The blood-red flag on this donjon was, at the era engaging us, the disenchanter of the Greeks; insomuch that in passing the Sweet Waters of Asia they hugged the opposite shore of the Bosphorus, crossing themselves and muttering prayers often of irreligious compound. A stork has a nest on the donjon now. As an apparition it is not nearly so suggestive as the turbaned sentinel who used to occupy its outlook.
The popular imagination located dungeons under the grim old Castle, whence, of the many Christian men and women immured there, it was said none ever came forth alive.
But for these things, whether true or false, the Prince of India cared little. He was not afraid of the Turks. If the Asiatic shore had been festooned with red flags from the City of the Blind down by the Isles of the Princes to the last of the gray fortresses overlooking the Symplegades, it would not have altered a plan of his jot or tittle. Enough that Lael wanted and needed an outing on the glorious Bosphorus.
Accordingly, shortly after noon two chairs were brought and set down in his house. That is to say, two upright boxes fixed centrally on poles, and differing in nowise from the sedans still the mode of carriage affected by ladies of Constantinople unless it might be in their richer appointments. Inside, all was silk, lace and cushions; outside, the inlaying of mother of pearl and vari-colored woods was suggestive of modern papier-mache. The entrance was by a door in the front. A window in the door, and lesser ones on the sides, afforded the inmate air and opportunity for speech. Not wanting to be seen, she had only to draw the curtains together. In this instance it must be said the decoration of the carriages had been carried to an extreme.
Soon as the chairs were set down in the house, the Prince and Lael descended the stairs. The latter was attired in a semi-Greek costume, very rich and becoming; to embroidery of gold, she added bracelets, and a necklace of large pearls strung between spheres of gold equally large. A coronet graced her head, and it was so bejewelled that in bright light it seemed some one was sprinkling her with an incessant shower of sparkles.
The two took their seats. The carriers, two to each litter, stalwart men, uniformly clad in loose white garments, raised the poles on their shoulders. Syama threw the door of the house open, and at a signal from the Prince the procession sallied into the street. The crowd, in expectant waiting there, received it in silent wonder.
It is due the truth to say now that the common eye was attracted by the appearance of Nilo as much as by the rarities wrought in the panelling of the carriages. He strode ten or twelve feet in advance of Lael who, in the place of honor, was completely under the Prince's observation. The negro's costume was of a King of Kash-Cush. The hair stood on end in stiff cues, sharply pointed, and held by a chain of silver medals; an immense ring of silver hung from the cartilage of his nose. The neck was defended by a gorget of leather bristling with the fangs and claws of tigers in alternating rows. A robe of scarlet cloth large enough to envelop the man was thrown behind the massive shoulders. The body, black as polished ebony, was naked to the waist, whence a white skirt fell to the knees. The arms and legs were adorned with bracelets and anklets of ivory, while the straps of the heavy sandals were bordered with snail-shells. On the left arm he bore a round shield of rhinoceros hide embossed in brass; in the right hand, a pointless lance. Towering high above the heads of the crowd which opened before him with alacrity, the admiration received by the Prince's ally and friend was but a well-deserved tribute.
"A tiger-hunter!" said one, to a friend at his elbow.
"I should call him king of the tiger-hunters," the friend replied.
"Only a Prince of India would carry such a pensioner with him," another remarked.
"What a man!" said a woman, half afraid.
"An infidel, no doubt," was the answer.
"It is not a Christian wish, I know," the first added; "still I should like to see him face a lion in the Cynegion."
"Ay, him they call Tamerlane, because he is shorn of two toes."
The Prince, casting a glance of scarce concealed contempt over the throng, sighed, as he muttered, "If now I could meet the Emperor!"
The exclamation was from his heart.
We have seen the idea which lured him to Mecca, and brought him to Constantinople. In the years since flown, it was held subordinate to his love of Lael—subordinate merely. Latterly it had revived with much of its original force, and he was now for the first time seriously scheming for an interview with the Emperor. No doubt a formal request would have secured the honor; but it was in his view better policy to be sought than seek, and with all his wealth, there was nothing he could so well afford to pay for success as time. In his study, he was continually saying to himself:
"It cannot be that the extravagances to which I am going will fail. He will hear of me, or we may meet—then the invitation!—And then I will propose the Brotherhood—God help me! But it is for him to invite me. Patience, O my soul!"
The exclamation helps us to an understanding of the style he was carrying before the public—the silvering on his own black velvet robe, the jewels in Lael's coronet bursting with light, the gorgeous finish of the sedans, the barbaric costuming of Nilo. They were not significant of his taste. Except for what they might bring him, he did not care for jewels. And as for Lael, he would have loved her for her name's sake, and her honest, untarnished Jewish blood. Let us believe so at least until we find otherwise.
Nilo, by this time familiar with every quarter of the city, was told the boat was in readiness for the party at a landing near the Grand Gate of Blacherne; to make which, it being on the Golden Horn well up in the northwest, he must turn the hill back of the Prince's residence, and pursue one of the streets running parallel with the wall. Thither he accordingly bent his steps, followed by the porters of the sedans, and an increasing but respectful assemblage of curious citizens.
Scarcely had the progress begun before the Prince, watching through his front window, saw a man approach the side of Lael's chair, and peer into it. His wit served him well and instantly.
"'Tis he—the insolent!—Close up!" he cried, to his porters.
The intruder at the sound of his voice looked at him once, then disappeared in the throng. He was young, handsome, showily dressed, and beyond question the person of whom Lael had complained. Though smarting under the insult, and a suspicion, suddenly engendered, of a watch kept over his house, the Prince concluded the stranger was of noble connection, and that the warrant for his boldness was referable to family influence. While his subtle mind was pothering with schemes of detection, the affair presented itself in another light, and he laughed at his own dulness.
"'Tis nothing," he reflected—"nothing! The boy is in love, and allowing his passion to make a fool of him. I have only to see my pretty Gul-Bahar does not return the madness."
Deciding then to make inquiry and satisfy himself who the young admirer was, he dismissed the subject.
Presently Nilo turned into a street of some width compared with the generality of thoroughfares in the city. On the left hand were shops and pretentious houses; on the right, towered the harbor wall. The people attending the procession increased instead of dispersing; but as they continued in good nature, they gave him no concern. Their comments amongst themselves were about equally divided between Nilo and Lael.
"Beautiful, beautiful!" one said, catching sight of the latter through the windows of the chair.
"Who is she?"
"A daughter of a Prince of India."
"And the Prince—Who is he?"
"Ask some one who knows. There he is in the second chair."
Once a woman went close to Lael, snatched a look, and stepped back, with clasped hands, crying:
"'Tis the Sweet Mother herself!"
Without other incident, the procession passed the gate of St. Peter, and was nearing that of Blacherne, when a flourish of trumpets announced a counter pageant coming down the street from the opposite direction. A man near by shouted:
"The Emperor! The Emperor!"
Another seconded him.
"Long live the good Constantine!"
The words were hardly uttered before they were answered:
"The azymite! The azymite! Down with the betrayer of Christ!"
In less than a minute the Prince was being borne along in the midst of two howling factions. Scarcely knowing whether to take Lael into a house or go on, he tried to communicate with Nilo; but in unconsciousness of the tempest so suddenly risen, that grandson of a king marched on in unremitted stateliness, until directly a band of trumpeters in magnificent livery confronted him.
The astonishment was mutual. Nilo halted, dropping his headless lance in defence; the trumpeters quit blowing, and, opening order, filed hastily by him, their faces saying with a distinctness words could not have helped:
"A son of Satan! Beware!"
The chairs were also brought to a halt.
Thereupon the people, now a mob apparently ready to tear each other into bloody ribbons, refused to give way to the trumpeters. Nilo finally comprehending the situation returned to Lael just as the Prince on foot came up to her. She was pale and trembling with fear.
The deadlock between the musicians and the mob was brought to an end by the appearance of a detachment of the Imperial guard. A mounted officer, javelin in hand, rode up and shouted:
"The Emperor! Make way for the Emperor!"
While he was speaking, the horsemen behind him came on steadily. There was irresistible persuasion in the glitter of their spears; besides it was matter of universal knowledge that the steel panoply of each rider concealed a mercenary foreigner who was never so happy as when riding over a Greek. One yell louder and more defiant than any yet uttered—"The azymite, the azymite!"—and the mob broke and fled. At a signal from the officer, the guards, as they came on, opened right and left of the chairs, and passed them with scarce notice.
A few words from the Prince to Lael dispelled her fears.
"It is an every-day affair," he said, lightly; "an amusement of the people, the Roman factionists against the Greek. Nobody is ever hurt, except in howling he opens his jaws too wide."
The levity was affected, but mastering the irritation he really felt, the Prince was about to make acknowledgment to the officer for his timely intervention, when another personage appeared, claiming his attention. Indeed his heart began beating unusually fast, and in spite of himself his face flushed—he knew he had his wish—the meeting with Constantine was come!
The last Emperor of the Byzantines sat in an open chair borne upon the shoulders of eight carriers in striking livery—a handsome man in his forty-sixth year, though apparently not more than thirty-eight or forty. His costume was that of Basileus, which was a religious dignity.
A close-fitting cap of red velvet covered his head, with a knot of purple silk triply divided on the top; while a pliable circlet of golden scales, clearing the brows, held the cap securely in place. On each scale a ruby of great size sparkled in solitaire setting. The circlet was further provided with four strings of pearls, two by each ear, dangling well down below in front of the shoulders. A loose drab robe or gown, drawn close at the waist, clothed him, neck, arms, body and nether limbs, answering excellently as ground for a cope the color of the cap, divided before and behind into embroidered squares defined by rows of pearls. Boots of purple leather, also embroidered, gave finish to the costume. Instead of sword or truncheon, he carried a plain ivory crucifix. The people staring at him from the doors and windows knew he was going to Sancta Sophia intent on some religious service.
