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

Chapter lxix

From a vender of pipe-sticks he becomes a rich Aga, but feels all the inconvenience of supporting a false character.

I soon found that I had a very difficult part to perform. A Chinese philosopher is said to have remarked, that if the operation of eating was confined to what takes place between the mouth and the palate, then nothing could be more pleasant, and one might eat for ever; but it is the stomach, the digestive organs, and, in fact, the rest of the body, which decide ultimately whether the said operation has been prejudicial or healthful. So it is in marriage. If it were confined to what takes place between man and wife, nothing more simple; but then come the ties of relationship and the interests of families, and they decide much upon its happiness or misery.

My fair spouse entertained me for several successive days after our marriage with such manifold and intricate stories of her family, of their quarrels and their makings-up, of their jealousies and their hatreds, and particularly of their interested motives in their conduct towards her, that she made me feel as if I might have got into a nest of scorpions. She recommended that we should use the greatest circumspection in the manner of informing her brothers of our marriage; and remarked that although we were so far secure in being lawful man and wife, still as much of our future happiness depended upon their goodwill towards us (they being men of wealth, and consequently of influence in the city), we ought to do everything in our power to conciliate them. As a precautionary measure, she had spread a report that she was on the point of being married to one of the richest and most respectable of the Bagdad merchants, and in a conversation with one of her brothers, had not denied, although she had abstained from confessing it to be the case. She now requested that our marriage might be proclaimed, and to that effect recommended that we should give an entertainment to all her relations, and that no expense should be spared in making it as magnificent as possible, in order that they might be convinced she had not thrown herself away upon an adventurer, but, in fact, had made an alliance worthy of them and of herself.

She found me ready in seconding her wishes, and I was delighted to have so early an opportunity to make a display of our wealth. I began by hiring a suite of servants, each of whom had their appropriate situation and title. I exchanged the deceased emir’s family of pipes for others of greater value, and of the newest fashion. In the same manner I provided myself with a new set of coffee-cups, the saucers of which were fashioned in the most expensive manner; some of filigreed gold, others of enamel, and one or two, for my own particular use, inlaid with precious stones. Then, as I had stepped into the emir’s shoes, I determined to slip on his pelisses also. He was curious in the luxuries of dress, for his wardrobe consisted of robes and furs of great value, which his widow informed me had existed in his family for many years, and which I did not now blush to adjust to my own shoulders. In short, before the day of the entertainment came, I had time to set up an establishment worthy of a great aga; and I do believe, although born a barber, yet in look, manner, and deportment, no one could have acted a part truer to my new character than I did.

But I must not omit to mention, that previously to the feast, I had not failed to visit my new relations in all due form; and although I was greatly anxious respecting the result of our meeting, yet when I rode through the streets mounted on one of the emir’s fat horses, caparisoned in velvet housings that swept the ground, and surrounded by a crowd of well-dressed servants, my delight and exultation exceeded any feeling that I had ever before experienced. To see the crowd make way, look up, and lay their hands on their breast as I passed — to feel and hear the fretting and champing of my horse’s bit as he moved under me, apparently proud of the burden he bore — to enjoy the luxury of a soft and easy seat, whilst others were on foot; in fine, to revel in those feelings of consequence and consideration which my appearance procured, and not to have been intoxicated, was more than mere humanity could withstand, and accordingly I was completely beside myself. But what added most to the zest of this my first exhibition, was meeting some of my own needy countrymen in the streets, who had been my companions in the caravan from Bagdad, and who, in their sheepskin caps and thin scanty cotton garments, made but a sorry figure among the gaily dressed Osmanlies, and seemed to stand forth expressly to make me relish in the highest degree the good fortune with which I had been visited. Whether or no they recognized me, I know not; but this I recollect, that I turned my head on one side as I passed, and buried my face as well as I could in the combined shade of my beard, great turban, and furred pelisse.

My visits succeeded better than I could have expected. Whatever might have been the motives of my wife’s brothers, they behaved to me with marked civility, and indeed flattered me into the belief that I had conferred an honour on their family in taking their sister off their hands. Merchants as they were, their conversation turned principally upon trade, and I made my best endeavours to talk up to the character I had assumed, and convinced them of the extent of my undertakings in commerce. But, at the same time, great was my circumspection not to commit myself; for when they began to question and cross-examine me upon the trade of Bagdad and Bassorah, the relations of those cities and of Arabia in general with India and China, and to propose joint concerns in their various articles and produce, I immediately reduced my speech to monosyllables, entrenched myself in general terms, and assented to proposals which led to nothing.

Having completed my visits, I felt that one duty was still left, which was, to make the good old Osman a partaker of my happiness, to inform him of my marriage, and to invite him to our ensuing entertainment. But, shall I own it? so much did I feel that I was acting a false part, and so fearful was I of being detected, that I dared not trust even him, taciturn as he naturally was, with my secret, and therefore determined for the present to have no communication with him, or, in fact, with any of my countrymen, until I could feel myself so securely fixed in my new situation as to be fearless of being displaced.

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