All the morning of April thirtieth Curtis saw nothing of Panayota. She was gone into the fields and upon the hillsides with the other women and the children of the village to gather flowers for the May-day festival. Late in the afternoon the whole town set out for Hepta-Miloi, or Seven-Mills, the place in the mountains where, year after year, they were accustomed to hold this innocent and beautiful celebration, one of the most fragrant and lovely of all the inheritances from the days of the aesthetic old gods. Laughing, singing, shouting merry sallies and replies, the procession scrambled up the stony, winding street of the village, laden with baskets and gayly colored bags filled with provisions. Everybody, too, carried flowers—flowers in baskets, in aprons, in the hands. There were donkeys and dogs innumerable. Some of the donkeys carried tables strapped to their backs, with the four legs sticking up into the air, and giving the impression that, if one of the animals should keel a somerset into a ravine, he would be sure to light upon one or the other of his two sets of feet. Upon others of these nodding, shambling little animals rode such of the villagers as could not make so arduous a journey on foot: a picturesque old man in holiday costume, resplendent in bright, new fez, ruffled shirt and gaudy sash; here and there an old woman who had made the same journey every year for the last forty years; and several strings of small children, four and five on a donkey’s backbone, like monkeys on a limb or kidneys on a spit. The demarch, in accordance with the dignity of his office, rode at the head of the procession, side by side, when the road was not too narrow, with Papa-Maleko, whose animal was nearly covered by his flowing black robe, and who held an umbrella over his tall hat. Lindbohm had refused the luxury of a mount and strode sturdily along with his hand upon Curtis’ saddle. Up and up they climbed beyond the last plumed outposts of olive groves into the kingdom of the pines. At times they walked by the side of a deep chasm at whose bottom swirled, darted and leapt a stream of molten silver or of ink, according as it flashed in the setting sun or crept beneath the shadow of dank ferns or deep green trees. At such times Curtis’ moth-eaten, blue-gray beast walked upon the ticklish, imminent edge of destruction, loosening rocks and bits of earth that went scurrying into the waters far below. Entreaty, threats, blows upon the side of the head with the rope that did service as a bridle, were of no effect to make him walk elsewhere.
“Look here, Lindbohm,” cried Curtis, “I’ve told you my address. If I plunge down yonder giddy height, write to my governor, will you? And don’t trouble to pick up the pieces.”
“What’s the matter?” shouted the demarch, looking back.
“This donkey will surely fall with me.”
“Bah! Let him have his head. He knows his business. No donkey ever falls.”
“What if he does? Cannot a stork fly?” asked a black-eyed, roguish maiden, who possibly thought that the American could learn good Greek from more than one pair of lips. This sally evoked such an inordinate peal of good-natured laughter that Curtis was unable to think of an appropriate reply, and contented himself with pulling a rose from the basket hanging at his saddle and throwing it at the saucy girl.
In the purple twilight they came in sight of the first of the seven mills. A tall, slanting barrel of masonry received the water that turned the stone wheel that lay upon its face in a small building covered with reddish brown tiles. The miller and his wife, dusty as moths, came out to greet the merry throng that poured into his little plateau with much shouting and singing and strumming of guitars. Two or three shock-headed youngsters peeped from behind the building, and a girl, probably three years old, clothed only in a flour sack that reached to the middle of her stomach, ran, like a frightened chicken, to cover in the folds of her mother’s dress. The child was glowing with health and beautiful as an infant Dionysus from the broken arm of a Hermes carved by Praxiteles himself. And now they were come into a region of rank, water-loving trees, great ferns and streams of water that slipped smoothly and silently through square sluices of white masonry. The mills were close together. At the fourth in number they stopped and found that brave preparation had already been made. The plateau before the mill-house was here larger than ordinary and in its midst grew a wide-spreading oak from a lower branch of which hung a powerful lamp, protected from the wind by a glass cage. At the foot of a shielding wall of rock, several lambs were fragrantly roasting upon long wooden spits, and by each an old man squatted, so intent upon turning the carcass that he scarcely looked up to welcome the gay and noisy villagers.
“How go the lambs, Barba Yanne?”