While the Emperor was thus borne down upon the Prince, his dark eyes, kindly looking, glanced from Nilo to Lael, and finally came to rest full upon the face of the master. The officer returned to him. A few paces off, the imperial chair stopped, and a conversation ensued, during which a number of high officials who were of the sovereign's suite on foot closed up in position to separate their Lord from a mounted rear guard.
The Prince of India kept his mind perfectly. Having exchanged glances with the Emperor, he was satisfied an impression was made strong enough to pique curiosity, and at the same time fix him in the royal memory. With a quick sense of the proprieties, he thereupon addressed himself to moving his carriages to the left, that when the conference with the officers was concluded the Emperor might have the right of way with the least possible obstruction.
Presently the Acolyte—such the officer proved to be—approached the Prince.
"His Imperial Majesty," he said, courteously, "would be pleased could I inform him the name and title of the stranger whose progress he has been so unfortunate as to interrupt."
The Prince answered with dignity:
"I thank you, noble sir, for the fair terms in which you couch the inquiry, not less than the rescue I and my daughter owe you from the mob."
The Acolyte bowed.
"And not to keep his Imperial Majesty waiting," the Prince continued, "return him the compliments of a Prince of India, at present a resident of this royal and ancient capital. Say also it will give me happiness far beyond the power of words when I am permitted to salute him, and render the veneration and court to which his character and place amongst the rulers of the earth entitle him."
At the conclusion of the complex, though courtierly reply, the speaker walked two steps forward, faced the Emperor, and touched the ground with his palms, and rising, carried them to his forehead.
The answer duly delivered, the Emperor responded to the salaam with a bow and another message.
"His Imperial Majesty," the Acolyte said, "is pleased at meeting the Prince of India. He was not aware he had a guest of such distinction in his capital. He desires to know the place of residence of his noble friend, that he may communicate with him, and make amends for the hindrance which has overtaken him to-day."
The Prince gave his address, and the interview ended.
It is of course the reader's privilege to pass judgment upon the incidents of this rencounter; at least one of the parties to it was greatly pleased, for he knew the coveted invitation would speedily follow.
While the Emperor was borne past, Lael received his notice more especially than her guardian; when they were out of hearing, he called the Acolyte to his side.
"Didst thou observe the young person yonder?" he asked.
"The coronet she wears certifies the Prince of India to be vastly rich," the other answered.
"Yes, the Princes of India, if we may judge by common report, are all rich; wherefore I thought not of that, but rather of the beauty of his daughter. She reminded me of the Madonna on the Panagia in the transept of our church at Blacherne."
RACING WITH A STORM
One who has seen the boats in which fishermen now work the eddies and still waters of the Bosphorus will not require a description of the vessel the Prince and Lael stepped into when they arrived at the Grand Gate of Blacherne. He need only be told that instead of being pitch-black outside and in, it was white, except the gunwale which was freshly gilt. The untravelled reader, however, must imagine a long narrow craft, upturned at both ends, graceful in every line, and constructed for speed and beauty. Well aft there was a box without cover, luxuriously cushioned, lined with chocolate velvet, and wide enough to seat two persons comfortably; behind it, a decked space for a servant, pilot or guard. This arrangement left all forward for the rowers, each handling two oars.
Ten rowers, trained, stout, and clad in white headkerchiefs, shirts and trousers of the same hue, and Greek jackets of brilliant scarlet, profusely figured over with yellow braid, sat stolidly, blades in hand and ready dipped, when the passengers took their places, the Prince and Lael in the box, and Nilo behind them as guard. The vessel was too light to permit a ceremonious reception.
In front of the party, on the northern shore of the famous harbor, were the heights of Pera. The ravines and grass-green benches into which they were broken, with here and there a garden hut enclosed in a patch of filbert bushes—for Pera was not then the city it now is—were of no interest to the Prince; dropping his eyes to the water, they took in a medley of shipping, then involuntarily turned to the cold gray face of the wall he was leaving. And while seeing in vivid recollection the benignant countenance of Constantine bent upon him from the chair in the street, he thought of the horoscope he had spent the night in taking and the forenoon in calculating. With a darkened brow, he gave the word, and the boat was pushed off and presently seeking the broader channel of the Bosphorus.
The day was delightful. A breeze danced merrily over the surface of the water. Soft white summer clouds hung so sleepily in the southwest they scarce suggested motion. Seeing the color deepen in Lael's cheeks, and listening to her questions, he surrendered himself to the pleasures of the situation, not the least being the admiration she attracted.
By ships at anchor, and through lesser craft of every variety they sped, followed by exclamations frequently outspoken:
"Who is she? Who can she be?"
Thus pursued, they flew past the gate of St. Peter, turned the point of Galata, and left the Fish Market port behind; proceeding then in parallelism with the north shore, they glided under the great round tower so tall and up so far overhead it seemed a part of the sky. Off Tophane, they were in the Bosphorus, with Scutari at their right, and Point Serail at their backs.
Viewed from the harbor on the sea, the old historic Point leaves upon the well informed an impression that in a day long gone, yielding to a spasm of justice, Asia cast it off into the waves. Its beauty is Circean. Almost from the beginning it has been the chosen place in which men ran rounds gay and grave, virtuous and wanton, foolish and philosophic, brave and cowardly—where love, hate, jealousy, avarice, ambition and envy have delighted to burn their lights before Heaven—where, possibly with one exception, Providence has more frequently come nearer lifting its veil than in any other spot of earth.
Again and again, the Prince, loth to quit the view, turned and refilled his eyes with Sancta Sophia, of which, from his position, the wall at the water's edge, the lesser churches of the Virgin Hodegetria and St. Irene, and the topmost sections far extending of the palaces of Bucoleon seemed but foundations. The edifice, as he saw it then, depended on itself for effect, the Turk having not yet, in sign of Mohammedan conversion, broken the line of its marvellous dome with minarets. At length he set about telling stories of the Point.
Off the site of the present palace of Dolma-Batchi he told of Euphrosyne, the daughter of the Empress Irene; and seeing how the sorrowful fortune of the beautiful child engaged Lael's sympathies, he became interested as a narrator, and failed to notice the unusual warmth tempering the air about Tchiragan. Neither did he observe that the northern sky, before so clear and blue, was whitening with haze.
To avoid the current running past Arnoot-Kouy, the rowers crossed to the Asiatic side under the promontory of Candilli.
Other boats thronged the charming expanse; but as most of them were of a humbler class sporting one rower, the Prince's, with its liveried ten, was a surpassing attraction. Sometimes the strangers, to gratify their curiosity, drew quite near, but always without affronting him; knowing the homage was to Lael, he was happy when it was effusively rendered.
His progress was most satisfactory until he rounded Candilli. Then a flock of small boats came down upon him pell-mell, the rowers pulling their uttermost, the passengers in panic.
The urgency impelling them was equally recognized by the ships and larger vessels out in the channel. Anchors were going down, sails furling, and oars drawing in. Above them, moreover, much beyond their usual levels of flight troops of gulls were circling on rapid wings screaming excitedly.
The Prince had reached the part of greatest interest in the story he was telling—how the cruel and remorseless Emperor Michel, determined to wed the innocent and helpless Euphrosyne, shamelessly cheated the Church and cajoled the Senate—when Nilo touched his shoulder, and awoke him to the situation. A glance over the water—another at the sky—and he comprehended danger of some kind was impending. At the same moment Lael commenced shivering and complaining of cold. The air had undergone a sudden change. Presently Nilo's red cloak was sheltering her.
The boat was in position to bring everything into view, and he spoke to the rowers:
"A storm is rising."
They ceased work, and looked over their shoulders, each for himself.
"A blow from the sea, and it comes fast. What we shall do is for my Lord to say," one of them returned.
The Prince grew anxious for Lael. What was done must be for her—he had no thought else.
A cloud was forming over the whole northeastern quarter of the sky, along the horizon black, overhead a vast gray wave, in its heart copper-hued, seething, interworking, now a distended sail, now a sail bursted; and the wind could he heard whipping the shreds into fleece, and whirling them a confusion of vaporous banners. Yet glassy, the water reflected the tint of the cloud. The hush holding it was like the drawn breath of a victim waiting the first turn of the torturous wheel.
The Asiatic shore offered the Prince a long stretch, and he persisted in coasting it until the donjon of the White Castle—that terror to Christians—arrested his eye. There were houses much nearer, some of them actually overhanging the water; but the donjon seemed specially inviting; at all events, he coolly reflected, if the Governor of the Castle denied him refuge, the little river near by known as the Sweet Waters of Asia would receive him, and getting under its bank, he might hope to escape the fury of the wind and waves. He shouted resolutely:
"To the White Castle! Make it before the wind strikes, my men, and I will double your hire."
"We may make it," the rower answered, somewhat sullenly, "but"—
"What?" asked the Prince.
"The devil has his lodgings there. Many men have gone into its accursed gates on errands of peace, and never been heard of again."
The Prince laughed.
"We lose time—forward! If there be a fiend in the Castle, I promise you he is not waiting for us."
The twenty oars fell as one, and the boat jumped like a steed under a stab of the spur.
Thus boldly the race with the storm was begun. The judgment of the challenger, assuming the Prince to be such, may be questioned. The river was the goal.
Could he reach it before the wind descended in dangerous force?—That was the very point of contest.
The chances, it is to be remembered next, were not of a kind to admit weighing with any approach to certainty; it was difficult even to marshal them for consideration. The distance was somewhat less than three-quarters of a mile; on the other part, the competing cloud was wrestling with the mountain height of Alem Daghy, about four miles away. The dead calm was an advantage; unfortunately it was more than offset by the velocity of the current which, though not so strong by the littoral of Candilli as under the opposite bluffs of Roumeli-Hissar, was still a serious opposing force. The boatmen were skilful, and could be relied upon to pull loyally; for, passing the reward offered in the event of their winning, the dangers of failure were to them alike. Treating the contest as a race, with the storm and the boat as competitors, the Prince was not without chances of success.
