"All right," said I, with a laugh. "We English feel, although we don't demonstrate much, and can act when occasion requires it with as much energy as Russians I'll say all you could wish, and some things, mayhap, that you couldn't have said yourself.—But where are you going in such haste?"
"To battle, Jeff," he replied, with one of those proud glances of the eyes which must be somewhat akin to the expanded nostrils of the warhorse when he scents the battle from afar. "At least," he added, "to convey orders which will have some bearing on what is about to follow. The Turk is brave. We find that he fights well."
"Ha!" said I quickly, "you find him a plucky fellow, and begin to respect him?"
"Yes, truly, he is a worthy foe," returned Nicholas with animation.
"Just so," I rejoined, unable to repress a feeling of bitterness, "a worthy foe simply because he possesses the courage of the bull-dog; a worthy foe, despite the fact that he burns, pillages, violates, murders, destroys, and tortures in cold blood. What if Bella were in one of these Bulgarian villages when given over to the tender mercies of a troop of Bashi-Bazouks?"
Nicholas had his left hand on the reins and resting on the pommel of his saddle as I said this. He turned and looked at me with a face almost white with indignation.
"Jeff, how can you suggest? Bashi-Bazouks are devils—"
"Well, then," said I, interrupting, "let us suppose Cossacks, or some other of your own irregulars instead—"
I stopped, for Nicholas had vaulted on his horse, and in another second was flying at full speed over the plain. Perhaps I was hard on him, but after the miseries I witnessed that day I could not help trying to send the truth home.
Time pressed now. The regiment to which I was attached had received orders to march. I galloped off in search of it. At first I had thought of making a hurried search for Lancey or the scout, but gave up the idea, well content to have heard that the former was alive.
The Turks at this time were advancing under Mahomet Ali Pasha on the position occupied by the Russians on the Lom river. As I joined my regiment and reported myself, I heard distant cannonading on the left, and observed troops moving off in all directions. We soon got the order to march, and, on going to the top of a small eminence, came in sight of the field of action.
To my unaccustomed eyes the country appeared to be alive with confused masses of moving men, from some of which masses there burst at intervals the rolling smoke of rifle-firing. Of course I knew that there was order and arrangement, but the only order that impressed itself on me was that of the Russian regiment at my side, as the men strode steadily forward, with compressed lips and stern yet eager glances.
The Turkish troops had moved out and taken up a position on the face of a hill under cover of some woods. As battalion after battalion marched away, I, for the first time, became impressed with the multitudes of men who constitute an army, and, at the same time, with the feeling that something like a pitched battle was about to be fought. From the elevated position on which we stood, I could see that numbers of Russian cavalry were prowling about over the plain, as if watching the movements of the enemy. The intention of the Turks soon became evident, for they suddenly swarmed out of the woods and advanced to the attack. A Russian battery on our right instantly opened on them. This was replied to vigorously by a Turkish battery opposite. While these two turned their attention on each other, the troops in the plain below came into action. They swarmed over the numerous undulations, skirmished through the scrub and the fields of corn and maize, attacked a village in a hollow, and charged on various batteries and positions of strength,—sometimes one side, sometimes the other, being successful. The thunder of the great guns increased, the tremendous rattle of small arms became continuous, with now and again exceptionally strong bursts, when whole battalions fired in volleys. The smoke soon became so dense as partly to obscure the vision.
At that moment a Turkish battalion was seen to approach the mound on which we stood, with the evident intention of storming it. At the same time I observed a squadron of Russian cavalry trot smartly round the skirt of a wood on our left and take up a position. They were not fifty yards from the spot where I stood. I could even see the expression of their faces, and I fancied that the figure and countenance of the right-hand man of the troop were familiar to me.
"He's a fine-looking man, sir, is he not?" said a voice at my elbow.
I turned in amazement. It was Dobri Petroff! There was no room for more than a squeeze of the hand at such a moment.
"That is our friend Andre Vanovitch, sir."
As he spoke I saw the captain of the troop fall from his horse. A stray ball had killed him, and this was the first thing that drew my attention to the fact that bullets were whistling over our own heads now and then.
This happened at the very moment when a staff officer galloped up to the troop with an order. Seeing what had happened, this officer put himself at the head of the troop and gave the command to advance.
I recognised the voice at once as that of Nicholas. They swept past close in front of us at full gallop, and I could see on the face of Nicholas and on that of the stalwart Andre the same open, gladsome, noble expression, suggestive of high chivalrous sentiment, and a desire to do noble self-sacrificing deeds for fatherland. My own heart bounded within me as I looked at them, and I could not resist bursting into a cheer, which was taken up and prolonged wildly by the troops around.
The squadron came upon the Turks unexpectedly, but they stood like true men. Courage, however, was of no avail. The dragoons were heavy and irresistible. They cut right through the Turks; turned, charged again, and scattered them like chaff. I could perceive, in the midst of the fray, the lithe forms of Nicholas and Andre laying about them with tremendous impetuosity.
Personal valour is necessary, but it is not omnipotent nowadays. When the squadron returned, reduced almost to a skeleton, the Turks had reformed, were largely reinforced, and came at us again with steady determination. At the same time reinforcements came pouring in on our side, and I soon found that the position we occupied was deemed one of considerable importance.
The Turks came on steadily, and now I learned, for the first time, the power of modern weapons. Our men were armed with breech-loaders, so that no time was lost in loading.
Our commander acted on a principle which is said to be usually adopted by General Skobeleff. He reserved his fire until the Turks were within a hundred yards, and then gave the order to commence. The scene that followed is indescribable. Eight hundred men fell at once before the withering blast of lead. The firing was continuous. No troops on earth could have stood it. The Turks were instantly shattered and repulsed.
When they had retired, and the smoke had partially cleared away, I saw the plain covered with slaughtered men. Some were prone and motionless in death. Some were moving slightly. Others were struggling, as if in a delirium of agony, which it was frightful to witness. A few had life enough to rise, stagger forward several paces, fall and rise again to repeat the process until death ensued.
I stood fascinated.
"God help us!" I exclaimed aloud; "these murdered hundreds represent thousands of bleeding hearts AT HOME, and yet the maniacs continue to kill each other as if human lives were of no account and human souls not worth a thought."
"Pardon me, sir," said a voice at my side, "the maniacs who cause all this are not here, but at the place you mentioned just now—at home. These fine fellows are their unhappy tools, who, with untold depths of enthusiasm and kindliness in their nature, and a good deal of devilment too, are compelled, willing or not willing, to fight for what is called 'religion and country'!"
I found that the speaker was the special correspondent of a Scotch newspaper. As brother "specials" we fraternised immediately; but we had scarcely had time to exchange a few rapid queries and replies when our men were ordered to advance to the attack.
Very soon the ambulance corps was busily employed, and I had to devote my entire energies to the wounded who came pouring in.
Oh! it was pitiful to see the hundreds of strong and stalwart youths, who might have been the glory of succeeding generations, brought in with frames shattered beyond recovery, with brave lip compressed to check the rising cry of agony, with eyes glaring in the terrible conflict between lusty manhood and sudden death, or, with nerves utterly unstrung, giving vent to the shrieks of the maniac.
Several surgeons and students among us had extemporised an hospital in the shelter of a cliff.
One of the students, whose mind was in advance of his years and whose spirit seemed roused, came suddenly to me, during a brief interval in our labours.
"Our rulers are fools, or worse," said he, with indignation; "what is the use of diplomacy if it cannot prevent this?"
I remonstrated with the youth on the impropriety of his language, but my new friend the "special" broke in with—
"Ah! young man, you have not yet seen enough of life to understand it. A man is a machine which regulates itself, more or less, for its own interests. A household does the same; a town does likewise; so does a state. No doubt a man sometimes fights with himself—so, too, households are addicted to disagreement, and towns are often afflicted with difference of opinion, while a state is not unacquainted with internal commotions, but, in each and all of these cases, reason and common sense prevent the people from degenerating into pure savages. It is reserved for governments alone, when they come into collision with each other, to do that. Peoples don't desire war, my good sir, it is government—in other words, the non-combatant gentlemen at the head of the world's affairs—who thirst for blood, backed up, of course, by such of the people as are more or less interested in the breaking out of war. In all ordinary matters humanity is satisfied to submit its cases to courts of law, to umpires, to individual or collective arbitrators. If things don't go right, it is usually understood among Christian men and women that a little touch of forbearance here, of self-sacrifice there, of pocketing of slight affronts elsewhere, will bring things into the best possible condition, and, where these plans won't do,—as in the case of drunkards, maniacs, and villains,—they understand and quietly practise the power of overwhelming constraint. If the Turks had been overwhelmingly constrained by Europe during the late Conference at Constantinople, we should have had no war."
I never met with any nation so fond of argument as the Scotch! Surrounded as we were by dead and dying men, the "special" and the student (who was also Scotch) sat down and lighted their pipes to have it out. To do them justice, there was a lull at the time in the arrival of wounded men.
"But," said the student, in that tone which is so well known to the argumentative, "is not overwhelming constraint tyranny?"
"My friend," replied the special, lighting his pipe at the other's cigar, "if a blackguard stole a poor widow's purse, and six policemen took him up, compelled him to restore it, and put him in limbo, would you call that tyranny?"
"Of course not."
"But it would be overwhelming constraint, would it not?"
"Of course there's a but. Quite right. That is the word by which it is conveniently stated that the mind is not yet clear. Far be it from me to coerce you. I would, if I could, clear you. Listen, then:—
"Has not the Turk treated his Christian subjects in a way that can only be expressed as diabolical?"
"Unquestionably. Every one admits that: but he promises to govern them better in future."
"If a thief," said the special, "were to promise amendment and restoration of stolen property, would you let him off with the stolen property in his pocket?"
"Certainly not," answered the student.
