HALIL THE PEDLAR
A Tale of Old Stambul
Author of "The Green Book," "Black Diamonds," "The Poor Plutocrats," etc.
Authorised Edition, Translated by R. Nisbet Bain
SANS PEUR ET SANS REPROCHE Third Edition London Jarrold & Sons, 10 & 11, Warwick Lane, E.C. [All Rights Reserved] 1901 Copyright London: Jarrold & Sons New York: McClure, Phillips, & Co.
Translated from the Hungarian, "A feher rozsa," by R. Nisbet Bain.
I. THE PEDLAR 11
II. GUEL-BEJAZE—THE WHITE ROSE 36
III. SULTAN ACHMED 49
IV. THE SLAVE OF THE SLAVE-GIRL 69
V. THE CAMP 99
VI. THE BURSTING FORTH OF THE STORM 123
VII. TULIP-BULBS AND HUMAN HEADS 134
VIII. A TOPSY-TURVY WORLD 153
IX. THE SETTING AND THE RISING SUN 179
X. THE FEAST OF HALWET 203
XI. GLIMPSES INTO THE FUTURE 216
XII. HUMAN HOPES 240
XIII. THE EMPTY PLACE 270
On September 28th, 1730, a rebellion burst forth in Stambul against Sultan Achmed III., whose cowardly hesitation to take the field against the advancing hosts of the victorious Persians had revolted both the army and the people. The rebellion began in the camp of the Janissaries, and the ringleader was one Halil Patrona, a poor Albanian sailor-man, who after plying for a time the trade of a petty huckster had been compelled, by crime or accident, to seek a refuge among the mercenary soldiery of the Empire. The rebellion was unexpectedly, amazingly successful. The Sultan, after vainly sacrificing his chief councillors to the fury of the mob, was himself dethroned by Halil, and Mahmud I. appointed Sultan in his stead. For the next six weeks the ex-costermonger held the destiny of the Ottoman Empire in his hands till, on November 25th, he and his chief associates were treacherously assassinated in full Divan by the secret command, and actually in the presence of, the very monarch whom he had drawn from obscurity to set upon the throne.
This dramatic event is the historical basis of Jokai's famous story, "A Feher Rozsa," now translated into English for the first time. No doubt the genial Hungarian romancer has idealised the rough, outspoken, masterful rebel-chief, Halil Patrona, into a great patriot-statesman, a martyr for justice and honour; yet, on the other hand, he has certainly preserved the salient features of Halil's character and, so far as I am competent to verify his authorities, has not been untrue to history though, as I opine, depending too much on the now somewhat obsolete narrative of Hammer-Purgstall ("Geschichte des osmanischen Reichs"). Almost incredible as they seem to us sober Westerns, such incidents as the tame surrender of Achmed III., the elevation of the lowliest demagogues to the highest positions in the realm, and the curious and characteristically oriental episode of the tulip-pots, are absolute facts. Naturally Jokai's splendid fancy has gorgeously embellished the plain narrative of the Turkish chroniclers. Such a subject as Halil's strange career must irresistibly have appealed to an author who is nothing if not vivid and romantic, and ever delights in startling contrasts. On the other hand, the unique episode of Guel-Bejaze, "The White Rose," and her terrible experiences in the Seraglio are largely, if not entirely, of Jokai's own invention, and worthy, as told by him, of a place in The Thousand and One Nights.
Finally—a bibliographical note.
Originally "A Feher Rozsa," under the title of "Halil Patrona," formed the first part of "A Janicsarok vegnapjai," a novel first published at Pest in three volumes in 1854. The two tales are, however, quite distinct, and have, since then, as a matter of fact, frequently been published separately. The second part of "A Janicsarok vegnapjai" was translated by me from the Hungarian original, some years ago, under the title of "The Lion of Janina," and published by Messrs. Jarrold and Sons as one of their "Jokai" Series in 1898. The striking favour with which that story was then received justifies my hope that its counterpart, which I have re-named "Halil the Pedlar," from its chief character, may be equally fortunate.
R. NISBET BAIN.
HALIL THE PEDLAR.
Time out of mind, for hundreds and hundreds of years, the struggle between the Shiites and the Sunnites has divided the Moslem World.
Persia and India are the lands of the Shiites; Turkey, Arabia, Egypt, and the realm of Barbary follow the tenets of the Sunna.
Much blood, much money, many anathemas, and many apostasies have marked the progress of this quarrel, and still it has not even yet been made quite clear whether the Shiites or the Sunnites are the true believers. The question to be decided is this: which of the four successors of the Prophet, Ali, Abu Bekr, Osmar, and Osman, was the true Caliph. The Shiites maintain that Ali alone was the true Caliph. The Sunnites, on the other hand, affirm that all four were true Caliphs and equally holy. And certainly the Shiites must be great blockheads to allow themselves to be cut into mince-meat by thousands, rather than admit that God would enrich the calendar with three saints distasteful to them personally.
The head Mufti had already hurled three fetvas at the head of Shah Mahmud, and just as many armies of valiant Sunnites had invaded the territories of the Shiites. The redoubtable Grand Vizier, Damad Ibrahim, had already wrested from them Tauris, Erivan, Kermandzasahan, and Hamadan, and the good folks of Stambul could talk of nothing else but these victories—victories which they had extra good reason to remember, inasmuch as the Janissaries, at every fresh announcement of these triumphs, all the more vigorously exercised their martial prowess on the peaceful inhabitants they were supposed to protect, and not only upon them, but likewise upon the still more peaceful Sultan who, it must be admitted, troubled himself very little either about the Sunnites, or the victories of his Grand Vizier, being quite content with the contemplation of his perpetually blooming tulips and of the damsels of the Seraglio, who were even fairer to view than the tulips whose blooms they themselves far outshone.
* * * * *
The last rays of sunset were about to depart from the minarets of Stambul. The imposing shape of the City of the Seven Hills loomed forth like a majestic picture in the evening light. Below, all aflame from the reflection of the burning sky, lies the Bosphorus, wherein the Seraglio and the suburbs of Pera and Galata, with their tiers upon tiers of houses and variegated fairy palaces, mirror themselves tranquilly. The long, winding, narrow streets climb from one hill to another, and every single hill is as green as if mother Nature had claimed her due portion of each from the inhabitants, so different from our western cities, all paved and swept clean, and nothing but hard stone from end to end. Here, on the contrary, nothing but green meets the eye. The bastions are planted with vines and olive-trees, pomegranate and cypress trees stand before the houses of the rich. The poorer folks who have no gardens plant flowers on their house-tops, or at any rate grow vines round their windows which in time run up the whole house, and from out of the midst of this perennial verdure arise the shining cupolas of eighty mosques. At the end of every thoroughfare, overgrown with luxuriant grass and thick-foliaged cypresses, only the turbaned tombstones show that here is the place of sad repose. And the effect of the picture is heightened by the mighty cupola of the all-dominating Aja Sofia mosque, which looks right over all these palaces into the golden mirror of the Bosphorus. Soon this golden mirror changes into a mirror of bronze, the sun disappears, and the tranquil oval of the sea borrows a metallic shimmer from the dark-blue sky. The kiosks fade into darkness; the vast outlines of the Rumili Hisar and the Anatoli Hisar stand out against the starry heaven; and excepting the lamps lit here and there in the khans of the foreign merchants and a few minarets, the whole of the gigantic city is wrapped in gloom.
The muezzin intone the evening noomat from the slender turrets of the mosques; everyone hastens to get home before night has completely set in; the mule-drivers urge on their beasts laden on both sides with leather bottles, and their tinkling bells resound in the narrow streets; the shouting water-carriers and porters, whose long shoulder-poles block up the whole street, scare out of their way all whom they meet; whole troops of dogs come forth from the cemeteries to fight over the offal of the piazzas. Every true believer endeavours as soon as possible to get well behind bolts and bars, and would regard it as a sheer tempting of Providence to quit his threshold under any pretext whatsoever before the morning invocation of the muezzin. He especially who at such a time should venture to cross the piazza of the Etmeidan would have been judged very temerarious or very ill-informed, inasmuch as three of the gates of the barracks of the Janissaries open upon this piazza; and the Janissaries, even when they are in a good humour, are not over particular as to the sort of jokes they choose to play, for their own private amusement, upon those who may chance to fall into their hands. Every faithful Mussulman, therefore, guards his footsteps from any intrusion into the Etmeidan, as being in duty bound to know and observe that text of the Koran which says, "A fool is he who plunges into peril that he might avoid."
The tattoo had already been beaten with wooden sticks on a wooden board, when two men encountered each other in one of the streets leading into the Etmeidan.
One of them was a stranger, dressed in a Wallachian gunya, long shoes, and with a broad reticule dangling at his side. He looked forty years old and, so far as it was possible to distinguish his figure and features in the twilight, seemed to be a strong, well-built man, with a tolerably plump face, on which at that moment no small traces of fear could be detected and something of that uncomfortable hesitation which is apt to overtake a man in a large foreign city which he visits for the very first time.