But whatever the outcome of the venture, Lael would be put to discomfort. His care of her was so habitually marked by tender solicitude one cannot avoid wondering at him now.
After all he may have judged the affair more closely than at first appears. The sides of the boat were low, but danger from that cause might be obviated by the skill of the rowers; and then Alem Daghy was not a trifling obstacle in the path of the gale. It might be trusted to hold the cloud awhile; after which a time would be required by the wind to travel the miles intervening.
Certainly it had been more prudent to make the shore, and seek refuge in one of the houses there. But the retort of the spirited Jew of that day, as in this, was a contemptuous refusal of assistance, and the degree to which this son of Israel was governed by the eternal resentment can be best appreciated by recalling the number of his days on earth.
At the first response to the vigorous pull of the oarsmen, Lael drew the red cloak over her face, and laid her head against the Prince. He put his arm around her, and seeing nothing and saying nothing, she trusted in him.
The rowers, pulling with strength from the start, gradually quickened the stroke, and were presently in perfect harmony of action. A short sough accompanied each dip of the blades; an expiration, like that of the woodman striking a blow with his axe, announced the movement completed. The cords of their brawny necks played fast and free; the perspiration ran down their faces like rain upon glass. Their teeth clinched. They turned neither right nor left; but with their straining eyes fixed upon him, by his looks they judged both their own well-doing and the progress of their competitor.
Seeing the boat pointed directly toward the Castle, the Prince watched the cloud. Occasionally he commended the rowers.
"Well done, my men!—Hold to that, and we will win!"
The unusual brightness of his eyes alone betrayed excitement. Once he looked over the yet quiet upper field of water. His was the only vessel in motion. Even the great ships were lying to. No—there was another small boat like his own coming down along the Asiatic shore as if to meet him. Its position appeared about as far above the mouth of the river as his was below it; and its three or five rowers were plainly doing their best. With grim pleasure, he accepted the stranger as another competitor in the race.
The friendly heights of Alem, seen from the Bosphorus, are one great forest always beautifully green. Even as the Prince looked at them, they lost color, as if a hand out of the cloud had suddenly dropped a curtain of white gauze over them. He glanced back over the course, then forward. The donjon was showing the loopholes that pitted its southern face. Excellent as the speed had been, more was required. Half the distance remained to be overcome—and the enemy not four miles away.
"Faster, men!" he called out. "The gust has broken from the mountain. I hear its roaring."
They turned involuntarily, and with a look measured the space yet to be covered, the distance of the foe, and the rate at which he was coming. Nor less did they measure the danger. They too heard its warning, the muffled roar as of rocks and trees snatched up and grinding to atoms in the inner coils of the cloud.
"It is not a blow," one said, speaking quick, "but a"—
The word was the Prince's.
"Yes, my Lord."
Just then the water by the boat was rippled by a breath, purring, timorous, but icy.
The effect on the oarsmen was stronger than any word from the master could have been. They finished a pull long and united; then while the oars swung forward taking reach for another, they all arose to their feet, paused a moment, dipped the blades deeper, gave vent to a cry so continuous it sounded like a wail, and at the same time sunk back into their seats, pulling as they fell. This was their ultimate exertion. A jet of water spurted from the foot of the sharp bow, and the bubbles and oar eddies flew behind indistinguishably.
"Well done!" said the Prince, his eyes glowing.
Thenceforward the men continued to rise at the end of a stroke, and fall as they commenced delivery of another. Their action was quick, steady, machine-like; they gripped the water deep, and made no slips; with a thought of the exhilaration an eagle must feel when swooping from his eyrie, the Prince looked at the cloud defiantly as a challenger might. Each moment the donjon loomed up more plainly. He saw now, not merely the windows and loopholes, but the joinery of the stones in their courses. Suddenly he beheld another wonder—an army of men mounted and galloping along the river bank toward the Castle.
The array stretched back into the woods. In its van were two flags borne side by side, one green, the other red. Both were surrounded by a troop in bright armor. No need for him to ask to whom they belonged. They told him of Mecca and Mahomet—on the red, he doubted not seeing the old Ottomanic symbols, in their meaning poetic, in their simplicity beautiful as any ever appropriated for martial purposes. The riders were Turks. But why the green flag? Where it went somebody more than the chief of a sanjak, more than the governor of a castle, or even a province, led the way.
The number trailing after the flags was scarcely less mysterious. They were too many to be of the garrison; and then the battlements of the Castle were lined with men also under arms. Not daring to speak of this new apparition lest his oarsmen might take alarm, the Prince smiled, thinking of another party to the race—a fourth competitor.
He sought the opposing boat next. It had made good time. There were five oarsmen in it; and, like his own, they were rising and falling with each stroke. In the passengers' place, he could make out two persons whom he took to be women.
A roll of thunder from the cloud startled the crew. Clear, angry, majestic, it filled the mighty gorge of the Bosphorus. Under the sound the water seemed to shrink away. Lael looked out from her hiding, but as quickly drew back, crowding closer to the Prince. To calm her he said, lightly,
"Fear nothing, O my Gul Bahar! A pretty race we are having with the cloud yonder; we are winning, and it is not pleased. There is no danger."
She answered by doubling the folds of the gown about her head.
Steadily, lithely, and with never an error the rowers drove through the waves—steadily, and in exact time, their cry arose cadencing each stroke. They did their part truly. Well might the master cry them, "Good, good." But all the while the wind was tugging mightily at its cloudy car; every instant the rattle of its wheels sounded nearer. The trees on the hills behind the Castle were bending and bowing; and not merely around the boat, but far as could be seen the surface of the ancient channel was a-shirr and a-shatter under beating of advance gusts.
And now the mouth of the Sweet Waters, shallowed by a wide extended osier bank, came into view; and the Castle was visible from base to upper merlon, the donjon, in relief against the blackened sky, rising more ghostly than ever. And right at hand were the flags, and the riders galloping with them. And there, coming bravely in, was the competing boat.
Over toward Roumeli-Hissar the sea birds congregated in noisy flocks, alarmed at the long line of foam the wind was whisking down the current. Behind the foam, the world seemed dissolving into spray.
Then the boats were seen from the Castle, and a company of soldiers ran out and down the bank. A noise like the rushing of a river sounded directly overhead. The wind struck the Castle, and in the thick of the mists and flying leaves hurled at it, the donjon disappeared.
"We win, we win, my men!" the Prince shouted. "Courage—good spirit—brave work—treble wages! Wine and wassail to-morrow!"
The boat, with the last word, shot into the little river, and up to the landing of the Castle just as the baffled wind burst over the refuge. And simultaneously the van of the army galloped under the walls and the competing boat arrived.
IN THE WHITE CASTLE
The landing was in possession of dark-faced, heavily bearded men, with white turbans, baggy trousers, gray and gathered at the ankles, and arms of every kind, bows, javelins, and cimeters.
The Prince, stepping from his boat, recognized them as Turkish soldiers. He had hardly time to make the inspection, brief as it was, before an officer, distinguished by a turban, kettle-shaped and elaborately infolded, approached him.
"You will go with me to the Castle," he said.
The official's tone and manner were imperative. Suppressing his displeasure, the Prince replied, with dignity:
"The Governor is courteous. Return to him with my thanks, and say that when I decided to come on in the face of the storm, I made no doubt of his giving me shelter until it would be safe to resume my journey. I fear, however, his accommodations will be overtaxed; and since the river is protected from the wind, it would be more agreeable if he would permit me to remain here."
The response betrayed no improvement in manner:
"My order is to bring you to the Castle."
Some of the boatmen at this raised their eyes and hands toward heaven; others crossed themselves, and, like men taking leave of hope, cried out, "O Holy Mother of God!"
Yet the Prince restrained himself. He saw contention would be useless, and said, to quiet the rowers: "I will go with you. The Governor will be reasonable. We are unfortunates blown to his hands by a tempest, and to make us prisoners under such circumstances would be an abuse of one of the first and most sacred laws of the Prophet. The order did not comprehend my men; they may remain here."
Lael heard all this, her face white with fear.
The conversation was in the Greek tongue. At mention of the law, the Turk cast a contemptuous look at the Prince, much as to say, Dog of an unbeliever, what dost thou with a saying of the Prophet? Then dropping his eyes to Lael and the boatmen, he answered in disdain of argument or explanation:
"You—they—all must go."
With that, he turned to the occupants of the other boat, and raising his voice the better to be heard, for the howling of the wind was very great, he called to them:
They were a woman in rich attire, but closely veiled, and a companion at whom he gazed with astonishment. The costume of the latter perplexed him; indeed, not until that person, in obedience to the order, erected himself to his full stature upon the landing, was he assured of his sex.
They were the Princess Irene and Sergius the monk.
The conversation between them in the Homeric palace has only to be recalled to account for their presence. Departing from Therapia at noon, according to the custom of boatmen wishing to pass from the upper Bosphorus, they had been carried obliquely across toward the Asiatic shore where the current, because of its greater regularity, is supposed to facilitate descent. When the storm began to fill the space above Alem Daghy, they were in the usual course; and then the question that had been put to the Prince of India was presented to the Princess Irene. Would she land in Asia or recross to Europe?
The general Greek distrust of the Turks belonged to her. From infancy she had been horrified with stories of women prisoners in their hands. She preferred making Roumeli-Hissar; but the boatmen protested it was too late; they said the little river by the White Castle was open, and they could reach it before the storm; and trusting in their better judgment, she submitted to them.
