THE PRINCE OF INDIA OR WHY CONSTANTINOPLE FELL
BY LEW. WALLACE
Rise, too, ye Shapes and Shadows of the Past Rise from your long forgotten grazes at last Let us behold your faces, let us hear The words you uttered in those days of fear Revisit your familiar haunts again The scenes of triumph and the scenes of pain And leave the footprints of your bleeding feet Once more upon the pavement of the street LONGFELLOW
BOOK IV THE PALACE OF BLACHERNE (Continued)
CHAPTER XI. THE PRINCESS HEARS FROM THE WORLD XII. LAEL TELLS OF HER TWO FATHERS XIII. THE HAMARI TURNS BOATMAN XIV. THE PRINCESS HAS A CREED XV. THE PRINCE OF INDIA PREACHES GOD TO THE GREEKS XVI. HOW THE NEW FAITH WAS RECEIVED XVII. LAEL AND THE SWORD OF SOLOMON XVIII. THE FESTIVAL OF FLOWERS XIX. THE PRINCE BUILDS CASTLES FOR HIS GUL BAHAR XX. THE SILHOUETTE OF A CRIME XXI. SERGIUS LEARNS A NEW LESSON XXII. THE PRINCE OF INDIA SEEKS MAHOMMED XXIII. SERGIUS AND NILO TAKE UP THE HUNT XXIV. THE IMPERIAL CISTERN GIVES UP ITS SECRET
BOOK V MIRZA
I. A COLD WIND FROM ADRIANOPLE II. A FIRE FROM THE HEGUMEN'S TOMB III. MIRZA DOES AN ERRAND FOR MAHOMMED IV. THE EMIR IN ITALY V. THE PRINCESS IRENE IN TOWN VI. COUNT CORTI IN SANCTA SOPHIA VII. COUNT CORTI TO MAHOMMED VIII. OUR LORD'S CREED IX. COUNT CORTI TO MAHOMMED X. SERGIUS TO THE LION
BOOK VI CONSTANTINE
I. THE SWORD OF SOLOMON II. MAHOMMED AND COUNT CORTI MAKE A WAGER III. THE BLOODY HARVEST IV. EUROPE ANSWERS THE CRY FOR HELP V. COUNT CORTI RECEIVES A FAVOR VI. MAHOMMED AT THE GATE ST. ROMAIN VII. THE GREAT GUN SPEAKS VIII. MAHOMMED TRIES HIS GUNS AGAIN IX. THE MADONNA TO THE RESCUE X. THE NIGHT BEFORE THE ASSAULT XI. COUNT CORTI IN DILEMMA XII. THE ASSAULT XIII. MAHOMMED IN SANCTA SOPHIA
THE PALACE OF BLACHERNE (Continued)
THE PRINCESS HEARS FROM THE WORLD
The sun shone clear and hot, and the guests in the garden were glad to rest in the shaded places of promenade along the brooksides and under the beeches and soaring pines of the avenues. Far up the extended hollow there was a basin first to receive the water from the conduit supposed to tap the aqueduct leading down from the forest of Belgrade. The noise of the little cataract there was strong enough to draw a quota of visitors. From the front gate to the basin, from the basin to the summit of the promontory, the company in lingering groups amused each other detailing what of fortune good and bad the year had brought them. The main features of such meetings are always alike. There were games by the children, lovers in retired places, and old people plying each other with reminiscences. The faculty of enjoyment changes but never expires.
An array of men chosen for the purpose sallied from the basement of the palace carrying baskets of bread, fruits in season, and wine of the country in water-skins. Dispersing themselves through the garden, they waited on the guests, and made distribution without stint or discrimination. The heartiness of their welcome may be imagined; while the thoughtful reader will see in the liberality thus characterizing her hospitality one of the secrets of the Princess's popularity with the poor along the Bosphorus. Nor that merely. A little reflection will lead up to an explanation of her preference for the Homeric residence by Therapia. The commonalty, especially the unfortunate amongst them, were a kind of constituency of hers, and she loved living where she could most readily communicate with them.
This was the hour she chose to go out and personally visit her guests. Descending from the portico, she led her household attendants into the garden. She alone appeared unveiled. The happiness of the many amongst whom she immediately stepped touched every spring of enjoyment in her being; her eyes were bright, her cheeks rosy, her spirit high; in a word, the beauty so peculiarly hers, and which no one could look on without consciousness of its influence, shone with singular enhancement.
News that she was in the garden spread rapidly, and where she went everyone arose and remained standing. Now and then, while making acknowledgments to groups along the way, she recognized acquaintances, and for such, whether men or women, she had a smile, sometimes a word. Upon her passing, they pursued with benisons, "God bless you!" "May the Holy Mother keep her!" Not unfrequently children ran flinging flowers at her feet, and mothers knelt and begged her blessing. They had lively recollection of a sickness or other overtaking by sorrow, and of her boat drawing to the landing laden with delicacies, and bringing what was quite as welcome, the charm of her presence, with words inspiring hope and trust. The vast, vociferous, premeditated Roman ovation, sonorously the Triumph, never brought a Consular hero the satisfaction this Christian woman now derived.
She was aware of the admiration which went with her, and the sensation was of walking through a purer and brighter sunshine. Nor did she affect to put aside the triumph there certainly was in the demonstration; but she accounted it the due of charity—a triumph of good work done for the pleasure there was in the doing.
At the basin mentioned as the landward terminus of the garden the progress in that direction stopped. Thence, after gracious attentions to the women and children there, the Princess set out for the summit of the promontory. The road taken was broad and smooth, and on the left hand lined from bottom to top with pine trees, some of which are yet standing.
The summit had been a place of interest time out of mind. From its woody cover, the first inhabitants beheld the Argonauts anchor off the town of Amycus, king of the Bebryces; there the vengeful Medea practised her incantations; and descending to acknowledged history, it were long telling the notable events of the ages landmarked by the hoary height. When the builder of the palace below threw his scheme of improvement over the brow of the hill, he constructed water basins on different levels, surrounding them with raised walls artistically sculptured; between the basins he pitched marble pavilions, looking in the distance like airy domes on a Cyclopean temple; then he drew the work together by a tesselated pavement identical with the floor of the house of Caesar hard by the Forum in Rome.
Giving little heed to the other guests in occupancy of the summit, the attendants of the Princess broke into parties sight seeing; while she called Sergius to her, and conducted him to a point commanding the Bosphorus for leagues. A favorite lookout, in fact, the spot had been provided with a pavement and a capacious chair cut from a block of the coarse brown limestone native to the locality. There she took seat, and the ascent, though all in shade, having been wearisome, she was glad of the blowing of the fresh upper air.
From a place in the rear Sergius had witnessed the progress to the present halt. Every incident and demonstration had been in his view and hearing. The expressions of affection showered upon the Princess were delightful to him; they seemed so spontaneous and genuine. As testimony to her character in the popular estimate at least, they left nothing doubtful. His first impression of her was confirmed. She was a woman to whom Heaven had confided every grace and virtue. Such marvels had been before. He had heard of them in tradition, and always in a strain to lift those thus favored above the hardened commonplace of human life, creatures not exactly angels, yet moving in the same atmosphere with angels. The monasteries, even those into whose gates women are forbidden to look, all have stories of womanly excellence which the monks tell each other in pauses from labor in the lentil patch, and in their cells after vesper prayers. In brief, so did Sergius' estimate of the Princess increase that he was unaware of impropriety when, trudging slowly after the train of attendants, he associated her with heroines most odorous in Church and Scriptural memories; with Mothers Superior famous for sanctity; with Saints, like Theckla and Cecilia; with the Prophetess who was left by the wayside in the desert of Zin, and the later seer and singer, she who had her judgment-seat under the palm tree of Deborah.
Withal, however, the monk was uncomfortable. The words of his Hegumen pursued him. Should he tell the Princess? Assailed by doubts, he followed her to the lookout on the edge of the promontory.
Seating herself, she glanced over the wide field of water below; from the vessels there, she gazed across to Asia; then up at the sky, full to its bluest depth with the glory of day. At length she asked:
"Have you heard from Father Hilarion?"
"Not yet," Sergius replied.
"I was thinking of him," she continued. "He used to tell me of the primitive church—the Church of the Disciples. One of his lessons returns to me. He seems to be standing where you are. I hear his voice. I see his countenance. I remember his words: 'The brethren while of one faith, because the creed was too simple for division, were of two classes, as they now are and will always be'—ay, Sergius, as they will always be!—'But,' he said, 'it is worthy remembrance, my dear child, unlike the present habit, the rich held their riches with the understanding that the brethren all had shares in them. The owner was more than owner; he was a trustee charged with the safe-keeping of his property, and with farming it to the best advantage, that he might be in condition to help the greatest number of the Christian brotherhood according to their necessities.' I wondered greatly at the time, but not now. The delight I have today confirms the Father; for it is not in my palace and garden, nor in my gold, but in the power I derive from them to give respite from the grind of poverty to so many less fortunate than myself. 'The divine order was not to desist from getting wealth'—thus the Father continued—'for Christ knew there were who, labor as they might, could not accumulate or retain; circumstances would be against them, or the genius might be wanting. Poor without fault, were they to suffer, and curse God with the curse of the sick, the cold, the naked, the hungry? Oh, no! Christ was the representative of the Infinitely Merciful. Under his dispensation they were to be partners of the more favored.' Who can tell, who can begin to measure the reward there is to me in the laughter of children at play under the trees by the brooks, and in the cheer and smiles of women whom I have been able to draw from the unvarying routine of toil like theirs?"
