Part 2 out of 5
Before we could gather our wits he began to speak to us, and we
listened as in the old days when at least a squadron of us had loved
him to the very death. A very unexpected word was the first he used.
"Simpletons!" said he.
Sahib, our jaws dropped. Simpletons was the last thing we had
thought ourselves. On the contrary, we thought ourselves astute to
have judged his character and to have kept our minds uncorrupted by
the German efforts. Yet we were no longer so sure of ourselves that
any man was ready with an answer.
He glanced over his shoulder to left and right. There were no
Germans inside the fence; none near enough to overhear him, even if
he raised his voice. So he did raise it, and we all heard.
"I come from Berlin!"
"Ah!" said we--as one man. For another minute he stood eying us,
waiting to see whether any man would speak.
"We be honest men!" said a trooper who stood not far from me, and
several others murmured, so I spoke up.
"He has not come for nothing," said I. "Let us listen first and pass
"We have heard enough treachery!" said the trooper who had spoken
first, but the others growled him down and presently there was
"You have eyes," said Ranjoor Singh, "and ears, and nose, and lips
for nothing at all but treachery!" He spoke very slowly, sahib. "You
have listened, and smelled for it, and have spoken of nothing else,
and what you have sought you think you have found! To argue with men
in the dark is like gathering wind into baskets. My business is to
lead, and I will lead. Your business is to follow, and you shall
follow." Then, "Simpletons!" said he again; and having said that he
was silent, as if to judge what effect his words were having.
No man answered him. I can not speak for the others, although there
was a wondrous maze of lies put forth that night by way of
explanation that I might repeat. All I know is that through my mind
kept running against my will self-accusation, self-condemnation,
self-contempt! I had permitted my love for Ranjoor Singh to be
corrupted by most meager evidence. If I had not been his enemy, I
had not been true to him, and who is not true is false. I fought
with a sense of shame as I have since then fought with thirst and
hunger. All the teachings of our Holy One accused me. Above all,
Ranjoor Singh's face accused me. I remembered that for more than
twenty years he had stood to all of us for an example of what Sikh
honor truly is, and that he had been aware of it.
"I know the thoughts ye think!" said he, beginning again when he had
given us time to answer and none had dared. "I will give you a real
thought to put in the place of all that foolishness. This is a
regiment. I am its last surviving officer. Any regiment can kill its
officers. If ye are weary of being a regiment, behold--I am as near
you as a man's throat to his hand! Have no fear"--(that was a bitter
thrust, sahib!)--"this is a German saber; I will use no German steel
on any of you. I will not strike back if any seek to kill me."
There was no movement and no answer, sahib. We did not think; we
waited. If he had coaxed us with specious arguments, as surely a
liar would have done, that would probably have been his last speech
in the world. But there was not one word he said that did not ring
"I have been made a certain offer in Berlin," said he, after another
long pause. "First it was made to me alone, and I would not accept
it. I and my regiment, said I, are one. So the offer was repeated to
me as the leader of this regiment. Thus they admitted I am the
rightful leader of it, and the outcome of that shall be on their
heads. As major of this regiment, I accepted the offer, and as its
major I now command your obedience."
"Obedience to whom?" asked I, speaking again as it were against my
will, and frightened by my own voice.
"To me," said he.
"Not to the Germans?" I asked. He wore a German uniform, and so for
that matter did we all.
"To me," he said again, and he took one step aside that he might see
my face better. "You, Hira Singh, you heard Colonel Kirby make over
Every man in the regiment knew that Colonel Kirby had died across my
knees. They looked from Ranjoor Singh to me, and from me to Ranjoor
Singh, and I felt my heart grow first faint from dread of their
suspicion, and then bold, then proud that I should be judged fit to
stand beside him. Then came shame again, for I knew I was not fit.
My loyalty to him had not stood the test. All this time I thought I
felt his eyes on me like coals that burned; yet when I dared look up
he was not regarding me at all, but scanning the two lines of faces,
perhaps to see if any other had anything to say.
"If I told you my plan," said he presently, when he had cleared his
throat, "you would tear it in little pieces. The Germans have
another plan, and they will tell you as much of it as they think it
good for you to know. Mark what my orders are! Listen to this plan
of theirs. Pretend to agree. Then you shall be given weapons. Then
you shall leave this camp within a week."
That, sahib, was like a shell bursting in the midst of men asleep.
What did it mean? Eyes glanced to left and right, looking for
understanding and finding none, and no man spoke because none could
think of anything to say. It was on my tongue to ask him to explain
when he gave us his final word on the matter--and little enough it
was, yet sufficient if we obeyed.
"Remember the oath of a Sikh!" said he. "Remember that he who is
true in his heart to his oath has Truth to fight for him! Treachery
begets treason, treason begets confusion; and who are ye to stay the
course of things? Faith begets faith; courage gives birth to
He paused, but we knew he had not finished yet, and he kept us
waiting full three minutes wondering what would come. Then:
"As for your doubts," said he. "If the head aches, shall the body
cut it off that it may think more clearly? Consider that!" said he.
We fell out and he marched away like a king with thoughts of state
in mind. I thought his beard was grayer than it had been, but oh,
sahib, he strode as an arrow goes, swift and straight, and splendid.
Lonely as an arrow that has left the sheaf!
I had to run to catch up with him, and I was out of breath when I
touched his sleeve. He turned and waited while I thought of things
to say, and then struggled to find words with which to say them.
"Sahib!" said I. "Oh, Major sahib!" And then my throat became full
of words each struggling to be first, and I was silent.
"Well?" said he, standing with both arms folded, looking very grave,
but not angry nor contemptuous.
"Sahib," I said, "I am a true man. As I stand here, I am a true man.
I have been a fool--I have been half-hearted--I was like a man in
the dark; I listened and heard voices that deceived me!"
"And am I to listen and hear voices, too?" he asked.
"Nay, sahib!" I said. "Not such voices, but true words!"
"Words?" he said. "Words! Words! There have already been too many
words. Truth needs no words to prove it true, Hira Singh. Words are
the voice of nothingness!"
"Then, sahib--" said I, stammering.
"Hira Singh," said he, "each man's heart is his own. Let each man
keep his own. When the time comes we shall see no true men eating
shame," said he.
And with that he acknowledged my salute, turned on his heel, and
marched away. And the great gate slammed behind him. And German
officers pressing close on either side talked with him earnestly,
asking, as plainly as if I heard the words, what he had said, and
what we had said, and what the outcome was to be. I could see his
lips move as he answered, but no man living could have guessed what
he told them. I never did know what he told them. But I have lived
to see the fruit of what he did, and of what he made us do; and from
that minute I have never faltered for a second in my faithfulness to
Be attentive, sahib, and learn what a man of men is Risaldar-major
Ranjoor Singh bahadur.
Shall he who knows not false from true judge treason?
You may well imagine, sahib, in the huts that night there was noise
as of bees about to swarm. No man slept. Men flitted like ghosts
from hut to hut--not too openly, nor without sufficient evidence of
stealth to keep the guards in good conceit of themselves, but freely
for all that. What the men of one hut said the men of the next hut
knew within five minutes, and so on, back and forth.
I was careful to say nothing. When men questioned me, "Nay," said I.
"I am one and ye are many. Choose ye! Could I lead you against your
wills?" They murmured at that, but silence is easier to keep than
some men think.
Why did I say nothing? In the first place, sahib, because my mind
was made at last. With all my heart now, with the oath of a Sikh and
the truth of a Sikh I was Ranjoor Singh's man. I believed him true,
and I was ready to stand or fall by that belief, in the dark, in the
teeth of death, against all odds, anywhere. Therefore there was
nothing I could say with wisdom. For if they were to suspect my true
thoughts, they would lose all confidence in me, and then I should be
of little use to the one man who could help all of us. I judged that
what Ranjoor Singh most needed was a silent servant who would watch
and obey the first hint. Just as I had watched him in battle and had
herded the men for him to lead, so would I do now. There should be
deeds, not words, for the foundation of a new beginning.
In the second place, sahib, I knew full well that if Gooja Singh or
any of the others could have persuaded me to advance an opinion it
would have been pounced on, and changed out of all recognition, yet
named my opinion nevertheless. This altered opinion they would
presently adopt, yet calling it mine, and when the outcome of it
should fail at last to please them they would blame me. For such is
the way of the world. So I had two good reasons, and the words I
spoke that night could have been counted without aid of pen and
The long and short of it was that morning found them undecided.
There was one opinion all held--even Gooja Singh, who otherwise took
both sides as to everything--that above all and before all we were
all true men, loyal to our friends, the British, and foes of every
living German or Austrian or Turk so long as the war should last.
The Germans had bragged to us about the Turks being in the war on
their side, and we had thought deeply on the subject of their choice
of friends. Like and like mingle, sahib. As for us, my grandfather
fought for the British in '57, and my father died at Kandahar under
Bobs bahadur. On that main issue we were all one, and all ashamed to
be prisoners while our friends were facing death. But dawn found
almost no two men agreed as to Ranjoor Singh, or in fact on any
Not long after dawn, came the Germans again, with new arguments. And
this time they began to let us feel the iron underlying their
persuasion. Once, to make talk and gain time before answering a
question, I had told them of our labor in the bunkers on the ship
that carried us from India. I had boasted of the coal we piled on
the fire-room floor. Lo, it is always foolish to give information to
the enemy--always, sahib--always! There is no exception.
Said they to us now: "We Germans are devoting all our energy to
prosecution of this war. Nearly all our able-bodied men are with the
regiments. Every man must do his part, for we are a nation in arms.
Even prisoners must do their part. Those who do not fight for us
must work to help the men who do fight."
"Work without pay?" said I.
"Aye," said they, "work without pay. There is coal, for instance. We
understand that you Sikhs have proved yourselves adept at work with
coal. He who can labor in the bunkers of a ship can handle pick and
shovel in the mines, and most of our miners have been called up. Yet
we need more coal than ever."
