“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.”
It was about one o’clock in the afternoon when they arrived at the foot of the tremendous rocky dam which they must scale to reach the village. The sun was shining brilliantly, and the dozen or more rivulets that were racing and leaping downward glittered like molten silver. From the bed of the ravine not a house was visible. Lindbohm made a trumpet of his hands, and, looking upward, shouted lustily, drawing out the last syllable of the word as though it were a vocal telescope.
“Hillo! Hillo! Hillo!”
A girl came to the edge. She appeared to be standing on the top of a wall. She was floating in sunlight; she was glorified. Tall, straight, deep-bosomed, she wore a skirt of blue home-spun and a short jacket of the same material, with sleeves that were white from the elbows down. Her hair, that was in reality a soft brown, seemed of gold; one massive strand fell over her bosom quite to her knees. Her face was oval, the features as clearly cut as those of a goddess. Her large brown eyes, wide apart beneath a low, broad forehead, beamed with fearless innocence and wonder. On her left shoulder rested a huge earthen water jug, two-handled, bulging near the top and dwindling at each end. Her right hand held this in place, and her left rested on her hip.
“What is it, strangers?” she called down, in a winning voice.
“Sphakiote,” said Michali.
“What’s sphakiote?” asked Lindbohm; “Greek for goddess?”
The Cretan shouted back a few words of explanation, and the maiden disappeared. Ten minutes later the edge was lined with the citizens of Ambellaki; tow-headed children, women, old and young, tall pallikaria, boys and maidens. All the males, of whatever age, wore high yellow boots, voluminous blue trousers and soft red fezzes, that broke across the crown and fell backward, ending in a long black tassel. The women and girls were for the most part attired like the maiden who had first appeared, though several of them wore handkerchiefs tied about their heads.
“Here’s the demarch,” shouted a chorus.
“And Papa-Maleko,” cried the rest, as though in response.
A majestic old Cretan, with two silver-mounted pistols and a long pearl-handled knife in his belt, took his place in the middle of the line. He was soon joined by a priest in venerable robes and tall hat. Curtis imagined that the inhabitants of some comic opera town had come out on the walls to hold parley with himself and his two friends. He wondered what character he was, but his foot hurt so that he was unable to make up his mind.
“What is your business with us?” asked the demarch, pompously, remembering that he was acting in official capacity in the presence of his entire constituency.
Michali explained at length. His story threw the listening Cretans into a state of great excitement. Several of them had lighted the beacon for the guidance of the Holy Mary. Two or three youngsters, letting themselves down from the edge of the natural battlement, descended by means of shrubbery and jutting stones, sprawling in midair like huge spiders. On reaching the bottom, they commenced an animated conversation with Michali, the upshot of which was that they must all go up as the youngsters had just come down, and that it was very easy if you had courage. In proof of which, a boy of fifteen sprawled skyward again, looking back every moment to laugh and shout “Enibros!”
“I can do it easily,” said Michali, with pride. “All Cretans can climb, if some of them cannot swim. Can you follow me?”
“I can certainly try,” replied the Lieutenant.
Finally Michali and Lindbohm concluded to mount, and consult with the citizens as to the best means of assisting Curtis to the top.
“There’s some other way to get up,” suggested the Cretan, “only they are suspicious of us as yet, and will not tell.”
Michali, true to his boast, climbed the face of the terrace with the greatest ease. Lindbohm reminded Curtis of the frog and the well in the mental arithmetic.
“How long will it take him to reach the top,” he mused, “if he stops to rest during every seventh minute?”
He was a genius at mental arithmetic and had nearly figured out the proposition to submit it to Lindbohm, when he heard people shouting above. Looking up, he perceived that they were letting down a long rope, and that several young Cretans, accompanied by Michali, were coming with it.
“Put it around your waist,” explained the latter, “they will pull on the other end, and so you will go up, slowly, slowly. You can use your hands and the good foot to help and to keep yourself away from the stones and bushes.”
