,” said the tailor, “at your service; but I am generally called Babadul by my friends and the world at large.”

“You are a tailor, are you not?” continued the slave.

“Yes,” said the other, “I am a tailor as well as the muezzin at the little mosque in the fish-market. What more can I do?”

“Well, Babadul,” said Mansouri, “have you a mind for a job — a good job?”

“Am I a fool,” answered the old man, “that I should dislike it? Say what it is.”

“Softly, my friend,” remarked the eunuch; “we must go on slow and sure. Will you suffer yourself to be led blindfolded at midnight wherever I choose to take you, for a job?”

“That’s another question,” said Babadul; “times are critical, heads fly in abundance, and a poor tailor’s may go as well as a vizier’s or a capitan pacha’s. But pay me well, and I believe I would make a suit of clothes for Eblis, the foul fiend, himself.”

“Well, then, you agree to my proposal?” said the eunuch, who at the same time put two pieces of gold in his hand.

“Yes, most surely,” said Babadul, “I agree. Tell me what I am to do, and you may depend upon me.”

Accordingly they settled between them that the eunuch was to come to the stall at midnight, and lead him away blindfolded.

Babadul, being left alone, continued his work, wondering what could be the job upon which he was to be so mysteriously employed; and, anxious to make his wife partaker of the news of his good luck, he shut up his stall earlier than usual, and went to his house, that was situated not far from the little mosque in the fish-market, of which he was the muezzin.

Old Dilferîb, his wife, was almost as much bent double as her husband; and in consequence of the two gold pieces, and contemplation of more which they expected to receive, they treated themselves to a dish of smoking kabobs, a salad, dried grapes, and sweetmeats, after which they consoled themselves with some of the hottest and most bitter coffee which the old woman could make.

True to his appointment, Babadul was at his stall at midnight, where he was as punctually met by Mansouri. Without any words, the former permitted himself to be blindfolded, whilst the latter led him away by the hand, making many and devious turns, until they reached the imperial seraglio; there, stopping only to open the private iron gate, Mansouri introduced the tailor into the very heart of the sultan’s private apartments. The bandage over his eyes was taken off in a dark chamber, lighted up only by a small lamp, which stood on the shelf surrounding the top of the room, but which was splendidly furnished by sofas of the richest brocade, and by carpets of the most costly manufacture. Here Babadul was commanded to sit, until Mansouri returned with a bundle, wrapped in a large shawl handkerchief: this being opened, a sort of dervish’s dress was displayed to the tailor, and he was requested to look at it, to consider how long he would be making such a one, and then to return it again, duly folded up, to its shawl covering. In the meanwhile, Mansouri told him to stay there until he should return to take him away again, and then left him.

Babadul, having turned the dress over and over again, calculated each stitch, and, come to his proper conclusions, packed it up in the handkerchief, as he had been commanded; but no sooner had he done this than a man of lofty demeanour and appearance, whose look made the poor tailor shrink within himself, came into the room, took up the bundle, and walked away with it, without uttering a single word.

A few minutes after, as Babadul was pondering over the strangeness of his situation, and just recovering from the effects of this apparition, a door opened in another part of the apartment, and a mysterious figure, richly dressed, came in, bearing a bundle, equally covered with a shawl, about the size of that which had just been taken away; and making the lowest prostrations before the tailor, in great apparent trepidation, approached him, placed it at his feet, kissed the ground, and retreated without saying a word, or even looking up.

“Well,” said Babadul to himself: “this may be something very fine, and I may be some very great personage, for aught I know; but this is very certain, that I had rather be patching my old cloak in the stall than doing this job, however grand and lucrative it may be. Who knows what I may have been brought here for? These comings in and goings out of strange-looking people, apparently without tongues in their heads, do not argue well. I wish they would give me fewer bows and a greater supply of words, from which I might learn what I am to get by all this. I have heard of poor women having been sewn up in sacks and thrown into the sea. Who knows? perhaps I am destined to be the tailor on such an occasion.”

