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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
Maimuna went back, conversed with her again, and returned with the money.
66 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.
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 limit to say, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther!" 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 ;—I should feel it till my heart burst, had I the wings of a bird!
The house once occupied by Lady Mary Wortley Montague stands
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 your 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. 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
wilds of Missouri; but a further search discloses, in the recesses of the hidden windings of the valley, circular staircases of marble leading to secluded baths, now filled with leaves and neglected, but evidently on a scale of the most imperial sumptuousness. From the perishable construction of Turkish dwelling-houses, all traces even of the most costly serai may easily have disappeared in a few years, when once abandoned to ruin; and I pleased myself with imagining, as we slackened bridle, and rode slowly beneath the gigantic trees of the forest, the gilded pavilions, and gay scenes of Oriental pleasure that must have existed here in the days of the warlike yet effeminate Selims. It is a place for the enchantments of the " Arabian Nights" to have been realized.
I have followed the common error in giving these structures in the forest of Belgrade the name of aqueducts. They are rather walls built across the deep valleys, of different altitudes, to create reservoirs for the supply of aqueducts, but are built with all the magnificence and ornament of a façade to a temple.
We rode on from one to the other, arriving at last at the lowest, which divides the valley at its wildest part, forming a giddy wall across an apparently bottomless ravine, as dark and impracticable as the glen of the Cauterskill in America. Our road lay on the other side, but though with a steady eye one might venture to cross the parapet on foot, there were no means of getting our horses over, short of a return of half a mile to the path we had neglected higher up the valley. We might swim it, above the embankment, but the opposite shore was a precipice.
"What shall we do ?" I asked.
Job made no answer, but pulled round his beast, and started off in a sober canter to return.
I stood a moment, gazing on the placid sheet of water above, and the abyss of rock and darkness below, and then calling to Maimuna, who had ridden farther down the bank, I turned my horse's head after him. Signore!" cried the gipsy from below.
"What is it, Carissima?"
"Maimuna never goes back!"
Silly child!" I answered, "you are not going to cross the ravine?" "Yes!" was the reply, and the voice became more indistinguishable as she galloped away. 66 I will be over before you!"
I was vexed, but I knew the self-will and temerity of the wild Asiatic, and, very certain that, if there were danger, it would be run before I could reach her, I drove the stirrups into my horse's sides, and overtook Job at the descent into the valley. We ascended again, and rode down the opposite shore to the embankment, at a sharp gallop. Maimuna was not there.
"She will have perished in the abyss," said Job.
sprang from my horse to cross the parapet on foot, in search of her, when I heard her horse's footsteps, and the next moment she dashed up the steep, having failed in her attempt, and stood once more where we had parted. The sun was setting, and we had ten miles to ride, and impatient of her obstinacy, I sharply ordered her to go up the ravine at speed, and cross as we had done.
I think I never shall forget, angry as I was at the moment, the
appearance of that lovely creature, as she resolutely refused to obey me. Her horse, the same fiery Arabian she had ridden from Sardis (an animal that, except when she was on his back, would scarce have sold for a gold sequin), stood with head erect, and panting nostrils, glancing down with his wild eyes upon the abyss into which he had been urged,—the whole group, horse and rider, completely relieved against the sky from the isolated mound they occupied, and, at this instant, the gold flood of the setting sun pouring full on them through a break in the masses of the forest. Her own fierce attitude, and beautiful but frowning face, the thin lip curled resolutely, and the brown and polished cheek deepened with a rosy glow, her full and breathing bosom swelling beneath its jacket, and her hair, which had escaped from the turban, flowing over her neck and shoulders, and mingling with the loosened fringes of red and gold in rich disorder-it was a picture which the pencil of Martin (and it would have suited his genius) could scarce have exaggerated. The stately, half-Arabic, half-Grecian architecture of the aqueducts, and the cold and frowning tints of the abyss and the forest around, would have left him nothing to add to it as a composition.
