POETRY, DRAMA, FOLK-LORE, AND CLASSIC TRADITIONS
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH FOR THE FIRST TIME
WITH A SPECIAL INTRODUCTION BY
ROBERT ARNOT, M.A.
The literature of ancient Armenia that is still extant is meagre in quantity and to a large extent ecclesiastical in tone. To realize its oriental color one must resort entirely to that portion which deals with the home life of the people, with their fasts and festivals, their emotions, manners, and traditions. The ecclesiastical character of much of the early Armenian literature is accounted for by the fact that Christianity was preached there in the first century after Christ, by the apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, and that the Armenian Church is the oldest national Christian Church in the world.
It is no doubt owing to the conversion of the entire Armenian nation under the passionate preaching of Gregory the Illuminator that most of the literary products, of primitive Armenia—the mythological legends and chants of heroic deeds sung by bards—are lost. The Church would have none of them. Gregory not only destroyed the pagan temples, but he sought to stamp out the pagan literature—the poetry and recorded traditions that celebrated the deeds of gods and goddesses and of national heroes. He would have succeeded, too, had not the romantic spirit of the race clung fondly to their ballads and folk-lore. Ecclesiastical historiographers in referring to those times say quaintly enough, meaning to censure the people, that in spite of their great religious advantages the Armenians persisted in singing some of their heathen ballads as late as the twelfth century. Curiously enough, we owe the fragments we possess of early Armenian poetry to these same ecclesiastical critics. These fragments suggest a popular poesy, stirring and full of powerful imagery, employed mostly in celebrating royal marriages, religious feasts, and containing dirges for the dead, and ballads of customs—not a wide field, but one invaluable to the philologist and to ethnological students.
The Christian chroniclers and critics, however, while preserving but little of the verse of early Armenia, have handed down to us many legends and traditions, though they relate them, unfortunately, with much carelessness and with a contempt for detail that is often exasperating to one seeking for instructive parallelisms between the heroic legends of different nations. Evidently the only object of the ecclesiastical chroniclers in preserving these legends was to invest their descriptions of the times with a local color. Even Moses of Chorene, who by royal command collected many of these legends, and in his sympathetic treatment of them evinces poetic genius and keen literary appreciation, fails to realize the importance of his task. After speaking of the old Armenian kings with enthusiasm, and even condoning their paganism for the sake of their virility, he leaves his collection in the utmost disorder and positively without a note or comment. In the face of such difficulties, therefore, it has been hard to present specimens of early Armenian folk-lore and legends that shall give the reader a rightful idea of the race and the time.
As Armenia was the highroad between Asia and Europe, these old stories and folk-plays show the influence of migrating and invading people. The mythology of the Chaldeans and Persians mingles oddly with traditions purely Armenian. This is well shown in the story of David of Sassun, given in this volume. David was the local hero of the place where Moses of Chorene was born and probably spent his declining years, after years of literary labor and study in Athens and Alexandria. The name of the district was Mush, and close by the monastery in which Moses was buried lies the village of Sassun.
David's history is rich in personal incident, and recalls to the reader the tales related of the Persian Izdubar, the Chaldeo-Babylonian Nimrod, and the Greek Heracles. He is as much the hero of the tale as is Joseph Andrews in Fielding's classic of that name. His marvellous strength is used as handily for a jest as for some prodigious victory over man or monster. He is drawn for us as a bold, reckless fellow, with a rollicking sense of humor, which, in truth, sits but awkwardly upon the intense devotion to the Cross and its demands with which Moses or some later redactor has seen fit to burden this purely pagan hero. David is very human in spite of his blood-stained club and combative instincts, and his kindliness and bonhomie awake in us a passing disappointment at his untimely demise.
If we except some ecclesiastical writings, these fragments preserved by Moses of Chorene and others comprehend all that is left to us of the literature of Armenia antedating the Persian invasion. After the Persian flood of fire and sword had rolled over this Asiatic Poland, the stricken Christian Church revived. A monk named Mesrob set to work to revive the spirit of literature. His difficulties were great. It was not alone the resuscitating of a dead literary desire, but it entailed also the providing of a vehicle of expression, namely an alphabet, so deeply had the Persian domination imprinted itself upon the land. As might be expected, the primary results of the revival were didactic, speculative, or religious in character. Mysticism at that time flourished in the monasteries, and the national spirit—the customs, habits, joys, and emotions of the people—had not yet found re-expression in script. The Church became the dominant power in literature, and if it is true on the one hand that the Armenian people lost intellectual independence, it is also true on the other that they gained that religious zeal and strength which enabled them as an entity—a united race—to survive the fatal day of Avarair, where, under the shadow of hoary Ararat, the Armenian Marathon was fought and lost, and Vartan, their national hero, died. All sorts of traditions cluster still around the battlefield of Avarair. A species of red flower grows there that is nowhere else to be found, and it is commonly believed that this red blossom sprang originally from the blood of the slain Armenian warriors. On the plain of Avarair is also found a small antelope with a pouch upon its breast secreting musk—a peculiarity gained, they say, from feeding on grass soaked with the blood of Armenia's sons. And at Avarair, too, it is said that the lament of the nightingales is ever, "Vartan, Vartan." The story of these times is preserved in fragments in the religious chronicles of Lazarus of Pharb and of Eliseus. When, during the Persian domination, Armenia became entirely shut off from the avenues of Greek culture, and was left unaided in her struggle for national existence, the light of literature again sank to a feeble gleam. There was, indeed, a faint revival in the tenth century, and again a second and a stronger renaissance in the twelfth under the impulse given by Nerses, and by his namesake, the Patriarch. But this revival, like the former, was not general in character. It was mostly a revival of religious mysticism in literature, not of the national spirit, though to this epoch belong the choicest hymnological productions of the Armenian Church.
There are no chronicles extant that can be called purely Armenian. The oldest chronicles that we have of Armenia—and there are many—wander off into the histories of other people—of the Byzantines, for instance, and even of the Crusaders. The passages that deal with Armenia are devoted almost entirely to narrating the sufferings of the Armenians under the successive invasions of pagans and Mahometans, and the efforts made to keep the early Christian faith—forming almost a national book of martyrs, and setting forth a tragic romance of perpetual struggle. These records cannot be called Armenian literature in a real sense, for in many cases they were not written by Armenians, but they picture in vivid fashion the trials suffered by Armenians at the hands of invading nations, and the sacrifices made to preserve a national existence. They picture, in pages bristling with horrible detail, the sacrifices and sufferings of a desperate people, and in them we see Armenia as the prophet saw Judea, "naked, lying by the wayside, trodden under foot by all nations." These chronicles have an interest all their own, but they lack literary beauty, and not being, in themselves, Armenian literature, have not been included in the selections made as being purely representative of the race and land.
The examples of Armenian proverbs and folk-lore included in this volume show, as is usual, the ethnological relationship that is so easily traced between the fables of Aesop, of Bidpai, of Vartan, and of Loqman. It may be said with truth that in the folk-lore and fables of all nations can be traced kinship of imagination, with a variety of application that differs with the customs and climate of the people. But the Armenian is especially rich in a variety of elements. We meet enchantments, faculties, superstitions, and abstract ideas personified, which are supposed to attach miraculous meanings to the most ordinary events. Dreams, riddles, and the like—all are there. The one strange personification is the Dew. The Dew is a monster, half demon, half human; sometimes harmless, sometimes malevolent; mortal, indeed, but reaching a good or, shall we say, an evil old age. The Dew figures in nearly all Armenian fairy-tales.
The Armenian proverbs exhibit the persistent capacity of the Armenians during a time of Sturm und Drang to embody, in pithy, wise, and sometimes cynical form, the wisdom drawn from their own experience and from that of the ages. It is possible that the cynical vein discernible in some of these proverbs is a result of the intense and continued national trials. Take, for instance, this proverb, "If a brother were a good thing, God would have provided himself with one." Can anything be more cynical?
The poems are of later origin. Since the twelfth century, when literature burst the bonds imposed upon it by ecclesiastical domination, the poetic spirit of the Armenians has found expression. It is rich in oriental passion and imagery, brilliant in expression, and intensely musical. But through all the poems we are reminded of the melancholy strain that pervaded the exiles of Jerusalem when "by the waters of Babylon" they "sat down and wept." The apostrophe to Araxes reminds us of the trials of Armenia, of her exiled sons, of her wasted land, and of the perpetual fast she ever keeps in mourning for her children.
The comedy of "The Ruined Family" and the pathetic story of "The Vacant Yard" are also of the post-monastic era. In the comedy we gain an insight into the jealousy and the pride of life that pervaded then as now the middle walks of life. Its Ibsenesque quality is very striking. The persistent and human struggle of the mother to gain a high position in life for her daughter through marriage, and the agonizing of the father to get together a suitable dower for his daughter, together with the worldly-wise comments and advice of the old aunt, are so true to modern life that one realizes anew the sameness of human nature in all climes and ages.
"The Vacant Yard" gives us a charming picture of Armenian life. The people are depicted with an impartial pen, subject to the minor crosses and humors of fate, having their ups and downs just as we do to-day, but the intense local color that pervades the story holds one to the closing line.
As a people the Armenians cannot boast of as vast a literature as the Persians, their one-time conquerors, but that which remains of purely Armenian prose, folk-lore, and poetry tells us of a poetic race, gifted with imaginative fire, sternness of will, and persistency of adherence to old ideas, a race that in proportion to their limited production in letters can challenge comparison with any people.
[Signature: Robert Arnot]
PROVERBS AND FOLK-LORE
THE VACANT YARD
ARMENIAN POEMS A Plaint Spring in Exile Fly, Lays of Mine The Woe of Araxes The Armenian Maiden One of a Thousand Longing
DAVID OF SASSUN
THE RUINED FAMILY
* * * * *
PROVERBS AND FOLK-LORE
[Translated by F.B. Collins, B.S.]
* * * * *
PROVERBS AND FOLK-LORE
I know many songs, but I cannot sing.
When a man sees that the water does not follow him, he follows the water.
When a tree falls there is plenty of kindling wood.
He who falls into the water need have no fear of rain.
A good swimmer finds death in the water.
Strong vinegar bursts the cask.
Dogs quarrel among themselves, but against the wolf they are united.