So, sahib. So they turned my boast against me. And the men around
me, who had heard me tell the tale about our willing labor on the
ship, now eyed me furiously; although at the time they had enjoyed
the boast and had added details of their own. The Germans went away
and left us to talk over this new suggestion among ourselves, and
until afternoon I was kept busy speaking in my own defense.
"Who could have foreseen how they would use my words against us?" I
demanded. But they answered that any fool could have foreseen it,
and that my business was to foresee in any case and to give them
good advice. I kept that saying in my heart, and turned it against
THEM when the day came.
That afternoon the Germans returned, with knowing smiles that were
meant to seem courteous, and with an air of confidence that was
meant to appear considerate. Doubtless a cat at meal-time believes
men think him generous and unobtrusive. They went to great trouble
to prove themselves our wise counselors and disinterested friends.
"We have explained to you," said they, "what hypocrites the British
are,--what dust they have thrown in your eyes for more than a
century--how they have grown rich at your expense, deliberately
keeping India in ignorance and subjection, in poverty and vice, and
divided against itself. We have told you what German aims are on the
other hand, and how successful our armies are on every front as the
result of the consistence of those aims. We have proved to you how
half the world already takes our side--how the Turks fight for us,
how Persia begins to join the Turks, how Afghanistan already moves,
and how India is in rebellion. Now--wouldn't you like to join our
side--to throw the weight of Sikh honor and Sikh bravery into the
scale with us? That would be better fun than working in the mines,"
"Are we offered that alternative?" I asked, but they did not answer
that question. They went away again and left us to our thoughts.
And we talked all the rest of that day and most of the next night,
arriving at no decision. When they asked me for an opinion, I said,
"Ranjoor Singh told us this would be, and he gave us orders what to
do." When they asked me ought they to obey him, I answered, "Nay,
choose ye! Who can make you obey against your wills?" And when they
asked me would I abide by their decision, "Can the foot walk one
way," I answered, "while the body walks another? Are we not one?"
"Then," said they, "you bid us consider this proposal to take part
against our friends?"
"Nay," said I, "I am a true man. No man can make me fight against
They thought on that for a while, and then surrounded me again,
Gooja Singh being spokesman for them all. "Then you counsel us,"
said he, "to choose the hard labor in the coal mines?"
"Nay," said I. "I counsel nothing."
"But what other course is there?" said he.
"There is Ranjoor Singh," said I.
"But he desired to lead us against the British," said he.
"Nay," said I. "Who said so?"
Gooja Singh answered: "He, Ranjoor Singh himself, said so."
"Nay," said I. "I heard what he said. He said he will lead us, but
he said nothing of his plan. He did not say he will lead us against
"Then it was the Germans. They said so," said Gooja Singh. "They
said he will lead us against the British."
"The Germans said," said I, "that their armies are outside Paris--
that India is in rebellion--that Pertab Singh was hanged in Delhi--
that the British rule in India has been altogether selfish--that our
wives and children have been butchered by the British in cold blood.
The Germans," said I, "have told us very many things."
"Then," said he, "you counsel us to follow Ranjoor Singh?"
"Nay," said I. "I counsel nothing."
"You are a coward!" said he. "You are afraid to give opinion!"
"I am one among many!" I answered him.
They left me alone again and talked in groups, Gooja Singh passing
from one group to another like a man collecting tickets. Then, when
it was growing dusk, they gathered once more about me and Gooja
Singh went through the play of letting them persuade him to be
"If we decide to follow Ranjoor Singh," said he, "will you be one
"If that is the decision of you all," I answered, "then yes. But if
it is Gooja Singh's decision with the rest consenting, then no. Is
that the decision of you all?" I asked, and they murmured a sort of
"Nay!" said I. "That will not do! Either yes or no. Either ye are
willing or ye are unwilling. Let him who is unwilling say so, and I
for one will hold no judgment against him."
None answered, though I urged again and again. "Then ye are all
willing to give Ranjoor Singh a trial?" said I; and this time they
all answered in the affirmative.
"I think your decision well arrived at!" I made bold to tell them.
"To me it seems you have all seen wisdom, and although I had
thoughts in mind," said I, "of accepting work in the collieries and
blowing up a mine perhaps, yet I admit your plan is better and I
defer to it."
They were much more pleased with that speech than if I had admitted
the truth, that I would never have agreed to any other plan. So that
now they were much more ready than they might have been to listen to
my next suggestion.
"But," said I, with an air of caution, "shall we not keep any watch
on Ranjoor Singh?"
"Let us watch!" said they. "Let us be forehanded!"
"But how?" said I. "He is an officer. He is not bound to lay bare
his thoughts to us."
They thought a long time about that. It grew dark, and we were
ordered to our huts, and lights were put out, and still they lay
awake and talked of it. At last Gooja Singh flitted through the dark
and came to me and asked me my opinion on the matter.
"One of you go and offer to be his servant," said I. "Let that
servant serve him well. A good servant should know more about his
master than the master himself."
"Who shall that one be?" he asked; and he went back to tell the men
what I had said.
After midnight he returned. "They say you are the one to keep watch
on him," said he.
"Nay, nay!" said I, with my heart leaping against my ribs, but my
voice belying it. "If I agree to that, then later you will swear I
am his friend and condemn me in one judgment with him!"
"Nay," said he. "Nay truly! On the honor of a Sikh!"
"Mine is also the honor of a Sikh," said I, "and I will cover it
with care. Go back to them," I directed, "and let them all come and
speak with me at dawn."
"Is my word not enough?" said he.
"Was Ranjoor Singh's enough?" said I, and he went, muttering to
I slept until dawn--the first night I had slept in three--and before
breakfast they all clustered about me, urging me to be the one to
keep close watch on Ranjoor Singh.
"God forbid that I should be stool pigeon!" said I. "Nay, God
forbid! Ranjoor Singh need but give an order that ye have no liking
for and ye will shoot me in the back for it!"
They were very earnest in their protestations, urging me more and
more; but the more they urged the more I hung back, and we ate
before I gave them any answer. "This is a plot," said I, "to get me
in trouble. What did I ever do that ye should combine against me?"
"Nay!" said they. "By our Sikh oath, we be true men and your
friends. Why do you doubt us?"
Then said I at last, as it were reluctantly, "If ye demand it--if ye
insist--I will be the go-between. Yet I do it because ye compel me
by weight of unanimity!" said I.
"It is your place!" said they, but I shook my head, and to this day
I have never admitted to them that I undertook the work willingly.
Presently came the Germans to us again, this time accompanied by
officers in uniform who stood apart and watched with an air of
passing judgment. They asked us now point-blank whether or not we
were willing to work in the coal mines and thus make some return for
the cost of keeping us; and we answered with one voice that we were
not coal-miners and therefore not willing.
"The alternative," said they, "is that you apply to fight on the
side of the Central Empires. Men must all either fight or work in
these days; there is no room for idlers."
"Is there no other work we could do?" asked Gooja Singh.
"None that we offer you!" said they. "If you apply to be allowed to
fight on the side of the Central Empires, then your application will
be considered. However, you would be expected to forswear allegiance
to Great Britain, and to take the military oath as provided by our
law; so that in the event of any lapse of discipline or loyalty to
our cause you could be legally dealt with."
"And the alternative is the mines?" said I.
"No, no!" said the chief of them. "You must not misunderstand. Your
present destination is the coal mines, where you are to earn your
keep. But the suggestion is made to you that you might care to apply
for leave to fight on our side. In that case we would not send you
to the coal mines until at least your application had been
considered. It is practically certain it would be considered
The conversation was in English as usual and many of the men had not
quite understood. Those on the outside had not heard properly. So I
bade four men lift me, and I shouted to them in our own tongue all
that the German had said. There fell a great silence, and the four
men let me drop to the earth between them.
"So is this the trap Ranjoor Singh would lead us into?" said the
trooper nearest me, and though he spoke low, so still were we all
that fifty men heard him and murmured. So I spoke up.
Said I, "We will answer when we shall have spoken again with Ranjoor
Singh. He shall give our answer. It is right that a regiment should
answer through its officer, and any other course is lacking
Sahib, I have been surprised a thousand times in this war, but not
once more surprised than by the instant effect my answer had. It was
a random answer, made while I searched for some argument to use; but
the German spokesman turned at once and translated to the officers
in uniform. Watching them very closely, I saw them laugh, and it
seemed to me they approved my answer and disapproved some other
matter. I think they disapproved the civilian method of mingling
with us in a mob, for a moment later the order was given us in
English to fall in, and we fell in two deep. Then the civilian
Germans drew aside and one of the officers in uniform strode toward
the entrance gate. We waited in utter silence, wondering what next,
but the officer had not been gone ten minutes when we caught sight
of him returning with Ranjoor Singh striding along beside him.
Ranjoor Singh and he advanced toward us and I saw Ranjoor Singh
speak with him more emphatically than his usual custom. Evidently
Ranjoor Singh had his way, for the officer spoke in German to the
others and they all walked out of the compound in a group, leaving
Ranjoor Singh facing us. He waited until the gate clanged shut
behind them before he spoke.
"Well?" said he. "I was told the regiment asked for word with me.
What is the word?"
"Sahib," said I, standing out alone before the men, not facing him,
but near one end of the line, so that I could raise my voice with
propriety and all the men might hear. He backed away, to give more
effect to that arrangement. "Sahib," I said, "we are in a trap.
Either we go to the mines, or we fight for the Germans against the
British. What is your word on the matter?"
"Ho!" said he. "Is it as bad as that? As bad as that?" said he. "If
ye go to the mines to dig coal, they will use that coal to make
ammunition for their guns! That seems a poor alternative! They fight
as much with ammunition as with men!"
"Sahib," said I, "it is worse than that! They seek to compel us to
sign a paper, forswearing our allegiance to Great Britain and
claiming allegiance to them! Should we sign it, that makes us out
traitors in the first place, and makes us amenable to their law in
the second place. They could shoot us if we disobeyed or demurred."
