F. MARION CRAWFORD
Author of "A Roman Singer," "To Leeward," "An American Politician," "Saracinesca," Etc.
New York The MacMillan Company London: MacMillan & Co., Ltd. 1911
All rights reserved
Copyright, 1887, by F. Marion Crawford.
Copyright, 1892, by F. Marion Crawford.
First published elsewhere. Reprinted with corrections, April, 1893; June, 1894; June, 1899; July, 1906; January, 1912.
Norwood Press J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Norwood Mass. U.S.A.
My dear lady—my dear friend—you have asked me to tell you a story, and I am going to try, because there is not anything I would not try if you asked it of me. I do not yet know what it will be about, but it is impossible that I should disappoint you; and if the proverb says, "Needs must when the devil drives," I can mend the proverb into a show of grace, and say, The most barren earth must needs bear flowers when an angel sows the seed.
When you asked for the story I could only find a dry tale of my own doings, which I detailed to you somewhat at length, as we cantered down into the Valley of the Sweet Waters. The south wind was warm this afternoon, though it brought rain with it and wetted us a little as we rode; it was soft and dreamy, and made everything look sleepy, and misty, and a little uncertain in outline. Baghdad sniffed it in his deep red nostrils, for it was the wind of his home; but Haroun al Raschid shook the raindrops restlessly from his gray mane, as though he hated to be damp, and was thinking longingly of the hot sand and the desert sun. But he had no right to complain, for water must needs come in the oases,—and truly I know of no fairer and sweeter resting-place in life's journey than the Valley of the Sweet Waters above the Golden Horn.
That same south wind—when I think, it is a point or two easterly, and it seems to smell of Persia—well, that same soft wind is blowing at my windows now in the dark night, and is murmuring, sometimes almost complaining, then dying away in a fitful, tearful sigh, sorry even to weeping for its restless fate, sorry perhaps for me and sighing for me. God knows, there is enough to sigh for in this working-day world, is there not? I have heard you sigh, too, very sadly, as though something hurt you, although you are so bright and young and fair. The wind sighs hopelessly, in great sobs of weariness and despair, for he is filled with the ghosts of the past; but your breath has a music in it that is more like the song of the sunrise that used to break out from the heart of the beautiful marble at dawn.
Poor wind! He is trying to speak to me through the pines,—perhaps he is bringing a message. It is long since any one brought me a message I cared to hear. I will open the door to the terrace and let him in, and see what he has to say.
Truly, he speaks great words:—
"I am the belt and the girdle of this world. I carry in my arms the souls of the dead and the sins of them; the souls of them that have not yet lived, with their deeds, are in my bosom. I am sorrowful with the sorrow of ages, and strong with the strength of ages yet unlived. What is thy sorrow to my sorrow, or thy strength to my strength? Listen.
"Knowest thou whence I come, or whither I go? Fool, thou knowest not even of thyself what thou shalt do to-morrow, and it may be that on the next day I shall have thy soul, to take it away, and hold it, and buffet it, and tear it as I will. Fool, thou knowest little! The gardens of Persia are sweet this night; this night the maidens of Hindustan have gone forth to greet the new moon, and I am full of their soft prayers and gentle thoughts, for I am come from them. But the north, whither I go, is cold and cruel, full of snow and darkness and gloom. Along the lands where I will pass I shall see men and women dying in the frost, and little children, too, poor and hungry, and shivering out the last breathings of a wretched life; and some of them I will take with me this night, to my journey's end among the ice-floes and the brown, driving mists of the uttermost north. Dost thou wonder that I am sad?
"That is thy life. Thou art come from the sweet-scented gardens of thy youth, thou must go to the ice desert of thine old age; and now thou art full of strength and boastfulness, and thinkest thou shalt perchance be the first mortal who shall cheat death. Go to! Thou shalt die like the rest, the more miserably that thou lovest life more than the others."
The wind is in an ill humor to-night; I should not have thought he could say such hard things. But he is a hopeless old cynic, even when he blows warm from the south; he has seen so much and done so much, and has furnished so many metaphors to threadbare poets, that he believes in nothing good, or young, or in any way fresh. He is bad company, and I have shut the window again. You asked me for a story, and you are beginning to wonder why I do not tell you one. Do you like long stories or short stories? Sad or gay? True or fanciful? What shall it be? My true stories are all sad, but the ones I imagine are often merry. Could I not think of one true, and gay as well? There was once a bad old man who said that when the truth ceased to be solemn it became dull. Between solemnity and dullness you would not find what you want, which, I take it, is a little laughter, a little sadness, and, when it is done, the comfortable assurance of your own senses that you have been amused, and not bored. The bad old gentleman was right. When our lives are not filled with great emotions they are crammed with insignificant details, and one may tell them ever so well, they will be insignificant to the end. But the fancy is a great store-house, filled with all the beautiful things that we do not find in our lives. My dear friend, if true love were an every-day phenomenon, experienced by everybody, it would cease to be in any way interesting; people would be so familiar with it that it would bore them to extinction; they would have it for breakfast, dinner, and supper as a matter of course, and would be as fastidious of its niceties as an Anglo-Indian about the quality of the pepper. It is because only one man or woman in a hundred thousand is personally acquainted with the sufferings of true-love fever that the other ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine take delight in observing the contortions and convulsions of the patient. It is a great satisfaction to them to compare the slight touch of ague they once had when they were young with the raging sickness of a breaking heart; to see a resemblance between the tiny scratch upon themselves, which they delight in irritating, and the ghastly wound by which the tortured soul has sped from its prison.
To tell the truth, they are not so very much to blame. Even the momentary reflection of love is a good thing; at least, it is better than to know nothing of it. One can fancy that a violin upon which no one had ever played would yet be glad to vibrate faintly in unison with the music of a more favored neighbor; it would bring a sensation of the possibility of music. The stronger harmony is caught up and carried on forever in endless sound waves, but the slight responsive murmur of the passive strings is lost and forgotten.
And now you will tell me that I am making phrases. That is my profession: I am a twister of words; I torture language by trade. You know it, for you have known me a long time, and, if you will pardon my vanity, or rudeness, I observe that my mode of putting the dictionary on the rack amuses you. The fact that you ask for a story shows that well enough. I am a plain man, and there never was any poetry in me, but I have seen it in other people, and I understand why some persons like it. As for stories, I have plenty of them. I, Paul Griggs, have seen a variety of sights, and I have a good memory. There is the south-east wind again. I was speaking of love, a moment ago,—there is a story of the wind falling in love. There is a garden of roses far away to the east, where a maiden lies asleep; the roses have no thorns in that garden, and they grow softly about her and make a pillow for her fair head. A blustering wind came once and nearly waked her, but she was so beautiful that he fell deep in love; and he turned into the softest breeze that ever fanned a woman's cheek in summer, for fear lest he should trouble her sleep. There was a poor woman in rags, in the streets of London, on that March night, but she could not soften the heart of the cruel blast for all her shivering and praying; for she was very poor and wretched, and never was beautiful, even when she was young.
That is a short tale, and it has no moral application, for it is too common a truth. If people would only act directly on things instead of expecting the morality of their cant phrases to act for them, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to pay their bills, and to save their souls into the bargain, what a vast deal of good would be done, and what an incalculable amount of foolish talk would be spared! But there is a diplomatic spirit abroad in our day, and it is necessary to enter into polite relations with a drowning man before it is possible to pull him out of the water.
But the story, you say,—where is it? Forgive me. I am rusty and ponderous at the start, like an old dredger that has stuck too long in the mud. Let me move a little and swing out with the tide till I am in clearer waters, and I will promise to bring up something pretty from the bottom of the sea for you to look at. I would not have you see any of the blackness that lies in the stagnant harbor.
I will tell you the story of Paul Patoff. I played a small part in it myself last summer, and so, in a certain way, it is a tale of my own experience. I say a tale, because it is emphatically a tale, and nothing else. I might almost call it a yarn, though the word would look strangely on a printed title-page. We are vain in our generation; we fancy we have discovered something new under the sun, and we give the name "novel" to the things we write. I will not insult literature by honoring this story with any such high-sounding designation. A great many of the things I am going to tell you were told to me, so that I shall have some difficulty in putting the whole together in a connected shape, and I must begin by asking your indulgence if I transgress all sorts of rules, and if I do not succeed in getting the interesting points into the places assigned to them by the traditional laws of art. I tell what happened, and I do not pretend to tell any more.
If places could speak, they would describe people far better than people can describe places. No two men agree together in giving an account of a country, of natural scenery, or of a city; and though we may read the most accurate descriptions of a place, and vividly picture to ourselves what we have never seen, yet, when we are at last upon the spot, we realize that we have known nothing about it, and we loudly blame the author, whose word-painting is so palpably false. People will always think of places as being full of poetry if they are in love, as being beautiful if they are well, hideous if they are ill, wearisome if they are bored, and gay if they are making money.
