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Enemy and Brother
By Dorothy Salisbury Davis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1966 Dorothy Salisbury Davis
All rights reserved.
FOR ALMOST EIGHTEEN YEARS I had been telling myself that I would go back to Greece, that when the time was right I would return and chance again the jeopardy from which, those lengthening years ago, I had been so ignominiously rescued.
But self-promises are the most delusory of all promises. Too often they are the means by which a man justifies himself in not taking the very action he prepares for. I came to enjoy my study of demotic Greek and to relish the company in which I practiced it, sailors, dishwashers, stonecutters, priests. I liked their wine, I liked their music and I liked their women. Above all, I liked their saying to me, "But you are a Greek!" And when I would return to my far different life than theirs, I would always ask myself: If I had known the language then; if, sitting on the backless bench which was my dock in the Epirus District Courtroom, I had been able to grasp the testimony against me as it passed the lips of my accuser, would my defense have been more adequate? Would it have been sufficient to convince the jury of my innocence? To this day I believe them all to have been honorable men. But they no less than I were pawns in a trial that mocked justice the more for its rigid adherence to the forms of justice.
My life's work—I suppose I should say the work of my second life—bears further witness to the earnestness of my intentions. I settled into a career as a teacher of literature, but I bent my particular study toward Lord Byron, the British poet whom the Greeks are wont to consider an honorary citizen, legend having made him a hero of their War of Independence. That such study would someday justify the scholar's journeying to Greece to explore firsthand the Byronic legacy was at the core of motive. I'm sure it was. But as the time for my possible return drew near, I felt myself seeking within the pretext itself further escape. If indeed I succeeded in returning, would not my rooting in the personal past betray my present work and therefore the foundation sponsoring it?
In a way it was Byron's story which had beguiled me to Greece in 1947, the scene then of civil war. But at the time—I was only twenty-three—I dared not risk the onus such an admission might cast on me in the company I sought to keep, that virile fellowship of foreign correspondents. I would rather have admitted to bigamy than to Byron. Much rather. Which but capped the irony that in returning to Greece I would have to proclaim my Byronic scholarship.
I was, on the eve of the journey I am about to relate, in excellent physical condition. I'm reluctant to be omniscient now about what I was within—not whole, even as I knew too well, but not altogether hollow either. A bachelor—marriage was too risky for a person born at the age of twenty-three as it were—I was a man of affairs not quite so numerous as Byron's perhaps, but conducted with infinitely more discretion. My students modeled my image to their tastes, my mentors to their needs, the publishing scholar whose presence at the university enhanced their own prestige. I was involved in many things with many people, but in my own mind committed to none.
I must say one more word on my preparation, and it may do me a little of the honor I supposed to have been otherwise lacking. During those years I had also studied every word written by and about the man of whose murder I had been convicted, Alexander Webb. You will remember that name, hearing it. It has become a by-word for American journalism at its best. Does the name Jabez Emory mean anything to you? I doubt it. When the bell tolls for the mighty, the name of the toller is soon forgotten. But I confuse the truth attempting poetry. I did not kill Alexander Webb. Therefore, who did? And why? He did not die for the sordid reasons testified to at my trial. I had come to believe very few people thought he did. And yet no seeker after the truth had ever found it. Would I?
I have been told by historians that he was the soundest chronicler of Balkan politics reporting World War II, its prelude and aftermath. I always asked my informants—as though the information had slipped my mind—what ever happened to him.
"To Webb?" This answer is graven in my mind: "He was murdered during the Greek Civil War. Some say the Communists did it, some say the Greek government had a hand in it. There was an American involved. I've forgotten now, but I think he disappeared afterwards behind the Iron Curtain...."
How odd it was to hear those words while sitting in the Faculty Club lounge, smoking a cigar, sipping brandy, and then to walk out into the night across the campus of an American university to my own office. "Suppose," I was sometimes tempted to say to my informant, "just suppose that American ..." but I never said it.
"You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." So I commenced my journal on the morning I received my American passport in the name of Professor John Eakins.
I had been technically honest in filling out the application: no passport had been previously issued to John Eakins, and the purpose of his journey was to follow Byron's trail. That once I had carried such a document issued at the Paris Embassy to former Lieutenant Jabez Emory had long since lost relevancy. Emory was dead to everyone except himself. And the United States Department of State had assisted at his demise.