“Is it tender, think you, Barba Spiro?”
“Are they nearly done, Kosta? Holy Virgin, what an appetite I’ve got!”
With a perfect babble of such exclamations, mingled with much laughter, and many shouted orders and directions, Ambellaki took possession of the place where it had elected to outwear the night with song and feasting and to welcome the First of May. The tables were unstrapped from the backs of the donkeys and set in line. Cloths were spread and candles were lighted in candlesticks surmounted by protecting glass globes. Chairs were taken down from others of the donkeys, and two or three long benches were produced by the miller. A dozen pairs of strong hands were extended to Curtis and he was assisted from the back of his wilful beast to a comfortable seat.
“Whew! I’m glad to get down from there,” he exclaimed to Lindbohm. “I think I’ll stay here till my foot gets well and walk back. Looks jolly, doesn’t it? And how good those lambs smell! I believe I could eat one all by myself.”
Plates, bottles containing oil floating upon vinegar, decanters of wine, great piles of crisp salad, loaves of brown bread, sardellas arranged upon plates like the spokes of a wheel, tiny snow drifts of country cheese—began to appear upon the table. Lindbohm entered into the spirit of the occasion with genial enthusiasm. Although he could not speak a word of Greek, he blundered everywhere, eager to assist. He lifted the children from the donkeys, pulled plates and provisions from the baskets, and washed the long tender lettuce at a place where the water leapt from one conduit to another. All this time the old men were patiently turning the lambs. Every now and then one of them would dip half a lemon into a plate of melted butter and rub it over the brown, sizzling flesh. Beneath each of the lambs was a shallow bed of ashes. The coals that glowed there were not visible, for, in roasting meat à la palikari, the best effects are obtained if it be slowly done. The proper roasting of a lamb is a matter of supreme importance. Reputations are won thereby in a single day, and as easily lost. The meat must be done clear through, evenly and just to a turn—not one turn of the spit too many nor too few; it must be so tender that it is just ready to drop from the bone, and have that delicious flavor which is imparted from the coals of the fragrant wild thyme, but it must not taste smoky. Verily a great art this, and the old men who sat squat at the cranks of the spits had no time for social distractions. Everything was ready now except the lambs, and a great silence fell upon the company. One young fellow, who offered to lay a small wager that Barba Yanne would be the first man ready, was sternly rebuked by the priest:
“Silence! do you not know that this is the critical moment, and you may spoil everything by distracting their attention?”
So they waited for a seeming eternity, sniffing the delicious aroma and watching the appetizing contest with hungry eyes. At last the young man of the wager broke the spell by crying:
“Na! I should have won.” For Barba Yanne was indeed rising slowly to his feet, painfully straightening out the hinges of his aged knees.
“Praise God!” shouted a chorus of voices.
“Do you not see that it is ready?” asked Barba Yanne reproachfully.
“O, yes!” exclaimed the demarch, “we must take it up. If it stays one instant over time on the fire the delicate flavor will be ruined.”
Half a dozen men sprang towards the fire, but Lindbohm, comprehending the action, was before them all. Lifting the lamb by one end of the spit, he advanced towards the tables, and looked inquiringly about.
“What shall I do with it?” he asked Michali. “There is no plate big enough, and if I lay it on the table it will spoil the cloth.”
Shouts of laughter greeted the Swede’s evident perplexity, and even the bare teeth of the spitted animal seemed grinning at him in derision.
“But you do not put it on the table,” cried Michali running to his assistance. “You stick the sharp end of the spit in the ground and stand it up by the side of the tree. So—that’s right. Head up.”
The demarch now approached Lindbohm and laughingly offered him a Cretan knife and a huge fork.
“He wants you to carve,” explained Michali. “It is a great honor.”
“No! no!” cried the Swede, pushing the demarch playfully back. “I do not know how. Besides, I am too weak from hunger. Moreover, I haven’t the time.” And he seated himself resolutely at the table. The demarch therefore carved, and piled the meat upon plates which the girls held for him. Before he had finished, Barba Spiro brought his lamb and solemnly stuck it up by its partly carved mate.