The other was an honest Mussulman about thirty years old, with a thick, coal-black beard and passionate, irritable features, whose true character was very fairly reflected in his pair of flashing black eyes. His turban was drawn deep down over his temples, obliterating his eyebrows completely, which made him look more truculent than ever.
The stranger seemed to be going towards the Etmeidan, the other man to be coming from it. The former let the latter pass, by squeezing himself against the wall, and only ventured to address him when he perceived that he had no evil intentions towards him.
"I prythee, pitiful Mussulman, be not wrath with me, but tell me where the Etmeidan piazza is."
The person so accosted instantly stopped short, and fixing the interrogator with a stony look, replied angrily:
"Go straight on and you'll be there immediately."
At these words the knees of the questioner smote together.
"Woe is me! worthy Mussulman, I prythee be not wrath, I did not ask thee where the Etmeidan was because I wanted to go there, but to avoid straying into it. I am a stranger in this city, and in my terror I have been drawing near to the very place I want to avoid. I prythee leave me not here all by myself. Every house is fast closed. Not one of the khans will let me in at this hour. Take me home with you, I will not be a burden upon you, I can sleep in your courtyard, or in your cellar, if only I may escape stopping in the streets all night, for I am greatly afraid."
The Turk so addressed was carrying in one hand a knapsack woven out of rushes. This he now opened and cast a glance into it, as if he were taking counsel with himself whether the fish and onions he had just bought in the market-place for his supper would be sufficient for two people. Finally he nodded his head as if he had made up his mind at last.
"Very well, come along!" said he, "and follow me!"
The stranger would have kissed his hand, he could not thank his new friend sufficiently.
"You had better wait to see what you are going to get before you thank me," said the Turk; "you will find but scanty cheer with me, for I am only a poor man."
"Oh, as for that, I also am poor, very poor indeed," the new-comer hastened to reply with the crafty obsequiousness peculiar to the Greek race. "My name is Janaki, and I am a butcher at Jassy. The kavasses have laid their hands upon my apprentice and all my live-stock at the same time, and that is why I have come to Stambul. I shall be utterly beggared if I don't get them back."
"Well, Allah aid thee. Let us make haste, for it is already dark."
And then, going on in front to show the way, he led the stranger through the narrow winding labyrinth of baffling lanes and alleys which lead to the Hebdomon Palace, formerly the splendid residence of the Greek Emperors, but now the quarter where the poorest and most sordid classes of the populace herd together. The streets here are so narrow that the tendrils of the vines and gourds growing on the roofs of the opposite houses meet together, and form a natural baldachino for the benefit of the foot-passenger below.
Suddenly, on reaching the entrance of a peculiarly long and narrow lane, the loud-sounding note of a song, bawled by someone coming straight towards them, struck upon their ears. It was some drunken man evidently, but whoever the individual might be, he was certainly the possessor of a tremendous pair of lungs, for he could roar like a buffalo, and not content with roaring, he kept thundering at the doors of all the houses he passed with his fists.
"Alas! worthy Mussulman, I suppose this is some good-humoured Janissary, eh?" stammered the new-comer with a terrified voice.
"Not a doubt of it. A peace-loving man would not think of making such a bellowing as that."
"Would it not be as well to turn back?"
"We might meet a pair of them if we went another way. Take this lesson from me: Never turn back from the path you have once taken, as otherwise you will only plunge into still greater misfortunes."
Meanwhile they were drawing nearer and nearer to the bellowing gentleman, and before long his figure came full into view.
And certainly his figure was in every respect worthy of his voice. He was an enormous, six-foot high, herculean fellow, with his shirt-sleeves rolled up to his shoulders, and the disorderly appearance of his dolman and the crooked cock of his turban more than justified the suspicion that he had already taken far more than was good for him of that fluid which the Prophet has forbidden to all true believers.
"Gel, gel! Ne miktar dir, gel!" ("Come along the whole lot of you!") roared the Janissary with all his might, staggering from one side of the lane to the other, and flourishing his naked rapier in the air.
"Woe is me, my brave Mussulman!" faltered the Wallachian butcher in a terrified whisper, "wouldn't it be as well if you were to take my stick, for he might observe that I had it, and fancy I want to fight him with it."
The Turk took over the stick of the butcher as the latter seemed to be frightened of it.
"H'm! this stick of yours is not a bad one. I see that the head of it is well-studded with knobs, and that it is weighted with lead besides. What a pity you don't know how to make use of it!"
"I am only too glad if people will let me live in peace."
"Very well, hide behind me, and come along boldly, and when you pass him don't so much as look at him."
The Wallachian desired nothing better, but the Janissary had already caught sight of him from afar, and as, clinging fast to his guide's mantle, he was about to slip past the man of war, the Janissary suddenly barred the way, seized him by the collar with his horrible fist, and dragged the wretched creature towards him.
"Khair evetlesszin domusz!" ("Not so fast, thou swine!") "a word in thine ear! I have just bought me a yataghan. Stretch forth thy neck! I would test my weapon upon thee and see whether it is sharp."
The poor fellow was already half-dead with terror. With the utmost obsequiousness he at once began unfastening his neck-cloth, whimpering at the same time something about his four little children: what would become of them when they had nobody to care for them.
But his conductor intervened defiantly.
"Take yourself off, you drunken lout, you! How dare you lay a hand upon my guest. Know you not that he who harms the guest of a true believer is accursed?"
"Na, na, na!" laughed the Janissary mockingly, "are you mad, my worthy Balukji, that you bandy words with the flowers of the Prophet's garden, with Begtash's sons, the valiant Janissaries? Get out of my way while you are still able to go away whole, for if you remain here much longer, I'll teach you to be a little more obedient."
"Let my guest go in peace, I say, and then go thine own way also!"
"Why, what ails you, worthy Mussulman? Has anyone offended thee? Mashallah! what business is it of thine if I choose to strike off the head of a dog? You can pick up ten more like him in the street any time you like."
The Turk, perceiving that it would be difficult to convince a drunken man by mere words, drew nearer to him, and grasped the hand that held the yataghan.
"What do you want?" cried the Janissary, fairly infuriated at this act of temerity.
"Come! Go thy way!"
"Do you know whose hand thou art grasping? My name is Halil."
"Mine also is Halil."
"Mine is Halil Pelivan—Halil the Wrestler!"
"Mine is Halil Patrona."
By this time the Janissary was beside himself with rage at so much opposition.
"Thou worm! thou crossed-leg, crouching huckster, thou pack-thread pedlar! if thou dost not let me go immediately, I will cut off thy hands, thy feet, thine ears, and thy nose, and then hang thee up."
"And if thou leave not go of my guest, I will fell thee to the earth with this stick of mine."
"What, thou wilt fell me? Me? A fellow like thou threaten to strike Halil Pelivan with a stick? Strike away then, thou dog, thou dishonourable brute-beast, thou dregs of a Mussulman! strike away then, strike here, if thou have the courage!"
And with that he pointed at his own head, which he flung back defiantly as if daring his opponent to strike at it.
But Halil Patrona's courage was quite equal even to such an invitation as that, and he brought down the leaded stick in his hand so heavily on the Janissary's head that the fellow's face was soon streaming with blood.
Pelivan roared aloud at the blow, and, shaking his bloody forehead, rushed upon Patrona like a wounded bear, and disregarding a couple of fresh blows on the arms and shoulders which had the effect, however, of making him drop his yataghan, he grasped his adversary with his gigantic hands, lifted him up, and then hugged him with the embrace of a boa-constrictor. But now it appeared that Patrona also was by no means a novice in the art of self-defence, for clutching with both hands the giant's throat, he squeezed it so tightly that in a few seconds the Janissary began to stagger to and fro, finally falling backwards to the ground, whereupon Patrona knelt upon his breast and plucked from his beard a sufficient number of hairs to serve him as a souvenir. Pelivan, overpowered by drink and the concussion of his fall, slumbered off where he lay, while Patrona with his guest, who was already half-dead with fright, hastened to reach his dwelling.
After traversing a labyrinth of narrow, meandering lanes, and zig-zagging backwards and forwards through all kinds of gardens and rookeries, Halil Patrona arrived at last at his own house.
Were we to speak of "his own street door," we should be betraying a gross ignorance of locality, for in the place where Patrona lived the mere idea of a street never presented itself to anybody's imagination. There was indeed no such thing there. The spot was covered by half a thousand or so of wooden houses, mixed together, higgledy-piggledy, so inextricably, that the shortest way to everybody's house was through his neighbour's passage, hall, or courtyard, and inasmuch as the inmates of whole rows of these houses were in the habit of living together in the closest and most mysterious harmony, every house was so arranged that the inhabitants thereof could slip into the neighbouring dwelling at a moment's notice. In some cases, for instance, the roofs were continuous; in others the cellars communicated, so that if ever anyone of the inhabitants were suddenly pursued, he could, with the assistance of the roofs, passages, and cellars, vanish without leaving a trace behind him.
