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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/496

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ward to it as the great opportunity of their lives. They go to seek it as a conscious jewel might start in search of a costly setting. They show no more reluctance than Esther manifested when Mordecai delivered her over as one of the fair young virgins gathered from far and near to adorn the palace of Ahasuerus. Indeed, the history of Esther reveals the motives which probably animate each of the many maidens of Circassia who to this day re-enact that old biblical story. Each believes that it is she who may find grace and favor in the royal crown, and thus control at will the rise or fall of the royal scepter. But even if not chosen by royalty, those who purchase the beautiful damsels of Circassia are the wealthy and titled; and not the slightest social degradation is attached to their position, even when taken to harems wherein a Turkish wife may be installed as head of the household. The common dependence of all the inmates of a harem upon the favor of a lord who may at any time elevate the Circassian slave to the position of a lady fosters a spirit of equality—of pure, practical democracy, that would be inconceivable under any other circumstances, and in our Southern slave relation to nominal mistress was totally undreamed of. As a Turkish lady explained to an astonished English visitor, "A slave may become a lady any day, and in treating her as one beforehand we take off very much of the awkwardness which would else ensue." When we consider that all the children of slaves are acknowledged as the legitimate children of their father, we must confess, in justice to the Turk, that theirs is a condition in which the evils of slavery to the slave are reduced to a minimum.

The first step after purchasing a Circassian girl is to give her (as unto Esther) a special retinue of personal slaves, brought from Africa, who relieve her henceforward of the slightest necessity of unpleasant exertion. Though she may not, like Esther, be put through "six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odors," every accessory of the toilet which may enhance her original attractiveness is bestowed upon her, accompanied by careful lessons in the graces of deportment. Thus to the mountain girl who looks forward to life in Turkey reports of that life go back freighted with all that could allure and blind the unthinking. Dread of an evil fate is reduced to a mere vague and flitting surmise, while the lottery matrimonial is represented to her as one filled with magnificent prizes. As the Circassians, though possessed of much native intelligence, have no written literature, none of these girls can read or write. They are trained for the marriage market as a fine horse is trained for a race course, and the higher price they bring the greater their satisfaction. "Ask a higher price for me, dear brother," says a Russian nobleman, "is their not uncommon admonition to the brother who is man-