Chapter Four – Forbidden Love

It was a hot day in August. For the past fifteen days, Mlle de Courton had cancelled lessons. Every morning there were long gatherings in the garden, and even Adnan Bey and Behlül attended them. This morning there was a great coming and going in the gazebo. Behlül had finally brought Beşir’s red fez and blue tassel, but the fez was too tight for Beşir’s largish head and unusually long, curly hair. They had decided to shave the hair with the machine’s lowest setting, but for the past two days Beşir had been hiding the clippers and running away from Bülent who did not wish to leave the task to anyone else. Bülent was so desirous that finally Nihal had found it necessary to intervene.

‘What are you afraid of, Beşir? It won’t cut you,’ she had said.

Nihal’s words had snuffed out all of Beşir’s fears at once. Now he was there, kneeling, having surrendered his head to Bülent. Bülent could not work for laughing. As Beşir writhed about ticklishly, entreated him with, ‘careful, little master,’ and hunched his shoulders, Bülent’s fingers went limp with laughter, and he doubled over, clutching his belly with his other hand. To one side, Mlle de Courton was watching Beşir absently, the shadow of a vague smile playing on her lips. She was perhaps watching him in order not to listen to Behlül, who was saying things like, ‘oh, the French are going through a bad time, Mademoiselle! I assure you, you did well to leave France. It’s impossible for anyone who has any noble blood circulating in their veins to remain indifferent to these filthy people.’ He was relating a disgraceful event that had been narrated in the latest Paris newspapers in all its disgusting detail, as if listing the refrains that translated the revolt of her pure feelings. It was one of Behlül’s chief pleasures: he would impart to the noble, old girl, any free stories he had read, any risqué jokes he had seen, tacking them onto moral reflections, and enjoy her torment, and the virtuous flush that invaded her pale face layer by layer. At one side of the gazebo, on the divan, Nihal was trying to show Cemile a newly-learned craft. It was Nihal’s nature: she would learn by trying to teach Cemile things that she did not have enough patience to study outright. This was a plait formed by knotting thin, many-coloured ribbons with beads the size of chickpeas, that Mlle de Courton had found in one of the newly-arrived booklets of women’s handiwork. A cover was to be made for one of the smokers chairs using this technique; Nihal was trying to work the plait, and give Cemile a lesson at the same time.

‘Now,’ she was saying, ‘we’ve added the yellow and the red, we need to thread on the bead, then we’ll add the blue and green next to it…’

Then she was calling to Mlle de Courton on the other side. ‘Isn’t that right, Mademoiselle? Blue and green after the red and yellow?… Oh! It isn’t looking good at all, I’m beginning to get fed up with this already. I’m going to finish this row and then give it to Cemile.’

Mlle de Courton, to check the suitableness of the colours, but really escaping Behlül, had come to their side. Behlül had run and grabbed the machine out of the hands of Bülent, who, after having cut Beşir’s hair all awry, had now lost interest in finishing. Cemile, eager for this new work that was to be given her, had poked out her rotund face, and was listening to the explanations the old governess was offering Nihal.

A mist that had not yet had time to disperse after the hot August night was drifting over the garden. A heavy redolence of the gazebo’s honeysuckle, yellow roses, and jasmine, the carnations, and stocks from the garden, was swimming in this mist that had sunk on it, as if stifled and unable to breathe. Fındık [1], the cream-coloured cat, who had come out for a jaunt in the garden with Nihal, was putting out a tentative paw to touch Beşir’s fallen locks, with pats that wished to understand nature of these curly, black things. A bee, inebriated by the flower scents from the gazebo’s trellises, was going round with a constant buzz, and all the way in one corner of the garden, two sparrows, afraid of the butterflies, were hopping here and there.

It was as if a deep, comfortable peace had spread its wings over the garden and was lulling to sleep a corner of life in an air of calm.

Since that day, it might be said that the big incident had been forgotten in the yalı. No one was talking about it. Even Şakire Hanım’s headache that had begun that day, had let up for a space, and the headscarf that tightly bound her forehead had been taken off. Only, one day there had been mention of a change in the bedrooms upstairs, and permission obtained from Nihal to merge their bedroom and schoolroom and leave the fourth room free. Nihal had consented by bowing her head; then this too was forgotten, neither she, nor those around her had said anything more about it. Nihal felt as if she were in a pleasant dream. She no longer thought of anything, under the delusion that nothing was going to happen after all. She cuddled with her father more than ever, and more than ever tried to reserve him to herself.