He had scarcely got thus far in his soliloquy when the slave Mansouri re-entered the room and told him, without more words, to take up the bundle; which having done, his eyes were again blindfolded, and he was led to the spot from whence he came. Babadul, true to his agreement, asked no questions, but agreed with the slave that in three days the dress should be ready for delivery at his stall for which he was to receive ten more pieces of gold.

Having got rid of his companion, he proceeded with all haste to his house, where he knew his wife would be impatiently waiting his return; and as he walked onwards he congratulated himself that at length he had succeeded in getting indeed a job worth the having, and that his fate had finally turned up something good for his old age. It was about two o’clock in the morning when he reached the door of his house. He was received by his wife with expressions of great impatience at his long absence; but when he held up the bundle to her face, as she held up the lamp to his, and when he said, “Mujdeh, give me a reward for good news:— see, I have got my work, and a handsome reward we shall get when it is finished,” she was all smiles and good humour.

“Leave it there till we get up, and let us go to bed now,” said the tailor.

“No, no,” said the wife, “I must look at what you have got before I retire, or I shall not be able to sleep”: upon which, whilst he held up the lamp she opened the bundle. Guess, guess at the astonishment of the tailor and his wife, when, instead of seeing a suit of clothes, they discovered, wrapped in a napkin, in its most horrid and ghastly state, a human head!

It fell from the old woman’s hands and rolled away some paces, whilst the horror-struck couple first hid their faces with their hands, and then looked at each other with countenances which nothing can describe.

“Work!” cried the wife, “work, indeed! pretty work you have made of it! Was it necessary to go so far, and to take such precautions, to bring this misfortune on our heads? Did you bring home this dead man’s head to make a suit of clothes of?”

Anna senna! Baba senna! Curses be on his mother! Perdition seize his father!” exclaimed the poor tailor, “for bringing me into this dilemma. My heart misgave me as that dog of a eunuch talked of blindfolding and silence to me: I thought, as true as I am a Turk, that the job could not consist only in making a suit of clothes; and sure enough this dog’s son has tacked a head to it. Allah! Allah! what am I to do now? I know not the way to his home, or else I would take it back to him immediately, and throw it in his face. We shall have the bostangi bashi and a hundred other bashis here in a minute, and we shall be made to pay the price of blood; or, who knows, be hanged, or drowned, or impaled! What shall we do, eh, Dilferîb, my soul, say?”

“Do?” said his wife; “get rid of the head, to be sure: we have no more right to have it palmed upon us than anybody else.”

“But the day will soon dawn,” said the tailor, “and then it will be too late. Let us be doing something at once.”

“A thought has struck me,” said the old woman. “Our neighbour, the baker, Hassan, heats his oven at this hour, and begins soon after to bake his bread for his morning’s customers. He frequently has different sorts of things to bake from the neighbouring houses, which are placed near the oven’s mouth over-night: suppose I put this head into one of our earthen pots and send it to be baked; no body will find it out until it is done, and then we need not send for it, so it will remain on the baker’s hands.”

Babadul admired his wife’s sagacity, and forthwith she put her plan into execution. When the head had been placed in a baking-pan, she watched a moment when nobody was at hand, and set it on the ground, in the same row with the other articles that were to be inserted in Hassan’s oven. The old couple then double-barred the door of their house, and retired to rest, comforting themselves with the acquisition of the fine shawl and napkin in which the head had been wrapped.

The baker Hassan and his son Mahmûd were heating their oven, inserting therein thorns, chips, and old rubbish at a great rate, when their attention was arrested by the extraordinary whinings and barking of a dog, that was a constant customer at the oven for stray bits of bread, and much befriended by Hassan and his son, who were noted for being conscientious Mussulmans.

“Look, Mahmûd,” said the father to the son, “see what is the matter with the dog: something extraordinary is in the wind.”

The son did what his father bade him, and seeing no reason for the dog’s noises, said, ”Bir chey yok, there is nothing,” and drove him away.

