Alas, for human greatness! A horseman trotting along the stony street drew up in front of the gate with a sudden cessation of the jingling of a saber and the rattling of trappings. Two musket butts struck the ground simultaneously, as the two sentries at the gate finished their salute. Ayesha dropped the fish which she was cleaning at the hydrant, wiped her hands upon her dirty apron and tore it from her waist. Souleima set a little pile of dishes upon the table and tried to pat her straggling hair into place. A heavy hand, supplemented by a cavalry boot, shook the gate till the fastenings rattled.
“Merciful Allah, the Effendi!” screamed Ayesha and Souleima under the breath, and they both rushed to the gate, but they were too good Turks to open without inquiring sweetly:
“Who is it?”
“It’s I, Kostakes. Open the gate before I kick it down.”
“He’s angry!” whispered Souleima, undoing the fastenings.
Kostakes paid no attention to the low salaams of his two wives. He strode into the middle of the garden and, plucking off his sword, cried fiercely:
“Here! Some of you lazy women, take my sword. Ayesha, bring me a chair. Souleima, fetch my slippers.”
He sank into the proffered chair with a sigh of satisfaction. The Effendi had been riding hard and was evidently tired. He was uncomfortable too, and needed a bath and grooming. A prickly black beard had grown upon his square chin, and perspiration had made little water courses in the dust upon his dark brown cheeks. He laid his right foot upon his left knee, slapped his hands side by side upon the high boot tops, and swept the court with inquiring eye.
“Barbounia, eh?” he inquired of Ayesha, as his glance fell upon the string of half cleaned mullets.
“Are they fresh, eh? Are they fresh?”
“Fresh, Effendi? They are alive.”
“Brava, brava!” There was a softer note to his voice. “Well, get ’em ready; I haven’t had anything to eat in twelve hours.”
“Yes, Effendi; immediately, Effendi.”
Ayesha trotted over to the hydrant and began scaling the mullets with commendable zeal.
Kostakes seized the heel and toe of his boot and gave an ineffectual tug. Then he glanced about the court again. Souleima had not yet returned with the slippers.
Ayesha was scratching away at the fish as though she were trying to break a record. The Effendi glanced sharply at Ferende! From mere force of habit he had not ordered her to do anything. In the stress of fatigue and immediate necessity, he had turned naturally to the two old wheel-horses of his harem. Ferende was holding her cigarette between two fingers of her left hand, and was gazing up into the mulberry tree with affected unconcern. Her lips were slightly parted and a little red spot glowed angrily in each cheek. At another time Kostakes might have thought her beautiful, but a new idol had been set up in his heart, crowding poor Ferende into the stale limbo of ex-favorites.
“Here, you,” he called harshly, “come and pull off my boots.”
Ayesha glanced over her shoulder at her lord and master. He was plainly not looking at her. She turned her face to the wall and chuckled.
“Do you hear?” shouted Kostakes. “Throw away that cigarette and come here.”
Ferende turned as pale as death, but called to Ayesha, sweetly:
“Don’t you hear the Effendi, Ayesha? Run!”
Kostakes sprang to his feet, and strode toward Ferende with uplifted riding whip.
“None of that, you lazy drab! Who is master in this house, you or I? Come and pull off my boots or I’ll cut blood out of you!”
Ferende obeyed, with a half counterfeit of a smile upon her pale lips, and revenge in her heart.
“How long before dinner will be ready?” Kostakes called to Ayesha.
“About twenty minutes, Effendi.”
“Call me as soon as it is ready. I shall be up in Panayota’s room.”
Then an idea came to Ferende. She threw away her cigarette, crossed the court and disappeared in the house. Souleima ran after, and hiding behind the wall, peeped within. She saw Ferende step out of her slippers and tiptoe up the stairs towards the room into which Kostakes had just disappeared. Souleima waited until she was out of sight and then followed.
Ayesha, overcome by woman’s curiosity, that passion which fears neither death nor shame, clapped the fish, now ready for the pan, into a drawer of the table.
“I must know what’s going on,” she muttered, as she stole into the house.
Panayota was lying face down upon the bed, but when she heard heavy footsteps in the hall and the scratching of the key upon the door, as some one outside fumbled at the lock, she sprang to her feet and backed to the wall at the farther side of the room. She cast her eyes about the bare, dim room, as though there must be some way of escape, moaning, meanwhile:
“Little Virgin, save me! O, my God, what shall I do?”
When Kostakes entered he found her thus, her fists clenched, her lips white. She was looking at him, with great eyes of fear and horror, and she scarcely seemed to breathe. There was in her attitude the alertness of a hunted cat, that hopes to make a sudden dash for liberty and to escape even at the last moment.
“In the name of Allah, Panayota,” he said tenderly, “why are you so frightened? Have I not told you I would not touch a hair of your head?”
She made no reply, but slid along the wall, with her eyes fixed on the open door. He turned with an exclamation of impatience, shut it with a slam, locked it and put the key in his pocket.
“Na!” he said, “don’t think of escaping. Try to fix your mind on what I am going to say to you. In the first place, I swear to you by my hopes of salvation that I mean you no harm. Now listen to me!—I love you, Panayota.”
“Is that why you murdered my father?”
“Why do you say that I murdered your father?”
“Bring him to me alive, and then I shall know that you did not.”
“You ask an impossible thing, Panayota. He is probably among the Sphakiote mountains by this time, and you know there aren’t troops enough in all Turkey to get him out.”
“Then I’ll tell you what you do,” cried Panayota eagerly, advancing a step or two. “Let me go and find him. I’ll return here to Canea with him. Honestly I will, honestly—and you shall come and talk to me all you like.”
Kostakes gave his mustache an impatient twist.
“To let you go, after all the trouble I’ve had getting you? O, no, Panayota. You’re mine, by Allah! and whoever takes you away from me must kill me first. You don’t know how I love you, I could never tell you. Listen. There isn’t a drop of Turkish blood in me. My grandfather became a Turk because—because of circumstances, to save his life. I am the son of a Greek mother and she used to sing Greek lullabies to me in my cradle.” He was talking very fast now. “I have always said I would turn Christian some time, and when I saw you, I made up my mind to do it right away. I have heard great news. Everybody says that the powers have decided to give the island to the king of Greece. Then there will be no more Turks here. They will either go away or become Orthodox. Say you’ll marry me, Panayota, and I’ll get rid of my harem, and we’ll go before the priest—”
“Will you murder your wives as you did my father?” asked the girl. Kostakes stared at her, deprived for the moment of the power of speech. In his enthusiasm, he had talked himself into the feeling that his dreams were already realized. Panayota’s voice, hard, sneering, cold with hate, shocked him like a sudden blow in the face with a whip. Then rage surged up in his veins and knocked at his temples. His hands, that he had extended pleadingly, trembled, and he gnashed his teeth. Kostakes was not beautiful at that moment. Panayota laughed.
“O, you Turk,” she cried, “you cowardly Turk! You needn’t grind your teeth at me. I’m not afraid of death. It’s only your vile love that I fear.”
Kostakes raised his doubled fists above his head and brought them down with such violence that an involuntary “Ah!” escaped him.
“By God, girl, you would drive a saint crazy,” he cried. “Here I am offering to change my religion and put away my harem, and all for you, and I get nothing out of you but an insult. Don’t you know that you are in my power, and I can do with you what I please? No cursed foreigner will rescue you this time. He did not know enough to keep you when he had you, and I’ll see that he doesn’t get another chance. I want you to love me as I love you. Panayota, I’ve made an honorable offer. I leave you to think it over. But make up your mind to this—you’re mine, and I’ll never give you up while I live.”
When Kostakes stepped into the court again, Souleima was blowing up the coals in a little charcoal stove, home-made from an American petroleum can. Ayesha, standing by the table, called out in a stage whisper, plainly audible throughout the enclosure:
“The Effendi comes,” and pulled the fish from the drawer.
“Isn’t dinner ready yet?” he snarled; “what have you lazy women been doing?”
“All ready, Effendi,” replied Ayesha. “We couldn’t fry the barbounia till you came. They are better hot. Souleima, bring the olive oil and the salt. In two minutes, Effendi.”
“Got any wine?” asked Kostakes, as the platter of steaming fish was set before him.
“Wine, Effendi, in a Turkish house?”
“Yes, wine; if you’ve got any, bring it on, I am tired and thirsty.”
“I think Ferende has some,” suggested Souleima. “She drinks like a fish.”
“Umph! And I don’t suppose you help her?”
“Effendi, I swear—” commenced Souleima.
“I don’t even know the taste of it,” protested Ayesha.
“Silence, silence! and bring me some. And look here,” as the decanter was set before him, “if I ever hear a lisp about my wine drinking I’ll wring the necks of both of you—cackling old hens that you are. And now send Ferende to wait on me, and get out of my sight, the two of you. You take my appetite away. She at least is not a greasy old slattern.”
