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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPaul Patoff - Chapter 18
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Paul Patoff - Chapter 18 Post by :Norman Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1879

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Paul Patoff - Chapter 18


Balsamides found Selim outside the door at the other end of the passage, sitting disconsolately upon the divan. The Lala turned up his ugly face as Gregorios entered, and then rose from his seat, reluctantly, as though much exhausted. Balsamides laid his hand upon the fellow's arm and looked into his small red eyes.

"The Khanum is dead," said the pretended physician.

The negro trembled violently, and throwing up his arms would have clapped his hands together. But Balsamides stopped him.

"No noise," he said sternly. "Come with me. All may yet be well with you; but you must be quiet, or it will be the worse for you." He held the Lala's arm and led him without resistance to the outer hall.

"Mehemet Bey! Mehemet Bey!" I heard him call, and I hastened from the room where I had waited to join him in the vestibule. He was very pale and grave. On hearing him enter, the porter appeared, and silently opened the outer door. Balsamides addressed him as we prepared to leave the house.

"The Khanum Effendi is dead," he said. "Selim will accompany us to the palace, and will return in the morning."

The man's face, deeply marked with the small-pox and weather-beaten in many a campaign, did not change color. Perhaps he had long expected the news, for he bowed his head as though submitting to a superior order.

"It is the will of Allah," he said in a low voice. In another moment we had descended the steps, Selim walking between us. The coachman was standing at the horses' heads in the light of the bright carriage lamps. Balsamides entered the carriage first, then I made Selim get in, and last of all I took my seat and closed the door.

"Yildiz-Kioeshk!" shouted Balsamides out of the window to the driver, and once more we rattled over the pavement and along the rough road. I imagined that the order had been given only to mislead the porter, who had stood upon the steps until we drove away. I knew well enough that Balsamides would not present himself at the palace with me in my present disguise, and that it was very improbable that he would take Selim there. I hesitated to speak to him, because I did not know whether I was to continue to personate the adjutant or to reveal myself in my true character. I had comprehended the situation when I heard my friend tell the porter that the Khanum was dead, and I congratulated myself that we had secured the person of Selim without the smallest struggle or difficulty of any kind. I argued from this, either that the Khanum had died without telling her story, or else that she had told it all, and that Selim was to accompany us to the place where Alexander was buried or hidden.

At last we turned to the left. Balsamides again put his head out of the window, and called to the coachman to drive on the Belgrade road instead of turning towards Pera. The negro started violently when he heard the order given, and I thought he put out his hand to take the handle of the door; but my own was in the hanging loop fastened to the inside of the door, and I knew that he could not open it. The road indicated by Gregorios leads through the heart of the Belgrade forest.

The fierce north wind had moderated a little, or rather, as we drove up the thickly wooded valley, we were not exposed to it as we had been upon the shore of the Bosphorus and on the heights above. Overhead, the driving clouds took a silvery-gray tinge, as the last quarter of the waning moon rose slowly behind the hills of the Asian shore. The bare trees swayed and moved slowly in the wind with the rhythmical motion of aquatic plants under moving water. I looked through the glass as we drove along, recognizing the well-known turns, the big trees, the occasional low stone cottages by the roadside. Everything was familiar to me, even in the bleak winter weather; only the landscape was inexpressibly wild in its leafless grayness, under the faint light of the waning moon. From time to time the Lala moved uneasily, but said nothing. We were ascending the hill which leads to the huge arch of the lonely aqueduct which pierces the forest, when Balsamides tapped upon the window. The carriage stopped in the road and he opened the door on his side and descended.

"Get down," he said to Selim. I pushed the negro forward, and got out after him. Balsamides seized his arm firmly.

"Take him on the other side," he said to me in Turkish, dragging the fellow along the road in the direction of a stony bridle-path which from this point ascends into the forest. Then Selim's coolness failed him, and he yelled aloud, struggling in our grip, and turning his head back towards the coachman.

"Help! help!" he cried. "In the name of Allah! They will murder me!"

From the lonely road the coachman's careless laugh echoed after us, as we hurried up the steep way.

"It is a solitary spot," observed Balsamides to the terrified Selim. "You may yell yourself hoarse, if it pleases you."

We continued to ascend the path, dragging the Lala between us. He had little chance of escape between two such men as we, and he seemed to know it, for after a few minutes he submitted quietly enough. At last we reached an open space among the rocks and trees, and Balsamides stopped. We were quite out of earshot from the road, and it would be hard to imagine a more desolate place than it appeared, between two and three o'clock on that March night, the bare twigs of the birch-trees wriggling in the bleak wind, the faint light of the decrescent moon, that seemed to be upside down in the sky, falling on the white rocks, and on the whitened branches torn down by the winter's storms, lying like bleached bones upon the ground before us.

"Now," said Balsamides to the negro, "no one can hear us. You have one chance of life. Tell us at once where we can find the Russian Effendi whose property you stole and sold to Marchetto in the bazaar."

In the dim gloom I almost fancied that the black man changed color as Gregorios put this question, but he answered coolly enough.