Several pairs of strong hands pulled Curtis safely up the wall, and he found himself in the public square of a picturesque little village. White, two-story houses surrounded an open space, in the midst of which stood an immense platane tree. Under this latter were four rickety tables and a dozen or so of chairs, for the accommodation of those who chose to enjoy the beauties of nature in the open air and partake of the mayor’s coffee or masticha. The mayor, be it observed, was proprietor of the only refectory the town was large enough to support. The influence of the saloon in politics is felt even in the mountains of Crete.
Lindbohm and the priest rushed forward and assisted the American to one of the chairs. The mayor brought another and tenderly placed the lame foot upon it, shouting, meanwhile, a storm of voluble orders, in a good-natured, blustering voice. Michali arrived and interpreted, for which Curtis was thankful, as he did not understand the mayor’s guttural, rapid Greek.
“He bids you welcome in the name of all Ambellaki! He has ordered you a glass of masticha. Ah! Here it comes now. You are to stay in the priest’s house, who will say a prayer over your foot as soon as he gets you home.”
The group was by this time surrounded by the entire population of the town, or as much of it as was not out in the vineyards, or on the hills with the sheep and the goats. Curtis rose on one leg.
“Behold the human stork,” he exclaimed in English, because he did not know the Greek for “stork.”
“What does he say?” asked the demarch. Michali explained the joke at length. “He compares himself to a stork, because a stork usually stands on one leg. He, being lame, and unable to stand on both legs, rests his entire weight on one, like a stork.”
“But he does not at all resemble a stork,” objected several voices.
“They say you do not resemble a stork,” explained the interpreter.
“O, thanks! But I was joking. Don’t you Cretans understand a joke?”
“He says he is joking, and he fears we do not understand a joke.”
“It is a joke, my children,” cried the demarch, “an American joke, and it is the part of hospitality and politeness to laugh,” whereupon he smote the table with his mighty palm and burst into a roar of Olympian laughter. The constituency looked on in silent amazement.
“Laugh, you donkeys!” cried the demarch. “Laugh, I command you. Are we uncivilized like the Turks?” And he strode threateningly toward the group, which broke in all directions and darted for cover. They laughed, however, long and conscientiously at first, but, ere they had ceased, a genuine ring crept into their mirth. The priest and the demarch assisted Curtis to his temporary residence. On the way shockheaded boys looked out at him from over ruined walls of adobe and cobblestones, and, pointing their fingers, cried, “There goes the stork!” and girls peeping from behind doors or pushing their blooming faces through screens of trellised vine, giggled, “How are you, Mr. Stork?”
Curtis’ name was seldom asked in the mountains of Crete. He was known and is to this day, as Kyrios Pelargos—Mr. Stork. As soon as opportunity presented he made a new head in his note book and entered the following observation:
“Character of the modern Cretans. First: Extraordinary sense of humor.”
The house of Papa-Maleko Nicolaides consisted of three rooms, two downstairs and one above. Curtis was given a seat upon an antique couch with a wooden frame, upon whose high back was carved the date, 1855. Papa-Maleko’s father-in-law had received it in that year as part of his wife’s dowry, and had given it in turn to his own daughter. It was a highly prized possession.
A trunk studded with brass-headed nails, several low wooden stools and a bureau completed the furniture of the apartment.
The priest brought a stool for Curtis’ foot, and lifted the wounded member tenderly thereon. The windows and doors were darkened by the wondering population. Two or three leading citizens pushed through into the room and commenced talking in chorus. All gesticulated wildly. Lindbohm knelt down and began to remove the stocking.
“I know something of medicine,” he said. “Do I hurt you?”
“Go on,” replied Curtis; “that’s a mere detail.”
Lindbohm poked the puffy sole here and there until his patient gave a jump, as when the dentist finds a nerve.
“There it is,” cried Curtis. “There’s something in it.”
