« ForrigeFortsæt »
an expression of the most unequivocal complacency, and when Maroula, with much majesty, presented him her hand to kiss, at the same time permitting her daughter to grant him a similar favour, he performed the ceremony with a degree of celerity, which entirely vanished when he approached Xanthi.
The neighbours having, with the most elaborately-expressed good wishes, banished from the smiling future of the young couple that terrible and nameless "evil hour" which seems to be ever hanging over the people of the East, Maroula carried off her daughter, to remain in strict retirement till the wedding-day, and, doubtless, to commence already the tressing and arranging of her long black hair. Pepina followed,
for she was not the woman to lose the smallest detail of such interesting proceedings; and, as she clattered after them, she solaced herself with a series of nods and winks, addressed to some imaginary confidant, which clearly intimated that she had discovered something remarkable-and so she had; for the quick-sighted old woman had readily perceived that, although the eyes of Spiro testified the warmest admiration as he gazed on his young betrothed, there was not the slightest symptom of anxiety or astonishment in his looks,
and from these indications she drew the very just conclusion that he had somehow obtained a sly glimpse of his pretty bride before. The fact was, Spiro, though a fine open-hearted young man, was nevertheless a Greek; and he had been so much staggered by the terrible depredations which had been committed on the famous bee-hives on which the prospects of the poor little girl so much depended, that he thought it prudent, at least, to verify for himself her claims to beauty, so eloquently set forth by her mother. To this end, he surreptitiously introduced himself into the garden surrounding Maroula's house, and, looking in at the window, contemplated at his leisure the charming little bride, as she sat, à la Turque, on the floor, occupied in cleaning out the sesama and other grains with which she baked such excellent cakes, and singing, with her clear young voice, a merry song, touching a palikar of great renown, which Spiro at once composedly attributed to himself; and certain it is, that from that hour he would still have pertinaciously insisted on marrying her, even though the unhappy bees themselves had every one been laid low by the strange epidemic -supposed to be a kind of Asiatic cholera which occasionally attacks this industrious race in Greece.
CHAPTER II.-THE WEDDING.
In their own bright land, this happy peasant-couple had little cause to fear that their wedding-day would be devoid of the sunshine which the least superstitious among us is fain to see on such occasions, and to them it was a matter of the first importance, as a single shower of ominous rain would have denoted, beyond a doubt, that the unfortunate bride was to weep incessantly throughout the coming year. But the sky was radiant as Xanthi's own cloudless eyes, where scarce the passing dimness of a child's light grief had been to her the earnest of her portion in the common lot of all humanity, in that sorrow which visibly we see here in a thousand torturing shapes, but which, in truth-noiseless, silent, like a dark shadow-pursues man ever from the cradle to the grave, unknown, often unseen, but always at his side even in his brightest hours; ready, when the
allurements of a seductive world have cast their trammels round the soul, prepared for higher destinies-when the sweet voices of earth have deadened his ears to the eternal call that echoes from above, and present joys have made his grasp relax on future hopesready then is this earthly sorrow to lay at once its cold hand on his wilful eyes, and straightway the gushing tears flow forth, through whose most bitter dew the earth looks dark and drear, and heaven alone is bright!-and, over the grave of the beloved dead, by the side of the estranged friend, in presence of the virtue sullied or the cold hypocrisy revealed, the mortal, unlearned in the mystery of love, beholds the visible form of the dark-winged monitor that is hovering round him, but little deems that stern guide a messenger of mercy, till on his own death-bed, when madeready by suffering, he prepares to
spurn the earth beneath his feet, the sombre guide assumes an angel's radiance, and now, first smiling on the child of misery, forth leads him to the realms of purity! But rather might even the aged have forgotten they must die, when looking on the face of young Xanthi-it was so full of life, and hope, and joy, as, on their wedding-day, she saw the morning break in such sympathetic brightness. True, she received a passing pang when old Pepina, who dearly loved a good calamity, came rushing to the house to announce, with all the zest with which people of a certain temperament hail the indications of an approaching disaster, that a cloud of locusts was to be seen flying in the direction of the vil lage, darkening the sun as they advanced-a heavy visitation with which, from time to time, the various parts of the country are afflicted, to the utter destruction of every green thing wherever the devouring mass may happen to alight. Happily this was a false alarm, for Pepina's eyes were slightly dim, and what she had seen was no other than the cloud of dust raised by the rebellious feet of the troop of asses who were to play a prominent part in the ceremonies of the day, as they were to convey the bride and her trousseau to the house of her husband.
