H. G. Dwight – In The Pasha’s Garden… Read now



Chapter 1

As the caïque glided up to the garden gate the three boatmen rose from their sheepskins and caught hold of iron clamps set into the marble of the quay. Shaban, the grizzled gatekeeper, who was standing at the top of the water-steps with his hands folded respectfully in front of him, came salaaming down to help his master out.

‘Shall we wait, my Pasha?’ asked the head kaïkji.

The Pasha turned to Shaban, as if to put a question. And as if to answer it, Shaban said,—

‘The madama is up in the wood, in the kiosque. She sent down word to ask if you would go up too.’

‘Then don’t wait.’ Returning the boatmen’s salaam, the Pasha stepped into his garden. ‘Is there company in the kiosque or is madama alone?’ he inquired.

‘I think no one is there—except Zümbül Agha,’ replied Shaban, following his master up the long central path of black and white pebbles.

‘Zümbül Agha!’ exclaimed the Pasha. But if it had been in his mind to say anything else he stopped instead to sniff at a rosebud. And then he asked, ‘Are we dining up there, do you know?’

‘I don’t know, my Pasha, but I will find out.’

‘Tell them to send up dinner anyway, Shaban. It is such an evening! And just ask Mustafa to bring me a coffee at the fountain, will you? I will rest a little before climbing that hill.’

‘On my head!’ said the Albanian, turning off to the house.

The Pasha kept on to the end of the walk. Two big horse-chestnut trees, their candles just starting alight in the April air, stood there at the foot of a terrace, guarding a fountain that dripped in the ivied wall. A thread of water started mysteriously out of the top of a tall marble niche into a little marble basin, from which it overflowed by two flat bronze spouts into two smaller basins below. From them the water dripped back into a single basin still lower down, and so tinkled its broken way, past graceful arabesques and reliefs of fruit and flowers, into a crescent-shaped pool at the foot of the niche.

The Pasha sank down into one of the wicker chairs scattered hospitably beneath the horse-chestnut trees, and thought how happy a man he was to have a fountain of the period of Sultan Ahmed III, and a garden so full of April freshness, and a view of the bright Bosphorus and the opposite hills of Europe and the firing West. How definitely he thought it, I cannot say, for the Pasha was not greatly given to thought. Why should he be, as he possessed without that trouble a goodly share of what men acquire by taking thought? If he had been lapped in ease and security all his days, they numbered many more, did those days, than the Pasha would have chosen. Still, they had touched him but lightly, merely increasing the dignity of his handsome presence and taking away nothing of his power to enjoy his little walled world.

So he sat there, breathing in the air of the place and the hour, while gardeners came and went with their watering-pots, and birds twittered among the branches, and the fountain plashed beside him, until Shaban reappeared carrying a glass of water and a cup of coffee in a swinging tray.

‘Eh, Shaban! It is not your business to carry coffee!’ protested the Pasha, reaching for a stand that stood near him.

‘What is your business is my business, my Pasha. Have I not eaten your bread and your father’s for thirty years?’

‘No! Is it as long as that? We are getting old, Shaban.’

‘We are getting old,’ assented the Albanian simply.

The Pasha thought, as he took out his silver cigarette-case, of another pasha who had complimented him that afternoon on his youthfulness. And, choosing a cigarette, he handed the case to his gatekeeper. Shaban accepted the cigarette and produced matches from his gay girdle.

‘How long is it since you have been to your country, Shaban?’

The Pasha, lifting his little cup by its silver zarf, realized that he would not sip his coffee quite so noisily had his French wife been sitting with him under the horse-chestnuts. But with his old Shaban he could still be a Turk.

‘Eighteen months, my Pasha.’

‘And when are you going again?’

‘It is not apparent. Perhaps in Ramazan, if God wills. Or perhaps next Ramazan. We shall see.’

‘Allah Allah! How many times have I told you to bring your people here, Shaban? We have plenty of room to build you a house somewhere, and you could see your wife and children every day instead of once in two or three years.’

