To a Place of Safety

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.

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A Grateful Major

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.

“Yes, Effendi.”

“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!”

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A Friend Worth Having

Interminably they waited, listening for the sound of galloping horses. Curtis’ extreme tension passed away, and the situation suddenly assumed an unreal aspect in his thoughts. His knees began to feel bruised on the hard floor. He was strongly tempted to rise up and ease them.

“Pshaw!” he said to Lindbohm, “I don’t believe they’re coming, after all. I guess I’ll go out and take a look.”

“Keep still!” replied the Swede. “Don’t you stir on your life, and don’t you speak a word aloud,” and a moment after he added more pleasantly:

“They may send scouts on foot.”

Panayota had fallen asleep. They could hear her deep but troubled breathing, as her frame continued to vibrate with the sorrow that for the moment she had mercifully forgotten.

“Michali was burned alive,” said Curtis, in a low tone, after another stretch of waiting, during which his knees had become the most important portions of his entire anatomy.

“I tried to save him, but Kostakes—”

Lindbohm seized him impatiently by the arm and whispered:

“Tst, be quiet, can’t you? Do you want to spoil the whole thing? No, we rescued Michali.”

Curtis worked himself to his feet, and sat upon his heels. The nightingales were singing in full chorus, and he wondered how anybody could hear anything in that infernal racket. The water in the fountain of Petros Nikolaides hissed and gurgled, and crashed like the waters of Lodore.

Curtis’ new attitude became more painful than a spiked chair, and he slid back on his knees again. He sat down for awhile, but the desire to peep over the window sill was irresistible. Finally, just as his knees had become boils, the Swede touched him upon the shoulder, and he forgot them. The screeching of the nightingales, the hurtling of the fountain, were swallowed up in the dull and distant pounding of horses’ hoofs.

“They’re yust coming right into it,” said Lindbohm, in his natural tone. “Kostakes, he’s too mad to be careful. Have you got a bayonet?”

“No, I forgot to take it. He was wearing it for a sword.”

“Here, take this Gras and give me the Mauser. You’ll yust get all tangled up with that. The Gras is simpler, and the bayonet, in the hands of a man who doesn’t know how to use it, is a terrible weapon. Give me your ammunition. Thanks. Here’s my cartridge belt.”

Lindbohm was gay, with the gaiety of a child. He was about to play his favorite game, to indulge the innocent impulse of boys and of untutored men. The clatter came nearer, grew louder.

“Do you know the orders?” he asked.

“No.”

“Each man is to pick out his mark and aim, but nobody is to shoot until I do. I shall take Kostakes.”

“I, too, to make sure of him. He needs killing.”

“All right—now, ready!”

The galloping changed into the chug! chug! chug! of men sitting upon trotting horses. The moon had risen and had filled the trees and about half of the square with its silver snow. The battered features of Petros Nikolaides, the benefactor, were those of a frozen corpse. The horses could now be heard plainly staggering through the narrow, stony street. Now was the time when Lindbohm was cool. No detail escaped him.

“Your gun is already cocked,” he whispered. “Aim just above the saddle—shoot when I say ‘three.'”

“I’ll hit him,” replied Curtis. “I’m an old squirrel hunter, I am.”

Kostakes trotted into the square, and, jerking his horse nearly to its haunches, whirled about to face his Lieutenant and the Bashi Bazouks who debouched from the mouth of the street in twos and threes—a wild, motley, terrible throng. Curtis aimed first at the Captain’s breast and then at his head. The intended victim was evidently in a vile temper, for he kept twitching viciously at the bridle rein, causing his tired animal to rear and throw its head in the air. The American was one moment aiming at the horse’s neck and then at the marble corpse of Petros Nikolaides.

“Will Lindbohm never shoot?” he asked himself every time that the Turk’s form swung squarely in line with his gun. The Bashi Bazouks continued to pour into the square, sitting very straight, resting their short guns over their shoulders or on the necks of their horses.

“Hup!” cried Kostakes, flourishing his sword in the moonlight, and giving an order in Turkish. The men began to fall into line, eight abreast.

“One!” whispered Lindbohm. Curtis glued his cheek to the rifle barrel, and aimed full at the breast of Kostakes, who was now sitting quietly upon his horse.