But the howlings not ceasing, Hassan went himself, and found the dog most extremely intent upon smelling and pointing at the tailor’s pipkin. He jumped upon Hassan, then at the pot, then upon Hassan again, until the baker no longer doubted that the beast took great interest in its contents. He therefore gently drew off the lid, when need I mention his horror and surprise at seeing a human head staring him in the face?

“Allah! Allah!” cried the baker; but being a man of strong nerves, instead of letting it fall, as most people would have done, he quietly put on the lid again, and called his son to him.

“Mahmûd,” said he, “this is a bad world, and there are bad men in it. Some wicked infidel has sent a man’s head to bake; but thanks to our good fortune, and to the dog, our oven has been saved from pollution, and we can go on making our bread with clean hands and clear consciences. But since the devil is at work, let others have a visit from him as well as ourselves. If it be known that we have had a dead man’s head to bake, who will ever employ us again? we must starve, we must shut up our oven; we shall get the reputation of mixing up our dough with human grease, and if perchance a hair is found, it will immediately be said that it came from the dead man’s beard.”

Mahmûd, a youth of about twenty, who partook of his father’s insensibility and coolness, and who, moreover, had a great deal of dry humour and ready wit, looked upon the incident in the light of a good joke, and broke out into a hearty laugh when he saw the ugly picture which the grinning head made, set in its earthen frame.

“Let us pop it into the shop of Kior Ali, the barber, opposite,” said the youth; “he is just beginning to open it, and as he has but one eye, we shall be better able to do so without being seen. Do, father,” said Mahmûd, “let me; nobody shall discover me; and let it be done before there is more daylight.”

The father consented; and Mahmûd catching the moment when the barber had walked to the corner of the street to perform certain ablutions, stepped into his shop, and placed the head on a sort of takcheh, or bracket on the wall, arranged some shaving towels about it, as if it had been a customer ready seated to be shaved, and, with a boy’s mischief in his heart, stepped back to his oven again, to watch the effects which this new sort of customer would have upon the blind barber.

Kior Ali hobbled into his shop, which was but ill lighted by a glimmering of daylight that hardly pierced through the oil-papered windows, and looking about him, saw this figure, as he supposed, seated against the wall ready to be operated upon.

“Ha! peace be unto you!” said he to it: “you are rather early this morning; I did not see you at first. My water is not yet hot. Oh, I see you want your head shaved! but why do you take off your fese (skull-cap) so soon? you will catch cold.” Then he paused. “No answer,” said the barber to himself. “I suppose he is dumb, and deaf too perhaps. Well, I am half blind: so we are nearly upon equal terms: however, if I were even to lose my other eye,” addressing himself to the head, “I dare say, my old uncle, I could shave you for all that; for my razor would glide as naturally over your head, as a draught of good wine does over my throat.”

He went methodically about his preparations; he took down his tin basin from a peg, prepared his soap, then stropped his razor on the long bit of leather that was fastened to his girdle. Having made his lather, he walked up to the supposed customer, holding the basin in his left hand, whilst his right was extended to sprinkle the first preparation of water on the sconce. No sooner had he placed his hand on the cold head, than he withdrew it, as if he had been burnt. “Eh! why, what’s the matter with you, friend?” said the barber; “you are as cold as a piece of ice.” But when he attempted a second time to lather it, down it came with a terrible bounce from the shelf to the floor, and made the poor shaver jump quite across his shop with the fright.

“Aman! aman! O mercy, mercy!” cried Kior Ali, as he thrust himself into the furthermost corner without daring to move: “take my shop, my razors, my towels — take all I have; but don’t touch my life! If you are the Shaitan, speak; but excuse my shaving you!”