"Well, then, the Turk has stolen the liberty of his Christian subjects—to say nothing of his own subjects—and he only promises to give it back. He promised that more than twenty years ago, but has not done it yet. Ought he not to have been overwhelmingly constrained by the European Conference to fulfil his promises? And if he had been thus constrained, would not war have been avoided?"
"But perhaps he would have resisted," said the student.
"No, the Turk is not mad, therefore he would not have resisted united Europe," returned the special; "and, even suppose that he had, his resistance could not have produced such a frightful war as this, for Europe would have crushed him at once, with comparatively little bloodshed. As it is, we have left the Muscovite (with good or bad intentions, I know not which) to tackle him alone,—and the result is before you. If the Russian is upright in his intentions we have treated him shabbily, if he is false we have given him a splendid opportunity to carry out his plans. I pronounce no opinion on Russia; the sin of this war lies with Europe; certainly not with England, for, whether she behaved rightly or wrongly, she was not omnipotent at the Conference. Perhaps I should say that the sin lies with the members of that Conference who misrepresented Europe, and allowed a notorious criminal to escape."
"There are various opinions on that subject," said the student.
"There are various opinions on every subject," replied the special, "but that is no reason why men and women should be content to have no opinion at all, or a bigoted one—which latter means an opinion founded largely on feeling, and formed before both sides of a question have been considered."
An ambulance-wagon drove up at this moment. The student and I, forgetting the subject of discussion, hastened with our brethren to attend to the wretched beings who were laid shattered, bleeding, and dying on the ground before us, while the special, seeing that we had run short of water, caught up a couple of buckets and ran to a neighbouring spring. It chanced that the ground between our place of shelter and the spring was at that time swept by the fire of contending troops, but in spite of this the special coolly filled his buckets and brought them in—happily without being injured.
The battle raged during the whole of that day all over the plain. Being taken up almost exclusively with our duties, we surgeons had little time to observe the progress of the fight; nevertheless, mindful of my character as a reporter, I took advantage of an occasional moment of relaxation to jot down a few notes.
There was a hill not far from that on which we stood which was held by a Russian regiment. Around it the fight appeared to rage very fiercely. The roar of artillery and the incessant rattle of small arms had by this time gathered in force until it resembled a storm. Hundreds of white puffs all over the field told of death from shots which were too far off to be heard, while the belching of a battery on the hill just mentioned caused the very earth to tremble.
The Turks at this point executed a flank movement, and attempted to take the hill by storm. At the same time one of their batteries appeared on the top of a ridge opposite, and began to play on the hill with terrible precision. To counteract this a Russian battery of three guns was despatched. I saw the horses come galloping in from the rear; one of the guns was limbered up, and off they went like the wind. At that moment a shell from the Turkish battery fell right under the gun, and, exploding, blew it, with the men and horses, into the air. The other guns reached the hill in safety, wheeled into position, and, for a time, checked the Turkish fire. Nevertheless, undeterred by the withering salvos, the Turks came on in powerful columns till they drew near to the hotly contested point.
At the foot of it the Russians had dug trenches and thrown up earth-works the night before. I observed with surprise that, as the attacking columns advanced, the Russian rifle-fire ceased, though the battery continued to cut lanes in the living masses. It occurred to me that our men were reserving fire according to the Skobeleff plan. In this I was right. When the Turks were within a hundred yards of the trenches the defenders fired as one man. The front ranks of the enemy fell like corn before the scythe; those in rear charged with irresistible impetuosity over their dead comrades. But the Russians had anticipated such an event. They had placed mines in the ground, which, when the Turks passed over them, were fired, and hundreds of men were blown into the air. This checked them. For a time they recoiled and were thrown into disorder. At that moment a young officer rallied them and charged again. The trenches were entered and a hand-to-hand conflict ensued. With my field-glass I could see the fierce expressions of the men as they drove their reeking bayonets right through their enemies, and the appalling gasp and glare of eye in those whose mortal career had been thus suddenly brought to a close. Yells of fury, shouts, curses, clubbed rifles, battered skulls, unearthly shrieks, smoke and blood—who can imagine or describe such a scene!
The Russian soldier fights well. His courage is equal to that of the men of other nations, and his weight gives him the advantage over some, but nothing can resist the power of overwhelming numbers.
Sitting on a height, and comfortably watching the battle through telescopes, the Turkish generals quietly move the "men" on the bloody board. Hundreds of Turks have perished. What matter? there are thousands on thousands ready to follow. Turkey must maintain her "integrity." Pashas must wallow in wealth. Millions of peasants must toil to accomplish these ends; if need be, they must die. The need at present is—to die. "Push on more battalions to reinforce them" is the order. No doubt the hundreds who have fallen, and the thousands who must yet fall, will leave hundreds of wives and thousands of children to hopeless mourning; but what of that? they are only canaille, cared for by nobody in particular, but God. No doubt the country must suffer for it. We must pay for war. We shall have an enormous national debt—that can't be helped, and other countries have the same,—besides, we can borrow from rich trusting nations, and repudiate our debts; our land shall feel the drain of its best young blood for generations yet to come, but time heals most sores; people will multiply as heretofore; fate is unavoidable, and Allah is great! Moreover, what does it all matter to us so long as our integrity is maintained, our seraglios remain intact, and our coffers are filled? That hillock must be taken. It is a priceless hillock. Like other hillocks, no doubt, and not very promising in an agricultural point of view, but still a priceless hillock, which must be carried at any cost, for on our obtaining it depends somehow (we can't say exactly how) the honour of our name, the success of our arms, the weal of the Turkish empire.
And so another order is given; fresh troops are hurled into the trenches, already filled with dead and dying; and the hillock is carried by storm, swept over with fierce cries of "Allah! Allah!" which mingle strangely with Russian curses, and is then left behind and regarded with as much indifference as if it were the most insignificant mass of earth and stone in all Bulgaria!
Flying backwards, the beaten Russians come panting towards the hill on which we stand, and rally, while our men advance, meet and stop the enemy, charge and overthrow them, turn the tide of battle, retake the hillock which has cost so much, and ultimately things remain in statu quo when the blessed shades of evening put an end to the frightful scene—leaving nothing whatever accomplished on either side, except the legitimate and ordinary end of most wars, namely—death and destruction!
I had just finished dressing the wounds of a soldier, at the end of this terrible episode, when a touch on my shoulder caused me to look up. It was Dobri Petroff.
"Have you seen your servant Lancey?" he asked quickly.
"No. I had intended to ask if you knew anything about him when the beginning of this carnage drove him and everything else out of my mind. Do you know where he is?"
"I saw him not five minutes since, looking wildly for you."
While Petroff was speaking, Lancey appeared, running towards me, bloodstained, blackened with powder, and with a rifle on his shoulder.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
MORE OF THE RESULTS OF WAR.
I need not trouble the reader with an account of the meeting with my faithful servant. While we were still engaged in questioning each other, I noticed that the countenance of our friend the scout wore an anxious and almost impatient expression.
"Anything wrong, Dobri?" I inquired.
"God knows!" he replied in a solemn tone, which impressed me much. "A rumour has come that the Circassians or the Bashi-Bazouks—I know not which, but both are fiends and cowards—have been to Venilik, and—"
He stopped abruptly.
"But that village was in the hands of the Russians," I said, at once understanding his anxiety.
"It may be so, but I go to see without delay," he replied, "and have only stopped thus long to know if you will go with me. These brutes kill and wound women and children as well as men. Perhaps your services may—Will you go?"
He spoke so earnestly, and his face looked so deadly pale, that I felt it impossible to refuse him. I was much exhausted by the prolonged labours of the day, but knew that I had reserve strength for an emergency.
"Give me a few minutes," said I,—"just to get leave, you know. I can't go without leave."
The scout nodded. In ten minutes I had returned. Meanwhile, Lancey had prepared my horse and his own. Swallowing a can of water, I vaulted into the saddle. It was very dark, but Petroff knew every foot of the country. For several hours we rode at a smart gallop, and then, as day was breaking, drew near to Venilik. As we approached, I observed that the bold countenance of the scout became almost pinched-looking from anxiety. Presently we observed smoke against the sky, and then saw that the village had undoubtedly been burned. I glanced at Petroff nervously. There was no longer a look of anxiety on his face, but a dark vindictive frown.
He increased his pace to racing speed. As we followed close at his heels, I observed that he drew a knife from his belt, and with that as a spur urged on his jaded steed. At last we reached the outskirts of the village, and dashed through. Blackened beams, ruined houses, dead men and women, met our horrified gaze on every side.
At the well-known turn of the road, where the bypath joined it, Dobri vaulted from his horse, and let the animal go, while he ran towards his dwelling. We also dismounted and followed him. Then a great and terrible shout reached our ears. When we came to the cottage we found the scout standing motionless before his old home, with his hands clasped tightly, and his eyes riveted to the spot with a glare of horror that words cannot describe.
Before him all that had been his home was a heap of blackened ashes, but in the midst of these ashes were seen protruding and charred bones. It did not require more than one glance to show that recognition of the remains was impossible. Everything was reduced to cinders.
As we gazed an appalling cry rang in our ears, and next moment a young woman darted out from behind a piece of the blackened walls with a knife in her hand.
"Hah! are you come back, you devils?" she shrieked, and flew at Dobri, who would certainly have been stabbed, for he paid no attention to her, if I had not caught her wrist, and forced the knife from her grasp. Even then she sprang at him and fastened her fingers in his neck while she cried, "Give me back my child, I say! give me my child, you fiend!"
She stopped and looked earnestly in his face, then, springing back, and standing before him with clenched hands, she screamed—
"Ha, haa! it is you, Dobri! why did you not come to help us? traitor— coward—to leave us at such a time! Did you not hear the shrieks of Marika when they dragged her from your cottage? Did you not see the form of little Dobri quivering on the point of the Circassian's spear? Were you deaf when Ivanka's death-shriek pierced my ears like—. Oh! God forgive me, Dobri, I did not mean to—"
She stopped in the torrent of her wrath, stretched both arms convulsively towards heaven, and, with a piercing cry for "Mercy!" fell dead at our feet.
