Kéraban the Inflexible (Part 1)/Chapter 4

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However, as it proved, the caïdji had arrived, and he came to inform Kéraban that his caïque was waiting at the steps.

These "caïdjis" may be numbered in hundreds on the waters of the Bosphorus, and the Golden Horn. Their boats are impelled by two rowers, one in front, the other astern, and can be rowed in either direction at will. They are about fifteen or twenty feet long, made of beech or cypress wood, carved and painted, It is astonishing with what rapidity these graceful boats glide about and cross each other’s course on the splendid stretch of water that separates the two continents. The influential corporation of watermen (caïdjis) is charged with maintaining the service from the Sea of Marmora as far as the Château d'Europe and the Château d'Asie, which face each other at the mouth of the Bosphorus.

The caïdjis are generally respectable men, dressed in a kind of shirt of silk—a many-coloured "yelek" embroidered with gold, and short white cotton drawers. They wear a fez, and shoes, their arms and legs are naked.

If the caïdji daily employed by Seigneur Kéraban to row him from Scutari to Constantinople had been harshly received for his delay, one must not be surprised. The phlegmatic boatman did not make any complaint; he knew very well he had an excellent customer, and made no answer. He merely indicated the steps at which the boat was moored.

Then Kéraban, accompanied by Van Mitten and followed by Bruno and Nizib, proceeded to the place of embarkation, but halted when a movement was perceived amongst the crowd on the Top-Hané.

"What is the matter yonder?" asked Kéraban.

At that moment the chief of the police of Galata, accompanied by several of his men, was perceived upon the "place." A drummer and a bugler accompanied them. The former beat the "ruffle" and the latter blew a "call," and by these means succeeded in imposing silence upon the crowd, which was composed of very heterogeneous elements—Asiatic and European.

"Here is some other iniquitous proclamation, no doubt," muttered Kéraban, in the tone of a man who was determined to stand upon his rights everywhere and always.

The chief of police then drew from his pocket a paper, which was embellished with the official seals; and in a loud voice read the contents as follows:—

"By command of the Muchir, President of the Council of the Police:—An impost of ten paras from this day will be demanded from every one who may cross the Bosphorus from Constantinople to Scutari, or from Scutari to Constantinople, by caïque, or by any other species of vessel, by steam or sail. Whosoever refuses to pay this tax shall be arrested, sent to prison, and fined for his contumacy.

"Given at the Palace, the 16th of the present month,

"(Signed)The Muchir."

Murmurs of discontent arose when this novel tax was thus proclaimed. The impost was equal to about five centimes or one halfpenny a head.

"Very good! Another tax!" exclaimed an old Turk sarcastically, who ought to have been accustomed to these exactions so capriciously demanded by the Financiers of the Padischah.

"Ten paras! The price of a small cup of coffee," remarked another gloomily.

The chief of police, knowing very well that Turks, like other people, will grumble, but pay nevertheless, was about to quit the Top-Hané when Kéraban accosted him.

"So," said he, "there's a new tax imposed upon all those who cross the Bosphorus?"

"By proclamation of the Muchir," replied the chief of police. "But," he added, "surely the rich Kéraban is not complaining of it?"

"Yes, the rich Kéraban," replied that individual.

"And you are quite well, Seigneur Kéraban, I hope?"

"Quite well; as well as taxes will permit. Now, is this tax already imposed?"

"Certainly. Since the proclamation was issued."

"And if I wish to go across to Scutari this evening in my caïque, as I usually do—"

"You must pay ten paras."

"And as I cross the Bosphorus every morning and evening—"

"That will cost you twenty paras a day," replied the chief of police. "A mere nothing for the rich Seigneur Kéraban."

"Indeed!" was the answer.

"My master will get into some scrape," muttered Nizib to Bruno.

"He must give way though, eventually," said Bruno.

"He—give way? You don't know him yet," replied Nizib.

Meanwhile, Seigneur Kéraban, folding his arms and staring into the very soul of the chief of the police, appeared to be working himself up into a nice little passion. He spoke at length in a voice in which his irritation was very evident.

