Chapter Sixteen – Forbidden Love

That day, after dealing Nihal such an awful blow, Adnan Bey had felt the painful throb of a vein deep inside his heart, a vein that had seemed to have been smothered, or numbed for some time: the vein of fatherhood. Since his marriage, he had not missed the smallest symptoms of those periods of torture that wracked Nihal’s spirit, these were such unavoidable incidents in his eyes that he had awaited their development even before his wedding, and afterwards, with the habit of accepting Nihal’s sufferings as the harmless attacks of an illness that would pass with time, he had begun to distance himself from the responsibility of having caused them. He had even looked upon the blows that Nihal had heretofore been dealt, and those things that strengthened and renewed the periods of torture, as eventually remedial, although somewhat severe. First of all he had decided that for Nihal and Bihter to become close, it was necessary for him to draw away, and so he had distanced himself from his daughter. Then, taking advantage of her weakness, he had seen fit to send away those persons who might create obstacles to the establishment of peace in the household, and he had dismissed Şakire Hanım, and her husband and daughter. Now, the dismissal of that old girl who was known to be Bihter’s enemy, who was regarded as a pernicious guest who wrought intrigues in the darkness that threatened the family peace, had been decided upon as a necessary precaution.

Adnan Bey could not specify the reasons for the emergence of this new idea of Mlle de Courton, who had always been as a second mother to his children. A few of Bihter’s seemingly innocent words; a brief glance at the governess after one of Nihal’s outbursts, followed by a smiling look — full of meaning — that she cast her husband; those unspoken hints grew slowly in his brain, like a drop of oil that slides down a needle and onto a silk fabric, seeping and spreading until it finally takes over. But at last, this morning, after he had dealt that blow, he felt a fear that made him doubt the curative effect of all those blows that Nihal had suffered, a fear that he had been deceived until today, no, that someone had deceived him, an awful, painful fear had pierced his heart with a fiery needle and with its tip found out in a forgotten corner of his heart that dead, numb, silent vein, the vein of fatherhood, and made it burn, and smart.

Was he, in fact, killing his daughter?

As soon as Nihal had run away from him in the garden, he had trembled before this question as before the horrible accusation of a ghostly apparition. He wanted to rid his mind of this question; its answering, the steady gaze, the penetration needed for the inquiry could reveal such a great responsibility, such a painful sorrow that he struggled to avoid thinking about it in order to protect himself.

To busy himself with some work, he went up to his study. For days he had been working on carving Bihter’s face into a beautiful walnut root.

As he took it up, his eyes, with what deeper purpose, searched among the discarded, and broken wood pieces for that other visage, that half-finished carving of Nihal with its missing lines, that had long been set aside and forgotten. Then, with Bihter’s new face in his hand, with weak, ungovernable eyes that seemed to obey a hidden need of his heart rather than his own volition, he looked into a far, dark corner of his room, at a picture that he had neither had the courage to put away entirely, nor to subject to prying, but had instead placed amid a heap of knick knacks: a picture of his first wife, faded with age. He thought that this picture was suddenly coming to life in those eyes that had so long neglected her, was becoming solid and swelling in that dark corner and then approaching him, shaking, meeting his eyes with her own eyes fiery with hatred and passion, and letting out a bloodcurdling cry of motherly sorrow:

‘Are you killing my daughter?’

This two years’ married life was appearing before his eyes like an awful duty; small scenes that came and went, sparking and fading as fast as lightning, always showed him Bihter and Nihal. In his mind, his wife and his daughter were chasing each other, trying to cover each other up. He sank into his chair, still holding that piece of root in one hand, and brooded with a deep, sorrowing wound in his heart. Five or ten minutes had been all it took for this wound to open up. It was time for this father to return to his daughter; he felt an ardent desire to weep for her, and he longed to surrender himself to this desire. Then he thought about the consequences of this pity that overwhelmed him, in particular, he was so frightened of an error it was now necessary to admit to, that with an involuntary recoiling movement as one might make to protect oneself against collision with a danger approaching in the dark, his reason shrank from following these confused traces. But even as he scattered a handful of salt to numb the pain of the wound in his heart that had opened for Nihal, he could not stop the ache of another wound and this second wound would not be numbed, it woke again and again, from underneath the salts that had been laid on to numb it for such a long time, with unexpected resurgences, tearing further, deeper, searing and poisonous.

