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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPaul Patoff - Chapter 24
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Paul Patoff - Chapter 24 Post by :AMKiller Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :2545

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Paul Patoff - Chapter 24


It was Saturday afternoon, and my preparations for my little tea-party were complete. Gregorios Balsamides had arrived from Pera, and we were waiting for the Carvels, seated on the long bench before the house, where the view overlooks the Bosphorus. The sun had almost set, and the hills of Asia were already tinged with golden light, which caught the walls of the white mosque on the Giant's Mountain,--the Yusha-Dagh, where the Mussulmans believe that Joshua's body lies buried; Anadoli Kavak was bathed in a soft radiance, in which every line of the old fortress stood out clear and distinct, so that I could see the very spot where Paul had fallen a few days before; the far mouth of the Black Sea looked cold and gray in the shadows below the hills, but down below, the big steamers, the little yachts, the outlandish Turkish schooners, and the tiny caiques moved quickly about in the evening sunshine. My garden was become a wilderness of roses in the soft spring weather, too, and each flower took a warmer hue as the sun sank in the west, and slowly neared the point where it would drop behind the European foreland.

The kiosk was a wooden building, narrow and tall, so that the rooms within were high, and the second story was twenty feet above the ground. I had caused hundreds of lamps to be hung within and without, to be lighted so soon as the darkness set in, and my man, who has an especial talent for all sorts of illuminations, and in general for everything which in Southern Italy comes under the head of 'festa,' had borrowed long strings of little signal-flags and streamers, which he had hung fantastically from the house to the surrounding trees. When once the lamps should be lighted the effect would be very pretty, and to the eyes of English people utterly new.

Gregorios sat beside me on the garden seat, and we talked of Madame Patoff and her latest doings. My mind was not at rest about her, and I inwardly wished that some accident might prevent her from coming that day. I had more than once almost determined to speak to my old friend John Carvel, and to tell him what had occurred at Anadoli Kavak. Nothing but my respect for Professor Cutter's opinion as a specialist had prevented me from doing so; but now, at the last moment, I wished I had not been overruled, for I had an unpleasant conviction that his prudence had been forgotten in his desire to study the case. For men of his profession there seems to be an absorbing interest in deciding the question of where crime ends and madness begins, and to put Madame Patoff under restraint would have been to cut short one of the most valuable experiences of Cutter's life. He probably knew that in the present stage of her malady such a proceeding would very likely have driven her into hopeless and evident insanity. I could have forgiven him if I had thought that he regarded the question from a moralist's point of view, and balanced the danger of leaving the unfortunate woman at large against the possible advantage she herself might gain from enjoying unrestricted liberty. But I was sure that the scientist was not thinking of that. He had expressed interest rather than horror at her attempt to push Paul over the edge of the wall. He had answered my anxious questions concerning the treatment of Madame Patoff by a short dissertation on insanity in general, and had left me to continue his studies, regardless of any danger to his patient's relations. The moral point of view shrank into insignificance as he became more and more absorbed in the result of the case, and I believe that he would have let us all perish, if necessary, rather than consent to relinquish his study. He might have regretted his indifference afterwards, especially if he had arrived at no satisfactory conclusion in regard to the unhappy woman; but in the fervor of scientific speculation, minor considerations of safety were forgotten. Cutter is not a bad man, though he is ruthless. He would be incapable of doing any one an injury from a personal motive, but in comparison with the importance of one of his theories the life of a man is no more to him than the life of a dog. I said something of that kind to Balsamides.

"My dear fellow," he answered, "do you expect common sense from people who waste their lives in such a senseless fashion? Can anything be more absurd than to attempt to explain the vagaries of a diseased mind? They call that science in the professor's country. They may as well give it up. They will never ultimately discover any better treatment for dangerous lunatics than solid bolts and barred windows."

