A Critical Moment

They laid the wounded Cretan on the lounge in the parsonage. He was pale as death from loss of blood, and kept snapping at his under lip with his teeth, but he did not groan.

“We are a pair of storks now,” he said, smiling at Curtis, and then he fainted away. Curtis cut the trouser from the wounded leg. A ball had struck the shin.

“It’s not badly splintered, old man,” said the American, as Michali opened his eyes again. “I don’t know anything about surgery, but I should think the proper thing would be to wash it, support it with some splints and bind it up tight. Shall I try it?”

“What you need?” asked Michali.

“Some warm water, two or three straight sticks and a piece of cloth that I can tear up into strips.”

The wounded man called for the necessary articles and they were soon brought. Curtis washed the blood away carefully.

The end of a piece of bone pushed against the skin from beneath and made a sharp protuberance.

“I’m awfully sorry, old man, but I’ve got to hurt you—like the devil, I’m afraid.”

“All right, my friend,” replied Michali, “only do not be long.”

“No, only a minute. Here, lie on your back. That’s right. Now take hold of the sides of the lounge and hang on tight. That’ll help you. I know it from having teeth filled. Now, tell this old man to take hold of your ankle so, with both hands, and pull, slowly, carefully, till I say ‘stop,’ and not to commence pulling till I say ‘now.’ You’d better explain—your Greek is some better than mine.”

Michali explained.

“Does he understand?”

“Perfectly.”

Curtis put his hand about the broken shin in such a way that he could push the fragment of bone into place.

“This can’t be wrong,” he reflected. “At any rate, there’s nothing else to do.”

Looking at the old man he nodded.

“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” gurgled Michali, as though the words were being pulled from his throat with a hook. There was so much agony in them, they meant so much more than the screams of a weaker person would have meant, that the amateur surgeon felt sick at his stomach and it cost him a tremendous effort to see through a sort of blindness that settled like a cloud before his eyes. But the two ends of the bone came together and he resolutely pushed the splinter into place.

Still holding the leg tightly he looked at Michali. Great drops of sweat were standing on the Cretan’s face and his underlip was bleeding, but he smiled bravely.

“All over,” said Curtis. “Now for the sticks and the strips.”

Fortunately for the success of the operation the boy who had led the mule was outside, giving an account of the progress of the battle. He proved a greater attraction even than the broken leg. Curtis, finding himself alone with his patient, shut and locked the door.

“Does it hurt you very much, old man?” he asked. “I suppose the proper thing now would be to give you something to put you to sleep. Don’t you think you could sleep a little while anyway?”

“No, no, I cannot sleep. It hurts me some, but not much—not too much.”

Curtis sat quietly for some time in the semi-darkness of the room, listening to the chatter of the boy outside, punctuated by the excited exclamations of the listeners. He glanced at the drawn face of Michali, which had a ghastly hue in the wan light. The wounded man’s eyes were open, but he made no sound.

“He’s a plucky beggar,” thought Curtis. “I wonder if it would do him any harm to talk? I say, Michali,” he asked aloud, “how is it going? What are they doing up there?”

“They tried to come through about eleven o’clock—but how can I tell you, since you do not the ravine know? It begins wide on the other side—a deep, steep valley, with many pine trees, and paths along the sides. Near the top of the mountain the ravine becomes narrow, between walls of rock, what you call it?—perpendicular. If the Turk ever gets over the summit we are lost. Very well—that devil Ampates! Lindbohm should have killed him!”

“Why, what did he do?”

“Without him the Turk never could have found the best path. Well, we have men on all the paths with dogs—good dogs, hear half a mile, bark—O, like the devil! We stay high up, most of us, where ravine is narrow, so not to scatter out too much. We hide behind the rocks on both sides of the ravine, on the other side the mountain. We listen and listen, O, how we listen! Nothing. The wind in the pine trees. For hours we listen. My ears get very wide awake. I think I hear the wind among the stars. Then, all at once, we sit up very straight, holding our guns ready. ‘Boo! boo! woo!’ It is old Spire’s dog, down below. We sit very still. Perhaps the dog made a mistake. Perhaps he bark at the moon. But no. ‘Bang!’ goes old Spiro’s gun. Then we know. That was the signal—Ah, mother of God!”

No Greek can talk without violent gesticulations, that frequently bring all the muscles of his body into play. Michali forgot the leg in his excitement, and gave a little jump that wrenched it slightly.

“Never mind, old man. Don’t talk any more—you’d better lie quiet,” said Curtis. “You drove ’em back, did you?”

“Twenty men went down to the mouth of the pass. We stayed back the narrow part to guard, high up, behind the rocks. Pretty soon they commence shooting and yelling. It was moonlight there, you see, but dark like—like—”

“Like a pocket,” suggested Curtis.