This was the wound of his marriage. In the beginning, it was like a small, indistinct stain. The hope of being happy with Bihter had left him so intoxicated that he was willing to ignore the prick of this small point within his happiness. But gradually the sting had worked its way deeper, and created a wound that was impossible to ignore. His whole married life was being envenomed by this, and as he tried to appear content, he found himself looking as false as someone who tried to hide a terrible disease beneath superficial adornments. While earlier, the fresh joy of his felicity could cover up those pains, now the pains were crushing, drowning his happiness. He had such quiet crises in his solitude that he decided that he was ill-fated. This marriage had been an enormous mistake; he had finally understood this as he felt Bihter lying in his arms with the stillness of a soulless, inanimate object, the lifelessness of a dead woman, not deriving any pleasure from their embraces, but fixing her eyes away from his as if in search of some other dream of love, giving her body but none of her womanly warmth. Even as he made Bihter his, he felt as though she were giving herself to someone else. Underneath the most heated, the most impassioned kiss, he would find her lips frozen with an icy breath, and in that second a snowy wind would blow across his most amorous flames. Bihter had a way of hugging him loosely that might make one think that she was pushing him away, and repulsing him. She would offer her lips with such kisses that their bleak, soulless touch felt like the dead, dry kisses one felt in dreams. In all their lovemaking, Bihter gave herself without becoming his.

As he felt himself chilled to his very soul by this unseen, winter wind, it would seem as if the walls of his homely happiness ran with icicles, and he would fix his eyes on his wife resentfully. In this look, the disappointments of his manly pride would take on such clear expression that at once Bihter would feel the need to soothe, no, even to beg his forgiveness for being unable to please him, and laying her head on his shoulder, under his beard, she would place her lips against that smooth spot that had once been Nihal’s place, and kiss him with small, light touches.

These kisses had such a cold air of falseness that he would want to shrug Bihter off his shoulder, to hold her by the wrists, and to shake this woman who could not be wholly his, with a wild jealousy. He felt jealous, not because of anyone else, but because of his own age; he felt enormously jealous of her youth and beauty, and of his inability to own her completely.

Sometimes he would want to retaliate, he would feel the need to take his revenge by belittling her with a harsh word. He had made her cry many times; then, as she wept, he would reproach himself for being selfish, would consider his jealousies base, and wish to have them forgotten. As Bihter tried to push him out of her room with kisses and caresses, he would try to entertain the excuses of weariness, and illness, but as the key turned in the lock of her door with a jarring screech, something would tear in his heart.

‘It’s certain she does not love me,’ he would say to himself.

How many times, in those moments of crisis, had it been on his lips to say to her, ‘you do not love me.’ Then he would tremble so much with the fear of seeing the clear proof that he was unloved in the assurances she would return to this question, that he would not dare.

In his room, writhing with suspicions, he would not be able to sleep for hours. Thinking it possible that Bihter may have loved someone before her marriage, he would envy the imaginary memory of this imaginary affair. Perhaps that love had not yet been erased from her heart; perhaps it was the living memory that kept this woman from being entirely his. How many times had he quizzed her with skilful questions in an attempt to discover some clue, some point in the young woman’s past that could awaken doubt.

One day, a suspicion fell into his heart that had not occurred to him until that moment: Behlül!.. This suspicion was not born of any incident; one night, seeing them sitting side by side looking at an illustrated journal, he had admitted to himself that this young man could pose a threat. But Behlül seemed so distant from Bihter, and Bihter always used such dispassionate language when she spoke about Behlül that to fear the possibility of a dangerous situation between them seemed to Adnan Bey nothing but an ugly, base jealousy that could not be confessed without shame. He had promised himself never to think of it again. But in those moments he would realise that an involuntary instinct was calling him to scrutinise Bihter and Behlül. Then, blaming himself for his suspicion, he would try to think of something else.