Halil Patrona's house was of wood like the rest. It consisted of a single room, yet this was a room which could be made to hold a good deal. It had a fire-place also, and if perhaps a chance guest were a little fastidious, he could at any rate always make sure of a good bed on the roof, which was embowered in vine leaves. There was certainly no extravagant display of furniture inside. A rush-mat in the middle of the room, a bench covered with a carpet in the corner, a few wooden plates and dishes, a jug on a wooden shelf, and a couple of very simple cooking-utensils in the fire-place—that was all. From the roof of the chamber hung an earthenware lamp, which Patrona kindled with an old-fashioned flint and steel. Then he brought water in a round-bellied trough for his guest to wash his hands, fetched drinking-water from the well in a long jug, whereupon he drew forward his rush-woven market-basket, emptied its contents on to the rush-mat, sat him down opposite honest Janaki, and forthwith invited his guest to fall to.
There was nothing indeed but a few small fish and a few beautiful rosy-red onions, but Halil had so much to say in praise of the repast, telling his guest where and how these fish were caught, and in what manner they ought to be fried so as to bring out the taste; how you could find out which of them had hard roes and which soft; what different sorts of flavours there are in the onion tribe, far more, indeed, than in the pine-apple; and then the pure fresh water too—why the Koran from end to end is full of the praises of fresh pure water, and Halil knew all these passages by heart, and had no need to look in the holy book for them. And then, too, he had so many interesting tales to tell of travellers who had lost their way in the desert and were dying for a drop of water, and how Allah had had compassion upon them and guided them to the springs of the oasis—so that the guest was actually entrapped into imagining that he had just been partaking of the most magnificent banquet, and he enjoyed his meat and drink, and arose from his rush-carpet well satisfied with himself and with his host.
I'll wager that Sultan Achmed, poor fellow! felt far less contented when he rose from his gorgeous and luxurious sofa, though the tables beside it were piled high with fruits and sweetmeats, and two hundred odalisks danced and sang around it.
"And now let us go to sleep!" said Halil Patrona to his guest. "I know that slumber is the greatest of all the joys which Allah has bestowed upon mankind. In our waking hours we belong to others, but the land of dreams is all our own. If your dreams be good dreams, you rejoice that they are good, and if they be evil dreams, you rejoice that they are but dreams. The night is nice and warm, you can sleep on the house-top, and if you pull your rope-ladder up after you, you need not fear that anybody will molest you."
Janaki said "thank you!" to everything, and very readily clambered to the top of the roof. There he found already prepared for him the carpet and the fur cushion on which he was to sleep. Plainly these were the only cushion and carpet obtainable in the house, and the guest observing that these were the very things he had noticed in the room below, exclaimed to Halil Patrona:
"Oh, humane Chorbadshi, you have given me your own carpet and pillow; on what will you sleep, pray?"
"Do not trouble your head about me, muzafir! I will bring forth my second carpet and my second cushion and sleep on them."
Janaki peeped through a chink in the roof, and observed how vigorously Halil Patrona performed his ablutions, and how next he went through his devotions with even greater conscientiousness than his ablutions, whereupon he produced a round trough, turned it upside down, laid it upon the rush-mat, placed his head upon the trough, and folding his arms across his breast, peacefully went to sleep in the Prophet.
The next morning, when Janaki awoke and descended to Halil, he gave him a piece of money which they call a golden denarius.
"Take this piece of money, worthy Chorbadshi," said he, "and if you will permit me to remain beneath your roof this day also, prepare therewith a mid-day meal for us both."
Halil hastened with the money to the piazza, bargained and chaffered for all sorts of eatables, and made it a matter of conscience to keep only a single copper asper of the money entrusted to him. Then he prepared for his guest pilaf, the celebrated Turkish dish consisting of rice cooked with sheep's flesh, and brought him from the booths of the master-cooks and master-sugar-bakers, honey-cakes, dulchas, pistachios, sweet pepper-cakes filled with nuts and stewed in honey, and all manner of other delicacies, at the sight and smell of which Janaki began to shout that Sultan Achmed could not be better off. Halil, however, requested him not to mention the name of the Sultan quite so frequently and not to bellow so loudly.
That night, also, he made his guest mount to the top of the roof, and having noticed during the preceding night that the Greek had been perpetually shifting his position, and consequently suspecting that he was little used to so hard a couch, Halil took the precaution of stripping off his own kaftan beforehand and placing it beneath the carpet he had already surrendered to his guest.
Early next morning Janaki gave another golden denarius to Halil.
"Fetch me writing materials!" said he, "for I want to write a letter to someone, and then with God's help I will quit your house and pursue my way further."
Halil departed, went a-bargaining in the bazaar, and returned with what he had been sent for. He calculated his outlay to a penny in the presence of his guest. The kalem (pen) was so much, so much again the muerekob (ink), and the muehuer (seal) came to this and that. The balance he returned to Janaki.
As for Janaki he went up on to the roof again, there wrote and sealed his letter, and thrust it beneath the carpet, and then laying hold of his stick again, entreated Halil, with many thanks for his hospitality, to direct him to the Pera road whence, he said, he could find his way along by himself.
Halil willingly complied with the petition of his guest, and accompanied him all the way to the nearest thoroughfare. When now Janaki beheld the Bosphorus, and perceived that the road from this point was familiar to him, so that he needed no further assistance, he suddenly exclaimed:
"Look now, my friend! an idea has occurred to me. The letter I have just written on your roof has escaped my memory entirely. I placed it beneath the carpet, and beside it lies a purse of money which I meant to have sent along with the letter. Now, however, I cannot turn back for it. I pray you, therefore, go back to your house, take this letter together with the purse, and hand them both over to the person to whom they are addressed—and God bless you for it!"
Halil at once turned round to obey this fresh request as quickly as possible.
"Give also the money to him to whom it belongs!" said the Greek.
"You may be as certain that it will reach him as if you gave it to him yourself."
"And promise me that you will compel him to whom the letter is addressed to accept the money."
"I will not leave his house till he has given me a voucher in writing for it, and whenever you come back again to me here you will find it in my possession."
"God be with you then, honest Mussulman!"
Halil straightway ran home, clambered up to the roof by means of the rope-ladder, found both the letter and the money under the carpet, rejoiced greatly that they had not been stolen during his absence, and thrusting them both into his satchel of reeds without even taking the trouble to look at them, hastened off to the bazaar with them, where there was an acquaintance of his, a certain money-changer, who knew all about every man in Stambul, in order that he might find out from him where dwelt the man to whom the letter entrusted to him by the stranger was addressed.
Accordingly he handed the letter to the money-changer in order that he might give him full directions without so much as casting an eye upon the address himself.
The money-changer examined the address of the letter, and forthwith was filled with amazement.
"Halil Patrona!" cried he, "have you been taking part in the Carnival of the Giaours that you have allowed yourself to be so befooled? Or can't you read?"
"Read! of course I can. But I don't fancy I can know the man to whom this letter is directed."
"Well, all I can say is that you knew him very well indeed this time yesterday, for the man is yourself—none other."
Halil, full of astonishment, took the letter, which hitherto he had not regarded—sure enough it was addressed to himself.
"Then he who gave me this letter must needs be a madman, and there is a purse which I have to hand over along with it."
"Yes, I see that your name is written on that also."
"But I have nothing to do with either the purse or the letter. Of a truth the man who confided them to me must have been a lunatic."
"It will be best if you break open the letter and read it, then you will know what you have got to do with it."
This was true enough. The best way for a man to find out what he has to do with a letter addressed to him is, certainly, to open and read it.
And this is what was written in the letter.
"WORTHY HALIL PATRONA!
"I told you that I was a poor man, but that was not true; on the contrary, I am pretty well to do, thank God! Nor do I wander up and down on the face of the earth in search of herds of cattle stolen from me, but for the sake of my only daughter, who is dearer to me than all my treasures, and now also I am in pursuit of her, following clue after clue, in order that I may discover her whereabouts and, if possible, ransom her. You have been my benefactor. You fought the drunken Janissary for my sake, you shared your dwelling with me, you made me lie on your own bed while you slept on the bare ground, you even took off your kaftan to make my couch the softer. Accept, therefore, as a token of my gratitude, the slender purse accompanying this letter. It contains five thousand piastres, so that if ever I visit you again I may find you in better circumstances. God help you in all things!
"Your grateful servant,
"Now, didn't I say he was mad?" exclaimed Halil, after reading through the letter. "Who else, I should like to know, would have given me five thousand piastres for three red onions?"
Meanwhile, attracted by the noise of the conversation, a crowd of the acquaintances of Halil Patrona and the money-changer had gathered around them, and they laid their heads together and discussed among themselves for a long time the question which was the greater fool of the two—Janaki, who had given five thousand piastres for three onions, or Halil who did not want to accept the money.
