Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine - April 1843
Author: Various
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"I will try my luck," cried Ammalat, burning with impatience to show his prowess before the mountaineers. "Only put me on the trail of the beast!" A broad-shouldered Avaretz measured with his eye our bold Bek from head to foot, and said with a smile: "A tiger is not like a boar of Daghestan, Ammalat! His trail sometimes leads to death!"

"Do you think," answered he haughtily, "that on that slippery path my head would turn, or my hand tremble? I invite you not to help me: I invite you but to witness my combat with the tiger. I hope you will then allow, that if the heart of an Avaretz is firm as the granite of his mountains, the heart of a Daghestanetz is tenpered like his famous boulat. [18] Do you consent?"

[Footnote 18: A species of highly tempered steel, manufactured, and much prized, by the Tartars.]

The Avaretz was caught. To have refused would have been shameful: so, clearing up his face, he stretched out his hand to Ammalat. "I will willingly go with you," he replied. "Let us not delay—let us swear in the mosque, and go to the fight together! Allah will judge whether we are to bring back his skin for a housing, or whether he is to devour us."

It is not in accordance with Asiatic manners, much less with Asiatic customs, to bid farewell to the women when departing for a long or even an unlimited period. This privilege belongs only to relations, and it is but rarely that it is granted to a guest. Ammalat, therefore, glanced with a sigh at the window of Seltanetta, and went with lingering steps to the mosque. There, already awaited him the elders of the village, and a crowd of curious idlers. By an ancient custom of Avar, the hunters were obliged to swear upon the Koran, that they would not desert one another, either in the combat with the beast or in the chase; that they would not quit each other when wounded; if fate willed that the animal should attack them, that they would defend each other to the last, and die side by side, careless of life; and that in any case they would not return without the animal's skin; that he who betrayed this oath, should be hurled from the rocks, as a coward and traitor. The moollah armed them, the companions embraced, and they set out on their journey amid the acclamations of the whole crowd. "Both, or neither!" they cried after them. "We will slay him, or die!" answered the hunters.

A day had passed. A second had sunk below the snowy summits. The old men had wearied their eyes in gazing from their roofs along the road. The boys had gone far on the hills that crested the village, to meet the hunters—but no tidings of them. Throughout all Khounzakh, at every fireside, either from interest or idleness, they were talking of this; but above all, Seltanetta was sad. At every voice in the courtyard, at every sound on the staircase, all her blood flew to her face, and her heart beat with anxiety. She would start up, and run to the window or the door; and then, disappointed for the twentieth time, with downcast eyes would return slowly to her needlework, which, for the first time, appeared tiresome and endless. At last, succeeding doubt, fear laid its icy hand upon the maiden's heart. She demanded of her father, her brothers, the guests, whether the wounds given by a tiger were dangerous?—was this animal far from the villages? And ever and anon, having counted the moments, she would wring her hands, and cry, "They have perished!" and silently bowed her head on her agitated breast, while large tears flowed down her fair face.

On the third day, it was clear that the fears of all were not idle. The Ouzden, Ammalat's companion to the chase, crawled with difficulty, alone, into Khounzakh. His coat was torn by the claws of some wild beast; he himself was as pale as death from exhaustion, hunger, and fatigue. Young and old surrounded him with eager curiosity; and having refreshed himself with a cup of milk and a piece of tchourek, [19] he related as follows:—"On the same day that we left this place, we found the track of the tiger. We discovered him asleep among the thick hazels—may Allah keep me from them!"

[Footnote 19: "Tchourek," a kind of bread.]

Drawing lots, it fell to my chance to fire: I crept gently up, and aiming well, I fired—but for my sorrow, the beast was sleeping with his face covered by his paw; and the ball, piercing the paw, hit him in the neck. Aroused by the report and by the pain, the tiger gave a roar, and with a couple of bounds, dashed at me before I had time to draw my dagger: with one leap, he hurled me on the ground, trode on me with his hind feet, and I only know that at this moment there resounded a cry, and the shot of Ammalat, and afterwards a deafening and tremendous roar. Crushed by the weight, I lost sense and memory, and how long I lay in this fainting fit, I know not.

"When I opened my eyes all was still around me, a small rain was falling from a thick mist ... was it evening or morning? My gun, covered with rust, lay beside me, Ammalat's not far off, broken in two; here and there the stones were stained with blood ... but whose? The tiger's or Ammalat's? How can I tell? Broken twigs lay around ... the brute must have broken them in his mad boundings. I called on my comrade as loudly as I could. No answer. I sat down, and shouted again ... but in vain. Neither animal nor bird passed by. Many times did I endeavour to find traces of Ammalat, either to discover him alive, or to die upon his corpse—that I might avenge on the beast the death of the brave man; but I had no strength. I wept bitterly: why have I perished both in life and honour! I determined to await the hour of death in the wilderness; but hunger conquered me. Alas! thought I, let me carry to Khounzakh the news that Ammalat has perished; let me at least die among my own people! Behold me, then; I have crept hither like a serpent. Brethren, my head is before you: judge me as Allah inclines your hearts. Sentence me to life; I will live, remembering your justice: condemn me to death; your will be done! I will die innocent, Allah is my witness: I did what I could!"

A murmur arose among the people, as they listened to the new comer. Some excused, others condemned, though all regretted him. "Every one must take care of himself," said some of the accusers: "who can say that he did not fly? He has no wound, and, therefore, no proof ... but that he has abandoned his comrade is most certain." "Not only abandoned, but perhaps betrayed him," said others—"they talked not as friends together!" The Khan's noukers went further: they suspected that the Ouzden had killed Ammalat out of jealousy: "he looked too lovingly on the Khan's daughter, but the Khan's daughter found one far his superior in Ammalat."

Sultan Akhmet Khan, learning what the people were assembling about in the street, rode up to the crowd. "Coward!" he cried with mingled anger and contempt to the Ouzden: "you are a disgrace to the name of Avaretz. Now every Tartar may say, that we let wild beasts devour our guests, and that we know not how to defend them! At least we know how to avenge him: you have sworn upon the Koran, after the ancient usage of Avar, never to abandon your comrade in distress, and if he fall, not to return home without the skin of the beast ... thou hast broken thine oath ... but we will not break our law: perish! Three days shall be allowed thee to prepare thy soul; but then—if Ammalat be not found, thou shalt be cast from the rock. You shall answer for his head with your own!" he added, turning to his noukers, pulling his cap over his eyes and directing his horse towards his home. Thirty mountaineers rushed in different directions from Khounzakh, to search for at least the remains of the Bek of Bouinaki. Among the mountaineers it is considered a sacred duty to bury with honour their kinsmen and comrades, and they will sometimes, like the heroes of Homer, rush into the thickest of the battle to drag from the hands of the Russians the body of a companion, and will fall in dozens round the corpse rather than abandon it.

The unfortunate Ouzden was conducted to the stable of the Khan; a place frequently used as a prison. The people, discussing what had happened, separated sadly, but without complaining, for the sentence of the Khan was in accordance with their customs.

The melancholy news soon reached Seltanetta, and though they tried to soften it, it struck terribly a maiden who loved so deeply. Nevertheless, contrary to their expectation, she appeared tranquil; she neither wept nor complained, but she smiled no more, and uttered not a word. Her mother spoke to her; she heard her not. A spark from her father's pipe burned her dress; she saw it not. The cold wind blew upon her bosom; she felt it not. All her feelings seemed to retire into her heart to torture her; but that heart was hidden from the view, and nothing was reflected in her proud features. The Khan's daughter was struggling with the girl: it was easy to see which would yield first.

But this secret struggle seemed to choke Seltanetta: she longed to fly from the sight of man, and give the reins to her sorrow. "O heaven!" she thought; "having lost him, may I not weep for him? All gaze on me, to mock me and watch my every tear, to make sport for their malignant tongues. The sorrows of others amuse them, Sekina," she added, to her maid; "let us go and walk on the bank of the Ouzen."

At the distance of three agatcha [20] from Khounzakh, towards the west, are the ruins of an ancient Christian monastery, a lonely monument of the forgotten faith of the aborigines.

[Footnote 20: "Agatcha," seven versts, a measure for riding—for the pedestrian, the agatcha is four versts.]

The hand of time, as if in veneration, has not touched the church itself, and even the fanaticism of the people has spared the sanctuary of their ancestors. It stood entire amid the ruined cells and falling wall. The dome, with its high pointed roof of stone, was already darkened by the breath of ages: ivy covered with its tendrils the narrow windows, and trees were growing in the crevices of the stones. Within, soft moss spread its verdant carpet, and in the sultriness a moist freshness breathed there, nourished by a fountain, which, having pierced the wall, fell tinkling behind the stone altar, and, dividing into silver ever-murmuring threads of pure water, filtered among the pavement stones, and crept meandering away. A solitary ray slanting through the window, flitted over the trembling verdure, and smiled on the gloomy wall, like a child on its grandame's knee. Thither Seltanetta directed her steps: there she rested from the looks which so tormented her: all around was so still, so soft, so happy; and all augmented but the more her sadness: the light trembling on the wall, the twittering of the swallows, the murmur of the fountain, melted into tears the load that weighed upon her breast, and her sorrow dissolved into lamentation: Sekina went to pluck the pears which grew in abundance round the church; and Seltanetta could freely yield to nature.