“Shall I cut up this one, too?” asked Kyr’ Nikolaki; he had finished with number one. “Or shall we eat what we have first?”
“We will begin on this one,” said the priest, “and I will carve the second.” After a playful struggle he dispossessed the mayor of the knife and fork and led him to the head of the table. Then the good priest reverently bent his head and made the sign of the cross, and all of his flock followed his example. Even Lindbohm and Curtis, watching carefully, did as the others. And now the feast was on in earnest, silently at first, till the sharpest pangs of hunger were appeased, with song and laughter later in its course. The three guests and the older members of the community sat at the table. The others and the children found seats upon the ground, in the doorway of the mill-house, on the water troughs. Conversation began in full-mouthed remarks as to the quality of the lamb.
“This is marvellous!”
“A miracle. Done just to a turn. Neither too much nor too little.”
“Bravo, Barba Yanne,” said the mayor, in judicial tones, raising his glass meanwhile.
“Barba Yanne! Barba Yanne!” shouted the entire board, and there was a great clinking of glasses. The old man swelled and flushed with pleasure.
“I ought to know how to roast a lamb,” he said. “I have done it this thirty years.”
A girl brought the head of Barba Spiro’s lamb and laid it before the demarch, who plucked out one of the eyes with a fork and passed the morsel to Curtis, who took it and looked inquiringly at Michali.
“What am I to do with it?” he asked.
“Eat it. It is the most delicate tid-bit of the whole lamb—sweet, juicy, delicious.”
“I’ve no doubt it’s juicy,” replied Curtis, “but I couldn’t eat it to save my life. It looks as though it could see. Excuse me, Kyr’ Demarche,” he continued in Greek, “I do not care for the eye. If you will give me a little more of the meat, please—” and he passed his plate.
“Not like the eye!” shouted everybody in astonishment. Lindbohm took the succulent morsel from Curtis’ hand, and swallowed it with a loud sipping sound, as though it were an oyster.
“Kalo! kalo!” he exclaimed, smacking his lips.
And so the feast wore on. When it was not possible for anybody to eat another mouthful, Turkish coffee was prepared over the miller’s foufous, two or three little portable stoves, circular and made of sheet iron; and cigarettes were lighted. Under the soothing influence of the mild Cretan tobacco silence fell again, disturbed only by the soft splashing of waters. Through a rift in the branches of the giant oak Curtis could see the bright, silver bow of the new moon, and, far below, a glittering star, like the tip of an arrow shot athwart the night. The girls were tumbling the flowers into a pile beneath the lamp: bright red geraniums, clusters of the fragrant heliotrope, April roses, small, red and very sweet; aromatic basil, myrtle with its bridal green. Then they sat down about the heap and began to weave garlands, using the myrtle as a background for the pied coloring of the blossoms. A nightingale sang somewhere among the trees behind the old mill, the waters never ceased to murmur and gurgle in the moonlight, and a faint breeze from the far sea brought a message of cherry trees in bloom. A young man sitting on the ground with his back against the tree played a few chords upon a guitar, and sang, with much feeling, one line of a couplet:
“My little angel, sugar sweet, angelic honey maiden”—
That he was not improvising was evident from the fact that all the Greeks present joined him in the second line:
“Oh sweeter than cold water is, that angels drink in Eden!”
For several moments he strummed the strings softly and then sang:
“If I should die at last of love, my grave with basil
and again came the response,
“And when you water it perchance you’ll weep for
your poor lover!”
The words even in Greek did not mean much, but they sounded very beautiful to those simple peasants, for they were associated with many such scenes as this; they carried the memories of some back to childhood, of others perhaps to their wedding day. They made Panayota think of the little cottage among the Sphakiote mountains, and of her mother singing as she paddled the white clothes at the brook. The words contained the untranslatable spirit of poetry, the power to move the heart by association rather than by their meaning.