Sergius, on the landing, pushed the cowl back, and was about to speak, but the wind caught his hair, tossing the long locks into tangle. Seeing him thus in a manner blinded, the Princess took up the speech. Drawing the veil aside, she addressed the officer:
"Art thou the Governor of the Castle?"
"Are we to be held guests or prisoners?"
"That is not for me to say."
"Carry thou then a message to him who may be the Governor. Tell him I am the Princess Irene, by birth near akin to Constantine, Emperor of the Greeks and Romans; that, admitting this soil is lawfully the property of his master the Sultan, I have not invaded it, but am here in search of temporary refuge. Tell him if I go to his Castle a prisoner, he must answer for the trespass to my royal kinsman, who will not fail to demand reparation; on the other hand, if I become his guest, it must be upon condition that I shall be free to depart as I came, with my friend and my people, the instant the wind and waves subside. Yes, and the further condition, that he wait upon me as becomes my station, and personally offer such hospitality as his Castle affords. I shall receive his reply here."
The officer, uncouth though he was, listened with astonishment not in the least disguised; and it was not merely the speech which impressed him, nor yet the spirit with which it was given; the spell was in the unveiled face. Never in his best dream of the perfected Moslem Paradise had he seen loveliness to compare with it. He stood staring at her.
"Go," she repeated. "There will be rain presently."
"Who am I to say thou art?" he asked.
"The Princess Irene, kinswoman of the Emperor Constantine."
The officer made a low salaam to her, and walked hurriedly off to the Castle.
His soldiers stood in respectful remove from the prisoners—such the refugees must for the present be considered—leaving them grouped in close vicinity, the Prince and the monk ashore, the Princess and Lael seated in their boats.
Calamity is a rough master of ceremonies; it does not take its victims by the hand, and name them in words, but bids them look to each other for help. And that was precisely what the two parties now did.
Unsophisticated, and backward through inexperience, Sergius was nevertheless conscious of the embarrassing plight of the Princess. He had also a man's quick sense of the uselessness of resistance, except in the way of protest. To measure the stranger's probable influence with the Turks, he looked first at the Prince, and was not, it must be said, rewarded with a return on which to found hope or encouragement. The small, stoop-shouldered old man, with a great white beard, appeared respectable and well-to-do in his black velvet cap and pelisse; his eyes were very bright, and his cheeks hectic with resentment at the annoyance he was undergoing; but that he could help out of the difficulty appeared absurd.
Having by this time rescued his hair from the wind, and secured it under his cowl, he looked next at Lael. His first thought was of the unfitness of her costume for an outing in a boat under the quietest of skies. A glance at the Princess, however, allayed the criticism; while the display of jewelry was less conspicuous, her habit was quite as rich and unsubstantial. It dawned upon him then that custom had something to do with the attire of Greek women thus upon the water. That moment Lael glanced up at him, and he saw how childlike her face was, and lovely despite the anxiety and fear with which it was overcast. He became interested in her at once.
The monk's judgment of the little old man was unjust. That master of subtlety had in mind run forward of the situation, and was already providing for its consequences.
He shared the surprise of the Turk when the Princess raised her veil. Overhearing then her message to the Governor, delivered in a manner calm, self-possessed, courageous, dignified, and withal adroit, he resolved to place Lael under her protection.
"Princess," he said, doffing his cap unmindful of the wind, and advancing to the side of her boat, "I crave audience of you, and in excuse for my unceremoniousness, plead community in misfortune, and a desire to make my daughter here safe as can be."
She surveyed him from head to foot; then turned her eyes toward Lael, sight of whom speedily exorcised the suspicion which for the instant held her hesitant.
"I acknowledge the obligation imposed by the situation." she replied; "and being a Christian as well as a woman, I cannot without reason justifiable in sight of Heaven deny the help you ask. But, good sir, first tell me your name and country."
"I am a Prince of India exercising a traveller's privilege of sojourning in the imperial city."
"The answer is well given; and if hereafter you return to this interview, O Prince, I beg you will not lay my inquiry to common curiosity."
"Fear not," the Prince answered; "for I learned long ago that in the laws prescribed for right doing prudence is a primary virtue; and making present application of the principle, I suggest, if it please you to continue a discourse which must be necessarily brief, that we do so in some other tongue than Greek."
"Be it in Latin then," she said, with a quick glance at the soldiers, and observing his bow of acquiescence, continued, "Thy reverend beard, O Prince, and respectable appearance, are warranties of a wisdom greater than I can ever attain; wherefore pray tell me how I, a feeble woman, who may not be able to release herself from these robbers, remorseless from religious prejudice, can be of assistance to thy daughter, now my younger sister in affliction."
She accompanied the speech with a look at Lael so kind and tender it could not be misinterpreted.
"Most fair and gentle Princess, I will straight to the matter. Out on the water, midway this and the point yonder, when too late for me to change direction or stay my rowers, I saw a body of horsemen, whom I judged to be soldiers, moving hurriedly down the river bank toward the Castle. A band richly caparisoned, carrying two flags, one green, the other red, moved at their head. The former, you may know, has a religious signification, and is seldom seen in the field except a person of high rank be present. It is my opinion, therefore, that our arrest has some reference to the arrival of such a personage. In confirmation you may yet hear the musical flourish in his honor."
"I hear drums and trumpets," she replied, "and admit the surmise an ingenious accounting for an act otherwise unaccountable."
"Nay, Princess, with respect to thyself at least, call it a deed intolerable, and loud with provocation."
"From your speech, O Prince, I infer familiarity with these faithless barbarians. Perhaps you can make your knowledge of them so far serviceable as to tell me the great man's name."
"Yes, I have had somewhat to do with Turks; yet I cannot venture the name, rank or purpose of the newcomer. Pursuing the argument, however, if my conjecture be true, then the message borne the Governor, though spirited, and most happily accordant with your high degree, will not accomplish your release, simply because the reason of the capture in the first place must remain a reason for detaining you in the next. In brief, you may anticipate rejection of the protest."
"What, think you they will hold me prisoner?"
"They are crafty."
"They dare not!" and the Princess' cheek reddened with indignation. "My kinsman is not powerless—and even the great Amurath"—
"Forgive me, I pray; but there was never mantle to cover so many crimes as the conveniences kings call 'reasons of state.'"
She looked vaguely up the river which the tempest was covering with promiscuous air-blown drifting; but recovering, she said: "It is for me to pray pardon, Prince. I detain you."
"Not at all," he answered. "I have to remark next, if my conjecture prove correct, a lady of imperial rank might find herself ill at ease and solitary in a hold like this Castle, which, speaking by report, is now kept to serve some design of war to come more particularly than domestic or social life."
The imagination of the Princess caught the idea eagerly, and, becoming active, presented a picture of a Moslem lair without women or apartments for women. Her mind filled with alarm.
"Oh, that I could recall the message!" she exclaimed. "I should not have tempted the Governor by offering to become his guest upon any condition."
"Nay, do not accuse yourself. The decision was brave and excellent in every view," he said, perceiving his purpose in such fair way. "For see—the storm increases in strength; yonder"—he pointed toward Alem Daghy—"the rain comes. Not by thy choice, O Princess, but the will of God, thou art here!"
He spoke impressively, and she bent her head, and crossed herself twice.
"A sad plight truly," he continued. "Fortunately it may be in a measure relieved. Here is my daughter, Lael by name. The years have scarcely outrun her childhood. More at mercy than thyself, because without rank to make the oppressor careful, or an imperial kinsman to revenge a wrong done her, she is subject to whatever threatens you—a cell in this infidel stronghold, ruffians for attendants, discomforts to cast her into fever, separation from me to keep her afraid. Why not suffer her to go with you? She can serve as tirewoman or companion. In villany the boldest often hesitate when two are to be overcome."
The speech was effective.
"O Prince, I have not words to express my gratitude. I am thy debtor. Heaven may have brought this crisis, but it has not altogether deserted me—And in good time! See—my messenger, with a following! Let thy daughter come, and sit with me now—and do thou stand by to lend me of thy wisdom in case appeal to it become necessary. Quick! Nay, Prince, Sergius is young and strong. Permit him to bring the child to me."
The monk made haste. Drawing the boat close to the shore, he gave Lael his strong hand. Directly she was delivered to the Princess, and seated beside her.
"Now they may come!"
Thus the Princess acknowledged the strength derivable from companionship. The result was perceptible in her voice once more clear, and her face actually sparkling with confidence and courage.
Then, drawn together in one group, the refugees awaited the officer.
"The Governor is coming," that worthy said, saluting the Princess.
Looking toward the Castle, the expectants beheld a score or more men issuing from the gate on foot. They were all in armor, and each complemented the buckler on his arm with a lance from which a colored pennon blew out straight and stiff as a panel. One walked in front singly, and immediately the Prince and Princess fixed upon him as the Governor, and kept him in eye curiously and anxiously.
That instant rain in large drops began to fall. The Governor appeared to notice the premonition, for looking at the angry sky he halted, and beckoned to his followers, several of whom ran to him, received an order, and then hastily returned to the Castle. He came on in quickened gait.
Here the Prince, with his greater experience, noticed a point which escaped his associates; and that was the extraordinary homage paid the stranger.
At the landing the officer and soldiers would have prostrated themselves, but with an imperious gesture, he declined the salutation.
