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

Chapter lxvi

He becomes a merchant, leaves Bagdad, and accompanies a caravan to Constantinople.

It was a fine spring morning when the caravan took its departure from the Constantinople gate of the city. Mounted on the top of one of my loads, with my bed tied on the pad by way of a soft seat, and my bags surrounding me, I contemplated the scene with pleasure, listened to the bells of the mules as I would to music, and surveyed myself as a merchant of no small consequence.

My more immediate companions were Osman Aga, and his associate in lambskins (he of whom I have already made honourable mention at the entertainment), and one or two other Bagdad merchants; but besides, there were many of my own countrymen, natives of different cities of Persia, all bound upon purposes of trade to Constantinople, and with whom I was more or less acquainted. My adventure with the chief priest of Tehran had in great measure blown over; and indeed the dress I had adopted, with the scar on my cheek, made me look so entirely like a native of Bagdad, that I retained little in my appearance to remind the world that I was in fact a Persian.

I will not tire the reader with a recital of our adventures through Turkey, which consisted of the usual fear of robbers, squabbles with muleteers, and frays at caravanserais. It will be sufficient to say, that we reached our destination in safety; but I cannot omit the expression of my first emotions upon seeing Constantinople.

I, a Persian, and an Ispahani, had ever been accustomed to hold my native city as the first in the world: never had it crossed my mind that any other could, in the smallest degree, enter into competition with it, and when the capital of Roum was described to me as finer, I always laughed the describer to scorn. But what was my astonishment, and I may add mortification, on beholding, for the first time, this magnificent city! I had always looked upon the royal mosque, in the great square at Ispahan, as the most superb building in the world; but here were a hundred finer, each surpassing the other in beauty and in splendour. Nothing did I ever conceive could equal the extent of my native place; but here my eyes became tired with wandering over the numerous hills and creeks thickly covered with buildings, which seemed to bid defiance to calculation. If Ispahan was half the world, this indeed was the whole. And then this gem of cities possesses this great advantage over Ispahan, that it is situated on the borders of a beautiful succession of waters, instead of being surrounded by arid and craggy mountains; and in addition to its own extent and beauty, enjoys the advantage of being reflected in one never-failing mirror, ever at hand to multiply them. But where should I stop, if I attempted to describe the numerous moving objects which attracted my attention? Thousands of boats, of all forms and sizes, skimmed along in every direction, whilst the larger vessels, whose masts looked like forests, more numerous than those of Mazanderan, lined the shores of the intricate and widely extended harbour.

‘O, this is a paradise,’ said I to those around me; ‘and may I never leave it!’ But when I recollected in whose hands it was, possessed by a race of the most accursed of heretics, whose beards were not fit to be brooms to our dust-holes, then I thought myself too condescending in allowing them to possess me amongst them. One consolation, however, I did not fail to derive from reflection, which was, that if they were allowed the possession of so choice a spot for their use in this world, they would doubly feel the horror of that which was doubtless preparing for them in the next.

After undergoing the necessary forms and examinations at the customhouse, I and my companions took boat at Scutari, crossed over to Constantinople, and established ourselves and merchandise in a large caravanserai, the resort of Persian traders, situated in a very central part of the city, near the principal bazaars. I felt myself a slender personage indeed, when I considered that I was only one among the crowd of the immense population that was continually floating through the great thoroughfares. And when I saw the riches displayed in the shops, the magnificence of dress of almost every inhabitant, and the constant succession of great lords and agas, riding about on the finest and most richly caparisoned horses, I could not help exclaiming, in a secret whisper to myself, ‘Where is Constantinople and her splendours, and where Persia and her poverty?’

I, in conjunction with old Osman, hired a room in the caravanserai, in which we deposited our merchandise. During the daytime I displayed my pipe-sticks in goodly rows on a platform; and as my assortments were good, I began my sales with great vigour, and reaped considerable profit. In proportion as I found money returning to my purse, so did I launch out into luxuries which I little heeded before. I increased the beauty and conveniences of my dress; I bought a handsome amber-headed chibouk; I girded my waist with a lively-coloured shawl; my tobacco pouch was made of silk, covered with spangles; my slippers were of bright yellow, and I treated myself to a glittering dagger. Temptations to expense surrounded me everywhere, and I began to think that there was something worth living for in this world. So numerous were the places in which I might exhibit my person in public, that I could not refrain from visiting the most frequented coffee-houses, where, mounted on a high bench, with soft cushions to recline upon, I smoked my pipe and sipped my coffee like one of the highest degree.

Implicated as I had been in disagreeable adventures in Persia, I was mistrustful of my own countrymen, and rather shunned them, whilst I sought the acquaintance of the Turks. But they, my countrymen, who are always so inquisitive, and who feel themselves slighted upon the least inattention — they discovered who and what I was, and eyed me with no great feelings of approbation. However, I endeavoured to live upon good terms with them; and as long as we did not enter into competition in matters of trade, they left me unmolested.

In places of public resort I gave myself out for a rich Bagdad merchant; and now my scar, which I had before esteemed a great misfortune, was conveniently conspicuous to attest the truth of my assertions. Nothing, I found, was so easy as to deceive the Turks by outward appearance. Their taciturnity, the dignity and composure of their manner and deportment, their slow walk, their set phrases, were all so easy to acquire, that in the course of a very short time I managed to imitate them so well, that I could at pleasure make myself one of the dullest and most solemn of their species. So perfect a hearer had I become, so well did I sigh out, every now and then, in soft accents, my sacred ejaculations of ‘Allah! and there is but one Allah!’ and so steady was I in counting my beads, that I was received at the coffee-house, which I frequented, with distinguished attention. The owner of it himself made my coffee, and as he poured it out with a high flourish of his arm, he never failed to welcome me by the friendly epithets of ‘my aga, my sultan.’ Such influence had the respectability of my appearance secured for me, that in every trifling dispute which might take place in the coffee-room, either upon the subjects of horses, dogs, arms, or tobacco (the principal topics of conversation), I was ever referred to, and any low growl from my lips, of either belli (yes), or yok (no), was sure to set the matter at rest.

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