"You're not tellin' me crackers, are you?" said Lancey, in an incredulous tone.
"My good fellow," returned the skipper, "I wish that I were. The story is only too true, and I would it were the only one of the sort I had to tell. You can find a book in London, [see note 1] if you like, which tells all about this and the other torpedo work done during the late American war."
"Well, then," said Lancey, in the tone of an eager listener, while, by the tapping on the combings of the hatchway, I could distinguish that he was emptying his pipe, with a view, no doubt, to the enjoyment of another, "and what happened when they tried to blow you up?"
"Well, you must know," resumed the skipper, "it was long afterwards, near the end of the war. I was in the US steamer Wabash at the time. We were at anchor off Charleston, and we kept a sharp look-out at that time, for it was a very different state of things from the wooden-wall warfare that Nelson used to carry on. Why, we never turned in a night without a half sort of expectation of being blown into the sky before morning. It was uneasy work, too, for although American sailors are as good at facing death as any men, they don't like the notion of death coming in on them, like a sneak below the waterline, and taking them in the dark while asleep. We were always on the alert, and doubly so at that time, for only a short while previously, the Confederates had sunk another of our ironclads, the Housatonic, with one of their torpedo-Davids,—little boats that were so called because, compared with the great ironclads they were meant to attack, they somewhat resembled David when he went out against Goliath.
"Well, as I said, the Wabash was at anchor, and it was night—not very late, about ten; but it was very dark.
"Fortunately the deck was in charge that night of a young officer named Craven, and never was an officer worse named or better deserving to be called Courage. He had his wits about him. At the hour I have named, he observed something on the starboard-quarter, about 150 yards off. It resembled a plank on the water. In reality it was a torpedo-David. It was opposite the main-mast when first observed, going rapidly against the tide. At that moment it turned and made straight for the ship. Craven was up to the mark. He commenced with volleys of musketry; beat the gong for the crew to assemble at quarters; rang four bells for the engine to go ahead; opened fire with the watch and the starboard battery; and gave orders to slip the cable.
"His orders, you may be sure, were obeyed with promptitude. The gong sent every man from his hammock as if he had received an electric shock. Jack-in-the-box never came out of his box more promptly than each man shot up the hatchway. An exaggerated idea of the effect of torpedoes— if that were possible—had got possession of us. We were at our quarters in a moment; the ship moved ahead; the chain slipped; and the torpedo-boat passed us about forty yards astern. A round shot from us at the same moment appeared to strike it. We cheered. A second shot was fired, and appeared to send it to the bottom, for we saw it no more.
"But now our turn came," continued the skipper, refilling his pipe. "Puff! you see we were not so well situated as the Southerners for the use of this weapon, for we had to go in to attack their forts, while they had only to defend themselves, which they did largely with sunk torpedoes.
"We had long been desirous of revenging their attacks in a similar fashion, and at last we were successful on the 27th of October. I had the good luck to be one of the expedition. It was risky work, of course. We all knew that, but where is the nation worthy of the name that will not find men for risky work? People talk about the difference of courage in nations. In my opinion that is all gammon. Most nations that lie near to one another are pretty much alike as to courage. In times of trial among all nations, the men of pluck come to the front, and the plucky men, be they American, English, French, German, Russian, or Turk, do pretty much the same thing—they fight like heroes till they conquer or die."
"Better if they didn't fight at all," remarked Lancey.
"That's true, but if you're attacked you must fight. Anyhow, on this particular occasion we attacked the Confederate ironclad ram Albemarle, and sent her to the bottom. I had volunteered for the duty with some other men from the squadron, and we started in a steam-launch under Lieutenant Cushing. The distance from the mouth of the river to where the ram lay was about eight miles, the stream averaging 200 yards in width, and being lined with the enemy's pickets, so that we had to proceed with the utmost possible caution. We set out in the dead of night. There was a wreck on our way, which was surrounded by schooners, and we knew that a gun was mounted there to command the bend of the river. We had the good luck, however, to pass the pickets and the wreck without being discovered, and were not hailed until seen by the look-out of the ram itself.
"Without replying to the hail, we made straight at her under a full head of steam. The enemy sprang their rattles, rang their bell, and commenced firing. The Albemarle was made fast to a wharf, with a defence of logs around her about thirty feet from her side. A chance fire on the shore enabled us to see this, although the night was intensely dark, and raining.
"From the report afterwards published by the commander of the Albemarle, it seems that a good look-out had been kept. The watch also had been doubled, and when we were seen (about three in the morning) they were all ready. After hailing, a brisk fire was opened on us both by small arms and large guns; but the latter could not be brought to bear, owing to our being so close, and we partially disturbed the aim of the former by a dose of canister at close range. Paymaster Swan, of the Otsego, was wounded near me, and some others. My own jacket was cut in many places, and the air seemed full of bullets.
"Our torpedo-boom was out and ready. Passing close to the Albemarle, we made a complete circle round her, so as to strike her fairly. Then Lieutenant Cushing gave the order, and we went straight at her, bows on. In a moment we struck the logs, just abreast of the quarter-port, with such force that we leaped half over them, at the same time breasted them in. The boom was lowered at once. 'Now, lads, a vigorous pull!' said Cushing.
"We obeyed, and sent the torpedo right under the overhang of the ship. It exploded. At the same instant the Albemarle's great-gun was fired. A shot seemed to go crashing through the boat, and a dense mass of water rushed in from the torpedo. It seemed to me as if heaven and earth had come together. Smoke and yells, with continued firing at only fifteen feet range, followed, in the midst of which I heard the commander of the ironclad summon us to surrender. I heard our lieutenant twice refuse, and then, ordering the men to save themselves, he jumped into the water. I followed him, and for some time swam in the midst of a shower-bath caused by plunging shot and bullets, but not one of them struck me. At last I reached the shore, and escaped.
"At the time I thought we must have failed in our purpose, but I was mistaken. Though we had lost one boat and some of our men, many of them being captured, I learned that the Albemarle had sunk in fifteen minutes after the explosion of the torpedo, only her shield and smoke-stack being left out of the water to mark the spot where a mighty iron-clad had succumbed to a few pounds of well-applied gunpowder!"
"If that be so," said Lancey, after a pause and deep sigh, "it seems to me no manner of use to build ironclads at all, and that it would be better, as well as cheaper, in time to come, to fight all our battles with torpedo-boats."
"It may be so," replied the skipper, rising, "but as that is a subject which is to be settled by wiser heads than ours, and as you have to look after the ladies' breakfast to-morrow morning, I'd strongly advise you to turn in."
Lancey took the hint, and as he slept in a berth close to the cabin, I quickly had nasal assurance that he had thrown care and torpedoes to the dogs.
It was not so with myself. Much of the information which Mr Whitlaw had unconsciously conveyed to me was quite new, for although I had, as a youth, read and commented on the late American war while it was in progress, I had not given to its details that amount of close study which is necessary to the formation of a reasonable judgment. At first I could not resist the conviction that my skipper must have been indulging in a small amount of exaggeration, especially when I reflected on the great strength and apparent invulnerability of such massive vessels as our Thunderer; but knowing the sedate and truthful character of Mr Whitlaw, I felt perplexed. Little did I think at the time that I should live to see, and that within the year, the truth of his statements corroborated with my own eyes. I meditated long that night on war and its results, as well as the various processes by which it is carried on; and I had arrived at a number of valuable conclusions, which I would have given worlds to have been able to jot down at the moment, when I was overtaken by that which scattered them hopelessly to the winds: I fell sound asleep!
The rest of this delightful voyage I am compelled to pass over, in order that I may come to matters of greater importance.
We had reached the neighbourhood of the beautiful town of Nice, when my dear mother, to my surprise and mortification, suddenly announced that she could not endure the sea any longer. She had kept pretty well, she admitted, and had enjoyed herself, too, except when listening to those dreadful stories of the captain about the American war, which had travelled to her down the after-cabin skylight, during wakeful hours of the night. Despite appearances, she said she had suffered a good deal. There was something, she declared, like a dumpling in her throat, which always seemed about to come up, but wouldn't, and which she constantly tried to swallow, but couldn't.
In these circumstances, what could I do? We had meant to land at Nice in passing. I now resolved to leave my mother and sister there and proceed eastward—it might be to Egypt or the Black Sea—with Naranovitsch. The latter had ordered his letters to be forwarded to Nice; we therefore ran into the port, and, while my mother and sister and I drove to "the Chateau" to see the splendid view from that commanding position, he went off to the post-office.
On returning to the yacht, we found poor Nicholas in deep distress. He had received a letter announcing the death of his father, and requiring his immediate return to Russia. As the circumstances admitted of no delay, and as my mother could not be prevailed on to go farther in the yacht, it was hastily arranged that she and Bella should return through France to England, and that Nicholas should take charge of them.
Our plans being fixed, they were at once carried into effect, and the same evening I found myself alone in my yacht, with no one but the skipper and crew and the faithful Lancey, to keep me company.
The world was now before me where to choose. After a consultation with my skipper, I resolved to go on a cruise in the Black Sea, and perhaps ascend the Danube, in spite of the rumours of possible war between the Russians and Turks.
Note 1. "A Treatise on Coast-Defence ... Compiled from official reports of officers of the United States. By Von Scheliha, Lieutenant-Colonel and chief engineer of the department of the Gulf of Mexico of the army of the late Confederate States of America."