After the Effendi had eaten he betook himself to his chamber in search of much needed rest. Ferende followed him, but he pushed her from him, saying in a querulous and disgusted tone:
“Get away from me, can’t you? Darken the room and go. Shut the door, and if any of you women make a noise—eh, there, listen!”
“Yes, Effendi.” Ferende had nearly closed the door, but she opened it a little way and thrust her face back into the room.
“Don’t take Panayota up those cold fish. Fry her some hot ones, and give her some wine.”
The ex-favorite found the two elder wives whispering together in the garden.
She walked straight up to them.
“Let’s be friends,” she said. “We’re all in the same boat, and must work together. In fact, you are worse off than I am, for I am younger and better looking than either of you!”
This was not conciliatory language, but it accorded so well with what the two women had just been saying to each other, that they could make no reply. Each looked inquiringly at the other for a moment, and then Souleima asked:
“Do you think he is in earnest?”
“Absolutely. He would have no reason to parley with the girl, else. She is in his power.”
“We shall all be turned into the street,” said Ayesha.
“He would never dare,” cried Souleima. “He has nothing against us. We are faithful, honest wives. It would make too great a scandal.”
“He will find a way,” replied Ferende, coolly.
“What shall we do? O, what shall we do?” sobbed the two elder wives. Poor things! They had no Virgin to take refuge with.
“If she should fall ill and die!” suggested Souleima.
Ferende started violently and turned pale. “No!” she cried, so loud that all three of them glanced apprehensively at the windows. Then lowering her voice:
“Don’t ever think of such a thing again. It’s too dangerous. She must escape.”
“But the Effendi would kill us even for that.”
“It must be done in such a way that he will never suspect us.”
“We must yust take our chances,” said Lindbohm. “How far is it from here to the blockhouse?”
Curtis was lying on his stomach behind a rock, with his rifle beside him.
“About sixty or seventy rods,” he replied.
“Rods? What is a rod?” asked Lindbohm.
The Yankee laughed.
“The fort is—let me see, between three hundred and four hundred yards from here.”
There was a puff of smoke from a window of the square, gray building, followed a moment later by a distant report, and the humming of a guitar string in the air above their heads. Curtis lay down again.
“Damn bad shot,” observed his companion. “Makes me sick after being in South Africa. If that had been a Boer now, he would have hit you. But these Turks cannot shoot. So we will make a rush. We will have our best shots crawl in close and fire on the doors and windows. Then I take a detachment and run in. When the Turks appear we drop down, and our men fire another volley. Then we yump up and make another dash. So we take it.”
The blockhouse was a little above them, on a rocky eminence that commanded the gleaming sheet of Suda Bay, in shape like a written capital V. Four warships, two Englishmen, a Frenchman and a German, lay resting at anchor, thin columns of smoke bending from their funnels and drifting away amicably together. Something over a mile and a half away, those great floating engines of death and terror looked as innocent as a toy fleet on a duck pond. Entrenched in the rocks all about Lindbohm was an armed band, one hundred and fifty in number, consisting of Cretan insurgents, youthful Italian enthusiasts and Greek Turcophobes. Behind them rose the tremendous piles of Ida and the White mountains, and below them lay the bright, smiling valleys of the coast and the lower slopes, where an occasional white village gleamed among its olive orchards.
“How many are there of ’em?” asked Curtis. Lindbohm smiled, and raising his big pink hand to his blonde mustache, gave it a playful pull.
“That’s yust what we’re going to find out,” he replied. Calling an insurgent to him who spoke French, he explained the plan for the assault. He himself selected the men who were to accompany him, twenty-five in number, and such as possessed bayonets proceeded to fix them to their rifles. The places from which the shooting was to be done were selected, and the men began to get to them as rapidly as possible. Lindbohm and Curtis, at the head of their little band, worked down toward the open spot across which the rush must be made. These movements caused more or less exposure and drew repeated fusillades from the blockhouse. Most of the bullets passed over the heads of the attackers, but occasionally one slapped against the soft face of a rock, or scurried through the gravel. One glanced near Curtis’ head and hummed like a musical top. He turned and looked curiously in the direction of the sound.
“It takes yust one good, big battle to break a man of that,” observed the Lieutenant.
“Looking after the bullets. They sing all sorts of tunes, and sometimes they only whisper, but they always say the same thing—death, death.”
The attacking party spread out into a line with distances of ten feet or more between the men. Lindbohm held out his hand to Curtis.
“Au revoir, my friend,” he said, fixing his innocent blue eyes upon the American. “You better stay here. This is a little dangerous, and you got a mother, you know.”
The men were lying upon their stomachs; Lindbohm’s left elbow rested upon the ground, his chin supported by the left hand. As he spoke, he pushed out his right arm toward Curtis and the two men clasped hands. The American was thrilled by a great revelation of affection for the Swede—his eyes were so childlike, his voice so tender, and his smile so sad and sweet; he had lost the handkerchief that had been tied about his head, and his pompadour had fallen down in spots, like a wheat field upon which fragments of wind have dropped here and there. He was very much in earnest now, as nervously he swept one end of his great blonde mustache between his teeth with the tip of his tongue, and inquired:
“Eh? Is it not so? We must remember the little mother.”
“Do you think I’d go back on a friend in a time like this?” asked Curtis indignantly. “But, see here, Lindbohm, since you’re uneasy about me, you’ll find my address in my pocket. If anything happens to me, write to my folks. And—and, about Panayota—”
Lindbohm dropped the hand that he was holding, and the color faded out from beneath the dust and grime upon his face.
“Tell her I meant what I said to her that day, every word of it. I—I—, she’ll understand.”
Lindbohm made no reply, but still resting upon his left elbow, he slid his face down into his great soft hand, and remained silent for so long a time that an Italian called impatiently from a little distance:
Then he looked up suddenly and again seized Curtis by the hand.
“You are not going,” he said sternly. “I am in command here, and I order you to stay back.”
Before the American had a chance to reply half a dozen guns roared from a covert near by, a dozen more followed as rapidly as the sound of a boy trailing a stick along a picket fence, and then for a full moment the firing continued as capriciously as the explosions of a bunch of fire crackers. It ceased, and Lindbohm, bending low, was running toward the blockhouse. He had not got more than ten yards away before the others were darting after him.
“O, damn his orders!” muttered Curtis and scrambling to his feet, he ran so rapidly forward that he passed two or three of the Italians, and had nearly reached Lindbohm’s side when he heard a sound as though the man behind him had stepped on a bundle of dry twigs. Turning, he saw the poor fellow lying upon his side, bent like a bow. He was clutching the calf of his left leg with both hands and grinning. His shin had been shattered by a ball. Somebody fell upon Curtis and bore him to earth, and immediately there was a crash and rattle of rifles behind and all around him. The man at his side took deliberate aim at somebody and fired. Curtis followed his example and shot at one of the windows of the blockhouse. There was a lull and they dashed forward again. Curtis kept his eye on Lindbohm this time, and pitched forward upon his face when he saw the Swede do likewise. They ran but a short distance each time, but the third spurt brought them half way to their destination. Lindbohm now kept straight on, stopping every moment to aim and fire. The others followed his example and they were able thus to keep advancing, and none the less to maintain a fusillade against the doors and windows of the Turkish stronghold. They were still ten or twelve rods away, when a white flag appeared on the roof. Lindbohm turned and motioned to his companions, who gathered about him. They walked fearlessly through the open door, into the front room of a square stone building. A thin-faced, gray-haired officer in a faded fez, came forward to meet them. Twenty Turks in ragged uniforms were huddled together in a corner. The place was dim and sulphurous with smoke.
“To whom have I the honor of surrendering?” asked the Turkish officer in French, unbuckling his sword.
“To me, Monsieur,” replied Lindbohm, bringing his heels together with a “click,” and saluting with great dignity.
“I surrender to save bloodshed,” said the Turk. “I see that you are not a Cretan and I therefore, with perfect confidence, turn these men over to you as prisoners of war.”
“They shall give up their arms and suffer no harm. Monsieur will do me the honor of retaining his sword.”
The remaining Cretans were now come up and many of them had crowded into the room. Lindbohm ordered them out and put two stout fellows at the door.
“Now, Monsieur, if you will kindly tell your men to give up their guns.”
