Chapter Twelve – Forbidden Love

After this first sin of passion, Bihter had seemed to grow ill, and had felt nothing at all upon leaving Behlül’s room. She was in a stupor that numbed all of her senses. She longed to be silent, unthinking. As soon as she went to bed, she had fallen asleep, but as soon as she opened her eyes in the morning, before she rose, she found all of that ugly truth had woken with her. So Bihter this morning was a different Bihter. She was no longer miserable, a woman who was to be pitied for her misery, she was sullied with an ineradicable stain, she was a wretched, sordid creature. She had finally become wholly Firdevs Hanım’s daughter. She was telling herself this, and wanting to escape herself as if she were running away from a disgusting corpse. Why had it happened? She could not even find an excuse to expiate this sin… She did not love Behlül, no, she was sure of that; she had not felt anything like love for this man who was no more than a rakish child. That being the case, when it was possible to avoid listening to those words he had spoken to who knows how many people before, and even to avoid going into his room, yes, why had she gone and thrown herself into his arms with the frailty of a strumpet? She could find nothing, nothing to forgive this fall. She could not even expect any small satisfaction from it. Was she to be happy with betraying her husband, her duty, all those who respected her, and with making herself a wretch without even being able to excuse it to her own conscience? Now she felt disgusted with herself, she was disgusted with life, with everything.

She had finally become Firdevs Hanım’s daughter; yes, for this reason she had gone and made herself a sullied woman in this man’s arms. She could find no other reason. There must be  something in her blood, something in the particles of her blood that had thus dragged her, groundless, indefensible, and made her Firdevs Hanım’s daughter. She was loading the whole burden of this sin, the responsibility of this stain, onto her mother. She was an enemy to this woman, she hated her, and she turned her back on the fate that made her this woman’s daughter.

What was she to do now? From now on, she had come under the ownership of Behlül, she was in effect, a plaything to his whim. So she was to accede to this, was she? Having fallen once constituted a reason, a right to wholly plummet into the abyss, did it? She would henceforth lie to everyone, look upon her husband with lying eyes, try to appear to Peyker with a pride that said, ‘I love my husband too, I didn’t betray my husband either, and I won’t’. From now on her life was to be a lie from end to end, a despicable lie. But how was she to bear it? Would not everyone exclaim, ‘you lie!’? Would she not blush and lower her eyes whenever people talked of such-and-such being unfaithful to their husband? And what about Behlül, that accomplice to murder? How was she to live in this house with him, breathing the same air?

No, she would not bear any of these, at the very least she would not endure a life made up of constant falsehoods. She would go now to her husband, and say, ‘do you know? I am not worthy of you, I am a wretched creature, I am Firdevs Hanım’s daughter. Leave me, let me go. To my mother. I am only worthy of that. But should you not have thought better too? Why did you want to go and take Firdevs Hanım’s daughter?…’

Oh! If she had found the strength to say this, if she had revenged her own murder herself, she could have cleansed her being of that stain. But she found the strength neither for this, nor for anything else. This fall had ruined all her defences, all her sense of resistance; in the morning, on the morrow of this upheaval, as she felt disgusted with herself, she was feeling also a spark of understanding in the secret depths of her identity; feeling that it was no longer possible not to follow this fall, once begun, impossible not to return again to that room, again to his arms. She could not remain a  wretch in Behlül’s memory, taken by chance; she must own his life, be his, love him, try to love him. She must determine such a future path for this love sin that it would raise rather than lower him. Yes, only love could make this clean.

When Adnan Bey had come to her room that morning, and asked, ‘my love, aren’t you going to kiss me this morning?’ Bihter had kissed her husband without feeling anything, not even any nervous aversion on her lips, and later, she had been amazed at her indifference. So she had been able to offer her lips to her husband without anything trembling in her heart, after she had given her body to someone else; so she was this unfeeling, this indifferent? She was astonished at herself. While something within her rebelled against this calmness, something else accepted it, found it natural.

For a week, she avoided opportunities that might have prepared the possibility of the occurrence of a second fall. In her dealings with Behlül, those old indifferent, careless dealings, it was as if no change had taken place; as if the memory of that night had remained like a dream in the darkness. Bihter would not be alone with him, did not look at him, and did not enter his room, even when he was not at home. She avoided this room, afraid that if she were to inhale the breath of a memory that slumbered there, she would be suffocated. In this week she had so far distanced herself from the this fall that she even doubted it had occurred. Had nothing actually taken place? Or had it been nothing but a dream? There were some moments when such a suspicion passed through her mind with lightning speed, and at that moment she would want to shout out loud for everyone to hear, ‘but it’s a lie, a lie! You are deceived…’

She felt, in a way, that everyone knew of that event, but said nothing out of pity for her. Since that day, it was as if something had changed in everyone’s look, even in the furniture. She thought the whole house glanced at her in a knowing way.

Behlül was the same Behlül who was always relating some amusing story, who always found some subject to annoy Nihal, who brought laughter to life at the quietest moment. There was in him not one word, not one look to remind her of that night.

He had such a way of addressing Bihter, with all his old natural, carefree ways, that he surprised the young woman.

‘Take care!’ Behlül was saying to himself. ‘The second fall is always harder, slipperier than the first. After the first fall there are fevers, agonies, all those things that cause a woman to elude you. In general, women believe that by hindering a second fall, they will have absolved the sin of the first. At this stage, it is necessary either to take possession of them once again by chance, or to remain indifferent towards them. Your interest in them, your pursuit of them, is generally enough to satisfy their heart’s desire. But they can never forgive your remaining indifferent, and then after that first fall, they follow you.’

