"You were pretty close upon drowning, and must have been under water for some time, I should say."
"I had indeed, and was very nearly exhausted," answered Aphiz.
"But how came you in such a pitiable plight, what led you so far from the shore without a boat?"
"I—that is to say—"
"O, I see, some matter that you wish to keep a secret. Very well; far be it from me to ask aught of thee, or urge thee to reveal any matter that might compromise thy feelings."
"Not so," answered Aphiz; "but were I to speak, I might criminate myself."
"O, fear no such matter with me, were you an escaped prisoner from the law, I—"
"What?" asked Aphiz, as he observed the young officer regarding him intently.
"Why, I should not betray you again into the Sultan's power. I have no real sympathy with these Turks, and would much rather serve you, who seem to be a stranger, than them."
"Thanks, a thousand thanks," answered Aphiz, warmly.
"Therefore, confide in me, and if I can serve thee, I will do so at once."
"I will," said Aphiz, who felt that the officer was honest in what he promised.
Then he told him how he had been condemned by the Sultan, for some private enmity, to die, but he carefully observed the utmost secrecy as to what the actual motive of his punishment really was. He told how he had been borne in the execution boat to the usual spot for the execution of the sentence that had been pronounced upon him. How he had been confined in the sack and cast into the sea, describing his first sensations and his struggle with his dagger until he cut himself free from the terrible confinement of his canvas prison. How he had struggled beneath the element, and then of the fearful eddy into which he had been drawn, and finally how at last he rose to the surface near his own boat.
That was all that Captain Selim knew of the matter, and after hearing that Aphiz was a Circassian, he supplied him with an undress uniform to further his disguise, and bade him welcome as his guest. Therefore when the Armenian doctor and Selim found that their conversation had been overheard by Aphiz, they neither feared his betraying him, nor suspected the deep interest that the young Circassian felt in the theme of their remarks.
"You were speaking of a slave of the Sultan's harem, named Komel," he said, approaching them.
"We were; and perhaps have spoken too plainly of a purpose for her release from bondage," said the Armenian.
"Why too freely?"
"Because in a degree we have placed ourselves in your power, having spoken treason."
"I care not whether it be treason or not," replied Aphiz; "it was such as answered to the feelings of my own heart in every word. Betray you! I will die to achieve the object you name."
"This is singular," said Selim, surprised at his earnestness.
"It would not seem so had I dared to tell you my story at first."
"Then you know the girl?" asked the physician and Selim, in a breath.
"Know her? I have been her playmate from childhood. We have loved and cherished each other until our very souls seemed blended into one."
"Then how came she separated from you, and now in the Sultan's harem?" asked the Armenian.
"Ay," continued Selim, "how was it that I saw her offered for sale in the public bazaar?"
"Have patience with me and I will tell you all, of both her history and my own."
Aphiz then related to them the story that is already familiar to the reader, and seeing that those with whom he had to deal were in no way particularly partial to the Sultan, he told word for word the whole truth, even from the hour when he had saved him from the Bedouins, to that when he had been cast into the sea.
All this but the more incited both Selim and the Armenian to strive for Komel's release, and sitting there together, the trio strove how best they could manage the affair. The Armenian's possessing the entree to the palace was a matter of intense importance to the furtherance of the object, and whatever plan should be adopted it was agreed that he should seek the harem and communicate it to Komel, thus obtaining her aid in its execution.
"Doubtless she thinks me dead," said Aphiz; "for the Sultan would take care to tell her that."
"That's true, and so let her think, and we will manage an agreeable surprise for her."
"As you will; but let us to this business this very night," said the impatient Aphiz.
"That we will, and right heartily," said Selim, who hastened to his young wife to tell her that she was to have a dear, beautiful companion in their proposed voyage, and that she would be on board before the morning.
Aphiz was now all impatience. He could scarcely wait for the hours to pass that should bring about the period allotted for the attempt to release her whom he so fondly, and until now so hopelessly, loved. In the meantime the good Armenian physician, with redoubled interest, now that he had learned Aphiz's story, sought the Sultan's harem, where he quietly broached to Komel the plan that had been agreed upon whereby she should be transported once more to her distant home and the scenes of her childhood.
THE ESCAPE FROM THE HAREM.
On one of those soft and glorious nights such as occur so often beneath the eastern skies, when there was no moon and yet a blaze of light pouring down from the myriad of bright stars, that one would not have missed the absence of the Queen of Night; the walks of the Sultan's gardens, fragrant with flowers and sweet blossoms, were drinking in of the dewy hour, still and silently, save at the point where we once before introduced the person of Komel. The spot from whence she had listened to that tender and dearly loved song of her native valley, and nearly in the same place she sat now, again evidently listening and expecting the coming of some person or preconcerted signal.