"You cannot find him," he said. "You need not have brought me here to ask me about him. I would have told you what you wanted to know at Yeni Koej, willingly enough."

"Why can he not be found?"

"Because he has been dead nearly two years, and his body was thrown into the Bosphorus," answered the Lala defiantly.

"You killed him, I suppose?" Balsamides tightened his grip upon the man's arm. But Selim was ready with his reply.

"You need not tear me in pieces. He killed himself."

The news was so unexpected that Balsamides and I both started and looked at each other. The Lala spoke with the greatest decision.

"How did he kill himself?" asked Gregorios sternly.

"I will tell you, as far as I know. The Bekji of Agia Sophia, the same who admitted the Effendi, took me up by the other staircase. Franks are never allowed to pass that way, as you know. When we were halfway up, holding the tapers before us, we stumbled over the body of a man lying at the foot of one of the flights, with his hand against the wall. We stooped down and examined him. He was quite dead. 'Selim,' said the Bekji, who knows me very well, 'the Effendi has fallen down the stairs in the dark, and has broken his neck.' 'If we give the alarm,' said I, 'we shall be held responsible for his death.' 'Leave it to me,' answered the Bekji. 'Behold, the man is dead. It is his fate. He has no further use for valuables.' So the Bekji took a ring, and a tobacco-box, and the watch and chain, and some money which was in the man's pockets. Then he said we should leave the corpse where it was. And when the prayers in the mosque were over, before it was day, he got a vegetable-seller's cart, and put the body in it and covered it with cabbages. Then we took it down to the point below Top Kapu Serai, where the waters are swift and deep. So we threw him in, for he was but a dog of a Giaour, and had broken his neck in stumbling where it was forbidden to go. Is it my fault that he stumbled?"

"No," answered Balsamides, "it was not your fault if he stumbled, and the Bekji was a Persian fox. But you robbed his body, and divided the spoil. What share did the Bekji take?"

"He took the ring and the tobacco-box and the money, for he was the stronger," answered the Lala.

"Selim," said Balsamides quietly, "before the Khanum died to-night she said that Alexander Patoff was alive. If so, you are lying. You are a greater liar than Moseylama, the false prophet, as they say in your country. But if not, you are a robber of dead bodies. Therefore, Selim, say a Fatihah, for your hour is come."

With that, Balsamides drew a short revolver from his pocket and cocked it before the man's eyes. The negro's limbs relaxed, and with a howl he fell upon his knees.

"Mercy! In the name of Allah!" he cried. "I have told all the truth, I swear by the grave of my father"----

"Don't move," said Gregorios, with horrible calmness. "You will do very well in that position. Now--say your Fatihah, and be quick about it. I cannot wait all night."

"You are not in earnest, Gregorios?" I asked in English, for my blood ran cold at the sight.

"Very much in earnest," he answered in Turkish, presenting the muzzle of the pistol to the Lala's head. "This fellow shall not laugh at our beards a second time. I will count three. If you do not wish to say your prayers, I will fire when I have said three. One--two"----

"He is alive!" screamed the Lala, before the fatal "three" was spoken by Balsamides. "I have lied: he is alive! Mercy! and I will tell you all."

"I thought so," said Balsamides, coolly uncocking his pistol and putting it back into his pocket. "Get up, dog, and tell us what you know."

Selim was literally almost frightened to death, as he kneeled on the sharp stones at our feet. He could hardly speak, and I dragged him up and made him sit upon the trunk of a fallen tree. I was indeed glad that he was still alive, for though Balsamides had not yet told me the events of the night, I could see that he was in no humor to be trifled with. Even I, who am peaceably disposed towards all men, felt my blood boil when the fellow told how he and the Bekji had robbed the body of Alexander Patoff, and thrown it into the Bosphorus for fear of being suspected. But the whole story seemed improbable, and I had a strong impression that Selim was lying. Perhaps nothing but the fear of death could have made him confess, after all, and Balsamides had a way of making death seem very real and near.

"I will tell you this, Selim," said Gregorios. "If you will give me Alexander Patoff Effendi to-night, alive, well, and uninjured in any way, you shall go free, and I will engage that you shall not be hurt. You evidently wished to keep the Khanum's secret. The Khanum is dead, and her secrets are the Padishah's, like everything else she possessed. You are bound to deliver those secrets to my keeping. Therefore tell us shortly where the Russian is, that we may liberate him and take him home at once."

"He is alive and well. That is to say, he has been well treated," answered Selim. "If you can take him, you may take him to-night, for all I care. But you must swear that you will then protect me."

"Filthy liquor in a dirty bottle!" exclaimed Balsamides angrily. "Will you make conditions with me, you soul of a dog in a snake's body?"

"Very well," returned the Lala cunningly. "But if you should kill me by mistake before I have taken you to him, you will never find him."

"I have told you that you shall not be hurt, if you will give him up. That is enough. My word is good, and I will keep it. Speak; you are safe."

"In the first place, we must go back to Yeni Koej. You might have saved yourself the trouble of coming up here on such a night as this."

"I want no comments on my doings. Tell me where the man is."

"I will take you to him," said the Lala.