But sudden, raising her head, she uttered an exclamation of surprise! before her stood a well-made Avaretz, stained with blood and mire. "Does not your heart, do not your eyes, O Seltanetta, recognize your favourite?" No, but with a second glance she knew Ammalat; and forgetting all but her joy, she threw herself on his neck, embraced it with her arms, and long, long, gazed fixedly on the much-loved face; and the fire of confidence, the fire of ecstasy, glimmered through the still falling tears. Could then the impassioned Ammalat contain his rapture? He clung like a bee to the rosy lips of Seltanetta; he had heard enough for his happiness; he was now at the summit of bliss; the lovers had not yet said a word of their love, but they already understood each other. "And dost thou then, angel," added Ammalat, when Seltanetta, ashamed of the kiss, withdrew from his embrace: "dost thou love me?"

"Allah protect me!" replied the innocent girl, lowering her eyelashes, but not her eyes: "Love! that is a terrible word. Last year, going into the street, I saw them pelting a girl with stones: terrified I rushed hone, but nowhere could I hide myself: the bloody image of the sinner was everywhere before me, and her groan yet rings unceasingly in my ears. When I asked why they had so inhumanly put to death that unhappy creature, they answered, that she loved a certain youth!"

"No, dearest, it was not because she loved one, but that she loved not one alone—because she betrayed some one, it may be, that they killed her."

"What means 'betrayed,' Ammalat? I understand it not."

"Oh, God grant that you may never learn what it is to betray; that you may never forget me for another!"

"Ah, Ammalat, within these four days I have learned how bitter to me was separation! For a long time I have not seen my brothers Noutsal and Sourkha, and I meet them with pleasure; but without them I do not grieve: without you I wish not to live!"

"For thee I am ready to die, my morning-star: to thee I give my soul—not only life, my beloved!"

The sound of footsteps interrupted the lovers' talk: it was Seltanetta's attendant. All three went to congratulate the Khan, who was consoled, and unaffectedly delighted.

Ammalat related in a few words how the affair had occurred. "Hardly had I remarked that my comrade had fallen when I fired at the beast, flying, with a ball which broke his jaw. The monster with a terrific roar began to whirl round, to leap, to roll, sometimes darting towards me, and then again, tormented by the agony, bounding aside. At this moment, striking him with the butt of my gun on the skull, I broke it. I pursued him a long time as soon as he betook himself to flight, following him by his bloody track: the day began to fail, and when I plunged my dagger into the throat of the fallen tiger, dark night had fallen upon the earth. Would I or not, I was compelled to pass the night with the rocks for a bed-chamber, and the wolves and jackals for companions. The morning was dark and rainy; the clouds around my head poured their waters on me like a river. At ten paces before my face nothing could be seen. Without a view of the sun, ignorant of the country, in vain I wandered round and round: weariness and hunger overwhelmed me. A partridge which I shot with my pistol restored my strength for a while; but I could not find my way out of my rocky grave. In the evening the only sounds I could hear were the murmur of water falling from a cliff, or the whistling of the eagles' wings as they flew through the clouds; but at night the audacious jackals raised, three paces off, their lamentable song. This morning the sun rose brightly, and I myself arose more cheerful, and directed my steps towards the east. I shortly afterwards heard a cry and a shot: it was your messengers. Overcome by heat, I went to drink the pure water of the fountain by the old mosque, and there I met Seltanetta. Thanks be to you, and glory to God!"

"Glory to God, and honour to you!" exclaimed the Sultan, embracing him. "But your courage has nearly cost us your life, and even that of your comrade. If you had delayed a day, he would have been obliged to dance the Sezghinka in the air. You have returned just in time. Djemboula't, a famous cavalier of Little Kabarda, has sent to invite you to a foray against the Russians. I would willingly buy beforehand your glory; as much as you won in your last battle. The time is short; tomorrow's sun must see you ready."

This news was by no means unwelcome to Ammalat: he decided instantly; answering, that he would go with pleasure. He felt sure that a distinguished reputation as a cavalier would ensure him future success.

But Seltanetta turned pale—bowing her head like a flower, when she heard of this new and more cruel separation. Her look, as it dwelt upon Ammalat, showed painful apprehension—the pain of prophetic sorrow.

"Allah!" she mournfully exclaimed: "more forays, more slaughter. When will blood cease to be shed in the mountains?"

"When the mountain torrents run milk, and the sugar-canes wave on the snowy peaks!" said the Khan.


Wildly beautiful is the resounding Terek in the mountains of Darial. There, like a genie, borrowing his strength from heaven, he wrestles with Nature. There bright and shining as steel, cutting through the overshadowing cliff, he gleams among the rocks. There, blackening with rage, he bellows and bounds like a wild beast, among the imprisoning cliffs: he bursts, overthrows, and rolls afar their broken fragments. On a stormy night, when the belated traveller, enveloped in his furry bourka, gazing fearfully around him, travels along the bank which hangs over the torrent of Terek, all is terror such as only a vivid imagination can conceive. With slow steps he winds along, the rain-torrents stream around his feet, and tumble upon his head from the rocks which frown above and threaten his destruction. Suddenly the lightning flashes before his eyes—with horror he beholds but a black cloud above him, below a yawning gulf, beside him crags, and before him the roaring Terek. At one moment he sees its wild and troubled waves raging like infernal spirits chased by the archangel's brand. After them, with a shout as of laughter, roll the huge stones. In another moment, the blinding flash is gone, and he is plunged once more in the dark ocean of night: then bursts the thunder-crash, jarring the foundations of the rocks, as though a thousand mountains were dashed against each other, so deafeningly do the echoes repeat the bellow of the heavens. Then a long-protracted growl, as of massive oaks plucked up by their roots, or the crash of bursting rocks, or the yell of the Titans as they were hurled headlong into the abyss; it mingles with the war of the blast, and the blast swells to a hurricane, and the rain pours down in torrents. And again the lightning blinds him, and again the thunder, answering from afar to the splinter-crash, deafens him. The terrified steed rears, starts backward—the rider utters a short prayer.

But after this how softly smiles the morning—morn, in whose light Terek glides, and ripples, and murmurs! The clouds, like a torn veil whirling on the breeze, appear and vanish fitfully among the icy peaks. The sunbeams discover jagged profiles of the summits on the opposing mountain wall. The rocks glitter freshly from the rain. The mountain-torrents leap through the morning mist; and the mists themselves creep winding through the cliffs, even as the smoke from a cottage chimney, then twine themselves like a turban round some ancient tower, while Terek ripples on among the stones, curling as a tired hound who seeks a resting-place.

In the Caucasus, it must be confessed, there are no waters in which the mountains can worthily reflect themselves—those giants of creation. There are no gentle rivers, no vast lakes; but Terek receives in his stream the tribute of a thousand streamlets. Beneath the further Caucasus, where the mountains melt into the plain, he seems to flow calmly and gently, he wanders on in huge curves, depositing the pebbles he has brought down from the hills. Further on, bending to the north-west, the stream is still strong, but less noisy, as though wearied with its fierce strugglings. At length, embraced by the narrow gorge of Cape M. aloi (Little Kabardi,) the river, like a good Moslem, bending religiously to the east, and peacefully spreading over the hated shore, gliding sometimes over beds of stone, sometimes over banks of clay, falls, by Kizlar, into the basin of the Caspian. There alone does it deign to bear boats upon its waters, and, like a labourer, turn the huge wheels of floating mills. On its right bank, among hillocks and thickets, are scattered the villages (aoule) of the Kabardinetzes, a tribe which we confound under one name with the Tcherkess, (Circassians,) who dwell beyond the Kouban, and with the Tchetchenetzes much lower by the sea. These villages on the bank are peaceful only in name, for in reality they are the haunts of brigands, who acknowledge the Russian government only as far as it suits their interest, capturing, as Russian subjects, from the mountaineers, the plunder they seize in the Russian frontier. Enjoying free passage on all sides, they inform those of the same religion and the same way of thinking, of the movement of our troops, and the condition of our fortresses; conceal them among themselves when they are assembling for an incursion, buy their plunder at their return, furnish them with Russian salt and powder, and not rarely take themselves a part, secret or open, in their forays. It is exceedingly irritating to see, even in full view of these mountaineers, nations hostile to us boldly swim over the Terek, two, three, or five men at a time, and in broad day set to work to rob; it being useless to pursue them, as their dress has nothing to distinguish them from the friendly tribes. On the opposite bank, though apparently quite peaceable, and employing this as their excuse, they fall, when in force, upon travellers, carry off cattle and men when off their guard, slaughter them without mercy, or sell them into slavery at a distance. To say the truth, their natural position, between two powerful neighbours, of necessity compels them to have recourse to these stratagems. Knowing that the Russians will not pass to the other side of the river to protect them from the revenge of the mountaineers, who melt away like snow at the approach of a strong force, they easily and habitually, as well as from inevitable circumstances, ally themselves to people of their own blood, while they affect to pay deference to the Russians, whom they fear.

Indeed, there exists among them certain persons really devoted to the Russians, but the greater number will betray even their own countrymen for a bribe. In general, the morality of these peaceful allies of ours is completely corrupted; they have lost the courage of an independent people, and have acquired all the vices of half-civilization. Among them an oath is a jest; treachery, their glory; even hospitality, a trade. Each of them is ready to engage himself to the Russians in the morning, as a kounak (friend), and at night to guide a brigand to rob his new friend.