On the extended branch of the nearest cypress hung the half-witted boy by one arm, which he had cast over the limb, and from whence he was now oscillating like a pendulum, his head hanging down upon his breast, and the rest of his limbs as moveless seemingly, as though he had hung there for months. It was one of the queer odd freaks that he was so often performing, for what purpose no one knew, and there he hung still, while the slave listened and cast anxious glances at the stone wall that forms the sea side of the seraglio gardens.
But no sound greeted her ears save the never ceasing babbling of the fountains, and now and then the soft plaintive cry of some night bird that, wakeful while most of the species slept, warbled its notes to the stars. Once she thought she heard the muffled sound of oars, and started to her feet, but the noise soon died away in the distance, and she relapsed again into the same attitude of impatient and anxious anticipation. Out from under the apparently drooping and senseless eyelids of the idiot, a quick thoughtful glance was turned upon her at every motion she made, but she knew it not, nor did she turn towards the boy at all, while he still swung steadily as though he had been bound by cords to the tree.
Once more she started, but it was a false alarm. The notes she had heard were those of an instrument, played by some favorite of the harem, who looked forth upon the night scene, and coupled its charms with the notes of her lute.—But this too soon died away, and again Komel breathed quick and anxiously as she sat there at midnight. The guard on his rounds came past now, and she assumed a quiet and careless air to avoid notice, while a soldier cast a wondering eye at the idiot boy, and then strode on, with the barrel of his carbine resting lazily in the hollow of his arm.
At this moment there swelled forth upon the night air the note of that well remembered song. It was the preconcerted signal, and springing to her feet, Komel stole quickly to that part of the seraglio wall nearest the water. The idiot boy seemed to comprehend the movement instantly, and to recognize the notes that he had heard once before, and which had so affected the beautiful Circassian, nor had she fairly reached the wall before he was close by her side. She paused for a moment to smile kindly upon him and place her hand upon his head, then turned to listen again.
The boy appeared to understand that something extraordinary was going on, and became as nervous as possible. Now he darted off towards the path where the sentinel had disappeared, and now came back with a step as fleet as a deer, and as noiseless as a cat's. But the scene soon changed by the appearance, above the wall, of the head of Captain Selim, who, peering carefully around for a moment, asked in a whispered tone:
"Lady, lady, are you there?"
"I am," replied Komel, cautiously, while the idiot crowded close to her side.
"If I throw over this rope ladder, will you mount now to the top of the wall?"
"Yes, O yes; let me get away from here quickly."
"Step away from the wall then for a moment," said the young officer, and in an instant after a rope ladder made fast on the outer side, was cast over to her.
"Are you ready, lady?"
"Then come quickly; don't pause for a moment in the ascent, lest you be seen."
Komel thinking of nothing but release from her confinement in the Sultan's household, and seeing in perspective her home and parents, for the Armenian had promised that she should be taken thither, sprang lightly up the tiny, but strong ladder of cord, and was soon on the other side, the boy creeping after as she went. But just as she had passed over the top and was descending on the other side, leaving the idiot boy on the top beside of the young officer, who stood so that his neck and head were above the level of the summit of the wall, the sentinel again came down the path in sight of the place and instantly discovered the whole affair, running with all speed to the spot. The soldier dropped his carbine to seize and detain the ladder, when a struggle ensued between him and the young officer for its possession.
At this critical moment, the soldier seeming to recollect himself, turned to raise his gun, either to shoot Selim or give the alarm; in either case it would be equally fatal to the success of their design. The boy had maintained his position during the brief struggle, but the moment the guard turned to recover his carbine, the half witted creature leaped from his high position directly upon his back and neck and bore him to the ground. The weight of the boy's body was sufficient to bring the soldier to the ground with stunning effect and leave him nearly insensible.
Had this not been the case the boy's finger clutched the throat with the power of a vice and the guard was as insensible as a dead man. In the mean time, the young officer scarcely knowing what to make of the opportune and sudden interference in his favor, drew up the ladder on the other side and prepared to follow Komel, who was already hurried by the Armenian nearly to the side of the boat that waited there, and in the stern of which sat another person in charge of the same. Komel looked back as she was joined by Captain Selim, and asked:
"Where is the boy?"
"What boy?" said the Armenian, ignorant as to whom they referred.
"The half-witted pet of the Sultan's."
"I left him in the grounds," said Selim.—"The guard passed over the ladder, but just as he was about to discharge his carbine, that boy sprang upon him like a tiger, and I think he must have killed him, for I saw the soldier lying on the ground insensible."
"That boy has been my best friend, I cannot bear to leave him."
"It would be madness to stop for anything now," replied the young officer; and so they passed around to the spot where the boat was in waiting, moored closed to the shore.
