"You, Fred!" said Monty, and Fred hitched his concertina to a more comfortable angle.
Fred was the obvious choice. His gift of tongues would enable him better than any of us to persuade, and if need were, compel. We had left our rifles leaning by the wall at the castle entrance, and in his cartridge bag was my oil-can and rag-bag. I asked him for them, and he threw them to me rather clumsily. Trying to catch them I twisted for the second time the ankle I had hurt that morning. Fred mounted and rode out through the echoing entrance without a backward glance, and I sat down and pulled my boot off, for the agony was almost unendurable.
"That settles your task for to-day," laughed Monty. "Help him back to the top of the tower, Will. Keep me informed of everything you see. Will—you go with Kagig after you've helped him up there."
"All right," said Will. "Where's Kagig bound for?"
"Round behind Beirut Dagh," Kagig announced grimly. "That's our danger-point. If the Turks force their way round the mountain—" He shrugged his expressive shoulders. Only he of all of us seemed to view the situation seriously. I think we others felt a thrill rather of sport than of danger.
I might have been inclined to resent the inactivity assigned to me, only that it gave me a better chance than I had hoped for of watching for signs of Maga Jhaere's promised treachery. Will helped me up and made the perch comfortable; then he and Kagig rode away together. Presently Monty, too, mounted a mule, and rode out under the arch, and fifteen minutes later fifty men marched in by twos, laughing and joking, and went to saddling the horses in the semicircular stable below me. After that all the world seemed to grow still for a while, except for the eagles, the distant rag-slitting rattle of rifle-fire, and the occasional bursting of a shell. Most of the shells were falling on the clay ramp, and seemed to be doing no harm whatever.
Away in the distance down the pass, out of range of the fire of our men, but also incapable of harm themselves until they should advance into the open jaws below the clay ramp, I could see the Turks massing in that sort of dense formation that the Germans teach. Even through the glasses it was not possible to guess their numbers, because the angle of vision was narrow and cut off their flanks to right and left; but I sent word down to Monty that a frontal attack in force seemed to be already beginning.
For an hour after that, while the artillery fire increased but our rifle-fire seemed to dwindle under Fred's persuasive tongue, I watched Monty mustering reenforcements in the gorge below the town. He overcame some of the women's prejudice, for it was a force made up of men and women that he presently led away. I was rather surprised to see Rustum Khan, after a talk with Monty, return to his squadron and remain inactive under cover of the hill; that fire-eater was the last man one would expect to remain willingly out of action. However, twenty minutes later, Rustum Khan appeared beside me, breathing rather hard. He begged the glasses of me, and spent five minutes studying the firing-line minutely before returning them.
"The lord sahib has more faith in these undrilled folk than I have!" he grumbled at last. "Observe: he goes with that bullet-food of men and women mixed, to hide them in reserve behind the narrow gut at the head of the ramp. The Turks are fools, as Kagig said, and their general is also a fool, in spite of Kagig. They propose to force that ramp. You see that by Frredd sahib's orders the firing on our side has grown greatly less. That is to draw the Turks on. See! It has drawn them! They are coming! The lord sahib will send for Frredd sahib to take command of that reserve, to man the top of the ramp in case the Turks succeed in climbing too far up it. Then he himself will gallop back to take charge of my squadron below there; and I take charge of his squadron up here. He and I are interchangeable, I having drilled all the men in any case—such drilling as they have had—such little, little drilling!"
The Turks began their advance into the jaws of that defile with a confidence that made my heart turn cold. What did they know? What were they depending on in addition to their weight of numbers? Mahmoud Bey had evidently hurried up almost his whole division, and was driving them forward into our trap as if he knew he could swallow trap and all. Not even foolish generals act that way. It needs a madman. Kagig had said nothing about Mahmoud being mad.
"Listen, Rustum Khan!" I said. "Go with a message to Lord Montdidier. Tell him the whole Turkish force is in motion and coming on as if their general knows something for certain that we don't know at all. Tell him that I suspect treachery at our rear, and have good reason for it!"
Rustum Khan eyed me for a minute as if he would read the very middle of my heart.
"Can you ride?" he asked.
"Of course," I answered. "It's only walking that I can't do."
"Then leave those glasses with me, and go yourself!"
"Why won't you go?" I asked.
"Because here are fifty men who would lack a leader in that case."
The answer was honest enough, yet I had my qualms about leaving the post Monty had assigned to me. The thought that finally decided me was that I would have opportunity to gallop past the hospital, two hundred yards over the bridge on the Zeitoon side, and make sure that Gloria was safe.
"Have you seen Maga Jhaere anywhere?" I asked.
"No," said the Rajput, swearing under his breath at the mere mention of her name.
"Then help me down from here. I'll go."
He muttered to himself, and I think he thought I was off to make love to the woman; but I was past caring about any one's opinion on that score. Five minutes later I was trotting a good horse slowly down the upper, steeper portion of the track toward Zeitoon, swearing to myself, and dreading the smoother going where I should feel compelled to gallop whether my ankle hurt or not. As a matter of fact I began to suspect a broken bone or ligament, for the agonizing pain increased and made me sit awkwardly on the horse, thus causing him to change his pace at odd intervals and give me more pain yet. However, gallop I had to, and I reached the bridge going at top speed, only to be forced to rein in, chattering with agony, by a man on foot who raced to reach the bridge ahead of me, and made unmistakable signals of having an important message to deliver.
He proved to be from Kagig, with orders to say that every man at his disposal was engaged by a very strong body of Turks who had spent the night creeping up close to their first objective, and had rushed it with the bayonet shortly after dawn.
"Order the women to stand ready by the bridge!" were the last words (the man had the whole by heart), and then there was a scribbled note from Will by way of make-weight.
"This end of the action looks pretty serious to me. We're badly outnumbered. The men are fighting gamely, but—tell Gloria for God's sake to look out after herself !"
I could hear no firing from that direction, for the great bulk of Beirut Dagh shut it off.
"How far away is the fighting?" I demanded.
"Oh, a long way yet."
I motioned to him to return to Kagig, and sent my horse across the bridge, catching sight of Gloria outside the hospital directly after I had crossed it. She waved her hand to me; so, seeing she was safe for the present, I let the message to her wait and started down the valley toward Monty as fast as the horse could go. I had my work cut out to drive him into the din of firing, for it was evidently his first experience of bursting shells, and even at half-a-mile distance he reared and plunged, driving me nearly crazy with pain. I found Monty shepherding the reserves he had brought down, watching through glasses from over the top of the spur that formed the left-hand wall of the gut of the pass.
"I left Rustum Khan in my place," I began, expecting to be damned at once for absenting without leave.
"Glad you came," he said, without turning his head.
I gave him my message, he listening while he watched the pass and the oncoming enemy.
"I tried to warn you of treachery this morning!" I said hotly. Pain and memory did nothing toward keeping down choler. "Where's Peter Measel? Seen him anywhere? Where's Maga Jhaere? Seen her, either? Those Turks are coming on into what they must know is a trap, with the confidence that proves their leaders have special information! Look at them! They can see this pass is lined, with our riflemen, yet on they come! They must suspect we've a surprise in store—yet look at them!"
They were coming on line after line, although Fred had turned the ammunition loose, and the rifle-fire of our well-hidden men was playing havoc. Monty seemed to me to look more puzzled than afraid. I went on telling him of the message Kagig had sent, and offered him Will's note, but he did not even look at it.
"Ah!" he said suddenly. "Now I understand! Yes, it's treachery. I beg your pardon for my thoughts this morning."
"Granted," said I, "but what next?"
"Look!" he said simply.
There were two sudden developments. What was left of the first advancing company of Turks halted below the ramp, and with sublime effrontery, born no doubt of knowledge that we had no artillery, proceeded to dig themselves a shallow trench. The Zeitoonli were making splendid shooting, but it was only a question of minutes until the shelter would be high enough for crouching men.
The second disturbing factor was that in a long line extending up the flank of the mountain, roughly parallel to the lower end of the track that Monty had caused to be cut from the castle, the trees were coming down as if struck by a cyclone! There must have been more than a regiment armed with axes, cutting a swath through the forest to take our secret road in flank!