“Like a pocket in the ravine, where we were. They keep shooting—’biff, bang, biff, bang’—then all at once—’r-r-r-r-r!’ more than a hundred guns at once. ‘That’s the Turks,’ said Lindbohm. ‘By damn! they must not get through. Michali, twenty men must come down with me, twenty stay here.’ I pick out twenty, and down we go, and hide. Then the women light the fire. Whoof! the light jumps up and slashes open the ravine. There they come, there come the Turks, running, running. The boys keep shooting from above, ‘ping! ping!’ but they not hit much, straight down so. One, two, three drop, but the rest keep coming. We lay our rifles across the rocks and take aim. Lindbohm, he keep saying, very low, ‘Not yet, not yet, steady, boys, steady—'”

“Steady, boys, steady!” cried Curtis; “that’s old Lindbohm—yes, yes?”

“My God! I think the Turks get right on top of us, when ‘bang!’ Lindbohm shoot right by my ear and blow a hole through a Turk. Then we all shoot, shoot, shoot, but every time one Turk die, two new ones come around the corner. And I think they get through, but the women pry off big piece of rock. O, most as big as this house, and it kill two Turks. Then the Turks turn and run—”

“Hurrah!” sobbed Curtis.

“Hurrah!” echoed Michali. “We killed thirty-four damned Turks!”

“How many men did you lose?” asked Curtis.

“One, shoot through the head. He high up and fall down into the ravine. Turks laugh very loud. Another here, through the stomach. He die pretty soon—he with us. His name Yanne. And me, I get this little wound in the leg. How they hit my leg, I don’t know.”

As they were talking the church bell began to ring.

“Hark!” said Curtis, who was sitting in the door of the parsonage. “What’s that?”

“I didn’t hear anything,” replied Michali.

“I did. I believe it was a gun. It was a faint throb in the air. There it goes again. There they go!”

No mistake was possible this time.

“They’re coming through,” said Michali, rising upon his elbow. “The Turks will be here pretty quick, now, I think.”

“Hello,” cried Curtis, “there comes the demarch. There he goes into that house. Now he comes out—there he goes into another—what’s up, I wonder? Here he comes!”

Kyr’ Nikolaki looked in at the door. His face was flabby with fatigue and his under lids had drooped perceptibly, enlarging the red pits beneath his eyes into semicircles.

“What is it? what is it?” asked Curtis, who had not clearly understood the few hurried words addressed by the demarch to Michali.

“They’re nearly out of cartridges. They can’t hold the pass over an hour longer. They’re going to send the flocks and the women and children down to the sea. The village owns a lot of caiques there. Then the men will retreat last, fighting, shooting all the time.”

“But what are you quarreling about?”

“O, nothing. Nothing at all.”

It did not take the Ambellakians long to pack up. The most treasured belongings were thrown into blankets, which were rolled into bundles, and then, away for the ravine and the sea!

A mother dashed by the house with a babe under her left arm and a bundle over her right shoulder. Another dragged two frightened children along the stony street, clutching tight a tiny wrist with each hand. An aged couple doddered by, the man with feeble and palsied hand striving to support the woman, who clung to a frame containing two bridal wreaths. From amid the faded orange blossoms smiled the youthful eyes of a shy mountain girl and a stout pallikari—man’s work lasts so much better than man himself.

The confusion grew to frenzy. A parrot-like chatter and screaming of women filled the air. A florid housewife stumbled and wheezed down the street, carrying a pair of long-handled coffee stew pans. She did not know what they were, but had seized them through force of habit. Another bore a cheap chromo, representing skin-clad hunters thrusting spears into a number of colossal polar bears. She fell and jabbed her knee through the picture, but picked up the frame and ran on with that. Scrips, or bags of pied and brightly-colored wool, of which two or more are to be found in every Cretan peasant’s house, were hanging from the arms and shoulders of many of the fugitives.

At a burst of firing, seemingly more distinct and nearer than anything that had preceded it, an old woman stopped, and fumblingly extracted a silver mounted eikon from her scrip. After kissing it and making the sign of the cross several times, she replaced it, and hurried on again. A babe was laughing and clutching with glee at the disheveled locks of its fleeing mother. A girl of six hugged to imminent suffocation a shapeless and wrinkled pup.

The demarch came in again, accompanied by Lindbohm and a stalwart mountaineer. The Swede had a gun in his left hand. In the grime of his powder-blackened face his eyes looked unnaturally blue. But they were no longer childlike. It was rather the blue of an angry sea.

“Panayota’s taken,” he said to Curtis.

“I know it.”

