An air of indescribable sadness hangs over a deserted town. Any one who has ever passed through a shepherd village, from which the inhabitants have gone for the summer, expecting to return again when the first snows of autumn drive them down from the mountains, has experienced this feeling. Here is the fountain, where the slender, merry maidens met at sundown, to gossip and fill their water jars; here is the café, where the old men gathered together under the platane tree and smoked and dreamed of the long ago; here is a secret nook, guarded by sweet poverty vines, where lovers held tryst in the fragrant twilight. But all is lonely, lonely.
The waters splash with a melancholy sound, the tables and chairs are gone from under the platane tree and the lovers—let us hope they are fled together. The spirit of loneliness dwells where man has been and is not—in a tenantless house, in the chamber of death, by the embers of a camp fire in a vast wilderness. As you follow the streets of a deserted town you hear nothing but the splash, splash of the waters of the fountain or the enquiring twitter of some little bird. Perhaps a cat, tamed more by solitude than by hunger, tiptoes to meet you, purring with diplomatic fervor. But these sounds do not break the silence, they are its foil, its background.
Galata was deserted because its inhabitants had fled two days before from the terrible Turk. Thanks to a timely warning, most of the people had succeeded in getting away, though an occasional corpse proved how narrow had been the escape of the entire population from sudden death.
Kostakes and his little troop now marched through an olive orchard, whose gnarled and venerable trunks had perhaps witnessed the cruelties of the only oppressors worse than the Turk—the haughty, treacherous and inhuman Venetians; they climbed a flight of steps cut in the natural rock and followed a street paved with cobblestones from the walls of partly ruined houses to the village square.
Here the men stacked arms and dispersed among the houses, looking for temporary quarters. Curtis could not help admiring the soldierly way in which everything was done. In ten minutes after their arrival the square looked like a little Indian village filled with wigwams of muskets, and sentries were pacing patiently up and down at all possible places of approach. This was evidently a town of considerable importance, as some of the houses facing the square were two-storied, and in one or two instances the projecting beams supporting the balconies were of carved marble. The fountain, too, that stood beneath a disheveled willow, whose roots drank at the overflowing waters, was of marble.
Three carven swans, the successive wonder of as many generations of unkempt children, swam full-breasted from a square pedestal, each hissing a clear, thin stream into a circular stone basin. An inscription informed posterity that the marble hero who sat atop of the inevitable column was Petros Nikolaides, former mayor of Galata,—an euergetes of imperishable memory. Mr. Nikolaides, with white goggle eyes, looked over the house tops, the olives and cypresses and away to the distant purple hills. His chin was small and cloven with a deep dimple and one side of his drooping mustache had been stoned away twenty years ago by mischievous boys.
Panayota and her father were led to a respectable looking stone house facing the fountain and two sentries were stationed before the door.
“Ah, well,” said Kostakes amiably to Curtis, “we shall be quite comfortable here, eh? Will you do me the honor to dine with me?”
“I shall be delighted,” replied the American. “It is I who shall receive the honor.”
“No, no! I protest, Monsieur. It’s quite the other way. We’ll have a table set here under this tree. Ah, we shall be very cozy. Voilà! I shall be able to offer you some fresh cheese. If there’s anything left, trust to my rascals for finding it!”
A soldier was dragging a stuffed goat-skin from the door of a grocery. At a sign from Kostakes, he set it on end, and ripped open the top with his knife, disclosing the snowy contents.
“Voilà, Monsieur! And no doubt we shall be able to find you some excellent wine, though you must excuse me from joining you in that. Mohammedans do not drink wine.”
Kostakes leaped lightly to the ground, and gave his horse to an orderly. Kostakes was a handsome young fellow, almost boyish, and yet with an insolent, aristocratic air. His features seemed to combine sensualism and cruelty with a certain refinement. His lips were too thick and too red, and his chin was square. It was evident at a glance that his under front teeth closed even with the uppers. His nose was his cruel, sensitive feature. It came down straight from his forehead, thin as a knifeblade, and the nostrils had a way of trembling when he talked. Curtis threw his good leg over the horse’s mane, and sat, woman fashion, eyeing the Turk. He could not, somehow, reconcile this gentlemanly, smiling young officer with the nightmare that continually haunted him—Michali in the burning building, wounded and screaming vainly for help. There was a sort of ghostly relief in the reflection that the poor fellow must have been over his sufferings long ago. But to burn to death! Ugh! How long does it take a man to burn to death?
“Does your foot pain you?” asked Kostakes, with genuine solicitude. “If those barbarian Greeks had not shot my surgeon—very cruel people the Greeks, especially the Cretan Greeks. When you know them better you will find that they are not half-civilized.”