Finally, one day, there had been a great bustle in the yalı, a barge had drawn up at the quay. There were noises, some items were being taken off the barge. Nihal had run to the window and looked: a bedroom set!…

This was a beautiful set of maple wood. Nihal suddenly understood. The reason for the room exchange that was to be made gained true clarity before this bedroom set. Not wishing to see any more, she escaped to the garden.

The set had been standing in the hall upstairs for the past two days. Adnan Bey was waiting for Nihal to ask something, but for the past two days Nihal had been passing by this crowded hall as if unseeing.

Today, as Mlle de Courton was saying, ‘no, no, blue and green do not go at all, we must find something else,’ Nihal suddenly asked:

‘Mademoiselle! Why have they not emptied the rooms?’

The old girl lifted her head and stared. This question was so unexpected she could not answer at once.

‘How would it be if we emptied them today?’

Mlle de Courton answered a little hesitantly, ‘yes, but then the workmen are to come, the curtains are to be changed, the room…’

She could not finish. She was going to say, ‘the room is to be painted…’

‘… there is a lot of work, and instead of staying in all this uproar… We haven’t been to the Island at all this year, have we, Nihal? What if we go to visit with your aunt for a week or two…’

Mlle de Courton had invented this idea, and she kept putting it forth at every opportunity, wishing to steal Nihal away from the arrival of this new mother as she had stolen her away from her mother’s death. Nihal always twisted her mouth in opposition; she was afraid that if she left, something would happen, and that this thing would take her father wholly out of her hands. Today she accepted without demur.

‘Bülent and Beşir will come with us, won’t they? In that case we will go today, right away. We will only wait for the schoolroom to be emptied, and then… After that they can do whatever they want.’

When he learned that the rooms were to be emptied, that they were to go to the Island, Bülent, whose enthusiasm for barbery was beginning to be rejuvenated by the success of his last operation, suddenly forgot Beşir. Holding Beşir’s new fez by its blue tassel and twirling it around, he was shouting, ‘we’re moving! We’re moving!… We’re going to the Island, we’re going to ride the donkeys!…’

Then he was running to his sister, embracing her and begging, ‘we’re going to ride the donkeys, aren’t we, sis? I won’t fall off anymore. I was little then, now I’ve grown.’

He was trying to look tall by standing straight up on his toes. They all ran together, Bülent had dragged them all into the yalı by the hurricane of his joy.

They gave Adnan Bey the news.

‘The room is being vacated, the children are going to the Island, to their great aunt,’ it was said. As Mlle de Courton told him this, it was as if her and Adnan Bey’s eyes described their thoughts with another language. Adnan Bey pulled Nihal, calmly looking into his face, slowly towards him; perhaps to thank her with a kiss. He didn’t kiss her. There was something in Nihal that evaded being kissed at that moment, and because the room was being emptied and the place vacated by going to the Island.

Bülent was going mad with this idea of moving: Şayeste, Nesrin, Beşir, these servants who had first begun with a cold and compelled obedience, could not escape the child’s contagious happiness. As the piano was dragged out into the hall, Bülent, attaching the cord of the fabric curtains to the piano’s ring, held onto it with the attitude of one hauling a boat to shore, and shouting with all his might, ‘ahoy! Get out of the way, move Mademoiselle’s old half-boots, we’ll run you all over!’

Nesrin, her nerves so weak with laughter that she was unable to pull any longer, was saying, ‘oh, my paşa, stop making us laugh so we can finish our work,’ and Şayeste, taking this opportunity for a breather, was scolding Nesrin, saying meaningfully, ‘silly girl! What is there to laugh about? You found the perfect time to laugh…’

Bülent was drenched in sweat. As Şayeste was walking, laden with a chair, and Nesrin, with the drawers of the school desk, Bülent clung to the end of the curtain that Beşir was dragging away, and running alongside with cries of, ‘make way, the porters are coming through, don’t get jostled.’

In the midst of all Bülent’s noise, Nihal all at once grew tired. She said to Mlle de Courton, ‘let us go… let us go from here.’

She wished to distance herself from here, from this house, as if she were running away from someone who had been disloyal to her.