But when he found that all was hushed after the catastrophe, and that nothing was to be feared, he approached the head and taking it up by the lock of hair at the top, he looked at it in amazement. “A head, by all the Imâms!” said he, accosting it: “and how did you get here? Do you want to disgrace me, you filthy piece of flesh? but you shall not! Although Kior Ali has lost one eye, yet his other is a sharp one, and knows what it is about. I would give you to the baker Hassan there, if his rogue of a son, who is now looking this way, was not even sharper than this self-same eye; but now I think of it, I will take you where you can do no harm. The Giaour Yanaki, the Greek kabobchi 80 (roast meat man), shall have you, and shall cut you up into mincemeat for his infidel customers.” Upon this Kior Ali, drawing in one hand, in which he carried the head, through the slit on the sides of his beniche, or cloak, and taking up his pipe in the other, he walked down two streets to the shop of the aforesaid Greek.

He frequented it in preference to that if a Mussulman, because he could here drink wine with impunity. From long practice he knew precisely where the provision of fresh meat was kept, and as he entered the shop, casting his eye furtively round, he threw the head in a dark corner, behind one of the large sides of a sheep that was to be used for the kabobs if the day. No one saw him perform this feat; for the morning was still sufficiently obscure to screen him. He lighted his pipe at Yanaki’s charcoal fire, and as a pretext for his visit, ordered a dish of meat to be sent to him for breakfast; a treat to which he thought himself fully entitled after his morning’s adventure.

Yanaki, meanwhile, having cleaned his platters, put his skewers in order, lit his fires, made his sherbets, and swept out his shop, went to the larder for some meat for the shaver’s breakfast. Yanaki was a true Greek:— cunning, cautious, deceitful; cringing to his superiors, tyrannical towards his inferiors; detesting with a mortal hatred his proud masters, the Osmanlies, yet fawning, flattering, and abject whenever any of them, however low in life, deigned to take notice of him. Turning over his stock, he looked about for some old bits that might serve the present purpose, muttering to himself that any carrion was good enough for a Turk’s stomach. He surveyed his half sheep from top to bottom; felt it, and said, “No, this will keep”; but as he turned up its fat tail, the eye of the dead man’s head caught his eye, and made him start, and step back some paces. “As ye love your eyes,” exclaimed he, “who is there?” Receiving no answer, he looked again, and again; then nearer, then, thrusting his hand among sheep’s heads and trotters, old remnants of meat, and the like, he pulled out the head — the horrid head — which he held extended at arm’s length, as if he were afraid it would do him mischief. “Anathemas attend your beard!” exclaimed Yanaki, as soon as he discovered, by the tuft of hair on the top, that it had belonged to a Mussulman, “Och! if I had but every one of your heads in this manner, ye cursed race of Omar! I would make kabobs of them, and every cur in Constantinople should get fat for nothing. May ye all come to this end! May the vultures feed on your carcasses! and may every Greek have the good fortune which has befallen me this day, of having one of your worthless skulls for his football!” Upon which, in his rage, he threw it down and kicked it from him; but recollecting himself he said, “But, after all, what shall I do with it? If it is seen here, I am lost for ever: nobody will believe but what I have killed a Turk.”

All of a sudden he cried out, in a sort of malicious ecstasy, “’Tis well I remembered — the Jew! the Jew! — a properer place for such a head was never thought or heard of; and there you shall go, thou vile remnant of a Mahomedan!”

Upon which he seized it, and hiding it under his coat, ran with it down the street to where the dead body of a Jew lay extended, with its head placed immediately between its legs.

In Turkey, you must know, when a Mahomedan is beheaded, his head is placed under his arm, by way of an honourable distinction from the Christian or Jew, who, when a similar misfortune befalls them, have theirs inserted between their legs, as close to the seat of dishonour as possible.

It was in that situation then that Yanaki placed the Turk’s head, putting it as near, cheek by jowl, with the Jew’s, as the hurry of the case would allow. He had been able to effect this without being seen, because the day was still but little advanced, and no one stirring; and he returned to his shop, full of exultation at having been able to discharge his feelings of hatred against his oppressors, by placing one of their heads on the spot in nature, which, according to his estimation, was the most teeming with opprobrium.

