THE CIRCASSIAN SLAVE:
OR, THE SULTAN'S FAVORITE.
A Story of Constantinople and the Caucasus.
BY LIEUTENANT MURRAY.
PUBLISHER's NOTE.—The following Novelette was originally published in THE PICTORIAL DRAWING ROOM COMPANION, and is but a specimen of the many deeply entertaining Tales, and the gems of literary merit, which grace the columns of that elegant and highly popular journal. THE COMPANION embodies a corps of contributors of rare literary excellence, and is regarded as the ne plus ultra, by its scores of thousands of readers.
I. THE SLAVE MARKET. II. THE SULTAN'S HAREM. III. THE BEDOUIN ARABS. IV. VALES OF CIRCASSIA. V. THE SLAVE SHIP. VI. A SINGULAR MEETING. VII. THE SULTAN'S PRISONER. VIII. PUNISHMENT OF THE SACK. IX. THE LOVER'S STRATAGEM. X. THE SERENADE. XI. THE ELOPEMENT. XII. THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE. XIII. THE ESCAPE FROM THE HAREM. XIV. THE CHASE. XV. HAPPY CONCLUSION.
The following story relates to that exceedingly interesting and romantic portion of the world bordering on the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmora, and the Bosphorus. The period of the story being quite modern, its scenes are a transcript of the present time in the city of the Sultan. The peculiarities of Turkish character are of the follower of Mahomet, as they appear to-day; and the incidents depicted are such as have precedents daily in the oriental capital. Leaving the tale to the kind consideration of the reader, the author would not fail to express his thanks for former indulgence and favor.
THE CIRCASSIAN SLAVE.
THE SLAVE MARKET.
Upon one of those hot, sultry summer afternoons that so often prevail about the banks of the Bosphorus, the sun was fast sinking towards its western course, and gilding as it went, the golden crescents of a thousand minarets, now dancing with fairy feet over the rippling waters of Marmora, now dallying with the spray of the oarsmen's blades, as they pulled the gilded caique of some rich old Mussulman up the tide of the Golden Horn. The soft and dainty scented air came in light zephyrs off the shore of Asia to play upon the European coast, and altogether it was a dreamy, siesta-like hour hat reigned in the Turkish capital.
Let the reader come with us at this time into the circular area that forms the slave market of Constantinople. The bazaar is well filled; here are Egyptians, Bulgarians, Persians, and even Africans; but we will pass them by and cross to the main stand, where are exposed for sale some score of Georgians and Circassians. They are all chosen for their beauty of person, and present a scene of more than usual interest, awaiting the fate that the future may send them in a kind or heartless master; and knowing how much of their future peace depends upon this chance, they watch each new comer with almost painful interest as he moves about the area.
A careless crowd thronged the place, lounging about in little knots here and there, while one lot of slave merchants, with their broad but graceful turbans, were sitting round a brass vessel of coals, smoking or making their coffee, and discussing the matters pertaining to their trade. Some came there solely to smoke their opium-drugged pipes, and some to purchase, if a good bargain should offer and a beauty be sold cheap. Here were sprightly Greeks, sage Jews, and moody Armenians, but all outnumbered by the sedate old Turks, with beards sweeping their very breasts. It was a motley crowd that thronged the slave market.
Now and then there burst forth the ringing sound of laughter front an enclosed division of the place where were confined a whole bevy of Nubian damsels, flat-nostriled and curly-headed, but as slight and fine-limbed as blocks of polished ebony. They were lying negligently about, in postures that would have taken a painter's eye, but we have naught to do with then at this time.
The females that were now offered for sale were principally of the fair and rosy-cheeked Circassian race, exposed to the curious eve of the throng only so far as delicacy would sanction, yet leaving enough visible to develope charms that fired the spirits of the Turkish crowd; and the bids ran high on this sale of humanity, until at last a beautiful creature, with a form of ravishing loveliness, large and lustrous eyes, and every belonging that might go to make up a Venus, was led forth to the auctioneer's stand. She was young and surpassingly handsome, while her hearing evinced a degree of modesty that challenged their highest admiration.
Of course the bidding was spirited and liberal for such a specimen of her race; but suddenly the auctioneer paused, and declared that he had forgotten to mention one matter which might, perhaps, be to some purchasers even a favorable consideration, which was, that the slave was deaf and dumb! The effects of this announcement were of course various; on some it did have a favorable effect, inasmuch as it seemed to add fresh interest to the undoubted charms she evinced, but other shrank back disappointed that a creature of so much loveliness should be even partially bereft of her faculties.
"Are you deaf and dumb?" asked an old Turk, approaching the Circassian where she stood, as though he wished to satisfy himself as to the truth of what the salesman had announced.
The slave lifted her eyes at his approach, and only shook her head in signification that she could not speak, as she saw his lips move in the utterance of some words, which she supposed addressed to her. The splendid beauty of her eyes, and the general expression of her countenance, seemed to act like magic on the Musselman, who, turning to the auctioneer, bid five hundred piasters, a hundred advance on the first offer.
At this moment a person wearing the uniform of the Turkish navy, made his way towards the stand from the centre of the bazaar, where he had for some minutes been intently regarding the scene, and bid
"Six hundred piasters."
"Seven," said the previous bidder.
"Eight," continued the naval officer.
"Eight fifty," responded the old Turk.
"Nine hundred," said the officer, with a promptness that attracted the attention of the crowd.
"One thousand piasters," said his competitor, as he continued to regard her exquisite and beautiful mould, and her features, so like a picture, in their regular and artistic lines of beauty. It was very plain that the old Turk felt, as he gazed upon her, so silent yet so beautiful, that she was richly worth her weight in pearls.
"A thousand piasters," repeated the vender of the slave market, turning once more to the officer, then added, as he received no encouraging sign from him, "a thousands piasters, and sold!"
The officer regarded her with much interest, and turned away in evident disappointment, for the old Turk who had outbid him, had gone beyond any means that he possessed. The purchaser handed forth the money in a couple of small bags, and throwing a close veil over the head of the slave, led her away through the narrow and winding streets of old Stamboul to the water's side, where they entered a caique that awaited them, and pulled up the harbor.
Its shooting caiques, its forest of merchantmen, and its hoard of Turkish war ships; were changed, in a few moments of swift pulling, for the breathless solitude of the Valley of Sweet Waters, which opens with a gentle curve from the Golden Horn, and winds away into the hills towards Belgrade, where the river assumes the character of a silvery stream, threading its way through a soft and verdant meadow on either hand, as beautiful in aspect as the Prophet's Paradise. The spot where the Sultan sends his swift-footed Arabians to graze on the earliest verdure that decks the face of spring.
It was up this fairy-like passage that the dumb slave was swept in her master's caique, and by scenes so beautiful as even to enchant her sad and silent bosom. The Turk marked well the influence of the scenery upon the Circassian, and slowly stroked his beard with silent satisfaction at the sight.
The caique soon stopped before a gorgeous palace, in the midst of this fine plain, and the Turk, by a signal, summoned the guard of eunuchs from a tent of the Prophet's green, that was pitched near the banks of the Barbyses, that ran its meandering course through this verdant scene. It was a princely home, the proudest harem in all this gem of the Orient, for the old Turk had acted not for himself in the purchase he had made, but as the agent of a higher will than his own, and the dumb slave was led to the seraglio of the Sultan.
The old Turk was evidently a privileged body, and following close upon the heels of the eunuchs, he divested himself of his slippers at the entrance of the palace, and led the slave before the "Brother of the Sun."
The monarch was a noble specimen of his race, tall, commanding, and with a spirit of firmness breathing from his expressive face. His beard was jetty black, and gave a much older appearance to his features than belonged to them. He was the child of a seraglio, whose mothers were chosen for beauty alone, and how could he escape being handsome? The blood of Circassian upon Circassian was in his veins, and the trace of their nationality was upon his brow, but there was in the eye a doomed darkness of expression that caused the beautiful creature before him to almost tremble with fear.
"Beautiful, indeed," mused the Sultan, as he gazed upon the slave with undisguised interest; "and how much did she cost us, good Mustapha?"
"One thousand piasters, excellency," answered the agent, with profound respect.
"A thousand piasters," repeated the monarch, again gazing at the slave.
"Yes, excellency, the bids ran high."
"A goodly sum, truly, Mustapha, but a goodly return," continued the Sultan.
"There was one fault, excellency," continued the agent, "that I feared might disappoint you."
"And what is that, good Mustapha?"
"She is both deaf and dumb, excellency."
"Both deaf and dumb," repeated the Sultan, rising from his divan and approaching the lovely Circassian, actuated by the interest that he felt at so singular an announcement.
While the old Turk stroked his beard with an air of satisfaction at the result of his purchase as it regarded the approval of his master, the slave bent humbly before the monarch, for though she knew not by any word or sign addressed to her who her master was, yet she felt that no one could assume that air of dignity and command but the Sultan. A blush stole over the pale face of the Circassian as the monarch laid his hand on her arm and gazed intently upon her face, and whatever his inward thoughts were, his handsome countenance expressed a spirit of tenderness and gentle concern for her situation that became him well, for clemency is the brightest jewel in a crown.
