Interminably they waited, listening for the sound of galloping horses. Curtis’ extreme tension passed away, and the situation suddenly assumed an unreal aspect in his thoughts. His knees began to feel bruised on the hard floor. He was strongly tempted to rise up and ease them.
“Pshaw!” he said to Lindbohm, “I don’t believe they’re coming, after all. I guess I’ll go out and take a look.”
“Keep still!” replied the Swede. “Don’t you stir on your life, and don’t you speak a word aloud,” and a moment after he added more pleasantly:
“They may send scouts on foot.”
Panayota had fallen asleep. They could hear her deep but troubled breathing, as her frame continued to vibrate with the sorrow that for the moment she had mercifully forgotten.
“Michali was burned alive,” said Curtis, in a low tone, after another stretch of waiting, during which his knees had become the most important portions of his entire anatomy.
“I tried to save him, but Kostakes—”
Lindbohm seized him impatiently by the arm and whispered:
“Tst, be quiet, can’t you? Do you want to spoil the whole thing? No, we rescued Michali.”
Curtis worked himself to his feet, and sat upon his heels. The nightingales were singing in full chorus, and he wondered how anybody could hear anything in that infernal racket. The water in the fountain of Petros Nikolaides hissed and gurgled, and crashed like the waters of Lodore.
Curtis’ new attitude became more painful than a spiked chair, and he slid back on his knees again. He sat down for awhile, but the desire to peep over the window sill was irresistible. Finally, just as his knees had become boils, the Swede touched him upon the shoulder, and he forgot them. The screeching of the nightingales, the hurtling of the fountain, were swallowed up in the dull and distant pounding of horses’ hoofs.
“They’re yust coming right into it,” said Lindbohm, in his natural tone. “Kostakes, he’s too mad to be careful. Have you got a bayonet?”
“No, I forgot to take it. He was wearing it for a sword.”
“Here, take this Gras and give me the Mauser. You’ll yust get all tangled up with that. The Gras is simpler, and the bayonet, in the hands of a man who doesn’t know how to use it, is a terrible weapon. Give me your ammunition. Thanks. Here’s my cartridge belt.”
Lindbohm was gay, with the gaiety of a child. He was about to play his favorite game, to indulge the innocent impulse of boys and of untutored men. The clatter came nearer, grew louder.
“Do you know the orders?” he asked.
“Each man is to pick out his mark and aim, but nobody is to shoot until I do. I shall take Kostakes.”
“I, too, to make sure of him. He needs killing.”
“All right—now, ready!”
The galloping changed into the chug! chug! chug! of men sitting upon trotting horses. The moon had risen and had filled the trees and about half of the square with its silver snow. The battered features of Petros Nikolaides, the benefactor, were those of a frozen corpse. The horses could now be heard plainly staggering through the narrow, stony street. Now was the time when Lindbohm was cool. No detail escaped him.
“Your gun is already cocked,” he whispered. “Aim just above the saddle—shoot when I say ‘three.'”
“I’ll hit him,” replied Curtis. “I’m an old squirrel hunter, I am.”
Kostakes trotted into the square, and, jerking his horse nearly to its haunches, whirled about to face his Lieutenant and the Bashi Bazouks who debouched from the mouth of the street in twos and threes—a wild, motley, terrible throng. Curtis aimed first at the Captain’s breast and then at his head. The intended victim was evidently in a vile temper, for he kept twitching viciously at the bridle rein, causing his tired animal to rear and throw its head in the air. The American was one moment aiming at the horse’s neck and then at the marble corpse of Petros Nikolaides.
“Will Lindbohm never shoot?” he asked himself every time that the Turk’s form swung squarely in line with his gun. The Bashi Bazouks continued to pour into the square, sitting very straight, resting their short guns over their shoulders or on the necks of their horses.
“Hup!” cried Kostakes, flourishing his sword in the moonlight, and giving an order in Turkish. The men began to fall into line, eight abreast.
“One!” whispered Lindbohm. Curtis glued his cheek to the rifle barrel, and aimed full at the breast of Kostakes, who was now sitting quietly upon his horse.
“I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” he said in thought.
“Two!” he tightened his finger on the trigger, when “bang!” went the gun of an impatient Greek on the other side of the square, and one of the Bashi Bazouks pitched from his saddle. Lindbohm sprang to his feet, with a roar of rage that was cut in two by the terrific clatter of the rifles that were now spitting fire from more than a dozen doors and windows. One sound had wailed out between the first shot and the volley, as vivid as a lightning flash between thunder claps,—Panayota, fatigued beyond human endurance, had fallen asleep as soon as she found herself again in the hands of her friends, and the sound of the gun, breaking in upon her overwrought nerves, had drawn from her a long piercing shriek.