‘Wives, wives—a man will not die if he does not see them every day! Besides, it would not be good for the children. In Constantinople they become rascals. There are too many Christians.’ And he added hastily, ‘It is better for a boy to grow up in the mountains.’

‘But we have a mountain here, behind the house,’ laughed the Pasha.

‘Your mountain is not like our mountains,’ objected Shaban gravely, hunting in his mind for the difference he felt but could not express.

‘And that new wife of yours,’ went on the Pasha. ‘Is it good to leave a young woman like that? Are you not afraid?’

‘No, my Pasha. I am not afraid. We all live together, you know. My brothers watch, and the other women. She is safer than yours. Besides, in my country it is not as it is here.’

‘I don’t know why I have never been to see this wonderful country of yours, Shaban. I have so long intended to, and I never have been. But I must climb my mountain or they will think that I have become a rascal too.’ And, rising from his chair, he gave the Albanian a friendly pat.

‘Shall I come too, my Pasha? Zümbül Agha sent word—’

‘Zümbül Agha!’ interrupted the Pasha irritably. ‘No, you needn’t come. I will explain to Zümbül Agha.’

With which he left Shaban to pick up the empty coffee cup.

Chapter 2

From the upper terrace a bridge led across the public road to the wood. If it was not a wood it was at all events a good-sized grove, climbing the steep hillside very much as it chose. Every sort and size of tree was there, but the greater number of them were of a kind to be sparsely trimmed in April with a delicate green, and among them were so many twisted Judas trees as to tinge whole patches of the slope with their deep rose bloom. The road which the Pasha slowly climbed, swinging his amber beads behind him as he walked, zigzagged so leisurely back and forth among the trees that a carriage could have driven up it. In that way, indeed, the Pasha had more than once mounted to the kiosque, in the days when his mother used to spend a good part of her summer up there, and when he was married to his first wife. The memory of the two, and of their old-fashioned ways, entered not too bitterly into his general feeling of well-being, ministered to by the budding trees and the spring air and the sunset view. Every now and then an enormous plane tree invited him to stop and look at it, or a semi-circle of cypresses.

So at last he came to the top of the hill, where in a grassy clearing a small house looked down on the valley of the Bosphorus through a row of great stone pines. The door of the kiosque was open, but his wife was not visible. The Pasha stopped a moment, as he had done a thousand times before, and looked back. He was not the man to be insensible to what he saw between the columnar trunks of the pines, where European hills traced a dark curve against the fading sky, and where the sinuous waterway far below still reflected a last glamour of the day. The beauty of it, and the sharp sweetness of the April air, and the infinitesimal sounds of the wood, and the half-conscious memories involved with it all, made him sigh. He turned and mounted the steps of the porch.

The kiosque looked very dark and unfamiliar as the Pasha entered it. He wondered what had become of Hélène—if by any chance he had passed her on the way. He wanted her. She was the expression of what the evening roused in him. He heard nothing, however, but the splash of water from a half-invisible fountain. It reminded him for an instant, of the other fountain, below, and of Shaban. His steps resounded hollowly on the marble pavement as he walked into the dim old saloon, shaped like a T, with the cross longer than the leg. It was still light enough for him to make out the glimmer of windows on three sides and the square of the fountain in the centre, but the painted domes above were lost in shadow.

The spaces on either side of the bay by which he entered, completing the rectangle of the kiosque, were filled by two little rooms opening into the cross of the T. He went into the left-hand one, where Hélène usually sat—because there were no lattices. The room was empty. The place seemed so strange and still in the twilight that a sort of apprehension began to grow in him, and he half wished he had brought up Shaban. He turned back to the second, the latticed room—the harem, as they called it. Curiously enough it was Hélène who would never let him Europeanize it, in spite of the lattices. Every now and then he discovered that she liked some Turkish things better than he did. As soon as he opened the door he saw her sitting on the divan opposite. He knew her profile against the checkered pallor of the lattice. But she neither moved nor greeted him. It was Zümbül Agha who did so, startling him by suddenly rising beside the door and saying in his high voice,—

‘Pleasant be your coming, my Pasha.’

