Annals of Public Justice
The Traveller’s Dream
There is still in a wild district on the borders of the Kuban, some relics of a groupe of huts once inhabited by a few wretched descendants of exiles sent to perish there by the Empress Catherine.—Towards the latter end of her reign, a family settled amongst them, whose origin appeared to be Transylvanian; and certain indications of southern manners increased the surprise of the little colony at their visit. The family consisted of two old men, a young woman, and a girl less than sixteen, whose language was wholly unknown to the Cossack cottagers, nor did her companions appear desirous to instruct her in theirs. She acted as handmaiden to the young wife of the oldest man, cleaned their fish-kettles, bruised their grain, and did every menial office with an air of sullen stupidity, and a squalid negligence of attire which soon made her person undistinguished among the half-brutal women of the village. Blows and threats were not wanting on the part of one of her old masters, and well seconded by the mistress, but they neither produced neatness nor obedience. She was sulky, silent, and at last too hideously ragged to please even Gaspar Taganrog and Cassimir Bellipotski.
Travellers in quest of science and political observation passed sometimes through this dreary region, and entered into a short intercourse with the natives. One of this number stopped to repair his sledge and feed his dogs at Zittau, where the family of Halden occupied the most convenient dwelling. They had furnished themselves with good mattresses and stores; and a stranger accustomed to luxury easily invented a pretence to beg a lodging with them during the few hours of his stay. He was surprised to find their manners so inferior to their accommodation, and even to their knowledge, for they appeared to have visited every part of Europe, and had gleaned many rare kinds of intelligence. The traveller heard anecdotes of the agriculture, domestic life, and municipal policy of several towns far distant from the usual route of tourists, but could gather no distinct account of the source. He formed his own conjecttures, and established them on the olive complexions, jet eyes, and robust forms of these people, whom he concluded to have belonged once to the tribe of gypsies so well known in Hungary, and apt to make incursions on the Saxon territories. Why they had abandoned their wandering tribe, and settled in this barren spot, unless because the habits of their Tartar neighbours had some affinity with theirs, or because they formed some secret link of communication with other gypsies, he had no means of judging; but he added the fact to the private fund he had collected of political and historical curiosities. The rough cleverness and hospitality of his hosts induced Frankenstein to extend his stay to three days, which he spent with great benefit in hearing the tales of the garrulous old men, or observing the woman in her occupation as a herbalist and physician to the village. On the last night of his visit, he chose to sit by the stove with his feet on their bearskin rug, preferring, as he said, the merriment and comfort of their hearth to his solitary mattrass. But either the long stories or the powerful rye-spirit overpowered him, and he fell asleep with his head reposing on the wooden screen. Qiska and the two old men were more wakeful, and continued their conversation in low whispers and another language. They rose, perhaps, to go to rest themselves, at the instant that their guest awoke suddenly and looked eagerly round. “Did none of you speak to me just now?” he said, with a startled yet animated look. They assured him none had spoken.—“Well,” rejoined Frankenstein, “my dream bodes you good. Methought that unwashed drudge who lies nestled in the corner brought a honeycomb from the forest, and the bees as they settled themselves on her tatters, became like the golden bees embroidered on an emperor’s purple.”
Qiska, her husband, and her uncle, admired the strangeness of the dream, and assured him she was not without beauty, if her hair could be combed, ard her surly temper changed. They would not have been much displeased if he had offered to release them from the burden of keeping a servant so idle and refractory; and Qiska having some experience and the instinctive shrewdness of a woman, imagined Frankenstein had devised this mode of intimating that she might be profitably sold. The next morning, contrary to her custom, she urged Lilla to leave her work, and equipped her in one of her own laced boddices. Grotesque as it seemed with long silver tags and scarlet fringe, very ill-suited to the woollen petticoat and bare feet of the wearer, there was some prettiness in the turn of her head and neck seen through the knots of yellow beads and the striped handkerchief that encumbered them. But Frankenstein, after a single look of surprise and pity, mounted his sledge and departed, leaving the cup from which he had taken his farewell draught filled with rubles.
