Let me see her once again!

Ere the course of events added to the distance which already lay between
me and Great Britain, I resolved to write to Lady Louisa. I could no
longer endure the torture of suspense, combined with absence and
gathering doubt. In common parlance, ages seemed to have elapsed
instead of weeks since the day we marched for embarkation, and when I
beheld her for the last time; and thus, notwithstanding our strange
compact that there should be no correspondence between us, I wrote to
her, even at the hazard of the letter falling into the hands of her I
dreaded most—proud, stately, cold, and unsympathetic “Mamma
Chillingham.”

It was about the middle of May, the day before we were to embark again,
for now the Allies were to advance to Varna; and while I wrote, and in
thought addressed Louisa, her presence seemed to come before me in
fancy, and the inner depths of heart and soul were stirred with a
jealous love and sorrowful tenderness that were almost unendurable; but
a summons from Colonel Beverley, regarding the baggage and squad-bags of
my troop, cut short my epistle in a very matter-of-fact way, and I
despatched Pitblado with it to the military post-office. In that letter
I sent brief remembrances to Fred Wilford’s sister, and to many of our
friends; but of the newly-made marquis I could not trust myself to
write, though I had no doubt as yet of Louisa’s faith and truth. That
night a letter came to me from Cora, the first I had received since we
landed at Gallipoli. She and Sir Nigel had returned to Calderwood, and
had just come back from the Lanarkshire steeplechases.

“Oh, Newton,” she continued, “how anxious and frightened we have been,
for we heard that cholera had broken out in the British camp, and we
trembled for you—dear papa and I. (There was no doubt the “we” did not
include Louisa, at all events.) Do you think of us and quiet Calderwood
Glen—of the old house, of papa, and of me? Are the Oriental ladies so
beautiful as we have been told? One reads so much about their veiled
forms, their brilliant eyes, and so forth. Tell us what you have seen
of all this—the mosques, the harems, and the Golden Horn. You have seen
everything, of course.”

There was nothing in Cora’s letter that either flattered my passion or
soothed my apprehension. Chillingham Park was never once mentioned, and
I could only gather from its abrupt passages and assumed playfulness
that she still loved me, tenderly, truly, and hopelessly. There were
times when, in her dreams—I learned all this long after, when the
present had become the past, and could be recalled no more—there were
times when, in imagination, she saw Newton Norcliff, safe from wounds
and war, at Calderwood—hers, and hers only—a prize of which none could
rob her, not even the brilliant Louisa Loftus; and in her sleep, tears
of happiness stole down her poor, pale cheeks.

Newton was her cousin, her kinsman, her early playmate and boy lover,
her idol, and her hero! What right, then, had this stranger, this
Englishwoman, this mere Acquaintance, to seek to rob her of him? But
she could not do so now. Newton was Cora’s, and in her dreams he was her
lover and her husband, of whom she prayed only to be worthy and more
deserving still; and so the poor girl would dream on till morning
came—the chill, gusty morning of autumn, when the brown leaves were
swept by the cold eastern blast against the windows of the old
manor-house, and down the wooded glen; and with that chill morning would
come the bitter consciousness that it was all a dream—a dream only, and
that he whom she prayed for, and loved so hopelessly, was far, far away
in the land of the savage Tartars, exposed to all the perils of the
Crimean winter and of the Russian war, and that amid them he was
thinking, not of her but of another! But to resume my own story.
Berkeley, who had been on the sick list since our arrival at Gallipoli,
was reported fit for duty on the morning we embarked for Varna. Most of
the British troops were ordered there, or to Scutari, while the mass of
our allies were to remain about the coast of the Dardanelles. On this
morning, however, I saw the 2nd Zouaves march, as Studhome said, “with
all their ladies of light virtue and boxes of heavy baggage,” for
embarkation; and they presented a stirring spectacle, those swarthy,
lithe, and black-bearded fellows, their breasts covered with medals won
in battles against Bou Maza, and other sheiks of the Arab tribes, and
their faces bronzed almost to negro darkness by the hot sun of Africa.