TURK AND BULGARIAN—A WRESTLING MATCH AND A DISPUTE.
River navigation is, to my mind, most captivating; but space forbids that I should enlarge on it, and on many other points of interest in this eventful voyage. I shall therefore pass over the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, leaving the great and classic Stamboul itself behind untouched, and transport the reader at once to one of those "touches of nature" which "make the whole world kin."
It is a little village on the Danube river—the mighty Danube, which bears the fleets of the world on its ample breast.
We had been a considerable time in the river, for we took things very leisurely, before reaching the village to which I refer. It was named Yenilik. While I had been rejoicing in the varied scenery—the lagoons and marshes of the several mouths of the great river, and the bolder prospects of hill and dale higher up—I had not been idling my time or making entire holiday of it, for I had devoted myself to the study of the Turkish language.
My powers as a linguist may not perhaps be above the average, nevertheless I confess to a considerable facility in the acquisition of languages. Russian I already knew very well, having, as before intimated, spent a considerable time in St. Petersburg.
Desiring to perfect myself in Turkish, I undertook to teach my man Lancey. Not that I had much opinion of his ability—far from it; but I entertain a strong belief in the Scriptural idea that two are better than one. Of course I do not hold that two fools are better than one wise man; but two men of average ability are, in nearly all circumstances, better than one, especially if one of them is decidedly and admittedly superior to the other. Lancey's powers were limited, but his ambition was not so, and I am bound to add that his application was beyond all praise. Of course his attainments, like his powers, were not great. His chief difficulty lay in his tendency to drop the letter h from its rightful position in words, and to insert it, along with r and k, in wrong places. But my efforts to impress Lancey's mind had the satisfactory effect of imbedding minute points of the language deeply in my own memory.
The village to which I have referred was in Bulgaria—on the right or southern shore of the Danube. It was a pretty spot, and the bright sunny weather lent additional charms to water, rock, and tree, while the twittering of birds, to say nothing of the laughter and song of men, women, and children working in the fields, or engaged in boisterous play, added life to it.
Towards the afternoon I landed, and, accompanied by Lancey, went up to the chief store or shop of the village. It was a primitive store, in which the most varied and incongruous articles were associated.
The owner of the shop was engaged in bargaining with, I think, one of the finest specimens of manhood I ever saw. His name I accidentally learned on entering, for the shopman, at that moment, said—
"No, Dobri Petroff, I cannot let you have it for less."
The shopman spoke in the Bulgarian tongue, which, being a kindred dialect of the Russian language, I understood easily.
"Too dear," said Petroff, as he turned over the article, a piece of calico, with a good-humoured affectation of contempt.
Dobri Petroff was a young man, apparently not more than twenty-five, tall, broad, deep-chested, small-waisted—a perfect study for an Apollo. Both dress and language betokened him an uneducated man of the Bulgarian peasantry, and his colour seemed to indicate something of gipsy origin; but there was an easy frank deportment about him, and a pleasant smile on his masculine countenance, which told of a naturally free, if not free-and-easy, spirit. Although born in a land where tyranny prevailed, where noble spirits were crushed, independence destroyed, and the people generally debased, there was an occasional glance in the black eye of Dobri Petroff which told of superior intelligence, a certain air of natural refinement, and a strong power of will.
"No, Dobri, no; not a rouble less," repeated the shopman.
Petroff smiled, and shook back his black curly hair, as a lion might in sporting with an obstinate cub.
At that moment a Turk entered. His position in society I could not at the time guess, but he had the overbearing manner of one who might have been raised by favour from a low to a high station. He pushed Petroff rudely out of his way, and claimed the entire attention of the shopman, which was at once and humbly accorded.
A fine expression of fierce contempt flashed across Petroff's countenance; but to my surprise, he at once drew aside.
When the Turk was served and had gone out, the shopman turned to me.
"After Petroff," I said, bowing towards the man.
The surprise and pleasure of Petroff was evidently great, but he refused to take advantage of my courtesy, and seemed so overwhelmed with modest confusion at my persisting that he should be served before me, that he ultimately left the shop, much to my regret, without making his purchase.
To my inquiries, the shopman replied that Dobri was the blacksmith of the place, and one of its best and steadiest workmen.
After completing my purchases I left, and strolled through the village towards its further extremity.
"The Turks seem to 'ave it all their own way ere, sir," said Lancey, as we walked along.
"If the treatment we have seen that man receive were the worst of it," I replied, "the Bulgarians would not have very much to complain of, though insolence by superiors to inferiors is bad enough. They have, however, more than that to bear, Lancey; the story of Bulgarian wrongs is a long and a very sad one."
As we strolled beyond the village, and were engaged in earnest converse on this subject, we suddenly came on a group of holiday-makers. A number of the peasantry were assembled in a field, engaged in dances, games, and athletic sports. We mingled with the crowd and looked on. They were engaged at the time in a wrestling match. Little notice was taken of our appearing, so intent were they on the proceedings. Two strong men were engaged in what I may call a tremendous hug. Each was stripped to the waist. Their muscles stood out like those of Hercules, as they strained and tugged. At last they went down, one being undermost, with both shoulder-blades touching the ground, and a loud cheer greeted the victor as he stood up.
He was a splendid animal, unquestionably—over six feet, with immense chest and shoulders, and modest withal; but a man of about five feet eight stepped into the ring, and overthrew him with such ease that a burst of laughter mingled with the cheer that followed. The triumph of the little man was, however, short-lived, for a Bulgarian giant next made his appearance—evidently a stranger to those present—and after a prolonged struggle, laid the little man on his back.
For some time this giant strutted about defiantly, and it appeared as if he were to remain the champion, for no one seemed fit or willing to cope with him. At last some gipsy girls who were sitting in front of the ring, urged one of their tribe, a tall, strong, young fellow, to enter the lists against the giant.
The youth consented, and entered the ring; but a quick throw from the giant sent him sprawling, to the great disappointment of his brunette friends.
Amongst the girls present, there sat a remarkably pretty young woman, whom the others endeavoured to urge to some course of action, to which she at first objected. After a little persuasion, however, she appeared to give in, and, rising, left the circle. Soon after she returned with a magnificent specimen of humanity, whom she pushed into the ring with evident pride.
It was Dobri Petroff. The villagers greeted him by name with a ringing cheer as he advanced.
With a modest laugh he shook his huge antagonist by the hand.
He stripped to the waist, and each man presented a rounded development of muscular power, which would have done credit to any of the homeric heroes; but there was a look of grand intelligence and refinement in Petroff's countenance, which would probably have enlisted the sympathies of the villagers even if he had been an utter stranger.
Having shaken hands, the wrestlers began to walk round each other, eagerly looking for a chance to get the "catch." It seemed at first as if neither liked to begin, when, suddenly, the Bulgarian turned sharp on Petroff, and tried a favourite throw; but with the lithe easy motion of a panther, the blacksmith eluded his grasp. The excitement of the spectators became intense, for it now seemed as if the two huge fellows were well-matched, and that a prolonged struggle was about to take place. This, however, was a mistake. The villagers apparently had underrated the powers of their own champion, and the gipsy girls looked anxious, evidently fearing that the hitherto victorious stranger would again triumph.
For some moments the cautious walk-round continued, then there was a sudden exclamation of surprise from the crowd, for the blacksmith seized his adversary by the waist, and with a quick throw, caused him to turn almost a somersault in the air, and to come down on his back with stunning violence.
While the heavy fellow lay, as if slightly stunned, on the ground, Petroff stooped, again shook hands with him, and then lifting him high in the air, as though he had been but a boy, set him on his feet, and turned to resume his jacket, amid the enthusiastic cheers of the people.
Petroff's jacket was handed to him by a pretty dark-eyed girl of about five years of age, who bore so strong a resemblance to the young woman who had brought the blacksmith on the scene, that I at once set them down as sisters. The child looked up in the champion's face with such innocence that he could not resist the temptation to stoop and kiss her. Then, taking the little one's hand, he pushed through the crowd and left the ring. I observed that the young woman also rose and went with them.
Feeling interested in these people. Lancey and I followed, and overtook them before they had quitted the field. I said in Russian:—
"Good-day, Petroff; you overthrew that fellow with greater ease than I had expected."
The blacksmith gave me a look of pleased recognition as he returned my salutation.
"Well, sir," he said, "it was not difficult. The man is strong enough, but does not understand the art well. You are an Englishman, I think."
"I am," said I, somewhat surprised as well by the question as by the superior manner and address of the man.
"It was a man from your land," returned Petroff, with a grave earnest look, "who taught me to wrestle,—a man from Cornwall. He was a sailor—a stout fellow, and a good man. His vessel had been anchored off our village for some time, so that we saw a good deal of him. They had a passenger on board, who landed and went much about among the people. He was a German, and called himself a colporteur. He taught strange doctrines, and gave away many Bibles, printed in the Bulgarian tongue."
"Ah," said I, "no doubt he was an agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society."
"Perhaps so," returned Petroff, with a somewhat perplexed look, "but he said nothing about that. His chief desire seemed to be to get us to listen to what he read out of his Bible. And some of us did listen, too. He gave one of the Bibles to my wife here, and she has been reading it pretty eagerly ever since."
"What! this, then, is your wife?" I exclaimed.
"Yes, Marika is my wife, and Ivanka is my daughter," replied Petroff, with a tender glance at the little girl that trotted by his side.
"Perhaps, Marika, your Cornish friend may have taught you to speak English," said I, in my native tongue, turning to the woman.