Constantinople and the Bosphorus are no exceptions to this general rule. People who live there are sometimes well and sometimes ill, sometimes rich and sometimes poor, sometimes in love with themselves and sometimes in love with each other. A grave Persian carpet merchant sits smoking on the quay of Buyukdere. He sees them all go by, from the gay French secretary of embassy, puffing at a cigarette as he hurries from one visit to the next, to the neat and military German diplomat, landing from his steam launch on his return from the palace; from the devil-may-care English youth in white flannel to the graceful Turkish adjutant on his beautiful Arab horse; from the dark-eyed Armenian lady, walking slowly by the water's edge, to the terrifically arrayed little Greek dandy, with a spotted waistcoat and a thunder-and-lightning tie. He sees them all: the Levantine with the weak and cunning face, the swarthy Kurdish porter, the gorgeously arrayed Dalmatian embassy servant, the huge, fair Turkish waterman in his spotless white dress, and the countless veiled Turkish women from the small harems of the little town, shuffling along in silence, or squatted peacefully upon a jutting point of the pier, veiled in yashmaks, the more transparent as they have the more beauty to show or the less ugliness to conceal. The carpet merchant sees them all, and sits like Patience upon a monumental heap of stuffs, waiting for customers and smoking his water-pipe. His eyes are greedy and his fingers are long, but the peace of a superior mendacity is on his brow, and in his heart the lawful price of goods is multiplied exceedingly.
By the side of the quay, separated from the quiet water by the broad white road, stand the villas, the embassies, the houses, large and small, a varying front, following the curve of the Bosphorus for half a mile between the Turkish towns of Buyukdere and Mesar Burnu. Behind the villas rise the gardens, terraces upon terraces of roses, laurels, lemons, Japanese medlars, and trees and shrubs of all sorts, with a stone pine or a cypress here and there, dark green against the faint blue sky. Beyond the breadth of smooth sapphire water, scarcely rippling under the gentle northerly breeze, the long hills of the Asian mainland stretch to the left as far as the mouth of the Black Sea, and to the right until the quick bend of the narrow channel hides Asia from view behind the low promontories of the European shore. Now and then a big ferry-boat puffs into sight, churning the tranquil waters into foam with her huge paddles; a dozen sailing craft are in view, from Lord Mavourneen's smart yawl to the outlandishly rigged Turkish schooner, her masts raking forward like the antlers of a stag at bay, and spreading a motley collection of lateen-sails, stay-sails, square top-sails, and vast spinnakers rigged out with booms and sprits, which it would puzzle a northern sailor to name. Far to the right, towards Therapia, glimmer the brilliant uniforms and the long bright oars of an ambassador's twelve-oared caique, returning from an official visit at the palace; and near the shore are loitering half a dozen barcas,—commodious row-boats, with awnings and cushioned seats,—on the lookout for a fare.
It is the month of June, and the afternoon air is warm and hazy upon the land, though a gentle northerly breeze is on the water, just enough to fill the sails of Lord Mavourneen's little yacht, so that by making many short tacks he may beat up to the mouth of the Black Sea before sunset. But his excellency the British ambassador is in no hurry; he would go on tacking in his little yawl to all eternity of nautical time, with vast satisfaction, rather than be bored and worried and harrowed by the predestinating servants of Allah, at the palace of his majesty the commander of the faithful. Even Fate, the universal Kismet, procrastinates in Turkey, and Lord Mavourneen's special mission is to out-procrastinate the procrastinator. For the present the little yawl is an important factor in his operations, and as he stands in his rough blue clothes, looking up through his single eyeglass at the bellying canvas, a gentle smile upon his strongly marked face betrays considerable satisfaction. Lord Mavourneen is a very successful man, and his smile and his yacht have been elements of no small importance in his success. They characterize him historically, like the tear which always trembles under the left eyelid of Prince Bismarck, like the gray overcoat of Bonaparte, the black tights and gloomy looks of Hamlet the Dane, or Richelieu's kitten. Lord Mavourneen is a man of action, but he can wait. When he came to Constantinople the Turks thought they could keep him waiting, but they have discovered that they are more generally kept waiting themselves, while his excellency is up the Bosphorus, beating about in his little yawl near the mouth of the Black Sea. His actions are thought worthy of high praise, but on some occasions his inaction borders upon the sublime. Of the men who moved along the Buyukdere quay, many paused and glanced out over the water at the white-sailed yawl, with the single streamer flying from the mast-head; and some smiled as they recognized the ambassadorial yacht, and some looked grave.
The sun sank lower towards the point where he disappears from the sight of the inhabitants of Buyukdere; for he is not seen to set from this part of the upper Bosphorus. He sinks early behind the wooded hills above Therapia, and when he is hidden the evening freshness begins, and the crowd upon the quay swells to a multitude, as the people from the embassies and villas sally forth to mount their horses or to get into their caiques.
Two young men came out of the white gates of the Russian embassy, and, crossing the road, stood upon the edge of the stone pier. They were brothers, but the resemblance was slight between them. The one looked like an Englishman, tall, fair, and rather angular, with hard blue eyes, an aquiline nose, a heavy yellow mustache concealing his mouth, and a ruddy complexion. He was extremely well dressed, and, though one might detect some awkwardness in his movements, his manner had that composure which comes from a great knowledge of the world, and from a natural self-possession and independence of character.
His brother, though older by a year, might have passed for being several years younger. He was in reality two and thirty years of age, but his clear complexion was that of a boy, his dark brown hair curled closely on his head, and his soft brown eyes had a young and trustful look in them, which contrasted strangely with his brother's hard and dominating expression. He was shorter, too, and more slender, but also more graceful; his hands and feet were small and well shaped. Nevertheless, his manner was at least as self-possessed as that of his tall brother, and there was something in his look which suggested the dashing, reckless spirit sometimes found in delicately constituted men. Alexander Patoff was a soldier, and had obtained leave to visit his younger brother Paul in Constantinople, where the latter held the position of second secretary in the Russian embassy. At first sight one would have said that Paul should have been the cavalry officer, and Alexander the diplomatist: but fate had ordered it otherwise, for the elder son had inherited the bulk of his father's fortune, and was, consequently, able to bear the expenses of a career in a guard regiment; while Paul, the younger, just managed to live comfortably the life of a fashionable diplomacy, by dint of economy and an intelligent use of his small income.
They were Russians, but their mother was an Englishwoman. Their father had married a Miss Anne Dabstreak, with whom he had fallen in love when in London, shortly before the Crimean War. She was a beautiful woman, and had a moderate portion. Old Patoff's fortune, however, was sufficient, and they had lived happily for ten years, when he had died very suddenly, leaving a comfortable provision for his wife, and the chief part of his possessions to Alexander Paolovitch Patoff, his eldest boy. Paul, he thought, showed even as a child the character necessary to fight his own way; and as he had since advanced regularly in the diplomacy, it seemed probable that he would fulfill his father's predictions, and die an embassador.
At the time when this story opens Madame Patoff was traveling in Switzerland for her health. She was not strong, and dared not undertake a journey to Constantinople at present. On the other hand, the climate of northern Russia suited her even less well in summer than in winter, and, to her great regret, her son Alexander, whom she loved better than Paul, as he was also more like herself, had persisted in spending his leave in a visit to his brother.
Madame Patoff had been surprised at Alexander's determination. Her sons were not congenial to each other. They had been brought up differently to different careers, which might partially account for the lack of sympathy between them, but in reality the evil had a deeper root. Madame Patoff had either never realized that Alexander had been the favored son, and that Paul had suffered acutely from the preference shown to his elder brother, or she had loved the latter too passionately to care to hide her preference. Alexander had been a beautiful child, full of grace, and gifted with that charm which in young children is not easily resisted. Paul was ugly in his boyhood, cold and reserved, rarely showing sympathy, and too proud to ask for what was not given him freely. Alexander was quick-witted, talented, and showy, if I may use so barbarous a word. Paul was slow at first, ungainly as a young foal, strong without grace, shy of attempting anything new to him, and not liking to be noticed. Both father and mother, as the boys grew up, loved the older lad, and spoiled him, while the younger was kept forever at his books, was treated coldly, and got little praise for the performance of his tasks. Had Paul possessed less real energy of character, he must have hated his brother; as it was, he silently disliked him, but inwardly resolved to outshine him in everything, laboring to that end from his boyhood, and especially after his father's death, with a dogged determination which promised success. The result was that, although Paul never outgrew a certain ungainliness of appearance, due to his large and bony frame, he nevertheless acquired a perfection of manner, an ease and confidence in conversation, which, in the end, might well impress people who knew him more favorably than the bearing of Alexander, whose soft voice and graceful attitudes began to savor of affectation when he had attained to mature manhood. As they stood together on the quay at Buyukdere, one could guess that, in the course of years, Alexander would be an irritable, peevish old dandy, while Paul would turn out a stern, successful old man.
They stood looking at the water, watching the caiques shoot out from the shore upon the bosom of the broad stream.
"Have you made up your mind?" asked Paul, without looking at his brother.
"Oh, yes. I do not care where we go. I suppose it is worth seeing?"
"Well worth seeing. You have never seen anything like it."
"Is it as fine as Easter Eve in Moscow?" asked Alexander, incredulously.
"It is different," said Paul. "It corresponds to our Easter Eve in some ways. All through the Ramazan they fast all day—never smoke, nor drink a glass of water, and of course they eat nothing—until sunset, when the gun is fired. During the last week there are services in Santa Sophia every night, and that is what is most remarkable. They go on until the news comes that the new moon has been seen."
