WAS CONSTANTINE A COWARD?
THE Prime Ministers who succeeded Venizelos either lacked the strength to oppose King Constantine and had to resign, or became his dupes, or willingly became his instruments in order to curry favor with him.
When Mr. Zaïmis resigned rather than dissolve the Chamber, the King found himself in difficulties. His pal, Gounaris, would most heartily have come to his assistance, but the Entente would have none of him. One or two other political men to whom the King made overtures let him see clearly that under their premiership the Chamber could not be dissolved, and the King had no alternative but to turn to a man like Skouloudis, who, to gratify his ambition to become Prime Minister, was willing to do anything the King should require of him.
When the time came for us to work with Skouloudis, we wrote him a note and asked for an interview. The reply came that although this would give him a great deal of pleasure, he exceedingly regretted that his age---he is over eighty years old---and his bad health would prevent him from giving himself that pleasure. His excuse appeared to us ridiculous, because, from our hotel next door to his house, we could see him every day going for his walks, always accompanied by two or three politicians, with whom he talked with the greatest animation, presumably on the topic which all Athens always talked about---politics.
Having succeeded in everything we had set out to do thus far on our trip, we did not give up Skouloudis without a struggle. We asked Mr. Zaïmis, without success, to obtain an interview for us; and also addressed ourselves to Streit, Dousmanis, and Metaxas. The three of the "Occult Government" assured us solemnly that Skouloudis was too feeble to be interviewed, and that in his place Mr. Gounaris and Mr. Rallis, both of whom had been members of his Cabinet, would be at our disposal to cover the period during which Skouloudis had been in power.
That Mr. Skouloudis was too feeble to be interviewed we very shortly found out to be entirely true---only the feebleness which precluded the aged ex-Prime Minister from seeing us was not of the body.
Once more we found ourselves in Mr. Gounaris's pleasant sitting-room, with suave Mr. Gounaris prepared to resolve all our doubts. He at once set out to explain away the surrender of Fort Rupel as a mere nothing.
"The Anglo-French could have taken it just as well as the Germano-Bulgars. If it had been of any importance they would have done so. Why did they not? We told them that we would not fight the Germano-Bulgars."
This brought me back to my eternal question: "Why, then, did you mobilize?"
"General Dousmanis explained that fully, did he not, when you asked him that question?"
They must have had a good understanding among themselves; for this was not the first time that one of them had shown complete knowledge of what another of them had told us. Their teamplay thus far had been excellent.
"Mr. Gounaris," I said candidly, "you are the man who is supposed to have told Bulgaria that Greece would not attack her if she fell upon Serbia."
Mr. Gounaris smiled upon us. I wish it were in my power to describe Gounaris's smile adequately. The smile was the man: so benevolent, so holy. There was nothing vulgarly crafty or cunning about it. It was charitable, a little resigned, yet always hopeful that we should see and believe the truth as he presented it to us. Let him guard that smile as his most precious attribute. Gounaris without his smile---what would he be? A Teddy without teeth, a Kaiser without uniform!
As cocaine is injected into the tooth about to be pulled, so Gounaris smiled upon our suspicion as he prepared to extract it.
"The absurdity of that, I can easily prove to you. Mr. Venizelos had been elected; he was to succeed me -and all the world knew that he was for the Entente. Supposing that I had told Bulgaria that Greece would not attack her, why should she believe me, since I was leaving office and Venizelos was coming in?"
"Because you were the King's Prime Minister, and not the nation's. What you said represented the intentions of the King."
"Do you wish to infer, madame, that the King sent word to Bulgaria, through me?" Horror at the bare idea suffused his voice.
"I do not wish to infer anything. I am merely asking the question that a hostile world is asking."
"Surely you don't believe it?"
"It is of very little importance what I believe. It is what the world believes that matters. It is to that world that you and I must make an answer. The Bulgarian newspapers announced---before Bulgaria attacked Serbia---that they were confident Greece would not fight. The whole world knows that."
"They wished to place us in a bad light."
"Then you did mean to fight Bulgaria as soon as she attacked Serbia?"
"We mobilized as soon as she mobilized."
"And you attacked her as soon as she attacked Serbia?"
Once more Gounaris evaded: "General Dousmanis and Colonel Metaxas have both explained to you the grave reasons why Greece remained neutral. I cannot answer as well as they did."
"Yet the question which you could answer remains unanswered. Who told Bulgaria, and when, that Greece would not fight her, and that she was at liberty to attack Serbia?"
"I do not know, madame."
Over his head a large photograph of Queen Sophie was hanging on the wall. I pointed to it: --
---"Did she tell it? There are those who say she did."
Mr. Gounaris turned, and his languid eyes caressed the picture of Prussia's daughter.
"Our dear Queen is a model wife and mother. She cares little for politics, I assure you."
During the two more days we spent with Mr. Gounaris on the Skouloudis Cabinet we gleaned nothing to shed any light on that disgraceful period. It was simply evasion of real issues, and repetition of the various excuses we had already heard.
The next person to see was Mr. Rallis. It was at this time that Kenneth Brown announced --much to the scandal of the Greeks, to whom politics is the breath of life---that he was so "fed up" on politics that he wanted to milk a cow. A nanny-goat was the best that offered itself, so he went off to rest his nerves by playing tennis. As regards politics I am a true Greek: they are to me what Hurler's are to many women. When I was only ten years old I knew my Berlin Treaty as American children know their Mother Goose. So I went to see Mr. Rallis alone.
I was rather glad to do this. The Royalists always became more confiding when they were alone with me. My husband's silence disconcerted them, and his non-committal, New England countenance inspired them with the mistrust that they were failing to convince him of the righteousness of their cause.
Mr. Rallis, to whom I came unannounced, received me with apparent pleasure. His handclasp was long and warm. He fluttered about like a debutante, and since he is as careless a talker as King Constantine, my visit was well worth while. Had the "Occult Government" known how much he was going to tell me, they would surely have put him in quarantine along with Skouloudis. It was also fortunate that I went to see him without making an appointment, for he told me that Dr. Streit had intended bringing me himself, and had we been so chaperoned I am sure that Rallis would have been much more discreet.
While still shaking my hand he told me that I had the reputation of being the sharpest person that had come to Greece, that all said I was constantly trying to trip them up, and that I did manage to worm things out of them which they did not wish me to know. Then the room filled with a young, joyous laugh, for although Rallis is over seventy, he has the laugh of a boy.
"Do you know why you have not seen Skouloudis?" he went merrily on. "Because you'd have made him talk too much. He cannot open his mouth, anyway, without making a gaffe, and they decided not to let him pass under the battery of your questions."
He led me to a sofa, made me sit down, and rang for a servant.
"Bring quince preserve, coffee, and koulourakia."
"How did you know that I liked all those things? "
"I know heaps about you. Why have n't you come to me before? I have been waiting for you for a whole month."
"I am here now, and I want particularly to know whether Mr. Skouloudis actually told the Allies that he would disarm them and the Serbian army if they retreated into Greek territory."
Mr. Rallis's neat figure executed a few steps of pas seul, his bright eyes sparkled, and he rubbed his hands together. He laughed heartily, and his laugh was so infectious, and he looked so funny, that I laughed with him, without knowing why he was amused. The manservant appeared with the sweets and coffee and placed them on a table near my chair. Mr. Rallis turned to him severely: --
"I am not in to any one, do you understand?"
The man nodded and laughed, with the pretty familiarity between masters and servants which one finds in Greece.
"Now that I have you here, I am going to keep you for hours," he said to me.
"You may, provided you tell me something during those hours."
"Didn't the others tell you anything?"
"Heaps! But since you are a lawyer, Mr. Rallis, you must know that most of the evidence is against you. The pathetic part is that you had a pretty good case if you had only stuck to the main road. If you would take me more into your confidence, perhaps I could help you more."
"We made mistakes all along the line," he replied sadly. "Where would you like me to begin? "
"With the Skouloudis Cabinet, of course, since you were in it."
The name of Skouloudis occasioned a fresh access of mirth to Mr. Rallis.
"I wish they had let you see him. Would n't you have bowled him over, though! Let me tell you!" He pulled up a chair, and sat down close to me. "After Skouloudis became a millionaire, he had but one ambition, to become Prime Minister. Under normal conditions he would never have achieved this, but he got it, and it went to his head."
"Did he actually tell M. Guillemin that he would disarm the Allies if they retreated into Greece?"
"It was worse than that. The German Minister came to him and asked him what Greece would do in the event of an Allied retreat into her territory. Skouloudis did n't know. Then the German Minister told him that according to The Hague Convention, Greece ought to disarm them. Skouloudis agreed, whereupon the German Minister left him, and spread the report all over Athens that Skouloudis had told him that should the Allied armies retreat into Greece, Greece would disarm them. M. Guillemin heard it, became excited, and rushed to Skouloudis to know if it were true. Skouloudis, thinking he had got hold of a grand phrase said to him, 'M. Guillemin, I regret it, but according to the Hague Convention, Greece ought to disarm you.'
"An hour later, fortunately, we happened to have a Cabinet Council, and Skouloudis mentioned to us what the German Minister had told him, and what he had said to the French Minister. We became frantic: 'You said that, you madman?' we cried. 'You made such a gaffe!' At once we rushed to the telephone, called up the head operator at the telegraph office, and ordered him to hold up any telegrams sent by the Allied Ministers. We were just in time; for M. Guillemin was already wiring to his Government. Then we sent old Skouloudis post-haste to M. Guillemin to tell him that although, according to the Hague Convention, Greece ought to disarm the Allies, she would not do it, because we had a benevolent neutrality toward them."
Mr. Rallis sprang to his feet, and walked up and down the long room, gesticulating and looking younger than the fifty years he generally looks. He came and stood in front of me, and burst forth: --
"I am over seventy years old, and I have seen many funny things, but Skouloudis as Prime Minister was the funniest. He had no political sense whatsoever, and yet to hear him talk you would think he was the first Prime Minister who had happened in the history of the world. He thought himself so important that he actually took it into his head to withhold from the Cabinet the conversations he had with the foreign ministers. One day I got mad at him and said, 'Skouloudis, you think you are the head of the Government --why, you are nothing but the umbrella for the real power.'"
"Who was the real power, Mr. Rallis?"
"The Palace, of course."
