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NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
THE GIPSY'S RIDE*.
Ten o'clock, A.m., and the weather like the Prophet's Paradise,
“Warmth without heat, and coolness without cold." Madame Josepino stood at the door of her Turco-Italian boardinghouse in the nasty and fashionable main street of Pera, dividing her attention between a handsome Armenian, with a red button in the top of his black lamb’s-wool capt, and her three boarders, Job, Maimuna, and myself, at that critical moment about mounting our horses for a gallop to Belgrade.
We kissed our hands to the fat and fair Italian, and with a promise to be at home for supper, kicked our shovel-shaped stirrups into the sides of our horses, and pranced away up the street, getting many a glance of curiosity, and one or two that might be more freely translated, from the dark eyes that are seen day and night at the windows of the leadencoloured houses of the Armenians.
We should have been an odd-looking cavalcade for the Boulevard or Bond-street, but, blessed privilege of the East! we were sufficiently comme il faut for Pera. To avoid the embarrassment of Maimuna's sex, I had dressed her, from an English “ slop-shop” at Galata, in the checked shirt, jacket, and trowsers of a sailor-boy, but as she was obstinately determined that her long black hair should not be shorn, a turban was her only resource for concealment, and the dark and glossy mass was hidden in the folds of an Albanian shawl, forming altogether as inharmonious a costume as could well be imagined. With the white duck trowsers tight over her hips, and the jacket, which was a little too large for her, loose over her shoulders and breast, the checked collar tied with a black silk cravat close round her throat, and the silken and gold fringe of the shawl flowing coquettishly over her left cheek and ear, she was certainly an odd figure on horseback, and, but for her admirable riding and excessive grace of attitude, she might have been as much a subject for a caricature as her companion. Job rode soberly along at her side, in the green turban of a Hajji (which he had persisted in wearing ever since his pilgrimage to Jerusalem), and, as he usually put it on askew, the gaillard and rakish character of his head-dress,
* Concluded from page 467, vol. xliv., No. clxxvi. | The Armenians at Constantinople are despised by the Turks, and tacitly submit, like the Jews, to occupy a degraded position as a people. A few, however, are employed as interpreters by the embassies, and these are allowed to wear the mark of a red worsted button in the high black cap of the race,-a distinction which just serves to make them the greatest possible coxcombs. Sept.-VOL. XLV. NO. CLXXVII.
and the grave respectability of his black coat and salt-and-pepper trowsers, produced a contrast which elicited a smile even from the admiring damsels at the windows.
Maimuna went caracoling along till the road entered the black shadow of the Cemetery of Pera, and then, pulling up her well-managed horse, she rode close to my side, with the air of subdued respect which was more fitting to the spirit of the scene. It was a lovely morning, as I said, and the Turks, who are early risers, were sitting on the graves of their kindred with their veiled wives and children, the marble turbans in that thickly-sown nekropolis less numerous than those of the living, who had come, not to mourn the dead who lay beneath, but to pass a day of idleness and pleasure on the spot endeared by their memories.
“I declare to you,” said Job, following Maimuna's example in waiting till I came up, “ that I think the Turks the most misrepresented and abused people on earth. Look at this scene! Here are whole families seated upon graves over which the grass grows long and old, the children playing at their feet, and their own faces the pictures of calm cheerfulness and enjoyment. They are the by-word for brutes, and there is not a gentler or more poetical race of beings between the Indus and the Arkansaw !"
It was really a scene of great beauty. The Turkish tombs are as splendid as white marble can make them, with letters and devices in red and gold, and often the most delicious sculptures, and, with the crowded closeness of the monuments, the vast extent of the burialground over hill and dale, and the cypresses (nowhere so magnificent) veiling all in a deep religious shadow, dim, and yet broken by spots of the clearest sunshine, a more impressive and peculiar scene could scarce be imagined. It might exist in other countries, but it would be a desert. To the Mussulman death is not repulsive, and he makes it a resort when he would be happiest. At all hours of the day you find the tombs of Constantinople gaily surrounded by the living. They spread their carpets, and arrange their simple repast around the stone which records the name and virtues of their own dead, and talk of them as they do of the living and absent,-parted from them to meet again, if not in life, in Paradise.