The officer said a few words to his little band, and one by one, as a sergeant called their names, they stepped forward and handed their weapons to Curtis, who passed them to a man outside the door. The last gun had scarcely been given up when a sudden commotion broke out among the Cretans and half a dozen burly insurgents, forcing their way past the guard, burst into the room. The commotion now swelled to a hoarse uproar, and Curtis caught the words, “Kill! kill!” and “No! no!” Lindbohm did not realize the gravity of the situation. He was raging because his orders had been disobeyed, and thought that the whole band, actuated by curiosity, were about to swarm in. He therefore leaped to the door with leveled bayonet, and threatened the crowd so fiercely that they all shrank back. Meanwhile a thing happened that fairly froze Curtis with horror. The half dozen insurgents raised their guns to their shoulders and deliberately pointed them at the body of unarmed Turks, who, seized with panic, assumed all the attitudes of fear. Some crouched against the wall, as though they would shrink through it; some fell upon the earthen floor; others squatted and doubled their arms in front of their faces. Several tried to seize their companions and hold them before their own bodies.
A dreadful laugh, mingled with foul and insulting words, broke from the insurgents’ throats. The Turkish officer stepped quietly in front of his men, and, crossing his arms over his chest, regarded the Cretans with a look of high scorn. His thin face and gray beard added sublimity to the dauntless soul that spoke in his attitude. He had the beak and eyes of an eagle.
Curtis was completely carried away with revulsion and horror. The words, “In the name of God! In the name of God!” beat in his brain with the regular strokes of a triphammer, and he fancied that he heard someone shouting them. An insurgent threatened him with a bayonet and another, with an outburst of expostulation, seized the threatener’s gun. Then a third Cretan leaped upon him, and attempted to push him to one side of the room. Curtis, now completely crazed with rage, dropped the gun which he was unable to use at such close quarters, and snarling an oath, exclaimed, “I’ll choke the life out of you!” as he danced with hooked hands at his adversary’s throat. Strong as a gorilla, he had nothing to fear. He dodged between the sinewy arms of his opponent, and, arching his back against the python embrace which now tightened upon him, felt for the Cretan’s throat, when—there was a great crunching and trembling sound, and in the air, that had suddenly turned milky and pungent, Cretans and Turks were leaping like imps. Curtis stood for a moment in stupid wonder, his mouth open, his hands still convulsively twitching. He was gazing at a great heap of debris and a triangle of wall with one ragged side. Men were scrambling over the rubbish, working their arms as though they were trying to fly. Something like an electric shock—it was fear—smote the American, and his stomach swooped as when one goes down in a swing. He leaped among the fleeing crowd and gained the open. Without looking to see where he was going, he struck out instinctively for the hills. Once or twice he fell down, but was on his feet again in an instant. As he ran, his fear grew. Some one shouted to him in a familiar voice, but he did not stop. Lindbohm seized him firmly by the arm and held him. Curtis struggled for a moment, and then he felt weak. He could run no farther. He tried to speak several times, but was entirely out of breath. At last he managed to gasp:
“What? What? What?”
The Swede was standing on a little eminence, with one hand in his pocket; hair, face and clothing were dusted miller-white with powdered lime. He was gazing toward the sea, and there was the ghost of a smile in his childlike blue eyes.
“Six-inch shell,” he replied. Curtis looked. There was a spurt of flame from one of the toy ships in the duck pond, followed by a muffled detonation, and a sound such as the wind sometimes makes at sea. An explosion threw up a great cloud of dust about thirty yards beyond the blockhouse—or what remained of it.
“French!” said Lindbohm.
Another flash, again the sound of the wind, again the explosion—this time about twenty yards short.
“German, I think. They lowered too much, because the others fired high.”
The third shell from yet another ship clipped away the white flag that was still standing on the corner of the building.
“English! That’s great work!” Lindbohm’s interest was entirely professional and impersonal.
Men, still running, were disappearing into the distant hills. The Swede and the American were entirely alone. The toy ships continued to launch their polyphemian missiles.
“Are they firing at us?” gasped Curtis.
“Yudging from appearances, I should say they were,” replied his companion.
Four Cretans had turned back and were running toward the ruined blockhouse. One was the color bearer of Lindbohm’s company, and he was carrying the Greek flag. Straight up to the house he ran, and, handing the standard to one of his companions, he climbed upon the wall. As he stood there a shell dropped so near that he was for a moment obscured in a cloud of dust. When the air became again clear he was jamming the flagpole into the soft mortar. Then he jumped down and ran away, together with his comrades. Another shell exploded thirty feet from the four Cretans, and only three ran on.
“What killed him?” asked Curtis.
“A flying piece of rock, probably,” replied Lindbohm. “When it is raining six-inch shells a man must yust take his chances.”
The bombardment did not last much longer. The Greek flag was also brought down by a shot which elicited unbounded admiration from the Swede, a shell striking the corner of the house where it was planted.
Curtis realized now for the first time the peculiar sensations of a soldier of fortune. He had been risking his life for that flag, yet he saw it fired upon without the thrill of horror and rage which would have surged through his heart had it been the American emblem.
“They are shooting at the flag!” he exclaimed, noticing that the ships in the bay had become silent.
“Yust so,” observed Lindbohm; “and that is why they commenced in the first place. They mistook the Turkish officer’s shirt for the Greek flag. But here he comes now.”
Hassan Bey was powdered as white as a great moth. He advanced with a sprightly step, the scabbard of his sword jingling among the cobblestones. Greeting Lindbohm respectfully with a military salute, he turned to Curtis and bowed low, his hand upon his heart. He spoke as one who had hastily prepared an address.
“Monsieur, in my own behalf and in that of my little band, I thank you for saving our lives. Your heroism and magnanimity do credit to the nation which you represent. I beg of you to accept this sword as a pledge of my undying gratitude.” And he grasped with both hands his curved simitar in its richly mounted case and held it impulsively toward the American, who looked amazedly at Lindbohm.
“Better take it,” said the latter. “Needlessly offend a brave man if you don’t.”
“But what for? Why the deuce should he give me his sword?”
“Very graceful act, seeing you yumped in front of the Cretan guns and saved his life.”
“Did I do that? I don’t remember anything about it.”
“Better take it,” repeated Lindbohm. “He is beginning to feel embarrassed.”
Curtis accepted the simitar, but could not find appropriate words. The occasion seemed to demand a set speech.
“Merci! Merci!” he stammered. “My father will be glad to get this. He is fond of this sort of thing. He already has a pair of pistols and an old Turkish gun.”
And he fell to examining the hilt, which was embossed with silver, and the scabbard, adorned with flowers and various animals. An awkward silence ensued, broken at last by Hassan Bey, who addressed himself to Lindbohm:
“And now, if Monsieur does not consider me a prisoner of war, I will take my leave.”
Again saluting Lindbohm and salaaming to Curtis, he turned and walked away.
“What’ll we do now?” asked Curtis. “Get the band together again?”
“To hell with the band!” exploded Lindbohm. “I’m sick of them. They fight all right, but there’s no way to enforce discipline. I think I’ll go to America. There should be some beautiful fighting between the Americans and Spaniards,” and he looked dreamily across the sea.
“We weren’t fighting Kostakes, after all,” mused Curtis.
Lindbohm came to earth with a start and glanced sharply after the slender, erect figure of the departing Turk, whose body was now cut off below the arms by a ledge of rock.
“Monsieur!” shouted the Swede, and started in pursuit. The Turk turned slowly and waited.
“Monsieur will pardon me,” said Lindbohm, when he had overtaken Hassan Bey. “I wish to ask a question on behalf of my friend here, which you will use your own discretion in answering.”
Hassan bowed gravely.
“My friend is interested in a young Cretan girl, Panayota Nicolaides, whom Kostakes Effendi has abducted. We have been following Kostakes, but he has disappeared. Do you know anything of him or the girl?”
“I know it all. He and the Bashi Bazouks passed by here with the girl, who is now locked up in Kostakes’ harem at Canea. He has gone wild over her. That is why he was not here to-day with his band to support the blockhouse as he promised. He cannot be depended on. He passes half his time laying siege to the affections of a girl who is already in his power. Bah! Kostakes is no good. He is only half a man—he is half Greek.”
Hassan had grown suddenly voluble. Kostakes, with his incomprehensible doings, was evidently a thorn in his flesh. Rage, indignation, pity, swooped down upon Curtis like a flood, now hot, now cold, as he thought of Panayota, restrained in the house of that square-jawed, cruel, supercilious Turk, subject to his vile solicitations.
“You do not think he would dare to do her violence?” he cried, as the thought that he knew where Panayota was and might yet save her, seemed almost to lift him from the ground.
“And why not?” demanded Hassan. “But, bah! It is the Christian blood in him, I tell you. He wants her to love him—bah!”
Curtis’ face was flushed and he was trembling with eagerness. Lindbohm, pale as death, was leaning against a rock, biting his lip. A bugle sang out sweet and clear, in the distance.
“It is the Cretan trumpeter,” remarked the Turk. “So, once more au revoir, and a thousand, thousand thanks.”