"Well, then, get up and come back to the carriage," said Balsamides, seeing it was useless to bandy words with the fellow. Moreover, it was bitterly cold in the forest, and the idea of being once more in the comfortable carriage was attractive. Again we took Selim between us, and rapidly descended the stony path. In a few moments we were driving swiftly away from the arches of the aqueduct in the direction whence we had come.

Before we had reached the door of Laleli's house, Selim asked Balsamides to stop the carriage. We got out, and he took us up a narrow and filthy lane between two high walls. The feeble light of the moon did not penetrate the blackness, and we stumbled along in the mud as best we could. After climbing in this way for nearly ten minutes, Selim stopped before what appeared to be a small door sunk in a niche in the wall. I heard a bunch of keys jingling in his hand, and in a few seconds he admitted us. Balsamides held him firmly by the sleeve, as he turned to lock the door behind us.

"You shall not lock it," he said in a low voice. "Are we mice to be caught in a trap?"

Having made sure that the door was open, he pushed Selim forward. We seemed to be in a very spacious garden, surrounded by high walls on all sides. The trees were bare, excepting a few tall cypresses, which reared their black spear-like heads against the dim sky. The flower-beds were covered with dark earth, and the gravel in the paths was rough, as though no one had trod upon it for a long time. The walls protected the place from the wind, and a gloomy stillness prevailed, broken only by the distant sighing of trees higher up, which caught the northern gale.

Selim followed the wall for some distance, and at last stood still. We had reached one angle of the garden, and as well as I could see the corner made by the walls was filled by a low stone building with latticed windows, from one of which issued a faint light. Going nearer, I saw that the lattices were not of wood, but were strong iron gratings, such as no man's strength could break. The door in the middle of this stone box was also heavily ironed. Selim went forward, and again I heard the keys rattle in his hands. Almost instantly the shadow of a head appeared at the window whence the light came. While the Lala was unfastening the lock I went close to the grating. I was just tall enough to meet a pair of dark eyes gazing at me intently through the lowest bars.

"Alexander Patoff, is it you?" I asked in Russian.

"Good God!" exclaimed a tremulous voice. "Have the Russians taken Constantinople at last? Who are you?"

"I am Paul Griggs. We have come to set you free."

The heavy door yielded and moved. I rushed in, and in another moment I clasped the lost man's hand. Gregorios, far more prudent than I, held Selim by the collar as a man would hold a dog, for he feared some treachery.

"Is it really you?" I asked, for I could scarcely believe my eyes. Alexander looked at me once, then broke into hysterical tears, laughing and crying and sobbing all at once. He was indeed unrecognizable. I remembered the descriptions I had heard of the young dandy, the gay officer of a crack regiment, irreproachable in every detail of his dress, and delicate as a woman in his tastes. I saw before me a man of good height, wrapped in an old Turkish kaftan of green cloth lined with fur, his feet thrust into a pair of worn-out red slippers. His dark brown hair had grown till it fell upon his shoulders, his beard reached halfway to his waist, his face was ghastly white and thin to emaciation. The hand he had given me was like a parcel of bones in a thin glove. I doubted whether he were the man, after all.

"We must be quick," I said. "Have you anything to take away?" He cast a piteous glance at his poor clothing.

"This is all I have," he said in a low voice. Then, with a half-feminine touch of vanity, he added, "You must excuse me: I am hardly fit to go with you." He looked wildly at me for a moment, and again laughed and sobbed hysterically. The apartment was indeed empty enough. There was a low round table, a wretched old divan at one end, and a sort of bed spread upon the floor, in the old Turkish fashion. The whole place seemed to consist of a single room, lighted by a small oil lamp which hung in one corner. The stuccoed walls were green with dampness, and the cold was intense. I wondered how the poor man had lived so long in such a place. I put my arm under his, and threw my heavy military cloak over his shoulders. Then I led him away through the open door. The key was still in the lock without, and Balsamides held Selim tightly by the collar. When we had passed, Gregorios, instead of following us, held the Lala at arm's-length before him. Then he administered one tremendous kick, and sent the wretch flying into the empty cell; he locked the door on him with care, and withdrew the keys.

"I told you I would protect you," he called out through the keyhole. "You will be quite safe there for the present." Then he turned away, laughing to himself, and we all three hurried down the path under the wall, till we reached the small door by which we had entered the garden. Stumbling down the narrow lane, we soon got to the road, and found the carriage where we had left it. There was no time for words as we almost lifted the wretched Russian into the carriage and got in after him.

"To my house in Pera!" cried Balsamides to the patient coachman. "Pek tchabuk! As fast as you can drive!"

"Evvet Effendim," replied the old soldier, and in another moment we were tearing along the road at breakneck speed.

Hitherto Alexander Patoff had been too much surprised and overcome by his emotions to speak connectedly or to ask us any questions. When once we were in the carriage and on our way to Pera, however, he recovered his senses.

"Will you kindly tell me how all this has happened? Are you a Turkish officer?"

"No," I answered. "This is a disguise. Let me present you to the man who has really liberated you,--Balsamides Bey."