Mr. Rallis and I had got on so famously together that I ventured the great question, the answer to which I had been seeking ever since coming to Greece: --
"Mr. Rallis, why did Greece remain neutral in this world war?"
"Would you like to know the truth?"
"Yes, and I feel that you are the man to tell it to me."
" It is the truth from my personal point of view, remember."
"Constantine is a coward. He is afraid of Germany."
To utter a single word after this seemed impossible. I quietly ate some cake, though I was afraid Mr. Rallis would hear the thumping of my heart.
He watched me attentively. "I don't think you believe me. I see now why all the others say that you don't believe a word we say to you, and why no one can make you out. The King said some time ago that your Government had sent you over; Dr. Streit is certain that you are a Venizelos agent; while Gounaris and the General Staff are convinced that England sent you here."
"Yet to every one we have told exactly the truth, and because it is the truth you don't believe it. Is it because you never tell the truth yourselves, Mr. Rallis?"
"I made up my mind that when you came to me, I should tell you the truth. I have told you nothing but the truth this morning."
"I believe every word you have said to me, Mr. Rallis."
"You believe what I said about Constantine being a coward?"
"That I am trying to grasp. He is reputed to be a good soldier and a great general."
"What is the power General Dousmanis and Colonel Metaxas have over him?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"I don't know for certain myself," he went on. "Perhaps it is the knowledge that they do know that he is not a great general."
"Still, between not being a great general and being a coward there is a great distance. Why do you think he is a coward?"
"He is so by temperament. All autocrats are cowards, and Constantine is an autocrat of the worst type."
"Mr. Rallis, since you have made this disclosure to me, I may tell you that for the last ten years, Constantine has been telling his American friends---and they have told me---that constitutional government was bad for Greece, and that he could do nothing for the country so long as he was obliged to be a constitutional king."
Mr. Rallis scratched his head. "Constantine's mother was a Russian grand duchess. It comes out in the son."
"Did you know that he hated the constitution?
"Of course! I also knew that his father before him hated it. But whereas George was adroit, Constantine is bull-headed. King George ruled over this country for fifty years, and during those fifty years he ruined every big man who rose on the horizon of the country. Trikoupis died of a broken heart, and King George killed that great man as surely as if he had put a knife into his heart. He pretended to love him, too. Whenever there arose a great Greek, King George placed a creature of his own in his Cabinet, and through that creature he ruined him."
Something that Dr. Streit had told us, and to which we had paid little attention at the time, now recurred to me.
"When I was Minister in Vienna," Dr. Streit had said to us, "King George, passing through, came to see me, and said: 'Streit, I want you to come back to Athens. I want you to be in Venizelos's Cabinet. I don't trust Venizelos. I want a man there who can watch him for me.' That was why I came back from Vienna. King George was killed shortly afterwards, but King Constantine, knowing how his father felt, insisted on my going into the Cabinet of Venizelos, where I became Minister of Foreign Affairs."
These reflections I did not impart to Rallis. I only remarked: "I thought King George was a good king, and loved Greece."
"Loved Greece! He only loved himself and his children. Could he have done what he liked, he would have divided Greece into five parts, and partitioned it among his sons. Why should he have loved Greece, anyway? He had never heard of Greece: he was an officer on a ship, somewhere near Malta, when the Powers picked him 'up and saddled us with him. We wanted and voted for one of Queen Victoria's sons, but the jealousies of the other Powers would not permit us to have a decent king. As Denmark was of no account, the son of the King of Denmark was the proper person for Greece. Loved Greece?" he sneered once more; "Lord! what a farce! I was Prime Minister when his son, Prince George, as Governor of Crete, had his fight with Venizelos and was forced to get out of the island. I did my best for Prince George. The King and Queen were in Europe, and when they returned and I went to receive them, neither one of them would shake hands with me, and Queen Olga did n't speak to me for a long time, because she thought I had not protected her child against Venizelos. And what do you think Prince George did to me after he came back? The first time he met me in the palace, he addressed me with the vilest phrase that exists in the Greek language --he a Prince, and I the Prime Minister!"
I had encountered other Royalists of the inner circle of the Court who spoke as bitterly as Rallis of the Danish dynasty which governed Greece. Mr. Rallis, however, was the first politician of the Royalist Party who had given vent to his feelings so openly.
"You were always in favor of Mr. Venizelos's policy, were you not?" I asked.
Rallis, besides being a delightful host and humorist, was a patriot, and as such had supported Venizelos's policy as the only one that Greece ought to follow. Personally, however, he hated the Cretan, and my question was unfortunate. When Rallis begins to talk about Venizelos, he becomes insane. He now began to abuse him as thoroughly and as volubly as had Prince Nicholas.
He was sitting near me, and I put my hand on his shoulder. "I have heard all this abuse before, from Prince Nicholas down to an insignificant youth who wrote a book about him. It is unworthy of you to be classed with them. You are a good Greek and a clever one, and you love your country. Why do you hate the only man who can lift Greece from the mire?"
"I have a right to hate him. For over forty years I have never once missed being elected deputy---and Venizelos defeated me."
"And you wish to punish Greece for that?"
"I wish to punish that man. You know he is from a low origin. He is not any relation to the great family of Venizelos."
I could not help laughing. My dear Mr. Rallis, I should say that was so much the worse for the 'great' family of Venizelos. You are talking now to an American. Our greatest men come from nowhere; and let me tell you that even in Greece the day is coming when people will be intelligent enough to look at the man and not at his pedigree."
"I dare say," Mr. Rallis agreed; "only just now families do count, and Venizelos---let me explain to you about this family."
I rose. "Good-bye, Mr. Rallis. I like you ever so much, but I have never been interested in family trees. Why should I now? Venizelos is a great man, and that is sufficient for me."
"But you don't know him. You have never seen him. How do you know he is great?"
"The hate which you all have for him proves his greatness. One does not hate a small man the way you do."
"Do sit down," he begged, and pulling out his watch looked at the time. "You have only been here two hours, and I have so much to tell you. Do sit down. It is not lunch-time yet."
"No, there is yet an hour before lunch-time, and I will stay if you will leave Venizelos out, and talk like a rational human being."
"How you do speak to me!" he said, quite surprised. "I am much older than you. I could be your grandfather."
"I should be ashamed of my grandfather if he hated a great Greek as you hate Mr. Venizelos."
"He has hurt me," he said, almost like a child.
As Rallis is a patriot, and very sane when he is not mad, I should not be surprised if, managed by Mr. Venizelos, he would once more become one of his supporters---that is, if he is able to withstand the feminine influence of his household, which is extremely Royalist in the unintelligent way some people have of worshiping a king.
I stayed an hour more with Mr. Rallis, and saw him several other times, and he told me much .that helped me, later, to understand better the workings of the "Occult Government."
During the five weeks that we were in Athens I made a point of talking not only with the political men, but also with all sorts of people, from the little lustros in the streets up---and your Athenian bootblack discusses politics as glibly as an American bootblack would talk about baseball. Since there was a great scarcity of bread, even in the best hotels and the richest homes, and what there was hardly was digestible, I made the search for galata (a delicious kind of hard biscuit) my pretext for entering all sorts of little shops and conversing with the shopkeepers. Nearly all of them knew who we were, and in one embroidery shop the man wanted to make me a present "because we were working for the union." They all spoke to me with great freedom, and on an average this is what they said: --
"We like the King, but we are for the other one. We want him back. He knows how to govern us. While he was here, graft and dishonesty had to lie low. Now they are up again."
Over and over again we were told that the epistrates came into the shops and forced the proprietors to hang up the King's picture. " Not that we don't want to have Constantine's picture, but they make us get one if we don't have one."
"Is all the army on the side of the King? "
"Certainly not, madame, but those who are for the other one are quite aware that they are being spied upon, so they say nothing. Just let England and France go into the barracks and say, 'All those who are for the other one, stand up!' and you will see how many there are."
Another day a small shopkeeper pointed to a group of epistrates standing at the streetcorner. "Look at them," he said. "Do you know what they are doing? They are spying on us. It is for us they have formed their reservists' leagues. They come to us and tell us they will break our bones and destroy our goods, if they hear us pronounce his name. So we don't. What can we do? We are terrorized."
Fig. 23. Postcard picture of Constantine and the Kaiser. All copies were confiscated and destroyed a few days after this one was bought
It was the same sort of story with the bigger shops and with the banks. As for the army, I can only give my own experience: whenever I was going anywhere alone, and saw an officer, I would ask him the way. Invariably he would offer to show me how to get there, and thus we would begin talking. Every one of those with whom I spoke was bitter against the General Staff, the Queen, and Dr. Streit, whom they called "Sophie's gramophone." With the exception of one, all liked King Constantine, and regretted that he was a tool in the hands of Germany. One officer spoke disparagingly of him, both as a man and as a soldier, and said that Greece would be a free country only when he was kicked out. "We officers stand no chance of promotion unless we bootlick the King and speak in favor of Germany. That is what our German Queen has brought us to," he said. (This last assertion was also made to my husband by other officers.)
"You are speaking very freely to me," I remarked. " How do you know that I shall not report you ?"
"I read every word you say to the newspapers," he replied, "and I know that you are here to work for the union."
"Still I am a Royalist, in a way, and I might report you."
"I don't think so, for I know Colonel Goussis, and you are great friends with him and his family."
"Since you feet the way you do, why don't you join Venizelos? " I inquired.
"Because I am poor. I have a wife and two children, and they depend on my pay, which is now doubled by the King. If I were to try to join Venizelos in Salonica, it might take me two months; you have no idea what difficulties the French and the English place in our way. And if I leave here, I do not know what the Royalists will do to my wife. The Ministers of France and England are still scared to death, and live down at Karetsine on their warships. If we go, who is left to protect our women? You don't know what is going on here in Athens. It is terrorism, I tell you."
"How is the feeling in the army?" I asked.
"It is pretty well poisoned. They have been corrupted by double pay and lies. The Queen, as you doubtless know, has had all the charitable organizations of Athens merged into one which she controls absolutely. Its revenues are chiefly spent on the soup kitchens, and these are run largely for the epistrates whom you see prowling about the streets. They have an easy time, those reservist-league chaps. They receive double pay and are fed by the soup kitchens, and all they have to do is to see that no word is ever spoken in favor of Venizelos and that his picture is shown nowhere. They also go about and solicit contributions for charity---especially from Venizelists. The more pronounced Venizelist a man is, the larger donation do they demand for 'charity' from him."