There was now a maelstrom of horses in the square, and a pandemonium of yelling men. Curtis could not distinguish Kostakes. He had, in fact, forgotten all about him. He stood in the door laughing and swearing and shooting into the whirling, plunging, snorting, yelling, scrambling mêlée. But the maelstrom period was brief, for there were three streets that gave into the square, and the outside horses broke for safety. They were hurled like mud from a wagon wheel into these exits, and went clattering away, with or without their riders, until at last only one maddened beast was left, dragging over the ground a Turk whose foot was caught in the stirrup. The terror of the animal was something pitiful to see. He ran blindly into a house. He plunged into the fountain, slipped, fell and scrambled to his feet again. His master’s clothing caught on a sharp rock, and he left the saddle behind, with the dead Turk still attached. Then he found the opening of a street, and disappeared with a mad clatter of hoofs. The Greeks darted from the houses and scurried after the Turks, loading and firing as they ran. Curtis shot into a last tangle of horses, wedged together at the mouth of a lane. They slipped loose and plunged through, scraping off one of the Bashi Bazouks, who bounded to his feet uninjured, and, whipping out a long, curved sword, came toward Curtis. He was a big man, bare-headed and hairy as an ape. Curtis threw the Gras to his shoulder and pulled the trigger. He had forgotten to reload it. The Turk laughed. Curtis lowered the gun, and, presenting the bayonet, tiptoed about his foe in a semi-circle. The Turk revolved as on a pivot, squat, alert, weapon deftly advanced. Suddenly, to Curtis’ surprise, his enemy turned and ran. The American bounded after, and then, for the first time during the fray, he remembered that he had a sore foot, and that that foot was bare. Panayota came to him. She carried a rifle that she had picked up in the square.
“Bravo! Panayota!” said Curtis. “Two to one frightened him away. But why didn’t you shoot?”
“I wanted to get close and make sure,” replied the girl, “and then, when he ran, you were in the way.”
Slipping a fresh shell into his Gras, Curtis picked his way through the stones toward a distant spot where he heard continued firing. Panayota attempted to follow, but he stopped her with a wave of the hand.
“I’ll be right back,” he shouted, “as soon as I get another shot. You’re safe here.”
He left her standing in the deserted square, among the dead Turks. The moon shone full upon her there, leaning toward him, holding her gun by the extreme muzzle, the butt trailing behind on the ground. Her hair blew into her eyes, and she tossed a great brush of it over her shoulder. A wounded horse rose to its haunches near her and threw its fore feet dangerously about. Then it pitched over on its side with a groan.
Curtis had gone some distance up the narrow street, when he heard again the clatter of horses’ hoofs. He stepped behind a tree that grew close against a wall and waited. A Greek ran by and darted under a house. He was followed by the Bashi Bazouk, who had run from Panayota’s rifle. He was trotting by the side of a mounted comrade, holding to the stirrup-strap. One, two, three, four, five, horsemen followed. The firing continued in the outskirts of the town.
“My God! Panayota!” It flashed over Curtis in a moment. The Greeks had scattered too much and the Turks, getting together in small parties, were returning to the attack. While he was still in the crooked lane, making frantic haste toward Panayota, he heard a shot in the square. His heart stood still for one moment with terror, which instantly gave way to fury. A woman’s scream, mingled with brutal laughter, told him that the girl had again been made a prisoner. When he at last reached the square, the six Bashi Bazouks had gone, taking her with them.
Curtis sat down upon the edge of the fountain. There was a faint smell of powder in the air. He heard a shot now and again in the distance. A bugle sounded. Fortunately no more of the Bashi Bazouks passed through the square.
“Gone!” said Curtis; “gone!”
The Greeks began to come in, talking excitedly and gesticulating like madmen. They seemed to be in high spirits. They gathered about Curtis, and, pointing at the dead bodies, all talked at once. They enraged him. He could hardly resist the desire to jump up and lay about among them with the butt of his musket. Lindbohm pushed his way through the crowd. Holding his gun in his left hand, he brought the right to his forehead, saluting gaily with the imaginary sword.
“Well, my friend, we had a little fun with them, didn’t we? The ambush, however, would have been more of a success had the men obeyed my orders. If I had my way I would yust shoot a soldier who disobeyed orders. Still, we taught them a lesson. We have killed, let me see how many, one two, three—
“Hell!” interrupted Curtis, rising suddenly.
“What!” said Lindbohm, turning upon him, “what’s the matter?”
Lindbohm clutched at the shoulder of a bystanding insurgent.
“Panayota!” he gasped.