"They could do that in the mines," said he, "if you failed to dig
enough coal to please them. They would call it punishment for
malingering--or some such name. If they take it into their heads to
have you all shot, doubt not they will shoot!"
"Yet in that case," said I, "we should not be traitors."
"I will tell you a story," said he, and we held our breath to
listen, for this was his old manner. This had ever been his way of
putting recruits at ease and of making a squadron understand. In
that minute, for more than a minute, men forgot they had ever
"When I was a little one," said he, "my mother's aunt, who was an
old hag, told me this tale. There was a pack of wolves that hunted
in a forest near a village. In the village lived a man who wished to
be headman. Abdul was his name, and he had six sons. He wished to be
headman that he might levy toll among the villagers for the up-keep
of his sons, who were hungry and very proud. Now Abdul was a cunning
hunter, and his sons were strong. So he took thought, and chose a
season carefully, and set his sons to dig a great trap. And so well
had Abdul chosen--so craftily the six sons digged--that one night
they caught all that wolf-pack in the trap. And they kept them in
the trap two days and a night, that they might hunger and thirst and
"Then Abdul leaned above the pit, and peered down at the wolves and
began to bargain with them. 'Wolves,' said he, 'your fangs be long
and your jaws be strong, and I wish to be headman of this village.'
And they answered, 'Speak, Abdul, for these walls be high, and our
throats be dry, and we wish to hunt again!' So he bade them promise
that if he let them go they would seek and slay the present headman
and his sons, so that he might be headman in his place. And the
wolves promised. Then when he had made them swear by a hundred oaths
in a hundred different ways, and had bound them to keep faith by God
and by earth and sky and sea and by all the holy things he could
remember, he stood aside and bade his six sons free the wolves.
"The sons obeyed, and helped the wolves out of the trap. And
instantly the wolves fell on all six sons, and slew and devoured
them. Then they came and stood round Abdul with their jaws dripping
"'Oh, wolves,' said he, trembling with fear and anger, 'ye are
traitors! Ye are forsworn! Ye are faithless ones!'
"But they answered him, 'Oh, Abdul, shall he who knows not false
from true judge treason?' and forthwith they slew him and devoured
him, and went about their business.
"Now, which had the right of that--Abdul or the wolves?"
"We are no wolves!" said Gooja Singh in a whining voice. "We be true
"Then I will tell you another story," Ranjoor Singh answered him.
And we listened again, as men listen to the ticking of a clock.
"This is a story the same old woman, my mother's aunt, told me when
I was very little.
"There was a man--and this man's name also was Abdul--who owned a
garden, and in it a fish-pond. But in the fish-pond were no fish.
Abdul craved fish to swim hither and thither in his pond, but though
he tried times out of number he could catch none. Yet at fowling he
had better fortune, and when he was weary one day of fishing and
laid his net on land he caught a dozen birds.
"'So-ho!' said Abdul, being a man much given to thought, and he went
about to strike a bargain. 'Oh, birds,' said he, 'are ye willing to
be fish? For I have no fishes swimming in my pond, yet my heart
desires them greatly. So if ye are willing to be fish and will stay
in my good pond and swim there, gladdening my eyes, I will abstain
from killing you but instead will set you in the pond and let you
"So the birds, who were very terrified, declared themselves willing
to be fish, and the birds swore even more oaths than he insisted on,
so that he was greatly pleased and very confident. Therefore he used
not very much precaution when he came to plunge the birds into the
water, and the instant he let go of them the birds with feathers
scarcely wet flew away and perched on the trees about him.
"Then Abdul grew very furious. 'Oh, birds,' said he, 'ye are
traitors. Ye are forsworn! Ye are liars--breakers of oaths--
deceitful ones!' And he shook his fist at them and spat, being
greatly enraged and grieved at their deception.
"But the birds answered him, 'Oh, Abdul, a captive's gyves and a
captive's oath are one, and he who rivets on the one must keep the
other!' And the birds flew away, but Abdul went to seek his advocate
to have the law of them! Now, what think ye was the advocate's
opinion in the matter, and what remedy had Abdul?"
Has the sahib ever seen three hundred men all at the same time
becoming conscious of the same idea? That is quite a spectacle.
There was no whispering, nor any movement except a little shifting
of the feet. There was nothing on which a watchful man could lay a
finger. Yet between one second and the next they were not the same
men, and I, who watched Ranjoor Singh's eyes as if he were my
opponent in a duel, saw that he was aware of what had happened,
although not surprised. But he made no sign except the shadow of one
that I detected, and he did not change his voice--as yet.
"As for me," he said, telling a tale again, "I wrote once on the
seashore sand and signed my name beneath. A day later I came back to
look, but neither name nor words remained. I was what I had been,
and stood where the sea had been, but what I had written in sand
affected me not, neither the sea nor any man. Thought I, if one had
lent me money on such a perishable note the courts would now hold
him at fault, not me; they would demand evidence, and all he could
show them would be what he had himself bargained for. Now it occurs
to me that seashore sand, and the tricks of rogues, and blackmail,
and tyranny perhaps are one!"
Eye met eye, all up and down both lines of men. There was swift
searching of hearts, and some of the men at my end of the line began
talking in low tones. So I spoke up and voiced aloud what troubled
"If we sign this paper, sahib," said I, "how do we know they will
not find means of bringing it to the notice of the British?"
"We do not know," he answered. "Let us hope. Hope is a great good
thing. If they chained us, and we broke the chains, they might send
the broken links to London in proof of what thieves we be. Who would
gain by that?"
I saw a very little frown now and knew that he judged it time to
strike on the heated metal. But Gooja Singh turned his back on
"Let him sign this thing," said he, "and let us sign our names
beneath his name. Then he will be in the same trap with us all, and
must lead us out of it or perish with us!"
So Gooja Singh offered himself, all unintentionally, to be the
scapegoat for us all and I have seldom seen a man so shocked by what
befell him. Only a dozen words spoke Ranjoor Singh--yet it was as if
he lashed him and left him naked. Whips and a good man's wrath are
"Who gave thee leave to yelp?" said he, and Gooja Singh faced about
like a man struck. By order of the Germans he and I stood in the
place of captains on parade, he on the left and I on the right.
"To your place!" said Ranjoor Singh.
Gooja Singh stepped back into line with me, but Ranjoor Singh was
"To your place in the rear!" he ordered. And so I have seen a man
who lost a lawsuit slink round a corner of the court.
Then I spoke up, being stricken with self-esteem at the sight of
Gooja Singh's shame (for I always knew him to be my enemy).
"Sahib," said I, "shall I pass down the line and ask each man
whether he will sign what the Germans ask?"
"Aye!" said he, "like the carrion crows at judgment! Halt!" he
ordered, for already I had taken the first step. "When I need to
send a havildar," said he, "to ask my men's permission, I will call
for a havildar! To the rear where you belong!" he ordered. And I
went round to the rear, knowing something of Gooja Singh's
sensations, but loving him no better for the fellow-feeling. When my
footfall had altogether ceased and there was silence in which one
could have heard an insect falling to the ground, Ranjoor Singh
spoke again. "There has been enough talk," said he. "In pursuance of
a plan, I intend to sign whatever the Germans ask. Those who prefer
not to sign what I sign--fall out! Fall out, I say!"
Not a man fell out, sahib. But that was not enough for Ranjoor
"Those who intend to sign the paper,--two paces forward,--march!"
said he. And as one man we took two paces forward.
"So!" said he. "Right turn!" And we turned to the right. "Forward!
Quick march!" he ordered. And he made us march twice in a square
about him before he halted us again and turned us to the front to
face him. Then he was fussy about our alignment, making us take up
our dressing half a dozen times; and when he had us to his
satisfaction finally he stood eying us for several minutes before
turning his back and striding with great dignity toward the gate.
He talked through the gate and very soon a dozen Germans entered,
led by two officers in uniform and followed by three soldiers
carrying a table and a chair. The table was set down in their midst,
facing us, and the senior German officer--in a uniform with a very
high collar--handed a document to Ranjoor Singh. When he had
finished reading it to himself he stepped forward and read it aloud
to us. It was in Punjabi, excellently rendered, and the gist of it
was like this:
We, being weary of British misrule, British hypocrisy, and British
arrogance, thereby renounced allegiance to Great Britain, its king
and government, and begged earnestly to be permitted to fight on the
side of the Central Empires in the cause of freedom. It was
expressly mentioned, I remember, that we made this petition of our
own initiative and of our own free will, no pressure having been
brought to bear on us, and nothing but kindness having been offered
us since we were taken prisoners.
"That is what we are all required to sign," said Ranjoor Singh, when
he had finished reading, and he licked his lips in a manner I had
never seen before.
Without any further speech to us, he sat down at the table and wrote
his name with a great flourish on the paper, setting down his rank
beside his name. Then he called to me, and I sat and wrote my name
below his, adding my rank also. And Gooja Singh followed me. After
him, in single file, came every surviving man of Outram's Own. Some
men scowled, and some men laughed harshly, and if one of our race
had been watching on the German behalf he would have been able to
tell them something. But the Germans mistook the scowls for signs of
anger at the British, and the laughter they mistook for rising
spirits, so that the whole affair passed off without arousing their
Nevertheless, my heart warned me that the Germans would not trust a
regiment seduced as we were supposed to have been. And, although
Ranjoor Singh had had his way with us, the very having had destroyed
the reawakening trust in him. The troopers felt that he had led them
through the gates of treason. I could feel their thoughts as a man
feels the breath of coming winter on his cheek.
When the last man had signed we stood at attention and a wagonload
of rifles was brought in, drawn by oxen. They gave a rifle to each
of us, and we were made to present arms while the German military
oath was read aloud. After that the Germans walked away as if they
had no further interest. Only Ranjoor Singh remained, and he gave us
no time just then for comment or discontent.
The mauser rifles were not so very much unlike our own, and he set
us to drilling with them, giving us patient instruction but very
little rest until evening. During the longest pause in the drill he
sent for knapsacks and served us one each, filled down to the
smallest detail with everything a soldier could need, even to a
little cup that hung from a hook beneath one corner. We were utterly
worn out when he left us at nightfall, but there was a lot of
talking nevertheless before men fell asleep.