"But why doesn't he refuse to pay it?" I asked.
"If he does---well, there are other ways. Should he happen to be a merchant, it is very simple. The prices of everything have gone up a hundred to two hundred per cent; but if this Venizelist has raised his prices even thirty per cent from pre-war prices, he is haled to court and fined ten thousand francs or so for profiteering---and everybody from the King down laughs. One more Venizelist taught to take his medicine."
"But can't he appeal?"
"There is no appeal in an autocracy---and we are now an autocracy."
The accuracy of the above assertions we afterwards verified from the very highest authority, but one whose identity, in the interests of international harmony, I cannot even hint at.
We were walking along the Leophoros Amelia, and at that moment the royal limousine passed at thirty miles an hour, with the King inside. From nowhere sprang up an ill-clad group of men, and began to shout at the tops of their lungs: --
"Look at that rabble," the officer went on. "They are not respectable Greek citizens. Gounaris had them brought from the prisons of Patras. They are fed at the soup kitchens and paid a drachme a day. They are posted about in various parts of the city to shout 'Long live the King!' whenever he passes by. Never before in the history of modern Greece has such a thing happened. We salute the King when we meet him, but this servile shouting is new to us."
Two Royalist ladies and a Royalist man afterwards confirmed this statement that the shouting rabble was hired. To this I replied: --
"Does n't that prove that the King is not in their plots, since they have to resort to these deceptions? "
The Royalist answered: "King Constantine and I are of the same age, and I have known him well since he was a little boy. He is an obstinate man and weak at the same time. Now and then, in this war, his courage has failed him. He has even talked of abdicating, and the Queen and the 'Occult Government' have fabricated this apparent popularity to keep him going. If he knew he was losing his popularity, his courage would be gone."
"Are you not a Royalist?" I asked.
"Certainly I am," he replied.
"And you don't think the King is popular?"
"Do you? " he inquired.
"I am not here to have any opinions," I said. I want to learn yours."
"Apart from opinions, don't you see things?"
"I do, but at the present moment I prefer to see them through your eyes."
"Of course he is not popular. The upper middle class, the middle class, and the shopkeepers are all for Venizelos."
"Why are you a Royalist?" I asked.
"I am a Royalist because my family is, and because I belong to the Royalist crowd, and especially because I am against Venizelos."
"Why are you against Venizelos? "
"Because if we had remained neutral, and he had not split the country in two, we should have made money hand over fist, like the other neutrals. As it is, we are poverty-stricken, we are catching it from both belligerents, and at the end of the war the Entente will cheat us."
"But if you had gone into the war on the side of the Entente at the beginning, you would have come out of it splendidly."
"Ah! That's another story. Of course we ought to have gone with them in the beginning; but since the King managed to hoodwink everybody, Venizelos ought to have kept quiet and at least have let the country grow rich."
"If Venizelos thought it the duty of Greece to go into the war, would you think him honest if he sat still and let the King act as if he owned Greece?
"And whose fault is it that he does so? " he cried, veering around on another tack. "When we had our revolution in 1909, we kicked out Constantine and his brothers. Why did Venizelos bring them back? Why did n't he declare a republic then---he had the whole nation with him? I heard Stephen Dragoumis say to Venizelos: 'If you bring Constantine back, you will live to regret it.' Dragoumis is now an ardent Royalist---but Venizelos has lived to regret it."
"I suppose Venizelos considered a kingdom safer than a republic."
"Then why did n't he take the youngest boy of the dynasty? By the time he would have grown up, all kings would have been dethroned, and ours would have gone with the rest."
"Do you hate Venizelos? " I asked.
"I do. He has cheated us out of the opportunity of making as much money in a year as ordinarily we could make in twenty-five."
This particular Greek had not the majority with him, I am glad to say; but neither was he alone. He had many followers who thought with bitter anger of the golden opportunity of becoming rich, like the other neutrals, which had been lost to them by the upright character of the great Cretan.
One afternoon we took tea with another Royalist family, and there met Mr. Matzas (I believe that is the way he spells his name), and amid the desperate seriousness of all the political men of Greece, it was a relief to meet one so frankly and cynically humorous. He was a ray of sunshine athwart a leaden sky.
"These are the most glorious days in our history," he said with the utmost cheerfulness. "We are keeping four Great Powers guessing. They are helpless before us. They blockade us; they demobilize us; they seize our arms---and yet they are scared to death of us. Sarrail does not dare take Constantinople because we might attack him in the rear. Their ambassadors look at us through their telescopes from their warships, and do not know what to do. Never in the history of the world has so small a power flabbergasted four such large Powers. I should not have said that Greece had it in her."
We laughed; then I said seriously---one could not long remain anything but serious in Athens at this time: --
"The thing I cannot understand is why you place yourselves in such horrible positions by not telling the truth. Take the question of the Corinth Canal. When the Entente discovered that you had made holes in the banks, which looked as if you were preparing to mine the canal, you gave them four different and contradictory explanations."
"Yes," Mr. Matzas laughed, "that was unfortunate. I told Lambros it would be better to tell the truth."
"What was the truth?"
"After they forced our army to retire into the Peloponnesos, our General Staff was afraid they might blow up the bridge across the canal, which would cut off our army, then surround Athens and dethrone the King. We made those holes so that if they did destroy the bridge, we could blow in the sides of the canal, and so make a way for our army to get back into Attica. I had the holes dug myself. Unfortunately, the Entente discovered them and demanded an explanation. The first person they demanded it of was a petty official on the spot. If you ask a Greek petty official anything, he will always give you an answer, whether he knows or not. This one was no exception, and he said the holes were very old and had been cut to make a well, or for archaeological research, or what not---which manifestly they were not. Then France wrote to Lambros and called his attention to the matter. Lambros sent for me, and I advised that it would be better to tell the truth, and add that we had had fears of their good intentions, but that now we were reassured. Lambros, however, would have none of this and ordered me to make up a plausible explanation; so I set to work, and" ---he burst out laughing again---" it was such a plausible story that I ended by believing it myself."
"Why did n't the Entente believe it?" I asked.
"That was a mistake. The General Staff also sent in an explanation, and mine,---a quite different one,---coming on top of it, reacted unfavorably on them. In the end," he observed meditatively, "we had to tell the truth."
On the following day we took tea at the house of Mr. Rallis. General Hadjopoulo, the Minister of War, was present. He is a man of over seventy, and because of him and Premier Lambros and ex-Premier Skouloudis, the King was sometimes called "Constantine, the Ghoul," by Venizelists in Athens. And, indeed, General Hadjopoulo, well-meaning and nice as he was, did seem as if he had died and been buried---mentally, I mean.
After he had anathematized Venizelos to his heart's content, and had begged all the saints to abandon the traitor, he gave his attention to the Entente. He wound up with: --
"And of all the injustices perpetrated upon us the most galling is that when we tell them the truth, they will not believe us.".
But you have given them cause for not believing you, general. Take, for instance, that affair of the Corinth Canal."
In his most courteous way, and he was courtliness personified, the general exclaimed: --
"Thank you, madame, thank you for reminding me of that. It is the very best example of what I have just said. I sent them myself an explanation of the excavations---and they would not believe me!"
"Pardon me, general, which one of the explanations do you refer to? "
"The real one! They said we intended to blow in the sides of the canal. The idea is preposterous! Why, it would have required seven hundred tons of dynamite to do that, and we had not so much as that in the whole country."
Kenneth Brown had been talking with an Americanized Greek from Honolulu, on the other side of the tea-table, and to him he remarked that though he was not an engineer, he would make a fair bet that it would require far less than seven hundred tons of dynamite to blow in the steep sides of the Corinth Canal. The Honolulu Greek repeated this to General Hadjopoulo, who immediately lost his ruffled-up appearance of outraged innocence, and hastily amended his assertion by saying that perhaps it was seventy, and not seven hundred tons that were required; and my husband told me afterwards that from the celerity with which the general climbed down he believed he could have brought him down to seven tons with another bluff.
"Then, general, you did not make those holes in order to be able to blow up the canal? " I persisted.
"No, madame, I assure you we did n't. As I have told you, we had not sufficient dynamite. We never even thought of such a thing."
"And you wrote that officially to the French."
"We did---and they would not believe it."
"Now, general, yesterday we met Mr. Matzas ---the man who had the holes made ---and he told us that they were made exactly for the purpose of blowing up the canal, in case of necessity."
The old general looked aggrieved. "I assure you, madame, that we did not."
"You did, general. Mr. Matzas acknowledges it. He made one of the false explanations to the French, at the order of Professor Lambros; but finally they had to admit the truth."
Stiffly General Hadjopoulo drew himself up.
"Mr. Matzas is a civilian---I am a military man! I don't know what the civilians believe, but I assure you that the General Staff told me that we never intended to blow up the canal."
King Constantine's policy of choosing his Ministers for their subserviency did not obtain the happiest results. We could fill a volume with similar incidents---humorous or depressing, according to the point of view. Greece and Constantine were tangled up in a snarl of fabrications and misrepresentations, from which they wrathfully or mournfully asked to be delivered, and every effort they made only entangled them the deeper.
We had been in Athens over a month, and yet not a word came to us from the King concerning the union. We began to fear that the invisible forces against us were proving too strong. To see if anything could be done about it, I went alone to see Mr. Zaïmis, who desired the union as fervently as we did, although he had said to us: "If I am to help, I must not appear to be on either side. In that way I can do more."
He received me in his cool library, as usual, and we spoke of the union.
"Is there no chance of our succeeding, Mr. Zaïmis? " I asked.
"You have already accomplished one thing which we did not consider possible at present. You have spoken the word, 'union'; you have openly pronounced the name of Mr. Venizelos, both in the houses where it was taboo and in the newspapers. Now the union is being discussed in all circles, and that in itself is a good omen. You have made enemies, but you have made followers also."
"I know one of my enemies, " I said laughingly, "and that is Princess Nicholas. Whenever we meet in the street, she lets her eyes rest on mine for a long second, so that there may be no mistake about her having seen me, then abruptly she turns her head away. She cannot forgive me for speaking of the union and for pronouncing the name of Venizelos under her roof."
Mr. Zaïmis was quite grieved that a princess should be lacking in manners. Incapable himself of rudeness, and with the best traditions of noblesse oblige, he resented it that one who ought to know better should fail. He returned to the question of the union.