“There’s nothing to be done now except to rally the men and rescue her.” The Swede did not talk like a man in despair. He seemed, on the contrary, exalted by a great resolve.

“We will get together and fall upon Kostakes like a thunderbolt. We’ll not let him go far. And if he harms a hair of her head—” He doubled his ponderous fist and shook it. Then he whirled about briskly and gazed at Michali.

“We’ll take you somehow,” he said. “We’ll be as careful as we can. They’ll kill you if you stay here.”

“I not go,” replied Michali. “I have said it to the demarch. Take two strong men to carry me. They better be fighting. Leave a gun with me. When they find me I will kill two, three Turks. Ha! By God, I surprise them! So I die!”

“Come, no more of this foolishness,” said Lindbohm. “I take him on my back, and the shepherd here take you,” turning to Curtis.

But Curtis had been thinking very fast, and the bright image of his beautiful and high-spirited hostess in the hands of the Turks had sharpened his wits to an extraordinary degree.

“Look here, Lindbohm,” he said, speaking very rapidly, “I’ll stay here and look out for Panayota. They won’t kill me, I’m a non-combatant, and the Turks won’t be so apt to abuse the girl when there’s a foreigner amongst them. Help me to the wine cave. I’ll hide there till the right moment and then I’ll give myself up.”

Lindbohm saluted.

“I would not have asked it,” he said, “but it is the brave thing to do. Ah, tell the officer you’re a newspaper correspondent. That’s the safest thing.”

The firing had ceased entirely for several minutes. Now rapid footsteps were heard. Looking toward the door Curtis saw a Cretan shepherd fling by. He was running low to the ground, carrying his gun horizontally, like a man hunting—or being hunted. Another and another passed.

“We have five minutes now,” said Lindbohm, holding out his arms to Michali. “They have given up the pass. Come! Must I take you, or will you come on my back?”

“I come,” replied Michali, “to the wine cave.”

Lindbohm kneeled by the divan and Michali put his arms about his neck. The Swede arose, wrenching from the Cretan’s throat a groan that ended in a low, sharp shriek.

Lindbohm strode from the door, followed by the demarch and the shepherd, the last mentioned carrying Curtis.

Five or six shots, followed by a persistent fusillade, were heard.

“Now I think they come through,” muttered Lindbohm, breaking into a run. Michali was breathing in tremulous, faint groans between set teeth. Then, mercifully, he fainted, and remained unconscious until the Swede, panting with exertion, bounded through the arbor into the dim café.

The demarch ran to his wine barrels, and, pulling an empty one around parallel with the wall, smashed in its end with the butt of a musket, using the weapon as though it were a battering ram. Michali was shoved into the barrel as tenderly as possible and the broken pieces were laid in beside him. Then they pushed the tun back into place, with the open end against the wall.

“And you?” said Lindbohm, turning to Curtis, who was sitting upon the table where the shepherd had dropped him.

“Save yourselves!” cried the American, pointing to the door. A shepherd, standing behind the platane tree, was aiming at something above him. He fired, and jerking the empty shell from his smoking piece, reloaded. Three Cretans darted to the rear of the café, trailing blue ropes of smoke from the muzzles of their guns. The man behind the tree started after them, but stopped at a crash of musketry and dropped his gun with a “ching” among the rocks. His legs broke at the knees as though some one had playfully jabbed them from behind. As he instinctively threw forward his arms to save himself from falling, his elbows collapsed and his hands fell flopping at the wrist, like penguin’s wings. He was dead before his body reached the ground.

Lindbohm snatched his musket from the table and ran from the café, followed by the demarch and the shepherd. Curtis slipped into a corner, behind the huge oil crock. The sound of the firing continued, but no one came into the café. Ten minutes, twenty minutes passed. They seemed hours to the American. Occasionally he heard a sput, sput against the outside of the soft wall. Once a “ftha,” like the hissing of a cat, was followed by a humming sound, as a bullet, slightly flattened by the sand, sang in through the open door.

It did not occur to him that these things were dangerous.

“I must see what they are doing,” he said. “It’s a good fight! It’s a good fight!”

He slid around the smooth, cool crock and leaned out from his hiding place. He could see nothing but a strip of the open door and a huge vine, sturdy as the trunk of a tree. He jumped back just in time to save himself. The café was poured full of Turks, bringing Panayota and her father. An officer, young, slender and very handsome, dropped into a chair and laid his unsheathed sword before him on the table. The soldiers fell respectfully back, leaving the girl and the priest standing facing the officer. Ampates slunk in the background with Panayota’s Cretan knife in his hand. It was he who had led the way to the women, by a round-about path.