One day, as Behlül was quitting his room to go down to Istanbul, he saw Bihter and Nihal descending from the floor above, wearing their sheets.

‘Where are you going?’

‘To my mother!’

All at once, Behlül, seeing Bihter’s tall figure in her sheet, felt an unquenchable desire to accompany her in this state.

‘Oh,’ he said, ‘what a good idea! I bet you’re taking the boat. It’s a day borrowed from summer… You’re bringing me with you, aren’t you? Wait, let me see, how many days has it been since I saw your mother?..’

Bihter was responding with a laugh. ‘You will bore us. We wanted to talk among ladies, didn’t we, Nihal?’

They explained the purpose of their visit to Behlül: there was a marriage taking place in the family, they were all invited, and Bihter was going to accompany Nihal. Today, they were to consult about the clothes that were to be made up.

‘There can be no better reason to take me along,’ Behlül was saying. ‘You will see what great ideas I offer you. Give me your bags and parasols.’

Behlül was grabbing their bags and parasols, and taking the lead like a footman. He had seated himself between Nihal and Bihter in the boat. He was talking to Nihal. This was one of his best days.

‘Let me invent such an outfit for my little Nihal today that no one at the wedding will see anyone but her,’ he was saying. ‘But do you know? You are becoming quite a stylish, lovely girl. Let me see. Lift your eyes.’

Nihal was lifting her eyes, and asking, ‘is the gentleman pleased with Nihal’s eyes? Shall I smile a little more? Would you like to see my teeth?’

Nihal, widening her thin lips, showing her teeth, was leaning towards Behlül.

Behlül gave his verdict: ‘Yes, isn’t it so? Nihal is quite a stylish, pretty girl… Not beautiful, you know, Nihal, not what one would call beautiful, but something else: elegant, delicate, what to call it… fine, yes, a fine girl… You know those vague pictures, all the way from Japan, that strange Eastern country, painted with three or four lines, figures that resemble flowers more than people, like a graceful, lovely flower that looks as if it will break if you touch it; so Nihal, you have an air that reminds me of them. A fine poem, a girl made of jasmines, for the eyes only…’

Nihal, without answering Behlül, was asking Bihter, ‘I believe I am being praised. How should one respond to this?’ And then turning to Behlül, nodding to him formally, ‘sir,’ she was saying, ‘you are mistaken. Little Nihal is neither a beautiful girl, nor a frail flower. Nihal is no more than a Japanese with a little fan in her hand, and long pins in her hair…’

Suddenly, an idea came to Behlül. ‘Nihal! Why don’t you attend that wedding wearing Japanese costume?’

Nihal was instantly captivated by this notion. ‘Ah,’ she said, ‘now this is an idea that merits closer examination…’

Bihter was protesting. Such a thing had never been heard of, or undertaken. Everyone in Istanbul would laugh at it.

Behlül defended his idea. ‘Laugh! But that is the rule with us. We always begin by laughing at everything. However, this doesn’t stop us from being jealous, or from admiring these things, secretly, deep inside, and generally without even admitting it from ourselves. We laugh, and by laughing we take revenge on the disappointment of not being able to do a thing; then little by little we see no harm in doing it either, once it is acceptable to tire of laughing and ridiculing it; but by then its time has passed, that thing has become common, and vulgar.’

Behlül was bringing examples to bear upon his argument. Bihter seemed slowly to be assenting. The wedding would be but a private ceremony. The daughter of one of Firdevs Hanım’s aunts was to be the bride. For Nihal to attend in such a costume would not be unacceptable.

‘Promise me, now,’ said Behlül to Nihal. ‘You will fan me in your costume, won’t you, Nihal?’ Then, pointing to the end of Nihal’s thin brow, ‘and afterwards, a kiss, just here…’

They found Firdevs Hanım stretched out on her chaise longue. Since the start of this winter, aches that she did not want to admit to, had all but tied her to her chair.

‘Are you unwell again, mother?’ asked Bihter, kissing her.

‘No, not really,’ said Firdevs Hanım, and pulling Nihal’s head towards her, kissed her on the forehead.

‘What about me?’ Behlül was saying in her ear, ‘won’t you kiss me?’

‘With a gesture as if to snatch Behlül’s lips between her two fingers, she was saying, ‘big baby.’

Nihal and Peyker were detailing the newly invented idea to Peyker. Firdevs Hanım patted the seat beside her, and said to Behlül, ‘sit here, you.’

Behlül pulled a footstool and sat right next to her.

‘Do you know how long it’s been since you visited me? Counting today, a full eighteen days. Do you see? You are making me count the days. How did you spend those eighteen days?’

Behlül responded with a laugh. ‘With the desire to come and see you.’

‘There’s a great big lie! Who knows how many things you have done in those eighteen days that you wish to relate, no, no, to conceal.’

She was finding herself too far from Behlül, and trying to raise herself a little more in her chair. ‘Would you arrange the cushions a little, Behlül Bey?’

Behlül was rising, and drawing her up a little by the shoulders, arranging the cushions behind her. In his hands, he was feeling the softened body of this woman melting with a longing to surrender. ‘What a pity that I am a full ten years too late,’ he was saying to himself.

After he had arranged the cushions, Firdevs Hanım looked at him, drawing a deep breath, and then, closing her eyes with a heavy weariness, she stretched out her hand, and grasping Behlül’s hand, squeezed it, as if thus, with her eyes closed, she possessed her dream in her mind’s eye.

‘Ooh,’ Behlül was saying to himself. ‘The matter becomes serious. She is finally going to declare her love. The daughters after the mother. Yes, but I don’t know if in love’s philosophy, there is the like of such a reverse order?’

