Part 5 out of 6
'I've often regretted,' said Blenkiron, 'that miracles have left
He got no answer, for I was feeling the walls for something in
the nature of a window.
'For I reckon,' he went on, 'that it wants a good old-fashioned
copper-bottomed miracle to get us out of this fix. It's plumb against
all my principles. I've spent my life using the talents God gave me
to keep things from getting to the point of rude violence, and so
far I've succeeded. But now you come along, Major, and you hustle
a respectable middle-aged citizen into an aboriginal mix-up. It's
mighty indelicate. I reckon the next move is up to you, for I'm no
good at the housebreaking stunt.'
'No more am I,' I answered; 'but I'm hanged if I'll chuck up the
sponge. Sandy's somewhere outside, and he's got a hefty crowd at
I simply could not feel the despair which by every law of common
sense was due to the case. The guns had intoxicated me. I could
still hear their deep voices, though yards of wood and stone
separated us from the upper air.
What vexed us most was our hunger. Barring a few mouthfuls
on the road we had eaten nothing since the morning, and as our
diet for the past days had not been generous we had some leeway to
make up. Stumm had never looked near us since we were shoved into
the car. We had been brought to some kind of house and bundled
into a place like a wine-cellar. It was pitch dark, and after feeling
round the walls, first on my feet and then on Peter's back, I decided
that there were no windows. It must have been lit and ventilated by
some lattice in the ceiling. There was not a stick of furniture in the
place: nothing but a damp earth floor and bare stone sides, The
door was a relic of the Iron Age, and I could hear the paces of a
sentry outside it.
When things get to the pass that nothing you can do can better
them, the only thing is to live for the moment. All three of us
sought in sleep a refuge from our empty stomachs. The floor was
the poorest kind of bed, but we rolled up our coats for pillows and
made the best of it. Soon I knew by Peter's regular breathing that
he was asleep, and I presently followed him ...
I was awakened by a pressure below my left ear. I thought it was
Peter, for it is the old hunter's trick of waking a man so that he
makes no noise. But another voice spoke. It told me that there was
no time to lose and to rise and follow, and the voice was the voice
Peter was awake, and we stirred Blenkiron out of heavy slumber.
We were bidden take off our boots and hang them by their laces
round our necks as country boys do when they want to go barefoot.
Then we tiptoed to the door, which was ajar.
Outside was a passage with a flight of steps at one end which led
to the open air. On these steps lay a faint shine of starlight, and by
its help I saw a man huddled up at the foot of them. It was our
sentry, neatly and scientifically gagged and tied up.
The steps brought us to a little courtyard about which the walls
of the houses rose like cliffs. We halted while Hussin listened
intently. Apparently the coast was clear and our guide led us to one
side, which was clothed by a stout wooden trellis. Once it may have
supported fig-trees, but now the plants were dead and only withered
tendrils and rotten stumps remained.
It was child's play for Peter and me to go up that trellis, but it
was the deuce and all for Blenkiron. He was in poor condition and
puffed like a grampus, and he seemed to have no sort of head for
heights. But he was as game as a buffalo, and started in gallantly till
his arms gave out and he fairly stuck. So Peter and I went up on
each side of him, taking an arm apiece, as I had once seen done to a
man with vertigo in the Kloof Chimney on Table Mountain. I was
mighty thankful when I got him panting on the top and Hussin had
shinned up beside us.
We crawled along a broadish wall, with an inch or two of
powdery snow on it, and then up a sloping buttress on to the flat
roof of the house. It was a miserable business for Blenkiron, who
would certainly have fallen if he could have seen what was below
him, and Peter and I had to stand to attention all the time. Then
began a more difficult job. Hussin pointed out a ledge which took
us past a stack of chimneys to another building slightly lower, this
being the route he fancied. At that I sat down resolutely and put on
my boots, and the others followed. Frost-bitten feet would be a
poor asset in this kind of travelling.
It was a bad step for Blenkiron, and we only got him past it by
Peter and I spread-eagling ourselves against the wall and passing
him in front of us with his face towards us. We had no grip, and if
he had stumbled we should all three have been in the courtyard.
But we got it over, and dropped as softly as possible on to the roof
of the next house. Hussin had his finger on his lips, and I soon saw
why. For there was a lighted window in the wall we had descended.
Some imp prompted me to wait behind and explore. The others
followed Hussin and were soon at the far end of the roof, where a
kind of wooden pavilion broke the line, while I tried to get a look
inside. The window was curtained, and had two folding sashes
which clasped in the middle. Through a gap in the curtain I saw a
little lamp-lit room and a big man sitting at a table littered
I watched him, fascinated, as he turned to consult some document
and made a marking on the map before him. Then he suddenly
rose, stretched himself, cast a glance at the window, and went out
of the room, making a great clatter in descending the wooden
staircase. He left the door ajar and the lamp burning.
I guessed he had gone to have a look at his prisoners, in which
case the show was up. But what filled my mind was an insane
desire to get a sight of his map. It was one of those mad impulses
which utterly cloud right reason, a thing independent of any plan, a
crazy leap in the dark. But it was so strong that I would have
pulled that window out by its frame, if need be, to get to that table.
There was no need, for the flimsy clasp gave at the first pull, and
the sashes swung open. I scrambled in, after listening for steps on
the stairs. I crumpled up the map and stuck it in my pocket, as well
as the paper from which I had seen him copying. Very carefully I
removed all marks of my entry, brushed away the snow from the
boards, pulled back the curtain, got out and refastened the window.
Still there was no sound of his return. Then I started off to catch
up the others.
I found them shivering in the roof pavilion. 'We've got to move
pretty fast,' I said, 'for I've just been burgling old Stumm's private
cabinet. Hussin, my lad, d'you hear that? They may be after us any
moment, so I pray Heaven we soon strike better going.'
Hussin understood. He led us at a smart pace from one roof to
another, for here they were all of the same height, and only low
parapets and screens divided them. We never saw a soul, for a
winter's night is not the time you choose to saunter on your
housetop. I kept my ears open for trouble behind us, and in about
five minutes I heard it. A riot of voices broke out, with one louder
than the rest, and, looking back, I saw lanterns waving. Stumm had
realized his loss and found the tracks of the thief.
Hussin gave one glance behind and then hurried us on at break-
neck pace, with old Blenkiron gasping and stumbling. The shouts
behind us grew louder, as if some eye quicker than the rest had
caught our movement in the starlit darkness. It was very evident
that if they kept up the chase we should be caught, for Blenkiron
was about as useful on a roof as a hippo.
Presently we came to a big drop, with a kind of ladder down it,
and at the foot a shallow ledge running to the left into a pit of
darkness. Hussin gripped my arm and pointed down it. 'Follow it,'
he whispered, 'and you will reach a roof which spans a street. Cross
it, and on the other side is a mosque. Turn to the right there and
you will find easy going for fifty metres, well screened from the
higher roofs. For Allah's sake keep in the shelter of the screen.
Somewhere there I will join you.'
He hurried us along the ledge for a bit and then went back, and
with snow from the corners covered up our tracks. After that he
went straight on himself, taking strange short steps like a bird. I
saw his game. He wanted to lead our pursuers after him, and he
had to multiply the tracks and trust to Stumm's fellows not spotting
that they all were made by one man.
But I had quite enough to think of in getting Blenkiron along
that ledge. He was pretty nearly foundered, he was in a sweat of
terror, and as a matter of fact he was taking one of the biggest risks
of his life, for we had no rope and his neck depended on himself. I
could hear him invoking some unknown deity called Holy Mike.
But he ventured gallantly, and we got to the roof which ran across
the street. That was easier, though ticklish enough, but it was no
joke skirting the cupola of that infernal mosque. At last we found
the parapet and breathed more freely, for we were now under
shelter from the direction of danger. I spared a moment to look
round, and thirty yards off, across the street, I saw a weird spectacle.
The hunt was proceeding along the roofs parallel to the one we
were lodged on. I saw the flicker of the lanterns, waved up and
down as the bearers slipped in the snow, and I heard their cries like
hounds on a trail. Stumm was not among them: he had not the
shape for that sort of business. They passed us and continued to
our left, now hid by a jutting chimney, now clear to view against
the sky line. The roofs they were on were perhaps six feet higher
than ours, so even from our shelter we could mark their course. If
Hussin were going to be hunted across Erzerum it was a bad look-out for
us, for I hadn't the foggiest notion where we were or where
we were going to.
But as we watched we saw something more. The wavering lanterns
were now three or four hundred yards away, but on the roofs
just opposite us across the street there appeared a man's figure. I
thought it was one of the hunters, and we all crouched lower, and
then I recognized the lean agility of Hussin. He must have doubled
back, keeping in the dusk to the left of the pursuit, and taking big
risks in the open places. But there he was now, exactly in front of
us, and separated only by the width of the narrow street.
He took a step backward, gathered himself for a spring, and
leaped clean over the gap. Like a cat he lighted on the parapet
above us, and stumbled forward with the impetus right on our heads.
'We are safe for the moment,' he whispered, 'but when they miss
me they will return. We must make good haste.'
The next half-hour was a maze of twists and turns, slipping
down icy roofs and climbing icier chimney-stacks. The stir of the
city had gone, and from the black streets below came scarcely a
sound. But always the great tattoo of guns beat in the east. Gradually
we descended to a lower level, till we emerged on the top of
a shed in a courtyard. Hussin gave an odd sort of cry, like a
demented owl, and something began to stir below us.
It was a big covered wagon, full of bundles of forage, and drawn
by four mules. As we descended from the shed into the frozen litter
of the yard, a man came out of the shade and spoke low to Hussin.
Peter and I lifted Blenkiron into the cart, and scrambled in beside
him, and I never felt anything more blessed than the warmth and
softness of that place after the frosty roofs. I had forgotten all
about my hunger, and only yearned for sleep. Presently the wagon
moved out of the courtyard into the dark streets.
Then Blenkiron began to laugh, a deep internal rumble which
shook him violently and brought down a heap of forage on his
head. I thought it was hysterics, the relief from the tension of the
past hour. But it wasn't. His body might be out of training, but
there was never anything the matter with his nerves. He was
consumed with honest merriment.
