"He calls me Gul Bahar."
"Oh! That is Turkish, and means Rose of Spring. How came you by it?"
"My mother was from Iconium."
"Yes—where the Sultans used to live."
"And she could speak Turkish."
"I see! Gul Bahar is an endearment, not a real name."
"My real name is Lael."
The Prince paled from cheek to brow; his lips trembled; the arm encircling her shook; and looking into his eyes, she saw tears dim them. After a long breath, he said, with inexpressible tenderness, and as if speaking to one standing just behind her—"Lael!" Then, the tears full formed, he laid his forehead on her shoulder so his white hair blent freely with her chestnut locks; and sitting passively, but wondering, she heard him sob and sob again and again, like another child. Soon, from pure sympathy, unknowing why, she too began sobbing. Several minutes passed thus; then, raising his face, and observing her responsive sorrow, he felt the need of explanation.
"Forgive me," he said, kissing her, "and do not wonder at me. I am old—very old—older than thy father, and there have been so many things to distress me which other men know nothing of, and never can. I had once"—
He stopped, repeated the long breath, and gazed as at a far object.
"I too had once a little girl."
Pausing, he dropped his eyes to hers.
"How old are you?"
"Next spring I shall be fourteen," she answered.
"And she was just your age, and so like you—so small, and with such hair and eyes and face; and she was named Lael. I wanted to call her Rimah, for she seemed a song to me; but her mother said, as she was a gift from the Lord, she wanted in the fulness of days to give her back to him, and that the wish might become a covenant, she insisted on calling her Lael, which, in Hebrew—thy father's tongue and mine—means To God."
The child, listening with all her soul, was now not in the least afraid of him; without waiting, she made the application.
"You loved her, I know," she said
"How much—Oh, how much!"
"Where is she now?"
"At Jerusalem there was a gate called the Golden Gate. It looked to the east. The sun, rising over the top of Mount Olivet, struck the plates of gold and Corinthian brass more precious than gold, so it seemed one rosy flame. The dust at its rocky sill, and the ground about it are holy. There, deep down, my Lael lies. A stone that tasked many oxen to move it covers her; yet, in the last day, she will be among the first to rise—Of such excellence is it to be buried before that Golden Gate."
"Oh! she is dead!" the child exclaimed.
"She is dead;" and seeing her much affected, he hastened to say, "I shed many tears thinking of her. Ah, how gentle and truthful she was! And how beautiful! I cannot forget her. I would not if I could; but you who look so like her will take her place in my heart now, and love me as she did; and I will love you even as I loved her. I will take you into my life, believing she has come again. In the morning I will ask first, Where is my Lael? At noon, I will demand if the day has been kind to her; and the night shall not be half set in except I know it has brought her the sweetness of sleep. Will you be my Lael?"
The question perplexed the child, and she was silent.
Again he asked, "Will you be my Lael?"
The earnestness with which he put the question was that of a hunger less for love than an object to love. The latter is not often accounted a passion, yet it creates necessities which are peremptory as those of any passion. One of the incidents of the curse he was suffering was that he knew the certainty of the coming of a day when he must be a mourner for whomsoever he should take into his heart, and in this way expiate whatever happiness the indulgence might bring him. Nevertheless the craving endured, at times a positive hunger. In other words, his was still a human nature. The simplicity and beauty of the girl were enough to win him of themselves; but when she reminded him of the other asleep under a great rock before the gate of the Holy City, when the name of the lost one was brought to him so unexpectedly, it seemed there had been a resurrection, making it possible for him to go about once more as he was accustomed to in his first household. A third time he asked, "You will be my Lael?"
"Can I have two fathers?" she returned.
"Oh, yes!" he answered quickly. "One in fact, the other by adoption; and they can both love you the same."
Immediately her face became a picture of childish trust.
"Then I will be your Lael too."
He clasped her close to his breast, and kissed her, crying:
"My Lael has come back to me! God of my fathers, I thank thee!"
She respected his emotion, but at length, with her hand upon his shoulder, said:
"You and my father are friends, and thinking he came here, I came too."
"Is he at home?"
"I think so."
"Then we will go to him. You cannot be my Lael without his consent."
Presently, hand in hand, they descended the stairs, crossed the street, and were in the shopkeeper's presence.
The room was plainly but comfortably furnished as became the proprietor's fortune and occupation. Closer acquaintance, it is to be said, had dissipated the latent dread, which, as has been seen, marked Uel's first thought of intimacy between the stranger and the child. Seeing him old, and rich, and given to study, not to say careless of ordinary things, the father was beginning to entertain the idea that it might in some way be of advantage to the child could she become an object of interest to him. Wherefore, as they entered now, he received them with a smile.
Traces of the emotion he had undergone were in the Prince's face, and when he spoke his voice was tremulous.
"Son of Jahdai," he said, standing, "I had once a wife and child. They perished-how and when, I cannot trust myself to tell. I have been faithful to their memory. From the day I lost them, I have gone up and down the world hunting for many things which I imagined might renew the happiness I had from them. I have been prodigal of gratitude, admiration, friendship, and goodwill, and bestowed them singly and together, and often; but never have I been without consciousness of something else demanding to be given. Happiness is not all in receiving. I passed on a long time before it came to me that we are rich in affections not intended for hoarding, and that no one can be truly content without at least one object on which to lavish them. Here"—and he laid his hand on the child's head—"here is mine, found at last."
"Lael is a good girl," Uel said with pride.
"Yes, and as thou lovest her let me love her," the Prince responded. Then, seeing Uel become serious, he added, "To help thee to my meaning, Lael was my child's name, and she was the image of this one; and as she died when fourteen, thy Lael's age, it is to me as if the tomb had miraculously rendered its victim back to me."
"Prince," said Uel, "had I thought she would not be agreeable to you, I should have been sorry."
"Understand, son of Jahdai," the other interposed, "I seek more of thee than thy permission to love her. I want to do by her as though she were mine naturally."
"You would not take her from me?"
"No. That would leave thee bereft as I have been. Like me, thou wouldst then go up and down looking for some one to take her place in thy heart. Be thou her father still; only let me help thee fashion her future."
"Her birthrights are humble," the shopkeeper answered, doubtfully; for while in his secret heart he was flattered, his paternal feeling started a scruple hard to distinguish from fear.
A light shone brightly in the eyes of the elder Jew, and his head arose.
"Humble!" he said. "She is a daughter of Israel, an inheritor of the favor of the Lord God, to whom all things are possible. He keeps the destinies of his people. He—not thou or I—knows to what this little one may come. As we love her, let us hope the happiest and the highest, and prepare her for it. To this end it were best you allow her to come to me as to another father. I who teach the deaf and dumb to speak—Syama and Nilo the elder—will make her a scholar such as does not often grace a palace. She shall speak the Mediterranean tongues. There shall be no mysteries of India unknown to her. Mathematics shall bring the heavens to her feet. Especially shall she become wise in the Chronicles of God. At the same time, lest she be educated into unfitness for the present conditions of life, and be unsexed, thou shalt find a woman familiar with society, and instal her in thy house as governess and example. If the woman be also of Israel, so much the better; for then we may expect faithfulness without jealousy. And further, son of Jahdai, be niggardly in nothing concerning our Lael. Clothe her as she were the King's daughter. At going abroad, which she shall do with me in the street and on the water, I would have her sparkle with jewels, the observed of everybody, even the Emperor. And ask not doubtingly, 'Whence the money for all this?' I will find it. What sayest thou now?"
Uel did not hesitate.
"O Prince, as thou dost these things for her—so far beyond the best I can dream of—take her for thine, not less than mine."
With a beaming countenance, the elder raised the child, and kissed her on the forehead.
"Dost hear?" he said to her. "Now art thou my daughter."
She put her arms about his neck, then held them out to Uel, who took her, and kissed her, saying:
"Oh my Gul Bahar!"
"Good!" cried the Prince. "I accept the name. To distinguish the living from the dead, I too will call her my Gul Bahar."
Thereupon the men sat, and arranged the new relation, omitting nothing possible of anticipation.
Next day the Prince's house was opened with every privilege to the child. A little later on a woman of courtly accomplishment was found and established under Uel's roof as governess. Thereupon the Mystic entered upon a season during which he forgot the judgment upon him, and all else save Gul Bahar, and the scheme he brought from Cipango. He was for the time as other men. In the lavishment of his love, richer of its long accumulation, he was faithful to his duty of teacher, and was amply rewarded by her progress in study.
THE PRINCESS IRENE
MORNING ON THE BOSPHORUS
Our narrative proceeds now from a day in the third year after Lael, the daughter of the son of Jahdai, dropped into the life of the Prince of India—a day in the vernal freshness of June.
From a low perch above the mountain behind Becos, the sun is delivering the opposite European shore of the Bosphorus from the lingering shades of night. Out on the bosom of the classic channel vessels are swinging lazily at their anchorages. The masthead of each displays a flag bespeaking the nationality of the owner; here a Venetian, there a Genoese, yonder a Byzantine. Tremulous flares of mist, rising around the dark hulls, become entangled in the cordage, and as if there were no other escape, resolve themselves into air. Fisher boats are bringing their owners home from night-work over in the shallows of Indjerkeui. Gulls and cormorants in contentious flocks, drive hither and thither, turning and tacking as the schools of small fish they are following turn and tack down in the warm blue-green depths to which they are native. The many wings, in quick eccentric motion, give sparkling life to the empurpled distance.