"This is the second time he has trapped us in deadly earnest!" was
the sum of the general complaint they hurled at me. And I had no
answer to give them, knowing well that if I took his part I should
share his condemnation--which would not help him; neither would it
help them nor me.
"My thought, of going to the mines and being troublesome, was best!"
said I. "Ye overruled me. Now ye would condemn me for not preventing
you! Ye are wind blowing this way and that!"
They were so busy defending themselves to themselves against that
charge that they said no more until sleep fell on them; and at dawn
Ranjoor Singh took hold of us again and made us drill until our feet
burned on the gravel and our ears were full of the tramp--tramp--
tramp, and the ek--do--tin of manual exercise.
"Listen!" said he to me, when he had dismissed us for dinner, and I
lingered on parade. "Caution the men that any breach of discipline
would be treated under German military law by drum-head court
martial and sentence of death by shooting. Advise them to avoid
indiscretions of any kind," said he.
So I passed among them, pretending the suggestion was my own, and
they resented it, as I knew they would. But I observed from about
that time they began to look on Ranjoor Singh as their only possible
protector against the Germans, so that their animosity against him
was offset by self-interest.
The next day came a staff officer who marched us to the station,
where a train was waiting. Impossible though it may seem, sahib, to
you who listen, I felt sad when I looked back at the huts that had
been our prison, and I think we all did. We had loathed them with
all our hearts all summer long, but now they represented what we
knew and we were marching away from them to what we knew not, with
autumn and winter brooding on our prospects.
Not all our wounded had been returned to us; some had died in the
German hospitals.. Two hundred-and-three-and-thirty of us all told,
including Ranjoor Singh, lined up on the station platform--fit and
well and perhaps a little fatter than was seemly.
Having no belongings other than the rifles and knapsacks and what we
stood in it took us but a few moments to entrain. Almost at once the
engine whistled and we were gone, wondering whither. Some of the
troopers shouted to Ranjoor Singh to ask our destination, but he
affected not to hear. The German staff officer rode in the front
compartment alone, and Ranjoor Singh rode alone in the next behind
him; but they conversed often through the window, and at stations
where the two of them got out to stretch their legs along the
platform they might have been brothers-in-blood relating love-
affairs. Our troopers wondered.
"Our fox grows gray," said they, "and his impudence increases."
"Would it help us out of this predicament," said I, "if he smote
that German in the teeth and spat on him?"
They laughed at that and passed the remark along from window to
window, until I roared at them to keep their heads in. There were
seven of us non-commissioned officers, and we rode in one
compartment behind the officers' carriage, Gooja Singh making much
unpleasantness because there was not enough room for us all to lie
full length at once. We were locked into our compartment, and the
only chance we had of speaking with Ranjoor Singh was when they
brought us food at stations and he strode down the train to see that
each man had his share.
"What is our destination?" we asked him then, repeatedly.
"If ye be true men," he answered, "why are ye troubled about
destination? Can the truth lead you into error? Do I seem afraid?"
That was answer enough if we had been the true men we claimed to be,
and he gave us no other. So we watched the sun and tried to guess
roughly, I recalling all the geography I ever knew, yet failing to
reach conclusions that satisfied myself or any one. We knew that
Turkey was in the war, and we knew that Bulgaria was not. Yet we
traveled eastward, and southeastward.
I know now that we traveled over the edge of Germany into Austria,
through Austria into Hungary, and through a great part of Hungary to
the River Danube, growing so weary of the train that I for one
looked back to the Flanders trenches as to long-lost happiness!
Every section of line over which we traveled was crowded with
traffic, and dozens of German regiments kept passing and re-passing
us. Some cheered us and some were insulting, but all of them
regarded us with more or less astonishment.
The Austrians were more openly curious about us than the Germans had
been, and some of them tried to get into conversation, but this was
not encouraged; when they climbed on the footboards to peer through
the windows and ask us questions officers ordered them away.
Of all the things we wondered at on that long ride, the German
regiments impressed us most. Those that passed and repassed us were
mostly artillery and infantry, and surely in all the world before
there never were such regiments as those--with the paint worn off
their cannon, and their clothes soiled, yet with an air about them
of successful plunderers, confident to the last degree of arrogance
in their own efficiency--not at all like British regiments, nor like
any others that I ever saw. It was Ranjoor Singh who drew my
attention to the fact that regiments passing us in one direction
would often pass us again on their way back, sometimes within the
"As shuttles in a loom!" said he. "As long as they can do that they
can fight on a dozen fronts." His words set me wondering so that I
did not answer him. He was speaking through our carriage window and
I stared out beyond him at a train-load of troops on the far side of
"One comes to us," said I. I was watching a German sergeant, who had
dragged his belongings from that train and was crossing toward us.
"Aye!" said Ranjoor Singh, so that I knew now there had been purpose
in his visit. "Beware of him." Then he unlocked the carriage door
and waited for the German. The German came, and cursed the man who
bore his baggage, and halted before Ranjoor Singh, staring into his
face with a manner of impudence new to me. Ranjoor Singh spoke about
ten words to him in German and the sergeant there and then saluted
very respectfully. I noticed that the German staff officer was
watching all this from a little distance, and I think the sergeant
caught his eye.
At any rate, the sergeant made his man throw the baggage through our
compartment door. The man returned to the other train. The sergeant
climbed in next to me. Ranjoor Singh locked the door again, and both
trains proceeded. When our train was beginning to gain speed the
newcomer shoved me in the ribs abruptly with his elbow--thus.
"So much for knowing languages!" said he to me in fairly good
Punjabi. "Curse the day I ever saw India, and triple-curse this
system of ours that enabled them to lay finger on me in a moving
train and transfer me to this funeral procession! Curse you, and
curse this train, and curse all Asia!" Then he thrust me in the ribs
again, as if that were a method of setting aside formality.
"You know Cawnpore?" said he, and I nodded.
"You know the Kaiser-i-hind Saddle Factory?"
I nodded again, being minded to waste no words because of Ranjoor
"I took a job as foreman there twenty years ago because the pay was
good. I lived there fifteen years until I was full to the throat of
India--Indian food, Indian women, Indian drinks, Indian heat, Indian
smells, Indian everything. I hated it, and threw up the job in the
end. Said I to myself, 'Thank God,' said I, 'to see the last of
India.' And I took passage on a German steamer and drank enough
German beer on the way to have floated two ships her size! Aecht
Deutches bier, you understand," said he, nudging me in the ribs with
each word. Aecht means REAL, as distinguished from the export stuff
in bottles. "I drank it by the barrel, straight off ice, and it went
to my head!
"That must be why I boasted about knowing Indian languages before I
had been two hours in port. I was drunk, and glad to be home, and on
the lookout for another job to keep from starving; so I boasted I
could speak and write Urdu and Punjabi. That brought me employment
in an export house. But who would have guessed it would end in my
being dragged away from my regiment to march with a lot of Sikhs?
Eh? Who would have guessed it? There goes my regiment one way, and
here go I another! What's our destination? God knows! Who are you,
and what are you? God neither knows nor cares! What's to be the end
of this? The end of me, I expect--and all because I got drunk on the
way home! It I get alive out of this," said he, "I'll get drunk once
for the glory of God and then never touch beer again!"
And he struck me on the thigh with his open palm. The noise was like
powder detonating, and the pain was acute. I cursed him in his teeth
and he grinned at me as if he and I were old friends. Little blue
eyes he had, sahib--light blue, set in full red cheeks. There were
many little red veins crisscrossed under the skin of his face, and
his breath smelt of beer and tobacco. I judged he had the physical
strength of a buffalo, although doubtless short of wind.
He had very little hair. Such as he had was yellow, but clipped so
short that it looked white. His yellow mustache was turned up thus
at either corner of his mouth; and the mouth was not unkind, not
without good humor.
"What is your name?" said I.
"Tugendheim," said he. "I am Sergeant Fritz Tugendheim, of the 281
(Pappenheim) Regiment of Infantry, and would God I were with my
regiment! What do they call you?"
"Hira Singh," said I.
"And your rank?"
"Havildar," said I.
"Oh-ho!" said he. "So you're all non-commissioned in here, are you?
Seven of you, eh? Seven is a lucky number! Well---" He looked us
each slowly in the face, narrowing his eyes so that we could
scarcely see them under the yellow lashes. "Well," said he, "they
won't mistake me for any of you, nor any of you for me--not even if
I should grow whiskers!"
He laughed at that joke for about two minutes, slapping me on the
thigh again and laughing all the louder when I showed my teeth. Then
he drew out a flask of some kind of pungent spirits from his pocket,
and offered it to me. When I refused he drank the whole of it
himself and flung the glass flask through the window. Then he
settled himself in the corner from which he had ousted me, put his
feet on the edge of the seat opposite, and prepared to sleep. But
before very long our German staff officer shouted for him and he
went in great haste, a station official opening the door for him and
locking us in again afterward. He rode for hours with the staff
officer and Gooja Singh examined the whole of his kit, making
remarks on each piece, to the great amusement of us all.
He came back before night to sleep in our compartment, but before he
came I had taken opportunity to pass word through the window to the
troopers in the carriage next behind.
"Ranjoor Singh," said I, "warns us all to be on guard against this
German. He is a spy set to overhear our talk."
That word went all down the train from, window to window and it had
some effect, for during all the days that followed Tugendheim was
never once able to get between us and our thoughts, although he
tried a thousand times.
Night followed day, and day night. Our train crawled, and waited,
and crawled, and waited, and we in our compartment grew weary to the
death of Tugendheim. A thousand times I envied Ranjoor Singh alone
with his thoughts in the next compartment; and so far was he from
suffering because of solitude that he seemed to keep more and more
apart from us, only passing swiftly down the train at meal-times to
make sure we all had enough to eat and that there were no sick.
