This eBook was transcribed by M.R.J.
THE EYE OF ZEITOON By Talbot Mundy
Author of Rung Ho, King—of the Khyber Rifles, Hira Singh, The Ivory Trail, etc.
I Parthians, Medes and Elamites .............................. 1 II "How did sunshine get into the garden? By whose leave came the wind?" .............................................. 21 III "Sahib, there is always work for real soldiers!" ......... 40 IV "We are the robbers, effendi!" ............................ 52 V "Effendi, that is the heart of Armenia burning!" ........... 74 VI "Passing the buck to Allah!" ............................. 91 VII "We hold you to your word!" .............................. 118 VIII "I go with that man!" ................................... 128 IX "And you left your friend to help me?" ................... 142 X "When I fire this pistol—" ................................ 163 XI "That man's dose is death, and he dies unshriven!" ....... 176 XII "America's way with a woman is beyond belief!" .......... 195 XIII " 'Take your squadron and go find him, Rustum Khan!' And I, sahib, obeyed my lord bahadur's orders." ......... 211 XIV "Rajput, I shall hang you if you make more trouble!"...... 229 XV "Scenery to burst the heart!" ............................. 243 XVI "What care I for my belly, sahib, if you break my heart?" 257 XVII "I knew what to expect of the women!" .................. 277 XVIII "Per terram et aquam" .................................. 290 XIX "Such drilling as they have had—such little drilling!" .. 303 XX "So few against so many! I see death, and I am not sorry!" 316 XXI "Those who survive this night shall have brave memories!". 333 XXII "God go with you to the States, effendim!" .............. 349
Chapter One Parthians, Medes and Elamites
Oh ye, who tread the trodden path And keep the narrow law In famished faith that Judgment Day Shall blast your sluggard mists away And show what Moses saw! Oh thralls of subdivided time, Hours Measureless I sing That own swift ways to wider scenes, New-plucked from heights where Vision preens A white, unwearied wing! No creed I preach to bend dull thought To see what I shall show, Nor can ye buy with treasured gold The key to these Hours that unfold New tales no teachers know. Ye'll need no leave o' the laws o' man, For Vision's wings are free; The swift Unmeasured Hours are kind And ye shall leave all cares behind If ye will come with me! In vain shall lumps of fashioned stuff Imprison you about; In vain let pundits preach the flesh And feebling limits that enmesh Your goings in and out, I know the way the zephyrs took Who brought the breath of spring, I guide to shores of regions blest Where white, uncaught Ideas nest And Thought is strong o' wing! Within the Hours that I unlock All customed fetters fall; The chains of drudgery release; Set limits fade; horizons cease For you who hear the call No trumpet note—no roll of drums, But quiet, sure and sweet— The self-same voice that summoned Drake, The whisper for whose siren sake They manned the Devon fleet, More lawless than the gray gull's wait, More boundless than the sea, More subtle than the softest wind!
* * * * * *
Oh, ye shall burst the ties that bind If ye will come with me!
It is written with authority of Tarsus that once it was no mean city, but that is a tale of nineteen centuries ago. The Turko-Italian War had not been fought when Fred Oakes took the fever of the place, although the stage was pretty nearly set for it and most of the leading actors were waiting for their cue. No more history was needed than to grind away forgotten loveliness.
Fred's is the least sweet temper in the universe when the ague grips and shakes him, and he knows history as some men know the Bible—by fathoms; he cursed the place conqueror by conqueror, maligning them for their city's sake, and if Sennacherib, who built the first foundations, and if Anthony and Cleopatra, Philip of Macedon, Timour-i-lang, Mahmoud, Ibrahim and all the rest of them could have come and listened by his bedside they would have heard more personal scandal of themselves than ever their contemporary chroniclers dared reveal.
All this because he insisted on ignoring the history he knew so well, and could not be held from bathing in the River Cydnus. Whatever their indifference to custom, Anthony and Cleopatra knew better than do that. Alexander the Great, on the other hand, flouted tradition and set Fred the example, very nearly dying of the ague for his pains, for those are treacherous, chill waters.
Fred, being a sober man and unlike Alexander of Macedon in several other ways, throws off fever marvelously, but takes it as some persons do religion, very severely for a little while. So we carried him and laid him on a nice white cot in a nice clean room with two beds in it in the American mission, where they dispense more than royal hospitality to utter strangers. Will Yerkes had friends there but that made no difference; Fred was quinined, low-dieted, bathed, comforted and reproved for swearing by a college-educated nurse, who liked his principles and disapproved of his professions just as frankly as if he came from her hometown. (Her name was Van-something-or-other, and you could lean against the Boston accent—just a little lonely-sounding, but a very rock of gentle independence, all that long way from home!)
Meanwhile, we rested. That is to say that, after accepting as much mission hospitality as was decent, considering that every member of the staff worked fourteen hours a day and had to make up for attention shown to us by long hours bitten out of night, we loafed about the city. And Satan still finds mischief.
We called on Fred in the beginning twice a day, morning and evening, but cut the visits short for the same reason that Monty did not go at all: when the fever is on him Fred's feelings toward his own sex are simply blunt bellicose. When they put another patient in the spare bed in his room we copied Monty, arguing that one male at a time for him to quarrel with was plenty.
Monty, being Earl of Montdidier and Kirkudbrightshire, and a privy councilor, was welcome at the consulate at Mersina, twenty miles away. The consul, like Monty, was an army officer, who played good chess, so that that was no place, either, for Will Yerkes and me. Will prefers dime novels, if he must sit still, and there was none. And besides, he was never what you could call really sedative.
He and I took up quarters at the European hotel—no sweet abiding-place. There were beetles in the Denmark butter that they pushed on to the filthy table-cloth in its original one-pound tin; and there was a Turkish officer in riding pants and red morocco slippers, back from the Yemen with two or three incurable complaints. He talked out-of-date Turkish politics in bad French and eked out his ignorance of table manners with instinctive racial habit.
To avoid him between meals Will and I set out to look at the historic sights, and exhausted them all, real and alleged, in less than half a day (for in addition to a lust for ready-cut building stone the Turks have never cherished monuments that might accentuate their own decadence). After that we fossicked in the manner of prospectors that we are by preference, if not always by trade, eschewing polite society and hunting in the impolite, amusing places where most of the facts have teeth, sharp and ready to snap, but visible.
We found a khan at last on the outskirts of the city, almost in sight of the railway line, that well agreed with our frame of mind. It was none of the newfangled, underdone affairs that ape hotels, with Greek managers and as many different prices for one service as there are grades of credulity, but a genuine two-hundred-year-old Turkish place, run by a Turk, and named Yeni Khan (which means the new rest house) in proof that once the world was younger. The man who directed us to the place called it a kahveh; but that means a place for donkeys and foot-passengers, and when we spoke of it as kahveh to the obadashi— the elderly youth who corresponds to porter, bell-boy and chambermaid in one—he was visibly annoyed.
Truly the place was a khan—a great bleak building of four high outer walls, surrounding a courtyard that was a yard deep with the dung of countless camels, horses, bullocks, asses; crowded with arabas, the four-wheeled vehicles of all the Near East, and smelly with centuries of human journeys' ends.
Khans provide nothing except room, heat and water (and the heat costs extra); there is no sanitation for any one at any price; every guest dumps all his discarded rubbish over the balcony rail into the courtyard, to be trodden and wheeled under foot and help build the aroma. But the guests provide a picture without price that with the very first glimpse drives discomfort out of mind.
In that place there were Parthians, Medes and Elamites, and all the rest of the list. There was even a Chinaman. Two Hindus were unpacking bundles out of a creaking araba, watched scornfully by an unmistakable Pathan. A fat swarthy-faced Greek in black frock coat and trousers, fez, and slippered feet gesticulated with his right arm like a pump-handle while he sat on the balcony-rail and bellowed orders to a crowd mixed of Armenians, Italians, Maltese, Syrians and a Turk or two, who labored with his bales of cotton goods below. (The Italians eyed everybody sidewise, for there were rumors in those days of impending trouble, and when the Turk begins hostilities he likes his first opponents easy and ready to hand.)
There were Kurds, long-nosed, lean-lipped and suspicious, who said very little, but hugged long knives as they passed back and forth among the swarming strangers. They said nothing at all, those Kurds, but listened a very great deal.
Tall, mustached Circassians, with eighteen-inch Erzerum daggers at their waists, swaggered about as if they, and only they, were history's heirs. It was expedient to get out of their path alertly, but they cringed into second place before the Turks, who, without any swagger at all, lorded it over every one. For the Turk is a conqueror, whatever else he ought to be. The poorest Turkish servant is race-conscious, and unshakably convinced of his own superiority to the princes of the conquered. One has to bear that fact in mind when dealing with the Turk; it colors all his views of life, and accounts for some of his famous unexpectedness.
Will and I fell in love with the crowd, and engaged a room over the great arched entrance. We were aware from the first of the dull red marks on the walls of the room, where bed-bugs had been slain with slipper heels by angry owners of the blood; but we were not in search of luxury, and we had our belongings and a can of insect-bane brought down from the hotel at once. The fact that stallions squealed and fought in the stalls across the courtyard scarcely promised us uninterrupted sleep; but sleep is not to be weighed in the balance against the news of eastern nights.
We went down to the common room close beside the main entrance, and pushed the door open a little way; the men who sat within with their backs against it would only yield enough to pass one person in gingerly at a time. We saw a sea of heads and hats and faces. It looked impossible to squeeze another human being in among those already seated on the floor, nor to make another voice heard amid all that babel.
But the babel ceased, and they did make room for us—places of honor against the far wall, because of our clean clothes and nationality. We sat wedged between a Georgian in smelly, greasy woolen jacket, and a man who looked Persian but talked for the most part French. There were other Persians beyond him, for I caught the word poul—money, the perennial song and shibboleth of that folk.
The day was fine enough, but consensus of opinion had it that snow was likely falling in the Taurus Mountains, and rain would fall the next day between the mountains and the sea, making roads and fords impassable and the mountain passes risky. So men from the ends of earth sat still contentedly, to pass earth's gossip to and fro—an astonishing lot of it. There was none of it quite true, and some of it not nearly true, but all of it was based on fact of some sort.
