Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

do so. A Circassian young lady anticipates with as much relish the time when she shall arrive at a marketable age, as an English young lady does the prospect of her first London season. But we have prevented the possibility of their forming any more of those brilliant alliances which made the young ladies of Circassia the envy of Turkeydom, The effect is, in fact, very much the same as that which an Act of Parliament would have in this country, forbidding any squire's daughter to marry out of her own parish, thus limiting her choice to the curate, the doctor, and the attorney; and the result, in all probability, will be anything but beneficial to the morality of the community. Hitherto the female portion of society was influenced by a powerful, though perhaps an unworthy motive, to maintain that propriety of conduct, a violation of which would seriously have depreciated their value in the market. Now that restraint (and among a savage people it is difficult to substitute a more efficient one than interest) is withdrawn, in the absence of any moral principle no motive exists to induce them to cherish that virtue which the suppression of slavery appears to them to have deprived of its value.

We were half-tempted to put off our departure for a day, for the purpose of visiting a cave and some ruins which our host described as the wonder of the neighbourhood. It so often happens, however, that the traveller is misled by the extravagant description by savages of the marvels of their country, that we were scarce ly disposed to risk the expenditure of our valuable time upon the word of the Bey, though it is possible we may have missed a discovery which may rejoice the heart of some future traveller. It was late before we were en route toiling up the steep side of the range, which rose abruptly in rear of our quarters of the previous night. We had replaced our shattered baggage-pony by a fresh animal, and were progressing prosperously, when the other pack-horse tumbled over a precipice. It was fortunately not above fifty feet in height, and his velocity was checked by the brushwood, which cracked under him as

he gently revolved to the bottom, and was brought up on his back in the bed of a stream. The process of hauling him up again to the path caused some delay, and the extreme difficulty of our way rendered our progress necessarily slow. As we attained a higher elevation, the character of the vegetation underwent its usual change, and here and there a pine tree mingled its dark green with the more vivid foliage of the beech. These were already beginning to assume autumnal tints, and at the top of the range to drop their yellow leaves. We estimated our elevation at the highest point at about six thousand feet above the sea-level, and it was no small relief to exchange the upward scramble for the downward rush. The Circassian ponies retain their centre of gravity on these occasions with wonderful instinct, and they are by no means to be supposed to lack sure-footedness because they occasionally tumble over precipices. In no other country that I have ever been in are horses expected to perform such extravagant feats. Indeed, except in Nepaul, I have never seen such dangerous roads, and there men carry the passengers, and sheep the merchandise. The wonder in Circassia is, not that the horses fall over the precipices, but that they do it with so much impunity. It is singular also that in a highland country a horse should be as indispensable a possession to a mountaineer as his wife. No Circassian is without one or two horses, and yet, except upon the occasional stony bed of a river, or along the sea-shore, there is not fifty yards of level ground in the country. Even the natives are obliged frequently to dismount, though they fearlessly ride over ledges of slippery rock, over hanging dizzy heights, which make one shudder to think of, past which it requires some nerve even for a man trusting to his own stout legs and careful steps to carry him, and to attempt which on horseback seems little short of insanity. As we descended towards the valley of the Schacho, our guides pointed out to us amongst the bushes the leaves of a plant resembling as nearly as possible the tea plant of China, and from which they assured us the

most to conceal it; rank grass and ferns grew in dark moist corners, and mosses and lichens clung to the weather-beaten surface. It was a silent hidden spot, at the bottom of a deep valley, from which no view was visible, seldom visited even by the natives, for the path we were travelling was so little frequented that it was often nearly invisible, and never seen before by a European, We were the first to discover its secrets, and speculate upon their origin; doubtless, for years to come the majestic grove in which lie concealed these monuments of a bygone race will remain untrodden and unknown.

