The Fool - Chapters 6-10
In spite of living in such plain and unpretentious surroundings those who lived there were happy and contented. Labor was unremitting but the blessings of God were shed upon it abundantly.
Old Khacho's barns were always full of grain and fodder, his store rooms with butter, oil and wine. He was blessed with some good in every season of the year, and plenty of work to fill each day.
It was spring. The snow was melting on the mountains; the fields were beginning to smile with their verdant green. The air was full of a warm, delightful fragrance, spreading fresh life in every direction. Rivulets ran through the valleys and through the meadows. The returning swallow invited the laborer at his work.
The sun had just risen, and the mountaintops were rosy in the morning light. The old man was returning home at this early hour wishing a "God have mercy" on everyone he met. His sons were going to bring the cattle out of the stables today, for the first time, after their winter confinement where they had had nothing to do but eat, rest, and grow fat in the dark, never seeing light of day. It gave great pleasure to the villagers to watch this sight, and many of them had gathered about old Khacho's gate to see the cattle driven out, and to observe how well they had been tended. "Light to your eyes, Khacho!" said a neighbor., "Aren't your boys going to bring out the buffaloes today?" "Yes, it is time," be replied. "I asked the priest how much longer we should keep them in, and he said they are coming out today."
From within, the tinkling of bells was heard, and the crowd drew back to make way. "That is Chora!" they cried, Chora was the name of a famous buffalo belonging to the landlord. It had a crescent-shaped mark on its forehead, and was famous for its strength and size. The gigantic creature leapt out snorting and bellowing. Stopping suddenly in the square before the gate, it raised its head and gazed about. At that moment the old landlord threw a raw egg at his head. As the shell broke the yellow yolk ran down his white forehead. This was done to keep off the Evil Eye. Chora was startled by this performance, and lowering his head, he gave a mighty roar and plunged toward the crowd gathered there. The old man's sons arriving at this moment, used clubs and poles trying to control the frantic animal. Human strength contended against animal strength. Coming out of the stable into the light of day Chora's eyes, unused to the light, saw nothing distinctly. He did not even recognize his masters who had cared for him all winter, and whose hands he had often licked. In frantic frenzy he charged first this way then that. It was impossible to control him. Old Khacho's six sons dealt blows upon him from every direction, but they had no more effect upon him than if the great clubs had been twigs. The old landlord watched the conflict from a distance, with as much delight as he might had it been a Roman circus. He saw before him two powerful forces; on the one hand his sons, and on the other the great bull. They were about equally prized by him. Upon these two forces all the labors of his management depended. The conflict grew fiercer. The chain which had fastened Chora's neck to a huge block of wood now broke. The villagers brought ropes with which to bind him, but at each rush of the ungovernable beast these, also, were broken, and as he plunged about, the crowd scattered like flies before him.
In this frightful commotion a deed of great daring was accomplished. One of the sons, named Abo, ran and seized Chora by the tail. The enraged beast, observing this indignity, tried to turn and punish the offender. He whirled around and around, but Abo circled with him, holding onto his tail firmly as he did so. This performance continued for several minutes. Cries of astonishment arose from every side. The furious beast bellowed and dug his hoofs into the ground, filling the air with clouds of dust. By this time Abo's brothers arrived with chains with which they finally bound the bull amid general rejoicing. Now the old man approached Abo, and, kissing him on the forehead, said, "May the Eye of God be upon you, my son. You have made my face become white!" (the opposite of blackening one's name), meaning that Abo had saved him from being disgraced before the people. He then approached Chora, as though he was another son, and patting its head, said "You rascal, why did you behave so badly?" By this time Chora was quiet, and could see clearly. He recognized his master and seemed sorry for his wicked behavior. A chain was fastened to his neck, and passing it between his forelegs, was attached to a great log which he must drag with him wherever he went. And finally he was driven down to the river for a swim, and a cooling bath in its waters.
The crowd of villagers still hung about old Khacho's gate to watch the rest of the buffaloes come out, for there were fierce ones among them but this time the old man's sons took greater care and no special difficulty arose. Then followed the fine, healthy sheep and well-fed cattle, any one of which was worthy to carry off a prize in a village fair.
The landlord broke an egg against the forehead of each to keep off the Evil Eye. Besides this he had had the priest write a charm for each one, and had it sewn in a triangular bit of blue leather,, and hung it from the neck of each of the cattle. The villagers spoke words of praise for the care which the sons had bestowed upon the cattle, and the father's heart rejoiced at hearing them praised.
Each day the animals were brought out of their confinement for a little exercise until they became accustomed to the out-door air and light and were ready to work and plow the fields.
The April sun brought with it warmer and brighter days.
On the mountains red, yellow and white iris were already in bloom, and the Kurdish girls brought bunches of them to the Armenian villages to give in exchange for pieces of bread. Mushrooms and various kinds of wild herbs used for greens were so abundant that year that the Kurdish women would exchange a whole donkey-load of them for a few pounds of flour.
Old Khacho's sons had begun to plow their fields. Work had begun everywhere. There was not an idle man to be found in the entire village. All were busy with their farming.
It was morning. The hearth fires were lighted at old Khacho's. In one fireplace food was being cooked in pots and kettles. In another, bread was baking. The daughters-in-law and the maids were all busy around the fires. The house, filled with the smells of food, was one great kitchen, and one would think enough food was being cooked to feed an army. And, indeed besides the old man's large family, there were the shepherds and plowmen with their families who had to be provided for. There was a legion of them. Every day a great amount of food had to be prepared, and the old man's industrious daughters-in-law had not a moment's rest. They must care for all and please all.