God understands the dumb.
Only he who can read is a man.
The chick shows itself in the egg, the child in the cradle.
What a man acquires in his youth serves as a crutch in his old age.
One wit is good; two wits are better.
Begin with small things, that you may achieve great.
A devil with experience is better than an angel without.
What the great say, the humble hear.
He who steals an egg will steal a horse also.
Turn the spit, so that neither meat nor roasting-iron shall burn.
One can spoil the good name of a thousand.
What manner of things thou speakest of, such shalt thou also hear.
The grandfather ate unripe grapes, and the grandson's teeth were set on edge.
One bad deed begets another.
Go home when the table is set, and to church when it is almost over.
A devil at home, a parson abroad.
God created men and women: who, then, created monks?
Poor and proud.
In dreams the hungry see bread and the thirsty water.
Ere the fat become lean, the lean are already dead.
Wish for a cow for your neighbor, that God may give you two.
What is play to the cat is death to the mouse.
Unless the child cries, the mother will not suckle it.
A fish in the water is worth nothing.
Gold is small but of great worth.
At home the dog is very brave.
Observe the mother ere you take the daughter.
If you lose half and then leave off, something is gained.
The good mourn for what was taken away, the wolf for what was left behind.
Only a bearded man can laugh at a beardless face.
He descends from a horse and seats himself on an ass.
No other day can equal the one that is past.
When a man grows rich, he thinks his walls are awry.
Make friends with a dog, but keep a stick in your hand.
One should not feel hurt at the kick of an ass.
The blind have no higher wish than to have two eyes.
The thief wants only a dark night.
A thief robbed another thief, and God marvelled at it in heaven.
He who has money has no sense; and he who has sense, no money.
He who begs is shameless, but still more shameless is he who lends not to him.
Better lose one's eyes than one's calling.
What the wind brings it will take away again.
A bad dog neither eats himself nor gives to others.
Running is also an art.
Only in the bath can one tell black from white.
Water is sure to find its way.
What does the blind care if candles are dear?
Speak little and you will hear much.
No one is sure that his light will burn till morning.
He who speaks the truth must have one foot in the stirrup.
The more you stone a dog the more he barks.
One blossom does not make a spring.
One hand cannot clap alone.
Strike the iron while it is hot.
Take up a stick, and the thieving dog understands.
Corruption illumines dark paths.
When they laid down the law to the wolf, he said, "Be quiet, or the sheep will run away."
One hears Ali is dead; but one knows not which one.
The scornful soon grow old.
Who shall work? I and thou. Who shall eat? I and thou.
Stay in the place where there is bread.
If bread tastes good, it is all one to me whether a Jew or a Turk bakes it.
One loves the rose, another the lilac.
Before Susan had done prinking, church was over.
The simpleton went to the wedding and said, "Indeed, it is much better here than it is at home."
He sleeps for himself and dreams for others.
The flower falls under the bush.
Not everything round is an apple.
What does an ass know about almonds?
A king must be worthy of a crown.
When you are going in consider first how you are coming out.
What thou canst do to-day leave not until to-morrow.
The rose of winter-time is fire.
The end of strife is repentance.
From the same flower the serpent draws poison and the bees honey.
My heart is no table-cover to be spread over everything.
As long as the wagon is not upset the way is not mended.
The water that drowns me is for me an ocean.
The Armenian has his understanding in his head, the Georgian in his eyes.
The ass knows seven ways of swimming, but when he sees the water he forgets them all.
The wound of a dagger heals, but that of the tongue, never.
A good ox is known in the yoke, a good woman at the cradle of her child.
Love ever so well, there is also hate; hate ever so much, there is always love.
A shrewd enemy is better than a stupid friend.
To rise early is not everything; happy are they who have the help of God.
A dress that is not worn wears itself out.
I came from the ocean and was drowned in a spoonful of water.
Because the cat could get no meat, he said, "To-day is Friday."
The house that a woman builds God will not destroy; but a woman is likely to destroy the house that God has built.
The dowry a woman brings into the house is a bell. Whenever you come near, the clapper strikes in your face.
By asking, one finds the way to Jerusalem.
Which of the five fingers can you cut off without hurting yourself?
The father's kingdom is the son's mite.
Far from the eye, far from the heart.
If a brother was really good for anything, God would have one.
When God gives, He gives with both hands.
A daughter is a treasure which belongs to another.
The world is a pair of stairs: some go up and others go down.
The poor understand the troubles of the poor.
The childless have one trouble, but those who have children have a thousand.
God turns away his face from a shameless man.
The eyes would not disagree even if the nose were not between them.
Until you see trouble you will never know joy.
You never know a man until you have eaten a barrel of salt with him.
Every man's own trouble is as large as a camel.
The goat prefers one goat to a whole herd of sheep.
The fox has destroyed the world, and the wolf has lost his calling.
The fool throws himself into the stream, and forty wise men cannot pull him out.
A near neighbor is better than a distant kinsman.
When I have honey, the flies come even from Bagdad.
A guest comes from God.
The guest is the ass of the inn-keeper.
When everything is cheap the customer has no conscience.
* * * * *
Once there was a widow and she had a daughter. The widow married a widower who had by his first wife two children, a boy and a girl. The wife was always coaxing her husband: "Take the children, do, and lead them up into the mountains." Her husband could not refuse her, and, lo! one day he put some bread in his basket, took the children, and set off for the mountain.
They went on and on and came to a strange place. Then the father said to the children, "Rest here a little while," and the children sat down to rest. The father turned his face away and wept bitterly, very bitterly. Then he turned again to the children and said, "Eat something," and they ate. Then the boy said, "Father, dear, I want a drink." The father took his staff, stuck it into the ground, threw his coat over it, and said, "Come here, my son, sit in the shadow of my coat, and I will get you some water." The brother and sister stayed and the father went away and forsook his children. Whether they waited a long time or a short time before they saw that their father was not coming back is not known. They wandered here and there looking for him, but saw no human being anywhere.
At last they came back to the same spot, and, beginning to weep, they said:
"Alas! Alas! See, here is father's staff, and here is his coat, and he comes not, and he comes not."
Whether the brother and sister sat there a long time or a short time is not known. They rose after a while, and one took the staff and the other the coat, and they went away without knowing whither. They went on and on and on, until they saw tracks of horses' hoofs filled with rain-water.
"I am going to drink, sister," said the brother.
"Do not drink, little brother, or you will become a colt," said the sister.
They passed on till they saw tracks of oxen's hoofs.
"O sister dear, how thirsty I am!"
"Do not drink, little brother, or you will be a calf," the sister said to him.
They went on till they saw the tracks of buffalo hoofs.
"O sister dear, how thirsty I am!"
"Drink not, little brother, or you will be a buffalo calf."
They passed on and saw the tracks of bears' paws.
"Oh, I am so thirsty, sister dear."
"Drink not, little brother, or you will become a little bear."
They went on and saw the tracks of swine's trotters.
"O sister dear, I am going to drink."
"Drink not, little brother, or you will become a little pig."
They went on and on till they saw the tracks of the pads of wolves.
"O sister dear, how thirsty I am!"
"Do not drink, little brother, or you will become a little wolf."
They walked on and on till they saw the tracks of sheep's trotters.
"O sister dear, I am almost dying with thirst."
"O little brother, you grieve me so! You will, indeed, be a sheep if you drink."
He could stand it no longer. He drank and turned into a sheep. He began to bleat and ran after his sister. Long they wandered, and at last came home.
Then the stepmother began to scheme against them. She edged up to her husband and said: "Kill your sheep. I want to eat him."
The sister got her sheep-brother away in the nick of time and drove him back into the mountains. Every day she drove him to the meadows and she spun linen. Once her distaff fell from her hand and rolled into a cavern. The sheep-brother stayed behind grazing while she went to get the distaff.
She stepped into the cavern and saw lying in a corner a Dew, one thousand years old. She suddenly spied the girl and said: "Neither the feathered birds nor the crawling serpent can make their way in here; how then hast thou, maiden, dared to enter?"
The girl spoke up in her fright. "For love of you I came here, dear grandmother."
The old Dew mother bade the girl come near and asked her this and that. The maiden pleased her very much. "I will go and bring you a fish," she said, "you are certainly hungry." But the fishes were snakes and dragons. The girl was sorely frightened and began to cry with terror. The old Dew said, "Maiden, why do you weep?" She answered, "I have just thought of my mother, and for her sake I weep." Then she told the old mother everything that had happened to her. "If that is so," said the Dew, "sit down here and I will lay my head on your knee and go to sleep."
She made up the fire, stuck the poker into the stove, and said:
"When the devil flies by do not waken me. If the rainbow-colored one passes near, take the glowing poker from the stove and lay it on my foot."
The maiden's heart crept into her heels from fright. What was she to do? She sat down, the Dew laid her head on her knees and slept. Soon she saw a horrible black monster flying by. The maiden was silent. After a while there came flying by a rainbow-colored creature. She seized the glowing poker and threw it on the old Dew's foot. The old mother awoke and said, "Phew, how the fleas bite." She rose and lifted up the maiden. The girl's hair and clothing were turned to gold from the splendor of the rainbow colors. She kissed the old Dew's hand and begged that she might go. She went away, and taking her sheep-brother with her started for home. The stepmother was not there, and the maiden secretly dug a hole, buried her golden dress, and sat down and put on an old one.
The stepmother came home and saw that the maiden had golden hair.
"What have you done to your hair to make it like gold?" she asked. The maiden told her all, how and when. The next day the stepmother sent her own daughter to the same mountain. The stepmother's daughter purposely let her distaff fall and it rolled into the hole. She went in to get it, but the old Dew mother turned her into a scarecrow and sent her home.
About that time there was a wedding in the royal castle; the King was giving one of his sons in marriage, and the people came from all directions to look on and enjoy themselves.
The stepmother threw on a kerchief and smartened up the head of her daughter and took her to see the wedding. The girl with the golden hair did not stay at home, but, putting on her golden dress so that she became from head to foot a gleaming houri, she went after them.
