TWO CAME BACK
Here is the story of a strange reunion, a story as fresh and disturbing as tomorrow’s news from Europe
W. G. HARDY
IT WAS a stiff climb from the village to the base of the crag. More than once the major thought Petros Stavropoulos and his game leg wouldn’t manage it. When they did reach the top the old man had to sit for a while. The morning sun was up over the opposite ridge and on its slope the houses of the village were white among the slender cypresses and the branching mulberries and down in the deep valley the terraced vineyards and the thick olives were green and still.
“You would say it was peace, Kyrie,” the old Greek commented.
The major looked. Even to his British eyes there was both beauty and grandeur before him.
“It’s always been there, the village,” the old man went on. “Years ago when Nikoli and Ianni were young, I used to say: ‘What more does a man
need than his land and his wife and to know all his neighbors in friendship?’ That’s the way it was, then.” He drew a long breath. “What’s happened to us—and to the world, Kyrie?”
The major had no answer. You did your job and you had your gin and tonic and if the Greeks acted the fool, what could you do about it? And, after that insane business óf last night down at the inn, what could you do about anything? He said: “This cave, that’s where we’ll find them, eh?” “Yes, Kyrie.”
“Well, where is it?”
Petros Stavropoulos got to his feet. “It must be somewhere here, Kyrie. Ianni and Nikoli, they were always up here when they were boys.” He began to limp toward the crag. “Ah, Kyrie, you should have seen them when they were boys. You would have thought them Damon and Pythias— come back to life.”
BUT in those days Uncle Petros hadn’t been able to prevent them from growing up. One day they were still infants playing in the valley or up on the hillside, the next you were giving them jobs to do—scaring the birds away from the grapes or keeping the crows off the wheat when you spread it on the blankets to dry or gleaning after the women in the tiny fields. You couldn’t keep them apart. When you picked the olives they were in the same tree. When you tramped out the grapes they were in the one vat, laughing and yelling, their brown legs purpled with the juice. When they were 10 and old enough to drive the goats and sheep to the rough pasture, part way up the mountainside, they kept together there, too. They’d get their flock away from the others. They’d sit and watch the hawks and the eagles hovering. They’d look at the ridges that stretched, one after another, to the south and to the w-est and toward the sea, Nauplion way. They’d talk about Nauplion and what Uncle Petros said was there—motorcars and women wearing shoes, and boats bigger than houses and fences made from tin out of which the tops of cans had been punched at what Uncle Petros called a “factory.”
But the day would be long. They’d eat their bread and goat’s cheese. They’d drink their watered wine. They’d stretch out on a flat stone, side by side, with their torn coats over their heads against the sun. Then they’d wake and go exploring—up the mountain ridges, down the gullies and watch out for snakes. They came to know every track and path. And, one day, they found a crevice, low down at the base of the huge crag that overlooked the valley and the village. It didn’t look like anything much. They poked at it. The staff of a shepherd’s crook went through ! They got down and tore away like badgers. They squeezed through. And there was a cave, a big cave.
THAT was their biggest day. They made it their cave. They took an oath never to tell anybody. Day after day, when they’d made sure the other boys were out of sight, they’d slip away to it. They swiped a bottle and Maria, Nikoli’s sister and a year younger, snitched a bit of candle to put in it. They built a hearth of stones and roasted birds’ eggs and made cakes of cracked wheat and water and once they knocked over a hare and nothing ever tasted quite so good.
The days went by, each endless, each timeless. When dusk came they’d round up their flocks. They’d drive them down the slopes and up the curving road that hugged the flank of the mountain. The black goats would mince along. The bells would be tinkling. As they neared the village Maria would run out to meet them and she’d dance along beside them, bubbling with all that had happened during the day. The two boys would grunt and say nothing because they were men and they’d look at the cooking fires blinking and at the men sitting on their doorsteps smoking and plan what they’d do when they were old enough for a wife and a house and a pipe and beer or ouzo at the inn.