But let us look back for a moment at the scene on the other side of the seraglio wall where we left the guard overcome by the boy. The poor half witted child sat close beside the body, which was perfectly inanimate. Now he looked up at the bright stars for an instant, now at the still features of the guardsman, and then at the spot where the slave had disappeared over the wall. His movements were nervous and irregular, and he seemed to be trying to understand something or to make up his mind upon some thought that had stolen into his brain.
Suddenly he lifted his head, his eyes glowed like fire, and his chest heaved like a woman's.—He scanned the wall for an instant, then turning, retreated a few yards towards the centre of the grounds. With a short start and a wild bound he was upon its top! another leap carried him to the ground, and with the speed of a horse he ran to the water's edge, just in time for Komel to stretch out her hand and draw him on board the boat. He who sat in the stern was muffled up, and his face could not be seen, but he started to his feet at what seemed to him to be an intrusion; but a sign from the Armenian put all to rights, and the boy coiled himself up like a piece of rope at the feet of the fair girl.
Time was precious to them now, and Selim seizing one oar, the Armenian pulled with another, while he in the stern steered the caique quietly beneath the shade of the shore for some distance, when her course was suddenly altered, and striking boldly across the harbor, it was soon lost among the shipping at anchor.
A little adroitness, with cool courage, will often put all calculations at fault, and thus had the plan for Komel's release proved perfectly successful; thus had the Sultan been robbed of his favorite slave from out the very walls that encircled his palace grounds in spite of all his supposed security. Though it was very plain that the whole affair came very near miscarrying at the time when the guard appeared, and would perhaps have done so had the fellow understood his duty and fired a shot at once, thus if not shooting those engaged in this depredation upon the Sultan's household, at least giving an alarm that would probably have resulted in the arrest of all the parties concerned. But thanks to the bravery and skill of the poor half-witted boy, all had gone safely through, and now Komel found herself seated with the beautiful Zillah in Selim's cabin, safe from all harm.
"So," said the Armenian, drawing a long breath after the unusual exertion he had just experienced, "all is safe thus far. Now we must expedite matters for you to embark in your own craft at once, and in the mean time keep every thing close, especially the boy. He seems so devoted to the girl that it would be too bad to part them, but if he should be seen by any one he will be remembered, and it may lead to detection at once."
"That is true," answered Selim; "but we have got all on board without being observed even by the anchor watch."
"The Sultan will leave no means untried to detect the thief who has stolen his fairest jewel," said the Armenian, "and his reward will be so rich as to tempt the cupidity of every one, therefore be cautious and trust none."
"I will not. At midnight to-morrow we must be on board the Petrel, and at the most quiet moment slip her cable and drop quietly down the coast with the night breeze, and if every thing is propitious, we can get well away in the Black Sea before anything will be suspected of us, and pursuit instituted."
"I shall feel the utmost anxiety until you are fairly away," said the Armenian.
"We owe much to you," replied Selim.
Thus saying, the Armenian and Selim entered the cabin together, where Zillah and Komel sat listening to each other's stories, and fast coming to know each other better and better. Suddenly Komel turned to Selim, and after acknowledging how much she already owed him and the Armenian, said—
"There is one thing I meant to have asked you before."
"And what is that?"
"Who was it that sang that song beneath the seraglio walls?"
"The same notes that formed our signal to-night?" asked Selim.
"O, that was a young Circassian, who is on board here," was the answer.
"But judging from the song he sang, he must be from my native valley."
"Was it familiar to you?"
"As my mother's voice," answered Komel, with feeling. "It is a song that one most dear to me has sung to me many a time, and when a few nights since I heard it, I would have declared that it was his voice again; but I knew him to be gone to a better land; the Sultan took his life, alas! on my own account."
The Armenian looked at Selim, as much as to say, now for the surprise, while the young officer seemed hesitating as to what he should do next, when a noise was heard at the entrance of the cabin, and in a moment after, he who had steered the boat, slipped within and threw off the outer garment that had muffled him. All eyes were turned upon him as he stood for a moment, when Komel exclaimed, trembling as she said so:
"Is this a miracle, or do my eyes deceive me? that is—is—"
"Aphiz Adegah," said the Armenian, while an honest tear wet his cheek.
"Komel!" murmured the young mountaineer, as he pressed her trembling form to his breast.
All there knew their story, and could appreciate their feelings, while not a word was spoken, to break the spell of so joyous a meeting, the joy of such unhoped for bliss.
"The Sultan then deceived me," said Komel, suddenly recovering her voice.
"He was himself deceived, and thinks me dead," replied Aphiz; "my escape was miraculous."
