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The Circassian Chief: A Romance of Russia

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Circassian Chief, by W.H.G. Kingston.


  ________________________________________________________________________THE CIRCASSIAN CHIEF, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.

  Volume 1, Chapter I.

  Between the ancient and modern capitals of Russia, a fine broad road nowaffords an easy communication, although, but a few years ago, thetraveller who would journey from one city to the other, was compelled toproceed at a slow pace, along a wild track, over rough stony ground,through swamps, under dark forests, and across bleak and unshelteredplains.

  The sun had already begun his downward course towards the more happy,and free lands of the far West, shedding forth his summer rays on theheads of two horsemen, who pursued their way in a southerly direction,along the yet unimproved part of the road, to which we have alluded.Their pace, as the nature of the ground over which they travelledrequired, was slow--their attention being chiefly occupied in guidingtheir steeds between the many deep ruts and cavities, which lay in theirpath.

  The tone of their voices, their noble bearing, and general appearance,bespoke them at a glance, to belong to a station far above the commonrank of life. They were dressed alike, in a half military uniform;their arms consisting solely of pistols, and heavy riding whips thelatter even no despicable weapon when wielded by a strong arm.

  The travellers might have been taken for brothers, but that the darkflashing eye, black hair, clear olive-complexion, and regular Grecianfeatures of the one, offered too great a contrast to the laughing blueeye, light complexion and hair of the other, whose features, thoughinferior to those of his companion, were not deficient in manly beauty.There appeared to be scarcely any difference in their ages, both havingemerged from boyhood, into that joyous time of life, when the man hascompletely shaken off what he then considers the irksome trammels of hischildish days; happily, unconscious how soon in their stead, advancingyears may too probably bring around him the many cares, anddisappointments that flesh is doomed to bear, from manhood to the grave.

  The last mentioned of the two wayfarers, was in reality, however, theelder; although the light laugh he occasionally indulged in, and hisdebonair manner, gave him a younger look, than his more seriouscompanion. They were followed at a short distance by a most primitivelooking, low, square vehicle, containing their baggage; drawn by ashaggy little pony, and driven by a man almost as rough looking andunpolished as the animal itself. A low crowned, broad-brimmed hat offelt, covered a head of sandy hair, while a huge long beard of the samehue hung down upon his breast: the twinkle of his light grey eye, and asmile on his lips, giving a good humoured expression to his flat, andotherwise unmeaning features.

  His dress consisted of a long coat of coarse cloth, buckled round thewaist by a leathern belt, and boots of the latter material, untanned,reaching just above his ankles. He urged on his little animal, as fastas it could travel, over the rugged road, whistling, as he lashed hiswhip, and whirled it round his head--his thoughts evidently notextending beyond his immediate occupation.

  The scenery through which the road led, was probably as dreary anduninteresting as any to be found in Russia; a country, which can boastof but few natural beauties, throughout its widely extended territory.It ranged over a landscape, as far as the eye could reach, consisting ofa dry uncultivated plain, with here and there, a few clumps of stuntedtrees struggling into existence upon the arid and ungrateful soil--fitemblems of the miserable, and enslaved peasantry of the country.

  The travellers had continued on their course through scenery equallyunpicturesque for some distance, when gradually it began to improve,exhibiting a greater number of trees, and a brighter verdure. Aproposal was then made by one of them, to which the other readilyassented; this was to urge forward the driver of their baggage-cart,with his charge to Tver, a town they purposed resting at for the night,while they followed at their leisure, through the forest they wereapproaching. The servant was summoned by the name of Karl, and orderedto proceed with as much speed as his weary beast was capable of, inorder to secure a lodging and to prepare supper, the materials for whichhe carried, together with their bedding for the night--a necessaryprecaution, the inns at the small towns in Russia, affording verymiserable accommodation.