They knew nothing else, wanted nothing else. And then, when they were 12, Nikoli’s mother’s brother came back from America.
Nikoli’s mother’s brother was rich, of course. Everybody got rich in America. And he was a widower and Nikoli took his fancy. And Nikoli’s mother’s brother wasn’t going to settle in the village, either. No, by the Hagia Maria. He was going to open a shop. Not in Nauplion. Nauplion wasn’t big enough for a man who’d been to New York. No, in Athens, and why didn’t his sister and her husband let him take Nikoli along? Get him an education? Give him a chance to be something more than a poverty-stricken peasant on a few stone-ridden fields?
It was just a question at first. It got more real as it was talked about. Nikoli’s mother’s brother made it a proposition. Nikoli’s folks talked it over. There was Nikoli and Maria and Nionnios and Dimitri and Toula and another on the way. So, if Nikoli’s mother’s brother—
Two nights later Ianni and Nikoli drove the goats home together for the last time. They hadn’t much to say. Nikoli was excited and sort of scared and he couldn’t quite believe it was really hap-
pening. Off to Nauplion in the morning. Onto a boat. School in Athens. But no Ianni.
That was the part you couldn’t imagine. He glanced at Ianni. Ianni trudging along, looking neither t o right nor to the left. Something of what he must be feeling—the one left behindcame through dimly to Nikoli. He wanted to find words to tell him that it wouldn’t change things between them, even though they were apart. But how could you find words?
“I’ll be back,” Nikoli offered timidly.
Ianni picked up a stone and pitched it after the goats. “Athens,” he said.
Nikoli knew what he meant. Nauplion—you could visualize it. It wasn’t so far away and Uncle Petros had been there. But Athens it was in another world. It wasn’t real ever, to Nikoli himself. The boy looked about him. Down in the valley the women were cutting at the wheat with sickles. Ahead of them the black goats bobbed along. Somewhere up on the mountain a shepherd had started to pipe and the clear thin notes drifted down in the quietness and ahead of them the houses of the village were dusk-white in the gathering darkness and a dog barked, startlingly loud. It was, suddenly, as if, now that he was about to leave it, he were seeing it all for the first time. Realization came upon him and fright and a sense of impending never-to-be-recovered loss. Ianni, too. Not to see Ianni —not to drive the goats out to pasture in the morning or to spend the long day together and not to come home together like this at night and know your people were waiting. Athens? In Athens he’d be alone. Nikoli stopped.
“I won’t go,” he burst out. “I can’t.”
Ianni stopped, too. “You’ve got to,” he said in a flat voice, still not looking at Nikoli.
“I can’t. I won’t. I’ll run away. I’ll hide— up there in our cave.”
Ianni traced a circle in the dust with his big toe. “You know you’ve got to.”
Now that his outburst was over Nikoli really knew that what Ianni said was so. A Greek boy had to do what his folks said. He stared at Ianni, a youngster caught by t he inevitability of change and wanting to deny if.
“Well, anyway, we won’t forget,” he cried. “Will we, Ianni?”
Ianni still wouldn’t look at him. “You will,” he said.
Nikoli stamped his foot. “I won’t. I tell you I won’t.”
“Athens,” Ianni said again. He scuffed at the dirt and a touch of envy and of bitterness and of loneliness, all mingled together, came into his voice. “School. Wearing shoes. Sleeping in an iron bed.” He looked at his friend with eyes that shut him out. “You’ll forget, quick enough.”
Nikoli had to deny it. He had to find some way to break through to Ianni.
“I’ll make an oath,” he cried. And then, catching his breath as the idea seized on him. “That’s it, Ianni. An oath, any oath you like.”
Ianni’s eyes changed. A little light began to glow in them as he gazed at his friend.
“An oath?” he repeated.
“That we don’t forget,” Nikoli whispered in an intent, hoarse voice. “That, five years from now, we’ll meet up there in our cave—and we’ll be just the same.”
“What’ll we swear by?”
