"Come along to Zeitoon!" was the burden of it, carried with a singsong laugh. "Zeitoon is ready for anything!"
Before we had finished eating, each two of them gathered up a poor wretch from our helpless crowd and strode away into the mountains with a heavier load than that they brought.
"Come along to Zeitoon!" they called back to us. But even Fred's concertina, and the hymns of the handful who were not yet utterly spent, failed to get them moving before dawn.
We did not spend the night unguarded, although no armed men lay between us and the enemy. We could hear the Kurds shouting now and then, and once, when I climbed a high rock, I caught sight of the glow of their bivouac fires. Imagination conjured up the shrieks of tortured victims, for we had all seen enough of late to know what would happen to any luckless straggler they might have caught and brought to make sport by the fires. But there was no imagination about the calls of Kagig's men, posted above us on invisible dark crags and ledges to guard against surprise. We slept in comfortable consciousness that a sleepless watch was being kept—until fleas came out of the ground by battalions, divisions and army corps, making rest impossible.
But even the flea season was a matter of indifference to the hapless folk who lay around us, and although we fussed and railed we could not persuade them to go forward before dawn broke. Then, though, they struggled to their feet and started without argument. But an hour after the start we reached the secret of the safety of Zeitoon, without which not even the valor of its defenders could have withstood the overwhelming numbers of the Turks for all those scores of years; and there was new delay.
The gut of the pass rose toward Zeitoon at a sharp incline—a ramp of slippery wet clay, half a mile long, reaching across from buttress to buttress of the impregnable hills. It was more than a ridden mule could do to keep its feet on the slope, and we had to dismount. It was almost as much as we ourselves could do to make progress with the aid of sticks, and we knew at last what Kagig had meant by his boast that nothing on wheels could approach his mountain home. The poor wretches who had struggled so far with us simply gave up hope and sat down, proposing to die there. The martyred biped copied them, except that they were dry-eyed and he shed tears. "To think that I should come to this—that I should come to this!" he sobbed. Yet the fool must have come down by that route, and have gone up that way once.
We should have been in a quandary but for the sound of axes ringing in the mountain forest on our left—a dense dark growth of pine and other evergreens commencing about a hundred feet above the naked rock that formed the northerly side of the gorge. Where there were axes at work there was in all likelihood a road that men could march along, and our refugees sat down to let us do the prospecting.
"It would puzzle Napoleon to bring cannon over this approach, and the Turks don't breed Napoleons nowadays!" Fred shouted cheerily. "Give me a hundred good men and I'll hold this pass forever! Wait here while I scout for a way round."
He tried first along the lower edge of the line of timber, encouraged by ringing axes, falling trees, and men shouting in the distance.
"It looks as if there once had been a road here," he shouted down to us, "but nothing less than fire would clear it now, and everything is sopping wet. I never saw such a tangle of roots and rocks. A dog couldn't get thought!"
Will volunteered to cross to the right-hand side and hunt over there for a practicable path. Gloria stayed beside me, and I had my first opportunity to talk with her alone. She was very pale from the effects of the wound in her wrist, which was painful enough to draw her young face and make her eyes burn feverishly. Even so, one realized that as an old woman she would still be beautiful.
I watched the eagles for a minute or two, wondering what to say to her, and she did not seem to object to silence, so that I forced an opening at last as clumsily as Peter Measel might have done it.
"What is it about Will that makes all women love him?" I asked her.
"Oh, do they all love him?"
"Looks like it!" said I.
She still wore the bandolier they had stripped from the man with the bandaged feet, although Will had relieved her of the rifle's weight. To the bottom of the bandolier she had tied the little bag of odds and ends without which few western women will venture a mile from home. Opening that she produced a small round mirror about twice the size of a dollar piece, and offered it to me with a smile that disarmed the rebuke.
"Perhaps it's his looks," she suggested.
I took the mirror and studied what I saw in it. In spite of a cracking headache due to that and the gaining sun (for I had lost my hat when the Kurd rode me down with his lance) the episode of Rustum Khan carrying me back out of death's door on his bay mare had not lingered in memory. There had been too much else to think about. Now for the first time I realized how near that lance-point must have come to finishing the chapter for me. I had washed in the Jihun when we bivouacked, but had not shaved; later on, my scalp had bled anew, so that in addition to unruly hair tousled and matted with dry blood I had a week-old beard to help make me look like a graveyard ghoul.
"I beg pardon!" I said simply, handing her the mirror back.
At that she was seized with regret for the unkindness, and utterly forgot that I had blundered like a bullock into the sacred sanctuary of her newborn relationship to Will.
"Oh, I don't know which of you is best!" she said, taking my hand with her unbandaged one. "You are great unselfish splendid men. Will has told me all about you! The way you have always stuck to your friend Monty through thick and thin—and the way you are following him now to help these tortured people—oh, I know what you are—Will has told me, and I'm proud—"
The embarrassment of being told that sort of thing by a young and very lovely woman, when newly conscious of dirt and blood and half-inch-long red whiskers, was apparently not sufficient for the mirth of the exacting gods of those romantic hills. There came interruption in the form of a too-familiar voice.
"Oh, that's all right, you two! Make the most of it! Spoon all you want to! My girl's in the clutches of an outlaw! Kiss her if you want to—I won't mind!"
I dropped her hand as if it were hot lead. As a matter of fact I had hardly been conscious of holding it.
"Oh, no, don't mind me!" continued the "martyred biped" in a tone combining sarcasm, envy and impudence.
"Shall I kill him?" I asked.
"No! no!" she said. "Don't be violent—don't—"
Peter Measel, whom we had inevitably utterly forgotten, was sitting up with his back propped against a stone and his legs stretched straight in front of him, enjoying the situation with all the curiosity of his unchastened mind. I hove a lump of clay at him, but missed, and the effort made my headache worse.
"If you think you can frighten me into silence you're mistaken!" he sneered, getting up and crawling behind the rock to protect himself. But it needed more than a rock to hide him from the fury that took hold of me and sent me in pursuit in spite of Gloria's remonstrance.
Viewed as revenge my accomplishment was pitiful, for I had to chase the poor specimen for several minutes, my headache growing worse at every stride, and he yelling for mercy like a cur-dog shown the whip, while the Armenians—women and little children as well as men—looked on with mild astonishment and Gloria objected volubly. He took to the clay slope at last in hope that his light weight would give him the advantage; and there at last I caught him, and clapped a big gob of clay in his mouth to stop his yelling.
Even viewed as punishment the achievement did not amount to much. I kicked him down the clay slope, and he was still blubbering and picking dirt out of his teeth when Will shouted that he had found a foot-track.
"Do you understand why you've been kicked?" I demanded.
"Yes. You're afraid I'll tell Mr. Yerkes!"
"Oh, leave him!" said Gloria. "I'm sorry you touched him. Let's go!"
"It was as much your fault as his, young woman!" snarled the biped, getting crabwise out of my reach. "You'll all be sorry for this before I'm through with you!"
I was sorry already, for I had had experience enough of the world to know that decency and manners are not taught to that sort of specimen in any other way than by letting him go the length of his disgraceful course. Carking self-contempt must be trusted to do the business for him in the end. Gloria was right in the first instance. I should have let him alone.
However, it was not possible to take his threat seriously, and more than any man I ever met he seemed to possess the knack of falling out of mind. One could forget him more swiftly than the birds forget a false alarm. I don't believe any of us thought of him again until that night in Zeitoon.
The path Will had discovered was hardly a foot wide in places, and mules could only work their way along by rubbing hair off their flanks against the rock wall that rose nearly sheer on the right hand. >From the point of view of an invading army it was no approach at all, for one man with a rifle posted on any of the overhanging crags could have held it against a thousand until relieved. It was a mystery why Kagig, or some one else, had not left a man at the foot of the clay slope to tell us about this narrow causeway; but doubtless Kagig had plenty to think about.
He and most of his men had gone struggling up the clay slope, as we could tell by the state of the going. But they were old hands at it and knew the trick of the stuff. We had all our work cut out to shepherd our poor stragglers along the track Will found, and even the view of Zeitoon when we turned round the last bend and saw the place jeweled in the morning mist did not do much to increase the speed.
As Kagig had once promised us, it was "scenery to burst the heart!" Not even the Himalayas have anything more ruggedly beautiful to show, glistening in mauve and gold and opal, and enormous to the eye because the summits all look down from over blowing cloud-banks.
There were moss-grown lower slopes, and waterfalls plunging down wet ledges from the loins of rain-swept majesty; pine trees looming blue through a soft gray fog, and winds whispering to them, weeping to them, moving the mist back and forth again; shadows of clouds and eagles lower yet, moving silently on sunny slopes. And up above it all was snow-dazzling, pure white, shading off into the cold blue of infinity.
Men clad in goat-skin coats peered down at us from time to time from crags that looked inaccessible, shouting now and then curt recognition before leaning again on a modern rifle to resume the ancient vigil of the mountaineer, which is beyond the understanding of the plains-man because it includes attention to all the falling water voices, and the whispering of heights and deeps.
We came on Zeitoon suddenly, rising out of a gorge that was filled with ice, or else a raging torrent, for six months of the year. Over against the place was a mountainside so exactly suggesting painted scenery that the senses refused to believe it real, until the roar and thunder of the Jihun tumbling among crags dinned into the ears that it was merely wonderful, and not untrue.
The one approach from the southward—that gorge up which we trudged —was overlooked all along its length by a hundred inaccessible fastnesses from which it seemed a handful of riflemen could have disputed that right of way forever. The only other line of access that we could see was by a wooden bridge flung from crag to crag three hundred feet high across the Jihun; and the bridge was overlooked by buildings and rocks from which a hail of lead could have been made to sweep it at short range.