Some one proposed a dance; one by one the sturdy mountaineers took their places in a line and soon, hands linked, they were bounding beneath the flickering lamp in the wild Pyrrhic. Loud calls were made for different members of the company, famous as leaders, and these led the line in turn, vying with one another in difficulty of steps executed. When Lindbohm arose from his seat and took his place at the tail of the line, he was welcomed with shouts of “Bravo! bravo!” He had observed the simpler steps of the minor performers carefully, and acquitted himself with so much credit, that the girls, their hands full of flowers and half-finished wreaths, arose and came forward, clapping their palms and shrieking with delight. And when the handkerchief was handed to him and he was motioned to the head of the line, he did not refuse, but leapt into the air, whirled about under the arm of his nearest neighbor, snapped his fingers in time to the music and cut other terpsichorean pranks, to everybody’s intense delight.
But dancing is hard work, and even youth will tire. The last capable leader had done his part, and even the girls, with much laughter and many feminine shrieks and protests, had been pulled to their feet and given a turn, when Michali was asked to tell again the story of the shipwreck, as many there present had only heard it at second hand. He complied, and his vivid and picturesque narrative held his audience in rapt attention. When he had finished many were fairly carried away with excitement, and a loud-voiced and indignant clamor arose concerning the state of Crete, the action of the powers and matters of like import.
“Silence! silence!” cried the mayor, rising to his feet and hammering on the table. “These are not matters for the May festival. Our village, moreover, is in no danger from the Turks. We have always dwelt quietly and peacefully behind our mountains, making our cheese, harming no one, suffering no harm. However that may be, this is not a suitable occasion to discuss war and politics.”
“True! true!” shouted his faithful constituency.
“I am to blame,” said Michali, “for the manner in which I told the story. I will, therefore, make amends by singing a song, quite suitable, I think, to the occasion. Spiro, play me the accompaniment.”
After the applause had died, revived, and died away several times like flames that are brought to life by vagrant gusts of wind, Spiro, the owner of the guitar, offered to sing.
“Mind that it’s perfectly proper for the ears of the ladies,” cautioned Papa-Maleko, as the young man seated himself in a chair and prepared to play.
“He has a fine voice,” said Curtis in Greek, when Spiro had finished.
“O, Spiro is one of our most famous singers,” replied the demarch. “And now, Kyr’ Yanne, it’s your turn.”
“He means you,” said Michali in English. “Yanne is the Greek for John. He means to be very friendly, to show that you are one of us.”
“I will sing you,” replied Curtis, without the least hesitation, “a Greek song that I have myself written,” and turning to Michali, “I can’t quite explain that in Greek: it is an American college song that I have translated into Greek. I have read it over two or three times to Panayota and she says she understands it. Indeed, she has changed it a little.” And he sang in a baritone voice of indifferent timbre, but with great spirit, the following words to the tune of “The Man Who Drinks His Whiskey Clear”:
“Tell them,” said Lindbohm to Michali, “that I cannot sing in Greek, but that I desire to do my share and, with their permission, I will sing a little song in my own language, appropriate, I assure you, to the occasion.” Michali translated and there was no doubt as to the reception of the proposition. Lindbohm had not gone farther than the first line before smothered “Ahs!” of admiration were heard. He was a singer. His voice was mellow, pleading, tender, rich. The song was evidently something pathetic, for it brought tears to the eyes of the impressionable Greeks. The last, deep, vibrating note died upon a couch of silence. A long interval ensued, for to the Cretans it seemed profane to reward such beautiful sound with a rude clatter of hands. At length Panayota rose from her place, and walking straight up to Lindbohm, laid a wreath of red roses and myrtle upon his brow.
They packed the mules and started home long before daylight. The procession wound down a rocky path and into the gray town in the silver dawn, with a chill breeze blowing from the sea, and one great, white star glowing in the heavens like a drop of dew. The wreaths had been threaded upon the roasting-spits, and the girls, two and two, carried them. Before sunrise a fresh wreath was hanging over the door of every house in Ambellaki.
“Hello!” cried Lindbohm, “what’s the hubbub?”
It was the morning of the second of May. Curtis and his two friends were sitting in the mayor’s café, drinking muddy black coffee, served in tiny cups.