They stared at each other. There was the Hagia Maria of course. And there was the Hagios Elias. But there were too, the older gods, the gods the villagers scarcely ever talked about and then in whispers, but at night up on the mountains or out among the olives you felt them stirring and once a year, priest or no priest, you cut the throat of a chicken or a kid.
“Got your knife?” Nikoli demanded hoarsely.
Ianni nodded. He glanced up and down the road. The darkness was thickening. He led the way into the shadow of the cliff.
That was in 1936. Now it was 1946 and Nikoli was in a jeep on his way back to Koumi and two other jeeps with gendarmes in them followed him.
A British major sat beside him. The major and the major’s sergeant up front were to put British prestige to the military court Nikoli was to set up in Koumi and the major was grumbling in a well-bred way about the heat and the roads and about the guerrillas that might be waiting to ambush them in the next pass or around the next bend.
“A bullet or a knife, old chap,” the major said. “That’s what you’re asking for.”
Nikoli smiled, a tight closed smile. There was no need to tell this Major Turnbull that Nikoli had a very close contact with Kantalides, the leader of the Hites in this area, or that Kantalides had, on Nikoli’s order, purged Koumi of Leftists a month
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ago. It was unfortunate that Ianni’s father had had to have a bullet put through him. Though why should he weep over that? Had not Ianni, so Dimitri had told him, been in Kostas’ band a year ago this summer when the Leftists had swooped on Koumi and Maria, his sister?
Nikoli’s hand clamped hard on the edge of the jeep. He saw and didn’t see the mountain slope up which they rattled. He had known of his sister’s death. But not until a couple of months ago, when his brother Dimitri and he had met in Nauplion, had he heard that Ianni had been in Kostas’ band or of what had happened to his sister—led down to the mill and the crosscut saw—
“Really, my dear fellow, you Greeks must learn to stop killing each other,” Major Turnbull was saying.
What did the major know about Greeks? If he could meet Ianni now —Ianni, who had been his friend, Ianni about whom he had thought time after time in the long years, remembering the goats and the pasture and the quiet, sunlit days and feeling always a warmth, an affection—but now, if he could find Ianni in Koumi —not a bullet but a knife and to put it in slowly and twist it—
“All we British want is peace and order,” the major was going on. “Really, old man, you must get that clear. Not to favor one side or the other—”
The bump as the jeep hit a rock lifted both the major and Nikoli and brought them down hard. It brought speech out of Nikoli, too.
“Oh, come off it, major,” he said in the English he’d learned in Egypt and Libya. “You British are here to keep the Russians out.”
“My dear fellow—”
Nikoli laughed, a short clipped laugh. “That’s what we want, too—those of us with sense. Those who haven’t sense—well, they’ve got to be taught.” The major caressed his mustache. “Now that the vote is over and the King is back—” ^
Nikoli laughed again. “What do votes settle?” f
If the beggars could only learn to be reasonable, the major thought with a certain degree of annoyance. He fingered his mustache and glanced at the countryside. They had bumped over the crest of the ridge and down the other side into a gorge with the dry bed of a stream at one side, deep down. As they came out of it the track was swinging to the left, hugging the flank of a mountain. • '¡k
Reasonable, the major thought again. But you couldn’t count on it. Take this fellow here. He’d known this Nikoli since December of ’44. Not a bad chap, really. Good war record, too. But you never knew what was in his mind or what he’d be up to next. This business of choosing to set up a military court in his own village when he could have had a dozen other spots in Southern Greece. You’d have thought a chap would have stayed away from his own home. Oh, well, it was best not to enquire too closely.
He glanced at Nikoli and noticed that he was leaning forward a little, his lips parted.
“How much farther to this Koumi?” the major asked.