I want to tell this part of the story without bitterness. If I have not married, if I have no roots, if I have never returned to the small Midwestern town where I was born and where my mother died while I was on trial, I consented to the divorcement and thereby acted out a fate it seemed impossible for me to turn. I remember something my court-appointed lawyer said when we were both in despair of my defense: "When your gods forsake you there is no more hope."
Before going into the army I had wanted to be a writer, so that, obtaining my discharge overseas, I thought the quickest way to try my pen was to dip it in the bloody residue of war and revolution. There had been something lacking in my military career: I had never reached the front. I had never killed an enemy. I remembered Byron seeking his salvation among the warring Greeks. My hometown newspaper provided me with credentials and every week paid my mother my salary, ten dollars, which she deposited to a bank account in my name. I shouldn't think the account has ever been closed.
The County Citizen got its money's worth in my weekly dispatch, my mother a moment of pride before disaster. I made my bread and beer in Athens as legman for several of the name correspondents who, to a man, were bored and restive. Somewhere in the country a civil war was being fought and they were corralled like sheep by the Athens government which fed them daily handouts on what was going on. They called me "the kid" and sent me off on rumors—to the palace, to Parliament, to the docksides, to wherever I could go before the military turned me back. For every lead I turned up to a story worth a byline, I got a pocketful of drachmas—three dollars' worth.
I was a "kid," younger by far than my years, and, oh, dear God, how innocent. Stupidity would not have sufficed. Only innocence could have rendered me so vulnerable.
One of the questions that will recur throughout this narrative is why Alexander Webb took me along in the first place. At the time, mine wasn't to reason why: I was too damned glad to be asked to go anywhere with him, under any conditions. And, of course, when we left Athens I did not know where we were going.
It was at Patras that I first met Paul Stephanou, the young Elasite who was to be our guide and translator and who in time became the State's chief witness against me. I knew by then that we were heading for the northern headquarters of the Greek guerrillas because it was arranged that should we be intercepted by the government, our story was that Markos himself had offered Webb the interview.
We traveled by water and by land, mostly at night, and we were sheltered and fed clandestinely by Andarte sympathizers. Only once, in Prevesa, did we stop in anything that to me approximated civilization. Webb and Stephanou hit it off well together from the start. They did not exclude me: the barrier was my own ignorance. I knew little of modern Greek history and less of Marxism. The very word seemed to stunt my capacity to understand. Occasionally, to draw me out, or perhaps to explain me, Webb would speak of his wife's regard for me: the young knight errant of the press. He had trouble explaining that to Stephanou whose flashing smile acknowledged both what he understood and what he misunderstood. But for years I believed this to have been his only lead to the charges he later fabricated against me.
It was toward sunset of our tenth day traveling that we halted at the fork of a mountain trail while Stephanou and someone at a distance off exchanged a whistled signal. We proceeded across a mountain ridge to a village abandoned by its people to the rebels. The men who came out of the schoolhouse to meet us seemed much happier to see our mules than ourselves.
Markos was barely civil. His second officer, a Captain Demetrios, had the decency to take us in to the fire and help us off with our coats.
Eventually Webb and I were billeted by ourselves in a hut where the simple wares of its owner still hung on the wall and the sheepskins used as a bed were piled on the floor. Webb paced or watched at the window while I tried to get a fire going in the grate. I do not want to dwell on this right now. He scarcely spoke to me, and when Markos sent for him he went alone. Then I wondered truly what in hell I was doing there.
I got the fire and an oil lamp going, and went over my own notebook. The entries were few, Stephanou having forbidden us to make any mention in our journals of places or of people who had helped us. It was understandable.
I was brought bread and rancid goat's cheese. My one venture out-of-doors brought a bearded guard to watch over me while I urinated. The night by then was as black as a tar barrel.
By the time Webb returned I was asleep. I woke and saw him looking down at me. He took off his trenchcoat, rubbed what I supposed was dirt from the collar and threw the coat down. He sat by the lamp and began to write.
I conquered my pride and asked: "How did it go?"
He looked around those great hunched shoulders of his and growled: "Like the path of true love."
I went back to sleep. Sleep is the refuge of wounded pride. I had expected to be included in the interview. When I woke up the fire was out and Webb was gone. He had thrown his coat over me. I had to get up and hold my watch to the lamp to see what time it was. Ten minutes to two. I stepped outside. The darkness was itself a wall until the beam of a flashlight was trained on my face. I pushed it away. The man was Stephanou.
"Where's Webb?" I asked.
"Not far. Go back inside."
I was about to obey when I realized from the chimney black that Webb had been gone longer than Stephanou implied. I don't know what I said but I demanded that he take me to Webb. He shrugged and motioned me to follow. The huts we passed lay as mute as burial mounds in the vast mountain stillness.
