BEN. This wind you talk of blows us from ourselves!
Supper is done, and we shall come too late.
ROMEO. I fear too early; for my mind misgives,
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars,
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night’s revels; and expire the term
Of a despised life, closed in my breast,
By some vile forfeit of untimely death:
But he that hath the steerage of my course
Directs the sail!
The noon of the succeeding day saw me several miles from the Castle of
Kourouk, and pursuing the rugged old Tartar highway that was to conduct
me to Yekaterinoslav, under the escort of Trebitski’s Cossacks, about a
hundred of whom, armed with sabres, pistols, and lances, and carrying
their forage, food, and in most instances, plunder, rode in double file
on each side of a train of _kabitkas_, which were filled with sick and
wounded Russian soldiers, and, in a few instances, I saw Frenchmen among
Every jolt of those wretched waggons over the rough and rocky roads
caused wounds to burst out afresh; groans and curses rose in the air,
and blood was soon oozing or dripping through the salt-encrusted
planking on the dusty highway.
These _kabitkas_ are Tartar waggons, which are driven in vast numbers to
Perecop for the conveyance of the salt, which, in the dry season—from
June till August—lies on the plains or steppes so thick that they are
usually driven axle-deep among it for loading.
A number of these waggons had been improvised by General Baur for
ambulance purposes; and now I found myself seated in one, among some
bloody and dirty straw, with three severely wounded men of the 45th, or
Tambrov regiment, and a French officer, whose face was half hidden by a
large bandage, discoloured by the blood of a sword-wound, which had laid
open his right cheek.
Intent upon escape, I looked earnestly and constantly before me; but we
were now traversing an undulating plain, that was dotted by a few trees,
of strange aspect, and the flocks of the Nomadic Tartars. And as the
path dipped down over an eminence, I took a last farewell, but certainly
not “fond look,” of Kourouk, with its two burnished domes, which
glittered brightly in the sunshine, while the Mountain of the Tent
looked faint and blue in distance.
Trebitski, the Cossack officer, had conceived, I knew why, a personal
animosity for me; and ever and anon, as if he would anticipate any
attempt on my part to escape, he hovered about the _kabitka_ in which I
was reclining, and recoiling in disgust from the grey-coated Muscovites
who lay beside me, and whose presence made the air redolent of Stamboul
tobacco, bloody bandages, and the Russian leather of their clumsy boots
and coarse accoutrements.
One of the first acts of the pitiful Trebitski was to deprive me of a
small basket of rations—cold fowl, wine, &c.—provided for me by the
kindness of Vladimir Dahl and Captain Anitchoff, and to substitute in
their place a meagre allowance of the black bread, salt, and _vodka_
used by the half-barbarian escort.
I determined to report this petty theft on reaching his head-quarters;
but where were they?
At Yekaterinoslav, on the banks of the Dnieper, in the territory of the
Cossacks of Azof, far over the desert plains that lie beyond the Isthmus
of Perecop, whose vast fortress bars the way from the Crimea to the
mainland of Europe.
My blood boiled up with vengeance against Berkeley, my betrayer, and my
entire soul revolted at the prospect of such a heartless and hopeless
journey, with a doubtful termination—a captivity, the end of which none
could foresee; and the desire—a deep, clamorous, and heart-burning
desire—of escape at any hazard grew strong within me; but I was without
weapon, money, or a horse.
Oh, that I had but five minutes’ start, with such an animal under me as
that ridden by Trebitski, which was a beautiful and powerful Arab, whose
actions were full of lightness and grace!
To increase my annoyance, this bearded commander got tipsy more than
once on brandy and absinthe; and then he would shake his crooked sabre
at me with many “strange oaths,” of which I could make nothing; but I
thought that, if some of those “wives and daughters of England,” who
think foreigners so interesting, had been with us in the Crimea, their
ideas of continentals might have changed in favour of their more prosaic
“_Ouf! pst! pst!_” I heard the wounded Frenchman muttering, as he raised
himself from an uneasy doze, and looked about him with one eye, that
glared wildly, for bandages concealed the other. “But for this devilish
Crimean business, I should have been flirting in the Bois de Boulogne,
lounging in the Gardens of the Tuileries, eating ices at Tortoni’s, or
drinking lemonade at a café chantant with la belle Rogolboche. _Pst!
pst! c’est le diable!_” Then, addressing himself to me, he said, “_Ah,
le Cossaque!_—yon devil of a Trebitski—is a shocking ruffian—a veritable
brigand! Luckily, the Russian savage does not understand a word we say.
