Chapter Seventeen – Forbidden Love

Behlül returned three days later. As he entered his room, he was afraid of coming upon Bihter, and could only just control a small palpitation. He was sure she would read his betrayal in his eyes. He had expended all his skill in invention to try to invent a lie that would explain away this three days’ absence. Otherwise, he felt his body enveloped in a vital aura of that wild, merry Dutch girl’s scent of youth and happiness. Bihter’s sensitive woman’s instinct would naturally discover this perfume.

These three days had passed in a mad fever of pleasure. The first night, on the way out of the Concordia, Kette had been thrown in a carriage — without her mother, this time — and taken to a house in Şişli. With her, that night, in the dark carriage, flying through the empty streets, he had discovered a novelty in his love life: elopement. Kette still had the effect upon him of an innocent girl who would not leave her mother’s side. The next day, having left her at a late hour, he had had the intention of returning to Boğaziçi. But having tarried for so long in the shops in Beyoğlu, and chanced upon an acquaintance in a sweet shop, he said to himself, ‘the last ferry has surely left.’ He had sent a few words to Kette, and taken her out to dinner. He had got the girl so drunk that on the stage that night, she had lost herself so far as to unpin the posy at her breast and toss it to Behlül. On the third night, Behlül had wished to deprive the Concordia of Kette. While the audience stamped and called for Kette, this beautiful girl would be imprisoned in a little room of that serene house in Şişli, for him only…

This passion also past, he had thought of Bihter. Who knew the agony in which she had spent these three nights. Was he going to allow her to discover this disloyalty? What lies would he invent to deceive her?

As he thought of these, he desired Bihter, having wearied of Kette in these three nights, he wanted to be back in the yalı, to see the room that had housed those hours of love-making, stolen for their partnership in treachery, to attain the pleasures of those hours.

When he found himself alone in his room, he felt a great satisfaction, as though the difficulty had been in getting there. The window of his room had been left open since that day. With the rain that had blown in, one side of the armchair, the carpet, and his smoking stand had become wet. He was feeling the need to walk quietly about his room, to step lightly; he was like a patient who wanted to avoid being woken. If Bihter were to come in this minute, he had nothing prepared to say to her.

As he stepped softly forward to close the window, he caught sight of something wet and white on the armchair. He knew as soon as he picked it up: it was a handkerchief Bihter had forgotten there… Without thinking, he put it to his lips, and in that scent of violets felt that Bihter was in his arms. This handkerchief was like a poignant poem to him, it told him of the hours spent by his window in an agony of anticipation, to be in his rooms while he was gone, breathing in his air.

‘Poor Bihter,’ he was saying to himself, and looking down at the handkerchief he held, in response to the expressions of suffering that flowed through its silent language, he was begging it for forgiveness.

Suddenly, with the rush of a hurricane, his door was pushed open and Nihal sprang inside. ‘Finally you could come,’ she said. ‘Where have you been, may I ask?’

Nihal was walking forward, wagging her finger. Then she noticed the wet handkerchief in Behlül’s hand. ‘What is that wet handkerchief in your hand? Ooh, there’s a puddle! Is this your doing?’ She was kneeling and lifting up one edge of the curtain to look at the wet floor. Then she reached out to grab the handkerchief. ‘Are you going to use that handkerchief to dry this? Oh, this isn’t your handkerchief. Let me see, it’s Bihter’s handkerchief…’

Behlül feared that this small thing would be enough for Nihal to understand the whole history of the truth. He gave Nihal the handkerchief. She looked at its corner, then picked it up and threw it on the wet carpet, saying, ‘yes, it’s hers.’ Then with a coy smile, she looked at Behlül. ‘If you were to hear my father,’ she said. ‘What he thinks of you.’

Behlül flushed, but he asked, nonchalantly, ‘what?’

Nihal was pursing her lips. ‘Firdevs Hanım will tell you. You know how it is, young ladies may overhear things that are forgetfully spoken in their presence, but they are not allowed to repeat them… Now Firdevs Hanım is with us! Did you know? She came yesterday. Mlle de Courton left, and she came… Shall I call Nesrin to you? She can dry up this lake.’ Noticing the handkerchief again, she added, ‘how did this get here? They can give it back to her…’

Behlül, not paying any more heed to the matter of the handkerchief, asked, ‘Nihal, what was your father saying? Tell me, now. You know you have a look that says everything without seeming to say anything…’

Nihal laughed. ‘Oh! How do I know? He was telling Firdevs Hanım. I didn’t hear very well. Then, I suppose as a joke to Bihter, he was saying, “maybe I’ll stay as a guest in Behlül’s room now and again.” What is it, do tell me, do you have another room now? Or are you leaving too?..’

