“How shall I ever thank you for saving my life?”
“Very easily. If you know anything about this part of the island you can yust lead us out of here. If we don’t find something to eat to-day we shall be sorry we didn’t drown. I’d rather drown than starve any time. It don’t last so long, and isn’t so painful.”
The two speakers were Michali and the Lieutenant. They were standing, together with the American, beside a fire of driftwood which the vestas in Curtis’ metal matchbox had enabled them to light. A bit of sand, sheltered from the waves by a projecting rock, had made it easy for them to land. It is true that Michali’s strength had soon given out, but his friends, both being powerful swimmers, had brought him to the shore in safety. After scrambling for a way blindly up the side of a hill, actuated by an instinctive, though perhaps groundless, fear of capture, they had paused and looked down upon the sea. There were two of the sailors hanging to the arm of a gallows frame planted in the sea. The torn canvas fluttered helpless in the wind. The captain clung to the arm of another gallows a few feet distant, and the third sailor was floating about over the submerged caique on the cabin roof. The gunboat shied out into deeper water, and brought the filibusters in. Then the three comrades crouched behind a rock, while the Cyclopean eye of the monster that hurls deadlier missiles than old Homer ever dreamed of searched hill and shore.
“They’ll never try to catch us,” said Lindbohm, as the gunboat sailed away. “They couldn’t if they wanted to, and they’ve no particular business with us anyhow.”
So they built a fire and kept themselves warm as much by the exercise of bringing and breaking up wood as by the flames themselves. When morning finally peeped at the pallid sea and kissed its face to ruddy life and laughter, the Cretan, the Swede and the American looked one another over and took an inventory of their condition. They were dry, but hungry. Curtis and Michali had lost their hats. Michali had tied a handkerchief about his own head in peasant fashion, and had performed the same office for Curtis. Lindbohm’s straw had not escaped from the tether, and he still wore it, glistening with salt and hanging down on one side like the wing of a wounded duck. His long coat had shrunk until the tails parted in the middle of his back as though the space between them had been cut out with a triangular stamp. He alone of the three had removed his shoes after reaching the shore. Not being able to put them on again, he cut away the uppers, and tied the remnant on with strings, which he passed through the holes slashed in the sides. A resourceful and courageous man was the Lieutenant.
“Now, we are ready,” he said, to Michali; “lead on to breakfast.”
“I think,” replied Michali, “that we must to the sea go down, and pass around the shore to where the caique wished to come up. There we shall find Greeks waiting. Embros!” (forward.)
But, alas, when they arrived at the beach again they found that the little stretch of sand which had been their salvation ended against an abrupt wall of rock.
“We must go around the hill the other way,” said Curtis.
“We may happen on a shepherd or see a village,” suggested Michali, cheerfully. “Many people live along this northern coast of the island.”
So they returned again to the bit of sandy beach where they had landed. By this time it was ten o’clock.
“Hello! What’s this?” cried Curtis, who was walking nearer the sea than the others. They looked. He was holding between his finger and thumb a small, spherical object, that looked like a bluish-black apple, stuck full of pins of the same color.
“Bravo!” shouted Michali. “Bravo! I think it will be our breakfast. It is an achinoos.”
“Eat that?” asked Lindbohm, regarding the object doubtfully. “I would yust as soon bite into a live hedgehog.”
Michali produced a large pocket knife and cut the creature in two. It contained about a spoonful of yellow eggs and a quantity of dark, muddy substance. Carefully collecting the contents upon the point of his knife, he offered the dainty morsel to Lindbohm and Curtis, who each took a little on the tip of his finger and tasted.
“Tastes like salt mud,” said the Swede.
“Nevertheless, if it will sustain life, and if more of them can be found”—suggested the American.
Removing their shoes and arming themselves with sticks, the three adventurers waded out a little way from shore and began to poke among the rocks for sea urchins.
In a short time a pile of living pincushions rewarded their efforts. The spines moved continually, as though rooted in loose skin, and occasionally one of the queer creatures rolled slowly seaward, walking on the tips.
“Kind of a globular centipede, with the legs sticking in all directions, isn’t he?” observed Curtis, regarding one in motion.
“You would have thought so had you on one stepped!” replied Michali; “the spines are sometimes—what you call him, poisonous. You would not have put on your boot for many days.”
“They are slow eating,” said the Swede, sucking the contents from the half of one noisily, as though it were a teacup.
“Nevertheless, with bread they are delicious,” persisted Michali.
“Anything would be delicious with bread yust now,” observed the Lieutenant.
At the end of the sandy beach a steep, rocky hill uprose. By the time the three comrades reached the top of this, the sun was pouring down his fiercest rays upon them, and the echini were tormenting their vitals with an avenging thirst. At their right soared the majestic and inaccessible mountains of Crete, at the left and far below stretched the winsome sea, strewn with islands and flecked with flitting sails. They walked for half an hour over volcanic rock, through spiteful, thorny shrubs that clutched at their ankles and tore their clothing, and came at last to the brink of a ravine whose walls were as perpendicular as though they had been cut with a giant saw. In the bed, far below, a mountain torrent dashed eagerly to sea, making sheer leaps over smoothly worn rocks or swirling about in hollow basins.
