My mind now dwelt upon the promise which the mûshtehed had made of procuring my pardon and release from the Shah, when he came to visit the sanctuary at Kom; and it occurred to me, that to secure the favour of so powerful an advocate, I ought to make him a present, without which nothing is ever accomplished in Persia. But of what it was to be composed was the next consideration. The money left in my purse was all that I had to subsist upon until I should acquire a new livelihood; and, little as it was, I had kept it safely buried in an unfrequented corner near my cell.
I fixed upon a praying-carpet, as the best present for one who is always upon his knees, and had laid my plan for getting some brought to me from the bazaar to look at.
‘Every time the good man prays,’ said I, ‘he will think of me; and as one is apt to make good resolutions in such moments, perhaps he will be put in mind of his promises to endeavour to release me.’
I forthwith resorted to my secret corner for my purse, in the determination of sacrificing one of my remaining tomauns to this purpose. But here let me stop, and let me request the reader to recollect himself, and reflect upon his feelings after the most severe disappointment which it may have been his lot to sustain, and let me tell him, that it was nothing to my grief, to my rage, to my exasperation, when I found my purse was gone.
My soul came into my mouth; and without a moment’s hesitation I exclaimed, ‘O thou bankrupt dog! thou unsainted dervish! You have brought me safe into harbour, ’tis true; but you have left me without an anchor. May your life be a bitter one, and may your daily bread be the bread of grief! And so, after all, Hajji Baba has become a beggar!’
I then took to making the most sorrowful moanings and lamentations; for the fear of starvation now stared me in the face notwithstanding the charity of the people of Kom; and as despair is a malady which increases the more the mind dwells upon its misfortune, I seemed to take delight in reverting to all the horrors which I had lately witnessed in the death of Zeenab; then I dwelt upon my confinement, then upon my loss, and at length wound myself up to look upon my situation as so desperate, that if I had had poison by me, I should certainly have swallowed it.
At this moment passed by my cell the old mollah, who, during my visit to the mûshtehed, had warned me against putting too much confidence in the dervish. I told him of my misfortune, and raised such doleful wailings, that his heart was touched.
‘You spoke but too well, O mollah!’ said I, ‘when you warned me against the dervish. My money is gone, and I am left behind. I am a stranger; and he who called himself my friend has proved my bitterest enemy! Curses on such a friend! Oh! whither shall I turn for assistance?’
‘Do not grieve, my son,’ said the mollah; ‘we know that there is a God, and if it be his will to try you with misfortune, why do you repine? Your money is gone — gone it is, and gone let it be; but your skin is left — and what do you want more? A skin is no bad thing, after all!’
‘What words are these?’ said I: ‘I know that a skin is no bad thing; but will it get back my money from the dervish?’
I then requested the old man to state my misfortune to the mûshtehed, and, moreover, my impossibility of showing him that respect by a present, which was due to him, and which it had been my intention to make.
He left me with promises of setting my case in its proper light before the holy man; and, to my great joy, on the very same day the news of the approaching arrival of the Shah was brought to Kom by the chief of the tent-pitchers, who came to make the necessary preparations for his accommodation.
The large open saloon in the sanctuary in which the king prays was spread with fine carpets, the court was swept and watered, the fountain in the centre of the reservoir was made to play, and the avenues to the tomb were put into order. A deputation, consisting of all the priests, was collected, to go before him, and meet him on his entry; and nothing of ceremony was omitted which was due to the honour and dignity of the Shadow of the Almighty upon earth.
I now became exceedingly anxious about my future fate; for it was long since I had heard from Tehran, and I was ignorant of the measure of the Shah’s resentment against me. Looking upon the dark side of things, my imagination led me to think that nothing short of my head would satisfy him; but then, cheering myself with a more pleasing prospect, I endeavoured to believe that I was too insignificant a personage that my death should be of any consequence, and built all my hopes upon the intercession of the mûshtehed.
The chief tent-pitcher had formerly been my friend, and among his assistants I recognized many of my acquaintance. I soon made myself known to them; and they did not, for a wonder, draw back from recognizing me, although one of our greatest sages hath said, ‘that a man in adversity is shunned like a piece of base money, which nobody will take; and which, if perchance it has been received, is passed off to another as soon as possible.’
The newcomers gave me all the intelligence of what had happened at court since I had left it; and although I professed to have renounced the world, and to have become a recluse, a sitter in a corner, as it is called, yet still I found that I had an ear for what was passing in it. They informed me that the chief executioner had returned from his campaign against the Russians, and had brought the Shah a present of two Georgian slaves, a male and a female, besides other rarities, in order the better to persuade him of his great feats and generalship. The present had been accepted, and his face was to be whitened by a dress of honour, provided he made the tobeh, oath of penance, restraining himself from the use of wine for the future. I also learnt, notwithstanding it was known how deeply I was implicated in Zeenab’s guilt, that my former master, the hakîm, had still been obliged to make a large present to the Shah, besides having had half his beard pulled out by the roots, for the loss which his majesty had incurred by her death, and for his disappointment at not finding her ready to dance and sing before him on his return from Sultanieh. The king’s wrath for the loss of the Cûrdish slave had in great measure subsided, owing to the chief executioner’s gift of the Georgian one, who was described as being the finest person of the sort who had been exhibited at the slave-market since the days of the celebrated Taous, or Peacock; and was, in short, the pearl of the shell of beauty, the marrow of the spine of perfection. She had a face like the full moon, eyes of the circumference of the chief tent-pitcher’s forefinger and thumb, a waist that he could span, and a form tall and majestic as the full-grown cypress. And they moreover assured me, that the Shah’s anger against me would very easily cede to a present of a few tomauns.
