Imagens das páginas

"Well, uncle, well," said Harry hastily, raising his eyes; "but a man cannot always keep to physic. There are more things in the world than drugs and lancets. A man must have some margin for his thoughts." Again Miss Willsie gave the culprit a nod and a frown, saying as

plain as telegraphic communication ever said, "I am your friend, but this is not the time to plead." Again Mr Endicott surveyed his cousin with a vague impulse of malice and of rivalry. Harry Oswald plunged down again on his paper, and was no more heard of that night.



"I suppose we are not going to hear anything about it. It is very hard," said Agnes, disconsolately. "I am sure it is so easy to show a little courtesy. Mr Burlington surely might have written to let us know.' But, my dear, how can we tell?" said Mrs Atheling; "he may be ill, or he may be out of town, or he may have trouble in his family. It is very difficult to judge another person and you don't know what may have happened; he may be coming here himself, for aught we know."


Well, I think it is very hard," said Marian; "I wish we only could publish it ourselves. What is the good of a publisher? They are only cruel to everybody, and grow rich themselves: it is always so in books." "He might surely have written at least," repeated Agnes. These young malcontents were extremely dissatisfied, and not at all content with Mrs Atheling's explanation that he might be ill, or out of town, or have trouble in his family. Whatever extenuating circumstances there might be, it was clear that Mr Burlington had not behaved properly, or with the regard for other people's feelings which Agnes concluded to be the only true mark of a gentleman. Even the conversation of last night, and the state and greatness of Mr Endicott, stimulated the impatience of the girls. "It is not for the book so much, as for the uncertainty," Agnes said, as she disconsolately took out her sewing; but in fact it was just because they had so much certainty, and so little change and commotion in their life, that they longed so much for the excitement and novelty of this

new event.

wet day-a hopeless, heavy, perse-
vering, not-to-be-mended day of rain.
The clouds hung low and leaden over
the wet world; the air was clogged
and dull with moisture, only lighten-
ed now and then by an impatient
shrewish gust, which threw the small
raindrops like so many prickles full
into your face. The long branches
of the lilacs blew about wildly with
a sudden commotion, when one of
these gusts came upon them, like a
group of heroines throwing up their
arms in a tragic appeal to heaven.
The primroses, pale and drooping,
sullied their cheeks with the wet
soil; hour after hour, with the most
sullen and dismal obstinacy, the rain
rained down upon the cowering
earth; not a sound was in Bellevue
save the trickle of the water, a per-
fect stream, running strong and full
down the little channel on either side
the street. It was in vain to go to
the window, where not a single pas-
senger-not a baker's boy, nor a maid
on pattens, nobody but the milkman
in his waterproof coat, hurrying along,
a peripatetic fountain, with little
jets of water pouring from his hat,
his cape, and his pails-was visible
through the whole dreary afternoon.
It is possible to endure a wet morn-
ing-easy enough to put up with a
wet night-but they must have in-
deed high spirits and pleasurable
occupations who manage to keep
their patience and their cheerfulness
through the sullen and dogged mono-
tony of a wet afternoon.

So everybody had a poke at the fire, which had gone out twice to-day already, and was maliciously looking for another opportunity of going out again; every person here present snapped her thread and lost her needle; every one, even, each for a single moment, found Bell and Beau

They were very dull this afternoon, and everything out of doors sympa thised with their dulness. It was a

in her way. You may suppose, this being the case, how very dismal the circumstances must have been. But suddenly everybody started the outer gate swung open-an audible footstep came towards the door. Fairest of readers, a word with you! If you are given to morning-calls, and love to be welcomed, make your visits on a wet day!