The Pasha had forgotten about Zümbül Agha; and it seemed strange to him that Hélène continued to sit silent and motionless on her sofa.

‘Good evening,’ he said at last. ‘You are sitting very quietly here in the dark. Are there no lights in this place?’

It was again Zümbül Agha who spoke, turning one question by another:—

‘Did Shaban come with you?’

‘No,’ replied the Pasha shortly. ‘He said he had had a message, but I told him not to come.’

‘A-ah!’ ejaculated the eunuch in his high drawl. ‘But it does not matter—with the two of us.’

The Pasha grew more and more puzzled, for this was not the scene he had imagined to himself as he came up through the park in response to his wife’s message. Nor did he grow less puzzled when the eunuch turned to her and said in another tone,—

‘Now will you give me that key?’

The Frenchwoman took no more notice of this question than she had of the Pasha’s entrance.

‘What do you mean, Zümbül Agha?’ demanded the Pasha sharply. ‘That is not the way to speak to your mistress.’

‘I mean this, my Pasha,’ retorted the eunuch: ‘that some one is hiding in this chest and that madama keeps the key.’

That was what the Pasha heard, in the absurd treble of the black man, in the darkening room. He looked down and made out, beside the tall figure of the eunuch, the chest on which he had been sitting. Then he looked across at Hélène, who still sat silent in front of the lattice.

‘What are you talking about?’ he asked at last, more stupefied than anything else. ‘Who is it? A thief? Has any one—?’ He left the vague question unformulated, even in his mind.

‘Ah, that I don’t know. You must ask madama. Probably it is one of her Christian friends. But at least if it were a woman she would not be so unwilling to unlock her chest for us!’

The silence that followed, while the Pasha looked dumbly at the chest, and at Zümbül Agha, and at his wife, was filled for him with a stranger confusion of feelings than he had ever experienced before. Nevertheless, he was surprisingly cool, he found. His pulse quickened very little. He told himself that it wasn’t true and that he really must get rid of old Zümbül after all, if he went on making such preposterous gaffes and setting them all by the ears. How could anything so baroque happen to him, the Pasha, who owed what he was to the honorable fathers and who had passed his life honorably and peaceably until this moment? Yet he had had an impression, walking into the dark old kiosque and finding nobody until he found these two sitting here in this extraordinary way, as if he had walked out of his familiar garden, which he knew like his hand, into a country he knew nothing about, where anything might be true. And he wished, he almost passionately wished, that Hélène would say something, would cry out against Zümbül Agha, would lie even, rather than sit there so still and removed and different from other women.

Then he began to be aware that if it were true—if!—he ought to do something. He ought to make a noise. He ought to kill somebody. That was what they always did. That was what his father would have done—or certainly his grandfather. But he also told himself that it was no longer possible for him to do what his father and grandfather had done. He had been unlearning their ways too long. Besides, he was too old.

A sudden sting pierced him at the thought of how old he was, and how young Hélène. Even if he lived to be seventy or eighty, she would still have a life left when he died. Yes, it was as Shaban said. They were getting old. He had never really felt the humiliation of it before. And Shaban had said, strangely, something else—that his own wife was safer than the Pasha’s. Still he felt an odd compassion for Hélène, too—because she was young, and it was Judas-tree time, and she was married to gray hairs. And although he was a pasha, descended from great pashas, and she was only a little French girl quelconque, he felt more afraid than ever of making a fool of himself before her—when he had promised her that she should be as free as any other European woman, that she should live her life. Besides, what had the black man to do with their private affairs?

‘Zümbül Agha,’ he suddenly heard himself harshly saying, ‘is this your house or mine? I have told you a hundred times that you are not to trouble the madama, or follow her about, or so much as guess where she is and what she is doing. I have kept you in the house because my father brought you into it; but if I ever hear of your speaking to madama again, or spying on her, I will send you into the street. Do you hear? Now get out!’

Aman, my Pasha! I beg you!’ entreated the eunuch. There was something ludicrous in his voice, coming as it did from his height.