Yet Halil it was who turned out to be the biggest fool, for he immediately set out in search of the man who had given him this sum of money. But search and search as he might he could find no trace of him. If he had gone in search of someone who had stolen a like amount, he would have been able to find him very much sooner.
In the course of his wanderings, he suddenly came upon the place where three days previously he had had his tussle with Halil Pelivan. He recognised the spot at once. A small dab of blood, the remains of what had flowed from the giant's head, was still there in the middle of the lane, and on the wall of the house opposite both their names were written. In all probability the Janissary, when he picked himself up again, had dipped his finger in his own blood, and then scrawled the names upon the wall in order to perpetuate the memory of the incident. He had also taken good care to put Halil Pelivan uppermost and Halil Patrona undermost.
"Nay, but that is not right," said Halil to himself; "it was you who were undermost," and snatching up the fragment of a red tile he wrote his name above that of Halil Pelivan.
He hurried and scurried about till late in the evening without discovering a single trace of Janaki, and by that time his head was so confused by all manner of cogitations that when, towards nightfall, he began chaffering for fish in the Etmeidan market, he would not have been a bit surprised if he had been told that every single carp cost a thousand piastres.
He began to perceive, however, that he would have to keep the money after all, and the very thought of it kept him awake all night long.
Next day he again strolled about the bazaars, and then directed his steps once more towards that house where he had chalked up his name the day before. And lo! the name of Pelivan was again stuck at the top of his own.
"This must be put a stop to once for all," murmured Halil, and beckoning to a load-carrier he mounted on to his shoulders and wrote his name high up, just beneath the eaves of the house on a spot where Pelivan's name could not top his own again, from whence it is manifest that there was a certain secret instinct in Halil Patrona which would not permit him to take the lower place or suffer him to recognise anybody as standing higher than himself. And as he, pursuing his way home, passed by the Tsiragan Palace, and there encountered riding past him the Padishah, Sultan Achmed III., accompanied by the Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Damad, the Kiaja Beg, the Kapudan Pasha, and the chief Imam, Ispirizade; and as he humbly bowed his head in the dust before them, it seemed to him as if something at the bottom of his heart whispered to him: "The time will come when the whole lot of you will bow your heads before me in the dust just as I, Halil Patrona, the pedlar, do obeisance to you now, ye lords of the Empire and the Universe!"
Fortunately for Halil Patrona, however, he did not raise his face while the suite of the Lords of the Universe swept past him, for otherwise it might have happened that Halil Pelivan, who went before the Sultan with a drawn broadsword, might have recognised him, and certainly nobody would have taken particular trouble to inquire why the Janissary had split in two the head of this or that pedlar who happened to come in his way.
GUEL-BEJAZE—THE WHITE ROSE.
The booth of Halil Patrona, the pedlar, stood in the bazaar. He sold tobacco, chibooks, and pipe-stems, but his business was not particularly lucrative. He did not keep opium, although that was beginning to be one of the principal articles of luxury in the Turkish Empire. From the very look of him one could see that he did not sell the drug. For Halil had determined that he would never have any of this soul-benumbing stuff in his shop, and whenever Halil made any resolution he generally kept it. Oftentimes, sitting in the circle of his neighbours, he would fall to discoursing on the subject, and would tell them that it was Satan who had sent this opium stuff to play havoc among the true believers. It was, he would insist, the offscouring of the Jinns, and yet Mussulmans did not scruple to put the filth into their mouths and chew and inhale it! Hence the ruin that was coming upon them and their posterity and the whole Moslem race. His neighbours let him talk on without contradiction, but they took good care to sell as much opium themselves as possible, because it brought in by far the largest profits. Surely, they argued among themselves, because an individual cuts his throat with a knife now and then, that is no reason why knives in general should not be kept for sale in shops? It was plain to them that Halil was no born trader. Yet he was perfectly satisfied with the little profit he made, and it never occurred to him to wish for anything he had not got.
Consequently when he now found himself the possessor of five thousand piastres, he was very much puzzled as to what he should do with such a large amount. The things he really desired were far, far away, quite out of his reach in fact. He would have liked to lead fleets upon the sea and armies marshalled in battle array. He would have liked to have built cities and fortresses. He would have liked to have raised up and cast down pashas, dispensed commands, and domineered generally. But a beggarly five thousand piastres would not go very far in that direction. It was too much from one point of view and too little from another, so that he really was at a loss what to do with it.
His booth looked out upon that portion of the bazaar where there was a vacant space separated from the trading booths by lofty iron railings. This vacant space was a slave-market. Here the lowest class of slaves were freely offered for sale. Every day Halil saw some ten to twenty of these human chattels exhibited in front of his booth. It was no new sight to him.
In this slave-market there were none of those pathetic scenes which poets and romance writers are so fond of describing when, for instance, the rich traders of Dirbend offer to the highest bidder miracles of loveliness, to be the sport of lust and luxury, beautiful Circassian and Georgian maidens, whose cheeks burn with shame at the bold rude gaze of the men, and whose eyes overflow with tears when their new masters address them. There was nothing of the sort in this place. This was but the depository of used up, chucked aside wares, of useless Jessir, such as dry and wrinkled old negresses, worn-out, venomous nurses, human refuse, so to speak, to whom it was a matter of the most profound indifference what master they were called upon to serve, who listened to the slang of the auctioneer with absolute nonchalance as he circumstantially totted up their years and described their qualities, and allowed their would-be purchasers to examine their teeth and manipulate their arms and legs as if they were the very last persons concerned in the business on hand.
On the occasion of the first general auction that had come round after the departure of Janaki from Halil, the pedlar was sitting as usual before his booth in the bazaar when the public crier appeared in the slave-market, leading by the hand a veiled female slave, and made the following announcement in a loud voice:
"Merciful Mussulmans! Lo! I bring hither from the harem of his Majesty the Sultan, an odalisk, who is to be put up to public auction by command of the Padishah. The name of this odalisk is Guel-Bejaze; her age is seventeen years, she has all her teeth, her breath is pure, her skin is clean, her hair is thick, she can dance and sing, and do all manner of woman's handiwork. His shall she be who makes the highest bid, and the sum obtained is to be divided among the dervishes. Two thousand piastres have already been promised for her; come hither and examine her—whoever gives the most shall have her."
"Allah preserve us from the thought of purchasing this girl," observed the wiser of the merchants, "why that would be the same thing as purchasing the wrath of the Padishah for hard cash," and they wisely withdrew into the interiors of their booths. They knew well enough what was likely to happen to the man who presumed to buy an odalisk who had been expelled from the harem of the Sultan. Anyone daring to do such a thing might just as well chalk up the names of the four avenging angels on the walls of his house, or trample on his talisman with his slippers straight away. It was not the act of a wise man to pick up a flower which the Sultan had thrown away in order to inhale its fragrance.
The public crier remained in the middle of the bazaar alone with the slave-girl; the chapmen had not only retired into their shops but barred the doors behind them. "Much obliged to you; but we would not accept such a piece of good luck even as a gift," they seemed to say.
Only one man still remained in front of his shop, and that was Halil Patrona. He alone had the courage to scrutinise the slave-girl carefully.
Perchance he felt compassion for this slave. He could not but perceive how the poor thing was trembling beneath the veil which covered her to the very heels. Nothing could be seen of her but her eyes, and in those eyes a tear was visible.
"Come! bring her into my shop!" said Halil to the public crier; "don't leave her out in the public square there for everybody to stare at her."
"Impossible!" replied the public crier. "As I value my head I must obey my orders, and my orders are to take her veil from off her head in the auction-yard, where the ordinary slaves are wont to be offered for sale, and there announce the price set upon her in the sight and hearing of all men."
"What crime has this slave-girl committed that she should be treated so scurvily?"
"Halil Patrona!" answered the public crier, "it will be all the better for my tongue and your ears if I do not answer that question. I simply do what I have been told to do. I unveil this odalisk, I proclaim what she can do, to what use she can be put. I neither belittle her nor do I exalt her. I advise nobody to buy her and I advise nobody not to buy her. Allah is free to do what He will with us all, and that which has been decreed concerning each of us ages ago must needs befall." And with these words he whisked away the veil from the head of the odalisk.
"By the Prophet! a beauteous maid indeed! What eyes! A man might fancy they could speak, and if one gazed at them long enough one could find more to learn there than in all that is written in the Koran! What lips too! I would gladly remain outside Paradise if by so doing I might gaze upon those lips for ever. And what a pale face! Well does she deserve the name of Guel-Bejaze! Her cheeks do indeed resemble white roses! And one can see dewdrops upon them, as is the way with roses!—the dewdrops from her eyes! And what must such eyes be like when they laugh? What must that face be like when it blushes? What must that mouth be like when it speaks, when it sighs, when it trembles with sweet desire?"
Halil Patrona was quite carried away by his enthusiasm.
"Carry her not any further," he said to the public crier, "and show her to nobody else, for nobody else would dare to buy her. Besides, I'll give you for her a sum which nobody else would think of offering, I will give five thousand piastres."