It was not a visitor, however welcome - better than that-ecstatic sound! it was the postman-the postman, drenched and sullen, hiding his crimson glories under an oilskin cape; and it was a letter, solemn and mysterious, in an unknown hand-a big blue letter, addressed to Miss Atheling. With trembling fingers Agnes opened it, taking, with awe and apprehension, out of the big blue envelope, a blue and big enclosure and a little note. The paper fell to the ground, and was seized upon by Marian. The excited girl sprang up with it, almost upsetting Bell and Beau. "It is in print! Memorandum of an agreement-oh, mamma!" cried Marian, holding up the dangerous instrument. Agnes sat down immediately in her chair, quite hushed for the instant. It was an actual reality, Mr Burlington's letter-and a veritable proposal-not for herself, but for her book.

the slow pace of this dull afternoon to the most extraordinary celerity the moments flew now which had lagged with such obstinate dreariness before the coming of that postman; and all the delight and astonishment of the first moment remained to be gone over again at the home-coming of papa.

And Mr Atheling, good man, was almost as much disturbed for the moment as his wife. At first he was incredulous-then he laughed, but the laugh was extremely unsteady in its sound - then he read over the paper with great care, steadily resisting the constant interruptions of Agnes and Marian, who persecuted him with their questions, What do you think of it, papa?" before the excellent papa had time to think at all. Finally, Mr Atheling laughed again with more composure, and spread out upon the table the important "Memorandum of Agreement." "Sign it, Agnes," said papa; "it seems all right, and quite businesslike, so far as I can see. She's not twenty-one, yet I don't suppose it's legal-that child! Sign it, Agnes."

This was by no means what papa was expected to say; yet Agnes, with excitement, got her blotting-book and her pen. This innocent family were as anxious that Agnes's autograph should be well written as if it had been intended for a specimen of caligraphy, instead of the signature to a legal document; nor was the young author herself less concerned; and she made sure of the pen, and steadied her hand conscientiously before she wrote that pretty "Agnes Atheling," which put the other ugly printer-like handwriting completely to shame. And now it was done there was a momentary pause of solemn silence, not disturbed even by Bell and Beau.

"So this is the beginning of Agnes's fortune," said Mr Atheling. "Now, Mary, and all of you, don't be excited; every book does not succeed because it finds a publisher; and you must not place your expectations too high; for you know Agnes knows nothing of the world."

"It was very good to say "Don't be excited," when Mr Atheling himself was entirely oblivious of his newspaper, indifferent to his tea, and

The girls, we are obliged to confess, were slightly out of their wits for about an hour after this memorable arrival. Even Mrs Atheling was excited, and Bell and Beau ran about the room in unwitting exhilaration, shouting at the top of their small sweet shrill voices, and tumbling over each other unreproved. The good mother, to tell the truth, would have liked to cry a little, if she could have managed it, and was much moved, and disposed to take this, not as a mere matter of business, but as a tender office of friendship and esteem on the part of the unconscious Mr Burlington. Mrs Atheling could not help fancying that somehow this wonderful chance had happened to Agnes because she was a good girl." And until papa and Charlie came home they were not very particular about the conditions of the agreement; the event itself was the thing which moved them: it quickened


[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

ONE of the most severe trials of patience to which the traveller in a wild country is subjected, is invariably to be found in the impracticability of his guides. Circassia, I regret to ay, did not prove a bright exception to this rule.


unworthy in the extreme to be daunted by the perils of the road or the vagueness of our destination. We declared that, in spite of the precipices, we had not seen enough of Circassia, and that it was a matter of perfect indifference to us in which direction we went, seeing that on every side it was new and hitherto untrodden ground. It was perfectly clear that our escort had received instructions to lead us to the inaccessible residence of the Bey with whom we were now lodged, and who was a half-brother of Ismail's, under the belief that we should have had enough of journeying by that time, and be glad to return they had not, therefore, received instructions as to the course to be pursued in the event of our persisting in extending our tour. The main objection seemed to be in the difficulty of procuring us our night's lodging. Ismail Bey had only a certain number of friends in the country, and his influence only extended over a limited district, beyond which it was doubtful whether, as his protegés, we should receive that hospitality which had hitherto been so freely accorded to us.

