When the picnic, which had been envisaged for some time but could not take place, was finally scheduled for that day, Behlül discovered something.
‘Wait a moment,’ he said. ‘Wasn’t the wedding at the end of August last year? In which case this picnic will be an anniversary picnic. We will close a happy year of my Aunt and Uncle’s and open them another felicitous year.’
The thought of such a country revel together with the entire household, which had made Nihal mad with joy until that day, woke in her, after these words of Behlül’s, the distress of something ugly. She was happily going to make an outing with Bihter, as they always did. But such a crowded picnic, months in preparation, the status that was attached to this picnic, and then the Firdevs Hanıms and Peyker Hanıms who now kept accompanying their lives, and even all those she once loved, especially her father, that man who was to close a happy year of marriage and open another happy conjugal year, yes, all these now angered her, they woke in her something like enmity for everyone. For did they not understand, did none among them feel that between these picnics, the happinesses that occasioned these entertainments, were pieces of her broken heart; her hurt feelings, their inaudible voices trembling each with a plaintive lament? Did they not hear it?
This morning she told Mlle de Courton, who had come to wake her early to go on the excursion, in a feverish anger that won out over her determination, the things that she had not been able to say for a year. Taking the socks that were to be put on her feet, and the shirt that was to go over her back with irritable gestures as if she wanted to rip, to rend anything that came to hand, to take revenge on them for her thwarted desires, and dressing for this picnic as though she were running from a fire, she was speaking, haltingly, and now and again pausing to look at her governess’s face with a manner that seemed to say, but won’t you say something too!…
‘You see, I wanted to go there until yesterday,’ she was saying. ‘Do I know why?… All night I thought of a way not to go. No, I can’t find a way… They will all say, ‘look, Nihal is jealous,’ and smile… You know, how they look at each other and smile. Not their usual smile, they have a secret way of smiling, lifting the right side of their lips, only a corner of the right side rises slowly. In their mothers, and in themselves… I first saw it in Bihter. One day, my God, what was it? I was saying something inconsequential to my father, I don’t know what suddenly moved my eyes to her. She wanted to convey an idea to idea to my father with just this smile. You noticed this smile of theirs, didn’t you? Are they mocking you, are they pitying you, it is a thing that cannot be understood… Since that day, whenever I am chatting to my father, I imagine her like that, smiling with that smile… Mademoiselle, I shall wear my yellow half-boots, don’t you think?… Oh! Now if you were for instance to go downstairs and say, “Nihal is a little unwell, and so…” at once the mother to her daughters, and then all three together to my father will smile, with their lips trembling, like this’ – Nihal was imitating them – ‘When they are smiling like this, do you know what I want?’
Mlle de Courton, wishing to stop her, was saying, ‘aren’t you going to brush your hair, my child?’
She, not listening, was continuing, ‘my hair! You thought of my hair so as not to say something else. I know that you, you understand everything. Yes, one day, when they are all smiling like that, I want to spring into their midst and shout, ‘but you, who are you? Where did you come from? Leave us, my father and I…’
Bülent was calling from downstairs. ‘Sis! We’re waiting for you. Mademoiselle! Tell my sister to hurry up.’
‘This is all childishness, Nihal. You must have slept badly last night, that’s all… Take care, don’t forget your gloves.’
‘Childishness! Bad sleep!’ said Nihal, shrugging as she tried to put on her gloves.
And then suddenly, giving up putting on her gloves, she clenched them in her palm.
‘For the last year I have been sleeping badly, do you see? And now today we are going to celebrate my sleepless nights…’
They had chosen Göksu, and Thursday as a quiet day. The two households were almost all there. They had taken four boats. Bülent was trying to trick Beşir into letting him row; their boat was in the lead. In it, Mademoiselle de Courton was saying to Bülent, with exaggerated terror to make Nihal laugh, ‘but this little sailor will make us taste the waters of Göksu.’
At one juncture, the boat said, ‘grrrt!…’
Bülent, letting go of the oar, was saying, ‘here, we have found America. Christopher Columbus may appear. Hurrah for Christopher Columbus! Hurrah for the new world!’
Behind them, in the gig, Nihat Bey was saying to Adnan Bey, ‘there, did you see? If you row with four oars, you will come upon the shallows.’
Ever since they had entered the river, he had been talking to Adnan Bey about some of his building ideas. Behlül’s voice was heard from behind. They turned their heads. Behlül, Bihter, and Peyker were on the shore.
‘We’re walking,’ Behlül was saying.
Bihter thought it necessary to warn her mother, who, not wanting to walk, had stayed in the boat. ‘Do not on any account try to get out of the boat by yourself.’
Peyker was lifting her arms, and trying to make herself recognised to the baby in Katina’s lap, itty bitty Feridun, who was looking around her with an air of bewilderment.