"Be it so!" said the crier, veiling the maid anew; "you have seen her, anyhow, bring your money and take the girl!"
Halil went in for his purse, handed it over to the crier (it held the exact amount to a penny), and took the odalisk by the hand—there she stood alone with him.
Halil Patrona now lost not a moment in locking up his shop, and taking the odalisk by the hand led her away with him to his poor lonely dwelling-place.
All the way thither the girl never uttered a word.
On reaching the house Halil made the girl sit down by the hearth, and then addressed her in a tender, kindly voice.
"Here is my house, whatever you see in it is mine and yours. The whole lot is not very much it is true, but it is all our own. You will find no ornaments or frankincense in my house, but you can go in and out of it as you please without asking anybody's leave. Here are two piastres, provide therewith a dinner for us both."
The worthy Mussulman then returned to the bazaar, leaving the girl alone in the house. He did not return home till the evening.
Meanwhile Guel-Bejaze had made the two piastres go as far as they could, and had supper all ready for him. She placed Halil's dish on the reed-mat close beside him, but she herself sat down on the threshold.
"Not there, but come and sit down by my side," said Halil, and seizing the trembling hand of the odalisk, he made her sit down beside him on the cushion, piled up the pilaf before her, and invited her with kind and encouraging words to fall to. The odalisk obeyed him. Not a word had she yet spoken, but when she had finished eating, she turned towards Halil and murmured in a scarce audible voice,
"For six days I have eaten nought."
"What!" exclaimed Halil in amazement, "six days! Horrible! And who was it, pray, that compelled you to endure such torture?"
"It was my own doing, for I wanted to die."
Halil shook his head gravely.
"So young, and yet to desire death! And do you still want to die, eh?"
"Your own eyes can tell you that I do not."
Halil had taken a great fancy to the girl. He had never before known what it was to love any human being; but now as he sat there face to face with the girl, whose dark eyelashes cast shadows upon her pale cheeks, and regarded her melancholy, irresponsive features, he fancied he saw a peri before him, and felt a new man awakening within him beneath this strange charm.
Halil could never remember the time when his heart had actually throbbed for joy, but now that he was sitting down by the side of this beautiful maid it really began to beat furiously. Ah! how truly sang the poet when he said: "Two worlds there are, one beneath the sun and the other in the heart of a maid."
For a long time he gazed rapturously on the beauteous slave, admiring in turn her fair countenance, her voluptuous bosom, and her houri-like figure. How lovely, how divinely lovely it all was! And then he bethought him that all this loveliness was his own; that he was the master, the possessor of this girl, at whose command she would fall upon his bosom, envelop him with the pavilion, dark as night, of her flowing tresses, and embrace him with arms of soft velvet. Ah! and those lips were not only red but sweet; and that breast was not only snow-white but throbbing and ardent—and at the thought his brain began to swim for joy and rapture.
And yet he did not even know what to call her! He had never had a slave-girl before, and hardly knew how to address her. His own tongue was not wont to employ tender, caressing words; he knew not what to say to a woman to make her love him.
"Guel-Bejaze!" he murmured hoarsely.
"I await your commands, my master!"
"My name is Halil—call me so!"
"Halil, I await your commands!"
"Say nothing about commanding. Sit down beside me here! Come, sit closer, I say!"
The girl sat down beside him. She was quite close to him now.
But the worst of it was that, even now, Halil had not the remotest idea what to say to her.
The maid was sad and apathetic, she did not weep as slave-girls are wont to do. Halil would so much have liked the girl to talk and tell him her history, and the cause of her melancholy, then perhaps it would have been easier for him to talk too. He would then have been able to have consoled her, and after consolation would have come love.
"Tell me, Guel-Bejaze!" said he, "how was it that the Sultan had you offered for sale in the bazaar."
The girl looked at Halil with those large black eyes of hers. When she raised her long black lashes it was as though he gazed into a night lit up by two black suns, and thus she continued gazing at him for a long time fixedly and sadly.
"That also you will learn to know, Halil," she murmured.
And Halil felt his heart grow hotter and hotter the nearer he drew to this burning, kindling flame; his eyes flashed sparks at the sight of so much beauty, he seized the girl's hand and pressed it to his lips. How cold that hand was! All the more reason for warming it on his lips and on his bosom; but, for all his caressing, the little hand remained cold, as cold as the hand of a corpse.
Surely that throbbing breast, those provocative lips, are not as cold?
Halil, intoxicated with passion, embraced the girl, and as he drew her to his breast, as he pressed her to him, the girl murmured to herself—it sounded like a gentle long-drawn-out sigh:
And then the girl's long black hair streamed over her face, and when Halil smoothed it aside from the fair countenance to see if it had not grown redder beneath his embrace—behold! it was whiter than ever. All trace of life had fled from it, the eyes were cast down, the lips closed and bluish. Dead, dead—a corpse lay before him!
But Halil would not believe it. He fancied that the girl was only pretending. He put his hand on her fair bosom—but he could not hear the beating of the heart. The girl had lost all sense of feeling. He could have done with her what he would. A dead body lay in his bosom.
An ice-cold feeling of horror penetrated Halil's heart, altogether extinguishing the burning flame of passion. All tremulously he released the girl and laid her down. Then he whispered full of fear:
"Awake! I will not hurt you, I will not hurt you."
Her light kaftan had glided down from her bosom; he restored it to its place and, awe-struck, he continued gazing at the features of the lovely corpse.
After a few moments the girl opened her lips and sighed heavily, and presently her large black eyes also opened once more, her lips resumed their former deep red hue, her eyes their enchanting radiance, her face the delicate freshness of a white rose, once more her bosom began to rise and fall.
She arose from the carpet on which Halil had laid her, and set to work removing and re-arranging the scattered dishes and platters. Only after a few moments had elapsed did she whisper to Halil, who could not restrain his astonishment:
"And now you know why the Padishah ordered me to be sold like a common slave in the bazaar. The instant a man embraces me I become as dead, and remain so until he lets me go again, and his lips grow cold upon mine and his heart abhors me. My name is not Guel-Bejaze, the White Rose, but Guel-Olue, the Dead Rose."
The sun is shining through the windows of the Seraglio, the two Ulemas who are wont to come and pray with the Sultan have withdrawn, and the Kapu-Agasi, or chief doorkeeper, and the Anakhtar Oglan, or chief key-keeper, hasten to open the doors through which the Padishah generally goes to his dressing-room, where already await him the most eminent personages of the Court, to wit, the Khas-Oda-Bashi, or Master of the Robes, the Chobodar who hands the Sultan his first garment, the Duelbendar who ties the shawl round his body, the Berber-Bashi who shaves his head, the Ibrikdar Aga who washes his hands, the Peshkiriji Bashi who dries them again, the Serbedji-Bashi who has a pleasant potion ready for him, and the Ternakdji who carefully pares his nails. All these grandees do obeisance to the very earth as they catch sight of the face of the Padishah making his way through innumerable richly carved doors on his way to his dressing-chamber.
This robing-room is a simple, hexagonal room, with lofty, gold-entrellised window; its whole beauty consists in this, that the walls are inlaid with amethysts, from whose jacinth-hued background shine forth the more lustrous raised arabesques formed by topazes and dalmatines. Precious stones are the delight of the Padishah. Every inch of his garments is resplendent with diamonds, rubies, and pearls, his very fingers are hidden by the rings which sparkle upon them. Pomp is the very breath of his life. And his countenance well becomes this splendour. It is a mild, gentle, radiant face, like the face of a father when he moves softly among his loving children. His large, melancholy eyes rest kindly on the face of everyone he beholds; his smooth, delicate forehead is quite free from wrinkles. It would seem as if it could never form into folds, as if its possessor could never be angry; there is not a single grey hair in his well-kept, long black beard; it would seem as if he knew not the name of grief, as if he were the very Son of Happiness.
And so indeed he was. For seven-and-twenty years he had sat upon the throne. It is possible that during these seven-and-twenty years many changes may have taken place in the realm which could by no means call for rejoicing, but Allah had blessed him with such a happy disposition as to make him quite indifferent to these unfortunate events, in fact, he did not trouble his head about them at all. Like the true philosopher he was, he continued to rejoice in whatsoever was joyous. He loved beautiful flowers and beautiful women—and he had enough of both and to spare. His gardens were more splendid than the gardens of Soliman the Magnificent, and that his Seraglio was no joyless abode was demonstrated by the fact that so far he was the happy father of one-and-thirty children.
He must have had exceptionally pleasant dreams last night, or his favourite Sultana, the incomparably lovely Adsalis, must have entertained him with unusually pleasant stories, or perchance a new tulip must have blossomed during the night, for he extended his hand to everyone to kiss, and when the Berber-Bashi proceeded comfortably to adjust the cushions beneath him, the Sultan jocosely tapped the red swelling cheeks of his faithful servant—cheeks which the worthy Bashi had taken good care of even in the days when he was only a barber's apprentice in the town of Zara, but which had swelled to a size worthy even of the rank of a Berber-Bashi, since his lot had fallen in pleasant places.
