Panayota was part of the flight and of the panic, but she was not, even in the moment of her greatest fear, a part of the Turks. Her one thought as she repeated the name of the Virgin beneath her yashmak and crossed herself with her hands hidden within the loose black robe, was to get away from the Mohammedans. Let the heavens fall and the earth yawn, so she escape from Kostakes and his kin! The ever-increasing stream of humanity ran, scrambled, and, as it grew denser, fought its way on to the city gate, through which it poured into the dusty road beyond. Once outside the city a momentary feeling of relief possessed the throng, as though they had arrived at a place of safety. They did not cease to run, but there was a lull in the frightened chatter. A woman seized Panayota by the arm and addressed to her a voluble question in Turkish, between gasps for breath and hysteric sobs. The Cretan, not understanding a word, plucked away her sleeve and struggled toward the edge of the human stream. The woman, following, again seized her by the arm and repeated the question in a voice of shrill querulousness. In the midst of Panayota’s new terror—that of betrayal—sounded the boom of another gun and the crash of near-by walls. Her tormentor screamed and clutched both hands into the back of a tall Turk, in whom fear had proved a stronger passion than lust or fanaticism, and who was fighting a way to safety through his weaker neighbors. Panayota, suddenly released, fell clear of the human stream against the corner of a hut that stood by the roadside. She ran to the end of the building and looked back. It was absolutely certain that no one of all that hysterical, panic-stricken flock of human sheep saw her. She stepped behind the building and reeled for a moment against the rough mud wall, hands upon it high up, face between them. She felt faint, but the Virgin answered her prayers with strength. An opening in a hedge of aloes invited her. Through this she stepped and, stooping, ran for a long distance, keeping the hedge between her and the fleeing Turks. She came at last to a little building, long and low, standing by the side of a cross road. She pushed the door open and gave a cry of joy. The tall stand, with its circular top, covered with spikes for holding candles, the curtained recess at the farther end of the room, the crude earthen censer in the window—all told her that she had taken refuge in a Christian church, which, strange to say, had neither been damaged nor defiled. On the wall beside the curtain was a tiny shelf, and upon this stood a bit of board about four inches square, bearing on its hither surface the dim resemblance of an oval-faced woman and chubby, naked child.
“Ah, the dear Panayeia!” cried Panayota, transported with delight. Tearing her Turkish garments from her, she threw them to the earth with a “Na!” and spat upon them. Then she turned to kiss the eikon, but ere she did so it occurred to her that the place was defiled by the clothing which she had just removed. She therefore gathered the pile up and peeped from the door. Seeing no one, she hid the clothing in the hedge and returned to light one of the yellow candles which she found upon the stand. She took it as a good omen that half a dozen matches, evidently left by a previous worshiper, were scattered about among the candles. Panayota had no money with her, not a lepton, not a para, so she took a thin gold ring from her finger, once given her by her father, kissed it and laid it among the few copper coins on the stand. Wonderful peace and comfort came to her. The sanctuary of the Most High seemed pervaded by the divine presence. Save for the flicker of the beeswax candle, she was almost in darkness. It was nearly sunset and the only light of day that entered came through a narrow slit in the thick wall. She went to the door frequently and listened, whenever she heard excited voices and footsteps of people hurrying along the road, but all the passers-by were Turks. The world seemed full of Turks.
Just at dusk three men stopped opposite the door and fell into a dispute. After wrangling for a few moments they came directly toward the church. Panayota ran to the curtain and then drew back in superstitious terror. Should she enter the Holy of Holies, even to save her life? A hoarse laugh at the very door decided her. The men entered. She heard their exclamation of surprise at the burning candle, though she could not understand what they said. She looked about her, impotent with terror, her white lips moving mechanically in prayer. In the end of the church above her head was a narrow slit to admit the light. Even as she stared a swallow flitted in and out. Fainting with fear, she seemed to feel herself dragged by rough hands from her hiding place, as she stood there with closed eyes behind the thin curtain. A fearful scream, the scream of a woman in the last extreme of fright and horror, did not at first arouse her. It seemed perfectly natural for a woman to be screaming. Then, all at once, the consciousness that she was saved flashed upon her—saved through another’s misfortune, but saved. She pulled the curtain back and peeped out. The stand had been kicked over, the candle was out, but the room was empty. Still those dreadful screams continued, mixed with bestial chuckling and laughter. A Christian girl was hysterically shrieking for mercy. Suddenly the shrieks ceased, and then broke forth again at a greater distance, as though some ruffian were holding his hand over the poor girl’s mouth as she was being dragged away. Panayota turned sick with pity and terror—pity for the unknown and unseen victim, and terror at her own narrow escape. A long period of silence ensued, at the end of which Panayota plucked up courage to pull the door open a trifle and peep out. It was now nearly dark. She heard distant voices, but could see no one. The church had become to her an abode of fear. Mohammedans might enter it at any moment to commit sacrilege. The hedge was near by. If she could only reach that unobserved she could flit along in its shadow toward the open country. Then she could run all night. Several times she nerved herself for the start, but found her courage insufficient. Once, when she had really pushed the door open wide enough to let herself out, she heard men’s footsteps. She drew back, and again suffered that dreadful apprehension that they were coming into the church. They were two Turkish soldiers, and they went right on. As soon as their footsteps had died away in the night, Panayota crossed herself, and, stooping low, ran to the hedge. She stole by it for some distance until it was cut in two by a gray streak of road that dimly threaded the darkness.
“I cannot follow the hedge all night,” she reasoned. “If I get out into the country, it must be by the road.”
Again commending herself to the Virgin, she started down the highway, walking as quietly as possible and stopping every few minutes to listen. She had not gone far before she became aware of gruff voices and she stole a little way into the field and crouched among the vines.
“Perhaps they are Christians,” she mused, and the mere possibility thrilled her with pleasure. So greatly did she wish it to be so, that she actually fancied that she heard Greek words. Resting upon one knee, with her hands pressed tight to her fluttering heart, she leaned forward in the darkness, a smile flickering upon her lips. She was almost ready in her confidence to cry out:
“Eh, fellow countrymen!” when the voices undeceived her.
“O, Mother of God!” she moaned, “are there, then, no more Christians in thy world?”
More cautiously than before she stole along the faint, slate-colored ribbon of road that unfolded before her, a few feet at a time in the dimness of the great stars; and at last she beheld a light that flickered and went out several times and then burned feebly but steadily.
As she stole along, undecided whether to make a wide detour or to trust to the darkness and pass by near the light, two men seemed to rise from the very ground at her feet. Panayota saw them first and managed to slip by them, but her foot hit a stone and sent it rolling down the bank. One of the men called after her in Turkish. She did not dare to run, but, lifting her skirts, tiptoed away with long steps. The men made a sudden rush for her, and she flew down the road on the wings of fear, screaming once, “Help! Help! Panayeia!”