I reached the conclusion myself that we were being sent to fight
against the Russians, and I know not what the troopers thought; they
were beginning to be like caged madmen. But suddenly we reached a
broad river I knew must be the Danube and were allowed at last to
leave the train. We were so glad to move about again that any news
seemed good news, and when Ranjoor Singh, after much talk with our
staff officer and some other Germans, came and told us that Bulgaria
had joined the war on the side of the Central Powers, we laughed and
"That means that our road lies open before us," Ranjoor Singh said
"Our road whither?" said I.
"To Stamboul!" said he.
"What are we to do at Stamboul?" asked Gooja Singh, and the staff
officer, whose name I never knew, heard him and came toward us.
"At Stamboul," said he, in fairly good Punjabi, "you will strike a
blow beside our friends, the Turks. Not very far from Stamboul you
shall be given opportunity for vengeance on the British. The next-
to-the-last stage of your journey lies through Bulgaria, and the
beginning of it will be on that steamer."
We saw the steamer, lying with its nose toward the bank. It was no
very big one for our number, but they marched us to it, Ranjoor
Singh striding at our head as if all the world were unfolding before
him, and all were his. We were packed on board and the steamer
started at once, Ranjoor Singh and the staff officer sharing the
upper part with the steamer's captain, and Tugendheim elbowing us
for room on the open deck. So we journeyed for a whole day and part
of a night down the Danube, Tugendheim pointing out to me things I
should observe along the route, but grumbling vastly at separation
from his regiment.
"You bloody Sikhs!" said he. "I would rather march with lice--yet
what can I do? I must obey orders. See that castle!" There were many
castles, sahib, at bends and on hilltops overlooking the river.
"They built that," said he, "in the good old days before men ever
heard of Sikhs. Life was worth while in those days, and a man lived
a lifetime with his regiment!"
"Ah!" said I, choosing not to take offense; for one fool can make
trouble that perhaps a thousand wise men can not still. If he had
thought, he must have known that we Sikhs spend a lifetime with our
regiments, and therefore know more about such matters than any
German reservist. But he was little given to thought, although not
ill-humored in intention.
"Behold that building!" said he. "That looks like a brewery!
Consider the sea of beer they brew there once a month, and then
think of your oath of abstinence and what you miss!"
So he talked, ever nudging me in the ribs until I grew sore and my
very gorge revolted at his foolishness. So we sailed, passing along
a river that at another time would have delighted me beyond power of
speech. A day and a night we sailed, our little steamer being one of
a fleet all going one way. Tugs and tugs and tugs there were, all
pulling strings of barges. It was as if all the tugs and barges out
of Austria were hurrying with all the plunder of Europe God knew
"Whither are they taking all this stuff?" I asked Ranjoor Singh when
he came down among us to inspect our rations. He and I stood
together at the stern, and I waved my arm to designate the fleet of
floating things. We were almost the only troops, although there were
soldiers here and there on the tugs and barges, taking charge and
"To Stamboul," said he. "Bulgaria is in. The road to Stamboul is
"Sahib," said I, "I know you are true to the raj. I know the
surrender in Flanders was the only course possible for one to whom
the regiment had been entrusted. I know this business of taking the
German side is all pretense. Are we on the way to Stamboul?"
"Aye," said he.
"What are we to do at Stamboul?" I asked him.
"If you know all you say you know," said he, "why let the future
"But---" said I.
"Nay," said he, "there can be no 'but.' There is false and true. The
one has no part in the other. What say the men?"
"They are true to the raj," said I.
"All of them?" he asked.
"Nay, sahib," said I. "Not quite all of them, but almost all."
He nodded. "We shall discover before long which are false and which
are true," said he, and then he left me.
So I told the men that we were truly on our way to Stamboul, and
there began new wondering and new conjecturing. The majority decided
at once that we were to be sent to Gallipoli to fight beside the
Turks in the trenches there, and presently they all grew very
determined to put no obstacle in the Germans' way but to go to
Gallipoli with good will. Once there, said they all, it should be
easy to cross to the British trenches under cover of the darkness.
"We will take Ranjoor Singh with us," they said darkly. "Then he can
make explanation of his conduct in the proper time and place!" I saw
one man hold his turban end as if it were a bandage over his eyes,
and several others snapped their fingers to suggest a firing party.
Many of the others laughed. Men in the dark, thought I, are fools to
do anything but watch and listen. Outlines change with the dawn,
thought I, and I determined to reserve my judgment on all points
except one--that I set full faith in Ranjoor Singh. But the men for
the most part had passed judgment and decided on a plan; so it came
about that there was no trouble in the matter of getting them to
Stamboul--or Constantinople, as Europeans call it.
At a place in Bulgaria whose name I have forgotten we disembarked
and became escort to a caravan of miscellaneous stores, proceeding
by forced marches over an abominable road. And after I forget how
many days and nights we reached a railway and were once more packed
into a train. Throughout that march, although we traversed wild
country where any or all of us might easily have deserted among the
mountains, Ranjoor Singh seemed so well to understand our intention
that he scarcely troubled himself to call the roll. He sat alone by
a little fire at night, and slept beside it wrapped in an overcoat
and blanket. And when we boarded a train again he was once more
alone in a compartment to himself. Once more I was compelled to sit
next to Tugendheim.
I grew no fonder of Tugendheim, although he made many efforts to
convince me of his friendship, making many prophetic statements to
"Soon," said he, "you shall have your bayonet in the belly of an
Englishman! You will be revenged im them for '57!" My grandfather
fought for the British in '57, sahib, and my father, who was little
more than old enough to run, carried food to him where he lay on the
Ridge before Delhi, the British having little enough food at that
time to share among their friends. But I said nothing, and
Tugendheim thought I was impressed--as indeed I was. "You will need
to fight like the devil," said he, "for if they catch you they'll
Partly he wished to discover what my thoughts were, and partly, I
think, his intention was to fill me with fighting courage; and,
since it would not have done to keep silence altogether, I began to
project the matter further and to talk of what might be after the
war should have been won. I made him believe that the hope of all us
Sikhs was to seek official employment under the German government;
and he made bold to prophesy a good job for every one of us. We
spent hours discussing what nature of employment would best be
suited to our genius, and he took opportunity at intervals to go to
the staff officer and acquaint him with all that I had said. By the
time we reached Stamboul at last I was more weary of him than an
ill-matched bullock of its yoke.
But we did reach Stamboul in the end, on a rainy morning, and
marched wondering through its crooked streets, scarcely noticed by
the inhabitants. Men seemed afraid to look long at us, but glanced
once swiftly and passed on. German officers were everywhere, many of
them driven in motor-cars at great speed through narrow
thoroughfares, scattering people to right and left; the Turkish
officers appeared to treat them with very great respect--although I
noticed here and there a few who looked indifferent, and
occasionally others who seemed to me indignant.
The mud, though not so bad as that in Flanders, was nearly as
depressing. The rain chilled the air, and shut in the view, and few
of us had very much sense of direction that first day in Stamboul.
Tugendheim, marching behind us, kept up an incessant growl. Ranjoor
Singh, striding in front of us with the staff officer at his side,
shook the rain from his shoulders and said nothing.
We were marched to a ferry and taken across what I know now was the
Golden Horn; and there was so much mist on the water that at times
we could scarcely see the ferry. Many troopers asked me if we were
not already on our way to Gallipoli, and I, knowing no more than
they, bade them wait and see.
On the other side of the Golden Horn we were marched through narrow
streets, uphill, uphill, uphill to a very great barrack and given a
section of it to ourselves. Ranjoor Singh was assigned private
quarters in a part of the building used by many German officers for
their mess. Not knowing our tongue, those officers were obliged to
converse with him in English, and I observed many times with what
distaste they did so, to my great amusement. I think Ranjoor Singh
was also much amused by that, for he grew far better humored and
readier to talk.
Sahib, that barrack was like a zoo--like the zoo I saw once at
Baroda, with animals of all sorts in it!--a great yellow building
within walls, packed with Kurds and Arabs and Syrians of more
different tribes than a man would readily believe existed in the
whole world. Few among them could talk any tongue that we knew, but
they were full of curiosity and crowded round us to ask questions;
and when Gooja Singh shouted aloud that we were Sikhs from India
they produced a man who seemed to think he knew about Sikhs, for he
stood on a step and harangued them for ten minutes, they listening
with all their ears.
Then came a Turk from the German officers' mess--we were all
standing in the rain in an open court between four walls--and he
told them truly who we were. Doubtless he added that we were in
revolt against the British, for they began to welcome us, shouting
and dancing about us, those who could come near enough taking our
hands and saying things we could not understand.
Presently they found a man who knew some English, and, urged by
them, he began to fill our ears with information. During our train
journey I had amused myself for many weary hours by asking
Tugendheim for details of the fighting he had seen and by listening
to the strings of lies he thought fit to narrate. But what
Tugendheim had told were almost truths compared to this man's
stories; in place of Tugendheim's studied vagueness there was detail
in such profusion that I can not recall now the hundredth part of
He told us the British fleet had long been rusting at the bottom of
the sea, and that all the British generals and half the army were
prisoners in Berlin. Already the British were sending tribute money
to their conquerors, and the principal reason why the war continued
was that the British could not find enough donkeys to carry all the
gold to Berlin, and to prevent trickery of any kind the fighting
must continue until the last coin should have been counted.
The British and French, he told us, were all to be compelled, at the
point of the sword, to turn Muhammadan, and France was being scoured
that minute for women to grace the harems of the kaiser and his sons
and generals, all of whom had long ago accepted Islam. The kaiser,
indeed, had become the new chief of Islam.
I asked him about the fighting in Gallipoli, and lie said that was a
bagatelle. "When we shall have driven the remnants of those there
into the sea," said he, "one part of us will march to conquer Egypt
and the rest will be sent to garrison England and France."
When he had done and we were all under cover at last I repeated to
the men all that this fool had said, and they were very much
encouraged; for they reasoned that if the Turks and Germans needed
to fill up their men with such lies as those, then they must have a
poor case indeed. With our coats off, and a meal before us, and the
mud and rain for-gotten, we all began to feel almost happy; and
while we were in that mood Ranjoor Singh came to us with Tugendheim
at his heels.
