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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPaul Patoff - Chapter 21
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Paul Patoff - Chapter 21 Post by :littleRock Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1828

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Paul Patoff - Chapter 21

CHAPTER XXI

It was probably curiosity that induced Professor Cutter to pay a visit to Constantinople in the spring. He is a scientist, and curiosity is the basis of all science, past, present, and future. His mind was not at rest in regard to Madame Patoff, and he found it very hard to persuade himself that she should suddenly have become perfectly sane, after having made him believe during eighteen months that she was quite mad. After her recovery he had had long interviews with Mrs. North, and had done his best to extract all the information she was able to give about the case. He had studied the matter very carefully, and had almost arrived at a satisfactory conclusion; but he felt that in order to remove all doubt he must see her again. He was deeply interested, and such a trifle as a journey to Constantinople could not stand in the way of his observations. Accordingly he wrote a post-card to John Carvel to say that he was coming, and on the following day he left England. But he likes to travel comfortably, and especially he is very fond of finding out old acquaintances when he is abroad, and of having an hour's chat with scientific men like himself. He therefore did not arrive until a week after John had news of his intended journey.

For some reason unknown to me, Carvel did not speak beforehand of the professor's coming. It may be that, in the hurry of preparation for moving up the Bosphorus, he forgot the matter; or perhaps he thought it would be an agreeable surprise to most of us. I myself was certainly very much astonished when he came, but the person who showed the greatest delight at his arrival was Hermione. It is not hard to imagine why she was pleased, and when I knew all that I have already told I understood her satisfaction well enough. The professor appeared on the day before the Carvels were to transfer themselves to Buyukdere. His gold-rimmed spectacles were on his nose, his thick and short gray hair stood up perpendicularly on his head as of old, his beard was as bushy and his great hands were as huge and as spotless as ever. But after not having seen him for some months, I was more struck than ever by his massive build and the imposing strength of his manner.

Several days had elapsed since the events recorded in the last chapter. To Hermione's surprise, Paul had come to the hotel as usual, on the day after the ball, and behaved as though nothing had happened, except that he had at first avoided finding himself alone with his cousin. She on her part was very silent, and even Alexander could not rouse her to talk as she used to do. When questioned, she said that the heat gave her a headache; and as Chrysophrasia spent much time in languidly complaining of the weather, the excuse had a show of probability. But after a day or two she was reassured by Paul's manner, and no longer tried to keep out of his way. Then it was that they found themselves together for the first time since the ball. It was only for a moment, but it was long enough.

Hermione took his passive hand in hers, very timidly, and looked into his face.

"You are not angry with me any more?" she said.

"No, not in the least," he answered. "I believe you did what you believed to be best, the other night. No one can do more than that."

"Yes, but you thought I was not in earnest."

"I thought you were more in earnest than you admitted. I thought you meant to break it off altogether. I have changed my mind."

"Have you? I am so glad. I meant just what I said, Paul. You should not have doubted that I meant it."

"I was angry. Forgive me if I was rude. I will not give you up. I will marry you in spite of everybody."

Hermione looked at him, curiously at first, then with a sort of admiration which she could not explain,--the admiration we all feel for a strong man who is very much in earnest.

"In spite of myself?" she asked, after a pause.

"Yes, almost," he began hotly, but his tone softened as he finished the sentence,--"almost in spite of yourself, Hermione."

"Indeed, I begin to think that you will," she answered, turning away her head to hide a smile that had in it more of happiness than of unbelief. Some one entered the room where they were standing, and nothing more was said; nor did Paul repeat his words at the next opportunity, for he was not much given to repetition. When he had said a thing, he meant it, and he was in no hurry to say it again.

Meanwhile, also, the young girl had more than once listened, during the night, for any sounds which might proceed from Madame Patoff's bedroom; but she had heard nothing more, and the impression gradually faded from her mind, or was stored away there as a fact to be remembered at some future time. When Professor Cutter arrived, she determined to tell him in strictest confidence what had occurred. This, however, was not what gave her so much satisfaction in meeting him. She had long looked forward to the day when she could enjoy the triumph of seeing him meet Alexander Patoff, alive and well; for she knew how strongly his suspicions had fastened upon Paul, and it was he who had first told her what the common story was.

The professor arrived in the early morning by the Brindisi boat, and Hermione proposed that Chrysophrasia, Paul, Cutter, and herself should make a party to go over to Stamboul on the same afternoon. It was warm indeed, but she represented that as the whole family were to move up the Bosphorus on the following day, it would be long before they would have a chance of going to Stamboul again. Chrysophrasia moaned a little, but at last accepted the proposition, and Paul and the professor expressed themselves delighted with the idea.