That meant two things clearly. Some one had told Mahmoud of our plan to charge down from the height and surprise him, thus robbing us of all the benefit of unexpectedness; and, when the charge should take place, our men would have to ride down four abreast through ambush. And, if Mahmoud had merely intended placing a few men to trap our horsemen, he would never have troubled to cut down the forest. Plainly, he meant to destroy our mounted men at point-blank range, and then march a large force up the horse-track, so turning the tables on us. Considering the overwhelming numbers he had at his disposal, the game to me looked almost over.
Not so, however, to Monty. He glanced over his shoulder once at the men and women waiting for his orders, and I saw the women begin inspiriting their men. Then he turned on me.
"Now damn your ankle," he said. "Try to forget it! Climb up there and tell Fred to choose a hundred men and bring them down himself to oppose the enemy in front if he comes over the top of that ditch. Then you gallop back and get word to Rustum Khan to bring both squadrons down here. Tell him to stay by Fred and hold his horses until the last minute. Then you get all the women you can persuade to follow you, and man the castle walls! Hurry, now—that's all!"
There was a man holding my horse. I tied the horse securely to a tree instead, and told the man to help me climb, little suspecting what a Samson I had happened on. He laughed, seized me in his arms, and proceeded to carry me like a baby up the goat-track leading to the hidden rifle-pits and trenches. I persuaded him to let me get up on his shoulders, and in that way I had a view of most of what was happening.
Monty led his men and women at a run across the top of the ramp flanked by the full fire of the entrenched company below; and his action was so unexpected that the Turks fired like beginners. There were not many bodies lying quiet, nor writhing either when the last woman had disappeared among the trees on the far side. Those that did writhe were very swiftly caused to cease by volleys aimed at them in obedience to officers' orders. It began to look as if Gloria's hospital would not be over-worked.
The tables were now turned on the Turks, except in regard to numbers. In the first place, as soon as Monty's command had penetrated downward through the trees parallel with the side of the ramp, he had the entrenched company in flank. It did not seem to me that he left more than ten or fifteen men to make that trench untenable, but the Turks were out of it within five minutes and in full retreat under a hot fire from Fred's men.
Then Monty pushed on to the far side of the castle road and held the remaining fringe of trees in such fashion that the Turks could not guess his exact whereabouts nor what number he had with him. Cutting down trees in a hurry is one thing, but cutting them down in face of hidden rifle-fire is most decidedly another, especially when the axmen have been promised there will be no reprisals.
The tree-felling suddenly ceased, and there began a close-quarters battle in the woods, in which numbers had less effect than knowledge of the ground and bravery. The Turk is a brave enough fighter, but not to be compared with mountain-Armenians fighting for their home, and it was easy to judge which held the upper hand.
I found Fred smoking his pipe and enjoying himself hugely, with half a dozen runners ready to carry word to whichever section of the defenses seemed to him to need counsel. He could see what Monty had done, and was in great spirits in consequence.
"I've bagged two Turk officers to my own gun," he announced. "Murder suits me to a T."
I gave him the message.
"Piffle!" he answered. "They can never take the ramp by frontal attack! The right thing to do is hold the flanks, and wither 'em as they cone!"
"Monty's orders!" I said, "and I've got to be going."
"Damn that fellow Didums!" he grumbled. "All right. But it's my belief he's turning a classy little engagement into a bloody brawl! Cut along! I'll pick my hundred and climb down there."
Cutting along was not so easy. My magnificent human mount was hit by a bullet—a stray one, probably, shot at a hazard at long range. He fell and threw me head-long; and the agony of that experience pretty nearly rendered me unconscious. However, he was not hit badly, and essayed to pick me up again. I refused that, but he held on to me and, both of us being hurt in the leg on the same side, we staggered together down the goat-track.
Down below we found the horse plunging in a frenzy of fear, and he nearly succeeded in breaking away from both of us, dragging us out into full view of the enemy, who volleyed us at long range. Fortunately they made rotten shooting, and one ill-directed hail of lead screamed on the far side, causing the horse to plunge toward me. The Armenian took me by the uninjured foot and flung me into the saddle, and I left up-pass with a parting volley scattering all around, and both hands locked into the horse's mane. He needed neither whip nor spur, but went for Zeitoon like the devil with his tail on fire.
I suppose one never grows really used to pain, but from use it becomes endurable. When Anna ran out to stop me by the great rock on which the lowest Zeitoon houses stand, and seized me by the foot, partly to show deference, partly in token that she was suppliant, and also partly because she was utterly distracted, I was able to rein the horse and listen to her without swearing.
"She is gone!" she shouted. "Gone, I tell you! Gloria is gone! Six men, they come and take her! She is resisting, oh, so hard—and they throw a sack over her—and she is gone, I tell you! She is gone!"
"Where is Maga?"
"In which direction did they take Miss Gloria?"
"I do not know!"
I rode on. There were crowds of women near the bridge, all armed with rifles, and I hurried toward them.
But they refused to believe that any one in Zeitoon would do such a thing as kidnap Gloria, and while I waited for Anna to come and convince them a man forced himself toward me through the crowd. He was out of breath. One arm was in a bloody bandage, but in the other hand he held a stained and crumpled letter.
It proved to be from Will, addressed to all or any of us.
"Kagig is a wonder!" it ran, "He has put new life into these men and we've thrashed the Turk soundly. How's Gloria? Kagig says, 'Can you send us reenforcements?' If so we can follow up and do some real damage. Send 'em quick! Make Gloria keep cover! WILL.
Chapter Twenty "So few against so many! I see death, and I am not sorry!"
THOU LAND OF THE GLAD HAND
Thou land of the Glad Hand, whose frequent boast Is of the hordes to whom thou playest host! Whose liberty is full! whose standard high Has reached and taken stars from out the sky! Whose fair-faced women tread the streets unveiled, Unchallenged, unaffronted, unassailed! Whose little ones in park and meadow laugh, Nor know what cost that precious cup they quaff, Nor pay in stripes and bruises and regret Ten times each total of a parent's debt! Thou nation born in freedom—land of kings Whose laws protect the very feathered things, Uplifting last and least to high estate That none be overlooked—and none too great! Is all thy freedom good for thee alone? Is earth thy footstool? Are the clouds thy throne? Shall other peoples reach thy hand to take That gladdens only thee for thine own sake?
To get word to Rustum Khan was simple enough, for he himself came riding down to get news. The minute he learned what Monty wanted of him he turned his horse back up-hill at a steady lope, and I began on the next item in the program.
Nor was that difficult. The reading aloud of Will's letter, translated to them by Anna, convinced the women that their beloved bridge was in no immediate danger, and no less than three hundred of them marched off to reenforce Kagig's men behind Beirut Dagh. I reckoned that by the time they reached the scene of action we would have a few more than three thousand men and women in the field under arms —against Mahmoud Bey's thirty thousand Turks!
There remained to scrape together as many as possible to man the castle walls; and what with wounded, and middle-aged women, and men whose weapons did not fit the plundered Turkish ammunition, I had more than a hundred volunteers in no time. The only disturbing feature about this new command of mine was that it contained more than a sprinkling of the type of malcontents who had bearded Kagig in his den the night before. Those looked like thoroughly excellent fighting men, if only they could have been persuaded to agree to trust a common leader.
Not one of them but knew a thousand times more of Zeitoon, and their people, and the various needs of defense than, for instance, I did. Yet they clustered about me for lack of confidence in one another, and shouted after the women who marched away advice to watch lest Kagig betray them all. Not for nothing had the unspeakable Turk inculcated theories of misrule all down the centuries!
I led them up to the castle, they carrying with them food enough for several days. We passed Rustum Khan coming down with the horsemen, and I fell behind to have word with him.
"Which of these men shall I pick to command the rest?" I asked him. "You've more experience of them."
"Any that you choose will be pounced on by the rest as wolves devour a sheep!" the Rajput answered.