Nikoli didn’t hear. An odd sort of excitement that was both eagerness and reluctance was flooding in on him. He knew this road, every twist and every turn of it. It had been 10 years. He had been a peasant boy. Since then, school in Athens and the Germans
coming and himself to Egypt and Libya and after that dropped by parachute on Mount Parnassus to help resistance groups and then the December of ’44 when Elas had fought Edes and the British and he was a King’s man. All that. And there was his father and his mother dead and Nionios and Toula driven off to Germany like cattle and never heard of again and Christi killed and Maria. All that, and he’d schooled himself to be the man he’d become and he’d believed that he’d forgotten the boy he’d been and the thoughts and feelings he’d had. Yet now he watched each mile, each yard become more familiar and the jeep tooled up and around the shoulder of the mountain and there was the valley and the tiny fields and the olives and beyond them the houses of the village were white against the painted cliffs. It had no right to seem so unchanged. That was his first inarticulate cry. And it had no right to bring upon him that treacherous softness, that desire to be that boy again, walking with Ianni along this road as the dusk fell, the bells on the black goats tinkling— “Idyllic, what?” Major Turnbull said comfortably. “But when you get there, my lad — dirt, fleas, dogs, bedbugs—”
But Nikoli was staring up at the crag that overlooked the village. Of their own volition the fingers of his right hand reached for the wrist of his left and felt for the scar. Five years, they’d said.
IANNI wasn’t in a jeep. While Nikoli was setting up his headquarters in his father’s inn and calling the villagers together to announce his intentions and realizing with a weakening sense of dismay the changes in the village, Ianni was trudging across the mountain. There was a rifle slung across his back and a dagger he’d taken off a German was thrust under the band of his ragged trousers and the bite of the rocks and the stones told him that his shoes were using up their last bit of felt. Ianni wiped the sweat off his face with the back of his hand and plodded on. When, up in the north, the news of his father’s death had reached him something had snapped. Kostas kept telling them all that the return of the King was a fraud and a betrayal just as the elections in March had been. Ianni believed him, just as he’d believed him when in that December of ’44 Kostas had led his band to Athens to fight against Edes and the British, crying out that those Greeks who had come back soft from Egypt had no right to dictate to those who had stayed and fought and starved.
But something had snapped. Two years of killing Nazis. Two years of killing Greeks. Was there no end to it? And now, at last, his own father with a bullet through him down among the olive groves. That’s what the government prisoner had said. Ianni had pulled out hi£ dagger. Kostas had stopped him. The thing to do, Kostas had said, was to go on fighting the government that was no true Greek government. But Ianni wanted to kill the man who had killed his father.
So that night he had slipped away. He had made his path south through the mountains, avoiding the towns and the villages, hiding when he saw people, sleeping out, eating what he could help himself to. That was no particular hardship, even though it was October and the nights were chill. Four years as a guerrilla had taken the tough peasant youth and made him into a hard-bitten man. But now he was on the last leg of his journey and something of his caution had deserted him. Reach the village. Search out this
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Kantalides who had had his father shot and put a bullet through him, and make an end.
He glanced at the sun and hurried his steps. He reached the crest of the ridge and started down. Over in the village, had he known it, Nikoli had had his Uncle Petros brought in for questioning. But meantime, Ianni was descending from one level to the next and the sun was almost down and every path, every step, was pressing in on him. There was the gully where Nikoli and lie had found the nest of vipers among the scarlet oleanders and had killed them all and there was the rock where they knocked over the hare and here, at last, was the level plateau of scrawny shrubs and thistles to which they’d driven the goats for pasturing. Ianni’s pace slowed a little as he crossed it. He tried to keep his eyes on the ground. But he looked up and there was the crag, bold against the sky.
Ianni shook his head and started down the gully to the right. Then, his feet stopped. He looked back at the sun. It was rimming the mountaintop and already, ahead of him, the valley was in shadow. Reluctantly, he turned and went out of the gully and up the steep slope. The crevice was still there. He pulled away the boulders with which Nikoli and he had hidden it and, unslinging his rifle and pushing it ahead of him, squeezed through. It took a moment to become accustomed to the light. It was smaller than his memory of it. But the stones of the hearth were still black and for one instant he could smell the hare cooking and taste the flavor of it and there, on the ledge, was the bottle with the bit of candle in it. Ianni reached and took it down. And then he remembered. It was Maria who had snitched that bit of candle for them, not knowing why.