As her pursuers heard the feminine voice and the Greek, they shouted “Ho! Ho! A Greek pullet!” and came stumbling after; but Panayota was a Sphakiote maiden and not so easily caught. On, on, she ran, with the sound of those heavy footsteps and that satyr laughter ever in her ears, and, as it seemed to her, nearer, nearer. She came to a place where the roads forked, and, by some instinct, followed the right branch toward that tiny, flickering beacon that seemed to beckon her in the darkness. All at once her pursuers stopped, burst into a hoarse guffaw and went back. Panayota could not for the moment believe it. She feared they were simply torturing her; that they would turn again in a moment and resume the chase. She staggered on, too faint, almost, to stand, yet not daring to stop. She was passing a row of small houses. They were square patches of bluish gray, and the doors were long holes where the dark came through. Here was absolute silence, as though it were the city of the dead, and the walls of the dwellings were giant tombstones. But here at last was the house of the light. Panayota stood on the opposite side of the road and looked into the open door.
“A Christian at last!” she cried. “Now God be praised!”
A bare little room she beheld, with a floor of beaten earth, and containing only a couple of chairs and a pair of barangas, or platforms of plank on each side of the fireplace. Upon the wall hung an eikon of the dear, blessed Virgin, and upon a shelf beneath sat a tumbler of olive oil upon whose surface floated a burning wick. A woman stood before the eikon, crossing herself rhythmically and praying with a silent motion of the lips.
But while Panayota stood in the door, before she could open her mouth to speak, her fleeting joy gave place to the old terror. This was but a woman, after all, with whom she was about to take refuge, and the Turks were just behind her and all about.
Panayota seized the door jamb to keep herself from falling, and her head drooped against her arm.
“Woman,” she gasped, “are you not crazy? Why do you not run? The Turks! The Turks!”
The woman looked around. She was young and comely, with an oval face from which the black hair was neatly brushed back, low down over the ears. Her eyes were large—unnaturally large and dark—and there was in them an expression which awed Panayota. Their utter fearlessness was uncanny at such a time, and back of it was a depth of accepted despair that has tasted all grief and hence knows no further fear.
“You are in no danger from the Turks here,” said the woman. Her voice was infinitely calm. It came into Panayota’s world of fire, massacre, outrage, like a voice from another sphere.
Then all at once light seemed to break in upon Panayota’s mind as she stood there bewildered.
“She is dazed with fear or some great misfortune,” she thought. “She is losing her mind,” and, springing forward, she seized the woman by the arm, crying in her ear:
“Come away, sister—the Turks! the Turks!”
But the woman shook her off and shrank from her and motioned her back with outstretched arms and uplifted palms, saying:
“Do not touch me!”
“But the Turks are upon you!”
“We who live in this village are not afraid of the Turks. Who comes here runs a greater danger than that of the knife.”
“Yes, I know. Violence,” whispered Panayota, turning her face toward the door and listening.
“Who would offer violence to a leper?”
If there is any horror in a Cretan girl’s mind equal to that of dishonor it is the horror of leprosy—that hideous sore on the body of the loveliest siren isle that floats in any sea. Panayota, in her vigorous and life-giving mountain home, had heard leprosy spoken of as a curse of God. She had always classed it with the punishments of hell—something to be shuddered at even when mentioned; but the possibility of coming into contact with it had never entered her mind.
She turned to flee again into the darkness, when she heard in the street, almost before the door, the sound of footsteps, and husky, gargling voices talking Turkish. Panayota sank to the floor senseless. Two Mohammedan lepers, who lived farther down the street, passed by on their way home. They did not look in because Aglaia, stepping quietly over the prostrate form, had closed the door.
Aglaia stood irresolute, looking at the woman, who lay as quietly as though she were sleeping, upon the floor of hard-beaten earth. Her first impulse was to pick her up and drag her to one of the platforms at the fireplace, for her heart forgot its own bitterness for the moment, and was filled with pity for the Christian maiden who had taken refuge in her horrid home.
“No, no, I will not touch her,” she murmured at last, “for so it is most frequently given and caught.”
So she drew up a chair and sat watching Panayota. She did not have long to wait, for the young, vigorous constitution soon asserted itself. Panayota opened her eyes and stared straight up at the ceiling; then the light caught them and she looked at the eikon, murmuring, “Panayeia, save me!” She sat up and looked deep into Aglaia’s large and mournful eyes. The latter said nothing, but she saw complete consciousness and recollection dawning in her guest’s countenance.
“Do not be so frightened,” said Aglaia. “I will not touch you nor come near you, and it is only by contact that one catches the—leprosy. The Virgin will shield you.”
Panayota rose to her feet. She was a priest’s daughter, and religion was her ever-present comfort. “She has saved me thus far in a wonderful manner,” she replied, and, going over to the eikon, she prayed that the Panayeia would protect her from the horrible disease and help her to escape to the mountains and her own people. Aglaia brought bread, olives and cheese and set them upon the table.
“Na!” she said, “eat and gain strength, and we will devise some means for you to get away from here.”
Panayota felt as though the very food were contaminated, but she managed to eat some of the bread, pulling morsels from the center of the loaf. Once again she heard voices from without, and started from her seat, whispering:
“The Turks are coming!”
“Fear nothing here,” said Aglaia, in that calm, uncaring voice; “you are as safe here as if you were in your grave—safer, for the Turks sometimes exhume the bones of Christians, but they never disturb us. We are all dead in this village, dead to the hate of the world, to its love, to its friendship.”
Panayota could make no reply. Human sympathy seemed a mockery in the face of such sorrow as this. She stepped to the door and looked out. All was silent in the narrow street. The lepers are not a gay folk, and sleep is to them God’s greatest boon.
“They do not even fear the Turks!” she muttered. “My God! Suppose I should catch it! I must get away from here.”
Turning, she looked keenly at Aglaia, who sat with hands clasped in her lap, rocking gently forward and back.
“But you do not seem to be sick, my sister. Why do you think you have leprosy? You look as well as I do.”
Aglaia laughed bitterly. Rising, she struck her left leg with her doubled fist, and stamped upon the ground.
“Numb, numb,” she said. “No feeling. I am only one-fourth dead now, but it will creep on, on, over my whole body. Come here a few years from now, when it gets into my face, and you will know whether I am a leper or not.”
Panayota stood for a long time looking out into the darkness. She was weary to very faintness, but it seemed safer to stand there, turning her face to the night, breathing the cool air. Besides, she could not talk with this woman. She did not know what to say to her. At last Aglaia spoke again:
“Forgive me,” she said, with a sob in her voice. “I have no one to talk to, and I sit here and brood over it. And it will be for years—for years. But you must be very tired, and you must rest so as to go on with your journey. Come and lie down on the barangitza. I will not come near you.”
Panayota lay down upon the hard planks and made a pillow of her arm.
“I cannot offer you the bed-clothing,” said Aglaia. “It might not be safe.”
So weary was Panayota that she dropped off into a doze, only to be awakened after a few moments by the sound of low sobbing. Listening, she heard the words:
“O, my God, I am an outcast, a thing accursed. I am poison to the touch. Holy Virgin, save my children, save my little ones.”