“If you will let one of your men help me dismount,” said Curtis, “I will take a wash. I am glad to see that dinner is so nearly ready. I assure you I am half famished.”
“One of my soldiers, Monsieur! I would never permit such a thing. I will help you myself. So—so! Ah! How is the foot?”
The American placed the wounded member on the ground and attempted to bear his weight upon it. To his surprise, it seemed much better. But a happy thought, an inspiration, took possession of him. He seized the leg tightly with his hands above the knee and sank upon the edge of the water basin.
“I—I believe it’s worse!” he groaned.
“Allah forbid!” cried the Turk. “It is from the long ride. When you have rested it will be better. Now let us wash and eat something—a soldier’s frugal meal.”
Curtis attacked the repast with the zest of a ravenous appetite. The salt cheese, the brown bread and the country wine seemed to him viands fit for the gods. The orderly brought several heads of long Italian lettuce, which he washed at the fountain and cut lengthwise. They ate it like asparagus or celery, dipping it in salt. The American thought it delicious, and rightly. He would never again be able to relish the pale, tasteless chips sold in America for lettuce at brigand prices. He saw that Panayota and her father were also eating.
“Sensible girl,” thought Curtis; “means to keep her strength up. We’ll outwit these Turks yet.”
He touched glasses with Kostakes, who was disposed to be convivial, albeit in water.
“Do you know, Monsieur le Capitaine,” Curtis said, “I cannot decide which is the greater sensation—the pleasure of eating or the pain of my foot. Do you think, if blood poisoning should set in, you have anybody here who could amputate it?”
“Now, Allah forbid!” cried the Turk again. “By day after to-morrow we shall reach a Mohammedan village, and there we shall find a doctor.”
Curtis shared the quarters of his amiable host, Kostakes Effendi, in the front room of the grocery. Panayota and her father slept next door. The American’s bed consisted of blankets laid upon two tables, placed side by side. As the blankets had been prodigally bestowed he found the couch sufficiently comfortable. He lay on his back with his arms under his head, gazing out into the moonlit square. Despite the fatigue and excitement of the day, he was not in the least sleepy. The Cretan night was too intense. The moonlight, wherever it fell, was passionately white, and the shadows of things were as black and distinct as though sketched in charcoal. Rows of soldiers wrapped in their blankets were sleeping in the square. Occasionally one sat up, looked about, and then lay down again. Once, when he was about to drowse off, he was roused to consciousness by a faint mewing overhead, and called softly:
The mewing ceased, for oriental cats are summoned by means of a whistle between the teeth, similar to the sound made by a peanut roaster.
“That’s the grocer’s cat,” mused Curtis. “Poor animal, she doesn’t know what’s happened. She was asking me as plain as day, ‘Do you know where my folks are?’ Now, the dog probably went with the old man, but cats are different—the cat and the mortgage stick to the old homestead. I must make a note of that. Let’s see. How do the Greeks call their felines? ‘Ps-whs-whs.’ That’s it. Ps-whs-whs!”
A scrambling overhead, and a bolder “meouw!” rewarded the effort. Pussy was between the tile roof and a covering of reeds that, nailed to the rafters, answered the purpose of lath and plaster.
“Meouw!” still more confidently, and the sound of cautious feet on dry reeds. Kostakes sat up on his table and rubbed his eyes.
“Are you awake, too, Monsieur?”
“Meouw!” said pussy again.
“Ah, the cat keeps you awake. If I were a Greek, now, I should order it killed, but we Turks are very merciful. I will order the sentry to drive it away.”
“No, no, I beg of you. I was holding a little conversation with it. I cannot sleep, my leg pains me so. I fear that gangrene is setting in.”
“Allah forbid! It is from the fatigue. We shall have a surgeon soon.” Kostakes was too good a soldier to keep awake.
“Good night again, Monsieur,” he said, and turned over.
Outside the nightingales were calling each other from far, tremulous distances. The waters of the fountain splashed and gurgled unceasingly. Curtis’ senses became more and more acute. Sounds that he could not hear a moment ago became audible now, without growing louder. He heard the plying of axes, and once the sound of a hammer, followed by laughter.
“What the deuce are they up to?” he muttered. “Are they building a fortification of any kind? I’ve got to do some tall thinking in the morning. Somehow or other I must get away with that girl. But how? how? I’ll make Kostakes believe I’m lamer than I really am, and he won’t watch me so close. But I must have an opportunity. No man can do anything without an opportunity—and that isn’t so bad, either. I must make a note of that in the morning. Let’s see, what’s that other thing I thought of? H’m—hang it, I’ve forgotten it.”
“Meouw!” said kitty.
“That’s it, by Jove! Cats and mortgages.”
For fully an hour the American invented and discarded schemes for escaping with Panayota. He tried to think of passages in novels describing the rescue of captive maidens by heroes like himself, but fairy tales of enchanted carpets and wishing caps persisted in running through his head, to the exclusion of more practical methods.