The four set off together, descended by the Galata tunnel, and crossed the bridge on foot. Then they took a carriage and drove to Santa Sophia. There was little chance for conversation, as they rattled over the stones towards the mosque. Chrysophrasia leaned wearily back in her corner. Paul and Hermione tried to talk, and failed, and Professor Cutter promenaded his regards, to borrow an appropriate French expression, upon the buildings, the people, and the view. Perhaps he was wondering whether more cases of insanity presented themselves amongst the vegetable sellers as a class than amongst the public scribes, whose booths swarm before the Turkish post-office. He had seen the city before, but only during a very short visit, as a mere tourist, and he was glad to see it again.

They reached the mosque, and after skating about in the felt overshoes provided for the use of unbelievers, Cutter suggested going up to the galleries.

"It is so very, very far!" murmured Chrysophrasia, who was watching a solitary young Sufi, who sat reciting his lesson aloud to himself in a corner, swaying his body backwards and forwards with the measure of his chant.

"I will go," said Hermione, with alacrity. "Paul can stay with my aunt."

"I would rather stay," answered Paul, whose reminiscences of the gallery were not of the most pleasant sort.

So Professor Cutter and the young girl left the mosque, and with the guide ascended the dim staircase.

"Papa wrote you the story, did he not?" asked Hermione. "Yes. This is the way they went up."

The professor looked about him curiously, as they followed the guide. Emerging amidst the broad arches of the gallery, they walked forward, and Hermione explained, as Paul had explained to her, what had taken place on that memorable night two years ago. It was a simple matter, and the position of the columns made the story very clear.

"Professor Cutter, I want to speak to you about my aunt," said Hermione, at last. The professor stopped and looked sharply at her, but said nothing. "Do you remember that morning in the conservatory?" she continued. "You told me that she was very mad indeed,--those were your own words. I did not believe it, and I was triumphant when she came out--in--well, quite in her senses, you know. I thought she had recovered,--I hope she has. But she has very queer ways."

"What do you mean by queer ways, Miss Carvel? I have come to Constantinople on purpose to see her. I hope there is nothing wrong?"

"I do not know. But I have told nobody what I am going to tell you. I think you ought to be told. My room is next to hers, at the hotel, and I hear through the door what goes on, without meaning to. The other night I came home late from a ball, and she was walking up and down, talking to herself so loud that I heard several sentences."

"What did she say?" asked Cutter, whose interest was already aroused. The symptom was only too familiar to him.

"She said"--Hermione hesitated before she continued, and the color rose faintly in her cheeks--"she said she wished she could kill Paul--and then"----

"And then what?" inquired the professor, looking at her steadily. "Please tell me all."

"It was very foolish.--she said that then Alexander could marry me. It was so silly of her. Just think!"

After all, Professor Cutter was her father's old friend. She need not have been so long about telling the thing.

"She thinks that you are going to marry Paul?" observed the professor, with an interrogative intonation.

"Well, if I did?" replied the young girl, after a short pause. "If she were in her right mind, would that be any reason for her wishing to murder him?"

"No. But I never believed she was out of danger," said Cutter. "Did she say anything more?"

Hermione told how Madame Patoff had behaved when she had entered the room. Her companion looked very grave, and said little during the few moments they remained in the gallery. He only promised that he would tell no one about it, unless it appeared absolutely necessary for the safety of every one concerned. Then they descended the steps again and joined Chrysophrasia and Paul, who were waiting below.

"Aunt Chrysophrasia says she must go to the bazaar," said the latter.

"Yes," remarked Miss Dabstreak, "I really must. That Jew! Oh, that Jew! He haunts my dreams. I see him at night, dressed like Moses, with a linen ephod, you know, holding up that Persian embroidery. It is more than my soul can bear!"

"But we were going to take Professor Cutter to the other mosques," objected Hermione.

"I am sure he will not mind if we go to the bazaar instead, will you?" she asked, with an engaging squint of her green eyes, as she turned to the professor.

"Not at all,--not at all, Miss Dabstreak. Anything you propose--I am sure"--ejaculated Cutter, apparently waking from an absorbing meditation upon his thumb-nail, and perhaps upon thumb-nails in general.