Noisy voices, as of an increasing and excited throng, were audible. Michali, the mayor and the Swede rushed to the door, but were almost immediately swept back on the crest of an angry human wave. Two or three tall young shepherds, with long crooks in their left hands and with hairy cloaks thrown over their shoulders, were flinging their fists in the air and shouting hoarsely. Papa-Maleko, fully as tall as they, and looming above them by the height of his priest’s hat, was flourishing angrily a bit of letter paper, and evidently attempting to out-yell them. His head was thrown back and his great black beard, jerked by his rapidly moving chin, twitched and danced upon his breast. Every moment more men, women and children crowded into the café, until it became thronged to suffocation. Curtis seized the little table that stood before him firmly with both hands and pulled it over his lame foot.
The demarch, clambering upon a bench, shouted and gesticulated, evidently for order. His efforts, at first unavailing, at last resulted in partial quiet, and he began to speak. He finished and stepped down. Then one of the shepherds jumped upon the improvised platform. He was no orator, but with few and hesitating words, told his story. It was evidently a case where facts were eloquent, for his voice was soon drowned in an inextinguishable roar, in the midst of which Papa-Maleko sprang upon another bench and commenced to speak, still shaking the bit of paper. Silence again fell. Curtis could understand scarcely anything. Each of the speakers talked so rapidly that the words seemed all joined together into one word of interminable length. He only knew that he was listening to an outburst of wild, crude eloquence—the eloquence of passion—the exultation of righteous indignation. When the priest had finished he tore the paper into little bits, and threw them into the air with thumbs and fingers extended like the ribs of a fan, the Greek gesture of a curse.
“Na!” he cried.
In the moment of silence, of evident perplexity, which followed, Curtis arose, and, seizing Michali firmly by the shoulder, pulled him nearer.
“What in heaven’s name is all this?” he asked.
“Bad, very bad,” replied the Cretan. “Kostakes Effendi, with two hundred and fifty men, has two villages destroyed on other side of mountain, and kill many people. He write letter and say we send him Panayota, the priest’s daughter, for his harem, he go ‘way. If no, he come through the pass, burn, kill.”
Curtis sank upon the seat and stared dumbly at the broad back of the villager just before him. It expanded into the front of a whitewashed cottage, with a laughing Greek girl standing beneath a porch of vines. She had soft brown hair, large chestnut eyes and a low, broad forehead. As he looked, a frightened expression crept into the eyes, and she turned them upon him appealingly.
“By God, they shan’t have her!” he cried aloud, smiting the table with his fist. Rising without thinking of his foot, he began to shout the situation excitedly into Lindbohm’s ear. The latter listened with apparent stolidity, but, making a thrust with the imaginary sword, punched the broad back viciously with his fist.
Another of the shepherds mounted the bench. Papa-Maleko surged through the crowd and shook his fist at the speaker. This last orator was about forty years of age, sturdy and florid. He had small, keen eyes and a conciliatory manner.
“What does he say?” asked Lindbohm of Michali.
“He say, send the girl. We have but little ammunition, few guns. Kostakes Effendi have plenty men, plenty guns. Better one suffer than all. Kostakes, he say is no genuine Turk anyway. His mother was a Greek—he probably marry the girl.”
Then an unexpected thing happened. The orator was having a visible effect on a portion of his audience. He was dispersing the patriotic exaltation of the weaker minded, and was causing even the boldest to feel the hopelessness of their condition. At this critical moment the Swede, who had grown deathly pale, gave way to frenzy. He threw the listening throng to right and left as easily as though he were walking through a field of tall wheat. Reaching the bench of the astonished orator, he kicked it from under him. The Cretan sprang to his feet and drew his knife. Lindbohm seized the uplifted wrist and twisted it until the weapon fell to the floor. Then he savagely hustled the orator through the crowd, too astonished to interfere, to the door, the entire throng surging into the open air after him. Curtis forgot his foot, but was sharply reminded of it, by putting it on the floor in his eagerness to follow. When he finally reached the door, Lindbohm was bounding merrily after the escaping coward, beating him over the back with his own staff. Some of the Cretans were laughing and others were shouting “Bravo!”
“He will go to join the Turks,” said Michali to Curtis.
“That’s where he ought to be,” replied the American.