Panayota sat up on the bench.
“I cannot sleep, sister Aglaia,” she said, “I am so sorry for you. If my father were here he would know what to say to you. He was killed by the Turks. I am an orphan.”
She spoke of her own grief instinctively, feeling that the sympathy of the prosperous is not a comfort to those in sorrow.
“My father was a good man, sister Aglaia. He was a priest, and everybody loved him. My mother died when I was a little girl and left me to his care. He never said an unkind word to me in all his life. He used often to talk to me about mama, and his voice was very, very tender. And he used to put his arm around me there in the door of our little parsonage, at night, before we went to bed, and, pointing to the stars, he would say: ‘When we all get together up there, you will tell mama that I was good to you, won’t you, Panayota?’ And I used to say to him: ‘Oh, papa, I ask the Virgin every night to tell her.’ But mama knows, sister Aglaia, she knows it all now.”
“Oh, but your mother is dead and in heaven,” replied Aglaia, “and you can cherish her memory and plant flowers upon her grave. But suppose she had been a leper, accursed of God, would you not have thought of her with—with horror? As she grew more and more repulsive, would you not have shuddered even at the thought of her?”
“No, no, indeed. I should have, thought always of her beautiful soul. Her misfortune would have made my love greater. That is the way any child would feel toward its mother.”
“Do you really think so?” cried Aglaia. “O, it does me so much good to hear you, say so. I have a husband and two children—a girl and a boy. That is why you saw me praying when you came in. I pray all the time to the Virgin to save them from the curse. I never pray for myself. I am past all help. But I pray, pray night and day for my children.”
“But there is another world,” said Panayota, solemnly. “Do you never ask for happiness in that?”
Aglaia laughed bitterly.
“Listen,” she replied. “My children never come here. I would not allow it. But sometimes I go down to the bank by the roadside, where the other lepers go to beg, and my husband brings them, and stands afar off, and I look at them and stretch my arms toward them. Is there any greater hell than that? When you’re a mother you will know.”
“But,” interrupted Panayota, who had entirely forgotten her own troubles in the presence of such great sorrow, “are you not afraid for their safety, over there in Canea?”
“No, praise God! My husband is captain of a caique. He has gone to Athens and taken the two children with him. Before he went away he brought them down to see me. And the baby laughed and shouted, ‘Na, mama; come here, mama!’ My baby has red cheeks and curly hair, but Yanne doesn’t know how to fix her hair.”
She sat for some time in thought, and Panayota heard her mutter, “Na, mama; come here, mama.” And later: “When my face changes I shan’t go down to see them any more. I shall never let them see me like that.”
Panayota went to the door and gazed at the sky through a mist of tears. What a dreadful place this was, where there was grief that not even the Virgin could assuage! A cool breeze from the sea was abroad over the land, and one star glittered like a drop of dew on a spray of lilac. Yonder were the hills to which she longed to flee—gray giants, moving toward her out of the darkness.
The whole earth was swallowed in silence, and the beautiful valley that spread out before her seemed wrapped in the slumber of peace. But alas! if she looked to the right, a few slender columns of smoke rising from Canea bore witness to the dark deeds of yester-eve and last night. Panayota’s momentary joy at the coming of day forsook her at sight of that smoke. The light was cheering, but it did not help her to see any escape from her perilous position.
An hour passed away, and the sun rose. Aglaia made some coffee, which Panayota drank without revulsion. Everything about the little hut was spotlessly clean, and the stricken woman herself had not yet fallen into those careless ways which come to the leper when all pride is extinguished.
“How shall I be able to go on my journey?” asked Panayota.
“God will show a way. He has not deserted you as he has me.”
“Perhaps He has deserted all Christians. Perhaps the whole world has turned Turk. If so, I’d rather stay here and be a leper.”
“Never believe it. Yanne, my husband, who is a great traveler, says that the English will one day kill all the Turks in the world, and give Crete back to Greece. And the English are in some respects like Christians. At any rate, they do not believe in Mohammed.”
The lepers began to bestir themselves. A patriarchal-looking man with a tuft of white hair above each ear, a snowy beard and a dirty mustache, shuffled by the door, carrying a water jug. Seeing the two women, he stopped and peered into the hut, saying:
“Good-morning, sister Aglaia,” and “Good-morning, sister——”
“Pa—Paraskeve,” stammered Panayota.
“Where are you from, sister, and how long have you been afflicted?”
Aglaia answered glibly. Her guest was from a little village far away. God only knows how she had got leprosy, and she had only come last night. The old man wore a priest’s frock, shiny and ragged, and reaching to his feet. His woolen shirt was open in front, disclosing two or three tawny stains. His face was unnaturally red, far up onto his bald brow, and was streaked with angry-looking, vein-like lines. He had no eyebrows.
“Hum,” he said. “Adio! Adio!” and he shuffled away, muttering:
“God have mercy! God have mercy!”
“That’s Papa-Spiro,” explained Aglaia. “He is a priest. They say that it is a judgment on him—that he made love to one of his congregation.”
A wretched being who wore enormous blue goggles over his eyes and who directed his footsteps by tapping the ground in front of him with a long staff, held in hands curiously twisted and deformed, looked in at the door.
“What is it? What is it?” asked the blind man, with that feverish impatience which the smallest events excite in isolated communities.
“‘Tis the new leper. She is very beautiful,” replied voices.
“I’m not a leper,” cried Panayota. “God save me and protect me, and keep the evil eye from me!”
“Hush!” whispered Aglaia. “Do not betray yourself.”
“Describe her to me, my brother.”
“She has beautiful hair and eyes and——”
But the remainder of the description was drowned in the many questionings of new arrivals. The gossip priest had told several acquaintances of Panayota’s advent, and the news was spreading through the whole village. The group grew to a dozen—to twenty. They moved closer to the door and stood looking silently in—such as possessed eyes. Fear, horror and anger surged through Panayota’s heart at the time; afterwards she could never think of those pitiable, outraged wrecks of the image of God without tears.
A burly form parted the throng and a face looked in—a face infinitely disgusting and infinitely terrible, and that somehow reminded Panayota of a lion—she could not tell why.
“Take them away! Take them away!” moaned Panayota, covering her face with her hands and retreating behind Aglaia. And suddenly her overwrought nerves found vent in tears, and she began to sob violently. Aglaia, but little better accustomed to the horrid spectacle than her guest, found her voice with difficulty.
“Go away,” she said, “for your souls’ sakes! Do you not see that you are frightening the poor thing to death?”
“Perhaps she doesn’t think I am beautiful,” said the Face, with a laugh. “I had come to ask her to marry me.”
“Are you Christians or Turks?” asked Aglaia, remembering that nearly all the members of the colony were Greeks.
“Go away and come at another time. In God’s name, go away!”
She could not shut the door, as two or three of the lepers had crowded into the opening.
“Doesn’t like our looks, eh?” said another. “Never mind, brothers; she’ll look like the rest of us soon enough—and you, too, for that matter, Madam Aglaia. There’s nothing in the world like leprosy as a cure for pride.”
