LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron
Chapter XXIII.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
Chapter XIII.
Chapter XIV.
Chapter XV.
Chapter XVI.
Chapter XVII.
Chapter XVIII.
Chapter XIX.
Chapter XX.
Chapter XXI.
Chapter XXII.
‣ Chapter XXIII.
Chapter XXIV.
Chapter XXV.
Chapter XXVI.
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“Another proudly clad
In golden arms, spurs a Tartarian barb
Into the gap, and with his iron mace
Directs the torrent of that tide of men.”

I was told some time after this that Odysseus was corresponding with Omer Pasha of Negropont, and fearing that he might resort to some desperate measures in his present difficulties, I left the cave one night in a snow-storm, and with a trusty follower who knew the country, we descended to the plain, threading our way through the rocks and pine-trees. We mounted two swift Arab horses, gallopped along a hollow valley, crossed a deep stream, the Sperchius, and proceeded towards the town of Livadia, where we arrived the next day. I was surprised to see Turkish Delhi cavalry, known at a great distance by the immense height of their head-gear, careering on
the plain. On meeting Odysseus, he told me he had made a truce for three months with Omer Pasha. The only stipulation between them was that, for that period, Eastern Greece was to be a neutral territory—he said, “It is the only way in which I could save the people from being massacred. I have written to the Athenians to say that, as the government have not only refused to give me rations or money for my troops, but are doing their utmost to induce them to desert me, I cannot longer defend the passes which lead to Athens.”

I knew it was a common practice of the military leaders in Greece to make treaties with the enemy in the provinces they governed, for especial objects, on their own responsibility—yet I saw at once the chief had made a fatal error in doing so on the present occasion. I told him that, although his family had ruled in Livadia for three generations, the Turks in the Morea had been dispossessed after four centuries of possession; that now the Greek government were strong, and would direct all their forces to crush him. If he took refuge with the Turks, they would betray him, and send him or his head to Constantinople. “I know
that,” he answered, “I shall take care of that; they are in my power; what I have done, is only to bring the Greek government to terms.” I saw that he was anxious and perplexed, and that he repented of the step he had taken, and had been plotting to extricate himself before I arrived at Livadia. The next day we went to Thebes, and on the one succeeding followed the line of the Eubœan Strait to Talanta.

The hollowness of this armistice was apparent—Odysseus and the Ottoman Bey, suspecting each other of treachery, used every precaution to avoid being ensnared. The Turkish horse stuck to the level ground, the Greeks clung to the hills; Odysseus skirted them, his best men and swiftest runners dogging his steps, and keeping him from being cut off from his guerillas.

The Delhi Colonel was selected from the Turkish host at Eubœa, as the only soldier capable of contending in arts or arms with the wily and able Greek chief: he was the best specimen of an Eastern warrior I had seen,—calm, vigilant, and dexterous in the disposition of his troopers. Our chief knew the country better than any man in it. I urged him to give the enemy the slip, and to come to the cavern. His answer was, “Stay, not yet!”

It was early in February we stopped at Talanta on a wet stormy night: in selecting his quarters, our chief with his usual sagacity fixed upon the ruins of a Greek church, situated as the Greek churches, chapels, and monasteries usually are, on an elevated and defensible site—the town was abandoned and in ruins. After we had supped and were smoking our pipes, some of the Greek patrols came in, saying they had captured two Franks. They were ordered to bring them in. I told the chief to make no allusion to me, but to question them through his secretary.

As they entered, one of them observed to his comrade in English, “What a set of cut-throats! Are they Greeks or Turks?”

“Mind what you say.”

“Oh! they only want our money,” answered the other. “I hope they will give us something to eat before they cut our throats. I am famished.”

Certainly appearances were against us. At one end of the building, Odysseus, the Greek chief, the
Turkish Bey, and I sat smoking our pipes. At the other end, within the church, stood our horses saddled, ready for mounting, the soldiers lying down in clusters along the sides, with all their gear on, for neither Greeks nor Turks divest themselves of a single article of dress or arms during the night. Their hands still grasped their weapons, and they slept so lightly that if in talking a voice was raised their eager wolfish eyes were instantly upon the speaker. On the strangers entering, some of the soldiers sprang up, others leant on their elbows to listen or rather to look on, for they could not understand a word. The travellers told their story,—stating that they were last from Smyrna, and had landed that morning from an English brig, at a small port in the Gulf of Eubœa, with no other object than to see the country. Neither of the chiefs believed them, nor did I; nevertheless, they were treated hospitably, had supper, coffee, and pipes, and their baggage placed beside them. They sat together in a spare corner close to us, with no arms but fowling-pieces. One of them was very ill at his ease, the other, who I learnt from their discourse was a
Major, took things as coolly as if he had been at
an inn, said the cold lamb (it was goat) was the best he had ever tasted, and asked the Greek attendant, if he had no rackie (spirit), the only Romaic word he had learnt. Odysseus understanding what he wanted, told the boy to give him wine.

“If they are robbers,” exclaimed the Major, “they are damned good fellows, so I drink success to their next foray.” Soon after, one of them lay down in a dark corner. Turks, Greeks, and all Orientals, consider it the greatest possible insult as well as an outrage on decency, for any one in public to change his garments or expose any part of his person below the waist. The major was a remarkably tall, gaunt, bony man: after finishing his wine, he set to work to make up a comfortable bed with horse-cloths, slips of carpet, a bag for a pillow, &c.; when he had done this to his satisfaction, we supposed he would lie down, as his companion had done. On the contrary, he deliberately, as is if in his own barrack-room, utterly regardless of our presence, took off his boots, socks, coat, waistcoat, trousers, and shirt, folding each article carefully up and placing it by his bedside. Thus exhibiting himself in all possible attitudes stark naked, he leisurely filled the
bowl of his Turkish pipe, and advanced towards us to light it at the fire.