"That does not sound very interesting," remarked Alexander, languidly, lighting a cigarette with a bit of yellow fuse that dangled from his heavy Moscow case.
"It is interesting, nevertheless, and you must see it. You cannot be here at this time and not see what is most worth seeing."
"Is there nothing else this evening?" asked Alexander.
"No. We have to respect the prejudices of the country a little. After all, we really have a holiday during this month. Nothing can be done. The people at the palace do not get up until one o'clock or later, so as to make the time while they fast seem shorter."
"Very sensible of them. I wonder why they get up at all, until their ridiculous gun fires, and they can smoke."
"Whether you like it or not, you must go to Santa Sophia to-night, and see the service," said Paul, firmly. "You need not stay long, unless you like."
"If you take me there, I will stay rather than have the trouble of coming away," answered the other. "Bah!" he exclaimed suddenly, "there is that caique again!"
Paul followed the direction of his brother's glance, and saw a graceful caique pulling slowly upstream towards them. Four sturdy Turks in snow-white cotton tugged at the long oars, and in the deep body of the boat, upon low cushions, sat two ladies, side by side. Behind them, upon the stern, was perched a hideous and beardless African, gorgeously arrayed in a dark tunic heavily laced with gold, a richly chased and adorned scimiter at his side, and a red fez jauntily set on one side of his misshapen head. But Alexander's attention was arrested by the ladies, or rather by one of them, as the caique passed within oar's length of the quay.
"She must be hideous," said Paul, contemptuously. "I never saw such a yashmak. It is as thick as a towel. You cannot see her face at all."
"Look at her hand," said Alexander. "I tell you she is not hideous."
The figures of the two ladies were completely hidden in the wide black silk garments they wore, the eternal ferigee which makes all women alike. Upon their heads they wore caps, such as in the jargon of fashion are called toques, and their faces were enveloped in yashmaks, white veils which cross the forehead above the eyes and are brought back just below them, so as to cover the rest of the face. But there was this difference; that whereas the veil worn by one of the ladies was of the thinnest gauze, showing every feature of her dark, coarse face through its transparent texture, the veil of the other was perfectly opaque, and disguised her like a mask. Paul Patoff justly remarked that this was very unusual. He had observed the same peculiarity at least twenty times; for in the course of three weeks, since Alexander arrived, the brothers had seen this same lady almost every day, till they had grown to expect her, and had exhausted all speculation in regard to her personality. Paul maintained that she was ugly, because she would not show her face. Alexander swore that she was beautiful, because her hand was young and white and shapely, and because, as he said, her attitude was graceful and her head moved well when she turned it. Concerning her hand, at least, there was no doubt, for as the delicate fingers stole out from the black folds of the ferigee their whiteness shone by contrast upon the dark silk; there was something youthful and nervous and sensitive in their shape and movement which fascinated the young Russian, and made him mad with curiosity to see the face of the veiled woman to whom they belonged. She turned her head a little, as the caique passed, and her dark eyes met his with an expression which seemed one of intelligence; but unfortunately all black eyes look very much alike when they are just visible between the upper and the lower folds of a thick yashmak, and Alexander uttered an exclamation of discontent.
Thereupon the hideous negro at the stern, who had noticed the stare of the two Russians, shook his light stick at Alexander, and hissed out something that sounded very like "Kiope 'oul kiopek,"—dog and son of a dog; the oarsmen grinned and pulled harder than ever, and the caique shot past the pier. Paul shrugged his shoulders contemptuously, but did not translate the Turkish ejaculation to his brother. A boatman stood lounging near them, leaning on a stone post, and following the retreating caique with his eyes.
"Ask that fellow who she is," said Alexander.
"He does not know," answered Paul. "Those fellows never know anything."
"Ask him," insisted his brother. "I am sure he knows." Paul was willing to be obliging, and went up to the man.
"Do you know who that Khanum is?" he asked, in Turkish.
"Bilmem,—I don't know," replied the man, without moving a muscle of his face.
"Do you know who her father is?"
"Allah bilir,—God knows. Probably Abraham, who is the father of all the faithful." Paul laughed.
"I told you he knew nothing about her," he said, turning to his brother.
"It did you no harm to ask," answered Alexander testily. "Let us take a caique and follow her."
"You may, if you please," said Paul. "I have no intention of getting myself into trouble."
"Nonsense! Why should we get into trouble? We have as good a right to row on the Bosphorus as they have."
"We have no right to go near them. It is contrary to the customs of the country."
"I do not care for custom," retorted Alexander.
"If you walked down the Boulevard des Italiens in Paris on Easter Day and kissed every woman you met, merely saying, 'The Lord is risen,' by way of excuse, as we do in Russia, you would discover that customs are not the same everywhere."
"You are as slow as an ox-cart, Paul," said Alexander.
"The simile is graceful. Thank you. As I say, you may do anything you please, as you are a stranger here. But if you do anything flagrantly contrary to the manners of the country, you will not find my chief disposed to help you out of trouble. We are disliked enough already,—hated expresses it better. Come along. Take a turn upon the quay before dinner, and then we will go to Stamboul and see the ceremony."
"I hate the quay," replied Alexander, who was now in a very bad humor.
"Then we will go the other way. We can walk through Mesar Burnu and get to the Valley of Roses."
"That sounds better."
So the two turned northwards, and followed the quay upstream till they came to the wooden steamboat landing, and then, turning to the left, they entered the small Turkish village of Mesar Burnu. While they walked upon the road Alexander could still follow the caique, now far ahead, shooting along through the smooth water, and he slackened his pace more slowly when it was out of sight. The dirty little bazaar of the village did not interest him, and he was not inclined to talk as he picked his way over the muddy stones, chewing his discontent and regretting the varnish of his neat boots. Presently they emerged from the crowd of vegetable venders, fishmongers, and sweetmeat sellers into a broad green lane between two grave-yards, where the huge silent trees grew up straight and sad from the sea of white tombstones which stood at every angle, some already fallen, some looking as though they must fall at once, some still erect, according to the length of time which had elapsed since they were set up. For in Turkey the headstones of graves are narrow at the base and broaden like leaves towards the top, and they are not set deep in the ground; so that they are top-heavy, and with the sinking of the soil they invariably fall to one side or the other.
Paul turned again, where four roads meet at a drinking fountain, and the two brothers entered the narrow Valley of Roses. The roses are not, indeed, so numerous as one might expect, but the path is beautiful, green and quiet, and below it the tinkle of a little stream is heard, flowing down from the spring where the lane ends. There they sat down beneath a giant tree on a beaten terrace, where a Kaffegee has his little shop. The water pours from the spring in the hillside into a great basin bordered with green, the air is cool, and there is a delicious sense of rest after leaving the noise and dust of the quay. Both men smoked and drank their coffee in silence. Paul could not help wishing that his brother would take a little more interest in Turkey and a little less in the lady of the thick yashmak; and especially he wished that Alexander might finish his visit without getting into trouble. He had successfully controlled him during three weeks, and in another fortnight he must return to Russia. Paul confessed to himself that his brother's visit was not an unmitigated blessing, and found it hard to explain the object of it. Indeed, it was so simple that his diplomatic mind did not find it out; for Alexander had merely said to himself that he had never seen Constantinople, and that, as his brother was there, in the embassy, he could see it under favorable circumstances, at a very moderate cost. He was impetuous, spoiled by too much flattery, and incapable of imagining that Paul could consider his visit in any light but that of a compliment. Accordingly he had come, and had enjoyed himself very much.
"Let us dine here," he said suddenly, as he finished his coffee.
"There is nothing to eat," answered Paul. "Coffee, cold water, and a few cakes. That is all, and that would hardly satisfy you."
"What a nuisance!" exclaimed the elder brother. "What a barbarous country this is! Nothing to eat but coffee, cold water, and cakes!"
"It is rather hard on the Turks to abuse them for not keeping restaurants in their woods," remarked Paul.
"I detest the Turks. I shall never forget the discomfort I had to put up with in the war. They might have learned something from us then; but they never learn anything. Come along. Let us go and dine in your rooms."
"It is impossible to be more discontented than you are," said Paul, rather bitterly. "It is utterly impossible to please you,—and yet you have most things which are necessary to happiness."
"I suppose you mean the money?" sneered his brother. But Paul kept his temper.
"I mean everything," he answered. "You have money, youth, good looks, and social success; and yet you can hardly see anything without abusing it."
"You forget that I do not know the name of the lady in the yashmak," objected Alexander.
Paul shrugged his shoulders, and said nothing. Both men rose, and began to go down the green lane, returning towards Mesar Burnu. By this time the sun had sunk low behind the western hills, and the cool of the evening had descended on the woods and the Valley of Roses. The green grass and the thick growth of shrubs took a darker color, and the first dampness of the dew was in the air. The two walked briskly down the path. Suddenly a turn in the narrow way brought them face to face with a party of three persons, strolling slowly towards them.
"Luck!" ejaculated Alexander. "Here they are again!"
