Chapter Three – Forbidden Love

Mlle de Courton’s life story was as plain and short as her hats – which were the target of Behlül’s needlings – were showy and gaudy. She was the daughter of a man who, having lost the last crumbs of his fortune at Paris’s Longchamps racecourses, had burned his bird-brain through with a bullet. At that time it was rather too late for Mlle de Courton to marry, and she was forced to choose one of two recourses, either fall upon the Paris streets in a life that would stain the good name of her family, or to find a place to shelter with her kinfolk in the provinces and live the rest of her life as a poor but noble girl. She chose the latter. She had even, in order not to seem entirely like a helpless wretch and to earn the bread she ate at the table, taken on the instruction and disciplining of the children of the household. This changed the course of her life. One day, after a small disagreement, and a small opportunity that came close upon the disagreement, this poor, noble girl had gone all the way from one corner of France to be the governess of an eminent Greek family in Beyoğlu. Here she stayed for many years without knowing anywhere other than the streets and shores from Beyoğlu to Şişli, from the Bridge to Büyükdere. Adnan Bey’s yalı was the second, and perhaps the last stage of her life.

Nihal was only four years old. Adnan Bey felt the need for a governess. He had received dozens of creatures from among those who are first offered to people seeking governesses; those who claimed to have just arrived from France, but who never admitted that they were found redundant in one – and finally two – places, who tried to drown their deficient French, learned in convent orphanages or as seamstress’s apprentices, in the ornamentation of a fake accent. Not one was chanced upon who could be victorious over Adnan Bey’s fastidiousness. For two years there was a procession of every variety, from those who were let go with some excuse on the second day, to those who were suffered to stay for two months. Adnan Bey had become so frightened of these governesses – who one day claimed that they were German and the next day were understood to be of the Sofia Jews, who gave the impression of being the widow of an Italian when they arrived but were so forgetful in their lies as to blurt out the very next week that they had never been married – that he had begun to think of other solutions for his daughter.

A stroke of luck – in Istanbul one can only rely on luck for governesses – helped Adnan Bey discover the undiscoverable: Mlle de Courton.

Mlle de Courton had a desire to fulfill in Istanbul: to enter a Turkish home and to live a Turkish life in this Turkish country… As she entered Adnan Bey’s yalı, her heart had raced with joy as though she were entering her true, dream home. When inside, this joy turned to astonishment. She had imagined a large, marble hall, a dome supported by stone columns, divans covered in oriental rugs and worked here and there with mother-of-pearl, and seated upon them pairs of women whose naked feet were dyed with henna, whose eyes were lined with kohl, whose heads were always veiled, and who slept all day to the sound of the negroes’ tabor, or who never put down their ruby and emerald encrusted hookah pipes while the scented smoke wafted from a small silver brazier set in one corner. With the relics of what she remembered of the myths and legends of all of those western writers and painters, she had never considered the possibility that a Turkish house could be anything else. When she found herself in the stylish little parlour of the yalı, she had looked at her guide with questioning eyes.

‘Really! Are you sure you have brought me to a Turkish house?’

The old girl had never been able to accept that she had been deceived in her dreams, and though she had thus lived a genteel Turkish life for years, in her heart she still wants to believe that the oriental life of her imagination must surely exist.

With the especial disappointment of those who found the reverse of what they looked for, she felt a desire to leave on the very first day. She would have left, had she not felt an immediate, deep attachment mingled with pity in her heart for Nihal, who, tired and discouraged by the changing faces of governesses for the past two years, had reached out to her with the thin fingers of her itty bitty hand, with touching submissiveness.

She had a tenacious need to love. The old chastity of this weary heart, who had not been able to know her mother, not been able to love her father, not been able to feel in her bosom any tie to anyone, and who writhed in the absence of love, always looked for some way to expend itself. She would befriend the children around her, the servants of the house in which she lived, her cat, her parrot, and would spill out to them the hidden treasure of her heart. But one day, she would suddenly discover a hollowness opening up in these things that were spoken, and seeing, with bitter clarity, upon what a barren, sandy desert the fountain of her affection flowed, she would become an enemy to the children, the servants, the cats, and the parrots that five minutes earlier had been her friends.

That day, not letting go of Nihal’s hand she had said, ‘my little one, let me look at your eyes!…’

When Nihal, lifting the long, curled, yellow lashes that gave her gaze a strange weariness, looked at her face with a smile that shone in her blue eyes with the innocence of spring, Mlle de Courton had turned to her guide and made her decision at once.

‘Yes, I am staying!…’

The next day she was befriending the whole household. She had felt an instant attachment to Şakire Hanım, to Şayeste and to Nesrin, for the way they smiled at her, not understanding her language, and said only, ‘mademoiselle!’ She had snatched up Cemile – then just a toddler, and had bounced her up and down. She had stroked Beşir’s chin, which always had a dimple at its centre, and spread the waves of a smile across his face.

‘Oh! An itty bitty black jewel!’ she had said.

She was pleased with Adnan Bey’s manners and grace, for he had shown signs of attentiveness towards her at the table. Towards Behlül, not only had she not felt any open inclination, she had also felt a certain coldness. But above all those in the household, and even more than Nihal, she directed her interest to the lady of the house.