“Huh! Where were you? Eh? Where were you? Here they came, six of ’em, right down here, and the girl and I all alone. What could I do, one against six? You’re a healthy soldier, you are—scatter all over the country! Lindbohm, you’re to blame for this. You’ve got to answer to me—somebody’s got to settle for this.” Flinging his rifle down among the stones, he turned his back contemptuously and limped toward one of the houses. A kindly insurgent sprang to his assistance.
“Right up through there they went, carrying her with them. Four men could have stopped ’em. Where were you, damn you?” and, pushing the insurgent from him, he shook his fist in his face. “Get out of my sight, get out!” he cried.
Lindbohm was sitting on the side of the basin, his face buried in his hands. He was sobbing and talking to himself in Swedish. Those who stood near heard the word “Panayota.” Reason returned to Curtis as speedily as he had lost it. His blind rage passed away, and in its place came a resolve to recover Panayota and to settle with Kostakes according to the present debt and all that might accrue. The spirit of Crete had taken thorough possession of him. He had been wronged by the Turk, he lived only for vengeance. His eye fell upon a Cretan in the act of pulling a boot from a dead Turk’s foot. He was tugging with all his might. All at once he flew over backwards with the boot in his hands. His comrades broke into laughter. Lindbohm did not look up.
“They don’t feel this thing about Panayota as badly as Lindbohm and I do,” soliloquized Curtis. “Poor old Lindbohm! I’ll tell him I’m in love with Panayota, and then he’ll see how foolish it is for him to take on so. He ought to stand it if I can.”
The insurgent detached the other boot and brought the pair to him.
“Will those fit?” he asked. “Good boots.”
Curtis took the boots and went over to the drinking fountain. He patted Lindbohm on the back. “Cheer up, old man,” he said. “They can’t get away from us. There’s another day coming.”
It was impossible to get the boot upon the sore foot, so one of the insurgents cut it off at the ankle and slit it down nearly to the toe. Then he punched a number of holes, and Curtis was able, by means of a string, to lace on this improvised shoe. As the leather was soft, it proved very comfortable. Lindbohm staggered to his feet, stretched himself like a man awakening from sleep, and ran his finger through his blonde pompadour.
“That’s right, old man,” said Curtis; “we must brace up. Of course, you feel bad because we sort of fumbled the thing. But consider what my feelings must be. Lindbohm, I love that girl.”
The Swede started violently.
“You have made court to her?” he asked.
“Why, I told her that I loved her—yes, yes, several times.”
“And, pardon me, she said that she loved you?”
“Now that you ask me, I don’t believe she did. No, she didn’t. But I didn’t have much time, you see.”
Lindbohm held out his big, soft hand, and, as Curtis grasped it, said:
“We will not turn back; we will find Panayota. And if Kostakes has insulted her we will punish him, though he flee to the ends of the earth.”
“Old man, you’re a friend worth having,” cried Curtis, wringing the hand which he held. “I’ll never forget this till the last day of my life.”
One of the insurgents, a former resident of Canea, spoke some French. It was through the medium of this man that Lindbohm had communicated with his troop thus far. He called him now and told him to get the men together, as they must march. He feared lest Kostakes, surmising the smallness of their numbers, might return to the attack.
So they set forth in the moonlight, taking with them the arms and other spoils of the dead Turks, of whom the number proved to be eight. Their plan was to conceal themselves somewhere in the fields and get some sleep. But half a mile out of Galata they encountered a band of fifty Cretan insurgents, young men of the region, armed to the teeth, and thirsting for vengeance. These, learning that Lindbohm was a foreign officer of approved mettle, put themselves also under his leadership. Thus reinforced he returned and camped in Galata. The next morning he pushed on vigorously after Kostakes—a pursuit that was destined to last several weeks, and that was prosecuted with a continually increasing band. Several encounters took place, and three Turkish villages were destroyed, by way of reprisal. They did not succeed in capturing Kostakes, but two wounded Turks that fell into their hands at different times, told them that Panayota was in his camp.
Europeanism, that bubbles up in the tailor shops of Regent Street, and pours its thin coating of dull color on the heels of the ever advancing British musket, has not yet washed over the island of Crete. The Akoond of Swat has donned a sack-coated suit of blue serge and a straw hat; the cousins of native princes go down to the government offices with brown linen on their backs and Buddha in their hearts; Fuzzy-Wuzzy is cutting his hair—his Samson locks—and buying cork helmets. And the missionary is picking his way through the corpses left in the trail of the machine gun, bringing Christ and calico to the survivors. They are putting pantaloons on the bronze statues of the desert, and are sending the piquant apples of the Tree of Knowledge wrapped up in bundles of mother hubbards, to the naked maidens of the South Sea Isles.
