« PreviousContinue »
and as the women living in the same house are so many rivals, the great object is to render them ridiculous. They put vermilion on their lips, rouge on their cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin, white wherever there is a vacancy, and blue round their eyes and under their nose. Stranger still is the manner in which they paint their eyebrows. They are doubtlessly told that, to be beautiful, the eyebrow should form a large arch, and they have thence concluded that the larger the arch the more beautiful is the eyebrow, without inquiring whether its position is not irrevocably fixed by nature. This being the case, they allow their eyebrows all the space between the temples, and paint on their foreheads two immense arches, which, starting from the top of the nose, run across the forehead. Some young eccentric beauties prefer a straight line to a curve, and trace a broad black band across the forehead; but these are exceptions.
A deplorable effect is produced by this painting, combined with the indolence and want of cleanliness among Eastern women. Each feminine face is a very complicated work of art, which cannot be renewed every morning. Even the hands and feet, painted of an orange colour, fear the action of water, as injurious to their beauty. The multitude of children and servants, especially negresses, who people the harems, and the footing of equality on which mistresses and servants live, are also aggravating causes of the general want of cleanliness. We do not refer to the children alone as predisposing causes of dirt; but just imagine for a moment what would be the state of our drawing-rooms if our cooks and kitchen-maids came to rest from their labours on our sofas and easy-chairs, with their feet on our carpets and their backs against our walls. Add to this that window-panes are still a rarity in Asia, that the majority of windows are closed with oiled paper, and that wherever paper is valuable the windows are done away with, and the ladies content themselves with the light penetrating through the chimney, which is more than sufficient to smoke, drink coffee, and whip naughty children-the only occupation in which the mortal houris of Mussulman believers ever indulge. It must not be assumed, however, that these rooms are so very gloomy. As the houses are never more than one story high, the chimneys never extend beyond the roof, and, being very wide, it is often possible, by bending, to see the sky above them. The thing most wanting in these rooms is fresh air; but the ladies make no complaints about it. Naturally chilly, and unable to warm themselves by exercise, they stay for hours crouching over the fire, quite regardless of the risk they run of suffocation.
The Mufti of Tcherkess, according to the princess, was an admirable specimen of a Mussulman. He did not appear more than sixty years of age; his back was slightly bent, but that was rather the result of condescension than of weakness, and he wore with as much grace as nobility the long white robe and red pelisse of the doctors of the law. His regular features, his clear and transparent skin, his blue and limpid eye, his long white and flowing beard falling to his chest, his broad brow surmounted by a white or green turban, would serve admirably for a model of Jacob or Abraham. The house was at all times surrounded by devotees of every age and condition, who came to kiss the hem of the holy man's garment, asking his advice, his prayers, or his alms, and who all went away satisfied, and singing the praises of their benefactor. When surrounded by his younger children, who climbed on his knees, hid their ruddy faces in his long beard, and fell asleep in his arms, it was a charming sight to witness him smile on them tenderly, listen to their
little complaints, exhort them to study, and go through the alphabet with them. The princess was lost in admiration of this just man, and said to herself, "Happy the people that still possesses such men, and can appreciate them!" A conversation she had with the mufti rapidly disillusionised her, however, and we purpose to produce it in extenso, as a proof of the just stand-point from which the princess regards Eastern habits and morals:
The old man was seated, holding a young child on either knee. I asked him if he had several wives. He replied, "I have only two at present," as if ashamed to be so badly provided; then he added, "You will see them tomorrow, and will not be satisfied with them (here he made a movement of disdain); they are old women who have been beautiful, but it was a long time ago."
"What age are they?" I asked.
"I cannot tell you, exactly; but they are not far short of thirty."
"Oh yes!" here exclaimed one of the muft servants. "His excellency is not the man to content himself with such females, and he will soon fill up the gaps which death has made in his harem. If you had come a year ago you would have seen a woman suited for his excellency, but she being dead, he will find others, you need not fear."
"But," I asked again, "as his excellency is no longer young, and has had, as it seems, several young wives always, and only regards them as such to the age of thirty, I calculate that during the course of his long life he must have received a very considerable number into his harem."
Probably," said the holy man, without any emotion.
"And your excellency has, doubtless, many children ?"
The patriarch and his servant looked at each other and burst into a loud laugh.
Many children?" replied the master, when the fit of mirth had passed off, "I really believe I have; but I could not tell you the number. Say, Hassan," he added, addressing his servant, "could you tell me how many children I have, or where they are ?"
"Indeed not. His excellency has them in all the provinces of the empire, and in all the districts of each province; but that is all I know, and I would bet that my master is not wiser than I am on that point."
"And how should I be ?" said the old gentleman.