Nihal’s mother was ill, and pregnant with Bülent. Mlle de Courton met her last of all. Two days later, Adnan Bey had accompanied her to the patient’s room. The doctors were forbidding her to walk and wander; the young woman was confined to a wide armchair in the window of her room. As soon as she saw the patient in her white dress, with her thin, weak face looking even paler from among her yellow hair, a feeling of pity had awoken in the old girl’s heart. That day the invalid, no doubt sensing some hope in the old girl’s face, joyful and easeful with the innocent life she had led for fifty years, that the faces of the governesses she had seen for the last two years had not been able to make her feel, with a mournful smile and the help of her husband had said, ‘I hope Nihal will not cause you much trouble. She grew up a little spoiled, but there is a suffering in her nature that makes one forgive her more than that. I have not been able to attend to her for quite some time. And perhaps, I know not why, but fearing that she will one day be left without me, I want, as much as possible, not to see her or think of her. This means that Nihal may be considered an orphan left in your care. You will be to her more a mother than a governess…’

These words were spoken in the shaky voice of a mother afraid of leaving her child alone, rather than of dying. As she listened to Adnan Bey’s translation, Mlle de Courton, wishing to associate the patient’s spirit with the words, did not take her eyes off the ailing face over which drifted the waves of a beseeching smile. The last sentence brought to life a chord in her heart that was most sensitive, most inclined to resonate: mother!… The idea of being Nihal’s mother was so nearly connected to the most painful of her life’s privations… The tears of all manner of privations may lie silent in the hearts of unfortunate women who have relinquished the goals of womanhood; but of these, the pain of being left deprived of motherhood is a raw wound that forever drips poison. One might think that nature has placed in the souls of women a cradle that cannot bear to remain empty. In the old girl’s soul was just such an empty cradle, and beside that cradle the lamenting lullabies of a mother who at least wished to lull the emptiness. Suddenly, with the ailing woman’s last words, she presumed that cradle filled, and from this day on an affection mixed with pity tied her to the patient.

Mlle de Courton had certain feelings that could not be sacrificed to her noble pride. These had caused a few provisos to be agreed upon, to be executed at the time of her joining Adnan Bey’s house: she was not to intervene in the child’s baser requirements; she would help her to be dressed, but would not attend to her ablutions; she would have a room that was hers alone; this or that would be done… These provisos had been set forth with as much seriousness as a formal contract. That night, after seeing the patient and before putting the child to bed, Mlle de Courton asked Nesrin for hot water to wash her feet. As Nesrin washed Nihal’s feet, making her laugh because her feet were particularly ticklish, Mlle de Courton forgot all her noble dignity, and sitting next to Nesrin and pulling up her sleeves so they would not get wet, put her hands in the basin. Taking one of these itty bitty white things, stroking it, tickling it, making Nihal bubble up with laughter, she supposedly taught Nesrin a lesson. The idea of being a mother to Nihal had rendered those provisos null and void.

Around noon every day, after finishing her lessons, she would take the child to the sickroom, and would sit smiling across from the patient while Nihal, who could not stay still for a minute, poked around. These two women would pour their hearts out to each other through the silent expression of their eyes alone. With such clear silences they had heard each other’s souls, and without being able to speak, had understood what they wanted to say and had become friends.

After Bülent was born, such signs of deterioration began to be seen in the patient, that Mlle de Courton, along with everyone else, had understood that the children were condemned to be left motherless. The sick woman dragged through two years, as if giving her life away drop by drop, like a delicate plant slowly withering in a window. Finally Nihal, with her governess, was sent to Adnan Bey’s elderly aunt on Büyükada. During the fifteen days they spent there, the child had not once asked about her mother, or sought her home. Only on the day they returned, seeing the old eyes that greeted her, she suddenly understood the truth and shouted, ‘mother! I want to see my mother!’ Then seeing around her the wretched housefolk who turned their faces, unable to answer, she had thrown herself on the ground, crooked her arms and legs and flailing in a nervous fit had begun to shout ‘mother! Mother!’ with cries that tore her throat and were, alas, destined to remain unanswered.

At that moment a sacred duty had been planted before the old girl’s eyes in all its horror and magnitude: to make this motherless child forget her motherlessness…

She would notice some things in Nihal that would wake a fear in her heart. The child had strange contradictions that eluded explanation. From her father to the rest of the household, every interaction, on any occasion, was ruled by pity, and this pitying love woke an even greater fragility, an even greater sensitivity in a child whose nerves were already sick with a congenital weakness. This enveloped her in an air of affliction and it was as if a poisonous breath spread from this air that would not kill, but would forever wither this delicate flower. For this reason, there was in Nihal the orphan’s burden of the sense of pity that she drank drop by drop from everyone’s eyes. It is possible this would not have attracted so much attention if it were not accompanied by certain contradictions. These contradictions surrounded her affliction in an even more clearly evident circle. She had such spoiled ways that it made one think Nihal had suddenly become a different child. Especially towards her father, she sometimes became a few years younger, climbed on his knees and wanted to kiss his lips under his beard, where the hairs wouldn’t scratch. As if being loved as much as she was did not satisfy her soul, she would become a pestering child in order to be loved even more. To stay somewhere for more than five minutes, to be entertained by something for more than five minutes, were not things expected from Nihal, who always seemed to be trying to escape a constant unease, a secret, soul-crushing, deep heartache.