Behlül had never thought of building a relationship with Firdevs Hanım beyond flirtation. He looked on Firdevs Hanım, not as a woman, but as an example of a type to be studied. At this moment, he felt a strange discomfort at having his hand squeezed by this woman’s hand. There remained something in his being that shrank from a relationship that resembled anything more than a jest with this woman. Slowly, watching Firdevs Hanım’s closed eyes as they tried to sleep into a faraway dream, he pulled his hand away.

Without a word, Firdevs Hanım opened her eyes, and cast him a reproachful glance that seemed to come from deep within. Behlül had now risen. He was calling to the group composed of Peyker, Bihter and Nihal, who stood deliberating before the fashion journals that were spread across the couch, the guéridon, and the floor: ‘I’m sure you can’t decide without me!… What does Peyker Hanım say about your proposal for Nihal?’

They carried the piles of journals to Firdevs Hanım’s side. Now they were all together. Bihter was pointing to the outfit she thought best. Nihal, who persisted in supporting Behlül’s scheme  while Bihter showed opposition, seemed, now that Bihter had begun not to object, to be distancing herself from the idea of a Japanese costume.

‘What about you, what about you?’ Behlül was saying to Peyker. ‘Do you know what I would do if I were you?’

Then, beginning a series of theses on the art of dress, he was applying these to Peyker’s style of beauty: ‘you ought to avoid strong, bright colours,’ he was saying. ‘Your almost amber eyes, your brown hair, your faintly yellowish skin, all your vague colours demand pale, muted tones. I liken your beauty to an evening glow whose colours begin to fade and grow sweeter after the sun has departed. It requires such a frame that rather than strengthening the timid appearance of the colours, it should weaken them. You should be paler, hazier, how shall I put it, beautiful with something like an evening beauty…’

Behlül was attending chiefly to Peyker, and as he did so, he was surprised at finding, still, an unquenchable desire in his heart for this woman.

‘Enough! Enough,’ she was saying. ‘You are going to confuse us utterly with your theories.’

Bihter was silent. As Behlül attended to Firdevs Hanım, to Peyker, and even to Nihal, she was feeling an inexplicable emotion; she had the urge to leave them all, to escape their side and to be alone. She was flipping through the journals with impatient hands, guarding an opportunity to make some terse remark to Behlül. ‘And you, mother, have you finally managed to decide?’ she asked.

An idea was rolling around in Firdevs Hanım’s brain. She was going to make something of plain black with a hint of red, that, without being too low at the neck, would open out to her shoulders. The sleeves, held with a single button at the upper arm, would flow down in small folds, in the manner of a bolero.

‘Yes, yes, I understand,’ Behlül was saying, ‘you will show all women who are afraid that they are getting old, that a woman can belie her years, and remain young, and possess a neck and arms worthy of being shown off.’

Bihter was in a hurry to go back. Today, Behlül was disgusting her, and to have been possessed by this man was making her feel disgust towards herself also. She made a sudden decision. She would invent something, find something to tell her husband that would save her from this man.

They did not exchange a single word in the boat on the return journey, but in Bihter was a need to say something to Behlül, to belittle him, with one word to place between them an unforgettable enmity. She did not quite know the reason, but she wanted to slap this man.

Back at the yalı, Nihal was running up ahead while the two of them mounted the steps side by side. There was a hint of excitement in Behlül. From afar, he was feeling the anger that seethed in Bihter, but he had desired this, had brought it about himself. He would do anything to extract her from the indifference that had been persisting for a week. However, now, next to her, he could say nothing. As they were about to part, they paused in the hall and looked at each other. 

‘Won’t you allow me to tell you something?’ Behlül asked.

‘Tell me,’ said Bihter.

‘In there,’ Behlül was saying, indicating his room. ‘How about in there? Think a moment, they may hear us…’ He had drawn closer to Bihter and was whispering.

Bihter was shaking her head, and saying, ‘you room? Never.’

‘Why?’ asked Behlül, in a mocking tone. ‘Are you afraid of me?’

Bihter had turned away without responding. She was moving away. Behlül had caught her by the arm, and was saying in her ear: ‘but why?.. You cannot go without listening to me. Do you hear, Bihter? You cannot go.’

And slowly he was pulling her towards his room. Bihter was trying to free her hand. But now they were in the room. A nervous excitement was keeping them both from speaking. They looked at each other once again with a long, hostile stare. Suddenly, Bihter fell into a chair and, covering her face with her hands, began to cry out of frustration.

Behlül had now knelt before her, and was allowing her to cry freely. This fit did not last long.

‘Please, please let me go…’ Bihter was saying, in a pleading tone. ‘I don’t know what it is, but it is going to kill me. I was such a good friend to you, and now I am becoming your enemy, I hate you, and I hate myself too. We could once again be simply friends; we could love each other with an untainted, easy attachment.’

Behlül, with the air of a child who wished to ingratiate himself, was resting against her knees, putting his head on her arm.

‘But tell me,’ he said, ‘could there be any greater agony than not being able to love you like this? If you only knew how I have suffered in the last week. I thought I would never be alone like this with you again, I thought I would never be able to sit at your feet, and listen to you like this. How is that possible, Bihter? How can I live, if I am condemned never to love you? But to love you in this way, to die of happiness at your feet, to love, content to die… Ah! Those minutes when I could not love you, when I could not tell you these things, those moments were torture. You loved me too, I felt it from afar, and in that case what obstacle was there to happiness? After such happiness today, what could there be to keep us from loving, to cause us to kill this happiness with our own hands?’