There was a ship with full spread sail speeding along so close in shore Sergius could have thrown a stone on its deck. He affected to be deeply interested in it. The ruse did not avail him.
"What is the matter?"
Receiving no reply, she repeated the question.
"My dear friend, you are not old enough in concealment to deceive me. You are in trouble. Come sit here.... True, I am not an authorized confessor; yet I know the principle on which the Church defends the confessional. Let me share your burden. Insomuch as you give me, you shall be relieved."
It came to him then that he must speak.
"Princess," he began, striving to keep his voice firm, "you know not what you ask."
"Is it what a woman may hear?"
A step nearer brought him on the tesselated square.
"I hesitate, Princess, because a judgment is required of me. Hear, and help me first."
Then he proceeded rapidly:
"There is one just entered holy service. He is a member of an ancient and honorable Brotherhood, and by reason of his inexperience, doubtless, its obligations rest the heavier on his conscience. His superior has declared to him how glad he would be had he a son like him, and confiding in his loyalty, he intrusted him with gravest secrets; amongst others, that a person well known and greatly beloved is under watch for the highest of religious crimes. Pause now, O Princess, and consider the obligations inseparable from the relation and trust here disclosed.... Look then to this other circumstance. The person accused condescended to be the friend and patron of the same neophyte, and by vouching for him to the head of the Church, put him on the road to favor and quick promotion. Briefly, O Princess, to which is obligation first owing? The father superior or the patron in danger?"
The Princess replied calmly, but with feeling: "It is not a supposition, Sergius."
Though surprised, he returned: "Without it I could not have your decision first."
"Thou, Sergius, art the distressed neophyte."
He held his hands out to her: "Give me thy judgment."
"The Hegumen of the St. James' is the accuser."
"Be just, O Princess! To which is the obligation first owing?"
"I am the accused," she continued, in the same tone.
He would have fallen on his knees. "No, keep thy feet. A watchman may be behind me now."
He had scarcely resumed his position before she asked, still in the quiet searching manner: "What is the highest religious crime? Or rather, to men in authority, like the Hegumen of your Brotherhood, what is the highest of all crimes?"
He looked at her in mute supplication.
"I will tell you—HERESY."
Then, compassionating his suffering, she added: "My poor Sergius! I am not upbraiding you. You are showing me your soul. I see it in its first serious trial.... I will forget that I am the denounced, and try to help you. Is there no principle to which we can refer the matter—no Christian principle? The Hegumen claims silence from you; on the other side, your conscience—I would like to say preference—impels you to speak a word of warning for the benefit of your patroness. There, now, we have both the dispute and the disputants. Is it not so?"
Sergius bowed his head.
"Father Hilarion once said to me: 'Daughter, I give you the ultimate criterion of the divineness of our religion—there cannot be an instance of human trial for which it does not furnish a rule of conduct and consolation.' A profound saying truly! Now is it possible we have here at last an exception? I do not seek to know on which side the honors lie. Where are the humanities? Ideas of honor are of men conventional. On the other hand, the humanities stand for Charity. If thou wert the denounced, O Sergius, how wouldst thou wish to be done by?"
Sergius' face brightened.
"We are not seeking to save a heretic—we are in search of quiet for our consciences. So why not ask and answer further: What would befall the Hegumen, did you tell the accused all you had from him? Would he suffer? Is there a tribunal to sentence him? Or a prison agape for him? Or torture in readiness? Or a King of Lions? In these respects how is it with the friend who vouched for you to the head of the Church? Alas!"
"Enough—say no more!" Sergius cried impulsively. "Say no more. O Princess, I will tell everything—I will save you, if I can—if not, and the worst come, I will die with you."
Womanlike the Princess signalized her triumph with tears. At length she asked: "Wouldst thou like to know if I am indeed a heretic?"
"Yes, for what thou art, that am I; and then"—
"The same fire in the Hippodrome may light us both out of the world."
There was a ring of prophecy in the words.
"God forbid!" he ejaculated, with a shiver.
"God's will be done, were better! ... So, if it please you," she went on, "tell me all the Hegumen told you about me."
"Everything?" he asked doubtfully.
"Part of it is too wicked for repetition."
"Yet it was an accusation."
"Sergius, you are no match in cunning for my enemies. They are Greeks trained to diplomacy; you are"—she paused and half smiled—"only a pupil of Hilarion's. See now—if they mean to kill me, how important to invent a tale which shall rob me of sympathy, and reconcile the public to my sacrifice. They who do much good, and no harm"—she cast a glance at the people swarming around the pavilions—"always have friends. Such is the law of kindness, and it never failed but once; but today a splinter of the Cross is worth a kingdom."
"Princess, I will hold nothing back."
"And I, Sergius—God witnessing for me—will speak to each denunciation thou givest me."
"There were two matters in the Hegumen's mind," Sergius began, but struck with the abruptness, he added apologetically: "I pray you, Princess, remember I speak at your insistence, and that I am not in any sense an accuser. It may be well to say also the Hegumen returned from last night's Mystery low in spirits, and much spent bodily, and before speaking of you, declared he had been an active partisan of your father's. I do not think him your personal enemy."
A mist of tears dimmed her eyes while the Princess replied: "He was my father's friend, and I am grateful to him; but alas! that he is naturally kind and just is now of small consequence."
"It grieves me"—
"Do not stop," she said, interrupting him.
"At the Father's bedside I received his blessing; and asked leave to be absent a few days. 'Where?' he inquired, and I answered: 'Thou knowest I regard the Princess Irene as my little mother. I should like to go see her.'"
Sergius sought his auditor's face at this, and observing no sign of objection to the familiarity, was greatly strengthened.
"The Father endeavored to persuade me not to come, and it was with that purpose he entered upon the disclosures you ask.... 'The life the Princess leads'—thus he commenced—'and her manners, are outside the sanctions of society.'"
Here, from resting on her elbow, the listener sat upright, grasping the massive arm of the chair.
"Shall I proceed, O Princess?"
"This place is very public"—he glanced at the people above them.
"I will hear you here."
"At your pleasure.... The Hegumen referred next to your going about publicly unveiled. While not positively wrong, he condemned the practice as a pernicious example; besides which there was a defiant boldness in it, he said, tending to make you a subject of discussion and indelicate remark."
The hand on the stony arm trembled.
"I fear, O Princess," Sergius continued, with downcast look, "that my words are giving you pain."
"But they are not yours. Go on."
"Then the Father came to what was much more serious."
Sergius again hesitated.
"I am listening," she said.
"He termed it your persistence in keeping up the establishment here at Therapia."
The Princess grew red and white by turns.
"He said the Turk was too near you; that unmarried and unprotected your proper place was in some house of God on the Islands, or in the city, where you could have the benefit of holy offices. As it was, rumor was free to accuse you of preferring guilty freedom to marriage."
The breeze fell off that moment, leaving the Princess in the centre of a profound hush; except for the unwonted labor of her heart, the leaves overhead were not more still. The sight of her was too oppressive— Sergius turned away. Presently he heard her say, as if to herself: "I am indeed in danger. If my death were not in meditation, the boldest of them would not dare think so foul a falsehood.... Sergius," she said.
He turned to her, but she broke off diverted by another idea. Had this last accusation reference to the Emperor's dream of making her his wife? Could the Emperor have published what took place between them? Impossible!
"Sergius, did the Hegumen tell you whence this calumny had origin?"
"He laid it to rumor merely."
"Surely he disclosed some ground for it. A dignitary of his rank and profession cannot lend himself to shaming a helpless woman without reason or excuse."
"Except your residence at Therapia, he gave no reason."
Here she looked at Sergius, and the pain in the glance was pitiful. "My friend, is there anything in your knowledge which might serve such a rumor?"
"Yes," he replied, letting his eyes fall.
"What!" and she lifted her head, and opened her eyes.
He stood silent and evidently suffering.
"Poor Sergius! The punishment is yours. I am sorry for you—sorry we entered on this subject—but it is too late to retire from it. Speak bravely. What is it you know against me? It cannot be a crime; much I doubt if it be a sin; my walk has been very strait and altogether in God's view. Speak!"
"Princess," he answered, "coming down from the landing, I was stopped by a concourse studying a brass plate nailed to the right-hand pillar of your gate. It was inscribed, but none of them knew the import of the inscription. The hamari came up, and at sight of it fell to saluting, like the abject Eastern he is. The bystanders chaffered him, and he retorted, and, amongst other things, said the brass was a safeguard directed to all Turks, notifying them that this property, its owner, and inmates were under protection of the Prince Mahommed. Give heed now, I pray you, O Princess, to this other thing of the man's saying. The notice was the Prince Mahommed's, the inscription his signature, and the Prince himself fixed the plate on the pillar with his own hand."
"Well," she asked.
"The inferences—consider them."
"My tongue refuses. Or if I must, O Princess, I will use the form of accusation others are likely to have adopted. 'The Princess Irene lives at Therapia because Prince Mahommed is her lover, and it is a convenient place of meeting. Therefore his safeguard on her gate.'"
"No one could be bold enough to"—
"One has been bold enough."
"The Hegumen of my Brotherhood."
The Princess was very pale.
"It is cruel—cruel!" she exclaimed. "What ought I to do?"