"Deaf and dumb," repeated the Sultan against to himself, "and yet so very beautiful."
"She is beautiful, indeed, excellency," said the old Turk, echoing his master's thoughts.
"So they sought her eagerly at the market, good Mustapha, did they not?"
"Excellency, yes. One of your own officers bid against me heavily; he wore the marine uniform."
"Ha! did the fellow know you?" asked the Sultan, quickly, with a flashing eye that showed how capable that face was of a far different expression from that which the dumb slave had given rise to.
"I think he did not know me, excellency."
After a moment's pause the Sultan turned again to the gentle girl that stood before him, and taking her hand, endeavored by his looks of kind assurance to express to her that he should strive to make her happy; and as he smoothed her dark, glossy hair tenderly, the slave bent her forehead to the hand that held her own, in token of gratitude for the kindness with which she was received, and when she raised her face again. Both the Sultan and Mustapha saw that tears had wet her cheeks, and her bosom heaved quickly with the emotion that actuated her.
At this moment the Circassian felt her dress slightly drawn from behind, and turning, confronted the person of a lad who might, judging from his size, be some seventeen years of age. His form was beautiful in its outline, and his step light and graceful; but the face, alas! that throne of the intellect was a barren waste, and his vacant eye and lolling lip showed at once that the poor boy was little less than an idiot. And yet, as he looked upon the slave, and saw the tear glistening in her eye, there seemed to be a flash of intelligence cross his features, as though there was still a spark of heaven in the boy. But 'twas gone again, and seeming to forget the object that had led him to her side, he sank down upon the cushioned floor, and played with a golden tassel as an infant would char have done.
The idiot was an exemplification of a strange but universal superstition among the Turks. With these eastern people there is a traditionary belief in what is called the evil eye, answering to the evil spirit that is accredited to exist by more civilized nations. Any human being bereft of reason, or seriously deformed in any way, is held by them to be a protection against the blight of the evil eye, which, being once cast upon a person, renders him doomed forever. Holding, therefore, that dwarfs, idiots or mad-men are partially inspired, every considerable such establishment supports one or more, whose privilege it is to follow, untrammeled, their own pleasure. The idiot boy, in the Sultan's palace, was one of this class, whom no one thwarted, and who was regarded with a half superstitious reverence by all.
While this scene had been transpiring between the idiot boy and the slave, the Sultan had been talking with Mustapha concerning the latter. It seemed by his story that she had been very ill since she was brought from her native valley, and that she was hardly yet recovered from the debility that had followed her sickness. She would not write nor read one word of either the Turkish or Circassian tongue, and therefore could only express herself by signs; for which reason, neither those who sold her nor the purchaser knew aught of her history beyond the fact that she was a Circassian, and also that she seemed to be less happy than those of her countrywomen generally who come to Constantinople. This might be owing to the affliction under which she labored as to being dumb, but it was evident that Sultan Mahomet thought otherwise as he gazed silently at her.
"She came not of her own free will from her native vales, Mustapha," said his master.
"No one knows, excellency, though her people generally come most cheerfully to our harems."
"There is no means of understanding her save by signs?" asked the Sultan.
"Take her to the harem, Mustapha," said his master, after a few moments of thoughtful silence, "take her to the harem, and give strict charge that she be well cared for."
"Excellency, yes," said the old Turk, with a profound reverence after the manner of the East, "your wish is your slave's law," he continued, as he turned away.
"And look you, good Mustapha," said the Sultan, recalling him once more, "say it is our will that she be made as happy as may be."
"Excellency, yes," again repeated the old man with a salaam, and then turning to the Circassian, he signed to her to follow him.
As the slave retired she could not but look back at the Sultan, who had greeted her with such kind consideration, and as she did so she met his dark, piercing eye bent upon her in gentle pity. She almost sighed to leave the presence of one who had showed her the first kindness, the first token of thoughtful consideration for her situation since she left her own home, far away beyond the sea. But Mustapha beckoned her forward, and she hastened to obey his summons, wondering as she went what was to be her fate; whether that was to be her future home, and what position she was to hold there. Musing thus, she followed the Turk towards the sacred precincts of the harem.
The monarch left alone, save the thoughtless boy, who lay upon the rich divan, coiled up like an animal gone to sleep, seemed to be troubled in his mind. Stern and imperious by nature, it was not usual for him to evince such feeling as had exercised him towards the dumb slave, and it was plain that his heart was moved by feelings that were novel there. Touching a silver gong that hung pendent from the wall, just within reach of his arm, a Nubian slave opened the hangings of the apartment, and appeared as though he had come out of the wall.
The slave knew well his master's summons, and preparing for him the bowl of his pipe, and lighting it, coiled the silken tube to his hand, and on his knee presented the amber mouthpiece.
Thus occupied, the Sultan was soon lost in the dreamy narcotic of the tobacco.
THE SULTAN'S HAREM.
The harem into which the dumb Circassian girl was conducted by the woman to whom the old Turk delivered his message, was a place of such luxuriant splendor as to puzzle her, and she stood like one amazed for some moments.—The costly and grateful lounges, the heavy and downy carpets, the rich velvet and silken hangings about the walls, the picturesque and lovely groups of female slaves that laughed and toyed with each other, mingling in pleasant games, the rich though scanty dress of these favorites of the Sultan, all were confusing and dazzling to her untutored eye, and when, after a few moments' minutes, a dozen of these lovely girls crowded about her with curious eyes to know who was the new comer that was to be their companion, the poor girl shrunk back half abashed, for she could not speak to them.
They too were puzzled that she made no reply to them, and stood there in wonder.
It was only for a moment, however, when the beautiful stranger pointed to her mouth and ears significantly, and gently shook her head with a sadness of expression that was electrical, for each one instantly understood her meaning, and pitied her. Some little feeling of envy might have been ready to burst forth in the breasts of those about her, but gentle pity loves to linger by beauty's side, and so they all loved and condoled with the fair stranger. One took her hand and led her to a cushion in the centre of the little circle that had just been formed, another unloosed the wealth of beautiful hair that astonished them by its dark richness and profusion as it fell about her fair neck. She who had unloosed the new comer's hair, now fell to braiding it in solid masses and plaiting it about her head.
A second one taking a rare bracelet of pearls off her own fair arms, placed it upon the Circassian's, and sealed it there with a kiss!—Another removed the leather shoes she wore, and replaced them with satin ones of curious workmanship and richly wrought with thread of gold, and still another loosened the coarse mantle that enshrouded her shoulders, and covered her with a shawl that had come across the desert from the far east, rich in texture and beautiful as costly. And as another tossed a handful of fresh flowers into her lap, the poor girl's cheeks became wet with tears, for their unselfish kindness and generous tenderness had touched heart.
But these tokens were quickly brushed away and kisses took their place, while fair and delicate hands were busy upon her, until the poor slave who had so lately stood exposed in the open bazaar of the capital, now saw among this family of the Turkish monarch, literally as a star of the harem. In beauty, she did indeed outshine them all, but they forgot this in the memory of her misfortune, and envied not the dumb slave. They touched her fingers with henna dye, and anointed her with rare and costly perfumes, seeming to vie with each other in their interesting efforts to deck and beautify one who had only the voluptuous softness of her dark eyes to thank them with, for those lovely lips, of such tempting freshness in their coral hue, could utter no sound.
They brought to her all their jewels and rich ornaments to amuse her, and each one contributed to give her from out their store some becoming ornament, now a diamond broach, and now a ruby ring, next a necklace of emeralds, interspersed with glowing opals, a fourth added a girdle of golden chain braced at every link by close and richly cut garnets, and other rings of sapphire and amethysts, until the lovely stranger was dazzling with the combined brilliancy and reflection of so many rare and beautiful jewels about her person.
It was not the jewels that so gratified the young Circassian, but the good will they represented. She cared little for them intrinsically, beautiful and rich as they were, but she grew very fast to love the donors.
Days passed on in this manner, and the Sultan was no less surprised than delighted to witness this voluntary kindness and affection that was so freely rendered to the lovely girl. Her affliction seemed to render her sacred in his eyes, and there was no kindness on his part that was forgotten. Her manners and intelligent bearing showed her to belong to the better class of her own nation, and her gentle dignity commanded respect as well as love. She had already come to a degree of understanding with those about her that was sufficient as it regarded her ordinary wishes and wants, but of the past or future she had not means to communicate, her tongue was sealed, and for this reason her history must remain a hidden mystery to those about her whom she loved, and would gladly have confided in.
One occupation seemed to delight her above all else, it was so simple and beautiful, besides which it enabled her to convey her feelings by means of an agency that, as far as it went, supplied to her the loss of her speech. It was the arranging of flowers so as to make them speak the language of her heart to another, a means of communication in which the women of the East excel. Indeed it is the only mode in which they can hold silent converse, since they know not the cunning of the pen. Engaged in this gentle and pleasing occupation, the Circassian passed hours and days in the study and practice of the sweet language of flowers.