Bihter, wishing to stop Behlül from speaking, to not listen to him reasoning further upon these grounds, was covering his mouth with the back of her hand. Behlül was kissing this hand. Here, next to this woman, in her intoxicating air, he was finding himself changed. He now felt what he spoke of, he was relinquishing the falseness that constituted a diversion, and surrendering himself to the truth of his words. Slowly, he had sat down next to Bihter, and pulling her gently to him, said in a voice that was a barely audible strain of love: ‘oh! If you knew what I gain by loving you; my life, my self, my existence, you win me these. Before I loved you I was a creature without feeling, without soul; all those things I chased after, struggled after, were only things done for the sake of doing them, lies invented to fill a youth that one didn’t wish to spend doing nothing. Do you understand? That life was a lie from beginning to end. I felt that my soul was rotting in those lies, that its ability to tremble with a true and sublime attachment was being eroded. You changed all of that, you woke all the pure and clean desire of that soul I had thought dead. You showed how this heart, that until now was deemed incapable of love, can from now on,  from this moment on, love only you.

‘If you knew, Bihter, how much I love you? If you knew how I will love you until you die, even after you die… You love me too, don’t you, Bihter? You will be mine, only mine, won’t you?’

He was searching out the young woman’s mouth with his, wanting to gather the answer there, with his lips. They met in a long kiss that this time unwound their lungs with all the fire of their souls.

Bihter broke free. ‘But this is madness,’ she said. ‘I’ve been here an age…’

She had stood up, wanted to leave. Behlül was now standing too, he wanted to take her by the hands and release her. They were looking at each other. They kissed again, and the young woman, freeing her hands, escaped.

After this second interview, all of Bihter’s torments were silenced. She now confessed to herself that she loved Behlül. The last worries were slowly being erased from the horizon of her love, and in their stead was opening a glorious morning that steadily gained brightness. The forbidden pleasures of this sinful love quenched her thirst for passion so ecstatically that her life outside of this affair was becoming blurred. She was surrendering her whole self to this lovemaking and no longer felt any torment or even any small anxiety about it. She found herself happy, completely happy; only an occasional fear that momentarily appeared in her heart, a feeling that woke and then was extinguished in a second, would make her tremble even in her happiness.

This affair was chiefly attractive to them for its dangers and difficulties. There was a secret life belonging only to them, that was hidden in plain sight, that drew them even closer with all its secrets, and added greater intimacy to their interactions.

There were opportunities made up of brief minutes that allowed them no more than a squeeze of the hand, the exchange of a small kiss, or a few words to make a promise to meet. Their meetings were very rare, they were in that perpetual state of longing peculiar to affianced lovers who are allowed no opportunity to be alone together.

Yearnings that might be fulfilled any moment remained unsatisfied in them both, and they missed each other with dreams that could not be appeased by their rare and short encounters. They were afraid of everything, things that would have seemed natural prior to their attachment now became evidence that could reveal the whole secret if they were noticed. One day, as they faced each other with laughter in their looks, they had seen Adnan Bey’s eyes observing them, and they had both turned pale. Being detected in sharing a look held such significance for Bihter that for hours that day she had trembled in the expectation that he would bear down on her, and grasping her hands, say, ‘you are being unfaithful to me,  I saw it in your eyes!’ She could not rid herself of the suspicion that the whole houseful knew but remained silent; she found it necessary to speak quietly around them, to stay away from Nesrin and Şayeste as much as possible. Until then, while she had never lost an opportunity to quash the servant’s undeniable rebellion, now her manner was that of one who had given up trying to deal with them.

Bihter and Nihal were distant. Since Şakire Hanım’s departure, there was now something resembling hostility between them. Nihal was always avoiding her. Nowadays she also avoided her father, and in her gaunt face there could be discerned a resentment towards almost everyone in the house.

Now and again, the desire arose in Bihter to embrace Nihal, to find a way to reestablish a friendship with this child. She would invent reasons to go out in order to take her along. While Nihal was with her she would be different, but when she returned home, she would once again be a child who avoided her, who retired to corners with her governess.

But now Bihter was glad that, while this child was at home, she remained apart. One might say she was afraid of her, for she felt that if Nihal did not avoid her, she would be obliged to avoid Nihal.

She had confessed this to Behlül one day: ‘do you know,’ she had said, ‘I am more afraid of Nihal than of anyone?’

Behlül, unable to understand her meaning, had asked, ‘of Nihal? Why? Are you jealous of her, my darling?’

Was it possible to be jealous of Nihal, of that child? ‘Oh! What a strange question,’ was all she had said to Behlül. That was all that had passed between them on the subject.

One day Behlül wanted to ask something so great of her that at first he could not find the courage to speak. This request would seem so impossible to execute, that Bihter would refuse without even listening to him. He was trying to extract a promise that she would assent before he told her, and talking about the ease of its execution. Bihter did not wish to bind herself before she understood. Finally, when he told her, she could not keep back a small cry of astonishment.

‘In my room?… A whole night! You’re mad…’

She did not want to listen further. It was not possible, she would not consent to it. All conceivable dangers aside, she would not sully the sacred space that belonged to her husband. She would see herself as such a lowly woman that she would no longer be able to find the strength to live.

‘Impossible,’ she was saying, wishing to push this idea away with her hands.

Then another idea occurred to her. To spend an entire night with Behlül would complete her love’s happiness, would recompense her for all of its unfulfilled aims. This was such a thing that would make her completely her lover’s.