'Say, Major,' he gasped, 'I don't usually cherish dislikes for my
fellow men, but somehow I didn't cotton to Colonel Stumm. But
now I almost love him. You hit his jaw very bad in Germany, and
now you've annexed his private file, and I guess it's important or
he wouldn't have been so mighty set on steeple-chasing over those
roofs. I haven't done such a thing since I broke into neighbour
Brown's woodshed to steal his tame 'possum, and that's forty years
back. It's the first piece of genooine amusement I've struck in this
game, and I haven't laughed so much since old Jim Hooker told
the tale of "Cousin Sally Dillard" when we were hunting ducks in
Michigan and his wife's brother had an apoplexy in the night and
died of it.'
To the accompaniment of Blenkiron's chuckles I did what Peter
had done in the first minute, and fell asleep.
When I woke it was still dark. The wagon had stopped in a
courtyard which seemed to be shaded by great trees. The snow lay
deeper here, and by the feel of the air we had left the city and
climbed to higher ground. There were big buildings on one side,
and on the other what looked like the lift of a hill. No lights were
shown, the place was in profound gloom, but I felt the presence
near me of others besides Hussin and the driver.
We were hurried, Blenkiron only half awake, into an outbuilding,
and then down some steps to a roomy cellar. There Hussin lit a
lantern, which showed what had once been a storehouse for fruit.
Old husks still strewed the floor and the place smelt of apples.
Straw had been piled in corners for beds, and there was a rude table
and a divan of boards covered with sheepskins.
'Where are we?' I asked Hussin.
'In the house of the Master,' he said. 'You will be safe here, but
you must keep still till the Master comes.'
'Is the Frankish lady here?' I asked.
Hussin nodded, and from a wallet brought out some food -
raisins and cold meat and a loaf of bread. We fell on it like vultures,
and as we ate Hussin disappeared. I noticed that he locked the door
As soon as the meal was ended the others returned to their
interrupted sleep. But I was wakeful now and my mind was sharp-
set on many things. I got Blenkiron's electric torch and lay down
on the divan to study Stumm's map.
The first glance showed me that I had lit on a treasure. It was the
staff map of the Erzerum defences, showing the forts and the field
trenches, with little notes scribbled in Stumm's neat small handwriting.
I got out the big map which I had taken from Blenkiron,
and made out the general lie of the land. I saw the horseshoe of Deve
Boyun to the east which the Russian guns were battering. Stumm's
was just like the kind of squared artillery map we used in France,
1 in 10,000, with spidery red lines showing the trenches, but with
the difference that it was the Turkish trenches that were shown in
detail and the Russian only roughly indicated. The thing was really
a confidential plan of the whole Erzerum _enceinte_, and would be
worth untold gold to the enemy. No wonder Stumm had been in a
wax at its loss.
The Deve Boyun lines seemed to me monstrously strong, and I
remembered the merits of the Turk as a fighter behind strong
defences. It looked as if Russia were up against a second Plevna or
a new Gallipoli.
Then I took to studying the flanks. South lay the Palantuken
range of mountains, with forts defending the passes, where ran the
roads to Mush and Lake Van. That side, too, looked pretty strong.
North in the valley of the Euphrates I made out two big forts,
Tafta and Kara Gubek, defending the road from Olti. On this part
of the map Stumm's notes were plentiful, and I gave them all my
attention. I remembered Blenkiron's news about the Russians advancing
on a broad front, for it was clear that Stumm was taking
pains about the flank of the fortress.
Kara Gubek was the point of interest. It stood on a rib of land
between two peaks, which from the contour lines rose very steep.
So long as it was held it was clear that no invader could move
down the Euphrates glen. Stumm had appended a note to the peaks
- '_not fortified_'; and about two miles to the north-east there was a red
cross and the name '_Prjevalsky_'. I assumed that to be the farthest
point yet reached by the right wing of the Russian attack.
Then I turned to the paper from which Stumm had copied the
jottings on to his map. It was typewritten, and consisted
of notes on different points. One was headed '_Kara Gubek_'
and read: '_No time to fortify adjacent peaks. Difficult for
enemy to get batteries there, but not impossible. This the
real point of danger, for if Prjevalsky wins the Peaks Kara
Gubek and Tafta must fall, and enemy will be on left rear of
Deve Boyun main position_.'
I was soldier enough to see the tremendous importance of this
note. On Kara Gubek depended the defence of Erzerum, and it was
a broken reed if one knew where the weakness lay. Yet, searching
the map again, I could not believe that any mortal commander
would see any chance in the adjacent peaks, even if he thought
them unfortified. That was information confined to the Turkish
and German staff. But if it could be conveyed to the Grand Duke
he would have Erzerum in his power in a day. Otherwise he would
go on battering at the Deve Boyun ridge for weeks, and long ere he
won it the Gallipoli divisions would arrive, he would be out-
numbered by two to one, and his chance would have vanished.
My discovery set me pacing up and down that cellar in a perfect
fever of excitement. I longed for wireless, a carrier pigeon, an
aeroplane - anything to bridge over that space of half a dozen miles
between me and the Russian lines. It was maddening to have
stumbled on vital news and to be wholly unable to use it. How
could three fugitives in a cellar, with the whole hornet's nest of
Turkey and Germany stirred up against them, hope to send this
message of life and death?
I went back to the map and examined the nearest Russian positions.
They were carefully marked. Prjevalsky in the north, the
main force beyond Deve Boyun, and the southern columns up to
the passes of the Palantuken but not yet across them. I could not
know which was nearest to us till I discovered where we were. And
as I thought of this I began to see the rudiments of a desperate
plan. It depended on Peter, now slumbering like a tired dog on a
couch of straw.
Hussin had locked the door and I must wait for information till
he came back. But suddenly I noticed a trap in the roof, which had
evidently been used for raising and lowering the cellar's stores. It
looked ill-fitting and might be unbarred, so I pulled the table below
it, and found that with a little effort I could raise the flap. I knew I
was taking immense risks, but I was so keen on my plan that I
disregarded them. After some trouble I got the thing prised open,
and catching the edges of the hole with my fingers raised my body
and got my knees on the edge.
It was the outbuilding of which our refuge was the cellar, and it
was half filled with light. Not a soul was there, and I hunted about
till I found what I wanted. This was a ladder leading to a sort of
loft, which in turn gave access to the roof. Here I had to be very
careful, for I might be overlooked from the high buildings. But by
good luck there was a trellis for grape vines across the place, which
gave a kind of shelter. Lying flat on my face I stared over a great
expanse of country.
Looking north I saw the city in a haze of morning smoke, and,
beyond, the plain of the Euphrates and the opening of the glen
where the river left the hills. Up there, among the snowy heights,
were Tafta and Kara Gubek. To the east was the ridge of Deve
Boyun, where the mist was breaking before the winter's sun. On
the roads up to it I saw transport moving, I saw the circle of the
inner forts, but for a moment the guns were silent. South rose a
great wall of white mountain, which I took to be the Palantuken. I
could see the roads running to the passes, and the smoke of camps
and horse-lines right under the cliffs.
I had learned what I needed. We were in the outbuildings of a
big country house two or three miles south of the city. The nearest
point of the Russian front was somewhere in the foothills
of the Palantuken.
As I descended I heard, thin and faint and beautiful, like the cry
of a wild bird, the muezzin from the minarets of Erzerum.
When I dropped through the trap the others were awake. Hussin
was setting food on the table, and viewing my descent with anxious
'It's all right,' I said; 'I won't do it again, for I've found out all I
wanted. Peter, old man, the biggest job of your life is before you!'
Peter scarcely looked up from his breakfast.
'I'm willing, Dick,' he said. 'But you mustn't ask me to be
friends with Stumm. He makes my stomach cold, that one.'
For the first time he had stopped calling me 'Cornelis'. The day
of make-believe was over for all of us.
'Not to be friends with him,' I said, 'but to bust him and
all his kind.'
'Then I'm ready,' said Peter cheerfully. 'What is it?'
I spread out the maps on the divan. There was no light in the
place but Blenkiron's electric torch, for Hussin had put out the
lantern. Peter got his nose into the things at once, for his intelligence
work in the Boer War had made him handy with maps. It didn't
want much telling from me to explain to him the importance of the
one I had looted.
'That news is worth many a million pounds,' said he, wrinkling
his brows, and scratching delicately the tip of his left ear. It was a
way he had when he was startled.
'How can we get it to our friends?'
Peter cogitated. 'There is but one way. A man must take it.
Once, I remember, when we fought the Matabele it was necessary
to find out whether the chief Makapan was living. Some said he
had died, others that he'd gone over the Portuguese border, but I
believed he lived. No native could tell us, and since his kraal was
well defended no runner could get through. So it was necessary to
send a man.'
Peter lifted up his head and laughed. 'The man found the chief
Makapan. He was very much alive, and made good shooting with a
shot-gun. But the man brought the chief Makapan out of his kraal
and handed him over to the Mounted Police. You remember Captain Arcoll,
Dick - Jim Arcoll? Well, Jim laughed so much that he
broke open a wound in his head, and had to have a doctor.'
'You were that man, Peter,' I said.
'_Ja_. I was the man. There are more ways of getting into kraals
than there are ways of keeping people out.'
'Will you take this chance?'
'For certain, Dick. I am getting stiff with doing nothing, and if I
sit in houses much longer I shall grow old. A man bet me five
pounds on the ship that I could not get through a trench-line, and
if there had been a trench-line handy I would have taken him on.
I will be very happy, Dick, but I do not say I will succeed. It is
new country to me, and I will be hurried, and hurry makes bad stalking.'
I showed him what I thought the likeliest place - in the spurs of
the Palantuken mountains. Peter's way of doing things was all his
own. He scraped earth and plaster out of a corner and sat down to
make a little model of the landscape on the table, following the
contours of the map. He did it extraordinarily neatly, for, like all
great hunters, he was as deft as a weaver bird. He puzzled over it
for a long time, and conned the map till he must have got it by
heart. Then he took his field-glasses - a very good single Zeiss
which was part of the spoils from Rasta's motor-car - and announced
that he was going to follow my example and get on to the house-top.
Presently his legs disappeared through the trap, and Blenkiron and I
were left to our reflections.
Peter must have found something uncommon interesting, for he
stayed on the roof the better part of the day. It was a dull job for
us, since there was no light, and Blenkiron had not even the
consolation of a game of Patience. But for all that he was in good
spirits, for he had had no dyspepsia since we left Constantinople,
and announced that he believed he was at last getting even with his
darned duodenum. As for me I was pretty restless, for I could not
imagine what was detaining Sandy. It was clear that our presence
must have been kept secret from Hilda von Einem, for she was a
pal of Stumm's, and he must by now have blown the gaff on Peter
and me. How long could this secrecy last, I asked myself. We had
now no sort of protection in the whole outfit. Rasta and the Turks
wanted our blood: so did Stumm and the Germans; and once the
lady found we were deceiving her she would want it most of all.