As avarice has no reason, it is always merciless; and Qiska repaid her chagrin at the traveller’s insensibility by harder blows and taunts to her slave. The old men had more humanity or more wit, and began to consider whether the traveller’s dream might not have some meaning. Concluding that any benefit to Lilla might be one to themselves, they sent her every day to the forest with orders to hew wood and seek honeycombs. At first she went sullenly, and returned with few proofs of diligence, but hunger and blows obliged her to obey. In a few weeks she became an expert wood-cutter; and though she still brought back no better prize than a load of branches or a little honey, she was encouraged in her labours, and seemed to endure them more cheerfully. The old Hungarians contented themselves with the ease they enjoyed at her expense by imposing on her the toil of providing winter-fuel, but Qiska began to make other remarks. She perceived that Lilla’s hair was not always matted odiously, though it still hung long and loose over her face; nor was her face so black with the soot and stains of their chimney-cookery. But she appeared to have lost the bunches of yellow and blue beads which used to hang about her neck, and her appetite for finery and food increased, till Qiska accused her both of stealing necklaces and sweetmeats. These thefts were so severely punished, that the eldest of her masters interceded in her favour. This was enough to complete Qiska’s fury, for she rightly judged that Lilla’s improved beauty might gain the affections of her husband or his uncle, and cause her own dismission. The bitterness of her revilings roused the evil she wished to prevent; and old Cassimir, feeling his suspicions grow as his anxiety for Lilla’s welfare increased, resolved to watch what happened in the forest. He traced her through its windings, and when the sound of her small axe ceased, crept softly among the wild pear-trees and raspberry-bushes till he came to an open glade, where a most strange spectacle presented itself. A creature overgrown with hair, and wrapped fantastically in a moose-deer’s skin, was sitting under a shed composed of knit branches eating bread and milk from a basket held by Lilla. By the reflection of his face in the pool near which he sat, Cassimir perceived he was a very aged man, whose beard hung in large silver waves, and a few white hairs marked the outline of his eye-brows and broad forehead. Presently he spoke, and his gestures shewed he was instructing her to read. Cassimir’s eyes glowed at this sight with curiosity and envy, but an awe his unlettered mind could not comprehend withheld him from advancing. He had heard strange tales of the forest king, and those half-human beings found in rivers and mines by German superstition. Perhaps this bearded giant might be the Erl King, or that supernatural forester seen on the Hartz mountains on St. Hubert’s eve. When the shadows began to lengthen, Lilla took her basket, and slinging her faggot on her shoulder, kissed her companion’s feet, and departed homewards. Cassimir dared not stay alone in the haunts of this grim monster, and hastened to overtake her; but she had fled like a fawn through the green alleys, and was asleep in her corner of the hut before he arrived. The day following and the next were spent in the same manner. Lilla always took her portion of coarse bread and whey in the little pannier she had woven of rushes, and once concealed a few loose leaves of an old Saxon grammar at the bottom. Cassimir now remembered, that of the very few books his wife had bought at Transylvanian fairs, not one remained, except one or two old tales and sets of ballads, greatly prized by their poor neighbours. A Latin bible had once been seen on the traveller’s table, but even its silver clasps and rich case of tortoise shell had not tempted them to covet it. But he did not hazard a hint at his discovery of Lilla’s secret occupation, though he watched it daily from the hollow of a tree, and listened with wonder and delight to the histories told by the old man of the forest. He heard him tell of a great Father who led his children from bondage in a wilderness, and walked before them in a column of clouds or fire. He heard her ask where this mighty Parent resided, and how he might be beheld:—and saw her teacher point to the sky, to the rising sun, to the trees which overshadowed them, and the water which flowed at their feet. “These,” said he, “are his dwelling-places, his creations, and his gifts to his children, on whom he imposes no law but justice to each other.” Then he explained the merciful simplicity of the Christian code, while Lilla, with her hands rested on his knees and her head upon them, looked like a lovely image of its meek and pure spirit. Cassimir turned away and went homewards sorrowfully. He reflected on the doctrine he had heard; and the mysterious appearance of its unknown teacher, and the darkness of the solitude he had made his tabernacle, added to its force. The injustice of his conduct to Lilla, her helplessness, and the misery of her future life, seemed to open themselves before him; and he spent that night in vague, but not unpleasing, ideas of repentance. He went again and again in secret, and always returned with some mild improvement in his heart, mingled with increasing but truer tenderness for Lilla. Her austere mistress suspected some sinister cause for the gradual change in her aspect from slovenly indifference to cheerful good-humour; but though her apparel and food were of the coarsest and scantiest kind, and her labour incessant, Lilla’s complacent content seemed a provocation rather than a merit. She was pursued with blows and taunts, which she bore without sullenness or tears, till Qiska in her daily searches found a few jointed reeds, put neatly together, and trampled on them in a rage. Her little handmaid wept, and Cassimir’s