‘No, not like that,’ she said, ‘but one night, in your room…’

This idea left them both shivering. Spending a night together would realise their ownership of each other, and no strangeness would remain between them.

But how?

‘Leave it to me,’ Bihter was saying, ‘one night, only for one night, isn’t that so?’

Behlül had a small bedroom reached through his study which Bihter had only glimpsed from the doorway. For her, this room was Behlül’s store of secrets. Yes, she would spend a night there, and through this means own Behlül’s whole soul.

After this idea was born in them, began a period of excited agitation. By braving this, Bihter was placing everything in danger. Her absence from her room might be felt, or some strange mishap in the middle of the night might bring everything out into the open. She was thinking of these dangers and the fear these dangers aroused gave the plan a new weightiness. She wanted, not a calm that would numb her loving nerves but just such fears, agitations and tremblings. To this was added a taste of self-sacrifice. By throwing herself at the mercy of these dangers, she would be saying, ‘do you see? All this is for you!’

One night, after everyone was asleep, she would slide off her bed, slip her bare feet into her slippers, throw something over her shoulders, and without so much as breathing, open her door… Ah! That moment of anxiety!.. As she heard the beating of her heart, she would suspect footsteps, an iron hand would grasp her wrist, a choked voice say in her ear, ‘where are you going?’ Then she would confess all. ‘There! To his room!’ she would say. She would admit to running away from this nuptial chamber into which no drop of comfort ever fell, to the room of that other, to that nest of her sinful passion, and after she had admitted this, she would be crushed under who knew what vengeful blow, her whole life would be ruined, leaving before her only an awful whirlpool for a future; but she would still be happy, happy to have lost everything, even happy to die, and she would run to her love…

How many times she had risen from her bed, burning with a fever like someone moved by the frenzy of a murderous impulse, and gone all the way to her bedroom door; but there she would pause, standing still with her eyes fixed on a spot in the darkness, and wait… for what? She would stand as if expecting to be graced by some influence of the shadows.

She felt that in that moment someone awaited her, just like her not daring to breathe, at every moment almost fainting with the anticipation of an imagined movement at the door. As she thought of his waiting she would feel a strange certainty, and would desist from any further attempt at bravery.

With his eyes, Behlül would say, ‘you did not come again!’ He would watch Bihter, seeking a minute’s opportunity to be alone, his eyes pleading to say just one word to her in private. Until she had given him one night, she would not give him the chance to say anything.

Behlül now stayed at home every evening. Whereas he had been in the habit of spending almost half the week outdoors, for the last month he had not absented himself from the house for even one night. Adnan Bey kept teasing him. ‘Behlül has turned his back on the world!’ he would say, and then, inventing reasons for this, would become convinced of the existence of an unrequited love that drove Behlül to reclusion. ‘Behlül tells us all about his victories, if only we could make him relate his failures also!’

During such banter Bihter would turn her eyes away and look at neither of them; if it were possible, she would cry out, ‘but don’t you understand? Behlül left everything for me, only for me!’

Yes, he had left everything only for her, and she could not find one night to give him. She could not say, ‘here, I am placing my entire life in danger for you, too!’

But at last, she found the night.

The wedding had been arranged. It was to begin with a private party attended only by family members and close friends. Firdevs Hanım had been invited along with her daughters and Nihal; they were to go on Wednesday and return on Thursday evening.

On Wednesday, there was a great bustling in the yalı. Early in the morning, Firdevs Hanım and Peyker had arrived with their dress boxes. They were to get ready there, and travel to the wedding house by a steamboat that was kept waiting for them. There were so many things they needed to take with them that no other solution had presented itself: there were piles of things, from their night clothes and their toiletries, to the boxes of clothes they were to wear on Thursday. Everyone was lost in the confusion. Firdevs Hanım was shouting, unable to find herself a helper, Nesrin and Şayeste, finding it fitting not to busy themselves with anyone else on this day, were choosing not leaving their room, Bihter was turning the house upside down for the lost key to her cupboard, Peyker was arguing with her husband because he had snapped the string of her bodice as he laced it, and Feridun, who Katina had left alone to help Firdevs Hanım, was wailing. To Adnan Bey, who, with a desire to help his wife, would not leave her room, Bihter was saying, ‘if you leave me alone, I can dress easier.’ Then, thrusting the powder puff into his hands, she was showing her shoulders. ‘Since you do not want to leave, be of some use.’

Firdevs Hanım’s voice could be heard in the distance: ‘Bihter! Send me your curling irons, will you?’

Beşir, who had snapped one of the buttons of Nihal’s half-boots as he was doing them up, was banging on Şayeste and Nesrin’s closed door for a needle and some thread, but from downstairs, Mlle de Courton, who had finally found the necessary objects, was calling to him in her particular accent: ‘Beshi! Beshi! Come ’ere. There iz some ’ere.’

Behlül was going from door to door, asking, ‘does anyone want assistance? I’m free.’

Bihter was ready before any of them, but Adnan Bey was showing unexpected clumsiness in pinning her sash. He called to Behlül. ‘Behlül, come here. Here’s a task for you…’

Bihter was laughing nervously, thinking this a task too personal to be transferred to Behlül. Behlül was kneeling, taking the pin from his uncle’s hand.

‘Finally,’ he was saying. ‘I’m tired of offering unwanted help all morning.’

Behlül finished and stood up. Adnan Bey must have slipped through the open door to go and see Nihal, whose laughter could be heard from afar. Bihter and Behlül were alone. They gazed at each other.

Behlül drew near, and in a quiet voice, ‘how beautiful you are,’ he said. ‘When I see you so beautiful, I feel like crying.’