Marika shook her pretty head, laughed, and blushed. She seemed to understand me, but would not consent to reply in English.
"The colporteur of whom you have spoken," said I, turning to the blacksmith, and again speaking Russian, "did you a great service when he gave your wife the Word of God."
Dobri Petroff assented, but a frown for a minute overspread his face. "Yes," he said, "I admit that, but he also taught me to think, and it might have been better for me—for many of us in this land—if we did not think; if we could eat and sleep and work like the brutes that perish."
I feared that I knew too well what the man referred to, and would gladly have dropped the subject, but could not do so without appearing rude.
"It is always well to think," said I, "when we think rightly, that is, in accordance with the teachings of the Bible, about which we have just been speaking. Marika has read much of it to you, no doubt?"
"She has," said the blacksmith, with a touch of sternness, "and among other things, she has read to me that 'oppression driveth even a wise man mad.' Am I to understand that as merely stating the fact, or justifying the madness?"
Without waiting for a reply to the question, he went on, hurriedly—
"You saw that Turk to-day, who pushed me aside as if I had been a dog? That showed you the spirit of the men in power here, but you little know their practices—"
"Petroff," said I, interrupting, and looking at the man earnestly, "forgive me if I say that we had better not discuss the subject now. I have just arrived in your land, and know little about it yet. When I have seen and heard and thought much, I will be better able to understand you."
Petroff admitted with ready grace that I was right, and thrusting his fingers through the wild clustering curls of his black hair, as if to let the air circle more freely about his head, he turned sharp round, and pointed to a cottage which stood at a short distance from the high-road, at the entrance to the village.
"That is our home, sir; we shall feel happy if you will enter it."
I willingly complied, and turned with them into the by-path that led to it.
The cottage was a mere hut, long and low, one end of which constituted the forge, the other end, divided into three compartments, being the dwelling-house. Here I found the hand of Marika very evident, in the neatness and cleanliness of everything in and around the place. The owners were very poor, but there was sufficient for comfort and health. On a shelf in a corner lay the Bible which the family had received from the colporteur. It was the only book in the house, and evidently a cherished treasure.
In another corner, on a rudely-made but warm couch, lay a treasure of a different stamp—a boy, apparently about two years of age. As I looked at the curly black hair, the well-shaped nose, the firm, rosy lips, and the broad brow, I turned to Petroff with a smile, and said—
"I need not ask if that boy is yours."
The man did not at once reply, but seized the child, which our entrance had awakened, and raised it high above his head.
"Do you hear that, little Dob? The gentleman knows who you are by your mother's eyes."
"Nay," said I, with a laugh, "by its father's nose. But now that you mention the eyes, I do recognise the mother's plainly. How old is he?"
This was the first of a series of questions which opened the hearts of these people to me. On the strength of these jet-black eyes and the well-shaped nose, to say nothing of the colporteur and the Bible, Lancey and I struck up quite an intimate friendship, insomuch that at parting, little Dob gave me a familiar dab on the face, and Ivanka turned up her sweet little mouth to be kissed—quite readily and of her own accord. There is nothing on earth so captivating as a trustful child. My heart was knit to little Ivanka on the spot, and it was plain that little Dob and Lancey were mutually attracted.
I remained at that village several days longer than I had intended, in order to cultivate the acquaintance of the blacksmith's family. During that time I saw a good deal of the other villagers, and found that Petroff was by no means a typical specimen. He was above his compeers in all respects, except in his own opinion; one of Nature's gentlemen, in short, who are to be found, not numerously perhaps, but certainly, in almost every land, with unusual strength of intellect, and breadth of thought, and power of frame, and force of will, and nobility of aspiration. Such men in free countries, become leaders of the good and brave. In despotic lands they become either the deliverers of their country or the pests of society—the terror of rulers, the fomentors of national discord. Doubtless, in many cases, where right principles are brought to bear on them, they learn to submit, and, sometimes, become mitigators of the evils which they cannot cure.
Most of the other inhabitants of this village, some of whom were Mohammedans, and some Christians of the Greek Church, were sufficiently commonplace and uninteresting. Many of them appeared to be simply lazy and inert. Others were kindly enough, but stupid, and some were harsh, coarse, and cruel, very much as we find the peasantry in other parts of the world where they are ill-treated or uncared for.
While staying here I had occasion to go on shore one morning, and witnessed a somewhat remarkable scene in a cafe.
Lancey and I, having made a longer excursion than usual and the day being rather hot, resolved to refresh ourselves in a native coffee-house. On entering we found it already pretty well filled with Bulgarians, of whom a few were Moslems. They were apparently of the poorer class. Most of them sat on low stools, smoking chibouks—long pipes, with clay heads and amber mouth-pieces—and drinking coffee. The Christians were all engrossed, at the moment of our arrival, with a stranger, who from his appearance and the package of books which lay open at his side, I at once judged to be a colporteur. Dobri Petroff, I observed, was near him, and interested so deeply in what was going on, that he did not at first perceive us.
Having selected some New Testaments and Bibles from his pack, the colporteur handed them round for inspection. These, I found, were printed in the modern Bulgarian tongue. The people greatly admired the binding of the volumes, and began to evince considerable interest in what the colporteur said about them. At last he proposed to read, and as no objection was made, he read and commented on several passages. Although a German, he spoke Bulgarian fluently, and ere long had aroused considerable interest, for the people had little or no knowledge of the Bible; the only one to which they had access being that which lay on the pulpit of the Greek Church of the village, and which, being written in the ancient Slavic language, was incomprehensible by them.
The priests in the Greek Church there are generally uneducated men, and their intoned services and "unknown tongue" do not avail much in the way of enlightenment. The schoolmasters, I was told by those who had good opportunity of judging, are much better educated than the priests. I observed that one of these, who had on a former visit been pointed out to me by my friend Dobri, sat not far from the colporteur smoking his chibouk with a grave critical expression of countenance.
At last the colporteur turned to the 115th Psalm, and I now began to perceive that the man had a purpose, and was gradually leading the people on.
It is well known that the Greek Church, although destitute of images in its religious buildings, accords the same reverence, or homage, to pictures which the Romish Church does to the former. At first, as the colporteur read, the people listened with grave attention; but when he came to the verses that describe the idols of the heathen as being made of, "silver and gold, the work of men's hands," with mouths that could not speak, and eyes that could not see, and ears that could not hear, several of the more earnest listeners began to frown, and it was evident that they regarded the language of the colporteur's book as applicable to their sacred pictures, and resented the implied censure. When he came to the eighth verse, and read, "They that make them are like unto them, so is every one that trusteth in them," there were indignant murmurs; for these untutored peasants, whatever their church might teach about such subtleties as worshipping God through pictures, accepted the condemnatory words in simplicity.
"Why are you angry?" asked the colporteur, looking round.
"Because," answered a stern old man who sat, close to me, "your words condemn us as well as the heathen. They make out the pictures of our saints to be idols—images and pictures being one and the same thing."
"But these are not my words," said the colporteur, "they are the words of God."
"If these words are true," returned the old man, with increasing sternness, "then we are all wrong; but these words are not true—they are only the words of your Bible, about which we know nothing."
"My friends," returned the colporteur, holding up the volume from which he had been reading, "this is not only my Bible, it is also yours, the same that is read in your own churches, only rendered into your own modern tongue."
At this point Dobri Petroff, who, I observed, had been listening keenly to what was said, started up with vehemence, and exclaimed—
"If this be true, we can prove it. Our Bible lies in the neighbouring church, and here sits our schoolmaster who reads the ancient Slavic like his mother-tongue. Come, let us clear up the matter at once."
This proposal was heartily agreed to. The Bulgarians in the cafe rose en masse, and, headed by the village schoolmaster, went to the church, where they found the Bible that the priests were in the habit of reading, or rather intoning, and turned up the 115th Psalm. It was found to correspond exactly with that of the colporteur!
The result was at first received in dead silence, and with looks of surprise by the majority. This was followed by murmuring comments and some disputes. It was evident that the seeds of an inquiring spirit had been sown that day, which would bear fruit in the future. The colporteur, wisely forbearing to press his victory at that time, left the truth to simmer. [See note 1.]
I joined him as he went out of the church, and, during a brief conversation, learned from him that an extensive work is being quietly carried on in Turkey, which, although not attracting much attention, is nevertheless surely undermining the huge edifice of Error by means of the lever of Truth.
Among other things, he said that in the year 1876 so many as twenty-eight thousand Bibles, translated into the modern native tongue, had been circulated in the Turkish Empire and in Greece by the British and Foreign Bible Society, while the Americans, who are busily engaged in the blessed work in Armenia, had distributed twenty thousand copies.
Leaving the village of Yenilik and my Bulgarian friends with much regret, I continued the voyage up the Danube, landing here and there for a day or two and revelling in the bright weather, the rich prospects and the peaceful scenes of industry apparent everywhere, as man and beast rejoiced in the opening year.
Time passed rapidly as well as pleasantly. Sometimes I left the yacht in charge of Mr Whitlaw, and in company with my trusty servant travelled about the country, conversing with Turks wherever I met them, thus becoming more and more versed in their language, and doing my best, without much success, to improve Lancey in the same.
Note 1. The facts on which the above is founded were given to the author by the Reverend Doctor Thomson, who has resided in Turkey as the agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society for upwards of thirty years.
THE BLACK CLOUDS GATHER.