Once, when he was considering them, he said to himself, ‘impossible,’ and to pardon himself for a wrong he had committed against them in his imagination, he had called out, ‘Behlül! Tell my lady to play to us on the oud.’

One day, after they had decided among them that Mlle de Courton would be dismissed, Behlül had found something that had erased at once all of those unwilling doubts that had clawed at Adnan Bey’s mind. At a moment when he was alone with his uncle, Behlül had drawn closer, and said seriously:

‘You see, they are all leaving one by one. After Mlle de Courton, I think Bihter Hanım will begin to wish me gone too. Please don’t laugh, I have strong reasons for thinking so. Do not be fooled by appearances, I’m certain she dislikes me. I mean to say, as soon as you detect such a wish in her, one glance from you will be enough. Shall I speak truly? I’m weary of yalı life. An elegant room at the Pera Palace now…’ [1]

Behlül, hearing Bihter’s voice, had halted. Adnan Bey’s suspicions did not go beyond the possibility of a tendency towards too much intimacy between Behlül and Bihter, and in the power of imagination that turned his thoughts back to his wife’s past, there was not enough strength shamelessly to accede to jealousy, and to assume that their relationship could become more particular. Only in his heart was there a deep resentment of Behlül. A resentment born of no longer being as joyous, as young, or as handsome as him, a resentment that made him wish Behlül elsewhere whenever he saw him with Bihter. In their private lives, this young man’s body was like a language that spoke to Bihter of her husband’s old age.

Adnan Bey had discovered this feeling towards Behlül one day when he had shown a desire to become a member of one of the embassies. While he had been opposed to these notions of Behlül’s until then, this time he had suddenly deemed the scheme suitable. Later, recognising this conflict, he had not found it difficult to discover the real reason; yes, he had to confess that this young man was becoming surplus to their personal lives.

He had not spoken to Bihter about what Behlül had said concerning Mlle de Courton. He recalled this omission while he sat thinking in his room upon his return from the garden that day. When Bihter entered his room after Behlül had left, he asked, ‘Behlül has gone, hasn’t he?’

Bihter answered without looking at him. ‘Yes, I don’t think he will be returning tonight.’

Adnan Bey laughed. ‘He has spent the winter so tamely that we can excuse him for night.’

Bihter had sat on the couch and taken up her work. She would not raise her eyes.

Adnan Bey continued, laughing as he spoke. ‘Do you know what he said to me, the other day? He’s afraid that after Mlle de Courton, it will be his turn.’

Bihter lifted her eyes and looked at him in expectation of an explanation to his words.

‘You look like you don’t understand, Bihter… Since everyone thinks you’re the one dismissing those who leave, Behlül thinks he will soon be considered de trop.’

Adnan Bey stood up and went to sit next to Bihter. Putting his face close to hers, he asked, ‘I think Behlül wants to take a place in Beyoğlu, and he’s trying to invent an excuse to leave. If that’s what he’s planning, I won’t be the one to object.’

Bihter was not responding. Feeling her face flush, she was afraid that she would not be able to retain an appearance of indifference. A small doubt had also been born in her heart, these words that were spoken with a smile could also be a clever examination that hid an awful storm.

‘No doubt,’ she said, in a choked voice. Then, regretting her response, she added, ‘I mean to say, it seems unimportant to me. But please, if Behlül Bey is to leave, let him not drag me into the matter. I’m tired of being held responsible for everyone who leaves…’

Bihter was speaking heatedly, and Adnan Bey laughed even louder, and drew even closer. ‘No, admit it, Bihter,’ he said, ‘if Behlül leaves, I think you will be pleased.’

She nodded. ‘Perhaps,’ she said.