Mlle de Courton was made uncomfortable most of all by this. She could not be successful in making Nihal write out her grammar or to play exercises on the piano for half an hour straight. The lessons were always composed of parts fragmented by interruptions. But one day, no one knew how, Nihal would accidentally emerge from the lessons having learned.

She had long periods of peevishness which, if not silenced by her fervent tears or a nervous fit, would last for days. After the tears, writhing, stomping, a lassitude would descend on her face, as if she had slept too much, as if this fit had harrowed, then rested her. These tears, shed at irregular intervals and for arbitrary reasons were the surplus of her soul’s sensitivity, for they were bound to overflow. Afterwards began a period of mad joy. With Bülent, Cemile and Beşir, she would drown the yalı’s wide halls and its large garden in the noise of endless capers.

Mlle de Courton feared lest between these contradictions, Nihal’s weak, delicate body should break with the instability of a frail branch that coincided with the point of collision of several winds.

What consultations they had held with Adnan Bey in order to lighten these contrarieties as much as possible, what solutions they had thought up to engender in the child an orderly temperament. But this mystery of the nerves rebelled against all of the precautions they found.

In particular there were difficulties in her management of Bülent. While she had always welcomed with joy and joyful clapping the news that they would take a baby out of her mother’s belly, after his birth, there had been a change in this joy. Earlier she had only gone to her mother’s side once a day. Now she invented every sort of petulance not to leave, not to allow an opportunity for anyone else to be busy with this new baby, to climb onto her mother’s bed and continually kiss Bülent. One week, while the child was in her mother’s room, they thought Nihal had gone mad with jealousy. After it was found necessary to separate the child from the patient’s side, and throw her in one corner of the yalı, next to Şakire Hanım, Nihal looked as if she had forgotten Bülent. They would bring the child rarely and secretly to her mother, and Bülent was only now and again seen in the house.

Later, Nihal’s view was consulted in order to take her from Şakire Hanım’s side and give her to Mlle de Courton.

‘We are going to give Bülent to you. You are to bring him up, put him to sleep by your side, dress and undress him. Bülent will now belong to you…’ they said.

Nihal looked as if she had fallen for this deception. She accepted with a mad joy that Bülent would be given to her, and so since that day Bülent is Nihal’s, and Nihal’s alone, and no one else’s.

There was not in Nihal’s jealousy, even when she was little, any idea of the treachery that intermingles in the jealousy of all children; she would not slyly bite his finger or quietly pinch his arm. There was something else in her jealousy: she did not begrudge Bülent everyone, she begrudged everyone Bülent. It might be thought that she wanted to place her own heart between him and others, and thereby be closer to him than anyone else.

It had become a custom in the house – a custom that had begun as a joke, and little by little taken on the authority and strength of a statute – that whenever there was something to do with Bülent, Nihal would be applied to, any admonitions to Bülent would be spoken by her, and Bülent would even be threatened with Nihal. After losing their mother, Nihal, with a hidden need of her soul, had grown even closer to Bülent. A natural feeling was driving the itty bitty girl to be a mother to her little brother, but such a mother as kept her child jealously away from everyone, in whose heart something was torn any time someone’s hand touched him.

One day, Adnan Bey was bouncing Bülent on his knees; Nihal wasn’t looking that way in order not to see them. At one point, when his father, unable to resist Bülent’s carefree laughter, began kissing his itty bitty plump cheeks, Nihal turned her head, couldn’t stay, but went all the way to their side and nuzzled in as if she wanted to draw an obstacle between these kisses. She flushed when her father suddenly stopped and looked at her, but admitted, ‘ah! But that’s enough, father… I’m getting uneasy!’

Nihal’s whole, sensitive soul was in this last statement. From that day on Adnan Bey stopped himself from showing affection to Bülent in Nihal’s presence. Nihal had thereby set a rule: as soon as she became aware, with who knows what sense of discovery, that there was in someone a desire to love, to caress Bülent, afraid that this desire would be permitted without her approval, she would say something like, ‘you don’t love Bülent at all!…’

If there was anyone in the world who was abstracted from all of these worries, who was innocent of these thousand sorts of rules, who was ignorant of all of these things that were occurring around him, it was Bülent. He was only interested in one thing: laughing… And  the one who will make him laugh more than anything in the world, who will give free flight to his most joyous chuckles is Nihal. In particular when the two siblings are all alone, without a third heart to intervene between them…

Their bedroom was on the top floor of the yalı, on the side that overlooked the garden. A wide corridor led there from the hall. In the first room Adnan Bey, in the third room Mlle de Courton, and in the room between those two they would sleep. Here they were at once alone, and at the same time together with their father on one side, and with the old girl on the other. There was a door between each room that was only closed by a curtain at night. Later, a schoolroom had been formed for the children in the fourth and final room of the corridor. This room that was set aside as a schoolroom was the governess’s constant worry. She would swear that there could be no other place in the world so doomed to confusion as this room which was a ground for Bülent’s whirlwinds rather than his lessons. Adnan Bey, who showed such an extreme interest in order as to cause an uproar if a smokers chair was moved in the house, could not enter this room, and would always claim, whenever he entered, that he felt a nervous affliction.