While I was enjoying myself thus, among the towns and villages on the banks of the Danube, admiring the scenery, cultivating the acquaintance of the industrious rural population of the great river, and making an occasional trip into the interior, the dogs of war were let loose, and the curtain rose on the darkest tragedy of the nineteenth century.
The comic and the tragic are inextricably mingled in this world. I believe that this is no accident, but, like everything else, a special arrangement. "All fun makes man a fool," but "all sorrow" makes him a desperado. The feeling of anxiety aroused by the war news was, I may say, mitigated by the manner of its announcement.
"Sir," cried Lancey, bursting into the cabin one afternoon while I was preparing for a trip ashore, "the Roossians 'as declared war, an' the whole country is gettin' hup in harms!"
Of course I had been well aware for some time past that there was a prospect, nay, a probability, of war; but I had not allowed myself to believe it, because I have a strong natural tendency to give civilised men credit for more sense than they appear to possess. That Russia would really draw the sword, and sacrifice millions of treasure, and thousands of her best young lives, to accomplish an object that could be more easily and surely attained by diplomacy, with the expenditure of little money and no bloodshed, seemed to me incredible. That the other European nations should allow this state of things to come to pass, seemed so ridiculous that I had all along shut my eyes to facts, and proceeded on my voyage in the confidence of a peaceful solution of the "Eastern question."
"In days of old," I said to my skipper, in our last conversation on this subject, which we were fond of discussing, "the nations were less educated than now, and less imbued perhaps with the principles of the peace-teaching gospel, which many of them profess to believe; but now the Christian world is almost out of its teens; intercommunication of ideas and interests is almost miraculously facile. Thought is well-nigh instantaneously flashed from hemisphere to hemisphere, if not from pole to pole; commerce is so highly cultivated that international exhibitions of the raw material and the fabrics of all nations are the order of the day; while good-will between man and man—to say nothing of woman—is so prevalent, that I really find it hard to believe in the possibility of a great European war."
"Nevertheless," replied Mr Whitlaw, in a tone of cynicism, to which at times he gave pretty free indulgence, "the Crimean war occurred in the nineteenth century, and the American civil war, and the young widows of the Franco-Prussian war are not yet grey-haired, while their children have scarcely reached their teens. Truly, civilisation and the progress of knowledge, which men boast of so much, seem to be of little value."
I pointed out to Mr Whitlaw that he was wrong in supposing that civilisation is of little value. "If you compare the condition of the United States or England," I said, "with that of the Red Indians of your own land, or with the semi-barbarous states of Asia, you must allow that civilisation has done much. It seems to me that the fault of mankind lies in expecting too much of that condition. Civilisation teaches man how to make the world most comfortable to himself and to his fellows; but there is a higher attainment than that, and it is only Christianity which can teach man how to sacrifice himself for others, and, in so doing, to attain the same ends as those arrived at by civilisation, with more important and lasting ends in addition."
"Well, then, on that principle," objected the skipper, "you ought to expect war just now, for there is very little Christianity going that I can see, though plenty of civilisation."
"On these points we differ, Mr Whitlaw," said I, "for there seems to me very little civilisation at present, considering the age of the world; and, on the other hand, there is much genuine Christianity,—more, I believe, than meets the careless or the jaundiced eye. However, now that war has been declared, it becomes necessary that we should get out of the Danube as fast as possible."
Accordingly, the yacht's head was turned eastward, and we descended rapidly with the stream. My intention was good, but the result was disastrous; not an unwonted state of things, the best intentions in human affairs being frequently doomed to miscarry.
I must ask the reader now to turn aside with me from my own personal adventures, to events which had occurred near the banks of the Pruth,— the river that divides Russia from Turkey.
Here, on Tuesday, the 24th of April 1877, a scene of the utmost animation and excitement prevailed. The Emperor of "all the Russias" was about to review his troops previous to the declaration of war on Turkey. Up to that time, of course, war had been expected—as regards the army, eagerly desired; but no declaration had absolutely been made.
Ungheni, where the railway crosses the Pruth, and not far from Kischeneff, the capital of Bessarabia, was fixed on as the spot where the grand review should take place.
Great were the preparations for the reception of his Majesty, for whether "majesty" be right or wrong, majesty must be honoured and cheered. Majesty, male or female, represents power, and power must be treated with respect, nay, ought to be so treated—when it behaves itself!
There is something overwhelmingly grand in multitude. Humanity cannot resist the influence. It is quite clear that the human race were meant to be gregarious. What were the orator without his multitude? I might go further, and ask, What were the multitude without its orator? Flags and banners waved, and ribbons rippled that day in Bessarabia, for the serried legions of Russia marched in almost unending columns towards Ungheni, on the Roumanian frontier, and, after they had passed, the Emperor himself made for the same point with the Grand Duke Nicholas, and the Czarewitch, and General Ignatieff, and the Minister of War, and many other dignitaries of the empire, with a numerous and gorgeous staff.
The day was magnificent. The people who streamed out to see the review were enthusiastic. Perhaps, if they had been Bulgarian peasantry, and had been able to foresee the future, their enthusiasm would not have been so great. Yet I do not say that their enthusiasm was misplaced. They saw a nation's chivalry assembled to fight and die, if need be, in the nation's cause, with its Emperor to patronise, and its nobles to lead the legions on, in all of which there was ground for real enthusiasm.
Among the regiments that marched that day to Ungheni was one to which I would draw special attention. It was not much better, perhaps, than the others, but it was a good typical Russian regiment, and had a commander at its head who looked as if he could do it justice. They marched at a smart pace, four miles an hour, with a long, dogged, steady tramp that was clumsy to look at, but seemed likely to last. Few of the men were tall, but they were burly, square-set fellows, broad of shoulder, deep of chest, and smart of limb. They wore a French-like blue cap, with a red band round it, and a blue tunic, with loose blue trousers stuffed into boots that reached the knee. Their knapsacks were hairy, and their belts black, the latter suggesting deliverance from that absurdity of old, pipeclay. Their great-coats, heavy and brown, were worn in a roll over the left shoulder, and each man carried his own kettle, the latter being suggestive of tea and tuck-in, followed by tobacco and turn-in.
Among these warriors, in his proper position, marched a noteworthy young lieutenant. He was my old college chum and brother-in-law to be, Nicholas Naranovitsch, head and shoulders over his fellows, straight as a poplar, proud as a peacock, and modest as an untried man ought to be.
The spot for the review was well chosen, on a gentle undulating hillside, which enabled the spectators to see the whole army at once. The weather was bright and sunny, as I have said, and the glitter of uniforms and thousands of bayonets with the broad blaze reflected from a long line of polished field-pieces, sent a thrill through many a heart, suggesting "glory." There were a few hearts also, no doubt, to whom they suggested the natural end for which these glorious things were called together—blood and murder, national ruination, broken constitutions, desolated homes, and sudden death.
Holiday reviews are common enough all over the world, but this was no holiday review. Every one knew that it was the prelude to war, and there was an appropriate gravity and silence in the conduct of spectators. It was deeply impressive, too, to watch the long lines and masses of troops,—each unit full of youth, strength, energy, enthusiasm, hope,—standing perfectly silent, absolutely motionless, like statues, for full an hour and a half. Their deep silence and immobility seemed to produce a sympathetic condition in the spectators. There was no laughing, jesting, or "chaff" among them.
Even when the Emperor arrived there was no cheering. A greater than the Emperor had overawed them. They merely swayed open and took off hats deferentially as he passed. It was not till he began to ride round the lines with his brilliant staff that the silence was broken by music and cheers.
Of the review itself I will not speak. That, and the three-quarters of an hour mass which followed, being over, a murmur of expectation ran through the crowd and along the ranks like a solemn growl. Then there was a deep, intense silence, which was faintly broken by the Bishop of Kischeneff reading the manifesto. He had not read far, when sobs were heard. It was the voice of the Emperor Alexander, who prided himself on the fact that the glory of his reign had hitherto been its peaceful character. They say that it had been his boast and hope that he should finish it without a war. Previously he had said to the troops: "I have done everything in my power to avoid war and bloodshed. Nobody can say we have not been patient, or that the war has been of our seeking. We have practised patience to the last degree, but there comes a time when even patience must end. When that time comes, I know that the young Russian army of to-day will not show itself unworthy of the fame which the old army won in days gone by."
What the "young army" thought of the fame of its elder brother, as well as of the sobs of its present Emperor, may be gathered from the fact that it went all but mad with enthusiasm! When the Bishop finished reading, there went up a wild and universal shout of joy of exultation, of triumph, of relief, as though a great weight of suspense had been lifted from the hearts of the multitude. It spread through the army like light, and was raised again and again, until the very vault of heaven seemed to thunder, while the soldiers tossed their caps in the air, or twirled them on their bayonets for several minutes.
Then the ordre du jour of the Grand Duke Nicholas, commander-in-chief of the army, was read to every battalion, squadron, and battery, and the day's work was done. The right was legally and constitutionally granted to some hundreds of thousands of young men to go forth and slaughter, burn, and destroy, to their hearts' content—in other words, to "gather laurels."
It was a sad day's work—sad for Turkey, sad for Russia, sad for Europe, and especially sad for the women, children, and old people of the theatre of the future war. It was a good day's work for nobody and for nothing; but it was the legitimate outcome of work that had been going on for years before.