"Treat the safeguard as a discovery of to-day, and have it removed while the people are all present." She looked at him searchingly. On her forehead between the brows, he beheld a line never there before. More surprising was the failure of self-reliance observable in her request for counsel. Heretofore her courage and sufficiency had been remarkable. In all dealings with him she had proved herself the directress, quick yet decided. The change astonished him, so little was he acquainted with the feminine nature; and in reply he spoke hastily, hardly knowing what he had said. The words were not straightforward and honest; they were not becoming him any more than the conduct suggested was becoming her; they lingered in his ear, a wicked sound, and he would have recalled them—but he hesitated.
Here a voice in fierce malediction was heard up at the pavilions, together with a prodigious splashing of water. Laughter, clapping of hands, and other expressions of delight succeeded.
"Go, Sergius, and see what is taking place," said the Princess.
Glad of the opportunity to terminate the painful scene, he hastened to the reservoirs and returned.
"Your presence will restore quiet at once."
The people made way for their hostess with alacrity. The hamari, it appeared, had just arrived from the garden. Observing Lael in the midst of the suite of fair ladies, he advanced to her with many strange salutations. Alarmed, she would have run away had not Joqard broken from his master, and leaped with a roar into the water. The poor beast seemed determined to enjoy the bath. He swam, and dived, and played antics without number. In vain the showman, resorting to every known language, coaxed and threatened by turns—Joqard was self-willed and happy, and it were hard saying which appreciated his liberty most, he or the spectators of the scene.
The Princess, for the time conquering her pain of heart, interceded for the brute; whereupon the hamari, like a philosopher used to making the best of surprises, joined in the sport until Joqard grew tired, and voluntarily returned to control.
LAEL TELLS OF HER TWO FATHERS
Word passed from the garden to the knots of people on the height: "Come down quickly. They are making ready for the boat race." Directly the reservoirs, the pavilions, and the tesselation about them were deserted.
The Princess Irene, with her suite, made the descent to the garden more at leisure, knowing the regatta would wait for her. So it happened she was at length in charge of what seemed a rear guard; but how it befell that Sergius and Lael drew together, the very last of that rear guard, is not of such easy explanation.
Whether by accident or mutual seeking, side by side the two moved slowly down the hill, one moment in the shade of the kingly pines, then in the glowing sunshine. The noises of the celebration, the shouting, singing, calling, and merry outcries of children ascended to them, and through the verdurousness below, lucent as a lake, gleams of color flashed from scarfs, mantles, embroidered jackets, and flaming petticoats.
"I hope you are enjoying yourself," he said to Lael, upon their meeting.
"Oh, yes! How could I help it—everything is delightful. And the Princess—she is so good and gracious. Oh, if I were a man, I should go mad with loving her!"
She spoke with enthusiasm; she even drew her veil partially aside; yet Sergius did not respond; he was asking himself if it were possible the girl could be an impostor. Presently he resolved to try her with questions.
"Tell me of your father. Is he well?"
At this she raised her veil entirely, and in turn asked: "Which father do you mean?"
"Which father," he repeated, stopping.
"Oh, I have the advantage of everybody else! I have two fathers."
He could do no more than repeat after her: "Two fathers!"
"Yes; Uel the merchant is one of them, and the Prince of India is the other. I suppose you mean the Prince, since you know him. He accompanied me to the landing this morning, and seated me in the boat. He was then well."
There was no concealment here. Yet Sergius saw the disclosure was not complete. He was tempted to go on.
"Two fathers! How can such thing be?"
She met the question with a laugh. "Oh! If it depended on which of them is the kinder to me, I could not tell you the real father."
Sergius stood looking at her, much as to say: "That is no answer; you are playing with me."
"See how we are falling behind," she then said. "Come, let us go on. I can talk while walking."
They set forward briskly, but it was noticeable that he moved nearer her, stooping from his great height to hear further.
"This is the way of it," she continued of her own prompting. "Some years ago, my father, Uel, the merchant, received a letter from an old friend of his father's, telling him that he was about to return to Constantinople after a long absence in the East somewhere, and asking if he, Uel, would assist the servant who was bearer of the note in buying and furnishing a house. Uel did so, and when the stranger arrived, his home was ready for him. I was then a little girl, and went one day to see the Prince of India, his residence being opposite Uel's on the other side of the street. He was studying some big books, but quit them, and picked me up, and asked me who I was? I told him Uel was my father. What was my name? Lael, I said. How old was I? And when I answered that also, he kissed me, and cried, and, to my wonder, declared how he had once a child named Lael; she looked like me, and was just my age when she died"—
"Wonderful!" exclaimed Sergius.
"Yes, and he then said Heaven had sent me to take her place. Would I be his Lael? I answered I would, if Uel consented. He took me in his arms, carried me across the street and talked so Uel could not have refused had he wanted to."
The manner of the telling was irresistible. At the conclusion, she turned to him and said, with emotion: "There, now. You see I really have two fathers, and you know how I came by them: and were I to recount their goodness to me, and how they both love me, and how happy each one of them is in believing me the object of the other's affection, you would understand just as well how I know no difference between them."
"It is strange; yet as you tell it, little friend, it is not strange," he returned, seriously. They were at the instant in a bar of brightest sunlight projected across the road; and had she asked him the cause of the frown on his face, he could not have told her he was thinking of Demedes.
"Yes, I see it—I see it, and congratulate you upon being so doubly blessed. Tell me next who the Prince of India is."
She looked now here, now there, he watching her narrowly.
"Oh! I never thought of asking him about himself."
She was merely puzzled by an unexpected question.
"But you know something of him?"
"Let me think," she replied. "Yes, he was the intimate of my father Uel's father, and of his father before him."
"Is he so old then?"
"I cannot say how long he has been a family acquaintance. Of my knowledge he is very learned in everything. He speaks all the languages I ever heard of; he passes the nights alone on the roof of his house"—
"Alone on the roof of his house!"
"Only of clear nights, you understand. A servant carries a chair and table up for him, and a roll of papers, with pen and ink, and a clock of brass and gold. The paper is a map of the heavens; and he sits there watching the stars, marking them in position on the map, the clock telling him the exact time."
"An astronomer," said Sergius.
"And an astrologer," she added; "and besides these things he is a doctor, but goes only amongst the poor, taking nothing from them. He is also a chemist; and he has tables of the plants curative and deadly, and can extract their qualities, and reduce them from fluids to solids, and proportionate them. He is also a master of figures, a science, he always terms it, the first of creative principles without which God could not be God. So, too, he is a traveller—indeed I think he has been over the known world. You cannot speak of a capital or of an island, or a tribe which he has not visited. He has servants from the farthest East. One of his attendants is an African King; and what is the strangest to me, Sergius, his domestics are all deaf and dumb."
"Nothing appears impossible to him."
"How does he communicate with them?"
"They catch his meaning from the motion of his lips. He says signs are too slow and uncertain for close explanations."
"Still he must resort to some language."
"Oh, yes, the Greek."
"But if they have somewhat to impart to him?"
"It is theirs to obey, and pantomime seems sufficient to convey the little they have to return to him, for it is seldom more than, 'My Lord, I have done the thing you gave me to do.' If the matter be complex, he too resorts to the lip-speech, which he could not teach without first being proficient in it himself. Thus, for instance, to Nilo"—
"The black giant who defended you against the Greek?"
"Yes—a wonderful man—an ally, not a servant. On the journey to Constantinople, the Prince turned aside into an African Kingdom called Kash-Cush. I cannot tell where it is. Nilo was the King, and a mighty hunter and warrior. His trappings hang in his room now—shields, spears, knives, bows and arrows, and among them a net of linen threads. When he took the field for lions, his favorite game, the net and a short sword were all he cared for. His throne room, I have heard my father the Prince say, was carpeted with skins taken by him in single combats."
"What could he do with the net, little Princess?"
"I will give you his account; perhaps you can see it clearly—I cannot. When the monster makes his leap, the corners of the net are tossed up in the air, and he is in some way caught and tangled... Well, as I was saying, Nilo, though deaf and dumb, of choice left his people and throne to follow the Prince, he knew not where."
"Oh, little friend! Do you know you are talking the incredible to me? Who ever heard of such thing before?"
Sergius' blue eyes were astare with wonder.
"I only speak what I have heard recounted by my father, the Prince, to my other father, Uel.... What I intended saying was that directly the Prince established himself at home he began teaching Nilo to converse. The work was slow at first; but there is no end to the master's skill and patience; he and the King now talk without hindrance. He has even made him a believer in God."
"A Christian, you mean."
"No. In my father's opinion the mind of a wild man cannot comprehend modern Christianity; nobody can explain the Trinity; yet a child can be taught the almightiness of God, and won to faith in him."
"Do you speak for yourself or the Prince?"
"The Prince," she replied.
Sergius was struck with the idea, and wished to go further with it, but they were at the foot of the hill, and Lael exclaimed, "The garden is deserted. We may lose the starting of the race. Let us hurry."
"Nay, little friend, you forget how narrow my skirts are. I cannot run. Let us walk fast. Give me a hand. There now—we will arrive in time."
Near the palace, however, Sergius dropped into his ordinary gait; then coming to a halt, he asked: "Tell me to whom else you have related this pretty tale of the two fathers?"
His look and tone were exceedingly grave, and she studied his face, and questioned him in turn: "You are very serious—why?"
"Oh, I was wondering if the story is public?" More plainly, he was wondering whence Demedes had his information.
"I suppose it is generally known; at least I cannot see why it should not be."