Their turbans and baggy breeches of scarlet gave them a very Oriental
aspect; but their swinging gait and rollicking air, together with the
remarkably free-and-easy manner in which they “marched at ease,” and the
songs they sang, announced them all sons of _la belle France_; and,
singularly enough, every second or third file had a pet cat perched on
the top of his knapsack. The tricolor was decorated with laurel; their
long brass trumpets played a strange and monotonous, but not unwarlike
measure, to which they all stepped in rapid time; and in the intervals
of the music many of them joined in a song, which was led by
Mademoiselle Sophie, who was riding _à la cavalier_ at their head, in
rear of the staff, with her little brandy-keg slung over her left
shoulder.

I caught just a verse as she passed; but I frequently heard her sing the
same song at a future time—

Vivandière du régiment,
C’est Catin qu’on me nomme,
Je vends, je donne, et bois gaiment,
Mon vin et mon rogomme.
J’ai le pied leste et l’oeil mutin.
Tin-tin, tin, tin, tin, tin, r’lin tin-tin.
J’ai le pied leste et l’oeil mutin.
Soldats, voilà Catin!

Above all other voices, I could hear that of her friend, or lover, Jules
Jolicoeur, most lustily—

Soldats, voilà Catin!

as he marched along with his hands in his pockets, and his musket slung
butt uppermost. Our transport was taken in tow by a war steamer. Thus
our progress through the Sea of Marmora was rapid. We passed
Constantinople in the night, to our great regret; and as no part of it,
save the palace of the Sultan, was then lighted with gas, it was
involved in darkness and silence. At least, we heard only the voices of
the patrols, and the barking and howling of the thousands of homeless
dogs which prowl through the streets. Being unclean, they are never
domesticated; yet their litters are never destroyed, and they feed on
the offal of the houses, or on the headless trunks that are at times
washed up from the Golden Horn. Next day, as we proceeded up the
Bosphorus, a swift (Clyde-built) Turkish steamer was running ahead of
us; and we remarked that, whenever she passed a fort or battery, the
standard with the star and crescent was immediately hoisted, and a
trumpet was heard to sound.

At the Castle of Roumelia, and such places, we saw the slovenly Turkish
guards getting under arms, and also that on each occasion the standards
were dipped or lowered to half-mast three times. This indicated that
the ship had on board a pasha of three tails, or one of equal rank,
whose standard was flying at the foremast-head; and soon after we
learned that he was the munadjim bashee, or chief astrologer, one of the
first officers of the seraglio, and always consulted by the Sultan
Abd-ul-Medjid. No public work was ever undertaken until he declared the
stars to be propitious; and now he was steaming ahead to see how they
looked at Varna! By the letter I had despatched from Gallipoli, I had,
to a certain extent, relieved my mind, as I concluded that at Varna I
should receive the answer, and that then all my suspense and anxieties
would end, in the course of a few weeks at latest.

Against the strong current which sets in from the Black Sea, and which
runs at the rate of four miles an hour down the Bosphorus, we steamed
steadily on; and as the wind was fair, our transport carried a tolerable
spread of canvas. Our sail was a delightful one! The weather was calm,
and the scenery and objects on the European and Asian shores were ever
changing and attractive. The abrupt angles and bends of the coast
seemed to convert the channel into a series of seven charming inland
lakes of the deepest blue—there being seven promontories on one side,
and seven bays on the other, each bay running into a fertile valley,
clothed with the richest foliage of the Oriental clime; and amid that
waving foliage rose the quaint and fantastic country dwellings of the
wealthy Frankish, Greek, or Armenian merchants of Stamboul, with their
painted kiosks, gilded domes, and towering minarets, tall, white, and
slender.

On the left or European shore, the whole panorama was a succession of
beautiful villages, terraced gardens, and groves of chestnut, plane, and
lime trees, with here and there long, sombre, and solemn rows of
gigantic cypresses and poplars. On the right or Asian shore, the objects
of Nature were of greater magnitude. The groves became forests, and the
hills swelled into mountains; and, towering over Brussa, rose Olympus,
“high and hoar,” covered with laurels and other evergreens to its
summit.

