Panayota was part of the flight and of the panic, but she was not, even in the moment of her greatest fear, a part of the Turks. Her one thought as she repeated the name of the Virgin beneath her yashmak and crossed herself with her hands hidden within the loose black robe, was to get away from the Mohammedans. Let the heavens fall and the earth yawn, so she escape from Kostakes and his kin! The ever-increasing stream of humanity ran, scrambled, and, as it grew denser, fought its way on to the city gate, through which it poured into the dusty road beyond. Once outside the city a momentary feeling of relief possessed the throng, as though they had arrived at a place of safety. They did not cease to run, but there was a lull in the frightened chatter. A woman seized Panayota by the arm and addressed to her a voluble question in Turkish, between gasps for breath and hysteric sobs. The Cretan, not understanding a word, plucked away her sleeve and struggled toward the edge of the human stream. The woman, following, again seized her by the arm and repeated the question in a voice of shrill querulousness. In the midst of Panayota’s new terror—that of betrayal—sounded the boom of another gun and the crash of near-by walls. Her tormentor screamed and clutched both hands into the back of a tall Turk, in whom fear had proved a stronger passion than lust or fanaticism, and who was fighting a way to safety through his weaker neighbors. Panayota, suddenly released, fell clear of the human stream against the corner of a hut that stood by the roadside. She ran to the end of the building and looked back. It was absolutely certain that no one of all that hysterical, panic-stricken flock of human sheep saw her. She stepped behind the building and reeled for a moment against the rough mud wall, hands upon it high up, face between them. She felt faint, but the Virgin answered her prayers with strength. An opening in a hedge of aloes invited her. Through this she stepped and, stooping, ran for a long distance, keeping the hedge between her and the fleeing Turks. She came at last to a little building, long and low, standing by the side of a cross road. She pushed the door open and gave a cry of joy. The tall stand, with its circular top, covered with spikes for holding candles, the curtained recess at the farther end of the room, the crude earthen censer in the window—all told her that she had taken refuge in a Christian church, which, strange to say, had neither been damaged nor defiled. On the wall beside the curtain was a tiny shelf, and upon this stood a bit of board about four inches square, bearing on its hither surface the dim resemblance of an oval-faced woman and chubby, naked child.
“Ah, the dear Panayeia!” cried Panayota, transported with delight. Tearing her Turkish garments from her, she threw them to the earth with a “Na!” and spat upon them. Then she turned to kiss the eikon, but ere she did so it occurred to her that the place was defiled by the clothing which she had just removed. She therefore gathered the pile up and peeped from the door. Seeing no one, she hid the clothing in the hedge and returned to light one of the yellow candles which she found upon the stand. She took it as a good omen that half a dozen matches, evidently left by a previous worshiper, were scattered about among the candles. Panayota had no money with her, not a lepton, not a para, so she took a thin gold ring from her finger, once given her by her father, kissed it and laid it among the few copper coins on the stand. Wonderful peace and comfort came to her. The sanctuary of the Most High seemed pervaded by the divine presence. Save for the flicker of the beeswax candle, she was almost in darkness. It was nearly sunset and the only light of day that entered came through a narrow slit in the thick wall. She went to the door frequently and listened, whenever she heard excited voices and footsteps of people hurrying along the road, but all the passers-by were Turks. The world seemed full of Turks.
Just at dusk three men stopped opposite the door and fell into a dispute. After wrangling for a few moments they came directly toward the church. Panayota ran to the curtain and then drew back in superstitious terror. Should she enter the Holy of Holies, even to save her life? A hoarse laugh at the very door decided her. The men entered. She heard their exclamation of surprise at the burning candle, though she could not understand what they said. She looked about her, impotent with terror, her white lips moving mechanically in prayer. In the end of the church above her head was a narrow slit to admit the light. Even as she stared a swallow flitted in and out. Fainting with fear, she seemed to feel herself dragged by rough hands from her hiding place, as she stood there with closed eyes behind the thin curtain. A fearful scream, the scream of a woman in the last extreme of fright and horror, did not at first arouse her. It seemed perfectly natural for a woman to be screaming. Then, all at once, the consciousness that she was saved flashed upon her—saved through another’s misfortune, but saved. She pulled the curtain back and peeped out. The stand had been kicked over, the candle was out, but the room was empty. Still those dreadful screams continued, mixed with bestial chuckling and laughter. A Christian girl was hysterically shrieking for mercy. Suddenly the shrieks ceased, and then broke forth again at a greater distance, as though some ruffian were holding his hand over the poor girl’s mouth as she was being dragged away. Panayota turned sick with pity and terror—pity for the unknown and unseen victim, and terror at her own narrow escape. A long period of silence ensued, at the end of which Panayota plucked up courage to pull the door open a trifle and peep out. It was now nearly dark. She heard distant voices, but could see no one. The church had become to her an abode of fear. Mohammedans might enter it at any moment to commit sacrilege. The hedge was near by. If she could only reach that unobserved she could flit along in its shadow toward the open country. Then she could run all night. Several times she nerved herself for the start, but found her courage insufficient. Once, when she had really pushed the door open wide enough to let herself out, she heard men’s footsteps. She drew back, and again suffered that dreadful apprehension that they were coming into the church. They were two Turkish soldiers, and they went right on. As soon as their footsteps had died away in the night, Panayota crossed herself, and, stooping low, ran to the hedge. She stole by it for some distance until it was cut in two by a gray streak of road that dimly threaded the darkness.