Thanks to Panayota’s sobs, she did not hear the remark, but Aglaia did, and felt all of its cruel force. She could make no reply, except:
“True, true. God have mercy!” Thus she stood, helpless, when of a sudden the hideous faces were all turned away from the door together.
“Silence!” cried one of the lepers, for a military quickstep could be heard in the distance.
“Allah be praised!” said one of the Turks. “It is the Sultan’s army going forth to conquer the island.”
The insistent, eager notes of martial music caught Panayota’s ear. A moment she stood listening, and then turned deadly pale.
“Kostakes!” she gasped. “Kostakes and the Bashi Bazouks!” and again she caught at the door jamb to keep herself from falling.
“Hark!” cried Aglaia, “that is not Turkish music, neither is it Greek. It is foreign music. This should mean great news. You wait here a few moments and I will go find out.”
Aglaia hastened down the road and Panayota stood in the door, waiting and listening. The sound of the music grew louder, came nearer. The body of troops was passing down the line of the fork that formed the opposite boundary of the lepers’ village. Aglaia had been right. That was not Turkish music; the tune was foreign to Panayota, but it thrilled her somehow. She loosed her fingers from the door jamb, her hands dropped by her side and she stood erect.
As she listened thus and looked down the road, anxiously waiting the return of Aglaia, a man approached her. The first intimation that she had of his presence was the sound of crunching footfalls. Instinctively she covered her face with her hand and shrank back into the house. Mother of God! Was this person, too, about to inflict himself on her? Whoever it was, he had evidently stopped outside, before the house—was waiting there. Perhaps some face, more hideous than anything she had yet seen, would appear at the door.
“Will he never go?” she muttered, her teeth chattering. “I must get away from here—away into God’s clean, free mountains. No! I believe he is going away. Praise God!” for the crunch, crunch of footsteps in the coarse gravel was renewed—grew fainter in the distance. Panayota was about to peep from the door again when she heard other footsteps, of people walking rapidly. These passed by without stopping. She heard a man call as though shouting to some one far away, and then there was silence for so long that she once more ventured to look out.
It had been Hassan Bey calling to Curtis, and begging him to walk more slowly. What trifles affect our destinies! Had Lindbohm lifted up his voice as he was on the point of doing, this story might possibly have a different ending.
Panayota saw only Aglaia coming down the road, waving her arms. She lost all fear and ran to meet her.
“It’s the English,” cried the woman. “They are arresting Turks right and left. They are throwing the leaders into prison and taking the guns away from the Bashi Bazouks.”
“Now God be praised!” laughed Panayota.
“The Turks are hiding like hares. Not one dare show his head. Papa-Spiro says that all the principal Turks will be hanged and the rest driven into the sea.”
Panayota’s eyes blazed and she held her head high as she marched back to the leper’s hut, unconsciously keeping step to the tune of “Tommy Atkins.”
“I will walk with you to the other end of the village,” said Aglaia. Papa-Spiro had returned also from the roadside. He had talked with a young man from Canea. The English were thoroughly angry because their soldiers had been killed. They were going to send over a great army.
“O yes, it would be perfectly safe for a Christian to go anywhere now. Not a Turk would dare peep.”
Panayota had long ago formed her plans, when she had dreamed of escape in the house of Kostakes. Her mother’s brother, Kyrios Kurmulidhes, lived at Asprochori, a little village about twenty miles from Canea. She had often heard her father speak of him as a godly man, and now Papa-Spiro said that Asprochori had not fallen into the hands of the Turks. In the early days of the insurrection the Cretans had held that region, and since the arrival of Colonel Vassos from Greece the Mohammedans had not been able to get out there at all. It was still early morning; she would be able to reach the place before nightfall.
She talked excitedly as she set forth, carrying the cotton bag into which Aglaia had put a half loaf of bread and some cheese.
“O yes, this is a glorious thing for Crete. God was long suffering, but everything came right in the end.”
Aglaia’s enthusiasm passed away as suddenly as it had come. Her leg felt lamer than usual and she had great difficulty in keeping up with the strong, healthy young woman who was going out into a world of light and joy. They were passing a row of square, white huts, each containing but one room. The first half dozen that they passed were vacant; their occupants had gone to hear the music, and had remained by the roadside to beg.
They passed the little graveyard, at the farther end of the town. Several humble tombstones standing among the tall grass and a black cross or two marked the last resting place of lepers who have gone to the comfort prepared for those who do not get their good things in this lifetime.
“Now good-bye, and God bless you!” said Panayota.
“Why, where are you going?” asked Papa-Spiro.
“She is not a leper,” explained Aglaia. “She came to me last night for refuge, and I took her in.”
“Not a leper!” exclaimed the priest. “Now pray God that she has not caught it.”
“Christ and the Virgin save me! Christ and the Virgin!” cried Panayota, crossing herself.
“Amen! Amen!” said Aglaia. “Do not even speak of it, Papa-Spiro.”
“Adio!” said Panayota, moving away. “Adio, and God be with you!” The old priest with the bloated face and the white beard extended his hands.
“Before you go, daughter,” he said, “take the blessing of a poor old leper, who still believes in the mercy of God.”
Panayota bowed her head.
“God be with this Thine handmaiden,” said the priest, solemnly; “bless her and keep her and bring her to a place of safety. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, amen.”
Once out of the leper village, Panayota walked very rapidly, once or twice actually breaking into a run. The great hills, upon whose lower slopes lived her mother’s brother, looked so near that she fancied herself able to climb to the top in half an hour. But she soon lost breath and was obliged to stop and rest beneath a tree. She had no doubt of her welcome by Kyrios Kurmulidhes. He had often written to her father—poor papa!—and had expressed the greatest wish to see his sister’s daughter.
“I must not tire myself all out at the start,” she reasoned. “It is much farther away than it seems.”
So she struck out again in the bright sun at a strong, steady gait. Once she heard the clatter of horses’ hoofs in the distance, rapidly growing louder as they came near, and she fancied herself pursued, and looked about for some hiding place. Then, turning around, she saw half a dozen red-cheeked, light-haired foreigners upon horseback, and at their head a mere boy, with a face like a girl, but who, nevertheless, sat very straight and took himself quite seriously. She felt the earth shake with the beating of hoofs, and stepped to the side of the road to see them pound by in a whirl of dust. But they had not gone far before the young officer threw his arm in the air and called out a single syllable in a clear, sharp tone, and the horses stopped so suddenly that they reared on their haunches. The officer spoke a few words hurriedly, and one of the troopers fell out and rode back toward her. She must have exhibited evidences of fright, for the man called out in Greek, laughing merrily:
“Don’t be afraid, stupid. We are friends.”
“What is it? What is it, fellow countryman?” cried Panayota, delightedly. What a change had come over the earth! But yesterday you met only Turks, heard only Turkish, and now the whole world was speaking Greek.
“Are you from Canea?” asked the trooper.
“No, I am a Sphakiote maiden. I was taken prisoner by the Turks, but now, thank God, I am escaping.”
