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The Tribute of Roses

as told by A. Goulbat

From Caucasian Legends, translated from the Russian of A. Goulbat by Sergei de Wesselitsky-Bojidarovitch, published by Hinds, Noble and Eldredge, New York 1904 (pp. 109-117).

VII. The Tribute of Roses


In our most blessed and favored country, where the sun shines so brightly, where the flowers have such a sweet, sweet fragrance, where the birds sing so melodiously, long ago in bygone times, when neither I nor my father nor my forefathers had been born, there lived a young and splendid couple in the Aule of Mokde [Note of the Translator: Aule is the common term for a very small village or rather mountain hamlet in the Caucasus.] They were always most hospitable and everybody praised them, but the Lord, who always delights in seeing the religious and the poor well treated, fully rewarded them and abundantly furnished them with rich presents, thus clearly showing them his appreciation for their good deeds. They had everything that could be desired: youth, beauty, good health, riches, and reputation, they sincerely loved one another and their inner happiness was as great as their outer appearance and great success. Their children were healthy, clever, good and lovely to look at. Their elder son, little Timitch, distinguished himself especially through his strength and ability; he was endowed with most fiery eyes, once sparkling like flashes of lightning, then again as soft and innocent as the eyes of a young mountain goat.

For nine years the happy husband and wife lived thus, when suddenly between the aules of Mokde and Khamki a very bloody strife ensued and led to much destruction of life and property. During this strife, when the father of Timitch was mercilessly killed as well as his brothers and sisters, while the mother was taken prisoner and led off as a captive, Timitch himself was saved by some inexplicable wonder and soon became the favorite and greatest pride of the whole aule. In the meantime his mother, who was still a beautiful and youthful woman [in our country the women can be married at the early age of twelve] was sold and taken away to Turkey, where her wonderful appearance was the chief ornament of the Sultan's harem. In this select collection of beautiful and highly attractive women, her good looks and sweet disposition cast a dark shadow over all the rest — just as our bright sun dims all other planets.

The Sultan got perfectly wild with delight over her, and he incessantly showered most precious weavings, gorgeous carpets and splendid stones of one color and priceless shawls—in a word everything that the rich, rich East could produce lay at her graceful feet. Nevertheless in the midst of all these flatteries and endless temptations she always remained faithful to her husband. It needed a marvellous mind and character like hers, while utterly refusing to fulfil the wishes of the Sultan, to still remain the governess of his heart and the immediate object of his kind and thoughtful attention. In these proceedings a lucky circumstance firmly assisted her viz., the fact that she had been preparing herself to become a mother already four months before, when she happened to be taken prisoner. The loving and enchanted Sultan decided to patiently await the birth of the baby, which was foreign to him, and then marry his unusual captive, who was of royal blood and thus fully had the right to be an empress. The nearer she approached the time when a child should be born, the gayer the future Sultana became, so that those surrounding her really imagined that she had forgotten her husband. But oh, how terribly mistaken they were! Indeed, the eventful day came and a daughter Tousholi was born.

When they brought her the baby she long looked at it and tears came in floods out of her magnificent eyes, afterwards she made the sign of the cross on it and gave orders that it should be carried off.

"Call Samson to me," she said. Samson was the eunuch, given and attached to her personal service by the Sultan and who had faithfully done his duty by her side. She knew how to win his esteem and confidence, especially as he was himself a Christian (of course quite secretly). When he arrived she ordered him to take up the opakalo (probably a kind of Eastern fan) and protect her, while sleeping, from uncomfortable and noisy flies ; but she did not want to sleep—this was simply a sly device to make everybody leave her apartment and get out. She profited by this occasion to tell Samson the following facts:

"Samson, to thee I trust the new-born daughter Tousholi, promise me if possible secretly to make a Christian of her, as sincere and earnest in her belief as thou thyself. Among all these unbelievers thou wert not a slave to me, but a true and faithful friend and a tender and thoughtful brother. By the almighty mercifulness of God I am destined to live not much longer, for I hope to-day already to be able to unite myself with my dear husband, while thee I ask to take the place of this dear orphan's parents. Thou knowest my whole history, my strength does not enable me to speak to thee as freely as I should like. For the sake of the outward appearance I shall leave Tousholi nominally to the care of the Sultan, and I am convinced that at first everything will go right with you. When, however, your situation changes, I hope indeed that you may find means to return to Mokde and look up my firstborn child, whose natural obligation it is to be the powerful protector of his defenceless sister and her very aged educator, but now give me my little kindjail (Caucasian dagger)—fear nothing, I shall not cut myself open, for I have not even the strength to do that."