Our only hope was Sandy, and he gave no sign of his existence. I
began to fear that with him, too, things had miscarried.
And yet I wasn't really depressed, only impatient. I could never
again get back to the beastly stagnation of that Constantinople
week. The guns kept me cheerful. There was the devil of a bombardment
all day, and the thought that our Allies were thundering there
half a dozen miles off gave me a perfectly groundless hope. If they
burst through the defence Hilda von Einem and her prophet and all
our enemies would be overwhelmed in the deluge. And that blessed
chance depended very much on old Peter, now brooding like a
pigeon on the house-tops.
It was not till the late afternoon that Hussin appeared again. He
took no notice of Peter's absence, but lit a lantern and set it on the
table. Then he went to the door and waited. Presently a light step
fell on the stairs, and Hussin drew back to let someone enter. He
promptly departed and I heard the key turn in the lock behind him.
Sandy stood there, but a new Sandy who made Blenkiron and me
jump to our feet. The pelts and skin-cap had gone, and he wore
instead a long linen tunic clasped at the waist by a broad girdle. A
strange green turban adorned his head, and as he pushed it back I
saw that his hair had been shaved. He looked like some acolyte - a
weary acolyte, for there was no spring in his walk or nerve in his
carriage. He dropped numbly on the divan and laid his head in his
hands. The lantern showed his haggard eyes with dark lines beneath them.
'Good God, old man, have you been sick?' I cried.
'Not sick,' he said hoarsely. 'My body is right enough, but the
last few days I have been living in hell.'
Blenkiron nodded sympathetically. That was how he himself
would have described the company of the lady.
I marched across to him and gripped both his wrists.
'Look at me,' I said, 'straight in the eyes.'
His eyes were like a sleep-walker's, unwinking, unseeing. 'Great
heavens, man, you've been drugged!' I said.
'Drugged,' he cried, with a weary laugh. 'Yes, I have been
drugged, but not by any physic. No one has been doctoring my
food. But you can't go through hell without getting your eyes red-hot.'
I kept my grip on his wrists. 'Take your time, old chap, and tell
us about it. Blenkiron and I are here, and old Peter's on the roof
not far off. We'll look after you.'
'It does me good to hear your voice, Dick,' he said. 'It reminds
me of clean, honest things.'
'They'll come back, never fear. We're at the last lap now. One
more spurt and it's over. You've got to tell me what the new snag
is. Is it that woman?'
He shivered like a frightened colt. 'Woman!' he cried. 'Does a
woman drag a man through the nether-pit? She's a she-devil. Oh, it
isn't madness that's wrong with her. She's as sane as you and as
cool as Blenkiron. Her life is an infernal game of chess, and she
plays with souls for pawns. She is evil - evil - evil.' And once
more he buried his head in his hands.
It was Blenkiron who brought sense into this hectic atmosphere.
His slow, beloved drawl was an antiseptic against nerves.
'Say, boy,' he said, 'I feel just like you about the lady. But our
job is not to investigate her character. Her Maker will do that good
and sure some day. We've got to figure how to circumvent her, and
for that you've got to tell us what exactly's been occurring since we
Sandy pulled himself together with a great effort.
'Greenmantle died that night I saw you. We buried him secretly
by her order in the garden of the villa. Then came the trouble
about his successor ... The four Ministers would be no party to a
swindle. They were honest men, and vowed that their task now
was to make a tomb for their master and pray for the rest of their
days at his shrine. They were as immovable as a granite hill and she
knew it. ... Then they, too, died.'
'Murdered?' I gasped.
'Murdered ... all four in one morning. I do not know how, but
I helped to bury them. Oh, she had Germans and Kurds to do her
foul work, but their hands were clean compared to hers. Pity me,
Dick, for I have seen honesty and virtue put to the shambles and
have abetted the deed when it was done. It will haunt me to my
I did not stop to console him, for my mind was on fire
with his news.
'Then the prophet is gone, and the humbug is over,' I cried.
'The prophet still lives. She has found a successor.'
He stood up in his linen tunic.
'Why do I wear these clothes? Because I am Greenmantle. I am
the _Kaaba-i-hurriyeh_ for all Islam. In three days' time I will reveal
myself to my people and wear on my breast the green ephod
of the prophet.'
He broke off with an hysterical laugh.
'Only you see, I won't. I will cut my throat first.'
'Cheer up!' said Blenkiron soothingly. 'We'll find some prettier
way than that.'
'There is no way,' he said; 'no way but death. We're done for, all
of us. Hussin got you out of Stumm's clutches, but you're in
danger every moment. At the best you have three days, and then
you, too, will be dead.'
I had no words to reply. This change in the bold and unshakeable
Sandy took my breath away.
'She made me her accomplice,' he went on. 'I should have killed
her on the graves of those innocent men. But instead I did all she
asked and joined in her game ... She was very candid, you know
... She cares no more than Enver for the faith of Islam. She can
laugh at it. But she has her own dreams, and they consume her as a
saint is consumed by his devotion. She has told me them, and if the
day in the garden was hell, the days since have been the innermost
fires of Tophet. I think - it is horrible to say it - that she has got
some kind of crazy liking for me. When we have reclaimed the East
I am to be by her side when she rides on her milk-white horse into
Jerusalem ... And there have been moments - only moments, I
swear to God - when I have been fired myself by her madness ...'
Sandy's figure seemed to shrink and his voice grew shrill and
wild. It was too much for Blenkiron. He indulged in a torrent of
blasphemy such as I believe had never before passed his lips.
'I'm blessed if I'll listen to this God-darned stuff. It isn't delicate.
You get busy, Major, and pump some sense into your afflicted friend.'
I was beginning to see what had happened. Sandy was a man of
genius - as much as anybody I ever struck - but he had the defects
of such high-strung, fanciful souls. He would take more than mortal
risks, and you couldn't scare him by any ordinary terror. But let his
old conscience get cross-eyed, let him find himself in some situation
which in his eyes involved his honour, and he might go stark crazy.
The woman, who roused in me and Blenkiron only hatred, could
catch his imagination and stir in him - for the moment only - an
unwilling response. And then came bitter and morbid repentance,
and the last desperation.
It was no time to mince matters. 'Sandy, you old fool,' I cried,
'be thankful you have friends to keep you from playing the fool.
You saved my life at Loos, and I'm jolly well going to get you
through this show. I'm bossing the outfit now, and for all your
confounded prophetic manners, you've got to take your orders
from me. You aren't going to reveal yourself to your people, and
still less are you going to cut your throat. Greenmantle will avenge
the murder of his ministers, and make that bedlamite woman sorry
she was born. We're going to get clear away, and inside of a week
we'll be having tea with the Grand Duke Nicholas.'
I wasn't bluffing. Puzzled as I was about ways and means I had
still the blind belief that we should win out. And as I spoke two
legs dangled through the trap and a dusty and blinking Peter
descended in our midst.
I took the maps from him and spread them on the table.
'First, you must know that we've had an almighty piece of luck.
Last night Hussin took us for a walk over the roofs of Erzerum,
and by the blessing of Providence I got into Stumm's room, and
bagged his staff map ... Look there ... d'you see his notes? That's
the danger-point of the whole defence. Once the Russians get that
fort, Kara Gubek, they've turned the main position. And it can be
got; Stumm knows it can; for these two adjacent hills are not held
... It looks a mad enterprise on paper, but Stumm knows that it is
possible enough. The question is: Will the Russians guess that? I
say no, not unless someone tells them. Therefore, by hook or by
crook, we've got to get that information through to them.'
Sandy's interest in ordinary things was beginning to flicker up
again. He studied the map and began to measure distances.
'Peter's going to have a try for it. He thinks there's a sporting
chance of his getting through the lines. If he does - if he gets this
map to the Grand Duke's staff - then Stumm's goose is cooked. In
three days the Cossacks will be in the streets of Erzerum.'
'What are the chances?' Sandy asked.
I glanced at Peter. 'We're hard-bitten fellows and can face the
truth. I think the chances against success are about five to one.'
'Two to one,' said Peter modestly. 'Not worse than that. I don't
think you're fair to me, Dick, my old friend.'
I looked at that lean, tight figure and the gentle, resolute face,
and I changed my mind. 'I'm hanged if I think there are any odds,'
I said. 'With anybody else it would want a miracle, but with Peter I
believe the chances are level.'
'Two to one,' Peter persisted. 'If it was evens I wouldn't be
'Let me go,' Sandy cried. 'I talk the lingo, and can pass as a
Turk, and I'm a million times likelier to get through. For God's
sake, Dick, let me go.'
'Not you. You're wanted here. If you disappear the whole show's
busted too soon, and the three of us left behind will be strung up
before morning ... No, my son. You're going to escape, but it will
be in company with Blenkiron and me. We've got to blow the
whole Greenmantle business so high that the bits of it will never
come to earth again ... First, tell me how many of your fellows
will stick by you? I mean the Companions.'
'The whole half-dozen. They are very worried already about
what has happened. She made me sound them in her presence, and
they were quite ready to accept me as Greenmantle's successor. But
they have their suspicions about what happened at the villa, and
they've no love for the woman ... They'd follow me through hell
if I bade them, but they would rather it was my own show.'
'That's all right,' I cried. 'It is the one thing I've been doubtful
about. Now observe this map. Erzerum isn't invested by a long
chalk. The Russians are round it in a broad half-moon. That means
that all the west, south-west, and north-west is open and undefended
by trench lines. There are flanks far away to the north and south in
the hills which can be turned, and once we get round a flank there's
nothing between us and our friends ... I've figured out our road,'
and I traced it on the map. 'If we can make that big circuit to the
west and get over that pass unobserved we're bound to strike a
Russian column the next day. It'll be a rough road, but I fancy
we've all ridden as bad in our time. But one thing we must have,
and that's horses. Can we and your six ruffians slip off in the
darkness on the best beasts in this township? If you can manage
that, we'll do the trick.'
Sandy sat down and pondered. Thank heaven, he was thinking
now of action and not of his own conscience.
'It must be done,' he said at last, 'but it won't be easy. Hussin's a
great fellow, but as you know well, Dick, horses right up at the
battle-front are not easy to come by. Tomorrow I've got some kind
of infernal fast to observe, and the next day that woman will be
coaching me for my part. We'll have to give Hussin time ... I wish
to heaven it could be tonight.' He was silent again for a bit, and
then he said: 'I believe the best time would be the third night, the
eve of the Revelation. She's bound to leave me alone that night.'