natives were accustomed to infuse a similar beverage. We never had an opportunity of tasting Circassian tea. The valley of the Schacho was prettily cultivated, and the scenery assumed a somewhat softer tone as we descended from the higher elevation. We stopped to rest in a grove of magnificent trees, where some singular monuments arrested our attention. Large masses of rock, which protruded here and there from the hill-side, had been smoothed by the hand of man, and presented an almost perpendicular plain surface about six feet square. On each side the rock had been shaped into somewhat the form of a buttress, so as to give a sort of finish to the work, and in the centre was a circular aperture about eighteen inches in diameter. Upon looking through this, we perceived an excavation in the solid rock, of about six feet square and four in height. The roof was formed by a single slab of stone, which had apparently been hewn for the purpose, and placed upon the top. The hypothesis which most immediately presented itself to our minds, upon inspecting these singular cavities, was, that they were sarcophagi, although it was difficult to divine the object of the circular aperture in front. We asked the guides their explanation of the mystery, and they said that in former times their country was inhabited by a race of dwarfs, who were served by a race of giants; that one great use to which the dwarfs put the obedient giants, was the construction of durable and substantial habitations, and that the excavations we were inspecting were the result of their labours. The circular apertures were the entrances, and as the little people used to ride on hares, their dimensions were most appropriate. While L- was delivering this marvellous history with great unction, we were sketching the subject of his discourse. Their whole aspect and position invested them with an air of solemnity and mystery. The gnarled trunks of gigantic oaks rested heavily upon the rude architecture, or twisted their giant roots into the crevices of the sculptured rocks. The dense foliage overhead drooped sometimes over the whole, so as al

VOL. LXXX.-NO. CCCCLXXXIX.

Shortly after leaving this interesting spot, we found ourselves in the valley of the Schacho. We had accomplished the descent from the top of the ridge with immense rapidity, and our host of the previous evening, who had politely accompanied us thus far, here bade us adieu. The crossing of the tumultuous Schacho was the most perilous undertaking of the kind which we had attempted. The horses could barely keep their footing upon the stony slippery bottom, while the rushing stream reached to the holsters. After one or two unsuccessful attempts we found a ford, and, with the exception of the baggage getting drenched, suffered no other inconvenience. We now saw, to our dismay, a range before us quite equal in height to the one we we had just traversed. The guides informed us that, if we did not stop where we were for the night, there was a great risk of our failing to accomplish the ascent, and thus being compelled to camp out, as there were no houses until we reached the other side. This was a most disagreeable prospect. At the same time the day was still young; we had four good hours of daylight before us, and we determined to push vigorously on, and risk the chance of a night in the woods. Our start was not auspicious. The path, more narrow than ever, was at one place so unpleasantlooking that some of the party dismounted; among

others L

whose chestnut horse was a proverbial fool at picking his way. I did not think the same precaution ne

D

cessary with the clever little beast I bestrode, but the chestnut, though left entirely to himself, slipped his hind foot, lost his balance, and went clean over thirty feet perpendicular, performing a sumersault in the air, and landing upon a quantity of sharp rocks. Of course we expected to find that his back was broken-for although the height was not great, there had been nothing whatever to check his fall. To our amazement, however, he got upon his feet, and though he was evidently much bruised, and bled a good deal from the mouth, he managed to scramble through the remainder of that tremendous day's journey, and lived to undergo the horrors of Omer Pasha's campaign. A very few yards after this, and even the Circassians were obliged to dismount. Recent rains had made the path so sticky and muddy that the ponies were soon utterly exhausted, and we plodded up beside them, our progress being much retarded by long jackboots reaching to our thighs, and to which adhered many pounds of pertinacious clay-indeed, during the whole of this day's journey, some of our party scarcely ever mounted their horses at all. We must have ascended, in the course of three hours, about three thousand feet, and as this was the second range we had crossed since the morning, we arrived at the top thoroughly exhausted. But we were amply compensated for our toils, by one of the most magnificent views it was ever my good fortune to behold.

Upon our left rose in majestic grandeur the snowy peaks of the towering Caucasus, and a flood of golden light bordered their irregular outline. Lower down, the glaciers met the dark green of the pine forest; and the contrast was the more striking, because the rays of the declining sun fell only on the glittering snow, while the shades of evening were settling fast upon the sombre woods of the lower mountains. From these gushed boiling torrents, and forced their way through narrow gorges, which expanded at our feet into winding valleys, where the hills had exchanged their dark-green mantle for one in which the many hues of autumn were combined; and

hamlets were embowered amid fruittrees and orchards; and the streams, like threads of silver, no longer swept seething beneath overhanging rocks, but rippled calmly under the drooping foliage which kissed the water. Farther to the right the country opened still more, and so they meandered to the sea between variegated margins, formed of patches of yellow corn, brown millet, and verdant meadow.