The unfortunate sufferer on this occasion had been accused of stealing and putting to death a Mahomedan child (a ceremony in their religion, which they have been known to practice both in Turkey and Persia), and which created such an extraordinary tumult among the mob of Constantinople, that, in order to appease it, he had been decapitated. His execution had taken place purposely before the door of a wealthy Greek, and the body was ordered to remain there three days before it was permitted to be carried away for interment. The expectation that the Greek would be induced to pay down a handsome sum, in order that this nuisance might be removed from his door, and save him from the ill luck which such an object is generally supposed to bring, made the officer entrusted with the execution prefer this spot to every other. But, careless of the consequences, the Greek shut up the windows of his house, determined to deprive his oppressors of their expected perquisite; and so the dead Jew remained exposed his full time. Few excepting those of the true faith ventured to approach the spot, fearful that the Mohamedan authorities would, in their wanton propensities to heap insults upon the Giaours, oblige some one of them to carry the carcass to the place of burial; and thus the horrid and disgusting object was left abandoned to itself, and this had given an opportunity to the kabobchi, Yanaki, to dispose of the head in the manner above related, unseen and unmolested. But when, as the day advanced, and as the stir of the streets became more active, this additional head was discovered, the crowd, which gathered about it, became immense. It was immediately rumoured that a miracle had been performed; for a dead Jew was to be seen with two heads. The extraordinary intelligence flew from mouth to mouth, until the whole city was in an uproar, and all were running to see the miracle. The Sanhedrim immediately pronounced that something extraordinary was about to happen to their persecuted race. Rabbins were to be seen running to and fro, and their whole community was now poured around the dead body, in expectation that he would perhaps arise, put on his heads, and deliver them from the grip of their oppressors.

The Dead Jew.

(A Persian painting, painted for this work.)

But as ill luck would have it for them, a Janissary, who had mixed in the crowd and had taken a close survey of the supernumerary head, exclaimed in a mixture of doubt and amazement, “Allah, Allah, il Allah! these are no infidel’s heads. One is the head of our lord and master, the Aga of the Janissaries.” Upon which, seeing more of his companions, he called them to him and making known his discovery, they became violent with rage, and set off to communicate the intelligence to their Orta.

The news spread like wildfire throughout the whole of the corps of the Janissaries, and a most alarming tumult was immediately excited: for it seems that it was unknown in the capital that their chief, to whom they were devotedly attached, and one of their own selection, had been put to death.

“What!” said they, “is it not enough to deal thus treacherously with us, and deprive us of a chief to whom we are attached; but we must be treated with the greatest contempt that it is possible for men to receive? What! the head of our most noble Aga of the Janissaries to be placed upon the most ignoble part of a Jew! what are we come to? We alone are not insulted; the whole of Islam is insulted, degraded, debased! No: this is unheard-of insolence, a stain never to be wiped off, without the extermination of the whole race! And what dog has done this deed? How did the head get there? Is it that dog of a Vizier’s work, or has the Reis Effendi and those traitors of Frank ambassadors been at work? Wallah, Billah, Tallah! by the holy Caaba, by the beard of Osman, and by the sword of Omar, we will be revenged!”

We must leave the tumult to rage for a short time; we must request the reader to imagine a scene, in which the Jews are flying in all directions, hiding themselves with great precaution against enraged Turks, who with expressions like those just mentioned in their mouths, are to be seen walking about in groups, armed to their teeth with pistols and scimitars, and vowing vengeance upon everything which came in their way. He must imagine a city of narrow streets and low houses, thronged with a numerous population, dresses the most various in shape and the most lively in colours, all anxious, all talking, all agog as if something extraordinary was to happen; in the midst of whom I will leave him, to take a look into the interior of the sultan’s seraglio, and to inquire in what his eminency himself had been engaged since we last noticed him.