In return for the vow of touching nothing else in the yalı, Bülent had been granted permission to do whatever he wanted here, and he was exploiting this permission to the extent of revenging himself for this promise of leaving no trace of damage anywhere in the house. They had a little, tiny desk on the edges of which one day, stealing a few of his father’s woodworking tools, he had carved tassels of his own design. He had made ships, hats, cones, and baskets from the issues of Figaro [1] that Mlle de Courton regularly received, and hung them on the walls, on the window latches, and on the corner of the blackboard. From all of his sister’s old books, illustrated music book covers, he had cut out pictures and stuck them on the windows, behind the doors, even on the sea of the map of Europe on the wall. There was an umbrella thus cut out that was thrown on one side of the ocean, and being caught in the wind had gone on a journey to America. Then there were a thousand broken toys, torn books, those bits and pieces that were tidied morning and night but with just one look-in from Bülent, were scattered about the room as though they came to life like mischievous kittens, and left no room to step or to sit. Now Bülent had discovered a new interest: he was drawing pictures on the walls with a pencil. From his imagination came today a ship, tomorrow a camel, and the skirting was slowly filling up. Now that he had no more room that he could reach, for the past two days a new thought had been scratching at Bülent’s mind. Nihal had not yet had the heart to give him permission, but this had always been her way. At first she wouldn’t give permission, and then seeing that she was obeyed, saw no reason to object. Oh! How wonderful it was going to be!… Behlül had brought him a box of crayons, with every colour, and each picture would be coloured in… He would make the camel red.

‘Isn’t that right, sis? Camels are red, aren’t they?’

Nihal had not yet softened. ‘Are you crazy?’ she was saying, but she would not inform him of the colour of a camel.

Almost all of their life was spent in this room. Upon waking in the morning they would wash, get dressed, descend to the dining room with Mlle de Courton to drink their milky coffee, and in good weather they would roam around the garden for an hour. Bülent would run around with Beşir while Nihal sat under the big chestnut tree with Mademoiselle. Then the old girl would look at the little watch she always wore at her breast and exclaim, ‘it is time!…’ and they would go back inside and ascend to their room.

Then the lesson would begin. Nihal was now translating little pieces on morals for her father to check in the evening, transposing easy poems into prose, writing letters on the principles of daily life. While Mlle de Courton was busy with Nihal, Bülent, all of the way on the other side of the desk, would not lift the pen from the inkwell in order to fill his conjugation book, which was always behindhand. Sometimes Mlle de Courton’s gaze would fall on Bülent and she would shout at him in a stern voice: ‘Bülent!…’

Bülent would finally tire of the verb he was only able to write seriously through to the second person imperative, and there, between the imperative and the optative, would be discovered in the act of scribbling a palace composed of eight or ten wonky lines, or a pot with something in the middle of it that did not resemble a flower.

These breaks that Bülent occasioned were opportunities that Nihal treasured. She was always on the alert for a chance to have a breather after every eight lines of effort; to begin a long discussion derived from a word that was chanced upon during the lesson; or to run to the window and look at the garden while Mlle de Courton stood up and was removing the palaces and pots from Bülent’s notebook. Finally, among these mishaps Nihal’s lesson would be finished, and after a ten minute’s holiday, Bülent’s lesson would begin.

It had been agreed that while Mlle de Courton was busy with Bülent, Nihal would work on her piano, her embroidery frame, her sewing, her needlework. But because she could not be occupied with something for more than half an hour, she was allowed to move from her piano to her sewing box, from her sewing box to her embroidery frame whenever she wanted. The old girl had not been able to find any other solution for this butterfly.

Mlle de Courton had become so accustomed to Nihal learning everything without ever paying attention or ever being busy with anything, that she was no longer surprised; but she could not keep herself from being astonished that she made progress on the piano. Things that could only be achieved by long exercising of the fingers, Nihal would be found one day to have simply accomplished.

All of Czerny’s chains of études had undergone just such a tiresome game. Now she was preparing for Clementi’s Gradus ad Parnassum which made even Mlle de Courton quake. She offhandedly read all of the batches of operas that Adnan Bey brought, from Cimarosa, Donizetti, Mercadante, Rossini, with an ease of sense and instinct as if she had seen, heard, felt them already, right before Mlle de Courton’s astonished, disbelieving eyes. At those times the old girl would say to Adnan Bey, ‘do you know, this was meant to be six-years’ work. But there is neither mine, nor her own merit in this. Rubinstein’s soul must have rubbed off on this girl’s fingers.’

The idea of that master’s artistic genius rubbing off on Nihal’s fingers was such a thing that it interpreted this musical puzzle by defining an inexplicable truth in Mlle de Courton’s eyes, and she would no longer see it necessary to search for another reason.