We revelled for some time in this glorious prospect, for our path kept along the ridge of the hill for some distance, and crossed a saddle before it thought of once more descending into the long-wished-for valley, where we expected to find food and lodging for the night. Meantime the sun had set; and as we turned our backs sharply upon the view we had been admiring, and, rounding a shoulder of the mountain, expected to have another and not less interesting panorama at our feet, our surprise and dismay were great when we burst suddenly upon an immense expanse of dense fog, which lay like a white shroud upon the earth, concealing it from us entirely, except where two or three hill-tops still showed their wooded summits. Gradually the mist rose, and one by one they disappeared, as though submerged by some mighty flood. We could scarcely regret the loss of the view as we gazed upon a phenomenon so singular and striking, until at last we were ourselves enveloped in its chill embrace. There was a warning sound in the cold damp gusts that swept over the mountain-side, which was anything but pleasant, as, wearied and jaded, we commenced the arduous descent. Our horses, with drooping heads, followed their plodding masters down dry water-courses and steep slippery banks. A general recklessness seemed to pervade the party, as though life was momentarily becoming less valuable as the chance of passing a rainy night in the woods increased. At length, when the last glimmer of twilight had almost disappeared, the bark of a dog sounded cheerily on our ears, and soon after human voices inspired us with hope. Their owners promptly answered our shouts, and directed us, in a bewil

[ocr errors]

dered manner, to the chief man of the village, furnishing us with a guide to his residence, which we reached at last, utterly worn out and exhausted. Our host was a perfect specimen of a Circassian, who had never travelled beyond his native valley; but though wrapt in amazement at our appear ance, he did not allow his feelings of astonishment to get the better of his hospitality. He at once commenced the most active preparations for our comfort; and though he evidently was not so well off as our former host, he seemed determined to make up by activity for his want of means. We ventured, despite L -'s remonstrances to the effect that we should only give offence, to hint our ravenous condition, and to express a wish that the ceremony of the sheep should be dispensed with for once, and that we should be supplied with a turkey, or something less sumptuous, but more rapidly prepared. Our host received this intimation with a somewhat dissatisfied expression of countenance, and left the room without deigning a remark. A few minutes after he returned, and, with a grin of triumph, informed us that, in revenge for the serious reflection we had cast upon his hospitality, he had ordered a bullock, instead of a sheep, to be killed for our benefit. It was already nearly eight o'clock, and we had had nothing to eat since breakfast, and during the interval had been sustaining almost without intermission the most severe exercise. This announcement, then, was received with a murmur of profound despair, and we flung ourselves in our quilts in a state of sullen discontent. It was no consolation to us to know that our wretched

almost inside the konak, and then
went echoing and crashing through
the narrow valleys as though it would
rend the very mountains. The sluice-
gates of heaven seemed opened, and
the rain swept in through the chinks
and crevices of our miserable abode
in spite of our utmost efforts to keep
it out. We could not, however, be
sufficiently thankful for the shelter
we enjoyed, when we remembered
how nearly we had been destined to
pass the night in the woods, and
how deplorable would have been our
condition had we done so. As it was,
we were only suffering from a heated
atmosphere and voracious appetites,
being confined in a small room,
with a blazing fire, and deprived
of our dinner until half-an-hour
after midnight.

to

horses were as badly off as ourselves; for it is the custom in Circassia never even to take the saddle off a horse for an hour or two after his arrival, much less to feed him. There is always a post like a hat-stand before the house of the great man, which visitors fasten their ponies, and there they are left to stand until thoroughly cool. Our poor brutes could have found no great difficulty in arriving at this latter state of body, for shortly after our arrival came a most tremendous thunderstorm. The thunder seemed to burst

