The negotiations with the infidels were now about being closed; and it was agreed, in order to strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two, that an embassy on the part of the Shah should forthwith be sent to the king of England.
The experience of each succeeding day convinced me of the influence I had acquired over the mind of the grand vizier; and the event just recorded was the means of showing me to what extent he depended upon my services and zeal. The day after the treaty with England was signed, he called me into his private apartment, and spoke to me in the following manner:—
‘Hajji,’ said he, ‘give me your ear. I have things of importance to impart, and as I look upon you as one exclusively mine, I am sure that you will listen to them with becoming attention.’
I was proceeding to make the necessary protestations of my entire devotedness, when he stopped me, and proceeded thus:—
‘Well or ill, our business with the English ambassador is at length concluded, and the Shah has ceded to his wishes of sending an ambassador to England in return. Now, you know the Persians as well as I, how they detest leaving their own country, and the difficulty I shall find in selecting a man to devote himself to this service. I have one in my eye, whom I wish to send above every other; and as it is of the utmost importance to me that he should be removed for the present from Persia, and particularly from the presence of the Centre of the Universe, I require that you use your best endeavours to persuade his acceptance of the appointment.’
I immediately felt assured that he could mean no other than me, although I did not see what reason he could have for removing me from the presence of the king; and elated by so bright a prospect of sudden elevation to rank and honours, I sprung towards him, and seizing his hand with fervour to kiss, I exclaimed, ‘The least of your slaves will always prove to be the most faithful of your servants: speak, and you will always find me ready, even to death.’
‘That is well spoken,’ said he, with great composure, ‘and now listen to me. The man I allude to is Mirza Firouz’ (here my countenance fell, and I drawled out in answer a long ’belli, yes’). ‘The truth is, I have lately discovered that his influence with the Shah has been considerably upon the increase. He possesses such great volubility of speech, and such vast command of language — he flatters so intensely, and lies so profoundly — that the king is more amused by him than by any other man of his court. Who knows how far he may go? Besides, I am assured that secretly he is my most bitter enemy, whilst openly he affects to be my most devoted of servants; and although to this day I have never for a moment dreaded the hatred or the intrigues of any one, yet I cannot but own, that, in this instance, I am not without my fears. By sending him among the infidels, as the Shah’s representative, I at once cut off the source of my uneasiness; and once let him be gone, I will so arrange matters, that even should he return successful from his mission (which, please God, he never may!) he shall never acquire the influence over the Shah which he is now attempting to establish.’
I agreed to all he said with hesitation; and was losing myself in the reflection how I could possibly turn this piece of confidence to my own advantage, when the vizier accosted me again, and said:—
‘I have only let you into one part of my scheme: the second object is, that you, Hajji, should accompany the ambassador in the capacity of his first mirza, or chief secretary. You, who are my friend and confidant, who know all my wishes, and who have an intimate knowledge of all that has occurred since the arrival of the infidels, you are precisely the man to fill this situation, and you will render me the greatest of services by accepting my proposal.’
However delighted I might have been at the prospect of becoming the chief of an embassy, yet when I was offered the inferior appointment, my feelings were very different. I felt that in quitting the situation I now enjoyed, I should leave the high road to preferment, to get into one of its crooked lanes. Besides, I strongly participated in the national antipathy, the horror of leaving one’s country, and particularly dreaded the idea of going to sea; and when I came to reflect that the country to which I was likely to be sent was unknown land — a land situated in eternal darkness, beyond the regions of the sun, and whose inhabitants were an unclean and unbelieving race — I drew back from the vizier’s offer with the fear of one who had the gulf of perdition placed before him.
The answer I made to the prime minister was by a string of cold assents, such as constantly hang on every Persian’s lips, whatever may be his real feelings. I said, ‘By my eyes; I am your servant; my ear is in your hand; whatever you ordain I am bound to obey’; and then remained mute as a stone.
The vizier easily discovered what passed within me, and said, ‘If you dislike my offer, you are your own master, and another may easily be found to accept it. I have your advantage in view as well as my own. In the first place, you should immediately proceed to Ispahan, as the Shah’s deputy, to collect a considerable portion of the presents intended to be sent by our court to the King of England, and which must be levied upon the inhabitants of that city. You would then have an opportunity of enriching yourself.’