The bay of Therapia, on the same European shore over against Becos, was not omitted from rescue by the sun. Within its lines this morning the ships were in greater number than out in the channel—ships of all grades, from the sea going commercial galley to the pleasure shallop which, if not the modern caique, was at least its ante-type in lightness and grace.
And as to the town, one had but to look at it to be sure it had undergone no recent change—that in the day of Constantine Dragases it was the same summer resort it had been in the day of Medea the sorceress—the same it yet is under sway of the benignant Abdul-Hamid.
From the lower point northwardly jutting finger-like into the current of the channel, the beach swept in a graceful curve around to the base of the promontory on the south. Then as now children amused themselves gathering the white and black pebbles with which it was strewn, and danced in and out with the friendly foam-capped waves. Then as now the houses seemed tied to the face of the hill one above another in streetless disarrangement; insomuch that the stranger viewing them from his boat below shuddered thinking of the wild play which would ensue did an earthquake shake the hill ever so lightly.
And then as now the promontory south served the bay as a partial land-lock. Then as now it arose boldly a half mountain densely verdurous, leaving barely space enough for a roadway around its base. Then as now a descending terrace of easy grade and lined with rock pine trees of broadest umbrella tops, slashed its whole townward front. Sometime in the post-Medean period a sharp-eyed Greek discerned the advantages it offered for aesthetic purposes, and availed himself of them; so that in the age of our story its summit was tastefully embellished with water basins, white-roofed pavilions, and tessellated pavements Roman style. Alas, for the perishability of things human! And twice alas, that the beautiful should ever be the most perishable!
But it is now to be said we have spoken thus of the Bosphorus, and the bay and town of Therapia, and the high promontory, as accessories merely to a plot of ground under the promontory and linked to it by the descending terrace. There is no word fitly descriptive of the place. Ravine implies narrowness; gorge signifies depth; valley means width; dell is too toylike. A summer retreat more delicious could not be imagined. Except at noon the sun did but barely glance into it. Extending hundreds of yards back from the bay toward the highlands west of the town, it was a perfected garden of roses and flowering vines and shrubs, with avenues of boxwood and acacias leading up to ample reservoirs hidden away in a grove of beeches. The water flowing thence became brooks or was diverted to enliven fountains. One pipe carried it in generous flow to the summit of the promontory. In this leafy Eden the birds of the climate made their home the year round. There the migratory nightingale came earliest and lingered longest, singing in the day as well as in the night. There one went regaled with the breath of roses commingled with that of the jasmine. There the bloom of the pomegranate flashed through the ordered thicket like red stars; there the luscious fig, ripening in its "beggar's jacket," offered itself for the plucking; there the murmur of the brooks was always in the listening ear.
Along the whole front of the garden, so perfectly a poet's ideal, stretched a landing defended from the incessant swash of the bay by a stone revetment. There was then a pavement of smoothly laid flags, and then a higher wall of dark rubble-work, coped with bevelled slabs. An open pavilion, with a bell-fashioned dome on slender pillars, all of wood red painted, gave admission to the garden. Then a roadway of gray pebbles and flesh-tinted shells invited a visitor, whether afoot or on horseback, through clumps of acacias undergrown with carefully tended rosebushes, to a palace, which was to the garden what the central jewel is to the cluster of stones on "my lady's" ring.
Standing on a tumulus, a little removed from the foot of the promontory, the palace could be seen from cornice to base by voyagers on the bay, a quadrangular pile of dressed marble one story in height, its front relieved by a portico of many pillars finished in the purest Corinthian style. A stranger needed only to look at it once, glittering in the sun, creamy white in the shade, to decide that its owner was of high rank—possibly a noble—possibly the Emperor himself.
It was the country palace of the Princess Irene, of whom we will now speak.[Footnote: During the Crimean war a military hospital was built over the basement vaults and cisterns of the palace here described. The hospital was destroyed by fire. For years it was then known as the "Khedive's Garden," being a favorite resort for festive parties from the capital. At present the promontory and the retreat it shelters pertain to the German Embassy, a munificent gift from His Majesty, Sultan Abdul-Hamid.]
THE PRINCESS IRENE [Footnote: This name is of three syllables, and is pronounced as if spelled E-ren-ay; the last syllable to rhyme with day, say, may.]
During the reign of the last Manuel, in 1412, as a writer has placed the incident—that is to say, about thirty-nine years prior to the epoch occupying us—a naval battle occurred between the Turks and Christians off Plati, one of the Isles of the Princes. The issue was of interest to all the peoples who were in the habit of commercial resort in the region, to the Venetians and Genoese as well as the Byzantines. To the latter it was of most vital moment, since defeat would have brought them a serious interruption of communication with the islands which still remained to the Emperor and the powers in the West upon which their dependency grew as year after year their capacity for self-defence diminished.
The Turkish ships had been visible in the offing several days. At last the Emperor concluded to allow his mariners to go out and engage them. His indecision had been from a difficulty in naming a commander. The admiral proper was old and inexperienced, and his fighting impulses, admitting they had ever really existed, had been lost in the habitudes of courtierly life. He had become little more than a ceremonial marker. The need of the hour was a genuine sailor who could manoeuvre a squadron. On that score there was but one voice among the seamen and with the public—
"Manuel—give us Manuel!"
The cry, passing from the ships to the multitude in the city, assailed the palace.
The reader should understand the Manuel wanted was not the Emperor, but one of his brothers who could lay no claim to birth in the purple. His mother had not been a lawful spouse; yet the Manuel thus on the tongues of the many had made a hero of himself. He proved his temper and abilities in many successful affairs on the sea, and at length became a popular idol; insomuch that the imperial jealousy descended upon him like a cloud, and hid him away. Nor could his admirers say he lived; he had a palace and a family, and it was not known that any of the monasteries in the city or on the Isles of the Princes had opened to receive him.
On these shreds of evidence, affirmative and negative, slender as they may appear, it was believed he was yet alive. Hence the clamor; and sooth to say it sufficed to produce the favorite; so at least the commonalty were pleased to think, though a sharper speculation would have scored the advent quite as much to the emergency then holding the Empire in its tightening grip.
Restored to active life, Manuel the sailor was given a reception in the Hippodrome; then after a moment of gladness with his family, and another in which he was informed of the situation and trial before him, he hurried to assume the command.
Next morning, with the rising of the sun, the squadron under oar and sail issued gallantly from its retreat in the Golden Horn, and in order of battle sought the boastful enemy of Plati. The struggle was long and desperate. Its circumstances were dimly under view from the seaward wall in the vicinity of the Seven Towers. A cry of rejoicing from the anxious people at last rose strong enough to shake the turrets massive as they were—"Kyrie Eleison! Kyrie Eleison!" Christ had made his cause victorious. His Cross was in the ascendant. The Turks drew out of the defeat as best they could, and made haste to beach the galleys remaining to them on the Asiatic shore behind the low-lying islands.
Manuel the sailor became more than a hero; to the vulgar he was a savior. All Byzantium and all Galata assembled on the walls and water along the famous harbor to welcome him when, with many prizes and a horde of prisoners, he sailed back under the sun newly risen over the redeemed Propontis. Trumpets answered trumpets in brazen cheer as he landed. A procession which was a reminder of the triumphs of the ancient and better times of the Empire escorted him to the Hippodrome. The overhanging gallery reserved for the Emperor there was crowded with the dignitaries of the court; the factions were out with their symbols of blue and green; the scene was gorgeous; yet the public looked in vain for Manuel the Emperor; he alone was absent; and when the dispersion took place, the Byzantine spectators sought their homes shaking their heads and muttering of things in store for their idol worse than had yet befallen him. Wherefore there was little or no surprise when the unfortunate again disappeared, this time with his whole family. The victory, the ensuing triumph, and the too evident popularity were more than the jealous Emperor could overlook.
There was then a long lapse of years. John Palaeologus succeeded Manuel on the throne, and was in turn succeeded by Constantine, the last of the Byzantine monarchs.
Constantine signalized his advent, the great Greek event of 1448, by numerous acts of clemency, for he was a just man. He opened many prison doors long hopelessly shut. He conferred honors and rewards that had been remorselessly erased from account. He condoned offences against his predecessors, mercifully holding them wanting in evil against himself. So it came to pass that Manuel, the hero of the sea fight off Plati, attained a second release, or, in better speech, a second resurrection. He had been all the years practically buried in certain cells of the convent of St. Irene on the island of Prinkipo, and now he came forth an old man, blind and too enfeebled to walk. Borne into private audience, he was regarded by Constantine with tender sympathy.
"And thou art that Manuel who made the good fight at Plati?"
"Say rather I am he who was that Manuel," the ancient replied. "Death despises me now because he could not call my decease a victory."
The inquisitor, visibly affected, next spoke in an uncertain voice.
"Is what I have heard true, that at thy going into the Monastery thou hadst a family?"
The eyes of the unfortunate were not too far gone for tears; some rolled down his cheeks; others apparently dropped into his throat.