The Pasha wondered if he had been too long a person of importance in the family to realize the change in his position, or whether he really—

All of a sudden a checkering of lamplight flickered through the dark window, touched the negro’s black face for a moment, traveled up the wall. Silence fell again in the little room—a silence into which the fountain dropped its silver patter. Then steps mounted the porch and echoed in the other room, which lighted in turn, and a man came in sight, peering this way and that, with a big white accordeon lantern in his hand. Behind the man two other servants appeared, carrying on their heads round wooden trays covered by figured silks, and a boy tugging a huge basket. When they discovered the three in the little room they salaamed respectfully.

‘Where shall we set the table?’ asked the man with the lantern.

For the Pasha the lantern seemed to make the world more like the place he had always known. He turned to his wife apologetically.

‘I told them to send dinner up here. It has been such a long time since we came. But I forgot about the table. I don’t believe there is one here.’

‘No,’ uttered Hélène from her sofa, sitting with her head on her hand.

It was the first word she had spoken. But, little as it was, it reassured him, like the lantern.

‘There is the chest,’ hazarded Zümbül Agha.

The interruption of the servants had for the moment distracted them all. But the Pasha now turned on him so vehemently that the eunuch salaamed in haste and went away.

Chapter 3

‘Why not?’ asked Hélène, when he was gone. ‘We can sit on cushions.’

‘Why not?’ echoed the Pasha. Grateful as he was for the interruption, he found himself wishing, secretly, that Hélène had discouraged his idea of a picnic dinner. And he could not help feeling a certain constraint as he gave the necessary orders and watched the servants put down their paraphernalia and pull the chest into the middle of the room. There was something unreal and stage-like about the scene, in the uncertain light of the lantern. Obviously the chest was not light. It was an old cypress-wood chest that they had always used in the summer, to keep furs in, polished a bright brown, with a little inlaid pattern of dark brown and cream color running around the edge of each surface, and a more complicated design ornamenting the centre of the cover. He vaguely associated his mother with it. He felt a distinct relief when the men spread the cloth. He felt as if they had covered up more things than he could name. And when they produced candlesticks and candles, and set them on the improvised table and in the niches beside the door, he seemed to come back again into the comfortable light of common sense.

‘This is the way we used to do when I was a boy,’ he said with a smile, when he and Hélène established themselves on sofa cushions on opposite sides of the chest. ‘Only then we had little tables six inches high, instead of big ones like this.’

‘It is rather a pity that we have spoiled all that,’ she said. ‘Are we any happier for perching on chairs around great scaffoldings and piling the scaffoldings with so many kinds of porcelain and metal? After all, they knew how to live—the people who were capable of imagining a place like this. And they had the good taste not to fill a room with things. Your grandfather, was it?’

He had had a dread that she would not say anything, that she would remain silent and impenetrable, as she had been before Zümbül Agha, as if the chest between them were a barrier that nothing could surmount. His heart lightened when he heard her speak. Was it not quite her natural voice?

‘It was my great-grandfather, the Grand Vizier. They say he did know how to live—in his way. He built the kiosque for a beautiful slave of his, a Greek, whom he called Pomegranate.’

‘Madame Pomegranate? What a charming name! And that is why her cipher is everywhere. See?’ She pointed to the series of cupboards and niches on either side of the door, dimly painted with pomegranate blossoms, and to the plaster reliefs around the hooded fireplace, and the cluster of pomegranates that made a centre to the gilt and painted lattice-work of the ceiling. ‘One could be very happy in such a little house. It has an air—of being meant for moments. And you feel as if they had something to do with the wonderful way it has faded.’ She looked as if she had meant to say something else, which she did not. But after a moment she added, ‘Will you ask them to turn off the water in the fountain? It is a little chilly, now that the sun has gone, and it sounds like rain—or tears.’

The dinner went, on the whole, not so badly. There were dishes to be passed back and forth. There were questions to be asked or comments to be made. There were the servants to be spoken to. Yet, more and more, the Pasha could not help wondering. When a silence fell, too, he could not help listening. And least of all could he help looking at Hélène. He looked at her, trying not to look at her, with an intense curiosity, as if he had never seen her before, asking himself if there were anything new in her face, and how she would look if—Would she be like this?

