The Priest`s Tale part 8

I josep time in going up to his room, and fortunately found him in one of his intervals of quiet. He was sitting on the floor with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. The furniture was all in dis- order, and broken dishes were lying about. I admit I was a little frightened. It was rash to go in alone, but I could not turn back even if I had wished; so I went up to him, and laying my hand on his head repeated a prayer.

`When I was done he made the sign of the cross, and kissed my hand. `You are not very comfortable here, my dear Christos,` said I. Come, let us go to your uncle`s; the house is empty, and you`ll be better there. Won`t you come?`

“He rose without a word, and then said quietly: `I don`t want anybody to see me; please ask them to stay away.`

“I opened the door, and although there was no one there, I cried

“`Go away, all of you; go home!—There, Christos, the street is empty; let us go.`

“ `I can`t bear the light, father; it hurts me.

“The sun was near its setting, and its rays streamed into the room through the open door. Christos put on his cloak, and pulling the hood over his eyes, gave me his hand. He followed me to his uncle`s house. I stayed with him a long time, trying my best to comfort him, and it was night when I came away.

“As I opened the door to go out, I thought I saw men with guns standing there in the darkness.

Friend and comrade

“I shut the door and locked it, taking the key with me. The peasants gathered about me and plied me with questions about Christos. 1 told them he was going to die, and implored them in the name of the merciful Father to let him die in peace. The poor men were not heartless- in their way they sincerely pitied their friend and comrade; but the instinct of self-preservation is stronger than pity, and fear fills the heart of the ignorant with the passion of wild beasts.”

Just then the ladies came in to join us, for the cool evening air had driven them in from the balcony.

“What are you still in the dark!” said my sister. Father Seraphim s story must have been very interesting. Won`t you tell us about it? I m sure we should be interested too.” And she ordered the lights “What became of Christos?” asked Andrew, in a whisper.

The priest closed his eyes and stretched out his hand.

I do not care to dwell upon the meaning of this gesture. Was he allowed to die in quiet—or did they kill him?

The servant came in with the lighted candles, and we talked of other things.

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The Priest`s Tale part 7

These causes of themselves often produce tetanus, and hydrophobia and tetanus have many points of resemblance. This is what the doctors tell us. But what good does that do, it they cannot give us at the same time some means of controlling or getting rid of this secret fear? I am waiting to hear from our medical friends on this point. But I beg your pardon, father, for interrupting.

Without ever having read anything of the kind,” replied the priest, “I have often thought of that.

“Meanwhile the weeks passed by, and the peasants were beginning to forget what had happened, or at least had stopped talking about it, when suddenly one morning toward the end of September the boy`s father came to tell me that Christos was not well.

` `What`s the matter with him?`

“ `I don`t know; he`s feverish, and has no appetite.`

Little milk

“I went to see him without delay, and found him lying on the floor wPh his cloak under him. He was quiet, but pale and troubled about himself. He told me that he couldn`t breathe, and that he felt stifled every now and then for lack of air. I offered him a little milk, and urged him to drink it. He sat up and took the cup in his hands; but as soon as he brought it near his lips, he began to shiver with disgust. I had barely cup from him when he was seized with terrible spasms, he was dying; but gradually he came to himself.

Ah! he cried, it s my father`s fault; if he had only got the mad plant for me, I shouldn`t be dying now—mad!`

I tried to persuade him that it was a mere derangement of the stomach, and said all I could to comfort him, but, alas! without believing what I said. Then I left him, promising to come back in the evening—-for I had to perform the marriage service in the most distant village of my parish. Such is the life of a priest: sorrow and joy marriage and death —ah, well—

“Before I reached home that evening I heard that Christos was delirious and violent. His father was waiting for me at the parsonage, and wanted me to help to move the poor boy to another house, where he could be on the ground-floor. The neighbors insisted on this; they were afraid he would get out on the street and bite every one he met. Where he was they could not prevent him from jumping out of the window, and they wished to have him on the ground-floor—where they could keep better watch. The peasants were afraid, and their fear made them savage. I saw that if Christos became dangerous they might shoot him without mercy.