"Well, there is my boatman, who has come to tell me that my caïque is waiting for me; and as my friend Van Mitten, and my servant and his will accompany me—"

"You will have to pay forty paras," replied the officer; "and, as I said before, you can very easily afford such a trifle."

"That I have the means to pay forty paras, or a hundred, or a thousand, or a hundred thousand is nothing to the purpose," replied Kéraban. "But I will pay nothing, and I will cross just the same."

"I am very sorry to oppose Seigneur Kéraban," replied the chief of the police, "but he cannot pass without payment."

"He will pass without paying."

"No, indeed!"

"Yes, indeed!"

"Friend Kéraban," began Van Mitten, with the laudable intention of making this headstrong individual listen to reason, "my friend—"

"Let me alone, Van Mitten," retorted Kéraban angrily. "This tax is perfectly iniquitous, vexatious. It ought not to be submitted to. Never—no, never would the old régime have dared to levy a tax upon the caïques on the Bosphorus."

"Well, at any rate, the new régime have need of money," remarked the chief of police, "and they have not hesitated to do so."

"We shall see about that," said Kéraban.

"Guard," said the chief, addressing his men, "you will see that the new proclamation is carried out."

"Come, Van Mitten," said Kéraban, stamping his foot. "Bruno, Nizib, follow us."

"You must pay forty paras," remarked the chief of police quietly.

"Forty blows of the stick," replied Kéraban irritably. But scarcely had he advanced towards the steps where the caïque lay, when the guard surrounded him and his friends, and obliged them to retrace their steps.

"Let me pass!" he exclaimed, putting himself into a defiant attitude. "Do not dare to touch me, any of you, even with the tips of your fingers! I will pass, by Allah! and that too without the loss of a single para."

"Yes, you may pass, certainly; through the prison-door," replied the chief of police, who was getting rather excited also; "and you will pay a pretty fine before you come out again."

"I will go to Scutari."

"Not by crossing the Bosphorus; and as it is impossible to go any other way—"

"You think so, do you?" sneered Kéraban, who with clenched hands and red face looked quite apoplectic. "You think so; well, then, I will go to Scutari, and I will not cross the Bosphorus, neither will I pay the fine."


"Even if I have to go all round the Black Sea," said Kéraban in conclusion.

"Seven hundred leagues to save ten paras!" exclaimed the chief of police, shrugging his shoulders.

"Seven hundred leagues! A thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand!" shouted Kéraban the obstinate; "were it a question of only five—two—or even a single para."

"But, my friend—" began Van Mitten.

"Let me alone, I tell you!" exclaimed Kéraban, putting him aside.

"He is off now," muttered Bruno.

"And," continued Kéraban to the chief of police, "I will go through Turkey and the Chersonese, I will cross the Caucasus, walk through Anatolia, and reach Scutari without having paid a single para of your iniquitous impost."

"We shall see about that," responded the chief of police.

"You shall see it all," retorted Kéraban, now thoroughly roused, "and I will start this evening."

"Diable!" exclaimed Captain Yarhud to his friend Scarpante, who had not lost a word of this discussion. "This will rather disarrange our plans!"

"Yes, indeed," replied the other. "A very little would induce this headstrong fellow to persist in his mad project; and if so, he will pass Odessa, when the marriage may be concluded."

"But," again said Van Mitten to Kéraban, with the hope of dissuading him from his mad project, "you must—"

"Will you be quiet? Leave me alone!" said Kéraban.

"Remember the marriage of your nephew Ahmet," said Van Mitten persistently.

"We will see that is completed."

Scarpante then whispered to Yarhud aside,—

"We have not an hour to lose."

"You are right," replied the Maltese captain, "and early to-morrow morning I will start for Odessa by the railway."

Then these two worthies withdrew from the crowd, and as they turned away, Kéraban called out to his servant,—

"Nizib," he said.

"Yes, sir!"

"Follow me to the counting-house."

