My father having died without a will, I was, of course, proclaimed his sole heir without any opposition, and consequently, all those who had aspired to be sharers of his property, balked by my unexpected appearance, immediately withdrew to vent their disappointment in abusing me. They represented me as a wretch, devoid of all respect for my parents, as one without religion, an adventurer in the world, and the companion of lûties and wandering dervishes.
As I had no intention of remaining at Ispahan, I treated their endeavours to hurt me with contempt; and consoled myself by giving them a full return of all their scurrility, by expressions which neither they nor their fathers had ever heard; expressions I had picked up from amongst the illustrious characters with whom I had passed the first years of my youth.
When we were left to ourselves, my mother and I, after having bewailed in sufficiently pathetic language, she the death of a husband, I the loss of a father, the following conversation took place:—
‘Now tell me, O my mother — for there can be no secrets between us — tell me the state of Kerbelai Hassan’s concerns. He loved you, and confided in you, and you must therefore be better acquainted with them than any one else.’
‘What do I know of them, my son?’ said she, in great haste, and seeming confusion.
I stopped her, to continue my speech. ‘You know that according to the law, his heir is bound to pay his debts:— they must be ascertained. Then, the expenses of the funeral are to be defrayed; they will be considerable; and at present I am as destitute of means as on the day you gave me birth. To meet all this, money is necessary; or else both mine and my father’s name will be disgraced among men, and my enemies will not fail to overcome me. He must have been reputed wealthy, or else his death-bed would never have been surrounded by that host of blood-suckers and time-servers which have been driven away by my presence. You, my mother, must tell me where he was accustomed to deposit his ready cash; who were, or who are, likely to be his debtors; and what might be his possessions, besides those which are apparent.’
‘Oh, Allah!’ exclaimed she, ‘what words are these? Your father was a poor, good man, who had neither money nor possessions. Money, indeed! We had dry bread to eat, and that was all! Now and then, after the arrival of a great caravan, when heads to be shaved were plentiful, and his business brisk, we indulged in our dish of rice, and our skewer of kabob, but otherwise we lived like beggars. A bit of bread, a morsel of cheese, an onion, a basin of sour curds — that was our daily fare; and, under these circumstances, can you ask me for money, ready money too? There is this house, which you see and know; then his shop, with its furniture; and when I have said that, I have nearly said all. You are just arrived in time, my son, to step into your father’s shoes, and take up his business; and Inshallah, please God, may your hand be fortunate! may it never cease wagging, from one year’s end to the other!’
‘This is very strange!’ exclaimed I, in my turn. ‘Fifty years, and more, hard and unceasing toil! and nothing to show for it! This is incredible! We must call in the diviners.’
‘The diviners?’ said my mother, in some agitation; ‘of what use can they be? They are only called in when a thief is to be discovered. You will not proclaim your mother a thief, Hajji, will you? Go, make inquiries of your friend, and your father’s friend, the âkhon.83 He is acquainted with the whole of the concerns, and I am sure he will repeat what I have said.’
‘You do not speak amiss, mother,’ said I. ‘The âkhon probably does know what were my father’s last wishes, for he appeared to be the principal director in his dying moments; and he may tell me, if money there was left, where it is to be found.’
Accordingly I went straightway to seek the old man, whom I found seated precisely in the very same corner of the little parish mosque, surrounded by his scholars, in which some twenty years before I myself had received his instructions. As soon as he saw me he dismissed his scholars, saying, my footsteps were fortunate, and that others, as well as himself, should partake of the pleasure I was sure to dispense wherever I went.
A woman in out-door dress is in the background. The master, as a Seyyud, or descendant of the Prophet, wears a dark green turban.
‘Ahi, âkhon,’ said I, ‘do not laugh at my beard. My good fortune has entirely forsaken me; and even now, when I had hoped that my destiny, in depriving me of my father, had made up the loss by giving me wealth, I am likely to be disappointed, and to turn out a greater beggar than ever.’
‘Allah kerim, God is merciful,’ said the schoolmaster; and, lifting up his eyes to heaven, whilst he placed his hands on his knees, with their palms uppermost, he exclaimed, ‘O Allah, whatever is, thou art it.’ Then addressing himself to me, he said, ‘Yes, my son, such is the world, and such will it ever be, as long as man shuts not up his heart from all human desires. Want nothing, seek nothing, and nothing will seek you.’
