Having accomplished this part of my business, I strolled to one of the most frequented caravanserais in the city, to see whether, perchance, some circumstance might not turn up to advance my master’s views. As I approached it, I found all the avenues blocked up with mules and camels heavily laden, intermixed with travellers, some of whom wearing a white band, the distinguishing mark of the pilgrims who have visited the tomb of Iman Reza, at Meshed, informed me that the caravan came from the province of Khorassan. I waited to see it gradually unravel from the maze of the narrow streets, and, after a due allowance of wrangling and abuse between the mule and camel drivers, I saw it take up its abode in the square of the building.
‘Perhaps’, said I, ‘my good stars may throw some of my former acquaintance at Meshed into my way’; and I looked at each traveller with great earnestness. It was true that many years had now elapsed since my memorable bastinado, and that time would have made great changes in the appearances of men; but still, I, who knew each face by heart, and had studied its expression as it inhaled my smoke, hoped that my recollection would not fail me.
I had despaired of making a discovery, and was about to walk away, when a certain nose, a certain round back, and a certain projecting paunch, met my eye, and arrested my attention.
‘Those forms are familiar to me,’ said I; ‘they are connected with some of my early ideas; and assuredly are the property of one who is something more than a common acquaintance.’ My first master, Osman Aga, came into my mind; but all idea of him I immediately banished, because it was more than certain that he had long since fallen a victim to the horrors of his captivity among the Turcomans. Still I looked at him, and at every glance I felt convinced it was either he, his brother, or his ghost. I approached to where he was seated, in the hope of hearing him speak; but he seemed to be torpid (which was another characteristic in favour of my suspicion), and I had waited some time in vain, when, to my surprise, I heard him, in a voice well known to my ears, inquire of a merchant who was passing, ‘In God’s name, what may be the price of lambs’ skins at Constantinople?’
‘Oh, for once,’ said I, ‘I cannot be mistaken! You can be no one but Osman,’— and I immediately made myself known to him.
He was as slow to believe that it was Hajji Baba who accosted him, as I had been to make him out Osman Aga.
After our expressions of mutual astonishment had somewhat subsided, we began to survey each other. I discussed the greyness of his beard, and he complimented me upon the beauty and blackness of mine. He talked with great serenity of the lapse of time, and of the nothingness of this world, from which I perceived that his belief in predestination had rather increased than diminished by his misfortunes, and which alone could account for the equanimity with which he had borne them. In his usual concise manner, he related what had befallen him since we last met. He said, that after the first feelings of misery at his captivity had gone by, his time passed more agreeably than he had expected; for he had nothing to do but to sit with the camels, whose nature being of the same calm and philosophic cast as his own, suited his quiet and sedentary habits. His food was indifferent, but then he had excellent water; and the only privation which he seemed to regret was tobacco — a want which long previous habit rendered infinitely painful. Years had run on in this manner, and he had made up his mind to pass the remainder of his life with the camels, when his destiny took another turn, and he once more had the cheering hope of being restored to liberty. One, who gave himself out for a prophet, appeared among the Turcomans. According to the custom of such personages, he established his influence by pretending to work two or three miracles, and which were received as such by that credulous people. His word became a law. The most celebrated and experienced marauders freely laid their spoils at his feet, and willingly listed under his banner, in whatever enterprise he chose to propose. Osman Aga presented himself before him, asserted his privileges of a Sûni, and, moreover, of being an emir, and at length succeeded in making the impostor procure his liberty without ransom, which he did, in order to advance the glory of the true faith. Once free, he lost no time in proceeding to Meshed, where, to his great good fortune, he met merchants from Bagdad, one of whom being nearly connected to him by marriage, advanced him a small sum of money to trade with. He received encouraging accounts of the state of the Turkish markets for the produce of Bokhara, and thither he proceeded to make his purchases on the spot. Owing to his long residence among the Turcomans, he had acquired much useful knowledge concerning their manners and customs — particularly on the subject of buying and selling — and this enabled him to trade, with much success, between Bokhara and Persia, until he had gained a sufficient sum to enable his return to his country with advantage. He was now on the road to Constantinople, with several mules laden with the merchandise of Bokhara, Samarcand, and the east of Persia; and having disposed of it there, it was then his intention to return to his native city, Bagdad. He expressed, however, his intention to remain at Tehran until the spring caravan should assemble, in order to enjoy some of the pleasures of an imperial residence, after having lived so long among savages, as he called the Turcomans, and he inquired from me how he might most agreeably pass his time.