Her temples were throbbing. Now, out of this conversation, only one thing was occupying her brain. So Behlül was to leave, not just tonight, but every day and every night he would spend with who knew who, and who knew where. And her, what would happen to the woman who had given herself to him with all her soul? Suddenly she felt such an overwhelming hatred towards Behlül that she wanted to confess everything, yes, all her dirty betrayals to her husband, in order to be avenged on him. In one second, her whole life seemed to be falling to ruins before her eyes. Then she found something to fool herself with:

‘But these could all be lies. He will probably come home tonight, or in the morning, or in an hour or two.’

She felt a great need to be alone, afraid that if she were to stay with her husband any longer, she would not be able to control herself, to look nonchalant. Şayeste, opening the door to announce dinner, saved her.

That evening, the returned Mlle de Courton had gone out with Nihal, and a little later Adnan Bey too, had gone, leaving Bihter alone in the yalı. She had spent the day not thinking; it was as if she were riding a wave that dragged her along involuntarily. After they left, she had gone into Behlül’s room, and there, feeling a fresh joy in breathing in the harmlessly chill air of this beautiful winter day, she had meditated for hours, sitting in Behlül’s chair by the open window.

The last rays of the sun were sending weary caresses across the Kanlıca hills [2], and far in the distance a scrap of white cloud that drifted slowly from Beykoz shone with a whiteness like frosty glass on one side, while along its lower edge, a line slowly darkened into shadow. Boats and caiques stroked the still waters of the strait, taking advantage of this gentle, winter day; as one of the firm’s ferries [3] scattered its black smoke and obscured a yalı here and there as it passed, a large English freighter, with only four or five hands running about on its deck, was progressing towards the Black Sea calmly, as if alone.

Bihter, who always watched these things listlessly, was today lost in a long contemplation of them. She had been able to find only one conclusion to her reflections: awaiting Behlül. If he did not return today, she would deem everything at an end. Then she would be a wretched, fallen woman.

How would she spend this night if he did not come? Ah, god! So her happiness was contingent on such a small thing, was it? ‘But it isn’t possible,’ she was saying to herself. It was a lie invented to trick her. One had to be a fool not to see through it.

Then she coupled Behlül’s words with what she had heard from her husband, and found connections between them. Then, in great abjection, ‘no, he won’t come,’ she was saying, ‘it’s over, all, all over.’

As she told herself that it was all over, she was looking down at the waters that slapped the quay with a gentle murmur. These lapping waters of the Bosphorus which had lulled her to sleep since she was tiny, were repeating, like old confidantes privy to her heart’s secrets: ‘yes, all, all…’

While her whole life had been spent on the shore of this sea, listening to the warbling of its tireless, unending current, gathering what thoughts, what intimate conversations as it licked the shores, she had never before found it so companionable to her conscience, sharing so closely in her secrets. The darkness, wishing to leave her alone with her thoughts, was beginning to erase the scene little by little, spreading its semi-translucent, tulle petticoats into a mist on the farther shore. There was a pair of windows on the hill that shone like two red eyes with the flame of the sunset, but they had long since closed their ruby gaze. Many eyes seemed to blink and go out on the skirts of Kanlıca. Slowly, a quiet calm that numbed the spirits was raining down from the skies. It was as if someone were singing nature a silent lullaby. Suddenly, a sound rent this silent tranquility, and made Bihter start: the sound of a whistle; perhaps he was coming. A voice in her heart assured her that he would certainly come, but something else was saying, ‘you’re fooling yourself, it’s all over, all, all…’ and then under those watchful eyes, the waters were repeating, with hidden laughter, ‘all, all…’