The few words swept the last doubt from his mind; yet she continued: "My father Uel is well known to the merchants of the city. I have heard him say gratefully that since the coming of the Prince of India his business has greatly increased. He used to deal in many kinds of goods; now he sells nothing but precious stones. His patrons are not alone the nobles of Byzantium; traders over in Galata buy of him for the western markets, especially Italy and France. My other father, the Prince, is an expert in such things, and does not disdain to help Uel with advice."
Lael might have added that the Prince, in course of his travels, had ascertained the conveniency of jewels as a currency familiar and acceptable to almost every people, and always kept a store of them by him, from which he frequently replenished his protege's stock, allowing him the profits. That she did not make this further disclosure was probably due to ignorance of the circumstances; in other words, her artlessness was extreme enough to render her a dangerous confidant, and both her fathers were aware of it.
"Everybody in the bazaar is friendly to my father Uel, and the Prince visits him there, going in state; and he and his train are an attraction"—thus Lael proceeded. "On his departure, the questions about him are countless, and Uel holds nothing back. Indeed, it is more than likely he has put the whole mart and city in possession of the history of my adoption by the Prince."
In front of the palace she broke off abruptly: "But see! The landing is covered with men and women. Let us hurry."
Presently they issued from the garden, and were permitted to join the Princess.
THE HAMARI TURNS BOATMAN
The boatmen had taken up some of the marble blocks of the landing, and planting long oars upright in the ground, and fixing other oars crosswise on them, constructed a secure frame covered with fresh sail-cloth. From their vessels they had also brought material for a dais under the shelter thus improvised; another sail for carpet, and a chair on the dais completed the stand whence the Princess was to view and judge the race.
A way was opened for her through the throng, and with her attendants, she passed to the stand; and as she went, all the women near reached out their hands and reverently touched the skirt of her gown—so did their love for her trench on adoration.
The shore from the stand to the town, and from the stand again around the promontory on the south, was thronged with spectators, while every vantage point fairly in view was occupied by them; even the ships were pressed into the service; and somehow the air over and about the bay seemed to give back and tremble with the eagerness of interest everywhere discernible.
Between Fanar, the last northern point of lookout over the Black Sea, and Galata, down on the Golden Horn, there are about thirty hamlets, villages and cities specking the European shore of the Bosphorus. Each of them has its settlement of fishermen. Aside from a voluminous net, the prime necessity for successful pursuit of the ancient and honorable calling is a boat. Like most things of use amongst men, the vessel of preferred model here came of evolution. The modern tourist may yet see its kind drawn up at every landing he passes.
Proper handling, inclusive of running out and hauling in the seine, demanded a skilful crew of at least five men; and as whole lives were devoted to rowing, the proficiency finally attained in it can be fancied. It was only natural, therefore, that the thirty communities should each insist upon having the crew of greatest excellence—the crew which could outrow any other five on the Bosphorus; and as every Byzantine Greek was a passionate gambler, the wagers were without end. Vauntings of the sort, like the Black Sea birds of unresting wings, went up and down the famous waterway.
At long intervals occasions presented for the proof of these men of pride; after which, for a period there was an admitted champion crew, and a consequent hush of the babble and brawl.
In determining to conclude the fete with a boat-race open to all Greek comers from the capital to the Cyanian rocks, the Princess Irene did more than secure a desirable climax; unconsciously, perhaps, she hit upon the measure most certain to bring peace to the thirty villages.
She imposed but two conditions on the competitors—they should be fishermen and Greeks.
The interval between the announcement of the race and the day set for it had been filled with boasting, from which one would have supposed the bay of Therapia at the hour of starting would be too contracted to hold the adversaries. When the hour came there were six crews present actually prepared to contest for the prize—a tall ebony crucifix, with a gilded image, to be displayed of holidays on the winning prow. The shrinkage told the usual tale of courage oozed out. There was of course no end of explanation.
About three o'clock, the six boats, each with a crew of five men, were held in front of the Princess' stand, representative of as many towns. Their prows were decorated with banderoles large enough to be easily distinguished at a distance—one yellow, chosen for Yenimahale; one blue, for Buyukdere; one white, for Therapia; one red, for Stenia; one green, for Balta-Liman; and one half white and half scarlet, for Bebek. The crews were in their seats—fellows with knotted arms bare to the shoulder; white shirts under jackets the color of the flags, trousers in width like petticoats. The feet were uncovered that, while the pull was in delivery, they might the better clinch the cleats across the bottom of the boat.
The fresh black paint with which the vessels had been smeared from end to end on the outside was stoned smoothly down until it glistened like varnish. Inside there was not a superfluity to be seen of the weight of a feather.
The contestants knew every point of advantage, and, not less clearly, they were there to win or be beaten doing their best. They were cool and quiet; much more so, indeed, than the respective clansmen and clanswomen.
From these near objects of interest, the Princess directed a glance over the spreading field of dimpled water to a galley moored under a wooded point across on the Asiatic shore. The point is now crowned with the graceful but neglected Kiosk of the Viceroy of Egypt. That galley was the thither terminus of the race course, and the winners turning it, and coming back to the place of starting, must row in all about three miles.
A little to the right of the Princess' stand stood a pole of height to be seen by the multitude as well as the rival oarsmen, and a rope for hoisting a white flag to the top connected it with the chair on the dais. At the appearance of the flag the boats were to start; while it was flying, the race was on.
And now the competitors are in position by lot from right to left. On bay and shore the shouting is sunk to a murmur. A moment more—but in that critical period an interruption occurred.
A yell from a number of voices in sharpest unison drew attention to the point of land jutting into the water on the north side not inaptly called the toe of Therapia, and a boat, turning the point, bore down with speed toward the sail-covered stand. There were four rowers in it; yet its glossy sides and air of trimness were significant of a seventh competitor for some reason behind time. The black flag at the prow and the black uniform of the oarsmen confirmed the idea. The hand of the Princess was on the signal rope; but she paused.
As the boat-hook of the newcomers fell on the edge of the landing, one of them dropped upon his knees, crying: "Grace, O Princess! Grace, and a little time!"
The four were swarthy men, and, unlike the Greeks they were seeking to oppose, their swart was a peculiarity of birth, a racial sign. Recognizing them, the spectators near by shouted: "Gypsies! Gypsies!" and the jeer passed from mouth to mouth far as the bridge over the creek at the corner of the bay; yet it was not ill-natured. That these unbelievers of unknown origin, separatists like the Jews, could offer serious opposition to the chosen of the towns was ridiculous. Since they excited no apprehension, their welcome was general.
"Why the need of grace? Who are you?" the Princess replied, gravely.
"We are from the valley by Buyukdere," the man returned.
"Are you fishermen?"
"Judged by our catches the year through, and the prices we get in the market, O Princess, it is not boasting to say our betters cannot be found, though you search both shores between Fanar and the Isles of the Princes."
This was too much for the bystanders. The presence they were in was not sufficient to restrain an outburst of derision.
"But the conditions of the race shut you out. You are not Greeks," the judge continued.
"Nay, Princess, that is according to the ground of judgment. If it please you to decide by birth and residence rather than ancestry, then are we to be preferred over many of the nobles who go in and out of His Majesty's gates unchallenged. Has not the sweet water that comes down from the hills seeking the sea through our meadow furnished drink for our fathers hundreds of years? And as it knew them, it knows us."
"Well answered, I must admit. Now, my friend, do as wisely with what I ask next, and you shall have a place. Say you come out winners, what will you do with the prize? I have heard you are not Christians."
The man raised his face the first time.
"Not Christians! Were the charge true, then, argument being for the hearing, I would say the matter of religion is not among the conditions. But I am a petitioner, not lawyer, and to my rude thinking it is better that I hold on as I began. Trust us, O Princess! There is a plane tree, wondrous old, and with seven twin trunks, standing before our tents, and in it there is a hollow which shelters securely as a house. Attend me now, I pray. If happily we win, we will convert the tree into a cathedral, and build an altar in it, and set the prize above the altar in such style that all who love the handiworks of nature better than the artfulness of men may come and worship there reverently as in the holiest of houses, Sancta Sophia not excepted."
"I will trust you. With such a promise overheard by so many of this concourse, to refuse you a part in the race were a shame to the Immaculate Mother. But how is it you are but four?"
"We were five, O Princess; now one is sick. It was at his bidding we come; he thought of the hundreds of oarsmen who would be here one at least could be induced to share our fortune."
"You have leave to try them."
The man arose, and looked at the bystanders, but they turned away.
"A hundred noumiae for two willing hands!" he shouted.
There was no reply. "If not for the money, then in honor of the noble lady who has feasted you and your wives and children."
A voice answered out of the throng: "Here am I!" and presently the hamari appeared with the bear behind him.
"Here," he said, "take care of Joqard for me. I will row in the sick man's place, and"—
The remainder of the sentence was lost in an outburst of gibing—and laughter. Finally the Princess asked the rowers if they were satisfied with the volunteer.
They surveyed him doubtfully.
"Art thou an oarsman?" one of them asked.
"There is not a better on the Bosphorus. And I will prove it. Here, some of you—take the beast off my hands. Fear not, friend, Joqard's worst growl is inoffensive as thunder without lightning. That's a good man."
And with the words the hamari released the leading strap, sprang into the boat, and without giving time for protest or remonstrance, threw off his jacket and sandals, tucked up his shirt-sleeves, and dropped into the vacant fifth seat. The dexterity with which he then unshipped the oars and took them in hand measurably quieted the associates thus audaciously adopted; his action was a kind of certificate that the right man had been sent them.