“I am done with the troop,” said Lindbohm. “I cannot control them, and I am a soldier. I will not fight where discipline is impossible. My friend and I wish to go to Canea. We—we—desire to take ship and leave the island.”
“Then, come with me,” cried Hassan gaily. “I will pass you through the lines, and I may be able in some way to prove my gratitude to this gentleman who has saved my life. Voilà, we are comrades!” and, stepping between Curtis and Lindbohm, he grasped each by the arm. Again the bugle sounded.
“They can fight,” mused the Swede sadly, stooping and looking back over his shoulder, “but no discipline, no discipline! Allons, Monsieur!”
Kostakes had something of importance to say to Panayota—something unpleasant, to judge from his perturbed appearance. The door to her room failed to open at the first turning of the key; the lock was old and worn and the bolt did not always respond. But Kostakes did not calmly try again. He threw his weight pettishly against the unyielding barrier and kicked noisily at the panels. Having thus given vent in a slight degree to his boiling passion, he again tried the key, swearing to himself meanwhile in Greek—that language being in every way more satisfactory than Turkish in a crisis demanding profanity. Almost falling into the room, he brought himself up with a jerk and stood glaring at the unhappy girl. To Panayota, who had always seen him hitherto in a gentle and persuasive mood, he was as a man who had put off a mask. Somehow he did not frighten her, for his looks now corresponded with her idea of his real character; that scowling brow, those glaring eyes, that protruding under jaw trembling with rage, well befitted the murderer of her father and the despoiler of her home. If Kostakes should come into her room some time when he was drunk! But now he was only angry, seemingly speechless with rage. She had been peering through the grating of her window watching a rat that was running to and fro in the sunless court below; he was so fat and his legs were so short that he seemed to be sliding over the pavement like a toy mouse. When she first heard Kostakes’ key in the lock she grasped the iron bars to keep herself from falling and, leaning against the wall, stood looking at the door. And thus she stood now, a smile of scorn faintly curling her pale lip. Kostakes strode across the room and, seizing her wrist wrenched her hand loose from the iron bar.
“You won’t marry me, eh?” he said. “I’m not good enough for you, eh? I suppose I’m old or ugly or you prefer somebody else? Is that it, eh? Well, now I’m going to tame you. You wouldn’t have me as a Christian, you shall have me as a Turk. There aren’t going to be any more Christians, do you hear? Eh? Do you hear? We’re going to kill the whole cursed brood of them, English, French, Italians, Cretans! There won’t be one left. Islam is aroused. We’ll cut their throats—” he shouted, flinging her wrist from him, and making an imaginary slash at his own neck. “The streets will run blood. Every dog of an unbeliever in Crete must die, men, women and children—except you.”
The blood of the Turkish father had prevailed, and Kostakes was overwhelmed with that form of religious mania which cries for blood. He had joined a band of young Turks, who had planned a grand coup, to save Crete, and his Christian love for Panayota was fast turning into Turkish love. It needed but a riot of blood and rapine to make the change complete.
“You would not have me as a Christian,” he repeated, with his hand on the door knob; “then you shall take me as a Turk,” and he went out.
Panayota, being left alone again, was frightened, and it is proof of the girl’s nobility of soul that she thought not of herself, but of her fellow Christians, whom she believed to be in imminent danger. If she could only escape and give them warning! But she dismissed that thought, for she had tried every possible means again and again. She might stand at the window and scream, but she had already done that, with no effect. Kostakes’ house was right in the center of the Turkish quarter, and the screams of an hysterical or angry woman attracted little attention. A girl shouting in Greek for help was a time-honored legend of Turkish rule; as old as Islam and as natural as murder. So, as a last resort, she fell upon her knees and besought the Virgin to help and save the people, to pity the mothers and the little children and to turn away from them this danger. Now, while she was praying, a conflict had been taking place within the breast of Kostakes, of which he felt the effects, but of which he was entirely unconscious. The blood of his Greek mother had been making a last stand against that of his Mohammedan father, and while he was even yet breathing out curses against the Christians and muttering, “She shall have me as a Turk,” he turned about automatically, as it were, and retraced his steps to Panayota’s room. The girl rose from her knees.
“I am praying the Holy Virgin to save my people,” she said in a solemn tone. Her eyes were streaming with tears. Kostakes shuddered, and involuntarily raised his arm, restraining himself with difficulty from making the sign of the cross. This Virgin of his mother could be a very terrible being when angry.
“Panayota,” he said, “I—I—was too rough with you just now. But you are very obstinate. Listen, I tell you the truth. The young Turks have planned a grand coup, and I have joined them. But I would do anything for you if you would only let me. Say that you will marry me, and I will give the foreign officers warning, and the Christians will be saved. I will then turn Christian—O, Panayota, won’t you marry me?”
But the Virgin had comforted Panayota and given her courage. She pointed superbly to the door.
“Go,” she cried, “God will save His people without that sacrifice.”
Kostakes went to the bazaar of his friend Mehemet Effendi. Mehemet was about of an age with the Captain, and had attended school with him. He was young and handsome, with red cheeks, thin, large nose, and thick lips. He affected European costume, but, being a full-blooded Turk, was a sincere worshiper of the prophet, and an enthusiastic member of that society of youths who believed that Islam was about to be rejuvenated and purified, after which it would rise and overwhelm the unbeliever in a series of victories greater than when it swept Asia and the isles of the sea with the besom of fanaticism and carried its one star to the gates of Vienna. Mehemet’s partner was a black-bearded, pale-faced Persian, forty years of age, who wore a blue vest, blue trousers that were full about the hips and tight at the ankles, carpet slippers and a red fez. Hassan Ben Sabbath was a Mohammedan by profession, but his belief was colored and weakened by the secret influence of an ancient religion. His soul was haunted by the unrecognizable ghosts of the dead gods of Mardonis and Masistius. He was prudent in business and mildly deprecatory in speech. The bazaar into which Kostakes now walked was a tiny room, fronting upon the kaleidoscopic square. The greater portion of its stock was piled in the capacious windows,—brass candlesticks, Cretan knives and revolvers, Byzantine silver jewelry, antique earthenware, Turkish and Persian embroideries. The only furniture consisted of a round-topped wooden table, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, that stood in the middle of the floor; a divan and two chairs. Side by side upon the wall, in cheap frames, hung the sad, cruel, blasé faces of Abdul Hamid and the latest successor of Xerxes.
Mehemet was standing under his awning watching the shifting throng, and occasionally casting expectant glances at the bay. His eyes were bright and his face was pale from nervousness.
“Any news, Kosta? Any news?” he demanded in a cautious tone. Kostakes made no reply, but flinging himself into one of the chairs, began to beat a lively tattoo with his riding whip on the top of his boot. Ben Sabbath, who had been pretending to sleep on the divan, rose to a sitting position and yawned.
“Don’t betray your feelings so,” said Mehemet; “the hour when the faithful shall triumph is almost at hand. Be patient.”
“I’m sick of the whole cursed spawning of Christians,” cried Kostakes, making the whip crack on his boot top like a pistol shot. “I want to see the throats of the last one of them slit. I—”
“Now, Kosta, Kosta, in the name of Allah,” protested Ben Sabbath, springing to the door and looking to right and left.
Mehemet patted the excited man on the shoulder soothingly.
“He cannot help it,” he explained. “It is Islam rising. Patience, Kosta, but a little longer, and you shall have your fill of slitting. We shall spare no one, eh? No Christian dogs to breed more litters of Christians; no babes to grow up into Christians!”
“Merciful Allah! If you should be heard!” whispered Ben Sabbath in an ague of fear.
“You can’t make anything out of a Christian, try how you will,” continued Kostakes. “They don’t appreciate kindness. Now, take that girl of mine, Panayota—”
“You are not trifling with her yet?”
“I have treated her with the greatest kindness, I have humbled myself to her, but she despises me, she abhors me—me!”
And rising to his full height he smote his expanded chest.
“Never mind, never mind,” said Mehemet.
“I’ve offered to make her the head of my harem, to—to—do everything in fact, but still she is obstinate. O, I am through with kindness now. This is a fine state of society when it is possible for a Christian hussy to despise a Turkish gentleman and an officer to boot!”
Under ordinary circumstances some of Mehemet’s Christian neighbors would have heard Kostakes’ raving from afar, and would have stolen near. At the present moment, however, the entire population of the square was surging down to the water’s edge watching an English ship that was rapidly and noiselessly sliding into the harbor. Evidently it had been expected, and its mission on this occasion was supposedly favorable to the Christians, for they were noisily jubilant and addressed many facetious but insulting remarks to their Mohammedan neighbors. The latter remained silent and gazed with scowling brows at the approaching vessel.
“Here it comes!” cried Ben Sabbath from the door, as the masts and funnels of the “Hazard” suddenly drifted into the background, above the heads of the throng. Mehemet grabbed Kostakes by the arm and dragged him to the door.