"I believe you are right," I said. "If we could put medicine into the head as we can into the stomach, something might be accomplished. It is very unpleasant to think that I am to entertain a lady at my tea-party who only the other day tried to murder her son in my sight."

"Very," assented Gregorios. "Here they come."

We heard the sound of voices in the garden, and rose to meet the party as they came up towards the house. None of them had been to see me before, except Paul, and they at once launched into extravagant praises of the view and of the kiosk. Chrysophrasia raved about the sunset effects, and Hermione was delighted with the way the flags were arranged. Macaulay consulted his pocket barometer to see how many feet above the sea the house was built, and declared that the air must be far more healthy in such a place than on the quay. Madame Patoff looked silently out at the view, leaning on Alexander's arm, while John Carvel and his wife stood close together, smiling and appreciative, the ideal of a well-assorted and perfectly happy middle-aged couple. Cutter talked to Balsamides, and Paul followed Hermione as she slowly moved from point to point. I stood alone for a few moments, and looked at them, going over in my mind all that had happened during the last seven months, and wondering how it would all end.

These ten people had lived much together, and had found themselves lately united in some very strange occurrences. With the exception of Balsamides and the professor, they were all nearly related, and yet they were as unlike each other as people of one family could be. The gentle, saintly Mary Carvel had little in common with her aesthetic sister Chrysophrasia Dabstreak, and neither of them was very like Madame Patoff. Sturdy John Carvel was not like his sleek son Macaulay, except in honesty and good-nature. Alexander Patoff was indeed like his mother, but Paul's stern, cold nature was that of his father, long dead and forgotten. As for Hermione, she presented a combination of character derived from the best points in her father and mother, marred only, I thought, by a little of that vacillation which was the chief characteristic of her aunt Chrysophrasia. Cutter and Balsamides were men of widely different nationalities and temperaments: the one a ruthless scientist, the other an equally ruthless fatalist; the one ready to sacrifice the lives of others to a fanatic worship of his profession, the other willing to sacrifice himself to the inevitable with heroic courage, but holding other men's lives as of no more value than his own. A strange company, I thought, and yet in many respects a most interesting company, too.

"Shall we go in-doors and have tea?" I said after a few moments, collecting my guests together. "The view is even better from the windows above."

I led them into the stone-paved vestibule of the wooden house, and up the wooden stairs to the upper story. Presently they were all installed in the large room where the preparations for the small festivity had been made, and I began to do the honors of my bachelor establishment. In a Turkish family, the room where we sat, and the three others upon the same floor, would have been set apart for the harem, for one door separated them from the staircase and from all the rest of the house,--a large strong door, painted white, and provided with an excellent lock and key. I had selected one room for my bedroom, and the rest were furnished with Oriental simplicity, not to say economy. But Balsamides had sent down a bale of beautiful carpets, which he lent me for the occasion, and which I had hung upon the walls and spread upon the floors and divans. Tea, coffee, sherbet, a beautiful view, and a little illumination of the gardens, constituted the whole entertainment, but the enthusiasm of my guests knew no bounds, probably because they had never seen anything of the kind before.

"Griggs is growing to be a true Oriental," said Balsamides, approvingly; "he understands how the Turks live."

"Yes," I answered, "I present you the thing in all its bareness. You may take this as a specimen of an Eastern house. People are apt to fancy that those long, latticed houses on the Bosphorus conceal unheard-of luxuries, and that the people live like Sybarites. It is quite untrue. They either try to imitate the French style, and do it horribly, or else they live in great bare rooms like these."

"What do the women do all day long?" asked Chrysophrasia. "I am sure they do not pass their time upon a straw matting, staring at each other,--so very dreary!"

"Nevertheless they do," said Gregorios. "They smoke and eat sweetmeats from morning till night, and occasionally an old woman comes and tells them stories. Some of them can read French. They learn it in order to read novels, but cannot speak a word of the language."

"Dreary, dreary!" sighed Chrysophrasia. "And then, the division of the affections, you know,--so sad."