"The plan now is to keep us here a week," said he. "After that to
send us to Gallipoli by steamer."
Sahib, there was uproar! Men could scarcely eat for the joy of
getting in sight of British lines again--or rather for joy of the
promise of it. They almost forgot to suspect Ranjoor Singh in that
minute, but praised him to his face and even made much of
But I, who followed Ranjoor Singh between the tables in case he
should have any orders to give, noticed particularly that he did not
say we were going to Gallipoli. He said, "The plan now is to send us
to Gallipoli." The trade of a leader of squadrons, thought I, is to
confound the laid plans of the enemy and to invent unexpected ones
of his own.
"The day we land in Gallipoli behind the Turkish trenches," said I
to myself, "is unlikely to be yet if Ranjoor Singh lives."
And I was right, sahib. But If I had been given a thousand years in
which to do it, I never could have guessed how Ranjoor Singh would
lead us out of the trap. Can the sahib guess?
Fear comes and goes, but a man's love lives with him.
Stamboul was disillusionment--a city of rain and plagues and stinks!
The food in barracks was maggoty. We breathed foul air and yearned
for the streets; yet, once in the streets, we yearned to be back in
barracks. Aye, sahib, we saw more in one day of the streets than we
thought good for us, none yet understanding the breadth of Ranjoor
Singh's wakefulness. He seemed to us like a man asleep in good
opinion of himself--that being doubtless the opinion he wished the
German officers to have of him.
Part of the German plan became evident at once, for, noticing our
great enthusiasm at the prospect of being sent to Gallipoli,
Tugendheim, in the hope of winning praise, told a German officer we
ought to be paraded through the streets as evidence that Indian
troops really were fighting with the Central Powers. The German
officer agreed instantly, Tugendheim making faces thus and brushing
his mustache more fiercely upward.
So the very first morning after our arrival we were paraded early
and sent out with a negro band, to tramp back and forth through the
streets until nearly too weary to desire life. Ranjoor Singh marched
at our head looking perfectly contented, for which the men all hated
him, and beside him went a Turk who knew English and who told him
the names of streets and places.
It did not escape my observation that Ranjoor Singh was interested
more than a little in the waterfront. But we all tramped like dumb
men, splashed to the waist with street dirt, aware we were being
used to make a mental impression on the Turks, but afraid to refuse
obedience lest we be not sent to Gallipoli after all. One thought
obsessed every single man but me: To get to Gallipoli, and escape to
the British trenches during some dark night, or perish in the
As for me, I kept open mind and watched. It is the non-commissioned
officer's affair to herd the men for his officer to lead. To have
argued with them or have suggested alternative possibilities would
have been only to enrage them and make them deaf to wise counsels
when the proper time should come. And, besides, I knew no more what
Ranjoor Singh had in mind than a dead man knows of the weather. We
marched through the streets, and marched, stared at silently,
neither cheered nor mocked by the inhabitants; and Ranjoor Singh
arrived at his own conclusions. Five several times during that one
day he halted us in the mud at a certain place along the water-
front, although there was a better place near by; and while we
rested he asked peculiar questions, and the Turk boasted to him,
explaining many things.
We were exhausted when it fell dark and we climbed up the hill again
to barracks. Yet as we entered the barrack gate I heard Ranjoor
Singh tell a German officer in English that we had all greatly
enjoyed our view of the city and the exercise. I repeated what I had
heard while the men were at supper, and they began to wonder
"Such a lie!" said they.
"That surely was a lie?" I asked, and they answered that the man who
truly had enjoyed such tramping to and fro was no soldier but a mud-
"Then, if he lies to them," I said, "perhaps he tells us the truth
They howled at me, calling me a man without understanding. Yet when
I went away I left them thinking, each man for himself, and that was
good. I went to change the guard, for some of our men were put on
sentry-go that night outside the officers' quarters, in spite of our
utter weariness. We were smarter than the Kurds, and German officers
Weary though Ranjoor Singh must have been, he sat late with the
German officers, for the most part keeping silence while they
talked. I made excuse to go and speak with him half a dozen times,
and the last time I could hardly find him among the wreaths of
"Sahib, must we really stay a week in this hole?" I asked. "So say
the Germans," said he.
"Are we to be paraded through the streets each day?" I asked.
"I understand that to be the plan," he answered.
"Then the men will mutiny!" said I.
"Nay!" said he, "let them seek better cause than that!"
"Shall I tell them so?" said I, and he looked into my eyes through
the smoke as if he would read down into my very heart.
"Aye!" said he at last. "You may tell them so!"
So I went and shook some of the men awake and told them, and when
they had done being angry they laughed at me. Then those awoke the
others, and soon they all had the message. On the whole, it
bewildered them, even as it did me, so that few dared offer an
opinion and each began thinking for himself again. By morning they
were in a mood to await developments. They were even willing to
tramp the streets; but Ranjoor Singh procured us a day's rest. He
himself spent most of the day with the German officers, poring over
maps and talking. I went to speak with him as often as I could
invent excuse, and I became familiar with the word Wassmuss that
they used very frequently. I heard the word so many times that I
could not forget it if I tried.
The next day Ranjoor Singh had a surprise for us. At ten in the
morning we were all lined up in the rain and given a full month's
pay. It was almost midday when the last man had received his money,
and when we were dismissed and the men filed in to dinner Ranjoor
Singh bade me go among them and ask whether they did not wish
opportunity to spend their money.
So I went and asked the question. Only a few said yes. Many
preferred to keep their money against contingencies, and some
thought the question was a trick and refused to answer it at all. I
returned to Ranjoor Singh and told him what they answered.
"Go and ask them again!" said he.
So I went among them again as they lay on the cots after dinner, and
most of them jeered at me for my pains. I went and found Ranjoor
Singh in the officers' mess and told him.
"Ask them once more!" said he.
This third time, being in no mood to endure mockery, I put the
question with an air of mystery. They asked what the hidden meaning
might be, but I shook my head and repeated the question with a
smile, as if I knew indeed but would not tell.
"Says Ranjoor Singh," said I, "would the men like opportunity to
spend their money?"
"No!" said most of them, and Gooja Singh asked how long it well
might be before we should see money again.
"Shall I bear him, a third time, such an answer?" I asked, looking
more mysterious than ever. And just then it happened that Gooja
Singh remembered the advice to seek better cause for mutiny. He
drummed on his teeth with his fingernails.
"Very well!" said he. "Tell him we will either spend our money or
let blood! Let us see what he says to that!"
"Shall I say," said I, "that Gooja Singh says so?"
"Nay, nay!" said he, growing anxious. "Let that be the regiment's
answer. Name no names!"
I thought it a foolish answer, given by a fool, but the men were in
the mood to relish it and began to laugh exceedingly.
"Shall I take that answer?" said I, and they answered "Yes!"
redoubling their emphasis when I objected. "The Germans do Ranjoor
Singh's thinking for him these days," said one man; "take that
answer and let us see what the Germans have to say to it through his
So I went and told Ranjoor Singh, whispering to him in a corner of
the officers' mess. Some Turks had joined the Germans and most of
them were bending over maps that a German officer had spread upon a
table in their midst; he was lecturing while the others listened.
Ranjoor Singh had been listening, too, but he backed into a corner
as I entered, and all the while I was whispering to him I kept
hearing the word Wassmuss--Wassmuss--Wassmuss. The German who was
lecturing explained something about this Wassmuss.
"What is Wassmuss?" I asked, when I had given Ranjoor Singh the
men's answer. He smiled into my eyes.
"Wassmuss is the key to the door," said he.
"To which door?" I asked him.
"There is only one," he answered.
"Shall I tell that to the men?" said I.
At that he began scowling at me, stroking his beard with one hand.
Then he stepped back and forth a time or two. And when he saw with
the corner of his eye that he had the senior German officer's
attention he turned on me and glared again. There was sudden silence
in the room, and I stood at attention, striving to look like a man
"It is as I said," said he in English. "It was most unwise to pay
them. Now the ruffians demand liberty to go and spend--and that
means license! They have been prisoners of war in close confinement
too long. You should have sent them to Gallipoli before they tasted
money or anything else but work! Who shall control such men now!"
The German officer stroked his chin, eying Ranjoor Singh sternly,
yet I thought irresolutely.
"If they would be safer on board a steamer, that can be managed. A
steamer came in to-day, that would do," said he, speaking in
English, perhaps lest the Turks understand. "And there is
Tugendheim, of course. Tugendheim could keep watch on board."
I think he had more to say, but at that minute Ranjoor Singh chose
to turn on me fiercely and order me out of the room.
"Tell them what you have heard!" he said in Punjabi, as if he were
biting my head off, and I expect the German officer believed he had
cursed me. I saluted and ran, and one of the Turkish officers aimed
a kick at me as I passed. It was by the favor of God that the kick
missed, for had he touched me I would have torn his throat out, and
then doubtless I should not have been here to tell what Ranjoor
Singh did. To this day I do not know whether he had every move
planned out in his mind, or whether part was thinking and part good
fortune. When a good man sets himself to thinking, God puts thoughts
into his heart that others can not overcome, and it may be that he
simply prayed. I know not--although I know he prayed often, as a
true Sikh should.
I told the men exactly what had passed, except that I did not say
Ranjoor Singh had bidden me do so. I gave them to understand that I
was revealing a secret, and that gave them greater confidence in my
loyalty to them. It was important they should not suspect me of
allegiance to Ranjoor Singh.
"It is good!" said they all, after a lot of talking and very little
thought. "To be sent on board a steamer could only mean Gallipoli.
There we will make great show of ferocity and bravery, so that they
will send us to the foremost trenches. It should be easy to steal
across by night to the British trenches, dragging Ranjoor Singh with
us, and when we are among friends again let him give what account of
himself he may! What new shame is this, to tell the Germans we will
make trouble because we have a little money at last! Let the shame
return to roost on him!"
