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At the sixth hour (according to Christian calculation ten o'clock in the evening) the ship arrived bearing the Sultan, the princes, the magnates, and the sacred banner, and cast anchor beside the coast kiosk at the Gate of Cannons.
Inside the Seraglio none knew anything of the position of affairs. All through the city a great commotion prevailed with the blowing of horns, in the cemetery bivouac fires had been everywhere lighted.
As the Kizlar-Aga, Elhaj Beshir, came face to face with the newly arrived ministers in the ante-chamber where the Mantle of the Prophet was jealously[Pg 154] guarded, he rubbed his hands together with an enigmatical smile which ill became his coarse, brutal countenance and cloven lips, and when the Padishah asked him what the rebels wanted, he replied that he really did not know.
That smile of his, that rubbing of the hands, which had been robbed of their thumbs by the savage cruelty of a former master for some piece of villainy or other - these things were premonitions of evil to all the officials present.
They found Sulali in his summer house, and at the first summons he appeared in the Seraglio. He declared that the rebels had been playing fast and loose with his name, and that he knew nothing whatever of their wishes.
"It is a pity to give worthy men unnecessary trouble, most glorious Sultan," said Abdi Pasha bitterly. "I am able to tell you what the rebels want, for I have seen it all written up on the walls. They demand the delivery of four of the great officers of state - myself, the Chief Mufti, the Grand Vizier, and the Kiaja. Surrender us then, O Sultan! yet surrender us not alive! but slay us first and then their mouths will be stopped. Let them glut their appetites on us. You know that no wild beast is savage when once it has been well fed."
What! Greet Halil Patrona in the name of the Padishah! Greet that petty huckster in the name of the master of many empires, in the name of the Prince of Princes, Shahs, Khans, and Deys, the dominator of Great Moguls! Who would have believed in the possibility of such a thing three days ago?
The Chaszeki Aga and Sulali Hassan, with the twenty bostanjis, forced their way through the thick[Pg 156] crowd which thronged the streets till they reached the central mosque. Only nine of the twenty bostanjis were beaten to death by the mob on the way, the eleven others were fortunate enough to reach the mosque at least alive.
There, on a camel-skin spread upon the ground, sat Halil, the rebel leader, like a second Dzhengis Khan, dictating his orders and nominations to the softas sitting before him, whom he had appointed his teskeredjis.
Well, first of all there was the old master-cobbler, Suleiman, whom they had dragged by force from his house where he had been hiding under the floor. Halil now ordered a document to be drawn up, whereby he elevated him to the rank of Reis-Effendi.
Halil Patrona, by the way, was still wearing his old Janissary uniform, the blue dolman with the salavari reaching to the knee, leaving the calves bare. The only difference was that he now wore a white heron's feather in his hat instead of a black one, and by his side hung the sword of the Grand Vizier, whose[Pg 157] palace in the Galata suburb he had levelled to the ground only an hour before.
Then came a ciaus called Orli, whom he made chief magistrate. Ibrahim, a whilom schoolmaster, who went by the name of "the Fool," he made chief Cadi of Stambul, and then catching sight of Sulali, he beckoned him forth from among the ciauses and said to him:
"I thank thee, Halil! Make of me what thou wilt, but listen, first of all, to the message of the Padishah which he has entrusted to me, for I am in very great doubt whether it be thou or Sultan Achmed who is now Lord of all the Moslems. Tell me, therefore, what thou dost require of the Sultan, and if thy demands be lawful and of good report they shall be granted, provided that thou dost promise to disperse thy following."[Pg 158]
"Our demands are few and soon told. We demand the delivery to us of the four arch-traitors who have brought disaster upon the realm. They are the Kul Kiaja, the Kapudan Pasha, the Chief Mufti, and the Grand Vizier."
"I ask much, you say. To-morrow I shall ask still more. If you agree to my terms, to-morrow there shall be peace. But if you come again to me to-morrow, then there will be peace neither to-morrow nor any other morrow."
"Mashallah!" cried the Kapudan cheerfully, "I am theirs," and with a look of determined courage he stepped forth and also joined the bostanjis. "Weep not on my account, oh Padishah! A brave man is always ready to die a heroic death in the place of danger, and shall I not, moreover, be dying in your defence? Hale us away, bostanjis; do not tremble, my sons. Which of you best understands to twist the string? Come, come, fear nothing, I will show you myself how to arrange the silken cord properly. Long live the Sultan!"
"No, no, it cannot be. You must have heard their words amiss. He from whom you required an answer must needs have been mad, he spoke in his wrath.[Pg 160] What! I am to slay the Grand Vizier and the Chief Mufti? Slay them, too, for faults which I myself have committed - faults against which they wished to warn me? Why, their blood would cry to Heaven against me. Go back, Sulali, and say to Halil that I beg, I implore him not to insist that these two grey heads shall roll in the dust. Let it suffice him if they are deprived of their offices and banished from the realm, for indeed they are guiltless. Entreat him, also, for the Kiaja and the Kapudan; they shall not be surrendered until you return."