Besides the cooking, there were other household tasks. One must milk the cows and sheep; another must heat the milk at a small fireplace and make the madzoun. A third must prepare the culture for cheese, and a fourth was churning butter.
A troop of Children were running about and playing with the young calves and lambs. Children and lambs grew up together---two forms of wealth which rejoice a villager and are his glory.
On the south side of the court, under a wall, was a row of beehives. The warm April sun shed its warmth here. While the women were busy at work on the other side of the wall, old Khacho opened the doors of the hives. The bees poured out gladly and fluttered around his gray head, humming and buzzing, making the air vibrate with sound. There were some bad ones among thorn, who gave the old man's face sharp stings. But he felt no pain, but drove them off, saying, "Go away, you devils. What harm has Khacho done you?"
In the meantime Stephanie stood a little distance away, watching his father with interest. "Go away, my child, the bees will sting you," he cried. "But why don't they sting you'!" asked his son. "They do, but it doesn't hurt me much." "Why doesn't it hurt you?" "Oh, I am used to it." "Let me become used to it, too," the lad replied smiling. The old man laughed kissed his son.
At that moment, the kizir (tax-recorder) appeared, having come to say that the Kurdish chief, Fattah Bey, had sent a messenger with word that he was coming to visit the landlord, and would arrive very soon for he was out hunting on the near mountains. A dark cloud seemed to pass over the old man's forehead, and his smiling face was darkened by sadness. But controlling his displeasure, he ordered the kizir to call some of his sons from the fields to wait on the guests, while he, himself, attended to providing fodder for the horses.
Fattah Bey's goings and comings were of such frequent occurrence at old Khacho's that the household knew beforehand what preparations were necessary for his entertainment. For this reason, as soon as the women heard the news, they had several lambs killed and cooked a great kettle of pilaf, knowing that he would have a retinue of at least twenty or thirty men with him.
Fattah Bey was the chief of a tube of Kurds whose sheep grazed on the mountains in the confines of the village 0...
Not infrequently, quarrels arose between the Kurdish and Armenian shepherds, when the Kurds had, perhaps, stolen a sheep or had begun to graze their flocks in the pastures belonging to the Armenians. But these quarrels always ended without serious consequences, not only because the Kurdish chief was a good friend of landlord Khacho, but was also his "kirvan" (godfather). He had stood as godfather to some of the old man's grandchildren at their christening, and the old man had occupied a similar position during the circumcision of some of the Bey's sons. This brought the two into close relationship.
But why was the old man sad when he heard of the approaching visit? Khacho was not a stingy man that he should be afraid of having to entertain the Bey with his troop of followers. Khacho's table, like Father Abraham's, was free to every man. Every day travelers and strangers ate of his bread. Khacho prided himself on being able to say that he never sat down to a meal without a guest. He would say, "God giveth the bread, therefore it belongs to Him, and His poor should eat of it."
But what caused him sadness when he heard that the Bey was coming? In silent meditation he stepped out of the house and stood at the gate to receive his guest. Seeing him there, some of the villagers joined him, and one of them remarked, "The Bey is coming. I wonder what belly-ache he has this time." "When the Kurd comes to the house of an Armenian," replied the landlord sadly, "he does not come without a belly-ache."
The points of lances appeared over the top of a hill, and in a few minutes a group of horsemen came in sight. "Here they come," said one of the villagers. The landlord couldn't see at that distance, but when another shouted, "It is they!" the landlord said, "Stand by and look after the horses until our boys arrive from the fields."
The Bey now drew near with his pack of hounds, and a troop of more than twenty horsemen, who were more or less related to him, and who surrounded him like a guard. Today he was mounted on a beautiful gray, an Arab courser, whose trappings were profusely ornamented with precious stones set in silver. The Bey was a man of forty years of age though he appeared much younger. He was large and well-proportioned and had a fine, manly face. He was dressed in fine linen, handsome broadcloth, beautifully embroidered, while his weapons were ornamented with gold and silver. On seeing him, the landlord stepped forward and stood beside the bridge which crossed the moat surrounding the house which the Bey must cross. But he, instead, dug his spurs into the steed's flanks, which then flew like a bird across the moat, and after prancing and curvetting gracefully, stood proudly before the landlord. "What do you think of that, old Khacho?" asked the Bey, patting the head of the magnificent creature. "You know horses. What do you think of this one?"
"May God keep off the Evil Eye. He is a beauty. Koroghlou himself hasn't a steed like that, and truly, he is worthy of you. Where did you find him? You didn't have him before."
"I received him as a gift from the Vali of Erzeroum," replied the Bey, much pleased. 'The Vali would rather lose his two eyes than this stallion but he gave it to me, his friend. It was given to him by the Sheik of Aleppo."
"He's a beauty," repeated the landlord.
The Bey, stirred by this praise, dug his spurs into the horse again showing off its fine points as it pranced about in the square in front of the gate, showing off his own skillful horsemanship at the same time. Then he dismounted and handing the bridle to one of his servants, ordered him to walk it about until it had cooled off.
Now the landlord, taking his guest by the hand, led him into the oda, which had been handsomely furnished in honor of the guest. Expensive Persian rugs were spread on the floor. Cushions were arranged against the wall, and a fine divan provided especially for the Bey.
Then the landlord, inviting his guest to be seated, said politely, "My house is your house. You own a place upon my head and in my eyes. I am your humble servant. My sons are your slaves, and my women your handmaids. You are welcome, a thousand times welcome. All that I have is at your disposal. Command me. Pray be seated."