"I had a wife and three children. It is creditable to the feeling called love that they chose to share my fate. One only survives, and"—he paused as if feebly aware of the incoherency—"and she was born a prisoner."
"Born a prisoner!" exclaimed Constantine. "Where is she now?"
"She ought to be here."
The old man turned as he spoke, and called out anxiously:
"Irene—Irene, where art thou, child?"
An attendant, moved like his master, explained.
"Your Majesty, his daughter is in the ante-room."
"Bring her here."
There was a painful hush in the chamber during the waiting. When the daughter appeared, all eyes were directed to her—all but the father's, and even he was instantly aware of her presence; for which, doubtless, the sensibility known only to the long-time blind was sufficiently alive.
"Where hast thou been?" he asked, with a show of petulance.
"Calm thee, father, I am here."
She took his hand to assure him, and then returned the look of the Emperor; only his was of open astonishment, while hers was self-possessed.
Two points were afterwards remembered against her by the courtiers present; first, contrary to the custom of Byzantine women, she wore no veil or other covering for the face; in the next place, she tendered no salutation to the Emperor. Far from prostrating herself, as immemorial etiquette required, she did not so much as kneel or bow her head. They, however, excused her, saying truly her days had been passed in the Monastery without opportunity to acquire courtly manners. In fact they did not at the time notice the omissions. She was so beautiful, and her beauty reposed so naturally in an air of grace, modesty, intelligence, and purity that they saw nothing else. Constantine recovered himself, and rising from his seat, advanced to the edge of the dais, which in such audiences, almost wholly without state, raised him slightly above his guests and attendants, and spoke to the father:
"I know thy history, most noble Greek—noble in blood, noble in loyalty, noble by virtue of what thou hast done for the Empire—and I honor thee. I grieve for the suffering thou hast endured, and wish myself surrounded with many more spirits like thine, for then, from my exalted place, I could view the future and its portents with greater calmness of expectation, if not with more of hope. Perhaps thou hast heard how sadly my inheritance has been weakened by enemies without and within; how, like limbs lopped from a stately tree, the themes [Footnote: Provinces.] richest in their yield of revenue have been wrested from the body of our State, until scarce more than the capital remains. I make the allusion in apology and excuse for the meagreness of what I have to bestow for thy many heroic services. Wert thou in the prime of manhood, I would bring thee into the palace. That being impossible, I must confine myself to amends within my power. First, take thou liberty."
The sailor sunk to his knees; then he fell upon his hands, and touched the floor with his forehead. In that posture, he waited the further speech. Such was the prostration practised by the Greeks in formally saluting their Basileus.
"Take next the house here in the city which was thine when the judgment fell upon thee. It has been tenantless since, and may be in need of repairs; if so, report the cost they put thee to, and I will charge the amount to my civil list." Looking then at the daughter, he added: "On our Roumelian shore, up by Therapia, there is a summer house which once belonged to a learned Greek who was the happy possessor of a Homer written masterfully on stainless parchment. He had a saying that the book should be opened only in a palace specially built for it; and, being rich, he indulged the fancy. He brought the marble from the Pentelic quarries; nothing grosser was permitted in the construction. In the shade of a portico of many columns of Corinthian model he passed his days reading to chosen friends, and living as the Athenians were wont to live in the days of Pericles. In my youth I dwelt much with him, and he so loved me that at dying he gave me the house, and the gardens and groves around it. They will help me now to make partial amends for injustice done; and when will a claimant appear with better right than the daughter of this brave man? In speaking but now, did he not call thee Irene?"
A flush overspread her neck and face, but she answered without other sign of feeling:
"The house—it may be called a palace—and all that pertains to it, are thine," he continued. "Go thither at will, and begin thy life anew."
She took one step forward, but stopped as suddenly, her color coming and going. Never had Constantine seen wife or maid more beautiful. He almost dreaded lest the spell she cast over him would be broken by the speech trembling upon her lips. She moved quickly to the dais then, and taking his hand, kissed it fervently, saying:
"Almost I believe we have a Christian Emperor."
She paused, retaining the hand, and looking up into his face.
The spectators, mostly dignitaries of high degree, with their attendants, were surprised. Some of them were shocked; for it should be remembered the court was the most rigidly ceremonial in the world. The rules governing it were the excerpt of an idea that the Basileus or Emperor was the incarnation of power and majesty. When spoken to by him, the proudest of his officials dropped their eyes to his embroidered slippers; when required to speak to him, they fell to their knees, and kept the posture till he was pleased to bid them rise. Not one of them had ever touched his fingers, except when he deigned to hold them out to be most humbly saluted. Their manner at such times was more than servility; in appearance, at least, it was worship. This explanation will enable the reader to understand the feeling with which they beheld the young woman keep the royal hand a prisoner in hers. Some of them shuddered and turned their faces not to witness a familiarity so closely resembling profanation.
Constantine, on his part, looked down into the eyes of his fair kinswoman, knowing her speech was not finished. The slight inclination of his person toward her was intended for encouragement. Indeed, he made no attempt to conceal the interest possessing him.
"The Empire may be shorn, even as thou hast said," she resumed presently, in a voice slightly raised. "But is not this city of our fathers by site and many advantages as much the capital of the world as ever? A Christian Emperor founded it, and his name was Constantine; may it not be its perfect restoration is reserved for another Constantine, also a Christian Emperor? Search thy heart, O my Lord! I have heard how noble impulses are often prophets without voices."
Constantine was impressed. From a young person, bred in what were really prison walls, the speech was amazing. He was pleased with the opinion she was evidently forming of himself; he was pleased with the hope she admitted touching the Empire; he was pleased with the Christian faith, the strength of mind, the character manifested. Her loyalty to the old Greek regime was unquestionable. The courtiers thought she might at least have made some acknowledgment of his princely kindness; but if he thought of the want of form, he passed it; enough for him that she was a lovely enthusiast. In the uncertainty of the moment, he hesitated; then, descending from the dais, he kissed her hand gracefully, courteously, reverently, and said simply:
"May thy hope be God's will."
Turning from her, he helped the blind man to his feet, and declared the audience dismissed.
Alone with his secretary, the Grand Logothete, he sat awhile musing.
"Give ear," he at length said. "Write it, a decree. Fifty thousand gold pieces annually for the maintenance of Manuel and Irene, his daughter."
The secretary at the first word became absorbed in studying his master's purple slippers; then, having a reply, he knelt.
"Speak," said Constantine.
"Your Majesty," the secretary responded, "there are not one thousand pieces in the treasury unappropriated."
"Are we indeed so poor?"
The Emperor sighed, but plucking spirit, went on bravely:
"It may be God has reserved for me the restoration, not only of this city, but of the Empire. I shall try to deserve the glory. And it may be that noble impulses are speechless prophets. Let the decree stand. Heaven willing, we will find a way to make it good."
THE HOMERIC PALACE
The reader is now informed of the history of Irene, which is to he remembered as of an important personage in the succeeding pages. Knowing also how she became possessed of the palace we have been at some pains to describe, he is prepared to see her at home.
The night has retreated from the European shore of the Bosphorus, although the morning is yet very young. The sun in the cloudless sky beyond Becos, where it appears standing as if to rest from the fatigue of climbing the hills, is lifting Therapia bodily out of its sparkling waters. In the bay moreover there are many calls of mariner to mariner, and much creaking of windlasses, and clashing of oars cast loose in their leather slings. To make the scene perfectly realistic there is a smell of breakfast cooking, not unpleasant to those within its waftage who are yet to have their appetites appeased. These sights, these sounds, these smells, none of them reach the palace in the garden under the promontory opposite the town. There the birds are singing their matin songs, the flowers loading the air with perfume, and vine and tree drinking the moisture borne down to them from the unresting sea so near in the north. [Footnote: The Black Sea.]
Under the marble portico the mistress is sitting exactly in the place we can imagine the old Greek loved most what time he read from his masterful copy of Homer. Between columns she saw the Bosphorean expanse clear to the wooded Asiatic shore. Below was a portion of the garden through which the walk ran, with a graceful curve, to the red kiosk by the front gate. Just beyond it the landing lay. Around her were palm and rose trees in painted tubs, and in their midst, springing from a tall vase carven over with mythologic figures, a jasmine vine affected all the graces of its most delicate nature. Within reach of her right hand there were platters of burnished brass on a table of ebony, its thin, spider legs inlaid with silver in lines. One of the platters bore a heap of white biscuits such as at this day are called crackers; the others supported pitchers, and some drinking cups, all of silver.
The mistress sat in an arm-chair very smooth in finish despite the lineations sunk into its surfaces, and so roomy as to permit her to drop easily into a half-reclining posture. A footstool dressed in dark stamped leather was ready to lend its aid to gracefulness and comfort.
We will presume now to introduce the reader to the Princess Irene, though, as the introduction must be in the way of description, our inability to render the subject adequately is admitted in advance.
At the moment of first sight, she is sitting erect, her head turned slightly to the left shoulder, and both hands resting on the dog's head garnishing the right arm of the chair. She is gazing abstractedly out at the landing, as if waiting for some one overdue. The face is uncovered; and it is to be said here that, abhorring the custom which bound her Byzantine sisterhood to veils, except when in the retiracy of their chambers, she was at all times brave enough to emphasize the abhorrence by discarding the encumbrance. She was never afraid of the effects of the sun on her complexion, and had the art of moving modestly and with composure among men, who, on their side, were used in meeting her to conceal their admiration and wonder under cover of grave respect.