But Crete, beautiful Crete, is the one corner of the globe which the dull, tame wave of European fashion has not yet touched and commonized. The esplanade of Canea to-day, fronting the harbor, is the most picturesque, fantastic, kaleidoscopic spot on earth. Here commingle, swarm, interweave, huddle, scatter, pass and repass, costumes from the Greek islands, from the provinces of Asia Minor, from the oases and nomad tents of Africa, from Persia and the farthest East. The traveler’s first view of Canea, from the rowboat that takes him ashore, is a half moon of white houses, splashed with red, terra cotta, yellow and striped awnings, and beneath, a squirming, ever-changing mass of bright turbans and sashes, fluttering black and yellow robes, naked limbs and chests—and donkeys; moth-eaten donkeys laden with sacks, goatskins of honey and cheese, huge panniers of green vegetables. There on the right, in letters that can be read a mile away, is the name of a café dedicated “Au Concert Européen.” This is a bait for the foreigners attached to the half-dozen steel hulks floating out yonder in the sea, pointing ever shoreward their great guns that seem to whisper:
“Be good. Don’t kill each other, or we’ll kill you all.”
All Europeans are supposed to speak French. Several of the cafés announce their business in more than one tongue: Greek, Turkish, English, Italian. Under the awning of one sits a group of elderly Mohammedans, smoking their bubbling narghiles and reading the tiny local sheet; these are stout gentlemen in fezzes, pillars of Islam, faithful husbands of harems. They have kindly faces and are really good-hearted men whom no provocation, save that of religion, could induce to cut your throat. You sit down and a bare-legged waiter, whose fez and braid-trimmed jacket are sadly faded, “zigzags” among the chairs, like a fly through raindrops, and stands at your side, the very incarnation of silent and respectful inquiry. You are tired and you say:
“Some cognac and brown soda.” The waiter looks distressed, puzzled.
“Cognac,” you repeat, “cognac and cold water, then.”
He casts his eye over the group of pillars, and one of them, the fattest and most benevolent appearing, carefully wipes the mouthpiece of his narghile and hands the tube to his nearest neighbor. The latter accepts the trust with a grave bow; it is his duty now to give the pipe an occasional pull, that it may not go out during his friend’s absence.
The proprietor of the café, for it is he, approaches you. He bends low, with a sign as though pressing his hand upon the earth, then, straightening, he touches his heart, his lips, his forehead. It is a most graceful and courteous salutation; it is the greeting of the very heart of the East—the salaam.
“We have no cognac nor any intoxicating liquor,” he explains in tolerable French. “This is a Mohammedan café. You can get spirituous drinks yonder at the Greek café.”
“Ah, but we have no desire to change. We are thirsty. Surely he has something to quench thirst?”
“Certainly, many things, as for instance, cherry water, lemonade, almond water. A cup of Turkish coffee or a piece of loukoumi with a glass of cold spring water, are also good things to quench the thirst.”
You decide upon cherry water, an excellent drink made from stirring a quantity of preserved sour cherries into a glass of cold water, and mine host returns to his narghile.
The kaleidoscope keeps turning, presenting new combinations, new colors, new effects. At times the whole square is crowded, and again the mass of humanity breaks up and drifts away, as sometimes happens to a dense cloud. Then some grotesque or sublime figure or group of figures is sure to straggle across the rift. You sip your cooling drink and look up. There go two Greek priests, in flowing dark robes and high, black hats. They are tall men with red, swarthy cheeks and luxuriant beards. They wear their hair long, neatly done up in Psyche knots. They walk with dignified strides, their hands crossed upon their stomachs and hidden in voluminous sleeves. They both carry strings of large beads of polished wood. The crowd closes in behind them, to open out again good-naturedly, as a Cretan in soft red fez, shirt sleeves, blue breeches with a seat that drags upon the ground and high, yellow boots, swings a long crook to right and left and shouts frantically to his flock of scurrying turkeys. The birds dart in and out among the throng with an action that reminds one of a woman lifting her skirts and stepping through the mud. He is assisted by a boy of ten, an exact reproduction of himself in miniature.
A priest of Islam passes; he, too, in a graceful robe that falls to the ground from his shoulders. A thick turban encircles his brow. He is tall and slender one moment, corpulent the next, according as the wind inflates his robe or escapes and allows it to collapse.
What a feast of color! And you notice that somehow these changing combinations always result in harmonies. One feels the same effect as though he were listening to a clash of barbarous instruments in a sweet, wild melody of the desert.
There goes a chocolate-colored Nubian, in a terra cotta tunic, carrying a shining copper kettle under each arm. His glistening feet and legs are bare.