A long conversation ensued, in which Kostakes spoke with insinuating sweetness, smiling continually and occasionally twirling the ends of his small, dark mustache. His intentions with reference to Panayota were honorable, he said. The priest began his reply in a pleading tone but ended with a fiery denunciation. Once or twice a soldier stepped threateningly towards him, but Kostakes waved the would-be murderer back with a slight gesture or an almost imperceptible movement of the head. Panayota was magnificent. She seemed at no moment to have any doubt of herself. She stood erect, pale, calm, contemptuous, until near the end of the interview when, with an incredibly quick movement, she snatched the sword from the table, and, turning the hilt towards her father, threw back her head and closed her eyes. The officer with a loud cry sprang to his feet, tipping over the table, and a soldier knocked the weapon harmlessly into the air. All the Turks in the room leaped upon Papa-Maleko, who fought like a cornered cat, wounding one, two, three of his assailants. The Turks did not dare shoot, for fear of killing their officer or the girl. Curtis came from his hiding place, crying hoarsely in English:

“Panayota! For God’s sake! For God’s sake! Panayota!” and then “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! You’ll kill Panayota!”

But it was no part of Kostakes’ plan to kill Panayota’s father in her presence. A Turk, cooler than the rest, reaching over the heads of his comrades, dropped the butt of a rifle on the man’s skull and he sank to the ground. Panayota fell on her knees beside him, fumbling in his hair and sobbing, “Papa! papa!”

The heart has a little vocabulary of its own, which it has spoken from the beginning of the world, the same for all peoples, unchanged in the confusion of tongues. Curtis was not noticed in the tumult until he had forced his way into the officer’s very presence, where he stood, shaking his fist and shouting, still in his own tongue:

“This is a shame! Do you hear me? You’re a scurvy blackguard to treat a girl in that way. If I had you alone about five minutes I’d show you what I think of you!”

Two or three soldiers sprang forward, and a petty officer half drew his sword, but Kostakes, astonished at hearing a language which he did not understand, but which he surmised to be either German or English, motioned them back.

“Qui êtes vous, Monsieur, et que faites vous ici?” he asked in the French which he had learned at the high school at Canea.

“Je suis Américan, correspondant du—du— New York Age,” replied Curtis.

“Ah, charmé! charmé! Comment dites vous en Anglais? Welcome. Je suis Kostakes, Capitaine de Cavalerie, à votre service!”

Curtis did not find it easy to express his feelings in French to this smiling officer with the straight, large nose, dazzling white teeth and cordial manner, who wore an inverted red flower pot for a hat. French is no language for a self-respecting man to swear in, any way. Besides, one does not, in Ollendorf, learn a vocabulary suitable to critical occasions. All Curtis could think of was “lâche,” “sacré bleu” and “caramba.” The first did not seem appropriate, the second lost its force by translating itself in his mind into English and he was not certain whether the last was French, Spanish or Italian, so he asked:

“Is this lady a prisoner of war?” And Kostakes answered:

“Monsieur is as gallant as he is brave. I give you my word of honor that neither the lady nor her father shall come to any harm. Is that sufficient?”

It had to be, so Curtis, being anything but a fool, replied:

“A gentleman’s word of honor is always sufficient.”

“And now,” continued Kostakes, “being a non-combatant, you are at perfect liberty to follow your own wishes. Will you remain here or go with us? We shall be charmed, I assure you, charmed to have your society.”

“How long will you stay here?”

“About an hour. Just long enough to collect any spoils of war and burn the town.”

“Burn the town?”

“Certainly, this is war, and war, even for a nation as highly civilized as Turkey, consists in doing your enemy as much harm as possible.”

Curtis glanced uneasily at the row of barrels in the cave. Here was a new dilemma. Should he give up the brave Cretan and appeal to Kostakes’ manliness and chivalry? He looked at the Turk shrewdly. Somehow he did not have confidence in him.

Besides, Michali could understand French. If he were conscious, he could call out and give himself up, if he thought it were safe.

“I would stay here,” thought Curtis, “and ask him to leave me the café as a shelter. But there’s Panayota, I mustn’t desert her.”

The firing had ceased and the looting had begun. Turks darted by the door in the abandoned glee of destruction, or passed more slowly, dragging bedticks, doors, pieces of furniture and other inflammable articles, which they were casting upon a great bonfire in the square. A wave of ribald laughter, that started somewhere in the distance and ran nearer and louder, splashed into the open door. A soldier danced in with an eikon of the Holy Virgin, and held it up for the guard to spit upon. Then he tossed it into the fire. The priest, who was sitting on the floor, supported by the kneeling Panayota, covered his eyes with his hands and shuddered with horror. The trellis for the demarch’s grape arbor came down with a crash and was wrenched loose from the grip of the despairing vines. The benches whereon the gossip shepherds had sat and sipped their coffee, bore company in the fire with the only rocking chair in the village, in which a very old lady used to sway to and fro and sing lullabies of her forgotten childhood. A soldier seized one of the tables within the café and tossed it through the open door. Then he dragged out a long bench, that scraped and spluttered on the floor of hard beaten earth. Two others braced themselves between the wall and the oil crock. An inspiration flashed through Curtis’ mind.