The left bank of the Terek is covered with flourishing stanitzas [21] of the Kazaks of the Line, the descendants of the famous Zaporojetzes. Among them is here and there a Christian village. These Kazaks are distinguished from the mountaineers only by their unshaven heads: their tools, dress, harness, manners—all are of the mountains. They like the almost ceaseless war with the mountaineers; it is not a battle, but a trial of arms, in which each party desires to gain glory by his superiority in strength, valour, and address. Two Kazaks would not fear to encounter four mountain horsemen, and with equal numbers they are invariably victors. Lastly, they speak the Tartar language; they are connected with the mountaineers by friendship and alliance, their women being mutually carried off into captivity; but in the field they are inflexible enemies. As it is not forbidden to make incursions on the mountain side of the Terek, the brigands frequently betake themselves thither by swimming the river, for the chase of various kinds of game. The mountain brigands, in their turn, frequently swim over the Terek at night, or cross it on bourdouchs, (skins blown up,) hide themselves in the reeds, or under a projection of the bank, thence gliding through the thickets to the road, to carry off an unsuspecting traveller, or to seize a woman, as she is raking the hay. It sometimes happens that they will pass a day or two in the vineyards by the village, awaiting a favourable opportunity to fall upon it unexpectedly; and hence the Kazak of the Line never stirs over his threshold without his dagger, nor goes into the field without his gun at his back: he ploughs and sows completely armed.

[Footnote 21: Villages of Kazaks.]

For some time past, the mountaineers had fallen in considerable numbers only on Christian villages, for in the stanitzas the resistance had cost them very dear. For the plundering of houses; they approached boldly yet cunningly the Russian frontier, and on such occasions they frequently escaped a battle. The bravest Ouzdens desire to meet with these affairs that they may acquire fame, which they value even more than plunder.

In the autumn of the year 1819, the Kabardinetzes and Tchetchenetzes, encouraged by the absence of the commander-in-chief, assembled to the number of 1500 men to make an attack upon one of the villages beyond the Terek, to seize it, carry off prisoners, and take the droves of horses. The leader of the Kabardinetzes was the Prince (Kniazek) Djenboulat. Ammalat Bek, who had arrived with a letter from Sultan Akhmet Khan, was received with delight. They did not, indeed, assign him the command of any division; but this arose from the circumstance that with them there is no order of battle or gradation of command; an active horse and individual courage secures the most distinguished place in action. At first they deliberate how best to begin the attack—how to repel the enemy; but afterwards they pay no attention to plan or order, and chance decides the affair. Having sent messengers to summon the neighbouring Ouzdens, Djemboulat fixed on a place of assembling; and immediately, on a signal agreed on, from every height spread the cry, "Gharai, gharai!" (alarm,) and in one hour the Tchetchenetzes and Kabardinetzes were assembling from all sides. To avoid treason, no one but the leader knew where the night-camp was to be, from which they where to cross the river. They were divided into small bands, and were to go by almost invisible paths to the peaceful village, where they were to conceal themselves till night. By twilight, all the divisions were already mustered. As they arrived, they were received by their countrymen with frank embraces; but Djemboulat, not trusting to this, guarded the village with sentinels, and proclaimed to the inhabitants, that whoever attempted to desert to the Russians should be cut in pieces. The greater part of the Ouzdens took up their quarters in the saklas of their kounaks or relations; but Djemboulat and Ammalat, with the best of the cavaliers, slept in the open air round a fire, when they had refreshed their jaded horses. Djemboulat, wrapped in his bourka, was considering, with folded arms, the plan of the expedition; but the thoughts of Ammalat were far from the battle-field: they were flying, eagle-winged, to the mountains of Avar, and bitterly, bitterly did he feel his separation. The sound of an instrument, the mountain balalaika, (kanous,) accompanying a slow air, recalled him from his reverie, and a Kabardinetz sung an ancient song.

"On Kazbek the clouds are meeting, like the mountain eagle-flock; up to them, along the rock, Dash the wild Ouzdens retreating; Onward faster, faster fleeting, Routed by the Russian brood. Foameth all their track with blood."

"Fast behind the regiments yelling, Lance and bayonet raging hot, And the seed of death their shot. On the mail the sabre dwelling Gallop, steed! for far thy dwelling— See! they fall—but distant still Is the forest of the hill!"

"Russian shot our hearts is rending, Falls the Mullah on his knee, To the Lord of Light bows he, To the Prophet he is bending: Like a shaft his prayer ascending, Upward flies to Allah's throne— Il-Allah! O save thine own!"

"Ah, despair!—What crash like thunder! Lo! a sign from heaven above! Lo! the forest seems to move Crashes, murmurs, bursts asunder! Lower, nearer, wonder! wonder! Safe once more the Moslem bold In their forest mountain-hold!"

"So it was in old times," said Djemboulat, with a smile, "when our old men trusted more to prayer, and God oftener listened to them; but now, my friends, there is a better hope—your valour! Our omens are in the scabbards of our shooshkas, (sabres,) and we must show that we are not ashamed of them. Harkye, Ammalat," he continued, twisting his mustache, "I will not conceal from you that the affair may be warm. I have just heard that Colonel K—— has collected his division; but where he is, or how many troops he has, nobody knows."

"The more Russians there are the better," replied Ammalat, quietly; "the fewer mistakes will be made."

"And the heavier will be the plunder."

"I care not for that. I seek revenge and glory."

"Glory is a good bird, when she lays a golden egg; but he that returns with his toroks (straps behind the saddle) empty, is ashamed to appear before his wife. Winter is near, and we must provide our households at the expense of the Russians, that we may feast our friends and allies. Choose your station, Ammalat Bek. Do you prefer to advance in front to carry off the flocks, or will you remain with me in the rear? I and the Abreks will march at a foot's pace to restrain the pursuers."

"That is what I also intend. I will be where the greatest peril is. But what are the Abreks, Djemboulat?"

"It is not easy to explain. You sometimes see several of our boldest cavaliers take an oath, binding them for two or three years, or as long as they like, never to mingle in games or gayeties, never to spare their lives in battle, to give no quarter, never to pardon the least offence in a brother or a friend, to seize the goods of others without fear or scruple—in a word, to be the foes of all mankind, strangers in their family, men whom any person may slay if he can; in the village they are dangerous neighbours, and in meeting them you must keep your hand on the trigger; but in war one can trust them." [22]

"For what motive, or reason, can the Ouzdens make such an engagement?"

"Some simply to show their courage, others from poverty, a third class from some misfortune. See, for instance, yonder tall Kabardinetz; he has sworn to be an Abrek for five years, since his mistress died of the small-pox. Since that year it would be as well to make acquaintance with a tiger as with him. He has already been wounded three times for blood-vengeance; but he cares not for that."

"Strange custom! How will he return from the life of an Abrek to a peaceable existence?"

"What is there strange in this? The past glides from him as water from the wild-duck. His neighbours will be delighted when he has finished his term of brigandage. And he, after putting off Abretchestva (Abrekism) as a serpent sheds his skin, will become gentle as a lamb. Among us, none but the avenger of blood remembers yesterday. But the night is darkening. The mists are spreading over Terek. It is time for the work."

Djemboulat whistled, and his whistle was repeated to all the outposts of the camp. In a moment the whole band was assembled. Several Ouzdens joined from the neighbouring friendly villages. After a short discussion as to the passage of the river, the band moved in silence to the bank. Ammalat Bek could not but admire the stillness, not only of the riders, but of their horses; not one of them neighed or snorted, and they seemed to place their feet on the ground with caution. They marched like a voiceless cloud, and soon they reached the bank of Terek, which, making a winding at this spot, formed a promontory, and from it to the opposite shore, extended a pebbly shoal. The water over this bank was shallow and fordable; nevertheless, a part of the detachment left the shore higher up, in order to swim past the Kazaks, and, diverting their attention from the principal passage, to cover the fording party. Those who had confidence in their horses, leaped unhesitatingly from the bank, while others tied to each fore-foot of their steeds a pair of small skins, inflated with air like bladders; the current bore them on, and each landed wherever he found a convenient spot. The impenetrable veil of mist concealed all these movements. It must be remarked, that along the whole line of the river is a chain of mayaks (watch-towers) and a cordon of sentinels: on all the hills and elevated spots are placed look-outs. On passing before them in the daytime, may be seen on each hillock a pole, surmounted with a small barrel. This is filled with pitch and straw, and is ready to be lighted on the first alarm. To this pole is generally tied a Kazak's horse, and by his side a sentinel. In the night, these sentinels are doubled; but in spite of the precautions, the Tcherkess, concealed by the fog, and clothed in their bourka, sometimes pass through the line in small bodies, as water glides through a sieve. The same thing happened on this occasion: perfectly acquainted with the country, the Belads, (guides) peaceable Tcherkess, led each party, and in profound silence avoided the hillocks.

[Footnote 22: This is exactly the Berserkir of the ancient Northmen. Examples of this frantic courage are not rare among the Asiatics.]