"O, let us away at once from here," said Komel, anxiously; "the Sultan's agent will surely trace us, and I should die to go back to his harem again. Cannot we go at once?"
"Nay, have patience, my dear girl," said the Armenian, "our plans have been carefully laid, and we shall hardly run a single risk of detection or discovery if they are adhered to."
All this while, the half-witted boy lay coiled up in one corner of the cabin unseen, but himself noticing every movement that transpired, until as they all settled more quietly to a realizing sense of their relative positions, when Komel seeking him brought him to Aphiz, and told him how much she owed the poor boy for kindness rendered to her, and even that he had saved her life once, if not a second time, by his mastering the guard.
While the boy looked upon Komel as she spoke, his fine eye glowed with warmth and expression, but when Aphiz took his hand, and he turned towards him, that light was gone, like the fire from a seared coal, and the optics of the idiot were cold and expressionless.
The reader will remember the fleet and beautiful slaver mentioned in an early chapter, when lying off the port of Anapa. The same clipper craft that had conveyed Komel away from her native shores, was destined, singularly enough, to carry her back again, for this was the vessel Selim had secretly purchased and prepared for his escape with his companions from the domain of the Sultan. He was too good a seaman not to manage affairs shrewdly, and though the coming night was the one on which he had resolved to sail, yet the schooner floated as lazily as ever at her moorings. The sails were closely trailed, and the ropes and sheets coiled away as though they would not be used for months again.
But could one have looked on board beneath her hatches, and out of sight of the crowded shipping in the bay, he might have counted a dozen stalwart youths, in the Greek costume, busily employed in getting everything ready below for a quick run, and as the shadows deepened over the Oriental scene, and the sun had fairly sunk to rest behind the lofty summit of Bulgurlu, one or two of the crew might have been seen quietly engaged here and there on deck, but their lazy, indolent movements, rather speaking of a long stay at their present anchorage than an idea of an early departure, and yet a true seaman would have observed that they were loosing everything, in place of making fast.
It was nearly midnight when Selim and his party, headed by Aphiz, left his own ship in a small caique, and quietly pulled with muffled oars, to the side of the schooner, which they boarded without hailing. She had been moored the day previous without the outermost of the shipping, and scarcely had the party got fairly on board, when she slipped her cable, and showing the cap of her fore-topsail to the gentle night air that set over the plains of Belgrade and down the Valley of Sweet Waters, gradually floated away, until by hoisting a few rings of the flying jib, her bows were brought round, and she slipped off towards the Black Sea unnoticed.
Not so much as the creaking of a block had been permitted to disturb the stillness, and now, when Capt. Selim felt too impatient not to make the most of the favorable land breeze, only the light jigger sail that was set so well aft as to reach far over the taffrail, was unfurled easily and dropped into its place, swelling away noiselessly. As impatient as he felt, he wished to skirt those shores silently, and resolved to take every precaution that would prevent a suspicion of the real hurry and anxiety that he felt from evincing itself.
The cutter hugged the Bithynian shore until it had passed that rendezvous for the caravans from Armenia and Persia, the favorite city of Scutari, and then it gradually approached the sea, its mainsail, foresail and topsails were spread, and before the first gray of morning broke over the horizon of the sea, the cutter had almost lost sight of the continent of Europe, and was swiftly ploughing the waves of the great inland ocean. Classic waters! laving the shores of Turkish Europe, Asia Minor, the broad coast of Russia, and that ancient island of Crimea, and finally washing the mountain coast of Circassia and Abrasia.
One of those short cross seas to which inland waters are so liable, was running at the time, and there were evidences, too, of foul weather, for the wind that sets from the north-east for three-fourths of the season in these waters, had hauled more westerly, and dark, ominous looking clouds obstructed the light of the sun as it rose from the horizon. The wind came in sudden and unequal gusts, now causing the clipper to careen till her topsail yards almost dipped, and then permitting her to rise once more to the upright position. Capt. Selim noted these signs well, for he knew the character of these waters, and that these signs prognosticated no favorable coming weather. His sails were first reefed, then close reefed, and finally furled altogether, save a fore-staysail, and the mainsail reduced to its smallest reef points.
While the clipper was scudding under this sail, a close lookout was kept in her wake, for Selim knew very well that at farthest his absence would only be concealed until the morning gun should fire, when the fleetest ship in the Sultan's navy would be dispatched to overtake him. And this was indeed the case, for just at this moment there came to his side a young Greek, who acted as his first officer, and pointing away astern in the south-western board, said:
"There is a man-of-war, sir, standing right in our wake hereaway."
"You are right—we are discovered, too, for he steers like a hawk on the wing about to dive for its prey."
"He is close handed, sir, while we are running nearly free."
"Then he has not yet made out the schooner's bearings; keep her as she is."