“Stop! stop!” he shouted. “It is full of oil—the lady on the floor.”

“Mais, certainement,” cried Kostakes, and he sent the soldiers from the room.

“The same argument will apply to the wine barrels,” reflected Curtis. “They would have been at them in a minute more.”

“Does Monsieur elect to stay with us, or with the Greeks?” asked the Captain. “We must leave here immediately, before the Greeks return with reinforcement and seize the ravine.”

“If I might be permitted to go with you? But I am lame; I have hurt my foot.”

“I regret greatly to hear it. Not seriously, I hope?”

“No, I stepped on a—a—thorn,” he did not know the French word for sea urchin.

“I will give a horse—my own, if necessary. I shall be charmed, charmed. And now, perhaps you will excuse me one moment while I marshal the force? Perhaps, also, you will look at the priest’s head. I regret that our surgeon was killed in the attack.”

Rising, he said a few words in Greek to Panayota, bending deferentially with his hand on his heart. His tones were musical and earnest and Curtis understood him almost perfectly. He spoke high Greek very distinctly. He expressed regret for Papa-Maleko’s hurt, and assured the girl of his undying love.

“You are the cause of all this ruin, fair creature,” he murmured earnestly. “My love for you brought me here. Have no fears. You shall be treated like a queen. Not a hair of your head nor of your father’s shall be harmed. All I ask is a little love in return.”

She made no reply. She did not even look up. Curtis felt a great spasm of rage contract his heart, and a queer sickness swoop down upon him. He wanted to kill Kostakes, he did not know exactly why. The man certainly had a right to love the girl; it is any man’s inalienable right, established from the beginning of the world, to love any girl; and the protestations of protection were exactly what Curtis wanted, but somehow they made him sick and mad. In the midst of all this killing, why couldn’t he do a little for himself? Then Kostakes bent lower, and attempted to lift Panayota’s hands to his lips. She threw his arm from her with horror, and, shrinking back, with doubled fists, looked at him with such an ague of open-mouthed, staring disgust as no Duse or Bernhardt ever dreamed of. Curtis felt almost friendly toward Kostakes, who bowed solemnly, with hand upon heart, and strode from the room. Two sentinels took their places just inside the open door, and closed the entrance with crossed bayonets.

Curtis parted the long hair carefully on Papa-Maleko’s head with his fingers and looked for the wound.

“I ought to have been a doctor,” he said to Panayota.

She smiled, a little, fleeting smile that was sadder than tears. Her hair, that had been wound into a great coil at the back of her head, had slipped partly loose. Even as she looked up at Curtis, the glossy rope writhed like a living thing, and a massive loop dropped down upon her temple. Though her cheeks were pale, her lips were still red—Curtis had never noticed until now how red and velvety they were.

“Is he badly hurt?” she asked.

Papa-Maleko’s hair was clotted with blood, but Curtis made absolutely sure that the skull was not fractured.

“No,” he replied, “it is not broken.”

“Thank God! thank God!” cried Panayota.

The priest put his hand on his daughter’s shoulder and shuffled to his feet. He staggered a little and caught his head in his hands.

“O papa! papa!” cried the girl, throwing her arms about his neck.

“Bah! I’m all right. I was a little dizzy, that’s all.”

“Nothing broken. Nothing broken,” reiterated Curtis. “The blood is from the—” he did not know the word for skin, so he lifted up a little tent on the back of his left hand with the finger and thumb of his right.

“Nothing, nothing at all,” said the priest. Panayota turned her eyes toward the smoky and cobwebbed rafters and crossed herself. The steel cross in the door leaped to a parallel of presented muskets, and Kostakes Effendi reappeared. Twirling his mustache, he gazed perplexedly at the group within the café, but recovered himself in a moment and advanced smiling.

“So his reverence is quite well again! I am glad to see it, very glad. I feared that his skull was fractured. A musket butt is no plaything.”

The Turk assisted Curtis to the door, and into a cavalry saddle on the back of a respectable looking horse.

“It is the horse of my sous-lieutenant,” explained Kostakes, “who really prefers to walk—Lieutenant Gadben, Monsieur—but I have not the honor of knowing your name.”

“Curtis—”

“John Curtis, American journalist.”