Patoff took the hand Gregorios stretched out towards him in both of his, and would have kissed it had Gregorios allowed him.

"God bless you! God bless you!" he repeated fervently. He was evidently still very much shaken, and in order to give him a little strength I handed him a flask of spirits which I had left in the carriage. He drank eagerly, and grasped even more greedily the case of cigarettes which I offered him.

"Ah!" he cried, in a sort of ecstasy, as he tasted the tobacco. "I feel that I am free."

I began to tell him in a few words what had happened: how we had stumbled upon his watch in the bazaar, had identified Selim, and traced the Lala to Laleli Khanum's house; how the Khanum had died while Balsamides was there, just as she was about to tell the truth; how we had dragged Selim into the forest, and had threatened him with death; and how at last, feeling that since his mistress was dead he was no longer in danger, the fellow had conducted us to Alexander's cell in the garden. I told him that his brother and mother were in Pera, and that he should see them in the morning. I said that Madame Patoff had been very ill in consequence of his disappearance, and that every one had mourned for him as dead. In short, I endeavored to explain the whole situation as clearly as I could. While I was telling our story Balsamides never spoke a word, but sat smoking in his corner, probably thinking of the single kick in which he had tried to concentrate all his vengeance.

As we drove along, the dawn began to appear,--the cold dawn of a March morning. I asked Balsamides whether it would be necessary to change my clothes before entering the city.

"No," he answered; "we shall be at home at sunrise. The fellow drives well."

"I shall have to ask you to take me in for a few hours," said Alexander. "I am in a pitiable state."

"You must have suffered horribly in that den," observed Balsamides. "Of course you must come home with me. We will send for your brother at once, and when you are rested you can tell us something of your story. It must be even more interesting than ours."

"It would not take so long to tell," answered Patoff, with a melancholy smile. In the gray light of the morning I was horrified to notice how miserably thin and ill he looked; but even in his squalor, and in spite of the long hair and immense beard, I could see traces of the beauty I had so often heard described by Paul, and even by Cutter, who was rarely enthusiastic about the appearance of his fellows. He seemed weak, too, as though he had been half starved in his prison. I asked him how long it was since he had eaten.

"Last night," he said, wearily, "they brought me food, but I could not eat. A man in prison has no appetite." Then suddenly he opened the window beside him, and put his head out into the cold blast, as though to drink in more fully the sense of freedom regained. Balsamides looked at him with a sort of pity which I hardly ever saw in his face.

"Poor devil!" he said, in a low voice. "We were just in time. He could not have lasted much longer."

We reached the outskirts of Pera, and Alexander hastily withdrew his head and sank back in the corner, as though afraid of being seen. He had the startled look of a man who fears pursuit. At last we rattled down the Grande Rue, and stopped before the door of Balsamides' house. It was six o'clock in the morning, and the sun was nearly up. I thought it had been one of the longest nights I ever remembered.

While Balsamides dismissed the coachman, I led Alexander quickly into the house and up the narrow stairs. In a few minutes Gregorios joined us, and coffee was brought.

"I think you could wear my clothes," he said, looking at Alexander with a scarcely perceptible smile. "We are nearly the same height, and I am almost as thin as you."

"If you would be so very kind as to send for a barber," suggested Patoff. "I have never been allowed one, for fear I should get hold of his razor and kill myself or somebody else."

"I will go and send one," said I. "And I will rouse your brother and bring him back with me."

"Stop!" cried Balsamides. "You cannot go like that!" I had forgotten that I still wore the adjutant's uniform. "Take care of our friend," he added, "and I will go myself."

We should probably have felt very tired, after our night's excursion, had we not been sustained by the sense of triumph at having at last succeeded beyond all hope. It was hard to imagine what the effect would be upon Madame Patoff, and I began to fear for her reason as I remembered how improbable it had always seemed to me that we should find her son alive. I was full of curiosity to hear his story, but I knew that he was exhausted with fatigue and emotion, so that I put him in possession of my room and gave him some of my friend's clothes. In a few moments the barber arrived, and while he was performing his operations I myself resumed my ordinary dress.

Balsamides found Paul in bed and fast asleep, but, pushing the servant aside, he walked in and opened the windows.

"Wake up, Patoff!" he shouted, making a great noise with the fastenings.

"Holloa! What is the matter?" cried Paul, opening his sleepy eyes wide with astonishment as he saw Balsamides standing before him, white as death with the excitement of the night. "Has anything happened?"

"Everything has happened," said Gregorios. "The sun is risen, the birds are singing, the Jews are wrangling in the bazaar, the dogs are fighting at Galata Serai, and, last of all, your brother, Alexander Patoff, is at this moment drinking his coffee in my rooms."

"My brother!" cried Paul, fairly leaping out of bed in his excitement. "Are you in earnest? Come, let us go at once."

"Your costume," remarked Balsamides quietly, "smacks too much of the classic for the Grande Rue de Pera. I will wait while you dress."

"Does my mother know?" asked Patoff.

"No," replied Balsamides. "Your brother had not been five minutes in my house when I came here." Then he told Paul briefly how we had found Alexander.