"Many of them die of consumption," said Gregorios.

"It would be curious to watch the phases of their intelligence," said the professor, slowly sipping his coffee, and staring out of the window through his great gold-rimmed spectacles.

The sun had gone down, and the darkness gathered quickly over the beautiful scene. At one of the windows Hermione sat silently enjoying the evening breeze; Alexander was seated beside her, while Paul stood looking out over her head. Neither of the two men spoke, but from time to time they exchanged glances which were anything but friendly. Outside, my man and the gardener were lighting the little lamps, and gradually, as each glass cup received its tiny light, the festoons of white and red grew, and seemed to creep stealthily from tree to tree. The conversation languished, and the deepening twilight brought with it that pleasant silence which is the very embodiment of rest descending at evening on the tired earth.

"It is like an evening hymn," said Mrs. Carvel, whose gentle features were barely visible in the gloom.

No one spoke, but I fancied I saw John Carvel lay his hand affectionately on his wife's arm, as they sat together. There was a light above the eastern hills, brightening quickly as we looked, and presently the full moon rose and shed her rays through the low open windows, making our faces look white and deathly in the dark room. It shone on Madame Patoff's marble features, and cast strange shadows around her mouth.

"Shall we have lights?" I asked. There was a general refusal; everybody preferred the moonlight, which now flooded the apartment.

"It seems to me," said Chrysophrasia, half sadly,--"it seems to me--ah, no! I must be mistaken,--and yet--it seems to me that I smell something burning."

"I think it is the lamps outside," I answered. No one else took any notice of the speech, which jarred upon the pleasant stillness. I myself thought she was mistaken.

"What a wonderful contrast!" said Hermione. "I mean the lamps and the moonlight." Then she added, suddenly, "Do you know, Mr. Griggs, there is really something burning. I can smell it quite well."

A fire in a Turkish house is a serious matter. The old beams and boarded walls are like so much tinder, and burn up immediately, as though soaked with some inflammable liquid. I rose, and went out to see if there were anything wrong. As I opened the door which shut off the whole apartment from the stairs, I heard a strange crackling sound, and outside the window of the staircase, which was in the back of the house, I saw a red glare, which brightened in the moment while I watched it. I did not go further, for I knew the danger was imminent.

"Will you be good enough to come down-stairs?" I said, quietly, as I re-entered the room where my guests were assembled. "I am afraid something is wrong, but there is plenty of time."

A considerable confusion ensued, and everybody rushed to the door. Protestations were vain, for all the women were frightened, and all the men were anxious to help them. The sight of the flames outside the window redoubled their fears, and they rushed out, stumbling on the dusky landing. In the confusion of the moment I did not realize how it all happened. Chrysophrasia, who was mad with fright, caught her foot against something, and fell close beside me. The other ladies were already down-stairs, I thought. I picked her up and carried her down as fast as I could, and out into the garden.

"Come away from the house!" I cried. "Away from the trees!" Chrysophrasia was senseless with fear, and I bore her hastily on till I reached the fountain, some twenty yards down the hill. There I put her down upon a bench. There were two buckets and a couple of watering-pots there, and I shouted to the other men to come to me, as I filled two of the vessels and ran round to the back of the house. I passed Madame Patoff, standing alone under a festoon of little lamps, by a tree, and I remember the strange expression of gladness which was on her face. But I had no time to speak to her, and rushed on with my water-cans.

Meanwhile the flames rose higher and higher, crackling and licking the brown face of the old timber. There was small chance of saving the building now. My men had been busy lighting the lamps in the garden, but I found them already on the spot, dipping water out of a small cistern with buckets, and dashing it into the fire with all their might, their dark faces grim and set in the light of the flames. I worked as hard as I could, supposing that all the party were safe. I had no idea of what was going on upon the opposite side of the house. In truth, it was horrible enough.