Ianni was very still, remembering. The hot day, more than a year ago, came back and the yelling and the shooting—and himself ashamed and bewildered at being in his own village. He could remember that. And he could see his comrades dragging Maria down the dusty street and Kostas shouting that she was a traitor and her brother was for the King and someone else shouting that it was she who had betrayed Griva’s hiding place so that the Monarchists had caught him and knocked out his teeth and shot
him. That’s what they’d shouted at her. He’d run after them down to the mill. He’d thought that his comrades intended to scare her, to beat her a little, perhaps, and let her go. And then the crosscut saw and himself yelling out and rushing in to stop them and the rifle butt against his head and when he came to—
It was something he’d blocked off. When he’d come to they’d been away from the village and he’d felt he could never go back to it—not until a fortnight ago, not till he’d heard about his father—and, besides, there were his comrades and, besides, as Kostas had pointed out, the Alonarchists had killed and tortured and there could be no mercy to them or truce with them. But now, holding this bottle, a wave of nausea gripped him. He and Nikoli in this cave—he and Nikoli swearing friendship for always—and Maria, that laughing, dancing girl —
He realized that he was still gripping the bottle. In a fierce revulsion he flung it against the wall. It smashed. He gazed down at it. Things happened. You were Greeks and your tempers were fiercely hot and completely sudden and no one but another Greek could understand how hot and how sudden and that things happened. Nikoli—a King’s man. As if that weren’t enough —Maria—
Ianni told himself that thinking wouldn’t help. There was still the job that had brought him back. That was enough for a Greek. He picked up his rifle. His mother, if she were alive, would know where this Kantalides might, be found. But to go into the village with a rifle. He’d been lucky so far. It was, though, the last ten steps that counted. Better to leave the rifle here. Better, too, to wait until it was dark and get to his home unobserved, if he could, and find out how the land lay. A lot could have happened in a year.
He put the rifle on the ledge, carefully. He made sure that his dagger was tucked in securely. Then he got down to squeeze back through the crevice.
IT WAS near midnight. Nikoli and the major sat in the big room of the inn. There was a bottle on the rough table and in the flickering of the single candle their features were wan
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and uncertain and the edges of the room were filled with shadows.
The major watched the Greek without seeming to. All afternoon he’d been watching him, conscious that this man was under stress and he didn’t like the way, either, that Nikoli tossed down his wine and then sat staring at the table.
“I know them all, that’s the trouble,” Nikoli said suddenly.
The major raised an eyebrow.
“And the gaps, major. You ask for this one. The Germans killed him or her. You ask for that one. He or she—starved. You know it went on all over Greece. When it’s your own village you notice it.”
The major made a sympathetic sound.
“Old men, women, children. That’s all that’s left. The Germans took the young men. Or else they joined the guerrillas.”
“This Ianni,” the major said. “I noticed you asked everyone about him. Was he a friçnd?”
Nikoli glanced at the major sharply. The major’s face was bland.
“And Greek killed Greek here, too,” Nikoli said. He reached for the bottle. “Well, they know who’s on top now.” The major coughed. “I don’t know that you’re altogether wise, old chap.” Nikoli put the bottle down. “In the old days, major, there would have been a crowd around the jeeps before we’d stopped. Today—well, you saw it.
Heads poking out of doorways and drawing back. Everybody suspicious of everybody else.” He picked up the bottle again and poured a drink and downed it. “There’s only one way to manage them these days. Show them who’s top dog.”
“Is that why you’re packing this Petros Stavropoulos off to jail in Nauplion?”
Nikoli brought his fist down on the table. “He refused my order. He refused to tell the villagers that every person who comes in or out of the village must be reported to me at once.” The major sat back. “Why not tell them yourself, lieutenant?”
