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

Chapter lx

Hajji and the mollah make plans suited to their critical situation, showing that no confidence can exist between rogues.

The mollah Nadân having finished his narrative, I endeavoured to persuade him that the same destiny which had presided over his success in life, and afterwards over his misfortunes, would no doubt serve him again, and restore him to his lost situation: ‘for,’ said I, ‘we both of us have seen enough of life in Persia to have ascertained its extreme instability. When events depend upon the will of one man, he may with as much consistency order you back from exile, as he did the plucking your beard and the thrusting you forth from the city. There is a reaction in misfortune which frequently produces increased prosperity. Thus when the smith sprinkles water upon his burning charcoal, it is extinguished for a moment, and smoke takes the place of flame; but again, at the slightest blast of his bellows, the fire breaks out with redoubled brilliancy.’

‘That is precisely the thought with which I was consoling myself,’ said my companion, ‘and which set me singing, when you overtook me on the road. The Shah most probably thought it necessary to make an exhibition of justice, by way of ingratiating himself with the Christian merchants; but the day will come when he will feel the necessity of making friends of the upholders of the Mohamedan religion, and then the good opinion of such a man as I, who am beloved by my people, will be of consequence to him. I had some thoughts, I confess, of relinquishing priestcraft, and becoming a merchant; but, all things considered, I shall continue to follow my original destiny. I have now an opportunity of setting up for a martyr, and that, now I recollect it, is worth more than the loss of my worldly goods, my house, my furniture, my white ass, and even my mûties.’

‘Then what do you propose doing?’ said I. ‘Will you accompany me to Bagdad, or will you wait the tide of events in Persia?’

‘My plan,’ said he, ‘is to proceed to my native place, Hamadan, where my father, who is still alive, enjoys considerable reputation: through his means I will set negotiations on foot for my readmission to the capital, and ultimately for my restoration to the situations of which I have been deprived. But you — what road do you intend to pursue? When, inshallah, please God, I am restored, I shall require your talents to make my mûti establishment prosper. You had better remain at Hamadan with me, and follow my fortunes.’

‘Ah, my friend,’ said I, ‘with all my present apparent prosperity, I am more of an exile than you. Events have played wickedly into my lap, and here am I (God knows how unwillingly) an avowed thief. I could not do otherwise than follow my destiny, which has clothed me with the garments of the chief priest, enriched me with his money, and mounted me upon the finely caparisoned steed of the executioner in chief. That same destiny compels me to fly my country: I cannot remain in it to run the chance of being discovered and cut into quarters, to grace the gates of the city. No, before many days are expired, I hope to have reached the Turkish frontier, and then only shall I call myself in safety.’

Upon this I made him an offer of part of my acquired spoils, by which I hoped to secure his secrecy, and happy was I to find him nothing loth. He accepted of ten tomauns (leaving me ninety-five in hand), which he said would be enough for present purposes, and which he promised to repay whenever his fortunes should be reestablished. But upon taking them from me, he again urged me to proceed with him to Hamadan. He represented in the strongest colours the danger I ran of being seized before I could escape from the Shah’s territories, and even when I should have quitted them. ‘For,’ said he, ‘the moment the death of the mollah bashi is known, and as soon as the chief executioner shall have discovered the loss of his horse, he will not fail to dispatch officers throughout the country in search of you, and you are too conspicuous a character now not to be easily traced. It will be much better for you to take refuge with me, who will not fail to avert any inquiries, until the event has blown over, when you will be at liberty to follow your plans in safety. My father owns a village at some distance from Hamadan, where you can live unsuspected; and as for your horse and trappings, we may dispose of them in such a manner that they cannot lead to your discovery. Hamadan is not very far distant. If you depart hence at midnight, we shall reach it early to-morrow; and this we can easily do by making your horse carry us both. Consider that the journey is long to the Turkish frontier; and should the beast fail you, what is to hinder your being taken?’

His words gave a new turn to my thoughts, and I saw that he spoke the language of reason. Totally ignorant of this part of Persia, and feeling how necessary it was for my safety not only to be acquainted with the high roads, but also with the unfrequented paths, I looked upon a rapid flight to the frontier as an undertaking not so easily performed as imagined. If the mollah was inclined to betray me, he would as easily do so whether I fled or whether I adopted his plan; and of the two, it appeared to me a safer line of conduct to confide in than to distrust him: and accordingly I agreed to accompany him.