“I must watch for an opportunity,” he exclaimed, aloud, bringing his fist down upon the table. “If I can’t do any better I’ll stick to Kostakes till we get to Canea, and then I’ll put the matter in the hands of the English consul. Hello! What’s that!”
He was sure he heard a dull, crushing blow, followed by a moan and the sound of some one falling. He listened for a long time, but heard nothing more, and yet he was conscious of a sense of horror, as though he had just awakened from a nightmare. He rubbed his eyes and pinched himself.
“I’m awake,” he thought, “and yet I feel as though a murder had been committed. Lord, but I’m all haired up! If this keeps on I shall turn spiritualistic medium. I wonder if I can see the folks at home?” And he shut his eyes and fixed his mind upon his father and mother.
“Let’s see, now, what time of day is it in Boston?”
He was awakened from his reverie by the voice of Panayota, violent and pleading, by turns; one moment mingled with sobs and the next angry. She was demanding “Where is my father?” and asking for Kostakes. The latter sat up and listened for a moment. Then hastily buckling on his belt and throwing his cloak over his shoulders, he went out. Curtis, who was not undressed, followed him. As he passed through the door, one of the guards seized him, but he struck viciously at the soldier and cried so angrily, “Let go of me or I’ll punch you!” that the Captain looked around and spoke two or three words sharply to the guard, who released him. Suddenly remembering that he was very lame, he sat down upon the edge of the fountain. Panayota was standing in the door of her lodging, in the full moonlight. Her attitude, her voice, her face, were eloquent of terror and despair. As soon as she saw Kostakes she stretched her arms towards him and cried:
“Don’t let them kill my father. Bring him back to me, please, please!”
“Why, certainly, my own Panayota, You know that I would not harm you nor any one belonging to you. But where is your father?”
“He asked the guard to bring him a drink of water, and the guard told him to come out and get it. And he hasn’t come back, I tell you; he hasn’t come back. O, Mother of God, help! help! Don’t let them kill him.”
“I see it all,” cried Kostakes; “he has escaped,” and he questioned the bystanding soldiers in Turkish.
“Yes, my Panayota. He has taken advantage of my kindness. I ordered that he be not bound and that he be treated with every consideration—for your sake, dear Panayota!” Here his voice became low and tender and he moved nearer. The Turk was, indeed, a gallant figure in the moonlight, leaning gracefully on his sword, the cape of his long military cloak thrown back over his shoulder.
“You hear the men; they say that he darted away and that they ran after him, but could not catch him. Had it been anybody else, they would have shot him down. But I had ordered them not to injure him under any circumstances. This I did for you, my Panayota, because I love you. It is you who—”
“Murderer!” screamed Panayota, leaning toward him with a look of pale hate, the while she fixed him with a long accusing finger. “Murderer—Oh, don’t deny it! Coward! Liar! You come to me red with my father’s blood and talk to me of love. Apostate! Renegade! Where is my father, eh? You perjured Greek, where is my father?”
Stepping down from the door, majestic as a goddess, she advanced toward Kostakes with arm extended.
He shrank slightly from her and looked uneasily to right and left, to avoid her eye.
“But, my dear Panayota, you shouldn’t give way to your temper like that. You wrong me, really you do. I assure you, your good father has escaped.”
She dropped her arm heavily to her side.
“Yes,” she replied, solemnly, “escaped from a world of murderers and liars. Gone where there is no more killing and burning; where there are no Turks and no renegades—gone, Kostakes Effendi, where you must meet him again, with the brand of Cain upon your brow!”
Turning, she walked back to the house, but stopped in the door and said:
“Do you know how those are punished in hell who renounce the religion of Christ and become Turks? And what torture awaits you, renegade and murderer of a Christian priest? Kill, kill, give up your life to deeds of blood. Never think of forgiveness. There is no forgiveness for such as you. Your place in hell is already chosen. They are even now preparing the torments for you. O God,” and she raised her hands as one praying, “may this man’s deeds find him out, in this world and in the next. May he be haunted night and day for the rest of his life. May he die a violent and shameful death, and his memory be held in disgust. May his soul go to the place of torment, and be tortured forever. For he has renounced the Son of God, and has slain his holy minister!”
She disappeared within the house, and Curtis heard her sobbing in the darkness, “Papa! Papa!”
Kostakes filled the cup which hung from the pillar of the fountain by a chain, and took a long drink. He was trembling so that the tin vessel rattled against his teeth.
“Mon Dieu!” he exclaimed, observing Curtis. “Did you ever see anything so unreasonable as a woman? Here is her father run away, and she accuses me of killing him, and consigns me to eternal torment. Really, she has made me quite nervous. If I were not innocent, I should really fear her curses.” And he took another drink of the cool water.