Further examination discovered the head of a black sliver, which, after several attempts with a penknife blade and his thumbnail, the Lieutenant succeeded in extracting. The curiosity of the throng, that now packed the room almost to suffocation, found expression in a storm of volubility. The sliver was passed from hand to hand. Curtis thought he detected again and again the syllables, “many, many.” He forgot they were speaking Greek.
“Do they say there are others?” he asked.
“No,” replied Michali; “they say ‘kaiemene,’ which means poor fellow!”
“O, tell ’em it’s nothing. Just a sliver in my foot. I’ll be all right in an hour.”
“On the contrary, I regret to say that you a sore foot may have during two or three weeks. It is a spine of the achinoos.”
“O, the sea hedgehog. Is it poisonous?”
“Not exactly poisonous, but it will make much irritation. You should have spoken of him immediately, then it would not have been so bad. Did it not hurt very bad?”
“Why, it hurt some, of course, but I thought I had scratched my foot on a stone. I wasn’t going to delay the game for a little scratch.”
“Well, by Jupiter!” cried Lindbohm, “you Americans have plenty of gravel.”
“Plenty of what?”
“Plenty of gravel. Isn’t that what you say? I heard the expression once.”
“Perhaps you mean sand?”
“Maybe it is. At any rate, you’ve got it.”
At this moment a tremendous hubbub arose. The demarch lunged through the crowd, and, throwing his constituents to right and left, made way for the entry of an old woman, who stabbed the ground at every step with a long, quivering staff. She was bent like the new moon, and her wrinkled skin was the color of a mild cigar. In her left hand she held, a wisp of dried herbs. The cries of relief and joy which her presence evoked reminded Curtis of the arrival of a tardy fire engine.
“Who’s this?” he asked.
“She is the wise woman,” replied Michali. “She will put something on the foot that will cure him very quick.”
Her orders, delivered in a shrill voice, resulted in the immediate production of warm water, a towel and a basin. The old woman made the sign of the cross over the foot. She then washed it, applied the leaves and bound them on with rags.
“That does feel nice,” said Curtis. “How much ought I to offer her?”
“Money?” asked Michali.
“Yes, of course.”
“Nothing, nothing. She would be—what you call him? She would suffer in her feelings. You are the guest of the village. Bid me to thank her for you.”
“Sure. Tell her she’s a regular old brick. Tell her my own mother couldn’t have done it better.”
“Ah, that, yes. I do not know what is that brick, but the mother will make her very glad.”
Michali evidently knew what to say, for she patted Curtis’ head affectionately, and tears ran down her cheeks.
“She says she had three boys, all big, strong fellows like you, and the Turks have kill them all,” explained Michali.
“Yes,” replied Curtis. “I understood the most of that myself. She speaks very plain.”
The demarch now made a brief speech, which resulted in clearing the house. As the Ambellakians retired, a merry voice shouted:
“Perastika, Kyrie Pelarge!” (May you recover soon, Mr. Stork) and all took up the refrain, shouting the syllables over and over, amid great laughter. To Michali’s unbounded delight, Curtis cried “Eucharisto!” (Thanks.)
“That was splendid,” said Michali, when all had left except himself, Lindbohm, the demarch and Papa-Maleko. “How did you understand what they have said?”
“I studied modern Greek in college and used to practice on the Greeks in Boston. But I understand hardly anything. I’m disgusted with myself. I said “Eucharisto” because it was the only word I could think of.”
“O, you are too modest. You answered exactly right. They said, ‘May you get well soon, Mr. Stork,’ and you answered, Thank you, thank you.”
Curtis took from his pocket a book, badly damaged by the bath which it had received when he had jumped for his life from the ill-fated “Holy Mary,” but still serviceable.
“This is a new method, just out,” he explained, holding it up to view. “O, I shall be talking in a day or two—I lose confidence when there are so many people together. They all jabber at once, and I can’t understand a word.”
The demarch and the priest examined with great reverence the copy of Rangave’s excellent method.
Their ideas of books were chiefly associated with the Holy Scriptures and the “Lives of the Saints.” The mayor crossed himself devoutly, but the priest refrained. He had heard that there were profane books.