But on the way home, she ran so fast to get there before her stepmother, that she dropped one of her golden shoes in the fountain. When they led the horses of the King's second son to drink, the horses caught sight of the golden shoe in the water and drew back and would not drink. The King caused the wise men to be called, and asked them to make known the reason why the horses would not drink, and they found only the golden shoe. The King sent out his herald to tell the people that he would marry his son to whomsoever this shoe fitted.
He sent people throughout the whole city to try on the shoe, and they came to the house where the sheep-brother was. The stepmother pushed the maiden with the golden locks into the stove, and hid her, and showed only her own daughter.
A cock came up to the threshold and crowed three times, "Cock-a-doodle doo! The fairest of the fair is in the stove." The King's people brushed the stepmother aside and led the maiden with golden hair from the stove, tried on the shoe, which fitted as though moulded to the foot.
"Now stand up," said they, "and you shall be a royal bride."
The maiden put on her golden dress, drove her sheep-brother before her, and went to the castle. She was married to the King's son, and seven days and seven nights they feasted.
Again the stepmother took her daughter and went to the castle to visit her stepdaughter, who in spite of all treated her as her mother and invited her into the castle garden. From the garden they went to the seashore and sat down to rest. The stepmother said, "Let us bathe in the sea." While they were bathing she pushed the wife of the King's son far out into the water, and a great fish came swimming by and swallowed her.
Meanwhile the stepmother put the golden dress on her own daughter and led her to the royal castle and placed her in the seat where the young wife always sat, covering her face and her head so that no one would know her.
The young wife sat in the fish and heard the voice of the bell-ringer. She called to him and pleaded: "Bell-ringer, O bell-ringer, thou hast called the people to church; cross thyself seven times, and I entreat thee, in the name of heaven, go to the prince and say that they must not slaughter my sheep-brother."
Once, twice the bell-ringer heard this voice and told the King's son about it.
The King's son took the bell-ringer with him and went at night to the seashore. The same voice spoke the same words. He knew that it was his dear wife that spoke, and drew his sword and ripped open the fish and helped his loved one out.
They went home, and the prince had the stepmother brought to him, and said to her: "Mother-in-law, tell me what kind of a present you would like: a horse fed with barley or a knife with a black handle?"
The stepmother answered: "Let the knife with a black handle pierce the breast of thine enemy; but give me the horse fed with barley."
The King's son commanded them to tie the stepmother and her daughter to the tail of a horse, and to hunt them over mountain and rock till nothing was left of them but their ears and a tuft of hair.
After that the King's son lived happily with his wife and her sheep-brother. The others were punished and she rejoiced.
And three apples fell down from heaven.
* * * * *
THE YOUTH WHO WOULD NOT TELL HIS DREAM
There lived once upon a time a man and wife who had a son. The son arose from his sleep one morning and said to his mother: "Mother dear, I had a dream, but what it was I will not tell you."
The mother said, "Why will you not tell me?"
"I will not, and that settles it," answered the youth, and his mother seized him and cudgelled him well.
Then he went to his father and said to him: "Father dear, I had a dream, but what it was I would not tell mother, nor will I tell you," and his father also gave him a good flogging. He began to sulk and ran away from home. He walked and walked the whole day long and, meeting a traveller, said after greeting him: "I had a dream, but what it was I would tell neither father nor mother and I will not tell you," Then he went on his way till finally he came to the Emir's house and said to the Emir: "Emir, I had a dream, but what it was I would tell neither father nor mother, nor yet the traveller, and I will not tell you."
The Emir had him seized and thrown into the garret, where he began to cut through the floor with a knife he managed to get from some one of the Emir's people. He cut and cut until he made an opening over the chamber of the Emir's daughter, who had just filled a plate with food and gone away. The youth jumped down, emptied the plate, ate what he wanted, and crept back into the garret. The second, third, and fourth days he did this also, and the Emir's daughter could not think who had taken away her meal. The next day she hid herself under the table to watch and find out. Seeing the youth jump down and begin to eat from her plate, she rushed out and said to him, "Who are you?"
"I had a dream, but what it was I would tell neither father nor mother, nor the traveller, nor yet the Emir. The Emir shut me up in the garret. Now everything depends on you; do with me what you will."
The youth looked at the maiden, and they loved each other and saw each other every day.
The King of the West came to the King of the East to court the daughter of the King of the East for his son. He sent an iron bar with both ends shaped alike and asked: "Which is the top and which is the bottom? If you can guess that, good! If not, I will carry your daughter away with me."
The King asked everybody, but nobody could tell. The King's daughter told her lover about it and he said: "Go tell your father the Emir to throw the bar into a brook. The heavy end will sink. Make a hole in that end and send the bar back to the King of the West." And it happened that he was right, and the messengers returned to their King.
The King of the West sent three horses of the same size and color and asked: "Which is the one-year-old, which is the two-year-old, and which the mare? If you can guess that, good. If not, then I will carry off your daughter."
The King of the East collected all the clever people, but no one could guess. He was helpless and knew not what to do. Then his daughter went to her lover and said, "They are going to take me away," and she told him when and how.
The youth said: "Go and say to your father, 'Dip a bundle of hay in water, strew it with salt, and put it near the horses' stall. In the morning the mare will come first, the two-year-old second, the one-year-old last.'"
They did this and sent the King of the West his answer.
He waited a little and sent a steel spear and a steel shield, and said: "If you pierce the shield with the spear, I will give my daughter to your son. If not, send your daughter to my son."
Many people tried, and among them the King himself, but they could find no way of piercing the shield. The King's daughter told him of her beloved prisoner, and the King sent for him. The youth thrust the spear into the ground, and, striking the shield against it, pierced it through.
As the King had no son, he sent the youth in place of a son to the King of the West to demand his daughter, according to agreement.
He went on and on—how long it is not known—and saw someone with his ear to the ground listening.
"Who are you?" the youth asked.
"I am he who hears everything that is said in the whole world."
"This is a brave fellow," said the youth. "He knows everything that is said in the world."
"I am no brave fellow. He who has pierced a steel shield with a steel spear is a brave fellow," was the answer.
"I am he," said the youth. "Let us be brothers."
They journeyed on together and saw a man with a millstone on each foot, and one leg stepped toward Chisan and the other toward Stambul.
"That seems to me a brave fellow! One leg steps toward Chisan and the other toward Stambul."
"I am no brave fellow. He who has pierced a steel shield with a steel spear is a brave fellow," said the man with the millstones.
"I am he. Let us be brothers."
They were three and they journeyed on together.
They went on and on and saw a mill with seven millstones grinding corn. And one man ate all and was not satisfied, but grumbled and said, "O little father, I die of hunger."
"That is a brave fellow," said the youth. "Seven millstones grind for him and yet he has not enough, but cries, 'I die of hunger.'"
"I am no brave fellow. He who pierced a steel shield with a steel spear is a brave fellow," said the hungry man.
"I am he. Let us be brothers," said the youth and the four journeyed on together. They went on and on and saw a man who had loaded the whole world on his back and even wished to lift it up.
"That is a brave fellow. He has loaded himself with the whole world and wishes to lift it up," said the youth.
"I am no brave fellow. He who has pierced a steel shield with a steel spear is a brave fellow," said the burdened man.
"I am he. Let us be brothers."
The five journeyed on together. They went on and on and saw a man lying in a brook and he sipped up all its waters and yet cried, "O little father, I am parched with thirst."
"That is a brave fellow. He drinks up the whole brook and still says he is thirsty," said the youth.
"I am no brave fellow. He who has pierced a steel shield with a steel spear is a brave fellow," said the thirsty man.
"I am he. Let us be brothers."
The six journeyed on together. They went on and on and saw a shepherd who was playing the pipes, and mountains and valleys, fields and forests, men and animals, danced to the music.
"That seems to me to be a brave fellow. He makes mountains and valleys dance," said the youth.
"I am no brave fellow. He who has pierced a steel shield with a steel spear is a brave fellow," said the musical man.
"I am he. Let us be brothers," said the youth.
The seven journeyed on together.
"Brother who hast pierced a steel shield with a steel spear, whither is God leading us?"
"We are going to get the daughter of the King of the West," said the youth.
"Only you can marry her," said they all.
They went on till they came to the King's castle, but when they asked for the daughter the King would not let her go, but called his people together and said: "They have come after the bride. They are not very hungry, perhaps they will eat only a bite or two. Let one-and-twenty ovens be filled with bread and make one-and-twenty kettles of soup. If they eat all this I will give them my daughter; otherwise, I will not."
The seven brothers were in a distant room. He who listened with his ear to the ground heard what the King commanded, and said:
"Brother who hast pierced a steel shield with a steel spear, do you understand what the King said?"
"Rascal! how can I know what he says when I am not in the same room with him? What did he say?"
"He has commanded them to bake bread in one-and-twenty ovens and to make one-and-twenty kettles of soup. If we eat it all, we can take his daughter; otherwise, not."
The brother who devoured all the meal that seven millstones, ground said: "Fear not, I will eat everything that comes to hand, and then cry, 'Little father, I die of hunger.'"
When the King saw the hungry man eat he screamed: "May he perish! I shall certainly meet defeat at his hands."
Again he called his people to him and said, "Kindle a great fire, strew it with ashes and cover it with blankets. When they come in in the evening they will be consumed, all seven of them."
The brother with the sharp ears said: "Brother who hast pierced a steel shield with a steel spear, do you understand what the King said?"
"No; how can I know what he said?"
"He said, 'Kindle a fire, strew it with ashes, and cover it with blankets, and when they come in in the evening they will be consumed, all seven of them.'"
Then said the brother who drank up the brook: "I will drink all I can and go in before you. I will spit it all out and turn the whole house into a sea."
In the evening they begged the King to allow them to rest in the room set apart for them. The water-drinker filled the whole room with water, and they went into another.
The King lost his wits and knew not what to do. He called his people together, and they said in one voice, "Let what will happen, we will not let our princess go!"
The man with the sharp ears heard them, and said, "Brother who hast pierced a steel shield with a steel spear, do you understand what the King said?"
"How should I know what he said?"
"He said, 'Let what will happen, I will not let my daughter go.'"
The brother who had loaded himself with the whole world said: "Wait, I will take his castle and all his land on my back and carry it away."
He took the castle on his back and started off. The shepherd played on his pipes, and mountains and valleys danced to the music. He who had fastened millstones to his feet led the march, and they all went joyously forward, making a great noise.