Bihter, in all the splendour and ornament of her youth, in the white silks that flowed down from her neck, and leaving her arms bare, wrapped her breast, then united with the long skirt that appeared to make up the remainder of a rippling, crystal statue of spring, looked like a tall, slender representation of the victory of beauty.

She was gazing at Behlül with an indistinct smile. Suddenly, she wanted to say something that she had not told him until that day, felt the need to give herself to him with one word, in this state. ‘Why?’ she asked, ‘since I love you?’

Behlül longed to hold her hands and kiss them. Bihter, looking around and pushing him away, murmured, ‘are you mad? Let me go. Tomorrow night…’

Tomorrow night!… She had said it without thinking. How? How would it be possible tomorrow night? She did not know. But there was such a deep passion in Behlül’s look, and such a heartfelt plea in the few words he had spoken a moment ago, that whether it was possible or not, she would go to him tomorrow night.

Behlül did not have a chance to respond. Adnan Bey was there, with his voice that said, ‘I am bringing you someone most elegant.’

He was bringing Nihal. She had finally given up on the idea of the Japanese costume which everyone had thought so ridiculous. They had found her something that would strengthen the delicate beauty of her face. It was something woven like straw from pale yellow and white. The bodice began halfway down her torso. A beaded neckpiece covered her breast, from her throat to her bodice, and the sleeves were made of a thin gauze that left her thin arms half bare.

That was all; not a flower in her hair, not a single piece of jewellery; a plain, elegant dress. But in this dress Nihal was beautiful with such a delicate, ethereal beauty that Bihter could not suppress a cry of surprise.

‘Oh! My itty bitty Nihal!…’

She ran, and pulling Nihal by her hands, kissed her. Without letting go of Nihal’s hands, Bihter stepped back to view her. Then turning to Adnan Bey, said ‘what a beautiful daughter we have.’

‘Do you know, Nihal,’ Behlül was saying, ‘whatever you wear I still see you as a Japanese girl? I don’t know where I got the idea. But I think you are nothing if not a delicate Japanese girl, fragile enough to break between one’s fingers…’ Then, leaning close to her ear, he was asking, ‘remember, Nihal, you were going to let me kiss you on your brow, that brow that looks like the lines on a Japanese fan…’

Nihal was laughing as she drew back, hiding her brow with her hand. ‘You still think me a child,’ she was saying. Then, looking at her father, she was asking, ‘Behlül can’t kiss me anymore, can he, papa?’

Bihter was standing before her mirror, taking out her jewels. Following her marriage, Adnan Bey had gifted her a delicious emerald set that she had not yet found an opportunity to wear. Nihal had not seen it, but had heard about it from the girls. How much had they said it was? It had been bought for a price that the servants thought extravagant. Nihal had only a pair of earrings in her ears, each with a small stone at the centre surrounded by tiny pearls. Many times she had intended to ask Bihter to see the emeralds, but every time the fear of appearing jealous had prevented her.

Doubtless she was jealous, not only of these, but of the smallest things which crushed her wretched soul in perpetual torments. Nihal had come to know the feeling well. What made her jealous was not the things themselves, but their meaning, yes, that her father forgot her and thought always of this woman.

Today, when for the first time in her life she was happy with the excitement of attending a wedding, something snapped inside her at the sight of the red velvet box that Bihter had left unopened on a couch.

Now Adnan Bey was opening the box, and showing a piece that could be used as both a brooch and a comb, was asking Bihter, ‘are you going to put it in your hair, my love?’

Nihal escaped. Peyker was in the hall, calling to her mother who would not release Katina. Şayeste and Nesrin had finally descended. Beşir had donned his setre [1], and put on his crimson cravat. Nihal objected to the way the cravat was tied, and was tidying it with a few deft touches of her fingers. 

‘Ah, Peyker Hanım! Look at my Beşir, isn’t he handsome? Tell me, isn’t he handsomer than any of us?’ she was saying.

Finally they were all ready, and stood waiting in the hall for Firdevs Hanım. Nihal had looked at Bihter surreptitiously and noticed the comb, the earrings, the ring on her finger. Nesrin and Şayeste were carrying the boxes of Thursday things and the overnight bags to be loaded into the steamboat, and Mlle de Courton was dressing Nihal in her sheets. Bihter and Peyker, who could not wear sheets with their long dresses, were to put on their overcoats. They were all calling impatiently to Firdevs Hanım who had still not quit her room, and Nihat Bey, who was tasked with quieting Feridun, was banging on the door, saying, ‘at least release Katina. The child is fretful.’

Suddenly, Behlül cried, ‘Behold! The door is opening…’

Finally the door had been opened, and Katina was standing aside to make way. They were all smiling in expectation. A rustling announced Firdevs Hanım’s approach. When they saw her at the threshold, they could not suppress a collective exclamation of surprise. This woman, for some time quite aged and declined, had today changed completely, as if wishing to appear in one last brilliant glow of the beauty she possessed before it was extinguished, and had gone back in time ten years. They almost did not recognise her. ‘Mother!’ little Feridun proclaimed.

Even that title of Firdevs Hanım’s, that awful title of “grandmotherhood” was leaving the child’s lips changed, coloured, and made new. She was moving as if unaware of the astonishment she aroused around her, as if masking the aches and pains that had kept her tied to her chaise longue until yesterday with the magic of her art, and with the victory of having remained young and beautiful in her fifty years. Upon her was the dress that had been planned: a black skirt, a bodice that with its perfect blend of crimson and black gave the pallor of her breast and arms a freshness, and right between her breasts, a large, red rose…

‘I’m afraid I made you wait,’ Firdevs Hanım said to those around her, and looking at Behlül with a searching and resentful look that broke off and rose from the depths of her eyes, wanted to say, ‘you see, I am still young and beautiful.’