"Believe in me," he said, in a low tone. "I have the two qualities which will bring us home winners—skill and endurance." Then he spoke to the Princess: "Noble lady, have I your consent to make a proclamation?"
The manner of the request was singularly deferential. Sergius observed the change, and took a closer look at him while the Princess was giving the permission.
Standing upon the seat, the hamari raised his voice: "Ho, here—there— every one!" and drawing a purse from his bosom, he waved it overhead, with a louder shout, "See!—a hundred noumiae, and not all copper either. Piece against piece weighed or counted, I put them in wager! Speak one or all. Who dares the chance?"
Takers of the offer not appearing on the shore, he shook the purse at his competitors.
"If we are not Christians," he said to them, "we are oarsmen and not afraid. See—I stake this purse—if you win, it is yours."
They only gaped at him.
He put the purse back slowly, and recounting the several towns of his opponents by their proper names in Greek, he cried: "Buyukdere, Therapia, Stenia, Bebek, Balta-Liman, Yenimahale—your women will sing you low to-night!" Then to the Princess: "Allow us now to take our place seventh on the left."
The bystanders were in a maze. Had they been served with a mess of brag, or was the fellow really capable? One thing was clear—the interest in the race had taken a rise perceptible in the judge's stand not less than on the crowded shore.
The four Gypsies, on their part, were content with the volunteer. In fact, they were more than satisfied when he said to them, as their vessel turned into position:
"Now, comrades, be governed by me; and besides the prize, if we win, you shall have my purse to divide amongst you man and man. Is it agreed?" And they answered, foreman and all, yes. "Very well," he returned. "Do you watch, and get the time and force from me. Now for the signal."
The Princess sent the starting flag to the top of the pole, and the boats were off together. A great shout went up from the spectators—a shout of men mingled with the screams of women to whom a hurrah or cheer of any kind appears impossible.
To warm the blood, there is nothing after all like the plaudits of a multitude looking on and mightily concerned. This was now noticeable. The eyes of all the rowers enlarged; their teeth set hard; the arteries of the neck swelled; and even in their tension the muscles of the arms quivered.
A much better arrangement would have been to allow the passage of the racers broadside to the shore; for then the shiftings of position, and the strategies resorted to would have been plain to the beholders; as it was, each foreshortened vessel soon became to them a black body, with but a man and one pair of oars in motion; and sometimes provokingly indistinguishable, the banderoles blew backward squarely in a line with the direction of the movement. Then the friends on land gave over exercising their throats; finally drawn down to the water's edge, and pressing on each other, they steadied and welded into a mass, like a wall.
Once there was a general shout. Gradually the boats had lost the formation of the start, and falling in behind each other, assumed an order comparable to a string. While this change was going on, a breeze unusually strong blew from the south, bringing every flag into view at the same time: when it was perceived that the red was in the lead. Forthwith the clansmen of Stenia united in a triumphant yell, followed immediately, however, by another yet louder. It was discovered, thanks to the same breeze, that the black banderole of the Gypsies was the last of the seven. Then even those who had been most impressed by the bravado of the hamari, surrendered themselves to laughter and sarcasm.
"See the infidels!" "They had better be at home taking care of their kettles and goats!" "Turn the seven twins into a cathedral, will they? The devil will turn them into porpoises first!" "Where is the hamari now—where? By St. Michael, the father of fishermen, he is finding what it is to have more noumiae than brains! Ha, ha, ha!"
Nevertheless the coolest of the thirty-five men then scudding the slippery waterway was the hamari—he had started the coolest—he was the coolest now.
For a half mile he allowed his crew to do their best, and with them he had done his best. The effort sufficed to carry them to the front, where he next satisfied himself they could stay, if they had the endurance. He called to them:
"Well done, comrades! The prize and the money are yours! But ease up a little. Let them pass. We will catch them again at the turn. Keep your eyes on me."
Insensibly he lessened the dip and reach of his oars; at last, as the thousands on the Therapian shore would have had it, the Gypsy racer was the hinderling of the pack. Afterwards there were but trifling changes of position until the terminal galley was reached.
By a rule of the race, the contestants were required to turn the galley, keeping it on the right; and it was a great advantage to be a clear first there, since the fortunate party could then make the round unhindered and in the least space. The struggle for the point began quite a quarter of a mile away. Each crew applied itself to quickening the speed—every oar dipped deeper, and swept a wider span;—on a little, and the keepers of the galley could hear the half groan, half grunt with which the coming toilers relieved the extra exertion now demanded of them;—yet later, they saw them spring to their feet, reach far back, and finish the long deep draw by falling, or rather toppling backward to their seats.
Only the hamari eschewed the resort for the present. He cast a look forward, and said quickly: "Attend, comrades!" Thereupon he added weight to his left delivery, altering the course to an angle which, if pursued, must widen the circle around the galley instead of contracting it.
On nearing the goal the rush of the boats grew fiercer; each foreman, considering it honor lost, if not a fatal mischance, did he fail to be first at the turning-point, persisted in driving straight forward—a madness which the furious yelling of the people on the marker's deck intensified. This was exactly what the hamari had foreseen. When the turn began five of the opposing vessels ran into each other. The boil and splash of water, breaking of oars, splintering of boatsides; the infuriate cries, oaths, and blind striving of the rowers, some intent on getting through at all hazards, some turned combatants, striking or parrying with their heavy oaken blades; the sound of blows on breaking heads; plunges into the foaming brine; blood trickling down faces and necks, and reddening naked arms—such was the catastrophe seen in its details from the overhanging gunwale of the galley. And while it went on, the worse than confused mass drifted away from the ship's side, leaving a clear space through which, with the first shout heard from him during the race, the hamari urged his crew, and rounded the goal.
On the far Therapian shore the multitude were silent. They could dimly see every incident at the turn—the collision, fighting, and manifold mishaps, and the confounding of the banderoles. Then the Stenia colors flashed round the galley, with the black behind it a close second.
"Is that the hamari's boat next the leader?"
Thus the Princess, and upon the answer, she added: "It looks as if the Holy One might find servants among the irreclaimables in the valley."
Had the Gypsies at last a partisan?
The two rivals were now clear of the galley. For a time there was but one cry heard—"Stenia! Stenia!" The five oarsmen of that charming town had been carefully selected; they were vigorous, skilful, and had a chief well-balanced in judgment. The race seemed theirs. Suddenly—it was when the homestretch was about half covered—the black flag rushed past them.
Then the life went out of the multitude. "St. Peter is dead!" they cried—"St. Peter is dead! It is nothing to be a Greek now!" and they hung their heads, refusing to be comforted.
The Gypsies came in first; and amidst the profoundest silence, they dropped their oars with a triumphant crash on the marble revetment. The hamari wiped the sweat from his face, and put on his jacket and sandals; pausing then to toss his purse to the foreman, and say: "Take it in welcome, my friends. I am content with my share of the victory," he stepped ashore. In front of the judge's stand, he knelt, and said: "Should there be a dispute touching the prize, O Princess, be a witness unto thyself. Thine eyes have seen the going and the coming; and if the world belie thee not—sometimes it can be too friendly—thou art fair, just and fearless."
On foot again, his courtierly manner vanished in a twinkling.
"Joqard, Joqard? Where are you?"
Some one answered: "Here he is."
"Bring him quickly. For Joqard is an example to men—he is honest, and tells no lies. He has made much money, and allowed me to keep it all, and spend it on myself. Women are jealous of him, but with reason—he is lovely enough to have been a love of Solomon's; his teeth are as pearls of great price; his lips scarlet as a bride's; his voice is the voice of a nightingale singing to the full moon from an acacia tree fronded last night; in motion, he is now a running wave, now a blossom on a swaying branch, now a girl dancing before a king—all the graces are his. Yes, bring me Joqard, and keep the world; without him, it is nothing to me."
While speaking, from a jacket pocket he brought out the fan Lael had thrown him from the portico, and used it somewhat ostentatiously to cool himself. The Princess and her attendants laughed heartily. Sergius, however, watched the man with a scarcely defined feeling that he had seen him. But where? And he was serious because he could not answer.
Taking the leading strap, when Joqard was brought, the hamari scrupled not to give the brute a hearty cuff, whereat the fishermen shook the sails of the pavilion with laughter; then, standing Joqard up, he placed one of the huge paws on his arm, and, with the mincing step of a lady's page, they disappeared.
THE PRINCESS HAS A CREED
"I shall ask you, Sergius, to return to the city to-night, for inquiry about the fete will be lively tomorrow in the holy houses. And if you have the disposition to defend me"—
"You doubt me, O Princess?"
"O little mother, let me once for all be admitted to your confidence, that in talking to me there may never be a question of my loyalty."
This, with what follows, was part of a conversation between the Princess Irene and Sergius of occurrence the evening of the fete in the court heretofore described, being that to which she retired to read the letter of introduction brought her by the young monk from Father Hilarion.
From an apartment adjoining, the voices of her attendants were occasionally heard blent with the monotonous tinkle of water overflowing the bowls of the fountain. In the shadowy depths of the opening above the court the stars might have been seen had not a number of lamps suspended from a silken cord stretched from wall to wall flooded the marble enclosure with their nearer light.
There was a color, so to speak, in the declaration addressed to her—a warmth and earnestness—which drew a serious look from the Princess—the look, in a word, with which a woman admits a fear lest the man speaking to her may be a lover.