"You see how kind he is!" murmured Chrysophrasia, as she got into the carriage. "To the bazaar, Paul. Could you tell the driver?"

Paul could and did. Ten minutes later the carriage stopped at the gate of the bazaar. A dozen Mohammedans, Greeks, and Jews sprang out to conduct the visitors whither they would,--or, more probably, whither they would not. But Paul, who knew his way about very well, fought them off. One only would not be repulsed, and Chrysophrasia took his part.

"Let him come,--pray let him come, Paul. He has such beautiful eyes, such soft, languishing eyes,--so sweetly like those of a gazelle."

"His name is Abraham," said Paul. "I know him very well. The gazelle is of Jewish extraction, and sells shawls. He is a liar."

"Hair, Effendim--sir," cried Abraham, who knew a little English. "Him Israeleet--hones' Jew--Abraham's name, Effendim."

"I know it is," said Paul. "Git!"--an expression which is good Californian, and equally good Turkish.

They threaded the narrow vaulted passages, which were cool in the warm spring afternoon, taking the direction of the Jews' quarter, but pausing from time to time to survey the thousand articles, of every description, exposed for sale by the squatting shopkeepers. Cutter looked at the weapons especially, and remarked that they were not so good as those which used to be found ten years earlier. Everything, indeed, seemed to have changed since that time, and for the worse. There is less wealth in the bazaar, and yet the desire to purchase has increased tenfold, so that a bit of Rhodes tapestry, which at that earlier time would not have fetched forty piastres, is now sold for a pound Turkish, and is hard to get at that. It may be supposed that the Jews have made large fortunes in the interval, but the fact is not apparent in any way; the uncertainty of property in Turkey forcing them to conceal their riches, if they have any. Their shops are very fairly clean, but otherwise they are humble, and the best and most valuable objects are generally packed carefully away in dark corners, and are produced only when asked for. You see nothing but a small divan, a table, a matted floor, and shelves reaching to the ceiling, piled with packages wrapped in shabby gray linen. It is chiefly in the Mohammedan and Greek "tscharshis" of the bazaar that jewelry, weapons, and pipes are openly exhibited, and laid out upon benches for the selection of the buyer. But the Jews have almost a monopoly of everything which comes under the head of antiquities, and it is with them that foreigners generally deal. They are as intelligent as elsewhere, and perhaps more so, for the traveler of to-day is a great cheapener of valuables. Moreover, the Stamboul Jews are most of them linguists. They speak a bastard Spanish among themselves; they are obliged to know Turkish, Greek, and a little Armenian, and many of them speak French and Italian intelligibly.

Chrysophrasia delighted in the bazaar. The flavor of antiquity which hangs about it, and makes it the only thoroughly Oriental place in Constantinople, ascended gratefully to the old maid's nostrils, while her nerves were continually thrilled by strange contrasts of color. It was very pleasant, she thought, to be really in the East, and to have such a palpable proof of the fact as was afforded by the jargon of loud but incomprehensible tongues which filled her ears. She had often been in the place, and the Jews were beginning to know her, scenting a bargain whenever her yellow face and yellow hair became visible on the horizon. She generally patronized Marchetto, however, and on the present occasion she had come expressly to see him. He was standing in the door of his little shop as usual, and his red face and red-brown eyes lighted up when he caught sight of Miss Dabstreak. With many expressions of joy he backed into the interior, and immediately went in search of the famous piece of Persian embroidery which Chrysophrasia had admired during her last visit to the bazaar.

"Upon my honor"--began Marchetto, launching into praises of the stuff. Patoff and Hermione stood at the door, but Cutter immediately became interested in the bargain, and handled the embroideries with curiosity, asking all manner of questions of the Jew and of Miss Dabstreak. Somehow or other, the two younger members of the party soon found themselves outside the shop, walking slowly up and down and talking, until the bargain should be concluded.

"I could not go up to the gallery in Santa Sophia," said Paul. "I am not a nervous person, but it brings the story back too vividly."

"What does it matter, since he is found?" asked Hermione.

Patoff was struck by the question, for it was too much at variance with his own feelings to seem reasonable. It was not because he preferred to avoid all reminiscence of the adventure that he had stayed below, but rather because he hated to think what the consequences of Alexander's return had been.

"What does it matter?" he repeated slowly. "It matters a great deal. What happened on that night, two years ago, was the beginning of a whole series of misfortunes. I have had bad luck ever since."

"Why do you say that?" asked Hermione, somewhat reproachfully.