He was right. There was no mistaking the lady with the thick, impenetrable veil, nor her companion, whose heavy dark face was distinctly visible through the thin Indian gauze. Behind them walked the hideous negro, swinging his light cane jauntily, but beginning to cast angry glances at the two Russians, whom he had already recognized. The way was very narrow, and the ladies saw that retreat was impossible. Paul bit his lip, fearing some foolish rashness on the part of his brother. As they all met, the ladies drew close to the hedge on one side of the path, their black attendant standing before them, as though to prevent the Giaours from even brushing against the wide silken ferigees of his charges. Paul pushed his brother in front of him, hoping that Alexander would have the sense to pass quietly by; but he trembled for the result.
Alexander moved slowly forward, turning his head as he passed, and looking long into the black eyes of the veiled lady.
"Pek guezel,—very pretty indeed," he said aloud, using the only words of Turkish he had learned in three weeks. But they were enough; the effect was instantaneous. Without a word and without hesitation, the tall negro struck a violent blow at Alexander with the light bamboo he carried. Paul, who was immediately behind his brother, saw the action and caught the man's hand in the air, but the end of the flexible cane flew down and knocked Alexander's hat from his head.
"Run!" cried Paul excitedly, as the negro struggled in his grip.
The two Turkish ladies laughed aloud. They were used to such adventures, but the spectacle of the negro beating a Frank gentleman was novel and refreshing. Alexander picked up his hat, but showed no disposition to move. The African struggled vainly in Paul's powerful arms.
"Go, I say!" cried the latter authoritatively. "There will be trouble if any one comes."
But Alexander had received a blow, and his blood was up. Moreover, he was a Russian, and utterly regardless of consequences,—or perhaps he only wanted to annoy his brother by a show of violence.
"I think I will shoot him," he said, quietly producing a small revolver from his pocket.
At the sight of the weapon, the two ladies, who, on seeing the fight prolonged, had retired a few paces up the path, began to scream loudly for help. The negro, who was proof against blows and would not have shown much fear at the sight of a knife, fell on his knees, crying aloud for mercy. Thereupon Paul released him and bid him go.
"For God's sake, Alexander, do not make a fool of yourself!" he said coldly, walking up to his brother. But he turned once more to the black attendant, and added quietly in Turkish, "You had better go. We both have pistols."
The negro did not wait, but sprang back and flew towards the two ladies, speaking excitedly, and imploring them to make haste. The two brothers made their way quickly down the path, Paul pushing Alexander before him.
"You have done it now. You will have to leave Constantinople to-morrow," he said, sternly. "You cannot play these tricks here."
"Bah!" returned Alexander, "it is of no consequence. They do not know who we are."
"They have not seen us coming out of our embassy half a dozen times without knowing where to look for us. There will be a complaint made within two hours, and there will be trouble. The law protects them. These fellows are authorized to strike anybody who speaks to the women they have in charge, or who even goes too near them. Be quick! We must get back to the quay before there is any alarm raised."
Alexander knew that his brother Paul was no coward, and, being thoroughly convinced of the danger, he quickened his walk. In twenty minutes they reached Mesar Burnu, and in five minutes more they were within the gates of the embassy. The huge Cossack who stood by the entrance saluted them gravely, and Paul drew a long breath of relief as he entered the pretty pavilion in the garden in which he had his quarters. Alexander threw himself upon a low divan, and laughed with true Russian indifference. Paul pretended not to notice him, but silently took up the local French paper, which came every evening, and began to read.
"You are excellent company, upon my word!" exclaimed Alexander, irritated at his brother's coldness. Paul laid down the paper, and stared at him with his hard blue eyes.
"Alexander, you are a fool," he said coolly.
"Look here," said the other, suddenly losing his temper, and rising to his feet, "I will not submit to this sort of language."
"Then do not expose yourself to it. Are you aware that you do me very serious injury by your escapades?"
"Escapades indeed!" cried Alexander indignantly. "As if there were any harm in telling a woman she is pretty!"
"You will probably have occasion to hear what the chief thinks of it before long," retorted his brother. "There will be a complaint. It will get to the palace, and the result will be that I shall be sent to another post, with a black mark in the service. Do you call that a joke? It is very well for you, a rich officer in the guards, taking a turn in the East by way of recreation. You will go back to Petersburg and tell the story and enjoy the laugh. I may be sent to China or Japan for three or four years, in consequence."
"Bah!" ejaculated the soldier, sitting down on the divan. "I do not believe it. You are an old woman. You are always afraid of injuring your career."
"If it is to be injured at all, I prefer that it should be by my own fault."
"What do you want me to do?" asked Alexander, rising once more. "I think I will go back to the Valley of Roses, and see if I cannot find her again." Suiting the action to the word, he moved towards the door. All the willfulness of the angry Slav shone in his dark eyes, and he was really capable of fulfilling his threat.
"If you try it," said Paul, touching an electric bell behind his chair, "I will have you arrested. We are in Russia inside these gates, and there are a couple of Cossacks outside. I am quite willing to assume the responsibility."
Paul was certainly justified in taking active measures to coerce his headstrong brother. The spoilt child of a brilliant society was not accustomed to being thwarted in his caprices, and beneath his delicate pale skin the angry blood boiled up to his face. He strode towards his brother as though he would have struck him, but something in Paul's eyes checked the intention. He held his heavy silver cigarette case in his hand; turning on his heel with an oath, he dashed it angrily across the room. It struck a small mirror that stood upon a table in the corner, and broke it into shivers with a loud crash. At that moment the door opened, and Paul's servant appeared in answer to the bell.
"A glass of water," said Paul calmly. The man glanced at Alexander's angry face and at the broken looking-glass, and then retired.
"What do you mean by calling in your accursed servants when I am angry?" cried the soldier. "You shall pay for this, Paul,—you shall pay for it!" His soft voice rose to loud and harsh tones, as he impatiently paced the room. "You shall pay for it!" he almost yelled, and then stood still, suddenly, while Paul rose from his chair. The door was opened again, but instead of the servant with the glass of water a tall and military figure stood in the entrance. It was the ambassador himself. He looked sternly from one brother to the other.
"Gentlemen," he said, "what is this quarrel? Lieutenant Patoff, I must beg you to remember that you are my guest as well as your brother's, and that the windows are open. Even the soldiers at the gates can hear your cries. Be good enough either to cease quarreling, or to retire to some place where you cannot be heard."
Without waiting for an answer, the old diplomat faced about and walked away.
"That is the beginning," said Paul, in a low voice. "You see what you are doing? You are ruining me,—and for what? Not even because you have a caprice for a woman, but merely because I have warned you not to make trouble."
Paul crossed the room and picked up the fallen cigarette case. Then he handed it to his brother, with a conciliatory look.
"There,—smoke a cigarette and be quiet, like a good fellow," he said.
The servant entered with the glass of water, and put it down upon the table. Glancing at the fragments of the mirror upon the floor, he looked inquiringly at his master. Paul made a gesture signifying that he might leave the room. The presence of the servant did not tend to pacify Alexander, whose face was still flushed with anger, as he roughly took the silver case and turned away with a furious glance. The servant had noticed, in the course of three weeks, that the brothers were not congenial to each other, but this was the first time he had witnessed a violent quarrel between them. When he was gone Alexander turned again and confronted Paul.
"You are insufferable," he said, in low tones.
"It is easy for you to escape my company," returned the other. "The Varna boat leaves here to-morrow afternoon at three."
"Set your mind at rest," said Alexander, regaining some control of his temper at the prospect of immediate departure. "I will leave to-morrow."
He went towards the door.
"Dinner is at seven," said Paul quietly. But his brother left the room without noticing the remark, and, retiring to his room, he revenged himself by writing a long letter to his mother, in which he explained at length the violence and, as he described it, the "impossibility" of his brother's character. He had all the pettiness of a bad child; he knew that he was his mother's favorite, and he naturally went to her for sympathy when he was angry with his brother, as he had done from his infancy. Having so far vented his wrath, he closed his letter without re-reading it, and delivered it to be posted before the clock struck seven.
He found Paul waiting for him in the sitting-room, and was received by him as though nothing had happened. Paul was indeed neither so forgiving nor so long-suffering as he appeared. He cordially disliked his brother, and was annoyed at his presence and outraged at his rashness. He felt bitterly enough that Alexander had quartered himself in the little pavilion for nearly a month without an invitation, and that, even financially, the visit caused him inconvenience; but he felt still more the danger to himself which lay in Alexander's folly, and he was not far wrong when he said that the ambassador's rebuke was the beginning of trouble. Accustomed to rely upon himself and his own wise conduct in the pursuance of his career, he resented the injury done him by such incidents as had taken place that afternoon. On the other hand, since Alexander had expressed his determination to leave Buyukdere the next day, he was determined that on his side the parting should be amicable. He could control his mood so far as to be civil during dinner, and to converse upon general topics. Alexander sat down to table in silence. His face was pale again, and his eyes had regained that simple, trustful look which was so much at variance with his character, and which, in the opinion of his admirers, constituted one of his chief attractions. It is unfortunate that, in general, the expression of the eyes should have less importance than that of the other features, for it always seems that by the eyes we should judge most justly. As a matter of fact, I think that the passions leave no trace in them, although they express the emotions of the moment clearly enough. The dark pupils may flash with anger, contract with determination, expand with love or fear; but so soon as the mind ceases to be under the momentary influence of any of these, the pupil returns to its normal state, the iris takes its natural color, and the eye, if seen through a hole in a screen, expresses nothing. If we were in the habit of studying men's mouths rather than their eyes, we should less often be deceived in the estimates we form of their character. Alexander Patoff's eyes were like a child's when he was peaceably inclined, like a wild-cat's when he was angry; but his nervous, scornful lips were concealed by the carefully trained dark brown mustache, and with them lay hidden the secret of his ill-controlled, ill-balanced nature.