Finally, after a struggle, the lessons were ended. There were among those operas ordered by her father one by Wagner that Mlle de Courton, with an absolute ban, prevented from being played. Nihal, on the contrary, took up this forbidden object every day, and watching for a moment when Bülent particularly angered the governess, wanted to exercise it on the piano. Then Mlle de Courton would forget Bülent and run to the instrument.

‘But my child, I have told you a thousand times that to play this a person must have German hands. You will break your fingers, not only that, you will ruin your ideas, your musical taste. Think of a tempest that knocks over chimneys, tosses aside tiles, roots up trees, rolls down boulders; think of that cacophony, make of it a musical piece, and there you have Monsieur Wagner!…’

She had an unquietable enmity towards Wagner. Whenever she mentioned Monsieur Wagner it seemed as if the blood in the veins of this noble French girl whistled with derision.

After this the lessons could not be continued. The old girl retired to her room until lunch and the children were left free to go wherever they wished.

Nihal would go to her father. Downstairs, in his study, Adnan Bey would check the clock every few minutes, awaiting these morning visits from his daughter with impatience.

How sweet were the hours thus spent in joy and contentment between the two of them. She had such a partiality, such an attachment towards her father that it was never satisfied. There was in her soul a need that could never be calmed, to be loved always, at each moment, with an affection that strengthened second by second. With her father she would act particularly spoiled and become a gregarious bird, a naughty butterfly. She had an endless wealth of chatter; a small incident from a lesson, from things she had seen or heard would cause her to pose her father one question after another. He, not tiring, and even with enjoyment, would laugh and grow childlike through these conversations into which Nihal sprinkled gaiety, whether from an idea of devilry or of sport, and they would be equal in age.

After lunch, Adnan Bey would go down to Istanbul. If the children did not have a long trip to make with Mlle de Courton, they would run around the yalı until Adnan Bey’s return. The place where Nihal particularly liked to spend time was Şakire Hanım’s kitchen.

This kitchen had been made up in the harem as a sort of toy. Occasionally Adnan Bey would tire of the unbroken order of his chef’s dishes, and would ask Şakire Hanım for stuffed mussels, Tatar pastry, or Circassian chicken [2]. These were kept secret from Hacı Necip. If Hacı Necip caught wind of it, he would sulk for days and avoid Adnan Bey.

One day he had seen the mussel shells and saying that it was a disgrace if, as a chef of forty years, he could not stuff mussels as well as Şakire Hanım, had made to leave. There was a constant tension between him and Şakire Hanım. Without fail there would be an argument as Şakire Hanım passed food through the revolving cupboard, [3] and Hacı Necip was forever saying, ‘either bring the pantry out, or move the whole kitchen inside.’

Sometimes these conflicts would gain such intensity that Şakire Hanım’s husband, the steward Süleyman Efendi, would find it necessary to intervene in order to make peace. Two people in the house were quite happy with these battles: Bülent and Beşir… They even helped to provoke each side a little.

When something was requested from Şakire Hanım Nihal would beg: ‘my lamb, my sister, wait for me, won’t you? We’ll do it together…’

That day Nihal, Cemile, Nesrin, and even Şayeste who came to scold Nesrin, would whirl around Şakire Hanım and crowd the little kitchen.

This was a place on the second floor of the yalı, overlooking the garden, sunny, with ivy-covered windows. It was laid with marble and was always very clean, which air of cleanliness gave one an appetite.

The pots and pans from Bazar Allemand, and all those things that were stylish and elegant enough to be supposed drawing room items, would scatter their dazzling purity in the sunbeams that drifted through the ivy’s verdure. Now here, in this sweet kitchen, among these creatures whose attachment to her she felt with all her soul, Nihal spent those hours with a contentment which warmed her whole heart, with jokes, jesting arguments, pushing and shoving, and laughter.

In the evening she would await her father’s return with impatience, and would shout, all the way from the top of the stairs, ‘father! I cooked you something today… ask Şakire Hanım and see, they didn’t help at all.’

When the weather was fair, they would go on evening jaunts with their father. Mlle de Courton set aside these hours to spend in the yalı garden on Alexandre Dumas’s stories.

Not allowing young girls to read novels was Mlle de Courton’s most particularly applied rule of discipline, which she also enforced strenuously with Nihal. But she herself had a deep infatuation with stories, particularly with those of Alexandre Dumas. She devoted any time that was suitably free from Nihal’s questioning to the stories. As a result of this practice, something of Alexandre Dumas and those of his ilk had seeped into her life and emotions. It was as if the stories had placed on the old girl’s eyes a pair of glasses that changed colours; she always saw life – which she sensed only from the margins – through these glasses, and consulted the story recollections that lived in her mind in order to judge this or that incident of her life, and would only reach a conclusion once she had formed a correlation. Any occurrence that did not accord with the pages of one of her stories was lowered to the status of a lie, not to be taken seriously.

When Nihal gave her the news that night, that Adnan Bey wanted to see her, the old girl immediately felt suspicious of a request for a meeting that had been made for the first time in six years. She had begun to think at once in which of her story reminiscences she could find a practical application.