The Bey expressed his thanks, and after one of Khacho's sons had removed his shoes from his feet he proceeded to seat himself in the seat of honor. Near him sat two of his cousins, and his other relatives. Some of his servants came into the oda, and stood, hands resting upon their pistols, ready to wait upon the Bey. Others had remained outside to care for the horses and hounds which were being fed from the old man's haylofts and storerooms. The Bey and his men were armed with rifles, pistols and spears, which they did not remove, although in the home of a friend. The Kurd does not lay aside his weapons whether at home or abroad, in time of peace or in time of war. His weapons are a part of his body. Khacho's sons, who had returned from their fields by this time, went out and continued to perform their father's commands; they carried no weapons.
They first offered the guests unsweetened coffee in small cups.
"Where is Stephanie? I don't see him," said the Bey. "Heretofore he has always served my coffee."
Concealing his displeasure, the landlord ordered Stephanie to come. Stephanie entered, his face beaming with pleasure. He went up to the Bey and kissed his hand. (Kurdish chiefs expect that act of courtesy). Then, stroking his silky head, the Bey said, "Do you know what I have brought you?"
"Yes, I know," replied Stephanie. "A beautiful fawn. I gave it grass but it would not eat."
"Just see, he has taken the gift already!" exclaimed the Bey.
"I knew it was for me," replied Stephanie, "so I took it."
"There, go now and play with your fawn," said the Bey. The lad bowed and withdrew.
"He is such a gentle lad," said the Bey, "he seems disappointed if he doesn't receive a gift from me every time I come here."
"It is not his fault. You have led him to expect one," replied the landlord, with a forced laugh.
"Oh, what fine mountains you have, friend Khacho," said the Bey, turning to another subject. "At every step you find game, wild goats, hinds, stags, and countless partridges and pigeons. This fawn, which Stephanie has, one of my hounds caught alive. You should see what fine hounds I lately received from the chief of the Zelantz tribe. I sent him a couple of mules in return. Just between ourselves, we had just seized the mules in a raid on some Persian pilgrims on their way to Mecca. But those hounds are wonderful. They run like the wind."
Dinner was served. The floorcloth was spread, and upon it were set great trays containing lambs, roasted whole, and pilaf.
First of all sherbet was served in small cups, and then tann, made of yogurt, or madzoon, which was drunk out of ladles. There was no liquor. All then began to eat.
"Haven't you sent your sheep out to pasture yet?" asked the Bey.
"Not yet," replied the landlord. "We can't be sure of the weather yet. April is apt to be chilly. I am waiting till it's over."
"Heat and cold are in God's hands, friend Khacho. What is to happen will happen," replied the Bey. "Our sheep went to pasture a week ago. Do you know how quickly our feed was exhausted this year? Our shepherds have gone hungry the last few days."
The landlord understood the Bey's hint, and replied. "Isn't our bread yours? Command me, and I will send as much flour as is needed."
"May Your house prosper and increase in wealth," said the Bey. "That is as it should be. Who shall distinguish between us? What is mine is yours, what is yours is mine. Isn't that so, friend Khacho?"
"God knows it is so. How much flour shall I send?"
"Ten donkey loads will be enough for the present. When that's gone, we'll take some more. Your granaries will not be emptied."
An unwilling smile crossed the landlord's face, and he nodded in assent.
After they had eaten, Stephanie brought water for them to wash their hands, and after that. passed the coffee.
The Bey then ordered his servants who had remained standing throughout the meal, to go outside and eat with the others, where a separate table was set on carpets spread in the courtyard.
In the guestroom there remained only the Bey, a few of his relatives and old Khacho. Now the talk turned on the gift of the Vali of Erzeroum. The Bey told of the breed of his fine stallion. He said its records dated from the time of Antares, the most famous breed of all. "But this gift is going to cost me dear," he concluded.
"How so?" asked the landlord.
"Don't you understand? I must give the servant who brought it to me at least a hundred pounds."
Now the landlord understood what had given the Bey his "belly-ache," but he made haste to say, "What of it? Give it. A hundred liras is not too much for such a stallion."
"Who gives money to a Kurd?" retorted the Bey, angrily. "Only Armenians have plenty of silver."
The Bey's relatives, who had taken no part in the conversation until now, began saying: "What! Are you troubled about money?" "That's right," said another. "God knows it is so," and another added, "Goodman Khacho is so kind, there's no one like him .among all the Armenians."
Old Khacho saw that in spite of all he could say he was caught in a trap, and burdened with the debt, so, in order to prevent their suspicion, he replied, I wouldn't hurt the feelings of the Bey for a thousand liras."
"May you prosper," replied the Kurds.
The landlord arose and, leasing the oda, called his oldest son and told him to go secretly and bring hire a hundred pieces of gold from its hiding place in the hayloft.
"Why?" inquired the son.
"Don't you understand? These wicked men have come, eaten and drunk and now we must pay tooth-hire'," he replied sadly.
"Curses on them!" cried the son. "May God cut them off, root and branch!" He then proceeded to the barn as if to bring straw.
"Tooth-hire" means having to pay the Kurds for their kindness in coming to the home of an Armenian and eating there. The host must pay or be beaten unmercifully by his guests. Although this custom was not general, some form of payment was expected.
While the old man was out of the room, the Kurds were indulging in the following conversation. "If the old fellow doesn't bring the gold, I will order his house set on fire this instant," said the Bey, angrily.
"That won't be necessary" said another, trying to calm him. "Khacho is a good Armenian. We don't want to harm him. His door is always open to us, and we can have everything we wish from him. He's a good fellow. We must not forget his bread and salt."