In two places only had the brigands, to break through the line of watch-fires which might have betrayed them, resolved to kill the sentinels. Against one picket, Djemboulat proceeded himself, and he ordered another Bek to creep up the bank, pass round to the rear of the picket, count a hundred, and then to strike fire with a flint and steel several times. It was said and done. Just lifting his head above the edge of the bank, Djemboulat saw a Kazak slumbering with the match in his hand, and holding his horse by the bridle. As soon as the clicking struck his ear, the sentinel started, and turned an anxious look on the river. Fearing that the sentinel did not remark him, Djemboulat threw up his cap, and again crouched down behind the bank. "Accursed duck!" said the Donetz; "for this night is a carnival. They squatter away like the witches of Kieff." At this moment, the sparks appeared on the opposite side, and drew his attention: "'Tis the wolves," thought he: "sometimes their eyes glitter brightly!" But the sparks reappearing, he was stupefied, remembering stories that the Tchetchenetzes sometimes use this kind of signal to regulate the movements of their march. This moment of suspense and irresolution was the moment of his destruction; a dagger [23], directed by a strong arm, whistled through the air, and the Kazak, transfixed, fell without a groan to the earth. His comrade was sabred in his sleep, and the pole with the tub was torn down, and was thrown into the river. All then rapidly assembled at the given signal, and dashed in a moment on the village which they had determined to attack. The blow was successfully, that is, quite unexpectedly, struck. Such of the peasants as had time to arm, were killed after a desperate resistance: the others hid themselves or fled. Besides the plunder, a number of men and women was the reward of their boldness. The Kabardinetzes broke into the houses, carrying off all that was most valuable, indeed every thing that came to hand: but they did not set fire to the houses, nor did they tread down the corn, nor break the vines: "Why touch the gift of God, and the labour of man?" said they; and this rule of a mountain robber, who shrinks at no crime, is a virtue which the most civilized nations might envy. In an hour, all was over for the inhabitants, but not for the brigands. The alarm spread along the line, and the mayaks soon began to glimmer through the fog like the stars of morning, while the call to arms resounded in every direction. In this interval, a party of the more experienced among the brigands had gone round the troop of horses which was grazing far in the steppe. The herdsman was seized, and with cries, and firing their guns, they charged at the horses from the land side. The animals started, threw mane and tail into the air, and dashed headlong on the track of a Tcherkess mounted on a superb steed, who had remained on the bank of the river to guide the frightened herd. Like a skilful pilot, well acquainted, even in a fog, with all the dangers of the desert sea, the Tcherkess flew on before the horses, wound his way among the posts, and at last, having chosen a spot where the bank was most precipitous, leaped headlong into the Terek. The whole herd followed him: nothing could be seen but the foam that flew into the air. Daybreak appeared; the fog began to separate, and discovered a picture at once magnificent and terrible. The principal band of forayers dragged the prisoners after it—some were at the stirrup, others behind the saddle, with their arms tied at their backs. Tears, and groans, and cries of despair were stifled by the threats and frantic cries of joy of the victors. Loaded with plunder, impeded by the flocks and horned cattle, they advanced slowly towards the Terek. The princes and best cavaliers, in mail-coats and casques glittering like water, galloped around the dense mass, as lightning flashes round a livid cloud. In the distance, were galloping up from every point the Kazaks of the Line; they ambushed behind the shrubs and straggling oak-trees, and soon began an irregular fire with the brigands who were sent against them.

[Footnote 23: The Tartars and Circassians possess extraordinary dexterity in the use of their national weapon—the kinjal, or poniard. These are sometimes of great size and weight, and when thrown by a skilful hand, will fly a considerable distance, and with the most singular accuracy of aim.]

In the meantime, the foremost had driven across the river a portion of the flocks, when a cloud of dust, and the tramp of cavalry, announced the approaching storm. About six hundred mountaineers, commanded by Djemboulat and Ammalat, turned their horses to repulse the attack, and give time to the rest to escape by the river. Without order, but with wild cries and shouts, they dashed forward to meet the Kazaks; but not a single gun was taken from its belt, not a single shashka glimmered in the air: a Tcherkess waits till the last moment before he seizes his weapons. And thus, having galloped to the distance of twenty paces, they levelled their guns, fired at full speed, threw their fire-arms over their backs, [24] and drew their shashkas; but the Kazaks of the Line having replied with a volley, began to fly, and the mountaineers, heated by the chase, fell into a stratagem which they often employ themselves. The Kazaks had led them up to the chasseurs of the brave forty-third regiment, who were concealed at the edge of the forest. Suddenly, as if the little squares had started out of the earth, the bayonets were leveled, and the fire poured on them, taking them in flank. It was in vain that the mountaineers, dismounting from their horses, essayed to occupy the underwood, and attack the Russians from the rear; the artillery came up, and decided the affair. The experienced Colonel Kortsareff, the dread of the Tchetchenetz, the man whose bravery they feared, and whose honesty and disinterestedness they respected, directed the movements of the troops, and success could not be doubtful. The cannon dispersed the crowds of brigands, and their grape flew after the flying. The defeat was terrible; two guns, dashing at a gallop to the promontory, not far from which the Tcherkess were throwing themselves into the river, enfiladed the stream; with a rushing sound, the shot flew over the foaming waves, and at each fire some of the horses might be seen to turn over with their feet in the air, drowning their riders. It was sad to see how the wounded clutched at the tails and bridles of the horses of their companions, sinking them without saving themselves—how the exhausted struggled against the scarped bank, endeavouring to clamber up, fell back, and were borne away and engulfed by the furious current. The corpses of the slain were whirled away, mingled with the dying and streaks of blood curled and writhed like serpents on the foam. The smoke floated far along the Terek, far in the distance, and the snowy peaks of Caucasus, crowned with mist, bounded the field of battle. Djemboulat and Ammalat Bek fought desperately—twenty times did they rush to the attack, twenty times were they repulsed; wearied, but not conquered, with a hundred brigands they swam the river, dismounted, attached their horses to each other by the bridle, and began a warm fire from the other side of the river, to cover their surviving comrades. Intent upon this, they remarked, too late, that the Kazaks were passing the river above them; with a shout of joy, the Russians leaped upon the bank, and surrounded them in a moment. Their fate was inevitable. "Well, Djemboulat," said the Bek to the Kabardinetz, "our lot is finished. Do you what you will; but for me, I will not render myself a prisoner alive. 'Tis better to die by a ball than by a shameful cord!" "Do you think," answered Djemboulat, "that my arms were made for a chain! Allah keep me from such a blot: the Russians may take my body, but not my soul. Never, never! Brethren, comrades!" he cried to the others; "fortune has betrayed us, but the steel will not. Let us sell our lives dearly to the Giaour. The victor is not he who keeps the field, but he who has the glory; and the glory is his who prefers death to slavery!" "Let us die, let us die; but let us die gloriously," cried all, piercing with their daggers the sides of their horses, that the enemy might not take them, and then piling up the dead bodies of their steeds, they lay down behind the heap, preparing to meet the attack with lead and steel. Well aware of the obstinate resistance they were about to encounter, the Kazaks stopped, and made ready for the charge. The shot from the opposite bank sometimes fell in the midst of the brave mountaineers, sometimes a grenade exploded, covering them with earth and fragments; but they showed no confusion, they started not, nor blenched; and, after the custom of their country, began to sing, with a melancholy, yet threatening voice, the death-song, replying alternately stanza for stanza.

[Footnote 24: The oriental nations carry their guns at their backs, supported by a strap passing across the breast.]



"Fame to us, death to you, Alla-ha, Alla-hu!!"


"Weep, O ye maidens, on mountain and valley, Lift the dirge for the sons of the brave; We have fired our last bullet, have made our last rally, And Caucasus gives us a grave. Here the soft pipe no more shall invite us to slumber —The thunder our lullaby sings; Our eyes not the maiden's dark tresses shall cumber, Them the raven shall shade with his wings! Forget, O my children, your father's stern duty— No more shall he bring ye the Muscovite booty!"


"Weep not, O ye maidens; your sisters in splendour, The Houris, they bend from the sky, They fix on the brave their sun-glance deep and tender, And to Paradise bear him on high! In your feast-cup, my brethren, forget not our story; The death of the Free is the noblest of glory!"


"Roar, winter torrent, and sullenly dash! But where is the brave one—the swift lightning-flash? Soft star of my soul, my mother, Sleep, the fire let ashes smother; Gaze no more, shine eyes are weary, Sit not by the threshold stone; Gaze not through the night-fog dreary, Eat thine evening meal alone, Seek him not, O mother, weeping, By the cliff and by the ford: On a bed of dust he's sleeping— Broken is both heart and sword!"


"Mother, weep not! with thy love burning: This heart of mine beats full and free, And to lion-blood is turning That soft milks I drew from thee; And our liberty from danger Thy brave son has guarded well; Battling with the Christian stranger, Call'd by Azrael, he fell; From my blood fresh odours breathing Fadeless flowers shall drink the dew; To my children fame bequeathing, Brethren, and revenge to you!"


"Pray, my brethren, ere we part; Clutch the steel with hate and wrath! Break it in the Russian's heart— O'er corpses lies the brave man's path! Fame to us, death to you, Alla-ha, Alla-hu!"

Struck by a certain involuntary awe, the Chasseurs and Kazaks listened in silence to the stern sounds of this song; but at last a loud hurrah [25] resounded from both sides. The Teherkess, with a shout, fired their guns for the last time, and breaking them against the stones, they threw themselves, dagger in hand, upon the Russians. The Abreks, in order that their line might not be broken, bound themselves to each other with their girdles, and hurled themselves into the melee. Quarter was neither asked nor given: all fell before the bayonets of the Russians. "Forward! follow me, Ammalat Bek," cried Djemboulat, with fury, rushing into the combat which was to be his last—"Forward! for us death is liberty." But Anmalat heard not his call; a blow from a musket on the back of the head stretched him on the earth, already sown with corpses, and covered with blood.