The King began to weep, and begged them to leave him his castle. "Take my daughter with you. You have earned her."
They put the castle back in its place, the shepherd stopped playing, and mountain and valley stood still. They took the King's daughter and departed, and each hero returned to his dwelling-place, and he who had pierced the steel shield with the steel spear took the maiden and came again to the King of the East. And the King of the East gave him his own daughter, whom the youth had long loved, for his wife. So he had two wives—one was the daughter of the King of the East, the other the daughter of the King of the West.
At night, when they lay down to sleep, he said: "Now, I have one sun on one side and another sun on the other side, and a bright star plays on my breast."
In the morning he sent for his parents and called also the King to him, and said, "Now, I will tell my dream." "What was it, then?" they all said. He answered: "I saw in my dream one sun on one side of me and another sun on the other, and a bright star played on my breast."
"Had you such a dream?" they asked.
"I swear I had such a dream."
And three apples fell from heaven: one for the story-teller, one for him who made him tell it, and one for the hearer.
* * * * *
THE VACANT YARD
[Translated by E.B. Collins, B.S.]
* * * * *
THE VACANT YARD
Several days ago I wished to visit an acquaintance, but it chanced he was not at home. I came therefore through the gate again out into the street, and stood looking to right and left and considering where I could go. In front of me lay a vacant yard, which was, I thought, not wholly like other vacant yards. On it was neither house nor barn nor stable: true, none of these was there, but it was very evident that this yard could not have been deserted long by its tenants. The house must, also, in my opinion, have been torn down, for of traces of fire, as, for example, charred beams, damaged stoves, and rubbish heaps, there was no sign.
In a word, it could be plainly perceived that the house which once stood there had been pulled down, and its beams and timbers carried away. In the middle of the premises, near the line hedge, stood several high trees, acacias, fig, and plum-trees; scattered among them were gooseberry bushes, rose-trees, and blackthorns, while near the street, just in the place where the window of the house was probably set, stood a high, green fig-tree.
I have seen many vacant lots, yet never before have I given a passing thought as to whom any one of them belonged, or who might have lived there, or indeed where its future possessor might be. But in a peculiar way the sight of this yard called up questions of this sort; and as I looked at it many different thoughts came into my mind. Perhaps, I thought to myself, a childless fellow, who spoiled old age with sighs and complaints, and as his life waned the walls mouldered. Finally, the house was without a master; the doors and windows stood open, and when the dark winter nights came on, the neighbors fell upon it and stripped off its boards, one after another. Yes, various thoughts came into my head. How hard it is to build a house, and how easy to tear it down!
While I stood there lost in thought, an old woman, leaning on a staff, passed me. I did not immediately recognize her, but at a second glance I saw it was Hripsime. Nurse Hripsime was a woman of five-and-seventy, yet, from her steady gait, her lively speech, and her fiery eyes, she appeared to be scarcely fifty. She was vigorous and hearty, expressed her opinions like a man, and was abrupt in her speech. Had she not worn women's garments one could easily have taken her for a man. Indeed, in conversation she held her own with ten men.
Once, I wot not for what reason, she was summoned to court. She went thither, placed herself before the judge, and spoke so bravely that everyone gaped and stared at her as at a prodigy. Another time thieves tried to get into her house at night, knowing that she was alone like an owl in the house. The thieves began to pry open the door with a crowbar, and when Nurse Hripsime heard it she sprang nimbly out of bed, seized her stick from its corner, and began to shout: "Ho, there! Simon, Gabriel, Matthew, Stephan, Aswadur, get up quickly. Get your axes and sticks. Thieves are here; collar the rascals; bind them, skin them, strike them dead!" The thieves probably did not know with whom they had to deal, and, when at the outcry of the old woman they conceived that a half-dozen stout-handed fellows might be in the house, they took themselves off. Just such a cunning, fearless woman was Aunt Hripsime.
"Good-morning, nurse," said I.
"God greet thee," she replied.
"Where have you been?"
"I have been with the sick," she rejoined.
Oh, yes! I had wholly forgotten to say that Nurse Hripsime, though she could neither read nor write, was a skilful physician. She laid the sick person on the grass, administered a sherbet, cured hemorrhoids and epilepsy; and especially with sick women was she successful. Yes, to her skill I myself can bear witness. About four years ago my child was taken ill in the dog-days, and for three years my wife had had a fever, so that she was very feeble. The daughter of Arutin, the gold-worker, and the wife of Saak, the tile-maker, said to me: "There is an excellent physician called Hripsime. Send for her, and you will not regret it." To speak candidly, I have never found much brains in our doctor. He turns round on his heels and scribbles out a great many prescriptions, but his skill is not worth a toadstool.
I sent for Hripsime, and, sure enough, not three days had passed before my wife's fever had ceased and my children's pain was allayed. For three years, thank God, no sickness has visited my house. Whether it can be laid to her skill and the lightness of her hand or to the medicine I know not. I know well, however, that Nurse Hripsime is my family physician. And what do I pay her? Five rubles a year, no more and no less. When she comes to us it is a holiday for my children, so sweetly does she speak to them and so well does she know how to win their hearts. Indeed, if I were a sultan, she should be my vezir.
"How does the city stand in regard to sickness?" I asked her.
"Of that one would rather not speak," answered Hripsime. "Ten more such years and our whole city will become a hospital. Heaven knows what kind of diseases they are! Moreover, they are of a very peculiar kind, and often the people die very suddenly. The bells fly in pieces almost from so much tolling, the grave-diggers' shovels are blunt, and from the great demand for coffins the price of wood is risen. What will become of us, I know not."
"Is not, then, the cause of these diseases known to you?"
"Oh, that is clear enough," answered Hripsime. "It is a punishment for our sins. What good deeds have we done that we should expect God's mercy? Thieves, counterfeiters, all these you find among us. They snatch the last shirt from the poor man's back, purloin trust moneys, church money: in a word, there is no shameless deed we will not undertake for profit. We need not wonder if God punishes us for it. Yes, God acts justly, praised be his holy name! Indeed, it would be marvellous if God let us go unpunished."
Hripsime was not a little excited, and that was just what I wished. When she once began she could no longer hold in: her words gushed forth as from a spring, and the more she spoke the smoother her speech.
"Do you know?" I began again, "that I have been standing a long while before this deserted yard, and cannot recall whose house stood here, why they have pulled it down, and what has become of its inhabitants? You are an aged woman, and have peeped into every corner of our city: you must have something to tell about it. If you have nothing important on hand, be kind enough to tell me what you know of the former residents of the vanished house."
Nurse Hripsime turned her gaze to the vacant yard, and, shaking her head, said:
"My dear son, the history of that house is as long as one of our fairy-tales. One must tell for seven days and seven nights in order to reach the end.
"This yard was not always so desolate as you see it now," she went on. "Once there stood here a house, not very large, but pretty and attractive, and made of wood. The wooden houses of former days pleased me much better than the present stone houses, which look like cheese mats outside and are prisons within. An old proverb says, 'In stone or brick houses life goes on sadly,'
"Here, on this spot, next to the fig-tree," she continued, "stood formerly a house with a five-windowed front, green blinds, and a red roof. Farther back there by the acacias stood the stable, and between the house and the stable, the kitchen and the hen-house. Here to the right of the gate a spring." With these words Nurse Hripsime took a step forward, looked about, and said: "What is this? the spring gone, too! I recollect as if to-day that there was a spring of sweet water on the very spot where I am standing. What can have happened to it! I know that everything can be lost—but a spring, how can that be lost?" Hripsime stooped and began to scratch about with her stick. "Look here," she said suddenly, "bad boys have filled up the beautiful spring with earth and stones. Plague take it! Well, if one's head is cut off, he weeps not for his beard. For the spring I care not, but for poor Sarkis and his family I am very sorry."
"Are you certain that the house of Sarkis, the grocer, stood here? I had wholly forgotten it. Now tell me, I pray, what has become of him? Does he still live, or is he dead? Where is his family? I remember now that he had a pretty daughter and also a son."
Nurse Hripsime gave no heed to my questions, but stood silently, poking about with her stick near the choked-up spring.
The picture of Grocer Sarkis, as we called him, took form vividly in my memory, and with it awoke many experiences of my childhood. I remembered that when I was a child a dear old lady often visited us, who was continually telling us about Grocer Sarkis, and used to hold up his children as models. In summer, when the early fruit was ripe, she used to visit his house, gather fruit in his garden, and would always come to us with full pockets, bringing us egg-plums, saffron apples, fig-pears, and many other fruits. From that time we knew Sarkis, and when my mother wanted any little thing for the house I got it for her at his store. I loved him well, this Sarkis; he was a quiet, mild man, around whose mouth a smile hovered. "What do you want, my child?" he always asked when I entered his store.
"My mother sends you greeting," I would answer. "She wants this or that."
"Well, well, my child, you shall have it," he usually answered, and always gave me a stick of sugar candy, with the words, "That is for you; it is good for the cough." It never happened that I went out of the store without receiving something from him. In winter-time he treated me to sugar candy, and in summer-time he always had in his store great baskets full of apricots, plums, pears, and apples, or whatever was in season in his garden. His garden at that time—some thirty or thirty-five years ago—was very famous. One time my mother sent me to Sarkis's store to procure, as I remember, saffron for the pillau. Sarkis gave me what I desired, and then noticing, probably, how longingly I looked toward the fruit-baskets, he said:
"Now, you shall go and have a good time in my garden. Do you know where my house is?"
"Yes, I know. Not far from the Church of Our Lady."
"Right, my son, you have found it. It has green blinds, and a fig-tree stands in front of it. Now take this basket and carry it to Auntie, and say that I sent word that she was to let you go into the garden with my son Toros. There you two may eat what you will."
He handed me a neat-looking basket. I peeped into it and saw a sheep's liver. I was as disgusted with this as though it were a dead dog, for at that time liver-eaters were abhorred not less than thieves and counterfeiters; they with their whole family were held in derision, and people generally refused to associate with them. In a moment I forgot entirely what a good man Sarkis was; I forgot his fruit-garden and his pretty daughter, of whom the good old lady had told me so many beautiful things. The liver had spoiled everything in a trice. Sarkis noticed this, and asked me smiling:
"What is the matter?"