Just then the old man returned, and laying a purse of gold before the Bey, he said, "God is my witness. I was keeping it for my soul's sake, to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to become a "mahdesi" (hadji) but for love of you, I give it to you, Bey."
"Don't lie, Goodman Khacho, you have much more, very much," replied the Bey, taking up the purse and putting it in his bosom without counting it.
The day was well along. The Bey ordered his men to be ready to set out again. He came out of the oda and walked about with the landlord until the horses were ready. He saw Stephanie playing with the fawn, and spoke to him.
"Do you like it?" he asked.
"It is very pretty, but the dogs have wounded one of its feet, but I will cure it. Poor creature! It is in pain, and that is why it eats nothing," replied the lad, tying up the fawn's wound.
"I see you are fond of animals," returned the Bey. "I'll send you one of my young colts."
"I don't like horses."
'"What do you like, then?"
"I like goats, and deer, and partridges."
"Very well. then. When I go hunting, I'll bring you all the creatures I take alive."
Then, as the servants brought word that the horses were ready, the Bey expressed his thanks to the landlord, and went out where his beautiful courser was standing before the door.
Old Khacho himself held the stirrup, and helped the Bey mount his horse. This act denotes that the host is at the service of his honored guest.
Mounted on his steed, the Bey put it through its paces again, after which he bade old Khacho farewell, and rode away.
The old man stood there motionless for a long time. He watched the Bey make the steed leap the moat once more, spurning the bridge, as though only the weak and feeble had need of that. He saw him swoop down on a rabbit that had chanced to cross the road and thrust his spear into its side. As he watched all this, he thought, "Why doth Heaven order thus? The Kurd has no bread to eat, but the Armenian sows and plows and prepares his provisions. The Kurd receives the gift of a fine steed, which causes the earth to tremble under its feet, but the Armenian pays for it--the Armenian who is not allowed to ride on any beast save an ass."
That evening when all old Khacho's sons had returned from their labors, an oil light was burning in one corner of the room. The landlord and his sons were seated around the table. They were eating in silence. The fresh spring breeze brought refreshing coolness into the room. From outside came the bleating of sheep returning from pasture. In the bake-house the daughters-in-law were preparing food for the shepherds and plowmen. All must eat before the women could eat. The children, tired of play had gone to sleep without any supper. After eating, the sons went out. They had still much to do. They must look after the cattle, and water the fields, for this was the night when it was their turn to have the water of the stream turned onto their fields. And some one must go to the mill for flour. All sorts of jobs were waiting to be done.
The table was removed, but old Khacho and his oldest son, Hairabed, remained seated there. Hairabed prepared his father's pipe for him. Their silence continued. The spirit of sadness seemed to have spread its black wings over the hearts of that peaceful family.
"How much flour did the Kurds take?" asked the father, after taking a few puffs on his pipe. "Exactly twelve loads," answered his son, with displeasure, "and they were large sacks, filled to the brim. They had brought the sacks with them. They acted as though they had paid for it."
"Whose oxen drew the loads?"
"Ours, but, thank the Lord if they return the oxen. I fear they will eat the oxen along with the flour."
"The Bey wouldn't do such an ignoble deed," said the father.
"Who has given nobility to the Kurd? It won't be the first time they have swallowed the load and the beast at the same time. To tell the truth, I don't care so much about the hundred pounds, nor the twelve loads of flour, but it vexes me that after giving them food freely, we have to give them flour besides, and send it to them with our own cattle. What an affliction this is! I don't know how long these Kurds are going to continue to plunder us. They come and they come. They carry away, and carry away. They ask and ask. They have neither conscience nor shame. God seems to have created us to feed them."
"Don't you know it is true?" replied the old man choking on his pipe as his gorge rose at the thought. "What can we do? If we don't give it with our own hands, they take it by force. We may be thankful they rob us in the name of friendship."
"We have taught them this way of robbing, ourselves," replied the son. "We might refuse, then the Kurd would be obliged to sow and reap and work for his bread. But we have taught him to be lazy and live off us."
"That is true," replied his father, sadly. "But it is hard for us to do other than the way we were taught by our fathers. We are reaping the bitter fruit of their folly. Now listen, my son. I can see that hatred has been stirred up in your heart, and that this slavery has wounded you sorely; but, again, I ask, what remedy is there? What can we do? If we don't give them what they demand, they will become our enemies and next you know they will carry off a whole flock of sheep. To whom can we complain? Who will hear our voice? Those who have been set over us to suppress wrong and to administer justice are all robbers, from Vali and Pasha down to the smallest Mudir and Kaimakam. They are brothers in robbery. You have seen with your own eyes how the Vali of Erzeroum, instead of sending chains with which to hang such a noted robber as Fattah Bey, sends him a fine horse as a gift. A gift to a criminal who has flooded our entire province with blood and tears. When the Vali, the governor of the province does this, who is left to whom we can make known our sufferings? Only God is left, but even God does not hear our voice. Our sins are many."
The son made no reply, so the father continued: "We are Armenians. God's curse is written upon our foreheads. We have torn down our dwelling with our own hands. Dissension, disagreement, envy, and enmity, and many other evils have nestled in our hearts,: and we are suffering for our sins. The Kurd is not to blame. If we were agreed, if we were brave, the Kurd, the lazy, ignorant Kurd could not harm us."
He asked his son to light his pipe once more, and as he did so, his son said: "We are six brothers, Father. If you had given us a sign today, we six could have driven Fattah Bey and his horsemen from our home, and they would not have crossed our doorsill with such insolence."