‘My darling! Come, come to me. Where is your mummy? Where has my darling’s mummy gone?’
When the boat was finally freed, Nihal said, ‘let us get out too.’
Behlül was walking between Peyker and Bihter, and saying to Peyker: ‘when I come out into the country like this, an ungovernable desire wakes in me! To run… If you would assent, we would invent such lovely running games with you today!’ – drawing nearer to Peyker, he was adding in a voice that expressed the meaning he had in mind – ‘you would run, I would chase. I have a feeling you have a talent for running, but I have such an endless patience and perseverance for chasing that at last…’
‘At last?’ asked Peyker, laughing.
‘At last I would catch you…’
Bihter was walking at a little distance from them, as if alone, not hearing, and not taking part in what she heard. Peyker was wearing a sleeveless yeldirme of very light, white silk which, from a single clasp at her neck, lay across her shoulders as if weightless enough to fly away, and in the freedom afforded by the lack of a crowd, left her wrists visible, unable to be concealed in the festoons of her loose sleeves, or by the thin muslin shirt which was transparent enough to disclose the rosy skin halfway down to her chest. As Behlül said, ‘at last I would catch you,’ his eyes looked for a response under that thin, white muslin, among the impertinent openings of the wide sleeves.
For some time he had been following Peyker thus, with his eyes and his words. Peyker did not appear to be angered by this. This was such an entertainment for her that it was assuredly in the nature of a continuation of those jests that began on the promenades when she was a child. As long as Behlül’s pursuit did not become anything more than a jest, being angered by it was too much hassle, and according to the etiquette of the class to which they belonged, it could be considered a discourtesy that ought to be avoided. Only when a little too much audacity was seen in Behlül’s aim, his pursuit was checked by some light mockery, a small laugh, or an amusing word, that explained that one ought to think twice before taking the matter as anything but a jest.
Behlül accepted Peyker as a flower that had been promised him, as an ornament that must absolutely be added to those bouquets composed of his love-makings. Today, he was saying to himself, ’she is exactly like me; the surest way of not being successful with Peyker is to transport her to a valley of poetry. Peyker is one of those women with whom one either jests like this to the end, or one day, with great daring, seizes victory. In which case… yes, in which case, one must dare…’
Peyker answered Behlül’s last words with a jest. ‘On the contrary, when it comes to amusements such as this, I feel an unconquerable desire, but a desire that does not resemble yours: to return home, thinking neither to run, nor to escape, nor to be chased. In particular, being caught is not something that would fall in with my nature. Let me tell you, you will rarely chance on another woman in the world who has listened to herself for so long, who has been able to understand the riddle of her feelings as clearly as I have. Do you know what will make me happy? Remember one day last week, you again came to me to talk about things similar to today. Do you recall how you found me? You saw Feridun flying in her swing in one corner of the little garden, and Nihat lying in a chaise longue, reading his never-ending newspaper, did you not? And alongside them I was thinking. Yes, I was thinking that happiness is to place your aims in the corner of just such a garden, between a swing and a pile of newspapers. I take you out of the peaceful sphere of this corner of happiness, I always take out of the tunes you murmured that day from among my thoughts…’
Peyker was speaking with a smile, dragging the umbrella in her hand across the tops of the grasses; Behlül was smiling with the suspicious air of someone who listens to something unbelievable.
‘I wonder,’ he said to Peyker.
Peyker instantly replied, imbuing her voice with all the sincerity of her expression. ‘It is so real that you see, not ten minutes have passed and I feel the need to see Feridun. Now I want to run, but not to be chased, to catch up with Feridun.’
They saw Nihal and Mlle de Courton in the distance. Further ahead, Bülent’s boat had stopped at another America. Bihter was calling to Bülent, ‘Bülent! That is enough, come out now…’
Bülent, continuing to play Christopher Columbus, was showing Beşir the people on the shore.
‘There,’ he was saying, ‘savages! It’s best not to disembark, do you see? Then…’
He wanted to describe something with his hand. Finally, in response to all their insistence, he decided to draw the boat near.
Behlül was saying quietly to Peyker, ‘would you like for me to take you on the boat, to the end of the river? How nice it would be, alone!…’
Peyker did not reply. She was beginning to get bored. They walked all together. Bülent was leading.
‘We’re here! We’re here!’ he informed them. ‘There are my father and Nihat Bey…’
They were all there. Nesrin and Şayeste were covering the café’s cane chairs with rugs, Firdevs Hanım was trying to arrange the chaise longue they had brought with them under a tree. Katina ran to Peyker with Feridun in her arms. Şakire Hanım and Cemile were taking the dishes out of the basket.
Nihal, not pleased with anything today, was saying to Mlle de Courton, ‘there, we have arrived. And now, now what will happen, anyway? We will sit like this until the evening, won’t we? Please don’t leave my side today, won’t you, Mademoiselle?’