He has stolen your rations, and left you—pah! what a dog wouldn’t eat;
but I have something better, and you shall dine with me.”
“I thank you, monsieur,” said I.
“Comrades in glory, we shall be friends in misfortune!” exclaimed the
Frenchman, with great emphasis. While he ran on thus, something in his
voice seemed familiar to me.
“You are, monsieur—you are——”
“Exactly, my friend; Victor Baudeuf, at your service—Captain of the
“I thought you were killed at Alma!”
“Only half killed, as you may see. Pardieu! but who told you so?”
“The vivandière of the 2nd Zouaves?”
“Ah! she had always a spite at me—that dear little Sophie. You should
see her riding at the head of the 2nd, with her canteen slung over her
shoulder, and a cigarette between her little fingers, and a saucy
twinkle in her bright eyes as she sings—
“Vivandière du régiment
C’est Catin qu’on me nomme,
Je vends, je donne, et bois gaiment
Mon vin et mon rogomme.
“I hope she may escape all this wild work, and see our beautiful France
again. No, monsieur, I was not killed, but most severely wounded—left
for dead—and thus fell into the hands of these beastly fellows. I
remember you now, monsieur. We often met at Varna, at the Restaurant de
l’Armée d’Orient. A droll den it was! And you remember Jules
Jolicoeur, of the 2nd Zouaves. Poor Jules! A round shot finished him
at Alma. He has gone to his last account. Heaven rest him! You are a
Scotsman, I believe, though I always took you for a Jean Boule—à
_biftek_; and so you shall dine with me. ’_Fier comme un Ecossais_,’ is
still a proverb among us in France, in memory of the old times, which
our Zouaves are about to renew, I think; for they boast themselves ’_les
Ecossais de l’Armée Française_,’ and fraternize like brothers with your
sans culotte regiments, in what you call ’lakeelt.’”
All this sounded so like some of Toole’s “French before breakfast,” that
I could almost have laughed at my garrulous friend, who produced from a
small havresack, which he opened with his left hand—the right being
severely shattered by a grape shot—one of those _pâtés de foies gras_
for which Strasbourg is so famous; made from the livers of geese, after
the poor birds have undergone a process there is no use in detailing
here. Heaven knows how M. Baudeuf came by it, but the pâté, with his
biscuit, he divided very liberally with me, and with the three wounded
Russians, who shared with us the soft comforts of the _kabitka_, and
whose glances of hungry appeal there was no resisting.
Aware that they knew not a word we were saying, we conversed freely; and
I told the Frenchman that, as no parole had been offered us, we should
escape together. He replied that the hazard was great; yet that he
would have shared it with me, but for his shattered hand, which made him
every way so helpless. He wished me every success, and gave me secretly
a little map of the Crimea, which he had concealed in the lining of his
tattered uniform; and this on every occasion I studied intently.
“Mutilated as I am, it is of no use to me,” said he; “but may serve you,
_mon camarade_, at a pinch.”
It was small, and by Huot and Demidoff; but was extremely correct.
On our arrival at Karasu-bazar, sixteen or eighteen miles from Kourouk,
I was separated from this pleasant Frenchman. I never saw him again, and
have too much reason to fear that he perished amid the horrors of a
catastrophe which ensued subsequently.
It was evening when, after traversing a pleasant valley, we entered
Karasu-bazar, so slow had been the progress of our primitive train of
cars, with their melancholy load of human suffering. Situated on the
Karasu, an affluent of the Salghir, this town is the great wine and
fruit mart of the Crimea; and there a strange rabble of Tartars in short
jackets, with open sleeves, high caps, and high boots; Greeks in scarlet
fez and baggy blue breeches; Russians, with fur caps and canvas
doublets, trimmed with fur; and Armenians, in long, flowing garments,
crowded around us.
These escorted us through the narrow and tortuous streets in the dusk.
To attempt an escape there would be futile, notwithstanding that the
Tambrov uniform which I wore seemed to favour the idea.
Darkness set in. We were closely guarded; and now I heard the shrill,
vicious whistle of a railway engine, and found the train of _kabitkas_
halted near some wooden booths, where the wires and posts of a
telegraph, a platform, and covered passenger shed, with other familiar
features of the usual kind, indicated a railway station!
In fact, we had reached the head of a single track line of railroad,
which had been hastily constructed for the conveyance of troops and
munition of war a portion of the way towards Perecop; and probably it
might have been carried to Arabat, at the head of the Putrid Sea, or to
Sebastopol itself, but for the rapid advance of the Allies.