She made no attempt to keep up a flow of words, as if to distract his attention. She was not soft either; she was not trying to seduce him: And she made no show of gratitude toward him for having sent Zümbül Agha away. Neither did she by so much as an inflection try to insinuate or excuse or explain. She was what she always was, perfect—and evidently a little tired. She was indeed more than perfect, she was prodigious, when he asked her once what she was thinking about and she said Pandora, tapping the chest between them. He had never heard the story of that Greek girl and her box, and she told him gravely about all the calamities that came out of it, and the one gift of hope that remained behind.

‘But I cannot be a Turkish woman long!’ she added inconsequently with a smile. ‘My legs are asleep. I really must walk about a little.’

When he had helped her to her feet she led the way into the other room. They had their coffee and cigarettes there. Hélène walked slowly up and down the length of the room, stopping every now and then to look into the square pool of the fountain and to pat her hair.

The Pasha sat down on the long low divan that ran under the windows. He could watch her more easily now. And the detachment with which he had begun to look at her grew in spite of him into the feeling that he was looking at a stranger. After all, what did he know about her? Who was she? What had happened to her, during all the years that he had not known her, in that strange free European life which he had tried to imitate, and which at heart he secretly distrusted? What had she ever really told him, and what had he ever really divined of her? For perhaps the first time in his life he realized how little one person may know of another, particularly a man of a woman. And he remembered Shaban again, and that phrase about his wife being safer than Hélène. Had Shaban really meant anything? Was Hélène ‘safe’? He acknowledged to himself at last that the question was there in his mind, waiting to be answered.

Hélène did not help him. She had been standing for some time at an odd angle to the pool, looking into it. He could see her face there, with the eyes turned away from him.

‘How mysterious a reflection is!’ she said. ‘It is so real that you can’t believe it disappears for good. How often Madame Pomegranate must have looked into this pool, and yet I can’t find her in it. But I feel she is really there, all the same—and who knows who else.’

‘They say mirrors do not flatter,’ the Pasha did not keep himself from rejoining, ‘but they are very discreet. They tell no tales?’

Hélène raised her eyes. In the little room the servants had cleared the improvised table and had packed up everything again except the candles.

‘I have been up here a long time,’ she said, ‘and I am rather tired. It is a little cold, too. If you do not mind, I think I will go down to the house now, with the servants. You will hardly care to go so soon, for Zümbül Agha has not finished what he has to say to you.’

‘Zümbül Agha!’ exclaimed the Pasha. ‘I sent him away.’

‘Ah, but you must know him well enough to be sure he would not go. Let us see.’ She clapped her hands. The servant of the lantern immediately came out to her. ‘Will you ask Zümbül Agha to come here?’ she said. ‘He is on the porch.’

The man went to the door, looked out, and said a word. Then he stood aside with a respectful salaam, and the eunuch entered. He negligently returned the salute and walked forward until his air of importance changed to one of humility at sight of the Pasha. Salaaming in turn, he stood with his hands folded in front of him.

‘I will go down with you,’ said the Pasha to his wife, rising. ‘It is too late for you to go through the woods in the dark.’

‘Nonsense!’ She gave him a look that had more in it than the tone in which she added, ‘Please do not. I shall be perfectly safe with four servants. You can tell them not to let me run away.’ Coming nearer, she put her hand into the bosom of her dress, then stretched out the hand toward him. ‘Here is the key—the key of Pandora’s box. Will you keep it for me please? Au revoir.’

And making a sign to the servants she walked out of the kiosque.

Chapter 4

The Pasha was too surprised, at first, to move—and too conscious of the eyes of servants, too uncertain of what he should do, too fearful of doing the wrong, the un-European, thing. And afterwards it was too late. He stood watching until the flicker of the lantern disappeared among the dark trees. Then his eyes met the eunuch’s.

‘Why don’t you go down too?’ suggested Zümbül Agha. The variable climate of a great house had made him too perfect an opportunist not to take the line of being in favor again. ‘It might be better. Give me the key and I will do what there is to do. But you might send up Shaban.’