“See there!” he cried, forgetting all restraint. “There comes the disgrace of Islam, my brother—they have come to enslave us. Those English are Christians, and they hate us. But your time has come, dogs, your time has come!” and he shook his fist toward the ship.
“But in the name of Allah!” expostulated Ben Sabbath. “These English are our best customers. Only yesterday I sold a piece of Rhodes embroidery to an English lieutenant for four times its value. And we can’t fight the English; they take the most terrible revenge. Look at—”
“Bah! Look at nothing! Look at our most glorious Sultan, the light of the world and the defender of the faith. Has he not been keeping all Europe at bay for the last ten years? There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet!”
“We must not interfere with the English, I tell you,” protested Ben Sabbath, in great alarm.
“A Christian is a Christian—all dogs—froth of the spittle of dogs. Kostakes, they have come to install the new Christian officials and to collect the tax. The money of the faithful goes into Christian hands. Your old enemy, Platonides, is to be made deputy collector. How do you like that?”
“Curse his Virgin!” growled Kostakes, again resorting to Greek. “But he won’t live long to enjoy it. I’ll see to that—despise me!”
“Now you’re talking sensibly,” interposed Ben Sabbath, admiringly. “There’s a way and a time to do all things, of course. But to oppose the English by force—it’s the veriest madness.”
The metallic burr of the chain, paying out rapidly as the “Hazard’s” anchor plunged, came to their ears with startling distinctness. Mehemet groaned.
“Our slavery dates from this moment, unless we nip this tyranny in the bud, unless we strike a terrible blow. They will be coming into our houses next and taking our Christian wives away from us.”
“Not into mine while I have two hundred Bashi Bazouks at my back!” cried Kostakes. “Curse the Christians!”
“Have they not given them the privilege of trading in the town? Have they not denied to Mohammedans the right to go out and visit their farms and gardens? You will see what their next move will be.”
The sharp, clear tones of an English officer could be heard, and the rattle of oars as they were unshipped and boated by the crew of a man-of-war’s boat. The crowd at the wharf surged back with groans and cheers. But the wharf was not destined to be the chief center of attraction. The scrannel drone of a bagpipe sounded faintly in the distance, and grew rapidly more distinct, a waving thread of sound that led the measured tread of many feet, marching to quickstep, out of the silence and nearer, nearer. The three Mohammedans fixed their eyes upon the opening of a street that gave, not far away, into the square. The bagpipe turned the corner, and its defiant wail came straight to their ears. The throng at the wharf turned and looked, then turned back again, like the distracted spectator at a modern circus, where the prodigality of attractions prevents the enjoyment of any. But they were not long in doubt as to the principal attraction, for the street ejected from its mouth at that moment the most devil-may-care, picturesque, obstreperous, robust, business-like compound of wailing wind and true courage on earth—a Scotch bagpiper. Tamas Macmillan flung across the square, looking neither to right nor left. His hair was red, and his face flamed in the tropic sun. Every time that he puffed his cheeks full his head shook with the effort, and the streamers of his Scotch cap leaped on the breeze. He was a tall, gaunt, awkward Scot, whose projecting kneecaps played in front of the sinewy knees like round shields. On he fared, with chest thrust out and face thrust up, squeezing the bag beneath his brawny arm and letting out its protesting squeals in the notes of “Bonnie Prince Charlie.” Behind him at a distance came a small body of Seaforth Highlanders and a few bluejackets, bound straight for the custom house. The throng scrambled out of the way to right and left, as though from a bayonet charge. In fact, the natives did not wait for the troops, but melted away before the flaming countenance of Tamas Macmillan.
One of Kostakes’ Bashi Bazouks, a great, splendid fellow, with a blue and yellow turban about his head and a gaudy sash about his waist, appeared beneath Mehemet’s awning and salaamed.
“Your men are going up to the custom house,” he said.
Kostakes was fretting to and fro in the shop like a big lion in a small cage, gnawing his upper lip, twitching at his mustache. Every moment his passion grew, and the snorts of indignation became more and more frequent.
“Doesn’t want me, eh? What does she want? Wouldn’t have me on any terms? Ha, ha! We’ll see about that!”
“Effendi,” said the man, in a louder voice.
The Captain whirled about with a jerk and glared at the speaker.
“Well, what do you want?”
The man retreated a step. Kostakes’ face was purple and his eyes looked uncanny in the half light, like a cat’s.
“Your men, I said, are going to the custom house.”
“Bah! Tell them to go to the devil!”
The Bashi Bazouk salaamed and started away, but Mehemet caught him by the arm.
“The Effendi is in a terrible rage about Platonides. Tell the men to go up in twos and threes, and—and—to keep out of mischief.”
“We are not armed, Effendi,” replied the man, smiling grimly, and laying his hand upon the butt of one of the large, old-fashioned pistols in his belt. Besides these weapons, he carried a long Cretan knife in a leathern sheath, tipped with silver.
“We are not armed,” he repeated, “except for dress.”
“There will surely be trouble,” whined Ben Sabbath, “and these foreigners are our best customers.”
“What are the Christians doing now?” sneered Kostakes, standing in the door. He had passed into one of those periods of calm which manifest themselves after violent ebullitions of rage, like the fearful silences between thunderclaps.
Mehemet pointed. The British troops and the marines were drawn up in front of the custom house. Red jackets and gleaming helmet tips on one side; bare knees in a row, kilts and little caps with frisking tails on the other. Numerous Bashi Bazouks were seen standing among the throng, several of them upon its outer edge. Kostakes caught sight of the hated Platonides in company with a British officer. The guard saluted, and the Cretan raised his hat, as though the military courtesy were intended for him.
“If there is a row,” chuckled Kostakes, “my men will attend to you. They’ll install you!”
And he started briskly across the square, accompanied by Mehemet.
Ben Sabbath retired into the shop, trembling with fear.
“Our best customers,” he muttered, “and they never forgive nor forget!” But he could not restrain his curiosity, and so, after another moment, he peeped from the door again. Everything was proceeding quietly and in order.
“Bah! There will be no trouble, with all those English there.”
He tiptoed across the open space in front of the door, ready to scurry back at the least symptom of alarm. He reached the edge of the throng, and forgetting his fear, in the midst of so many friends and neighbors, pushed boldly through, arriving at the farther edge just in time to receive a bullet in his breast. Clutching at the air, he staggered a few steps into the open and fell dead, with one loud cry to Allah for help. Like many another peaceful and inoffensive man he had fallen the first victim in a scene of violence.
Kostakes himself had been the indirect cause of Ben Sabbath’s death. This is what had happened: He and the impetuous Mehemet were standing close to one end of the line of Highlanders, making insulting remarks in Greek for the benefit of Platonides and their Christian neighbors. Stung beyond endurance, the excitable Greek pulled the English officer’s sleeve and pointed to his tormentors with raised arm. Kostakes stepped boldly forward and shook his fist in the direction of his enemy, whereupon one of the statues in kilts came to life and dropped the butt of his musket on the Turk’s toe. The latter sprang back with a cry of pain and the exclamation in Turkish:
“Death to the Christians!”
A Bashi Bazouk, enraged at the insult suffered by his commanding officer, and taking the exclamation for a command, drew his knife and plunged it to the handle into the Highlander’s back. As the unfortunate man fell his gun was discharged, causing the death of Hassan Ben Sabbath and awakening the demon of massacre that now for many years had lurked in the towns and villages of Crete, feverishly and fitfully sleeping. And what an inconceivably horrible demon it is! Here is the sweetly wimpling sea, with the Grecian sky above; here are vineyards and pastures on the hillsides and the ancient pipe of the shepherd boy; here are white villages that should hear no sound save such as harmonize with the vesper chime of some monastery bell, drifting across the waters, or the choiring of the Cretan nightingales. And yet, nowhere on earth has hate, irresponsible and pitiless, found so congenial a home as among these idyllic scenes. Mehemet whipped an English navy revolver from beneath his coat and shouting “Allah il Allah!” fired point blank at the Lieutenant in charge of the guard, who sank to the earth, gasping:
“Steady, boys, steady.”
Kostakes’ Bashi Bazouks came plunging through the press from all directions, gathering about their master. Knives twirled in the sun and flashed above the heads of the people—horrible knives with concave edges, made for the cutting of throats. And now, from windows and from the roofs of houses, commenced a sporadic sputtering of guns against that gallant body of men standing in front of the custom house, statues yet, save when now and then one sank to earth—brought to life by death. Their officer lay dead at their feet, and his last words had been, “Steady, boys, steady!”
