"See Notaras," said one of a group, whispering to friends drinking wine a little way off. "The scene before him is charming, but is he charmed with it as he appears?"
"There was an old demi-god with an eye in his forehead. Notaras' best orb just now is in the back of his head. He may be looking at the bay; he is really watching the portico"—such was the reply.
"Out! He cares nothing for us."
"Very true—we are not the Emperor."
"My Lord Duke is not happy to-day," was remarked in another coterie.
"Wait, my dear friend. The day is young."
"If this match should not be made after all"—
"He will know it first."
"Yes, nothing from the lovers, neither smile nor sigh, can escape him."
The Professor of Philosophy and his brother the Professor of Rhetoric ate and drank together, illustrating the affinity of learning.
"Our Phranza is in danger," said the latter, nervously. "As thou art a subscriber to the doctrine of the Phaedon, I wish we could disembody our souls, if only for an hour."
"Oh, a singular wish! What wouldst thou?"
"Tell it not; but"—the voice dropped into a whisper—"I would despatch mine in search of the wise Chamberlain to warn him of what is here in practice."
"Ah, my brother, thou didst me the honor to read and approve my treatise on the Philosophy of Conspiracy. Dost thou remember the confounding elements given in the thesis?"
"Yes—Goodness is one."
"Under condition; that is, when the result is dependent upon a party of virtuous disposition."
"I remember now."
"Well, we have the condition here."
"And therefore the Duke, not our Phranza, is in danger. She will discomfit him."
"May Heaven dispose so!" And the Rhetorician almost immediately added, "Observe thou. Notaras has established himself within easy hearing of the two. He has actually invaded the space reserved for them."
"As if to confirm my forecast!"
Then the Philosopher raised a cup.
"To Phranza!" the Rhetorician responded.
This episode hardly concluded when the Emperor's brother sauntered to the Duke's side; and on the appearance of the Emperor and the Princess, he exclaimed, enthusiastically:
"Come of it what may, my Lord, the damsel is comely, and I fear not to compare her with the best of Trebizond or Georgia."
The Duke did not answer. Indeed, the lords were all intent upon exactly the same subject. Whether there had been an overture and an acceptance, or an overture and a declination, they believed the principals could not conceal the result; a look, a gesture, or something in the manner of one or both of them, would tell the tale to eyes of such practical discernment. By the greater number the information would be treated as news for discussion merely; a few had hopes or fears at stake; none of them was so perilously involved as Notaras; in his view, failure meant the promotion of Phranza, of all consequences, not excepting his own loss of favor and prestige, the most intolerable.
On the other part, Constantine was not less concerned in misleading his court. At the proper time he would give out that he had changed his mind at the last moment; before engaging himself to the Princess, he had concluded it best to wait and hear from Phranza. Accordingly, in passing along the portico, he endeavored to look and behave like a guest; he conversed in an ordinary tone; he suffered his hostess to precede him; and, well seconded by her, he was installed in the state chair, without an argument yes or no for the sharp reviewers. At the table he appeared chiefly solicitous to appease an unusual hunger, which he charged to the early morning air on the Bosphorus.
Notaras, whom nothing of incident, demeanor or remark escaped, began very early to be apprehensive. Upon beholding his master's unlover-like concession to appetite, he remarked sullenly, "Verily, either his courage failed, and he did not submit a proposal, or she has rejected him."
"My Lord Duke," the Emperor's brother replied, somewhat stung, "dost thou believe it in woman to refuse such an honor?"
"Sir," the Duke retorted, "women who go about unveiled are above or below judgment."
The Princess, in her place at the table, began there to recount her adventure at the White Castle, but when far enough in the recital to indicate its course the Emperor interrupted her.
"Stay, daughter," he said, gently. "The incident may prove of international interest. If not objectionable to you, I should be pleased to have some of my friends hear it." Then raising his voice, he called out: "Notaras, and thou, my brother, come, stand here. Our fair hostess had yesterday an astonishing experience with the Turks on the other shore, and I have prevailed on her to narrate it." The two responded to the invitation by drawing nearer the Emperor at his right hand.
"Proceed now, daughter," the latter said.
"Daughter, daughter, indeed!" the Duke repeated to himself, and so bitterly it may be doubted if his master's diplomacy availed to put him at rest. The paternalism of the address was decisive—Phranza had won.
Then, presently overcoming her confusion, the Princess succeeded in giving a simple but clear account of how she was driven to the Castle, and of what befell her while there. When she finished, the entire suite were standing about the table listening.
Twice she had been interrupted by the Emperor.
"A moment!" he said to her, while she was speaking of the Turkish soldiery whose arrival at the ancient stronghold had been so nearly simultaneous with her own. Then he addressed himself to the Grand Domestic and the Admiral. "My Lords, in passing the Castle, on our way up, you remember I bade the pilot take our ship near the shore there. It seemed to me the garrison was showing unusually large, while the flags on the donjon were strange, and the tents and horses around the walls implied an army present. You remember?"
"And we have now, Sire, the justification of your superior wisdom," the Grand Domestic replied, rising from a low salutation.
"I recall the circumstance, my Lords, to enjoin you not to suffer the affair to slip attention when next we meet in council—I pray pardon, daughter, for breaking the thread of your most interesting and important narrative. I am prepared to listen further."
Then, after description of the Governor, and his reception of the fugitives on the landing, His Majesty, with apologies, asked permission to offer another inquiry.
"Of a truth, daughter, the picture thou hast given us under the title of Governor beareth no likeness to him who hath heretofore responded to that dignity. At various times I have had occasion to despatch messengers to the commandant, and returning, they have reported him a coarse, unrefined, brutish-looking person, of middle age and low rank; and much I marvel to hear the freedom with which this person doth pledge my august friend and ally, Sultan Amurath. My Lords, this will furnish us an additional point of investigation. Obviously the Castle is of military importance, requiring an old head full of experience to keep it regardful of peace and clear understanding between the powers plying the Bosphorus. We are always to be apprehensive of the fire there is in young blood."
"With humility, Your Majesty," said the Grand Domestic, "I should like to hear from the Princess, whose loveliness is now not more remarkable than her courage and discretion, the evidence she has for the opinion that the young man is really the Governor."
She was about to reply when Lysander, the old servant, elbowed himself through the brilliant circle, and dropped his javelin noisily by her chair.
"A stranger calling himself an Arab is at the gate," he said to her, with the semblance of a salutation.
The simplicity of the ancient, his zeal in the performance of his office, his obliviousness to the imperial presence, caused a ripple of amusement.
"An Arab!" the Princess exclaimed, in momentary forgetfulness. "How does the man appear?"
Lysander was in turn distraught; after a short delay, however, he managed to answer: "His face is dark, almost black; his head is covered with a great cloth of silk and gold; a gown hides him from neck to heels; in his girdle there is a dagger. He has a lordly air, and does not seem in the least afraid. In brief, my mistress, he looks as if he might be king of all the camel drivers in the world."
The description was unexpectedly graphic; even the Emperor smiled, while many of the train, presuming license from his amusement, laughed aloud. In the midst of the merriment, the Princess, calmly, and with scarce a change from her ordinary tone, proceeded to an explanation.
"Your Majesty," she said, "I am reminded of an invitation left with the person whose identity was in discussion the instant of this announcement. In the afternoon, while I was sojourning in the White Castle, an Arab story-teller was presented to me under recommendation of my courteous host. He was said to be of great professional renown in the East, a Sheik travelling to Adrianople for the divertisement of the Hanoum of the Sultan. In the desert they call him endearingly the Singing Sheik. I was glad to have the hours assisted in their going, and he did not disappoint me. So charmed was I by his tales and manner of telling them, by his genius, that in taking my departure from what proved a most agreeable retreat, and in acknowledging the hospitable entertainment given me, I referred to the singer, and requested the Governor to prevail on him to extend his journey here, in order to favor me with another opportunity to hear him. Had I then known it was in my Lord's purposes to visit me with such a company of most noble gentlemen, or could I have even anticipated the honor, I should not have appointed to-day for the audience with him. But he is in attendance; and now, with full understanding of the circumstances, it is for Your Majesty to pronounce upon his admission. Perhaps"—she paused with a look of deprecation fairly divisible share and share alike between the Emperor and the Lords around her—"perhaps time may hang heavy with my guests this morning; if so, I shall hold myself obliged to the Singing Sheik if he can help me entertain them."
Now, was there one present to attach a criticism to the favor extended the Arab, he dismissed it summarily, wondering at her easy grace. The Emperor no doubt shared the admiration with his suite; but concealing it, he said, with an air of uncertainty, "Thy recommendation, daughter, is high; and if I remain, verily, it will be with expectation wrought up to a dangerous degree; yet having often heard of the power of the strolling poets of whom this one is in probability an excellent example, I confess I should be pleased to have thee admit him."
Of the Admiral, he then asked, "We were to set out in return about noon, were we not?"
"About noon, Your Majesty."
"Well, the hour is hardly upon us. Let the man appear, daughter; only, as thou lovest us, contrive that he keep to short recitals, which, without holding us unwillingly, will yet suffice to give an idea of his mind and methods. And keep thyself prepared for an announcement of our departure, and when received, mistake it not for discontent with thyself. Admit the Arab."
TWO TURKISH TALES
The situation now offered the reader is worth a pause, if only to fix it in mind.
Constantine and Mahommed, soon to be contestants in war, are coming face to face, lovers both of the same woman. The romance is obvious; yet it is heightened by another circumstance. One of them is in danger.
We of course know Aboo-Obeidah, the Singing Sheik, is Prince Mahommed in disguise; we know the Prince also as heir of Amurath the Sultan, a very old man liable to vacate place and life at any moment. Suppose now the rash adventurer—the term fits the youth truly as if he were without rank—should be discovered and denounced to the Emperor. The consequences can only be treated conjecturally.
In the first place, to what extremities the Prince would be put in explaining his presence there. He could plead the invitation of the Princess Irene. But his rival would be his judge, and the judge might find it convenient to laugh at the truth, and rest his decision on the prisoner's disguise, in connection with his own presence—two facts sufficiently important to serve the most extreme accusation.