For hours together, while she was thus occupied, the idiot boy would sit and watch her movements, and now and then receive some kindly token of consideration from her hand that seemed to delight him beyond measure. He followed her every movement with his eye, and seemed only content when close by her side, sitting near her, patient and silent; in fact he could utter but few audible sounds, and no one had ever taught the poor idiot how to talk.
One afternoon, in the gardens that opened from the harem, the Circassian had been engaged thus, sitting beneath the projecting roof of a lattice-work summer house. The sun as it crept down towards the western horizon threw lengthened shadows across the soft green sward where minaret, cypress, or projecting angle of the palace intervened. The boy would pick out one of those dark shadows, and sitting down where it terminated, seem to think that he could keep it there, but when the shadow lengthened every moment more and more, and seemed to his untutored and simple comprehension to creep out from under him, he would look amazed to see how it was done while he sat upon it.
In following up a projecting shadow thus, he had come at last almost to the very side of the dumb slave just as a gaudy winged parrot lit upon the eve of the summer house on a large piece of the picket work that had been used as an ornament for its top, but which having been broken from its position, had slid down to the very eaves and now hung but half suspended upon the roof. Even the lighting of the parrot upon its edge was sufficient to balance it from the fragile support that retained it on the roof, and then it slid off immediately above the head of the Circassian girl.
The boy was on his feet as quick as thought itself, and springing to the spot, with both hands outspread above her head, he canted the heavy frame work away from her so that it came upon the ground, sinking deep into the earth from its sharp points and considerable weight. Had the falling mass come upon her head, as it would most inevitably have done but for the boy, its effect must have been instantly fatal. The Circassian saw the imminent service the boy had rendered her, but he was sitting on the end of another shadow in a moment after!
Was it reason or instinct that had caused him to make that successful effort with such wonderful speed and accuracy? The slave looked at him in wonder. It was very evident that he had already forgotten the service which he had rendered, and the same listless, childlike, and almost idiotic expression was in his face. This event endeared the boy very much to the Circassian, and she never failed to show him every kindness in her power. She would arrange his straggling dress, and part his hair, smoothly away from his handsome forehead, and give him always of each delicacy provided for herself, until the boy seemed to feel himself almost solely dependent upon her, and to seek her side as a faithful hound might have done.
Thus had time passed with the dumb slave in the Sultan's palace on the Barbyses.
At times she would stroll among the rare beds of plants, and culling fresh chaplets for her head, wreathe herself a fragrant garland, ever finding some familiar scent that recalled her far off home in all its freshness. Wearied of this she wandered among the jasper fountains, and watched the play of those waters, the soft and rippling music of which she might not hear, or still further on in the many labyrinths of the garden and harem walks, would throw herself upon some rich cushions beside a silver urn, where burnt sweet aloes and sandal wood and rods of spice to perfume the air. At early morn she loved to pet the blue pigeons that had been brought from far off Mecca, held so sacred by the faithful, to feed them from her own hands, and to toy with the golden thrushes from Hindostan, and the gaudy birds of Paradise that flew about with other rare and beautiful songsters in this fairy palace of the Sultan.
Her companions watching her with loving eyes, never faltered in their kindness and love for her. Indeed it seemed as though they could not avoid tendering her this affection, she was so very beautiful and gentle in all things. They had named her Lalla, or the tulip, because of her love for that beautiful and delicate flower.
The Sultan looked upon the young Circassian—she had numbered hardly seventeen summers—more in the light of a daughter than a slave, and she who could have feared him else, even looked with pleasure for his coming, and sought in a thousand earnest but silent ways to please him. There was no spirit of sycophancy in this, no coquetry, or false pretense; she was all simpleness and truth, and her conduct towards her master sprang alone from a sense of gratitude. Thus too did the monarch translate her behaviour to him, for he was well versed in human nature, young as he was, and could appreciate the promptings of a young and trusting spirit, such as she exhibited in all her intercourse with him.
As exhibited in our illustration, the Sultan would often seek her side in the harem, his tall, manly form contrasting strongly with her gentle and delicate proportions, and he would regard her thus with tender solicitude, too fully realizing her misfortune not to pity and respect her, and he felt too that these frequent meetings were binding his heart in a tender bondage to her. Sultan Mahomet was a fine specimen of a Turk; in features he was markedly handsome, and his long, flowing beard gave to him the appearance of more age than was rightfully his. His physical developments were manly, and to look upon he was "every inch a king." Lalla was no less beautiful as a female; indeed she was far handsomer as it related to such a comparison, and those who saw them so often together in the harem could not but think what a noble pair they were, and seemingly worthy of each other.
She possessed all that soft delicacy of appearance that reminds the sterner sex how frail and dependent is woman, while she bore in her face that sweet and winning expression of intellect, that, in other climes more favored by civilization, and where cultivation adds so much to the charms of her sex, would alone have marked her as beautiful. Her eyes, which were surpassing in their dreamy loveliness, were enhanced in beauty by a languid plaintiveness that a realizing sense of her misfortunes had imparted to the expression of her face, while her whole manner bore that subdued and quiet air that sorrow ever imparts. Those of her companions who knew her best, could easily understand that her heart was far away from her present home; for her actions spoke this as plainly as might have ever been done by words, and poor Lalla, wherever she had come from, and under whatever circumstances, had evidently left her heart behind her among her childhood's scenes.
The Sultan was earnestly interested in his dumb but beautiful slave, and instituted a series of inquiries as to her history. His agents were instructed to find out, if possible, the mode in which she had been brought hither, and also to learn, if possible, the manner and cause of her leaving her native hills in the Caucasus; for of these things the fair girl had no means of communicating. The monarch and all Constantinople knew that her people generally looked forward with joy to the time when they should be old enough to be taken to the Turkish capital, and seek their fortunes there, and the fact of this being so different apparently with Lalla, created the more curiosity to ferret out her story.
But all their efforts were useless in the pursuit of this purpose. Since the Sultan's object in the inquiry was announced, much time had transpired; but had his proclamation met the eye or ear of those who transported the fair Circassian hither, they would hardly have responded to it, as it might, for aught they knew, cost them their heads. And thus the gentle slave lived on, a mystery to those about her which even she was unable to solve.
"You made all inquiries at the bazaar, good Mustapha?" asked the Sultan.
"Most rigid inquiries, excellency."
"And could learn nothing of the history of this beautiful slave?" continued the Sultan.
"It is very strange that no one can be found who knows aught about her. Did you trace her back to those who sold her to the salesman of the bazaar?"
"Yes, excellency, and two sales beyond that; but it seemed that although so beautiful, the fact of her being dumb had caused her to be very much undervalued, and she had passed through the hands of a number of irresponsible slave merchants, who took but little heed of her before she came to the bazaar."
"Doubtless, then, we may hardly expect to hear more concerning her."
"The reward you offered was munificent, excellency, but has brought no response."
"You have not yet purchased for me those Georgians, good Mustapha," continued the monarch, after a few moments' pause, and probably desiring to change a subject in which he felt that he was only too much interested.
"Excellency, they are held at so high a price that I have refused to pay it."
"Well, well, be discreet, and purchase shrewdly," said the Sultan, resuming his pipe.
And in this manner the Sultan forgot his lovely slave, and removing the mouth-piece of his pipe now and then, continued to question his slave touching the matters that seemed to pertain to his department of the household.
Poor Lalla! she had only her own unhappiness to brood upon as she sat by some rippling fountain and watched its silvery jets and sparkling drops, at times forgetting for a moment her sadness of heart in the beauty that completely surrounded her; and then again, perhaps mingling her tears with the fragrant blossoms that strewed her lap and filled her hands. Alas! poor child! how it would have eased the quick beating of thy heart if thou couldst have told the story of thy unhappiness to some other confiding spirit.
The idiot boy would watch these tears, and at times he would wear a fixed, vacant stare, as though he took no note of their meaning; and at others, he would seem to comprehend their sorrowful import. When this was the case, he would creep close to her side and lay his head by her feet, and closing his eyes, remain as motionless as death. This would at length arouse her from her unhappy mood, and she would turn and gently caress the poor boy. Once when she had done this, she saw a large tear drop steal out from beneath his closed eyelids, and fall across his check. She rejoiced at this, for, while all others set him down as without feeling, she saw that kindness at least would awaken his heart.
Lalla had been weeping, and now sat alone by a bed of fragrant flowers, when one of those fairy-like children of the harem, scarcely older than herself, came tripping with light and thoughtless steps towards her, and detecting her saddened mood, kissed way the tears that still lingered upon her cheeks, and binding a wreath of fresh and beautiful flowers about her head, lay down in Lalla's lap and toyed with the stray buds, looking up into her eyes with gentle love and tenderness.
How grateful were these delicate and beautiful manifestations of feeling to the lonely-hearted slave.