Again Sulali sought out Halil. He durst not say a word concerning the Kiaja and the Kapudan. He knew that it was the Kapudan who had seized upon Halil's wife when she was attempting to escape by sea, and that it was the Kiaja who had had her shut up in the dungeon set apart for shameless women. He confined himself therefore to pleading for the Grand Vizier and the Chief Mufti.
Halil reflected. The incidents which had happened in the palace by the Sweet Waters all passed through his mind. He bethought him how Damad Ibrahim had forced his embraces upon Gül-Bejáze, and compelled her to resort to the stratagem of the death-swoon, and he gave no heed to what Sulali said about sparing Ibrahim's grey beard.
"Come hither, then, valiant rebels, as ye are!" cried he. "If you want the heads of my servants, come for them, and take them from me. No, not a drop of their blood will I give you, and if you dare to come for them ye shall see that the sword of Mohammed has still an edge upon it. Unfurl the banner of the Prophet in front of the gate of the Seraglio. Let all true believers cleave to me. Send criers into all the streets to announce that the Seraglio is in danger, and let all to whom the countenance of Allah is dear hasten to the defence of the Banner! I will collect the bostanjis and defend the gates of the Seraglio."
The unfurling of the Green Banner on the gate of the Seraglio is a rare event in history. As a rule it only happens in the time of greatest danger, for it signifies that the time has come for every true Mussulman to quit hearth and home, his shop and his plough, snatch up his weapons, and hasten to the assistance of Allah and his Anointed, and accursed would be reckoned every male Osmanli who should hesitate at such a time to lay down his life and his estate at the feet of the Padishah.
Knowing this to be so, imagine then the extremity of terror into which the dwellers in the Seraglio were plunged when they saw that not a single soul rallied beneath the exposed banner. The criers promised a gratuity of thirty piastres to every soldier who hastened to range himself beneath the banner, and two piastres a day over and above the usual pay. And some five or six fellows followed them, but as many as came in on one side went away again on the[Pg 163] other, and in the afternoon not a single soul remained beneath the banner.
Towards evening the banner was hoisted on to the second gate beneath which were the dormitories of the high officers of state. The generals meanwhile slept in the Hall of Audience, Damadzadi lay sick in the apartment of Prince Murad, and the Mufti and the Ulemas remained in the barracks of the bostanjis. Sultan Achmed did not lie down all night long, but wandered about from room to room, impatiently inquiring after news outside. He asked whether anyone had come from the host to his assistance? whether the people were assembling beneath the Sacred Green Banner? and the cold sweat stood out upon his forehead when, in reply to all his questions, he only received one crushing answer after another. The watchers placed on the roof of the palace signified that the bivouac fires of the insurgents were now much nearer than they had been the night before, and that in the direction of Scutari not a single watch-fire was visible, from which it might be suspected that the army had broken up its camp, returned to Stambul, and made common cause with the insurgents.
Achmed himself ascended to the roof to persuade himself of the truth of these assertions, and wandered in a speechless agony of grief from apartment to apartment, constantly looking to see whether the[Pg 164] Kiaja, the Kapudan, and the Grand Vizier were asleep or awake. Only the Kapudan Pasha was able to sleep at all. The Kiaja was all of an ague with apprehension, and the Grand Vizier was praying, not for himself indeed, but for the Sultan. At last even the Kapudan was sorry for the Sultan who was so much distressed on their account.
"Why dost thou keep waking us so often, oh, my master?" said he, "we are still alive as thou seest. Go and sleep in thy harem and trouble not thy soul about us any more, it is only the rebels who have to do with us now. Allah Kerim! Look upon us as already sleeping the sleep of eternity. At the trump of the Angel of the Resurrection we also shall arise like the rest."
"Behold, I have brought my grey beard hither, and if it pleases you not that it has grown white in all pure and upright dealing, take it now and wash it in my blood; and if ye think that the few days Allah hath given me to be too many, then take me and put an end to them."
Then they threw themselves down on their faces to pray, and when they had made an end of praying, they assembled in the kiosk of Erivan in the inner garden where the Grand Vizier already awaited them. Not long afterwards arrived the Kiaja and the Kapudan Pasha also, last of all came the sick Damadzadi and the Cadi of Medina, Mustafa Effendi, and Segban Pasha.
"Ye see a dead man before you," said the Grand Vizier, Damad Ibrahim, to the freshly arrived dignitaries. "I am lost. We are the four victims. The Chief Mufti perhaps may save his life, but we three others shall not see the dawn of another day. It cannot be otherwise. The Sultan must be saved, and saved he only can be at the price of our lives."
"I said that long ago," observed the Kapudan[Pg 166] Pasha. "Our corpses ought to have been delivered up to the rebels yesterday, I fear it is already too late, I fear me that the Sultan is lost anyhow. The Banner of Affliction ought never to have been exposed at all, we should have been slain there and then."
"You three withdraw into the Chamber of the Executioners," said the Grand Vizier to his colleagues, "but wait for me till the Kizlar-Aga arrives to demand from me the seals of office, till then I must perform my official duties."