Zeitoon itself is a mountain, next neighbor to the Beirut Dagh, not as high, nor as inaccessible; but high enough, and inaccessible enough to give further pause to its would-be conquerors. Not in anything resembling even rows, but in lawless disorder from the base to the shoulder of the mountain, the stone and wooden houses go piling skyward, overlooking one another's roofs, and each with an unobstructed view of endless distances. The picture was made infinitely lovely by wisps of blown mist, like hair-lines penciled in the violet air.
Distances were all foreshortened in that atmosphere, and it was mid-afternoon before we came to a halt at last face to face with blank wall. The track seemed to have been blocked by half the mountain sitting down across it. We sat down to rest in the shadow of the shoulder of an overhanging rock, and after half an hour some one looked down on us, and whistled shrilly. Kagig with a rifle across his knees looked down from a height of a hundred and fifty feet, and laughed like a man who sees the bitter humor of the end of shams.
"Welcome!" he shouted between his hands. And his voice came echoing down at us from wall to wall of the gorge. Five minutes later he sent a man to lead us around by a hidden track that led upward, sometimes through other houses, and very often over roofs, across ridiculously tiny yards, and in between walls so closely set together that a mule could only squeeze through by main force.
We stabled the mules in a shed the man showed us, and after that Kagig received us four, and Anna, Gloria's self-constituted maid, in his own house. It was bare of nearly everything but sheer necessities, and he made no apology, for he had good taste, and perfect manners if you allowed for the grim necessity of being curt and the strain of long responsibility.
A small bench took the place of a table in the main large room. There was a fireplace with a wide stone chimney at one end, and some stools, and also folded skins intended to be sat on, and shiny places on the wall where men in goat-skin coats had leaned their backs.
Two or three of the gipsy women were hanging about outside, and one of the gipsies who had been with him in the room in the khan at Tarsus appeared to be filling the position of servitor. He brought us yoghourt in earthenware bowls—extremely cool and good it was; and after we had done I saw him carry down a huge mess more of it to the house below us, where many of the stragglers we had brought along were quartered by Kagig's order.
"Where's Monty?" Fred demanded as soon as we entered the room.
"Presently!" Kagig answered—rather irritably I thought. He seemed to have adopted Monty as his own blood brother, and to resent all other claims on him.
The afternoon was short, for the shadow of the surrounding mountains shut us in. Somebody lighted a fire in the great open chimney-place, and as we sat around that to revel in the warmth that rests tired limbs better than sleep itself, Kagig strode out to attend to a million things—as the expression of his face testified.
Then in came Maga, through a window, with self-betrayal in manner and look of having been watching us ever since we entered. She went up to Will, who was squatted on folded skins by the chimney corner, and stood beside him, claiming him without a word. Her black hair hung down to her waist, and her bare feet, not cut or bruised like most of those that walk the hills unshod, shone golden in the firelight. I looked about for Peter Measel, expecting a scene, but he had taken himself off, perhaps in search of her.
She had eyes for nobody but Gloria, and no smile for any one. Gloria stared back at her, fascinated.
"You married?" she asked; and Gloria shook her head. "You 'eard me, what I said back below there!"
"Oh, yes. I love it."
"Ah! You shall sing—you shall dance—against me! First you sing —then I sing. Then you dance—then I dance—to-night—you understan'? If I sing better as you sing—an' if I dance better as you dance—then I throw you over Zeitoon bridge, an' no one interfere! But if you sing better as I sing—an' if you dance better as I dance—then you shall make a servant of me; for I know you will be too big fool an' too chicken 'earted to keel me, as I would keel you! You understan'?"
It rather looked as if an issue would have to be forced there and then, but at that minute Gregor entered, and drove her out with an oath and terrific gesture, she not seeming particularly afraid of him, but willing to wait for the better chance she foresaw was coming. Gregor made no explanation or apology, but fastened down the leather window-curtain after her and threw more wood on the fire.
Then back came Kagig.
"Where the devil's Monty?" Fred demanded.
"Come!" was the only answer. And we all got up and followed him out into the chill night air, and down over three roofs to a long shed in which lights were burning. All the houses—on every side of us were ahum with life, and small wonder, for Zeitoon was harboring the refugees from all the district between there and Tarsus, to say nothing of fighting men who came in from the hills behind to lend a hand. But we were bent on seeing Monty at last, and had no patience for other matters.
However, it was only the prisoners he had led us out to see, and nothing more.
"Look, see!" he said, opening the heavy wooden door of the shed as an armed sentry made way for him. (Those armed men of Zeitoon did not salute one another, but preserved a stoic attitude that included recognition of the other fellow's right to independence, too.) "Look in there, and see, and tell me—do the Turks treat Armenian prisoners that way?"
We entered, and walked down the length of the dim interior, passing between dozens of prisoners lying comfortably enough on skins and blankets. As far as one could judge, they had been fed well, and they did not wear the look of neglect or ill-treatment. At the end, in a little pen all by himself, was the colonel whom Rustum Khan had made a present of to Gloria.
"What's the straw for?" Fred demanded.
"Ask him!" said Kagig. "He understands! If there should be treachery the straw will be set alight, and he shall know how pigs feel when they are roasted alive! Never fear—there will be no treachery!"
We followed him back to his own house, he urging us to make good note of the prisoners' condition, and to bear witness before the world to it afterward.
"The world does not know the difference between Armenians and Turks!" he complained again and again.
Once again we arranged ourselves about his open chimney-place, this time with Kagig on a foot-stool in the midst of us. Heat, weariness, and process of digestion were combining to make us drowsily comfortable, and I, for one, would have fallen asleep where I sat. But at last the long-awaited happened, and in came Monty striding like a Norman, dripping with dew, and clean from washing in the icy water of some mountain torrent.
"Oh, hello, Didums!" Fred remarked, as if they had parted about an hour ago. "You long-legged rascal, you look as if you'd been having the time of your life!"
"I have!" said Monty. And after a short swift stare at him Fred looked glum. Those two men understood each other as the clapper understands the bell.
Chapter Sixteen "What care I for my belly, sahib, if you break my heart?"
"IT WAS VERY GOOD" (Genesis 1:31)
I saw these shambles in my youth, and said There is no God! No Pitiful presides Over such obsequies as these. The end Alike is darkness whether foe or friend, Beast, man or flower the event abides. There is no heaven for the hopeful dead— No better haven than forgetful sod That smothers limbs and mouth and ears and eyes, And with those, love and permanence and strife And vanity and laughter that they thought was life, Making mere compost of the one who dies. To whose advantage? Nay, there is no God! But He, whose other name is Pitiful, was pleased By melting gentleness whose measures broke The ramps of ignorance and keeps of lust, Tumbling alike folly and the fool to dust, To teach me womanhood until there spoke Still voices inspiration had released, And I heard truly. All the voices said: Out of departed yesterday is grown to-day; Out of to-day to-morrow surely breaks; Out of corruption the inspired awakes; Out of existence earth-clouds roll away And leave all living, for there are no dead!
After we had made room for Monty before the fire and some one had hung his wet jacket up to dry, we volleyed questions at him faster than he could answer. He sat still and let us finish, with fingers locked together over his crossed knee and, underneath the inevitable good humor, a rather puzzled air of wishing above all things to understand our point of view. Over and over again I have noticed that trait, although he always tried to cover it under an air of polite indifference and easy tolerance that was as opaque to a careful observer as Fred's attempts at cynicism.
In the end he answered the last question first.
"My agreement with Kagig?"
"Yes, tell them!" put in Kagig. "If I should, they would say I lied!"
"It's nothing to speak of," said Monty offhandedly. "It dawned on our friend here that I have had experience in some of the arts of war. I proposed to him that if he would take a force and go to find you, I would help him to the limit without further condition. That's all."
"All, you ass? Didums, I warned you at the time when you let them make you privy councilor that you couldn't ever feel free again to kick over traces! Dammit, man, you can be impeached by parliament!"
"Quite so, Fred. I propose that parliament shall have to do something at last about this state of affairs."
"You'll end up in an English jail, and God help you! —social position gone—milked of your last pound to foot the lawyers' bills—otherwise they'll hang you!"
"Let 'em hang me after I'm caught! I've promised. Remember what Byron did for Greece? I don't suppose his actual fighting amounted to very much, but he brought the case of Greece to the attention of the public. Public opinion did the rest, badly, I admit, but better badly and late than never. I'm in this scrimmage, Fred, until the last bell rings and they hoist my number."
"Fine!" exclaimed Gloria, jumping to her feet. "So am I in it to a finish!"
Monty smiled at her with understanding and approval.
"Almost my first duty, Miss Vanderman," he said kindly, "will be to arrange that you can not possibly come to harm or be prejudiced by any course the rest of us may decide on."
"Quite so!" Will agreed with a grin, and Fred began chuckling like a schoolboy at a show.
"Nonsense!" she answered hotly. "I've come to harm already—see, I'm wounded—I've been fighting—I'm already prejudiced as you call it! If you're an outlaw, so am I!"
She flourished her bandaged wrist and looked like Joan of Arc about to summon men to sacrifice. But the argument ready on her lips was checked suddenly. The night was without wind, yet the outer door burst open exactly as if a sudden hurricane had struck it, and Maga entered with a lantern in her hand. She tried to kick the door shut again, but it closed on Peter Measel who had followed breathlessly, and she turned and banged his head with the bottom of the lantern until the glass shattered to pieces.