"It is true,--that is one reason why I say it. But for that night, my mother would never have been mad. I should never have been sent to Persia, and should not have gone to England during my leave. I should not have met you"----

"You consider that a terrible misfortune," observed Hermione.

"It is always a man's misfortune when he determines to have what is denied him," answered Paul quietly. "Somebody must suffer in the encounter, or somebody must yield."

"Somebody,--yes. Why do you talk about it, Paul?"

"Because I think of nothing else. I cannot help it. It is easy to say, 'Let this or that alone;' it is another matter to talk to you about the bazaar, and the Turks, and the weather, when we are together."

Hermione was silent, for there was nothing to be said. She knew how well he loved her, and when she was with him she submitted in a measure to his influence; so that often she was on the point of yielding, and telling him that she no longer hesitated. It was when she was away from him that she doubted herself, and refused to be persuaded. Paul needed only a very little to complete his conquest, but that little he could not command. He had reached the point at which a man talks of the woman he loves or of himself, and of nothing else, and the depth of his passion seemed to dull his speech. A little more eloquence, a little more gentleness, a little more of that charm which Alexander possessed in such abundance, might have been enough to turn the scale. But they were lacking. The very intensity of what he felt made him for the time a man of one idea only, and even the freedom with which he could speak to Hermione about his love for her was a disadvantage to him. It had grown to be too plain a fact, and there was too little left to the imagination. He felt that he wearied her, or he fancied that he did, which amounted to the same; and he either remained tongue-tied, or repeated in one form or another his half-savage 'I will.' He began to long for a change in their relations, or for some opportunity of practically showing her how much he would sacrifice for her sake. But in these days there are no lists for the silent knights; there are no jousts where a man may express his declaration of love by tying a lady's colors to his arm, and breaking the bones of half a dozen gentlemen before her eyes. And yet the instinct to do something of the kind is sometimes felt even now,--the longing to win by physical prowess what it is at present the fashion to get by persuasion.

Paul felt it strongly enough, and was disgusted with his own stupidity. Of what use was it that during so many years he had cultivated the art of conversation as a necessary accomplishment, if at his utmost need his wits were to abandon him, and leave him uncouth and taciturn as he had been in his childhood? He looked at Hermione's downcast face; at the perfect figure displayed by her tightly fitting costume of gray; at her small hands, as she stood still and tried to thrust the point of her dainty parasol into the crevice between two stones of the pavement. He gazed at her, and was seized with a very foolish desire to take her up in his arms and walk away with her, whether she liked it or not. But just at that moment Hermione glanced at him with a smile, not at all as he had expected that she would look.

"I think we had better go back to the shop," said she. So they turned, and walked slowly towards the narrow door.

"These Orientals are so full of wonderful imagery!" Chrysophrasia was saying to Professor Cutter as the pair came in. "It is delightful to hear them talk,--so different from an English shopkeeper."

"Very," assented the learned man. "Their imagery is certainly remarkable. Their scale of prices seems to be founded upon it, as logarithms depend for their existence on the square root of minus one, an impossible quantity."

"Dear me! Could you explain that to Marchetto? It might make a difference, you know."

"I am afraid not," answered the professor gravely. "Marchetto is not a mathematician; are you, Marchetto?"

"No surr, Effendim. Marchetto very honest man. Twenty-five pounds, lady--ah! but it is birindji--there is not a Pacha in Stamboul"----

"You have said that before," observed the scientist, "Try and say something new."

"New!" cried Marchetto. "It is not new. Any one say it new, he lie! Old--eski, eski! Very old! Twenty-five-six pounds, lady! Hein! Pacha give more."

"I fear that the traditions of his race are very strong," remarked Chrysophrasia, languidly examining the embroidery, a magnificent piece of work, about a yard and a half square, wrought in gold and silver threads upon a dark-red velvet ground; evidently of considerable antiquity, but in excellent preservation. "Paul, dear," continued Miss Dabstreak, seeing Patoff enter with Hermione, "what would you give for this lovely thing? How hard it is to bargain! How low! How infinitely fatiguing! Do help me!"

"Begin by offering him a quarter of what he asks,--that is a safe rule," answered Paul.

"How much is a quarter of twenty-five--let me see--three times eight are--do tell me, somebody! Figures drive me quite mad."

"I have known of such cases," assented the professor. "Eight and a quarter, Miss Dabstreak. Say eight,--I dare say it will do as well."

"Marchetto," said Chrysophrasia sadly, "I am afraid your embroidery is only worth eight pounds."