THE BEDOUIN ARABS.
It was one of those soft days, made up of nature's sweetest smiles, of sunshine and gentle zephyrs, when sky, and sea, and shore were radiant, and all the earth seemed glad, that a lone horseman sat with the reins cast loosely upon the arching neck of his proud Arabian, on the plain beyond the Armenian cemetery, in the suburbs of Constantinople. The rider was dressed in the plainest attire of a quiet citizen, though the material of his clothes and the few ornaments that were visible about his person indicated their owner to be one who was no meagre possessor of the riches of this world. Both rider and horse were as still as though they had been carved in marble instead of being living objects, save the quick, nervous motion, now and then, of the full-blooded animal's ears, as some distant sound rose over the Turkish city.
The Mussulman, as he sat there in a thoughtful and silent mood, stroked slowly the jetty black beard that swept his breast, while he seemed completely absorbed in contemplating the scene before him. He had galloped at once from paved streets to the unfenced and uncultivated desert that stretches away from the seven hills of Stamboul to the very horizon. No wonder he paused there to gaze upon the beauties that the eye might take in at a single glance.
Before him lay the city in all its oriental beauty, while, on every sloping hillside about it, in every rural nook stood a dark nekropolis, or city of the dead, shadowed by the close growing cypresses, beneath whose shadows turbaned heads alone are permitted to rest. From out of these, stretching its slender point away towards the blue heavens, rose the fairy-like minaret, as if pointing whither had gone the spirits of the faithful.
There, too, lay the incomparable Bosphorus, stretching away towards the sea, and the beautiful isles in the sweet waters of Marmora, with countless boats swarming in the Golden Horn, and then the eye would turn back again to the city with its thousand minarets. There lay, too, the velvet-carpeted Valley of Sweet Waters, where was the Sultan's serai, looking like some fair scene described in the Koran, so soft, fairy-like, and enticing.
The rider now slowly gathered up the reins from his horse's neck, and, slightly restraining the spirited animal by a pressure of the curb, permitted him slowly to walk on while his master appeared still to be lost in thought. Once or twice he cast his eyes again towards the city, and then again mused to himself, as though his cares and thoughts lay there. So much was the rider absorbed within himself that he did not observe two power Bedouin Arabs of the desert, who had wandered to the outskirts of the city, and whose longing eyes were bent, not on him, but upon the horse which he rode. To the skillful eyes of these children of the desert he was almost invaluable; every step betrayed his metal, while the clean limb, nervous action, and distended nostrils told of the fleetness that was in him!
You may trust an Arab often with gold or precious goods; the very fact of the confidence, you accord to him makes him faithful. You may trust your life in his hands, and the laws of hospitality shall protect you; but trust him not with a fine horse—that will betray him, though nothing else might do so. Born in the desert where they are reared and loved so well, he imbibes from childhood a regard for the full blooded barb, that falls little short of reverence; and being once possessed of one, no money can part them. The two Bedouins stealthily watched the Turk as he rode slowly along, and were evidently only awaiting a favorable moment to attack and overcome him.
By an ingenious movement they doubled a slight hillock that lay between them and the woods of Belgrade, and as they came up on the other side, placed themselves directly in the path of the horseman. Still they were unobserved by him, and not until one had laid his hand upon the bridle, and the other violent hands upon his garments, did he arouse from the dreamy thoughts which had so completely absorbed him. Thus taken at disadvantage, the horseman was forced from the saddle before he could offer any resistance, but having once reached the ground, and being fairly on his feet, his bright blade glistened in the sun and flashed before the eyes of the Arab robbers.
"Yield us the horse and go thy way!" said one of the assailants, soothingly.
"By the Prophet, never!" shouted the Turk, setting upon them fiercely as he spoke and wounding one severely at the very outset, while he held the bridle of the horse.
The horseman was one used to the weapon he wielded, and the Arabs saw that they had no easy enemy to conquer. He who held the horse was forced to unloose the bridle to defend himself, while the other was now striving to use the gun that was strapped to his back; but they were at too close quarters for the employing of such a weapon, and the stout, iron-like frames of the Arabs were fast conquering the skill and endurance of the Turk. But that bright sword was not wielded so skillfully for naught, and one of the robbers was already glad to creep from without its reach, just as his companion succeeded in breaking the finely-tempered blade with his gun barrel, leaving the Turk comparatively at his mercy; and again he bade him surrender the horse, the animal trained to the nicest point of perfection, still remaining quiet close to the spot where the encounter had taken place. The clashing of the weapons had startled him, and he breathed quick, and his ears showed that the nervous energy of his frame was aroused, but a spear point thrust into his very flanks would not have started him away until his master bade him to go.
"Yield thou now, or die!" shouted the excited Bedouin, drawing his long dagger.
"By the Prophet, never!" again exclaimed the Turk, with vehemence, though he panted sorely from the extraordinary exertion he had made to defend himself from the attack of his two assailants.
All this had transpired in far less time than we have occupied in the relation, and once more now having him greatly at disadvantage, the Bedouins rushed upon him.
But there came now upon the scene a third party, at this excited moment, from out the forest of Belgrade. He seemed but a weary traveller, though when his eyes rested upon the scene we have described, an instantaneous change came over him, and he appeared at once to comprehend the meaning of the whole affair. Just at the very moment when the Arab, who had been partially vanquished and somewhat severely wounded, regained his feet, and was coming once more to the contest, the traveller, espousing the side of the weaker party, who was now indeed unarmed, fiercely attacked the robbers with a heavy staff that he carried, and in a moment, being comparatively fresh, and aided by the surprise as well as the lusty blows that he dealt about him, he caused the two Bedouins to retreat precipitately, though they made a last and nearly successful effort to carry off the horse, but this the ready arm of the traveller prevented.
A moment sufficed to put both the Turk and his deliverer in breath once more.
"Who art thou that hast been so opportunely sent to rescue me?" asked the Turk, at he called his horse by his name, and the beautiful animal came quietly to his side.
"A poor traveller, well nigh wearied by the long way," answered the other.
"Thy habiliments bespeak thee as coming from the North, and they look as though want had been thy companion on the way," continued he whom the traveller had rescued.
"It has, indeed," said the other; "fatigue and want have kept me company these many long days." As he answered thus, he wiped the perspiration that his late exertion had caused, from his brow.
"I owe you my hearty thanks for this timely service," said the Turk.
"A trifling deed that any man in my place would have performed."
"Take this," replied the Turk, depositing a purse, heavy with gold, in the stranger's hands. "Use the contents as you will, and when you have need of further assistance, if there be aught that one possessing some influence can serve thee in, present that purse at the gates of the seraglio gardens, and you will find me."
"Thanks! a thousand thanks!" said the stranger, "though I must look upon this as a gift, a charity, not in the light of a payment. The service I have rendered might have been afforded by the meanest slave."
"I know well how to esteem a favor, and how to pay it," answered the Turk, as he mounted his spirited horse and turned his head towards the entrance of the city of Constantine. He rode with a free rein now, and the horse dashed over the level plain like an antelope, while his rider sat in the saddle like a Marmaluke.
The traveller poured out a quantity of the gold from the purse to assure himself of its value, and weighing the whole together, said to himself, "A few moments since and I was a beggar, now I am rich; after starving for many long weeks, fortune fills my hand with gold, as if to show me the contrast. It was a piece of singular good luck for me to meet with that rich old Turk; those fellows from the desert were giving him sharp practice; it was only the barb that they wanted. What a cunning eye those rascals have for horseflesh!" Talking thus to himself, he placed the gold in a secure part of his dress, though he need hardly have feared that any one would suspect him of possessing so much of value.
The traveller turned once more to look after the Turk, but he was already far away, though he could still make out his bearing and stately carriage as he disappeared. Picking up the staff that had just served him to such good purpose, he followed in the same path, which would lead him to Constantinople, ere the sun should set in the west.
As he drew nearer to the city he too paused to drink in of the beauties of that twilight hour. The scene was new to him, and his eye was filled with delight and surprise as it roamed over that oriental sunset view. As he came down the side of the gently sloping hill beyond Pera, he paused for a moment in the cemetery there, and among the deep shadows of the heavy funereal cypresses and the tall, white gravestones that thickly overspread the ground, he felt a chill of loneliness that made him to hasten on to a spot where he could catch the last lingering rays of the setting sun kissing the waves of the Bosphorus.
He hurried on now into the city proper, though seemingly without any fixed purpose, and strolled carelessly along, gazing with interest upon all that met his curious eye; now pausing before some rich Persian fountain half as large as a church, covered with curious inscriptions and ornaments of gold; now regarding some sequestered mosque almost hidden in cypresses; and now watching a cluster of indolent-looking, large-trowsered, and moustached, but often handsome men.
Here he was jostled by a bevy of females, shuffling along in their yellow slippers, their faces shrouded to the eyes in that never-forgotten covering with the Turkish wives, the yashmach; now crowded one side by an armed kervos who is clearing the way for some dignitary to follow; and now forced here and there by, Jew, Turk or Armenian. But still, while he regarded intently this busy scene, he yielded the way to all, for he was wearied and his spirits were evidently depressed both by physical and mental suffering.