Still the scout did not move. He stood in the same half-shrinking attitude of intense agony, glaring at the ruin around him.
"Dobri," said I at last, gently touching his arm, and endeavouring to arouse him.
He started like one waking out of a dream, hurled me aside with such violence that I fell heavily to the ground, and rushed from the spot at full speed.
Lancey ran after him, but soon stopped. He might as well have chased a mountain hare. We both, however, followed the track he had pursued, and, catching our horses, passed into the village.
"It's of no use to follow, sir," said Lancey, "we can't tell which way 'e's gone."
I felt that pursuit would indeed be useless, and pulled up with the intention of searching among the ruins of the village for some one who might have escaped the carnage, and could give me information.
The sights that met our eyes everywhere were indeed terrible. But I pass over the sickening details with the simple remark, that no ordinary imagination could conceive the deeds of torture and brutality of which these Turkish irregulars had been guilty. We searched carefully, but for a long time could find no one.
Cattle were straying ownerless about the place, while dogs and pigs were devouring the murdered inhabitants. Thinking it probable that some of the people might have taken refuge in the church, we went to it. Passing from the broad glare of day into the darkened porch, I stumbled over an object on the ground. It was the corpse of a young woman with the head nearly hacked off, the clothes torn, and the body half burnt. But this was as nothing to the scene inside. About two hundred villagers—chiefly women, children, aged, and sick—had sought refuge there, and been slaughtered indiscriminately. We found the dead and dying piled together in suffocating heaps. Little children were crawling about looking for their mothers, wounded mothers were struggling to move the ghastly heaps to find their little ones. Many of these latter were scarce recognisable, owing to the fearful sword-cuts on their heads and faces. I observed in one corner an old man whose thin white hair was draggled with blood. He was struggling in the vain endeavour to release himself from a heap of dead bodies that had either fallen or been thrown upon him.
We hastened to his assistance. After freeing him, I gave him a little brandy from my flask. He seemed very grateful, and, on recovering a little, told us, with many a sigh and pause for breath, that the village had been sacked by Turkish irregular troops, Circassians, who, after carrying off a large number of young girls, returned to the village, and slaughtered all who had not already fled to the woods for refuge.
While the old man was telling the mournful tale I observed a little girl run out from behind a seat where she had probably been secreting herself, and gaze wildly at me. Blood-stained, dishevelled, haggard though she was, I instantly recognised the pretty little face.
"Ivanka!" I exclaimed, holding out my arms.
With a scream of delight she rushed forward and sprang into them. Oh how the dear child grasped me,—twined her thin little arms round me, and strained as if she would crush herself into my bosom, while she buried her face in my neck and gave way to restful moans accompanied by an occasional convulsive sob!
Well did I understand the feelings of her poor heart. For hours past she had been shocked by the incomprehensible deeds of blood and violence around her; had seen, as she afterwards told me, her brother murdered, and her mother chased into the woods and shot by a soldier; had sought refuge in the church with those who were too much taken up with their own terrible griefs to care for her, and, after hours of prolonged agony and terror, coupled with hunger and thirst, had at last found refuge in a kindly welcome embrace.
After a time I tried to disengage her arms, but found this to be impossible without a degree of violence which I could not exert. Overcome by the strain, and probably by long want of rest, the poor child soon fell into a profound slumber.
While I meditated in some perplexity as to how I should act, my attention was aroused by the sudden entrance of a number of men. Their dress and badges at once told me that they formed a section of that noble band of men and women, who, following close on the heels of the "dogs of war," do all that is possible to alleviate the sufferings of hapless victims.—God's work going on side by side with that of the devil! In a few minutes surgeons were tenderly binding up wounds, and ambulance-men were bearing them out of the church from which the dead were also removed for burial.
"Come, Lancey," said I, "our services here are happily no longer required. Let us go."
"Where to, sir?" said Lancey.
"To the nearest spot," I replied after a moment's thought, "where I can lie down and sleep. I am dead beat, Lancey, for want of rest, and really feel unable for anything. If only I can snatch an hour or two, that will suffice. Meanwhile, you will go to the nearest station and find out if the railway has been destroyed."
We hurried out of the dreadful slaughter-house, Ivanka still sound asleep on my shoulder, and soon discovered an outhouse in which was a little straw. Rolling some of this into a bundle for a pillow, I lay down so as not to disturb the sleeping child. Another moment and I too was steeped in that profound slumber which results from thorough physical and mental exhaustion.
Lancey went out, shut the door, fastened it, and left us.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
THE FALL OF PLEVNA.
The events which followed the massacre in the Bulgarian village remain in my mind, and ever must remain as a confused dream, for I was smitten that night with a fever, during the course of which—part of it at least—I was either delirious or utterly prostrate.
And who can tell, save those who have passed through a similar condition, the agonies which I endured, and the amazing fancies by which I was assailed at that time! Of course I knew not where I was, and I cared not. My unbridled fancy led me everywhere. Sometimes I was in a bed, sometimes on horseback; now in hospital attending wounded people, most of whom I noticed were women or little children; then on a battle-field, cheering the combatants with all my power, or joining them, but, when I chanced to join them, it was never for the purpose of taking, but of saving life. Often I was visited by good spirits, and also by bad. One of these latter, a little one, made a deep impression on me. His particular mission seemed to lie in his power to present before me, within a flaming frame, pictures of whatever I wished to behold. He was wonderfully tractable at first, and showed me whatever I asked for,—my mother, Bella, Nicholas, and many of my friends,—but by degrees he insisted on showing what I did not wish to see, and among these latter pictures were fearful massacres, and scenes of torture and bloodshed. I have a faint recollection of being carried somewhere in a jolting wagon, of suffering from burning thirst which no one seemed to care to relieve, of frequent abrupt stoppages, while shouts, shrieks, and imprecations filled my ears; but whether these things were realities or fancies, or a mingling of both, I cannot tell, for assuredly the bad spirit never once succeeded in showing me any picture half so terrible as those realities of war which I had already beheld.
One day I felt a peculiar sensation. It seemed to me that my intellectual faculties became more active, while those of my body appeared to sink.
"Come," said I to the demon who had wearied me so much; "come, you troublesome little devil, and show me my man Lancey. I can see better than usual; present him!"
Immediately Lancey stood by my side. He looked wonderfully real, and I noticed that the fiery frame was not round him as it used to be. A moment later, the pretty face of Ivanka also glided into the picture.
"Hallo!" I exclaimed, "I didn't ask you to send her here. Why don't you wait for orders—eh?"
At this Lancey gently pushed Ivanka away.
"No, don't do that," I cried hastily; "I didn't mean that; order her back again—do you hear?"
Lancey appeared to beckon, and she returned. She was weeping quietly.
"Why do you weep, dear?" I asked in Russian.
"Oh! you have been so ill," she replied, with an anxious look and a sob.
"So, then," I said, looking at Lancey in surprise, "you are not delusions!"
"No, sir, we ain't; but I sometimes fancy that everythink in life is delusions since we comed to this 'orrible land."
I looked hard at Ivanka and Lancey again for some moments, then at the bed on which I lay. Then a listless feeling came over me, and my eyes wandered lazily round the chamber, which was decidedly Eastern in its appearance. Through a window at the farther end I could see a garden. The sun was shining brightly on autumnal foliage, amidst which a tall and singular-looking man walked slowly to and fro. He was clad in flowing robes, with a red fez on his head which was counterbalanced by a huge red beard.
"At all events he must be a delusion," said I, pointing with a hitch of my nose to the man in question.
"No, sir, 'e ain't; wery much the rewerse.—But you mustn't speak, sir; the doctor said we was on no account to talk to you."
"But just tell me who he is," I pleaded earnestly; "I can't rest unless I know."
"Well, sir, I s'pose it won't do no 'arm to tell you that 'e's a Pasha— Sanda Pasha by name—a hold and hintimate friend of mine,—the Scotch boy, you know, that I used to tell you about. We are livin' in one of 'is willas. 'E's in disgrace, is Sanda Pasha, just now, an' superseded. The day you was took bad, sir, Russians came into the willage, an' w'en I come back I found 'em swarmin' in the 'ouses an' loop-'oling the walls for defence, but Sanda Pasha came down on 'em with a harmy of Turks an' drove 'em out. 'E's bin a-lickin' of 'em all up an' down the country ever since, but the other Pashas they got jealous of 'im, specially since 'e's not a real Turk born, an' the first rewerse that come to 'im—as it will come to every one now an' again, sir—they left 'im in a fix instead of sending 'im reinforcements, so 'e was forced to retreat, an' the Sultan recalled 'im. It do seem to me that the Turkish Government don't know good men when they've got 'em; an', what's more, don't deserve to 'ave 'em. But long before these things 'appened, w'en 'e found that you was my master an' Ivanka our friend, 'e sent us to the rear with a strong guard, an' 'ere we are now in one of 'is willas, in what part o' the land is more than I can tell—near Gallipopolly, or somethink like that, I believe."
"So, then, we are prisoners?" said I.
"Well, I s'pose we are, sir, or somethink o' the sort, but, bless your 'art, sir, it's of no manner of consiquence. We are treated like princes and live like fighting-cocks.—But you mustn't talk, sir, you mustn't indeed, for the doctor gave strict orders that we was to keep you quiet."
Lancey's communications were of so surprising a nature, so varied and so suggestive, that my mind was overwhelmed in the mere attempt to recall what he had said; in another moment I had forgotten all, and dropped into a deep, dreamless, refreshing slumber.