Men who know the khans well are agreed that with experience one learns to guess the truth from listening to the ever-changing lies. We could not hope to pick out truth, but sat as if in the pit of an old-time theater, watching a foreign-language play and understanding some, but missing most of it.
There was a man who drew my attention at once, who looked and was dressed rather like a Russian—a man with a high-bridged, prominent, lean nose—not nearly so bulky as his sheepskin coat suggested, but active and strong, with a fiery restless eye. He talked Russian at intervals with the men who sat near him at the end of the room on our right, but used at least six other languages with any one who cared to agree or disagree with him. His rather agreeable voice had the trick of carrying words distinctly across the din of countless others.
"What do you suppose is that man's nationality?" I asked Will, shouting to him because of the roar, although he sat next me.
"Ermenie!" said a Turk next but one beyond Will, and spat venomously, as if the very name Armenian befouled his mouth.
But I was not convinced that the man with the aquiline nose was Armenian. He looked guilty of altogether too much zest for life, and laughed too boldly in Turkish presence. In those days most Armenians thereabouts were sad. I called Will's attention to him again.
"What do you make of him?"
"He belongs to that quieter party in the opposite corner." (Will puts two and two together all the time, because the heroes of dime novels act that way.) "They're gipsies, yet I'd say he's not—"
"He and the others are jingaan," said a voice beside me in English, and I looked into the Persian's gentle brown eyes. "The jingaan are street robbers pure and simple," be added by way of explanation.
"But what nationality?"
"Jingaan might be anything. They in particular would call themselves Rommany. We call them Zingarri. Not a dependable people—unless—"
I waited in vain for the qualification. He shrugged his shoulders, as if there was no sense in praising evil qualities.
But I was not satisfied yet. They were swarthier and stockier than the man who had interested me, and had indefinite, soft eyes. The man I watched had brown eyes, but they were hard. And, unlike them, he had long lean fingers and his gestures were all extravagant. He was not a Jew, I was sure of that, nor a Syrian, nor yet a Kurd.
"Ermenie—Ermenie!" said the Turk, watching me curiously, and spitting again. "That one is Ermenie. Those others are just dogs!"
The crowd began to thin after a while, as men filed out to feed cattle and to cook their own evening meal. Then the perplexing person got up and came over toward me, showing no fear of the Turk at all. He was tall and lean when he stood upright, but enormously strong if one could guess correctly through the bulky-looking outer garment.
He stood in front of Will and me, his strong yellow teeth gleaming between a black beard and mustache. The Turk got up clumsily, and went out, muttering to himself. I glanced toward the corner where the self-evident gipsies sat, and observed that with perfect unanimity they were all feigning sleep.
"Eenglis sportmen!" said the man in front of us, raising both hands, palms outward, in appraisal of our clothes and general appearance.
It was not surprising that he should talk English, for what the British themselves have not accomplished in that land of a hundred tongues has been done by American missionaries, teaching in the course of a generation thousands on thousands. (There is none like the American missionary for attaining ends at wholesale.)
"What countryman are you?" I asked him.
"Zeitoonli," he answered, as if the word were honor itself and explanation bound in one. Yet he looked hardly like an honorable man. "The chilabi are staying here?" he asked. Chilabi means gentleman.
"We wait on the weather," said I, not caring to have him turn the tables on me and become interrogator.
He laughed with a sort of hard good humor.
"Since when have Eenglis sportmen waited on the weather? Ah, but you are right, effendi, none should tell the truth in this place, unless in hope of being disbelieved!" He laid a finger on his right eye, as I have seen Arabs do when they mean to ascribe to themselves unfathomable cunning. "Since you entered this common room you have not ceased to observe me closely. The other sportman has watched those Zingarri. What have you learned?"
He stood with lean hands crossed now in front of him, looking at us down his nose, not ceasing to smile, but a hint less at his ease, a shade less genial.
"I have heard you—and them—described as jingaan," I answered, and he stiffened instantly.
Whether or not they took that for a signal—or perhaps he made another that we did not see—the six undoubted gipsies got up and left the room, shambling out in single file with the awkward gait they share in common with red Indians.
"Jingaan," he said, "are people who lurk in shadows of the streets to rob belated travelers. That is not my business." He looked very hard indeed at the Persian, who decided that it might as well be supper-time and rose stiffly to his feet. The Persians rob and murder, and even retreat, gracefully. He bade us a stately and benignant good evening, with a poetic Persian blessing at the end of it. He bowed, too, to the Zeitoonli, who bared his teeth and bent his head forward something less than an inch.
"They call me the Eye of Zeitoon!" he announced with a sort of savage pride, as soon as the Persian was out of ear-shot.
Will pricked his ears—schoolboy-looking ears that stand out from his head.
"I've heard of Zeitoon. It's a village on a mountain, where a man steps out of his front door on to a neighbor's roof, and the women wear no veils, and—"
The man showed his teeth in another yellow smile.
"The effendi is blessed with intelligence! Few know of Zeitoon."
Will and I exchanged glances.
"Ours," said Will, "is the best room in the khan, over the entrance gate."
"Two such chilabi should surely live like princes," he answered without a smile. If he had dared say that and smile we would have struck him, and Monty might have been alive to-day. But he seemed to know his place, although he looked at us down his nose again in shrewd appraisal.
Will took out tobacco and rolled what in the innocence of his Yankee heart he believed was a cigarette. I produced and lit what he contemptuously called a "boughten cigaroot"—Turkish Regie, with the scent of aboriginal ambrosia. The Zeitoonli took the hint.
"Yarim sa' at," he said. "Korkakma!"
"Meanin'?" demanded Will.
"In half an hour. Do not be afraid!" said he.
"Before I grow afraid of you," Will retorted, "you'll need your friends along, and they'll need knives!"
The Zeitoonli bowed, laid a finger on his eye again, smiled and backed away. But he did not leave the room. He went back to the end-wall against which he had sat before, and although he did not stare at us the intention not to let us out of sight seemed pretty obvious.
"That half-hour stuff smacked rather of a threat," said Will. "Suppose we call the bluff, and keep him waiting. What do you say if we go and dine at the hotel?"
But in the raw enthusiasm of entering new quarters we had made up our minds that afternoon to try out our new camp kitchen—a contraption of wood and iron we had built with the aid of the mission carpenter. And the walk to the hotel would have been a long one, through Tarsus mud in the dark, with prowling dogs to take account of.
"I'm not afraid of ten of him!" said I. "I know how to cook curried eggs; come on!"
"Who said who was afraid?"
So we went out into darkness already jeweled by a hundred lanterns, dodged under the necks of three hungry Bactrian camels (they are irritable when they want their meal), were narrowly missed by a mule's heels because of the deceptive shadows that confused his aim, tripped over a donkey's heel-rope, and found our stairway—thoroughly well cursed in seven languages, and only just missed by a Georgian gentleman on the balcony, who chose the moment of our passing underneath to empty out hissing liquid from his cooking pot.
Once in our four-square room, with the rags on the floor in our especial honor, and our beds set up, and the folding chairs in place, contentment took hold of us; and as we lighted the primus burner in the cooking box, we pitied from the bottom of compassionate young hearts all unfortunates in stiff white shirts, whose dinners were served that night on silver and laundered linen.
Through the partly open door we could smell everything that ever happened since the beginning of the world, and hear most of the elemental music—made, for instance, of the squeal of fighting stallions, and the bray of an amorous he-ass—the bubbling complaint of fed camels that want to go to sleep, but are afraid of dreaming—the hum of human voices—the clash of cooking pots—the voice of a man on the roof singing falsetto to the stars (that was surely the Pathan!) —the tinkling of a three-stringed instrument—and all of that punctuated by the tapping of a saz, the little tight-skinned Turkish drum.
It is no use for folk whose finger-nails were never dirty, and who never scratched themselves while they cooked a meal over the primus burner on the floor, to say that all that medley of sounds and smells is not good. It is very good indeed, only he who is privileged must understand, or else the spell is mere confusion.
The cooking box was hardly a success, because bright eyes watching through the open door made us nervously amateurish. The Zeitoonli arrived true to his threat on the stroke of the half-hour, and we could not shut the door in his face because of the fumes of food and kerosene. (Two of the eggs, like us, were travelers and had been in more than one bazaar.)
But we did not invite him inside until our meal was finished, and then we graciously permitted him to go for water wherewith to wash up. He strode back and forth on the balcony, treading ruthlessly on prayer-mats (for the Moslem prays in public like the Pharisees of old).
"Myself I am Christian," he said, spitting over the rail, and sitting down again to watch us. We accepted the remark with reservations.
When we asked him in at last, and we had driven out the flies with flapping towels, be closed the door and squatted down with his back to it, we two facing him in our canvas-backed easy chairs. He refused the "genuine Turkish" coffee that Will stewed over the primus. Will drank the beastly stuff, of course, to keep himself in countenance, and I did not care to go back on a friend before a foreigner, but I envied the man from Zeitoon his liberty of choice.
"Why do they call you the Eye of Zeitoon?" I asked, when time enough had elapsed to preclude his imagining that we regarded him seriously. One has to be careful about beginnings in the Near East, even as elsewhere.
"I keep watch!" he answered proudly, but also with a deeply-grounded consciousness of cunning. There were moments when I felt such strong repugnance for the man that I itched to open the door and thrust him through—other moments when compassion for him urged me to offer money—food—influence—anything. The second emotion fought all the while against the first, and I found out afterward it had been the same with Will.
"Why should Zeitoon need such special watching?" I demanded. "How do you watch? Against whom? Why?"
He laughed with a pair of lawless eyes, and showed his yellow teeth.
"Ha! Shall I speak of Zeitoon? This, then: the Turks never conquered it! They came once and built a fort on the opposite mountain-side, with guns to overawe us all. We took their fort by storm! We threw their cannon down a thousand feet into the bed of the torrent, and there they lie to-day! We took prisoner as many of their Arab zaptiehs as still were living—aye, they even brought Arabs against us—poor fools who had not yet heard of Zeitoon's defenders! Then we came down to the plains for a little vengeance, leaving the Arabs for our wives to guard. They are women of spirit, the Zeitoonli wives!