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The Priest`s Tale part 6

“With great difficulty I managed to persuade Christos and the men or rather women—who surrounded him, and it was at last decided to take him to Athens. He wanted to put off going until the next day; but I insisted, and finally prevailed upon him to start at once, by offering to go with him. So we mounted our donkeys and set out. The neighbors` wives showered good wishes upon us, but it was easy to see that they thought medical skill a poor substitute for the virtues of the mad plant.

“We reached Athens very late; I left Christos at the hospital, and returned to my parsonage in the middle of the night.

“As I said before, all this happened on Monday. Thursday Christos came home, still suffering from the cauterization, but he seemed well otherwise, and in a few days the burns were quite healed.

“But the peasants had no confidence in hospital treatment. Their fears arose not from the delay in cauterizing the wounds, but from the failure to apply the mad plant, without which how could any one expect to avert the terrible disease? Everybody felt uneasy whenever Christos came in sight; anxious mothers called their children away so that he might not meet them; and men humored him—as though to avoid all chance of making him angry. In a word, the village was on its guard.

Mistrust the success

Even Christos himself seemed to mistrust the success of his cure. His hesitancy in answering my greeting, his furtive look at the passers-by while I was talking with him—all these and many other things besides made me fear that the poor fellow was not without a secret dread, and I pitied him from the bottom of my heart. My friends, imagine the torment, the agony a man must suffer when he suspects that he carries within him the germ of such a malady, and is waiting day by day for it to break forth!”

“And the worst of it is,” said my brother-in-law, “that this very fear helps to bring on the attack. Only a little while ago I was reading an article on this subject, in a scientific review. The dread that seizes so many people when they are bitten by a dog—a dread that they try to conceal, either from pride or a desire to save their friends anxiety—is in itself a disease. The morbid state aggravates the consequences of the bite and of the cauterization.

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The Priest`s Tale part 5

Would you believe that in all the villages of this district there is not a single doctor, or even a pharmacy! I do not know if anything of the kind has been printed at Athens, but certainly we have never had here any book or pamphlet giving directions how to avoid or cure the commonest diseases—I do not mean hydrophobia, but the simple ailments of which our little children die. But never mind that now; those things will come in time.

“When Christos came home leaning on the old man`s shoulder, wounded and bloody, with his clothes torn, the whole village was in commotion. I was told at once of what had happened, and went to see him. He lived with his father in that little house in the street by the church. On the ground-floor there is a storeroom and an oil-press, while above there are two small chambers, which are reached by a stairway built on the outside facing the road.”

“Where the schoolmaster lives now?” asked Andrew.

“Yes, that`s the place. When I arrived I found the greatest difficulty in getting near Christos. The neighbors` wives had filled the two rooms and were pressing round the young man, with the best intentions, no doubt, but only making confusion, and hindering instead of helping.

Hospital in Athens

“The first thing to do was not to wash away the blood or mend the torn clothes, but to cauterize the poor boy`s wounds. Nobody had thought of that, or of anything else but to get some of the herb that is supposed to cure madness. I did my best to persuade them to send Christos at once to the hospital in Athens; but they would not hear of it. They kept talking of the `mad plant,` and nothing but the `mad plant`! This was the only remedy; but unfortunately no one in the village had any of it!”

“What herb is it?” I asked the priest, interrupting him.

Everybody at the table turned to me, and I couldn`t help blushing under all those eyes. I saw that my interruption did not find favor, and repented my untimely question; too late I perceived that it was not an opportune moment for botanical inquiries.

“I cannot describe it to you, because I have never seen it,” replied Father Seraphim. “I think it grows at Salamis; it is the secret of the monks of Phaneromeni, and is quite a source of revenue to them.”

I was satisfied with this explanation, and bent my head in silence, while the priest covered my embarrassment by turning to the other guests, and continued:

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The Priest`s Tale part 4

“Of all the young men of the village, Christos was the tallest; he was strong and fearless—a true pallicare; and, as we all know, danger often makes even the coward brave. Suddenly he dropped his right arm and tightly squeezed the wolf`s neck under his armpit, while with his left he clutched her head and tried to strangle her.