Evening was now at hand, and a girl came in, bringing two lighted candles in tall brass candlesticks. She was the maiden whom the shipwrecked strangers had first seen, standing on the edge of the precipice, with the water jug on her shoulder. Her height was rather greater than that of the ordinary woman, her figure was both slender and athletic. There was something antique and statuesque in her attitude now, as she advanced, holding the two tall candlesticks. Papa-Maleko introduced her as his daughter and Michali explained. She smiled sweetly and replied with charming graciousness of manner that the strangers were welcome. There was no simpering nor coyness. She bore herself with the modest courage of innate nobility and innocence. The false standards of so-called civilization were unknown to her. She was a daughter of the democracy of the mountains. In her theory of the world all women were virtuous, and all men, except Turks, were gentlemen and heroes. When Curtis heard her speak Greek, he redoubled his resolve to perfect himself in the language without delay. He even framed a sentence with which to address her, but a certain shyness, the fear of exciting laughter in those beautiful eyes through some mistake in accent or grammar, deterred him.
Lindbohm, as soon as he comprehended that he was being presented to the mistress of the house, brought his heels together, and, bowing low, lifted her hand to his lips. It was a knightly and courtier-like act, that clothed him in dignity despite the shrunken and salt incrusted Prince Albert and the grotesque remnants of shoes. Panayota flushed like a peony and looked inquiringly at Michali.
“It is the custom among the gentlemen in his country,” replied the young patriot, who had read of similar scenes in foreign romances. “He salutes you as though you were a queen.”
“It is a beautiful custom,” said the demarch. “But is not the American also a gentleman?” for Curtis, rising with difficulty on one leg, had shaken Panayota cordially by the hand.
“O, the Americans are great democrats,” replied Michali. “This is a royal salute, you know, and they know nothing about such things.”
The beautiful young girl brought in a tablecloth and spread it on the floor. The demarch stepped to the door, and, calling a young boy from the street, said something to him in a low tone.
A noisy but good-natured discussion immediately arose between the mayor on the one hand and Papa-Maleko and his daughter on the other. The priest, darting from the door, called the boy back; the mayor, seizing Lindbohm’s cane, threatened the boy with it, and pushed the priest back into the house.
Panayota protested laughingly, calling upon the Virgin and crossing herself.
“What’s the row, anyway?” asked Curtis, to his great disgust not being able to catch enough words from the rapidly-spoken sentences to be quite sure of their meaning. Panayota’s enunciation was more clear cut and distinct than that of the others, and from what she said, he concluded that the mayor was ordering food from his café, a proceeding which the priest and his daughter good-naturedly resented, as a reflection on their own hospitality.
“Seems like a quarrel between Church and State,” observed Curtis.
Michali explained the remark, easily understood in Greek, and the mayor, shouting great thunder claps of laughter, patted Curtis on the back and cried, “Bravo! bravo!”
Panayota placed on the cloth a huge loaf of brown bread, a plate of black olives and a jug of water. The Sphakiotes do not take kindly to wine. But the feast was not yet complete; a young man entered, bearing a large bowl of brown earthenware, filled with something that emitted a cloud of fragrant steam; and a plate containing a large chunk of white halva. These he deposited upon the tablecloth, and Panayota, with a graceful wave of the hand and a dazzling smile that flashed from her white teeth and beamed in her great brown eyes, cried “Oreeste.” The demarch sat down on the floor, crossing his legs under him. The priest laid his hand upon Lindbohm’s shoulder, and pointed to the feast. The Swede sat down as awkwardly and as many jointedly as a camel. The floor seemed far away to him, and when he had finally reached it, do what he could with his legs, his knees persisted in rising on a level with his ears. Curtis slid his lame foot along until he was sitting on the floor with his back against the sofa. The Cretans made the sign of the cross, which corresponds with our blessing, and Panayota, who was standing meekly by as serving maid, distributed four forks among the five diners. There not being enough to go around, the demarch unsheathed a long knife whose silver-mounted handle ended broadly, with two flaring ears, not unlike the butt of an Arab’s gun. Cutting the bread with this, he impaled a bounteous portion and offered it to Curtis, who took it from the point, saying “Eucharisto, polu, Demarche.” (Many thanks, Mr. Mayor.)