I insisted, for my patriarch was losing my esteem rapidly, and I wished to open his whole heart. "These children," I continued, "how are they brought up? who takes care of them? at what age are they separated from their father? where are they sent? what profession do they follow? what are their means of existence? and by what sign can you recognise them?"
"Oh! I may be mistaken, like any one else; but that is of slight importance. They are all brought up by me, as you see. I am educating these two, until the age when they can take care of themselves. The girls are married, or betrothed, as soon as they have reached their tenth or twelfth year, and I never hear any more about them. The boys are not so precocious, they cannot walk alone until they are fourteen; but then I give them a letter of recommendation to some friend in business; he employs them himself or finds them a place, and, after that, I wash my hands of them.'
66 And you do not see them again ?" I went on.
"How do I know? I receive very often visits from people who call themselves my sons, and who may be so. I give them a kind greeting, and keep them for some days without asking any questions; but, at the end of that time, they see there is no room for them here, and nothing for them to do. Their mothers being dead, they are strangers to me. Thus they go away, and never come back any more. Others arrive in their place, and behave in the same way. Nothing could be better."
I was not yet satisfied. "But," I went on, "are these pretty children you are now caressing destined to undergo the same treatment ?"
"You will separate from them when they are ten or fourteen years of age ? You will not be anxious as to what becomes of them? You will never see them again, perhaps? And if they do come back you will treat them as strangers, and see them go away for ever, without giving them one of those kisses of which you are so prodigal to-day? What will become of you presently in your desolate house, when the voice your children no longer resounds through it?"
I was beginning to grow animated, and my friend did not understand me. The servant, however, seizing the sense of my last words, hastened to reassure me as to the future isolation of his revered master.
"Oh no," he said, "when these children are grown up his excellency will have others quite small. You may safely trust to him in that matter: he will not allow any failure.”
Hereupon master and servant burst out laughing once more.
The old man had, however, remarked that the effect produced on his guest by this conversation was not to his advantage, and he was anxious to retain her esteem. Hence he commenced a long discourse about the inconveniences of too large a family, and the impossibility of rearing and bringing up thoroughly all the children born, especially during a life so long as his. The tone of this apology was perfectly serious, but the argument was so odious and absurd that the princess was repeatedly on the point of interrupting him. At any rate, she sang her mental palinode as thus: "Unhappy the people among whom such men are honoured as models of virtue !" The next day the princess received a visit from the principal spouse of the patriarch. She was a handsome virago, frightfully bedaubed with red and black; as for white, it was certainly there, but could not be detected. The princess returned the visit, and found the hostess surrounded by all the ladies of the town, who paid assiduous court to her, which she accepted graciously, as due to her position. Thus terminated their acquaintance, and the princess soon after set off on her travels once more.
At Cæsarea, the princess accepted the hospitality of a rich Armenian merchant, father of a numerous family. His eldest daughter, already a wife and mother, had come to reside with her parents during the absence of her husband on business matters. Several relations established in the province had assembled round the rich merchant to enjoy the last days of the carnival and the consequent pleasures. The three or four rooms that compose a house in this part of the world were crammed with women, girls, and children, dressed as if for a ball, from morning till night, and from night till morning, for no one in the East dreams of undressing to go to bed. This is not so inconvenient for the rich, who can change their attire during the course of the day, but the effects are deplorable for the poor, who keep the same dress on for a month or more. The amusements took place on the roofs of the houses, which communicated with each other by small staircases or ladders, and thus formed a sort of public walk, where they were sheltered from any foreign invasion. The Armenian population of Cæsarea remained on the roofs from daybreak till nightfall in their handsomest clothes. The men display their luxury in the beauty of their furs, but the ladies have not such limited ideas. They
wear, like all Oriental women, wide trousers, loose robes opening at the sides to make room for the puffing of the trousers, several bodices, put on one over the other, of stuffs and various colours, a scarf round the waist, a fez, their hair plaited and hanging, and coins embroidered over all. The Armenian ladies of Cæsarea are distinguished for the delicacy and harmony of the colours of their stuffs, the richness and good taste of the embroidery with which their bodices are covered, and the style of wearing their hair. They do not roll round their heads those frightful printed cotton handkerchiefs of which Switzerland sends thousands annually to Asia. The top of the fez and the tassel are embroidered in gold, and sometimes in pearls. The hair forms a dozen to fifteen plaits of equal length, but here the gold coins are not restricted to the end of the plaits, they are sewn on a black ribbon which is placed on the plaits, half way between the neck and the waist, forming a brilliant semicircle, which contrasts singularly with the dark colour of the hair. A profusion of sequins also covers the front of the fez, falling on the forehead. Others are attached to the ears, or form a cuirass to the neck, chest, and arms. Other ornaments also find a place among these coins. Bouquets of diamonds are placed round the fez, or on the front bandeaux of the hair; brooches of precious stones, collars or chains of pearls are stretched across the bodice under the bosom, or pass beneath the chin from one ear to the other. The daughters of the rich are the most magnificently adorned, for they carry, in the form of jewellery, their entire dowry, which frequently amounts to very considerable sums. It is true, that after a few years of marriage the coins diminish in number, which leads the princess to believe that young ladies in the East do not have their fortunes tied down so securely as is the case among ourselves. And now for the amusement these ambulating jewellers' shops are indulged with:
