“And when you young men decide to marry are you free to choose, as we Europeans are?” I was feeling about, wondering how much of his confidence he would give me.
“No; that’s why, sometimes, I wish I was like one of the white gulls that fly over the water.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I would be out at sea with my mate—that’s what I mean.”
“Have you a mate?”
“I had. She is lost.”
I kept at work. White clouds sailed over the mosque; a flurry of pigeons swept by; the air blew fresh. With the exception of my companion and myself the street was deserted. I dared not go any further in my inquiries. If I betrayed any more interest or previous knowledge he might think I was in league against him.
“The girl, then, suffers equally with the man?” I said, tightening one of the legs of my easel.
“More. He can keep his body clean; she must often barter hers in exchange for her life. A woman doesn’t count much in Turkey. This is one of the things we young men who have seen something of the outside world—I lived a year in Paris—will improve when we get the power,” and his eyes flashed.
“And yet it is dangerous to help one of them to escape, is it not?”
The hour was nearly up. Joe, I knew, had fixed it, consulting his watch and comparing it with mine so that I might know the coast was clear during that brief period should anything happen.
“I was tempted to help one yesterday,” I answered. “I saw a woman’s face that has haunted me ever since. She may not have been in trouble, but she looked so.” Then quietly, and as if it was only one of the many incidents that cross a painter’s path, I described in minute detail the gate, the sliding panel, the veiled face and wondrous eyes, the approach of the officer, the smothered cry of terror, the black finger and thumb that reached out, and the noiseless closing of the panel. What I omitted was all reference to Joe or his knowledge of the girl.
Mahmoud was staring into my eyes now.
“Where was this?”
“Just behind you. Lift your head—that seam marks the sliding panel. She may come again when she sees the top of my umbrella over the wall. Listen! That’s her step. She has some one with her —crouch down close. There’s only room for her head. You may see her then without her attendant knowing you are here. Quick! she is sliding the panel!”
Outside of Paris, overlooking the Seine, high up on a hill, stands the Bellevue—a restaurant known to half the world. Sweeping down from the perfectly appointed tables lining the rail of the broad piazza; skimming the tree-tops, the plain below, the twisting river, rose-gold in the twilight, the dots of parks and villas, the eye is lost in the distant city and the haze beyond—the whole a-twinkle with myriads of electric lights.