Necessity, so the poet sayeth, ‘is as a strong rider with sharp stirrups, who maketh the sorry jade do that which the strong horse sometimes will not do.’
I was disappointed, vexed, and mortified. My hopes of living a life of ease and enjoyment had disappeared, and I once more saw myself obliged to have recourse to my own ingenuity to keep me from starvation.
‘If I have lost a home,’ said I, ‘see I have found a friend. Let me not reject his proffered protection; and the same powerful destiny which has led me on step by step through the labyrinth of life will doubtless again take me by the hand, and perhaps at length safely land me where I shall no longer be perplexed respecting the path I ought to pursue.’
I determined to make the most of my access to the ambassador; and happy was I to find, that the liking which he had taken to me at first sensibly, though gradually, increased during our succeeding interviews. He made use of me to acquire information, and conversed freely upon the business of his government, and upon matters connected with his mission.
Having all my life been taken up in making my own fortune, I had turned my mind but little to public events. Of the nations of the world I scarcely knew any but my own and the Turks. By name only the Chinese, the Indians, the Affghans, the Tartars, the Cûrds, and the Arabs were known to me; and of the Africans I had some knowledge, having seen different specimens of them as slaves in our houses. Of the Franks — the Russians (if such they may be called) were those of whom we had the most knowledge in Persia, and I had also heard of the Ingliz and the Franciz. When I reached Constantinople, I was surprised to hear that many more Frank nations existed besides the three above mentioned; but still occupied with my own affairs, I acquired but little knowledge concerning them.
Now that I was thrown into the ambassador’s society, my ideas took a new turn, and hearing matters discussed which had never even reached my understanding, I became more inquisitive. He seemed pleased to have found in me one who took interest in his views, and at length let me entirely into his confidence.
One morning, having received letters from his court, he called me to him, said that he wished for some private conversation, and accordingly ordered every one to depart from before him except myself.
He made me sit, and then in a low voice said, ‘Hajji, I have long wished to speak to you. Those who compose my suite, between you and me, do not possess the sort of understanding I require. ’Tis true, they are Persians, and are endowed with more wit than all the world beside; but in affairs of the dowlet (the state), they are nothing, and rather impede than forward the business upon which I have been sent. Now, praise be to Allah! I see that you are not one of them. You are much of a man, one who has seen the world and its business, and something may come from out of your hands. You are a man who can make play under another’s beard, and suck the marrow out of an affair without touching its outside. Such I am in want of, and if you will devote yourself to me, and to our Shah, the King of Kings, both my face as well as your own will be duly whitewashed; and, by the blessings of our good destinies, both our heads will touch the skies.’
‘Whatever is of my strength,’ replied I, ‘is at your service. I am your slave and your servant, and I myself will place my own ear into your hand. Order and command me: by my head and eyes, I am ready.’
‘Perhaps you have heard it reported in the world,’ said he, ‘that the object of my mission is to buy women slaves for the Shah, to see them instructed in dancing, music, and embroidery, and to purchase spangled silks and other luxuries for the royal harem; but that is of course a blind for the multitude. I am not an ambassador for such miserable purposes: no, my business is of greater import; and our king, whose penetration is as searching as lightning itself, does not select men to transact his affairs without very substantial reasons. He has chosen me, and that’s enough. Now hearken to what I shall tell you.
‘But a few months ago an ambassador from Europe arrived at the Gate of Empire, Tehran, and said he was sent by a certain Boonapoort, calling himself Emperor of the French nation, to bring a letter and presents to the Shah. He exhibited full powers, by which his words were to be looked upon as his master’s, and his actions as his actions; and he also affirmed, that he had full instructions to make a treaty. He held himself very high indeed, and talked of all other nations of Franks as dirt under his feet, and not worth even a name. He promised to make the Russians restore their conquests in Georgia to us, to put the Shah in possession of Teflis, Baadkoo, Derbent, and of all which belonged to Persia in former times. He said, that he would conquer India for us, and drive the English from it; and, in short, whatever we asked he promised to be ready to grant.
‘Now, ’tis true, we had heard of the French before, and knew that they made good cloth and rich brocades; but we never heard that they could do all this ambassador proclaimed.
‘Something we had heard also of their attacking Egypt, for coffee and khenna had become dear in consequence; and it was in the recollection of one of our old khans of the Seffi family, that an ambassador from a certain Shah Louis of France had been seen at the court of Shah Sultan Hosein; but how this Boonapoort had become Shah, not a single man in Persia could explain. The Armenian merchants, who travel into all countries, affirmed, that to their knowledge such a person in fact did exist, and that he was a great breeder of disturbance; and it was from what they said and from other circumstances, that the Shah agreed to receive his ambassador; but whether the papers which he exhibited, written in characters that no one could read, were true or false, or whether all he said was to the purpose or not, who was to say? Our viziers, great and small, knew nothing of the matter; our Shah, who (may Allah preserve him) knows everything under the sun, he had no knowledge of it; and excepting one Coja Obed, an Armenian, who had been to Marsilia, a town in France, where he had been shut up in a prison for forty days,87 and one Narses, a priest of that nation, who had studied in a convent of dervishes somewhere in those countries, we had no one at the gate of the King of Kings who could let any light into the chambers of our brain, or who could in the least explain whether this Boonapoort or his representative were impostors or not — whether they were come to take our caps from off our heads, or to clothe us with the kalaats of good fortune.
‘However, we were not very long in doubt; for when the English infidels who trade between India and Persia, some of whom reside at Abusheher, heard of the arrival of this ambassador, they immediately sent off messengers, letters, and an agent, to endeavour to impede the reception of this Frenchman, and made such extraordinary efforts to prevent his success, that we soon discovered much was to be got between the rival dogs.
‘“By my crown,” exclaimed the Shah, “all this cometh from the ascendant of my good stars. Here sit I upon my throne, whilst the curs of uncleanness come from the north and the south, from the east and west, bringing me vast presents for the liberty of fighting and quarrelling at the foot of it. In the name of the Prophet, let them approach!”
‘When I left the imperial gate, an ambassador from the English was expected, and the letters which I have just received are full of the circumstances of his proposed reception, and the negotiations on foot concerning it, but the Shah cannot well enter upon them before he hears from me; because, having been informed that specimens of all the different European nations were to be seen at Constantinople, each of whom had an ambassador, there, he, in his wisdom, has judged it expedient to dispatch me hither, to obtain all the information of which we are so much in want, to clear up every doubt that exists in Persia about the French and English, and if possible to find out whether all they say of themselves be true or false.
‘Now, Hajji’ said the ambassador, ‘I am only one man, and this is a business, as I have found out, sufficient for fifty. The Franks are composed of many, many nations. As fast as I hear of one hog, another begins to grunt, and then another and another, until I find that there is a whole herd of them. As I told you before, those who compose my suite are not men to help me in research, and I have cast my eyes upon you. From your exertions I expect much. You must become acquainted with some infidels; you understand the Turkish language, and they will be able to inform you of much that we want to know. I will furnish you with a copy of the Shah’s instructions to me upon that head, which you will lock up of course in the secret corners of your brain, and which will be your guide upon what we wish to acquire. And until that be done, go, sit in a corner, and make one long and deep thought upon the plan of operations that we ought to pursue.’
Upon this he dismissed me, and I left him with new prospects of advancement in the career of life.
87 [ Quarantine, we presume, is meant here.]
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58