Paul and Cutter were very self-possessed, and their first care was to see that all the four ladies were safe. They had Hermione and her mother with them, and, taking the direction of the fountain, they found Chrysophrasia upon the bench where I had left her, in a violent fit of hysterics. Madame Patoff was not there.

"I was going back for aunt Annie," said Macaulay Carvel, "for I counted them as they came out, and missed her. She ran right into my arms as I stood in the door. She is somewhere in the garden; I am quite sure of it."

Cutter hurried off, and began to search among the trees. Already the bright flames could be seen in the lower story, and in a moment more the glass of one of the windows cracked loudly, and the fire leapt through. Then from the high windows above a voice was heard calling, loud and clear, to those below.

"The door is locked! Can any one help me?" The voice belonged to Gregorios, and the party looked into each other's faces in sudden horror, and then glanced at the burning house.

"Save him! Save him!" cried Hermione. But Paul had already left her side, and had reached the open door of the porch. Alexander stood still, staring at the flames.

"He saved you," said Hermione, grasping his arm fiercely. "Will you do nothing to help him?"

"Paul is gone already," answered Alexander, impatiently. "There is nothing the matter. Paul will let him out."

But the other men were less apathetic, and had followed the brave man to the door. He had disappeared already, and as they came up a tremendous puff of smoke and ashes was blown into their faces, stifling and burning them, so that they drew back.

"Jump for your life!" shouted John Carvel, looking up at the window from which the voice had proceeded.

"Yes, jump!" cried Alexander, who had reluctantly followed. "We will catch you in our arms!"

But no one answered them. Nothing was heard but the crackling of the burning timber and the roaring of the flames, during the awful moments which followed. Stupefied with horror, the three men stood staring stupidly at the hideous sight. Then suddenly another huge puff of smoke and fiery sparks burst from the door, and with it a dark mass flew forward, as though shot from a cannon's mouth, and fell in a heap upon the ground outside. All three ran forward, but some one else was there before them, dragging away a thick carpet, of which the wool was all singed and burning.

There lay Gregorios Balsamides as he had fallen, stumbling on the doorstep, with the heavy body of Paul Patoff in his arms. Hermione fell on her knees and shrieked aloud. It was plain enough. Paul, without the least protection from the flames, had struggled up the burning staircase, and had unlocked the door, losing consciousness as he opened it. Gregorios, who was not to be outdone in bravery, and whom no danger could frighten from his senses, had wrapped a carpet round the injured man, and, throwing another over his own head, had borne him back through the fire, the steps of the wooden staircase, already in flames, almost breaking under his tread. But he had done the deed, and had lived through it.

He looked up faintly at Hermione as she bent over them both.

"I think he is alive," he gasped, and fainted upon the ground.

They bore the two senseless bodies to the fountain, and laid them down, and sprinkled water on their faces. Behind them they could hear the crash of the first timbers falling in, as the fire reached the upper story of the kiosk; at their feet they saw only the still, pale faces of the men who had been ready to give their lives for each other.

But Cutter had gone in search of Madame Patoff, during the five minutes which had sufficed for the enacting of this scene. He had found her where I had passed her, looking up with a strange smile at the doomed house.

"Paul is looking for you," said the professor, taking her arm under his. She started, and trembled violently.

"Paul!" she cried in surprise. Then, with a wild laugh, she stared into Cutter's eyes. He had heard that laugh many a time in his experience, and he silently tightened his grip upon her arm.

"Paul!" she repeated wildly. "There is no more Paul," she added, suddenly lowering her voice, and speaking confidentially. "Hermione can marry my dear Alexander now. There is no more Paul. You do not know? It was so quickly done. He stayed behind in the room, and I locked the door, so tight, so fast. He can never get out. Ah!" she screamed all at once, "I am so glad! Let me go--let me go"----

At that moment I came upon them. Relinquishing all hopes of saving the house, and wondering vaguely, in my confusion of mind, why nobody had come to help me, I called my two men off, and was going to see what had become of the party. I found Madame Patoff a raving maniac, struggling in the gigantic hands of the sturdy scientist. I will not dwell upon the hideous scene which followed. It was the last time I ever saw her, and I pray that I may never again see man or woman in such a condition.