When dinner was finished, the servant announced that the steam launch was at the pier, and that the embassy kavass was waiting outside to conduct them to Santa Sophia. Alexander, who wanted diversion of some kind during the evening, said he would go, and the two brothers left the pavilion together.
The kavass is a very important functionary in Constantinople, and, though his office is lucrative, it is no sinecure. In former times the appearance of Franks in the streets of Constantinople was very likely to cause disturbance. Those were the great days of Turkey, when the Osmanli was master of the East, and regarded himself as the master of the world. A Frank—that is to say, a person from the west of Europe—was scarcely safe out of Pera without an escort; and even at the present day most people are advised not to venture into Stamboul without the attendance of a native, unless willing to wear a fez instead of a hat. It became necessary to furnish the embassies with some outward and visible means of protection, and the kavass was accordingly instituted. This man, who was formerly always a Janizary, is at present a veteran soldier, and therefore a Mussulman; for Christians rarely enter the army in Constantinople, being permitted to buy themselves off. He is usually a man remarkable for his trustworthy character, of fine presence, and generally courageous. He wears a magnificent Turkish military dress, very richly adorned with gold embroidery, girt with a splendid sash, in which are thrust enough weapons to fill an armory,—knives, dirks, pistols, and daggers,—while a huge scimiter hangs from his sword-belt. When he is on active service, you will detect somewhere among his trappings the brown leather case of a serviceable army revolver. The reason of this outfit is a very simple one. The kavass is answerable with his head for those he protects,—neither more nor less. Whenever the ambassador or the minister goes to the palace, or to Stamboul, or on any expedition whatsoever, the kavass follows him, frequently acting as interpreter, and certainly never failing to impose respect upon the populace. Moreover, when he is not needed by the head of the mission in person, he is ready to accompany any member of the household when necessary. A lady may cross Stamboul in safety with no other attendant, for he is answerable for her with his life. Whether or not, in existing circumstances, he would be put to death, in case his charge were killed by a mob, is not easy to say; it is at least highly probable that he would be executed within twenty-four hours.
It chanced, on the evening chosen by Paul and Alexander for their visit to Santa Sophia, that no other members of the embassy accompanied them. Some had seen the ceremony before, some intended to go the next day, and some were too lazy to go at all. They followed the kavass in silence across the road, and went on board the beautiful steam launch which lay alongside the quay. The night was exceedingly dark, for as the appearance of the new moon terminates the month Ramazan, and as the ceremonies take place only during the last week of the month, there can, of course, be no moonlight. But a dark night is darker on the black waters of the Bosphorus than anywhere else in the world; and the darkness is not relieved by the illumination of the shores. On the contrary, the countless twinkling points seem to make the shadow in midstream deeper, and accidents are not unfrequent. In some places the current is very rapid, and it is no easy matter to steer a steam launch skillfully through it, without running over some belated fisherman or some shadowy caique, slowly making way against the stream in the dark.
The two brothers sat in the deep cane easy-chairs on the small raised deck at the stern, the weather being too warm to admit of remaining in the cushioned cabin. The sailors cast off the moorings, and the strong little screw began to beat the water. In two minutes the launch was far out in the darkness. The kavass gave the order to the man at the wheel, an experienced old pilot:—
"To the Vinegar Sellers' Landing."
The engine was put at full speed, and the launch rushed down stream towards Constantinople. Paul and Alexander looked at the retreating shore and at the lights of the embassy, fast growing dim in the distance. Paul wished himself alone in his quiet pavilion, with a cigarette and one of Gogol's novels. His brother, who was ashamed of his violent temper and disgusted with his brother's coldness, wished that he might never come back. Indeed, he was inclined to say so, and to spend the night at a hotel in Pera; but he was ashamed of that too, now that his anger had subsided, and he made up his mind to be morally uncomfortable for at least twenty-four hours. For it is the nature of violent people to be ashamed of themselves, and then to work themselves into new fits of anger in order to escape their shame, a process which may be exactly compared to the drunkard's glass of brandy in the morning, and which generally leads to very much the same result.
But Paul said nothing, and so long as he was silent it was impossible to quarrel with him. Alexander, therefore, stretched out his legs and puffed at his cigarette, wondering whether he should ever see the lady in the yashmak again, trying to imagine what her face could be like, but never doubting that she was beautiful. He had been in love with many faces. It was the first time he had ever fallen in love with a veil. The sweet air of the Bosphorus blew in his face, the distant lights twinkled and flashed past as the steam launch ran swiftly on, and Alexander dozed in his chair, dreaming that the scented breeze had blown aside the folds of the yashmak, and that he was gazing on the most beautiful face in the world. That is one of the characteristics of the true Russian. The Slav is easily roused to frenzied excitement, and he as easily falls back to an indolent and luxurious repose. There is something poetic in his temperament, but the extremes are too violent for all poetry. To be easily sad and easily gay may belong to the temper of the poet, but to be bloodthirsty and luxurious by turns savors of the barbarian.
Alexander was aroused by the lights of Stamboul and by the noise of the large ferry-boats just making up to the wooden piers of Galata bridge, or rushing away into the darkness amidst tremendous splashing of paddles and blowing of steam whistles. A few minutes later the launch ran alongside of the Vinegar Sellers' Landing on the Stamboul shore, and the kavass came aft to inform the brothers that the carriage was waiting by the water-stairs.
There is probably no nation in the world more attached to religion, both in form and principle, than the Osmanli; and it is probably for this reason that their public ceremonies bear a stamp of vigor and sincerity rarely equaled in Christian countries. No one can witness the rites practiced in the mosque of Agia Sophia without being profoundly impressed with the power of the Mohammedan faith. The famous church of Justinian is indeed in itself magnificent and awe-inspiring; the vast dome is more effective than that of Saint Peter's, in proportion as the masses which support it are smaller and less apparent; the double stories of the nave are less burdened with detail and ornament, and are therefore better calculated to convey an impression of size; the view from the galleries is less obstructed in all directions, and there is something startling in the enormous shields of green inscribed in gold with the names of God, Mohammed, and the earliest khalifs. Everything in the building produces a sensation of smallness in the beholder, almost amounting to stupor. But the Agia Sophia seen by day, in the company of a chattering Greek guide, is one thing; it is quite another when viewed at night from the solitude of the vast galleries, during the religious ceremonies of the last week in the month Ramazan.
Paul and Alexander Patoff were driven through dark streets to a narrow lane, where the carriage stopped before a flight of broad steps which suddenly descended into blackness. The kavass was at the door, and seemed anxious that they should be quick in their movements. He held a small lantern in his hand, and, carrying it low down, showed them the way. Entering a gloomy doorway, they were aware of a number of Turks, clad mostly in white tunics, with white turbans, and congregated near the heavy leathern curtain which separates this back entrance from the portico. One of these men, a tall fellow with an ugly scowl, came forward, holding a pair of keys in his hand, and after a moment's parley with the kavass unlocked a heavily ironed door, lighting a taper at the lantern.
As they entered, both the brothers cast a glance at the knot of scowling men, and Alexander felt in his pocket for his pistol. He had forgotten it, and the discovery did not tend to make him feel more safe. Then he smiled to himself, recognizing that it was but a passing feeling of distrust which he experienced, and remembering how many thousands of Franks must have passed through that very door to reach the winding staircase. As for Paul, he had been there the previous year, and was accustomed to the sour looks of Mussulmans when a Frank visitor enters one of their mosques. He also went in, and the kavass, who was the last of the party, followed, pulling the door on its hinges behind him. During several minutes they mounted the rough stone steps in silence, by the dim light of the lantern and the taper. Then emerging into the gallery through a narrow arch, a strange sound reached them, and Alexander stood still for a moment.
Far down in the vast church an Imam was intoning a passage of the Koran in a voice which hardly seemed human; indeed, such a sound is probably not to be heard anywhere else in the world. The pitch was higher than what is attainable by the highest men's voices elsewhere, and yet the voice possessed the ringing, manly quality of the tenor, and its immense volume never dwindled to the proportions of a soprano. The priest recited and modulated in this extraordinary key, introducing all the ornaments peculiar to the ancient Arabic chant with a facility which an operatic singer might have envied. Then there was a moment's silence, broken again almost immediately by a succession of heavy sounds which can only be described as resembling rhythmical thunder, rising and falling three times at equal intervals; another short but intense silence, and again the voice burst out with the wild clang of a trumpet, echoing and reverberating through the galleries and among the hundred marble pillars of the vast temple.