“ For my own part,” continued Job," I see nothing in Scripture which contradicts the supposition that we shall haunt, in the intermediate state between death and heaven, the familiar places to which we have been accustomed. In that case, how delightful are the habits of these people, and how cheeringly vanish the horrors of the grave ! Death, with us, is appalling! The smile has scarce faded from our lips,-the light scarce dead in our eye,—when we are thrust into a noisome vault, and thought of but with a shudder and a fear. We are connected thenceforth, in the memories of our friends, with the pestilent air in which we lie, with the vermin that infest the gloom, with chilliness, with darkness, with disease; and, memento as it is of their own coming destiny, what wonder if they chase us, and the forecast shadows of the grave, with the same hurried disgust from their remembrance. Suppose, for an instant, (what is by no means improbable,) that the spirits of the dead are about us, conscious and watchful! Suppose that they have still a feeling of sympathy in the decaying form they
to the grave.
have so long inhabited, in its organs, its senses, its once-admired and long-cherished grace and proportion; that they feel the contumely and disgust with which the features we professed to love are cast like garbage into the earth, and the indecent haste with which we turn away from the solitary spot, and think of it but as the abode of festering and revolting corruption !"
At this moment we turned to the left, descending to the Bosphorus, and Maimuna, who had ridden a little in advance during Job's unintellible monologue, came galloping back to tell us that there was a corpse in the road. We quickened our pace, and the next moment our horses started aside from a bier, left in a bend of the highway with a single individual, the grave-digger, sitting cross-legged beside it. Without looking up at our approach, the man mumbled something between his teeth, and held up his hand as if to arrest us in our path.
“What does he say ?” I asked of Maimuna.
“ He repeats a verse of the Koran,” she replied, “ which promises a reward in Paradise to him who bears the dead forty steps on its way
Job sprang instantly from his horse, threw the bridle over the nearest tombstone, and made a sign to the grave-digger that he would officiate as bearer. The man nodded assent, but looked down the road without arising from his seat.
“You are but three,” said Maimuna,“ and he waits for a fourth.”
I had dismounted by this time, not to be behind my friend in the humanities of life, and the grave-digger, seeing that we were Europeans, smiled with a kind of pleased surprise, and uttering the all-expressive “ Pekkhe!” resumed his look-out for the fourth bearer. The corpse was that of a poor
The coffin was without a cover, and he lay in it, in his turban and slippers, his hands crossed over his breast, and the folds of his girdle stuck full of flowers. He might have been asleep, for any look of death about him. His lips were slightly unclosed, and his long beard was combed smoothly over his breast. The odour of the pipe and the pastille struggled with the perfume of the flowers, and there was in his whole aspect a life-likeness and peace, that the shroud and the close coffin, and the additional horrors of approaching death, perhaps, combine, in other countries, utterly to do away:
“ Hitherto,” said Job, as he gazed attentively on the calm old man, “ I have envied the Scaligers their uplifted and airy tombs in the midst of the cheerful street of Verona, and, next to theirs, the sunny sarcophagus of Petrarch, looking away over the peaceful Campagna of Lombardy; but here is a Turkish beggar who will be buried still more enviably. Is it not a Paradise of tombs,—a kind of Utopia of the dead ?”
A young man with a load of vegetables for the market of Pera, came toiling up the hill behind his mule. Sure of his assistance, the gravedigger arose, and as we took our places at the poles, the marketer quietly turned his beast out of the road, and assisted us in lifting the dead on our shoulders. The grave was not far off, and having deposited the corpse on its border, we returned to our horses, and, soon getting clear of the cemetery, galloped away with light hearts toward the Valley of Sweet Waters.
II. We were taking breath on the silken banks of the Barbyses,Maimuna prancing along the pebbly bed, up to her barb's girths in sparkling water, and Job and myself laughing at her frolics from either side, when an old woman, bent double with age, came hobbling toward us from a hovel in the hill-side.
“ Maimuna,” said Job, fishing out some trumpery paras from the corner of his waistcoat pocket, "give this to that good woman, and tell her that he who gives it is happy, and would share his joy with her.”
The gipsy spurred up the bank, dismounted at a short distance from the decrepit creature, and after a little conversation returned, leading her horse.
“ She is not a beggar, and wishes to know why you give her money." “Tell her to buy bread for her children,” said my patriarchal friend.
Maimuna went back, conversed with her again, and returned with
“ She says she has no need of it. There is no human creature between her and Allah !”
The old woman hobbled on, Job pocketed his rejected paras, and Maimuna rode between us in silence.
