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 indeed.

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 guess.

"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 hollow."

"That's just it!" chuckles the Greek. "It covers a hollow, sure 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 tree?"

"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 house.

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.