Peyker had now sat on a chair and was speaking nonsense to Feridun. Behlül sat a little behind her, so close that his lungs filled with the warm, fragrant air that came from the young woman’s breast, from the nape of her neck, from her hair.
Pretending to attend to the child, he was saying, ‘there, your eyes exactly…’
Further away, by the river bank, Nihat Bey, stretching out an arm, was drawing a map of his visions in the air for Adnan Bey.
‘I don’t know,’ he was saying, ‘whether you can picture the river with the things I want to do? I believe giving the river a little depth will suffice in order to avail ourselves of the waters of the sea. Then place in here itty bitty steamboats, elegant gondolas, a specimen of all the variety of boats special to nations all over the world, and make this a little gallery of ships. Place on the banks, kiosks from China, India, Persia, Japan; for instance, over there, an Arab palace lost among some date palms, over there a pagoda in the midst of banana trees, on one side a Venetian palazzo with a gondola docked at its edge… It will be as if this river is a show of the splendours of the east and the west, the north and the south, shifting from colour to colour with the shadows of these various things as it flows. As an electric omnibus runs along its banks, an ether balloon should rise up and look out over the Bosphorus, over Istanbul, over the Golden Horn, the islands, and Marmara. If you wish, add to this an elephant with an itty bitty kiosk on its back, a palanquin on the shoulders of barefoot Indians, or an Arabian mahmal, a sleigh pulled by reindeer, and I don’t know what else, something from every corner of the world. Then you can call this place a pleasure garden, and your ladies, your children…’
While Adnan Bey listened to this ornate dream with a patient smile on his lips, Göksu was flowing by as if with a mocking murmur, dragging the splashes of its wavelets along. Its dirty waters shone with the denseness of a rusty mirror in the August sunshine that poured onto it. Painted black-green by the scattered greenery of the shore, by the weedy piles that gave one the nervous fear of their being home to snakes and frogs, it ran on like a molten green sun. Later, it was felt that with the slow movements of this summer sun, distant fields burned, trees withered, and it was as if all nature yawned in an oppressive atmosphere.
They all seemed tired. Firdevs Hanım was closing her eyes on the chaise longue. No one was paying attention to Peyker and Behlül. Feridun was half covering Katina’s face. Behlül was mumbling, in a soft voice, in Peyker’s ear, that ear whose pink tip he could see from among her hair.
‘Yes, your eyes… I see you in Feridun’s as yet unsettled face. Her eyes, her lips, even her chin… Especially this chin, which smiles at one with a barely-perceptible dimple in its middle!… I don’t know, but it seems to suggest an invitation to be kissed and stroked…’
Peyker appeared not to be listening to this voice that murmured behind her; she was babbling and busying herself with Feridun. To Behlül’s sentence she only said, ‘O!… O.’
Behlül was continuing. ‘Yes, Feridun is a little model of you! It is as if an artisan collected all of your beauties, and wanted to make a perfect, itty bitty work of art out of them…’
He could not continue. From the half-open nape in front of him, near his lips, a warm scent of passion was burning his face, drawing a veil before his eyes, oppressing him in the heavy air of this summer day. On Peyker’s head was a light tulle that only wrapped her hair, and left all the whiteness of her neck bare. Behlül was now so close that he drank in the heat of this white skin, and was intoxicated to madness by it. A strand of Peyker’s hair was touching the man’s sweaty forehead, sticking there for a second, and making him tremble. This strand of hair seemed to place between him and this young woman, an element of the longed-for union of a kiss. Behlül could not leave the place, he sought this strand of hair, to brush against it, and to feel the excitement of owning something of Peyker’s. There was now in him an ungovernable desire. He wanted to hold Peyker’s shoulders with both hands, and to satisfy his need for a kiss right now, at the point of the nape that with faint, pale, little tiny hairs, looked like a wave of shadow. There was a dryness in his throat that parched his words, and he had completely forgotten about Feridun. Now he only spoke of Peyker.
‘If you knew,’ he was saying, ‘there is something in you that drives one to acts of madness.’
He was continuing, but now his voice was thick. Peyker could not understand; in her ears too, something was howling, keeping her from hearing.