"That fool!" she shouted. "Oh, that fool!" Then she let him come in and close the door, giving him the broken lantern to hold, which he did very meekly, rubbing the crown of his head with the other hand; and she stood facing the lot of us with hands on her hips and a fine air of despising every one of us. But I noticed that she kept a cautious eye on Kagig, who in return paid very little attention to her.
"Fight?" she exclaimed, pointing at Gloria. "What does she know about fighting? If she can fight,—let her fight me! I stand ready —I wait for 'er! Give 'er a knife, an' I will fight 'er with my bare 'ands!"
Gloria turned pale and Will laid a hand on her shoulder, whispering something that brought the color back again.
Kagig said that one word in a level voice, but the effect was greater than if he had pointed a pistol. The fire died from her eyes and she nodded at him simply. Then her eyes blazed again, although she looked away from Gloria toward a window. The leather blind was tied down at the corners by strips of twisted hide.
She began to jabber in the gipsy tongue—then changed her mind and spat it out in English for our joint benefit.
"All right. She is nothing to do with me, that woman, and she shall come to a rotten end, I know, an' that is enough. But there is some one listening! Not a woman—not with spunk enough to be a woman! That dirty horse-pond drinking unshaven black bastard Rustum Khan is outside listening! You think 'e is busy at the fortifying? Then I tell you, No, 'e is not! 'E is outside listening!"
The surprising answer to that assertion was a heavy saber thrust between the window-frame and blind and descending on the thong. Next followed Rustum Khan's long boot. Then came the man himself with dew all over his upbrushed beard, returning the saber to its scabbard with an accompanying apologetic motion of the head.
"Aye, I was listening!" He spoke as one unashamed. "Umm Kulsum" (that was his fancy name for Maga) "spoke truth for once! I came from the fortifying, where all is finished that can be done to-night. I have been the rounds. I have inspected everything. I report all well. On my way hither I saw Umm Kulsum, with that jackal trotting at her heel—he made a scornful gesture in the direction of Peter Measel, who winced perceptibly, at which Fred Oakes chuckled and nudged me—"and I followed Umm Kulsum, to observe what harm she might intend."
"Black pig!" remarked Maga, but Rustum Khan merely turned his splendid back a trifle more toward her. His color, allowing for the black beard, was hardly darker than hers.
"Why should I not listen, since my heart is in the matter? Lord sahib—Colonel sahib bahadur!—take back those words before it is too late! Undo the promise made to this Armenian! What is he to thee? Set me instead of thee, sahib! What am I? I have no wives, no lands any longer since the money-lenders closed their clutches on my eldest son, no hope, nor any fellowship with kings to lose! But I can fight, as thou knowest! Give me, sahib, to redeem thy promise, and go thou home to England!"
"Sit down, Rustum Khan!"
"Sit down!" Monty repeated.
"I will not see thee sacrificed for this tribe of ragged people, Colonel sahib!"
Monty rose to his feet slowly. His face was an enigma. The Rajput stood at attention facing him and they met each other's eyes—East facing West—in such fashion that manhood seemed to fill the smoky room. Every one was silent. Even Maga held her breath. Monty strode toward Rustum Khan; the Rajput was the first to speak.
"Colonel sahib, I spoke wise words!"
It seemed to me that Monty looked very keenly at him before he answered.
"Have you had supper, Rustum Khan? You look to me feverish from overwork and lack of food."
"What care I for my belly, sahib, if you break my heart?" the Rajput answered. "Shall I live to see Turks fling thy carcass to the birds? I have offered my own body in place of thine. Am I without honor, that my offer is refused?"
Monty answered that in the Rajput tongue, and it sounded like the bass notes of an organ.
"Brother mine, it is not the custom of my race to send substitutes to keep such promises. That thou knowest, and none has reason to know better. If thy memories and honor urge thee to come the way I take, is there no room for two of us?"
"Aye, sahib!" said the Rajput huskily. "I said before, I am thy man. I come. I obey!"
"Obey, do you?" Monty laid both hands on the Rajput's shoulders, struck him knee against knee without warning and pressed him down into a squatting posture. "Then obey when I order you to sit!"
The Rajput laughed up at him as suddenly sweet-tempered as a child.
"None other could have done that and not fought me for it!" he said simply. "None other would have had the strength!" he added.
Monty ignored the pleasantry and turned to Maga, so surprising that young woman—that she gasped.
"Bring him food at once, please!"
"Me? I? I bring him food? I feed that black—"
"Yes!" snapped Kagig suddenly. "You, Maga!"
Maga's and Kagig's eyes met, and again he had his way with her instantly. Peter Measel, standing over by the door, looked wistful and sighed noisily.
"Why should you obey him?" he demanded, but Maga ignored him as she passed out, and Fred nudged me again.
"A miracle!" he whispered. "Did you hear the martyred biped suggest rebellion to her? He'll be offering to fight Kagig next! Guess what is Kagig's hold over the girl—can you?"
But a much greater miracle followed. Rather than disobey Monty again; rather than seem to question his authority, or differ from his judgment in the least, Rustum Khan forebore presently from sending for his own stripling servant and actually accepted food from Maga's hands.
As a Mahammadan, he made in theory no caste distinctions. But as a Rajput be had fixed Hindu notions without knowing it, and almost his chief care was lest his food should be defiled by the touch of outcasts, of whom he reckoned gipsies lowest, vilest and least cleansible. Nevertheless he accepted curds that had been touched by gipsy fingers, and ate greedily, in confirmation of Monty's diagnosis; and after a few minutes he laid his head on a folded goat-skin in the corner, and fell asleep.
Then Monty sent a servant to his own quarters for some prized possession that he mentioned in a whisper behind his hand. None of us suspected what it might be until the man returned presently with a quart bottle of Scotch whisky. Kagig himself got mugs down from a shelf three inches wide, and Monty poured libations. Kagig, standing with legs apart, drank his share of the strong stuff without waiting; and that brought out the chief surprise of the evening.
"Ah-h-h!" he exclaimed, using the back of his hand to wipe mobile lips. "Not since I drank in Tony's have I tasted that stuff! The taste makes me homesick for what never was my home, nor ever can be! Tony's—ah!"
"What Tony's?" demanded Will, emerging from whispered interludes with Gloria like a man coming out of a dream.
"Tony's down near the Battery."
"What—the Battery, New York—?"
"Where else? Tony was a friend of mine. Tony lent me money when I landed in the States without a coin. It was right that I should take a last drink with Tony before I came away forever."
Fred reached into the corner for a lump of wood and set it down suggestively before the fire. Kagig accepted and sat down on it, stretching his legs out rather wearily.
"I noticed you've been remembering your English much better than at first," said Will. "Go on, man, tell us!"
Kagig cleared his throat and warmed himself while his eyes seemed to search the flames for stories from a half-forgotten past.
"Weren't the States good enough for you?" Will suggested, by way of starting him off.
"Good enough? Ah!" He made all eight fingers crack like castanets. "Much too good! How could I live there safe and comfortable—eggs and bacon—clean shirt—good shoes—an apartment with a bath in it —easy work—good pay—books to read—kindness—freedom—how could I accept all that, remembering my people in Armenia?"
He ran his fingers through his hair, and stared in the fire again —remembering America perhaps.
"There was a time when I forgot. All young men forget for a while if you feed them well enough. The sensation of having money in my pocket and the right to spend it made me drunk. I forgot Armenia. I took out what are called first papers. I was very prosperous—very grateful."
He lapsed into silence again, holding his head bowed between his hands.
"Why didn't you become a citizen?" asked Will.
"Ah! Many a time I thought of it. I am citizen of no land—of no land! I am outlaw here—outlaw in the States! I slew a Turk. They would electrocute me in New York—for slaying the man who—have you heard me tell what happened to my mother, before my very eyes? Well —that man came to America, and I slew him!"
"Why did you leave Armenia in the first place?" asked Gloria, for he seemed to need pricking along to prevent him from getting off the track into a maze of silent memory.
"Why not? I was lucky to get away! That cursed Abdul Hamid had been rebuked by the powers of Europe for butchering Bulgars, so he turned on us Armenians in order to prove to himself that he could do as he pleased in his own house. I tell you, murder and rape in those days were as common as flies at midsummer! I escaped, and worked my passage in the stoke-hole of a little merchant steamer —they were little ships in those days. And when I reached America without money or friends they let me land because I had been told by the other sailors to say I was fleeing from religious persecution. The very first day I found a friend in Tony. I cleaned his windows, and the bar, and the spittoons; and he lent me money to go where work would be plentiful. Those were the days when I forgot Armenia."
He began to forget our existence again, laying his face on his forearms and staring down at the floor between his feet.
"What brought it back to memory?" asked Gloria.
"The Turk brought it back—Fiamil—who bought my mother from four drunken soldiers, and ill-treated her before my eyes. He came to the Turkish consulate, not as consul but in some peculiar position; and by that time I was thriving as head-waiter and part-owner of a New York restaurant. Thither the fat beast came to eat daily. And so I met him, and recognized him. He did not know me.
"Remember, I was young, and prosperous for the first time in all my life. You must not judge me by too up-right standards. At first I argued with myself to let him alone. He was nothing to me. I no longer believed in God. My mother was long dead, and Armenia no more my country. My money was accumulating in a savings bank. I was proud of it, and I remember I saw visions of great restaurants in every city of America, all owned by me! I did not like to take any step that should prevent that flow of money into the savings bank.