"I know it, my son. But what would be the gain? You would have fought them; you might have killed one or two, or even many of them, but soon the whole tribe of Kurds would pour down upon us and would have laid us level with the dust. What Armenian would come to our aid? Not one. Many might rejoice. That is the way Armenians are. But the Kurds are not so. If you kill one, the whole tribe rises to avenge his blood. The blood of one member of a tribe is the blood of the whole tribe. They all seem to be children of one family. But is there such a unity among us? Each man bears his own burden; each man thinks only of himself, let come to others what may. What does he care as long as he is comfortable, and no one touches him. The fools don't understand that it must be one for all and all for one."
Old Khacho was not a man of learning, but life, experience and affairs had taught him much. His naturally vigorous intellect had developed under the storm and stress of life, and there sometimes appeared as much wisdom in his observations as in those of persons who devoted their lives to the study of human behavior. He continued to speak: "There is no remedy. We are obliged to work for and feed our enemy. We must keep the friendship of those who rob us. It is true, Fattah Bey has robbed us, but, still we cannot refuse his friendship, false as it is."
"Why?" asked his son.
"The reason is that by being friends with a great robber we escape from the hands of the lesser robbers. Now other tribes, knowing that Fattah Bey is on good terms with us, dare not touch our flocks and herds, or if they should steal anything, he will find it and return it to us."
"What is the good of that?" replied his son. "It all comes to the same thing. Fattah Bey gives us an egg but he gets a horse in exchange. He will not let another Kurd steal a sheep from us, but when he needs it he takes a hundred liras from us. We are his milk cows which he keeps and protects only in order that he may have our milk."
"That is true, my son," replied the father, "but we must remember that our ancestors, long years ago, taught the Armenian to keep his head on his shoulders in that way. I have read no books, but a bishop at the monastery at lutch Kilisah once told me that every time enemies have attacked our land, the Armenians, instead of meeting them with sword and weapon, have met them with rich gifts -- with trays full of gold. They taught us to bribe our enemies instead of fighting them. They taught us to give away our possessions to save our heads."
"But we need not continue to perform the mistakes of our ancestors forever," interrupted the son.
"It is very difficult to correct a wrong of longstanding. It has been repeated for thousands of years, and many more will be required to correct it. Go tell the people that we should deal differently with our enemies; that they are men like ourselves; that their bodies are not made of iron; that when they come armed to rob us, we shall use our own weapons against them. Preach to them continually. Do you think they will understand you? They will consider you a fool, and laugh at you."
The son made no reply. He saw a truth in his father's words, which was incontrovertible. But at the same time he wondered whether it was impossible to change the fixed beliefs of a people, so he asked:
"Suppose our fathers have walked in that path, should we not try to teach the people that they are on the wrong path?"
"It should be done, but who will do it? Those who have accepted the responsibility of educating, instructing and directing our people should be the ones to do it. Our priests and our bishops should do it, but they preach, 'If they smite thee on one cheek, turn the other also to them'. The school teachers should do it, but there is not one fit to do it in the entire province."
"I cannot agree with you, father," replied his son.
"Why does the Kurd who has neither priest nor bishop nor teacher, know how man should treat man? Who taught him that without weapons a man is like a blind hen, that will give its head to whoever comes along?"
"The Kurd has no priest, bishop, or teacher, it is true," replied his father, "but he has a sheik, and the sheik, although he is his spiritual leader, bears arms himself, and goes to plunder unarmed people along with his people. He never preaches that these things are sins. But what do our priests teach?"
The son was silent. His father continued: "There is one comfort in all these misfortunes, that much as they carry away, our granaries remain full but the Kurd goes hungry."
"Do you know this proverb, Father? The thief can build no house for himself, but destroys the house of the houseowner. Although the Kurd does not plow nor reap, he has no bread in his house; he is always hungry, but snatching bread from the industrious Armenian, he leaves him hungry also. Do not quote us as an example to the contrary. Think how many Armenians have been impoverished by Kurds who lack food.
"That is true, my son. But there is another thing to notice. See how many sheep are killed; how many are lost, but still they increase and multiply and become great flocks. While the wolf, although be destroys an devours the sheep, still is always hungry, and never multiplies. Do you ever see a large pack of wolves? The wolf is a wild beast. Today he seizes a sheep, eats and is filled, but he doesn't know where he shall find his next meal. He must always be on the hunt, but he doesn't find his prey every time. One who lives by hunting is full one day and empty the next. The Kurd is the wolf, while we are the sheep."
This was the old man's explanation of a bloodless combat.
"I think, Father," said his son, "that if the sheep had no shepherd or protectors, the wolves would not leave a sheep alive, and no flocks of sheep would be formed. It is true, we are sheep, but without shepherds. Since our condition is thus, there remains only one way for us to escape from the wolves. We must have teeth and claws like them."
On the side of the highway leading from Erzeroum to Bayazid, which was the only caravan route from Trebizond to Persia, were pitched the tents of a detached Kurdish tribe. From the number of tents which covered the greater portion of a large, grassy plain, one could estimate the size of the tribe. Herds of horses, sheep, and cows scattered on the surrounding hills gave evidence that this pastoral tribe enjoyed wealth and prosperity.
On his return from the house of old Khacho, it was quite dark when Fattah Bey, who was the chief of his tribe, reached these tents with his followers.
In front of some of the tents the evening fires were still burning with food being cooked or milk heating and their flames threw a glow over the scene.
When the Bey's company approached, the dogs set up a loud barking and here and there were heard the subdued voices of the night-watchmen giving word to each other of the approach of horsemen. One of the Bey's followers spoke to the watchmen, telling them who they were.
