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The Bond of Friendship
We've recently made a little journey, and
already we want to make a longer one. Where? To Sparta, or Mycenae,
or Delphi? There are hundreds of places whose names make the heart
pound with the love of travel. On horseback we climb mountain paths,
through shrubs and brush. A single traveler looks like a whole
caravan. He rides in front with his guide; a pack horse carries
luggage, tent, and provisions; a couple of soldiers guard the rear
for his protection. No inn with soft beds awaits him at the end of a
tiring day's journey; often the tent is his roof in nature's great
wilderness, and the guide cooks him his supper-a pilau of rice,
fowl, and curry. Thousands of gnats swarm around the little tent. It
is a miserable night, and tomorrow the route will head across
swollen streams. Sit tight on your horse lest you are washed away!
What reward is there for these hardships? The
greatest! The richest! Nature reveals herself here in all her glory;
every spot is history; eye and mind alike are delighted. The poet
can sing of it, the painter portray it in splendid pictures; but
neither can reproduce the air of reality that sinks deep into the
soul of the spectator, and remains there.
The lonely herdsman up on the hills could,
perhaps, by the simple story of an event in his life, open your
eyes, and with a few words let you behold the land of the Hellenes
better than any travel book could do. Let him speak, then! About a
custom, a beautiful, peculiar custom. The shepherd in the mountains
will tell about it. He calls it the bond of friendship, and relates:
Our house was built of clay, but the doorposts
were fluted marble pillars found on the spot where the house was
built. The roof almost reached the ground. Now it was black-brown
and ugly; but when it was new it was covered with blooming oleander
and fresh laurel branches fetched from beyond the mountains. The
walks around our house were narrow. Walls of rock rose steeply up,
bare and black in color. On top of them, clouds often hung like
white living beings. I never heard a bird sing here, and never did
the men dance here to the sound of the bagpipe; but the place was
sacred from olden times. Its very name reminded of that, for it was
called Delphi. The dark, solemn mountains were all covered with
snow. The brightest, which gleamed in the red evening sun the
longest, was Parnassus. The brook close by our house rushed down
from it, and was also sacred, long ago. Now the donkey makes it
muddy with its feet, but the current rolls on and becomes clear
How well I remember every spot and its deep
In the middle of the hut a fire was lit, and
when the hot ashes lay high and glowing, the bread was baked in it.
If the snow was piled up high round our hut and almost covered it,
then my mother seemed to be her brightest. She would hold my head
between her hands, kiss my forehead, and sing the songs she never
sang at other times, for our masters, the Turks, did not like them.
And she sang: "On the summit of Olympus, in the fir tree forest
lived an old stag; its eyes were heavy with tears. It wept red, yes,
and even green and light-blue tears. Then a roebuck came by and
said, 'What ails you, that you cry so, that you weep red, green,
yes, even light-blue, tears?' The stag replied, 'The Turk has
entered our city. He has fierce dogs for the hunt, a goodly pack.' I
will drive them away across the islands,' said the young roebuck. 'I
will drive them away across the islands into the deep sea!' But
before evening the roebuck was slain, and before nightfall the stag
was hunted and killed."
When my mother sang this her eyes became
moist, and a tear hung on the long lashes. But she concealed it, and
turned our black bread in the ashes. Then I would clench my fists
and say, "We'll kill the Turks!"
But she repeated the words of the song, " 'I
will drive them across the islands into the deep sea!' But before
evening the roebuck was slain, and before nightfall the stag was
hunted and killed."
For several days and nights we had been alone
in our hut, and then my father came home. I knew he would bring me
sea shells from the Gulf of Lepanto, or maybe even a sharp gleaming
knife. But this time he brought us a child, a naked little girl whom
he had carried under his sheepskin coat. She was wrapped in a fur,
but when this was taken off and she lay in my mother's lap all that
she possessed was three silver coins fastened in her dark hair. And
father explained to us that the Turks had killed her parents, and
told us so much about it that I dreamed about it all night. Father
himself had been wounded, and my mother dressed his arm. His wound
was deep, and the thick sheepskin was stiff with blood.