“The struggle was frightful. The teeth .and claws of the mad beast dug into the poor fellow`s side; he could not use his knife, because to draw it from his girdle he would have had to let go the wolf`s neck, which he still held with his left hand. He could not move his right arm without loosening his vise-like grasp upon her, and he dared not call for help, for he knew too well that he had no strength to waste in shouting.

“At last they fell to the ground, clasped in a horrible embrace. Christos was on the top, but the wolf had her head free against his breast, and she tore it savagely, in her efforts to release herself.

“Christos felt himself growing weak, and began to lose courage, when suddenly he heard the voice of old Mitros:

“ `Hold fast, Christos, I`m coming!`

Distance wrestling

“The sheep in their flight had come to the old man`s cottage. Much surprised, he opened his door, and saw Christos in the distance wrestling with the wolf. He hastily snatched his gun from the wall, and started on a run as fast as his old legs would carry him.

“When he reached the pine-tree and saw the two upon the ground, he did not dare to shoot at the beast, for fear of wounding the man. But Christos took fresh heart at the thought of help, and, pushing the wolf`s head as far as he could away from his breast, cried, `Fire!` The old man lost no time in pressing the muzzle of his gun against the beast`s ear, and fired. The wolf rolled over, dead.”

Father Seraphim was silent for some minutes. None of us disturbed him, for we saw that he had more to tell us, and waited.

Meanwhile the sun had set, and it was growing dark in the corners of the room. The ladies were still out on the balcony, and we could hear snatches of their merry talk and laughter.

“My friends,” continued the priest, “do you know what I was just thinking about? It is a thought that comes to me often; I was thinking of what our ignorance costs us. How many evils we could avoid, or at least lessen if we only knew a little more. But who is there to teach us? We are making progress, it is true, but we are still far behind.

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The Priest`s Tale part 3

“Thirteen years have passed since then—it was about the middle of August. For several days it had been rumored that a wolf was prowling near the village. Old Mitros,.who had built his little cottage that same year close by `The Eyrie,` told how he had been awakened one night by the barking of his dog, and opening his window had seen an enormous wolf outside his garden wall. He had snatched his gun and fired, but failed to kill the beast, and saw it reeling away in the moonlight with its tail down. He was too frightened to reload and fire a second time. The shepherds told of a similar encounter, so that the village was full of rumors that we had a dangerous wolf in the neighborhood, and the peasants slept with one eye open, always thinking of their flocks.

“The danger was even greater than they knew, for it was not a mere hungry wolf that they had to deal with, but a she-wolf—-and mad.

Monday Christos

“One afternoon—-it was a Monday—Christos was pasturing his father`s sheep near the pine I spoke of. He was sitting in the shade scouring an old milk basin, when suddenly he saw his sheep running in terror and crowding close together. He looked toward the graveyard, and there, only twenty paces off, he saw the wolf, bristling for the attack and showing her terrible teeth.

“He instantly jumped to his feet, and seized a stone. As a rule, wolves are afraid of men and run away; but Heaven keep you from a mad wolf!”

Father Seraphim took up his cap mechanically and put it on his head. “Let me give you a piece of advice, my friends, although I hope you may never stand in need of it. You are hardly likely to meet a mad wolf, but if you are ever attacked by a mad dog, and have no weapon or club stout enough to break its head, take care of your hands above everything else. If you use your hands against the beast, it will bite you. You, who wear the European dress, have your hats; I have my priest`s cap; the peasant has his fez: use anything—no matter what—to protect your hands.

“Christos had no chance to escape. Instead of running away when she saw him rise, the wolf rushed upon him, and before he had even time to throw his stone, her fore-paws pressed against his right side, and her teeth were fastened in his breast.

“The stone fell from his fingers, but his hands were free.

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The Priest`s Tale part 2

Perceiving this, my brother-in-law sent him out of the room, in spite of his master`s ill-concealed discontent.