The two brothers walked forward to the carved stone balustrade of the high gallery, and gazed down from the height upon the scene below. The multitude of worshipers surged like crested waves blown obliquely on a shingly shore. For the apse of the Christian church is not built so that, facing it, the true believer shall look towards Mecca, and the Mussulmans have made their mihrab—their shrine—a little to the right of what was once the altar, in the true direction of the sacred city. The long lines of matting spread on the floor all lie evenly at an angle with the axis of the nave, and when the mosque is full the whole congregation, amounting to thousands of men, are drawn up like regiments of soldiers in even ranks to face the mihrab, but not at right angles with the nave. The effect is startling and strangely inharmonious, like the studied distortions of some Japanese patterns, but yet fascinating from its very contrariety to what the eye expects.
There they stand, the ranks of the faithful, as they have stood yearly for centuries in the last week of Ramazan. As the trumpet notes of each recited verse die away among the arches, every man raises his hands above his head, then falls upon his knees, prostrates himself, and rises again, renewing the act of homage three times with the precision of a military evolution. At each prostration, performed exactly and simultaneously by that countless multitude, the air is filled with the tremendous roar of muffled rhythmical thunder, in which no voice is heard, but only the motion of ten thousand human bodies, swaying, bending, and kneeling in unison. Nor is the sound alone impressive. From the vaulted roof, from the galleries, from the dome itself, are hung hundreds of gigantic chandeliers, each having concentric rings of lighted lamps, suspended a few feet above the heads of the worshipers. Seen from the great height of the gallery, these thousands of lights do not dazzle nor hide the multitude below, which seems too great to be hidden, as the heavens are not hid by the stars; but the soft illumination fills every corner and angle of the immense building, and, lest any detail of the architecture and splendid music should escape the light, rows of little lamps are kindled along the cornices of the galleries and roof, filling up the interstices of darkness as a carver burnishes the inner petals of the roses on a huge gilt frame of exquisite design, in which not the smallest beauty of the workmanship can be allowed to pass unnoticed.
This whole flood of glorious illumination descends then to the floor of the nave, and envelops the ranks of white and green clothed men, who rise and fall in long sloping lines, like a field of corn under the slanting breeze. There is something mystic and awe-inspiring in the sight, the sound, the whole condition, of this strange worship. A man looks down upon the serried army of believers, closely packed, but not crowded nor irregular, shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, not one of them standing a hair's breadth in front of his rank nor behind it, moving all as one body, animated by one principle of harmonious motion, elevated by one unquestioning faith in something divine,—a man looks down upon this scene, and, whatever be his own belief, he cannot but feel an unwonted thrill of admiration, a tremor of awe, a quiver of dread, at the grand solemnity of this unanimous worship of the unseen. And then, as the movement ceases, and the files of white turbans remain motionless, the unearthly voice of the Imam rings out like a battle signal from the lofty balcony of the mastaba, awaking in the fervent spirits of the believers the warlike memories of mighty conquest. For the Osmanli is a warrior, and his nation is a warrior tribe; his belief is too simple for civilization, his courage too blind and devoted for the military operations of our times, his heart too easily roused by the bloodthirsty instincts of the fanatic, and too ready to bear the misfortunes of life with the grave indifference of the fatalist. He lacks the balance of the faculties which is imposed upon civilized man by a conscious distinction of the possible from the impossible; he lacks the capacity for being contented with that state of life in which he is placed. Instead of the quiet courage and self-knowledge of a serviceable strength, he possesses the reckless and all-destroying zeal of the frenzied iconoclast; in place of patience under misfortune, in the hope of better times, he cultivates the insensibility begotten of a belief in hopeless predestination,—instead of strength he has fury, instead of patience, apathy. He is a strange being, beyond our understanding, as he is too often beyond our sympathy. It is only when we see him roused to the highest expression of his religious fervor that we involuntarily feel that thrill of astonishment and awe which in our hearts we know to be genuine admiration.
[Note 1: The tribune, or marble platform, from which the prayers are read; not to be confounded with the minber, or pulpit, from which the Khatib preaches on Fridays, with a drawn sword in his hand.]
Alexander Patoff stood by his brother's side, watching the ceremony with intense interest. He hated the Turks and despised their faith, but what he now saw appealed to the Orientalism of his nature. Himself capable of the most distant extremes of feeling, sensitive, passionate, and accustomed to delight in strong impressions, he could not fail to be moved by the profound solemnity of the scene and by the indescribable wildness of the Imam's chant. Paul, too, was silent, and, though far less able to feel such emotions than his elder brother, the sight of such unanimous and heart-felt devotion called up strange trains of thought in his mind, and forced him to speculate upon the qualities and the character which still survived in these hereditary enemies of his nation. It was not possible, he said to himself, that such men could ever be really conquered. They might be driven from the capital of the East by overwhelming force, but they would soon rally in greater numbers on the Asian shore. They might be crushed for a moment, but they could never be kept under, nor really dominated. Their religion might be oppressed and condemned by the oppressor, but it was of the sort to gain new strength at every fresh persecution. To slay such men was to sow dragon's teeth and to reap a harvest of still more furious fanatics, who, in their turn being destroyed, would multiply as the heads of the Hydra beneath the blows of Heracles. The even rise and fall of those long lines of stalwart Mussulmans seemed like the irrepressible tide of an ocean, which if restrained, would soon break every barrier raised to obstruct it. Paul sickened at the thought that these men were bowing themselves upon the pavement from which their forefathers had washed the dust of Christian feet in the blood of twenty thousand Christians, and the sullen longing for vengeance rankled in his heart. At that moment he wished he were a soldier, like his brother; he wished he could feel a soldier's pride in the strong fellowship of the ranks, and a soldier's hope of retaliation. He almost shuddered when he reflected that he and his brother stood alone, two hated Russians, with that mighty, rhythmically surging mass of enemies below. The bravest man might feel his nerves a little shaken in such a place, at such an hour. Paul leaned his chin upon his hand, and gazed intently down into the body of the church. The armed kavass stood a few paces from him on his left, and Alexander was leaning against a column on his right.
The kavass was a good Mussulman, and regarded the ceremony not only with interest, but with a devotion akin to that of those who took part in it. He also looked fixedly down, turning his eyes to the mihrab, and listening attentively to the chanting of the Imam, of whose Arabic recitation, however, he could not understand any more than Paul himself. For a long time no one of the three spoke, nor indeed noticed his companions.
"Shall we go to the other side of the gallery?" asked Paul, presently, in a low voice, but without looking round. Alexander did not answer, but the kavass moved, and uttered a low exclamation of surprise. Paul turned his head to repeat his question, and saw that Alexander was no longer in the place where he had been standing. He was nowhere to be seen.
"He is gone round the gallery alone," said Paul to the kavass, and leading the way he went to the end of the balcony, and turning in the shadow looked down the long gallery which runs parallel with the nave. Alexander was not in sight, and Paul, supposing him to be hidden behind one of the heavy pillars which divided the balustrade into equal portions, walked rapidly to the end. But his brother was not there.
"Bah!" Paul exclaimed to the kavass, "he is on the other side." He looked attentively at the opposite balconies, across the brilliantly lighted church, but saw no one. He and the soldier retraced their steps, and explored every corner of the galleries, without success. The kavass was pale to the lips.
"He is gone down alone," he muttered, hastening to the head of the winding stair in the northwest corner of the dim gallery. He had left his lantern by the door, but it was not there. Alexander must have taken it with him. The Turk with the keys and the taper had long since gone down, in expectation of some other Frank visitors, but as yet none had appeared. Paul breathed hard, for he knew that a stranger could not with safety descend alone, on such a night, to the vestibule of the mosque, filled as it was with turbaned Mussulmans who had not found room in the interior, and who were pursuing their devotions before the great open doors. On the other hand, if Alexander had not entered the vestibule, he must have gone out into the street, where he would not be much safer, for his hat proclaimed him a Frank to every party of strolling Turks he chanced to meet.
Paul lit a wax taper from his case, and, holding others in readiness, began to follow the rugged descent, the kavass close at his elbow. It seemed interminable. At every deep embrasure Paul paused, searching the recess by the flickering glare of the match, and then, finding nothing, both men went on. At last they reached the bottom, and the heavy door creaked as the kavass pressed it back.
"You must stay here," he said, in his broken jargon. "Or, better still, you should go outside with me and get into the carriage. I will come back and search."
"No," said Paul. "I will go with you. I am not afraid of them."
"You cannot," answered the kavass firmly. "I cannot protect you inside the vestibule."
"I tell you I will go!" exclaimed Paul impatiently. "I do not expect you to protect me. I will protect myself." But the kavass would not yield so easily. He was a powerful man, and stood calmly in the doorway. Paul could not pass him without using violence.
"Effendim," said the man, speaking Turkish, which he knew that Paul understood, "if I let you go in there, and anything happens to you, my life is forfeited."
Paul hesitated. The man was in earnest, and they were losing time which might be precious. It was clear that Alexander might already be in trouble, and that the kavass was the only person capable of imposing respect upon the crowd.
"Go," said Paul. "I will wait by the carriage."