The solemnities of the wedding opened with the attiring of the bride and bridegroom, which was not commenced till all the party were assembled to witness it. Maroula's house, like all others in the village, consisted of a single room, divided into two por tions, the one raised above the other by a flight of wooden steps. In the upper part was Xanthi, seated on the floor, surrounded by all the women of the village. The task which she had to perform throughout the whole day, according to the inviolate custom, was certainly no easy one; for it was considered absolutely necessary, from the time she became a "nymphi," or bride, that she should literally enact the part of a statue, and allow herself to be dressed, married, kissed, and congratulated, without so much as lifting her eyes from the ground, or moving a muscle of her countenance. Two women were appointed to hold her by the arms, and lead her about as occasion required, whilst another held the corner of her veil, and stood ready to put her hair
out of her eyes, or perform any other little offices which such an utter renunciation of personal independence might render necessary. The lively little Mainote had already entered on this arduous duty, and really seemed, with her classical dress, and cheek somewhat more pale than usual, to have been transformed into some beautiful piece of sculpture. But for the intense beating of her little fluttering heart, which made her breast heave so rapidly, she would have appeared in an enchanted sleep, for the long lashes completely veiled her eyes so rigidly cast down. Perfectly motionless she sat, while all the old women-talking, laughing, screaming, and quarrelling crowded round her, arranging and rearranging the minutest details of her dress. Every single lock of her dark hair, carefully separated, was spread out on her shoulders, and, interwoven with silken threads of a similar length, fell down past her knees; her forehead was bound with a string of silver coins one of the hereditary possessions of the family-and when her little stockingless feet had been thrust into embroidered slippers, much resembling the sandal of old, the finishing touch to her toilette was given by the mother herself, who made her eyes seem preposterously large, by drawing a black line from beneath the eyelid to the temple-an operation to which the poor little "nymphi" submitted without winking, as she did to every thing else.
Meanwhile, the toilette of the bridegroom was proceeding with equal solemnity in his own house. He sat in the midst of a circle of men, all as gravely silent as the women were noisy and talkative; whilst the village barber, with a wreath of myrtle round his head, was shaving him, to the sound of exhilirating music, produced by two of the company on their jingling mandolins, who carefully kept time to the movements of the operator. This harmonious accompaniment was, however, not only considered indispensable to the several stages of his toilette, but was destined to be kept up unceasingly throughout the whole day, the performers relieving each other at intervals. The peasants, all seated on the floor, and smoking, of course, looked on at these proceedings with the utmost solemnity. At last, the merry
little barber, having replaced the red cap, with much art, in the most tasteful manner on the bridegroom's head, retired a few paces to contemplate him with great complacency, and protested he was now fit to marry an aga's daughter at the very least. Spiro himself, springing from the ground, adjusted his crimson jacket, tightened a little more the silk scarf that had already been arranged so as to give him a painfully small waist, and then prepared to sally forth with the strut so eloquent of self-approbation, which is peculiar to the Greeks.
