The Luminous Circle
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powerful, muscular effort and whirled her round in the air as if she had been an Indian club.
My companion had shrunk back into a corner in fear. Round and round the Dervish swung his living burden, she remaining perfectly passive. The motion increased in rapidity, until the eye could hardly follow her body in its circuit. This continued perhaps for two or three minutes, until gradually slackening the motion, he stopped it, and in an instant had landed the girl upon her knees in the middle of the lamp-lit circle. Such was the Eastern method of mesmerization as practised among the Dervishes.
And now the dwarf seemed entirely oblivious of external objects, and in a deep trance. Her head and jaw dropped upon her chest, her eyes were glazed and staring, and altogether her appearance was hideous. The Dervish then carefully closed the wooden shutters of the only window, and we would have been in total obscurity but that there was a hole bored in it, through which entered a bright ray of sunlight, which shot through the darkened room and shone upon the girl. He arranged her drooping head so that the ray should fall directly upon the crown, after which, motioning us to remain silent, he folded his arms upon his bosom, and fixing his gaze upon the bright spot, became as motionless as an image of stone. I, too, riveted my eyes upon the same spot, and followed the proceeding with intense interest, for I had seen something similar before, and knew what beautiful phenomena to expect.
By degrees the bright patch, as if it had drawn through the sunbeam a greater splendor from without and condensed it within its own area, shaped itself into a brilliant star, which from its focus sent out rays in every direction.
A curious optical effect then occurred. The room, which previously had been partially lighted by the sunbeam, grew darker and darker as the star increased in radiance, until we found ourselves in an Egyptian gloom. The star twinkled, trembled, and turned, at first with a slow, gyratory motion, then faster and faster, expanding and increasing its circumference at every rotation until it formed a brilliant disc, and we lost sight of the dwarf as if she herself had been absorbed into its light. Having gradually attained a vertiginous velocity, as the girl had when whirled by the Dervish, the motion began decreasing, and finally merged into a feeble vibration, like the shimmer of moonbeams on rippling water. Then it flickered for a moment longer, emitted a few last flashes, and assuming the density and irridescence of an immense opal, it remained motionless. The disc now radiated a moon-like lustre, soft and silvery, but instead of illuminating the garret, this seemed only to intensify the darkness. Its edge was not penumbrous, but, on the contrary, sharply defined like that of a silver shield.
All being now ready the Dervish without uttering a word, or removing his gaze from the disc, stretched out a hand and taking hold of mine, he drew me to his side and pointed to the illuminated shield. Looking at the place indicated, we saw dark patches appear like those upon the moon. These gradually formed themselves into figures, which began moving about till they came out in high relief in their natural colors. They neither appeared like a photograph nor an engraving; still less like reflection of images on a mirror; but as if the disc were a cameo and they were raised above its surface and then endowed with life and motion. To my astonishment and my friend’s consternation we recognized the bridge leading from Galata to Stamboul, spanning the Golden Horn from the new to the old city. There were the people hurrying to and fro, steamers and gay caiks gliding on the blue Bosphorus; the many-colored buildings, villas and palaces reflected in the water; and the whole picture illuminated by the noonday sun.
It passed like a panorama; but so vivid was the impression that we could not tell whether it or ourselves were in motion. All was bustle and life, but not a sound broke the oppressive stillness. It was noiseless as a dream. It was a phantom picture. Street after street and quarter after quarter succeeded each other; there was the Bazaar, with its narrow, roofed passages, the small shops on each side, the coffee house, with gravely-smoking Turks; and as either they or we glided past them, one of the smokers upset the narghile and coffee of another, and a volley of soundless invectives caused us great amusement. So we travelled with the picture until we came to a large building, which I recognized as the Palace of the Minister of Finance. In a ditch behind the house and close by to a Mosque, lying in a pool of mud, with his silken coat all bedraggled, lay my poor Ralph! Panting and crouching down as if exhausted, he seemed dying; and near him were gathered some sorry-looking curs who lay blinking in the sun and snapping at the flies!
I had seen all that I desired, although I had not breathed a word about the dog to the Dervish, and had come more out of curiosity than with the idea of any success. I was impatient to leave at once to recover Ralph; but as my companion besought me to remain a little while longer, I reluctantly consented.