That bronze-skinned Arab yonder in the white turban must be a very old man, for his beard and hair are as white as the wool on a sheep that is newly washed and ready for the shearer; yet he is straight and lithe as a figure on a French clock, and his skin is exactly the same color. He wears a bright red sash about his waist and walks with a staff as tall as himself. Red fezzes everywhere and turbans of all bright hues.
But we must have another cherry water—vicinada—and move into the shade.
Now, who are these somber-looking creatures, coming across the square? If there were any such thing on earth they would be agents of the Spanish Inquisition. But that horror does not exist even in Turkey. Through the warm yellow sun they move, slowly, silently, muffled all in black, with black umbrellas above their heads—shapeless, sepulchral figures. On the black veil that covers each face are painted white eyes, a nose and a mouth; or a palm tree or other device. They stroll by us talking in whispers, but a silvery girlish laugh, stifled almost in its birth, betrays them. Ah, sweet demons, we know you now! These are nuns of love, houris of the harem. Who knows what sweet faces, merry eyes, red lips, warm and yielding forms masquerade in those forbidding garments? We know you now; not all the disguises ever invented by fanaticism and jealousy can cover the roguish features of love. That one little, stifled laugh conjured up more poetry and romance than could be read in a summer’s holiday—the Arabian Nights, Don Juan, and the vision of Dudu; the song of the bulbul in old gardens, dangerous trystings in the shadow of the cypress trees; Tom Moore in a city office, dreaming of camel bells and the minarets of Ispahan.
Donkeys. Out from under the low stone arches they come, or down the straggling narrow street, slipping and staggering over the greasy cobblestones, yet never falling. There is one driven by a Cretan boy, another by a jet black Nubian, with thick lips and shell-white teeth, another by a shuffling Greek monk in dirty robe. Each in his own outlandish way curses and threatens his animal, but the stick falls with the same rattling thwack on the bony ribs, whether wielded by Christian or Turk. Look at the loads which the donkeys bear in their immense, squeaking baskets, and you will gain some idea of the fertility of this garden spot of the world, harried though it be by oppression and bloodshed. We see borne by or arranged in heaps yonder on the pavement, great quantities of cucumbers, artichokes, beans, cauliflower, garlic, tomatoes, courgets, eggplant, medlars, apricots, cherries, and those various wild greens which are so delicious, but which cannot be bought in the cities of America for love or money. If you ask the price of any of these crisp, tender vegetables or fruits dewy fresh, you will find that one penny will go as far as twenty-five would among the stale, withered and niggardly exhibits of Chicago—the emporium of the great Mississippi valley and the hub of a hundred railroads. But there is no cabbage trust in Crete, and the donkey route has no board of directors to fix the price of freight.
It is evident that the sea is no less prodigal of her riches here than the land, for ragged urchins dart by every few moments carrying fine catches of fish, strung upon strands of tenacious reed; mullets that gleam like gold in the sun, silvery mackerel, still quivering with life and glittering with dripping brine, baskets of white-bait, leaping upon a bed of green sea-grass; echini and huge lobsters without claws.
But alas! this seeming plenty is naught more than the crumbs from nature’s table—harpy war has seized the feast. Above all the hum of tongues, the braying of donkeys, the rattle of shod feet on the cobbles, rings out at intervals the bugle’s wakening call. Turkish soldiers lounge about the streets, squat, greasy, ungroomed, cruel. There is a slight smell of smoke in the air, as the wind drifts over from the smouldering ruins of the Christian quarter, burned during the latest outbreak. Possibly there is a charred body or two among the cinders, but pshaw! you cannot smell that. It is only imagination. And here comes a foreign military demonstration. They are Italians, immaculate in brown linen, with tufts of long blue feathers rustling spitefully in their Garibaldi hats. Down the street they swing at double quick, and through the crowded quay they plunge, while the lazy Orientals scramble out of the way. How these Italians glitter! There is a bugle corps in front, with shining instruments, and an Adonis of an officer at the side with flashing, drawn sword; a bayonet slants skyward from every shoulder in the squad, dancing and blazing in the tropic sun. They are gone and the throng closes in again, like water in the wake of a ship.
Such is Canea, below its many colored awnings. Cast your eye above them and you see the square white houses of a Greek town. Look higher up, and there is the Grecian sky, the same sky that looked down upon the birth of Jove and the giving of Cretan law, upon the flitting sail that brought the yearly tribute of youths and maidens from Athens, upon the knightly vengeance of Theseus, striding down the labyrinth, all clad in ringing mail. Centuries of oppression may drag their slow length along, the children of the desert may come and go as they will, but that chaste sweet sky is patiently waiting above. And beneath it is Greece.
