A Story of the Mystical
<continued from page 1-117>
several times two familiar Christian names of men. The mesmerizer was so terrified that he lost all control over himself, and instead of withdrawing the fluid, he loaded the girl with it still more.
“Take care!” exclaimed I. “Stop! You will kill her or she will kill you!”
But the Frenchman had unwittingly raised subtle potencies of nature, over which he had no control. Furiously turning round, the girl struck at him a blow which would have killed him, had he not avoided it by jumping aside, receiving but a severe scratch on the right arm. The poor man was panic-stricken. Climbing with an extraordinary agility for a man of his bulky form on the wall over her, he fixed himself on it astride, and gathering the remnants of his will power, sent in her direction a series of passes. At the second, the girl dropped the weapon and remained motionless.
“What are you about?” hoarsely shouted the mesmerizer in French, seated like some monstrous night goblin on the wall. “Answer me: I command you!”
“I did—but what she—whom you ordered me to obey— commanded me do,” answered the girl in French, to my amazement.
“What did the old witch command you?” irreverently asked he.
“To find them—who murdered—kill them—I did so—and they are no more!—avenged—avenged! They are—”
An exclamation of triumph, a loud shout of infernal joy rang loud in the air, and awakening the dogs of the neighboring villages a responsive howl of barking began from that moment like a ceaseless echo of the Gospoja’s cry.
“I am avenged. I feel it, I know it. My warning heart tells me that the fiends are no more.” And she fell panting on the ground, dragging down in her fall the girl, who allowed herself to be pulled down as if she were a bag of wool.
“I hope my subject did no further mischief to-night. She is a dangerous as well as a very wonderful subject!” said the Frenchman.
We parted. Three days after that I was at T——, and as I was sitting in the dining-room of a restaurant waiting for my lunch I happened to pick up a newspaper, and the first lines I read ran thus:
VIENNA, 186—. TWO MYSTERIOUS DEATHS. Last evening, at 9:45, as P—— was about to retire, two of the gentlemen in waiting suddenly exhibited great terror, as though they had seen a dreadful apparition. They screamed, staggered, and ran about the room holding up their hands as if to ward off the blows of an unseen weapon. They paid no attention to the eager questions of the Prince and suite, but presently fell writhing upon the floor, and expired in great agony. Their bodies exhibited no appearance of apoplexy, nor any external marks of wounds; but wonderful to relate, there were numerous dark spots and long marks upon the skin, as though they were stabs and slashes made without puncturing the cuticle. The autopsy revealed the fact that beneath each of these mysterious discolorations there was a deposit of coagulated blood. The greatest excitement prevails, and the faculty are unable to solve the mystery.”
<View Above Sweet Brier>
The Luminous Circle.
We were a small party of merry travellers. We had arrived at Constantinople a week before from Greece, and had devoted fourteen hours a day to running up and down the steep hills of Pera, visiting bazaars, climbing to the tops of minarets, and fighting our way through armies of hungry dogs, traditional masters of the streets of Stamboul. Nomadic life is infectious, they say, and no civilization is strong enough to destroy the charm of unrestrained freedom when it has once been tasted. For the first three days my spaniel, Ralph, had kept at my heels, and behaved like a tolerably well-educated quadruped. He was a fine fellow, my travelling companion and most cherished friend; I was afraid to lose him, and so kept a good watch over his incomings and outgoings. At every impudent attack by his Mohammedan fellow creatures, whether demonstrations of friendship or hostility, he would merely draw in his tail between his legs, and seek in a dignified and modest manner protection under one or the other wing of our little party. He had shown from the first a decided aversion to bad company, and so, having become assured of his discretion, by the end of the third day I relinquished my vigilance. This neglect was speedily followed by punishment. In an unguarded moment he listened to the voice of some canine siren, and the last I saw of him was his bushy tail vanishing around the corner of a dirty, crooked street.
Greatly annoyed, and determined to recover him at all hazards, I passed the remainder of the day in a vain search. I offered twenty, thirty, forty francs reward for him. About as many vagabond Maltese began a regular chase, and toward night we were assailed in our hotel by the whole troop, every man of them with a mangy cur in his arms, which he tried his best to convince me was the dog I had lost. The more I denied, the more solemnly they insisted, one of them actually going down upon his knees, snatching from his bosom an old corroded image of the Virgin, and swearing with a solemn oath that the Queen of Heaven herself had appeared to him and kindly shown him which dog was mine. The tumult had increased so as to threaten a riot, when finally our landlord had to send for a couple of kavasches from the nearest police station, who expelled the army of bipeds and quadrupeds by main force. I was the more in despair, as the headwaiter, a semi-respectable old brigand, who, judging by appearances, had not passed more than a half-dozen years in the galleys, gravely assured me that my pains were all useless, as my spaniel was undoubtedly devoured and half digested by this time, the Turkish dogs being very fond of their toothsome Christian brothers.
The discussion was held in the street, at the door of the hotel, and I was about to give up the search for that night, when an old Greek lady, a Phanariote, who had listened attentively to the fracas from the steps of a neighboring house, approached our disconsolate group and suggested to Miss H., one of our party, that we should inquire of the Dervishes concerning the fate of Ralph.
“And what can the Dervishes know about my dog?” inquired I, in no mood to joke.
“The holy men know all, Kyrea (madam)!” answered she, somewhat mysteriously. “Last week I was robbed of my new satin pelisse, which my son had brought me from Brusa, and, as you all see, there I have it on my back again.”