To say of her who habitually discouraged the tender passion, and the thought of it, that she moved in an atmosphere charged with attractions irresistible to the other sex sounds strangely: yet it was true; and as a consequence she had grown miraculously quick with respect to appearances.
However, she now dismissed the suspicion, and replied:
"I believe you, Sergius, I believe you. The Holy Virgin sees how completely and gladly."
She went on presently, a tremulous light in her eyes making him think of tears. "You call me little mother. There are some who might laugh, did they hear you, yet I agree to the term. It implies a relation of trust without embarrassment, and a promise of mutual faithfulness warranting me to call you in return, Sergius, and sometimes 'dear Sergius.' ... Yes, I think it better that you go back immediately. The Hegumen will want to speak to you in the morning about what you have seen and heard to-day. My boatmen can take you down, and arrived there, they will stay the night. My house is always open to them."
After telling her how glad he was for the permission to address her in a style usual in his country, he moved to depart, but she detained him.
"Stay a moment. To-day I had not time to deal as I wished with the charges the Hegumen prefers against me. You remember I promised to speak to you about them frankly, and I think it better to do so now; for with my confessions always present you cannot be surprised by misrepresentations, nor can doubt take hold of you so readily. You shall go hence possessed of every circumstance essential to judge how guilty I am."
"They must do more than talk," the monk returned, with emphasis.
"Beware, Sergius! Do not provoke them into argument—or if you must talk, stop when you have set them to talking. The listener is he who can best be wise as a serpent.... And now, dear friend, lend me your good sense. Thanks to the generosity of a kinsman, I am mistress of a residence in the city and this palace; and it is mine to choose between them. How healthful and charming life is with surroundings like these—here, the gardens; yonder, the verdurous hills; and there, before my door, a channel of the seas always borrowing from the sky, never deserted by men. Guilt seeks exclusion, does it not? Well, whether you come in the day or the night, my gate is open; nor have I a warder other than Lysander; and his javelin is but a staff with which to steady his failing steps. There are no prohibitions shutting me in. Christian, Turk, Gypsy—the world in fact—is welcome to see what all I have; and as to danger, I am defended better than with guards. I strive diligently to love my neighbors as I love myself, and they know it.... Coming nearer the accusation now. I find here a freedom which not a religious house in the city can give me, nor one on the Isles, not Halki itself. Here I am never disturbed by sectaries or partisans; the Greek and the Latin wrangle before the Emperor and at the altars; but they spare me in this beloved retiracy. Freedom! Ah, yes, I find it in this retreat—this escape from temptations—freedom to work and sleep, and praise God as seems best to me—freedom to be myself in defiance of deplorable social customs—and there is no guilt in it.... Coming still nearer the very charge, hear, O Sergius, and I will tell you of the brass on my gate, and why I suffer it to stay there; since you, with your partialities, account it a witness against me, it is in likelihood the foundation of the calumny associating me with the Turk. Let me ask first, did the Hegumen mention the name of one such associate?"
The Princess with difficulty repressed her feelings.
"Bear with me a moment," she said; "you cannot know the self-mastery I require to thus defend myself. Can I ever again be confident of my judgment? How doubts and fears will beset me when hereafter upon my own responsibility I choose a course, whatever the affair! Ah, God, whom I have sought to make my reliance, seems so far away! It will be for Him in the great day to declare if my purpose in living here be not escape from guiltiness in thought, from wrong and temptation, from taint to character. For further security, I keep myself surrounded with good women, and from the beginning took the public into confidence, giving it privileges, and inviting it to a study of my daily life. And this is the outcome! ... I will proceed now. The plate on the gate is a safeguard"—
"Then Mahommed has visited you?"
The slightest discernible pallor overspread her face.
"Does it surprise you so much? ... This is the way it came about. You remember our stay at the White Castle, and doubtless you remember the knight in armor who received us at the landing—a gallant, fair-speaking, chivalrous person whom we supposed the Governor, and who prevailed upon us to become his guests while the storm endured. You recollect him?"
"Yes. He impressed me greatly."
"Well, let me now bring up an incident not in your knowledge. The eunuch in whose care I was placed for the time with Lael, daughter of the Prince of India, as my companion, to afford us agreeable diversion, obtained my consent to introduce an Arab story-teller of great repute among the tribes of the desert and other Eastern people. He gave us the name of the man—Sheik Aboo-Obeidah. The Sheik proved worthy his fame. So entertaining was he, in fact, I invited him here, and he came."
"Did I understand you to say the entertainment took place in Lael's presence?"
"She was my companion throughout."
"Let us be thankful, little mother."
"Ay, Sergius, and that I have witnesses down to the last incident. You may have heard how the Emperor and his court did me the high honor of a visit in state."
"The visit was notorious."
"Well, while the royal company were at table, Lysander appeared and announced Aboo-Obeidah, and, by permission of the Emperor, the story-teller was admitted, and remained during the repast. Now I come to the surprising event—Aboo-Obeidah was Mahommed!"
"Prince Mahommed—son of the terrible Amurath?" exclaimed Sergius. "How did you know him?"
"By the brass plate. When he went to his boat, he stopped and nailed the plate to the pillar. I went to look at it, and not understanding the inscription, sent to town for a Turk who enlightened me."
"Then the hamari was not gasconading?"
"What did he say?"
"He confirmed your Turk."
She gazed awhile at the overflowing of the fountain, giving a thought perhaps to the masquerader and his description of himself what time he was alone with her on the portico; presently she resumed:
"One word more now, and I dismiss the brass plate.... I cannot blind myself, dear friend, to the condition of my kinsman's empire. It creeps in closer and closer to the walls of Constantinople. Presently there will be nothing of it left save the little the gates of the capital can keep. The peace we have is by the grace of an unbeliever too old for another great military enterprise; and when it breaks, then, O Sergius, yon safeguard may be for others besides myself—for many others—farmers, fishermen and townspeople caught in the storm. Say such anticipation followed you, Sergius—what would you do with the plate?"
"What would I do with it? O little mother, I too should take counsel of my fears."
"You approve my keeping it where it is, then? Thank you.... What remains for explanation? Ah, yes—my heresy. That you shall dispose of yourself. Remain here a moment."
She arose, and passing through a doorway heavily draped with cloth, left him to the entertainment of the fountain. Returning soon, she placed a roll of paper in his hand.
"There," she said, "is the creed which your Hegumen makes such a sin. It may be heresy; yet, God helping me, and Christ and the Holy Mother lending their awful help, I dare die for it. Take it, dear Sergius. You will find it simple—nine words in all—and take this cover for it."
He wrapped the parcel in the white silken cover she gave him, making mental comparison, nevertheless, with the old Nicaean ordinances.
"Only nine words—O little mother!"
"Nine," she returned.
"They should be of gold."
"I leave them to speak for themselves."
"Shall I return the paper?"
"No, it is a copy.... But it is time you were going. Fortunately the night is pleasant and starlit; and if you are tired, the speeding of the boat will rest you. Let me have an opinion of the creed at your leisure."
They bade each other good-night.
* * * * *
About eight o'clock next morning Sergius awoke. He had dropped on his cot undressed, and slept the sweet sleep of healthful youth; now, glancing about, he thought of the yesterday and the spacious garden, of the palace in the garden, of the Princess Irene, and of the conversation she held with him in the bright inner court. And the creed of nine words! He felt for it, and found it safe. Then his thought flew to Lael. She had exonerated herself. Demedes was a liar—Demedes, the presumptuous knave! He was to have been at the fete, but had not dared go. There was a limit to his audacity; and in great thankfulness for the discovery, Sergius tossed an arm over the edge of the narrow cot, and struck the stool, his solitary item of furniture. He raised his head, and looked at the stool, wondering how it came there so close to his cot. What was that he saw? A fan?—And in his chamber? Somebody had brought it in. He examined it cautiously. Whose was it? Whose could it be?—How!—No—but it was the very fan he had seen Lael toss to the hamari from the portico! And the hamari?
A bit of folded paper on the settle attracted his attention. He snatched it up, opened, and read it, and while he read his brows knit, his eyes opened to their full.
"Thou art better apprised of the meaning of the motto than thou wert yesterday.
"Thy seat in the Academy is still reserved for thee.
"Thou mayst find the fan of the Princess of India useful; with me it is embalmed in sentiment.
"Be wise. THE HAMARI."
He read the scrap twice, the second time slowly; then it fell rustling to the floor, while he clasped his hands and looked to Heaven. A murmur was all he could accomplish.
Afterwards, prostrate on the cot, his face to the wall, he debated with himself, and concluded:
"The Greek is capable of any villany he sets about—of abduction and murder—and now indeed must Lael beware!"
THE PRINCE OF INDIA PREACHES GOD TO THE GREEKS
We will now take the liberty of reopening the audience chamber of the palace of Blacherne, presuming the reader holds it in recollection. It is the day when, by special appointment, the Prince of India appears before the Emperor Constantine to present his idea of a basis for Universal Religious Union. The hour is exactly noon.
A report of the Prince's former audience with His Majesty had awakened general curiosity to see the stranger and hear his discourse. This was particularly the feeling in spiritual circles; by which term the most influential makers of public opinion are meant. A sharp though decorous rivalry for invitations to be present on the occasion ensued.
The Emperor, in robes varied but little from those he wore the day of the Prince's first audience, occupied the throne on the dais. On both sides of him the company sat in a semicircular arrangement which left them all facing the door of the main entrance, and permitted the placement of a table in a central position under every eye.
