Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

orders for the handspikes to be in readiness. The orders were echoed and reechoed round the deck. Yet, by some singular mischance, neither grapnel nor anchor stirred. After observing this strange neglect to the captain, who instantly darted away to have it rectified, I went down to my cabin. Imagine my indignation; I found it half full already, my trunks occupied as ottomans by half a dozen long-bearded Osmanlis quietly preparing their pipes for a final treat, before they lay down on their carpets. This was intolerable. It was now my turn to rave. I rushed upon deck, determined to abate the nuisance in the most summary manner, by compelling the captain to clear my cabin of every interloper at once, and to leave his fresh passengers on shore. But I was too late for this part of the performance. I found the deck a pile of goods of every kind; the polacre overloaded to su ch a degree that the first gale would in all probability blow her over; and the captain wringing his hands at" the trick which had been played upon him by the knavery of the crew."

The dew and the gusts together at length overcame my repugnance to venture into the stifling atmosphere of my cabin, possessed as it was by interlopers; and down I plunged, found a snoring Turk for my pillow, and wrapping myself up in my cloak, waited to be trampled on by the next importation of the disastrous captain.

But, to sleep was impossible, and after an hour or two wasted in vain attempts, I left the Turks to settle the matter with each other, and went above. There what a scene met my eye! If I had seen the polacre overloaded before, what was I to make of her now! She was actually a pile of goods. Stem and stem were equally undistinguisbable. The gale was increasing: in half an hour we must be in the Euxine; and in half a minute after that it was fifty chances to one, but that our story was told. My first business now was to find the captain. But he had, I suppose, exhausted all his pathetic, for he was not to» be found. He had ensconced himself among his bales, and he might as well be looked for in the billows that were now beginning to tumble about us in a sufficiently menacing style. As I was rather angrily continuing my. search, the mate of the ship, a little Maltese, with shrewd eye and the air of a. humourist' addressed me:—

"You may as well give over your trouble for the night, sir, (said he) for when the captain does not choose to be found, it will not: he' s very easy matter to find him."

"Is the rascal hanged, drowned, or run away?" was my impatient exclamation to the mate.

"The last should be first, (coolly replied the Maltese;). the others may come all in good time. But if you expect to see Captain Callistrato. until the moon is down, and we are fairly out of the channel ,'* ......

Here he was interrupted by a loud voice from the water, hailing the vessel. "What, more passengers! (I exclaimed); is the captain out of his senses? we cannot find room to stand already."

"He is not accountable for those that are shoved overboard, (was the coal reply), he is paid alike for all. (On looking over the side he said,) but this seems a cargo of another calibre."

"A rope had been already thrown from the felucca ,which followed us, and a stately Greek, magnificently attired, came up the chains. His arrival had evidently been expected, and the captain now appeared, as if he had started from the sea along with him. A young and very lovely female was next handed up the side, and conducted along the deck to a sofa, which a couple of female attendants covered with cushions and shawls, and where the young beauty was waited upon with peculiar attention.

My curiosity was a little roused; and the Maltese, with whom I had become confidential, on the approved merit of being a good listener, told me in a whisper, and with a visage worthy of a privy councillor, that our new passenger was no less a personage than the Hospodar ol Wallachia. "He was summoned to Constantinople (said the Maltese), to give some account of his proceeding? with the Muscovites; in other words to leave his head and his money in the seraglio. Some unknown friend found means to let him know that to-night was to finish his earthly troubles; and the Greek, perhaps thinking that his share of troubles was not enough yet, hired the polacre at an hour's notice to carry him to Odessa."

"And hired my cabin too, I suppose, among the restV

"Yes, (was the answer), the captain never refuses money—that is the first point; and as you payed handsomely, and the Greek paid handsomely also, it would have hurt his feelings to have disappointed either. This, too, accounts for the state of the deck; he would not deprive so many poor fellows of their market for a few scruples of conscience, and so, giving way to his compassion, <md pocketing their money, he has fairly left the Turkish custom-house behind, and carries them, smugglers, goods, and all, to the north of his highness the sultan's line of fire."