Involuntarily, her gaze was settling on the corner of the quay that was visible, and waiting for a shadow to appear there. Once she poked her head out; it was the old governess, with Beşir and Nihal in tow, and not wishing to be seen by them, she withdrew. Now the stream of her thoughts had taken another turn. This girl had reminded her of the vision of a long life of suffering. With a few, rough lines, she drew the history of her marriage. She was finding it full of painful, vain afflictions, poisoned by constant battles for things that had been hoped for, but were never attained. What had she expected from this marriage, and what did she continue to expect? Here, she possessed everything that had once lit her girlish daydreams without feeling any real confidence in their accomplishment. Wealth, flamboyance, luxuries; those ambitions she had fed in her dreams were today in her grasp; but these stood before her with the dejection of orphans, lowly and unbefriended. This marriage had fulfilled a girl’s ambitions, but had left her starving as a woman. She had long since decided that she was a hapless woman, entirely deceived. Then a glimmer of happiness had appeared on the horizon of her life, and she had given herself to it with her whole being; she had never imagined the existence of a force that could extinguish this weak light. Today, for the first time, a wild wind, a treacherous breath blowing from who-knew-where, had wanted to push its clouds over that light, that sun. What would happen if it were extinguished? An eternal darkness…

She wanted to laugh at herself as she thought these. He would come at any moment, explain it away with a few words, and it would all have past. What had even occurred today to frighten her so much? She found herself childish. The last ferry had not yet arrived. Then she thought that perhaps he could come at night. But how could he come? He would take the carriage to Bebek. Then? She was imagining Behlül in a boat in the darkness, braving dangers to come back to her. How grateful she would be to him!

At one point she looked at the room. She had not given the girls instructions to light the stove, and she felt that she would not find the strength to tell them. The room was dark. To be found there, for no reason, at this hour, seemed so improper to her that she wanted to get up and leave. It was possible that Adnan Bey had returned and had asked for her; but at this moment, in this empty darkness, the memories of this room, this trysting place that were buried in her soul, seemed to want to detain her yet longer. She felt that if she waited for Behlül here, the possibility of his return would gain power. Besides herself, beneath the open window that was now making her feel cold, there was the murmur that came from afar, that invited her to speak with its soothing tongue. ‘Tell us, why don’t you?’ it was saying. ‘If you knew what unknown secrets, what broken dreams, what faded flowers, what worn ambitions, what dead hopes have been thrown at us from the windows of these shores! If you knew how we roll away these poor, wretched dead, rocking them with such soothing laments, wrapping them in shrouds of soft foam, slow and funereal, under the drops of a dirge falling from the mourning milky way. If you knew what woeful tears flow into us. Do you, too, have a dead dream to relinquish to us, and a few forlorn teardrops to shed after it? You who were so merry and bright, such a stranger to crying. So it is all at an end, all over, all…’Then she would detect a mocking laugh in this soothing language, a calm laugh she thought she recognised: Peyker…

She had long come to realise that Peyker had been right. A small, poor, simple marriage; but a marriage based on love, on connection; a marriage that warmed your soul with the warmth of its fervour, that gave you children; to have a husband, a home, a life, and nothing to come between you and them. While she found nothing to admire in her brother-in-law, yet she thought Peyker content. Since she loved her husband. If only Bihter could love her husband; but she had not been able to, and she never would.

So a whole life could fall victim to one mistake. After this, the hope of happiness consisted only of a shameful romance that had to be kept hidden, and this love could one day deal her a terrible, humiliating slap in the face, and say, ‘that’s enough!’ What would she do then?

The sound of another whistle shook her, the last ferry was going by, and without seeing any need to wait, she felt that Behlül was not on it. She felt a sudden, painful certainty. Behlül would not come, and while she writhed thus in agony, he would find himself in some other woman’s arms.