Behlül understood. His three nights’ absence had become the subject of his uncle’s mirth. Once again, to himself, he was saying, ‘poor Bihter.’ Who knew how she had suffered from these jests. In answer to Nihal’s last question, he said, ‘are you crazy? Where would Behlül go? Besides, from now on, could he leave Nihal, his itty bitty friend, alone?.. So Firdevs Hanım has finally arrived, has she? Just wait till you see how well we get along with her, Nihal!.. She will be our friend too.’

Then, in a quiet voice, as if he were imparting a secret, he leaned towards her, and laughing, said, ‘she is Bihter’s chief enemy, don’t you know?’

As Behlül had leaned in to speak, his breath had stroked Nihal’s cheek with a warm touch, for a second only. Nihal, for the first time, drew back with an involuntary nervous recoil. A feeling peculiar to young girls who see, in a brief flash of understanding, that their identities have evolved into womanhood, had frightened her. With a slight blush, she laughed as she replied.

‘This is one of your absurd notions…’

‘You aren’t old enough to understand,’ Behlül was saying. ‘Now, will you leave me alone, Nihal? We’ll talk plenty about this with you later.’ He added, in an indifferent tone, ‘where is your father?’

He had not been able to ask after Bihter directly. When he heard from Nihal that Adnan Bey and Bihter were together in their rooms, he breathed a sigh of relief. To encounter them together after this absence would lighten the difficulty of the first conversation. Five minutes later, as he entered Adnan Bey’s study, Behlül was congratulating himself on his steadfastness. He found the strength to respond to Adnan Bey’s jests with indifference. Adnan Bey was trying to impute him of having formed a liaison which he could not confess. 

Glancing at Bihter, he was saying, ‘tonight, after he has stayed one night, Behlül will probably disappear again for weeks.’

Behlül and Bihter were exchanging a sad, weary look.

‘Do you believe it?’ Behlül was trying to ask with his eyes. ‘These are nothing but a pile of worn out mockeries.’

Then he was answering Adnan Bey. ‘Who knows, maybe you’re right. After having been such a good boy all winter, anything is excusable, isn’t it?’

Bihter was not joining in the conversation, but kept her eyes lowered, and continued feverishly working a piece of felt. Adnan Bey, with a strange obstinacy, wanted to broaden the jest, and to include Bihter in the banter. Behlül continued to return offhand answers, seemed vaguely to approach a confession while defending himself, then taking advantage of some small opportunity in the discussion, was trying to pave the way for a new subject. It was torture for them both. Adnan Bey seemed bent on pressing them. Behlül felt a suspicion in his heart for the first time. ‘Does he know something?’

He had not yet exchanged any words with Bihter directly. Behlül finally plucked up his courage to ask, ‘your mother has arrived, has she, yenge? Where is she? Upstairs?’

He had stood up. Before he left, he sought Bihter’s eyes, but they were fixed with a calm, and deep rancour on the piece of felt.

They had given Firdevs Hanım, Mlle de Courton’s room. They would place her in her long wheelchair and take her out into the hall, and push the chair right up to the window. From morning till night, they would leave this faded flower of Boğaziçi watching the green waters shadowed by the Kanlıca hills, as if at the side of a grave. It had been three months since Behlül had last seen her. He would only hear of her occasionally, second hand. After a long youth that still could not bear to end, Firdevs Hanım had gone to pieces suddenly, as if all the energy spent to stay youthful having depleted the funds of well-being of her old age, she was now bankrupt. Lying in her chair, still beautiful in her tall, shapely bearing, she resembled a strong tree that had dried up day by day until it fell by the side of the road. Her knees were now resigned to aching perpetually; in the morning, she needed assistance to rise out of her bed. This need above all, this favour of support that she awaited from another hand in order to rise, would madden her, and this mad passion would make her want to bite the hand that reached out to help her. As a result, it had been impossible to retain any of the servants with Firdevs Hanım for more than a fortnight. Katina, having saved enough money to marry, had taken leave, and none of the eight girls who came after her had been able to take her place. One day, Peyker, finding no one else, had even been forced to seek Yakup to help lay Firdevs Hanım in her chair. Then this had become a habit; Firdevs Hanım was constantly waspish towards her maids, but when Yakup was called, this peevish patient would become a quiet, uncomplaining, biddable, gentle, child in his arms. These manly hands had such magical powers that simply lifting Firdevs Hanım by her arms or her shoulders, and throwing this heap of shrivelled flesh into her chair would bestow a cure that lasted for days.