"Should I have them vote on it?"
"They would elect you," he answered.
"I've got to be free to look for Miss Gloria. She's kidnapped —disappeared utterly!"
Rustum Khan swore under his breath, using a language that I knew no word of.
"A woman again, and more trouble!" he said at last grimly. "Let like cure like then! Choose a woman herdsman!" he grinned. "It may be she will surprise them into obedience!"
"I'll take your advice," said I, although I resented his insinuation that they were a herd—so swiftly does command make partisans.
"The last thing you may take from me, sahib!" he answered.
"So few against so many! I see death and I am not sorry. Only may I die leading those good mountain-men of mine!"
It was part and parcel of him to praise those he had drilled and scorn the others. I shook hands and said nothing. It did not seem my place to contradict him.
"Let us hope these people are the gainers by our finish!" he called over his shoulder, riding on after his command. "They are not at all bad people—only un-drilled, and a little too used to the ways of the Turk! Good-by, sahib!"
Within the castle gate I found a woman, whom they all addressed as Marie, very busy sorting out the bundles they had thrown against the wall. She was putting all the food together into a common fund, and as I entered she shouted to her own nominees among the other women to get their cooking pots and begin business.
Still pondering Rustum Khan's advice, in the dark whether or not be meant it seriously, I chose Marie Chandrian to take command. She made no bones about it, but accepted with a great shrill laugh that the rest of them seemed to recognize—and to respect for old acquaintance' sake. She turned out to have her husband with her—an enormous, hairy man with a bull's voice who ought to have been in one or other of the firing-lines but had probably held back in obedience to his better half. She made him her orderly at once, and it was not long before every soul in the castle had his or her place to hold.
Then I mounted once more and rode at top speed down the new road that Monty was defending, taking another horse this time, not so good, but much less afraid of the din of battle.
I found Monty scarcely fifty paces from the track, on the outside edge of the fringe of trees that the Turks had been unable to cut down. There were numbers of wounded laid out on the track itself, with none to carry them away; and the Turks were keeping up a hot fire from behind the shelter of the felled trees and standing stumps. The outside range was two hundred yards, and there were several platoons of the enemy who had crept up to within thirty or forty yards and could not be dislodged.
I pulled Monty backward, for he could not hear me, and he and I stood behind two trees while I told him what I had done, shouting into his ear.
"I've got to go and find Gloria!" I said finally, and he frowned, and nodded.
"Go first and take a look at the ramp through the trees. Tell me what's happening."
So I limped down to the end of the track and made my way cautiously through the lower fringe of trees that had been cut three-parts through in readiness for felling in a hurry. Just as I got there the Turks began a new massed advance up the ramp, as if in direct proof of Monty's mental alertness.
The men posted on the opposite flank to where I was opened a terrific fire that would have made poor Kagig bite his lips in fear for the waning ammunition. Then Fred came into action with his hundred, throwing them in line into the open along the top, where they lay down to squander cartridges—squandering to some purpose, however, for the Turkish lines checked and reeled.
But Mahmoud Bey had evidently given orders that this advance should be pressed home, and the Turks came on, company after company, in succeeding waves of men. There were some in front with picks and shovels, making rough steps in the slippery clay; and I groaned, hating to go and tell Monty that it was only a matter of minutes before the frontal attack must succeed and the pass be in enemy hands.
"Here goes Armenia's last chance!" I thought; and I waited to see the beginning of the end before limping back to Monty.
And it was well I did wait. I had actually forgotten Rustum Khan and his two squadrons. Nor would I ever have believed without seeing it that one lone man could so inspirit and control that number of aliens whom he had only as much as drilled a time or two. It said as much for the Zeitoonli as for Rustum Khan. Without the very ultimate of bravery, good faith, and intelligence on their part he could never have come near attempting what he did.
He brought his two squadrons in line together suddenly over the brow of the ramp, galloped them forward between Fred's extended riflemen, and charged down-hill, the horses checking as they felt the slippery clay under foot and then, unable to pull up, careering head-long, urged by their riders into madder and madder speed, with Rustum Khan on his beautiful bay mare several lengths in the lead.
Cavalry usually starts at a walk, then trots, and only gains its great momentum within a few yards of the enemy. This cavalry started at top speed, and never lost it until it buried itself into the advancing Turks as an avalanche bursts into a forest! No human enemy could ever have withstood that charge. Many of the horses fell in the first fifty yards, and none of these were able to regain their feet in time to be of use. Some of the riders were rolled on and killed. And some were slain by the half-dozen volleys the astonished Turks found time to greet them with. But more than two-thirds of Rustum Khan's men, armed with swords of every imaginable shape and weight, swept voiceless into an enemy that could not get out of their way; and regiments in the rear that never felt the shock turned and bolted from the wrath in front of them.
I climbed out to the edge of the trees, and yelled for Fred, waving both arms and my hat and a branch. He saw me at last, and brought his hundred men down the ramp at a run.
"Join Monty," I shouted, "and help him clear the woods."
He led his men into the trees like a pack of hounds in full cry, and I limped after them, arriving breathless in time to see the Turks in front of Monty in full retreat, fearful because the Rajput's cavalry had turned their flank. Then Monty and Fred got their men together and swung them down into the pass to cover Rustum Khan's retreat when the charge should have spent itself.
The Rajput had managed to demoralize the Turkish infantry, but Mahmoud's guns were in the rear, far out of reach. Bursting shells did more destruction as he shepherded the squadrons back again than bullet, bayonet and slippery clay combined to do in the actual charge itself. Monty gave orders to throw down the fringe of trees and let them through to the castle road, so saving them from the total annihilation in store if they had essayed to scramble up the slippery ramp. And then Fred's men joined Monty's contingent, helping them fortify the new line—deepening and reversing the trench the Turks had dug below the ramp, and continuing that line along through the remaining edge of trees that still stood between the enemy and the castle road.
But by cutting down the fringe at the end of the road to let Rustum Khan through we had forfeited the last degree of secrecy. If the Turks could come again and force the gut of the pass, nothing but the hardest imaginable fighting could prevent them from swinging round at that point and making use of our handiwork.
"That castle has become a weakness, not a strength, Colonel sahib!" said Rustum Khan, striding through the trees to where Monty and Fred and I were standing. "I have lost seven and thirty splendid men, and three and forty horses. One more such charge, and—"
"No, Rustum Khan. Not again," Monty answered.
"What else?" laughed the Rajput. "That castle divides our forces, making for weakness. If only—"
"We must turn it to advantage, then, Rustum Khan!"
"Ah, sahib! So speaks a soldier! How then?"
"Mahmoud knows by now that the trees are down," said I. "His watchers must have seen them fall. Some of the trees are lying outward toward the ramp."
"Exactly," said Monty. "His own inclination will lead him to use our new road, and we must see that he does exactly that. The guns are making the ramp too hot just now for amusement, but let some one—you, Fred—run a deep ditch across the top of the ramp; and if we can hold them until dark we'll have connected ditches dug at intervals all the way down."
Looking over the top of the trees I could just see the Montdidier standard bellying in the wind.
"I'll bet you Mahmoud can see that, too!" said I, drawing the others' attention to it.
"Let's hope so," Monty answered quietly. "Now, Rustum Khan, find one of those brave horsemen of yours who is willing to be captured by the enemy and give some false information. I want it well understood that our only fear is of a night attack!"
"You say, Colonel sahib, there will be no further use for cavalry?"
"Not for a charge down that ramp, at any rate!"
"Then send me! My word will carry conviction. I can say that as a Moslem I will fight no longer on the side of Christians. They will accept my information, and then hang me for having led a charge into their infantry. Send me, sahib!"
Monty shook his head. Rustum Khan seemed inclined to insist, but there came astonishing interruption. Kagig appeared, with arms akimbo, in our midst.
"Oh, sportmen all!" he laughed. "This day goes well!"
"Thank God you're here!" said Monty. "Now we can talk."
"That Will—what is his name?—Will Yerkees is a wonderful fighter!" said Kagig, snapping his fingers and making the joints crack.