The little girl was to be my sister! She was
so beautiful, with clear, shining eyes; even my mother's eyes were
not gentler than hers. Yes, Anastasia, as they called her, was to be
my sister, for her father was united to mine, united in accordance
with an old custom we still keep. They had sworn brotherhood in
their youth, and had chosen the most beautiful and virtuous girl in
the whole country to consecrate their bond of friendship. I had
often heard of the queer and beautiful custom.
So now the little girl was my sister. She sat
in my lap; I brought her flowers and feathers of the field birds. We
drank together of the waters of Parnassus and slept head to head
beneath the laurel roof of the hut, while many a winter my mother
sang of the red, the green, and the light-blue tears. But still I
didn't understand it was my own countrymen whose thousandfold
sorrows were reflected in those tears.
One day, three Frankish men came, dressed
differently than we were. They had their tents and beds packed on
horses; and more than twenty Turks, armed with swords and muskets,
accompanied them, for they were friends of the pasha, and carried
letters from him. They only came to view our mountains, to climb
Parnassus through snow and clouds, and to see the strange, steep
black rocks surrounding our hut. There was no room for them inside
our home, nor could they stand the smoke rolling along the ceiling
and out at the low door; so they pitched their tents in the narrow
clearing outside our house, roasted lambs and birds, and drank
strong, sweet wine, which the Turks did not dare to drink.
When they left, I went with them for some
distance, and my little sister hung in a goatskin on my back. One of
the Frankish gentlemen had me stand before a rock, and sketched me
and her, so lifelike as we stood there, so that we looked like one
being-I had never thought of it before, but Anastasia and I were
really one person. She was always sitting in my lap or hanging on my
back in the goatskin, and when I dreamed she appeared in my dreams.
Two nights later other men came to our hut,
armed with knives and muskets. They were Albanians, brave men, said
my mother. They stayed only a short while, wrapping tobacco in
strips of paper and smoking it. My sister Anastasia sat on the knees
of one of them, and when he was gone she had only two silver coins
in her hair instead of three. The oldest of the men talked about
which route they should take; he was not sure.
"If I spit upward," he said, "it will fall in
my face; if I spit downward, it will fall in my beard!"
But they had to make a choice, so they went,
and my father followed them. And soon afterwards we heard the sound
of shots! The firing increased; then soldiers rushed into our hut
and took my mother, myself, and Anastasia prisoners. The robbers,
they said, had stayed with us, and my father had gone with them;
therefore we had to be taken away. Soon I saw the robbers' corpses,
and I saw my father's corpse too, and I cried myself to sleep. When
I awoke we were in prison, but the cell was no worse than the room
in our hut. And they gave me onions to eat and musty wine poured
from a tarred sack, but ours at home was no better.
I don't know how long we were held prisoners,
but many days and nights went by. It was our holy Eastertime when we
were released. I carried Anastasia on my back, for my mother was ill
and could only walk slowly, and it was a long way down to the sea,
to the Gulf of Lepanto. We entered a church magnificent with
pictures on a golden background. They were pictures of angels, oh,
so beautiful! but I thought our little Anastasia was just as
beautiful. In the center of the floor was a coffin filled with
roses. "The Lord Christ is symbolized there as a beautiful rose,"
said my mother; and then the priest chanted, "Christ is risen!"
Everybody kissed each other. All the people had lighted tapers in
their hands; I received one, and so did little Anastasia. The
bagpipes played, men danced hand in hand from the church, and the
women outside were roasting the Easter lamb. We were invited to
share it, and when I sat by the fire a boy older than I put his arms
around my neck, kissed me, and cried, "Christ is risen!" Thus we met
for the first time, Aphtanides and I.