‘How long have you been a Sûfi’ said I, ‘that you talk after this manner? I can speak on that subject also, since my evil star led me to Kom, but now I am engrossed with other matters.’ I then informed him of the object of my visit, and requested him to tell me what he knew of my father’s concerns. Upon this question he coughed, and, making up a face of great wisdom, went through a long string of oaths and professions, and finished by repeating what I had heard from my mother; namely, that he believed my father to have died possessed of no (nagd) ready cash (for that, after all, was the immediate object of my search); and what his other property was, he reminded me that I knew as well as himself.
I remained mute for some time with disappointment, and then expressed my surprise in strong terms. My father, I was aware, was too good a Mussulman to have lent out his money upon interest, for I recollected a circumstance, when I was quite a youth, which proved it. Osman Aga, my first master, wanting to borrow a sum from him, for which he offered an enormous interest, my father put his conscience into the hands of a rigid mollah, who told him that the precepts of the Koran entirely forbade it. Whether since that time he had relaxed his principles, I could not say; but I was assured that he always set his face against the unlawful practice of taking interest, and that he died, as he had lived, a perfect model of a true believer.
I left the mosque in no very agreeable mood, and took my way to the spot where I had made my first appearance in life, namely, my father’s shop, turning over in my mind as I went what steps I should take to secure a future livelihood. To remain at Ispahan was out of the question — the place and the inhabitants were odious to me; therefore, it was only left me to dispose of everything that was now my own, and to return to the capital, which, after all, I knew to be the best market for an adventurer like myself. However, I could not relinquish the thought that my father had died possessed of some ready money, and suspicions would haunt my mind, in spite of me, that foul play was going on somewhere or other. I was at a loss to whom to address myself, unknown as I was in the city, and I was thinking of making my case known to the cadi, when, approaching the gate of the caravanserai, I was accosted by the old capiji. ‘Peace be unto you, Aga!’ said he; ‘may you live many years, and may your abundance increase! My eyes are enlightened by seeing you.’
‘Are your spirits so well wound up, Ali Mohamed,’ said I in return, ‘that you choose to treat me thus? As for the abundance you talk of, ’tis abundance of grief, for I have none other that I know of. Och!’ said I, sighing, ‘my liver has become water, and my soul has withered up.’
‘What news is this?’ said the old man. ‘Your father (peace be unto him!) is just dead — you are his heir — you are young, and, Mashallah! you are handsome — your wit is not deficient:— what do you want more?’
‘I am his heir, ’tis true; but what of that? what advantage can accrue to me, when I only get an old mud-built house, with some worn-out carpets, some pots and pans and decayed furniture, and yonder shop with a brass basin and a dozen of razors? Let me spit upon such an inheritance.’
‘But where is your money, your ready cash, Hajji? Your father (God be with him!) had the reputation of being as great a niggard of his money as he was liberal of his soap. Everybody knows that he amassed much, and never passed a day without adding to his store.’
‘That may be true,’ said I; ‘but what advantage will that be to me, since I cannot find where it was deposited? My mother says that he had none — the âkhon repeats the same — I am no conjuror to discover the truth. I had it in my mind to go to the cadi.’
‘To the cadi?’ said Ali Mohamed. ‘Heaven forbid! Go not to him — you might as well knock at the gate of this caravanserai, when I am absent, as try to get justice from him, without a heavy fee. No, he sells it by the miscal, at a heavy price, and very light weight does he give after all. He does not turn over one leaf of the Koran, until his fingers have been well plated with gold, and if those who have appropriated your father’s sacks are to be your opponents, do not you think that they will drain them into the cadi’s lap, rather than he should pronounce in your favour?’
‘What, then, is to be done?’ said I. ‘Perhaps the diviners might give me some help.’
‘There will be no harm in that,’ answered the doorkeeper. ‘I have known them make great discoveries during my service in this caravanserai. Merchants have frequently lost their money, and found it again through their means. It was only in the attack of the Turcomans, when much property was stolen, that they were completely at their wits’ end. Ah! that was a strange event. It brought much misery on my head; for some were wicked enough to say that I was their accomplice, and, what is more extraordinary, that you were amongst them, Hajji! — for it was on account of your name, which the dog’s son made use of to induce me to open the gate, that the whole mischief was produced.’
Lucky was it for me, that old Ali Mohamed was very dull of sight, or else he would have remarked strange alterations in my features when he made these observations. However, our conference ended by his promising to send me the most expert diviner of Ispahan; ‘a man,’ said he, ‘who would entice a piece of gold out of the earth, if buried twenty gez deep, or even if it was hid in the celebrated well of Kashan.’84
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53