"There is a possible chance of it, provided those in Salonica would accept an amnesty. I know His Majesty would forgive them; but, of course, in that case they would have to give up their revolutionary movement. They cannot be forgiven and yet continue in rebellion. Get an audience with the King and talk it over with him."
We wrote to Count Mercati that same day. The reply came on the day following that His Majesty was very busy just then and could not see us, but would be pleased to receive us on our return from Salonica.
"They don't want us to see him, but we are going to make them," I said to my husband, and we at once went to see Dr. Streit.
"Neutrals and Venizelists have said to us that after it was known we were working for the union, the 'Occult Government' would never let us see the King again. Now, Dr. Streit, you, General Dousmanis, and Colonel Metaxas are supposed to be the 'Occult Government,' and between you and the Queen, the King is said to have no chance."
Dr. Streit became as red as a tomato, and protested: "But I have no influence over His Majesty. I don't even see him nowadays. I never go to the palace."
"Just the same you had better bring your influence to bear, and we are going to General Dousmanis and Colonel Metaxas to ask them to do the same."
Colonel Metaxas said that he would do what he could, while General Dousmanis advised me to write a personal letter to the King, in Greek. Instead we went to see kind and patient Count Mercati once more.
"If he does n't see us, Count Mercati," I urged, "we shall have to let the newspapers know of it, and the tale will go around that the union is prevented from Athens. I don't want that burden to fall on the shoulders of the King."
"I think he ought to see you," Count Mercati replied. "I'll see what I can do."
On the following day we took tea with Dr. Streit, and during it he took me aside and told me that if His Majesty received us we must remember that after all he was the King, and could not be made to answer questions as his Ministers could. " We can answer anything that you want to know," he added.
At home I jubilantly told Kenneth Brown that the King was going to see us.
"How do you know?"
"Because Dr. Streit was giving me a lesson on what I ought not to ask the King."
And indeed on the following day the envelope with the blue crown came to tell us that His Majesty would be pleased to receive us at a quarter past ten the next morning.
Promptly on time we found ourselves facing the German tablecloth in the little anteroom, and now that we had learned so much more of what Germany had done to Greece, it seemed more ominous than ever. Fortunately, as before, we did not have to wait long. Count Mercati and the martial A.D.C. appeared, and with the same simplicity we were ushered into the long, pleasant room, dominated by the King.
Everything was as it had been at the first interview, except His Hellenic Majesty. Courteous he was, but not friendly. He treated us like enemies, and was so wrought up that his speech was incoherent and indistinct. For a moment the oft-repeated tale that at times he is under the influence of liquor seemed the explanation, but his clear, bright eyes denied this. No, he was merely angry. Something was upsetting him. Was it the knowledge that the door between his library and the next room stood half open---a swift glance had assured me of that - or was it that he did not wish to see us and had been made to do so? Or, could it be possible that he was chafing under orders not to say that which he wanted to say?
I did not see how he could consider us his enemies, since I had always proclaimed myself his best friend---indeed, I used to say in Athens that I was the only Constantinist there, my dominant thought being to save him and his dynasty. During the last week, to three Royalist families I had said that they were asleep on a bed of roses, beneath which raged a volcano of forces which would surely upset the King and his dynasty unless something were done to save him. How, in view of all this, could he consider me his enemy?
Under his obvious hostility, my husband, after having shaken hands with him, remained silent, but I talked on as if quite unconscious of his manner, and at the end of ten minutes, like the passing of a quick storm, his anger died out, and once more he became his smiling, lovable self.
"You have been playing a lot of tennis, have n't you? " he said to Kenneth Brown, and my husband commented on the excellence of the courts, on the beauty of the magnificent ruins that serve as background, and on the high average of skill that obtained among the Greek players, especially the ladies.
"Don't you play?" the King asked me.
"I have been too busy working in Your Majesty's service."
"Well, and what have you found?"
"Your men have not given me their confidence."
"Why, they have given you hours and hours, ---all the time you wished,---especially Mr. Gounaris."
"Mr. Gounaris has done you more harm than any other man in Greece, Your Majesty. He has taken you from your throne and made of you a party leader. And unfortunately Mr. Gounaris does not know what principles are."
The curious, bewildered light that once, during our first interview, had shone in the eyes of King Constantine, was there again, and his smile died, and he looked sad. I was so sorry for him---so infinitely sorry! I did not dare to speak. I could only look at him and wonder why he had chosen the unscrupulous gang which surrounded him, instead of having done the right thing at the right time. So partial was I to King Constantine that I wished at that moment that the Prussian lady to whom fate had united him might die, and that some Greeks with pluck would hang Dr. Streit to a lamp-post, and kidnap General Dousmanis and Colonel Metaxas, ---and then see if poor King Constantine could not have a chance. All these thoughts passed rapidly through my mind while the King was probably trying to fathom whether I was his friend or his enemy; for he was gazing intently into my eyes. It is a pity that human beings cannot read each other aright more easily.
"What have you found in all the hours you have studied with my men?" he asked at length.
"Your Majesty, if I may be permitted, I will say that you have done four things wrong, which have placed Greece where she is to-day."
He became interested. "What are they?"
"Why did you not make it clear to the world, as soon as the war broke out, that your treaty with Serbia was a Balkan treaty, and that it was only against one power?"'
"I could not. Venizelos was too strong. I could not go against him."
"Still, the truth is the truth, and your people, as well as the world, ought to have known what that treaty really was."
"But, you see, Venizelos gave it a different interpretation, and the Greek people were behind him. You have no idea how strong Venizelos was in the beginning of the war. I had to be very careful. What is the next wrong thing?"
"The placing of Greece unreservedly on the side of the Allies in August, 1914. That action gave them the right afterwards to call upon your support."
"Yes, that was very wrong---and I never even knew about it. Venizelos did it without telling me, and I only found it out in February, 1915, when he was forced to resign."
More than ever did he look like an ill-used child, so appealing was his smile, so frank and honest were his eyes. He went on: --
"Venizelos did n't tell anybody. Even Dr. Streit, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs, never heard of it."
"But you are mistaken, Your Majesty," I cried. "Dr. Streit told us all the particulars himself, and how he had made a memorandum about the conditions Venizelos ought to ask, and that Venizelos had brushed them aside with the words:
"These are tradesmen's bills. I will have nothing to do with them. Greece will go in with the Allies, unconditionally."
King Constantine's quick anger flared up.
Dr. Streit did not know about it---no one knew about it. I know better than any one else. What is the third question? "
"Why did you have a benevolent neutrality toward any of the belligerents? That is always conducive to misunderstandings. Why not an absolute neutrality?"
"Because our treaty with Serbia demanded that we should have a benevolent neutrality toward her. What is the fourth?"
"Since Your Majesty, personally, considered it wiser for Greece to remain absolutely neutral, why did you make so many offers to the Entente to come out of your neutrality with them? "
"I had to," he replied vexedly. "The sympathies of the Greek people were with the Entente. The great majority wanted to fight on their side. I had to make a showing as if I, too, were on their side,---that I was , willing to do what they wanted,---but every time I made an offer, I can tell you I trembled in my boots for fear that they might accept it."
---Because I liked the King so much, I would have given a few years of my life for him not to have said these words---especially since he was manifestly unconscious of their fundamental dishonesty. Is it possible that kings are born without the sense of honor---for he spoke with such apparent honesty and sincerity? My voice trembled when I addressed him again: --
"Since the Greek people wanted to fight with the Entente, and since the interests of Greece were on the side of France and England, why didn't you go openly" ---I almost said, honestly---" with the Entente?
"I never meant to go with the Entente," he said resolutely. "I never meant to come out of my neutrality. I said as much to Venizelos, in October, 1915. He was sitting where you are sitting, and talked to me for two hours. When he finished, I said to him: 'I am not going to fight on the side of the Allies. I shall remain neutral to the very end.' And he said to me: 'You have no right. The people have elected me, and I am their representative.' I said: 'What do I care whether I have the right or not? The people don't know what is good for them. Suppose you had not the right, yet knew that by your action you would save the people from destruction---wouldn't you take the right into your own bands?' He talked some more, trying to convince me, but it was to no purpose."
King Constantine pointed to the window to his right and continued: "Venizelos rose and stood there for a long time, looking out into the garden. Then he turned to me and said: 'I don't see anything else for me to do except to resign.' What else could he do? We could n't work together, and I did n't have to resign, so he had to."
"And you are still determined to remain neutral? "
"Of course! Neither side is going to win. I tell you the war is going to end in a draw. Why should Greece go in and get smashed? "
"Then you don't desire the union with Mr. Venizelos? "
"Oh, yes, I do," he replied positively. "The country ought to be united. I am willing to grant Venizelos and his party amnesty, provided they give up their doings in Salonica and come back to Athens and behave themselves. I will promise not to punish anybody, but you under. stand that after the pardon they cannot continue in rebellion. If Venizelos comes back there will be no excuse for that foreign interference which only the Venizelos movement makes possible. I want the French and the English to get out of Greece."
"But do you think that Mr. Venizelos will come back under such conditions?"
"I believe he will. His movement has proved a failure. The French induced him to revolt, but they did not support him afterwards; and because he revolted, he lost the support of the people here. The Greeks are now for me! Venizelism is no longer a political party ---it is a religion."
The last sentence was delivered as if it had popped into his head at the moment; yet Doumanis had said it to me several days before. I was also surprised at the manner in which it was uttered: to King Constantine the fact that Venizelism had become a religion was the same as saying that it had become dead; yet when a political party becomes a religion, it is most to be feared. Since we were not in the palace to discuss ethics, however, I only replied to him: --
"You are deceived, Your Majesty, as to the weakness of the Venizelist Party. All our letters of introduction were to Royalists, and we have certainly been surrounded by your adherents; yet here in Athens we have met more Venizelists than Royalists."
Once again that troubled, sad look clouded his face for an instant. Then he shook it off, and said decidedly: --
"No! I am very popular. The people care for me and not for Venizelos. I have saved them from destruction."
"Yet don't you think at present, with the large force the Allies have in Salonica, and with the waning power of Germany, that Greece could go in and not be destroyed?"
"Not under any conditions will Greece fight, and Venizelos must understand that. I have to consider my friends---Turkey, Bulgaria, Austria, and Germany."