Constantine, next, was a knightly monarch who knew to live nobly, and dared die as he lived; yet, thinking of what he might do with Mahommed fallen into his hands under circumstances so peculiar, there was never a Caesar not the slave of policy. In the audience to Manuel the sailor, we have seen how keenly sensitive he was to the contraction the empire had suffered. Since that day, to be sure, he had managed to keep the territory he came to; none the less, he felt the Turk to whom the stolen provinces invariably fell was his enemy, and that truce or treaty with him did not avail to loosen the compression steadily growing around his capital. Over and over, daytime and night, the unhappy Emperor pondered the story of the daughter of Tantalus; and often, starting from dreams in which the Ottoman power was a serpent slowly crawling to its victim, he would cry in real agony—"O Constantinople—Niobe! Who can save thee but God? And if He will not—alas, alas!" The feeling thus engendered was not of a kind to yield readily to generosity. Mahommed once securely his, everything might be let go—truth, honor, glory—everything but the terms of advantage purchasable with such an hostage.
The invitation to the imaginary Sheik had been a last act of grace by Irene, about to embark for the city. Mahommed, when he accepted, knew Therapia by report a village very ancient historically, but decaying, and now little more than a summer resort and depot of supplies for fishermen. That its proverbial quietude would be disturbed, and the sleepy blood of its inhabitants aroused, by a royal galley anchoring in the bay to discharge the personnel of the empire itself, could have had no place in his anticipations. So when he stepped into a boat, the Aboo-Obeidah of his eulogy, and suffered himself, without an attendant, to be ferried across to Roumeli-Hissar; when he there took an humble wherry of two oars, and bade the unliveried Greeks who served them pull for Therapia, it was to see again the woman who was taking his fancy into possession, not Constantine and his court bizarre in splendor and habitude. In other words, Mahommed on setting out had no idea of danger. Love, or something very like it, was his sole inspiration.
The trireme, with the white cross on its red sail, its deck a martial and courtly spectacle, had been reported to him as the hundred and twenty flashing scarlet blades, in their operation a miracle of unity, whisked it by the old Castle, and he had come forth to see it. Where are they going? he asked those around him; and they, familiar with the Bosphorus, its shipping and navigation, answered unanimously, To exercise her crew up in the Black Sea; and thinking of the breadth of the dark blue fields there, the reply commended itself, and he dismissed the subject.
The course chosen by his boatmen when they put off from Roumeli-Hissar kept him close to the European shore, which he had leisure to study. Then, as now, it was more favored than its Asiatic opposite. The winds from the sea, southward blowing, unloaded their mists to vivify its ivy and myrtle. The sunlight, tarrying longest over its pine-clad summits, coaxed habitations along the shore; here, a palace; there, under an overhanging cliff, a hamlet; yonder, a long extended village complaisantly adapting itself to the curvatures of the brief margin left it for occupancy. Wherever along the front of the heights and on the top there was room for a field the advantage had been seized. So the Prince had offered him the sight of all others most significant of peace among men—sight of farmers tilling the soil. With the lucid sky above him summer-laden, the water under and about him a liquid atmosphere, the broken mountain-face changing from lovely to lovelier, and occasionally awakening him with a superlative splendor, the abodes so near, and the orchards and strawberry and melon patches overhead, symbolizing goodwill and fraternity and happiness amongst the poor and humble—with these, and the rhythmic beating of the oars to soothe his spirit, fierce and mandatory even in youth, he went, the time divided between views fair enough for the most rapturous dreams, and the Greek, of whom, with all their brightness, they were but dim suggestions. Past the stream-riven gorge of Balta-Liman he went; past Emirghian; past the haven of Stenia, and the long shore-town of Yenikeui; then, half turning the Keuibachi bend, lo! Therapia, draggling down the stony steep, like a heap of bangles on a brown-red cheek. And there, in the soft embracement of the bay, a bird with folded wings asleep—the trireme!
The sight startled the Prince. He spoke to the rowers, and they ceased fighting the current, and with their chins over their shoulders, looked whither he pointed. From ship to shore he looked; then, pursuing the curve inland to the bridge at the upper end; thence down what may be called the western side, he beheld people crowding between a quay and a red kiosk over which pended a wooded promontory.
"There is a Princess living in this vicinity," said he to one of the rowers, slightly lifting the handkerchief from his face. "Where is her palace?"
"In the garden yonder. You see the gate over the heads of the men and women."
"What is her name?"
"Princess Irene. She is known on this shore as the Good Princess."
"Irene—a sound pleasant to the ear"—Mahommed muttered. "Why is she called good?"
"Because she is an angel of mercy to the poor."
"That is not usual with the great and rich," he said next, yielding to a charm in the encomiums.
"Yes," the boatman responded, "she is great, being akin to the Emperor, and rich, too, though"—
Here the man broke off to assist in bringing the boat back from its recession with the current, at this point boisterously swift.
"You were saying the Princess is rich," Mahommed said, when the oars were again at rest.
"Oh, yes! But I cannot tell you, my friend, how many are partners in her wealth. Every widow and orphan who can get to her comes away with a portion. Isn't it so?"
His companion grunted affirmatively, adding: "Down yonder a man with a crooked back lives in an arched cell opening on the water. Perhaps the stranger saw it as he came up."
"Yes," Mahommed answered.
"Well, in the back part of the cell he has an altar with a crucifix and a picture of the Blessed Mother on it, and he keeps a candle burning before them day and night—something he could not do if we did not help him, for candles of wax are costly. He has named the altar after the Princess, Sta. Irene. We often stop and go in there to pray; and I have heard the blessings in the light of that candle are rich and many as the Patriarch has for sale in Sta. Sophia."
These praises touched Mahommed; for, exalted as he was in station, he was aware of the proneness of the poor to berate the rich and grumble at the great, and that such had been a habit with them from the commencement of the world. Again the boat slipped down the current; when it was brought back, he asked: "When did the ship yonder come up?"
"Oh, yes! I saw it then, but thought the crew were being taken to the sea for practice."
"No," the boatman replied, "it is the state galley of His Majesty the Emperor. Did you not see him? He sat on the throne with all his ministers and court around him."
Mahommed was startled.
"Where is the Emperor now?" he inquired.
"I should say, seeing the crowd yonder, that His Majesty is in the palace with the Princess."
"Yes," said the second rower, "they are waiting to see him come out."
"Row out into the bay. I should like to have the view from that quarter."
While making the detour, Mahommed reflected. Naturally he remembered himself the son of Amurath; after which it was easy to marshal the consequences of exposure, if he persisted in his venture. He saw distinctly how his capture would be a basis of vast bargaining with his father, or, if the sturdy old warrior preferred revenge to payment of a ruinous ransom, how the succession and throne might slip to another, leaving him a prisoner for life.
Yet another matter presented itself to him which the reader may decide worthy a separate paragraph. Its mention has been waiting this opportunity. The Prince from Magnesia, his seat of government, was on the way to Adrianople, called thither by his father, who had chosen a bride for him, daughter of a renowned Emir. Regularly he would have crossed the Hellespont at Gallipoli; a whim, however, took him to the White Castle—whim or destiny, one being about as satisfactory as the other. Pondering silently whether it were not best to return, he thought, apropos the Princess Irene, of the nuptials to be celebrated, and of his bride expectant; and a Christian, pausing over the suggestion, may be disposed to condemn him for inconstancy.
In countries where many wives are allowed the same husband he is not required to love any of them. Indeed, his fourth spouse may be the first to command him; hers the eyes for his enslavement; hers the voice of the charmer charming both wisely and forever. Mahommed did now think of the Emir's daughter, but not with compunction, nor even in comparison. He had never seen her face, and would not until after the wedding days. He thought of her but to put her aside; she could not be as this Christian was, neither so accomplished nor courtly; besides which, it was dawning upon him that there were graces of mind and soul as well as of person, while perfection was a combination of all the graces in equal degree. Gleams of the latter had visited him while gazing into the radiant face of the Emperor's kinswoman; and how, at such favoring times, his fancy had gone out to her and come back warmed, enlivened, glorified! There is a passion of the mind and a passion of the blood; and though one and one make two, two is still a multiple of one.
Looking thus at the galley, Mahommed thought of the tales in the East not less common than in the West, and believed in them faithfully, for chivalry was merely on the wane—tales of beauteous damsels shut up in caves or adamantine castles, with guardian lions couchant at the gates, and of well-sworded heroes who marched boldly up to the brutes, and slew them, and delivered the captives always with reward. Of course, in making the application, the Princess was the prisoner, the ship the lion, and himself—well, in want of a sword, he laid hand upon his dagger, precisely as a liberating knight up to the ideal would do.
Nor was this all. The revelations of the Prince of India were still fresh to him. He wished to see his competitor. How did he look? Was there enough of him to make battle? He smiled thinking of the pleasure there would be in slyly studying the Princess and the Emperor at the same time. He drew the handkerchief down, looked at his brown-stained hands, and adjusted the folds of his burnoose. The disguise was perfect.
"Take me to the landing—there before the gate of the Good Princess," he said, with the air of a traveller above suspicion.
His resolution was taken. Challenging all chances, he would respond to the invitation of the Princess. And so completely were doubt and hesitation dismissed with our adventurer, that it was not Mahommed who stepped from the boat where the populace was in densest assemblage, but Aboo-Obeidah, the Singing Sheik, and as such we will speak of him.
The guard at the gate, viewing him askance, detained him until he could be reported.
A fair conception of the scene presented when the Sheik stood on the floor of the portico is probably in the reader's mind; yet a glance at it may be pardoned. It was at first like a sudden introduction to an oriental garden. There were the vines, flowering shrubs, fruiting trees, many-fronded palms, and the effect of outdoors derived from the shadows of the pillars, and the sunshine streaming brilliantly through the open intervals. The tables bore proofs of the collation served upon them. Overhead was the soft creaminess of pure marble in protected state mellowed by friendly touches of time. At the end of the vista, the company was indistinctly visible through the verdure of obtruding branches. Voices came to him from that part, and gleams of bright garments; and to get to them it seemed he must pass through a viridescent atmosphere flecked with blooms, and faintly sweet with odors. For in losing the masculinity of their race the Greeks devoted themselves more and more to refined effeminacies.
Moving slowly forward under the guidance of Lysander, whose javelin beating the floor accentuated the rasping shuffle of his sandals, the Sheik came presently to a full view of the concourse.