A sudden sound of oars interrupted the dialogue.

"By our lady, (exclaimed the Maltese,) the officers are on our track! I would not give a ducat for the life of any man among us by sunrise if we suffer them to catch us." The captain was evidently quick-eared to the sound, for I saw the rascal

struggling his way, in infinite haste and terror, through the boxes and piles that

almost broke in our deek. A blaie of musketry alongshore, followed by the

booming of a heavy gun^ showed that the Turkish fort astern was on the alert. We had nothing for it now but to hoist every strip of canvass, and distance the Moslem if we were able. But the police could scarcely move; the sails could not be handled, and the men could not stir upon deck, from the enormous compilation of merchandise which the roguery of Callistrato had suffered to gather there. I was not totally indifferent to the result, for a Turkish cimeter or knife was not likely to be a very discriminating judge of nationality at midnight. But, even if I were, I should have been made zealous by the evident terror of the Stab Of The Harem. In moments of general alarm, all the world becomes communicative; and I learned from one of the Greek attendants that there was a little romance connected with the public part of his highness's flight. A young Italian, an officer in the Austro-Venitian squadron lying in the Propontis for its summer trip up the Mediterranean, had contrived to establish an interest in the heart of the fair Greek; which, as happens in other cases, was by no means entertained with the same cordiality by her guardian. A bullet and the cimeter were the promised rewards of the Italian's farther attentions; and the young beauty, disconsolate of course, but not the less handsome for her melancholy, as I could attest, on the visible evidence of her magnificent eyes and lovely expression, was whirled away from Constantinople, never to see her worshipper more.

In the mean time our clumsy attempts to get up the sails proceeded, and though the wind was now blowing a gale, and we began to feel the swell at the mouth of the Bosphorus, the polacre crept on a snail's pace, while the Turkish guard-boats were evidently coming up at full gallop. The hospodar's anxiety was obvious enough, but it was at least within the lino of manliness; but Callistrato was the grand performer of the hour. He was in an agony, and his agony had now the advantage of being perfectly sincere.' With such a weight of contraband upon his soul, no man was more likely to be bastinadoed out of the world on his first capture, if he were not sliced like a cucumber by the first Turk who got footing on the polacre. He ranted and raved, recounted all the sins of his life, an extraordinary exhibition of memory; harangued, whined wept, and made himself so abjectly ridiculous, that I could not help alternately scorning and laughing at his distress. I was fully revenged for the plunder of my passage-money. The whole cabin was in the same confusion. Jew and Turk, the sly Smyrniote, whose soul is made of oil and figs, the smooth Peraite, who lives by European plunder in all shapes, and the Rabbi, to whom nothing Christian or infidel comes amiss, were all gathering up whatever they could abstract most precious from their bags, and preparing plausibilities for the remorseless ears of the Doganieri.

There was no time for ceremony ; I introduced myself to the hospodar, acquainted him briefly with the nature of the case, kicked Captain Callistrato'out from the centre of a fortification of bales, which I verily believe he was pilfering at the moment; sent him by the same summary process to the feet of the hospodar, and there insisted on his surrendering the command of the vessel to his mate. But the Maltese was not ambitious of an honour which promised little more than promotion to the rope or the axe, and left the affair again in my hands.

The sound of the oars was becoming still more audible; and even the long phosphoric flash from their stroke was beginning to show itself on the waters They could not be more than the third of a league off; when, seeing the urgent necessity of coming to some determination on the subject, I held a council with the hospodar. The point in question was, whether he considered that our being overhauled by the sultan's barges would be likely to involve himself in any inconvenience. On this view he gave his opinion gallantly and promptly; that he could not conceive any pursuit to be made after him at so short a notice, and that, on the mere chance, it would be cruel, and even criminal, to expose so many people to the hazard of the Turkish laws.