"Allah watch over thee, and grant that thy mouth may never complain against thy hand, worthy Berber-Bashi. What is the latest news from the town?"
It would appear from this that the barbers in Stambul also, even when they rise to the dignity of Berber-Bashis, are expected to follow the course of public events with the utmost attention, in order to communicate the most interesting details thereof to others, and thus relieve the tedium invariably attendant upon shaving.
"Most mighty and most gracious One, if thou deignest to listen to the worthless words which drop from the mouth of thine unprofitable servant with those ears of thine created but to receive messages from Heaven, I will relate to thee what has happened most recently in Stambul."
The Sultan continued to play with his ring, which he had taken off one finger to slip on to another.
"Thou hast laid the command upon me, most puissant and most gracious Padishah," continued the Berber-Bashi, unwinding the pearl-embroidered kauk from the head of the Sultan—"thou hast laid the command upon me to discover and acquaint thee with what further befell Guel-Bejaze after she had been cast forth from thy harem. From morn to eve, and again from eve to morning, I have been searching from house to house, making inquiries, listening with all my ears, mingling among the chapmen of the bazaars disguised as one of themselves, inducing them to speak, and ferreting about generally, till, at last, I have got to the bottom of the matter. For a long time nobody dared to buy the girl; it is indeed but meet that none should dare to pick up what the mightiest monarch of the earth has thrown away; it is but meet that the spot where he has cast out the ashes from his pipe should be avoided by all men, and that nobody should venture to put the sole of his foot there. Yet, nevertheless, in the bazaar, one madly presumptuous man was found who was lured to his destruction at the sight of the girl's beauty, and received her for five thousand piastres from the hand of the public crier. These five thousand piastres were all the money he had, and he got them, in most wondrous wise, from a foreign butcher whom he had welcomed to his house as a guest."
"What is the name of this man?"?
"And what happened after that?"
"The man took the girl home, whose beauty, of a truth, was likely to turn the head of anybody. He knew not what had happened to her at the Seraglio, in the kiosks of the Kiaja Beg and the Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Damad and in the harem of the White Prince. For, verily, it is a joy to even behold the maiden, and it would be an easy matter to lose one's wits because of her, especially if one did not know that this fair blossom may be gazed at but not plucked, that this beautiful form which puts even the houris of Paradise to shame, suddenly becomes stiff and dead at the contact of a man's hand, and that neither the warmth of the sun-like face of the Padishah, nor the fury of the Grand Vizier, nor the thongs of the scourge of the Sultana Asseki, nor the supplications of the White Prince, can awaken her from her death-like swoon."
"And didst thou discover what happened to the girl after that?"
"Blessed be every word concerning me which issues from thy lips oh, mighty Padishah! Yes, I went after the girl. The worthy shopkeeper took the maiden home with him. It rejoiced him that he could give to her everything that was there. He made her sit down beside him. He supped in her company. Then he would have embraced her. So he drew her to his bosom, and immediately the girl collapsed in his arms like a dead thing, as she is always wont to do whenever a man touches her, at the same time uttering certain magical talismanic words of evil portent, from which may the Prophet guard every true believer! For she spoke the name of that holy woman whose counterfeit presentment the Giaours carry upon their banners, and whose name they pronounce when they go forth to war against the true believers."
"Was he who took her away wrath thereat?"
"Nay, on the contrary, he seemed well satisfied that it should be so, and ever since then he has left the girl in peace. He regards her as a peri, as one who is not in her right mind, and therefore should be dealt gently with. She is free to go about the house as she likes. Halil will never permit her to do any rough work, nay, rather, will he do everything himself, with his own hands, so that all his acquaintances already begin to speak of him as a portent, and his patience has become a proverb in their mouths. Halil they say took unto himself a slave-woman, and lo! he has himself become that slave-woman's slave."
"Of a truth it is a remarkable case," observed the Padishah; "try and find out what turn the affair takes next. And the Teskeredji Bashi shall record everything that thou sayest for an eternal remembrance."
During this speech the Berber-Bashi had artistically completed the official dressing of the Padishah's head, whereupon the Ibrikdar Aga came forward to wash his hands, the Peshkiriji Bashi carefully dried them with a towel, the Ternakdji Bashi pared his nails, the Duelbendar placed the pearl-embroidered kauk on the top of his head, and adjusted the long eastern shawl round his waist, the Chobodar handed him his upper jacket, the binis heavy with turquoise, the Silihdar buckled on his tasselled sword, and then everyone, after performing the usual salaams withdrew, except the Khas-Oda-Bashi and the Kapu-Agasi, who remained alone with their master.
The Khas-Oda-Bashi announced that the two humblest of the Sultan's servants, Abdullah, the Chief Mufti, and Damad Ibrahim, the Grand Vizier, were waiting on their knees for an audience in the vestibule of the Seraglio. They desired, he said, to communicate important news touching the safety and honour of the Empire.
The Sultan had not yet given an answer when, through the door leading from the harem, popped the Kizlar-Aga, the chief eunuch, a respectable, black-visaged gentleman with split lips, who had the melancholy privilege of passing in and out of the Sultan's harem at all hours of the day and night, and finding no pleasure therein.
"Kizlar-Aga, my faithful servant! what dost thou want?" inquired Achmed going to meet him, and raising him from the ground whereon he had thrown himself.
"Most gracious Padishah!" cried the Kizlar-Aga, "the flower cannot go on living without the sun, and the most lovely of flowers, that most fragrant blossom, the Sultana Asseki, longs to bask in the light of thy countenance."
At these words the features of Achmed grew still more gentle, still more radiant with smiles. He signified to the Khas-Oda-Bashi and the Kapu-Agasi that they should withdraw into another room, while he dispatched the Kizlar-Aga to bring in the Sultana Asseki.
Adsalis, for so they called her, was a splendid damsel of Damascus. She had been lavishly endowed with every natural charm. Her skin was whiter than ivory and smoother than velvet. Compared with her dark locks the blackest night was but a pale shadow, and the hue of her full smiling face put to shame the breaking dawn and the budding rose. When she gazed upon Achmed with those eyes of hers in which a whole rapturous world of paradisaical joys glowed and burned, the Padishah felt his whole heart smitten with sweet lightnings, and when her voluptuously enchanting lips expressed a wish, who was there in the wide world who would have the courage to gainsay them? Certainly not Achmed! Ah, no! "Ask of me the half of my realm!"—that was the tiniest of the flattering assurances which he was wont to heap upon her. If he were but able to embrace her, if he were but able to look into her burning eyes, if he were but able to see her smile again and again, then he utterly forgot Stambul, his capital, the host, the war, and the foreign ambassadors—and praised the Prophet for such blessedness.
The favourite Sultana approached Achmed with that enchanting smile which was eternally irresistible so far as he was concerned, and never permitted an answer approaching a refusal to even appear on the lips of the Sultan.
What pressing request could it be? Why it was only at dawn of this very day that the Padishah had quitted her! What vision of rapture could she have seen since then whose realisation she had set her heart upon obtaining?
The Sultan, taking her by the hand, conducted her to his purple ottoman, and permitted her to sit down at his feet; the Sultana folded her hands on the knees of the Padishah, and raising her eyes to his face thus addressed him:
"I come from thy daughter, little Eminah, she has sent me to thee that I may kiss thy feet instead of her. As often as I see thee, majestic Khan, it is as though I see her face, and as often as I behold her it is thy face that stands before me. She resembles thee as a twinkling star resembles a radiant sun. Three years of her life has she accomplished, she has now entered upon her fourth summer, and still no husband has been destined for her. This very morning when thou hadst turned thy face away from me I saw a vision. And this was the vision I saw. Thy three children, Aisha, Hadishra, and Eminah, were sitting in the open piazza, beneath splendid, sparkling pavilions. There were three pavilions standing side by side: the first was white, the second violet, and the third of a vivid green. In these three pavilions, I say, the princesses, thy daughters, were sitting, clothed in kapanijaks of cloth of silver, with round selmiks on their heads, and embellished with the seven lucky circles which bring the blessings of prosperity to womenkind. Thou knowest what these circles are, oh Padishah! They are the ishtifan or diadem, the necklace, the ear-ring, the finger-ring, the girdle, the bracelet, and the mantle-ring-clasp—the seven gifts of felicity, oh Padishah, that the bridegroom giveth to the bride. Beside these pavilions, moreover, were a countless multitude of other tents—of three different hues of blue and three different hues of green—and in these tents abode a great multitude of Emir Defterdars, Reis-Effendis, Muderises, and Sheiks. And in front of the Seraglio were set up three lofty palm-trees, which elephants drew about on great wheeled cars, and there were three gardens there, the flowers whereof were made of sugar, and then the chiefs of the viziers arose and the celebration of the festival began. After the usual kissing of hands, the nuptials were proceeded with, the Kiaja representing the bridegroom and the Kizlar-Aga the bride, and everyone received a present. Then came the bridal retinue with the bridal gifts, a hundred camels laden with flowers and fruits, and an elephant bearing gold and precious stones and veils meet for the land of the peris. Two eunuchs brought mirrors inlaid with emeralds, and the miri achorok held the reins of splendidly caparisoned chargers. After them came the attendants of the Grand Vizier, and delighted the astonished eyes of the spectators with a display of slinging. Then came the wine-carriers with their wine-skins, and in a pavilion set up for the purpose wooden men sported with a living centaur. There also were the Egyptian sword and hoop dancers, the Indian jugglers and serpent charmers, after whom came the Chief Mufti, who read aloud a verse from the Koran in the light of thy countenance, and gave also the interpretation thereof in words fair to listen to. Then followed fit and capable men from the arsenal, dragging along on rollers huge galleys in full sail, and after them the topijis, dragging after them, likewise on rollers, a fortress crammed full of cannons, which also they fired again and again to the astonishment of the multitude. Thereupon began the dancing of the Egyptian opium-eaters, which was indeed most marvellous, and after them there was a show of bears and apes, which sported right merrily together. Close upon these came the procession of the Guilds and the junketing of the Janissaries, and last of all the Feast of Palms, which palms were carried to the very gates of the Seraglio, along with the sugar gardens I have already spoken of. Then there was the Feast of Lamps, in which ten thousand shining lamps gleamed among twenty thousand blossoming tulips, so that one might well have believed that the lamps were blossoming and the tulips were shining. And all the while the cannons of the Anatoli Hisar and the Rumili Hisar were thundering, and the Bosphorus seemed to be turned into a sea of fire by reason of the illuminated ships and the sparkling fireworks. Such then was the dream of the humblest of thy slaves at dawn of the 12th day of the month Dzhemakir, which day is a day of good omen to the sons of Osman."