Two of his friends instantly seized him by the arms, whose duty it was to lead him about like the similar attendants of the bride, an arrangement which gives an appearance of compulsion to the movements of both parties that is amusing enough, and thus, singing and dancing along, preceded by the musicians, who stoically produced the most horrible and uninterrupted discord, the merry party arrived at the house of the bride. The Papas was already there, and as all the old women had for the last hour been kissing his hands without intermission, he was abundantly willing to proceed to the ceremony without farther delay. He took his place at the table, on which were laid the various articles requisite for the solemnity; the most conspicuous of these were the gilt crowns, destined for the bride and bridegroom, which is the lingering remnant of a singularly ancient custom. They are decorated with wreathes of flowers, and it is one of these touching observances which shed such poetry round the every-day life of eastern nations, carefully to preserve the young maiden's crown, and never again to place it on her head till, cold and stiff, she is carried out to make her couch in the deep, dark grave. She wears it now, in the morning of existence, full of hope for all the joys that, as a wife and mother, she yet may know; and when the long struggle of life, with its cares and its weariness, is over, they replace again upon her head the emblem of all that earth may have of happiness, and send her with it to her final rest. It is most striking to see the withered, shrunken corpse of some aged woman, adorned with the bridal crown, going forth to seek once more in the dust the husband of her
youth, the memory of whose buried love has been, perhaps, her solace through long-widowed years. The
young couple were now placed side by side before the table; each had a lighted taper put into their hands, and their supporters held the crowns over their heads whilst the priest began to read the prayers, many of which are the counterpart of those used in the ritual of the Church of England; these concluded, he joined their hands, and proceeded to the more active part of the ceremony. First, having blest the ring (not a plain gold circlet, but generally some tremendous ruby or torquoise), he made with it the sign of the cross on their foreheads and breasts, and then placed it on the hand of the bride. The married pair now partook of the sacrament; and here, where the religious part of the ceremony is concluded, it may be allowable to find the remainder somewhat ludicrous. The priest appeared suddenly to be seized with a fit of spontaneous hilarity-changing his tone from the nasal chant, which he had been murmuring in a low monotonous manner, he all at once pitched his voice in a high falsetto key, and commenced singing in the merriest manner imaginable; then seizing the bride by one of her hands, whilst she held the bridegroom with the other, he began to dance round the table in the most comical style, accompanied by the whole assembly, for they instantly grasped each other by the hand, and followed him in a long string, old Pepina bringing up the rear, clinging on to a great palikar, and hobbling at a sort of jig step after him. This singular procession danced three times round the table, after which the ceremony was considered complete. The couple were pronounced man and wife, and the little silent bride, statuelike and immoveable as ever, after all due congratulations, was lifted up and carried out in the arms of her husband himself, to be conveyed to his house as a part of his own property. The rest of his worldly goods, consisting of Xanthi's trousseau, and the household furniture presented to them by Maroula, were piled upon the backs of some ten or twelve asses; and when Xanthi had been carefully placed on the foremost, perched on the top of all the cushions and carpets, the whole
procession set out most gaily, Spiro marching in front with his companions, singing at the top of his voice, and the whole population of the village following in the greatest glee. Having arrived at the house, and deposited his wife (the sound of whose voice he had not yet heard) within the room, all decorated with myrtles and flowers, the bridegroom proceeded to spend the rest of the day in a somewhat ungallant manner, for, having carefully shut in his bride, with all the other women, into his house, he composedly joined hands with some dozen of his companions, and began to dance the Romaica before the door, to the sound of
the unceasing music. This characteristic dance, from which the women are excluded, is led by the foremost of the party, who gracefully manœuvres a long silk scarf which he holds over his head, and so hand in hand, with a peculiar hop, they go slowly round in a ring for hours together, only diversifying their proceedings by occasionally leaping high into the air, and sinking down again, so that the full wide petticoat swings out in a circle round them. In this delectable amusement the Mainote bridegroom spent his weddingday; but he was destined to receive a most unexpected interruption.
CHAPTER III.IPSILANTI'S DREAM.
Ir was towards evening, when suddenly a sound, as unwonted as it was startling, broke in on the habitual quiet of the rural village. The loud tramp of a body of horse was heard in the olive grove, and soon, to the astonishment and terror of the peasants, a vast troop of armed men came thundering through the street, and gathered in great numbers round the fountain. Their fear was, however, changed into exultation; first, when they perceived that these were no other than their own countrymen, boldly setting at defiance the tyrannical law of the Turks, which forbade them to wear arms; and then, as they recognized in the leader, whose countenance was turned smiling towards them, the brave and warlike prince, at that time known throughout the whole country by the title of the Deliverer of Greece; and the name of Ipsilanti burst from their lips in one universal shout of applause.
Demetrius Ipsilanti was not the least celebrated of all that illustrious family, each member of which has, within the last few years, expiated in death, whether by violence or from the lingering agony of a broken heart, the crime of too sincere a patriotism; for, let it be noted that there are certain virtues which the world punishes, as surely and as rigorously as the boldest deeds of a bare-faced vice.