The observers, it may be well believed, viewed the man afar with interest; when near, they scanned him as persons under arraignment study the judge, that from his appearance they may glean something of his disposition. He was above the average height of men, slender, and in armor—the armor of the East, adapted in every point to climate and light service. A cope or hood, intricately woven of delicate steel wire, and close enough to refuse an arrow or the point of a dagger, defended head, throat, neck, and shoulders, while open at the face; a coat, of the same artistic mail, beginning under the hood, followed closely the contour of the body, terminating just above the knees as a skirt. Amongst Teutonic and English knights, on account of its comparative lightness, it would have been distinguished from an old-fashioned hauberk, and called haubergeon. A sleeveless surcoat of velvet, plain green in color, overlaid the mail without a crease or wrinkle, except at the edge of the skirt. Chausses, or leggins, also of steel, clothed the nether limbs, ending in shoes of thin lateral scales sharply pointed at the toes. A slight convexity on top, and the bright gold-gilt band by which, with regular interlacement, the cope was attached, gave the cap surmounting the head a likeness to a crown.
In style this armor was common. The preference Eastern cavaliers showed it may have been due in part at least to the fact that when turned out by a master armorer, after years of painstaking, it left the wearer his natural graces of person. Such certainly was the case here.
The further equipment of the man admits easy imagining. There were the gauntlets of steel, articulated for the fingers and thumbs; a broad flexible belt of burnished gold scales, intended for the cimeter, fell from the waist diagonally to the left hip; light spurs graced the heels; a dagger, sparkling with jewels, was his sole weapon, and it served principally to denote the peacefulness of his errand. As there was nothing about him to rattle or clank his steps were noiseless, and his movements agile and easy.
These martial points were naturally of chief attraction to the Prince of India, whose vast acquaintanceship with heroes and famous warriors made comparison a habit. On her side, the Princess, to whom accoutrement and manner were mere accessories, pleasing or otherwise, and subordinate, sought the stranger's face. She saw brown eyes, not very large, but exceedingly bright, quick, sharp, flying from object to object with flashes of bold inquiry, and quitting them as instantly; a round forehead on brows high-arched; a nose with the curvature of a Roman's; mouth deep-cornered, full-lipped, and somewhat imperfectly mustached and bearded; clear, though sunburned complexion—in brief, a countenance haughty, handsome, refined, imperious, telling in every line of exceptional birth, royal usages, ambition, courage, passion, and confidence. Most amazing, however, the stranger appeared yet a youth. Surprised, hardly knowing whether to be pleased or alarmed, yet attracted, she kept the face in steady gaze.
Halting when a few steps from the group, the stranger looked at them as if seeking one in especial.
"Have a care, O Princess! This is not the Governor, but he of whom I spoke—the great man."
The warning was from the Prince of India and in Latin. As if to thank him for a service done—possibly for identifying the person he sought— the subject of the warning slightly bowed to him, then dropped his eyes to the Princess. A light blown out does not vanish more instantly than his expression changed. Wonder—incredulity—astonishment—admiration chased each other over his face in succession. Calling them emotions, each declared itself with absolute distinctness, and the one last to come was most decided and enduring. Thus he met her gaze, and so ardent, intense and continuous was his, that she reddened cheek and forehead, and drew down the veil; but not, it should be understood, resentfully.
The disappearance of the countenance, in effect like the sudden extinguishment of a splendor, aroused him. Advancing a step, he said to her, with lowered head and perceptible embarrassment:
"I come to offer hospitality to the kinswoman of the Emperor Constantine. The storm shows no sign of abatement, and until it does, my Castle yonder is at her order. While not sumptuous in appointment as her own palace, fortunately there are comfortable apartments in it where she can rest securely and with reserve. The invitation I presume to make in the name of my most exalted master Sultan Amurath, who takes delight in the amity existing between him and the Lord of Byzantium. To lay all fear, to dispel hesitation, in his name again, together with such earnest of good faith as lies in an appeal to the most holy Prophet of God, I swear the Princess Irene shall be safe from interruption while in the Castle, and free to depart from it at her pleasure. If she chooses, this tender of courtesy may, by agreement, here in the presence of these witnesses, be taken as an affair of state. I await her answer."
The Prince of India heard the speech more astonished by the unexceptional Latin in which it was couched than the propriety of the matter or the grace of its delivery, though, he was constrained to admit, both were very great. He also understood the meaning of the look the stranger had given him at the conclusion of his warning to the Princess, and to conceal his vexation, he turned to her.
That moment two covered chairs, brought from the Castle, were set down near by, and the rain began to fall in earnest.
"See," said the Governor, "the evidence of my care for the comfort of the kinswoman of the most noble Emperor Constantine. I feared it would rain before I could present myself to her; nor that alone, fair Princess—the chair must convict me of a wholesome dread of accusation in Constantinople; for what worse could be said than that I, a faithful Moslem, to whom hospitality is an ordination of religion, refused to open my gates to women in distress because they were Christians. Most noble and fair lady, behold how much I should esteem acceptance of my invitation!"
Irene looked at the Prince of India, and seeing assent in his face, answered:
"I will ask leave to report this courtesy as an affair of state that my royal kinsman may acknowledge it becomingly."
The Governor bowed very low while saying:
"I myself should have suggested the course."
"Also that my friends"—she pointed to the Prince of India, and the monk—"and all the boatmen, be included in the safeguard."
This was also agreed to; whereupon she arose, and for assistance offered her hand to Sergius. Lael was next helped from the boat. Then, taking to the chairs, the two were carried into the Castle, followed by the Prince and the monk afoot.
THE ARABIAN STORY-TELLER
The reader will doubtless refer the circumstance to the jealousy which is supposed to prompt the Faithful where women are required to pass before men; yet the best evidence of the Governor's thoughtfulness for his female guests met them at their approach to the Castle. There was not a man visible except a sentinel on the battlement above the gate, and he stood faced inwardly, making it impossible for him to see them when they drew near.
"Where are the horsemen of whom you spoke? And the garrison, where are they?" Sergius asked the Prince.
The latter shrugged his shoulders, as he answered:
"They will return presently."
Further proof of the same thoughtfulness was presented when the two chairs were set down in the broad stone-paved passage receiving from the front door. The sole occupant there was a man, tall as the monk, but unnaturally slender; indeed, his legs resembled those of a lay figure, so thin were they, while the residue of his person, although clad in a burnoose gorgeously embroidered, would have reminded a modern of the skeletons surgeons keep for office furniture. Besides blackness deep as the unlighted corner of a cellar, he had no beard. The Prince of India recognized him as one of the indispensables of an Eastern harem, and made ready to obey him without dissent—only the extravagance of the broidery on the burnoose confirmed him in the opinion that the chief just arrived outranked the Governor. "This is the Kislar Aga of a Prince," he said to himself.
The eunuch, like one accustomed to the duty, superintended the placement of the chairs; then, resting the point of a very bright crescent-shaped sword on the floor, he said, in a voice more incisive than the ordinary feminine tenor:
"I will now conduct the ladies, and guard them. No one will presume to follow."
The Prince replied: "It is well; but they will be comforted if permitted to abide together."
He spoke with deference, and the black responded:
"This is a fort, not a palace. There is but one chamber for the two."
"And if I wish to communicate with them or they with me?"
"Bismillah!" the eunuch replied. "They are not prisoners. I will deliver what thou hast for them or they for thee."
Thereupon the Princess and Lael stepped from the chairs, and went with their guide. When they were gone, word sped through the Castle, and with clamor and clangor, doors opened, and men poured forth in companies. And again the Prince reflected: "Such discipline pertains to princes only."
Now the office of eunuch was by no means an exclusive pagan institution; time out of mind it had been a feature of Byzantine courts; and Constantine Dragases, the last, and probably the most Christian of Greek emperors, not only tolerated, but recognized it as honorable. With this explanation the reader ought not to be surprised if the Princess Irene accepted the guidance offered her without fear or even hesitation. Doubtless she had been in similar keeping many times.
Climbing a number of stairways, the eunuch brought his fair charges into a part of the Castle where there were signs of refinement. The floors were swept; the doors garnished with rugs; a delicate incense lingered in the air; and to rescue the tenants, whoever they might be, from darkness, lighted lamps swung from the ceiling, and were affixed to the walls. Stopping finally before a portiere, he held it aside while saying:
"Enter here, and be at home. Upon the table yonder there is a little bell; ring, and I will answer."
And seeing Lael clinging closely to the Princess, he added: "Be not afraid. Know ye rather that my master, when a child, heard the story of Hatim, a warrior and poet of the Arabs, and ever since he has lived believing hospitality a virtue without which there can be no godliness. Do not forget the bell."
They entered and were alone.
To their amazement the room was more than comfortably furnished. What may be termed a chandelier swung from the ceiling with many lamps ready for lighting; under it there was a circular divan; then along the four sides a divan extended continuously, with pillows at the corners in heaps. Matting covered the floor, and here and there rugs of gay dyes offered noticeable degrees of warmth and coloring. Large trays filled the deep recesses of the windows, and though the smell of musk overpowered the sweet outgivings of the roses blooming in them, they sufficed to rouge the daylight somewhat scantily admitted. The roughness and chill of the walls were provided against by woollen drapery answering for arras.
They went first to one of the windows, and peered out. Below them the world was being deluged with fiercely driven rain. There was the Bosphorus lashed into waves already whitened with foam. The European shore was utterly curtained from sight. Gust after gust raved around the Castle, whistling and moaning; and as she beheld the danger escaped, the Princess thought of the saying of the Prince of India and repeated it in a spirit of thanksgiving: "By the will of God thou art here."
The reflection reconciled her to the situation, and led on till presently the face and martial figure of the Governor reproduced themselves to her fancy. How handsome he appeared—how courteous—how young!—scarcely older than herself! How readily she had yielded to his invitation! She blushed at the thought.
Lael interrupted the revery, which was not without charm, and for that reason would likely return, by bringing her a child's slipper found near the central divan; and while examining the embroidery of many-colored beads adorning it, she divined the truth.
Isolated as the Castle was on a frontier of the Islamic world, and crowded with men and material of war, yet the Governor was permitted his harem, and this was its room in common. Here his wives, many or few, for the time banished to some other quarters, were in the habit of meeting for the enjoyment of the scant pleasantries afforded by life like theirs.