"He accuses you of that complaint," said I.
"Me? No. I am only enthusiast. The road behind Beirut Dagh is rough and narrow. The Turks had hard work, and less reason for eagerness than we. So we overcame them. They have fallen back to where they were at dawn, and they are discouraged"—he made his finger-joints crack again—"discouraged! The women feel very confident. The men feet exactly as the women do! The Turks are preparing to bivouac where they lie. They will attack no more to-day—I know them!"
"Listen, Kagig!" Monty drew us all together with a gesture of both hands. "These Turks are too many for us, if we give them time. Our ammunition won't last, for one thing. We must induce Mahmoud to attack to-night—coax him up this castle road, and catch him in a trap. It can be done. It must be done!"
"I know the right man to send to the Turk to tell him things!" Kagig answered slowly with relish.
"That is my business!" growled Rustum Khan, but Kagig laughed at him.
"No Turk would believe a word you say—not one leetle word!" he said, snapping his fingers. "You are a good fighter. I saw your charge from the castle tower; it was very good. But I will send an Armenian on this errand. Go on, Lord Monty; I know the proper man."
"That's about the long and short of it," said Monty. "If we can induce Mahmoud to attack to-night, we've a fair chance of hitting him so hard that he'll withdraw and let us alone. Otherwise—"
Kagig's finger-joints cracked harder than ever as his quick mind reviewed the possibilities.
"Have you any idea what can have happened to Miss Vanderman?" I asked him.
"Miss Vanderman? No? What? Tell me!"
He seemed astonished, and I told him slowly, lest he miss one grain of the enormity of Maga's crime. But instead of appearing distressed he shook his bands delightedly and rattled off a very volley of cracking knuckles.
"That is the idea! We have Mahmoud caught! I know Mahmoud! I know him! The man I shall choose shall tell Mahmoud that Gloria Vanderman —the beautiful American young lady, who is outlawed because of her fighting on behalf of Armenians—who—who could not possibly be claimed by the American consul, on account of being outlawed—is in the castle to-night and can be taken if he only will act quickly! Oh, how his eyes will glitter! That Mahmoud—he buys women all the time! A young—beautiful—athletic American girl—Mahmoud will sacrifice three thousand men to capture her!"
Monty ground his teeth. Fred turned his back, and filled his pipe. Rustum Khan brushed his black beard upward with both hands.
"Suppose you go now and try to find Miss Vanderman," said Monty rather grimly to me. "If you find her, hide her out of harm's way and communicate with Will!"
So Fred helped me on the horse and I rode back to the castle, where I explained the details of the fighting below to the defenders, and then rode on down to Zeitoon by the other road. It was wearing along into the afternoon, and I had no idea which way to take to look for Gloria; but I did have a notion that Maga Jhaere might be looking out for me. There was a chance that she might have been in earnest in persuading me to elope, and that if I rode alone she might show herself—she or else Gloria's captors.
Failing signs of Maga Jhaere or her men, I proposed to ride behind Beirut Dagh in search of Will, and to get his quick Yankee wit employed on the situation.
So, instead of crossing the bridge into Zeitoon I guided my horse around the base of the mountain, riding slowly so as to ease the pain in my foot and to give plenty of opportunity to any one lying in wait to waylay me.
It happened I guessed rightly. The track swung sharp to the left after a while, and passed up-hill through a gorge between two cliffs into wilder country than any I had yet seen in Armenia. From the top of the cliff on the right-hand side a pebble was dropped and struck the horse—then another—then a third one. I thought it best to take no notice of that, although the horse made fuss enough.
The third pebble was followed by a shrill whistle, which I also decided to ignore, and continued to ride on toward where a clump of scrawny bushes marked the opening out of a narrow valley. I heard the bushes rustle as I drew near them, and was not surprised to see Maga emerge, looking hot, impatient and angry, although not less beautiful on that account.
"Fool!" she began on me. "Why you wait so long? Another half-hour and it is too late altogether! Come now! Leave the horse. Come quick!"
Wondering what important difference half an hour should make, it occurred to me that Will was probably impatient long ago at receiving no news of Gloria. If I judged Will rightly, he would be on his way to look for her.
"Come quick!" commanded Maga.
"I can't climb that cliff," said I. "I've hurt my foot."
"I help you. Come!"
She stepped up close beside me to help me down, but that instant it seemed to me that I heard more than one horse approaching.
"Quick!" she commanded, for she heard them, too, and held out her arms to help me. "Quick! I have two men to help you walk!"
I could have reached my pistol, but so could she have reached hers, and her hand and eye were quicker than forked lightning. Besides, to shoot her would have been of doubtful benefit until Gloria's whereabouts were first ascertained. She put an arm round me to pull me from the saddle, and that settled it. I fell on her with all my weight, throwing her backward into the bushes, and kicking the horse in the ribs with my uninjured foot. The horse took fright as I intended, and went galloping off in the direction of the approaching sounds.
I had not wrestled since I was a boy at school, and then never with such a spitting puzzle of live wires as Maga proved herself. I had the advantage of weight, but I had told her of my injured foot, and she worked like a she-devil to damage it further, fighting at the same time with left and right wrist alternately to reach pistol and knife.
I let go one wrist, snatched the pistol out of her bosom and threw it far away. But with the free and she reached her knife, and landed with it into my ribs. The pain of the stab sickened me; but the knowledge that she had landed fooled her into relaxing her hold in order to jump clear. So I got hold of both wrists again, and we rolled over and over among the bushes, she trying like an eel to wriggle away, and I doing my utmost to crush the strength out of her. We were interrupted by Will's voice, and by Will's strong arms dragging us apart.
"Catch her!" I panted. "Hold her! Don't let her go!"
"Never fear!" he laughed.
"Her men have kidnapped Gloria! Tie her hands!"
Will had two men with him, one of whom was leading my runaway horse. They gazed open-eyed while Will tied Maga's wrists behind her back.
"Kagig—what will he say?" one of them objected, but Will laughed.
"What you do with me?" demanded Maga.
"Take you to Kagig, of course. Where's Miss Vanderman?"
Then suddenly Maga's whole appearance changed. The defiance vanished, leaving her as if by magic supple again, subtle, suppliant, conjuring back to memory the nights when she had danced and sung. The fire departed from her eyes and they became wet jewels of humility with soft love lights glowing in their depths.
"You do not want that woman!" she said slowly, smiling at Will. "You give 'er to this fool!" She glanced at my bleeding ribs, as if the blood were evidence of folly. "You take me, Will Yerkees! Then I teach you all things—all about people—all about land, and love, and animals, and water, and the air—I teach you all!"
She paused a moment, watching his face, judging the effect of words. He stood waiting with a look of puzzled distress that betrayed regret for her tied wrists, but accepted the necessity. Perhaps she mistook the chivalrous distress for tenderness.
"I 'ave tried to make that man Kagig king! I 'ave tried, and tried! But 'e is no good! If 'e 'ad obeyed me, I would 'ave made 'im king of all Armenia! But 'e is as good as dead already, because Mahmoud the Turk is come to finish 'im—so!" She spat conclusively. "So now I make you king instead of 'im! You let that Gloria Vanderman go to this fool, an' I show you 'ow to make all Armenians follow you an' overthrow the Turks, an' conquer, an' you be king!"
Will laughed. "Better stick to Kagig! I'm going to take you to him!"
"You take me to 'im?"
She flashed again, swift as a snake to illustrate resentment.
"Then I tell 'im things about you, an' 'e believe me!"
"Let's bargain," laughed Will. "Show me Miss Vanderman, alive and well, and—"
"Steady the Buffs!" I warned him. "Gloria's not far away. There were pebbles dropped on my horse. There may be a cave above this cliff—or something of the sort."
Will nodded. "—and I won't tell Kagig you made love to me!" he continued.
"Poof! Pah! Kagig, 'e know that long ago!"
Will turned to his two men and bade them tie the horses to a bush.
"How are the ribs?" he asked me.
"Nothing serious," said I.
"Do you think you can watch her if I tie her feet?"
"She's slippery and strong! Better tie her to a tree as well!"
So between them Will and the two men trussed her up like a chicken ready for the market, making her bound ankles fast to the roots of a bush. Then he led the two men up the cliff-side, and Maga lay glaring at me as if she hoped hate could set me on fire, while I made shift to stanch my wound.
But she changed her tactics almost before Will was out of sight beyond a boulder, beginning to scream the same words over and over in the gipsy tongue and struggling to free her feet until I thought the thongs would either burst or strip the flesh from her.
The screams were answered by a shout from up above. Then I heard Will shout, and some one fired a pistol. There came a clatter of loose stones, and I got to my feet to be ready for action—not that my hurts would have let me accomplish much.
A second later I saw three of Gregor Jhaere's gipsies scurrying along the cliff-side, turning at intervals to fire pistols at some one in pursuit. So I joined in the fray with my Colt repeater, and flattered myself I did not do so badly. The first two shots produced no other effect than to bring the runaways to a halt. The next three shots brought all three men tumbling head over heels down the cliff-side, rolling and sliding and scattering the stones.
One fell near Maga's feet and lay there writhing. The other two came to a standstill in a hideous heap beside me, and I stooped to see if I could recognize them.
What happened after that was almost too quick for the senses to take in. One of the gipsies came suddenly to life and seized me by the neck. The other grasped my feet, and as I fell I saw the third man slash loose Maga's thongs and help her up.
My two assailants rolled me over on my back, and while one held me the other aimed blows at my head with the butt of his empty pistol. Once he hit me, and it felt like an explosion. Twice by a miracle I dodged the blows, growing weaker, though, and hopeless. He aimed a fourth blow, taking his time about it and making sure of his aim, and I waited in the nearest approach to fatalistic calm I ever experienced.
In a strange abstraction, in which every movement seemed to be slowed down into unbelievable leisureliness, I saw the butt of the pistol begin to approach my eye—near—nearer. Then suddenly I heard a woman scream, and a shot ring out.
Instead of the pistol butt the gipsy's brains splashed on my face, and the man collapsed on top of me. Next I realized that Gloria Vanderman was wiping my face with a cloth of some kind, holding a hot pistol in her other hand, while Will was standing laughing over me, and Maga Jhaere with the other gipsy had disappeared altogether.
"Did you shoot Maga?" I mumbled.
"No," Will laughed. "I'd hate to shoot a woman who'd offered to make me king! She ought to be hung, though, for a horse-thief! She and that other gipsy got away with the mounts! Never mind—there are four of us to carry you, if Gloria lends a hand!"
But I have no notion how they carried me. All I remember is recovering consciousness that evening in the castle, to discover myself copiously bandaged, and painfully stiff, but not so much of an invalid after all.
Chapter Twenty-one "Those who survive this night shall have brave memories!"
Oh, fear and hate shall have their spate (For both of the twain are one) And lust and greed devour the seed That else had growth begun. Fiercely the flow of death shall go And short the good man's shrift! All hell's awake full toll to take, And passions hour is swift.
But there be cracks in evil's tracks Where seed shall safe abide, And living rocks shall breast the shocks Of overflowing tide. Castle and wall and keep shall fall, Prophet and plan shall fail, And they shall thank nor wit nor rank Who in the end prevail.
Looking back after this lapse of time there seems little difference between the disordered dreams of unconsciousness and the actual waking turmoil of that night. At first as I came slowly to my senses there seemed only a sea of voices all about me, and a constant thumping, as of falling weights.
There were great pine torches set in the rusty old rings on the wall, and by their fitful light I saw that I lay on a cot in the castle keep. Monty, Fred, Will, Kagig and Rustum Khan were conversing at a table. Gloria sat on an up-ended pine log near me. A dozen Armenians, including the "elders" who had disagreed with Kagig, stood arguing rather noisily near the door.
"What is the thumping?" I asked, and Gloria hurried to the cot-side. But I managed to sit up, and after she had given me a drink I found that my foot was still the most injured part of me. It was swollen unbelievably, whereas my bandaged head felt little the worse for wear, and the knife-wound did not hurt much.
"They're bringing in wood," she answered.
"Why all that quantity?"
The thumping was continuous, not unlike the noise good stevedores make when loading against time.
"To burn the castle!"
At that moment Rustum Khan left the table, and seeing me sitting up strode over.
"Good-by, sahib!" he said, reaching out for my hand.
"The lord sahib has given me a post of honor and I go to hold it. Those who survive this night shall have brave memories!"
I got to my feet to shake hands with him, and I think he appreciated the courtesy, for his stern eyes softened for a moment. He saluted Gloria rather perfunctorily as became his attitude toward women, and strode away to a point half-way between the door and Monty. There he turned, facing the table.
"Lord sahib bahadur!" he said sonorously.
Monty got up and stood facing him.
"Salaam, Rustum Khan!" Monty answered, returning the salute, and the others got to their feet in a hurry, and stood at attention.
Then the Rajput faced about and went striding through the doorless opening into the black night—the last I was destined to see of him alive.
"May we all prove as faithful and brave as that man!" said Monty, sitting down again, and Kagig cracked his knuckles.
Gloria and I went over and sat at the table, and seeing me in a state to understand things Monty gave me a precis of the situation.
"We're making a great beacon of this castle," he said. "Three hundred men and women are piling in the felled logs and trees and down-wood —everything that will burn. We shall need light on the scene. Rustum Khan has gone to hold the clay ramp and make sure the Turks turn up this castle road. Fred is to hold the corner; we've fortified the Zeitoon side of the road, and Fred and his men are to make sure the Turks don't spread out through the trees. Kagig, Will and I, with twenty-five very carefully picked men for each of us, wait for the Turks at the bottom of the road and put up a feint of resistance. Our business will be to make it look as little like a trap and as much like a desperate defense as possible. We hope to make it seem we're caught napping and fighting in the last ditch."
"Last ditch is true enough!" Fred commented cheerfully. Fred was obviously in his best humor, faced by a situation that needed no cynicism to discolor it—full of fight and perfectly contented.
"Practically all of the rest of the men and women who are not watching the enemy on the other side of Beirut Dagh," Monty went on, "are hidden, or will be hidden in the timber on either side of the road. We're hoping to God they'll have sense enough to keep silent until the beacon is lighted. You're to light the beacon, since you're recovering so finely—you and Miss Vanderman."
"Yes, but when?" said I.
"When the bugles blow. We've got six bugles—"
"Only two of them are cornets and one's a trombone," Fred put in.
"And when they all sound together, then set the castle alight and kill any one you see who isn't an Armenian!"
"Or us!" said Fred. "You're asked not to kill one of us!"
"As a matter of fact," said Monty, "I rather expect to be near you by that time, because we don't want to give the signal until as many Turks as possible are caught in the road like rats. At the signal we dose the road at both ends; Rustum Khan and Fred from the bottom end, and we at the top."
"Most of the murder," Fred explained cheerfully, "will be done by the women hidden in the trees on either flank. As long as they don't shoot across the road and kill one another it'll be a picnic!"
"How do you know the Turks will walk into the trap?" I asked.
"Ten 'traitors,' " said Monty, "have let themselves get caught at intervals since noon. One of Kagig's spies has got across to us with news that Mahmoud means to finish the hash of Zeitoon to-night. His men have been promised all the loot and all the women."
"Except one!" Fred added with a glance at Gloria.
"Two! Except two!" remarked Kagig with a glance at the door. We looked, and held our breath.
Maga Jhaere stood there, with a hand on the masonry on each side!
"You fool, Kagig, what you fill this castle full of wood for?" she demanded.
Kagig beckoned to her.
"To burn little traitoresses!" he answered tenderly. "Come here!"
She walked over to him, and he put his arm around her waist, looking up from his seat into her face as if studying it almost for the first time. She began running her fingers through his hair.
"Is she not beautiful?" he asked us naively. Then, not waiting for an answer: "She is my wife, effendim. You would not have me be revengeful—not toward my wife, I think?"
"Your wife? Why didn't you tell us that before?"
Gloria seemed the most surprised, as well as the most amused, although we were all astonished.
"Not tell you before? Oh—do you remember Abraham—in the Bible—yes? She has been my best spy now and then. As Kagig's wife what good would she be?" Yet, had I not married her, I should have lost the services of most of my best spies—Gregor Jhaere for one. He is not her father, no. They call her their queen. She is daughter of another gipsy and of an Armenian lady of very good family. She has always hoped to see me a monarch!"
He laughed, and cracked his finger-joints.
"To make of me a monarch, and to reign beside me! Ha-ha-ha! I did those gipsies a favor by marrying her, for she was something of a problem to them, no gipsy being good enough in her eyes, and no busne (Gentile) caring for the honor until I saw and fell in love! Oh, yes, I fell in love! I, Kagig, the old adventurer, I fell in love!"
He drew her down and kissed her as tenderly as if she were a little child; then rose to his feet.
"You forgive her, effendim?" he asked. "You forgive her for my sake?"
None answered him. Perhaps he asked too much.
"Never mind me, then, effendim. Not for my sake, but for the good work she has so often done, and for the work she shall do—you forgive her?"
We all looked toward Gloria. It was her prerogative. Gloria took Maga's left hand in her right.
"I don't blame you," she said, "for coveting Will. I've coveted him myself! But you needn't have let your men handle me so roughly!"
"No?" said Maga blandly. "Then why did you 'urt two of them so badly that they run away? Did not you shoot that other one? So—I give 'im to you. I give you that Will Yerkees—"
"Thanks!" put in Will, but Maga ignored the interruption.
"—not because you are cleverer than me—or more beautiful. You are uglee! You can not dance, and as for fighting, I could keel you with one 'and! But because I like Kagig better after all!"
At that Kagig suddenly dismissed all such trivialities as treachery and matrimony from his mind with one of his Napoleonic gestures.
"It is time, effendim, to be moving!" He led the way out without another word, I limping along last and the Armenian "elders" following me.
It was pitchy dark in the castle courtyard, and without the light from numerous kerosene lanterns it would not have been possible to find the way between the heaped-up logs. There was only a crooked, very narrow passage left between the keep and the outer gate, and they had long ago left off using the gate for the lumber, but were hoisting it over the wall with ropes. One improvised derrick squealed in the darkness, and the logs came in by twos and tens and dozens. No sooner were we out of the keep than women came and tossed in logs through the door and windows, until presently that building, too, contained fuel enough to decompose the stone. And over the whole of it, here, there and everywhere, men were pouring cans and cans of kerosene, while other men were setting dry tinder in strategic places.
There was no moon that night. Or if there was a moon, then the dark clouds hid it. No doubt Mahmoud thought he had a night after his own heart for the purpose of overwhelming our little force; for how should he know that we were ready for the massed battalions forming to storm the gorge again. At a little after eight o'clock Mahmoud resumed the offensive with his artillery, and a messenger that Monty sent down to watch returned and reported the shells all bursting wild, with Rustum Khan's men taking careful cover in the ditches they had zigzagged down the whole face of the ramp.
An hour later the Turk's infantry was reported moving, and shortly before ten o'clock we heard the opening rattle of Rustum Khan's stinging defense. There was intended to be no deception about that part of our arrangements; nor was there. The oncoming enemy was met with a hail of destruction that checked and withered his ranks, and made the succeeding companies only too willing to turn at the castle road instead of struggling straight forward.
Nor was the turn accomplished without further loss; for our Zeitoonli, still entrenched on the flank of the pass, loosed a murderous storm of lead through the dark that swept every inch of the open castle road, and the turn became a shambles.
But Mahmoud had reckoned the cost and decided to pay it. Company after company poured up the gorge in the rear of the front ones, and turned with a roar up the road, butchered and bewildered, but ever adding to the total that gained shelter beyond the first turn in the road.
Those, however, had to deal at once with Monty, Will and Kagig, who opened on them guerrilla warfare from behind trees—never opposing them sufficiently to check them altogether, but leading them steadily forward into the two-mile trap. From where I stood on the top of the castle wall I could judge pretty accurately how the fight went; and I marveled at the skill of our men that they should retire up the road so slowly, and make such a perfect impression of desperate defense. Gloria refused from the first to remain inactive beside me, but went through the trees down the line of the road, crossing at intervals from side to side, urging and begging our ambushed people to be patient and reserve their fire until the chorus of bugles should blow.
About eleven o'clock a breathless messenger came to say that the Turks had renewed the attack on the other side of Beirut Dagh; but I did not even send him on to Kagig. If the attack was a feint, as was probable, intended to distract us from the main battle, then there were men enough there to deal with it. If, on the other hand, Mahmoud had divided forces and sent a formidable number around the mountain, then our only chance was nevertheless to concentrate on our great effort, and defeat the nearest first. There was not the slightest wisdom in sending down a message likely to distract Monty or Will or Kagig from their immediate task.
The women kept piling in the pine trees, until I thought the very weight of lumber might defeat our purpose by delaying the blaze too long. But Kagig had requisitioned every drop of kerosene in Zeitoon, and the stuff was splashed on with the recklessness that comes of throwing parsimony to the winds. Then I grew afraid lest they should fire the stuff too soon, or lest some stray spark from a man's pipe or an overturned lantern should do the work. Every imaginable fear presented itself, because, having no active part in the fighting, I had nothing to distract me from self-criticism. It became almost a foregone conclusion after a while that the night's work was destined to be spoiled entirely by some oversight or stupidity of mine.
The battle down in the valley dinned and screamed like the end of the world, although the Turks could not use their artillery for fear of slaughtering their own men. I could hear Fred hotly engaged, holding the corner of the turn where the Turks were seeking in vain to widen it. Probably the Turks supposed he was put there with a hundred men to defend the road, instead of to drive their thinned battalions up it.
In the end it was an accident that set the bugles blowing, and probably that accident saved our fortunes. Monty shouted to a man to run and ask for news of the fighting below. Mistaking the words in the din, the messenger ran to the rock in the clearing on which the musicians waited, and a minute later the first bars of the Marseillaise rang clearly through the trees.
The almost instant answer was a volley from each side of the road that sounded like the explosion of the whole world. And the Turks hardly half into the trap yet! Monty and Will and Kagig brought their men back up the road at the double, as the only way to escape the fire of our ambushed friends. I was two minutes fumbling with matches in the wind before I could light the kindling set ready in the entrance arch; and it was about three minutes more before the first long flame shot skyward and the beacon we had set began to do its appointed work.
Then, though, that castle proved to be a very Vesuvius, for the draught poured in through the doorless arch and hurried the hot flames skyward to be mushroomed roaring against the belly of black clouds. None of us knew then where Mahmoud was, nor that he had given the order that minute to his trapped battalions to halt, face the trees on either side, and advance in either direction in order to widen their front.
The firing of the castle, for some mad reason of the sort that mothers every catastrophe, caused them to disobey that order and, instead, to charge forward at the double. In a moment the new fury (for it was not panic, nor yet exactly the reverse) communicated itself all along the road, and the regiments at the rear, in spite of the murderous fire from our ambush, yelled and milled to drive the men in front more swiftly.
Then Fred saw the castle flames, and led his men forward to plug up the lower end of the road. Next Rustum Khan saw it, and advanced three hundred down the ramp to hold the ditch at the bottom and prevent reserves from coming to the rescue.
It was then, so he told us afterward, that Fred realized who was the person in authority who had sought to change the line of battle at the critical moment. Mahmoud himself, surrounded by his staff, had ridden forward to see what the true nature of the difficulty might be, and had got caught in the trap when Fred closed it and Rustum Khan cut off the flow of men!
Fred did his best by rapid fire to put an end to Mahmoud, staff and all. But the light from the castle did not reach down in among the trees, and when he told the nearest men who the target was that only made the shooting wilder. Nor was Mahmoud a man without decision. Realizing that he was trapped, at any rate from behind, he galloped forward with his staff, scattering bewildered men to right and left of him, to find out whether the trap could not be forced from the upper end, knowing that there were plenty of men on the road already to account for any possible total we could bring against them, if only they could be led forward and deployed.
So it came about that Mahmoud on a splendid war-horse, and five of his mounted staff, arrived at the head of the oncoming column; and Kagig saw them in a moment when the flare from the castle roared like a rocket hundreds of feet high and scattered all the shadows on that section of the road. Kagig passed the word along, but it was Monty who devised the instant plan, and one of Will's men who came running to find me.
So I forgot pain and disability in the excitement of having a part to play. Gloria had found her way back to the castle, and it was she who rallied all the men and women who had worked at piling fuel, and brought them to where I lay. Then I begged her to get back somewhere and hide, but she laughed at me.
Our business was to burry down the road and plug it against Mahmoud and his men, while Kagig got behind him by sheer hand-to-hand fighting, and Monty and Will approached him from the flanks. We had to be cautious about shooting, because of Kagig, for one thing, but for another, Will had sent the message, "Don't kill Mahmoud." And that, of course, was obvious. Mahmoud alive would be worth a thousand to us of any Mahmoud dead.
Gloria ran down the road beside me, and Will caught sight of her in the dancing light. I heard him shout something in United States English about women and hell-fire and burned fingers, but beyond that it was not polite, and was intended for me as much as for Gloria, I did not get the gist of it. Then the battle closed up around us, and we all fought hand to hand—women harder than the men—to close in on Mahmoud and drag him from his horse.
Three times in the fitful dark and even more deceptive dancing light we almost had him. But the first time he fought free, and his war-horse kicked a clear way for him for a few yards through the scrimmage. Then Kagig closed in on him from the rear. But three of the staff engaged Kagig alone, and twenty or thirty of Mahmoud's infantry drove Kagig's men back on the still advancing column. Kagig went down, fighting and shouting like a Berserker, and Monty let Mahmoud go to run to Kagig's rescue.
Monty did not go alone, for his men leapt after him like hounds. But he fought his way in the lead with a clubbed rifle, and stood over Kagig's body working the weapon like a flail. That was all I saw of that encounter, for Mahmoud decided to attempt escape by the upper way again, and it was I who captured him. I landed on him through the darkness with my clenched fist under the low hung angle of his jaw and, seizing his leg, threw him out of the saddle. There Gloria helped me sit on him; and the greater part of what we had to do was to keep the women from tearing him to pieces.
At last Gloria and I, with a dozen of them, took Mahmoud up-hill and made him sit down in full firelight with his back against a rock. He had nothing to say for himself, but stared at Gloria with eyes that explained the whole philosophy of all the Turks; and she, for sake of the decency that was her birthright, went and stood on the far side of the rock and kept the bulge of it between them.
Then I sent for Kagig, and Monty, and Will; And after they had seen to the barricading of the upper end of the road with fallen trees and a fairly wide ditch, Kagig and Will came, followed by half a dozen of the elders, who had been lending a stout hand during that part of the night's work. Kagig was out of breath, but apparently not hurt much.
They came so slowly that I wondered. Gloria, who could see much farther through the dark than I, gave a little scream and ran forward. I saw then by a sudden burst of flame from the castle that they were carrying something heavy, and I guessed what it was although my heart rebelled against belief; but I did not dare leave Mahmoud, who seemed inclined to take advantage of the first stray opportunity. I stuck my pistol into his ear and dared him to move hand or foot.
Gloria came back in tears, and took Mahmoud's cape and my jacket, and spread them on the ground. On these they laid Monty very tenderly, Kagig looking on with cracking finger-joints that I could hear quite plainly in spite of the awful rage of battle that thundered and crashed and screamed among the woods. It was as one sometimes hears the ticking of a watch beneath the pillow in a nightmare.
Monty was alive, but in spite of what Gloria could do the dark blood was welling out from a sword gash on his right side, and we had not a surgeon within miles of us. From somewhere out of the darkness Maga appeared, bringing water, her face all black with the filth of fighting among trees, and her eyes on fire.
Monty seemed to be listening to the noise of battle—Kagig to think of nothing but his loss. He pointed at Mahmoud, who was eying Monty curiously.
"See the prisoner!" he said. "Ha! I would give a hundred of him a hundred times for Monty, my brother!"
Monty turned his head to see Mahmoud, and appeared partly satisfied.
"You hold the key," he said painfully. "Mahmoud will make terms. But it will take time to stop the fighting. You must send down reserves to Fred and Rustum Khan—that is where the strain is—you must see that surely—the enemy from below will be trying to come forward, and those in the trap to return. Fred and Rustum Khan are bearing all the brunt. Relieve them!"
It did not look good to me that Will should leave Gloria again; and Kagig must surely stay there to do the bargaining. So I took Monty's hand to bid him good-by, and limped off through the dark to try to find men who would come with me to the shambles below. It wag Kagig and Will together who overtook me, picked me off my feet, and dragged me back, and Will went down alone, with a wave of the hand to Gloria, and a laugh that might have made the devil think he liked it.
Then began the conference, I holding a mere watching brief with a pistol reasonably close to Mahmoud's ear. And for a time, while Monty lived, the elders supported Kagig and insisted on the full concession of his demands. But Monty, with his head on Gloria's lap, died midway of the proceedings; and after that the elders' suspicion of Kagig reawoke, so that Mahmoud took courage and grew more obstinate. Kagig called them aside repeatedly to make them listen to his views.
"You fools!" he swore at them, cracking his knuckles and twisting at his beard alternately. "Do you not realize that Mahmoud is ambitious! Do you not understand that he must yield all, if you insist! Otherwise we hang him here to a tree in sight of the burning castle and his own men! No ambitious rascal is ever willing to be hanged! Insist! Insist!"
"Ah, Kagig!" one of them answered. "Speak for yourself. You would not like to be hanged perhaps! But we must concede him something, or how shall he satisfy ambition? He must be able to go back with something to his credit in order to satisfy the politicians."
"Oh, my people! Oh, my people!" grumbled Kagig. "Can you never see?"
But they went back to Mahmoud with a fresh proposal, milder than the first; and eventually, after yielding point by point, until Kagig begged them kindly to blow his brains out and bury him with Monty, they reached a basis on which Mahmoud was willing to capitulate —or to oblige them, as he expressed it.
He won his main point: Zeitoon was to accept a Turkish governor. They won theirs, that the governor was to bring no troops with him, but to be contented with a body-guard of Zeitoonli. For the rest: Mahmoud was to go free, taking his wounded with him, but surrendering all the uninjured Turkish soldiers in the trap as hostages for the release of all Armenian prisoners taken anywhere between Tarsus and Zeitoon. It was agreed there were to be no subsequent reprisals by either side, and that hostages were not to be released until after Mahmoud's army corps should have returned to whence it came.
Kagig wrote the terms in Turkish by the light of the holocaust in Monty's ancestral keep, and Mahmoud signed the paper in the presence of ten witnesses. But whether he, or his brother Turks, have kept, for instance, the last clause of the agreement, history can answer.
Chapter Twenty-two "God go with you to the States, effendim!"
First of the Christian nations; the first of us all to feel The fire of infidel hatred, the weight of the pagan heel; Faithfullest down the ages tending the light that burned, Tortured and trodden therefore, spat on and slain and spurned; Branded for others' vices, robbed of your rightful fame, Clinging to Truth in a truthless land in the name of the ancient Name; Generous, courteous, gentle, patient under the yoke, Decent (hemmed in a harem land ye were ever a one-wife folk); Royal and brave and ancient—haply an hour has struck When the new fad-fangled peoples shall weary of raking muck, And turning from coward counsels and loathing the parish lies, In shame and sackcloth offer up the only sacrifice. Then thou who hast been neglected, who hast called o'er a world in vain To the deaf deceitful traders' ears in tune to the voice of gain, Thou Cinderella nation, starved that our appetites might live, When we come with a hand outstretched at last—accept it, and forgive!