Bihter was now calling hurriedly, finding something to say or ask everyone. ‘Nesrin! My mother’s sheets… Peyker! Feridun will sleep in Nihal’s room, won’t she? Mademoiselle, please check on the child once or twice throughout the night…’

Then, suddenly, she remembered something that had been forgotten. ‘Ah, the bag, where is the bag? My little handbag?’

She was looking around in expectation of an answer. Everyone was busy. Sheets were being donned, Nihal and Firdevs Hanım were struggling to share the mirror in order to put on their veils, Peyker was worried that the thin tulle of the yeldirme she was wearing would ruffle her hair, Nesrin and Şayeste were receding to a corner to wrap their heads in the sheets that hung from their waists.

Then Bihter turned to Behlül. ‘If you please, would you look in my room? I think I left it there.’

Behlül was running to see, and when he disappeared from the corridor, Bihter was remembering something else, and asking herself, ‘but what about the gloves? Did I put them in the bag?’

Now everyone was descending the stairs, Nihal was kissing Mlle de Courton in farewell, Adnan Bey and Nihat Bey were leaning out of the window to watch them boarding the steamboat. Bihter ran for her gloves. Behlül was in the room, searching among the dresses and clothes that had been strewn about on the couches and chairs.

‘Couldn’t you find it?’ asked Bihter. Then she saw the bag had fallen on the floor, on the carpet. ‘Here it is.’

Behlül took the bag, but was looking at Bihter without handing it over. ‘Tomorrow night,’ he said.

‘Yes, tomorrow night!.. Give me the bag, please. Everyone else has gone down, they will find some significance in our being alone together.’

As Behlül handed the bag over, a desire, kindled by this mention of being left alone, moved him to take Bihter’s hands. Their lips locked together and they kissed with a long, rough kiss. They were both dizzy; at this moment they might, despite every danger, fall into each other’s arms. Suddenly they heard a creak, the creak of a door; trembling, they pulled apart. Bihter threw herself out into the corridor, Behlül, checking himself, was following. As Bihter passed, Mlle de Courton’s door appeared to be swinging. Surely it was nothing, the old governess must have just gone into her room…

Finally that long-awaited night had come. Everyone in the house was asleep. It had perhaps been hours since Bihter had briefly exchanged kisses with her husband and closed the communicating door.

She was dazed after a night of mad revelry and almost no sleep at the wedding house, after the throng and tumult of Thursday. She was warming her feet at the porcelain stove in her room. Suddenly, something in her heart announced that the surest moment had arrived. In her night clothes, throwing only a shawl across her shoulders, she went to her door; tonight, as she turned the doorknob, there was neither a fearful trembling in her body, nor a palpitation in her heart; it was as if she were doing something very natural. She had brought the key to her room with her, and locked the door from the outside; she was sure she had not been heard. Once she had crossed the corridor there was no longer any need for anxiety; in the hall, on the stairs, on the lower floor, it was not possible to be seen or heard. In case she encountered anyone in the hall, she had prepared an answer. She would say that she could not sleep, and was going down to get a book from her husband’s library. As she passed the staircase, the hall, she was keeping herself from thinking. If she thought, if she hesitated, she might go back, and she did not want to go back, she must absolutely press on. She was being dragged there with the resistlessness of a sleepwalker. She pushed Behlül’s door, which was slightly ajar. Without saying a word, or listening to him, she took him by the hand. To destroy any possibility of return, to distance them from this door, to go to as soon as possible to that place, that love room that was full of secrets, she herself dragged him along.

And finally, in this room that Behlül had scented with violet water, she shook herself as if waking from an awful sleep that made her involuntarily walk the lonely house at night, and suddenly seeing her surroundings in the pink light of the lamp’s red shade, seeing all the bits and pieces that Behlül’s aimless whims had piled into this bedroom, and in particular the bed, there in the corner with its curtains drawn as if trying to hide, she covered her face with both hands, not wishing to see all this, or the shame that this light brought to life.

Behlül was drawing her to him. ‘Child!’ he was saying, then finding the words to thank her, ‘you love me, Bihter! Oh! I am sure of it. You must love me to have come tonight.’

Then Bihter wanted to talk about the torments of her conscience, the baseness of her betrayal; she felt that if she spoke of these things she would feel the lightness that came from a confession or murder.

But she was noticing something in her voice that sounded the wrong note even to her own ears. Were these things she said, all lies? Did she feel no prick of her conscience, sincerely, in her soul; no shame in her disloyalty?

‘Why are you inventing such ideas,’ Behlül was saying, ‘don’t you feel this night’s bliss? Let this bliss stay untainted, undisturbed.’

Bihter thought that he was right, and was silent. Then she put her head on Behlül’s shoulder. ‘Yes, since, after all, I love you,’ she said.

How would they spend this long night together? There was still a strangeness, the cold breath of their former relationship between them, that seemed to keep them from lovemaking. Bihter wanted to see all of the things in the room, and was wandering about, pausing at length in front of the oddest objects. Looking at the pictures of the women on the wall, she laughed. ‘All bought out of interest in their clothing,’ she was saying.

All at once, an idea occurred to her. How would it be if Behlül told her about all his romances, one by one, in all their detail? Excited by this idea, she was clapping her hands like a child. Behlül was demurring. There had never been any love affairs in his life. His greatest sin would not fill the heart of a sparrow. As well as being the purest man in the world, he was also the most midjudged.