On the very same night of the tailor’s attendance, the sultan had given a secret order for taking off the head of the Aga of the Janissaries (the fomenter of all the disturbances which had lately taken place among his corps, and consequently their idol); and so anxious was he about its execution, that he had ordered it to be brought to him the moment it was off. The man entrusted with the execution, upon entering the room where he had been directed to bring the head, seeing some one seated, naturally took him for the sultan, and, without daring to look up, immediately placed the burden at his feet, with the prostrations which we have ready described as having been performed before the tailor. The sultan, who not a minute before had taken away the bundle containing the dervish’s dress, had done so in the intention of deceiving his slave Mansouri himself; so anxious was he of being unknown in his new disguise even to him; and intended to have substituted another in its stead; but not calculating either upon the reception of the head, or upon Mansouri’s immediate return to the tailor, he was himself completely puzzled how to act when he found the tailor was gone, led off by his slave. To have sent after them would have disconcerted his schemes, and therefore he felt himself obliged to wait Mansouri’s return, before he could get an explanation of what had happened; for he knew that they would not have gone away without the dress, and that dress he had then in his possession. In the meanwhile, anxious and impatient to know what had become of the expected head, he sent for the officer who was entrusted with the execution; and the astonishment of both may be imagined when an explanation took place.

“By my beard!” exclaimed the sultan, having thought awhile within himself; “by my beard, the tailor must have got the head!”

His impatience for Mansouri’s return then became extreme. In vain he fretted, fumed, and cried “Allah! Allah!” It did not make the slave retum a minute the sooner, who, good man, would have gone quietly to rest had he not been called upon to appear before the sultan.

As soon as he was within hearing, he called out, “Ahi! Mansouri, run immediately to the tailor — he has got the head of the Aga of the Janissaries instead of the dervish’s dress — run, fetch it without loss of time, or something unfortunate will happen!” He then explained how this untoward event had occurred. Mansouri now, in his turn, felt himself greatly embarrassed; for he only knew the road to the tailor’s stall, but was totally unacquainted with his dwelling-house. However, rather than excite his master’s anxiety in a higher degree, he set off in quest of the tailor, and went straight to his stall, in the hopes of hearing from the neighbours where his house was. It was too early in the day for the opening of the Bezesten, and except a coffee-house that had just prepared for the reception of customers, where he applied and could gain no intelligence, he found himself completely at a standstill. By the greatest good luck, he recollected Babadul had told him that he was the muezzin to the little mosque in the fish-market, and thither he immediately bent his steps. The azan, or morning invitation to prayers, was now chanting forth from all the minarets, and he expected that he might catch the purloiner of his head in the very act of inviting the faithful to prayers.

As he approached the spot, he heard an old broken and tremulous voice, which he imagined might be Babadul’s, breaking the stillness of the morning by all the energy of its lungs; and he was not mistaken, for as he stood under the minaret, he perceived the old man walking round the gallery which encircles it, with his hand applied to the back of his ear, and with his mouth wide open, pouring out his whole throat in the execution of his office. As soon as the tailor saw Mansouri making signs to him, the profession of faith stuck in his throat; and between the fright of being brought to account for the head, and the words which he had to pronounce, it is said that he made so strange a jumble, that some of the stricter Mussulmans, his neighbours, who were paying attention to the call, professed themselves quite scandalized at his performance. He descended with all haste, and locking the door after him which leads up the winding staircase, he met Mansouri in the street. He did not wait to be questioned respecting the fate of the horrid object, but at once attacked the slave concerning the trick, as he called it, which had been put upon him.

“Are you a man,” said he, “to treat a poor Emir like me in the manner you have done, as if my house was a charnel-house? I suppose you will ask me the price of blood next!”

“Friend,” said Mansouri, “what are you talking about? do not you see that it has been a mistake?”

“A mistake, indeed!” cried the tailor, “a mistake done on purpose to bring a poor man into trouble. One man laughs at my stupid beard, and makes me believe that I am to make a suit of clothes for him — another takes away the pattern — and a third substitutes a dead man’s head for it. Allah! Allah! I have got into the hands of a pretty nest of rogues, a set of ill-begotten knaves!”