[Footnote 25: "Hurrah" means strike in the Tartar language.]



From Derbend to Smolensk. October, 1819.

Two months—how easy to say it!—two centuries have past, dearest Maria, while your letter was creeping to me. Twice has the moon made her journey round the earth. You cannot imagine, dearest, how dreary is this idle objectless life to me; with nothing to employ me—not even correspondence. I go out, I meet the Kazak [26] with a secret trembling of heart: with what joy, with what exstacy do I kiss the lines traced by a pure hand, inspired by a pure heart—yours, my Maria! With a greedy rapture my eyes devour the letter: then I am happy—I am wild with joy. But hardly have I reclosed it when unquiet thoughts again begin to haunt me. "All this is well," I think; "but all this is past, and I desire to know the present. Is she well? Does she love me yet? Oh! will the happy time come soon—soon—when neither time nor distance can divide us? When the expression of our love will be no longer chilled by the cold medium of the post!" Pardon, pardon, dearest, these black thoughts of absence. When heart is—with heart, the lover trusts in all; in separation he doubts all. You command—for such to me is your wish—that I should describe my life to you, day by day, hour by hour. Oh, what sad and tiresome annals mine would be, were I to obey you! You know well, traitress, that I live not without you. My existence—'tis but the trace of a shadow on the desert sand. My duty alone, which wearies at least, if it cannot amuse me, helps me to get rid of the time. Thrown in a climate ruinous to health, in society which stifles the soul, I cannot find among my companions a single person who can sympathise with me. Nor do I find among the Asiatics any who can understand my thoughts. All that surrounds me is either so savage or so limited, that it excites sadness and discontent. Sooner will you obtain fire by striking ice on stone, than interest from such an existence. But your wish to me is sacred; and I will present you, in brief, with my last week. It was more varied than usual.

[Footnote 26: The Kazaks are employed in the Russian army frequently as couriers.]

I have told you in one of my letters, if I remember, that we are returning from the campaign of Akoush, with the commander-in-chief. We have done our work; Shah Ali Khan has fled into Persia; we have burned a number of villages, hay, and corn; and we have eaten the sheep of the rebels, when we were hungry. When the snow had driven the insurgents from their mountain-fastnesses, they yielded and presented hostages. We then marched to the Fort of Bournaya, [27] and from this station our detachment was ordered into winter quarters. Of this division my regiment forms a part, and our head-quarters are at Derbend.

[Footnote 27: Stormy.]

The other day, the general, who was about to depart on another campaign on the Line, came to take leave of us, and thus there was a larger company than usual to meet our adored commander. Alexei Petrovitch came from his tent, to join us at tea. Who is not acquainted with his face, from the portraits? But they cannot be said to know Yermoloff at all, who judge of him only by a lifeless image. Never was there a face gifted with such nobility of expression as his! Gazing on those features, chiselled in the noble outline of the antique, you are involuntarily carried back to the times of Roman grandeur. The poet was in the right, when he said of him:—

"On the Kouban—fly, Tartar fleet! The avenger's falchion gleameth; His breath—the grapeshot's iron sleet, His voice—the thunder seemeth! Around his forehead stern and pale The fates of war are playing.... He looks—and victory doth quail, That gesture proud obeying!"

You should witness his coolness in the hour of battle—you should admire him at a conference: at one time overwhelming the Teberkess with the flowing orientalisms of the Asiatic, at another embarrassing their artifices with a single remark. In vain do they conceal their thoughts in the most secret folds of their hearts; his eye follows them, disentangles and unrolls them like worms, and guesses twenty years beforehand their deeds and their intentions. Then, again, to see him talking frankly and like a friend with his brave soldiers, or passing with dignity round the circle of the tchinobniks [28] sent from the capital into Georgia. It is curious to observe how all those whose conscience is not pure, tremble, blush, turn pale, when he fixes on them his slow and penetrating glance; you seem to see the roubles of past bribes gliding before the eyes of the guilty man, and his villanies come rushing on his memory. You see the pictures of arrest, trial, judgment, sentence, and punishment, his imagination paints, anticipating the future. No man knows so well how to distinguish merit by a single glance, a single smile—to reward gallantry with a word, coming from, and going to, the heart. God grant us many years to serve with such a commander!

[Footnote 28: Literally, a person possessing rank, used here to signify an employe of Government in a civil capacity—all of whom possess some definite precedence or class (tchin) in the state. ]

But if it be thus interesting to observe him on duty, how delightful to associate with him in society—a society to which every one distinguished for rank, bravery, or intellect, has free access: here rank is forgotten, formality is banished; every one talks and acts as he pleases, simply because those only who think and act as they ought, form the society. Alexei Petrovitch jokes with all like a comrade, and at the same time teaches like a father. As usual, during tea, one of his adjutants read aloud; it was the account of Napoleon's Campaign in Italy—that poem of the Art of War, as the commander-in-chief called it. The company, of course, expressed their wonder, their admiration, their different opinions and criticisms. The remarks of Alexei Petrovitch were lucid, and of admirable truth.

Then began our gymnastic sports, leaping, running, leaping over the fire, and trials of strength of various kinds. The evening and the view were both magnificent: the camp was pitched on the side of Tarki; over it hangs the fortress of Bournaya, behind which the sun was sinking. Sheltered by a cliff was the house of the Shamkhal, then the town on a steep declivity, surrounded by the camp, and to the east the immeasurable steppe of the Caspian sea. Tartar Beks, Circassian Princes, Kazaks from the various rivers of gigantic Russia, hostages from different mountains, mingled with the officers. Uniforms, tchoukhas, coats of chain-mail, were picturesquely mingled; singing and music rang through the camp, and the soldiers, with their caps jauntily cocked on one side, were walking in crowds at a distance. The scene was delightful; it charmed by its picturesque variety and the force and freshness of military life. Captain Bekovitch was boasting that he could strike off the head of a buffalo with one blow of a kinjal; [29] and two of those clumsy animals were immediately brought.

[Footnote 29: It is absurd to observe the incredulity of Europeans as to the possibility of cutting off a head with the kinjal: it is necessary to live only one week in the East to be quite convinced of the possibility of the feat. In a practiced hand the kinjal is a substitute for the hatchet, the bayonet, and the sabre.]

Bets were laid; all were disputing and doubting. The Captain, with a smile, seized with his left hand a huge dagger, and in an instant an immense head fell at the feet of the astonished spectators, whose surprise was instantly succeeded by a desire to do the same: they hacked and hewed, but all in vain. Many of the strongest men among the Russians and Asiatics made unsuccessful attempts to perform the feat, but to do this strength alone was not sufficient. "You are children—children!" cried the commander-in-chief: and he rose from table, calling for his sword—a blade which never struck twice, as he told us. An immense heavy sabre was brought him, and Alexei Petrovitch, though confident in his strength, yet, like Ulysses in the Odyssey, anointing the bow which no one else could bend, first felt the edge, waved the weapon thrice in the air, and at length addressed himself to the feat. The betters had hardly time to strike hands when the buffalo's head bounded at their feet on the earth. So swift and sure was the blow, that the trunk stood for some instants on its legs, and then gently, softly, sank down. A cry of astonishment arose from all: Alexei Petrovitch quietly looked whether his sabre was notched—for the weapon had cost him many thousands [of roubles], and presented it as a keepsake to Captain Bekovitch.

We were still whispering among ourselves when there appeared before the commander-in-chief an officer of the Kazaks of the Line, with a message from Colonel Kortsareff, who was stationed on the frontier. When he had received the report, the countenance of Alexei Petrovitch brightenened—"Kortsareff has gloriously trounced the mountaineers!" said he. "These rascals have made a plundering expedition beyond the Terek; they have passed far within the Line, and have plundered a village—but they have lost not only the cattle they had taken, but fallen a sacrifice to their own fool-hardiness." Having minutely questioned Yesoual respecting the details of the affair, he ordered the prisoners whom they had taken, wounded or recovering, to be brought before him. Five were led into the presence of the commander-in-chief.

A cloud passed over his countenance as he beheld them; his brow contracted, his eyes sparkled. "Villains!" said he to the Ouzdens; "you have thrice sworn not to plunder; and thrice have you broken your oath. What is it that you seek? Lands? Flocks? Means to defend the one or the other? But no! you are willing to accept presents from the Russians as allies, and at the same time to guide the Tcherkess to plunder our villages, and to plunder along with them. Hang them!" said he sternly; "hang them up by their own thievish arkaus (girdles)! Let them draw lots: the fourth shall be spared—let him go and tell his countrymen that I am coming to teach them to keep faith, and keep the peace, as I will have it."

The Ouzdens were conducted away.

There remained one Tartar bek, whom we had not remarked. This was a young man of twenty-five, of unusual beauty, graceful as the Belvidere Apollo. He bowed slightly to the commander-in chief as he approached him, raised his cap, and again resumed his proud indifferent expression; unshaken resignation to his fate was written on his features.

The commander-in-chief fixed his stern eye upon his face, but the young man neither changed countenance nor quivered an eyelash.