"Have you a dog in your yard?" I asked, without heeding his words.
"No," he said.
"For whom, then, is the liver?"
"For none other than ourselves. We will eat it."
I looked at Sarkis to see if he were jesting with me, but no sign of jesting was to be seen in his face.
"You will really eat the liver yourselves?" I asked.
"What astonishes you, my boy? Is not liver to be eaten, then?"
"Dogs eat liver," I said, deeply wounded, and turned away, for Sarkis appeared to me at that moment like a ghoul.
Just then there came into the store a pretty, pleasing boy. "Mamma sent me to get what you have bought at the Bazaar, and the hearth-fire has been lit a long time." I concluded that this was Sarkis's son, Toros. I perceived immediately from his face that he was a good boy, and I was very much taken with him.
"Here, little son, take that," Sarkis said, and handed him the basket which I had set down.
Toros peeped in, and when he spied the liver he said, "We will have a pie for dinner." Then he put on his cap and turned to go.
"Toros," called his father to him, "take Melkon with you to our house and play with him as a brother."
I was exceedingly pleased with the invitation, and went out with Toros. When we arrived at Sarkis's house and entered the garden it seemed as though I were in an entirely new world. The yard was very pretty, no disorder was to be seen anywhere. Here and there pretty chickens, geese, and turkeys ran about with their chicks. On the roof sat doves of the best kinds. The yard was shaded in places by pretty green trees, the house had a pretty balcony, and under the eaves stood green-painted tubs for catching rain-water. In the windows different flowers were growing, and from the balcony hung cages of goldfinches, nightingales, and canary birds; in a word, everything I saw was pretty, homelike, and pleasant.
In the kitchen cooking was going on, for thick smoke rose from the chimney. At the kitchen-door stood Sarkis's wife, a healthy, red-cheeked, and vigorous woman, apparently about thirty years old. From the fire that burned on the hearth her cheeks were still more reddened, so that it seemed, as they say, the redness sprang right out of her. On a little stool on the balcony sat a little girl, who wore, according to the prevailing fashion, a red satin fez on her head. This was Toros's sister. I have seen many beautiful girls in my time, but never a prettier one. Her name was Takusch.
Getting the mother's consent, we entered the garden, where we helped ourselves freely to the good fruit and enjoyed the fragrance of many flowers. At noon, Sarkis came home from the store, and invited me to dinner. My gaze was continually directed toward the beautiful Takusch. Oh, well-remembered years! What a pity it is that they pass by so quickly! Two or three months later I journeyed to the Black Sea, where I was apprenticed to a merchant, and since that time I have not been in my native city—for some twenty-four years—and all that I have told was awakened in my memory in a trice by my meeting with Hripsime.
The old woman was still standing on the site of the choked-up spring, scratching around on the ground with her stick.
"Nurse Hripsime, where is Sarkis and his family now?" I asked.
"Did you know him, then?" she asked, astonished.
"Yes, a little," I replied.
"Your parents were acquainted with him?"
"No. I was only once in his house, and then as a boy."
"Oh, then! That was his happiest time. What pleasant times we had in his garden! Formerly it was not as it is now—not a trace of their pleasant garden remains. The house has disappeared. Look again: yonder was the kitchen, there the hen-house, there the barn, and here the spring."
As she spoke she pointed out with her stick each place, but of the buildings she named not a trace was to be seen.
"Ah, my son," she went on, "he who destroyed the happiness of these good, pious people, who tore down their house and scattered the whole family to the winds, may that man be judged by God! He fell like a wolf upon their goods and chattels. I wish no evil to him, but if there is a God in heaven may he find no peace in his house, may his children bring no joy to him, and may no happiness find its way within his four walls. As he ruined those four poor wretches and was guilty of their early death, so may he roam over the wide world without rest nor find in sleep any comfort! Yes, may his trouble and sorrow increase with the abundance of his wealth!
"I knew Sarkis when he was still a boy. When you knew him he must have been about forty years old. He was always just as you saw him: reserved, discreet, pious, beneficent to the poor, and hospitable. It never occurred that he spoke harshly to his wife or raised his hand against his children. He was ever satisfied with what he had; never complained that he had too little, or coveted the possessions of others. Yes, a pious man was Sarkis, and his wife had the same virtues. Early in childhood she lost her parents, and relatives of her mother adopted her, but treated her badly. Yes, bitter is the lot of the orphan, for even if they have means they are no better off than the poor! They said that when her father died he left her a store with goods worth about 3,000 rubles, and beside that 2,000 ducats in cash; but he was hardly dead when the relations came and secured the stock and gold as guardians of the orphan. When she was fourteen years old, one after another wooed her, but when the go-betweens found out that there was nothing left of her property they went away and let the girl alone.
"Happily for her, Sarkis appeared, and said: 'I want a wife; I seek no riches,' Of course, the relations gave her to him at once, and with her all sorts of trumpery, some half-ruined furniture, and a few gold pieces. 'That is all her father left,' they said, and demanded from him a receipt for the whole legacy from her father. That was the way they shook her off!
"At that time Sarkis himself had nothing, and was just as poor as his wife. He was clerk in a store, and received not more than 150 rubles in notes yearly, which were worth in current money scarcely one-third their face value. Yes, they were both poor, but God's mercy is great and no one can fathom his purposes! In the same year the merchant whom he served suddenly died after making over to Sarkis the whole store and all that was in it, on condition that a certain sum should be paid every year to the widow.
"Sarkis took the business, and after three years he was sole owner of it. He increased it continually, and on the plot of ground he had inherited from his father he built a pretty house and moved into it. In the same year God gave him a daughter, whom he named Takusch, and four years later his son Toros came into the world.
"So these two orphans established a household and became somebodies; people who had laughed at them now sought their society, and began to vie with each other in praising Sarkis. But Sarkis remained the same God-fearing Sarkis. He spoke evil of no one, and even of his wife's relatives, who had robbed him, he said nothing. Indeed, when they had gone through that inheritance and were in want he even helped them out.
"As I have said, Sarkis refused no one his assistance, but his wife had also a good heart. The good things she did cannot be told. How often she baked cracknel, cakes, rolls, and sweet biscuit, and sent great plates full of them to those who could not have such things, for she said, 'May those who pass by and smell the fragrance of my cakes never desire them in vain.'
"About this time my husband died—may God bless him!—and I was living alone. Sarkis's wife came to me and said, 'Why will you live so lonely in your house? Rent it and come to us.' Of course, I did not hesitate long. I laid my things away in a large chest and moved over to their house, and soon we lived together like two sisters. Takusch was at that time four years old, and Toros was still a baby in arms. I lived ten years at their house, and heard not a single harsh word from them. Not once did they say to me, 'You eat our bread, you drink our water, you wear our clothing,' They never indulged in such talk: on the contrary, they placed me in the seat of honor. Yes, so they honored me. And, good heavens! what was I to them! Neither mother nor sister nor aunt, in no way related to them. I was a stranger taken from the streets.
"Yes, such God-fearing people were Sarkis and his wife. The poor wretches believed that all mankind were as pure in heart as they were. I had even at that time a presentiment that they would not end well, and often remonstrated with them, begging them to be on their guard with people. But it was useless for me to talk, for they sang the old songs again.
"Like a sweet dream my years with the good people passed. Surely pure mother's milk had nourished them! I knew neither pain nor grief, nor did I think of what I should eat to-morrow, nor of how I could clothe myself. As bounteous as the hand of God was their house to me. Twelve months in every year I sat peacefully at my spinning-wheel and carried on my own business.
"Once during dog-days—Takusch was at that time fifteen years old and beginning her sixteenth year—toward evening, according to an old custom, we spread a carpet in the garden and placed a little table there for tea. Near us steamed and hissed the clean shining tea-urn, and around us roses and pinks shed their sweet odors. It was a beautiful evening, and it became more beautiful when the full moon rose in the heavens like a golden platter. I remember that evening as clearly as though it were yesterday. Takusch poured out the tea, and Auntie Mairam, Sarkis's wife, took a cup; but as she lifted it to her lips it fell out of her hand and the tea was spilled over her dress.
"My spirits fell when I saw this, for my heart told me that it meant something bad was coming. 'Keep away, evil; come, good,' I whispered, and crossed myself in silence. I glanced at Takusch and saw that the poor child had changed color. Then her innocent soul also felt that something evil was near! Sarkis and Mairam, however, remained in merry mood and thought of nothing of that sort. But if you believe not a thousand times that something is to come, it comes just the same! Mairam took her napkin and wiped off her dress and Takusch poured her a fresh cup. 'There will come a guest with a sweet tongue,' said Sarkis, smiling. 'Mairam, go and put another dress on. You will certainly be ashamed if anyone comes.'
"'Who can come to-day, so late?' said Mairam, smiling; 'and, beside, the dress will dry quickly.'
"Scarcely had she spoken when the garden door opened with a rush and a gentleman entered the enclosure. He had hardly stepped into the garden when he began to blab with his goat's voice like a windmill.
"'Good-evening. How are you? You are drinking tea? That is very fine for you. What magnificent air you have here! Good-evening, Mr. Sarkis. Good-evening, Mrs. Mairam, Good-evening, Hripsime. What are you doing? I like to drink tea in the open air. What a beautiful garden you have. Dare I taste these cherries? Well—they are not bad; no, indeed, they are splendid cherries. If you will give me a napkin full of these cherries I will carry them home to my wife. And what magnificent apricots! Mr. Sarkis, do you know what! Sell me your house. No, I will say something better to you. Come to my store—you know where it is—yonder in the new two-storied house. Yes, yes, come over there and we will sit down pleasantly by the desk and gossip about Moscow happenings.'
"We were as if turned to stone. There are in the world many kinds of madmen, chatterboxes, and braggarts, but such a creature as this I saw for the first time in my life, and do you know who it was? Hemorrhoid Jack.
"Have you heard of him? Have you seen this hostage of God? Hripsime asked.
"No, I do not know him," I said.
