There came a shrill about from over where the women were packing up, and everybody turned to look, Gregor Jhaere included. As hard as the gray stallion could take her in a bee line toward Will the daughter of the dawn with flashing teeth and blazing eyes was riding ventre a terre.
"Maga!" Gregor shouted at her, and then some unintelligible gibberish. But she took no more notice of him than if he had been a crow on a branch. In a minute she was beside Will, talking to him, and from over the top of the rise we could hear Fred shouting sarcastic remonstrance.
"She is bad!" Gregor announced in English. It seemed to be all the English he knew.
"Are you her father?" Monty asked, and Gregor answered in very slipshod German:
"She is the daughter of the devil. She shall be soundly thrashed! The chalana!* And he a Gorgio!"**
———————— * Chalana—She jockey (a compliment). ** Gorgio—Gentile (an insult). ————————
Suddenly Fred began to shout for help then, and we rode back, the gipsies following and Rustum Khan remaining on guard between them and their camp with his upbrushed black beard bristling defiance of Asia Minor. Our Turkish muleteers had decided to make a final bolt for it, and were using their whips on the Zeitoonli, who clung gamely to the reins. As soon as we got near enough to lend a hand the Turks resigned themselves with a kind of opportune fatalism. The Zeitoonli promptly turned the tables on them by laying hold of a leg of each and tipping them off into the mud. Ibrahim showed his teeth, and reached for a hidden weapon as he lay, but seemed to think better of it. It looked very much as if those four Zeitoonli knew in advance exactly what the interruption in our journey meant.
Will was out of the running entirely, or else the rest of us were, depending on which way one regarded it. He had eyes for nobody and nothing but the girl, nor she for any one but him, and nobody could rightfully blame either of them. Yankee though he is, Will sat his mule in the western cowboy style, and he was wearing a cowboy hat that set his youth off to perfection. She looked fit to flirt with the lord of the underworld, answering his questions in a way that would have made any fellow eager to ask more. Strangely enough, Gregor Jhaere, presumably father of the girl appeared to have lost his anger at her doings and turned his back.
Fred, smiling mischief, started toward them to horn in, as Will would have described it, but at that moment about a dozen of the gipsy women came padding uproad, fostered watchfully by Rustum Khan, who seemed convinced that murder was intended somehow, somewhere. They brought along horses with them—very good horses—and Fred prefers a horse trade to triangular flirtation on any day of any week.
The gipsies promptly fell to and off-saddled our loads under Gregor Jhaere's eye, transferring them to the meaner-looking among the beasts the women had brought, taking great care to drop nothing in the mud. And at a word from Gregor two of the oldest hags came to lift us from our saddles one by one, and hold us suspended in mid-air while the saddles were transferred to better mounts. But there is an indignity in being held out of the mud by women that goes fiercely against the white man's grain, and I kicked until they set me back in the saddle.
Monty solved the problem by riding to higher, clean ground near the roadside, where we could stand on firm grass.
Seeing us dismounted, the gipsies underwent a subtle mental change peculiar to all barbarous people. To the gipsy and the cossack, and all people mainly dependent on the horse, to be mounted is to signify participation in affairs. To be dismounted means to stand aside and "let George do it."
Gregor Jhaere became a different man. He grew noisy and in response to his yelped commands they swooped in unprovoked attack on our unhappy muleteers. Before we could interfere they had thrown each Turk face downward, our Zeitoonli helping, and were searching them with swift intruding fingers for knives, pistols, money.
The Turk leaves his money behind when starting on a journey at some other man's expense; but they did draw forth a most astonishing assortment of weapons. They were experts in disarmament. Maga Jhaere lost interest in Will for a moment, and pricked her stallion to a place where she could judge the assortment better. Without any hesitation she ordered one of the old women to pass up to her a mother-o'-pearl ornamented Smith & Wesson, which she promptly hid in her bosom. Judging by the sounds he made, that pistol was the apple of Ibrahim's old eye, but he had seen the last of it. When we interfered, and he could get to her stirrup to demand it back, Maga spat in his face; which was all about it, except that Monty made generous allowance for the thing when paying the reckoning presently. As our servants, those Turks were, of course, entitled to our protection, and besides that weapon we had to pay for five knives that were gone beyond hope of recovery.
Monty paid our Turks off (for it was evident that even had they been willing they would not have been allowed to proceed with us another mile). Then, as Ibrahim mounted and marshaled his party in front of him, he forgot manners as well as the liberal payment.
"Mashallah!" (God be praised!) he shouted, with the slobber of excitement on his lips and beard. "Now I go to make Armenians pay for this! Let the shapkali,* too, avoid me! Ya Ali, ya Mahoma, Alahu!" (Oh, Ali, oh, Mahomet, God is God!)
———————- * Shapkali—hatted man-foreigner. ———————-
"Let's hope they haven't a spark of honesty!" said Monty cryptically, watching them canter away.
"Why on earth—?"
"Let's hope they ride back to the consul and swear they haven't received one piaster of their pay. That would let him know we're clear away!"
"Optimist!" jeered Will. "That consul's a Britisher. He'd take their lie literally, and deduce we're no good!"
For the moment the girl on the gray stallion had ridden away from Will and was giving regal orders to the mob of women and shrill children, who obeyed her as if well used to it. Gregor Jhaere and his men stood staring at us, Gregor shaking his head as if our letting the Turks go free had been a bad stroke of policy.
"Aren't you afraid to travel with all that mob of women and cattle?" asked Monty. "We've heard of robbers on the road."
"We are the robbers, effendi!" said Gregor with an air of modesty. The others smirked, but he seemed disinclined to over-insist on the gulf between us.
"Hear him!" growled Rustum Khan. "A thief, who boasts of thieving in the presence of sahibs! So is corruption, stinking in the sun!"
He added something in another language that the gipsies understood, for Gregor started as if stung and swore at him, and Maga Jhaere left her women-folk to ride alongside and glare into his eyes. They were enemies, those two, from that hour forward. He, once Hindu, now Moslem, had no admiration whatever to begin with for unveiled women. And, since the gipsy claims to come from India and may therefore be justly judged by Indian standards, and has no caste, but is beneath the very lees of caste, he loathed all gipsies with the prejudice peculiar to men who have deserted caste in theory and in self-protection claim themselves above it. It was a case of height despising deep in either instance, she as sure of her superiority as he of his.
There might have been immediate trouble if Monty had not taken his new, restless, fresh horse by the mane and swung into the saddle.
"Forward, Rustum Khan!" be ordered. "Ride ahead and let those keen eyes of yours keep us out of traps!"
The Rajput obeyed, but as he passed Will he checked his mare a moment, and waiting until Will's blue eyes met his he raised a warning finger.
Then he rode on, like a man who has done his duty.
"What the devil does he mean?" demanded Will.
"Kubadar means, 'Take care'!" said Monty. "Come on, what are we waiting for?"
That was the beginning, too, of Will's feud with the Rajput, neither so remorseless nor so sudden as the woman's, because he had a different code to guide him and also had to convince himself that a quarrel with a man of color was compatible with Yankee dignity. We could have wished them all three either friends, or else a thousand miles apart two hundred times before the journey ended.
As we rode forward with even our Zeitoonli mounted now on strong mules, Maga Jhaere sat her stallion beside Will with an air of owning him. She was likely a safer friend than enemy, and we did nothing to interfere. Monty pressed forward. Fred and I fell to the rear.
"Haide!"* shouted Gregor Jhaere, and all the motley swarm of women and children caught themselves mounts—some already loaded with the gipsy baggage, some with saddles, some without, some with grass halters for bridles. In another minute Fred and I were riding surrounded by a smelly swarm of them, he with big fingers already on the keys of his beloved concertina, but I less enamored than he of the company.
————————- * Haide!—Turkish, "Come on!" ————————-
Women and children, loaded, loose and led horses were all mixed together in unsortable confusion, the two oldest hags in the world trusting themselves on sorry, lame nags between Fred and me as if proximity to us would solve the very riddle of the gipsy race. And last of all came a pack of great scrawny dogs that bayed behind us hungrily, following for an hour until hope of plunder vanished.
"That little she-devil who has taken a fancy to Will," said Fred with a grin, "is capable of more atrocities than all the Turks between here and Stamboul! She looks to me like Santanita, Cleopatra, Salome, Caesar's wife, and all the Borgia ladies rolled in one. There's something added, though, that they lacked."
"Youth," said I. "Beauty. Athletic grace. Sinuous charm."
"No, probably they all had all those."
"Perhaps. Didn't Cleopatra ride?"
"Then what?" said I, puzzled.
"Indiscretion!" he answered, jerking loose the catch of his infernal instrument.
"Don't be afraid, old ladies," he said, glancing at the harridans between us. "I'm only going to sing!"
He makes up nearly all of his songs, and some of them, although irreverent, are not without peculiar merit; but that was one of his worst ones.
The preachers prate of fallen man And choirs repeat the chant, While unco' guid with unction urge Repression of the joys that surge, And jail for those who can't. The poor deluded duds forget That something drew the sting When Adam tiptoed to his fall, And made it hardly hurt at all. Of Mother Eve I sing!
CHORUS Oh, Mother Eve, dear Mother Eve, The generations come and go, But daughter Eve's as live as you Were back in Eden years ago!
Oh, hell's not hell with Eve to tell Again the ancient tale, But Eden's grassy ways and bowers Deprived of Eve to ease the hours Would very soon grow stale! Red cherry lips that leap to laugh, And chic and flick and flair Can make black white for any one— The task of Sisyphus good fun! So what should Adam care!
CHORUS Oh, daughter Eve, dear daughter Eve, The tribulations go and come, But no adventure's ever tame With you to make surprises hum!
Chapter Five "Effendi, that is the heart of Armenia burning."