Behlül looked around. In the distance, Firdevs Hanım’s eyes were closed; he saw Adnan Bey with Nihat Bey from behind, at the edge of the river; Nihal and Mlle de Courton were walking slowly, far away. They seemed to be forgotten here, no one could see, not even Katina opposite them, with her face covered by Feridun, would feel this kiss. Now, disregarding all dangers, Behlül felt such a need to kiss Peyker there, on that shady place on the nape of her neck, that if he could not find the courage, he thought that he would die. Peyker felt only his breath behind her, but all at once, as if sensing the burning air of a kiss in his breath. something in her feminine perceptiveness woke to the vibration of this kiss that was to arrive a second later on that shadowed part of her neck. She moved her head with a nervous twitch as if to escape the touch of a lancet, and, with an ungovernable flood of virtuousness, put her hand on Behlül’s shoulder and said, ‘no. It will be seen. You are deceived…’
That was all she could say, then she called to her mother, ‘mother! Won’t you call Behlül Bey? Apparently he has stories to tell you.’ Then she called to her husband, ‘Bey! Feridun is waiting for you…’
Behlül had turned pale. He stood up suddenly, and saw his sister-in-law, four steps away, straight ahead of him, as if she had just materialised there. Bihter and Behlül looked at each other for a brief moment. Bihter turned her gaze. As Behlül, now laughing, went to Firdevs Hanım, who was calling him, Bihter walked towards Peyker.
The two sisters looked at each other. This time Peyker did not feel the need for self-restraint. ‘Do you know, Bihter?’ she said. ‘Your nephew, your in-law, whatever he is, he is a strangely bold fellow! You know I cannot endure any small offence against my husband’s rule. I did not marry him with the idea of betraying him. If he does not leave me alone, I will be forced to not allow him into my home…’
Bihter had turned bright red. Since her marriage, there had been a state resembling enmity between the two sisters. Some sentences of Peyker’s would produce in Bihter, perhaps without reason, a biting, clawing effect.
When she said, ‘I did not marry him with the idea of betraying him,’ while perchance it was possible that this was no more than a plain truth, Bihter saw the need to retort. But Katina was there, she might hear. Now Adnan Bey and Nihat were also joining them. Adnan Bey was stroking Feridun’s chin.
‘How will the time pass like this until the evening? Invent some amusement,’ Nihat Bey was saying to Bihter.
While they had all regarded the thought of coming here with joy, now the emptiness of the long hours to be spent until the evening frightened them, and nothing was borne of the idea that had meant to entertain them.
‘Wait a minute, where is Behlül Bey?’ asked Nihat Bey. ‘Why not let him invent something?’
Peyker and Bihter did not answer. Adnan Bey called to Behlül, who had sat down on a small stool next to Firdevs Hanım’s chaise longue and was relating what was no doubt a pleasing story.
‘Behlül! We need you here. You will find us some game, some amusement…’
Firdevs Hanım protested. ‘No, leave Behlül Bey to me, we have things to tell each other…’
Suddenly Nihat Bey shouted, ‘Ah! Here is amusement…’
A large rubber ball had rolled between them, right to Peyker’s feet. Bülent, and behind him Beşir, were running after it.
‘My ball! My ball!’ Bülent was calling.
‘Bülent,’ said Adnan Bey. ‘We will play with you…’
What? His father was going to play with him? Bülent went mad. He was jumping up and down on the spot, clapping his hands and saying, ‘great! Great!’
Then, suddenly, he wished to include someone who just occurred to him in this great thing. ‘Nihal,’ he said. ‘Where is Nihal?’
He was looking around, searching for Nihal. ‘Sis! Sis!’ he shouted. ‘Where are you? We are to play ball, with my father…’
‘The little lady went on a walk with Mademoiselle,’ Şakire Hanım’s voice informed them from afar.
Nihal was forgotten. Now Nihat Bey had thrown the ball and started the game. Adnan Bey was calling Behlül.
‘We’re waiting for you, Behlül!’
‘Leave them to play, leave them, we’re fine here,’ Firdevs Hanım was saying.
A langorous look from Firdevs Hanım’s eyes, thrown into darkness by circles kohl that made one assume they hid deep thoughts, was embracing Behlül, as if to describe the sweetness of a time spent in this way, in intimate conversation; two people, here, under this tree.
She was saying, ‘one day I will force you, you will tell me all of it. One by one, do you understand? In all detail… Who knows what beautiful stories, what strange romances you have, is that not so? You will tell me all. One day, in my room, sitting at my knees as you are now, like a child confessing his faults to his mother, and I a mother who listens to the child’s faults, who finds it delicious to listen…’
Behlül laughed. ‘Oh! A mother,’ he was saying, ‘where did you come up with that? Shall I tell you something? But no, I won’t tell you…’
She insisted, she wanted absolutely to make him speak. Behlül appeared to be overcome by her insistence.
‘Very well, I’ll tell you. There are times when, watching you, I doubt that you can be Peyker and Bihter’s mother. You are so young…’
Firdevs Hanım was responding with a coquettish laugh, and a strange meaning was leaking out of the depths of her eyes in their black circles.
‘If you exert yourself a little, you will declare your love for me in one beautifully-turned sentence.’
Behlül was laughing too. Now it was impossible to hear what they were saying between their laughs. Behlül’s elbow was accidentally touching Firdevs Hanım’s knee, Firdevs Hanım’s still white, still plump hand, decked with various rings, was being forgotten on Behlül’s hand.