Behlül was laughing as he spoke. Bihter was insisting, no, tonight she must know his whole life, his whole history. Then Behlül invented stories, ridiculous love affairs so odd that Bihter forgave them all.

‘But did you love no one?’ she was asking, and her brows were lifting in deep consternation in considering this question. Even as she laughed while listening to these strange tales, she was feeling a secret pang. In this man’s life, this night too could become a strange tale to be related to another woman in order to make her laugh.

Behlül, sensing this uneasiness, was taking her hands and pulling them to his breast. ‘You, only you,’ he was saying, and in his tone there was such an earnestness that the young woman was offering her lips to drink this heartfelt voice at its source.

Oh! How happy they were. They would make love like this, with a perpetual passion. Bihter wanted to begin a sentence. ‘But,’ she said.

‘But?’ Behlül was asking.

‘What if one day, perhaps here, when we are drunk with happiness, something should happen…’

She could not speak her husband’s name. Behlül assured her at once. ‘What of it?’ he said. ‘Then we would go away from here. Then we would be entirely happy!…’

Bihter was looking at him uncomprehendingly. Where would they go from here? So he could turn his back on everything in order to live with her? Truly, truly, they could leave together, could they? Just the two of them, never to return, somewhere far, far away where they would die in each other’s arms? This idea satisfied her, there was even almost waking in her heart the desire to be seen at this moment, to be understood. Placing both her hands on Behlül’s shoulders, looking him straight in the eyes, she was asking, ‘so we would leave! But where? How?…’

‘How do I know?’ Behlül was saying. ‘Far away, somewhere away from everything…’

Then once again he was opening up the poetic horizons of an ode to love that lulled her into a sweet dream. They were to cross oceans; they were to find a home for their love, woven with care and joy, such a special place that it would be fresh with a perpetual spring. Groves among whose trees they could lose themselves, and cascades by whose clear waves they could repose, would form the constant vernal setting for their romance. They would wander arm in arm, all alone past the birds that applauded them with a little clatter of welcome, and flowers that congratulated them with pure smiles. Then they would return to their nest, listening to heartfelt love songs under the moonlight’s touching, unheard harmony. In their small, elegant home, in that box that was like a green cage drowning in greenery, they would make love; they would make such love that unaware of the years passing, they would be forever young, forever happy, and would no longer wish to die. Perhaps this place of love would look so much like a piece of paradise that even death would forget them.

Behlül was speaking, gradually intoxicated with the effect of this love ode that also enveloped him in a pleasant fervour. This dreamy tableau was taking Bihter far away, and tossing her into the details of an unknown world woven with poetry and love. Afraid that to add a single word would violate the blissful vision of this ode, she was remaining silent. She was thinking only one thing: Behlül would come with her, abandon everything for her… Now she wanted to throw her arms around his neck, to thank him, to say, ‘if you knew how happy you make me!’ Yes, she was happy now, she was reaping the rewards of her sin.

When she realised that it was time, tonight, to return, Bihter suddenly felt frightened. Coming here, she had never thought of the return. She could not determine why she was afraid. She would go as she came. The dangers that had been considered as she came were the same ones that were present on the return. While she had left her room without feeling any anxiety, she did not understand why she felt any anxiety on once again returning there. But she was sure she would be startled by the night’s breath, the long halls, the walls, of everything, that some hands would reach out and grab her, that with a scream of terror she would fall and faint in the darkness. But she had to go, she could not remain any longer, there might be people waking in the house towards dawn.

Behlül would leave his door half-ajar. Bihter snatched her shawl and made a brave move. She was running through the darkness in the hall, the board squeaked on one of the steps, she stopped, not daring to take another step, then she became afraid of stopping. She did not know how she came before her door. There, she remembered her key. Where had she put the key? Before she considered this, she thought of the consequences of not being able to find it. It was impossible for her to direct her memory to thinking where she had put it. An endless moment passed; she was about to collapse there, as if she had spent the last of her strength in a struggle that broke her will. Suddenly she remembered — the key was tied to the ribbon of the shawl, and was swinging at her breast. How had she failed to see it?

She was trembling as she opened the door. She could not tell if she made a sound or not. After she entered her room and closed the door behind her, she paused for some moments, listening. There was no sound. This great house was slumbering with slow, steady breaths in a deep sleep, unaware of everything. 

So no eyes other than the night’s dark eyes had seen her. So this woman had spent the night in another room and no one had known about it. Bihter was surprised that it could be so easy. In that case, she could go tomorrow night if she wanted, she could go there every night.

At last she may be seen, but there was no need to fear it any longer; since she was to leave with him, far across the oceans… Bihter was seeing herself walking slowly, arm in arm with Behlül in verdant forests, among blue waterfalls, in a beatitude of love.

Previous Chapter // First Chapter // Next Chapter

Notes

[1] – Setre – a sort of long jacket with a high collar.


Sign Up For Updates

Enter your email address below and I will notify you when new chapters are posted.

Roses, book & quill
My New Novel!

ALEMMIA:
a law of attraction novel

Roses, book & quill
Bookshelf
Roses, book & quill
Roses, book & quill
Lady Writer

I write about literature, language, love, and living off your pen. Also, fortifying fiction, personal amelioration, and tea.

Roses, book & quill
Roses, book & quill
Learn from a master
Roses, book & quill

NEIL GAIMAN'S WRITING MASTERCLASS. LEARN MORE. MARGARET ATWOOD MASTERCLASS.

This page contains affiliate links which help support the site.

Angie Makes Feminine WordPress Themes
Don't Miss this Free Workshop!