There is only one dance through the whole Ottoman Empire; it is the same for the Turks, the Arabs, for all the Mussulman nations scattered over its territory; it is the same for the Greeks and Armenians subject to the Sublime Porte: and this universal dance scarcely deserves the name of a dance. Two persons of the same sex, but always dressed as women, stand opposite each other, holding castanets, if they have them, or two wooden spoons to serve as such; sometimes nothing at all. But the movement of the fingers and the pantomime of the castanets are de rigueur. The two dancers bend and extend their arms, move their hips rapidly, balance the upper part of the body more gently, and lightly sway their feet without raising them from the ground. While continuing these different contortions, they advance, fall back, turn on their heels and round their vis-à-vis, what time the music, usually composed of a tambour, a drum, or a shepherd's pipe, marks the measure as it grows more rapid. As for the gracefulness of this dance I can say nothing, but its indecency at once strikes the most inexperienced eye.
The princess had a terrible ordeal to undergo in passing through the Giaour Daghda, or Mountains of the Giaour, for the Pasha of Adana had told her that the bey of that country was a mauvais sujet. Still, not being easily intimidated, she would not alter her route, and found to her joy the peril greatly exaggerated. The bey behaved as a gentleman should, sent an escort to meet her, and gave her apartments in his own house. During her stay here, she had further occasion to study the peculiarities of harem life, and we shall borrow a few pages on this interesting subject without apology.
The word harem is of very varied significance.
There are the harems of the poor, of the middle classes, of the great lord; the provincial harem, and the town harem; the harem of the young man and of the old, of the pious Mussulman who regrets the old régime, and of the young sceptic who admires reform and wears a frock-coat. Each of these has its peculiar character, but the least strange of all, and bearing the nearest affinity to the Christian ménage, is that of the poor countryman. The peasant's wife, compelled to work in the fields and go to market, is not imprisoned within the walls of her harem, and even when the house is divided into two rooms (which is rare), one of which is theoretically reserved for the women, men are not rigorously banished from it. It is seldom that a peasant marries several wives, and it only happens in exceptional cases, as when an inferior marries his master's widow, an event which only occurs when the lady is no longer of an age to aspire to a more brilliant match. The servant, finding himself richer than of yore, and after some years of conjugal fidelity discovering that time has progressed more rapidly for his wife than himself, he profits by his fortune to give her a companion more to his taste. With this exception, the life of a Turkish peasant resembles that of a Christian peasant, and might often serve as a model to the latter. Fidelity being equal, the advantage rests with the Turk, for fidelity is not imposed on him by any religious or civil law, nor by custom, and he always treats his wife kindly. He loves his companion like a father and a lover; he never vexes her purposely and voluntarily, and he will put up with anything from her through the love he bears her. His wife rapidly ages through unhealthy and coarse food, and her numerous accouchements, in which she has no surgical skill to aid her. The following is a touching instance of the fidelity and affection to which we allude:
"You must love your husband dearly," I said one day to an old woman, blind and paralytic, whom her husband, a noble old man, brought to me in the hope that I could restore her sight and activity. She had come seated astride on a donkey, which her husband led. He had then taken her in his arms, and laid her on a bench at my door with all the care of a mother for her child. "You must love your husband dearly ?" I said.
"I should like to have my sight," she replied.
I looked at the husband, he smiled sorrowfully, but without a shadow of illwill.
"Poor woman!" he said, passing the back of his hand over his eyes, “her blindness renders her very wretched. She cannot grow used to it." But you will restore her sight, Beyzadéh ?”
When I shook my head, and prepared to protest my impotence, he plucked at my dress, as a sign to be silent. Have you any children?" I then asked. I had one, but it died a long time ago.'
"And how is it you did not take another wife, healthier and stronger, to bear you children ?"
"Ah! that is easily said; but this poor creature would have been grieved, and that would have prevented me from being happy with another, even if I had children. You see, Beyzadéh, we cannot have everything in this world. I have a wife I have loved for nearly forty years, and shall not make another
Let us now enter the harem of a bourgeois, or small country gentleThis is generally situated on the first floor over the stables, and is reached by a wormeaten and filthy staircase. It consists of four rooms,