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

Chapter l

Showing the steps he takes to discover his property, and who the diviner, Teez Negah, was.

The next morning, soon after the first prayers, a little man came into my room, whom I soon discovered to be the diviner. He was a humpback, with an immense head, with eyes so wonderfully brilliant, and a countenance so intelligent, that I felt he could look through and through me at one glance. He wore a dervish’s cap, from under which flowed a profusion of jet black hair, which, added to a thick bush of a beard, gave an imposing expression to his features. His eyes, which by a quick action of his eyelid (whether real or affected, I know not) twinkled like stars, made the monster, who was not taller than a good bludgeon, look like a little demon.

He began by questioning me very narrowly; made me relate every circumstance of my life — particularly since my return to Ispahan — inquired who were my father’s greatest apparent friends and associates, and what my own suspicions led me to conclude. In short, he searched into every particular, with the same scrutiny that a doctor would in tracing and unravelling an intricate disorder.

When he had well pondered over every thing that I had unfolded, he then required to be shown the premises, which my father principally inhabited. My mother having gone that morning to the bath, I was enabled, unknown to her, to take him into her apartments, where he requested me to leave him to himself, in order that he might obtain a knowledge of the localities necessary to the discoveries which he hoped to make. He remained there a full quarter of an hour, and when he came out requested me to collect those who were in my father’s intimacy, and in the habit of much frequenting the house, and that he would return, they being assembled, and begin his operations.

Without saying a word to my mother about the diviner, I requested her to invite her most intimate friends for the following morning, it being my intention to give them a breakfast; and I myself begged the attendance of the âkhon, the capiji, my father’s nephew by his first wife, and a brother of my mother, with others who had free entrance into the house.

They came punctually; and when they had partaken of such fare as I could place before them, they were informed of the predicament in which I stood, and that I had requested their attendance to be witnesses to the endeavours of the diviner to discover where my father was wont to keep his money, of the existence of which, somewhere or other, nobody who knew him could doubt. I looked into each man’s face as I made this speech, hoping to remark some expression which might throw a light upon my suspicions, but everybody seemed ready to help my investigation, and maintained the most unequivocal innocence of countenance.

At length the dervish, Teez Negah (for that was the name of the conjuror), was introduced, accompanied by an attendant who carried something wrapped up in a handkerchief. Having ordered the women in the andenûn to keep themselves veiled, because they would probably soon be visited by men, I requested the dervish to begin his operations.

He first looked at every one present with great earnestness, but more particularly fixed his basilisk eyes upon the âkhon, who evidently could not stand the scrutiny, but exclaimed ’Allah il Allah!‘— there is but one God — stroked down his face and beard, and blew first over one shoulder and then over the other, by way of keeping off the evil spirit. Some merriment was raised at his expense; but he did not appear to be in a humour to meet any one’s jokes.

After this, the dervish called to his attendant, who from the handkerchief drew forth a brass cup, of a plain surface, but written all over with quotations from the Koran, having reference to the crime of stealing, and defrauding the orphan of his lawful property. He was a man of few words, and simply saying, ‘In the name of Allah, the All-wise, and All-seeing,’ he placed the cup on the floor, treating it with much reverence, both in touch and in manner.

He then said to the lookers-on, ‘Inshallah, it will lead us at once to the spot where the money of the deceased Kerbelai Hassan (may God show him mercy!) is or was deposited.’

We all looked at each other, some with expressions of incredulity, others with unfeigned belief, when he bent himself towards the cup, and with little shoves and pats of his hand he impelled it forwards, exclaiming all the time, ‘See, see, the road it takes. Nothing can stop it. It will go, in spite of me. Mashallah, Mashallah!’

We followed him, until he reached the door of the harem, where we knocked for admittance. After some negotiation it was opened, and there we found a crowd of women (many of whom had only loosely thrown on their veils) waiting with much impatience to witness the feats which this wonderful cup was to perform.

‘Make way,’ said the diviner to the women who stood in his path, as he took his direction towards a corner of the court, upon which the windows of the room opened —‘Make way; nothing can stop my guide.’

A woman, whom I recognized to be my mother, stopped his progress several times, until he was obliged to admonish her, with some bitterness, to keep clear of him.

‘Do not you see,’ said he, ‘we are on the Lord’s business? Justice will be done, in spite of the wickedness of man.’

At length he reached a distant corner, where it was plain that the earth had been recently disturbed, and there he stopped.