Firdevs Hanım seemed to be going through a period of mania. She was arguing with everyone, with her son-in-law, with her daughter, with Feridun, with Bihter, who came to see her occasionally; and then when everyone ran away from her and left her alone on her wheelchair, she would call, and grumble, and cry by herself. Now in the peaceful life of the little yellow yalı, the existence of this patient was becoming an unbearable burden. One day, Firdevs Hanım, learning that her daughter was pregnant with her second child, had thrown a fit. She considered this a shameful, unforgivable fault, it would no longer be possible to sleep soundly for a couple hours at night. They had done this on purpose, to drive her away from the house. Peyker never responded to her mother’s unreasonable outbursts. That night, Nihat Bey had come home bearing some important news that had been awaited by both husband and wife. Following his increase in rank as a civil servant, the increase in his salary had finally been decided. While they had expected great satisfaction from Firdevs Hanım in this joyful family matter, she had taken it as a scheme designed to oust her. They would no longer have any need of her, and no one would object if she were to get up and leave the house. They may as well have been dismissing her. While husband and wife were silenced by the surprise of this outburst, she had sobbed like a child.

After that day, Firdevs Hanım found a way to be revenged upon the happiness of this husband and wife. Every morning, she would say to her son-in-law, and her daughter, ‘do you know? I’m feeling better today.’

She was threatening them with her well-being. One day, taking advantage of the fact that the doctor had mentioned the dampness of the yalı, she had started an awful fight with Nihat Bey.

‘Do you think I don’t understand?’ she had said. ‘You must have told him this lie, in order to be rid of me! But you forget that I cannot be thrown out of this house, while you two can…’

Nihat Bey had lost his temper. They would go, they would leave her alone. Firdevs Hanım had responded with a laugh, ‘alone? But why should she be alone? She would get married too, yes, she would get married. She was still young enough…’

Then husband and wife had glanced at each other and stayed silent in the face of this madness. The next day, Firdevs Hanım had asked to see Nihat Bey, and when he came, had said, ‘I have changed my mind. I’m leaving. Perhaps the damp of the yalı is true. I’m going to Adnan Bey.’

So it was that as a result of an idea that had been born in her ailing mind overnight, Firdevs Hanım had now passed two days in Adnan Bey’s yalı. Here, seeing herself left alone like a worn, disused, and broken chair in one corner of that wide hall, she had instantly felt that this new life hid a constant suffering, composed of long hours of sad tedium. Her daughter and son-in-law thought it enough to stay by her for short pauses only in the morning, and in the evening after dinner. Nihal came and went like the wind, and could not stay. Nesrin and Şayeste passed by her from a distance, with strange smiles on their faces. Firdevs Hanım had been left in the hands of a German woman that Adnan Bey had had brought. Her chief entertainment was in taking up a small mirror that had been left on a table by the side of her chaise longue, and a powder case, and kohl box. While these had once been hidden away in her bag as little sins, now she did not even see the necessity of throwing a handkerchief over them. Even the presence of Adnan Bey did not prevent these from being taken up now and again to repair, for instance, a smudged line at the corner of her eye.

That day, Behlül found Firdevs Hanım looking into her little mirror to smooth the hairs at her temples, while the German woman massaged her knees.

Firdevs Hanım welcomed him with a cry of joy. ‘Ah! Is it you? Have you finally arrived? Where were you, now? No, no, not there, take that chair… Emma, leave us alone…’

She laid her mirror down on the table and said, in answer to a question from Behlül, ‘Me? Oh, not too bad. I’ve noticed a great difference in the last two days. Do you believe it? They haven’t even come once to ask after me these last two days… Nihat Bey and Peyker, I mean.’