Samson placed in her now feeble hands the handsomely ornamented little kindjail, artistically decorated with precious stones and fastened to a most gorgeous girdle. This was the wedding present of her husband and she never left it out of her sight. The submissive old man, through his tears beheld how the face of the sick woman suddenly lit up and how, her eyes flashing with some extraordinary fire, she bravely pulled the little kindjail out of the sheath and put its thin blade, which was as sharp as the tongue of a snake, up to her lovely mouth.

"She sincerely kisses it," thought Samson, and quieted himself; but the precious little kindjail had yet another resemblance with the tongue of a snake, of which the faithful servant knew nothing. It was indeed poisoned!

Having heroically swallowed the deadly poison, the sick woman commanded Samson to instantly inform the Sultan that she desired to see him. The all-powerful adorer of this Christian heroine immediately made his appearance and was utterly distressed when he saw the signs of approaching death already marked on her magnificent features. In his anger against those standing about, he threatened them with perfectly atrocious punishment if they did not that moment find doctors able to bring his favorite back to life. In the meantime with a weak but expressive and comprehensible movement of her hand, the patient showed that she desired to be left alone with him. All the rest disappeared in a second and she broke out thus:

"My minutes are counted, I am dying, not paying you back in any way for your innumerable marks of kindness to me, and nevertheless I wish to ask yet another favor of you: be a father to my new-born daughter! It is my firm and irrevocable wish that my true and ever-faithful Samson shall stay by her and bring her up in none but my own dear religion ; when, however, you are tired of her, simply send them to Mokde to my son Timitch, and even if he be no longer living, I am fully convinced that the excellent daughter of my loving husband will always find protectors and friends among the good and kindly inhabitants of Mokde." With these serene words she breathed her last breath. The tremendous fury and utter despair of the Sultan went beyond any description. The court body-doctor and the arifa (i.e., the lady who administrates the harem) were hung without delay, but Samson and his sweet little pupil were given very fine and expensive apartments with magnificent board.

Every ten days the old man was obliged to bring little Tousholi to the Sultan, who having tenderly caressed her and given riches to the faithful servant, let them retire, giving the strictest orders that those who surrounded them should never hinder, trouble, or disturb them in any way. Thus three long years easily went by. The childish features of the face of Tousholi now acquired a most striking resemblance with the marvellously beautiful features of her late mother. The courtiers began to notice repeatedly that the Sultan after a time had fallen in love with her, was earnestly reflecting about something and frequently sighing. Thus the visits, which used to last but a few minutes, now became very long indeed, while little Tousholi, with her childish caresses, gained the affection of the Sultan more and more. Immediately two parties sprang up: the first, wishing to make Tousholi their excellent instrument in order to get the upper hand and overrule the Sultan, and thus naturally, constantly and unceasingly chanting her praises and flattering her to the skies; the second, which had resolved to make her perish and from this reason never letting one occasion go by without trying to snap at her and pull her down from her exalted position.

During the fearful struggle of these two desperate parties, Tousholi's childhood went by and she was already a grown-up maiden, when the kind-hearted Sultan died. His successor by chance belonged to the dangerous and inimical party, and so the sharp and careful Samson began to energetically demand to be allowed to go away to Mokde. The permission to start for the home journey was given with great joy and satisfaction, and very soon they had already arrived at Mokde. Here there was no difficulty in finding out Timitch. He was known by young and old alike. The old servant silently took from Tousholi's baggage that precious girdle with the kindjall, which he had handed to her mother just a few hours before her untimely death and passed it to Timitch, drawing his attention to a splendid all-sparkling round tablet. On it were inscribed the dear names of his glorious parents.

"This is the remarkable girdle which was always around the waist of my all-beloved mother!" cried out the youth.

"Well, say now I prythee where is she staying? How can I possibly reward thee—oh, thou grand old man? Art thou sent by her?"

"I verily came to this memorable village by her sacred will," reverently answered Samson. "While dying she ordered me to lead thy sister to thee and hand her over to thy mighty care and protection."

"What, my sister? Well, well, is it possible that not all sisters and brothers perished together with their splendid father?"

Saying this he closely looked at the young girl and was evidently struck and impressed by her perfectly unusual beauty.

"The resemblance with your mother ought to be sufficient to convince you of the truth of my words."