Why not? the Pasha secretly asked himself. Might it not be the best way out? At the same time he experienced a certain revulsion of feeling, now that Hélène was gone, in the way she had gone. She really was prodigious! And with the vanishing of the lantern which had brought him a measure of reassurance he felt the weight of an uncleared situation, fantastic but crucial, heavy upon him. And the Negro annoyed him intensely.

‘Thank you, Zümbül Agha,’ he replied, ‘but I am not the nurse of madama, and I will not give you the key.’

If he only might, though, he thought to himself again!

‘You believe her, this Frank woman whom you had never seen five years ago, and you do not believe me who have lived in your house longer than you can remember!’

The eunuch said it so bitterly that the Pasha was touched in spite of himself. He had never been one to think very much about minor personal relations, but even at such a moment he could see—was it partly because he wanted more time to make up his mind?—that he had never liked Zümbül Agha as he liked Shaban, for instance. Yet more honor had been due, in the old family tradition, to the former. And he had been associated even longer with the history of the house.

‘My poor Zümbül,’ he uttered musingly, ‘you have never forgiven me for marrying her.’

‘My Pasha, you are not the first to marry an unbeliever, nor the last. But such a marriage should be to the glory of Islam, and not to its discredit. Who can trust her? She is still a Christian. And she is too young. She has turned the world upside down. What would your father have said to a daughter-in-law who goes shamelessly into the street without a veil, alone, and who receives in your house men who are no relation to you or her? It is not right. Women only understand one thing, to make fools of men. And they are never content to fool one.’

The Pasha, still waiting to make up his mind, let his fancy linger about Zümbül Agha. It was really rather absurd, after all, what a part women played in the world, and how little it all came to in the end! Did the black man, he wondered, walk in a clearer, cooler world, free of the clouds, the iridescences, the languors, the perfumes, the strange obsessions, that made others walk so often like madmen? Or might some tatter of preposterous humanity still work obscurely in him? Or a bitterness of not being like other men? That perhaps was why the Pasha felt friendlier toward Shaban. They were more alike.

‘You are right, Zümbül Agha,’ he said, ‘the world is upside down. But neither the madama nor any of us made it so. All we can do is try and keep our heads as it turns. Now, will you please tell me how you happened to be up here? The madama never told you to come. You know perfectly well that the customs of Europe are different from ours, and that she does not like to have you follow her about.’

‘What woman likes to be followed about?’ retorted the eunuch with a sly smile. ‘I know you have told me to leave her alone. But why was I brought into this house? Am I to stand by and watch dishonor brought upon it simply because you have eaten the poison of a woman?’

‘Zümbül Agha,’ replied the Pasha sharply, ‘I am not discussing old and new or this and that, but I am asking you to tell me what all this speech is about.’

‘Give me that key and I will show you what it is about,’ said the eunuch, stepping forward.

But the Pasha found that he was not ready to go so directly to the point.

‘Can’t you answer a simple question?’ he demanded irritably, retreating to the farther side of the fountain.

The reflection of the painted ceiling in the pool made him think of Hélène—and Madame Pomegranate. He stared into the still water as if to find Hélène’s face there. Was any other face hidden beside it, mocking him?

But Zümbül Agha had begun again, doggedly:—

‘I came here because it is my business to be here. I went to town this morning. When I got back they told me that you were away and that the madama was up here, alone. So I came. Is this a place for a woman to be alone in—a young woman, with men working all about, and I don’t know who, and a thousand ways of getting in and out from the hills, and ten thousand hiding-places in the woods?’

The Pasha made a gesture of impatience, and turned away. But after all, what could one do with old Zümbül? He had been brought up in his tradition. The Pasha lighted another cigarette to help himself think.

‘Well, I came up here,’ continued the eunuch, ‘and as I came I heard madama singing. You know how she sings the songs of the Franks.’

