19th Century

The Janissary and Massacre of the Christians (1850) [Part 2] | G. W. M. Reynolds

The following short story was written by George W.M. Reynolds and published in two instalments in Reynolds’s Miscellany during 1850. Set in the 1300s, at a time when Ottoman forces were making inroads into Europe, it tells the story of Sisman, a young man from Bavaria who, having been captured by the Ottoman army is forced to become one of the Sultan’s Janissaries. It has been transcribed by Stephen Basdeo.

Read the First Part Here.

Janissaries in the 1500s

Part Two.[1]

Three or four days passed away, during Which Karl and his father remained undiscovered in Sisman’s tent; but no opportunity had presented itself of enabling the two prisoners to leave the encampment. Sisman grew uneasy, for the time was approaching when the Ottoman army was to resume its march; and then it would be impossible any longer to conceal them from the superior Officers of the corps in which the Janizary served. But—as if fortune were determined to favour the safety of the two Christians—Timourtasch fell ill, and the breaking up of the encampment was delayed.

The indisposition of the Beglerbeg speedily assumed a serious aspect; and the nature of the malady baffled the skill of the surgeons. Timourtasch lay at the point of death; and, such was the savage nature of his disposition during his illness, that his medical attendants, finding they could do nothing to relieve him, and dreading the consequences of his passion, fled from the camp in dismay.

The occurrences of the encampment were duly reported by Sisman, from time to time, to his father and brother; and when he communicated this last incident, a gleam of joy animated the countenance of old Schildberger.

Illustration accompanying part one of Reynolds’s tale

“My son,” said the venerable parent, “thou knowest that I am well skilled in the nature and uses of herbs, and their appliances, either externally as poultices, or internally in the shape of decoctions, to the various maladies of human nature. Haply if I were conducted into the presence of your commander, I might save his life; and his gratitude would ensure the safety of us all.”

Sisman was overjoyed at the idea; and he forthwith repaired to the pavilion of the Beglerbeg, who was tossing, in the most acute bodily pains, upon his couch. His cries and imprecations were heard at a considerable distance from his tent, round which the guards stood petrified with horror and alarm. During the last few days of his illness, he had issued orders of a most sanguinary nature, which the humanity of the next officer in command had alone prevented from being put into execution. Every one dreaded to approach him; and even his own sons fled from his presence as if his very breath were pestilential.

Sisman demanded permission to speak in private with Timourtasch. The request was accorded, and two mutes conducted the young Janizary into the presence of the Beglerbeg. Sisman fell upon his knees, and addressed the formidable commandant as follows: “Mighty conqueror, deign to listen to the voice of your slave, who is not worthy to rub his forehead upon the threshold of your tent. The sad news of your malady has reached mine ear, and I am come to propose a means of remedy. Your slave knows an old man, a Giaour, who dwells at a short distance, in a cavern in a secluded spot, and who is well acquainted with the use of herbs and simples. I will answer for his fidelity and his skill with my head!”

“Let him be brought hither,” cried the Beglerbeg; “and, by the Prophet I swear, that if he cure me, I will heap rewards upon him and thee; but, if he play me false, I will be revenged even from my tomb!”

Sisman bowed and retired. He allowed four hours to elapse ere he returned, accompanied by his father, to the pavilion of the sick chieftain: and, in the meantime, the impatience of Timourtasch had arisen to the height of frenzy. When the young Janizary and the old Christian stole gently into the spacious tent where Timourtasch lay writhing in the most acute bodily agonies—a lovely girl, whose veil was thrown aside, was bending over the invalid, and calling him by those endearing appellations which a daughter’s lips would alone utter. She did not hear the footsteps of those who were entering the pavilion; and Sisman, who was struck by her transcendent loveliness, had an opportunity of gazing for some moments upon the sacred beauties that were thus revealed to him. Her black eyes, which were half concealed by the lids and their long fringes, as she glanced down upon her sire,—the parting roses of the lip, which revealed teeth white as the pearls of her own native land,—the symmetrical form whose full and voluptuous proportions no artificial means enhanced, and no unnatural devices of female attire coerced,—the delicate foot and ankle, appearing beneath the ample trouser, over which fell the costly dualma,—and the halo of innocence which prevailed around her,— these were the charms which rivetted the eyes of the youthful Janizary upon the person of that beauteous girl.

Suddenly, this charming creature—who resembled rather a fair vision from the land of Jinnees, than an inhabitant of earth,—suddenly she raised her eyes, and her glance encountered that of Sisman Schildberger. A deep flush suffused her countenance, and she hastily resumed her veil.