The peaceful village was transformed into a scene of tumult. An invisible thundercloud seemed hovering in the clear sky. The frightened children and the timid women, running about the streets, reminded Curtis of the sudden motherward flurry of chickens, at the shadow of the swooping hawk. He was left alone in the deserted inn. He dragged a bench to the open door and sat down. Those rapid preparations for defense were going on which suggest themselves instinctively to people bred and reared in a land of strife. A group of sturdy mountaineers soon collected on the square, wearing well-filled cartridge belts and carrying Gras rifles. The throng grew, and every new arrival was greeted affectionately by his first name, “Bravo, Kyr’ Yanne!” or “Bravo, Kyr’ George!” The demarch formed the nucleus of the group, the red marks under his eyes blushing like new cut slashes.
A rapid jingling of bells, and the sound as of animals running, were heard, and a sentinel goat appeared on the edge of a distant rock. He cast an agitated glance back over his wethers, and slid down, his four hoofs together, his back humped into a semicircle, his bucolic beard thrust outward. Others appeared and slid over, as though borne on the crest of a torrent. Then two tall shepherds were sketched for an instant on a background of mountains and sky, swinging their crooked staves. But they, too, were caught by the invisible torrent and swept into the town. Boys were dispatched into the surrounding hills, and within an hour the streets were filled with bleating flocks. The group of armed men grew to fifty. Lindbohm and Michali had both been provided with guns. The Swede had been induced to discard the straw hat as too conspicuous a mark, and to bind a dark handkerchief about his head. Curtis felt himself one of them, and yet knew that he was not.
“If I had a gun, I might get up there among the rocks and do something,” he muttered. “I can shoot just as well if I am lame, if I could only get into position. Pshaw! What’s the matter with me? This isn’t my fight. I’m a non-combatant, I am.”
The priest came down, leading Panayota by the hand and carrying a cross. The girl was white, even to the lips, but there was a proud smile on her face and her eyes were shining. She wore a short Cretan knife in her belt. Papa-Maleko held aloft the cross and solemnly blessed the waiting warriors, after which he presented the sacred symbol to the lips of each in turn. Lindbohm strode over to Panayota and pulling the handkerchief from his head, bowed low, with his hand upon his heart.
“Before they get you,” he said, “they must yust take us all.”
Curtis shouted “That’s right!” but was not aware of the fact until the little army turned and looked at him inquiringly.
“I’ll make a fool of myself here yet,” he said, sinking back on the bench.
Michali translated Lindbohm’s speech and a great shout of “Bravo! bravo!” went up.
Lindbohm was in his element.
“There was,” he understood, “no way for the enemy to get in from the land side except through the pass. They might approach with difficulty from the seashore, but there was only one place where they could land. Men were watching that, and a smoke by day or a fire by night would warn the villagers. Very good. Fifty men might defend this pass against two hundred and fifty, but they must lose no men and must make every shot count. How much ammunition had they?”
“Not much. Only their belts full, and possibly as much again, curses on the English!”
“Very well. We must use it the more carefully. We must not get excited. Kostakes Effendi cannot possibly reach the ravine before nightfall—can he get through without a guide?”
“No,” replied the demarch, “impossible.”
Panayota spoke. She said only two words, and she said them quietly, though distinctly, but they fell like a thunderclap.
This was the name of the cowardly shepherd whom Lindbohm had driven from the town.
“Is there any way to build fires so as to light up narrow places in the ravine?”
There were two or three such places where bonfires could be located that would make the pass as light as day. People standing behind the rocks in positions of comparative safety could easily feed the flames by tossing wood into them.
“Send out the boys and girls then to prepare these fires and to pile up brushwood enough behind the rocks to keep them burning all night,” commanded the Swede. “Build one fire at the mouth of the pass—” but here he was interrupted by a chorus of protest. “Let the Turks get into the pass and then we will kill them,” cried his listeners.
“Very well, but see that they don’t get through.”
Papa-Maleko had a suggestion to make. The Sphakiotes often got the Turks into narrow defiles and rolled stones down upon their heads. There were half a dozen precipitous places in the gorge where this could be effectively done.