Curtis thought of the dull, crushing blow and the groan that he had heard, and he involuntarily moved a little away from the handsome and affable Kostakes, who had sat down by him on the rim of the basin.
“What do you keep the girl for, anyway?” he made bold to ask. “You surely would not force her to join your—your harem, against her consent?”
“Monsieur,” he said, “is a poet. He will understand and sympathize with me. I love Panayota. I would make her my sole wife in honorable marriage. I desire no other woman but her. Bah! What are other women compared to her? Is she not magnificent? I could not help loving her, even just now, when she was cursing me. It is true that I am part Greek by extraction, and that I was baptized into the Greek church, and that I have become a Turk. But what is religion compared with love? Panayota is all the heaven I want. I am willing to turn Greek again and have a Christian wedding, if she would take me.”
“Aren’t you conducting your courtship in rather a violent manner?” asked the American. “In my country your conduct would be thought, to say the least, irregular.”
“Have you in English the proverb, ‘All things are fair in love and war?'”
“Well, you see this is both love and war. I have possession of Panayota, and I mean to treat her so well that she shall love me. Not a hair of her head shall be touched until she marries me of her own free will.”
“But your wives?” asked Curtis. “How many have you of them?”
The Captain shrugged his shoulders.
“Three,” he replied. “Dumpy, silly creatures. A Mohammedan has not much difficulty in getting rid of his wives.”
“If you will help me to the house,” he said, “I will try to get a little sleep.”
Kostakes sprang to his feet.
“Lean on my shoulder,” he said. “So, so, how is the leg?”
“Bad, very bad. I’m really worried about it. Do I bear down on you too heavily?”
The sound of a reveille awoke Curtis, and he looked out into the dim, dewy morning. The wigwams of muskets had disappeared, and the little army had already fallen in. Several horses, saddled and bridled, stood by the village fountain. One, a young and sleek charger, was impatiently pawing the earth and another was drinking. Kostakes was sitting at a table, giving some orders to his second in command, the veteran with the scar. A sword attached to a leather belt kept company on the cloth with a pile of eggs, a loaf of bread and a pot of steaming coffee.
“Bon jour,” cried the Captain gaily, springing to his feet, as he espied the American. “How have you slept, and how is the foot?”
“I got a little sleep, despite the pain, but the foot seems no better. I am getting very anxious to see that doctor of yours.”
“To-morrow, I promise you without fail. And now for breakfast, as we must be off.”
The Captain and his Lieutenant ran to the American, who put an arm about the neck of each and hopped to the table, groaning ostentatiously. After the hurried breakfast, Panayota was summoned. She came forth, pale as death, a beautiful, living statue of despair. Kostakes offered to help her, but she repulsed him with loathing, and climbed into her saddle as a refuge from his attentions. There were dark circles under her swollen eyes. As she looked about her, as though in hopeless search for the missing dear one, her features trembled on the verge of tears. Groaning:
“Ach, my God!” She clasped her hands tightly in her lap and stared into vacancy. Her beautiful hair was disheveled and her long white cuffs were wrinkled and soiled. The chivalry in Curtis’ nature prompted him to speak and comfort her, although the words sounded hollow and false to his own ear.
“Take comfort,” he said, “your father is surely alive. Believe me, he has escaped.”
She smiled sadly.
“You do not know the Turks,” she replied.
“Did I not tell you, my darling?” cried Kostakes eagerly, “of course he has escaped.”
She did not even look at him, but murmured:
Kostakes shrugged his shoulders, as who would say, “See!” and turning to Curtis cried:
“But Monsieur speaks Greek famously!”
“Only a few words and those with much difficulty.”
“Mais non! On the contrary I find your Greek very perfect. And now allons!”
They pushed briskly up the narrow street, through a scene of utter desolation. The whirlwind of war had struck the town and wrecked it. As they turned a corner a long-legged, half-grown fowl broke for cover and tilted away, balancing its haste with awkward, half-fledged wings. They came unexpectedly upon a little Orthodox church and a putrid odor assailed Curtis’ nostrils. Their path led them around to the front door.
“My God!” he gasped. A sight had met his eyes that was destined to thrill him with sickness and horror to the latest day of his life, as often as the black phantom of its recollection should arise in his mind. The village priest, an old, gray-bearded man, had died about a month before and had been buried in his robes. There was the body, hanging to its own church door, like the skin of a great black bat. Nails had been driven through the clothing at the shoulders, and the weight of the carcass, sinking down into the loose garment, had left it pulled up above the head into the semblance of joints in a vampire’s wings.
