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A FLYING VISIT TO THE SEAT OF WAR IN THE EAST,
IN JULY, 1854.
June 13th. Wound up our affairs in Naples, and embarked on board the fine French steamer, Merovée, en route, as we hope, for the scene of great events. My companion, H. W., has already witnessed eastern strife, having, through the lucky toss of a penny, stood by the side of the gallant Omer Pacha, during the struggle of Oltenitza. Unable to decide in what direction the impending battle was likely to take placeOltenitza or Turtukai—the question was submitted to the simple arbitrement of heads-and-tails, and the former representing Oltenitza, and winning, the party arrived in ample time to witness the first Turkish triumph of the war. It was through W.'s opera-glass that the Pacha viewed the retreat of his baffled foe, W. receiving, in acknowledgment of his politeness, a medal and a bloodstained Russian sword.
Omer Pacha's sight is remarkably keen. M., who was one of the small party of English present, told me that, during the second, and most determined attack, while every eye but his own strove in vain to pierce the thick cloud of smoke that veiled the actual struggle, Omer Pacha turned to his visitors, and quietly observed : “ Repoussés, messieurs, en grand désordre.”
But few passengers on board the Merovée ; among them an old acquaintance, Colonel St- proceeding on special mission to the East. Believed he was to command the mounted portion of a corps of bashi-bozouks, to be organised and disciplined after the English mode. Left Naples at 4 P.M.
14th.-Smooth and beautiful. At 5 A.M. passing Stromboli; no signs of activity. Ran into Messina at 9. Quarantine, of course. Sailed again at 4, with cool, refreshing breeze.
15th.— Reached Malta at 9. The French steamer from the Levant, with which ours corresponds, lying ready, with some 700 French troops, for Gallipoli, already on board. Secured berths with great difficulty, having to share mine with the eagle of the 4th French Hussars, which had got inextricably fixed into the bed-place. Landed and breakfasted at Dunsford's Hotel. Saint's-day. All shops closed. Returned to the “Caire," and sailed at half-past 6 P.M., with 700 Hussars and artillery, a large medical staff, nine colonels, fifty miscellaneous passengers, and Brigadier-General the Duc d'Elchingen, second son of the illustrious Marshal Ney.
Loud cheers from the garrison and spectators accompanied our exit from the harbour.
16th.—Oh! by Jove, how hot! No air—sea like glass--going only eight knots—monotonous—sighted nothing all day, but a remarkable object, brown and white, which called all the glasses in the ship into requisition; and, after provoking much anxious debate, proved to be a dead horse. Interesting Turkish family on board-ancient Turk and young wife-face swathed as usual, but showing magnificent eyes and bridge of ravishing nose-two domestics, and little black slave-girl, tattooed and pretty. The whole party encamped on deck, and lived for five days on cucumbers.
18th.- Arrived in harbour, at Syra, at 5 A.M.- very, very hot. Syra resembles Algiers—a sort of cone of houses, whose apex rises half-way up a range of barren and intensely hot-looking hills. Dressed quickly, and landed with Col. S. and W. To the Hotel d'Angleterre, the bad best inn-breakfasted and sketched; but, being unable to wander in the blazing streets, we resolved to return to dine, and sleep on board. As we pulled off, an English sloop of war came in, towing a pirate prize—found it was the Wasp, 14, Lord John Hay. Could not board her, as she was in quarantine; but Lord John came to the side and told us all the news. Expects daily to be summoned to join an expedition against Sebastopol, in which case, kindly offers us a passage to the fleet.
There were also rumours of a severe battle having taken place between Turks (with allies) and Russians, on the Danube. .
19th.–Weighed at 10 A.M., with a beautiful breeze. “Adieu, Syra," cried one of our French friends, exultingly,“ puis-je ne jamais te revoir !" a sentiment in which all coincided. Another slowish day, somewhat relieved by the presence on board of the band of the French Hussars, who performed some pieces very effectively, and then, laying aside their instruments, sang in a manner to put to the blush the best trained opera chorus I ever heard, out of Germany. A piece called “La Garde passe” (in which the voices imitate with wonderful accuracy and ensemble the approach and retreat of the relief), and another called “ La France et l'Angleterr-r-re"-worthy substitute for Malbrouk-were in high favour.
20th.-Dropped anchor in Smyrna at 5 A.M., landed and breakfasted coolly and happily at the Hotel des Deux Augustes (i. e. Augustus Cæsar and Augustus Lippi, the host); after which, to the bazaars, camel-ground, &c. Whilst here we were invited to visit a gentleman, now in temporary retirement at the Castle no less a person than the celebrated bandit-chief, so long the interest and terror of this neighbourhood. Being completely hemmed in by a body of government forces, who proved unpurchasable, the illustrious chief, with his lieutenant, surrendered themselves, not however, it would appear, at discretion, as we are informed that both these gentlemen will, in spite of their little errors, be set at liberty in a few days. Sailed at 4 P.m. for the Dardanelles and Constantinople.