A Turkish woman, closely veiled and carrying a black umbrella, was walking along the Spladjia, or principal street of Canea. A nondescript urchin, bare-footed, with a tuft of black hair shooting straight up through a rent in his straw hat, followed with a string of red mullets and a sheaf of Italian lettuce. As the mysterious woman passed the little group of men sitting under the awnings, they turned their heads discreetly to one side, not even casting a furtive glance at the dainty, embroidered slippers, that now and then peeped out from under the black robe. Turning down a narrow street, she tiptoed along beneath the projecting upper stories of the houses, with that motion peculiar to women whose slippers are so constructed that they fall off if the toe is not shoved into them at each successive step. Stopping for a moment, she drew a handkerchief from her bosom, and, passing it under her veil, wiped her face.
“Whew!” she said, “it’s hot.” Then, raising her head, she sniffed the air sharply, eagerly.
“Allah be praised!” she exclaimed. “I believe that Ayesha is roasting coffee.”
The thought accelerated her footsteps to such an extent that the rapid sliding of her slippers on the path sounded like the preparatory steps of a jig dancer in the sand box.
“Yes, that’s from our court, surely. I do hope it’s nearly ready to grind. What’s so delicious as a cup of fresh coffee and a glass of cold water when one is hot and thirsty?”
The aroma certainly proceeded from a garden which the Turkish woman was now approaching, and as she arrived at the massive gate in the high adobe wall the sound of a coffee roaster in motion could plainly be heard within. Souleima gave the boy a penny, whereupon he set up such a loud and voluble protest that she was obliged to give him five paradhes more, with a threat to open the gate and let out an imaginary dog of fearful biting powers if he did not instantly depart. The boy out of the way, Souleima knocked upon the gate and cried.
“Ayesha, Ferende! let me in!”
“Go open the gate, it’s Souleima,” said a voice within.
“Go yourself. When did I become a door opener?”
“Bah! Don’t you see I can’t leave the coffee? It’ll burn.”
The sound of a rattling chain, and a woman peeped out, holding a black veil over the lower part of her face. Souleima entered, shutting and locking the gate after her.
“Whew!” she exclaimed, pulling off her veil with the finger and thumb of the hand that now held the sheaf of lettuce.
“It’s hot outside. You two ought to be thankful to me, running around in the sun for you, while you sit here in the cool shade.”
“Very cool it is here by this fire,” retorted Ayesha. “It’s Ferende who is the lady these days. Never mind, my girl, when Panayota comes to her senses you will have to work like your betters. You’re getting fat, too, and Kostakes is tired of fat women. Isn’t she getting fat, my Souleima?”
The lady appealed to made no reply, but, going over to the water faucet that projected from a marble slab built into one side of the wall, hung the string of fish from the iron cock, laid the lettuce in the stone basin beneath, and turned on a thin stream of cold water.
Ayesha and Souleima are about of an age—thirty. They are both fat, dark and greasy, with black eyes and black hair. Their lips are thick and their teeth not too good. Their complexions are muddy and their faces somewhat pimpled. Ferende is a strapping Albanian girl, about Panayota’s age, though of coarser build. Like the beautiful Greek who is under lock and key upstairs, she has soft brown hair and brown eyes, set wide apart in her head.
It is easy to see that things are not running smoothly in Kostakes’ harem, and the reason is this: Until recently Ferende has been the favorite, and the two elder wives have been little more than her servants. The appearance of Panayota has led them to believe that a new mistress will soon be established in the household, and they are looking forward with great delight to the degradation of Ferende. The latter, fearing her own downfall, has not openly declared war against her two associates, but is racking her brain night and day in search of some method by which to enlist them with her against Panayota.
Ayesha now sits with her bare feet crossed under her, upon a rug spread on the earthen floor of the court. Before her is a charcoal fire, suspended over which on two crotches driven into the ground is a thing like a section of stove pipe, closed at the ends. An iron rod, running lengthwise of this contrivance, rests upon the crotches and is bent at one extremity into a crank.
Souleima removes her outer garments and appears arrayed like her sisters, in baggy breeches drawn tight about the ankle, and a loose fitting shirt. She kicks off her slippers and walks in her stockinged feet to the coffee roaster.
“Is it ready yet, Ayesha?” she asks, opening a little door in one side of the cylinder, and letting out a black cloud of aroma.
“Can I take out enough for one little cup?”
“You might find enough for two while you are about it.”
“Yes, even for three. Poor Ferende, she will soon have to grind her own coffee, and Panayota’s, too.”
Souleima produced a wooden spoon from the drawer of a pine table standing beneath the garden’s one mulberry tree, and dipped a quantity of the brown smoking berries into one of those cylindrical brass mills which are sold by wandering gypsies to the housewives of the orient. Sitting on the table’s edge, she grasped the mill with her left hand and firmly embedded one end of it in the fat of her corpulent stomach, while she turned the tiny crank with her right.