"What! and you live in our city? Is there anyone who does not know the scoundrel? Go to the brokers, and they will tell you many he has thrown out of house and home by fraud and hunted out of the city. Have you ever seen how a bird-catcher lures the birds into his net—how he whistles to them? That's the way this John gets the people into his traps. To-day he will act as if altogether stupid. To-morrow he is suddenly shrewd, and understands the business well. Then he is simple again and a pure lamb. Now he is avaricious, now generous. And so he goes on. Yes, he slips around among the people like a fox with his tail wagging, and when he picks out his victim, he fastens his teeth in his neck and the poor beggar is lost. He gets him in his debt and never lets him get his breath between interest payments, or he robs him almost of his last shirt and lets him run. But see how I run away from my story!
"'Good-evening,' said Sarkis, as soon as he perceived Hemorrhoid Jack, and offered him his hand. 'What wind has blown you here? Mairam, a cup of tea for our honored Mr. John.'
"'Mr. Sarkis, do you know why I have come to you?' began Jack. 'The whole world is full of your praise; everywhere they are talking about you, and I thought to myself, "I must go there and see what kind of a man this Sarkis is." And so here I am. Excuse my boldness. I cannot help it: I resemble in no way your stay-at-home.
"'I am somewhat after the European fashion, you know. Who pleases me, I visit him quite simply. Present myself and make his acquaintance. Then I invite him to my house, go again to his and bring my family with me. Yes, such a fellow am I, let them laugh at me who will,'
"'Oh,' I thought, 'poor Sarkis is already fallen into the net, and his family with him.'
"Meanwhile, Mairam had poured the tea, placed the cup on a tray, and Takusch had put it before Jack.
"'Where did you buy the tea?' he began, taking the cup. 'When you want tea, buy it of me, I pray. You know, I am sure, where my store is. I can give you every desirable brand, and at low price. The tea that cost two rubles I will give to you for one ruble ninety-five kopecks. Yes, I will sell it to you at a loss. Oh, what bad tea you drink!' At the same time he began to sip and in a moment emptied the cup. 'Be so good as to give me another cup,' he said. 'In the fresh air one gets an appetite. If I am to enjoy tea-drinking, let me hitch up my carriage and drive out to the Monastery Gardens. There, out-of-doors, I drink two or three glasses and settle for them. Yes, such European customs please me,'
"'May it benefit you!' said Sarkis.
"'Now, now, Mr. Sarkis, are you coming to my house to-morrow?' asked Hemorrhoid Jack.
"'I will see,' answered Sarkis.
"'What is there to see? If you want to come, come then. We will sit behind the counter, drink our glass of tea, and chat. Now and then, we will talk about European affairs, bookkeeping, news, and other things,'
"'All right, I shall surely come. I shall not forget.'
"'Good. And now it is time for me to be gone, for I must make two more visits to-day,' remarked Hemorrhoid Jack.
"'Do they pay visits at this hour?' responded Sarkis. 'It must be nearly ten o'clock. Takusch, get a light.'
"Takusch went into the room, and soon returned with a light. Sarkis took out his watch, and coming near the light said: 'Look, it is already a quarter to ten.'
"John looked, and at once cried out: 'Oh, Mr. Sarkis, what a magnificent watch you have! Where did you get it? It appears to me to be a costly one. Let me see it.'
"'This watch I received as a gift from our late Czar. You know that several years ago our late Czar visited Taganrog. On this occasion the people of Taganrog wished to give him a magnificent horse, but they could not find an appropriate saddle. It happened that I had one that would do, and when they heard of it, they came to me and told me for what they needed the saddle. Who would not be ready to make such a sacrifice for the Czar? Indeed, who would not only sacrifice a costly saddle (and this one was not worth much), but even his life, gladly, if need be? Therefore, I immediately hired a wagon, and taking this extraordinary saddle with me and then on to Taganrog to the governor's.
"'"Your Highness seeks a saddle?" I asked.
"'"Yes, indeed," he answered.
"'"Here it is," said I.
"'"Thank you," he said, and pressed my hand. Then he led me into his own room. By George! it looked like one in a king's castle. He had me sit down, served me with tea, invited me to dine at his table: in a word, he treated me well. At my departure, he took out of a drawer a ring set with genuine brilliants, gave it to me, and said, "Take this from me as a gift, and what I receive from the Czar I will give to you also." And he kept his word. The Czar really came, and they gave him the horse with my saddle. His Majesty thanked me for it and gave me this watch. Look, now, what a beautiful one it is!'
"'Yes, truly, it is a pretty thing. Show me it again. I wish to see what kind of a watch it is,' said Hemorrhoid Jack, examining the watch. 'And have you the ring by you? Can I see it? Oh, let me see what kind of a thing it is. I like to see such things, particularly if they come from persons of high rank.'
"'Is the ring not in the chest of drawers?' said Sarkis, looking around toward his wife.
"'Yes, I keep it there,' answered Mairam, faintly, for she might well foresee something evil. 'Who is it routs about in the chest of drawers in the night?'
"'Good Auntie Mairam,' began Jack, in a wheedling tone, 'I beg of you, bring the ring, that I may see it. Be so kind! When I see such a rare thing my heart leaps in my breast with delight. It is true joy for me to hold such things in my hand and look at them. Bring me the ring, I beg of you.'
"I looked at him at that moment, and he seemed to me like a veritable gypsy. Had I not been obliged to consider those present, I should certainly have spit in his face, so great was my aversion to this scoundrel. Yes, what the proverb says is true: 'If a rich man becomes poor, he is scented for years with his wealth; if a poor man grows rich he stinks of poverty for forty years!' That was the way with this Hemorrhoid Jack. Oh, if it had been in my power I would have seized the scoundrel by the collar and thrown him out of the gate. But Sarkis was not of my temperament; he had a gentle heart and was meek as a lamb. I went up to him, pushed his elbow, and whispered:
"'What are you doing, you good-natured fool? Why did you let him take the watch in his hand? And are you going to show the ring, too? You will see, he has bad intentions. I'll bet my head he will bring misfortune on yours. Do you not see his greedy eyes? He will ruin you altogether, you and house, and ground,' I said.
"I had my trouble for my pains. Although a man of ripe years, Sarkis was nevertheless like a mere boy, believing all people as honest as himself. Heaven knows! perhaps such a fate was destined for him, and it was impossible for him to get out of the way of misfortune.
"Mairam brought the ring, and as soon as the scoundrel saw it he grabbed it from her hand and put it on his finger.
"'What a pretty thing it is!' he said, smirking. 'How it glistens! What a precious ring! What wonderfully beautiful brilliants! What ought I to give you for such a ring? Tell me. It pleases me exceedingly. Yes, without joking, sell it to me. No, we will arrange it otherwise: I will give you all kinds of goods out of my store at a very low price, yes, very cheap. May the apoplexy strike me if I make anything out of you! I will sell you everything at cost price, and if you wish, will give you ten kopecks rebate on the ruble.'
"'No, my dear sir,' said Mairam, embarrassed. 'Can one sell a souvenir of the Czar, and one of such great value? We have no occasion to do it. We are no Jews, to sell off everything, to turn into money whatever comes into our hands. Are we such poor beggars that we cannot have something good and valuable in our chest? No, Mr. John, what you say seems to me to be very singular. You are rich, yet you say that you have never in your life seen a gold watch nor a ring set with brilliants. It seems to me a fine new custom that one must immediately have what one sees. No, dear sir, cast not your eyes upon our property; be content with what you have.'
"'Mrs. Mairam,' said the scoundrel, smirking, 'why are you so angry? May one not joke with you?'
"'A fine joke!' I said, putting in my oar. 'You looked at the trees, and you will at once tear them down. You fell on the fruit like a wolf. You saw the garden, and at once wanted to buy. Now you want the ring, and will exchange for it your wares. What sort of tomfoolery are you talking to us? You are either crazy yourself or will make others so. The apple falls not far from the stem—one sees that in you.'
"'Aunt Hripsime, why are you so cross? Dare one not jest?'
"'Enough, enough; I understand your joke very well,' I cried indignantly.
"Yes, we women scolded him right well, but Sarkis said no earthly word. He sat there dumb and speechless as the stick in my hand. The Lord God gave him a tongue to speak with, but, dear heaven, he sat there like a clod and never uttered a syllable. I was like to burst with wrath.
"Then that unscrupulous fellow repeated his speech. 'Don't you understand a joke? Have you, then, no sense of fun?' He would have struck us over the ear, and that the fellow called a joke! And how the creature looked! His face was like a drum-skin. It was as though someone had wiped off the holy oil from this grimacing mask with a butcher's sponge. Yes, here you see how people become rich; how they get hold of other people's property. Conscience hunts the scoundrel to the deuce: he lets his skin grow thick; feigns outwardly to be dull; if anyone spits in his face he regards it only as a May-shower; if anyone goes for him for his rascality, he takes it as a joke. And so the rascals become rich! One must be born to those things, that's the way I see it.
"If you knew all that we said to this scoundrel's face! We all but seized him by the collar and threw him out the gate. We belabored him well, but the fellow stood as if dumb, remained silent, and laughed in our faces as if we had been speaking to each other and not to him. He neither took the watch out of his pocket nor the ring from his finger. Finally, I thought to myself, 'I will wait a little and see what will happen.'
"And do you know what this bad fellow said to our Sarkis after a short silence? 'Your watch and ring please me well, old fellow. Let me take them for a month or two. I will send them to Moscow and have some like them made for myself. As soon as I get them back I will give them back to you unhurt.'
"Our stupid Sarkis dared not say no, and he had his way.
"'Take them,' said Sarkis, 'but take care that they do not go astray, for—'
"'But what are you thinking about?' answered the scoundrel. 'Am I then—. Where do you buy your calico?' the scoundrel began after a pause. 'How much do you pay an ell? Where do you buy your linen cloth? How high does it come by the ell? Where do you buy your silk and satin?'
"Heaven knows what all he prated about, and Sarkis answered him and told everything just as it really was.
"'We buy our manufactured goods of Yellow Pogos,' and told the prices of everything without reserve.
"'Have you lost your wits, man?' cried Hemorrhoid Jack. 'Can any man in his full senses buy anything of Yellow Pogos? Don't you know that he is a swindler? Why don't you buy your goods of me? I will give them to you cheaper by half,'
"To this Sarkis answered, 'When I need something again I will buy it of you.'
