« ПредишнаНапред »
THE GUARDSMAN IN CONSTANTINOPLE.
PART THE FIRST.
THE STREETS OF STAMBOUL.
On the morning of the 27th of April, 1854, a brigade of Foot Guards landed at Scutari, and pitched their camp on the pleasant plain of Haidar Pasha--the first real step towards a death-grapple with all the Russias.
The scene that basked in the sunshine before our eyes was an enchanting one. Immediately below us glistened the azure Bosphorus. On the opposite (European) shore towered the airy minarets of Stamboul. our left hand smiled the pretty village of Kadi-koi-the ancient Chalcedon. Turning eastward we gazed on the Princes' Islands, lying like huge nosegays on the gentle bosom of Marmora, with the snowy peaks of Olympus looming august in the distance; while at the back of our canvas town ran the famous road along which the caravan crawls on its pilgrim journey to Mecca, and Moslem troops march for a campaign in Asia. On either side of this great highway, shaded by giant cypresses, is the cemetery of Scutari, venerated throughout Islam. It is here that the orthodox Turk of Constantinople especially loves to deposit the dust of his kindred, for, despite four centuries of residence in Europe, the children of Othman are home-sick, after a manner, and set their hearts on burial with their fathers in Asia.
Turkish tombstones (not unlike English ones, but of a more tasteful cut) are generally perpendicular slabs of white marble, graven with consolatory texts from the Koran, and always surmounted with sculptured semblances of either the turban or the fez. From these you may discover the political bias of the departed : for example, the monument of Old Turkey sports the immemorial turban, that of Young Turkey affects the fashionable modern fez. Sometimes the stone is laid horizontally on the grave, and then there is a hole scooped in its centre for the reception of fruits and flowers, which the veiled women, who frequently gather together for the pious purpose of lamenting over the dead, delight to arrange artistically therein: I fear that the vicinity of our camp must have been an obstacle to the decorous celebration of these beautiful and feminine rites.
There is but one earthly business in the doing of which the Osmanli bestir themselves, and (oddly enough, to our notions at least) they select the funeral as the appropriate occasion for hurry and perspiration. Instead of conveying the corpse to its narrow home with demure mien and tortoise step, they make a downright steeple-chase of it: the porters shouldering the bier, and the relatives attending it, actually run as fast as their bow-legg, unused to such violent exercise, will permit. Of course the Moslem have a reason for proceeding with such ungentlemanlike precipitation. They believe that the soul writhes in torment so long as its
old husk remains above ground-ergo, it is an imperative duty to conclude the obsequies as speedily as possible.
No sooner were our tents all standing, and trenches (never left undone with impunity) dug round about the greater part of them, than eager to smoke the pipes, to sip the coffee, and to ogle the mysterious fair ones of Stamboul, we made up parties to cross the Bosphorus.
The mere grand tour "arrival" at Constantinople, whose mind is unvexed with the entanglements of the Eastern question, who is careless about the rayahs, and but slightly interested in the dogmatic disputes of Greek and Romanist
, who has “looked over” Gibbon, not read him, will sneer probably at most of the curiosities and eccentricities of the City of the Crescent, save and except the Sultan's caïque: that, indeed, is a something which cannot fail to appeal to the aquatic passion of every unscholarly Briton who may have toiled on the Cam or Isis, or, ardent for white-bait, have pulled an oar to Greenwich.
Like a thing of light, that beautiful gondola leaps the waves, urged by the long sweeping strokes of twelve sinewy caidjis (rowers) daintily clad in shirts and drawers of cambric, with crimson sashes girt about their loins, and smart fez caps covering their shaven polls. In the stern (or rather, what does duty as such, for both ends of the wherry are precisely alike), his revered head shaded by an enormous crimson umbrella, lolls the smoking Padishah-sad, sallow, and serene. It is when flitting across the Bosphorus, or curveting on the purest blood of the Desert, that his Ottoman majesty shows to best advantage. Those are occasions on which, after his peculiar fashion, Abuul Medjid Khan looks every inch a king
The common caique is a keel-less boat, of from 15 to 20 feet in length, by about 31 feet in breadth, tapering at both extremities into formidable iron beaks; the interior is rather elegantly ornamented with carving, and paintings representing fruits, flowers, and arabesques. As the Turk never uses chairs or stools, there are no seats, in our acceptation of the word, but the cushions at the bottom of the boat, on which you recline, are of velvet, and always scrupulously clean. But take heed how you settle your precious person, for this pretty craft is sensitive as a balance, giddy as a maid of seventeen ; if you behave, therefore, after the boisterous manner of the unwary giaour, it will capsize to a surety, and you are ducked.