Watching the frigate, Selim still held on his course steadily, but the size of the enemy enabled her to carry twice the amount of canvass in proportion to her tonnage that he dared to do. Indeed, he felt the fleet craft under his feet tremble beneath the force with which she was driven through the water even now. As the morning advanced, the frigate gained fast upon them, until at the suggestion of Aphiz, the foresail, close reefed, was put upon the schooner, but quickly taken in again. It was too evident that the gale was increasing, as the bows of the schooner were every other minute quite under water, then she would rise on the next wave to shake the spray from her prow and side like a living creature, then boldly dash forward again.
"That fellow is in earnest," said Selim to Aphiz, "and is determined to have us, cost what it may. See, there goes his fore-to-gallant sail clear out of the belt ropes. Heaven send he may carry away a few more of sails, for he is overhauling us altogether too fast for my liking."
"There goes a gun," said Aphiz.
"Ay, fire away, my hearties," said Selim, "you lose a little with every recoil of that gun, and you can't reach us with anything that carries powder in the Sultan's navy—I know your points."
"That shot struck a mile astern of us," said Aphiz.
"Yes, and at the present rate, it will take him nearly two hours to overhaul us; but by that time, if the gale goes on increasing in this style, he must take in his canvass or lose his masts over the side."
Selim was right, the fury of the gale did increase, and he soon saw the frigate furl sail after sail for her own security, and yet she seemed under nearly bare poles to gain slowly on the schooner, and was now ranging within long shot distance, and commenced now and then to fire from her bow ports. But gunner, ever uncertain on the water, is doubly so in a gale, and nearly all her shot were thrown away, one now and then hitting the clipper, and causing a shower of splinters to fly into the air as though the spray had broken over the spot.
Chance did that for the frigate which all the skill of its gunner could not have done, and a shot aimed at her running gear took a slant upon the wave, and entered her side below the water line, causing a leak that was not discovered until it was too late to attempt its stoppage, and the schooner was slowly settling into the sea.
In the meantime the gale had reached its height, and the frigate, too intent on her own business, had long since ceased firing, and had dashed by the clipper like a race-horse, with everything lashed to the her decks and battened down. And now, when Selim discovered the extent of the danger, and realized that ere long the schooner must sink, he almost wished that the frigate, which had gone out of sight far down to leeward, might be seen once more.
Already had the schooner leaked so fast as to drive the occupants from the cabin to the quarter deck, and here, gathered in a small group, they looked at each other in silence, for death seemed inevitable.
"O, Selim! must we perish?" whispered his young and lovely Zillah.
"Dearest, I trust we may yet be saved. The gale will ere long subside, and even now we are drifting towards the very coast that we should have steered for had all been well with us."
This was so. The clipper, though gradually settling deeper and deeper into the sea, was yet propelled before the breeze by all the canvass that it was deemed prudent to place upon her, right towards the Circassian coast, at a rate perhaps of from four to five knots. The gale, too, now gradually subsided, and enabled the half-wrecked people to take more comfortable positions, and Aphiz and Selim to prepare a raft with the assistance of the crew, for it was but too apparent that the schooner must go down before long. Hollow groaning sounds issued from the hatches as she settled lower and lower, and it really seemed as though the fabric was uttering exclamations of pain at its untimely fate.
By unbinding and loosing the fore and main yards, a foundation was made by lashing these spars together, upon which other timbers and wood work was fastened, and in a few hours a broad and comparatively comfortable raft was formed. But how to launch it? That was beyond the power of all those on board united. To wait until the time when the water should float it from the deck, would be to run the risk of being engulfed with the schooner, and being drawn into the vortex of water that would follow her going down, and thus meet a sure and swift destruction.
But this was now their only hope, and the only means offering itself for their escape, since the stern and quarter boats had been lost or stove in the course of the late gale, and so making a virtue of necessity, they all gathered upon the centre of the raft that had been thus hastily constructed, and awaited their fate. Aphiz and Selim bound their respective charges to the raft by cords about their bodies, to prevent the possibility of their being washed from its unprotected flooring.
Already the water washed over their very feet, and now and then the schooner gave a fearful lurch, that caused all hands to stand fast and believe her going down. Gradually the water crept higher and higher, and the plunging schooner seemed at every fall of her bows to be going down. Even the gentle Komel and Zillah could understand the fearful momentary danger that must ensue when the hull should plunge at last, and they silently held each other's hands.
"Hurrah! hurrah!" cried one of the crew, at the top of his voice.
"What now?" demanded Selim sternly of the man, at his seemingly untimely mirth.
"She floats, she floats—the raft's afloat."
"Then in the name of Heaven, shove off as quickly as possible," said Selim, as he and Aphiz seize each an oar and strove to force the raft away from the deck. A way had already been cut through the bulwarks.