Paul Patoff was not a man to be easily surprised; but in the present case the issue had been so important, that, being taken utterly unawares by the news, he felt stunned and dazed as he tried to realize the whole truth. He sat down in the midst of dressing, and for one moment buried his face in his hands. Balsamides looked on quietly. He knew how much even that simple action meant in a man of Paul's proud and undemonstrative temper. In a few seconds Paul rose from his seat and completed his toilette.

"You know how grateful I am to you both," he said. "You must guess it, for nothing I could say could express what I feel."

"Do not mention it," answered Balsamides. "No thanks could give me half the pleasure I have in seeing your satisfaction. You must prepare to find your brother much changed, I fancy. He seemed to me to be thin and pale, but I think he is not ill in any way. If you are ready, we will go."

Meanwhile, Alexander had had his hair cut short, in the military fashion, and had been divested of the immense beard which hid half his face. A tub and a suit of civilized clothes did the rest, even though the latter did not fit him as well as Gregorios had expected. Gregorios is a deceptive man and is larger than he looks, for his coat was too broad for Alexander, and hung loosely over the latter's shoulders and chest. But in spite of the imperfect fit, the change in the man's appearance was so great that I started in surprise when he entered the sitting-room, taking him for an intruder who had walked in unannounced.

He was very beautiful; that is the only word which applies to his appearance. His regular features, in their extreme thinness, were ethereal as the face of an angel, but he had not the painful look of emaciation which one so often sees in the faces of those long kept in confinement. He was very thin indeed, but there was a perfect grace in all his movements, an ease and self-possession in his gestures, a quiet, earnest, trustful look in his dark eyes, which seemed almost unearthly. I watched him with the greatest interest, and with the greatest admiration also. Had I been asked at that moment to state what man or woman in the whole world I considered most perfectly beautiful, I should have answered unhesitatingly, Alexander Patoff. He had that about him which is scarcely ever met with in men, and which does not always please others, though it never fails to attract attention. I mean that he had the delicate beauty of a woman combined with the activity and dash of a man. I saw how the lightness, the alternate indolence and reckless excitement, of such a nature must act upon a man of Paul Patoff's character. Every point and peculiarity of Alexander's temper and bearing would necessarily irritate Paul, who was stern, cold, and manly before all else, and who readily despised every species of weakness except pride, and every demonstration of feeling except physical courage. Alexander was like his mother; so like her, indeed, that as soon as I saw him without his beard I realized the cause of Madame Patoff's singular preference for the older son, and much which had seemed unnatural before was explained by this sudden revelation. Paul probably resembled his father's family more than his mother's. Madame Patoff, who had loved that same cold, determined character in her husband, because she was awed by it, hated it in her child, because she could neither bend it nor influence it, nor make it express any of that exuberant affection which Alexander so easily felt. Both boys had inherited from their father a goodly share of the Slav element, but, finding very different ground upon which to work in the natures of the two brothers, the strong Russian individuality had developed in widely different ways. In Alexander were expressed all the wild extremes of mood of which the true Russian is so eminently capable; all the overflowing and uncultivated talent and love of art and beauty, which in Russia brings forth so much that approaches indefinitely near to genius without ever quite reaching it. In Paul the effect of the Slavonic blood was totally opposite, and showed itself in that strange stolidity, that cold and ruthless exercise of force and pursuance of conviction, which have characterized so many Russian generals, so many Russian monarchs, and which have produced also so many Russian martyrs. There is something fateful in that terrible sternness, something which very well excites horror while imposing respect, and especially when forced to submit to superior force; and when vanquished, there is something grand in the capacity such a character possesses for submitting to destiny, and bearing the extremest suffering.

It was clear enough that there could never be any love lost between two such men, and I was curious to see their meeting. I wondered whether each would fall upon the other's neck and shed tears of rejoicing, or whether they would shake hands and express their satisfaction more formally. In looking forward to the scene which was soon to take place, I almost wished that Paul might have accompanied us in the disguise of a second adjutant, and thus have had a hand in the final stroke by which we had effected Alexander's liberation. But I knew that he would only have been in the way, and that, considering the whole situation, we had done wisely. The least mistake on his part might have led to a struggle inside the Khanum's house, and we had good cause to congratulate ourselves upon having freed the prisoner without shedding blood. There was something pleasantly ludicrous in the thought that all our anticipations of a fight had ended in that one solemn kick with which Balsamides had consigned Selim to the prison whence we had taken Alexander.

I was giving the latter a few more details of the events of the night, when Paul and Balsamides entered the room together. Paul showed more emotion than I had expected, and clasped his brother in his arms in genuine delight at having found him at last. Then he looked long at his face, as though trying to see how far Alexander was changed in the twenty months which had elapsed since they had met.

"You are a little thinner,--you look as though you had been ill," said Paul.

"No, I have not been ill, but I have suffered horribly in many ways," answered Alexander, in his smooth, musical voice.

For some minutes they exchanged questions, while they overcame their first excitement at being once more together. It was indeed little less than a resurrection, and Alexander's ethereal face was that of a spirit returning to earth rather than of a living man who had never left it. At last Paul grew calmer.

