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we heard our first cry of “Baksheesh!”-a plaintive cry from a pretty, pathetic little girl who clung to us, and called it over and over like the cry of a soul being dragged to perdition-“Bak-she-e-e-sh! Baksh-e-e-e-sh!” a long-drawn-out wail. Not one of us who would not have given her freely had we not known that to do so would be to touch off the cyclone
-the cloud of vultures hovering on the outskirts. One's heart grows hard in the East; it has to.
At the door of the mosque there was a group of creatures who put slippers on us and made a pretence of tying the wretched things. They didn't do it, of course, and one had to slide and skate and straddle to keep from losing them—which thing would be a fearful desecration—we being “Christian dogs.” The Apostle in those slippers, skating and straddling and puffing his way through St. Sophia's was worth coming far to see.
It is a mighty place, a grand place, but it has been described too often for me to attempt the details here. It is very, very old, and they have some candles there ten feet high and ten inches through (they look exactly like smooth marble columns and make the place very holy), and there are some good rugs on the floor. Several of our party who are interested in such things agreed that the rugs are valuable, though they are laid crooked, as they all point toward Mecca, whereas the mosque, originally a Christian church, stands with the points of the compass.
It has been built and rebuilt a good many times. The Emperor Justinian was its last great builder, and he robbed the ruins of Ephesus and Baalbec of certain precious columns for his purpose. On Christmas Day, 537 A.D., he finished and dedicated his work. Altogether he had spent five million dollars on the undertaking and had nearly bankrupted the empire. Nine hundred years later the Turks captured Constantinople, and Mohammed II., with drawn sword, rode into St. Sophia's and made the bloody handprint which remains the Moslem ruler's sign-manual to this day. They showed us the print, but I don't think it is the same one. It may be, but I don't think sounless Mohammed was riding a camel.
Some kind of ceremony was in progress when we arrived, but as usual in such places, we did not mind. We went right in just the same, and our guides, too, and we talked and pointed and did what we could to break up the services. Old turbaned sons of the Prophet were kneeling and bowing and praying here and there, and were a good deal in the way. Sometimes we fell over them, but we were charitably disposed and did not kick them—at least, I didn't, and I don't think any of the party did. We might kick a dog—kick at him, I mean-if we tripped over one, but we do not kick a Moslem-not a live one. We only take his picture and step on him and muss him up, and make a few notes and go.
I have been wondering what would happen to a party of tourists—Moslems, for instance—who broke into an American church during services, with guides to point and explain, and stared at the people who were saying their prayers, and talked them over as if they were wax figures. An American congregation would be annoyed by a mob like that, and would
remove it and put it in the calaboose. But then such things wouldn't happen in America. We have cowed our foreign visitors. Besides, there is nothing in an American church that a foreigner would care to see.
We went to other mosques: to Suleiman, to Ahmed, to the “Pigeon" mosque with its gentle birds that come in clouds to be fed, but there is a good deal of sameness in these splendid edifices. Not that they are alike, but they seem alike, with their mellow lights, their alcoves and sacred sanctuaries; their gigantic wax candles; their little Turkeys—Turkish boys, I mean-rocking and singing the Koran, learning to be priests. And everywhere, whether it be prayer-time or not, there were old bearded men prostrated in worship or bowed in contemplation. Quite frequently we sat down on these praying men to rest a little, but they were too absorbed to notice it.
There were no women in the mosques. The men supply the souls and the religion for the Turkish household. A woman has no use for a soul in Turkey. She wouldn't know what to do with it, and it would only make her trouble. She is allowed to pretend she has one, however, and to go to mosque now and then, just as we allow children to play “store” or “keeping-house.” But it's make believe. She really hasn't any soul-everybody knows that.
Constantinople is full of landmarks that perpetuate some memory—usually a bloody one-of the Janizaries. Every little while our guide would say, “This is where the Janizaries conquered the forces of Abdullah VI.”; or “This is where the Janizaries overthrew and assassinated Mahmoud I.”; or “This
is where the Janizaries attacked the forces of His Sacred Majesty Bismillah II.,” and everybody would say, “Oh, yes, of course," and we would go on.
I said, “Oh yes, of course,” with the others, which made it hard, later on, when I had worked up some curiosity on the subject, to ask who in the deuce the Janizaries were, anyway, and why they had been allowed to do all these bloody things unreproved.
By and by we came to a place where the guide said that eight thousand of them had perished in the flames, and added that fifteen thousand more had been executed and twenty thousand banished. And we all said, “Oh yes, of course," again, and this time I meant it, for I thought that was about what would be likely to happen to persons with Janizary habits. Then I made a memorandum to look up that tribe when I got back to the ship.
I have done so, now. The Janizaries were a body of military police, organized about 1330, originally of young Christians compelled to become Moslems. They became a powerful and terrible body, by and by, and conducted matters with a high hand. They were a wild, impetuous horde, and five hundred years of their history is full of assassinations of sultans and general ravage and bloodshed. In time they became a great deal more dangerous to Turkey than her enemies, but it was not until 1826 that a sultan, Mahmoud II., managed to arouse other portions of his army to that pitch of fanatical zeal which has made Janizaries exceedingly scarce ever since. I think our guide is a Janizary—he has the look-but I have decided not to mention the matter.
We skated through mosques and the tombs of sultans and their wives most of the day, appraising the rugs and shawls and general bric-à-brac, and dropped into a museum-the best one, so far, in my opinion. They have a sarcophagus of Alexander there—that is, it was made for Alexander, though it is said he never slept in it, which is too bad, if true, for it is the most beautiful thing in the world-regarded by experts as the finest existing specimen of Greek art. We lingered a long time about that exquisite gem-long for us--and bought photographs of it when we came away. Then we set out for the Long Street of Smells, crossed the Galata bridge, and were at the ship-home.
We have only made a beginning of Constantinople, for we are to be here several days. But if it is all like to-day I could do with less of it. I have got enough of that smell to last a good while, and of the pandemonium that reigns in this disordered aggregation of thoroughfares, humanity and buildings—this weird phantasmagoria miscalled a city. Through my port-hole, now-I am on the street side—there comes the most devilish concatenation of sounds: dogs barking and yelping, barbaric singing, wild mandolin music, all mingled with the cries of the hawkers and street arabs, and when I reflect that this is the real inwardness of that wonder dream we saw at sunrise, I am filled with a far regret that we could not have satisfied ourselves with that vision of paradise and sailed away.