"I knew well enough that Sarkis needed nothing at the time, and that he said this only to get rid of the fellow. But Jack did not or would not understand, and began again.
"'No, do not put it that way,' he said. 'Come to-morrow and pick out what pleases you. Do not think for a minute that I wish to make money out of you. Let the goods lie in your closet, for, between ourselves, goods were very cheap in Moscow this year, and I cleverly threw out my line and bought everything at half price. This year is a lucky one for my customers. If one of them will let his goods lie a little while he will certainly double his money on them. Yes, buy, I tell you, but not by the ell. Buy by the piece and you will not regret it, I assure you. I will send you in the morning five or six different kinds of goods.'
"'But why such haste?' said Mairam. 'My chest of drawers is full of stuff for clothes, and what I am wearing is still quite new. If we need anything we will come to you.'
"'What are you talking about, Auntie Mairam?' answered Hemorrhoid Jack. 'Do you not believe me? I tell you, you can get double for the goods, and if you cannot use everything yourself, give it to your neighbors. You will do good business. On my word of honor, I swear to you, you will make double on it. Would I lie for the sake of such a trifle? Whom do you think you have here? But that is a small matter: I have still something better to propose. You must take a shipment of tea from me. In the winter the price will rise, and you can make enormous profits out of it. To-morrow I will send you one chest—for the present. Well? Now, really, I will send it to you.'
"'My dear John,' exclaimed Sarkis, 'you must know how risky it is to begin a new business. I have never handled tea, and the thing appears to me somewhat daring. I know no customers for tea, and understand nothing about the goods. If it remains lying by me and spoils—'
"'What empty straw are you threshing now?' cried Hemorrhoid Jack. 'As soon as the people know that you have tea to sell they will of their own accord come running into your store. Do you think that you will have to look up customers? In a week or two not a trace of your tea will remain. I speak from practical experience. This year little tea has been brought from Siberia, and what they have brought has almost all fallen into my hands. Do not think that I seek a buyer in you! God forbid! When I learned what a good man you were, I thought to myself, "I must give him a chance to make something. Yes, I want him to make a few kopecks." Do you think I am in need of purchasers? Now, Sarkis, to-morrow I will send you the goods. What?'
"'By heaven, I know not how I ought to answer you. Do you know, I am afraid,' said Sarkis.
"The poor fellow could say nothing farther, for he was such an honest, good-natured fellow that it was hard for him to refuse anybody anything. The word 'no' did not exist for him.
"'You are talking nonsense,' began Hemorrhoid Jack anew. 'Give up your grocery and set up a wholesale business. Manage it according to the European plan, and you shall see how thankful to me you will be in time. Do you believe that I am your enemy? Would I advise you badly? Now, the matter is settled. In the morning I will send you several chests of tea and put them in your store. You will find out that Hemorrhoid Jack wishes you no ill. Yes, I will say something even better. You know what machorka is?—a cheap tobacco that the poor folk smoke. What do you think of this stuff? Do you think that there is a class of goods more profitable than this? People make thousands from it, and build themselves fine houses. And what expenses have they with it? Put the tobacco in an empty stable or shed and it may lie there. A chest of it put on sale in your store and I tell you, if you do not make ruble for ruble out of it, then spit in my face.
"'Last spring most of this stuff was in the hands of a Cossack. The stupid fellow didn't know what he ought to expect for it, and he needed money—this gander! I brought him home with me; had brandy, bread, and ham set out; and, after a little talk back and forth, I bought 400 chests at half price. Half I paid in cash, the rest in eighteen months. Now, wasn't that a good trade? If I don't make my 3,000 rubles out of it, I shall be a fool. If you like, I will send you some of these goods. Put it in your shop or in your shed and let it lie there; it eats and drinks nothing. Now, I tell you, if you do not make 100 per cent, out of it, spit in my face. Shall I send you a few chests of it?'
"'By heaven, I cannot go into it,' answered Sarkis. 'Do you know, I am afraid to undertake a new trade? If the stuff does not go off or spoils on my hands or the price falls, what shall I do? You know that our capital consists of only a few kopecks. We spend as we earn. If I run after the rubles and lose the kopecks thereby, who will give me something to eat?' concluded the poor wretch, as if he scented some evil.
"But could he free himself from that Satan of a Hemorrhoid Jack? Like a leech he had fastened himself on his neck and demanded that he should buy the goods.
"'Now, Sarkis,' he began again, 'the thing is settled. I am to send you in the morning manufactured goods, tea, and tobacco. Well?'
"'I will see; I must turn it over in my mind,' stammered Sarkis. He wanted to be rid of him, but he knew not how to begin.
"'What does that "I will see!" mean? Nothing,' the other continued. 'You may see a thousand times and you will not find again such good goods and such a favorable opportunity. I speak from experience. You must not let this chance slip by or you will throw gold out of the window with your own hands. I am talking about great gains, great profits; do you think it is a joke?'
"'We shall see,' said poor Sarkis. 'We have many days before us. Yes, we will surely do something.'
"'What you do now is not worth much,' cried Hemorrhoid Jack. 'I see that if I leave the thing to your decision, in five years you will not have reached one. Isn't that true? In the morning I will send you one load of goods and the rest later.'
"With these words he seized his cap, quickly made his adieus, and went away.
"It was nearly one o'clock; Mairam and Takusch were sitting there asleep and I also was very sleepy, but I fought against my sleepiness to watch that devil of a Hemorrhoid Jack. Mankind can be a priest to mankind—also a Satan!
"When he was in the street, Sarkis said to me: 'What a wonderful conversation we have had this evening. Of all this man has said, I understand nothing. His purposes are not exactly bad, but I don't know how it happens—my heart presages something of evil.'
"I was just going to answer him when suddenly I sneezed; but only once.
"'See now,' I said to Sarkis; 'I was right in saying he was going to trick you. Now it has proved itself.'
"'If one sneezes only once by day that is a bad sign, but at night it means something good,' he interrupted me.
"'Oh,' I said, 'do not, I pray, give me lessons; don't teach me what a sneeze is the sign of. Whether it is in the daytime or at night it is a bad sign, and if one just made up his mind to do anything, he should let it drop.'
"Sarkis would not give in that I was right, but began to chatter about a sneeze at night being a good thing. I said no and he said yes, and so it went on until I finally gave it up."
"'Oh, 'I said, 'have your own way, but when misfortune comes to you do not blame me for it.'
"'I have really begun nothing,' he observed. 'That was only a talk. We have only discussed something. I have really no desire to try my hand with the tea and tobacco.'
"That he said to me, but heaven only knows! perhaps in his thoughts he was already counting the thousands he hoped to earn. Money has such power that my blessed grandmother always said that the devil had invented it. He had racked his brains to find a way to lead mankind into wickedness and did not succeed until he invented money. Then he was master of our souls. How many men money has deprived of reason! Sarkis was not of so firm a mind that he would be able to stand out against such rosy hopes.
"The next day, early in the morning, the shop-boy came running into the house in a great hurry, and said that nine cart-loads of goods were standing at the gate. The man who was in charge of them was asking for Sarkis.
"'What kind of an invasion is this!' cried Sarkis. 'I must go and see who it is. Perhaps the loads are not for me at all. God knows for whom they are!'
"He went out, and we after him. Although I had not seen the loads of goods, I knew the whole story in a moment.
"Before we had reached the gate a man met us and said:
"'My master sends you greeting and begs you to take these nine wagon-loads of goods and sign for them.'
"'Who is your master?' we asked, all together.
"'Hemorrhoid Jack. Don't you know him? He was at your house last evening.'
"I was ready to burst with anger.
"'You fellow,' I said, 'who told your master to send these goods here? Have we ordered anything? Turn at once and get out of the room.'
"'Is that so!' said the man. 'After a thing is settled you can't take back your word. Where shall I put the goods now?'
"'Where you brought them from, take them back there!'
"'The coach-house is closed.'
"'That does not concern us; that is your master's affair.'
"'If he were here I would tell him, but he is not here.'
"'Where is he then?' I asked.
"'He has gone to Taganrog.'
"'When did he start?'
"'About two hours ago. He will not be back for two months, for he has very important business in the courts.'
"It could not be doubted now that this villain of a John had already begun his tricks; but that innocent Sarkis did not see through his devilish purposes. Had I been in his place I would have run immediately to the City Hall and told every detail of the business, and the thing would have come out all right. But Sarkis was not the man for that.
"'Well, if that is the case drive into the yard and unload. The goods cannot stand in the street. When Jack comes back from Taganrog I will arrange things with him in some way.'
"The wagons came into the yard with a clatter and the driver unloaded the goods and piled them up in the coach-house. I stood as if turned to stone and silently watched this move in their game. 'What will come of it?' I thought to myself.
"Ah, but I would rather have died than see what did come of it!
"When the goods were unloaded the clerk demanded a receipt, which Sarkis gave him without hesitation, whereupon the clerk went away satisfied.
"Later we heard that Jack had not gone to Taganrog at all, and had only ordered the clerk to say so.
"That same day when we were sitting at dinner, Sarkis turned to me and said: 'See, Hripsime, your sneeze has cheated you. Did you not say that Jack was going to play a trick on me? You see something very different has happened. This forenoon four or five persons came into my shop who wished to buy tea and tobacco. I told them the matter was not yet settled; that we had not agreed on the price; as soon as the agreement was made I would begin business. Do you see? I have not advertised that I was going to handle the goods, yet everybody knows it and one customer after another comes into my store. How will it be when the goods are put on sale?—they will fight for them. It will give me a great deal to do; I must only go to John and settle on the terms. Yes, little mother, such a wholesale trade is not to be despised; the wholesaler can often make more money in a moment than the retailer makes in two years. Yes, my love, in business that is really so!'
"'God grant that it may be so!' I said, and nothing more was said about Jack.
"Several months passed by and November came. One evening we were sitting together chatting comfortably when the door opened softly and an old woman entered. I knew immediately that she was a matchmaker. In three days Takusch was betrothed to a plain, middle-rate man. The wedding was to take place the next winter on her father's name-day. As a dowry her parents promised 3,000 rubles—1,500 in cash, and the rest in jewels.