"Will you tell us how it happened?" he asked, as he sat down upon the divan beside his brother. Balsamides and I established ourselves in chairs, ready to listen with breathless interest to the tale Alexander was about to tell.

"You remember that night at Santa Sophia, Paul?" began the young man, leaning back among the cushions, which showed to strong advantage the extreme beauty of his delicate face. "Yes, of course you remember it, very vividly, for Mr. Griggs has told me how you acted, and all the trouble you took to find me. Very well; you remember, then, that the last time I saw you we were all looking down at those fellows as they went through their prayers and prostrations, and I stood a little apart from you. You were very much absorbed in the sight, and the kavass, who was a Mussulman, was looking on very devoutly. I thought I should like to see the sight from the other side, and I walked away and turned the corner of the gallery. You did not notice me, I suppose, and the noise of the crowd, rising and falling on their knees, must have drowned my footsteps."

"I had not the slightest idea that you had moved from where you stood," said Paul.

"No. When I reached the corner, I was very much surprised to see a man standing in the shadow of the pillar. I was still more astonished when I recognized the hideous negro who had knocked off my hat in the afternoon. I expected that he would insult me, and I suppose I made as though I would show fight; but he raised his finger to his lips, and with the other hand held out a letter, composing his face into a sort of horrible leer, intended to be attractive. I took the letter without speaking, for I knew he could not understand a word I said, and that I could not understand him. The envelope contained a sheet of pink paper, on which, in an ill-formed hand, but in tolerably good French, were written a few words. It was a declaration of love."

"From Laleli?" asked Balsamides, with a laugh.

"Exactly," replied Alexander. "It was a declaration of love from Laleli. I leave you to imagine what I supposed Laleli to be like at that time, and Paul, who knows me, will tell you that I was not likely to hesitate at such a moment. The note ended by saying that the faithful Selim would conduct me to her presence without delay. I was delighted with the adventure, and crept noiselessly after him in the shadow of the gallery, lest you should see me; for I knew you would prevent my going with the man. We descended the stairs, but it was not until we reached the bottom that I saw we had not come down by the way I had ascended. Selim was most obsequious, and seemed ready to do everything for my comfort. As we walked down a narrow street, he presented me with a new fez, and made signs to me to put it on instead of my hat, which he then carefully wrapped in a handkerchief and carried in his hand. At a place near the bridge several caiques were lying side by side. He invited me to enter one, which I observed was very luxuriously fitted, and which I thought I recognized as the one in which I had so often seen the woman with the impenetrable veil. I lay back among the cushions and smoked, while Selim perched himself on the raised seat behind me, and the four boatmen pulled rapidly away. It was heavy work for them, I dare say, tugging upstream, but to me the voyage was enchanting. The shores were all illuminated, and the Bosphorus swarmed with boats. It was the last time I was in a caique. I do not know whether I could bear the sight of one now."

"So they took you to Laleli's house?" said Paul, anxious to hear the rest.

"Yes; I was taken to Laleli's house, and I never got out of it till last night," continued Alexander. "How long is it? I have not the least idea of the European date."

"This is the 29th of March," said I.

"And that was the end of June,--twenty-one months. I have learned Turkish since I was caught, to pass the time, and I always knew the Turkish date after I had learned their way of counting, but I had lost all reckoning by our style. Well, to go on with my story. They brought me to the stone pier before the house. Selim admitted me by a curiously concealed panel at one end of the building, and we found ourselves in a very narrow place, whence half a dozen steps ascended to a small door. A little oil lamp burned in one corner. He led the way, and the door at the top slid back into the wall. We entered, and he closed it again. We were in the corner of a small room, richly furnished in the worst possible taste. I dare say you know the style these natives admire. Selim left me there for a moment. I looked carefully at the wall, and tried to find the panel; but to my surprise, the wainscoting was perfectly smooth and even, and I could not discover the place where it opened, nor detect any spring or sign of a fastening. Laleli, I thought, understood those things. Presently a door opened on one side of the room, and I saw the figure I had often watched, beckoning to me to come. Of course I obeyed, and she retired into the room beyond, which was very high and had no windows, though I noticed that there was a dome at the top, which in the day-time would admit the light."

"The Khanum was waiting for you?" I asked.

"Yes. I was surprised to see her dressed in the clothes she wore out-of-doors, and as thickly veiled as ever. There were lights in the room. She held out her small hand,--you remember noticing that she had small white hands?"

"Like a young woman's," replied Balsamides.