I could not help retorting: "Since when, Your Majesty, have Bulgaria and Turkey become the friends of Greece?"
He was thoroughly angry once more. "They are my friends, and I have to consider them. You don't understand: I do. I am a soldier, and as a soldier I know that England and France have demonstrated that they cannot fight. They will never be able to defeat Germany---never! The war will end in a draw. I tell you this as a soldier. Why should Greece make an enemy of Germany? "
"She is making an enemy of the whole world, Your Majesty, which is far worse---and what has she gained?"
"She has not been crushed. I saved her from becoming a second Belgium and another Serbia. They would not have helped us any more than they were able to help Serbia and Belgium. And look at Roumania!" He laughed derisively. "Why did n't they help her? What was Sarrail's army doing while Germany was crushing Roumania? When she went in, I told my people that in less than a month she would be crushed---and she is. A lady came here from Roumania the other day, and she told me that the King of Roumania was as good as dethroned. I tell you there is no head among the Entente. Why should I go in and ruin myself, when I know that they don't even know how to fight? " And he poured forth more of the same arguments we had already heard from General Dousmanis and Colonel Metaxas; and yet he talked, not as a man who repeats, but as one who has thought things out himself. I have never quite satisfied myself who was the originator and who the repeater in all this.
The King complained greatly of Venizelos and of the Entente. "Venizelos is a visionary. He is far too trustful. When Sir Edward Grey, in a vague way, promised him concessions in Asia Minor, he at once imagined that they were going to give him all the part inhabited by Greeks. He actually had a map made of it, and the Greek people foolishly believed him. But I knew better. Sir Francis Elliot came to this very room, and laughed, and said: 'You will have to be more moderate in your demands.' And I said to him: 'Why do you come here and laugh in my face? Why don't you go out to my people and tell them that Venizelos is deceiving them, in promising them so much of Asia Minor?' That is the treatment I have always received at their hands. They have been unfair and unjust all the way through."
To hear him talk all idea of a union between him and the revolted Greeks appeared hopeless; yet we entreated and argued with him for an hour and a half. Sometimes he listened, more often he talked, sometimes angrily, sometimes in his sweet, lovable way, but always certain that France and England did not know how to fight. At parting he was very friendly, indeed.
"Come and see me on your return from Salonica," he urged. "Of course Venizelos will take you in. He has a way of his own of convincing. He would convince even me, who knew everything, and only after he would be gone, and I thought things over, would I see how wrong he was; but while he was talking to me I could never withstand him."
(I did not remind him that he had recently told us that Venizelos had spent a vain two hours trying to persuade him to fight on the side of the Entente.)
Where had gone the willingness for the union with Venizelos which he had shown at our first interview? Had he been sincere then, or was he sincere now? And if he had been sincere then, what had turned him now? That was the mystery we still had to solve.
IN SALONICA WITH MR. VENIZELOS
ONCE more we were to be the guests of the French Government, from Athens to Salonica, on one of the tiny dispatch boats so appropriately named after little birds. We knew the date of the Fauvette's sailing: the time not yet. Times of sailing were precious knowledge, shared with as few as possible, lest they might reach the ears of the Hun submarines. We spent the evening before our departure with Mr. Droppers, the American Minister, and his wife. About ten o'clock a plain envelope, directed to my husband, was brought in by the servant. It contained an unsigned sheet, informing passengers who intended sailing that they must be on board the French croiseur cuirassé Bruix at six o'clock the next morning.
My husband rushed over to the hotel to see about engaging a taxi to take us to the Piraeus. When he learned the charge (petrol being in the neighborhood of sixty francs a gallon, and a mixture of ether and turpentine being generally employed---which had to be used before the ether had a chance to evaporate and leave only turpentine), he compromised on a carriage, although that meant our getting up at a quarter before three o'clock.
It was still pitch dark when we left the Grande Bretagne, and even when we reached the Piraeus the refugees camped without shelter all along the quays could only be seen stirring like uneasy ghosts of the night. Our coachman hailed the Bruix with little regard for the slumbers of the poor refugees, and presently she sent in a boat for us. We were on board well ahead of time, and only then learned that there had been a mixing-up of the Fauvette and the dispatch boat which was going to Corfu, and that we were not to sail until two in the afternoon.
It was annoying; but travelers in the Balkans in war-times cannot be choosers. We rowed ashore again, and wandered about among the not very inviting hotels of the Piraeus till by the process of elimination we decided on the King Constantine, where we went to bed to catch up with some of the sleep we had lost the night before.
There was compensation for the delay, for by it we met Commandant de Vaisseau Castelneau, a bluff, hearty Frenchman, speaking excellent English, and of such a friendly disposition that he kept the tug waiting a few minutes while we had a glass of wine together.
The Fauvette lay at Keratsine, and the tug which took us there was manned by cheery young sailors who had already been twice torpedoed.
"Oh, it is n't so bad, they reassured us. "On s'habitue" (one becomes accustomed to it).
The Fauvette itself might have shocked us had we been expecting an ocean liner; but we had n't, and we found the captain in command, and the second captain under him as friendly and nice as possible. They invited us up on the bridge, and the second captain, seeing that my feet did not reach the floor from the chair they gave me, had a footstool made for me which added tremendously to my comfort. It was delightful to sit up there and watch the superb scenery unfold itself before our eyes, even though it was not new to me. What was new was the swift little destroyer, dashing from right to left in front of us, like a playful dog ranging in front of his master, on the lookout for mines and submarines.
It gave me a sense of security I had not felt on the water since leaving America. Our captain, however, seemed to feel his dignity injured, and grumbled that he was quite capable of bringing his boat safely to Salonica, even---as we afterwards learned---with the millions of gold in her hold, which had been the reason for sending along the destroyer.
As usual with all these little dispatch boats, the Fauvette carried a good many more than her normal supply of passengers. Among them were two Greek officers, and a Greek doctor, from Constantinople, who had served with the Greek army during the two Balkan wars. All three told us of the difficulties they had had to overcome in order to reach Salonica. It had taken the doctor a whole month, and the officers two, to get from Athens to Salonica.
"Who made these difficulties for you?" I asked.
"The French and the English."
Subsequently, Mr. Alexandri, the Venizelist representative in Rome, named to us an Englishman who had told him that when the Greek army was forced by the Entente to go to the Peloponnesos, three hundred officers and men appealed to him for help to get to Salonica, and he had to refuse because his Government had provided no means of sending them there. These three hundred, therefore, were forced to stay with the Royalist army.
The Greek officers and the doctor on our steamer assured us that if we were going to Salonica to work for the union between the King and Venizelos, we were wasting our time. "We have no faith in Constantine any longer. He is proved beyond doubt a traitor to the interests of Greece. We wish no union with him."
As an instance of the bad faith with which the Royalist Government had fulfilled its agreements with the Entente, one of the officers told us how---under orders---he had filled packing-boxes with stones and placed a layer of rifles on top. These had then been sent to the Peloponnesos as cases of rifles. " It is such dishonorable things as this, madame, that the King has made us do. And shall we desire a union with that man at the head? He must go, so that Greece may breathe again the air of honor."
With much talk of a similar tenor the waking hours of our voyage passed until we came opposite the wondrous mountains, Olympus and Ossa, on our left. Here a dirigible balloon came out to help escort us, and thus doubly protected. we approached the much coveted city of Salonica, which according to Colonel Metaxas was nothing but a trap, where the Allied army was starving to death, and where a hundred and fifty-two vessels were moored, not daring to venture forth. I counted fully thirty leaving as we were entering; and since Hotel Splendid, where we stayed, was right on the quay, I used to go out on the balcony and amuse myself by counting the sails which always dotted the bay as far as I could see. The amount of traffic was incredible to me, who had last seen the town and the bay when it seemed to have been left over, asleep, from the Middle Ages. It was now a new city in which I was completely lost, and in which nothing looked familiar.
We arrived at five o'clock in the afternoon. No carriage was to be had, and with the help of one porter we struggled through the crowded streets from hotel to hotel, trying to find a spare nook. Tables and chairs overflowed the streets, at which sat the fighting men of twenty different tribes, from three continents, in their various uniforms, talking their own languages and drinking their accustomed drinks. There were French, English, Scotch, Serbs, Italians, Greeks, Cretans, Indo-Chinese, and Senegalese; and of civilians, Turks, Jews, Greeks, and a sprinkling of almost every other nationality. It was the most marvelous show we had yet seen.
|Fig. 24. The house of Mr. Venizelos in Salonika.||Fig. 25. Cretan sentry at the house of Mr. Venizelos.|
The promenade along the quay, which I remembered as given over to fashionable sauntering in the late afternoon, now had a railroad laid down on its sidewalk, and the quay itself was lined with boats packed tightly side by side. All had come laden with provisions for this town of a hundred and fifty thousand, which held a half a million visitors in its lap, not counting the army of General Sarrail which, in a vast semicircle fifty miles in diameter, was fighting among the hills.
Early the next morning we went to Mr. Venizelos's house, which is the one the Greek nation thought of buying and presenting to King Constantine. Mr. Venizelos sent down word that he was working, and, moreover, that he had to go out in half an hour, and since he wished to see us at length, he asked that we should return to him at five in the afternoon.
At the appointed hour we received the salute
of the Cretan guard at the gate and of the many Cretan gendarmes and officers inside the beautiful garden, and then entered Mr. Venizelos's abode and were ushered into a large bachelor-looking room. We had only to wait a minute before a man opened a door and came in. His hair was white, but his step was alert and young, almost boyish. He came up and shook hands with us as if he had known us before. "Oh, we know all about you," he said.
I stood staring at him.
"Are you Mr. Venizelos?
"Yes, madame. Will you be seated?"
We sat side by side on a sofa, Kenneth Brown facing us. I could not believe that it was Mr. Venizelos. In spite of his white hair, he was a much younger and better-looking man than any of his pictures, and of a simplicity of manner that was almost unnatural.
"Are you sure you are Mr. Venizelos?" I asked again. "Aren't you a man who looks a little like him, and whom Mr. Venizelos uses to receive lesser people?"
He laughed. "I really am Mr. Venizelos, and we don't think that 'the couple Brown' are lesser people."
We all fell to laughing, because it was as "the couple Brown " that the Athenian newspapers always spoke of us.