He stopped, partly in obedience to a fine instinct of propriety teaching him he was now subject to the pleasure of his hostess, and partly to single out the royal enemy against whom he believed he was about to be pitted by destiny.
Constantine was sitting at ease, his left elbow resting on an arm of the sedilium, his forefinger supporting his cheek, his cloak across his lap. The attitude was reflective; the countenance exposed under the lifted visor of the helmet, was calm and benignant; except there was no suggestion of an evil revery holding the current of his thought, or casting a shade of uncertainty over his soul, he looked not unlike the famous Il Penseroso familiar to art-seekers in the Medici Chapel of Florence. Then the eyes of the rivals met. The Greek was in no wise moved. How it would have been with him could he have seen through the disguise of the Sheik may never be said. On the other part, the Sheik lifted his head, and seemed taking on increase of stature. A projecting fold of the head-kerchief overhung his face, permitting nothing to be seen but red-hued cheeks, a thin beard, and eyes black and glittering. The review he felt himself undergoing did not daunt him; it only sent his pride mounting, like a leap of flame. "By the Virgin!" said one of the courtiers to another, in a louder tone than the occasion demanded. "We may indeed congratulate ourselves upon having seen the king of camel drivers." There was a disposition to laugh amongst the lighter-minded of the guests, but the Princess checked it by rising. "Bid the Sheik approach," she said, to the old domestic; and, at a sign from her, the waiting-women drew closer about her chair. The figure of the Princess clad all in white, a bracelet of plain gold upon her left arm, fillets in her hair, one red, the other blue, a double strand of pearls about her neck—this figure, with the small head, perfect in turn, set matchlessly upon the sloping shoulders, the humid eyes full of violet light, the cheeks flushed with feeling—this figure so bright in its surroundings, admitted no rivalry in attention, none in admiration; the courtiers, old and young, turned from the Sheik, and the Sheik from the Emperor. In a word, every eye centred upon the Princess, every tongue bade hush lest what she said might be lost. Etiquette required the Sheik's presentation to the Emperor first, but seeing her about to comply with the rule, he prostrated himself at her feet. As he arose, she said: "When I invited you to come and give me more of the cheer there is in your art, O Sheik, I did not know my gracious kinsman, to whom every Greek is proud and happy to be allegiant, designed visiting me to-day. I pray you will not suffer too much from his presence, but regard him a royal auditor who delights in a tale well told, and in verses when the theme and measure go lovingly together. His Majesty, the Emperor!"
"Hist! Didst hear?" whispered the Professor of Philosophy to the Professor of Rhetoric. "Thyself couldst not have spoken better."
"Ay, truly," the other answered. "Save a trifle of stiffness, the speech might have served Longinus."
With her last word, the Princess stepped aside, leaving Mahommed and Constantine front to front.
Had the Sheik been observant of the monarch's dues, he would have promptly prostrated himself; but the moment for the salutation passed, and he remained standing, answering the look he received calmly as it was given. The reader and the writer know the reason governing him; the suite, however, were not so well informed, and they began to murmur. The Princess herself appeared embarrassed.
"Lord of Constantinople," the Sheik said, seeing speech was his, "were I a Greek, or a Roman, or an Ottoman, I should make haste to kiss the floor before you, happy of the privilege; for—be the concession well noted"—he glanced deferentially around him as he spoke—"the report which the world has of you is of a kind to make it your lover. After a few days—Allah willing—I shall stand before Amurath the Sultan. Though in reverencing him I yield not to any one simply his friend, he will waive prostration from me, knowing what Your Majesty may not. In my country we cleanse the ground with our beards before no one but God. Not that we are unwilling to conform to the rules of the courts in which we find ourselves; with us it is a law—To kiss a man's hand maketh him the master; prostrate thyself to him, and without other act, thou becomest his subject. I am an Arab!"
The Sheik was not in the least defiant; on the contrary, his manner was straightforward, simple, sincere, as became one interposing conscience against an observance in itself rightful enough. Only in the last exclamation was there a perceptible emphasis, a little marked by a lift of the head and a kindling of the eyes.
"I see Your Majesty comprehends me," he said, continuing; "yet to further persuade your court, and especially the fair and high-born lady, whose guest, with all my unworthiness, I am, from believing me moved in this matter by disrespect for their sovereign, I say next, if by prostration I made myself a Roman, the act would be binding on the tribe whose Sheik I am by lawful election. And did I that, O thou whose bounties serve thy people in lieu of rain! though my hand were white, like the first Prophet's, when, to assure the Egyptian, he drew it from his bosom, it would char blacker than dust of burned willow—then, O thou, lovelier than the queen the lost lapwing reported to Solomon! though my breath were as the odor of musk, it would poison, like an exhalation from a leper's grave—then, O my lords! like Karoon in his wickedness, I should hear Allah say of me, O Earth, swallow him! For as there are crimes and crimes, verily the chief who betrays his brethren born to the practice of freedom, shall wander between tents all his days, crying, Oh, alas! oh, alas! Who now will defend me against God?"
When the Sheik paused, as if for judgment, he was not only acquitted of intentional disrespect; the last grumbler was anxious to hear him further.
"What astonishing figures!" the Philosopher whispered to the Rhetorician. "I begin to think it true that the East hath a style of its own."
"I commend thy sagacity, my brother," the other replied. "His peroration was redolent of the Koran—A wonderful fellow nevertheless!"
Presently the whole concourse was looking at the Emperor, with whom it rested whether the Sheik should be dismissed or called on for entertainment.
"Daughter," said Constantine to the Princess, "I know not enough of the tribal law of thy guest to have an opinion of the effect upon him and his of the observance of our ancient ceremony; wherefore we are bound to accept his statement. Moreover it does not become our dignity to acquire subjects and dominion, were they ever so desirable, in a method justly liable to impeachment for treachery and coercion. Besides which—and quite as important, situated as we are—thy hospitality is to be defended."
Here the Sheik, who had been listening to the Emperor, and closely observing him, thrice lightly clapped his hands.
"It remains for us, therefore, to waive the salutation in this instance."
A ripple of assent proceeded from the suite.
"And now, daughter," Constantine pursued, "thy guest being present to give thee of his lore, it may be he will be pleased to have us of his audience as well. Having heard much of such performances, and remembering their popularity when we were in our childhood, we will esteem ourselves fortunate if now favored by one highly commended as a master in his guild."
The Sheik's eyes sparkled brighter as he answered, "It is written for us in our Holiest, the very Word of the Compassionate,—'If ye are greeted with a greeting, then greet ye with a better greeting, or at least return it.' Verily my Lord dispenseth honor with so light a hand as not to appear aware of the doing. When my brethren under the black tents are told of my having won the willing ear of their Majesties of Byzantium and Adrianople, they will think of me as one who has been permitted to walk in the light of two suns simultaneous in shining."
So saying, he bowed very low.
"My only unhappiness now is in not knowing the direction in which my Lord's preferences run; for as a stream goes here and there, but all the time keeps one general course, seeking the sea, so with taste; though it yield a nod now, and then a smile, it hath always a deeper delight for the singer's finding. I have the gay and serious—history, traditions—the heroics of men and nations, their heart-throbs in verse and prose—all or any for the Lord of Constantinople and his kinswoman, my hostess,—may her life never end until the song of the dove ceases to be heard in the land!"
"What say you, my friends?" asked Constantine, glancing graciously at those around him.
Then they looked from him to the Princess, and in thought of the betrothal, replied, "Love—something of love!"
"No," he returned, unflinchingly. "We are youths no longer. There is enlightenment in the traditions of nations. Our neighbors, the Turks— what hast thou of them, Sheik?"
"Didst thou hear?" said Notaras to one at his elbow. "He hath recanted; the Empress will not be a Greek."
There was no answer; for the Sheik, baring his head, hung the kerchief and cord upon his arm, preliminaries which gave him perfectly to view. A swarthy face; hair black, profuse, closely cut along the temples; features delicate but manly—these the bystanders saw in a general way, being more attracted by the repressed fire in the man's eyes, and his air high and severely noble.
When the Princess caught sight of the countenance, she fell into a confusion. She had seen it, but where and when? The instant he was beginning he gazed at her, and in the exchange of glances she was reminded of the Governor bidding her adieu on the shore of the Sweet Waters. But he was youthful, while this one—could it be he was old? The feeling was a repetition of that she had in the Castle when the storyteller appeared the first time.
"I will tell how the Turks became a Nation."
Then, in Greek but a little broken, the Sheik began a recital.
ALAEDDIN AND ERTOGHRUL
A tale of Ertoghrul!— How when the Chief Lay one day nooning with his stolen herds, A sound of drumming smote him from the East, And while he stood to see what came of it, The West with like notes fainter, echo-like, Made answer; then two armies rode in view, Horses and men in steel, the sheen of war About them and above, and wheeling quick From column into line, drew all their blades, Shook all their flags, and charged and lost themselves In depths of dusty clouds, which yet they tore With blinding gleams of light, and yells of rage, And cheers so high and hoarse they well might seem The rolling thunder of a mountain storm. Long time the hosts contended; but at last The lesser one began to yield the ground, Oppressed in front, and on its flanks o'erwhelmed: And hasted then the end, a piteous sight, Most piteous to the very brave who know From lessons of their lives, how seldom 'tis Despair can save where valor fails to win. Then Ertoghrul aroused him, touched to heart.
"My children, mount, and out with cimeter! I know not who these are, nor whence they come; Nor need we care. 'Twas Allah led them here, And we will honor Him—and this our law; What though the weak may not be always right, We'll make it always right to help the weak. Deep take the stirrups now, and ride with me, Allah-il-Allah!"
Thus spake Ertoghrul; And at the words, with flying reins, and all His eager tribe, four hundred sworded men, Headlong he rode against the winning host.
Beneath the captured flags, the spoils in heaps Around him laid, the rescued warrior stood, A man of kingly mien, while to him strode His unexpected friend.
"Now who art thou?" The first was first to ask.
"Sheik Ertoghrul Am I."
"The herds I see—who calls them his?"
Laughed Ertoghrul, and showed his cimeter. "The sword obeys my hand, the hand my will, And given will and hand and sword, I pray Thee tell me, why should any man be poor?"