During the period that I was thus fighting, as it were, with death—in which fight, through God's blessing, I finally gained the victory—the fight between the Russians and the Turks had progressed apace; victory leaning now to the former, now to the latter. Many bloody engagements had taken place on the plains of Bulgaria and among the Balkan mountains, while Osman Pasha had carried on for some time that celebrated defence of Plevna which afterwards carried him to the front rank of the Turkish generals, and raised him, in the world's estimation, above them all. Everywhere breech-loading weapons, torpedoes, telegraphs, monster cannon, and novel appliances of modern warfare, had proved that where hundreds fell in the days of our fathers, thousands fall in our own—that the bloody game is immensely more expensive and deadly than it used to be, and that if war was folly before, it is sheer madness now.
The first great attack had been made on the redoubts in front of Plevna, and in assaulting one of these poor Dobri Petroff distinguished himself so highly for desperate, reckless courage, that he drew the special attention of General Skobeleff, who sent for him, probably to offer him some appointment, but whatever it might be the scout declined promotion or reward. His object was to seek what he styled honourable death in the front of battle. Strange to say, he led a sort of charmed life, and the more he sought death the more it appeared to avoid him. Somewhat like Skobeleff himself, he stood unhurt, many a time, when balls were whistling round him like hail, and comrades were mown down in ranks and heaps around him.
In all armies there are men who act with heroic valour and desperate daring. Some are urged thereto by calm contempt of danger, coupled with a strong sense of duty. It was something like this, probably, that induced Skobeleff to expose himself so recklessly on almost all occasions. It was simply despair, coupled with natural lion-like courage, that influenced the wretched scout.
Nicholas Naranovitsch had also acquired a name among his fellows for that grand sweeping fervour in attack which we are wont to associate with the heroes and demigods of ancient story. But Nicholas's motive was a compound of great physical strength, hot-blooded youth, and a burning desire to win distinction in the path of duty.
One consequence of the scout's return to headquarters was that he frequently met Nicholas, and felt an intense drawing towards him as being one who had shown him sympathy and kindness in that home which was now gone for ever. Deep was the feeling of pity which Nicholas felt when the scout told him, in a few sternly-uttered sentences, what had occurred at Venilik; and when Dobri expressed a desire to attach himself to Nicholas as his servant, the latter was only too glad to agree. Each knew the other well by report, and felt that the connection would be mutually agreeable.
At last one of the greatest events of the war approached. Plevna had been so closely hemmed in by Russian troops, and cut off from supplies, that the garrison was reduced to starvation. In this extremity, as is well known, Osman Pasha resolved on the desperate attempt to cut his way out of the beleaguered position.
Snow had fallen heavily, and the ground was white with it—so were the huts of the Russian soldiers, who, welcoming the snowfall as a familiar reminiscence of home, went about cooking their food and singing joyously. The houses of Plevna, with blue lines of smoke curling above them, were faintly visible through the driving snow. Now and then the sullen boom of a great gun told of the fell work that the forces had assembled there to execute.
"We are ordered to the front to-night, Dobri," said Nicholas, as he entered his tent hurriedly, unbuckled his sword, and sat down to a hasty meal. "Our spies have brought information that Osman means to play his last card. Our field telegraphs have spread the news. We even know the particular point where the attempt to cut through our lines is to be made. The troops are concentrating. I have obtained leave to join the advance columns. Just see that my revolvers are in order, and look to your own. Come after that and feed. Without food a man can do nothing."
The scout made no reply. Ever since the terrible calamity that had befallen him he had been a taciturn semi-maniac, but there was a glitter in his black eye that told of latent fires and deadly purpose within.
During the night another spy came in, reporting that Osman was concentrating his men near the bridge over the Vid, and that he had issued three days' rations to the troops, with a hundred and fifty cartridges and a new pair of sandals to each man. About the same time there came a telegram to the effect that lights were moving about with unwonted activity in Plevna, and something unusual was evidently afoot. Thus the report of the first spy was partly corroborated.
Meanwhile Nicholas and Dobri Petroff, mounting in the dark hours of morning, rode through the snowstorm—which was gradually abating—in the direction of the bridge over the Vid, while Skobeleff himself proceeded towards the Krishina redoubts, which, it was reported, were being abandoned. The report was true; he took possession of these redoubts unopposed, and instantly put them in a state of defence.
Meanwhile Osman, with his brave but worn-out band, made his last sortie from Plevna.
The grey light of a dull wintry morning broke and revealed masses, like darker clouds of the threatening storm, driving across the plain. These were the Ottoman troops—some say 20,000 men—rushing like baited tigers towards the trenches. Suddenly there came the thunderous roar of a hundred heavy guns, followed by the crash and incessant rattle of the rifles. The deciding battle had begun. The mists of early morning mingled with the smoke of fire-arms, so that the movements of men were not visible in many places. In others a few fighting companies were just visible, showing indistinctly through the haze for a minute or two, while sheets of flame played in front of their rifles like trickling lines of electric light. Elsewhere, from the cliffs above the Vid, globes of fire were seen to rend the mists, as cannon played their part in the deadly game, while the fearful cries of maddened and wounded men mingled with the crashing of artillery. Here and there numerous bullock-wagons were seen rolling slowly along, and horses and cattle were galloping wildly about the plain. It was a scene that might have made the flesh of the most callous people creep with pitying horror.
Advancing as far as possible under cover of their bullock-wagons, the Turks began to play their part with vigour, but the Russians opened on them from one of their batteries with shell and shrapnel, whilst the men in the trenches sent a rain of bullets from their Berdan breech-loaders. The terrified oxen, tearing about madly, or falling, soon rendered the wagon-cover useless. Then the Turks forsook it, and, with a wild shout, charged the first line of trenches. These were held by a Siberian regiment. The Turks swept over them like a tornado, poured into the battery, where the artillerymen, who stood to their guns like heroes, were bayoneted almost to a man. Thus the first investing circle was broken, but here Ottoman courage was met by irresistible force, and valour quite equal to its own, and here the tide of battle turned.
Nicholas Naranovitsch, despatched by General Strukoff, galloped towards the scene of action.
"Come, Dobri!" he cried, with blazing eyes that told of excitement almost too strong to be mastered, "there is work for you and me now."
Petroff, mounted and ready, awaiting the orders of his master, sprang out at the summons from a troop of the first brigade of grenadiers, who were at she moment preparing to advance. They dashed forward. An order had been intrusted to Nicholas, but he never delivered it. He was met by advancing hosts of the enemy. He turned aside, intending to execute his mission, if possible, by a detour. In this effort he was caught up, as it were, and carried on by the Russian grenadiers, who flung themselves on the Turks with irresistible fury. In another moment his horse fell under him. Dobri instantly dismounted, but the horse which he meant to offer to his master also fell, and the two were carried onward. The opposing forces met. A hand-to-hand fight ensued—man to man, bayonet to bayonet. The Turks clung to the guns in the captured battery with obstinate bravery. Nicholas and Dobri having both broken their sabres at the first onset, seized the rifles of fallen men and laid about them with a degree of overpowering energy, which, conserved and expended rightly for the good of man, might have made each a noted benefactor of the human race, but which, in this instance, resulted only in the crushing in of a few dozen Turkish skulls!
Gradually the stabbing and smashing of "God's image," on the part of the Russians, began to tell. The Turks gave way, and finally took to flight.
But shortly before this occurred there was a desperate effort made by a handful of Turks to retrieve the fortunes of the day. It was personally led by Sanda Pasha, who, reinstated by the vacillating and contemptible powers at Constantinople, had been sent—too late—to the relief of Plevna.
At the first rush the Pasha fell. He was only wounded, but his followers thought he was killed, and, stung with rage and despair, fought like fiends to avenge him. At that moment the Russian general rode up to a neighbouring eminence and had his attention drawn to this point in the battle.
He ordered up reinforcements. Nicholas and his man now seemed on the point of having their wishes gratified. Poor Petroff's desire to meet an honourable death had every chance of being realised, while the thirst for military distinction in Nicholas had at last a brilliant opportunity of being quenched.
As the fight in this part of that bloody field progressed, it concentrated into a knot around the two heroes. Just then a fresh body of Turkish infantry charged, led by the Nubian, Hamed Pasha, whose horse had been killed under him. Dobri Petroff and Hamed rushed at one another instantly; each seemed at once to recognise the other as a worthy foeman. The great hacked sword whistled for a few minutes round the scout's head so fast that it required his utmost agility to parry cut and thrust with his rifle, but a favourable chance soon offered, and he swung the stock of his piece at his adversary's head with such force as to break the sword short off at the hilt. The Nubian sprang at Dobri like a tiger. They grappled, and these men of herculean mould were so well matched that for a few seconds they stood quivering with mighty but fruitless efforts to bear each other down. It was at this moment that the Russian reinforcements came up, fired a volley, and charged. Dobri and Hamed dropped side by side, pierced with bullets. Nicholas also fell. The raging hosts passed over them, and the Turks were driven over the plain like autumn leaves before the gale.
Immediately after, a battery of horse artillery swept across the hotly-contested ground, the wheels of the heavy ordnance and the hoofs of the half-mad horses crashing over the heads said limbs of all who chanced to lie in their way.
Oh! it is bitter to reflect on the grand courage that is mis-displayed in the accursed service of war! Beaten, overwhelmed, crushed, all but annihilated, the poor peasant-soldiers of Turkey, who probably knew nothing whatever about the cause for which they fought, took shelter at last behind the broken wagons under which they had advanced, and then turned at bay. Others made for the deep banks of the Vid, where they re-formed, and instantly began to return the Russian fire.
The sortie was now virtually repulsed. It was about half-past eight. The Turks, evidently apprehensive that the enemy would charge and drive them back into the gorge which led to Plevna, remained on the defensive. The Russians, obviously afraid lest the enemy should attempt another sortie, also remained on the defensive. For four hours they continued in this condition, "during which period the battle raged," it was said, "with the utmost fury," but it is also admitted that very little damage was done to either side, "for both armies were under cover!" In other words, the belligerents remained for four hours in the condition of a couple of angry costermongers, hooting and howling at each other without coming to blows, while shot and shell and powder and lead were being expended for nothing, at a rate which added thousands sterling to the burdens of the peace-loving members of both countries!