Under a salute of cannon from the Castle of Europe, and still preceded
by our Turkish friend, the astrologer with three tails, we hauled up for
Varna, giving a wide berth to the dangerous Cyanean rocks, between which
Jason steered the Argonauts in equally troublesome, but more classic,
times.

From thence a run of about one hundred and fifty miles brought us to the
low flat shore of Varna, where, on the 28th of May, we were all landed
without accident or adventure, and placed under canvas among the rest of
the troops. The aspect of Varna from the bay was somewhat depressing.
Rising from a bank of yellow sand, a time-worn rampart of stone, ten
feet high, loop-holed and painted white, encloses the town on its four
sides, each of which measures somewhat more than a mile. This old wall
had witnessed the defeat and death of Uladislaus of Hungary, by the
troops of the Padishah Amurath II., and it yet bore traces of the
cannon-shot of the Scoto-Russian Admiral Greig, who bombarded Varna in
1828.

Before the walls lies a ditch, twelve feet deep, and over both frown a
number of heavy guns, which I found to be chiefly sixty-eight pounders;
and over all rose the countless red-tiled roofs of the houses, with the
slender white minarets and round leaden domes of the mosques, looking
like wax-candles by the side of inverted sugar basins. Beyond, in the
distance, stretched far away to the base of wooded hills the flat
Bulgarian shore.

Painted with various colours, the tumble-down and rickety houses were
all of wood, and exhibited a rapid state of dilapidation and decay.
Prior to our arrival, the silence must have been oppressive. Save when
a swallow twittered under the broad eaves, when a saka (or
water-carrier), with his buckets suspended from a leather belt, shambled
along, slipshod or barefoot, with water for sale, a hamal (or porter),
laden with his burden, or when the wild dog that lay panting on a heap
of festering offal uttered a hoarse growl, no sight or sound of life was
there, when the fierce sun of unclouded noon blazed down into the narrow
and tortuous streets. The place exhibited only Turkish filth,
inactivity, and stupidity, till the arrival of the Allies, when its
wooden jetties opposite the principal gate became piled up with
munitions of war—bales, tents, tumbrils, and cannon; its roadstead
crowded with war-ships, transports, and gunboats, under sail or steam;
its bazaar filled by regimental quartermasters, cooks, and caterers, or
soldiers’ wives in search of food, &c.; its five gates held by military
guards—the merry Zouave, the grave and stern Scottish Highlander, the
showy Coldstream, or the sombre rifleman.




Then its streets became literally alive, and crowded with the British,
who came by sea, and the French, who came pouring over the Balkan.
Their silence was broken by the sharp beat of the brass drum, and the
sound of the ringing bugle every hour or more, and by the measured tramp
of feet, as detachments on every imaginable duty marched to and fro
between the camps, the town, and harbour, scaring the wild dogs from the
streets, and the kites from the roofs and mosque domes, who were alike
unused to such unwonted bustle and activity.

Crowds of Turks and Bulgarians, wearing caps of brown sheepskin, short
jackets of undyed wool, and wide white trousers, with vacant wonder
surveyed us, as brigade after brigade came on shore, our horse, foot,
and artillery; while the little dark Arabs of the Egyptian contingent
viewed with something akin to awe our brigade of Foot Guards, whose
personal bulk and stature, with their white epaulettes and black
bearskin caps, made them seem the veritable sons of Anak to those
shrivelled children of the desert.

Amid the crash of military music, the glitter of arms, and the waving of
silken colours, as regiment after regiment marched to its
camping-ground, were to be seen the woebegone, helpless, miserable, and,
in some instances, still seasick wives of our soldiers, hurrying wearily
after their husbands’ battalions, carrying bundles or children,
sometimes both, while other scared little ones were trotting by their
side, and holding by their ragged and tattered skirts; but there was one
soldier’s wife who appeared to European and Oriental eyes under very
different auspices.