"And whose the plain?"
"Comes this way one a friend Of mine, and leaves his slippers at my door, Why then, 'tis his." "And whose the hills that look Upon the plain?"
"My flocks go there at morn, And thence they come at night—I take my right Of Allah."
"No," the stranger mildly said, "'Twas Allah made them mine."
Frowned Ertoghrul, While darkened all the air; but from his side Full pleasantly the stranger took a sword, Its carven hilt one royal emerald, Its blade both sides with legends overwrought, Some from the Koran, some from Solomon, All by the cunning Eastern maker burned Into the azure steel-his sword he took, And held it, belt, and scabbard too, in sign Of gift.
"The herds, the plain, the hills were mine; But take thou them, and with them this in proof Of title."
Lifted Ertoghrul his brows, And opened wide his eyes.
"Now who art thou?" He asked in turn.
"Oh, I am Alaeddin— Sometimes they call me Alaeddin the Great."
"I take thy gifts—the herds, the plain, the hills," Said Ertoghrul; "and so I take the sword; But none the less, if comes a need, 'tis thine. Let others call thee Alaeddin the Great; To me and mine thou'rt Alaeddin the Good And Great."
With that, he kissed the good King's hand; And making merry, to the Sheik's dowar They rode. And thus from nothing came the small; And now the lonely vale which erst ye knew, And scorned, because it nursed the mountain's feet, Doth cradle mornings on the mountain's top.
The quiet which held the company through the recitation endured a space afterwards, and—if the expression be allowed—was in itself a commentary upon the performance.
"Where is our worthy Professor of Rhetoric?" asked Constantine.
"Here, Your Majesty," answered the man of learning, rising.
"Canst thou not give us a lecture upon the story with which thy Arabian brother hath favored us?"
"Nay, sire, criticism, to deal justly, waiteth until the blood is cool. If the Sheik will honor me with a copy of his lines, I will scan and measure them by the rules descended to us from Homer, and his Attic successors."
The eyes of the Emperor fell next upon the moody, discontented face of Duke Notaras.
"My lord Admiral, what sayest thou of the tale?"
"Of the tale, nothing; of the story-teller—I think him an insolent, and had I my way, Your Majesty, he should have a plunge in the Bosphorus."
Presuming the Sheik unfamiliar with Latin, the Duke couched his reply in that tongue; yet the former raised his head, and looked at the speaker, his eyes glittering with intelligence—and the day came, and soon, when the utterance was relentlessly punished.
"I do not agree with you, my Lord," Constantine said, in a melancholy tone. "Our fathers, whether we look for them on the Roman or the Greek side, might have played the part of Ertoghrul. His was the spirit of conquest. Would we had enough of it left to get back our own!—Sheik," he added, "what else hast thou in the same strain? I have yet a little time to spare—though it shall be as our hostess saith."
"Nay," she answered, with deference, "there is but one will here."
And taking assent from her, the Sheik began anew.
EL JANN AND HIS PARABLE
Ertoghrul pursued a wolf, And slew it on the range's tallest peak, Above the plain so high there was nor grass Nor even mosses more. And there he sat Him down awhile to rest; when from the sky, Or the blue ambiency cold and pure, Or maybe from the caverns of the earth Where Solomon the King is wont to keep The monster Genii hearkening his call, El Jann, vast as a cloud, and thrice as black, Appeared and spoke—
"Art thou Sheik Ertoghrul?"
And he undaunted answered: "Even so."
"Well, I would like to come and sit with thee."
"Thou seest there is not room for both of us."
"Then rise, I say, and get thee part way down The peak."
"'Twere easier," laughed Ertoghrul, "Madest thou thyself like me as thin and small; And I am tired."
A rushing sound ran round and up And down the height, most like the whir of wings Through tangled trees of forests old and dim. A moment thus—the time a crisped leaf, Held, armlength overhead, will take to fall— And then a man was sitting face to face With Ertoghrul.
"This is the realm of snow," He said, and smiled—"a place from men secure, Where only eagles fearless come to nest, And summer with their young."
The Sheik replied, "It was a wolf—a gaunt gray wolf, which long Had fattened on my flocks—that lured me here. I killed it."
"On thy spear I see no blood; And where, O Sheik, the carcass of the slain? I see it not."
Around looked Ertoghrul— There was no wolf; and at his spear— Upon its blade no blood. Then rose his wrath, A mighty pulse.
"The spear hath failed its trust— I'll try the cimeter."
A gleam of light— A flitting, wind-borne spark in murk of night— Then fell the sword, the gift of Alaeddin; Edge-first it smote the man upon his crown— Between his eyes it shore, nor staying there, It cut his smile in two—and not yet spent, But rather gaining force, through chin and chine, And to the very stone on which he sat It clove, and finished with a bell-like clang Of silvern steel 'gainst steel.
"Aha! Aha!"— But brief the shout; for lo! there was no stain Upon the blade withdrawn, nor moved the man, Nor changed he look or smile.
"I was the wolf That ran before thee up the mountain side; 'Twas I received thy spear as now thy sword; And know thou further, Sheik, nor wolf nor man Am I, nor mortal thing of any kind; Only a thought of Allah's. Canst thou kill A thought divine? Not Solomon himself Could that, except with thought yet more divine. Yield thee thy rage; and when thou think'st of me Hereafter, be it as of one, a friend, Who brought a parable, and made display Before thee, saying— "Lo! what Allah wills."
Therewith he dropped a seed scarce visible Into a little heap of sand and loam Between them drawn.
"Lo! Allah wills."
And straight The dust began to stir as holding life. Again El Jann—
"Behold what Allah wills!"
A tiny shoot appeared; a waxen point Close shawled in many folds of wax as white, It might have been a vine to humbly creep— A lily soon to sunward flare its stars— A shrub to briefly coquette with the winds. Again the cabalism—
"Lo! Allah's will."
The apparition budded, leafed, and branched, And with a flame of living green lit all The barrenness about. And still it grew— Until it touched the pillars of the earth, And lapped its boundaries, the far and near, And under it, as brethren in a tent, The nations made their home, and dwelt in peace Forever.
And Ertoghrul awoke.
This recitation commanded closer attention than the first one. Each listener had a feeling that the parable at the end, like all true parables, was of continuous application, while its moral was in some way aimed at him.
The looks the Sheik received were by no means loving. The spell was becoming unpleasant. Then the Emperor arose, as did the Princess, to whom, as hostess, the privilege of sitting had been alone conceded.
"Our playtime is up—indeed, I fear, it has been exceeded," he said, glancing at the Dean, who was acting master of ceremonies.
The Dean responded with a bow low as his surroundings admitted; whereupon the Emperor went to the Princess, and said, "We will take leave now, daughter, and for myself and my lords of the court, I acknowledge a most agreeable visit, and thank you for it."
She respectfully saluted the hand he extended to her.
"Our gate and doors at Blacherne are always open to you."
The adieu was specially observed by the courtiers, and they subsequently pronounced it decorous for a sovereign, cordial as became a relative, but most un-loverlike. Indeed, it was a strong point in the decision subsequently of general acceptance, by which His Majesty was relieved of the proposal of marriage to the Princess.
The latter took his offered arm, and accompanied him to the steps of the portico, where, when he had descended, the lords one by one left a kiss on her hand.
Nor should it be forgotten, that as Constantine was passing the Sheik, he paused to say to him in his habitually kind and princely manner: "The tree Sheik Ertoghrul saw in his dream has spread, and is yet spreading, but its shadow has not compassed all the nations; and while God keeps me, it will not. Had not I myself invited the parable, it might have been offensive. For the instruction and entertainment given me, accept thou this—and go in peace."
The Sheik took the ring offered him, and the gaze with which he followed the imperial giver was suggestive of respect and pity.
It was a trifle after noon. The trireme and the assemblage of admiring townspeople had disappeared, leaving the bay and its shores to their wonted quiet. The palace, however, nestling in the garden under the promontory, must be permitted to hold our interest longer.
Aboo-Obeidah had eaten and drunk, for being on a journey, he was within the license of the law as respects wine; and now he sat with the Princess alone at the end of the portico lately occupied by the Emperor and his suite. A number of her attendants amused themselves out of hearing of the two, though still within call. She occupied the sedilium; he a seat by the table near her. Save a fine white veil on an arm and a fan which she seldom used, her appearance was as in the morning.
It is to be admitted now that the Princess was finding a pleasure in the society of the Sheik. If aware of the fact, which was doubtful, it is still more doubtful if she could have explained it. We are inclined to think the mystery attaching to the man had as much to do with the circumstance as the man himself. He was polite, engaging, and handsome; the objection to his complexion, if such there were, was at least offset by a very positive faculty of entertaining; besides which, the unspeakable something in manner, always baffling disguises, always whispering of other conditions, always exciting suggestions and expectations, was present here.
If she thought him the Bedouin he assumed to be, directly a word changed the opinion; did she see the Governor of the old Castle in his face, an allusion or a bit of information dropped by him unaware spoke of association far beyond such a subordinate; most perplexing, however, where got the man his intelligence? Did learning like his, avoiding cloisters, academies, and teachers of classical taste, comport with camel-driving and tent-life in deserts harried by winds and sand?
The mystery, together with the effort to disentangle it, resolved the Princess into an attentive auditor. The advantages in the conversation were consequently with the Sheik; and he availed himself of them to lead as he chose.
"You have heard, O Princess, of the sacred fig-tree of the Hindus?"
"In one of their poems—the Bhagavad Gita, I think—it is described as having its roots above and its branches downward; thus drawing life from the sky and offering its fruit most conveniently, it is to me the symbol of a good and just king. It rose to my mind when thy kinsman—may Allah be thrice merciful to him!—passed me with his speech of forgiveness, and this gift "—he raised his hand, and looked at the ring on one of the fingers-"in place of which I was more deserving burial in the Bosphorus, as the black-browed Admiral said."
A frown dark as the Admiral's roughened his smooth brow.
"Why so?" she inquired.
"The tales I told were of a kind to be spared a Greek, even one who may not cover his instep with the embroidered buskin of an Emperor."
"Nay, Sheik, they did not ruffle him. On the tongue of a Turk, I admit, the traditions had been boastful, but you are not a Turk."