From a bonfire of bones, half-decayed corpses and sacred eikons—the last named gathered from the houses and the church—a disgusting odor arose and filled the air. The Turks broke forth in derisive laughter as their eyes fell upon the horrid spectacle.
“My rascals have eluded my vigilance, I see,” observed Kostakes, “and have been having a little fun in their own way.”
“Different nations have different ideas about a joke,” gasped Curtis through his handkerchief.
Emerging from the town, they picked their way through a large patch of freshly felled olive trees. The sound of the nocturnal chopping was now explained. About eleven o’clock they stopped for dinner in a small, deserted hamlet. During the progress of the meal a wounded Bashi Bazouk rode into the town and up to the table where Curtis and Kostakes were sitting. The man wore a red turban, which gave to his pallid face a tint similar to that of the underside of a toadstool. His soft shirt had sagged into a little bagful of blood, that dripped out like the whey from a sack of cottage cheese, upon his yellow sash and blue breeches. He said a few words with mouth wide open, as though his under jaw had suddenly grown heavy, and then, reeling, was caught by two soldiers, dragged from the saddle and carried into a hut.
“I must ask you to excuse me for several hours,” said Kostakes, rising. “My Bashi Bazouks, whom I left with certain commissions to execute, are being defeated at Reveni, about an hour’s march from here. How fifty Bashi Bazouks can find any difficulty with a little place like Reveni is more than I can understand! But I shall soon put a new face on affairs when I arrive!”
“God help the poor people,” prayed Curtis, inaudibly.
“I shall leave three of my men behind to look after your wants and those of the young lady. I shall explain to the one I leave with you that he is your servant—that he must bring you anything you ask for. He speaks Greek, so you will be able to get along with him.”
Five minutes afterward Kostakes was riding away at the head of his troop. He turned once in the saddle and waved his hand to Curtis. The American picked up his hat from the table and swung it in the air.
“Au revoir, Kostakes,” he cried. “The devil confound you and your whole crew of cutthroats—I wonder if this beggar speaks English?”
He glanced suspiciously at the tall, sallow-faced Turk who stood a short distance away, leaning upon his musket.
“No, I guess not. He’d give some sign if he did.”
Two other Turks, with musket on shoulder, were pacing back and forth before the door of the hut where Panayota was imprisoned. Curtis could feel his heart thumping against his breast. He struck the place with his doubled fist.
“Keep still, curse you,” he muttered, “and let me think. Here is the opportunity—but how? how?”
The army was crawling along a white road that streamed like a ribbon athwart the foot of a hill. The ribbon fluttered as the dust rose in the wind. The bayonets twinkled in a dun cloud.
“Four against one,” mused Curtis. “Four Turks against one Yankee trick—but how?”
Kostakes plunged into the hill and disappeared, and the blazing bayonets, line after line, were extinguished in a billow of green thyme. The American looked back over his shoulder at the door of a stone hut—the one into which the wounded Bashi Bazouk had been carried.
“Hey!” he called, “you there, hey!”
The Turk left ostensibly as Curtis’ servant, but actually as his guard, stepped briskly forward, and, taking in his own the American’s extended hand, pulled him to his feet.
“Help me into the house,” said Curtis. “Now bring me that bench.”
The man complied, after which he went to the door, and, leaning against the jamb, looked wistfully at his fellows. At one end of the room was a fireplace, filled with ashes and charred pieces of log. It was a primitive concern, the only vent for smoke being a hole in the roof directly overhead. Board platforms on each side the fireplace served as couches for the family. On one of these, flat on his back, lay the wounded man.
“I wonder how badly he’s hurt,” mused Curtis. “There isn’t strength enough left in him to put up a fight, but there’s enough left to pull a trigger if I tackle the other chap. Hello, he’s got the hiccoughs; why, that’s queer.”
The man became quiet, and again Curtis relapsed into thought, to be disturbed a second time by the sound of knocking on boards. Looking around, his eyes fell directly upon the eyes of the Bashi Bazouk, and he felt as though he heard some one crying for help when no help was near. The man was resting upon his back and both elbows. For a moment those bloodshot, praying, awful eyes were fixed upon Curtis; then they swept the dingy hut and went out like panes of glass when the light is extinguished in a room. The man fell backward, fluttered on the hard planks and was still. Curtis shuddered.
“That wasn’t nice,” he muttered, “but this is no time for sentiment.”
The other Turk stood by the body of his dead comrade, looking down at the ghastly, upturned face. Curtis pinched the muscles of his own right arm with the fingers and thumb of his left hand, and moved his doubled fist tentatively up and down.
“Where shall I hit him?” he mused. “In the chin or back of the ear? He must never know what struck him.”
Bending over, he untied the long strip of cloth about his foot and unwound it. Taking it in his hands he pulled several times on it, to test its strength.
“Strong as a hemp rope. You could hang a man with that.”