The province in which his influence, though not paramount, was principally felt, is called Ubooch, and lies between Abkhasia and Shapsugh, the latter forming at present part of the government of Sefer Pasha, who has just headed the Circassian deputation to Constantinople, praying for independence and a protectorate.

We had, before starting from Vardan, distinctly explained to Ismail Bey the length of time and the line of country over which we wished our travels to extend. He assured us that our guides should be given explicit directions upon this head; and therefore, when we found ourselves in a remote valley of a province which had never before been entered by a European, it was with no little dismay that we listened to their query, of where we wished to go to next. We had followed them with the blindest confidence over precipitous mountains, through impetuous streams, along narrow rocky valleys, and by dangerous paths, for two days; and had, by dint of extreme exertion and no little peril of our necks, at last almost attained the summit of a lofty range, only to be asked, when we got there, to inform them as to our future destination. The guides insinuated (and their suggestions were strongly supported by L), that having only reached our present position with much toil and risk, we had better retrace our steps, and not tempt our fate any more upon the wild mountain-sides of Circassia. We held a very different opinion. Having got so far, we voted that it would be

The village at which we passed the night of the 17th October, last year, is one of the most remote in this district of Ubooch, and is situated upon the western slope of the range which divides it from Abbasack; we were, in fact, at this point, not above five or six miles from the boundary of this latter province, and consequently the same distance from the headwaters of those streams which flow into the Kuban. We had, however, determined not to attempt to cross this range, which becomes more precipitous and impracticable near its summit; and as we were equally decided against turning back, the only alternative remained of following along its western slopes, until we thought fit to bend our steps towards the coast. This intention we accordingly announced, and declared, moreover, that we should trust to chance for our night's lodging. This weighty matter having been settled, we held some interesting discourse with our host, who, like our last, was a pilgrim, or hadji, and who also professed a decided antipathy for the Naib. He considered that gentleman a great deal too much addicted to forms and ceremonies a sort of Puseyite, in fact, and consequently an object of aversion in his low-church eyes. He said that he was introducing fanatical customs, which were destroying the simplicity of the Circassian character, and which had for their ultimate aim and object his own self-aggrandisement. He had an infinitely higher respect for Schamyl, but then Schamyl lived two hundred miles off, and he could afford to respect him; the Naib was his nearest neighbour, and constantly threatening his influence in his own country. Moreover, he expressed a very low opinion of the military capacity of the lieutenant of Schamyl, and remarked with a sneer upon the singular custom which prevailed with respect to him in time of war. The Naib, he said, had so great a reputation for prowess in battle, that wherever he was likely to meet the enemy in the field, he was always accompanied by four men, whose business it was to hold him back.

We had reason afterwards to congratulate ourselves upon the liberal

religious sentiments of our host, who despised that narrow-minded injunction of the Prophet, which commands the women to veil their faces. I happened after dinner to stroll into one of the neighbouring rooms, and there found S- surrounded by a bevy of damsels, with whom he had already succeeded in establishing friendly relations. Conversation was of course somewhat limited, as we had no interpreter, and were obliged to convey our sentiments of admiration and respect by the most expressive signs which occurred to us. The young ladies, however, did not depend upon our conversational powers for their amusement. They were quite satisfied with staring at us in amazement, and giggling among themselves, while we found food for contemplation in speculating whether their remarks were likely to be complimentary or not. Gradually, as they found we were quite tame, the group increased; one damsel after another crept in, and squatted upon her heels round the little konak-and one bolder than the rest offered us a quantity of roasted chestnuts, which we skinned and handed to one another with profound civility. At last the group became so noisy that the sounds of merriment reached the ears of the rest of our party, who did not linger over their flesh-pots under such inviting circumstances. Soon the room was crammed full of Englishmen and Circassian girls, the male portion of the native community being collected at the door, and manifesting the most intense interest and amusement in our proceedings. Then, by means of L we held a little conversation, but they became shy again under so formal a ceremony as interpretation, and indeed were evidently a little overwhelmed by the rapid increase to our party, and the general attention they were attracting. So we thought it time to create a diversion by the introduction of a few presents, and a great many yards of printed calico were extended before their glistening and admiring eyes. This, we informed them, we should divide equally and impartially. At the same time I inwardly resolved to secure as large a portion as possible for a charming little creature who