The beardless boy who stood there now in command, a trifle pale, but firm as a stripling oak, was for one moment at his wit’s end. He could not give the order to fire into the crowd, killing Turk and Christian alike. That certainly would not be obeying the last command of the man whom he had loved, who had been his model soldier and gentleman. At any rate, he could die bravely; he was not in doubt about that part of it for a single moment. But his hesitation did not last long. A gun boomed out in the bay louder than all the pandemonium on shore, and a shell dropped on the roof of a house from which several Turks had been firing at the British. He would get his men to the wharf, as close under shelter of the guns as possible.
They arrived at the wharf just as the steam launch from the “Hazard” drew up to take them off, and two sailors held her fast with grappling poles. Other boats were creeping across the narrow strip of sea, their oars moving rapidly, like the legs of frightened centipedes. The little sub-lieutenant drew up his company facing the rioters. He then detached a squad to put the wounded into the launch. The fall of the first two or three shells had caused a momentary panic in the town, during which the British succeeded in getting into the boats, save one wounded man, who had been overlooked somehow in the excitement.
“Shove off!” cried the little sub-lieutenant, standing in the stern of one of the boats, whither he had leapt last of all that gallant company.
“Shove off!” repeated the middy in charge; and the boat drifted a foot or so from the wharf, as the grappling poles were lifted. But at that moment the little “sub.” saw the wounded Highlander, lying helpless upon the cobblestones. Even as he looked, the man rose to his knees, swayed a moment and fell over upon his side, a bundle of bright tartan on the gray cobblestones. It was Tamas the piper. Without a moment’s hesitation, the sub-lieutenant sprang to the wharf and ran to the rescue. The place was clear, as the rioters had drawn back from the threatening guns of the British, and were pouring a galling fire into the boats from windows and corners of houses. As the young hero advanced, all these rifles were turned upon him, and he was aware of a continual “zip! zip!” of bullets about his ears. His own men now, assisted by the marines, were answering the fire, shooting at the Turks as they stepped slyly out from the shelter of buildings, or arose at the edge of roofs to take aim. Tamas was clutching one of the pipes of his musical instrument with an unloosable grip. His rescuer vainly attempted to open the bony hand. Seeing that the effort was useless, he knelt by Tamas, and seizing his two wrists, drew the fainting man’s arms about his neck; rising to his feet, he staggered toward the wharf, with the Scotchman upon his shoulders. The bagpipe dangled like the limp body of some animal. Strong arms lifted Tamas into the boat, and again the little sub-lieutenant leaped in and cried “Shove off!” The sheath of his sword was badly bent by the impact of a bullet and a spot of blood appeared near his groin, and rapidly grew larger.
“My God, sir, you’re wounded!” almost sobbed a burly Scot. But the sub-lieutenant was young and familiarity is the death of authority.
“Be silent, Ferguson!” he said, sternly, without deigning to look at the flesh wound in his side, which was beginning to smart like a great burn.
“Did you bring off my bagpipe?” asked Tamas Macmillan, wounded to the death. “‘Tis the sweetest instrument in a’ Scotland.”
A laugh of derision greeted the question, and even the little sub-lieutenant smiled as he fainted away in the arms of Ferguson, who muttered fiercely, “If they don’t give him the Victoria cross for this I’ll desert.”
Mr. Ferguson is still with the army.
The report soon spread among the Turks that the English had been driven into the sea. Islam, that always believes in final universal triumph and the death of all unbelievers, was drunk with victory. The Mohammedans of Canea did not stop to think how few they were. It seemed to them that the vengeance of Allah was at hand, and that the whole world of the faithful had arisen. A band of howling demons poured down the streets of the Christian quarter, shooting into the windows and doors of the houses, hacking down with their long knives all who were not able to get out of sight. The shells which the “Hazard” continued to drop into the town in hopes of quelling the uprising only added to the terror of the victims and the fury of the murderers. The Mohammedan has no fear of death when he is on God’s business. Kostakes’ terrible Bashi Bazouks were everywhere. These are the irregulars who furnish their own arms and equipment. They or their families have suffered in some previous conflict with the Christians, and they kill for revenge and the true faith.
Some resistance was made and guns barked from half-closed window shutters into the faces of the marauders. But whenever this happened it only hastened the fate of those within. The Christian quarter swarmed with Turks. They crowded the streets, leaped over the garden walls, pried open the doors of the houses. Those who were not there out of pure thirst for blood came from love of plunder.
Kostakes, with his friend Mehemet and a half dozen of the Bashi Bazouks, did terrible execution. The Captain, as with drawn sword he drove his victims to bay in their gardens or into angles of the wall, imagined he was still talking to Panayota.
“There’ll be no more Christians,” he shouted again and again as he thrust home with his sword, or as some form writhed on the bayonet that pinned it to the adobe wall.
“We’re going to kill them all.”
For hours murder, rapine and plunder ran riot in the streets of Canea. When the moon came up that night eight hundred dead bodies were lying stark and ghastly in the beautiful gardens.
At the first sound of distant firing, the women of Kostakes’ harem were not greatly terrified. Another slaughter of Christians did not mean danger to them. Thoroughly ignorant, they believed that all the kings and potentates of the world were vassals of the Sultan, who was able to enforce submission whenever he chose. They had heard from earliest childhood that some day there would be a grand killing of Christians and other unbelievers, after which the earth would be inhabited by Turks alone. No doubt the prophecy was even now coming to pass.
“They are killing all the Christians,” said Souleima, peeping through the gate. “All the Christians in Canea.”
“Aren’t you sorry for them?”
“Bah! why should I be? It’s their own fault if they are Christians.”
“I am sorry for the little children,” said Ayesha with a shudder, thinking of her own little boy, that had died in infancy.
Souleima looked slyly at Ferende, who was sitting on the stone steps at the outer side of the court, her fingers in her ears. The sound of the guns made the ex-favorite nervous, and she wanted to think. She believed that a crisis had arrived in her life. The terrible Turk had been the bogey man of her infancy. Surely he was now conquering the world. Who would be queen of the domestic kingdom which Kostakes would rear, when he should return, covered with blood and glory? Would Panayota remain a Greek when all her countrymen were killed? Alone,—the only Greek in the world?
Ferende laughed scornfully at the thought.
The boom of cannon was heard. It sounded very clear and distinct and seemed to cause a slight tremor of the earth where they stood. They looked at each other with startled and wondering eyes. The sound was repeated. Then, in a moment, the Turkish quarter, which had been hushed to whispering silence, broke forth into a babel of feminine screams, cries of children and the noise of many frightened women, all chattering at once.
“What is it? O, what is it?” shrieked Ayesha and Souleima, in a breath. They looked toward Ferende, but she was gone. Again that dreadful “boom,” and now shrieks are heard in the streets, and the sound of flying footsteps. Ayesha and Souleima pull the gate open and look out. They behold a panic. Women clutching their offspring however they can, or dragging them through the street by the arm; old men doddering with long staffs, or holding to the garments of their flying daughters; children darting after their elders, screaming, “Mama! mama!” Some of the Turkish women, in their terror, had not covered their faces. Others instinctively held handkerchiefs, or even bare hands, before their mouths as they ran. From all that shrill uproar an occasional word or syllable detached itself; cries to “Allah” and the “Virgin,” supplications for present help to any god or saint that happened to be uppermost in the mind. And every time that terrible “boom” was heard out in the bay the tumult swelled like a wave rising to its crest. Ayesha and Souleima waited for no explanation, but, adding their voices to the general tumult, plunged into the throng and were swept along with it toward the nearest gate of the city.
Ferende had gone to free Panayota. Bounding up the dark narrow stairs, she muttered to herself:
“It’s my only chance. I’ll be a drudge all my life else.”
She did not stop to reason concerning Kostakes’ anger or his possible vengeance. There would be time enough to devise some story. The thing that was certain, the situation that she must face, was “the Christians are all being killed, and even the girl upstairs will see that Mohammedanism is triumphant. If I get rid of her, I shall live like a queen the rest of my days.”
Panayota was lying on the bed with her face in the pillow, shuddering and whispering to the Virgin. At the first sound of the guns, nature had given way, and she had fallen fainting to the floor.
Recovering consciousness, she had found herself too weak to rise, and had crept to her couch, where she lay, moaning.
Sometimes there would be a few moments of quiet, when she would raise her head and listen, hoping against hope that something had happened, and that the dreadful sound had ceased forever. But no, they always commenced again; one report, another, and then several following in quick succession, or else a general crash, and she would again bury her head in the pillow.
Thus Ferende found her, and, shaking her by the shoulders, cried:
“Quick, Panayota, run, run! They are killing all the Christians in the world!”
“I want to die,” cried the Cretan.
“They won’t kill you—Kostakes’ woman. And he may be here any minute.”