“All these marvels reached a climax,” says a writer,[*] “when a boat
from the _Henri IV._, rowed by six dashing French sailors, in snow-white
shirts and coquettish little glazed hats, stuck with a knowing air on
the side of their heads, shot up alongside the landing-place, and in the
stern appeared the Earl and Countess of Errol—the former an officer in
the rifles, and the latter intent upon sharing the campaign with her
husband. I think the old civil pasha (_mussellem_ of the city?), who
was seated on a chair at a little distance, scarcely knew whether he was
on his head or his heels when the lady was handed up out of the boat,
and made her appearance at the town gate, with a brace of pistols in a
holster at her waist, and followed by a Bulgarian porter, with a shoal
of reticules, carpet-bags, and books, and taking everything as coolly as
if she were an old soldier. The whole party followed the rifles to the
field, and the countess is at the present moment living under canvas.”

[*] In the _Daily News_.

This lady, who excited so much attention was Eliza, Countess of Errol,
and her husband—as my uncle would have reminded me—was hereditary high
constable of Scotland; as such, first subject in the kingdom, and of old
leader of the feudal cavalry. Now he was a simply major in the Rifle
Brigade, and was after severely wounded at the Alma. Undeterred by the
miseries which he saw the soldiers’ wives enduring, Sergeant Stapylton,
of my troop, had the courage to take unto himself a wife in this land of
the Prophet; but the fate which threw her in his way was somewhat
remarkable, and made some noise at the time. It came about thus:—The
wife of a soldier of the 28th Regiment, when proceeding through the
corn-fields from our camp to market in Varna, and perhaps considering
how far her little stock of money might go in the purchase of dainty
soochook sausages and cabaubs of herbs, for the delectation of herself
and Private John Smith, was surprised to find herself addressed in
tolerable English by a Greek female slave, who was at work among the
corn, weeding it of the brilliant poppies.

Though fairer skinned than the women of that country, she had the
appearance of a woman of Bulgaria. On her head a cylindrical bonnet, of
harlequin pattern, was tied by a white handkerchief under her chin. She
wore a short black gown, with a deep scarlet flounce, on which were sewn
ornamental pieces of variously-coloured stuffs: a broad scarlet sash,
elaborately needleworked, girt her waist; a few coins, of small value,
were woven into her hair, which was of a rich brown hue, and hung in
profusion over her shoulders, and on her wrists were bracelets of
crystal. She wore the costume of a peasant girl, and her features were
soft and pleasing—even pretty, though very much sunburnt.

In English she begged the soldier’s wife to give her a mouthful of water
from a vessel she carried, saying that she “was sorely athirst, and
weary with her work in the field.”

Now, Mrs. John Smith, of the 28th Foot, was greatly surprised on hearing
this humble and gentle request made in the language of her native
England, by one who seemed to all intents and purposes a Bulgarian. She
entered into conversation with the stranger, and discovered that she was
actually English by birth and blood, and a native of Essex!

She related that her father had been a merchant captain of London, who,
after her mother’s death, had taken her with him in a vessel on a voyage
to the Levant, where they were captured by a Greek pirate. She was then
a mere child. Her father and his crew were put to death, their vessel
plundered, and then set on fire, in the Gulf of Sidra, and destroyed.
Her captor, a thoroughpaced old rascal, had now settled, with all his
ill-gotten gains, as a small landowner, on the shore of the Bay of
Varna, where she was still his bondswoman—his slave.

The soldier’s wife begged the girl to follow her, and take refuge in the
British camp, and she was about to comply, when the appearance of her
master or owner, a fierce-looking old fellow, clad in a jacket and cap,
both of brown sheepskin, his sash bristling with knives, yataghans, and
pistols, altered her feeble resolution; and though the wife of Private
Smith shook her gingham umbrella with vigour, and threatened him with
the “p’leece,” and the main-guard to boot, he, nothing daunted, replied
only by a contemptuous scowl, and dragging the slave girl into his
house, secured the door.