"Word reached Zeitoon presently that we were being hard pressed on the plains. It was told to the Zeitoonli wives that they might arrange to have pursuit called off from us by surrendering those Arab prisoners. They answered that Zeitoon-fashion. How? I will tell. There is a bridge of wood, flung over across the mountain torrent, five hundred feet above the water, spanning from crag to crag. Those Zeitoonli wives of ours bound the Arab prisoners hand and foot. They brought them out along the bridge. They threw them over one at a time, each man looking on until his turn came. That was the answer of the brave Zeitoonli wives!"
"And you on the plains?"
"Ah! It takes better than Osmanli to conquer the men of Zeitoon!" he gave the Turks their own names for themselves with the air of a brave fighting man conceding his opponent points. "We heard what our wives had done. We were encouraged. We prevailed! We fell back to-ward our mountain and prevailed! There in Zeitoon we have weapons—numbers—advantage of position, for no roads come near Zeitoon that an araba, or a gun, or anything on wheels can use. The only thing we fear is treachery, leading to surprise in overwhelming force. And against these I keep watch!"
"Why should you tell us all this?" demanded Will.
"How do you know we are not agents of the Turkish government?"
He laughed outright, throwing out both hands toward us. "Eenglis sportmen!" he said simply.
"What's that got to do with it?" Will retorted. He has the unaccountable American dislike of being mistaken for an Englishman, but long ago gave up arguing the point, since foreigners refuse, as a rule, to see the sacred difference.
"I am, too, sportman. At Zeitoon there is very good sport. Bear. Antelope. Wild boar. One sportman to another—do you understand?"
We did, and did not believe.
"How far to Zeitoon?" I demanded.
"I go in five days when I hurry. You—not hurrying—by horse—seven —eight—nine days, depending on the roads."
"Are they all Armenians in Zeitoon?"
"Most. Not all. There are Arabs—Syrians—Persians—a few Circassians —even Kurds and a Turk or two. Our numbers have been reenforced continually by deserters from the Turkish Army. Ninety-five per cent., however, are Armenians," he added with half-closed eyes, suddenly suggesting that masked meekness that disguises most outrageous racial pride.
"It is common report," I said, "that the Turks settled all Armenian problems long ago by process of massacre until you have no spirit for revolt left."
"The report lies, that is all!" he answered. Then suddenly he beat on his chest with clenched fist. "There is spirit here! There is spirit in Zeitoon! No Osmanli dare molest my people! Come to Zeitoon to shoot bear, boar, antelope! I will show you! I will prove my words!"
"Were those six jingaan in the common room your men?" I asked him, and he laughed as suddenly as he had stormed, like a teacher at a child's mistake.
"Jingaan is a bad word," he said. "I might kill a man who named me that—depending on the man. My brother I would kill for it—a stranger perhaps not. Those men are Zingarri, who detest to sleep between brick walls. They have a tent pitched in the yard."
"Are they your men?"
"Zingarri are no man's men."
The denial carried no conviction.
"Is there nothing but hunting at Zeitoon?" Will demanded.
"Is that not much? In addition the place itself is wonderful—a mountain in a mist, with houses clinging to the flanks of it, and scenery to burst the heart!"
"What else?" I asked. "No ancient buildings?"
He changed his tactics instantly.
"Effendi," he said, leaning forward and pointing a forefinger at me by way of emphasis, "there are castles on the mountains near Zeitoon that have never been explored since the Turks—may God destroy them! —overran the land! Castles hidden among trees where only bears dwell! Castles built by the Seljuks—Armenians—Romans—Saracens—Crusaders! I know the way to every one of them!"
"What else?" demanded Will, purposely incredulous.
"Beyond Zeitoon to north and west are cave-dwellers. Mountains so hollowed out that only a shell remains, a sponge—a honeycomb! No man knows how far those tunnels run! The Turks have attempted now and then to smoke out the inhabitants. They were laughed at! One mountain is connected with another, and the tunnels run for miles and miles!"
"I've seen cave-dwellings in the States," Will answered, unimpressed. "But just where do you come in?"
"I do not understand."
"What do you propose to get out of it?"
"Nothing! I am proud of my country. I am sportman. I am pleased to show."
We both jeered at him, for that explanation was too outrageously ridiculous. Armenians love money, whatever else they do or leave undone, and can wring a handsome profit out of business whose very existence the easier-going Turk would not suspect.
"See if I can't read your mind," said Will. "You'll guide us for some distance out of town, at a place you know, and your jingaan-gipsy brethren will hold us up at some point and rob us to a fare-you-well. Is that the pretty scheme?"
Some men would have flown into a fury. Some would have laughed the matter off. Any and every crook would have been at pains to hide his real feelings. Yet this strange individual was at a loss how to answer, and not averse to our knowing that.
For a moment a sort of low cunning seemed to creep over his mind, but he dismissed it. Three times be raised his hands, palms upward, and checked himself in the middle of a word.
"You could pay me for my services," he said at last, not as if that were the real reason, nor as if he hoped to convince us that it was, but as if he were offering an excuse that we might care to accept for the sake of making peace with our own compunctions.
"There are four in our party," said Will, apropos apparently of nothing. The effect was unexpected.
"Four?" His eyes opened wide, and be made the knuckle-bones of both hands crack like caps going off. "Four Eenglis sportman?"
"I said four. If you're willing to tell the naked truth about what's back of your offer, I'll undertake to talk it over with my other friends. Then, either we'll all four agree to take you up, or we'll give you a flat refusal within a day or two. Now—suit yourself."
"I have told the truth—Zeitoon—caves—boar—antelope—wild boar. I am a very good guide. You shall pay me handsomely."
"Sure, we'll ante up like foreigners. But why do you make the proposal? What's behind it?"
"I never saw you until this afternoon. You are Eenglis sportmen. I can show good sport. You shall pay me. Could it be simpler?"
It seemed to me we had been within an ace of discovery, but the man's mind had closed again against us in obedience to some racial or religious instinct outside our comprehension. He had been on the verge of taking us into confidence.
"Let the sportmen think it over," he said, getting up. "Jannam! (My soul!) Effendi, when I was a younger man none could have made me half such a sportmanlike proposal without an answer on the instant! A man fit to strike the highway with his foot should be a judge of men! I have judged you fit to be invited! Now you judge me—the Eye of Zeitoon!"
"What is your real name?"
"I have none—or many, which is the same thing! I did not ask your names; they are your own affair!"
He stood with his hand on the door, not irresolute, but taking one last look at us and our belongings.
"I wish you comfortable sleep, and long lives, effendim!" he said then, and swung himself out, closing the door behind him with an air of having honored us, not we him particularly. And after he had gone we were not at all sure that summary of the situation was not right.
We lay awake on our cots until long after midnight, hazarding guesses about him. Whatever else he had done he had thoroughly aroused our curiosity.
"If you want my opinion that's all he was after anyway!" said Will, dropping his last cigarette-end on the floor and flattening it with his slipper.
"Cut the cackle, and let's sleep!"
We fell asleep at last amid the noise of wild carousing; for the proprietor of the Yeni Khan, although a Turk, and therefore himself presumably abstemious, was not above dispensing at a price mastika that the Greeks get drunk on, and the viler raki, with which Georgians, Circassians, Albanians, and even the less religious Turks woo imagination or forgetfulness.
There was knife-fighting as well as carousal before dawn, to judge by the cat-and-dog-fight swearing in and out among the camel pickets and the wheels of arabas. But that was the business of the men who fought, and no one interfered.
Chapter Two "How did sunshine get into the garden? By whose leave came the wind?"
A TIME AND TIMES AND HALF A TIME
When Cydnus bore the Taurus snows To sweeten Cleopatra's keels, And rippled in the breeze that sings >From Kara Dagh, where leafy wings Of flowers fall and gloaming steals The colors of the blowing rose, Old were the wharves and woods and ways— Older the tale of steel and fire, Involved intrigue, envenomed plan, Man marketing his brother man By dread duress to glut desire. No peace was in those olden days. Hope like the gorgeous rose sun-warmed Blossomed and blew away and died, Till gentleness had ceased to be And Tarsus knew no chivalry Could live an hour by Cydnus' side Where all the heirs of evil swarmed. And yet—with every swelling spring Each pollen-scented zephyr's breath Repeats the patient news to ears Made dull by dreams of loveless years, "It is of life, and not of death That ye shall hear the Cydnus sing!"
We awoke amid sounds unexplainable. Most of the Moslems had finished their noisy ritual ablutions, and at dawn we had been dimly conscious of the strings of camels, mules and donkeys jingling out under the arch beneath us. Yet there was a great din from the courtyard of wild hoofs thumping on the dung, and of scurrying feet as if a mile-long caravan were practising formations.
So we went out to yawn, and remained, oblivious of everything but the cause of all the noise, we leaning with elbows on the wooden rail, and she laughing up at us at intervals.
The six Zingarri, or gipsies, had pitched their tent in the very middle of the yard, ambitious above all other considerations to keep away from walls. It was a big, low, black affair supported on short poles, and subdivided by them into several compartments. One could see unshapely bulges where women did the housekeeping within.
But the woman who held us spell-bound cared nothing for Turkish custom —a girl not more than seventeen years old at the boldest guess. She was breaking a gray stallion in the yard, sitting the frenzied beast without a saddle and doing whatever she liked with him, except that his heels made free of the air, and he went from point to point whichever end up best pleased his fancy.
Travelers make an early start in Asia Minor, but the yard was by no means empty yet; some folk were still waiting on the doubtful weather. Her own people kept to the tent. Whoever else had business in the yard made common cause and cursed the girl for making the disturbance, frightening camels, horses, asses and themselves. And she ignored them all, unless it was on purpose that she brought her stallion's heels too close for safety to the most abusive.