“Bravo, bravo!” cried Michali, “you’re getting on. At this rate you will speak Greek by to-morrow better than I do!”
“This is truly wonderful,” observed the priest, and asked Curtis, slowly and distinctly, “How many years have you been in Greece?”
“He says—” began Michali.
“Hold on, old man, I understand him,” interrupted Curtis, and he replied, slowly but correctly, in Greek:
“I have been here only two weeks.”
“This is a miracle,” roared the demarch. “We shall make a Cretan of you; but let us begin eating,” and, spearing a piece of bread with his knife, he dipped it into the soup.
“You must do as I do,” said Michali, dipping his own chunk and eating it from his fork. “This is lenten soup—black-eyed beans cooked with oil. Over this was the contest between Church and State. The mayor’s cook makes famous lenten soup and Kyr’ Nikolaki wished to send for some, but Papa-Maleko desired the dinner himself to furnish.”
“Kalo?” asked the mayor, holding a huge chunk of dripping bread suspended in midair over the bowl.
“He asks you is it good?” explained Michali to Lindbohm.
“Kalo? kalo?” repeated Kyr’ Nikolaki.
“Kalo,” replied Lindbohm.
A medium of general communication was now established. Papa-Maleko and Kyr’ Nikolaki with nearly every bite smiled upon Curtis and Lindbohm and asked “Kalo?” and they both replied, “Kalo, kalo.”
After dinner the demarch departed, taking Michali with him, and Panayota, made up the bed on the floor for Curtis and Lindbohm. She brought in a mattress from outdoors, which somewhat mystified Curtis until he remembered that the stone stairway to the upper regions was built on the outside of the house. She laid a sheet on the mattress and over that a quilt with a sheet sewed to it in such a manner that the end was doubled over and bore the initials, beautifully embroidered, of Panayota Nicolaides.
Curtis was confined to his room four days with the foot, which time he devoted assiduously to the method.
On the fifth day he was able, with the aid of a rustic crutch, to get down to the demarch’s café. Michali assisted him as he hobbled down the stony street, his lame foot clumsily bundled in rags and swinging in the air. Lindbohm strode on ahead, instinctively making sword-like passes with the rattan cane. The latter’s appearance had been much dignified by the assumption of a swashbuckling pair of yellow boots. He had been repeatedly offered a Cretan fez, but he clung with inexplicable affection to the shapeless and uneasy straw, still tethered to his buttonhole.
“Behold!” cried Michali, as they reached a turn in the street whence the view was unobstructed over the tops of the houses. “Yonder is the ravine where we came up, and there is the sea. You will hardly find a village in all Greece from which the sea is not visible.”
The village, on this fragrant and dewy spring morning, was peaceful and idyllic. Curtis drew a long breath, and, closing his eyes, imagined himself in ancient Arkadia. On the balconies of the neatly whitewashed houses pots of basil and begonia had been set out, and formed green patches against the white. Here and there an almond tree in full bloom dispensed wide sweetness, or shook its snowy petals to the breeze. The site of the town was so uneven that it seemed possible to step from the threshold of some of the dwellings on to the red-tiled roofs of others. There was water everywhere. Sometimes it ran through wooden troughs and sometimes it darted down clear byways worn in the blue rock. They walked beside a wall, on which was an aqueduct, and they heard the water gurgling above their heads.
The wall was overgrown with vines and a long line of poppies had leaped atop. Slightly bowed by the wind they seemed stooping to drink. At the end of the wall the rivulet poured into a round stone basin, sunk into the ground for the convenience of animals. A plane tree waited patiently at the basin that the sheep and goats might drink in the shade. A wandering peddler with his donkey came down a tributary street. The animal was sandwiched between two boxes, each as large as himself. The street was so steep that he seemed to be walking on his front legs.