"Yes. I took her hand, and spoke in French. I dare say I looked very sentimental and passionate as I gazed into her black eyes. I could see nothing of her face. She answered me in Turkish, which of course I could not understand. All I could say was Pek guezel, very beautiful, which I repeated amidst my French phrases, giving the words as passionate an accent as I could command. At last she seemed to relent, and as she bent towards me I expected that she was about to speak very softly some Turkish love-word. What was my horror when she suddenly screamed into my ear, with a hideous harsh voice, my own words, Pek guezel! In a moment she threw off her black ferigee, and tore the thick veil from her head. I could have yelled with rage, for I saw what a fool I had made of myself, and that the old hag had played a practical joke on me in revenge for the affair in the Valley of Roses. I cursed her in French, I cursed her in Russian, I cursed her in English, and stamped about the room, trying to get out. The horrible old witch screamed herself hoarse with laughter, making hideous grimaces and pointing at me in scorn. What could I do? I tried to force one of the doors, and twisted at the handle, and tugged and pushed with all my might. While I was thus engaged I heard the door at the other end of the room open quickly, and as I turned and sprang towards it I caught sight of her baggy, snuff-colored gown disappearing, as she slammed the door behind her. Before I could reach it the lock was turned, and I was caught in the trap,--caught like a mouse."

"What a spiteful old thing she was!" I exclaimed. "She might have been satisfied with keeping you there a day instead of two years."

"Nearly two years. I did everything humanly possible to escape. I gave all I possessed to Selim to take a message to Paul, to anybody; but of course that was useless. At first they kept me in the room where I had been caught. My food was brought to me by the Turkish porter, a brawny fellow, who could have brained me with his fist. He was always accompanied by another man, as big as himself, who carried a loaded pistol, in case I attacked the first. I had no chance, and I wished I might go mad. Then, one night, they set upon me suddenly, and tied a handkerchief over my mouth, and bound me hand and foot, in spite of my struggles. I thought I was to be put into a sack and drowned. They carried me like a log out into the garden, and put me into that cell where you found me, which had apparently just been built, for the stones were new and the cement was fresh. There, at least, I could look through the gratings. I even thought at one time that I could make myself heard, having no idea of the desolate position of the place. But I soon gave up the attempt and abandoned myself to despair. There it was that Selim used to come occasionally, and talk to me through the bars. That was better than nothing, and the villain amused his leisure moments by teaching me to speak Turkish. One day he brought me a book, which I hailed with delight. It was an old French method for learning the language. I made great progress, as I studied from morning to night. Selim grew more familiar to me, and I confess with shame that I missed his visits when he did not come. The men who brought my food seemed absolutely mute, and I never succeeded in extracting a word from either of them. Even Selim was a companion, and talking to him saved me from going mad. I asked him all sorts of questions, and at last I guessed from his answers that the Khanum had been terrified by the disturbance my disappearance had created, and was afraid to set me free lest I should take vengeance on her. She was also afraid to kill me, for some reason or other. The result was, that, from having merely wished to revenge upon me the affair in the Valley of Roses by means of a practical joke, she found herself obliged to keep me a prisoner. I used every means of persuasion to move Selim. I told him I was rich, and would make him rich if he would help me to escape. I promised to take no steps against the Khanum. It was in vain, I assure you I have conceived a very high opinion of the fidelity of Lalas in general, and of Selim in particular."

"They are very faithful," said Balsamides gravely. I have since fancied that he had some reason for knowing.

Alexander afterwards told us many more details of his confinement; but this was his first account of it, and embraced all that is most important to know. The whole affair made a very strong impression on me. The unfortunate man had fallen a victim to a chain of circumstances which it had been entirely impossible to foresee, all resulting directly from his first imprudent action in addressing the veiled lady in the Valley of Roses. A little piece of folly had ruined two years of his life, and subjected him to a punishment such as a court of justice would have inflicted for a very considerable crime.

The remainder of the day was occupied by the meeting of Alexander with his mother and his introduction to his English relations, upon which it is needless to dwell long. I never knew what passed between the mother and son, but the interview must have been a very extraordinary one. It was necessary, of course, to prepare Madame Patoff for the news and for the sight of the child she seemed to love better than anything in the world. Hermione performed the task, as being the one who understood her best. She began by hinting vaguely that we had advanced another step in our search, and that we were now confident of finding Alexander before long, perhaps in a few hours. She gradually, in talking, spoke of the moment when he would appear, wondering how he would look, and insensibly accustoming Madame Patoff to the idea. At last she confessed that he had been found during the night, and that he was ready to come to his mother at any moment.

It was well done, and the force of the shock was broken. The old lady nearly swooned with joy, but the danger was past when she recovered her consciousness and demanded to see Alexander at once. He was admitted to her room, and the two were left alone to their happiness.

The rest of the family were mad with delight. John Carvel grew ten years younger, and Mrs. Carvel fairly cried with joy, while Chrysophrasia declared that it was worth while to be disappointed by the first impression of Constantinople, when one was consoled by such a thrilling tale with so joyous a termination,--or happy end, as I should have said. Hermione's face beamed with happiness, and Macaulay literally melted in smiles, as he retired to write down the story in his diary.

"Oh, Paul!" Hermione exclaimed when they were alone, "you never told me he was such a beauty!"

"Yes," he answered quietly, "he is far better-looking than I am. You must not fall in love with him, Hermy."

"The idea of such a thing!" she cried, with a light laugh.

"I should not be surprised if he fell in love with you, dear," said Paul, smiling.