Upon which Mansouri placed his hand upon the tailor’s mouth, and said, “Say no more, say no more; you are getting deeper into the dirt. Do you know whom you are abusing.”

“I know not, nor care not,” answered Babadul; “all I know is that whoever gives me a dead man’s head for a suit of clothes can only be an infidel dog.”

“Do you call God’s viceregent upon earth, you old demi-stitching, demi-praying fool, an infidel dog?” exclaimed Mansouri in a rage, which entirely made him forget the precaution he had hitherto maintained concerning his employer. “Are your vile lips to defile the name of him who is the Alem penah, the refuge of the world? What dirt are you eating, what ashes are you heaping on your head? Come, no more words; tell me where the dead man’s head is, or I will take yours of in his stead.”

Upon hearing this, the tailor stood with his mouth wide open, as if the doors of his understanding had just been unlocked.

Aman, aman, Mercy, mercy, O Aga!” cried Babadul to Mansouri, “I was ignorant of what I was saying. Who would have thought it? Ass, fool, dolt, that I am, not to have known better. Bismillah! in the name or the Prophet, pray come to my house; your steps will be fortunate, and your slave’s head will touch the stars.”

“I am in a hurry, a great hurry,” said Mansouri. “Where is the head, the head of the Aga of the Janissaries?”

When the tailor heard whose head it had been, and recollected what he and his wife had done with it, his knees knocked under him with fear, and he began to exude from every pore.

“Where is it, indeed?” said he. “Oh! what has come upon us! Oh! what cursed kismet (fate) is this?”

“Where is it?” exclaimed the slave, again and again, “where is it? speak quick!”

The poor tailor was completely puzzled what to say, and kept floundering from one answer to another until he was quite entangled as in a net.

“Have you burnt it?”


“Have you thrown it away?”


“Then in the name of the Prophet what have you done with it? Have you ate it.”


“Is it lying in your house?”


“Is it hiding at any other person’s house?”


Then at last quite out of patience, the slave Mansouri took Babadul by his beard, and shaking his head for him, exclaimed with a roar, “Then tell me, you old dotard! what is it doing?”

“It is baking,” answered the tailor, half choked: “I have said it.”

“Baking! did you say?” exclaimed the slave, in the greatest amazement; “what did you bake it for? Are you going to eat it?”

“True, I said: what would you have more?” answered Babadul, “it is now baking.” And then he gave a full account of what he and his wife had done in the sad dilemma in which they had been placed.

“Show me the way to the baker’s,” said Mansouri; “at least, we will get it in its singed state, if we can get it in no other. Whoever thought of baking the head of the Aga of the Janissaries? Allah il allah!

They then proceeded to the baker Hassan’s, who was now about taking his bread from his oven. As soon as he became acquainted with their errand, he did not hesitate in telling all the circumstances attending the transmission of the head from the pipkin to the barber’s bracket; happy to have had an opportunity of exculpating himself of what might possibly have been brought up against him as a crime.

The three (Mansouri, the tailor, and the baker) then proceeded to the barber’s, and inquired from him what he had done with the head of his earliest customer.

Kior Ali, after some hesitation, made great assurances that he looked upon this horrid object as a donation from Eblis himself, and consequently that he had thought himself justified in transferring it over to the Giaour Yanaki, who, he made no doubt, had already made his brother-infidels partake of it in the shape of kabobs. Full of wonder and amazement, invoking the Prophet at each step, and uncertain as to the result of such unheard-of adventures, they then added the barber to their party, and proceeded to Yanaki’s cook-shop.

The Greek, confounded at seeing so many of the true believers enter his house, had a sort of feeling that their business was not of roast meat, but that they were in search of meat of a less savoury nature. As soon as the question had been put to him concerning the head, he stoutly denied having seen it, or knowing anything at all concerning it.

The barber showed the spot where he had placed it, and swore it upon the Koran.