The Jew was kneeling on the floor, squatting upon his heels. He put on an injured expression, and looked up at Miss Dabstreak's face.

"Eight pounds!" he exclaimed, in holy horror. "You know where this come from, lady? Ha! Laleli Khanum house--dead--no more like it." Marchetto of course knew the story of Alexander's confinement, and by a ready lie turned it to his advantage. Every one looked surprised, and began to examine the embroidery more closely.

"Really!" ejaculated Chrysophrasia. "How strange this little world is! To think of all this bit of broidered velvet has seen,--what joyous sights! It may have been in the very room where she died. But she was a wicked old woman, Marchetto. I could not give more than eight pounds for anything which belonged to so depraved a creature."

"Hein?" ejaculated the Jew, with a soft smile. "I know what you want. Here!" he exclaimed, springing up, and rummaging among his shelves. Presently he brought out a shabby old green cloth caftan, trimmed with a little tarnished silver lace, and held it up triumphantly to Chrysophrasia's sight.

"Twenty-five-six pounds!" he cried, exultingly. "Cheap. Him coat of very big saint-man--die going to Mecca last year. Cheap, lady--twenty-five-six pounds!"

"I think you are fairly caught, aunt Chrysophrasia," observed Paul, with a laugh.

"Who would have guessed that there was so much humor in an Israelite?" asked Chrysophrasia, with a sad intonation. "I cannot wear the saint's tea-gown, Marchetto," she continued; "otherwise I would gladly give you twenty-five pounds for it. Eight pounds for the embroidery,--no more. It is not worth so much. I even think I see a nauseous tint of magenta in the velvet."

"Twenty-four-five pounds, lady. I lose pound--your backsheesh."

How long the process of bargaining might have been protracted is uncertain. At that moment Balsamides Bey entered the shop. It appeared that he had called at the Carvels', and, being told that the party were in Stamboul, had gone straight to the Jew's shop, in the hope of finding them there. He was introduced to the professor by Paul, with a word of explanation. Marchetto's face fell as he saw the adjutant, who had a terribly acute knowledge of the value of things. Balsamides was asked to give his opinion. He examined the piece carefully.

"Where did you get it?" he asked, in Turkish.

"From the Valide Khan," answered the Jew, in the same language. "It is a genuine piece,--a hundred years old at least."

"You probably ask a pound for every year, and a backsheesh for the odd months," said the other.

"Twenty pounds," answered Marchetto, imperturbably.

"It is worth ten pounds," remarked Balsamides, in English, to Miss Dabstreak. "If you care to give that, you may buy it with a clear conscience. But he will take three weeks to think about it."

"To bargain for three weeks!" exclaimed Chrysophrasia. "Oh, no! It takes my whole energy to bargain for half an hour. The lovely thing,--those faint, mysterious shades intertwined with the dull gold and silver,--it breaks my heart!"

Marchetto was obdurate, on that day at least, and with an unusually grave face he began to fold the embroidery, wrapping it at last in the inevitable piece of shabby gray linen. The party left the shop, and threaded the labyrinth of vaulted passages towards the gate. Cutter was interested in Gregorios, and asked him a great many questions, so that Chrysophrasia felt she was being neglected, and wore her most mournful expression. Paul and Hermione came behind, talking a little as they walked. They reached the bridge on foot, and, paying the toll to the big men in white who guard the entrance, began to cross the long stretch of planks which unites Stamboul with Pera. The sun was already low. Indeed, Marchetto had kept his shop open beyond the ordinary hour of closing, which is ten o'clock by Turkish time, two hours before sunset, and the bazaar was nearly deserted when they left it.

Paul and Hermione stopped when they were halfway across the bridge, and looked up the Golden Horn. Great clouds were piled up in the west, behind which the sun was hidden, and the air was very sultry. A dull light, that seemed to cast no shadows, was on all the mosques and minarets, and down upon the water the air was thick, and the boats looked indistinct as they glided by. The great useless men-of-war lay as though water-logged in the heavy, smooth stream, and the flags hung motionless from the mastheads.

The two stood side by side for a few moments and said nothing. At last Paul spoke.

"It is going to rain," he said, in an odd voice.

"Yes, it is going to rain," answered his companion.

"On para! Ten paras, for the love of God!" screamed a filthy beggar close behind them. Paul threw the wretched creature the tiny coin he asked, and they turned away. But his face was very white, and Hermione's eyes were filled with tears.

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