The appearance of the assemblage would have disappointed the reader; for while the court was numerously represented, with every functionary in his utmost splendor of decoration, it was outnumbered by the brethren of the Holy Orders, whose gowns, for the most part of gray and black material unrelieved by gayety in color, imparted a sombreness to the scene which the ample light of the chamber could not entirely dissipate, assisted though it was by refractions in plenitude from heads bald and heads merely tonsured.
It should be observed now that besides a very striking exterior, the Emperor fancied he discerned in the Prince of India an idea enriched by an extraordinary experience. At loss to make him out, impressed, not unpleasantly, with the mystery the stranger had managed, as usual, to leave behind him, His Majesty had looked forward to this second appearance with interest, and turned it over with a view to squeezing out all of profit there might be in it. Why not, he asked himself, make use of the opportunity to bring the chiefs of the religious factions once more together? The explosive tendency which it seemed impossible for them to leave in their cells with their old dalmatics had made it politic to keep them apart widely and often as circumstances would permit; here, however, he thought the danger might be averted, since they would attend as auditors from whom speech or even the asking a question would be out of order unless by permission. The imperial presence, it was also judged, would restrain the boldest of them from resolving himself into a disputant.
The arrangement of the chamber for the audience had been a knotty problem to our venerable acquaintance, the Dean; but at last he submitted his plan, giving every invitee a place by ticket; the Emperor, however, blotted it out mercilessly. "Ah, my old friend," he said, with a smile which assuaged the pang of disapproval, "you have loaded yourself with unnecessary trouble. There was never a mass performed with stricter observance of propriety than we will now have. Fix the chairs thus"—and with a finger-sweep he described a semicircle—"here the table for the Prince. Having notified me of his intention to read from some ancient books, he must have a table—and let there be no reserved seat, except one for the Patriarch. Set a sedilium, high and well clothed, for him here on my right—and forget not a stool for his feet; for now to the bitterness of controversy long continued he has added a constriction of the lungs, and together they are grievous to old age."
"Scholarius is an orator; some say he is a prophet; I know he is not an official; so of the seats vacant when he arrives, let him choose for himself."
The company began coming early. Every Churchman of prominence in the city was in attendance. The reception was unusually ceremonious. When the bustle was over, and His Majesty at ease, the pages having arranged the folds of his embroidered vestments, he rested his hand lightly on the golden cone of the right arm of the throne, and surveyed the audience with a quiet assurance becoming his birth in the purple, looking first to the Patriarch, and bowing to him, and receiving a salute in return. To the others on the right he glanced next, with a gracious bend of the head, and then to those on the left. In. the latter quarter he recognized Scholarius, and covertly smiled; if Gregory had taken seat on the left, Scholarius would certainly have crossed to the right. There was no such thing as compromise in his intolerant nature.
One further look the Emperor gave to where, near the door, a group of women was standing, in attendance evidently upon the Princess Irene, who was the only one of them seated. Their heads were covered by veils which had the appearance of finely woven silver. This jealous precaution, of course, cut off recognition; nevertheless such of the audience as had the temerity to cast their eyes at the fair array were consoled by a view of jewelled hands, bare arms inimitably round and graceful, and figures in drapery of delicate colors, and of designs to tempt the imagination without offence to modesty—a respect in which the Greek costume has never been excelled. The Emperor recognized the Princess, and slightly inclined his head to her. He then spoke to the Dean:
"Wait on the Prince of India, and if he is prepared, accompany him hither."
Passing out a side door, the master of ceremonies presently reappeared with Nilo in guidance. The black giant was as usual barbarously magnificent in attire; and staring at him, the company did not observe the burden he brought in, and laid on the table. He retired immediately; then they looked, and saw a heap of books and MSS. in rolls left behind him—quaint, curious volumes, so to speak, yellow with age and exposure, and suggestive of strange countries, and a wisdom new, if not of more than golden worth. And they continued to gaze and wonder at them, giving warrant to the intelligent forethought of the Prince of India which sent Nilo in advance of his own entry.
Again the door was thrown open, and this time the Dean ushered the Prince into the chamber, and conducted him toward the dais. Thrice the foreigner prostrated himself; the last time within easy speaking distance of His Majesty, who silently agreed with the observant lookers-on, that he had never seen the salutations better executed.
"Rise, Prince of India," the Emperor said, blandly, and well pleased.
The Prince arose, and stood before him, his eyes downcast, his hands upon his breast—suppliancy in excellent pantomime.
"Be not surprised, Prince of India, at the assemblage you behold." Thus His Majesty proceeded. "Its presence is due, I declare to you, not so much to design of mine as to the report the city has had of your former audience, and the theme of which you then promised to discourse." Without apparently noticing the low reverence in acknowledgment of the compliment, he addressed himself to the body of listeners. "I regard it courtesy to our noble Indian guest to advise you, my Lords of the Court, and you, devotees of Christ and the Father, whose prayers are now the chief stay of my empire, that he is present by my appointment. On a previous occasion, he interested us—I speak of many of my very honorable assistants in Government—he interested us, I say, with an account of his resignation of the Kingship in his country, moved by a desire to surrender himself exclusively to study of religion. Under my urgency, he bravely declared he was neither Jew, Moslem, Hindoo, Buddhist nor Christian; that his travels and investigation had led him to a faith which he summed up by pronouncing the most holy name of God; giving us to understand he meant the God to whom our hearts have long been delivered. He also referred to the denominations into which believers are divided, and said his one motive in life was the bringing them together in united brotherhood; and as I cannot imagine a result more desirable, provided its basis obtain the sanction of our conscience, I will now ask him to proceed, if it be his pleasure, and speak to us freely."
Again the visitor prostrated himself in his best oriental manner; after which, moving backward, he went to the table and took a few minutes arranging the books and rolls. The spectators availed themselves of the opportunity to gratify their curiosity well as they could from mere inspection of the man; and as the liberty was within his anticipations, it gave him but slight concern.
We about know how he appeared to them. We remember his figure, low, slightly stooped, and deficiently slender;—we remember the thin yet healthful looking face, even rosy of cheek;—we can see him in his pointed red slippers, his ample trousers of glossy white satin, his long black gown, relieved at the collar and cuffs with fine laces, his hair fallen on his shoulders, beard overflowing his breast;—we can even see the fingers, transparent, singularly flexible in operation, turning leaves, running down pages and smoothing them out, and placing this roll or that book as convenience required, all so lithe, swift, certain, they in a manner exposed the mind which controlled them. At length, the preliminaries finished, the Prince raised his eyes, and turned them slowly about—those large, deep, searching eyes—wells from which, without discoverable effort, he drew magnetism at his pleasure.
He began simply, his voice distinct, and cast to make itself heard, and not more.
"This"—his second finger was on a page of the large volume heretofore described—"this is the Bible, the most Holy of Bibles. I call it the rock on which your faith and mine are castled." There was a stretching of necks to see, and he did not allow the sensation to pass.
"And more—it is one of the fifty copies of the Bible translated by order of the first Constantine, under supervision of his minister Eusebius, well known to you for piety and learning."
It seemed at first every Churchman was on his feet, but directly the Emperor observed Scholarius and the Patriarch seated, the latter diligently crossing himself. The excitement can be readily comprehended by considering the assemblage and its composition of zealots and relic-worshippers, and that, while the tradition respecting the fifty copies was familiar, not a man there could have truly declared he had ever seen one of them—so had they disappeared from the earth.
"These are Bibles, also," the speaker resumed, upon the restoration of order—"Bibles sacred to those unto whom they were given as that imperishable monument to Moses and David is to us; for they too are Revelations from God—ay, the very same God! This is the Koran—and these, the Kings of the Chinese—and these, the Avesta of the Magians of Persia—and these, the Sutras well preserved of Buddha—and these, the Vedas of the patient Hindoos, my countrymen."
He carefully designated each book and roll by placing his finger on it.
"I thank Your Majesty for the gracious words of introduction you were pleased to give me. They set before my noble and most reverend auditors my history and the subject of my discourse; leaving me, without wrong to their understanding, or waste of time or words, to invite them to think of the years it took to fit myself to read these Books—for so I will term them—years spent among the peoples to whom they are divine. And when that thought is in mind, stored there past loss, they will understand what I mean by Religion, and the methods I adopted and pursued for its study. Then also the value of the assertions I make can be intelligently weighed.... This first—Have not all men hands and eyes? We may not be able to read the future in our palms; but there is no excuse for us if we do not at least see God in them. Similarity is law, and the law of Nature is the will of God. Keep the argument with you, O my Lord, for it is the earliest lesson I had from my travels.... Animals when called to, the caller being on a height over them, never look for him above the level of their eyes; even so some men are incapable of thinking of the mysteries hidden out of sight in the sky; but it is not so with all; and therein behold the partiality of God. The reason of the difference between the leaves of trees not of the same species, is the reason of the inequality of genius among races of men. The Infinite prefers variety because He is more certainly to be perceived in it. At this stop now, my Lord, mark the second lesson of my travels. God, wishing above all things to manifest Himself and His character to all humanity, made choice amongst the races, selecting those superior in genius, and intrusted them with special revelations; whence we have the two kinds of religion, natural and revealed. Seeing God in a stone, and worshipping it, is natural religion; the consciousness of God in the heart, an excitant of love and gratitude inexpressible except by prayer and hymns of praise—that, O my Lord, is the work and the proof of revealed religion.... I next submit the third of the lessons I have had; but, if I may have your attention to the distinction, it is remarkable as derived from my reading"—here he covered all the books on the table with a comprehensive gesture—"my reading more than my travels; and I call it the purest wisdom because it is not sentiment, at the same time that it is without so much as a strain of philosophy, being a fact clear as any fact deducible from history—yes, my Lord, clearer, more distinct, more positive, most undeniable—an incident of the love the Universal Maker has borne his noblest creatures from their first morning—a Godly incident which I have had from the study of these Bibles in comparison with each other. In brief, my Lord, a revelation not intended for me above the generality of men; nevertheless a revelation to me, since I went seeking it—or shall I call it a recompense for the crown and throne I voluntarily gave away?"