“Capital idea,” assented Lindbohm. “Let some more women go to those places and pile up heaps of the biggest stones they can carry.” Lindbohm suggested that the men, who now numbered sixty, should take their places near the mouth of the defile. In a few brief words he also laid the foundation of an effective commissariat. The mayor’s brother, too old a man to fight, was instructed to superintend the sending of food twice a day, in case the siege should be protracted, and above all, water, which could not be found up among the rocks. Women and boys were to act as carriers.
A messenger was sent to Korakes, an insurgent chief, who, with three hundred men, had established his headquarters near the village of Alikiano.
“We might be able to hold out for a week,” said Lindbohm to Curtis, “and Korakes will surely come to our aid. At any rate, we must yust take our chances.”
Curtis was left alone in the priest’s house. Papa-Maleko had gone up the ravine.
“If one of my boys were wounded,” he said, “and I were not there to comfort him, God might forgive me, but I should never forgive myself.”
The day passed very peacefully. Curtis sat in the door of the parsonage, with his bandaged foot upon a stool. The children, usually so noisy in the streets, were quiet, and the gossips were either gone or were talking in whispers. A woman sat in a doorway opposite holding her babe, that squealed and shouted with delight at the familiarity of a pet kid. The mother smiled sadly, and then clasped the child to her bosom, smothering it with affection. The sudden purple twilight of the orient fell, and a light breeze flew up from the sea, beating the blossoms from the cherry and pear trees and scattering their faint, delicious perfume. The purple changed to black and the nightingales began to sing. The flocks had gone to sleep. The antiphonous bleating and the jangle of the bells were swallowed up in the darkness that was silence, save where now and then a little lamb cried softly to its mother across the meadows of dreamland or a bell tinkled musically. There was a purring of many waters.
“By Jove, war’s a queer thing,” mused Curtis. “It’s hate and lust and bigotry. It’s a big fiendish lie, and all the time a thousand voices are preaching truth and love. Here am I, sitting among the nightingales, the cherry blossoms and the dreaming sheep, and a mile from here all the men of the vicinity are trying to cut one another’s throats. And I suppose I’d be with ’em if it wasn’t for this blamed foot. These Cretans are plucky fellows. By George, I glory in their sand! Had they been a lot of cowards they would have given up the girl—but they wouldn’t have got her while I could hold a gun! Why, she’s a natural queen! She’d grace any man’s fireside, she would. What beautiful eyes she has! what a mouth! what a carriage, and spirit, too! Talk about your ancient epics and your ancient heroines! Why, here’s the Trojan war right over again, or the spirit of it. We aren’t shy on men and women these days; we’re shy on Homers. And that girl, that Panayota, she’s as pure as snow. She’d knife herself in a minute before she’d allow herself to fall into the hands of the Turks. Whatever else the boys do, I hope they’ll pink that Kostakes chap. I’d like to pot him myself.”
As the time wore on, Curtis found himself leaning forward in the darkness, listening for the sound of distant shots. He wondered if the Turks would attack that night and if he could hear the shots if they did.
He went to the door and called to an old man who was talking in a low tone, but excitedly, to the woman across the way. The babe had been put to bed. They both came running, and he asked them, framing his sentence with much care:
“Has the fighting begun? Can the guns be heard from here?”
They replied in concert, volubly and at great length. Then they held a conference and withdrew.
“That’s the trouble with a foreign tongue,” mused Curtis. “You can talk to them all right, but they talk so fast that you can’t understand what they say to you. Now, I said it correctly,” and he repeated the sentence.
After about half an hour the old man returned, bringing some bread, cheese, halva and a glass of dark wine. Curtis repeated the Greek word for “thank you” half a dozen times, and then fell upon the food voraciously. “The more I see of these people, the better I like them,” he muttered. “Now, I call that thoughtful of the old man.”
After he had finished eating he tried his foot, bearing his weight on it until he could endure the pain no longer.
“I believe it’s better,” he soliloquized, and then cried inconsequentially:
“By Jove! I wonder if that old blockhead thought I was asking for something to eat? Panayota would have understood me in a minute. Why, she and I get along all right together in Greek. But then, I mustn’t judge the rest of these people by her.”