They had been on the Island for fifteen days. It seemed as if everything were forgotten here; but Mlle de Courton understood that a secret feeling was clawing Nihal’s insides little by little with its nails, that the child was expecting something, without wishing to mention it, by her more than ever increasing restlessness. This morning, once again unable to stand Bülent’s insistence, they were taking a donkey ride. They would tour the road that squeezed the Island in a large circle. Mlle de Courton and Nihal, who hated riding donkeys, were in the aunt’s two-wheeled, one-horse carriage. Bülent and Beşir, to catch up with them, were shouting to try to give speed to their donkeys. There was now a white cloud of dust above Beşir’s face and red fez, the thin, brown hair that overflowed Bülent’s fez was sticking sweatily to his forehead and temples, and his plump cheeks were burning red.

They were driving the carriage slowly in order not to leave the riders too far back, hearing behind them Bülent and Beşir’s voices, and the little hoof-beats of their donkeys. Now and then Beşir fell behind and called, with the thin, delicate voice of an unmanned Abyssinian, ‘master, you’re running too fast, you’ll fall, wait for me.’

Then Bülent would call to his sister, ‘stop, won’t you stop a bit. Here, I can’t control mine.’

Mlle de Courton, snatching the reins from Nihal’s hands, was stopping the carriage in order to make way for the odd passerby. Once again they had halted thus, and were waiting for the donkey riders who had suffered a small mishap, far back. It seemed Bülent’s whip had fallen, and Beşir was dismounting to search for it.

A hot day was in preparation over the Island, a mist was drifting slowly in the unclear blue of the horizon. Far away, Istanbul appeared to tremble in a frothy sea of its minarets, its mosque domes, the green groups of trees on its hills.

Since the morning, only a rare word had been exchanged between them. Nihal had turned her head, and was looking at Beşir’s donkey, now freely ambling on. Suddenly, for the first time in fifteen days, she asked Mlle de Courton, ‘when are we going?’

‘Whenever you want, my child!’

Nihal looked at the old girl’s face. At first she could not curb her surprise.

‘Ah!…’ Then, hesitating a little, she added, ‘so it is finally finished?’

Nihal, her life spent in a limited sphere, taking from life only what her father and governess, her books and nannies said, not possessing a sophisticated female companion, knew no more than average twelve-year-old children. What she knew of life was limited to the confused inferences drawn by her small judgement from things she had overheard by chance, or seen in the street from the passing carriage.

As soon as she understood that a woman was to come to the house, without considering its true purport, she had felt an entirely emotional, entirely nervous anguish; her reason had no affect on this matter. This feeling could most correctly be summarised by the term, jealousy. She envied this coming woman everything; especially her father, and Bülent, also Beşir, all the house-folk, the house, the furniture, even herself. By coming into these beloved things, this woman would steal them, take them away. Yes, she could not very well figure out how, could not think clearly, but her soul felt that after the woman came, she would herself be unable to love the things she had loved thus far.

After word got out, the house-folk avoided her, in order not to chatter too much in her presence. When Nihal entered Şakire Hanım’s room, Şayeste, kneeling before her as she related something, would suddenly fall silent, Nesrin would constantly sigh and say, ‘of!’, and from all these people around her there emanated a secret meaning. So something was going to happen that she did not understand. Even the eyes that shone out of Cemile’s round face showed that this little girl was more knowledgeable than Nihal.

At first, with a curiosity that she could not get the better of, despite Mlle de Courton’s insistence, she had stubbornly refused to come to the Island. She had wished to stay there in readiness, with the attentiveness of a researching historian, in the capacity of a vigilant witness to the details of the event. She asked nothing of anyone, said not a word about the affair, but only wanted to see and to understand. Later, when she learned that their rooms would be rearranged and the maple bedroom set would be placed there, she had rather lacked the strength to stay, and, at the first blow of this affair, had been defeated and wanted to flee.

In this way she had been thinking of it constantly for the past fifteen days, as if hearing the death rattle of a dear, distant patient, but fearing that if she said one word she would hasten the end. She regretted agreeing to come to the Island. More importantly, she ought to have stayed to the finish. There was such a fear in her heart that it made her believe that on their return, the yalı, her father, everything would have been lost, that they would have been blasted by a wind. If she had stayed there, this wind would not have blown, this wind would not have been able to do anything.

And then she held a bitterness towards her father that could not be expressed openly. Whenever they came to the Island, he would visit at every opportunity, and stay with them for days. This time, he had not, not once stopped by, and had not even wondered about them enough to send a man. In the last days she never mentioned her father to Mlle de Courton.