It was Panayota’s blue homespun.
“Hey!” he called to the Turk. “You there. Say, look at this foot of mine, will you, and see what you think of it.”
The man kneeled. Curtis drew back his arm, but realized that he could not get sufficient swing in a sitting posture.
“O, hold on a minute. Let me try the foot on the ground and see how it goes.”
They rose to their feet together, and the unsuspecting soldier reeled backward, stunned by a vicious punch on the temple. But he did not fall, and Curtis, maddened by a great fear lest he bungle his opportunity, sprang forward and delivered a swinging, sledgehammer-like blow upon his victim’s ear, throwing into it the entire strength of his body. The Turk dropped like an ox under the butcher’s hammer. Then Curtis hastily bound him, hand and foot, with Panayota’s bandage, and, tearing the lining from the man’s coat, stuffed it down his throat. Pulling up a plank from the platform by the fireplace, he thrust the limp form out of sight and closed up the opening.
“I hope I didn’t kill you,” he muttered; “but, as old Lindbohm says, ‘you must yust take your chances!'”
He walked once or twice the length of the hut. The foot gave him considerable pain, but it was possible to step on it.
“What’ll I do with the other two?” he mused.
He picked up the gun lying on the floor and examined it. It was a Mauser and charged with five shells. He peeped cautiously through the doorway at Panayota’s prison, concealing his body. The two guards appeared at the corner and looked curiously in his direction.
“Bah! What a fool I am!” he thought, and hopped boldly into sight, holding up his lame leg by passing his hand under it while he leaned against the jamb. The guards faced about and disappeared, putting the house between themselves and Curtis on their backward march to the other end of their beat.
“I could pot one of them, and then—but no, I might miss, and then I’d be in a pretty mess. And even if I did hit one, the other would have me at a disadvantage.”
There was a sound of kicking against the boards at the fireplace. He sprang to the spot, rifle in hand, and tore up the plank. The man was lying upon his back with his eyes open. A great light broke in upon Curtis—an inspiration. He had thrust the Turk out of sight through instinct.
“Pshaw!” he exclaimed, “they can’t both leave Panayota. If I call to them, may be one will come out of curiosity, and I’ll do this thing right over again. But what’ll I tie him with?”
He cast his eyes about the room. The inevitable chest, studded with brass nails stood against the wall. He opened it.
“Cleaned out, by Jove!”
He went again to his victim, and taking a large jackknife from his pocket, deliberately opened it. The man turned as white as veal, his jaws worked convulsively on the gag as he made a vain effort to plead for mercy, and a pitiful noise, a sort of gurgling bleat, sounded in his throat.
“What the devil ails you?” asked Curtis. “O—I see,” and he added in Greek:
“No kill. Cut your clothes—see?”
And stooping, he slitted the Turk’s sleeve from wrist to shoulder. Following the seam around with the blade, he pulled away the large rectangular piece of cloth. Seizing the other sleeve, he was about to slash into it, when he thought he heard footsteps among the stones and gravel outside the hut.
“My God!” he cried, in a hoarse whisper, and jumped into the corner beside the door, just as one of the other two Turks walked boldly into the room. Without a moment’s thought Curtis brought the barrel of his rifle down upon the man’s head, who dropped his own gun and pitched sprawling upon his face. For fully a minute, which seemed an hour, the American stood motionless, breathless, in the attitude which had followed the blow. Every muscle was set to knotted hardness; he held the rifle in both hands, ready to throw it suddenly to his shoulder. He did not breathe, and he listened so intently that he could hear his own heart beating, and the breathing of the man at the fireplace. Suddenly his muscles relaxed like an escaping spring, and he looked nervously about for the detached sleeve. Picking it up, he stooped over the second Turk, when the latter moved his left arm several times with the palm of the hand down, feebly suggesting an effort to rise. Then the arm dropped and the hand beat a faint tattoo on the earthen floor. There was a great shiver of the whole body, a twitching of the muscles, a queer rattle in the throat, and—silence. Curtis stared with open mouth and dilated eyes, and a great, inexplicable horror came over him. “Ah!” he gasped, and, dropping upon his knees, he ran his fingers over the skull. The hair was matted with blood, and a deep, ragged-edged dent bore witness to the terrible force with which the rifle barrel had fallen.
“I’ve killed a man,” he whispered, in an awestruck voice, rising to his feet. Staring fixedly at the silent thing lying there before him, he repeated the sentence over and over again:
“I’ve killed a man—I’ve killed a man!”
Then all at once a great change came over him, the joy and fierceness of the lust for blood, and he laughed hysterically, gloating over the dead man before him, as the victorious heroes used to do in the old barbaric ages.