Here again my anathemas against the dervish broke forth; ‘and but for him,’ said I, ‘I might have appeared not empty-handed.’ However, I was delighted to hear that my case was not so desperate as I had imagined; and, seated on the carpet of hope, smoking the pipe of expectation, I determined to await my fate with that comfortable feeling of predestination which has been so wisely dispensed by the holy Prophet for the peace and quiet of all true believers.
The King of Kings arrived the next day, and alighted at his tents, which were pitched without the town. I will not waste the reader’s time in describing all the ceremonies of his reception, which, by his desire, were curtailed as much as possible, inasmuch as his object in visiting the tomb of Fatimeh was not to reap worldly distinctions, but to humble himself before God and men, in the hope of obtaining better and higher reward.
His policy has always been to keep in good odour with the priesthood of his country; for he knew that their influence, which is considerable over the minds of the people, was the only bar between him and unlimited power. He therefore courted Mirza Abdul Cossim, the mûshtehed of Kom, by paying him a visit on foot, and by permitting him to be seated before him, an honour seldom conferred on one of the laity. He also went about the town on foot, during the whole time of his stay there, giving largely to the poor, and particularly consecrating rich and valuable gifts at the shrine of the saint. The king himself, and all those who composed his train, thought it proper to suit their looks to the fashion of the place; and I was delighted to find that I was not singular in my woe-smitten face and my mortified gait. I recollected to have heard, when I was about the court, that the Shah, in point of fact, was a Sûfi at heart, although very rigid in the outward practices of religion; and it was refreshing to me to perceive, among the great officers in his train, one of the secretaries of state, a notorious sinner of that persuasion, who was now obliged to fold up his principles in the napkin of oblivion, and clothe himself in the garments of the true faith.
On the morning of the Shah’s visit to the tomb for the purpose of saying his prayers, I was on the alert, in the hopes of being remarked by the mûshtehed, who would thus be reminded of his promises to me.
About an hour before the prayer of midday, the Shah, on foot, escorted by an immense concourse of attendants, priests, and of the people, entered the precincts of the sanctuary. He was dressed in a dark suit, the sombre colours of which were adapted to the solemn looks of his face, and he held in his hand a long enamelled stick, curiously inlaid at the pommel. He had put by all ornament, wearing none of his customary jewellery, not even his dagger, which on other occasions he is never without. The only article of great value was his rosary, composed of large pearls (the produce of his fishery at Bahrein), of the most beautiful water and symmetry, and this he kept constantly in his hand.
The mûshtehed walked two or three steps behind him on the left hand, respectfully answered the interrogatories which the king was pleased to make, and lent a profound attention to all his observations.
When the procession came near me (for it passed close to my cell), I seized an opportunity, when no officer was at hand, to run forward, throw myself on my knees, make the prostration with my face to the ground, and exclaim, ‘Refuge in the King of Kings, the asylum of the world! In the name of the blessed Fatimeh, mercy!’
‘Who is this?’ exclaimed the king to the mûshtehed, ‘Is he one of yours?’
‘He has taken the bust (the sanctuary),’ answered the mirza, ‘and he claims the accustomed pardon of the Shadow of the Almighty to all unfortunate refugees whenever he visits the tomb. He and we all are your sacrifice; and whatever the Shah ordains, so let it be.’
‘But who and what are you?’ said the Shah to me; ‘why have you taken refuge here?’
‘May I be our sacrifice!’ said I. ‘Your slave was the sub-deputy executioner to the Centre of the Universe, Hajji Baba by name; and my enemies have made me appear criminal in the eyes of the Shah, whilst I am innocent.’
‘Yaftéh îm, we have understood,’ rejoined the king, after a minute’s pause. ‘So you are that Hajji Baba? Mûbarek, much good may it do you. Whether it was one dog or another that did the deed, whether the hakîm or the sub-deputy, it comes to the same thing — the end of it has been that the king’s goods have burnt. That is plain enough, is it not, Mirza Abdul Cossim?’ said he, addressing himself to the mûshtehed.
‘Yes, by the sacred head of the king,’ answered the holy man; ‘generally in all such cases between man and woman, they, and they alone, can speak to the truth.’
‘But what does our holy religion say in such cases?’ observed the king: ‘the Shah has lost a slave — there is a price of blood for the meanest of human beings — even a Frank or a Muscovite have their price, and why should we expend our goods gratis, for the amusement of either our chief physician or our sub-deputy executioner?’
‘There is a price upon each of God’s creatures, and blood must not be spilt without its fine; but there is also an injunction of forgiveness and lenity towards one’s fellow creatures,’ said the mûshtehed, ‘which our holy Prophet (upon whom be eternal blessings!) has more particularly addressed to those invested with authority, and which, O king, cannot be better applied than in this instance. Let the Shah forgive this unfortunate sinner, and he will reap greater reward in Heaven than if he had killed twenty Muscovites, or impaled the father of all Europeans, or even if he had stoned a Sûfi.’
‘Be it so,’ said the Shah; and turning to me, he said with a loud voice, ’Murakhas, you are dismissed; and recollect it is owing to the intercession of this man of God,’ putting his hand at the same time upon the shoulder of the mûshtehed, ‘that you are free, and that you are permitted to enjoy the light of the sun. Bero! Go! open your eyes, and never again stand before our presence.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12