'Right-o,' I said. 'It won't be much fun sitting waiting in this
cold sepulchre; but we must keep our heads and risk nothing by
being in a hurry. Besides, if Peter wins through, the Turk will be a
busy man by the day after tomorrow.'
The key turned in the door and Hussin stole in like a shade. It
was the signal for Sandy to leave.
'You fellows have given me a new lease of life,' he said. 'I've got
a plan now, and I can set my teeth and stick it out.'
He went up to Peter and gripped his hand. 'Good luck. You're
the bravest man I've ever met, and I've seen a few.' Then he turned
abruptly and went out, followed by an exhortation from Blenkiron
to 'Get busy about the quadrupeds.'
Then we set about equipping Peter for his crusade. It was a simple
job, for we were not rich in properties. His get-up, with his thick
fur-collared greatcoat, was not unlike the ordinary Turkish officer
seen in a dim light. But Peter had no intention of passing for a
Turk, or indeed of giving anybody the chance of seeing him, and
he was more concerned to fit in with the landscape. So he stripped
off the greatcoat and pulled a grey sweater of mine over his jacket,
and put on his head a woollen helmet of the same colour. He had
no need of the map for he had long since got his route by heart,
and what was once fixed in that mind stuck like wax; but I made
him take Stumm's plan and paper, hidden below his shirt. The big
difficulty, I saw, would be getting to the Russians without getting
shot, assuming he passed the Turkish trenches. He could only hope
that he would strike someone with a smattering of English or
German. Twice he ascended to the roof and came back cheerful, for
there was promise of wild weather.
Hussin brought in our supper, and Peter made up a parcel of food.
Blenkiron and I had both small flasks of brandy and I gave him mine.
Then he held out his hand quite simply, like a good child who is
going off to bed. It was too much for Blenkiron. With large tears
rolling down his face he announced that, if we all came through, he
was going to fit him into the softest berth that money could buy. I
don't think he was understood, for old Peter's eyes had now the
faraway absorption of the hunter who has found game. He was
thinking only of his job.
Two legs and a pair of very shabby boots vanished through the
trap, and suddenly I felt utterly lonely and desperately sad. The
guns were beginning to roar again in the east, and in the intervals
came the whistle of the rising storm.
Peter Pienaar Goes to the Wars
This chapter is the tale that Peter told me - long after, sitting
beside a stove in the hotel at Bergen, where we were waiting for
He climbed on the roof and shinned down the broken bricks of
the outer wall. The outbuilding we were lodged in abutted on a
road, and was outside the proper _enceinte_ of the house. At ordinary
times I have no doubt there were sentries, but Sandy and Hussin
had probably managed to clear them off this end for a little. Anyhow
he saw nobody as he crossed the road and dived into the snowy fields.
He knew very well that he must do the job in the twelve hours
of darkness ahead of him. The immediate front of a battle is a bit
too public for anyone to lie hidden in by day, especially when two
or three feet of snow make everything kenspeckle. Now hurry in a
job of this kind was abhorrent to Peter's soul, for, like all Boers, his
tastes were for slowness and sureness, though he could hustle fast
enough when haste was needed. As he pushed through the winter
fields he reckoned up the things in his favour, and found the only
one the dirty weather. There was a high, gusty wind, blowing
scuds of snow but never coming to any great fall. The frost had
gone, and the lying snow was as soft as butter. That was all to the
good, he thought, for a clear, hard night would have been the devil.
The first bit was through farmlands, which were seamed with
little snow-filled water-furrows. Now and then would come a house
and a patch of fruit trees, but there was nobody abroad. The roads
were crowded enough, but Peter had no use for roads. I can picture
him swinging along with his bent back, stopping every now and
then to sniff and listen, alert for the foreknowledge of danger.
When he chose he could cover country like an antelope.
Soon he struck a big road full of transport. It was the road from
Erzerum to the Palantuken pass, and he waited his chance and
crossed it. After that the ground grew rough with boulders and
patches of thorn-trees, splendid cover where he could move fast
without worrying. Then he was pulled up suddenly on the bank of
a river. The map had warned him of it, but not that it would be so big.
It was a torrent swollen with melting snow and rains in the hills,
and it was running fifty yards wide. Peter thought he could have
swum it, but he was very averse to a drenching. 'A wet man makes
too much noise,' he said, and besides, there was the off-chance that
the current would be too much for him. So he moved up stream to
look for a bridge.
In ten minutes he found one, a new-made thing of trestles, broad
enough to take transport wagons. It was guarded, for he heard the
tramp of a sentry, and as he pulled himself up the bank he observed
a couple of long wooden huts, obviously some kind of billets.
These were on the near side of the stream, about a dozen yards
from the bridge. A door stood open and a light showed in it, and
from within came the sound of voices. ... Peter had a sense of
hearing like a wild animal, and he could detect even from the
confused gabble that the voices were German.
As he lay and listened someone came over the bridge. It was an
officer, for the sentry saluted. The man disappeared in one of the
huts. Peter had struck the billets and repairing shop of a squad of
He was just going ruefully to retrace his steps and try to find a
good place to swim the stream when it struck him that the officer
who had passed him wore clothes very like his own. He, too, had
had a grey sweater and a Balaclava helmet, for even a German
officer ceases to be dressy on a mid-winter's night in Anatolia. The
idea came to Peter to walk boldly across the bridge and trust to the
sentry not seeing the difference.
He slipped round a corner of the hut and marched down the
road. The sentry was now at the far end, which was lucky, for if
the worst came to the worst he could throttle him. Peter, mimicking
the stiff German walk, swung past him, his head down as if to
protect him from the wind.
The man saluted. He did more, for he offered conversation. The
officer must have been a genial soul.
'It's a rough night, Captain,' he said in German. 'The wagons
are late. Pray God, Michael hasn't got a shell in his lot. They've
begun putting over some big ones.'
Peter grunted good night in German and strode on. He was just
leaving the road when he heard a great halloo behind him.
The real officer must have appeared on his heels, and the sentry's
doubts had been stirred. A whistle was blown, and, looking back,
Peter saw lanterns waving in the gale. They were coming out to
look for the duplicate.
He stood still for a second, and noticed the lights spreading out
south of the road. He was just about to dive off it on the north side
when he was aware of a difficulty. On that side a steep bank fell to
a ditch, and the bank beyond bounded a big flood. He could see the
dull ruffle of the water under the wind.
On the road itself he would soon be caught; south of it the
search was beginning; and the ditch itself was no place to hide, for
he saw a lantern moving up it. Peter dropped into it all the same
and made a plan. The side below the road was a little undercut and
very steep. He resolved to plaster himself against it, for he would
be hidden from the road, and a searcher in the ditch would not be
likely to explore the unbroken sides. It was always a maxim of
Peter's that the best hiding-place was the worst, the least obvious
to the minds of those who were looking for you.
He waited until the lights both in the road and the ditch came
nearer, and then he gripped the edge with his left hand, where
some stones gave him purchase, dug the toes of his boots into the
wet soil and stuck like a limpet. It needed some strength to keep
the position for long, but the muscles of his arms and legs were
The searcher in the ditch soon got tired, for the place was very
wet, and joined his comrades on the road. They came along, running,
flashing the lanterns into the trench, and exploring all the
Then rose a noise of wheels and horses from the opposite direction.
Michael and the delayed wagons were approaching. They
dashed up at a great pace, driven wildly, and for one horrid second
Peter thought they were going to spill into the ditch at the very
spot where he was concealed. The wheels passed so close to the
edge that they almost grazed his fingers. Somebody shouted an
order and they pulled up a yard or two nearer the bridge. The
others came up and there was a consultation.
Michael swore he had passed no one on the road.
'That fool Hannus has seen a ghost,' said the officer testily. 'It's
too cold for this child's play.'
Hannus, almost in tears, repeated his tale. 'The man spoke to me
in good German,' he cried.
'Ghost or no ghost he is safe enough up the road,' said the
officer. 'Kind God, that was a big one!' He stopped and stared at a
shell-burst, for the bombardment from the east was growing fiercer.
They stood discussing the fire for a minute and presently moved
off. Peter gave them two minutes' law and then clambered back to
the highway and set off along it at a run. The noise of the shelling
and the wind, together with the thick darkness, made it safe to
He left the road at the first chance and took to the broken
country. The ground was now rising towards a spur of the Palantuken,
on the far slope of which were the Turkish trenches. The
night had begun by being pretty nearly as black as pitch; even the
smoke from the shell explosions, which is often visible in darkness,
could not be seen. But as the wind blew the snow-clouds athwart
the sky patches of stars came out. Peter had a compass, but he
didn't need to use it, for he had a kind of 'feel' for landscape, a
special sense which is born in savages and can only be acquired
after long experience by the white man. I believe he could smell
where the north lay. He had settled roughly which part of the line
he would try, merely because of its nearness to the enemy. But he
might see reason to vary this, and as he moved he began to think
that the safest place was where the shelling was hottest. He didn't
like the notion, but it sounded sense.
Suddenly he began to puzzle over queer things in the ground,
and, as he had never seen big guns before, it took him a moment to
fix them. Presently one went off at his elbow with a roar like the
Last Day. These were Austrian howitzers - nothing over eight-inch,
I fancy, but to Peter they looked like leviathans. Here, too, he
saw for the first time a big and quite recent shell-hole, for the
Russian guns were searching out the position. He was so interested
in it all that he poked his nose where he shouldn't have been, and
dropped plump into the pit behind a gun-emplacement.
Gunners all the world over are the same - shy people, who hide
themselves in holes and hibernate and mortally dislike being detected.
A gruff voice cried '_Wer da_?' and a heavy hand seized his neck.
Peter was ready with his story. He belonged to Michael's wagon-team
and had been left behind. He wanted to be told the way to the
sappers' camp. He was very apologetic, not to say obsequious.
'It is one of those Prussian swine from the Marta bridge,' said a
gunner. 'Land him a kick to teach him sense. Bear to your right,
manikin, and you will find a road. And have a care when you get
there, for the Russkoes are registering on it.'
Peter thanked them and bore off to the right. After that he kept
a wary eye on the howitzers, and was thankful when he got out of
their area on to the slopes up the hill. Here was the type of country
that was familiar to him, and he defied any Turk or Boche to spot
him among the scrub and boulders. He was getting on very well,
when once more, close to his ear, came a sound like the crack of doom.