Adnan Bey wanted to delay the children’s return as long as possible, however, Bihter spoke of them every day.

‘Won’t you have them brought at last? If you only knew how eager I am to see them,’ she would say.

Bihter, too, feared this first meeting with the children. She had a feeling that their manner of association in this shared life would conform to the effect produced by this first interview.

Today, Adnan Bey was parting from Bihter, with a kiss dropped on her hair, in order to go down to Istanbul for the first time since his marriage.

The young woman was saying, with a pleading voice, ‘you will finally send word today, won’t you?’

Suddenly there was a noise at the bottom of the stairs and they heard a fresh, clear laugh. Adnan Bey paused.

‘There they are!’ he said. ‘Bülent’s laugh… From now on, every day from morning till night you will listen to Bülent’s laughter.’

Now Bülent had climbed the stairs at a run, and evaded Şayeste and Nesrin who were following him. Straightaway he sprang to his father and embraced him with his little arms. His lips only reached his father’s waistcoat; with the overflow of fifteen days’ longing, he kissed and kissed the white piqué, dotted with little navy blue flowers. Then, stopping abruptly, he saw the woman waiting before him with a smile, and fixed his gaze on his father. He was expecting an answer, an order from him to explain what needed to be done with this woman.

Adnan Bey only said, ‘Your mother, Bülent. Won’t you kiss her?’

Thereupon Bülent, perhaps somewhat in obedience to that desire children feel to snuggle up to stylish, young, beautiful women, stepped forward, laughing, and surrendered both his hands into Bihter’s outstretched hands, and reaching out his lips to this beautiful mother’s lips, also stretched out in anticipation of a gentle peck, kissed her.

At this moment, Nihal and Mlle de Courton were ascending the final stair of the hallway. Adnan Bey, to draw strength to himself, began first with the governess.

‘Bonjour Mademoiselle! I think you have finally grown tired of the old aunt… Nihal, aren’t you kissing me?’

Nihal was still looking at Bülent, standing next to Bihter and laughing as he answered one of her questions. Something tearing in her heart, Nihal shifted her gaze from them and approached her father, reached out her small, thin hand. Adnan Bey took this hand, he was squeezing it as if asking for forgiveness from his daughter, he pulled and pulled, father and daughter first kissed with a quick peck, then who knows why, with sudden feeling, Nihal once again reached out her sharp face to her father and from the usual place, the hairless spot under his chin, sought out a long kiss.

Now Bihter was approaching her. Adnan Bey pointed at Mlle de Courton and introduced her.

‘Mlle de Courton…’

The old girl and the young woman greeted each other. Bihter continued her progress, and all at once, with that smile that warmed the coolness of any first exchange with a gentle air of affection, she put one hand on Nihal’s shoulder, held her hand with her other hand, and drew the child’s weak body closer. With a delicate scent of violets emanating from her, she was enveloping Nihal in a fresh, spring atmosphere, and Nihal’s head had rested on her bosom. So the thing that had been so much feared, the thing that had crushed her oppressed soul in the nightmare of an awful catastrophe consisted of this young, beautiful, smiling woman, this body in whose air, as much as in a bouquet of violets, blew a breath of spring? This perfume seemed to vapourise and absorb Nihal’s soul. Lifting her eyes, her head there, she looked at Bihter, and she was laughing too. Now, under that smile of Bihter’s, she appeared to be blooming among the roses of her whole soul’s surrender.

Then Bihter, with her voice that hung a little on syllables as if singing, said, ‘you will love me, won’t you? At any rate it will be impossible not to love me… I will love you, love you so much that at last you will love me too.’

In reply, Nihal reached out her thin lips, Bihter lowered her head, these two bodies, who ought to have been enemies to each other, kissed with an affection that was born in a minute, and became friends. Yes, they had at once become each other’s friend. Nihal felt as if she had come out of a terrible dream.

When she was going upstairs to change her clothes and undress, she drew near Mlle de Courton and said, ‘isn’t it wonderful, Mademoiselle? I had thought…’

In Bülent’s hands was a wreath made of pine branches, brought here from the Island with great care, and he was going to hang it on the bookcase. He ran ahead of his governess and his sister. He was heading for the schoolroom, wanting first of all to finish this important task. He pushed the door open, the suddenly, with a long cry of surprise, he shouted, ‘aah!’