Afterwards innumerable questions and answers were mutually exchanged. The old man and Tousholi settled down in the house of Timitch and Samson heartily rejoiced, seeing soon how the youngsters became friends. But nevertheless there was nothing to rejoice about! The twenty-year-old Timitch, fiery, not given to reflections, unaccustomed to restrain himself in any way, was entertaining such intentions as would make Samson's hair stand on end if he thoroughly understood their meaning. What is there strange in the fact that the twelve-year-old Tousholi was unable to guess at the thoughts of her brother and firmly trusted him in everything with all her simple childish sincerity of soul. The passionate attraction of Timitch grew not with days, but with hours, and once during a promenade, without being at all disturbed by the presence of grave old Samson, he actually went as far as to tell her of his peculiar intentions.

Samson, astonished and disapproving the plan, threw himself in between the young people and was stupefied when seeing a dagger pointed towards him, but the terrified Tousholi speedily hid herself near a precipice. Seeing the immediate danger, the dying faithful Samson cursed the wicked and lawless boy, and lo! suddenly a great wonder took place.

Timitch was transformed into a wind and began to crazily blow and whistle over the precipice, but the submissive and ever loyal servant was turned into a gigantic rose bush, in the midst of which a rose of unusual size was growing and constantly blooming. By the will of God, angels with marvellous, all-glorious singing slowly let themselves down into the precipice, majestically lifted out from it the magnificent body of Tousholi and carefully placed it in the very centre of the superb rose, the all-fragrant leaves of which gradually closed up and thus buried inside of them the deceased. Attracted by the all-glorious angelic singing, the faithful inhabitants of Mokde ran together in crowds to the rose and many of them clearly saw how the angels gracefully interred Tousholi in the rose. But Timitch could by no means quiet down; with anger and greatest passion he threw himself upon the rose bush and wished to break it down, but the more he shook the lovely branches, the closer and firmer did they stick to the rose and the better did they defend her from his unjustified attacks and depredations. When, however, he finally succeeded in carrying off the tender, tender leaves of the rose, Tousholi was no more to be seen, for her body had completely evaporated in the marvellous fragrance.

The religious inhabitants of Mokde enclosed the beloved holy rose with a very massive stone wall, called this spot Tousholi, and yearly when the first beautiful rose came out they celebrated a fete, which has quite a character of its own and is popularly known as "the tribute of roses."

The ceremony consists of the following points : Every young girl gathers a tremendous full bunch of rose leaves and standing one behind the other, they await the exit of the very oldest man in the village. He comes out, dressed in a white suit and bearing in his hand a white flag, the point of which is richly decorated with roses and covered with sweet little bells, while at the end a large wax candle burns. Putting himself at the head of the procession, the old man gives a solemn signal and the procession duly and martially directs itself towards Tousholi; behind it at a considerable distance followed young people, leading sheep and bringing along with them the customary offerings, i.e., horns, balls, hatchets, silks, etc. The procession winds around Tousholi three times with beautiful singing in which is described in detail all that we have mentioned above—then the girls in their turn enter through the great fence and put down in a certain place their splendid fragrant offerings, softly adding:

"Saint Tousholi, help and assist me! Holy Samson, shield and protect me from the cursed Timitch and all of that kind !"

On the top of a pretty mound, formed by the magnificent rose leaves, the old man solemnly fixes his standard, saying: "Saint Tousholi, make me wise, Holy Samson, help me to guard and defend all these tender maids from the cursed and all-hated Timitch and all those who follow his wicked example!"

After this earnest speech the old man sits down at the foot of the graceful flag, while at his own feet the young girls settle down. Then the young people enter the enclosure and kneeling on one knee pronounce a most reverential greeting discourse to the hermit and the maidens and then they turn about and face an opposite corner, where they curse Timitch who hath wickedly cast a dark shadow over their beloved aule; afterwards they cut up the sheep and gayly feast with all those present. When I was but a very small boy I happened to be in this place and was favored with seeing with my own eyes one or two roses inside the enclosure, which it appears is existing even in our advanced and enlightened days. These roses are really unusually large in size, but nevertheless neither a grown-up girl nor even a new-born youngster can possibly find place inside the flower. I understand that at that time they used to say with regret, that the fete of "the tribute of roses" did not repeat itself yearly! Thus little by little ancient customs disappear and antique amusements are superseded by new ones, which are not always successfully chosen; only grim Timitch never changes, for he is quite as restless now as ever before, here moves and weeps like a child, there makes a row, yes rebels like a robber and lawlessly destroys whole buildings. His dislike for roses never ceases, and as soon as he sees a sweet little flower he immediately begins to blow around it with impatience and anger until he hath scattered the beautifully fragrant leaves far and wide over the country. Now the story of Tousholi is already forgotten, but her name, among the Chechenzes, is given to all such interesting places, where they go to make sacrifices and fervently pray.