It was a gem of natural poetry that was worthy of the lips of an angel.
III. We kept up the Valley of Sweet Waters, tracing the Barbyses through its bosom, to the hills; and then mounting a steep ascent, struck across to the east, over a country, which, though so near the capital of the Turkish empire, is as wild as the plains of the Hermus. Shrubs, forest-trees, and wild grass, cover the apparently illimitable waste, and save a half-visible horse-path which guides the traveller across, there is scarce an evidence that you are not the first adventurer in the wilderness.
What a natural delight is freedom! What a bound gives the heart at the sight of the unfenced earth, the unseparated hill-sides, the unhedged and unharvested valleys ! How thrilling it is—unlike any other joy—to spur a fiery horse to the hill-top, and gaze away over dell and precipice to the horizon, and never a wall between, nor a human
“ Thus far shalt thou go, and no further !" Oh, I think we have an instinct, dulled by civilization, which is like the caged eaglet's, or the antelope's that is reared in the Arab's tent-an instinct of nature that scorns boundary and chain ;—that yearns to the free desert,—that would have the earth like the sea or the sky, unappropriated and open ;-that rejoices in immeasurable liberty of foot and dwelling-place, and springs passionately back to its freedom even after years of subduing method and spirit-breaking confinement! I have felt it on the sea-in the forests of America on the desolated plains of Asia and Roumelia ;-) should feel it till my heart burst, had I the wings of a bird !
The house once occupied by Lady Mary Wortley Montague stands
limit to say,
on the descent of a hill in the little village of Belgrade, some twelve or fourteen miles from Constantinople. It is a commonplace two-story affair, but the best house of the dozen that form the village, and overlooks a dell below that reminds one of the “ Emerald valleys of Cashmeer.” We wandered through its deserted rooms, discussed the clever woman who has described her travels so graphically, and then followed Maimuna to the narrow street, in search of kibaubs. The butcher's shop in Turkey is as open as the trottoir to the street, and with only an entire sheep hanging between us and a dozen hungry beggars, attracted by the presence of strangers, we crossed our legs on the straw carpet, and setting the wooden tripod in the centre, waited patiently the movements of our feeder, who combined in his single person the three vocations of butcher, cook, and waiter. One must have travelled east of Cape Colonna to relish a dinner so slightly disguised, but, once rid of European prejudices, there is nothing more simple than the fact that it is rather an attractive mode of feeding—a traveller's appetite subauditur.
Our friend was a wholesome-looking Turk, with a snow-white turban, a black, well-conditioned beard, a mouth incapable of a smile, yet honest, and a most trenchant and janissaresque style of handling his cleaver. Having laid open his bed of coals with a kind of conjuror's flourish of the poker, he slapped the pendent mutton on the thigh in a fashion of encouragement, and waiting an instant for our admiration to subside, he whipped his knife from its sheath, and had out a dozen strips from the chine (as Job expressed it in Vermontese)“ in no time.” With the same alacrity these were cut into bits “ of the size of a piece of chalk,” (another favourite expression of Job's,) run upon a skewer, and laid on the coals, and in three minutes, more or less, they appeared smoking on the trencher, half lost in a fine green salad, well peppered, and of a most seducing and provocative savour. If you have performed
four ablutions A.M., like a devout Mussulman, it is not conceived in Turkey that you have occasion for the medium of a fork, and I frankly own, that I might have been seen at Belgrade, cross-legged in a kibaub-shop, between my friend and the gipsy, and making a most diligent use of my thumb and forefinger. I have dined since at the Rochers de Cancale and the Traveller's with less satisfaction.
Having paid something like sixpence sterling for our three dinners (rather an overcharge, Maimuna thought), we unpicketed our horses from the long grass, and bade adieu to Belgrade, on our way to the Aqueducts. We were to follow down a verdant valley, and, exhilarated by a flask of Greek wine (which I forgot to mention), and the ever-thrilling circumstances of unlimited greensward and horses that wait not for the spur, we followed the daring little Asiatic up hill and down, over bush and precipice, till Job cried us mercy. We pulled up on the edge of a sheet of calm water, and the vast marble wall built by the Sultans in the days of their magnificence, and crossing the valley from side to side, burst upon us like a scene of enchantment in the wilderness.
Those same Sultans must have lived a great deal at Belgrade. Save these vast aqueducts, which are splendid monuments of architecture, there is little in the first aspect to remind you that you are not in the