The kavass opened the door, and both men went out into the dim entry. Paul turned to the right and the soldier to the left, towards the heavy curtain which closed the entrance of the vestibule. The knot of Turks who had stood there when the Russians had arrived had disappeared, and the place was silent and deserted, while from behind the curtain faint echoes of the priest's high voice were audible, and at intervals the distant thundering roll from the church told that the worshipers were prostrating themselves in the intervals of the chanting. Paul retired up the dark way, but paused at the deserted gate, unwilling to go so far as the carriage, and thus lengthen the time before the kavass could rejoin him with his brother. He trembled lest Alexander should have given way to some foolhardy impulse to enter the mosque in defiance of the ceremony which was then proceeding, but it did not strike him that anything very serious could have occurred, nor that the kavass would really have any great difficulty in finding him. Alexander would probably escape with some rough treatment, which might not be altogether unprofitable, provided he sustained no serious injury. It was indeed a rash and foolish thing to go alone and unarmed among a crowd of fanatic Mohammedans at their devotions; but, after all, civilization had progressed in Turkey, and the intruder was no longer liable to be torn in pieces by the mob. He would most likely be forcibly ejected from the vestibule, and left to repent of his folly in peace.
All these reflections passed through Paul's mind, as he stood waiting in the shadow of the gate at the back of the mosque; but the time began to seem unreasonably long, and his doubts presently took the shape of positive fears. Still the echoes came to his ears through the heavy curtain, while from without the distant hum of the city, given up to gayety after the day's long fast, mingled discordantly with the sounds from within. He was aware that his heart was beating faster than usual, and that he was beginning to suffer the excitement of fear. He tried to reason with himself, saying that it was foolish to make so much of so little; but in the arguments of reason against terror, the latter generally gets the advantage and keeps it. Paul had a strong desire to follow the kavass into the vestibule, and to see for himself whether his brother were there or not. He rarely carried weapons, as Alexander did, but he trusted in his own strength to save him. He drew his watch from his pocket, resolving to wait five minutes longer, and then, if the kavass did not return, to lift the curtain, come what might. He struck a match, and looked at the dial. It was a quarter past ten o'clock. Then, to occupy his mind, he began to try and count the three hundred seconds, fancying that he could see a pendulum swinging before his eyes in the dark. At twenty minutes past ten he would go in.
But he did not reach the end of his counting. The curtain suddenly moved a little, allowing a ray of bright light to fall out into the darkness, and in the momentary flash Paul saw the gorgeous uniform and accoutrements of the embassy kavass. He was alone, and Paul's heart sank. He remembered very vividly the dark and scowling faces and the fiery eyes of the turbaned men who had stood before the door an hour earlier, and he began to fear some dreadful catastrophe. The kavass came quickly forward, and Paul stepped out of the shadow and confronted him.
"He has not been there," answered the soldier, in agitated tones. "I went all through the crowd, and searched everywhere. I asked many persons. They laughed at the idea of a Frank gentleman in a hat appearing amongst them. He must have gone out into the street."
"We searched the gallery thoroughly, did we not?" asked Paul. "Are you sure he could not have been hidden somewhere?"
"Perfectly, Effendim. He is not there."
"Then we must look for him in the streets," said Paul, growing very pale. He turned to ascend the steps from the gate to the road.
"It is not my fault, Effendim," answered the soldier. "Did you not see him leave the gallery?"
"It is nobody's fault but his own," returned Patoff. "I was looking down at the people. He must have slipped away like a cat."
They reached the carriage, and Paul got inside. It was a landau, and the kavass and the coachman opened the front, so that Patoff might get a better view of the streets. The kavass mounted the box, and explained to the coachman that they must search Stamboul as far as possible for the lost Effendi. But the coachman turned sharply round on his seat and spoke to Paul.
"The gentleman did not come out," he said emphatically. "I have been watching for you ever since you went in. He is inside the Agia Sophia—somewhere."
Paul was disconcerted. He had not thought of making inquiries of the coachman, supposing that Alexander might easily have slipped past in the darkness. But the man seemed very positive.
"Wait in the carriage, Effendim," said the kavass, once more descending from his seat. "If he is inside I will find him. I will search the galleries again. He cannot have gone through the vestibule."
Before Paul could answer him the man had plunged once more down the black steps, and the Russian was condemned a second time to a long suspense, during which he was frequently tempted to leave the carriage and explore the church for himself. He felt the cold perspiration on his brow, and his hand trembled as he took out his watch again and again. It was nearly a quarter of an hour before the kavass returned. The man was now very pale, and seemed as much distressed as Paul himself. He silently shook his head, and, mounting to the box seat, ordered the coachman to drive on.
The city was ablaze with lights. Every mosque was illuminated, and the minarets, decked out with thousands of little lamps, looked like fiery needles piercing the black bosom of the sky. The carriage drove from place to place, passing where a crowd was gathered together, hastening down dark and deserted streets, to emerge again upon some brilliantly lighted square, thronged with men in fez and turban and with women veiled in the eternal yashmak. More than once Paul started in his seat, fancying that he could discover on the borders of the crowd the two ladies, with their attendant, who had been the cause of the scuffle in the Valley of Roses that afternoon. Again, he thought he could distinguish his brother's features among the moving faces, but always the sight of the dark red fez told him that he was wrong. He was driven round Agia Sophia, beneath the splendid festoons of lamps, some hung so as to form huge Arabic letters, some merely bound together in great ropes of light; back towards the water and through the Atmaidam, the ancient Hippodrome, down to the Serai point, then up to the Seraskierat, where the glorious tower shot upwards like the pillar of flame that went before the Israelites of old; on to the mosque of Suleiman, over whose tomb the great dome burned like a fiery mountain, round once more to the Atmaidam, past the tall trees amidst which blazed the six minarets of Sultan Achmet; then, trying a new route, down by the bazaar gates to Sultan Valide and the head of Galata bridge, and at last back again to the Seraskierat, and, leaving the Dove Mosque of Bajazet on the right, once more to the Vinegar Sellers' Landing, in the vain hope that Alexander might have found his way down to the quay where the steam launch was moored.
In vain did the terrified kavass bid the coachman turn and turn again; in vain did Paul, in agonized excitement, try to pierce the darkness with his eyes, and to distinguish the well-known face in the throngs that crowded the brightly lighted squares. At the end of two hours he began to realize the hopelessness of the search. Suddenly it struck him that Alexander might have found the bridge, and, recognizing it, might have crossed to Pera rather than run the risk of losing himself in Stamboul again.
"Tell the launch to be at Beschik Tasch to-morrow morning at ten o'clock," said Paul. "Take me to Galata bridge. I will cross on foot to Pera. Then go back and wait behind Agia Sophia, in case he comes that way again to look for the carriage. If I find him in Pera, I will send a messenger to tell you. If he does not come, meet me at Missiri's early to-morrow morning."
"Pek eyi—very good," answered the kavass, who understood the wisdom of the plan. Again the carriage turned, and in five minutes Paul was crossing Galata bridge, alone, on his way to Pera.
He was terribly agitated. Stories of the disappearance of foreigners in the labyrinths of Stamboul rose to his mind, and though he had never known of such a case in his own experience, he did not believe the thing impossible. His brother was the rashest and most foolhardy of men, capable of risking his life for a mere caprice, and perhaps the more inclined to do so on that night because he had had a violent quarrel with Paul that very afternoon, about his own foolish conduct. Of all nights in the year, the last four or five of Ramazan are the most dangerous to unprotected foreigners, and as he walked the spectacle of the scowling Turks thrust itself once more before Paul's mental vision. If Alexander had descended the steps, and had ventured, as well he might, to push past those fellows into the vestibule of the mosque, it must have gone hard with him. The fanatic worshipers of Allah were not in a mood that night to bear with the capricious humors of a haughty Frank; and though Alexander was active, strong, and brave, his strength would avail him little against such odds. He would be overpowered, stunned, and thrown out before he could utter a cry, and he might think himself lucky if he escaped with one or two broken bones. But then, again, if he had suffered such treatment, some one must have heard of it, and Paul remembered the blank face and frightened look of the kavass when he returned the second time from his search. They had gone carefully round the great building, and must have seen such an object as the body of a man lying in the street. Perhaps Alexander had broken away without injury, and fled out into the streets of Stamboul. If so, he was in no common danger, for, utterly ignorant of the topography of the great city, he might as easily have gone towards the Seven Towers or to Aiwan Serai as to Galata bridge or Topkapussi, the Canon Gate at Serai point. There was still one hope left. He might have reached Pera, and be at that very moment refreshing himself with coffee and cigarettes at Missiri's hotel.
Paul hastened his walk, and, reaching Galata, began at once to ascend the steep street which further on is called the Grande Rue, but which of all "great" streets least deserves the name. He then walked slowly, scrutinizing every face he saw. But indeed there were few people about, for Christian Pera does not fast in Ramazan, and consequently does not spend the night in parading the streets. Nevertheless, Paul began a systematic search, leaving no small cafe or eating-house unvisited, rousing the sleepy porters of the inns with his inquiries, and finally entering the hotel. It was now past midnight, but he would not give up the quest. He caused all the guides to be collected from their obscure habitations by messengers from the hotel, and representing to them the urgency of the case, and giving them money in advance with the promise of more to come, he dispatched them in all directions. Alexander had been at the hotel very often during the last month, while visiting the sights of the city, and most of these fellows knew him by sight. At all events, it would be easy for them to recognize a well-dressed Frank gentleman in trouble.