The remark might have been interrogative; wherefore with admirable address, he replied: "An Ottoman would see in me an Arab wholly unrelated to him, except as I am a Moslem. Let it pass, O Princess—he forgave me. The really great are always generous. When I took the ring, I thought, Now would the young Mahommed have so lightly pardoned the provocation?"
"Mahommed!" she said.
"Not the Prophet," he answered; "but the son of Amurath."
"Ah, you know him?"
"I have sat with him, O Princess, and at table often helped him to meat and bread. I have been his cupbearer and taster, and as frequently shared his outdoor sports; now hunting with hawk, and now with hound. Oh, it were worth a year of common days to gallop at his right hand, and exult with him when the falcon, from its poise right under the sun, drops itself like an arrow upon its enemy! I have discoursed with him also on themes holy and profane, and given and taken views, and telling him tales in prose and verse, have seen the day go out, then come again. In knightly practice I have tilted with him, and more than once, by his side in battle, loosened rein at the same cry and charged. His Sultana mother knows him well; but, by the lions and the eagles who served Solomon, I know him, beginning where her knowledge left off—that is, where the horizon of manhood stretched itself to make room for his enlarging soul."
The awakening curiosity of his listener was not lost upon the Sheik.
"You are surprised to hear a kindly speech of the son of Amurath," he said.
She flushed slightly.
"I am not a person, Sheik, whose opinions are dangerous to the peace of States, and of whom diplomacy is required; yet it would grieve me to give offence to you or your friend, the Prince Mahommed. If now I concede a wish to have some further knowledge of one who is shortly to inherit the most powerful of the Eastern Kingdoms, the circumstance ought not to subject me to harsh judgment."
"Princess," the Sheik said, "nothing so becomes a woman as care where words may be the occasion of mischief. As a flower in a garden, such a woman would rank as the sovereign rose; as a bird, she would be the bulbul, the sweetest of singers, and in beauty, a heron with throat of snow, and wings of pink and scarlet; as a star, she would be the first of the evening, and the last to pale in the morning—nay, she would be a perpetual morning. Of all fates what more nearly justifies reproach of Allah than to have one's name and glory at the mercy of a rival or an enemy? I am indeed Mahommed's friend—I know him—I will defend him, where sacred truth permits defence. And then"—his glance fell, and he hesitated.
"And what then?" she asked.
He gave her a grateful look, and answered: "I am going to Adrianople. The Prince will be there, and can I tell him of this audience, and that the Princess Irene regrets the evil reported of him in Constantinople, and is not his enemy, straightway he will number himself of those the most happy and divinely remembered, whose books are to be given them in their right hands."
The Princess looked at the singer, her countenance clear, serene, fair as a child's, and said:
"I am the enemy of no one living. Report me so to him. The Master I follow left a law by which all men and women are neighbors whom I am to love and pray for as I love and pray for myself. Deliver him the very words, O Sheik, and he will not misunderstand me."
A moment after she asked:
"But tell me more of him. He is making the world very anxious."
"Princess," the Sheik began, "Ebn Hanife was a father amongst Dervishes, and he had a saying, 'Ye shall know a plant by its flower, a vine by its fruit, and a man by his acts; what he does being to the man as the flower to the plant, and the fruit to the vine; if he have done nothing, prove him by his tastes and preferences, for what he likes best that he will do when left to himself.' By these tests let us presume to try the Prince Mahommed.... There is nothing which enthralls us like the exercise of power—nothing we so nearly carry with us into the tomb to be a motive there; for who shall say it has not a part in the promise of resurrection? If so, O Princess, what praise is too great for him who, a young man placed upon a throne by his father, comes down from it at his father's call?"
"Did Mahommed that?"
"Not once, O Princess, but twice."
"In so much at least his balance should be fair."
"To whom is the pleasant life in a lofty garden, its clusters always near at hand—to whom, if not to the just judges of their fellow-men?"
The Sheik saluted her twice by carrying his right hand to his beard, then to his forehead.
"Attend again, O Princess," he continued, more warmly than in the outset. "Mahommed is devoted to learning. At night in the field when the watches are set, the story-tellers, poets, philosophers, lawyers, preachers, experts in foreign tongues, and especially the inventors of devices, a class by themselves, supposed generally to live on dreams as others on bread—all these, finding welcome in his tent, congregate there. His palace in the city is a college, with recitations and lectures and instructive conversations. The objection his father recognized the times he requested him to vacate the throne was that he was a student. His ancestors having been verse makers, poetry is his delight; and if he does not rival them in the gentle art, he surpasses them in the number of his acquirements. The Arab, the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin address him and have answers each in his mother's tongue. Knew you ever a scholar, O Princess, whose soul had utterly escaped the softening influence of thought and study? It is not learning which tames the barbarian so much as the diversion of mind from barbaric modes required of him while in the pursuit of learning."
She interrupted him, saying pleasantly: "I see, O Sheik, if to be at the mercy of an enemy is sad, how fortunate where one's picture is intended if the artist be a friend. Where had the Prince his instructors?"
There was a lurking smile in the Sheik's eyes, as he replied: "The sands in my country drink the clouds dry, and leave few fountains except of knowledge. The Arab professors in Cordova, whom the Moorish Kaliphs deemed themselves honored in honoring, were not despised by the Bishops of Rome. Amurath, wanting teachers for Mahommed, invited the best of them to his court. Ah—if I had the time!"
Observing his sigh had not failed its mark, he continued: "I would speak of some of the books I have seen on the Prince's table; for as a licensed friend, I have been in his study. Indeed, but for fear of too greatly recommending myself, I would have told you earlier, O Princess, how he favoured me as one of his teachers."
"Of poetry and story-telling, I suppose?"
"Why not?" he asked. "Our history is kept and taught in such forms. Have we a hero not himself a poet, he keeps one.... Upon the Prince's table, in the central place, objects of his reverence, the sources to which he most frequently addresses himself when in need of words and happy turns of expression, his standards of comparison for things beautiful in writing and speech, mirrors of the Most Merciful, whispering galleries wherein the voice of the Most Compassionate is never silent, are the Koran, with illustrations in gold, and the Bible in Hebrew, copied from torahs of daily use in the Synagogues."
"The Bible in Hebrew! Does he read it?"
"Like a Jewish elder."
"And the Gospels?"
The Sheik's face became reproachful.
"Art thou—even thou, O Princess—of those who believe a Moslem must reject Christ because the Prophet of Islam succeeded him with later teachings?"
Dropping then into the passionless manner, he continued:
"The Koran does not deny Christ or his Gospels. Hear what it says of itself: 'And this Koran is not a forgery of one who is no God, but it hath been sent down as a confirmation of those books which have been before it, and an explanation of the Scriptures from the Lord of the Worlds.' [Footnote: The Koran] ... That verse, O Princess, transcribed by the Prince Mahommed himself, lies between the Bible and the Koran; the two being, as I have said, always together upon his table."
"What then is his faith?" she asked, undisguisedly interested.
"Would he were here to declare it himself!"
This was said disconsolately; then the Sheik broke out:
"The truth now of the son of Amurath! Listen!—He believes in God. He believes in the Scriptures and the Koran, holding them separate wings of the divine Truth by which the world is to attain righteousness. He believes there have been three Prophets specially in the confidence of God: Moses, the first one; Jesus, who was greater than Moses; Mahomet, the very greatest—not for speaking better or sublimer things, but because he was last in their order of coming. Above all, O Princess, he believes worship due to the Most High alone; therefore he prays the prayer of Islam, God is God, and Mahomet is his Prophet—meaning that the Prophet is not to be mistaken for God."
The Sheik raised his dark eyes, and upon meeting them the Princess looked out over the bay. That she was not displeased was the most he could read in her face, the youthful light of which was a little shaded by thinking. He waited for her to speak.
"There were other books upon the Prince's table?" she presently asked.
"There were others, O Princess."
"Canst thou name some of them?"
The Sheik bowed profoundly.
"I see the pearls of Ebn Hanife's saying were not wasted. Mahommed is now to be tried by his tastes and preferences. Let it be so.... I saw there, besides dictionaries Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, the Encyclopaedia of Sciences, a rare and wonderful volume by a Granadian Moor, Ibn Abdallah. I saw there the Astronomy and Astronomical Tables of Ibn Junis, and with them a silver globe perfected from the calculations of Almamon the Kaliph, which helps us to the geographical principle not yet acknowledged in Rome, that the earth is round. I saw there the Book of the Balance of Wisdom by Alhazan, who delved into the laws of nature until there is nothing phenomenal left. I saw there the Philosophy of Azazzali the Arab, for which both Christian and Moslem should be grateful, since it has given Philosophy its true place by exalting it into a handmaiden of Religion. I saw there books treating of trade and commerce, of arms and armor, and machines for the assault and defence of cities, of military engineering, and the conduct of armies in grand campaigns, of engineering not military, dealing with surveying, and the construction of highways, aqueducts, and bridges, and the laying out of towns. There, also, because the soul of the student must have rest and diversion, I saw volumes of songs and music loved by lovers in every land, and drawings of mosques, churches and palaces, masterpieces of Indian and Saracenic genius; and of gardens there was the Zebra, created by Abderrahman for the best loved of his Sultanas. Of poetry, O Princess, I saw many books, the lord of them a copy of Homer in Arabic, executed on ivory from the translation ordered by Haroun Al-Raschid."
During this recital the Princess scarcely moved. She was hearing a new version of Mahommed; and the Sheik, like a master satisfied with his premises, proceeded to conclusions.
"My Lord has a habit of dreaming, and he does not deny it—he believes in it. In his student days, he called it his rest. He used to say, when his brain reeled in overtask dreaming was a pillow of down and lavender; that in moments of despair, dreaming took his spirit in its hands softer than air, and, nurse-like, whispered and sung to it, and presently it was strong again. Not many mornings ago he awoke to find that in a deep sleep some ministrant had come to him, and opened the doors of his heart, and let out its flock of boyish fantasies. He has since known but three visions. Would it please you, O Princess, to hear of them? They may be useful as threads on which to hang the Dervish father's pearls of saying."
She re-settled herself, resting her cheek on her hand, and her elbow on the arm of the chair, and replied:
"I will hear of them."
"The visions have all of them reference to the throne he is soon to ascend, without which they would be the mere jingling of a jester's rattle.