The traveller was started from his reverie by the attack upon him of some hundred dogs, who saluted his ears with such a volley of howls as nearly to stun him. These natural scavengers are protected by the laws here, and whenever a stranger is seen, one whose dress or manner betrays him as such, they set upon him like mad, but the staff that had stood him in such good service not long before, soon dispersed his canine tormentors, though he showed that even this little circumstance annoyed him seriously; it was a sad welcome to a stranger.
Perhaps there is no feeling more desolate and forsaken in its promptings than that realized by one who finds himself alone in a crowd. His inward solitude is more acutely realized by the contrast he sees about him, and he feels how much he is alone. Thus it was with the young traveller who had made his way into the city as we have described; he was indeed solitary though surrounded by hosts, for he was a stranger and knew no one in the Sultan's beautiful capital.
Still he wandered on amid the crowd until at last he found himself in the drug bazaar, where a scene so peculiarly oriental and rich met his observation as to make him forget for a while his own sad and weary mood. Strange and antique jars of every shape crowded the shelves of the various stalls, their edges turned over with brilliant colored paper, each drug bearing its own appropriate one. The shelves were bending under the weight of rich gums, spices, incense-wood, medicinal roots, and cunning dyes. The sedate Turk who presides over each stall at this hour, sits with his legs crossed and his eyes rolling in a sort of dreamy languor from the powerful narcotic of his opium-drugged pipe. He is happy and thoughtless in the dissipation that sooner or later hurries him to the grave.
It was the corflew hour, and from out the lofty spires of the neighboring mosques there came a voice that called to prayer. Each Mussulman prostrated himself, no matter in what occupation he was engaged, and bowing his head towards Mecca, the tomb of the Prophet, performing his silent devotion. In famine, in pestilence, or in plenty, five times a day the Turk finds time for this solemn religious duty; whether right or wrong in creed, what a lesson it is to the Christian. And so thought the lonely traveller, for he bent his own head upon his breast in respectful awe at the exhibition he beheld.
Pausing in silence until the scene had changed from the solemn act of prayer to that of busy life, he passed out of the dim-lighted bazaar once more into the open street. Night was fast creeping over the city, and he remembered how much he required rest and refreshment, and availing himself of the proffered services of a Jewish interpreter, he told his wants, and not long after found himself seated in one of the little Armenian houses of resort in the outskirts of Stamboul.
Here again he found enough of character to study in the singular and medley company that resorted thither, but wayworn and weary, after partaking of some refreshment, he soon lost himself in sleep.
It was late on the subsequent morning when the traveller awoke, greatly refreshed by his night's rest, and once more refreshing the inner man with meats and such coffee as one gets only in Turkey, he roamed again into the streets, where we must leave him to pursue his purpose, be it what it might, while we turn to other scenes in our story, taking the reader across the sea, to another, but no less interesting land.
VALES OF CIRCASSIA.
Circassia, the land of beauty and oppression, whose noble valleys produce such miracles of female loveliness, and whose level plains are the vivid scenes of such terrible struggles; where a brave, unconquerable peasantry have, for a very long period, defied the combined powers of the whole of Russia, and whose daughters, though the children of such brave sires, are yet taught and reared from childhood to look forward to a life of slavery in a Turkish harem as the height of their ambition—Circassia, the land of bravery, beauty and romance, is one of the least known, but most interesting spots in all Europe.
Whether it be that the genial air of its hills and vales possesses power to beautify the forms and faces of its daughters, or that they inherit those charms from their ancestors by right of blood, we may not say; but from the farthest dates, it has ever supplied the Sultan and his people with the lovely beings who have rendered of the harems of the Mussulmen so celebrated for the charms they enshrine. Its daughters have been the mothers of the highest dignitaries of the courts, and Sultan Mahomet himself was born of a Circassian mother.
Unendowed with mental culture, Providence has seemed, in a degree, to compensate to the girls of Circassia for want of intellectual brilliancy, by rendering them physically beautiful almost beyond description. No wonder, then, educated, or rather uneducated as they are, that the visions of their childhood, the dreams of their girlish days, and even the aspirations of their riper years, should be in the anticipation of a life of independence, luxury and love, in those fairy-like homes that skirt the Bosphorus at Constantinople.
Being from their earliest childhood taught by their parents to look upon this destiny as an enviable one, these fair girls do not fail to appreciate and fully realize the captivating charms that Heaven has so liberally endowed them with, and wait with trembling breasts and hopeful hearts for the period when they shall change the humble scenes of their existence, from the long and rugged ravines of the Caucasus, for the glittering and gaudy palaces of the Mussulmen, in the Valley of Sweet Waters, or on the banks of the Golden Horn.
In former years, the Trebizond merchantman took on board his cargo of young and lovely Circassians, and navigated the Black Sea with a flowing sheet and a flag flying at his peak, which told his business and the commerce that he was engaged in; now the trade is contraband, and the slave ship has to pick its way cautiously about the island of Crimea, and keep a sharp lookout to avoid the Russian war steamers that skirt the entire coast, and keep up a never-ceasing blockade from the Georgian shore to the ancient port of Anapa.
This latter place was, for centuries, one of vital importance to the Circassians, being their general depot or rendezvous for the trade between themselves and the ports that lay at the other extreme of the Black Sea. It was the point where they were always sure to find a ready market for their females, receiving as payment in exchange from the Turks, fire-arms, ammunition and gold. But at last the Russians, assuming a virtue that did not actuate them, stormed and took the fort, ostensibly to put a stop to this trade, as opposed to the principles it involved, but in reality to stop the supplies that enabled the brave mountaineers to oppose them so successfully.
In the country lying immediately back of Anapa, there is a succession of hills and vales of surpassing loveliness, presenting the extremes of wild and rugged mountain scenery, joining fertile plains and beautiful valleys, where, among fragrant and luxuriant groves, many a fair creature has grown up to be brought to the slave market and sold for a price. Vales where brave and stalwart youths have been nurtured and taught the dexterous use of arms, being ever educated to look upon the Russians as their natural enemies, and also to believe that any revenge exercised upon their Moscovite neighbors was not only commendable, but holy and just.
In a valley opening towards the north, a short league above the port of Anapa, at the time of our story there dwelt two families, named Gymroc and Adegah. Both these families traced their ancestry back to noble chiefs, who, in the days of Circassian glory and independence, were at the head of large and powerful tribes of their countrymen. These families, from the fact that they were thus descended, were still held by the mountaineers who lived about them in reverence, and their words had double weight in council when important subjects were discussed; and indeed the present head of each was often chosen to lead them on to the almost constantly recurring battles and bloody guerilla contests that transpired between the mountaineers and their enemies, the Russian Cossacks.
The family of Gymroc was blessed with a fair daughter, an only child, who, though living among a people who were so universally endowed with loveliness in their gentler sex, was famed for her transcendent loveliness far and near, and the youths of the neighboring valleys and plains sighed in their hearts to think that the fairest flower in all Circassia was but blooming to shed its ripened fragrance and loveliness in the harem of some dark and bearded Mahometan, to be the toy of some rich and heartless Turk.
One there was among the young mountaineers, Aphiz Adegah, whose whole life and soul seemed bound up in the lovely Komel, as she was called. Neither was more than eighteen; indeed Komel was not so old, for but sixteen full summers had passed over her head. They had grown up together from very childhood, played together, worked together, sharing each other's burthens, and mutually aiding each other; now quietly watching the sheep and goats upon the hillsides, and now working side by side in the fields, content and happy, so they were always together.
Komel was almost too beautiful. With every grace and delicacy of outline that has, for centuries, rendered her sex so famed in her native land, she added also a sweet, natural intelligence, which, though all uncultivated, was yet ever beaming from her eyes, and speaking forth from her face. Her form possessed a most captivating voluptuous fullness, without once trespassing upon the true lines of female delicacy. Her large and lustrous eyes were brilliant yet plaintive, her lips red and full, and the features generally of a delicate Grecian cast. Her hair was of that dark, glossy hue, that defies comparison, and was heavy and luxuriant in its fullness.
Some one has said that no one can write real poetry until he has known the sting of unhappiness; and sure it is that beauty ever lacks that moss-rose finish that tender melancholy throws about it, until it has known what sorrow is. Komel had been called to mourn, and melancholy had thrown about her a gentle glow of plaintiveness, as a grateful angel added another grace to the rose that had sheltered its slumber, by a shroud of moss.
While she was yet but a little child, her only brother, but little older than herself, and whom she loved with all the sisterly tenderness of her young heart, had strayed away from home to the seaside, and been drowned. From that day she had sorrowed for his loss, and even now as memory recalled her early playmate, the tears would dim her eyes, nor did her spirits seem ever entirely free from the grief that had imbued them at her brother's loss. This hue of tender melancholy was in Komel only an additional beauty, as we have said, and lent its witchery to her other charms.