It was the field-guns now, and the sound of a field-gun close at
hand is bad for the nerves if you aren't expecting it. Peter thought
he had been hit, and lay flat for a little to consider. Then he found
the right explanation, and crawled forward very warily.
Presently he saw his first Russian shell. It dropped half a dozen
yards to his right, making a great hole in the snow and sending up
a mass of mixed earth, snow, and broken stones. Peter spat out the
dirt and felt very solemn. You must remember that never in his life
had he seen big shelling, and was now being landed in the thick of
a first-class show without any preparation. He said he felt cold in
his stomach, and very wishful to run away, if there had been
anywhere to run to. But he kept on to the crest of the ridge, over
which a big glow was broadening like sunrise. He tripped once
over a wire, which he took for some kind of snare, and after that
went very warily. By and by he got his face between two boulders
and looked over into the true battle-field.
He told me it was exactly what the predikant used to say that
Hell would be like. About fifty yards down the slope lay the
Turkish trenches - they were dark against the snow, and now and
then a black figure like a devil showed for an instant and disappeared.
The Turks clearly expected an infantry attack, for they were
sending up calcium rockets and Very flares. The Russians were
battering their line and spraying all the hinterland, not with shrapnel,
but with good, solid high-explosives. The place would be as
bright as day for a moment, all smothered in a scurry of smoke and
snow and debris, and then a black pall would fall on it, when only
the thunder of the guns told of the battle.
Peter felt very sick. He had not believed there could be so much
noise in the world, and the drums of his ears were splitting. Now,
for a man to whom courage is habitual, the taste of fear - naked,
utter fear - is a horrible thing. It seems to wash away all his
manhood. Peter lay on the crest, watching the shells burst, and
confident that any moment he might be a shattered remnant. He lay
and reasoned with himself, calling himself every name he could
think of, but conscious that nothing would get rid of that lump of
ice below his heart.
Then he could stand it no longer. He got up and ran for his life.
But he ran forward.
It was the craziest performance. He went hell-for-leather over a
piece of ground which was being watered with H.E., but by the
mercy of heaven nothing hit him. He took some fearsome tosses in
shell-holes, but partly erect and partly on all fours he did the fifty
yards and tumbled into a Turkish trench right on top of a dead man.
The contact with that body brought him to his senses. That men
could die at all seemed a comforting, homely thing after that
unnatural pandemonium. The next moment a crump took the parapet
of the trench some yards to his left, and he was half buried
in an avalanche.
He crawled out of that, pretty badly cut about the head. He was
quite cool now and thinking hard about his next step. There were
men all around him, sullen dark faces as he saw them when the
flares went up. They were manning the parapets and waiting tensely
for something else than the shelling. They paid no attention to him,
for I fancy in that trench units were pretty well mixed up, and
under a bad bombardment no one bothers about his neighbour. He
found himself free to move as he pleased. The ground of the trench
was littered with empty cartridge-cases, and there were many dead bodies.
The last shell, as I have said, had played havoc with the parapet.
In the next spell of darkness Peter crawled through the gap and
twisted among some snowy hillocks. He was no longer afraid of
shells, any more than he was afraid of a veld thunderstorm. But he
was wondering very hard how he should ever get to the Russians.
The Turks were behind him now, but there was the biggest danger
Then the artillery ceased. It was so sudden that he thought he
had gone deaf, and could hardly realize the blessed relief of it. The
wind, too, seemed to have fallen, or perhaps he was sheltered by
the lee of the hill. There were a lot of dead here also, and that he
couldn't understand, for they were new dead. Had the Turks
attacked and been driven back? When he had gone about thirty
yards he stopped to take his bearings. On the right were the ruins
of a large building set on fire by the guns. There was a blur of
woods and the debris of walls round it. Away to the left another
hill ran out farther to the east, and the place he was in seemed to be
a kind of cup between the spurs. Just before him was a little ruined
building, with the sky seen through its rafters, for the smouldering
ruin on the right gave a certain light. He wondered if the Russian
firing-line lay there.
just then he heard voices - smothered voices - not a yard away
and apparently below the ground. He instantly jumped to what this
must mean. It was a Turkish trench - a communication trench.
Peter didn't know much about modern warfare, but he had read in
the papers, or heard from me, enough to make him draw the right
moral. The fresh dead pointed to the same conclusion. What he had
got through were the Turkish support trenches, not their firing-line.
That was still before him.
He didn't despair, for the rebound from panic had made him
extra courageous. He crawled forward, an inch at a time, taking no
sort of risk, and presently found himself looking at the parados of a
trench. Then he lay quiet to think out the next step.
The shelling had stopped, and there was that queer kind of peace
which falls sometimes on two armies not a quarter of a mile distant.
Peter said he could hear nothing but the far-off sighing of the
wind. There seemed to be no movement of any kind in the trench
before him, which ran through the ruined building. The light of
the burning was dying, and he could just make out the mound of
earth a yard in front. He began to feel hungry, and got out his
packet of food and had a swig at the brandy flask. That comforted
him, and he felt a master of his fate again. But the next step was not
so easy. He must find out what lay behind that mound of earth.
Suddenly a curious sound fell on his ears. It was so faint that at
first he doubted the evidence of his senses. Then as the wind fell it
came louder. It was exactly like some hollow piece of metal being
struck by a stick, musical and oddly resonant.
He concluded it was the wind blowing a branch of a tree against
an old boiler in the ruin before him. The trouble was that there was
scarcely enough wind now for that in this sheltered cup.
But as he listened he caught the note again. It was a bell, a fallen
bell, and the place before him must have been a chapel. He remembered
that an Armenian monastery had been marked on the big map, and he
guessed it was the burned building on his right.
The thought of a chapel and a bell gave him the notion of some
human agency. And then suddenly the notion was confirmed. The
sound was regular and concerted - dot, dash, dot - dash, dot, dot.
The branch of a tree and the wind may play strange pranks, but
they do not produce the longs and shorts of the Morse Code.
This was where Peter's intelligence work in the Boer War helped
him. He knew the Morse, he could read it, but he could make
nothing of the signalling. It was either in some special code or in a
He lay still and did some calm thinking. There was a man in front of
him, a Turkish soldier, who was in the enemy's pay. Therefore he
could fraternize with him, for they were on the same side. But how was
he to approach him without getting shot in the process? Again, how
could a man send signals to the enemy from a firing-line without being
detected? Peter found an answer in the strange configuration of the
ground. He had not heard a sound until he was a few yards from the
place, and they would be inaudible to men in the reserve trenches and
even in the communication trenches. If somebody moving up the latter
caught the noise, it would be easy to explain it naturally. But the wind
blowing down the cup would carry it far in the enemy's direction.
There remained the risk of being heard by those parallel with the
bell in the firing trenches. Peter concluded that that trench must be
very thinly held, probably only by a few observers, and the nearest
might be a dozen yards off. He had read about that being the
French fashion under a big bombardment.
The next thing was to find out how to make himself known to
this ally. He decided that the only way was to surprise him. He
might get shot, but he trusted to his strength and agility against a
man who was almost certainly wearied. When he had got him safe,
explanations might follow.
Peter was now enjoying himself hugely. If only those infernal
guns kept silent he would play out the game in the sober, decorous
way he loved. So very delicately he began to wriggle forward to
where the sound was.
The night was now as black as ink around him, and very quiet,
too, except for soughings of the dying gale. The snow had drifted a
little in the lee of the ruined walls, and Peter's progress was naturally
very slow. He could not afford to dislodge one ounce of snow. Still
the tinkling went on, now in greater volume. Peter was in terror
lest it should cease before he got his man.
Presently his hand clutched at empty space. He was on the lip of
the front trench. The sound was now a yard to his right, and with
infinite care he shifted his position. Now the bell was just below
him, and he felt the big rafter of the woodwork from which it had
fallen. He felt something else - a stretch of wire fixed in the ground
with the far end hanging in the void. That would be the spy's
explanation if anyone heard the sound and came seeking the cause.
Somewhere in the darkness before him and below was the man,
not a yard off. Peter remained very still, studying the situation. He
could not see, but he could feel the presence, and he was trying to
decide the relative position of the man and bell and their exact
distance from him. The thing was not so easy as it looked, for if
he jumped for where he believed the figure was, he might miss it
and get a bullet in the stomach. A man who played so risky a
game was probably handy with his firearms. Besides, if he should
hit the bell, he would make a hideous row and alarm the whole front.
Fate suddenly gave him the right chance. The unseen figure
stood up and moved a step, till his back was against the parados.
He actually brushed against Peter's elbow, who held his breath.
There is a catch that the Kaffirs have which would need several
diagrams to explain. It is partly a neck hold, and partly a paralysing
backward twist of the right arm, but if it is practised on a man
from behind, it locks him as sure as if he were handcuffed. Peter
slowly got his body raised and his knees drawn under him, and
reached for his prey.
He got him. A head was pulled backward over the edge of the
trench, and he felt in the air the motion of the left arm pawing
feebly but unable to reach behind.
'Be still,' whispered Peter in German; 'I mean you no harm. We
are friends of the same purpose. Do you speak German?'
'_Nein_,' said a muffled voice.
'Yes,' said the voice.
'Thank God,' said Peter. 'Then we can understand each other.
I've watched your notion of signalling, and a very good one it is.
I've got to get through to the Russian lines somehow before morning,
and I want you to help me. I'm English - a kind of English, so
we're on the same side. If I let go your neck, will you be good and
The voice assented. Peter let go, and in the same instant slipped
to the side. The man wheeled round and flung out an arm but
'Steady, friend,' said Peter; 'you mustn't play tricks with me or
I'll be angry.'
'Who are you? Who sent you?' asked the puzzled voice.
Peter had a happy thought. 'The Companions of the Rosy Hours,'
'Then are we friends indeed,' said the voice. 'Come out of the
darkness, friend, and I will do you no harm. I am a good Turk, and
I fought beside the English in Kordofan and learned their tongue. I
live only to see the ruin of Enver, who has beggared my family and
slain my twin brother. Therefore I serve the _Muscov ghiaours_.'
'I don't know what the Musky jaws are, but if you mean the
Russians I'm with you. I've got news for them which will make
Enver green. The question is, how I'm to get to them, and that is
where you shall help me, my friend.'
'By playing that little tune of yours again. Tell them to expect
within the next half-hour a deserter with an important message.