He was the younger brother of the generalissimo of the Hæteria, and by him had been sent to conduct, in the southern provinces, the revolution now
ripening so rapidly- -a measure which, in the end, materially affected the destinies of the Greek nation; for this gallant prince, although at that time only five-and-twenty years of age, holds a conspicuous place in the annals of the long war of independence; and there are few of the principal actors in that sanguinary drama, which seems to have called the vilest of human passions into play, whose character shines out so free from taint as that of the young Liberator. He loved his struggling country for her own sake, and not as the field where he himself should march through blood, no matter whose, to a personal glory and re
And to this patriotism, as ardent as it was sincere, he united a rare courage and still rarer integrity; yet the very strength and sincerity of the motive by which he was actuated, in striving for the liberty of Greece, produced in him a carelessness as to the means by which he attained to the one great end, which tarnished all too much his fame as a military leader. War, in its principles and results, taken as an existent fact on the face of this earth-that is, the system of the organized self-destruction of portions of the human race, by the process of individual murder, is a thing so preposterous, that it is only in compliance with received fallacies that we can justly talk of the greater or lesser merit of those who practise it; but, according to the accredited manner of viewing such subjects, the only blemish on the character of Ipsilanti
as a soldier, was the recklessness with which he lavished the blood of his fellow-creatures, in pursuit of the one object which he had in view. He was naturally humane-a rare quality in a Greek but the hope of beholding the restoration of his country had become so much the absorbing principle of his existence, that he seems wantonly to have sacrificed, at times, not only the lives of his enemies, but even of his own fellow-countrymen. His early education in Russia, where human life is a mere saleable commodity, may have tended somewhat to produce this callousness. It was thence that he had now come, as we have said, to take the lead in the revolutionary movement of the Peloponnesus, and was now passing from province to province, less with any distinct hostile intention, than with a view to have himself recognised everywhere as commander-in-chief, that, when a favourable moment should arrive, he might have no difficulty in gathering a tolerable army around him at once. As yet his march had been literally a triumphal procession, and he was now on his
way to the nearest point whence he could look down on Tripoliza, the capital of the Morea, and the very stronghold of the Turks-a city which he dared not attack at present, but which formed the principal object of his ambition, and which was in fact destined one day to fall into his hands. Ipsilanti and his men had ridden into Vervena merely to water their horses, but he was too good a diplomatist not to seize every trifling advantage, which might be turned to his own purposes. Looking round on the villagers, who had assembled to welcome him with the greatest enthusiasm, his keen eye detected a due proportion of stout and able young men amongst them, and he at once proceeded to harangue them, with all the eloquence of which he was master, stating to them his views and intentions, and calling upon each and all to rally around him, even now, or at the least to be ready, when he should claim from them more active proofs of their devotion to his cause. His personal appearance was much against him, for he was of diminutive stature, somewhat awkward in manner,
and afflicted with a slight impediment in his speech; but there is that in the power of a resolute will, which can overcome the most disadvantageous circumstances, and the words he then uttered were not destined to be forgotten.
"Vervenians! I, Demetrius Ipsilanti, am come hither to fight for your liberty! I am your father, who heard your groans, even in the heart of Russia, and have come to protect you—to render you happy-to labour for your deliverance to ensure the felicity of
your families, and to release you from the abject state to which you are reduced by impious tyrants! I desire to see you gather round me as your chief and father-show them that you understand what liberty is! and recognise me as your general and defender!"*
The peasants answered with a shout of enthusiasm, and swore to be ready to rally round his banner, whenever he should call them.
"It is well," said the prince, with a smile; " I shall not fail to redeem your pledge, good patriots." He looked down upon them as he spoke, and his eye was at once attracted by the appearance of Spiro, whose gala dress, as well as his fine figure, rendered him extremely conspicuous. "Here is one," he said, turning towards him, "with a stout arm and a steady eye, that should not linger in inactivity; how say you, Adelphe, will you mount and follow me?" The blood rushed to the forehead of the brave Mainote at this unseasonable request; to refuse the call of his country's deliverer, or even to delay obeying it, was positive torture to him, and yet, ready warrior and patriot as he was, his eye glanced back with a look of anguish on the house where sat his bride of an hour, his little bright Xanthi. He was spared the pain of a reply by the officious old Pepina, who managed to play a prominent part at all times, and now rushed precipitately forward, exclaiming, with a howl of a peculiar nature, which no human being but an old Greek woman can produce,
"Amaun (mercy), Highness! he was married this morning !"
This is word for word part of the address actually made by Ipsilanti, and retained on record in a journal of that period.