The Bey rode up to the tent in which was lodged the guest who had brought him the gift from the Vali. He was a middle-aged Turkish officer, tried and tempered in all manner of deceit. He had at one time held the office of Mudir in the region of Van, but had been removed from the office because of taking excessive bribes.
"You have kept me waiting a long time," said the Mudir, rising as the Bey entered his tent. "I had intended to bid you farewell tonight."
"The head of the Sheik be my witness that you are a very impatient guest," answered the Bey with a laugh. "We have not seen enough of each other yet. Why do you hasten " I hope you are not tired of my tent?"
"Not at all! Your hospitality is most agreeable to me. If I am ever taken to Paradise (of which I haven't much hope) I wish it might be to your dwelling there! Nevertheless I must beg that you allow me to set out in the morning."
"Well, well! I have learned this much of the characteristics of the Osmanlis. They are accustomed to the smell of the cities, and to lying on soft couches from morning till evening. But what is there in this desert? It is my fault, I admit. I haven't entertained you as I ought. What could I do? You don't care to hunt; You don't care to ride; and there is no other amusement to offer in our hills."
The Mudir replied, again employing Turkish compliments. "The light of your countenance is above all other delights for me. I shall ever consider myself fortunate for having been privileged to become acquainted with you. But remember, Bey, that your servant is not an independent creature. His time is not at his own command. The Vali set ten days as the limit of my leave of absence."
"I will write to the Vali that I detained you. You know how highly he thinks of me."
"I know that the Vali would give up both his eyes rather than you. He treasures your words as if they were pearls. He said in the presence of all, that the Sultan has no chieftain so brave and faithful as Fattah Bey; and for this reason he has proposed your name as a recipient of the Majidieh of the First Order".
The Bey smiled disdainfully, and replied: "I don't care much for those things called decorations. They are mere ornaments for women."
"Then what do you like?"
"I like gold mejidiehs."
"You shall have those too, Bey. The Vali is most generous. Don't you observe that he has placed your name on the salary list, and that you will henceforth receive a salary from the Imperial Treasury for guarding the frontier and keeping the peace in this region? He accepted your request that no Mudir nor Kaimakam be placed here but that all the command shall be vested in yourself. He has done that and he will do anything else you desire."
"I thank the Vali."
While this conversation was going on, the servants of the Bey were sitting on the ground outside the tent enjoying themselves in their own fashion. Each was relating the great deeds he had performed; how many women he had carried off, and so forth.
"Osman has stolen as many sheep as he has hairs an his head," said Omar. "You are no better yourself," retorted Osman. "You have carried off as many Armenian girls as I have sheep."
"Shapan doesn't like Armenian girls, they cry so easily," said another.
"That's so," returned Shapan. "The hearts of those creatures seem to be made of glass; if one touches them they are broken. But our women, God knows, have hearts of stone. Give them into the claws of a wolf and they won't whimper. I have no patience with women who cry."
"But there is this to be said," interrupted another Kurd who was the oldest of the number. "Those infidels never give up their cursed religion. I can't truly say that I seldom beat them, and you know I keep three. I always see them praying in secret. And there's another good thing about them, they can work like oxen and they are not such sleepyheads as our women are."
"Oh, but what lovely daughters-in-law landlord Khacho has!" exclaimed another young fellow." If their father-in-law were not our Bey's god-father, I would help myself to one of them."
This talk was interrupted by the barking of dogs and again the signals of the night watchmen were given. Several of the men took up their weapons and ran in the direction from which the sound was heard.
As they approached. they heard groans issuing from the darkness.
"For the love of God, take us to the Bey! We have a petition to present."
The dogs would have torn the poor fellows to pieces if the servants had not arrived in time to prevent them. It is impossible to approach the camp of the Kurds except at the risk of meeting these dogs, or the equally formidable sentries who, without warning, may thrust a spear into your side.
The strangers were a handful of men who threw themselves down on the ground outside the tent where the Bey was seated with his guest. The light of the lantern which hung in front of the tent showed them to be merchants and muleteers, one of whom had his head bandaged, another his arms, and others were wounded in other parts of their bodies, and blood was still flowing from their wounds.
The Bey, hearing the disturbance, called to one of his men, and asked to know what was the matter.
"Some merchants have come to make a complaint; they say their caravan has been robbed," was the reply.
An expression of displeasure crossed the face of the Bey, but concealing his inward uneasiness as well as he could, he commanded them to be brought in.
"This is a most astonishing occurrence," he said, turning to the Mudir; "such irregularities have never taken place on 'my land'." The Bey liked to call the territory occupied by his tribe 'his land', while really 'not a handful of that soil belonged to any Kurd whatsoever, for they shifted about from place to place like gypsies.
"How did it happen that their caravan was robbed?" he continued.
"Robbery occurs everywhere," replied the Mudir, tranquilly. "There is no land without robbers. Devils entered Heaven itself. There isn't a day when complaints are not brought to the Vali at Erzeroum."
The Bey, encouraged by the reassuring tone of the Mudir, resumed: "Believe me, Mudir, the head of the Sheik be my witness that I have kept these regions so well that even the birds of the air do not dare to cross 'my land'. I am amazed! What devil can it be who robbed these poor fellows?"
The wounded and bloodstained men now entered. One of them who was able to stand, advanced and addressed the Bey. "We have come to kiss the dust of your feet, Bey Effendi. We recognize only God above, and you below. For the love of the Prophet, help us! We are poor merchants, our caravan has been robbed; most of our company has been killed and you see the remainder here before your eyes. They are mortally wounded and cannot live long. The robbers have taken all we had; they left us nothing."
The wounded men, unable to remain on their feet, sat in front of the tent, those who were able to do so, stood.