I did not let the vizier proceed further. The temptation of returning to my native place in such a character, clothed with such powers, was too great to be withstood, and in a very altered tone I immediately exclaimed, with great earnestness:—
‘By the salt of your highness, by your death, and by the beard of the Shah, I am ready to go. No other word need be said — I will go wherever you command, were it even to fetch the father of all the Franks from the inmost chambers of the world below.’
‘Be it so,’ said the vizier; ‘and as the first step towards it, go at once to Mirza Firouz, flatter and assure him that he is the only man in Persia fit to be sent upon such an embassy, and persuade him of the advantages that will accrue to him. Honour, riches, the goodwill of the Shah, and my protection all will abound; and at his return, God best knows to what heights he may not ascend. Throw out hints that some other man, some rival, whom you may discover, has been talked of for the situation, and you will see how easily he will swallow the bait. Go, and Allah be with you!’
I left his presence scarcely knowing whether I soared in the heavens, or trod on the earth. ‘What,’ said I to myself, ‘shall I then attain the summit of all earthly happiness — shall my long past prognostics at length be fulfilled — and shall I indeed enter my native place, clothed with the kalaât of honour, armed with the hand of power, and mounted upon the steed of splendour? Let those who once scorned Hajji Baba, the barber’s son, now beware, for they will have to deal with the Shah’s deputy. Let those crowns, which once submitted to my razor, now be prostrate, for he who can cut the head off is at hand. Ye that have deprived me of my inheritance tremble, for the power of making you restore it is mine.’
Indulging in such like feelings, I am aware that I strutted along the street with a swell and dignity of manner which must have surprised every one who saw me. I could think of nothing save my approaching honours; and my mind was riveted by the one idea of seeing myself mounted on a finely caparisoned horse, adorned by a gold chain round its neck, and a silver tassel under its throat, preceded by my led horses, and my running footmen, and greeted by a deputation from the governor of the city, to welcome my arrival in my native place.
However, I proceeded to the house of Mirza Firouz, whom I found prepared to converse on the subject of the embassy, because the English elchi had already made proposals to him to the same effect as those which the grand vizier intended to make. Although I had attached myself almost exclusively to the service of the prime minister, yet I persevered in my friendship with the intended ambassador, who was glad to hear I was to accompany him. We talked long upon our future plans, as well as past adventures, and when, roaring with laughter, he asked whether I should now endeavour to regain possession of my faithless Shekerleb, I slipped away, not over-pleased to have that event of my life recalled to my recollection.
The next day, the Shah announced at the public audience his intention of sending Mirza Firouz to England as his representative, and the grand vizier ordered me to be in readiness to proceed to Ispahan, as soon as the proper firmans necessary to arm me with power should be prepared.
I will not tire the reader with a description of the numerous details of my preparatives for this expedition. He would sicken and I should blush at my vanity. It is sufficient to say that I travelled to Ispahan with all the parade of a man of consequence; and that I entered my native city with feelings that none but a Persian, bred and born in the cravings of ambition, can understand. I found myself at the summit of what, in my eyes, was perfect human bliss. Misfortune seemed to have taken its leave, and everything informed me that a new chapter in the book of my life was about to open. Hajji Baba, the barber’s son, entered his native place as Mirza Hajji Baba, the Shah’s deputy. Need I say more?
And here, gentle Reader! the humble translator of the Adventures of Hajji Baba presumes to address you, and profiting by the hint afforded him by the Persian story-tellers, stops his narrative, makes his bow, and says, ‘Give me encouragement, and I will tell you more. You shall be informed how Hajji Baba accompanied a great ambassador to England, of their adventures by sea and land, of all he saw, and all he remarked, and of what happened to him on his return to Persia.’ But he begs to add, should he find, like Hajji’s friend the third dervish, he has not yet acquired the art of leading on the attention of the curious, he will never venture to appear again before the public until he has gained the necessary experience to ensure success. And so he very humbly takes his leave.
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58