He thought of the other Turk, and looked out of the door just in time to see him turn at the hither corner and disappear as he walked back on his beat. Curtis made a dash for an olive tree about eight rods distant, and, skulking behind it, peeped between the high gnarled roots. When the guard had again appeared and turned back, he ran to a rock and threw himself down behind it, instinctively using tactics by which he had sometimes crept up on a diving duck. He was now within listening distance. The next run brought him to the side of the house, and he had just time to throw his gun to his shoulder when the guard stepped into view. He might have taken him prisoner, but the thought did not occur to him. He had tasted blood. Panayota came to the door and looked wonderingly out. The American ran to her with the smoking musket in his hand and seized her by the wrist. It was the natural act of the savage who has won his woman in fight.
“Come, Panayota!” he cried, “you are free. They are all dead!”
And he started down the hill, pulling the girl with him. She came without a word.
Tied to a tree was one of those large black and tan mules that are stronger than any horse and tough as steel. This one, a pack animal, had been left behind in charge of the three guards. Curtis picked up the clumsy pack saddle which lay near and threw it upon the beast’s back. In his excitement he bungled the unfamiliar straps, but Panayota assisted with nimble and experienced fingers. He helped her to mount, and was about to climb up, when he happened to think of the dead Turks’ ammunition. Bringing a supply from the hut, he climbed up behind the girl. So they rode away, the fair Cretan sitting sidewise in the saddle, the American astride behind her. He passed an arm around her waist to steady them both, and accelerated the animal’s speed by digging the butt of his musket into its side. He could not use his heels, because one foot was bare and still somewhat lame. Panayota guided the mule by flipping in its eyes, first on one side of the head and then on the other, the end of the rope that was tied about its neck. As Curtis felt beneath his arm the firm but yielding form; as the warm, strong heart throbbed against his hand, his madness became complete. He had killed two men for this girl, and she was worth it. He was ferociously happy. The very touch of her thrilled him. He knew now why he had killed the men—for the same reason that David had slain Uriah. Woman, gentle, refining, softening woman will, in an instant, blot two thousand years of civilization out of a man’s nature and turn him back into a primitive savage. He held her very tight, and she made no resistance. What trifles shape our destinies! In the giddy happiness of the moment he could not have framed an original Greek sentence to save his soul, but as he leaned forward with his lips close to the girl’s ear, with his face partly buried in her hair, the refrain of Byron’s “Maid of Athens” sang itself in his brain, and he whispered again and again, “Zoe mou, sas agapo, zoe mou, sas agapo.” She shivered slightly the first time that he repeated the sentence, but she did not repulse him. At last, that first keen madness of contact with her passed away, and he chattered excitedly as he urged on the ambling mule: “Don’t be afraid, Panayota; they’ll never catch us. I’ve got you now, not Kostakes. My life, I love you! Go on, you dromedary, or I’ll punch a rib out of you! They must kill me before they take you again.”
After they had been about an hour on the road, they began to feel uneasy.
“They must have got back by this time,” thought Curtis. “I wish I had killed that other Turk, then they would have thought we were rescued,” and he looked anxiously back over his shoulder. The idea came to Curtis of turning off sharply from the path and hiding in the hills, but the mountains that enclosed the long valley looked forbidding. They would certainly lose their way and perish of hunger. Besides there were Greeks ahead of them somewhere. As they began to ascend toward Galata, they could see for a long distance over the lovely plain now stretched out before them in the rays of the afternoon sun.
“It’ll be time to make a break for the woods,” mused Curtis, “when I see them coming.” Once a cloud of dust arose far behind and he caught Panayota’s arm.
“Look!” he cried. “They’re coming!” But she replied:
“No, ’tis a whirlwind.”
Curtis did not understand the word, but there was no mistaking the speaking gesture which accompanied it. The mule becoming tired, Panayota slid to the ground, and, throwing the rope over her shoulder, trotted on ahead.
“There’s Galata!” she cried, pointing with level arm to the distant village.
“How many hours?” asked Curtis.
“About two more.”
“We shall get there after dark, then?”
The sun was just setting behind a mountain, as it always does in the interior of Crete. Curtis turned in the saddle and took one last long look. The white road lay very plain on the side of the low ridge over which they had come. It was in shape like a giant letter S, one end of which ended at the summit and the other among the green vineyards, climbing half way up the slope. The trees, and the deep water-ways and castles of rock on the side of the hill were indistinguishable at that distance, all blending into a general effect of soft color, but the top of the hill was sketched against the sky as distinctly as a crayon line, and on it every tree, nay, every shrub stood magnified in the parting light. There was something unnatural about this row of trees, rope-walking on a curved line swaying in the sky. As Curtis gazed at the weird effect two giant horsemen balanced on the aerial rope for an instant, and then lunged headforemost into the purple glow on the hither side. They were followed by row after row of mounted men, four abreast, that appeared and disappeared in rapid succession.