Panayota ran into the hall. Hope, that is always living where it seems most dead, thrilled her breast with a sudden ecstasy. If there was any opportunity of escaping from the filthy Turk and his pollution, why, then, she did not want to die. Before her was the open door of a bedroom, and upon the bed lay the black garment and veil in which Mohammedan women bundle themselves when about to walk or ride out. She pounced upon these and literally scrambled into them. Then she stepped to a window and looked down into the street. It was nearly deserted, save for the groups of women peeping from windows and half-opened garden gates. She wondered if she would be able to run that gauntlet of eyes without being questioned, discovered. At that very moment the situation was solved for her. The sound of a cannon was heard and the flight from the Turkish quarter began. When she reached the garden the gate was open, and the street was full of frightened women and children, all running in one direction. There was another roar, louder and fuller than the spiteful chatter of the rifles. It was like a giant shouting in a yard full of children, and it was followed by a general shriek from the rabble of fleeing non-combatants. Panayota had heard cannon before, they were simply one of the voices of war—in this case a mere phase of the riot of blood which had broken forth upon earth. But she was going to flee from it all. In that brief moment that she stood in the gate the great, faithful righteous mountains rose before her mind; they seemed to call and beckon her. Often had she dreamed of them in the days and nights of her captivity, but then they were far away. Now they had moved nearer, the mountains of God—her refuge. Crossing herself, she, too, plunged into the stream of humanity, was swallowed up and swept along by it.
Kostakes came back to his home; came back covered with Christian blood, and longing, like a Turk, for the Christian maiden whom he had locked up in his harem; came back cursing the Mother of God and gloating over the deed which he had resolved to do. But he found his house rent in twain, and his garden filled with a great heap of smoking rubbish. He looked into the cleft rooms as spectators at a theater behold the interior of a house, and there was no sign of any live thing save himself in all the street. There was Panayota’s room, with the bed standing in the corner and her Cretan jacket hanging to a nail in the wall. But she was gone. Then a great fear seized Kostakes, and his mother’s blood awoke in his heart and surged through his veins again. Trembling in every limb, and with pale face, from which the flush of passion had fled, he unconsciously crossed himself, muttering hoarsely: “It is the vengeance of the Virgin! I am accursed!”
“Ah, the shade is so delicious!” said the Turkish Major, stepping under a pine and removing his fez. Lindbohm dragged the handkerchief, tied turban-fashion, from his brow, and wiped his face with it. The cloth was black with powder-smoke and grimy with dust from previous contact with his features.
“It is always cool in the shade in this country,” he observed, running his fingers through his damp pompadour, “no matter how white hot it is in the sun.”
They were following a path that wound like the thread of a screw athwart the face of a hill that had been terraced with infinite pains and labor. Plateaus, from four to twenty feet in width, supported by walls of cobblestones, rose one above the other like steps of a wide stairway.
After the terraces came a forest of small pines, cool and fragrant. It was now nearing the middle of the afternoon and the locusts were at work, plying their sleepy rasps, infinitely numerous and monotonous. They emerged from the grove into a narrow path on the edge of a steep incline. The soldiers ran to a point a little farther on, where a pear tree, growing close by the side of a precipice, served as a ladder. They scrambled down its branches into the garden that surrounded a farmhouse not far distant.
“Was this a Turkish or a Christian house?” asked Lindbohm. The windows and doors were broken, and a pile of smashed furniture lay in the middle of the floor. A clematis vine, that had once carried its fragrant snow up to the tiny balcony, lay upon the ground, among the ruins of its trellis.
The Major shrugged his shoulders.
“Who knows?” he replied. “Whichever it was, the results are the same. If we look around, perhaps we may find a body somewhere.”
“No, no,” said the Swede; “I have no curiosity. Let us be going.”
He furtively stooped and picked from the tangled clematis a crude rag doll, and slipped it into the tail pocket of the long coat. His little blue-eyed sister at home had once possessed such a doll, and this ruined house touched a very tender spot in his heart. The Turkish Major, white-haired, erect and slender, was strolling away through the stumps of what had been a pear orchard before the ax of the vandal had laid it low. Curtis was following, holding the crooked simitar clumsily away from his hip. Lindbohm wiped a tear from the corner of his eye with the back of his big pink hand.
“It’s nice to have a wife and children,” he mused, “to love them and bring them up. I’ll help him find her, and then—America!”
They came to a broad white road cutting in twain the level greenness of an interminable vineyard. The vines along the highway were powdered white with dust and the dusty little grapes, green and hard, gave small comfort to the thirsty wayfarer. The three pedestrians cast their eyes down the long, shining stretch, over which the heat quivered visibly. They were standing beneath an olive tree at the edge of the rocky and wooded tract through which they had come. The only other shade visible for at least a mile was that made by a solitary brush watch-tower, far out in mid-field. The Turk sat down upon a rock, and, removing his fez, fanned with it his scanty gray locks.
“Do you know?” he asked, smiling sweetly at his companions, “the proverb of this country concerning people who walk in the sun?”
They said they had not heard it.
“It is ‘Only fools and Englishmen walk in the sun.'”
“Ah,” said Curtis, laughing. “I remember now that I have heard it, but it was not exactly like that. It was ‘fools and foreigners’ when I heard it. Now I understand why you Turks are called the ‘French of the orient.’ It is because of your politeness.”
Hassan Bey protested feebly and drowsily. Sleep, more powerful in the orient even than politeness, was overcoming him. He settled himself comfortably against the trunk of the olive tree; his head lolled to one side and his mouth dropped open.
“It would be a pity to wake him,” said Curtis. The relaxed features looked tired and old. “He’s not a bad sort, as Turks go, and he does look done up.”
“He’s a brave man,” said Lindbohm. “Let him sleep for a little while,” and the Swede, sitting down upon a flat rock, with his face between his palms, gazed at a little patch of sea, glittering far away, like a lake among mountains.
Curtis lay down upon his back, with his fingers interlocked behind his head, and watched the innumerable twinkling of the pale green olive leaves above him.
“I’ve been in this island so long,” he mused, “that I don’t believe I shall be able to go around the world. Shame, too, as the governor had sort of set his heart on it. I haven’t spent much money in Crete, it’s true, but I promised to be back and take hold in the office.”
Closing his eyes, he could see the great shoe factory, as plainly as though it were there before him, the neatly fenced enclosure and the path by which the small army of employees came and went every day. There was the office, a one-story building painted white, that stood near the gate. He looked into the front room, and there, on high stools, writing in great ledgers, sat his father’s clerks, an old man and four younger ones. And in the little private office was his father. There he sat tilted back in his swing-chair, a young appearing man, cheerful, prosperous, shrewd; not an educated man, but his son’s most intimate companion. Curtis laughed as he thought of the “Trilby Club” of which his father was president. They made Welsh Rabbits, played penny ante and sang rollicking songs. There was a club house where they met in summer and ate fish dinners.
Then his mind reverted to Panayota. He always saw her in thought with a jug upon her shoulder, standing on the edge of a precipice.
“I wonder what the governor will think of Panayota?” he muttered. His father was the high priest of common sense in the Curtis household. From infancy he had respected his father’s judgment and feared his good-natured ridicule. John Curtis had been brought up as an exemplification of the motto, “My son will never make a fool of himself,” and, so far, he had been the pride of his father’s heart.
“Come to dress Panayota in European costume,” he mused, “and she would make a sensation in America. But lord, wouldn’t she be queer! She’s grand here in her native mountains, but you can’t lug a mountain around with a girl. It would take about four years of education to fit her for Boston, or even for Lynn. I wonder if she’d give up crossing herself. My mother would have seven kinds of fits if she ever saw the girl cross herself.”
Mrs. Curtis represented the religious responsibilities of the family. A tall, angular, bespectacled New England woman, brought up strictly in the Presbyterian faith, she regarded all foreigners as heathen, pining to be converted to the doctrine of infant damnation; and a taint of papacy was to her as a taint of leprosy. That this woman had eloped with William Curtis when he was a penniless drummer for a shoe house, was no indication that she would countenance similar conduct in her son.
“If I could manage in some way to have Panayota educated for a couple of years,” he mused, “and then bring mother and the governor over here to see her—they’ve long been talking about taking a trip abroad. The first thing is to get her away from Kostakes.” But here a thought occurred to him of a more serious nature than any that had yet passed through his mind in connection with Panayota.
“I wonder if Americans wouldn’t look askance at a woman who had lived in a Turkish harem? Wouldn’t she bring a taint of suspicion with her, no matter how pure she might be? Of course, if I caught anybody—”
His reflections were interrupted by Lindbohm exclaiming:
“Hello! What’s that?”
The Turk sprang to his feet and looked away toward Canea, as he realized that a cannon had been fired. It was the first gun of the “Hazard.”
“Perhaps Yanne has set up his flag on the blockhouse again,” commented Curtis. “The Greek flag seems to act on those English like a red rag on a bull.”