Quiet was once more restored, and conversation began again with renewed activity. Naturally we spoke of the exile and his various qualities—of his breed in particular and of dogs generally. One thing led to another, and the subject of hydrophobia finally came up. Andrew showed a lively interest in the matter, and asked the village priest, who was one of the guests, if he had known of many mad dogs in the country.

“No, not many, but they are by no means unknown, replied it ather Seraphim; and among others he told us of a fine dog he had been obliged to kill because he believed it to be mad.

Andrew kept interrupting the priest with questions; how did Father Seraphim know that the dog was mad? how had it become mad? what had it done? how did he kill it?

The boy`s inquiries and the father`s courteous replies gave me no little information on the subject.

“Speaking of mad dogs,” said my brother-in-law, disregarding his son`s last question, “what would you say, Andrew, if Father Seraphim were to tell you that he had seen a mad man?”

“A mad man!” cried Andrew, and we all began to overwhelm the priest with questions. “How? Where? When? Tell us about it! How did it end?”

Overcame his reluctance

Father Seraphim`s thick brows contracted at our host s words, and he made no answer. His silence and melancholy look showed that the recollection was too painful to be revived willingly. But seeing us all curious and impatient to hear the story, he overcame his reluctance, straightened himself up in his chair, took off his cap, put it on the table, and passing his hand over his forehead two or three times, he looked quietly at each of us, one after the other, and then began in these words:

“You all know the place called `The Old Eyrie,` just up there at the end of the village. As you remember, our graveyard is a little farther on to the west; there are vineyards on the right, while the mountain lies to the left, and between them the road that leads from `The Eyrie` to the graveyard.

Half way along this road and on the side toward the mountain, you must have noticed a large pine-tree standing alone. Its ancient branches make a kind of shady oasis in the parched and arid land. Every time I pass there, my heart stands still at the sight of this pine, and in the sighing of the wind through its branches I always hear the name of the unhappy Christos.

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The Priest`s Tale part 1

Modern Greece


Seventeen or at last two centuries there has been a continuous and at times A brilliant literary activity in the land of Sophocles, and the work of the Nineteenth Century, both in quantity and quality, compares favorably with that of the other Balkan states. But even the Greeks themselves admit that it is scarcely possible to regard the modern writers without thinking of the ancient past, and that this past is in many respects a serious handicap to the development of a wholly new and original tradition.

The Nineteenth Century Greeks have taken the short story and made it the chief vehicle of their life and thought. This may be accounted for by the fact that the form is primarily a modern product, little used by the ancients, and consequently offered a free field to the writer who sought to express himself with more or less originality.

Most of the Greek story writers are chiefly concerned with the life of their own day and their own land.

Foremost of all the modern Greeks is Bikelas, who is known by all readers of the language and beloved as the author of numerous tales and stories -of Greek life. Papadiamantis, Moraitidis, Vlahos, Bikelas, Rados, Anninos and Xenopoulos are among the best writers of the past half-century.

Demetrios Bikelas (1835-1908)

Bikelas was born at Hermopolis on the Island of Syra in 1835. He began writing as a young man, and in spite of a long residence abroad as a business man, he continued his literary work. He wrote verse and prose, and made several translations of classic works. In 1879 he published his first story, Loukis Laros, which was widely popular, both among the Greeks and abroad. Bikelas` stories are characteristically Greek, though the writer`s wide acquaintance with other literatures is evident.

The Priest`s Tale, translated by L. E. Opdycke, is reprinted from Tales from the JEgean, Chicago. Copyright, 1894, by A. C. McClurg, by whose permission it is here used.

The Priest`s Tale

We were talking about dogs.

Dinner was just over, and the ladies had gone out on the balcony to watch the clouds reddening under the rays of the setting sun, while we still lingered over our coffee and cigars. My nephew Andrew —who does not smoke yet, or secretly if at all—was playing in a corner with his dog. Although his noisy frolic did not amuse the older people gathered around the table, or aid their peaceable digestion, nobody cared to complain, for Andrew was our host`s only son and the dog was Andrew`s favorite companion. Still, it was easy to see that we should all have been glad to be rid of the animal`s company.

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