The fighting lasted nearly until dawn, because of the difficulty of conveying Mahmoud's orders to the Turks, and Kagig's orders to our own tree-hidden firing-line. But a little before sunrise the last shot was fired, at about the time when most of the castle walls fell in and a huge shower of golden sparks shot upward to the paling sky. The cease fire left all Zeitoon's defenders with scarcely a thousand rounds of rifle ammunition between them; but Mahmoud did not know that.
An hour after dawn Fred joined us. He had the news of Monty's death already, and said nothing, but pointed to something that his own men bore along on a litter of branches. A minute or two later they laid Rustum Khan's corpse beside Monty's, and we threw one blanket over both of them.
I don't remember that Fred spoke one word. He and Monty had been closer friends than any brothers I ever knew. No doubt the awful strain of the fighting at the corner of the woods had left Fred numb to some extent; but he and Monty had never been demonstrative in their affection, and, as they had lived in almost silent understanding of each other, hidden very often for the benefit of strangers by keen mutual criticism, so they parted, Fred not caring to make public what he thought, or knew, or felt.
Kagig, not being in favor with the elders, vanished, Maga following with food for him in a leather bag, and we saw neither of them again until noon that day, by which time we ourselves had slept a little and eaten ravenously. Then he came to us where we still sat by the great rock with Mahmoud under guard (for nobody would trust him to fulfil his agreement until all his troops had retired from the district, leaving behind them such ammunition and supplies as they had carried to the gorge below the ramp).
We had laid both bodies under the one blanket in the shade, and Kagig pointed to them.
"I have found the place—the proper place, effendim!" he said simply. "Maga has made it fit."
Not knowing what he meant by that last remark, we invited some big Armenians to come with us to carry our honored dead, and followed Kagig one by one up a goat track (or a bear track, perhaps it was) that wound past the crumbled and blackened castle wall and followed the line of the mountain. Here and there we could see that Kagig had cleared it a little on his way back, and several times it was obvious that there had been a prepared, frequented track in ancient days.
"It took time to find," said Kagig, glancing back, "but I thought there must be such a place near such a castle."
Presently we emerged on a level ledge of rock, from a square hole in the midst of which a great slab had been levered away with the aid of a pole that lay beside it. All around the opening Maga had spread masses of wild flowers, and either she or Kagig had spread out on the rock the great banner with its ships and wheat-sheaves that the women had made by night in Monty's honor.
We could read the motto plainly now—Per terram et aquam—By land and sea; and Kagig pointed to some marks on the stone slab. Moss had grown in them and lichens, but he or else Maga had scraped them clean; and there on the stone lay the same legend graven bold and deep, as clear now as when the last crusader of the family was buried there, lord knew how many centuries before.
The tomb was an enormous place—part cave, and partly hewn—twenty feet by twenty by as many feet deep at the most conservative guess; and on four ledges, one on each side, not in their armor, but in the rags of their robes of honor, lay the bones of four earlier Montdidiers—all big men, broad-shouldered and long of shin and thigh.
We did not need to go down into the tomb and break the peace of centuries. Under the very center of the opening was a raised table of hewn rock, part of the cavern floor, about eight feet by eight that seemed to have been left there ready for the next man, or next two men when their time should come.
Down on to that we lowered Monty's body carefully with leather ropes, and then Rustum Khan's beside him, Rustum Khan receiving Christian burial, as neither he nor his proud ancestors would have preferred. But his line was as old as Monty's, and he died in the same cause and the selfsame battle, so we chose to do his body honor; and if the prayers that Fred remembered, and the other cheerfuller prayers that Gloria knew, were an offense to the Rajput's lingering ghost, we hoped he might forgive us because of friendship, and esteem, and the homage we did to his valor in burying his body there.
We covered Monty's body with the banner the women had made, and Rustum Khan's with flowers, for lack of a better shroud; then levered and shoved the great slab back until it rested snugly in the grooves the old masons had once cut so accurately as to preserve the bones beneath.
Then, when Gloria had said the last prayer:
"What next, Kagig?" Will demanded.
Kagig was going to answer, but thought better of it and strode away in the lead, we following. He did not stop until we reached the open and the smoking ruins of the castle walls. When he stopped:
"Has any one seen Peter Measel?" I asked.
"Forget him!" growled Will.
"Why?" demanded Maga. "Will you bury him in that same hole with them two?"
"Has any one seen him?" I asked again, uncertain why I asked, but curious and insistent.
"Sure!" said Maga. "Yes. Me I seen 'im. I keel 'im—so—with a knife—las' night! You not believe?"
Whether we believed or not, the news surprised us, and we waited in silence for an explanation.
"You not believe? Why not? That dog! 'E make of me a dam-fool! 'E tell me about God. 'E say God is angry with Zeitoon, an' Kagig is as good as a dead man, an' I shall take advantage. 'E 'ope 'e marry me. I 'ope if Kagig die I marry Will Yerkees, but I agree with Measel, making pretend, an' 'e run away to talk 'is fool secrets with the Turks. Then I make my own arrangements! But Mahmoud is not succeeding, and I like Kagig better after all. An' then last night in the darkness Peter Measel he is coming on a 'orse with Mahmoud because Mahmoud is not trusting him out of sight. An' I see him, an' 'e see me, an' 'e call me, an' I go to 'im through all the fighting, an' 'e get off the 'orse an' reach out 'is arms to me, an' I keel 'im with my knife—so! An' now you know all about it!"
"What next?" Will demanded dryly.
"Next?" said Kagig. "You effendim make your escape! The Turks will surely seek to be revenged on you. I will show you a way across the mountains into Persia."
"And you?" I asked.
"Into hiding!" he answered grimly. "Maga—little Maga, she shall come with me, and teach me more about the earth and sky and wind and water! Perhaps at last some day she shall make me—no, never a king, but a sportman."
"Come with us," said Will. "Come to the States."
"No, no, effendi. I know my people. They are good folk. They mistrust me now, and if I were to stay among them where they could see me and accuse me, and where the Turks could make a peg of me on which to hang mistrust, I should be a source of weakness to them. Nevertheless, I am ever the Eye of Zeitoon! I shall go into hiding, and watch! There will come an hour again—infallibly—when the Turks will seek to blot out the last vestige of Armenia. If I hide faithfully, and watch well, by that time I shall be a legend among my people, and when I appear again in their desperation they will trust me."
Will met Gloria's eyes in silence for a moment.
"I've a mind to stay with you, Kagig, and lend a hand," he said at last.
"Nay, nay, effendi!"
"We can attach ourselves to some mission station, and be lots of use," Gloria agreed.
"Use?" said Kagig, cracking his fingers. "The missions have done good work, but you can be of much more use—you two. You have each other. Go back to the blessed land you come from, and be happy together. But pay the price of happiness! You have seen. Go back and tell!"
"Tell about Armenian atrocities?" said Will. "Why, man alive, the papers are full of them at regular intervals!"
Kagig made a gesture of impatience.
"Aye! All about what the Turks have done to us, and how much about us ourselves? America believes that when a Turk merely frowns the Armenian lies down and holds his belly ready for the knife! Who would care to help such miserable-minded men and women? But you have seen otherwise. You know the truth. You have seen that Armenia is undermined by mutual suspicion cunningly implanted by the Turk. You have also seen how we rally around one man or a handful whom we know we dare trust!"
"True enough!" said Will. "I've wondered at it."
"Then go and tell America," Kagig almost snarled with blazing eyes, "to come and help us! To give us a handful of armed men to rally round! Tell them we are men and women, not calves for the shambles! Tell them to reach us out but one finger of one hand for half a dozen years, and watch us grow into a nation! Preach it from the house-tops! Teach it! Tell it to the sportmen of America that all we need is a handful to rally round, and we will all be sportmen too! Go and tell them—tell them!"
"You bet we will!" said Gloria.
"Then go!" said Kagig. "Go by way of Persia, lest the Turks find ways of stopping up your mouths. Monty has died to help us. I live that I may help. You go and tell the sportmen all. Tell them we show good sport in Zeitoon—in Armenia! God go with you all, effendim!"