Aye-yee—I see—a cloud afloat in air af amethyst I know its racing shadow falls on banks of gold Where rain-rejoicing gravel warms the feeding roots And smells more wonderful than wine. I know the shoots of myrtle and of asphodel now stir the mould Where wee cool noses sniff the early mist. Aye-yee—the sparkle of the little springs I see That tinkle as they hunt the thirsty rill. I know the cobwebs glitter with the jeweled dew. I see a fleck of brown—it was a skylark flew To scatter bursting music, and the world is still To listen. Ah, my heart is bursting too—Aye-yee!
Chorus: (It begins with a swinging crash, and fades away.)
Aye-yee, aye-yah—the kites see far (But also to the foxes views unfold)— No hour alike, no places twice the same, Nor any track to show where morning came, Nor any footprint in the moistened mould To tell who covered up the morning star. Aye-yee—aye-yah!
(2) Aye-yee—I see—new rushes crowding upwards in the mere Where, gold and white, the wild duck preens himself Safe hidden till the sun-drawn, lingering mists melt. I know the secret den where bruin dwelt. I see him now sun-basking on a shelf Of windy rock. He looks down on the deer, Who flit like flowing light from rock to tree And stand with ears alert before they drink. I know a pool of purple rimmed with white Where wild-fowl, warming for the morning flight, Wait clustering and crying on the brink. And I know hillsides where the partridge breeds. Aye-yee!
Chorus: Aye-yee, aye-yah—the kites see far (But also to the owls the visions change)— No dawn is like the next, and nothing sings Of sameness—very hours have wings And leave no word of whose hand touched the range Of Kara Dagh with opal and with cinnabar. Aye-yee, aye-yah!
(3) Aye-yee—I see—new distances beyond a blue horizon flung. I laugh, because the people under roofs believe That last year's ways are this! No roads are old! New grass has grown! All pools and rivers hold New water! And the feathered singers weave New nests, forgetting where the old ones hung! Aye-yah—the muddy highway sticks and clings, But I see in the open pastures new Unknown to busne* in the houses pent! I hear the new, warm raindrops drumming on the tent, I feel already on my feet delicious dew, I see the trail outflung! And oh, my heart has wings!
Chorus: Aye-yee, aye-yah—the kites see far (But also on the road the visions pass)— The universe reflected in a wayside pool, A tinkling symphony where seeping waters drool, The dance, more gay than laughter, of the wind-swept grass— Oh, onward! On to where the visions are! Aye-yee—aye-yah!
——————————- * Busne—Gipsy word—Gentile, or non-gipsy. ——————————-
Russia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Bohemia, Persia, Armenia were all one hunting-ground to the troupe we rode with. Even the children seemed to have a smattering of most of the tongues men speak in those intriguing lands. Will and the girl beside him conversed in German, but the old hag nearest me would not confess acquaintance with any language I knew. Again and again I tried her, but she always shook her head.
Fred, with his ready gift of tongues, attempted conversation with ten or a dozen of them, but whichever language he used in turn appeared to be the only one which that particular individual did not know. All he got in reply was grins, and awkward silence, and shrugs of the shoulders in Gregor's direction, implying that the head of the firm did the talking with strangers. But Gregor rode alone with Monty, out of ear-shot.
Maga (for so they all called her) flirted with Will outrageously, if that is flirting that proclaims conquest from the start, and sets flashing white teeth in defiance of all intruders. Even the little children had hidden weapons, but Maga was better armed than any one, and she thrust the new mother-o-pearl-plated acquisition in the face of one of the men who dared drive his horse between hers and Will's. That not serving more than to amuse him, she slapped him three times back-handed across the face, and thrusting the pistol back into her bosom, drew a knife. He seemed in no doubt of her willingness to use the steel, and backed his horse away, followed by language from her like forked lightning that disturbed him more than the threatening weapon. Gipsies are great believers in the efficiency of a curse.
Nothing could be further from the mark than to say that Will tried to take advantage of Maga's youth and savagery. Fred and I had shared a dozen lively adventures with him without more than beginning yet to plumb the depths of his respect for Woman. Only an American in all the world knows how to meet Young Woman eye to eye with totally unpatronizing frankness, and he was without guile in the matter. But not so she. We did not know whether or not she was Gregor Jhaere's daughter; whether or not she was truly the gipsy that she hardly seemed. But she was certainly daughter of the Near East that does not understand a state of peace between the sexes. There was nothing lawful in her attitude, nor as much as the suspicion that Will might be merely chivalrous.
"America's due for sex-enlightenment!" said I.
"Warn him if you like," Fred laughed, "and then steer clear! Our America is proud besides imprudent!"
Fred off-shouldered all responsibility and forestalled anxiety on any one's account by playing tunes, stampeding the whole cavalcade more than once because the horses were unused to his clanging concertina, but producing such high spirits that it became a joke to have to dismount in the mud and replace the load on some mule who had expressed enjoyment of the tune by rolling in slime, or by trying to kick clouds out of the sky.
And strangely enough he brought about the very last thing he intended with his music—stopped the flirtation's immediate progress. Maga seemed to take to Fred's unchastened harmony with all the wildness that possessed her. Some chord he struck, or likelier, some abandoned succession of them touched off her magazine of poetry. And so she sang.
The only infinitely gorgeous songs I ever listened to were Maga's. Almighty God, who made them, only really knows what country the gipsies originally came from, but there is not a land that has not felt their feet, nor a sorrow they have not witnessed. Away back in the womb of time there was planted in them a rare gift of seeing what the rest of us can only sometimes hear, and of hearing what only very few from the world that lives in houses can do more than vaguely feel when at the peak of high emotion. The gipsies do not understand what they see, and hear, and feel; but they are aware of infinities too intimate for ordinary speech. And it was given to Maga to sing of all that, with a voice tuned like a waterfall's for open sky, and trees, and distances—not very loud, but far-carrying, and flattened in quarter-tones where it touched the infinite.
Fred very soon ceased from braying with his bellowed instrument. Her songs were too wild for accompaniment—interminable stanzas of unequal length, with a refrain at the end of each that rose through a thousand emotions to a crash of ecstasy, and then died away to dreaminess, coming to an end on an unfinished rising scale.
All the gipsies and our Zeitoonli and Rustum Khan's lean servant joined in the refrains, so that we trotted along under the snow-tipped fangs of the Kara Dagh oblivious of the passage of time, but very keenly conscious of touch with a realm of life whose existence hitherto we had only vaguely guessed at.
The animals refused to weary while that singing testified of tireless harmonies, as fresh yet as on the day when the worlds were born. We rattled forward, on and upward, as if the panorama were unrolling and we were the static point, getting out of nobody's way for the best reason in the world—that everybody hid at first sight or sound of us, except when we passed near villages, and then the great fierce-fanged curs chased and bayed behind us in short-winded fury.
"The dogs bark," quoted Fred serenely, "but the caravan moves on!"
An hour before dark we swung round a long irregular spur of the hills that made a wide bend in the road, and halted at a lonely kahveh —a wind-swept ruin of a place, the wall of whose upper story was patched with ancient sacking, but whose owner came out and smiled so warmly on us that we overlooked the inhospitable frown of his unplastered walls, hoping that his smile and the profundity of his salaams might prove prophetic of comfort and cleanliness within. Vain hope!
Maga left Will's side then, for there was iron-embedded custom to be observed about this matter of entering a road-house. In that land superstition governs just as fiercely as the rest those who make mock of the rule-of-rod religions, and there is no man or woman free to behave as be or she sees fit. Every one drew aside from Monty, and he strode in alone through the split-and-mended door, we following next, and the gipsies with their animals clattered noisily behind us. The women entered last, behind the last loaded mule, and Maga the very last of all, because she was the most beautiful, and beauty might bring in the devil with it only that the devil is too proud to dawdle behind the old hags and the horses.
We found ourselves in an oblong room, with stalls and a sort of pound for animals at one end and an enormous raised stone fireplace at the other. Wooden platforms for the use of guests faced each other down the two long sides, and the only promise of better than usual comfort lay in the piles of firewood waiting for whoever felt rich and generous enough to foot the bill for a quantity.
But an agreeable surprise made us feel at home before ever the fire leaped up to warm the creases out of saddle-weary limbs. We had given up thinking of Kagig, not that we despaired of him, but the gipsies, and especially Maga, had replaced his romantic interest for the moment with their own. Now all the man's own exciting claim on the imagination returned in full flood, as he arose leisurely from a pile of skins and blankets near the hearth to greet Monty, and shouted with the manner of a chieftain for fuel to be piled on instantly—"For a great man comes!" he announced to the rafters. And the kahveh servants, seven sons of the owner of the place, were swift and abject in the matter of obeisance. They were Turks. All Turks are demonstrative in adoration of whoever is reputed great. Monty ignored them, and Kagig came down the length of the room to offer him a hand on terms of blunt equality.
"Lord Montdidier," he said, mispronouncing the word astonishingly, "this is the furthest limit of my kingdom yet. Kindly be welcome!"
"Your kingdom?" said Monty, shaking hands, but not quite accepting the position of blood-equal. He was bigger and better looking than Kagig, and there was no mistaking which was the abler man, even at that first comparison, with Kagig intentionally making the most of a dramatic situation.
Kagig laughed, not the least nervously.
"Mirza," he said in Persian, "duzd ne giriftah padshah ast!" (Prince, the uncaught thief is king.)
He was wearing a kalpak—the head-gear of the cossack, which would make a high priest look outlawed, and a shaggy goat-skin coat that had seen more than one campaign. Unmistakably the garment had been slit by bullets, and repaired by fingers more enthusiastic than adept. There was a pride of poverty about him that did not gibe well with his boast of being a robber.
"That's the first gink we've met in this land who didn't claim to be something better than he looked!" Will whispered.