Bismillah, in the name of Allah,’ said he, ‘let all present stand around me, and mark what I do.’ He dug into the ground with his dagger, clawed the soil away with his hands, and discovered a place in which were the remains of an earthen vessel, and the marks near it of there having been another.

‘Here,’ said he, ‘here the money was, but is no more.’ Then taking up his cup, he appeared to caress it, and make much of it, calling it his little uncle and his little soul.

Every one stared. All cried out, ’ajaib, wonderful’; and the little humpback was looked upon as a supernatural being.

The capiji, who was accustomed to such discoveries, was the only one who had the readiness to say, ‘But where is the thief? You have shown us where the game lay, but we want you to catch it for us:— the thief and the money, or the money without the thief — that is what we want.’

‘Softly, my friend,’ said the dervish to the capiji, ‘don’t jump so soon from the crime to the criminal, We have a medicine for every disorder, although it may take some time to work.’

He then cast his eyes upon the company present, twinkling them all the while in quick flashes, and said, ‘I am sure every one here will be happy to be clear of suspicion, and will agree to what I shall propose. The operation is simple, and soon over.’

Elbetteh, certainly’: ’Belli, yes’: ’Een che harf est? what word is this?’ was heard to issue from every mouth, and I requested the dervish to proceed.

He called again to his servant, who produced a small bag, whilst he again took the cup under his charge.

‘This bag,’ said the diviner, ‘contains some old rice. I will put a small handful of it into each person’s mouth, which they will forthwith chew. Let those who cannot break it, beware, for Eblis is near at hand.’

Upon this, placing us in a row, he filled each person’s mouth with rice, and all immediately began to masticate. Being the complainant, of course I was exempt from the ordeal; and my mother, who chose to make common cause with me, also stood out of the ranks. The quick-sighted dervish would not allow of this, but made her undergo the trial with the rest, saying, ‘The property we seek is not yours, but your son’s. Had he been your husband, it would be another thing.’ She agreed to his request, though with bad grace, and then all the jaws were set to wagging, some looking upon it as a good joke, others thinking it a hard trial to the nerves. As fast as each person had ground his mouthful, he called to the dervish, and showed the contents of his mouth.

All had now proved their innocence excepting the âkhon and my mother. The former, whose face exhibited the picture of an affected cheerfulness with great nervous apprehension, kept mumbling his rice, and turning it over between his jaws, until he cried out in a querulous tone, ‘Why do you give me this stuff to chew? I am old, and have no teeth:— it is impossible for me to reduce the grain’; and then he spat it out. My mother, too, complained of her want of power to break the hard rice, and did the same thing. A silence ensued, which made us all look with more attention than usual upon them, and it was only broken by a time-server of my mother, an old woman, who cried out, ‘What child’s play is this? Who has ever heard of a son treating his mother with this disrespect, and his old schoolmaster, too? Shame, shame! — let us go — he is probably the thief himself.’

Upon this the dervish said, ‘Are we fools and asses, to be dealt with in this manner? Either there was money in that corner, or there was not — either there are thieves in the world, or there are not. This man and this woman,’ pointing to the âkhon and my mother, ‘have not done that which all the rest have done. Perhaps they say the truth, they are old, and cannot break the hard grain. Nobody says that they stole the money — they themselves know that best,’ said he, looking at them through and through; ‘but the famous diviner, Hezarfun, he who was truly called the bosom friend to the Great Bear, and the confidant of the planet Saturn — he who could tell all that a man has ever thought, thinks, or will think — he hath said that the trial by rice, among cowards was the best of all tests of a man’s honesty. Now, my friends, from all I have remarked, none of you are slayers of lions, and fear is easily produced among you. However, if you doubt my skill in this instance, I will propose a still easier trial — one which commits nobody, which works like a charm upon the mind, and makes the thief come forward of his own accord, to ease his conscience and purse of its ill-gotten wealth, at one and the same time. I propose the Hâk reezî, or the heaping up earth. Here in this corner I will make a mound, and will pray so fervently this very night, that, by the blessing of Allah, the Hajji,’ pointing to me, ‘Will find his money buried in it to-morrow at this hour. Whoever is curious, let them be present, and if something be not discovered, I will give him a miscal of hair from my beard.’

He then set to work, and heaped up earth in a corner, whilst the lookers on loitered about, discussing what they had just seen; some examining me and the dervish as children of the evil spirit, whilst others again began to think as much of my mother and the schoolmaster. The company then dispersed, most of them promising to return the following morning, at the appointed time, to witness the search into the heap of earth.

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