We at once began to talk of Greece. To him---as I had to the Royalists---I explained the reason of our coming over. Then I began recapitulating the situation as we had learned it from Dr. Streit and the other Royalists. He listened attentively until we came to their version of the treaty with Serbia.
"That is false!" he interrupted impetuously.
"Mr. Venizelos, will you please tell us why you maintained from the very first that it was the duty of Greece to go to the help of Serbia?
"We were allies, madame."
"But the treaty was only a Balkan treaty, was it not? "
"Whom did you see in Athens?"
"All the ex-Prime Ministers, the General Staff, and the King."
"Did they all tell you that it was a Balkan treaty? "
"Yes; and Mr. Zaïmis explained to us that it was against a third power, and one power only."
Mr. Zaïmis did not mean to tell you an untruth. He was told by others that the treaty applied only to the Balkans, and he believed it. But I made that treaty, madame, and I know whether it was a Balkan treaty or not. We made that treaty while we were still fighting the Turks, because we realized that Bulgaria meant to turn against us, after we took Salonica. She meant to take more territory than any of us, and believing herself the strongest, she was planning to attack---first Greece and then Serbia, and reduce us both to vassaldom, holding the hegemony of the Balkans herself. We saw that, and approached Serbia, who was also afraid that Bulgaria would attack her, but, considering her danger less imminent than ours, would only conclude a treaty which should also safeguard her against her great enemy, Austria. It is true that neither the King nor I wished to sign this treaty. We wanted it to be only a Balkan treaty, but Serbia insisted that unless it were made against Austria also, she would not help us against Bulgaria. We debated the question for six weeks, and then, since Bulgaria was massing her army on our frontier, the danger became too great for us to hesitate any longer.
"The argument I used with the King was this: 'If Austria were to attack Serbia, the latter would not be alone. Russia could never permit Serbia to be overrun by Austria, and if Russia came in, France and England would surely come in, too, and it would become a world war. In that case the place of Greece would be on the side of France and England. Therefore why should we hesitate? Bulgaria would attack us in a few days. The world war might not come for ten or fifteen years, if it came at all.' After that we signed the treaty; so you see, madame, that although Austria is not mentioned in the treaty, it was clearly understood between Greece and Serbia that it meant Austria as well as Bulgaria and Turkey."
No one had given us these details before. They made it clear to us why the Royalists, after maintaining that the treaty did not oblige them to go to the help of Serbia, were always trying to find new excuses to explain away their not having done so. The situation was not entirely cleared up for me, however, and I asked Mr. Venizelos: --
"Since the treaty was against Austria, too, why did you not go to the help of Serbia at the outbreak of the war? You were Prime Minister then, and we saw your dispatches to Mr. Pachitch."
"I wrote to Mr. Pachitch that it would be better, even for Serbia, to have Greece remain neutral, for the time being, to keep open her supply line to Salonica and to keep Bulgaria from attacking her in the rear. Mr. Pachitch realized the necessity of this himself, and Bulgaria---so long as Greece honestly threatened her---did not dare join the Central Powers."
"According to you, then, Greece did finally hint to Bulgaria that she was free to act, without danger of Greek interference?"
"Yes. That is the great treason of the King and his party," Mr. Venizelos replied.
"The Royalists told us that you were a nearsighted statesman, and did not see that a strong Serbia would be a constant menace to Greece," I went on.
"I would prefer a strong and powerful Serbia, who was a friend, to a weak Serbia, who was an enemy," replied Mr. Venizelos, and in that reply showed himself a statesman of a totally different order from many who aspire to that name. He went on to elucidate this idea further: "After the two Balkan wars, when Serbia was again denied a seaport, I offered her free access to the sea through Salonica, without any expense for the land or buildings she required, for fifty years. We want Serbia to be the friend of Greece. It is through friendship and confidence in one another that nations, like individuals, can prosper."
The Royalists had all told us that Mr. Venizelos was a dangerous man who possessed a sinister power of fascination which clouded one's judgment, while one was with him, so that one could no longer perceive the truth. "I forewarn you that you will not be able to withstand him," King Constantine had said to us. "Even I, who knew things perfectly, used to fall under his spell and agree to everything he said, while he was with me. Only after he left me, and I thought things over, did I realize how wrong he was."
So far as physical charm went, King Constantine was too modest: he possessed more of it than his former Prime Minister did. The charm one saw in Mr. Venizelos was that of a convincingly far-seeing and honest man, who told the truth simply and without evasion. With the Royalists I was constantly tripping them up on points which they had the greatest difficulty in explaining or which they altogether evaded. Not in a single instance did I have this experience with Mr. Venizelos.
When we left him at seven o'clock, after making an engagement for ten o'clock the next morning, and had passed out into the garden, my husband drew a long breath.
"I feel," he said, "exactly as I used to when I got out of the hot, stuffy, Swiss train at Caux, and stood in the clear frosty air of the Alps, looking far out over Lake Geneva toward Mont Gramont. It's the first time I have been able to breathe since coming to Greece."
This impression was not lessened the next morning when we returned at the appointed hour to the large bare room, where we had to wait a little while, since Lord Granville, Great Britain's representative, was with Mr. Venizelos. He apologized for the delay when he came in, and resumed his narrative, taking us step by step over the same ground Dr. Streit had taken us. Then it was that the limitless differences between the two men became apparent.
"Why did you offer Greece to the Entente so early in the war? " I asked, having still two grievances against Mr. Venizelos: that he had split Greece; and that he had offered Greece to the Entente unconditionally.
"Because, madame," he replied, "Greece is little: it would have been a great honor for her to offer what she had to France at a moment when France seemed overwhelmed. I thought that if I waited until France pushed back the Germans, as I knew she would, it would not be the same thing. Besides, there was another reason: the safety of Greece. Suppose that Turkey and Bulgaria, seeing Serbia occupied elsewhere, were to unite and attack Greece, we could not withstand those two nations together. But as the ally of the Great Powers, neither Bulgaria nor Turkey could harm us."
"But suppose that France and England were defeated in this war, would it not be better for Greece to have remained neutral?"
"To begin with, France and England cannot be beaten. Even if they lose for five or seven years, in the end they will win,"
"But suppose that you are wrong?"
"In that case, madame, I make the same answer to you that I made to King Constantine when he insisted that France and England would be beaten: 'Even if those two nations are beaten, it is better for Greece to be beaten on their side than to win on the side of Germany.'"
I don't know whether it was his diabolical powers of fascination beginning to work, but he certainly knew how to thrill one. A man who preferred to be beaten on the side of the right, rather than win on the side of the wrong!
"Still," I argued, " it does not seem to me fair that you should have placed Greece on the side of the Allies without telling the King."
"What makes you think I did not tell the King?"
"King Constantine told us so. That is one of his great grudges against you."
Mr. Venizelos looked at me with incredulity. "You must be mistaken," he said. "His Majesty could never have told that to you." He turned to my husband for corroboration.
"Not only did he tell us that," Kenneth Brown put in, "but that he only found it out in February, after you resigned."
That Mr. Venizelos was very much pained we could see from the expression in his kind eyes.
"Surely you must be making a mistake," he repeated, "because, as you remember, after I had offered Greece to the Allies, King George of England sent a personal telegram to King Constantine thanking him for the offer." He considered a minute, then rose and rang a bell, and to the Cretan who appeared said: "Will you please ask Mr. Markantonakis to give you the files for August, 1914."
In a few minutes the files were brought down, and from them Mr. Venizelos took a letter, glanced over it, and after some hesitation, placed it in my hands. It was an autograph letter from King Constantine, eleven pages long, written in Greek, and dated in August, 1914. I read it carefully. In it he discussed at length all the reasons his Prime Minister had given him for offering to place Greece on the side of the Entente and gave his royal assent.
When I had finished the last word, there recurred to me the scene in the King's library, when his eyes had looked straight into mine, and I could almost hear him say: "I never knew about it. Venizelos did it without letting me know."
I did not wish to look up at Mr. Venizelos. I was ill at the thought that King Constantine, so lovable, so charming, with those appealing eyes of his, could have actually lied to me. When I handed back the letter to Mr. Venizelos, his eyes did not meet mine, nor did he refer to the subject again. He went on with his narrative, explaining every point, and making it all as clear as daylight, where before it had been a dark tangle. They had told us over and over again in Athens, that he was hysterical, that he did things on the impulse of the moment, and that he never stopped to think of the outcome of his actions. As he talked to us now we began to realize that not only did he never act on the spur of the moment, but that every action of his was taken only after considering not only the past and present, but years and years to come. And what was still more wonderful, although Greek interests naturally came first with him, whenever the interests of the greater humanity were opposed to those of Greece, he would sacrifice the latter for the greater benefit. As Kenneth Brown put it to me afterwards, he was the only man we had met in the Balkans who had a comprehension of the motto, "Live, and let live."
I did not interrupt Mr. Venizelos again. There was no need. We merely listened to his simple exposition of the whole situation, and if we were falling under the "diabolical spell" of the man, it was the spell of his soul, which was clear and pure as the air of his Cretan mountains. For three days we worked with him, and the third day being Saturday, as we rose to go, he said: --
"To-morrow is Sunday. Come at twelve; we can work for an hour, and then we should be glad to have you take luncheon with us, when you can meet Admiral Coundouriotis and General Danglis." (These two, who, with Mr. Venizelos, formed the triumvirate of the Provisional Government at Salonica, lived in the same house together.)
Fig. 26. Admiral Coundouriotis.
Fig. 27. General Danglis
We accepted, honored and pleased at being asked to luncheon with these three men. Yet, while walking home over the long, dusty road by the quay side, I must confess that deep down in my heart I did not entirely share the great enthusiasm my husband felt for Mr. Venizelos. Undoubtedly my intelligence was on his side, but I still clung to my old idea of clearing my country of the mud with which she was covered, and he was taking from me every excuse I could make for her. To become a Venizelist was to admit that Greece had treated her treaty with Serbia as a scrap of paper, was to admit that she was dishonest, and that King Constantine, whom I had so enthusiastically defended, was no better than the Huns. While listening to Mr. Venizelos, although unable to controvert him, I was conscious that I was always looking for flaws, both in his narrative and in his personality, and I was vexed on that third day, while walking back to our hotel, because I had been unable to find a shadow of one, either in his reasoning or in his principles. How quickly, how willingly, would I have sacrificed Venizelos and his party for Greece and the King; how eagerly would I have proclaimed the Cretan a demagogue, if by doing so I could prove that Greece had had no treaty with Serbia which bound her to go to her rescue. Alas, for the cause of the Royalists, the more I saw of him, the more I became convinced that the self-seeking was all on the other side.