It was only for us two that she had any kind of friendly interest; she kept looking up at us and laughing as she caught our eyes, bringing her mount uprearing just beneath us several times. She was pretty as the peep o' morning, with long, black wavy hair all loose about her shoulders, and as light on the horse as the foam he tossed about, although master of him without a second's doubt of it.
When she had had enough of riding—long before we were tired of the spectacle—she shouted with a voice like a mellow bell. One of the gipsies ran out and led away the sweating stallion, and she disappeared into the tent throwing us a laugh over her shoulder.
"D'you suppose those gipsies are really of that Armenian's party?" Will wondered aloud. "Now, if she were going to Zeitoon—!"
Feeling as he did, I mocked at him to hide my feelings, and we hung about for another hour in hope of seeing her again, but she kept close. I don't doubt she watched us through a hole in the tent. We would have sat there alert in our chairs until evening only Fred sent a note down to say he was well enough to leave the hospital.
We found him with his beard trimmed neatly and his fevered eyes all bright again, sitting talking to the nurse on the veranda about a niece of hers—Gloria Vanderman.
"Chicken in this desert!" Will wondered irreverently, and Fred, who likes his English to have dictionary meanings, rose from his chair in wrath. The nurse made that the cue for getting rid of us.
"Take Mr. Oakes away!" she urged, laughing. "He threatened to kill a man this morning. There's too much murder in Tarsus now. If he should add to it—"
"You know it wasn't on my account," Fred objected. "It was what he wrote—and said of you. Why, he has had you prayed for publicly by name, and you washing the brute's feet! Let me back in there for just five minutes, and I'll show what a hospital case should really look like!"
"Take him away!" she laughed. "Isn't it bad enough to be prayed for? Must I get into the papers, too, as heroine of a scandal?"
The head missionary was not there to say good-by to, life in his case being too serious an affair to waste minutes of a precious morning on farewells, so we packed Fred into the waiting carriage and drove all the way to Mersina, where we interrupted Monty's mid-afternoon game of chess.
Fred Oakes and Monty were the closest friends I ever met—one problem for an enemy—one stout, two-headed, most dependable ally for the lucky man or woman they called friend.
"Oh, hullo!" said Monty over his shoulder, as our names were called out by the stately consular kavass.
"Hullo!" said Fred, and shook hands with the consul.
"Thought you were due to be sick for another week?" said Monty, closing up the board.
"I was. I would have been. Bed would have done me good, and the nurse is a darling, old enough to be Will's mother. But they put a biped by the name of Peter Measel in the bed next mine. He's a missionary on his own account, and keeps a diary. Seems be contributes to the funds of a Welsh mission in France, and they do what he says. He has all the people he disapproves of prayed for publicly by name in the mission hall in Marseilles, with extracts out of his diary by way of explanation, so that the people who pray may know what they've got on their hands. The special information I gave him about you, Monty, will make Marseilles burn! He's got you down as a drunken pirate, my boy, with no less than eleven wives. But be asked me one night whether I thought what he'd written about the nurse was strong enough, and he read it aloud to me. You'd never believe what the reptile had dared suggest in his devil's log-book! I'm expelled for threatening to kill him!"
"The nurse was right," said the consul gloomily. "There'll be murder enough hereabouts—and soon!"
He was a fairly young man yet in spite of the nearly white hair over the temples. He measured his words in the manner of a man whose speech is taken at face value.
"The missionaries know. The governments won't listen. I've been appealed to. So has the United States consul, and neither of us is going to be able to do much. Remember, I represent a government at peace with Turkey, and so does he. The Turk has a side to his character that governments ignore. Have you watched them at prayer?"
We told him how close we had been on the previous night, and he laughed.
"Did you suppose I couldn't smell camel and khan the moment you came in?"
"That was why Sister Vanderman hurried you off so promptly!" Fred announced with an air of outraged truthfulness. "Faugh! Slangy talk and stink of stables!"
"I was talking of Turks," said the consul. "When they pray, you may have noticed that they glance to right and left. When they think there is nobody looking they do more, they stare deliberately to the right and left. That is the act of recognition of the angel and the devil who are supposed to attend every Moslem, the angel to record his good deeds and the devil his bad ones. To my mind there lies the secret of the Turk's character. Most of the time he's a man of his word—honest—courteous—considerate—good-humored —even chivalrous—living up to the angel. But once in so often he remembers the other shoulder, and then there isn't any limit to the deviltry he'll do. Absolutely not a limit!"
"I suppose we or the Americans could land marines at a pinch, and protect whoever asked for protection?" suggested Monty.
"No," said the consul deliberately. "Germany would object. Germany is the only power that would. Germany would accuse us of scheming to destroy the value of their blessed Baghdad railway."
A privy councilor of England, which Monty was, is not necessarily in touch with politics of any sort. Neither were we; but it happened that more than once in our wanderings about the world things had been forced on our attention.
"They would rather see Europe burn from end to end!" Monty agreed.
"And I think there's more than that in it," said the consul. "Armenians are not their favorites. The Germans want the trade of the Levant. The Armenians are business men. They're shrewder than Jews and more dependable than Greeks. It would suit Germany very nicely, I imagine, to have no Armenians to compete with."
"But if Germany once got control of the Near East," I objected, "she could impose her own restrictions."
The consul frowned. "Armenians who thrive in spite of Turks—"
"Would skin a German for hide and tallow," nodded Will.
"Exactly. Germany would object vigorously if we or the States should land marines to prevent the Turks from applying the favorite remedy, vukuart -that means events, you know—their euphemism for massacre at rather frequent intervals. Germany would rather see the Turks finish the dirty work thoroughly than have it to do herself later on."
"You mean," said I, "that the German government is inciting to massacre?"
"Hardly. There are German missionaries in the country, doing good work in a funny, fussy, rigorous fashion of their own. They'd raise a dickens of a hocus-pocus back in Germany if they once suspected their government of playing that game. No. But Germany intends to stand off the other powers, while Turks tackle the Armenians; and the Turks know that."
"But what's the immediate excuse for massacre?" demanded Fred.
The consul laughed.
"All that's needed is a spark. The Armenians haven't been tactful. They don't hesitate to irritate the Turks—not that you can blame them, but it isn't wise. Most of the money-lenders are Armenians; Turks won't engage in that business themselves on religious grounds, but they're ready borrowers, and the Armenian money-lenders, who are in a very small minority, of course, are grasping and give a bad name to the whole nation. Then, Armenians have been boasting openly that one of these days the old Armenian kingdom will be reestablished. The Turks are conquerors, you know, and don't like that kind of talk. If the Armenians could only keep from quarreling among themselves they could win their independence in half a jiffy, but the Turks are deadly wise at the old trick of divide et impera; they keep the Armenians quarreling, and nobody dares stand in with them because sooner—or later—sooner, probably—they'll split among themselves, and leave their friends high and dry. You can't blame 'em. The Turks know enough to play on their religious prejudices and set one sect against another. When the massacres begin scarcely an Armenian will know who is friend and who enemy."
"D'you mean to say," demanded Fred, "that they're going to be shot like bottles off a wall without rhyme or reason?"
"That's how it was before," said the consul. "There's nothing to stop it. The world is mistaken about Armenians. They're a hot-blooded lot on the whole, with a deep sense of national pride, and a hatred of Turkish oppression that rankles. One of these mornings a Turk will choose his Armenian and carefully insult the man's wife or daughter. Perhaps he will crown it by throwing dirt in the fellow's face. The Armenian will kill him or try to, and there you are. Moslem blood shed by a dog of a giaour—the old excuse!"
"Don't the Armenians know what's in store for them?" I asked.
"Some of them know. Some guess. Some are like the villagers on Mount Vesuvius—much as we English were in '57 in India, I imagine —asleep—playing games—getting rich on top of a volcano. The difference is that the Armenians will have no chance."
"Did you ever hear tell of the Eye of Zeitoon?" asked Will, apropos apparently of nothing.
"No," said the consul, staring at him.
Will told him of the individual we had talked with in the khan the night before, describing him rather carefully, not forgetting the gipsies in the black tent, and particularly not the daughter of the dawn who schooled a gray stallion in the courtyard.
The consul shook his head.
"Never saw or heard of any of them."
We were sitting in full view of the roadstead where Anthony and Cleopatra's ships had moored a hundred times. The consul's garden sloped in front of us, and most of the flowers that Europe reckons rare were getting ready to bloom.
"Would you know the man if you saw him again, Will?" I asked.
"Sure I would!"
I pointed, and seeing himself observed a man stepped out of the shadow of some oleanders. There was something suggestive in his choice of lurking place, for every part of the oleander plant is dangerously poisonous; it was as if he had hidden himself among the hairs of death.
"Him, sure enough!" said Will.
The man came forward uninvited.
"How did you get into the grounds?" the consul demanded, and the man laughed, laying an unafraid hand on the veranda rail.
"My teskere is a better than the Turks give!" he answered in English. (A teskere is the official permit to travel into the interior.)
"What do you mean?"
"How did sunshine come into the garden? By whose leave came the wind?"
He stood on no formality. Before one of us could interfere (for he might have been plying the assassin's trade) he had vaulted the veranda rail and stood in front of us. As he jumped I heard the rattle of loose cartridges, and the thump of a hidden pistol against the woodwork. I could see the hilt of a dagger, too, just emerging from concealment through the opening in his smock. But he stood in front of us almost meekly, waiting to be spoken to.
"You are without shame!" said the consul.
"Truly! Of what should I be ashamed!"
"What brought you here?"
"Two feet and a great good will! You know me."
The consul shook his head.
"Who sold the horse to the German from Bitlis?"
"Are you that man?"
"Who clipped the wings of a kite, and sold it for ten pounds to a fool for an eagle from Ararat?"
The consul laughed.
"Are you the rascal who did that?"
"Who threw Olim Pasha into the river, and pushed him in and in again for more than an hour with a fishing pole—and then threw in the gendarmes who ran to arrest him—and only ran when the Eenglis consul came?"
"I remember," said the consul.
"Yet you don't look quite like that man."
"I told you you knew me."
"Neither does to-day's wind blow like yesterday's!"
"What is your name?"