They began to make ready there and then, and while they packed the
knapsacks I urged them to shout and laugh as if growing mutinous.
Soldiers, unless prevented, load themselves like pack animals with a
hundred unnecessary things, but none of us had more than the full
kit for each man that the Germans had served out, so that packing
took no time at all. An hour after we were ready came Ranjoor Singh,
standing in the door of our quarters with that senior German officer
beside him, both of them scowling at us, and the German making more
than a little show of possessing a repeating pistol. So that Gooja
Singh made great to-do about military compliments, rebuking several
troopers in loud tones for not standing quickly to attention, and
shouting to me to be more strict. I let him have his say.
Angrily as a gathering thunder-storm Ranjoor Singh ordered us to
fall in, and we scrambled out through the doorway like a pack of
hunting hounds released. No word was spoken to us by way of
explanation, Ranjoor Singh continuing to scowl with folded arms
while the German officer went back to look the quarters over,
perhaps to see whether we had done damage, or perhaps to make
certain nothing had been left. He came out in a minute or two and
then we were marched out of the barrack in the dimming light, with
Tugendheim in full marching order falling into step behind us and
the senior German officer smoking a cigar beside Ranjoor Singh. A
Kurdish soldier carried Tugendheim's bag of belongings, and
Tugendheim kicked him savagely when he dropped it in a pool of mud.
I thought the Kurd would knife him, but he refrained.
I think I have said, sahib, that the weather was vile. We were glad
of our overcoats. As we marched along the winding road downhill we
kept catching glimpses of the water-front through driving rain,
light after light appearing as the twilight gathered. Nobody noticed
us. There seemed to be no one in the streets, and small wonder!
Before we were half-way down toward the water there began to be a
very great noise of firing, of big and little cannon and rifles.
There began to be shouting, and men ran back and forth below us. I
asked Tugendheim what it all might mean, and he said probably a
British submarine had shown itself. I whispered that to the nearest
men and they passed the word along. Great contentment grew among us,
none caring after that for rain and mud. That was the nearest we had
been to friends in oh how many months--if it truly were a British
We reached the water-front presently and were brought to a halt in
exactly the place where Ranjoor Singh had halted us those five times
on the day we tramped the streets. We faced a dock that had been
vacant two days ago, but where now a little steamer lay moored with
ropes, smoke coming from its funnel. There was no other sign of
life, but when the German officer shouted about a dozen times the
Turkish captain came ashore, wrapped in a great shawl, and spoke to
While they two spoke I asked Ranjoor Singh whether that truly had
been a British submarine, and he nodded; but he was not able to tell
me whether or not it had been hit by gun-fire. Some of the men
overheard, and although we all knew that our course to Gallipoli
would be the more hazardous in that event we all prayed that the
artillery might have missed. Fear comes and goes, but a man's love
lives in him.
When the Turkish captain and the German officer finished speaking,
the Turk went back to his steamer without any apparent pleasure, and
we were marched up the gangway after him. It was pitch-dark by that
time and the only light was that of a lantern by which the German
officer stood, eying us one by one as we passed. Tugendheim came
last, and he talked with Tugendheim for several minutes. Then he
went away, but presently returned with, I should say, half a company
of Kurdish soldiers, whom he posted all about the dock. Then he
departed finally, with a wave of his cigar, as much as to say that
sheet of the ledger had been balanced.
It was a miserable steamer, sahib. We stood about on iron decks and
grew hungry. There were no awnings--nothing but the superstructure
of the bridge, and, although there were but two-hundred-and-thirty-
four of us, including Tugendheim, we could not stow ourselves so
that all could be sheltered from the rain and let the mud cake dry
on our legs and feet. There was a little cabin that Tugendheim took
for himself, but Ranjoor Singh remained with us on deck. He stood in
the rain by the gangway, looking first at one thing, then at
another. I watched him.
Presently he went to the door of the engine-room, opened it, and
looked through. I was about to look, too, but he shut it in my face.
"It is enough that they make steam?" said he; and I looked up at the
funnel and saw steam mingled with the smoke. In a little wheel-house
on the bridge the Turkish captain sat on a shelf, wrapped in his
shawl, smoking a great pipe, and his mate, who was also a Turk, sat
beside him staring at the sky. I asked Ranjoor Singh whether we
might expect to have the whole ship to ourselves. Said I, "It would
not be difficult to overpower those two Turks and their small crew
and make them do our bidding!" But he answered that a regiment of
Kurds was expected to keep us company at dawn. Then he went up to
the bridge to have word with the Turkish captain, and I went to the
ship's side to stare about. Over my shoulder I told the men about
the Kurds who were coming, and they were not pleased.
Peering into the dark and wondering that so great a city as Stamboul
should show so few lights, I observed the Kurdish sentinels posted
about the dock.
"Those are to prevent us from going ashore until their friends
come!" said I, and they snarled at me like angry wolves.
"We could easily rush ashore and bayonet every one of them!" said
But not a man would have gone ashore again for a commission in the
German army. Gallipoli was written in their hearts. Yet I could
think of a hundred thousand chances still that might prevent our
joining our friends the British in Gallipoli. Nor was I sure in my
own mind that Ranjoor Singh intended we should try. I was sure only
of his good faith, and content to wait developments.
Though the lights of the city were few and very far between, so many
search-lights played back and forth above the water that there
seemed a hundred of them. I judged it impossible for the smallest
boat to pass unseen and I wondered whether it was difficult or easy
to shoot with great guns by aid of search-lights, remembering what
strange tricks light can play with a gunner's eyes. Mist, too, kept
rising off the water to add confusion.
While I reflected in that manner, thinking that the shadow of every
wave and the side of every boat might be a submarine, Ranjoor Singh
came down from the bridge and stood beside me.
"I have seen what I have seen!" said he. "Listen! Obey! And give me
no back answers!"
"Sahib," said I, "I am thy man!" But he answered nothing to that.
"Pick the four most dependable men," he said, "and bid them enter
that cabin and gag and bind Tugendheim. Bid them make no noise and
see to it that he makes none, but let them do him no injury, for we
shall need him presently! When that is done, come back to me here!"
So I left him at once, he standing as I had done, staring at the
water, although I thought perhaps there was more purpose in his gaze
than there had been in mine.
I chose four men and led them aside, they greatly wondering.
"There is work to be done," said I, "that calls for true ones!"
"Such men be we!" said all four together.
"That is why I picked you from among the rest!" said I, and they
were well pleased at that. Then I gave them their orders.
"Who bids us do this?" they demanded.
"I!" said I. "Bind and gag Tugendheim, and we have Ranjoor Singh
committed. He gave the order, and I bid you obey it! How can he be
false to us and true to the Germans, with a gagged German prisoner
on his hands?"
They saw the point of that. "But what if we are discovered too
soon?" said they.
"What if we are sunk before dawn by a British submarine!" said I.
"We will swim when we find ourselves in water! For the present, bind
and gag Tugendheim!"
So they went and stalked Tugendheim, the German, who had been
drinking from a little pocket flask. He was drowsing in a chair in
the cabin, with his hands deep down in his overcoat pockets and his
helmet over his eyes. Within three minutes I was back at Ranjoor
"The four stand guard over him!" said I.
"Very good!" said he. "That was well done! Now do a greater thing."
My heart burned, sahib, for I had once dared doubt him, yet all he
had to say to me was, "Well done! Now do a greater thing!" If he had
cursed me a little for my earlier unbelief I might have felt less
"Go to the men," said he, "and bid those who wish the British well
to put all the money they received this morning into a cloth. Bid
those who are no longer true to the British to keep their money.
When the money is all in the cloth, bring it here to me."
"But what if they refuse?" said I.
"Do YOU refuse?" he asked.
"Nay!" said I. "Nay, sahib!"
"Then why judge them?" said he. So I went.
Can the sahib imagine it? Two-hundred-and-three-and-thirty men,
including non-commissioned officers, wet and muddy in the dark,
beginning to be hungry, all asked at once to hand over all their pay
if they be true men, but told to keep it if they be traitors!
No man answered a word, although their eyes burned up the darkness.
I called for a lantern, and a man brought one from the engine-room
door. By its light I spread out a cloth, and laid all my money on it
on the deck. The sergeant nearest me followed my example. Gooja
Singh laid down only half his money.
"Nay!" said I. "All or none! This is a test for true men! Half-true
and false be one and the same to-night!" So Gooja Singh made a wry
face and laid down the rest of his money, and the others all
followed him, not at all understanding, as indeed I myself did not
understand, but coming one at a time to me and laying all their
money on the cloth. When the last man had done I tied the four
corners of the cloth together (it was all wet with the rain and
slush on deck, and heavy with the weight of coin) and carried it to
Ranjoor Singh. (I forgot the four who stood guard over Tugendheim;
they kept their money.)
"We are all true men!" said I, dumping it beside him.
"Good!" said he. "Come!" And he took the bundle of money and
ascended the bridge ladder, bidding me wait at the foot of it for
further orders. I stood there two hours without another sign of him,
although I heard voices in the wheel-house.
Now the men grew restless. Reflection without action made them begin
to doubt the wisdom of surrendering all their money at a word. They
began to want to know the why and wherefore of the business, and I
was unable to tell them.
"Wait and see!" said I, but that only exasperated them, and some
began to raise their voices in anger. So I felt urged to invent a
reason, hoping to explain it away afterward should I be wrong. But
as it turned out I guessed at least a little part of Ranjoor Singh's
great plan and so achieved great credit that was useful later,
although at the time I felt myself losing favor with them.
"Ranjoor Singh will bribe the captain of the ship to steam away
before that regiment of Kurds can come on board," said I. "So we
shall have the ship at our mercy, provided we make no mistakes."
That did not satisfy them, but it gave them something new to think
about, and they settled down to wait in silence, as many as could
crowding their backs against the deck-house and the rest suffering
in the rain. I would rather have heard them whispering, because I
judged the silence to be due to low spirits. I knew of nothing more
to say to encourage them, and after a time their depression began to
affect me also. Rather than watch them, I watched the water, and
more than once I saw something I did not recognize, that
nevertheless caused my skin to tingle and my breath to come in
jerks. Sikh eyes are keen.