Roughly constructed and hastily laid down, it led from the banks of the
Karasu I knew not at the time whither, as it was not depicted in the map
given to me by Captain Baudeuf, from whom I was now, as I have said,
We were all hurriedly thrust into carriages, or rather trucks, like
those for conveying cattle in Britain, without seat or other
accommodation, save a little straw for the miserable wounded, whose
numbers were greatly augmented by some fugitives from Khutor-Mackenzie.
The line of trucks might be, I suppose, about forty, including one which
bore the gallant Trebitski with his “Araby steed;” and three quaint and
old-fashioned locomotives, with large wheels and high chimneys, were
getting up their steam—one in front, one in rear, and one in the centre;
and these, after much wheezing and puffing, screaming and clanking, with
other discordant noises, got into motion simultaneously, and in the dark
we shot away from the streets and bazaars of the Karasu, for where was
yet a mystery to me.
The Cossack escort was now reduced to twenty dismounted men, who left
their horses and lances behind them, and were distributed among the
carriages; but luckily there were none in mine.
We had scarcely left the lights of the town behind us, when an odour of
burning attracted my attention, and the attention of those who were
penned up like sheep in the same truck with me. We could only
communicate our fears by signs, and heads were constantly put forth on
both sides of the train, and withdrawn, always with exclamations of
excitement, while the alarming odour increased strongly.
The lines of rail were laid on sleepers of wood, and I imagined that,
perhaps, the hot ashes dropping from the three engines might cause the
smell of burning that was filling the air heavily, as we tore along past
hills and rocks, the domes of village mosques, or churches, tipped with
silver light by the rising moon; along wooden bridges that spanned
hoarse and brawling mountain streams; across open wastes, where the
millet, rye, and hemp had been reaped and gathered, or where the wild
tobacco still grew; past slopes clothed by dark waving woods, the
chestnut, the oak, and the wild pear tree, the rush of the train, and
the scream of the engine scaring away the goshawks, the magpie, and kite
from their nests; past round towers, arches, and aqueducts, the
crumbling ruins of the old Genoese days; past where flocks and herds
were grazing, till they fled on the noise of our approach.
And now the train dashed into a forest of pine and turpentine trees,
through which it seemed to rush for miles upon miles, its speed
augmenting every instant, while the odour of burning increased with
every revolution of the wheels.
Anon, loud cries of terror and agony rang out at times upon the night
breeze; and now a light—actual flames, other than those which came from
the furnaces—occasionally shed its swift red gleam upon the gnarled tree
stems that stood in thick ranks on each side of the way; and then came
the appalling conviction upon all our minds that, in addition to having
run off, or having been abandoned by its stupid Muscovite
engine-drivers, the train was on fire!
In those open and rudely-constructed trucks, there were no windows to
lower. I thrust my head through the nearest opening, and found that the
two carriages in front of ours were a mass of flames, which burst forth
fiercely from all the apertures, and these, as they rushed in streams
behind, in consequence of the intense draught caused by the wild speed
at which the train careered through the forest, were setting our
carriage on fire also. Fortunately I was in the rear compartment, and
for a time could look steadily ahead.
Oh, what a sight it was!
The footways on each side of the carriages that were on fire were
literally alive with sick and wounded wretches, who had crept out, and
now clung to the steps and handles, by which the guards usually clamber
about, afraid alike to fall or cast themselves off; but every instant a
shriek was heard, as the grasp of some maimed or feeble unfortunate
relaxed, and he vanished from sight as the train swept on. Some fell
into watercourses, some fell over banks, and were flung into the forest,
the turpentine trees of which, in many places, were now in flames.
The straw amid which the more helpless wounded lay was soon on fire.
Many of them were literally roasted alive, and I heard the pistols of
the Cossacks exploding, as they went off in the heat, or as their
despairing wearers shot themselves or each other.
The engine-drivers, for some reason unknown to me, must have jumped off
and abandoned the train, for it swept through the forest unchecked, a
mass of flames, from which the yells and shrieks were appalling. More
than one carriage was literally burned down to its iron, all within
Even at that desperate time the hope of escape grew strong within me,
for every confusion was favourable. Being locked in on both sides, I
crept through an aperture which served for a window, and found footing
on the side gangway, with two or three others, who clung to the carriage
and moaned fearfully, for the exertion had made their gunshot wounds
burst out afresh. They soon dropped off, and I was left alone.