The caidjis (usually Arnaouts, i.e. Greeks of the Mohammedan faith) are handsome mustachioed fellows, of amazing muscle. They eat little else but bread and vegetables, which frugal fare no liquor more potent than coffee ever lubricates. During the thirty days' fast of Ramadan the poor boatman is a martyr to his religious prejudices ; he toils at the oar from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, without even washing out his mouth with a drop of water, or comforting himself-more wonderful self-denial far—with a grave puff at his chibouk. The Alcoran is the good man's Bible, and thus preaches the Alcoran: “ The month of Ramadan shall ye fast, in which the Alcoran was sent down from Heaven, a direction unto men, and declaration of direction, a distinction also between good and evil, therefore let him among you who shall be present in this month, fast for the same month,
but he who shall be sick, or on a journey, shall fast the like number of other days."-Alcoran, chap. i.)
Thus are the day-hours of Ramadan hours of austerity and privation, but the nights, on the contrary, are devoted to making up for lost time -to jollity and to feasting. From sun-down to the boom of the morning-gun the Mussulman capital is illuminated as for a fête, and the citizens freely indemnify themselves, as far as tobacco, coffee, and lemonade go, for the asceticism enjoined during the period of light and labour. To resume.
Our casque, pushing its course through a labyrinth of similar craft, stopped alongside the crazy but picturesque bridge of boats, that, spanning the Golden Horn, is the chief means of communication between Frankish Galata and Mussulman Stamboul. Scrambling upon a pier, bulging, rotten, and filthy, we found ourselves embedded in an unsavoury concrete of Jews, Turks, and infidels. Never before had I been wedged into a confusion more radically confounded :
Now thousand tongues are heard in one loud din,
Sound forth, my brayers, and the welkin rend. In that Babel all known dialects were represented — Saxon execrations,” Gaulish sacrés, Italian corpo de Bacco, Teutonic donner und blitzen, screeched in the highest keys, blended with the hoarse shout of the Arab, the oily persuasion of the cringing Jew, and the warning grunt of the heavily-laden hamal (porter).
Vans and drays being mythical in the East, the hamal is the sole means of transport from street to street, and the enormous weights he contrives to carry about positively amazed us. Look out! here come four lusty fellows, staggering along, with a vast sugar hogshead suspended from a pole resting on their shoulders. “By yer leave !" half a dozen sturdy men bend under a great anchor, which, one would think, might tax the power of a London and North-Western locomotive; moreover, just fancy flesh and blood so crushingly burdened having to force their dolorous way through the most populous, the narrowest, the steepest, and worst-paved lanes that ever aggravated corns or were provocative of bunions.
But how is it that these human beasts of burden, these untiring drudges, so generally wear green turbans ? Because they are emirs, i.e. either descendants of the Prophet, or offshoots from the numberless branches of his sacred and prolific family. No matter whether the revered colour encircle the brows of the plethoric pasha or bind the throbbing temples of the jaded hamal, it is all the same, a symbol of the sole hereditary aristocracy of the Ottoman Empire. Strangely enough to European notions, this Eastern “upper ten thousand” possess no worldly privileges. In the emerald turban-cloth are folded no passports to the generalship of armies or to seats on the imperial divan. It is a noblesse having nothing to fear from Administrative Reformers.
To rid ourselves of the importunity of the Jewish dragomans, we singled out a knave with an aspect more intelligent than ingenuous, and bade him show the way to the baths of Mahmoud. As we went, the fellow informed us, in a jargon compounded of Italian, Spanish, and
French, with here and there a spice of very eccentric English, that he was descended from the Spanish Israelites, who had settled at Constantinople on being driven from the Peninsula by the Christian zeal of Ferdinand and Isabella. The moral condition of this extraordinary race, it may be feared, is everywhere unsatisfactory. In Stamboul, as in Shoreditch, its children trade in all sorts of 'abomination. The Jews are utterly despised by the Turks; I shall not easily forget the glare of rage and scorn which an Osmanli lad, about twelve years old, Aashed upon our poor guide, who had unwittingly pushed him. “Hebraio !" burst from the imp's curling lips, and a series of kicks followed, nevertheless Moses—it was a pitiful sight-meekly pocketed the affront, a thought of returning the compliment on the youngster's posteriors never occurring to that debased mind.