Half an inch of saber cut disfigured the lieutenant’s left temple. Curtis wondered at first glance how far it extended under the flower pot hat. The possessor of the cut was a grizzled man of fifty, with a short pointed beard and a mustache, into the left side of which cigarettes had burned a semicircular hole. The Turkish troops were drawn up in marching order, dirty, dust-stained, faded, some of them shoeless, but there was something about them, something in the attitude of the bodies and the obedient expectancy of the countenances, that suggested the soldier.

Curtis was amazed at the amount of desolation which had been accomplished in so short a time. The ruffian hand of war had wrecked the peaceful and idyllic town as a discontented child smites a playhouse of blocks. Everything combustible had been set on fire, and even from the stone houses smoke was pouring. Doors had been torn from the hinges, windows smashed in, arbors pulled down. The fire in the square filled the nostrils with the familiar odor of burning olive oil. The houses with their denuded window holes reminded Curtis of men whose eyes had been ruthlessly gouged out.

Lieutenant Gadben brought the hilt of his sword to his forehead and said something to the Captain in Turkish. The latter glanced at his little army and Curtis followed his eye. The men involuntarily straightened up, stiff as posts.

Turning in his saddle Curtis cast a furtive glance at Panayota. She was sitting on a mule, looking sadly to earth. One white hand rested caressingly on the wrist of her father, who stood by, holding to the pommel of her high pack-saddle. She had tied a handkerchief about his wound. He was a manly and appealing, albeit extraordinary figure, as he stood there erect, his dark eyes flashing scorn and defiance. His billowy, spade-shaped beard covered his entire breast. He wore no coat and the enormous Cretan breeches and yellow boots seemed to take on added proportions for that reason. An empty cartridge belt, passed under his right arm and over his left shoulder, bore strange comradeship with the cross that hung from his neck. His dark brown hair, that any woman might have envied, fell quite to his waist and rippled in the breeze. Even as Curtis looked, Panayota gathered it in her hands and hastily twisted it into a knot. The Captain said a few words to the Lieutenant, who, turning to the ranks, pointed to four of the men nearest him and transmitted the order to them. They saluted, and stacking their muskets, ran into the café. Instantly the huge oil crock fell across the door, and breaking, gave up its inoffensive golden contents.

“Monsieur, you will destroy the café!” cried Curtis in alarm.

Over went the bar with a sound of smashing glass.

“It will take but a moment,” replied the Captain, apologetically. The tables and benches were now going into the pile in the middle of the floor.

“The rascals should have saved the oil to pour on their bonfire,” remarked Kostakes judicially. The sound of dull blows caused the Captain to bend and look in at the door.

“Hey! hey!” he shouted, and gave an order. “I told them not to spill the wine, but to roll the full barrels close to the fire,” he explained to Curtis. “There is sure to be one or two of them filled with brandy, and their loud explosion does more execution than half a dozen axes.”

Michali’s barrel was fourth from this end.

“Why the devil wasn’t I born with some brains in my head?” groaned Curtis, inwardly. “Why can’t you think of something, blockhead?” He was seized with an almost uncontrollable desire to butt his skull against the stone wall of the café. He knew that a happy thought would save poor Michali, and he realized also that undue excitement on his part would betray everything. The picture of his friend being dragged from his hiding place by his broken leg and thrust through with bayonets, leaped before his imagination.

“Monsieur,” he said, “I beg grace for the café. Stop the soldiers one moment and I will explain.”

Kostakes called to the four vandals and they desisted.

“I beg of you,” he said inquiringly to Curtis, “but pray be brief.”

“I am the correspondent of the New York Age. I am neither Greek nor Turk, I assure you. I wish to write glowing accounts of your heroism—and your magnanimity. I have a sentiment connected with the café. It is so beautiful. I have written a little poem about it. It begins thus:

“The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming with purple and gold.”

Curtis beat off the waltz time of the meter with great energy.

“It sounds very beautiful. What a pity that I do not understand English! Monsieur’s sentiment shall be respected. He shall write for his paper that Kostakes Effendi is not only a magnanimous soldier, but a patron of letters.”

The four vandals took their places again in the ranks. Kostakes, waving his sword theatrically, gave the order to march, and they were off up the rocky, winding street, with the little army pattering behind. As they passed the parsonage Curtis noticed that it was in ruins, but the festal wreath of yesterday hung brave and bright above the blackened door.

The priest strode by his daughter’s side, his hand still lying upon hers. As the cavalcade started he shuddered, and, looking at Panayota, sobbed:

“Oh, my daughter! Would to God you were in your grave beside your mother!”

She put out her white arm, and laid it around his neck.

“I am my mother’s child,” she replied, piously, “I shall find death somehow sooner than dishonor.”