"Where were you robbed?" asked the Bey.
"Here among the mountains not far away. The robbers led our caravan out of the highway, drove us into a lonely valley, and there they bound us hand and foot and threw us into a ditch. After that they began to rip up our bales and they took all that was of any value."
"What time of day was it?"
"About noon. We remained bound in that ditch until evening. God had mercy upon us. One of our number succeeded in untying his hands and then he released ours also. if it had not been for that we should have remained in that ditch to die of hunger and to be the prey for wild beasts."
"Where are you from? Where was the caravan from, and where was it going?" the Bey continued.
"Your servants are Persian merchants. The caravan was made up at Trebizond, being composed of goods brought by ship from Constantinople. We had passed through Erzeroum and as far as this place, in safety, and were going to continue our journey and go through Bayazid on to Persia, but here we were overtaken by misfortune. Our caravan was loaded with the most costly merchandise, but nothing was left. The robbers took away what they pleased and burned the remainder."
"The bead of the Sheik be my witness, this is the first time I ever heard of such cruelty," exclaimed the Bey, turning to the Mudir, who had been an attentive listener to the conversation, and who now began to question the men.
"Were you able to see the faces of the robbers?" he asked.
"How could we?" replied the spokesman. "Their faces were concealed, and only their eyes were visible, and when they seized us they bound our eyes; then they began to open our bales; but we saw this much that they were Kurds."
"How many of them were there?" asked the Mudir, once more.
"In what direction did they go?"
"We could not see. As I said, they had bound our eyes, as well as our hands and feet and had thrown us into a ditch."
"That is enough," angrily interrupted the Bey, to stop the Mudir's questioning. "I understand." Then turning to the merchants, he said: "Now go and rest. If the robbers are from our region, I will try to find them, and you shall not lose a sliver of anything. But if they come from some other quarter, I can find that out also. Be at rest. I will not excuse injustice perpetrated on 'my land'."
The merchants bowed, and called down on the Bey a hundred blessings.
"Gurbo," called the Bey to one of his servants, "take these men to your tent and treat them well, as you would treat guests from Heaven. Call the physician quickly that he may cure their wounds. I commit them to you. If they complain of you, you shall not escape punishment."
The merchants blessed him once more, and bowed themselves out of his presence.
After they had taken their departure, the Bey turned to the Mudir, with these words: "See this now! Behold such events have taken place! Can you tell, my noble friend, what Evil One has taken their goods? I am confident that they cannot be the Kurds of our region. I am a terror to robbers. For fear of me no one dares to do such things, but they come from other places, often from Persia, and rob in our territory. Who can tell a Persian from a Kurd when they wear the same dress? That often happens and causes us much annoyance. Nevertheless I must try to find these robbers. Ahmeh!" he said, turning to his cousin who had been sitting there in silence all the time. "Go this moment taking with you twenty horsemen. First go to the spot where the caravan was robbed; observe the prints of the horses' feet, and question the shepherds you may meet; in a word use every means to discover the rascals. I will not forgive robbery committed on 'my land'; that touches my honor."
Ahmeh set out by night to perform the Bey's bidding.
"Ahmeh has a dog's keenness of scent," remarked the Bey. "If the robbers have not gone far he will surely find them."
"No doubt," replied the Mudir, significantly.
It was already late. The Bey ordered supper to be served. They ate and drank in comparative silence. After promising to start the Mudir on his journey in the morning, the Bey bade him goodnight and retired to his own tent.
The Mudir lay awake a long time, thinking of many things.
The Bey's private tent consisted of two parts, one of which was allotted to his women, while the other was his sitting room. The material of which the tent was made was plain, like that usually used by pastoral Kurds. It was made of strips of black sacking, woven by his maid servants. The Bey entered and ordered the servant to secure the tent and then leave. Sitting there alone he seemed to be waiting for someone. The lantern suspended from the ridgepole gave only a dim, smoky light. No sound was heard from the women's side. They all appeared to be asleep.
Soon Gurbo appeared, the Kurd to whose care the Bey had committed the merchants who had been robbed.
"Are your guests comfortable?" asked the Bey, "with a meaningful look.
"Thanks to my lord's kindness, they are quite comfortable," replied the crafty Kurd. "They ate and drank, blessed you and went to sleep. Perhaps they will find their lost goods in their dreams."
"The dead do not return from Hades," added the Bey. "Well, where did you hide the goods?"
"Over in our village, in the house of lame Alo."
"Were they fine things?"
"God never gave such rich stuff into our hands before, Bey; gold, silver, velvets and cashmere; in short, everything you can wish."
"Didn't anyone see you enter the village?"
"Who should see us? There is no one left in the village. They have all gone to the mountain pastures, and only a few Armenian families are left; and like blind hens they don't dare to step out of their huts after dark, but lock their doors, cover their heads, and go to sleep."
"Where did you hide the stuff?"
"In lame Alo's house, as I told you. There are a hundred holes in that old wolf's den. We piled the stuff into one of them and locked the doors. I have brought you the keys," he said, handing the Bey two keys.
"Alo is faithful to us; it is not the first time he has served us in this way," observed the Bey.
After telling what disposition he had made of the booty, Gurbo began to tell how they had pounced upon the caravan, how they had plundered it, what prowess they had shown, and so on.
"Well done, Gurbo! I have always had a high opinion of your bravery," said the Bey. "When we get rid of that scamp (meaning the Mudir) I will divide the booty and you shall each receive your proper share."
Gurbo bowed, but made no response.
"But one thing troubles me," continued the Bey, impressively. I didn't wish this business done while that man was here."