Meanwhile, the two men who lay by the fountain in the moonlight showed signs of life. Gregorios first came to himself, for he had only fainted. He was in great pain, but was as eager as the rest to restore Paul to consciousness. Patoff was almost asphyxiated by the smoke, his hair and eyebrows and mustache were almost burnt off, and his right hand was injured. But he was alive, and at last he opened his eyes. In a quarter of an hour he could be helped upon his feet. Balsamides was already standing, and Paul caught at his hand.

"Not that arm," said Gregorios calmly, holding out the other. In his fall he had broken his wrist.

In answer to my cries, the two Carvels left the injured men and came to our assistance, while we struggled with the mad woman, who seemed possessed of the strength of a dozen athletes. Hermione was left by the fountain.

"I was quite sure it would be all right," said Alexander to her, presently. It was more than the young girl could bear. She turned upon him fiercely, and her beautiful face was very white.

"I despise you!" she exclaimed. That was all she said, but in the next moment she turned and threw her arms about Paul's neck, and kissed his burnt and wounded face before them all.

* * * * *

There is little more to be said, for my story is told to the end. When I found them all together, Gregorios took me aside and drew a crumpled mass of papers from his pocket with his uninjured hand.

"I stayed behind to save your papers and your money," he said quietly. "I have seen houses burn before, and there is generally no time to be lost."

I wonder what there is at the bottom of that man's strange nature. Cold, indifferent, and fatalistic, apparently one of the most selfish of men, he nevertheless seems to possess somewhere a kind of devoted heroism, an untainted quality of friendship only too rare in our day.

Hermione Carvel is to be married to Paul in the autumn, but there is reason to believe that Alexander, who has rejoined his regiment in St. Petersburg, will not find it convenient to be at the wedding. When Balsamides was crying for help from the upper window, and when Alexander stood quietly by Hermione's side while his brother faced the danger, the die was cast, and she saw what a wide gulf separated the two men, and she knew that she loved the one and hated the other with a fierce hatred.

Poor Madame Patoff is dead, but before he left Constantinople Professor Cutter spent half an hour in trying to demonstrate to me that she might have been cured if Hermione had married Alexander. I am glad he is gone, for I always detested his theories.

So the story is ended, my dear friend; and if it is told badly, it is my fault, for I assure you that I never in my life spent so exciting a year. It has been a long tale, too, but you have told me that from time to time you were interested in it; and, after all, a tale is but a tale, and is a very different affair from an artistically constructed drama, in which facts have to be softened, so as not to look too startling in print. I have given you facts, and if you ever meet Gregorios Balsamides he will tell you that I have exaggerated nothing. Moreover, if you will take the trouble to visit Santa Sophia during the last nights of Ramazan, you will understand how Alexander Patoff disappeared; and if you will go over the house of Laleli Khanum Effendi, which is now to be sold, you will see how impossible it was for him to escape from such a place. In the garden above Mesar Burnu you will see the heap of ashes, which is all that remains of the kiosk where I gave my unlucky tea-party; and if you will turn up the bridle-path at the left of the Belgrade road, a hundred yards before you reach the aqueduct, you will come upon the spot where Gregorios threatened to kill Selim, the wicked Lala, on that bitter March night. I dare say, also, that if you visit any of these places by chance you will remember the strange scenes they have witnessed, and I hope that you will also remember Paul Griggs, your friend, who spun you this yarn because you asked him for a story, when he was riding with you on that rainy afternoon last month. I only wish you knew the Carvels, for I am sure you would like them, and you would find Chrysophrasia very amusing.


(F Marion Crawford's Novel: Paul Patoff)

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