The ladies of Kostakes’ household could converse or carry on their domestic vocations without fear of intruding eyes. The wall was very high, and the one house near enough to overlook it had no windows on that side. A pleasant place was that enclosure, albeit two long, shallow, rectangular tubs leaned against the wall of the house, taking the place of the legendary guitar. They were washtubs, and upon them Ayesha and Souleima from time to time played the stern music of necessity. A huge copper kettle, with a very black bottom, stood near, another adjunct of the home laundry. In the middle of the court was a stone basin, into which water ran through a tiny channel from the hydrant in the wall.
“Na!” said Souleima, unscrewing the top of the mill and looking inside, “that will be enough, I think. We’ll have a cup of coffee first, and then some dinner, out here under the tree. Look at those fish. Did you ever see finer barbounia? What do you think I paid an oke for them?”
“Ninety paradhes,” suggested Ayesha.
“Only eighty. I bought them of a Greek. Ferende, clean them, that’s a good girl, while I make a cup of coffee.”
“Clean them yourself. I shall tell the Effendi of these insults when he comes, and he will make you suffer for them.”
“Poor Ferende!” cackled Souleima. “He will take off those silk trousers and put them on Panayota. But you shouldn’t complain now that your turn has come. Better people than you have been through the same thing.”
“If you ever went through it,” snapped Ferende, “it was so long ago you can’t remember it,” and rising disdainfully, she walked into the house. Souleima raised the coffee mill as though to hurl it after her, and then thinking better of the act, let her hand fall to her side.
“Maybe she’ll be able to warm Kostakes over again,” she reflected aloud.
“I don’t believe it,” replied Ayesha. “He’s crazy about this Greek. I never saw him like this before.”
“Then why does he——”
“I don’t know. Perhaps he wants the girl to love him.”
“Bah! She’ll love him fast enough after he breaks her spirit.”
Souleima filled a long-handled brass dipper from the hydrant and put into the water the coffee, ground fine as dust, together with four teaspoonfuls of sugar. Then, screening her face with her left hand, she kneeled in front of the fire and held the dipper in the coals until its contents boiled over. Ayesha lifted the smoking cylinder from the crotches and, shaking it violently for a moment, set it up against the side of the house.
“Shall I bring two cups or three?” she called from the door of the kitchen.
“Only two. Let Ferende make her own coffee.”
“Hadn’t I better call her?”
“You’ll only get insulted if you do. The nasty cat!”
Panayota was walking to and fro in a room whose one window looked straight against the blank wall of a house not ten feet distant. A grating of iron bars prevented her escape in that direction and the door was locked. She was very pale and there were deep circles under her eyes. She was muttering as one distracted. Occasionally she raised her eyes and hands to heaven.
“Dear little Virgin, all Holy One, save me from this infamy, from the pollution of the Turk. Save me in any way, help me to escape or to die!”
After each prayer she stood listening, as though waiting for an immediate response—some miraculous intervention in her behalf. Often seized by utter despair, she sank her fingers deep into her thick brown locks, and cried:
“No help, no help, O God! O God!”
At every sound of a footstep without, or of any commotion in the court below, her pale face grew paler, and she trembled with fear and revulsion. She was expecting Kostakes. For a week now the girl had been shut up in this manner. Kostakes had left her in the care of his harem, with stern commands that she be kindly treated and all her wants supplied. Ayesha and Souleima had derived much pleasure from attending upon Panayota, as though she were indeed a member of the harem and their lord’s favorite; for thus they caused Ferende, whom they cordially hated, much unhappiness. It seemed to Panayota that she had been in captivity an age. For the first three or four days she had hoped for a rescue by Lindbohm and Curtis and their band of insurgents. Time and again the wild scenes which she had witnessed passed through her mind as she stood with hands clasped and eyes half closed in the middle of the floor. She saw again the impetuous Swede chasing Ampates out of town because the scoundrel had wished to give her up; she saw Curtis standing before her with his smoking rifle, while the fallen Turk, his features still twitching in the death agony, lay at her feet.
But as the days passed and no help came, her keen hope faded into the blackness of despair.
“They cannot find me,” she moaned; “perhaps they’re dead. Perhaps they think I have yielded to the Turk, and they despise me. Do they not know that I would die first?” Whenever she thought of death, her mind involuntarily sought for some method by which she could accomplish it, if worst came to worst. To hold her breath, to plunge her head against the side of the wall, to strangle herself with a strip torn from her bed clothing,—all these ideas suggested themselves. And as often as she thought of self-destruction, there rose to memory a slender white shaft that had frequently been pointed out to her in childhood. For there had once been a suicide in her native village, and the body had been buried in a lonely place on a hill, far away from the holy comradeship, the blessed crosses and the benediction of God’s acre. This isolated tomb had made a great impression on her childish mind. She and the other children had always crossed themselves when they saw it, and they never mentioned the dead man’s name. It seemed a terrible thing not to be buried in consecrated ground.