My fair charges immediately came into my mind; and recollecting of old that he was a great advocate for the marriage state, I proposed a wife to him without loss of time.
Certainly, thought I, nothing was ever more strongly pronounced than the doctrine of predestination has been in this instance. Here, one of my masters arrives from regions beyond the rising of the sun, to espouse the widow of another of my masters, who dies just at the very nick of time to produce the meeting, which I, who come from the countries of the south, step in to promote.
The hakîm’s widow was the fattest of the three, and therefore I made no scruple in proposing her to Osman, who at once acceded to my offer. Softening down the little asperities of her temper, making much of her two eyebrows in one, and giving a general description of her person, suited to the Ottoman taste, I succeeded in giving a very favorable opinion to the bridegroom of his intended.
I then proceeded to inform the mollah Nadân of my success, who appeared to listen with delight to the adventures of this couple, which I related to him with scrupulous detail. He directed me how to proceed, and informed me, in order to make the marriage lawful, that a vakeel, or trustee, must appear on the part of the woman, and another on that of the man. That the woman’s vakeel having beforehand agreed upon the terms of the marriage, proceeded to ask the following question of the man’s vakeel, in the Arabic tongue.
‘Have you agreed to give your soul to me upon such and such conditions?’ to which the other answers, ‘I have agreed’; and then the parties are held to be lawfully joined together. Nadân himself proposed to officiate on the part of the hakîm’s widow, and I on the part of Osman; and it was left to my ingenuity to obtain as large a fee as possible for ourselves, on this happy occasion.
I forthwith communicated the joyful tidings to the khanum, as I still called her, who did not fail to excite the envy of her other companions, for she immediately laid her success to her superior beauty, and to that never-failing object of her care, her two eyebrows in one. She was, as the reader may be allowed to suppose, in great anxiety at her appearance; for she dreaded not being corpulent enough for her Turk, and from what I could judge, rather doubted the brilliancy of her eye, from the great quantity of black paint which she had daubed on her eyelids.
I left her to return to Osman Aga, who, good man, was also arming himself for conquest; and he seemed to think that, owing to his long residence among camels, he might have imbibed so much of their natures as to have become a fit subject for the perfumes of musk and ambergris. Accordingly, he went to the bath, his grey beard was dyed a glossy black; his hands received a golden tinge; and his mustachios were invited to curl upwards towards the corners of his eyes, instead of downwards into his mouth, as they usually had done.
He then arrayed himself in his best, and followed me to the house of the mollah Nadân, where owing to this change in his appearance, he very well passed off for a man at least ten years younger than he was in reality.
As soon as the parties came in sight of each other, an unconcerned bystander would have been amused with their first glances — he, the bridegroom, endeavouring to discover what he was about to espouse — she, the bride, making play with her veil in such an artful manner as to induce his belief that it concealed celestial charms. But I was too deeply interested in the game to make it matter of amusement. Besides, more than once, a certain fifty ducats that had formerly belonged to Osman, and which I had appropriated to my own use, came into my mind, and made me fear that it also might have a place in his: ‘and if,’ said I, ‘he gets displeased and angry, who knows what ashes may not fall upon my head!’
However, they were married; and I believe most truly that he did not succeed in getting one glimpse of his intended until I had pronounced the awful words, ‘I agree’; when in his impatience he partly pulled her veil on one side, and I need not say that he was far from fainting with delight.
As soon as he was well satisfied that his charmer was not a Zuleikha, he called me to him, and said, ‘Hajji, I thought that youth, at least, she would have possessed; but she is more wrinkled than any camel. How is this?’
I got out of the scrape as well as I was able, by assuring him that she had once been the flower of the royal harem, and reminded him that nothing had so much to do with marriage as destiny.
‘Ah! that destiny’, said he, ‘is an answer for everything; but be its effects what it may, it can no more make an old hag a young woman, than it can make one and one three.’
Sorely did I fear that he would return his bargain upon our hands; but when he found that it was impossible to expect anything better in a mutî, a class of females, who generally were the refuse of womankind — old widows, and deserted wives; and who, rather than live under the opprobrium that single life entails in our Mahomedan countries, would put up with anything that came under the denomination of husband, he agreed to take her to his home. I expected, like a hungry hawk, who, the instant he is unhooded, pounces upon his prey, that Osman as soon as he had got a sight of his charmer, would have carried her off with impatience; but I was disappointed. He walked leisurely on to his room in the caravanserai, and told her that she might follow him whenever it suited her convenience.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53