“Look, Panayota,” said Curtis quietly. The girl went deadly white and crossed herself.
“My little Virgin, help us,” she prayed. “The Bashi Bazouks!”
“They haven’t got us yet. How far away are they?”
“An hour, may be an hour and a half.”
“We’ll turn off into the hills when it’s a little darker. Can they see us?”
“I think not,” replied Panayota. “We are now among the trees. But we’d better wait a little before we turn.”
The Turkish troops had now become a long, dark quadrangle, sliding slowly down the giant S. The sun dropped behind the mountain, the white letter became black, and the quadrangle disappeared. The fleeing man and woman were in the world’s amethyst shadow.
“Shall we turn now, Panayota?” asked Curtis. “I care not where, so we go together.”
For answer she turned and held up her hand. He listened, but heard nothing.
“Voices,” said the girl, “and footsteps. But I hear no more. They are moving stealthily.”
“Is it more Turks, coming from in front?”
“God knows, but I think not.”
She led the mule some distance to the side of the road into a clump of green oleander. Curtis slid to the ground and looked carefully to his rifle.
“Panayota,” he whispered, hurriedly, “they shall not take us while I live. I love you. We may have but a few moments together. Let me take one kiss, the first, perhaps the last.”
He put his arm about her, but she placed her hand against his breast and pushed him from her, with a cautious “hist!”
The footsteps of many men could be heard plainly, not far up the road now.
“If they would only speak,” she muttered.
The words were hardly out of her mouth ere some one uttered a sharp and hurried command in a suppressed tone.
“They are Greeks!” exclaimed the girl. “Now Christ and the Virgin—”
But Curtis put his hand gently over her mouth, whispering:
“Hush! Perhaps it is a ruse.”
The moon had not yet arisen, and the darkness was like ink. Some one stumbled, and a musket fell “ching!” among the rocks.
“Take care!” said an imperious voice in Greek.
“That’s Kyrios Lindbohm,” whispered Panayota. “I know his voice.”
“Lindbohm don’t know any Greek,” replied her companion.
“He could not be in Crete one day without learning the word for ‘take care!’ I tell you it’s Lindbohm. Who that has ever heard that voice could forget it? I should know it,” murmured the girl, “if I heard it in my grave.”
Curtis was too excited to take note of the singular remark.
The men were now passing them quite close and several of them were conversing in low tones. The girl leaned forward, listening. Then suddenly she called in a loud voice:
“Patriotai, where are you?”
Utter silence for several moments, broken at last by an inquiring “Eh?” and the clicking of rifle locks.
“Curtis, by damn! It’s all right; come out!”
The American sprang eagerly forward, but stepped on a stone. Then he leaped on to the back of the mule and Panayota led the animal out into the highway and into the midst of a goodly company of armed insurgents, who forgot all discipline, and broke forth into a volley of questions.
The American and the Lieutenant were shaking each other by the hand through it all.
“I saved her!” cried Curtis. “I killed two Turks and did up another. Then we ran away on this mule. I cracked one of ’em on the head and shot another. I smashed one with my fist and took his gun away from him. Then I—”
“So you saved Panayota?”
“Yes, I saved her, I tell you. I—”
“Thank God! thank God!” cried Lindbohm, throwing his arms about Curtis’ neck.
“Where is my father?” asked Panayota, in a shrill voice that pierced the bubble of questions, suddenly, awkwardly.
“Her father is dead,” said the Lieutenant huskily. “We found his body. She must not know. Poor girl! Poor girl!”
“I blew a hole right through the last one and then we departed. We got here just in time, old man, for they’re right behind us—the whole shooting-match.”
“All the Bashi Bazouks—about fifty of ’em.”
“Good,” cried Lindbohm, “we’ll ambush ’em. We’ll give ’em hell!”
“We’ll settle ’em, Lindbohm. We’ll lick ’em out of their boots. How many men have you got?”
“Why, it’s a cinch. We sha’n’t let one of them get away alive. We’ll shoot down the Bashi Bazouks and ride away on their horses.”
When, half an hour later, the great, tranquil, yellow moon looked down upon the town of Galata from a neighboring mountain top, all was seemingly peaceful in its desolate streets. Save the dreadful figure nailed to the church door, not a human form was to be seen. And yet death and hate crouched there in the shadows, for Lindbohm and his thirty men lurked in the ruined houses that surrounded the square, and whosoever looked closely might have seen here and there the dull gleam of a rifle barrel; but even then he would have suspected nothing, for the moonlight plays strange and fantastic tricks. Curtis and Lindbohm kneeled side by side at the same window, and Panayota sat on the floor in a dark corner, clasping her knees with her hands and moaning gently, “O, my father, my little father!”