My mother could make fishing nets, which gave
her a good income here in the bay, so for a long time we lived
beside the sea-the beautiful sea that tasted like tears, and whose
colors reminded me of the song of the weeping stag, for its waters
were sometimes red, sometimes green, and then again light-blue.
Aphtanides knew how to guide a boat, and I
often sat in it with Anastasia while it glided through the water,
like a cloud over the sky. Then, as the sun set and the mountains
turned a deeper and deeper blue, one range seemed to rise behind the
other, and behind all of them was Parnassus, covered with snow. Its
summit gleamed in the evening rays like glowing iron, and it seemed
as though the light shone from within it; for long after the sun had
set the mountaintop still glittered in the clear, blue shimmering
air. The white sea birds touched the water's surface with their
wings, and indeed everything here was as calm as among the black
rocks at Delphi.
I was lying on my back in the boat while
Anastasia leaned against my chest, and the stars above shone more
brightly than our church lamps. They were the same stars, and they
were in exactly the same position above me, as when I had sat
outside our hut at Delphi, and at last I imagined I was still there.
Then there was a splash in the water, and the boat rocked violently!
I cried out loud, for Anastasia had fallen overboard, but just as
quickly Aphtanides had leaped in after her, and soon he lifted her
up to me. We undressed her, wrung the water out of her clothes; and
then dressed her again. Aphtanides did the same for himself. We
remained on the water until their clothes were dry; and no one knew
about our fright over the little adopted sister in whose life
Aphtanides also now had a part.
Then it was summer! The sun blazed so fiercely
that the leaves on the trees withered. I thought of our cool
mountains and their fresh-water streams, and my mother longed for
them too; so one evening we journeyed home. How quiet it was and how
peaceful! We walked on through the high thyme, still fragrant though
the sun had dried its leaves. Not a shepherd did we meet; not a
single hut did we pass. Everything was quiet and deserted; only a
shooting star told us that in heaven there still was life. I do not
know if the clear blue air glowed with its own light, or if the rays
came from the stars, but we could plainly make out the outlines of
the mountains. My mother lit a fire and roasted the onions she had
brought with her; then my sister and I slept among the thyme, with
no fear of the wolf or the jackal, not to mention fear of the ugly,
fire-breathing smidraki, for my mother sat beside us, and
this I believed was enough.
When we reached our old home we found the hut
a heap of ruins, and had to build a new one. A couple of women
helped my mother, and in a few days the walls were raised and
covered with a new roof of oleander. My mother braided many bottle
holsters of bark and skins; I tended the priests' little flock, and
Anastasia and the little tortoises were my playmates.
One day we had a visit from our dear
Aphtanides, who said how much he had longed to see us; he stayed
with us for two whole days.
A month later he came again, to tell us he was
taking a ship for Corfu and Patras but had to bid us good-by first;
he had brought our mother a large fish. He talked a great deal, not
only about the fishermen out in the Gulf of Lepanto, but also of the
kings and heroes who had once ruled Greece, just as the Turks rule
I have seen a bud on a rosebush develop
through the days and weeks into a full, blooming flower before I was
even aware how large, beautiful, and blushing it had become; and now
I saw the same thing in Anastasia. She was now a beautiful,
fullgrown girl, and I was a strong youth. I myself had taken from
the wolves that fell before my musket the skins that covered my
mother's and Anastasia's beds. Years had passed.
Then one evening Aphtanides returned, strong,
brown, and slender as a reed. He kissed us all, and had many stories
to tell of the great ocean, the fortifications of Malta, and the
strange tombs of Egypt. It all sounded wonderful, like a priestly
legend, and I looked at him with a kind of awe.
"How much you know!" I said. "How well you can
tell about it!"
"But after all, you once told me about the
most wonderful thing," he said. "You told me something that has
never been out of my thoughts-the grand old custom of the bond of
friendship, a custom I want very much to follow. Brother, let us go
to church, as your and Anastasia's fathers did before us. Your
sister is the most beautiful and innocent of girls; she shall
consecrate us! No nation has such beautiful old customs as we
Anastasia blushed like a fresh rose, and my
mother kissed Aphtanides.