We found Webb, even as Stephanou subsequently testified at my trial, intimately engaged with a woman. I was outraged: I did not deny it at the trial. I made something of a commotion, and I probably swore the soldiers' oaths as Stephanou avowed. But I have never remembered bringing out the name of Margaret Webb that night, although admittedly I thought of her at once. If, as I have intimated, I held Webb in doglike worship, I venerated Margaret. I did not covet her. She might have been not much older than myself, but married to Webb she was ... removed. And the kinder she had been to me, the greater the height to which I had exalted her.
I did not see Webb again after Stephanou's and my intrusion. I returned to the hut, bitter, angry, but with one feeling uppermost: complete and utter loneliness. And, curling in on myself, I slept until Stephanou awakened me and said that the comrade general would see me. Why, God knows. He could have sent the message as easily that Webb would be waiting for me when I left the camp. I breakfasted with Stephanou and the other Andarte, understanding not a word spoken among them. The fear grew steadily in me.
There was great activity in the camp as we left. We walked, sometimes ran at a jog, Stephanou urging me to hurry. We came within sight of the main road at sunrise. We reached the shrine at the crossroads without sight of man or animal. Even the birds were silent. I asked where Webb was supposed to meet me. Stephanou did not know. He pointed to the town of Ioannina in the distance. The Greek government patrol would come up the road soon and I could meet them. He asked me if I was afraid. I said I was. He said that he was too and that it was not safe for him to stay. I asked him if he had a gun. He had and sold it to me for twenty dollars. We shook hands and parted.
But when some time later I saw the armed and uniformed patrol approaching, I panicked. I feared to be found with a gun provided by the guerrillas. I buried it in the dark-red soil near the crossroads shrine, and waited for the patrol with my hands in the air.
I was taken to Ioannina where I told my story to the police in the presence of the American advisers to the Greek military. They disclaimed any knowledge of Webb's whereabouts. I did not tell of seeing Webb with the whore. But when the information was elicited from me later as a result of Stephanou's testimony, my reticence seemed a concealment of motive rather than a matter of delicacy.
The next day Webb's body was found in the ditch a few yards from the shrine. I was asked to make the identification and did so. The gun was found later, but by then the tenor of the interrogation I had undergone so alarmed me that I denied all knowledge of the gun—foolishly, so foolishly: the scrapings of red earth from beneath my fingernails bore immediate witness to the lie.
The doctor examining Webb's body could not place the time of death within eight hours. The cause was discovered at once, a bullet wound in the heart. There was one bullet missing from the revolver I had buried.
Stephanou accepted the government's offer of political amnesty in coming in to testify against me, establishing as motive my covetousness of Webb's wife. Margaret's testimony was taken by affidavit. Ioannina was too perilously close to guerrilla-held territory to require the presence of secondary witnesses. Nothing in my conduct, she swore, had ever suggested more than a very young man's infatuation. She stated that she had not known her husband's destination or his companion until receiving a letter posted in Patras three days after his departure from Athens. The letter was produced in court and the critical sentence read aloud: "I decided to take young Emory with me. I wonder how that will strike you, my dear." I have wondered my life since. The jury construed its meaning to the prosecution's pattern.
Nor was the camp woman produced by either defense or prosecution. Since I had admitted her existence it was of indifferent value to the prosecution that she be called. Stephanou swore ignorance of where she might be found. But then, having seen only the flash of her nude body before our hasty retreat, I could not possibly have identified her myself.
I have said that I was found guilty. The sentence was death by shooting. When I asked for them I was given pencil and paper with which to write to my mother. I had not been told that she was dead. I do not know to whom among the Greeks it was known. The American press, I learned later, mentioned it.
An Orthodox priest visited me the night before my scheduled execution. It is ungrateful of me to tell it, but all I remember of him was that he, poor man, smelled worse than the prison drain, and in my giddy state I cried and laughed aloud at what I thought an excellent joke for one about to die. "Take him out," I kept shouting. "He stinks to high heaven!"
I composed a litany of stenches: Greek justice, Greek lawyers, Greek juries, Greek revolutionaries, Greek reactionaries. Then I started on my own compatriots who, for all their observers and advisers, had turned not a word on my behalf. I surpassed The Man Without a Country in my renunciation.
Excerpted from Enemy and Brother by Dorothy Salisbury Davis. Copyright © 1966 Dorothy Salisbury Davis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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