At first the raft did not stir, but gradually it slid away, and finally, to the joy of all, it was free and clear of the schooner's side, and by the strong efforts of the crew, they increased the space between them in a very few moments to the distance of several rods. It was not one moment too soon, for a deep gurgling sound rang on the ear for a moment, then the stern rose above the surface of the sea as the bows plunged, and in a moment after she was gone forever.
Even at a distance they had already gained, they felt the power of the vortex, and were drawn towards its brink with fearful velocity, as though they had been a mere feather floating upon the sea, but gradually the raft became once more steady, and as the twilight settled over the scene the whole party knelt in prayer for protection upon that wide, unbroken waste of waters.
They had taken the precaution to secure some food, though in a damaged state, and partaking sparingly of this as the moon lit up the wild scene, and the sea went down after its turmoil and tempest, they arranged themselves to sleep, Komel and Zillah close by each other's side, and the poor idiot boy coiled himself silently at their feet. He had been uncomplaining and watchful ever since the calamity, but had kept closer than ever to Komel's side, who, even in those moments of fearful trial, found time to bestow upon the boy looks and words of kind assurance,—that was enough—he seemed happy.
All the day and another night were passed thus. The fearful gale had cleared the sea of navigators, who had not yet ventured out from their safe anchorage, and still the raft drove on, aided by a little jury mast and the fore-topsail of the schooner, which had been hastily unbent and placed on the raft. Hunger had attacked them, for the provisions they had saved were now all gone, and this, added to the exposure they suffered, caused many a blanched cheek, and Komel and Zillah seemed ready to give way under the trial.
It was at the dawn of the third day that their eyes were gladdened by the distant hills of Abrasia, and soon after they neared the coast so as to make out its headlands, when a favoring wind, as if on purpose to speed them on their way, came over the Georgian hills from the south-east, and blew them towards the north.
Aphiz was now in a region that he knew well the navigation of, and he declared that with the wind holding thus for a few hours, they would be off the port of Anapa as safely as a steamboat might carry them.
This was indeed the case, and before many hours the well known hills and headlands of Circassia were visible to their longing eyes. Komel could not suppress the joyous burst of feeling that a sight of her native hills again infused into her bosom, but forgetting each pain and trouble, she pointed out first to Zillah, then to Aphiz, and even to the idiot boy, a beauty here, a well known spot there, and the hill behind which stood the cottage of her dear parents. O, how she trembled with impatient joy to reach its door once more.
Under the skilful guidance of Aphiz and Selim, the raft was steered into the harbor, and was soon surrounded by a score of boats, offering their ready assistance to relieve their distresses, and a short time after saw them landed safely, all upon the long, projecting mole.
All the while Selim seemed thoughtful and absent, and looked about him with strange interest, at everything that met his gaze. He even forgot to seek the side of Zillah, who, with Komel, was hurrying away to a conveyance up the mountain side. Nor did he join them until sent for by Aphiz.
Let another chapter explain the mystery of this singular abstraction.
The skies were yet blushing with departing day, and the evening shadows were quietly advancing over mountain top and sheltered valley, the dew was already touching the evening atmosphere with its fragrant mist, "Leaving on craggy hills and running streams, A softness like the atmosphere of dreams," when those who had so providentially been saved from the wreck, wended their way to the door of Komel's home. Scarcely could the poor girl restrain her impatience, scarcely wait for a moment to have the glad tidings broken to those within, before she should throw herself into her parents' arms. O, the joy that burst like sunshine upon those sad, half broken hearts, while tears of happiness coursed like mountain rivulets down their furrowed cheeks. Their dear, dear child was with them once more. Komel was safe, and they were again happy.
"But who are these, my child?" asked the father of Komel, pointing to Selim and Zillah.
"To him am I indebted, jointly with Aphiz, for my deliverance from bondage," she answered, taking Selim's hand and leading him to her father. "And this," she continued, putting an arm about Zillah, "is a dear sister whom I have learned to love for her kindness and sweet disposition. Both come to make our mountain side their future home."
Nor was the poor half-witted boy forgotten, but he received a share of the kindly welcome, and seemed in his peculiar way to understand and appreciate it, keeping continually by Komel's side.
An hour around the social board seemed to acquaint them all with the history of the past twelvemonth, and to reveal more than we might specify in many pages. The cottage was full of grateful hearts and happy souls that night; and Aphiz learned that since Krometz had fallen in that fatal encounter, the deed of the abduction had been fully proved upon him, and that so earnest were the feelings of the mountaineers in relation to the justice of Aphiz's conduct in that matter that he need fear no trouble concerning it. Thus assured, he too joined the home circle of his parents.