Tell them, for God's sake, not to fire at anybody till they've made
certain it isn't me.'
The man took the blunt end of his bayonet and squatted beside
the bell. The first stroke brought out a clear, searching note which
floated down the valley. He struck three notes at slow intervals.
For all the world, Peter said, he was like a telegraph operator
calling up a station.
'Send the message in English,' said Peter.
'They may not understand it,' said the man.
'Then send it any way you like. I trust you, for we are brothers.'
After ten minutes the man ceased and listened. From far away
came the sound of a trench-gong, the kind of thing they used on
the Western Front to give the gas-alarm.
'They say they will be ready,' he said. 'I cannot take down
messages in the darkness, but they have given me the signal which
'Come, that is pretty good,' said Peter. 'And now I must be
moving. You take a hint from me. When you hear big firing up to
the north get ready to beat a quick retreat, for it will be all up with
that city of yours. And tell your folk, too, that they're making a
bad mistake letting those fool Germans rule their land. Let them
hang Enver and his little friends, and we'll be happy once more.'
'May Satan receive his soul!' said the Turk. 'There is wire before
us, but I will show you a way through. The guns this evening made
many rents in it. But haste, for a working party may be here
presently to repair it. Remember there is much wire before the
Peter, with certain directions, found it pretty easy to make his way
through the entanglement. There was one bit which scraped a hole
in his back, but very soon he had come to the last posts and found
himself in open country. The place, he said, was a graveyard of the
unburied dead that smelt horribly as he crawled among them. He
had no inducements to delay, for he thought he could hear behind
him the movement of the Turkish working party, and was in terror
that a flare might reveal him and a volley accompany his retreat.
From one shell-hole to another he wormed his way, till he struck
an old ruinous communication trench which led in the right direction.
The Turks must have been forced back in the past week, and
the Russians were now in the evacuated trenches. The thing was
half full of water, but it gave Peter a feeling of safety, for it enabled
him to get his head below the level of the ground. Then it came to
an end and he found before him a forest of wire.
The Turk in his signal had mentioned half an hour, but Peter
thought it was nearer two hours before he got through that noxious
entanglement. Shelling had made little difference to it. The uprights
were all there, and the barbed strands seemed to touch the ground.
Remember, he had no wire-cutter; nothing but his bare hands.
Once again fear got hold of him. He felt caught in a net, with
monstrous vultures waiting to pounce on him from above. At any
moment a flare might go up and a dozen rifles find their mark. He
had altogether forgotten about the message which had been sent,
for no message could dissuade the ever-present death he felt around
him. It was, he said, like following an old lion into bush when
there was but one narrow way in, and no road out.
The guns began again - the Turkish guns from behind the ridge
- and a shell tore up the wire a short way before him. Under cover
of the burst he made good a few yards, leaving large portions of
his clothing in the strands. Then, quite suddenly, when hope had
almost died in his heart, he felt the ground rise steeply. He lay very
still, a star-rocket from the Turkish side lit up the place, and there
in front was a rampart with the points of bayonets showing beyond
it. It was the Russian hour for stand-to.
He raised his cramped limbs from the ground and shouted
A face looked down at him, and then the darkness again descended.
'Friend,' he said hoarsely. 'English.'
He heard speech behind the parapet. An electric torch was flashed
on him for a second. A voice spoke, a friendly voice, and the sound
of it seemed to be telling him to come over.
He was now standing up, and as he got his hands on the parapet
he seemed to feel bayonets very near him. But the voice that spoke
was kindly, so with a heave he scrambled over and flopped into the
trench. Once more the electric torch was flashed, and revealed to
the eyes of the onlookers an indescribably dirty, lean, middle-aged
man with a bloody head, and scarcely a rag of shirt on his back.
The said man, seeing friendly faces around him, grinned cheerfully.
'That was a rough trek, friends,' he said; 'I want to see your
general pretty quick, for I've got a present for him.'
He was taken to an officer in a dug-out, who addressed him in
French, which he did not understand. But the sight of Stumm's
plan worked wonders. After that he was fairly bundled down communication
trenches and then over swampy fields to a farm among trees. There he
found staff officers, who looked at him and looked at his map, and then
put him on a horse and hurried him eastwards. At last he came to a big
ruined house, and was taken into a room which seemed to be full of
maps and generals.
The conclusion must be told in Peter's words.
'There was a big man sitting at a table drinking coffee, and when I
saw him my heart jumped out of my skin. For it was the man I
hunted with on the Pungwe in '98 - him whom the Kaffirs called
"Buck's Horn", because of his long curled moustaches. He was a
prince even then, and now he is a very great general. When I saw
him, I ran forward and gripped his hand and cried, "_Hoe gat het,
Mynheer_?" and he knew me and shouted in Dutch, "Damn, if it isn't
old Peter Pienaar!" Then he gave me coffee and ham and good
bread, and he looked at my map.
'"What is this?" he cried, growing red in the face.
'"It is the staff-map of one Stumm, a German _skellum_ who
commands in yon city," I said.
'He looked at it close and read the markings, and then he read
the other paper which you gave me, Dick. And then he flung up
his arms and laughed. He took a loaf and tossed it into the air so
that it fell on the head of another general. He spoke to them in
their own tongue, and they, too, laughed, and one or two ran out
as if on some errand. I have never seen such merrymaking. They
were clever men, and knew the worth of what you gave me.
'Then he got to his feet and hugged me, all dirty as I was, and
kissed me on both cheeks.
'"Before God, Peter," he said, "you're the mightiest hunter
since Nimrod. You've often found me game, but never game so big
The Little Hill
It was a wise man who said that the biggest kind of courage was to
be able to sit still. I used to feel that when we were getting shelled
in the reserve trenches outside Vermelles. I felt it before we went
over the parapets at Loos, but I never felt it so much as on the last
two days in that cellar. I had simply to set my teeth and take a pull
on myself. Peter had gone on a crazy errand which I scarcely
believed could come off. There were no signs of Sandy; somewhere
within a hundred yards he was fighting his own battles, and I was
tormented by the thought that he might get jumpy again and wreck
everything. A strange Companion brought us food, a man who
spoke only Turkish and could tell us nothing; Hussin, I judged,
was busy about the horses. If I could only have done something to
help on matters I could have scotched my anxiety, but there was
nothing to be done, nothing but wait and brood. I tell you I began
to sympathize with the general behind the lines in a battle, the
fellow who makes the plan which others execute. Leading a charge
can be nothing like so nerve-shaking a business as sitting in an
easy-chair and waiting on the news of it.
It was bitter cold, and we spent most of the day wrapped in our
greatcoats and buried deep in the straw. Blenkiron was a marvel.
There was no light for him to play Patience by, but he never
complained. He slept a lot of the time, and when he was awake
talked as cheerily as if he were starting out on a holiday. He had
one great comfort, his dyspepsia was gone. He sang hymns constantly
to the benign Providence that had squared his duodenum.
My only occupation was to listen for the guns. The first day after
Peter left they were very quiet on the front nearest us, but in the
late evening they started a terrific racket. The next day they never
stopped from dawn to dusk, so that it reminded me of that tremendous
forty-eight hours before Loos. I tried to read into this some
proof that Peter had got through, but it would not work. It looked
more like the opposite, for this desperate hammering must mean
that the frontal assault was still the Russian game.
Two or three times I climbed on the housetop for fresh air.
The day was foggy and damp, and I could see very little of the
countryside. Transport was still bumping southward along the road
to the Palantuken, and the slow wagon-loads of wounded returning.
One thing I noticed, however; there was a perpetual coming and
going between the house and the city. Motors and mounted messengers
were constantly arriving and departing, and I concluded that
Hilda von Einem was getting ready for her part in the defence of Erzerum.
These ascents were all on the first day after Peter's going. The
second day, when I tried the trap, I found it closed and heavily
weighted. This must have been done by our friends, and very right,
too. If the house were becoming a place of public resort, it would
never do for me to be journeying roof-ward.
Late on the second night Hussin reappeared. It was after supper,
when Blenkiron had gone peacefully to sleep and I was beginning
to count the hours till the morning. I could not close an eye during
these days and not much at night.
Hussin did not light a lantern. I heard his key in the lock, and
then his light step close to where we lay.
'Are you asleep?' he said, and when I answered he sat down
'The horses are found,' he said, 'and the Master bids me tell you
that we start in the morning three hours before dawn.'
It was welcome news. 'Tell me what is happening,' I begged; 'we
have been lying in this tomb for three days and heard nothing.'
'The guns are busy,' he said. 'The Allemans come to this place
every hour, I know not for what. Also there has been a great search
for you. The searchers have been here, but they were sent away
empty. ... Sleep, my lord, for there is wild work before us.'
I did not sleep much, for I was strung too high with expectation,
and I envied Blenkiron his now eupeptic slumbers. But for an hour
or so I dropped off, and my old nightmare came back. Once again I
was in the throat of a pass, hotly pursued, straining for some
sanctuary which I knew I must reach. But I was no longer alone.
Others were with me: how many I could not tell, for when I tried
to see their faces they dissolved in mist. Deep snow was underfoot,
a grey sky was over us, black peaks were on all sides, but ahead in
the mist of the pass was that curious _castrol_ which I had first seen
in my dream on the Erzerum road.
I saw it distinct in every detail. It rose to the left of the road
through the pass, above a hollow where great boulders stood out in
the snow. Its sides were steep, so that the snow had slipped off in
patches, leaving stretches of glistening black shale. The _kranz_ at the
top did not rise sheer, but sloped at an angle of forty-five, and on
the very summit there seemed a hollow, as if the earth within the
rock-rim had been beaten by weather into a cup.
That is often the way with a South African _castrol_, and I knew it
was so with this. We were straining for it, but the snow clogged us,
and our enemies were very close behind.
Then I was awakened by a figure at my side. 'Get ready, my
lord,' it said; 'it is the hour to ride.'
Like sleep-walkers we moved into the sharp air. Hussin led us
out of an old postern and then through a place like an orchard to
the shelter of some tall evergreen trees. There horses stood, champing
quietly from their nosebags. 'Good,' I thought; 'a feed of oats
before a big effort.'
There were nine beasts for nine riders. We mounted without a
word and filed through a grove of trees to where a broken paling
marked the beginning of cultivated land. There for the matter of
twenty minutes Hussin chose to guide us through deep, clogging
snow. He wanted to avoid any sound till we were well beyond
earshot of the house. Then we struck a by-path which presently
merged in a hard highway, running, as I judged, south-west by
west. There we delayed no longer, but galloped furiously into the dark.
I had got back all my exhilaration. Indeed I was intoxicated with
the movement, and could have laughed out loud and sung. Under
the black canopy of the night perils are either forgotten or terribly
alive. Mine were forgotten. The darkness I galloped into led me to
freedom and friends. Yes, and success, which I had not dared to
hope and scarcely even to dream of.
Hussin rode first, with me at his side. I turned my head and saw
Blenkiron behind me, evidently mortally unhappy about the pace
we set and the mount he sat. He used to say that horse-exercise was
good for his liver, but it was a gentle amble and a short gallop that
he liked, and not this mad helter-skelter. His thighs were too round
to fit a saddle leather. We passed a fire in a hollow, the bivouac of
some Turkish unit, and all the horses shied violently. I knew by
Blenkiron's oaths that he had lost his stirrups and was sitting on his
Beside him rode a tall figure swathed to the eyes in wrappings,
and wearing round his neck some kind of shawl whose ends floated
behind him. Sandy, of course, had no European ulster, for it was
months since he had worn proper clothes. I wanted to speak to
him, but somehow I did not dare. His stillness forbade me. He was
a wonderful fine horseman, with his firm English hunting seat, and
it was as well, for he paid no attention to his beast. His head was
still full of unquiet thoughts.
Then the air around me began to smell acrid and raw, and I saw
that a fog was winding up from the hollows.
'Here's the devil's own luck,' I cried to Hussin. 'Can you guide
us in a mist?'
'I do not know.' He shook his head. 'I had counted on seeing the
shape of the hills.'
'We've a map and compass, anyhow. But these make slow travelling.
Pray God it lifts!'
Presently the black vapour changed to grey, and the day broke.
It was little comfort. The fog rolled in waves to the horses' ears,
and riding at the head of the party I could but dimly see the next rank.
'It is time to leave the road,' said Hussin, 'or we may meet
We struck to the left, over ground which was for all the world
like a Scotch moor. There were pools of rain on it, and masses of
tangled snow-laden junipers, and long reefs of wet slaty stone. It
was bad going, and the fog made it hopeless to steer a good course.
I had out the map and the compass, and tried to fix our route so as
to round the flank of a spur of the mountains which separated us
from the valley we were aiming at.
'There's a stream ahead of us,' I said to Hussin. 'Is it fordable?'
'It is only a trickle,' he said, coughing. 'This accursed mist is
from Eblis.' But I knew long before we reached it that it was no
trickle. It was a hill stream coming down in spate, and, as I soon
guessed, in a deep ravine. Presently we were at its edge, one long
whirl of yeasty falls and brown rapids. We could as soon get horses
over it as to the topmost cliffs of the Palantuken.
Hussin stared at it in consternation. 'May Allah forgive my folly,
for I should have known. We must return to the highway and find
a bridge. My sorrow, that I should have led my lords so ill.'
Back over that moor we went with my spirits badly damped. We
had none too long a start, and Hilda von Einem would rouse
heaven and earth to catch us up. Hussin was forcing the pace, for
his anxiety was as great as mine.
Before we reached the road the mist blew back and revealed a
wedge of country right across to the hills beyond the river. It was a
clear view, every object standing out wet and sharp in the light of
morning. It showed the bridge with horsemen drawn up across it,
and it showed, too, cavalry pickets moving along the road.
They saw us at the same instant. A word was passed down the
road, a shrill whistle blew, and the pickets put their horses at the
bank and started across the moor.
'Did I not say this mist was from Eblis?' growled Hussin, as we
swung round and galloped back on our tracks. 'These cursed Zaptiehs
have seen us, and our road is cut.'
I was for trying the stream at all costs, but Hussin pointed out
that it would do us no good. The cavalry beyond the bridge was
moving up the other bank. 'There is a path through the hills that I
know, but it must be travelled on foot. If we can increase our lead
and the mist cloaks us, there is yet a chance.'
It was a weary business plodding up to the skirts of the hills. We
had the pursuit behind us now, and that put an edge on every
difficulty. There were long banks of broken screes, I remember,
where the snow slipped in wreaths from under our feet. Great
boulders had to be circumvented, and patches of bog, where the
streams from the snows first made contact with the plains, mired us
to our girths. Happily the mist was down again, but this, though it
hindered the chase, lessened the chances of Hussin finding the path.
He found it nevertheless. There was the gully and the rough
mule-track leading upwards. But there also had been a landslip, quite
recent from the marks. A large scar of raw earth had broken across
the hillside, which with the snow above it looked like a slice cut
out of an iced chocolate-cake.
We stared blankly for a second, till we recognized its hopelessness.
'I'm trying for the crags,' I said. 'Where there once was a way
another can be found.'
'And be picked off at their leisure by these marksmen,' said
Hussin grimly. 'Look!'
The mist had opened again, and a glance behind showed me the
pursuit closing up on us. They were now less than three hundred
yards off. We turned our horses and made off east-ward along the
skirts of the cliffs.
Then Sandy spoke for the first time. 'I don't know how you
fellows feel, but I'm not going to be taken. There's nothing much
to do except to find a place and put up a fight. We can sell our
'That's about all,' said Blenkiron cheerfully. He had suffered such
tortures on that gallop that he welcomed any kind of stationary fight.
'Serve out the arms,' said Sandy.
The Companions all carried rifles slung across their shoulders.
Hussin, from a deep saddle-bag, brought out rifles and bandoliers
for the rest of us. As I laid mine across my saddle-bow I saw it was
a German Mauser of the latest pattern.
'It's hell-for-leather till we find a place for a stand,' said Sandy.
'The game's against us this time.'
Once more we entered the mist, and presently found better
going on a long stretch of even slope. Then came a rise, and on the
crest of it I saw the sun. Presently we dipped into bright daylight
and looked down on a broad glen, with a road winding up it to a
pass in the range. I had expected this. It was one way to the
Palantuken pass, some miles south of the house where we had been lodged.
And then, as I looked southward, I saw what I had been watching
for for days. A little hill split the valley, and on its top was a
_kranz_ of rocks. It was the _castrol_ of my persistent dream.
On that I promptly took charge. 'There's our fort,' I cried. 'If we
once get there we can hold it for a week. Sit down and ride for it.'
We bucketed down that hillside like men possessed, even Blenkiron
sticking on manfully among the twists and turns and slithers.
Presently we were on the road and were racing past marching
infantry and gun teams and empty wagons. I noted that most
seemed to be moving downward and few going up. Hussin
screamed some words in Turkish that secured us a passage, but
indeed our crazy speed left them staring. Out of a corner of my eye
I saw that Sandy had flung off most of his wrappings and seemed
to be all a dazzle of rich colour. But I had thought for nothing
except the little hill, now almost fronting us across the shallow glen.
No horses could breast that steep. We urged them into the
hollow, and then hastily dismounted, humped the packs, and began
to struggle up the side of the _castrol_. It was strewn with great
boulders, which gave a kind of cover that very soon was needed.
For, snatching a glance back, I saw that our pursuers were on the
road above us and were getting ready to shoot.
At normal times we would have been easy marks, but, fortunately,
wisps and streamers of mist now clung about that hollow.
The rest could fend for themselves, so I stuck to Blenkiron and
dragged him, wholly breathless, by the least exposed route. Bullets
spattered now and then against the rocks, and one sang unpleasantly
near my head. In this way we covered three-fourths of the distance,
and had only the bare dozen yards where the gradient eased off up
to the edge of the _kranz_.
Blenkiron got hit in the leg, our only casualty. There was nothing
for it but to carry him, so I swung him on my shoulders, and with
a bursting heart did that last lap. It was hottish work, and the
bullets were pretty thick about us, but we all got safely to the _kranz_,
and a short scramble took us over the edge. I laid Blenkiron inside
the _castrol_ and started to prepare our defence.
We had little time to do it. Out of the thin fog figures were
coming, crouching in cover. The place we were in was a natural
redoubt, except that there were no loopholes or sandbags. We had
to show our heads over the rim to shoot, but the danger was
lessened by the superb field of fire given by those last dozen yards
of glacis. I posted the men and waited, and Blenkiron, with a white
face, insisted on taking his share, announcing that he used to be
handy with a gun.
I gave the order that no man was to shoot till the enemy had
come out of the rocks on to the glacis. The thing ran right round
the top, and we had to watch all sides to prevent them getting us in
flank or rear. Hussin's rifle cracked out presently from the back, so
my precautions had not been needless.
We were all three fair shots, though none of us up to Peter's
miraculous standard, and the Companions, too, made good practice.
The Mauser was the weapon I knew best, and I didn't miss much.
The attackers never had a chance, for their only hope was to rush
us by numbers, and, the whole party being not above two dozen,
they were far too few. I think we killed three, for their bodies were
left lying, and wounded at least six, while the rest fell back towards
the road. In a quarter of an hour it was all over.
'They are dogs of Kurds,' I heard Hussin say fiercely. 'Only a
Kurdish _giaour_ would fire on the livery of the Kaaba.'
Then I had a good look at Sandy. He had discarded shawls and
wrappings, and stood up in the strangest costume man ever wore in
battle. Somehow he had procured field-boots and an old pair of
riding-breeches. Above these, reaching well below his middle, he
had a wonderful silken jibbah or ephod of a bright emerald. I cal it
silk, but it was like no silk I have ever known, so exquisite in the
mesh, with such a sheen and depth in it. Some strange pattern was
woven on the breast, which in the dim light I could not trace. I'll
warrant no rarer or costlier garment was ever exposed to lead on a
bleak winter hill.
Sandy seemed unconscious of his garb. His eye, listless no more,
scanned the hollow. 'That's only the overture,' he cried. 'The opera
will soon begin. We must put a breastwork up in these gaps or
they'll pick us off from a thousand yards.'
I had meantime roughly dressed Blenkiron's wound with a linen
rag which Hussin provided. It was from a ricochet bullet which
had chipped into his left shin. Then I took a hand with the others
in getting up earthworks to complete the circuit of the defence. It
was no easy job, for we wrought only with our knives and had to
dig deep down below the snowy gravel. As we worked I took
stock of our refuge.
The _castrol_ was a rough circle about ten yards in diameter, its
interior filled with boulders and loose stones, and its parapet about
four feet high. The mist had cleared for a considerable space, and I
could see the immediate surroundings. West, beyond the hollow,
was the road we had come, where now the remnants of the pursuit
were clustered. North, the hill fell steeply to the valley bottom, but
to the south, after a dip there was a ridge which shut the view. East
lay another fork of the stream, the chief fork I guessed, and it was
evidently followed by the main road to the pass, for I saw it
crowded with transport. The two roads seemed to converge somewhere
farther south of my sight.