interference increased the storm. Finding her fury untameable, he applied to her husband Gaspar to shew his authority. He used such singular words of remonstrance, that Gaspar’s curiosity was awakened, and he contrived by an additional flask of rye-spirit to win from him the cause of his conscientious remorse. But the cause only excited him to discover more, and on the following day he accompanied Cassimir to the recess in the forest. There, under his tent of leaves, he saw the solitary man shaping letters with charcoal on a smooth stone, while Lilla sat on the faggots she had bundled, striving to form another pipe. But Gaspar thought only of her beauty, which he had never seen before in attitudes so graceful, and as he returned at twilight, a deadly thought arose from the opportunity. Cassimir was an incumbrance, perhaps an opponent; and his death, if it happened in the woods, would furnish him with a pretext to collect the villagers, and seize or expel the wild man, on whom he meant to charge the murder. His wife might be easily dismissed, and Lilla would have no friend or master except himself. The women were both sleeping peaceably, when their dog roused them by hideous howlings. Gaspar followed his track, and Cassimir’s body was found hid under a few leaves, and bruised by mortal blows. A rude hedge stake lay beside him, and the villagers of Qittaw assembled, with all the weapons they could gather, to seek the assassin. Gaspar led them to the house of branches where the solitary man was sleeping; and his uncouth attire and grim figure prepared them to believe the tale told them of his ferocity. But when their approach awakened him, his shout, his fine stature though bent by age, and the iron grasp he gave to the first assailant’s throat, intimidated even Gaspar. His eyes glared as if with sudden madness; and if the force of twenty men had not been exerted, he would have escaped by climbing to the top of a tall oak. They brought him down at length, and delivered him loaded with chains to the captain of the little colony, a man deputed by the Russian government, and proud of exercising his brief authority. On one leg they had observed what appeared a red boot, such as is usually worn by Tartar Chiefs, but a nearer examination convinced them that he had suffered the torture sometimes inflicted by the banditti of the Ukraine, and the scarification from the upper part of the leg to the foot had caused the resemblance to red leather. But he answered no questions, and the scars of wounds on his breast were sufficient to shew his contempt of danger. His face had rather the convex profile of a Greek than the roundness of a Russian countenance; and had, from the shaggy bushiness of his beard and skin, a powerful but fine resemblance to the fauns and satyrs of ancient sculpture. The governor lodged his prisoner in one of the subterraneous caves burrowed, as if for moles, by the tenants of this wilderness near the miserable post-house. Here, in a vase probably of great antiquity, the governor usually kept his store of wine; but having no stronger dungeon, was compelled to place the Hercules of the forest within his cellar. The funeral of Cassimir was performed with the usual clamour of rude festivity, attended by all his friends except Lilla, who availed herself of the general intoxication to release the supposed assassin. In the adjoining hut of reeds called a post-house, a strong horse of the Tartar breed, resembling our English galloways, had been left by an Ukraine gypsey then on a visit to this village in his usual office of blacksmith. He was engaged also as musician and conjuror at the funeral feast: and Lilla possessing herself of his tools while he was thus employed, entered the forester’s prison, unrivetted his fetters, and gave him the gypsey’s horse. But where should he direct his course? He had been twenty years in solitude and Lilla had no friends to aid him. Except Frankenstein, she had never seen any man said to be rich and powerful, and Qiska had assured her he might command in Cherson; but who was Frankenstein, and where was Cherson? She knew nothing of cities or countries, and their distance came not within her comprehension: nor had she any thing to bestow except a piece of the funeral sweetmeat dipped in the syrup of new wine, a leathern bottle which she filled from the governor’s vase, and the bible bound in tortoise-shell bearing the words “Frankenstein-Cherson,” inscribed on it in silver. With only this guide, the old man set forth strong in spirit and hope, like the Turkish maiden who once sought a lover with no other clue than his name. The lameness caused by the cruel “red boot” given by his enemies, compelled him to take the horse’s aid during the first ten versts of his journey: but he knew the danger of the theft, especially when he reached one of the gypsey camps so often allowed by the Tartars even in the midst of their villages. Happily the danger suggested an expedient. At the entrance of the village stood the gypseys’ waggon ready for an excursion, with an enormous drum, as usual, in the centre. While the villagers were engaged in their rude national dance, lolling from side to side, and hopping like mountain stags, the forester turned his horse loose into a corn-field, and hid himself in the drum. The caravan went on with its half-naked passengers, entirely heedless of their giant instrument, which served as a canopy under which the fugitive lay safe: and as during the night he contrived to reach their magazine of gurds, honey, and wild pears, he reconciled himself to the rock roaches and other interlopers in the sheepskins which lined the waggon. But it was necessary to leave it before sunrise, and he was glad to find himself on a plain which favoured his infirmity in walking. A watermelon, and a pipe of cherry-wood tipped with amber, were all he allowed himself to take from the gypsey store; and with