To say that Komel was insensible to all her personal advantages would be unreasonable, and supposing her not possessed of an ordinary degree of perception. She knew that she was fair, nay, that she was more beautiful than any of the youthful companions of her native valley; but whatever others might have anticipated for her, she had never looked forward, as nearly all of her sex do, in Circassia, to a splendid foreign home across the Black Sea. No, no; her young and loving heart had already made its choice of him she had so long and tenderly loved,—him who had stepped in when there was that vacant spot in her heart that her brother's loss had left, and filled it; for he had been both brother and lover to her from the tenderest years of childhood. They had probably thought little upon the subject of their relation to each other, and had said less, until Komel was nearly sixteen, and then it was only in that tender and hopeful strain of a happy future, and that future to be shared by each other.
Aphiz was as noble and generous in spirit as he was handsome in person. Nature had cast him in a sinewy, yet graceful form; his native mountain air and vigorous habits had ripened his physical developments to an early manliness and already had he more than once charged the enemy upon the open plains of his native land. His falchion had glanced in the tide of battle, and his stout arm had dealt many a fatal blow to the Cossack forces, that sought to conquer and possess themselves of all Circassia. It was a stern school for the young mountaineer, and it was well, as he grew up in this manner, that there was always the tender and chastening association before his mind, of his love for the gentle and beautiful girl who had given her young heart into his keeping. He needed such promptings to enable him to combat the rough associations of the camp, and the hardening duty of a soldier in time of war.
It was, therefore, to her side that he came for that true happiness that emanates from the better feelings of the heart; by her side that he enjoyed the quiet but grand scenery of their native hills and valleys, looking, as it were, through each other's eyes at every beauty, either of thought or that lay tangible before them.
Though both Komel and Aphiz had been thrice happy in their constant intercourse in the days of childhood, though those days, so well remembered, had been to them like a pleasant morning filled with song, or the gliding on of a summer stream, and were marked only by truthfulness and peaceful content, still both realized as they now entered upon a riper age of youth, that they were far happier than ever before, that they loved each other better, and all things about them. It is an error to suppose that childhood is the happiest period of life, though philosophers tell us so, for a child's pleasures are like early spring flowers—pretty, but pale, and fleeting, and scentless. The rich and fragrant treasures of the heart are not developed so early; they come with life's summer, and thus it was with these Circassian youths.
Growing up daily and hourly together to that period when love holds strongest sway over the heart, both felt how happily they could kneel before Heaven and be pronounced one and inseparable; but Aphiz was poor and had no home to offer a bride, besides which, the character of the times was sufficient to prevent their more prudent parents from yielding their consent to such an arrangement as their immediate union, though they offered no opposition to their intimacy.
Komel was of such a happy and cheerful disposition at heart that she scattered pleasure always about her, but Aphiz's very love rendered him thoughtful and perhaps at times a little melancholy; for he feared that some future chance might in an unforeseen, way rob him of her who was so ineffably dear to him. He did not exactly fear that Komel's parents would sell her to go to Constantinople, though they were now, since war and pestilence had swept away lands, home and title, poor enough; and yet there was an undefined fear ever acting in his heart as to her he loved. Sometimes when he realized this most keenly, he could not help whispering his forebodings to Komel herself.
"Nay, dear Aphiz," she would say to him, with a gentle smile upon her countenance, "let not that shadow rest upon thy brow, but rather look with the sun on the bright side of everything. Am I not a simple and weak girl, and yet I am cheerful and happy, while thou, so strong, so brave and manly, art ever fearing some unknown ill."
"Only as it regards thee, Komel, do I fear anything."
"That's true, but I should inspire thee with joy, not fear and uneasiness."
"It is only the love I bear thee, dearest, that makes me so jealous, so anxious, so fearful lest some chance should rob me of thee forever," he would reply tenderly.
"It is ever thus; what is there to fear, Aphiz?"
"I know not, dearest. No one feared your gentle brother's loss years ago, and yet one day he woke happy and cheerful, and went forth to play, but never came back again."
"You speak too truly," answered the beautiful girl with a sigh, "and yet because harm came to him, it is no reason that it should come to me, dear Aphiz."
"Still the fear that aught may happen to separate us is enough to make me sad, Komel."
"Father says, that it is troubles which never happen that chiefly make men miserable," answered the happy-spirited girl, as she laid her head pleasantly upon Aphiz's arm.
They stood at her father's door in the closing hour of the day when they spoke thus, and hardly had Aphiz's words died upon his lips when the attention of both was directed towards the heavy, dark form of a mountain-hawk, as it swept swiftly through the air, and poising itself for an instant, marked where a gentle wood dove was perched upon a projecting bough in the valley. Komel laid her hand with nervous energy upon Aphiz's arm. The hawk was beyond the reach of his rifle, and realizing this he dropped its breach once more to his side. A moment more and the bolder bird was bearing its prey to its mountain nest, there to feed upon it innocent body. Neither Komel nor Aphiz uttered one word, but turned sadly away from the scene that had seemed so applicable to the subject of their conversation. He bade her a tender good night, but as the young mountaineer wended his way down the valley he was sad at heart, and asked himself if Komel might not be that dove.
So earnestly was he impressed with this idea, after the conversation which had just occurred, that twice he turned his steps and resolved to seek the lofty cliff where the hawk had flown, as though he could yet release the poor dove; then remembering himself, he would once more press the downward path to the valley.
It was not to be presumed that Komel should not have found other admirers among the youths of her native valley. She had touched the hearts of many, though being no coquette, they soon learned to forget her, seeing how much her heart was already another's. This, we say, was generally the case, but there was one exception, in the person of a young man but little older than Aphiz, whose name was Krometz. He had loved Komel truly, had told her so, and had been gently refused her own affection by her; but still he persevered, until the love he had borne her had turned to something very unlike love, and he resolved in his heart that if she loved not him, neither should she marry Aphiz.
At one time when Aphiz was in the heat of battle, charging upon the Russian infantry, suddenly he staggered, reeled and fell, a bullet had passed into his chest near the heart. His comrades raised him up and brought him off the battle-field, and after days of painful suffering he recovered, and was once more as well as ever, little dreaming that the bullet which had so nearly cost him his life came from one of his own countrymen. Could the ball have been examined, it would have fitted exactly Krometz's rifle!
Though the rifle shot had failed, Krometz's enmity had in no way abated; he only watched for an opportunity more successfully to effect the object that now seemed to be the motive of his life. Before Komel he was all gentleness, and affected the highest sense of honor, but at heart he was all bitterness and revenge.
Another chapter will show the treacherous and deep game that the rejected lover played.
THE SLAVE SHIP.
It was on a fair summer's evening that a beautiful English built craft, after having beat up the Black Sea all day against the ever prevailing a north-cast wind, now gathered in her light sails and barely kept steerageway by still spreading her jib and mainsail. With the setting sun the breeze had lulled also to rest, and there was but a cap full now coming from off the mountains of the Caucasus, just enough to keep the little clipper steady in hand.
It would be difficult to define the exact class to which the rig of this craft would make her belong, there was so much that was English in the hull and raking step of her masts, while the rigging, and the way in which she was managed, smacked so strongly of the Mediterranean that her nation also might have puzzled one familiar with such a subject. The lofty spread of canvas, the jib, flying-jib and fore-staysail, that are rarely worn save by the larger class of merchantmen, gave rather an odd appearance to a craft that could count hardly more than an hundred tons measurement.
Besides her fore and mainsail, and those already named, the schooner, for so we must call her, carried two heavy, but graceful topsails upon her fore and mainmasts, and even a jigger sail or spanker and gaff above it, on a slender spur rigged from the quarter deck. Altogether the schooner with her various appurtenances, resembled such a yacht as some of the English noblemen sail in the channel and about the Isle of Man in the sporting season.
The schooner was not unobserved from the shore, and a careful observer could have noticed a group of persons that were evidently regarding her with no common interest from the landing just above the harbor of Anapa.
"That must be the craft that has been so long expected," said one of the group, "and we had best get our girls ready at once to put on board before the morning."
"This comes in a bad time, for the steamer should be here before nightfall."
"That's true; as she doesn't seem inclined to run in too close, perhaps she knows it."
"What was the signal agreed upon?" asked the first speaker of his companion, who was silently regarding the schooner.
"A red flag at the foretopmast head, and there it goes. Yes, it is here sure enough."
"How like a witch she looks."
"They say she will outsail anything between here and Gibraltar, in any wind."
"What does that mean? she's going about."
"Sure enough, and up goes her foresail, they work with a will and are in a hurry."
"She don't like the looks of something on the coast," said the other.
The fact was, while the schooner lay under the easy sail we have described, just off the port of Anapa, the little Russian government steamer that plies between Odessa and the ports along the Circassian coast held by the emperor's troops, hove in sight, having just come down the Sea of Azoff through the Straits of Yorkcale. Her dark line of smoke was discovered by those on board the schooner, before she had doubled the headland of Tatman, and it was very plain, that, let the schooner's purpose be what it might, she desired to avoid all unnecessary observation, and especially that of the steamer.