While Adnan Bey was trying to draw her into the sphere of his thoughts with a roundabout speech about how his life could not continue under these conditions, she was still thinking. When eventually, through the clouds of this speech, the idea of marriage flashed and caught like lightning in her vision, Mlle de Courton stood surprised, astonished, mouth half open. No, in none of her stories could she find a practical application of this case. She disbelieved, and unable to stop herself, despite all of her pretensions to formality with Adnan Bey, said, ‘You are joking!…’

Once she understood that this joke was an awful truth, the old girl could not sit still, but stood up.

‘But Nihal, but Nihal! This  will kill her, do you understand?’ she was saying.

Then seeing that Adnan Bey lowered his eyes and did not answer, she felt that such a complaint could find no response in this father who was driven mad if Nihal’s head ached. Finally Adnan Bey answered.

‘No,’ he said. ‘You are mistaken. You have not examined Nihal so closely. Only, there are a few precautions that it will be necessary to take. In fact, this is the purpose in consulting you…’

So this essential duty had devolved to her. She struggled to avoid accepting, she even said that she would run away from this house in order not to be obliged to execute this charge. Then all at once she thought that Nihal would depend on her at this time more than ever. It was necessary to place a heart between this awful truth and that delicate body, to soften the blow, and that heart could only be her own.

As she exited Adnan Bey’s room, Mlle de Courton was shaking. Until dinner she evaded Nihal, and at the table she kept wanting to weep as she looked at her.

She had received strict instructions to give Nihal the news without fail that night. After Bülent had fallen asleep, and after the conversation that took place between the two of them, with soft voices, Mlle de Courton was at ease.

‘I think her father has  it right,’ she said.

She had told Nihal only that another woman would come to the house, that this woman would sit at the table with everyone else, that she would have a room too, and that this woman would love Nihal especially. Nihal had listened to all of this with a great calmness, as if she were not hearing something new, and had not shown even the smallest sign of surprise. She was only curious about a few details: where was her room to be? Was this woman beautiful? More beautiful than herself? What would her papa say to her? In which room would she sleep? Would she interfere with Bülent? Beşir would still be Nihal’s, wouldn’t he? And then… – she had posed this question last of all – and then would her father love Nihal as much as he had before?..

After hearing the answer to this question, Nihal thought long and hard, watching Bülent sleeping under his open mosquito net, and laughing – no doubt at another carriage ride – as he slept. At last Mlle de Courton had said, ‘now your papa is expecting your permission. She will come if you allow it. You will tell your papa tomorrow morning, won’t you, my child?…’

Nihal, with only a slight nod, had said a silent, ‘yes!’ and that night, after she was left alone, had knelt on Bülent’s bed and kissed this face that smiled, apparently with the happiness of his dream, as if wishing to fix that happy smile with a long kiss. Then, with who knows what feeling, perhaps understanding the necessity, starting from that night, of a wall being drawn between them, had closed the door between their father’s room and theirs for the first time.

‘Behlül Bey!…’

‘Nihal Hanım!…’

‘Why do you reply without looking at me?’

Behlül was standing on a chair, busy trying to stick a picture in the corner of a frame on the wall. He replied to Nihal’s last question once again without turning his head.

‘Aren’t we cross with each other?’

‘Ah!,’ said Nihal, with the peaceable enthusiasm of children who do not hold grudges, ‘I had completely forgotten. It’s true, we were cross last night, weren’t we? I will go, if you prefer…’

Behlül jumped down from the chair.

‘There’s no gap in the frame. If I force it any more the glass will break…’ He was slapping the picture in his hand and looking at the walls. ‘Now where to put this? Nihal! Shall I tell you something? Do you know why you can’t stay cross with me? Because if you stay cross you will have no opportunity to start a fight. To argue again it’s always necessary to make peace…’

Nihal laughed, and sat on the chair that Behlül had been standing on.

‘See, there you are wrong. You’re going down to Istanbul today, aren’t you? There are many things I would like you to get me. There, a wonderful reason to make peace…’

Behlül refused this at once. ‘Not possible. Nihal… Charge someone else. These trifles tire me. And today…’ He waved his hand to indicate the abundance of his tasks. Then he thought of something. ‘Show me your purse, Nihal… How much money do you have?’

‘Here is an impertinent question…’

‘As you please! I now undertake no commissions without charging a fee. If you have enough money to lend me, that’s a different matter.’

Nihal took her purse out of her pocket, opened it, and spilling its contents onto her skirt, ‘oh!’ she said, ‘if you knew how many things I need today. First, there’s the silk; Bülent broke the scissors in half to tie it to his waist as a dagger, so there’s scissors to buy, two; Beşir has been begging for ages, he wants a bright red fez and a blue tassel, those are to buy, three…’

Behlül turned and moved away. ‘I’ve changed my mind. Charge me with Beşir’s things as well. That does it. Where to find a red fez and blue tassel? All the way at the bazaar. Besides, you don’t have enough money to lend me…’ Turning again to Nihal: ‘first you’ll go to your father and show him your money, do you understand?… ’

Nihal picked up her coins from the floor and stuffed them into her purse. ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ she said.

The idea of going to her father today and asking for money had changed Nihal’s mind with instant effect. She looked abstractedly at Behlül, waiting before her, and said, ‘of course you have news of the chief matter. He wouldn’t keep anything from you…’

Now suddenly they had begun speaking to each other as enemies once again. There was  always between these two cousins, ever since childhood, a spark of belligerence that was ready to kindle at any minute.