“I wonder if that Greek will come to her senses and supplant me?” mused Ferende. “If she keeps on at her present rate Kostakes will soon get over his infatuation. Lord! But she’s growing ugly, with that sallow complexion and those big black marks under her eyes. She never saw the day she was half as beautiful as I am.”
Going to Panayota’s room, she took down the key that was hanging outside the door and went in. Locking the door on the inside she stood for a moment looking at the girl, who sat on the side of the bed, her face buried in her hands. Panayota glanced up when Ferende first entered and then took no further notice of her visitor. She knew that this was the favorite, although Ferende, consulting her dignity, had had little to say to her.
“Panayota,” very sweetly, “I am your friend. I, too, am a Greek, and was brought up in the Greek religion, but the Turks killed my father and mother and took me away when I was very young. I cannot help being what I am, but if I were in your place, I would let them kill me before they should turn me into a Turk. And you a priest’s daughter, too!”
A sudden wild hope thrilled Panayota’s bosom. She sprang to her feet and ran toward Ferende with arms outstretched.
“The Holy Virgin bless you! So you have come to set me free?”
Now Ferende could not do this, however much she would have liked. Could Ayesha and Souleima once fix upon her the blame of having disobeyed a command of their common husband, no subsequent wiles could save her from complete degradation.
“O, I dare not set you free now,” she faltered, somewhat embarrassed by the suddenness of the demand, “but—”
“Then save me, Holy Virgin!” cried Panayota, the bright gleam of hope dying within her, leaving her soul darker than before. “There is no other help for me. Aren’t you ashamed, coming here to mock me? What else do I want except to get out of this place. You say you are a Greek, and I believe you are. But what could I expect from you? You are worse than a Turk, for their women believe at least that they are honestly married. But you—you are a common thing.”
Ferende winced under this torrent of abuse, but there was a certain point which she wished to make sure.
“You talk very bravely now, my lady,” she replied. “Many Greek girls have talked like that before. It’s easy for a girl to remain Christian as long as she can save her honor, but after that is gone the Christians are more cruel than the Turks. Then the only way to remain respectable is to turn Turk.”
“I swear to you by the soul of my father, whom Kostakes murdered, that I will die before I will yield!” cried Panayota.
Ferende with difficulty suppressed an exclamation of joy. Simulating sorrow, she laid her hand on Panayota’s shoulder and murmured:
“Did Kostakes kill your father? Forgive me, Panayota, for speaking so harshly, but you were very hard on me. Now we can sympathize with each other, indeed. Both my parents were murdered by the Turks. I must go now, but remember I am your friend. Hold out against Kostakes and I will find some way to help you.”
She turned to leave the room, but Panayota caught her by the sleeve.
“Help me to escape from here,” she sobbed. “I beg of you in the name of your Christian mother, and I will pray the Virgin every night to bless you.”
Ferende locked the door behind her and hung up the key.
“Kostakes will have a sorry time with her,” she soliloquized, and she went down stairs humming a popular Greek song.
Finding Ayesha and Souleima still in the court, exchanging gallant confidences, she strolled up to them with the insolent air of a queen.
“Get up, you women,” she said, “and prepare dinner.”
Poor Ayesha and Souleima looked inquiringly into each other’s eyes. Thus was Ferende wont to act after some special mark of Kostakes’ favor had inflated her confidence. They arose slowly. The favorite jerked away the rug and spread it in the shade of the mulberry tree. Sitting upon it, she removed her gold embroidered slippers and crossed her stockinged feet beneath her. As the two older wives glanced at her, their hearts sank within them. She certainly did not have the appearance of a deposed queen. Her eyes, recently treated with belladonna, had a melting, lustrous look. The little dash of henna under the lower fringe of lashes added a touch of abandon. Her trousers of magenta silk, and her sleeveless purple jacket embroidered with gold thread, were immaculate, save for a loose hair or two, or a speck of dust, which she removed with dainty finger tips. Twisted carelessly about her waist, with the knotted ends hanging loosely at one side, was a broad sash with yellow and magenta stripes. Passing her hand beneath this, she extracted a silver cigarette case. Putting a brown cigarette no larger in diameter than a slate pencil, into her mouth, she called out lazily between her closed teeth:
“Ayesha, bring a match and light my cigarette,” and Ayesha, with a muttered Moslem imprecation, obeyed.