Further on, by the baskets, there was a group composed of Şakire Hanım, Nesrin, and Şayeste. Katina and Cemile were making a swing between two trees, to put Feridun, now grown fussy, to sleep. Nearby, the ball game was growing heated, and Bihter and Peyker were greatly enjoying themselves. The two sisters had thrown off their yeldirmes. Nihal and her governess were still nowhere to be seen.
Şayeste, indicating Firdevs Hanım and Behlül’s detachment with the corner of her eye, was saying to Şakire Hanım, ‘a fine amusement for the little bey…’
Nesrin, not brave enough to set forth her thoughts openly, was sniggering, and with the meaning behind her suppressed laughter, was completing the faithful retainer’s sentence.
Şakire Hanım had the last word. ‘If they keep at it, I won’t be remaining at the yalı. You can continue to watch the little bey’s amusements as long as you like…’
Şakire Hanım had strong moral sensibilities that did not allow of temperance. For some time, when she saw Behlül between Firdevs Hanım and Peyker, she could not control herself. While Şayeste and Nesrin saw no reason to place more importance on this than as a laughing matter, she would grow ill, and whenever she saw Behlül next to Peyker or Firdevs Hanım, she would get a headache and bind her forehead tightly with a scarf. One day she had even confessed to Şayeste and Nesrin that there had been a move to secure Süleyman Efendi a place in the municipal police. Then the husband and wife would take their daughters and finally escape this yalı.
‘If we live long enough, we will see what ills this woman,’ she was saying, meaning Bihter, ‘will bring down upon the bey’s head…’
Between the three of them, an ever-increasing enmity towards Bihter, that had begun on the first day, was taking on the strength of a mutiny that was ready to erupt. This point of resentment that all servants felt about their mistresses was reaching a degree of hostility towards this lately-arrived hanım, that grew and finally invaded their whole hearts. Now at every opportunity the three of them came together in the house, and without even shying from Cemile – Şakire Hanım was content only to occasionally threaten the child by saying, ‘if you let anything slip, I’ll pinch your lips!’ – there would be talk of Firdevs Hanım, Peyker, and in particular of Bihter. Diverse judgements would be extracted from half-heard words, and partially-gathered stories.
By now they had all tired of the ball game. Bihter, locking her hands, was hanging on Adnan Bey’s shoulders. ‘How strange! My head is spinning,’ she was saying.
Bülent, not yet sated with playing, was tossing the ball towards Şakire Hanım, Şayeste and Nesrin’s group. Then, seeing the plates and the open baskets next to them, a thought suddenly occurred to him.
‘We’re hungry! We’ve all grown hungry,’ he called.
‘Yes! What is there to eat, please,’ Behlül was saying, and Firdevs Hanım, in order to be able to get up from her chair, was reaching out her hands to the young man. For some time there had been pains in her knees which she hid from everyone, but she applied to those around her for help in getting up.
‘Where are Nihal and Mademoiselle?’ Adnan Bey asked Beşir. ‘Go fetch them. We’re going to eat.’
The old governess and the child, in order to escape them, had walked upriver. Here they only occasionally discerned Bülent’s high-pitched voice announcing the game score. The weather was hot. Nihal was suffering; they found a tree; they both sat, side by side, in the shade that fell, bit by bit, from the thin branches of the tree. Now Nihal no longer felt the need for the fortitude that she had loaded onto her poor heart, beyond its strength, in order to hide for the past year. After the flood that began that morning, she poured out all of the secret troubles of her heart, the year-long orphan laments of her soul, with a miserable expression, and in language that at one moment spoke of her father, and in the space of a second passed on to Bihter. This hot August day was bringing a torrid air from the fields and making her dazed and intoxicated. The inside of her eyes, her lips, her lungs, were burning. As she hit the weeds with Bülent’s whip in her hand, looking out now and again at the mountains in the distance that wavered as if melting in a white flame, and one by one relating all of her sorrows, she suddenly spoke the greatest truth.
‘I thought so too,’ she said. ‘Do I know? There was something in her that was deceiving me. I believed that I loved her, that the two of us would enjoy ourselves more than ever before in this house. Now, oh!… Now I understand that it isn’t possible, that I can’t find the strength to live with her. Can you believe it? Mademoiselle, there are times when I feel an enmity towards my mother. Why did she have to die? If she hadn’t died, this wouldn’t have happened, would it? I don’t know what I assumed when I was a child? Always inside me something, a vague hope. There was always something strange that made me think my mother would be resurrected and come back. Now, to myself, I say, “she has come and there’s no more room for my mother.” Then this woman becomes a thief in my view. But I am no longer a child, am I Mademoiselle? You always tell me, “you are a young girl now…” I should understand these things, yes, I should understand that the dead are dead, nothing more can be expected from them… Oh! If you only knew how painful that is!… So I am always to be thus motherless, am I? Always like this, together with this woman… But she is not only stealing my mother’s place, but my father’s love and even Bülent. Tomorrow Beşir, too, will be hers, and perhaps even Fındık will love her…’ – Nihal was laughing as she mentioned this grievance – ‘In the house, you’re now all strange to me. Even in Şakire Hanım there is a reserve. And you, you, Mademoiselle, you who used to love me so much?…’
Mlle de Courton felt two small tears run from her eyes.