"First Vision.... He will be a hero. If his soul turned from war, he were not his father's son. But unlike his father, he holds war the servant of peace, and peace the condition essential to his other visions.
"Second Vision.... He believes his people have the genius of the Moors, and he will cultivate it in rivalry of that marvellous race."
"Of the Moors, O Sheik?" the Princess said, interrupting him. "Of the Moors? I have always heard of them as pillagers of sacred cities— infidels sunk in ignorance, who stole the name of God to excuse invasions and the spilling of rivers of blood."
The Sheik lifted his head haughtily.
"I am an Arab, and the Moors are Arabs translated from the East to the West."
"I crave thy pardon," she said, gently.
And calming himself, he rejoined: "If I weary you, O Princess, there are other subjects to which I can turn. My memory is like the box of sandal-wood a lady keeps for her jewelry. I can open it at will, and always find something to please—better probably because I have it from another."
"No," she returned, artlessly, "a hero in actual life transcends the best of fancies—and besides, Sheik, you spoke of a third vision of your friend, the Prince Mahommed."
He dropped his eyes lest she should see the brightness with which they filled.
"War, my Lord says, is a necessity which, as Sultan, he cannot avoid. Were he disposed to content himself with the empire descending from his great father, envious neighbors would challenge him to the field. He must prove his capacity in defence. That done, he vows to tread the path made white and smooth by Abderrahman, the noblest and best of the Western Kaliphs. He will set out by founding a capital somewhere on the Bosphorus. Such, O Princess, is my Lord Mahommed's Third Vision."
"Nay, Sheik—on the Marmora—at Broussa, perhaps."
"I am giving the Vision as he gave it to me, Princess. For where else, he asks, has the spreading earth diviner features than on the Bosphorus? Where bends a softer sky above a friendlier channel by Nature moulded for nobler uses? Where are there seas so bridled and reduced? Does not the rose bloom here all the year? Yonder the East, here the West—must they be strangers and enemies forever? His capital, he declares, shall be for their entertainment as elder and younger brother. Within its walls, which he will build strong as a mountain's base, with gates of brass invulnerable, and towers to descry the clouds below the horizon, he will collect unselfishly whatever is good and beautiful, remembering he serves Allah best who serves his fellow-men."
"All his fellow-men, Sheik?"
"All of them."
Then she glanced over the bay, and said very softly:
"It is well; for 'if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?'"
The Sheik smiled, saying:
"And thus the latest Prophet, O Princess. 'Turn away evil by that which is better; and lo, he between whom and thyself was enmity, shall become as though he were a warm friend.'" [Footnote: Koran]
She answered, "A goodly echo."
"Shall I proceed?" he then asked.
"I was speaking of the Third Vision.... To make his capital the centre of the earth, he will have a harbor where ships from every country, and all at once, can come and lie, oars slung and sails furled: and near by for trade, a bazaar with streets of marble, and roofed with glass, and broad and long enough for a city unto itself; and in the midst a khan for lodging the merchants and travellers who have not other houses. And as did Abderrahman, he will build a University of vast enclosure; here temples, there groves; nor may a study be named without its teacher, and he the most famous; so the votaries of Music and Poetry, Philosophy, Science, and the Arts, and the hundred-handed Mechanics shall dwell together like soldiers in a holy league. And comes that way one religious, of him but a question, Believest thou in God? and if he answer yes, then for him a ready welcome. For of what moment is it, my Lord asks, whether God bear this name or that? Or be worshipped with or without form? Or on foot or knee? Or whether the devout be called together by voice or bell? Is not Faith everything?"
The picture wrought upon the Princess. Her countenance was radiant, and she said half to herself, but so the Sheik heard her:
"It is a noble Vision."
Then the Sheik lowered his voice:
"If, with such schemes, excluding races and religions—hear me again, O Princess!—if with such schemes or visions, as thou wilt, the Lord Mahommed allows himself one selfish dream, wouldst thou condemn him?"
"What is the selfish dream?" she asked.
"He has an open saying, Princess, 'Light is the life of the world, while Love is the light of life.' Didst thou ever hear how Othman wooed and won his Malkatoon?"
"It is a Turkish tale of love. Mahommed had it from his mother when he was a lad, and he has been haunted ever since with a belief which, to his dreaming, is like the high window in the eastern front of a palace, outwardly the expression-giver, within the principal source of light. The idea is strongest what times the moon is in the full; and then he mounts a horse, and hies him, as did Othman, to some solitary place where, with imagination for cup-bearer, he drinks himself into happy drunkenness." The Sheik, bending forward, caught her eyes with his, and held them so not a glance escaped him.
"He thinks—and not all the Genii, the winged and the unwinged, of the wisest of Kings could win him from the thought—that he will sometime meet a woman who will have the mind, the soul of souls, and the beauty of the most beautiful. When she will cross his vision is one of the undelivered scriptories which Time is bringing him; yet he is looking for her, and the more constantly because the first sight of her will be his first lesson in the mystery called love. He will know her, for at seeing her a lamp will light itself in his heart, and by it, not the glare of the sun, his spirit will make sure of her spirit. Therefore in his absoluteness of faith, O Princess, there is a place already provided for her in his promised capital, and even now he calls it this House of Love. Ah, what hours he has spent planning that abode! He will seat it in the Garden of Perfection, for the glorifying which, trees, birds, flowers, summer-houses, water, hill-tops and shaded vales shall be conquered. Has he not studied the Zehra of Abderrahman? And divided it as it was into halls, courts and chambers, and formed and proportioned each, and set and reset its thousand and more columns, and restored the pearls and gold on its walls, and over the wide Alhambran arches hung silken doors sheened like Paradisean birds? And all that when he shall have found her, his Queen, his Malkatoon, his Spirit of Song, his Breath of Flowers, his Lily of Summer, his Pearl of Oman, his Moon of Radjeb, monotony shall never come where she dwells nor shall she sigh except for him absent. Such, O Princess Irene, is the one dream the Prince has builded with the world shut out. Does it seem to you a vanity of wickedness?"
"No," she returned, and covered her face, for the Sheik's look was eager and burning bright.
He knelt then, and kissed the marble at her feet.
"I am Prince Mahommed's ambassador, O Princess," he said, rising to his knees. "Forgive me, if I have dared delay the announcement."
"His ambassador! To what end?"
"I am afraid and trembling."
He kissed the floor again.
"Assure me of pardon—if only to win me back my courage. It is miserable to be shaken with fear."
"Thou hast done nothing, Sheik, unless drawing thy master's portrait too partially be an offence. Speak out."
"It is not three days, Princess, since you were Mahommed's guest."
"I his guest—Mahommed's!"
She arose from her chair.
"He received you at the White Castle."
"And the Governor?"
"He was the Governor."
She sunk back overcome with astonishment. The Sheik recalled her directly.
"Prince Mahommed," he said, "arrived at the Castle when the boats were discovered, and hastened to the landing to render assistance if the peril required it.... And now, O Princess, my tongue falters. How can I without offending tell of the excitement into which seeing you plunged him? Suffer me to be direct. His first impression was supported by the coincidences—your coming and his, so nearly at the same instant—the place of the meeting so out of the way and strange—the storm seemingly an urgency of Heaven. Beholding and hearing you, 'This is she! This is she! My Queen, my Malkatoon!' he cried in his heart. And yesterday"—
"Nay, Sheik, allow the explanation to wait. Bearest thou a message from him to me?"
"He bade me salute thee, Princess Irene, as if thou wert now the Lady of his House of Love in his Garden of Perfection, and to pray if he might come and in person kiss thy hand, and tell thee his hopes, and pour out at thy feet his love in heartfuls larger than ever woman had from man."
While speaking, the Sheik would have given his birthright to have seen her face.
Then, in a low voice, she asked:
"Does he doubt I am a Christian?"
The tone was not of anger; with beatings of heart trebly quickened, he hastened to reply:
"'That she is a Christian'—may God abandon my mouth, if I quote him unfaithfully!—'That she is a Christian, I love her the more. For see you, Sheik'—by the faith of an Arab, Princess, I quote him yet, word for word—'my mother was a Christian.'"
In the morning of this very day we have seen her put to like question by Constantine, and she did not hesitate; now the reply took a time.
"Say to Prince Mahommed," she at length returned, "that his message presents itself honorably, for which it is deserving a soft answer. His fancy has played him false. I cannot be the woman of his dream. She is young; I am old, though not with years. She is gay; I am serious. She is in love with life, hopeful, joyous; I was born to sorrow, and in sorrow brought up, and the religion which absorbed my youth is now life's hold on me. She will be delighted with the splendors he has in store for her; so might I, had not the wise man long since caught my ear and judgment by the awful text, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. While her charms endure she will keep him charmed with the world; I could not so much, for the world to come has possession of me, and the days here are but so many of a journey thither. Tell him, O Sheik, while he has been dreaming of palaces and gardens in rivalry of Abderrahman the Kaliph, I have been dreaming of a house in splendor beyond the conception of architects; and asks he more about it, tell him I know it only as a house not made with hands. Tell him I speak not in denial of possibilities; for by the love I have never failed to accord the good and noble, I might bend my soul to his; to this hour, however, God and His Son the Christ, and the Holy Mother, and the Angels and deserving men and women have taken up my heart and imagination, and in serving them I have not aspired to other happiness. A wife I might become, not from temptation of gain or power, or in surrender to love—I speak not in derision of the passion, since, like the admitted virtues, it is from God—nay, Sheik, in illustration of what may otherwise be of uncertain meaning to him, tell Prince Mahommed I might become his wife could I by so doing save or help the religion I profess. Then, if I brought him love, the sacrifice would rescue it from every taint. Canst thou remember all this? And wilt thou deliver it truly?"
The Sheik's demeanor when she ended was greatly changed; his head was quite upon his breast; his attitude and whole appearance were disconsolate to the last degree.
"Alas, Princess! How can I carry such speech to him, whose soul is consuming with hunger and thirst for thy favor?"
"Sheik," she said in pity, "no master, I think, had ever a more faithful servant than thou hast proved thyself. Thy delivery of his message, could it be preserved, would be a model for heralds in the future."
Thereupon she arose, extended her hand to him, and he kissed it; and as she remained standing, he arose also.