“Indeed? Then the holy men have also metamorphosed your new pelisse into an old one, I should say,” remarked a gentleman of our company, pointing to a large rent in the back, which had been clumsily mended with pins.
“And it is precisely that which is most wonderful,” quietly answered the Phanariote, not in the least disconcerted. “They showed me in the luminous circle the quarter of the town, the house, and even the room in which the Jew who stole it was preparing to rip and cut my garment into pieces. My son and I had barely the time to run over to the Kalindjikoulosek quarter and save my property. We caught the thief in the very act, and both instantly recognized him as the man shown us by the Dervishes in the magic moon. He confessed, and is in prison now.”
Not understanding what she meant by the luminous circle and magic moon, but not a little mystified by her account of the divining powers of the “holy men,” we felt so satisfied that the story was not wholly a fabrication that we decided to go and see for ourselves on the following morning.
The monotonous cry of the Muezzin from the top of a minaret had just proclaimed the noon of the day as we, descending from the heights of Pera to the port of Galata, with difficulty elbowed our way through the unsavory crowds of the commercial quarter of the town. Before we reached the docks we had been half deafened by the shouts and incessant, ear-piercing noises, and the Babel-like confusion of tongues. In this part of the city it is useless to expect to be guided by either house numbers or names of streets. The location of any desired place is indicated by its relative proximity to some other conspicuous building, such as a Mosque, bath or European storehouse; for the rest one has to put his faith in Allah and his prophet.
It was with the greatest difficulty, therefore, that we finally found the British shipchandler’s store in the rear of which we were to look for the place of our destination.
Our hotel guide knew about the Dervishes as little as ourselves; but at last a Greek urchin, in all the simplicity of primitive undress, consented for a modest copper bakshish, to lead us to the dancers.
We arrived at last, and were shown into a gloomy and vast hall, which appeared to me like a vacated stable. It was long and narrow, the floor was thickly strewn with sand, as in a manège, and it was lighted only through small windows under the cornices of the ceiling. The Dervishes had finished their morning performances, and were evidently resting from their exhausting labors. They looked completely prostrated, some lying about in corners, others sitting on their heels, staring vacantly, in mute contemplation of the Invisible Divinity, as we were informed. They appeared to have lost all power of speech and hearing, for none of them responded to our questions until a gaunt giant-limbed fellow, in a tall pointed cap, which made him appear over seven feet high, emerged from an obscure nook.
Informing us that he was the chief, he remarked that the holy brethren, being in the act of receiving orders for further ceremonies of the day from Allah himself, must not be disturbed. But when the interpreter had explained to him the object of our visit, which concerned himself alone, he being the sole proprietor of the “divining rod,” his objections vanished, and he extended his hand for the alms. Upon being gratified, he beckoned two of our party, signifying that he could not accommodate more at once, and led the way.
Plunging after him into the darkness of what seemed a half-subterranean passage, we were led to the foot of a tall ladder reaching to a chamber under the roof. We scrambled up after our guide and found ourselves in a wretched garret, of moderate size, destitute of all furniture. The floor, however, was carpeted with a thick layer of dust, and cobwebs festooned the walls in profusion. In one corner we perceived something which I mistook, at first, for a bundle of old rags; but the heap presently moved, got on its legs, advanced to the middle of the room, and stood before us, the most extraordinary-looking creature that I ever beheld. Its sex was female, but it was impossible to decide whether she was a woman or a child. She was a hideous-looking dwarf, with a head so monstrously developed that it would have been too big for a giant; the shoulders of a grenadier; the bosom of a Normandy wet nurse; and the whole supported on two short, lean, spider-looking legs, which trembled under the disproportionate size of the trunk as she advanced. She had a grinning countenance, like the face of a satyr, and it was ornamented with letters and signs from the Koran, painted in bright yellow. On her forehead was a blood-red crescent; her head was crowned with a dusty tarboosh; the lower extremities covered with large Turkish trousers; the upper portion of the body wrapped in dirty white muslin, barely sufficient to conceal one-half of its deformities. This creature rather let herself drop than sat down, in the middle of the floor, and as her weight came upon the rickety boards it sent up a thick cloud of dust, which invaded our throats and set us to coughing and sneezing. This was the famous Tatmos, known as the Damascus Oracle!
Without losing time in idle talk, the Dervish produced a piece of chalk, and traced round the girl a circle about six feet in diameter. Fetching from behind the door twelve small copper lamps, and filling them with a dark liquid contained in a vial which he drew from his bosom, he placed them symmetrically around the magic circle. He then broke a chip of wood from the half-ruined panel of the door, which bore evident marks of many a similar depredation, and, holding the chip between his thumb and finger, began blowing on it at regular intervals, alternating with mutterings of weird incantation; suddenly, and to all appearance without any apparent cause for its ignition, there appeared a spark on the chip, and it blazed up like a dry match. He lit the twelve lamps at this self-generated flame. During this process, Tatmos, who until then had sat altogether unconcerned and motionless, removed her yellow babouches off from her naked feet, and throwing them into a corner, disclosed, as an additional beauty, a sixth toe on each deformed foot. The Dervish then reached over into the circle, and, seizing the dwarf’s ankles, gave a jerk as if he had been lifting a bag of corn, raised her clear off the ground, and stepping back, held her head downward. He shook her as one might a sack to pack its contents, the motion being regular and easy. He then swung her to and fro like a pendulum until the necessary momentum was acquired, when, letting go one foot and seizing the other with both hands, he made a <... continues on page 1-119 >