An hour's walk from our house, where loose
earth lies on the rocks, and a few scattered trees give shade, stood
the little church, a silver lamp hanging before its altar.
I wore my best clothes. The white fustanella
fell in rich folds over my hips, the red jacket fitted tight and
snug, the tassel on my fez was silver, and in my girdle gleamed my
knife and pistols. Aphtanides wore the blue costume of the Greek
sailors; on his chest hung a silver medallion with a figure of the
Virgin Mary, and his scarf was as costly as those worn by rich men.
Everyone could see that we two were going to some ceremony.
We entered the little empty church, where the
evening sunlight, streaming through the door, gleamed on the burning
lamp and the colored pictures on the golden background. We knelt on
the altar steps, and Anastasia stood before us. A long white garment
hung loosely and lightly over her graceful figure; on her white neck
and bosom a chain of old and new coins formed a large collar. Her
black hair was fastened in a single knot and held together by a
small cap fashioned of gold and silver coins that had been found in
the old temples. No Greek girl had more beautiful ornaments than
she. Her face beamed, and her eyes were bright as two stars.
The three of us prayed silently, and then she
asked us, "Will you be friends in life and in death?"
"Yes", we replied.
"Will each of you, whatever may happen,
remember: my brother is a part of me! My secrets are his secrets; my
happiness is his happiness! Self-sacrifice, patience, every virtue
in me, belongs to him as well as to me!"
Then she placed our hands together and kissed
each of us on the forehead, and again we prayed silently. Then the
priest came through the door behind the altar and blessed the three
of us; the singing voices of other holy men sounded from behind the
altar screen. The bond of eternal friendship was completed. When we
arose I saw that my mother standing by the church door was weeping
How cheerful it was now in our little hut by
the springs of Delphi! The evening before his departure Aphtanides
sat with me on the mountainside, his arm around my waist, mine
around his neck. We spoke of the suffering of Greece, and of the men
the country could trust. Every thought of our souls was clear to
each of us, and I took his hand. "One thing more you must know, one
thing that till this moment only God and I have known! My whole soul
is filled with a love-a love stronger than the love I feel for my
mother and for you!"
"And whom do you love?" asked Aphtanides, his
face and neck turning red.
"I love Anastasia," I said-and then his hand
trembled in mine, and he turned pale as a corpse. I saw it and
understood, and I also believe my hand trembled. I bent
toward him, kissed his brow, and whispered, "I have never told her
this. Maybe she doesn't love me. Consider this, brother. I've seen
her daily; she has grown up by my side, grown into my soul!"
"And she shall be yours!" he said. "Yours! I
cannot lie to you, nor will I. I love her too, but tomorrow I go. In
a year we shall meet again, and then you will be married, won't you?
I have some money of my own; it is yours. You must, and shall, take
Silently we wandered across the mountain. It
was late in the evening when we stood at my mother's door. She was
not there, but as we entered Anastasia held the lamp up, gazing at
Aphtanides with a sad and beautiful look. "Tomorrow you're leaving
us," she said. "How it saddens me!"
"Saddens you?" he said, and I thought that in
his voice there was a grief as great as my own. I couldn't speak,
but he took her hand and said, "Our brother there loves you; is he
dear to you? His silence is the best proof of his love."
Anastasia trembled and burst into tears. Then
I could see no one but her, think of no one but her; I threw my arms
around her and said, "Yes, I love you!" She pressed her lips to
mine, and her arms slipped around my neck; the lamp had fallen to
the ground, and all about us was dark-dark as in the heart of poor
Before daybreak he got up, kissed us all
good-by, and departed. He had given my mother all his money for us.
Anastasia was my betrothed, and a few days later she became my wife.