"Then it was Ali."
"What is it now?"
"The name God gave me?"
"What do you want here?"
He spread out his arms toward us four, and grinned.
"Look—see! Four Eenglis sportman! Could a man want more?"
"Your face is hauntingly familiar," said the consul, searching old memories.
"No doubt. Who carried your honor's letter to Adrianople in time of war, and received a bullet, but brought the answer back?"
"What—are you that man—Kagig?"
Instead of replying the man opened his smock, and pulled aside an undershirt until his hairy left breast lay bare down to where the nipple should have been. Why a bullet that drilled that nipple so neatly had not pierced the heart was simply mystery.
"Kagig, by jove! Kagig with a beard! Nobody would know you but for that scar."
"But now you know me surely? Tell these Eenglis sportman, then, that I am good man—good guide! Tell them they come with me to Zeitoon!"
The consul's face darkened swiftly, clouded by some notion that he seemed to try to dismiss, but that refused to leave him.
"How much would you ask for your services?" he demanded.
"Whatever the effendim please."
"Have you a horse?"
"You and your horse, then, two piasters a day, and you feed yourself and the beast."
The man agreed, very bright-eyed. Often it takes a day or two to come to terms with natives of that country, yet the terms the consul offered him were those for a man of very ordinary attainments.
"Come back in an hour," said the consul.
Without a word of answer Kagig vaulted back across the rail and disappeared around the corner of the house, walking without hurry but not looking back.
"Kagig, by jove! It would take too long now to tell that story of the letter to Adrianople. I've no proof, but a private notion that Kagig is descended from the old Armenian kings. In a certain sort of tight place there's not a better man in Asia. Now, Lord Montdidier, if you're in earnest about searching for that castle of your Crusader ancestors, you're in luck!"
"You know it's what I came here for," said Monty. "These friends of mine are curious, and I'm determined. Now that Fred's well—"
"I'm puzzled," said the consul, leaning back and looking at us all with half-closed eyes. "Why should Kagig choose just this time to guide a hunting party? If any man knows trouble's brewing, I suspect be surely does. Anything can happen in the interior. I recall, for instance, a couple of Danes, who went with a guide not long ago, and simply disappeared. There are outlaws everywhere, and it's more than a theory that the public officials are in league with them."
"What a joke if we find the old family castle is a nest of robbers," smiled Monty.
"Still!" corrected Fred.
I was watching the consul's eyes. He was troubled, but the prospect of massacre did not account for all of his expression. There was debate, inspiration against conviction, being fought out under cover of forced calm. Inspiration won the day.
"I was wondering," he said, and lit a fresh cigar while we waited for him to go on.
"I vouch for my friends," said Monty.
"It wasn't that. I've no right to make the proposal—no official right whatever—I'm speaking strictly unofficially—in fact, it's not a proposal at all—merely a notion."
He paused to give himself a last chance, but indiscretion was too strong.
"I was wondering how far you four men would go to save twenty or thirty thousand lives."
"You've no call to wonder about that," said Will.
"Suppose you tell us what you've got in mind," suggested Monty, putting his long legs on a chair and producing a cigarette.
The consul knocked out his pipe and sat forward, beginning to talk a little faster, as a man who throws discretion to the winds.
"I've no legal right to interfere. None at all. In case of a massacre of Armenians—men, women, little children—I could do nothing. Make a fuss, of course. Throw open the consulate to refugees. Threaten a lot of things that I know perfectly well my government won't do. The Turks will be polite to my face and laugh behind my back, knowing I'm helpless. But if you four men—"
"Spill it!" urged Will.
"—should be up-country, and I knew it for a fact, but did not know your precise whereabouts, I'd have a grown excuse for raising most particular old Harry! You get my meaning?"
"Sure!" said Will. "Monty's an earl. Fred's related to half the peerages in Burke. Me and him"—I was balancing my chair on one leg and he pushed me over backward by way of identification—"just pose as distinguished members of society for the occasion. I get you."
"It might even be possible, Mr. Yerkes, to get the United States Congress to take action on your account."
"Don't you believe it!" laughed Will. "The members for the Parish Pump, and the senators from Ireland would howl about the Monroe Doctrine and Washington's advice at the merest hint of a Yankee in trouble in foreign parts."
"What about the United States papers?"
"They'd think it was an English scheme to entangle the United States, and they'd be afraid to support action for fear of the Irish. No, England's your only chance!"
"Well," said the consul, "I've told you the whole idea. If I should happen to know of four important individuals somewhere up-country, and massacres should break out after you had started, I could supply our ambassador with something good to work on. The Turkish government might have to stop the massacre in the district in which you should happen to be. That would save lives."
"But could they stop it, once started?" I asked.
"They could try. That 'ud be more than they ever did yet."
"You mean," said Monty, "that you'd like us to engage Kagig and make the trip, and to remain out in case of—ah—vukuart until we're rescued?"
"Can't say I like it, but that's what I mean. And as for rescue, the longer the process takes the better, I imagine!"
"Hide, and have them hunt for us, eh?"
"Would it help," I suggested, "if we were to be taken prisoner by outlaws and held for ransom?"
"It might," said the consul darkly. "I'd take to the hills myself and send back a wail for help, only my plain duty is here at the mission. What I have suggested to you is mad quixotism at the best, and at the worst—well, do you recall what happened to poor Vyner, who was held for ransom by Greek brigands? They sent a rescue party instead of money, and—"
"Charles Vyner was a friend of mine," said Monty quietly.
Fred began to look extremely cheerful and Will nudged me and nodded.
"Remember," said the consul, "in the present state of European politics there's no knowing what can or can't be done, but if you four men are absent in the hills I believe I can give the Turkish government so much to think about that there'll be no massacres in that one district."
"Whistle up Kagig!" Monty answered, and that was the end of the argument as far as yea or nay had anything to do with it. Prospect of danger was the last thing likely to divide the party.
"How about permits to travel?" asked Will. "The United States consul told me none is to be had at present."
The consul rubbed his thumb and forefinger together.
"It may cost a little more, that's all," he said. "You might go without, but you'd better submit to extortion."
He called the kavass, the uniformed consular attendant, and sent him in search of Kagig. Within two minutes the Eye of Zeitoon was grinning at us through a small square window in the wall at one end of the veranda. Then he came round and once more vaulted the veranda rail, for he seemed to hold ordinary means of entry in contempt. His eye looked very possessive for that of one seeking employment as a guide, but he stood at respectful attention until spoken to.
"These gentlemen have decided to employ you," the consul announced.
"Mashallah!" (God be praised!) For a Christian he used unusual expletives.
"They want to find a castle in the mountains, to hunt bear and boar, and to see Zeitoon."
"I shall lead them to ten castles never seen before by Eenglismen! They shall kill all the bears and pigs! Never was such sport as they shall see!"
He exploded the word pigs as if he had the Osmanli prejudice against that animal. Yet he wore a pig-skin cartridge belt about his middle.
"They will need enormous lots of ammunition!" he announced.
"What else would the roadside robbers like them to bring?"
"No Turkish servants! They throw Turks over a bridge-side in Zeitoon! I myself will provide servants, who shall bring them back safely!"
It seemed to me that he breathed inward as he said that. A Turk would have added "Inshallah!"—if God wills!
"Make ready for a journey of two months," he said.
"When and where shall the start be?"
It would obviously be unwise to start from the consulate.
"From the Yeni Khan in Tarsus," said Will.
"That is very good—that is excellent! I will send Zeitoonli servants to the Yeni Khan at once. Pay them the right price. Have you horses? Camels are of no use, nor yet are wheels—you shall know why later! Mules are best."
"I know where you can hire mules," said the consul, "with a Turkish muleteer to each pair."
"Oh, well!" laughed Kagig, leaning back against the rail and moving his hands palms upward as if he weighed one thought against another. "What is the difference? If a few Turks move or less come to an end over Zeitoon bridge—"
It was only for moments at a time that he seemed able to force himself to speak as our inferior. A Turk of the guide class would likely have knelt and placed a foot of each of us on his neck in turn as soon as he knew we had engaged him. This Armenian seemed made of other stuff.
"Then be on hand to-morrow morning," ordered Monty.
But the Eye of Zeitoon had another surprise for us.
"I shall meet you on the road," he announced with an air of a social equal. "Servants shall attend you at the Yeni Khan. They will say nothing at all, and work splendidly! Start when you like; you will find me waiting for you at a good place on the road. Bring not plenty, but too much ammunition! Good day, then, gentlemen!"
He nodded to us—bowed to the consul—vaulted the rail. A second later he grinned at us again through the tiny window. "I am the Eye of Zeitoon!" he boasted, and was gone. A servant whom the consul sent to follow him came back after ten or fifteen minutes saying he had lost him in a maze of narrow streets.
His latter, offhanded manner scarcely auguring well, we debated whether or not to search for some one more likely amenable to discipline to take his place. But the consul spent an hour telling us about the letter that went to Adrianople, and the bringing back of the answer that hastened peace.
"He was shot badly. He nearly died on the way back. I've no idea how he recovered. He wouldn't accept a piaster more than the price agreed on."
"Let's take a chance!" said Will, and we were all agreed before he urged it.
"There's one other thing," said the consul. "I've been told a Miss Gloria Vanderrnan is on her way to the mission at Marash—"
"Gee whiz!" said Will.
The consul nodded. "She's pretty, if that's what you mean. It was very unwise to let her go, escorted only by Armenians. Of course, she may get through without as much as suspecting trouble's brewing, but—well—I wish you'd look out for her."
Will stuck both hands deep in his trousers pockets and tilted his chair backward to the point of perfect poise.
"Cuckoo, you ass!" laughed Fred, kicking the chair over backward, and then piling all the veranda furniture on top, to the scandalized amazement of the stately kavass, who came at that moment shepherding a small boy with a large tray and perfectly enormous drinks.
Chapter Three "Sahib, there is always—work for real soldiers!"
WHERE TWO OR THREE
Oh, all the world is sick with hate, And who shall heal it, friend o' mine? And who is friend? And who shall stand Since hireling tongue and alien hand Kill nobleness in all this land? Judas and Pharisee combine To plunder and proclaim it Fate.
