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

Chapter lxv

He purchases pipe-sticks, and inspires a hopeless passion in the breast of his old master’s daughter.

Osman Aga’s house was situated in a narrow lane, leading out of the street which leads into one of the principal bazaars. Immediately in front of the door was a heap of rubbish, upon which a litter of kittens had just been thrown, making an essay of their young voices as we passed; and a little farther, on a similar mound, a colony of puppies had been planted, guarded by a mangy mother, which, by their united cries, left us nothing to desire in the way of discord. Between these was situated the gate of Osman Aga’s house, into which we entered. It was a small building, consisting of some crazy rooms, which neither indicated riches nor cleanliness. As I had no baggage belonging to me, except a small carpet, my removal here from the caravanserai was soon accomplished, and I took up my future abode in a corner of mine host’s principal room, where he also spread his bed and slept.

By way of celebrating my arrival, he treated me with roasted lamb, and an abundant dish of rice, to which were added dates, cheese, and onions. The dishes were cooked in the harem, by the hands of his wife and daughter, aided by a female slave, the only domestic in the establishment. Neither of these had I yet seen, for it was dusk when we reached the house; nor, from good manners, did I ask more about them than Osman was inclined to tell me.

Besides myself and his son, the old man had invited a brother dealer in lambskins to the entertainment, with whom he had formed a close intimacy during his travels in Bokhara. The conversation turned exclusively upon commerce, about which I was so ignorant, that I took very little share in it, although, considering that it was my intention to enter it myself, I was very happy to open my ears to all that was said.

They entered deeply into the subject and discussed the relative merits or each article of trade. To hear them talk, one might have inferred that the end of the world was at hand, because it was rumoured that the price of their favourite commodity had fallen at Constantinople. They dissuaded me from embarking my capital in that article, but recommended in preference that I should invest it in pipe-sticks, which, they remarked, were subject to no decay, and for which there was a constant demand in the market of Constantinople.

The entertainment being over, and the guests having parted, I ruminated deeply upon what I had heard, and forthwith turned the whole weight of my thoughts to pipe-sticks. There, in a corner, I sat all day calculating what number of pipes I might acquire for my tomauns, and what would be my profit when sold at Constantinople; and when my imagination was heated by the hopes of the ultimate fortune that might be realized, I gave myself up to the most extravagant expectations. The plan of the merchant, whom Saadi relates he met in the island of Kish, was trifling when compared to the one which I formed. ‘With the produce of my pipe-sticks,’ said I, ‘I will buy figs at Smyrna, which I will take to Europe, and having made great profit by them there, my money shall then he invested in skull-caps, which I will carry to Grand Cairo; these being sold in detail, for ready cash, I will carefully pack my money in sacks, and proceed to Ethiopia, where I will purchase slaves, each of whom I will sell for great profit at Moccha, and thence I will make the pilgrimage to the tomb of the Prophet. From Moccha I will transport coffee to Persia, which will fetch an amazing price; and then I will repose in my native city, until I can purchase a high situation at court, which may in time lead me to become the grand vizier to the King of Kings.

Having thus disposed of the future in my favour, I set myself actively to work in laying in my merchandise. According to the most approved method, I made a bargain with a wood-cutter, who was to proceed to the mountains of Lour and Bakhtiari, where he would find forests of the wild cherry-tree, from which he would make his selections, according to the sizes with which I should furnish him. He was then to return to Bagdad, where the sticks would be bored, and made up into appropriate parcels for the markets of Turkey.

All this was duly executed; but during the time that I was waiting for the return of the wood-cutter, I was attacked by a disorder, from which few residents, as well as strangers at Bagdad are exempt, which terminating by a large pimple, as it dries up, leaves an indelible mark on the skin. To my great mortification, it broke out upon the middle of my right cheek, immediately upon the confines of the beard, and there left its baleful print, destroying some of the most favourite of my hairs, and making that appear a broken and irregular waste, which before might be likened to a highly cultivated slope.

I bore this calamity as well as I was able, although I could not help frequently quarrelling with fate, for having chosen so conspicuous a spot to place that which might have been so conveniently settled anywhere else.

‘So be it,’ said I, heaving a sigh at the same time; ‘the wise man said true when he remarked, “if every stone was left to choose what it would be, most probably it would be a diamond;” and if every man might choose whereabouts he would have his pimple, there would be no ugly faces in Bagdad.’

However, by way of consolation, I recollected the Osman Aga’s face was the mirror of deformity, although his pimple had budded elsewhere. He, instead of condoling with me on my misfortune, rather seemed to enjoy it.

‘Hajji,’ said he to me, ‘if you are not afflicted with any greater calamity than this in life, look upon it as a blessing: although one side of your face be deformed, still the other is perfect. The turquoise is the perfection of colour on one side, but is black and dirty on the other; still it is a turquoise, and a precious stone.’

‘Ah,’ said I to myself, ‘the ugly man cannot endure the sight of the handsome, no more than the vicious can the virtuous: in the same manner as curs of the market howl at a hunting dog, but dare not approach him.’

Notwithstanding the deformity of my cheek, I found, as I continued to be an inmate in the house of my old master, that I had made no small impression upon the heart of his daughter, the fair Dilaram, who, by a thousand little arts, did not fail to make me acquainted with the state of her affections. Her mother and she were both experienced in the mode of curing the Bagdad disorder, and they undertook to superintend mine. My pimple and Dilaram’s love appear to have risen at about the same time; their progress was mutual, and by the time that the former had risen to its full height, the latter had become quite inconvenient.

I, ’tis true, had not caught the infection; for my charmer was the very image of her father, whose face and that of an old camel’s were so entirely identified in my mind, that I never could lose that ugly association of ideas when I gazed upon her. It was, therefore, a considerable relief to me when the season for travelling approached, and when the caravan for Constantinople was about to assemble. My pipe-sticks were collected and packed into their proper bundles, my accounts with my creditors regularly discharged, my wardrobe complete, and I was all delight when it was announced, that at the very next favourable conjunction of the planets the caravan was to take its departure. But as for poor Dilaram, she hovered about my cheek with looks of despair; and as fast as the swelling subsided, she appeared to lose the only tie which kept her united to this world and its vanities.

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