She did not wish to stay in this room any longer; with a trick of the eye particular to dark nights, the sea had shrunk, the shore had drawn closer, and it was if everything had taken advantage of the dark to hunker together. The Kanlıca hills were looming towards Bihter  like large masses of shadow, wanting to crush her. Leaving the window open, she rose, the door was ajar, and a few rays of light were spilling dustily some way into the room. There was something in this dark and empty place that made her tremble as though she were committing murder. She felt a cold wave break against her face as she walked. An involuntary fearful tremor ran through her, as if reluctant to wake from slumber the wild beasts of this darkness. With her left hand holding her skirts and her right hand shielding her from running into anything, she stepped forward. Ahead, by the door, a part of the carpet was glittering with the light that slid in through the gap in the door, and she made towards it. Suddenly, a hand seemed to tear a curtain down and pierce the darkness with a sheet of light. They had opened the door. Bihter trembled; before she had the chance to pay attention to who was at the open door’s threshold, she drew back with a quick motion. There happened to be an armchair behind her, and unable to control her weak knees, she half-fell into it. Only then was she able to discern that the shadow standing in the doorway was Mlle de Courton.

The old governess, with a few books in her hands, was looking into the room, trying to see inside in the dark. Bihter was afraid even to breathe. While it would have been possible to extricate herself from this mischance with just a few works, at that moment Bihter, with the confusion of being caught red-handed, was trying to find her salvation in not being seen by Mlle de Courton. In this woman more than in anyone else, she sensed something in her eyes that gave her the impression of wanting to burst through her tight-lipped speech and uncover the hidden truth. Whenever she chanced to meet the old girl’s gaze that seemed to bore into her, she thought, ‘she certainly knows!’ How had this secret come to appear on her face? At first a simple nothing must have aroused her suspicions, and while keeping Behlül and Bihter under observation, down to the rhythm of their breathing, may not have yielded anything concrete, by connecting the evidence, she may have reached an understanding of the truth. In her hands, this truth about Bihter could be such an awful weapon that Bihter, unable to counter it, had found the solution in getting rid of the owner of the weapon. Mlle de Courton was leaving because of her.

The old girl had always expected this, especially since that moment at the wedding when she had unexpectedly become privy to Bihter and Behlül’s secret, and had been unable to close her door in time. So it was that when one day Adnan Bey had begun a preamble to lead up to the subject that Nihal had now reached an age when she no longer needed the companionship of a governess, the old girl had instantly understood the matter, and rescuing him from this difficult speech, she had even preserved her noble pride from the ignominy of being dismissed, albeit in a roundabout way. She had asked Adnan Bey’s leave herself.

Nihal was the old girl’s chief concern in all of this, and she found it so hard to part from her, that in her mind she always shrank from that moment. Finally, when that moment could no longer be delayed, she had not been able to find the strength to speak one word of it to Nihal, and had abandoned the duty to her father.

That afternoon when she returned, as soon as Nihal saw her, she said, ‘I know it all, all… You won’t say a word to me about it, do you understand? I will tell you which day you are to leave, as soon as possible, perhaps tomorrow. Let it be over quickly. If it is to go on too long, I don’t think I will find the strength. Now kiss me, and let us go out walking as if nothing has changed.’

Nihal did not speak of this as they wandered, she was cheerful, only now and then the old governess had noticed her squint her eyes and lift her eyebrows, and had asked, ‘why are you lifting your eyebrows and squinting, my child? Does your head ache?..’

‘No,’ Nihal had said, ‘perhaps it’s the sun.’

When they returned home, ‘Mademoiselle,’ Nihal had said to her governess, ‘this night might be the last that we spend together. After dinner, let us come straight upstairs. We can talk for such a long time on so many subjects that we won’t even mind not seeing each other for a year at least.’

Mlle de Courton was standing at Behlül’s door without entering. After a slight hesitation she called out, ‘Behlül Bey! Are you not there?’

Bihter was shivering unseen in the darkness. She now felt that hiding in here had been such a puerile thing to do that she was passionately cursing herself for a fool. To be in this room at this hour, especially when Behlül was not there, to have taken the air at that window was such a natural thing, that only hiding could have made it suspicious. In Mlle de Courton’s eyes, this would be as clear as a book whose secrets are read in a minute. The old girl might come in, see her there, and then what?..