Her figure, tall, slender, perfectly rounded, is clad in drapery of the purest classic mode. Outwardly it consists of but two garments—a robe of fine white woollen stuff, and over it a mantle of the same texture and hue, hanging from a yoke of close-fitting flesh-colored silk richly embroidered with Tyrian floss. A red rope loosely twisted girdles her body close under the breasts, from which, when she is standing, the gown in front falls to the feet, leaving a decided train. The mantle begins at a point just in front of the arm, under which, and along the sides, it hangs, like a long open sleeve, being cut away behind about half down the figure. The contrivance of the yoke enabled the artist, by gathering the drapery, to determine the lines in which it should drop, and they were few but positive. In movement, the train was to draw the gown to the form so its outlines could be easily followed from the girdle.
The hair, of the tint of old gold, is dressed in the Grecian style; and its abundance making the knot unusually ample, there was necessity for the two fillets of pink silk to keep it securely in place.
The real difficulty in the description is now reached. To a reader of sharp imagination it might be sufficient to say the face of the Princess Irene, seen the morning in question, was perfectly regular, the brows like pencilling, the nose delicate, the eyes of violet shading into blackness, the mouth small with deep corners and lips threads of scarlet, the cheeks and brow precisely as the received law of beauty would have them. This would authorize a conception of surpassing loveliness; and perhaps it were better did we stop with the suggestions given, since the fancy would then be left to do its own painting. But patience is besought, for vastly more than a face of unrivalled perfection, the conjuration is a woman who yet lives in history as such a combination of intellect, spirit, character, and personal charm that men, themselves rulers and conquerors, fell before her at sight. Under necessity therefore of going on with the description, what words are at command to convey an idea of the complexion—a property so wholly unartificial with her that the veins at the temples were as transparent shadows on snow, and the coloring of the cheeks like a wash of roses? What more is there than to point to the eyes of the healthful freshness peculiar to children of tender nurture; the teeth exquisitely regular and of the whiteness of milk and the lustre of pearls; the ears small, critically set, and tinted pink and white, like certain shells washed ashore last night? What more? Ah, yes! There are the arms bare from the shoulder, long and round as a woman's should be, and terminating in flexile wrists, and hands so gracefully modelled we shrink from thought of their doing more than making wreaths of flowers and playing with harp strings. There too is the pose of the head expressive of breeding and delicacy of thought and feeling, of pride and courage—the pose unattainable by effort or affectation, and impossible except where the head, itself faultless, is complemented by a neck long, slender, yet round, pliant, always graceful, and set upon shoulders the despair of every one but the master who found perfection of form and finish in the lilies of the Madonna. Finally there is the correspondence, in action as well as repose, of body, limbs, head, and face, to which, under inspiration of the soul, the air and manner of lovely women are always referable.
The Princess was yet intensely observing the stretch of water before her, and the rapid changes of the light upon its face, when a boat, driven by a single oarsman, drew up to the landing, and disembarked a passenger. That he was not the person she was expecting became instantly apparent. She glanced at him once, and then, satisfied he was a stranger in whom she had no interest, resumed study of the bay. He, however, after dropping something in the boatman's hand, turned, and walked to the gateway, and through it towards the palace.
Ere long a servant, whose very venerable appearance belied the steel-pointed javelin he carried, hobbled slowly along the floor of the portico marshalling a visitor. She touched the golden knot at the back of her head to be assured of its arrangement, arose, shook out the folds of her gown and mantle, and was prepared for the interruption.
The costume of the stranger was new to the Princess. A cassock of mixed white and brown wool that had gone through a primitive loom with little of any curative process except washing, hung from his neck to his heels. Aside from the coarseness of warp and woof, it fitted so closely that but for a slit on each side of the skirt walking would have been seriously impeded. The sleeves were long and loose, and covered the hands. From the girdle of untanned skin a double string of black horn beads, each large as a walnut, dropped to his knees. The buckle of the girdle, which might have been silver deeply oxidized, was conspicuously large, and of the rudest workmanship. But withal much the most curious part of the garb was the cowl, if such it may be called. Projecting over the face so far as to cast the features in shadow, it carried on the sides of the head broad flaps, not unlike the ears of an elephant. This envelope was hideous, yet it served to exalt the man within to giantesque proportions.
The Princess surveyed the visitor with astonishment hardly concealed. What part of the world could produce a creature so utterly barbarous? What business could he have with her? Was he young or old? Twice she scanned him from head to foot. He was a monk; so much the costume certified; and while he stopped before her with one foot advanced from the edge of the skirt, and resting lightly in the clasp of the thongs of a very old-fashioned sandal, she saw it was white, and blue veined, and at the edges pink, like a child's, and she said to herself, "He is young—a young monastic."
The stranger drew from his girdle a linen package carefully folded, kissed it reverently, and said:
"Would the Princess Irene be pleased if I open the favor for her?"
The voice was manly, the manner deferential.
"Is it a letter?" she asked.
"A letter from the Holy Father, the Archimandrite of the greatest of the northern Lavras." [Footnote: Monasteries.]
"The Bielo-Osero? Where is it?"
"In the country of the Great Prince." [Footnote: Russia.]
"I knew not that I had an acquaintance in so distant a region as the north of Russia. You may open the letter."
Unmindful of the indifferent air of the Princess, the monk removed the cloth, leaving its folds hanging loosely from his hand. A sheet of vellum was exposed lying on the covered palm.
"The Holy Father bade me when I delivered the writing, O Princess, to deliver his blessing also; which—the saying is mine, not his—is of more worth to the soul than a coffer of gold for the wants of the body."
The pious comment was not lost; but without a word, she took the vellum, and resuming her seat, addressed herself to the reading. First, her eyes dropped to the signature. There was a look of surprise—another of uncertainty—then an exclamation:
"Hilarion! Not my Father Hilarion! He is but a sacred memory! He went away and died—and yet this is his hand. I know it as I know my own."
The monk essayed to remove the doubt.
"Permit me," he said, then asked, "Is there not an island hereabouts called Prinkipo?"
She gave him instant attention.
"And on the side of the island over against the Asiatic coast, under a hill named Kamares, is there not a convent built centuries ago by an Empress?"
"Irene," she interposed.
"Yes, Irene—and was not Father Hilarion for many years Abbot of the convent? Then, on account of his fame for learning and piety, did not the Patriarch exalt him to attendance on his own person as Doctor of the Gospels? Still later, was he not summoned to serve the Emperor in the capacity of Warden of the Purple Ink?"
"From whom have you all these things?" she asked.
"Excellent Princess, from whom could I have them save the good Father himself?"
"Thou art then his messenger?"
"It becomes me better to refer you to what he has there written."
So saying, the monk stepped backward, and stood a little way off in a respectful attitude. She raised the missive, and kissed the signature several times, exclaiming:
"Now hath God taken care of his own!"
Then she said to the monk, "Thou art indeed a messenger with good tidings."
And he, accepting the welcome, uncovered his head, by raising the hideous klobouk, [Footnote: Cowl.] and letting it fall back pendant from his shoulders. The violet eyes of the Princess opened wider, brightening as with a sudden influx of light. She could not remember a finer head or a face more perfect in manly beauty, and at the same time so refined and gentle.
And he was so young—young even as herself—certainly not more than twenty. Such was her first general impression of him. For the pleasure there was in the surprise, she would not allow it to be observed, but said:
"The Father in his letter, no doubt, tells me thy name, but since I wish to reserve the reading, I hope thou wilt not be offended if I ask it directly."
"The name my mother gave me is Andre; but when I came to be a deacon in our Bielo-Osero, Father Hilarion, who presided at the raising, asked me how I wished to be known in the priesthood, and I answered him, Sergius. Andre was a good christening, and serves well to remind me of my dear mother; but Sergius is better, because at hearing it I am always reminded that by vows and solemn rites of ordination I am a servant of God."
"I will endeavor to remember thy preference," the Princess said; "but just now, good Sergius, it is of next importance to know if thou hast yet had breakfast?"
A smile helped his face to even more of pleasantness.
"No," he answered, "but I am used to fasting, and the great city is not more than two hours away."
She looked concerned.
"Thy patron Saint hath not deserted thee. Here is a table already set. He for whom I held it is long on the road; thou shalt take his place, and be not less welcome." To the old servant she added: "We have a guest, not an enemy, Lysander. Put up thy javelin, and bring a seat for him; then stand behind him, lest it happen one service of the cups be not enough."
Directly the two were at the table opposite each other.
THE RUSSIAN MONK
Sergius took a glass of red wine from the old attendant, and said:
"I should like your permission, O Princess, to make a confession."
His manner was that of one unused to the society of women. He was conscious she was studying him, and spoke to divert her. As she was slow answering, he added: "That you may not think me disposed to abuse the acquaintance you honor me with, especially as you have not yet read the letter of the good Father Hilarion upon which I rely for your better regard, I ask the permission rather to show the degree of your kindness to me. It may interest you also to learn of the confirmation of a certain faith you are perhaps unwittingly lending a novice in the ways of the world."