"To the counting-house," replied Nizib.

"And you too, Van Mitten," added Kéraban.


"And you also, Bruno."

"Yes, but—"

"We will go all together."

"Eh!" exclaimed Bruno, pricking up his ears.

"Yes; I have invited you to dinner at Scutari," said the Seigneur Kéraban to Van Mitten; "and, by Allah, at Scutari you shall dine—when we return."

"But we shall not be back for—how long?" said Bruno.

"Not for a month, a year, ten years, perhaps," replied Kéraban in a tone that admitted of no discussion. "You have accepted my invitation to dinner, and my dinner you shall eat!"

"It will have got cold by that time," muttered Bruno.

"Will you allow me, friend Kéraban—"

"I will allow you nothing, friend Van Mitten. Come."

So saying, Kéraban advanced a few steps towards the end of the promenade.

"We are quite unable to withstand this 'pig-headed' fellow," said Van Mitten to Bruno.

"But are you really going to yield to such caprice, sir?"

"Whether I remain here, or go elsewhere, it is all the same to me, so long as we do not touch Rotterdam," replied his master.

"But, sir—"

"And since I follow my friend Kéraban, you have no alternative but to follow me," continued Van Mitten.

"Here is a pretty complication!" remarked the valet.

"Let us be off," cried Kéraban, who then addressed himself to the chief of the police in a sneering tone, calculated to exasperate that official.

"I am going," he said. "I shall depart despite all your arrests. I will go to Scutari without crossing the Bosphorus."

"I will do myself the pleasure of witnessing your return from such a strange journey," replied the chief of police.

"I shall be extremely glad to meet you on my return," responded Kéraban politely.

"But I may as well inform you that if the tax is still in force when you come back—"

"Well?" said Kéraban.

"I cannot let you pass from Scutari to Constantinople across the Bosphorus without paying the ten paras per head."

"Well, then, if your iniquitous impost is still in force when I return, I will find out some way of crossing to Constantinople without paying a single para: there!"

So saying, Kéraban took Van Mitten's arm and made a sign to Nizib and Bruno to follow them, The party quickly disappeared amid the crowd, which cheered this partisan of the old Turkish régime who was so tenacious of his rights.

Just then the report of a cannon was heard. The sun was setting beyond the Sea of Marmora: the Fast of Ramadan was at an end, and the faithful subjects of the Sultan might now indemnify themselves for the privations of that long day.

As suddenly as by means of an enchanter's wand Constantinople was transformed. To the silence of the Top-Hané succeeded cries of joy and pleasure. Cigarettes and every description of pipe were immediately produced and lighted: the air was odorous with tobacco. The cafés were quickly crowded to overflowing by hungry and thirsty customers. All kinds of pastry and sweetmeats and more solid food were eaten, and every known beverage appeared on the tables as if by magic. The shops were brilliantly illuminated, and the transformation was complete in the twinkling of an eye.

Then the old town and its new quarters were lighted up as magically. The mosques—St. Sophia, the Suleimanieh, Sultan-Ahmed, all the civil and religious edifices from Seraï Burnou as far as the hills of Eyoub, were crowned with many-coloured fires. Luminous verses were suspended from one minaret to another, tracing the precepts of the Koran upon the dark background of the sky. The Bosphorus, studded by the lanthorns carried by the caïques which were tossed about by the waves, scintillated as if the stars had fallen upon the water. The palace upon the margin, the villas on both the European and the Asiatic sides, Scutari, the ancient Chrysopolis, and its houses built up in amphitheatre form, by stages; presented only lines of fire which were reflected from the sparkling sea.

From the far distance resounded the notes of the tambourine, the lute, or guitar, the tabourka, the rebek, and the flute; mingled with the chanting of hymns and psalms of evensong, for the dying day. And at the summits of the minarets, the muezzins, in the call of three prolonged notes, sent over the city—the city now in festive array—the last summons to the evening prayer, which consists of one Turkish with two Arabic words, Allah, Hækk Kebir!