"Tagusch was at that time fifteen years old. Although I had lived in her parents' house I had never looked right attentively at her face, scarcely knew, in fact, whether she was beautiful or ugly; but when on her betrothal day she put on a silk dress and adorned herself as is customary at such a festive time; when she had put on her head a satin fez with gold tassels and a flower set with brilliants, I fairly gaped with admiration. I am almost eighty years old, but in all my life I have never seen a more beautiful girl.
"I am no dwarf, but she was a few inches taller than I. She was slender as a sweet-pine tree. Her hands were delicate and soft, her fingers were like wax. Hair and eyebrows were black, and her face like snow. Her cheeks were tinged rose-red, and her glance! that I cannot forget even to this day. It was brighter than a genuine Holland diamond. Her eyelashes were so long that they cast shadows on her cheeks. No, such a charming creature I have never seen in dreams, let alone reality. She was—God forgive my sins—the pure image of the Mother of God in our church; yes, she was even more beautiful. When I looked at her I could not turn my eyes away again. I gazed at her and could not look enough. On the betrothal day I sat in the corner of the room with my eyes nailed on Takusch.
"'How sorry I am,' thought I, 'that you with that angel face are to be the wife of a commonplace man, to be the mother of a family and go into a dirty, smoky kitchen. Shall your tender hands become hard as leather with washing, ironing, kneading, and who knows what housework beside? Shall your angel cheeks fade from the heat of the oven and your eyes lose their diamond-shine from sewing?' Yes, so thought I, and my heart bled within me for this girl who ought to wear a queen's crown and live in a palace. Surely, if this rose maiden had lived in olden times she would certainly have married a king or a king's son. And the poor thing stood there like a lamb, for she did not understand what life was. She thought marriage would be nothing more than a change in her dwelling-place. Oh, but I was sorry that evening that she was going to marry only an ordinary, but still eligible, young man, and yet it would have been a great good fortune for her if this had come to pass. Had we thought at that time that great misfortunes were in store for the poor child! And that cursed Hemorrhoid Jack was the cause of them all!
"That betrothal day was the last happy day of the poor wretches. I never afterward saw smiles on their faces, for from that day their circumstances grew worse and worse and their business became very bad. They lost house and ground, moved about for several months from one rented house to another, until finally they disappeared from the city.
"The day after the betrothal Hemorrhoid Jack sent word to Sarkis by his clerk that Sarkis must pay 2,700 rubles for the tobacco and tea and 184 rubles for the manufactured goods. I have forgotten to tell you that among the latter were old-fashioned dress-goods, taxed cloth, linen, satin, and some silk. The clerk also said that if Sarkis did not pay the 184 rubles the ring and watch would be retained.
"Poor Sarkis was completely dazed.
"'Have I bought the goods?' he asked.
"'Certainly you have bought them,' answered the unscrupulous clerk. 'Otherwise you would not have sold a chest of tea and a bale of tobacco. Beside, the coat your boy is wearing was made from our cloth.'
"This was true. On the third day after receiving the goods, Sarkis had sold a bale of tobacco and a chest of tea, and had cut off several yards of cloth. It was very singular that in the course of three months Sarkis had not once caught sight of Hemorrhoid Jack to call him to account for the delivery of the goods. He had been several times to his house, where they said, 'He is at the store.' At the store they said Jack was at home. It was very evident that he wished to defraud Sarkis. After much talk back and forth the matter came into the courts, and since Sarkis had sold part of the goods and had given a receipt for them, he had to pay the sum demanded.
"For several months past business had been going very badly with the poor fellow and he could not raise the required sum, so he had to give up his property. First they drove the poor man out of his house and emptied his store and his storehouse. Then they sold the tobacco and the tea, for which no one would give more than fifty rubles, for both were half rotten. The store and all that was in it were then auctioned off for a few hundred rubles, and finally the house was offered for sale. No one would buy it, for among our people the praiseworthy custom rules that they never buy a house put up at auction till they convince themselves that the owner sells it of his own free-will. The household furniture was also sold, and Sarkis became almost a beggar, and was obliged, half naked, to leave his house, with his wife and children.
"I proposed that they should occupy my house, but he would not have it. 'From to-day the black earth is my dwelling-place,' he said, and rented a small house at the edge of the town near where the fields begin.
"When the neighbors found out the treachery of Hemorrhoid Jack, they were terribly angry, and one of them threw a note into his yard in which was written: that if he took possession of poor Sarkis's house they would tear or burn it down. That was just what John wished, and he immediately sent carpenters to tear down the house and stable and then he sold the wood.
"At this time I became very sick and lay two months in bed. When I got up again I thought to myself, 'I must go and visit the poor wretches!' I went to their little house, but found the door locked and the windows boarded up. I asked a boy, 'My child, do you know where the people of this house are?' 'Two weeks ago they got into a wagon and drove away,' answered the lad. 'Where are they gone?' I asked. 'That I don't know,' he said.
"I would not have believed it, but an old woman came up to me on the street, of her own accord, and said:
"'They all got into a wagon and have moved away into a Russian village.'
"What the village was called she could not tell me, and so every trace of them was lost.
"Many years later a gentleman came from Stavropol to our city, who gave me some news of the poor wretches. They had settled in a Cossack village—he told me the name, but I have forgotten—where at first they suffered great want; and just as things were going a little better with them, Mairam and Sarkis died of the cholera and Takusch and Toros were left alone. Soon after, a Russian officer saw Takusch and was greatly pleased with her. After a few months she married him. Toros carried on his father's business for a time, then gave it up and joined the army. So much I found out from the gentleman from Stavropol.
"Some time later I met again one who knew Takusch. He told me that she was now a widow. Her husband had been a drunkard, spent his whole nights in inns, often struck his poor wife, and treated her very badly. Finally they brought him home dead. Toros's neck had been broken at a horse-race and he was dead. He said also that Takusch had almost forgotten the Armenian language and had changed her faith.
"'That is the history of the Vacant Yard."
* * * * *
[Metrical Version, by Robert Arnot, M.A.]
* * * * *
Were I a springtime breeze, A breeze in the time when the song-birds pair, I'd tenderly smooth and caress your hair, And hide from your eyes in the budding trees.
Were I a June-time rose, I'd glow in the ardor of summer's behest, And die in my passion upon your breast, In the passion that only a lover knows.
Were I a lilting bird, I'd fly with my song and my joy and my pain, And beat at your lattice like summer-rain, Till I knew that your inmost heart was stirred.
Were I a winged dream, I'd steal in the night to your slumbering side, And the joys of hope in your bosom I'd hide, And pass on my way like a murmuring stream.
Tell me the truth, the truth, Have I merited woe at your tapering hands, Have you wilfully burst love's twining strands, And cast to the winds affection and ruth?
'Twas a fleeting vision of joy, While you loved me you plumed your silvery wings, And in fear of the pain that a man's love brings You fled to a bliss that has no alloy.
* * * * *
SPRING IN EXILE
Wind of the morn, of the morn of the year, Violet-laden breath of spring, To the flowers and the lasses whispering Things that a man's ear cannot hear, In thy friendly grasp I would lay my hand, But thou comest not from my native land.
Birds of the morn, of the morn of the year, Chanting your lays in the bosky dell, Higher and fuller your round notes swell, Till the Fauns and the Dryads peer forth to hear The trilling lays of your feathery band: Ye came not, alas, from my native land.
Brook of the morn, of the morn of the year, Burbling joyfully on your way, Maiden and rose and woodland fay Use as a mirror your waters clear: But I mourn as upon your banks I stand, That you come not, alas, from my native land.
Breezes and birds and brooks of the Spring, Chanting your lays in the morn of the year, Though Armenia, my country, be wasted and sere, And mourns for her maidens who never shall sing, Yet a storm, did it come from that desolate land, Would awaken a joy that ye cannot command.
* * * * *
FLY, LAYS OF MINE!
Fly, lays of mine, but not to any clime Where happiness and light and love prevail, But seek the spots where woe and ill and crime Leave as they pass a noisome serpent-trail
Fly, lays of mine, but not to the ether blue, Where golden sparks illume the heavenly sphere, But seek the depths where nothing that is true Relieves the eye or glads a listening ear.
Fly, lays of mine, but not to fruitful plains Where spring the harvests by God's benison, But seek the deserts where for needed rains Both prayers and curses rise in unison.
Fly, lays of mine, but not to riotous halls, Where dancing sylphs supply voluptuous songs, But seek the huts where pestilence appals, And death completes the round of human wrongs.
Fly, lays of mine, but not to happy wives, Whose days are one unending flow of bliss, But seek the maidens whose unfruitful lives Have known as yet no lover's passionate kiss.
Fly, lays of mine, and like the nightingales, Whose liquid liltings charm away the night, Reveal in song the sweets of summer's gales, Of lover's pleadings and of love's delight.
And tell my lady, when your quests are o'er, That I, away from her, my heart's desire, Yearn for the blissful hour when I shall pour Down at her feet a love surcharged with fire.
* * * * *
THE WOE OF ARAXES
Meditating by Araxes, Pacing slowly to and fro, Sought I traces of the grandeur Hidden by her turgid flow.
"Turgid are thy waters, Mother, As they beat upon the shore. Do they offer lamentations For Armenia evermore?
"Gay should be thy mood, O Mother, As the sturgeons leap in glee: Ocean's merging still is distant, Shouldest thou be sad, like me?
"Are thy spume-drifts tears, O Mother, Tears for those that are no more? Dost thou haste to pass by, weeping, This thine own beloved shore?"
Then uprose on high Araxes, Flung in air her spumy wave, And from out her depths maternal Sonorous her answer gave:
"Why disturb me now, presumptuous, All my slumbering woe to wake? Why invade the eternal silence For a foolish question's sake?
"Know'st thou not that I am widowed; Sons and daughters, consort, dead? Wouldst thou have me go rejoicing, As a bride to nuptial bed?
"Wouldst thou have me decked in splendor, To rejoice a stranger's sight, While the aliens that haunt me Bring me loathing, not delight?
"Traitress never I; Armenia Claims me ever as her own; Since her mighty doom hath fallen Never stranger have I known.
"Yet the glories of my nuptials Heavy lie upon my soul; Once again I see the splendor And I hear the music roll.
"Hear again the cries of children Ringing joyfully on my banks, And the noise of marts and toilers, And the tread of serried ranks.