Again she was interrupted. The arras over one of the walls was pushed aside, and two women came in with refreshments. A third followed with a small table of Turkish pattern which she placed on the floor. The viands, very light and simple, were set upon the table; then a fourth one came bringing an armful of shawls and wraps. The last was a Greek, and she explained that the Lord of the Castle, her master, was pleased to make his guests comfortable. In the evening later a more substantial repast would be served. Meantime she was appointed to wait on them.
The guests, assured by the presence of other women in the Castle, partook of the refection; after which the table was removed, and the attendants for the present dismissed. Wrapping themselves then in shawls, for they had not altogether escaped the rain, and were beginning to feel the mists stealing into the chamber through the unglazed windows, they took to the divan, piling the cushions about them defensively.
In this condition, comfortable, cosey, perfectly at rest, and with the full enjoyment of the sensations common to every one in the midst of a novel adventure, the Princess proceeded to draw from Lael an account of herself; and the ingenuousness of the girl proved very charming, coupled as it was with a most unexpected intelligence. The case was the not unusual one of education wholly unsupported by experience. The real marvel to the inquisitor was that she should have made discovery of two such instances the same day, and been thrown into curious relation with them. And as women always run parallels between persons who interest them, the Princess was struck with the similarities between Sergius and Lael. They were both young, both handsome, both unusually well informed and at the same time singularly unsophisticated. In the old pagan style, what did Fate mean by thus bringing them together? She determined to keep watch of the event.
And when, in course of her account, Lael spoke of the Prince of India, Irene awoke at once to a mystery connected with him. Lacking the full story, the narrator could give just enough of it to stimulate wonder. Who was he? Where was Cipango? He was rich—learned—knew all the sciences, all the languages—he had visited countries everywhere, even the inhabited islands. To be sure, he had not appeared remarkable; indeed, she gave him small attention when he was before her; she recalled him chiefly by his eyes and velvet pelisse. While she was mentally resolving to make better study of him, the eunuch appeared under the portiere, and, coming forward, said, with a half salaam to the Princess:
"My master does not wish his guests to think themselves forgotten. The kinswoman of the most august Emperor Constantine, he remembers, is without employment to lighten the passage of a time which must be irksome to her. He humbly prays her to accept his sympathy, and sends me to say that a famous story-teller, going to the court of the Sultan at Adrianople, arrived at the Castle to-day. Would the Princess be pleased to hear him?"
"In what tongue does he recite?" she asked.
"Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Latin, Hebrew," was the reply.
"Oh, a most wise man!"
Irene consulted Lael, and thinking to offer her amusement, assented to the suggestion, with thanks to the Governor.
"Have the veils ready," the eunuch said, as he retreated backward to the door. "The story-teller is a man, and he will come directly."
The story-teller was ushered in. He walked to the divan where his auditors sat, slowly, as if he knew himself under close observation, and courted it.
Now caravans were daily shows in Constantinople. The little bell of the donkey leading its string of laden camels through the narrow streets might be heard any hour, and the Shaykh in charge was almost invariably an Arab. So the Princess had seen many of the desert-born, and was familiar with their peculiarities; never, however, had chance brought a nobler specimen of the race before her. As he approached, stepping as modern stage heroes are wont, she saw the red slippers, the white shirt falling to the ankles and girdled at the waist, its bosom a capacious pocket, the white and red striped cloak over the shoulders. She marked the material of which they were made, the shirt of selected Angora wool, the cloak of camel's hair, in its fineness iridescent and soft as velvet. She saw in the girdle an empty scabbard for a yatagan elaborately covered with brilliants. She saw on the head a kerchief of mixed silk and cotton, tasselled, heavily striated red and yellow, and secured by the usual cord; but she scarcely more than noticed them—the air of the man, high, stately, king-like, was a superior attraction, and she gazed at his face unconscious that her own was uncovered.
The features were regular, the complexion sunburned to the hue of reddish copper, the beard thin, the nose sharp, the cheeks hollow, the eyes, through the double shade of brows and kerchief, glittered like balls of polished black amber. His hands were crossed above the girdle after the manner of Eastern servants before acknowledged superiors; his salutation was expressive of most abject homage; yet when he raised himself, and met the glance of the Princess, his eyes lingered, and brightened, and directly he cast off or forgot his humility, and looked lordlier than an Emir boasting of his thousand tents, with ten spears to each, and a score of camels to the spear. She endured the gaze awhile; for it seemed she had seen the face before—where, she could not tell; and when, as presently happened, she began to feel the brightness of the eyes intenser growing, the sensation reminded her of the Governor at the landing. Could this be he? No, the countenance here was of a man already advanced in life. And why should the Governor resort to disguise? The end, nevertheless, was the same as on the landing—she drew down the veil. Then he became humble again, and spoke, his eyes downcast, his hands crossed:
"This faithful servant"—he pointed to the eunuch "my friend"—the eunuch crossed his hands, and assumed an attitude of pleased attention—"brought me from his master—may the most Merciful and Compassionate continue a pillow to the good man here and to his soul hereafter!—how a kinswoman of the Emperor whose capital is to the earth a star, and he as the brightness thereof, had taken refuge with him from the storm, and was now his guest, and languishing for want of amusement. Would I tell her a story? I have a horde of parables, tales, and traditions, and many nations have contributed to it; but, alas, O Princess! they are simple, and such as beguile tentmen and tentwomen shut in by the desert, their fancies tender as children's. I fear your laughter. But here I am; and as the night bird sings when the moon is risen, because the moon is beautiful and must be saluted, even so I am obedient. Command me."
The speech was in Greek, with the slightest imperfection of accent; at the conclusion the Princess was silent.
"Knowest thou"—she at length said—"knowest thou of one Hatim, renowned as a warrior and poet of the Arabs?"
The eunuch saw the reference, and smiled. Asking of Hatim now was only another form of inquiry after his master; not merely had the latter been in her mind; she wished to know more about him. On his part, the story-teller arose from his servile posture, and asked with the animation of one to whom a favorite theme is presented:
"Noble lady, know you aught of the desert?"
"I have never been there," the Princess answered.
"Though not beautiful, it is the home of mysteries," he said, with growing enthusiasm. "When he whom in the same breath you worship as God and the Son of God—an opposition beyond the depth of our simple faith—made ready to proclaim himself, he went for a time into the Wilderness, and dwelt there. So likewise our Prophet, seeing the dawn of his day, betook himself to Hiva, a rock, bleak, barren, waterless. Why, O Princess, if not for purification, and because God of preference has founded his dwelling there, wasting it indeed the better to nurse his goodness in a perfected solitude? Granting this, why may I not assert without shocking you that the sons of the desert are the noblest of men?—
"Such was Hatim!
"In the Hijaz and the Nejd, they tell of him thus:
"In the day the Compassionate set about world-making, which is but a pastime with him, nor nearly so much as nest-building to a mother-dove, he rested. The mountains and rivers and seas were in their beds, and the land was variegated to please him, here a forest, there a grassy plain; nothing remained unfinished except the sand oceans, and they only wanted water. He rested.
"Now, if, with their sky, a sun-field in the day, a gallery of stars at night, and their winds, flying from sea to sea, but gathering no taint, the deserts are treeless, and unknowing the sweetness of gardens and the glory of grass, it was not by accident or forgetfulness; for with him, the Compassionate, the Merciful, there are no accidents or lapses of any kind. He is all attention and ever present. Thus the Throne verse—'Drowsiness overcomes him not nor sleep.... His firmament spans the Heaven and the Earth, and the care of them does not distress him.'
"Why then the yellowness and the burning, the sameness and solitude, and the earth intolerant of rain and running stream, and of roads and paths—why, if there was neither accident nor forgetfulness?
"He is the High and the Great! Accuse him not!
"In that moment of rest, not from weariness or overburden, but to approve the work done, and record the approval as a judgment, he said, speaking to his Almightiness as to a familiar: 'As it is it shall stay. A time will come when with men I, and the very name of me, shall go out utterly like the green of last year's leaf. He who walks in a garden thinks of it only; but he who abides in a desert, wanting to see the beautiful, must look into the sky, and looking there he shall be reminded of me, and say aloud and as a lover, 'There is no God but him, the Compassionate, the Merciful.... The eyes see him not, but he seeth the eyes; and He is the Gracious, the Knowing'.... So also comes a time when religion shall be without heart, dead, and the quickening of worship lost in idolatry; when men shall cry, God, my God, to stones and graven images, and sing to hear their singing, and the loud music it goes with. And that time shall be first in lands of growth and freshness, in cities where comforts and luxuries are as honey in hives after the flowering of palms. Wherefore—Lo, the need of deserts. There I shall never be forgotten. And out of them, out of their hardness and heat, out of their yellow distances and drouth, religion shall arise again, and go forth purified unto universality; for I shall be always present there, a life-giver. And against those days of evil, I shall keep men there, the best of their kind, and their good qualities shall not rust; they shall be brave, for I may want swords; they shall keep the given word, for as I am the Truth, so shall my chosen be; there shall be no end to charity among them, for in such lands charity is life, and must take every form, friendship, love of one another, love of giving, and hospitality, unto which are riches and plenty. And in their worship, I shall be first, and honor next. And as Truth is the Soul of the World, it being but another of my names, for its salvation they shall speak with tongues of fire, this one an orator, that one a poet; and living in the midst of death, they shall fear me not at all, but dishonor more. Mine are the Sons of the Desert—the Word-Keepers!—the Unconquered and Conquerless! For my name's sake, I nominate them Mine, and I alone am the High and the Great.... And there shall be amongst them exemplars of this virtue and that one singly; and at intervals through the centuries standards for emulation among the many, a few, in whom all the excellences shall be blent in indivisible comeliness.'