She had been studying him, and her first impression was now confirmed. His head in shape and pose was a poet's; the long, wavy, flaxen hair, parted in the middle, left small space for the forehead, which was nevertheless broad and white, with high-arched, well-defined brows for base. The eyes were gray. In repose they had a dreamy introspectional expression. The mustache and beard, the first growth of youth spent entirely indoors, were as yet too light to shade any part of the face. The nose was not enough retrousse to be irregular. In brief, the monk was of the type now well known as Russian. Aside from height and apparent muscularity, he very nearly realized the Byzantine ideal of Christ as seen in the cartoons excellently preserved in a mosque of Stamboul not far from the gate anciently San Romain now Top Kapoussi.
The appearance of the young monk, so strikingly suggestive of the being most sacred in the estimation of the Princess, was at the moment less curious to her than a certain habit observable in him. The look of brightness attendant upon the thought he was putting into form would, when the utterance was through, suffer a lapse which, for want of strictly definite words, may be described as a sombering of the eyes when they were widest open, a gazing beyond at something else than the opposite speaker; implying that the soul was become mysteriously occupied apart from the mind. The effect was as if she had before her two widely different characters making themselves present at the same time in one person. Unquestionably, though rarely, there is a duality of nature in men, by which, to put it extremely, a seeming incapable may be vastly capable, outward gentleness a mask for a spirit of Neronian violence, dulness a low-lying cloud surcharged with genius. What shall be done with such a nature? When may it be relied upon? Who shall ever come to really know it?
Occupied with the idea, the Princess heard but the conclusion of the monk's somewhat awkward apology, and she answered:
"The confession must be of something lighter than a sin. I will listen."
"A sin!" he exclaimed, with a blush. "Pardon me, O Princess. It was a trifle of which I spoke too seriously. I promise thou shalt take from it nothing worse than a laugh at my simplicity. See thou these things?"
He gave her a glance full of boyish humor, and from a breast pocket of his cassock drew a bag of coarse yellow silk; thrusting a hand into its mouth, he then brought out a number of square leathern chips stamped with sunken letters, and laid them on the table before her.
"This you must know is our money." The Princess examined the pieces, and said:
"I doubt if our tradesmen would accept them."
"They will not. I am a witness to the fact. Nevertheless they will carry a traveller, go he either way, from one end of our Great Prince's realm to the other. When I left the Lavra, setting out on my journey, Father Hilarion gave me the bag, saying, as he put it into my hand, 'Now upon coming to the port where the ship awaits thee, be sure to exchange the money with the merchants there for Byzantine gold; else, unless God come to thy aid, thou wilt be turned into a mendicant.' And so I fully meant to do; but when I reached the port, I found it a city large, and full of people and sights wonderful to me, demanding to be seen. I forgot the injunction. Indeed I never thought of it until this morning."
Here he laughed at himself, proving he was not yet seriously alive to the consequences of his negligence. Presently he resumed:
"I landed only last night, and sick from the tossing of the sea, put up at an inn in the town yonder. I ordered breakfast, and, according to a custom of my people, offered to pay before tasting. The master of the house looked at my money, and told me to show him coin of gold; if not that, then copper or brass, or even iron, in pieces bearing the name of the Emperor. Being told I had only this, he bade me look elsewhere for breakfast. Now I had designed going to the great city to kiss the hand of the Patriarch, of whom I have always heard as the wisest of men, before coming to thee; but the strait I was in was hard. Could I expect better of the innkeepers there? I had a button of gold—a memorial of my entry into the Lavra. That day Father Hilarion blessed it three times; and it bore a cross upon its face which I thought might make it acceptable as if it were lettered with the name of Constantine. A boatman consented to take it for rowing me to thy landing. Behold! Thou hast my confession!"
His speech to this time had been in Greek singularly pure and fluent; now he hesitated, while his eyes, open to the full, sombered, as if from a field in the brain back of them a shadow was being cast through his face. When next he spoke it was in his native tongue.
The Princess observed her guest with increasing interest; for she was wholly unused to such artlessness in men. How could Father Hilarion have intrusted business of importance to an envoy so negligent? His confession, as he termed it, was an admission, neither more nor less, that he had no money of the country into which he was come. And further, how could the habit of lapsing in thought, or more simply, of passing abruptly from the present subject, be explained except on the theory of something to which he had so given himself it had become overmastering and all absorbent? This, she saw intuitively, would prove the key to the man; and she set about finding it out.
"Your Greek, good Sergius, is excellent; yet I did not understand the words with which you concluded."
"I beg pardon," he replied, with a change of countenance. "In my mother's tongue I repeated a saying of the Psalmist, which you shall have voice and look as Father Hilarion has given it to me oftener than I am days old." Then his voice lowered into a sweet intensity fitting the text: "'The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.' Those were the words, Princess; and who shall say they do not comprehend all there is of religion?"
The answer was unexpected, the manner affecting; never had she heard conviction and faith more perfectly affirmed. More than a monk, the young man might be a preacher! And Father Hilarion might have grown wiser of his years! Perhaps he knew, though at a vast distance, that the need of the hour in Constantinople was not a new notable—a bishop or a legate—so much as a voice with power of persuasion to still the contentions with which her seven hills were then resounding. The idea, though a surmise, was strong enough to excite a desire to read the holy man's letter. She even reproached herself for not having done so.
"The worthy priest gave me the same saying in the same words," she said, rising, "and they lose nothing of their meaning by thy repetition. We may speak of them hereafter. For the present, to keep thee from breakfast were cruel. I will go and make terms with my conscience by reading what thou hast brought me from the Father. Help thyself freely as if thou wert the most favored of guests; or rather "—she paused to emphasize the meaning—"as though I had been bidden to prepare for thy coining. Should there be failure in anything before thee, scruple not to ask for more. Lysander will be at thy service. I may return presently."
The monk arose respectfully, and stood until she disappeared behind the vases and flowers, leaving in his memory a fadeless recollection of graciousness and beauty, which did not prevent him from immediately addressing himself as became a hungry traveller.
A VOICE FROM THE CLOISTER
While the Princess Irene traversed the portico, she repeated the words, The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want; and she could see how the negligent, moneyless monk, turned away at the inn, was provided for in his moment of need, and also that she was the chosen purveyor; if so, by whom chosen? The young man had intended calling on the Patriarch first; who brought him to her? The breakfast was set for an invited guest; what held him back, if not the power that led the stranger to her gate?
In saying now that one of the consequences of the religious passion characteristic of the day in the East—particularly in Constantinople—a passion so extreme as to induce the strongest minds to believe God, and the Son, and even the Holy Mother discernible in the most commonplace affairs—our hope is to save the Princess from misjudgment. Really the most independent and fearless of spirits, if now and then she fell into the habit of translating the natural into the supernatural, she is entitled to mercy, since few things are harder to escape than those of universal practice.
Through a doorway, chiselled top and jambs, she entered a spacious hall nude of furniture, though richly frescoed, and thence passed into a plain open, court coolly shaded, having in the centre a jet of water which arose and fell into a bowl of alabaster. The water overflowing the bowl was caught again in a circular basin which, besides the ornamental carving on the edge and outside, furnished an ample pool for the gold fish disporting in it.
In the court there were also a number of women, mostly young Greeks, sewing, knitting, and embroidering vestments. Upon her entrance they arose, let their work drop on the spotless white marble at their feet, and received her in respectful silence. Signing them to resume their labor, she took a reserved chair by the fountain. The letter was in her hand, but a thought had the precedence.
Admitting she had been chosen to fulfil the saying quoted, was the call for the once only? When the monk went up to the city, was her ministry to end? Would not that be a half-performance? How much farther should she go? She felt a little pang of trouble, due to the uncertainty that beset her, but quieted it by an appeal to the letter. Crossing herself, and again kissing the signature, she began the reading, which, as the hand was familiar to her, and the composition in the most faultless Greek of the period, was in nowise a perplexity.
"BIELO-OSERO, 3d June, 1452.
"From Hilarion, the Hegumen, to Irene, his well-beloved daughter.
"Thou hast thought of me this longtime as at rest forever—at rest with the Redeemer. While there is nothing so the equivalent of death as silence, there is no happiness so sweet as that which springs upon us unexpectedly. In the same sense the resurrection was the perfect complement of the crucifixion. More than all else, more than the sermon on the mount, more than His miracles, more than His unexampled life, it lifted our Lord above the repute of a mere philosopher like Socrates. We have tears for His much suffering; but we sing as Miriam sang when we think of His victory over the grave. I would not compare myself to Him; yet it pleases me believing these lines, so unexpected, will give thee a taste of the feeling the Marys had, when, with their spices in hand, they sought the sepulchre and found only the Angels there.
"Let me tell thee first of my disappearance from Constantinople. I repented greatly my taking from the old convent by the Patriarch; partly because it separated me from thee at a time when thy mind was opening to receive the truth and understand it. Yet the call had a sound as if from God. I feared to disobey it.