Mansouri had undertaken the investigation of the point in question, when they discovered symptoms of the extraordinary agitation that prevailed in the city in consequence of the discovery which had been made of the double-headed Jew, and of the subsequent discovery that had produced such great sensation among the whole corps of Janissaries.

Mansouri, followed by the tailor, the baker, and the barber, then proceeded to the spot where the dead Israelite was prostrate; and there, to their astonishment, they each recognized their morning visitor — the head so long sought after.

Yanaki, the Greek, in the meanwhile, conscious of what was likely to befall him, without loss of time gathered what money he had ready at hand, and fled the city.

“Where is the Greek?” said Mansouri, turning round to look for him in the supposition that he had joined his party; “we must all go before the sultan.”

“I dare say he is run off,” said the barber. “I am not so blind but I can see that he it is who gifted the Jew with his additional head.”

Mansouri now would have carried off the head; but surrounded as it was by a band of enraged and armed soldiers, who vowed vengeance upon him who had deprived them of their chief, he thought it most prudent to withdraw. Leading with him his three witnesses, he at once proceeded to the presence of his master.

When Mansouri had informed the sultan of all that had happened, where he had found the head of the Aga of the Janissaries, how it had got there, and of the tumult it had raised, the reader may better imagine than I can describe the state of the monarch’s mind. To tell the story with all its particulars he felt would be derogatory to his dignity, for it was sure to cover him with ridicule; but at the same time to let the matter rest as it now stood was impossible, because the tumult would increase until there would be no means of quelling it, and the affair might terminate by depriving him of his crown, together with his life.

He remained in a state of indecision for some time, twisting up the ends of his mustachios, and muttering Allah! Allah! in low ejaculations, until at length he ordered the prime vizier and the mûfti to his presence.

Alarmed by the abruptness of the summons, these two great dignitaries arrived at the imperial gate in no enviable state of mind; but when the sultan had informed them of the tumult then raging in the capital, they resumed their usual tranquillity.

After some deliberation it was resolved, that the tailor, the baker, the barber, and the kabobchi should appear before the tribunal of the mûfti, accused of having entered into a conspiracy against the Aga of the Janissaries, and stealing his head, for the purposes of baking, shaving, and roasting it, and that they should be condemned to pay the price of his blood; but as the kabobchi had been the immediate cause of the tumult by treating the head with such gross and unheard-of insult, and as he was a Greek and an infidel, it was further resolved that the Mûfti should issue a fetwah, authorizing his head to be cut off: and placed on the same odious spot where he had exposed that of the Aga of the Janissaries.

It was then agreed between the sultan and his grand vizier, that in order to appease the Janissaries a new Aga should be appointed who was agreeable to them, and that the deceased should be buried with becoming distinction. All this (except killing the Greek, who had fled) was done, and tranquillity again restored to the city. But it must further be added to the honour of the sultan, that he not only paid every expense which the tailor, the baker, and the barber were condemned to incur, but also gave them each a handsome reward for the difficulties into which they had so unfortunately been thrown.


I have much curtailed the story, particularly where Mansouri proceeds to relate to the sultan the fate of the head, because, had I given it with all the details the dervish did, it would have been over long. Indeed I have confined myself as much as possible to the outline; for to have swelled the narrative with the innumerable digressions of my companion a whole volume would not have contained it. The art of a story-teller (and it is that which marks a man of genius) is to make his tale interminable, and still to interest his audience. So the dervish assured me; and added, that with the materials of the one which I have attempted to repeat, he would bind himself to keep talking for a whole moon, and still have something to say.

78 [ I.e. Mecca, to which all Mohamedans turn in their prayers.]

79 [ Khon-khor, literally “blood-drinker”; so the Sultan of Roum, or Turkey, is styled in Persia.]

80 [ The kabob shops at Constantinople are eating-houses, where, at a moment’s notice, a dish of roast meat, and small bits of meat done on skewers, are served up to whoever asks for them.]

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