It might have been thought a tiresome matter to listen to such long, drawn-out visions as this to the very end, but Achmed was a good listener, and, besides, he delighted in such things. Nothing made him so happy as great festivals, and the surest way of gaining his good graces was by devising some new pageant of splendour, excellence, and originality unknown to his predecessors. Adsalis had won his favour by inventing the Feast of Lamps and Tulips, which was renewed every year. This Feast of Palms, moreover, was another new idea, and so also was the idea of the sugar garden. So Achmed, in a transport of enthusiasm, pressed the favourite Sultana to his bosom, and swore solemnly that her dream should be fulfilled, and then sent her back into the harem.
And now the Kizlar-Aga admitted the two dignitaries who had been waiting outside. The Chief Mufti entered first, and after him came the Grand Vizier, Damad Ibrahim. Both of them had long, flowing, snow-white beards and grave venerable faces.
They bowed low before the Sultan, kissed the hem of his garment, and lay prostrate before him till he raised them up again.
"What brings you to the Seraglio, my worthy counsellors?" inquired the Sultan.
As was meet and right, the Chief Mufti was the first to speak.
"Most gracious, most puissant master! Be merciful towards us if with our words we disturb the tranquil joys of thy existence! For though slumber is a blessing, wary wakefulness is better than slumber, and he who will not recognise the coming of danger is like unto him who would rob his own house. It will be known unto thee, most glorious Padishah, that a few years ago it pleased Allah, in his inscrutable wisdom, to permit the Persian rebel, Esref, to drive his lawful sovereign, Tamasip, from his capital. The prince became a fugitive, and the mother of the prince, dressed in rags, was reduced to the wretched expedient of doing menial service in the streets of Ispahan for a livelihood. The glory of the Ottoman arms could not permit that a usurper should sit at his ease on the stolen throne, and thy triumphant host, led by the Vizier Ibrahim and the virtuous Kueprili, the descendant of the illustrious Nuuman Kueprili, wrested Kermandzasahan from Persia and incorporated it with thy dominions. And then it pleased the Prophet to permit marvellous things to happen. Suddenly Shah Tamasip, whom all men believed to be ruined—suddenly, I say, Shah Tamasip reappeared at the head of a handful of heroes and utterly routed the bloody Esref Khan in three pitched battles at Damaghan, Derechar, and Ispahan, put him to flight, and the hoofs of the horses of the victor trod the rebel underfoot. And now the restored sovereign demands back from the Ottoman Empire the domains which had been occupied. His Grand Vizier, Safikuli Khan, is advancing with a large army against the son of Kueprili, and the darkness of defeat threatens to obscure the sun-like radiance of the Ottoman arms. Most puissant Padishah! suffer not the tooth of disaster to gnaw away at thy glory! The Grand Vizier and I have already gathered together thy host on the shores of the Bosphorus. They are ready, at a moment's notice, to embark in the ships prepared for them. Money and provisions in abundance have been sent to the frontier for the gallant Nuuman Kueprili on the backs of fifteen hundred camels. It needs but a word from thee and thine empire will become an armed hand, one buffet whereof will overthrow another empire. It needs but a wink of thine eye and a host of warriors will spring from the earth, just as if all the Ottoman heroes, who died for their country four centuries ago, were to rise from their graves to defend the banner of the Prophet. But that same banner thou shouldst seize and bear in thine own hand, most glorious Padishah! for only thy presence can give victory to our arms. Arise, then, and gird upon thy thigh the sword of thy illustrious ancestor Muhammad! Descend in the midst of thy host which yearns for the light of thy countenance, as the eyes of the sleepless yearn for the sun to rise, and put an end to the long night of waiting."
Achmed's gentle gaze rested upon the speaker abstractedly. It seemed as if, while the Chief Mufti was speaking, he had not heard a single word of the passionate discourse that had been addressed to him.
"My faithful servants!" said he, smiling pleasantly, "this day is to me a day of felicity. The Sultana Asseki at dawn to-day saw a vision worthy of being realised. A dazzling festival was being celebrated in the streets of Stambul, and the whole city shone in the illumination thereof. The gardens of the puspang-trees and the courtyards of the kiosks around the Sweet Waters were bright with the radiance of lamps and tulips. Waving palm-trees and gardens full of sugar-flowers traversed the streets, and galleys and fortresses perambulated the piazzas on wheels. That dream was too lovely to remain a dream. It must be made a reality."
The Chief Mufti folded his hands across his breast and bent low before the Padishah.
"Allah Akbar! Allah Kerim! God is mighty. Be it even as thou dost command! May the sun rise in the west if it be thy will, oh Padishah!" And the Chief Mufti drew aside and was silent.
But the aged Grand Vizier, Damad Ibrahim, came forward, and drying his tearful eyes with the corner of his kaftan, stood sorrowfully in front of the Padishah. And these were his words:
"Oh! my master! Allah hath appointed certain days for rejoicing, and certain other days for mourning, and 'tis not well to confuse the one with the other. Just now there is no occasion for rejoicing, but all the more occasion for mourning. Woeful tidings, like dark clouds presaging a storm, are coming in from every corner of the Empire—conflagrations, pestilences, earthquakes, inundations, hurricanes—alarm and agitate the people. Only this very week the fairest part of Stambul, close to the Chojabasha, was burnt to the ground; and only a few weeks ago the same fate befell the suburb of Ejub along the whole length of the sea-front, and that, too, at the very time when the other part of the city was illuminated in honour of the birthday of Prince Murad. In Gallipoli a thunder-bolt struck the powder-magazine, and five hundred workmen were blown into the air. The Kiagadehane brook, in a single night, swelled to such an extent as to inundate the whole valley of Sweet Waters, and a whole park of artillery was swept away by the flood. And know also, oh Padishah, that, but the other day, a new island rose up from the sea beside the island of Santorin, and this new island has grown larger and larger during three successive months, and all the time it was growing, the ground beneath Stambul quaked and trembled. These are no good omens, oh, my master! and if thou wilt lend thine ears to the counsel of thy faithful servant, thou wilt proclaim a day of penance and fasting instead of a feast-day, for evil days are coming upon Stambul. The voice of the enemy can be heard on all our borders, from the banks of the Danube as well as from beside the waters of the Pruth, from among the mountains of Erivan as well as from beyond the islands of the Archipelago; and if every Mussulman had ten hands and every one of the ten held a sword, we should still have enough to do to defend thy Empire. Bear, oh Padishah! with my grey hairs, and pardon my temerity. I see Stambul in the midst of flames every time it is illuminated for a festival, and full of consternation, I cry to thee and to the Prophet, 'Send us help and that right soon.'"
Sultan Achmed continued all the time to smile most graciously.
"Worthy Ibrahim!" said he at last, "thou hast a son, hast thou not, whose name is Osman, and who has now attained his fourth year. Now I have a daughter, Eminah, who has just reached her third year. Lo now! as my soul liveth, I will not gird on the Sword of the Prophet, I will not take in my hand the Banner of Danger until I have given these young people to each other in marriage. Long ago they were destined for each other, and the multiplication of thy merits demands the speedy consummation of these espousals. I have sworn to the Sultana Asseki that so it shall be, and I cannot go back from my oath as though I were but an unbelieving fire-worshipper, for the fire-worshippers do not regard the sanctity of an oath, and when they take an oath or make a promise they recite the words thereof backwards, and believe they are thereby free of their obligations. It beseemeth not the true believers to do likewise. I have promised that this festival shall be celebrated, and it is my desire that it should be splendid."