"Ammalat Bek," said Alexei Petrovitch, after a pause, "do you remember that you are a Russian subject? that the Russian laws are above you?"

"It would have been impossible to forget that," replied the Bek: "if I had found in those laws a protection for my rights, I should not now stand before you a prisoner."

"Ungrateful boy!" cried the commander-in-chief; "your father—you yourself, have been the enemy of the Russians. Had it been during the Persian domination of your race, not even the ashes would have remained; but our Emperor was generous, and instead of punishing you he gave you lands. And how did you repay his kindness? By secret plot and open revolt! This is not all: you received and sheltered in your house a sworn foe to Russia; you permitted him, before your eyes, traitorously to slaughter a Russian officer. In spite of all this, had you brought me a submissive head, I would have pardoned you, on account of your youth and the customs of your nation. But you fled to the mountains, and with Suleiman Akhmet Khan you committed violence within the Russian bounds; you were beaten, and again you make an incursion with Djemboulat. You cannot but know what fate awaits you."

"I do," coldly answered Ammalat Bek: "I shall be shot."

"No! a bullet is too honourable a death for a brigand," cried the angry general: "a cart with the shafts turned up—a cord round your neck—that is the fitting reward."

"It is all one how a man dies," replied Ammalat, "provided he dies speedily. I ask one favour: do not let me be tormented with a trial: that is thrice death."

"Thou deservest a hundred deaths, audacious! but I promise you. Be it so: to-morrow thou shalt die. Assemble a court-martial," continued the commander-in-chief, turning to his staff: "the fact is clear, the proof is before your eyes, and let all be finished at one sitting, before my departure."

He waved his hand, and the condemned prisoner was removed.

The fate of this fine young man touched us all. Every body was whispering about him; every body pitying him; the more, that there appeared no means of saving him. Every one knew well the necessity of punishing this double treason, and the inflexibility of Alexei Petrovitch in matters of this publicity: and, therefore, no one dared to intercede for the unfortunate culprit. The commander-in-chief was unusually thoughtful for the remainder of the evening, and the party separated early. I determined to speak a word for him—"Perhaps," I thought, "I may obtain some commutation of the sentence." I opened one of the curtains of the tent, and advanced softly into the presence of Alexei Petrovitch. He was sitting alone, resting both arms on a table; before him lay a despatch for the Emperor, half finished, and which he was writing without any previous copy. Alexei Petrovitch knew me as an officer of the suite, and we had been acquainted since the battle of Kulm. At that time he had been very kind to me, and therefore my visit was not surprising to him. "I see—I see, Evstafii Ivanovitch, you have a design upon my heart! In general you come in as if you were marching up to a battery, but now you hardly walk on tip-toe. This is not for nothing. I am sure you are come with a request about Ammalat."

"You have guessed it," said I to Alexei Petrovitch, not knowing how to begin.

"Sit down, then, and let us talk it over," he replied. Then, after a silence of a couple of minutes, he continued, kindly, "I know that a report goes about respecting me, that I treat the lives of men as a plaything—their blood as water. The most cruel tyrants have hidden their bloodthirstiness under a mask of benevolence. They feared a reputation for cruelty, though they feared not to commit deeds of cruelty; but I—I have intentionally clothed myself with this sort of character, and purposely dressed my name in terror. I desire, and it is my duty to desire, that my name should protect our frontier more effectually than lines and fortresses—that a single word of mine should be, to the Asiatics, more certain, more inevitable, than death. The European may be reasoned with: he is influenced by conscience, touched by kindness, attached by pardon, won by benefits; but to the Asiatic all this is an infallible proof of weakness; and to him I—even from motives of philanthropy—have shown myself unmitigably severe. A single execution preserves a hundred Russians from destruction, and deters a thousand Mussulmans from treason. Evstafii Ivanovitch, many will not believe my words, because each conceals the cruelty of his nature, and his secret revengefulness, under excuses of necessity—each says, with a pretence of feeling, 'Really I wish from my heart to pardon, but be judges yourselves—can I? What, after this, are laws—what is the general welfare?' All this I never say; in my eyes no tear is seen when I sign a sentence of death: but my heart bleeds."

Alexei Petrovitch was touched; he walked agitatedly several times up and down the tent; then seated himself, and continued—"Never, in spite of all this, never has it been so difficult to me to punish as this day. He who, like me, has lived much among the Asiatics, ceases to trust in Lavater, and places no more confidence in a handsome face than in a letter of recommendation; but the look, the expression, the demeanour of this Ammalat, have produced on me an unusual impression. I am sorry for him."

"A generous heart," said I, "is a better oracle than reason."

"The heart of a conscientious man, my dear friend, ought to be under the command of reason. I certainly can pardon Ammalat, but I ought to punish him. Daghestan is still filled with the enemies of Russia, notwithstanding their assurances of submission; even Tarki is ready to revolt at the first movement in the mountains: we must rivet their chains by punishment, and show the Tartars that no birth can screen the guilty—that all are equal in the sight of the Russian law. If I pardon Ammalat, all his relations will begin to boast that Yermoloff is afraid of the Shamkhal." I remarked, that indulgence shown to so extensive a clan would have a good effect on the country—in particular the Shamkhal.

"The Shamkhal is an Asiatic," interrupted Alexei Petrovitch; "he would be delighted that this heir to the Shamkhalat should be sent to the Elysian fields. Besides, I care very little to guess or gratify the wishes of his kinsmen."

I saw that the commander-in-chief began to waver, and I urged him more pressingly. "Let me serve for three years," said I; "do not give me leave of absence this year—only have mercy on this young man. He is young, and Russia may find in him a faithful servant. Generosity is never thrown away."

Alexei Petrovitch shook his head.

"I have made many ungrateful," said he, "already; but be it so. I pardon him, and not by halves—that is not my way. I thank you for having helped me to be merciful, not to say weak. Only remember my words: You wish to take him to yourself—do not trust him; do not warm a serpent in your bosom."

I was so delighted with my success, that, hastily quitting the commander-in-chief, I ran to the tent in which Ammalat Bek was confined. Three sentinels were guarding him; a lantern was burning in the midst. I entered; the prisoner was lying wrapped up in his bourka, and tears were sparkling on his face. He did not hear my entrance, so profoundly was he buried in thought. To whom is it pleasant to part with life? I was rejoiced that I brought comfort to him at so melancholy a moment.

"Ammalat," said I, "Allah is great, and the Sardar is merciful; he has granted you your life!"

The delighted prisoner started up, and endeavoured to reply, but the breath was stifled in his breast. Immediately, however, a shade of gloom covered his features. "Life!" he exclaimed; "I understand this generosity! To consign a man to a breathless dungeon, without light or air—to send him to eternal winter, to a night never illumined by a star—to bury him alive in the bowels of the earth—to take from him not only the power to act, not only the means of life, but even the privilege of telling his kinsmen of his sad lot—to deny him not only the right to complain, but even the power of murmuring his sorrow to the wind. And this you call life! this unceasing torment you boast of as rare generosity! Tell the General that I want not—that I scorn—such a life."

"You are mistaken, Ammalat," I cried; "you are fully pardoned: remain what you were, the master of your actions and possessions. There is your sword. The commander-in-chief is sure that in future you will unsheathe it only for the Russians. I offer you one condition; come and live with me till the report of your actions has died away. You shall be to be as a friend, as a brother."

This struck the Asiatic. Tears shone in his eyes. "The Russians have conquered me," he said: "pardon me, colonel, that I thought ill of all of you. From henceforth I am a faithful servant of the Russian Tsar—a faithful friend to the Russians, soul and sword. My sword, my sword!" he cried, gazing fixedly on his costly blade; "let these tears wash from thee the Russian blood and the Tartar naphtha! [30] When and how can I reward you, with my service, for liberty and life?"

[Footnote 30: The Tartars, to preserve their weapons, and to produce a black colour on them, smoke the metal, and then rub it with naphtha.]

I am sure, my dear Maria, that you will keep me, for this, one of your sweetest kisses. Ever, ever, when feeling or acting generously, I console myself with the thought, "My Maria will praise me for this!" But when is this to happen, my darling? Fate is but a stepmother to us. Your mourning is prolonged, and the commander-in-chief has decidedly refused me leave of absence; nor am I much displeased, annoying as it is: my regiment is in a bad state of discipline—indeed, as bad as can be imagined; besides, I am charged with the construction of new barracks and the colonization of a married company. If I were absent for a month, every thing would go wrong. If I remain, what a sacrifice of my heart!

Here we have been at Derbend three days. Ammalat lives with me: he is silent, sad, and savage; but his fear is interesting, nevertheless. He speaks Russian very well, and I have commenced teaching him to read and write. His intelligence is unusually great. In time, I hope to make him a most charming Tartar. (The conclusion of the letter has no reference to our story.)

Fragment of another letter from Colonel Verhoffsky to his fiancee, written six months after the preceding.

From Derbend to Smolensk.

