Sweet Scented Grasses of the Steppes By George L. Carrick



The Steppes
The sun, which pours its flood of fiery golden rays upon the river and the pine and birch clad hills before it sets, is soon succeeded by the dark, cloudless, southern night, with bright stars peeping through the canopy of heaven, and contrasting vividly with the surrounding blackness. From the funnel of the steamer, heated by wood, red sparks escape in myriads; they ascend high into the air, and twist and turn like fiery serpents as they slowly fall into the deep-flowing stream. At times a floating threestoreyed castle is seen moving on the river; it is one of the steamboats built on the American plan. Then the varied coloured lights that the ships and steamers carry shine like gigantic rubies, emerald's, or diamonds against the dark sky, and lend a still greater enchantment to the scene.

On reaching Samara, after several days' delightful journey by water, the patient travels either by train or equipage to the steppes. If the life which awaits him there is somewhat monotonous and dull, he is amply repaid for it by the delightful climate he enjoys. The sky is always bright and the air clear; and if the heat is somewhat severe, it serves the excellent purpose of making the patient drink large quantities of koumiss, and thus ministers indirectly to his cure. But the atmosphere during the hottest day is never oppressive, for there is always a slight breeze playing in the steppes. The nights are cool, moreover, and allow of refreshing sleep. After a few days' residence the invalid gets accustomed to and likes his new life and abode. Indeed there is a peculiar indescribable charm about the steppes. As the traveller mounts his horse and gallops through the high and thick herbage, he feels as though an ocean were before him, so broad and vast and boundless does the undulating, treeless, grassy expanse appear. This sensation is doubly strong with the consumptive patient, who has for months previously been pent up in close rooms and in a smoky city.

The invalid breathes deeply of the soft, velvety air, impregnated with the sweet aroma of the rich grasses of the steppes; while the gentle breeze which keeps continually sweeping over them softens the fierceness of the sun's rays, and fans the hectic cheek.

The nomad values the sweet - scented herbage highly, not because of the ethereal balm it contains, but as belonging essentially to the steppes. Chief among these aromatic plants is the small wormwood, or yemshan, as the natives call it. It is regarded by them with pride and tenderness, as the emblem of the broad, undulating plains they inhabit. For there are steppes without yemshan, but the yemshan cannot exist without the steppes; it grows there only. The sweetly-scented little plant, when shown to the nomad in a foreign land, has, it is averred, made the blood dance in his veins, and brought the tear to his eye. So say the Ipatof Chronicles of the twelfth century, and so sings Maykof in his charming poem called " Yemshan." It appears that Sirgan, a nomad chief, sent a messenger to his brother Otrock (who had been defeated by the Russians under Monomach, and had fled to the Caucasus), inviting him to return to his old home in the steppes. Monomach was dead, while Otrock had risen to be leader of one of the Circassian tribes; and his brother, not thinking that he would comply with his request, gives the following instructions (which I have taken the liberty of translating from Maykofs poem) to the messenger:—

'' Tell him towards home to bend his track,
For dead's our foe, and fallen our chains;
Say all you can to woo him back
To his own native, balmy plains.

Should counsels fail, our songs then try.
If they move not his spirit stern,
Some steppe yemshan together tie,
And give him it—and he'll return."

The arguments and entreaties of the messenger are uttered in vain, and even the music of his native songs fails to shake the Circassian chiefs resolution not to forsake his adopted country. When, however, the messenger presents a bunch of yemshan to Otrock, the latter is unable to master his feelings. The stern chief presses the pale-green leaves of the sweetly-scented plant to his bosom, then kisses them, and bursting into a flood of tears, throws up his new kingdom, and retires to his native balmy steppes.

Sweet Scented Grasses of the Steppes By George L. Carrick