“I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” he said in thought.

“Two!” he tightened his finger on the trigger, when “bang!” went the gun of an impatient Greek on the other side of the square, and one of the Bashi Bazouks pitched from his saddle. Lindbohm sprang to his feet, with a roar of rage that was cut in two by the terrific clatter of the rifles that were now spitting fire from more than a dozen doors and windows. One sound had wailed out between the first shot and the volley, as vivid as a lightning flash between thunder claps,—Panayota, fatigued beyond human endurance, had fallen asleep as soon as she found herself again in the hands of her friends, and the sound of the gun, breaking in upon her overwrought nerves, had drawn from her a long piercing shriek.

There was now a maelstrom of horses in the square, and a pandemonium of yelling men. Curtis could not distinguish Kostakes. He had, in fact, forgotten all about him. He stood in the door laughing and swearing and shooting into the whirling, plunging, snorting, yelling, scrambling mêlée. But the maelstrom period was brief, for there were three streets that gave into the square, and the outside horses broke for safety. They were hurled like mud from a wagon wheel into these exits, and went clattering away, with or without their riders, until at last only one maddened beast was left, dragging over the ground a Turk whose foot was caught in the stirrup. The terror of the animal was something pitiful to see. He ran blindly into a house. He plunged into the fountain, slipped, fell and scrambled to his feet again. His master’s clothing caught on a sharp rock, and he left the saddle behind, with the dead Turk still attached. Then he found the opening of a street, and disappeared with a mad clatter of hoofs. The Greeks darted from the houses and scurried after the Turks, loading and firing as they ran. Curtis shot into a last tangle of horses, wedged together at the mouth of a lane. They slipped loose and plunged through, scraping off one of the Bashi Bazouks, who bounded to his feet uninjured, and, whipping out a long, curved sword, came toward Curtis. He was a big man, bare-headed and hairy as an ape. Curtis threw the Gras to his shoulder and pulled the trigger. He had forgotten to reload it. The Turk laughed. Curtis lowered the gun, and, presenting the bayonet, tiptoed about his foe in a semi-circle. The Turk revolved as on a pivot, squat, alert, weapon deftly advanced. Suddenly, to Curtis’ surprise, his enemy turned and ran. The American bounded after, and then, for the first time during the fray, he remembered that he had a sore foot, and that that foot was bare. Panayota came to him. She carried a rifle that she had picked up in the square.

“Bravo! Panayota!” said Curtis. “Two to one frightened him away. But why didn’t you shoot?”

“I wanted to get close and make sure,” replied the girl, “and then, when he ran, you were in the way.”

Slipping a fresh shell into his Gras, Curtis picked his way through the stones toward a distant spot where he heard continued firing. Panayota attempted to follow, but he stopped her with a wave of the hand.

“I’ll be right back,” he shouted, “as soon as I get another shot. You’re safe here.”

He left her standing in the deserted square, among the dead Turks. The moon shone full upon her there, leaning toward him, holding her gun by the extreme muzzle, the butt trailing behind on the ground. Her hair blew into her eyes, and she tossed a great brush of it over her shoulder. A wounded horse rose to its haunches near her and threw its fore feet dangerously about. Then it pitched over on its side with a groan.

Curtis had gone some distance up the narrow street, when he heard again the clatter of horses’ hoofs. He stepped behind a tree that grew close against a wall and waited. A Greek ran by and darted under a house. He was followed by the Bashi Bazouk, who had run from Panayota’s rifle. He was trotting by the side of a mounted comrade, holding to the stirrup-strap. One, two, three, four, five, horsemen followed. The firing continued in the outskirts of the town.

“My God! Panayota!” It flashed over Curtis in a moment. The Greeks had scattered too much and the Turks, getting together in small parties, were returning to the attack. While he was still in the crooked lane, making frantic haste toward Panayota, he heard a shot in the square. His heart stood still for one moment with terror, which instantly gave way to fury. A woman’s scream, mingled with brutal laughter, told him that the girl had again been made a prisoner. When he at last reached the square, the six Bashi Bazouks had gone, taking her with them.

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