There was a bitter smile on Nikoli’s face. “You saw how they looked at me. As if I were an alien. But if Petros Stavropoulos, whom they trust, were to tell them—”
He reached for the bottle once more. The major said in a clipped decisive tone:
“I don’t like it, lieutenant. This Petros seemed not a bad type to me.” “Oh?”
“Yes. If we were to have him in and explain the situation to him—” Nikoli sat a moment. “All right,” he said.
He got up, went to the front door, unbarred it and spoke to the gendarme. He came back and sat down. The major in his turn filled his glass.
As they waited, a score of paces from the inn Ianni hugged the slim shadow of a cypress and cursed the half moon that rode low, a hunk of silver, over the peaks of the ridge. There was no room in him now for remembered remorse or haunting affection or anything but the desire to kill. His father dragged down to the olive trees and strung up and as he hung there the laughter and the bullets thumping into him! When his mother had told him he had leaped to his feet. He had grabbed for his dagger.
“This Kantalides,” he had got out of him, imploringly.
Then his mother had spat it at him. Not Kantalides. Everyone in the village knew it now. Nikoli, his friend. Nikoli come back to lord it over the village and Uncle Petros seized and Nikoli intending to wipe him out, too. Nikoli taking vengeance for Maria.
“He’s asking for you,” his mother had said. “He’s after you, too.”
The count was even. His father for Maria. Now, it was Nikoli against himself.
These were the confused thoughts that had boiled in him, that had taken him from his home and up through the rocks and the cypresses and to the back of the inn. It would have been more sensible to have slipped back to the cave and to have gotten his rifle and to have waited in ambush, no one knowing of his coming. That was what his mother had begged. But his father’s blood cried out. So did his own—hot, boiling, blinding as it hammered through his veins—and he had come this far without either plan or reflection.
But it was the last ten steps that counted and he paused to consider them. He was no more than a score of yards from the back door in the white-washed wall, twice the height of a man, that enclosed the courtyard of the inn. But a gendarme with a rifle was leaning near that door and between the gendarme and himself the ground was bare and washed with silver. His instinct was to leap across the space and take his chance.
It wasn’t sure enough. The gendarme was a Greek, too, and a bullet was faster than his footsteps. Ianni forced himself to think. On the other side, near the corner, was the mulberry that Nikoli and he had used, hundreds of times, to drop onto the wall and slide down inside. And there was a clump of cypresses in that direction. He would still have to cross an open space. But he would be crawling at an angle and away from the sentry and if he took it slowly, at a snail’s pace—
INSIDE the inn Nikoli had waved the guard outside and Petros Stavropoulos was standing before him and the major. Uncle Petros was older. His head was thatched with grey and the once comfortable belly was shrunken and he favored the leg that the Germans had put a bullet into. But his eyes were as shrewd and as quizzical as ever and, looking at him, Nikoli felt again a treacherous weakness assailing him. He put it down sternly. He told Uncle Petros crisply that at the insistence of Major Turnbull, he was giving him another chance. Uncle Petros said nothing. The major leaned forward. He rather liked the look of this fellow. He spoke to him reasonably, as one man to another. He pointed out that the British were in Greece at the invitation of the Government and that all they were interested in Mas in helping to restore peace and order and that he understood from Nikoli Tsakanos that Petros had voted for the return of the King.
“We were told that it was what the British wanted, Kyrie,” Petros said briefly.
“Oh,” the major said, a trifle embarrassed as he always was when the realities of Greek politics were forced upon him. “Well, in any case—” “Nikoli Tsakanos knows, Kyrie,” Petros went on steadily, “that I am neither for the Right nor for the Left. I am for peace—peace and to live at amity with my neighbor, not to spy on him. 7
Nikoli flushed. “But, for the sake of law and order it is necessary that I know—”
“It is spying,” Petros spat. “I will not spy—-or ask my neighbor to spy.” “Petros Stavropoulos—”
“It was Uncle Petros. Or has Nikoli Tsakanos forgotten?”