But this view of the question differed vastly from my own. I ventured to doubt his highness's prudence in trusting anything to the mercy of a gang of Turks, let loose, in the darkness, to do just what they liked with a ship and cargo. I equally doubted that, if they once found a man of his rank on board, they would not at least detain him until intelligence from the capital had decided his fatei concluded with laying down sailors' law on the subject, namely— always to escape where we were not strong enough to fight—and always to fight where we were not quick enough to escape. In the present instance my advice was—to ask no questions, but fire away, to the last cartridge among us; then to make terms, if we could, and, if we could not, to make up our minds to go to the bottom all standing. My rough advice was suited to the time; the hospodar made an oriental obeisanoe in token of submission, sent to his cabin for his carbine and pistols, and went to take a last embrace, if such it was to be, of his beautiful charge, who lay like the personification of the Tragic Muse, clasping her hands, and turning her fine eyes alternately on him and on heaven. The glance decided him, as it might have decided the most inveterate stoic that ever had a stone instead of a heart in his bosom. It perfectly rekindled all my ardour against Turks and Doganieri; we now began a general muster of our military means. The hospodar drew up the unwilling volunteers, whom I had enlisted under penalty of throwing overboard every man who refused to handle pike or pistol. I gathered the crew, and laboured to set them about working the ship. The first step was, of course, to clear the deck; and my hand was the first to fling a huge toppling bale of Salonica cottons plump into the water. But the howl of wrath and wonder that followed from every comer of the ship, satisfied me of the metal of which its defenders were made. The crew to a man instantly deserted me, and dropped sail and tackle out of their hands. One half ran down into the cabin, and the other fell on their knees before the Virgin and her lantern in the forecastle.

All the work was now at a stand. While I was attempting to force two or three of those slovens to the ropes again, I was surprised by a voice from one of the ports. My first idea was, that the Turks had fairly come up with us, »nd that the affair was to be ended in the national style. But the voice told me that the Doganieri were still at some distance, and that, seeing the vessel in distress, a boat's crew from the pilot station had come off to inquire what was the matter. Nothing could be more welcome; for the pilots at the mouth of the channel are Greeks, and their help is always to be looked for against the Osmanlis, right or wrong, when it can be given with impunity. ,. The cause of our embarrassment was briefly communicated to the speaker, a jail and handsome son of the sea, who caught it at once, and recommended our getting off the coast as speedily as possible. Still those confounded bales were not to be moved by my single hand, and the crew were too busy with their genuflections to assist in the operation. But the pilot-boat settled the whole affair in a moment; at a whistle, a dozen stout fellows sprang up the vessel's side like cats, and began clearing the decks in a masterly style. Away went box and bale, away went trunk and package; all flew over the side with the speed of light, and the polacre began to feel the wind and give way in gallant trim. The pilot next threw his men out upon the rigging; the effect was marvellous, and we soon felt her shoot away like an eagle.

T remained^ looking out for the lighthouse at the entrance, while the pilot went aft, as he said, to ascertain the Hearing of the boats in pursuit. But I was speedily startled by the sound of a tumult; loud voices and the clashing of swords followed. The disturbance, however, was over before I could reach the spot, and I saw the ho&podar issuing from the crowd, sword in hand, and in great agitation. He explained the cause, by saying that he had found the scoundrel pilot actually kneeling at the fair girl's feet, kissing her hand, and making the most extravagant declarations of his insolent and unaccountable passion; that, in consequence of his attempt to punish this insolence, the fellow had forced him to draw his cimeter, and that, finally, in the struggle, he had been thrown overboard. This was the first hasty version. The hospodar was in a flame; from him I could learn no more. But the Greek attendants, who kept their senses a little cooler, had recognized in tho pilot the Italian lover! who, it appeared, by his declaration to the lady in that brief interview, had been the conveyancer of the original warning, which prompted the hospodar's escape; had been watching in his boat off the coast for the passing of the vessel; aud»

« PoprzedniaDalej »