"So came Hatim, of the Bene-Tayyi, lustrous as the moon of Ramazan to eager watchers on high hilltops, and better than other men, even as all the virtues together are better than any one of them, excepting charity and love of God.
"Now Hatim's mother was a widow, poor, and without relations, but beloved by the Compassionate, and always in his care, because she was wise beyond the men of her time, and kept his laws, as they were known, and taught them to her son. One day a great cry arose in the village. Everybody rushed to see the cause, and then joined in the clamor.
"Up in the north there was an appearance the like of which had never been beheld, nor were there any to tell what it was from hearsay. Some pooh-poohed, saying, contemptuously:
"'Tis only a cloud.'
"Others, observing how rapidly it came, in movement like a bird sailing on outspread motionless wings, said:
"'A roc! A roc!'
"When the object was nearer, a few of the villagers, in alarm, ran to their houses, shrieking:
"'Israfil, Israfil! He is bringing the end of time!'
"Soon the sight was nearly overhead; then it was going by, its edge overhead, the rest of it extending eastwardly; and it was long and broad as a pasture for ten thousand camels, and horses ten thousand. It had no likeness earthly except a carpet of green silk; nor could those standing under describe what bore it along. They thought they heard the sound of a strong wind, but as the air above far and near was full of birds great and small, birds of the water as well as the land, all flying evenly with the carpet, and making a canopy of their wings, and shade deeper than a cloud's, the beholders were uncertain whether the birds or the wind served it. In passing, it dipped gently, giving them a view of what it carried—a throne of pearl and rainbow, and a crowned King sitting in majesty; at his left hand, an army of spirits, at his right, an army of men in martial sheen.
"While the prodigy was before them, the spectators stirred not; nor was there one brave enough to speak; most of them with their eyes devoured it all, King and throne, birds, men and spirits; though afterwards there was asking:
"'Did you see the birds?'
"'I saw only the King upon His throne.'
"In the passing, also, a man, in splendor of apparel, stood on the carpet's edge and shouted:
"'God is great! I bear witness there is no God but God.'
"The same instant something fell from his hand. When the marvel was out of sight in the south, some bethought them, and went to see what it was which fell. They came back laughing, 'It was only a gourd, and as we have much better on our camel-saddles, we threw it away.'
"But the mother of Hatim, listening to the report, was not content. In her childhood she heard what was tradition then; how Solomon, at the completion of his temple in Jerusalem, journeyed to Mecca upon a carpet of silk wafted by the wind, with men, spirits, and birds. Wherefore, saying to herself, 'It was Solomon going to Mecca. Not for nothing threw he the gourd,' she went alone, and brought it in, and opened it, finding three seeds—one red, like a ruby; a second blue, like a sapphire; the third green, like an emerald.
"Now she might have sold the seeds, for they were beautiful as gems cut for a crown, and enriched herself; but Hatim was all the world to her. They were for him, she said, and getting a brown nut such as washes up from vines in the sea, she cut it, put the treasures into it, sealed them there, and tied them around the boy's neck.
"'Thanks, O Solomon,' she said. 'There is no God but God; and I shall teach the lesson to my Hatim in the morning, when al hudhud flies for water; at noon, when it whistles to itself in the shade; and at night, when it draws a wing over its head to darken the darkness, and sleep.'
"And from that day through all his days Hatim wore the brown nut with the three seeds in it; nor was there ever such an amulet before or since; for, besides being defended by the genii who are Solomon's servants, he grew one of the exemplars promised by God, having in himself every virtue. No one braver than he; none so charitable; none so generous and merciful; none so eloquent; none on whose lips poetry was such sweet speech for the exalting of souls; above all, never had there been such a keeper of his word of promise.
"And of this judge you by some of the many things they tell of him.
"A famine fell upon the land. It was when Hatim had become Sheik of his tribe. The women and children were perishing. The men could no more than witness their suffering. They knew not whom to accuse; they knew no one to receive a prayer. The time predicted was come—the name of God had gone out utterly, like the green of last year's leaf. In the Sheik's tent even, as with the poorest, hunger could not be allayed—there was nothing to eat. The last camel had been devoured—one horse remained. More than once the good man went out to kill him, but the animal was so beautiful—so affectionate—so fleet! And the desert was not wide enough to hold his fame! How much easier to say, 'Another day—to-morrow it may rain.'
"He sat in his tent telling his wife and children stories, for he was not merely the best warrior of his day; he was the most renowned poet and storyteller. Riding into battle, his men would say, 'Sing to us, O Hatim—sing, and we will fight.' And they he loved best, listening to him, had nigh forgot their misery, when the curtain of the tent was raised.
"'Who is there?' he asked.
"'Thy neighbor,' and the voice was a woman's. 'My children are anhungred and crying, and I have nothing for them. Help, O Sheik, help or they die.'
"'Bring them here,' he said, rising.
"'She is not worse off than we,' said his wife, 'nor are her children more hungry than ours. What will you do?'
"'The appeal was to me,' he answered.
"And passing out, he slew the horse, and kindled a fire; then, while the stranger and her children were sharing piece by piece with his own, 'Shame, shame!' he said, 'that ye alone should eat;' and going through the dowar, he brought the neighbors together, and he only went hungry. There was no more of the meat left. Was ever one merciful like Hatim? In combat, he gave lives, but took none. Once an antagonist under his foot, called to him: 'Give me thy spear, Hatim,' and he gave it.
"'Foolish man!' his brethren exclaimed.
"'What else was there?' he answered. 'Did not the poor man ask a gift of me?'
"Never a captive besought his help vainly. On a journey once, a prisoner begged him to buy his liberty; but he was without the money required, and on that account he was sorely distressed. To his entreaties, the strangers listened hard-heartedly; at last he said to them:
"Am not I—Hatim—good as he? Let him go, and take me.'
"And knocking the chains from the unfortunate, he had them put on himself, and wore them until the ransom came.
"In his eyes a poet was greater than a king, and than singing a song well the only thing better was being the subject of a song. Perpetuation by tombs he thought vulgar; so the glory unremembered in verse deserved oblivion. Was it wonderful he gave and kept giving to story-tellers, careless often if what he thus disposed of was another's?
"Once in his youth—and at hearing this, O Princess, the brown-faced sons of the desert, old and young, laugh, and clap their hands—he gave of his grandfather's store until the prudent old man, intending to cure him of his extravagance, sent him to tend his herds in the country. Alas!
"Across the plain Hatim one day beheld a caravan, and finding it escorting three poets to the court of the King of El-Herah, he invited them to stop with him, and while he killed a camel for each of them, they recited songs in his praise, and that of his kin. When they wished to resume the journey, he detained them.
"'There is no gift like the gift of song,' he said. 'I will do better by you than will he, the King to whom you are going. Stay with me, and for every verse you write I will give you a camel. Behold the herd!'
"And at departing, they had each a hundred camels, and he three hundred verses.
"'Where is the herd?' the grandfather asked, when next he came to the pasture.
"'See thou. Here are songs in honor of our house,' Hatim answered, proudly—'songs by great poets; and they will be repeated until all Arabia is filled with our glory.'
"'Alas! Thou hast ruined me!' the elder cried, beating his breast.
"'What!' said Hatim, indignantly. 'Carest thou more for the dirty brutes than for the crown of honor I bought with them?'"
Here the Arab paused. The recitation, it is to be remarked, had been without action, or facial assistance—a wholly unornate delivery; and now he kept stately silence. His eyes, intensely bright in the shadow of the kufiyeh, may have produced the spell which held the Princess throughout; or it may have been the eyes and voice; or, quite as likely, the character of Hatim touched a responsive chord in her breast.
"I thank you," she said, adding presently: "In saying I regret the story ended so soon, I pray you receive my opinion of its telling. I doubt if Hatim himself could have rendered it better."
The Arab recognized the compliment with the faintest of bows, but made no reply in words. Irene then raised her veil, and spoke again.
"Thy Hatim, O eloquent Arab, was warrior and poet, and, as thou hast shown him to me, he was also a philosopher. In what age did he live?"
"He was a shining light in the darkness preceding the appearance of the Prophet. That period is dateless with us."
"It is of little consequence," she continued. "Had he lived in our day, he would have been more than poet, warrior and philosopher—he would be a Christian. His charity and love of others, his denial of self, sound like the Christ. Doubtless he could have died for his fellow-men. Hast thou not more of him? Surely he lived long and happily."
"Yes," said the Arab, with a flash of the eyes to denote his appreciation of the circumstance. "He is reported to have been the most wretched of men. His wife—I pray you will observe I am speaking by the tradition— his wife had the power, so dreadful to husbands, of raising Iblis at pleasure. It delighted her to beat him and chase him from his tent; at last she abandoned him."
"Ah!" the Princess exclaimed. "His charities were not admirable in her eyes."
"The better explanation, Princess, may be found in a saying we have in the desert—'A tall man may wed a small woman, but a great soul shall not enter into bonds with a common one.'"
There was silence then, and as the gaze of the story-teller was again finding a fascination in her face, Irene took refuge behind her veil, but said, presently:
"With permission, I will take the story of Hatim for mine; but here is my friend—what hast thou for her?"
The story-teller turned to Lael.
"Her pleasure shall be mine," he said.
"I should like something Indian," the girl answered, timidly, for the eyes oppressed her also.
"Alas! India has no tales of love. Her poetry is about gods and abstract religions. Wherefore, if I may choose, I will a tale from Persia next. In that country there was a verse-maker called Firdousi, and he wrote a great poem, The Shah Nameh, with a warrior for hero. This is how Rustem, in single combat, killed Sohrab, not knowing the youth was his son until after the awful deed was done."