The scene faded away, and Miss H—— placed herself in her turn nearer by the side of the gigantic Dervish.
“I will think of him,” whispered she into my ear, with that sentimental tone which young ladies generally assume when referring to a “him.”
A long stretch of sand; a blue sea, with white caps dancing in the sun; a great steamer, ploughing her way along past a desolate shore, and leaving a milky track behind her. The deck is full of life; then men busy forward; the cook, with his white cap and apron, coming out of his galley; uniformed officers moving about; passengers on the quarter deck flirting, lounging, or reading; and a young man we both recognize comes forward and leans over the taffrail. It is—him!
Miss H—— gives a little gasp, blushes and smiles, and concentrates her thoughts again. The picture of the steamer fades away in its turn; the magic moon remains for a few seconds pictureless. But new spots appear on its luminous face; we see a library slowly emerging from its depths a library with green carpet and hangings, and book-shelves around three sides of the room. Seated in an armchair by the table, under the chandelier, is an old gentleman writing. His grey hair is brushed back from his forehead, his face is smooth-shaven, and his countenance has an expression of benignity.
“Father!” joyfully exclaims Miss H——.
The Dervish makes a hasty motion to enjoin silence. The light on the disc quivers, but resumes its steady brilliancy once more.
We are back in Constantinople now; and out of the pearly depths of the shield forms our own apartment in the hotel. There are our papers and books lying upon the bureau, my friend’s travelling-hat in a comer, her ribbons hanging on the glass, and on the bed the very dress which she had exchanged when we started out on our memorable expedition. No detail was lacking to make the identification complete; and, to prove that we were not seeing something conjured up in our own imaginations, there lay upon the dressing case two sealed letters, the very handwriting upon which my friend recognizes. They were from a very dear relative of hers, from whom she had expected to hear at Athens, but had been disappointed. The scene faded away, and we now see her brother’s room, with himself lying upon the lounge, and the servant bathing his head, which, to our horror, we see bleeding!
We had left the boy perfectly well one hour before; but upon seeing his picture my companion uttered a cry of alarm, and seizing me by the hand dragged me towards the door. Down below we rejoined our guide, and hurried back to our hotel.
The boy had fallen downstairs and cut himself badly on the forehead; in the room, on the writing desk were the two letters which had been forwarded from Athens, letters she had seen in the disc and recognized, and the arrival of which had been so impatiently expected. Ordering the carriage, I drove hurriedly to the Minister of Finance, and alighting with the guide went right to the ditch I had never seen but in the magic room. In the middle of the pool, badly mangled, half famished, but still alive, lay my beautiful spaniel, Ralph!
The Cave of the Echoes
In one of the distant governments of Russia, in a small town on the very borders of Siberia, a mysterious tragedy occurred some twenty years ago—a tragedy which haunts the memory of the older inhabitants of the district to this very day, and is recounted but in whispers to the inquisitive traveller.
About six versts from the little town of P——, famous for the wild beauty of its scenery, and for the wealth of its inhabitants—generally proprietors of mines and iron foundries —stood an old and aristocratic mansion. Its household consisted of the master, a rich old bachelor, and his brother, a widower and the father of two sons and three daughters. It was known that the proprietor, Mr. Izvertzoff, had adopted his brother’s children, and, having formed an especial attachment for his eldest nephew, Nicholas, had made him the sole heir to his numerous estates.
Time rolled on. The uncle was getting old, the nephew coming of age. Days and years had passed in monotonous serenity, when, on the hitherto clear horizon of the quiet family appeared a cloud. On an unlucky day one of the nieces took it into her head to study the zither. The instrument being of purely Teutonic origin, and no teacher for that specialty residing in the neighborhood, the indulgent uncle sent to St. Petersburg for both. After diligent search only one such professor could be found willing to trust himself in such close proximity to Siberia. It was an old German artist, who, sharing equally his earthly affections between his instrument and a pretty blonde daughter, would part with neither. And thus it came to pass that, one fine morning, the old professor arrived at the mansion with his zither-case under one arm, and his fair Minchen leaning on the other.