21st.—Passed the Dardanelles, against strong breeze right a-head, and powerful current. 11 A.M., brought to for half an hour, took a few more passengers and bags. Sailed again, and reached Gallipoli at 3 P.M. Many vessels, nearly all French, were here; among others, the ships of the line, Suffren, Napoleon, Ville de Marseilles, &c. Landed to reconnoitre, with S. and W. Met Brigadier-General Sir J.C— , who tells us, as the latest news, that the Russians entrench themselves on the Danube, 70,000 strong, while the allies concentrate at Varna with the utmost speed-action impending. Visited what remains of the French and English camps, and returned on board to dine. Disembarked the whole of our gallant allies, and four horses, one of which, a noble charger, belonging to the Duc d'Elchingen, fell head-foremost into the sea, and a long and interesting chase ensued; the horse, though loaded with clothing, swimming faster than the boats could row. At last he was huuted to the steamer's side, and hoisted into a tender, none the worse for his hour's exertion.
22nd.—Sailed at 3:30 A.M. The vessel free-clear, and cool, lovely day. Reached Constantinople at 5 P.M., landed almost immediately; no custom-house worries, nor any trouble with luggage, except the usual fight for it among the facchini on landing. To Missierie's Hotel-found good rooms, excellent table-d'hôte, and prompt attenda nce, at fifteen francs a day, terms certainly not extravagantly high, from which, during the greatest pressure, Missierie has never varied, and which have, it is said, nevertheless, enriched him to the amount of some 30,0001, S., to his delight, found letters awaiting him from Colonel Beatson (Shemsie Pasha), acquainting him that he was to take command of a regiment of bashi-bozouks, and desiring him to join. S.'s title to be “ Naymi Bey."
Curious hand-rocket exhibited after dinner by an American gentleman present, constructed to discharge thirty bullets at a distance of 1200 yards. Hear that Silistria still holds out, but that St. Arnaud declines to advance until his reserve is ready. Nothing like caution, and acting with “ reserve !"
De H- writes that it is rough work in camp; only salt provisions, and those bad ; recommends W. to bring lots of pack-saddles, brandy, and “ les Mystères de Paris.”
23rd.—About 2 P.M. engaged caïque to Valley of Sweet Waters, a two hours' pull. Encountered Abdul Medjid, pulling sulkily over in his barge to Scutari, various pachas following. It is the first day of Ramazan, and the unfortunate monarch may neither eat, drink, nor smoke, till sunset. He looks melancholy, and his aspect is, it is to be feared, a too faithful index of the soul within. He looks like one whom nothing could excite, nothing gratify,—a royal Endymion :
For there were some who feelingly might scan
Through his forgotten hands. Even at the magnificent cavalry review at Scutari, which aroused from his apathy the gravest of the grave, the Sultan never changed look or muscle. Absent and listless, he looked like one who scarcely comprehended the military pageant defiling before him ; while Lord Cardigan, riding well out from his brigade, and mounted on his celebrated fivehundred-guinea charger, appeared the real hero of the day.
Being the Ramazan, none but a few Armenian families were to be seen at the Sweet Waters, and we consequently proceeded to Therapia. Left W. there, and returned to Constantinople.
25th.—Lionising, and preparing for camp; provisioning for a fortnight. Tragical event to-day at Scutari : a Turk, shot and stabbed, rushed into the room during the table-d'hôte at the hotel, and expired upon the floor. The murder was the work of three ruffians, the father of one of whom is said to have been shot some years since by the man now murdered. The unfortunate had, it seems, made compensation in money, according to Eastern custom, but could not secure immunity from revenge. The murderers escaped to the forest of Belgrade, and will probably become professional brigands.
26th.—News, authentic, that the Russians have abandoned Silistria, and retired across the Danube. Thus end our hopes of seeing an action. Will St. Arnaud still wait for his “reserve," before advancing upon the flying foe?
27th.—To Therapia, cool and beautiful; fine breeze on the hill, and first view of the Black Sea. Dined at the Hotel d'Angleterre-very good. Elliott and Conolly came down. The Russians withdrawing. Lord R., impatient for troops, sent A. Hardinge to Adm. Boxer to urge the utmost haste.