‘Nihal, my child,’ she said, laughing. ‘You are taking advantage of my weakness. See now? You almost made me cry with your childishness… But these are nothing but laughable notions. You have not told me anything since this morning that is rational. In such instances it is best for one to put a piece of serenity in their heart, and a piece of logic in their mind…’
Nihal was pursing her lips, and raining small, angry blows on the weeds with the whip.
‘Logic! Logic! Another one of those things that cannot be loved.’
‘Yes, perhaps!’ the old governess was replying. ‘But a useful thing. If you knew, Nihal, what complicated matters can be sorted with a particle of logic!… Look, for instance, this matter, allow me to just sort it out for you…’
Nihal was shaking her head.
‘Yes, yes, I know, you will sort it out with your logic. Finally you will reach such a conclusion that I will appear to be the happiest girl in the world, isn’t that so? I know. Don’t trouble yourself… But since, for the past year, I have wanted to die, what will come of the happiness that is proved by your reasoning? And, shall I tell you something, Mademoiselle? Do not be vexed with me… You are lying, Mademoiselle, lying! You love me still, that is why you feel it necessary to lie, all these things you’ve said, the things you want to say, are lies… Do you know what is true and serious in you? Weren’t there two teardrops that just now fell from your eyes? Those, and only those, were true.’
In Nihal’s pale face there now burned an undulating layer of pink. She had raised her face; the child and the old girl looked at each other for a long moment, and both their eyelashes quivered.
‘Cry, my child,’ Mlle de Courton said, in a choked voice. ‘There are times when tears bring peace more than reason.’
Now Nihal was sobbing, and two quiet rivulets of tears were running down the old girl’s cheeks.
When Beşir found them thus, crying, he froze. ‘Is the little hanım crying? Why is the little hanım crying?’ he was asking.
Then Nihal, with tears still in her eyes, said laughing, ‘ah! Are you mad, Beşir? Why should I cry?’
When they returned, they saw everyone else ready to eat. Peyker and Bihter, their faces flushed, their chests heaving with fatigue, were sitting on either end of the rug. Bihter had put up her feet and her fine silk stockings were visible above her open shoes.
‘I can’t move,’ she was saying. ‘Give me my portion on a plate. I will eat here, on my knees.’
This idea appealed to them all. Firdevs Hanım, who had her chaise longue pulled all the way there, and Peyker, who sat on the rug, leaning against her husband, joined in.
‘My uncle and I will serve,’ Behlül was saying.
When they saw Nihal, they all called.
‘Where did you run off to?’ her father was saying. ‘Look, you’ve been walking in the sun. Your eyes and face are red.’
‘Sis! Come here,’ Bülent was saying, holding a huge piece of cold chicken in his hand, and trying to describe his proximity to the food by winking.
Behlül, carving some cold meat onto a plate, was asking Firdevs Hanım, ‘two sardines, a little caviar… Do you like the caviar plain? I lost a whole hour yesterday trying to find this caviar, I do recommend it. Uncle, pass a fork from over there…’
After handing the plate to Firdevs Hanım, he turned to Peyker. He was speaking to her for the first time since that little incident.
‘Shall I give you some chicken?’
‘Put me everything, everything,’ Peyker was saying. ‘The game gave me such an appetite that I don’t think I will ever be full.’
They were reconciled. Behlül was saying to himself, ‘don’t women always begin like this, who are going to throw themselves in your arms the next day? Today they speak of their husbands, their children, their duties, their virtuousness; tomorrow, after they have surrendered themselves completely to a feverish passion, they deny their loves of the previous day in a violent raving of desire. Who can guarantee but that Peyker won’t say tomorrow that she learned love with me, that everything else she felt until that day in my arms was a heap of lies? What was she saying? That she was a woman who had listened to herself, studied herself… What empty words!’
Yes, they were now reconciled. Behlül suddenly thought of the young woman’s earlier sentence.
‘Yes, one of those philosophical sentences that repeatedly come out of the mouths of women who want to appear a little serious, a little intelligent,’ he was thinking. ‘Listen to themselves? But that is not possible. How can they hear a voice that would herald their true nature, amid the thousand womanly sounds of their hearts? They always talk about listening to themselves, they are all deceived. Woman deceive us, us men, but there is something under their fingers that, before us, is far easier to deceive, far quicker to fool: themselves. That is why first of all they begin with themselves. Here is Peyker! Today she is trying to deceive herself. I would have to be a very naïve, a very short-sighted man not to understand this, not to see it.’ Then he was adding internally, ‘oh, my girl! How we will laugh later when we talk about these things!…’
‘Behlül Bey, grapes please, give me some grapes.’