The two chiefs at first looked on the major’s novel proceedings with curiosity, as visitors in the Zoological Gardens do at the hippopotamus; but as the process of stripping advanced, they looked serious; the shirt scene took away their breath; their pipes went out when the major advanced towards them. The Turk started up in horror with his hand on his sword. The major, supposing he was making way for him from civility, and unconscious of giving any offence, made a very polite bow to us generally; and, in a gentle and conciliating tone, said, in his own language, “Pray, gentlemen, keep your seats, don’t let me disturb you;” bent his body into a sharp angle, so as to draw a light from the burning embers. The position he stood in was so ludicrous, that Odysseus and I could not resist laughing. The major considering this a token of good fellowship, insisted on shaking hands with us, saying, “I am sure you are both good fellows—Good night!”

I now saw by the light of the fire that he was not absolutely naked, for he had a leather waistcoat and
drawers on, but they fitted as tight as his skin, and were exactly of the same colour. The major lay down and smoked himself to sleep.
Odysseus went out and brought back the Turkish bey.

Expecting to be surprised by Turks or Greeks, and distrusting those with us, we could not sleep; so our chief, to conceal his own anxiety, and to wile away the time, recounted to the Turk the marvellous things he had seen done at Yanina by the Franks whilst he was serving with Ali Pasha. Odysseus then questioned the Osmanlee about Paradise and Mahomet, very profanely. The Albanian Turks are by no means bigots: our bey had evidently very little faith in anything but his sword. At length we dozed as we sat.

Before daylight the major got up and went out; I followed him, accosting him in his native tongue.

“How well you speak English, my good fellow,” he said.

The frank and cordial manner of the major so impressed me with his honesty, that I hurriedly explained who I was, the critical state of things with us; and my anxiety to extricate Odysseus from the peril that encompassed him.


The major instantly and earnestly entered into my views, saying, “The vessel we came in will remain two or three days in the port; it will take but a few hours to reach her. I will return and stop by her for Odysseus, detain her as long as I can, and go with him to the Ionian Islands.”

I told the chief our plan, he eagerly accepted the offer,—I pledging myself to keep possession of his mountain home, and to protect his family until altered circumstances permitted him to return to Greece. Hastily making the needful arrangements, the good-hearted major departed on his mission. The chief having much to say to me, and thinking it probable I might be in danger on my return to the cave, convoyed me with his whole force. On our parting, he called some of his principal followers, and said, “I call you to witness, I give this Englishman the cavern and everything of mine in it.” Then turning to me, he said, “Do what you think best without referring to me.” As we sat on the turf by a broken fountain, he placed his rough hairy hand on my bosom, saying, “You have a strong heart in a strong body: you find fault with me for distrusting my countrymen,—
I never doubted you. I trusted you from the first day as I do now on the last we may ever be together; though I cannot understand why you give money and risk life, to serve those who would shoot you for money, as they will me if they can.”

Either from the vigilance of the Ottomans at Eubœa, or of those with him, or from some other impediment, the chief did not reach the port he was to have embarked from until after the vessel had sailed with the major, although he had detained her as long as possible. I then expected the chief would make for the cave; we kept a sharp look-out, and posted men at the several passes; he wrote to me from time to time, but nothing definitively; and we passed months in this state of suspense. Fenton came from the Morea. I was in the daily habit of sallying forth to gather news, though warned against it. Early in April, when I was some distance from my den, I was startled by a shot; the red-capped Greeks were dogging me behind the rocks and pine-trees: I hastened up the steep ascent, gained the lower ladder, mounted slowly until I recovered my wind, then faster, the musket-balls whistling by me right and left—above and below. I should have
come down faster than I went up, but from the great advantage my men above had, and the sharp cross-fire they kept up to cover my retreat. On my entering the trap-door my assailants retreated across the mountain.

Shortly after this occurrence a large body of Greeks came to Velitza, a village at the foot of our mountain, a detachment ascended towards us; on coming near, one of them advanced, holding a green bough as a flag of truce: he said, Odysseus was with the troops below, and that he had brought a letter from him to me. It was to this effect, that he—Odysseus—was now with his friend Ghouras; he intreated me to come to him to confer on matters of great importance; saying that hostages would be given for my safe return, &c.

I merely answered, “If what you say is true, why don’t you come here? you may bring Ghouras or half-a-dozen others with you.”

Several notes of this sort were exchanged. In the last, our chief urged me to capitulate as the only means of saving his life; telling me that I might now do so on my own terms, for those with him were Romeliotes favourably disposed to him
and to me; and that if I lost this opportunity, I should be blockaded by his enemies, the Moreotes, who would give us no quarter. Of course I declined, for I knew the chief was writing under compulsion: the messenger tried what he could do by tampering with my men, individually proffering large bribes; so I told one of the men to shoot him if he spoke another word. During this parley the most nimble-footed of the enemy scaled the cliffs to see if it was possible to get at us by the aid of ropes from above, or by blasting the rocks, or with shot or shell. I sent several of my people to mingle with the foe, offering five thousand dollars to those who would aid the escape of
Odysseus. On the fourth or fifth day they departed,—leaving spies to watch us, as I knew they would. I then sent all the men I could trust to follow on the trail of our chief, and wrote to all his friends. That I might not be made a target of a second time, I did not venture forth alone.