The rush of the glowing flames came hotly aft upon my face and hands. I
saw the clinging mass ahead, swaying to and fro, their faces and figures
reddened in the scorching glare, which lit up the line of rails like two
red-hot wires that vanished into the forest—all this I saw for a moment,
and a moment only.
I was about to drop off, and trust to Providence for the sequel, when
there was a sudden shout, a crash, a vast shower of ruddy sparks, that
seemed to fill the air with fire, a piercing yell, and then, in silence
and darkness, I found myself rolling down a grassy bank for some twenty
yards or so, until I was arrested from further harm by some soft tobacco
plants, which there grew wild and thickly.
Unhurt, but greatly confused, and completely breathless I staggered up
to look around me.
The coupling of two of the burning carriages had broken; they had
tumbled heavily down the bank, breaking to pieces as they fell,
scattering the brands of their blazing woodwork far and wide, killing
outright some of the scorched and wounded occupants, several of whom I
saw lying near me in the moonlight, blackened and mutilated, while the
remainder of the train, with its three engines, all abandoned by their
cowardly conductors, swept on its errand of destruction and death
through the now flaming forest.
As I rose from amid the strange débris of smouldering wood and shattered
iron, of dead or dying, and half-burned men, and was considering in
which way to turn, I was met face to face by one whose right arm was
broken, but who, nevertheless, uttered a hoarse and guttural
malediction, with which I was not unfamiliar, having heard it frequently
from his lips before. Drawing a pistol from his belt, with his left
hand he levelled it at my head.
Luckily the percussion cap snapped, and the weapon hung fire. But to
close with Trebitski—for he it was—to wrench the pistol away, and knock
him mercilessly down with the butt-end, were all the work of a moment,
and then I felt that I was “the monarch of all I surveyed.”
I was turning away, when a peculiar snorting sound attracted my
attention, and in a well-padded horse-box, which lay on its side far
down the slope, I saw the head of Trebitski’s Arab charger, as the poor
animal lolled out its red tongue, and threw back its small close ears in
terror and anger, for the sides of the horse-box were all scorched by
flame; and the mere odour of fire is sufficient to inspire a horse with
the most bewildering fear.
Here had Providence given me an additional chance for escape. But I had
no time to lose; the train might be stopped by this time (though no
sound, save the moans of the maimed, now disturbed the silence of that
woody solitude), and succour might be sent to the sufferers, though
human life is but little valued in Russia, and human suffering is viewed
there with an amount of indifference that savours more of Asia than of
My dragoon knowledge served me usefully here. I contrived to calm and
soothe the Arab horse, to unbuckle the braces that secured it in the
partly-shattered stall, and it came forth, half-scrambling and
half-crawling, trembling in every limb, and every fibre quivering under
its glossy coat, which was flecked with white foam. Cowed, calmed, and
terrified by the recent catastrophe, the horse was as docile as if Mr.
Rarey had been whispering his magic in its ear.
A noble Arab, with all the peculiarities of its breed—the square
forehead and fine black muzzle, the brilliant eyes and beautiful veins,
the withers high and body light, and standing somewhere about fourteen
hands and a half—it was whinnying, and rubbing its nose on my hand as if
for protection and fellowship.
He was saddled and accoutred, and the bridle was hanging on the pommel.
In a moment I had it over his head, and buckled to perfection, the
bridoon touching the corners of the mouth, but low enough not to wrinkle
I vaulted into the saddle, leaving the adjustment of the stirrups to a
more leisure time, as Trebitski, in Cossack fashion, rode with his knees
up to his elbows; and just as that redoubtable personage was reviving
after his rough tap on the head, I dashed into the forest, and soon left
the scene of suffering far behind me.
In several places the wood was on fire, and, being dry with the heat of
the past summer, the branches and crisp leaves, particularly those of
the turpentine trees, burned briskly. Thus I could see the wavering
flames reddening the clouds above, while riding on, and ignorant of the
route I was pursuing, through this dense old forest, the jungle and
underwood at times completely retarding all progress.
I paused only to lengthen the stirrups, and give my newly-acquired
steed—in which I began to feel all the interest of proprietorship—a
draught at a runnel, and then sought the recesses of the densest thicket
I could find to wait for day, that I might look warily about, and
consider what to do next, for, if taken with the horse of the
Parooschick Adrian Trebitski in my possession, the chances of being
shot, or sent to life-long slavery, were great. Anyway, I feared there
would be a vacant troop in Her Majesty’s lancers—a troop, perhaps, given
to Berkeley; and I feared that few Russian officers like the gay young
Anitchoff or kind old Vladimir Dahl might come in my way again.