As Behlül handed Peyker the grapes on a little plate, he was looking at her with a glance that said, we are reconciled now, aren’t we? Then he was adding to himself, ‘without a doubt, we are reconciled. But it must be admitted that today I was more inept than a schoolboy following the neighbour’s daughter. Here, where we could be seen by anyone!… Then women, the women of this world, do not wish to be taken like a common plaything. This should be such a thing, such an unexpected, sudden affair, that above all it should look like an accident.
‘Wouldn’t you like some grapes too?’ he was asking Firdevs Hanım.
Adnan Bey and Nihal had happened to sit side by side. For the past year, father and daughter had not sat so close to each other. Now there was something between them, peculiar to those who have not seen each other for a very long time; as if to fully feel the pleasure of being this close, they were always busying themselves with one another, forgetting their surroundings, and speaking with soft voices, they were alone in the crowd. Nihal was at first hesitant, but one word, one look from her father was enough for her to forget all of her resentment. Within five minutes she had returned, with her father, to a year ago.
‘Won’t you give me a grape, Nihal?’
Nihal, laughing, was showing the bunch in her hand. ‘Eat from here.’
Adnan Bey enjoyed this idea. In him too, the need had arisen once again for the childish ways he had with his daughter, as before.
‘Let me be your child,’ he was saying. ‘A giant baby! And you are my mother, an itty bitty mother…’
Then he was reaching out his hand with the timidity of a child, and picking a grape from Nihal’s bunch. This simple game that arose out of nothing seemed so pleasing to them, that they both laughed each time.
After the meal, Mlle de Courton was saying to Nihal, ‘I congratulate you, my child, this is how I wish to see you all the time. You have frightened me so much since this morning with the flood of your feelings…’
Nihal laughed. ‘Oh! Those were nothing but a joke. Bülent!… Come on, a game!… I haven’t run at all since the morning…’
Now Firdevs Hanım was asking Behlül for the hammock that had been brought along but forgotten in the boat.
‘It should be in the boat…’
One end of the hammock was to be tied to that tree, one end here, Firdevs Hanım would lie down and Behlül would rock her slowly.
‘Will I sing you a lullaby too?’ Behlül was asking.
Firdevs Hanım attached too much significance to this question, and rapped Behlül’s hand with her fan.
‘It is dangerous to talk to you,’ – then suddenly an idea occurred to her – ‘give me your arm, and we will go down to the boat together. We will have walked a little…’
Now, with the demeanour of a young girl, she was walking, leaning on Behlül’s arm with the air of one a little tired.
‘Mother! Where are you going?…’ Bihter called from afar.
They did not answer. Adnan Bey and Nihat Bey were joining in Nihal and Bülent’s game.
‘But this is madness,’ Mlle de Courton was saying. ‘After the meal, in this heat, Nihal, you will make yourself ill. Bülent, I forbid you to run…’
But they were not listening. Bihter interrupted Mademoiselle de Courton’s speech.
‘Leave them be, Mademoiselle! It’s best that Nihal play a little. She has been in quite another mood all morning.’
The young woman was looking at the old governess with a meaningful expression. They were both standing side by side. Further on, Peyker, in order to leave Katina free, had laid Feridun on the rug and stretched out beside her. Adnan Bey and Nihal, Bülent and Nihat Bey had formed two rival camps.
Bülent’s high-pitched voice was announcing the scores. ‘Four!… Five!…’
The young woman suddenly asked the old girl, in a voice that acquired a confidential air, ‘Mademoiselle! What was wrong with Nihal, if you please? You are privy to all her secrets…’
There was the unconcealable scent of an argument in the air of this voice, that could not escape Mlle de Courton’s sensitivity.
She answered calmly. ‘What secret can a girl of Nihal’s age have to hide, Madame? Because Nihal has no secret, I am privy to all she does, and I think everyone knows as much as I do.’
Bihter lifted her head and cast a meaningful glance at the old girl’s calm face.
