A Very Queer House by Anonymous
There are few pleasanter places in summer than the great square of
Et-Meidaun at Constantinople. The tall gray pointed monument in the
middle, like a sentry watching over the whole place, the white houses
along either side, the polished pavement, the high white walls and
rounded domes, and tall slender towers and cool shadowy gateways of
the Turkish mosques together with the bright blue sky overhead and
the bright blue sea in the distance below, make a very pretty picture
The different people, too, that go past us are quite a show in
themselves. Now, it is a Turkish soldier in blue frock and red cap—a
fine tall fellow, but rather thin and pale, as if he did not always
get enough to eat; now, a tall, dark, grave-looking American, with
a high funnel-shaped hat, and a long black frock right down to his
feet. There comes a big, jolly-looking English sailor, rolling himself
along with his hands in his pockets and his hat on one side. There
goes a Russian with a broad flat face and thick yellow beard. That
tall handsome man in the laced jacket and black velvet trousers, who
is looking after him so fiercely, is a Circassian, who was fighting
against the Russians among the mountains of the Caucasus not many
years ago. And behind him is an Arab water-carrier, with limbs bare to
the knee and a huge skin bag full of water on his back.
But the strangest sight of all is still to come.
Halting to look around I suddenly espy a pair of yellow Turkish
slippers, a good deal worn, lying at the foot of a huge tree which
stands alone in the midst of the open space. They are not flung
carelessly down, either, as if their owner had thrown them away, but
placed neatly side by side; just as an orderly old gentleman might put
his slippers beside the fire before going out. And, stranger still,
although at least half a dozen bare-footed Turks (who might think even
an old shoe worth picking up) have passed by and seen them, not one
of them has ventured to disturb them in any way.
My Greek companion notices my surprise, and gives a knowing grin, like
a man who has just asked you a riddle which he is sure you will never
"Aha, Effendi! Don't you think he must have been a careless fellow who
left his slippers there? See anything odd about this tree?"
"Nothing but that piece of board on it which I suppose covers a
"That's just it!" chuckles the Greek. "It covers a
enough—look here, Effendi!"
He taps thrice upon the "piece of board," which suddenly swings back
like a door, disclosing to my astonished eyes, in the dark hollow, the
long blue robe, white turban, and flowing beard of an old Turk.
"Peace be with you!" says the old gentleman in a deep hoarse voice,
nodding to my companion, whom he seems to know.
"With you be peace," answers the Greek. "You didn't expect that, did
you, Effendi? It's not every day that you find a man living inside a
"Does he live here, then?"
"To be sure he does. Didn't you see his slippers at the door? Nobody
would touch the slippers for any money. They all know old Selim. He
has a snug house, after all; and don't pay rent either!"
In truth, the little place is snug enough, and certainly holds a good
deal for its size. On one side is an earthen water-jar, on the other a
huge blanket-like cloak, which probably represents Mr. Selim's whole
stock of bedding. A copper stew-pan is fixed to a spike driven into
the wood, while just above it a small iron funnel, neatly fitted into
a knot-hole of the trunk, does duty as a chimney. Around the sides of
the hollow hang a long pipe, a tobacco-pouch, a leathern wallet, and
some other articles, all bearing marks of long service; while to crown
all, my guide shows me, triumphantly, just outside the door, a wooden
shelf with several pots of flowers—a garden that just matches the
Having given us this sight of his house-keeping, the old gentleman
(who has been standing like a statue during the whole inspection)
silently holds out his hand. I drop into it a double piastre (ten
cents) and take my leave, reflecting that if it is good to be content
with little this old hermit is certainly a bit of a hero in his way.