An occasional corpse lay in their path. Curtis observed with pleasure that red, woolen flower pots were beside two of the bodies, but a wave of indignation and pity passed over him as his horse shied from a corpulent body, bent horribly over a sharp backbone of rock. The head lolled downward, and the pupils of the eyes were rolled upward out of sight. There were two red pits beneath the eyes, that made the whites look doubly ghastly.

Curtis lifted his hat.

“Why do you do that?” asked the Captain.

“Because he died like a brave man,” replied the American, shuddering as he thought of the jolly and hospitable demarch, who, like an heroic captain of a sinking ship, had remained at his post of duty until escape became impossible.

“I fear you like the Greeks better than you do the Turks,” observed Kostakes. “You do not know us yet. You will like us better when you have been with us a few days.”

Curtis was determined to be politic. Only thus, he foresaw, could he hope to be of any help to Panayota.

“He stayed behind to fight, when he might have escaped. Had he been a Turk, I should have taken off my hat just the same.”

They were about to enter the ravine. From their elevated position the whole town was visible. The American turned in his saddle and cast a glance backward. The smoke from a score of fires tumbled heavenward until, commingling, it formed a somber roof above the town, supported by trembling and bending pillars. There was the distant sea—the very spot where the “Holy Mary” had been sunk. The little stream, whose course they had followed to the ill-fated town, looked no larger than a silver thread. There was the square, ending in the ledge upon which he had first seen Panayota with the water jug upon her shoulder. It had been but a short time ago, a few hours comparatively, and here she was now, a captive being led away in all probability to a shameful fate. Curtis seemed to have lived ages in the past few days, and yet their whole history flashed through his mind during the brief moment of this parting glance. There was the girl, beautiful, desolate, defiant, pure as snow; her hand rested on the shoulder of her father, in one of those pitiful, yet sublime feminine caresses that cry “courage” when, even God Himself seems to fail. She was a Christian, the father a Christian priest, and this was the nineteenth century of our blessed Lord, and there, but a few miles away, lay the great battleships of the Christian powers of Europe, defending the integrity of the Turkish empire!

Curtis gave such a violent start that he nearly fell out of his saddle. Great heavens, was not that the café on fire? The café, where he had left hidden his comrade and friend, Michali, the brave, the boyish, the noble-minded!

“Monsieur!” he cried, “the café! It is burning!”

“Oh, I think not,” replied Kostakes.

“But it is. I can see it plainly; you must send people back to put it out.”

Kostakes took a pair of field glasses from the hands of an orderly, and, calmly adjusting the focus, looked down the hill, while the little army, escorting Panayota and her father, marched rapidly past, and were swallowed up in the ravine.

“You are right,” he said, “it is indeed the café.”

“But you are not sending anybody back to put it out!”

“Monsieur could hardly ask me to do that much for sentiment. Some of my rascals must have eluded my vigilance. They shall be punished.”

Curtis whirled his horse around, urging it with his fists and his sound foot, and started back toward the town. But the way was steep and rough, and the animal had not gone ten paces before two soldiers sprang to its head and seized the bridle on each side. Curtis kicked and struck at them, and, suddenly overcome with a paroxysm of rage, swore at them, but all to no avail. They turned the horse around and led it back to Kostakes.

“Monsieur’s sentiment must be very strong,” said the Captain, smiling sweetly.

“There’s a wounded man in that building. A wounded man, I tell you, and he’ll burn up alive!”

Kostakes shrugged his shoulders.

“It cannot be helped,” he replied, “in war, what is a man more or less? But we must not delay. Allons, Monsieur.”

And he spurred his horse to a brisk walk, while a stout Turk, throwing the bridle rein of Curtis’ animal over his shoulder, trotted along after.

The American looked back.

“I’ll slip off and run to the café,” he thought, “foot or no foot—damn the foot, anyway!” But another soldier with a loaded musket was following close behind. In his despair, the thought of his passport occurred to him. He pulled it from his pocket with feverish haste. It was badly damaged by water, but it held together and the big seal was still there. Urging his horse forward, he flourished the document in Kostakes’ face and shouted:

“I am an American citizen. Do you see that? Voilà! If you do not let me go you suffer for it.”

But all to no avail. He was hustled along by order of the smiling and affable Kostakes, and the last thing his eyes rested upon as he plunged into the ravine was a cloud of smoke pouring from the front door of the demarch’s café.

It did not require a trained eye to see that the Greeks had defended themselves stubbornly and had inflicted much more injury than they had suffered. Curtis counted twenty-five dead Turks in the defile. The continual dread that his horse should step on them kept him in a state of nervousness. But the animal evidently was possessed of as keen sensibilities as his temporary master, for he avoided the corpses with the most patent aversion. At a turn in the pass, behind a jutting rock, lay two Greeks. Curtis fancied this must have been the place where Michali had received his wound. It was evident that a well-organized and desperate stand had been made here, because in the narrowest part of the pass, only a few yards distant, lay seven Turks in a heap. Glancing back at the two dead Greeks, under the impression that he recognized one of them, the American beheld a sight at once noble and disgusting. The priest had lingered and was leaning toward his slain compatriots, making the sign of the cross with solemn gestures, the while he cried in tones sorrowful and defiant.