She felt an animosity towards them that overflowed at the smallest opportunity. Doubtless she could not forgive them for having let her go.

‘I could never feel anything like affection for that man. He only thinks of himself, of his own interests! Oh, you don’t know… Let me tell you a few things. Now he has got another child upon Peyker. In another couple of years there will be another. Every two years, and by the time she is thirty, Peyker will be the mother of six children. Then one day Nihat Bey will leave her with six children on her hands, and run away. Do not laugh, do you think he loves Peyker? Only as far as it suits him… Why was Bihter given to Adnan Bey? Why are you looking at me as if you don’t comprehend? Because there was nothing more to be hoped from Adnan Bey.’ As she followed this train of thought, she felt as if she were having her revenge. ‘You’ll see, after six children, by the age of thirty, Peyker will look older than I do. Then they will beg me. They will kiss the hands of the mother who was cast aside…’

Firdevs Hanım was talking without allowing Behlül to say a single word. As she imagined Peyker with six children, having withered at thirty, separated from her husband, seeking consolation for her lonely abandonment in her mother’s forgiveness, wretched, and small, she grew intoxicated with drinking in her vengeance. There was such a rapacity in this woman’s motherhood that it frightened Behlül. Here was no mother, but a hostile rival to her daughters’ happiness. After Peyker, she began to talk of Bihter. She had never supported this marriage. She was sure of its conclusion. As she spoke of Bihter, she looked at Behlül as though she shied away from giving too much detail. She only gave her final verdict: ‘Bihter will end up just like Peyker. She too will need me one day. They will both follow each other and fall at the feet of Firdevs Hanım who today has been tossed in a corner. But then…’

Before she finished her sentence, she was reaching out her hand, taking up her kohl pot and mirror and pausing to attend to her fallen eyelashes before continuing. ‘Then, Firdevs Hanım will not forgive.’

After these words had fallen from her lips with the force of anger and resentment, she threw the mirror and kohl away from as her thoughts leapt to another ground.

‘I have been talking to you of such unimportant things. There is something far more important to tell you. Can you guess what it is?’

Behlül leaned over to look on the table. ‘Easy,’ he said. ‘you are out of créme simon. I am to buy you a jar of it the next time I go down to Beyoğlu.’

Firdevs Hanım looked hurt. ‘Don’t jest, I beg you,’ she said. ‘It is a serious matter, concerning you. I have been waiting for you for two days because of it. Don’t give me such coy looks. Be serious.’

Behlül was laughing. ‘But do not ask me for the impossible, please. Seriousness! Have you ever seen me serious?’

‘Try, for the first time in your life. Look, I will tell you in four words. When I came here and did not find you, I said to myself: it is not good to leave this boy to his own devices. This way of life will make him do something so wild that there will be no going back. In which case, he should be made to do something… do you see what I’m saying?’

‘I could not be further from understanding you. In order that I don’t do something wild, I’m to be made to do something else, am I? But the best things in life are composed of wild delights. If I were not to do those wild things that you talk of, I would consider my life only half-lived. What cure have you found against my wild ways?’

Firdevs Hanım sat up a little as she replied, ‘marriage!’

Behlül could not keep back a bark of laughter. ‘I think I heard you wrong. What did you say? Marriage? But what an irredeemable, what a foolish wildness! I think one marries for one of three reasons: one, you keep catching cold, and you need someone to keep making sure you drink your linden and mallow tisane, and rub your back with liniments; or you are forever wearing holes in your socks, and you need a woman at home to knit and darn for you; or you have an itch to become a father every two years, like your little son-in-law. Ever since my doctor advised me to carry red sealing-wax about me at all times, I’ve been free of colds. I recommend it to you too; it seems the quacks have no more penetrating cure than this. I detest socks that have been darned. And as for children: I’m crazy about other people’s, but I already have a dislike of little Behlüls. And so?’

‘There is a fourth reason that you are forgetting. I think men should marry chiefly so they do not live like you. Finally, a clock chimes in a man’s life that reminds them that it’s time they stop chasing fleeting romances and seek earthly happiness in the hand of a young girl.’

‘A poetic sentiment! Do you know? Sentences like that have a strange power over me. There is a second verse in your sentence: young girl!.. Young girls are, to my mind, creatures unknown, in need of being experienced. But I will leave this poem to be experienced after I have tired of the others.’