"You only say that because you do not like him," she answered. "But you will like him now, won't you? You are so good,--I am sure you will. But think what a splendid thing it is that you should have found him. If aunt Chrysophrasia says, 'Where is your brother?' you can just answer that he is in the next room."

"Yes; I am a free man now. No one can ever accuse me again. But apart from that, I am really and sincerely glad that he is alive. I wish him no ill. It is not his fault that I have been under a cloud for nearly two years. He was as anxious to be found as I was to find him. After all, it was not I. It was Balsamides and Griggs who did it at last. I dare say that if I had been with them I should have spoiled it all. I could not have dressed myself like a Turkish officer, to begin with. If I had been caught in the uniform, belonging as I do to the embassy, there would have been a terrible fuss. I should have been obliged to go away, very likely without having found my brother at all. I owe everything to those two men."

"If you had not made up your mind that he should be found, they would never have found him; they would not have thought of taking the trouble."

Hermione spoke in a reassuring tone, as though to comfort Paul for having had no share in the final stroke which had liberated his brother. In reality Paul needed no consolation. In his heart he was glad that Alexander had been set free by others, and need therefore never feel himself under heavy obligations to Paul. It was not in the strong man's nature to wish to revenge himself upon his brother because the latter had been the favored child and the favorite son. Nor, if he had contemplated any kind of vengeance, would he have chosen the Christian method of heaping coals of fire upon his head. He merely thought of Alexander as he would have thought of any other man not his relation at all, and he did not wish to appear in the light of his liberator. It was enough for Paul that he had been found at last, and that his own reputation was now free from stain. Nothing prevented him any longer from marrying Hermione, and he looked forward to the consummation of all his hopes in the immediate future.

The day closed in a great rejoicing. John Carvel insisted that we should all dine with him that night; and our numbers being now swelled by the addition of Alexander Patoff and Gregorios Balsamides, we were a large party,--ten at table. I shall never forget the genuine happiness which was on every face. The conversation flowed brilliantly, and every one felt as though a weight had been lifted from his or her spirits. Alexander Patoff was of course the most prominent person, and as he turned his beautiful eyes from one to the other of us, and told us his story with many episodes and comments, I think we all fell under his fascination, and understood the intense love his mother felt for him. He had indeed a woman's beauty with a man's energy, when his energy was roused at all; and though the feminine element at first seemed out of place in him, it gave him that singular faculty of charming when he pleased, and that brilliancy which no manly beauty can ever have.

It was late when we got home, and I went to bed with a profound conviction that Paul Patoff's troubles had come to a happy end, and that he would probably be married to Hermione in the course of the summer. If things had ended thus, my story would end here, and perhaps it would be complete. Unfortunately, events rarely take place as we expect that they will, still more rarely as we hope that they may; and it is generally when our hopes coincide with our expectations, and we feel most sure of ourselves, that fate overtakes us with the most cruel disappointments. Paul Patoff had not yet reached the quiet haven of his hopes, and I have not reached the end of my story. It would indeed be a very easy matter, as I have said before, to collect all the things which happened to him into a neat romance, of which the action should not cover more than four-and-twenty hours of such excitement as no one of the actors could have borne in real life, any more than Salvini could act a tragedy which should begin at noon to-day and end at midday to-morrow. I might have divested Paul of many of his surroundings, have bereaved him of many of his friends, and made him do himself what others did to him; but if he were to read such an account of his life he would laugh scornfully, and say that the real thing was very different indeed, as without doubt it was.

This is the reason why I have not hesitated to bring before you a great number of personages, each of whom, in a great or a small way, affected his life. I do not believe that you could understand his actions in the sequel without knowing the details of those situations through which he had passed before. We are largely influenced by little things and little events. The statement is a truism in the eyes of the moralist, but the truth is, unfortunately, too often forgotten in real life. The man who falls down-stairs and breaks his leg has not noticed the tiny spot of candle grease which made the polished step so slippery just where he trod.

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Paul Patoff - Chapter 19 Paul Patoff - Chapter 19

Paul Patoff - Chapter 19
CHAPTER XIXThere were great rejoicings when it was known in Pera that Alexander Patoff had been found. His disappearance had furnished the gossips with a subject of conversation during many weeks, and his coming back revived the whole story, with the addition of a satisfactory ending. In consideration of the fact that Laleli Khanum was dead, Count Ananoff thought it best to take no official notice of the matter. To treat it diplomatically would be useless, he said. Alexander had fallen a victim to his own folly, and though the penalty had been severe, it was impossible to hold the Ottoman

Paul Patoff - Chapter 17 Paul Patoff - Chapter 17

Paul Patoff - Chapter 17
CHAPTER XVIIIn a few moments Selim, the hideous Lala, entered the room, making the usual salutation as he advanced. He must have recognized Balsamides at once, for he started and stood still when he saw him, and seemed about to speak. But my appearance probably prevented him from saying what was on his lips, and he stood motionless before us. Balsamides assumed a suave manner, and informed him that he was sent by his Majesty to afford relief, if possible, to Laleli Khanum Effendi. His Majesty, said Gregorios, was deeply grieved at hearing of the Khanum's illness, and desired that every