"Hopeless, I suppose!" Fred answered. "Never mind. I like the man."
It was evident that Monty liked him, too, for all his schooled reserve. Kagig ordered one of the owner's sons to sweep a place near the fire, and there he superintended the spreading of Monty's blankets, close enough to his own assorted heap for conversation without mutual offense. Will cleaned for himself a section of the opposite end of the platform, and Fred and I spread our blankets next to his. That left Rustum Khan in a quandary. He stood irresolute for a minute, eying first the gipsies, who had stalled most of their animals and were beginning to occupy the platform on the other side; then considering the wide gap between me and Monty. The dark-skinned man of breeding is far more bitterly conscious of the color-line than any white knows how to be.
We watched, disinclined to do the choosing for him, racial instinct uppermost. Rustum Khan strolled back to where his mare was being cleaned by the lean Armenian servant, gave the boy a few curt orders, and there among the shadows made his mind up. He returned and stood before Monty, Kagig eying him with something less than amiability. He pointed toward the ample room remaining between Monty and me.
"Will the sahib permit? My izzat (honor) is in question."
"Izzat be damned!" Monty answered.
Rustum Khan colored darkly.
"I shared a tent with you once on campaign, sahib, in the days before —the good days before—those old days when—"
"When you and I served one Raj, eh? I remember," Monty answered. "I remember it was your tent, Rustum Khan. Unless memory plays tricks with me, the Orakzai Pathans had burned mine, and I had my choice between sharing yours or sleeping in the rain."
"I don't recollect that I mouthed very much about honor on that occasion. If anybody's honor was in question then, I fancy it was yours. I might have inconvenienced myself, and dishonored you, I suppose, by sleeping in the wet. You can dishonor the lot of us now, if you care to, by—oh, tommyrot! Tell your man to put your blankets in the only empty place, and behave like a man of sense!"
Monty dismissed the subject with a motion of his hand, and turned to talk with Kagig, who shouted for yoghourt to be brought at once; and that set the sons of the owner of the place to hurrying in great style. The owner himself was a true Turk. He had subsided into a state of kaif already over on the far side of the fire, day-dreaming about only Allah knew what rhapsodies. But the Turks intermarry with the subject races much more thoroughly than they do anything else, and his sons did not resemble him. They were active young men, rather noisy in their robust desire to be of use.
The gipsies, with Gregor Jhaere nearest to the owner of the kahveh and the fireplace, occupied the whole long platform on the other side, each with his women around him—except that I noticed that Maga avoided all the men, and made herself a blanket nest in deep shadow almost within reach of a mule's heels at the far end. I believed at the moment that she chose that position so as to be near to Will, but changed my mind later. Several times Gregor shouted for her, and she made no answer.
The place had no other occupants. Either we were the only travelers on that road that night or, as seemed more likely, Kagig had exercised authority and purged the kahveh of other guests. Certainly our coming had been expected, for there was very good yoghourt in ample quantity, and other food besides—meat, bread, cheese, vegetables.
When we had all eaten, and lay back against the stone wall looking at the fire, with great fanged shadows dancing up and down that made the scene one of almost perfect savagery, Gregor called again for Maga. Again she did not answer him. So be rose from his place and reached for a rawhide whip.
"I said she shall be thrashed!" be snarled in Turkish, and he made the whip crack three times like sudden pistol-shots. Will did not catch the words, and might not have understood them in any case, but Rustum Khan, beside me, both heard and understood.
"Atcha!" he grunted. "Now we shall see a kind of happenings. That girl is not a true gipsy, or else my eyes lie to me. They stole her, or adopted her. She lacks their instincts. The gitanas, as they call their girls, are expected to have aversion to white men. They are allowed to lure a white man to his ruin, but not to make hot love to him. She has offended against the gipsy law. The attaman* must punish. Watch the women. They take it all as a matter of course."
———————— *Attaman, gipsy headman. ————————
"Maga!" thundered Gregor Jhaere, cracking the great whip again. I thought that Kagig looked a trifle restless, but nobody else went so far as to exhibit interest, except that the old Turk by the fire emerged far enough out of kaif to open one eye, like a sly cat's.
The attaman shouted again, and this time Maga mocked him. So he strode down the room in a rage to enforce his authority, and dragged her out of the shadow by an arm, sending her whirling to the center of the floor. She did not lose her feet, but spun and came to a stand, and waited, proud as Satanita while he drew the whip slowly back with studied cruelty. The old Turk opened both eyes.
Nothing is more certain than that none of us would have permitted the girl to be thrashed. I doubt if even Rustum Khan, no admirer of gipsies or unveiled women, would have tolerated one blow. But Will was nearest, and he is most amazing quick when his nervous New England temper is aroused. He had the whip out of Gregor's hand, and stood on guard between him and the girl before one of us had time to move. The old Turk closed his eyes again, and sighed resignedly.
"Our preux chevalier—preux but damned imprudent!" murmured Fred. "Let's hope there's a gipsy here with guts enough to fight for title to the girl. It looks to me as if Will has claimed her by patteran* law. The only man with right to say whether or not a woman shall be thrashed is her owner. Once that right is established—"
———————- * Patteran, a gipsy word: trail. ———————-
"Touch her and I'll break your neck!" warned Will, without undue emotion, but truthfully beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The gipsy stood still, simmering, and taking the measure of the capable American muscles interposed between him and his legal prey. Every gipsy eye in the room was on him, and it was perfectly obvious that whatever the eventual solution of the impasse, the one thing he could not do was retreat. We were fewer in number, but much better armed than the gipsy party, so that it was unlikely they would rally to their man's aid. Kagig was an unknown quantity, but except that his black eyes glittered rather more brightly than usual he made no sign; and we kept quiet because we did not want to start a free-for-all fight. Will was quite able to take care of any single opponent, and would have resented aid.
Suddenly, however, Gregor Jhaere reached inside his shirt. Maga screamed. Rustum Khan beside me swore a rumbling Rajput oath, and we all four leapt to our feet. Maga drew no weapon, although she certainly had both dagger and pistol handy. Instead, she glanced toward Kagig, who, strangely enough, was lolling on his blankets as if nothing in the world could interest him less. The glance took as swift effect as an electric spark that fires a mine. He stiffened instantly.
"Yok!" he shouted, and at once there ceased to be even a symptom of impending trouble. Yok means merely no in Turkish, but it conveyed enough to Gregor to send him back to his place between his women and the Turk unashamedly obedient, leaving Maga standing beside Will. Maga did not glance again at Kagig, for I watched intently. There was simply no understanding the relationship, although Fred affected his usual all-comprehensive wisdom.
"Another claimant to the title!" he said. "A fight between Will and Kagig for that woman ought to be amusing, if only Will weren't a friend of mine. Watch America challenge him!"
But Will did nothing of the kind. He smiled at Maga, offered her a cigarette, which she refused, and returned to his place beyond Fred, leaving her standing there, as lovely in the glowing firelight as the spirit of bygone romance. At that Kagig shouted suddenly for fuel, and three of the Turk's seven hoydens ran to heap it on.
Instantly the leaping flames transformed the great, uncomfortable, draughty barn into a hall of gorgeous color and shadows without limit. There was no other illumination, except for the glow here and there of pipes and cigarettes, or matches flaring for a moment. Barring the tobacco, we lay like a baron's men-at-arms in Europe of the Middle Ages, with a captive woman to make sport with in the midst, only rather too self-reliant for the picture.
Feeling himself warm, and rested, and full enough of food, Fred flung a cigarette away and reached for his inseparable concertina. And with his eyes on the great smoked beams that now glowed gold and crimson in the firelight, he grew inspired and made his nearest to sweet rnusic. It was perfectly in place—simple as the savagery that framed us—Fred's way of saying grace for shelter, and adventure, and a meal. He passed from Annie Laurie to Suwannee River, and all but made Will cry.
During two-three-four tunes Maga stood motionless in the midst of us, hands on her hips, with the fire-light playing on her face, until at last Fred changed the nature of the music and seemed to be trying to recall fragments of the song she had sung that afternoon. Presently he came close to achievement, playing a few bars over and over, and leading on from those into improvization near enough to the real thing to be quite recognizable.
Music is the sure key to the gipsy heart, and Fred unlocked it. The men and women, and the little sleepy children on the long wooden platform opposite began to sway and swing in rhythm. Fred divined what was coming, and played louder, wilder, lawlessly. And Maga did an astonishing thing. She sat down on the floor and pulled her shoes and stockings off, as unselfconsciously as if she were alone.
Then Fred began the tune again from the beginning, and he had it at his finger-ends by then. He made the rafters ring. And without a word Maga kicked the shoes and stockings into a corner, flung her outer, woolen upper-garment after them, and began to dance.
There is a time when any of us does his best. Money—marriage—praise —applause (which is totally another thing than praise, and more like whisky in its workings)—ambition—prayer—there is a key to the heart of each of us that can unlock the flood-tides of emotion and carry us nolens volens to the peaks of possibility. Either Will, or else Fred's music, or the setting, or all three unlocked her gifts that night. She danced like a moth in a flame—a wandering woman in the fire unquenchable that burns convention out of gipsy hearts, and makes the patteran—the trail—the only way worth while.
Opposite, the gipsies sprawled in silence on their platform, breathing a little deeper when deepest approval stirred them, a little more quickly when her Muse took hold of Maga and thrilled her to expression of the thoughts unknown to people of the dinning walls and streets.
We four leaned back against our wall in a sort of silent revelry, Fred alone moving, making his beloved instrument charm wisely, calling to her just enough to keep a link, as it were, through which her imagery might appeal to ours. Some sort of mental bridge between her tameless paganism and our twentieth-century twilight there had to be, or we never could have sensed her meaning. The concertina's wailings, mid-way between her intelligence and ours, served well enough.
My own chief feeling was of exultation, crowing over the hooded city-folk, who think that drama and the tricks of colored light and shade have led them to a glimpse of the hem of the garment of Unrest —a cheap mean feeling, of which I was afterward ashamed.
Maga was not crowing over anybody. Neither did she only dance of things her senses knew. The history of a people seized her for a reed, and wrote itself in figures past imagining between the crimson firelight; and the shadows of the cattle stalls.
Her dance that night could never have been done with leather between bare foot and earth. It told of measureless winds and waters—of the distances, the stars, the day, the night-rain sweeping down—dew dropping gently—the hundred kinds of birds-the thousand animals and creeping things—and of man, who is lord of all of them, and woman, who is lord of man—man setting naked foot on naked earth and glorying with the thrill of life, new, good, and wonderful.
One of the Turk's seven sons produced a saz toward the end—a little Turkish drum, and accompanied with swift, staccato stabs of sound that spurred her like the goads of overtaking time toward the peak of full expression—faster and faster—wilder and wilder—freer and freer of all limits, until suddenly she left the thing unfinished, and the drum-taps died away alone.
That was art—plain art. No human woman could have finished it. It was innate abhorrence of the anticlimax that sent her, having looked into the eyes of the unattainable, to lie sobbing for short breath in her corner in the dark, leaving us to imagine the ending if we could.
And instead of anticlimax second climax came. Almost before the echoes of the drum-taps died among the dancing shadows overhead a voice cried from the roof in Armenian, and Kagig rose to his feet.
"Let us climb to the roof and see, effendim," he said, pulling on his tattered goat-skin coat.
"See what, Ermenie?" demanded Rustum Khan. The Rajput's eyes were still ablaze with pagan flame, from watching Maga.
"To see whether thou hast manhood behind that swagger!" answered Kagig, and led the way. No man ever yet explained the racial aversions.
"Kopek!—dog, thou!" growled the Rajput, but Kagig took no notice and led on, followed by Monty and the rest of us. Maga and the gipsies came last, swarming behind us up the ladder through a hole among the beams, and clambering on to the roof over boxes piled in the draughty attic. Up under the stars a man was standing with an arm stretched out toward Tarsus.
"Look!" he said simply.
To the westward was a crimson glow that mushroomed angrily against the sky, throbbing and swelling with hot life like the vomit of a crater. We watched in silence for three minutes, until one of the gipsy women began to moan.
"What do you suppose it is?" I asked then.
"I know what it is," said Kagig simply.
"'Effendi, that is the heart of Armenia burning. Those are the homes of my nation—of my kin!"
"And good God, where d'you suppose Miss Vanderman is?" Fred exclaimed.
Will was standing beside Maga, looking into her eyes as if he hoped to read in them the riddle of Armenia.
Chapter Six "Passing the buck to Allah!"
So now the awaited ripe reward - Your cactus crown! Since I have urged "Get ready for the untoward" Ye bid me reap the wrath I dirged; And I must show the darkened way, Who beckoned vainly in the light! I'll lead. But salt of Dead Sea spray Were sweeter on my lips to-night!
Oh, days of aching sinews, when I trod the choking dust With feet afire that could not tire, atremble with the trust More mighty in my inner man than fear of men without, The word I heard on Kara Dagh and did not dare to doubt - Timely warning, clear to me as starlight after rain When, sleepless on eternal hills, I saw the purpose plain And left, swift-foot at dawn, obedient, to break The news ye said was no avail—advice ye would not take!
Oh,—nights of tireless talking by the hearth of hidden fires— On roofs, behind the trade-bales—among oxen in the byres— Out in rain between the godowns, where the splashing puddles warn Of tiptoeing informers; when I faced the freezing dawn With set price on my head, but still the set resolve untamed, Not melted by the mockery, by no suspicion shamed, To hide by day in holes, abiding dark and wind and rain That loosed me straining to the task ye ridiculed again!
Oh, weeks of empty waiting, while the enemy designed In detail how to loot the stuff ye would not leave behind! Worse weeks of empty agony when, helpless and alone, I watched in hiding for the crops from that seed I had sown;
For dust-clouds that should prove at last Armenia awake— A nation up and coming! I had labored for your sake, I had hungered, I had suffered. Ye had well rewarded then If ye had come, and hanged me just to prove that ye were men!
But all the pride was promises, the criticism jeers; Ye had no heart for sacrifice, and I no time for tears. I offered—nay, I gave! I squandered body and breath and soul, I bared the need, I showed the way, I preached a goodly goal, I urged you choose a leader, since your faith in me was dim, I swore to serve the chief ye chose, and teach my lore to him, So he should reap where I had sown. And yet ye bade me wait— And waited till, awake at last, ye bid me lead too late!
And so, in place of ripe reward, Your cactus crown! And I, who urged "Get ready for the untoward" Must drink the dregs of wrath I dirged! Ye bid me set time's finger back! And stage anew the opened fight! I'll lead. But slime of Dead Sea wrack Were sweeter on my lips this night!
The first thought that occurred to each of us four was that Kagig had probably lied, or that he had merely voiced his private opinion, based on expectation. The glare in the distance seemed too big and solid to be caused by burning houses, even supposing a whole village were in flames. Yet there was not any other explanation we could offer. A distant cloud of black smoke with bulging red under-belly rolled away through the darkness like a tremendous mountain range.
We stood in silence trying to judge how far away the thing might be, Kagig standing alone with his foot on the parapet, his goat-skin coat hanging like a hussar's dolman, and Monty pacing up and down along the roof behind us all. The gipsies seemed able to converse by nods and nudges, with now and then one word whispered. After a little while Maga whispered in Will's ear, and he went below with her. All the gipsies promptly followed. Otherwise in the darkness we might not have noticed where Will went.
"That proves she is no gipsy!" vowed Rustum Khan, standing between Fred and me. "They, would have trusted one of their own kind."
"They call her Maga Jhaere," said I. "The attaman's name is Jhaere. Don't you suppose he's her father?"
"If he were her father he would have no fear," the Rajput answered. "All gipsies are alike. Their women will dance the nautch, and promise unchastity as if that were a little matter. But when it comes to performance of promises the gitana* is true to the Rom.** It is because she is no gipsy that they follow her now to watch. And it is because men say that Americans are Mormons and polygamous, and very swift in the use of revolvers, that all follow instead of one or two!"
——————— * Gitana, gipsy young woman. ** Rom—Gipsy husband, or family man. ———————
"Go down then, and make sure they don't murder him!" commanded Monty, and Rustum Khan turned to obey with rather ill grace. He contrived to convey by his manner that he would do anything for Monty, even to the extent of saving the life of a man he disliked. At the moment when he turned there came the sound of a troop of horses galloping toward us.
"I will first see who comes," he said.
"The blood of Yerkes sahib on your head, Rustum Khan!" Monty answered. At that he went below.
But neither were we destined to remain up there very long. We heard colossal thumping in the kahveh beneath us and presently the Rajput's head reappeared through the opening in the roof.
"The fools are barricading the door," he shouted. "They make sure that an enemy outside could burn us inside without hindrance!"
At that Kagig came along the roof to our corner and looked into Monty's eyes. Fred and I stood between the two of them and the parapet, because for the first few seconds we were not sure the Armenian did not mean murder. His eyes glittered, and his teeth gleamed. It was not possible to guess whether or not the hand under his goat-skin coat clutched a weapon.
"It is now that you Eenglis sportmen shall endure a test!" he remarked.
Exactly as in the Yeni Khan in Tarsus when we first met him there was a moment now of intense repulsion, entirely unaccountable, succeeded instantly by a wave of sympathy. I laughed aloud, remembering how strange dogs meeting in the street to smell each other are swept by unexplainable antipathies and equally swift comradeship. He thought I laughed at him.
"Neye geldin?" he growled in Turkish. "Wherefore didst thou come? To cackle like a barren hen that sees another laying? Nichevo," he added, turning his back on me. And that was insolence in Russian, meaning that nobody and nothing could possibly be of less importance. He seemed to keep a separate language for each set of thoughts. "Let us go below. Let us stop these fools from making too much trouble," he added in English. "One man ought to stay on the roof. One ought to be sufficient."
Since he had said I did not matter, I remained, and it was therefore I who shouted down a challenge presently in round English at a party who clattered to the door on blown horses, and thundered on it as if they had been shatirs* hurrying to herald the arrival of the sultan himself. There was nothing furtive about their address to the decrepit door, nor anything meek. Accordingly I couched the challenge in terms of unmistakable affront, repeating it at intervals until the leader of the new arrivals chose to identify himself.
————————- * Shatir, the man who runs before a personage's horse. ————————-
"I am Hans von Quedlinburg!" he shouted. But I did not remember the name.
"Only a thief would come riding in such a hurry through the night!" said I. "Who is with you?"
Another voice shouted very fast and furiously in Turkish, but I could not make head or tail of the words. Then the German resumed the song and dance.
"Are you the party who talked with me at my construction camp?"
"We talk most of the time. We eat food. We whistle. We drink. We laugh!" said I.
"Because I think you are the people I am seeking. These are Turkish officials with me. I have authority to modify their orders, only let me in!"
"How many of you?" I asked. I was leaning over at risk of my life, for any fool could have seen my head to shoot at it against the luminous dark sky; but I could not see to count them.
"Never mind how many! Let us in! I am Hans von Quedlinburg. My name is sufficient."
So I lied, emphatically and in thoughtful detail.
"You are covered," I said, "by five rifles from this roof. If you don't believe it, try something. You'd better wait there while I wake my chief."
"Only be quick!" said the German, and I saw him light a cigarette, whether to convince me he felt confident or because he did feel so I could not say. I went below, and found Monty and Kagig standing together close to the outer door. They had not heard the whole of the conversation because of the noise the owner's sons had made removing, at their orders, the obstructions they had piled against the door in their first panic. Every one else had returned to the sleeping platforms, except the Turkish owner, who looked awake at last, and was hovering here and there in ecstasies of nervousness.
I repeated what the German had said, rather expecting that Kagig at any rate would counsel defiance. It was he, however, who beckoned the Turk and bade him open the door.
"Chabuk! Quickly, I said!"
"Che arz kunam?" the Turk answered meekly, meaning "What petition shall I make?" the inference being that all was in the hands of Allah.
"Of ten men nine are women!" sneered Kagig irritably, and led the way to our place beside the fire. The Turk fumbled interminably with the door fastenings, and we were comfortably settled in our places before the new arrivals rode in, bringing a blast of cold air with them that set the smoke billowing about the room and made every man draw up his blankets.
"Shut that door behind them!" thundered Kagig. "If they come too slowly, shut the laggards out!"
"Who is this who is arrogant?" the German demanded in English.
He was a fine-looking man, dressed in civilian clothes cut as nearly to the military pattern as the tailor could contrive without transgressing law, but with a too small fez perched on his capable-looking head in the manner of the Prussian who would like to make the Turks believe he loves them. Rustum Khan cursed with keen attention to detail at sight of him. The man who had entered with him became busy in the shadows trying to find room to stall their horses, but Von Quedlinburg gave his reins to an attendant, and stood alone, akimbo, with the firelight displaying him in half relief.
"I am a man who knows, among other things, the name of him who bribed the kaimakam.* on Chakallu," Kagig answered slowly, also in English.
———————- * Kaimakam, headman (Turkish). ———————-
The German laughed.
"Then you know without further argument that I am not to be denied!" he answered. "What I say to-night the government officials will confirm to-morrow! Are you Kagig, whom they call the Eye of Zeitoon?"
"I am no jackal," said Kagig dryly, punning on the name Chakallu, which means "place of jackals."
The German coughed, set one foot forward, and folded both arms on his breast. He looked capable and bold in that attitude, and knew it. I knew at last who he was, and wondered why I had not recognized him sooner—the contractor who had questioned us near the railway encampment along the way, and had offered us directions; but his manner was as different now from then as a bully's in and out of school. Then he had sought to placate, and had almost cringed to Monty. Everything about him now proclaimed the ungloved upper hand.
His party, finding no room to stall their horses, had begun to turn ours loose, and there was uproar along the gipsy side of the room—no action yet, but a threatening snarl that promised plenty of it. Will was half on his feet to interfere, but Monty signed to him to keep cool; and it was Monty's aggravatingly well-modulated voice that laid the law down.
"Will you be good enough," be asked blandly, "to call off your men from meddling with our mounts?" He could not be properly said to drawl, because there was a positive subacid crispness in his voice that not even a Prussian or a Turk on a dark night could have over-looked.
The German laughed again.
"Perhaps you did not hear my name," he said. "I am Hans von Quedlinburg. As over-contractor on the Baghdad railway I have the privilege of prior accommodation at all road-houses in this province—for myself and my attendants. And in addition there are with me certain Turkish officers, whose rights I dare say you will not dispute."
Monty did not laugh, although Fred was chuckling in confident enjoyment of the situation.
"You need a lesson in manners," said Monty.
"What do you mean?" demanded Hans von Quedlinburg.
Monty rose to his feet without a single unnecessary motion.
"I mean that unless you call off your men—at once this minute from interfering with our animals I shall give you the lesson you need."
The German saluted in mock respect. Then he patted his breast-pocket so as to show the outline of a large repeating pistol. Monty took two steps forward. The German drew the pistol with an oath. Will Yerkes, beyond Fred and slightly behind the German, coughed meaningly. The German turned his head, to find that he was covered by a pistol as large as his own.
"Oh, very well," he said, "what is the use of making a scene?" He thrust his pistol back under cover and shouted an order in Turkish. Monty returned to his place and sat down. The newcomers at the rear of the room tied their horses together by the bridles, and Hans von Quedlinburg resumed his well-fed smile.
"Let it be clearly understood," he said, "that you have interfered with official privilege."
"As long as you do your best in the way of manners you may go on with your errand," said Monty.
Suddenly Fred laughed aloud.
"The martyred biped!" he yelped.
He was right. Peter Measel, missionary on his own account, and sometime keeper of most libelous accounts, stepped out from the shadows and essayed to warm himself, walking past the German with a sort of mincing gait not calculated to assert his manliness. Hans von Quedlinburg stretched out a strong arm and hurled him back again into the darkness at the rear.
"Tchuk-tchuk! Zuruck!" he muttered.
It clearly disconcerted him to have his inferiors in rank assert themselves. That accounted, no doubt, for the meek self-effacement of the Turks who had come with him. Peter Measel did not appear to mind being rebuked. He crossed to the other side of the room, and proceeded to look the gipsies over with the air of a learned ethnologist.
"You speak of my errand," said Hans von Quedlinburg, "as if you imagine I come seeking favors. I am here incidentally to rescue you and your party from the clutches of an outlaw. The Turkish officials who are with me have authority to arrest everybody in this place, yourselves included. Fortunately I am able to modify that. Kagig —that rascal beside you—is a well-known agitator. He is a criminal. His arrest and trial have been ordered on the charge, among other things, of stirring up discontent among the Armenian laborers on the railway work. These gipsies are all his agents. They are all under arrest. You yourselves will be escorted to safety at the coast."
"Why should we need an escort to safety?" Monty demanded.
"Were you on the roof?" the German answered. "And is it possible you did not see the conflagration? An Armenian insurrection has been nipped in the bud. Several villages are burning. The other inhabitants are very much incensed, and all foreigners are in danger —yourselves especially, since you have seen fit to travel in company with such a person as Kagig."
"What has Peter Measel got to do with it?" demanded Fred. "Has he been writing down all our sins in a new book?"
"He will identify you. He will also identify Kagig's agents. He brings a personal charge against a man named Rustum Khan, who must return to Tarsus to answer it. The charge is robbery with violence."
Rustum Khan snorted.
"The violence was only too gentle, and too soon ended. As for robbery, if I have robbed him of a little self-conceit, I will answer to God for that when my hour shall come! How is it your affair to drag that whimpering fool through Asia at your tail—you a German and he English?"
The German had a hot answer ready for that, but the Turks had discovered Maga Jhaere in hiding in the shadows between two old women. She screamed as they tried to drag her forth, and the scream brought us all to our feet. But this time it was Kagig who was swiftest, and we got our first proof of the man's enormous strength. Fred, Will and I charged together round behind the newcomers' horses, in order to make sure of cutting off retreat as well as rescuing Maga. Monty leveled a pistol at the German's head. But Kagig did not waste a fraction of a second on side-issues of any sort. He flew at the German's throat like a wolf at a bullock. The German fired at him, missed, and before he could fire again he was caught in a grip he could not break, and fighting for breath, balance and something more.
One of the gipsies, who had not seen the need of hurrying to Maga's aid, now proved the soundness of his judgment by divining Kagig's purpose and tossing several new faggots on the already prodigious fire.
"Good!" barked Kagig, bending the struggling German this and that way as it pleased him.
Seeing our man with the upper hand, Monty and Rustum Khan now hurried into the melee, where two Turkish officers and eight zaptieh were fighting to keep Maga from four gipsies and us three. Nobody had seen fit to shoot, but there was a glimmering of cold steel among the shadows like lightning before a thunder-storm. Monty used his fists. Rustum Khan used the flat of a Rajput saber. Maga, leaving most of her clothing in the Turk's hands, struggled free and in another second the Turks were on the defensive. Rustum Khan knocked the revolver out of an officer's hand, and the rest of them were struggling to use their rifles, when the German shrieked. All fights are full of pauses, when either side could snatch sudden victory if alert enough. We stopped, and turned to look, as if our own lives were not in danger.
Kagig had the German off his feet, face toward the flames, kicking and screaming like a madman. He whirled him twice—shouted a sort of war-cry—hove him high with every sinew in his tough frame cracking —and hurled him head-foremost into the fire.
The Turks took the cue to haul off and stand staring at us. We all withdrew to easier pistol range, for contrary to general belief, close quarters almost never help straight aim, especially when in a hurry. There is a shooting as well as a camera focus, and each man has his own.
Pretty badly burnt about the face and fingers, Hans von Quedlinburg crawled backward out of the fire, smelling like the devil, of singed wool. Kagig closed on him, and hurled him back again. This time the German plunged through the fire, and out beyond it to a space between the flames and the back wall, where it must have been hot enough to make the fat run. He stood with a forearm covering his face, while Kagig thundered at him voluminous abuse in Turkish. I wondered, first, why the German did not shoot, and then why his loaded pistol did not blow up in the heat, until I saw that in further proof of strength Kagig had looted his pistol and was standing with one foot on it.
Finally, when the beautiful smooth cloth of which his coat was made bad taken on a stinking overlay of crackled black, the German chose to obey Kagig and came leaping back through the fire, and lay groaning on the floor, where the kahveh's owner's seven sons poured water on him by Kagig's order. His burns were evidently painful, but not nearly so serious as I expected. I got out the first-aid stuff from our medicine bag, and Will, who was our self-constituted doctor on the strength of having once attended an autopsy, disguised as a reporter, in the morgue at the back of Bellevue Hospital in New York City, beckoned a gipsy woman, and proceeded to instruct her what to do.
However, Hans von Quedlinburg was no nervous weakling. He snatched the pot of grease from the woman's hands, daubed gobs of the stuff liberally on his face and hands, and sat up—resembling an unknown kind of angry animal with his eyebrows and mustache burned off except for a stray, outstanding whisker here and there. In a voice like a bull's at the smell of blood he reversed what he had shouted through the flames, and commanded his Turks to arrest the lot of us.
Kagig laughed at that, and spoke to him in English, I suppose in order that we, too, might understand.
"Those Turks are my prisoners!" he said. "And so are you!"
It was true about the Turks. They had not given up their weapons yet, but the gipsies were between them and the door, and even the gipsy women were armed to the teeth and willing to do battle. I caught sight of Maga's mother-o'-pearl plated revolver, and the Turkish officer at whom she had it leveled did not look inclined to dispute the upper hand.
"You Germans are all alike," sneered Kagig. "A dog could read your reasoning. You thought these foreigners would turn against me. It never entered your thick skull that they might rather defy you than see me made prisoner. Fool! Did men name me Eye of Zeitoon for nothing? Have I watched for nothing! Did I know the very wording of the letters in your private box for nothing? Are you the only spy in Asia? Am I Kagig, and do I not know who advised dismissing all Armenians from the railway work? Am I Kagig, and do I not know why? Kopek! (Dog!) You would beggar my people, in order to curry favor with the Turk. You seek to take me because I know your ways! Two months ago you knew to within a day or two when these new massacres would begin. One month, three weeks, and four days ago you ordered men to dig my grave, and swore to bury me alive in it! What shall hinder me from burning you alive this minute?"
There were five good hindrances, for I think that Rustum Khan would have objected to that cruelty, even had he been alone. Kagig caught Monty's eye and laughed.
"Korkakma!" he jeered. "Do not be afraid!" Then be glanced swiftly at the Turks, and at Peter Measel, who was staring all-eyes at Maga on the far side of the room.
"Order your pigs of zaptieh to throw their arms down!"
Instead, the German shouted to them to fire volleys at us. He was not without a certain stormy courage, whatever Kagig's knowledge of his treachery.
But the Turks did not fire, and it was perfectly plain that we four were the reason of it. They had been promised an easy prey—captured women—loot—and the remunerative task of escorting us to safety. Doubtless Von Quedlinburg had promised them our consul would be lavish with rewards on our account. Therefore there was added reason why they should not fire on Englishmen and an American. We had not made a move since the first scuffle when we rescued Maga, but the Turkish lieutenant had taken our measure. Perhaps he had whispered to his men. Perhaps they reached their own conclusions. The effect was the same in either case.
"Order them to throw their weapons down!" commanded Kagig, kicking the German in the ribs. And his coat had been so scorched in the fierce heat that the whole of one side of it broke off, like a cinder slab.
This time Hans von Quedlinburg obeyed. For one thing the pain of his burns was beginning to tell on him, but he could see, too, that he had lost prestige with his party.
"Throw down your weapons!" he ordered savagely.
But he had lost more prestige than he knew, or else he had less in the beginning than be counted on. The Turkish lieutenant—a man of about forty with the evidence of all the sensual appetites very plainly marked on his face—laughed and brought his men to attention. Then he made a kind of half-military motion with his hand toward each of us in turn, ignoring Kagig but intending to convey that we at any rate need not feel anxious.
It was Maga Jhaere who solved the riddle of that impasse. She was hardly in condition to appear before a crowd of men, for the Turks bad torn off most of her clothes, and she had not troubled to find others. She was unashamed, and as beautiful and angry as a panther. With panther suddenness she snatched the lieutenant's sword and pistol.
It suited neither his national pride nor religious prejudices to be disarmed by a gipsy woman; but the Turk is an amazing fatalist, and unexpectedness is his peculiar quality.
"Che arz kunam?" he muttered—the perennial comment of the Turk who has failed, that always made Kagig bare his teeth in a spasm of contempt. "Passing the buck to Allah," as Will construed it.
But disarming the mere conscript soldiers was not quite so simple, although Maga managed it. They had less regard for their own skins than handicapped their officer, and yet more than his contempt for the female of any human breed.
They refused point-blank to throw their rifles down, bringing a laugh and a shout of encouragement from the German. But she screwed the muzzle of her pistol into the lieutenant's ear, and bade him enforce her orders, the gipsy women applauding with a chorus of "Ohs" and "Ahs." The lieutenant succumbed to force majeure, and his men, who were inclined to die rather than take orders from a woman, obeyed him readily enough. They laid their rifles down carefully, without a suggestion of resentment.
"So. The women of Zeitoon are good!" said Kagig with a curt nod of approval, and Maga tossed him a smile fit for the instigation of another siege of Troy.
The gipsy women picked the rifles up, and Maga went to hunt through the mule-packs for clothing. Then Kagig turned on us, motioning with his toe toward Hans von Quedlinburg, who continued to treat himself extravagantly from our jar of ointment.
"You do not know yet the depths of this man's infamy!" he said. "The world professes to loathe Turks who rob, sell and murder women and children. What of a German—a foreigner in Turkey, who instigates the murder—and the robbery—and the burning—and the butchery—for his own ends, or for his bloody country's ends? This man is an instigator!"
"You lie!" snarled Von Quedlinburg. "You dog of an Armenian, you lie!" Kagig ignored him.
"This is the German sportman who tried once to go to Zeitoon to shoot bears, as he said. But I knew he was a spy. I am not the Eye of Zeitoon merely because that title rolls nicely on the tongue. He has—perhaps he has it in his pocket now—a concession from the politicians in Stamboul, granting him the right to exploit Zeitoon —a place he has never seen! He has encouraged this present butchery in order that Turkish soldiers may have excuse to penetrate to Zeitoon that he covets. He wants you Eenglis sportmen out of the way. You were to be sent safely back to Tarsus, lest you should be witnesses of what must happen. Perhaps you do not believe all this?"'
He stooped down and searched the German's coat pockets with impatient fingers that tugged and jerked, tossing out handkerchief and wallet, cigars, matches that by a miracle had not caught in the heat, and considerable money to the floor. He took no notice of the money, but one of the old gipsy women crept out and annexed it, and Kagig made no comment.
"He has not his concession with him. I can prove nothing to-night. I said you shall stand a test. You must choose. This German and those Turks are my prisoners. You have nothing to do with it. You may go back to Tarsus if you wish, and tell the Turks that Kagig defies them! You shall have an escort as far as the nearest garrison. You shall have fifty men to take you back by dawn to-morrow."
At that Rustum Khan turned several shades darker and glared truculently.
"Who art thou, Armenian, to frame a test for thy betters?" he demanded, throwing a very military chest. And Will promptly bridled at the Rajput's attitude.
"You've no call to make yourself out any better than he is!" he interrupted. And at that Maga Jhaere threw a kiss from across the room, but one could not tell whether her own dislike of Rustum Khan, or her approval of Will's support of Kagig was the motive.
Fred began humming in the ridiculous way he has when be thinks that an air of unconcern may ease a situation, and of course Rustum Khan mistook the nasal noises for intentional insult. He turned on the unsuspecting Fred like a tiger. Monty's quick wit and level voice alone saved open rupture.
"What I imagine Rustum Khan means is this, Kagig: My friends and I have engaged you as guide for a hunting trip. We propose to hold you strictly to the contract."
Kagig looked keenly at each of us and nodded.
"In my day I have seen the hunters hunted!" he said darkly.
"In my day I have seen an upstart punished!" growled the Rajput, and sat down, back to the wall.
"Castles, and bears!" smiled Monty.
"What if I propose a different quarry?"
"Propose and see!" Monty was on the alert, and therefore to all outward appearance in a sort of well-fed, catlike, dallying mood.
"This dog," said Kagig, and he kicked the German's ribs again, "has said nothing of any other person he must rescue. Bear me witness."
We murmured admission of the truth of that.
"Yet I am the Eye of Zeitoon, and I know. His purpose was to leave his prisoners here and hurry on to overtake a lady—a certain Miss Vanderman, who he thinks is on her way to the mission at Marash. He desired the credit for her rescue in order better to blind the world to his misdeeds! Nevertheless, now that she can be no more use to him, observe his chivalry! He does not even mention her!"
The German shrugged his shoulders, implying that to argue with such a savage was waste of breath.
"What do you know of Miss Vanderman's where-abouts?" demanded Will, and Maga Jhaere, at the sound of another woman's name, sat bolt upright between two other women whose bright eyes peeped out from under blankets.
"I had word of her an hour before you came, effendi," Kagig answered. "She and her party took fright this afternoon, and have taken to the hills. They are farther ahead than this pig dreamed"—once more he kicked Von Quedlinburg—"more than a day's march ahead from here."
"Then we'll hunt for her first," said Monty, and the rest of us nodded assent.
"You shall find her. You shall see a castle. In the castle where you find her you shall choose again! It is agreed, effendi!"
Then he ordered his prisoners made fast, and the gipsies and our Zeitoonli servants attended to it, he himself, however, binding the German's hands and feet. Will went and put bandages on the man's burns, I standing by, to help. But we got no thanks.
"Ihr seit verruckt!" he sneered. "You take the side of bandits. Passt mal auf—there will be punishment!"
The Zeitoonli were going to tie Peter Measel, but he set up such a howl that Kagig at last took notice of him and ordered him flung, unbound, into the great wooden bin in which the horse-feed was kept for sale to wayfarers. There he lay, and slept and snored for the rest of that session, with his mouth close to a mouse-hole.
Then Kagig ordered our Zeitoonli to the roof on guard, and bade us sleep with a patriarchal air of authority.
"There is no knowing when I shall decide to march," be explained.
Given enough fatigue, and warmth, and quietness, a man will sleep under almost any set of circumstances. The great fire blazed, and flickered, and finally died down to a bed of crimson. The prisoners were most likely all awake, for their bonds were tight, but only Kagig remained seated in the midst of his mess of blankets by the hearth; and I think he slept in that position, and that I was the last to doze off. But none of us slept very long.
There came a shout from the roof again, and once again a thundering on the door. The move—unanimous—that the gipsies' right hands made to clutch their weapons resembled the jump from surprise into stillness when the jungle is caught unawares. A second later when somebody tossed dry fagots on the fire the blaze betrayed no other expression on their faces than the stock-in-trade stolidity. Even the women looked as if thundering on a kahveh door at night was nothing to be noticed. Kagig did not move, but I could see that he was breathing faster than the normal, and he, too, clutched a weapon. Von Quedlinburg began shouting for help alternately in Turkish and in German, and the owner of the place produced a gun—a long, bright, steel-barreled affair of the vintage of the Comitajes and the First Greek War. He and his sons ran to the door to barricade it.
"Yavash!" ordered Kagig. The word means slowly, as applied to all the human processes. In that instance it meant "Go slow with your noise!" and mine host so understood it.
But the thundering on the great door never ceased, and the kahveh was too full of the noise of that for us to hear what the Zeitoonli called down from the roof. Kagig arose and stood in the middle of the room with the firelight behind him. He listened for two minutes, standing stock-still, a thin smile flickering across his lean face, and the sharp satyr-like tops of his ears seeming to prick outward in the act of intelligence.
"Open and let them in!" he commanded at last.
"I will not!" roared the owner of the place. "I shall be tortured, and all my house!"
"Open, I said!"
"But they will make us prisoner!"
Kagig made a sign with his right hand. Gregor Jhaere rose and whispered. One by one the remaining gipsies followed him into the shadows, and there came a noise of scuffling, and of oaths and blows. As Gregor Jhaere had mentioned earlier, they did obey Kagig now and then. The Turks came back looking crestfallen, and the fastenings creaked. Then the door burst open with a blast of icy air, and there poured in nineteen armed men who blinked at the firelight helplessly.
"Kagig—where is Kagig?"
"You cursed fools, where should I be!"
"Kagig? Is it truly you?" Their eyes were still blinded by the blaze.
"Shut that door again, and bolt it! Aye—Kagig, Kagig, is it you!"
"It is Kagig! Behold him! Look!"
They clustered close to see, smelling infernally of sweaty garments and of the mud from unholy lurking places.
"Kagig it is! And has all happened as I, Kagig, warned you it would happen?"
"Aye. All. More. Worse!"
"Had you acted beforehand in the manner I advised?"
"No, Kagig. We put it off. We talked, and disagreed. And then it was too late to agree. They were cutting throats while we still argued. When we ran into the street to take the offensive they were already shooting from the roofs!"
That bitter dry expletive, coughed out between set teeth, could not be named a laugh.
"Aye! Now it is 'Kagig, listen!' But a little while ago it was I who was sayin 'Listen!' I walked myself lame, and talked myself hoarse. Who listened to me? Why should I listen to you?"
"But, Kagig, my wife is gone!"
"My daughter, Kagig!"
A third man thrust himself forward and thumped the butt of a long rifle on the floor. — "They took my wife and two daughters before my very eyes, Kagig! It is no time for talking now—you have talked already too much, Kagi,—now prove yourself a man of deeds! With these eyes I saw them dragged by the hair down street! Oh, would God that I had put my eyes out first, then had I never seen it! Kagig—"
"You shall not sneer at me! I shot one Turk, and ten more pounced on them. They screamed to me. They called to me to rescue. What could I do? I shot, and I shot until the rifle barrel burned my fingers. Then those cursed Turks set the house on fire behind me, and my companions dragged me away to come and find others to unite with us and make a stand! We found no others! Kagig—I tell you —those bloody Turks are auctioning our wives and daughters in the village church! It is time to act!"
"Hah! Who was it urged you in season and out of season—day and night—month in, month out—to come to Zeitoon and help me fortify the place? Who urged you to send your women there long ago?"
"But Kagig, you do not appreciate. To you it is nothing not to have women near you. We have mothers, sisters, wives—"
"Nothing to me, is it? These eyes have seen my mother, ravished by a Kurd in a Turkish uniform!"
"Well, that only proves you are one with us after all! That only proves—"
"One with you! Why did you not act, then, when I risked life and limb a thousand times to urge you?"
"We could not, Kagig. That would have precipitated—"
He interrupted the man with an oath like the aggregate of bitterness.
"Precipitated? Did waiting for the massacre like chickens waiting for the ax delay the massacres a day? But now it is 'Come and lead us, Kagig!' How many of you are there left to lead?"
"Who knows? We are nineteen—"
"Hah! And I am to run with nineteen men to the rape of Tarsus and Adana?"
"Our people will rally to you, Kagig!"
"They shall rally at Zeitoon!"
"Oh, Kagig—how shall they reich Zeitoon? The cursed Turks have ordered out the soldiers and are sending regiments—"
"I warned they would!"
"The cavalry are hunting down fugitives along the roads!"
"As I foretold a hundred times!"
"They were sent to protect Armenians—"
"That is always the excuse!"
"And they kill—kill—kill! A dozen of them hunted me for two miles, until I hid in a watercourse! Look at us! Look at our clothes! We are wet to the skin—tired—starving! Kagig, be a man!"
He went back to his mess of blankets and sat down on it, too bitter at heart for words. They reproached him in chorus, coming nearer to the fire to let the fierce heat draw the stink out of their clothes.
"Aye, Kagig, you must not forget your race. You must not forget the past, Kagig. Once Armenia was great, remember that! You must not only talk to us, you must act at last! We summon you to be our leader, Kagig, son of Kagig of Zeitoon!"
He stared back at them with burning eyes -raised both bands to beat his temples—and then suddenly turned the palms of his hands toward the roof in a gesture of utter misery.
"Oh, my people!"
That glimpse he betrayed of his agony was but a moment long. The fingers closed suddenly, and the palms that had risen in helplessness descended to his knees clenched fists, heavy with the weight of purpose.
"What have you done with the ammunition?" he demanded.
"We had it in the manure under John Zimisces' cattle."
"I know that. Where is it now?"
"The Turks discovered it at dawn to-day. Some one had told. They burned Zimisces and his wife and sons alive in the straw!"
"You fools! They knew where the stuff was a week ago! A month ago I warned you to send it to Zeitoon, but somebody told you I was treacherous, and you fools listened! How much ammunition have you left now?"
"Just what we have with us. I have a dozen rounds."
Each man had a handful, or two handfuls at the most. Kagig observed their contributions to the common fund with scoRN too deep for expression. It was as if the very springs of speech were frozen.
"We summon you to lead us, Kagig!"
Words came to him again.
"You summon me to lead? I will! From now I lead! By the God who gave my fathers bread among the mountains, I will, moreover, be obeyed! Either my word is law—"
"Kagig, it is law!"
"Or back you shall go to where the Turks are wearing white, and the gutters bubble red, and the beams are black against the sky! You shall obey me in future on the instant that I speak, or run back to the Turks for mercy from my hand! I have listened to enough talk!"
"Spoken like a man!" said Monty, and stood up.
We all stood up; even Rustum Khan, who did not pretend to like him, saluted the old warrior who could announce his purpose so magnificently. Maga Jhaere stood up, and sought Will's eyes from across the room. Fred, almost too sleepy to know what he was doing (for the tail end of the fever is a yearning for early bed) undid the catch of his beloved instrument, and made the rafters ring. In a minute we four were singing "For he's a jolly good fellow," and Kagig stood up, looking like Robinson Crusoe in his goat-skins, to acknowledge the compliment.
The noise awoke Peter Measel, and when we had finished making fools of ourselves I walked over to discover what he was saying. He was praying aloud—nasally—through the mouse-hole—for us, not himself. I looked at my watch. It was two hours past midnight.
"You fellows," I said, "it's Sunday. The martyred biped has just waked up and remembered it. He is praying that we may be forgiven for polluting the Sabbath stillness with immoral tunes!"
My words had a strange effect. Monty, and Fred, and Will laughed. Rustum Khan laughed savagely. But all the Armenians, including Kagig, knelt promptly on the floor and prayed, the gipsies looking on in mild amusement tempered by discretion. And out of the mouse-hole in the horse-feed bin came Peter Measel's sonorous, overriding periods:
"And, O Lord, let them not be smitten by Thine anger. Let them not be cut down in Thy wrath! Let them not be cast into hell! Give them another chance, O Lord! Let the Ten Commandments be written on their hearts in letters of fire, but let not their souls be damned for ever more! If they did not know it was the Sabbath Day, O Lord, forgive them! Amen!"
It was a most amazing night.
Chapter Seven "We hold you to your word!"
LIBERA NOS, DOMINE!
A priest, a statesman, and a soldier stood Hand in each other's hand, by ruin faced, Consulting to find succor if they could, Till soon the lesser ones themselves abased, Their sword and parchment on an altar laid In deep humility the while the priest he prayed.
He prayed first for his church, that it might be Upholden and acknowledged and revered, And in its opal twilight men might see Salvation if in truth enough they feared, And if enough acknowledgment they gave To ritual, and rosary, and creed that save.
Then prayed he for the state, that it should wean Well-tutored counselors to do their part Full profit and prosperity to glean With dignity, although with contrite heart And wisdom that Tradition wisdom ranks, That church and state might stand and men give thanks.
Last prayed he for the soldier—longest, too, That all the honor and the aims of war Subserving him might carry wrath and rue Unto repentance, and in trembling awe The enemy at length should fault confess And yield, to crave a peace of righteousness.
Behind them stood a patriot unbowed, Not arrogant in gilt or goodly cloth, Nor mincing meek, and yet not poorly proud; With eyes afire that glittered not with wrath; Aware of evil hours, and undismayed Because he loved too well. He also prayed.
"Oh, Thou, who gavest, may I also give, Withholding not—accepting no reward; For I die gladly if the least ones live. Twice righteous and two-edged be the sword, 'Neath freedom's banner drawn to prove Thy word And smite me if I'm false!" His prayer was heard.
The remainder of that night was nightmare pure and simple—mules and horses squealing in instinctive fear of action they felt impending —gipsies and Armenians dragging packs out on the floor, to repack everything a dozen times for some utterly godless reason—Rustum Khan seizing each fugitive Armenian in turn to question him, alternating fierce threats with persuasion—Kagig striding up and down with hands behind him and his scraggly black beard pressed down on his chest —and the great fire blazing with reports like cannon shots as one of the Turk's sons piled on fuel and the resinous wet wood caught.
The Turk and his other six sons ran away and hid themselves as a precaution against our taking vengeance on them. With situations reversed a Turk would have taken unbelievable toll in blood and agony from any Armenian he could find, and they reasoned we were probably no better than themselves. The marvel was that they left one son to wait on us, and take the money for room and horse-feed.
"Remember!" warned Monty, as we four sidled close together with our backs against the wall. "Until we're in actual personal danger this trouble is the affair of Kagig and his men!"
"I get you. If we horn in before we have to we'll do more harm than good. Give the Turks an excuse to call us outlaws and shoot instead of rescue us. Sure. But what about Miss Vanderman?" said Will.
"I foresee she's doomed!" Fred stared straight in front of him. "It looks as if we'll lose our little Willy too! One woman at a time, especially when the lady totes a mother-o'-pearl revolver and about a dozen knives! If you come out of this alive, Bill, you'll be wiser!"
"Fond of bull, aren't you! You'd jest on an ant-heap."
"There's nothing to discuss," said I. "If there's a lady in danger somewhere ahead, we all know what we're going to do about it."
"If we can find her and get word to the consul, that 'ud be one more lever for him to pull on."
"D'you suppose they'd dare molest an Englishwoman?" I asked, with the sudden goose-flesh rising all over me.
"She's American," said Will between purposely set lips. But I did not see that that qualified the unpleasantness by much.
One of the Armenians, whom Rustum Khan had finished questioning, went and stood in Kagig's way, intercepting his everlasting sentry-go.
"What is it, Eflaton?"
"My wife, Kagig!"
"Ah! I remember your wife. She fed me often."
"You must come with me and find her, Kagig—my wife and two daughters, who fed you often!"
"The daughters were pretty," said Kagig. "So was the wife. A young woman yet. A brave, good woman. Always she agreed with me, I remember. Often I heard her urge you men to follow me to Zeitoon and help to fortify the place!"
"Will you leave a good woman in the hands of Turks, Kagig? Come—come to the rescue!"
"It is too bad," said Kagig simply. "Such women suffer more terribly than the hags who merely die by the sword. Ten times by the count —during ten succeeding massacres I have seen the Turks sell Armenian wives and daughters at auction. I am sorry, Eflaton."
"My God!" groaned Will. "How long are we four loafers going to sit here and leave a white woman in danger on the road ahead?" He got up and began folding his blankets.
The Armenian whom Kagig had called Eflaton threw himself to the floor and shrieked in agony of misery. Rustum Khan stepped over him and came and stood in front of Monty.
"These men are fools," he said. "They know exactly what the Turks will do. They have all seen massacres before. Yet not one of them was ready when the hour set for this one came. They say—and they say the truth, that the Turks will murder all Europeans they catch outside the mission stations, lest there be true witnesses afterward whom the world will believe."
"But a woman—scarcely a white woman?" This from Will, with the tips of his ears red and the rest of his face a deathly white.
"Depending on the woman," answered Rustum Khan. "Old—unpleasing—" He made an upward gesture with his thumb, and a noise between his teeth suggestive of a severed wind-pipe. "If she were good-looking —I have heard say they pay high prices in the interior, say at Kaisarieh or Mosul. Once in a harem, who would ever know? The road ahead is worse than dangerous. Whoever wishes to save his life would do best to turn back now and try to ride through to Tarsus."
"Try it, then, if you're afraid!" sneered Will, and for a moment I thought the Rajput would draw steel.
"I know what this lord sahib and I will do," he said, darkening three or four shades under his black beard. "It was for men bewitched by gipsy-women that I feared!"
Will was standing. Nothing but Monty's voice prevented blows. He rapped out a string of sudden rhetoric in the Rajput's own guttural tongue, and Rustum Khan drew back four paces.
"Send him back, Colonel sahib!" he urged. "Send that one back! He and Umm Kulsum will be the death of us!"
Fred went off into a peal of laughter that did nothing to calm the Rajput's ruffled temper.
"Who was Umm Kulsum?" I asked him, divining the cause.
"The most immoral hag in Asian legend! The aggregated essence of all female evil personified in one procuress!"
"Say, I'll have to teach that gink—"
Monty got up and stood between them, but it was a new alarm that prevented blows. A fist-blow in the Rajput's face would have meant a blood-feud that nothing less than a man's life could settle, and Monty looked worried. There came a new thundering on the door that brought everybody to his feet as if murder were the least of the charges against us. Only Kagig appeared at ease and unconcerned.
"Open to them!" he shouted, and resumed his pacing to and fro.
Our Armenian servants ran to the door, and in a minute returned to say that fifty mounted men from Zeitoon were drawn up outside. Kagig gave a curt laugh and strode across to us.
"I said you Eenglis sportmen should see good sport."
Monty nodded, with a hand held out behind him to warn us to keep still.
"I said you shall shoot many pigs!"
"Lead on, then."
"Turks are pigs!"
Monty dd not answer. To have disagreed would have been like flapping a red cloth at a tiger. Yet to have agreed with him at once might have made him jump to false conclusions. The consul's last words to us had been insistent on the unwisdom of posing as anything but hunters, legitimately entitled to protection from the Turkish government.
"I would like you gentlemen for allies!"
"You are our servant at present."
"Would you think of holding me to that?" demanded Kagig with a gesture of extreme irritation. It is only the West that can joke at itself in the face of crisis.
"If not to that," said Monty blandly, "then what agreements do you keep?"
Kagig saw the point. He drew a deep impatient breath and drove it out again hissing through his teeth. Then he took grim hold of himself.
"Effendi," he said, addressing himself to Monty, but including all of us with eyes that seemed to search our hearts, "you are a lord, a friend of the King of Eengland. If I were less than a man of my word I could make you prisoner and oblige your friend the King of Eengland to squeeze these cursed Turks!"
Rustum Khan heard what he said, and made noise enough drawing his saber to be heard outside the kahveh, but Kagig did not turn his head. Three gipsies attended to Rustum Khan, slipping between him and their master, and our four Zeitoonli servants cautiously approached the Rajput from behind.
"Peace!" ordered Monty. "Continue, Kagig."
Kagig held both hands toward Monty, palms upward, as if he were offering the keys of Hell and Heaven.
"You are sportmen, all of you. Shall I keep my word to you? Or shall I serve my nation in its agony?"
Monty glanced swiftly at us, but we made no sign. Will actually looked away. It was a rule we four had to leave the playing of a hand to whichever member of the partnership was first engaged; and we never regretted it, although it often called for faith in one another to the thirty-third degree. The next hand might fall to any other of us, but for the present it was Monty's play.
"We hold you to your word!" said Monty.
Kagig gasped. "But my people!"
"Keep your word to them too! Surely you haven't promised them to make us prisoner?"
"But if I am your servant—if I must obey you for two piasters a day, how shall I serve my nation?"
"Wait and see!" suggested Monty blandly.
Kagig bowed stiffly, from the neck.
"It would surprise you, effendi," he said grimly, "to know how many long years I have waited, in order that I may see what other men will do!"
Monty never answered that remark. There came a yell of "Fire!" and in less than ten seconds flames began to burst through the door that shut off the Turks' private quarters, and to lick and roar among the roof beams. The animals at the other end of the room went crazy, and there was instant panic, the Armenians outside trying to get in to help, and fighting with the men and animals and women and children who choked the way. Then the hay in the upper story caught alight, and the heat below became intolerable. Monty saw and instantly pounced on an ax and two crow-bars in the corner.
"Through the wall!" he ordered.
Fred, Will and I did that work, he and Kagig looking on. It was much easier than at first seemed likely. Most of the stones were stuck with mud, not plaster, and when the first three or four were out the rest came easily. In almost no time we had a great gap ready, and the extra draft we made increased the holocaust, but seemed to lift the heat higher. Then some of the Zeitoonli saw the gap, and began to hurry blindfolded horses through it and in a very little while the place seemed empty. I saw the Turkish owner and several of his sons looking on in fatalistic calm at about the outside edge of the ring of light, and it occurred to me to ask a question.
"Hasn't that Turk a harem?" I asked.
In another second we four were hurrying around the building, and Will and I burst in the door at the rear with our crow-bars. Monty and Fred rushed past us, and before I could get the smoke out of my eyes and throat they were hurrying out again with two old women in their arms—the women screaming, and they laughing and coughing so that they could hardly run. Then Will made my blood run cold with a new alarm.
"The biped!" he shouted. "The Measel in the corn-bin!"
They dropped the old ladies, and all four of us raced back to our hole in the wall—plunged into the hell-hot building, pulled the lid off the corn-bin (it was fastened like an ancient Egyptian coffin-lid with several stout Wooden pegs), dragged Measel out, and frog-marched him, kicking and yelling, to the open, where Fred collapsed.
"Measel," said Will, stooping to feel Fred's heart, "if you're the cause of my friend Oakes' death, Lord pity you!"
Fred sat up, not that he wished to save the "biped" any anguish, but the wise man vomits comfortably when he can, the necessity being bad enough without additional torment.
"See!" said a voice out of darkness. "He empties himself! That is well. It is only the end of the fever. Now he will be a man again. But the sahibs should have left that writer of characters in the corn-bin, where he could have shared the fate of his master without troubling us again!"