Days when the upright dared be few Are they departed, friend o' mine? Are bribery and rich largesse Fair props for fat forgetfulness, Or anodynous of distress? Oh, would the world were drunk with wine And not this last besotting brew!
Oh, for the wonderful again - The greatly daring, friend o' mine! The simply gallant blade unbought, The soul compassionate, unsought, With no price but the priceless thought Nor purpose than the brave design Of giving that the world may gain!
So we took two rooms at the Yeni Khan instead of one, not being minded to sleep as closely as the gentry of Asia Minor like to. Will hurried us down there for a look at the gipsy girl. But the tent was gone and the gipsies with it, and when we asked questions about them people spat.
Your good Moslem—and a Moslem is good in those parts who makes a mountain of observances, regarding mole-hills of mere morals not at all—affects to despise all giaours; but a giaour, like a gipsy, who has no obvious religion of any kind, he ranks below the pig in order of reverence. It did not redound to our credit that we showed interest in the movements of such people.
Monty brought an enormous can of bug-powder with him, and restored our popularity by lending generously after he had treated our quarters sufficiently for three days' stay. Fred did nothing to our quarters —stirred no finger, claiming convalescence with his tongue in his cheek, and strolling about until he fell utterly in love with the khan and its crowd, and the khan with him. That very first night he brought out his concertina on the balcony, and yowled songs to its clamor; and whether or not the various crowd agreed on naming the noise music, all were delighted with the friendliness.
Fred talks more languages fluently than he can count on the fingers of both hands. He began to tell tales in a sing-song eastern snarl —a tale in Persian, then in Turkish, and the night grew breathless, full of listening, until pent-up interest at intervals burst bonds and there were "Ahs" and "Ohs" all amid the dark, like little breaths of night wind among trees.
He found small time for sleep, and when dawn came, and four Zeitoonli servants according to Kagig's promise, they still swarmed around him begging for more. He went off to eat breakfast with a khan from Bokhara, sitting on a bale of nearly priceless carpets to drink overland tea made in a thing like a samovar.
All the rest of that day, and the next, sleeping only at intervals, while Monty and Will and I helped the Zeitoonli servants get our loads in shape, Fred sharpened his wonder-gift of tongues on the fascinated men of many nations, giving them London ditties and tales from the Thousand Nights and a Night in exchange for their news of caravan routes. He left them well pleased with their bargain.
Monty went off alone the second day to see about mules. The Turk with a trade to make believes that of several partners one is always "easier" than the rest; consequently, one man can bring him to see swifter reason than a number can. He came back that evening with twelve good mules and four attendants.
"One apiece to ride, and two apiece to carry everything. Not another mule to be had. Unpack the loads again and make them smaller!"
Fred came and sat with us that night before the charcoal brazier in his and Monty's room.
"They all talk of robbers on the road," he said. "Northward, through the Circassian Gates, or eastward it's all the same. There's a man in a room across the way who was stripped stark naked and beaten because they thought he might have money in his clothes. When he reached this place without a stitch on him he still had all his money in his clenched fists! Quite a sportsman—what? Imagine his juggling with it while they whipped him with knotted cords!"
"What have you heard about Kagig?"
"Nothing. But a lot about vukuart.* It's vague, but there's something in the air. You'll notice the Turkish muleteers are having nothing whatever to say to our Zeitoonli, although they've accepted the same service. Moslems are keeping together, and Armenians are getting the silence cure. Armenians are even shy of speaking to one another. I've tried listening, and I've tried asking questions, although that was risky. I can't get a word of explanation. I've noticed, though, that the ugly mood is broadening. They've been polite to me, but I've heard the word shapkali applied more than once to you fellows. Means hatted man, you know. Not a serious insult, but implies contempt."
——————— * Turkish word: happenings, a euphemism for massacre. ———————
Nothing but comfort and respectability ever seemed able to make Fred gloomy. He discussed our present prospects with the air of an epicure ordering dinner. And Monty listened with his dark, delightful smile —the kindliest smile in all the world. I have seen unthoughtful men mistake it for a sign of weakness.
I have never known him to argue. Nor did he then, but strode straight down into the khan yard, we sitting on the balcony to watch. He visited our string of mules first for an excuse, and invited a Kurdish chieftain (all Kurds are chieftains away from home) to inspect a swollen fetlock. With that subtle flattery he unlocked the man's reserve, passed on from chance remark to frank, good-humored questions, and within an hour had talked with twenty men. At last he called to one of the Zeitoonli to come and scrape the yard dung from his boots, climbed the stairs leisurely, and sat beside us.
"You're quite right, Fred," he said quietly.
Then there came suddenly from out the darkness a yell for help in English that brought three of us to our feet. Fred brushed his fierce mustaches upward with an air of satisfaction, and sat still.
"There's somebody down there quite wrong, and in line at last to find out why!" he said. "I've been waiting for this. Sit down."
We obeyed him, though the yells continued. There came blows suggestive of a woman on the housetops beating carpets.
"D'you recollect the man I mentioned at the consulate—the biped Peter Measel, missionary on his own account, who keeps a diary and libels ladies in it? Well, he's foul of a thalukdar* from Rajputana, and of a Prussian contractor, recruiting men for work on the Baghdad railway. I wasn't allowed to murder him. I see why now—finger of justice—I'd have been too quick. Sit down, you idiots! You've no idea what he wrote about Miss Vanderman. Let him scream, I like it!"
———————- * Punjabi Word—landholder. ———————-
"Come along," said Monty. "If he were a bad-house keeper he has had enough!"
But Will had gone before us, headlong down the stairs with the speed off the mark that they taught him on the playing field at Bowdoin. When we caught up he was standing astride a prostrate being who sobbed like a cow with its throat cut, and a Rajput and a German, either of them six feet tall, were considering whether or not to resent the violence of his interference. The German was disposed to yield to numbers. The Rajput not so.
"Why are you beating him?" asked Monty.
"Gott in Hinimel, who would not! He wrote of me in his diary —der Liminel!—that I shanghai laborers."
"Do you, or don't you?" asked Monty sweetly.
"Kreutz-blitzen! What is that to do with you—or with him? What right had he to write that people in France should pray for me in church?"
The Rajput all this while was standing simmering, as ready as a boar at bay to fight the lot of us, yet I thought with an air about him, too, of half-conscious surprise. Several times he took a half-pace forward to assert his right of chastisement, looked hard at Monty, and checked mid-stride.
"You've done enough," said Monty.
"Who are you that says so?" the German retorted.
"He—who—will—attend—to—it—that—you—do—no—more!" Monty's smooth voce had become without inflection.
"Bah! That is easy, isn't it? You are four to one!"
"Five to one!"
The Rajput's gruff throat thrilled with a new emotion. He sprang suddenly past me, and thrust himself between Monty and the German, who took advantage of the opportunity to walk away.
"Lord Montdidier, colonel sahib bahadur, burra salaam!"
He made no obeisance, but stood facing Monty eye to eye. The words, as be roiled them out, were like an order given to a thousand men. One almost heard the swish of sabers as the squadrons came to the general salute.
"I knew you, Rustum Khan, the minute I set eyes on you. Why were you beating this man?"
"Sahib bahadur, because he wrote in his book that people in France should pray for me in church, naming my honorable name, because, says he—but I will not repeat what he says. It is not seemly."
"How do you know what is in his diary?" Monty asked.
"That German read it out to me. We were sitting, he and I, discussing how the Turks intend to butcher the Armenians, as all the world knows is written. They say it shall happen soon. Said he to me—the German said to me—'I know another,' said he, 'who if I had my way should suffer first in that event.' Saying which he showed the written book that he had found, and read me parts of it. The German was for denouncing the fellow as a friend of Armenians, but I was for beating him at once, and I had my way."
"Where is the book?" demanded Monty.
"The German has it."
"The German has no right to it."
"I will bring it."
Rustum Khan strode off into the night, and Monty bent over the sobbing form of the self-appointed missionary. We were all alone in the midst of the courtyard, not even watched from behind the wheels of arabas, for a fight or a thrashing in the khans of Asia Minor is strictly the affair of him who gets the worst of it.
"Will you burn that book of yours, Measel, if we protect you from further assault?"
The man sobbed that he would do anything, but Monty held him to the point, and at last procured a specific affirmative. Then Rustum Khan came back with the offending tome. It was bulky enough to contain an account of the sins of Asia Minor.
Fred and I picked the poor fellow up and led him to where the cooking places stood in one long row. Will carried the book, and Rustum Khan stole wood from other folks' piles, and fanned a fire. We watched the unhappy Peter Measel put the book on the flames with his own hands.
"You're old enough to have known better than keep such a diary!" said Monty, stirring the charred pages.
"I am at any rate a martyr!" Measel answered.
The man could walk by that time—he was presumably abstemious and recovered from shock quickly. Monty sent me to see him to his room, which turned out to be next the German's, and until Will came over from our quarters with first-aid stuff from our chest I spent the minutes telling the German what should happen to him in case he should so far forget discretion as to resume the offensive. He said nothing in reply, but sat in his doorway looking up at me with an expression intended to make me feel nervous of reprisals without committing him to deeds.
Later, when we had done our best for "the martyred biped Measel," as Fred described him, Will and I found Rustum Khan with Fred and Monty seated around the charcoal brazier in Monty's room, deep in the valley of reminiscences. Our entry rather broke the spell, but Rustum Khan was not to be denied.
"You used to tell in those days, Colonel sahib bahadur," he said, addressing Monty with that full-measured compliment that the chivalrous, old East still cherishes, "of a castle of your ancestors in these parts. Do you remember, when I showed you the ruins of my family place in Rajputana, how you stood beside me on the heights, sahib, and vowed some day to hunt for that Crusaders' nest, as you called it?"
"That is the immediate purpose of this trip of ours," said Monty.
"Ah!" said the Rajput, and was silent for about a minute. Fred Oakes began to hum through his nose. He has a ridiculous belief that doing that throws keen inquirers off a scent.
"Colonel sahib, since I was a little butcha not as high as your knee I have spoken English and sat at the feet of British officers. Little enough I know, but by the beard of God's prophet I know this: when a British colonel sahib speaks of 'immediate purposes,' there are hidden purposes of greater importance!"
"That well may be," said Monty gravely. "I remember you always were a student of significant details, Rustum Khan."
"There was a time when I was in your honor's confidence."
"That was years ago. What are you doing here, Rustum Khan?"
"A fair enough question! I hang my head. As you know, sahib, I am a rangar. My people were all Sikhs for several generations back. We converts to Islam are usually more thorough-going than born Moslems are. I started to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, riding overland alone by way of Persia. As I came, missing few opportunities to talk with men, who should have been the lights of my religion, I have felt enthusiasm waning. These weeks past I have contemplated return without visiting Mecca at all. I have wandered to and fro, hoping for the fervor back again, yet finding none. And now, sahib, I find you—I, Rustum Khan, at a loose end for lack of inspiration. I have prayed. Colonel sahib bahadur, I believe thou art the gift of God!"'
Monty sought our eyes in turn in the lantern-lit darkness. We made no sign. None of us but he knew the Rajput, so it was plainly his affair.
"Suit yourself," said Will, and the rest of us nodded.
"We are traveling into the interior," said Monty, "in the rather doubtful hope that our absence from a coast city may in some way help Armenians, Rustum Khan."
The Rajput jumped to his feet that instant, and came to the salute.
"I might have known as much. Colonel Lord Montdidier sahib, I offer fealty! My blood be thine to spill in thy cause! Thy life on my head—thine honor on my life—thy way my way, and God be my witness!"
"Don't be rash, Rustum Khan. Our likeliest fate is to be taken prisoner by men of your religion, who will call you a renegade if you defend Armenians. And what are Armenians to you?"
"Ah, sahib! You drive a sharp spur into an open sore! I have seen too much of ill-faith—cruelty—robbery—torture—rapine—butchery, all in the name of God! It is this last threat to the Armenians that is the final straw! I took the pilgrimage in search of grace. The nearer I came to the place they tell me is on earth the home of grace, the more unfaith I see! Three nights ago in another place I was led aside and offered the third of the wealth of a fat Armenian if I would lend my sword to slit helpless throats—in the name of God, the compassionate, be merciful! My temper was about spoilt forever when that young idiot over the way described me in his book as—never mind how he described me—he paid the price! Sahib bahadur, I take my stand with the defenseless, where I know thou and thy friends will surely be! I am thy man!"
"It is not included in our plans to fight," said Monty.
"Sahib, there is always work for real soldiers!"
"What do you fellows say? Shall we let him come with us?"
"I travel at my own charges, sahib. I am well mounted and well armed."
"Sure, let him come with us!" said Will. "I like the man."
"He has my leave to come along to England afterward," said Fred, "if he'll guarantee to address me as the 'gift of God' in public!"
I left them talking and returned to see whether the "martyred biped Measel" needed further help. He was asleep, and as I listened to his breathing I heard voices in the next room. The German was talking in English, that being often the only tongue that ten men have in common. Through the partly opened door I could see that his room was crammed with men.
"They are spies, every one of them!" I heard him say. "The man I thrashed is of their party. You yourselves saw how they came to his rescue, and seduced the Indian by means of threats. This is the way of the English. ("Curse them!" said a voice.) They write notes in a book, and when that offense is detected they burn the book in a corner, as ye saw them do. I saw the book before they burned it. I thrashed the spy who wrote in the book because he had written in it reports on what it is proposed to do to infidels at the time ye know about. I tell you those men are all spies—one is as bad as the other. They work on behalf of Armenians, to bring about interference from abroad."
That he had already produced an atmosphere of danger to us I had immediate proof, for as I crossed the yard again I dodged behind an araba in the nick of time to avoid a blow aimed at me with a sword by a man I could not see.
"All your charming is undone!" I told Fred, bursting in on our party by the charcoal brazier. Almost breathless I reeled off what I had overheard. "They'll be here to murder us by dawn!" I said.
"Will they?" said Monty.
We were up and away two hours before dawn, to the huge delight of our Turkish muleteers, who consider a dawn start late, yet not too early for the servants of the khan, who knew enough European manners to stand about the gate and beg for tips. Nor were we quite too early for the enemy, who came out into the open and pelted us with clods of dung, the German encouraging from the roof. Fred caught him unaware full in the face with a well-aimed piece of offal. Then the khan keeper slammed the gate behind us and we rode into the unknown.
Chapter Four "We are the robbers, effendi!"
There is a mystery concerning roads And he who loves the Road shall never tire. For him the brooks have voices and the breeze Brings news of far-off leafiness and leas And vales all blossomy. The clinging mire Shall never weary such an one, nor yet their loads O'ercome the beasts that serve him. Rock and rill Shall make the pleasant league go by as hours With secret tales they tell; the loosened stone, Sweet turf upturned, the bees' full-purposed drone, The hum of happy insects among flowers, And God's blue sky to crown each hill! Dawn with her jewel-throated birds To him shall be a new page in the Book That never had beginning nor shall end, And each increasing hour delights shall lend— New notes in every sound—in every nook New sights——new thoughts too wide for words, Too deep for pen, too high for human song, That only in the quietness of winding ways >From tumult and all bitterness apart Can find communication with the heart - Thoughts that make joyous moments of the days, And no road heavy, and no journey long!
The snow threatened in the mountains had not materialized, and the weather had changed to pure perfection. About an hour after we started the khan emptied itself behind us in a long string, jingling and clanging with horse and camel bells. But they turned northward to pass through the famed Circassian Gates, whereas we followed the plain that paralleled the mountain range—our mules' feet hidden by eight inches of primordial ooze.
"Wish it were only worse!" said Monty. "Snow or rain might postpone massacre. Delay might mean cancellation."
But there was no prospect whatever of rain. The Asia Minor spring, perfumed and amazing sweet, breathed all about us, spattered with little diamond-bursts of tune as the larks skyrocketed to let the wide world know how glad they were. Whatever dark fate might be brooding over a nation, it was humanly impossible for us to feel low-spirited.
Our Zeitoonli Armenians trudged through the mud behind us at a splendid pace—mountain-men with faces toward their hills. The Turks—owners of the animals another man had hired to us—rode perched on top of the loads in stoic silence, changing from mule to mule as the hours passed and watching very carefully that no mule should be overtaxed or chilled. In fact, the first attempt they made to enter into conversation with us was when we dallied to admire a view of Taurus Mountain, and one of them closed up to tell us the mules were catching cold in the wind. (If they had been our animals it might have been another story.)
Their contempt for the Zeitoonli was perfectly illustrated by the difference in situation. They rode; the Armenians walked. Yet the Armenians were less afraid; and when we crossed a swollen ford where a mule caught his forefoot between rocks and was drowning, it was Armenians, not Turks, who plunged into the icy water and worked him free without straining as much as a tendon.
The Turks were obsessed by perpetual fear of robbers. That, and no other motive, made them tolerate the hectoring of Rustum Khan, who had constituted himself officer of transport, and brought up the rear on his superb bay mare. As he had promised us he would, he rode well armed, and the sight of his pistol holsters, the rifle protruding stock-first from a leather case, and his long Rajput saber probably accomplished more than merely keeping Turks in countenance; it prevented them from scattering and bolting home.
His own baggage was packed on two mules in charge of an Armenian boy, who was more afraid of our Turks than they of robbers. Yet, when we demanded of our muleteers what sort of men, and of what nation the dreaded highwaymen might be they pointed at Rustum Khan's lean servant. At the khan the night before one of them had pointed out to Monty two Circassians and a Kurd as reputed to have a monopoly of robbery on all those roads. Nevertheless, they made the new accusation without blinking.
"All robbers are Armenians—all Armenians are robbers!" they assured us gravely.
When we halted for a meal they refused to eat with our Zeitoonli, although they graciously permitted them to gather all the firewood, and accepted pieces of their pasderma (sun-dried meat) as if that were their due. As soon as they had eaten, and before we had finished, Ibrahim, their grizzled senior, came to us with a new demand. On its face it was not outrageous, because we were doing our own cooking, as any man does who has ever peeped into a Turkish servant's behind-the-scene arrangements.
"Send those Armenians away!" he urged. "We Turks are worth twice their number!"
"By the beard of God's prophet!" thundered Rustum Khan, "who gave camp-followers the right to impose advice?"
"They are in league with highwaymen to lead you into a trap!" Ibrahim answered.
Rustum Khan rattled the saber that lay on the rock beside him.
"I am hunting for fear," he said. "All my life I have hunted for fear and never found it!"
"Pekki!" said Ibrahim dryly. The word means "very well." The tone implied that when the emergency should come we should do well not to depend on him, for he had warned us.
We were marching about parallel with the course the completed Baghdad railway was to take, and there were frequent parties of surveyors and engineers in sight. Once we came near enough to talk with the German in charge of a party, encamped very sumptuously near his work. He had a numerous armed guard of Turks.
"A precaution against robbers?" Monty asked, and I did not hear what the German answered.
Rustum Khan laughed and drew me aside.
"Every German in these parts has a guard to protect him from his own men, sahib! For a while on my journey westward I had charge of a camp of recruited laborers. Therefore I know."
The German was immensely anxious to know all about us and our intentions. He told us his name was Hans von Quedlinburg, plainly expecting us to be impressed.
"I can direct you to good quarters, where you can rest comfortably at every stage, if you will tell me your direction," he said.
But we did not tell him. Later, while we ate a meal, he came and questioned our Turks very closely; but since they were in ignorance they did not tell him either.
"Why do you travel with Armenian servants?" he asked us finally before we moved away.
"We like 'em," said Monty.
"They'll only get you in trouble. We've dismissed all Armenian laborers from the railway works. Not trustworthy, you know. Our agents are out recruiting Moslems."
"What's the matter with Armenians?"
"Oh, don't you know?"
The German shrugged his shoulders.