In pondering over the matter since, I have often been led to ask myself with considerable surprise, Why did this war occur—who wanted it? It is quite plain that Europe did not, equally plain that Turkey did not, still more plain that the Emperor Alexander did not, for he wept at the prospect of it "like a child." Who, then, did desire and cause it? There are some things in this remarkable world that no man can understand. At all events I cannot. When I put the same question, long afterwards, to my dear and ever-sagacious mother, she replied, "Do you not think, Jeff; that perhaps the men in power, somewhere, wanted it and caused it? There are some countries, you know, where the people are mere chessmen, who have nothing whatever to do or say in the management of their own affairs, and are knocked about, wisely or foolishly as the case may be, by the men in power. England herself was in that sad case once, if we are to believe our school histories, and some of the European nations seem to be only now struggling slowly out of that condition, while others are still in bondage."
I think my mother was right. After much consideration, I have come to the conclusion that war is usually, though not always, caused by a few ambitious men in power at the head of enslaved or semi-enslaved nations. Not always, I repeat, because free nations, being surrounded by savage, barbarous, and semi-free, are sometimes wheedled, dragged, or forced into war in spite of themselves.
After the review some of the regiments started directly for the frontier.
Nicholas Naranovitsch was summoned to the presence of his colonel. Nicholas was very young and inexperienced; nevertheless, during the brief period in which he had served, he had shown himself possessed of so much ability and wisdom that he was already selected to go on a secret mission. What that mission was he never told me. One result of it, however, was, that he and I had a most unexpected meeting on the Danube in very peculiar circumstances.
TREATS OF TORPEDOES, TERRIBLE CATASTROPHE, UNEXPECTED MEETINGS, AND SUCH LIKE.
To return to my personal experiences. It now became a matter of the deepest importance that we should get out of the river before the Russian army reached its banks and stopped the navigation. The weather, however, was against us. It rained a great deal, and the nights were very dark. The swollen current, it is true, was in our favour; nevertheless, as we had already spent several weeks in ascending the river, it was clear that we should have to race against time in retracing our course.
One dark night about the end of May, as we were approaching the Lower Danube, and speculating on the probability of our getting out in time, I gave orders to run into a creek and cast anchor, intending to land and procure a supply of fresh meat, of which we had run short.
"Better wait for daylight, sir," suggested my skipper. "It's not unlikely, in these days of torpedoes, that the entrance to places may be guarded by them."
The skipper was so far right. The entrance to unimportant creeks, indeed, had not been guarded, but the Russians had already laid down many torpedoes in the river to protect them from Turkish ironclads while engaged in constructing their pontoon bridges. He had scarcely made the remark, when I was half stunned by a shock under my feet, which seemed to rend the yacht asunder. There followed a terrific report, and the deck was instantly deluged with water. There could be no doubt what had occurred. We had touched a torpedo, and the yacht was already sinking. We rushed to our little boat in consternation, but before we could lower it, our trim little vessel went down, stern foremost.
For a few moments there was a horrible rushing sound in my ears, and I felt that I could hold my breath no longer when my head rose above the surface. I struck out with a gasp of relief, which was, as it were, echoed close to me. I looked round, as well as darkness and water would allow, and observed an object floating near me. I pushed towards it, and just as I caught hold, I heard a panting voice exclaim—
"'Eaven be praised!"
"Amen," said I; "is that you, Lancey?"
"It is, sir, an' I'm right glad to 'ear your voice. Cetch a tight 'old, sir; it's big enough for two."
"What is it?" I asked.
"One of the 'en-coops," said Lancey.
"It's too small for two, I fear," said I, seizing hold of it.
"Hall right, sir; it'll 'old us both. I can swim."
Clinging to our frail support we were hurried by the rapid current we knew not whither, for, although the moon was in the sky, it was so covered with black clouds that we could not see whether we were being swept towards the shore or into the middle of the stream. Besides this, the wind was driving the rain and dashing the water into our eyes continuously.
"Lancey," I gasped, "it is u-useless to let ourselves be—swe—swept about at the will of chance currents. The river is very wi-wide. Let us place ourselves side by side—and—strike—out—in—the—same— d'rection. Uniformity of action—necessary—in desp'r't situations!"
Lancey at once acted on my suggestion, gasping that, "Haction of—of— hany kind would tend to—to—k-p limbs warm."
We proceeded in silence for some minutes, when I observed the masts and rigging of several vessels drawn faintly against the dark sky. They were considerably to our right, and the current was evidently bearing us away from them.
"A strong effort now, Lancey," said I, "and we may reach them."
I could feel, as well as see, that my faithful servant exerted himself to the utmost.
As we approached the vessels, their huge black hulls loomed up out of the dark surroundings, and were pictured against the sky, which, dark though it was, had not the intense blackness of the vessels themselves.
We passed the nearest one within twenty yards.
"Let go, sir, and swim for it," cried Lancey.
"No, no!" I cried earnestly, "never let go your—"
I stopped, for Lancey had already let go, and made a dash for the nearest ship. I heard him hail, and saw the flashing of lights for a moment, then all was dark again and silent, as I was hurried onward. The feeling of certainty that he could not have been saved with so rapid a current sweeping him past, filled my mind with intense anxiety. Just then I felt a shock. The hen-coop had been driven against another vessel, which I had not observed.
I tried to grasp her, but failed. I uttered a loud cry, not with the expectation that the crew of the vessel could save me,—that I knew to be impossible,—but in the hope that they might be ready for Lancey should he be carried close to them.
Then I was dragged onward by the powerful current, and tossed like a cork on the river. I had observed in passing that the vessel was a Turkish ironclad, and came to the conclusion that I had passed the Turkish flotilla, which I knew was at that time lying near the fortress of Matchin.
At the very time that I was being thus driven about by the wild waters, and praying to God for the deliverance of my comrades and myself— sometimes audibly, more frequently in spirit—another and a very different scene was taking place, not far off, on the Roumanian shore.
The wind had fallen; the clouds that covered the moon had just thinned enough to render darkness visible, and nothing was to be heard save the continual croaking of the frogs, which are very large and numerous in the marshes of the Danube, when four boats pushed off and proceeded quickly, yet quietly, up the river.
No men were visible in these boats, no sails, no oars. They were "steam launches," and were destined for a night attack on the flotilla which I had just passed. Their crews were covered nearly from stem to stern by iron bullet-proof awnings, which, as well as the boats, were painted black. The engines were so constructed as to make the least possible amount of noise, and when speed was reduced no sound was heard save a dull throbbing that was almost drowned by the croaking frogs.
It was a little after midnight when these boats set out—two being meant to attack, and two to remain in support. They had seven miles of river to traverse before reaching the enemy, and it was while they were in the midst of their voyage that I chanced to meet them, clinging to my hen-coop. They came so straight at me that I was on the point of being run down by the leading boat, when I gave a sharp "halloo!"
It was replied to by one that indicated surprise, and was decidedly English in tone. Next moment the launch scraped violently against my raft, and I saw a hand extended. Grasping it, I was drawn quickly into the boat. Another hand instantly covered my mouth, and I was thrust down into the bottom of the boat with considerable violence. Being allowed to raise myself a little, the chink of a dark lantern was opened, and the light streamed full upon me. It at the same time lighted up several faces, the inquiring eyes of which gazed at me intently. A stern voice demanded who I was.
Just then a gleam of light fell on a countenance which gazed at me with open-mouthed and open-eyed amazement. It was that of Nicholas Naranovitsch! I was just going to answer, when the sight of him struck me dumb.
Nicholas touched the officer who had questioned me on the shoulder, and whispered in his ear. He at once closed the lantern, leaving us all in total darkness, while Nicholas caught me by the arm, and, making me sit down on a box of some kind beside him, gave vent to his surprise in hurried, broken whispers.
A short time sufficed to explain how it was that I came to be there. Then he began to tell me about his being sent on a secret expedition, and his having obtained leave to join in this midnight attack by torpedo-boats, when a low stern order to be silent compelled him to stop.
From that moment he and I remained perfectly quiet and observant.
After an hour's steaming the Russian launches came to the immediate neighbourhood of the enemy's flotilla, and the engines were slowed.
Each boat was armed with two torpedoes attached to the end of two long spars, which moved on pivots, and could also be dipped so that the torpedoes should be sunk ten feet under water at any moment. These torpedoes—each being about twenty inches long, by about fifteen in diameter—had a double action. They could be fired by "contact," or, in the event of that failing, by electricity. The latter mode could be accomplished by an electric battery in a little box in the stern of each boat, with which a long cable, a quarter of an inch thick, of fine wires twisted together, connected each torpedo.
All this, of course, I learned afterwards. At the time, sitting in almost total darkness, I knew nothing more than that we were bound on a torpedo expedition. I could scarcely persuade myself that it was not a dream, but my numbed frame and drenched garments were too real to be doubted, and then I fancied it must be a special judgment to punish me for the part I had taken in the improvement of these terrible implements of war.
Despite the slowing of the engines, and the dead silence that prevailed, the boats were observed by the Turkish sentinels as we approached.
"Who goes there?" was demanded in the Turkish language.
The launch in which I sat was the first to approach, but the officer in command took no notice and made no reply.
Again the sentinel challenged—perhaps doubting whether in the darkness his eyes had not deceived him as well as his ears. Still no answer was given.
The darkness was not now quite so intense, and it was evident that longer concealment was impossible; when, therefore, the challenge was given a third time, our Russian commander replied, and I thought I observed a grim smile on his countenance as he said in Turkish, "Friends!"