The Pasha knew. But he did not say anything. As he walked up and down, smoking and thinking, his eye caught in the pool a reflection from the other side of the room, where the door of the latticed room was, and where the cypress-wood chest stood as the servants had left it in the middle of the floor. Was that what Hélène had stood looking at so long? he asked himself. He wondered that he could have sat beside it so quietly. It seemed now like something dark and dangerous crouching there in the shadow of the little room.

‘I sat down, under the terrace,’ he heard the eunuch go on, ‘where no one could see me, and I listened. And after she had stopped I heard—’

‘Never mind what you heard,’ broke in the Pasha. ‘I have heard enough.’

He was ashamed—ashamed and resolved. He felt as if he had been playing the spy with Zümbül Agha. And after all, there was a simple way to answer his question for himself. He threw away his cigarette, went into the little room, bent over the chest, and fitted the key into the lock.

Just then a nightingale burst out singing, but so near and so loud that he started and looked over his shoulder. In an instant he collected himself, feeling the black man’s eyes upon his. Yet he could not suppress the train of association started by the impassioned trilling of the bird, even as he began to turn the key of the chest where his mother used to keep her quaint old furs and embroideries. The irony of the contrast paralyzed his hand for a strange moment, and of the difference between this spring night and other spring nights when nightingales had sung. And what if, after all, only calamity were to come out of the chest, and he were to lose his last gift of hope? Ah! He knew at last what he would do! He quickly withdrew the key from the lock, stood up straight again, and looked at Zümbül Agha.

‘Go down and get Shaban,’ he ordered, ‘and don’t come back.’

The eunuch stared. But if he had anything to say, he concluded not to say it. He saluted silently and went away.

Chapter 5

The Pasha sat down on the divan and lighted a cigarette. Almost immediately the nightingale stopped singing. For a few moments Zümbül Agha’s steps could be heard outside. Then it became very still. The Pasha did not like it. Look which way he would, he could not help seeing the chest—or listening. He got up and went into the big room, where he turned on the water of the fountain. The falling drops made company for him, and kept him from looking for lost reflections. But they presently made him think of what Hélène had said about them. He went out to the porch and sat down on the steps. In front of him the pines lifted their great dark canopies against the stars. Other stars twinkled between the trunks, far below, where the shore lights of the Bosphorus were.

It was so still that water sounds came faintly up to him, and every now and then he could even hear nightingales on the European side. Another nightingale began singing in his own woods—the same one that had told him what to do, he said to himself. What other things the nightingales had sung to him, years ago! And how long the pines had listened there, still strong and green and rugged and alive, while he, and how many before him, sat under them for a little while and then went away!

Presently he heard steps on the drive and Shaban came, carrying something dark in his hand.

‘What is that?’ asked the Pasha, as Shaban held it out.

‘A revolver, my Pasha. Zümbül Agha told me you wanted it.’

The Pasha laughed curtly.

‘Zümbül made a mistake. What I want is a shovel, or a couple of them. Can you find such a thing without asking any one?’

‘Yes, my Pasha,’ replied the Albanian promptly, laying the revolver on the steps and disappearing again. And it was not long before he was back with the desired implements.

‘We must dig a hole, somewhere, Shaban,’ said his master in a low voice. ‘It must be in a place where people are not likely to go, but not too far from the kiosque.’

Shaban immediately started toward the trees at the back of the house. The Pasha followed him silently into a path that wound through the wood. A nightingale began to sing again, very near them—the nightingale, thought the Pasha.

‘He is telling us where to go,’ he said.

Shaban permitted himself a low laugh.

‘I think he is telling his mistress where to go. However, we will go too.’

And they did, bearing away to one side of the path till they came to the foot of the tall cypress.

‘This will do,’ said the Pasha, ‘if the roots are not in the way.’

Without a word Shaban began to dig. The Pasha took the other spade. To the simple Albanian it was nothing out of the ordinary. What was extraordinary was that his master was able to keep it up, soft as the loam was under the trees. The most difficult thing about it was that they could not see what they were doing, except by the light of an occasional match. But at last the Pasha judged the ragged excavation of sufficient depth. Then he led the way back to the kiosque.

They found Zümbül Agha in the little room, sitting on the sofa with a revolver in either hand.