Sisman then advanced towards the Beglerbeg’s couch, and informed him that, after considerable toil and trouble, he had succeeded in finding the aged Giaour of whom he had spoken in the morning.

“Let him advance,” cried the chieftain; “and do you, Balkis,” he added, addressing himself to his daughter, “remain with me. Thy presence soothes and consoles me!”

The elder Schildberger proceeded to the couch of the invalid, and entered upon his sculapian duties. He demanded certain herbs and roots which were easy found in the neighbouring fields; and, when they were brought to him, he applied and administered them in different manners. While the father was thus occupied, the younger Schildberger was absorbed in meditating upon the charms which he had ere now beheld, and the possessor of which, although veiled, was still near him. His passion for Marietta had been a pure, 2 chaste, and a holy love; but the flame which now burnt in his breast, and which had been so suddenly kindled was thrilling, electric, and delirious. New ideas and new sentiments filled his mind; and he had entirely forgotten the illness of the Beglerbeg, and the object of his visit thither, when the sweet tone of the young maiden’s voice suddenly fell upon his ears.

“Who is that Giaour? and can you answer for his fidelity? Remember whose life is at stake!” said Balkis.

Sisman satisfied her upon those points.

“And what is thy name?” demanded the maiden, after a moment’s hesitation.

“Hassan the Faithful, I am called in my corps,” was the respectful answer.

“And thou hast deserved the name by introducing that venerable Christian leech into the presence of my father,” added Balkis; then, drawing a beautiful ring from her finger, she said, in a low whisper, “Hassan the Faithful, wear this for my father’s sake.”

“No, lady—thy father hath promised a reward, should he be cured by that Giaour, who, as you may perceive, has already eased his acute pains,” returned the Janizary. “But I will wear the ring for thy sake;” and he pressed her hand tenderly as he received the jewel from her delicate fingers.

Sisman’s father now stepped forward, and announced, in a whisper, that Timourtasch had fallen into a deep sleep, and that he must not be disturbed. This slumber was produced by some of the herbs which Schildberger had administered, and was as profound as the soporific effects of the medicine could render it. He, however, intimated his intention of remaining with the invalid. Balkis declared that she would not quit her sire; and Sisman easily invented an excuse to avoid leaving the pavilion. Balkis retired for a few moments into an adjacent tent, with which that of her father communicated by a covered passage; and when she returned, she was followed by mutes bearing silver dishes upon their heads. They quickly spread a table in one corner of the pavilion; and Balkis no longer hesitated to lay aside her veil, to honour the guests through whose agency her father’s restoration to health was to be accomplished. The more Sisman saw of the beauteous Balkis, the more he was enamoured of her. Some excellent wine was produced—in spite of the rigid decrees of the Prophet—and, when he and the young lady had each drunk a cup of the generous liquid, while the old Giaour returned to watch by the bed-side of his patient, they began to exchange tender glances. Sisman drank deep draughts at the fountain of love; and he only separated from his fair companion with the assurance that they should meet again on the morrow.

For several days did Sisman enjoy these delicious interviews with Balkis in the pavilion of her father, until the old chieftain was declared by his Christian physician, who had never once left him from the moment of his first attendance, to be so far recovered as to be enabled to enjoy the fresh air at the entrance of his tent. From that hour the health of Timourtasch rapidly improved, and at the expiration of twenty days, the services of the Giaour became no longer necessary.

On the morning when Schildberger informed his patient that his attendance would no more be required, Timourtasch desired Sisman to conduct the old man to his own tent, and entertain him in the best possible manner until the expiration of a few days, when a meet recompense should be awarded him. The object of Timourtasch, who invariably suspected the designs of Christians, was to ascertain whether his physician this instance had in reality cured him, or only restored

him to health for a time, in order that some insidious poison which might have been administered should be allowed to work its slow but certain way without engendering an immediate suspicion of the treachery.

Ten days passed away, and Timourtasch recovered his former strength and vigour. He now felt convinced that the Giaour had performed the part of a conscientious and honourable man; and he determined to reward both him and the Janizary, without delay. Having made certain inquiries relative to Hassan the Faithful, and finding that they were satisfactory in the highest degree, Timourtasch summoned Balkis into his presence. The maiden stood with folded arms and downcast. eyes before her sire.