He wound up his watch at ten o’clock, and lay down upon the divan.
“There’s going to be no fight to-night,” he muttered. “And, at any rate, it wouldn’t be my fight if there was.”
He fell asleep, and dreamed of Panayota, gigantic in size, standing on a cliff by a wan, heaving sea. She was hurling jagged pieces of rock down at a line of ant-like Turks, crawling far below. The wind was blowing her hair straight out from her forehead, and he could only see her mouth and chin, but he knew it was Panayota. He ran to help her, when the demarch seized him to hold him back. He awoke, and found that an old man was shaking his arm and crying excitedly in Greek, “Fire! fire!”
Curtis’ first thought was that the house was burning. He put his hand on the old man’s shoulder and jumped over to the door. Half a dozen people were standing in the moonlight, pointing toward the hills. Two women, one holding a very young babe in her arms, were crossing themselves hysterically and calling on the name of the Virgin. An old man of eighty, whom Curtis had frequently seen bent nearly double and walking with a cane, now stood erect, fingering the trigger of a rifle. A stripling of twelve was shaking his fist toward a red eye of flame that glowed among the rocks, high up and far away.
That was one of Lindbohm’s bonfires, sure enough. Perhaps a battle was going on at that moment.
“Mother of God, save my man!” cried the woman with the baby. “Save him, save him!”
“Mother of God, save my boy, my cypress tree, my Petro!” groaned the old man.
“Curse the Turks! May their fathers roast in hell!” shrieked the lad. “Give me a gun, I’m old enough to shoot.”
For three hours they stood watching the fire, as though they could actually see what was taking place there. At times they stood silent for many minutes together, listening, listening for the sound of guns; but they could hear nothing. At last a shout was heard in the distance:
“What is it? What is it?” the watchers asked, hoarsely, looking at one another with pale faces.
Again “Oo-hoo! Oo-hoo!” nearer.
At last footsteps were heard, as of one running and stumbling among loose rocks, and at length little Spiro Kaphtakes staggered up to the group and stood panting before them. His trousers were torn, and blood was flowing from his legs. The women and the old man stared at him open-mouthed for a long minute, and then, pouncing upon him, began to shake him.
“What is it? what news?”
“Is my Petro safe?”
“How goes it with my Yanne?”
Others ran up out of dark alleys and from the doorways of distant houses, and soon twenty or more surrounded the poor boy, gesticulating, screaming. They could not wait for him to get his breath. His tongue lolled out like that of a Chinese idol, and he swallowed the air instead of breathing, rolling his eyes about helplessly the while. At length, with a supreme effort, he gasped:
The woman with the babe reeled as though the earth were slipping from beneath her-feet. A neighbor caught the child and the mother fell limply to the ground. Then, while friends dashed water upon her face and rubbed her hands, the boy talked rapidly, shrilly, flinging his arms about with loose-elbowed gestures. The woman opened her eyes and two of the men helped her to her feet. She tottered for a moment, disheveling her hair with despairing hands and whispering hoarsely:
“Yanne! Yanne! What shall I do? What shall I do?”
But suddenly the brave woman-soul asserted itself and her frail body straightened, tense, defiant, ready for any effort. Clasping the babe to her breast she kissed it tenderly many times. Holding it for a moment at arm’s length, she looked at it hungrily, and then turned her eyes away. A neighbor took the child.
“Come!” said the mother, and she ran lightly up the ravine, followed by the boy. The babe bleated “Mama! mama!” like a frightened lamb, but the woman did not look back. Hopping two or three steps from the doorway, Curtis seized a woman by the arm.
“Killed?” he asked in Greek.
Unfortunately, everybody understood, and all commenced talking at once.
“I don’t understand,” shouted Curtis. “Silence! Killed? killed?”
“Silence!” cried the old man with the musket, raising his right hand in a commanding gesture above the heads of the too-willing talkers.
“No,” he replied to Curtis, slowly and distinctly, “not killed. Badly wounded.”
“Thanks,” replied the American. “Thanks, thanks, I understand.”
Just before sunrise Michali, with his leg broken, was brought in on a donkey.