One was almost

tempted to believe that Boling

broke must have been a Circassian traveller, and spoke feelingly when he said

"Oh, who can hold a fire in his hand By thinking on the frosty Caucasus; Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite By bare imagination of a feast?" It was late on the following morning before we roused ourselves from the heavy slumbers consequent upon our midnight meal, and we occupied the hour before breakfast in paying our respects to the daughter of our host, a lady-like looking girl, who sat to Mr S for her portrait with Her brother, a great satisfaction. stalwart young fellow, who stood near, had not long before been taken prisoner by the Russians. He had, however, managed to shoot the officer on guard, and effected his escape. This was the most unsophisticated family we had met. They had never been out of their native valleys; neither father or daughter had ever before seen any Europeans, and they were evidently genuinely anxious to show us kindness and hospitality. As we parted from them, and one of our party recompensed our host for his entertainment of us by a handsome present, the old man embraced the donor with much fervour, and many professions of eternal friendship and regard. The violent rain of the night before had swelled the mountain torrents, always rapid-greased the narrow paths, always dangerous

-and rendered travelling in Circassia, always difficult, almost hopeless. We made up our minds to walk nearly the whole of our day's journey, and found it difficult to keep our footing upon the slippery path, not broader than a Highland sheep-walk, which led along the edge of a hill some eight or nine hundred feet above the brawling stream at its base. Downwards, however, our steps were now directed, and we at last reached it, after a great deal of trouble with our baggage animals, whose packs were continually tumbling off. Fortunately there was nothing of any value contained in them, or the combined effects of soaking in the rivers and rolling over precipices would have been fatal. We were amply repaid by the beauty of the valley of the Tecumseh, for the difficulty we had experienced in scrambling down to it. The path led through the wood by the river bank, sometimes diving into a glen, and crossing gushing tributaries by rustic wooden bridges; sometimes, descending to the level of the stream, it was shut in by rocks and overhanging trees; at others, where the channel became compressed, and the banks rugged and precipitous, it ascended to a height of a hundred feet, and, rounding the projecting rock, afforded romantic glimpses of roaring cascades and boiling rapids; then through the open smiling valley, where hedges of gigantic box were covered with the wild clematis, and azaleas and rhododendrons mingled their glowing blossoms.

Surely nature has lavished an undue share of her gifts upon the lovely valley of Tecumseh. Never was there such a combination of the sublime and the beautiful. As we followed its course, we seemed to pass from one to the other: we left behind us the snowy peaks, and journeyed onward towards gently-swelling hills; issuing from deep narrow gorges reechoing with the hoarse murmur of flooded torrents, we entered silent, peaceful dells, where tiny rills trickled between moss-grown stones; and passed from forests of grand majestic trees, dark and gloomy, into summer gardens of wild flowers, bright and cheerful; and so on through green

meadows and orchards of fruitful trees, where bunches of purple grapes hung side by side with walnuts or chestnuts, as the tree was covered by the tenacious creeper, and apples and figs presented themselves temptingly to our grasp, and half-ripe medlars suggested the idea of a second visit. There was some little excitement going on in the valley of Tecumseh as we passed down it, for a message had been sent by Omer Pasha, calling upon the inhabitants for a cavalry contingent; and a grand meeting of the young men was appointed to take place, in order that the district of Ubooch might be pro perly represented in the Turkish army.

Our young men were very full of the anticipated pleasures of campaigning, but I afterwards saw them in Mingrelia, considerably disenchanted. Many of them had lost their horses from starvation, and they were returning in a miserable plight. Meantime they were great gossips, and what between the excitement of being our guides, and of going to the wars, they were extremely communicative to everybody they met. The old hadji told the same story over, of who we were, where we had been, where we were going, &c., for the edification of every passenger; and these roadside chats, though no doubt very full of interest to the parties concerned, were very tiresome to us, whose only object was to push on without losing any unnecessary time. We crossed over a low range a little below nightfall, passing a large and populous village charmingly situated, and looked out for quarters among the numerous konaks with which the valley we had now entered was dotted. For the first time we applied in vain; the family informed us that, the master of the house being away, we could not be allowed admittance. We somewhat questioned the truth of this excuse, but had no alternative but to prosecute our search for some more friendly householder.

At last we reached a village where the inhabitants gladly placed two little cottages at our disposal, and where we were permitted to dine off turkeys instead of sheep. After dinner, a rough-looking Circassian came

« AnteriorContinuar »