Patoff saw the last of them leave the hotel, and stood staring out upon the Grande Rue de Pera, wondering what should be done next. The town residence of the embassy was closed for the summer, and there were only two or three sleepy servants in the place, who could be of no use. He thought of getting a horse and riding rapidly back to Buyukdere, in order to warn the ambassador of his brother's disappearance; but on reflection it seemed that he would do better to stay where he was. The short June night would soon be past, and by daylight he could at once prosecute his search in Stamboul with safety and with far greater probability of finding the lost man. He knew that the kavass would remain with the carriage all night behind Santa Sophia, and then at dawn he should still find them there. Meanwhile, he took a hamal,—a luggage porter from the hotel,—and, armed with a lantern and a stick, began to beat the different quarters of Pera, judging that in the three or four hours before daylight he could pass through most of the streets.
Hour after hour he trudged along, pale with fatigue and anxiety, his big features hardening with despairing determination as he walked. He searched every street and alley; he interviewed the Bekjees, who stamp along the streets, pounding the pavement with their iron-shod clubs; he tramped out to the Taksim, and down again to Galata tower, plunging into the dark alleys about the Oriental Bank, skirting lower Pera to the Austrian embassy, and climbing up the narrow path between tall houses, till he was once more in the Grande Rue; crossing to the filthy quarters of Kassim Pascha and emerging at the German Lutheran church, crossing, recrossing, stumbling over gutters and up dirty back lanes, silent and determined still, addressing only the sturdy Kurd by his side to ask if there were any streets still unexplored, and entering every new by-path with new hope. At last he found himself once more at Galata bridge, and the light of the lantern began to pale before the grayness of the coming morning. He paid the Kurdish porter a generous fee, and giving his tiny coin to the tall keeper of the bridge, whose white garments looked whiter in the dawn, he walked on until he was half way over the Golden Horn.
Stepping aside on to the wooden pier where the great ferry-boats were moored, he leaned upon the rail and looked out over the water, momentarily exhausted and unable to go further. The tender light tinged the southeastern sky, and the far mist of the horizon seemed already hot with the rising day. On the lapping water of the Horn the light fell like petals of roses tossed in a mantle of some soft dark fabric interwoven with a silvery sheen. Far across the mouth of the Bosphorus the minarets of Scutari came faintly into view, and on the Stamboul side the few lingering lamps which had outlasted the darkness, upon the lofty minarets, paled and lost their yellow color, and then ceased to shine, outdone in their turn by the rosy morning light. A wonderful stillness had fallen on the great city, as one by one the tired parties of friends had gone to rest, to shorten the day of fasting by prolonging their sleep till late in the hot afternoon. The clank of some capstan on one of the ferry-boats struck loud and clear on the still air, as the reluctant sailors and firemen prepared for their first run to the Black Sea, or across to Kadi Koei on the Sea of Marmara. Paul turned and looked towards the mighty dome of Santa Sophia, and his haggard face was almost as pale as the white walls. He lingered still, and suddenly the sun sprang up behind the Serai, and gilded the delicate spires, and caught the gold of the crescents on the mosques, and shone full upon the broad water. Paul followed the light as it touched one glorious building after another, and his hand trembled convulsively on the railing. Somewhere in that great awakening city—his brother was somewhere, alive or dead, amongst those white walls and glittering crescents and towering minarets—somewhere, and he must be found. Paul bent his head, and turning away hurried across the bridge, and plunged once more into Stamboul, alone as he had come.
The streets were deserted, and the early morning air was full of the smell of thousands of extinguished oil lamps, that peculiar and pervading odor which suggests past revelry, sleepless hours, and the vanity of turning night into day. It oppressed Paul's overwrought senses, as he passed the melancholy remains of the illumination before the post-office and the Sultan Valide mosque, and he hurried on towards the more secluded streets leading to Santa Sophia, in which the night's gayety had left no perceptible signs. At last he came to the narrow lane behind the huge pile, feeling that he had at last reached the end of his five hours' tramp.
There stood the carriage, all dusty with the night's driving, looking dilapidated and forlorn; the tired horses drooped their heads in the flaccid and empty canvas nose-bags. The extinguished lamps were black with the smoke from the last flare of their sputtering wicks. The coachman lay inside, snoring,—a mere heap of cloth and brass buttons surmounted by a shapeless fez. On the stone steps leading down to the church sat the kavass; his head had fallen on the low parapet behind him, and his half-shaved scalp was bare. His face was deadly pale, and his mouth was wide open as he slept, breathing heavily; his left hand rested on the hilt of his scimiter; his right was extended, palm upwards, on the stone step on which he sat, the very picture of exhaustion.
At any other time Paul would have laughed at the scene. But he was very far from mirth now, as he bent down and laid his hand upon the sleeping kavass's shoulder.
At ten o'clock on that morning, Paul and the kavass went on board the steam launch at Beschik Tasch, the landing most convenient for persons coming from the upper part of Pera. They had done everything possible, and it was manifestly Paul's duty to inform his chief of the occurrences of the night. The authorities had been put in possession of the details of Alexander's disappearance, and the scanty machinery of the Stamboul police had been set in motion; notice had been given at every hotel and circulated to every place of resort, and it was impossible that if Alexander showed himself in Pera he should escape observation, even if he desired to do so. But Stamboul was not Pera, and as Paul gave the order to steam to Buyukdere he resolutely turned his back on the eastern shore of the Golden Horn, unable to bear the sight of the buildings so intimately associated with his night's search. He was convinced that his brother was in Stamboul, and he knew that the search in Pera was a mere formality. He knew, also, that to find any one in Stamboul was only possible provided the person were free, or at least able to give some sign of his presence; and he began to believe that Alexander had fallen a victim to some rash prank. He had, perhaps, repeated his folly of the previous afternoon,—had wandered into the streets, had foolishly ventured to look too closely at a pair of black eyes, and had been spirited away by the prompt vengeance of the lady's attendants.
But Paul's speculations concerning the fate of his brother were just now interrupted by the consideration of the difficulties which lay before him. Cold and resolute by nature, he found himself in a position in which any man's calmness would have been shaken. He knew that he must tell his tale to his chief, and he knew that he was to blame for not having watched Alexander more closely. It was improbable that any one who had not been present could understand how, in the intense interest caused by the ceremony, Paul could have overlooked his brother's departure from the gallery. But not only had Paul failed to notice his going; the kavass had not observed the lost man's movements any more than Paul himself. It was inconceivable to any one except Paul that Alexander should have been capable of creeping past him and the soldier, on tip-toe, purposely eluding observation; nevertheless, such an action would not be unnatural to his character. He had perhaps conceived a sudden desire to go down into the church and view the ceremony more closely. He must have known that both his companions would forcibly prevent him from such a course, and it was like him to escape them, laughing to himself at their carelessness. The passion for adventure was in his blood, and his training had not tended to cool it; fate had thrown an attractive possibility into his way, and he had seized the opportunity of doing something unusual, and annoying his more prudent brother at the same time.
But though Paul understood this clearly enough, he felt that it would be anything but easy to make it clear to his chief; and yet, if he did not succeed in doing so, it would be hard for him to account for his carelessness, and he might spend a very unpleasant season of waiting until the missing man was found. In such a case as this, Paul was too good a diplomatist not to tell the truth very exactly. Indeed, he was always a truthful man, according to his lights; but had it been necessary to shield his brother's reputation in any way, he would have so arranged his story as not to tell any more of the truth than was necessary. What had occurred was probably more to his own discredit than to Alexander's, and Paul reflected that, on the other hand, there was no need to inform the ambassador of the quarrel on the previous afternoon, since the chief had overheard it, and had himself interposed to produce quiet, if not peace. He resolved, therefore, to tell every particular, from the moment of his arrival with Alexander at the Vinegar Sellers' Landing to the time of his leaving Pera, that morning, on his way back to Buyukdere.
There was some relief in having thus decided upon the course he should follow; but the momentary satisfaction did not in the least lighten the burden that weighed upon his heart. His anxiety was intense, and he could not escape it, nor find any argument whereby to alleviate it. He did not love his brother, or at least had never loved him before; but we often find in life that a sudden fear for the safety of an individual, for whom we believe we care nothing, brings out a latent affection which we had not expected to feel. The bond of blood is a very strong one, and asserts itself in extreme moments with an unsuspected tenacity which works wonders, and which astonishes ourselves. The silken cord is slender, but the hands must be strong that can break it. In spite of all the misery his brother had caused him in boyhood, in spite of the coolness which had existed between them in later years, in spite of the humiliation he had so often suffered in seeing Alexander preferred before him, yet at this moment, when, for a time, the only man who bore his name had suddenly disappeared from the scene of life, Paul discovered deep down in his heart a strange sympathy for the lost man. He blamed himself bitterly for his carelessness, and, going back in his memory, he recalled with sorrow the hard words which had passed between them. He would have given much to be able to revoke the past and to weave more affection into his remembrance of his brother; and at the idea that he might perhaps never see him again, he turned pale, and twisted his fingers uneasily in his agitation.