It chanced luckily, however, that Sergeant Stapylton, of ours, with a
mounted party of ten lancers, was returning along the Silistria
road—where he had been sent in search of forage—and to him the soldier’s
wife appealed, and detailed what had taken place. He at once surrounded
the house, and demanded the girl, in what fashion or language I know
not; but he made the proprietor aware that fire or sword hung over him
if she was not surrendered instantly.

Armed to the teeth, the Greek appeared at the door, and threatened him
with the _vaivode_ of the district, and the _kaimakan_, or deputy of the
Pasha of Roumelia, and of various other dignitaries; but Stapylton put
the point of his lance to the throat of the old pirate, who found in it
an argument so irresistible, that he at once gave up the girl, whom our
fellows brought with them in triumph to the camp, where a subscription
was made for her, and she was a nine days’ wonder; and that this little
bit of romance might not be without its _finale_, she ultimately became
the wife of Sergeant Stapylton.

Our regiment was encamped eighteen miles distant from Varna, in the
lovely vale of Aladyn, surrounded by forests of the finest timber, where
the springs of water were numerous and pure, and where the grass and
verdure were of the richest description; yet there it was that
disease—the fell cholera and dysentery—broke out among us, and decimated
our ranks more surely and more severely than the Russian bullets could
have done. But amid their horrors folly ever found its way; and several
of our people, French and British, got into scrapes with the Bulgarian
and Turkish damsels, especially the latter, who are rather prone to
intrigue, notwithstanding the dangers attendant on it, in such a land of
jealousy and the prompt use of arms. Perhaps the _yashmac_, and the
mystery it gave to their faces, of which the ever brilliant eyes alone
were visible, and the mouth—usually its worst feature—was hidden, had
much to do with this.

By the Koran, aged women alone are permitted to “lay aside their outer
garments, and go unveiled.” A very old history of
Constantinople—Delamay’s, I think—relates that a pasha, remarkable for
the size and ugliness of his nose, married, before the kadi, a lady who,
on being unveiled, proved to his great disgust to be exceedingly plain.

“To whom, of all your friends,” she asked, with her most winning smile,
“am I to show my face?”

“To all the world,” said he; “but hide it from me!”

“My lord, patience,” she whispered, humbly.

“Patience have I none!” he exclaimed, wrathfully.

“_Allah kerim!_ you must have a great deal of it to have borne that
great nose so long about you,” she retorted, as she hurled her slipper
at his head.

A pair of dark and brilliant eyes, sparkling through the folds of a fine
white muslin _yashmac_, were very nearly the means of ridding me of
Berkeley, and the impending duel, while we lay at Varna.

He and Frank Jocelyn, of my troop, a smart and handsome young fellow,
whilom the prime bowler and stroke oar at Oxford, as good-hearted and
open-handed a lad as any in the service, began an intrigue with two
Turkish damsels, whom they found at prayer before an _aekie_, or
Mahommedan wayside chapel, and whom they followed home to a kiosk in the
vale of Aladyn.

Their love affair did not make much progress, being simply maintained by
tossing oranges in the dusk over a high wall, which was furnished with a
row of vicious-looking iron spikes. The oranges of Jocelyn and Berkeley
contained notes written in French and Italian, of which the girls could
make nothing, of course, the language of the educated Turks being a
mixture of Turkish, Persian, and Arabic, the former being spoken by the
peasantry alone; so the ladies responded by oranges, in which flowers
were stuck, till on the fourth or fifth night, in reply to a very
amatory epistle, souse came over the garden wall an iron six-inch shell,
with its fuse burning!

Our Lotharios had only time to throw themselves flat on the ground, when
it exploded in the dark with a dreadful crash; but without hurting
either of them, and they retired, somewhat crestfallen, while hearing
much loud laughter and clapping of hands within the garden wall. After
this rough hint, they went no more near the ladies, who proved to be the
wife of a _yuse bashi_, or captain of Turkish artillery, and her female
slave.

While the months we wasted so fruitlessly at Varna crept slowly away,
there occurred to me a singular adventure—in fact, one so remarkable in
its import, and in reference to the future, that it still makes a deep
impression upon me; and this episode I shall detail in the following
chapter.

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