Firdevs Hanım seemed bent on not giving in. ‘Yes, but young girls can only be experienced once, and the desires that are to be left in their pure breasts should not be too rotten, too depleted.’

Behlül replied with a smile. ‘If you continue with these sentences, I will have to admit defeat. But who is this young girl who you find worthy of the happiness of owning me?’

As Behlül posed this question, the glass door of the hall had been opened, and Beşir had entered; he was probably going to say something to Firdevs Hanım. They continued talking, without paying him any heed.

‘Don’t you understand? Do you still not understand?’ Firdevs Hanım was saying. ‘But Nihal, only Nihal!.. I formed this notion when I came here and found her so utterly altered, so grown up in the last three months.’

Behlül had stood up with a long, ‘ooooh!’ He laughed as he asked, ‘when did you begin to hatch such wonders?.. Nihal… But you must seek a teacher for her, not a husband. Besides, look, now I think of it, it’s impossible to be Nihal’s husband. There is a great obstacle: I am in Nihal’s debt. See, now you do not understand. I have calculated that I am four lira and several kuruş in debt to her, and if you take interest into account…’

Firdevs Hanım was offended. ‘But you’re always jesting. Will you leave Nihal, that jewel, to someone else?’

Behlül looked at Beşir as he replied. ‘But you’re wrong. Nihal isn’t a jewel, she’s a flame. There isn’t a day we don’t quarrel… Isn’t that so, Beşir?’

Beşir was standing there motionless with unseeing eyes, not breathing. He did not seem to have heard Behlül address him.

Then Firdevs Hanım asked, ‘what do you want, Beşir?’

Beşir woke from his abstraction, and after a brief hesitation to recall what he had to say, replied, ‘beyefendi is asking, with your permission, if they can put a little table here, so you can eat together this evening…’

Firdevs Hanım agreed instantly, and after Beşir had descended, she turned to Behlül, who was still smiling at her. ‘Laugh all you will,’ she said, ‘you will take Nihal, since I have decided it will be so…’

Behlül leaned in a little, and no doubt wishing to end this conversation, said in his most rakish tone, ‘you aren’t old enough to be busying your thoughts with the marriages of other people. Until Nihal has grown a little, there is only one person who could persuade me to marry…’

Firdevs Hanım did not allow him to finish. Truly affronted this time, she said, ‘be quiet. I don’t at all like mixing jest into serious matters.’ Then she remembered something else. ‘Ah, I was forgetting one other thing I had to tell you. I talked of this business with Nihal to one other person.’

With strange expression, she was waiting for him to discover this other person. There was such a piercing look in Firdevs Hanım’s eyes that Behlül could not answer, and with an involuntary weakness, he dropped his gaze. Firdevs Hanım replied, with all the nonchalance she muster in her voice: ‘to Bihter.’

Reaching for her mirror after a short pause, she added, ‘she finds this marriage quite natural…’

Behlül had instantly understood. This woman had wanted to probe the truth, following only a conjecture that was doubtless not based in anything seen or heard. The first attempt had been made on Bihter. How had Bihter fared? He tried to allay this woman’s suspicions with a quick riposte.

‘Oh, of course she would agree,’ he had said. ‘She knows very well that if there were a marriage between Nihal and I, neither of us could live in this house, in this way, do you understand?..’

Firdevs Hanım was looking at him with an odd smile in her eyes, as if she did not understand. Behlül had entered such a rough ground for conversation, that if he continued, he was afraid of losing control. The talk was cut off without being completed. Behlül was convinced that this woman had understood everything. There was such an unquenchable dislike in this woman, against her daughters’ happiness, that this secret could be an awful weapon in her hands, against Bihter. He suddenly understood that he and Bihter had crossed into a new phase of danger in their romance. After this, the eyes of this woman who was tied to her chair would bore through the darkness, through the walls, and follow them with the treachery of a hidden enemy. It was possible that the best defence was in fact in this jest about marriage. Whereas until this minute, he had shrunk from the difficulty of communication with Bihter, at the moment he felt the necessity of speaking to her. But how would he meet her? He did not think that Bihter would come to his room again.

Firdevs Hanım saved Behlül from the agony of the abrupt break in the conversation. ‘Behlül Bey! Please could you call Emma,’ she said.

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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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