Your favourite Ammalat, my dearest Maria, will soon be quite Russianized. The Tartar Beks, in general, think the first step of civilization consists in the use of the unlawful wine and pork. I, on the contrary, have begun by re-educating the mind of Ammalat. I show him, I prove to him, what is bad in the customs of his nation, and what is good in those of ours; I explain to him universal and eternal truths. I read with him, I accustom him to write, and I remark with pleasure that he takes the deepest interest in composition. I may say, indeed, that he is passionately fond of it; for with him every wish, every desire, every caprice, is a passion—an ardent and impatient passion. It is difficult for a European to imagine, and still more difficult to understand, the inflammability of the unruly, or rather unbridled, passions of an Asiatic, with whom the will alone has been, since childhood, the only limit to his desires. Our passions are like domestic animals; or, if they are wild beasts, they are tamed, and taught to dance upon the rope of the "conveniences," with a ring through their nostrils and their claws cut: in the East they are free as the lion and the tiger.

It is curious to observe, on the countenance of Ammalat, the blush with which his features are covered at the least contradiction; the fire with which he is filled at any dispute; but as soon as he finds that he is in the wrong, he turns pale, and seems ready to weep. "I am in the wrong," says he; "pardon me: takhsirumdam ghitch, (blot out my fault;) forget that I am wrong, and that you have pardoned me." He has a good heart, but a heart always ready to be set on fire, either by a ray of the sun or by a spark of hell. Nature has gifted him with all that is necessary to render him a man, as well in his moral as physical constitution; but national prejudices, and the want of education, have done all that is possible to disfigure and to corrupt these natural qualities. His mind is a mixture of all sorts of inconsistencies, of the most absurd ideas, and of the soundest thoughts: sometimes he seizes instantly abstract propositions when they are presented to him in a simple form, and again he will obstinately oppose the plainest and most evident truths: because the former are quite new to him, and the latter are obscured by previous prejudices and impressions. I begin to fancy that it is easier to build a new edifice than to reconstruct an old one.

But how happens it that Ammalat is melancholy and absent? He makes great progress in every thing that does not require an attentive and continuous reflection, and a gradual development; but when the matter involves remote consequences, his mind resembles a short fire-arm, which sends its charge quickly, direct, and strongly, but not to any distance. Is this a defect of his mind? or is it that his attention is entirely occupied with something else? ... For a man of twenty-three, however, it is easy to imagine the cause. Sometimes he appears to be listening attentively to what I am telling him; but when I ask for his answer, he seems all abroad. Sometimes I find the tears flowing from his eyes: I address him—he neither hears nor sees me. Last night he was restless in his sleep, and I heard the word "seltanet—seltanet," (power, power,) frequently escape him. Is it possible that the love of power can so torment a young heart? No, no! another passion agitates, troubles the soul of Ammalat. Is it for me to doubt of the symptoms of love's divine disease? He is in love—he is passionately in love; but with whom? Oh, I will know! Friendship is as curious as a woman.


"It is only by a naval power," says Gibbon, "that the reduction of Yemen can be successfully attempted"—a remark, by the way, which more than one of the ancients had made before him. All the comparatively fertile districts in the south of Arabia, in fact, are even more completely insulated by the deserts and barren mountains of the interior on one side, than by the sea on the other—inasmuch as easier access would be gained by an invader, even by the dangerous and difficult navigation of the Red Sea, than by a march through a region where the means of subsistence do not exist, and where the Bedoweens, by choking or concealing the wells, might in a moment cut off even the scanty supply of water which the country affords. This mode of passive resistance was well understood and practised by them as early as the time of AElius Gallus, the first Roman general who conceived the hope of rifling the virgin treasures popularly believed to be buried in the inaccessible hoards of the princes of Arabia, whose realms were long looked upon—perhaps on the principle of omne ignotum pro magnifico—as a sort of indefinite and mysterious El Dorado. [31]

[Footnote 31: "Intactis opulentior thesauris Arabum." —Horat. Od. iii. 24. Pliny (Hist. Nat. vi. 32) more soberly endeavours to prove the enormous accumulation of wealth which must have taken place in Arabia, from the constant influx of the precious metals for the purchase of their spices and other commodities, while they bought none of the productions of other countries in return.]

These golden dreams speedily vanished as the country became more extensively known: and though the Arab tribes of the desert between Syria and the Euphrates acknowledged a nominal subjection to Rome, the intercourse of the Imperial City with Yemen, or Arabia Felix, was confined to the trade which was carried on over the Red Sea from Egypt, and which became the channel through which not only the spices of Arabia, but the rich products of India, and even the slaves [32] and ivory of Eastern Africa, were supplied to the markets of Italy. At the present day, almost the whole of the south coast of Arabia fronting the Indian Ocean, nearly from the head of the Persian Gulf to the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, as well as the eastern coast of Africa, from Cape Guardafui to the entrance of the Mozambique Channel a seaboard approaching 4000 miles in length—is more or less subject to the Sultan of Muscat, [33] a prince whose power is almost wholly maritime, and whose dominions nowhere extend more than thirty or forty miles inland: while our own recent acquisition of Aden, a detached point with which our communication can be maintained only by restraining the command of the sea, has for the first time given an European power (excepting the Turks, whose possessions in Arabia always depended on Egypt) a locus standi on the shores of Yemen.

[Footnote 32: This part of Africa is noticed by Arrian as famous for the excellent quality of the slaves brought from [Greek: ta doulicha chreissota],and it still retains its pre-eminence. The tribes in this quarter are far superior both in personal appearance and intellect to the negroes of Guinea.]

[Footnote 33: We have seen it somewhere stated that the Sultan has also attempted, by means of his navy, to exercise authority on the shores of Beloochistan; which would bring him into contact with our own outposts at Soumeeani, &c., near the mouth of the Indus.]

The process by which we obtained this footing in Arabia was strictly in accordance with the maxims of policy adopted by the then rulers of British India, and which they were at the same time engaged in carrying out, on a far more extended scale, in Affghanistan. In both cases—perhaps from a benevolent anxiety to accommodate our diplomacy to the primitive ideas of those with whom we had to deal—

"the good old rule Sufficeth them, the simple plan That they should take who have the power, And they should keep who can"—

was assumed as the basis of our proceedings: and though the brilliant success which for a time attended our philanthropic exertions in the cause of good order and civilization beyond the Indus, so completely threw into the shade the minor glories of Aden, that this latter achievement attracted scarcely any public attention at the time of its occurrence, its merits are quite sufficient to entitle it to a more detailed notice than it has hitherto received in the pages of Maga. Nor can a more opportune juncture be found than the present, when the late events in Cabul have apparently had a marvellous effect in opening the eyes of our statesmen, both in India and England, to the moral and political delinquency of the system we have so long pursued—of taking the previous owner's consent for granted, whenever it suited our views to possess ourselves of a fortress, island, or tract of territory, belonging to any nation not sufficiently civilized to have had representatives at the Congress of Vienna. Whether our repentance is to be carried the length of universal restitution, remains to be seen; if so, it is to be hoped that the circumstances of the capture of Aden will be duly borne in mind. But before we proceed to detail the steps by which the British colours came to be hoisted at this remote angle of Arabia, it will be well to give some account of the place itself and its previous history; since we suspect that the majority of newspaper politicians, unless the intelligence of its capture chanced to catch their eye in the columns of the Times, are to this day ignorant that such a fortress is numbered among the possessions of the British crown.

The harbour of Aden, then, lies on the south coast of Yemen, as nearly as possible in 12 45' N. latitude, and 45 10' E. longitude; somewhat more than 100 miles east of Cape Bab-el-Mandeb, at the entrance of the Red Sea; and about 150 miles by sea, or 120 by land, from Mokha, [34] the nearest port within the Straits. The town was built on the eastern side of a high rocky peninsula, about four miles in length from E. to W., by two miles and a half N. and S.—which was probably, at no very remote period, an island, but is now joined to the mainland by a long low sandy isthmus, [35] on each side of which, to the east and west, a harbour is formed between the peninsula and the mainland. The East Bay, immediately opposite the town, though of comparatively small extent, is protected by the rocky islet of Seerah, rising seaward to the height of from 400 to 600 feet, and affords excellent anchorage at all times, except during the north-east monsoon: but the Western or Black Bay, completely landlocked and sheltered in great part of its extent by the high ground of its peninsula, (which rises to an elevation of nearly 1800 feet,) runs up inland a distance of seven miles from the headland of Jibel-Hassan, (which protects its mouth on the west,) to the junction of the isthmus with the main, and presents at all times a secure and magnificent harbour, four miles wide at the entrance, and perfectly free from rocks, shoals, and all impediments to ingress or egress. Such are the natural advantages of Aden: and "whoever"—says Wellsted—"might have been the founder, the site was happily selected, and well calculated by its imposing appearance not only to display the splendour of its edifices, but also, uniting strength with ornament, to sustain the character which it subsequently bore, as the port and bulwark of Arabia Felix."

[Footnote 35: This isthmus is said by Lieutenant Wellsted to be "about 200 yards in breadth:" perhaps a misprint for 1200, as a writer in the United Service Journal, May 1840, calls it 1350 yards; and, according to the plan in the papers laid before Parliament, it would appear to be rather more than half a mile at the narrowest part, where it is crossed by the Turkish wall.]