"You mean the Mudir?"
"Yes, the Mudir."
"That's no harm!" said Gurbo, laughing. "We will send the Mudir from here loaded with gifts and honors, so that he will carry away a good opinion of us. But we will send a couple of horsemen after him, and before he reaches Erzeroum they will cut off his head and bring back the gifts we gave. Then the Mudir will not be able to go and tell the Vali what he must suspect. Isn't that a good plan?"
The Bey did not reply immediately. He was meditating. "The murder must necessarily be done beyond the boundaries of our land, near Erzeroum," continued Gurbo. "Then the sin will be far from us, and no one can connect us with the occurrence."
"It is not necessary," said the Bey, after a few moments' reflection. "If he reports us to the Vali, I will find some other way to avoid punishment."
Then Gurbo, as if he had just thought of it. put his hand in his bosom, and drew out a casket wrapped in a handkerchief. The casket was of silver, richly ornamented. He gave the casket to the Bey, saying: "I didn't leave this in Alo's house. It was such a small object I was afraid it might get lost."
The Bey opened the casket. In it there were arranged in order various ornaments for women; rings and bracelets of gold enriched with precious stones.
"Their owner was a Jew, who had ordered those things made in Constantinople for a Persian prince who was to marry a Princess this winter," said Gurbo, adding with a sneer, "The poor bride is robbed of her jewels. The Jew begged that we let him keep the things. I gave him a blow that stopped his noise." With Gurbo this meant that he had killed him.
"You may go now," said the Bey. "Pay good attention to your guests. We will decide in the morning what must be done next."
The leader of the band of robbers bowed and took his departure.
After Gurbo departed the Bey sat for a long time examining the beautiful objects before him. He could not have explained why those bright jewels attracted him so greatly. "I will send this casket to the Vali at Erzeroum. I can find no gift more suitable than this," he meditated. Suddenly he changed his mind. He recollected a person dearer to him than any one else. "No, no, this lovely necklace must adorn her beautiful neck; those priceless bracelets are worthy only of her matchless arms, and those rings for her dainty fingers," he said with deep feeling.
His savage soul was under the spell of love; it was changed and became more tender. Wild beasts are rendered more fierce when they begin to love, but man is softened, and in so much the Bey differed from the beasts.
I must keep those ornaments for her, only for her." In his absorption he had forgotten himself, speaking these words aloud, and he was not aware that someone had raised the curtain of the women's quarters, and entering had silently stationed herself behind him. It was his wife Koorsit famed throughout the region for her beauty. But at this moment she towered over him like a pale and angry goddess, or an evil spirit about to destroy him. He looked up and was transfixed with terror.
For a few moments the two faced each other in silence like gladiators debating how to attack each other. The silver casket with its brilliant jewels still remained open before the Bey. The woman gave them a mere glance and crossed to the opposite side of the tent and seated herself upon a cushion. Those objects which would have excited the desire of most women, especially Kurdish women who are like children in their fondness for shining things, seemed to be no more to her than bits of broken glass whose sharp points pierced the heart.
The Bey, regarding her anxiously, said: "Why are you angry? I will give you part of these also."
"I need nothing but a shroud; that is all I need," answered the woman, with a trembling voice.
The murky light of the lantern fell directly upon her pale face more beautiful in its anger, like that of an avenging angel.
"What is the matter, Koorsit?" asked the Bey gently. "I hope you have only had a bad dream."
"I do not dream. I have seen what has been going on with my own eyes."
The Bey knew very well that his crimes, and robberies, and bloodshed were not the occasion of his wife's agitation. For he knew that Koorsit as well as every other Kurdish woman, would give her husband no peace if he should cease from stealing and plundering. Therefore there must be some other reason for her anger. Koorsit was the Bey's only wife, although according to Moslem law he was not forbidden to have several wives; but there were two reasons why he had not taken others. One, because the Kurds are few in number, and beautiful girls rare; and the other, that Koorsit was the daughter of the Kurdish Sheik, an influential man whose spiritual jurisdiction extended over all the tribes, and one word from him would be sufficient to remove the strongest chieftain from his position. And the Bey was beholden to him for his position. To add a second wife to his harem would be to offer an insult to the Sheik. The Bey thought of all this as he sat and studied his wife's sad countenance. The Bey saw the practical bearing of this reasoning, but made no account of its moral aspect. It would be impossible to displace his wife because she was a sheik's daughter, but when he turned his eyes towards the gaudy trinkets, again his fancy pictured the dainty creature for whom he coveted them.
He very well understood the reason of his wife's anger. Now the savage rage, which is found in wild beasts when they are smitten with love, filled his heart.
"Koorsit," he said menacingly, "what is it you demand?"
"I demand that our marriage vows be severed," she said firmly. I will not be your wife any longer. I will mount a horse and return to my father's house in the morning."
"I do not consent to have the wifehood of a sheik's daughter shared with a vile Armenian girl."
"I will keep her as your hand-maid."
"I have plenty of hand-maids."
"But I love this one."
"Love her as much as you please; but that love will cost you dear."
"What are you going to do?"
"You threaten me, do you, you wretch! I will crush you under my feet like a potter's vessel."
"Don't you move from your place! Do you see this?" cried the woman -showing him the revolver she held in her hand. She had sprung to her feet.
The Bey was terrified. He had not anticipated such a bold step on the part of his wife. They stood confronting each other in a state of suspense, she with her revolver pointing at his breast, and he with his hand upon the hilt of his dagger.
At that moment the sound of an infant crying was heard from the other side of the partition. And the mother hastened toward the crying baby, saying only: "I will yet have my revenge."