The tale was full of melancholy interest, and told with singular grace; but it continued until after nightfall; of which the party was admonished by the attendants coming to light the lamps. At the conclusion, the Arab courteously apologized for the time he had wrested from them.
"In dealing with us, O Princess," he said, "patience is full as lovely as charity."
Lifting the veil again, she extended her hand to him, saying, "The obligation is with us. I thank you for making light and pleasant an afternoon which else had been tedious."
He kissed her hand, and followed the eunuch to the door. Then the supper was announced.
THE TURQUOISE RING
The Prince of India, left in the passage of the Castle with Sergius, was not displeased with the course the adventure appeared to be taking. In the first place, he felt no alarm for Lael; she might be uncomfortable in the quarter to which she had been conducted, but that was all, and it would not last long. The guardianship of the eunuch was in his view a guaranty of her personal safety. In the next place, acquaintance with the Princess might prove serviceable in the future. He believed Lael fitted for the highest rank; she was already educated beyond the requirements of the age for women; her beauty was indisputable; as a consequence, he had thought of her a light in the court; and not unpleasantly it occurred to him now that the fair Princess might carry keys for both the inner and outer doors of the royal residence.
Generally the affair which was of concern to Lael was an affair of absorbing interest to the Prince; in this instance, however, another theme offered itself for the moment a superior attraction.
The impression left by the young master of ceremonies in the reception at the landing was of a kind to arouse curiosity. His appearance, manner, speech and the homage paid him denoted exalted rank; while the confidence with which he spoke for Sultan Amurath was most remarkable. His acceptance of the terms presented by the Princess Irene was little short of downright treaty-making; and what common official dared carry assumption to such a height? Finally the Prince fell to thinking if there was any person the actual governor of the Castle would quietly permit to go masquerading in his authority and title.
Then everything pointed him to Prince Mahommed. The correspondence in age was perfect; the martial array seen galloping down the bank was a fitting escort for the heir-apparent of the gray Sultan; and he alone might with propriety speak for his father in a matter of state.
"A mistake cannot be serious," said the Prince to himself, at the end of the review. "I will proceed upon the theory that the young man is Prince Mahommed."
This was no sooner determined than the restless mind flew forward to an audience. The time and place—midnight in the lonesome old Castle—were propitious, and he was prepared for it.
Indeed it was the very purpose he had in view the night of the repast in his tent at El Zaribah where he so mysteriously intrusted the Emir Mirza with revelations concerning the doom of Constantinople.
Once more he ran over the scheme which had brought him from Cipango. If Islam could not be brought to lead in the project, Christendom might be more amenable to reason. The Moslem world was to be reached through the Kaliph whom he expected to find in Egypt; wherefore his contemplated trip down the Nile from Kash-Cush. If driven to the Christian, Constantine was to be his operator. Such in broadest generality was the plan of execution he had resolved upon.
But to these possibilities he had appended another of which it is now necessary to speak.
Enough has been given to apprise the reader of the things to which the Prince preferably devoted himself. These were international affairs, and transcendently war. If indeed the latter were not the object he had always specially in mind, it was the end to which his management usually conducted. For mere enjoyment in the sight of men facing the death which strangely passed him by, he delighted in hovering on the edge of battle until there was a crisis, and then plunging into its heated heart.
He had also a peculiar method of bringing war about. This consisted in providing for punishments in case his enterprises miscarried. Invariably somebody suffered for such failures. In that way he soothed the pangs of wounded vanity.
When he was inventing the means for executing his plots, and forming the relations essential to them, it was his habit to select instruments of punishment in advance.
Probably no better illustration of this feature of his dealings can be given than is furnished by the affair now engaging him. If he failed to move the Kaliph to lead the reform, he would resort to Constantine; if the Emperor also declined, he would make him pay the penalty; then came the reservation. So soon after his arrival from Cipango as he could inform himself of the political conditions of the world to which he was returning, he fixed upon Mahommed to avenge him upon the offending Greek.
The meeting with Mirza at El Zaribah was a favorable opportunity to begin operating upon the young Turk. The tale the Emir received that night under solemn injunctions of secrecy was really intended for his master. How well it was devised for the end in view the reader will be able to judge from what is now to follow.
The audience with Mahommed determined upon by the Prince of India, our first point of interest is in observing how he set about accomplishing it. His promptness was characteristic.
Directly the ladies had disappeared with the eunuch, the soldiers poured from their hiding places in the Castle, and seeing one whom he judged an officer, the Prince called to him in Turkish:
"Ho, my friend!"
The man was obliging.
"Present my salutations to the Governor of the Castle, and say the Prince of India desires speech with him."
The soldier hesitated.
"Understand," said the Prince, quickly, "my message is not to the great Lord who received me at the landing. But the Governor in fact. Bring him here."
The confident manner prevailed.
Presently the messenger returned with a burly, middle-aged person in guidance. A green turban above a round face, large black eyes in muffling of fleshy lids, pallid cheeks lost in dense beard, a drab gown lined with yellow fur, a naked cimeter in a silk-embroidered sash, bespoke the Turk; but how unlike the handsome, fateful-looking masquerader at the river side!
"The Prince of India has the honor of speech with the Governor of the Castle?"
"God be praised," the Governor replied. "I was seeking your Highness. Besides wishing to join in your thanks for happy deliverance from the storm, I thought to discharge my duty as a Moslem host by conducting you to refreshments and repose. Follow me, I pray."
A few steps on the way, the Governor stopped:
"Was there not a companion—a younger man—a Dervish?"
"A monk," said the Prince; "and the question reminds me of my attendant, a negro. Send for him—or better, bring them both to me. I wish them to share my apartment."
In a short time the three were in quarters, if one small room may be so dignified. The walls were cold gray stone; one oblong narrow port-hole admitted scanty light; a rough bench, an immense kettle-drum shaped like the half of an egg-shell, and propped broadside up, some piles of loose straw, each with folded sheepskins on it, constituted the furnishment.
Sergius made no sign of surprise or disappointment. Possibly the chamber and its contents were reproductions of his cell up in Bielo-Osero. Nilo gave himself to study of the drum, reminded, doubtless, of similar warlike devices in Kash-Cush. The Prince alone expostulated. Taking a stand between the Governor and the door, he said:
"A question before thou goest hence."
The Turk gazed at him silently.
"To what accommodations have the Princess Irene and her attendant been taken? Are they vile as these?"
"The reception room of my harem is the most comfortable the Castle affords," the Governor answered.
"They are occupying it."
"Not by courtesy of thine. He who could put the hospitality of the Prince Mahommed to shame by maltreating one of his guests."
He paused, and grimly surveyed the room.
"Such a servant would be as evil-minded to another guest; and that the other is a woman, would not affect his imbruited soul."
"The Prince Mahommed!" the Governor exclaimed.
"Yes. What brings him here, matters not; his wish to keep the Romans in ignorance of his near presence, I know as well as thou; none the less, it was his royal word we accepted. As for thee—thou mightest have promised faith and hospitality with thy hand on the Prophet's beard, yet would I have bidden the Princess trust herself to the tempest sooner."
Sergius was now standing by, but the conversation being in Turkish, he listened without understanding.
"Thou ass!" the Prince continued. "Not to know that the kinswoman of the Roman Emperor, under this roof by treaty with the mighty Amurath, his son the negotiator, is our guardian! When the storm shall have spent itself, and the waters quieted down, she will resume her journey. Then—it may be in the morning—she will first ask for us, and then thy master will require to know how we have passed the night. Ah, thou beginnest to see!"
The Governor's head was drooping; his hands crossed themselves upon his stomach; and when he raised his eyes, they were full of deprecation and entreaty.
"Your Highness—most noble Lord—condescend to hear me."
"Speak. I am awake to hear the falsehood thou hast invented in excuse of thy perfidy to us, and thy treason to him, the most generous of masters, the most chivalrous of knights."
"Your Highness has greatly misconceived me. In the first place you have forgotten the crowded state of the Castle. Every room and passage is filled with the suite and escort of"—
He hesitated, and turned pale, like a man dropped suddenly into a great danger. The shrewd guest caught at the broken sentence and finished it:
"Of Prince Mahommed!"
"With the suite and escort," the Governor repeated.... "In the next place, it was not my intention to leave you unprovided. From my own apartments, light, beds and seats were ordered to be brought here, with meats for refreshment, and water for cleansing and draught. The order is in course of execution now. Indeed, your Highness, I swear by the first chapter of the Koran"—
"Take something less holy to swear by," cried the Prince.
"Then, by the bones of the Faithful, I swear I meant to make you comfortable, even to my own deprivation."
"By thy young master's bidding?"
The Governor bent forward very low.
"Well," said the Prince, softening his manner—"the misconception was natural."
"And now thou hast only to prove thy intention by making it good."
"Trust me, your Highness."
"Trust thee? Ay, on proof. I have a commission"—
The Prince then drew a ring from his finger.
"Take this," he said, "and deliver it to the Emir Mirza."
The assurance of the speech was irresistible; so the Turk held out his hand to receive the token.
"And say to the Emir, that I desire him to thank the Most Compassionate and Merciful for the salvation of which we were witnesses at the southwest corner of the Kaaba."
"What!" exclaimed the Governor. "Art thou a Moslem?"
"I am not a Christian."
The Governor, accepting the ring, kissed the hand offering it, and took his departure, moving backward, and with downcast eyes, his manner declarative of the most abject humility.
Hardly was the door closed behind the outgoing official, when the Prince began to laugh quietly and rub his hands together—quietly, we say, for the feeling was not merriment so much as self-gratulation.
There was cleverness in having doubted the personality of the individual who received the refugees at the landing; there was greater cleverness in the belief which converted the Governor into the Prince Mahommed; but the play by which the fact was uncovered—if not a stroke of genius, how may it be better described? The Prince of India thought as he laughed: