Rustum Khan strode into the light, with half his fierce beard burned away from having been the last to leave by the front entrance, and a decided limp from having been kicked by a frantic mule.
"What have you done with the German?" demanded Monty.
"I, sahib? Nothing. In truth nothing. It was the seven sons of the Turk—abetted I should say by gipsies. It was the German who set the place alight. The girl, Maga Jhaere they call her, saw him do it. She watched like a cat, the fool, hoping to amuse herself, while he burned off his ropes with a brand that fell his way out of the fire. When another brand jumped half across the room he set the place alight with it, tossing it over the party wall. He was an able rascal, sahib."
"Was?" demanded Monty.
"Aye, sahib, was! In another second he released the Turkish lieutenant and shouted in his ear to escape and say that Armenians burned this kahveh! Gregor Jhaere slew the Turk, however. And Maga followed the German into the open, where she denounced him to some of the Zeitoonli who recently arrived. They took him and threw him back into the fire—where he remained. I begin to like these Zeitoonli. I even like the gipsies more than formerly. They are men of some discernment, and of action!"
"Man of blood!" growled Monty. "What of the Turkish owner and his seven sons?"
"They shall burn, too, if the sahib say so!"
"If they burn, so shall you! Where is Kagig?"
"Seeing that the sahibs' horses are packed and saddled. I came to find the sahibs. According to Kagig it is time to go, before Turks come to take vengeance for a burned road-house. They will surely say Armenians burned it, whether or not there is a German to support their accusation!"
Then we heard Kagig's high-pitched "Haide—chabuk!" and picked up Peter Measel, and ran around the building to where the horses were already saddled, and squealing in fear of the flames. We left the Turk, and his wives and seven sons, to tell what tale they pleased.
Chapter Eight "I go with that man!"
LO HERE! LO THERE!
Ye shall not judge men by the drinks they take, Nor by unthinking oath, nor what they wear, For look! the mitered liars protest make And drinking know they lie, and knowing swear. No oath is round without the rounded fruit, Nor pompous promise hides the ultimate. In scarlet as in overalls and tailored suit To-morrows truemen and the traitors wait Untold by trick of blazonry or voice. But harvest ripens and there come the reaping days When each shall choose one path to bide the choice, And ye shall know men when they face dividing ways.
To those who have never ridden knee to knee with outlaws full pelt into unknown darkness, with a burning house behind, and a whole horizon lit with the rolling glow of murdered villages, let it be written that the sensation of so doing is creepy, most amazing wild, and not without unrighteous pleasure.
There was a fierce joy that burned without consuming, and a consciousness of having crossed a rubicon. Points of view are left behind in a moment, although the proof may not be apparent for days or weeks, and I reckon our mental change from being merely hunters of an ancient castle and big game-tourists-trippers, from that hour. As we galloped behind Kagig the mesmerism of respect for custom blew away in the wind. We became at heart outlaws as we rode—and one of us a privy councilor of England!
The women, Maga included, were on in front. The night around and behind us was full of the thunder of fleeing cattle, for the Zeitoonli had looted the owner of the kahveh's cows and oxen along with their own beasts and were driving them helter-skelter. The crackling flames behind us were a beacon, whistling white in the early wind, that we did well to hurry from.
It was Monty who called Kagig's attention to the idiocy of tiring out the cattle before dawn, and then Kagig rode like an arrow until he could make the gipsies hear him. One long keening shout that penetrated through the drum of hoofs brought them to a walk, but they kept Maga in front with them, screened from our view until morning by a close line of mounted women and a group of men. The Turkish prisoners were all behind among the fifty Armenians from Zeitoon, looking very comfortless trussed up on the mounts that nobody else had coveted, with hands made fast behind their backs.
A little before dawn, when the saw-tooth tips of the mountain range on our left were first touched with opal and gold, we turned off the araba track along which we had so far come and entered a ravine leading toward Marash. Fred was asleep on horseback, supported between Will and me and snoring like a throttled dog. The smoke of the gutted kahveh had dwindled to a wisp in the distance behind us, and there was no sight or sound of pursuit.
No wheeled vehicle that ever man made could have passed up this new track. It was difficult for ridden horses, and our loaded beasts had to be given time. We seemed to be entering by a fissure into the womb of the savage hills that tossed themselves in ever-increasing grandeur up toward the mist-draped heights of Kara Dagh. Oftener than not our track was obviously watercourse, although now and then we breasted higher levels from which we could see, through gaps between hill and forest, backward along the way we had come. There was smoke from the direction of Adana that smudged a whole sky-line, and between that and the sea about a dozen sooty columns mushroomed against the clouds.
There was not a mile of the way we came that did not hold a hundred hiding-places fit for ambuscade, but our party was too numerous and well-armed to need worry on that account. Monty and Kagig drew ahead, quite a little way behind the gipsies still, but far in front of us, who had to keep Fred upright on his horse.
"My particular need is breakfast," said I.
"And Will's is the woman!" said Fred, admitting himself awake at last. Will had been straining in the stirrups on the top of every rise his horse negotiated ever since the sun rose. It certainly was a mystery why Maga should have been spirited away, after the freedom permitted her the day before.
"Rustum Khan has probably made off with her, or cut her head off!" remarked Fred by way of offering comfort, yawning with the conscious luxury of having slept. "I don't see Rustum Khan. Let's hope it's true! That 'ud give the American lady a better chance for her life in case we should overtake her!"
Will and Fred have always chosen the most awkward places and the least excuse for horseplay, and the sleep seemed to have expelled the last of the fever from Fred's bones, so that he felt like a schoolboy on holiday. Will grabbed him around the neck and they wrestled, to their horses' infinite disgust, panting and straining mightily in the effort to unseat each other. It was natural that Will should have the best of it, he being about fifteen years younger as well as unweakened by malaria. The men of Zeitoon behind us checked to watch Fred rolled out of his saddle, and roared with the delight of fighting men the wide world over to see the older campaigner suddenly recover his balance and turn the tables on the younger by a trick.
And at that very second, as Will landed feet first on the gravel panting for breath, Maga Jhaere arrived full gallop from the rear, managing her ugly gray stallion with consummate ease. Her black hair streamed out in the wind, and what with the dew on it and the slanting sun-rays she seemed to be wearing all the gorgeous jewels out of Ali Baba's cave. She was the loveliest thing to look at —unaffected, unexpected, and as untamed as the dawn, with parted lips as red as the branch of budding leaves with which she beat her horse.
But the smile turned to a frown of sudden passion as she saw Will land on the ground and Fred get ready for reprisals. She screamed defiance—burst through the ranks of the nearest Zeitoonli—set her stallion straight at us—burst between Fred and me—beat Fred savagely across the face with her sap-softened branch—and wheeled on her beast's haunches to make much of Will. He laughed at her, and tried to take the whip away. Seeing he was neither hurt nor indignant, she laughed at Fred, spat at him, and whipped her stallion forward in pursuit of Kagig, breaking between him and Monty to pour news in his ear.
"A curse on Rustum Khan!" laughed Fred, spitting out red buds. "He didn't do his duty!"
He had hardly said that when the Rajput came spurring and thundering along from the rear. He seemed in no hurry to follow farther, but drew rein between us and saluted with the semi-military gesture with which he favored all who, unlike Monty, had not been Colonels of Indian regiments.
"I tracked Umm Kulsum through the dark!" he announced, rubbing the burned nodules out of his singed beard and then patting his mare's neck. "I saw her ride away alone an hour before you reached that fork in the road and turned up this watercourse. 'By the teeth of God,' said I, 'when a good-looking woman leaves a party of men to canter alone in the dark, there is treason!' and I followed."
I offered the Rajput my cigarette case, and to my surprise he accepted one, although not without visible compunction. As a Muhammadan by creed he was in theory without caste and not to be defiled by European touch, but the practises of most folk fall behind their professions. A hundred yards ahead of us Maga was talking and gesticulating furiously, evidently railing at Kagig's wooden-headedness or unbelief. Monty sat listening, saying nothing.
"What did you see, Rustum Khan?" asked Fred.
"At first very little. My eyes are good, but that gipsy-woman's are better, and I was kept busy following her; for I could not keep close, or she might have heard. The noise of her own clumsy stallion prevented her from hearing the lighter footfalls of my mare, and by that I made sure she was not expecting to meet an enemy. 'She rides to betray us to her friends!' said I, and I kept yet farther behind her, on the alert against ambush."
"She rode until dawn, I following. Then, when the light was scarcely born as yet, she suddenly drew rein at an open place where the track she had been following emerged out of dense bushes, and dismounted. >From behind the bushes I watched, and presently I, too, dismounted to hold my mare's nostrils and prevent her from whinnying. That woman, Maga Jhaere, knelt, and pawed about the ground like a dog that hunts a buried bone!"
In front of us Maga was still arguing. Suddenly Kagig turned on her and asked her three swift questions, bitten off like the snap of a closing snuff-box lid. Whether she answered or not I could not see, but Monty was smiling.
"I suspect she was making signals!" growled Rustum Khan. "To whom —about what I do not know. After a little while she mounted and rode on, choosing unerringly a new track through the bushes. I went to where she had been, and examined the ground where she had made her signals. As I say, my eyes are good, but hers are better. I could see nothing but the hoof-marks of her clumsy gray brute of a stallion, and in one place the depressions on soft earth where she had knelt to paw the ground!"
Monty was beginning to talk now. I could see him smiling at Kagig over Maga's head, and the girl was growing angry. Rustum Khan was watching them as closely as we were, pausing between sentences.
"It may be she buried something there, but if so I did not find it. I could not stay long, for when she rode away she went like wind, and I needed to follow at top speed or else be lost. So I let my mare feel the spurs a time or two, and so it happened that I gained on the woman; and I suppose she heard me. Whether or no, she waited in ambush, and sprang out at me as I passed so suddenly that I know not what god of fools and drunkards preserved her from being cut down! Not many have ridden out at me from ambush and lived to tell of it! But I saw who she was in time, and sheathed my steel again, and cursed her for the gipsy that she half is. The other half is spawn of Eblis!"
A hundred yards ahead of us Kagig had reached a decision, but it seemed to be not too late yet in Maga's judgment to try to convert him. She was speaking vehemently, passionately, throwing down her reins to expostulate with both hands.
"Kagig isn't the man you'd think a young woman would choose to be familiar with," Fred said quietly to me, and I wondered what he was driving at. He is always observant behind that superficial air of mockery he chooses to assume, but what he had noticed to set him thinking I could not guess.
Rustum Khan threw away the cigarette I had given him, and went on with his tale.
"That woman has no virtue."
"How do you know?" demanded Will.
"She laughed when I cursed her! Then she asked me what I had seen."
"What did you say?"
"To test her I said I had seen her lover, and would know him again by his smell in the dark!"
"What did she say to that?'
"She laughed again. I tell you the woman has no shame! Then she said if I would tell that tale to Kagig as soon as I see him she would reward me with leave to live for one whole week and an extra hour in which to pray to the devil——meaning, I suppose, that she intends to kill me otherwise. Then she wheeled her stallion—the brute was trying to tear out the muscles of my thigh all that time —and rode away—and I followed—and here I am!"
"How much truth is there in your assertion that you saw her lover?" Will demanded.
"None. I but said it to test her."
"Why in thunder should she want it believed?"
"God knows, who made gipsies!"
At that moment the advance-guard rode into an open meadow, crossed by a shallow, singing stream at which Kagig ordered a halt to water horses. So we closed up with him, and he repeated to us what he had evidently said before to Monty.
"Maga says—I let her go scouting—she says she met a man who told her that Miss Gloria Vanderman and a party of seven were attacked on the road, but escaped, and now have doubled on their tracks so that they are far on their return to Tarsus."
Rustum Khan met Monty's eyes, and his lips moved silently.
"What do you know, sirdar?" Monty asked him.
"The woman lies!"
Maga was glaring at Rustum Khan as a leopardess eyes an enemy. As he spoke she made a significant gesture with a finger across her throat, which the Rajput, if he saw, ignored.
"To what extent?" demanded Kagig calmly.
"Wholly! I followed her. She met no man, although she pawed the ground at a place where eight ridden horses had crossed soft ground a day ago."
Kagig nodded, recognizing truth—a rather rare gift.
If the Rajput's guess was wrong and Maga did know shame, at any rate she did not choose that moment to betray it.
"Oh, very well!" she sneered. "There were eight horses. They were galloping. The track was nine hours old."
Kagig nodded without any symptom of annoyance or reproach.
"There is an ancient castle in the hills up yonder," he said, "in which there may be many Armenians hiding."
He took it for granted we would go and find out, and Maga recognized the drift.
"Very well," she said. "Let that one go, and that one," pointing at Fred and me.
"You'll appreciate, of course," said Monty, "that it's out of the question for us to go forward until we know where that lady is."
Kagig bowed gravely.
"I am needed at Zeitoon," he answered.
Then Maga broke in shrilly, pointing at Will:
"Take that one for hostage!" she advised. "Bring him along to Zeitoon. Then the rest will follow!"
Kagig looked gravely at her.
"I shall take this one," he answered, laying a respectful hand on Monty's sleeve. "Effendi, you are an Eenglis lord. Be your life and comfort on my head, but I need a hostage for my nation's sake. You others—I admit the urgency—shall hunt the missionary lady. If I have this one"—again he touched Monty—"I know well you will come seeking him! You, effendi, you understand my—necessity?"
Monty nodded, smiling gravely. There was a fire at the back of Monty's eyes and something in his bearing I had never seen before.
"Then I go with my colonel sahib!" announced Rustum Khan. "That gipsy woman will kill him otherwise!"
"Better help hunt for the lady, Rustum Khan."
"Nay, colonel sahib bahadur—thy blood on my head! I go with thee —into hell and out beyond if need be!"
"You fellows agreeable?" asked Monty. "There is no disputing Kagig's decision. We're at his mercy."
"We've got to find Miss Vanderman!" said Will.
"You are not at my mercy, effendi," grumbled Kagig. The man was obviously distressed. "You are rather at my discretion. I am responsible. For my nation's sake and for my honor I dare not lose you. Who has not seen how a cow will follow the calf in a wagon? So in your case, if I hold the one—the chief one—the noble one—the lord—the cousin of the Eenglis king" (Monty's rank was mounting like mercury in a tube as Kagig warmed to the argument) —"you others will certainly hunt him up-hill and down-dale. Thus will my honor and my country's cause both profit!"
Monty smiled benignantly.
"It's all one, Kagig. Why labor the point? I'm going with you. Rustum Khan prefers to come with me." Kagig looked askance at Rustum Khan, but made no comment. "One hostage is enough for your purpose. Let me talk with my friends a minute."
Kagig nodded, and we four drew aside.
"Now," demanded Fred, who knew the signs, "what special quixotry do you mean springing?"
"Shut up, Fred. There's no need for you fellows to follow Kagig another yard. He'll be quite satisfied if he has me in keeping. That will serve all practical purposes. What you three must do is find Miss Vanderman if you can, and take her back to Tarsus. There you can help the consul bring pressure to bear on the authorities."
"Rot!" retorted Fred. "Didums, you're drunk. Where did you get the drink?"
Monty smiled, for he held a card that could out-trump our best one, and he knew it. In fact he led it straight away.
"D'you mean to say you'd consider it decent to find that young woman in the mountains and drag her to Zeitoon at Kagig's tail, when Tarsus is not more than three days' ride away at most? You know the Turks wouldn't dare touch you on the road to the coast."
"For that matter," said Fred, "the Turks 'ud hardly dare touch Miss Vanderman herself."
"Then leave her in the hills!" grinned Monty. "Kagig tells me that the Kurds are riding down in hundreds from Kaisarich way. He says they'll arrive too late to loot the cities, but they're experts at hunting along the mountain range. Why not leave the lady to the tender ministrations of the Kurds!"
"One 'ud think you and Kagig knew of buried treasure! Or has he promised to make you Duke of Zeitoon?" asked Will. "Tisn't right, Monty. You've no call to force our band in this way."
"Name a better way," said Monty.
None of us could. The proposal was perfectly logical.
Three of us, even supposing Kagig should care to lend us some of his Zeitoonli horsemen, would be all too few for the rescue work. Certainly we could not leave a lady unprotected in these hills, with the threat of plundering Kurds overhanging. If we found her we could hardly carry her off up-country if there were any safer course.
"Time—time is swift!" said Kagig, pulling out a watch like a big brass turnip and shaking it, presumably to encourage the mechanism.
"The fact is," said Monty, drawing us farther aside, for Rustum Khan was growing restive and inquisitive, "I've not much faith in Kagig's prospects at Zeitoon. He has talked to me all along the road, and I don't believe he bases much reliance on his men. He counts more on holding me as hostage and so obliging the Turkish government to call off its murderers. If you men can rescue that lady in the hills and return to Tarsus you can serve Kagig best and give me my best chance too. Hurry back and help the consul raise Cain!"
That closed the arguments, because Maga Jhaere slipped past Kagig and approached us with the obvious intention of listening. She had discovered a knowledge of English scarcely perfect but astonishingly comprehensive, which she had chosen to keep to herself when we first met—a regular gipsy trick. Fred threw down the gauntlet to her, uncovering depths of distrust that we others had never suspected under his air of being amused.
"Now, miss!" he said, striding up to her. "Let us understand each other! This is my friend." He pointed to Monty. "If harm comes to him that you could have prevented, you shall pay!"
Maga tossed back her loose coils of hair and laughed.
"Never fear, sahib!" Rustum Khan called out. "If ought should happen to my Colonel sahib that Umm Kulsum shall be first to die. The women shall tell of her death for a generation, to frighten naughty children!"
"You hear that?" demanded Fred.
Maga laughed again, and swore in some outlandish tongue.
"I hear! And you hear this, you old—" She called Fred by a name that would make the butchers wince in the abattoirs at Liverpool. "If anything happens to that man,—she pointed to Will, and her eyes blazed with lawless pleasure in his evident discomfort—"I myself —me—this woman—I alone will keel—keel—keel—torture first and afterwards keel your friend 'at you call Monty! I am Maga! You have heard me say what I will do! As for that Rustum Khan—you shall never see him no more ever!"
Kagig pulled out the enormous watch again. He seemed oblivious of Maga's threats—not even aware that she had spoken, although she was hissing through impudent dazzling teeth within three yards of him.
"The time," he said, "has fleed—has fled—has flown. Now we must go, effendi!"
"I go with that man!" announced Maga, pointing at Will, but obviously well aware that nothing of the kind would be permitted.
"Maga, come!" said Kagig, and got on his horse. "You gentlemen may take with you each one Zeitoonli servant. No, no more. No, the ammunition in your pockets must suffice. Yes, I know the remainder is yours; come then to Zeitoon and get it! Haide—Haide! Mount! Ride! Haide, Zeitoonli! To Zeitoon! Chabuk!"
Chapter Nine "And you left your friend to help me?"
WITH NEW TONGUES
Oh, bard of Avon, thou whose measured muse Most sweetly sings Elizabethan views To shame ungentle smiths of journalese With thy sublimest verse, what words are these That shine amid the lines like jewels set But ere thine hour no bard had chosen yet? Didst thou in masterly disdain of too much law Not only limn the truths no others saw But also, lord not slave of written word, Lend ear to what no other poet heard And, liberal minded on the Mermaid bench With bow for blade and chaff for serving wench Await from overseas slang-slinging Jack Who brought the new vocabulary back?
So we three stood still in a row disconsolate, with three ragged men of Zeitoon holding our horses and theirs, and watched Monty ride away in the midst of Kagig's motley command, he not turning to wave back to us because he did not like the parting any better than we did, although he had pretended to be all in favor of it.
Kagig had left us one mule for our luggage, and the beast was unlikely to be overburdened, for at the last minute he had turned surly, and as he sat like a general of division to watch his patch-and-string command go by he showed how Eye of Zeitoon only failed him for a title in giving his other eye—the one he kept on us—too little credit. It was a good-looking crowd of irregulars that he reviewed, and every bearded, goat-skin clad veteran in it had a word to say to him, and he an answer—sometimes a sermon by way of answer. But he saw every item that we removed from the common packs, and sternly reproved us when we tried to exceed what he considered reasonable. At that he based our probable requirements on what would have been surfeit of encumbrance for himself.
"Empty your pockets, effendim!" he ordered at last. "Six cartridges each for rifle, and six each for pistol must be all. Your cartridges I know they are. But my people are in extremity!"
When he rode away at last, sitting his horse in the fashion of a Don Cossack and shepherding Maga in front of him because she kept checking her gray stallion for another look at Will, he left us no alternative than to take to the mountains swiftly unless we cared to starve. We watched Monty's back disappear over a rise, with Rustum Khan close behind, and then Fred signed to one of the three Zeitoonli to lead on.
All three of the men Kagig had left with us were surly, mainly, no doubt, because they disliked separation from their friends. But there was fear, too, expressed in their manner of riding close together, and in the fidgety way in which they watched the smoke of burning Armenian villages that smudged the sky to our left.
"If they try to bolt after Kagig and leave us in the lurch I'm going to waste exactly one cartridge as a warning," Fred announced. "After that—!"
"Probably Kagig 'ud skin them if they turned up without us," remarked Will.
There was something in that theory, for we learned later what Kagig's ferocity could be when driven hard enough. But from first to last those men of Zeitoon never showed a symptom of treachery, although their resentment at having to turn their backs toward home appeared to deepen hourly.
With strange unreason they made no haste, whereas we were in a frenzy of impatience; and when Fred sought to improve their temper by singing the songs that had hitherto acted like charms on Kagig's whole command, they turned in their saddles and cursed him for calling attention to us.
"Inch goozek?" demanded one of them (What would you like?), and with a gesture that made the blood run cold he suggested the choice between hanging and disembowelment.
Will solved the speed problem by striving to push past them along the narrow track; and they were so determined to keep in front of us that within half an hour from the start our horses were sweating freely. Then we began to climb, dismounting presently to lead our horses, and all notions of speed went the way of other vanity.
Several times looking back toward our right hand we caught sight of Kagig's string threading its way over a rise, or passing like a line of ants under the brow of a gravel bank. But they were too far away to discern which of the moving specks might be Monty, although Kagig was now and then unmistakable, his air of authority growing on him and distinguishing him as long as he kept in sight.
We saw nothing of the footprints in soft earth that Maga had read so offhandedly. In fact we took another way, less cluttered up with roots and bushes, that led not straight, but persistently toward an up-towering crag like an eye-tooth. Below it was thick forest, shaped like a shovel beard, and the crag stuck above the beard like an old man's last tooth.
But mountains have a discouraging way of folding and refolding so that the air-line from point to point bears no relation to the length of the trail. The last kites were drooping lazily toward their perches for the night when we drew near the edge of the forest at last, and were suddenly brought to a halt by a challenge from overhead. We could see nobody. Only a hoarse voice warned us that it was death to advance another yard, and our tired animals needed no persuasion to stand still.
There, under a protruding lock as it were of the beard, we waited in shadow while an invisible somebody, whose rifle scraped rather noisily against a branch, eyed every inch of us at his leisure.
"Who are you?" he demanded at last in Armenian, and one of our three men enlightened him in long-drawn detail.
The explanation did not satisfy. We were told to remain exactly where we were until somebody else was fetched. After twenty minutes, when it was already pitch-dark, we heard the breaking of twigs, and low voices as three or four men descended together among the trees. Then we were examined again from close quarters in the dark, and there are few less agreeable sensations. The goose-flesh rises and the clammy cold sweat takes all the comfort out of waning courage.
But somebody among the shadowy tree-trunks at last seemed to think he recognized familiar attitudes, and asked again who we might be. And, weary of explanations that only achieved delay our man lumped us all in one invoice and snarled irritably:
"These are Americans!"
The famous "Open sesame" that unlocked Ali Baba's cave never worked swifter then. Reckless of possible traps no less than five men flung themselves out of Cimmerian gloom and seized us in welcoming arms. I was lifted from the saddle by a man six inches shorter than myself, whose arms could have crushed me like an insect.
"We might have known Americans would bring us help!" he panted in my ear. His breath came short not from effort, but excitement.
Fred was in like predicament. I could just see his shadow struggling in the embrace of an enthusiastic host, and somewhere out of sight Will was answering in nasal indubitable Yankee the questions of three other men.
"This way! Come this way! Bring the horses, oh, Zeitoonli! Americans! Americans! God heard us—there have come Americans!"
Threading this and that way among tree-trunks that to our unaccustomed eyes were simply slightly denser blots on blackness, Will managed to get between Fred and me.
"We're all of us Yankees this trip!" he whispered, and I knew he was grinning, enjoying it hugely. So often he had been taken for an Englishman because of partnership with us that he had almost ceased to mind; but he spared himself none of the amusement to be drawn out of the new turn of affairs, nor us any of the chaff that we had never spared him.
"Take my advice," he said, "and try to act you're Yanks for all you've got. If you can make blind men believe it, you may get out of this with whole skins!"
I expected the retort discourteous to that from Fred, who was between Will and me, shepherded like us by hard-breathing, unseen men. But he was much too subtly skilful in piercing the chain-mail of Will's humor—even in that hour.
"Sure!" he answered. "I guess any gosh-durned rube in these parts 'll know without being told what neck o' the woods I hail from. Schenectady's my middle name! I'm—"
"Oh, my God!" groaned Will. "We don't talk that way in the States. The missionaries—"
"I'm the guy who put the 'oh!' in Ohio!" continued Fred. "I'm running mate to Colonel Cody, and I've ridden herd on half the cows in Hocuspocus County, Wis.! I can sing The Star-Spangled Banner with my head under water, and eat a chain of frankforts two links a minute! I'm the riproaring original two-gun man from Tabascoville, and any gink who doubts it has no time to say his prayers!"
There were paragraphs more of it, delivered at uneven intervals between deep gasps for breath as we made unsteady progress up-hill among roots and rocks left purposely for the confusion of an enemy. At first it filled Will with despair that set me laughing at him. Then Will threw seriousness to the winds and laughed too, so that the spell of impending evil, caused as much as anything by forced separation from Monty, was broken.
But it did better than put us in rising spirits. It convinced the Armenians! That foolish jargon, picked up from comic papers and the penny dreadfuls, convince more firmly than any written proof the products of the mission schools, whose one ambition was to be American themselves, and whose one pathetic peak of humor was the occasional glimpse of United States slang dropped for their edification by missionary teachers!
"By jimminy!" remarked an Armenian near me.
"Gosh-all-hemlocks!" said another.
Thenceforward nothing undermined their faith in us. Plenty of amused repudiation was very soon forthcoming from another source, but it passed over their heads. Fred and I, because we used fool expressions without relation to the context or proportion, were established as the genuine article; Will, perhaps a rather doubtful quantity with his conservative grammar and quiet speech, was accepted for our sakes. They took an arm on either side of us to help us up the hill, and in proof of heart-to-heart esteem shouted "Oopsidaisy!" when we stumbled in the pitchy dark. When we were brought to a stand at last by a snarled challenge and the click of rifles overhead, they answered with the chorus of Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay, a classic that ought to have died an unnatural death almost a quarter of a century before.
Suddenly we smelt Standard oil, and a man emerged through a gap in ancient masonry less than six feet away carrying a battered, cheap "hurricane" lantern whose cracked glass had been reenforced with patches of brown paper. He was armed to the teeth—literally. He had a long knife in his mouth, a pistol in his left hand, and a rifle slung behind him, but after one long look at us, holding the lantern to each face in turn, he suddenly discarded all appearances of ferocity.
"You know about pistols?" he demanded of me in English, because I was nearest, and thrust his Mauser repeater under my nose. "Why won't this one work? I have tried it every way."
"Lordy!" remarked Will.
"Lead on in!" I suggested. Then, remembering my new part, "It'll have to be some defect if one of us can't fix it!"
The gap-guard purred approval and swung his lantern by way of invitation to follow him as he turned on a naked heel and led the way. We entered one at a time through a hole in the wall of what looked like the dungeon of an ancient castle, and followed him presently up the narrow stone steps leading to a trap-door in the floor above. The trap-door was made of odds and ends of planking held in place by weights. When he knocked on it with the muzzle of his rifle we could hear men lifting things before they could open it.
When a gap appeared overhead at last there was no blaze of light to make us blink, but a row of heads at each edge of the hole with nothing but another lantern somewhere in the gloom behind them. One by one we went up and they made way for us, closing in each time to scan the next-comer's face; and when we were all up they laid the planks again, and piled heavy stones in place. Then an old man lighted another lantern, using no match, although there was a box of them beside him on the floor, but transferring flame patiently with a blade of dry grass. Somebody else lit a torch of resinous wood that gave a good blaze but smoked abominably.
"What has become of our horses?" demanded Fred, looking swiftly about him.
We were in a great, dim stone-walled room whose roof showed a corner of star-lit sky in one place. There were twenty men surrounding us, but no woman. Two trade-blankets sewn together with string hanging over an opening in the wall at the far end of the room suggested, nevertheless, that the other sex might be within ear-shot.
"The horses?" Fred demanded again, a bit peremptorily.
One of the men who had met us smirked and made apologetic motions with his hands.
"They will be attended to, effendi—"
"I know it! I guarantee it! By the ace of brute force, if a horse is missing—! Arabaiji!"
One of our three Zeitoonli stepped forward.
"Take the other two men, Arabaiji, and go down to the horses. Groom them. Feed them. If any one prevents you, return and tell me." Then he turned to our hosts. "Some natives of Somaliland once ate my horse for supper, but I learned that lesson. So did they! I trust I needn't be severe with you!"
There was no furniture in the room, except a mat at one corner. They were standing all about us, and perfectly able to murder us if so disposed, but none made any effort to restrain our Zeitoonli.
"Now we're three to their twenty!" I whispered, and Will nodded. But Fred carried matters with a high hand.
"Send a man down with them to show them where the horses are, please!"
There seemed to be nobody in command, but evidently one man was least of all, for they all began at once to order him below, and he went, grumbling.
"You see, effendi, we have no meat at all," said the man who had spoken first.
"But you don't look hungry," asserted Fred.
They were a ragged crowd, unshaven and not too clean, with the usual air of men whose only clothes are on their backs and have been there for a week past. All sorts of clothes they wore—odds and ends for the most part, probably snatched and pulled on in the first moment of a night alarm.
"Not yet, effendi. But we have no meat, and soon we shall have eaten all the grain."
"Well," said Fred, "if you need horse-meat, gosh durn you, take it from the Turks!"
"Gosh durn you!" grinned three or four men, nudging one another.
They were lost between a furtive habit born of hiding for dear life, a desire to be extremely friendly, and a new suspicion of Fred's high hand. Fred's next words added disconcertment.
"Where is Miss Vanderman?" he demanded, suddenly.
Before any one had time to answer Will made a swift move to the wall, and took his stand where nobody could get behind him. He did not produce his pistol, but there was that in his eye that suggested it. I followed suit, so that in the event of trouble we stood a fair chance of protecting Fred.
"What do you mean?" asked three Armenians together.
"Did you never see men try to cover a secret before?" Will whispered.
"Or give it away?" I added. Six of the men placed themselves between Fred and the opening where the blankets hung, ostentatiously not looking at the blankets.
"Have you an American lady with you?" Fred asked, and as he spoke he reached a hand behind him. But it was not his pistol that he drew. He carries his concertina slung to him by a strap with the care that some men lavish on a camera. He took it in both hands, and loosed the catch.
"Have you an American lady named Miss Vanderman with you?" he repeated.
"Effendi, we do not understand."
He repeated in Armenian, and then in Turkish, but they shook their heads.
"Very well," he said, "I'll soon find out. A mission-school pupil might sing My Country, 'Tis of Thee or Suwannee River or Poor Blind Joe. You know Poor Blind Joe, eh? Sung it in school? I thought so. I'll bet you don't know this one."
He filled his impudent instrument with wind and forthwith the belly of that ancient castle rang to the strains of a tune no missionaries sing, although no doubt the missionary ladies are familiar with it yet from where the Arctic night shuts down on Behring Sea to the Solomon Islands and beyond—a song that achieved popularity by lacking national significance, and won a war by imparting recklessness to typhus camps. I was certain then, and still dare bet to-day that those ruined castle walls re-echoed for the first time that evening to the clamor of '—a hot time in the old town to-night!"
Seeing the point in a flash, we three roared the song together, and then again, and then once more for interest, the Armenians eying us spell-bound, at a loss to explain the madness. Then there began to be unexplained movements behind the blanket hanging; and a minute later a woman broke through -an unmistakable Armenian, still good-looking but a little past the prime of life, and very obviously mentally distressed. She scarcely took notice of us, but poured forth a long flow of rhetoric interspersed with sobs for breath. I could see Fred chuckling as he listened. All the facial warnings that a dozen men could make at the woman from behind Fred's back could not check her from telling all she knew.
Nor were Will and I, who knew no Armenian, kept in doubt very long as to the nature of her trouble. We heard another woman's voice, behind two or three sets of curtains by the sound of it, that came rapidly nearer; and there were sounds of scuffling. Then we heard words.
"Please play that tune again, whoever you are! Do you hear me? Do you understand?"
"Boston!" announced Will, diagnosing accents.
"You bet your life I understand!" Fred shouted, and clanged through half a dozen bars again.
That seemed satisfactory to the owner of the voice. The scuffling was renewed, and in a moment she had burst through the crude curtains with two women clinging to her, and stood there with her brown hair falling on her shoulders and her dress all disarrayed but looking simply serene in contrast to the women who tried to restrain her. They tried once or twice to thrust her back through the curtain, although clearly determined to do her no injury; but she held her ground easily. At a rough guess it was tennis and boating that had done more for her muscles than ever strenuous housework did for the Armenians.
"Who are you?" she asked, and Will laughed with delight.
"I reckon you'll be Miss Vanderman?' suggested Fred in outrageous Yankee accent. She stared hard at him.
"I am Miss Vanderman. Who are you, please.
I sat down on the great stone they had rolled over the trap, for even in that flickering, smoky light I could see that this young woman was incarnate loveliness as well as health and strength. Will was our only ladies' man (for Fred is no more than random troubadour, decamping before any love-affair gets serious). The thought conjured visions of Maga, and what she might do. For about ten seconds my head swam, and I could hardly keep my feet.
Will left the opening bars of the overture to Fred, with rather the air of a man who lets a trout have line. And Fred blundered in contentedly.
"I'll allow my name is Oakes—Fred Oakes," he said.
"Please explain!" She looked from one to the other of us.
"We three are American towerists, going the grand trip." (Remember, a score of Armenians were listening. Fred's intention was at least as much to continue their contentment as to extract humor from the situation.) "You being reported missing we allowed to pick you up and run you in to Tarsus. Air you agreeable?"
The women were still clinging to her as if their whole future depended on keeping her prisoner, yet without hurt. She looked down at them pathetically, and then at the men, who were showing no disposition to order her release.
"I don't understand in the least yet. I find you bewildering. Can you contrive to let us talk for a few minutes alone?"
"You bet your young life I can!"
Fred stepped to the wall beside us, but we none of us drew pistol yet. We had no right to presume we were not among friends.
"Thirty minutes interlude!" he announced. "The man who stands in this room one minute from now, or who comes back to the room without my leave, is not my friend, and shall learn what that means!"
He repeated the soft insinuation in Armenian, and then in Turkish because he knows that language best. There is not an Armenian who has not been compelled to learn Turkish for all official purposes, and unconsciously they gave obedience to the hated conquerors' tongue, repressing the desire to argue that wells perennially in Armenian breasts. They had not been long enough enjoying stolen liberty to overcome yet the full effects of Turkish rule.
"And oblige me by leaving that lady alone with us!" Fred continued. "Let those dames fall away!"
Somebody said something to the women. Another Armenian remarked more or less casually that we should be unable to escape from the room in any case. The others rolled the great stone from the trap and shoved the smaller stones aside, and then they all filed down the stone stairs, leaving us alone—although by the trembling blankets it was easy to tell that the women had not gone far. The last man who went below handed the spluttering torch to Miss Vanderman, as if she might need it to defend herself, and she stood there shaking it to try and make it smoke less until the planks were back in place. She was totally unconscious of it, but with the torch-light gleaming on her hair and reflected in her blue eyes she looked like the spirit of old romance come forth to start a holy war.
"Now please explain!" she begged, when I had pushed the last stone in place. "First, what kind of Americans can you possibly be? Do you all use such extraordinary accents, and such expressions?"
"Don't I talk American to beat the band?" objected Fred. "Sit down on this rock a while, and I'll convince you."
She sat on the rock, and we gathered round her. She was not more than twenty-two or three, but as perfectly assured and fearless as only a well-bred woman can be in the presence of unshaven men she does not know. Fred would have continued the tomfoolery, but Will oared in.
"I'm Will Yerkes, Miss Vanderman."
"I know Nurse Vanderman at the mission."
"Yes, she spoke of you."
"Fred Oakes here is—"
"Is English as they make them, yes, I know! Why the amazing efforts to—"
"I stand abashed, like the leopard with the spots unchangeable!" said Fred, and grinned most unashamedly.
"They're both English."
"Yes, I see, but why—"
"It's only as good Americans that we three could hope to enter here alive. They're death on all other sorts of non-Armenians now they've taken to the woods. We supposed you were here, and of course we had to come and get you."
She nodded. "Of course. But how did you know?"
"That's a long story. Tell us first why you're here, and why you're a prisoner."
"I was going to the mission at Marash—to stay a year there and help, before returning to the States. They warned me in Tarsus that the trip might be dangerous, but I know how short-handed they are at Marash, and I wouldn't listen. Besides, they picked the best men they could find to bring me on the way, and I started. I had a Turkish permit to travel—a teskere they call it—see, I have it here. It was perfectly ridiculous to think of my not going."
"Perfectly!" Fred agreed. "Any young woman in your place would have come away!"
She laughed, and colored a trifle. "Women and men are equals in the States, Mr. Oakes."
"And the Turk ought to know that! I get you, Miss Vanderman! I see the point exactly!"
"At any rate, I started. And we slept at night in the houses of Armenians whom my guides knew, so that the journey wasn't bad at all. Everything was going splendidly until we reached a sort of crossroads—if you can call those goat-tracks roads without stretching truth too far—and there three men came galloping toward us on blown horses from the direction of Marash. We could hardly get them to stop and tell us what the trouble was, they were in such a hurry, but I set my horse across the path and we held them up."
"As any young lady would have done!" Fred murmured.
"Never mind. I did it! They told us, when they could get their breath and quit looking behind them like men afraid of ghosts, that the Turks in Marash—which by all accounts is a very fanatical place—had started to murder Armenians. They yelled at me to turn and run.
" 'Run where?' I asked them. 'The Turks won't murder me!'
"That seemed to make them think, and they and my six men all talked together in Armenian much too fast for me to understand a word of it. Then they pointed to some smoke on the sky-line that they said was from burning Armenian homes in Marash.
" 'Why didn't you take refuge in the mission?' I asked them. And they answered that it was because the mission grounds were already full of refugees.
"Well, if that were true—and mind you, I didn't believe it—it was a good reason why I should hurry there and help. If the mission staff was overworked before that they would be simply overwhelmed now. So I told them to turn round and come to Marash with me and my six men."
"And what did they say?" we demanded together.
"They laughed. They said nothing at all to me. Perhaps they thought I was mad. They talked together for five minutes, and then without consulting me they seized my bridle and galloped up a goat-path that led after a most interminable ride to this place."
"Where they hold you to ransom?"
"Not at all. They've been very kind to me. I think that at the bottom of their thoughts there may be some idea of exchanging me for some of their own women whom the Turks have made away with. But a stronger motive than that is the determination to keep me safe and be able to produce me afterward in proof of their bona fides. They've got me here as witness, for another thing. And then, I've started a sort of hospital in this old keep. There are literally hundreds of men and women hiding in these hills, and the women are beginning to come to me for advice, and to talk with me. I'm pretty nearly as useful here as I would be at Marash."
"And you're—let's see—nineteen-twenty—one—two—not more than twenty-two," suggested Fred.
"Is intelligence governed by age and sex in England." she retorted, and Fred smiled in confession of a hit.
"Go on," said Will. "Tell us."
"There's nothing more to tell. When I started to run toward the—ah —music, the women tried to prevent me. They knew Americans had come, and they feared you might take me away."
"They were guessing good!" grinned Will.
She shook her head, and the loosened coils of hair fell lower. One could hardly have blamed a man who had desired her in that lawless land and sought to carry her off. The Armenian men must have been temptation proof, or else there had been safety in numbers.
"I shall stay here. How could I leave them? The women need me. There are babies—daily—almost hourly—here in these lean hills, and no organized help of any kind until I came."
"How long have you been here?" I asked.
"Nearly two days. Wait till I've been here a week and you'll see."
"We can't wait to see!" Will answered. "We've a friend of our own in a tight place. The best we can do is to rescue you—"
"I don't need to be rescued!"
"—to rescue you—take you back to Tarsus, where you'll be safe until the trouble's over—and then hurry to the help of our own man."
"Who is your own man? Tell me about him."
"He's a prince."
"No, really an earl—Earl of Montdidier. White. White all through to the wish-bone. Whitest man I ever camped with. He's the goods."
"If you'd said less I'd have skinned you for an ingrate!" Fred announced. "Monty is a man men love."
Miss Vanderman nodded. "Where is he?"
"On the way to a place called Zeitoon," answered Will.
"He's a hostage, held by Armenians in the hope of putting pressure on the Turks. Kagig—the Armenians, that's to say—let us go to rescue you, knowing that he was sufficiently important for their purpose."
"And you left your friend to help me?"
"Of course. What do you suppose?"
"And if I were to go with you to Tarsus, what then?"
"He says we're to ride herd on the consulate and argue."
"Sure we'll argue. We'll raise particular young hell. Then back we go to Zeitoon to join him!"
"Would you have gone to Tarsus except on my account?"
"No. I see. Of course you wouldn't. Well. What do you take me for? You did not know me then. You do now. Do you think I'd consent to your leaving your fine friend in pawn while you dance attendance on me? Thank you kindly for your offer, but go back to him! If you don't I'll never speak to one of you again!"
Chapter Ten "When I fire this Pistol—"
THESE LITTLE ONES
If Life were what the liars say And failure called the tune Mayhap the road to ruin then Were cluttered deep wi' broken men; We'd all be seekers blindly led To weave wi' worms among the dead, If Life were what the liars say And failure called the tune.
But Life is Father of us all (Dear Father, if we knew!) And underneath eternal arms Uphold. We'll mock the false alarms, And trample on the neck of pain, And laugh the dead alive again, For Life is Father to us all, And thanks are overdue!
If Truth were what the learned say And envy called the tune Mayhap 'twere trite what treason saith That man is dust and ends in death; We'd slay with proof of printed law Whatever was new that seers saw, If Truth were what the learned say And envy called the tune.
But Truth is Brother of us all (Oh, Brother, if we knew!) Unspattered by the muddied lies That pass for wisdom of the wise— Compassionate, alert, unbought, Of purity and presence wrought,— Big Brother that includes us all Nor knows the name of Few!
If Love were what the harlots say And hunger called the tune Mayhap we'd need conserve the joys Weighed grudgingly to girls and boys, And eat the angels trapped and sold By shriven priests for stolen gold, If Love were what the harlots say And hunger called the tune.
But Love is Mother of us all (Dear Mother, if we knew!)— So wise that not a sparrow falls, Nor friendless in the prison calls Uncomforted or uncaressed. There's magic milk at Mercy's breast, And little ones shall lead us all When Trite Love calls the tune!
Naturally, being what we were, with our friend Monty held in durance by a chief of outlaws, we were perfectly ready to kidnap Miss Vanderman and ride off with her in case she should be inclined to delay proceedings. It was also natural that we had not spoken of that contingency, nor even considered it.
"We never dreamed of your refusing to come with us," said Will.
"We still don't dream of it!" Fred asserted, and she turned her head very swiftly to look at him with level brows. Next she met my eyes. If there was in her consciousness the slightest trace of doubt, or fear, or admission that her sex might be less responsible than ours, she did not show it. Rather in the blue eyes and the athletic poise of chin, and neck, and shoulders there was a dignity beyond ours.
"Don't let's be ridiculous," she said. "I shall do as I see fit."
Fred's neat beard has a trick of losing something of its trim when he proposes to assert himself, and I recognized the symptoms. But at the moment of that impasse the Armenians below us had decided that self-assertion was their cue, and there came great noises as they thundered with a short pole on the trap and made the stones jump that held it down.
At that signal several women emerged from behind the hanging blankets —young and old women in various states of disarray—and stood in attitudes suggestive of aggression. One did not get the idea that Armenians, men or women, were sheeplike pacifists. They watched Miss Vanderman with the evident purpose of attacking us the moment she appealed to them.
"If you don't roll the stones away I think there'll be trouble," she said, and came and stood between Will and me. Fred got behind me, and began to whisper. I heard something or other about the trap, and supposed he was asking me to open it, although I failed to see why the request should be kept secret; but the women forestalled me, and in a moment they had the stones shoved aside and the men were emerging one by one through the opening.
Then at last I got Fred's meaning. There was a second of indecision during which the Armenians consulted their women-folk, in two minds between snatching Miss Vanderman out of our reach or discovering first what our purpose might be. I took advantage of it to slip down the stone stairs behind them.
The opening in the castle wall was easy to find, for the star-lit sky looked luminous through the hole. Once outside, however, the gloom of ancient trees and the castle's shadow seemed blacker than the dungeon had been. I groped about, and stumbled over loose stones fallen from the castle wall, until at last one of our own Zeitoonli discovered me and, thinking I might be a trouble-maker, tripped me up. Cursing fervently from underneath his iron-hard carcass I made him recognize me at last. Then he offered me tobacco, unquestionably stolen from our pack, and sat down beside me on a rock while I recovered breath.
It took longer to do that than he expected, for he had enjoyed the advantage of surprise while hampered by no compunctions on the ground of moderation. When the agony of windlessness was gone and I could question him he assured me that the horses were well enough, but that he and his two companions were hungry. Furthermore, he added, the animals were very closely watched—so much so that the other two, Sombat and Noorian, were standing guard to watch the watchers.
"But I am sure they are fools," he added.
This man Arabaiji had been an excellent servant, but decidedly supercilious toward the others from the time when he first came to us in the khan at Tarsus. Regarding himself as intelligent, which he was, he usually refused to concede that quality, or anything resembling it, to his companions.
"That is why I was looking for you when you hit me in the dark with that club of a fist of yours," I answered. "I wanted to speak with you alone because I know you are not a fool."
He felt so flattered that he promptly let his pipe go out.
"While Sombat and Noorian are keeping an eye on the horses, I want you to watch for trouble up above here," I said. "In case the people of this place should seek to make us prisoner, then I want you to gallop, if you can get your horse, and run otherwise, to the nearest—"
He checked me with a gesture and one word.
"What about him?" I demanded.
"If I were to bring Turks here, Kagig would never rest until my fingers were pulled off one by one!"
"If you were to bring Turks here, or appeal to Turks," said I, "Kagig would never get you."
"Unless he should find your dead carcass after my friends and I had finished with it!"
He lighted his pipe again by way of reestablishing himself in his own esteem, and it glowed and crackled wetly in the dark beside me in response to the workings of his intelligence.
"In case of trouble up here, and our being held prisoner, go and find other Armenians, and order them in Kagig's name to come and rescue us."
"Those who obey Kagig are with Kagig," he answered.
"Surely not all?"
"All that Kagig could gather to him after eleven years!"
"In that case go to Kagig, and tell him."
"Kagig would not come. He holds Zeitoon."
"Are you a fool?"
"Not I! The other two are fools."
"Then do you understand that in case these people should make us prisoner—"
He nodded. "They might. They might propose to sell you to the Turks, perhaps against their own stolen women-folk."
"Then don't you see that if you were gone, and I told them you had gone to bring Kagig, they would let us go rather than face Kagig's wrath?"
"But Kagig would not come."
"I know that. But how should they know it?"
I knew that be nodded again by the motion of the glowing tobacco in his pipe. It glowed suddenly bright, as a new idea dawned on him. He was an honest fellow, and did not conceal the thought.
"Kagig would not send me back to you," he said. "He is short of men at Zeitoon."
"Never mind," said I. "In case of trouble up above here, but not otherwise, will you do that?"
"Gladly. But give it me in writing, lest Kagig have me beaten for running from you without leave."
That was my turn to jump at a proposal. I tore a sheet from my memorandum book, and scribbled in the dark, knowing be could not read what I had written.
"This writing says that you did not run away until you had made quite sure we were in difficulties. So, if you should run too soon, and we should not be in difficulties after all, Kagig would learn that sooner or later. What would Kagig do in that case?"
"He would throw me over the bridge at Zeitoon—if he could catch me! Nay! I play no tricks."
"Good. Then go and hide. Hide within call. Within an hour, or at most two hours we shall know how the land lies. If all should be well I will change that writing for another one, and send you to Kagig in any case. No more words now—go and hide!"
He put his pipe out with his thumb, and took two strides into a shadow, and was gone. Then I went back through the gap in the dungeon wall, and stumbled to the stairs. Apparently not missing me yet, they had covered up the trap, and I had to hammer on it for admission. They were not pleased when my head appeared through the hole, and they realized that I had probably held communication with our men. I suppose Fred saw by my face that I had accomplished what I went for, because he let out a laugh like a fox's bark that did nothing toward lessening the tension.
On the other hand it was quite clear that during my absence Miss Vanderman had not been idle. Excepting the two men who had admitted me, every one was seated—she on the floor among the women, with her back to the wall, and the rest in a semicircle facing them. Two of the women had their arms about her, affectionately, but not without a hint of who controlled the situation.
"What have you been doing?" Fred demanded, and be laughed at Gloria Vanderman with an air of triumph.
"Making preparations," I said, "to take Miss Vanderman to Tarsus."
I wish I could set down here a chart of the mixed emotions then expressed on that young lady's face. She did not look at Will, knowing perhaps that she already had him captive of her bow and spear. Neither did Will look at us, but sat tracing figures with a forefinger in the dust between his knees, wondering perhaps how to excuse or explain, and getting no comfort.
If my guess was correct, Gloria Vanderman was about equally distracted between the alternative ignominy of submitting her free will to Armenians or else to us. Compassion for the women in their predicament weighed one way—knowledge that our friend Monty was in durance vile contingent on her actions pulled heavily another Fred was frankly enjoying himself, which influenced her strongly toward the Armenian side, she being young and, doubtless the idol of a hundred heart-sick Americans, contemptuous of forty-year-old bachelors.
"Of course we shall not let you go!" one of the Armenians assured her in quite good English, and I began fumbling at the pistol in my inner pocket, for if Arabaiji was to run to Zeitoon, then the sooner the better. But it needed only that imputation of helplessness to tip the beam of Miss Gloria's judgment.
"You can attend to the sick ones. You can play music for us all. Doubtless these other two have qualifications."
I was too busy admiring Gloria to know what effect that announcement had on Fred and Will. She shook herself free from the women, and stood up, splendid in the flickering yellow light. There was a sort of swift move by every one to be ready against contingencies, and I judged it the right moment to spring my own surprise.
"When I fire this pistol," I said, producing it, "a man will start at once for Zeitoon to warn Kagig. He has a note in his pocket written to Kagig. Judge for yourselves how long it will take Kagig and his men to reach this place!"
The nearest man made a very well-judged spring at me and pinned my elbows from behind. Another man knocked the pistol from my hand. The women seized Gloria again. But Fred was too quick—drew his own pistol, and fired at the roof.
"Twice, Fred!" I shouted, and he fired again.
"There!" said I. "Do what you like. The messenger has gone!"
And then Gloria shook herself free a last time, and took command.
"Is that true?" she demanded.
I nodded. "The best of our three men was to start on his way the minute he heard the second shot."
Then I was sure she was Boadicea reincarnate, whether the old-time British queen did or did not have blue eyes and brown hair.
"I will not have brave men brought back here on my account! Kagig must be a patriot! He needs all his men! I don't blame him for making a hostage of Lord Montdidier! I would do the same myself!"
Will had evidently given her a pretty complete synopsis of our adventure while I was outside talking with Arabaiji. It is always a mystery to the British that Americans should hold themselves a race apart and rally to each other as if the rest of the Anglo-Saxon race were foreigners, but those two had obeyed the racial rule. They understood each other—swiftly—a bar and a half ahead of the tune.
"This old castle is no good!" she went on, not raising her voice very high, but making it ring with the wholesomeness of youth, and youth's intolerance of limits. "The Turks could come to this place and burn it within a day if they chose!"
"The Turks won't trouble. They'll send their friends the Kurds instead," Fred assured her.
"Ah-h-h-gh !" growled the Armenians, but she waved them back to silence.
"How much food have you? Almost none! How much ammunition?"
"Ah-h-h-h!" they chorused in a very different tone of voice.
"D'you mean you've got cartridges here?" Fred demanded.
"Fifty cases of cartridges for government Mauser rifles!" bragged the man who was nearest to Will.
"Gee! Kagig 'ud give his eyes for them!" (Will devoted his eyes to the more poetic purpose of exchanging flashed encouragement with Gloria.)
"Men, women and children—how many of you are there?"
"Who knows? Who has counted? They keep coming."
"No, they don't. You've set a guard to keep any more away for fear the food won't last—I know you have! Well—what does it matter how many you are? I say let us all go to Zeitoon and help Kagig!"
"Oh, bravo!" shouted Fred, but it was Will's praise that proved acceptable and made her smile.
"Second the motion!"
I added a word or two by way of make-weight, that did more as a matter of fact than her young ardor to convince those very skeptical men and women. No doubt she broke up their determination to sit still, but it was my words that set them on a course.
"Kagig will be angry when he comes. He's a ruthless man," said I, and the Armenians, men as well as women, sought one another's eyes and nodded.
"Kagig must be more of a ruthless bird than we guessed!" Will whispered.
Counting women, there was less than a score of refugees in the room, and if we had only had them to convince, our work was pretty nearly done. There was the guard among the trees down-hill that we knew about still to be converted, or perhaps coerced. But just at the moment when we felt we held the winning hand, there came a ladder thrust down through the hole in the corner of the roof, and a man whom they all greeted as Ephraim began to climb down backward. He was so loaded with every imaginable kind of weapon that he made more noise than a tinker's cart.
Nor was Ephraim the only new arrival. Man after man came down backward after him, each man cursed richly for treading on his predecessor's fingers—a seeming endless chain of men that did not cease when the room was already uncomfortably overcrowded. Some of these men wore clothes that suggested Russia, but the majority were in rags. The ladder swayed and creaked under them, and finally, at a word from Ephraim, the last-comers sat on the upper rungs, bending the frail thing with their weight into a complaining loop.
Several of the newcomers had torches, and their acrid smoke turned the twice-breathed air of the place into evil-tasting fog.
Three men put their faces close to Ephraim's and proceeded to enlighten him as to what had passed. He seemed to be recognized as some sort of chieftain, and carried himself with a commanding air, but so many men talked at once, and all in Armenian, that we could not pick out more than a word or two here and there. Even Fred, with his gift of tongues, could hardly make head or tail of it.
We three pressed through the swarm and took our stand beside Gloria, not hesitating to thrust the other women aside. They dragged at their men-folk to call attention to us, but the argument was too hot to be missed, and the women clawed and screamed in vain.
"I believe we could get out!" I shouted in Will's ear. But he shook his head. At least six men were standing on the trap, and we could not have driven them off it because there was no other space on the floor that they could occupy. So I turned to Fred.
"Couldn't we shake those ruffians off the ladder, and climb up it and escape?" I shouted. But Fred shook his head, and went on listening, trying to follow the course of the dispute.
At last somebody with louder lungs than any other man made Ephraim understand that it was I who sent the messenger to Zeitoon. Instantly that solved the problem to his mind. I should be hanged, and that would be all about it. He gesticulated. The men swarmed down off the ladder to the already overcrowded floor, and mistaking Will for me several men started to thrust him forward. A face appeared through the hole in the roof and its owner was sent running for a rope. I had not recovered my pistol, and my rifle was slung at my back where I could not possibly get at it for the crowd. But Fred had a Colt repeater handy in his hip-pocket and he promptly screwed the muzzle of it into Ephraim's ear. What he said to him I don't know, but Ephraim's convictions underwent a change of base and he began to yell for silence. The men who had seized Will let go of him just as the rope with a disgusting noose in the end was lowered through the roof. And then Ossa was imposed on Pelion.
A new face appeared at the hole. Not that we could see the face. We could only see the form of a man who shook the bloody stump of a forearm at us, and shrieked unintelligible things. After thirty seconds even the men in the far corner were aware of him, and then there was stony silence while he had his say. He repeated his message a dozen times, as if he had it by heart exactly, spitting foam out of his mouth and never ceasing to shake the butchered stump of an arm. At about the dozenth time he fainted and fell headlong down the ladder bringing up on the shoulders of the men below.
"What does he say?" I bellowed in Fred's car. But Fred was forcing his way closer to Gloria, to tell her.
"He says the Kurds are coming! He says two regiments of Kurdish cavalry have been turned loose by the Turks with orders to 'rescue' Armenians. They are on their way, riding by night for a wonder. They cut both his hands off, but he got away by shamming dead.
He says they are cutting off the feet of people and bidding them walk to Tarsus. They are taking the women and girls for sale. Old women and very little children they are making what they call sport with. Have you heard of Kurds? Their ideas of sport are worse than the Red-man's ever were."
Every tongue in the room broke loose. In another second every man was still. They looked toward Ephraim. He who could order a hanging so glibly should shoulder the new responsibility.
But Ephraim was not ready with a plan, and could not speak English. Wild-eyed, he seized the lapel of my coat in trembling fingers, and with a throat grown suddenly parched, crackled a question at me in Armenian. I could have understood Volopuk easier.
"What does he say, Fred?"
"He wants to know how soon Kagig can be here."
"Kagig!" Ephraim echoed, clutching at my collar. "Yes, yes, yes! Kagig! Come—how soon?"
"We shall be all right," said another man in English over on the far side of the room. His hoarse voice sounded like a bellow in the silence. "Kagig will come presently. Kagig will butcher the Kurds. Kagig will certainly save us."
"Kagig!" Ephraim insisted. "Come——how soon?"
But I knew Kagig would not come, that night or at any time, and Ephraim shook me in frenzied impatience for an answer.
Chapter Eleven "That man's dose is death, and he dies unshriven!"
"MALE AND FEMALE CREATED HE THEM"
The ancient orders pass. The fetters fall. All-potent inspiration stirs dead peoples to new birth. And over bloodied fields a new, clear call Rings kindlier on deadened ears of earth. Man—male—usurping—unwise overlord, Indoctrinated, flattered, by himself betrayed And all-betraying since with idiot word He bade his woman bear and be afraid, Awakes to see delusion of the past Unmourned along with all injustice die, Himself by woman wisdom blessed at last And her unchallenged right the reason why.
Now for a moment I became the unwilling vortex of that mob of anxious men and women—I who by, my own confession knew Kagig, I who had sent Kagig a message, I who five minutes ago was on the verge of being hanged in the greasy noose that still swung above the ladder through the hole in the roof—I who therefore ought to be thoroughly plastic-minded and obedient to demands.
The place had become as evil smelling as the Black Hole of Calcutta. Everybody was sweating, and they shoved and milled murderously in the effort to get near me and learn, each with his own ears from my lips, just when Kagig might be expected. Ephraim, their presumptive leader, got shuffled to the outside of the pack—the only silent man between the four walls, watchful for new opportunity.
With my clothing nearly torn off and cars in agony from bellowed questions, the only remedy I could think of was to yell to Fred to start up a tune on his concertina; I had seen him change a crowd's temper many a time in just that way. But even supposing my advice had been good, he could not get his arms free, and it was Gloria Vanderman who saved that day.
Whoever has tried to write down the quality that makes the college girl, United States or English, what she is has failed, just as whoever has tried to muzzle or discredit her has failed. She is something new that has happened to the world, not because of men and women and the priests and pundits, but in spite of them. Part of the reason can be given by him who knows history enough, and commands almost unlimited leisure and page; but that would only be the uninteresting part that we could easily dispense with. The college girl has happened to the world, as light did in Genesis 1:3.
Gloria Vanderman, with her back against the wall, struggled and contrived to get her foot on Will's bent knee. Another struggle sent her breast-high above the sea of sweating faces. There was fitful light enough to see her by, because the man who held a pine torch was privileged. If there had not been hot sparks scattering from the thing doubtless they would have closed in on him and crushed it down, and out, but he had elbow-room, and accordingly Gloria's face glowed golden in its frame of disordered chestnut hair. One heard her voice because it was clear, and sweet with reasonableness, so that it vibrated in an unobstructed orbit.
"Surely you are not cowards?" she began, and they grew silent, because that idea called for consideration.
"Kagig is a patriot. Kagig is fighting for all Armenia. Surely you are not the men to let brave Kagig be tempted away from his post of danger at Zeitoon? If I know you men and women you will hasten to meet Kagig, taking your food, and weapons, and children with you. You will hurry—hurry—hurry to meet him—to meet him as near Zeitoon as possible, so as to turn him back to his post of duty!"
Then Ephraim saw his chance. Some whisperer translated to him and he owned a voice that was worth gold for political purposes.
He took up the tale in Armenian, working himself up into a splendid fervor, and so amplifying the argument that he could almost fairly claim it as his own before he was half-done. She had introduced the light, but he exploited it, and he knew his nation—knew the tricks of speech most likely to spur them into action.
Within five minutes they were shoving the stones off the trap at imminent risk of anybody's legs, and the ladder bent groaning under the weight of twice as many as it ought to bear, as half of them essayed the short cut over the roof. A blast of sweet air through the opened trap ejected most of the smoky ten-times-breathed stuff out with the climbers; and as the room emptied and we wiped the grimy sweat from our faces I heard Will talking to Gloria Vanderman in a new tongue—new, that is to say, to the old world.
"Good goods! Stampeded 'em! They'll vote for you for any office —your pick! If that guy Ephraim plans buttering the slide we'll set him on it—watch!"
"You bet," she answered sentimentally. "I wasn't cheer leader for nothing. Besides, I delivered the valedictory—say, what are we waiting here for?"
"Come on, then!" I urged her. "We'll leave our mule-load behind in case they've eaten your horse. Come with us to the stables and—"
But she interrupted me.
"You men go down and get the horses. Do what you can with the crowd. I'll get the women into something like order if that's possible, and we'll all meet wherever there's open ground and moonlight at the foot of the hill."
"I'll come with you," Will proposed. "You'll need—"
"No you won't! The women are easy. They've been taught to obey orders! It'll take all the wit you three men own between you to get the men in line! Let's get busy!"
The men had treated the hanging blankets with the respect the ancient Jews accorded to the veil of the Holy of Holies. (We learned afterward that there was an Armenian man of the party who had followed a circus one summer all across the States, and had brought that sensible precaution home with him as rule number one for successful management of mixed assemblies.) Gloria Vanderman made a run for the curtain and dived behind it. We heard the women welcome her.
"Let's go!" said Will.
Will had ever been our ladies' man in all our wanderings, because women could never resist his unaffected comradeship. Even among Americans he was rare in his gift of according to women equality not only of liberty, but of understanding and good sense, and it went like wine to the heads of some we had met, so that Will was seldom without a sex-problem on his hands and ours. But Will was too good a comrade to be surrendered to any woman lightly.
"Damn that chicken!" murmured Fred by way of praying fervently, pausing in the breach in the wall to rub his shin. "Feel that bruise, will you! No young woman ever brought me luck yet!"
"What are you waiting for?" complained a voice from outer darkness. "Come on, you rummies!"
Fred sat down on the protruding stone that had injured his shin, and detained me with his arm across the opening.
"Mark my words! In order that that young woman may be educated to consider Will Yerkes a paragon of unimaginable virtues, we—you and I—are going to have to do what he calls 'hustle.' We're going to see speed, and we're going to sweat, trying to catch up. There isn't a scatterbrained adventure conceivable that we're not going to be forced into, nor an imaginable peril that we're not going to have to pull him out of. We're going to be cursed for our trouble, and ridiculed to make amusement for her majesty. And at the end of it all we're going to be patronized for a couple of ignorant damned fools who don't know better than be bachelors. What's worse, we're going to submit tamely. What is infinitely worse, we're going to like it! There are times when I doubt the sanity of my whole sex!"
"Have you guys taken root?" demanded the familiar voice and we heard Will's returning footsteps.
"No, America. But I have to sit down when my shin hurts and I'm seized with the gift of prophecy."
"Huh! We'll find Miss Vanderman tired of waiting for us with the women. Since when has a crack on the shin made a baby of you? You used to be tough enough!"
"D'you get the idea?" chuckled Fred. "We're coming, Will, we're coming."
Perfectly unconsciously Will took the lead, and most outrageously he drove us. Not that his driving was not shrewd, for his usually practical and quick mind seemed to take on added brilliancy. And since we first joined partnership—he and Monty and Fred and I—we had always been contented to follow the lead of whichever held it at the moment. But there was new efficiency, and impatience of a brand-new kind that would not rest until every man and animal had been rummaged in darkness out of that old ruin, and men, horses, cows, goats, bags of grain, and fifty cases of cartridges were driven down through the forest like water forced through a sieve, and were gathered in the only open space discoverable.
There we cooled our heels, fearful and full of vague imaginings until Miss Vanderman should bring the women, not at all encouraged by shouts in the distance that well might be the exulting of plundering Kurds, nor by occasional rifle-shots that sounded continually nearer, nor by the angry crimson glow of burning roofs that lighted half the horizon.
We waited an hour, Will objecting whenever either of us proposed to return and speed Miss Vanderman.
"Aw, what's the use? D'you suppose she doesn't know we're waiting?"
At last Fred proposed that Will himself go and investigate. He went through the form of demurring, but yielded gracefully.
"The spirit," Fred chuckled, "is weak, and the flesh is willing!"
Will handed his mule's reins to an Armenian and started alone up-hill through the pitch-dark forest; and because the world is mixed of unexpectedness and grim jest in fairly equal proportions, five minutes after he left us Gloria Vanderman came leading the women by another path.
To avoid confusion with our part, and for sake of silence, she had led them a circuit, and except for the occasional wail of a child and a little low talking that blended like the hum of insects with the night, they made very little noise. The rear was brought up by the strongest women carrying the sick and wounded on litters that had been improvised in a hurry, and like most things of the sort were much too heavy.
"Your mule is ready," said I. But she shook her head.
"You gentlemen must give your mules up to the sick and wounded. We well ones can walk."
I did not know how to answer her, although I knew she was wrong. The way to organize a marching column is not to level down to the ability of the weakest, although the pace of the weakest may have to be the measure of speed. We, who had to protect the column and shepherd it, would need our mounts; without them we should all be at the mercy of any enemy, with no corresponding gain to any one except the litter-bearers. All the same, I did not care to take issue with that capable young woman then and there. She would have put me in the wrong and left me speechless and indignant, after the fashion that is older than poor Shylock's tale.
But Fred is made of sterner stuff than I, and was never above amusing himself at the expense of anybody's dignity.
"Will is the youngest," he answered. "Besides, he's keeping us all waiting with his love-affairs! He ought to be made to walk!"
"He went into the woods to see a woman," Fred answered imperturbably. "Let him forfeit his mule. Here he comes. Did you find her, America?"
Will emerged out of gloom with a grin on his face.
"Just my luck!" he said simply. "What are we waiting for? I can hear the Kurds. Let's start."
At that Gloria got excited.
"D'you mean you're willing to leave a woman behind alone in that forest?" she demanded, and Will's jaw dropped.
Fred nudged my ribs.
"Come on! We've given 'em a ground for their first quarrel. They'll never thank us if we wait a week. Mount! Walk—ride!"
We sent our two Zeitoonli in advance to show the way. True to his word, Arabaiji had left us, mule and all, and we missed him as we strove to get the unwieldy column marshaled and moving in line. We did not see Will and Gloria again that night, except when they passed between us, walking, arguing—Will explaining—we sitting on our mules on either side of the track until the last of the swarm tailed by. Then we brought up the rear together, to drive the stragglers and look out for pursuit.
"Not that I know what the devil we'll do if the Kurds get after us!" said Fred.
"Let's hope they make for the castle to-night, and waste time plundering that."
"Piffle!" he answered.
"Because, you ass, if they get to the place and find if empty they'll deduce, being less than idiots, that we're not far off and that we're at their mercy in the open! Let's hope to God they funk attacking in the dark, and wait out of range of the walls until daylight. In that case we've a chance. Otherwise—I've still got six rifle cartridges, and four for my pistol. How many have you?"
"Six of each."
"Then you owe me one for my pistol."
I passed it to him.
"So. Now we're good for exactly twenty-two Kurds between us. If we're pursued I propose to give those two young lovers a chance by making every cartridge count from behind cover."