“I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

Panayota, her glorious eyes streaming with tears, her white hands clasped to her bosom, was looking to heaven and silently praying. Curtis felt his soul uplifted. The narrow walls of the ravine changed to the dim aisle of a cathedral; he seemed to hear a grand organ pealing forth a funeral march.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

When he opened his eyes he found himself in hell. Two or three Turks, grinning with diabolical hate and derision, were spitting at the dead Cretans. The soldier directly behind Papa-Maleko was jabbing him in the back viciously with the butt of his musket, while another touched him playfully between the shoulders with the point of a bayonet. The priest shrank from the steel with a gasp of pain, but turned back as he stumbled along chanting:

“Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord, amen!”

A little farther on they came upon a sight which made Curtis reel in his saddle—the bodies of the seven peasant girls who had leaped over the cliff: Four lay together in a heap. Of the remaining three, one had fallen face down upon a rock, and her long hair, shaken loose, rippled earthward from the white nape of her neck. Another was sleeping the last sleep peacefully, her head upon her outstretched arm, a smile upon her lips; and still a third lay upon her back. This one seemed to have suffered, for there was a look of terror in the staring eyes. Again the priest lifted his voice.

“I am the resurrection and the life,” but the solemn chant was this time interrupted by a shriek from Panayota. Curtis, who had resolutely turned his face from the scene of fascinating horror, looked back quickly at the sound. A slender young girl had arisen upon her elbow, and was stretching her hand imploringly toward the priest. The hand was brown and chubby, but the arm from which the flowing sleeve had slipped away, was very white and shapely. She was dying even then, but the blessed words of her mother’s faith and her mother’s tongue had pierced her swooning ears and she had paused at the very threshold of death for the priest’s benediction. A Turkish soldier thrust her through the neck with his bayonet, and her head dropped softly upon the bosom of a dead fellow.

“But this is barbarous,” cried Curtis. “The civilized world shall know of this. Barbarous, I say, uncivilized—you an officer? A gentleman? Bah!”

“But Monsieur is too violent and hasty,” replied Kostakes. “Irregularities happen in all armies. The man shall be punished.”

“If he is to be shot,” said the American, “please put me in the firing squad!”

Emerging from the pass, they came to a steep, wooded ravine, and their path led through an aisle of tall pine trees. The feet of the soldiers made no noise on the carpet of fallen spines. They found four more dead Turks and picked up two that were wounded. After about an hour of forced marching the ravine spread out into a beautiful sunlit valley, whereon the new plowed ground lay in patches of rich brown, terra-cotta and black loam. The vines were just putting forth their pale green sprouts. The laborers had been surprised in the act of heaping conical mounds about the roots, and an occasional discarded mattock betokened hasty flight. Poppies lifted everywhere their slender-stemmed, scarlet beakers—such glasses in shape as are fit to hold the vintage of the Rhine. The little slopes were set thick with candelabras of the ghostly asphodel, whose clusters of pale-pinkish, waxen flowers seemed indeed to belong to regions where the dear sun is but a memory. Scattering fruit trees, in the full revel and glory of their snowy bloom called to each other with perfume.

It was some time after noon now, but they stopped neither to eat nor rest. Curtis’ foot began to pain him fearfully, but he made no sign. In the midst of such desolation, he felt pain to be a trivial thing. The vines were here, but where were the toilers? The pear trees were in bloom, but where were the laughing children, the wives and maidens with wine and bread for the midday feast? Once they passed a shock-headed boy of fourteen, or possibly younger, lying dead in a vineyard, with his mattock beside him, and later in the day they came upon a plow in the unfinished furrow. One of the oxen was dead, and the other great beast had struggled to his feet and stood patiently beside the body of his mate.

After that their path led for a way through a field of half-grown wheat. Around nearly every shoot the sweet wild-pea had twined its graceful spiral, bravely lifting the pretty blue of the flowers among the pale green of the grain. When the wind swept over the field it looked like changeable silk.

Toward sunset they came within seeing distance of a white village on a mountain side. A vast olive orchard surrounded it and a dozen or more dark green cypress trees pointed heavenward among the houses, like spires.

“Voilà, Monsieur,” cried Kostakes, gaily. “There we shall rest to-night, and shall find time to eat. Are you hungry?”

eCommerce Basis


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