“You wouldn’t happen to know Yussuf Effendi by sight, then?”
“Did any old Turk with a white beard pass here on a mule?”
“Not a soul; but I’ve only been on the road about half an hour. Why, who are you? What has Yussuf done? Where does he——”
“We’re arresting the ringleaders in the massacre. Yussuf is one of them. I’m an interpreter with the English army. You can go back to Canea or anywhere you wish, sister, in perfect safety. It isn’t healthy to be a Turk these days. Adio, and many thanks.”
They were gone, and Panayota resumed her way. After an hour’s walk through gardens and vineyards inclosed in low mud fences overgrown with vines, she came to the foot of a tiny hill. Climbing this, she saw plainly the triangular little village of the lepers, with its suburb of tombs—houses for the dying and the dead. The huts were all neatly whitewashed, and looked very peaceful and pretty against the foreground of green trees and vines. Farther away were the round Turkish mosques, the Christian bell towers of Canea, and the tops of high buildings rising above the gray walls. Two or three thin columns of smoke rose to a great height and bent lazily landwards.
Toward noon Panayota came to a mountain stream, beside which grew several fig trees. She climbed into one of these that forked near the ground and succeeded in finding half a dozen purple figs among the cool green leaves. Then she washed her face and hands in the brook and took the bread from the bag.
“Poor Aglaia! Poor Aglaia!” she said, shuddering. “Heavenly Virgin comfort her!”
She pulled the crust off the bread and threw it away, together with the sack and the cheese. “The first thing I shall do when I get to Uncle Petro’s,” she resolved, “will be to ask him for some clothes. Then I will burn these—uh!”
Much refreshed with the bread and figs and a drink of the cool mountain water, Panayota again set out briskly on her journey, her heart full of hope. Indeed, she seemed to be under the Virgin’s special care, for just as she had come to a place where there were two roads, and was in doubt as to which one she ought to take, a venerable priest came trotting around a corner, seated sidewise upon a very small, bluish-gray donkey.
“Yes, the road to the right led to Asprochori, about ten miles distant,” he replied, removing his tall hat and wiping his brow with a red bandanna handkerchief. “O yes, he knew Kyrios Kurmulidhes very well indeed, a godly and a just man—be quiet there!”
The last remark was addressed to a pair of young goats, hung to the saddle in a sack and covered by the father’s long black robe. He had already heard of the arrival of the English, and was in hopes, by the grace of God, to, sell them these two kids at twice their value. So he trotted away, bobbing up and down on his little donkey, not looking at all grotesque to Panayota, in his tall hat with eaves, his gray chignon and his long, wind-lifted robe.
And as Panayota fared onward, she had ever in her mind that she was coming into the country of the Cretan insurgents, and she muttered again and again:
“Perhaps I shall hear something of him. Perhaps he will be there!”
In this new, bright world everything seemed possible.
“Pity! Pity!” whined the lepers, exposing their hideousness with all the skill of subtle and experienced merchants. They were all there by the roadside leading into Canea, and had commenced business for the day. Curtis stared at them, unable to remove his eyes from the dreadful spectacle.
Lindbohm, fumbling nervously in his pockets, with averted face, and producing two or three coppers, tossed them to the afflicted group.
“Come, away,” he said, pulling Curtis along. “I cannot bear to look at them.”
The Turk had been telling them of the leper colony, and they were not totally unprepared for this sight; yet the reality far exceeded the description.
“But you should see those who are not able to come down here and beg,” exclaimed the Major; “these are comparatively well yet, you know.”
“I hope I may never see them,” said Lindbohm. “I hope I may never see these again.”
The Swede bore the Turk no ill-will for the enforced detainment. It had not lasted for long, and the Major had shown his guests every attention, and had explained again and again that he had carried Lindbohm off to save his life.
“But those who are no longer able to beg,” asked the Lieutenant, “do they starve?”
“O no, indeed! They are living monuments to the tender-heartedness of my august master, the Sultan. Each of the lepers is furnished one loaf of bread a day.”
“O, I see,” said Lindbohm.
Curtis took no part in the conversation. He did not even hear what the others were saying, but walked on beside them with his eyes fixed upon the ground, like a man in a trance. Every now and then he ejaculated “Good God!” with the accent on the “good.”
At last he stopped so abruptly that the Turk, who was directly behind, nearly knocked him over.
“I say!” said Curtis, whirling around and choking a stream of fluent apologies with a vehement question:
“Do people who are not lepers ever go into that village? To see their friends, you know, or to stop over night, or anything of that sort?”
“Impossible. You have seen the disease. Do you think any one would run the risk of catching it?”
Curtis strode on and became again immersed in thought, vaguely hearing the Major’s explanation of the fact that nearly all the lepers of Crete were Greeks.
At each side of the gate of Canea stood an English marine, in red jacket and cork helmet. A business-like “Halt!” woke Curtis from his abstraction.
“I am Peter Lindbohm, Lieutenant of cavalry in the Swedish army,” said Lindbohm in English, pulling an immense portfolio from the breast pocket of the Prince Albert. “Here is my card.”
One of the marines took the proffered pasteboard, glanced at it solemnly, and saluted.
“And here’s mine,” said Curtis. “I’m an American. And this gentleman is a Turkish officer. We were coming across the country on foot, and he said we were in danger of being massacred, so he took us to his house and kept us there till the English landed, and here—here’s my passport, too, if you can manage to read it. It’s been in the water.”
“What do you want to do now, sir?”
“We have friends inside,” replied Lindbohm, “and we wish to find out whether they are safe or not. We wish to go in.”
“Very sorry, gentlemen, but we ‘ave strict horders to admit no one for the present.”
“But we two are not Turks—nor Cretans. I am a Swede, and my friend here is an American.”
“Very sorry, gentlemen——”
“But this may be a matter of life and death! A Christian lady, the betrothed of this young gentleman, is in the hands of the Turks——”
“Very sorry, gentlemen. Move away from the gate, please.”
Lindbohm was too good a soldier not to know what that meant. So they went to a house near by, belonging to a friend of the Major, and waited two whole days, during the most of which time the Swede and the American had the place to themselves, for the Major and his friend were arrested and carried off before the end of the first day. They went repeatedly to the gate, demanding admittance, and were refused as often by the sentinels, until the third morning, when they were greeted with a smile and a “Hit’s hall right now, gentlemen; you may henter—’im givin’ hup ‘is sword, which will be restored to ‘im at ‘eadquarters.”
Lindbohm raised his hand in military salute to his red bandanna and passed under the ancient archway. Curtis handed over the simitar and followed.
“D’yever see two such guys?” asked one red jacket of the other. “Never’n me loife. But the tall one’s a soldier, all right. D’ye see ‘im s’loot?”