Captain Selim, with his bride, made Komel's house their home, but the young officer could not close his eyes to sleep. He rose with fevered brow and paced the lawn before the cottage until morning. Strange struggles seemed to be going on in his brain like a waking dream; he was striving to recall something in the dark vista of the past.
"You seem trouble this morning," said Komel's father, observing his mood. "Are you not well?"
"No, not exactly well," replied Selim; "indeed a strange dream seems to come over me while I look about me here—this mountain air, these surrounding hills, the distant view of the sea, have I ever seen these things before, or is it some troubled action of the brain that oppresses me with undefined recollections?"
"Come in and partake of our morning meal; that will refresh you," said the mountaineer.
"Thanks; yes, I will join you at once," he replied, but turned away thoughtfully.
With the earliest morning, Aphiz was again at the cottage and by Komel's side. O, how beautiful did she look to him now, once more attired in her simple dress of a mountaineer's daughter. No tongue could describe the fondness of his heart, or the dear truthfulness of her own expressive face when they met thus again. Their hearts were too full, far too full for words, and they wandered away together to old familiar scenes and spots in silence, save that their sympathetic souls were all the while communing with each other. At last they came to a spot from whence the lovely valley opened just below them, when suddenly Aphiz pointed to a projecting and dead limb of a tree far beneath them, and asked Komel if she remembered the scene of the hawk and dove.
"Alas! dear Aphiz, but too well. It was indeed an unheeded warning."
"But the dove is once more restored now, dearest, and we must look only for happy omens."
"I have seen so much of sadness, Aphiz," she answered, "that I shall only the more dearly prize the quiet peacefulness of our native hills."
"Thus too is it with me. A few months of excitement, toil, danger and unhappiness abroad, has endeared each spot that we have loved in our childhood still more strongly to me."
"Then shall good come out of evil, dear Aphiz, inasmuch as we shall now live content."
"Have you seen Captain Selim this morning, Komel?" he asked.
"Yes, and I fear he is ill, some heavy weight seems to be upon his heart."
"Let us seek him then, for we owe all to his manliness and courage."
As the twilight hour once crept over hill and valley, the evening meal was spread on the open lawn before the cottage, and when this was over, all sat there and told of the events that had passed, and each other's experiences, for the few past months, during which time Komel had remained a prisoner at the Sultan's palace. Of Selim, they knew only so much of his history as was connected with themselves, and he was asked to relate his story.
"Mine has been a life of little interest," he said, "save to myself alone. Of my birth and parentage I know nothing, and my earliest recollections carry me back to the period when I was a boy on board a Trebizond merchantman, at a time when I was just recovering from what is called the Asia fever, a malady that often attacks those who come from the north of the Black Sea to the Asia coast to live. This fever leaves the invalid deranged for weeks, and when he recovers from it, he is like an infant and obliged from that hour to cultivate his brain as from earliest childhood, and he can recall nothing of the past. Thus I lost the years of my life up to the age of eight or nine.
"I served in that ship until I was its first officer, and by good luck, having been once employed in one of the Sultan's ships as a pilot during a fierce gale, through which I was enabled, by my good luck, to carry the ship safely. I was appointed at once a lieutenant in the service, with good pay, and the means of improvement. The latter my taste led me to take advantage of, and in a short time I found myself in the command, where I was able to serve you."
"But you had no means whereby to learn of your birth and early childhood?" asked Komel's mother.
"None; I have thought much of the subject, but what effort to make in order to discover the truth as it regards this matter, I know not."
"Had you nothing about your person that could indicate your origin?"
"Nor could the people with whom you sailed account for these things?" asked Aphiz.
"They said that I was taken off from a wreck on the Asia shore, the only survivor of a crew."
"How very strange," repeated all.
"You found nothing then upon you to mark the fact?" asked Komel's mother once more, sadly.
"Nothing—stay—there was an oaken cross upon my neck. I had nearly forgotten that; I wear it still, and for years I have thought it a sacred amulet, but it can reveal nothing."
"The cross, the cross?" they cried in one voice, "let us see it."
As he unbuttoned the collar of his coat and drew forth the emblem, Komel's mother, who had drawn close to his side, uttered a wild cry of delight as she fell into her husband's arms, saying:
"It is our lost boy!"
Words would but faintly express the scene and feelings that followed this announcement, and we leave the reader's own appreciations to fill up the picture to which we have referred.
Yes, Captain Selim, the gallant officer who had saved Aphiz's life, and liberated Komel from the Sultan's harem, was her own dear brother, but who had been counted as dead years and years gone by. Could a happier consummation have been devised? and Zillah, who loved Selim so tenderly before, now found fresh cause for joy, delight and tenderness in the new page in her husband's history.