‘Who?’ asked Behlül.

‘He!’ said Nihal, pursing her lips.

‘Calling your father, “he” is not quite well-mannered. Instead of growing up, you’re getting day by day more spoiled, Nihal. There is no one in the house to tell you this, which is why I am telling you. Mlle de Courton can find no time from attending to the flowers of her hat, the lace of her dresses… What was all that crying at the table yesterday evening?…’

Nihal had turned pale. She was sitting on the chair unmoving, listening to Behlül. She swallowed as if she were choking, doubtless controlling what wanted to escape from her mouth, she said, ‘you see that today I have no desire to argue with you.’ Then she dropped her arms to her sides. ‘I have no strength.’

There was the sense of such a bitter weariness in her voice that Behlül at once understood that this struggle that was just begun would be something other than a childish struggle. They stayed looking at each other. Then Behlül said with a calm voice: ‘Nihal! It’s my belief that you’re acting badly in this instance. If you knew, if you saw her, you would love her at once…  After this it will be time for you to finally become a woman. That time too has its own special manner which you cannot learn from either Mlle de Courton or from Şakire Hanım. And then there’s the running of the house… Admit it, right now this place looks like anything but a house. If such a woman were to enter this house…’

Nihal was growing ever paler. After she left her father this morning she had come here with the hope of finding Behlül her ally, had thought that at least he would be on her side in this matter.

Behlül was continuing, ‘yes, if such a woman were to enter, the whole house would change at once. The servants that today live as they wish, just wait and see what they will be in her hands. Even Bülent, even you, do you understand, Nihal?… Such a fashionable, elegant, young, beautiful mother for you…’

Behlül could not finish. Nihal, jumping up from her seat suddenly with a mechanical strength, put out her hands and shouted in a tired voice, ‘oh! Enough, enough, Behlül, I’m feeling faint…’

Behlül was silent. At once he had understood his mistake. He wanted to close the conversation as usual with a jest, but could not find the power. Nihal looked as if she were trying to say something, then she gave up and went slowly out.

Behlül was one of those young people who, by twenty, have learned life thoroughly, and emerging from the schoolroom into the world, do not even feel the excitement of an amateur artist standing on stage for the first time. Life, for them, is judged a comedy that is learned with all its secrets in school. They have learned it so well, they have enthralled its essential nature with such a profound depth of experience, that when they enter onto the stage they are free from the smallest beginner’s reserve. For a year now Behlül had entered this life which he considered in no other capacity than that of a comedy theatre. The singular wonder he felt here was that of not finding anything that had not been previously known and learned, discovered and understood.

After his father departed to become a civil servant to one of the provinces, Behlül was left as a boarder in Galatasaray. He would go once a week to Adnan Bey’s yalı. His father was so far away that he had preferred, rather than wasting his holidays on a long journey, to widen and reinforce the knowledge of Istanbul life that had begun at school. He did not lose himself in fancies; he would see life in all its materiality and sensuousness. It was not something that had flown up after a choice daydream while he laid his head on his geometry book at school and gazed absently at the corner of sky that was visible through the window. The things he learned, he learned for the sake of learning, so as not to be ignorant of them. He had neither built a palace of ambition belonging to his future, nor tied a bouquet of poetry belonging to his youth. Life for him was one long entertainment. He viewed those who were able to enjoy themselves as the most deserving of the right to live.

Enjoyment… Both the meaning of this word, and Behlül had undergone a change. In truth he enjoyed nothing. He would run to all of the places of entertainment, would seek all of the things to be laughed at, perhaps he would laugh louder than anyone else; but would he enjoy himself? He would appear to be enjoying himself. To him, enjoyment was looking as if he was enjoying himself. There was such a boredom hidden under all of his laughter and enjoyment that it perpetually drove him from one pleasure to another. Having spent the night at Tepebaşı, listening to an operetta, he would be seen the next day in pursuit of a black scarf in the vineyards of Erenköy. One Sunday he would take a Konkordiya [4] chanteuse by carriage to Maslak, one Friday he would listen to the saz at Çırçır Suyu. There was no place of entertainment in Istanbul from which Behlül had not received a share of pleasure. During Ramadan nights he would continue his rounds of Direklerarası, in winter he would drown the balls at the Odéon in the riot of his gaiety. While he was still at school he had acquired a variety of friends. These friendships, begun in a school-life composed of all strata, had increased after he left school, and had embodied for him faces to greet and hands to shake in all spheres of society.

He knew so many people, would divide his attentions among such a variety of figures that he had found no time to set aside an extra share of attachment for any one of them. What he needed was not to pass through Beyoğlu alone, if he went to Lüksemburg, [5] to find an acquaintance to listen to him, if he went to Kağıthane, not to be the sole person in the carriage. He looked at people as made for services in this line, for these sorts of requirements. He had never had the misfortune of being unable to find someone to afford him company.