  Karl signified his comprehension of the order and willingness to obeyit, by a few guttural sounds, and several low bends of the neck; whenflourishing his long whip, he bestowed a few additional lashes on theflanks of the pony, who reluctantly started into a trot, dragging therude little vehicle over ruts and stones after a most uncomfortablefashion.

  The cavaliers then followed quietly on, at the slow pace which the heatof a warm spring day made most agreeable, each occupied with his ownthoughts; those of the younger of the two appearing to be rather of asombre hue, as occasionally a shade of melancholy would pass across hisexpressive features; while, at other times, his bright eye would kindlewith animation, and his lip would curl, as if some strong feelings wereworking within his bosom. His friend, however, endeavoured to amusehimself, and to enliven the journey with snatches of gay French songs,which he carolled forth in a rich, clear, and cheerful voice; and he nowand then broke into a merry laugh. At length, weary apparently of hisown thoughts, he exclaimed--

  "Thank Heaven, Ivan, my friend, that we are for ever free from dull andlaborious studies, and those odious college drills. Bah! I have soworn out my eyes and the small portion of brains I was ever endowedwith, by reading, I will not look into a book for a year to come. Weshall have no more of those sham fights, but henceforth may expect everyday to be called upon to engage in the honour and glory of real warfare.What say you, Ivan, does not your pulse beat with quicker throbs inanticipation of the glorious scenes of battle and conquest, which we maysoon find ourselves engaged in? What say you, shall we flesh our maidenswords in the carcases of the turbaned infidels of Turkey? They aresaid to be no despicable enemies to contend with; or if perchance ourregiment should be out of favour at head-quarters, we may be sent to tryour mettle against the mountain barbarians of the Caucasus. I hear thatthere is enough of hard fighting with them; more perhaps than is at alltimes agreeable. It is said, indeed, that the Emperor considers acampaign in the Caucasus an excellent field for the display of themilitary talents of those, whose ideas of that phantom called `Liberty'do not exactly coincide with his own. If such be the case, I shall notbe much surprised if we some day receive an intimation that our valuableservices are required to strengthen his armies in that distant andsavage part of the globe. What say you, Ivan, to this notion? Do younot eagerly long to be wielding your sword against the savage hordes ofthose unchristianised barbarians of Circassia?"

  The brow of Ivan had contracted during these observations, which wereuttered in a light, careless tone, and he had several times attempted tointerrupt his friend; now, that the latter had concluded, he indignantlyexclaimed:

  "I thought you knew me better, Thaddeus, than to make a proposition ofthat nature to me. Never will I unsheathe my sword to aid the cause oftyranny and injustice--such vile work I leave to slaves and hirelings.Should Russia herself be assailed, most willingly would I shed my bloodfor her defence, as in such a glorious struggle as that when she sogallantly beat back the aspiring conqueror of Europe from herterritories; but never will I lend my arm to assist in subjugating afree and independent people, over whom she has not even the shadow of aright to claim command. Rather would I break my weapon into fragments,and forswear all hope of advancement in the world."

  A smile was rising on the lips of Thaddeus at this sudden declaratio
n ofprinciples, so unusual in Russia; but it was quickly checked on hisperceiving the stern expression of his friend's countenance.

  "Can you yourself, Thaddeus, not feel for the oppressed?" Ivan went onto say; "you, whose native land has so grievously suffered from thepower of Russia; you, who have such deep cause to rue the tyranny of heriron sway! Then, as you love me, never again give utterance to thesubject you have so thoughtlessly touched upon, for it is one on which Icannot trust my feelings."

  "I spoke but in jest," answered the other, "and most sincerely do Iapplaud your sentiments; but alas! I fear the principles you profess,when put in practice, will answer but badly in this country, and aresuch as it is more prudent to suppress. For my own part, I confessthat, though I have a high respect for the liberty of all men--especially for my own, I have such an innate love of fighting, that,provided an opportunity offer of exercising my propensity, I care littlein what cause I draw my sword."

  "For shame,