The sentinel, however, seeing that we continued to advance, expressed his disbelief in our friendship by firing at us.
Then there began an uproar the like of which I had never before conceived. Being very near the Turkish monitor at the time, we distinctly heard the clattering of feet, the shout and rush of sailors, and the hurried commands to prepare for action. There was no lack of promptitude or energy on board the vessel. There was some lack of care or discipline, however, for I heard the order for the bow gun to be fired given three times, and heard the click of the answering hammer three times in little more than as many seconds, betokening a determined miss-fire. But if the bow gun had gone off, and sent one of us to the bottom, there would still have been three boats left to seal the vessel's fate.
At the fourth order a globe of flame leaped from the iron side of the monitor and a heavy shot went harmlessly over our heads. Shouts and lights in the other vessels showed that the entire flotilla was aroused.
I observed that the launch next to ours drew off and we advanced alone, while the other two remained well behind, ready to support. A sharp fusillade had now been opened on us, and we heard the bullets pattering on our iron screen like unearthly hail, but in spite of this the launch darted like a wasp under the monitor's bow. The torpedoes were arranged so as to be detached from their spars at any moment and affixed by long light chains to any part of an attacked ship. Round a rope hanging from the bow of the vessel one of these chains was flung, and the torpedo was dropped from the end of the spar, while the launch shot away, paying out the electric cable as she went. But this latter was not required. The torpedo swung round by the current and hit the ship with sufficient violence. It exploded, and the column of water that instantly burst from under the monitor half filled and nearly swamped us as we sped away. The noise was so great that it nearly drowned for an instant the shouts, cries, and firing of the Turks. The whole flotilla now began in alarm to fire at random on their unseen foes, and sometimes into each other.
Meanwhile the launches, like vicious mosquitoes, kept dodging about, struck often, though harmlessly, by small shot, but missed by the large guns.
Our commander now perceived that the monitor he had hit was sinking, though slowly, at the bows. He shouted, therefore, to the second launch to go at her. She did so at once; slipped in, under the fire and smoke that belched from her side, and fixed another torpedo to her stern in the same manner as the former. The officer in charge perceived, however, that the current would not drive it against the ship. He therefore shot away for a hundred yards,—the extent of his electric cable,—and then fired the charge. A terrible explosion took place. Parts of the ship were blown into the air, and a huge plank came down on the Russian launch, like an avenging thunderbolt, pierced the iron screen, which had so effectually resisted the bullets, and passed between two sailors without injuring either. It did no further damage, however, and when the crew turned to look at their enemy, they saw the great ironclad in the act of sinking. In a few minutes nothing of her was left above water except her masts. The crew were drowned, with the exception of a few who escaped by swimming.
By this time it was daybreak, and our danger, within near range of the other monitors, of course became very great. Just then an incident occurred which might have proved fatal to us. Our screw fouled, and the boat became unmanageable. Observing this, a Turkish launch from one of the monitors bore down upon us. One of our sailors, who chanced to be a good diver, jumped over the side and cleared the screw. Meanwhile the men opened so heavy fire on the enemy's launch that she veered off, and a few minutes later we were steaming down the Danube towards the place from which the boats had set forth on their deadly mission.
"That was gloriously done, wasn't it?" said Nicholas to me with enthusiasm, after the first blaze of excitement began to abate;—"one of the enemy's biggest ironclads sent to the bottom, with all her crew, at the trifling expense of two or three hundred pounds' weight of powder, and not a man injured on our side!"
I looked earnestly in my friend's handsome face for a few seconds.
"Yes," said I, slowly; "many thousands of pounds' worth of human property destroyed, months of human labour and ingenuity wasted, and hundreds of young lives sacrificed, to say nothing of relatives bereaved and souls sent into eternity before their time—truly, if that is glory, it has been gloriously done!"
"Bah! Jeff," returned Nicholas, with a smile; "you're not fit to live in this world, you should have had a special one created for yourself. But come, let me hear how you came to be voyaging a la Boyton on the Danube."
We at once began a rapid fire of question and reply. Among other things, Nicholas informed me that the two boats which had accomplished this daring feat were commanded by Lieutenants Dubasoff and Thestakoff, one with a crew of fourteen, the other of nine, men.
"The world is changing, Nicholas," said I, as we landed. "That the wooden walls of Old England have passed away has long been acknowledged by every one, but it seems to me now that her iron walls are doomed to extinction, and that ere long the world's war-navies will consist of nothing but torpedo-boats, and her wars will become simply tournaments therewith."
"It may be so," said Nicholas gaily, as he led the way to his quarters. "It may be that extremes shall meet at last, and we shall be reduced by sheer necessity to universal peace."
"That would be glorious indeed," said I, "though it would have the uncomfortable effect of leaving you without employment."
"Well, in the meantime," he rejoined, "as you are without employment just now, you must consider yourself my prisoner, for of course you cannot remain among us without passport, profession, purpose, or business of any kind. To be shot for a spy is your legitimate due just now. But we shall want surgeons soon, and newspaper correspondence is not a bad business in these times; come, I'll see what can be done for you."
IN WHICH LANCEY IS TRIED, SUSPECTED, BLOWN UP, CAPTURED, HALF-HANGED, DELIVERED, AND ASTONISHED.
We must turn now to poor Lancey, from whom I parted in the waters of the Danube, but with whose fate and doings I did not become acquainted until long afterwards.
As I had anticipated, he missed the vessel of the Turkish flotilla towards which he had struck out, but fortunately succeeded in grappling the chain cable of that which lay next to it, and the crew of which, as the reader will recollect, I had roused by a shout in passing.
Lancey soon let the Turks know where he was. A boat being lowered, he was taken on board, but it was clear to him that he was regarded with much suspicion. They hurried him before the officer in charge of the deck, who questioned him closely. The poor fellow now found that his knowledge of the Turkish language was much slighter than, in the pride of his heart, while studying with me, he had imagined. Not only did he fail to understand what was said to him, but the dropping of h's and the introduction of r's in wrong places rendered his own efforts at reply abortive. In these circumstances one of the sailors who professed to talk English was sent for.
This man, a fine stalwart Turk, with a bushy black beard, began his duties as interpreter with the question—
"Eh? say that again," said Lancey, with a perplexed look.
"Hoosyoo?" repeated the Moslem, with emphasis.
"Hoosyoo," repeated Lancey slowly. "Oh, I see," (with a smile of sudden intelligence,) "who's you? Just so. I'm Jacob Lancey, groom in the family of Mrs Jeff Childers, of Fagend, in the county of Devonshire, England."
This having been outrageously misunderstood by the Turk, and misinterpreted to the officer, the next question was—
Again Lancey repeated the word, and once more, with a smile of sudden intelligence, exclaimed, "Ah, I see: w'ere's you come from? Well, I last come from the water, 'avin' previously got into it through the hupsettin' of our boat."
Lancey hereupon detailed the incident which had left him and me struggling in the water, but the little that was understood by the Turks was evidently not believed; and no wonder, for by that time the Russians had been laying down torpedoes in all directions about the Danube, to prevent the enemy from interfering with their labours at the pontoon bridges. The Turkish sailors were thus rendered suspicious of every unusual circumstance that came under their notice. When, therefore, a big, powerful, and rather odd-looking man was found clinging to one of their cables, they at once set him down as an unsuccessful torpedoist, and a careful search was instantly made round the vessel as a precaution.
Meanwhile Lancey was led rather roughly down to the cabin to be questioned by the captain.
The cabin, although very luxurious in its fittings, was not so richly ornate as had been anticipated by the English groom, whose conceptions of everything had been derived from the Arabian Nights' Entertainments, or rather from a fanciful imagination fed by that romantic work. The appearance of the Turkish captain, however, and the brightly-coloured costume of an officer who sat by his side, were sufficiently striking and Oriental.
On Lancey being placed before him, the captain turned and said a few words to the officer at his side, who was a splendid fellow, in the prime of life, with a square bony frame and red beard, which harmonised, if it did not contrast, with his scarlet fez and blue tassel. A rich Eastern shawl encircled his waist, from the folds of which peeped the handles of a brace of pistols.
He looked at the dripping Englishman earnestly and sternly for a few moments, and the slightest tinge of a smile lighted his grave countenance as he said in broken, but sufficiently fluent English—
"The captin do want you to repeat vat you have say on deck."
Lancey repeated it, with a considerable number of additions, but no variations.
After translating it all, and listening to something in reply, the officer turned again to Lancey.
"The captin," he said, with quiet gravity, "bids me tell to you that you is a liar."
Lancey flushed deeply. "I would tell you," he said, with a frown, "to tell the captain that 'e's another, on'y that would show I was as bad-mannered as 'imself."
"If I do tells him zat," returned the officer, "you should have your head cutted off immediately."
Lancey's indignation having already half-cooled, and his memory being refreshed just then with some vivid remembrances of the Eastern mode of summoning black slaves by the clapping of hands, followed by the flying off of heads or the prompt application of bowstrings to necks, he said, still however with an offended air—
"Well then, tell 'im what you like, hall I've got to say is that I've told the plain truth, an' 'e's welcome to believe it or not as 'e likes."
Without the slightest change in his grave countenance, or his appearing in the least degree offended by Lancey's free-and-easy manner, the red-bearded officer again turned to address the captain. Lancey now observed that the latter replied with a degree of deferential respect which seemed unnatural in mere brother officers.