They had all forgotten that the rooms had changed. Then, with an ungovernable curiosity, they followed Bülent. Bülent was standing motionless in the middle of the room, with eyes that could not believe that this was the schoolroom which could not be put in order, whose walls were full of drawings of ships in pencil, and as if wondering where in this graceful bedroom  it was possible to attach the pine wreath he held.

Nihal and the governess entered slowly.

‘Let us go to our room,’ Mlle de Courton was saying, ‘it would have been better not to have come in here.’ But she too tarried in her eagerness to see.

Nihal looked around her. First of all she saw the windows. White tulle flowed from between the half curtains lifted here and there in gathers – quite light, of a satin so icy blue that it looked as though it were hidden under a white cloud – and formed little piles on one of the pale carpets that Kula [2] had recently produced under the influence of Western tastes. In the light that waved inside from the fully-open shutters, these curtains resembled a white waterfall that spilled from blue rocks and bubbled as it fell. Walls painted the same light blue, the ceiling stretched with that colour satin and lined with a thin, yellow cornice, hanging at its centre, a large lamp made of variously-coloured glass in imitation of lanterns peculiar to old temples; in the corner, in place of Nihal’s piano, the bed, with a canopy of mixed satin and tulle that wound around a large yellow hoop on the ceiling and flowed down; opposite, between two windows, the vanity, to one side, its door left carelessly ajar, a mirrored wardrobe, a long divan, a tall floor lamp with a shade again of the same light blue, a small gueridon, a little candelabrum and a few books, and all the way across from the mirrored wardrobe, a life-size portrait of her father in pencil…

These were the things Nihal saw at first glance. Bülent, acting braver than either of them, had advanced and was peering into the mirrored wardrobe, bending forward slightly as if afraid that someone’s head would pop out of it, and adding words of astonishment at every single thing he saw.

Mlle de Courton wanted to pull Nihal away. Nihal walked forward with a sudden idea. She wanted to continue, not through the corridor, but through the door of the room that had been left ajar; pushing the tulle curtain of the door aside with her hand, she opened the way.

‘Oh, look Mademoiselle!’ she said ‘Your room has escaped from here.’

Mlle de Courton, faltering a little, replied, ‘yes, my child, didn’t they tell you? I am going all the way over there, to the first room, the Bey’s old room. But we are losing time with these visits. You still need to change.’

Nihal was absolutely pale. She made no response. Bülent, now taking a light, silk shawl with white ribbons and placing it around his shoulders was wandering coquettishly around the room, swaying his hips and casting coy glances. Mlle de Courton at last found it necessary to be serious. Pulling the shawl off Bülent’s back, she said, ‘little rascal. You have been told a thousand times that it is rude to touch other people’s things.’

Bülent laughed and replied, ‘yes, you are right, Mademoiselle! That saying is even in my reading book, isn’t it?’

Nihal had advanced. She tried the knob of the inner door which gave onto their room, the door did not open. Without saying a word, she turned. All together, the governess dragging Bülent by the hand, they went out into the corridor. Nihal pushed the door of their own room, took a step inside. This time Nihal could not keep back a cry of surprise. Bülent rushed up behind her with tempestuous haste.

‘What is this?’ he said. ‘Oh, sis! Is this our room? So beautiful!… So fancy!… Are the nets on these beds new? The broken glass of the bookcase has been replaced, and it’s been painted… Look, something has happened to the desk… They have removed all of my carvings… And the curtains!… Oh! Now we have silk and tulle curtains too.’ Suddenly, a note, written in large letters and tacked onto the newly-painted wall caught his eye. ‘Ah, Mademoiselle, what is this?…’

Nihal had lost the line of worry that had appeared on her lips a moment before when she had seen the wholly changed landscape of her room, and was smiling as she looked at the white net that hung from the dome of her iron bedstead, gathered at intervals with blue ribbons. She read the note that Bülent was pointing at: ‘drawing pictures of ships and faces on the walls is forbidden.’

‘My older brother’s doing,’ Bülent was saying, ‘so I can draw camels, can’t I, sis?’

Mlle de Courton was saying, ‘no more giving Bülent pencils. From now on, it is necessary to keep the room tidy. We will throw away all unnecessary toys. Bülent will become a little gentleman who loves to keep the house tidy. And we won’t forget to thank the Bey for this beautiful room tonight, will we, Nihal?…’

Nihal did not answer.

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[1] – Fındık: hazelnut.
[2] – Kula: a town in Manisa (near İzmir), known for its carpets.

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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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