From the almost impregnable strength of its situation, and the excellence of its harbour, which affords almost the only secure shelter for shipping near the junction of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, Aden has been, both in ancient and modern times, a place of note and importance as a central point for the commerce carried on with the East by way of Egypt. It was known to the ancients as the Arabian emporium, and Abulfeda, in the fourteenth century, describes it, in his Geography, as "a city on the sea-shore, within the district of Abiyan; with a safe and capacious port, much frequented by ships from India and China, and by merchants and men of wealth, not only from those countries, but from Abyssinia, the Hedjaz, &c.;" adding, however, "that it is dry and burnt up by the sun, and so totally destitute of pasture and water, that one of the gates is named Bab-el-Sakiyyin, or Gate of the Water-carriers, for fresh water must be brought from a distance." In somewhat later times, when the Portuguese began to effect settlements on the coasts of Guzerat and Malabar, and to attack the Mohammedan commerce in the Indian Seas, the port of Aden (when, with the rest of Yemen, then paid a nominal allegiance to the Egyptian monarchy) became the principal rendezvous for the armaments equipped by the Circassian Sultans of Cairo in the Red Sea, in aid of their Moslem brethren, then oppressed by those whom the Sheikh Zein-ed-deen emphatically denounces as "a race of unclean Frank interlopers—may the curse of Allah rest upon them and all infidels!" It was, in consequence, more than once attacked by the famous Alboquerque, (who, in 1513, lost 2000 men before it,) and his successor Lope Soarez, but the Portuguese never succeeded in occupying it; and the Mamluke empire was overthrown, in 1517, by the arms of the Ottoman Sultan, Selim I. The new masters of Egypt, however, speedily adopted the policy of the rulers whom they had supplanted; and not contented with the limited suzerainte over the Arab chiefs of Yemen, exercised by the Circassian monarchs, determined on bringing that country under the direct control of the Porte, as a point d'appui for the operations to be undertaken in the Indian Ocean. With this view, the eunuch, Soliman-Pasha, who was sent in command of a formidible squadron from Suez, in 1538, to attempt the recapture of Dui, [36] in Guzerat, from the Portuguese, received instructions to make himself in the first place master of Aden, to the possession of which the Turks might reasonable lay claim as a dependency of their newly-acquired realm of Egypt; the seizure, however, was effected by means of base treachery. The prince, Sheikh-Amer, of the race of the Beni-Teher, was summoned on board the admiral's galley, and accepted the invitation without suspicion; but he was instantly placed in confinement, and shortly afterwards publicly hanged at the yard-arm; while the Pasha, landing his troops, took possession of Aden in the name of Soliman the Magnificent. It was not, however, till 1568, that the final reduction of Yemen was accomplished, when Aden and other towns, which had fallen into the hands of an Arab chief named Moutaher, were recaptured by a powerful army sent from Egypt; the whole province was formally divided into sandjaks or districts, and the seat of the beglerbeg, or supreme pasha, fixed at Sana.

[Footnote 36: The warfare of the Ottomans in India is a curious episode in their history, which has attracted but little notice from European writers. The Soliman-Pasha above mentioned (called by the Indian historians Soliman-Khan Roomi, or the Turk, and by the Portuguese Solimanus Peloponnesiacus) bore a distinguished part in those affairs; but this expedition against Diu was the last in which he was engaged. The kingdom of Guzerat was, at that time, in great confusion after the death of its king, Bahadur Shah, who had been treacherously killed in an affray with the Portuguese in 1536; and it would appear probable that the Turks, if they had succeeded against Diu, meditated taking possession of the country.]

The domination of the Turks in Yemen did not continue much more than sixty years after this latter epoch; the constant revolts of the Arab tribes, and the feuds of the Turkish military chiefs, whose distance from the seat of government placed them beyond the control of the Porte, combined in rendering it an unprofitable possession. The Indian trade, moreover, was permanently diverted to the route by the Cape; and any political schemes which the Porte might at one time have entertained in regard to India, had been extinguished by the reunion, under the Mogul sway, of the various shattered sovereignties of Hindostan. In 1633, [37] the Turkish troops were finally withdrawn from the province, which then fell under the rule of the still existing dynasty of the Imams of Sana, who claim descent from Mohammed. But the ruins even now remaining of the fortifications and publick works constructed in Aden by the Ottomans during their tenure of the place, are on a scale which not only proves how fully they were aware of the importance of the position, but gives a high idea of the energy with which their resources were administered during the palmy days of their power, when such vast labour and outlay were expended on the security of an isolated stronghold at the furthest extremity of their empire. The defences of the town, even in their present state, are the most striking evidence now existing of the science and skill of the Turkish engineers in former times; and, when they were entire, Aden must have been another Gibraltar. "The lines taken for the works," says a late observer, "evince great judgment, a good flanking fire being every where obtained; no one place which could possibly admit of being fortified has been omitted, and we could not do better than tread in the steps of our predecessors. The profile is tremendous." A supply of water (of which the peninsula had been wholly destitute) was secured, not only by constructing numerous tanks within the walls, and by boring numerous wells through the solid rock to a depth of upwards of 200 feet, [38] but by carrying an aqueduct into the town from a spring eight miles in the country, the reservoir at the end of which was defended by a redoubt mounted with artillery. The outposts were not less carefully strengthened than the body of the place—a rampart with bastions (called, in the reports of the garrison, the Turkish Wall) was carried along some high ground on the isthmus from sea to sea, to guard against an attack on the land side—the lofty rocky islet of Seerah, immediately off the town, was covered with watchtowers and batteries—and several of those enormous guns, with the effect of which the English became practically acquainted at the passage of the Dardanelles in 1807, were mounted on the summit of the precipices, to command the seaward approach; and, when Lieutenant Wellsted was at Aden, those huge pieces of ordnance was lying neglected on the beach; and he asked Sultan Mahassan why he did not cut them up for the sake of the metal, which is said to contain a considerable intermixture of silver; "but he replied, with more feeling than could have been anticipated, that he was unwilling to deprive Aden of the only remaining sign of its former greatness and strength." Several of them have been sent to England since the capture of the place, measuring from fifteen to eighteen and a half feet in length; they are covered with ornaments and inscriptions, stating them to have been cast in the reign of "Soliman the son of Selim-Khan," (Soliman the Magnificent.)

[Footnote 37: Captain Haines, in the "Report upon Aden," appended to the Parliamentary papers published on the subject, erroneously places this even in 1730, the year in or about which, according to Niebuhr, the Sheikh of Aden made himself independent of Sana.]

[Footnote 38: "No part of the coast of Arabia is celebrated for the goodness of its water, with the single exception of Aden. The wells there are 300 in number, cut mostly though the rock, ... and the tanks were found in good order, coated inside and out with excellant chunam, (stucco,) and merely requiring cleaning out to be again serviceable."]

At the time of its evacuation by the Turks, Aden is said, notwithstanding the decay of its Indian trade, to have contained from 20,000 to 30,000 inhabitants; and the lofty minarets which, a few years since, still towered above the ruins of the mosques to which they had formerly been attached, as well as the extensive burying-grounds, in which the turbaned headstones peculiar to the Turks are even yet conspicuous, bear testimony, not less than the extent and magnitude of the ruinous fortifications, to the population and splendour of the town under the Ottomans.—(See WELLSTED'S Arabia, vol. ii, chap. 19.) From the time, however, of its return into the hands of its former owners, its decline was rapid. Niebuhr, who visited it in the latter part of the last century, says, that it had but little trade, as its Sheikh [39] (who had long since shaken off his dependence on the Iman of Sana) was not on good terms with his neighbors; and, though Sir Home Popham concluded a commercial treaty with the uncle and predecessor of the present Sultan Mahassan, no steps appear to have been taken in consequence of this arrangement.

[Footnote 39: The town would appear to have passed into the hands of another tribe since Niebuhr's time, as he gives the Sheikh the surname of El-Foddeli (Futhali,) the present chief being of the Abdalli tribe.]

In 1835, according to Wellsted, the inhabitants of this once flourishing emporium did not exceed 800, the only industrious class among whom were the Jews, who numbered from 250 to 300. The remainder were "the descendants of Arabs, Sumaulis," (a tribe of the African coast,) "and the offspring of slaves," who dwelt in wretched huts, or rather tents, on the ruins of the former city. "Not more than twenty families are now engaged in mercantile pursuits, the rest gaining a miserable existence either by supplying the Hadj boats with wood and water, or by fishing." The chief, Sultan Mahassan, did not even reside in Aden, but in a town called Lahedj, about eighteen miles distant, where he kept the treasures which his uncle, who was a brave and politic ruler, had succeeded in amassing. He reputation for wealth, however, and the inadequacy of his means for defending it, drew on him the hostility of the more warlike tribes in the vicinity; and in 1836 Aden was sacked by the Futhalis, who not only carried off booty to the value of 30,000 dollars, (principally the property of the Banians and the Sumauli merchants in the port,) but compelled the Sultan to agree to an annual payment of 360 dollars; while two other tribes, the Yaffaees and the Houshibees, took the opportunity to exhort from him a tribute of half that amount. There can be no doubt but that, if the Arabs had been left to themselves, this state of things would have ended in all the contending parties being speedily swallowed up in the dominions of Mohammed Ali, Pasha of Egypt; who, under pretence of re-asserting the ancient rights of the Porte to the sovereignty of Yemen, had already occupied Mokha and Taaz, and was waging war with the tribes in the neighbouring coffee country, whom he had exasperated by the treacherous murder of Sheikh Hussein, one of their chiefs, who, having been inveigled by the Egyptian commander into a personal conference, was shot dead, like the Mamlukes at Cairo, in the tent of audience. Aden, in the natural course of things, would have been the next step; but an unforeseen intervention deprived him of his prey.

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