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

had been feeding me with chestnuts,
and whose soft lustrous eyes and long
jet lashes I had compared deliberately
with every other in the room, and
had arrived at the conclusion that
they were unrivalled. In virtue of
this superiority, therefore, it was
clear that she was entitled to the
largest share; and I was just debat-
ing within myself how this was to
be managed, when she settled the
matter for herself in the most off-hand
way, by making a vigorous snatch at
the tempting prize, evidently with an
idea of appropriating the whole. A
beauty on the other side resented so
strong a measure, and firmly grasped
the other end. Each one now saw
that it would become the property of
the stontest arm, and the whole of
the party threw themselves into the
contest with frantic ardour. Not
even in the most excited game of
hunt-the-slipper could more scram-
bling, screaming, pulling, and romping
have been displayed. It was utterly
hopeless to attempt to interfere;
crack went the calico in every direc-
tion. First one and then another
would flourish a fragment of the
crumpled trophy in the air, and then
pass it through the window to her
mother or some of the old beldames
who were looking greedily on, and
then plunge into the ring again for
more. I had the satisfaction of see-
ing my little protegé, with flushed
face, and eyes that flashed with a fire
somewhat at variance with their
former deep repose, come out of the
strife victorious. I took charge of at
least two yards of the precious article
for her while she recovered her breath
and smoothed her ruffled feathers.
Gradually order was once more
restored, and those whose dejected
countenances and swimming eyes be-
trayed the ill-success with which they
come out of the conflict, were
presented with some new pieces, of
patterns so bright and gaudy that
they were more than recompensed.
ladies of that hamlet will
flaunt about, for years to come, in
such trousers as never before graced
the limbs of fair Circassians, except
in the harems of Stamboul. And,
doubtless, swains from neighbouring
villages will be attracted by their
brilliant plumage to pay their devo-


tions to the maidens who captivated the Anglia. Assuredly never can Manchester calico be converted to nobler use than when, cut into the shape of a short tunic, it shall adorn their graceful figures; and the sunflower pattern cannot be more highly honoured than when in the form of loose trousers, tight at the ankle, it shows to advantage the tiny little white foot peering out from beneath.

On the following morning we bade a tender adieu to all these lovely damsels, who were paraded upon the green by our host for that purpose. They formed a most fascinating array. In front stood the two daughters of the Bey, in their richest attire, and perched upon curiously-shaped pattens, which raised the wearers five or six inches above the ground, and which were richly mounted in silver. Behind them a row of handmaidens waited in respectful attendance, the children of serfs belonging to the great man, and the humble companions of his own daughters. He pointed with a dolorous expression to all this valuable property, rendered utterly worthless by the recent firman, which forbids the exportation of slaves, and which he knew perfectly well emanated from the English. Here was an extensive stock in trade thrown upon his hands, and their proprietor found himself deprived of his entire income, for girls have hitherto been the only raw material of Circassia which could be converted into money. The only currency which ever found its way into the country was in exchange for the female part of the population, and now that this source of revenue is cut off, the owners will be compelled to barter them amongst themselves for horses. Girls and horses are almost convertible terms in Circassia, and are valued as nearly as possible alike, though I am bound to say that in any other country the former would fetch a far higher price than the latter. It is very seldom that a Circassian will give two horses for one girl. We laughingly asked some of these young ladies if they would come with us to Stamboul; and their eyes sparkled with delight at the idea, as they unhesita tingly expressed their willingness to

« AnteriorContinuar »