It was now the duty of the Grand Vizier to elect a new Chief Mufti from among the Ulemas. The Ulemas, first of all, chose Damadzadi, but he declining the dignity on the plea of illness, they chose in his stead the Cadi of Medina, and for want of a white mantle invested him with a green one.
He had an eye for nothing but the tulips before him, which he could not protect or cherish sufficiently. He scarce noticed that Elhaj Beshir, the Kizlar-Aga, was standing before him with a long MS. parchment stretched out in his hand.
"What do they require?" asked the Sultan softly, withdrawing, as he spoke, a tiny knife from his girdle, with the point of which he began picking away at the earth all round the tulips in order to make it looser and softer.
"There you have it," said he.
"There it is."
The Grand Vizier, meanwhile, was walking backwards and forwards in the garden of the Seraglio. The Kizlar-Aga came there in search of him, and[Pg 169] with him were the envoys of Halil Patrona, Suleiman, whom he had made Reis-Effendi, Orli, and Sulali. Elhaj Beshir approached him in their presence, and kissing the document signed by the Sultan, handed it to him.
Damad Ibrahim pressed the writing to his forehead and his lips, and, after carefully reading it through, handed it back again, and taking from his finger the great seal of the Empire gave it to the Kizlar-Aga.
"May he who comes after me be wiser and happier than I have been," said he. "Greet the Sultan from me once more. And as for you, tell Halil Patrona that you have seen the door of the Hall of the Executioners close behind the back of Damad Ibrahim."
With that the Grand Vizier looked about him in search of someone to escort him thither, when suddenly a kajkji leaped to his side and begged that he might be allowed to lead the Grand Vizier to the Hall of Execution.
"What is thy name?
"I remember thee not."
"No, no," said the Sultan, "we will not have them delivered up alive. It shall not be in the power of the people to torture and tear them to pieces. Rather let them die in my palace, an easy, instantaneous death, without fear and scarce a pang of pain, wept and mourned for by their friends."
"Tarry a while, I say, wait but for the morning. You would not surely kill them at night! At night the gates of Heaven are shut. At night the phantoms of darkness are let loose. You would not slay any living creature at night! Wait till the day dawns."
Sulali, Hassan, and Ispirizade thereupon hastened through the gate of the Seraglio down to the open space before the kiosk, but not a living soul did they find there. Not satisfied with merely looking about them, they wished to persuade themselves that the insurgents were approaching the Seraglio from some other direction by a circuitous way.
"They have had time enough to cover the distance to the kiosk and back twice over," remarked the Kizlar-Aga. "No doubt they have fallen into the hands of the rebels who are holding them fast so that they may not be able to bring any tidings back."[Pg 173]
Then the Kizlar-Aga led them down to the gate. A cart drawn by two oxen was standing there, and the top of it was covered with a mat of rushes. He drew aside a corner of this mat, and by the uncertain light of dawn they saw before them three corpses, the Kiaja's, the Kapudan's, and the Grand Vizier's.
Happy Gül-Bejáze sits in Halil's lap and dreamily allows herself to be cradled in his arms. Through the windows of the splendid palace penetrate the shouts of triumph which hail Halil as Lord, for the moment, of the city of Stambul and the whole Ottoman Empire.
Halil smooths away the luxuriant locks from his wife's forehead, and makes her tell him once more[Pg 174] the full tale of all those revolting incidents which befell her in the Seraglio, in the captivity of the Kapudan's house, and in the dungeon for dishonourable women. Why should he keep on arousing hatred and vengeance?
"Whose is that?"
"And whose is that?"
And now Halil brought forward the third basket, and dashing aside from it the fresh flowers, revealed to the eyes of Gül-Bejáze a grey head with a white beard, which lay with closed eyes at the bottom of the basket.
"I do not know that one."
"Let me have them buried, Halil. Do not make me fear thee also. Thou wouldst have me go on loving thee, wouldst thou not? If only thou wouldst come with me to Anatolia, where nobody would know anything about us!"
"What dost thou say? Go away now when the very sun cannot set because of me, and men cannot[Pg 176] sleep because of the sound of my name? Dost not thou also feel a desire to bathe in all this glory?"
"Oh, Halil! the rose and the palm grow up together out of the same earth, and yet the palm grows into greatness while the rose remains quite tiny. Suffer me but gently to crouch beside thee, dispense but thy love to me, and keep thy glory to thyself."
Then he took leave of Gül-Bejáze, for deputies from the people now waited upon their leader, and begged him to accompany them to the mosque of Zuleima, where the Sultan's envoys were already waiting for an answer.
In order to get to the mosque more easily and avoid the labour of forcing his way through the crowd that thronged the streets, Halil hastened to the water side, got into the first skiff he met with, and bade the sailor row him across to the Zuleima Mosque on the other side.
"Yes, my master."
"And the second?"
"And the third?"
"Know then, oh, Sheik Suleiman, that thou liest, the third corpse was not the body of Damad Ibrahim the Grand Vizier. It was the body of a sailor named Manoli, who greatly resembled him, and sacrificed himself in Damad's behalf. But the Grand Vizier has escaped and none can tell where he is. Go now, and tell that to those who sent thee hither!"[Pg 179]