I guessed we could not be very far from the front, for the noise
of guns sounded very near, both the sharp crack of the field-pieces,
and the deeper boom of the howitzers. More, I could hear the
chatter of the machine-guns, a magpie note among the baying of
hounds. I even saw the bursting of Russian shells, evidently trying
to reach the main road. One big fellow - an eight-inch - landed not
ten yards from a convoy to the east of us, and another in the
hollow through which we had come. These were clearly ranging
shots, and I wondered if the Russians had observation-posts on the
heights to mark them. If so, they might soon try a curtain, and we
should be very near its edge. It would be an odd irony if we were
the target of friendly shells.
'By the Lord Harry,' I heard Sandy say, 'if we had a brace of
machine-guns we could hold this place against a division.'
'What price shells?' I asked. 'If they get a gun up they can blow
us to atoms in ten minutes.'
'Please God the Russians keep them too busy for that,' was
With anxious eyes I watched our enemies on the road. They
seemed to have grown in numbers. They were signalling, too, for a
white flag fluttered. Then the mist rolled down on us again, and
our prospect was limited to ten yards of vapour.
'Steady,' I cried; 'they may try to rush us at any moment. Every
man keep his eye on the edge of the fog, and shoot at the first sign.'
For nearly half an hour by my watch we waited in that queer
white world, our eyes smarting with the strain of peering. The
sound of the guns seemed to be hushed, and everything grown
deathly quiet. Blenkiron's squeal, as he knocked his wounded leg
against a rock, made every man start.
Then out of the mist there came a voice.
It was a woman's voice, high, penetrating, and sweet, but it
spoke in no tongue I knew. Only Sandy understood. He made a
sudden movement as if to defend himself against a blow.
The speaker came into clear sight on the glacis a yard or two
away. Mine was the first face she saw.
'I come to offer terms,' she said in English. 'Will you permit me
I could do nothing except take off my cap and say, 'Yes, ma'am.'
Blenkiron, snuggled up against the parapet, was cursing furiously
below his breath.
She climbed up the _kranz_ and stepped over the edge as lightly as
a deer. Her clothes were strange - spurred boots and breeches over
which fell a short green kirtle. A little cap skewered with a jewelled
pin was on her head, and a cape of some coarse country cloth hung
from her shoulders. She had rough gauntlets on her hands, and she
carried for weapon a riding-whip. The fog-crystals clung to her
hair, I remember, and a silvery film of fog lay on her garments.
I had never before thought of her as beautiful. Strange, uncanny,
wonderful, if you like, but the word beauty had too kindly and
human a sound for such a face. But as she stood with heightened
colour, her eyes like stars, her poise like a wild bird's, I had to
confess that she had her own loveliness. She might be a devil, but
she was also a queen. I considered that there might be merits in the
prospect of riding by her side into Jerusalem.
Sandy stood rigid, his face very grave and set. She held out both
hands to him, speaking softly in Turkish. I noticed that the six
Companions had disappeared from the _castrol_ and were somewhere
out of sight on the farther side.
I do not know what she said, but from her tone, and above all
from her eyes, I judged that she was pleading - pleading for his
return, for his partnership in her great adventure; pleading, for all I
knew, for his love.
His expression was like a death-mask, his brows drawn tight in a
little frown and his jaw rigid.
'Madam,' he said, 'I ask you to tell your business quick and to
tell it in English. My friends must hear it as well as me.'
'Your friends!' she cried. 'What has a prince to do with these
hirelings? Your slaves, perhaps, but not your friends.'
'My friends,' Sandy repeated grimly. 'You must know, Madam,
that I am a British officer.'
That was beyond doubt a clean staggering stroke. What she had
thought of his origin God knows, but she had never dreamed of
this. Her eyes grew larger and more lustrous, her lips parted as if to
speak, but her voice failed her. Then by an effort she recovered
herself, and out of that strange face went all the glow of youth and
ardour. It was again the unholy mask I had first known.
'And these others?' she asked in a level voice.
'One is a brother officer of my regiment. The other is an American
friend. But all three of us are on the same errand. We came east
to destroy Greenmantle and your devilish ambitions. You have
yourself destroyed your prophets, and now it is your turn to fail
and disappear. Make no mistake, Madam; that folly is over. I will
tear this sacred garment into a thousand pieces and scatter them on
the wind. The people wait today for the revelation, but none will
come. You may kill us if you can, but we have at least crushed a lie
and done service to our country.'
I would not have taken my eyes from her face for a king's
ransom. I have written that she was a queen, and of that there is no
manner of doubt. She had the soul of a conqueror, for not a flicker
of weakness or disappointment marred her air. Only pride and the
stateliest resolution looked out of her eyes.
'I said I came to offer terms. I will still offer them, though they
are other than I thought. For the fat American, I will send him
home safely to his own country. I do not make war on such as he.
He is Germany's foe, not mine. You,' she said, turning fiercely on
me, 'I will hang before dusk.'
Never in my life had I been so pleased. I had got my revenge at
last. This woman had singled me out above the others as the object
of her wrath, and I almost loved her for it.
She turned to Sandy, and the fierceness went out
of her face.
'You seek the truth,' she said. 'So also do I, and if we use a lie it
is only to break down a greater. You are of my household in spirit,
and you alone of all men I have seen are fit to ride with me on my
mission. Germany may fail, but I shall not fail. I offer you the
greatest career that mortal has known. I offer you a task which will
need every atom of brain and sinew and courage. Will you refuse
I do not know what effect this vapouring might have had in hot
scented rooms, or in the languor of some rich garden; but up on
that cold hill-top it was as unsubstantial as the mist around us. It
sounded not even impressive, only crazy.
'I stay with my friends,' said Sandy.
'Then I will offer more. I will save your friends. They, too, shall
share in my triumph.'
This was too much for Blenkiron. He scrambled to his feet to
speak the protest that had been wrung from his soul, forgot his
game leg, and rolled back on the ground with a groan.
Then she seemed to make a last appeal. She spoke in Turkish
now, and I do not know what she said, but I judged it was the plea
of a woman to her lover. Once more she was the proud beauty, but
there was a tremor in her pride - I had almost written tenderness.
To listen to her was like horrid treachery, like eavesdropping on
something pitiful. I know my cheeks grew scarlet and Blenkiron
turned away his head.
Sandy's face did not move. He spoke in English.
'You can offer me nothing that I desire,' he said. 'I am the
servant of my country, and her enemies are mine. I can have neither
part nor lot with you. That is my answer, Madam von Einem.'
Then her steely restraint broke. It was like a dam giving before a
pent-up mass of icy water. She tore off one of her gauntlets and
hurled it in his face. Implacable hate looked out of her eyes.
'I have done with you,' she cried. 'You have scorned me, but
you have dug your own grave.'
She leaped on the parapet and the next second was on the glacis.
Once more the mist had fled, and across the hollow I saw a field-gun
in place and men around it who were not Turkish. She waved
her hand to them, and hastened down the hillside.
But at that moment I heard the whistle of a long-range Russian
shell. Among the boulders there was the dull shock of an explosion
and a mushroom of red earth. It all passed in an instant of time: I
saw the gunners on the road point their hands and I heard them
cry; I heard too, a kind of sob from Blenkiron - all this before I
realized myself what had happened. The next thing I saw was
Sandy, already beyond the glacis, leaping with great bounds down
the hill. They were shooting at him, but he heeded them not. For
the space of a minute he was out of sight, and his whereabouts was
shown only by the patter of bullets.
Then he came back - walking quite slowly up the last slope, and
he was carrying something in his arms. The enemy fired no more;
they realized what had happened.
He laid his burden down gently in a corner of the _castrol_. The
cap had fallen off, and the hair was breaking loose. The face was
very white but there was no wound or bruise on it.
'She was killed at once,' I heard him saying. 'Her back was
broken by a shell-fragment. Dick, we must bury her here ... You
see, she ... she liked me. I can make her no return but this.'
We set the Companions to guard, and with infinite slowness,
using our hands and our knives, we made a shallow grave below
the eastern parapet. When it was done we covered her face with the
linen cloak which Sandy had worn that morning. He lifted the
body and laid it reverently in its place.
'I did not know that anything could be so light,' he said.
It wasn't for me to look on at that kind of scene. I went to the
parapet with Blenkiron's field-glasses and had a stare at our friends
on the road. There was no Turk there, and I guessed why, for it
would not be easy to use the men of Islam against the wearer of the
green ephod. The enemy were German or Austrian, and they had a
field-gun. They seemed to have got it laid on our fort; but they were
waiting. As I looked I saw behind them a massive figure I seemed
to recognize. Stumm had come to see the destruction of his enemies.
To the east I saw another gun in the fields just below the main
road. They had got us on both sides, and there was no way of
escape. Hilda von Einem was to have a noble pyre and goodly
company for the dark journey.
Dusk was falling now, a clear bright dusk where the stars pricked
through a sheen of amethyst. The artillery were busy all around the
horizon, and towards the pass on the other road, where Fort Palantuken
stood, there was the dust and smoke of a furious bombardment.
It seemed to me, too, that the guns on the other fronts had
come nearer. Deve Boyun was hidden by a spur of hill, but up in
the north, white clouds, like the streamers of evening, were hanging
over the Euphrates glen. The whole firmament hummed and
twanged like a taut string that has been struck ...
As I looked, the gun to the west fired - the gun where Stumm
was. The shell dropped ten yards to our right. A second later
another fell behind us.
Blenkiron had dragged himself to the parapet. I don't suppose
he had ever been shelled before, but his face showed curiosity
rather than fear.
'Pretty poor shooting, I reckon,' he said.
'On the contrary,' I said, 'they know their business. They're
The words were not out of my mouth when one fell right among
us. It struck the far rim of the _castrol_, shattering the rock, but
bursting mainly outside. We all ducked, and barring some small
scratches no one was a penny the worse. I remember that much of
the debris fell on Hilda von Einem's grave.
I pulled Blenkiron over the far parapet, and called on the rest to
follow, meaning to take cover on the rough side of the hill. But as
we showed ourselves shots rang out from our front, shots fired
from a range of a few hundred yards. It was easy to see what had
happened. Riflemen had been sent to hold us in rear. They would