For a moment she thought that Mlle de Courton was springing upon her with a great cry of victory, grabbing her by the arm, and saying, ‘ah, is it you, hanımefendi, you, in Behlül Bey’s room, hiding yourself in the darkness? You, you who are dismissing me, but hanım, it is you who are going to leave this house, not I…’ The old governess stepped forward across the threshold, as if having decided something, doubtless she had the idea of depositing the books to be returned to Behlül. She was progressing with the hesitant step of someone walking in the dark, she was about to pass by Bihter.

Then, involuntarily, as if by dint of habit, Bihter jumped out of her seat. In the dark, the two women had come face to face, breathing fast. Mlle de Courton, her heart palpitating with the shock of coming across someone in a dark place she had been sure was empty, said, ‘ah, hanımefendi, you frightened me. I was bringing Behlül Bey’s books…’

Bihter was not responding. This meeting was so untoward that Mlle de Courton could find nothing more to say, either. For a second, she thought that Behlül might be there, and that it might be thought that she had come with the intention of discovering them in the darkness; that such an idea would occur to Bihter seemed so belittling to her dignity that she wished to correct this opinion with a few words.

‘I assure you, hanımefendi,’ she began, but there was no possibility of continuing her sentence without implying her knowledge of everything. She stopped suddenly, as if she had lost her voice. 

Then Bihter, next to this woman who would be dismissed like a disgraced servant on the morrow, feeling the shame and baseness of a woman who had betrayed her husband, said in a choking voice, ‘mademoiselle, Behlül Bey isn’t here, and I, I don’t know why, I stood at the window for a while, and then I must have dozed off here.’

They were gazing at each other in the gloom, in a deep, uncomfortable silence. Mlle de Courton, without answering these words that were like a base confession from this woman’s lips, wishing to shrug off this secret that had come upon her unlooked for out of the dark, took two steps forward, and as Bihter left with heavy steps, she left the books on the guéridon without even wishing to confirm, with eyes that were now accustomed to the dark, that Behlül was not there.

That night, Nihal, who had wanted to talk until late, had gone to bed early, but detained her governess next to her until she had finally fallen asleep.

Mlle de Courton had told her about her plans: first of all, she would go to Paris. Having stayed there for only one month, as a guest to an old uncle, she would join her relatives who lived, with all the lassitude of a family of spiders, in a far, forgotten province, in one wing of a dilapidated mansion that had shown some resistance to the ravages of time. She was relating this quiet, reclusive life with all the embellishments of a sweet dream, and now and again, leaning over Nihal’s pale face, and kissing her with the lightest touch of her lips, she was saying, ‘in this happiness, I will only cry thinking of my little Nihal. But you will be content here, too, and you will tell me all about your joys, won’t you, Nihal?.. Then, whenever I hear of my little Nihal’s happiness, I will have nothing left to sorrow over.’

Nihal only pursed her lips. The old governess spoke to her like this for hours, lulling her. Tomorrow morning, in all likelihood before Nihal woke, the old parrot would be found to have flown away from her cage; all her belongings — she was adding with a smile — even those hats that Behlül Bey had so objected to, had been placed in their boxes, and were awaiting a small sign. As she spoke Behlül’s name, the old girl’s thoughts took a strange turn,  and she recalled that secret that had lain so long on her conscience, with its awful weight. Following a vague, indirect idea that had not occurred to her until that minute, unable to find it in herself to keep back the words that she may have regretted a moment later, but without further deliberation, she leaned over Nihal’s bed, and looking into her eyes that had begun to close with sleep, she said, ‘Nihal, I have one last piece of advice for you, and you must not ask me to explain it.’ And after a moment’s hesitation, she added: ‘stay away from Behlül…’

Nihal opened her blurry, sleepy eyes. These words had passed through her brain like a brief flicker of light through the clouds. She was not even sure that someone had spoken them. Her eyes closed again, and with the shadow of a smile on her lips, she wanted to say, ‘but we agreed on it today. He and I are to be friends from now on.’ Her lips trembled a little, then a numbing elixir spilled into her brain, and she fell asleep.