Now, had two men attired as were Curtis and Lindbohm at that moment entered any other town in the world, their grotesque appearance would have excited attention, not to say jeers, and a crowd of small boys would have been following at their heels. The gray Prince Albert was wrinkled and faded, and so badly shrunken that it caused Lindbohm’s arms to fall a trifle akimbo. Altogether, it was a garment very inharmonious with the tall yellow boots into which his trousers were tucked, and the gaudy handkerchief which, twisted about his brow, did service for a hat. He had picked up a slender stick, which took the place of the bamboo cane, and with which he occasionally warded off an imaginary thrust, as he strode up the street, looking eagerly about him. Curtis’ once natty business suit had been torn in several places. He also wore Cretan boots, and his costume was completed by a Turkish fez provided by the hospitable Major, who had managed, in addition, to afford his two guests a bath, and an opportunity to shave.
Lindbohm was quite voluble.
“Bear up, my friend,” he said; “we shall surely find her. Remember that she was in a Turkish house, the very safest place she could be in.”
Curtis continued to be silent and preoccupied, a condition which the Swede attributed to the fear that something had happened to Panayota, and that their long search would be rendered vain at the very end. Yet he could not understand the American’s seeming listlessness, mingled with absorption and perplexity.
“He acts like a man who has been hit on the head with a musket butt,” thought the Swede, glancing shrewdly at his companion. “Great heavens, can it be that he has a presentiment of evil?”
“We must go straight to the military authorities—to the English. We will tell them all about Panayota, and if Kostakes has her yet they will yust make him give her right up—eh, my friend?”
“Ye-es,” replied Curtis. “Yes, O yes; certainly.”
The Turks whom they met looked sullen. The foreign troops were everywhere, marching in small bodies through the streets. If two or three Mohammedans stopped to talk together an English redcoat was sure to step up to them with:
“G’an now, move on!” Not much damage had been done to the part of the town through which they were now passing. There was a sprightly gossiping of bugles, hailing and replying from distant points, and the frequent clatter of shod hoofs as some orderly galloped across an intersecting street. And all the noise and bustle was threaded by a continual tune, not sung loudly, but insistently, like the motif of an opera.
The Cretans whom they met, whether jubilant or sad of face, seemed to be humming it—some joyously, others revengefully.
“Do you hear that?” cried Lindbohm, “Panayota will be singing the hymn of liberty herself to-day. We must make her sing it all through for us. I wish I could understand the words.”
And he beat time with his cane as a tall Cretan strode by, humming very distinctly:
“We can tell you by the lightning
Of your terrible swift brand,
And we know you by the brightening
When your proud eyes sweep the land!”
“Panayota will be singing that at this very moment, eh?” cried Lindbohm, laying his hand upon Curtis’ shoulder; but the latter made no reply.
From the narrow street they passed into a place of smoldering ruins and roofless, ragged walls. Here a party of marines were at work, assisted by townspeople, throwing water on fires that were still burning, or in digging bodies out of the debris. A cart stood near, and an awestruck, silent throng lingered by, ready to identify the remains of possible relatives or friends. The air was full of powdered lime and smoke, and had a queer, pungent smell.
“Come on,” said Lindbohm, “before they find a body. I don’t like to see such things, and don’t let this affect you, my friend. Panayota, you know, is in the Turkish quarter.”
Lindbohm urged this cheering assurance with the insistent frequency of a man who is trying to water his own hopes.
On the edge of the ruined quarter was a pile of rubbish which had once been a cottage. Three of the walls had fallen down, but the one facing the street was still standing. A young and beautiful Cretan woman looked in through one of the holes where the windows had been, watching a man who was clearing away debris with a shovel and lifting blocks of stone to one side. The woman’s face was drawn with agony, and she stared at the man, great eyed and silent, like a tortured dumb creature. Every time that he lifted a rock, she gave some sign of a fiercer wrench of pain, as when the executioner gives another twist to the rack; sometimes she thrust one hand against the window sill and swung part way around, as though about to fall; sometimes she clasped her hands to her heart and gasped for breath. Once she covered her eyes for a long time as though fearful of seeing the very thing she was waiting for. And when at last the man lifted a little charred body from the crumbled lime, she broke into a series of dreadful screams, shrieking “No! No! No!” until her voice died into a hoarse whisper. The husband tore off his jacket, wrapped it around the tiny body and came into the street, his own grief eclipsed by the greater solicitude for the young wife. And when the woman took the pitiful burden, rocking it on her heart and talking baby talk to it, he walked by her side, patted her disheveled hair, and tried to call her back from the brink of insanity with endearing terms. As they passed through the throng of waiting Cretans, every man removed his head-covering, hat, fez or handkerchief, and made the sign of the cross.
“Come away,” said Lindbohm, choking, “the poor little baby.”
“I want to get out of this damned place,” shouted Curtis with sudden vehemence, shaking his fist. “It’s a hell of horrors and I’m sick of it!”
“Courage, courage,” said Lindbohm, “the more horrible it is the more haste we must make to find Panayota. Poor Panayota! She is no horror, eh, my friend?”
They came into the public square, where the shells from the “Hazard” had fallen thickest, for here the Bashi Bazouks had fired on the British soldiers, and yonder, rising precipitously to a height of thirty feet, was the fortified stronghold from which the Turkish guard had poured a rain of bullets upon the town. English sentries were now pacing to and fro up there. But the chief attraction was a sort of booth in the center of the square, for all the world like a Punch and Judy booth, and in it were hanging by the neck seven figures with black caps over their heads, with their hands bound behind them and their feet tied together.
“By George, they’ve been hanging the ringleaders, hanging them higher than Haman!” cried Lindbohm.
Curtis could not realize that those were the bodies of human beings, there was something so theatrical about their appearance; they hung so neatly in a row, and the heads all lolled one way, like heads of Brownies in an advertisement.
“Maybe they have hanged them in effigy,” he suggested.
“Might as well be now,” he replied. “But let us ask the guard where we will find the commandant. Then we shall learn something about Kostakes and Panayota.”
“You go,” said Curtis; “I’ll wait for you here.” He shrank from the ingenuous explanation that Panayota was his betrothed. The very thought made him shudder.
“I can’t tell him,” he muttered, as he watched Lindbohm forcing his way through the throng. “I must get away from him some way. By Jove, I’ll run off and leave him, if I can’t do any better. Good God, what an escape I’ve had!”
“Hi!” shouted Lindbohm, so that every soul in the square turned and looked at him. He was standing on tiptoe and Curtis could see the ruddy face with its red bandanna halo floating on a sea of heads. “Hi!” called the Swede again, waving his stick in air. “Come here, quick! I’ve found Kostakes.”
“Now, what the devil do I want of Kostakes?” muttered Curtis, plunging reluctantly into the press. When he had reached Lindbohm’s side, the Swede gripped him by the arm and pointed a long finger at one of the pantomimists in the Punch and Judy booth.
A board hung, suspended from the neck of each, with a name and crime inscribed thereon in Turkish and English. Curtis read:
Captain of Bashi Bazouks,
Murder and Arson.
“It is hard for a soldier to die thus,” said the Swede sadly. “But a soldier who disgraces his calling, deserves such a death. Well, my friend,” turning to Curtis, “half our work has been done for us, eh? Now the rest will be easy. Is it not so?”