The three looked down on it and their thirst grew.
“I could drink it all,” said Curtis.
A swallow drifted by on slanting wings, darted to the brim of the water-fall and leaped again skyward.
“How is a bird superior to a man!” exclaimed Michali.
“The wings of a man are his mind,” replied the Swede. “The hedgehogs are on fire inside of me. We must reach that water to quench them. It would take the whole stream to put out the ones that I ate.”
After another hour they came upon a goat trail that, leading from above, ended abruptly and zigzagged from ledge to ledge down the side of the cliff into the stream. Michali’s delight was unbounded.
“Follow this trail,” he cried, “and we shall a shepherd find with water, or may be a village, who knows?”
“How far is it?” asked Lindbohm.
“How do I know? Perhaps one mile—perhaps ten.”
“If it is two, the hedgehogs will burn through before I get there,” replied Curtis. “I’m going down.”
“It is very dangerous,” replied Michali.
“We must yust take our chances,” asserted Lindbohm.
The descent was not so difficult as it appeared. Within twelve feet of the bottom they found themselves on the edge of a rock. Below them the stream gurgled enticingly between banks of snowy sand.
“And now?” asked Curtis.
“We must yust yump and take our chances,” replied Lindbohm. Instinctively seizing the tails of his coat he held them out like wings and sprang into the air.
“Hurrah!” he cried, looking up. “It’s all right,” and throwing himself flat on his stomach, he sucked up long drafts of the cool, refreshing water. In a moment Michali and Curtis were lying beside him.
“How do the goats get out of here?” asked Curtis, looking at the face of the rock down which he had just made a flying leap.
“O, a goat is like a fly; he can skip up a pane of glass,” replied Lindbohm.
“We must now follow the stream up,” said Michali. “We shall surely find somebody. In Greece, where there is water, men are not far away.”
“But we are not in Greece,” objected Lindbohm. The Cretan’s eyes blazed.
“Do not say that when you are among my countrymen—it would not be safe.”
Lindbohm seized him by the hand.
“I beg your pardon,” he cried. “You are right. We are in the very heart of Greece, and we are here to shoot down anybody who says the contrary.”
For some distance up the ravine the path was over fine sand and easy. Then they came to a long stretch tumbled full of round, smooth bowlders. Twice they were obliged to climb steep rocks that extended from one wall to the other like the face of a dam. They pulled themselves up the end of these by means of the vines growing in the ravine, whose sides still rose sheer above them to such a height that they seemed almost to meet at the top. Finally, when Michali had clambered before the others to the top of a rocky dam, higher and steeper than usual, he gave a loud shout of joy and pointed dramatically upstream. Lindbohm followed agilely, and Curtis with more difficulty. There, perhaps a mile away, was a white village, sitting in an amphitheater, like an audience of an ancient stadium. Behind and at either side, patches of terraced vineyards lay smiling in the sun, and a flock of goats was grazing on a mountain side, at the edge of a pine forest. The mountain stream, broken into half a dozen rivulets, wandered through the streets, and then slid and leaped, like a bevy of children, down a tremendous, steeply slanting ledge, on the edge of which the hither houses perilously stood.
“How do you know it’s not Turkish?” asked Lindbohm.
“There are no minarets,” replied Michali.
“Why, of course! Any one can tell a Greek from a Turkish village as soon as he sees it. Come on, then!”
Michali and the Lieutenant sprang gayly forward, but soon they stopped and looked around.
“Are you not coming?” asked Michali.
Curtis arose and sank down again. His companions ran back.
“What’s the matter?” they asked in chorus.
“I can go no farther,” replied Curtis. “I scratched my foot on a stone when we were gathering those sea urchins, and it’s swelling up in my shoe.”
“Why didn’t you say something?” asked Lindbohm.
“A man doesn’t like to squeal about a scratch, you know,” replied the American. “Pull the blamed shoe off for me, will you? Hold on! hold on, I tell you! Holy Moses, how that hurts!”
“You’ll just have to cut the shoe off,” suggested the Lieutenant.
“I don’t like to do that. What’ll I do without shoes?”
“Ah, you will wear the beautiful Cretan boots!” cried Michali enthusiastically. “The yellow, soft, strong boots. There is no such leather in the world. Do you not know how Crete is famous for the boots?”
“That settles it, then,” exclaimed Curtis. “I won’t stand this torture any longer. Here, Lindbohm, old man, just slit that shoe right open, will you?”
The foot was badly swollen, and, being released from the confining shoe, it straightway puffed up to double the normal size. Lindbohm and Michali each took one of the lame man’s arms, and thus they proceeded quite rapidly. Curtis held tightly to the shoe.
“They cost me eight dollars,” he said, “and it’s a shame to throw it away.”