"Be seated," she then said, and immediately that they were both in their chairs again, she took direction of the interview.
"You asked me, Sheik, if I had heard how Othman wooed and won his Malkatoon, and said it was a Turkish romance. The Othman, I take it, was founder of Prince Mahommed's house. Now, if thou art not too weary, tell me the story."
As the recital afforded him the opportunities to give poetic expression to his present feeling, he accepted the suggestion gladly, and, being in the right mood, was singularly effective. Half the time listening she was in tears. It was past three o'clock when he finished. The audience then terminated. In no part of it had her manner been more gracious than when she conducted him along the portico, or her loveliness so overwhelming as when she bade him adieu at the head of the steps.
Standing between columns near the sedilium, she saw him gain his boat, take something from the sitting-box, step ashore again, and return to her gate, where he remained awhile pounding with a stone. The action was curious, and when he was out of sight rounding the water front of the promontory, she sent Lysander to investigate.
"The infidel has fixed a brass plate to the right-hand post of the kiosk," the ancient reported, in bad humor. "It may be a curse." The Princess then called her attendants, and went with them to see the brass plate. There it was, an arm's reach overhead, and affixed firmly to the post, the corners turned down to serve the tacking. Graven on its polished surface was the following:
Wholly unable to decipher it, she sent for a Dervish, long resident in the town, and returned to the portico.
"Princess," the old man said, having viewed the mysterious plate, "he who did the posting was a Turk; and if he were aged, I should say thou hast entertained unaware the great Amurath, Sultan of Sultans."
"But the man was young."
"Then was he the son of Amurath, Prince Mahommed."
The Princess turned pale.
"How canst thou speak so positively?" she asked.
"It is a teukra; in the whole world, O Princess, there are but two persons with authority to make use of it."
"And who are they?"
"The Sultan, and Mahommed, next him in the succession."
In the silence which ensued, Lysander officiously proposed to remove the sign. The Dervish interposed.
"Wilt thou hear me, O Princess," he said, with a low reverence, "whether the plate proceeded from Amurath or Mahommed, or by the order of either of them, the leaving it behind signifies more than friendship or favor—it is a safeguard—a proclamation that thou and thy people and property here are under protection of the master of all the Turks. Were war to break out to-morrow, thou mightest continue in thy palace and garden with none to make thee afraid save thine own countrymen. Wherefore consider well before acceding to the rancor of this ancient madman."
Thus the truth came to the Princess Irene. The Singing Sheik was Prince Mahommed!
Twice he had appeared before her; in the White Castle once, and now in her palace; and having announced himself her lover, and proposed marriage, he intended her to know him, and also that he was not departing in despair. Hence the plate on the gate! The circumstance was novel and surprising. Her present feelings were too vague and uncertain for definition: but she was not angry.
Meantime Mahommed, returning to the old Castle, debated with himself. He loved the Princess Irene with the passion of a soul unused to denial or disappointment, and before he reached the Roumelian Hissar he swore a Moslem oath to conquer Constantinople, less for Islam and glory, than for her. And from that hour the great accomplishment took hold of him to the exclusion of all else.
At Hissar he ascended the mountain, and, standing on the terreplein of the precipice in front of what is now Robert College, he marked the narrowness of the Bosphorus below, and thinking of the military necessity for a crossing defended on both shores, he selected a site for a castle on the European side opposite the White Castle in Asia. In due time we will have occasion to notice the creation of the walls and towers of the stupendous fortification yet standing between Bebek and Hissar, a monument to his energy and sagacity more imposing than anything left by him in Constantinople.
THE PALACE OF BLACHERNE
THE PALACE OF BLACHERNE
The Prince of India was not given to idle expectations. He might deceive others, but he seldom deceived himself. His experience served him prophetically in matters largely dependent on motives ordinarily influential with men. He was confident the Emperor would communicate with him, and soon.
The third day after the adventure at the White Castle, a stranger, mounted, armed, and showily caparisoned, appeared at the Prince's door under guidance of Uel. In the study, to which he was hidden, he announced himself the bearer of a complimentary message from His Majesty, concluding with an invitation to the palace of Blacherne. If agreeable, His Majesty would be pleased to receive the Indian dignitary in the afternoon at three o'clock. An officer of the guard would be at the Grand Gate for his escort. The honor, needless to say, was accepted in becoming terms.
When the Prince descended to the hall of entry on the ground floor to take the sedan there, the unusual care given his attire was apparent. His beard was immaculately white. His turban of white silk, balloon in shape, and with a dazzle of precious stones in front, was a study. Over a shirt of finest linen, with ruffles of lace at the throat and breast, there was a plain gown of heavy black velvet, buttoned at the neck, but open down to a yellow sash around the waist. The sash was complemented by a belt which was a mass of pearls in relief on a ground of gold embroidery. The belt-plate and crescented sword scabbard were aflame with brilliants on blue enamelling. His trousers, ample as a skirt, were of white satin overflowing at the ankles. Pointed red slippers, sparkling with embroidery of small golden beads, completed the costume.
The procession in the street was most striking. First Nilo, as became a king of Kash-Cush, barbarously magnificent; the sedan next, on the shoulders of four carriers in white livery; at the rear, two domestics arrayed a la Cipango, their strange blue garments fitting them so close as to impede their walking; yet as one of them bore his master's paper sunshade and ample cloak, and the other a cushion bloated into the proportions of a huge pillow, they were by no means wanting in self-importance. Syama, similarly attired, though in richer material, walked at the side of the sedan, ready to open the door or answer such signal as he might receive from within.
The appearance of this retinue in the streets was a show to the idle and curious, who came together as if rendered out of the earth, and in such numbers that before fairly reaching the thoroughfare by which the Grand Gate of Blacherne was usually approached from the city side, the gilded box on the shoulders of its bearers looked, off a little way, not unlike a boat rocking in waves.
Fortunately the people started in good humor, and meeting nothing to break the mood, they permitted the Prince to accomplish his journey without interruption. The companionship of the crowd was really agreeable to him; he hardly knew whether it were pleasanter to be able to excite such respectful curiosity than to gratify it successfully. It might have been otherwise had Lael been with him.
The Very High Residence, as the Palace of Blacherne was generally spoken of by Greeks, was well known to the Prince of India. The exclamation with which he settled himself in the sedan at setting out from his house—"Again, again, O Blacherne!"—disclosed a previous personal acquaintance with the royal property. And over and over again on the way he kept repeating, "O Blacherne! Beautiful Blacherne! Bloom the roses as of old in thy gardens? Do the rivulets in thy alabaster courts still run singing to the mosaic angels on the walls?"
As to the date of these recollections, if, as the poets tell us, time is like a flowing river, and memory a bridge for the conveniency of the soul returning to its experiences, how far had this man to travel the structure before reaching the Blacherne he formerly knew? Over what tremendous spaces between piers did it carry him!
The street traversed by the Prince carried him first to the Grate of St. Peter on the Golden Horn, and thence, almost parallel with the city wall, to Balat, a private landing belonging to the Emperor, at present known as the gate of Blacherne.
At the edge of an area marble paved, the people stopped, it being the limit of their privilege. Crossing the pavement, the visitor was set down in front of the Grand Gate of the Very High Residence. History, always abominating lapses, is yet more tender of some places than others. There, between flanking towers, an iron-plated valve strong enough to defy attack by any of the ancient methods was swung wide open, ready nevertheless to be rolled to at set of sun. The guard halted the Prince, and an officer took his name, and apologizing for a brief delay, disappeared with it. Alighting from his sedan, the worthy proceeded to take observation and muse while waiting.
The paved area on which he stood was really the bottom of a well-defined valley which ran off and up irregularly toward the southeast, leaving an ascent on its right memorable as the seventh hill of Constantinople. A stone wall marked here and there by sentinel boxes, each with a red pennon on its top, straggled down along the foot of the ascent to the Grand Gate. There between octangular towers loopholed and finished battlement style was a covered passage suggestive of Egypt. Two Victories in high relief blew trumpets at each other across the entrance front. Ponderous benches of porphyry, polished smooth by ages of usage, sat one on each side for the guards; fellows in helmets of shining brass, cuirasses of the same material inlaid with silver, greaves, and shoes stoutly buckled. Those of them sitting sprawled their bulky limbs broadly over the benches. The few standing seemed like selected giants, with blond beards and blue eyes, and axes at least three spans in length along their whetted edges. The Prince recognized the imperial guards—Danes, Saxons, Germans, and Swiss—their nationalities merged into the corps entitled Varangians.
Conscious, but unmindful of their stare, he kept his stand, and swept the hill from bottom to top, giving free rein to memory.
In 449 A. D.—he remembered the year and the circumstance well—an earthquake threw down the wall then enclosing the city. Theodosius restored it, leaving the whole height outside of this northwestern part a preserve wooded, rocky, but with one possession which had become so infinitely sanctified in Byzantine estimation as to impart the quality to all its appurtenances, that was the primitive but Very Holy Church of Blacherne, dedicated to the Virgin.
Near the church there was a pleasure house to which the Emperors, vainly struggling to escape the ceremonies the clergy had fastened upon them to the imbitterment of life, occasionally resorted, and down on the shore of the Golden Horn a zoological garden termed the Cynegion had been established. The latter afterwhile came to have a gallery in which the public was sometimes treated to games and combats between lions, tigers, and elephants. There also criminals and heretics were frequently carried and flung to the beasts.
Nor did the Prince fail to recall that in those cycles the sovereigns resided preferably in the Bucoleon, eastwardly by the sea of Marmora. He remembered some of them as acquaintances with whom he had been on close terms—Justinian, Heraclius, Irene, and the Porphyrogentes.
The iconoclastic masters of that cluster of magnificent tenements, the Bucoleon, had especial claims upon his recollection. Had he not incited them to many of their savageries? They were incidents, it is true, sadly out of harmony with his present dream; still their return now was with a certain fluttering of the spirit akin to satisfaction, for the victims in nearly every case had been Christians, and his business of life then was vengeance for the indignities and sufferings inflicted on his countrymen.