One's preconceived ideas of Oriental magnificence turn out, in a great degree, the baseless fabrics of “ Arabian Nights” dreaming. Nature having blessed the shores of the Bosphorus with unrivalled beauty, the Moslem are content with the sweet verdure, the cooling zephyrs, the bright skies, and so trouble themselves very little about decorative domestic architecture and macadamisation. Their houses, therefore, are little better than rickety sheds, occasionally gaudily painted, and their tortuous streets, paved with huge angular boulders, become downright sloughs of despond after half an hour's rain.
It was along such a thoroughfare that we limped on our way to the baths, and yet, despite heat and leg-weariness, we did not fail to be diverted with the novelty and picturesqueness of everything around us. Bashi-Bazouks (Ismails, whom it would require an iron hand and a cool head to tame into anything like a regular force, but still not quite so black as it has been the fashion to paint them), noticeable for wild headgear of red and yellow kerchiefs, for garments of many colours, for gaudy sashes, containing a regular armoury of dirks and pistols--more terrible in look than in deed ; Circassians of martial port--you may know them by their high caps of Astrakan fur and baldrics fringed with ivory cartridge holders; jaunty Arnaouts in embroidered jackets and snowy kilts; Old Turkey, gloriously bearded and magnificently turbaned, arrayed in rose-coloured caftan (robe) like a patriarch of Bible time, and dignified withal, although riding upon an ass ; Young Turkey, slovenly, in illfitting surtout, and the eternal fez; Osmanli women, their features muffled in the muslin folds of the tantalising yatchmak (veil), clumsily shuffling along in shapeless yellow boots ; Armenian damsels
, less rigorously veiled, and garbed in violet raiment; a stray British subaltern or two, unseemly in Eastern eyes, through the effeminacy of his shaven countenance and the brevity of his jerkin ; French officers, more agreeable to Ottoman notions of decorum, by virtue of their epauletted tunics, capacious pantaloons, and bristling moustaches, grouped into the most charming kaleidoscopic carnival ever conjured up by opium eater.
Lo! the Baths of Mahmoud: a building of great size, surmounted by a ponderous dome. You enter a spacious hall, at one end of which is a wide gallery furnished with sofas, or rather beds, whereon the faithful doze off the languors of the purifying process. In this place you lay aside you clothes, which done, the polite major-domo twists a napkin turban-wise about your head, girds your loins with a sheet, and then hands you over-poor blushing novice that you are—to the tellaq (bathboy), an emaciated stripling of some fourteen years old, shaven as to his head, and, barring a bandage round his waist, naked as his mother bore him. You now descend the stairs, your feet are thrust into clumsy wooden pattens, and leaning on the shoulder of the tellaq (who is vastly amused with the awkward figure the dog of an unbeliever cuts), shamble into an inner chamber, the temperature of which immediately begins to tell upon the pores; here a halt of about ten minutes, to prepare the lungs for the seething atmosphere which will have to be endured in the third, or operation hall
. Pass on; under the great dome, sparsely pierced with bull's-eyes of thick glass, and heavily charged with vapour, you make out five or six low marble platforms, on which, looking awfully ghastly in the deceitful haze, recline sundry bathers, celebrating riddance from their epidermis with yells of demoniac delight. The tellaq motions you to dispose yourself as one of these. You obey instinctively. With roars of laughter at your timid resignation, the uncouth valet kneels beside you, then he kneads your body with his fists, presently he cracks fingers and toes, afterwards he turns you over, and stepping on your back, performs a sort of elfish hornpipe; by-and-by, your limbs, creaming with exudations from the yawning pores, the pattens are again put in requisition to prevent the soles of the feet blistering from contact with the heated flags (it is directly beneath the stone floor that the steambegetting fires burn), and you are led to a recess in the wall, where plays a little fountain of tepid water. After having repeatedly soused your glowing carcase, the boy proceeds to lather you from head to foot with perfumed soap. Next, he polishes legs, arms, trunk, with the soft palms of his practised hands, now and again holding up before your sceptic eyes long shreds of discoloured cuticle which have peeled away under the manipulation. And, whenever a peculiarly ill-favoured strip rewards his perseverance, triumphantly demanding backshish (reward).
Rejoice greatly, the last act of this wholesome drama is at hand. You are led back to the gallery where your clothes were deposited ; there, fresh sheets enfold the languid one, a luxurious divan invites a snooze, sherbet moistens parched lips, stimulating coffee and the meditative chibouk follow, and you are left to cool gradually. With face ruddier than the cherry, you dreamily smoke and sip; for the time, earthly cares have fitted away, and you enjoy the unspeakable bliss of being a happier because a cleaner man.
Soon after our arrival at Haidar Pasha, the Ottoman government placed a small steamer at the disposal of the British army, dealing thereby