“Daughter,” said the chief, “Hassan the Faithful is the cause of thy father’s recovery. God is great, and made Hassan his instrument to place the means of cure within the reach of his poor slave: there is no God save God! Hassan is a promising youth, a gallant warrior, and a staunch Mussulman. My daughter Balkis shall become his bride; and this is the reward which I confer upon him.”

The maiden, whose heart wept with joy at this announcement, which conveyed tidings so dear to her soul, and which she so little expected to hear, expressed her readiness to comply with her father’s command. She then withdrew. Timourtasch clapped his hands thrice, and the Aga, or chief of his slaves, entered the pavilion.

“Abdallah,” said the Beglerbeg, “take with thee twelve slaves, all bearing choice and worthy gifts, and repair to the tent of Hassan the Faithful, who is a Baschi in the third division of the Janizaries. There thou wilt find a Christian also. Put a robe of honour upon each, gold chains round their necks, and rings upon their fingers, and bring them hither without delay.”

Abdallah did as he was commanded, and proceeded to the tent of our young hero. He entered that dwelling so abruptly, that its inmates had no time to conceal Karl from his view.

“Here are two Christians,” said Abdallah, glancing around him; “and I was assured that I should find but one. I will, however, clothe neither in the garment of honour, but conduct both into the presence of the Prince of Princes.”

At these words Sisman trembled, but he dared not make any reply, nor even interpret them to his father and brother. A garment of honour was thrown over his shoulders; & massive gold chain was twined round his neck, and a ring was placed upon his finger. A sign was then made to the old man and Karl to follow; and the procession returned to the pavilion of Timourtasch. When those who formed it entered his presence, as he was surrounded by all the great officers of his army, Abdallah fell upon his knees, exclaiming, “Most powerful lord, thou didst tell thy slave that he would find one Christian in the tent of Hassan the Faithful and behold! there were two. Being ignorant of the one whom you were anxious to honour, I have brought them both hither.”

“Two Christians in Hassan the Faithful’s tent!” exclaimed one of the officers who stood on the right and left of Timourtasch’s sofa.

“By the Prophet I swear that those are the self-same slaves who were taken prisoners in the late battle, and who were assigned, by lot, to the Baschi!”

“By Allah! if this were true,” exclaimed Timourtasch, glancing fiercely around him, “and if that greybeard dog of a Giaour be not a mystic seer, dwelling in a secluded cavern, but one of those pitiful shepherds who marched against us some thirty days since, I will hang him and his accomplices at the door of my pavilion!”

“Hassan the Faithful, speak!” cried the oflicer who had superintended the assignment of the prisoners; “are those the Giaours whom the drawing of lots assigned to you, and whom you should have slain at sunset on the same evening?”

Sisman threw himself upon his knees in the presence of the terrible Beglerbeg, and confessed the whole truth.

“Treachery—vile, unpardonable treachery!” exclaimed Timourtasch, who was a most rigid disciplinarian. “I swore a deadly oath that all the prisoners captured in the late action should be put to death, and that he who spared the captive that was assigned to him, should himself fall by the hand of the executioner. I cannot retreat from my word;—I cannot pardon even the man who saved my own life!”

The venerable father of the two young men threw himself at the feet of Timourtasch, and, being unable to speak his language, conveyed to him the appeals and the entreaties of a parent by the most pitiable and heart-rending signs. Everyone around was moved even to tears, when the eye beheld the silent but expressive anguish of that old man; and Timourtasch himself surveyed his supplicant with emotion. At length the Berglerbeg yielded to the whispering of gratitude and the representations of the warriors by whom he was surrounded and he said to Sisman, “Traitor, I will spare thy father’s life, because he has saved mine, and I will award him the life of one of his sons. Let him choose between ye:—one victim must be offered up on this occasion, for my oath’s sake!”

The young Janizary communicated the resolve of the Beglerbeg to his father, who thus found himself compelled to rescue one of his children from the jaws of death, with the certainty of consigning the other to that dread fate. He turned a look of fondness upon Karl and then glanced towards Sisman. Karl was married, and had a wife and child dependent upon him; and Sisman was single;—but then Sisman was his younger son—the one who took after his mother! Karl was such a fine, manly, daring youth—the pride of his aged father; Sisman was a renegade, and must not be allowed to perish in his unbelief; and yet, with every wish to convert his miserable son to the Christian faith once more, before he died, the old father knew that he could not, for he had not the nerve, and he had not an hour! He could not part with Karl—he could not part with Sisman: he must take Karl home to Marietta—he could not leave Sisman behind! He ran from one to the other—embracing them by turns—shedding burning drops upon them—admiring first the one, and then the other—comparing them together in his mind—unable to part with either—unwilling to irritate the tyrant by delaying to avail himself of the partial mercy awarded him!