"About twelve o'clock," according to an eye-witness, "the firing began to diminish on both sides, as if by mutual agreement."
I have a very thorough appreciation of this idea of "mutual agreement." It is well known among schoolboys. When two of these specimens of the rising generation have been smashing each other's faces, blackening each other's eyes, and bleeding each other's noses for three-quarters of an hour, without having decided a victory, they both feel a strong desire to stop, are ready to "give in," and, on the smallest encouragement from "seconds," will shake hands. Indeed, this well-known and somewhat contemptible state of mind is familiar to a larger growth of boys— happily not in England—called duellists. We deliberately call the state of mind "contemptible," because, if a matter is worth fighting for (physically), it ought to be fought for to the "bitter end." If it is not worth fighting for, there should be no fighting at all!
However, as I have said, the fire began to slacken about mid-day, and then gradually ceased. The silence that succeeded was deeply impressive—also suggestive. Half-an-hour later a white flag was seen waving from the road that ran round the cliffs beyond the bridge.
Plevna had fallen. Osman Pasha and his army had surrendered. In other words—the fate of the Turkish Empire was sealed!
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
WOE TO THE "AUBURN HAIR!" AFTER THE BATTLE—PROWLING VILLAINS PUNISHED.
When the white flag was seen a loud shout went up from the Russian army. Then a party of officers rode forward, and two Turkish horsemen were seen advancing. They stated that Osman himself was coming to treat with the Russians.
The spot on which they stood was covered with the grim relics of battle. The earth had been uptorn by exploding shells. Here lay a horse groaning and struggling in its agony. Close to it lay an ox, silently bleeding to death, his great, round, patient eyes looking mournfully at the scene around him. Close by, was a cart with a dead horse lying in the yoke as he had fallen, and a Turkish soldier, stretched alongside, whose head had been carried away by a cannon shot. Under the wagon was a wounded man, and close to him four others, who, drained of nearly all their life-blood, lay crouched together in helplessness, with the hoods of their ragged grey overcoats drawn down on their faces. These latter gazed at the murky sky in listless indifference, or at what was going on in a sort of weary surprise. Among them was Nicholas Naranovitsch.
Russian surgeons were already moving about the field of battle, doing what they could, but their efforts were trifling compared with the vast necessity.
At last there was a shout of "Osman!" "He comes!"
"We will give him a respectful reception," exclaimed one Russian officer, in what is supposed by some to be the "gallant spirit of true chivalry."
"That we will," cried another; "we must all salute him, and the soldiers must present arms."
"He is a great soldier," exclaimed a third, "and has made a heroic defence."
Even Skobeleff himself seems to have been carried away by the feeling of the moment, if we may credit report, for he is said to have exclaimed—
"He is the greatest general of the age, for he has saved the honour of his country: I will proffer him my hand and tell him so."
"So," thought I, when afterwards meditating on this subject, "the Turks have for centuries proved themselves to be utterly unworthy of self-government; they have shown themselves to be ignorant of the first principles of righteousness,—meum and tuum; they (or rather their rulers) have violated their engagements and deceived those who trusted them; have of late repudiated their debts, and murdered, robbed, violated, tortured those who differed from them in religious opinions, as is generally admitted,—nevertheless now, because one of their generals has shown somewhat superior ability to the rest, holding in check a powerful enemy, and exhibiting, with his men, a degree of bull-dog courage which, though admirable in itself, all history proves to be a common characteristic of all nations—that 'honour,' which the country never possessed, is supposed to have been 'saved'!"
All honour to the brave, truly, but when I remember the butcheries that are admitted, by friend and foe of the Turk, to have been committed on the Russian wounded by the army of Plevna (and which seem to have been conveniently forgotten at this dramatic incident of the surrender),— when I reflect on the frightful indifference of Osman Pasha to his own wounded, and the equally horrible disregard of the same hapless wounded by the Russians after they entered Plevna,—I cannot but feel that a desperate amount of error is operating here, and that multitudes of mankind, especially innocent, loving, and gentle mankind, to say nothing of tender, enthusiastic, love-blinded womankind, are to some extent deceived by the false ring of that which is not metal, and the falser glitter of a tinsel which is anything but gold.
However, Osman did not come after all. He had been wounded, and the Russian generals were obliged to go to a neighbouring cottage to transact the business of surrender.
As the cavalcade rode away in the direction of the cottage referred to, a Russian surgeon turned aside to aid a wounded man. He was a tall strapping trooper. His head rested on the leg of his horse, which lay dead beside him. He could not have been more than twenty years of age, if so much. He had carefully wrapped his cloak round him. His carbine and sabre were drawn close to his side, as if to protect the weapons which it had always been his pride to keep bright and clean. He was a fresh handsome lad, with courage and loveableness equally stamped upon his young brow. He opened his eyes languidly as the doctor attended to him.
"Come, my fine fellow, keep up your heart," said the doctor tenderly; "you will perhaps—that is to say, the ambulance-wagons will be round immediately, and—"
"Thank you," interrupted the trooper quietly, "God's blessing rest upon you. I know what you mean.—Look, sir."
He tried to take a locket from his neck as he spoke, but could not. The doctor gently assisted him. "See," he said, "take this to Dobri Petroff—the scout. You know him? Every one knows dashing Dobri!"
"I know him. Well?"
"Tell him to give it to her—he knows who—and—and—say it has kept me in—in heaven when sometimes it seemed to me as if I had got into hell."
"From whom?" asked the doctor, anxiously, as the youth's head sank forward, and the terrible pallor of approaching death came on.
Alas! alas for Maria with the auburn hair!
The doctor rose. His services were no longer needed. Mounting his horse, he rode away.
The ground over which he galloped was strewn with weapons. The formal surrender had been made, and each Turk, obeying literally the order to lay down his arms, had deposited his rifle in the mud where he stood.
That night a faint light shone through the murky clouds, and dimly illumined the grim battle-field.
It was deserted by all but the dead and dying, with now and then a passing picket or fatigue-party. As the night advanced, and the cold became piercing, even these seemed to have finally retired from the ghastly scene. Towards morning the moon rose high, and, piercing the clouds, at times lit up the whole battle-field. Ah! there was many a pale countenance turned wistfully on the moon that night, gazing at it until the eyes became fixed in death. There was one countenance, which, deadly white, and gashed by a Turkish sabre, had been ruddy with young life in the morning. It was that of Nicholas Naranovitsch. He lay on his back near his dead horse, and close to a heap of slaughtered men. He was so faint and so shattered by sabre-cuts and bullets as to be utterly unable to move anything but his eyes. Though almost in a state of stupor, he retained sufficient consciousness to observe what went on around him. The night, or rather the early morning, had become very still, but it was not silent, for deep sighs and low moanings, as of men suffering from prolonged and weary pain, struck on his listening ear. Now and then some wretch, unable to bear his misery, would make a desperate effort to rise, only, however, to fall back with a sharp cry or a deep-despairing groan. Here and there a man might be seen creeping a few paces on his hands and knees, and then dropping to rest for a time, after which the creeping was resumed, in the vain hope, no doubt, that some place of shelter or an ambulance might be reached at last. One of these struggling men passed close to Nicholas, and stopped to rest almost at his side. In a few minutes he rose again, and attempted to advance, but instead of doing so writhed in a hideous contortion over on his back, and stretching himself with a convulsive shudder, died with his teeth clenched and his protruding eyeballs glaring at the sky.
Suddenly a low sweet sound broke on Nicholas's ear. It swelled gradually, and was at length recognised as a hymn with which he had been familiar in childhood. Some dying Christian soldier near him had apparently sought relief in singing praise to God. Nicholas wept as he listened. He soon found that there were sympathetic listeners besides himself, for the strains were taken up by one and another, and another, until the hymn appeared to rise from all parts of the battle-field. It was faint, however, and tremulous, for the life-blood was draining rapidly from the hearts of those who raised it. Ere long it altogether ceased.
For some time Nicholas had been aware that a wounded man was slowly gasping out his life quite close to him, but, from the position in which he lay, it was not possible to see more than his red fez. Presently the man made a powerful effort, raised himself on one elbow, and displayed the ghastly black countenance of Hamed Pasha. He looked unsteadily round him for a moment, and then sank backward with a long-drawn sigh.
Close to him, under a heap of slain, Dobri Petroff himself lay. For a long time he was unconscious, and had been nearly crushed to death by the weight of those above him. But the life which had been so strong in his huge body seemed to revive a little, and after a time he succeeded in freeing himself from the load, and raising himself on his hands, but he could not get up on his feet. A wound in the neck, which had partly closed while he was in a recumbent position, now burst out afresh. He looked at the blood with a faint sad smile, and sank down again.
Nicholas recognised him, and tried to speak, but he could neither speak nor move. It seemed to him that every part of his frame had been paralysed except his brain and eyes.
Presently the scout felt for something at his side. His flask was there; putting it to his lips he drank a little and was evidently refreshed, for he raised himself again and began to look about him.
Another moment and Petroff had discovered the Pasha, who lay near him with a look of intense longing in his eyes as he saw the flask and heard the gurgling water. A fierce frown crossed the scout's brow for a moment, but it was instantly chased away by a look of pity. He dragged himself slowly towards the dying Turk, and held the flask to his lips.
With a murmur of thankfulness and a look of gratitude at his late enemy, the Pasha uttered a faint sigh and closed his eyes in the last long sleep of death.
The effort to drag himself even a few paces served to show Petroff how severely he had been wounded. He was in the act of raising the flask to his lips a second time, when Nicholas, by a desperate effort, succeeded in uttering a low groan.
The scout turned quickly, observed his master, and crept to his side.