It was perhaps two hours before midnight when the long spell of
firing along the water-front began and I knew that my eyes and the
dark had not deceived me. All the search-lights suddenly swept
together to one point and shone on the top-side of a submarine--or
at least on the water thrown up by its top-side. Only two masts and
a thing like a tower were visible, and the plunging shells threw
water over those obscuring them every second. There was a great
explosion, whether before or after the beginning of the gun-fire I
do not remember, and a ship anchored out on the water no great
distance from us heeled over and began to sink. One search-light was
turned on the sinking ship, so that I could see hundreds of men on
her running to and fro and jumping; but all the rest of the water
was now left in darkness.
The guards who had been set to prevent our landing all ran to
another wharf to watch the gun-fire and the sinking ship, and it was
at the moment when their backs were turned that two Turkish seamen
came down from the bridge and loosed the ropes that held us to the
shore. Then our ship began to move out slowly into the darkness
without showing lights or sounding whistle. There was still no sign
of Ranjoor Singh, nor had I time to look for him; I was busy making
the men be still, urging, coaxing, cursing--even striking them.
"Are we off to Gallipoli?" they asked.
"We are off to where a true man may remember the salt!" said I,
knowing no more than they.
I know of nothing more confusing to a landsman, sahib, than a
crowded harbor at night. The many search-lights all quivering and
shifting in the one direction only made confusion worse and we had
not been moving two minutes when I no longer knew north from south
or east from west. I looked up, to try to judge by the stars. I had
actually forgotten it was raining. The rain came down in sheets and
overhead the sky began at little more than arm's length! Judge,
then, my excitement.
We passed very close to several small steamers that may have been
war-ships, but I think they were merchant ships converted into
gunboats to hunt submarines. I think, too, that in the darkness they
mistook us for another of the same sort, for, although we almost
collided with two of them, they neither fired on us nor challenged.
We steamed straight past them, beginning to gain speed as the last
one fell away behind.
Does the sahib remember whether the passage from Stamboul into the
Sea of Marmora runs south or east or west? Neither could I remember,
although at another time I could have drawn a map of it, having
studied such things. But memory plays us strange tricks, and
cavalrymen were never intended to maneuver in a ship! Ranjoor Singh,
up in the wheel-house, had a map--a good map, that he had stolen
from the German officers--but I did not know that until later. I
stood with both hands holding the rails of the bridge ladder
wondering whether gunfire or submarine would sink us and urging the
men to keep their heads below the bulwark lest a search-light find
us and the number of heads cause suspicion.
I have often tried to remember just how many hours we steamed from
Stamboul, yet I have no idea to this day beyond that the voyage was
ended before dawn. It was all unexpected--we were too excited, and
too fearful for our skins to recall the passage of hours. It was
darker than I have ever known night to be, and the short waves that
made our ship pitch unevenly were growing steeper every minute, when
Ranjoor Singh came at last to the head of the ladder and shouted for
me. I went to him up the steps, holding to each rail for dear life.
"Take twenty men," he ordered, "and uncover the forward hatch. Throw
the hatch coverings overboard. The hold is full of cartridges. Bring
up some boxes and break them open. Distribute two hundred rounds to
every man, and throw the empty boxes overboard. Then get up twenty
more boxes and place them close together, in readiness to take with
us when we leave the ship. Let me know when that is all done."
So I took twenty men and we obeyed him. Two hundred rounds of
cartridges a man made a heavy extra load and the troopers grumbled.
"Can we swim with these?" they demanded.
"Who knows until he has tried?" said I.
"How far may we have to march with such an extra weight?" said they.
"Who knows!" said I, counting out two hundred more to another man.
"But the man," I said, "who lacks one cartridge of the full count
when I come to inspect shall be put to the test whether he can swim
Some of them had begun to throw half of their two hundred into the
water, but after I said that they discontinued, and I noticed that
those who had so done came back for more cartridges, pretending that
my count had been short. So I served them out more and said nothing.
There were hundreds of thousands of rounds in the hold of the ship,
and I judged we could afford to overlook the waste.
At last we set the extra twenty boxes in one place together,
slipping and falling in the process because the deck was wet and the
ship unsteady; and then I went and reported to Ranjoor Singh.
"Very good," said he. "Make the men fall in along the deck, and bid
them be ready for whatever may befall!"
"Are we near land, sahib?" said I.
"Very near!" said he.
I ran to obey him, peering into the blackness to discover land, but
I could see nothing more than the white tops of waves, and clouds
that seemed to meet the sea within a rope's length of us. Once or
twice I thought I heard surf, but the noise of the rain and of the
engines and of the waves pounding against the ship confused my ears,
so that I could not be certain.
When the men were all fallen in I went and leaned over the bulwark
to try to see better; and as I did that we ran in under a cliff, for
the darkness grew suddenly much darker. Then I surely heard surf.
Then another sound startled me, and a shock nearly threw me off my
feet. I faced about, to find twenty or thirty men sprawling their
length upon the deck, and when I had urged and helped them up the
engines had stopped turning, and steam was roaring savagely through
the funnel. The motion of the ship was different now; the front part
seemed almost still, but the behind part rose and fell jerkily.
I busied myself with the men, bullying them into silence, for I
judged it most important to be able to hear the first order that
Ranjoor Singh might give; but he gave none just yet, although I
heard a lot of talking on the bridge.
"Is this Gallipoli?" the men kept asking me in whispers.
"If it were," said I, "we should have been blown to little pieces by
the guns of both sides before now!" If I had been offered all the
world for a reward I could not have guessed our whereabouts, nor
what we were likely to do next, but I was very sure we had not
Presently the Turkish seamen began lowering the boats. There were
but four boats, and they made clumsy work of it, but at last all
four boats were in the water; and then Ranjoor Singh began at last
to give his orders, in a voice and with an air that brought
reassurance. No man could command, as he did who had the least
little doubt in his heart of eventual success. There is even more
conviction in a true man's voice than in his eye.
He ordered us overside eight at a time, and me in the first boat
with the first eight.
"Fall them in along the first flat place you find on shore, and wait
there for me!" said he. And I said, "Ha, sahib!" wondering as I
swung myself down a swaying rope whether my feet could ever find the
boat. But the sailors pulled the rope's lower end, and I found
myself in a moment wedged into a space into which not one more man
could have been crowded.
The waves broke over us, and there was a very evil surf, but the
distance to the shore was short and the sailors proved skilful. We
landed safely on a gravelly beach, not so very much wetter than we
had been, except for our legs (for we waded the last few yards), and
I hunted at once for a piece of level ground. Just thereabouts it
was all nearly level, so I fell my eight men in within twenty yards
of the surf, and waited. I felt tempted to throw out pickets yet
afraid not to obey implicitly. Ranjoor Singh given no order about
I judge it took more than an hour, and it may have been two hours,
to bring all the men and the twenty boxes of cartridges ashore. At
last in three boats came the captain of the ship, and the mate, and
the engineer, and nearly all the crew. Then I grew suddenly afraid
and hot sweat burst out all over me, for by the one lantern that had
been hung from the ship's bridge rail to guide the rowers I could
see that the ship was moving! The ship's captain had climbed out of
the last boat and was standing close to it. I went up to him and
seized his shoulder.
"What dog's work is this?" said I. "Speak!" I said, shaking him,
although he could not talk any tongue that I knew--but I shook him
none-the-less until his teeth chattered, and, his arms being wrapped
in that great shawl of his, there was little he could do to prevent
As I live, sahib, on the word of a Sikh I swear that not even in
that instant did I doubt Ranjoor Singh. I believed that the Turkish
captain might have stabbed him, or that Tugendheim might have played
some trick. But not so the men. They saw the lantern receding and
receding, dancing with the motion of the ship, and they believed
"Quick! Fire on him!" shouted some one. "Let him not escape! Kill
him before he is out of range!"
I never knew which trooper it was who raised that cry, although I
went to some trouble to discover afterward. But I heard Gooja Singh
laugh like a hyena; and I heard the click of cartridges being thrust
into magazines. I was half minded to let them shoot, hoping they
might hit Tugendheim. But the Turk freed his arms at last, and began
"Look!" he said to me in English. "VOILA!" said he in French.
I did look, and I saw enough to make me make swift decision. The
light was nearer to the water--quite a lot nearer. I flung myself on
the nearest trooper, whose rifle was already raised, and taken by
surprise he loosed his weapon. With it I beat the next ten men's
rifles down, and they clattered on the beach. That made the others
pause and look at me.
"The man who fires the first shot dies!" said I, striving to make
the breath come evenly between my teeth for sake of dignity, yet
with none too great success. But in the principal matter I was
successful, for they left their alignment and clustered round to
argue with me. At that I refused to have speech with them until they
should have fallen in again, as befitted soldiers. Falling in took
time, especially as they did it sulkily; and when the noise of
shifting feet was finished I heard oars thumping in the oar-locks.
A boat grounded amid the surf, and Ranjoor Singh jumped out of it,
followed by Tugendheim and his four guards. The boat's crew leaped
into the water and hauled the boat high and dry, and as they did
that I saw the ship's lantern disappear altogether.
Ranjoor Singh went straight to the Turkish captain. "Your money,"
said he, speaking in English slowly--I wonder, sahib, oh, I have
wondered a thousand times in what medley of tongues strange to all
of them they had done their bargaining!--"Your money," said he, "is
in the boat in which I came. Take it, and take your men, and go!"
The captain and his crew said nothing, but got into the boats and
pushed away. One of the boats was overturned in the surf, and there
they left it, the sailors scrambling into the other boats. They were
out of sight and sound in two minutes. Then Ranjoor Singh turned to
"Send and gather fire-wood!" he ordered.
"Where shall dry wood be in all this rain?" said I.
"Search!" said he.
"Sahib," said I, "a fire would only betray our whereabouts."