‘I thought I told you not to come back!’ exclaimed the Pasha sternly.

‘Yes,’ faltered the old eunuch, ‘but I was afraid something might happen to you. So I waited below the pines. And when you went away into the woods with Shaban, I came here to watch.’ He lifted a revolver significantly. ‘I found the other one on the steps.’

‘Very well,’ said the Pasha at length, more kindly. He even found it in him at that moment to be amused at the picture the black man made, in his sedate frock coat, with his two weapons. And Zümbül Agha found no less to look at, in the appearance of his master’s clothes. ‘But now there is no need for you to watch any longer,’ added the latter. ‘If you want to watch, do it at the bottom of the hill. Don’t let any one come up here.’

‘On my head,’ said the eunuch.

He saw that Shaban, as usual, was trusted more than he. But it was not for him to protest against the ingratitude of masters. He salaamed and backed out of the room.

When he was gone the Pasha turned to Shaban.

‘This box, Shaban—you see this box? It has become a trouble to us, and I am going to take it out there.’

The Albanian nodded gravely. He took hold of one of the handles, to judge the weight of the chest. He lifted his eyebrows.

‘Can you help me put it on my back?’ he asked.

‘Don’t try to do that, Shaban. We will carry it together.’

The Pasha took hold of the other handle. When they got as far as the outer door he let down his end. It was not light.

‘Wait a minute, Shaban. Let us shut up the kiosque, so that no one will notice anything.’

He went back to blow out the candles. Then he thought of the fountain. He caught a last play of broken images in the pool as he turned off the water. When he had put out the lights and groped his way to the door, he found that Shaban was already gone with the chest. A drop of water made a strange echo behind him in the kiosque. He locked the door and hurried after Shaban, who had succeeded in getting the chest on his back. Nor would Shaban let the Pasha help him till they came to the edge of the wood. There, carrying the chest between them, they stumbled through the trees to the place that was ready.

‘Now we must be careful,’ said the Pasha. ‘It might slip or get stuck.’

‘But are you going to bury the box too?’ demanded Shaban, for the first time showing surprise.

‘Yes,’ answered the Pasha. And he added, ‘It is the box I want to get rid of.’

‘It is a pity,’ remarked Shaban regretfully. ‘It is a very good box. However, you know. Now then!’

There was a scraping and a muffled thud, followed by a fall of earth and small stones on wood. The Pasha wondered if he would hear anything else. But first one and then another nightingale began to fill the night with their April madness.

‘Ah, there are two of them,’ remarked Shaban. ‘She will take the one that says the sweetest things to her.’

The Pasha’s reply was to throw a spadeful of earth on the chest. Shaban joined him with such vigor that the hole was soon very full.

‘We are old, my Pasha, but we are good for something yet,’ said Shaban. ‘I will hide the shovels here in the bushes,’ he added, ‘and early in the morning I will come again, before any of those lazy gardeners are up, and fix it so that no one will ever know.’

There at least was a person of whom one could be sure! The Pasha realized that gratefully, as they walked back through the park. He did not feel like talking, but at least he felt the satisfaction of having done what he had decided to do. He remembered Zümbül Agha as they neared the bottom of the hill. The eunuch had taken his commission more seriously than it had been given, however, or he preferred not to be seen. Perhaps he wanted to reconnoitre again on top of the hill.

‘I don’t think I will go in just yet,’ said the Pasha as they crossed the bridge into the lower garden. ‘I am rather dirty. And I would like to rest a little under the chestnut trees. Would you get me an overcoat please, Shaban, and a brush of some kind? And you might bring me a coffee, too.’

How tired he was! And what a short time it was, yet what an eternity, since he last dropped into one of the wicker chairs! He felt for his cigarettes. As he did so he discovered something else in his pocket, something small and hard that at first he did not recognize. Then he remembered the key—the key.—He suddenly tossed it into the pool beside him. It made a sharp little splash, which was reëchoed by the dripping basins. He got up and felt in the ivy for the handle that shut off the water. At the end of the garden the Bosphorus lapped softly in the dark. Far away, up in the wood, the nightingales were singing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s