"Drink, sir," he said, knowing well that water was what Nicholas required most at such a time.
The avidity with which the latter obeyed prevented him observing that the scout was almost sinking. The successive efforts he had made had caused the blood to pour copiously from his wounds.
"You are badly hurt, Dobri, I fear," he said, when the life-giving draught had sent new vigour into his frame, and loosed his tongue.
"Ay," replied the scout, with a faint smile.—"I shall soon be with you now, Marika, and with the little ones and the dear Lord you loved so well and tried so hard to make me follow too. And you succeeded, Marika, though you little th—"
He stopped abruptly, swayed a moment to and fro, then fell heavily forward with his head on the bosom of his friend.
"Take some more water, Dobri," said Nicholas anxiously. "Quick, before you lose consciousness. I have not power to move a limb to help you.— Dobri!"
He called in vain,—the scout had fainted.
Nicholas had not power at first to remove the poor fellow's head from his chest, and he felt as if he should be suffocated. By degrees, however, he managed to roll it slightly to one side, and, at the same time, returning vigour enabled him to raise his right arm. He observed that his hand still grasped a revolver, but for some time he had no power to unclasp it. At last he succeeded, and raising Petroff's flask with difficulty to his lips obtained another draught.
Just at that moment the moon, which had passed behind a dark cloud, shone through an opening, and he saw three men not far off searching among the dead. He was about to call to them, but a thought occurred and he restrained himself.
He was right; the three men, one of whom was habited like a priest, were rifling the dead. He saw them come up to a prostrate form which struggled on being touched. One of the three men instantly drew a knife and stabbed the wounded man. When they had searched the body and taken from it what they required they came towards the spot where Nicholas lay.
A feeling of horror came over him for a moment, but that seemed to give him strength, for he instantly grasped his revolver. Hoping, however that they might pass without observing him, he shut his eyes and lay quite still.
The three murderers drew near, talking in low tones, and seemed about to pass, when one of them stopped.
"Here's a big-looking fellow whose boots will just fit me," he said, stooping and seizing the scout's leg.
"There's an officer behind him," said the villain in the priest's dress; "he will be more worth stripping."
Nicholas pointed his revolver full in the man's face and fired, but his aim was unsteady. He had missed. Again he pulled the trigger, but it had been the last shot. The man sprang upon him. The report, however, had attracted the notice of a picket of Russian soldiers, who, well aware of the deeds of foul villainy that are practised by the followers of an army on battle-fields at night, immediately rushed up and secured the three men.
"They are murderers," exclaimed Nicholas in reply to a question from the sergeant in command.
"Lead them out," said the sergeant promptly.
The men were bound and set up in a row.
A volley rang out in the night air, and three more corpses were added to the death-roll of the day.
It was summary justice, but richly deserved. Thereafter the soldiers made a rough-and-ready stretcher of muskets, on which Nicholas, who had fainted, was carefully laid and borne from the field.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
FAREWELL TO SANDA PASHA—A SCUFFLE, AND AN UNEXPECTED MEETING.
Some time after the events narrated in the last chapter I was seated in an apartment of Sanda Pasha's residence in Adrianople, the Turkish city next in importance to Constantinople.
My health had returned, and, although still somewhat weak, I felt sufficiently strong to travel, and had once or twice urged my kind host, who was fast recovering from his wound, to permit me, if possible, to return to the Russian lines. I had had from him, of course, a full account of the fall of Plevna, and I had also learned from another source that Nicholas had been desperately wounded; but the latter information was a mere rumour, which only rendered me the more anxious to get away.
The Pasha's chief secretary, who spoke Russian well, informed me at this time of some of the doings of his countrymen in the city and neighbourhood. I could hardly credit him, but English "correspondents" afterwards confirmed what he said. The daily executions of Bulgarians on the slightest pretexts, without trial, were at that time so numerous that it seemed as if the Turks had determined to solve the question of Bulgarian autonomy by killing or banishing every male in the province. In one instance fifteen Bulgarian children, the youngest of whom was ten years of age, and the eldest fifteen, were condemned to hard labour for life. It was said, but not proved I believe, that these young people had committed murder and contributed to the insurrection. At this time there were over 20,000 refugees in Adrianople, all of whom were women and children whose protectors had either been massacred or forced to join the army.
The secretary evidently rejoiced in the slaying and otherwise getting rid of Bulgarian men, but he seemed to have a slight feeling of commiseration for the helpless refugees, among whom I had myself witnessed the most heart-rending scenes of mental and physical suffering.
Wherever I wandered about the town there were groups of these trembling ones, on whose pallid faces were imprinted looks of maniacal horror or of blank despair. Little wonder! Some of them had beheld the fathers, brothers, lovers, around whom their heart-strings twined, tortured to death before their eyes. Others had seen their babes tossed on spear-points and bayonets, while to all the future must have appeared a fearful prospect of want and of dreary sighing for a touch of those "vanished hands" that had passed from earth for ever.
"Philanthropic societies," said the secretary, "have done great things for Turkey and for Russia too. Had it not been for the timely aid sent out by the charitable people in England and other countries, it is certain that many thousands of these refugees would already have been in their graves."
I did not like the tone or looks of this secretary. He was an oily man, with a touch of sarcasm.
"Doubtless there are many of them," I returned sharply, "who wish that they had fallen with their kindred. But you say truth: the tender-hearted and liberal ones of England and elsewhere have done something to mitigate the horrors of war, and yet there is a party among us who would draw the sword, if they were allowed, and add to the number of these wretched refugees. A pretty spectacle of consistency, truly, is presented by war! If we English were to join the Turks, as of course you wish us to do, and help you to maintain your misrule, to say nothing of the massacres which have been and still are going on around us, we should have to keep our philanthropic societies at work still longer, and thus we should be seen cutting men down with one hand and binding them up with the other,—roaring like fiends as we slaughter sires, and at the same time, with the same voice, softly comforting widows and fatherless children. Oh, sir, if there is a phrase of mockery on the face of this earth, it is the term 'civilised warfare'!"
Before the secretary had time to reply the Pasha entered, accompanied by Lancey.
"Mr Childers," said the Pasha, sitting down on a cushion beside me, "I have managed it at last, though not without difficulty, but when a man wants to help an old school-mate in distress he is not easily put down. You have to thank Lancey for anything I have done for you. There is, it seems, to be an exchange of prisoners soon, and I have managed that you and Lancey shall be among the number. You must be ready to take the road to-morrow."
I thanked the Pasha heartily, but expressed surprise that one in so exalted a position should have found difficulty in the matter.
"Exalted!" he exclaimed, with a look of scorn, "I'm so exalted as to have very narrowly missed having my head cut off. Bah! there is no gratitude in a Turk—at least in a Turkish grandee."
I ventured to suggest that the Pasha was in his own person a flat—or rather sturdy—contradiction of his own words, but he only grinned as he bowed, being too much in earnest to smile.
"Do you forget," he continued, "that I am in disgrace? I have served the Turk faithfully all my life, and now I am shelved at the very time my services might be of use, because the Sultan is swayed by a set of rascals who are jealous of me! And is it not the same with better men than myself? Look at Mehemet Ali, our late commander-in-chief, deposed from office by men who had not the power to judge of his capacities—for what? Did he not say with his own lips, to one of your own correspondents, that although he had embraced the religion of Mohammed they never could forget or forgive the fact that he was not born a Turk, but regarded him as a Giaour in disguise; that his elevation to power excited secret discontent among the Pashas, which I know to be true; that another Pasha thwarted instead of aiding him, while yet another was sent to act the spy on him. Is not this shameful jealousy amongst our leaders, at a time when all should have been united for the common weal, well known to have operated disastrously in other cases? Did not Osman Pasha admit as much, when he complained bitterly, after the fall of Plevna, that he had not been properly supported? Our rank and file are lions in the field—though I cannot allow that they are lambs anywhere else—but as for our—Bah! I have said enough. Besides, to tell you the truth, I am tired of the Turks, and hate them."
Here my servant interrupted the Pasha with a coolness and familiarity that amused me much.
"Sandy," said he, with a disapproving shake of the head, "you oughtn't to go an' speak like that of your hadopted nation."
The Pasha's indignation vanished at once. He turned to Lancey with a curious twinkle in his eye.
"But, my good fellow," he said, "it isn't my hadopted nation. When I came here a poor homeless wanderer the Turks adopted me, not I them, because they found me useful."
"That," returned Lancey, "should 'ave called hout your gratitood."
"So it did, Lancey. Didn't I serve them faithfully from that day to this, to the best of my power, and didn't I shave my head and wear their garb, and pretend to take to their religion all out of gratitude?"
"Worse and worse," retorted Lancey; "that was houtrageous 'ypocrisy. I'm afraid, Sandy, that you're no better than you used to be w'en you smashed the school-windows an' went about playin' truant on the Scottish 'ills."
"No better indeed," returned the Pasha, with a sudden touch of sadness; "that is true, but how to become better is the difficulty. Islamism fills a land with injustice, robbery, and violence; while, in order that such things may be put right, the same land is desolated, covered with blood, and filled with lamentation, in the name of Christianity."
Here I could not refrain from reminding the Pasha that the professors of religion did not always act in accordance with their profession, and that the principles of the "Prince of Peace," when carried out, even with average sincerity, had an invariable tendency to encourage peace and good-will among men, which was more than could be said of the doctrines of Mohammed.
"It may be so," said the Pasha, with a sigh.
"Meanwhile, to return to our point, you will find everything ready for your journey at an early hour to-morrow."
"But what of little Ivanka Petroff?" I asked. "She must go with us."
The Pasha seemed a little perplexed. "I had not thought of that," he said; "she will be well-cared for here."
"I cannot go without her," said I firmly.
"No more can I," said Lancey.
"Well, that shall also be arranged," returned the Pasha, as he left us.