Refreshed both by food and rest, we departed at midnight, and made great progress on the road to Hamadan ere the sun rose. Having reached a rising ground which gave us a view of the city, we made a halt, in order to decide upon our present operations. Nadân pointed with his hand to a village about a parasang distant, and said, ‘That is the village in which you must take up your quarters, until the story of the mollah bashi’s extraordinary death be blown over; but you cannot present yourself in this magnificent garb, and mounted on this fine horse, without creating suspicion. I propose that we exchange dresses, and that, you surrender the horse up to me. By this means you will appear in the character of a dependant of my father at his village, and I shall keep up the respectability of mine, by returning to the paternal roof properly equipped. This arrangement will advance our mutual as well as our combined interests. You will be safe from suspicion, and I shall not look the pauper that I do now. The history of my disgrace will no doubt soon reach the ears of my family, and perhaps lower them in the eyes of the world; but in this country, where so much depends upon the effect of outward show, as soon as it is known that I returned to them mounted on a horse with an enamelled bridle, a gold-pommelled saddle, and with a Cashmerian shawl round my waist, they as well as I will be restored to our proper places again. After I have enjoyed the advantage of these things a few days, it will be easy to sell them under some plausible pretext, and then you shall duly receive their amount.’

I was rather startled by this proposal, for certainly my companion had not inspired me with sufficient confidence to encourage me trusting him with so much property without any other security than his word. But I felt the truth of all he said. It was impossible for me to keep my incognito at the village for ten days or a fortnight dressed as I was, and the possessor of a fine horse, without creating suspicion. I was now, ’tis true, completely in the power of the mollah; but by his proposed arrangement he would have become such an accomplice in my guilt, that he could never denounce me without at the same time involving himself.

‘But,’ said I, ‘suppose a nasakchi discovers the horse, what becomes of us then? You will be seized as well as I.’

‘God is great,’ answered the mollah; ‘no one can have travelled as fast as we, and before any officer can arrive at Hamadan I shall have reached my father’s house, and produced all the sensation I require in the city. It will be easy after that to secrete both the horse and his trappings. I take all the risk upon myself.’

Nothing more after this was to be said on my part. We immediately stripped, and made an exchange of clothes. He got from me the deceased mollah bashi’s under garment, his caba, or coat, his Cashmerian girdle, and his outward cloak, made of a dark green broad cloth; and I, in return, received his old clothes, which had been torn on his person the day he had been thrust out of Tehran. I gave him my black cap, round which he wound the chief priest’s head-shawl, which I had still preserved; and, in return, he delivered over to me his skull-cap. I preserved the mollah bashi’s purse, the remaining money, the watch and seals; whilst I permitted him the use of the inkstand, the rosary, the pocket looking-glass, and the comb. He then stuck the roll of paper in his girdle; and when completely made up and mounted, he looked so much like the deceased chief priest himself, that I quite started at the resemblance.

We parted with great apparent affection: he promised that I should hear from him immediately, and in the meanwhile gave me every necessary information concerning his father’s village, leaving it to my own ingenuity to make out as plausible a story for myself as I might be able. He then rode away, leaving me with no very agreeable feelings, on finding myself alone in the world, uncertain of the future, and suspicious of my present fate.

I made the best of my road to the village; but was extremely puzzled in what character to introduce myself to the inhabitants. In fact, I looked like one dropped from the skies; for what could be possibly said for a man, of good appearance, without a shawl to his waist, or an outer coat to his back, with a pair of slippers to his feet, and a skull-cap on his head? After much hesitation I determined to call myself a merchant, who had been robbed and plundered by the Cûrds, and then sham a sickness, which might be a pretext for remaining in the village until I could hear from the mollah, who would no doubt furnish me with intelligence which might enable me to determine how long I ought to remain in my hiding-place.

In this I succeeded perfectly. The good people of the village, whom Heaven for my good luck had endowed with a considerable share of dullness, believed my story, and took me in. The only inconvenience I had to endure was the necessity of swallowing prescriptions of an old woman, the doctor of the community, who was called to show her skill upon me.

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