29th.—Rose at 6. Embarked with W. for Constantinople at 7. Boat crammed; twelve Turkesses, and an unusually large assemblage of flat-eyed children. At 11:30 embarked for Varna in the Bosforo. A scene of wild confusion--fearfully laden with coals, passengers, and baggage. Off Scutari, ran back two miles to pick up a brig, by way of increasing our speed-cast her off again, off Bayukdéré, and proceeded slowly, till past the mouth of the Bosphorus, and fairly in the Black Sea, when, alas ! ... the engine, which had, it seems, been for some time in a precarious state, suddenly succumbed. We anchored, and dined. Consultation of engineers and officers. Discontent of passengers, chiefly of the third class, who are accustomed to victual themselves, and are only provided for a twenty-four hours' voyage. Engineers think we might reach Varna in a few days; but as it would be impossible to repair engine there, recommended return. Did so, and re-entered Missierie's at 11 P.M., very much out of humour, W. especially. Learned, on entering, the sad catastrophe of the Europa, and loss of my old friend, the gallant Willoughby Moore.
30th.—Sailed once more, on board the Stamboul, chartered, pro tem., by the Austrian Company. Good, roomy ship-clean and well supplied. New mishaps, however. Before W. and I had removed our light baggage from the caïque, and while our attention was diverted, the steainer suddenly unmoored, and the caïque, to escape the swell, cast off, leaving the hotel-porter on board, but taking with her two carpet-bags, four coats, and a writing-case containing all our money and papers. The captain being appealed to, declared it was impossible to stop, which was indeed the case, as we were in the midst of a crowd of shipping, from which it needed all his ingenuity to get fairly free. Before reaching Therapia, however, an opportunity occurred of sending off the captive porter in a caïque, charged with solemn messages respecting the lost effects, and visions of immense rewards in the event of their speedy transmission to the consul at Varna.
July 1st.—Ran into Bourgas about 7 A.M., and, having landed huge quantities of silver specie, left again for Varna, and steamed into the bay at 1 P.M. A horrible town, without an attempt at accommodation of any kind, but occupying a beautiful and picturesque site nearly in the centre of a valley, some ten miles in width, bounded by finely wooded hills, and watered by a chain of fresh lakes, the lowest of which approaches within half a mile of the sea. The crowd and bustle beyond conception. To the consul's—found that unfortunate gentleman at his wit's end-appealed and referred to by everybody, pestered by authorities, petitioned by his bewildered countrymen, and handing three-fourths of his applicants over to the care of his dragoman-a fellow who kept a kind of lodging-house somewhere in the town, and charged about the price you would be asked for a first floor in Brook-street, Grosvenor-square. Forbearing to add to his troubles, we were about leaving, to make some general investigations, when a happy chance threw us in the way of Captain M., an old acquaintance of W.'s, present with him at Oltenitza. M. is in the Company's service, and, being on sick leave, recruits his shattered health by roughing it in Bulgaria, where he ably fulfils the office of military correspondent to a London journal. This gentleman most kindly invited us to his house, pleasantly situated, commanding an excellent view of the busy bay, and begged us to use it so long as we desired to remain in Varna. Guards marched to-day for Aladeyn, another division being pushed on to Deynos, ten miles further. A few regiments still encamped just beyond the walls; a picturesque lot of bashi-bozouks, Yusuff Aga's, about half a mile off; English fleet at Baltschik, eighteen miles off.
W., impatient to reach camp, borrowed a mount from an old comrade in the Guards, armed himself, and started, I remaining at Varna to procure horses, &c. Passed an agreeable evening with M.
2nd.—Rose not long after the sun. M.'s mansion overlooks a Turkish ten-gun battery; and the prolonged howl, like that of a jackal, with which their sentries are accustomed at intervals of four minutes to disturb the night's tranquillity, considerably interfered with my repose; lots, moreover, of “biting things,” from which no Bulgarian house is free, contributed to this undesirable result. Passed the day preparing for camp. Varna is well supplied with stores of a coarse description; but an enterprising merchant, Mr. Grace, has obligingly freighted a vessel with the luxuries of life, and his arrival is eagerly looked for. Order from Admiral Dundas for five ships of the line, at anchor here, to proceed to Baltschik. Under weigh instantly, and, forming a magnificent column, moved majestically round the headland. Mr. G., special correspondent of another London daily paper, arrived at M.'s from Schumla, where he has remained during the siege of Silistria. He had just visited the latter town, and gone over the extensive works of the Russians. The place was much knocked about. A cart-load of shot and shell might have been picked up in one street. The inhabitants must have suffered great loss, familiarity with danger having induced many to venture out of the subterranean holds they had constructed, while children might at all times be seen playing in the streets. On one occasion a shell penetrated to the cellar of a house and killed seven women. Marshal St. Arnaud, who has just visited the celebrated outwork of Arab-Tabia, declared that its safety lay in its own insignificance, it being impossible to assault it with sufficient men. The Russians, though full of passive courage, have no “dash;” and hence their frequent failures in attacks upon entrenched positions. No amount of loss will entirely stop their advance; but so sluggish is their movement, that by the time they reach their object, their numbers are too few to overcome a determined defence.
During the siege, frequent communications took place between the belligerents; sometimes with, sometimes without, a parlementaire. On one occasion, the Turks sent to request that the enemy would avoid