"Never saw nothink like 'im," observed Lancey; "'e sticks at nothink, believes nothink, cares for nothink, an' can do hanythink."
"You are showing want of gratitude now, Lancey, for it is plain that he cares a good deal for you."
Lancey admitted that he might, perhaps, have been a little harsh in expressing himself, and then went off to prepare for the journey.
"We are going back again to your own country, Ivanka," said I, gently stroking the child's head, as we sat together in the same room, some hours later.
Ivanka raised her large eyes to mine.
"There is no home now," she said, in a mournful voice.
"But we shall find father there, perhaps."
The child dropped her eyes, and shook her head, but made no further remark. I saw that tears were trickling down her cheeks, and, feeling uncertain as to how far she realised her forlorn condition, refrained from further speech, and drew her little head upon my breast, while I sought to comfort her with hopes of soon meeting her father.
Snow lay on the ground when we bade farewell to our kind host. "Good-bye, Sanda Pasha; I shall hope to see you in England one of these days," said I at parting.
"Farewell, Sandy," said my man, grasping the Pasha's hand warmly, and speaking in a deeply impressive tone; "take the advice of a wery old friend, who 'as your welfare at 'art, an' leave off your evil ways, w'ich it's not possible for you to do w'ile you've got fifty wives, more or less, shaves your 'ead like a Turk, and hacts the part of a 'ypocrite. Come back to your own land, my friend, w'ich is the only one I knows on worth livin' in, an' dress yourself like a Christian."
The Pasha laughed, returned the squeeze heartily, and said that it was highly probable he would act upon that advice ere another year had passed away.
Half an hour later we were driving over the white plains, on which the sun shone with dazzling light.
I felt unusual exhilaration as we rattled along in the fresh frosty air, and crossed the fields, which, with the silvered trees and bushes, contrasted so pleasantly with the clear blue sky. I began to feel as if the horrible scenes I had lately witnessed were but the effects of a disordered imagination, which had passed away with fever and bodily weakness.
Ivanka also appeared to revive under those genial influences with which God surrounds His creatures, for she prattled a little now and then about things which attracted her attention on the road; but she never referred to the past. Lancey, too, was inspirited to such an extent that he tackled the Turkish driver in his own tongue, and caused the eyes of that taciturn individual occasionally to twinkle, and his moustache to curl upwards.
That night we slept at a small road-side inn. Next day we joined a group of travellers, and thus onward we went until we reached the region where the war raged. Here we were placed under escort, and, with some others, were exchanged and set free.
Immediately I hired a conveyance and proceeded to the Russian rear, where I obtained a horse, and, leaving Ivanka in charge of Lancey at an inn, hastened to headquarters to make inquiries about Nicholas and Petroff.
On the way, however, I halted to telegraph to the Scottish Bawbee, and to write a brief account of my recent experiences among the Turks.
I was in the midst of a powerful article—powerful, of course, because of the subject—on one of the war-episodes, when I heard a foot on the staircase. I had placed my revolver on the table, for I was seated in a room in a deserted village. One wall of the room had been shattered by a shell, while most of the furniture was more or less broken by the same missile, and I knew well that those sneak-marauders who infest the rear of an army were in the habit of prowling about such places.
Suddenly I heard a loud shout on the staircase, followed by the clashing of swords. I leaped up, seized the revolver, and ran out. One man stood on the stair defending himself against two Circassians. I knew the scoundrels instantly by their dress, and not less easily did I recognise a countryman in the grey tweed shooting coat, glengarry cap, and knickerbockers of the other. At the moment of my appearance the Englishman, who was obviously a dexterous swordsman, had inflicted a telling wound on one of his adversaries. I fired at the other, who, leaping nearly his own height into the air, fell with a crash down the staircase. He sprang up, however, instantly, and both men bolted out at the front door and fled.
The Englishman turned to thank me for my timely aid, but, instead of speaking, looked at me with amused surprise.
"Can it be?" I exclaimed; "not possible! you, Biquitous?"
"I told you we should probably meet," he replied, sheathing his sword, "but I was not prophetic enough to foretell the exact circumstances of the meeting."
"Come along, my dear fellow," said I, seizing his arm and dragging him up-stairs; "how glad I am! what an unexpected—oh! never mind the look of the room, it's pretty tight in most places, and I've stuffed my overcoat into the shell-hole."
"Don't apologise for your quarters, Jeff," returned my friend, laying his sword and revolver on the table; "the house is a palace compared with some places I've inhabited of late. The last, for instance, was so filthy that I believe, on my conscience, an irish pig, with an average allowance of self-respect, would have declined to occupy it.—Here it is, you'll find it somewhere near the middle."
He handed me a small sketch-book, and, while I turned over the leaves, busied himself in filling a short meerschaum.
"Why, how busy you must have been!" said I, turning over the well-filled book with interest.
"Slightly so," he replied. "Some of these will look pretty well, I flatter myself, in the Evergreen Isle, if they are well engraved; but that is the difficulty. No matter how carefully we correspondents execute our sketches, some of these engravers—I won't say all of them— make an awful mess of 'em.
"Yes, you may well laugh at that one. It was taken under fire, and I can tell you that a sketch made under fire is apt to turn out defective in drawing. That highly effective and happy accidental touch in the immediate foreground I claim no credit for. It was made by a bullet which first knocked the pencil out of my hand and then terminated the career of my best horse; while that sunny gleam in the middle distance was caused by a piece of yellow clay being driven across it by the splinter of a shell. On the whole, I think the sketch will hardly do for the Evergreen, though it is worth keeping as a reminiscence."
My friend and I now sat down in front of a comfortable fire, fed with logs from the roof of a neighbouring hut, but we had not chatted long before he asked me the object of my visit to headquarters.
"To inquire about my friend Nicholas Karanovitsch," I said.
From the sudden disappearance of the look of careless pleasantry from my friend's face, and the grave earnest tone in which he spoke, I saw that he had bad news to tell.
"Have you not heard—" he said, and paused.
"Not dead?" I exclaimed.
"No, not dead, but desperately wounded." He went on in a low rapid voice to relate all the circumstances of the case, with which the reader is already acquainted, first touching on the chief points, to relieve my feelings.
Nicholas was not dead, but so badly wounded that there was no chance of his ever again attaining to the semblance of his old self. The doctors, however, had pronounced him at last out of danger. His sound constitution and great strength had enabled him to survive injuries which would have carried off most men in a few days or hours. His whole frame had been shattered; his handsome face dreadfully disfigured, his left hand carried away, and his right foot so grievously crushed by a gun-carriage passing over it that they had been obliged to amputate the leg below the knee. For a long time he had lain balancing between life and death, and when he recovered sufficiently to be moved had been taken by rail to Switzerland. He had given strict orders that no one should be allowed to write to his friends in England, but had asked very anxiously after me.
Biquitous gave me a great many more particulars, but this was the gist of his sad news. He also told me of the fall of Dobri Petroff.
"Nicholas had fainted, as I told you," he said, "just before the picket by which he had been rescued lifted him from the ground, and he was greatly distressed, on recovering, to find that his faithful follower had been left behind. Although he believed him to be dead, he immediately expressed an earnest wish that men should be sent to look for and recover the body. They promised that this should be done, but he never learned whether or not they had been successful."
"And you don't know the name of the place in Switzerland to which Nicholas has been sent?" I asked.
"Not sure, but I think it was Montreux, on the Lake of Geneva."
After all this sad news I found it impossible to enjoy the society of my eccentric friend, and much though I liked him, resolved to leave the place at once and make arrangements to quit the country.
I therefore bade him farewell, and hastened back to the inn where I had left Ivanka and Lancey.
The grief of the dear child, on hearing that her father had fallen on the battle-field, was for a time uncontrollable. When it had abated, I said:—
"There is no one here to love you now, my little darling, but God still loves you, and, you see, has sent me and Lancey to take care of you.— Come, we will return to Venilik."
I did not dare at this time to raise hopes, which might soon be dashed to pieces, in the heart of the poor forlorn child, and therefore did not say all that was in my mind; but my object in returning to Venilik was to make inquiry after her mother. My own hopes were not strong, but I did not feel satisfied that we had obtained sufficient proof that Marika had been killed.
Our search and inquiries, however, were vain. Venilik was almost deserted. No one could tell anything about the Petroff family that we did not already know. It was certainly known that many persons—men and women—had fled to the neighbouring woods, and that some had escaped, but it was generally believed that Marika had been burnt in her own cottage. No doubt, however, was entertained as to the fate of her little boy; for there were several people who had seen him thrust through and held aloft on the point of a Circassian spear. When I told of Dobri Petroff having fallen by the side of Nicholas, several of the villagers said they had heard of that from other sources.
As nothing further could be done, I resolved to adopt Ivanka, and take her away with me.
My preparations were soon made, a conveyance was obtained, and before many days were over I found myself flying by road and rail far from the land where war still raged, where the fair face of nature had been so terribly disfigured by human wrath—so fearfully oppressed with human woe.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
DESCRIBES A WRECK, AND THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE.
A Swiss chalet on a woody knoll, high up on the grand slopes that bathe their feet in the beautiful Lake of Geneva.
It is evening—a bright winter evening—with a golden glory in the sky which reminds one powerfully of summer, and suggests the advent of spring.
In the neighbouring town of Montreux there are busy people engaged in the labours of the day. There are also idlers endeavouring to "kill" the little span of time that has been given them, in which to do their quota of duty on the earth. So, also, there are riotous young people who are actively fulfilling their duty by going off to skate, or slide down the snow-clad hills, after the severer duties connected with book and slate have been accomplished. These young rioters are aided and abetted by sundry persons of maturer years, who, having already finished the more important labours of the day of life, renew their own youth, and encourage the youngsters by joining them.
Besides these there are a few cripples who have been sent into the world with deficient or defective limbs—doubtless for wise and merciful ends. Merciful I say advisedly, for, "shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" These look on and rejoice, perchance, in the joy of the juveniles.