While working with Mr. Venizelos in the mornings, we worked with Mr. Politis in the afternoons. Mr. Politis is more of a Frenchman than a Greek. He went to Paris as a little boy, was educated there, and subsequently became Professor of International Law at the College de France, I believe. Both Mr. Venizelos and King Constantine urged him to give up his position and return to Greece, telling him that he ought to serve his own country. Finally he decided to do so, and he was made Director of Foreign Affairs, at which post he remained until the late fall of 1916, when he left Athens. He went to Salonica and there Mr. Venizelos offered him the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Mr. Politis is of rather small stature, with dark hair and a pair of large, hazel eyes which seem to dominate his entire personality. We went to see him at the Foreign Office of the Provisional Government, and subsequently spent two or three hours at a time with him. By him, too, we were taken, step by step, from the beginning of the war down to the time when he left Athens. As he had been at the Foreign Office during the first two years of the war, and since he was the man who had charge of all the documents, he made disclosures to us which up to that time had not been touched upon by any one else.
On the afternoon of the Saturday when I left Mr. Venizelos in such a gloomy mood, because he was taking away from me every means of defending the attitude of the King, Mr. Politis told us that which gave the coup de grâce to my last hope of helping Constantine. Referring to the abandonment of Fort Rupel, he said: --
"On the day of the fall of Rupel, General Dousmanis and Colonel Metaxas came rushing into my office with every appearance of excitement and dismay. 'Fort Rupel,' they cried, 'has been forced to surrender to the Bulgars and Germans. Confronted by a superior force, it essayed to resist; then realizing that this would only mean useless slaughter, it capitulated.'
"Skouloudis was Prime Minister at that time, and contrary to all usage, he was in the habit of carrying important state papers to his own house, instead of handing them over to me for safe-keeping. When he was forced to resign, I said to him: 'You have a number of public documents in your keeping, which must be returned to the Foreign Office.' At first he appeared unwilling to give up the documents. Finally, however, he said, 'If you will come up to my house to-night, I will get them out of the safe and give them to you!' In his house he handed me a sealed envelope. As I was Director of Foreign Affairs, it was my business to go over the documents and file them in their proper places. In that envelope I found the official agreement for the surrender of Fort Rupel---signed by the Greek Government on one side and by the Bulgars and the Germans on the other-and it ante-dated the actual surrender by four days. So you see," Mr. Politis ended sadly, "that Dousmanis and Metaxas had play-acted on that day when, all pale and excited, they had come to my office to tell about the surrender. And they had done it so well that I had entirely believed them---although I had caught them in lies before."
Kenneth Brown and I could hardly believe that Mr. Politis was telling us the truth; the treachery of the Royalist Government was so great as to be unbelievable at first. I must confess that I tried to trip Mr. Politis that day.
"Mr. Zaïmis succeeded Mr. Skouloudis as Prime Minister, did he not?"
Does he know of what you told us? Yes. "
"He said nothing whatever about it to us."
"As a member of the Government he could not, of course. I could not tell you now, except that I am a revolutionist."
On our return to Athens we sought for corroboration from Mr. Zaïmis himself.
"Mr. Politis told us that there were documents proving beyond controversy that the Royalist Government had agreed with the Bulgarian and German Ministers to give up Fort Rupel, four days before the army surrendered it, and that you knew it. Is that so?"
"Politis told me that there was that document but I did not wish to see it. My Cabinet was formed to perform a service---not to examine into the actions of my predecessors."
Here is where Alexander Zaïmis had not the force to rise to a great action. Had he had the courage to examine that document, and had he then made it public, saying to the Greek people that they had been betrayed, what a different standing would he have to-day, both in Greece and before the world. He would have been the greatest Greek in Old Greece. Possibly the Royalists would have assassinated him. To few of us is given the chance to die an immortal death. Mr. Zaïmis preferred to turn a blind eye on the actions of his predecessors, and the result was that a few months later, while he was still Premier, Kavalla and Drama, like Fort Rupel, were abandoned to the Bulgaro-Germans. A whole army corps surrendered, and is now, no one knows where; and vast quantities of ammunition and gold were handed over to the bitterest enemy of Greece. Those are the dishonors through which an honorable, loved, and respected man like Mr. Zaïmis passed, because to his good qualities he could not add the courage to look facts in the face, the force to do the daring deed.
That Drama and Kavalla were surrendered by the connivance of the Palace I have no direct proof. However, the experience of a Royalist lady, wife of one of the deputies of the betrayed districts, is significant. She, like many other Greeks, fled before the Bulgaro-Germans, and came to Athens. When the Kaiser's sister, the Queen of Greece,---who knew her,---saw her in Greece, she seemed displeased.
"Why have you left your home?" she asked.
"Because, Your Majesty, I cannot live where there are Bulgars."
"But the Germans are there, too," replied the Queen of Greece," and they will govern the provinces well. Please go back to your home."
And the Prussian lady's efforts, did not stop with this. Every time she met this Greek refugee she did her best to induce her to return and live under the government of her beloved Germans, in spite of the fact that daily reports reached Athens that murder and rapine were the lot of the Greeks in the Drama-Kavalla-Seres districts.
The disclosures about Fort Rupel were not the only ones which Mr. Politis made to us.
"When I became convinced that the King was not acting fairly toward the Allies, and was not observing the benevolent neutrality which he had promised, I tried to talk to him alone about the matter. I was granted a few audiences, but no sooner was I with him than Dr. Streit or General Dousmanis would appear, and after that the King would never grant me another audience."
"How did you become convinced that the Royalist Government was acting treacherously toward the Allies?"
"By a great many incidents, some large and some small. I will give you a typical one: General Sarrail had made numerous complaints that he was being hampered as regards the use of the rolling-stock of the railway. A large number of cars, be said, had been removed from Salonica simply to make difficulties for him to move troops and ammunition. I took the matter up with the Government to find out the truth. General Dousmanis ought to have had nothing whatever to do with this matter, but in the end it was always he to whom I had to apply. On this occasion he told me that General Sarrail was a liar; that none of the things he complained of had happened; and that he was merely finding new excuses every day to worry the Greeks. 'I will give you the proof at once,' he said. 'I will put you in direct communication with the official in charge in Salonica, and you can ask him yourself.'
"He took me to the telegraph office; I made my inquiries through the telegraph clerk; and the reply was wired back from Salonica that the story of rolling-stock having been removed from Salonica was not true; that General Sarrail did not know what he was talking about; and that he was deceived by his own men.
"Reassured by this, I sent a rather sharp note to the French, declaring that they were entirely mistaken in their charges, and that I happened to know positively that none of the rolling-stock had been sent away from Salonica, and that everything possible had been done to facilitate the operations of the Allies.
"Some time afterwards," continued Mr. Politis, "when I was in Salonica on another matter, I saw my brother, who was practically at the head of the railway system there, and an inspiration came to me to ask him about this matter of which General Sarrail had complained.
Did you by any chance send away any of the rolling-stock from Salonica?' I asked.
"'Yes,' he replied, 'we sent away two hundred cars.'
"'By whose order?'
"'By the order of the General Staff in Athens. If you will wait a minute, I can lay my hand on the order now.'
"Naturally I was very indignant, and as soon as I returned to Athens I went to see General Dousmanis about the matter. The general stared me straight in the face. 'No such order was ever sent,' he declared. 'Your brother lied.'
"That is the sort of thing we had to live through," concluded Mr. Politis. "Mr. Zaïmis did his very best to comply with the demands of the Allies, and sincerely believed that his orders were being carried out. As a matter of fact, the General Staff and the Palace carried on their treacherous work just the same, behind his back."
On this Saturday afternoon I was forced to bury all my hopes of saving King Constantine's reputation; for as incident after incident was related to us by Mr. Politis, we realized beyond doubt that the conspiracy against the Entente was headed by the Palace. It is true that I still believe many a deed was done by the Queen, rather than by the King, with the help of her right-hand man, Dr. Streit. And all the while she would say to every Englishman who would listen to her: --
"I have nothing whatever to do with politics. I hope after the war the English people will still like me, and will let me come back to Eastbourne."
She did not have to wait until after the war to know that some of the English still loved her, in spite of the proof that she is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of Englishmen. From England great pressure was exercised in Athens to keep Sophie and her husband on the throne. Three weeks before their abdication an English general openly declared that his mission in Greece was to see that King Constantine was not dethroned.
Whom did that general represent? Who had sent him to Athens to see that King Constantine was not dethroned? It certainly was not the Kaiser.
On the Sunday that we were to take luncheon with Mr. Venizelos, we passed the groups of Cretans, in their baggy black trousers and little caps, hovering around the entrance to the garden, and without any ceremony or preamble entered the large central hall of the house of the triumvirate. There we met General Danglis and Admiral Coundouriotis. The latter at once said teasingly: --
"And how are you going to bring about the reconciliation? What are the terms you have brought us from Athens? "
In the previous three days, during which we had talked with Mr. Venizelos and Mr. Politis, we had not mentioned the word reconciliation, realizing, after meeting the former, that to speak to him of the terms the King had given us was to insult him. The two groups of men, the Royalists and the Venizelists, stood for such diametrically opposed ideas that the gulf between them was uncrossable. Now that Admiral Coundouriotis, with a twinkle in his eyes, was inquiring about the terms for the reconciliation, I answered: --
"The King is willing to forgive you, and proclaim an amnesty, provided you give up your movement, and return penitently to Athens."
Mr. Venizelos, Admiral Coundouriotis, and gentle General Danglis did not believe I was telling the truth. They thought that, led away by the mischief in the admiral's eyes, I was joking with them.
"If we go up to the palace, are we to be allowed to kiss the royal hand, and having done that shall we be reinstated in our former positions?" questioned the admiral.
"He did not go into all that," I answered. " He only said to us that, although he was willing to grant you an amnesty, you, of course, could not persist in your movement after that."
"Did he really say that to you? " General Danglis asked.
