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Ten o'clock, A.m., and the weather like the Prophet Barat
“Warmth without heat, and coolness without coral Madame Josepino stood at the door of her Turco-Italian boardinghouse in the nasty and fashionable main street of Pera, dividing her attention between a handsome Armenian, with a red button in the top of his black lamb’s-wool capt, and her three boarders, Job, Maimuna, and myself, at that critical moment about mounting our horses for a gallop to Belgrade.
We kissed our hands to the fat and fair Italian, and with a promise to be at home for supper, kicked our shovel-shaped stirrups into the sides of our horses, and pranced away up the street, getting many a glance of curiosity, and one or two that might be more freely translated, from the dark eyes that are seen day and night at the windows of the leadencoloured houses of the Armenians.
We should have been an odd-looking cavalcade for the Boulevard or Bond-street, but, blessed privilege of the East! we were sufficiently comme il faut for Pera. To avoid the embarrassment of Maimuna's sex, I had dressed her, from an English “ slop-shop " at Galata, in the checked shirt, jacket, and trowsers of a sailor-boy, but as she was obstinately determined that her long black hair should not be shorn, a turban was her only resource for concealment, and the dark and glossy mass was hidden in the folds of an Albanian shawl, forming altogether as inharmonious a costume as could well be imagined. With the white duck trowsers tight over her hips, and the jacket, which was a little too large for her, loose over her shoulders and breast, the checked collar tied with a black silk cravat close round her throat, and the silken and gold fringe of the shawl flowing coquettishly over her left cheek and ear, she was certainly an odd figure on horseback, and, but for her admirable riding and excessive grace of attitude, she might have been as much a subject for a caricature as her companion. Job rode soberly along at her side, in the green turban of a Hajji (which he had persisted in wearing ever since his pilgrimage to Jerusalem), and, as he usually put it on askew, the gaillard and rakish character of his head-dress,
* Concluded from page 467, vol. xliv., No. clxxvi. † The Armenians at Constantinople are despised by the Turks, and tacitly submit, like the Jews, to occupy a degraded position as a people. A few, however, are employed as interpreters by the embassies, and these are allowed to wear the mark of a red worsted button in the high black cap of the race,-a distinction which just serves to make them the greatest possible coxcombs.
Sept.--VOL, XLV. NO, CLXXVII.
and the grave respectability of his black coat and salt-and-pepper trowsers, produced a contrast which elicited a smile even from the admiring damsels at the windows.
Maimuna went caracoling along till the road entered the black shadow of the Cemetery of Pera, and then, pulling up her well-managed horse, she rode close to my side, with the air of subdued respect which was more fitting to the spirit of the scene. It was a lovely morning, as I said, and the Turks, who are early risers, were sitting on the graves of their kindred with their veiled wives and children, the marble turbans in that thickly-sown nekropolis less numerous than those of the living, who had come, not to mourn the dead who lay beneath, but to pass a day of idleness and pleasure on the spot endeared by their memories.
“I declare to you,” said Job, following Maimuna's example in waiting till I came up," that I think the Turks the most misrepresented and abused people on earth. Look at this scene! Here are whole families seated upon graves over which the grass grows long and old, the children playing at their feet, and their own faces the pictures of calm cheerfulness and enjoyment. They are the by-word for brutes, and there is not a gentler or more poetical race of beings between the Indus and the Arkansaw !”
It was really a scene of great beauty. The Turkish tombs are as splendid as white marble can make them, with letters and devices in red and gold, and often the most delicious sculptures, and, with the crowded closeness of the monuments, the vast extent of the burialground over hill and dale, and the cypresses (nowhere so magnificent) veiling all in a deep religious shadow, dim, and yet broken by spots of the clearest sunshine, a more impressive and peculiar scene could scarce be imagined. It might exist in other countries, but it would be a desert. To the Mussulman death is not repulsive, and he makes it a resort when he would be happiest. At all hours of the day you find the tombs of Constantinople gaily surrounded by the living. They spread their carpets, and arrange their simple repast around the stone which records the name and virtues of their own dead, and talk of them as they do of the living and absent,-parted from them to meet again, if not in life, in Paradise.