Curtis could not take his eyes from the hooded form before him, nor move from the spot where he stood. As long as he stared at the head, covered with its black cloth, he was impressed with a sense of unreality; so might a row of wax inquisitors be shown in the Eden Musee at New York. And that pitiful, limp tilting of the head was not at all suggestive of Kostakes, who was ever wont to hold his neck stiff and stand upright with a certain jaunty insolence. But when Curtis’ eyes traveled downward, the unreality vanished. The long row of buttons, the dark blue trousers tucked into the tops of the highly polished boots, the spurs, the backward bulging of the thick calf of the leg—all these things brought back to him a flood of reminiscences. He remembered the fight at Ambellaki, and the long ride across country. He could see those very legs clasping the side of a horse, and he wondered once more how their owner managed to keep the boots so spotless. Then he saw Panayota again, the most splendid creature he had ever seen, denouncing the Turk for the murder of her father, and he felt once more the old thrill of admiration and chivalrous purpose. Ah! She had touched the Turk, she had made him wince, brave girl, despite those insolent eyes, and that square, protruding under jaw. Any one could see that by the way in which he stopped twirling the end of the little black mustache and began nibbling it. The long chase after Kostakes, with those turbulent Cretans, the night in the square when Curtis had fired point blank at him and missed him—all these things passed through his mind like scenes on a moving panorama, as he gaped at those dark blue breeches and the well-polished boots with their long spurs; but when he raised his eyes again to the black-hooded head, tipped to one side like a man with a stiff neck, the whole incident seemed ended; this life in Crete, became a fantastic dream and took on the unreality of those faceless puppets, hanging all in a row, gently oscillating in the breeze.
“Move on!” said a stern voice, sharply.
“They mean us,” said Lindbohm, pulling Curtis away, “it seems they allow no loitering here. Well, the next thing is to see the commandant and make some inquiries about Panayota, eh?”
“Lindbohm!” cried Curtis, pettishly, “I don’t want to go to the commandant. See here, old man, there’s something I want to tell you. Something I must tell you. I can’t stand this any longer.”
They had passed the crowd and were alone now. The Swede stopped and looked steadily at his companion. Curtis glanced up furtively. There was nothing but inquiry in those brave, honest blue eyes.
“I say, old man,” he stammered, “don’t you think we ought to go and get some hats and things before we go to the commandant? I don’t want to offend you, but you—but we look like the very devil!”
The Lieutenant found no difficulty in buying another straw hat, as the booths of the town were all open again; and another shoe-string was easily obtainable by which he tethered it to his button-hole.
An enterprising Jew produced a stock of ready-made clothing from Vienna, and Curtis endeavored to persuade Lindbohm to join him in the purchase of a complete new outfit.
“The first thing is to find Panayota,” said the Swede. “We must not waste a moment. Ah, my friend, you mistake that girl! She will be so glad to see you that she will not look at your clothes.”
Clapping a straw hat upon the head of Curtis, he dragged him away. They found the commandant’s quarters with little difficulty, as every man, woman and child in Canea was able to direct them. It was an oriental house with a garden. Two sentinels stood at the gate. Lindbohm sent in his card, and a youthful officer in fatigue uniform came out, who stared with evident surprise, and then gazed curiously at the two callers.
Lindbohm brought the heels of the yellow boots together and saluted.
“Pardon our appearance,” he explained, “but the fact of the matter is we have been fighting with the insurgents for the last three months, and we have not yet had an opportunity to purchase clothing.”
The Englishman laughed and held out his hand cordially.
“Come in, Lieutenant,” he said, “and your friend here.” They entered the court. “Take a seat here in the shade. Shall I order you some coffee, Turkish style—or perhaps you’d prefer some whisky and soda.”
“I’d like a Christian drink!” cried Curtis with great animation. “Something to take the taste out of my mouth.”
“O, yust bring me some whisky, thank you,” said the Swede, sitting on the edge of a chair, impatient to go on with the business that had brought him there.
“My name is Jones,” said the Englishman, “Lieutenant Alfred Jones, at your service.”
“Let me present my friend, Mr. Curtis, Mr. John Curtis. And now, Lieutenant, we wish to inquire about a Cretan lady, Panayota Nicolaides, whom Kostakes Effendi captured and carried off from her friends. She—”
“She was the daughter of some friends of ours,” broke in Curtis, volubly, as Lindbohm waved his hand toward him. “Her father, a priest, befriended us. We were shipwrecked and I stepped on some sort of a damned thing, a kind of sea-pincushion stuck full of pins, and it poisoned me. And the priest took me in and took care of me, and the Turks swooped down on the village and murdered half the inhabitants and carried the girl and her father off. Then they killed the old man. This Kostakes—”
“That must have been one of the chaps that we hanged last night,” interrupted Lieutenant Jones.
“Yust so,” said Lindbohm, “and now we want to know what has become of Panayota. My friend here—”
“The fact is we feel very grateful and we want to know what has become of the girl,” interrupted Curtis, determined at all hazards to head off Lindbohm’s explanation to this civilized Englishman, who might be inclined to smile at a tale of romance.
“The commandant is out, but I think I am the very man you want to see,” said the Englishman. “This gentleman, Kostakes, it seems, had three wives, two Turkish ladies besides the Greek—”
“The Greek was not his wife!” interrupted Lindbohm, with dignity.
“Well, however that may be, they all came back to the ruins of his house—it seems his house got in the way of one of our shells and there wasn’t much left of it. Well, there they all stood, the two houris, wringing their hands and howling and the Greek quiet enough, but looking sort of dazed. I was out with a squad and came across them myself. Well, to make a long story short, we’re assisting all the Turks to emigrate from here that feel so disposed, and we sent off the three women this morning.”
“My God—where to?” asked Lindbohm.
“Why, the Greek, it seems, had some friends in Athens. She has had enough of Mohammedanism, and wanted to be put off there. So we gave her a pass to Athens. The other two go on to Constantinople.”
“When does the next boat go to Athens?” asked Curtis, looking up suddenly.
“There’s an Austrian Lloyd to-morrow morning at ten which stops at Athens.”
The Englishman accompanied his two callers to the gate.
“I’d like to hear the story of your adventures with the insurgents,” he said. “You must have had some lively experiences. Good day, gentlemen.”
“By the way,” cried Lindbohm, turning back, “lest there be any mistake, was this Greek girl very beautiful?”
“Ye-es, yes, I should call her a very fine woman.”
“What was the color of her hair? Brown?”
“I don’t remember exactly. I believe it was.”
“Tall, slender, oval face, big, fine eyes?”
“Well, you see, I only saw her for a moment. She certainly was tall and slender, and—and—a fine, handsome woman. Held her head back and threw her chest out, and had a sort of independent air about her.”
Lindbohm had no further doubts; he was not aware of Ferende’s existence.
Preparations for departure on the morrow were begun at once. Curtis had no difficulty in raising some money at Cook’s on his letter of credit. His passport and two or three letters from home were sufficient identification.