“It is not in that direction,” said Lindbohm; “it is toward Canea, is it not, Monsieur?”
“Exactly,” replied the Turk. “Perhaps it is a salute of some ship just arrived.” For, even as he spoke, the sound was heard again.
“Possibly,” assented the Swede, “and yet the interval did not seem exactly right—no, by damn! It is a bombardment!” Two guns had spoken almost together.
“Could they be bombarding Canea?” asked Curtis.
“Let me see,” replied the Swede. “Well, it is not probable, but possible. Suppose there was one grand uprising and one party had seized the forts and fired on the town. Then they might reduce the forts. Suppose there was one grand massacre—Turks kill all the Christians, or Christians kill all the Turks, or both kill each other; then they might drop a few shells yust to scare them.”
“But might not some innocent persons be killed by the shells?”
“In times of massacre and war, innocent persons must yust take their chances.”
The sounds continued, irregular but frequent. Lindbohm stood gazing in the direction from whence they came, a dreamy look in his blue eyes. The dull detonations seemed to come from half way round the world. They were the heart-beats of war, throbbing fiercely in the far jungles of Cuba. He pulled the handkerchief from his brow and picked clumsily at the knot.
“Let ’em yust go it,” he muttered; “shoot, kill, burn, and then blow the island off the earth. It’s too mixed up for me.”
Curtis was tired. He sat down beside the Major and listened. The Lieutenant stood looking at the sea, tying and untying the handkerchief, and, as the vision of scientific maneuvers, artillery duels and bayonet charges, took shape in his mind, the flush of excitement flooded the stubble on his unshaven cheek.
“I will join the Americans,” he mused. “I will draw my sword for liberty and progress,” and again the imaginary sword leaped from the scabbard and his pliable wrist moved nervously in unison with his thoughts. Then, of a sudden, the flush fled from his cheek and he started bareheaded down the white road.
“Hello!” cried Curtis, leaping to his feet, “what’s the matter, old man? Wait for a chap, can’t you?” and he ran after him.
“My God!” said Lindbohm, “have we forgotten that she is there? It may be Canea!”
“Gentlemen,” expostulated the Turk, as he came up out of breath. “I assure you that this is madness in this hot sun. I was about to propose that we wait for two or three hours in the shade, and walk the rest of the way in the cool of the evening. See, your head even is uncovered,” and taking the handkerchief which was hanging by one corner from Lindbohm’s hand, he twisted it dexterously about the Swede’s brow.
“It did not till this moment strike me forcibly that they may be bombarding Canea,” explained Lindbohm, “and even now it does not seem possible to me.” He talked as one apologizing partly to himself and partly to another, for a serious offense. “But the young lady in whom my friend here is—ah—interested, is in that city. We must go to her rescue.” Emphasizing the remark with a violent thrust, he again hurried forward. The sun beat down with fearful intensity, but the tall Swede forged along the dusty road with doubled fists and a swinging stride. Curtis wondered afterward that the curious figure had not impressed him as ludicrous; with the long tails of the shrunken coat falling apart, the pompadour standing erect in the encircling handkerchief, like a field of ripe wheat in a fence, the huge fists striking at the trickling beads of sweat, as though they were living things. But no, old Lindbohm was never ridiculous, and Curtis struck out after him, his arm aching with the heavy saber, that would fall between his legs the moment he let it go.
“Lindbohm was right, of course. Poor Panayota, what a fright she must be in!”
In utter silence they strode ahead. The Turk said nothing, although he marveled and suffered greatly. He owed his life to these foreigners, and he had determined to see them safely into Canea. If they chose to go there in the broiling sun, and into a storm of cannon balls, and all for a unit in the tribe of women who are as the blades of grass—all alike, why it was “kismet.” The four soldiers followed because he was their officer, and a Turkish soldier always goes stupidly wherever his officer goes, whether to a massacre of Christian babes or a hell of belching cannon. So, for a full hour they walked, till at last they came into a region of gardens, fenced in with high stone walls, and suddenly, from around a corner came a man, carrying a small child and holding a woman by the hand. The couple stopped and looked about them in a perplexity of terror. Then the woman leaped up and seizing the top of the wall, bristling as it was with broken glass, scrambled over like a cat. The man tossed the baby after her and followed. Curtis and Lindbohm both turned and looked inquiringly at the Turk.
“They are Christians,” he explained. “Who knows what has happened?” A tall, bare-headed Cretan, holding a little girl under each arm like water jugs, appeared, stopped and stared irresolute. A half-dressed woman with a new-born babe at her breast, and a girl of twelve clinging to her skirts, followed him. The woman, with a shriek of terror, slid to her knees, beside the man. It was a painting of fear, a Christian family in the Coliseum awaiting the wild beasts.
“Back! back!” cried the father hoarsely, pushing the woman with his knee. Clutching wildly at his clothing, she pulled herself to her feet, and they all disappeared as they had come. Curtis ran down to the corner, just in time to see them dart into another lane, between two other gardens. These were but the forerunners of a long stream of terrified Christians, who, at the first sound of the firing at the custom house, had fled from the town. Lindbohm and the Turks came up, at sight of whom the fugitives were thrown into the greatest consternation. Curtis and Lindbohm, determined to learn what in truth had happened, walked briskly forward, and the motley, gibbering, Dantesque throng blew backward as though struck by a wind, with much looking over the shoulder and many pitiful shrieks. As they streamed in the other direction, the weaker and those bearing the greater burdens dropped behind in a thin line; aged women, the halt and the lame, frail mothers carrying their children. And now, in all that scene of despair and horror, there flashed out a spark of beauty, inspiring as a lone star on a dark night. A stripling—he could not have been over twelve—lingered behind, retreating slowly and threatening the oncomers with an antique gun. He was slender, this boy, bareheaded and coatless, in blue breeches of Cretan make and high, untanned boots. He held his long rifle featly, and as he stepped backward, shaking the yellow hair from his eyes, Lindbohm could not restrain a cry of admiration.
“Stop,” he said, laying his hand on Curtis’ shoulder, “that boy would yust as leave shoot as not. But what in the name of—ach, my God!”
As if in answer to the unfinished question, a woman, completely crazed with fear and grief, came stumbling along the stony road, bearing upon her back a lad nearly as large as herself, holding him by the wrists. His throat had been cut, and the head fell back horribly, lolling from side to side, pumping out the blood that had soaked her dress to the hips and her long hair that dabbled in the gash.
Lindbohm caught her by the arm and shouted to her in English:
“What is the matter, woman? What has happened in Canea?”
She looked at him with vacant eyes, and then staggered on with her awful burden.
“Come on, little Yanne; come on, my cypress tree. Hurry! Hurry! Mother will save him from the Turks!”
The Major stepped up to Lindbohm and Curtis and said firmly:
“Gentlemen, I see that a general massacre of Christians is taking place in Canea. If you go there, you will surely be killed. I beg of you to come with me to my country place near here, where I will protect you till the danger is over.”
“Never!” cried the Swede. “We go to the rescue of a lady.”
“You can do nothing,” replied the Major, impatiently. “If she has not already escaped, it is too late, and our own position here is becoming dangerous, for I and my men are unarmed, and a band of armed Christians may appear at any moment. Join your voice with mine, Monsieur,” turning to Curtis. “I assure you, on the honor of a Turk, you will never even get to the city alive.”
“Doubtless the lady is at the English consul’s?” hazarded the Major.
“No; she is in the most fearful danger. She is a Cretan in the house of a Turk.”
“Ah, I remember. But then she is not in danger. At present she couldn’t be in a safer place. Whatever her position is, it will remain the same, and you can find her later on. While if you go and get killed—” He shrugged his shoulders and snapped his fingers.
“By Jove, he’s right, old man,” cried Curtis. “He’s right. Panayota’s safe enough, and we’d only get her into trouble by going now. Of course, if you go, I’m with you, but he’s right, by Jove, he’s right.”
Lindbohm who had been impatiently fencing with his invisible enemy, looked absent-mindedly away towards Canea the while he rammed the imaginary sword home into its sheath.
“Adieu, Monsieur,” he said, sweetly, “and if I do not see you again, merci bien.”
“All right, old man, I’m with you,” shouted Curtis, grasping the sheath of the heavy simitar and starting after. At a motion from the Major, his four soldiers fell upon Lindbohm, and, after a mighty struggle, held him fast. The Turkish officer ran to Curtis.
“‘Monsieur, as a friend, I do this. It is the only chance to save your lives! To advance is certain death!”
So they bore Lindbohm away to a little vine-clad stone tower in a garden; bore him away cursing in three languages, and sputtering vain Berserker froth from his white lips. And Curtis ran at his side shouting:
“But, listen, old man, damn it, listen a minute. The Turk is right, don’t you see that he’s right?”