"You is regarded as a spy," said the red-beard, turning once more to Lancey, and fixing his cold grey eye intently on him, as if to read his thoughts.
"No, I ain't a spy," returned the unfortunate man, somewhat bitterly, "nor never mean to be. 'Ang me if you like. I've nothink more to say."
Neither the captain nor the red-bearded officer replied, but the former waved his hand, and the two sailors who had led Lancey to the cabin again seized him and led him away, more roughly than before. The free spirit of my poor servant resented this unnecessary rudeness, and he felt a strong inclination to fight, but discretion, or some faint remembrance of scimitars and bowstrings, induced him to submit.
Full well did he know what was the fatal doom of a spy, and a sinking of the heart came over him as he thought of immediate execution. At the very least, he counted on being heavily ironed and thrust into the darkest recesses of the hold. Great, then, was his surprise when the man who had at first acted as interpreter took him below and supplied him with a dry shirt and a pair of trousers.
Thankfully accepting these, and standing between two guns, he put them on.
"Who is the hofficer with the red beard?" he asked, while thus engaged.
The interpreter seemed unwilling to answer at first, but, on a repetition of the question replied—
"Pasha, eh? Ah, that accounts for the respect of the cap'n—rather shorter in the legs these 'ere than I could 'ave wished; 'owever, beggars, they say, mustn't be—well, they're wide enough anyhow.—A Pasha, is 'e? Don't look like a sailor, though. Is 'e a sailor?"
"No," replied the interpreter sharply.
"Well, well, no offence meant," said Lancey, buttoning his shirt. "If you don't feel commoonicative I won't trouble you, no more than to thank 'ee for the shirt an' trousers, which the latter bein' dry is a blessin', though they air a trifle short in the legs an' wide in the 'ips."
After this Lancey was supplied with food.
While he was eating it he was startled by sudden rushing and shouting, which was immediately followed by the discharge of musketry on deck. He sprang up, and seeing that the Turkish sailors were grasping their arms and swarming up the hatchways, he mingled with one of the streams. No one paid any attention to him. At that moment he felt a shock which he afterwards described as resembling an earthquake or the blowing up of a powder-magazine. Part of the planking near to where he stood was shattered. Some of the guns appeared almost to leap for an instant a few inches into the air. Gaining the deck he ascertained that an attack of Russian torpedo-boats was going on. It was, in fact, the attack which I have already described, the monitor by which Lancey was rescued being that which had been selected by the Russian commander as his victim.
When the second torpedo exploded, as already described, Lancey was standing near the gangway, and saw that the men were lowering the boats in urgent haste, for the vessel was evidently sinking.
"Yoos know 'bout dat," said a stern voice near him. At the same moment he was seized by the interpreter and another man, who made an effort to hurl him into the sea. But Lancey was strong, and tenacious of life. Before a third sailor, who was about to aid his comrades, could act, the red bearded officer appeared with the captain and was about to descend into the boat when he observed Lancey struggling in the grasp of the sailors.
"Spy!" he exclaimed in the Turkish tongue, "you must not escape. Get into the boat."
The sailors fell back. Lancey, not sure whether to regard this as temporary deliverance or his death-warrant, hesitated, but at a sign from the Pasha he was collared by five or six men and hurled into the bottom of the boat, where he lay, half-stunned, while they rowed towards the shore. Before reaching it, however, he was still doomed to rough handling, for one of the shots from the large guns, which were fired almost at random from the flotilla, accidentally struck the boat and sent it to the bottom.
Lancey was a good swimmer. The cold water restored him to full vigour, and he struck out boldly for the shore. He soon left the boat's crew behind, with the exception of one man who kept close to his side all the way. As they neared the shore, however, this man suddenly cried out like one who is drowning. A second time he cried, and the gurgling of his voice told its own tale. The stout Englishman could not bear to leave a human being to perish, whether friend or foe. He swam towards the drowning man and supported him till their feet touched bottom.
Then, perceiving that he was able to stagger along unassisted, Lancey pushed hurriedly from his side in the hope of escaping from any of the crew who might reach land, for they were evidently the reverse of friendly.
He landed among a mass of bulrushes. Staggering through them, and nearly sinking at every step, he gradually gained firmer footing.
"Ah, Jacob," he muttered to himself, pausing for a few minutes' rest, "little did you think you'd git into such an 'orrible mess as this w'en you left 'ome. Sarves you right for quittin' your native land."
With this comforting reflection he pushed on again, and soon found himself on a road which led towards a town, or village, whose lights were distinctly visible.
What should he do? The village was on the Bulgarian side, and the natives, if not enemies, would of course become so on learning from any of the saved men of the monitor who he was. To swim across the Danube he felt was, after his recent exertions, impossible. To remain where he was would be to court death among the frogs.
Lancey was a prompt man. Right or wrong, his conclusions were soon come to and acted on. He decided to go straight to the village and throw himself on the hospitality of the people. In half an hour he found himself once more a prisoner! Worse than that; the interpreter, who was among the men saved from the wreck, chanced to discover him and denounced him as a spy. The mood in which the Turks then were was not favourable to him. He was promptly locked up, and about daybreak next morning was led out to execution.
Poor Lancey could scarcely credit his senses. He had often read of such things, but had never fully realised that they were true. That he, an innocent man, should be hung off-hand, without trial by jury or otherwise, in the middle of the nineteenth century, was incredible! There was something terribly real, however, in the galling tightness of the rope that confined his arms, in the troop of stern horsemen that rode on each side of him, and in the cart with ropes, and the material for a scaffold, which was driven in front towards the square of the town. There was no sign of pity in the people or of mercy in the guards.
The contrivance for effecting the deadly operation was simple in the extreme,—two large triangles with a pole resting on them, and a strong rope attached thereto. There was no "drop." An empty box sufficed, and this was to be kicked away when the rope was round his neck.
Even up to the point of putting the rope on, Lancey would not believe.
Reader, have you ever been led out to be hanged? If not, be thankful! The conditions of mind consequent on that state of things is appalling. It is also various.
Men take it differently, according to their particular natures; and as the nature of man is remarkably complex, so the variation in his feeling is exceedingly diverse.
There are some who, in such circumstances, give way to abject terror. Others, whose nervous system is not so finely strung and whose sense of justice is strong, are filled with a rush of indignation, and meet their fate with savage ferocity, or with dogged and apparent indifference. Some, rising above sublunary matters, shut their eyes to all around and fix their thoughts on that world with which they may be said to be more immediately connected, namely, the next.
Lancey went through several of these phases. When the truth first really came home to him he quailed like an arrant coward. Then a sense of violated justice supervened. If at that moment Samson's powers had been his, he would have snapped the ropes that bound him like packthread, and would have cut the throat of every man around him. When he was placed upon the substitute for a "block," and felt by a motion of his elbows his utter powerlessness, the dogged and indifferent state came on, but it did not last. It could not. His Christian training was adverse to it.
"Come," he mentally exclaimed, "it is God's will. Quit you like a man, Jacob—and die!"
There is no doubt that in this frame the brave fellow would have passed away if he had not been roused by the loud clattering of horses' feet as a cavalcade of glittering Turkish officers dashed through the square. In front of these he observed the red-bearded officer who had acted as interpreter in the cabin of the Turkish monitor.
There came a sudden gush of hope! Lancey knew not his name, but in a voice of thunder he shouted—
"'Elp! 'elp! 'allo! Pasha! Redbeard!—"
The executioner hastened his work, and stopped the outcry by tightening the rope.
But "Redbeard" had heard the cry. He galloped towards the place of execution, recognised the supposed spy, and ordered him to be released, at the same time himself cutting the rope with a sweep of his sword.
The choking sensation which Lancey had begun to feel was instantly relieved. The rope was removed from his neck, and he was gently led from the spot by a soldier of the Pasha's escort, while the Pasha himself galloped coolly away with his staff.
If Lancey was surprised at the sudden and unexpected nature of his deliverance, he was still more astonished at the treatment which he thereafter experienced from the Turks. He was taken to one of the best hotels in the town, shown into a handsome suite of apartments, and otherwise treated with marked respect, while the best of viands and the choicest of wines were placed before him.
This made him very uncomfortable. He felt sure that some mistake had occurred, and would willingly have retired, if possible, to the hotel kitchen or pantry; but the waiter, to whom he modestly suggested something of the sort, did not understand a word of English and could make nothing of Lancey's Turkish. He merely shook his head and smiled respectfully, or volunteered some other article of food. The worthy groom therefore made up his mind to hold his tongue and enjoy himself as long as it lasted.
"When I wakes up out o' this remarkable and not unpleasant dream," he muttered, between the whiffs of his cigarette, one evening after dinner, "I'll write it out fair, an' 'ave it putt in the Daily Noos or the Times."
But the dream lasted so long that Lancey began at last to fear he should never awake from it. For a week he remained at that hotel, faring sumptuously, and quite unrestrained as to his movements, though he could not fail to observe that he was closely watched and followed wherever he went.
"Is it a Plenipotentiary or a furrin' Prime Minister they take me for?" he muttered to himself over a mild cigar of the finest quality, "or mayhap they think I'm a Prince in disguise! But then a man in disguise ain't known, and therefore can't be follered, or, if he was, what would be the use of his disguise? No, I can't make it out, no'ow."
Still less, by any effort of his fancy or otherwise, could he make out why, after a week's residence at the village in question, he was ordered to prepare for a journey.