My more immediate fear was for the wolves, which there roam in packs,
and were, no doubt, by this time howling and snarling among the victims
on the railroad. If any of them scented me, I should have to take
refuge in a pine, where I might be starved to death, after they had
devoured my horse.
Every sound startled me; but I heard only the occasional gobble of the
wild bustards, which usually go in great flocks through all the wild
places of the Crimea.
I unbitted the Arab, and let him graze, but hobbled him so that he could
not escape; and as day began to steal redly through the distant dingles
of the wood, the light slowly descending from the summits to the lower
stems of the lofty pines, I found some wild grapes whereon to breakfast,
and quench the fierce thirst which recent excitement had induced.
When the light sufficed I drew forth the map given me by poor Captain
Baudeuf, and began to study my whereabouts. Through the openings of the
trees I could see, about a mile distant, the current of a broad and
evidently deep river shining in the morning sun.
The railway had not, to my knowledge, crossed such a stream; it flowed
from the west towards the east; hence, from its magnitude, it could only
be the Salghir, which, after being joined by the Karasu, flows into the
This stream has usually little water in its bed, save after the melting
of the winter snows; but recent rains among the mountains of Ac-Metchet
had swollen it beyond its usual size. And now I beheld what must have
been a bend or sweep of it flowing between me and the tract of country
where our armies lay—the tract that stretched away towards Sevastopol,
which I supposed to be at least a hundred miles distant; and that idea
afterwards proved to be correct.
For a time my spirit quailed at the prospect before me. I was nearly in
the middle of the savage and hostile Crimea, ignorant of the many
languages spoken there, ignorant of the roads, and with no money to
bribe or arms to intimidate.
No house or town was visible, or a sign of any living thing, save the
goldfinches that twittered in the trees, and the heron and wild duck
that waded or squattered among the green weeds and long trailers on the
bank of the rushing stream. The latter was nearly eighty yards broad. I
knew that it must be crossed, as the south side was the safest.
Crossed! but how?
While considering this, the sound of a Cossack trumpet among the
woodlands in my rear gave me a nervous start, and made me resolve on
instant action. I put my treasured map carefully away, mounted, and
urged my horse at once to the bank of the river.
I took my feet out of the stirrups, which I then crossed above the
saddle—a precaution no dragoon or other horseman should ever forget when
about to cross a river mounted; for if the horse should sink his
hind-legs to seek for footing, or, worse still, should he “turn a
turtle,” while the rider’s feet are in the stirrups, the most fatal
results may ensue, and he will be helplessly drowned.
I was without spurs, yet I rushed him at the stream, for there are times
when rider and horse feel as one. He took the water well, and struck
out bravely, for I leant well forward, so that my body rested on his
crest. I had no occasion to touch the rein or use the bit; but steered
him by a switch torn from a tree.
With his neck stretched out like that of a dog, he swam coolly and
steadily across, with the ripples of the water under my armpits. When
he grounded, and scrambled up the other side, I dismounted, and led him
by the bridle into a thicket beyond.
This was scarcely achieved, when some tall lances glittered on the other
side of the stream, where a party of twelve Cossacks were scouting; and
had my horse neighed they must have discovered me. However, they all
disappeared in the wood; after which I breathed more freely, and
proceeded to rub down my Arab with tufts of dry grass, and to wring out
my wetted garments.
All that day I travelled through the woods, and at times along the
highways, avoiding even the Tartar herdsmen and field-labourers,
steering in the direction of Sebastopol, guided by my tiny map and the
sun; and towards nightfall I was lucky enough to meet with some French
troops, though at first I narrowly escaped being shot by their advanced
guard—a favour procured me by my Tambrov uniform. Luckily I could
muster sufficient French to make myself known as an officer of her
Britannic Majesty’s service, and was conducted to the commander.
These troops proved to be the 77th Regiment of the Infanterie de la
Ligne, under Colonel Jean Louis Giomar, Commander of the Legion of
Honour, on their march towards Sebastopol.
I was in safety now, and was treated by him and his officers with every
attention and kindness, and, in truth, after all I had undergone during
the last twenty-four hours, I required both.
The 77th had landed but a few days before from _La Reine Blanche_[*] a
French ship of the line, in which the Emperor had revived the old
Parisian name for Mary Queen of Scots.