"Then came the summons of the Emperor. He had heard of my life, and, as a counteraction of vice, he wanted its example in the palace. I held back. But the Patriarch prevailed on me, and I went up and suffered myself to be installed Keeper of the Purple Ink. Then indeed I became miserable. To such as I, what is sitting near the throne? What is power when not an instrument of mercy, justice and charity? What is easy life, except walking in danger of habits enervating to the hope of salvation? Oh, the miseries I witnessed! And how wretched the sight of them, knowing they were beyond my help! I saw moreover the wickedness of the court. Did I speak, who listened except to revile me? Went I to celebrations in this or that church, I beheld only hypocrisy in scarlet. How often, knowing the sin-stains upon the hands of the celebrants at the altar in Sta. Sophia, the house in holiness next to the temple of Solomon—how often, seeing those hands raise the blood of Christ in the cup before the altar, have I trembled, and looked for the dome above to let consuming vengeance in upon us, the innocent with the guilty!
"At last fear filled all my thoughts, and forbade sleep or any comfort. I felt I must go, and quickly, or be lost for denial of covenants made with Him, the ultimate Judge, in whose approval there is the peace that passeth understanding. I was like one pursued by a spirit making its presence known to me in sobs and plaints, stinging as conscience stings.
"Consent to my departure was not to be expected; for great men dislike to have their favors slighted. It was not less clear that formal resignation of the official honor I was supposed to be enjoying would be serviceable to the courtiers who were not so much my enemies personally as they were enemies of religion and contemners of all holy observances. And there were so many of them! Alas, for the admission! What then was left but flight?
"Whither? I thought first of Jerusalem; but who without abasement can inhabit with infidels? Then Hagion Oras, the Holy Hill, occurred to me; the same argument applied against it as against return to the convent of Irene-I would be in reach of the Emperor's displeasure. One can study his own heart. Holding mine off, and looking at it alive with desires holy and unholy, I detected in it a yearning for hermitage. How beautiful solitude appears! In what condition can one wishing to change his nature for the better more certainly attain the end than without companionship except of God always present? The spirit of prayer is a delicate minister; where can we find purer nourishment for it than in the silence which at noon is deep as at midnight?
"In this mood the story of the Russian St. Sergius reverted to me. He was born at Rostoff. Filled with pious impulses more than dissatisfied with the world, of which he knew nothing, with a brother, he left his father's house when yet a youth and betook himself to a great woods in the region Radenego; there he dwelt among savage beasts and wild men, fasting and praying and dependent like Elijah of old. His life became a notoriety. Others drew to him. With his own hands he built a wooden church for his disciples, giving it the name of Troitza or Thrice Holy Trinity. Thither I wandered in thought. A call might be there for me, so weary of the egotism, envy, detraction, greed, grind and battle of the soulless artificiality called society.
"I left Blacherne in the night, and crossing the sea in the north—no wonder it is so terrible to the poor mariner who has to hunt his daily bread upon its treacherous waves—I indulged no wait until, in the stone church of the Holy Trinity, I knelt before the remains of the revered Russian hermit, and thanked God for deliverance and freedom.
"The Troitza was no longer the simple wooden church of its founder. I found it a collection of monasteries. The solitude of my dreams was to be sought northward further. Some years before, a disciple of Sergius—Cyrill by name, since canonized—unterrified by winters which dragged through three quarters of the year, wandered off to a secluded place on the shore of the White Lake, where he dwelt until, in old age, a holy house was required to accommodate his following. He called it Bielo-Osero. There I installed myself, won by the warmth of my welcome.
"Now when I departed from Blacherne, I took with me, besides the raiment I wore, two pieces of property; a copy of the Rule of the Studium Monastery, and a panagia given me by the Patriarch—a medallion portrait of the Blessed Mother of our Lord the Saviour, framed in gold, and set in brilliants. I carry it hanging from my neck. Even in sleep it is always lying just above my heart. The day is not far now when my need of it will be over; then I will send it to thee in notice that I am indeed at rest, and that in dying I wished to lend thee a preservative against ills of the soul and fear of death.
"The Rule was acceptable to the Brotherhood. They adopted it, and its letter and spirit prevailing, the house came in time to be odorous for sanctity. Eventually, though against my will, they raised me their Hegumen. And so my story reaches its end. May it find thee enjoying the delight of the soul's rest I have been enjoying without interruption since I began life anew in this retreat, where the days are days of prayer, and the nights illuminated by visions of Paradise and Heaven.
"In the next place, I pray thou wilt take the young brother by whom this will be delivered into friendly care. I myself raised him to a deaconship of our Monastery. His priestly name is Sergius. He was scarcely out of boyhood when I came here; it was not long, however, before I discovered in him the qualities which drew me to thee during thy prison life at the old convent of Irene—a receptive mind, and a native proneness to love God. I made his way easy. I became his teacher, as I had been thine; and as the years flew by he reminded me more and more of thee, not merely with respect to mental capacity, but purity of soul and aspiration as well. Need I say how natural it was for me to love him? Had I not just come from loving thee?
"The brethren are good men, though unmannerly, and for the most part the Word reaches them from some other's tongue. Filling the lad's mind was like filling a lamp with oil. How precious the light it would one day shed abroad! And how much darkness there was for it to dispel! And in the darkness—Mercy, Mercy! How many are in danger of perishing!
"Never did I think myself so clearly a servant of God as in the time Sergius was under my instruction. Thou, alas! being a woman, wert like a strong-winged bird doomed at best to a narrow cage. The whole world was before him.
"Of the many notes I have been compelled to take of the wants of religion in this our age, none so amazes me as the lack of preachers. We have priests and monks. Their name is Legion. Who of them can be said to have been touched with the fire that fell upon the faithful of the original twelve? Where among them is an Athanasius? Or a Chrysostom? Or an Augustine? Slowly, yet apace with his growth, I became ambitious for the young man. He showed quickness and astonishing courage. No task appalled him. He mastered the tongues of the nationalities represented around him as if he were born to them. He took in memory the Gospels, the Psalms, and the prophetic books of the Bible. He replies to me in Greek undistinguishable from mine. I began to dream of him a preacher like St. Paul. I have heard him talking in the stone chapel, when the sleet-ridden winds without had filled it with numbing frost, and seen the Brotherhood rise from their knees, and shout, and sing, and wrestle like madmen. It is not merely words, and ideas, and oratorical manner, but all of them, and more—when aroused, he has the faculty of pouring out his spirit, so that what he says takes hold of a hearer, making him calm if in a passion, and excited if in a calm. The willing listen to him from delight, the unwilling and opposite minded because he enchains them.
"The pearl seemed to me of great price. I tried to keep it free of the dust of the world. With such skill as I possess, I have worn its stains and roughnesses away, and added to its lustre. Now it goes from me.
"You must not think because I fled to this corner of the earth, there is any abatement of my affection for Constantinople; on the contrary, absence has redoubled the love for it with which I was born. Is it not still the capital of our holy religion? Occasionally a traveller comes this way with news of the changes it has endured. Thus one came and reported the death of the Emperor John, and the succession of Constantine; another told of justice finally done thy heroic father, and of thy prosperity; more lately a wandering monk, seeking solitude for his soul's sake, joined our community, and from him I hear that the old controversy with the Latins has broken out anew, and more hotly than ever; that the new Emperor is an azymite, and disposed to adhere to the compact of union of the churches east and west made with the Pope of Rome by his predecessor, leaving heart-blisters burning as those which divided the Jews. Indeed, I much fear the likeness may prove absolute. It certainly will when the Turk appears before our holy city as Titus before Jerusalem.
"This latest intelligence induced me at last to yield to Sergius' entreaties to go down to Constantinople, and finish there the courses begun here. It is true he who would move the world must go into the world; at the same time I confess my own great desire to be kept informed of the progress of the discussion between the churches had much to do with my consent to his departure. He has instructions to that effect, and will obey them. Therefore I pray thee receive him kindly for his own sake, for mine, and the promise of good in him to the cause of Jesus, our beloved Master.
"In conclusion, allow me, daughter—for such thou wert to thy father, to thy mother, and to me—allow me to recur to circumstances which, after calm review, I pronounce the most interesting, the most delightful, the most cherished of my life.
"The house under the Kameses hill at Prinkipo was a convent or refuge for women rather than men; yet I was ordered thither when thy father was consigned to it after his victory over the Turks. I was then comparatively young, but still recollect the day he passed the gate going in with his family. Thenceforward, until the Patriarch took me away, I was his confessor.
"Death is always shocking. I remember its visits to the convent while I was of its people; but when it came and took thy sisters we were doubly grieved. As if the ungrateful Emperor could not be sufficiently cruel, it seemed Heaven must needs help him. The cloud of those sad events overhung the community a long time; at length there was a burst of sunshine. One came to my cell and said, 'Come, rejoice with us—a baby is born in the house.' Thou wert the baby; and thy appearance was the first of the great gladnesses to which I have referred.
"And not less distinctly I live over the hour we met in the chapel to christen thee. The Bishop was the chief celebrant; but not even the splendor of his canonicals—the cope with the little bells sewn down the sides and along the sleeves, the ompharium, the panagia, the cross, the crozier—were enough to draw my eyes from the dimpled pink face half-hidden in the pillow of down on which they held thee up before the font. And now the Bishop dipped his fingers in the holy water—'By what name is this daughter to be known?' And I answered, 'Irene.' Thy parents had been casting about for a name. 'Why not call her after the convent?' I asked. They accepted the suggestion; and when I gave it out that great day—to the convent it was holiday—it seemed a door in my heart of which I was unknowing opened of itself, and took thee into a love-lined chamber to be sweet lady at home forever. Such was the second of my greatest happinesses.