The feeling the Prince threw into these words took hold of his auditors. Not a few of them were struck with awe, somewhat as if he were a saint or prophet, or a missionary from the dead returned with secrets theretofore locked up fast in the grave. They waited for his next saying—his third lesson, as he termed it—with anxiety.
"The Holy Father of Light and Life," the speaker went on, after a pause referable to his consummate knowledge of men, "has sent His Spirit down to the world, not once merely, or unto one people, but repeatedly, in ages sometimes near together, sometimes wide apart, and to races diverse, yet in every instance remarkable for genius."
There was a murmur at this, but he gave it no time.
"Ask you now how I could identify the Spirit so as to be able to declare to you solemnly, as I do in fear of God, that in the several repeated appearances of which I speak it was the very same Spirit? How do you know the man you met at set of sun yesterday was the man you saluted and had salute from this morning? Well, I tell you the Father has given the Spirit features by which it may be known—features distinct as those of the neighbors nearest you there at your right and left hands. Wherever in my reading Holy Books, like these, I hear of a man, himself a shining example of righteousness, teaching God and the way to God, by those signs I say to my soul: 'Oh, the Spirit, the Spirit! Blessed is the man appointed to carry it about!'"
Again the murmur, but again he passed on.
"The Spirit dwelt in the Holy of Holies set apart for it in the Tabernacle; yet no man ever saw it there, a thing of sight. The soul is not to be seen; still less is the Spirit of the Most High; or if one did see it, its brightness would kill him. In great mercy, therefore, it has always come and done its good works in the world veiled; now in one form, now in another; at one time, a voice in the air; at another, a vision in sleep; at another, a burning bush; at another, an angel; at another, a descending dove"—
"Bethabara!" shouted a cowled brother, tossing both hands up.
"Be quiet!" the Patriarch ordered.
"Thus always when its errand was of quick despatch," the Prince continued. "But if its coming were for residence on earth, then its habit has been to adopt a man for its outward form, and enter into him, and speak by him; such was Moses, such Elijah, such were all the Prophets, and such"—he paused, then exclaimed shrilly—"such was Jesus Christ!"
In his study at home, the Prince had undoubtedly thought out his present delivery with the care due an occasion likely to be a turning-point in his projects, if not his life; and it must at that time have required of him a supreme effort of will to resolve upon this climax; as it was, he hesitated, and turned the hue of ashes; none the less his unknowing auditors renewed their plaudits. Even the Emperor nodded approvingly. None of them divined the cunning of the speaker; not one thought he was pledging himself by his applause to a kindly hearing of the next point in the speech.
"Now, my Lord, he who lives in a close vale shut in by great mountains, and goes not thence so much as to the top of one of the mountains, to him the vastness and beauty of the world beyond his pent sky-line shall be secret in his old age as they were when he was a child. He has denied himself to them. Like him is the man who, thinking to know God, spends his days reading one Holy Book. I care not if it be this one"—he laid his finger on the Avesta—"or this one"—in the same manner he signified the Vedas—"or this one"—touching the Koran—"or this one"—laying his whole hand tenderly palm down on the most Holy Bible. "He shall know God—yes, my Lord, but not all God has done for men.... I have been to the mountain's top; that is to say, I know these books, O reverend brethren, as you know the beads of your rosaries and what each bead stands for. They did not teach me all there is in the Infinite—I am in too much awe for such a folly of the tongue—yet through them I know His Spirit has dwelt on earth in men of different races and times; and whether the Spirit was the same Spirit, I fear not leaving you to judge. If we find in those bearing it about likenesses in ideas, aims, and methods—a Supreme God and an Evil One, a Heaven and a Hell, Sin and a Way to Salvation, a Soul immortal whether lost or saved—what are we to think? If then, besides these likenesses, we find the other signs of divine authority, acknowledged such from the beginning of the world—Mysteries of Birth, Sinlessness, Sacrifices, Miracles done—which of you will rise in his place, and rebuke me for saying there were Sons of God in Spirit before the Spirit descended upon Jesus Christ? Nevertheless, that is what I say."
Here the Prince bent over the table pretending to be in search of a page in the most Holy Book, while—if the expression be pardonable—he watched the audience with his ears. He heard the rustle as the men turned to each other in mute inquiry; he almost heard their question, though they but looked it; otherwise, if it had been dark, the silence would have been tomb-like. At length, raising his head, he beheld a tall, gaunt, sallow person, clad in a monkish gown of the coarsest gray wool, standing and looking at him; the eyes seemed two lights burning in darkened depths; the air was haughty and menacing; and altogether he could not avoid noticing the man. He waited, but the stranger silently kept his feet.
"Your Majesty," the Prince began again, perfectly composed, "these are but secondary matters; yet there is such light in them with respect to my main argument, that I think best to make them good by proofs, lest my reverend brethren dismiss me as an idler in words.... Behold the Bible of the Bodhisattwa"—he held up a roll of broad-leafed vellum, and turned it dextrously for better exhibition—"and hear, while I read from it, of a Birth, Life and Death which took place a thousand and twenty-seven years before Jesus Christ was born." And he read:
"'Strong and calm of purpose as the earth, pure in mind as the water-lily, her name figuratively assumed, Maya, she was in truth above comparison. On her in likeness as the heavenly queen the Spirit descended. A mother, but free from grief or pain, she was without deceit.'" The Prince stopped reading to ask: "Will not my Lord see in these words a Mary also 'blessed above other women'?" Then he read on: ..."'And now the queen Maya knew her time for the birth had come. It was the eighth day of the fourth moon, a serene and agreeable season. While she thus religiously observed the rules of a pure discipline, Bodhisattwa was born from her right side, come to deliver the world, constrained by great pity, without causing his mother pain or anguish.'" Again the Prince lifted his eyes from the roll. "What is this, my Lord, but an Incarnation? Hear now of the Child: ... 'As one born from recumbent space, and not through the gates of life, men indeed regarded his exceeding great glory, yet their sight remained uninjured; he allowed them to gaze, the brightness of his person concealed for a time, as when we look upon the moon in heaven. His body nevertheless was effulgent with light, and, like the sun which eclipses the shining of the lamp, so the true gold-like beauty of Bodhisattwa shone forth and was everywhere diffused. Upright and firm, and unconfused in mind, he deliberately took seven steps, the soles of his feet resting evenly upon the ground as he went, his footmarks remained bright as seven stars. Moving like the lion, king of beasts, and looking earnestly toward the four quarters, penetrating to the centre the principles of truth, he spoke thus with the fullest assurance: This birth is in the condition of Buddha; after this I have done with renewed birth; now only am I born this once, for the purpose of saving all the world.'" A third time the Prince stopped, and, throwing up his hand to command attention, he asked: "My Lord, who will say this was not also a Redeemer? See now what next ensued"—and he read on: "'And now from the midst of Heaven there descended two streams of pure water, one warm, the other cold, and baptized his head.'" Pausing again, the speaker searched the faces of his auditors on the right and left, while he exclaimed in magnetic repetition: "Baptism—Baptism—BAPTISM AND MIRACLE!"
Constantine sat, like the rest, his attention fixed; but the gray-clad monk still standing grimly raised a crucifix before him as if taking refuge behind it.
"My Lord is seeing the likenesses these things bear to the conception, birth and mission of Jesus Christ, the later Blessed One, who is nevertheless his first in love. He is comparing the incidents of the two Incarnations of the Spirit or Holy Ghost; he is asking himself: 'Can there have been several Sons of God?' and he is replying: 'That were indeed merciful—Blessed be God!'"
The Emperor made no sign one way or the other.
"Suffer me to help my Lord yet a little more," the Prince continued, apparently unobservant of the lowering face behind the crucifix. "He remembers angels came down the night of the nativity in the cave by Bethlehem; he cannot forget the song they sung to the shepherds. How like these honors to the Bodhisattwa!"—and he read from the roll: ... "'Meanwhile the Devas'—angels, if my Lord pleases—'the Devas in space, seizing their jewelled canopies, attending, raise in responsive harmony their heavenly songs to encourage him.' Nor was this all, my Lord," and he continued reading: "'On every hand the world was greatly shaken.... The minutest atoms of sandal perfume, and the hidden sweetness of precious lilies, floated on the air, and rose through space, and then commingling came back to earth.... All cruel and malevolent kinds of beings together conceived a loving heart; all diseases and afflictions amongst men, without a cure applied, of themselves were healed; the cries of beasts were hushed; the stagnant waters of the river courses flowed apace; no clouds gathered on the heavens, while angelic music, self-caused, was heard around.... So when Bodhisattwa was born, he came to remove the sorrows of all living things. Mara alone was grieved.' O my reverend brethren!" cried the Prince, fervently, "who was this Mara that he should not share in the rejoicing of all nature else? In Christian phrase, Satan, and Mara alone was grieved."