Ibrahim sighed deeply, and it was with a sad countenance that he thanked the Padishah for this fresh mark of favour. Yet the betrothal might so easily have been postponed, for the bridegroom was only four years old and the bride was but three.
"Allah Kerim! God grant that thy shadow may never grow less, most mighty Padishah!" said Damad Ibrahim, and with that he kissed the hand of the Grand Seignior, and both he and the Chief Mufti withdrew.
At the gate of the Seraglio the Chief Mufti said to the Grand Vizier sorrowfully:
"It had been better for us both had we never grown grey!"
But Sultan Achmed, accompanied by the Bostanjik, hastened to the gardens of the grove of puspang-trees to look at his tulips.
THE SLAVE OF THE SLAVE-GIRL.
Worthy Halil Patrona had become quite a by-word with his fellows. The name he now went by in the bazaars was: The Slave of the Slave-Girl. This did not hurt him in the least; on the contrary, the result was, that more people came to smoke their chibooks and buy tobacco at his shop than ever. Everybody was desirous of making the acquaintance of the Mussulman who would not so much as lay a hand upon a slave-girl whom he had bought with his own money, nay more, who did all the work of the house instead of her, just as if she had bought him instead of his buying her.
In the neighbourhood of Patrona dwelt Musli, a veteran Janissary, who filled up his spare time by devoting himself to the art of slipper-stitching. This man often beheld Halil prowling about on the house-top in the moonlit nights where Guel-Bejaze was sleeping, and after sitting down within a couple of paces of her, remain there in a brown study for hours at a time, often till midnight, nay, sometimes till daybreak. With his chin resting in the palm of his hand there he would stay, gazing intently at her charming figure and her pale but beautiful face. Frequently he would creep closer to her, creep so near that his lips would almost touch her face; but then he would throw back his head again, and if at such times the slave-girl half awoke from her slumbers, he would beckon to her to go to sleep again—nobody should disturb her.
Halil did not trouble his head in the least about all this gossip. It was noticed, indeed, that his face was somewhat paler than it used to be, but if anyone ventured to jest with him on the subject, face to face, he was very speedily convinced that Halil's arms, at any rate, were no weaker than of yore.
One day he was sitting, as usual, at the door of his booth, paying little attention to the people coming and going around him, and staring abstractedly with wide and wandering eyes into space, as if his gaze was fixed upon something above his head, when somebody who had approached him so softly as to take him quite unawares, very affectionately greeted him with the words:
"Well, my dear Chorbadshi, how are you?"
Patrona looked in the direction of the voice, and saw in front of him his mysterious guest of the other day—the Greek Janaki.
"Ah, 'tis thou, musafir! I searched for you everywhere for two whole days after you left me, for I wanted to give you back the five thousand piastres which you were fool enough to make me a present of. It was just as well, however, that I did not find you, and I have long ceased looking for you, for I have now spent all the money."
"I am glad to hear it, Halil, and I hope the money has done you a good turn. Are you willing to receive me into your house as a guest once more?"
"With pleasure! But you must first of all promise me two things. The first is, that you will not contrive by some crafty device to pay me something for what I give you gratis; and the second is, that you will not expect to stay the night with me, but will wander across the street and pitch your tent at the house of my worthy neighbour Musli, who is also a bachelor, and mends slippers, and is therefore a very worthy and respectable man."
"And why may I not sleep at your house?"
"Because you must know that there are now two of us in the house—I and my slave-girl."
"That will not matter a bit, Halil. I will sleep on the roof, and you take the slave-girl down with you into the house."
"It cannot be so, Janaki! it cannot be."
"Why can it not be?"
"Because I would rather sleep in a pit into which a tiger has fallen, I would rather sleep in the lair of a hippopotamus, I would rather sleep in a canoe guarded by alligators and crocodiles, I would rather spend a night in a cellar full of scorpions and scolopendras, or in the Tower of Surem, which is haunted by the accursed Jinns, than pass a single night in the same room with this slave-girl."
"Why; what's this, Halil? you fill me with amazement. Surely, it cannot be that you are that Mussulman of whom all Pera is talking?—the man I mean who purchased a slave-girl in order to be her slave?"
"It is as you say. But 'twere better not to talk of that matter at all. Those five thousand piastres of yours are the cause of it; they have ruined me out and out. My mind is going backwards I think. When people come to my shop to buy wares of me, I give them such answers to their questions that they laugh at me. Let us change the subject, let us rather talk of your affairs. Have you found your daughter yet?"
It was now Janaki's turn to sigh.
"I have sought her everywhere, and nowhere can I find her."
"How did you lose her?"
"One Saturday she went with some companions on a pleasure excursion in the Sea of Marmora in a sailing-boat. Their music and dancing attracted a Turkish pirate to the spot, and in the midst of a peaceful empire he stole all the girls, and contrived to dispose of them so secretly that I have never been able to find any trace of them. I am now disposed to believe that she was taken to the Sultan's Seraglio."
"You will never get her out of there then."
Janaki sighed deeply.
"You think, then, that I shall never get at her if she is there?" and he shook his head sadly.
"Not unless the Janissaries, or the Debejis, or the Bostanjis lay their heads together and agree to depose the Sultan."
"Who would even dare to think of such a thing, Halil?"
"I would if my daughter were detained in the harem against her will and against mine also. But that is not at all in your line, Janaki. You have never shed any blood but the blood of sheep and oxen, but let me tell you this, Janaki: if I were as rich a man as you are, trust me for finding a way of getting my girl out of the very Seraglio itself. Wealth is a mightier force than valour."
"I pray you, speak not so loudly. One of your neighbours might hear you, and would think nothing of felling me to the earth to get my money. For I carry a great deal of money about with me, and am always afraid of being robbed of it. In front of the bazaar a slave is awaiting me with a mule. On the back of that mule are strung two jars seemingly filled with dried dates. Let me tell you that those jars are really half-filled with gold pieces, the dates are only at the top. I should like to deposit them at your house. I suppose your slave-girl will not pry too closely?"
"You can safely leave them with me. If you tell her not to look at them she will close her eyes every time she passes the jars."
Meanwhile Patrona had closed his booth and invited his guest to accompany him homewards. On the way thither he looked in at the house of his neighbour, the well-mannered Janissary, who mended slippers. Musli willingly offered Halil's guest a night's lodging. In return Patrona invited him to share with him a small dish of well-seasoned pilaf and a few cups of a certain forbidden fluid, which invitation the worthy Janissary accepted with alacrity.
And now they crossed Halil's threshold.
Guel-Bejaze was standing by the fire-place getting ready Halil's supper when the guests entered, and hearing footsteps turned round to see who it might be.
The same instant the Greek wayfarer uttered a loud cry, and pitching his long hat into the air, rushed towards the slave-girl, and flinging himself down on his knees before her fell a-kissing, again and again, her hands and arms, and at last her pale face also, while the girl flung herself upon his shoulder and embraced the fellow's neck; and then the pair of them began to weep, and the words, "My daughter!" "My father!" could be heard from time to time amidst their sobs.
Halil could only gaze at them open-mouthed.
But Janaki, still remaining on his knees, raised his hands to Heaven, and gave thanks to God for guiding his footsteps to this spot.
"Allah Akbar! The Lord be praised!" said Patrona in his turn, and he drew nearer to them. "So her whom you have so long sought after you find in my house, eh? Allah preordained it. And you may thank God for it, for you receive her back from me unharmed by me. Take her away therefore!"
"You say not well, Halil," cried the father, his face radiant with joy. "So far from giving her back to me you shall keep her; yes, she shall remain yours for ever. For if I were thrice to traverse the whole earth and go in a different direction each time, I certainly should not come across another man like you. Tell me, therefore, what price you put upon her that I may buy her back, and give her to you to wife as a free woman?"
Halil did not consider very long what price he should ask, so far as he was concerned the business was settled already. He cast but a single look on Guel-Bejaze's smiling lips, and asked for a kiss from them—that was the only price he demanded.
Janaki seized his daughter's hand and placed it in the hand of Halil.
And now Halil held the warm, smooth little hand in his own big paw, he felt its reassuring pressure, he saw the girl smile, he saw her lips open to return his kiss, and still he did not believe his eyes—still he shuddered at the reflection that when his lips should touch hers, the girl would suddenly die away, become pale and cold. Only when his lips at last came into contact with her burning lips and her bosom throbbed against his bosom, and he felt his kiss returned and the warm pulsation of her heart, then only did he really believe in his own happiness, and held her for a long—oh, so long!—time to his own breast, and pressed his lips to her lips over and over again, and was happier—happier by far—than the dwellers in Paradise.