As Mlle de Courton leaned over her for one last goodbye kiss, Nihal was showing the tip of her thin eyebrow to someone in her sleep.

‘Right here,’ she was saying.

When Bihter was alone in her room that night, she had gathered the day’s history in her mind. This one day’s occurrences had been such unforgettable things that they seemed as tumultuous as a period of crisis whose chain of events grew in her eyes, such that their confused details would take a year to understand. At one point she had wanted to break this chain, that had affected her so greatly, down to its main elements. None of these parts constituted anything to be afraid of; Behlül would not be untrue to their love, nor had Adnan Bey formed any suspicion, nor had the old governess sought to take revenge on her; then her mind would take a retrospective line across this way of reasoning, and the stream of her thoughts would run in the opposite direction. She would see the old governess relating something to her husband in a slow, malicious tone. Perhaps Adnan Bey would tap tap on her door right now, and want to finish the conversation about Behlül that had been interrupted that morning. And while she was thus writhing in torment, Behlül was goodness-knows-where, in someone else’s arms, saying, ’there is only you, only you in my life.’

Seeing him in this imaginary vision that broke her heart’s resilience, and made it ache, she forgot everything else. The old governess could tell all she knew, Adnan Bey could come and ask her for an explanation…

Holding her hands against her belly, she was writhing with a wild jealousy. Then suddenly, harkening to the squeak of the stove’s funnel in a gust of wind, the leaf of a shutter gently swaying on its hinges, she would say, ‘he has come.’

After this momentary glimmer of hope, she threw herself into a deep numbness, and came to the sorrowful conclusion that he would not return, that everything was over. Then she would close her eyes, like a patient who longed to ease a violent ache by forgetting themselves, and she would stay still, with her brow furrowed in an effort to stop the workings of her mind. At one juncture, as she sat still in this way, she thought that she was waking from slumber, that she had slept in her chair for hours, and that someone had shaken her awake, saying: ‘but why are you sleeping? There, he has come.’

Had she really slept? She was looking around. What time was it? A candle on the guéridon had begun to drip out of the candleholder and onto a tortoiseshell comb that had been forgotten there. She felt unwilling to get up and move the comb; she wanted to be numb again, to stay here with the torpor of the dead. But Behlül, had he really returned? To get up, go out quietly, to enter that room again in the dark… But what if he had come? This time a vein that had lain dormant in the depths of her heart until that moment, the vein of her womanly pride, the mutinous vein of an abandoned woman, had throbbed. At once, in her forsaken state, doing nothing with the helplessness of a beaten child, she found herself so weak, so crushed, that she decided to leap to her feet with all her might and power, to emerge from the ruins of her happy dream unhurt, to find the strength to break the hand that had dealt her this series of insults. Now Behlül could come, now she would not seek him out in his room. Her whole dignity had shaken itself awake, with the rebellious wrath of a creature that tore its enslaving bridle; no longer wanting to obey, to be dragged along, she had recoiled. She did not even want to think about Behlül any more. She would go to bed and sleep as if nothing had happened. Almost tearing her dress off, she lay down; she wanted to close her eyes, to fall asleep right away without thinking of anything. Then her eyes flew open and became fixed on the candle that had been left burning; it was dripping onto the tortoiseshell comb slowly and steadily, like the drops of sorrow on her life. Wanting to get up and blow it out every minute, but with a great heaviness that loosened her body, her eyes fixed on the spot, her mind blank, she watched the crying candle for a long time.

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Notes

[1] Pera Palace – a fashionable hotel in the Tepebaşı district of Istanbul, opened in 1895.
[2] Kanlıca is on the Asian shore of Istanbul, in the Beykoz district. From this description, it seems that Adnan Bey’s yalı is north of the Rumeli Fortress on the European side, and faces east.
[3] The Şirket-i Hayriye  shipping firm, formed in 1851 as the first public Turkish company, ran ferries in the Boğaziçi area until 1945 (Vikipedi).


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

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