Selim, too, now understood the secret influence that had led him to bid so high for the lone slave he had met in the bazaar, the reason why he had, by some undefined intuitive sense, been so drawn towards her in his feelings, for the dumb and beautiful girl was his unknown sister!
And again when he heard her name mentioned, for the first time, by the Armenian physician, it will be remembered how the name rung in his ears, awaking some long forgotten feelings, yet so indistinctly that he could not express or fairly analyze them. The same sensations have more than once come over him since that hour while they were suffering together the hardships of the week, and the fearful scenes that followed the gale they had encountered after the chase.
Aphiz and Komel loved each other now, as they never could have done, but for the strange vicissitudes which they had shared together. They had grown to be necessary to each other's being, and even when absent from each other for a few hours, in soul they were still together. And hand in hand, side by side, they still wandered about the wild mountain scenery of their native hills. They had no thoughts but of love, no desires that were not in unison, no throbbing of their breasts that did not echo a kindred token in each other's hearts. Life, kindred, the whole world were seen by them through the soft ideal hues of ever present affection.
And when, at last, with full consent from her parents, Aphiz led Komel a blushing bride to the altar, and Selim and Zillah supported them on either side, how happy were they all!
Years pass on in the hills of Circassia as in all the rest of the world beside. Sunshine and shadow glance athwart its crowning peaks, the waves of the Black Sea lave its shores, its daughters still dream of a home among the Turks, and the secret cargoes are yet run from Anapa up the Golden Horn. The slave bazaar of the Ottoman capital still presents its bevy of fair creatures from the north, and the Sultan's agents are ever on the alert for the most beautiful to fill the monarch's harem. The Brother of the Sun chooses his favorites from out a score of lovely Georgians and Circassians, but he does not forget her who had so entranced his heart, so enslaved his affections, and then so mysteriously escaped from his gilded cage.
But as time passes on the scene changes—rosy-cheeked children cling about Aphiz's knees, and a dear, black-eyed representative of her mother clasps her tiny arms about his neck. And so, too, are Selim and Zillah blessed, and their children play and laugh together, causing an ever constant flow of delight to the parents' hearts.
There ever watches over them one sober, quiet eye—one whom the children love dearly, for he joins them in all their games and sports, and astonishes and delights them by his wonderful feats of agility. It is the half-witted creature, who had followed and loved Komel so well. As years have passed over him, the sun-light of reason gradually crept into his brain, and the poor boy saw a new world before him. His only care, his only thought, his constant delight seeming to be these lovely children.
The events of the past are often recurred to by Komel and her husband, around the quiet hearthstone that forms the united home of Selim, Zillah, and themselves, and the sun sets in the west, shedding its parting rays over no happier circle than theirs. Nor does Komel now regret that she was once the Sultan's slave.
As now he lays down his pen, let the author hope that he has won the kind consideration and remembrance of those who have read his story of THE CIRCASSIAN SLAVE.
[FROM GLEASON'S PICTORIAL DRAWING ROOM COMPANION.]
A SCRAP OF ROMAN HISTORY.
BY AN UNKNOWN POET.
In the olden days of Roman Grandeur, glory, wealth, and pride; Once there came a might legion From a vast and far-off region And this Roman power defied. Naught could stay their devastations In the lands through which they came; All the weeping supplications Of the terror-stricken nations Could not quench these Vandals' flame. Ah! most cruel were the invaders, Cruel their chastizing rods! For their hearts were stone-like hardened, These remorseless and unpardoned Foes of men and all the gods. And at last they came with boastings To the gods' and learning's home; Came with boasting, loud and merry, Came, at last, unto the very Walls of proud, imperial Rome. Ah! why did they not, in mercy, Spare the "Mistress of the World!" Or, why did they not, when power Sat on Roman wall and tower, Come, and bid their darts be hurled. For the Romans' strength was broken. Gone, like light from darkness, now; Now, when most that strength was need, Strength was not;—there Weakness worse than Venla's vow. Bearing all the outward semblance Of a firm and mighty hold, Rome was inwardly as feeble As a cemeteried people Changed into corruption's mould. Ease, corruption, strife, dissension, Gaiety, licentious mirth, Luxury;—O, bane of mortals! All had sapped the very portals Of this mightiest queen of earth. Therefore, when these hordes of robbers Swarmed around the Roman's way, Scarcely shadow of resistance Met them near, or in the distance, And they found an easy prey. Vandals, Alans, Allemanni, Longobardi, Avars, Moors, Goths, Suevi, Huns, Bulgarians, Overwhelming, rude barbarians Conquered Rome with deafening roars. Desecrated, fired and plundered, Worse than vessel tempest-tost. Rome was by her dissipations Blotted from the list of nations; Rome was lost!—forever lost!