this pipe, of which he well knew the use, he hoped to recommend himself to charitable villagers. He looked at the horizon, and saw the Montblanc of the Caucasus at a distance; and a caravan drawn by camels with a load of salt, offered him a guide to Cherson. Their advance was slow, but the drivers were pleased with their new acquaintance; and he, wrapped in a sheepskin, with a staff made of two arrows, rode or limped amongst them till they entered Cherson. He passed the gates with as eager expectation as if he had hoped that every inhabitant must know the name of Frankenstein. Every one did seem to know it, and he heard it clamoured in all the streets by a crowd whose force urged him to a square where a Russian regiment was assembled to witness the execution of its commander. “He is sentenced,” said one of the spectators, “because he absented himself on a false pretence of seeking his father among the wild hordes, where they say the old man hid himself when he escaped from our new Russian mistress. But her bashaw Potemkin knows of no duty that a soldier has except to stab and rob; therefore the young man comes here to die.”—The signal of preparation was given, and Frankenstein came into the centre of the square. As he knelt to receive his death, the old man of the forest burst through the ranks and threw his arms round him. What a witness in favour of the condemned son! Even the prejudiced judge of a Russian court-martial melted when he heard how this unhappy father had suffered the long cruelty of a Tartar horde, and abandoned himself to despair in the woods, till the sight of an innocent child redeemed him from savage solitude. When he told of her courage in releasing him from prison, her bountiful provision for his journey, and fond trust in that beloved name which she had given him as a guide, his son felt the recompense of his former self-denial, and the rich joy of an acquittal produced by such means. But neither the elder nor the younger Frankenstein forgot the miserable fate to which their benefactress was probably consigned; and both rejoiced when a treaty between two Circassian princes and the Cossack Chiefs of the Crimean frontier furnished some Russian officers with a pretence to visit a spot from whence the young man might easily make an excursion to the Tartar village. He was too well acquainted with Suwarrow’s Catechism to regard any fatigues or deprivations; and providing himself with a swift horse, a quantity of coins and silver trinkets as bribes, and a wide cloak, he joined the cavalcade of the Cossack delegates.
Nothing (says an eye-witness) could be more splendid than the spectacle presented by the banks of the Kuban. The officers of the Cossack troops rode in the van on superb horses, glittering in embroidered housings, towards the tent of the Circassian princes on the water’s edge. Their Ataman appeared in front, bareheaded, in a vest of blue velvet, with sleeves and trowsers of scarlet cloth, richly jewelled and brocaded. His tunic lined with blue silk fell back from his shoulders, shewing his breast covered with chains of gold, his rich sash and costly pistols. His boots, like those of his officers, were of red leather, and his sabre’s broad sheath of red velvet shone with rubies and turquoises. This splendid figure approached the awning of the Circassian princes, whose savage and squalid attire seemed to rebuke the Cossack’s theatrical magnificence. Their heads were shaven, their legs bare, and the worn-out sleeves of their jackets shewed the shirt of mail which covered them. The chief whose surrender was to be the price of the treaty, lay stretched on a plank behind them covered with wounds, but with an immovable serenity in his grim and tanned features. A young girl was employed in fanning the mosquitoes from his face with a branch of green laurel. Her attitude, and the fine contrast between her youthfully soft form and the stern vigour of manhood, drew Frankenstein’s attention. The Chiefs told him they had bought her a few days before from a gypsey salesman, but doubted the success of their purchase, as she refused food, and was fading daily. Frankenstein instantly offered the aid of Howard, the Englishman, whose skill as a physician was then so celebrated in this territory, and whose curiosity had induced him to witness the meeting of the Tartar Chiefs and the Circassians. His persuasions, and Frankenstein’s promise of a coffee-cup set with diamonds and a pipe of porcelain, induced Lilla’s purchaser to transfer his prize: and when her veil was raised to allow Howard’s benevolent examination, he saw hidden near her breast the silver book, which had never left it. She returned to Cherson happy beyond all measure of happiness, and was given by the father whose life she had saved to the son whose name she had treasured so devoutly. They saw the fullness of public justice in the fate of Potemkin and Howard. The powerful favorite of the Empress, the enemy and persecutor of Frankenstein, was removed from his splendid coffin in Cherson, and thrown into a ditch by her on Paul’s commands; while the obelisk which marks Howard’s grave is still honoured by every traveller.
- By an ukase of the 2d of June, 1792, Catherine established a set of vagabond Tartars on the banks of the Kuban. Their metropolis was called Ekaterinudara, or Catherine’s Gift, and Prince Potemkin favoured them. ↩
- Probably in imitation of the silver pipe called Cremil among the Tartars, and made to resemble joined reeds. ↩
- Made of almonds and walnuts, and strung on a twine like a sausage: the syrup is boiled to a stiff jelly. Vases of terra-cotta are often in the ancient mounds near this place. ↩
- A long narrow vehicle with four wooden wheels and no iron. ↩
- General Suwarrow’s Catechism. or Abstract of Military Duty. is, in the original Russian, a most striking and singular specimen of his character. ↩
- Both were buried at Cherson. ↩