"And then afterwhile thy father gave thee over to me to be educated. I made thy first alphabet, illuminating each letter with my own hand. Dost thou remember the earliest sentence I heard thee read? Or, if ever thou dost think of it now, be reminded it was thy first lesson in writing and thy first in religion—'The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.' And thence what delight I found in helping thee each day a little further on in knowledge until at length we came to where thou couldst do independent thinking.
"It was in Sta. Sophia—in my memory not more than an occurrence of yesterday. Thou and I had gone from the island up to the holy house, where we were spectators of a service at which the Emperor, as Basileus, and the Patriarch were celebrants. The gold on cope and ompharium cast the space about the altar into a splendor rich as sunshine. Then thou asked me, 'Did Christ and His Disciples worship in a house like this? And were they dressed as these are?' I was afraid of those around us, and told thee to use eye and ear, but the time for questions and answers would be when we were back safely in the old convent.
"When we were there, thou didst renew the questions, and I did not withhold the truth. I told thee of the lowliness and simple ways of Jesus—how He was clothed—how the out-doors was temple sufficient for Him. I told thee of His preaching to the multitude on the shore of the Galilean sea—I told of His praying in the garden of Gethsemane—I told of the attempt to make a King of Him whether He would or not, and how He escaped from the people—of how He set no store by money or property, titles, or worldly honors.
"Then thou didst ask, 'Who made worship so formal?' And again I answered truthfully, there was no Church until after the death of our Lord; that in course of two hundred years kings, governors, nobles and the great of the earth were converted to the faith, and took it under their protection; that then, to conform it to their tastes and dignity, they borrowed altars from pagans, and recast the worship so sumptuously in purple and gold the Apostles would not have recognized it. Then, in brief, I began telling thee of the Primitive Church of Christ, now disowned, forgotten or lost in the humanism of religious pride.
"Oh, the satisfaction and happiness in that teaching! At each lesson it seemed I was taking thee closer to the dear Christ from whom the world is every year making new roads to get further away—the dear Christ in search of whom I plunged into this solitude.
"How is it with thee now, my daughter? Dost thou still adhere to the Primitive Church? Do not fear to speak thy mind to Sergius. He too is in the secret of our faith, believing it best to love our Lord from what our Lord hath Himself said.
"Now I bring this letter to a close. Let me have reply by Sergius, who, when he has seen Constantinople, will come back to me, unless He who holds every man's future in keeping discovers for him a special use.
"Do not forget me in thy prayers.
"Blessings on thee! HILARION."
The Princess read the letter a second time. When she came to the passage referring to the Primitive Church, her hands dropped into her lap, and she thought:
"The Father planted right well—better than he was aware, as he himself would say did he know my standing now."
A glow which might have been variously taken for half-serious, half-mocking defiance shone in her eyes as the thought ran on:
"Ay, dear man! Did he know that for asserting the Primitive Church as he taught it to me in the old convent, the Greeks and the Latins have alike adjudged me a heretic; that nothing saves me from the lions of the Cynegion, except my being a woman—a woman forever offending by going when and where I wist with my face bare, and therefore harmless except to myself. If he knew this, would he send me his blessing? He little imagined—he who kept his opinion to himself because he could see no good possible from its proclamation—that I, the prison-bred girl he so loved, and whom he helped make extreme in courage as in conviction, would one day forget my sex and condition, and protest with the vehemence of a man against the religious madness into which the Christian world is being swept. Oh, that I were a man!"
Folding the letter hastily, she arose to return to her guest. There was fixedness of purpose in her face.
"Oh, that I were a man!" she repeated, while passing the frescoed hall on the way out.
In the portico, with the white light of the marble whitening her whole person, and just as the monk, tall, strong, noble looking, despite the grotesqueness of his attire, was rising from the table, she stopped, and clasped her hands.
"I have been heard!" she thought, trembling. "That which it refused to make me, Heaven has sent me. Here is a man! And he is certified as of my faith, and has the voice, the learning, the zeal and courage, the passion of truth to challenge a hearing anywhere. Welcome Sergius! In want thou camest; in want thou didst find me. The Lord is shepherd unto us both."
She went to him confidently, and offered her hand. Her manner was irresistible; he had no choice but to yield to it.
"Thou art not a stranger, but Sergius, my brother. Father Hilarion has explained everything."
He kissed her hand, and replied:
"I was overbold, Princess; but I knew the Father would report me kindly; and I was hungry."
"It is my part now to see the affliction comes not back again. So much has the Shepherd already determined. But, speaking as thy sister, Sergius, thy garments appear strange. Doubtless they were well enough in the Bielo-Osero, where the Rule of the Studium is law instead of fashion; but here we must consult customs or be laughed at, which would be fatal to the role I have in mind for thee." Then with a smile, she added, "Observe the dominion I have already assumed."
He answered with a contented laugh: whereupon she went on, but more gravely:
"We have the world to talk over; but Lysander will now take you to your room, and you will rest until about mid-afternoon, when my boat will come to the landing to carry us to the city. The cowl you must exchange for a hat and veil, the sandals for shoes, the coarse cassock for a black gown; and, if we have time, I will go with you to the Patriarch."
Sergius followed Lysander submissively as a child.
WHAT DO THE STARS SAY?
The sun which relieved the bay of Therapia from the thraldom of night did the same service for the Golden Horn; only, with a more potential voice, it seemed to say to the cities which were the pride of the latter, Awake! Arise! And presently they were astir indoor and out.
Of all the souls who, obedient to the early summons, poured into the street, and by the south window of the study of the Prince of India, some going this direction, some that, yet each intent upon a particular purpose, not one gave a thought to the Prince, or so much as wondered if he were awake. And the indifference of the many was well for him; it gave him immunity to pursue his specialty. But as we, the writer and the reader, are not of the many, and have an interest in the man from knowing more about him than they, what would have been intrusion in them may be excused in us.
Exactly at midnight the Prince, aroused by Syama, had gone to the roof, where there was a table, with a lamp upon it which he could shade at pleasure, an hour-glass, and writing materials. An easy chair was also set for him.
The view of the city offered for his inspection was circumscribed by the night. The famous places conspicuous in daytime might as well have been folded up and put away in a closet; he could not see so much as a glimmer of light from any of them. Pleased thereby, and arguing that even the wicked are good when asleep, he swept the heavens with a glance so long and searching there could be no doubt of the purpose which had brought him forth.
Next, according to the habit of astrologers, he proceeded to divide the firmament into Angles and Houses, and taking seat by the table, arranged the lamp to suit him, started the hour-glass running, and drew a diagram familiar to every adept in divinatory science—a diagram of the heavens with the Houses numbered from one to twelve inclusive.
In the Houses he then set the mystic symbols of the visible planets as they were at the moment in position, mindful not merely of the parallels, but of the degrees as well. Verifying the correctness of the diagram by a second survey of the mighty overarch more careful even than the first, he settled himself in the chair, saying complacently:
"Now, O Saturn, thou, the coldest and highest! Thy Houses are ready—come, and at least behold them. I wait the configurations."
Thereupon, perfectly at ease, he watched the stellar hosts while, to their own music, they marched past the Thrones of the Most High Planets unchallenged except by him.
Occasionally he sat up to reverse the hour-glass, though more frequently he made new diagrams, showing the changes in position of the several influential bodies relatively to each other and to the benefic or malific signs upon which so much of result depended; nor did his eyes once weary or his zeal flag.
Finally when the sun, yet under the horizon behind the heights of Scutari, began to flood the sky with a brilliance exceeding that of the bravest of the stars, he collected the drawings, extinguished the lamp, and descended to his study, but not to rest.
Immediately that the daylight was sufficient, he addressed himself to mathematical calculations which appeared exhaustive of every rule and branch of the disciplinary science. Hours flew by, and still he worked. He received Syama's call to breakfast; returning from the meal, always the simplest of the day with him, he resumed the problem. Either he was prodigiously intent on a scheme in mind, or he was occupying himself diligently in order to forget himself.
About noon he was interrupted.
Recognizing the voice, he pushed the proofs of labor from him almost to the other side of the table, turned in his seat, and replied, his face suffused with pleasure:
"Thou enemy to labor! Did not some one tell thee of what I have on hand, and how I am working to finish it in time to take the water with thee this afternoon? Answer, O my Gul-Bahar, more beautiful growing as the days multiply!"
The Lael of the son of Jahdai, the Gul-Bahar of the mysterious Prince, was much grown, and otherwise greatly changed since we saw her last. Each intervening year had in passing left her a benediction. She was now about sixteen, slight, and Jewish in eyes, hair, and complexion. The blood enriched her olive cheeks; the lips took a double freshness from health; the smile resting habitually on the oval face had a tale it was always telling of a nature confiding, happy, satisfied with its conditions, hopeful of the future, and unaware from any sad experience that life ever admitted of changes. Her beauty bore the marks of intelligence; her manner was not enough self-contained to be called courtly; yet it was easy, and carried its own certificate of culture; it yielded too much to natural affection to deserve the term dignified. One listening to her, and noticing the variableness of her mood, which in almost the same instant could pass from gay to serious without ever reaching an extreme, would pronounce her too timid for achievement outside the purely domestic; at the same time he would think she appeared lovable to the last degree, and might be capable of loving in equal measure.