‘You are inviting my curiosity, Mademoiselle. It seems I am behind everyone in being privy to Nihal’s feelings. For some time I have been seeing such small things in her, and especially since the morning, such strange sulks… Would you believe it? Mademoiselle, let me confess something to you, some days I think there are people in the house who wish to take advantage of the child’s weak nerves.’ – Bihter’s smile was gaining strength – ‘For instance, all those servants who are doubtless against me… You know that I have done everything possible for a woman to do in order to love Nihal, to make myself loved by her. I still do, don’t I, Mademoiselle?…’
Such a conversation was taking place for the first time between Mlle de Courton and Bihter. Suddenly the old girl found herself in a difficult position between a daughter and a step-mother; suddenly she felt that today, right here, in this country realm, in the dialogue that took place before that ball game, her situation in the house would be changed, and then a life would begin that was insufferable for her. Finally that thing that had been feared, that had been delayed for a year, but that could never be kept from occurring, was finally beginning. Bihter and Nihal were taking out the claws that longed to tear at each other. The old girl was saying to herself, ‘whose fault is it? No one’s!… In the affair itself… Step-mother and daughter! After all, the lives of these people are, for all of history, either a comedy or a tragedy. How will this play end between Bihter and Nihal? I am afraid lest it be a comedy for one and a tragedy for the other…’
She wanted to give Bihter a response that left no opportunity for another conversation.
‘Madame, you do your duty so well that you are being perfectly successful in both loving Nihal and in making yourself loved by her. I don’t think that anyone could be found who would try to take advantage of Nihal’s weak nerves. If you see small things in Nihal that cause you concern, instead of ascribing them to the influence of another person, I believe it would be best to turn against those weak nerves themselves. I know such people in the house who…’ – the old governess was disclosing her intention with a kind smile that wanted to describe who she was speaking of – ‘yes, I know such people who are as mindful of their responsibilities as you, and are as successful as you in its performance.’
Bihter could not hide a small anxiety. Now her hands were moving nervously. While her eyes followed the ball that Nihal threw, her hands were worrying the silk tassels of her headscarf.
‘Mademoiselle,’ she said in a dry voice, ‘I do not enjoy roundabout sentences. Of whom are you speaking?’
The old girl replied instantly. ‘Not at all roundabout, but a very simple sentence. In particular, I speak of myself.’
While there had never been a single word or any small gesture between them that had not been in keeping with politeness, the old girl and the young woman had never been loving. Mlle de Courton, despite her weakness for loving everyone, felt something that frightened her in her intercourse with Bihter. She felt that this woman did not love her, and considered her an obstacle in exercising her control over Nihal. If she had not seen this child as the only joy of the disappointment of being left an old maid, the only flower of her failed life, if Nihal’s attachment was not scattering drops of consolation on the wound in her poor soul, caused by being unable to become a mother, right at the beginning, when this marriage was being conjectured, she would have left them all to their own devices and run away from here. But then, God! What would Nihal, all alone, have done in this storm, her hands unable to find even a plank? What would she hang on to? Where would she shed those tears that longed to be poured onto a heart’s kindness?
The conversation had stopped there. Today, Bihter, without being able to determine the reason very well, was finding in herself such a need to burst, to fight with someone, to do something peevish, that if the old governess uttered one more word, she was afraid of not being able to control herself.
The two women stood thus, pretending to watch the game in order not to look as though they were escaping each other, unless some external excuse appeared. Further on, Peyker was lying, rolling Feridun around, over there, Firdevs Hanım was swinging, by Behlül’s favour, in the hammock that had finally been brought and hung on the tree.
The air had now wholly taken on a heaviness. The fields were still, with the suffering of a breast unable to breathe, with a tension as if they would crack, bloated. The silence that had been drawing out for the past five minutes between the two women, seemed to add a further weight to the oppression of this hot weather.
‘How hot it is,’ said Bihter, in order to have said something. ‘It was a bad idea to come today. At this moment I want to find myself sleeping at home.’
‘Yes, Madame!’ replied Mlle de Courton. ‘An oppressive air. I don’t know what we will do until this evening.’
They both forgot the conversation that had taken place a little earlier.
As they returned home that evening, Behlül drew near Peyker, who was walking alone, and said, ‘will you allow me to sit next to you in the boat? Or will I once again be shooed like an irksome kitten?’
Peyker laughed. ‘Cats are fine while they amuse people, but if they start harassing one…’
‘They are shooed, is that it? Shall I tell you why you’re shooing me? Because you’re afraid of me, which means you are not wholly indifferent to me. Admit it, admit that you are not wholly indifferent to me…’
Peyker asked, with a restrained laugh, ‘what makes you think so? On the contrary, I thought myself so indifferent to you that no woman in the world could be more so.’
‘Yes, a woman!… But do not forget that a woman can never remain entirely indifferent to a wretch who wants to give her his heart with all the earnestness of his youth, who throws himself at her feet with the passionate fever of his soul, and who finally asks permission not to hide his plaintive cries.’
Peyker was laughing. ‘A language suited to lovers of tragedy.’
Then she added, with a voice that indicated that she wished to leave this jest here, ‘Behlül Bey! Will you allow me to say something to you? You are nothing but an ill-mannered boy.’
In order not to hear Behlül’s reply, she called to her husband. ‘Nihat! Where are the boats, if you please? I’m ready to collapse with exhaustion.’
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