Among them, however, are some cripples of a very different stamp. The Creator sent these into the world with broad shoulders, deep chests, good looks, gladsome spirits, manly frames, and vigorous wills. War has sent them here—still in young manhood—with the deep chests pierced by bullets or gashed by sabres, with the manly frames reduced to skeletons, the gladsome spirits gone, the ruddy cheeks hollow and wan, and the vigorous wills—subdued at last.
A few of these young cripples move slowly about with the aid of stick or crutch, trying to regain, in the genial mountain air, some of the old fire which has sunk so low—so very low. Others, seated in wheel-chairs, doubled up like old, old men, are pushed about from point to point by stalwart mountaineers, while beside them walk sisters, mothers, or, perchance, young wives, whose cheery smiles and lightsome voices, as they point out and refer to the surrounding objects of nature, cannot quite conceal the feelings of profound and bitter sorrow with which they think of the glorious manhood that has been lost, or the tender, pitiful, heart-breaking solicitude with which they cherish the poor shadow that remains.
In a large airy apartment of the chalet on the woody knoll, there is one who occupies a still lower level than those to whom we have just referred—who cannot yet use the crutch or sit in the wheelchair, and on whose ear the sounds of glee that enter by the open window fall with little effect.
He reclines at full length on a bed. He has lain thus, with little effort to move, and much pain when such effort was made, for many weary weeks. Only one side of his face is visible, and that is scarred and torn with wounds, some of which are not yet healed. The other side is covered with bandages.
I am seated by his side, Ivanka is sitting opposite, near to the invalid's feet, listening intently, if I may be allowed to say so, with her large black eyes, to a conversation which she cannot understand.
"You must not take so gloomy a view of your case, Nicholas. The doctors say you will recover, and, my good fellow, you have no idea what can be done by surgery in the way of putting a man together again after a break-down. Bella would be grieved beyond measure if I were to write as you wish."
I spoke cheerily, more because I felt it to be a duty to do so, than because I had much hope.
The invalid paused for a few minutes as if to recover strength. Then he said—
"Jeff, I insist on your doing what I wish. It is unkind of you to drag me into a dispute when I am so weak. Tell the dear girl that I give her up—I release her from our engagement. It is likely that I shall die at any rate, which will settle the question, but if I do recover—why, just think, my dear fellow, I put it to you, what sort of husband should I make, with my ribs all smashed, my right leg cut off, my left hand destroyed, an eye gone, and my whole visage cut to pieces. No, Jeff—"
He paused; the light vein of humour which he had tried to assume passed off, and there was a twitching about the muscles of his mouth as he resumed—
"No, Bella must never see me again."
Ivanka looked from the invalid's face to mine with eyes so earnest, piercing, and inquiring, that I felt grieved she did not understand us.
"I'm sorry, Nicholas, very sorry," said I, "but Bella has already been written to, and will certainly be here in a day or two. I could not know your state of mind on my first arrival, and, acting as I fancied for the best, I wrote to her."
Nicholas moved uneasily, and I observed a deep flush on his face, but he did not speak.
That evening Ivanka put her arms round my neck, told me she loved Nicholas because of his kindness to her father, and besought me earnestly to tell her what had passed between us.
A good deal amused, I told her as much as I thought she could understand.
"Oh! I should so like to see Bella," she said.
"So you shall, dear, when she comes."
"Does she speak Russian?"
"Yes. She has been several times in Russia, and understands the language well."
As I had predicted, Bella arrived a few days after receiving my letter. My mother accompanied her.
"Oh, Jeff, this is dreadful!" said my poor mother, as she untied her bonnet-strings, and sat down on the sofa beside Bella, who could not for some time utter a word.
"What child is that?" added my mother quickly, observing Ivanka.
"It is the daughter of Dobri Petroff.—Let me introduce you, Ivanka, to my mother, and to my sister Bella—you know Bella?"
I had of course written to them a good deal about the poor child, and Bella had already formed an attachment to her in imagination. She started up on hearing Ivanka's name, and held out both hands. The child ran to her as naturally as the needle turns to the pole.
While my mother and I were talking in a low tone about Nicholas, I could not avoid hearing parts of a conversation between my sister and Ivanka that surprised me much.
"Yes, oh! yes, I am quite sure of it. Your brother told me that he said he would never, never, never be so wicked as to let you come and see him, although he loved you so much that he—"
"Hush, my dear child, not so loud."
Bella's whisper died away, and Ivanka resumed—
"Yes, he said there was almost nothing of him left. He was joking, you know, when he said that, but it is not so much of a joke after all, for I saw—"
"Oh! hush, dear, hush; tell me what he said, and speak lower."
Ivanka spoke so low that I heard no more, but what had reached my ear was sufficient to let me know how the current ran, and I was not sorry that poor Bella's mind should be prepared for the terrible reality in this way.
The battle of love was fought and won that day at Nicholas's bedside, and, as usual, woman was victorious.
I shall not weary the reader with all that was said. The concluding sentences will suffice.
"No, Nicholas," said Bella, holding the right hand of the wounded soldier, while my mother looked on with tearful, and Ivanka with eager, eyes, "no, I will not be discarded. You must not presume, on the strength of your being weak, to talk nonsense. I hold you, sir, to your engagement, unless, indeed, you admit yourself to be a faithless man, and wish to cast me off. But you must not dispute with me in your present condition. I shall exercise the right of a wife by ordering you to hold your tongue unless you drop the subject. The doctor says you must not be allowed to talk or excite yourself, and the doctor's orders, you know, must be obeyed."
"Even if he should order a shattered man to renounce all thoughts of marriage?" asked Nicholas.
"If he were to do that," retorted Bella, with a smile, "I should consider your case a serious one, and require a consultation with at least two other doctors before agreeing to submit to his orders. Now, the question is settled, so we will say no more about it. Meanwhile you need careful nursing, and mother and I are here to attend upon you."
Thus with gentle raillery she led the poor fellow to entertain a faint hope that recovery might be possible, and that the future might not be so appallingly black as it had seemed before. Still the hope was extremely faint at first, for no one knew so well as himself what a wreck he was, and how impossible it would be for him, under the most favourable circumstances, ever again to stand up and look like his former self. Poor Bella had to force her pleasantry and her lightsome tones, for she also had fears that he might still succumb, but, being convinced that a cheerful, hopeful state of mind was the best of all medicines, she set herself to administer it in strong doses.
The result was that Nicholas began to recover rapidly. Time passed, and by slow degrees he migrated from his bed to the sofa. Then a few of his garments were put on, and he tried to stand on his remaining leg. The doctor, who assisted me in moving and dressing the poor invalid, comforted him with the assurance that the stump of the other would, in course of time, be well enough to have a cork foot and ankle attached to it.
"And do you know," he added, with a smile, "they make these things so well now that one can scarcely tell a false foot from a real one,—with joint and moveable instep, and toes that work with springs, so that people can walk with them quite creditably—indeed they can; I do not jest, I assure you."
"Nothing, however, can replace the left hand or the lost eye," returned Nicholas, with a faint attempt at a smile.
"There, my dear sir," returned the doctor, with animation, "you are quite wrong. The eye, indeed, can never be restored, though it will partially close, and become so familiar to you and your friends that it will almost cease to be noticed or remembered; but we shall have a stump made for the lower arm, with a socket to which you will be able to fix a fork or a spoon, or—"
"Why, doctor," interrupted Nicholas, "what a spoon you must be to—"
"Come," returned the doctor heartily, "that'll do. My services won't be required here much longer I see, for I invariably find that when a patient begins to make bad jokes, there is nothing far wrong with him."
One morning, when we had dressed our invalid, and laid him on the sofa, he and I chanced to be left alone.
"Come here, Jeff," he said, "assist me to the glass—I want to have a look at myself."
It was the first time he had expressed such a desire, and I hesitated for a moment, not feeling sure of the effect that the sight might have on him. Then I went to him, and only remarking in a quiet tone, "You'll improve, you know, in the course of time," I led him to the looking-glass.
He turned slightly pale, and a look of blank surprise flitted across his face, but he recovered instantly, and stood for a few seconds surveying himself with a sad expression.
Well might he look sad, for the figure that met his gaze stooped like that of an aged man; the head was shorn of its luxuriant curls; the terrible sabre-cut across the cheek, from the temple to the chin, which had destroyed the eye, had left a livid wound, a single glance at which told that it would always remain as a ghastly blemish; and there were other injuries of a slighter nature on various parts of the face, which marred his visage dreadfully.
"Yes, Jeff," he said, turning away slowly, with a sigh, and limping back to his couch, "there's room for improvement. I thought myself not a bad-looking fellow once. It's no great matter to have that fancy taken out of me, perhaps, but I grieve for Bella, and I really do think that you must persuade her to give up all idea of—"
"Now, Nic," said I, "don't talk nonsense."
"But I don't talk nonsense," he exclaimed, flushing with sudden energy, "I mean what I say. Do you suppose I can calmly allow that dear girl to sacrifice herself to a mere wreck, that cannot hope to be long a cumberer of the ground?"
"And do you suppose," I retorted, with vehemence, "that I can calmly allow my sister to be made a widow for life?—a widow, I say, for she is already married to you in spirit, and nothing will ever induce her to untie the knot. You don't know Bella—ah! you needn't smile,—you don't indeed. She is the most perversely obstinate girl I ever met with. Last night, when I mentioned to her that you had been speaking of yourself as a mere wreck, she said in a low, easy-going, meek tone, 'Jeff, I mean to cling to that wreck as long as it will float, and devote my life to repairing it.' Now, when Bella says anything in a low, easy-going, and especially in a meek tone, it is utterly useless to oppose her: she has made up her mind, drawn her sword and flung away the scabbard, double-shotted all her guns, charged every torpedo in the ship, and, finally, nailed her colours to the mast."