"Yes, those are the terms he gave us, really and truly. "
Mr. Venizelos could not believe it, and Kenneth Brown had to corroborate my words to convince them that I was not joking. I believe Mr. Venizelos was rather vexed; General Danglis was making up his mind how to take it; but Admiral Coundouriotis, chuckled with glee. I think he had not been so merry for months as the terms made him. None of them cared for King Constantine's amnesty. These men in Salonica were fighting for what they knew to be right. It did not matter what became of them: all they cared for was to rehabilitate Greece in the eyes of the world and in her own conscience.
When luncheon was announced we passed into the dining-room, whose huge window, taking in the whole end of the room, looked out over the bay. Mr. Venizelos sat at the head of the table, and placed my husband and me on either side of him. Next to me was Admiral Coundouriotis. He is tall and spare, a sailorman in profession and in mind. As a rule he is silent, but possesses an exquisite gift of humor, which is so rare among the Greeks. The sense of the ridiculous is not uncommon among them, but humor is.
Opposite me was General Danglis. He is small, very well-proportioned, and of such a kindly disposition that one can hardly imagine him with warfare as his profession. Yet he is said to be adored by his soldiers, as the admiral is by the sailors.
At this first luncheon were also Mr. Politis and Emanuel Repoulis, the Greek of Albanian origin, who speaks no other European language, but whose Greek is such as the Gods of Olympus must have spoken. Repoulis is the greatest of the men around Venizelos. For years he dreamed a wonderful dream for Greece---a dream of her regeneration and honest governing, when all was corruption and base politics, under King George. To realize that dream he was ever seeking for the man who could become the leader and who could take into his strong hands the destinies of the feeble little nation, and guide it by a good administration to its own best development. With this object he formed a club of seven men, called "the Japanese "---a club which did not last very long, owing, perhaps, to the fact that Gounaris was one of the seven.
The dream of Repoulis seemed destined to remain a vision only, until he met Venizelos, and it became a reality. Repoulis then became the watchdog of the Venizelist Party, the storm pilot of the Venizelist ship, the guardian of the Venizelist sacred fire that must be kindled in every Greek heart. If Venizelism is a religion, as King Constantine so lightly put it, then Repoulis is its high priest. There are other men in Salonica, in Greece, all over the world, who love Venizelos, but none like Repoulis.
When the time came for me to go and study with him, I anticipated a great deal of pleasure.
What I found was a treasure far more precious than gold and gems in a great man's loyalty to a greater, uttered in the most perfect Greek and with the delivery of a marvelous orator. He spoke, now seated, now on his feet, his tall, straight figure towering over my little one huddled in an armchair. Repoulis has a magnificently shaped head, his thick hair turning gray on the temples, from anxiety rather than from age, and his eyes having that strong light in them that one sees in seafaring men.
The hours I spent with Repoulis were many, yet they never became work. It was not my memory and judgment which were busy remembering and understanding: something higher was exalted by the spiritual greatness of the man. I never forgot what a privilege was mine to have this man who was accustomed to sway big audiences speak to a morsel of a woman whose only right to the great honor was that she loved the same land that Repoulis loved. Unlike all the others, he did not tell me the story in a continuous narrative. He was an artist in his delivery. He would begin with the central figure of the canvas, then leave it to sketch in one corner of the picture, bringing in what at first sight appeared like trivial incidents, but which, in his masterful presentation, all bore directly on the central figure. Through his recital, which he gave me in the course of many hours, on many days, he lived over with me every incident, every phase of those terrible two years in which, for the first time in his life, he saw a chance to lift Greece from insignificance and place her on a footing with the nations which command respect---and then saw it all slip away from him.
When England sent her soldiers to Egypt, it was Repoulis who longed to send an army corps of Greeks to fight by the side of the English---to perish by their side, if need be. "If not a single one of them returns, the honor of having died with the English would be the making of Greece," he urged. Instead of being able to grasp the opportunity, Repoulis had to see a Danish King and a Prussian Queen sacrifice not only the interests of the country, but its very honor; and he who for years had dreamed of the regeneration of Greece had to witness her uttermost degradation. As he spoke of these terrible times, it was easy for me to see that were Repoulis to live for a hundred years, the pain would be as poignant for him, whenever he remembered those degraded years of Greece,---he would feel the loss of his country's great opportunity, the loss of her honor, with the same torturing force,---as when he was speaking to me.
During that first luncheon at the house of the triumvirate, however, Repoulis spoke little. I am afraid that I took up most of the time, and kept the tableful of men in a roar of laughter, telling them all the funny incidents that had befallen us among the Royalists of Athens. It was a bit of relief for these tired men, who were still passing through the greatest of anxieties, because the Allies were composed of four nations, not all of them friendly to the Venizelists. France, to be sure, was the spiritual and intellectual sister of Greece. In England, however, there still remained many men who believed that to touch any king was to threaten theirs, not appreciating that, on the contrary, to protect a king who had betrayed his trust was to weaken all kingry. To this day, also, there remains in England an obstinate party of Bulgarophiles, who, even after she turned against England, still keep on thinking how they may save Bulgaria. Yet it was interesting to observe the adoration the Venizelists had for England. Mr. Repoulis had never known English people, his lack of knowledge of foreign languages keeping him from contact with all except the few foreigners who knew Greek. In Salonica, however, he had seen the English en masse, and the love he had conceived for England was strengthened by the conduct of their troops and the courtesy of their officers. The most laudatory article on the English as a race which I have ever heard of was one which he wrote for the Greek newspapers.
These, then, were two of the Allies: France, the beloved, and England, the admired. But with these two there were Russia and Italy, Russia coveted a great city, now under the domination of the Turk, but which had been Greek for hundreds of years, where yet the Greek language predominated and the Greek influence was greater than any other except the Turkish, and which every Greek considered his birthright.
As for Italy---my poor Italy is dominated at present by a group of men who may bring ruin on that beautiful country; for that group is as imperialistic and unscrupulous as the Junkers who let loose Hundom on the world. That group of men in Italy aspires not only to North Epirus, now under the Greek flag, not only to Smyrna and her hinterland with seven hundred and fifty thousand Greek inhabitants, but Prussia-like aspires to the hegemony of the Mediterranean; and she was making most malignant efforts to keep Greece divided, by encouraging King Constantine. Above all else she wished to prevent Greece's coming into the war, in order that there might be no danger of anything in the Eastern Mediterranean falling to her portion. Unlike Mr. Venizelos, who wished for a strong Serbia and a friendly one, Italy wished only weak neighbors in the Balkans, even though she earned the undying enmity of them all. It is the old system of diplomacy, and it is one which all well-wishers of humanity must hope will die with this war.
No, those were not happy days for that group of men around Mr. Venizelos's table, whose only weapon was the love they had for their country and the love they had for an ideal. They were anxious days, yet hopeful days, too; for they had gone to Salonica to show that the spirit of duty and honor was still alive among the Greeks; and their army of volunteers, in spite of all obstacles, was daily growing. Men poured in from every part of free and enslaved Greece---men who had felt the shame of Greece, and who came to give their blood, their lives, their very all that their country might be purified.
Anxiety and hope were the daily portion of these leaders of the national movement, and I was happy that I could for a minute make them laugh. After that first luncheon it became the habit for us all to eat together every Sunday and holiday, at the manor of the triumvirate, with little me seated between the great Cretan and the mighty Albanian; for Admiral Coundouriotis, like Mr. Repoulis and many other noble Greeks, comes from that part of Albania which has always been Greek, and which always will remain Greek in spite of the Italian flags, the Italian soldiers, and the Italian intrigues. And opposite me I could see the sparkling eyes of General Danglis, and next to him Mr. Markantonakis, a Cretan, of whom I have not yet spoken. He is Mr. Venizelos's secretary, but he is much more than that: he seems to me like mother, sister, wife, housekeeper, and general supervisor for his friend. How many things run smoothly because of Mr. Markantonakis's watchful care, which without him would tangle and fret Mr. Venizelos, I can hardly imagine.
Fig. 28. Mr. Markantonakis, secretary to Mr. Venizelos.
These two men were childhood friends; they went to school and studied law together; but when the genius of the one man carried him ahead of his friend, and made him first, leader of the Cretan Revolution, then leader and Prime Minister of Greece, and now leader of a movement which was convulsing Greece in order to save her, ---when the genius of the one man had made an international figure of him, the other had felt no envy, but had consecrated all that he had to the service of his friend, never feeling a tinge of jealousy. When I talked with Mr. Markantonakis, he spoke not of himself, but of Venizelos, with the pride of a mother for the beloved son who has gratified her beyond her wildest expectations.
During luncheon Mr. Markantonakis spoke very little: he only saw that we had all we needed, and that everything went on perfectly. We sat down to table at one, and generally stayed around the table till three, talking---talking in our own Greek language, of Greece and her terrible present. From the vast one-paneled window we could look across the Bay of Salonica to Olympus and Ossa, our two great mountains, who, according to the laic poetry, are always quarreling between themselves as to which is most truly Greek and has done most for the Greek race. And within sight of these great mountains, and in the presence of these great men, speaking the language of Jupiter and Athena, I gradually became a Venizelist, suffering no less for the degradation of Greece, but beginning to share their hope that by splitting Greece in two, we could save her as a whole. Far from the poisoned air of Athens, this hope became stronger and stronger within me. What if Constantine, the Dane, had betrayed us! What if a gang of Germanophile courtiers and politicians, led by a Prussian Queen, had sold us to the Huns! We belonged to the race that had laid the foundations of the thought of civilization, and we could not perish. Perhaps the anguish and suffering of our betrayal, perhaps the scorn and hatred heaped upon us by the whole world, instead of crushing us, would wrench from our souls the stigma of our four centuries of slavery under the Asiatic Turk. The power which Venizelos's great personality exercises over all brains not made in Germany became stronger and stronger within me. My poor King Constantine was right; Venizelism. was no longer a political party: it was a religion in the hearts and minds of all those Greeks and Philhellenes who suffered for the shame and betrayal of Greece.
There was an atmosphere of love in that household of the triumvirate, from the dark, blue-eyed sentry at the gate of the garden, in his most attractive baggy blue uniform, to the men around the table, and the Cretans who served them. It was the atmosphere of a love whose aim was the noblest that exists: the rehabilitation and uplift of one's race---especially when that race is despised the world over.
The time of those luncheons passed all too rapidly for me. I could have envied the men who lived in that house were it not that its atmosphere forbade envy---even of noble descent.
Chapter VII. The Cry of the Greek Soldiery