“I haven’t forgotten,” Nikoli was on his feet and shouting. “Ncr have I, Petros Stavropoulos, forgotten my sister, Maria. I have not forgotten that
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it was your own brother’s son, Ianni Stavropoulos—”
“And at your order, my brother, Taki Stavropoulos, was dragged down to the olives yonder—”
They were shouting back and forth at each other, their faces red and angry, their eyes flashing, their fists under each other’s noses. The major leaned back, watching them, a faint look of disgust on his face. He did not see or hear the back door edge open, little by little. Neither did the other two. None of the three knew that there was a fourth person in the room until, abruptly, an arm about Nikoli’s neck wrenched him down into his chair and a dagger pricked his throat and a voice said:
“One move — any of you — and it goes in.”
They were frozen for an instant. The major thought fast. Nikoli was wearing a pistol. He himself wasn’t. His pistol was in the corner with his kit. The major left his hands where they were, carefully. He saw the tall Greek with the tough, weather-beaten face and the shock of uncut, tousled hair take a short step back and with his left hand snatch Nikoli’s pistol from its holster, and then take a full step back, transferring the pistol to his right hand as he moved. He had them all covered now. Petrol Stavropoulos said:
“Yes, Ianni, Uncle Petros. Ianni here to put a bullet through—through this shedder of my father’s blood.”
“From you,” Nikoli blazed at him. “You, who helped kill my sister.” He twisted round. He spat, “Killer of women!”
It was no use trying to explain that he had not willed that killing, that he had tried to prevent it. But the accusation did something to Ianni. He was where he had planned to be. He had Nikoli before the pistol and he had only to tighten his finger and send a bullet crashing into him as the bullets had crashed into his father’s body. He willed his finger to tighten. Nothing happened.
Uncle Petros spoke and his voice was sad and hopeless and there was a touch of pleading in it:
“There’s been enough killing, Ianni.”
You had not willed it, Ianni was thinking in a bewildered sort of way. You could not tell how it had come to pass. But here they were, the two of them, and they had been boys together with a love for each other passing all other love and the memory of that love was like a faint bell tolling
across the years and yet a river of hate and a torrent of blood flowed between them and only by more blood could it be crossed. He said in a hoarse whisper:
“The cave is still there, Nikoli.”
Nikoli was abruptly very still, very silent, as if he, too, heard something.
“We were to meet there — remember?”
“Well, then? With a knife, only?1’
Nikoli nodded again, slowly, and his face, the major noticed with a sense of shock, was very calm and very sad. Ianni didn’t say anything more. No one said anything more. Ianni backed slowly toward the door, his pistol covering the major. At the door he paused.
“Good-by, Uncle Petros,” he said and tossed the pistol on the dirt floor. Even as it thumped he was gone, silent as a shadow. The major drew in a breath. Then he jumped to his feet.
“The gendarmes,” he said and started for the front door.
Nikoli stopped him. “No, Major Turnbull.”
“But my dear fellow—”
Nikoli got to his feet. Something in his face made the major cease protesting. He watched as Nikoli walked over to the corner where his kit was and fumbled around in it for a moment and then came back to the light. It was a knife he was pulling out of its sheath, the major saw, a beautiful blade, long and narrow and with a dull sheen to it.
“My dear man,” the major sa'd, shocked out. of his silence. “You don’t really intend—
Nikoli smiled. The major glanced at Petros Stavropoulos. The old Greek was watching and there was no protest in his face, only a sort of acceptance of the inevitable.
Nikoli pushed the knife back into its sheath. He turned and walked to the back door. He slipped through. The major turned to the old Greek.
“Look here, man, this cave they talked of—I mean, can’t we stop this crazy—this insane—”
Petros Stavropoulos shook his head. “I don’t know where it is, Kyrie. Nobody knows.” He limped over to the table. “No one can find them—not now. Not tonight.”
“But, we can’t just wait and do nothing.”
Petros Stavropoulos sat down in Nikoli’s chair. He reached for the bottle. He said, and his tone was almost insulting:
“The wine is good, Englishman.” ★