"But Fiamil inflamed my memory, and I saw him every day. And at last it dawned on me what his peculiar business in America must be. He was back at his old games, buying women. He was buying American young women to be shipped to Turkey, all under the seal of consular activity. One day, after he had had lunch and I had brought him cigarettes and coffee, he made a proposal. And although I did not care very deeply for the women of a free land who were willing to be sold into Turkish harems, nevertheless, as I said, he inflamed my memory. A love of Armenia returned to me. I remembered my people, I remembered my mother's shame, and my own shame.
"After a little reflection I agreed with Fiamil, and met him that night in an up-stairs room at a place he frequented for his purposes. I locked the door, and we had some talk in there, until in the end he remembered me and all the details of my mother's death. After that I killed him with a corkscrew and my ten fingers, there being no other weapon. And I threw his body out of the window into the gutter, as my mother's body had been thrown, myself escaping from the building by another way.
"Not knowing where to hide, I kept going—kept going; and after two days I fell among sportmen—cow-punchers they called themselves, who had come to New York with a circus, and the circus had gone broke. To them I told some of my story, and they befriended me, taking me West with them to cook their meals; and for a year I traveled in cow camps. In those days I remembered God as well as Armenia, and I used to pray by starlight.
"And Armenia kept calling—calling. Fiamil had wakened in me too many old memories. But there was the money in the savings bank that I did not dare to draw for fear the police might learn my address, yet I had not the heart to leave behind.
"So I took a sportman into my confidence, and told him about my money, and why I wanted it. He was not the foreman, but the man who took the place of foreman when the real foreman was too drunk—the hungriest man of all, and so oftenest near the cook-fire. When I had told him, he took me to a township where a lawyer was, and the lawyer drew up a document, which I signed.
"Then the sportman—his name was Larry Atkins, I remember—took that document and went to draw the money on my behalf. And that was the last I saw of him. Not that he was not sportman—all through. He told me in a letter afterward that the police arrested him, supposing him to be me, but that he easily proved he was not me, and so got away with the money. Enclosed in the package in which the letter came were his diamond ring and a watch and chain, and he also sent me an order to deliver to me his horse and saddle.
"He explained he had tried to double my money by gambling, but had lost. Therefore he now sent me all he had left, a fair exchange being no robbery. Oh, he was certainly sportman!
"So I sold his watch and chain and the horse—but the diamond ring I kept—behold it!—see, on Maga's hand!—it was a real diamond that a woman had given him; and with the proceeds I came back to Armenia. In Armenia I have ever since remained, with the exception of one or two little journeys in time of war, and one or two little temporary hidings, and a trip into Persia, and another into Russia to get ammunition.
"How have I lived? Mostly by robbery! I rob Turks and all friends of Turks, and such people as help make it possible for Turks as a nation to continue to exist! I—we—I and my men—we steal a cartridge sooner than a piaster—a rifle sooner than a thousand roubles! Outlaws must live, and weapons are the chief means! I am the brains and the Eye of Zeitoon, but I have never been chieftain, and am not now. Observe my house—is it not empty? I tell you, if it had not been for my new friend Monty there would have been six or seven rival chieftains in Zeitoon to-night! As it is, they sulk in their houses, the others, because Monty has rallied all the fighting men to me! Now that Monty has come I think there will be unity forever in Zeitoon!"
He turned toward Monty with a gesture of really magnificent approval. Caesar never declined a crown with greater dignity.
"You, my brother, have accomplished in a few days what I have failed to do in years! That is because you are sportman! Just as Larry Atkins was sportman! He sent me all he had, and could not do more. I understood him. Why did he do it? Simply sportman—that is all! Why do you do this? Why do you throw your life into the hot cauldron of Zeitoon? Because you are sportman! And my people see, and understand. They understand, as they have never understood me! I will tell you why they have never understood me. This is why:
"I have always kept a little in reserve. At one time money in a bank. At another time money buried. Sometimes a place to run and hide in. Now and then a plan for my own safety in case a defense should fail. Never have I given absolutely quite all, burning all my bridges. Had I been Larry Atkins I would not have gambled with the money of a man who trusted me; but, having lost the money, I would not have sent my diamond and the watch and chain! Neither, if the horse and saddle bad been within my reach would I have sent an order to deliver those! That is why Zeitoon has never altogether trusted me! Some, but never all, until to-night!
He stood up, with the motions of a man who is stiff with weariness.
"I salute you! You have taught me my needed lesson!"
"I wonder!" whispered Fred to me. "Remember Peter at the fireside? Methinks friend Kagig doth too much protest! We'll see. Nemesis comes swiftly as a rule."
I shoved Fred off his balance, rolled him over, and sat on him, because cynicism and iconoclasm are twin deities I neither worship nor respect. But at times Fred Oakes is gifted with uncanny vision. While he struggled explosively to throw me off, the door began resounding to steady thumps, and at a sign from Kagig, Maga opened it.
There strode in nine Armenians, followed closely by one of the gipsies of Gregor Jhaere's party, who whispered to Maga through lips that hardly moved, and made signals to Kagig with a secretive hand like a snake's head. I got off Fred's stomach then, and when he had had his revenge by emptying hot pipe ashes down my neck he sat close beside me and translated what followed word for word. It was all in Armenian, spoken in deadly earnest by hairy men on edge with anxiety and yet compelled to grudging patience by the presence of strangers and knowledge of the hour's necessity.
When the gipsy had finished making signals to Kagig be sat down and seemed to take no further interest. But a little later I caught sight of him by the dancing fire-light creeping along the wall, and presently he lay down with his head very close to Rustum Khan's. Nothing points more clearly to the clarifying tension of that night than the fact that Rustum Khan with his notions about gipsies could compel himself to lie still with a gipsy's head within three inches of his own, and sham sleep while the gipsy whispered to him. I was not the only one who observed that marvel, although I did not know that at the time.
The nine Armenians who had entered were evidently influential men. Elders was the word that occurred as best describing them. They were smelly with rain and smoke and the close-kept sweat beneath their leather coats—all of them bearded—nearly all big men—and they strode and stood with the air of being usually heard when they chose to voice opinion. Kagig stood up to meet them, with his back toward the fire—legs astraddle, and hands clasped behind him.
"Ephraim says," began the tallest of the nine, who had entered first and stood now nearest to Kagig and the firelight, "that you will yourself be king of Armenia!"
"Ephraim lies!" said Kagig grimly. "He always does lie. That man can not tell truth!"
Two of the others grunted, and nudged the first man, who made an exclamation of impatience and renewed the attack.
"But there is the Turk—the colonel whom your Indian friend took prisoner—he says—"
"Pah! What Turk tells the truth?"
"He says that the Indian—what is his name? Rustum Khan—was purposing to use him as prisoner-of-war, whereas in accordance with a private agreement made beforehand you were determined to make matters easy for him. He demands of us better treatment in fulfilment of promise. He says that the army is coming to take Zeitoon, and to make you governor in the Sultan's name. He offered us that argument thinking we are your dupes. He thought to—"
"Dupes?" snarled Kagig. "How long have ye dealt with Turks, and how long with me, that ye take a Turk's word against mine?"
"But the Turk thought we are your friends," put in a harsh-voiced man from the rear of the delegation. "Otherwise, how should he have told us such a thing?"
"If he had thought you were my friends," Kagig answered, "he would never have dared. If you had been my friends, you would have taken him and thrown him into Jihun River from the bridge!"
"Yet he has said this thing," said a man who had not spoken yet.
"And none has heard you deny it, Kagig!" added the man nearest the door.
"Then hear me now!" Kagig shouted, on tiptoe with anger. Then he calmed himself and glanced about the room for a glimpse of eyes friendly to himself. "Hear me now. Those Turks—truly come to set a governor over Zeitoon. I forgot that the prisoner might understand English. I talked with this friend of mine—he made a gesture toward Monty. "Perhaps that Turk overheard, he is cleverer than he looks. I had a plan, and I told it to my friend. The Turk was near, I remember, eating the half of my dinner I gave him."
"Have you then a plan you never told to us?" the first man asked suspiciously.
"One plan? A thousand! Am I wind that I should babble into heedless ears each thought that comes to me for testing? First it was my plan to arouse all Armenia, and to overthrow the Turk. Armenia failed me. Then it was my plan to arouse Zeitoon, and to make a stand here to such good purpose that all Armenia would rally to us. Bear me witness whether Zeitoon trusted me or not? How much backing have I had? Some, yes; but yours?
"So it was plain that if the Turks sent a great army, Zeitoon could only hold out for a little while, because unanimity is lacking. And my spies report to me that a greater army is on the way than ever yet came to the rape of Armenia. These handful of hamidieh that ye think are all there is to be faced are but the outflung skirmishers. It was plain to me that Zeitoon can not last. So I made a new plan, and kept it secret."
"Ah-h-h! So that was the way you took us into confidence? Always secrets behind secrets, Kagig! That is our complaint!"
"Listen, ye who would rather suspect than give credit!" He used one word in the Armenian. "It was my plan—my new plan, that seeing the Turks insist on giving us a governor, and are able to overwhelm us if we refuse, then I would be that governor!"
"Ah-h-h! What did we say! Unable to be king, you will be governor!"
"I talked that over with my new friend, and he did not agree with me, but I prevailed. Now hear my last word on this matter: I will not be governor of Zeitoon! I will lead against this army that is coming. If you men prevent me, or disobey me, or speak against me, I will hang you—every one! I will accept no reward, no office, no emolument, no title—nothing! Either I die here, fighting for Zeitoon, or I leave Zeitoon when the fighting is over, and leave it as I came to it—penniless! I give now all that I have to give. I burn my bridges! I take inviolable oath that I will not profit! And by the God who fed me in the wilderness, I name my price for that and take my payment in advance! I will be obeyed! Out with you! Get out of here before I slay you all! Go and tell Zeitoon who is master here until the fight is lost or won!"