A single movement of the helm while the mainsail sheet was eased away, and the schooner brought the gentle night breeze that was still setting from the north and east off the Georgian shore, right aft, and quietly hoisting her foresail, the two were set wing and wing, and a sea bird could not have skimmed with a more easy and graceful motion over the deep waters that glanced beneath her hull, than she did now. If the steamer had desired she might have overhauled the schooner, but it would have taken all night to do it with that leading wind in her favor; and so, after looking towards the clipper craft with her bows for a moment, the steamer again held on her course.
"Too swift of wing for that smoke pipe of yours," said one of the Circassians who had been watching the evolutions of the two crafts from the shore.
"The steamer has put her helm down and gives it up for it bad job," said another, as her black bow came once more to look towards the port of Anapa.
"She will be off before night sets in, and we shall have the schooner back again."
This was in fact the policy of those on board the schooner; for no sooner did she find herself unpursued than she hauled her wind, jibed her foresail to starboard and looked down, towards the coast of Asia Minor, until the moon crept up from behind the mountains of the Caucasus as though it had come from a bath in the Caspian Sea beyond, when the schooner was closer hauled on the other trick, and bore up again for the harbor of Anapa.
We have said that the little clipper numbered some hundred tons, but though her appearance would indicate this to be the case, yet your thorough-bred sailor would have marked how stiffly she bore so much top hamper, and would have judged more correctly by the depth of water that the schooner evidently drew. It was plain that she was deep and much heavier than she looked. A few sprightly Greek youths, in their picturesque costume were dispersed here and there in the waist and on the forecastle, while two or three persons wearing the same dress and evidently of that nation, were talking together in a group upon the weather-side of the quarter-deck.
As the hours drew towards midnight, the schooner at length opened communication with the land by means of signal lanterns, and immediately after boats commenced to ply between the clipper and the shore, and continued to do so for several hours. It was plain enough to any one who knew the usages and trade of these waters, that the schooner was preparing to run a cargo of Circassian girls, the trade having been, as we have already shown, made contraband by the Russians.
At last the clipper seemed to have received all on board that she expected in the shape of passengers, but still stood off and on for some reason until the breaking day began to tinge the mountain tops beyond Anapa; when a last boat with five persons, one of whom was a female, came down to the clipper which was thrown in the wind's eye long enough for those to get on board, or rather for three of them to do so; and then, as the other two pulled back to the shore, the schooner gradually came round under the force of her topsail, and one sail after another was distended and sheeted home until she looked to those on shore as though enveloped in canvas, and drove over the waters like a flying cloud.
One of those who pulled away from the schooner as she lay her course, would have been recognized by the reader as Krometz; and now half way to the landing he motioned his companion to cease rowing, while he paused himself and looked after the receding clipper with a strange medley of expression pictured in his face.
"Give way, give way," said his companion at last, somewhat impatiently; "one would think, by the way you look seaward, that you would like to head in that direction instead of pulling into the harbor."
"You are right, comrade. I do wish that yonder clipper was carrying me away from here."
"You are a queer fellow, Krometz, to let that girl make you so unhappy, but she's off now, and will probably bring up in some Turkish harem, where she will end her days. Not so bad a fate either," continued the oarsman. "Surrounded by every luxury the heart could wish or the imagination conceive, it's a better lot than either yours or mine."
"Well, say no more of this, and remember the utmost secrecy is to be observed, for that tiger of an Aphiz will hunt us to death if he does but suspect that we had a hand in the business."
"Our disguise was sufficient," said the other, "and by-the-way, we may as well get rid of this black stuff now;" and as he spoke he dashed the water from alongside upon his face and hands, and removed a coat of black from them.
"Now give way again; let us get in, and separate before any one is stirring abroad."
Leaving Krometz and his companion to pursue their own business, and the clipper craft with her course laid for the Sea of Marmora, we will, with the reader, return once more to the mountain side where we met Komel and Aphiz.
In time of peace, or rather when there was no open outbreak between the Circassians and the Russian forces, Aphiz Adegah passed his time in hunting among the rugged hills and cliffs, and with the early morn was abroad with his gun strapped to his back, and in his hand the long iron-pointed staff that helped him to climb the otherwise inaccessible rocks of the mountain's sides. Thus equipped, he came, in the morning referred to above, to the cottage of Komel's parents, but, instead of the cheerful, happy welcome that usually greeted him on such occasions, he beheld consternation and misery written in the father's face, while the mother wept as though her heart would break.
"What means this strange scene?" asked the young hunter, hastily. "Where is Komel?"
"Alas! gone, gone," sighed both.
"Ay, gone forever."
"What mean you? whither has she gone? what has happened to render you so miserable?"
"Alas, Aphiz; Komel has gone to be the star of some proud Turkish harem," said the father.
"And with your consent?"
"No! O, no!"
"Nor by her own free will, that I know," he continued, quickly.
"Alas! no; this night she was stolen from us, and we saw her borne away before our very eyes."
"Was there no one by to strike a blow for her, no one to render you aid?"
"Yes, one there was, an honest friend who lives in the next cottage. He was aroused by the noise, and outraged by the violence he beheld, he rushed upon the thieves, but they struck him bleeding and dead to the earth. It was a terrible sight and poor Komel saw it as they carried her away, and uttered such a fearful, piercing scream that it seems to ring in our cars even now. She fainted then in their arms, and we saw her no more."
"Heaven guard her!" said Aphiz, with inward anguish expressed in his face.
"Amen!" said the aged father, with a deep, heartfelt sigh, full of sorrow.
This told the whole story of the previous night, and the last boat that put off from, the shore for the clipper schooner contained Komel as a prisoner, insensible to all about, abducted by her own countrymen, incited by the revengeful spirit of Krometz. Actuated by the vilest motives himself, he had persuaded a companion, as we have seen, by a small bribe and the representation that Komel would in reality be better off than with her parents, to aid him in his object. Krometz had not hesitated to receive the handsome sum that one so beautiful as Komel could not fail to command.
Aphiz was almost too miserable to be able to find words to express his feelings. A bitter tear stole down his sunburnt check as he saw the mother's grief, but a stern flash of the eye was also visible in the expression of his face. He sought at once the highest cliff beyond the cottage, and in the distant, far-off horizon, could dimly make out the white canvas of the slave cutter, no bigger than a sea-bird, on the skirts of the horizon. He sat down in the bitterness of his anguish, alone and heart-broken, and then he remembered the scene of the previous evening, how they both together had seen the hawk pounce down and carry off in its talons the poor wood dove.
That scene, so suggestive to his mind, was not without its meaning. It was the forerunner of the calamity under which his heart now grieved so bitterly. Aphiz Adegah's life had been a bold one, he knew no fear. The air of his native hills was not freer than his own spirit and as he looked off once more at the tiny white speck in the distance that marked the spot where Komel was, his resolution was instantly made, and he swore to follow and rescue her.
It was but natural that the young mountaineer should desire to find out the agency by which that evil business had been consummated. He knew very well that such a plan as Komel's abduction could not have been perpetrated without the aid of parties that knew her and her home, but never for one moment did he suspect Krometz. He had ever professed the warmest friendship for both him and Komel, and he was deemed honest. But during the melee, when the honest mountaineer had rushed to Komel's rescue, and had received the fatal blow, her parents heard a voice that they recognized, and both exclaimed, "Can that voice be Krometz's!"
This was afterwards made known to Aphiz, and with this clue, though he could scarcely believe that there was the possibility of fact or correctness in the surmise, he sought his pretended friend. He charged him with the evidence and its inference, and bade him speak and say if this was true.
"It matters not, friend Aphiz, since she is gone, how she came to go."
"This answer," said the young mountaineer, "is but another evidence against thee."
"Do you pretend to call me to an account, Aphiz? You are but a boy, while I have already reached the full age of manhood. Think not, because you were more successful with that girl, than I, that you can lord it over me. I shall answer no further charges from you."
"Krometz, your guilt speaks out in every line of your face," said the excited Aphiz. "Meet me at sunset behind the signal rock on the cliff, and we will settle this affair together."
"I will neither meet thee, nor account to thee for aught I may have done."
"Then, as true as to-morrow's sun shall rise, with this good rifle I will shoot you to the heart. I shall be there at the sunset hour; fail me, and to-morrow you shall die."
Krometz knew well with whom he had to deal; he knew if he met Aphiz, as he proposed, there would be a chance for his life, but if he failed him, he feared the unerring aim of his rifle. He was no coward—both of them had faced the enemy together, but he lacked the moral courage that is far more sustaining than mere dogged bravery, or contempt for immediate danger. Thus influence, at sunset he kept the appointment.