From that day the little cloud began growing rapidly; for every vibration of the melodious instrument found a responsive echo in the old bachelor’s heart. Music awakens love, they say, and the work begun by the zither was completed by Minchen’s blue eyes. At the expiration of six months the niece had become an expert zitherplayer and the uncle was desparately in love. One morning, gathering his adopted family around him, he embraced them all very tenderly, promised to remember them in his will, and wound up by declaring his unalterable resolution to marry the blue-eyed Minchen. After which he fell upon their necks and wept in silent rapture. The family also wept: but it was for another cause. Having paid this tribute to self-interest, they tried their best to rejoice, for the old gentleman was sincerely beloved. Not all of them rejoiced, though. Nicholas, who had equally felt himself heart-smitten by the pretty Germain maid, and who found himself at once defrauded of his belle and his uncle’s money, neither rejoiced nor consoled himself, but disappeared for the v hole day.
Meanwhile Mr. Izvertzoff gave orders to prepare his travelling carriage for the following morning. It was whispered that he was going to the government town at some distance from here, with the intention of altering his will. Though very wealthy he had no superintendent on his estate, but kept his books himself. The same evening, after supper, he was heard in his room scolding angrily at his body-servant who had been in his service for over thirty years. This man, Ivan, was a native of Northern Asia, from Kamchatka. Brought up by the family in the Christian religion, he was thought very much attached to his master. But when the tragic circumstances I am about to relate had brought all the police force to the spot, it was remembered that Ivan was drunk on that night; that his master, who had a horror of this vice, had paternally thrashed him and turned him out of the room; and that Ivan had been seen reeling out of the door and heard to mutter threats.
There was on the estate of the Izvertzoffs a great cavern, which excited (and still excites) the curiosity of all who visited it. A pine forest, which began nearly at the garden gate, climbed by steep terraces a long range of rocky hills, which it covered with a belt of impenetrable verdure. The grotto leading to the place which people called the “Cave of the Echoes,” was situated about half a mile from the mansion, from which it appeared as a small excavation in the hillside, almost hidden by luxuriant plants. Still it was not so masked as to prevent any person entering it from being readily seen from the terrace of the house. Inside the grotto, the explorer finds at the rear of an ante-chamber a narrow cleft, having passed which he emerges into a lofty cavern, feebly lighted through fissures in a ceiling fifty feet high. The cavern itself is immense, capable of easily holding two or three thousand people. A part of it was, at the time of my story, paved with flags, and often used in the summer by picnic parties as a ball-room. Of an irregular oval shape, it gradually narrows into a broad corridor, which runs several miles underground, intercepted here and there by other chambers as large and lofty as the ballroom, but, unlike that, inaccessible except by boat, as they are full of water. These natural basins have the reputation of being unfathomable.
On the margin of the first of these was a small platform, with several mossy rustic seats arranged on it, and it is from this spot that the phenomenal echoes were heard in all their weirdness. A word pronounced in a whisper or a sigh seemed caught up by endless, mocking voices, and instead of diminishing in volume, as honest echoes generally do, the sound grew louder at every successive repetition, until at last it burst forth like the repercussion of a pistol shot, and receded in a plaintive wail down the corridor.
On the evening in question, Mr. Izvertzoff had mentioned his intention of having a dancing party in the cave on his wedding day, which he had fixed for an early date. On the following morning, while preparing for his departure, he was seen by his family entering the grotto, accompanied only by the Siberian. Half an hour later Ivan returned to the mansion for a snuffbox which his master had forgotten in his room, and went back with it to the cave. An hour later the whole household was startled with his loud cries. Pale, and dripping with water, Ivan rushed in like a madman and declared that Mr. Izvertzoff was nowhere to be found in the grotto. Thinking he had fallen into one of the lakes, he had dived into the first basin in search of him, and got nearly drowned himself.
The day passed in vain attempts to find the body. The police filled the house, and louder than the rest in his despair seemed Nicholas, the nephew, who had returned home only in time to hear the sad tidings.
A dark suspicion fell upon Ivan, the Siberian. He had been struck by his master the night before, and had been heard to swear revenge. He had accompanied him alone to the cave, and when his room was searched a casket full of rich family jewelry, known to have been carefully kept in old Izvertzoff’s apartment, was found under Ivan’s bedding. Vainly did the man call God to witness that the casket had been handed to him in charge by his master himself, just before <... continues on page 1-120 >