"I'll tell you one thing. This will illustrate. I had an Armenian clerk. He worked all day in my tent. A week ago I found him reading among my private papers. That proves you can't trust an Armenian."
"Ample evidence!" said Monty without a smile, but Fred laughed as we rode away, and the German stared after us with a new set of emotions pictured on his heavy face.
Late in the afternoon we passed through a village in which about two hundred Armenian men and women were holding a gathering in a church large enough to hold three times the number. One of them saw us coming, and they all trooped out to meet us, imagining we were officials of some kind.
"Effendi," said their pastor with a trembling hand on Monty's saddle, "the Turks in this village have been washing their white garments!"
We had heard in Tarsus what that ceremony meant.
"It means, effendi, they believe their purpose holy! What shall we do—what shall we do?"
"Why not go into Tarsus and claim protection at the British consulate?" suggested Fred.
"But our friends of Tarsus warn us the worst fury of all will be in the cities!"
"Take to the hills, then!" Monty advised him.
"But how can we, sir? How can we? We have homes—property—children! We are watched. The first attempt by a number of us to escape to the hills would bring destruction down on all!"
"Then escape to the hills by twos and threes. You ask my advice —I give it."
It looked like very good advice. The slopes of the foot-hills seemed covered by a carpet of myrtle scrub, in which whole armies could have lain in ambush. And above that the cliffs of the Kara Dagh rose rocky and wild, suggesting small comfort but sure hiding-places.
"You'll never make me believe you Armenians haven't hidden supplies," said Monty. "Take to the hills until the fury is over!"
But the old man shook his head, and his people seemed at one with him. These were not like our Zeitoonli, but wore the settled gloom of resignation that is poor half-brother to Moslem fanaticism, caught by subjection and infection from the bullying Turk. There was nothing we could do at that late hour to overcome the inertia produced by centuries, and we rode on, ourselves infected to the verge of misery. Only our Zeitoonli, striding along like men on holiday, retained their good spirits, and they tried to keep up ours by singing their extraordinary songs.
During the day we heard of the chicken, as Will called her, somewhere on ahead, and we spent that night at a kahveh, which is a place with all a khan's inconveniences, but no dignity whatever. There they knew nothing of her at all. The guests, and there were thirty besides ourselves, lay all around the big room on wooden platforms, and talked of nothing but robbers along the road in both directions. Every man in the place questioned each of us individually to find out why we had not been looted on our way of all we owned, and each man ended in a state of hostile incredulity because we vowed we had met no robbers at all. They shrugged their shoulders when we asked for news of Miss Gloria Vanderman.
There was no fear of Ibrahim and his friends decamping in the night, for the Zeitoonli kept too careful watch, waiting on them almost as thoughtfully as they fetched and carried for us, but never forgetting to qualify the service with a smile or a word to the Turks to imply that it was done out of pity for brutish helplessness.
These Zeitoonli of ours were more obviously every hour men of a different disposition to the meek Armenians of the places where the Turkish heel had pressed. But for our armed presence and the respect accorded to the Anglo-Saxon they would have had the whole mixed company down on them a dozen times that night.
"I'm wondering whether the Armenians within reach of the Turks are not going to suffer for the sins of mountaineers!" said Fred, as we warmed ourselves at the great open fire at one end of the room.
"Rot!" Will retorted. "Sooner or later men begin to dare assert their love of freedom, and you can't blame 'em if they show it foolishly. Some folk throw tea into harbors—some stick a king's head on a pole—some take it out for the present in fresh-kid stuff. These Zeitoonli are men of spirit, or I'll eat my hat!"
But if we ourselves had not been men of spirit, obviously capable of strenuous self-defense, our Zeitoonli would have found themselves in an awkward fix that night.
We supped off yoghourt—the Turkish concoction of milk—cow's, goat's, mare's, ewe's or buffalo's (and the buffalo's is best)—that is about the only food of the country on which the Anglo-Saxon thrives. Whatever else is fit to eat the Turks themselves ruin by their way of cooking it. And we left before dawn in the teeth of the owner of the kahveh's warning.
"Dangerous robbers all along the road!" he advised, shaking his head until the fez grew insecure, while Fred counted out the coins to pay our bill. "Armenians are without compunction—bad folk! Ay, you have weapons, but so have they, and they have the advantage of surprise! May Allah the compassionate be witness, I have warned you!"
"There will be more than warnings to be witnessed!", growled Rustum Khan as he rode away. "Those others, who sharpened weapons all night long, and spoke of robbers, have been waiting three days at that kahveh till the murdering begins!"
That morning, on Rustum Khan's advice, we made our Turkish muleteers ride in front of us. The Zeitoon men marched next, swinging along with the hillman stride that eats up distance as the ticked-off seconds eat the day. And we rode last, admiring the mountain range on our left, but watchful of other matters, and in position to cut off retreat.
"The last time a Turk ran away from me he took my Gladstone bag with him!" said Fred. "No, only Armenians are dishonest. It was obedience to his prophet, who bade him take advantage of the giaour—quite a different thing! Ibrahim's sitting on my kit, and I'm watching him. You fellows suit yourselves!"
We passed a number of men on foot that morning all coming our way, but no Armenians among them. However, we exchanged no wayside gossip, because our Zeitoonli in front availed themselves of privilege and shouted to every stranger to pass at a good distance.
That is a perfectly fair precaution in a land where every one goes armed, and any one may be a bandit. But it leads to aloofness. Passers-by made circuits of a half-mile to avoid us, and when we spurred our mules to get word with them they mistook that for proof of our profession and bolted. We chased three men for twenty minutes for the fun of it, only desisting when one of them took cover behind a bush and fired a pistol at us with his eyes shut.
"Think of the lies he'll tell in the kahveh to-night about beating off a dozen robbers single-handed!" Will laughed.
"Let's chase the next batch, too, and give the kahveh gang an ear-full!"
"I rather think not," said Monty. "They'll say we're Armenian criminals. Let's not be the spark."
He was right, so we behaved ourselves, and within an hour we had trouble enough of another sort. We began to meet dogs as big as Newfoundlands, that attacked our unmounted Zeitoonli, refusing to be driven off with sticks and stones, and only retreating a little way when we rode down on them.
"Shoot the brutes!" Will suggested cheerfully, and I made ready to act on it.
"For the lord's sake, don't!" warned Monty, riding at a huge black mongrel that was tearing strips from the smock of one of our men. The owner of the dog, seeing its victim was Armenian, rather encouraged it than otherwise, leaning on a long pole and grinning in an unfenced field near by.
"The consul warned me they think more of a dog's life hereabouts than a man's. In half an hour there'd be a mob on our trail. Take the Zeitoonli up behind us."
Rustum Khan was bitter about what he called our squeamishness. But we each took up a man on his horse's rump, and the dogs decided the fun was no longer worth the effort, especially as we had riding whips. But skirmishing with the dogs and picking up the Armenians took time, so that our muleteers were all alone half a mile ahead of us, and had disappeared where the road dipped between two hillocks, when they met with the scare they looked for.
They came thundering back up the road, flogging and flopping on top of the loads like the wooden monkeys-on-a-stick the fakers used to sell for a penny on the curb in Fleet Street, glancing behind them at every second bound like men who had seen a thousand ghosts.
We brought them to a halt by force, but take them on the whole, now that they were in contact with us, they did not look so much frightened as convinced. They had made up their minds that it was not written that they should go any farther, and that was all about it.
"Ermenie!" said Ibrahim. And when we laughed at that he stroked his beard and vowed there were hundreds of Armenians ambushed by the roadside half a mile ahead. The others corrected him, declaring the enemy were thousands strong.
Finally Monty rode forward with me to investigate. We passed between the hillocks, and descended for another hundred yards along a gradually sloping track, when our mules became aware of company. We could see nobody, but their long ears twitched, and they began to make preparations preliminary to braying recognition of their kin.
Suddenly Monty detected movement among the myrtle bushes about fifty yards from the road, and my mule confirmed his judgment by braying like Satan at a side-show. The noise was answered instantly by a chorus of neighs and brays from an unseen menagerie, whereat the owners of the animals disclosed themselves—six men, all smiling, and unarmed as far as we could tell—the very same six gipsies who had pitched their tent in the midst of the khan yard at Tarsus.
Then in a clearing at a little distance we saw women taking down a long low black tent, and between us and them a considerable herd of horses, mostly without halters but headed into a bunch by gipsy children. Somebody on a gray stallion came loping down toward us, leaping low bushes, riding erect with pluperfect hands and seat.
"I've seen that stallion before!" said I.
"And the girl on his back is looking for somebody who owns her heart!" smiled Monty. "Hullo! Are you the lucky man?"'
She reined the stallion in, and took a good, long look at us, shading her eyes with her hand but showing dazzling white teeth between coral lips. Suddenly the smile departed, and a look of sullen disappointment settled on her face, as she wheeled the stallion with a swing of her lithe body from the hips, and loped away. Never, apparently, did two men make less impression on a maiden's heart. The six gipsies stood staring at us foolishly, until one of them at last held his hand up palm outward. We accepted that as a peace signal.
"Are you waiting here for us?" Monty asked in English, and the oldest of the six—a swarthy little man with rather bow legs—thought he had been asked his name.
"Gregor Jhaere," be answered.
For some vague reason Monty tried him next in Arabic and then in Hindustanee, but without result. At last he tried halting Turkish, and the gipsy replied at once in German. As Monty used to get two-pence or three-pence a day extra when he was in the British army, for knowing something of that tongue, we stood at once on common ground.
"Kagig told us to wait here and bring you to him," said Gregor Jhaere.
"Where is Kagig?" Monty asked, and the man smiled blankly—much more effectively than if he had shrugged his shoulders.
"We obey Kagig at times," he said, as if that admission settled the matter. Then there was interruption. Rustum Khan came spurring down the road with his pistol holsters unbuttoned and his saber clattering like a sutler's pots and pans, to see whether we needed help. He had no sooner reined in beside us than I caught sight of Will, drawn between curiosity and fear lest the muleteers might bolt, standing in his stirrups to peer at us from the top of the track between the hillocks. Somebody else caught sight of him too.