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

Chapter lxx

His desire to excite envy lays the foundation of his disgrace — He quarrels with his wife.

The entertainment went off with the greatest success, and there was every reason to suppose that I fully succeeded in making my guests believe I was really the personage whom I pretended to be. I therefore began to feel secure in my new possessions, and gave myself up to enjoyment, associating with men of pleasure, dressing in the gayest attire, and, in short, keeping a house that was the talk and envy of the city. ’Tis true that I almost daily felt the inconvenience of being indebted to my wife for such good fortune; for, notwithstanding the previous assurances of the old Ayesha, I soon found that differences of opinion would arise on many other subjects besides the comparative delicacy of cream and cheese tarts. ‘Excellent man must that old emir have been,’ frequently did I exclaim, ‘who could go through life with only one subject of dispute with his wife! For my part, if there happens to be two sides to a question, we are sure to appropriate them one in opposition to the other.

I had long promised to myself the enjoyment of one of the principal pleasures arising from my good fortune; I mean, the exhibition of myself in all my splendour before my countrymen in the caravanserai, and enjoying the astonishment which I should excite in the old Osman, my former master.

Now, that all was safe, as I fully hoped, I could no longer resist the temptation, and accordingly dressed myself in my best attire, mounted the finest horse in my stable, gathered my whole suite of servants about me, and in the very busiest hour of the day proceeded to the caravanserai, in which, on my first arrival at Constantinople, I had appeared as a vender of pipe-sticks. Upon entering the gate, no one seemed to know me, but all were anxious to do me honour, hoping that in me they might find a purchaser of their merchandise. I inquired for Osman Aga, whilst my servants spread a beautiful Persian carpet for my seat, and at the same time offered me one of my most costly amber-headed chibouks to smoke. He came and seated himself, with all due respect, on the edge of my carpet, without recognizing me. I talked to him without reserve for some time, and remarked that he eyed me with looks of peculiar interest, when at length, unable to restrain himself any longer, he exclaimed, ‘By the beard of the blessed Mohammed, you are either Hajji Baba, or you are nobody!’

I laughed with all my heart at his exclamation, and when we had mutually explained, very soon related how I was situated, and to what profit I had turned the fifty pieces of gold which he had lent me. His philosophic mind did not appear so much elated with my change of fortune as I had anticipated; but my countrymen, the Persians, as soon as they heard that under that large turban and that heavy pelisse was seated Hajji Baba, the once vender of little wares like themselves, and that all that splendour and circumstance of horse, servants, and rich pipes was attendant upon his person, their national feelings were awakened, and they could neither contain their envy nor their malevolence.

I now, too late, discovered the mistake I had committed in showing myself off in this manner, and would willingly have sneaked away without further triumph.

‘What! is this Hajji Baba?’ said one, ‘the son of the Ispahan barber? May his father’s grave be polluted, and his mother abused!’

‘Well acted, true child of Irân!’ said another; ‘you have done your utmost with the Turk’s beard, and may others do the same with yours!’

‘Look at his great turban, and his large trousers, and his long pipe,’ said a third: ‘his father never saw such things, not even in a dream!’

In this manner did my envious countrymen taunt me, until, asserting all my dignity, I rose from my seat, mounted my horse, and left the place amidst their scoffs and expressions of contempt. My first sensation was that of indignation at them, my second of anger at myself.

‘You have been rightly served,’ said I to myself, ‘by the soul of Kerbelai Hassan, the barber! What well-fed hound ever went among wolves without being torn to pieces? What fool of a townsman ever risked himself amongst the wild Arabs of the desert without being robbed and beaten? Perhaps Hajji may one day become a wise man, but plentiful is the vexation he must eat first! Of what use is a beard,’ said I, taking mine into my hand, ‘when an empty sconce is tied to the end of it? about as much as a handle is to a basket without dates. Great wisdom had the sage who declared that no man was ever pleased with the elevation of his fellow, except perhaps when he saw him dangling on a gibbet!’

In this manner did I soliloquize until I reached my house, where, having retired to the harem, I endeavoured to seek repose for the remainder of the day, in order to chew the cud of my bitter reflections. But I was mistaken; for, to add to my misery, Shekerleb, my wife, as if impelled by some wicked demon, demanded that I should immediately advance her the money inserted in the marriage settlement for clothes, and so worked upon me by her very unreasonable entreaties, that, involving her in the ill-humour in which I had continued against my own countrymen, I poured forth the current of my feelings in language and gestures the most violent. Curses upon them and maledictions upon her came from my lips in horrid succession, until I, the once mild and patient Hajji, had become more furious than a Mazanderan lion.

My wife at first was all astonishment, and, as she drew herself up at the head of her slaves and handmaids, seconded by the old Ayesha, waited with impatient silence for an opportunity to speak. At length, when she had found utterance, her mouth appeared too small for the volume of words which flowed from it. Her volubility unloosed the tongue of Ayesha, and the old woman’s those of all the other women, until there arose such a tempest of words and screams, all of which were directed against me, that I was nearly overwhelmed.

I would have resisted, but I found it impossible. It raged with such fury, that the room in which we all stood was not large enough to contain us. I was the first to seek shelter, and made a retreat from my harem amid the groans, the revilings, and the clapping of hands of the beings within it, who, with my wife at their head, looked more like maniacs than those fair creatures, in paradise, promised by our Prophet to all true believers.

Tired, jaded, and distressed by my day’s adventures, I retired into my own apartment, locked the door, and there, though surrounded by and master of every luxury that man can enjoy, I felt myself the most miserable of beings, detesting myself for my idiotical conduct in the present posture of my affairs, and full of evil forebodings for the future. The inconveniences of lying now stared me full in the face. I felt that I was caught in my own snare; for if I endeavoured to extricate myself from my present dilemma by telling more lies, it was evident that at the end I should not fail to be entirely entangled.

‘Would to Heaven,’ did I exclaim, ‘that I had been fair and candid at first; for now I should be free as air, and my wife might have stormed until the day of judgement, without being a single shift the better for it; but I am bound by writings, sealed and doubly sealed, and I must ever and shall stand before the world a liar both by word and deed.’

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