The young mountaineer had been taught this mode of resort to arms by the Russian and Polish officers who had been thrown much among them. They had no seconds, but fought alone, starting back to back, walking forward five paces, wheeling and firing together. The position was on the brink of a precipice, and he who fell would be hurled at once down an immense depth. Aphiz was desperate, Krometz reckless; they fired and the body of the latter fell over the cliff. Aphiz was unharmed.
In a moment after he realized his situation, has act, however just, had made him a fugitive, and he must fly at once from those scenes of his boyish love and happiness.
A SINGULAR MEETING.
Turning from the mountain scenes we have described, let us back once more to Constantinople, and direct our footsteps up the fragrant valley where the Barbyses threads its meandering course. Here let us look once more into the gilded cage that holds the Sultan's favorites, where art had exhausted itself to form a fairy-like spot, as beautiful as the imagination could conceive. We find here, once more, amid the fragrant atmosphere and the playing fountains, the form of Lalla, and by her side again that form, before which all the tribes of the faithful kneel in humble submission. It was strange what a potent charm the dumb but beautiful Circassian had thrown about herself. It seemed as though some fairy circle enshrined her, within which no harm might possibly reach the gentle slave.
An observant person could have noticed also a third party in that presence, though he was some distance from Lalla's side, lying upon the ground, so near the jet of a fountain, that the spray dampened his face. It was the idiot. To the monarch, or his slave, he appeared unconscious of aught save the play of water; but one nearer to him would have seen that no movement of either escaped the now watchful eye of the boy. Was it possible that he possessed a degree of reason, after all, and more than half assumed the strange guise that seemed to enshroud his wits.
Now he tossed the pure white pebble stones into the playing waters, and saw them carried up by the force of the jets, and now half rising to his elbow, startled the gold and silver fish in the basin by a tiny shower of gravel, but still with a strange tenacity, ever watching both the Sultan and his slave, though not appearing to do so.
A change had come over that proud, eastern prince. He had been awakened to fresh impulses, and a new and joyful sense of realization; the sentiments that actuated him were novel, indeed, to his breast. From childhood he had been taught by every association to look upon the gentler sex as toys, merely, of his own; but here was one, yes, and the first one, too, who had caused him to realize that she had a soul, a heart, a brilliant, natural intelligence of mind, that surprised and delighted him. Besides this, the fact of her sad physical misfortune had, no doubt, increased his tender and respectful solicitude, and thus altogether he was most peculiarly situated, as it regarded his dumb slave.
The stern warrior, the relentless foe, the severe judge, and the pampered monarch, all were merged in the man, when by her side—and Sultan Mahomet, for the first time in his life, felt that he loved!
As we have shown, it was not the headstrong promptings of passion that actuated him—far from it; for had the monarch been heedless of her love and respect in return, how easily might he have commanded any submission, on her part, that he could wish. The truth was, he feared to risk the love he now felt that he coveted so strongly, by any overt act, and thus day by day her life stole quietly on, and lie was still ever tender and respectful, ever thoughtful for her comfort or pleasure, and ever assiduous to make her feel contented and happy with her lot.
It would have been most unnatural had not Lalla experienced, in return for all this kindness, the warmest sentiments of gratitude, and this she showed in the expression of her dark, dreamy eyes, at all times; and to speak truly, the Sultan felt himself amply repaid by her gentle gratitude and tender smiles.
In the mean time, as days and weeks passed on, silently registering the course of life, the chill of homesickness, which had been so keen and saddening at first, wore gradually away from the radiant face of the slave, though she thought no less earnestly and dearly of her friends and her home, far away in the Circassian hills; yet absence and time had robbed her grief of its keenness, while the easy and luxuriant mode of living that she enjoyed had again restored the roundness of her beautiful form, had once more imparted the rose to her check, and the elasticity of her childhood's day to her movements. In short, she who was so lovely when she entered the harem, had now grown so much more so, that the companions who surrounded her, with sentiments almost akin to awe, declared her too beautiful to live, and sagely hinting that ere long she would hear the songs of those spirits who chant around Allah's throne.
All this had wrought a corresponding change in the heart of the Sultan; indeed his affection and, interest for Lalla had even more than kept pace with this improvement in her appearance; and now it was for the first time since she came there, that those scarcely less beautiful Georgians, the petted favorites, heretofore, of the monarch, now evinced feelings of envy that it was impossible to disguise. They saw but too plainly that the Sultan cared only for the dumb slave, had smiles for no one else, and that he was ever by her side when within the precincts of the harem.
Nor is it to be wondered at that they should feel thus. In a country where personal beauty constitutes the marketable value of a woman, it was but natural, that they should be led to prize this endowment, and perhaps also in the end to dislike all who should successfully contest the palm with them in this respect. Still, so sweet was Lalla's disposition, so yielding and considerate, that they could not openly express the feelings that brooded in their breasts; nor had one unkind word yet been expressed towards her, since the first hour that she had entered the Sultan's household.
Leaving the dumb slave thus bound by silken cords, thus chained in a gilded cage, we will once more turn to the fortunes of the lone and weary traveller, whom we left in the Armenian quarter of the capital.
He was evidently a wanderer, and, save the liberal means he had received from the hands of the grateful Turk whom he had so providentially rescued near the forest borders of Belgrade, he was poor indeed. Yet with strict economy this purse had served him well, and for a long while; whatever his errand in this capital might be, he seemed to keep it sacredly to himself, and to wander day after day, front morning until night, here, there, and everywhere, now in the slave market, now in the opium bazaar, now among the silk merchants, now among the splendid and picturesque dwellings along the banks of the Bosphorus, and now in this quarter, now in that, seemingly in search of some one he hoped to find; but as night returned, he, too, came to his temporary home, tired, dejected and unhappy.
But day after day and week after week had at last entirely emptied his purse of its golden contents, and he stood now very near the spot where we first introduced him to the reader. The purse was in his hand, and he was consulting with himself now as to what course he should pursue for the future, when his eyes rested once more upon the jewelled receptacle he held in his hand. He had often marked its richness, and the thought came across him that he might realize a small sum by selling it at some of the fancy bazaars, and he had even made up his mind to adopt this plan, when he suddenly remembered, for the first time, that the Turk had told him to present it at the gates of the seraglio gardens when he needed further aid.
"Fool that I have been!" ejaculated the wanderer, vehemently, "perhaps I might not only obtain the necessary pecuniary aid from him, but also that information which I so sadly but earnestly seek. Why should I, until this late hour, have forgotten his proffered aid? I will away to him at once, tell him my sad history, and beseech him to lend me the assistance I require." Thus saying, he turned his eyes towards the little point of land that jets out towards Asia from the Turkish city, known as Seraglio Point, a fairy-like cluster of gardens and palaces marking the spot.
His quick, nervous step soon brought him to the gilded portal that formed the entrance to the splendid gardens beyond, and through the sentinel who guarded the spot he summoned an officer of the household, to whom he showed the purse, telling him that he had received it from the owner as a token of friendship, and that he had bidden him, when necessity should dictate, to show it at the seraglio gates, and he would be admitted to his presence.
"God is great!" said the officer, as he looked upon the purse with a profound reverence, astonishing the humble wanderer by the respect he showed to the jewelled bag.
"And what place is this?" he asked of the officer, as hie looked curiously about him.
"By the beard of the Prophet, young man, do you not know?" asked the official.
"I do not."
"Not know whose purse you hold, and in whose grounds you stand!" reiterated the soldier.
"Allah akbar! it is the palace of the defender of the faith, Sultan Mahomet!"
"The Sultan!" exclaimed the lone wanderer, struck dumb with amazement.
"The Brother of the Sun," repeated the official, with a profound salaam as he repeated the name, while at the same time he noted the astonishment of the stranger.
"The Sultan," repeated the new comer, musing to himself, "rides he forth alone?"
"At times, yes, when it suits him. No harm can come to him—he is sacred, and need not fear."
"Perhaps not," answered the other, as he recalled the scene on the borders of the forest.
At the singular piece of intelligence which he had received, the stranger seemed to hesitate. He surely would not have come hither had he known to whom he was about to apply for assistance. Could it be the Sultan that he so opportunely aided? If so, he surely need not fear to meet him again; perhaps he might even venture still to tell him honestly his story, and ask at least for advice in the pursuit of the object which had brought him to Constantinople. In this half undecided mood he stood musing for some minutes, and then with a struggle for resolution, bade the officer lead him to his master.
Let us look in upon the royal presence for a moment. It is a gorgeous saloon, where the monarch lounges upon satin cushions, with the rich amber mouthpiece of his pipe between his lips, and the perfumed tobacco gently wreathing in blue smoke above his head. Mahomet was at this moment seated on a pedestal of cushions, so rich and soft that he seemed almost, lost in their luxuriance. Reclining by his side was a creature so lovely in her maidenly beauty, that pencil, not pen, should describe her. Ever and anon the monarch cast glances of such tenderness towards her that an unprejudiced observer would have noticed at once the warmth of his feelings towards her, while the gentle slave, for it was Lalla, turned over a pile of rich English engravings, pausing now and then to hold one of more than usual interest before his eyes.