“For my own part,” continued Job," I see nothing in Scripture which contradicts the supposition that we shall haunt, in the intermediate state between death and heaven, the familiar places to which we have been accustoined. In that case, how delightful are the habits of these people, and how cheeringly vanish the horrors of the grave! Death, with us, is appalling! The smile has scarce faded from our lips,—the light scarce dead in our eye,—when we are thrust into a noisome vault, and thought of but with a shudder and a fear. We are connected thenceforth, in the memories of our friends, with the pestilent air in which we lie, with the vermin that infest the gloom, with chilliness, with darkness, with disease; and, memento as it is of their own coming destiny, what wonder if they chase us, and the forecast shadows of the grave, with the same hurried disgust from their remembrance. Suppose, for an instant, (what is by no means improbable,) that the spirits of the dead are about us, conscious and watchful! Suppose that they have still a feeling of sympathy in the decaying form they have so long inhabited, in its organs, its senses, its once-admired and long-cherished grace and proportion; that they feel the contumely and disgust with which the features we professed to love are cast like garbage into the earth, and the indecent haste with which we turn away from the solitary spot, and think of it but as the abode of festering and revolting corruption !”
At this moment we turned to the left, descending to the Bosphorus, and Maimuna, who had ridden a little in advance during Job's unintellible monologue, came galloping back to tell us that there was a corpse in the road. We quickened our pace, and the next moment our horses started aside from a bier, left in a bend of the highway with a single individual, the grave-digger, sitting cross-legged beside it. Without looking up at our approach, the man mumbled something between his teeth, and held up his hand as if to arrest us in our path.
“ What does he say?" I asked of Maimuna.
“ He repeats a verse of the Koran,” she replied, “ which promises a reward in Paradise to him who bears the dead forty steps on its way to the grave.”
Job sprang instantly from his horse, threw the bridle over the nearest tombstone, and made a sign to the grave-digger that he would officiate as bearer. The man nodded assent, but looked down the road without arising from his seat.
" You are but three,” said Maimuna, “ and he waits for a fourth.”
I had dismounted by this time, not to be behind my friend in the humanities of life, and the grave-digger, seeing that we were Europeans, smiled with a kind of pleased surprise, and uttering the all-expressive “ Pekkhe ! ” resumed his look-out for the fourth bearer.
The corpse was that of a poor old man. The coffin was without a cover, and he lay in it, in his turban and slippers, his hands crossed over his breast, and the folds of his girdle stuck full of flowers. He might have been asleep, for any look of death about him. His lips were slightly unclosed, and his long beard was combed smoothly over his breast. The odour of the pipe and the pastille struggled with the perfume of the flowers, and there was in his whole aspect a life-likeness and peace, that the shroud and the close coffin, and the additional horrors of approaching death, perhaps, combine, in other countries, utterly to do away.
“ Hitherto,” said Job, as he gazed attentively on the calm old man, “ I have envied the Scaligers their uplifted and airy tombs in the midst of the cheerful street of Verona, and, next to theirs, the sunny sarcophagus of Petrarch, looking away over the peaceful Campagna of Lombardy; but here is a Turkish beggar who will be buried still more enviably. Is it not a Paradise of tombs,-a kind of Utopia of the dead ?”
A young man with a load of vegetables for the market of Pera, came toiling up the hill behind his mule. Sure of his assistance, the gravedigger arose, and as we took our places at the poles, the marketer quietly turned his beast out of the road, and assisted us in lifting the dead on our shoulders. The grave was not far off, and having deposited the corpse on its border, we returned to our horses, and, soon getting clear of the cemetery, galloped away, with light hearts toward the Valley of Sweet Waters,