“How are you off for money, old man?” he asked Lindbohm. The Lieutenant drew from the recesses of the ancient, water-warped pocketbook a five pound note, badly faded and stained. It came in two at one of the creases as he held it up.
“I will paste this together,” he said, “and it will be yust as good as ever. I have plenty more in Athens.”
“All right, then,” replied Curtis, “I’ll get the tickets—”
“But I have plenty.”
“We must buy some clothes. I’ll get the tickets.”
Lindbohm assented, so far as the tickets were concerned, but he positively refused to buy clothing till he got to Athens. He took a stroll about the town to see what military preparations were going on, while Curtis arrayed himself in a cheap, ill-fitting suit and a new pair of tan shoes, for all of which he paid a high price. He also bought a leather traveling bag, into which he put a supply of underwear and other necessities. The Cretan boots and the simitar he tied to the handle of the bag as souvenirs.
So the next morning Curtis and Lindbohm walked briskly through the kaleidoscopic square to the wharf and embarked in a rowboat for the steamer waiting out in the bay.
Curtis looked back at the town. The colored awnings were all up, the square was a moving, shifting mass of bright costumes, through which trotted, to and fro, the patient, useful and immemorial ass. The Punch and Judy booth, with its row of pantomimists, had been removed and apparently forgotten. A group of dignified old gentlemen in fezzes sat at a café, smoking narghiles. It takes an oriental town but half an hour to recover from a massacre or a bombardment. The eternal languor of the East flows over and engulfs any outburst of passion, as the sea swings to rest over a submarine eruption. A sentinel in red jacket and white helmet paced along the rampart wall. A bugle sounded faint and far and a man-o’-war’s boat flew by, the petty officer in the stern bending and straightening to the rhythmical splash and rattle of the oars.
“There will be no difficulty in finding her in Athens,” said Lindbohm as the two stood at last on the deck of the steamer.
The waiting employee glanced at the two tickets and then handed them back, one to Curtis and one to Lindbohm.
“Here,” said the latter; “he made a mistake. I’ve got your ticket, ‘John Curtis, Tri—’ What does this mean? Why are you going to Trieste?”
“Lindbohm,” said Curtis, laying his hand on the Swede’s arm, “Panayota isn’t in Athens.”
“Is she in Trieste? Why are you fooling me?”
“I’m not fooling you. I couldn’t tell you because I thought you’d want me to go and see her, and bid her good-bye. And I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. It would be too painful for both of us, and it wouldn’t do any good.”
“Why shouldn’t you go and see her? And why should you bid her good-bye? I don’t understand.”
“You will understand when I tell you. She’s a leper. I saw her myself, with my own eyes, as we passed through their village. She isn’t like those other horrible creatures yet, of course, but she will be in time. My God, Lindbohm, think of what an escape I’ve had! I was so wrapped up in the girl that I actually thought of marrying her—after a while. Suppose I had done so, and it had broken out on her afterward!”
The Lieutenant was very pale. When he spoke his voice was low and unnaturally distinct, and he divided his sentence into groups of two and three words, like a man who is making a superhuman effort to control himself.
“And what about—this young woman—who went to Athens?”
“O, she’s somebody else. I couldn’t be mistaken in Panayota—I tell you I saw her, man. Why, I was as close to her as from here to that mast yonder.”
“But perhaps there’s some mistake in the reason for her being there. Perhaps——”
“Why didn’t she come out, then, when she saw me? She clapped her hands in front of her face and shrank away. My first impulse was to go in, and then it flashed over me in a minute. Besides, you heard what Hassan Bey said—that the lepers are nearly all Cretans.”
“Do you mean to say you’re yust going away without going back to comfort her or say a word to her?”
“But since she showed plainly that she wanted to avoid me? I tell you, old man, I’m doing the kindest thing for both of us. It’s incurable, you know, and even if it wasn’t, my mother and my governor would never consent. I should have had a circus with them, anyway.”
Lindbohm walked to the taffrail and looked dreamily away toward Canea. There was an unexpected roar of a great whistle—a boat’s whistle is always unexpected—and the anchor chain began to rattle and click.
“It takes a long time to get the anchor up, doesn’t it?” asked Curtis.
Lindbohm made no reply, but when the chain finally ceased to rattle, he asked in a low tone, and without looking at his companion:
“So you give her up, eh?”
“Why, of course, old man. Seems to me I’ve made that plain enough!”
The ringing of a bell seemed to awaken the sleeping ship. She shuddered as the machinery started. There was a patter of hastening feet on the deck and a great churning, as the wheel made its first revolutions in the water. Shore boats were cast off, with much shouting and gesticulating of picturesque Cretans, standing erect in their tiny craft, violently rocked by the agitated sea. As the ship moved majestically away, a few boats clung to her side like whiffets to a stately stag. One by one they dropped off and drifted astern. Lindbohm turned and looked about the deck. Spying his satchel, he picked it up and walked to the ladder, at the foot of which one boat was still tied. Curtis ran to him and seized him by the shoulder.
“Where are you going, old man?”
“But this is madness. You can’t do anything. I tell you the girl is a leper.”
The Swede, muttering “I’ll yust take my chances,” continued down the steps and took his seat in the boat.
Curtis stood watching him as he was rowed away, hoping against hope that he would turn around and wave his hand or make some sign. But no, he sat up very straight, his arms hanging a little out from his body, the back of his neck looking very broad and red. The straw hat leaped from his head. He caught it in midair, jammed it back and held it in place with one big hand.
And so Peter Lindbohm went back to his love—Peter Lindbohm, true knight and noble gentleman, with the heart of a lion and the soul of a child. As friend he was stanch even to his own seeming undoing, and made no moan; as lover, he was great enough to be faithful unto more than death, and for such there is a full reward. No sacrifice awaited him, but a long lifetime of peaceful joys. If Peter Lindbohm ever goes to war again, it will be in defense of wife and children.
And John Curtis, to whose romantic and brave nature there was attached an automatic brake of New England prudence, sailed away to his own land. And the last sound that he heard from Crete was the voice of the Swede’s boatman singing:
From the bones of the Greeks upspringing.
Who died that we might be free,
And the strength of thy strong youth bringing,—
Hail, Liberty, hail to thee!
He stood for a long time leaning over the rail, watching the receding isle.
As the land became more distant, it grew more beautiful. The purple haze of Greece settled upon the mountains. Curtis thought of Panayota as of a lovely Greek whom he had met in his dreams; he sighed and murmured:
I enter thy garden of roses,
Beloved and fair Haidee!
A steward touched him on the shoulder and said in German: “Lunch is ready.”
Curtis turned briskly around, and followed the man half the length of the deck, struggling to drag a sentence from the unfrequented German corner of his brain. At last it came:
“I am ready, too. This sea air makes one hungry.”
He was glad to see there were genuine Frankfurters for lunch. He ordered a bottle of Rhine wine and talked German with the Captain. When he came up on deck to smoke his cigar, the ship was purring through a placid, opalescent sea, and Crete was a faint outline sketched against a gray-blue sky.