He seized a great firebrand and charged at them, beating right and left, and they backed away in front of him, protesting from under forearms raised to protect their faces. He refused to hear a word from them, and drove, them back against the door.
Strange to say, it was Rustum Khan who gave up all further pretense at sleeping and ran round to fling the door open—Rustum Khan who took part with Kagig, and helped drive them out into the dark, and Rustum Khan who stood astraddle in the doorway, growling after them in Persian—the only language he knew thoroughly that they likely understood:
"Bismillah! Ye have heard a man talk! Now show yourselves men, and obey him, or by the beard of God's prophet there shall be war within Zeitoon fiercer than that without! Take counsel of your women-folk! Ye—" (he used no drawing-room word to intimate their sex)—"are too full of thoughts to think!"
Then he turned on Kagig, and held out a lean brown hand. Kagig clasped it, and they met each other's eyes a moment.
"Am I sportman?" Kagig asked ingenuously.
"Brother," said Rustum Khan, "next after my colonel sahib I accept thee as a man fit to fight beside!"
We were all standing. A free-for-all fight had seemed too likely, and we had not known whether there were others outside waiting to reinforce the delegation. Rustum Khan sought Monty's eyes.
"You have the news, sahib?"
Kagig laughed sharply, and dismissed the past hour from his mind with a short sweep of the hand.
"No. Tell me," said Monty.
"The gipsy brought it. A whole division of the Turkish regular army is on the march. Their rear-guard camps to-night a day's march this side of Tarsus. Dawn will find the main body within sight of us. Half a brigade has hurried forward to reenforce the men we have just beaten. Are there any orders?"
Fred's face fell, and my heart dropped into my boots. A division is a horde of men to stand against.
"No," said Monty. "No orders yet."
"Then I will sleep again," said Rustum Khan, and suited action to the word, laying his head on the same folded goat-skin he had used before and breathing deeply within the minute.
Nobody spoke. Rustum Khan's first deep snore had not yet announced his comment on the situation, and we all stood waiting for Kagig to say something. But it was Peter Measel who spoke first.
"I will pray," he announced. "I saw that gipsy whispering to the Indian, and I know there is treachery intended! O Lord—O righteous Lord—forgive these people for their bloody and impudent plans! Forgive them for plotting to shed blood! Forgive them for arrogance, for ambition, for taking Thy name in vain, for drinking strong drink, for swearing, for vanity, and for all their other sins. Forgive above all the young woman of the party, who is not satisfied with a wound already but looks forward with unwomanly zest to further fighting! Forgive them for boasting and—"
"Throw that fool out!" barked Kagig suddenly.
"O Lord forgive—"
Fred was nearest the door, and opened it. Maga laughed aloud. I was nearest to Peter Measel, so it was I who took him by the neck and thrust him into outer darkness. Kagig kicked the door shut after him; but even so we heard him for several minutes grinding out condemnatory prayers.
"Now sleep, sportmen all!" said Kagig, blessing us with both hands. "Sleep against the sport to-morrow!"
Chapter Seventeen "I knew what to expect of the women!"
"AND DELILAH SAID—"
Always at fault is the fellow betrayed (Majorities murder to prove it!) As Samson discovered, Delilah lies, The stigma's stuck on by the cynical wise, And nothing can ever remove it. We'll cast out Delilah and spit on her dead, (That revenge is remarkably human), And pity the victim of underhand tricks So be that it's moral (the sexes don't mix); But, oh, think what the cynical wise would have said If Judas were only a woman!
We slept until Monty called us, two hours before dawn, although I was conscious most of the night of stealthy men and women who stepped over me to get at Kagig and whisper to him. His marvelous spy system was working full blast, and he seemed to run no risks by letting the spies report to any one but himself. Fred, who slept more lightly than I did, told me afterward that the women principally brought him particulars of the workings of local politics; the men detailed news of the oncoming concrete enemy.
There was breakfast served by Maga in the dark—hot milk, and a strange mess of eggs and meat. For some reason no one thought of relighting the fire, and although the ashes glowed we shivered until the food put warmth in us.
By the light of the smoky lamp I thought that Monty wore a strangely divided air, between gloom and exultation. Fred had been wide awake and talking with him since long before first cock-crow and was obviously out of sorts, shaking his head at intervals and unwilling more than to poke at his food with a fork. I crossed the room to sit beside them, and came in for the tail end of the conversation.
"I might have known it, Didums, when I let you go on alone. I'll never forgive myself. I had a premonition and disobeyed it. You pose as a cast-iron materialist with no more ambition than money enough to retrieve your damned estates, and all the while you're the most romantic ass who ever wore out saddle-leather! Found it, have you? Then God help us all! I know what's coming! You're about to 'vert back to Crusader days, and try to do damsilly deeds of chivalry without the war-horse or the suit of mail!"
"No need for you to join me, Fred. You take charge of the others and get them away to safety."
"Take charge of hornets! I'd leave you, of course, like a shot! But can you see Will Yerkes, for instance, riding off and leaving you to play Don Quixote? Damn you, Didums, can't you see—?"
"Destiny, Fred. Manifest destiny."
"Can't you see crusading is dead as a dead horse?"
"So am I, old man. I'm no use but to do this very thing. I can serve these people. If I'm killed, there'll be a howl in the papers. If I'm taken, there'll be a row in parliament."
"You don't intend to be taken—I know you!"
"Honest, Fred, I—"
"Have I known you all these years to be fooled now? Smelling rats 'ud be subtle to it—I can feel the air bristling! You mean to raise the Montdidier banner and die under it, last of your race. But you're not last, you bally ass!"
"Last in the direct line, Fred."
"Yes, but there's that rotter Charles ready to inherit! If you're bent on suicide—"
"I'm not. You know I'm not."
"—you might have the decency to kill that miserable cousin first and bring the line to an end in common honor! He'll survive you, and as sure as I sit here and swear at you, he'll bring the Montdidier name into worse disgrace than Judas Iscariot's!"
"I've no intention of suicide, Fred. I assure you—"
But Fred waved the argument aside contemptuously, and stood up to gather our attention.
"Listen!" He thrust forward his Van Dyke beard that valiantly strove to hide a chin like a piece of flint. "Monty has found the robbers' nest that used to belong to his infernal ancestors. I charge any of you who count yourselves his friends to help me prevent him from behaving like an idiot!"
"That'll do, Fred!" said Monty, pressing him back against the wall. "The fact is," he twisted at his black mustache and eyed us each for a second in turn, looking as handsome as the devil, "that I have found what I originally set out to look for. It overlooks Zeitoon, hidden among trees. I propose to use it. As for quixotism—is there any one here not willing to fight in the last ditch to help Kagig and these Armenians?"
"I'm with you!" laughed Gloria, and she and Will had a scuffle over near the fireplace.
"I knew what to expect of the women," said Monty rather bitterly. "I'm speaking to Fred and the men!"
"Where's Peter Measel?" I asked. But the others did not see the connection.
"Come along," said Monty. "Seems to me we're wasting time," and he strode out through the window on to the roof of the house below —usually the shortest way from point to point in Zeitoon. Kagig followed him, and then Rustum Khan. The stars were no longer shining in the pale sky overhead, but it was dark where we were because of the mountains that shut out the dawn. Fred came last, grumbling and stumbling, too disturbed to look where he was going.
"Fancy me acting Cassandra at my time of life and none to believe me!" he muttered. Then, louder: "I warn you all! I know that fellow Monty. If he comes out of this alive it'll be because we haul him out by the hair! Won't you listen?"
Outside the window I remembered the field-glasses I had laid down in a corner, and returned to get them. In the room were Maga and the woman Anna, who had appointed herself Gloria Vanderman's maid; they were apparently about to sweep the floor and tidy the place, but as I crossed the room an older gipsy woman entered by the door, and she and Maga promptly drove Anna out through the window after my party. Then the old woman came close to me, her beady bright eyes fixed on mine, and went through the suggestive gipsy motions that invite the crossing of a palm with silver.
There seemed at first no excuse for listening to her. Every gipsy will beg, whether there is need or not, and knowledge of their habits did not make me less short-tempered; besides I had no silver within reach, nor time to waste.
"Not now!" I said, pushing her aside.
But Maga came to her rescue, and clutched my arm.
"See!" she said, and took a Maria Theresa dollar from some hiding-place in her skirt. "I give silver for you. So." The old hag pouched the coin with exactly the same avidity with which she would have taken it from me. "Now she will make magic. Then I see. Then I tell you something. You listen!"
It began to dawn on me that I would better listen after all. Every human is superstitious, whether or not he admits if to himself; but the particular fraud of pretending to tell fortunes never did happen to find the joint in my own armor. It seemed likely these two women had some plan that included the preliminary deception of myself, and the sooner I knew something about it the better. So I sat down on Kagig's stool, to give them a better opinion of their advantage over me, there being nothing like making the enemy too confident. Then I held out the palm of my hand for inspection and tried to look like a man pretending he does not believe in magic. Whatever Maga thought, the old hag was delighted. She began to croak an incantation, shuffling first with one foot, then with the other, and finally with both together in a weird dance that almost shook her old frame apart. Then she went through a pantomime of finger-pointing, as if transferring from herself to Maga the gift of divining about me.
Presently, standing a little to one side of me, with eyes on the old hag's and my hand held between her two, Maga began chanting in English. The fact that her voice was musical and low where the bag's had been high-pitched and rasping heightened interest, if nothing else.
"You now four men," she began, with a little pause, and something like a swallow between each sentence. "You all love one another ver' much. You all like Kagig. Kagig is liking you. But Turks are coming presently, and they keel Kagig—keel heem, you understan'? That man Monty is also keel—keel dead. That man Fred—I not know —I not see. You I see——you I see two ways. First way, you marry that woman Gloria—you go away—all well—all good. Second way—you not marry her. Then you all die—dam' quick—Monty, Fred, Will, you, Gloria, everybody—an' Zeitoon is all burn' up by bloody Turks!"
She paused and looked at me sidewise under lowered eyelids. I stared straight in front of me, as if in the state of self-hypnotism that is the fortune-teller's happy hunting-ground.
"Yes," I said. "I think I see. But how shall I marry Miss Gloria? Suppose she does not want me?"
"You must! Never mind what she want! Listen! This is only way to save your frien's and Zeitoon! I am giving men—four—five—six men. They are seizing Gloria. You go with them. They take you safe away. Then Zeitoon is also safe, an' your frien's are also safe."
"Monty, too?" I asked.
"Yes, then he is also safe." But—I felt her hands tremble slightly as she said that.
"Do you mean I should leave him?" I asked.
"You must! You must!" She almost screamed at me, and shook my hand between her two palms as if by that means to drive the fact into my consciousness. The old hag had her eyes fixed on my right temple as if she would burn a hole there, and between them they were making a better than amateur effort to control me by suggestion. It seemed wise to help them deceive themselves. Maga let go my hand gently, and began passing her ten fingers very softly through my hair, and there are other men who will bear me witness that there exists sensation less appealing than when a pretty girt does that.
"You must!" she said again more quietly. "That is the only way to save Zeitoon. God is angry."
"What do you know about God?" I asked unguardedly, knowing well that whatever their open pretenses, gipsies despise all religion except diabolism. They study creeds for the sake of plunder, just as hunters study the habits of the wild.
"Maybe nothing—maybe much! Peter Measel, he say—"
She paused, as if in doubt whether she was using the right argument. And in that moment I recalled what Rustum Khan had once said about her being no true gipsy.
"Go on," I urged her. "Peter Measel is an expert. He's a high priest. He knows it all."
"Peter Measel is saying, God is ver' angry with Zeitoon and is sending to destroy such bloody people what plan fighting and rebellion."
"I'll think it over," I said, moving to get up. But independent thinking was the last thing that Maga intended to permit me.
"No, no! No, no, no! You must dee-cide now—at once! There is no time. Now—now I give you five—six mens—now they seize that woman Gloria—now you carry 'er away into the mountains—now you make 'er yours—your own, you understan', so as she is ashamed to deny it afterward—yes?—you see?"
"Where are the men?" I demanded.
"I fetch them quick!"
I could see the hilt of her knife, and the bulge of her repeating pistol, but I could also feel the weight of my own loaded Colt against my hip. I did not doubt I could escape before her men could arrive on the scene, but that would have been to leave some secret only part uncovered. There was obviously more behind this scheme than met the ear. It is my experience that if we throw fear to the winds, and are willing to wait in tight places for the necessary inspiration, then we get it.
"Very well," I said. "I agree. Bring your men."
"You wait. I get 'em."
I nodded, and she said something in the gipsy language to the old hag, who went out through the door in a hurry. Alone with Maga I felt less than half as safe as I had been. She proceeded to make use of every moment in the manner they say makes millionaires.
"Gloria, she is ver' nice girl!" She made a wonderful gesture of both hands that limned in empty air the curves of her detested rival. "You will love her. By-and-by she love you—also ver' much."
The thought flashed through my head again that I ought to escape whole while I had the chance; but the answer to that was the certainty that she would thence-forward be on guard against me without having given me any real information. I was perfectly convinced there was a deep plot underlying the foolishness she had proposed. The fact that she considered me so venial and so gullible was no proof that the hidden purpose was not dangerous. The mystery was how to seem to be fooled by her and yet get in touch with my friends. Then suddenly I recalled that she and the hag had been trying to use the gipsy's black art. Unless they can trick their victim into a mental condition in which innate superstition becomes uppermost, players of that dark game are helpless.
Yet gipsies are more superstitious than any one else. Hanging to her neck by a skein of plaited horse-hair was the polished shell of a minute turtle—smaller than a dollar piece.
"Give me that," I said, "for luck," and she jumped at the idea.
"Yes, yes—that is to bring you luck—ver' much luck!"
She snatched it off and hung it around my neck, pushing the turtle-shell down under my collar out of sight.
"That is love-token!" she whispered. "Now she love you immediate'! Now you 'ave ver' much luck!"
The last part of her prophecy was true. The luck seemed to change. That instant the key was given me to escape without making her my relentless enemy, a voice that I would know among a million began shouting for me petulantly from somewhere half a dozen roofs away.
"What in hell's keeping you, man? Here's Monty getting up a tourist party to his damned ancestral nest and you're delaying the whole shebang! Good lord alive! Have you fallen in love with a woman, or taken the belly-ache, or fallen down a well, or gone to sleep again, or all of them, or what?"
"Coming, Fred!" I shouted. "Coming!"
He began playing cat-calls on his concertina—imitation bugle-calls, and fragments of serenades. For a second Maga looked reckless—then suspicious—then, as it began to dawn on her from studying my face that I, too, was afraid of Fred, relieved.
"Does he know anything?" I asked her.
"He? That Fred? No! No, no, no! An' you no tell 'im. You 'ear me? You no tell 'im! You go now—go to 'im, or else 'e is get suspicious—understan'? My men—they go an' get that woman. When they finish getting that woman, then I send for you an' you come quick—understan'?"
"Listen! If you tell your frien's—if you tell that Frrred, or those others—then I not only keel you, but my men put out your eyes first an' then pull off your toes an' fingers—understan'?"
I shrugged my shoulders, suggesting an attempt to seem at ease.
"Besides—I warn you! You tell Kagig anything against me an' Kagig is at once your enemy!"
I nodded, and tried to look afraid. Perhaps the speculation that the last boast started in my mind helped give me a look that convinced her.
Fred began calling again.
"You go!" she ordered imperiously, with a last effort to impress me with her mental predominance. "Go quickly!"
I made motions of hand and face as nearly suggestive of underhanded cunning as I could compass, and climbed out through the window without further invitation. Seeing me emerge, Fred beckoned from fifty yards away and turned his back. Morning was just beginning to descend into the valley, suddenly bright from having finished all the dawn delays among the crags higher up; but there were deep shadows here and especially where one roof overhung another.
Jumping from roof to roof to follow Fred, I was suddenly brought up short by a figure in shadow that gesticulated wildly without speaking. It was below me, in a narrow, shallow runway between two houses, and I had been so impressed by my interview with Maga that assassination was the first thought ready to mind. I sprang aside and tried to check myself, missed footing, and fell into the very runway I had tried to avoid.
A friend unmistakable, Anna—Gloria's self-constituted maid—ran out of the darkest shadow and kept me from scrambling to my feet.
"Wait!" she whispered. "Don't be seen talking to me. Listen!"
My ankle pained considerably and I was out of breath. I was willing enough to lie there.
"Maga has made a plot to betray Zeitoon! She has been talking with that Turkish colonel who was captured. I don't know what the plot is, but I listened through a chink in the wall of the prison, and I heard him promise that she should have Will Yerkes!"
"What else did you hear?"
"Nothing else. There was wind whistling, and the straw made a noise."
At that moment Fred chose to turn his head to see whether I was following. Not seeing me, he came back over the roofs, shouting to know what had happened. I got to my feet but, although he hardly looks the part, he is as active as a boy, and he had scrambled to a higher roof that commanded a view of my runway before my twisted ankle would permit me to escape.
"So that's it, eh? A woman!"
"Keep an eye on Miss Gloria!" I whispered to Anna, and she ducked and ran.
If I had had presence of mind I would have accepted the insinuation, and turned the joke on Fred. Instead, I denied it hotly like a fool, and nothing could have fed the fires of his spirit of raillery more surely.
"I've unearthed a plot," I began, limping along beside him.
"No, sir! It was I who unearthed the two of you!"
"See here, Fred—"
"Look? I'd be ashamed! No, no—I wasn't looking!"
"Fred, I'm serious!"
"Entanglements with women are always serious!"
"I tell you, that girl Maga—"
"Two of 'em, eh? Worser and worser! You'll have Will jealous into the bargain!"
"Have it your own way, then!" I said, savage with pain (and the reasons he did not hesitate to assign to my strained ankle were simply scandalous). "I'll wait until I find a man with honest ears."
"Try Kagig!" he advised me dryly.
And Kagig I did try. We came on him at our end of the bridge that overhung the Jihun River. Our party were waiting on the far side, and Fred hurried over to join them. Kagig was listening to the reports of a dozen men, and while I waited to get his ear I could see Fred telling his great joke to the party. It was easy to see that Gloria Vanderman did not enjoy the joke; nor did I blame her. I did not blame her for sending word there and then to Anna that her services would not be required any more.
As soon as Kagig saw me he dismissed the other men in various directions and made to start across the bridge. I called to him to wait, and walked beside him.
"I've uncovered a plot, Kagig," I began. "Maga Jhaere has been talking with the Turkish prisoner."
"I know it. I sent her to talk with him!"
"She has bargained with him to betray Zeitoon!"
For answer to that Kagig turned his head and stared sharply at me —then went off into peals of diabolic laughter. He had not a word to offer. He simply utterly, absolutely, unqualifiedly disbelieved me—or else chose to have it appear so.
Chapter Eighteen "Per terram et aquam."
AND HE WHO WOULD SAVE HIS LIFE SHALL LOSE IT
The fed fools beat their brazen gong For gods' ears dulled by blatant praise, Awonder why the scented fumes And surplices at evensong Avail not as in other days. Shrunken and mean the spirit fails Like old snow falling from the crags And priest and pedagog compete With nostrums for the age that ails, But learn not why the spirit lags. Tuneless and dull the loose lyre thrums Ill-plucked by fingers strange to skill That change and change the fever'd chords, But still no inspiration comes Though priest and pundit labor still. Lust-urged the clamoring clans denounce Whate'er their sires agreed was good, And swift on faith and fair return With lies the feud-leaders pounce Lest Truth deprive them of their food. Dog eateth dog and none gives thanks; All crave the fare, but grudge the price Their nobler forbears proudly paid, That now for moonstruck madness ranks— The only true coin—Sacrifice!
The man who is a hero to himself perhaps exists, but the surface indications are no proof of it. I don't pretend to be satisfied, and made no pretense at the time of being satisfied with my share in Maga's treachery. But I claim that it was more than human nature could have done, to endure the open disapproval of my friends, begun by Fred's half-earnest jest, and continued by my own indignation; and at the same time to induce them to take my warning seriously.
Will avoided me, and walked with Gloria, who made no particular secret of her disgust. Fred naturally enough kept the joke going, to save himself from being tripped in his own net. He had probably persuaded himself by that time that the accusation was true, and therefore equally probably regretted having made it; for he would have been the last man in the world to give tongue about an offense that he really believed a friend of his had committed.
Monty, who believed from force of habit every single word Fred said, walked beside me and was good enough to give me fatherly advice.
"Not the time, you know, to fool with women. I don't pretend, of course, to any right to judge your private conduct, but—you can be so awfully useful, you know, and all that kind of thing, when you're paying strict attention. Women distract a man."
All, things considered, I might have done worse than decide to say no more about the plot, but to keep my own eyes wide open. (I was particularly sore with Gloria, and derived much unwise consolation from considering stinging remarks I would make to her when the actual truth should out.)
Monty began making the best of my, in his eyes, damaged character by explaining the general dispositions he and Kagig had made for the defense of Zeitoon.
"According to my view of it," he said, "this bridge we've just crossed is the weakest point—or was. I think we can hold that clay ramp you came up yesterday against all comers. But there's a way round the back of this mountain that leads to the dismantled fort you see on this side of the river. That is the fort built by the Turkish soldiers whom Kagig told us the women of Zeitoon threw one by one over the bridge."
He stopped (we had climbed about two hundred feet of a fairly steep track leading up the flank of Beirut Dagh) and let the others gather around us.
"You see, if the enemy can once establish a footing on this hill, they'll then command the whole of Zeitoon opposite with rifle fire, even if they don't succeed in bringing artillery round the mountain."
Between us and Zeitoon there now lay a deep, sheer-sided gash, down at the bottom of which the Jihun brawled and boiled. I did not envy any army faced with the task of crossing it, even supposing the bridge should not be destroyed. But they would not need to cross in order to make the town untenable.
"The Zeitoonli are, you might say, superstitious about that bridge," Monty went on. "They refuse as much as to consider making arrangements to blow it up in case of need. Another remarkable thing is that the women claim the bridge defense as their privilege. That doesn't matter. They look like a crowd of last-ditch fighters, and we're awfully short of men. But we're almost equally short of ammunition; and if it ever gets to the point where we're driven in so that we have to hold that bridge, we shall be doling out cartridges one by one to the best shots! I have tried to persuade the women to leave the bridge until there's need of defending it, and to lend us a hand elsewhere meanwhile; but they've always held the bridge, and they propose to do the same again. Even Kagig can't shift them, although the women have been his chief supporters all along."
Fred interrupted, pointing toward a few acres of level land to our left, below Zeitoon village but still considerably above the river level.
"Is that Rustum Khan?"
"He it is," said Kagig. "A devil of a man—a wonder of a devil—no friend of mine, yet I shook hands with him and I salute him! A genius! A cavalryman born. Our people are not cavalrymen. No place for horses, this. Yet, as you have seen, there are some of us who can ride, and that Rustum Khan found many others—refugees from this and that place. See how he drills them yonder—see! It was the gift of God that so many horses fell into our hands. Some of the refugees brought horses along for food. Instead, Rustum Khan took men's corn away, to feed the hungry horses!"
"We could never have held the place without Rustum Khan," said Monty. "As it is we've a chance. The last thing the Turks will expect from us is mounted tactics. Allowing for plenty of spare horses, we shall have two full squadrons—one under Rustum Khan, and one I'll lead myself. From all accounts they're bringing an awful number of men against us, and we expect them to try to force the clay ramp. In that case—but come and see."
He led on up-hill, and after a few minutes the well-worn track disappeared, giving place to a newly cleared one. Trees had been cut down roughly, leaving stumps in such irregular profusion that, though horses could pass between them easily, no wheeled traffic could have gone that way. The undergrowth and the tree-trunks had been piled along either side, so that the new path was fenced in. It was steep and crooked, every section of it commanded by some other section higher up, with plenty of crags and boulders that afforded even better cover than the trees.
"Discovered this the first day I got here," said Monty. "Asked about bears, and a man offered to show me where a dozen of them lived. I was curious to see where a 'dozen bears could live in amity together —didn't believe a word of it. We set out that afternoon, and didn't reach the top until midnight. Worst climb I ever experienced. Lost ourselves a hundred times. Next day, however, Kagig agreed to let me have as many men as could be crowded together to work, and I took a hundred and twenty. Set them to cutting this trail and another one. They worked like beavers. But come along and look."
"How about the bears?" Fred demanded. "Did you get them?"
"Smelt 'em. Saw one—or saw his shadow, and heard him. Followed him up-hill by the smell, and so found the castle wall. Haven't seen a bear since."
"Hssh!" said Kagig, and sprang up-hill ahead of us to take the lead. "There are guards above there, and they are true Zeitoonli—they will shoot dam' quick!"
They did not shoot, because we all lay in the shadow of a great rock as soon as we could see a ragged stone wall uplifted against the purple sky, and Kagig whistled half a dozen times. We plainly heard the snap of breech-blocks being tested.
"They are weary of talking fight!" Kagig whispered.
But the sixth or seventh whistle was answered by a shout, and we began to climb again. Close to the castle the tree-cutters had been able to follow the line of the original road fairly closely, and there were places underfoot that actually seemed to have been paved. Finally we reached a steep ramp of cemented stone blocks, not one of which was out of place, and went up that toward an arch—clear, unmistakable, round Roman that had once been closed by a portcullis and an oak gate. All of the woodwork had long ago disappeared, but there was little the matter with the masonry.
Under the echoing arch we strode into a shadowy courtyard where the sun had not penetrated long enough to warm the stones. In the midst of it a great stone keep stood as grim and almost as undecayed as when Crusaders last defended it. That castle had never been built by Crusaders; they had found it standing there, and had added to it, Norman on to Roman.
The courtyard was littered with weeds that Kagig's men had slashed down, and here and there a tree had found root room and forced its way up between the rough-hewn paving stones. Animals had laired in the place, and had left their smell there together with an air of wilderness. But now a new-old smell, and new-old sounds were awakening the past. There were horses again in the stables, whose roof formed the fighting-platform behind the rampart of the outer wall.
Monty led the way to the old arched entrance of the keep, and pointed upward to a spot above the arch where some one had been scraping and scrubbing away the stains of time. There, clean white now in the midst of rusty stonework, was a carved device—shield-shaped—two ships and two wheat-sheaves; and underneath on a scroll the motto in Latin—Per terram et aquam—By land and sea—in token that the old Montdidiers held themselves willing to do duty on either element. The same device and the same motto were on the gold signet ring on Monty's little finger.
"What's happening on top of the keep?" demanded Will.
Fred laughed aloud. We could not see up from inside, for at least one of the stone floors remained intact.
"Can't you guess?" demanded Fred. "Didn't I tell you the man has 'verted to Crusader days?"
But Monty explained.
"There's an old stone socket up there that used to hold the flag-pole. Two or three fellows have been kind enough to haul a tree up there, and they're trimming it to fit."
"If we were wise we'd hang you to it, Didums, and save you from a lousy Turkish jail!"
"Thank you, Fred," Monty answered. "There are capitulations still, I fancy. No Turk can legally try me, or imprison me a minute. I'm answerable to the British consul."
"They're fine, legal-minded sticklers for the rules, the Turks are!" Fred retorted.
"But we've a net laid for the Turks!" smiled Monty.
Fred shook his head. Monty led the way toward stone steps, whose treads bad been worn into smooth hollows centuries before by the feet of men in armor.
Up above on the outer rampart we could see Kagig's sentries outlined against the sky, protected against the chilly mountain air by goat-skin outer garments and pointed goat-skin hats. We mounted the stone stair, holding to a baluster worn smooth by the rub of countless forgotten hands, as perfect yet as on the day when the masons pronounced it finished; and emerged on to a wide stone floor above the stables, guarded by a breast-high parapet pierced by slits for archers.
>From below the breathing of the pines came up to us, peculiarly audible in spite of the Titan roar of Jihun River. Immediately below us was a ledge of forest-covered rock, and beyond that we could see sheer down the tree-draped flank of Beirut Dagh to the foaming water. We leaned our elbows on the parapet, and stared in silence all in a row, stared at in turn by the more than half-suspicious sentries.
"How does it feel, old man" asked Will at last, "standing on ramparts where your ancestors once ruled the roost?"
"Stranger than perhaps you think," Monty answered, not looking to right or left, or downward, but away out in front of him toward the sky-line on top of the opposite hills.
"I bet I know," said Will. "You hate to see the old order passing. You'd like the old times back."
"You're wrong for once, America!" Monty turned his back on the parapet and the view, and with hands thrust deep down in his pockets sought for words that could explain a little of his inner man. Fred had perhaps seen that mood before, but none of the rest of us. Usually he would talk of anything except his feelings. He felt the difficulty now, and checked.
"How so?" demanded Will.
"I've watched the old order passing. I'm part of it. I'm passing, too."
Gloria watched him with melting eyes. Fred turned his back and went through the fruitless rigmarole of trying to appear indifferent, going to the usual length at last of humming through his nose.
"That's what I said. You'd like these castle days back again."
"You're wrong, Will. I pray they never may come back. The place is an anachronism. So am I!—useless for most modern purposes. You'd have to tear castle or me so to pieces that we'd be unrecognizable. The world is going forward, and I'm glad of it. It shall have no hindrance at my hands."
"If men were all like you—" began Gloria, but he checked her with a frown.
"You can call this castle a robbers' nest, if you like. It's easy to call names. It stood for the best men knew in those days—protection of the countryside, such law and order as men understood, and the open road. It was built primarily to keep the roads safe. There are lots of things in England and America to-day, Will, that your descendants (being fools) will sneer at, just as it's the fashion to-day to sneer at relics of the past like this—and me!"
"Who's sneering? Not I! Not we!"
"This castle was built for the sake of the countryside. I've a mind to see it end as it began—that's all."
"Aw—what's eating you, Monty?"
"Shut up croaking, you old raven!" grumbled Fred.
"Show us the view you promised. This isn't it, for there isn't a Turk in sight."
Monty knew better than mistake Fred's surliness for anything but friendship in distress. Without another word he led the way along the parapet toward a ragged tower at the southern corner. It had been built by Normans, evidently added to the earlier Roman wall.
"Now tell me if the old folk didn't know their business," said Monty. "Very careful, all! The steps inside are rough. The roof has fallen in, and the ragged upper edge that's left probably accounts for the castle remaining undetected from below all these years—looks like fangs of discolored rock."
We followed him through the doorless gap in the tower wall, and up broken stone stairs littered with fragments of the fallen roof, until we stood at last in a half-circle around the jagged rim, our feet wedged between rotten masonry, breasts against the saw-edge parapet, and heads on a level with the eagles. From that dizzy height we had a full view between the mountains, not only of the immediate environs of Zeitoon, but of most of the pass—up which we ourselves had come, and of some of the open land beyond it.
"D'you see Turks now?"
Monty pointed, but there was no need. Dense masses of men were bivouacked beyond the bottom of the wide clay ramp. Through the glasses I could see artillery and supply wagons. They were coming to make a thorough job of "rescuing" Zeitoon this time! After a while I was able to make out the dark irregular line of Kagig's men, and here and there the lighter color of freshly dug entrenchments. None of Zeitoon's defenders appeared to be thrown out beyond the clay ramp, but they evidently flanked it on the side of the pass that was farthest from us.
"Now look this way, and you'll understand."
Monty pointed to our right, and the significance of the voices we had heard so close to us when Fred was searching for a path around the clay on the morning of our arrival, was made plain instantly. Down from the ledge on which the castle stood to a point apparently within a few yards of the clay ramp there had been cut a winding swath through the forest, along which four horses abreast could be ridden, or as many men marched.
"How did you do all that in time?" demanded Will. "It looks like one of those contractor's jobs in the States—put through while you wait and to hell with everything!"
"It follows the old road," Monty answered. "There was too much cobble-paving for the trees to take hold, and most of what they had to cut was small stuff. That accounts, too, for the freedom from stumps. But, do you get the idea? The trees between the end of the cutting and the clay ramp are cut almost through—ready to fall, in fact. I'm afraid of a wind. If it blows, our screen may fall too soon! But if the Turks try to storm the ramp, we'll draw them on. Then, hey—presto! Down go the remaining trees, and into the middle of 'em rides our cavalry!"
"What's the use of cavalry four abreast?" demanded Fred, in no mood to be satisfied with anything.
"Rustum Khan is concentrating all his energy on teaching that one maneuver," Monty answered. "We come—"
"Thought it 'ud be 'we!' Your place is at the rear, giving orders!"
"We come down the track at top speed, and the impetus will carry us clear across the ramp. Some of the horses'll go down, because the slope is slippery. But the remainder will front form squadron, and charge down hill in line. Then watch!"
"All right," Fred grumbled. "But how about you rear while all that's going on? The Turk must have worked his way around Beirut Dagh on former occasions—or how else could he ever have built and held that dismantled fort? What's to stop him from doing it again?"
"It's a fifteen-mile fight ahead of him," Monty answered, "with riflemen posted at every vantage-point all the way—"
"Who is in charge of the riflemen?"
Kagig leaned back until he looked in danger of falling, and tapped his breast significantly three times.
"I—I have picked the men who will command those riflemen and women!"
"Well," Fred grumbled, "what are your plans for us?"
"For the last time, Fred, I want you, old man, to help me to persuade these others to escape into the hills while there's still a chance, and I want you to go with them."
"I also!" exclaimed Kagig. "I also desire that!"
"Now you've got that off your chest, Didums, suppose you talk sense," suggested Fred. "What are your plans?"
Monty recognized the unalterable, and set his face.
"You first, Miss Vanderman. There's one way in which we can always use a gentlewoman's services."
"Mayn't I fight?" she begged, and we all laughed.
"'Fraid not. No. The women have cleared out several houses for a hospital. Please go and superintend."
"Damn!" exclaimed Gloria, Boston fashion, not in the least under her breath.
"I am sending word," said Kagig, "that they shall obey you or learn from me!"
"The rest of us," Monty went on, "will know better what to do when we know what the Turk intends, but I expect to send all of you from time to time to wherever the fighting is thickest. Kagig, of course, will please himself, and my orders are subject to his approval."
"I'll go, then," said Gloria. "Good-by!" And she kissed Will on the mouth in full view of all of us, he blushing furiously, and Kagig cracking all his finger-joints.
"Go with her, Will!" urged Monty, as she disappeared down the steps. "Go and save yourself. You're young. I've notions of my own that I've inherited, and the world calls me a back number. You go with Miss Vanderman!"
I seconded that motion.
"Go with her, Will! I've warned you she's unsafe alone! Go and protect her!"
Will grinned, wholly without malice.
"Thanks!" he said. "She's a back number, too. So'm I! If I left Monty in this pinch she'd never look at me, and I'd not ask her to! Inherited notions about merit and all that kind of thing, don't you know, by gosh! No, sir! She and I both sat into this game. She and I both stay! Wish Esau would open the ball, though. I'm tired of talking."
Chapter Nineteen "Such drilling as they have had—such little drilling!"
Is honor out of fashion and the men she named Fit only to be buried and defamed Who dared hold service was true nobleness And graced their service in a fitting dress? Are manners out of date because the scullions scoff At whosoever shuns the common trough Liking dry bread better than the garbled stew Nor praising greed because the style is new? Let go the ancient orders if so be their ways Are trespassing on decency these days. So I go, rather than accept the trampled spoil Or gamble for what great men earned by toil. For rather than trade honor for a mob's foul praise I'll keep full fealty to the ancient ways And, hoistinq my forebear's banner in the face of hell, Will die beneath it, knowing I die well!
Fifteen minutes after Gloria Vanderman left us I saw a banner go jerkily mounting up the newly placed flag-pole on the keep. A man blew a bugle hoarsely by way of a salute. I raised my hat. Monty raised his. In a moment we were all standing bare-headed, and the great square piece of cloth caught the wind that whistled between two crags of Beirut Dagh.
Fred, our arch-iconoclast, stood uncovered longest.
"Who the devil made it for you?" he inquired.
Stitched on the banner in colored cloth were the two wheat-sheaves and two ships of the Montdidiers, and a scroll stretched its length across the bottom, with the motto doubtless, although in the wind one could not read it.
"The women. Good of 'em, what? Miss Vanderman drew it on paper. They cut it out, and sat up last night sewing it."
"I suppose you know that's filibustering, to fly your private banner on foreign soil?"
"They may call it what they please," said Monty. "I can't well fly the flag of England, and Armenia has none yet. Let's go below, Fred, and see if there's any news."
"Yes, there is news," said Kagig, leading the way down. "I did not say it before the lady. It is not good news."
"That's the only kind that won't keep. Spit it out!" said Will.
Kagig faced us on the stable roof, and his finger-joints cracked again.
"It is the worst! They have sent Mahmoud Bey, against us. I would rather any six other Turks. Mahmoud Bey is not a fool. He is a young successful man, who looks to this campaign to bolster his ambition. He is a ruthless brute!"
"Which Turk isn't?" asked Will.
"This one is most ruthless. This Mahmoud is the one who in the massacres of five years ago caused Armenian prisoners to have horse-shoes nailed to their naked feet, in order, he said, that they might march without hurt. He will waste no time about preliminaries!"
Kagig was entirely right. Mahmoud Bey began the overture that very instant with artillery fire directed at the hidden defenses flanking the clay ramp. Next we caught the stuttering chorus of his machine guns, and the intermittent answer of Kagig's riflemen.
"Now, effendim, one of you down to the defenses, please! There is risk my men may use too many cartridges. Talk to them—restrain them. They might listen to me, but—" His long fingers suggested unhappy fragments of past history.