Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 135.pdf/664

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RUSSIANS, TURKS, AND BULGARIANS.

655

{{hwe|tering|glittering} domes and stately spires of her Christian churches.

If ever one race owed a deep obligation to another, the Bulgarians did to the Turks, for the forbearance of the latter in leaving them and theirs unmolested in the evacuation before the advancing Russians in the last days of June and in July. The non-molestation on the part of those "unspeakable" barbarians was as thorough as that on the part of the last remnant of the German army of occupation, which Manteuffel marched from out the gates of Verdun through fertile Lorraine and over the new frontier line bisecting the battle-field of Gravelotte. And how was this forbearance requited — a forbearance that might have gone far to dim the memory of the conventional "four centuries of oppression"? The moment the last Turk was gone from Sistova — not before, for your Bulgarian is not fond of chancing contingencies — the Bulgarians of that town betook themselves to the sack, plunder, and destruction of the dwellings vacated by the Turks. They might have served an apprenticeship with the Circassian, so dexterous and efficient was their handiwork. I have seen few dismaler spectacles than that presented by the Turkish quarter of Sistova when I visited it two days after the crossing. To me, as representing a journal whose good-will the Bulgarians cherished, the Bulgarian patres conscripti of Sistova strove to mitigate the disgrace of this wanton outrage. It had been wrought by the scum of the place while as yet order had not succeeded to anarchy — the Cossacks had had a hand in it, which was a lie — the town was ashamed of the outburst of spite, for which nevertheless it was hinted there was some palliation in the "four hundred years of oppression." But stern measures had been taken to arrest any further devastation (there was little left to wreck), a committee had been formed to collect into the care of the authorities all the plunder, penalties had been enacted for its retention, and the effects were to be stored to await the return of the owners, to whom in the mean time — some of them being understood not to have gone far — overtures were to be sent begging their return and assuring them of safety. I went out from among the patres conscripti, and, ascending the staircase in the minaret of a mosque which had been wrecked and defiled, saw from the summit Bulgarian youths pursuing unchecked the work of wanton destruction on outlying Turkish houses. If the committee was ever formed at all, no results followed. The plunder remained with the plunderers; nobody was punished.

The conscript fathers of Sistova told me also that, to save Bulgaria's discredit in the eyes of Europe, emissaries would be sent out into the villages and towns, praying their inhabitants to behavior more worthy of civilization than Sistova had been able to compass. If they were sent with such a message, it must have been read backwards by the recipients. In every town and village of Bulgaria whence the Turkish inhabitants have fled, their houses were at once wrecked, the huts of the Circassian burnt to the ground. Colonel Lennox and Lord Melgund must be able to testify with how great order the Turks evacuated Bjela. I can speak to the unharmed state of the place when I entered it while as yet the Turkish irregulars were not out of sight. I can speak, also to the zest with which its Bulgarian inhabitants began to wreak their spite on the houses of the Turks as soon as they believed that the presence of Arnoldi's dragoons on the heights above the place deprived the work of any risk. Before the emperor came to Bjela, it took some days to repair or clear away the dilapidations wrought in the Turkish bey's house which he was to inhabit, and after all his Majesty could not but have noticed evidences of the ravage which had been wrought on it. Now this bey was a special favorite of the Bjela Bulgarians. He had effectually kept Bashi-Bazouks and Circassians from molesting them, and they had begged the good man not to go, assuring him that they would tell the Russians how much they owed him. He had to reply that his orders from Constantinople were imperative, and farewells passed with protestations of mutual goodwill. If the bey had thought better of it, and had come back next day, he would have returned to a house wrecked by his well-wishers of the day before. For aught I know, the fittings and timbers of the abandoned Turkish houses of Tirnova still furnish its Bulgarian inhabitants with their supplies of firewood. This was so the last time I was in Tirnova, in the end of August.

It would be interesting to hear Prince Tcherkasky's candid opinion as to the fitness of the Bulgarians for civic self-government. I never had but one occasion to appeal to an official Bulgarian, and the result was not encouraging. I had bought a pony from a Bulgarian citizen of Sistova. As I was not prepared for the moment to take the animal away, I handed to the