Everyone loved him, everyone sought him out. He had such laughter that it was victorious over the deepest worries, and moved those next to him to mirth. He would shower such jokes, such witticisms that wherever he went, like the extravagant flowers of his thoughts they would be strewn, gathered, and passed around society. Whenever something happened, something new was heard, one of Behlül’s refined remarks, one of his pleasant drolleries would afterwards be related.

He had stories to be told upon every occasion; a page read in a book, a joke chanced upon in a newspaper, would become the ground for his embellishments. They would listen to him and would be sure to laugh. In his view, all those who listened to him, who laughed at what they listened to, were nothing but a procession of fools; he was the one who was being entertained. He gave those around him only as much consequence as tools to be used when needed.

His chief interest was in being imitated by everyone. For a class of young people he was accounted the indicator of fashion. Regarding minor details, his vote would be applied to in the conviction that it was an excellent dictum of taste. Scents, cravats, walking sticks, gloves, for all of those unimportant things that were yet relatively so significant, there was always in Behlül a novelty to be imitated.

What was this man’s moral character?

This was such a question that even Behlül had so far never saw it necessary, or found the time, to pose it to himself. He believed in certain things. He viewed money as a great power; he was captivated by the idea that to be a good man the chief rule was to dress well; he had not hesitated on the points that his duty to people was, as much as possible, to enjoy himself with them, his duty to society to avail himself as much as possible of the pleasure grounds, and his duty to himself, as much as possible, not to bore this mischievous child.

He was never surprised by anything in life, he was only surprised by the naiveté of those who did not agree with this moral philosophy. He had saved the word ‘surprise’ in his vocabulary solely for this usage. For example, he would view a new invention of Edison’s at the circus as if it were a work of art that he had grown tired of seeing again and again and something he had expected for a long time. There was in him a conversance, a familiarity for all new things in life, as if those things were old and everyone was simply behindhand in becoming aware of them. He would pass by those who stood open-mouthed in amazement, with a shrug of his shoulders. Those events that to everyone seemed unusual in daily life, for Behlül were lowered to the status of old news.

As an episode was related that shocked his friends, he would claim, ‘nothing could be more common,’ and turn his head. Even when Adnan Bey said to him, ‘have you had the news, Behlül? I’m taking Firdevs Hanım’s daughter, an elegant aunt for you…’ not the smallest trace of surprise had been awakened in Behlül.

‘I was already expecting it,’ he had said.

After Nihal had gone out, Behlül, wanting to forget the ill effects of his mistake, took up the picture once again, looked around him, and finally decided to tuck it into a Japanese fan. As he was placing it he said to himself, ‘this marriage isn’t bad, but it doesn’t look good for Nihal. Poor child!…’

As well as being, since their childhood, adversaries and even enemies to each other, there was between them, despite all manner of umbrages and arguments, doubtless due to their blood relation, a friendship that could not wholly disappear.

Their association was a never-ending battle. Behlül, with the authority that seven years’ seniority gave him, would take on the role of a big brother, berate all of Nihal’s childish ways, disagree with her upbringing, say that this girl would never be anything but a spoiled brat, and get a strange pleasure out of tormenting her. These would drive Nihal crazy. With a sharp word, a rude demeanour, she never left any of Behlül’s objections unanswered. He would try to drown Nihal’s bile in mockery, in irrefutable laughter and thereby be victorious. Between them there was always an issue to resolve, an argument to end.

This mode of association kept them in the role of two warriors in battle, waiting in readiness for the luck of a moment to find an opportunity for victory. They would seek each other out, after every fight would nuzzle into each other. At first with laughter they would begin to forget all memories of the argument, then suddenly one word, one look, one nothing would become the reason; Behlül not failing in the role of a man who apparently enjoyed angering a child, Nihal more than anything enraged by this false state of battle, they would fight.

Today there was no strength in Nihal for fighting. After she went out, Behlül had felt something like mercy deep in the depths of his heart, and all unwilling had been unable to restrain an outburst of this feeling. Finally tucking the picture into one side of the Japanese fan, he stood back to look, and his philosophy, which wished to give import to nothing, responded to his heart’s cry: ‘she will be used to it in a week, won’t she?’

He was still looking at the picture, but without seeing it. He kept following that problem in his mind. He recalled his uncle’s words. ‘Yes,’ he said to himself. ‘An elegant aunt, an elegant marriage, an elegant mother, and an elegant sister! All elegant!… We will be part of the Melih Bey set.’

Wanting to explain an idea to the pictures that filled the walls of his room he threw up his hands, and animated by a dance melody that bubbled up inside him, after two turns of a waltz he threw himself into a chair at the other end of the room with a shout of ‘hurrah!’…

Previous Chapter // First Chapter // Next Chapter

Notes

[1] – Le Figaro – French daily newspaper.
[2] – Midye dolması, tatarböreği, and çerkez tavuğu – these are light meze (appetisers or side-dishes) still commonly eaten in Turkey.
[3] – Revolving cupboards allowed food or other items to be passed from the haremlik (the domain of women) to the selamlık (the men’s section), without the women running the risk of being seen by men from outside the family.
[4] – A pleasure garden that once stood in the current location of St. Antoine Church on İstiklal Street.
[5] – A café on İstiklal Street.


Sign Up For Updates

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