She was dressed in Byzantine fashion. In crossing the street from her father's house, she had thrown a veil over her head, but it was now lying carelessly about her neck. The wooden sandals with blocks under them, like those yet worn by women in Levantine countries to raise them out of the dust and mud when abroad, had been shaken lightly from her feet at the top of the stairs. Perfectly at home, she advanced to the table, and put one of her bare arms around the old man's neck, regardless of the white locks it crushed close down, and replied:
"Thou flatterer! Do I not know beauty is altogether in the eye of the beholder, and that all persons do not see alike? Tell me why, knowing the work was to be done, you did not send for me to help you? Was it for nothing you made me acquainted with figures until—I have your authority for the saying—I might have stood for professor of mathematics in the best of the Alexandrian schools? Do not shake your head at me—or"—
With the new idea all alight in her face, she ran around the table, and caught up one of the diagrams.
"Ah, it is as I thought, father! The work I love best, and can do best! Whose is the nativity? Not mine, I know; for I was born in the glad time when Venus ruled the year. Anael, her angel, held his wings over me against this very wry-faced, snow-chilled Saturn, whom I am so glad to see in the Seventh House, which is the House of Woe. Whose the nativity, I say?"
"Nay, child—pretty child, and wilful—you have a trick of getting my secrets from me. I sometimes think I am in thy hands no more than tawdry lace just washed and being wrung preparatory to hanging in the air from thy lattice. It is well for you to know there are some things out of your reach—for the time at least."
"That is saying you will tell me."
"Then I will be patient."
Seeing him become thoughtful, and look abstractedly out of the window, she laid the diagram down, went back, and again put her arm around his neck.
"I did not come to interrupt you, father, but to learn two things, and run away."
"You begin like a rhetorician. What subdivisions lie under those two things? Speak!"
"Thank you," she replied, quickly. "First, Syama told me you were at some particular task, and I wanted to know if I could help you."
"Dear heart!" he said, tenderly.
"Next—and this is all—I did not want you to forget we are to go up the Bosphorus this afternoon—up to Therapia, and possibly to the sea."
"You wish to go?" he asked.
"I dreamt of it all night."
"Then we will; and to prove I did not forget, the boatmen have their orders already. We go to the landing directly after noon."
"Not too soon," she answered, laughing. "I have to dress, and make myself gorgeous as an empress. The day is soft and kind, and there will he many people on the water, where I am already known quite as well as here in the city as the daughter of the Prince of India."
He replied with an air of pride:
"Thou art good enough for an emperor."
"Then I may go and get ready."
She withdrew her arm, kissed him, and started to the door, but returned, with a troubled look.
"One thing more, father."
He was recovering his work, but stopped, and gave her ear.
"What is it?"
"You have said, good father, that as my studies were too confining, it would be well if I took the air every day in my sedan. So, sometimes with Syama, sometimes with Nilo, I had the men carry me along the wall in front of the Bucoleon. The view over the sea toward Mt. Ida is there very beautiful; and if I look to the landward side, right at my feet are the terraced gardens of the palace. Nowhere do the winds seem sweeter to me. For their more perfect enjoyment I have at moments alighted from the chair, and walked; always avoiding acquaintances new and old. The people appear to understand my preference, and respect it. Of late, however, one person—hardly a man—has followed me, and stopped near by when I stopped; he has even persisted in attempts to speak to me. To avoid him, I went to the Hippodrome yesterday, and taking seat in front of the small obelisks in that quarter, was delighted with the exhibition of the horsemen. Just when the entertainment was at its height, and most interesting, the person of whom I am speaking came and sat on the same bench with me. I arose at once. It is very annoying, father. What shall I do?"
The Prince did not answer immediately, and when he did, it was to ask, suggestively:
"You say he is young?"
"He seems to be fond of high colors."
"You asked no question concerning him?"
"No. Whom could I ask?"
Again the Prince reflected. Outwardly he was unconcerned; yet his blood was more than warm—the blood of pride which, as every one knows, is easily started, and can go hissing hot. He did not wish her to think of the affair too much; therefore his air of indifference; nevertheless it awoke a new train of thought in him.
If one were to insult this second Lael of his love, what could he do? The idea of appeal to a magistrate was irritating. Were he to assume punishment of the insolence, from whom could he hope justice or sympathy—he, a stranger living a mysterious life?
He ran hastily over the resorts at first sight open to him. Nilo was an instrument always ready. A word would arouse the forces in that loyal but savage nature, and they were forces subject to cunning which never slept, never wearied, and was never in a hurry—a passionless cunning, like that of the Fedavies of the Old Man of the Mountain.
It may be thought the Prince was magnifying a fancied trouble; but the certainty that sorrow must overtake him for every indulgence of affection was a haunting shadow always attending the most trifling circumstance to set his imagination conjuring calamities. That at such times his first impulse was toward revenge is explicable; the old law, an eye for an eye, was part of his religion; and coupling it with personal pride which a thought could turn into consuming heat, how natural if, while the anticipation was doing its work, his study should be to make the revenge memorable!
Feeling he was not entirely helpless in the affair, he thought best to be patient awhile, and learn who was the offender; a conclusion followed by a resolution to send Uel with the girl next time she went to take the air.
"The young men of the city are uncontrolled by respect or veneration," he said, quietly. "The follies they commit are sometimes ludicrous. Better things are not to be looked for in a generation given to dress as a chief ambition. And then it may be, O my Gul-Bahar"—he kissed her as he uttered the endearment—"it may be he of whom you complain does not know who you are. A word may cure him of his bad manners. Do not appear to notice him. Have eyes for everything in the world but him; that is the virtuous woman's defence against vulgarity and insult under every circumstance. Go now, and make ready for the boat. Put on your gayest; forget not the last necklace I gave you—and the bracelets—and the girdle with the rubies. The water from the flying oars shall not outflash my little girl. There now—Of course we will go to the landing in our chairs."
When she disappeared down the stairs, he went back to his work.
THE PRINCE OF INDIA MEETS CONSTANTINE
It is to be remembered now, as very material to our story, that the day the Prince of India resolved on the excursion up the Bosphorus with Lael the exquisite stretch of water separated the territorial possessions of the Greek Emperor and the Sultan of the Turks.
In 1355 the utmost of the once vast Roman dominions was "a corner of Thrace between the Propontis (Marmora) and the Black Sea, about fifty miles in length and thirty in breadth." [Footnote: Gibbon.]
When Constantine Dragases—he of whom we are writing—ascended the throne, the realm was even more diminished.
Galata, just across the Golden Horn, had become a Genoese stronghold.
Scutari, on the Asiatic shore almost vis-a-vis with Constantinople, was held by a Turkish garrison.
With small trouble the Sultan could have converted the pitiful margin between Galata and the Cyanean rocks on the Black Sea.
Once indeed he set siege to Constantinople, but was beaten off, it was said, by the Mother of God, who appeared upon the walls of the city, and in person took part in the combat. Thereafter he contented himself with a tribute from the Emperors Manuel and John Palaeologus.
The relations of the Christian and Moslem potentates being thus friendly, it can be seen how the Princess Irene could keep to her palace by Therapia and the Prince of India plan jaunts along the Bosphorus.
Still there is a point to be borne in mind. Ships under Christian flags seldom touched at a landing upon the Asiatic shore. Their captains preferred anchoring in the bays and close under the ivy-covered heights of Europe. This was not from detestation or religious intolerance; at bottom there was a doubt of the common honesty of the strong-handed Turk amounting to fear. The air was rife with stories of his treachery. The fishermen in the markets harrowed the feelings of their timid customers with tales of surprises, captures, and abductions. Occasionally couriers rushed through the gates of Constantinople to report red banners in motion, and the sound of clarions and drums, signifying armies of Moslems gathering for mysterious purposes.
The Moslems, on their part, it is but fair to say, were possessed of the same doubts of the Christians, and had answers to accusations always ready. The surprises, captures, and abductions were the unlicensed savageries of brigands, of whom they never knew one not a Greek; while the music and flags belonged to the militia.
Six or seven miles above Scutari a small river, born in the adjacent highlands, runs merrily down to meet and mingle with the tideless Bosphorus. The water it yields is clear and fresh; whence the name of the stream, The Sweet Waters of Asia. On its south side there is a prairie-like stretch, narrow, but green and besprent with an orchard of sycamores old and gnarled, and now much frequented on Mohammedan Sundays by ladies of the harems, who contrive to make it very gay. No doubt the modest river, and the grass and great trees were just as attractive ages before the first Amurath, with an army at his heels, halted there for a night. From that time, however, it was banned by the Greeks; and for a reason.
On the north bank of the little river there was a fortress known as the White Castle. An irregular, many-angled pile of undressed stone heavily merloned on top, its remarkable feature was a tall donjon which a dingy white complexion made visible a great distance, despite its freckling of loopholes and apertures for machine artillery. Seeing its military importance, the Sultan left a garrison to hold it. He was also pleased to change its name to Acce-Chisar.