The demarch was standing in the door of his café. A single grape vine, spreading out on a frame, supported by two posts and the wall, made a canopy above his head. The leaves were new, and were as pale green as young frogs. Kyrios Nikolaki was an imposing figure, and doubtless felt his position in the community, combining as he did in one person the important functions of mayor, grocer, saloon keeper and banker. He stood now, with his hairy hands crossed over his semi-spherical stomach, watching the advent of his guests and smiling benignly. As Curtis glanced at the tall yellow boots, the voluminous breeches, the double-breasted vest with woolen balls for buttons, and the rakish fez, he thought for the first time since landing in Crete of his camera. That had gone down with the “Holy Mary.” The demarch was clean-shaven, with the exception of his gray mustache, and his shirtsleeves were fresh from the iron. His cheeks were florid with good living, and he would have been a comely man save for the fact that his lower lids had fallen a little, disclosing a red and raw looking spot under each eye.
“Welcome! welcome!” he cried, as the party arrived. “How is Mr. Stork and the Lieutenant? And Kyr’ Michali? And where is the Church this morning? Why did you not bring him along, that he might take a drink of cognac with the State?”
“I am very well,” replied Curtis in Greek. “We did not bring the Church, because we did not see him.”
Curtis had made great progress in Panayota’s language. He had found the girl very willing to talk with him and not a little interested in his efforts to acquire fluency in her native tongue. He had also made this discovery, which pleased him greatly, that the Greek of these sturdy mountaineers was easier for him than that of Athens, as it possessed a more archaic flavor.
“Marvelous! marvelous!” shouted the demarch. “Your progress is wonderful. I observe it every day.”
“Ah, this is comfortable,” said Curtis, sitting on a bench with his back against the plane tree. “Are all the Cretan villages as pretty as this?”
“Some are much more beautiful,” cried Michali. “That is, those which the Turks have not destroyed. But this village is not so easy for them to reach. You see how hard it is from the sea to come. And behold, we have all around us a circle of mountains.”
“An enemy couldn’t get in at all,” said Lindbohm, casting an experienced eye about. He was striding nervously to and fro, fencing with an imaginary opponent.
“Yes, one way. There is, what you call it—a cut in the hill—”
“A ravine,” suggested Curtis.
“Yes, I think so. A ravine, very deep and very crooked. But the shepherds watch him all the time.”
The conversation did not progress rapidly, because Greek politeness demanded that Michali translate every word for the demarch, whose own remarks, moreover, it was necessary to turn into English.
“Would you like to see the inside of my store?” asked the latter, a lull in the conversation making him feel that he must do something for the entertainment of his guests. Michali had again described the shipwreck, the English had been denounced as barbarians, worse than the Turks, and the demarch had told a story of a famous battle in which thirty Cretans slew two hundred Mohammedans, on which occasion he himself had led the victorious party. There seemed to be nothing more to talk about.
“I have some very fine pictures inside,” said the mayor. “Come, Lieutenant, Mr. Stork, Michali.”
“Where are the pictures?” asked Curtis, when they had entered, hoping that his host possessed a collection of Byzantine, or perhaps Venetian, works of art. Kyr’ Nikolaki glanced about the room and waved his hand majestically.
“They are hanging on the walls,” he replied.
Borrowing Lindbohm’s cane, he made the circuit of the room, pointing to the wretched prints that were hung high up, close to the ceiling.
“This,” he explained, “is Marko Botsares, a famous Greek patriot of the war of independence. Have you ever heard of him?”
“Heard of him!” cried Curtis.
“At midnight in his guarded tent
The Turk lay dreaming of the hour,
When Greece, her knee in suppliance bent
Should tremble at his power!”
