Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE MANUFACTURE OF A VICTORY.

The morning had just broke when we reached the banks of the river. The chief executioner was surrounded by a body of about five hundred cavalry, and the infantry was coming up as well as it could. We were about fording the river, when of a sudden we were accosted by a voice on the other side, which, shouting out two or three strange words in a language unknown to us, explained their meaning by a musket shot. This stopped our career, and called the attention of our chief, who came up, looking paler than death.

"What's the news 1" exclaimed he, in a voice far below its usual pitch—"what are we doing ?— where are we going?—Hajji Baba," accosting me, " was it you that fired?"

"No," said I, catching rather more of his apprehension than was convenient; " no, I did not fire. Perhaps there are ghols here among the Muscovites, as well as at Ashtarek among the Armenians."

In another minute more barbarous cries were heard, and another shot was fired, and by this time day had sufficiently advanced to show two men on the other bank, whom we discovered to be Russian soldiers. As soon as our chief saw the extent of the danger, and the foe opposed to us, his countenance cleared up; and he instantly put on the face of the greatest resolution and vigour. "Go, seize, strike, killI" lie exclaimed, almost in one breath, to those around him— "Go, bring me the heads of yonder two fellows."

Immediately several men dashed into the river with drawn swords, whilst the two soldiers withdrew to a small rising ground, and, placing themselves in a convenient position, began a regular, though alternate discharge of their muskets upon their assailants, with a steadiness that surprised us. They killed two men, which caused the remainder to retreat back to our commander, and no one else seemed at all anxious to follow their example. In vain he swore, entreated, pushed, and offered money for their heads: not one of his men would advance. At length, he said, with a most magnanimous shout, " I myself will go; here, make way! will nobody follow me?" Then, stopping, and addressing himself to me, he said, "Hajji! my soul, my friend, won't you go and cut those men's heads off? I'll give you every thing you can ask." Then, putting his hand round my neck, he said, "Go, go; I am sure you can cut their heads off."

They were parleying in this manner, when a shot from one of the Russians hit the chief executioner's stirrup, which awoke his fears to such a degree, that he immediately fell to uttering the most violent oaths. Calling away his troops, and retreating himself at a quick pace, he exclaimed, "Curses be on their beards! Curse their fathers, mothers, their ancestry, and posterity! Whoever fought after this fashion? Killing, killing, as if we were so many hogs. See, see, what animals they are! They will not run away, do all you can to them. They are worse than brutes;—brutes have feeling,—they have none. O Allah, Allah, if there was no dying in the case, how the Persians would fight!"

By this time we had proceeded some distance, and then halted. Our chief, expecting to find the Russians back to back under every bush, did not know what course to pursue; when the decision was soon made for us by the appearance of the Serdar, who, followed by his cavalry, was seen retreating in all haste from before the enemy. It was evident that his enterprise had entirely failed; and nothing was left for the whole army but to return whence it came.

I will not attempt to draw a picture of the miserable aspect of the Serdar's troops; they all looked harassed and worn down by fatigue, and seemed so little disposed to rally, that one and all, as if by tacit consent, proceeded straight on their course homewards without once looking back. But as much as they were depressed in spirits, in the same degree were raised those of our commander. He so talked of his prowess, of the wound he had received, and of his intended feats, that, at length, seizing a spear, he put his horse at a full gallop, and overtaking his own cook, who was making the best of his way to his pots and pans, darted it at him, in the exuberance of his valour, and actually pierced him in the back through his shawl girdle.

Thus ended an expedition, which the Serdar expected would have given him a great harvest of glory and of Muscovites' heads; and which, the chief executioner flattered himself, would afford him exultation and boasting for the remainder of his life. But, notwithstanding its total failure, still he had ingenuity enough to discover matter for self-congratulation.

Surrounded by a circle of his adherents, amongst whom I was one, he was in the midst of a peal of boasting, when a message came from the Serdar, requesting that Hajji Baba might be sent to him. I returned with the messenger; and the first words which the Serdar said, upon my appearing before him, were—" Where is Yusuf? Where is his wife?"

It immediately occurred to me that they had escaped; and, putting on one of my most innocent looks, I denied having the least knowledge of their movements.

The Serdar then began to roll his eyeballs about, and to twist up his mouth into various shapes. Passion burst from him in the grossest and most violent expressions; he vowed vengeance upon him, his race, his village, and upon every thing and every body in the least connected with him; and whilst he expressed a total disbelief of all my protestations of ignorance, he gave me to understand, that if I was found to have been in the smallest degree an accessary to his escape, he would use all his influence to sweep my vile person from the face of the earth. I afterwards heard that he had sent a party of men to Gavmishlu, to seize and bring before him Yusuf's parents and kindred, with every thing that belonged to them; to take possession of their property, and to burn and destroy whatever they could not bring away: but the sagacious and active youth had foreseen this, and had taken his measures with such prudence and promptitude, that he had completely baffled the tyrant. He, his wife, his wife's relations, his own parents and family, with all their effects (leaving only their tilled ground behind them), had concerted one common plan of migration into the Russian territory.

It had fully succeeded, as I afterwards heard; for they were received with great kindness, both by the government and by their own sect; lands were allotted, and every help afforded them for the reestablishment of their losses.

I returned to my chief full of apprehension at the threat which I had received; and knowing how very tenacious all our great men are of power over their own servants, I did not fail immediately to inform him of the language which the Serdar had entertained me with. He became furious, and I had only to fear the flame which I had raised in order to create a quarrel between them; but, having more fears about the Serdar's power of hurting me, than I had confidence in the ability of the chief executioner to protect me, I thought it best for all parties that I should retire from the scene, and craved my master's permission to return to Tehran. Pleased with an opportunity of showing the Serdar that nobody but himself could control his servants, he at once assented to my proposal; and forthwith began to give me instructions concerning what I should say to the grand vizier touching the late expedition, and particularly in what light I was to place his own individual prowess.

"You yourself were there, Hajji," said he to me, "and therefore can describe the whale

« PreviousContinue »