I was crossing the giddy edge of the parapet, looking well to my feet, with the intention of reasoning with the obstinate being, who, vexed at my reproaches and her own failure, was now in as pretty a rage as myself, when I heard the trampling of horses in the forest. I stopped mid-way to listen, and presently there sprang a horseman up the bank in an Oriental costume, with pistols and ataghan flashing in the sun, and a cast of features that at once betrayed his origin, "A Zingara!" I shouted back to Job.
The gipsy, who was about nineteen, and as well-made and gallant a figure for a man, as Maimuna for a woman, seemed as much astonished as ourselves, and sat in his saddle gazing on the extraordinary figure I have described, evidently recognising one of his own race, but probably puzzled with the mixture of costumes, and struck at the same time with Maimuna's excessive beauty. Lovely as she always was, I had never seen her to such advantage as now. She might have come from fairyland, for the radiant vision she seemed in the gold of that burning
I gazed on them both a moment, and was about finishing my traverse of the parapet, when a troop of mounted gipsies and baggage-horses came up the bank at a quick pace, and in another minute Maimuna was surrounded. I sprang to her bridle, and apprehensive of, I scarce knew what danger, gave her one of the two pistols I carried always in my bosom.
The gipsy chief (for such he evidently was) measured me from head to foot with a look of dislike, and speaking for the first time, addressed Maimuna in his own language with a remark which sent the blood to her temples with a suddenness I had never before seen.
"What does he say?" I asked.
"It is no matter, Signore, but it is false !" Her black eyes were like coals of fire, as she spoke.
Leave your horse," I said to her, in a low tone, "and cross the parapet. I will prevent his following you, and will join you on your
own before you can reach Constantinople. Turn the horses heads homeward!" I continued in English to Job, who was crying out to me from the other side to come back.
Maimuna laid her hand on the pommel to dismount, but the gipsy, anticipating her motion, touched his horse with the stirrup, and sprang with a single leap between her and the parapet. The troop had gathered into a circle behind us, and seeing our retreat thus cut off, I presented my pistol to the young chief, and demanded, in Italian, that he should clear the way.
A blow from behind, the instant that I was pulling the trigger, sent the discharged pistol into the ravine, and, in the same instant, Maimuna dashed her horse against the unguarded gipsy, nearly overturning him into the abyss, and spurred desperately upon the parapet. One cry from the whole gipsy troop, and then all was as silent as the grave, except the click of her horse's hoofs on the marble verge, as, trembling palpably in every limb, the terrified animal crossed the giddy chasm at a half trot, and, in the next minute, bounded up the opposite bank, and disappeared with a snort of fear and delight amid the branches of the forest.
What with horror and wonder, and the shock of the blow which had nearly broken my arm, I stood motionless where Maimuna had left me, till the gipsy, recovering from his amazement, dismounted and put his pistol in turn to my breast.
"Call her back!" he said to me, in very good Italian, and with a tone in which rage and determination were strangely mingled, where you stand."
66 or you die
Without regarding his threat, I looked at him with a new thought stealing into my mind. He probably read the pacific change in my feelings, for he dropped his arm, and the frown on his own features moderated to a steadfast and inquisitive regard.
Zingara!" I said, " Maimuna is my slave."
A clutch of his pistol stock, and a fiery and impatient look from his fine eyes, interrupted me for an instant. I proceeded to tell him briefly how I had obtained possession of her, while the troop gradually closed around, attracted by his excessive look of interest in the tale, though they probably did not understand the language in which I spoke, and all fixing their wild eyes earnestly on my face.
"And now, Zingara," I said, "I will bring her back on one condition-that, when the offer is fairly made her, if she chooses still to go with me, she shall be free to do so. I have protected her, and sworn still to protect her as long as she should choose to eat of my bread. Though my slave, she is as pure and guiltless as when she left the tent of her mother, and is worthy of the bosom of an emperor!"
The Zingara took my hand, and put it to his lips.
"You agree to our compact, then?" I asked.
He put his hand to his forehead, and then laid it, with a slight inclination, on his breast.
"She cannot have gone far," I said, and stepping on the mound above the parapet, I shouted her name till the woods rang again with the echo.
A moment, and Job and Maimuna came riding to the verge of the