The muezzin intone the evening noomat from the slender turrets of the mosques; everyone hastens to get home before night has completely set in; the mule-drivers urge on their beasts laden on both sides with leather bottles, and their tinkling bells resound in the narrow streets; the shouting water-carriers and porters, whose long shoulder-poles block up the whole street, scare out of their way all whom they meet; whole troops of dogs come forth from the cemeteries to fight over the offal of the piazzas. Every true believer endeavours as soon as possible to get well behind bolts and bars, and would regard it as a sheer tempting of Providence to quit his threshold under any pretext whatsoever before the morning invocation of the muezzin. He especially who at such a time should venture to cross the piazza of the Etmeidan would have been judged very temerarious or very ill-informed, inasmuch as three of the gates of the barracks of the Janissaries open upon this piazza; and the Janissaries, even when they are in a good humour, are not over particular as to the sort of jokes they choose to play, for their own private amusement, upon those who may chance to fall into their hands. Every faithful Mussulman, therefore, guards his footsteps from any intrusion into the Etmeidan, as being in duty bound to know and observe that text of the Koran which says, “A fool is he who plunges into peril that he might avoid.”
The tattoo had already been beaten with wooden sticks on a wooden board, when two men encountered each other in one of the streets leading into the Etmeidan.
One of them was a stranger, dressed in a Wallachian gunya, long shoes, and with a broad reticule dangling at his side. He looked forty years old and, so far as it was possible to distinguish his figure and features in the twilight, seemed to be a strong, well-built man, with a tolerably plump face, on which at that moment no small traces of fear could be detected and something of that uncomfortable hesitation which is apt to overtake a man in a large foreign city which he visits for the very first time.