This order, like all others, was conveyed to him by signs. Some parts of his treatment had been managed otherwise. When, for instance, on the night of his deliverance, it had been thought desirable that his garments should be better and more numerous, his attendants or keepers had removed his old wardrobe and left in its place another, which, although it comprehended trousers, savoured more of the East than the West. Lancey submitted to this, as to everything else, like a true philosopher. Generally, however, the wishes of those around him were conveyed by means of signs.
On the morning of his departure, a small valise, stuffed with the few articles of comfort which he required, and a change of apparel, was placed at his bed-side. The hotel attendant, who had apparently undertaken the management of him, packed this up in the morning, having somewhat pointedly placed within it his robe de nuit. Thereafter the man bowed, smiled gravely, pointed to the door, beckoned him to follow, and left the room.
By that time Lancey had, as it were, given himself up. He acted with the unquestioning obedience of a child or a lunatic. Following his guide, he found a native cart outside with his valise in it. Beside the cart stood a good horse, saddled and bridled in the Turkish fashion. His hotel-attendant pointed to the horse and motioned to him to mount.
Then it burst upon Lancey that he was about to quit the spot, perhaps for ever, and, being a grateful fellow, he could not bear to part without making some acknowledgment.
"My dear Turk, or whatever you are," he exclaimed, turning to his attendant, "I'm sorry to say good-bye, an' I'm still more sorry to say that I've nothin' to give you. A ten-pun-note, if I 'ad it, would be but a small testimony of my feelin's, but I do assure you I 'av'n't got a rap."
In corroboration of this he slapped his empty pockets and shook his head. Then, breaking into a benignant smile, he shook hands with the waiter warmly, turned in silence, mounted his horse and rode off after the native cart, which had already started.
"You don't know where we're goin' to, I s'pose?" said Lancey to the driver of the cart.
The man stared, but made no reply.
"Ah, I thought not!" said Lancey; then he tried him in Turkish, but a shake of the head intimated the man's stupidity, or his interrogator's incapacity.
Journeying in silence over a flat marshy country, they arrived about mid-day at a small village, before the principal inn of which stood a number of richly-caparisoned chargers. Here Lancey found that he was expected to lunch and join the party, though in what capacity he failed to discover. The grave uncommunicative nature of the Turks had perplexed and disappointed him so often that he had at last resigned himself to his fate, and given up asking questions, all the more readily, perhaps, that his fate at the time chanced to be a pleasant one.
When the party had lunched, and were preparing to take the road, it became obvious that he was not regarded as a great man travelling incognito, for no one took notice of him save a Turk who looked more like a servant than an aristocrat. This man merely touched him on the shoulder and pointed to his horse with an air that savoured more of command than courtesy.
Lancey took the hint and mounted. He also kept modestly in rear. When the cavalcade was ready a distinguished-looking officer issued from the inn, mounted his charger, and at once rode away, followed by the others. He was evidently a man of rank.
For several days they journeyed, and during this period Lancey made several attempts at conversation with the only man who appeared to be aware of his existence—who, indeed, was evidently his guardian. But, like the rest, this man was taciturn, and all the information that could be drawn out of him was that they were going to Constantinople.
I hasten over the rest of the journey. On reaching the sea, they went on board a small steamer which appeared to have been awaiting them. In course of time they came in sight of the domes and minarets of Stamboul, the great city of the Sultans, the very heart of Europe's apple of discord.
It was evening, and the lights of the city were everywhere glittering like long lines of quivering gold down into the waters of the Bosporus. Here the party with which Lancey had travelled left him, without even saying good-bye,—all except his guardian, who, on landing, made signs that he was to follow, or, rather, to walk beside him. Reduced by this time to a thoroughly obedient slave, and satisfied that no mischief was likely to be intended by men who had treated him so well, Lancey walked through the crowded streets and bazaars of Constantinople as one in a dream, much more than half-convinced that he had got somehow into an "Arabian Night," the "entertainments" of which seemed much more real than those by which his imagination had been charmed in days of old.
Coming into a part of the city that appeared to be suburban, his keeper stopped before a building that seemed a cross between a barrack and a bird-cage. It was almost surrounded by a wall so high that it hid the building from view, except directly in front. There it could be seen, with its small hermetically-closed windows, each covered with a wooden trellis. It bore the aspect of a somewhat forbidding prison.
"Konak—palace," said the keeper, breaking silence for the first time.
"A konak; a palace! eh?" repeated Lancey, in surprise; "more like a jail, I should say. 'Owever, customs differ. Oos palace may it be, now?"
"Pasha; Sanda Pasha," replied the man, touching a spring or bell in the wall; "you goes in."
As he spoke, a small door was opened by an armed black slave, to whom he whispered a few words, and then, stepping back, motioned to his companion to enter.
"Arter you, sir," said Lancey, with a polite bow.
But as the man continued gravely to point, and the black slave to hold the door open, he forbore to press the matter, and stepped in. The gate was shut with a bang, followed by a click of bolts. He found, on looking round, that the keeper had been shut out, and he was alone with the armed negro.
"You're in for it now, Jacob my boy," muttered Lancey to himself, as he measured the negro with a sharp glance, and slowly turned up the wristband of his shirt with a view to prompt action. But the sable porter, far from meditating an assault, smiled graciously as he led the way to the principal door of the palace, or, as the poor fellow felt sure it must be, the prison.
INVOLVES LANCEY IN GREAT PERPLEXITIES, WHICH CULMINATE IN A VAST SURPRISE.
No sooner did the dark and unpretending door of Sanda Pasha's konak or palace open than Lancey's eyes were dazzled by the blaze of light and splendour within, and when he had entered, accustomed though he was to "good society" in England, he was struck dumb with astonishment. Perhaps the powerful contrast between the outside and the interior of this Eastern abode had something to do with the influence on his mind.
Unbridled luxury met his eyes in whatever direction he turned. There was a double staircase of marble; a court paved with mosaic-work of brilliant little stones; splendid rooms, the walls of which were covered with velvet paper of rich pattern and colour. Gilding glittered everywhere—on cornices, furniture, and ceilings, from which the eyes turned with double zest to the soft light of marble sculpture judiciously disposed on staircase and in chambers. There were soft sofas that appeared to embrace you as you sank into them; pictures that charmed the senses; here a bath of snow-white marble, there gushing fountains and jets of limpid water that appeared to play hide-and-seek among green leaves and lovely flowers, and disappeared mysteriously,—in short, everything tasteful and beautiful that man could desire. Of course Lancey did not take all this in at once. Neither did he realise the fact that the numerous soft-moving and picturesque attendants, black and white, whom he saw, were a mere portion of an army of servants, numbering upwards of a thousand souls, whom this Pasha retained. These did not include the members of his harem. He had upwards of a hundred cooks and two hundred grooms and coachmen. This household, it is said, consumed, among other things, nearly 7000 pounds of vegetables a day, and in winter there were 900 fires kindled throughout the establishment. [See note 1.]
But of all this, and a great deal more, Lancey had but a faint glimmering as he was led through the various corridors and rooms towards a central part of the building.
Here he was shown into a small but comfortable apartment, very Eastern in its character, with a mother-of-pearl table in one corner bearing some slight refreshment, and a low couch at the further end.
"Eat," said the black slave who conducted him. He spoke in English, and pointed to the table; "an' sleep," he added, pointing to the couch. "Sanda Pasha sees you de morrow."
With that he left Lancey staring in a bewildered manner at the door through which he had passed.
"Sanda Pasha," repeated the puzzled man slowly, "will see me 'de morrow,' will he? Well, if 'de morrow' ever comes, w'ich I doubt, Sanda Pasha will find 'e 'as made a most hegragious mistake of some sort. 'Owever that's 'is business, not mine."
Having comforted himself with this final reflection on the culminating event of the day, he sat down to the mother-of-pearl table and did full justice to the Pasha's hospitality by consuming the greater part of the viands thereon, consisting largely of fruits, and drinking the wine with critical satisfaction.
Next morning he was awakened by his black friend of the previous night, who spread on the mother-of-pearl table a breakfast which in its elegance appeared to be light, but which on close examination turned out, like many light things in this world, to be sufficiently substantial for an ordinary man.
Lancey now expected to be introduced to the Pasha, but he was mistaken. No one came near him again till the afternoon, when the black slave reappeared with a substantial dinner. The Pasha was busy, he said, and would see him in the evening. The time might have hung heavily on the poor man's hands, but, close to the apartment in which he was confined there was a small marble court, open to the sky, in which were richly-scented flowers and rare plants and fountains which leaped or trickled into tanks filled with gold-fish. In the midst of these things he sat or sauntered dreamily until the shades of evening fell. Then the black slave returned and beckoned him to follow.
He did so and was ushered into a delicious little boudoir, whose windows, not larger than a foot square, were filled with pink, blue, and yellow glass. Here, the door being softly shut behind him, Lancey found himself in the presence of the red-bearded officer whom he had met on board the Turkish monitor.
Redbeard, as Lancey called him, mentally, reclined on a couch and smoked a chibouk.
"Come here," he said gravely, in broken English. Lancey advanced into the middle of the apartment. "It vas you what blew'd up de monitor," he said sternly, sending a thick cloud of smoke from his lips.
"No, your—." Lancey paused. He knew not how to address his questioner, but, feeling that some term of respect was necessary, he coined a word for the occasion—