“And this is Ali Pasha, with his head in the lap of his favorite wife,” continued the mayor. “He lived at Janina. He was finally killed, as he deserved to be. He terrified Albania, Epirus and a part of Macedonia, but the Suliotes he could not terrify. Their women preferred to die rather than submit to Turks.” Kyr’ Nikolaki was reciting, after the manner of a lecturer, one of those glorious incidents in modern Greek history which all Greeks know by heart.
“Why do you go to Suli for an example of heroism?” cried Michali, springing to his feet, his eyes blazing with excitement. “He will tell you of the deeds of the brave Suliote women, and how they blew themselves up with their own powder, or danced, singing, over the edge of one cliff, to save their honor. Why shall he not tell rather of the convent of Arkadia?”
“Ah, certainly, certainly, tell them of Arkadia,” cried the demarch, catching the name.
“It was Mustapha Pasha,” continued Michali, speaking rapidly despite his unfamiliarity with English. His fists were clenched, and he jerked out the words by nervously smiting the air, as though beating on an invisible table.
“He had come with very many Turks to Retimo. He kills, he burns. The women, and the small children, they cannot climb over the hills and sleep on the rocks. They take asylum in the monastery of Arkadia, on south side of Mt. Ida. The old men go, too. Mustapha, he puts cannon on mountains, all around and fires down from above. By and by, he beats down the walls, and his army rush into the court. He say ‘Yield.’ The women, the old men, the friars, they say ‘No, we die!’ and they shoot from the windows. O, they kill very many Turks. Then Mustapha bring in his cannon, and he commence shoot at walls of building. Pretty soon he will make a hole. Father Gabriel, the Hegoumenos, he see this. He shout through the roar of the cannon: ‘Shall we die, my children, or shall we yield?’ They say all together ‘We shall die!'”
Lindbohm was striding up and down before the speaker. The demarch still held the rattan cane, but the Lieutenant was making home thrusts with his closed fist.
“Father Gabriel he stretch out his arms. They all fall on their knees, the women, the children, the old men. The Hegoumenos blesses them; he say, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit these souls!’ Then he goes down cellar. They know where he gone. The women hug their babies tight and begin to sing the hymn of liberty, and the men join in. They are all looking to the sky and chanting—” and Michali sang:
“From the bones of the Greeks upspringing,
Who died that we might be free,
And the strength of thy strong youth bringing—
Hail, Liberty, Hail to thee!
“Every moment a bullet comes through and kills somebody, but they know nothing, now, except the song ‘Hail, Liberty.’ Then the wall falls and in rush the Turks and begin to kill, when ‘boom’ the powder magazine roars like one gun, and all are dead—Greeks, Turks, all dead—ah! all dead together!—two hundred Turks!”
But the demarch, not understanding all this, was unable to enter fully into the enthusiasm of the others. He was anxious to continue with his picture gallery.
“This,” he said, “is the Lordos Beeron, who, being descended from the ancient Greeks, came over to this country to fight for his native land.”
Curtis, despite his enthusiasm for Byron, did not rise. He had seen that woodcut before, in Athens. It represented the youthful poet wearing a brass cavalry helmet with a sublime plume. This is the Byron honored among the uneducated classes in Greece, who know him as soldier and not as poet. With nodding plume and warlike eye he frowns terribly down from the dingy walls of a thousand khans and wayside inns. In this apotheosis he no longer holds high converse with Shelley and Tom Moore; he hobnobs with Ypsilanti, Botsares and Admiral Miaoules.
“This,” continued Kyr’ Nikolaki, “is the most beautiful woman in the world. I have never found any one who knew her name, but all agree that she is a Greek—probably a Sphakiote.”
Lindbohm and Michali gazed earnestly at the cheap engraving, but no name was visible. Curtis arose, and, placing his hand on the mayor’s shoulder, hopped across the room.
“An American actress, by Jove!” he exclaimed. “She’s a beauty, indeed, but she’s an American, old man.” And in Greek to the mayor: “She’s an American—ah—I can’t think of the word for ‘actor.’ Michali, tell him her picture is to be found in every nook and cranny of the civilized globe. I can’t say ‘nook’ and ‘cranny’ in Greek.”