“I cannot follow the hedge all night,” she reasoned. “If I get out into the country, it must be by the road.”
Again commending herself to the Virgin, she started down the highway, walking as quietly as possible and stopping every few minutes to listen. She had not gone far before she became aware of gruff voices and she stole a little way into the field and crouched among the vines.
“Perhaps they are Christians,” she mused, and the mere possibility thrilled her with pleasure. So greatly did she wish it to be so, that she actually fancied that she heard Greek words. Resting upon one knee, with her hands pressed tight to her fluttering heart, she leaned forward in the darkness, a smile flickering upon her lips. She was almost ready in her confidence to cry out:
“Eh, fellow countrymen!” when the voices undeceived her.
“O, Mother of God!” she moaned, “are there, then, no more Christians in thy world?”
More cautiously than before she stole along the faint, slate-colored ribbon of road that unfolded before her, a few feet at a time in the dimness of the great stars; and at last she beheld a light that flickered and went out several times and then burned feebly but steadily.
As she stole along, undecided whether to make a wide detour or to trust to the darkness and pass by near the light, two men seemed to rise from the very ground at her feet. Panayota saw them first and managed to slip by them, but her foot hit a stone and sent it rolling down the bank. One of the men called after her in Turkish. She did not dare to run, but, lifting her skirts, tiptoed away with long steps. The men made a sudden rush for her, and she flew down the road on the wings of fear, screaming once, “Help! Help! Panayeia!”
As her pursuers heard the feminine voice and the Greek, they shouted “Ho! Ho! A Greek pullet!” and came stumbling after; but Panayota was a Sphakiote maiden and not so easily caught. On, on, she ran, with the sound of those heavy footsteps and that satyr laughter ever in her ears, and, as it seemed to her, nearer, nearer. She came to a place where the roads forked, and, by some instinct, followed the right branch toward that tiny, flickering beacon that seemed to beckon her in the darkness. All at once her pursuers stopped, burst into a hoarse guffaw and went back. Panayota could not for the moment believe it. She feared they were simply torturing her; that they would turn again in a moment and resume the chase. She staggered on, too faint, almost, to stand, yet not daring to stop. She was passing a row of small houses. They were square patches of bluish gray, and the doors were long holes where the dark came through. Here was absolute silence, as though it were the city of the dead, and the walls of the dwellings were giant tombstones. But here at last was the house of the light. Panayota stood on the opposite side of the road and looked into the open door.
“A Christian at last!” she cried. “Now God be praised!”
A bare little room she beheld, with a floor of beaten earth, and containing only a couple of chairs and a pair of barangas, or platforms of plank on each side of the fireplace. Upon the wall hung an eikon of the dear, blessed Virgin, and upon a shelf beneath sat a tumbler of olive oil upon whose surface floated a burning wick. A woman stood before the eikon, crossing herself rhythmically and praying with a silent motion of the lips.
But while Panayota stood in the door, before she could open her mouth to speak, her fleeting joy gave place to the old terror. This was but a woman, after all, with whom she was about to take refuge, and the Turks were just behind her and all about.
Panayota seized the door jamb to keep herself from falling, and her head drooped against her arm.
“Woman,” she gasped, “are you not crazy? Why do you not run? The Turks! The Turks!”
The woman looked around. She was young and comely, with an oval face from which the black hair was neatly brushed back, low down over the ears. Her eyes were large—unnaturally large and dark—and there was in them an expression which awed Panayota. Their utter fearlessness was uncanny at such a time, and back of it was a depth of accepted despair that has tasted all grief and hence knows no further fear.
“You are in no danger from the Turks here,” said the woman. Her voice was infinitely calm. It came into Panayota’s world of fire, massacre, outrage, like a voice from another sphere.
Then all at once light seemed to break in upon Panayota’s mind as she stood there bewildered.
“She is dazed with fear or some great misfortune,” she thought. “She is losing her mind,” and, springing forward, she seized the woman by the arm, crying in her ear:
“Come away, sister—the Turks! the Turks!”
But the woman shook her off and shrank from her and motioned her back with outstretched arms and uplifted palms, saying:
“Do not touch me!”
“But the Turks are upon you!”
“We who live in this village are not afraid of the Turks. Who comes here runs a greater danger than that of the knife.”
“Yes, I know. Violence,” whispered Panayota, turning her face toward the door and listening.
“Who would offer violence to a leper?”
If there is any horror in a Cretan girl’s mind equal to that of dishonor it is the horror of leprosy—that hideous sore on the body of the loveliest siren isle that floats in any sea. Panayota, in her vigorous and life-giving mountain home, had heard leprosy spoken of as a curse of God. She had always classed it with the punishments of hell—something to be shuddered at even when mentioned; but the possibility of coming into contact with it had never entered her mind.
She turned to flee again into the darkness, when she heard in the street, almost before the door, the sound of footsteps, and husky, gargling voices talking Turkish. Panayota sank to the floor senseless. Two Mohammedan lepers, who lived farther down the street, passed by on their way home. They did not look in because Aglaia, stepping quietly over the prostrate form, had closed the door.