With a more decided flutter, he remembered a scheme he put into effect just twenty years after the restoration of the wall by Theodosius. In the character of a pious Christianized Israelite resident in Jerusalem, he pretended to have found the vestments of the Holy Mother of Christ. The discovery was of course miraculous, and he reported it circumstantially to the Patriarchs Galvius and Candidus. For the glory of God and the exaltation of the Faith, they brought the relics to Constantinople. There, amidst most solemn pomp, the Emperor assisting, they were deposited in the Church of Saints Peter and Mark, to be transferred a little later to their final resting-place in the holier Church of the Virgin of Blacherne. There was a world of pious propriety in the idea that as the vestments belonged to the Mother of God they would better become her own house. The Himation or Maphorion, as the robe of the Virgin was called, brought the primitive edifice in the woods above the Cynegion a boundless increase of sanctity, while the discoverer received the freedom of the city, the reverence of the clergy, and the confidence of the Basileus.
Nor did the prodigious memory stay there. The hill facing the city was of three terraces. On the second one, half hidden among cypress and plane trees, he beheld a building, low, strong, and, from his direction, showing but one window. Some sixteen years previous, during his absence in Cipango, a fire had destroyed the Church of the Virgin, and owing to the poverty of the people and empire, the edifice had not been rebuilt. This lesser unpretentious structure was the Chapel of Blacherne which the flames had considerately spared. He recognized it instantly, and remembered it as full of inestimable relics—amongst them the Himation, considered indestructible; the Holy Cross which Heraclius, in the year 635, had brought from Jerusalem, and delivered to Sergius; and the Panagia Blachernitissa, or All Holy Banner of the Image of the Virgin. Then rose another reminiscence, and though to reach him it had to fly across a chasm of hundreds of years, it presented itself with the distinctness of an affair of yesterday. In 626, Heraclius being Emperor, a legion of Avars and Persians sacked Scutari, on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus, and laid siege to Constantinople. The Byzantines were in awful panic; and they would have yielded themselves had not Sergius the Patriarch been in control. With a presence of mind equal to the occasion, he brought the Panagia forth, and supported by an army of clerics and monks, traversed the walls, waving the All Holy Banner. A volley of arrows from invisible archers fell upon the audacious infidels, and the havoc was dreadful; they fled, and their prince, the Khagan, fled with them, declaring he had seen a woman in shining garments but of awful presence on the walls. The woman was the Holy Mother; and with a conceit easily mistaken for gratitude, the Byzantines declared their capital thenceforward guarded by God. When they went out to the Church in the Woods and found it unharmed by the enemy, they were persuaded the Mother had adopted them; in return, what could they else than adopt her? Pisides, the poet, composed a hymn, to glorify her. The Church consecrated the day of the miraculous deliverance a fete day observable by Greeks forever. The Emperor removed the old building, and on its site raised another of a beauty more expressive of devotion. To secure it from ravage and profanation, he threw a strong wall around the whole venerated hill, and by demolishing the ancient work of Theodosius, made Blacherne a part of the city.
By and by the Church required enlargement, and it was then cruci-formed by the addition of transepts right and left. Still later, a Chapel was erected specially for the relics and the All Holy Banner. This was contiguous to the Church, and besides being fireproof, it covered a spring of pure water, afterwards essential in many splendid ceremonies civil as well as religious. The Chamber of Relics was prohibited to all but the Basileus. He alone could enter it. By great favor, the Prince of India was once permitted to look into the room, and he remembered it large and dimly lighted, its shadows alive, however, with the glitter of silver and gold in every conceivable form, offered there as the Wise Men laid their gifts before the Child in the Cave of the Nativity.
Again and again the Church was burned, yet the Chapel escaped. It seemed an object of divine protection. The sea might deliver tempests against the Seven Hills, earthquakes shake the walls down and crack the hanging dome of St. Sophia, cinders whiten paths from the porphyry column over by the Hippodrome to the upper terrace of Blacherne; yet the Chapel escaped—yet the holy fountain in its crypt flowed on purer growing as the centuries passed.
The Prince, whose memories we are but weaving into words, did not wonder at the increase of veneration attaching to the Chapel and its precious deposits—manuscripts, books, bones, flags, things personal to the Apostles, the Saints, the Son and His Mother, parings of their nails, locks of their hair, spikes and splinters of the Cross itself—he did not wonder at it, or smile, for he knew there is a devotional side to every man which wickedness may blur but cannot obliterate. He himself was going about the world convinced that the temple of Solomon was the House of God.
The guards sprawling on the benches kept staring at him; one of them let his axe fall without so much as attracting the Prince's attention. His memory, with a hold on him too firm to be disturbed by such trifles, insisted on its resurrectionary work, and returned him to the year 865. Constantinople was again besieged, this time by a horde from the Russian wilderness under the chiefs Dir and Askold. They had passed the upper sea in hundreds of boats, and disembarking on the European shore, marched down the Bosphorus, leaving all behind them desolate. Photius was then Patriarch. When the fleet was descried from the walls, he prevailed on the Emperor to ask the intervention of the Virgin. The Maphorion or Sacred Eobe was brought out, and in presence of the people on their knees, the clergy singing the hymn of Pisides, the holy man plunged it into the waves.
A wind arose under which the water in its rocky trough was as water in a shaken bowl. The ships of the invaders sunk each other. Not one survived. Of the men, those who lived came up out of the vortexes praying to be taken to the Church of Blacherne for baptism. This was two hundred years and more after the first deliverance of the city, and yet the Mother was faithful to her chosen!—Constantinople was still the guarded of God!— The Penagia was still the All Holy! Having repulsed the Muscovite invasion, what excuse for his blasphemy would there be left the next to challenge its terrors?
The Prince of India saw the blackened walls of the burned Church, an appealing spectacle which the surrounding trees tried to cover with their foliage, but could not; then he lifted his eyes to the Palace upon the third terrace.
To the hour decay sets in the touches of Time are usually those of an artist who loves his subject, and wishes merely to soften or ennoble its expression. So had he dealt with the Very High Residence.
It began in the low ground down by the Cynegion, and arose with the city wall, which was in fact its southwestern front. Though always spoken of in the singular, like the Bucoleon, it was a collection of palaces, vast, irregular, and declarative of the taste of the different eras they severally memorialized. The spaces between them formed courts and places under cover; yet as the architects had adhered to the idea of a main front toward the northeast, there appeared a certain unity of design in the structures.
This main front, now under the Prince's view, was frequently broken, advancing here, retreating there; one section severely plain and sombre; another relieved by porticos with figured friezes resting on tall columns. The irregularities were pleasing; some of them were stately; and they were all helped not a little by domes and pavilions without which the roof lines would have been monotonous.
Lifting his gaze up the ascent from the low ground, it rested presently on a Tower built boldly upon the Heraclian wall. This was the highest pinnacle of the Palace, first to attract the observer, longest to hold his attention. No courier was required to tell its history to him through whose eyes we are now looking—it was the tower of Isaac Angelus. How clearly its outlines cut the cloudless sky! How strong it seemed up there, as if built by giants! Yet with windows behind balconies, how airy and graceful withal! The other hills of the city, and the populated valleys between the hills, spread out below it, like an unrolled map. The warders of the Bucoleon, or what is now Point Serail, the home-returning mariner shipping oars off Scutari, the captain of the helmeted column entering the Golden Gate down by the Seven Towers, the insolent Genoese on the wharves of Galata, had only to look up, and lo! the perch of Isaac. And when, as often must have happened, the privileged lord himself sat midafternoons on the uppermost balcony of the Tower, how the prospect soothed the fever of his spirit! If he were weary of the city, there was the Marmora, always ready to reiterate the hues of the sky, and in it the Isles of the Princes, their verdurous shades permeated with dreamful welcome to the pleasure-seeker as well as the monk; or if he longed for a further flight, old Asia made haste with enticing invitation to some of the villas strewing its littoral behind the Isles; and yonder, to the eye fainting in the distance, scarce more than a pale blue boundary cloud, the mountain beloved by the gods, whither they were wont to assemble at such times as they wished to learn how it fared with Ilium and the sons of Priam, or to enliven their immortality with loud symposia. A prospect so composed would seem sufficient, if once seen, to make a blind man's darkness perpetually luminous.
Sometimes, however, the superlative magnate preferred the balcony on the western side of the Tower. There he could sit in the shade, cooled by waftures from a wide campania southward, or, peering over the balustrade, watch the peasantry flitting through the breaks of the Kosmidion, now the purlieus of Eyoub.
Again the Prince was carried back through centuries. It had been determined to build at Blacherne; but the hill was steep. How could spaces be gained for foundations, for courts and gardens? The architects pondered the problem. At last one of bolder genius came forward. We will accept the city wall for a western front, he said, and build from it; and for levels, allow us to commence at the foot of the height, and rear arches upon arches. The proposal was accepted; and thereafter for years the quarter was cumbered with brick and skeleton frames, and workingmen were numerous and incessantly busy as colonized ants. Thus the ancient pleasure house disappeared, and the first formal High Residence took its place; at the same time the Bucoleon, for so many ages the glory of Constantinople, was abandoned by its masters.
Who was the first permanent occupant of the Palace of Blacherne? The memory, theretofore so prompt, had now no reply. No matter—the Prince recalled sessions had with Angelus on the upper balcony yonder. He remembered them on account of his host one day saying: "Here I am safe." The next heard of him he was a captive and blind.
Passing on rapidly, he remembered the appearance of Peter the Hermit in the gorgeous reception room of the Palace in 1096. Quite as distinctly, he also remembered the audience Alexis I. tendered Godfrey of Bouillon and his Barons in the same High Residence.
What a contrast the host and his guests presented that day! The latter were steel clad from head to foot and armed for battle, while Alexis was a spectacle of splendor unheard of in the barbarous West. How the preachers and eunuchs in the silk-gowned train of the one trembled as the redoubtables of the West mangled the velvet carpets with their cruel spurs! How peculiarly the same redoubtables studied the pearls on the yellow stole of the wily Comnene and the big jewels in his Basilean mitre—as if they were counting and weighing them mentally, preliminary to casting up at leisure a total of value! And the table ware—this plate and yon bowl—were they really gold or some cunning deception? The Greeks were so treacherous! And when the guests were gone, the Greeks, on their part, were not in the least surprised at the list of spoons and cups subtly disappeared—gifts, they supposed, intended by the noble "Crosses" for the most Holy Altar in Jerusalem!