“Father,” said Sisman, after a long pause, during which he had viewed his parent’s anguish with indescribable grief,—“hesitate no longer. Karl has a wife and a child—if you consign him to death, you kill three persons at once;—if you give me up to the executioner, my fate will redound so terribly on no one!”

“No,” said Karl; “it shall not be whispered abroad that my brother sacrificed himself twice for me. My life has been comparatively a happy one, briefly though it will have lasted; whereas Sisman has known nothing but hardship, and now deserves tranquillity and rest.”

“Those very reasons prove that I should now die,” exclaimed Sisman. “You are enamoured of life—I am wearied of it:—father, let me die!”

“No—not as a renegade, father!” cried Karl. “ Let me die.”

“I will meet my fate as a Christian, father,” urged Sisman. “Let me die!”

“Yes—let Sisman sacrifice himself for his brother!” ejaculated the old man, wildly. “But—no—no, Karl must die for him, for he has the blue eyes of his mother! And then Marietta—what will Marietta do—and her poor child? No—Karl must not die! Alas! Sisman will perish without repentance, without absolution— cut off in a2 moment—unprepared—without a priest.”

“No—Sisman cannot die!” The old man fainted in the arms of Karl, who hastened to convey him into the open air, forgetful at the moment that they were all prisoners. But no one impeded the movement for Sisman took advantage of the occurrence to exclaim, hastily, “My father has made his choice: I am to be the victim! Let me die at once—I am prepared to suffer, and to suffer now!”

The officers present interceded with the Beglerbeg for the life of Sisman; but the chieftain was inexorable; and the executioner was commanded to prepare the bowstring. Sisman knelt upon the ground, crossed his arms upon his breast, and inclined his head towards the ground. The Djellah, or executioner, fixed the bowstring around his neck—Timourtasch waved his hand as a signal that the deed was to be done with despatch: and in another moment the young Janizary would have been a-corpse, had not a sudden interruption to the solemn silence of the scene compelled the executioner to relax the bowstring. A young lady, closely veiled, rushed into the tent, threw herself at the feet of the Beglerbeg, and exciaimed, “Spare him—spare him, my father! spare him—or kill me also!”

“What means this intrusion?” cried Timourtasch, angrily. “Thou canst not say that thou really lovest yon traitor, Balkis?”

“Slay him, and you slay me at the same time!” answered Balkis. “Thou didst promise me a certain thing—and now thou fliest from thy word; and thou forgettest the service which that young man has rendered thee!”

A murmur of applause, on the part of the officers assembled, received this unusually bold address of a daughter to her father; and Timourtasch, who was deeply attached to the beautiful girl, was compelled to relent.

“Balkis,” he said, “I spare him for thy sake. Of all my children thou alone wast constantly at my bed of sickness; it is but meet that thou should’st reap the reward of thine affectionate solicitude. Hassam, continue to deserve thy name of the Faithful; and now receive thy bride!”

The happy news was speedily communicated to Sis- man’s father and brother; and joy now animated those countenances adown which tears of indescribable an- guish were sv lately trickling.

That same evening the nuptials of the beautiful Balkis and Hassan the Faithful were celebrated—in spite of the prayers and entreaties of the old man and Karl to induce their well-beloved Sisman to return with them into Bavaria. A few days after the above happy event, Timourtasch dismissed Schildberger and his elder son, laden with presents; and Sisman took a most tender and affecting leave of his father and brother.

For thirty-three years did Hassan the Faithful and the charming Balkis dwell together in uninterrupted joy and domestic peace.. They had no children; and thus their affections were not divided from each other. At the expiration of that time Balkis died and Sisman Schildberger felt powerful yearning to revisit his native land. He returned, laden with wealth, to Bavaria, and spent the remainder of his days in his native village, in the society of his brother and that brother’s family. He has left behind him an affecting and unpretending narrative of the battle of Nicopolis, the massacre which followed, and his own captivity; and at the time when that narrative was first introduced to the notice of the Christian public of Europe, it created an extraordinary sensation.

[1] George W. M. Reynolds, ‘The Janizary; or, The Massacre of the Christians’, Reynolds’s Miscellany, 16 November 1850, 259–60.